A Hill to Die On

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Bible teacher Beth Moore (I know, she’s a lightning rod right now) said that there are spine issues and rib issues in the church. Meaning, a broken rib is painful and uncomfortable but is not usually life-threatening. But a broken spine can cause paralysis and even death.

There are points we debate in the church that are rib issues. They are really not the mountains we make them out to be.  And the enemy uses those issues to cause a great divide in the Body of Christ and bring scorn on her witness in the world.

But then there are matters we confront that are spine issues. They are hills worth dying on and spiritual truths that must not be left up to debate or cultural interpretation.

One of the most crucial is that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and has complete authority over the church.

In the past, the church argued over matters of doctrine. Was Jesus both fully divine and fully human? Was He even the Son of God or just a holy man? Was His resurrection bodily or only spiritual? Today, the hottest issues are homosexuality, abortion, and the exclusive claim that Jesus is the only way to God.

But all these are only symptoms of a more severe, more deadly disease – disregard for the Word of God.  At the very root of all these debates is the question of the authority of the Scriptures.  Every discussion the church enters should ask the question: “What does the Bible say?”  And we must align ourselves accordingly. Peter said that the Scriptures came to men from the Holy Spirit of God (2 Peter 1:21). If the church is approving of or teaching things that disagree with the Scriptures then that is very much a spine issue. That will cause great damage to the Body.

Okay, but what does that mean for you and me in our daily lives? We also must submit to the authority of the Bible. In matters great and small, the Word of God must have the final say. In your thoughts. In your choices. In your words. In your marriage. In your home. In your relationships. In your job. The Bible is not just “the Good Book.” It is the holy words of the holy God of heaven and earth. Beloved, it is your life (Deut. 32:47).

Do You Trust God?

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God doesn’t always do what I want Him to do. He doesn’t always answer my prayers according to my wishes or follow my well-laid-out plans. There are things I’ve prayed about for years that remain unresolved. Hard situations that didn’t magically get better. People I’ve laid at His feet over and over who get up and wander back into sin and self-destruction. What are we to do when – let’s call it what it really is – we’re disappointed with God?  I know. It seems almost sacrilegious to say it, but if we’re not honest with God we will always be stuck with this gnawing sense that He can’t be trusted. And while we’re being honest – that is the root behind our prayerlessness and our half-hearted study of His Word.

So what do we do when the doubts creep in? To borrow from my sister-in-love, we “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). I’ve told you before that I’m a word-nerd, and the Holy Spirit asked me – “What do those words mean?” Two key things stood out to me. First: “trust” – it means to “have confidence in.” Do you have confidence in God? Do you have confidence in His goodness and His love?

Then – and this was huge to me – three words: “heart,” “understanding,” and “acknowledge.” The “heart” is the seat of our thoughts, emotions, and understanding. “Acknowledge” means to know, recognize, understand. Did you see the word“understand” in both of those definitions? “Understand” at its root – this is key – means “to consider with full attention.” There it is. When we lean on our own understanding – we are giving our emotions our full attention. But when we“trust in the Lord with all our heart” we give Him our full attention.

I don’t know about you, but my emotions will take me all over the place. But God is the one who sets my path straight. Where are you focusing your attention today? Your Father is your solid rock. He will never betray your confidence in Him. Beloved, you really can “Trust in the Lord.”

The Secret to Contentment

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There have been seasons in my life where I was very discontented. Oh, no major crisis or struggles were going on, just a sense that I wanted . . . something more. Something else. And then there have been seasons where I was very discontented and everything was going on, there was one crisis after another knocking me off my feet. And I want anything else but what I had in my life.  After many of these up and down cycles, I discovered the answer to my discontentment.

Contentment is a daily choice.

To choose an attitude of gratitude and Joy and do away with complaining and envy.

To choose to hope in God’s promises. To choose to believe that He is everything He says He is, and He is able and willing to do everything He promised in His Word.

To choose to focus my thoughts and fill my mind with things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).

No, I didn’t learn this overnight. Contentment is a life-long lesson. It’s one I’m still learning day by day. Paul said it best, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11). We learn contentment comes from experiencing the faithfulness of God through our struggles and trials. It comes as we learn to lean into Him when we are weary and worn and walk with Him when the road is long and hard.

Contentment grows in the heart that is rooted deeply in the Bible – our light and life (Ps. 119:105, Deut. 32:47). Our minds don’t naturally default to the good. So we must intentionally, deliberately, and faithfully make time for God’s Word every day.

Contentment comes in communing with your Heavenly Father. There is no substitute for prayer. On your knees. Sitting in your favorite chair. Writing in a journal. Aloud or silently. Just pray – your Father longs to hear from you. Your heart longs to connect with Him.

We will be content only when we realize whose we are – not who we are, where we are, how much or how little we have, or what is happening around us. We can be content because God loves us, cares for us, and is preparing a place for us to be with Him forever. Beloved, are you content with God?

I don’t hear your words, I hear your heart

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I have hundreds of verses marked in my Bible, but two have very special significance to me.  Isaiah 51:16 says “I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand.” God pricked my heart years ago through that verse and I asked Him to put His words in my mouth and let me be His spokesman. I used that exact word. The very next day I read, “If you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesman” (Jeremiah 15:19).  The connection was a clear as day to me.  I remembered hearing about ancient Scribes who copied the words of Scripture and every time they wrote the name of God they would use a brand new pen to write that one word and break it immediately afterward so that the pen that wrote the holy name could never be used to write anything profane.  If I wanted to fulfill my calling, my words – my mouth – would have to radically change. I thought, “okay, I can do this – I will diligently watch what I say.” Then something made me angry. And someone said something I didn’t appreciate. And my boss asked me to do something I didn’t want to do. And you know what – I didn’t say a “worthless word.” But I sure thought them. In my mind and heart I was spouting off left and right. That’s because my tongue wasn’t the real problem – my heart was. Jesus said: “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34) I didn’t need to watch my mouth, I needed to watch my heart.

Have you ever noticed how many celebrities and politicians have to hastily take down tweets or backpedal comments trying to soften their words?  Sure, most of them have speechwriters and handlers who prepare well-worded messages for them, but they always seem to get in trouble over words said (or tweeted) in unguarded moments.  Because those words were coming straight from their heart. You and I are the same, just without all the publicity. The words we speak, especially when we are not “in control,” reveal the true condition of our hearts. It’s so much deeper than the words we speak. Beloved, what do your words – spoken, posted, or thought – say about your heart?

God of the Small Stuff

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Proverbs 5:2 says “God is in heaven, and you are on earth.” So does that mean He is too far removed to notice us in our struggles? Not at all.  It is hard to believe that God, who created and ordered the universe, would concern Himself with human beings and our seemingly insignificant lives.  You and I  tend to put our needs into different boxes “too big for me,” and “too little for God.”  We call for prayer when Grandma is near death, our child is hurt in an accident, or when there has been a national or world crisis. But we seem to think that God does not want to be bothered with our petty problems.  Does He really care that your washing machine has died? In mid-cycle.  Should I even bother Him about my spouse snapping at me?  Why would God be concerned about a teething baby who has kept you up three nights in a row?   

But He does care about your everyday needs, He wants you to come to Him about your frustrations and the demands of your day that wear you down.  He said so over and over in His Word. David proclaimed“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens”  Psalm 68:19. 1 Peter 5:7 says “Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you.”  Jesus said “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Your Heavenly Father knows that you need these things.” (Matthew 6:25, 32)  Why else would He teach us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:110)? 

Beloved, God has not left you to manage this life on your own.  He has drawn closed to you and sees the big and small issues you face.  He cares about even the smallest details of your life.  Daily bread, daily needs, daily struggles – He is a daily God.

Do not be Afraid

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As an aged priest performed the ritual of burning incense, an angel of the Lord appeared and spoke the first words that heaven had uttered in four centuries: “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:13). God knows His creation so well. He knows that, because of the curse of sin, we live with fear. Fear makes us run. Fear makes us hide. Fear makes us cry out. Fear makes us worry.  So the very first thing God said after 400 years of silence is “Do not be afraid.”

I wonder this morning who needs to hear those words. I know I do. Every day the media bombards us with murders, hate, riots, and disease. Every day it seems evil becomes stronger and good withers away.  Every day satan stokes the fires of fear with his lies.

When fear tries to overtake me, I do two things. First, I ask God to flood my mind and heart with His peace. I don’t mean peace that sticks its head in the sand and ignores the realities of life. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and [here it is again] do not be afraid” (John 14:27).  Then He gave us the basis for this peace: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33). We can have peace in this world because Christ has overcome the world and all the things that make us afraid. Trouble is a reality, but trouble cannot defeat the Lord Jesus Christ nor His people.

The second thing I do is remind myself of the wonderful, all-consuming, love of God. 1 John 4:18 says, “Perfect love casts out fear,” and the love of God is a perfect love. Maybe that’s why the angel spoke those words as his greeting to Zechariah. Perfect love was coming from heaven to the earth.

Beloved, whatever fear has gripped your heart, grab hold of these two things: Jesus has overcome the world and God loves you. That ought to fill your heart with peace.

The New You

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This morning I was reading in Romans 6 – the NIV titled this chapter as “Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ.” It struck me: for a man who had grabbed hold of the holy life of Christ Jesus, Paul sure talked a lot about sin. And that is a good thing. In fact, it’s something we hardly hear about in the church anymore. But we’re sure doing a lot of sinning, aren’t we?  It seems that the less we say about it, the more we participate in it. Almost like our silence is approval. Hmm.

But not our friend Paul. His mantra in this portion of his letter to the church in Rome was: “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (6:2). He pressed this point over and over. He said that our old body of sin was crucified with Christ, that we are no longer slaves to sin, that we have been freed from sin. He insisted that we must consider ourselves dead to sin, that sin must not reign in our bodies, that we must not obey sin nor offer the parts of our body to sin. I love this: “sin shall not be your master” (v.14). And this: “You have been set free from sin” (v. 18 and 22). Paul said that we used to live for and serve sin, but – oh hear this loud and clear – that’s not who we are anymore. Let me say it again: If you are in Christ you are not who you were – you are dead to sin but alive in Him.

I know – you have a past that is riddled with sin. So do I.  But like those before and after weight loss ads – that is who you and I used to be, but this is who we are now. Redeemed. Righteous. Pure. Holy. Beloved, I want to encourage you to leave your sinful desires in the grave with the old dead you. You have been made new in Christ. Believe it. Receive it. And walk in it. Holiness looks so good on you.  

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.

I love you God

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“I love you, O Lord, my strength” (Psalm 18:1)

I recently came across boxes with 25 years of prayer journals. The boxes are very heavy, but it’s not just the physical weight of the notebooks and binders and pretty journals. It’s the weight of my life, my heart, my burdens, my fears and sins and questions and raw, honest emotions.

I found a box with the earliest years and I was struck by how often I told God “I love you.” And I did, but as I read those entries, I realized my love for God was all about me. That He saved me and helped me and blessed me – not that there’s anything wrong with that. God loves to love on His children. But the truth is, I loved God because He loved me.

Then I found a box from some hard, dark, painful years and I learned to love God for His presence and grace and comfort and strength. I learned that difficulties don’t mean that God doesn’t love me, they just mean that He draws even closer to me. His love was more palpable and the roots of my love for Him began to go deeper.

Then I packed away journals from the last 7 years. These also held some strong memories – times of great uncertainty, of excitement and promise mixed with being overwhelmed and frustrated. These journals are also full of rainbows and new adventures and Joy. And grief. And a deeper love for God that has grown as I’ve come to know Him more.

Today when I say “I love you God” it’s a love that has grown through years of hard times and good times and times when I felt I was soaring and times when I thought the pain would kill me. It’s a love built on sweet communion and honest conversations. A love that is measured not by a yardstick but by width and length and height and depth (Eph. 3:18) that never ends.

Beloved, I pray your love for God grows deeper and stronger as you come to know Him more through the good days and the bad days and all the days in between. Because to know, know, know Him, is to love, love, love Him. And I do.

The God Who Loves to Give

“Please sir, I want some more.” Oliver Twist

In Dickins’ classic tale, Oliver warily approaches the master and makes his plea, and we see the cruel irony of a hungry orphan being rebuffed by the well-fed headmaster. Yet how often do we approach God with the same trepidation as Oliver Twist?  As if He is a harsh master who will refuse us even the humblest request?  Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Bible reveals God as a generous Father who loves to give good things to His children.

2 Peter 1:3 says He “has given us everything we need for life and godliness.”  Like our daily bread (Matthew 5:11), clothes on our back (Matthew 6:30), and “all these things” that are necessary for life (Matthew 6:33).  I’ve been the recipient of His practical generosity and kindness many, many times. 

Even more than our physical needs, Peter said our Father will give us everything we need for a godly life: chiefly His Word (John 17:8) and His Spirit (John 14:16).   God provides with a generous heart and an open hand.

I love John’s affirmation in 1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: That if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”  The writer of Hebrews echoes the same thought: “Let us 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).  That is an invitation we should jump at!

You do not have to come to your Heavenly Father with a sense of apprehension as if you are asking for more than God is willing to bestow.  He has so much he desires to give you—till your cup overflows (Psalm 23:5).  Don’t come crawling to Him with a little teacup in your hand. Come running to your Father with the biggest bucket you can find, and He will fill it till it spills over and you can’t contain it all.  He is a God who loves to give!