Chocolate-covered Doughnuts

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Someone brought doughnuts to our office again. And the battle is on. Will I or won’t I. I promised myself that I would eat better and try to lose some weight. But doughnuts. Oh, no! Chocolate covered at that. I love chocolate-covered doughnuts. How do I know the box has chocolate-covered doughnuts? Because I walked over to the table and raised the lid.  Now my hand is reaching out and grabbing this delicious pastry. The first bite is so good. I have given way to temptation. I have succumbed to my weakness. I have betrayed my promise to my body.  But my fall, much like in the garden of Eden, didn’t happen with my first bite, or even raising the box lid and reaching in. It happened when I kept looking at the temptation from my desk. It happened when I began to justify to myself what I had every intention of doing.

The Bible says, “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).” Oh, how I wish it just stopped at “He will not let you be tempted.” I wish it said that God would not let anyone bring chocolate-covered doughnuts into our office. I wish it said that God would make chocolate-covered doughnuts repulsive to me. But no, it says I will be confronted with temptation. I will have tempting things cross my path. I will have tempting thoughts and desires. It’s guaranteed.

What God has promised is an escape route – a way out when temptation strikes. I wish that meant that all the other staff members would gobble them up before I could get to the table. Sometimes God does intervene in physical ways, but most often the way out is internal, it’s self-control – or more to the point, “Spirit-control.”  It’s listening and responding when the Spirit reminds me of who I am and why I need to separate myself from the temptation. Yes, God provides a way out when we are tempted. The question then is am I willing to look for the way out? When I find it am I willing to use it? And once I’ve used it, am I willing to resist the urge to leave a forwarding address?

I Did It My Way

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Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Michael Bublé sang it and is one of the most often requested songs for funerals. Paul Anka wrote lyrics in English to a French tune and pitched “My Way” to Old Blue Eyes. We applaud people who do it their way. But should we? While the rugged individualist charts his own course, he seldom does it God’s way. 

God, through Samuel, directed King Saul to attack the Amalekites, the enemy of God’s people. God specifically said, “totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them . . .” Not the people and not even their livestock (1 Samuel 15:3). Saul and his men were somewhat obedient. “Saul and the army spared Agag [the king] and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs, everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy” (v. 9). They were unwilling to be obedient. God’s heart was grieved by Saul’s disobedience (v. 11). He sent Samuel to chastise the king.

When the prophet arrived at the camp, Saul greeted him saying, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions” (v. 13). And Samuel said, in today’s language, “Oh, really? Then why do I hear sheep bleating and cattle lowing?” (v. 14). And Saul answered that they saved the best of the animals “to sacrifice to the Lord” (v. 15).  He essentially sang Sinatra’s song – “I obeyed the Lord – my way.” Samuel replied, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (v. 22). And from that point on, God rejected Saul as Israel’s king.

No, this is not one of those warm and fuzzy devotionals. I feel an urgent need in my spirit to tell you to stop trying to do life your way. Do it God’s way. Be fully obedient to the Lord. Partial obedience is disobedience. James gave us two keys to doing life God’s way: “Submit yourself to God” (4:7) and “Humble yourself before the Lord” (4:10).

I’m not pointing fingers at you without pointing them at myself first. This morning I prayed, “Lord please give me a word for your people – and for me.” I know I need to learn the discipline of obedience, submission, and humility before God. This honors and pleases the Lord who – despite what Sinatra and all the rest believe – created man. Self-made men and women are on the road to self-destruction. Beloved, will you do it God’s way?

Hebrews: Am I a Child of God?

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The humanity of Jesus has long been a point of contention among scholars, theologians, and skeptics. It is difficult to grasp the idea that Jesus is God. A man. The divine in human flesh. It raises so many questions. Why would God subject His one and only Son to the frailties of a human body?  Why would He send Him away from perfection in heaven to walk with sinful men? Why would He impose death on His own Son for such sinful, ungrateful creatures? The author of Hebrews gives us several points in these next eight verses.

We’ll start here: “In bringing many sons to glory . . .” (Hebrews 2:10a).

God’s plan was to “bring many sons to glory,” to bring lost human beings into His eternal family. You have probably heard someone say “We are all God’s children.” It’s a nice sentiment, but it isn’t true. We are all God’s creation, but only those who have trusted in Christ as their Savior are God’s children. Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister . . .” (Matthew 12:50). What is the will of the Father?  “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life . . .” (John 6:40).  The children of God believe in the Son of God. God’s desire is not to build a household of servants or an army of soldiers or a cult of mindless followers, but a family. Jesus’ death and resurrection are His means to accomplish that goal.

How do you know if you’re a child of God? If you “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7). If you “obey His commands” (2:3; 5:3). If you “walk as Jesus did” (2:6). If you “love your brother” (2:10; 3:10, 11; 4:21). If you do not “love the world” (2:15).  If you “do what is right” (3:10). If you “love with actions and in truth” (3:18-19). If you “acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come from God” (4:2). If you believe “that Jesus is the Christ” (5:1). If you “do not continue to sin” (5:18).

The only question then is, Beloved, are you a child of God?

Give God the Glory

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I’m preparing for my fall class by reading Romans over the summer. Actually, I’m writing it out. This is my favorite way to study the Scriptures because I have to pay careful attention to every single word.  This is when the Spirit sends me on those wonderful word studies and calls me to think carefully and deeply about what a verse says.

I hit one of those the other day and I’ve been chewing on it ever since. Paul is explaining why God is justified in pouring out His wrath on sinful, rebellious men. Here’s the verse that caught my attention: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). There are several major points here, but we’re going to focus on two:

Men – all men – know about God. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made . . .” (v. 20) They know that Someone is the creative force behind everything that exists. Paul said that creation is intended to draw men to “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him . . .” (Acts 17:27). Man is “without excuse” (v. 20b) when he denies the truth of God.

Then, here’s what caught my attention – the very minimum man owes God is glory and thanks. God is worthy of glory – which means declaring his splendor and brilliance and power with words of honor, praise, and excellence and assigning the highest status to Him. Not that He needs it. We do. We need to give Him glory to turn our minds and hearts to Him who alone is worthy. And we owe God our thanks as our Creator. We exist because He decided we should. That in itself should be enough to thank Him.

The wicked man refuses to give God even the least He deserves – glory and thanks. Oh but He is worthy of so much more and when we receive His Son as our Savior we give Him the rest – love, faith, trust, devotion, service – our very selves. Beloved, what about it? Are you giving God everything He deserves or just the bare minimum? Or are you refusing to give Him anything at all?

What Is a Christian?

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How do others know you’re a follower of Christ? Is it your “Daughter of the King” T-shirt? Maybe it’s the fish on your car or posting Jesus memes on social media. Perhaps it’s how you rail against sins you would never commit. Do these things say you are a Christian? No more than sitting in a garage says you are a car. There are three things that Jesus identified as marking His followers.

Love – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Twice: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” ((John 15:12). And again: “This is my command: Love each other” (15:17). Three times Jesus said, “Love one another.” And this is the only time in all four gospels that Jesus called His words a “command.”

Fruit – “This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). Fruit is the evidence of what something or someone is. A peach tree bears peaches. A banana tree bears bananas. A Christian bears the fruit of the Spirit: love (there it is again), Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Persecution – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). If you belong to Christ, you have a target painted on your back.

The church wants to say it is all about doing and saying the right things. The world says it is approving all kinds of sin for the sake of “love.” But Jesus said the mark of a Christian is love for the Body of Christ, producing fruit, and being hated by the world. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little uneasy right now. Beloved, what is it about you that tells the world you belong to Jesus?

Are you sorry for your sin?

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The Apostle Paul had such a heart of love for his fellow believers. He prayed for them continually, asking for God’s blessing, favor, light, peace, Joy, hope, wisdom, and power. He encouraged them in the face of great opposition and persecution, even from his own prison cell. But one thing Paul did not do was coddle them in their sin. He called out their squabbling, arrogance, greed, gluttony (ouch), selfishness, and especially their sexual immorality. He would have none of it among God’s people. He was quick to chastise the Corinthian church for tolerating – and even applauding – gross sexual sin among the believers (1 Cor. 5).  He would be appalled at the church today. He later wrote, “I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while – yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance” (2 Cor. 7:8-9).

Paul boldly pointed out their sin in all its ugliness and they were deeply convicted and greatly sorrowed. Have you ever been truly sorry for your sin? Have you ever let the Holy Spirit convict you to the point of grieving for your offense before God? Or have you let the world soothe you with mushy half-truths about love and tolerance? Let me give this to you straight – God loves you, but He does not tolerate sin. He convicts and chastens His children (Hebrews 12:6). That’s how you know He is your Father. The point of this chastening is not just to make you feel bad about yourself (which is how the world spins it). God calls out our sin so that we will turn away from it and turn back to Him. “Godly sorry brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (1 Cor. 7:10).

Let me get very personal. Is there a cherished sin in your life – one you just don’t want to let go of? It may be something “big” like stealing from your job or sexual sin, or it may be something “small” like bitterness or – gulp – gluttony. Take off your worldly glasses and listen to what the Spirit says about it. Beloved, the tug on your heart is godly sorrow. It’s your Father calling you to repentance. Calling you to wholeness. Calling you to Joy.

Is He Lord?

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I had a t-shirt that got me into trouble in middle school. It wasn’t racy or low-cut or provocative – it was what it said. No, it didn’t have profanity on it or racist comments.  It said, “As long as there are pop tests, there will be prayer in school.” By my middle-high school years, faculty-led prayer had been banned from schools for ten years. Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for state officials to compose an official school prayer and encourage its recitation in public schools. Fifty-nine years later we are reaping the consequences of that decision. Deadly, horrific consequences.

After the 9/11 tragedy, Anne Graham Lotz commented, “for several years now Americans in a sense have shaken their fist at God and said, God, we want you out of our schools, our government, our business, we want you out of our marketplace. And God, who is a gentleman, has just quietly backed out of our national and political life, our public life. Removing his hand of blessing and protection.” What fools we have been.

But we were not the first to tell God to leave us alone. The Old Testament Prophet Amos tried in obedience to deliver the word of the Lord to the people but they told him, “Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the house of Isaac” (Amos 7:16). In other words, “Shut up and leave us alone.” And so God did. He told them, “The days are coming when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (8:11). They had said, “We don’t want to hear from you, God,” and He gave them what they wanted – silence from heaven. For four hundred years. Years of great oppression and persecution and struggle.

You and I can’t plead for God’s help in a crisis and then reject His holy and righteous ways when they rub against our “freedoms.” And I’m not just talking on a big, national scale – I’m talking about our every day lives. The missionary Hudson Taylor said, “Christ is either Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.” You and I have to be all-in. What say you, Beloved? Is He Lord or is He not?

A Hill to Die On

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Bible teacher Beth Moore (I know, she’s a lightning rod right now) said that there are spine issues and rib issues in the church. Meaning, a broken rib is painful and uncomfortable but is not usually life-threatening. But a broken spine can cause paralysis and even death.

There are points we debate in the church that are rib issues. They are really not the mountains we make them out to be.  And the enemy uses those issues to cause a great divide in the Body of Christ and bring scorn on her witness in the world.

But then there are matters we confront that are spine issues. They are hills worth dying on and spiritual truths that must not be left up to debate or cultural interpretation.

One of the most crucial is that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and has complete authority over the church.

In the past, the church argued over matters of doctrine. Was Jesus both fully divine and fully human? Was He even the Son of God or just a holy man? Was His resurrection bodily or only spiritual? Today, the hottest issues are homosexuality, abortion, and the exclusive claim that Jesus is the only way to God.

But all these are only symptoms of a more severe, more deadly disease – disregard for the Word of God.  At the very root of all these debates is the question of the authority of the Scriptures.  Every discussion the church enters should ask the question: “What does the Bible say?”  And we must align ourselves accordingly. Peter said that the Scriptures came to men from the Holy Spirit of God (2 Peter 1:21). If the church is approving of or teaching things that disagree with the Scriptures then that is very much a spine issue. That will cause great damage to the Body.

Okay, but what does that mean for you and me in our daily lives? We also must submit to the authority of the Bible. In matters great and small, the Word of God must have the final say. In your thoughts. In your choices. In your words. In your marriage. In your home. In your relationships. In your job. The Bible is not just “the Good Book.” It is the holy words of the holy God of heaven and earth. Beloved, it is your life (Deut. 32:47).

Why Are You Here?

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What is it you’re here for? What is God’s good plan for your life? I’ve asked myself that many times and my answer changes over the years and seasons. To be a teacher? A writer? A scholar? A grandmother? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. But something inside me always believed there was something more. Oh, a speaker? A published author? Is that even enough?

One of the great scholars of the Renaissance, Erasmus, told a mythical tale about Jesus’ return to heaven after His time on earth. The angels gathered around Him as Jesus told them of His miracles, His teaching, and then of His death and resurrection.

When He finished, Michael the archangel asked, “But Lord, what happens now?”

Jesus answered, “I have left behind eleven faithful men who will declare my message and express my love. These faithful men will establish and build my church.”

“But,” responded Michael, “what if these men fail? What then?”

And Jesus answered, “I have no other plan.”

This may be a mythical story, but the concept is true – the church – that is you and I – is Jesus’ sole strategy to bring the Plan of the Ages to the world. We are Jesus’ plan A – and He doesn’t have a plan B. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). We have an urgent mission – a Great Commission – to tell His story, bring those who receive Him to the waters of baptism, teach them to walk in obedience to His Word, and train them to be the next generation of Great Commission followers.

Beloved, this morning, when you look at your reflection in the mirror remind yourself: “I’m it.” Then go fulfill your mission.

The Call

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I like to look back at my Facebook memories each day. I love seeing Joy grow over almost two years. I cherish memories of friends who are now in heaven. I especially love to recall God’s hand in my life. It helps me remember His faithfulness. And I cringe at times I thought I was so intelligent and spiritual.

This morning FB reminded me that seven years ago today was my last day after 17 years of serving at Tallahassee Heights United Methodist Church. I was devoting myself full-time to seminary, Bible study, writing, and teaching. That was a huge leap of faith. But it wasn’t a decision I made willy-nilly; God called me to it and I had to obey.

A few months before I had encountered a verse that became God’s call on my life and still guides me today: “The gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws to Israel” (Ezra 7:9b-10). God said to me, “Devote yourself to study my Word, live my Word, and teach my Word.”  And that is what I set out to do and am still dedicated to doing.

But the call goes back even farther than seven years. Ten years before that I was sensing a call to ministry. I was ready – or so I thought. God had some sifting and refining to do in me first. And some major humbling. So much so that I thought He had rescinded His call and I burned all my notebooks filled with years of writings because I believed it was all over. But He was just beginning – and so was I. Today, seven years from the day I surrendered to that call, I am still studying, writing, teaching, and preparing – now in graduate school.

Why am I sharing this memory and my story? Because someone has felt God’s call in the past. You were excited about it and ready to go. But you’re still waiting and it seems like a long-lost dream. You may have had to go through some hard refining and you wonder if God has changed His mind. He hasn’t. He’s just been preparing you. Paul said, “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). I’m living proof of that. Beloved get yourself ready to do what God called you to do. He’s not through with you yet.