Welcome to the Family

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I was never popular in school. I had a weird name, I was tall, clumsy, and awkward. I wore hand-me-downs and homemade clothes and every school picture looked like I didn’t own a hairbrush. I wasn’t one of the smart kids and wasn’t part of the “in” crowd. Oh, but I wanted to be. I wanted so much to be accepted by the pretty girls who dressed in the latest fashions and carried themselves with an air of confidence I could never master. That carried over into my adult life. I always felt that, wherever I was, I didn’t belong.

But God says I do belong. With Him. Paul wrote, “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19). No, it’s not because I’m less awkward or because I dress better or finally found a hairbrush. It’s because of Jesus. Jesus made me acceptable to God. He made me part of the family. He died to cover all my sins and to take away my shame. Because of Jesus, I’m part of the “in” crowd – because I’m in Him. But it’s not a popularity contest. In God’s Kingdom, everyone is the same – rescued, redeemed, restored and joined together as one holy dwelling place for the Lord (2:21).

My friend, God’s hand is stretched out to you too, to welcome you into the family, to be “in,” and to never be rejected again. It doesn’t matter what you wear or where you live or work or whether your hair is neatly brushed. It doesn’t matter if you never finished school or if you have a string of letters after your name. It doesn’t matter if you made all the right choices in life (like anyone has) or if you made every mistake possible. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, live in a mansion or a tent, come from the right family or the wrong side of the tracks. God says to you “Come.” Take Him up on His offer. There’s more than enough room at the family table for you. You can sit next to me.

Why?

Reading in Acts 16 this morning where Paul and Silas are in prison for preaching the Gospel. There are a lot of why’s in this story. At the beginning of Acts 16, Paul wants to go to Asia, but God wouldn’t let them. Why? They were stripped, beaten, severely flogged, thrown in prison, and fastened in the stocks (vv. 22-24). Why? Despite it all, in the middle of the night, our boys “were praying and singing hymns to God. Why? But wait, it gets better. A violent earthquake shook the prison and “all the prison doors flew open and everyone’s chain came loose. But they all stayed. Everyone. Why?

Why did all this happen? So the jailer would see and believe in the power of God and so that he and his family would hear the gospel and be saved. I suspect a few prisoners also believed that night.

I take tremendous hope in this story because it tells me if God would go to such lengths to bring the man and his family to salvation, He will move mountains to save my loved one too. I have no doubt that when these new believers came up out of the baptismal waters, Paul and Silas realized all their suffering was worth it. God had directed every single thing to save this family.

Beloved, I know that you are suffering. I know that you are asking “Why?” I know it’s hard and painful. Believe me, I know, because I am there too. But I’m going to pray and praise God in the suffering because I believe He will use it to show His power. And He will break the chains that bind my loved one and throw open the prison door and set them free. It’s going to be worth it all one day. Suffering in God’s hands always – always – brings Joy. Just ask Paul and Silas. And Jesus.

Grace

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Friends, I am not the good girl you think you know. Yesterday I broke the law and had to face the consequences of my actions. I was running behind driving over the speed limit. I topped a hill and there he was. The blue lights came on and I pulled to the side of the road. There was no use in denying it – I was guilty. I told the officer I was running late to a wedding. He took my driver’s license and walked back to his patrol car. A few minutes later he came back and said, “You have a clean driving history, so I’m going to reward your good behavior and let you go with a warning.” I thanked him profusely and then he said, “Please slow down ma’am. The roads are wet, and I want you to arrive safely and enjoy your friend’s wedding.” I thanked him again and carefully pulled away. It all ended well – he gave me leniency because he found no fault in me and I made it to the wedding just before the bride walked down the aisle.

Friends, I am a sinner and I sometimes let my sin-nature drive me into sinful behaviors. But God doesn’t see me that way. He looks at me through eyes of grace because of the work of His Son on the cross. Paul said, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9). My record of wrongdoing is long and ugly and there’s no getting off for good behavior. I am a sinner – but a sinner saved by grace.

God has issued an invitation to the wedding of the universe. He wants you to come and enjoy the eternal celebration, but you can’t get there on your own clean record because you’re a sinner too. You have the same sin-nature and the same tendency to sinful behaviors that I do. But there is grace. There is a cross. There is a Savior. His name is Jesus – the Son of God. He died to take away your sins and make you right before His Father. Your place at the wedding is waiting Beloved, and the path is paved with grace.

I’m Supposed to be Thankful for This?

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One of the most challenging verses in the Bible is 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In some seasons of my life that is an easy verse to obey – things are good, everyone is healthy, bills are being paid, the pantry is full of food, and the tires on the car have plenty of tread. Then there are those days when that verse is a hard pill to swallow. The medical bills are stacked three inches high, the rent is late, the cupboards are bare, the kid is expelled from school, and the car needs a new oil pump. And I’m supposed to give thanks? The key to gratitude in those hard seasons is being thankful IN all things, not necessarily FOR all things. And the focus of our thankfulness is always God and His faithfulness and sovereignty.

I’m reminded of the story of Corrie and Betsy Ten Boom, the Dutch sisters who endured the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp for the crime of hiding Jews from the German Polizei. The building in which they were crammed was infested with fleas, which cause Corrie to complain. Her sister reminded her that they must “give thanks in everything,” which Corrie could not understand. But because of the fleas, the guards refused to go into their building and they were free from sexual assaults and also free to hold daily prayer and Bible study sessions with their fellow prisoners. The Bible is full of similar stories of God using the hard things to bring about good.

Despite our circumstances, we can be thankful for God’s presence, His faithfulness, and His sovereignty. I have lived through a lot of hard stuff – some really gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, soul-crushing things – but God was always there. He comforted, encouraged, provided, healed, protected, strengthened – and always brought me through. He never let me down. Never. Not one single time. Beloved, if you’re finding it hard to give thanks this year, may I gently remind you to turn your gaze from your circumstances to the God who is able to make even fleas a blessing. He is up to good in your life. In all things.

Painting: “The Thankful Poor” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

When to Run and When to Stand: How to Fight Spiritual Battles

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We’re working our way through the book of Colossians in our Ladies Bible study group at BCF. Yesterday we looked at Paul’s warning: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). So we posed the question: what are we watching for? Two points stood out from elsewhere in the Scriptures:

When Jesus confronted his three closest disciples who were asleep in the garden, he admonished them to “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). So the lure of temptation is one area where we need to be watchful.

Then Peter, who was one of the three, gives us another saying, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The reality and work of the devil is another.

How are we to handle these two?

The conventional wisdom is to resist temptation and flee from the devil; but what does Scripture say?

About temptation, Paul said, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And 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). When we face temptation, we take the way of escape. We flee. We run. We get away from the source of temptation, be it a place, a person, a website, or the office breakroom.

And when it comes to dealing with the devil, Peter’s warning continued: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . .” (1 Peter 5:9). We resist the devil, standing firmly and confidently behind our shield of faith in the God of Christ our Lord.

So the conventional wisdom is completely backward – Scripture tells us to resist the devil and flee from temptation. No wonder we’re falling so easily to the enemy.

Why does this matter?

Because as 1 John 4:4 reminds us: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” If you are in Christ Jesus, then Christ Jesus is in you through His Holy Spirit. The very same Christ who has already overcome the devil. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross, the devil has no authority over you. None. And you need to stand firm and remind him of that when he comes roaring at you. Because all he can do is roar.

And because, as Jesus admonished his sleepy disciples, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Your flesh, the part of you that responds to temptation, is weak, even as a Christian. Though we are set free from the power of sin, we are still bound to our fleshly nature that desires sin. Paul said, “I have the desire to do 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 doing” (Romans 7:18,19)

Christ has already defeated the devil, but you and I will battle our flesh every day of our earthly lives.

Understanding the enemy and his tactics is vital – not just to surviving – but to thriving and growing and carrying the cross of Christ into a lost and dying world. You need to know your enemy Beloved. But more than that, you need to know your Savior. He has already claimed the victory over the devil. And He will give you strength – to flee when you face temptation and to stand firm when the lion roars.

“Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).

When Everyone’s a Philosopher, How Do You Know What’s True?

In this day of social media, everyone has an opinion and anyone with internet access and a keyboard can become an expert about everything from sports to food to politics to religion. Spend an hour on the web and you will know the deep thoughts of world leaders, celebrities, “influencers,” the media, the local yokel, and even the Kardashians. I’m guilty too, as I flood the cyber-world with biblical commentary. The delivery may be modern, but the idea of sharing ideas is as old as man. The trick is to figure out who’s ideas are worth listening to.

Paul warned the believers in Colossae: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy . . .” (Colossians 2:8). The Colossians were being led astray by false teachers who claimed that the secret to eternal life was a higher plane of knowledge – a knowledge that was superior to Christ and put one on the level with God. Their philosophies sounded right, but they were wrong, and anyone who listened was led astray. It wasn’t just a first-century problem. That warning still applies today. There are a lot of messages that sound like the Bible, but they are not the Word of God. There are a lot of teachings that sound like Jesus, but they are not the Son of God. They have shades of truth, but they are not the truth.  So how do you know what is true?

When bank tellers receive training to recognize counterfeit money, they are not schooled in every possible way that a bill can be counterfeited. Instead, they are taught every detail of a genuine bill, so that when someone presents money that is even a little off, they can spot it instantly. The key to recognizing a false bill is to know the real thing. The key to recognizing false teaching is to know the truth. Luke commended a group of believers in Berea because they listened to Paul’s teachings and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). They didn’t take Paul’s word for what God said; they checked it out in God’s Word.

I hope you do the same Beloved. I hope you take what your Bible teacher says, your Pastor, your favorite author or singer, even yours truly, and lay it beside the authoritative, infallible, inspired Word of the Living God to see if it agrees with what was spoken by the Spirit of God. And if it does not, you run from it and run to the truth. And if I said it, you call me out on it. I also hope that you are making Bible study – not just a five-minute devotional reading – a priority in your day. I hope you are digging in and soaking up the truth. I hope you are learning to recognize the ways and words of God so you are not “taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophies . . .” I hope you know the Scriptures so intimately that anything just a shade off of the truth raises red flags in your spirit. There is far too much as stake to shrug your shoulders and reason that “it sounds okay to me.” Be a Berean. Know the truth. It’ll set you free.

A Shipwrecked Life

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I love to flip through my Bible and see notes I have written in the past, reminders of a season or situation where the Lord came through or bestowed a particular blessing on me. The Bible tells us often to remember the works of the Lord and these notes serve as “memorial stones” to God’s active work in my life. I ran across one this morning that brought back a flood of memories – but not good ones. I had received some advice that disagreed with my plans. I ignored it and went head-first into a situation that turned disastrous further down the road. On June 2, 2013 I was terribly discouraged, grieving my foolishness, regretting my choices, and trying to gather up the pieces of my shipwrecked life (it didn’t help that the advice-giver was giving me the “I told you so” speech).

In my daily Bible reading, I came to Acts 27 where Paul had been arrested for preaching the gospel. He had pled his case before the local Roman rulers and was sailing from Jerusalem to Rome to stand before Caesar. It was a long journey and a choice had to be made to spend the winter in a safe harbor or chance the dangerous winter weather. The ship’s captain and crew ignored Paul’s warning not to set sail. As predicted, a fierce storm broke out while they were at sea and the ship was being torn to pieces. Their lives were in grave danger and they were desperate. Paul addressed the weary, frightened crew: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete, then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now, I urge you to keep up your courage . . . do not be afraid, and . . . have faith in God” (vv 21-25, sel.).

My personal side note reads: “You should have taken ______’s advice. You would have saved yourself a lot of trouble and heartache. But now . . . keep up your courage. Do not be afraid . . . have faith in God.”

You may be regretting some life decisions today. You may be dealing with some unpleasant, hard consequences of some reckless choices you made that you wish now you hadn’t. Or like Paul, you may be suffering in the aftermath of someone else’s foolishness. Beloved, keep up your courage, don’t be afraid, and have faith in God. He has not written you off because of your recklessness. He has not given up on you because you made some bad decisions or got swept away in some else’s shipwreck. He is in the rescuing business. He rescued Paul and the ship’s foolish crew. He rescued me. He will rescue you too. The sea may be rocky, but your Savior walks on the water.