Moms who love us from another place

I wrote this for my Mom who has been in heaven for 34 years. I dedicate it to her and to all the Moms who love us from another place.

The first loving face I see,

That voice I know so well,

The heart I’ve heard beating,

For nine months

 Repeating its song of love.

This is the sweetness of my Mother.

First kisses, sweet nuzzles,

A warm bath, soft cuddles,

Her finger tracing my face.

The sway of the rocking chair

Late in the night.

This is the tenderness of my Mother.

Storybooks and nursery rhymes,

Learning the Golden Rule.

Walking away on the first day of school,

I look back to see her smile

And her tears.

This is the heart of my Mother.

First dates and late-night talks,

Seeing her pride as I walk

With cap and gown across the stage.

Making phone calls in a panic—

She always knows the answer

This is the joy of my Mother.

Her eyes never dimmed,

But her voice has grown thin.

The wisest woman I’ve ever known

Draws quiet breaths now,

As I hold her soft and wrinkled hand.

Thank you God for the gift of my Mother.

Lost Sheep, Lost Coins, Lost Sons

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I was up into the late-night hours last night working on a paper for my grad class. When I hit submit I thought, “I doubt it’s an “A” paper, but it’s a paper.”  I was studying the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15:11-32 Jesus’ story of a father and his two sons. The younger son asked his father for his share of the inheritance of his father’s estate. He took that money and blew it on “wild living” (13) then found himself starving and in the humiliating position of feeding pigs.  He decided to go home and ask to just be a hired hand for his father. “But,” Jesus said, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him” (20). Before the boy could get his repentant speech out, the father had called for the best robe, ring, and sandals for his son. This, he declared was cause for a celebration, so a feast was prepared in the young man’s honor.

If this parable stood alone in the Scriptures the church will still have a wonderful story expressing the heart of God the Father to welcome repentant sinners back into a full relationship. But Jesus added a couple of other stories that broaden the picture.

Jump back to the beginning of chapter 15 – there are the parables of the lost sheep (3-7) and the lost coin (8-10), where a shepherd and a woman search diligently until their lost things are found. Then in both cases, the seekers rejoice and call for a celebration. Jesus ended both parables by stating that heaven also rejoices when one sinner repents.

The point of all three parables is that God the Father values the lost and it delights His heart when they are found. That’s why Jesus came “to seek and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Beloved, are you lost today? Not geographically, but spiritually – separated from God. The heavenly Father sent His own Son to seek you from the high vantage point of the cross and bring you back. Do you love someone who is lost? Keep praying dear friend, God is actively searching for them, scanning the horizon to bring them home to Himself. God loves and values lost souls. Like you.

Love One Another

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In this week building up to Valentine’s Day, we’re talking about love – not “Hollywood” love, but real love as the Bible defines it.

There is only one time in the four biblical accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings that He utters “This is my command.” It wasn’t, “Thou must tithe.” It wasn’t, “Thou must be in church every time the doors are open.” It wasn’t even, “Thou must not cuss.” It was a simple but profound statement: “Love one another.” That’s not to say that we can ignore all the rest of what He said, but it means that this is a non-negotiable. We must love one another. John recorded four times Jesus said it. The epistles say it another eight times ( six of them in 1 John). God is serious about loving one another. Jesus specified how we are to love one another: “as I have loved you.” (John 15:12, 17). How did He love us? “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (v. 13). He loved us by laying down His life for you and me giving Himself for us that we might be saved. It’s very unlikely you will be called upon to die for someone, although many a soldier has done it, but you may be called to lay down something else for another. Like your time, your privilege, your resources, your opinion, your dreams, even – gasp – your phone. When Jesus commanded us to love one another as He loved us He meant with no reservation or hesitation. Whether you think they deserve it or not.

Jesus is the perfect model of loving others. The cross is the ultimate expression of His love, but there are some practical ways we can love others. “Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love” by washing the disciples’ nasty feet. (John 13:1-17). When He was done He said, ”Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (13:14-15). Washing feet can take many forms – giving when there is a need, taking a meal, grocery shopping, taking care of kids, cutting the grass, repairing a leaky faucet, walking the dog, opening your home, sharing your resources.  They are practical ways to show you are a follower of Christ.

Here are a few other ways the Bible says we can “Love one another.”

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves” (Rom 12:10).

“Live in harmony with one another” (Rom. 12:16).

“Stop passing judgment on one another” (Rom 14:13).

“Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you,” (Rom. 15:7)

“Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13).

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you” (Eph 4:32).

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19).

“Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another (Col 5:13).

“Love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

“Have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7).

“Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26; 1 Pet 5:14). Socially distanced, of course.

Did you notice that none of these are labor some or costly in terms of money? But they sure can be a challenge. Love one another Beloved, because Jesus loves you. And that’s reason enough.

God Knows

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Joy is getting quite the vocabulary and she can tell me a lot of the time what she wants or needs. “Diaper.” “Juice.” “Snack.” “Music.” “Roly Poly Oly” “Down, please.” I do my best to meet every request. Then there are times when she is tired or frustrated or overwhelmed. She can’t verbalize what she wants or needs. She will cry and fuss and rant and thrown an all-out-temper-tantrum. Those are the times when I just pick her up and hold her close, I put her head on my chest and rest my face on the top of her head so that my breath makes her hair ruffle. Calm soon takes over her, and she will usually fall asleep.

There are days when the needs in my life are obvious: healing when I had my shoulder surgery, provision when our food and money had run out, wisdom when I faced a big decision, peace when my heart is filled with fear or frustration, hope when I don’t see any good resolution to a serious conflict. I can come to God and tell Him the problem (and solutions to the problem, but that was another post). God is faithful to meet my needs. He is healing my shoulder. He has sent food and money to get us through. He has spoken wisdom and peace and hope to me. 

Then there are days when I don’t know how to explain what’s wrong, and I don’t know what to ask of God, and I don’t know how to tell Him what I need. Truly, those days are when He seems to work the most powerfully. Because He knows my need, even if I am clueless. He knows my heart, even when I can’t hear a normal rhythm over the pounding of anxiety. He knows my thoughts though they are racing in a thousand different directions all at the same time. “What if . . . or what if . . . or I hope this doesn’t happen!” Those are the times when He draws me close, up into His big lap with His strong arms surrounding me.  He eases my head against His chest, resting His cheek on top and I can feel His breath ruffling the hair on the top of my head.  Calm descends and it becomes clear. All I needed was Him.

Beloved, you can always tell God what you need. And when you don’t know what you need, He does. He will meet your unspoken need. Especially when what you need is Him.

Child of the King

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Esther knew that her people were in danger and only the king – her husband – could undo the evil plan against them. But no one dared to approach the throne without a summons. Not even the king’s wife. If she did, and it displeased him, she would be put to death. It was a risky proposition, but it was necessary.  She prepared herself and put on her royal robes and when the king saw her standing in the court, he welcomed her. Esther’s bravery saved the lives of the Jews in Persia.

I’ve often envisioned myself standing outside the doors of God’s throne room, my heart hammering in my chest, dressed, not in royal robes, but in the torn, tattered rags of my sinfulness. 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” (Hebrews 4:16). The confidence I have to come to God isn’t something inside of me, but it is because I am accepted in the blood of Jesus. While I see myself clothed in dirty rags, God sees me clothed in the righteousness of Christ. I see the mud of the world clinging to my hands, but God sees the “clean hands and pure heart” of one who has been redeemed by His Son and cleansed from sin. I see myself as a stumbling, sinful woman, but He sees me as a beloved child. Imagine that. I am a child of the King of the universe. 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? Encouragement? Hope? Provision? Healing? Help? Forgiveness? Peace? Joy? Your broken heart mended?  Beloved, 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.

The Enemy’s Not Who You Think

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Going a completely different direction this morning, all because of a . . . well, let me start at the beginning. I was working on a very passionate and theological post. But something wasn’t right. With the post, but also with my computer. I was waxing elephants with my words, but not making any real sense. Plus, I noticed a random period between two words where a period shouldn’t be. I backspaced to erase it and retyped the sentence. There’s that stupid period again. I thought I must be accidentally hitting the period key. Backspace and try again. It’s still there. What in the world? Then I wiped the screen and wiped away a tiny little black spot that was perfectly positioned to pretend to be a naughty period. And drive me crazy.

Oh, you bet there is a spiritual application here my friends. Things are not always what we think they are. You and I can be deceived and end up fighting the wrong battles. That’s why Paul said we must take a stand against the devil’s schemes because “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:11, 12). Just as I blamed that errant period for being in the wrong place, you and I often put the blame in the wrong place. Satan loves to stir up tension between you and your spouse, your child, your coworker, your parent, your sibling, or even – especially – a brother or sister in Christ. We have to remember that the enemy s not the other person – it is the evil one “behind the curtain,” using your loved one’s finger to push your buttons. It is the devil who loves to drive a wedge between us. And yes, I know, sometimes people do some pretty awful things to us. They’re still not the enemy. Satan and his evil minions are.

Who has “pushed your button” lately? Who has caused friction and tension in your life? Your real enemy wants you to be angry and hate them. Instead, Peter admonished, “All of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, because to this {harmony, sympathy, love, compassion, humility] you were called” (1 Peter 3:8-9). Fight the real enemy, Beloved, and love one another.

It Came to Pass . . .

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“So it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made” (Genesis 8:6)

When my son was a baby, a friend gave me some great advice: “Remember, the Bible says, ‘It came to pass,’ not it came to stay.” You can bet I passed it on to my daughter-in-law when my granddaughter was born. Those long sleepless nights will eventually pass and she will sleep through the night. Teething and colic eventually pass. When I spend a couple of hours holding her while she sleeps I remember that these days will pass all too quickly and I’ll miss watching her peaceful face. It’s good parenting advice, but it’s also good life advice.

We will all face difficult days and seasons. But it’s helpful to remind ourselves that those days come and go – they are not forever. In those times I look back at Noah’s story and remember that after many, many days aboard the ark, it came to pass that the waters began to recede and Noah opened the window to let out the dove and let in the fresh air and sunshine. My troubles will pass and so will yours.

Another way to look at this is that the days of our lives come to pass not to stay and the opportunities before us and the people around us are also not permanent.  I have many regrets over things I knew the Lord wanted me to do that I thought I could get around to later. But later never came and the window closed. This past year has taught me, as it has so many of us, that the people we love cannot stay in our lives forever. I never dreamed my big brother would be in heaven before the year’s end. I know many friends for whom COVID has caused great grief. Jobs and business were shown to be temporary, and even the highest office in the nation passed from one hand to another this year.

So here is my advice: Don’t fret the sleepless nights of parenthood, nor the difficult days of life. It does not seem so in the middle of it all, but they will pass. And don’t waste the opportunities God gives you, nor time with the people you love. Life on earth comes to pass, not to stay. Make it count Beloved.

For The One Who Loves a Prodigal

I wrote this almost 5 years ago and just rediscovered it. God’s timing is impeccable. I need this message now more than I did then. Someone else may need it too. It’s for those of us who love a prodigal.

Acts 8:26-40 records the account of Philip and the Ethiopian (go ahead and read it-I’ll wait right here for you). Philip met an angel of the Lord who sent him on a mission. “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” There Philip met an Ethiopian who served in the court of the queen of the Ethiopians. Scholars contend that he was a God-seeker who had not converted to full Judaism. He was returning from Jerusalem where he had gone to worship. He was riding in his chariot, reading from Isaiah – about the “sheep led to the slaughter,” and did not understand what he was reading  Enter Philip who clarified the Scriptures to the man, and from them, shared the good news about Jesus.  The Holy Spirit worked through The Word and Philip’s words and the man received Christ and immediately was baptized.

I want you to zero in on verse 29: “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.'” This phrase in Greek means “Go to that chariot and ‘stick with it.'” I thought about someone I love that I’ve been praying for many years and how I wonder if they will ever “get it.” The Spirit spoke to my heart and said, “Stick with them.” In our human nature, it is easy to become weary and want to just give up on difficult people. But if God has set them in your life, no matter how stubborn they are, He has called you to “stick with them.” That means more than tolerating them. That means: Keep praying. “The prayer of a righteous man [woman, parent, grandparent, sibling, friend, pastor] offered in faith . . . is powerful and effective” (James 5:15,16). Keep loving. “Love always hopes and always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:7,8). Keep forgiving. “I tell you, [forgive] not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Then trust God to do the rest. “Salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). 

Years later my prodigal is still a prodigal, but I’m sticking with them because God is faithful. Beloved, whom has God called you to stick with?

What Does it Mean to Be Righteous?

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“Joseph took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24)

In the telling of the Christmas story, Joseph, the earthly “step-father’ of Jesus doesn’t get much attention.  Little is recorded about him other than he was a carpenter by trade (Matthew 13:55) and a descendant of David (John 2:4).  But I learned something recently about him that had previously escaped my attention in the rush to get to the birth story.

“This his how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:18-19).

In the eyes of the Jewish community, Mary had committed a grievous sin – conceiving a child as an unmarried woman with someone other than her betrothed. According to the religious law, the “righteous” thing to do was to “bring her to the door of her father’s house and there the men of the town shall stone her to death” (Deuteronomy 22:21).  Instead, Joseph chose to handle the situation quietly to spare her from disgrace and punishment.  And because he acted mercifully, God, through the pen of Matthew, declared Joseph “a righteous man.”

Jesus esteemed mercy; He said the merciful will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7) and declared that God “desires mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:8).  His brother James proclaimed, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).  I think, sometimes the church has it backward.  Much like the Jewish religious leaders, we think that righteousness means always doing the right thing; Joseph shows us that righteousness is doing the Jesus thing – showing mercy.  After all, that is the heart of the Christmas story: God’s love poured out in mercy to sinners like you and me through Jesus Christ. 

This Christmas season, is there someone in your life that needs mercy – someone who needs love?  I know this theme is playing itself out in my own family right now.  It will be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done, but it is the Jesus thing. Let’s commit to being righteous people – let’s be people of mercy.

Heroes of the Faith

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The Bible gives us so many people to admire and try to emulate.  I have a few favorites:

God called me to ministry through Ezra.  A scribe and teacher whom God blessed and used powerfully, “Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). He has inspired me to devote my life to study the Word, live the Word, and teach the Word.

I love Daniel because he stood firm for the Lord in the face of pressure and oppression.

I love Habakkuk who, despite having bare fields and empty stalls, chose to be “joyful in God my Savior” (Hab. 3:18). He speaks to my heart in this season.

Like many, I love Peter because his rash, impulsive nature means that God can use even a goof-ball like me.

Several women have touched my heart deeply:

I love Ruth for her sweet, humble manner with her bitter mother-in-law. Ruth loved Noami and was willing to work hard to care for her. Her life speaks volumes to me right now.

Dorcas is another one of my heroes, for obvious reasons – we share a name –  but also because Dorcas was a woman who “was full of good works which she did” (Acts 9:36). She inspires me to get up off of my intentions and put them into fruitful action.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, who received Gabriel’s astonishing message with a humble, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

Anna – the first to proclaim the coming of God’s redemption (Luke 2:36-18).

Mary of Bethany – who chose sitting at Jesus’ feet over duty (Luke 10:38-42) – then anointed His feet for burial (John 12:3).

Lydia – the first European convert to Christianity (Acts 16:13-15).

Priscilla – along with her husband Aquila, mentored the young preacher Apollos in the faith (Acts 18:24-26).

Phoebe – a fruitful servant alongside Paul, and a deacon in the early church (Rom. 16: 1-2).

And the woman I admire the most: Mary Magdalene who was the first to see the resurrected Jesus and the first evangelist who proclaimed that the Lord had risen from the dead. A woman who preached the resurrection.

They are all part of that “great cloud of witnesses” who are cheering me – and you – on to perseverance and faithfulness. Beloved, who are your heroes of the faith?