Praying for My Prodigal

I found a word today in the Old Testament story of Elijah vs. the priests of Baal that spoke such comfort to me. If you are so inclined, read 1 Kings 18:16-40. The people thought they could worship both pagan gods and the God of heaven and earth. Elijah called Israel to return to exclusive worship of God. When the Lord God is in the house – or the heart – there is no room for another god. Elijah said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (v. 21).

Elijah proposed a showdown between good and evil – between the Lord God and Baal the pagan god of the people. Each would be given a bull to be sacrificed by fire, but the fire had to be produced by the deity. The priests of Baal prepared their bull and called on Baal from morning till evening. They danced and shouted and slashed themselves in hopes of rousing their god to action. “But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention” (v. 29). Because there was no one there.

Then Elijah repaired the altar of the Lord, dug a trench around it, prepared the bull for sacrifice, and commanded the people to drench the bull and the wood until both were saturated and water filled the trench. Then Elijah called on the Lord, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant . . . [and] that You O Lord, are God” (v. 36-37). And of course, God answered in a mighty way burning up the bull and the wood and drying up the water in the trench. There was no question anymore as to who was the one true God.

Here’s what jumped out at me. When Elijah called on the Lord he prayed that God would “turn their hearts back again” (v. 37). And He did. And that is the prayer of this Mama’s heart. I have a wandering prodigal. I know many of you do as well. The thing is he was raised in a godly home and in church and he even goes to church with his family on Sunday, but he is drawn to things that are not of God Monday – Saturday. I have prayed and pleaded with God for many years with many tears. But now, this is my simple prayer: “Lord, turn his heart back to You.” And I believe He will. Heavy-hearted Moms and Dads, Grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and friends; keep praying. Keep believing. Keep hoping. God is still in the business of turning hearts around. Watch for miracles up ahead.

Hebrews: It’s in the Fruit

When my son was about Joy’s age he drove all over our backyard with his kid-sized toy car, brightly colored and “foot-powered.” It was his favorite plaything.  If it had an odometer, I am sure he would have logged a thousand miles in it. My brother enjoyed watching my son ride around in his little car.  But what he loved the most was to call out, “Troy, get out of your car like Mommy does!”  And Troy would shove the car door open, jump out and SLAM the door as he walked away.  My brother would be in hysterics, and my face would be red. I didn’t mean to give him that kind of example, but the pint-sized proof was right there.

The writer of Hebrews said, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the Word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” ((Heb 13:7). It brings to mind Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount when he warned against false prophets: “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matt 7:18, 16). By their fruit, you will know if this is someone to imitate or someone you need to guard against.

In Christendom, for every Billy Graham, there is a Josh Harris. Graham was one of the greatest evangelists in the modern era and led thousands to Christ through his crusades across the globe. Harris was a pastor and best-selling author who had a thriving ministry until he walked away from it all in 2019 and denounced His faith in Jesus. What does each man’s fruit say about his roots – and his heart?

My son proved a valid point for me and every minister and leader and teacher at every level in the church. We are not just supposed to be an example – we are an example, whether we intend to be or not. For the good or the bad. I want my life, my words, my actions, my goals, my investments, even my thoughts, and especially my unguarded reactions to be a godly example for others – especially my granddaughter – to imitate.

There are two points I want to make: First, Paul said “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). I need to guard my life and imitate Christ so that those who imitate me are following Him.  Second, check the fruit of those to whom you are looking as godly examples. Is it healthy or are you seeing spots of rot? Beloved, be wise. Be discerning. And above all, be like Jesus.

I Know That Voice

One morning Poppy and I took Joy out to breakfast, then to her favorite park. She was excited to see other children on the playground. She quickly made a few buddies and they were off to the races. Us old folks found a shady place to rest and watch her. I love watching children play. I love their delight at zooming down the slide and climbing high into the sky on the swings. I love to hear their squeals and laughter.  With so many kids talking and shouting and laughing you would think it would be difficult to tell when my kid was speaking, but as every parent and grandparent knows, you just know your child’s voice. Your ears are attuned to them. There were several “Nanas” on the playground that morning, but I knew when Joy called my name– even when she was on the other side of the lot because I was well familiar with her voice.

Isaiah 30: 21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” The most common lament I hear is “How do I know it’s God speaking?” That’s a good question, especially in this noisy world where everyone has a megaphone and an opinion. We know that the “still, small voice” Elijah heard came out of the whirlwind, the earthquake, and the fire (1 Ki 19:12). How can we know that voice?

The same way I know my granddaughter’s voice over all the other kids on the playground – familiarity. I spend time with her. I listen to her constant chatter. I can recognize her pitch and tone from a hundred paces.  You and I can know God’s voice when we spend time with Him in His Word, in prayer, and the fellowship of the Church.  You will not only recognize the pitch and tone of His voice, but you will recognize the content of His message. God will never speak anything contrary to Scripture. God’s voice is in His Word.

There’s one other important thing – to recognize God’s voice you have to have a personal relationship with Him. I didn’t know any other child on the playground, but I knew mine, and her voice rings in my heart. A personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ – who is The Word – is the first step to knowing His voice. And one more – obedience to what you’ve heard enables you to hear more. Priscilla Shirer says, “God doesn’t just speak to be heard, He speaks to be obeyed.”

Know God, personally. Spend time with Him and become familiar with His voice and message. Obey what He says. Beloved, are you willing to hear from God?

In My Father’s Hands

The Bible is filled with hope. The actual word appears 180 times (NIV) and there are hundreds more that illude to hope in some way. There’s a Psalm where I find hope – even though the word is not used at all. “If the Lord delights in a man’s way, He makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with His hand” (Psalm 37:23-24). This gives me great hope because – please, don’t be shocked by this – I tend to stumble in my walk. I get angry. I get anxious. I get lazy and selfish. I struggle to resist temptation. No – that’s not true. Sometimes I don’t struggle at all – I just give in without a fight. I say things Jesus would not say.  I don’t watch where I’m walking and trip over my own spiritual feet. A lot.

This verse tells me that while God may allow me to stumble, He will not let me fall so far that I am unredeemable.  I need that assurance. It tells me two important things.  One, I may stumble, but he will not cast me away (KJV). He will not give up on me. He will not abandon me to the wretched consequences of my actions. Oh somebody say “Hallelujah!” That’s good –  not that’s awesome news!

And two, He will never let go of my hand. Last weekend when we visited Joy she wanted Nana to walk with her. Several times she started going toward moving cars and even into the dumpster area. She wanted to turn knobs on pipes. But I had her hand in mine and could steer her away from danger. She almost fell off the curb a couple of times, but I held tightly to her hand and kept her steady. And I kept her from running into people she didn’t see but I did because I had her hand.  I’m sure you see all the spiritual truths there.

There’s one thing that isn’t in the Scriptures but is a picture God put in my heart. It is of me standing on a small rise and as the scene starts to pan out and widen the view, I realize I’m standing in the palm of His hand – a hand that is so big I will never reach the edge. I may wander and I may stumble, but I will never fall off. Beloved, He’s got you and me in His hands. We may not be perfect, but we’re safe.

JOY!

We made a quick trip to see our granddaughter this weekend. My heart needed this so much. I’m not sure who squealed the loudest when they pulled up – me or her. I may have already mentioned her name – Joy – and how she lives up to it every day. No, she is not my source of Joy. But she is a constant reminder of Who is.

She reminds me that Joy comes from the Lord. David said, “My heart leaps for Joy, and with my song I praise Him.” Just knowing He is mine and I am His is cause for great Joy.

She reminds me that “the Joy of the Lord is [my] strength” (Neh 8:10). When I get weary, and I do, I draw the strength by tapping into the Joy that God provides.

Some of my favorite pictures of her are with a Bible. She reminds me that the Word of God is filled with Joy. “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving Joy to the heart” (Ps 19:8). When I read His words my heart rejoices.

When she dances around – she loves to tap dance – I remember Psalm 30:11: “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with Joy.”

We love to sit and rock together. Those moments remind me that simply being with God is the sweetest Joy. David said, “you will fill me with joy in your presence” (Psalm 16:11) – How can I not have Joy when I am with the One who loves me the most?

Remember how we both squealed with delight when we saw one another? That reminds me of Psalm 47:5 “God has ascended amid shouts of Joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.” Oh the shouts and squeals that will fill the skies when we see Jesus one day!

The day that was least Joyful for me was the day they drove away in a moving van after being with us for three years. But later the Spirit brought Jesus’ words to mind: “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your Joy” (John 16:22). That promise reminds me that one day we will all be together with the Lord forever. And it reminds me to pray constantly for my Joy’s salvation.

There are more than 200 verses declaring Joy in the Bible. She didn’t write any of them, but she reminds me of them every day. Beloved, you may never meet my granddaughter but I pray that you know the wonderful Joy of the Lord.

I Can Love

Joy and her friends at church. Photo by Wanda Williams

My granddaughter preached a sermon the other night. As I was taking her to her mommy to settle in for the night we were rehearsing all the people that she loves. She loves Mommy and Daddy. She loves Nana and Poppy. She loves Mimi and Papa. She loves Aunt Linda and Uncle Wayne and Aunt Rhonda and Uncle Mike and Aunt Alta. She loves Granny. And she turned to me and said, “And I can love Uncle R (name redacted). Her mommy and I looked at each other with a “Wow!” Uncle R is not a nice person. He has been mean to the rest of his family. He has a history of violence and cruelty. And the last time he was around Joy, he took delight in sneaking up behind her and scaring her. He is not allowed around her anymore. But she said, “I can love him.” Out of the mouths of babes . . .”

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:43-44).  I want to ask Him, “Love him? Why? I mean, who gets their kicks from scaring a little girl?” And Jesus’ words continue: “that you may be sons [and daughters] of your Father in Heaven (v. 45). And there it is. God said that His children are called to live in a radically different way. They love – even their enemy.

“Love your enemy” sounds good on paper, but it’s not always easy to do. That’s by divine design. Love –genuine love – has to come from God. John said, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God” (1 John 4:7), and “We know and rely on the love God has for us” (v.16). We can only love those who mistreat us because God loved us first, and His love fills us up and spills out onto the one we cannot love on our own. I know that Joy’s parents have the good sense to keep a distance between her and Uncle for her safety. But what if – someday –she’s the one who will love him to Jesus? Isaiah prophesied, “a little child will lead them” (Is 11:6). I don’t think Uncle R stands a chance against a little girl who is determined to love him.

The Man (or Woman) God Uses

“Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said, ‘Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?’” (2 Samuel 7:18).

Think you have nothing to offer to God and His kingdom? Do you believe that you’re too young or too old or have no gifts or talents? Sure you want to do great things for God, but you’re just a mom wiping dirty noses or a regular guy at a regular job, or a college student trying to get through finals. You’re in very good company, my friend!

A young woman had nothing to offer God but a loyal heart. She followed her mother-in-law home and did the most normal thing – she went out to gather grain to feed them both. But God interceded and Ruth became the great grandmother of God’s anointed King of Israel and part of the lineage of Jesus.

Esther had no influence in the politics of Persia – but she had courage. Because she stepped up and stepped into the King’s court, the Jewish people throughout the Persian empire were saved.

A young captive in a foreign land, Daniel had nothing of value. But he did have integrity. God used him to show His sovereignty and power to two of the greatest rulers in history: Nebuchadnezzar and Darius.

Jesus called twelve men from fishing boats and tax booths and used them to turn the entire world upside down.

Two women did what women throughout the ages have done – raised children and grandchildren. God used Lois and Eunice to shape young Timothy into the Apostle Paul’s right-hand man and true son in the faith.

You may not be in a position of importance, but you are important to the Kingdom of God. You may see yourself as small and insignificant or past your prime, and that’s just fine with Him. He likes to use the least likely people to accomplish the most amazing things. That way He gets all the glory.

If you think you have nothing of value to offer God, you’re wrong. You have yourself. That’s all He needs. He will take you and use you in the most ordinary – and yet extraordinary – ways. I’m living proof of that. Beloved, He’s got an important task, and you’re just the person He’s been looking for. Just be available and watch Him work.

Beloved of God

I have learned more about the love of God as a grandmother than almost anything else in my life. Last night Joy leaned her head against my shoulder and said, “I love you, Nana.” And Nana melted into a puddle. Oh, how my heart sang with – well – Joy. But she loved me because I loved her first. I fell in love with her the day she was born. I told her so the first time I held her in my arms. I’ve told her multiple times a day for the last three years and 52 days. I will tell her I love her every day for the rest of my life.

When I told her “I love you” on that first day of her life, she had no love to offer me. She was a helpless, tiny baby. I didn’t love her because of what she could do. I loved her because it welled up in me like a tidal wave. She was about a year old when she first started saying “I love you.” But she wasn’t expressing her own affection – she was just parroting me. She didn’t really understand what “love” meant. She just knew it made Nana happy when she said it back to me. But in time, through showing her my love, she understood, and when she says “I love you” now she is speaking from her heart.  

Paul said that God loved us when we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). When we had nothing to offer Him in return for His love. John said that is because “God is love” (1 John 4:16). He wrote, “We love because He first loved us” (v. 19). John knew a thing or two about God’s love through Jesus. He called himself, “The disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 20:2, 21:7, 20). Of course, Jesus loved all of His disciples (John 13:1), but John took that personally. He made it his identity. It fueled his ministry and his life. Whatever befell him, whatever the world did to break him – like exiling him to the Isle of Patmos – John took that assurance with him.

So can you. I hope you’ve noticed that I always refer to you as “Beloved”. That’s because you are. I want you to hear that and believe it with all your heart. I want you to take it personally and make it your identity. I want you to write it on your heart forever. You are the Beloved of God.

Stuff I’ve Learned in My Life

I’ll admit, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. The running joke in my family was, “Dorcas is so dumb that . . .” and then add a punchline. I believed it for a long time. I’m sixty+ now, and I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Like, don’t try to sneak off at midnight on a bike with a leaky tire. Don’t get so caught up in an audiobook that you run a red light and T-bone another car. Don’t abuse credit cards. Don’t let your mom brush your hair when’s she mad. Don’t eat junk for forty years and think it won’t come back to haunt you. I’ve learned that true friends are the second rarest gems on earth. Grandchildren are the first. I’ve learned that wisdom usually comes with scars and kindness can change almost every situation. I’ve learned that being fulfilled is more valuable than a fat paycheck. Those are lessons I learned just living my life.

But the Bible has been my greatest teacher. Through Abraham, I learned to trust God even when His promises look impossible (Gen 15). I learned from Joshua’s story that God will never leave me nor forsake me (Josh 1:5) From Gideon – God sees me as the person He created me to be, not the loser I think I am (Jud 6). I found my calling in Ezra: to study the Word, obey the Word, and teach the Word (Ezra 7:10). I’ve learned to not judge others from Job, to confess my sins from David, and Daniel taught me to stand firm in my faith despite the whims of the world. Jonah taught me that I can’t run from God, and Zechariah told me where to look for the return of Christ (Zech 14:4).

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John told me about my greatest love, Jesus, who died to save me. Acts taught me the power of the Holy Spirit and Dorcas taught me the power of helping others (Acts 9). Peter taught me about forgiveness, Paul taught me about righteousness, and Mary taught me about humility. Revelation taught me that God wins.

Of all the things I’ve learned the one I most want to leave you with is this: God loves you. Yes, you. He loves you with an everlasting, never-failing, unshakable,  eternal, perfect, holy love. That, Beloved, is the most important thing you need to know.

Hebrews: Telling Our Faith Stories

I love being a Bible student and teacher and writer. But one of my most important roles is being Joy’s Nana and teaching her stuff. We’ve spent many Saturday mornings learning how to make pankins (pancakes). Last night she learned how to spin her pink bracelet on her finger by watching me do it.  But above all, I want to teach her my story with God – and how she is part of it. I didn’t grow up around my grandmothers, so I don’t know their faith stories. But I will make sure that Joy knows mine.

Sharing faith stories was how the Hebrew people taught their children and grandchildren about God. Joseph is a good example.  The writer of Hebrews said, “By faith, Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones” (11:22). There’s a lot packed into that verse. Joseph was Abraham’s great-grandson. Abraham was already deceased when Joseph was born, but he knew his great-grandpa’s faith story and he made it part of his own.

God promised Abraham, while he was childless and a nomad, that he would have countless offspring and that they would have possession of the very land on which he stood (Genesis 15). But He also told Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved for four hundred years in a foreign land. Then He said, He would rescue them and “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here” (Gen 15: 13-16). Abraham told Isaac who told Jacob who told Joseph. On his deathbed, Joseph told his brothers, “God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . . and you must carry my bones up from this place” (Gen 50:24-25). Joseph believed in the promise that had been passed down to each generation. More to the point, Joseph believed the Promise-Maker. Four hundred and thirty years later, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him . . .” as he exited Egypt (Exodus 13:19). Promise made. Promise believed. Promise kept.

I don’t know the God-history of my ancestors, I don’t even know much about the faith stories of my parents. But Joy will know mine. She will know that God has been faithful, good, gracious, generous, and mighty in my life. Beloved, who needs to know yours?