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?

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?

Love

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1 Corinthians 13:7 says “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

That’s a beautiful sentiment for a wedding day. With stars in our eyes surrounded by family and friends and “white lace and promises,”[1] we pledge our love forever. But love – real love – is for far more than wedding days. This verse – in fact, all of the “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13 – is not just flowery prose, it is the mark of a follower of Christ. Jesus said that the world would know that we belong to Him by our love (John 13:35).

Some people are easy to love. Some not so much. The truth is, love – this kind of love – shows up the best in difficult relationships. Do you have any of those? I’m pretty sure we all do. And to be honest, there are times when I’m the difficult one. So how do we maintain love when it’s hard?

First, looking at these words we find that love always stands with the beloved and covers their failings with mercy and grace. (Note: that does NOT mean we tolerate abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship run now to safety.) Love believes the best of and for the beloved and acts on those beliefs, love looks ahead to a good outcome and love endures to the end. How different from the world’s throw-away response to hard relationships. How different from our own human nature.

Then, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The simple truth about love is that we only do it because God did it first. He declared His love for us at the cross of His Son, when we were covered with sin and unworthy. “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  We don’t wait until they “get their act together” to love them. We love them while they are a work in progress.

Is it easy? No. But I am confident that if we follow this prescription in difficult relationships, amazing things will happen. How do I know that? Because “Love never fails” (v. 8 )

Do you know why I always call you “Beloved?” Because God loves you. Now, go love someone today.


[1] We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters @ 1970 – written by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams

I am Not a Fan of Jesus

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Celebrity is a fickle thing.  One day you’re everyone’s favorite, the next day you’re old news.  Last year you were on the cover of People magazine, this year your name is buried on the back page of the local newspaper. Celebrities live and die by their fans.

Jesus had many fans.  People flocked to Him and hung on His every word. They lined the streets when He came through town and jostled one another to walk nearest to Him.  I am not a fan of Jesus. Before you count me out as a heretic, let me tell you who I am.

I am a follower of Jesus.  Yes, I want to be near Him, but not for some thrill. I want to be in His presence because He is peace.  He is hope.  He is wisdom and power.  And He is Life.

I am a servant of Jesus.  Paul identified himself as a “bondservant of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:1). The purpose of my life is to do the will of Jesus.  To serve Him by serving others.

I am a disciple of Jesus. He is my Teacher. He teaches me how to walk in righteousness.  He teaches me about the Kingdom of God and how to go to heaven.  And He alone can teach me who God is because He is God.

I am a friend of Jesus.  Fans are not often friends.  Fans are there for the show.  Friends are there after the show.  I love just spending time with Him Monday – Saturday in His Word and through His Spirit.

I am a witness of Jesus.   Jesus saved me, redeemed my life, and gave me a place with Him in heaven. He died so that I would live.  I want to tell the world about my Jesus.

I am a worshipper of Jesus. I will spend the rest of my life and all eternity giving Him the praise and honor He deserves. To be a fan of Jesus falls far short of what He deserves.  And it falls far short of what He desires for you.  Beloved, don’t just be a fan of Jesus. Be His follower and servant and disciple and friend and witness and worshipper. In other words, let Jesus be your everything.

A Strong Foundation of Love and Peace

I began praying for my granddaughter before she was born and have prayed every day since. I pray for her health, protection, provision, and growth and I pray Ephesians 3:17-19 over her. “That Joy, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that she may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That part, “to know this love that surpasses knowledge” always puzzled me.  It brings to mind Philippians 4:7 that says that “the peace of God, which surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” How can you know something that surpasses knowledge and understanding? This is a beautiful expression in both verses and it means to take firm possession of something that has complete authority over you and gives you an assurance that cannot be overridden. Specifically, in the terminology for Philippians 4:7, it means to have a superior hold of the mind in reference to “alarm and agitating emotions.” So I am praying that the love of Christ would rule and reign over her. Yes, she is only 2 years old, but I’m praying a foundation for the rest of her life. And I’m partnering with God in “rooting and establishing” her in love so that one day when she is a little older, she will be able to grasp the immense love God has for her. Is there a more important job for a grandmother?

Beloved, the love and peace of Christ are available to you too – today – right in the midst of anxious, frustrating, heartbreaking circumstances. The key is in the verses that surround these two verses – about living in God’s grace, rejoicing in the Lord always, trusting in His presence, praying about everything with thanksgiving, and keeping your thoughts focused on the good stuff.

I encourage you with all my heart to sit with your Bible and a fresh cup of coffee and meditate on Philippians 4:4-9. Then “the God of peace will be with you” in ways you cannot understand, but you can certainly know and rest in.

The Momentum of Sin

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I carried a fresh glass of tea to my desk and set it down to plug up my phone. I reached for the old empty glass and started walking quickly toward the kitchen, but I soon realized I had picked up the wrong one. I tried to stop in my tracks and turn around, but my momentum took me a step or two further toward the kitchen. But I didn’t want to go to the kitchen. I wanted to go back to my desk and get the right glass and then go to the kitchen. I knew what I wanted to do but I kept going in the wrong direction. That may seem like a scene out of a cartoon, but what it reminded me of was the momentum of sin.

Paul said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15-16,18-19). We want to be right with God. We want to turn away from sin. Yet our sinful desires set us in motion toward what our flesh craves. There is a war waging within us between our desire to please God and our desire to please our flesh.

How do we break sin’s momentum? First, by preparing ourselves for the battle. Paul said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (12:2). Renewing our minds is a life-long habit of reading, studying, and obeying the Word of God and listening to His Spirit. The more of God we put into our minds the less room there is for the world.

But what do we do when the momentum toward sin is so strong? I heard of an older man known for his godly life who was asked what he did when he was tempted. He replied, “Well, I just say, ‘Lord, your property is in danger.’” Paul said, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:24-25). Beloved, the One who rescued you from death and hell can also rescue you from the powerful pull of sin. Just cry out to Jesus.

Hebrews – Jesus and Angels

To the Jewish people, angels were just a notch below God Himself in power and authority, and that’s not far from the truth. Angels are God’s messengers and advocates between heaven and earth. They are His instruments of judgment and Scripture shows them engaging in warfare against satan’s angels. In heaven, they constantly praise and glorify God and rejoice as they witness God’s perfect plan unfold. Like humans, they are created beings – thus they are never to be worshipped, even though humans are “a little lower than the angels” (2:7). But humans have a distinct advantage over angels – we can experience God through His saving grace. That’s a perspective of the Creator that angels will never know. In speaking of our salvation through Christ, Peter said, “even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12).

The Jews held angels in very high esteem, but the author of Hebrews said there is one who should be held even higher – God’s Son, Jesus. “He became as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is superior to theirs” (1:4).

The Bible holds many accounts of angels coming to the rescue of humans, saving them from certain disaster. But angels cannot save a sinful soul from eternal death. Only Jesus can. Because only He is God’s Son. Glance back at the end of verse 4 – that “superior name He inherited” is “Son” (v.5) “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father?’ Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son.’”  (v. 5). Only the Son of God could save the world. Paul said that He is “seated at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given (Ephesians 1:20-21). That includes presidents, kings, priests, Imams, Muhammad, Brahma, Lucifer, and the angels in heaven and in hell. Jesus is superior to them all. 

That is why the author of Hebrews says that faith in any other being, even angels, is misplaced and unstable. Only faith in Jesus, the Son of God, can save you perfectly and eternally. Even the angels know that to be true.

The Joy of the Lord

Photo: my precious Joy – photo by her mommy, Ashley Andrews

You may have noticed when I write the word Joy, I always capitalize it as a nod to my granddaughter Joy. She has brought so much Joy to my life. No, my Joy is not in her, but God has used her to open my crusty heart to receive the Joy of the Lord.  I’ve never been a bubbly, happy-happy person. My best friend always gave me coffee mugs, kitchen towels, and wall hangings with “JOY” plastered on them. She said she was going to force Joy on me “whether I liked it or not.” Don’t tell her I said this, but I did like it. When they told us what our granddaughter’s name was going to be, I called my bestie and we both laughed. But even as much as we love her, the past two years haven’t always been grins and giggles. There have been some hard days, but my Joy has remained. Not because of my granddaughter, but because my Joy is rooted in the Lord.

She’s not the first baby to inspire Joy. When Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, went to visit her much-older cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John, the older woman declared, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for Joy” (Luke 1:44). How could a baby in the womb recognize the Lord? Because “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 41). That’s the secret to Joy. Joy is not an emotion, it is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). In the Scriptures, fruit is the outward evidence of what is going on inside. We recognize a peach tree by its soft, golden-pink fruit which is produced in the tree. People will recognize the presence of God’s Spirit in us by the fruit: “love, Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control” (vv. 22-23).  When we “live by the spirit” (v. 16) and are “led by the Spirit” (v. 18) and “keep in step with the Spirit” (v. 25) we will exhibit all the fruit of the Spirit.  

Beloved, are you low on fruit? Maybe you need to nurture your soul with more of the Holy Spirit. How? Feed on the Word. Drink in praise. Prune off the dead branches of sin. And let the Son shine on you. That where you’ll find the Joy of the Lord.

Don’t Decorate Your Life With Jesus

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I love roosters. I love their colors. I love how they strut. I love to hear their “cock-a-doodle-do! I love the life they represent – rural, peaceful, simple. Oh, I’ve never had a rooster. But I love them. For decoration. My kitchen and dining room are an artistic barnyard with figurines and pictures of roosters all over. I love how they look and the peaceful feeling they inspire, but that’s the extent of my connection to roosters.

Paul lamented people who go through life “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). People who love the idea of Jesus and the teachings of Jesus and the wisdom of Jesus. But they don’t know Jesus. He talked about “weak-willed women who are  . . . always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (v. 6, 7). As a Bible teacher, I’ve seen this too many times. Women – and men – who, like the Greeks in Athens, love to listen and talk about the latest ideas, but nothing takes hold in the soil of their hearts. They can sound Christiany and they post great Jesus memes, but there’s nothing of substance and no fruit growing in their lives.  They like the peace and love that Jesus talked about, but they don’t want the righteousness, holiness, and suffering Jesus also talked about. My heart breaks for them because they are only deceiving themselves.

Friend, I don’t want you to follow me – I want you to follow Jesus. I don’t want you to take my words to heart – I want you to take The Word to heart. I want you to put your own roots down deep into the rich truths of Scripture and grow and flourish with sweet fruit. I want you to love Jesus and the Word because you have a real relationship with Him. Beloved, if all you ever do is decorate your life with Jesus stuff, my ministry will have been in vain. I want you to know and love Him with all your heart and mind and soul. I want you to “take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19). The life of Jesus.

No, You’re Not Enough, but You Have All You Need

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The Christian life is not easy. I hear your “Amens.” We have all struggled and stumbled and become weary.  We’ve all felt like giving up. So what would help?  Do you need more faith? Could you use more courage? How about more strength? Patience? Wisdom? Love? Trust? Peace? Self-control? Mercy? Grace? Yeah, me too. To all of the above. And here’s an inside secret: The enemy will constantly reinforce your belief that you are lacking in all these things. Satan wants you and me to be handicapped by worry and fear. Lately, his mantra to me is “You don’t have enough faith for this trial.” And it triggers a spiral of anxiety and fear.

Yesterday a young friend and I talked about how to take our thoughts captive and reject satan’s lies (2 Corinthians 10:5). That’s a powerful lesson – but it’s only half the battle. We then have to fill that empty space with the truth.  So if I reject satan’s lie that I don’t have enough faith, what truth do I need to plug into that space? “God is able to make all grace about to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will about in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8-emphasis added). In one sense satan is right – I do not have enough faith on my own. I am sorely lacking in all the areas above. But we know he is a liar and the father of lies.  – because God said that I have all I need to not only persevere through my trials but to emerge victorious through them. And so do you if you are in Christ. What the enemy doesn’t want you to know is that, because you have the Holy Spirit living in you, He fills in all the gaps in your faith, courage, strength, and all the rest. You and I just have to give Him those places where we feel we’re lacking. My prayer for more faith is met by the Spirit’s abundance.

Beloved, I know you are tired. I know you feel like you’re failing. You’ve told me so. But you have the promise of the Word of God who is ever faithful that He will give you all you need to not just survive this life, but to thrive and to bring Him glory. You have all you need. That’s not spiritual arrogance, that is a promise from God.