Give Careful Thought

Tucked away in the latter part of the Old Testament is the tiny book of Haggai. It is only two chapters, a total of 38 verses but it has a lot to say. Rather, God has a lot to say in this little book. Haggai prophesied after the Jews were released from Babylonian captivity. They started returning home after Cyrus’ edict around 538 b.c. They came back to a ruined Jerusalem, and most heartbreaking of all – a destroyed temple. At first, they were devoted to rebuilding the temple but neighboring nations and their personal issues interfered so they abandoned that work and settled for building “paneled houses” (1:4) for themselves.

Isn’t this how it happens for you and me? We start this Christian walk with enthusiasm and determination, but “trouble and persecution” and the “worries of this life” (Matt 13:21-22) cause us to lose our motivation and desire for the things of God. Before long we’re sleeping in on Sundays and turning our focus on ourselves.

Haggai exhorts the Jews to finish the temple work more than twenty years after it was begun. And he gives them the Word of the Lord. A repetitive word. Five times God says” “Give careful thought . . .” (1:5, 7; 2:15, and 18 twice). The word combination has the idea of taking hold of one’s thoughts – not gently – but by force. This reminds me of Paul’s message to the Corinthian church: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

There are a lot of things that we cannot control, but you and I can – and must – control our thoughts. That includes everything from the sinful imagery we replay to angry conversations we imagine to self-exaltation, self-condemnation, and self-pity. It’s all in our hands – or rather in our minds. I’m preaching to myself here – this is one of the hardest battles I face. It is so easy to let my thoughts run my mind and thus my heart. The problem is, they always run me into a ditch of apathy, doubt, discouragement, and fear. So, I’m taking my mind – and my heart – back. I’m going to give careful thought to my thoughts and bring them into submission to Christ. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. What about you, Beloved? Are you ready to take your thoughts – and your life – back?

When Life Ain’t Fair

Life is hard. Whether you’re a Christian or not, life is hard. The truth is, life is often harder for believers. I know it. You know it. So did the writers of the Psalms. Check out Psalm 73. Asaph is devoted to God, but he looks around and sees that the wicked have it so much better. They enjoy prosperity and good health and have no worries about following all the rules while he struggles with ill health, loss, and the burden of the Law. It just wasn’t fair.

Our Sunday School class has been studying Job, and he speaks of that often. The ungodly live a seemingly carefree life while the godly are oppressed, harassed, persecuted, and disparaged. I get it! But I don’t get it. I don’t understand the disparity, do you? We’re God’s people. It should be easier than this. I think Asaph expressed it well: “When I tried to understand this, it was too painful for me (v. 16 HCSB)” The Message says: “When I tried to figure it out, all I got was a splitting headache.” Can you relate? Headaches and heartaches seem to be the believer’s lot in life. “Well,” I hear you thinking, “this is all so cheery and encouraging.” Just wait.

After Asaph takes a BC powder, he gets a new revelation.  Verse 17 is the hinge verse: “till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood . . .” Translation: It’s not about this life, it’s about eternity. It’s about the bigger picture. The days of struggle we experience on planet earth are “momentary” (2 Corinthians 4:17) in light of eternity. Yes, it’s hard here, but it’s glorious there – and the glory lasts forever while this life is just one tick on the clock of forever.

You and I must learn to look at our troubles – all of life in fact – with an eternal mindset. You may live in a tiny rented trailer today, but you will have a mansion for eternity. My husband struggles through debilitating health problems right now, but he will have a perfect body forever. My head (and my heart) hurt a lot these days, but I know I will experience endless Joy. Beloved, take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and be encouraged. This life is not all there is. Eternity is waiting, and it’s going to be perfect. Forever.

Hebrews: The Walk of Faith

Of all the heroes in Hebrews 11, I most want to be like Enoch. “By faith, Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away” (v. 5). Nothing else is said of Enoch than that. There are no great feats listed, no battles fought, no mighty victories. Why am I so drawn to this man? Not because he did not die, but because of the simple description of Enoch’s life in Genesis 5: “Enoch walked with God” (v. 22). I want to walk with God. The writer of Hebrews says that as he walked he “pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5b). I want that please God. What was his secret for pleasing God? It’s the same things we see in every person’s life in this chapter. He pleased God “by faith.”  

Enoch’s story makes me think of one of my life verses: “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13). I believe that Enoch walked through life seeking the face and presence of God with his whole heart. And Enoch’s faith-filled search was rewarded. What is the prize for seeking God? Jeremiah 29:14 says, “I will be found by you.” What’s so neat about this is the terminology that is used here doesn’t mean we must exhaust ourselves searching for Him. It means when you set your heart on God He will set Himself right in your path so you cannot miss Him. Enoch found God – in the most extraordinary way.

The entire chapter of Hebrews 11 shows us that it is not our deeds that please God. It is our heart that believes and seeks after Him. Yes, I want to do great things for God. I want to study and teach His Word, I want to write to encourage others. I want to share Jesus everywhere I go But more than all these I want to please God. I want to seek Him with wholehearted devotion and walk through life with Him. And I want to leave my granddaughter an example of faith. Beloved, let every step you take in life lead you closer to the Lord.

Bought Lessons

If you’ve read my devotionals for very long, you’ve heard me quote my Mom who used to say “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.” It is the most profound thing she ever told me and I have the scars to prove that she was right. I’ve done some very foolish things in my life that I will never, ever do again. Her mantra reminds me of Psalm 119:67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word.”

One lesson I bought is that when I ignore the Word of God I will wind up in trouble. Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27. He said the wise man built his house on the rock and the foolish man built on the sand. The wise builder illustrated a person who built his life on obedience to Jesus’ words. No storm could destroy the house built on the rock, and no storm can destroy the person who builds their life on – not just by reading the Bible – but by putting its teachings and principles into practice. Knowing and obeying the Bible can save us so much trouble and heartache in life.

But I’ve also learned a gentler lesson: God doesn’t give up on us just because we messed up. He won’t write you off, wash His hands of me or turn away from us because we stumble. All through the Bible God tells us that He is patient, forgiving, compassionate, merciful, and full of grace. He loves you, even when your knees are bloody because you fell. He loves me, even when I am covered in the muck of my own choices. Jesus died so you and I can be forgiven, so we could have a second chance at life.

Have you made a mistake somewhere along the way? Have you run in the wrong direction, played with the wrong people, touched something that left you in pain? Take heart, Beloved, God has not given up on you. Take this affliction, this difficulty, and the pain it has caused and place it before your loving Heavenly Father. Then put your hand in the nail-scarred hand of Jesus and start walking, a little wiser, in the right direction.

You Matter

I am just a middle-aged (moving closer to senior-adult) woman from a small community in the deep south. I live a simple life. We rent a good house – but nothing fancy. I go to work every day at a small Southern Baptist college in a small town in Florida. I drive a very modest car. I’m married to a sweet, kind man. We help to raise our granddaughter. I love to write but I haven’t published any books.  I teach the Bible to my Sunday School ladies, but I’ve never stood on a stage. I’m not well-known and that’s okay with me. I am one face among the billions of faces in the world. And I have lots of struggles and hard situations in my life.

This morning as I was reading Isaiah 40, I came to this verse: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (v. 26). I sensed the Lord saying, “I don’t miss anything.” That’s when I realized that as insignificant as I am in the world, God hasn’t overlooked me. The Creator and King of the universe is not only aware that I exist, He cares about me and the difficulties I face. And do you want to hear something amazing? The same thing is true for you. You and I are not just part of the vast sea of humanity to God.

The Bible says that “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son . . . to save the world” (John 3:16, 17). But He is also a very personal God; He who knows the name of every star knows your name too.  Jesus attested to that; He is the Great Shepherd who “calls His sheep by name” (John 10:3). Maybe you feel small and insignificant today like no one notices or cares about you. I understand. I feel that way sometimes too. But nothing could be farther from the truth, Beloved. You are seen and you are known. And you matter. Greatly. You need not worry that you are just a face in the crowd – God never overlooks the one He loves.

Hebrews: By Faith – Abel

We’re now entering the “Hall of Faith” – the eleventh chapter of Hebrews that lists the heroes of the people of God. You know these stories well they are a staple of Bible teachers because they lead by example. Their examples were not their exploits. Over and over and over it was their faith.

First up: Abel. “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead” (v. 4). Every sermon I’ve heard on Cain and Abel was about Cain’s actions and how God told him that “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (v. 7). Thus, Cain becomes a lesson in self-control.

But the writer takes an entirely different approach. In fact, he makes no mention of how Abel died. He said that Abel’s faith was evidenced by the offering he brought. Cain brought “some” of the produce from his fields while Able brought “fat portions from the firstborn of his flock” – or the best of the best. Did God just want a good steak dinner with no salad that day? No. The point was and is Abel’s faith. By definition, faith here is “the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ”  (blueletterbible.com). Abel believed that God was real, that He was everything He claimed to be, and that He was worthy of the very best that Abel had to offer. Abel’s offering reflected how He saw God. And so did Cain’s.

What are you bringing to God and what does it say about how you see Him? I once heard a story about a little boy who, when the offering plate was passed at church, took the plate, set it on the floor, and stood in it. His embarrassed mother jerked him back in his seat, and hissed, “What are you doing?!” He loudly replied, “I don’t gots no money, so I want to give Jesus myself.” He was right on target. God doesn’t want your money – though tithing is one part of our giving. He wants you. All of you. Heart. Mind. Soul, Strength. So, Beloved, what is God worth to you?

Why Do You Worship God?

Sunday morning as I walked Joy to her “Honey School” class we walked past the sanctuary and she asked me if I was going to the big church to sing. I said yes. Then, like all good three-year-olds should do, she started peppering me with “Why’s.” “Why do you want to sing” “To worship God.” “Why do you want to worship God?” “Because I love God and because He is great,” I answered.

All of creation worships its Creator. David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Ps 19:1). Every rumble of thunder is a call to praise. The trees clap their hands in worship (Is 55:12). The rocks cry out His praise (Luke 19:40). Birds sing. Crickets chirp. Frogs croak. The sound of their worship fills the skies. I love to worship. Corporately, privately, with shouts, and through tears. I love Sundays with my church family, all our voices blending together to praise the One who saved us. If you see me when I’m driving you may catch me belting out a song with one hand on the steering wheel and the other raised to the roof. You might want to proceed with caution. And worship is not just music. I usually write out my private worship – words are my love language. But the sweetest worship is singing of the goodness of God in lovely harmony with my granddaughter.

We are commanded in Scripture to worship God but the purest worship is voluntary – no, more than voluntary – it is drawn out of us from deep within. Like the angels in Isaiah’s vision who called to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Is 6:3). It is the response of our spirits to the Spirit of God. I think that when we get to heaven and stand in His presence, worship will be more than something we want to do, it will be something we have to do just by the sheer majesty of His glory.

Joy’s question stuck with me all day.  I mulled it over and over: Why do I worship God?  I realized the answer I gave her was true. I worship God because I love Him. I worship God because He is great. I worship God because He is worthy. Beloved, I encourage you to ponder her question: “Why do you worship God?” Then do it.

Hebrews: In the Beginning . . .

It’s the simplest truth, taught to the littlest children: God created the whole world. It is the opening statement of the Bible and is foundational to our understanding of who God is, and in turn who we are.  It is also the first step of faith. The writer of Hebrews said, By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

Modern science spins a tale of colliding gasses that somehow formed into a diverse group of planets, stars, and galaxies. But that is not the biblical account of creation. The Bible says that God created ex nihilo – out of nothing. There were no prior elements that He scooped up into His hand and rolled into a ball.  He spoke into the empty nothingness and the response was immediate obedience. He said “Let there be” . . . light, water, dry ground, plant life, sun, moon and stars, and living creatures of all kinds. And they were. Nature obeys the creator, even if man, God’s highest creation doesn’t.

Does it really matter how the universe got here?  Yes, it really does, but not for the sake of scientific argument. If I side with the scientific versions – even from a “Christian” perspective – I have said that the very first truths of the Holy Word of God are questionable.  That leaves everything else from Genesis 2 to Revelation 22 open to debate and alteration for the sake of human agreement.  Those who doubt the creation account then say that Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the Whale, and many other extraordinary biblical stories are just myths.  How easy it becomes then to question the truth of the virgin birth of Jesus, His miracles, and even His resurrection. Think I’m stretching too far here?  Go sit through a lecture at a liberal-leaning seminary.  It’s a wonder students have any semblance of faith left when they graduate.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  Faith, the author of Hebrews says, starts right here, at the beginning.  Christian, it is absolutely vital that you know what you believe and then believe what you know – but be certain, Beloved, that what you know and believe is the truth. The Bible is not written as a science manual; it is written for faith.

A Mother on her Knees

I believe the heart of a mother comes closest to God’s own heart than any other on earth.  I love mothers in the Bible like Hannah who prayed for many years to have a child, and Lois and Eunice, a grandmother and mother pair who passed their strong faith on to Timothy – Paul’s “son in the faith.”  And, of course, Mary who, when told of her unconventional “assignment” from God simply said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). At this stage in my parenting I most identify with a mother who’s not in the Bible, but her influence on the church is remarkable.

Monica lived in a.d. 300-400.  She loved God passionately and also loved her son deeply.  Monica’s son was a young man with a – shall we say – “zest” for all the world had to offer.  He pursued pleasure and made choices that broke his mother’s heart.  Monica prayed fervently and faithfully for her son.  She wept and pleaded with God to bring her son out of the darkness and into His Kingdom.  Her son later wrote these words about her, “I cannot adequately tell of the love she had for me, or how she continued to travail for me in the spirit with far more anguish than when she bore me in the flesh.”[1]  As Monica sought godly counsel for her son, she begged the local bishop to help him find God.  “Finally,” said her son, “the bishop, a little vexed at her persistence, exclaimed, ‘Go your way; as you live, it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.’”[2]  Monica and God won the battle for her son’s soul and he came to salvation at the age of 32.  Perhaps you’ve heard of him – Saint Augustine of Hippo – one of the greatest fathers of the Christian faith. 

Motherhood is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But I want to encourage you to take a look at the mothers of the Bible and the Church.  The one common denominator in every one of their stories is a mother on her knees for her child.  Come join me in the Mother’s prayer room – we’re all in this together and best of all – God is in it with us too.

[1] Saint Augustine, Confessions of Saint Augustine, Edited by Tom Gill. (Alachua, Bridge-Logos,2003),117.

[2] Augustine, 72.

Hanging by a Thread

I was standing in the kitchen, begging the coffee maker to hurry up when my son walked in to get something to drink. I heard him behind me – “HIC!” “HIC!” “HIC!” He said, “I don’t think there’s anything worse than waking up with the hiccups.”  I answered him, “There is – waking up and being sick to your stomach is worse.” And I playfully growled at him and said, “I know from experience – and it was all your fault!” Of course, I was referring to the morning sickness I endured when I was pregnant with him. But our conversation made me think – what would be the worst thing to wake up to? I could list a lot of things – I’m sure you could too. Waking up to pain or sorrow or loss or violence or loneliness or heartache would be hard to face first thing in the morning. Then I thought, the worst thing to wake up to is hopelessness. That feeling that life is awful and it’s never going to get any better.  I’ve had seasons like that and I know that you have too. You may be there now. When all those hard things feel like permanent fixtures in our lives, we wonder if there’s any point in waking up at all.

A few thousand years ago, a prophet was waking up to the reality that all of his efforts to turn the nation of Israel back to God were useless. Jeremiah watched helplessly as the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem – under God’s judgment. He said, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord . . . my soul is downcast” (Lamentations 3:18, 19). He had hoped to save his people. He had hoped God would stop the invasion. But his hopes were not to be. He wept bitterly for the rebellious children of God.

But he did not give up. He declared “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I HAVE HOPE: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vs. 21-23, emphasis added). He still had a thread of hope that was tied securely to the love, mercy, and faithfulness of God. And that was enough. It’s enough for you too, Beloved. Tie your last thread of hope to the goodness of the Lord. He will never fail you.