Child of the King

The Queen knew that her people were in danger and only the king – her husband – could undo the evil plan against them. But no one dared to approach the throne without a summons. Not even Esther. If she did, and it displeased him, she would be put to death. It was a risky proposition, but it was necessary. She prepared herself and put on her royal robes and when the king saw her standing in the court, he welcomed her. Esther’s bravery (and her God) saved the lives of all the Jews in Persia.

I’ve often envisioned myself standing outside the doors of God’s throne room, my heart hammering in my chest. I see myself dressed, not in royal robes, but in the torn, tattered rags of my sinfulness. I come with a heavy burden and a desperate need that is almost always the result of my own sin and foolishness. Do I dare push open that door and approach the holy and pure God of heaven and earth?

According to Hebrews 4:16, that is exactly what I am invited to do. The author said, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16). With these shakey knees? Yes. Because the confidence I have to come before God isn’t something inside of me, but it is because I am accepted in the blood of Jesus. While I see myself clothed in dirty rags, God sees me clothed in the righteousness of Christ. I see the mud of the world clinging to my hands, but God sees the “clean hands and pure heart” (Ps 24:4) of one who has been redeemed by His Son and cleansed from sin. I may see myself as a stumbling, sinful woman, but He sees me as His beloved child. Imagine that. I am a child of the King of the universe. Timothy Keller said: “The only person that dares wake up the king at 3:00 a.m. for a glass of water is his child. We have that kind of access.”

What do you need today? Encouragement? Hope? Provision? Healing? Help? Forgiveness? Peace? Joy? Your broken heart mended? Beloved, lift up your head and step into your Father’s presence. He will not only receive you but He will throw open His arms wide to you. That’s His promise. That’s your confidence. That’s your place as a child of God.

The Overwhelming, Unfailing Love of God

The Psalms are a favorite place in the Scriptures for many of us. The writers (no, David didn’t write them all) often express thoughts and feelings that we can identify with. There is praise and worship and heartache and loneliness and raw emotion. My Bible is full of underscores, dates, and notes – markings to remind me of who I am and whose I am and what God has done. I can find myself in pretty much every chapter. I have been the little lamb in the care of the Shepherd (Ps. 23) and I have been the contrite sinner (Ps. 51). I have taken refuge under the feathers of His wings (Psalm 91) and I have walked the path with only His Word to light my steps (Psalm 105).

This morning, I find myself in Psalm 107 – a psalm of thanksgiving. I encourage you to grab your Bible and read the psalmist’s words – perhaps you will see yourself here too. I have wandered in desert wastelands (v. 4) and been hungry (v. 6) and He led me to a place where I could settle (v. 7). I have sat in darkest gloom, in a prison of my own making (v. 10-11), but He brought me out of the darkness and broke away my chains (v. 14). I have been a fool and a rebel and suffered because of my sin (v. 17) yet God sent forth His Word and healed me (v. 20). I have been lost in a storm and cried at my wit’s end (v. 25-28) and He stilled the storm to a whisper and guided me home (v. 29-30). He has poured his showers of blessing out on me when my heart was parched and dry (v. 33-35); and when I was needy and afflicted, He lifted me up and filled my life with Joy (literally) (v. 41-42). I give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for me (vv. 8, 15, 21, 31).

God has been so good, so kind, and so generous to me. How can I do anything but give Him thanks when I consider His great love (v. 43)? I pray that as you move through this day God brings to mind the many wonderful things He has done for you. I pray you are overwhelmed by his unfailing love. And I pray that when this day is done, Beloved, your heart is filled to overflowing with gratitude and Joy.

(P.S. Who are the movers and shakers of the church? What events and people shaped the Christian faith? Get ready friends – we’re going to history class – that is the history of the Christian church. We’ll start with an overview of Acts and then move beyond. Join me here on Mondays for this exciting study!)

The Art of Gentleness

I was going in a whole other direction this morning, climbing up on my soapbox with my script in hand. Then the Holy Spirit drew my attention to a small yellow post-it tab peeking out of my Bible. “Hmmm – wonder what you were marking there?” I flipped to the page in Ephesians where I found a verse I had previously underlined: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (4:32). And I heard very clearly, “Remember Gentleness.” In case you missed it, “Gentle” is my “word for 2023.” Yes, I realize it’s the third time I’ve written about it since the beginning of the year – and it’s only the 25th of January, but that’s because God keeps bringing it up to me. Probably because I keep dropping the ball.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been chaffing at this call lately. I don’t always want to be patient and kind. I want my way. I want my time to be my own. I want to spend my money on what I want.  I want my priorities to be other people’s priorities. I don’t want to be inconvenienced. I hope that doesn’t make you think less of me, but that’s just my human nature coming out. You’ve got one too, you know.

My verse is sandwiched between a call to “get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger . . .” (v. 31) and the command to “live a life of love . . .” (5:2) This, Paul said, makes us “imitators of God” (5:1). Think about it – God has every right to be angry at us because we are sinners, but He instead offers us forgiveness and love. He is gracious and gentle with us – even though we don’t deserve it. Can we do any less for those who have hurt, used, and offended us?

The culture panders to our human nature. “You don’t have to take that. Put yourself first. Nice guys finish last.”  But God says, “Be gentle. Be gracious and kind and compassionate. Forgive. Be loving. Be like Me.” God keeps bringing to mind Romans 12:10 “Honor one another above yourselves.” What will you choose, Beloved? The world may look down on you for giving yourself away, but you will never be more like God than when you do.

Wrestling

I know you think I write these devotionals every day for you. You are only partially correct. Some days I write for me and bring you along for the ride.   Writing is how I think and pray and wrestle things out. Today is one of those days. I shared with you earlier that my “word” for the year is “gentle.”  I believe that God is imprinting that word on my heart because I’m in a situation where gentleness is needed for the best outcome.

Gentleness seems so easy, the word even sounds simple as it rolls off my tongue. But it isn’t. Especially when I am tired. And I am tired. Inside and out. When I’m tired the “natural me” comes out. She is petulant and irritable. She wants her way. She grumbles. A lot. She is everything but gentle. And she is awake this morning.

The Lord reminded me of my word through His Word. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2). Yes Lord, I hear You. Every one of those descriptions is counter to my natural self. I cannot produce them on my own. But they are the very character of Christ whom I claim to follow. One word, in particular, caught my attention: “completely.” That word means “all, each, every.” In every situation, with every person, at all times be humble and gentle and patient and forbearing and loving. Even when I’m tired. Even with people who are unfair and uncooperative. Even when I don’t want to be. Especially when I don’t want to be.

I told you, I’m wrestling this out this morning and so I asked God, “How?” “How do I do this when I’m tired and people are making life hard?” Do you know what He didn’t say? He didn’t say, “I’ll make them more agreeable.” He didn’t say, “I’ll change your situation.” He didn’t say, “I’ll make this easier for you.” The Spirit literally took my eyes across the page of my open Bible to another verse: “For this reason, I kneel before the Father . . .” (3:14). He said, “Humble yourself before  me and ask for my help.” So I will as soon as I sign off. From one wrestler to another, maybe you need to as well Beloved.

Hebrews: The Pastor/Shepherd

I spent much of my career serving in administrative roles in churches. I’ve seen churches and pastors with wonderful relationships and I’ve seen churches and pastors with unpleasant relationships. Rarely was the problem with the pastor. Most often the tension arose from within the church and usually involved a handful of people and a power struggle.  The author of Hebrews said, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a Joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb 13:17). He was writing about the structure of the church. He was calling the Body of Christ to proper order starting with submission to the leadership.

All through the Bible – particularly the New Testament – God lays out a hierarchy. In the home wives and children submit to the husband and father. In the church, members submit to the pastor/elder whom God had placed over them. The pastor/elder submits to Jesus Christ, the head of the church (Eph 1:22-23). Scripture also says that Christ submits to His head, which is God (1 Cor 11:3).

The godly pastor/elder serves the church by caring for and about its members. The Bible called church leaders “shepherds” over a flock of sheep. A shepherd’s priority is no how much the animals will bring at the market but the well-being of the flock under his care. The same is true of the shepherd of God’s flock. He provides for the sheep. He comforts the sheep. He guides the sheep. He walks beside the sheep through dark valleys. He sets the righteous of God always before them. He fights the enemy on their behalf, prepares them for serving, and blesses them in the name of the Lord. (Reference Psalm 23). He warns the sheep of danger. He even points out their sinful and self-destructive ways. And, the writer says, the Lord who appointed him holds him accountable for how he tends the sheep under his care.

A submissive church is a Joy to her pastor. Barna recently reported that 42 percent of pastors are considering leaving their ministry. The pressures and demands and struggles of pastoring often outweigh the benefits. As church members, you and I play a big part in whether the Pastor’s work is a Joy or a burden. This verse says submission and obedience make the relationship work for everyone. Beloved, will you be a blessing to your Pastor?

Taste-Tested and Approved

I see lots of recipes on social media – yummy-looking desserts, casseroles, crockpot meals, dips, and the one that caught my eye this morning: white bean chicken chili. I may try that one soon. If my family likes it, I may even pass it on. But not until I’ve served it and it gets the thumbs-up – especially from Joy. I can’t imagine sharing a recipe I’ve never tried first. I wouldn’t recommend a doctor I’ve never seen or a church I haven’t attended or a book I’ve not read. If you get any kind of recommendation from me it’s only because I’ve tested it out and found it to be good.

That is why my messages are all about the Lord. As David said, I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8 ). I have found Him to be satisfying in every way. When I need help – and I need it a lot – He is my Helper (Ps 54:4). When the enemy attacks me Almighty God is stronger than my foe (Gen 17:1-2). When I am weary He is my Strength (Ps 19:14). When I fall into sin He is faithful to forgive me (Ps 99:8 ). When I am lonely He is with me (Jud 6:12). When I have a need I go to the Lord who provides (Gen 22:14). When the world is dark and full of evil I look to the Light (John 8:12). When I am sick I trust in the Lord my Healer (Ex 15:26).  When chaos is all around me I run to the Lord my Peace (Jud 6:24).

And when I need counsel or wisdom or just need to know what is right I know where to go because I have tested His words and they are true (John 17:17). The Bible is as sure and powerful as the One who spoke it – the God of truth (Ps 31:5). I can tell you that He is a Faithful God (Deut 7:9) because He has always been faithful to me. I can recommend Him to you without hesitation because He has proven Himself to me over and over and over again. He is the God of my Life (Ps 42:8 ).

If the white bean chicken chili shows up on my page you can know that I have tasted it and it is good. But more important than a recipe, I want to share God with you because He is everything to me. Oh, Beloved, I pray that you will taste and see that the Lord is good. I highly recommend Him.

Be Gentle

I don’t usually do a “word for the year,” but in the last few days one word kept presenting itself to me over and over. I took that to mean God has chosen a word for me.  “Gentle.”

Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23).  The most common definitions from the Scriptures are kindness, meekness, humility, patience, and consideration. And it is Jesus’ own self-description: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart . . . “ (Matt 11:29). If the goal of the Christian life is that I am “conformed to the likeness of [God’s] Son” (Rom 8:29), then gentleness must be part of my character. If there is anything the world needs now it is gentleness. It is completely counter to the culture of today.  Gentleness doesn’t announce itself with a microphone. Gentleness doesn’t try to shout down others. Gentleness doesn’t overpower others and demand its rights. Gentleness considers others’ needs above its own wants. Gentleness speaks with soft and tender words. Gentleness takes the lesser seat, the smaller portion, the way of being second. Gentleness looks beyond a person’s actions to the wounded heart behind them. Gentleness chooses to serve rather than be served.

Several verses speak of gentleness, but the Scripture that God keeps speaking to me is Philippians 4:4-6: “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 your minds in Christ Jesus.”  All of these things are very needed in my life: Joy, Presence, prayer, gratitude, peace, and transcendence. But gentleness is the one that the Spirit keeps driving home. Probably because it is the one that is most needed in my home.

Real gentleness looks like Jesus and talks like Jesus and acts like Jesus – because it comes from Jesus. That’s the kind of gentleness that is evident to all. Beloved, will you show somebody Jesus today?

Hebrews: The Hands and Feet of Jesus

Photo Credit: Ashley Andrews

Now that the Advent season is done, it’s time to finish up our study of Hebrews. We’re in the last half of the final chapter. Since we’ve been away a while, let’s review a little. Hebrews was written to Jewish believers who were under tremendous persecution to abandon their faith in Jesus Christ. The writer wanted to encourage them to stay true to the Lord. He showed them how Jesus was superior to every aspect of Judaism because He is the Son of God and equal in divine power and authority. Yet Jesus was also a man who suffered for the sins of humanity and fulfilled the demands of the Mosaic Law.

He also used the example of the heroes of Jewish history to prove that faith, not adherence to rules, made them righteous before God. He encouraged them to persevere despite their suffering because suffering was God’s tool for perfecting His children. Here at the end of his message, the writer exhorted his readers to live in a community of love, purity, contentment, faithfulness, diligence, and praise.

So we pick up where we left off with a good word in verse 16: “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” For the past month, my church family has lived out this verse. You may be aware that, in September, my son and his family – including my granddaughter Joy, moved from our home to live with other family several hours away.  You may not know that they came back to us at the end of November. It has been a sweet reunion, but it’s also been difficult financially. We’re trying to stretch our very meager income to cover all five of us until my son goes to basic training for the Army National Guard in a few weeks. And in all that to give Joy a good Christmas.

Our church family and friends have exemplified our focal verse. They have stepped in and blessed us incredibly with food, funds, and so many gifts for Joy that we can’t stop shaking our heads in amazement. There is no doubt that God is well-pleased with their generosity and love. And here’s the amazing part – we didn’t tell anyone that we were struggling. But God did. And they listened and acted on it.

Jesus said whatever you do for the least of His brothers, “you [do] for me” (Matt 25:40). Somebody has a need that you can meet. Beloved, will you bless them – and Him – today?

The Truth is . . .

Has anyone ever lied to you? Ever listened to a politician? Ever asked a toddler, “What have you got in your mouth?” Or asked your teenager, “Do you have homework tonight?” Yep, you’ve been lied to. I know people have lied to me. Some were “white lies” and some were “indiscretions.” And there’s the occasional covering up a birthday surprise. Few things will draw my ire more than a bald-faced lie – when someone lies to my face and we both know it. If I’m truly honest, I’ve lied to people too – but not intentionally. Well, maybe sometimes intentionally. Like that time as a teenager when I . . . on second thought, I’d better not divulge that. Most of the time, the lies I told were when I said I would do something and failed to follow through. That usually comes when I over-promise. I have every intention of doing the thing, but for a variety of reasons, I just can’t pull it off. I’ve eaten a lot of humble pie in my life admitting I fell short of my promises.

Hebrews 6:18 tells us “it is impossible for God to lie.”  God is truth, and everything He says is true. You and I can take it to the proverbial bank. The Bible is God’s Word, thus, whatever the Bible says is the absolute truth.

When the Bible says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1), we can trust that is true.

In the Scripture, God said, “I will be with you, I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Jos 1:5). That’s a true and trustworthy promise.

When the Bible says that God is your shield (Ps 7:10), your strength, rock, fortress, deliverer, refuge, stronghold, and salvation (Ps 18:1-2), you can be assured that you are safe in His arms.

When the Bible says that God sees your trouble and grief and listens to your cries (Ps 101:14,17), you can rest your weary head on His shoulder and pour out your heart into His ears.

When the Bible says that God has good plans to give you a future and a hope (Jer 29:13) and that He will fulfill His purpose for you (Ps 27:2), you need not fear the days ahead.

And most of all, when the Bible says God loves you – that He lavishes His love on you (1 John 3:1) – you can know without a shadow of a doubt that it is the truth, no matter what your feelings or the devil, or the world may say. The Creator of the universe loves you. And that, Beloved, is no lie. It’s the truest thing you’ll ever hear.

Advent 2022: In Heaven’s Eyes

I’ve always wondered about heaven’s reaction when Jesus was born.  What was the Father thinking?  Did He look over at Jesus’ empty throne?  Were the angels rejoicing?  Or were they silent with wonder?  The Bible doesn’t tell us specifically, but we do have a small clue.

“Even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12).   The word Peter used for “look” means “to bend over to look intently.”  Can you picture it with me – tens of thousands of angels bending over the edge of heaven to gaze upon the Son of God in human flesh? The One who, with the Father and the Spirit, created the first human being had now become one of them.  The omnipotent was now a helpless infant, subject to cold and hunger and pain.  The One who provided all men with all things now needed a young woman to provide for Him.  He who called the light forth now squinted His eyes at the brightness of Joseph’s lantern.   He had spoken the animals into being; now they were His only companions at His birth. 

No doubt the celestial beings marveled at the sight before them, but they were particularly in awe for the purpose of it all.   They had always known that God is complete love, they had experienced that love for themselves.  But grace. Grace was something foreign to them.  These earthly creatures had rejected and abandoned their Creator; they deserved destruction.  But God offered forgiveness and even more – was willing to accept these rebellious humans as His own beloved children.  How could it be that the Sovereign Lord God Almighty sent His One and Only Son to pay the penalty for humanity’s sin?  To the heavenly beings, it was extraordinary. They recognized the greatness of God’s offer – even if the recipients of it did not.  Peter said the angels “eagerly desired” to know this amazing grace.  But it is a gift only human beings can receive.

This Christmas Day, Beloved, as you unwrap presents and embrace loved ones, consider with fresh eyes the gift of God’s grace.  From heaven brought down to earth, it is, in fact, the true heart of Christmas.