Big Little Words

reading-bible“Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

The little book of Philemon is one of those books in that Bible that I thought had no value for me – I mean it only covers one page and is just Paul’s personal letter to a friend about a slave.  Not as inspiring as the Psalms, not instructive like his letters to Timothy, not even about Jesus like the Gospels.  Until I saw it through fresh eyes and the Holy Spirit.  Philemon is the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ in 25 verses. 

Philemon was the owner of a slave named Onesimus, who desperately desired freedom from his bondage.  He did the only thing he could do and ran away from his master, and apparently stole from him as well.  Through God’s grace he connects with Paul who is in prison and who leads Onesimus to salvation in Christ.  Now he wants to make things right with his master, but fears the repercussions of his actions.  Paul intercedes for him, reminding Philemon that his former slave is now his brother in Christ.  Paul asks for Onesimus’ release so that he can serve with Paul.

The gospel says that you and I were slaves to sin and death, and though we desperately desired to be free, our best attempts only made our situation worse.  We are fearful of God, condemned because of our sinful human nature.  Then through God’s grace, Jesus finds us and offers us true freedom.  Now we can come to God without fear because Jesus has made things right between us and intercedes before the Father for us.

The heart of this book is also the heart of the Gospel: “If [Onesimus] has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me . . . I will pay it back” (v. 18, 19).  You and I have wronged God and we owe Him a debt we can never repay.  Jesus took our sin-debt and paid it with His own precious blood.  If you are in Christ, you are no longer a slave to sin and death.  You are free by God’s grace.  You are a child of God and a Christ is your brother.  There is power in every word of the Word of God.  Power to set you free.

Lord, I’m Sorry

repentance“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” Psalm 51:17.

“I’m sorry, but . . .” he began and I realized he wasn’t sorry at all.  Once more he had betrayed my trust and crushed my heart and once more he offered a hollow “apology” that absolved him of the responsibilities of his actions.  There always seemed to be some reason outside of his control that made him do the things he did (or not do the things he said he would do).  But the truth is I’ve made the same kind of apology and I’ll bet you have too.  It’s human nature to want to wriggle out of blame.  It’s as old as the first sin.  Adam blamed Eve – and even blamed God – and Eve blamed the serpent.  Shifting blame is a national pastime.  It doesn’t really change what we’ve done or the harm we’ve caused, it just presses the guilt down a little under a false sense of relief.

Our key verse sits in David’s Psalm of lament after he was confronted with his adulterous sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah.  David does not try to dodge his wickedness nor sweep away his guilt.  He says, “I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me” (v. 3).   He confesses his sin to God and says that the Lord’s judgement against him is right and justified.  He pleads for mercy and cleansing and God graciously gives it.

Our sin breaks the heart of God and if we love God it will break our hearts as well. But forgiveness is possible when we confess our sin and repent.  And true repentance never has a “but,” it is raw and honest before the One who knows it all anyway.  It’s the only way to find real forgiveness and peace.  Paul reminded the Corinthians that “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). 

A dear friend once told me, “God doesn’t forgive excuses, He forgives sins.”  Beloved, we must stop trying to excuse our sin away and come to God in true repentance.  No “buts” about it.


The Wall Around my Heart


“Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” Proverbs 4:23
She told me through her tears “Nobody is ever getting that close to me again. From now on I’m guarding my heart, just like the Bible says.”
“Oh my sweet friend,” I replied, “That’s not exactly what the Scripture means. You can’t just shut your heart off from everyone, that’s no way to live.”
But I knew what she meant and how she felt. I’ve said much the same thing myself. You probably have as well. Because we are created in the image of a relational God, we are “wired” for relationship. Yet relationships often mean that our hearts will get bruised and even broken. But that doesn’t mean that we should seal them up behind stone walls and never let anyone in. I’ve done that. It only made me bitter and hard and harmed my heart far more than anyone else ever could. The heartache of a broken friendship or of loss by death or distance is truly painful. But I would rather feel the ache than not feel at all.
Many years ago, in my youth, someone close to me hurt me deeply, badly, some might say what they did was unforgivable, and I agreed for a very long time. So I laid the first layer of stone around my heart. Then a few years later came a broken marriage and another layer was added to the wall. Broken friendships, cutting words, abandonment and disappointment in more relationships meant I had to climb a ladder to add another round of stones. Before too long, my heart was completely closed off, shielded from any possible pain, but also shut off from light and warmth and joy – and God. My heart began to atrophy and grow cold and stony – like that protective wall.  When a friend died of a heart attack at 40, I recall telling the Lord, “It’s awful to die at such a young age.” In my spirit I heard a response, “No more so than living to a ripe old age with a stone cold heart.”
Dear friend, you may think you are protecting your heart by keeping it hidden behind walls of stone and iron, but the truth is, you are doing far more damage to it than any person could inflict. Yes, your pain is real. Yes, the hurt runs deep. But you were not created to be in a prison of your own making. Please – tell the One who can heal your heart and break down the walls. You were meant to feel the warmth of relationships. You were made for love.

Be Careful Little Ears What You Hear

5867554“This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.  Listen to Him!” Matthew 17:5

Facebook.  Instagram.  Twitter. Blogs. Articles.  Books.  Everyone has an opinion, and we all want to be heard.  Whether it’s politics, childrearing, fashion or religion, the world – and that includes you and me – is quick to share their thoughts on any given subject.  Some are more, shall we say prolific, than others (think Kardashian) and some only speak when it’s something they are passionate about.  Or maybe, we’re so busy doing all the talking we can’t hear what others have to say.  I’m a writer, so I’m as guilty as the next person.  The question is, in this sea of public opinion, whose opinion are we listening too?  Kim K’s?  The media’s?  The candidates’? Or our own?

Jesus took three disciples with Him to the mountain top to witness the extraordinary – His glory coupled with the appearance of Moses, who represented the Law, and Elijah, who represented the prophets.  Peter was so overcome with excitement that he started babbling his opinion – “Let’s make three booths, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Matthew 17:4).  I have no doubt that James and John were nodding their heads in eager agreement.  They had the wisest of wise men and the very Son of God before them and the three disciples couldn’t hold their tongues long enough to hear what they had to say.  God had to shake them up – and shut them up.

When I was much younger and more naïve spiritually, I attended a weekly Bible study.  I cringe when I recall asking the teacher, “Do I really have to read the Bible? Can’t I just read books about the Bible? It’s too hard to understand.”  She was wise and patient in her answer: “Never take anyone else’s opinion for what God has to say but God Himself.”  That has stuck with me for thirty years and now, as a Bible teacher, I tell my classes the same thing.   Only God’s opinion matters.  What others have to say, no matter how profound they seem, whether it’s Billy Graham, Beth Moore, or Dorcas Beth Andrews – you take it to the Holy Word of Holy God and verify it against the Scriptures that were inspired by the Spirit of God.  That’s what the Berean church did and the Bible calls them people of “noble character, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

Want to know what really matters in the cacophony of voices? You’ll find it between the pages of Genesis and Revelation.  God’s Word matters above every other voice.  Find out what He has to say to you.

The Old Rugged Cross*


“Jesus . . . endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

I wear a necklace with a cross every day.  I don’t wear it as a fashion statement nor is it meant to be a bold proclamation of my faith.   In fact, when I am at work, I wear it under my uniform.  I don’t wear it for others, I wear it for myself, to remind me of who I am and whose I am.  I wear it to remember what Jesus did for me.  I actually do wear it to declare my faith – to myself.

To our contemporary perspective the cross is a holy icon of the Christian faith, but in first-century Rome, the cross was anything but honored or holy.  Death on a cross was a barbaric form of capital punishment.  It was horrifically bloody and the person on the cross screamed in agony until he was spent.  It was very public, the condemned were hung near public entries to the city or in the public square.  The criminal was stripped naked, adding to the humiliation.  The cross was a shameful way to die.

How like God to take what man considered shameful and make it a symbol of freedom, forgiveness and perfect, holy love.  God specializes in taking shame and turning it into freedom.  Maybe you, like me, have something that weighs on your heart, something that makes you feel shameful; you may even feel like you yourself are shameful.  Perhaps you past is filled with shame, or you heard shame spoken over you so much you took it as your identity.  Beloved, if you are in Christ, you don’t have to carry that shame anymore.  Jesus took it all to the cross.  He wore it like a mantel on His own body, so you never have to bear it again.  You stand before Him, free of shame – holy, clean, innocent.

If you are not a Christian, may I encourage you to receive the forgiveness and freedom that you long for?  Jesus Christ took all your sin and shame on Himself and died on a cross – for you.  He can make you clean and whole and fill your heart with peace and joy.  Just pray this prayer: “Lord Jesus, I am covered with sin and shame and I long to be set free.  I receive by faith the freedom You paid for on the cross.  I give myself to You, just as You gave Yourself for me.  Thank You for loving me enough to die for me.  Amen.”  If you prayed that prayer, please contact me so I can rejoice with you.

In Jesus Christ there is no shame.

*”The Old Rugged Cross” is the title of a classic and beloved hymn written by George Bennard, 1873-1960.

Cheering You On!


“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses . . .” (Hebrews 12:1)

Facebook can be a curse and a blessing.  I waste more time on FB than I really can afford to lose (I see you nodding your head in agreement).  One quick scroll can turn into 30 minutes of mind-numbing uselessness.  I love to see your precious babies and your memories and I welcome the laughter from the funny things you share.  I’ve been blessed to reconnect with long-lost relatives and friends plus, FB makes birthdays a blast!  But I really don’t have time for this!  Still Facebook, and other social media give me opportunities to reach out with the Word of God to encourage, inspire, and teach more people than I could fit in my living room or a class room at my church.  And the encouragement and inspiration I receive from you is balm to my weary heart.

Hebrews 11 lists what we consider the “greats of the faith” – Like Noah, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and even Rahab – a prostitute no less.  They are all part of the “great cloud of witnesses” who serve as encouragement and inspiration for us today.  Add to that list the apostles like Peter, James, John and Paul, plus those through the centuries who have died for the cause of Christ – men and women who stood in the face of torture and death and praised the Name above every name – and it is indeed a “great cloud” of faithfulness.  They are models and examples to us and they are cheering you and me on in our Christian journey.  They paid the price for being a Christ-follower and they want us to know that it is worth it.

There is another in that great cloud who is particularly watching and encouraging us.  Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The Scriptures tell us that Jesus is praying for us; He is asking His Father to give us faith that will not fail (Luke 22:31, Romans 8:34).  He is speaking to our hearts through His Spirit.  And when the battle is the hardest and we think we have been forgotten, He who sits at the right hand of the Father, stands to bless and encourage us (Acts 7:55, 56).  Beloved, you have all the saints of the ages cheering you on.  You have brothers and sisters in Christ to support and encourage you.  And you have the very Son of God praying on your behalf.  With all that – how could you possibly fail?

Promises, Promises


“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:45).

You stood together at the front of the church and promised to “love, honor and cherish till death do us part.”  Yet, here you are alone and hurting.  My child promised to come home on time, and two hours later I’m fuming as I hear his key finally turn in the door.  They promised advances and promotions when you were hired, but you’re still stuck at entry level. What happened?  Promises were made and then broken.  You’ve been on the receiving end, I’m sure.  You may have been on the giving end as well. 

Part of our human sinful condition is that we are selfish and self-centered and that often means we will fail to keep our word.  We make promises because we believe we will always feel the way we do in the moment. We never expected that our feelings would change.  Sometimes promises are made because we see that we can gain an advantage.  We really have no intention of keeping that promise, but we make it anyway.  I have made promises that I later could not keep.  I thought I could do what I said I would do, I have every intention of doing what I said I would do, but something unexpected happened and I failed to keep my word.  The end result is always the same – someone gets hurt.  Someone is placed at a disadvantage.  Is it any wonder that we find it hard to trust others?  Even God.

One thing I am certain of to the marrow of my bones is that God is faithful to His promises.  His Word is as sure as His character, and His character is flawless.  God doesn’t make promises based on feelings, so we never have to worry that His feelings will change and His promises will fail.  He does not need to make promises to gain and advantage.  He always has the advantage.  He doesn’t make promises He cannot keep.  He is almighty, all-powerful, and able to do everything He says He will do.  He never makes a promise He doesn’t intend to keep.  God wouldn’t be God if He did not or could not keep His promises.

What has God promised you?  If you are in Christ He has promised you salvation and eternal life.  He has promised you hope and peace and joy.  He has promised His presence, His power and His protection.  He has promised to provide, comfort and care for you.  He has promised you victory over sin and death and this world.  He has promised and He will accomplish.  Blessed are you when you take Him at His Word.

How Awesome!

wonder-and-awe1“Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).

I read an article Sunday in the newspaper about awe.  There was actually a three-year research project done on awe at UCal Berkley, their report included such awesome😉 findings as “Awe binds us together,” “Awe helps us see things in new ways,” “Awe makes us nicer – and happier,” and “Awe alters our bodies.”  It also touted “the healing potential of awe.”  Suggestions for finding awe included observing nature, listening to music and one I heartily agree with – putting down the ever present cell-phone and simply looking up. [1]

I don’t dispute any of their findings or suggestions, but the article failed to ask and answer some very important questions, such as “Why do we feel awe?” and “What makes something awe-inspiring?”  I’d like to take a stab at them myself – with the help of the Scriptures.

We feel awe because we were created for worship – and worship is at its purest and truest when it is accompanied by awe.  The article says “Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond human scale, that transcends our current understanding of things.” (Dacher Keltner)[2]  Is there anything more vast or farther beyond our human understanding than the God of the Universe?  David declared “You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary” (Psalm 68:35)!

What makes something awe-inspiring is when we, in our smallness, stand in the presence of greatness.  I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, and it is awesome, because it is huge and beautiful.  Deuteronomy 7:21 says “The Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God.”  When we sense the presence of God we have no other response but awe.  Actually, when we truly sense the awesome presence of God we cannot stand at all.

Still, the most important question is, “What happened to our sense of awe?”  Sin happened. Pride happened.  The sin of Adam and Eve, at its root, is the sin of pride.  Where pride reigns, we lose the necessary humility to be awed.  My friend, if you ponder the fact that the holy, sovereign God of heaven and earth has singled you out for salvation and relationship and eternal life you should be humbled and awed.  Nothing is more incredible, more grand and glorious and more awe-inspiring than that.


[1] Paula Spencer Scott, “Feeling Awe May Be the Secret to Health and Happiness,” Parade, Sunday, October 9, 2016, 6-8.

[2] Dacher Keltner is a psychologist who heads the University of California, Berkeley’s Social Interaction Lab and helped create the new Facebook response button emojis.

I’m a Church-Girl


“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:25).

Because I work in a retail environment, I am required to work some Sunday shifts. I’ve worked four of the last six Sundays and one of my two Sundays off I had to drive my husband to the airport. I’ve not been in church for the past four weeks. I feel it. I feel my spirit shriveling up a little more each day for the lack of Christian fellowship, corporate worship and receiving the Word. I feel the pull of sin getting stronger. I feel the weight of the world getting heavier. I feel alone.
The writer of Hebrews understood the necessity of Christian companionship when he wrote our key verse. It sits in the middle of a passage that calls for perseverance. The Hebrew Christians were under extreme persecution from both the Roman government and the Jewish religious community for their faith. This entire book is a call to remain firm in the faith and one of the most dependable ways to do so is to stand together in one accord. The author says that Christian fellowship has several purposes: to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” to encourage one another,” and to hold each other accountable, (vs. 24, 25, implied in v. 26). Many martyrs of the faith have been imprisoned, publically tortured and put to death. But they went through those abuses united in heart and faith, and they drew strength from one another. In 1555 two faithful Bishops, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer we burned side-by-side at the stake for their testimony of Christ. As they embraced before the place of burning, Ridley told Latimer, “Be of good heart, brother, for God will either make the fire less painful, or strengthen us so that we can endure it.”
Friend, we may not be facing a fiery death for our faith (yet), but we still need one another to endure the struggles and challenges of our lives. I need you. I need your encouragement. I need your prayers.  I need your witness.  I need you to remind me to remain faithful. You need me for the same reasons. Church is not just something we do as long as the kids don’t have a soccer match or the beach isn’t calling our name on Sunday. Church – Christian fellowship – is something we need for the sake of our spiritual lives. I hope to see you in church this coming Lord’s Day.

More than Just a Face in the Crowd

 pl1g2vfzr0gabzggbje8_528583-531583-large-group-of-people-sitting-togetherA high school or university has thousands of students roaming the halls, sitting in classes, congregating on the lawn—each student is but one of the many. The shopping mall is filled crowds of young people wanting to see and be seen, hoping that they stand out from the rest.  Perhaps you go to church Sunday after Sunday and sit in your usual spot, one person in a large congregation, hoping for a word of encouragement.  If you search the internet for “Christian Blogs” or “Christian Devotionals,” you will find that there are millions of bloggers out there vying for readers.  I am one tiny voice in the chorus of Christian writers. We often feel like we are just one face in a massive crowd.

In the city of Jerusalem there was a pool, called Bethesda, where “a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed” (John 5:3).  They were there in hopes of healing for the rumor held that an angel would come and stir the waters and the first person to get into the pool would be healed.  Historians tell us that when they weren’t watching the waters they were begging for alms.  An invalid of thirty-eight years was part of that great number.  He was there alone, helpless and hopeless – just one begging face among so many (v. 7).  But Jesus saw this man out of all the other faces and He healed him (vs. 6, 8-9).  We don’t know why He singled this man out, but I believe John included this account to show that Jesus sees each one of us individually.  We are not just part of the vast sea of humanity. 

The Bible tells us that “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son . . . to save the world” (John 3:16, 17), and it is true that the death of Jesus is sufficient to save all of humankind. (Although we know that not all will believe and receive His salvation.)  But He is a very personal God; He who knows the name of every star knows your name too.  Jesus attested to that; He is the Great Shepherd who “calls His sheep by name” (John 10:3).  If you are in Christ, He knows you – personally, intimately and passionately.  You need not worry that you are just a face in the crowd – God never overlooks the one He loves.