Last Words

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“Drive carefully.” “Have a good day.” “Call when you get there.” “I love you.” Last words. When your kids are climbing out of the car, when your wife heads off for a weekend with her friends, when your nephew leaves for college. It’s our final opportunity to connect and leave them with something important. Many times those last words express our heart more than voluminous conversations.

In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote about wisdom, immorality, marriage, freedom in Christ, spiritual gifts, love, and the resurrection. Out of all these very weighty topics, Paul’s final instructions to his friends were: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of good courage; be strong. Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). Firm faith. Good courage. Love in all things. What powerful watchwords for Christ’s church! And we still need them today.

Corinth was a multi-cultural, polytheistic culture – they had people from many backgrounds who held to many different beliefs. It was so easy to take a little bit from each one – including Christianity – to make a self-serving religion. That sounds very much like our world today, doesn’t it? Paul reminds us to stand firm in our faith in Christ and Christ alone. But he also assures us we don’t stand on our own.  He opened this letter by telling the Corinthians, “[The Lord Jesus Christ] will keep you strong to the end” (1:8). Firm faith leans heavily on Christ for strength and courage.

Why do we need courage? Have you been out there lately? The powers (human and spiritual) that rule the world are trying to destroy the Christian faith. We need courage just to walk out the door. We need courage to resist the enemy. We need courage to stand for truth and righteousness. In a day and age when sin is celebrated, we need courage to say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

And oh, how important love is. Jesus said love is the defining factor in the lives of His followers – “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35). And love, more than any other means will draw men to Christ. In everything – our jobs, in school, in our families, in our relationships, in good times and hard times, in peace and in disagreement – let love be the rule.

If today were my last day on earth and I wanted to leave you with the most important words, I would say the same thing.  Beloved have faith, be courageous, and live in love.

I Saw God

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“I have seen the One who sees me” (Genesis 16:13).

Have you ever seen God? I’ve had people berate me for believing in a God I cannot physically see. But I saw Him this week.

Many of you know that my granddaughter had a major dental procedure done at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. Because of the distance and the early check-in, we had to stay at a local hotel the night before. We had to have gas to make the trip. Joy needed things we didn’t have on hand. And I was broke. So I prayed. I didn’t tell anyone except God about our needs. A few days later, after teaching a Bible study class, I was handed an envelope by someone who didn’t know me. I saw God. The next day, I received a check in the mail from a dear friend. I saw God. I put it all in the bank and my husband and I headed to Waffle House to get a quick bite before we picked up the things Joy needed and hit the road to Birmingham. As we got ready to leave the server informed us that our ticket had been paid. I saw God.

We filled up the truck, bought Joy’s stuff, and headed up 231. When we checked into the hotel I discovered that only part of my deposit was available. I didn’t have enough to pay for our room. The hotel associate covered the $20 difference and I couldn’t find her the next day to pay her back. I saw God.

Joy had had a previous dental procedure by another dentist a few months prior that was handled badly and it had left her traumatized for several weeks. We were concerned about further anxiety, but Children’s is amazing. They gave her an oral sedative and she fell asleep in her Mommy’s arms, they took her to do the work, brought her back to the room and she woke up in Mommy’s arms. It couldn’t have gone smoother. I saw God. You all prayed for her. I saw God.

I know this is not my typical devotional, but I want you to know what God has done for me and my family. I want you to be encouraged that He cares for you also. He cares about your physical needs as much as your soul. Beloved, I want you to see God.

Hebrews: The King’s Kid

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I  have often envisioned myself standing outside the doors of God’s throne room, my heart hammering in my chest, dressed, not in royal robes, but the filth of my sinfulness and my inadequate attempts to cover up with torn, tattered rags of homemade “righteousness.” I come with a heavy burden and a desperate need that is almost always the result of my own sin and foolishness. Do I dare push open that door and approach the holy and pure God of heaven and earth?

According to Hebrews 4:16, that is exactly what I am invited to do, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” When do I most need help? What is your greatest time of need? When we have failed God in our sin. How do we dare approach the throne of the Holy One at all, much less with confidence in our sinful state? Because of our great high priest, Jesus Christ. Remember that the work of the high priest is to intercede for sinful people before a holy God. The high priest approaches God with the blood of the sacrifice to cleanse the people. Jesus both presents the blood and provides it. The priest and the sacrificial lamb. Paul said, “In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12). That confidence is not an arrogant swagger; it is trust in the faithfulness of Christ to accomplish what He promised – to make us acceptable to God. In Jesus – in His blood, and through Jesus – through His atoning work, you and I are able to come to God, not as sinners, but as His beloved children. Timothy Keller said: “The only person that dares wake up the king at 3:00 a.m. for a glass of water is his child. We have that kind of access.”

What do you need today, Beloved? Encouragement? Hope? Provision? Healing? Help? Forgiveness? Peace? Joy? Your broken heart mended?  Lift up your head and step into your Father’s presence. He will not only receive you but He will throw open His arms wide to you. That’s His promise. That’s your confidence. That’s your place as a child of God.

You Can Trust God

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In the past two years, it seems as if life has gone from one hard thing to another. From disease to riots to hate to natural disasters to political incompetence and international heartbreak –will it ever end? And how will we keep our sanity until it does?

Recently I was battling through a very difficult season involving a loved one that was breaking my heart and there was nothing I could do to change it. I questioned why God would allow this to happen. I knew it couldn’t possibly be His will. He needed to fix it and fast. I lived in my overwhelmed emotions and began to have physical health issues from the stress. I was mentally distracted from the work God had called me to and wanted to give up. But God (oh, how I love those two words!) began to slowly turn my heart from desperation to dependence. I started meditating more on God’s character and less on the problem at hand. I began searching the Scriptures and praying God’s Word over the matter. I stopped telling God what I thought He should do and began telling Him that I trusted Him in whatever He chose to do. God gave me a phrase that became my lifeline every time the panic would start to stir in my heart: “I have entrusted my beloved into the hands of my Father.” I posted those words on my desk and ran them over and over in my head. I often spoke them out loud so that I could hear them in my ears.

In that season I didn’t need fluffy assurances and pretty memes. I needed a real faith for real life. I needed to focus on God’s power, faithfulness, strength, and promises. I needed to go to the Word of God for a word for my soul. I needed to pray His will through His Word. As I came before Him in raw honesty I felt Him soothe my wounded heart and calm my frantic spirit. I found the strength I desperately needed. I found hope in a hopeless situation. I found peace in the storm. I found a real God for real life.

The Never-Get-Out-of-Debt Payment Plan

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The American economy seems to run on spending more than we earn. The average credit card debt per household in the U.S. is $5,700 – $9,333 with a total outstanding U.S. consumer debt of $4 trillion. Being in debt is one of the most discouraging struggles. I know this struggle well as we have been under the self-made burden of financial debt. The Bible has a great deal to say about financial stewardship, but even more about relational stewardship. The apostle Paul says that we should only have one debt on our balance sheet: “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8).

Financial advisors can help you devise a plan to pay off your credit debt, but the Bible says that love for one another is a “continuing debt,” that can never be finished. It is a life-long obligation. Love is more than a “warm fuzzy feeling,” love is a choice we make every day. 1 Corinthians 13 offers us a practical example of choosing to love. You may be very familiar with it, but I want to challenge you to read this passage a little differently. Instead of the word “love,” put your own name in the verse and read it aloud:

_______________ is patient, _____________ is kind. ____________ does not envy, ______________does not boast, _______________ is not proud. ______________ is not rude, ______________ is not self-seeking, _______________ is not easily angered. ______________ keeps no record of wrongs. ______________ does not delight in evil, but ______________ rejoices with the truth. _____________ always protects, _______________ always trusts, _____________ always hopes, _______________ always perseveres (v. 4-7).

So how did you do? I don’t know about you but I started to get uncomfortable early in.

Love, as Paul outlined it in these verses, doesn’t require any money, but it is costly. It will cost you time and attention and patience and ego, but it brings amazing dividends. Every day you and I have the opportunity to share the love of God in this world. When we are patient, kind, humble, considerate, forgiving, honest, and compassionate we are making installments on our never-ending debt of love. Beloved, what would your home, workplace, church, and community look like if you followed the Bible’s payment plan?

Do As I Say – and As I Do

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When my son was about 3, he had a child-sized toy car in which he logged a thousand miles. My brother would say, “Troy, get out of your car like Mommy does!” And Troy would shove the car door open, jump out and SLAM the door as he walked away. My brother would be in hysterics at my embarrassment.

Paul wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). That’s a risky statement for most of us, but he said it with confidence because he was committed to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Paul poured himself into Timothy and Titus and John Mark and many others, leading by his words and his everyday example. But who influenced Paul?

Stephen was chosen as a disciple of the new Church. He was “a man full of God’s grace and power” (Acts 6:8). But a group of jealous Jewish leaders stoned him to death. He died with his eyes fixed on his Savior and his testimony on his lips (Acts 7).

A young man in the crowd was watching. “The witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul (Acts 7:58). Saul walked away with a murderous hatred toward Jesus’ followers – and a seed that had been planted deep within his spirit. Saul chased believers across the region, arresting as many as possible. Until God caused that seed to sprout on the road to Damascus. The Christ-hater became a Christ-proclaimer and the Christian faith had one of its boldest and most faithful witnesses. Did the death of Stephen have any influence on Paul’s conversion? I believe so. Saul – AKA Paul would later paraphrase Stephen’s message when he said “The Lord . . . does not live in temples built by hands” (Acts 17:24; 7:48).

In our everyday moments, when we are not even aware, we are affecting those around us. That is a sobering thought. Little ones are watching us as we cook supper, brush our teeth, fold laundry and yes, drive the car. The store clerk, my coworkers, your neighbors, fellow shoppers, your child’s friends are all within our sphere of influence. Everything we say and do – especially in those unguarded moments – makes a deep imprint on others.

So I ask you, Beloved, are you planting Jesus-seeds in the world?

Hebrews: I Need You

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One major blow the pandemic has dealt the church is disconnection. When churches closed their doors trying to keep their members safe, it also isolated them physically from one another. Now that churches are opened again, many have decided not to return. Without the opportunity to come together, many people have grown cold. They just don’t think they need the church anymore.

The writer of Hebrews pointed to one important aspect of the Christian community: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:12-13). This is not a message to individual Christians; it’s a word for the full Body of Christ. “You are responsible for one another.” No, that doesn’t mean you will be held accountable for my sins (aren’t you glad!), but that you and I are called to encourage each other away from sin and into a deeper faith in God. That means being together enough that I notice when your faith is faltering.  That’s one thing I really miss being 100 miles away from my best friend. When we lived in the same town, we spent a lot of time together. She knew when I was struggling just by the inflection of my voice and my posture. She would come beside me and redirect me back to truth and faith. We are called to encourage one another in our daily walk so that sin and unbelief do not harden our hearts and turn us away from God.

In his message on the armor of God, Paul wrote about “the shield of faith” (Ephesians 6:16). The Roman soldier’s shield had a particularly important feature for the protection of the whole troop – a loop-and-locking system on the sides that allowed a group of soldiers to form what is known as “The Testudo (Tortoise) Formation.” By locking their shields together they formed a “safe house” around and above the whole company that covered them from all sides. This is the picture Paul painted of the Body of Christ working together against the “flaming arrows” of sin and unbelief launched by the evil one.

We dare not face off against the enemy in isolation. Beloved, your brothers and sisters need you. I need you. And you need me. Lock your shield with mine and theirs and let’s help one another stand firm in our shared faith.

Love One Another

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As long as I’ve studied the Bible, many verses still make me pause and wonder – what does this mean? 1 Peter 4:8 is one of those: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” The first part of this verse seems pretty clear – love one another. Paul said, “you have been taught by God to love each other” (1 Thessalonians 4:9). Jesus is our Teacher and He taught by example. John said that Jesus “showed [the disciples] the full extent of His love” when He knelt before them with a washbasin and a towel (John 13:1-17). Love drove Him to wash their nasty feet. Then He said, “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Humbly. Sacrificially. Graciously.

But it’s the second part of the verse that I want to understand better: “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”  Peter may be borrowing from Solomon who said, “Love covers over all wrongs” (Proverbs 10:9). Certainly, we know that the love of God “covered over” our sins with the blood of Jesus. But Peter is speaking about loving one another, so this must have practical application for you and me.

Let’s first talk about what “covering over” doesn’t mean. It absolutely does not mean taking abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek safety and help now.  It doesn’t mean sweeping someone’s wrong actions under a rug and pretending nothing has happened. And it doesn’t mean not seeking wise counsel for difficult relationships.

Here’s what I am convinced it means: Love forgives wrongs and does not dwell on them or broadcast them. Here’s where I’m squirming with conviction. I want to talk about it. I want someone to know what this person has done to me. I want them to be just as offended as I am. That isn’t love. That’s ugly human nature.

Yes, we can certainly ask our brothers and sisters for prayer, but we must take care that our prayer requests don’t become a gripe session. Because that isn’t love. This is deeply personal for me and I’m asking the Lord to help me love more and complain less.

Because people need love. A love that is patient, kind, humble, peaceful, forgiving, honest, protective, trusting, hopeful, and enduring (1 Corinthians 13, paraphrased). Beloved, let’s commit to love like Jesus – I believe it will change the world.

The God Who Knows You

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My sweet mother-in-law always cooked a birthday dinner for me with all my favorite foods: white peas, creamed corn, sliced tomatoes, and chicken and dumplings. She also made me a coconut cake for my birthday. It was a labor of love. There was just one problem. I didn’t like coconut. What was I to do? Well, I ate it and thanked her, and told her how good it was. So she made it every year. And I ate it every year.

My late brother ordered a gift box of fruit for me every Christmas. Lots of apples, oranges, mangoes, peaches, and grapes. There was just one problem. I am allergic to fruit. But I never told him because he loved doing it and my husband enjoyed the bounty.

While my mother-in-law and brother were family, they didn’t know everything about me. And I didn’t want to spoil their happiness in doing something nice for me just to get what I preferred.  They loved me and that was enough. Besides, after a few years, it’s awkward to say, “Oh, by the way, I don’t like coconut.”

But there is One who knows me well. He knows what I like and what I can’t tolerate. David said, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me” (Psalm 139:1). He knows every move and every thought (yikes!). He knows what I’m going to say before I say it. He is “familiar with all my ways” (v. 3). He even knows when I am feeling confident or am in the dark pit of despair (v. 8). He knows me because He created me and put all those likes and dislikes in me. He fashioned me to be allergic to fruit (but thankfully not chocolate!), to love to write and teach, and to give my heart to a little blond girl with a Joyful smile.

And not only does He know all this about me, He thinks about me with deep affection. David said, “How precious towards me are Your thoughts, O God! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand” (v. 17, 18). He thinks I am precious! And He thinks the same of you, Beloved. He knows you by name (Isaiah 43:1), and He knows you by heart. He will never forget a single detail about you. Not even what kind of cake you don’t like.

Hebrews: Why Did Jesus Come?

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Over the past several weeks in Hebrews, we’ve focused on eight theological reasons why God sent His Son from glory to this sinful earth. Let’s put them all together for a recap.

  1. God sent Jesus to “bring many sons to glory” (v. 10). To bring lost human beings – now redeemed – into His eternal family.
  2. He sent Jesus to earth to “Make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering” (v. 10b). Remember that “perfect” means complete and doesn’t imply that Jesus was every imperfect. His role as “the author of [our] salvation” was completed by his suffering on the cross.
  3. Jesus came so that He could present us to God as “the children God has given me” (v. 13). Children who were set apart for Him and transformed into His own image.
  4. God sent Jesus to “destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” v. 14). Jesus came to fulfill God’s first promise “to crush the head” of the devil (Genesis 3:15).
  5. In destroying the devil, Jesus came to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (v. 15). As children of God, we do not fear the end of this life because we know that we have eternal life with Him in heaven forever.
  6. God sent Jesus to be for us “a merciful and faithful high priest” (v. 17). He is the only high priest who does not need to make atonement for His own sins before He can atone for ours.
  7. As our high priest, Jesus came to “make atonement for the sins of the people” (v. 17b). By His death, He made us “at one” with God as we were “me[a]nt” to be.
  8. God sent Jesus “to help those who are being tempted” (v. 18).  He suffered from the same demonic temptation you and I face. He understands and He is able and more than willing to help us.

All of this comes back to one core reason God sent Jesus to earth: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God loves His creation. He wants to redeem sinful humans and restore the relationship for which we were created. He did that through His Son. He did that for you and me. Beloved, God gave the most precious thing in heaven to save you forever. Because He loves you.