Praying for the Long Haul

Yesterday was a rough day in a lot of ways – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I went to bed exhausted, in pain, and defeated. I woke up much the same. But as I sit here this morning, I realize God was reaching out to me all day long with love and grace. A long lunch-time phone conversation with my best friend. A call and prayer from another dear friend. A hug from another. The hands of my co-workers holding mine as my boss prays for my family. A big grin and an excited squeal when I pick up Joy from her babysitter. A good report after a roller-coaster of worry. My favorite meal from my sweet hubby. My precious angel asleep in my arms at the close of the day.

And it all came to mind because of a sticky note on my bulletin board. The note is a verse I jotted down over a year ago when a family member had driven me to my knees in frustration and desperation. I am still on my knees over them. This morning I had just about given up hope. Prayer seemed futile. To tell you the truth, it seemed like the more I prayed the worse the situation became. Like adding fuel to a raging fire.

I was writing a completely different devotional this morning when I stretched my back a bit, lifted my head, and my eyes fell on that bright pink square of paper with a slightly adapted verse: “The fervent prayer of a righteous ‘Mom’ is powerful and effective” James 5:16. A year ago I added the word “grandmother” to the note. It was a reminder to not give up on prayer. It was a reminder to not give up on my loved ones. It was a reminder to not give up on God. The stakes are much too high to throw in the prayer shawl. And God is much to faithful to give up hope.

Beloved, I don’t know whom you are praying for or how long you’ve been on your knees, but I want to encourage you to stay the course. Don’t quit. The stakes are much too high and God is much too faithful for you to give up.

A Real Love Story

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Hosea is a beautiful love story. God instructed His prophet Hosea to marry Gomer, a prostitute, as an example to the people of Israel of how He took them out of their former life of wickedness and made them His own. As expected, she was unfaithful to Hosea, again a living example of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. The Lord declares that He will punish Israel, banishing her to the desert and revealing her wickedness. But He also promised to restore Israel. In the desert where He sent her, He will “speak tenderly to her” (2:14). In the same place where she knew only trouble, God promised that “she will sing as in the days of her youth” (2:15) He will restore their relationship and send her enemies away.

Here’s what I find so wonderful. God said that He would “betroth” or commit Himself to her forever in “righteousness and justice, in love and compassion, [and] in faithfulness” (2:19-20). Then He says “You will acknowledge the Lord” (2:20). At first, I thought that acknowledging the Lord was her part in the restoration. That she would have to acquiesce to Him. But the word used means “to know” and pictures a husband and wife in their most intimate moment. So the truth is – “acknowledging the Lord” it isn’t a demand God is making, it is a promise He is proclaiming. After the season of discipline, God will pour out His righteousness and justice and love and compassion and faithfulness, and He will lavish her with love. And she will know her beloved in the most intimate, unifying, and satisfying way. She will know Him because He loves her.

That is true for you Beloved. God calls you into a deeper knowledge of Him, not so you can fill your head with facts, but so that you can know – in the very deepest part of your heart – that He loves you. No matter your past, no matter your sin, no matter how far you’ve run or how long – God wants you to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He loves you. Listen carefully and you will hear His tender voice in your ear. “I love you, Child, you are mine forever.”

Pray for America

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I want to be like Jesus. I want to think like Him and speak like Him (including and especially social media). I want to respond like Him. I want to be wise like Him. Most of all, I want to love like Him. Because I want the world to know Him. This morning I prayed, “Lord if you were on earth today, how would you respond to the angry mobs and rebellious crowds and violent protests?”
I finished reading Jonah this morning. Jonah was sent to Nineveh to proclaim the Lord’s coming judgment. He didn’t want to go so he ran (or sailed) away. God would not let him go and he eventually obeyed and brought the message. And the nation of Nineveh repented. Stop. Don’t rush over that. Read it again and feel the glory of it. The most wicked nation on earth repented and turned to God. Wouldn’t you be elated? Not Jonah. He was angry. He didn’t want Israel’s enemy to receive God’s mercy. But God did. “Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left . . . Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:11). God had compassion on the people of Nineveh. Yes, the wicked, disobedient people.
There’s a verse tucked away in Acts that I think perfectly identifies those who are turning our nation upside down. Paul had been preaching the Gospel in Ephesus and the people were turning to Christ – and turning away from idols. Which hurt the purses of those who made and sold idols. A riot started and rocked the city for several hours. Luke said of the rioters: “The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there” (Acts 19:32). I believe that is true for the majority of the protesters today. They don’t know what they’re protesting about. They just get swept up in the action and believe the line they’re given.
How would Jesus respond? Like His Father – with compassion.
I want to offer a challenge to you. Every time you hear or read a news story about the riots and violence in America  – before you tweet or post or rage – pray. Pray for the protesters see the light and turn to God. Friends only God can save this nation, but you and I must pray. Let’s stop ranting about whose life matters the most. Just pray. Let’s stop yelling back in anger. Just pray. Let’s turn away from our own anger (yes and prejudices). Just pray. Pray for the Gospel to go out and save. Pray for the people who “cannot tell their left hand from their right.” God, have mercy on our country. Send forth Your Word and Your Spirit and save Americans and America.

Caring for the Wounded Body (of Christ)

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“But God has combined the members of the body . . . so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25)
Have you ever noticed when one body part suffers, your whole body becomes invested in the healing process? When I had a severe infection in my leg a couple of years ago my whole body had to be committed to rest and elevation and medication for my leg to heal. My whole body was flat of my back for four weeks.  My arms didn’t grumble about it. My other leg didn’t resent it. My heart and lungs kept doing their job so that the wounded part could heal. No part of my body forgot about that leg for a second.
I think, in our modern “personal” and private religion, we’ve forgotten how to take care of one another. How to give attention to the wounded parts of our body – the wounded people in the Body of Christ. We throw a half-hearted “praying for ya!” in their direction and maybe even take them a meal if we have the time to spare, but I feel like we’ve lost something. Commitment to one another? One part of my ministry is listening to hurting people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “When my life became difficult, my church forgot about me . . .ignored me . . . overlooked me . . . gave up on me.” I know they’re telling the truth because it has happened to me too.  What would our Head think of all this?
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (v. 26)
Am I rambling or is any of this resonating with anyone?

The Truth About Love

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“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (2:15-16).
The heart and soul of true love is the love of God. This is perfect love (1 John 4:18). And it is nothing like the “love” this -world desires. In our culture today, “love” means “anything goes.” Love, in the modern sense, is unrestrained permissiveness. If I claim to love you, I should never stand in the way of you fulfilling your desires. But what if I know that your desires are self-destructive. Should I, in “love,” allow my granddaughter to play with the phone charger? That’s her little heart’s desire. Or should I keep her from something that can hurt her? Shouldn’t I also care about someone blindly following the whims of this sin-sick world into self-destruction?
Today, eros “love” – sensual love – has taken hold of the culture. “Love” has become anything that satisfies the flesh, no matter how perverse or damaging. And responding in “love” means we affirm and applaud this twisted version of love. But that is not love. The truest expression of real love was at the cross: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God loves all humankind, and He knows that sin is not in our best interest, but salvation is. He acted out of perfect love to provide what we needed most.
What this culture calls “love” is often nothing more than self-indulgence. Real love is holy love. And because He is the definition of love, anything outside of God is not love. Friend, it is time for us to speak the truth in love about love.

When the Tears Fall

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It’s six o’clock in the morning and my granddaughter is crying. I can hear her from my study. It’s probably just a diaper change – she hates those. But it’s breaking my heart. I’ve gotten up from my desk twice now and started back to see about her and stopped myself. Oh, how I want to comfort her and make whatever is making her cry go away. I think about all the times in her life she will probably cry – all the skinned knees and the times she doesn’t like hearing “No” and the broken hearts and disappointments that are coming. I wish I could protect her from them all. But I can’t. I know that. Still, every time she cries, my heart cries with her.

If I have such a response every time my granddaughter cries, how do you imagine God feels every time you and I cry? I am sure His great heart aches when ours breaks. In Psalm 56:8 David said that the Lord “Puts my tears in Your bottle—are they not in your record?” God is paying attention. When you cry, when the tears drip from your chin, He catches them, one by one. Do you know what that means Beloved? He is very near. He has drawn you into His arms so that He can gather every tear that falls. Your tears are precious to Him.

All is quiet now in Joy’s room. A clean diaper, a fresh cup of milk, and warm snuggles in her mommy’s arms work wonders. Her tears are gone and she is back in dreamland in her soft pink pajamas. My Nana-heart is happy.

Let the tears fall Beloved. God is near, like a good, good Father. Oh, how He loves you.

The Lord is Near

Some days I’m not feeling very “godly.” Some days I am just tired. Physically tired. Mentally tired. Emotionally tired. Some days I don’t want to be wise or thoughtful or inspiring. I just want to hide in a corner until the weight is lifted. I know you understand. Some days we want to crawl back in bed and pull the covers over our head until the problem is resolved, the money’s in the bank, the kid gets his act together, the test results are negative, the house is clean, the inbox is empty, the school opens back up, the bills are paid. But that’s not an option. And so we throw back the covers and swing our feet over the side until they touch down on the pile the dog left beside the bed. Great.
The Apostle Paul had some difficult days too. His message was rejected by the people he once counted as his friends. They tried to undermine the work he was doing for God. Then they tried to kill him – they threw stones at him, beat him, and threw him into prison. Yet from his prison cell, he wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Paul used the words, “joy” and “rejoice” thirteen times in this letter. But he didn’t throw those words out flippantly. He gave a reason to rejoice. “The Lord is near” (v. 5). He knew what he was claiming. In Acts 23, while sitting in a Roman prison, the Scripture says, “The Lord stood near Paul” (V. 11). The Lord came to Paul with a personal word of encouragement. He never forgot about the nearness of Jesus.
Oh, I get how difficult it is some days. I’ve had quite of few of those lately. I started writing this devotional from my own raw feelings. As I got to “The Lord is near,” the weight started to lift, and I know that I can make it through this day because Jesus is with me. It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard. It just means I don’t face it alone. So clean off your feet Beloved and get the day started. You’re in this together with Jesus.

Welcome to the Family

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I was never popular in school. I had a weird name, I was tall, clumsy, and awkward. I wore hand-me-downs and homemade clothes and every school picture looked like I didn’t own a hairbrush. I wasn’t one of the smart kids and wasn’t part of the “in” crowd. Oh, but I wanted to be. I wanted so much to be accepted by the pretty girls who dressed in the latest fashions and carried themselves with an air of confidence I could never master. That carried over into my adult life. I always felt that, wherever I was, I didn’t belong.

But God says I do belong. With Him. Paul wrote, “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19). No, it’s not because I’m less awkward or because I dress better or finally found a hairbrush. It’s because of Jesus. Jesus made me acceptable to God. He made me part of the family. He died to cover all my sins and to take away my shame. Because of Jesus, I’m part of the “in” crowd – because I’m in Him. But it’s not a popularity contest. In God’s Kingdom, everyone is the same – rescued, redeemed, restored and joined together as one holy dwelling place for the Lord (2:21).

My friend, God’s hand is stretched out to you too, to welcome you into the family, to be “in,” and to never be rejected again. It doesn’t matter what you wear or where you live or work or whether your hair is neatly brushed. It doesn’t matter if you never finished school or if you have a string of letters after your name. It doesn’t matter if you made all the right choices in life (like anyone has) or if you made every mistake possible. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, live in a mansion or a tent, come from the right family or the wrong side of the tracks. God says to you “Come.” Take Him up on His offer. There’s more than enough room at the family table for you. You can sit next to me.

And Who Is My Neighbor?

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This week our Ladies studied the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). I ran across this modern adaptation of the parable and it spoke volumes to us. (Disclaimer: This has been edited for space and application.)

[Jesus is speaking to a group of Southern Baptists:]
An elderly couple was mugged and robbed by a group of thieves outside a restaurant. As the couple lay dazed and bleeding on the sidewalk, a Methodist preacher walked toward them on his way to Bible study, but instead of stopping to render aid, he crossed to the other side of the road and continued on his way. A short while later, a couple of Baptist preachers came along, but since they were running late to their prayer meeting, they also crossed over and hurried on their way.
Finally, an atheist came along and felt compassion for the couple. He rendered whatever medical aide he could, then helped them into his van and drove them to the nearest hospital. He paid the deductible cost of their insurance and made arrangements to further pay any amount not covered by their policy
[Jesus then asked], “Which of the people who came upon the couple acted as a neighbor to them?” The Baptist replied, “The one who had mercy on them”. [Jesus then commanded] “Go and do likewise”.

The man who asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” wanted to know whom he was required to “love” according to the Law. Jesus said the point is not the limit of the Law, it is being the one who goes above and beyond in compassion. Beloved, who needs you to be a neighbor today?