For The One Who Thinks God Could Never Love You

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“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I asked her to tell me about her son. “He’s a smart boy, really smart. He can add stuff in his head faster than I can write it out on paper.  And oh, he can sing – he has such a good voice.  I think he could be a singer if he tried. But he gets bored easy.  That’s why he gets into trouble at school.”

We met for coffee so she could talk through some difficult things she was facing, largely brought about by this boy.  But before I asked about her son, she told me about herself. She told me that she didn’t believe God could ever love her. She had done things that she was ashamed of.  She was pretty wild in her youth, disrespectful to her parents, and teachers.  She got drunk the night of the prom, slept with her boyfriend, and became pregnant.  She and the baby’s father tried to make it right by getting married, but now – 17 years later – she was three failed marriages down and living with a man she met at a bar.  She had started coming to our church a few months ago in a last-ditch effort to straighten her son out.  That is until the deacons told her the boy was not welcome after he played too rough with some of the younger students and somebody got hurt.  The very next day the police were at her house with a report about her boy and the neighbor’s little girl and the latest nightmare unfolded. Yet, as much as her son’s actions weighed on her, I could tell something else was even heavier on her heart.

“How could God love me?  I’ve made a mess of my life and I’ve even screwed up my kid.”

“So you probably don’t love your son anymore after all the trouble he’s caused you.”

“What? Of course I still love my son! That’s crazy!  Why would I stop loving him just because he’s made some mistakes?”

“I just thought – since you believe God quit loving you because you messed up, you must have quit loving your son too.”

She looked at me as if an entire block of lights had gone off in her head. The weight of so much guilt and fear disappeared from her eyes while tears dripped off her chin and onto her sweater.

Beloved, I don’t know what you’re carrying around today. I don’t know your past. I don’t even know your present. But there is one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  If Christmas is about anything at all, it is about God pouring out His unfailing love on messed up people.

Real Faith

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Merriam-Webster defines faith as allegiance to duty or a person, sincerity of intentions, belief, trust in, and loyalty to God, trust in the traditional doctrines of a religion, and firm belief in something for which there is no proof. But faith in the Bible is different – deeper, stronger, longer-lasting. The Greek word for faith is pistis and it means belief or trust with an implication that actions based on that trust may follow. There’s an old story about a tightrope walker who strung his rope across a tall and dangerous precipice then asked the crowd, “Who here believes I can walk across this rope and back without falling?” Many applauded their approval and so he stepped up and made the trip across and back with ease. Then he set a wheelbarrow on the rope and asked, “Who here believes I can push this wheelbarrow across this rope and back without dropping it or falling off?” The crowd, encouraged by his previous success, agreed that he could. And so he pushed the wheelbarrow across and back without a hitch. When he returned, the crowd whistled and clapped with delight. “Now,” the man said, “who’s willing to get in the wheelbarrow?” That’s what the Bible means by faith.

Christmas is many stories of faith. The shepherds had faith and went to see the Baby in the manger. Joseph had faith and took Mary to be his wife despite the scandalous circumstances. Mary had faith and humbly surrendered to the will of God even though it put her in a very difficult situation. The Magi had faith and traveled for two years to worship a King who didn’t rule their country. Elizabeth restored Mary’s faith by reminding her that there is a great blessing in believing God. Simeon and Anna had faith in God’s promise to redeem Israel, and their faith was rewarded in the face of the infant Son of God.

Faith is not just sitting around thinking faithy thoughts. Real faith, sustaining faith is faith that moves you. It looks at the impossibility of the situation and steps forward anyway. It submits to God’s will even when it’s hard. It makes the difficult journey of life an adventure and it never loses sight of the promises of El Emunah, the Faithful God.

Beloved, do you have real faith?

The Blessing of Believing

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“Did that really happen? It must have been a dream. I have been so anxious over all the preparations Joseph and I are making – it must have caused me to have this strange dream.” Mary was traveling through the hill country of Judea on her way to visit her dear relative, Elizabeth. The angel had said something strange about her too – that she was going to have a child – in fact, he said she was in her sixth month. Elizabeth – of all people. She and Zechariah were too old to have a baby. Yes, this had to have just been a dream.

But what if it wasn’t.

Could she really be with child – with THE child – the Messiah? Why would he have chosen her? She was nothing special, wouldn’t God have chosen the wife of the high priest for such an honor? Someone in a lofty position in the temple, someone more mature, more wealthy, more righteous. No. She shook her head as if to shake loose the crazy idea. This was just not possible. She saw the familiar house and spied her relative in the doorway with her back turned toward the road. “Elizabeth!” Mary called out and gasped as the older woman turned to face her. The smile on her face was warm and welcoming, but the bulge under her dress was a shock to Mary’s heart. It was true! Elizabeth was pregnant! If that were true – then . . .

“Mary! Dear Mary!” Elizabeth exclaimed, and then as if from deep within her spirit she began to speak. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:42-44).

Oh, it was true! It was all true! Elizabeth was pregnant. That meant she really was pregnant too – with the Messiah!

Then, as if reading the thoughts the younger woman had carried with her along the journey, Elizabeth took Mary’s hands in her own and said, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (v. 45).

Beloved, faith is the sweetest blessing of all.

Seeing the God Who Sees Me

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The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7

You know the story of Abraham and Sarah – childless and old, God promised them a son, but in the waiting, they grew impatient and Abraham slept with Sarah’s maid Hagar, and she conceived. But their act of faithlessness caused tremendous grief for the Egyptian slave-girl. Twice Hagar wound up in the desert, weary, hungry and frightened. On her first excursion, Scripture tells us “The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert” (Gen. 16:7). The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. He set Himself right where He knew she was going because His heart was tender to her.  Hagar gained precious insight into who God is.  Realizing that the God of her master was very much aware of her and her plight,  She named the Lord El Roi – “the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13).

After the birth of Ishmael (which- by the way – means The Lord has heard – Gen 16:11) Hagar and her son were forced to leave their home with Abraham and Sarah.  When their meager supplies of food and water ran out, Hagar recognized their inevitable deaths.  She put Ishmael under a tree and walked away, so as not to watch her weakened son die.  She and the boy were both crying, and God once again came to Hagar and assured her that He was aware of their plight.  Genesis 21:19 says, “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.”  Oh, do you see the beauty of this passage? El Roi – the God who saw Hagar, now opened Hagar’s eyes so she could see.  He showed her a well of life-giving water that would minister to their bodies and to their spirits.

You may find yourself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, but I can assure you that you have never been out of your Heavenly Father’s sight.  There is no place you can go that God will not be.  Whether they are physical places, emotional pits, and spiritual dark caves – God has promised, “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5) The truth is, it’s often in those hard places that we see the God who sees us. Had Hagar not been lost in the wilderness, running from the hard hand of her mistress, she would have never encountered the Lord and come to know Him.  I know this to be true in my life.  So often I have discovered aspects of God that I would have never known had I not been in difficult circumstances.  When I was unable to put food on our table, I discovered Jehovah-Jireth – the Lord who Provides (Gen. 22:8). When I was desperately ill I found Jehovah Rapha – The Lord our Healer (Ps. 103:3). When I was discouraged and fearful, Jehovah Shalom – The Lord is Peace (Jud. 6:23-24) and Yahweh-Tsuri – The Lord my Strength (Ex. 15:2) came to encourage and strengthen me.  If you are in a difficult season, look for God to reveal Himself to you in a new and encouraging way.

Beloved, if He was faithful to a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, and He will surely be faithful to you.

It’s Time to Trust God

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I stood in the shower this morning, hands full of shampoo suds before I remembered – today was supposed to be a skip day. My hairdresser (who is also my sister-in-law) told me to skip the shampoo every other day to preserve my color (what – you thought this was natural?). But I get in the shower, half asleep, and go through the same routine I’ve followed since I was a kid. It’s so ingrained in me that I don’t even think about what I’m doing – I just operate on automatic pilot. I’d have to actually wake up and pay attention to do it differently. My morning shower routine is not the only habit I need to change. My thoughts – especially in difficult seasons – tend to follow a well-worn path that leads me into negativity, anxiety, and discouragement.
Over the past few months, a series of bombs – mostly financial – have gone off in our life and put us in a very hard place. My “default” line of thinking is to worry, to agonize and fret. As my thoughts roll into that familiar negative rut, doubts start to fill my mind about God’s faithfulness and love. He was so good to us last summer, will He help us again? Is He weary of our neediness? Have we reached the limit of His goodwill? Will He give up on us and leave us to figure it out on our own?
I know I’m not alone in this habit of negativity. You have shared your own struggles with me and I’ve tried to encourage you when you’ve said the same things.
Beloved, it’s time for you and me to say “Enough!” It’s time to wake up and shake off the habit of negativity and start a new habit of faith. As Paul said, it’s time to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). It’s time to remember God’s rock-solid faithfulness and never-failing love. It’s time to turn our minds to “what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8). It’s time to intentionally take control of our run-away thoughts and redirect them to trust in the goodness of our Heavenly Father. It’s time to believe that the God who parted the Sea and walked through the fire and shut the mouths of lions is still in business today. It’s time to expect God to act on behalf of His children.
I’m starting a new habit of positive faith today. I’m not going to give in to worry and fear any longer, Not while I know my God is still on the throne. It’s time. Who’s with me?

When Everyone’s a Philosopher, How Do You Know What’s True?

In this day of social media, everyone has an opinion and anyone with internet access and a keyboard can become an expert about everything from sports to food to politics to religion. Spend an hour on the web and you will know the deep thoughts of world leaders, celebrities, “influencers,” the media, the local yokel, and even the Kardashians. I’m guilty too, as I flood the cyber-world with biblical commentary. The delivery may be modern, but the idea of sharing ideas is as old as man. The trick is to figure out who’s ideas are worth listening to.

Paul warned the believers in Colossae: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy . . .” (Colossians 2:8). The Colossians were being led astray by false teachers who claimed that the secret to eternal life was a higher plane of knowledge – a knowledge that was superior to Christ and put one on the level with God. Their philosophies sounded right, but they were wrong, and anyone who listened was led astray. It wasn’t just a first-century problem. That warning still applies today. There are a lot of messages that sound like the Bible, but they are not the Word of God. There are a lot of teachings that sound like Jesus, but they are not the Son of God. They have shades of truth, but they are not the truth.  So how do you know what is true?

When bank tellers receive training to recognize counterfeit money, they are not schooled in every possible way that a bill can be counterfeited. Instead, they are taught every detail of a genuine bill, so that when someone presents money that is even a little off, they can spot it instantly. The key to recognizing a false bill is to know the real thing. The key to recognizing false teaching is to know the truth. Luke commended a group of believers in Berea because they listened to Paul’s teachings and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). They didn’t take Paul’s word for what God said; they checked it out in God’s Word.

I hope you do the same Beloved. I hope you take what your Bible teacher says, your Pastor, your favorite author or singer, even yours truly, and lay it beside the authoritative, infallible, inspired Word of the Living God to see if it agrees with what was spoken by the Spirit of God. And if it does not, you run from it and run to the truth. And if I said it, you call me out on it. I also hope that you are making Bible study – not just a five-minute devotional reading – a priority in your day. I hope you are digging in and soaking up the truth. I hope you are learning to recognize the ways and words of God so you are not “taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophies . . .” I hope you know the Scriptures so intimately that anything just a shade off of the truth raises red flags in your spirit. There is far too much as stake to shrug your shoulders and reason that “it sounds okay to me.” Be a Berean. Know the truth. It’ll set you free.

I Need Peace

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I need peace. I need peace in my home and peace in my mind. I need peace in the midst of struggles and anxiety. I need a peace that doesn’t depend on knowing that everyone in my family is behaving and there’s enough money in the bank. I need a peace that doesn’t hang on having all the answers. I need a peace that:

  • “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). In today’s language that means I can have a peace that doesn’t make sense, a peace that defies the circumstances of my life.
  • looks up, that “sets your heart on things above” (Colossians 3:1). Peace comes when I keep my heart set on “the hope that is stored up for me in heaven” (Colossians 1:5).
  • trusts in the heart of my Father, knowing that He is aware of my needs (Matthew 6:3) and is not just able to meet them, but delights in doing so (Matthew 7:9-12).
  • doesn’t deny the real challenges of life but “lets the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15). That is, I need to let the words of Christ answer my doubts and questions.
  • knows I’m not alone, that God is always with me. A peace that knows “the LORD your God . . . will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). 
  • calms the storm within me, even while the storm rages around me. I need to hear Jesus say to my heart and mind, “Peace. Be still.” (Mark 4:39).

How do I get this peace? Can I make it? Where can I buy it? Could I even afford it?

There’s only one place to find this peace – Jesus. And it is free for the taking. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27). Jesus offers real peace for real life. Do you need peace today Beloved? Come to the source where peace overflows. Come to Jesus.

God, I have a Question

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Doubt is a dangerous thing for the Christian.  Doubt causes us to distance ourselves from God.  Distance leads to disobedience and soon we loose our desire to witness for Christ.  God wants us to believe without wavering. But we are finite humans and sometimes it is hard to believe, especially when all things seem to point the other way. If anyone should have believed without wavering, it was Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. Even in the womb, he recognized the Lord, leaping at the sound of Mary’s voice (Luke 1: 41-45). John’s whole life was for one mission, “to prepare the way for the Lord” (Luke 3:4). He knew Jesus was the Messiah and he declared Him as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” This was confirmed to John at the Lord’s baptism – “I saw the Sprit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” He added emphatically, “I have seen, and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29-34). Yet John asked a big question, “Are the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20). What changed? John was in a prison cell after speaking out against the Roman king and his adulterous marriage. John’s circumstances were certainly not what he had expected. He had faithfully proclaimed the coming of God’s Kingdom. He had rebuked the religious elite and the irreligious royals. And rather than blessings, his efforts brought down the wrath of Herod’s wife. He did what God asked of Him and the results were harsh. Can you blame the poor fellow? Haven’t you and I questioned God for less?
With all that he knew, John – weary and discouraged – began to doubt. But Jesus didn’t chastise John. He knew the man’s heart and that those doubts arose from the overwhelming blow he had been dealt. Jesus pointed John back to the evidence. “What do you see, John?” “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22). Look beyond your circumstances John. You preached the coming of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 3:1). You spoke of my power (Mark 1: 7). Your own words are being fulfilled in Me. Then He added, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:23).
Questions are not the absence of faith. I have had many, many questions for God, and like John, my questions made me search for answers. And those answers strengthened my faith. God always answers honest questions. Don’t be afraid when questions creep in – take them to Jesus. He will not chasten you. He will give you answers that will ground and strengthen your faith. Ask your questions Beloved, Jesus not only has the answers, He is the answer.