A Work in Progress

If there was ever an extra-biblical word of wisdom that I believe with my whole heart it is this. “Do not think, believer, that your sorrows are out of God’s plan; they are necessary parts of it.” Charles Spurgeon. Like you, I have experienced sadness, sorrow, shock, grief, despair, anguish, and brokenness in my life, and often wondered why God would allow it. What good can possibly come from such pain? But I have learned, and am still learning, that these are the tools He uses to shape me into the image of His Son.

When the great Michelangelo was asked how he could take a block of marble and bring from it his beautiful sculpture of David, he replied, “I took my chisel and removed everything that didn’t look like my vision of David.”  That is God’s purpose for our sufferings and sorrows.  God uses them like a hammer and chisel to remove everything that does not look like the vision before Him – the vision of His Son (Rom 8:29).  It is not always pleasant – in fact, it is very painful – but it is necessary because our hearts are often as hard as a block of marble. 

It reminds me of the work of the ancient craftsmen who made the priestly garments for Aaron. The Scripture says that “they hammered out thin sheets of gold and cut threads from them” to weave into the fabric  (Ex 39:3).  Can you imagine the amount of dedication and intricate work that required? Beloved, that’s nothing compared to how God is working on you And He’s not just weaving the glory of His Son into your life. He is making you into His very image.

You may not welcome it at the moment, but one day, when you stand before your Savior you will be so glad for every blow and every tear that made you into the reflection of your King.  The Bible says that Jesus was made perfect through suffering.  Do you think it will be any less for you?  Oh, Beloved, there is great purpose in your pain. As Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death . . .” (Philippians 3:10).

Why Should I Choose God?

“Why should I believe in your God? What benefit is it to me?” The young man stood with his hands on his hips and a scowl on his face. I was very young in my faith and I didn’t know how to answer him. I mumbled something about heaven and hell and he laughed at me and walked away. I’m a lot older and a little wiser. I’ve walked through some stuff with God. I’ve seen His power and felt His presence. He has set me free from strong chains. He has healed me, provided for me, comforted me, and brought Joy to my life. He has directed my life in amazing ways. I wish I could tell him all that.

And I also know Scripture better now. I would take him to Psalm 62 and show him how he could benefit from a relationship with God. In this Psalm, David said that his “soul finds rest in God alone” (v. 1, 5) and then he shares all the reasons why. They are true for you and me as well.

God is the source of our salvation (v. 1, 6, 7) through His Son, Jesus we are saved to eternal life. He is our Rock, our Fortress, and our Refuge (v. 2, 6, 7, 8 ) – a sure place of security and safety. He is the source of our hope (v. 5)  and even shares His glory and honor with us (7).  

And David added this wonderful statement: “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that You, O God, are strong and that You, O Lord, are loving” (v. 11, 12).  I love this because it shows the perfect balance of our Father. If God were all strong without love, we would be terrified of Him. If He were all loving without strength, He could only pity us but offer us no help.  But He is both able and willing to save me, protect me, lift me up, and give my life meaning. In His love, He promises to give me eternal life. By His power, He can deliver it.

You may be wondering what life with God means. I think David expressed it perfectly. I don’t know where that young man is today, so I’ll just tell you, Beloved. Life with God is full of power and love. Don’t walk away from it.

The Voice of the Lord

My voice is naturally loud, especially if I’m excited – like when I’m teaching about the Bible. Sometimes I want to type in all caps when I’m writing a devotional so I can pump up the volume. Voices communicate more than words. Our inflections reveal what’s happening in our hearts. The tone and timbre of my voice change when I talk to Joy depending on what I’m trying to relay to her. If we’re playing together, I will use a silly, happy voice. If I’m comforting her my voice is soft and gentle, and if she has picked up the cat for the third time, my voice is firm and somewhat sharp.

In Psalm 29 David was meditating on “The voice of the Lord.” He said the Lord’s voice “thunders over the mighty waters” (v. 3), it is “powerful” and “majestic” (v. 4). “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars” (v. 5), “strikes with flashes of lightning” (v. 7), shakes the desert” (v. 8), “twists the oaks and strips the forest bare” (v. 9). Those are frightening images of the fierce power of God’s voice.

But God also speaks with a softer voice. The prophet Elijah was at his lowest point, running from the wicked Queen Jezebel who wanted to kill him. He was worn out and worn down. He told the Lord, “I have had enough” (1 Kings 19:4). He was hiding out in a cave when God called him. Elijah listened for the Lord, expecting to hear Him in “a great and powerful wind,” an earthquake, and a fire. But God was in none of these. He came to Elijah in a “gentle whisper,” in “a still, small voice” (vs. 11-13).

I have not always walked faithfully and obediently. I have made some big, ugly mistakes and fallen into sin. God has never once yelled at me or spoken to me in anger or disgust. He has always spoken in a gentle voice, especially when I am broken. Just as He speaks to you, Beloved. Even if he has to chastise you He speaks with grace. Those harsh voices that shout at you are never God. If you listen closely you will hear that the voice of the Lord is always the voice of love.

What You See is What you Want

If you’re of my generation you know whom I’m talking about when I say, “What you see is what you get!”  Flip Wilson created his female character, Geraldine, who uttered that famous catchphrase as “she” danced to show off “her” full figure. Vision is a powerful tool to draw people in. Advertisers depend on it. Beautiful women sell men’s shaving cream.  A buff, handsome man in a flannel shirt sells paper towels. One of the most iconic images in advertising is the Gerber Baby whose face sold countless baby food products. That smile and expression grabbed mothers’ hearts, hoping to bring the same to their babies’ faces. They paraphrased Geraldine, “What you see is what you want.”

Satan counted on that too when he enticed Eve to take the forbidden fruit. And, of course, it worked. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it” (Gen 3:6).  What Eve saw became what she wanted and she fell – and took the entire human race down with her. (Adam’s role in this is a whole other post.)

The start of sin for all of us happens when “our hearts are led by our eyes” (Job 31:7, paraphrased). Sin happens in much the same way as advertising: “We see it, we want it, and we buy it.” That’s why advertisers – and satan – put it in such appealing packaging. But sin also happens because we are looking for it.  James pointed out that temptation and sin tap into the evil desires in our hearts.  (James 1:14). Perhaps that is why the Psalmist said that he would “set before my eyes no vile thing” (Psalm 101:3). Consider that verse in a world where “vile things” are available at the tap of a finger. If you want vile, you can get it any time of the day.

How do we break that sinful pattern? We “guard our heart” by “letting our eyes look straight ahead and fixing our gaze directly before us” (Prov. 23,25). At what? David knew. “I have set the Lord always before me” (Psalm 16:8). If your eyes are always on the Lord, He will be the desire of your heart. And what you see is what you want.

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?

In God’s Eyes

“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me’” (Genesis 16:13).

When you looked in the mirror this morning, what did you see? Wrinkles? Gray hair? A tired expression? That’s what I saw. But God doesn’t see me the say way I see myself. All through the Bible, He tells men and women that He sees what no one else does – not even themselves.

Moses saw himself as a stuttering criminal on the lam, but God saw him as the deliverer of His people (Exodus 3:10).

Gideon saw himself as “the least in the weakest clan of Israel,” but God saw him as a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:15, 12).

David’s father Jesse saw his son as the tender of the family’s sheep, but God saw him as the shepherd-king of His people.

Where the woman with an issue of blood saw herself as ostracized and unclean, Jesus saw her as a “daughter” (Luke 8:48). Simon the Pharisee saw the woman washing Jesus’ feet as a “sinful woman,” but Jesus saw her as a model of love and forgiveness (Luke 7:36-50). Mary Magdalene, whom the whole town knew as a demon-possessed woman Jesus saw as the first witness to His resurrection (John 20:10-18).

And on and on I could go.

God sees you and me far more clearly than we could ever see ourselves.  Who you are in the sight of others, or even in your own eyes, is not who you are in the sight of the God who created and redeemed you.   For those who are in Christ, He sees us as His children (1 John 3:1), with a purpose and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).  Where others see us through the mistakes we’ve made, God sees us with all the potential He placed in us from before we were born.  When we see ourselves through the worldly standards of beauty and success, God sees us through the beauty of His Son and His victory over death.  When we see ourselves as unworthy, hopeless, useless, and unwanted He sees us as valuable, and desired, because He sees us through eyes of love and compassion.

How do you see yourself, Beloved?  When you consider that question, always come back to this truth:  the God who created you sees you as so much more than you can ever imagine.  Ask Him to give you His perspective so you can live as the child of God that you are.

Why Do You Worship God?

Sunday morning as I walked Joy to her “Honey School” class we walked past the sanctuary and she asked me if I was going to the big church to sing. I said yes. Then, like all good three-year-olds should do, she started peppering me with “Why’s.” “Why do you want to sing” “To worship God.” “Why do you want to worship God?” “Because I love God and because He is great,” I answered.

All of creation worships its Creator. David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Ps 19:1). Every rumble of thunder is a call to praise. The trees clap their hands in worship (Is 55:12). The rocks cry out His praise (Luke 19:40). Birds sing. Crickets chirp. Frogs croak. The sound of their worship fills the skies. I love to worship. Corporately, privately, with shouts, and through tears. I love Sundays with my church family, all our voices blending together to praise the One who saved us. If you see me when I’m driving you may catch me belting out a song with one hand on the steering wheel and the other raised to the roof. You might want to proceed with caution. And worship is not just music. I usually write out my private worship – words are my love language. But the sweetest worship is singing of the goodness of God in lovely harmony with my granddaughter.

We are commanded in Scripture to worship God but the purest worship is voluntary – no, more than voluntary – it is drawn out of us from deep within. Like the angels in Isaiah’s vision who called to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Is 6:3). It is the response of our spirits to the Spirit of God. I think that when we get to heaven and stand in His presence, worship will be more than something we want to do, it will be something we have to do just by the sheer majesty of His glory.

Joy’s question stuck with me all day.  I mulled it over and over: Why do I worship God?  I realized the answer I gave her was true. I worship God because I love Him. I worship God because He is great. I worship God because He is worthy. Beloved, I encourage you to ponder her question: “Why do you worship God?” Then do it.

Glory!

Why does God deliver us out of our troubles? Why did He send His Son to die on the cross for you and me? Why does He “part the heavens and come down” and “draw [us] out of deep waters” (Psalm 18: 9, 16).

Because we are helpless and in desperate situations? Yes, but that’s not the only reason.

Because He loves us? Without question, but that’s not the whole answer.

Because He is the only one who can? That is true, but there’s more to the equation than that.

The most important reason God delivers us from our troubles and our sin is for His glory. He said, “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). When you and I are pulled from the pit of despair, God is exalted. When His hand lifts us up from our fallen state, He is lifted up before all men. When pitiful sinners become children of God, knees bow and tongues confess His glory and majesty.

In His “high priestly prayer” in John 17, Jesus said, “Father the time has come.” Time for what? His death? Our atonement? The devil’s defeat? Yes, and no. Jesus said the time had come for glory. “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (v. 1). In just five verses, Jesus used the word “glorify” and “glory” five times. His vision went beyond the cross to something greater – glory. That is what it’s all about. David proclaimed, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1) Nature, the heavens, the nations, you and me –were all created to give God glory.  And we will. Paul said that “every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10,11).

Every knee. Every tongue. Whether they did in this life or not, whether they acknowledge His existence today or not, whether they want to not or not – they will glorify Him. Beloved, maybe we should start practicing now.

The Apple of God’s Eye

Joy and I were playing with her “princess crown” a few days ago. She was trying to put it on my head but my glasses kept getting in the way so she asked me to “take you gwasses off Nana.” So I took my gwasses off and she started putting the crown on me again, but in her approach, she almost poked me in the eye. As the crown came closer I instinctively closed my eyes to protect them. Only when the crown was finally secured on my head did I open my eyes again. I now have a better understanding of David’s words in Psalm 17: 8 “Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings.”  David was proclaiming the protective nature of God towards His children.

You know how I love word terminologies – and I found a good one here. The Hebrew word for “keep” of course means to guard, to keep watch, to shield, and protect. That’s God being a watchful Father, always looking out for possible danger. Nothing sneaks up on Him and He will not allow anything to come near to you that does not fulfill His perfect plan for your life. Notice I didn’t say He would protect you from every unpleasant thing in life. Some of them are necessary. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m rather stubborn. God has had to sand off my self-will with some pretty rough sandpaper. We’ve been through this more than once and I know that when hard things come to me, it is because God is working to remove something in me that interferes with His plan.

The word “keep” also means to “look narrow.” I love that because it tells me that in a world full of people, His focus is on me. Just me. I often feel like just one face in a very large crowd. One more person among so many people. But God’s vision is narrowed so that He only sees me out of the throng. And somehow – at the same time – He sees you. Just you. And every other person that claims the name of His Son. I don’t know how, I just know it’s true.

God’s child is never out of His sight. He will keep you, Beloved, because you are the apple of His eye.

Just Pray

A few days ago I shared the blessing of Joy praying at every meal, thanking God for her every single thing on her plate, for the family, and for the day. I shared about this vision in my mind that as soon as she says “Faudder,” God hushes all of heaven, “Quiet everyone, Joy is praying.” It is a sweet thought that touched many of your hearts. I was pondering that this morning and I sensed the Spirit saying, “I do that for your prayers too.”

Over and over the Lord assures us that He is indeed listening to all of our prayers. Psalm 66:19 says, “God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.” And Psalm 34:17 promises “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.” Peter agreed with David and said, “The eye of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Pet 3:12). And the disciple that Jesus loved said, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14).

God loves to hear the voice of His children, in song, in proclamation, and especially in prayer. I used to think that God is going to do what He wants to do and there was no real point to me praying. But I know now that prayer is more than just rote words and a list of wishes thrown up in vain hope. Prayer is “powerful and effective” (James 5:16). It moves the heart of God. It moves our hearts too. Prayer changes circumstances and it changes us. It aligns our hearts with God’s will and causes us to desire the things He wants to do in and through us.

How do I know that prayer is so important to God? John reported on the scene in heaven saying, “[An] angel who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God” (Rev 8:3-4). The prayers of God’s people are a sweet aroma before Him.

So pray, Beloved. Even if it sounds awkward and uneloquent. God is listening to your heart – it is a beautiful thing in His ears.