Be Patient

I ran across a quote I had posted several years ago that is tugging at my heart this morning. It is by Adel Bestavros, an Egyptian lawyer, teacher, scholar, and preacher:

Patience with others is love.

Patience with self is hope.

Patience with God is faith.

I love this. It is so simple and yet so profound. Love for others is expressed in patience. Hope comes when we are patient with ourselves and our struggles. But I was most intrigued by the last of the three statements: “Patience with God is faith.” But I’ve always taught that faith, by definition, is a belief that leads to action. Faith in God caused the Israelites to step between the walls of water and walk on dry ground. Faith had Joshua and the people march around the walls of Jericho to bring them down and take the city. Jesus said that “Faith as small as a mustard” can move mountains (Matt 17:20). Yes! That’s the kind of faith I want!

But then I looked more closely at the Scriptures and I discovered that faith also involves a lot of waiting. Noah waited in the ark. Abraham waited for God’s promised child. David waited for his throne. The disciples waited for the Holy Spirit. And they waited because they had faith. But faith in what? The psalmist said: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope” (Ps 130: 5). They waited for the Lord. They had faith in Him. They had patience with God.

Now I’m not by nature a patient person. I hate red lights. I tell the microwave to “Hurry up!” I tap my foot impatiently at the coffee pot. And when my laptop drags, and it does it a lot, I get very aggravated. But I’m learning to be more patient and my teacher is my granddaughter. She is in the “I want to do it myself” stage, and so I wait while she fumbles with her shoes and slowly climbs into her car seat and takes forever to do the things that I could do in a matter of minutes. I wait because that is how she learns, and it’s how you and I learn too.

We learn that God is trustworthy and faithful. We learn that He is good and kind. We learn that He is mighty and perfect in all His ways. And we learn most of all that He loves us. And that is why we can wait for Him. Beloved, do you have faith in God? Then be patient.

Child of the King

The Queen 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 Esther. 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 (and her God) saved the lives of all the Jews in Persia.

I’ve often envisioned myself standing outside the doors of God’s throne room, my heart hammering in my chest. I see myself 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. The author said, “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” (Heb 4:16). With these shakey knees? Yes. Because the confidence I have to come before 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” (Ps 24:4) of one who has been redeemed by His Son and cleansed from sin. I may see myself as a stumbling, sinful woman, but He sees me as His 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.

Turning a Wreck into a Thing of Beauty

The old white car sat on the side of the road, pushed out to the edge of the property. The tires were gone and its front end was buckled from some sort of impact. I passed it every morning on my way to work – it wasn’t a pretty sight. That is until the early spring. One morning I noticed green vines had begun to curl out from the crumpled hood and around the back end. A tiny sign of life in the dead vehicle. Day by day the vines progressed taking over more and more of the broken-down car. Then came the flowers – bright purple blooms swarming over the vines and covering the car until it became a beautiful sight to behold. I would look over at the lovely mound of flowers lifting their faces to the sun and I’d smile.

Your life may feel like a wreck today. It may be choices you made or a series of circumstances you couldn’t control. It might be something you did or something that was done to you. A health crisis, the loss of a loved one, a financial disaster, or a foolish mistake. The result is the same. There you sit – broken, pushed aside, feeling like a useless mess. What could you have to look forward to? What can you possibly contribute to the kingdom of God?

A lot, actually, because God specializes in calling life from death (Rom 4:17) and bringing beauty from ashes (Is 61:3). He turned a lowly shepherd into a king (2 Sam 5:4) and outcast women into evangelists (Jn 4; 20:10-18). He took fishermen and tax collectors and made them proclaimers of the good news (Mat 9:9; Mk 1:16-20). Church history is filled with stories of the transforming power of Christ.*  

There is no one – not even you – who is beyond God’s touch.  If you will allow Him, His love will turn your broken-down life into a garden of splendor. I know it’s true because He did it for me. Beloved, won’t you let Him make your life into a thing of beauty today?

*Watch for a new series about the history of the church starting January 31st.

The Overwhelming, Unfailing Love of God

The Psalms are a favorite place in the Scriptures for many of us. The writers (no, David didn’t write them all) often express thoughts and feelings that we can identify with. There is praise and worship and heartache and loneliness and raw emotion. My Bible is full of underscores, dates, and notes – markings to remind me of who I am and whose I am and what God has done. I can find myself in pretty much every chapter. I have been the little lamb in the care of the Shepherd (Ps. 23) and I have been the contrite sinner (Ps. 51). I have taken refuge under the feathers of His wings (Psalm 91) and I have walked the path with only His Word to light my steps (Psalm 105).

This morning, I find myself in Psalm 107 – a psalm of thanksgiving. I encourage you to grab your Bible and read the psalmist’s words – perhaps you will see yourself here too. I have wandered in desert wastelands (v. 4) and been hungry (v. 6) and He led me to a place where I could settle (v. 7). I have sat in darkest gloom, in a prison of my own making (v. 10-11), but He brought me out of the darkness and broke away my chains (v. 14). I have been a fool and a rebel and suffered because of my sin (v. 17) yet God sent forth His Word and healed me (v. 20). I have been lost in a storm and cried at my wit’s end (v. 25-28) and He stilled the storm to a whisper and guided me home (v. 29-30). He has poured his showers of blessing out on me when my heart was parched and dry (v. 33-35); and when I was needy and afflicted, He lifted me up and filled my life with Joy (literally) (v. 41-42). I give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for me (vv. 8, 15, 21, 31).

God has been so good, so kind, and so generous to me. How can I do anything but give Him thanks when I consider His great love (v. 43)? I pray that as you move through this day God brings to mind the many wonderful things He has done for you. I pray you are overwhelmed by his unfailing love. And I pray that when this day is done, Beloved, your heart is filled to overflowing with gratitude and Joy.

(P.S. Who are the movers and shakers of the church? What events and people shaped the Christian faith? Get ready friends – we’re going to history class – that is the history of the Christian church. We’ll start with an overview of Acts and then move beyond. Join me here on Mondays for this exciting study!)

The Art of Gentleness

I was going in a whole other direction this morning, climbing up on my soapbox with my script in hand. Then the Holy Spirit drew my attention to a small yellow post-it tab peeking out of my Bible. “Hmmm – wonder what you were marking there?” I flipped to the page in Ephesians where I found a verse I had previously underlined: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (4:32). And I heard very clearly, “Remember Gentleness.” In case you missed it, “Gentle” is my “word for 2023.” Yes, I realize it’s the third time I’ve written about it since the beginning of the year – and it’s only the 25th of January, but that’s because God keeps bringing it up to me. Probably because I keep dropping the ball.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been chaffing at this call lately. I don’t always want to be patient and kind. I want my way. I want my time to be my own. I want to spend my money on what I want.  I want my priorities to be other people’s priorities. I don’t want to be inconvenienced. I hope that doesn’t make you think less of me, but that’s just my human nature coming out. You’ve got one too, you know.

My verse is sandwiched between a call to “get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger . . .” (v. 31) and the command to “live a life of love . . .” (5:2) This, Paul said, makes us “imitators of God” (5:1). Think about it – God has every right to be angry at us because we are sinners, but He instead offers us forgiveness and love. He is gracious and gentle with us – even though we don’t deserve it. Can we do any less for those who have hurt, used, and offended us?

The culture panders to our human nature. “You don’t have to take that. Put yourself first. Nice guys finish last.”  But God says, “Be gentle. Be gracious and kind and compassionate. Forgive. Be loving. Be like Me.” God keeps bringing to mind Romans 12:10 “Honor one another above yourselves.” What will you choose, Beloved? The world may look down on you for giving yourself away, but you will never be more like God than when you do.

Talk to God

“God, I know you must be tired of hearing me. I come to you with the same stuff, over and over and over.” I felt like a broken record. A very broken, weary, discouraged record. It’s been the same struggles for so long now. “Not so, Child,” I heard in my spirit.

I sat down with my coffee and my Bible (a wonderful combination) and was led to Psalm 55. “Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me,” (v. 1) David said. Wow! I could have written those words myself. It truly felt like God was tuning me out. But I couldn’t blame Him. I read on, “My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught” (v. 2). Same here, Brother. “My heart is in anguish within me” (v. 4). “I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest—’” (v. 6). Lord, are you sure I didn’t write this? David and I are in complete synch here.

David was overwhelmed with the wickedness around him. But more than anything his heart was broken because the people closest to him had turned against him. That might feel familiar to you. David felt like he had no one he could turn to, no one he could trust. No one cared about his troubles. Well, almost no one.

“But I call to God and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning, and noon I cry out in distress, and He hears my voice” (v. 16-17). Did you see it? Evening, morning, and noon. All day long David pours out his heart to God. And God doesn’t get tired of him. He listens – more than that – He hears. The word David used means God gave heed in order to grant David’s request.

Listen to the advice he gives. It may be familiar, but now that you know the context, it should mean even more to you. “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you” (v. 22). All of them. As many times as it takes to lay them at His feet and leave them there. And He will sustain you. He will hold you up and bear the weight – not just of your burden, but of you. Beloved, you are not an encumbrance to the Lord. He will never tire of hearing your voice. It is a sweet, sweet sound in His ears.

Wrestling

I know you think I write these devotionals every day for you. You are only partially correct. Some days I write for me and bring you along for the ride.   Writing is how I think and pray and wrestle things out. Today is one of those days. I shared with you earlier that my “word” for the year is “gentle.”  I believe that God is imprinting that word on my heart because I’m in a situation where gentleness is needed for the best outcome.

Gentleness seems so easy, the word even sounds simple as it rolls off my tongue. But it isn’t. Especially when I am tired. And I am tired. Inside and out. When I’m tired the “natural me” comes out. She is petulant and irritable. She wants her way. She grumbles. A lot. She is everything but gentle. And she is awake this morning.

The Lord reminded me of my word through His Word. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2). Yes Lord, I hear You. Every one of those descriptions is counter to my natural self. I cannot produce them on my own. But they are the very character of Christ whom I claim to follow. One word, in particular, caught my attention: “completely.” That word means “all, each, every.” In every situation, with every person, at all times be humble and gentle and patient and forbearing and loving. Even when I’m tired. Even with people who are unfair and uncooperative. Even when I don’t want to be. Especially when I don’t want to be.

I told you, I’m wrestling this out this morning and so I asked God, “How?” “How do I do this when I’m tired and people are making life hard?” Do you know what He didn’t say? He didn’t say, “I’ll make them more agreeable.” He didn’t say, “I’ll change your situation.” He didn’t say, “I’ll make this easier for you.” The Spirit literally took my eyes across the page of my open Bible to another verse: “For this reason, I kneel before the Father . . .” (3:14). He said, “Humble yourself before  me and ask for my help.” So I will as soon as I sign off. From one wrestler to another, maybe you need to as well Beloved.

Hebrews: The Pastor/Shepherd

I spent much of my career serving in administrative roles in churches. I’ve seen churches and pastors with wonderful relationships and I’ve seen churches and pastors with unpleasant relationships. Rarely was the problem with the pastor. Most often the tension arose from within the church and usually involved a handful of people and a power struggle.  The author of Hebrews said, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a Joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb 13:17). He was writing about the structure of the church. He was calling the Body of Christ to proper order starting with submission to the leadership.

All through the Bible – particularly the New Testament – God lays out a hierarchy. In the home wives and children submit to the husband and father. In the church, members submit to the pastor/elder whom God had placed over them. The pastor/elder submits to Jesus Christ, the head of the church (Eph 1:22-23). Scripture also says that Christ submits to His head, which is God (1 Cor 11:3).

The godly pastor/elder serves the church by caring for and about its members. The Bible called church leaders “shepherds” over a flock of sheep. A shepherd’s priority is no how much the animals will bring at the market but the well-being of the flock under his care. The same is true of the shepherd of God’s flock. He provides for the sheep. He comforts the sheep. He guides the sheep. He walks beside the sheep through dark valleys. He sets the righteous of God always before them. He fights the enemy on their behalf, prepares them for serving, and blesses them in the name of the Lord. (Reference Psalm 23). He warns the sheep of danger. He even points out their sinful and self-destructive ways. And, the writer says, the Lord who appointed him holds him accountable for how he tends the sheep under his care.

A submissive church is a Joy to her pastor. Barna recently reported that 42 percent of pastors are considering leaving their ministry. The pressures and demands and struggles of pastoring often outweigh the benefits. As church members, you and I play a big part in whether the Pastor’s work is a Joy or a burden. This verse says submission and obedience make the relationship work for everyone. Beloved, will you be a blessing to your Pastor?

Taste-Tested and Approved

I see lots of recipes on social media – yummy-looking desserts, casseroles, crockpot meals, dips, and the one that caught my eye this morning: white bean chicken chili. I may try that one soon. If my family likes it, I may even pass it on. But not until I’ve served it and it gets the thumbs-up – especially from Joy. I can’t imagine sharing a recipe I’ve never tried first. I wouldn’t recommend a doctor I’ve never seen or a church I haven’t attended or a book I’ve not read. If you get any kind of recommendation from me it’s only because I’ve tested it out and found it to be good.

That is why my messages are all about the Lord. As David said, I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8 ). I have found Him to be satisfying in every way. When I need help – and I need it a lot – He is my Helper (Ps 54:4). When the enemy attacks me Almighty God is stronger than my foe (Gen 17:1-2). When I am weary He is my Strength (Ps 19:14). When I fall into sin He is faithful to forgive me (Ps 99:8 ). When I am lonely He is with me (Jud 6:12). When I have a need I go to the Lord who provides (Gen 22:14). When the world is dark and full of evil I look to the Light (John 8:12). When I am sick I trust in the Lord my Healer (Ex 15:26).  When chaos is all around me I run to the Lord my Peace (Jud 6:24).

And when I need counsel or wisdom or just need to know what is right I know where to go because I have tested His words and they are true (John 17:17). The Bible is as sure and powerful as the One who spoke it – the God of truth (Ps 31:5). I can tell you that He is a Faithful God (Deut 7:9) because He has always been faithful to me. I can recommend Him to you without hesitation because He has proven Himself to me over and over and over again. He is the God of my Life (Ps 42:8 ).

If the white bean chicken chili shows up on my page you can know that I have tasted it and it is good. But more important than a recipe, I want to share God with you because He is everything to me. Oh, Beloved, I pray that you will taste and see that the Lord is good. I highly recommend Him.

Be Gentle

I don’t usually do a “word for the year,” but in the last few days one word kept presenting itself to me over and over. I took that to mean God has chosen a word for me.  “Gentle.”

Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23).  The most common definitions from the Scriptures are kindness, meekness, humility, patience, and consideration. And it is Jesus’ own self-description: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart . . . “ (Matt 11:29). If the goal of the Christian life is that I am “conformed to the likeness of [God’s] Son” (Rom 8:29), then gentleness must be part of my character. If there is anything the world needs now it is gentleness. It is completely counter to the culture of today.  Gentleness doesn’t announce itself with a microphone. Gentleness doesn’t try to shout down others. Gentleness doesn’t overpower others and demand its rights. Gentleness considers others’ needs above its own wants. Gentleness speaks with soft and tender words. Gentleness takes the lesser seat, the smaller portion, the way of being second. Gentleness looks beyond a person’s actions to the wounded heart behind them. Gentleness chooses to serve rather than be served.

Several verses speak of gentleness, but the Scripture that God keeps speaking to me is Philippians 4:4-6: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  All of these things are very needed in my life: Joy, Presence, prayer, gratitude, peace, and transcendence. But gentleness is the one that the Spirit keeps driving home. Probably because it is the one that is most needed in my home.

Real gentleness looks like Jesus and talks like Jesus and acts like Jesus – because it comes from Jesus. That’s the kind of gentleness that is evident to all. Beloved, will you show somebody Jesus today?