Anticipation

My granddaughter is going to be a daredevil. (Nah – she’s too sweet –maybe a dare-angel 😊) We have a game she loves. I’ll say “Are you ready?” then I count. “One” and she smiles. “Two” and she begins to giggle.” “THREE!” and I’ll twirl her around, or drop her just a bit (with my arms firmly around her) or toss her a few inches in the air. She squeals with delight! Yesterday we did that for a half-hour as she sat in her swing on the back porch. Always the same routine. “Are you ready?” “One.” Give the swing a jiggle. “Two.” Pull the swing closer “THREE!” Give the swing a big push. Cue the laughter and smiles. I love it as much as she does, because of her sense of anticipation. She knows that when Nana starts the countdown, fun will ensue.

What do you do when life hands you a challenge? When your world gets turned upside down? When you feel like you’re in the spin cycle of a washing machine? Friend, I’m there, and I suspect you are too. The thought occurred to me as I played with Joy-Joy – what if God is giving the countdown? What if He’s about to do something that will bring delight to our lives? Isaiah 43:19 says: “Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” If only we could hear Him saying, “Are you ready?” “One.” “Two.” Would we hold our breath in anticipation? Would we smile? Would we look around with expectation?

I’ve been around the block enough times with God to recognize a pattern of sorts like my granddaughter recognizes the countdown. Something comes along that interrupts my life. Usually something hard. Then He uses that situation in ways I would never imagine to accomplish extraordinary things. I’m in the midst of one of those hard situations now. I have a choice. Will I sit in hopelessness or listen out for God’s voice?

Beloved, have you lost your sense of anticipation with God? Have you resigned yourself to hopelessness? May I encourage you to tilt your ear toward heaven and listen for the countdown? I think I hear Him – “Are you ready?”

Don’t Drift Away from God

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Words fascinate me. The Holy Spirit knows this about me and so often when I am reading my Bible, He will draw my attention to a word and ask me, “What does that mean?” – and I am off on one of my favorite digs. Yesterday I was reading in Hebrews 2 and He did it again in the very first verse: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” The phrase “drift away” became my holy grail. This is one word in the Greek: pararreo – and it means to glide by, to be carried away, and you would use it to say something “slipped my mind.”. We’ve all missed appointments because they slipped our minds. That’s why we jot them down on our calendars or put a reminder in our phone. Likewise, the writer was saying, don’t let the message of the gospel slip from your mind. That’s easy to do when life is hard, when tragedy strikes, when you’re weary, when the whole world is caught in a pandemic. It’s easy to forget about the hope we have in Christ. But this dig continues.

This morning the Spirit highlighted another phrase for me: “careful attention.” These two words perissoteros and prosecho mean in great abundance, above all else and to hold or possess. Simply put, this means above every voice and every worldview, take hold of this gospel and let everything else go. That’s the key to not drifting away.

The message of the first chapter was that Jesus is the Son of God – He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:3). In a world that says there is no God, or that God is whatever you want him to be, we need to get a firm and secure grip on the truth. In a world that is full of evil and darkness, where death runs rampant and people are scared out of their wits, we need to wave the banner of the gospel and the hope of salvation and eternal life.

Beloved, what are you paying careful attention to? The news? Facebook? The opinions of others? These will cause fear, confusion, and doubt. They will cause you to drift away. Let them go. Pay attention to the truth: Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save you and give you eternal life and hope for today. Hold on to that and never let go.

 

Valuable in God’s Eyes

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I have never thought of myself as important or of value. Probably because I’ve had so many people tell me by their words and their actions that I wasn’t. But something happened one day on a beach trip that changed my heart. We were in one of those kitschy gift shops and I saw a figurine made of seashells I liked. I picked it up and almost dropped it when I saw the price. My husband said, “They must really like their stuff – they’ve priced it so no one will buy it.” I realized that the true value of an item is not the price tag the merchant puts on it, but the price the buyer is willing to pay for it. The figurine was pretty, but it wasn’t worth what they were asking for it. I put it down and walked away. Then God spoke to my heart, “I was willing to pay a high price for you Child. You were worth the life of my Son.” I’ll never be “important” and that’s okay. But God has placed great value and worth on me.
 
The world and Satan continually work to focus our thoughts on what is wrong with us. The world says that we are flawed if we are not the right weight or body shape, don’t have the right hairstyle or an exceptional career. Satan continually reminds us of every failure, every wrong thought, and every harsh word; he drags us even deep into the pit by insisting that in God’s eyes we are worthless. I see you nodding your head in understanding.
Beloved, God wants you to know that Satan and this world are liars. The ultimate evidence of your worth is the price God was willing to pay for you – “it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed…but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19). The truth is that Jesus thought so highly of you He gave the most valuable thing He had to redeem you – He gave Himself. You are so precious in His eyes.

But I Don’t Feel Forgiven

 

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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, 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?

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. 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 sexual 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. 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.

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.

God Wins!

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On my way home yesterday I prayed, “Lord, I am so tired of evil in this world.” I am tired of mass shootings and sex trafficking. I’m tired of babies being murdered in the womb and outside of the womb. I’m tired of children being abused. I’m tired of sin being paraded and celebrated. I’m tired of old folks being swindled out of their life savings. And most of all, I’m tired of the war with evil that is happening in my own home over my loved one. I am bone-tired. Heart-tired. Spirit-tired.
Then I heard that quiet voice: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Not “I will overcome the world” but “I have overcome the world.” He overcame it when he broke free from His grave clothes and walked out of that tomb. I wish I were a fly on the wall in hell when Satan and his demons saw the Lord’s chest rise and fall again. Evil will be with us in the world, but evil does not have the final say. I read the end of the book – evil loses. Jesus wins. I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder today.

Why?

Reading in Acts 16 this morning where Paul and Silas are in prison for preaching the Gospel. There are a lot of why’s in this story. At the beginning of Acts 16, Paul wants to go to Asia, but God wouldn’t let them. Why? They were stripped, beaten, severely flogged, thrown in prison, and fastened in the stocks (vv. 22-24). Why? Despite it all, in the middle of the night, our boys “were praying and singing hymns to God. Why? But wait, it gets better. A violent earthquake shook the prison and “all the prison doors flew open and everyone’s chain came loose. But they all stayed. Everyone. Why?

Why did all this happen? So the jailer would see and believe in the power of God and so that he and his family would hear the gospel and be saved. I suspect a few prisoners also believed that night.

I take tremendous hope in this story because it tells me if God would go to such lengths to bring the man and his family to salvation, He will move mountains to save my loved one too. I have no doubt that when these new believers came up out of the baptismal waters, Paul and Silas realized all their suffering was worth it. God had directed every single thing to save this family.

Beloved, I know that you are suffering. I know that you are asking “Why?” I know it’s hard and painful. Believe me, I know, because I am there too. But I’m going to pray and praise God in the suffering because I believe He will use it to show His power. And He will break the chains that bind my loved one and throw open the prison door and set them free. It’s going to be worth it all one day. Suffering in God’s hands always – always – brings Joy. Just ask Paul and Silas. And Jesus.

Against All Hope

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“Abraham! Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love . . . and sacrifice him as a burnt offering . . . (Genesis 22:1-2).

If I were Abraham I would gather up my son and run screaming in the other direction. But the very next morning he set out to do what God had commanded him to do. I never understood how Abraham could just willingly sacrifice his beloved son until I studied his story alongside two other Scriptures. Hebrews11:19 says, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” And Romans 4:18 and 20 says “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God

The Spirit showed me that the reason Abraham believed that the Lord would raise his son from the dead is because of God’s promise to build a nation through Isaac (Genesis 17:19). He knew that Isaac would have to live for the promise to be fulfilled. But God had told him to kill the very same son the promise was built upon.  Dead men can’t father children. Yet he reasoned that somehow God would keep His word. Abraham’s faith was in the Promise-keeper, not in the promise. I don’t know about you but needed that reminder again today.

No matter how impossible the situation looks our hope must always be in God, not in an outcome. He is always good and will always do what is right. He is perfect in wisdom and knows what you and I don’t. Beloved, don’t hope that God will do thus-and-so. Trust that God will be God.

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.

Christmas Hope: Light in the Darkness

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“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

When do we most need hope?  In the darkness, in the season of pain and heartache and despair.  When it is hardest to find.  Our 3rd day of this Advent series focuses on the hope we must have to survive those seasons of darkness.  The hope in the promise of the Light of Jesus Christ.

I recall a trip to the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, and a room deep within the caverns where the park guide turned out all the artificial lights – the room was plunged into total darkness.  For a moment I was overcome by a sense of despair and fear.  In that pitch-black darkness, I lost all orientation, had no idea where the exit was, or where anyone else was.  If my friend had not grabbed my hand, I would have thought myself completely alone. There are seasons of our life that are like that cave adventure when it seems that we are lost in a deep, black darkness.  We are overwhelmed with despair, confused and disoriented-not knowing where to turn or how to escape, and we feel completely and utterly alone.

While we stood in the darkness inside that cave, the guide lit one small match.  With that single flickering flame, the darkness was overcome. Darkness is nothing more than the absence of light – but where there is even the smallest light, darkness has lost its power.

Adam and Eve plunged this world into the darkness of sin, and so we are disoriented in spiritual darkness.  Rather than the sun and moon and stars, we walk in the distorted light of the world.  And so God sent His Son, Jesus to be “the Light of the world” (John 8:12).  His light overcame the darkness of sin and evil; His light can overcome the darkness and despair of living in this world with all its struggles and heartaches and pain.

Paul wrote, “God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).  This Advent season, as you enjoy the lights of Christmas, let the light of the Christ Child come in and dispel the darkness.  Live in the Light of Jesus Christ.

I’m Supposed to be Thankful for This?

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One of the most challenging verses in the Bible is 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In some seasons of my life that is an easy verse to obey – things are good, everyone is healthy, bills are being paid, the pantry is full of food, and the tires on the car have plenty of tread. Then there are those days when that verse is a hard pill to swallow. The medical bills are stacked three inches high, the rent is late, the cupboards are bare, the kid is expelled from school, and the car needs a new oil pump. And I’m supposed to give thanks? The key to gratitude in those hard seasons is being thankful IN all things, not necessarily FOR all things. And the focus of our thankfulness is always God and His faithfulness and sovereignty.

I’m reminded of the story of Corrie and Betsy Ten Boom, the Dutch sisters who endured the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp for the crime of hiding Jews from the German Polizei. The building in which they were crammed was infested with fleas, which cause Corrie to complain. Her sister reminded her that they must “give thanks in everything,” which Corrie could not understand. But because of the fleas, the guards refused to go into their building and they were free from sexual assaults and also free to hold daily prayer and Bible study sessions with their fellow prisoners. The Bible is full of similar stories of God using the hard things to bring about good.

Despite our circumstances, we can be thankful for God’s presence, His faithfulness, and His sovereignty. I have lived through a lot of hard stuff – some really gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, soul-crushing things – but God was always there. He comforted, encouraged, provided, healed, protected, strengthened – and always brought me through. He never let me down. Never. Not one single time. Beloved, if you’re finding it hard to give thanks this year, may I gently remind you to turn your gaze from your circumstances to the God who is able to make even fleas a blessing. He is up to good in your life. In all things.

Painting: “The Thankful Poor” by Henry Ossawa Tanner