What the Church has Forgotten

See the source image

Something has been sticking in my craw lately. Something Jesus said. “Sin no more.” It’s found twice in John 5:14 and 8:11. What’s bugging me is not that Jesus said it – everything the Lord said is right and true and should be written on our hearts.  The problem I’m having is how the church is using it. Let me explain.

In John 5:1-15 Jesus healed a thirty-eight-year invalid at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus told the man “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (v. 8). And so the man is healed. John said “Later, Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (v. 14).

In John 8:1-11 Jesus is confronted by a group of religious leaders who bring before Him a woman caught in the act of adultery (BTW – where was the man???). Jesus rejected the religious folks and sided with the woman because no one is without sin (I hope that’s not a surprise to you). After all of her accusers walked away he told her “Go now and leave your life of sin” (v. 11).

Without fail, every time I hear these stories taught, preached, or written about, they invariably press the “sin no more” point. Is that really what the Scriptures are teaching us in these accounts? What about the miracle-working power of Jesus? What about grace?  What about forgiveness? What about the extraordinary, wonderful, breathtaking, holy love on display? What would Jesus want us to take away from these passages? Surely not just the divine imperative to “leave your life of sin.” We forget that these are real people who encountered the real Son of God in the flesh. Yes, their lives were likely changed (we know nothing more than their encounters with the Lord) but the catalyst for change was the amazing grace and healing power of God through Jesus Christ.

What is the message of the church? It seems to most often be: “Don’t sin!” Is that what brings people to Christ? Let me ask it a different way. What drew you to Jesus Beloved? Fear and chastisement or grace and compassion and forgiveness and love? “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

Too Busy to Pray?

See the source image

I have a paper for my grad class that was due yesterday. I have not been able to devote the time I should have to it for a lot of different reasons. My professor was gracious and gave me extra time to complete it and turn it in without penalty. I sat down here at my desk early this morning with my cup of life-elixir and my first thought was: “I need to jump on this paper. I don’t have time to pray.” Then I realized that if I don’t have time to pray, I don’t have time for anything. I need to pray. When I am too busy to take the time to pray, that is when I most need to take the time to pray. When I have too much on my plate to give God fifteen minutes of my day, that is when I need to give Him thirty.  When I feel like I just don’t want to pray, when guilt and shame and hopelessness are weighing me down, that is when I must pray.

Jesus made time to pray – even in the middle of busy days. Luke 5 says that, as word of His teaching and healing spread, crowds came to Him to hear Him preach and to be healed. Yet, verse 16 says, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” And Jesus, knowing His days would be full and demanding, prepared ahead with prayer. Mark 1: 35 says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.” After His time with His Father, He took His disciples into the nearby villages to preach.

What’s on your docket today? Is your plate very full? Do you have more than one plate to manage? Who’s pulling at you? What urgent thing is demanding your time and attention? Beloved, you need to pray. If Jesus needed to talk to His Father about His hectic day, you and I need to all the more.

The Purpose of Life

See the source image

Until April 12, 1961, men had never ventured off of planet earth. Yuri Gagarin from the Soviet Union launched into the outer atmosphere of space aboard the Vostok 1. Since then men and women have walked on the moon and walked in space. Valeri Vladimirovich Polyakov lived on the Space Station for more than a year. But one thing has been consistent from Gagarin’s flight to Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon Demo-2 on May 30, 2020 – they did it all in space suits and aboard spacecraft or a space station specially designed to sustain human life in atmospheres that do not. The planet earth is the only place in the known universe in which humans can live. It has the proper balance of natural elements for life. Only the earth has plants that humans can eat for growth and health. It is perfectly situated from the sun, drawing needed heat and energy. Just a few degrees closer and we would all burn up, a few degrees farther away, and we would freeze to death. It is perfectly situated from the moon to control the ocean’s tide. And some insist that all of this is a cosmic accident – and that you and I are the product of millions of years of evolutionary chance. I don’t think so. It’s all too perfect, too intricate, to exact. There is a Creator. His name is God and everything He does is with purpose and intention and it is done with exactness.

So then why, Beloved, do you think that this perfect, purposeful, exacting God would let things just happen in your life without some rhyme or reason? He who knew exactly where to place the earth knows exactly what He is doing with you. Nothing, not the joyful things or the hard things or the bitter things or the frustrating things are by happenstance. They have a purpose. David wrote: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me” (Psalm 138:8). He is working out His good, pleasing, and perfect plans for your life. Hear this dear one: your life is not the accumulation of coincidences and consequences and a few good times thrown in. Not with our God. There is purpose and meaning in everything in the hands of your Heavenly Father.

Drowning in a Desert

See the source image

“This is what the Lord says – He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters” (v. 16); “I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (v. 19).

Some days it feels like I am both drowning and wandering through a desert.  I know, you can’t drown in a desert, but let me explain.  My emotions seem like an overflowing river, thoughts rushing this way and that, pulling me under and threatening to take my very breath.  For a split second, I come up for air – “I believe!”  In the next the waves crash over my head again – “But I am afraid!”  God promises to make a way – a path through the waters of fearful thoughts and discouragement that threaten to drown me.  He promises dry ground to cross over to the other side.

Yet I am also in the desert where nothing grows and all seems lost – walking through a season of drought.  Health issues.  Grief.  Family tension.  Responsibilities that shouldn’t be mine.  Financial struggles.  Too much to do and not enough time to do it. They beat down like the scorching sun as I wander looking for an oasis.  God promises to make a way here too – to provide streams in this wasteland.  Mind you not to drown me like the sea, but to refresh and restore me.

Our Father meets our needs for rescue and refreshing.  He gives us dry ground and cool springs.  He never fails to notice us wherever we are – even when we’re in two places at once.  Oh, my drowning, wandering friend – let me throw you a lifeline of hope.  You don’t have to fear because God hears you, He is with you, He fights for you, He will never leave nor forsake you, and He promises to help you.  He knows where you are right now, and He knows what you need right here.  And He will make a way where there seems to be no way.

Come Home

See the source image

Quick!  Bring the best robe and put it on him.  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet (Luke 15:22).

When I was a girl I always loved to dress up in my mom’s things, especially her jewelry.  She had a beautiful necklace that I adored with blue and green stones all around it that caught the light with a thousand sparkles.  I played with it constantly.  When I put it on, I felt so beautiful and elegant – just like my Mama!

Little girls in mama’s jewelry.  Little boys in daddy’s shoes.  Children love to borrow their parent’s things because they want to be just like them.  But somewhere along the way, those children grow up and reject what they once emulated.  They don’t want to be like their parents anymore, they want to be their own person and live their own life.  That was the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.  This young man wanted life on his terms so he demanded his share of the father’s estate (essentially telling his father that he wished the old man was dead) and left for the world beyond his father’s house.  But wild nights and parties with friends soon exhausted his supply. Alone and hungry, he decided to return home. He was a defeated man and didn’t even think himself worthy to be his father’s son.  But his father had never counted his son out.  He had looked for him every day.  And when he saw him, he ran to him. He told his servants, “Bring the best robe . . . and a ring” (Luke 15:22).  The best robe was the father’s robe, the ring was the father’s ring.  The overjoyed father was claiming his son again.

I don’t know where you’ve wandered or how long you’ve been away.  I don’t know what worldly things you’ve wasted your life on.  But I know that God has been watching the road, ready to welcome you home. Take one step toward Him Beloved and He will run to you. Come home child – Your Father is holding a robe and crown of Righteousness for you (Isaiah 61:10, 2 Timothy 4:8).

When You Want to Quit

See the source image

“I just really want to quit. Or run away. I don’t see this ever ending – at least not in a good way. I will always be caught up in it. There’s no way to untangle myself without someone else getting hurt. So I will press on. Still, I just want to quit. But I can’t quit. The stakes are too high. There are others in this thing – innocents I just can’t walk away from. But oh, I am so tired. I don’t think I’ll ever get my life back to normal.”

Yes, I could see that she was tired – more than tired – she was weary in her body, mind, and heart. I knew her situation, we’d talked about it many times. And she was right. She couldn’t quit. To do so would be to abandon the very ones who needed her the most. I also knew that, as hard as it all was, she believed in her weary heart that this was God’s place for her right now. And that was what kept her going. That and lots of prayer. And coffee. And three verses of Scripture:

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 1:16-18). The situation wasn’t “fair” – but it was God’s will for her in Christ Jesus. And that is where she wanted to be – in the center of God’s will. Knowing that she was doing what God wanted her to do gave her more strength and resolve than a strong cup of espresso.

Sometimes God asks you and me to do things that are very hard, that are heavy burdens, that even seem unfair. Do them Beloved. Even though God’s will is not always an easy place to be, it is the best place to be. It is hard.  At times you will get weary. But there is peace there because God is present in the center of His will. Don’t quit.

Trust Me

See the source image

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in Me.” John 14:1

The disciples were anxious because the Lord had told them, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. Where I am going you cannot come.” (John 13:33).  Peter, speaking what everyone was thinking, wanted to know where He was going and why they could not accompany Him (John 13:36, 37).

Jesus understood their fears.  That is why He offered them words of comfort and assurance.  Notice, though, that He did not say, “Now don’t you worry, everything is going to turn out fine – just wait and see.”  He didn’t even tell them, “It’s okay – see this is all part of my plan.”  No, the answer Jesus gave them was:

“Trust in God.  Trust also in me” (John 14:1b).

He did not soothe their frazzled minds with the common words of assurance.  He was their assurance.  They just needed to remember . . .

They had walked with Him for three years.  They had heard His words, experienced His love, seen His power over the storm and in the storm, felt His hands pouring water on their dusty feet.  They knew that He was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  They knew He was their friend (John 15:15).

“Trust in me.”

Beloved, Jesus knows you are afraid and weary.  He knows that you can’t see past this moment – this grief, this shock, this heartache, this very hard season.  He knows you cannot envision the road ahead and you don’t know what will happen.  He knows your anxious heart and He says to you,

“Trust in me.”

Trust in the words He has said – “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you” (Isaiah 41:10).  “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Trust in His love.  Trust in His faithfulness.  Trust in His promise.  Trust in the One who gave His life to redeem you from your sins.  Trust in the One who rose from the dead to give you eternal life.

Trust in Jesus – there is no greater assurance.

Wherever You Go

See the source image

I am always drawn to the story of Hagar the Egyptian slave girl who served as a handmaiden to the wife of Abram. She was pressed into service as a surrogate mother to bear a child for the barren Sarai. This caused much strife between the two women, as you can imagine. She ran away from her mistress, into the unforgiving wilderness where “The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7. Hagar may have been lost in the wilderness, but she was not lost to God. The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. That means He didn’t go on a seek-and-find mission, He set Himself right where He knew she was going. She was His wounded child and His heart was tender to her.
One of the most precious promises in the Bible to me is “The Lord your God will be with you where you go” (Jos. 1:9). In my almost sixty years, I have found myself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, often of my own making, but I have never been out of my Heavenly Father’s sight. In the margin of my Bible I have written these words that God spoke to my heart in one of those seasons: “Child, there is no place you can go that I will not be.” Whether physical places or emotional pits or spiritual dark caves – God has promised “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5). If He willingly went to the cross, and into the dark grave of death for us, then we can trust that He will never abandon us, no matter where we are.
Beloved, I don’t know where you find yourself today but this I know for sure – you are not lost to God. He knows exactly where you are now and where you are going. He has noted every step you’ve taken, even the ones that took you away from Him. God was there for a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, and He is there with you. There is no place you can go that He will not be.

A Prayer for Today

See the source image

This is my prayer this morning. I invite you to pray with me:

Holy Father,

This is the day that You have made, and I will be glad and rejoice in it (Ps 118:24).

Nothing will touch me today that has not passed through the filter of your loving purpose.

I have awakened to new opportunities and new mercies (Lam. 3:23).

Yesterday’s failures are buried. Today is a new slate, bright and clean.

I do not face this day alone; You are present with me (Matt. 28:20).

You are my Shepherd (Ps. 23:1).

You are my Father (Matt. 20:17).

You are my Peace (Heb. 13:20).

My Comfort (2 Cor. 1:3)

My Rock (Ps 18:2).

My Strength (Ps 19:14).

My Shield (Deut. 33:29).

 

Lord, when my heart and mind are focused on You, the worries of my life seem small because You are so great. Oh, help me keep my eyes fixed on You all through the day.

Gracious, mighty, sovereign God what an extraordinary thing that You sang me to sleep last night (Zep. 3:17) and You sent me word this morning of Your unfailing love (Ps. 143:8).

I make one plea in this early hour – the angels declare that the whole earth is full of Your glory. (Isaiah 6:3). Give me eyes to see Your glory all around me today.

In the mighty and holy and perfect name of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Babes in Christ – or Men and Women of God?

See the source image

My granddaughter eats from a plate that belonged to her daddy when he was her age. It is made of hard plastic and has brightly-colored cartoon dinosaurs painted on it – she calls them “puppies” and so puppies they are. We’ve tried to remember to always hand wash it, to preserve the puppies’ colors because dishwasher detergent tends to fade and bleach away designs on dishware. But lately, it’s been put in the dishwasher rather than take the few minutes to hand wash it with a gentle cleanser. A couple of days ago I noticed flecks of white showing in the puppies and the colors were not as bright as they had been. Our laziness was beginning to show – and it was beginning to diminish the dish.

The writer of Hebrews chastised the recipients of his letter saying, “We have much to say about this but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn” (5:11). The word “slow” caught my attention, and I grabbed my spiritual shovel to start digging.  What I found was a very sharp rebuke. That word does not indicate a learning disability – it speaks to a heart problem instead. The word means “lazy, undisciplined, no longer trying to learn.” Oh. The writer continued by saying that they were not growing and progressing in their understanding of God’s Word and their faith – “you need milk, not solid food!” (v. 12). They were content being spiritual “infants” sucking on their spiritual bottle.

So how do we grow in our faith? How do we go from babies on milk to men and women producing fruit for the Kingdom of God? The writer continued, “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (v. 14). Spiritual growth requires spiritual discipline –effort and time and developing holy habits that become an ingrained part of our character. Salvation is always the work of God, but growing in our faith requires our cooperation. Beloved, lets you and I determine to put down our bottles, shake off our laziness, and grow up. Let’s revive those bright colors so that the world can see the unfading beauty of men and women of God.