Solid Rock of Love

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It was a very draining weekend– physically and emotionally. I’m struggling to be spiritually insightful this morning. I really just want to sit on my back porch swing and listen to the birds greet the morning sun. My dad’s health is failing. I’m fighting to stay motivated in school and especially to finish my final paper. A friend and spiritual mentor is struggling in her faith. We endured a lot of drama with a loved one yesterday. I had to fold our campus Bible study for lack of participation. Finances are very strained. And I miss my granddaughter. I told God, “I don’t just need you to speak through me this morning – I need you to speak to me.” As I skimmed the Psalms – that’s a great place to go when you’re down – God gently pointed to a verse.

“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ Your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought Joy to my soul” (Psalms 94:18-19).

Yes, it feels like I am slipping. So much has been shaken in my life recently – except God’s love. As I lean my weary self against Him, I find strength. He embraces me with His goodness, kindness, and grace and braces me with His never-ending, never-failing, ever-faithful love.

Yes, anxiety has nearly beaten me up lately. I know, I’m supposed to be “anxious for nothing,” but I confess that I’ve been anxious for a lot. But God hasn’t berated me. Instead, He has comforted me through His Word and through dear brothers and sisters in Christ who have reminded me that He is still very much in control of all these things that worry me. And then we got to Facetime with Joy and that did my heart so much good.

Yes, I desperately need God’s love and consolation. I’ll bet you do too. Life gets hard sometimes. God knows that. He cares about what you care about because He cares about you. Beloved, when everything around you is shaking, He is the solid rock of love.

Don’t Lose Your Grip on Jesus

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I had to do a small repair job on my shirt this morning. It wasn’t a difficult task, but the chiffon material wanted to shift and slip and I had to keep a firm grip on it with my left hand as I worked the needle and thread with my right. As I was stitching, the thread nearly pulled out of the needle. I needed to grab the loose end and pull to keep the needle threaded. That was a two-handed job but I didn’t want to let go of the fabric lest I have to gather it all back together again.  I needed to deal with the thread problem without losing my grip on the shirt.

Life hands us so many challenges. Like when we think we’ve got things under control, or at least in some manageable form of chaos, and a new crisis comes at us. A job loss. A life lost. A marriage unravels. A frightening diagnosis. A beloved child moves away. It all feels like we’re coming apart at the seams. I get it. I’m right there too. Can I tell you how I’m getting through?

I am determined to hang on to Jesus. That’s it. That’s my whole survival strategy right there. The writer of Hebrews put it this way: “ Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). Whatever unexpected crisis and trials come up in my life, I’m not going to lose my grip on Jesus. Because I know He is faithful. I know He is powerful. I know He loves me. He is my hope and my peace – and yes – my Joy in every situation. This morning I dealt with my thread problem by sticking the needle in the fabric and using my now free hand to adjust the thread – I never let go of the fabric in my left hand. I deal with the challenges of life by staking my hope and confidence in Jesus and by holding fast to Him with all I’ve got. And sometimes that’s all I’ve got. But it’s all I need.

It’s all you need too. Beloved, when life seems to be coming apart at the seams, don’t lose your grip on Jesus.

Hope

I love Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. It is chock-full of truth, wisdom, conviction, insight, and encouragement. And hope. Check this out from Romans 5: “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” (1-5)

Did you notice the repeated references to hope? That’s not by accident.  Paul wanted believers to grab onto hope. They needed it and so do we. And what is the source of our hope? The glory of God (v. 2) and the love of God (v. 5). As believers in Christ Jesus, we hope in the person of God and His never-failing love.

From the day of our conversion, we are never without hope because we are never without God. He lives in us through His Holy Spirit. The Spirit helps us to see God in His glory – in the beauty of His holiness and majesty. He helps us to know and rely on God’s love through the ups and downs – especially the downs – of life. Glory and love – the twin sisters of hope.

There is one more thing I want you to see. Paul said, “Hope does not disappoint.” I’ve had people let me down. I’ve had jobs that turned sour. I’ve had high expectations that burst like a balloon. But God has never disappointed me. Not. One. Time. Not that He always does what I expect. He does better than I expect.

Beloved, when you hope in God, your hope is well-placed. He is faithful and He loves you. And there is nothing more sure than that.

The Call

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I like to look back at my Facebook memories each day. I love seeing Joy grow over almost two years. I cherish memories of friends who are now in heaven. I especially love to recall God’s hand in my life. It helps me remember His faithfulness. And I cringe at times I thought I was so intelligent and spiritual.

This morning FB reminded me that seven years ago today was my last day after 17 years of serving at Tallahassee Heights United Methodist Church. I was devoting myself full-time to seminary, Bible study, writing, and teaching. That was a huge leap of faith. But it wasn’t a decision I made willy-nilly; God called me to it and I had to obey.

A few months before I had encountered a verse that became God’s call on my life and still guides me today: “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 and laws to Israel” (Ezra 7:9b-10). God said to me, “Devote yourself to study my Word, live my Word, and teach my Word.”  And that is what I set out to do and am still dedicated to doing.

But the call goes back even farther than seven years. Ten years before that I was sensing a call to ministry. I was ready – or so I thought. God had some sifting and refining to do in me first. And some major humbling. So much so that I thought He had rescinded His call and I burned all my notebooks filled with years of writings because I believed it was all over. But He was just beginning – and so was I. Today, seven years from the day I surrendered to that call, I am still studying, writing, teaching, and preparing – now in graduate school.

Why am I sharing this memory and my story? Because someone has felt God’s call in the past. You were excited about it and ready to go. But you’re still waiting and it seems like a long-lost dream. You may have had to go through some hard refining and you wonder if God has changed His mind. He hasn’t. He’s just been preparing you. Paul said, “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). I’m living proof of that. Beloved get yourself ready to do what God called you to do. He’s not through with you yet.

When Life Stinks

“God, this stinks!” I cried one morning. Why did you let this happen?” I wondered if He was paying attention. I felt like Daniel, “O Lord listen! O Lord, hear and act!” (Daniel 9:19). “God deal with this! Fix it! Make it go away!” Again I cried out – “God this stinks! It’s not fair!” Finally, my anguish gave way to the root of my question: “How can You say that You love me and let this happen?” With those words still hanging in the air, I turned to the devotional reading for the day and found the Scriptures, John 11:1-43 where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Martha’s words caught my attention. “But Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days”( John 11:39). Jesus had told Martha just a few minutes before “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25). But when He commanded that the stone be rolled away, Martha protested, pointing out the obvious – her brother’s flesh was rotting away. I almost hear her saying “Lord, this stinks!”
Jesus’ reply to Martha began to seep into my heart, filling the places of fear and anxiety and soothing the deep pain I had been carrying around with me. “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God” (John 11:40)? “Child, haven’t I shown you my love in a thousand ways? Haven’t I rescued you from trouble again and again? Haven’t I always proven faithful to you?” Yes. Yes, He had. So why would I imagine that He would fail me now? Why would I doubt His love for me? Why would I question His tender care and His constant presence? As I remembered those times, peace settled in my soul. I could trust Him. Yes, my situation stunk, but God had never run from my messy, smelly life. He always received me at my worst and gave me His best.
Beloved, you may be in a mess today. Life stinks and you don’t see any good outcome. I understand, I’ve been there too. May I encourage you to trust God even in the middle of it? He has this wonderful way of bringing freshness and hope into our smelly, chaotic, desperate messes.

A Song of Love

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On the weekdays when Joy stays with us, she goes to a terrific babysitter while I am at work. I know she is getting good care, but when I pick her up every afternoon she is tired and not too happy. I can relate. Yesterday was one of those days. She fussed as soon as we started driving away. She had a fresh cup of milk and a snack, and her favorite musical toy. Nope. Not what she wanted. The fussing got louder until her favorite song, “Good God Almighty” came on the radio. I turned it up and started singing along with Crowder. Almost immediately the fussing stopped and I heard a new, sweet sound from the backseat. Two little chubby hands clapping her delight. The rest of the ride home the car was filled with her happy chatter. It filled my heart with – you guessed it – Joy!

One of my favorite verses is Zephaniah 3:17. Let me give you some context. Zephaniah was a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah, just before the nation would fall to the Babylonians. The people had been under a great deal of oppression because they had turned away from God to worship idols. Their sin had caused them great misery. That sounds all too familiar to me. God declared that He would bring punishment on them—and He would also bring gladness to them again. For a season, they would be removed from their beloved Jerusalem, but God promised to take away their chastisement and fear and to bless them once again with His presence. He said, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Now, I’ve never heard His audible voice, but I always feel His love and comfort in songs of worship and praise. And yes, I’ve even sensed His delight as I lift (and clap) my hands in glad adoration.

Some days are just hard. God knows that. But He wants you to know that He is always near to you, always working on your behalf, lavishing love on you to quiet your anxious heart and rejoicing over you with songs of delight. Beloved, get still and quiet and see if you don’t hear the faintest melody in your spiritual ear. And maybe clap your hands to the rhythm of Joy.

Be Encouraged

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Encourage. Mirriam-Webster says it is: to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope, to attempt to persuade, to spur on. The word is found in the Bible fifty-four times, fifteen in the Old Testament and thirty-nine in the New. God’s people have always needed encouragement. They have faced exile, enemies, slavery, the consequences of their sin, persecution, oppression, prison, beatings, and death. The New Testament writers encouraged the persecuted first-century Christians with two facts:

  1. Jesus Christ is alive. Paul said simply, “We believe that Jesus died and rose again” (1 Thess 4:14a)
  2. Jesus Christ is coming again. “The Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore, encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess 16-18).

I can blow sunshine in your face all day long, but nothing will encourage you like “these words.”  The living Lord Jesus is coming again. That is the hope that has sustained every persecuted Christ-follower and every martyr for more than two thousand years. The truth is, we still need this same encouragement. Being a Christian is not only unpopular – in some places it is deadly. But the confidence we have in Jesus’ resurrection and return will sustain us.

This world is not getting better, it is getting worse. But you and I can find courage by remembering that our Lord and Savior is alive and He is coming again to redeem this sin-sick world and take His rightful place on the throne. Beloved, rest your heart and your hope in Him. Be encouraged.

The Path of Life

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I’ve been a little overwhelmed and discouraged lately so I opened my Bible and searched for my “comfort verses,” you know, like comfort food (homemade creamed potatoes for me). I’ve got many verses marked that have spoken to my heart before and I was skimming through reading those verses. I came to Psalm 16, where David expresses his trust in God because of the Lord’s faithfulness in the past and his assurance of God’s grace in the days to come. Something stood out to me in these words that I’d never noticed before.

Verse 11 says, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with Joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” The word “path” lit up in my heart.  There are a lot of uncertain things in my life these days and I don’t know what God is up to. I had what I thought was a clear direction for my life and I was working toward that direction in graduate school. Then something – or someone – came into my life and all my well-made plans seemed to be thrown out the window. Has God changed His purpose for me? Am I supposed to be a student or a grandmother? Is there a different priority for my life? Am I called to ministry or is Joy my ministry? Where am I going, Lord?

I sensed the Spirit saying, “I gave you a path, not a destination – you just need to be faithful to what I put before you, and I will get you where I want you to go.” What’s before me is the opportunity to continue my education for free. What’s before me is a little girl with a love of music and books and an inexhaustible supply of energy.  I also sensed God saying, “It’s not an either-or; it’s both.”

I have a feeling that I am not the only one who wonders where life is going. Something or someone has come along and the way that once seemed certain is now shrouded in a thick fog. Beloved, be assured, God is in control of the destination. Your only concern is your feet. Walk the path He has put before you and He’ll get you where you’re supposed to be. And He’ll go with you every step of the way.

Of Septic Tanks and God

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My son says that I can take anything and find a spiritual application to it. I suppose that’s so but it’s because I see God in everything. He is the Creator and Sustainer of everything. Nothing exists that He did not create with His powerful word or fashion with His divine hand. If he could somehow cease to exist, which He will not, everything in heaven and earth would also cease to exist. So yeah, I see spiritual things in everything and every situation.  

There is this spot in my yard that is especially lush and green. You city people won’t understand, but the country folk know that this is where the septic tank sits.  The “contents” of the tank become fertilizer for the soil so that the grass and bushes in the immediate vicinity are “nurtured.” How can I find a spiritual application in a septic tank?  In God’s hands, the crappiest parts of our life often become the most fruitful for the Kingdom. Ask Joseph whose horrible brothers sold him into slavery. He was taken to Egypt where he was falsely accused of sexual assault and thrown in prison. There, he interpreted a dream for a fellow prisoner who promised to remember him to the Pharoah but promptly forgot. Until two years later when Pharoah had a dream and the ex-prisoner remembered Joseph and recommended him. Joseph not only told the Pharoah the meaning of his anxious dream but how to resolve the problem that the dream was prophecying. Impressed, Pharoah appointed him to the second-highest position in his kingdom and Joseph saved the lives of the Egyptians and became very wealthy in the process. He also saved the lives of his family – including the brothers who had betrayed him. And in doing so, he saved the lineage through which the Savior of all mankind would come.  Had Joseph not made it to Egypt to stand before the Pharoah – however harsh the circumstances – there would be no nation of Israel, no Jewish people, no Jesus, and no salvation for you and me.  Joseph told his brothers, “ You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).

Beloved, if life feels like a septic tank right now be encouraged. God has a way of taking the crappiest things and bringing unexpected good out of them.

Water in the Desert

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Hagar and Ishmael had been banished to the desert with just a skin of water and no direction. When the water ran out so did Hagar’s hope. She couldn’t bear to watch her son die, so she set him under a bush and walked away. As her tears fell, God sent an angel to comfort her and give her hope. And water. The Scripture says “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water” (Genesis 21:19). A well. In a desert. Just at the moment she needed it. Right where she stopped in her hopelessness.

There are volumes here we can talk about from this account. Hagar was in a place she didn’t want to be – does that ring a bell? She was there because of other people’s sin and abuse – that might resonate with someone. She saw no good end to her situation – anyone else feeling that? Her heart was broken for herself and for her child – I know many of you have been there.  A good preacher could get a month’s worth of 3-point sermons out of this story. But here is my take-away: God brings hope into hopeless situations. He gives water in the desert, peace in the storm, direction in the wilderness, and light in the darkness. He is watching with tender care to meet you wherever your struggles take you. Whether you are in the desert or on a stormy sea – if your life is a train wreck or you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, God knows right where you are Beloved. He knows exactly what you need. He will meet you in the middle of your hopeless situation. Just when you think all is lost, God says you are found.