For the Foolish People (like me)

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The more I read the Bible the more I am amazed at God’s goodness to fulfill His plan even in the midst of our foolishness. Sarah schemed to give Abraham an heir to fulfill God’s promise. The mess she made of it all is still felt in the world today. Yet, God didn’t abandon His plan in retaliation. He still allowed the foolish Sarah to bear a son – the child of the promise. When Isaac married and his wife finally conceived, God told Rebekah that her younger son would rule over his older brother, but she still schemed to make sure Jacob – the younger son and her favorite – got his father’s blessing. Then he had to run to his uncle far away to protect himself from his brother’s wrath. While there he married two sisters and started a family with them and their maids (and people say the Bible is boring). Out of all this deception, manipulation, and foolishness, God still gave twelve sons to Jacob – sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel and eventually a nation that could not be counted, just as He promised Abraham.

That gives me hope because I have made some major messes in my life, done some foolish and, yes, sinful things.  I have heard God say, “turn to the right,” and I ran instead to the left because the grass looked greener there. It was just an illusion. I have made choices because I thought I knew better than God what would make me happy and only found sorrow and struggle. I have reaped the whirlwind of my stupidity many times. Yet God has never given up on me. He has never turned His back on me in disgust or frustration. He has never left me to rot in the pit of my choosing.  And He has never failed to turn it all around and still fulfill His good, pleasing, and perfect will. Beloved, I know He will be faithful to do the same for you. He is a good and gracious God – even when we mess it all up.

Make Every Minute Count

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Facebook is a ministry tool for me, but it is also a huge time-waster. Every day I promise myself I will post my devotional and the Scripture for the day and get off. I swear I won’t jump back in every time I see a notification. But I have yet to pull that off. It’s too easy to get caught up in the pictures of your kiddos and your funny memes and the next thing you know I’ve blown thirty minutes I’ll never get back. That’s why I’ve adapted Moses’ words in Psalm 90:12 and posted them on my wall above my desk: “Teach [me] to number [my minutes], that I may gain a heart of wisdom.”

In his original statement, Moses was asking the Lord to show him how to weigh the time He had been allotted in this life, to recognize its value, and invest it wisely and carefully. I doubt he would have spent much time on social media or surfing the web, playing video games, or watching television.  Moses regarded time as a means to wisdom. And I don’t know about you, but I sure need some wisdom. Interestingly, some translations say “that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” Now that should make us sit up and pay attention. We will present to God the fruit of our time. Will I honor His gift of time by presenting to Him wise decisions, obedience and faithful service, and a deeper understanding of His Word? That all depends on how I invest in today.

My minutes are pretty stretched every day between work, graduate school, writing, studying, and teaching, and being a full-on Nana (the very best investment of my time).  Every once in a while I have to mop the floors too. I really don’t have time to waste on mindless drivel. But I still do. God has been impressing me with the thought of eternity. Everything in this life should be weighed in the balance of eternity. Every word, every action, every decision has eternal value. That is where the fruit of all the minutes goes. You and I need to learn to number our days and our minutes and invest them in the things that will last forever. Like people and truth and compassion and the gospel. When we stand before the Lord will we have good fruit or lots of memes to show for the time He’s given us? Beloved, how will you make your minutes count?

Love One Another

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It is very compelling to me that in all the Gospels, there is only one time that Jesus declared a commandment: “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17). A command means it’s not up for debate. Ah, but we do debate it, don’t we? “Who are the ‘others’?” “Did Jesus just mean fellow Christians?” “Did He mean everyone everywhere?” “And what did He mean by ‘love’?” We are much like the lawyer who asked Jesus “And who is my neighbor?” And Jesus told Him the story of the Good Samaritan. You know this parable from Luke 10: 25-37.

A man was beaten and robbed and left for dead on the side of the road where two very religious men passed him by on the way to do their religious duties. But a Samaritan, whom the Jews despised, stopped and helped the man, took him to an inn, and paid for his care.  When the lawyer asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” he wanted to know whom he was “required” to love. Jesus turned his question around by defining the neighbor as the one who gave love, not the one who received it. The one giving love is living out the second great commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).

So love your neighbor. But God doesn’t allow us to pick and choose our neighbors. He commands us to love the person He places in front of us. Sometimes that’s a hard love because they are prickly and unpleasant and downright hateful. They take and never give. They growl and complain. Does that mean we are excused from the love command? I think they are the very ones Jesus had in mind.

Several years ago I read something in “Reader’s Digest” that has stuck with me ever since: “Don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most.” I think sometimes we withhold love because are afraid we will be “cheated” – giving more love than we receive. But the very act of loving others fills the one who gives it all away. Here’s how John said it: “If we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us” (1 Jn 4:12).  Beloved, the more love you give away the more of God’s love you have to give. Love each other – all the others – the way Jesus loves you (John 15:12).

God’s (Very) Long-Range Plan

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I’m part of a group that is writing out the Scriptures. We’re writing small sections each day, but by focusing on only a small portion of verses we are able to slow down; by writing it out we pay careful attention to each word. Yesterday one of those words stood out to me.  In the account of creation, Genesis two describes man’s divinely created home, a place of beauty and nurture. The garden featured trees with fruit to feed the human. All the bounty of the Garden was free for the taking, with one exception – the “tree in the middle of the garden” (Gen. 3:3). God expressly forbade eating the fruit from this particular tree. He said, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of the good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen 2:17). Did you notice that one word that caught my attention? When. God said, “when you eat of it,” not “if you eat of it.” Adam and Eve’s act of sinful rebellion was not a surprise to God. He expected it. He predicted it. He knew it was going to happen all along.

And because He knew it was going to happen, He made a way for sinful man to be redeemed before he ever spoke the universe into being. You and I need to know that the cross of Christ was not God’s reaction to man’s sin. John said that Jesus was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world’ (Rev 13:8), and Jesus said that the Father arranged our inheritance, a “kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matt 25:34). God provided the cure for sin before the first sin ever occurred, even before He called forth the light (Gen 1:3). Jesus coming to earth, living a perfect life, dying a selfless death, and rising from the grave was all part of the plan of the ages. To what end? That He might rule and reign over a kingdom of redeemed people.

Beloved, I want you to be part of that kingdom. I want you to know Jesus, but more importantly, I want Jesus to know you (Gal 4:9; 1 Cor 8:3; John 10:14). God made the plan long ago, and He included you in it. Have you, will you receive His grace today?

Why Was a King Born in a Stable?

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“While they were there the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7)

When I was a kid the Christmas story made me sad because Jesus was born in a nasty stable. He should have been born in a palace! He was the King of kings for Pete’s sake! It was a shame that Mary and Joseph were forced to seek refuge in such an ugly, smelly place. She should have had the best doctors tending her as she gave birth instead of dumb animals. This was the Son of God! It was so unfair.

Or maybe, that was just how He planned it all along. Perhaps, in His divine purpose, Jesus chose the stable as His birthplace and a manger as his bed to make a statement that no place is too lowly for Him. Not the slums of the city or the farthest backroads of the country. Not a crack house or a bar or a brothel.  And I believe he wanted to assure humanity that no person is too sinful for Him. Not an alcoholic or drug addict. Not the girl who had an abortion or the young man who sits in a prison cell. Not the woman with the worst reputation in town nor the man who drove away everyone who ever loved him. Not me. Not even you.

Aren’t you glad to know that there is no place that is too smelly or ugly that Jesus will not go? There is no person too far gone that Jesus cannot love.  The Bible says His closest friends were smelly fishermen and hated tax collectors and healed demoniacs and lepers and people at the lowest rungs of society.  I think there was no room in the inn because Jesus wanted to show that there was enough room in His heart for the whole world – wherever and whomever you are.

The Face of God

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The ancient blessing from God contained the words: “The Lord make His face shine on you . . . The Lord turn His face toward you . . .”  (Numbers 6:26). In the terminology of the Old Testament, to “turn one’s face toward” someone was to signify favor and blessing from the greater to the lesser.  A king might show favor to a trusted soldier or advisor and shower him with gifts and position—he had turned his face toward him.  It was a mutual benefit as the king gained greater loyalty from the one he favored.  For the nation of Israel, the God of heaven and earth turned His face toward them and promised His blessing, His grace, and His peace (see vs. 24-26).  This weary group had just escaped from Egypt after four hundred years of slavery.  They had nothing to offer that would garner His favor, they had no country of their own, no wealth or treasure, and no political or military power.  When God turned His face toward them, it was purely an act of unmerited favor on the part of the Lord.

As we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the favor of the Creator poured out on us, His creation.  We celebrate the gift of His mercy and His grace given in the Baby in the manger. Our celebrations are meager compared to this gift. We hang lights in our homes to honor the Light of the World.  We give gifts just as the Magi gave gifts to the Christ Child.  We sing songs remembering the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (Luke 2:14).  We rejoice at the Joy of the shepherds who first saw this wondrous gift from heaven.

But let us not forget that God showed His highest favor toward us at Calvary.  The gift given at Jesus’ birth was made complete in His sacrifice.  At the cross, the Father turned His away from His one and only Son so that He might turn His face toward sinful humanity – toward you, Beloved – and give you peace.  It is the highest act of benevolence and it is the greatest gift you will ever be given.

The Rescue Plan

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Some themes have become so familiar in the Christian world that we speak them and receive them without a second thought. Things like: “God helps those who help themselves.” Now, I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover many times over and I tell you for certain, it’s not in there. Or how about, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Again, I’ve never found that in the Bible and  I can tell you from my own life, it ain’t so.  I heard another one recently that always comes around at Christmas and Easter, this human idea that God looked down from heaven and saw mankind in bondage to sin and death and sent His son in response. While it certainly expresses God’s heart of mercy for His creation, it’s not exactly the truth.

How do I know that? Because the Bible says that Jesus is “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). Before man could ever cry out for redemption, the Redeemer had already paid the price. What in the world does that mean? Well, it’s not a worldly concept at all, it’s the divine plan created in heaven before God scooped up a handful of dust – even before He said, “Let there be light.” Jesus was always meant to come to earth as a tiny baby and live a perfect, sinless life, and die an undeserved and cruel death.  He was always meant to lie in a tomb for three days and heaven never doubted that He would rise again, because that was the plan all along. Christmas and Easter were not God’s knee-jerk reaction to our predicament.

We also need to understand that time in the heavenly realm is not like time here on earth. God sees the end and the beginning all at the same time because He is the sovereign Lord of Heaven and Earth – and time. His plan wasn’t something that had to unfold from heaven’s perspective, though it took thousands of years to accomplish on earth. It was already a done deal. When the Father gazed at the Baby in the manger he saw the man on the cross. And so should we.

Aren’t you glad that He didn’t wait for you to cry out from the pit before He set a rescue plan in place? He planned it long before you needed it. That should give you great hope, Beloved. God had you in mind all along.

Beloved

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If there is one consistent theme throughout the Bible it is that God loves people. From every tribe, nation, and tongue God loves human beings – the pinnacle of His creation. He doesn’t love one gender more than the other. He doesn’t love one race more than the other – in truth, there is only one race – the human race – and He loves them all. I love Psalm 107 because it is all about the love of God for mankind. The first verse says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever.” The last verse says, “Consider the great love of the Lord” (v. 43) and in between the Scriptures speak of ”His unfailing love” four times (vs. 8,15,21, 31).

The Psalmist describes people who are poor and desperate, people who were imprisoned by their sin, people who have foolishly rebelled against God, and people who are “at their wits’ end” because of life’s storms. I think that pretty much covers all of us. I know I fit in at least a couple of those. The point is, God’s love is for everyone. No one is exempt or excluded. No one is cast aside or rejected.

In each scene, when they “cried to the Lord in their trouble,” He “saved them from their distress” (vs. 6, 13, 19, 28). He led the poor to “by a straight way to a city where they could settle” (v. 4). He brought [the prisoner] out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains” (v. 14). He “sent forth His word and healed [the rebel] and rescued them from the grave” (v. 20). He “stilled the storm to a whisper and hushed the waves of the sea and guided [the distressed] to their desired haven” (vs. 29-30). They all “gave thanks for . . . His wonderful deeds for men” (vs. 8, 13, 19, 28).

Where do you fit in these scenes? Are you desperate, bound by sin, rebelling against God, or distressed and anxious because of a storm in your life? God loves you. He who makes springs in the desert, who feeds the hungry, who lifts up the humble and desperate,  loves you. Yes you.  And now you understand why I call you “Beloved.”

Holy Sandpaper

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“. . . to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17).

One summer my mom asked me to repaint the porch swing so I grabbed some paint and brushes from the shed and headed toward the porch. She stopped me and said, “You have to prep it before you can paint.” We went back into the shed and she pulled out the electric sander and said, “You have to sand off the old paint and get the wood smooth.” And so I set to work, day after day sanding every inch of that swing. The wood had to be as smooth as glass before she pronounced it ready for primer and paint. That was more work than I bargained for, but in the end, that swing looked awesome!

When God wants to make a person ready for Himself, He also uses divine sandpaper to take off the layers of sin and worldliness and to smooth off our jagged edges. Sometimes He uses circumstances and situations that are rough – an illness, a job loss, a financial setback, sudden losses, unexpected responsibilities. But most of the time He uses people – at least it’s been true for me.

God has used “sandpaper people” to scrape off judgment and arrogance, to rub off selfishness, and strip away my “victim mentality.”  He used some of them to sand out my attitude of self-righteousness, to teach me humility, kindness, generosity, compassion, patience, and forgiveness.  But most of all, He exploded my understanding about His unconditional love when He called me to be a conduit of love into others’ lives.  Every person left an indelible mark on my life – some imprints of grace and forgiveness, some scars of wisdom, and some cracks in the wall I had built around my heart.

Beloved, who has God brought into your life that rubs you the wrong way? Maybe they are the very ones He is using to prepare you.  Maybe they are there to teach you some valuable lessons about grace, compassion, forgiveness, or discernment.  Ask God what He’s up to in your life and theirs.  Not every relationship is going to be sunshine and roses – some people will bring on the rain.  But rain makes the roses grow and their fragrance is a sweet aroma.  Above all remember – every person is a soul God loves and Jesus died to save.  That’s reason enough to love them.

Devoted

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I’m writing a paper for my grad class on Romans 12:9-21. Paul wrote the book of Romans to address the tension between the Jewish and Gentile believers.  He explained that they were all sinners in need of God’s grace through Jesus Christ and that God didn’t favor one group over the other. Then he told them how that grace should be lived out every day as a community – a unified body.  He talked about choosing good and overcoming evil.  He talked about being zealous in serving the Lord, about being Joyful, hopeful, patient, generous, and hospitable.  He talked about how to endure persecution with grace. All good stuff and all very important.  But the verse that keeps drawing my attention is “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (v. 10). I have to ask myself, “Am I?” and I don’t like the answer.

The word “devoted” implies affection that parents feel for their children (and grandchildren). It is tenderness and compassion. It is concern and earnestness to do what is best for the beloved. If you know me at all you know I am “devoted” to my granddaughter and I will do whatever is necessary to care for and about her.  I know you feel the same toward your own children and grands. But how am I toward those outside of my own home? Not as devoted if I’m honest. Ah, but in my defense, I’m busy. I work. I’m a grad student. I am very involved in caring for Joy. I teach Sunday School. I write every day. I’m trying to keep my household running. (I don’t cook much – props to my husband.)  And your life is very full as well. We probably all feel that we’re doing the best we can.

I think busyness is one of the devil’s favorite tools for shutting down real relationships – and real evangelism. With work, school, family, church, and community responsibilities, we just don’t have a lot of time to get involved in other people’s lives.` But then again, it comes down to love, doesn’t it? I don’t know . . . maybe this word is just for me today.  Maybe not.  The truth is we will always make time for what we love: making money, sports, entertainment, leisure, T.V., scrapbooking, gaming, Facebook . . .  and hopefully squeeze in some time for Jesus, Bible study, prayer, and people. Beloved, who or what are you devoted to?