The Runner’s High

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“Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
If you look at me, you will quickly discern that I am not a runner. I am not physically active and it shows. I have a good friend from elementary/high school who does run and she is healthy, fit, and has incredible mental and physical energy.  I get winded walking to the mailbox. 
 
Paul had a lot to say about running, but not for physical health. Paul was running a race. He had a higher purpose in mind that covering miles. He wanted to run well and to especially finish well.  I encourage you to grab your Bible and read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – I’ll wait here for you.  At first glance, this appears to be about running for the “prize” of heaven, but J.D. Walt highlighted in today’s Seedbed Daily Text that the prize is not about something far off that we have to work harder and run faster to reach. It is about a relationship with Jesus – right here and right now.  It is the realization that Jesus is our running companion. He’s not standing at some far-distant finish line but is running right alongside us.  I also believe Paul is talking about endurance.  About putting your foot down one more time and one more time because Christ is your source of strength when your legs are heavy and your breath is labored. He is the voice shouting encouragement in your ears.  I also believe Paul is talking about being purposeful as you run – in letting go of everything that compromises your ability to stay in step with Christ.  I’m seeing more and more that our ideals (especially our American ideals) are weights on our feet.  They are being turned into the enemy of the Gospel as we set them up higher than heaven.  Being a citizen of heaven trumps being a citizen of any earthly nation.
I do think there is a prize waiting for you at the end of the race. It is hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant!” when you and Jesus bust through the tape at the edge of heaven. That’s the “runner’s high.” That’s worth lacing up your running shoes, Beloved.

Dirty Hands

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“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:2)

“Why won’t this thing come clean?” I muttered as I scrubbed the water reservoir for our coffee maker. I had washed it twice and still felt a film on the surface. Then I realized that I had grease on my fingers. The problem was me, not the container. It wouldn’t come clean because my hand wasn’t clean.

King David sat on his royal throne as Nathan the prophet told him about two men, one rich and one poor. The rich man had large flocks and herds, the poor man had one ewe lamb that was like a child to him. When the rich man had an unexpected guest, rather than taking a lamb from his own flock to serve, he took the poor man’s beloved ewe lamb and slaughtered it to feed his guest. David was incensed. The rich man must be held responsible for his actions! That is when Nathan turned to David and said, “You are the man!” David had taken the wife of one of his soldiers and had her husband killed to cover up his wicked deed. David was the problem. His hands were very dirty. (See 2 Samuel 11-12)

When I find myself grumbling and complaining about things going wrong in my life, God often gently points to my dirty hands. Honestly, the vast majority of the struggles in my life have my own fingerprints all over them. I am quite often the problem. Now I don’t know about you. Maybe you are darn near perfect and you don’t make foolish mistakes or give in to sin. But for me, I have to own my actions – from my finances to procrastinating with my school work to my weight and a lot of other things.

That’s why I’m so grateful for new mercies every morning. I run into trouble every day, but God is faithful to forgive me and wash my dirty hands. Beloved, do you need clean hands? Do you need a fresh start? David and I found cleansing with the Lord. You can too.

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean: I will cleanse you from all your impurities” (Ezekiel 36:25). That’s a promise.

Remember to Remember

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“Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 42:5a).

 

Why, I wondered, with so much Joy in my life, am I so down? Why am I so discouraged? Why do I feel like there’s such a weight over me? I asked the Lord about it this morning and He showed me an image of a heavy, gray blanket over me and my house. “Where did this come from Lord?” From the enemy. He has covered me with a spirit of discouragement. Add to it my own battle with depression and anxiety and that blanket becomes a dead weight over me. What can I do? How can I be free?

The Psalmist that asked the question also provided the answer: “Put your hope in the Lord” (v. 5b). Oh, that sounds really spiritual, doesn’t it? But not very practical. Ah, but he’s not done. He said, “My soul is downcast within me, therefore I will remember you . . .” There’s the answer. Remember God. Remember His promises. Remember His faithfulness. Remember His Son on the Cross bearing that heavy, grey blanket of my sin. Remember the empty tomb. Remember His Spirit in me. Remember His power. Remember His mercy and grace. Remember every time He came through for me. Remember the rainbow in my backyard. Remember that He bends His ear to hear my cries. Remember and be at peace that “By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me. Remember that He is “the God of my life” (v. 8).

Have you felt the same heavy weight? It’s understandable given the way this year has gone. Even if everything was peachy-keen in your life, the virus, lockdown, unrest, political turmoil, and sense of fear and hopelessness that has gripped the nation is enough to bring even Pollyanna down. But, Beloved, you have a God in heaven who loves you. So much that He gave His only Son to redeem you and give you eternal life. Remember?

Bible Study 101

“They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47).

Twenty-some years ago God stirred in me a passion for in-depth Bible study. It started with a Ladies Bible study group. That whetted my appetite for more. And the more I chewed on Scripture the more I wanted. I went to seminary. I’m currently a seminary grad student. Bible study is life-long work, and God has made it the mission of my life. Studying the Bible changed EVERYTHING. Suddenly I had a whole new perspective on my life, my circumstances, my purpose, my struggles, the church, relationships, the world, and human history – I saw it all through an eternal lens. The Word became – and still is – the filter through which everything passed. The Bible is light and life to me and nourishment to my soul.

I’ve been asked often about my “Bible study methods,” and I developed a course called “Bible Study 101,” to encourage believers to dig into God’s Word. Here are just a few points: NEVER take a verse out of its context. Always read the surrounding verses. If you do nothing else but this, you will avoid the majority of errors people make in understanding the Bible. Also, chase down the cross-references. Let Scripture interpret Scripture. Don’t just rush through in a five-minute devotional time. Meditate on it. Marinate in it. (I don’t recommend trying to read through the Bible in a year until you’ve had more experience with it. I like a three-year pace.) Pray for insight and listen to the Holy Spirit. He wrote it – He can tell you what it’s all about. I like to write out the Scripture passage and do word studies. Granted, this is all much more time consuming, but it helps the Scripture take deeper root in your heart.

Beloved, the Word of God can change your life. It can change your heart and mind. It can change your perspective. It is Light. It is Life. It is what your soul hungers for. Spend some time in the Bible and it will be “the Joy of your heart” (Psalm 119:111).

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

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There is a game I play when I need to give my brain a break from theology. It’s a “bubble-popping” game where I shoot colored balls at colored bubbles to free the little birds trapped within. It’s a mindless distraction that gives my brain a rest. I was playing the game last night and I was on a roll – popping bubbles all over the screen. There were strings of balls that would give me a lot of points. Then I saw him. The last little trapped bird – and one hit would set him free. I remembered that the point of the game was to free the birds, not take out all the bubbles. I took my shot, setting the little guy free.
There are many, many things we espouse in the church that are very important to the faith and should be passed on to every generation. We must teach (and model) holiness, righteousness, faithfulness, goodness, generosity, compassion, and obedience. These are the support structures of the Christian life. But there is only one foundation – one central truth above all else that we need to keep front and center: the Gospel. Paul said, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Did you catch that: “first importance.” It’s the one message the world needs most to hear. Without the Gospel we’re trying to change mankind without letting Jesus save mankind.
Every other message is secondary to this one great truth: “God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That’s the message. That’s the mission. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing.

At the End of the Road

Every step Jesus took on earth, every day of His life brought Him closer to the cross. To pain. To beatings. To mocking and ridicule. To misery. To death. But the pain and misery and death brought Him closer to His resurrection. And to heaven. And to His Father. “But,” we say in our pain, “He is God and He has perfect wisdom of every situation He faced. He knew the outcome was glory.”
It’s not that simple for you and me, is it? We are often blindsided by life. By trials and struggles – disease, pain, fear, loss, broken relationships, financial crisis, rejection, unrest. How can we endure these things?. The same way Jesus did. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus, “the author and perfector of our faith” looked beyond the cross to “the Joy set before Him.” He endured the cross and its shame because He knew that on the other side of it He would be reunited with His Father.
Please understand that I’m not saying we can only expect misery in this life and the good stuff comes in the next. God is a good Father, and He loves to heal and restore and repair and surprise us with blessings. He knows that when the pressure is on, we want relief now, not in some mystical, ethereal, ever-after place. What I’m trying to say is that every heartache, every struggle, every trial and pain brings us one step closer to the glory of eternal life. We have His Word on it. “I am going to [My Father’s house] to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).
At the end of it all, there is glory. Beloved, can you hold on just a little longer?

In the Master Weaver’s Hands

The Weaver

My life is but a weaving
Between my Lord and me,
I cannot choose the colors
He worketh steadily.

Oftimes He weaveth sorrow,
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I, the underside.

Not till the loom in silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.

– Author Unknown (possibly Corrie Ten Boom)

Faith
Hope
Love
Joy
Each is a thread woven into the tapestry of the believer’s life. The crimson thread of Faith in Jesus Christ our Savior. The blue thread of Hope in the promise of eternal life. The gold thread of Love from God and for God and our fellow man. The silver thread of Joy that never wavers. The shuttle never leaves His loving hands. Beloved, God is crafting something beautiful of your life.

The Truth About Love

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“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (2:15-16).
The heart and soul of true love is the love of God. This is perfect love (1 John 4:18). And it is nothing like the “love” this -world desires. In our culture today, “love” means “anything goes.” Love, in the modern sense, is unrestrained permissiveness. If I claim to love you, I should never stand in the way of you fulfilling your desires. But what if I know that your desires are self-destructive. Should I, in “love,” allow my granddaughter to play with the phone charger? That’s her little heart’s desire. Or should I keep her from something that can hurt her? Shouldn’t I also care about someone blindly following the whims of this sin-sick world into self-destruction?
Today, eros “love” – sensual love – has taken hold of the culture. “Love” has become anything that satisfies the flesh, no matter how perverse or damaging. And responding in “love” means we affirm and applaud this twisted version of love. But that is not love. The truest expression of real love was at the cross: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God loves all humankind, and He knows that sin is not in our best interest, but salvation is. He acted out of perfect love to provide what we needed most.
What this culture calls “love” is often nothing more than self-indulgence. Real love is holy love. And because He is the definition of love, anything outside of God is not love. Friend, it is time for us to speak the truth in love about love.

Choosing Jesus

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The Lord said: “These people approach Me with their mouths to honor Me with lip-service–yet their hearts are far from Me.” Isaiah 29:13

When the Columbine massacre happened in 1999, the story was told of a young woman who died because she affirmed her faith in God. I remember a friend insisting, “I would have said ‘Yes!’ too – I would take a bullet for God!” Yet I saw her daily life, and it denied her profession. I think for so many Christians in America, we believe that “making the choice” for Christ means one day standing before a firing squad and saying, “I believe in Jesus!” then bracing ourselves for the gunfire. We don’t realize that the choice is made every day in a thousand small ways.

In choosing time with God over an extra hour of sleep. In choosing to turn off worldly programming. In choosing to speak gently in the face of insult. In choosing to have our kids in Sunday School rather than on the ballfield. In choosing to love and care for our lost neighbors rather than avoiding them. In choosing to put down the cellphone and talk to our children about our faith. In choosing to run away from pornography. In choosing to worship God rather than a politician. In choosing humility over anger. In choosing surrender and submission to Christ over national rights and privileges.

The thing is, if we’re not making these lesser choices every day, we’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re going to make them when it’s a matter of life and death. The proof of our relationship with Christ is not in a sensational act of courage, its in the quiet moment-by-moment choices we make day-after-day.

Beloved, are you choosing Christ?

When the Tears Fall

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It’s six o’clock in the morning and my granddaughter is crying. I can hear her from my study. It’s probably just a diaper change – she hates those. But it’s breaking my heart. I’ve gotten up from my desk twice now and started back to see about her and stopped myself. Oh, how I want to comfort her and make whatever is making her cry go away. I think about all the times in her life she will probably cry – all the skinned knees and the times she doesn’t like hearing “No” and the broken hearts and disappointments that are coming. I wish I could protect her from them all. But I can’t. I know that. Still, every time she cries, my heart cries with her.

If I have such a response every time my granddaughter cries, how do you imagine God feels every time you and I cry? I am sure His great heart aches when ours breaks. In Psalm 56:8 David said that the Lord “Puts my tears in Your bottle—are they not in your record?” God is paying attention. When you cry, when the tears drip from your chin, He catches them, one by one. Do you know what that means Beloved? He is very near. He has drawn you into His arms so that He can gather every tear that falls. Your tears are precious to Him.

All is quiet now in Joy’s room. A clean diaper, a fresh cup of milk, and warm snuggles in her mommy’s arms work wonders. Her tears are gone and she is back in dreamland in her soft pink pajamas. My Nana-heart is happy.

Let the tears fall Beloved. God is near, like a good, good Father. Oh, how He loves you.