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?

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.

I Need to Talk to my Father

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I’m pretty much an open book. You will know if I am excited, happy, angry, or sad. I believe it is important to be honest and even vulnerable for a couple of reasons. You may be dealing with a struggle that is similar to mine, and I want to encourage you as God encourages me. I want to be honest so that you know me and can trust the things I say. And because, sometimes, I need to put my faith out there where I can see it, just as I did when I wrote about my granddaughter moving away.  I publicly shared my pain because I needed to publicly declare my trust in God for my own heart to hear. You see, when I write, I am first and foremost writing for me. I need to have my toes stepped on. I need to be taught and chastised and challenged and encouraged. I need to hear God speak. So I share my life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – to share God’s message.

But I can’t tell you everything. There are matters so personal and so private that I have to keep them to myself.  Well, not just to myself. I can talk to my Father about them. You would probably be shocked by what you don’t know about me, but my Father never is. You might be repulsed at some of the things I don’t share, but my Father never is. There are other people involved in some of my private concerns and I am not at liberty to divulge their stories. But I can tell my Father. And some pains go so deep and are so heavy you simply could not bear to hear them.  But my father can.

The Bible says “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed” (Mark 1:35). Even the Son of God had things He could only discuss with His Father. He gave me a good example to follow. Yes, I have faithful friends who love me and help carry my burdens and share my Joys, but it is my Heavenly Father who hears my whole, raw heart. And He wants to hear yours too. Let Him carry your burdens and struggles and even your deepest darkest secrets. Beloved, there is nothing you cannot tell your Father. Are you ready to pray?

I Believe

The elders of Israel were invited up the mountain to worship God. The scripture twice says they saw God, even eating and drinking with Him (Exodus 24:10,11). The disciples saw the risen Jesus. They touched the marks of their salvation. We count them as remarkably blessed. We somehow think we would have greater faith and confidence if we could only see Him with our physical eyes. Yet when the elders came down from their mountaintop experience, after waiting forty days for Moses to return, they gave up the glorious vision and pressed Aaron to make them a god they could see and touch. And Luke reports that despite seeing Him in the room with them and even after touching His hands and feet, “they still did not believe.”

Jesus said, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:21). I’ve never seen God physically. I’ve never seen nor touched Jesus. But I believe. I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Resurrected Savior, the KING OF KINGS, and the LORD OF LORDS. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He is the second member of the Trinity, the Alpha and the Omega, the One who was and is and is to come. And He is my Redeemer, my Savior and my Lord.

No, I don’t have the advantage these men had. But I don’t need to see Him with my eyes to believe. I’ve already seen Him with my heart. #Ibelieve

Lost Sheep, Lost Coins, Lost Sons

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I was up into the late-night hours last night working on a paper for my grad class. When I hit submit I thought, “I doubt it’s an “A” paper, but it’s a paper.”  I was studying the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15:11-32 Jesus’ story of a father and his two sons. The younger son asked his father for his share of the inheritance of his father’s estate. He took that money and blew it on “wild living” (13) then found himself starving and in the humiliating position of feeding pigs.  He decided to go home and ask to just be a hired hand for his father. “But,” Jesus said, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him” (20). Before the boy could get his repentant speech out, the father had called for the best robe, ring, and sandals for his son. This, he declared was cause for a celebration, so a feast was prepared in the young man’s honor.

If this parable stood alone in the Scriptures the church will still have a wonderful story expressing the heart of God the Father to welcome repentant sinners back into a full relationship. But Jesus added a couple of other stories that broaden the picture.

Jump back to the beginning of chapter 15 – there are the parables of the lost sheep (3-7) and the lost coin (8-10), where a shepherd and a woman search diligently until their lost things are found. Then in both cases, the seekers rejoice and call for a celebration. Jesus ended both parables by stating that heaven also rejoices when one sinner repents.

The point of all three parables is that God the Father values the lost and it delights His heart when they are found. That’s why Jesus came “to seek and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Beloved, are you lost today? Not geographically, but spiritually – separated from God. The heavenly Father sent His own Son to seek you from the high vantage point of the cross and bring you back. Do you love someone who is lost? Keep praying dear friend, God is actively searching for them, scanning the horizon to bring them home to Himself. God loves and values lost souls. Like you.

Just One Minute of Sin

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I love a good, hot shower. One recent chilly morning as I was getting ready to go to work, I thought, “I’ll just crank up the hot water and stay for a minute.” It felt so good! The next thing I knew I had stayed for almost 10 minutes. I just couldn’t bear to give it up.

Sin is like that. It beckons us with promises of how good we will feel. We vow to ourselves, “I’ll only stay a minute.” That’s when Satan sets his hook in us and that minute turns into ten minutes, a day, a week . . . a lifetime. We just can’t bear to give it up. I don’t recall who said it but it’s so true, “Sin will take you farther than you meant to go, keep you longer than you meant to stay, and cost you more than you meant to pay.” I know this is true from personal experience, and I’m not just talking about a hot shower.

James described the step-by-step progression of sin: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15). The key word in this passage is desire. The desire for sin is already present in us; Satan knows that it and he tailors the temptation to meet our desire. All it takes is one look in the direction of that sin and we are captivated and captured.

No, that moment of pleasure is not worth the chains that remain. You and I must get serious about sin. It is not something we can play around with, even for a brief moment. We must run away from temptation the moment it raises its enticing head. And we must make God the desire of our hearts. Because when you love God with all your heart, there is no room left to desire sin.  Beloved, don’t give sin any place in your life, not for even a minute.

Sermon on the Mount – The Beatitudes, part 2

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This is the second lesson in our study on the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s gospel, focusing on “The Beatitudes.” The first four “Blesseds” show the priority of the Kingdom of God versus the world as Jesus said the poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed. The second set of four “Blesseds” shows the characteristics that should mark the citizens of God’s Kingdom.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (v. 7). Merciful people have compassion for those in need, to the point that they actively and practically work to meet the need. God sets the standard for mercy as He showed needy sinners mercy through the cross of His Son. Those who show mercy, Jesus said, will be shown mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (v. 8). The heart, being the seat of thinking and understanding, is where we talk to ourselves. The pure in heart will speak to themselves of pure things – Philippians 4:8 things. And Psalms 23:7 shows us that pure hearts will always lead to clean hands. These are the ones who will see God. That should make us pay careful attention to our thoughts.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (v. 9). Peacemakers are not doormats. Peacemakers work to restore broken relationships and bring peace to both parties. The most important of those broken relationships is between God and men. Until there is peace there, there will never be lasting peace among men. Peacemakers are called sons of God. Not every human being is a child of God, only those who prioritize the Kingdom of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven, for, in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (v. 10-12). If you are living the righteous life of a Christian you will expose the wickedness of the world without saying a word. And the world will hate you for it. This is normal. Jesus said it is cause for rejoicing. If the world does not hate you, you better check your brand of Christianity. These are the ones for whom the Kingdom of God is a present reality.

What’s interesting is this is not just a random list, but shows the progression of the life of a true believer who goes from knowing they have nothing to offer God for their sins, to becoming a person who so emulates Christ that the world hates them for it. Blessed are you, Beloved, when you abandon yourself to the God who created you and loves you.

Take Control of Your Heart

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Several years ago, I had an “SVT Episode,” supraventricular tachycardia – or extremely rapid heartbeat.  In the Emergency Department, I was hooked up to an EKG machine to monitor my heart rate, which was soon brought back to a normal rhythm.  During a follow-up echocardiogram, the technician turned the monitor toward me so I could see my heart in action.  It was fascinating.   We all know how vital the heart is to human existence.  The heart, spiritually speaking, is also the core of our Christian life..

Often when we think of the heart, we think of emotions.  However, that is a 21st-century understanding of a 1st-century word. The Greek rendering for the word “heart” is kardia – which you should easily recognize as the medical term for all things concerning the physical heart.  In Greek, it points to our conscience self – our thinking and understanding. That should give us a great deal of insight into the role of the heart in the Christian.  The heart is where we find motivation based on reason and conscious thought and it is the root of our emotional nature. In simpler terms, the heart is the place where we talk to ourselves because that is what thinking really is. And our thinking controls our feelings. No wonder Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” How? We mentioned “conscious thought” – that’s what you think about intentionally, like when you’re focusing on the steps to a project. We also have to pay attention to our “unconscious” thoughts – the ones we don’t initiate. These come from our subconscious and reveal the raw condition of our hearts. We have to bring those thoughts into submission to Christ, casting out anything unChristlike and intentionally choosing Philippians 4:8 thoughts. (Go look that up if you need to.) It may seem silly, but I will often do a lasso motion with my arm to take my errant thoughts captive. Let me tell you, paying careful attention to your thoughts all day is exhausting. But over time you and I can retrain our hearts to think rightly and truthfully.

Diet and exercise can help our physical hearts. Our spiritual hearts need a workout as well to become healthy and strong. Beloved,  take control of your thoughts because your thoughts control you.