Storms

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It’s easy to trust God when things are going well and life is easy. But, it’s harder to trust Him when storms – literal or figurative – are raging around you.

Like when Jesus and His disciples were crossing a lake. “A furious squall came up and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped” (Mark 4:37). A squall was a hurricane-force wind on the lake, and it was terrifying – even to seasoned fishermen. But Jesus was with them. He was probably helping them bail water or fight with the sails, right? Nope. “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion” (v. 38). The terrified disciples woke him crying, “Teacher don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38). Yes, Jesus cared. “He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (v. 39).

Then Jesus said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40). Why would Jesus chastise these men for a normal human reaction to a life-threatening situation?

I think there are at least two reasons. First, Jesus was with them. He had protected them before (John 17:12). Yet they doubted He would save them now. They thought He was “asleep in the job,” but He never lost control of the situation. Then, look back a bit at verse 35: “He said to His disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.” He had already told them that they would reach the other side but they forgot His words when the storm rose. Don’t we do that too? Sunday morning we nod when the pastor reads, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Then when the storm comes up on Tuesday, all we hear is the wind and the crashing waves. As if He had never spoken at all.

I’ve been through more than a few “squalls” in my life. Jesus has never failed me. He won’t fail you. He’s not asleep. He’s not forgotten you. Beloved, God has promised you a hope and a future. He cares about you. That’s a promise you can take with you to the other side.

Hebrews: No Sting in Death

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My mom passed away 34 years ago at the very young age of 57. In her last months, I was able to spend almost every day with her.  We talked about so much – sewing projects and her flower garden and recipes and memories. We talked about my friend who was expecting a baby. But we didn’t talk about heaven or Jesus or eternal life.  There’s no doubt in my mind and heart that my mom was saved and I believe I will see her – and my brother – in heaven someday. But she tried to keep our conversations light and I didn’t have the courage or knowledge to broach deeper subjects with her. After she died, I cleaned out her room – my last act of service from a daughter to her mother, I found a poem she wrote. The only line I remember is: “I looked into the darkness and no tomorrow could I see. . .” There was so much sadness in those words. She knew where she was going, but she also knew what she was leaving behind.

The author of Hebrews highlighted yet another reason why the Father would send His Son to earth to take on human flesh: “ . . . so that He might . . . free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15).  Who it is that fears death? The one who believes that life ends. The one who believes that there is nothing beyond this life. But for the believer, life doesn’t truly end. We simply change addresses – an earthly zip code for a heavenly one. 2 Corinthians 5:8 says “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (KJV).” And in the presence of the Lord is eternal life.  Jesus declared, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Paul asked, “Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).  It has lost its prick in the promise of eternal life. Even though my Mom didn’t want to leave her loved ones, she was not afraid to die. There was sadness in her poem, but the sting of death was gone. She may not have had another earthly tomorrow, but she has an eternity full of them.

Change Your Perspective

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“From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).

Years ago a choir director told us altos that the best way to hit a high note was not to try to climb up to it – that almost always caused us to flatten the note – but to see ourselves gliding down onto to it from above. He was trying to get us to approach the difficult note from a different – higher – perspective.

Life is hard. But you don’t need me to tell you that. After a year and a half of a pandemic and social and political unrest, many of us are just worn out. And to add to the stress, many of us are carry some heavy personal burdens too. You may be dealing with a scary diagnosis or a financial crisis. You may be trying to work through grief or disappointment or a difficult relationship. Maybe there’s upheaval at your job. Or you’re just carrying more responsibility than your shoulders can bear.

So how do we deal with it all? We have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair, or approach it from a higher perspective. We can choose to see it all as a hard blow or as God’s shaping and strengthening our faith. We have to choose whether we will roll around in hopelessness or stand in confident trust that God has a purpose and a plan in it all.

Believe me – I haven’t always been a shining example of faith in the hard times I’ve encountered. I’ve struggled. I’ve cried. I’ve worried and I’ve questioned God. But I’m learning that I can either drag myself into misery or climb up on the Rock that never fails.

Beloved, I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your faith and your ability to face it all with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near and caring or as distant and unconcerned. Beloved, know this – God is with you and me in the hard stuff. He is faithful. We can trust Him. He will not fail us. He is our Rock – a high place on which you and I can stand. Climb up here with me and let’s watch Him work wonders.

Independence Day

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“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Galatians 5:1

Here in the United States, July 4th is our Independence Day – the day when our nation’s founding fathers declared our freedom, vowing that America was no longer subject to the British. They wrote and signed a “Declaration of Independence” to proclaim their right to sovereignly rule themselves. In the spirit of this day, I am declaring my own independence.

I declare that I am no longer subject to the lies of the devil or the world. I will be a wise Berean and take everything I hear and “examine the Scriptures” to see if it is true (Acts 17:11). I will listen only to God’s Word because His Word sets my heart free (Psalm 119:32).

I declare that I am no longer subject to sin. I have been set free from sin through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:18). Sin is not my master (Rom. 6:14). It has no power over me and I will not submit to it anymore.

I declare that I am no longer subject to fear. I am a child of God and He has lavished His great and perfect love on me (1 John 3:1). Perfect love casts out all fear (1 Jn. 4:18).

I declare that I am no longer subject to the opinions of others. “If God is for me, who can be against me?” (Romans 8:31). What does it matter what other people say about me if I am accepted by God through His Son?  I seek only His “Well done!” (Matthew 25:21).

I declare that I am no longer subject to my own emotions.  I will “set my heart at rest in His presence whenever my heart condemns me. For God is greater than my heart” (1 John 3:20). I will bring my emotions under the control of the Holy Spirit and not allow them to control me.

This is my Declaration of Independence. And it is also my Declaration of Dependence on God because He is the sovereign Ruler over my life. He has set me free from all these things and from the punishment I deserve – the punishment His Son bore for me. I am subject only to Him. So, what about you, Beloved? Will you declare this July 4th as your Independence Day?

Selah

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“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.  From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint . . . I long to dwell in Your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. Selah” (Psalm 6:1-4 selected).

Perhaps you’ve seen the odd little Hebrew word scattered throughout the Psalms – Selah – and wondered what it meant.  This word translates the phrase “Pause and calmly think about that,” and is a beautiful reminder that God has filled the Bible with promises, assurances, hope, peace, redemption, joy, comfort – and yes, even chastisement and words of discipline; and they are all meant for us to read and contemplate. Perhaps we need to add a few Selahs of our own to the words we read.

To those who grieve: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Pause and think about God’s comfort.

To the prodigal who has wandered far from God: “His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son,” (Luke 15:20). Pause and turn back home.

To the lonely: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Pause and sense His presence.

When you are worn and weary: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Pause and be refreshed.

When the enemy is pressing in on you: “You are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head” (Psalm 3:3). Pause and pick up your shield of faith.

Every endearment, every promise, every warning, word of instruction, or chastisement is meant to be examined, pondered, and remembered.  God intends for you and me to take His words and think about them, commit them to memory and live by them.  The Scriptures are more than a 5 minute devotional for the day, “they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). 

Jesus spoke “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).  He told His disciples, “Consider carefully what you hear” (Mark 4:24).    I think He was saying to them and us – Selah – pause and calmly think about that.”

When You Don’t Know What to Do

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This is going to be short and sweet this morning because every time I’ve started to write, God would say, “That’s you talking, not Me.” I finally stopped and asked, “What do you want to say, Lord?” And this is His message today.

When Jerusalem was surrounded by a vast and powerful enemy, the king of Judah prayed, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You” (2 Chron 20:12).  Can you relate?  I’ve been there too. Recently. I had a situation that was breaking my heart but was also out of my hands.  I didn’t know what to do. The truth is, there was nothing I could do. So I cried out to God. I petitioned others – many of you – to pray with and for us. In the Scriptures, God defeated the enemy of Judah – they didn’t even have to lift a sword. God moved – and continues to move – powerfully for us as well.

Maybe you are at a place in your life where you don’t know what to do. You’ve tried and tried to fix the problem and nothing has worked. Or maybe the problem is so big you’re too overwhelmed to do anything. Go to God in your confusion and uncertainty. Go to Him in the middle of the chaos. Tell Him, “I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you.” Then keep them there. Based on the authority of His Word and my own experience, I can promise you He will move. You may not know what to do Beloved, but God does. And He will. Powerfully.

A Strong Foundation of Love and Peace

I began praying for my granddaughter before she was born and have prayed every day since. I pray for her health, protection, provision, and growth and I pray Ephesians 3:17-19 over her. “That Joy, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that she may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That part, “to know this love that surpasses knowledge” always puzzled me.  It brings to mind Philippians 4:7 that says that “the peace of God, which surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” How can you know something that surpasses knowledge and understanding? This is a beautiful expression in both verses and it means to take firm possession of something that has complete authority over you and gives you an assurance that cannot be overridden. Specifically, in the terminology for Philippians 4:7, it means to have a superior hold of the mind in reference to “alarm and agitating emotions.” So I am praying that the love of Christ would rule and reign over her. Yes, she is only 2 years old, but I’m praying a foundation for the rest of her life. And I’m partnering with God in “rooting and establishing” her in love so that one day when she is a little older, she will be able to grasp the immense love God has for her. Is there a more important job for a grandmother?

Beloved, the love and peace of Christ are available to you too – today – right in the midst of anxious, frustrating, heartbreaking circumstances. The key is in the verses that surround these two verses – about living in God’s grace, rejoicing in the Lord always, trusting in His presence, praying about everything with thanksgiving, and keeping your thoughts focused on the good stuff.

I encourage you with all my heart to sit with your Bible and a fresh cup of coffee and meditate on Philippians 4:4-9. Then “the God of peace will be with you” in ways you cannot understand, but you can certainly know and rest in.

The Notes in my Bible

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Some people revere their Bibles and keep them pristine with all the pages smooth. They would never dream of making a single mark in them. I also revere the Bible, but mine is in pretty rough shape. The faux leather cover is almost flaked off. Pages are curled up at the corners and almost every page has underlines, highlights, notes, and dates on them – and a few coffee stains.

One page has two dates in the margin, a year apart. Zephaniah 3:20  is a reminder of God’s faithfulness and goodness to my family.

May 29, 2018: Verse 20a – “At that time I will bring you home.” On May 29, 2018, we rolled out of Tuscaloosa heading back home to Dothan after 23 years away. But it wasn’t exactly happy circumstances. My husband had to medically retire and my job had ended in a company merger that shut our office down. To top it off, I was dealing with a raging case of cellulitis that would leave me flat of my back for a month. So much was uncertain, and honestly, scary. We were trusting Him for – – well, everything. Provision. Healing. A job. Hope.

May 29, 2019: Verse 20b“I [will] restore your fortunes before your very eyes.” Here’s the note I wrote: “A year later and I’m stunned at what You’ve done for us. I never dreamed of all You would bring about – Thank you so much!” In those 365 days, we moved into a house we still love, I landed the best job I’ve ever had, and started Graduate school – for free! God had indeed provided, healed, and guided. Oh – and one more blessing happened on May 29, 2019 – a little girl came into the world and changed our lives forever. Exactly a year to the day after one of the hardest days of our lives, Joy was born. Talk about a turnaround!

But this is not about marking up my Bible. This is about encouraging you to trust Him. I know many of you are facing hard, uncertain, painful things. But don’t lose hope. God is all about rescuing and restoring and turning lives around. I’m living proof of that. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s another verse I’ve marked and dated: “From this point on, I will bless you” (Haggai 2:19) – 9/20/2012. Beloved no matter what, God is faithful.

Great Faith

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The hardest thing about being a person with a strong faith is getting there. The road of faith is long and winding and marked with unimaginable challenges and struggles. There are huge boulders that block your path, wide chasms with no bridge, and pits of quicksand waiting to suck you in. And the ever-present snake in the grass who hisses at you all along the way – “You’re a fool!” “You’re lost and you’ll never find your way.” “This is too hard – you need to quit.” And many do. The roadside is littered with the bones of people who gave up.

But some made it, some pressed on to the glorious end – heaven. You’ll find them in Hebrews 11 – the Hall of Faith. Noah. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Joseph. Moses – and his parents. Rahab. And many more scattered throughout the Scriptures. David. Esther. Ezra. Ruth. Paul. Peter. John. We consider them the greats of the faith. But here’s their “secret.”  Every step of the way is a step of faith.

I’ve been told I am a woman of “great faith.” I don’t agree. What I am is a woman with a lot of battle scars. I am a woman who has been weak far more than I have been “strong.” But if you want to call me a woman of faith, I will tell you my “secret.” It’s found in Psalm 22:9: “You made me trust in You.” Any ounce of faith I have was because God put me in situations that demanded I either trust in Him or get devoured by the enemy. And when I trusted in Him He delivered me (v. 4). And He has never let me down (v. 5). Not. One. Time. He has always proven faithful. Guess what? I’m in another one of those battles right now. I will either trust Him or I will be one more bleached skeleton in the desert.

Bill Bright once said, “You don’t have to have great faith. You just need faith in a great God.” That’s how the heroes of the Bible did it, so that’s what I’m gonna do too. No, I’m not a woman of great faith. I am a woman with faith in a great God.

No, You’re Not Enough, but You Have All You Need

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The Christian life is not easy. I hear your “Amens.” We have all struggled and stumbled and become weary.  We’ve all felt like giving up. So what would help?  Do you need more faith? Could you use more courage? How about more strength? Patience? Wisdom? Love? Trust? Peace? Self-control? Mercy? Grace? Yeah, me too. To all of the above. And here’s an inside secret: The enemy will constantly reinforce your belief that you are lacking in all these things. Satan wants you and me to be handicapped by worry and fear. Lately, his mantra to me is “You don’t have enough faith for this trial.” And it triggers a spiral of anxiety and fear.

Yesterday a young friend and I talked about how to take our thoughts captive and reject satan’s lies (2 Corinthians 10:5). That’s a powerful lesson – but it’s only half the battle. We then have to fill that empty space with the truth.  So if I reject satan’s lie that I don’t have enough faith, what truth do I need to plug into that space? “God is able to make all grace about to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will about in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8-emphasis added). In one sense satan is right – I do not have enough faith on my own. I am sorely lacking in all the areas above. But we know he is a liar and the father of lies.  – because God said that I have all I need to not only persevere through my trials but to emerge victorious through them. And so do you if you are in Christ. What the enemy doesn’t want you to know is that, because you have the Holy Spirit living in you, He fills in all the gaps in your faith, courage, strength, and all the rest. You and I just have to give Him those places where we feel we’re lacking. My prayer for more faith is met by the Spirit’s abundance.

Beloved, I know you are tired. I know you feel like you’re failing. You’ve told me so. But you have the promise of the Word of God who is ever faithful that He will give you all you need to not just survive this life, but to thrive and to bring Him glory. You have all you need. That’s not spiritual arrogance, that is a promise from God.