Praying With Faith

“But when He asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6)
 
The old preacher announced from the pulpit – “Come out tonight as we gather to pray for rain to ease this drought.  And bring your umbrella, or don’t bother to come.  We need prayers of faith, not doubt.”
 
What are you praying for today?  Are you believing God will answer – or are your prayers empty petitions?  Oh I’m so guilty of this.  I’m going to be honest here – I have prayed while doubts dug deep ruts through my mind.  “God I ask this of You, but I really don’t expect it.”  Sometimes my doubts were caused by the size of the problem, or the pain of the circumstance.  Sometimes I doubted because it just seemed too much to ask; like I was weighing God’s faithfulness against my failures.  And sometimes my prayers are empty because the enemy has filled my mind with fear.
James calls me “double-minded” and “unstable” (v. 8).   Jesus said it only takes a “mustard-seed” of faith to move the Father’s heart on my behalf (20-21).  Do I believe in God’s goodness – even a mustard seed worth? Has He ever done anything to warrant my doubts?
Beloved, it’s time to put real faith behind our prayers.  I’m praying for some big things from God – for myself, my family and my ministry.  Oh, and I’m gonna grab my umbrella on my way out the door!
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I Can’t Forgive Myself

“Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven” (Luke 7:47).

She is the town tramp with a well-earned, shameful reputation.  Women whisper about her when she walks past and pull their children close lest her degenerate nature somehow infect them.  Men look at her with disdain – on the outside at least – and lust for her on the inside.  No self-respecting religious authority would publicly be seen near her.  Yet here she is kneeling at the feet of Jesus, weeping tears onto His dusty feet, tenderly drying them with her hair and anointing them with expensive perfume – no doubt funded by her illicit acts.  She is a sinful woman.  And Jesus loves her.  He who alone has the authority to judge her, instead forgives her.  The sin she carried into the house is left in a heap at those perfumed feet and she walks out forgiven and free from the weight of her shame.

David said it beautifully – “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, who sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him” (Psalm 32:1-2).  This woman is blessed.  She has been forgiven, her sins are covered and the Lord does not hold them against her anymore.  Jesus has spoken His forgiveness over her.  I cannot image that she spent the rest of her life wrapped in a shawl of shame grieving her past.  So why do we?

Through many years of serving in women’s ministry, the most oft-repeated statement I hear is: “I just can’t forgive myself.”  The weight of shame and the burden of past sins and failures seems to be the most popular accessory for Christian women today.  What if I told you that you didn’t have to carry that over-stuffed bag around anymore?  Sweet friend, if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, your past – regardless of how ugly it is – is covered by the all-sufficient, all-powerful, perfectly-cleansing blood of Jesus.  Hear what the Lord says: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12).  If God doesn’t remember your sins, why do you need to?  They are gone. Done. Washed away.  If you continue to carry the weight of your sins around, you are saying that Jesus is not a sufficient Savior and that God is a liar.  He has declared you forgiven through the blood of Jesus – why would He say it if it were not so?  Why would you continue to hold onto something that is no longer there?

That fashionable bag of shame you are carrying is empty of all your sins.  Oh, there is still a heavy weight there, but it is not your sin – it is stones of false guilt put there by the enemy – the accuser who wants you to feel the weight of a sin that no longer exists.  He wants to weigh you down with your past so you cannot walk confidently into your future.  Beloved, do not let him steal your freedom.  But you say, “I don’t feel forgiven.  Here is where you are going to put faith in action.

I want you to grab 2 pens – one of them with red ink, and go to an empty page in the back of your Bible.  One by one, take out those stones from the bag – yes, your sexually promiscuity, the abortion, the affair, the failed marriage, the crime you committed, the stupid thing you can’t believe you did – and write it down.  Now beside every entry write in red ink “1 John 1:9.”  This verse declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Confess it, thank God for His forgiveness and claim it as a truth, not just a feeling.  If something new comes to mind, write it down and add your declaration of forgiveness.  Then when the enemy tries to throw that rock back in your bag, point to your written confirmation of freedom and own what Jesus did for you. [1]

Here’s the bottom line my friend: you don’t have to forgive yourself.  God has already forgiven you through Jesus’ sacrifice.  There is nothing left to forgive.  Now pick up your empty bag, fill it with the joy of freedom in Christ and claim the new life you have been given.

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” Romans 8:1.

[1] There are times when we must also confess our sins to someone who has been wronged by our actions.  Prayerfully ask God if this is something you should do.

Dilly, Dilly! (It’s Not What You Think)

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”  2 Timothy 3:16
“Why are those kids singing about beer?” I asked as I walked past the T.V.  My husband was watching a movie and a children’s chorus was singing a song – all I caught were the words “Dilly, dilly.”  I’ll bet, like me, your mind jumped to a popular beer commercial set in the medieval period where the king and his court toast their favorite brew with a robust, “Dilly, dilly!”  The phrase is actually from a children’s nursery rhyme that dates back at least to the 1600’s, called “Lavender Blue,” It has been recorded by multiple artists, including Burl Ives and even David Bowie, but to my 2018 mind “Dilly, dilly” brings up the image of beer and Camelot.
By now you’re wondering why a Christian writer is blogging about beer and nursery rhymes.  Because it points out the importance of context as it relates to understanding the Bible. When you and I read the Bible we often apply 21st century context to the ancient words of God, and in doing so miss the intended meaning and principle.  We must be careful to read and  study the Bible with the original context in mind.  Just as “Dilly, dilly” reminds us of a beer commercial today rather than a child’s nursery rhyme, the Scriptures are often misapplied with a modern, cultural twist.  If you want to have a deeper understanding of God’s Word you need to understand the original context of God’s words and apply their timeless principles to your life today. The Scriptures may have been written thousands of years ago, but the truths they contain are as fresh and current today as the day they were inscribed on ancient scrolls.
Beloved it is time for the people of God to go deep into the Word of God and live out the truths of God in a world that desperately needs God.  What did God say to you today through His Word?

God Knows My Heart

My friend had been trying for 20 minutes to explain why she did something she knew God would not approve of. She wanted to put this thing behind her, but she kept going back to it. “I guess I’m just weak,” she sighed. “In my heart I want to do better, isn’t that good enough?” “After all,” she said with a shrug, “God knows my heart.”
I threw out one of those breath-prayers, took her by the hand and said, “Yes sweet friend, God knows your heart – that’s why He sent you a Savior.”
God does know our hearts. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts” (Luke 16:15). God knows that in its natural state “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). He knows that our hearts are very human and prone to mislead us by our own desires (James 1:14). The only hope for the human heart is a divine Savior. Jesus. He knows your heart and mine and He came to redeem our hearts through His death on the cross. Will you always get it right then? I’m living proof that the answer is “No,” but a heart that has been rescued by Jesus is a heart that can be renewed and restored.
Beloved, God knows your heart – does your heart know Him?

Heroes of the Faith

“Enoch walked with God,” Genesis 6:24

What person in the Bible – besides Jesus (because we all want to be like Jesus) – do you most want to emulate? There are several I can name, for various reasons.
I’ve always wanted to be like Dorcas (which is my given first name) – her story is in Acts 9:36-42. She was a woman who was devoted to ministry among the poor in Joppa. It was said of her, she was “full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.” I am full of good ideas, which I often fail to do. I want to be like Dorcas – a doer, not just a dreamer. When God called me into ministry the priest Ezra became my role-model. The Scriptures say that “the gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord and to teach its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:9-10). From his example I have devoted myself to study the Word, live the Word and teach the Word. I also admire Mary’s complete surrender to the will of God – I long for that kind of heart. I want to be bold like Paul, humble like Moses, and fearless like Deborah who declared, “March on, my soul; be strong!” (Judges 5:21) as she (yes a woman!) led Israel into battle. I want to worship like David, live blamelessly like Noah, and without compromise like Daniel.

But as I was reading the Genesis account of “the begats” – the generations of Adam’s descendants I found the person I most want to be like – Enoch. While I love the great stories of David and Daniel and Dorcas and Ezra – the simple description of Enoch’s life is the one that I want most to copy: “Enoch walked with God.” There are no great feats listed, no battles fought, no mighty victories. He walked with God – period. We do get a clue in Hebrews 11 where we find that as he walked he “pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5b). What was his secret for pleasing God? It’s right in the next verse, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith pleases God and Enoch clearly had faith. So what is faith? Faith is believing that God exists – that He is who He says He is. But the demons believe that God exists (James 2:19), so there must be something more. Faith is also believing that He rewards those who seek after him earnestly. How do we see God earnestly? Jeremiah 29:13 declares “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. Enoch walked through life seeking the face and presence of God with his whole heart. That means he constantly thought about God, talked with God, and believed God to be faithful and true. And Enoch’s faith was rewarded. What is the reward? Jeremiah 29:14 says, “I will be found by you.” Enoch found God – he didn’t die, but was taken from this earth and into the very presence of God.

Hebrews 11 – the hall of faith – is filled with men and women who did many things in the name of the Lord, but they are all commended for one thing above all others: their faith. Name after name is preceded by the words: “by faith.” Abel, our friend Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and on and on. They worshipped, built, led, sacrificed and remained true, but they are remarkable for the faith, not their acts. Faith motivates God’s people into action, whether it is great exploits or simple gestures – but it is not our deeds that please God, it is our heart that believes and seeks after Him.

I want to do great things for God. I want to study and teach His Word, I want to write to encourage others. I want to share Jesus with women. But more than all these, I want to walk before God in faith, just as Enoch did. I want to please Him and seek Him with wholehearted devotion. I want to meditate on His Name and His character. I want to talk with Him friend-to-friend and draw near enough to hear His faintest whisper. I want to walk through life with God – side-by-side and heart-to heart – all the way into His presence.

Lessons Learned in 2017

Looking back over the past year, there are many lessons I’ve learned.  I’ve learned anew God’s faithfulness to care for His children, and I’ve gotten a tiny glimpse into His enormous heart of love with my first grandchild. I’ve learned that Jesus wants me to know Him, not just know about Him, and He wants me to teach the Bible, not just someone’s opinion of the Bible.  But I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is how Jesus expects the church – make that how He expects me – to respond to the “least and the lost.”

What do good church folk do when someone comes in who is rough around the edges, who doesn’t dress in the acceptable modest style, who uses the language of the streets instead of the language of the sacred? Do we (and I’m including myself here) offer a handshake followed by a liberal application of hand sanitizer? Do we walk away shaking our heads at the way they’re dressed? Do we cringe at the things they say in our small group? Do we make it clear they they don’t fit in?  Jesus had a word for the religious leaders of His day that we as a church need to take to heart. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces . . . you will not let those enter who are trying to” (Matthew 23:13).

Look at the Christmas story one more time. God sent His son to be born to a poor teenage girl and to be raised by a common laborer father. The fact that they were poor is confirmed in the consecration offering they gave of a pair of birds (Luke 2:24).  He trained in the woodworking trade of his father Joseph.  The glorious birth announcement was given, not to the religious elite nor to the king, but to lowly shepherds doing the most menial work of all.  Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry He was found among the lepers, the lame, the blind, women with scandalous lives, men who cheated their neighbors, the demon-possessed, and the outcasts.  His closest friends and followers were tax collectors and fishermen, not students from the best Jewish schools.  When he was in the company of religious folk, He didn’t rub elbows –  He often rubbed them the wrong way and the sparks would fly.  He saved His most severe rebukes for them, calling them hypocrites, blind guides, snakes, and a “brood of vipers,” but gently told the ones outside the religious establishment, “Go, and sin no more.” He blessed, He touched, He noticed, and He welcomed.  I believe He expects no less from those who claim to be His Body.  I think Jesus wants us to put away our hand sanitizer and our ideas of who belongs in the church and  to simply be a refuge of welcome. I think people need to feel accepted before they will accept the Gospel. Then I think we need to love them as we disciple them to follow Christ.  Is it easy? No. It requires effort and patience and a humble, obedient spirit, but so did dying on the cross.

I want to hang on to all the lessons God taught me in the past year, but the one I want to hold the tightest is this one: Jesus doesn’t turn anyone away (John 6:37). The truth is when He found me I was one of the least and the lost, and He welcomed me with arms stretched the width of the cross.  May my heart and my arms be open wide to whomever Jesus sends to me this year.

Holy Father, this year, let me be a caring shepherd to lost sheep, a warm embrace to a hurting heart, and a conduit of Your love to the one on the outside looking in. 

Satan Hates Me

“A great door for effective work has opened for me and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:9).

Satan doesn’t like me. Want to know how I know? He has worked overtime this year to break me and to stop the work God has called me to do. He has hammered my family, taken away my husband’s health and livelihood, and brought tension and frustration between the three of us. He has caused financial hardships. He has tried to destroy my confidence in my calling, telling me that I spent four years in seminary for nothing and I will never be in ministry. He has shaken my faith and battered my joy. And I almost believed him, that is until he attacked the heart of my calling.

Last week my 4-year-old laptop died. The one I write on. The one I use to write blog posts and words of encouragement and Bible-study lessons. The one I used to start writing my first book. That’s when I recognized that the enemy had declared war on God’s purpose for my life, and like Paul, I realized that was a sure sign of God’s calling. I am not a young person who can type on my phone with great speed and accuracy (I’ve been at this simple post for more than an hour!), but if this is the only way I can fulfill my calling, so be it. Satan will not win.

Beloved, I don’t know what God has called you to do with your life, but I do know that the enemy wants to discourage you and make you give up. He will use every avenue he can against you, but do not let him win. You stay the course. You keep the faith. You do it to the best of your ability with whatever you have left and you do it with fierce determination and conviction. Because the enemy only opposes what God blesses, so if Satan’s got you in his crosshairs you can know that you’re doing what God created you to do.

Satan doesn’t like me – in fact he hates me. But he hates me because he’s afraid of me and what God intends to do through me. And in the Bible, that’s the clear, bold mark of God’s calling. Let’s get back to it friend – you and I have a purpose to fulfill!

Advent Day 21 – What’s on Your Christmas List?

 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

What Do You Want for Christmas? Jewelry? Clothes? Something for your house? (Maybe a Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle?J) Or you just might prefer the one-size-fits-all cash gift.  Sometimes our wishes are pretty big – my son wanted a LEGO® Star Wars Death Star (retail 499.99) – needless to say, he did not get it.  Some of us are satisfied with a bit less.  When I was a little girl, I just wanted paper and pencils – guess I’ve always been a writer at heart.

Or maybe your Christmas list is less tangible – something that can’t be wrapped up and put under the tree.  If you wrote it out it might say “peace” or “joy” or “hope” or “love.” Maybe your list includes “acceptance” or “freedom” or “rest.”  You and I know that we can’t buy those at the mall or order them online.  There’s only one place for these Christmas wishes.

To the one who asks for peace, Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27).  Peace in our hearts only comes through Jesus Christ.  For the one who has lost their joy David wrote, “You will fill me with joy in Your presence” (Psalm 16:11).  Joy is found in Immanuel – the God who is with us.  If you need hope this Christmas, hear God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11 – “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.”  In the Lord’s hands we have hope – for this life and for all eternity.  Do you wish for love? “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1).  Not just a little, not even a “bushel and a peck,’” but poured out on you lavishly, without measure and overflowing.  In fact, this same verse fills your desire for acceptance – God calls Himself your Father and He accepts you as His child.  If freedom tops your list you can find release – the Psalmist says “O Lord, truly I am your servant . . . You have freed me from my chains” (Psalm 116:16).  The blood of Jesus breaks the chains of this world.  Maybe you just want a little rest this Christmas.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  Just sink back into His arms and let Him carry your burdens and you.

Whatever you long for this Christmas, you can find it in Jesus.  There is nothing on your list that He cannot provide. He is the greatest Gift of all and your heart’s deepest longing.  No, this gift isn’t jewelry, toys, or clothes wrapped in paper and ribbons sitting under your tree.  It is the peace, joy, hope, and love of God wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

Advent Day 20 – The Gift of Peace

Note: I am pulling this devotional from the 2013  Advent series because I need this reminder in this season of my life.  I hope it blesses you too!

“Peace! Do not be afraid.”  Judges 6:23

At Christmas we celebrate our loved ones with gifts.  We consider the recipient and choose carefully something that will have special meaning or significance to them.  I enjoy giving gifts that I know someone would love, but that they wouldn’t get for themselves.  When God considered us, He chose to send us a gift that we couldn’t give ourselves – the gift of peace.

One of the biggest barriers to peace is fear.  We have all experienced fear of some kind.  I have a fear of heights. One of my friends has a fear of crowds, another a fear of tight spaces.  Some fears are good for us, like the fear of snakes.  Some are common to most of us as in the fear of the dark.  For some people fear takes on irrational proportions and becomes an unhealthy psychological problem.  We live in a world that breeds fear and causes us to look at others with a question, “Should I be afraid of you?”

There is also fear that invades our minds and hearts – fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of being alone, fear of death.  With so much to be afraid of, is there any way to be at peace?  Yes, because we have a Prince of Peace and His word to us is “Do not be afraid.”

In fact a quick and non-exhaustive search of those words shows at least 76 times in Scripture that we are told “do not be afraid.”  God knows us so well.  He knows that we will become fearful at times, and He knows we need His peace.

How can we have peace when we are afraid?  Psalm 56:3 is the perfect answer: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.  In God, whose Word I praise, in God I trust, I will not be afraid.”   The answer to fear is trust.  We can trust God and rest our fears because He is faithful.  His Word is filled with His promises – promises that will bring us peace if we will trust in the Promise-maker.  We have His promises that He will always be with us – “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified or discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9); “the LORD your God . . . will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  We have the promise of His strength – “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).  We have the promise of His deliverance – “Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose” (Jeremiah 15:13). We have the promise if His blessing:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”

Numbers 6:24-26

And if all that were not enough, we have this promise from Jesus Himself: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

This Advent season hear the angels proclaiming the greatest news man can ever know:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  Luke 2:14 (KJV)

Read Psalm 29

Advent Day 19 – Promise Maker – Promise Keeper

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and has redeemed His people” Luke 1:68.

When our son was born 25+ years ago, my husband and I were thrilled.  We had experienced seven years of infertility and heartache, but God heard our prayers and this little baby boy came bursting into our lives.  But in those seven long years of waiting I watched with an aching heart as my friends became Mamas – I hosted their baby showers and bounced their sweet babies in my arms.  I cried and prayed and cried some more.  I know God heard my prayers and saw my tears, but the time wasn’t right.

The Jewish people lived under the bondage of Roman rule and they cried out for a savior.  The Messiah had been promised for hundreds of years yet they were still oppressed by a cruel and heartless enemy.  Would God ever fulfill His promise?  Would salvation ever come?  Generations of Hebrews prayed the same prayer for relief, yet they went to their grave without ever seeing rescue.  Yet the God of Heaven had not abandoned them or His promise.  He had heard their prayers and saw their tears, but the time wasn’t right.

Until that moment when the angel visited Nazareth and spoke the words every Jewish girl had hoped to hear: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28).  Until all of heaven held its breath as the Son of God became the son of a young woman.

That day in the Garden sin came rolling in like a dark cloud of destruction and despair.  The human race was placed under the bondage of evil and death.  Even the planet felt the weight of the curse as it groaned for relief (Romans 8:19-22).  Yet even before man could cry out to God He promised to send Someone who would crush the head of the evil one.  He promised to redeem the world from the curse of sin and death. He promised to save the souls of men and women and break the chains of human bondage.

The first part of that promised was fulfilled in a stable in Bethlehem.  The final fulfillment is yet to come when the Lord Jesus Christ – that baby in the manger – stands on the Mount of Olives and ushers in the end of evil and sin and death.  God kept His promise when Jesus was born.  He will keep His promise of final redemption.  Don’t despair beloved, but keep your eye on the sky.  The God who promised is faithful. It is as good as done.

Read Zechariah 14:3-9