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Something Better

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Hebrews 11:39-40 NIV

The verses you just read close out the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith,” where God took care to remind us of the courageous exploits of some of the faithful. Yet as much as devoted men like Noah, Moses, and Abraham got to experience God, scripture reveals this amazing truth: none of them received what had been promised. There was more.

With all that they got to know and witness of God on this earth, with what they have seen and understood of God’s plan of redemption even now in His presence, something waits. Something better. Something they can only experience together with us.

Can you imagine what that moment will bring, dear one?

All time moves toward the great revelation, the wondrous Day of the Lord when Christ returns to reveal Himself in all His glory, flooding darkness with light and erasing all mystery. Only then will we understand all things fully as we are made perfect together.

Yet many of us live as though that’s already taken place. We often act as though we grasp God completely and have unraveled all the mystery. We assume our understanding of God and His Word is correct and absolute, so we close off our hearts to the possibility that Jesus could be even more than what we’ve perceived Him to be.

The people of Nazareth did that very thing centuries ago when Jesus began to reveal His true nature.

Coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” Matthew 13:54-56 ESV

Sometimes our perceived familiarity with Jesus becomes the very thing that holds us back from experiencing His other aspects that He still desires to show us. We think we know Him, and we’ve neatly wrapped our understanding of who He is in a nice little package we can grasp. Then we encounter something that doesn’t quite fit into that package, and it makes us uncomfortable. So we reject the possibility that it might be true.

The people of Nazareth saw Jesus as the carpenter’s son with a mother named Mary. They watched Him grow up. They knew His brothers and sisters. And that familiarity caused them to bristle when they saw Him doing something that didn’t line up with their understanding. They couldn’t believe that Jesus could be more than what they already knew Him to be.

And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” Matthew 13:57

I wonder. Does Jesus once again find Himself without honor in His own household? Does His heart break as He watches His churches refuse to acknowledge certain aspects of His character? Has our unbelief quenched the work of His Spirit and hidden His glory?

That’s what happened in Nazareth.

And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. Matthew 13:58

I pray we never discover that our own unbelief held back the works Jesus desired to do among us in our day.

What if each of us chose to humbly offer our hearts to our Lord as teachable? What if we opened ourselves to the possibility that Jesus still has greater things to reveal?

Consider Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 16:12-14.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Jesus flat out told His followers that they had much to learn, but they couldn’t handle it all at once. He would reveal it to them over time as they became ready to receive it.

You and I are no different, dear one. Jesus has much to teach us, but we cannot bear it all at once. Some become ready to receive certain truths before others. Yet like those first disciples, He has given us His Spirit to “guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).

We can’t just stick with the truths we’re comfortable with. We need to humbly allow Jesus to reveal all of His truth to us in His time. And just because my heart may not be ready to receive something, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It just means I’m not yet a witness to it.

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. Isaiah 43:10

Isaiah 43:10 speaks a profound truth. We are many witnesses, but together we are His one servant. Perhaps only together, as each of us brings our limited understanding of our unlimited God, can we fully reveal who Jesus is.

Let’s invite the Holy Spirit to open our minds and guide us into all truth,

. . . until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:13

Something better, indeed.

The Power of Ingratitude

“By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.”  Exodus 13:21

Did you ever notice how God becomes just what we need from Him in any given moment?

Perhaps you haven’t noticed. Maybe, like the Israelites, you reap the benefit of His presence without ever giving it much thought. They were often so preoccupied by what they lacked, they didn’t appreciate what they were given. Instead of thanking God for His rich provision, they grumbled.

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Exodus 16:2-3

Really? They spent their time in Egypt sitting around pots of meat? Isn’t it amazing how quickly the human mind forgets and distorts. Perhaps you’d like to see what caused God to send Moses to get them out of Egypt in the first place.

The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. Exodus 2:23-25

God added these words when He called Moses from the burning bush.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering . . . I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.” Exodus 3:7,9

The memory of their groaning in backbreaking slavery quickly faded to illusions of grand feasts. Why? They were hungry. A desire of their flesh rose up and wasn’t satisfied, and that one thing became the entire focus of their thoughts. They forgot the extent of their suffering, as well as God’s miraculous displays of power on their behalf. And their momentary hunger made them twist His intentions. They threw God’s plan to rescue them back in His face, claiming He meant them harm.

Ever been there? That’s the nature of the unredeemed heart, dear one. It deceives. No wonder Jeremiah 17:9 states,

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

And that deceitful heart left unchecked brings bitterness to the soul.

Perhaps this is why scripture continually points the people of God toward gratitude. Gratitude shifts our gaze and changes the direction of our thinking. Instead of emptying the soul by dwelling on what we lack, it fills it by celebrating what we possess.

Sadly, few consistently choose the path of gratitude. Our own hunger for things we desire clouds our view and overshadows our many blessings. And that’s dangerous. Scripture teaches that refusing to acknowledge God with thanksgiving leads to futile thinking and a hard, dark heart.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools. Romans 1:21-22

Ingratitude made the Israelites fools—fools that desired to run right back to the oppressive captivity they had cried out for deliverance from. Amazing.

Before we start casting stones at the house of Israel, it might be wise to shift our gaze to the nearest mirror. Is your heart content in the journey God has you on, dear one? Do your lips offer praise for the Light that marks your path, or are you preoccupied with an area that remains in shadow? Are you hungering for something so ferociously that all that God has already poured into your life feels empty?

God wants to see your heart at peace, beloved. He longs to satisfy your soul with a contentedness only He can bring. You see, dear one, only God Himself can satisfy.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Psalm 90:14

Do you want a little joy and gladness that carries you all your days? It comes as the result of a choice. Choose to look at what God has done, not what He has yet to do. Offer Him praise and gratitude. You may just find that you encounter God Himself.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:4-5

Praise and gratitude usher us into the presence and power of God. Thanksgiving allows us to enter His gates. Praise carries us into His court. And when we encounter Him, we discover just what we needed. Emptiness fades. Our hearts fill with His very presence.

And we are satisfied.

Have You Heard Your Word From God?

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” Genesis 15:4 NIV

I imagine you’ve probably experienced the dull ache of a longing unfulfilled. Life disappoints all of us at some point or another. Some things just hurt worse than others.

Scripture describes the result of those unfulfilled longings in Proverbs 13:12.

 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

God spoke our opening Scripture to Abraham at a time when his heart ached over a hope that burned within him but hadn’t been realized. He had longed for an heir, and he was starting to have a few doubts about God’ plan for him.

Perhaps you’re familiar with Abraham’s story. The God of glory had appeared to him years before and made a request.

 “Leave your country and your people,” God said, “and go to the land I will show you.” So he left . . . Acts 7:3-4

I wonder how many of us would have been willing to give up everything to follow a God no one else believed in or served. Abraham remained completely alone in his allegiance, and yet he left the life he knew to follow the God he had met.

God must have made quite an impression on him.

As is always the case, God’s command to Abraham came with the promise of blessing.

 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:2-3

Not a bad promise! Only Abraham couldn’t quite figure out how it was going to happen. How would he become a great nation when he had no heir? He was already an old man.

In Genesis 15 he begins to voice his concerns to his God. Notice the doubt rising, his heart ailing over having his hope for an heir long deferred.

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” Genesis 15:2-3

Don’t you love the freedom he feels to get honest with God? God loves it too. And in a tender moment, He whispers hope into Abraham’s aching heart.

 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Genesis 15:4-5

Can you imagine it? God tells Abraham, “I want to show you something.” Then he challenges him to count the stars and tells him, “That’s how many offspring I’m giving you. And it won’t be coming through your servant. Your heir will be your own flesh and blood.”

God’s plans for us generally surpass what we can dream up. The problem is, many of us don’t let Him whisper His dreams into our hearts. We set our hearts on our own plans, our own dreams, and expect God to meet them. Then our deferred hope shatters our hearts.

Beloved, let me remind you of a biblical truth on which you and I need to establish our faith.

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. Romans 10:17

The most significant part of Abraham’s story can be summed up from Genesis 15:4.

Then the word of the Lord came to him: . . .

At every turning point in Abraham’s journey, God spoke. And each time, Abraham chose to believe Him.

I wonder if some of us are frustrated because we’re trying to believe God for things He hasn’t spoken over our lives. We’re trying to claim promises because we believe that’s what God should do for us, but we haven’t bothered to ask Him if it’s in His plan.

Beloved, faith comes from hearing. We cannot fully express faith to follow Jesus without seeking Him to hear His Word for our lives.

I encourage you to ask Him, dear one. Perhaps, like Abraham, you’ll receive the word you longed for. If so, hold onto His promise with both hands until you see it come to pass.

Or perhaps you’ll discover that the hope you’ve held onto isn’t part of His plan for your life. If so, He wants to minister to your wounded heart and turn your attention to the blessing He has set aside for you.

In case you’re wondering, you won’t have to worry if you’ll like the blessing. It will be a perfect fit for you because it’s what you were made for. And your soul will sing with elation that far surpasses what would have come from what you once hoped for.

You may even discover what Abraham did about the God you serve.

“. . . I am . . . your very great reward.” Genesis 15:1

When Gifts Become Gods

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Romans 1:25

We like to think of idolatry as an Old Testament sin. After all, most of us don’t set up altars and statues of foreign gods in our living rooms. We proudly display crosses and plaques engraved with Scripture. We place Bibles on our coffee tables. By all appearances, we worship and serve the Lord!

But idolatry involves much more than graven images. It occurs every time something other than God rises to claim the worship and obedience of our hearts—like my need to be right that I shared with you last week. Inadvertently serving that need interfered with my ability to fully serve the Lord.

That’s idolatry, dear one, plain and simple.

Can you think of anything you have exalted to God’s rightful place in your heart? Something you “serve” that keeps you from living out God’s plan?

Our idols can be any number of things, ranging from addictions to relationships. Even comfort can be an idol.  We often refuse to follow Jesus into anything that makes us uncomfortable; we serve the promise of comfort instead of obeying God.

Let’s face it. Most of the time, the things we serve that pull us away from God aren’t things we’d obviously recognize as sin.  Sometimes they’re good things—even wonderful things—things God Himself gave us.

Beloved, sometimes we exalt and serve the gifts that come from His hand.

The Israelites did that when they made their famous golden calf. Do you know where they got the gold they used? Exodus 12:35-36 tells us:

The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.

I find the thought a little unsettling.

Israel used God’s own gift to them—a blessing He provided for them through His deliverance—to construct a god to replace Him.

What’s more, God had other intentions for that gold. It was supposed to build the articles for the tabernacle that would house His presence.

These people had witnessed God’s power through the plagues in Egypt and had seen Him descend in pillars of cloud and fire. They crossed the Red Sea on dry land and then watched the waters God had parted for them collapse and consume their enemies.

But they hadn’t seen any sign of Him for a couple of weeks while Moses met with Him on the mountain, so they thought it would be a good idea to abandon their Deliverer and come up with some new gods.

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.”  So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron.  He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” Exodus 32:2-4

Jeremiah 2:11 comes to mind.

Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols.

Indeed. How like humanity to exchange the Glory God meant for them—His power, presence and protection—for something man himself designed. Something that holds no power at all, whose only value comes from the fact that originally, it came from God.

And why did they do it? Apparently God took too long.

I can’t help but think of Abraham and Sarah. They found themselves trapped by this kind of idolatry when God’s blessed gift of a son became the idol they served.

God gave them the beautiful gift through a prophecy. He told them He would give them a son through whom He would bless the world. And they received God’s gift with joyful faith!

But then God took too long. So instead of waiting on God and trusting His timing to fulfill His promise, they began to serve the gift itself.

Sarah took matters into her own hands, giving her maidservant to her husband in marriage so they could conceive the son. And they did. But from the moment of that conception, misery followed. They had wandered from God’s purpose to bring about their own. Sadly, they discovered their idolatry also brought painful consequences.

Dear one, you and I often take God’s gifts to us and fashion them into gods. 

We naturally tend to worship and serve the gifts God gives us rather than worshiping the Giver through the gift.

I almost did that very thing with this ministry. I hadn’t intended to, but once God gave me His vision for Kelley Latta Ministries, I felt responsible to somehow make it happen. I put pressure on myself to establish it and grow it. God simply wanted me to rest in His plan and follow Him to its completion. Instead, I almost ran ahead of His timing.

I found myself tempted to serve the gift at the expense of the Giver.

Has God given you a gift, beloved, that you have unwittingly served as a god? Perhaps a relationship, a job, a child—even a talent that was meant to serve Him?

Serving our idols will not only weary us; it will also diminish the blessing God meant to provide through the gift. Just look at Abraham. The child born through his union with the maidservant became the enemy of the child of promise.

Dear one, serving anything other than God sets us on a destructive path. Let’s ask the Lord to show us every idol demanding the worship and service of our hearts. Rejecting them as gods and exalting God’s purpose alone allows us to fully receive the blessings God intended through them. They become gifts without bondage or consequences, gifts that remain good and perfect.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

Are you ready to receive?