Welcome to the Family

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I was never popular in school. I had a weird name, I was tall, clumsy, and awkward. I wore hand-me-downs and homemade clothes and every school picture looked like I didn’t own a hairbrush. I wasn’t one of the smart kids and wasn’t part of the “in” crowd. Oh, but I wanted to be. I wanted so much to be accepted by the pretty girls who dressed in the latest fashions and carried themselves with an air of confidence I could never master. That carried over into my adult life. I always felt that, wherever I was, I didn’t belong.

But God says I do belong. With Him. Paul wrote, “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19). No, it’s not because I’m less awkward or because I dress better or finally found a hairbrush. It’s because of Jesus. Jesus made me acceptable to God. He made me part of the family. He died to cover all my sins and to take away my shame. Because of Jesus, I’m part of the “in” crowd – because I’m in Him. But it’s not a popularity contest. In God’s Kingdom, everyone is the same – rescued, redeemed, restored and joined together as one holy dwelling place for the Lord (2:21).

My friend, God’s hand is stretched out to you too, to welcome you into the family, to be “in,” and to never be rejected again. It doesn’t matter what you wear or where you live or work or whether your hair is neatly brushed. It doesn’t matter if you never finished school or if you have a string of letters after your name. It doesn’t matter if you made all the right choices in life (like anyone has) or if you made every mistake possible. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, live in a mansion or a tent, come from the right family or the wrong side of the tracks. God says to you “Come.” Take Him up on His offer. There’s more than enough room at the family table for you. You can sit next to me.

Anticipation

My granddaughter is going to be a daredevil. (Nah – she’s too sweet –maybe a dare-angel 😊) We have a game she loves. I’ll say “Are you ready?” then I count. “One” and she smiles. “Two” and she begins to giggle.” “THREE!” and I’ll twirl her around, or drop her just a bit (with my arms firmly around her) or toss her a few inches in the air. She squeals with delight! Yesterday we did that for a half-hour as she sat in her swing on the back porch. Always the same routine. “Are you ready?” “One.” Give the swing a jiggle. “Two.” Pull the swing closer “THREE!” Give the swing a big push. Cue the laughter and smiles. I love it as much as she does, because of her sense of anticipation. She knows that when Nana starts the countdown, fun will ensue.

What do you do when life hands you a challenge? When your world gets turned upside down? When you feel like you’re in the spin cycle of a washing machine? Friend, I’m there, and I suspect you are too. The thought occurred to me as I played with Joy-Joy – what if God is giving the countdown? What if He’s about to do something that will bring delight to our lives? Isaiah 43:19 says: “Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” If only we could hear Him saying, “Are you ready?” “One.” “Two.” Would we hold our breath in anticipation? Would we smile? Would we look around with expectation?

I’ve been around the block enough times with God to recognize a pattern of sorts like my granddaughter recognizes the countdown. Something comes along that interrupts my life. Usually something hard. Then He uses that situation in ways I would never imagine to accomplish extraordinary things. I’m in the midst of one of those hard situations now. I have a choice. Will I sit in hopelessness or listen out for God’s voice?

Beloved, have you lost your sense of anticipation with God? Have you resigned yourself to hopelessness? May I encourage you to tilt your ear toward heaven and listen for the countdown? I think I hear Him – “Are you ready?”

Valuable in God’s Eyes

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I have never thought of myself as important or of value. Probably because I’ve had so many people tell me by their words and their actions that I wasn’t. But something happened one day on a beach trip that changed my heart. We were in one of those kitschy gift shops and I saw a figurine made of seashells I liked. I picked it up and almost dropped it when I saw the price. My husband said, “They must really like their stuff – they’ve priced it so no one will buy it.” I realized that the true value of an item is not the price tag the merchant puts on it, but the price the buyer is willing to pay for it. The figurine was pretty, but it wasn’t worth what they were asking for it. I put it down and walked away. Then God spoke to my heart, “I was willing to pay a high price for you Child. You were worth the life of my Son.” I’ll never be “important” and that’s okay. But God has placed great value and worth on me.
 
The world and Satan continually work to focus our thoughts on what is wrong with us. The world says that we are flawed if we are not the right weight or body shape, don’t have the right hairstyle or an exceptional career. Satan continually reminds us of every failure, every wrong thought, and every harsh word; he drags us even deep into the pit by insisting that in God’s eyes we are worthless. I see you nodding your head in understanding.
Beloved, God wants you to know that Satan and this world are liars. The ultimate evidence of your worth is the price God was willing to pay for you – “it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed…but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19). The truth is that Jesus thought so highly of you He gave the most valuable thing He had to redeem you – He gave Himself. You are so precious in His eyes.

But I Don’t Feel Forgiven

 

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Through many years of serving in women’s ministry, the most oft-repeated statement I hear is: “I just can’t forgive myself.” The weight of shame and the burden of past sins and failures seems to be the most popular accessory for Christian women today. What if I told you that you didn’t have to carry that over-stuffed bag around anymore? Sweet friend, if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, the Lord says: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). If God doesn’t remember your sins, why do you need to?

That fashionable bag of shame you are carrying is empty of all your sins. Oh, there is still a heavy weight there, but it is not your sin – it is stones of false guilt put there by the enemy – the accuser who wants you to feel the weight of a sin that no longer exists. But you say, “I don’t feel forgiven.” Here is where you are going to put faith in action.

I want you to grab 2 pens – one of them with red ink, and go to an empty page in the back of your Bible. One by one, take out those stones from the bag – yes, your sexual promiscuity, the abortion, the affair, the failed marriage, the crime you committed, the stupid thing you can’t believe you did – and write it down. Now beside every entry write in red ink “1 John 1:9.” This verse declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Confess it, thank God for His forgiveness and claim it as a truth, not just a feeling. Then when the enemy tries to throw that rock back in your bag, point to your written confirmation of freedom and own what Jesus did for you.

Here’s the bottom line my friend: you don’t have to forgive yourself. God has already forgiven you through Jesus’ sacrifice. There is nothing left to forgive. Now pick up your empty bag, fill it with the joy of freedom in Christ and claim the new life you have been given.

Grace

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Friends, I am not the good girl you think you know. Yesterday I broke the law and had to face the consequences of my actions. I was running behind driving over the speed limit. I topped a hill and there he was. The blue lights came on and I pulled to the side of the road. There was no use in denying it – I was guilty. I told the officer I was running late to a wedding. He took my driver’s license and walked back to his patrol car. A few minutes later he came back and said, “You have a clean driving history, so I’m going to reward your good behavior and let you go with a warning.” I thanked him profusely and then he said, “Please slow down ma’am. The roads are wet, and I want you to arrive safely and enjoy your friend’s wedding.” I thanked him again and carefully pulled away. It all ended well – he gave me leniency because he found no fault in me and I made it to the wedding just before the bride walked down the aisle.

Friends, I am a sinner and I sometimes let my sin-nature drive me into sinful behaviors. But God doesn’t see me that way. He looks at me through eyes of grace because of the work of His Son on the cross. Paul said, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9). My record of wrongdoing is long and ugly and there’s no getting off for good behavior. I am a sinner – but a sinner saved by grace.

God has issued an invitation to the wedding of the universe. He wants you to come and enjoy the eternal celebration, but you can’t get there on your own clean record because you’re a sinner too. You have the same sin-nature and the same tendency to sinful behaviors that I do. But there is grace. There is a cross. There is a Savior. His name is Jesus – the Son of God. He died to take away your sins and make you right before His Father. Your place at the wedding is waiting Beloved, and the path is paved with grace.

For The One Who Thinks God Could Never Love You

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“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I asked her to tell me about her son. “He’s a smart boy, really smart. He can add stuff in his head faster than I can write it out on paper.  And oh, he can sing – he has such a good voice.  I think he could be a singer if he tried. But he gets bored easy.  That’s why he gets into trouble at school.”

We met for coffee so she could talk through some difficult things she was facing, largely brought about by this boy.  But before I asked about her son, she told me about herself. She told me that she didn’t believe God could ever love her. She had done things that she was ashamed of.  She was pretty wild in her youth, disrespectful to her parents, and teachers.  She got drunk the night of the prom, slept with her boyfriend, and became pregnant.  She and the baby’s father tried to make it right by getting married, but now – 17 years later – she was three failed marriages down and living with a man she met at a bar.  She had started coming to our church a few months ago in a last-ditch effort to straighten her son out.  That is until the deacons told her the boy was not welcome after he played too rough with some of the younger students and somebody got hurt.  The very next day the police were at her house with a report about her boy and the neighbor’s little girl and the latest nightmare unfolded. Yet, as much as her son’s actions weighed on her, I could tell something else was even heavier on her heart.

“How could God love me?  I’ve made a mess of my life and I’ve even screwed up my kid.”

“So you probably don’t love your son anymore after all the trouble he’s caused you.”

“What? Of course I still love my son! That’s crazy!  Why would I stop loving him just because he’s made some mistakes?”

“I just thought – since you believe God quit loving you because you messed up, you must have quit loving your son too.”

She looked at me as if an entire block of lights had gone off in her head. The weight of so much guilt and fear disappeared from her eyes while tears dripped off her chin and onto her sweater.

Beloved, I don’t know what you’re carrying around today. I don’t know your past. I don’t even know your present. But there is one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  If Christmas is about anything at all, it is about God pouring out His unfailing love on messed up people.

What do a bunch of old laws have to do with me; or why should I read Leviticus?

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I am doing a slow dig through the book of Leviticus – yes Leviticus – the book where most New Year’s resolutions come to die. Why would I spend months studying a hard-to-understand bunch of antiquated laws that don’t apply to me as a New Testament Christian? Because Jesus is found in Leviticus more than any other Old Testament book. He is the fulfillment of every law therein. Three verses into the first chapter and there He is: “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to bring an unblemished male” (Lev. 1:3). That’s Jesus. Unblemished. Perfect. Sinless. Innocent. Pure. The only sacrifice that could atone for your sin and mine – making us acceptable to a holy God.
I look into the next verse and I see, not only Jesus this time but also me. “He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him” (Lev. 1:4) In the ancient sacrificial system, the person placed his hand on the animal’s head symbolically transferring all of his sins onto it. This innocent animal now bore the guilt for the sinful person; the animal – not the man – died for those sins.
I am the one with my hand on the head of Jesus. Those sins are mine. The guilt is mine. I am shaken by Charles Spurgeon’s comment on this verse: “If the worshipper was a right-minded person and not a mere formalist, he stood with tears in his eyes and felt in his heart, ‘That death is mine.’” Oh, God let me never look at the cross and forget – “That death is mine.”
Beloved, that is your hand on the head of Jesus too. That death is yours. Those sins are yours. The guilt belongs to you. But so does the atonement. The sinless, innocent Son of God graciously received your sins and bore your punishment so that you would be accepted by His Father. May you and I never forget the price that Jesus paid to set us free.

Kanye and the Church

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What does it mean to be a “righteous person?” Merriam-Webster says that “righteous” means “to act in accord with divine or moral law.” In Scripture, it means to be “right.” But who sets the standards for “right” and “wrong?” In our culture, that standard shifts like a sheet caught in the wind. God gave His law and commandments so that His people would know exactly what He deems to be right and live accordingly. Righteous behavior was rewarded and unrighteousness was punished. In a previous post, I shared how the Prodigal Son would, according to Levitical law, be stoned to death when he returned home for rebelling against his father. Likewise, a woman who was found to not be a virgin when she married would also be stoned to death. The law stated: “She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her Father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). According to the Law, this was the right way to deal with her.

So how is it that Joseph was called “a righteous man” when he decided to disobey this law? When Mary revealed her pregnancy to her fiancé, Joseph “did not want to expose [Mary] to public disgrace, [so] he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19). Joseph did not want Mary to endure what the law said she deserved. Yet the Scriptures called him righteous. Because Joseph opted for mercy over judgment. No wonder God chose him to be the earthly father who would raise His Son.

A popular entertainer professed to be a Christian recently and just dropped a full gospel album. He has a reputation as a foul-mouthed, wild, arrogant, rebellious guy, but now he says he is a follower of Christ. And the church has judged him and his claim by his past. Where is mercy? Where is righteousness? Who among us has the right to judge his faith? Shouldn’t we instead be proclaiming the saving power of Christ? If the angels are rejoicing that a sinner came to Jesus, why aren’t we? We have an opportunity to show the world the grace and mercy of God by embracing this man and his new-found faith – but we’re showing them that Heaven has slammed the door in his face. And theirs. Why would they want a God like that? The truth is, it took the same amount of holy blood to cleanse my sins as it did to cleanse his. And it takes the same grace to overcome my mistakes as a believer as it will to overcome his. If God can save a wretch like me, no one is outside of the reach of His salvation.

James said it clearly and boldly: “Judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2:13).

I’m choosing righteousness here. I’m choosing the same mercy that was shown to me. I’m going to believe that my God can save. Anyone.

Seeing the God Who Sees Me

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The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7

You know the story of Abraham and Sarah – childless and old, God promised them a son, but in the waiting, they grew impatient and Abraham slept with Sarah’s maid Hagar, and she conceived. But their act of faithlessness caused tremendous grief for the Egyptian slave-girl. Twice Hagar wound up in the desert, weary, hungry and frightened. On her first excursion, Scripture tells us “The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert” (Gen. 16:7). The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. He set Himself right where He knew she was going because His heart was tender to her.  Hagar gained precious insight into who God is.  Realizing that the God of her master was very much aware of her and her plight,  She named the Lord El Roi – “the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13).

After the birth of Ishmael (which- by the way – means The Lord has heard – Gen 16:11) Hagar and her son were forced to leave their home with Abraham and Sarah.  When their meager supplies of food and water ran out, Hagar recognized their inevitable deaths.  She put Ishmael under a tree and walked away, so as not to watch her weakened son die.  She and the boy were both crying, and God once again came to Hagar and assured her that He was aware of their plight.  Genesis 21:19 says, “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.”  Oh, do you see the beauty of this passage? El Roi – the God who saw Hagar, now opened Hagar’s eyes so she could see.  He showed her a well of life-giving water that would minister to their bodies and to their spirits.

You may find yourself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, but I can assure you that you have never been out of your Heavenly Father’s sight.  There is no place you can go that God will not be.  Whether they are physical places, emotional pits, and spiritual dark caves – God has promised, “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5) The truth is, it’s often in those hard places that we see the God who sees us. Had Hagar not been lost in the wilderness, running from the hard hand of her mistress, she would have never encountered the Lord and come to know Him.  I know this to be true in my life.  So often I have discovered aspects of God that I would have never known had I not been in difficult circumstances.  When I was unable to put food on our table, I discovered Jehovah-Jireth – the Lord who Provides (Gen. 22:8). When I was desperately ill I found Jehovah Rapha – The Lord our Healer (Ps. 103:3). When I was discouraged and fearful, Jehovah Shalom – The Lord is Peace (Jud. 6:23-24) and Yahweh-Tsuri – The Lord my Strength (Ex. 15:2) came to encourage and strengthen me.  If you are in a difficult season, look for God to reveal Himself to you in a new and encouraging way.

Beloved, if He was faithful to a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, and He will surely be faithful to you.

A Beautiful, Imperfect Life

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“If you make a stone altar for me, do not build it out of cut stones. If you use your chisel on it, you will defile it” (Exodus 20:25).

For several years my son and I served with Samaritan’s Purse as the Collection Center Coordinators for Operation Christmas Child. We received thousands of gift-filled shoeboxes from churches in the North Florida region and packaged them in shipping cartons for transport. We quickly learned the most efficient ways to arrange the boxes to get as many as possible in the cartons. We turned them this way and that and searched for small boxes to fit in small spaces. It was like a real-life game of Tetris.

We like it when things fit together well, when there is order and balance. But that’s not always going to happen, especially in life. Things in our lives don’t always fit neatly in place, do they? Like that scary diagnosis or the spouse who walked away. Losing your job didn’t fit in with the structured life you had planned, and that hard-headed, rebellious child of yours has turned your ordered life into chaos. Depression doesn’t sit neatly in your tidy world. If only life cooperated with our well-thought-out plans.

When God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, He commanded them to build an altar for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but they must not cut the stones used in building the altar. Doesn’t that seem odd? Wouldn’t it be nicer to cut the stones to size so that they all fit together neatly? It could be a beautiful monument of perfectly shaped stones. But God did not want man’s “perfection.” To me, this becomes a powerful object lesson – that true worship comes from imperfect lives. Try as we might, we’re not going to make all the pieces fit neatly together. But when God takes the pieces of our lives, the odd shapes and sizes, and even the broken fragments, He makes something beautiful from them, something that speaks of Him to a world full of imperfect people.

Real life is not neat and tidy. It’s messy and misshapen and broken. But God – those are my two favorite words – but God can take your imperfect life and turn it into a beautiful testimony of His grace. Put the pieces of your life in God’s hands Beloved, and worship at the altar of His love.