2020 From Higher Up

Years ago a choir director told us altos that the best way to hit a high note was not to struggle to climb up to it – that almost always caused us to flatten the note – but to see ourselves gliding down to it from above. He was trying to get us to approach the difficult note from a different – higher – perspective.

This has been a hard year for all of us, full of change, frustration, and disappointment.  We hate the masks.  We miss hugs. We want to get together with friends and family. Kids are isolated, trying to learn from a computer screen. Many people have lost their jobs and businesses because of shut-downs. We are sadly watching our seniors wilt away from loneliness. Fear and fatigue have gripped the world. For me, the hardest part of this year was knowing my brother died alone in a hospital after a motorcycle accident; we were not permitted in the facility to be with him. Many shared the same heartache.

How do we deal with all this disappointment and life-shaking change? We have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair or approach it from a higher perspective. David’s Psalm speaks volumes to us: “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2). David wanted to view his circumstances from a higher perspective – from God’s vantage point.  What a difference it makes when we do the same. Believe me – I haven’t been a shining example of this. But I learning more and more to climb up on the Rock that never fails.

I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your ability to face it with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near or distant, as caring or unconcerned. Beloved, God is in this with you. He is faithful. You can trust Him. He is you Rock – a high place on which you can stand. Climb up and watch Him work wonders.

Sermon on the Mount – The Beatitudes, part 1

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This will be a little different. Once a week over the next couple of months, we’re going to study the Sermon on the Mount. While this devotional is not written specifically as encouragement, studying the Word of God always encourages us. The focus of the Sermon on the Mount – in fact, Matthew’s focus for his Gospel – is the Kingdom of God/Heaven. Matthew wants to prove that

Jesus is the long-expected King in the line of David and the promised Messiah.Jesus opens with what we know as “The Beatitudes,” nine times that He describes people who are “blessed” in the Kingdom. The first four, vs 3-6, turn the idea of blessing on its head.

Jesus said blessed are “the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” But these are people who are nobodies in the world. But remember, we’re dealing with Kingdom values, not the world’s values.The poor in spirit are those who realize that they have nothing to offer God for their souls. They have no hope in themselves for eternal life. Their hope is in the promises of God. They will receive the Kingdom. Those who know they have nothing are given everything.

Those who mourn are mourning their sin. Jesus said they will be comforted. How? Paul said that “godly sorrow” for our sins “brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Cor. 7:9-10). Those who mourn are comforted when their sorrow turns to repentance then forgiveness and the burden of their guilt is lifted.

The meek are not the weak. Meekness is the fine art of being kind and gentle towards others, especially those who “do not deserve it.” It’s how God treated us. The meek, Jesus said, will “inherit the earth.” Now honestly, who would want this earth? But wait. Rev. 21:1 says that there will be “a new heaven and a new earth.” A new earth would be a truly blessed gift.

Then, “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.” How do you know that you’re hungry? You have hunger pains. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness feel genuine pain at the unrighteousness in the world. If you don’t, you may need to check your relationship with God. Unrighteousness breaks the heart of God. It should break our hearts as well. How do we deal with hunger? We eat. This unrighteous world is hungry for God. Let’s feed them the Gospel. We – and they – will be filled, satisfied, beyond measure.

What does all this mean for you? Unless I miss my guess, you, like me, are not great in the world’s eyes. But God has great things in store for those who trust in Him. Beloved, are you blessed by the world’s standards, or by God’s?

It Came to Pass . . .

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“So it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made” (Genesis 8:6)

When my son was a baby, a friend gave me some great advice: “Remember, the Bible says, ‘It came to pass,’ not it came to stay.” You can bet I passed it on to my daughter-in-law when my granddaughter was born. Those long sleepless nights will eventually pass and she will sleep through the night. Teething and colic eventually pass. When I spend a couple of hours holding her while she sleeps I remember that these days will pass all too quickly and I’ll miss watching her peaceful face. It’s good parenting advice, but it’s also good life advice.

We will all face difficult days and seasons. But it’s helpful to remind ourselves that those days come and go – they are not forever. In those times I look back at Noah’s story and remember that after many, many days aboard the ark, it came to pass that the waters began to recede and Noah opened the window to let out the dove and let in the fresh air and sunshine. My troubles will pass and so will yours.

Another way to look at this is that the days of our lives come to pass not to stay and the opportunities before us and the people around us are also not permanent.  I have many regrets over things I knew the Lord wanted me to do that I thought I could get around to later. But later never came and the window closed. This past year has taught me, as it has so many of us, that the people we love cannot stay in our lives forever. I never dreamed my big brother would be in heaven before the year’s end. I know many friends for whom COVID has caused great grief. Jobs and business were shown to be temporary, and even the highest office in the nation passed from one hand to another this year.

So here is my advice: Don’t fret the sleepless nights of parenthood, nor the difficult days of life. It does not seem so in the middle of it all, but they will pass. And don’t waste the opportunities God gives you, nor time with the people you love. Life on earth comes to pass, not to stay. Make it count Beloved.

A Word for the Weary

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David and his men returned home to Ziklag after a three-day trek to find the Amalekites had raided the region, burned their homes, and took their families captive. They did what you and I would do: “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (1 Sam 30:4). Ever been there? I know I have. But after the weeping, he did something else, “David found strength in the Lord his God” (v. 6).

This morning as I sat down to my prayer journal, I wrote my usual greeting: “Holy Father,” then I stared at the empty page.  Some mornings that about all I can muster – just to call His name.

Because I’m weary.

Because I’m overwhelmed.

Because I don’t know what to do.

Because I don’t see any way out of my circumstances.

Then I remembered David and I determined to follow his good example.

Because the Lord said, “Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Because the Scripture says: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7).

Because He promised: “Whether you turn to the right or to the lift, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Is 30:21).

Because He acts on behalf of his people: “The Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and . . . the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground” (Ex. 14:21,22).

Just like David, I found strength in the Lord my God. His Word refreshed me and encouraged me. The Scriptures remind me of His unfailing, never-ending, always faithful love. His promises give me hope.

Beloved, what has you weary this morning? Grief? Despair? What is overwhelming you? Needs? People? Are you at a loss to know what to do? Do you feel like there’s no way out of your circumstances? There is strength and encouragement and peace in the Word of God. From Genesis to Revelation, you will find hope to refresh your soul and Joy to fill your heart. God has a Word for you today.

Goodbye (and good riddance) 2020

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The last grains of 2020 sand are slipping through the narrow neck of the hourglass. There’s a collective sigh coming from the world. It’s been a hard year. Who would have guessed this time last year what the world would face in the twelve months that stretched out before us?  We hope that when we turn the calendar we can put it all behind us and move on to brighter days. There’s no guarantee that 2021 will be any better; pandemics and political tensions don’t observe our time boundaries. How can we close this year with any measure of hope for the next? I’d like to offer you a few words of encouragement on the eve of the new year.

“The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all” (Ps 103:19). God is still the ruler of the universe. He has not lost control and none of the events of this year took Him by surprise. Nothing in the coming year will catch Him off guard either.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps 34:18). You may have lost someone you love this year. You may have lost your job or business. Your neighborhood may have been rocked by violence and rioting. This year may have broken your heart and for that, I am truly sorry. This horrible year took my big brother. God is near to us dear friend.

“I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand as says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’” (Is 41:13). Whatever 2021 holds, God holds your hand and promises to help you through it.

“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11). The Lord’s plans are not altered by pandemics or politics, grief or pain, job loss or financial struggles. These do not deter God’s good plans for you. He will even use them – somehow – to brings His purposes to fruition.

As the calendar turns from 2020 to 2021, let us put the past year and the days ahead in the hands of our mighty, sovereign, loving Father. Better yet, put yourself in His hands Beloved and let Him carry you through.

But Can I Trust Him?

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Today I came across a Scripture that is bittersweet to me: “Therefore I [Jesus] tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Matthew 11:24).  Today of all days it touches a deep place in my heart. Today is my Mom’s birthday. No, this is not a “Happy birthday to my Mom in Heaven” post. If heaven really is heaven, God has banned social media completely. She will never see it. She doesn’t need to. I’m pretty sure they don’t celebrate earthly birthdays in heaven. My Mom was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1982. After all kinds of treatments, the doctors told her there was nothing left they could do for her. Matthew 11:24 came to my attention so I boldly asked God to heal my Mom. And no one on the face of the earth ever believed more than I did. As she grew progressively worse, I didn’t allow myself one single doubt. I knew my Mom was going to be okay. She died on April 5, 1987.  So who failed – me or God? Jesus said, “ask and believe” and I took Him at His Word. I believed with every fiber of my being. For more than thirty years, every time I come across this verse, it takes my breath away.

Every syllable of God’s Word is true. My belief that God would heal my Mom was as well. How do I resolve this?  I don’t. But here’s what I’ve come to understand. God is sovereign and reserves the right to answer my prayers according to His will, even when it differs from mine. I do not always understand His will. But He is God and I am not.  I could have let my Mom’s death push me away from Him. Instead,, it pushed me closer, because, despite missing my Mom for thirty-plus years, I know that my Father is still trustworthy and loving and good and He is perfectly faithful to His Word. I wish I could wrap this up in a nice, neat bow of encouragement. This is not that kind of devotional. I don’t have any profound words today. This is just the heart of a daughter who misses her Mother and trusts her Heavenly Father.

Not Where I Thought I’d Be

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“This is not where I saw my life going,” she said sadly. “I’m not even sure how I got here.” My friend once believed that God had a call on her life. Yet she drifted. Marriage, children, jobs, responsibilities, distractions, troubles, many of her own making. Yet every year on her birthday, she would look wistfully into the dusty box of what she had hoped for in her life and realize how far away it all was.  And how far away she was from God. Early morning devotions gave way to getting kids ready for school and herself to work.  Sundays became the day to catch up on chores at home. Her Bible was buried under stacks of bills and commitments. Before long, God was a distant thought; until her husband packed up and walked away.  She was a broken woman who thought she was a lost cause to God. My heart was so tender to her as I shared a story from the Bible that I pray offered her some hope.

The Israelites were about to cross over into The Promised Land. Moses warned them about their tendency to drift from God. He knew that once they were settled, they would become complacent and their hearts would every so gradually be drawn astray. They would become self-focused and push God aside for idols of wood and stone.  And they would be punished.  God would cause their enemies to overtake them and scatter them far from home. But He would not leave them there. Wherever they went, God said, “if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 4:29).

I took her hand and told her “If you will seek God, even from where you are right now as far as you may be from Him, you will find Him.”

“How do I do that?” she asked.

“Heart and soul – by telling Him that you know you are far away, but you want to come back to Him. And going back to what kept you close in the beginning – His Word and church and prayer.

“But what if I miss Him?” she asked with tears in her eyes.

“You won’t. He won’t let you.” I answered. “As soon as you start seeking, He will put Himself right in your path.”

I don’t know where you find yourself today Beloved, but I know for sure you are just a prayer away from God. Just say the words, “I want to come home.” He’ll meet you on the way.

I am a Christian, and I am Depressed

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“How long, O Lord must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:2).

I’ve had a lot going on in my life lately. Some painful things – emotionally and physically. Some hard things. Some heavy things. Some unfair things. My mind is both dulled and racing. And the devil snarls in my ear, “Where is your peace, Oh Bible teacher?” “Where are your joy and contentment?”

I haven’t tried to hide the fact that I struggle with depression. I have for most of my life. I’m not ashamed of it, it is part of my chemical makeup – and probably a lot of conditioning from trauma over the years. Sometimes it is overwhelming. And the enemy adds fuel to the fire. “You are a FRAUD!”

Why in the world am I telling you this? Because I know others struggle in the same way. Maybe you. I want you to know that you are not in this by yourself. Satan loves to turn our eyes to ourselves so that we think we’re alone in our depression. Isolation is a huge part of this disease, so I want you to have the assurance that you’re not the only one. There are a lot of us out here.

I am also telling you this because I want you to know where I find my hope and comfort and – yes peace in seasons like this. Stop right now and read Psalm 13. I’ll wait right here for you. This is a lament of David. Saul is king and he had determined to kill David out of jealousy because he is the hero of the Goliath story and because the Lord has anointed him as the next king of Israel. David has been running like a hunted animal for a long time. He is bone and heart weary. He is exhausted and depressed. Still, he holds on to one sure thing: “But I trust in your unfailing love . . .” That’s my hope and comfort and peace and Joy – the never-failing, never-ending, never-diminishing, always consistent love of God. When satan calls me a fraud, God calls me Beloved. And that’s why I call you Beloved too. Because despite depression and anxiety and darkness, the love of God never fails. Never. Rest your broken, weary heart in this: God loves you.

Trust Me

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“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in Me.” John 14:1

The disciples were anxious because the Lord had told them, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. Where I am going you cannot come.” (John 13:33).  Peter, speaking what everyone was thinking, wanted to know where He was going and why they could not accompany Him (John 13:36, 37).

Jesus understood their fears.  That is why He offered them words of comfort and assurance.  Notice, though, that He did not say, “Now don’t you worry, everything is going to turn out fine – just wait and see.”  He didn’t even tell them, “It’s okay – see this is all part of my plan.”  No, the answer Jesus gave them was:

“Trust in God.  Trust also in me” (John 14:1b).

He did not soothe their frazzled minds with the common words of assurance.  He was their assurance.  They just needed to remember . . .

They had walked with Him for three years.  They had heard His words, experienced His love, seen His power over the storm and in the storm, felt His hands pouring water on their dusty feet.  They knew that He was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  They knew He was their friend (John 15:15).

“Trust in me.”

Beloved, Jesus knows you are afraid and weary.  He knows that you can’t see past this moment – this grief, this shock, this heartache, this very hard season.  He knows you cannot envision the road ahead and you don’t know what will happen.  He knows your anxious heart and He says to you,

“Trust in me.”

Trust in the words He has said – “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you” (Isaiah 41:10).  “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Trust in His love.  Trust in His faithfulness.  Trust in His promise.  Trust in the One who gave His life to redeem you from your sins.  Trust in the One who rose from the dead to give you eternal life.

Trust in Jesus – there is no greater assurance.

Be an Encourager

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The book of Haggai has only 2 chapters and 38 verses – but they pack a punch. Haggai prophesied after the Israelites were released from Babylon and returned home to find Jerusalem in shambles. The protective wall was broken down.  Their homes were destroyed. The Temple of God was a pile of rubble. The work of restoring the temple was started then stopped because of threats and intimidation by enemy nations. They instead focused their efforts on rebuilding their own homes, and once comfortable and unwilling to resist the harassment of their enemies, they became lethargic and abandoned the Temple work. Does any of that sound familiar? On a national scale, it describes the United States to a T. On a personal level it’s like I’m looking in a mirror.

The people were discouraged. They had endured seventy years in captivity and faced destruction when they finally came home. They were also under attack. The Samaritans were fighting against them with threats and political maneuvering. (Hmmm.) Enter Haggai who delivered a word of encouragement. He said that The Spirit of the Lord remained with them (2:4-5). He declared, “in this place I will grant peace” (2:9) He said, “From this day on, I will bless you” (2:19).

The world needs men and women of godly courage to speak both truth and hope. I know I need it. I suspect you do too. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It’s been a hard year for me and I don’t usually often sit down to this laptop every morning brimming over with holy confidence.  I have to get in the Word and let God speak to me through His Spirit. As I write these devotionals for you, I am encouraged. I find hope. Friend, the best medicine for discouragement is to let God encourage others through you. Water can’t flow through a pipe without also getting the pipe wet. Beloved, who in your life needs a word of  hope?