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.

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.

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.

Are You Sure About That?

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I was in the 5th grade and was doing my math homework one night (and anyone who knows me knows how much I hate math) and I kept asking my mom, “What’s so-and-so times so-and-so?”, over and over until she lost her patience with me and snapped, “Figure it out!” So I did. I added and added and added and . . . well you get the idea.  I know for certain that 7×8=56 and you can bet it will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Why do you believe what you believe? Because your childhood Sunday School teacher told you a Bible story? Because your pastor preached about doctrine on Sunday? Because you read something profound in a book by a smiling author? What we believe is too often just what we’ve been told – but not what we know. And there is a difference. What you’ve heard just sits in your ears, but what you know takes deep root in your heart and, like your circulating blood, affects every part of you. If your faith is built on other’s thoughts and opinions, how can you be sure you are building on solid ground? When someone challenges your belief, you can’t make a good defense and it all starts to crumble. But if your belief is built on what you have mined from the Scriptures and chewed on and have wrestled your heart and mind into submission then your faith will stand up against the questions of the world. Like my math equation, what you invest in stays with you. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). As Christians come under fire in the coming days, it’s more important than ever that you know what you believe, and why you believe it. And it’s eternally important that what you believe is the truth. Beloved, you don’t just need to know about religious-sounding stuff. You need to know and be convinced of the truth.

This is My Testimony

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I was always a church kid. From the cradle roll in the church nursery to a “sunbeam” with perfect attendance bars cascading from my pin.  I “asked Jesus into my heart” and was baptized when I was 9. I tried hard to live by the rules, but always had a nagging sense that something was “off.” So I tried harder. For every time I fought with my brothers or disobeyed my mother, I sentenced myself to extra chores as penance.  I swore I would do better – that I would be better. I repeatedly “rededicated my life to Christ,” And I failed more and more. As an adult I heard preachers talk about thinking they were saved, even serving in ministry, only to discover that they were really not. Surely that was me. So I would pray the “sinner’s prayer” again and wade through those baptism waters trying to get it right.  I was convinced that I had to do and say all the right things to be saved and finally stop the cycle of sin in my life.

Then in my late 30’s through the Scriptures, I came to understand grace. Paul said, “It [meaning God’s compassion to sinners] does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:16). A light dawned in my heart and I realized that it wasn’t anything I did or anything I was that saved me. It was the work of Christ because of the love of God that saved me. The only thing I contributed to my salvation was realizing that I was a sinner in need of a Savior.  I surrendered to His amazing mercy and grace and was set free from the demands of my own guilt and shame. I am no longer driven by the need to be good enough for God. Now I am driven to live by the Word and the Spirit. I desire righteousness, not doing everything right.

Mine isn’t one of those “powerful testimonies” of Jesus saving me out of a life of debauchery – though I was just as lost as the ones who were. But I’ve discovered that it is a testimony a lot of people who live a frustrated Christian life can connect with. Beloved, God didn’t save you because of you, He saved you because of Jesus. And Jesus is enough.

Standing up to the Big Dog

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“They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed’ (Nehemiah 6:9).”

As kids growing up, my oldest brother often tried to intimidate me. His favorite thing to do was tease me until he made me mad and I would start swinging at him. He would put his hand on the top of my head and extend his arm so I was swinging in the air. That just made me madder. I miss my brother greatly, but I don’t miss how he loved to aggravate and intimidate me.

The Israelite captives returned to Jerusalem to find their city in ruins, the Temple destroyed, and the wall that protected their homes a pile of rubble. Nehemiah led the people to restore the wall to the displeasure of their neighbors, who “became angry and greatly incensed [and] ridiculed the Jews” (Nehemiah 4:1, 2).  They said, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed” (Nehemiah 6:9). But the Israelites “prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat” (4:9) and “rebuilt the wall . . . for the people worked with all their heart” (4:6). They refused to bow to the enemy’s intimidation and they completed the wall in fifty-two days!

You have an enemy. His name is Satan. He hates you because God loves you and has a Kingdom purpose for your life. He will try his best to intimidate you and wear you down so that you will give up and walk. Don’t let him. Like the enemies of the Israelites, your enemy is fighting a losing battle. Satan has no authority where God has called you. The truth is – he’s trying to intimate you because you intimidate him. Paul understood that: “I will stay on . . . because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:9). Beloved, if what you are called to do is so threatening to the enemy that he’s trying to make you quit, then it’s that much more important that you don’t. Keep at it and let God fight for you.

Don’t Forget!

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How fickle we are in our faith. How unstable and wishy-washy we can be. One day we are on fire for God, the next we act as if we don’t know His name. We thank Him for His goodness on Sunday and complain about trivial inconveniences on Monday. One day we believe, another day we doubt. But this is nothing new. All through the Bible, we see people who start great and stumble along the way. I am convinced it’s because we are forgetful.

Peter is a good example of this.  Matthew 16 records Peter’s great confession. Jesus asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” The answers varied from John the Baptist to the ancient prophets.  Then He asked, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Peter boldly proclaimed, “You are the Christ [the Messiah], the Son of the living God.” Jesus called Peter blessed for this heavenly knowledge. (vs. 13-17). The next account (which was probably not immediately after, but later in time) has Jesus proclaiming His coming death at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders. Old Pete was not having it. “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you.’ Jesus sharply rebuked Peter – “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (vs. 21-23). Do you see how Peter in one instance proclaimed Jesus as the Son of the living God, then in the next regarded Him as subordinate to himself and worthy of rebuke? Peter forgot His great confession. He forgot who Jesus was.

I can’t condemn Peter, I have done the same too many times. I suspect you have as well. We read our Bible in the morning – great proclamations of God’s goodness and faithfulness and power and love, yet before the day is out, we are grumbling or fearful or falling into sin. Is He not the same God we read about this morning? We need to stand on the truth. We need to continually remind ourselves of what we know about God because we have an enemy who wants to distract us and derail our faith. Beloved, invest your mind in knowing God and strengthen your heart to hold fast to Him. Don’t forget who He is.

I’ve Seen Jesus!

Doubting Thomas, by Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da, 1571–1610)

Our Ladies Bible study group is studying the Sermon on The Mount and we’ve been in The Beatitudes – the “Blesseds” – for the past couple of weeks. But did you know that there is another “Blessed” from Jesus? It is addressed first to Thomas, and I contend is also for believers of the past two-thousand-plus years.

After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples and showed them His hands and side and imparted the Holy Spirit to them. John said, “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (20:20). That is probably an understatement. But Thomas missed the whole thing, and when they told him, “We have seen the Lord,” he didn’t believe it. He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (v. 25). Not just “cannot” but “will not” believe. That sums up a lot of attitudes in the world toward the resurrected Jesus. Another week goes by and all of the disciples – including Thomas – are together and Jesus again appears. He called out to the doubter, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (v. 27). And Thomas did. He replied, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). Jesus pointed out that Thomas’ believed only because he could see. Then He pronounced what many have called, “the last and greatest beatitude.” “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).

Have you ever seen Jesus with your physical eyes, Beloved? Me neither. But we believe. We believe because we have seen Him through the eyes of faith. And Jesus said that we are blessed. Faith is hard, especially when you can’t look Jesus in the face and hear His actual voice. And especially when the world is telling you that your faith is misplaced, that you’re trusting in a “genie in the sky.” But you and I have “seen” what they don’t see. Not that they can’t, but that they won’t. We know that He is real. We know that He died for our sins. We know that He was raised to life. And we know that He is coming again. Because we have seen Jesus with our hearts.

Don’t Give Up on God

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I hope you’re not tired of hearing about my cat. Celina is a black-and-white Bible teacher with a tail. Every morning I stumble into the kitchen headed for the coffee maker. Celina runs ahead of me and parks herself in front of her food dish and begins her usual cries of lament. “Feed me. Feed me.  Feed me.” Never mind that the bowl still has food in it. As I’ve shared before, she demands a fresh scoop to start the day. This morning I was a little distracted and slower to respond than usual.  She continued to meow – but each one got softer and quieter. It was like she was slowly giving up – losing hope that I would take care of her.

Some of you, like me, have a prayer you have carried for a long time. And nothing is happening. God is silent. You are starting to losing hope that He cares and will answer you. You are slowly giving up. Don’t.

Jesus told two parables reminding us to be persistent in prayer. In Luke 18:1-8 He tells us about a persistent widow who kept coming to a judge seeking justice against her adversary. Luke introduces the story with this comment: “Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and never give up” (v. 1). Luke 11: 5-10 is the parable of the man who goes to his friend at midnight asking for bread. The friend is reluctant at first, but “because of the man’s boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs” (v. 8) The word “boldness” means shameless, barefaced persistence. Jesus completes this parable with the reminder to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened” (v. 9). The original Greek used here literally reads: ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking. The key to these two parables is that the pray-er was persistent because they knew that the one hearing their prayers would come through.

You and I can be persistent in prayer because we have faith in the one who hears our prayers. Don’t give up on God, Beloved. ASK – Ask, seek, knock – again.