At the Name of Jesus

The woman was indignant. “I don’t need your religion. I have faith of my own!”

“In what?” the man countered.

“Faith in the universe” she answered. “Faith in myself. Faith in humanity.”

“Your faith is badly misplaced.” He replied.

“Faith” has become a popular word in our culture. Dictionaries define faith as “sincerity or a strong conviction” and to a point that is correct. But that sincere, strong conviction must have the right object. Please grab your Bible and read Acts 3-4:12) – I’ll wait for you here.

Peter and John are headed to the temple for the afternoon prayer. As they approached the gate, they encountered a lame man begging for money. They didn’t give him what he wanted; they gave him what he desperately needed. “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (v. 6). And he did. They pulled him to his feet and those feet held strong. I love the image of this once crippled man “walking and jumping and praising God” as he entered the temple courts (v.8). And the people watching were “filled with wonder and amazement” (v. 10). I reckon so.

But notice Peter’s exact words: “In the name of Jesus Christ.” And that made the miracle. While the people gathered around to witness the sight, Peter said: “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has given this complete healing to him” (v. 16).

Peter would continue this theme as he and John stand before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish court). “It is by the name of Jesus Christ . . . that this man stands before you healed” (Acts 4:10). And he boldly declared: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (v. 12). That is the gospel we must declare. Faith in anything other than the name of Jesus, as the man said to the “faith-filled” woman, is badly misplaced. Eternally misplaced.

One of my granddaughter’s favorite songs is “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name.” I’ve sung her to sleep with it all her life. The something about the name of Jesus is power. Healing power. Wonder-working power. Saving power. Beloved, do you know this power? Do you know the Name of Jesus?

Bullseye

It was my verse through seven years of infertility. It has been my verse through hard times of struggle, sadness, disappointment, and longing. It is my verse now in this season of anxiety and uncertainty and heartache. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last there is life and Joy” (Prov. 13:12 TLB).

Hope, on its own, implies delay; the word means to wait for, to be patient. Paul wrote, “Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait patiently for it” (Rom 8:24-25). But it’s more than waiting. It also means to expect. To borrow from Paul; who hopes for what she doesn’t think will ever happen? Hope is patient expectation rooted in trust. But there’s one more word connected to hope: pain. I’ll bet somebody is shaking their head. Waiting can be painful. Just ask me thirty-something years ago in that season of waiting for God to bless us with a baby. I trusted God, but my empty arms ached.

But this verse adds another layer: Hope deferred . . . This means hope dragged along. To the waiting, we add tension. One definition means “to draw the bow” and it reminded me of taking archery in high school. First I would seat the arrow in the bow and find my target. I fixed my sights on the bullseye, lifted the bow into firing position, and pulled the arrow back, stretching the bowstring taut. In the moment between setting the arrow and letting go, there was incredible tension in the string and in my arm. We had to wait until the instructor gave the firing order. If that order was delayed, my arm would start to ache and tremble. But I had to hold my position. If I dropped my bow, I might miss the call. If I lost my visual focus, I would lose the target. Hope deferred often causes pain and we may tremble in the waiting, but we do not lower our bow – or our shield of faith. We do not take our eyes off the target – the faithfulness of God.

This verse says we may even become heartsick – grieved and weary. We may feel like all we do is beg God to act. Believe me, I’m there. “But” – oh how I love the “buts” in the Bible – “when dreams come true at last there is life and Joy” You know what jumps out at me? “When” not “if.” When the arrow hits the target dead center. When God comes through. And I’m counting on God to come through. Beloved, take up your position, don’t drop your faith, and keep your eyes on the Lord. When. Not if.

Waiting on God

Psalm 106 is a “Salvation History Psalm” – a retelling of God rescuing His people from slavery in Egypt.  You know the story: God brought the Israelites out of bondage and led them to the edge of the Red Sea – impassable waters in front of them and their enemy close on their heels.  He made a way through the sea and when the last Israelite foot cleared the dry sea bed, He closed in the walls of water on Pharoah and His army.  The Scripture says, “Then [the Israelites] believed His promises and sang His praise” (v. 12).  Wouldn’t you?  If God had done a miraculous thing for you, wouldn’t you believe?  Wouldn’t you sing a chorus of, “You’re a good, good, Father!”?

But wait. The next verse says: “But they soon forgot what He had done and did not wait for His plan to unfold” (v. 13).  And they grumbled. On the heels of the Red Sea miracle. Remember the celebration in verse 12? Check out verses 24-25: “They did not believe His promise. They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the Lord.” Makes me want to shake my head.  They failed to trust God – the same God who had rescued them in dramatic fashion just a few weeks before.

But, let’s be honest here, don’t you and I do the same thing?  God works powerfully on our behalf and we celebrate and sing His praises and the next time we face a challenge, we worry.  We forget what God did and focus on the new hardship as if God used it all up on the first one.  Or maybe that’s just me. 

I wrote in the margin: “Lord, I want to always believe Your promises and sing Your praises while I am still waiting.”  I am there right now – waiting. And trusting.  And reminding myself of His powerful acts of the past, how he made a way where I couldn’t see a way. How He softened hard hearts. How he rescued someone I love. And I know He will do it again. So I’m gonna sing His praises now, during the crisis, not just after. 

Have you forgotten His goodness to you?  The God who was faithful yesterday will not be unfaithful today. He is the same good Father who carried you through the last storm – and He will not abandon you now.  Beloved, come sit here with me, and let’s praise the Lord while we wait.

The Peace of God in the Storms of Life

I need a word from the Lord this morning. I need to hear from the God who watches over little girls who are not where they should be and comforts broken-hearted Nanas. I wanted something like: “Don’t you worry, I’ll fix this.” But that’s not the word I got. The Spirit led me to Philippians 4:4-7: “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 minds in Christ Jesus.”

Rejoice. You’re kidding, right? No, He’s not. Rejoice. Not just when it’s all good and the sun is shining. Always. Now. When it hurts. When you don’t understand.

Be gentle. Actually, He’s not commanding an act on my part, He is reminding me to bear forth the fruit of His Spirit – gentleness – as I deal with the people and the situation. God knew when He gave me that word at the beginning of the year that I would need it right now.

Don’t be anxious. I need to tell that to my knotted-up stomach and my hammering heart. Literally.

Pray. I like the way The Message says it: “shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.” And petition Him. “Go boldly to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16 emphasis added). ASK. “ASK and keep on asking, SEEK and keep on seeking, KNOCK and keep on knocking” (from Mat 7:7).

With thanksgiving. Yes, thanksgiving. Because God has been trustworthy in the past. Because He loves her more than I ever could. Because He can be where I cannot. Because He is still writing this story.

And because He plants four words in the middle of this passage that we often overlook but speak volumes: “The Lord is near.”

Rejoice–because the Lord is near. Be gentle—because the Lord is near. Don’t be anxious–because the Lord is near. Pray with thankfulness–because the Lord is near. I can have the peace of God that is unfathomable–because the Lord is near. My heart and my mind – and my stomach – need God’s peace.

I didn’t exactly write this one for you today, I wrote it for me. But I’ll share it with you because it’s His Word for us all. And because, Beloved, through it all—the Lord is near.

When Your World Crashes

Murphy’s Law says, “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” Robert Frost wrote: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” In the south, we say, “If the good Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise!” You get it, we make plans – big and small – and life happens. In high school, I planned to go to college, get married, be a journalist, and live happily ever after. Five years later I never made it to college, was working at a dead-end job, and going through a divorce. Not exactly what I had in mind. Perhaps you intended to get a big project finished at work yesterday, but an urgent task got tossed on your desk.  Your computer crashes in the middle of a big paper. Your child makes a huge mistake, your parent has a fall, road construction sends you on a long detour.  Something seems to always derail our plans. Flat tires, sick kids, an unexpected phone call, or the boss’s priorities can turn our day upside down. Divorce, cancer, layoffs, rebellious kids, and death can turn our lives upside down.

Aren’t you glad God is not subject to the winds of change and the whims of other people? Job testified, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:1). God is the perfect planner because He is sovereign; that is, He has absolute authority to determine what will happen and He has absolute power to pull it off. He also has the advantage of seeing “the bigger picture.” Like putting a puzzle together, He sees each piece as it fits into its place and becomes part of the whole. In fact, He is the one who designed the picture in the first place. In hard seasons I find comfort in knowing that God is never taken by surprise when life takes a turn. He has already determined how this hard thing will fit into the complete picture of my life and the lives of those I love.

I’m learning some big lessons about trusting God right now.  I can’t go into details, but all is not right in my family and my heart is breaking.  I’ve been blindsided and can’t do anything about it.  But I am leaning on the truth that God was not caught off guard. He’s not sitting on His throne wringing His hands over the unexpected. Because nothing is unexpected to the One who rules over all. He’s got the whole world, and my little family, in His hands.

Joy!

One day the Lord will make it all right again. One day wickedness and evil will be cast away and righteousness and holiness will rule. One day God will pave “the Way of Holiness” where only the redeemed will walk (Is 35:8, 9). One day blind eyes will see, deaf ears will hear, the lame will leap, and the mute will shout for Joy” (v. 5-6). One day “sorrow and sighing will flee away and gladness and Joy will overtake [us]” (v. 10). One day all of God’s creation will “burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for Joy” (v. 2).

Did you notice all the Joy? It is the theme of this Psalm. It is the promise of God for eternity “Everlasting Joy will crown [our] heads” (v. 10). Not a “good days” kind of happiness. Not warm fuzzies because you got flowers at work. Not even the feeling you had on your wedding day or the birth of your children. Because we know that bad days will still happen. Those pretty flowers will wither away soon. Your spouse will disappoint you, even make you angry, and your kid will have an epic meltdown. The kind of Joy Isaiah spoke of doesn’t come from circumstances, your family’s behavior, or a day at the beach. This Joy is the theme of heaven.

Heavenly Joy sounds wonderful. But we’re not there yet. What do we do while we’re still here on earth? “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come . . . He will come to save you’” (v. 3-4). We strengthen and steady ourselves and encourage one another. We keep our focus on the Lord and remember His faithfulness, power, and love. We soak up His Word. We bring our concerns to Him in prayer. And we come together to lift one another up with the hope of His return.

I’ve had to take my own advice this week. Some important things are out of my hands and I’ve had to constantly cry out to God, lay my anxiety down, and mentally redirect my thoughts. And I’ve had good sisters in the faith praying and encouraging me. Yes, everlasting Joy is our promise. But hope is our strength as we wait. I’ll tell you what I’ve told myself all week: God. Will. Not. Fail. You. Be encouraged. Beloved. Your God will come.

Somebody is Listening

I am wearing an old green t-shirt this morning that Joy always liked. It reminds me of the days when she was learning colors and she would always point out that “Nana’s shirt is green.” She was so proud of herself for it, and of course, so was I. God has been nudging me about the example I am before her. For instance, the image that accompanies this devotional. Before covid, I taught a weekly Bible study for the women on the campus where I work. My daughter-in-law would come and of course, Joy came with us. She was just starting to cruise and would move from person to person around the chairs that kept her corralled. She stopped at my knee that morning and was listening intently to me teach.  Her mommy snapped the picture and it serves as a constant reminder that she always is watching me and learning from me – whether I am intentionally teaching her or not. That’s a huge responsibility, one I don’t take lightly.

The Lord pressed that point home to the Israelites when Moses taught them God’s Law and how important their daily lives were. He told them: “The [these words] to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut 11:19). In other words, in everything you do all throughout your day, be a walking, talking, living, breathing testimony to the Lord God.

What happens when we don’t? When the Jews returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity and resettled the city, Nehemiah discovered that “half of their children spoke . . . the languages of other people and did not know how to speak the language of Judah” (Neh 13:24). Sound familiar? And I’m not talking about linguistics – I’m talking about the language of truth, righteousness, and holiness. The language of God. The children didn’t know the language of Judah because the generations before them fell into speaking the languages around them so that they might fit in. Again – sound familiar?

This is not just a parenting/grandparenting message. The same applies to the church’s influence – or lack thereof – on the culture. We cannot represent Christ to the world if we sound just like them. Everything about us should speak Jesus. Because, like Joy, someone is watching and listening – whether you realize it or not. Beloved, what are they seeing and hearing in you?

When Joy Prays

Photo by Joy’s mommy, Ashley Andrews

God has taught me so much in a thousand different ways. Certainly, His Word is my highest and best teacher. But I’ve also learned some valuable life and spiritual lessons through my cat, an overflowing coffee pot, a nasty garbage can, a wrecked car, an old barn, my kid, and a buzzard in the road. Yesterday my granddaughter became my teacher, which is not unusual. God sends so many lessons through that little girl, probably because He knows she gets right to my heart.

It was supper time and she was doing everything but coming to the table.  We were all getting frustrated with her and it was turning into a battle of the wills. Finally, an unhappy Joy climbed into her seat with her bottom lip protruding as we extended hands to pray the blessing. In our house, Poppy prays first and she will follow with her own version. She’s done this since before she had words. You really should listen to a little kid’s prayer sometime – it will bless your heart so much. I love to hear her pray and I am sure God does too. But when she’s upset she will decline to pray. Except last night.

Poppy finished his part and Joy’s mommy asked her if she was going to pray. Big little-girl sigh. “I don’t want to pray because I’m aggravate (her exact word), but I can pray.” Out of the mouths of babes . . . When do I feel less like praying? When I’m aggravate. When I’m frustrated. When I’m angry. When do I most need to pray? When I’m aggravate. When I’m frustrated. When I’m angry.

She was a real-life example of Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica: “Be Joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:16-18). By the time she rambled her way to “Amen” the tone at the table had softened dramatically.

Here’s what I learned from my pint-sized teacher: if I only pray when I’m in the mood to pray, I will rarely pray. You know it’s true for you too. Look at Jesus. He prayed in the hardest moment of His life just before He went to the cross. His prayer was honest and God didn’t chastise Him for His raw feelings.

So pray Beloved – no matter how you feel. Good or bad. Happy or sad. It’s always a good time to pray. Even when you’re aggrevate. Especially when you’re aggrevate.

Why Do I Love God?

My granddaughter is at the “Why” stage of childhood. I try to always answer her whys because that’s how she learns. But every parent and grandparent (and teacher) knows that the string of whys never seems to end. Sunday was another “Why” day as we got to the church for “honey (Sunday) school.”

“Why do we go to church?” “To learn about God and worship Him.”

“Why do we worship God?” “Because we love Him.”

“Why do we love God?” “Because . . .” and the reasons came tumbling out of my heart and mouth.

“We love God because He is our Creator – that means God made us. God made you! We love God because He sent Jesus to pay for our sins. We love God because He is so good to us, He is our Helper; He takes care of us, and He loves us.”

By now we were at her class and as I hugged her and turned to go, she said, “And I love God too!” I held her for an extra few seconds and said, “I’m so glad you do, sweet girl!” As I floated to my own class. I thought of David’s words: “From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise” (Ps 8:2).

I didn’t tell Joy all the reasons why I love God – she just needed a simple explanation that she could understand in her 3-year-old mind. There is so much more I could have said. I love God because He gives light where there is darkness (Ps 18:28). He gives life where death once ruled (Lk 24:5-6). God brings hope in the midst of turmoil (Ps 25:5), and peace during the storm (Mk 4:39). He gives assurance in the face of doubts (Jn 14:1). He gives wisdom to the bewildered (Js 1:5), and strength to the weak (Is 40:29-30). He offers sweet rest for the weary (Ps 23:1-2), welcome to the lonely (Jn 6:37), and Joy to those who have been trampled by life (Jn 15:11). He provides cleansing for the stains of sin (1 Jn 1:9) and redeems all we once thought was lost (Rom 8:28).

These are not just verses I found, they are truths I have lived as I’ve walked with Him for forty + years. Why do I love God? Because He is my life and love, light and hope, Joy and peace. If you forget everything I’ve ever told you, don’t forget this: the sweetest blessing this side of heaven is to love God.  There are a million reasons why.

The Faith of a Child

“I need to go to the grocery store today. Joy, do you want to go with me?”

She asked, “Are you going to Winn Dixie Nana?”

“Why do you want to go to Winn Dixie?” I asked her.

“So I can ride in the red car,” she replied.

“Then we’ll go to Winn Dixie.” She squealed with delight and soon we were on our way.

“Nana, can I ride in the red car?” she asked from the back seat. The red car is a shopping cart made to look like a red race car complete with a steering wheel that turns. To say she loves the red car is a huge understatement. They also have a yellow car and a green car, but nothing stirs her little soul like the red car.

“If we can find it, sweetheart you sure can, but someone else may already have it,” I answered. “Oh, I hope not,” she said. I want the red car.”

“Pray for it” came the voice from inside my heart. “What?” “Pray –with Joy – for the red car.” “Umm, isn’t that a silly prayer request, and besides what if it’s not there? I don’t want to disappoint her” I reasoned. But I heard it again: “Pray for the red car.” Sigh.

“Joy, why don’t we pray and ask God to give you the red car at the store.”

“Okay, Nana!” And so we prayed. And Joy was so happy that the red car would be there for her.

I think you know where this is going and what we found waiting for us when we walked through the doors. “He did it, Nana! We prayed and He gave me the red car! Oh, thank you, God!” Her happy voice carried across the front of the store. The shoppers smiled as I lifted her into her prized red car. A lady stopped and said, “What a great faith lesson for that little girl!” I smiled and agreed, but in my heart, I knew that the lesson was as much for me as for her.

I have some big, heavy things in my life. And I have some things that seem small and insignificant. I want to get back to crafting and sewing and gardening. I want to publish some of my writings.  But I haven’t prayed about those things because they’re just not that important in comparison to the others. David said, “The Lord will perfect [accomplish, fulfill] that which concerns me” (Ps 138:8)  – the big and the small. From difficult relationships to financial struggles to health issues. He sees and cares about it all. He cares about the big and small things you’re carrying, Beloved. Even a little girl’s red car.