More than Live, Love, Laugh

This week in VBS we are learning about the value of life. One night our lesson was about God’s design for us. We were made by a Designer for a wonderful purpose. I asked the 5-6 graders what are the three purposes for which man was designed. One student blurted out “Live, Laugh, Love.” Somebody’s mama loves Hobby Lobby. The correct answer was “to know God, to praise God, and to love God.”

Jeremiah 24:7 says, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” Paul said that everything God does in this world is so that “men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him . . .” (Acts 17:27). Of all the things that God created – which is everything – only man was designed to know his Creator. When we miss getting to know God, we miss the foundational purpose of our lives.

We were also made to praise God. The psalmist said, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). Praise is the natural response to knowing God. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, seen the Eiffel Tower, and witnessed both sunrises and sunsets and my reaction is always the same: “Wow!” How much more so when we see even the smallest glimpse of God.

We were made to love God. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Your heart is the foundation and seat of your thoughts, passions, desires, and intelligence. Loving God with all your heart is an emotion driven by reason or conscious thought. The mind is the part of the inner person that thinks and processes information into understanding. Loving God with your mind involves making choices driven by a thoughtful process of information. The soul is the immaterial (and eternal) part of the inner person, Loving God with all your soul involves emotion fueled by desire and affection; a special connection to the beloved (in this case, God).  Strength is a marker of great degree or quantity, something beyond measure. Loving God with all your strength denotes a measure of quantity, abundance, and ability, in other words – obedience. When we know God, praise God, and love God all the rest falls into its proper place. Beloved, do you know your purpose?

What Has Happened to the Church?

Charles Spurgeon said, “If we cannot be torn in pieces by the roaring lion, we may be hugged to death by the bear.”

(I hope you’re ready for a history lesson)

In the earliest centuries of the Church, Christians faced unfathomable persecution. Their property was confiscated, their jobs taken away, and they were subject to physical attacks. Steven, the first martyr was stoned to death for the name of Jesus. James was beheaded for His commitment to Christ. Paul wrote of “troubles, hardships and distresses, beatings, imprisonments and riots, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger” (2 Cor 6:4-5). He was stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19), shipwrecked three times (2 Cor 11:25), and in constant danger everywhere he went (2 Cor 11:26). We’re all familiar with the stories of Christians facing lions in a public arena for the amusement of the Romans. These men and women gladly surrendered their lives rather than deny the name of their Lord, Jesus Christ. The faith of the martyrs shone brilliantly and boldly against the dark backdrop of persecution.

But in later years, when Emperor Constantine of Rome (272-337) declared Christianity as the state religion, persecution in the west ended and every citizen became a “Christian”–whether they believed or not. Being a Christian was all about nationality, not grace as Christianity was fully embraced by the civilized world. It could be considered the worst thing to ever happen to the church. The standards for Christians became more and more lax over the centuries, and by the twentieth century “Christianity” looked nothing like the faith that men and women once died for.  It had been smothered in a bear hug of cheap grace as the church preached a “light” version of sin and salvation.

But I believe we’re coming back full circle to the days of persecution for true believers. Once again, Christians – Bible-believing, Christ-following Christians are persona-non-grata. Christianity has become the enemy once again. Even in the church.  As churches embrace every sin that the culture can dream up, they also reject the truth and those who live by it. Subtly, degree by degree, hatred for true believers is growing and they are being forced out. It’s happening in churches right now in your own community. The days of the bear hug are coming to an end – and it may be the best thing for the church. It’s certainly following in the footprints of Jesus who said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matt 16:25). The lion is stirring again. Beloved, are you ready to stand firm?

Do You Believe?

No other event on the stage of world history is as important as the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Skeptics have long sought to discredit Christianity’s claims with attacks on the foundational veracity of the gospel.  So is it really true? Let’s take a look at the facts that are recorded in the secular history of the time.

The Jewish and Roman historical records note that a man named Jesus from Nazareth was crucified at Golgotha and buried in a garden tomb.  The grave was sealed and Roman guards were posted to prevent the theft of the body.  History records that the condemned man’s tomb was found empty three days later, despite the extreme measures the Romans took to secure the grave.  Jewish records note the claims of Jesus’ followers that their Lord had been resurrected.  Historical writers of the time frequently mention eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus, just as Paul spoke of Peter, the Apostles, more than five hundred brothers, James (Jesus’ own doubting brother), and finally Paul himself (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).  In these verses, Paul reminds the believers of the gospel message “that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and he was raised on the third day according to the Scripture” (v. 3-4).  These verses are almost certainly a creed that was well established in the ancient church and based on the testimonies of the very ones who firmly and emphatically believed they saw the literal resurrected Lord.  These are men who had been transformed from terrified, despondent fellows cowering behind locked doors (John 20:19) to bold witnesses willing to die for their faith, confident in what they saw (Acts 4:1-20).

The gospel message – the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus – is strongly supported by men and women who had an encounter that transformed their lives and the landscape of world history.  The evidence is clearly shown in their testimonies and the traditions that are built on the foundation of their testimonies.  The eyewitness accounts of Peter, James, John and Paul, and hundreds of others, combined with the early creedal statements of the church provide good support for the claims of the resurrection of Jesus. 

Still, facts alone cannot convince anyone of the reality of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Generations of believers who have also experienced this life-changing Jesus provide the greatest proof that the claims of Christianity are true. People like me. I was a sinner, lost and bound for hell, but I heard the good news that God loves me and send His Son to die for my sins and rose to life three days later. I believed in Jesus. His Spirit lives in me and I have been changed. Forever.

Beloved, this same Jesus died for you too. He can change your life and your eternal destiny. Will you believe today?

Hebrews: The Disgrace of being a Christian

I became a Christian at nine years of age. I still remember sitting in the pew after I was baptized and feeling the water dripping from my hair and down my back. I remember standing in front of the church and receiving “the right hand of Christian fellowship.” One of my teachers hugged me in class on Monday and congratulated me on my decision for Christ. But for first-century believers, being a Christian was vastly different.

The writer of Hebrews said, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publically exposed to insult and persecution, at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated” (Hebrews 10:32-33). For a Jew to make a public profession of faith in Jesus was, at best, to open yourself to public ridicule and often worse. Many lost their employment or the community would cease doing business with them. Sons were disowned by their fathers and wives faced severe repercussions from their husbands, including beatings. They were stripped of their possessions, even their homes, and many were imprisoned just for taking hold of new life in Christ.

How did these early believers respond to such awful treatment? Better than I would have. “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property . . .” (v. 34a). They found Joy in the persecution they faced. Why on earth? Because they weren’t thinking about earth. “You knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (34b). They were thinking about heaven and eternity. They were thinking about what Peter called, “an inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:4).

They remind me of the apostles who, after being beaten by the Sanhedrin for preaching the name of Jesus, rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

I live in the US where the cost of being a Christ-follower is mild compared to the early Christians and to believers today in places where faith in Jesus is tantamount to a death sentence. We might get insulted on social media, and some factions are working through the liberal courts to shut down Christian businesses, but on the whole, being a Christian here is not a hardship. And maybe that’s the problem. But I am certain it’s coming. The cultural winds are shifting to the left and blowing in real hatred for God and His people. You and I need to be ready. It takes a firm faith and an eye to eternity to rejoice in the face of persecution. Beloved, are you willing to suffer disgrace for the Name?

When the Heat is On

A woman read in the Bible that God refines His people like silver and gold so she visited a silversmith and asked about the process of refining the precious elements. The smithy said he put the silver in a kettle and exposed it to extremely high heat that caused the dross, or impure elements, to rise to the surface where he could scoop it out. This process took intense heat and so she asked, “how do you keep from burning it?” The man replied, “I lean in very closely to the kettle and watch it carefully, using only as much heat as necessary until it is just as I want it.” She asked, “How do you know when it’s ready to be removed from the heat?” The smithy answered, “When I can see my reflection.”

You and I are called to be the reflection of Jesus Christ to the world and that image must be pure. God uses all sorts of “heat” – financial struggles, relational heartache, health problems, emotions, culture, rejection, persecution, consequences, and yes, often spiritual heat to bring the impurities in us to the surface where they can be removed. How do I know this? He’s been cooking some junk out of me for a while. Why would He do that to me? Because, like His friend Peter, some things in me need to be removed before God can use me for His Kingdom and His glory. Remember in Luke 22:31-32 how Jesus allowed His friend to be sifted by satan? He let His disciple go through the crucible of intense suffering to remove what was marring His image in Peter (Luke 22:54-62). Afterward, Peter became a mighty Apostle and preached the first Gospel message after Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:14-41. The Lord used a humble Peter mightily in the birth and growth of His church.

None of us welcome the seasons of suffering and pain in our lives but know that God is at work, purifying your faith and refining you to be His witness to the world. And you can be assured that in this time of intense heat, He is leaning in close and carefully watching over you, allowing just enough heat to accomplish His purpose – to see His Son reflected in you. And don’t forget that Jesus is praying for you (Luke 22:32). In the end you, Beloved, will come forth a beautiful vessel for His glory.

The Week after Covid

See the source image

This is a repeat and I apologize for that, but I am tired. Weary-to-my-bones kind of tired. Needing-more-than-a-day-off kind of tired. The tired that drains you physically, emotionally, and spiritually. After a week of battling Covid in my entire family, I’m drained body, mind, and spirit. At times like this, it’s really easy to sink into despair and cry “Woe is me!” and post my feelings all over social media. But how does that serve the cause of Christ?

Paul, who had every right to whine, choose instead to look at his life from a different perspective. “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9). He acknowledged that his circumstances were hard – he was being pressed from many different directions by people who all wanted something from him (boy can I relate). He was perplexed; he couldn’t understand why his own people were rejecting the Messiah they had so long sought. He was persecuted – his life was often in danger, his ministry was detested by the Jewish leaders and even by certain factions of the church. He was struck down – beaten and stoned more than once for his dogged devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Despite all that, he refused to give in to misery. He knew that no human could crush him because he belonged to the Lord. He rejected despair. He reminded himself that his Lord and Savior would never abandon him, and had even come to stand beside him in prison (Acts 23:11). He knew that the Lord he served with all his heart would not allow him to be destroyed.

Beloved – this is YOUR testimony too if you are in Christ. You are not a victim—you are a victor! Yes, life gets very hard sometimes, but you and I need not give in to despair because our Lord will not let us be crushed or destroyed. He has promised to never abandon His own, not even in our darkest, hardest moments. Like Paul, we must learn to hold fast to Jesus and trust Him despite our circumstances or feelings. I am tired, but the Lord promises to give me strength. I am overwhelmed, but He will carry my burdens for me. I am weary, but He will sustain me. I can focus on my fatigue, or on my faithful Father. The choice is mine. The choice is yours too. Where will your thoughts take you today?

The Story of God

See the source image

The first four words of Scripture tell you everything you need to know about the Bible: “In the beginning God . . .”(Gen. 1:1). The Bible, for all the people and stories it contains, is a book about God. We like to say it is about God and man, God and Abraham, God and Israel. We point to all God’s creative activity, which is worthy of note and awe. But the Bible isn’t about all God did and the humans he worked through. The Bible is about God. The story of Moses is the story of God. The story of David is the story of God. The stories of Jonah and the Apostles are all the stories of God. He is on every page, in every verse, and behind every story, even if His name is not mentioned.

That is because God is the creator and sustainer of all existence. If He were to somehow cease to be, which can never happen because He is eternal, the heavens and the earth – every mountain and tree, every planet and star would disappear. Paul said of Christ (who is fully God) “By Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17). And John the Revelator recorded the angels’ praise: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being” (Rev. 4:11).

Get this – your story and my story is also the story of God. Paul said, “We live and move and have our being” in God (Acts 17:28). We would not exist without Him. We should seek every day to know Him. That is why I teach the Bible. That is why I encourage you to read and study for yourself. Listen to His amazing promise: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord” (Jer. 29:13, 14). You don’t have to hope to know God, you just have to look for Him in the pages of His Word. Beloved, will you open your Bible and seek out the One who created you and loves you?

This is Me

Since it’s my birthday, I thought I would share some of my favorite verses with you and why they are special to me.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve loved the account of Dorcas in Acts 9 – for obvious reasons, but also because we both loved to sew. But I love it more because Dorcas, by her life and death and return to life, was an evangelist without even saying a word. The Scripture said that because of her and the work of the Lord in her, her story “became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:42). That’s what I want my life to be about. She has been my life-long inspiration.

I find myself returning again and again to another verse that gave me hope through many years of infertility and through many more years of struggling as a parent: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last there is life and Joy” (Proverbs 13:12). My hope was and is in God and His ability to “call things that are not as though there were” (Romans 4:17).

God used three verses to call me into this teaching and writing ministry: Isaiah 51:16 – “I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand.” and Jeremiah 15:19 – “If you utter worthy not worthless words, you will be my spokesman.” From these two verses, He began to refine my words and their content. Then I came across Ezra, of whom the Scripture said, “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 teaching its decrees in Israel” (Ezra 7:9,10). God called me to study His Word, live His Word, and teach His Word. He sent me to seminary with Jeremiah 1:17: “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you.”

Finally, my life verse: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:13,14). I have been on an almost life-long mission to seek God, and He has shown Himself over and over in my life. It is a mission I will continue to my last breath. So this is who I am as I’ve been and continue to be shaped by the Word of God. Thank you, Beloved for your love and encouragement in this ministry. You are a blessing to me

God’s Plan

See the source image

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea . . . “Matthew 2:1

The Bible is filled with story after story of God’s hand in the events of human history, and in particular in individual lives, as He works to fulfill His will.  But almost always, the path He chooses is very different than those individuals might have envisioned, and often very difficult as well. Joseph had a destiny in Egypt that would affect his family, the nation of Israel, and the entire world.  But God took him through pits and prison on the way.  David would be king of Israel – after running for his life through the wilderness.  I love the story of Paul. The Lord had a purpose for him, to “carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel,” (Acts 9:15).  Jesus told him, “you must testify about me in Rome, (Acts 23:11).  And he did indeed make it to Rome to declare the name of Christ Jesus, but he arrived as a prisoner, by way of a storm and a shipwreck and a snake (Acts 27-28).

Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem fulfilled a prophecy made hundreds of years before: “Out of you, Bethlehem Ephrathah . . . will come one for me who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).  How would that happen when His mother lived in Nazareth, some 100 miles away?  God worked through the highest office in the land: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  And everyone went to his own town to register,” (Luke 2:1, 3). While it seemed that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem for Ceasar’s edict, they were really there to fulfill the promise of God – to bring forth the promised one in the place of His prophecied birth.

A life surrendered into the hands of the Lord God Almighty may have twists and surprises, and yes even doubts and struggles, but you can be assured that He is faithful to keep His promise and to fulfill His purpose.  Don’t be afraid of these “strange things that are happening to you,” Beloved,  (1 Peter 4:12).  It’s just God at work working behind the scenes,  preparing you for “His good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12). 

In His Hands

See the source image

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Yes, I know, you’ve heard this verse a thousand times. It’s an old favorite of the church and might even be a bit overused. But that’s because it is true and hopeful and if ever we needed hope, I think it’s now. It seems like the whole world has gone crazy, doesn’t it? Or perhaps the world is too big to contemplate, but your life has been crazy lately.  You find yourself asking “Why?” and wondering if God has forgotten about you. Let me take you on a ride through history to show that the Lord is still very much in control.

In 332 BC, the nation of Israel, along with much of the known world was conquered by Alexander the Great, a Greek warrior and king. Alexander’s conquests were not meant for destruction, but rather for assimilation into the Greek empire. All nations were educated in the Greek language for unification. Alexander ordered the ancient Hebrew Scriptures to be translated into Greek, a work that was accomplished in 70 days.

In 63 BC, the Roman Empire conquered Israel. Though known for their cruelty and harsh rule, they were also known for establishing strong infrastructure wherever they went to enable swift transport for their military. Roads were laid by the Romans throughout the European and Asian continents.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus persecution drove His followers from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria and throughout the region. As they went, they walked along Roman-built roads and shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the unified Greek language. The story of God was read and taught everywhere they went because the language was the same wherever they went.

While all these events seemed to be unconnected, harsh circumstances, it’s clear that the God of heaven and earth was “working all things together” for the spread of the Gospel. Now, don’t you think this same sovereign God is able to manage the circumstances of your life? Not only has He not forgotten about you, but He is “perfecting that which concerns you” (Psalm 138:8). He’s got the whole world in His hands – and that includes you Beloved.