Air Hugs

I love hugs! I love air hugs!

Since social distancing requires us to stay six feet apart, I have missed our grandchildren’s hugs. To resolve this problem, we have created air hugs. They extend their arms to me and I do the same towards them. Then we both surround ourselves with our own arms. Not as good as when we physically embrace, but better than nothing.

I wonder if the air hugs we give today are symbolic of what God gives us every day. I Corinthians 16:23 MSG tells us,Our Master Jesus has His arms wide open to you.We may not see and feel Jesus’ tangible physical arms, but He spiritually surrounds us with His loving arms. David cries out in Psalm 33:22, “May Your unfailing love be with us, LORD, even as we put our hope in You.

A hug is defined as an act of holding someone tightly in one’s arms, typically to express affection. A hug is a tangible declaration of acceptance. It is a love language. God declares in Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Psalm 139:5 says,You hem me in behind and before, and You lay Your hand upon me.” That sounds like a hug!

Although we are still worshiping online Sunday mornings, I realized something last week. As I raised my hands in praise, I was holding out my arms to God. I was giving Him an air hug. In return, I received His air hug. I felt the closeness of His presence. According to Psalm 22:3, the Lord inhabits the praises of His people.

I am reminded of the song Waymaker.  The line I am thinking about declares, “Even when I can’t feel it You’re working. You never stop working. You never stop working.”  How about changing the words to “You never stop hugging”? We may not physically feel God’s hugs but He is still hugging spiritually!  God is continually drawing us into His embrace.  He is extending His loving arms to us.

A possible acronym for God’s hug is His Unfailing Grace. God never fails to offer us His undeserved blessings. I want to embrace not only His gifts, but the essence and presence of our Lord. James 4:6 says, “But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’” I want to humbly come near enough to God that He will give me a hug.

James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” That sounds like an opportunity for a spiritual hug. James continues to tell us that the way to receive God’s hug is to cleanse our hands and hearts of unrighteousness. Psalm 145:18 promises, “The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.

During a hug, two individuals hold each other closely and do not let go. I think about special hugs my daughter and I shared when she was young. Sometimes when I would be ready to release her, she would cling to me and tell me she was not done hugging yet. We would then linger a little longer in a loving embrace. I never want to be done hugging the Lord!

Luke 15:11-32 records the parable of the Prodigal Son. The younger son took his inheritance and squandered it recklessly. Although the father had let his son go, he was always waiting and watching for his son’s return. Finally, the younger son decided to go back home. He did not expect a hug. However that is what he received. Verse 20 says, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.This story depicts our Heavenly Father’s love for us. God loves to give hugs. He is looking for us to come to Him. He wants to give each of us a hug. He wants to welcome us home. He wants to personally pull us into His presence and wrap His arms around us.

The Message translation of Psalm 5:11 is a good description of the prodigal son and his father. “But You’ll welcome us with open arms when we run for cover to You. Let the party last all night! Stand guard over our celebration.

The hugs we share with family and friends today are symbols of what God extends to us every day. Deuteronomy 33:27 says, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” God’s everlasting arms hold us in His everlasting hugs.

I still love hugs! I love God’s hugs and I love grandchildren’s hugs!

Aone but Not Alone

Quarantined! Isolated. Social distancing. Remain where you are. Wait.

Not our favorite words. However, they describe our current situation created by COVID-19. Negative connotations come to mind. But, God may have other things in mind. We will look at two situations in scripture where God used isolation. We might even say that God occasionally quarantined people.

JESUS IN THE WILDERNESS

The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is recorded in three gospels. (see Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:3-11, Luke 3:21-22) The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and He was sent into the wilderness for 40 days. (see Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-14, Luke 4:1-13)

The Spirit remained with Him while He was in the wilderness. When He returned to Galilee, He went to the synagogue. There He picked up the scroll and read Isaiah 61:1-2. Jesus declared in Luke 4:18-19, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

The Holy Spirit was with Jesus. Jesus was prepared for ministry.

DISCIPLES IN JERUSALEM

After Jesus’ resurrection and before His ascension, He had a few instructions for His disciples. Acts 1:4-5 says, “And while they were gathered together, He commanded them: Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift the Father promised, which you have heard Me discuss. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” I wonder, was Jesus quarantining the disciples?

In Acts 1:8 Jesus reveals why He was asking them to isolate themselves and wait. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.Jesus had plans for these men to share the gospel throughout the world. However, they needed the power of the Holy Spirit to fulfill His plans. They needed some isolation before invading the world.

The disciples were obedient to Jesus’ command. Acts 1:12-14 says they returned to Jerusalem and stayed in the upper room. While being set apart from the daily activities of the city, verse 14 says, “With one accord they all continued in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.They spent more time in prayer since they were not interacting with other people. Good idea!

The disciples were quarantined in Jerusalem until they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:1-4 says, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like a mighty rushing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

In Acts 2:14-39, Peter preached his first sermon under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. He referred to Joel 2:5-8 saying, “In the last days, God says, ‘I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. . . . And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

All the disciples were now ready to go into all the world and share the gospel. In Jesus’ name and with the power of the Holy Spirit, they were able to cast out demons, speak with new tongues, and lay hands on the sick who would recover. (see Mark 16:15-18)

2020 PEOPLE IN COVID-19 QUARANTINE

The disciples’ quarantine was climaxed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. A note in the Spirit Filled Life Bible says, “The Book of Acts is the story of the disciples receiving what Jesus received in order to do what Jesus did.”

Our current time of quarantine and isolation in our homes may be the setting where we will receive what Jesus received in order to do what Jesus did.

COVID-19 has caused us to be separated from the world. Let us use this time as an opportunity to receive a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit. Social distancing requirements allow us space to cultivate intimacy with the Lord. Both Jesus and the disciples experienced the help of the Holy Spirit during times of isolation. So can we! Jesus said in John 14:15-17, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.” “Forever” includes 2020.

We can no longer count on what we previously took for granted. Income, health, social activity, employment are insecure. I believe God will use this isolation time to teach us to rely only upon Him. He is our Savior Provider – Healer – Protector – Deliverer.

While we are separated from the world, we can be more attuned to hear the Spirit speak. There are less distractions because scheduled commitments have been erased from our calendars.

Romans 14:17 says, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Marilyn Hickey has pointed out, “The Holy Spirit causes us to want to walk in righteousness. The Holy Spirit bears an inner witness that gives us peace. There is a bubbling of joy in the Holy Spirit that nothing else in this life can bring.”

May we take time to soak in the oil of the Holy Spirit and be permeated with His presence. The Spirit is preparing us for what is yet to come. We are alone, yet we are not alone.

 

Miracles We May Be Missing

Miracles? With all the news we hear about the COVID19 pandemic, how can I mention miracles? Because miracles are happening! There are unseen miracles all around us! Pandemic refers to something that is prevalent over a whole country or the world. So, let’s declare a pandemic of miracles!

I want to share three situations in which we can see miracles if we are willing to look for them.

1. As highly contagious as the coronavirus is, it is a miracle there are not more people who have contracted the disease. Statistics change by the second. However there continues to be more births than deaths. Remember, COVID-19 may be contagious but so is hope.

2. It is a miracle how many people have recovered from this deadly disease. Let’s share the positive statistics rather than the negative death toll.

3. As believers, the greatest miracle is eternal life after physical life. John 17:3 says, “Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. I John 5:5&11 declares, “Who then overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. . . Whoever has the Son has life.” Last Sunday, we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection. Think about the resurrections being experienced by believers who have died.

Yes, we serve a miracle working God. But, how strong is your faith today? Do not be discouraged if you are asking questions. The Bible is full of stories of individuals who grew in faith through trials. Use this time to allow God to deepen your faith.

In Mark 5:21-43, we have the account of Jairus asking Jesus to heal his daughter. The verse that jumps out at me is verse 36. Don’t be afraid; just believe. God is speaking these words to us today. Hear these words as a challenge – not a command. God knows our human tendency to be afraid. Feel Him tenderly draw you into His arms. Hear Him whisper in your ear that He loves you. He is offering you a solution to your feelings. He is extending you faith to replace your fear.

Are you struggling to believe Him wholeheartedly? Think about the story in Mark 9:14-29. A father and Jesus are talking about faith. Listen to verses 23 and 24. If You can?” echoed Jesus. “All things are possible to him who believes!” Immediately the boy’s father cried out, I do believe; help my unbelief!” Is this where you are today? You believe, but you feel like your faith is being shaken. You want more faith. Sometimes we have to realize what we lack before we can receive more. God will use this time of uncertainly to increase the certainty of our faith.

We are reminded in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.II Corinthians 5:7 says, “For we live by faith, not by sight.” Both scriptures stress that sight is not a part of faith.

Beth Moore has written, “Attempting to exercise you faith according to what we can see cancels out that very faith. . . . Our faith must rest on God’s identity, not His activity. . . . When you don’t know what God is doing, you can find stability in Who He is.”

Let us strive to fulfill II Corinthians 4:18. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” The unseen miracles that are happening around us will only be visible through our spiritual eyes. I remember a chorus we used to sing. “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart. I want to see You. I want to see You!”

Max Lucado writes, “Feed your faith, not your fears. If you feed your faith, your fears will starve.” Lucado also points out that the critical principle for seeing the unseen is to ignore what people say. Believe what God says. Look for the positive. Don’t just listen to the negative.

Matthew 12:20 tells us, “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.” If you feel like your faith’s flame is flickering, don’t give in to fear. Remember what took place in Acts 2. The disciples couldn’t figure out what was happening after Jesus left them. Then the Holy Spirit descended upon them like tongues of fire and set their faith ablaze. Jesus promised in John 14:26, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” The Holy ‘Spirit is our teacher and helper. God does not expect us to develop a deeper faith on our own. He helps us. II Timothy 1:6 tells us to fan the flame. Allow the fire of the Holy Spirit to fan faith’s flame in you.

Because of COVID19, we may identify with Paul in II Corinthians 1:9. “Indeed we felt we had received the sentence o death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.If this is your feeling, please remember Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” The growth of our faith may be unseen at the present time – just like the unseen miracles around us. However, God is at work. When we are honest with Him about our faith and feelings, He will not desert us. Psalm 145:18 says, The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.

Currently, Waymaker is one of my favorite songs. I am reminded of one particular line. “Even when I can’t see it, You’re working!”

Think about Joseph and all he endured because of his brothers. (see Genesis 37) Yet later in life, he said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” I believe the day will come when we can declare this verse relating to the coronavirus. It was meant to harm us, but God will use this difficulty for His glory.

Is your faith growing? Jesus says in Matthew 17:20, If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Even a tiny bit of faith is powerful with God. I recently read online, If a tiny virus can do this much damage, imagine what mustard seed size faith can do.”

Sarah Young writes as the voice of Jesus in Jesus Always for March 26. “Seek to see Me in the midst of your circumstances. Look for signs of My unseen Presence as you walk along the path of Life. Gratefulness opens not only your heart but also your eyes. When you know Me intimately, you can find Me in myriad tiny details as well as in the big picture of your life. Take time to notice all My blessings – small and large – and to thank Me for them. This practice will help you enjoy My many gifts. . . . Also ask Me to train you in trusting Me more consistently. Well-developed trust enables you to go across treacherous terrain without grumbling. The more challenging your journey, the more frequently you need to voice your confidence in Me.”

My Reader, join me in repeating Psalm 34:3-5.Magnify the LORD with me; let us exalt His name together. I sought the LORD, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces shall never be ashamed.Let’s stop giving COVID-19 so much power. Let’s magnify the Lord who has all power and authority! 

Are you ready to embrace the words of Joshua 1:9? “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Yes, God promises to be with us even when we do not understand – even when doubts creep into our thoughts. Remember the instructions we are given in Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Yes, we serve a miracle working God! However, I do not want to demean any of you who are currently suffering in any way from this horrible virus. You are in my prayers! Psalm 86:15 says, “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.You may not see it yet, but God has some unseen miracles for you as well. I do not know the answers to all the physical and spiritual questions being asked. However, I want to believe for more of the miraculous for all of us.

Don’t Get Stuck on Friday

Don’t get stuck on Friday” is a quote I recently read online. I cannot find it again to give proper credit. However, it has remained in my mind.

Imagine yourself in the presence of Jesus over 2000 years ago. You travel with Jesus to Jerusalem. You shout Hosanna with the crowd. You wave palm branches. You celebrate the Passover meal with Jesus and His disciples in the upper room. Jesus asks you to pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Hopefully, you do not fall asleep. You may stand around the fire with Peter to keep warm. Will you deny knowing Jesus? Will you be in the crowd along the road as Jesus stumbles towards Golgotha? Will He ask you to help Him carry the cross? Will you cover your ears to prevent hearing the hammer pounding the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet?

Matthew 27:45 says, “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.During these hours, Jesus hung on the cross bearing the sins of the world. The darkness of the world.

Do you feel like you are currently surrounded by darkness? Maybe you have recently experienced the death of someone close to you. Possibly your future looks dark because everything is your world has been turned upside down and you do not know which way to turn. Lots of darkness, discouragement and disappointment.

Don’t get stuck in the darkness of Friday. Unplug the ears you covered while the nails were being pounded into Jesus’ hands and feet. Hear Him cry, “It is finished.”

Move on to Sunday. Go with the women to the tomb. See the stone rolled away. Enter the empty tomb with Peter and John. Look at the linen burial cloths folded and laid aside. Discover for yourself that Jesus has risen! Discover He is alive! Shout hallelujah!

Hear Jesus speak the words of John 11:25-26 to you personally. “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die.”

Grasp the truth of Romans 8:11. “And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.”

These are the truths in which you can walk. But stop for a minute and look at your present situation again.

If you are mourning the loss of someone, can you find comfort knowing this person is now in the presence of Jesus? Hear Jesus say the words of Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are (you) who mourn, for (you) will be comforted.” If the days ahead look dark for you because of uncertainty, be assured that Jeremiah 29:11 is still true. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Do you remember Paul’s words in Philippians 3:10? “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death.” During this COVID-19 outbreak, you are participating in Christ’s suffering. But there is life beyond the suffering. The same power that raised Jesus from the grave is available to you. Embrace this power. Celebrate the resurrection power.

When I previously quoted John 11:25-26 declaring Jesus as the resurrection and the life, I omitted a question at the end. Jesus asks, “Do you believe this?”

I ask you this question right now. If you answer yes, then the assurance of eternal life and resurrection power belong to you. If you answer no, let me share a little more with you.

The darkness of Friday you are experiencing is the darkness of sin. Romans 3:23 tells you and me, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” However, I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This cleansing allows you to move from Friday to Sunday. Then the promise of eternal life is yours.

Open wide your heart to Jesus. Accept Him as your personal savior, and experience I Peter 1:8-9, “and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

Resurrection Sunday is coming. Together, let us shout “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

A Challenge:

With gratitude in your heart, read the various gospel accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Possibly begin with Luke 19:28-24:12. Expect to gain fresh insight.

This year, our Resurrection Sunday celebrations will be a little different. Our hallelujahs will not be confined to the four walls of our churches. Instead, let us shout “Christ is risen” from the doorways of our homes. Declare Jesus’ victory over sin and death to the world around you. Someone who has not previously heard this wonderful story may hear you proclaim “Christ is risen! and want to know more. Share the story of Jesus Christ.

Palm Branches and Cloaks

In a few days we will be celebrating Palm Sunday. This year, many of us will be observing this special day from our homes rather than in churches. However, may we not allow our physical separation to hinder our recognition of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In less than a week, this triumphal parade culminatef with a solemn procession to the cross. While reading the account in Matthew 21, one particular verse stood out to me. Matthew 21:8 records, “A massive crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

We recognize the tree branches as palm branches. John 12:12 tells us this. That is why it is called Palm Sunday.

The spreading of their cloaks is what caught my attention. Various translations use different terms for cloak – garment, clothes, coats. Why did people take off their coats? The donkey’s feet were probably dirty. Walking on ground would not be unusual for the animal.

The cloaks were not for the donkey’s benefit. This was the customary way for the king’s subjects to pay him homage. However, this was more than just an act of honor to any king. This was Jesus! The people were declaring that Jesus was the King of Kings, the promised Messiah. 

I suggest there may be a couple of other symbolic actions represented by the crowd laying their coats before Jesus.

As I ponder people taking off their cloaks, I think about our taking off masks. All of us occasionally pretend to be someone other than who we truly are. For example, maybe we hide behind a smile. The smile may say “happy” to those around us while inside we are unhappy. Possibly, we are worried about our health – or stressed about a job – or mourning the loss of a loved one. We may wear masks around people, but God knows the truth. God is omniscient. He knows everything. We cannot hide from Him. Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

The masks we wear may hide who we sincerely are in our heart. Luke 12:2-3 MSG says,You can’t keep your true self hidden forever; before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever; sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known. You can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day’s coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town.

When we take off our masks and lay them at Jesus’ feet, we allow Him to work in our lives. Psalm 28:6-7,9 says, “Praise be to the Lord, for He has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me. Save Your people and bless Your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Notice that verse 9 of the Psalm includes the cry, “Save Your people.” After the people laid their cloaks at Jesus’ feet, Matthew 21:9 says, “The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed were shouting: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’’” Hosanna means “save now.” I see a connection.

Perhaps there is a greater application to be made regarding the Palm Sunday account. Were the people laying down more than their coats? Were they laying down their lives? Were they symbolically surrendering to Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords of their lives?

Maybe they were taking off the garment of their former behavior. Colossians 3:9-10 says, Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.

Turning pages to the last book of the Bible, I discover another scene. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem could foretell the Heavenly New Jerusalem.

There may be a prophetic picture portrayed through people laying their cloaks on the ground before Jesus. John says in Revelation 7:9-10, “After this I looked and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’’” In the future, will the cloaks removed be replaced with white robes? Palm branches are still in their hands. The words they proclaim can be summarized with the single word Hosanna.

When the crowd laid their coats on the ground, they did not know the end of the story. Today, we see the bigger picture. We have the opportunity to lay more than outer garments at the feet of Jesus. We can lay our lives before Him. May we echo the words of Isaiah 61:10. “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of His righteousness.

Let us shout Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Save us now!