A Place Called Home

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“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Two summers ago when everything in our lives fell apart, we had to find a place to live back in our hometown. We drove around for days looking at apartments, houses, mobile homes – any place we could land. But when we found this house, I knew I was “home.” When I drive around town and see houses for sale or rent, I don’t give them a second thought because I am happily settled where I am.

In John 15:1-11, Jesus told His disciples that He is the Vine, and they (and we) are the branches. Branches must stay connected to the vine to live and to produce good fruit – the word he used is meno meaning to “remain” or “abide. He used it three times in this passage: “remain in me, [let] my words remain in you,” and “remain in my love” v. 9). The word gives the idea of being settled – like we are here in this house.

I think Jesus wants us to “settle down” with Him. I think He wants us to dismiss all other options and opinions because we are happily abiding in Him, curled up on the couch drinking in His Words, wrapped in the warm quilt of His love. Maybe even a cat purring at our feet. Storms may rage outside the walls, but we are not anxious. We are at home.

Beloved, do you long for this kind of peace and contentment? Are you weary of the storm and the confusion of the world? The Master of this house will never turn you away. Come home to God through Jesus Christ. The door is open for you

The B-I-B-L-E

I grew up on Bible stories.   I loved hearing them, and as children do, I believed them.  But come on you say, you’re an adult, isn’t it time stop believing in “stories?”

I suppose that’s a valid question, and it deserves a solid answer.

The truth is, I would stop believing if I thought they were only stories made up in the minds of men.  But I am confident in the authority of the Bible as the Word of God from the mind of God given to human authors through the Spirit of God.  That’s exactly what Peter said: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.  For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:16, 20-21).   David said, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). The Bible is not man-made stories to support a man-created God. Nor is it man’s ideas, thoughts, opinions or views on what God has said.

Think about it, if God desires to reveal Himself to humankind, why would he allow men to include fantasy and fallacy in the written account of Himself? Archeological finds such as the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm the accuracy of the Bible as we have it today.  Most modern translations have been painstakingly taken from the ancient Hebrew and Greek from the most ancient manuscripts available and research has proven that any changes from those manuscripts are minimal and do not affect the original message.

That said, I don’t hold to the authority and authenticity of the Bible because of these things.  They support my faith in the Bible, but they are not the reason I trust it.   I believe in the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God because it has changed my life.  It was there that I met Jesus and He turned this sinful woman into the daughter of the Most High God.  That’s proof enough for me.

Joy and Delight

Photo by Ashley Andrews

From the day they moved in with us, we have made it a point to sing to our granddaughter. Poppy makes up songs with her name. I sing hymns and songs from my childhood, like “This little light of mine,” “Jesus loves me,” and “Oh, little playmate, come out and play with me.” I sing them fast and silly when we’re playing and soft and slow when I’m trying to soothe her or rock her to sleep. We’re pretty sure she sings to us too when she oohs and aahs back. I guess you could say singing is our love-language with her.

Last night she was playing beside me, standing at my footstool when I looked at her, overwhelmed with love and started singing her favorite song – “I love you a bushel and a peck.” She lit up in the biggest grin, threw her head back laughing, and started jumping up and down. It blessed my heart so much to see her Joyful reaction. I sang it again and again, holding her sweet little hands while she jumped and laughed. Let me tell you – nothing this world can offer will ever compare.

It gave me a glimpse into one of my favorite verses, Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Imagine this with me. You are doing life, going about your normal day – or maybe it’s not a “normal” day. Maybe it’s a hard, painful day, or a dull, colorless day. God looks at you and His heart swells with delight and He breaks out in a song – a song just for you. Maybe it’s a soft melody to “quiet you with His love,” or it may be a happy song of rejoicing. But it is inspired by the pleasure He finds in you. Yes, YOU! You are a delight to God, just as my granddaughter is a delight to me.

How should you respond? Just like Joy-Joy did – with a big grin and a holy laugh and yes, even a happy jump or two. Your delight in God delights Him. It’s a never-ending circle of mutual gladness. Maybe that’s the secret behind Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. When God is the desire of your heart Beloved, He will be your delight.

When God Brings the Pain

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Yesterday I enjoyed one of my Christmas gifts – a deep-tissue massage. Because I spend a lot of time typing between my job, grad school, and writing, my neck and shoulders have been aching for several weeks. Add in a lot of life stress and this was greatly needed. Deep tissue massage involves firm, sometimes intense pressure and the therapist was doing exactly that. It wasn’t really painful – until she hit one of those spots – then wow! My instinct to pain is to tense up, but I willed myself to stay relaxed in her hands as she worked to release the kinks and knots she found. I knew the momentary discomfort would give way to relief.

In those moments I sensed God speaking to me, “Why then, Child, do you tense up when discomfort hits your life? Do you not realize that I am working on those kinks and knots in your character? Can you not trust my hands as you trust hers?”

The Bible says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). Those painful trials are God’s hands working out the un-Christlike things in us to work in us endurance, maturity, and full Christlike character. When we “tense up” against these trials we make it that much harder for God to work. Oh, believe me – I am preaching to myself this morning. God has been working on a major “knot” in my life – working out my impatient nature to work in the patience of Christ. This is the hardest lesson of my life. And oh, so painful. But do I tense up against the pressure and pain, or do I yield to His hands and allow Him to work?

Beloved, I don’t know the particulars of what God is doing in your life, but I know that tensing up and resisting His hand will only make the process harder. Trust the work of God in your life. Trust His hand, and when the pressure is on, trust His heart.

Of Black-Eyed-Peas and Forgiveness

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I got up early this morning and put the black-eyed peas on to soak. I remember when Mama gave me the important task of sorting and washing the peas for their overnight soak. “You have to pick out the bad peas (the ones with rusted spots or bug holes) and rinse off the good ones, then I’ll put them on to soak.” An hour later she found me still at the sink with only half the package done. I was taking out each individual pea, inspecting it all over and washing it off – one by one. “You don’t have to do them one-at-time,” she said. “But Mama,” I replied, “what if I miss one?” I thought letting even one bad pea through would be awful.

As a child I was taught 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So when I wanted to ask Jesus to be my Savior, I started thinking and confessing. And confessing. And confessing. Six weeks later the pastor asked if I was ready to be baptized. I said I was still confessing my sins. Knowing that a child couldn’t have much to confess, he asked what was taking me so long. I said I was trying to remember everything I ever did. “What if I miss one?” I asked. I thought I had to remember and confess every single sin or it would not be forgiven and Jesus would not be my Savior.

Paul said that when we receive Jesus as Lord, God “forgives us all our sins” (Colossians 2:13). Hebrews says that Jesus, our great high priest “offered for all time one sacrifice for sins” (2:12). That means all our sins – the ones we remember to confess and the ones we don’t. That means all the sins of our past, present, and future are under the blood of Jesus. Confession is indeed “good for the soul,” and vital to our relationship with God, but Jesus doesn’t have a tally sheet of your sins to mark off only the ones you confess. He has written “FORGIVEN” in big red letters across your entire life. Confess as the Spirit brings things to mind, and trust in God’s faithfulness.His mercy is a wide, wide ocean Beloved, and all your sins are buried there.

Is the Christian Church Dying?

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The pollsters tell us that in the last ten years, Christianity in America has declined by more than 10%. Of those who claim to be Christians, less than half report regular church attendance. Those who claim no affiliation with religion – the “nones” have increased – from only 6% in the early 1970’s to 22% in 2019. [1] Add to those reports the rise of hatred against Christianity and the trend for modern churches to turn away from biblical truth and you begin to wonder if the true church has a future at all. Is Christianity dying? Is the Christian church going to survive?

Christianity is by no means dying and the church will survive because her Head is Jesus Christ, the ultimate and eternal Victor. But the church and her children will take some difficult blows. Jesus warned His followers that the world would hate those who love Him, He said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20). When we become Christians and live like Christians, we will become offensive – not acceptable – to the world.

Perhaps the unpopularity of the Christian faith will be her saving grace. When being a Christian becomes a stigma instead of a tradition, only the most devoted to Christ will remain. Throughout the history of the church, God has often used persecution and oppression to purge and purify His people.

Jesus also said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11). When they were imprisoned and beaten for their testimony of Jesus, the Apostles were “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). Persecution is on the horizon for the church in the U.S. – it’s already a reality in other parts of the world. Beloved holding fast to your faith in Jesus may be the hardest thing you ever do. But it will also be the sweetest. Be faithful to God, walk in His Truth, refuse to compromise the faith and the message, and trust Him to either stand in our defense or stand to receive us into heaven.

[1] https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/

It’s Time to Put Christmas Away

 

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I’ll be taking down our Christmas tree today. Packing away the ornaments, wrapping them carefully so they won’t get broken and schlepping them back to the storage shed in the backyard. I’ll throw the tree on the burn pile and sweep up the pine needles and try to restore my home to its normal disorder. We also have to get the house ready for a mobile baby so she can roam safely to her little heart’s content. Christmas has to give way to everyday life.

But I’m not going to pack away the essentials of the holiday. I’m keeping out the hope and peace and faith and Joy and love. I liked focusing my mind each day on the good stuff, and I think you did too. I think we have to keep those things front and center every day in every season least we lose them – and lose our way. Do we need a refresher?

Hope – the confident expectation we have as we look for God, always considers His faithfulness, goodness, graciousness, and lovingkindness. Peace – the quiet assurance we have in God – is the fruit of hope– and it grows in the soil of faith – which is stepping out on His promises and knowing our feet will meet His hand. It blossoms into Joy – an unshakable sense of cheer even when there’s little to be jolly about, all of which find their strength in the love of God – the wide, long, high, deep and perfect love of God.

The calendar may say that Christmas is over, but your heart doesn’t have to surrender the experience of the holiday. Hold tightly to everything you received this Christmas Beloved – no, not the stuff that was under your tree – but the true expressions of the season. Hope. Peace. Faith. Joy. Love. You’re going to need them all year long.

Why Should I Read the Bible?

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

When I study the Bible, I like to do so slowly and deliberately, digging in deep, examining details, context, and words, asking questions of the text, cross-referencing Scriptures and consulting resources for a better understanding. Like a jeweler turning a diamond over and over in his hand, I look at a verse from different sides to see what new facets I can find. What’s amazing is, no matter how much I look, I can never see it all. It’s a living Word and is constantly producing truth and wisdom. Not new truth or new wisdom, but more of what it has faithfully said for thousands of years.

Yet for all my digging and study, there are things about the Bible that I cannot make sense of. Not all of my questions about the text have nice, neat answers. Maybe I should stop reading the Bible. Come to think of it, God has yet to answer a lot of my questions about life. Maybe I should stop believing in God.

Or maybe I should have faith. Maybe I should believe that God is good and His Word is true, even though I can’t resolve every issue with the Scriptures or with life. Maybe I should trust that things will make sense – in another time and another place. Maybe I should take Jesus’ words to heart: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:12).

Beloved if you’re approaching the Bible for the sole purpose of finding answers to all your questions, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. The Bible isn’t a life-answer book or a self-help book. It’s not just a book of wisdom or direction – although those are all there. It is the testimony of Almighty God – His autobiography you might say. When you approach the Bible as anything less you miss the point entirely. And you miss God. If you come to the Bible to know God you will find Him on every page in every word. Let’s make 2020 the year we study the Scriptures and believe what God has to say.

What Christmas Is All About

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It is a scene from one of the most beloved Christmas programs ever made.  A bewildered Charlie Brown cries out, “Isn’t there someone who knows what Christmas is all about?”  I always get goosebumps when Linus walks to center stage, says “Lights please,” and recites the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2.

And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men” (vs. 8-14).

It seems to be a holy moment in the middle of a simple animated television show.   For fifty years the world has heard the Christmas story through a blanket-carrying theologian.

As much as I love “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and Linus’ message, I’ve always thought there is an even better verse that he could have chosen to explain what Christmas is all about.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Christmas is all about the love of God that send His Son to earth as a baby who would grow up to die on a Roman Cross for the sins of the world.  Linus recounted the events around the Christmas story, but the heart of Christmas is a loving Heavenly Father who gave the very best He had to redeem a lost world.

The blessed Christmas story is about a manger and a star and shepherds and angels.  It is about a young mother and father with their newborn son in a stable.  But the story isn’t complete until the baby in the manger is the Savior on the cross.  Because the story of Christmas is a story of love.

For The One Who Thinks God Could Never Love You

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“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I asked her to tell me about her son. “He’s a smart boy, really smart. He can add stuff in his head faster than I can write it out on paper.  And oh, he can sing – he has such a good voice.  I think he could be a singer if he tried. But he gets bored easy.  That’s why he gets into trouble at school.”

We met for coffee so she could talk through some difficult things she was facing, largely brought about by this boy.  But before I asked about her son, she told me about herself. She told me that she didn’t believe God could ever love her. She had done things that she was ashamed of.  She was pretty wild in her youth, disrespectful to her parents, and teachers.  She got drunk the night of the prom, slept with her boyfriend, and became pregnant.  She and the baby’s father tried to make it right by getting married, but now – 17 years later – she was three failed marriages down and living with a man she met at a bar.  She had started coming to our church a few months ago in a last-ditch effort to straighten her son out.  That is until the deacons told her the boy was not welcome after he played too rough with some of the younger students and somebody got hurt.  The very next day the police were at her house with a report about her boy and the neighbor’s little girl and the latest nightmare unfolded. Yet, as much as her son’s actions weighed on her, I could tell something else was even heavier on her heart.

“How could God love me?  I’ve made a mess of my life and I’ve even screwed up my kid.”

“So you probably don’t love your son anymore after all the trouble he’s caused you.”

“What? Of course I still love my son! That’s crazy!  Why would I stop loving him just because he’s made some mistakes?”

“I just thought – since you believe God quit loving you because you messed up, you must have quit loving your son too.”

She looked at me as if an entire block of lights had gone off in her head. The weight of so much guilt and fear disappeared from her eyes while tears dripped off her chin and onto her sweater.

Beloved, I don’t know what you’re carrying around today. I don’t know your past. I don’t even know your present. But there is one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  If Christmas is about anything at all, it is about God pouring out His unfailing love on messed up people.