The Runner’s High

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“Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
If you look at me, you will quickly discern that I am not a runner. I am not physically active and it shows. I have a good friend from elementary/high school who does run and she is healthy, fit, and has incredible mental and physical energy.  I get winded walking to the mailbox. 
 
Paul had a lot to say about running, but not for physical health. Paul was running a race. He had a higher purpose in mind that covering miles. He wanted to run well and to especially finish well.  I encourage you to grab your Bible and read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – I’ll wait here for you.  At first glance, this appears to be about running for the “prize” of heaven, but J.D. Walt highlighted in today’s Seedbed Daily Text that the prize is not about something far off that we have to work harder and run faster to reach. It is about a relationship with Jesus – right here and right now.  It is the realization that Jesus is our running companion. He’s not standing at some far-distant finish line but is running right alongside us.  I also believe Paul is talking about endurance.  About putting your foot down one more time and one more time because Christ is your source of strength when your legs are heavy and your breath is labored. He is the voice shouting encouragement in your ears.  I also believe Paul is talking about being purposeful as you run – in letting go of everything that compromises your ability to stay in step with Christ.  I’m seeing more and more that our ideals (especially our American ideals) are weights on our feet.  They are being turned into the enemy of the Gospel as we set them up higher than heaven.  Being a citizen of heaven trumps being a citizen of any earthly nation.
I do think there is a prize waiting for you at the end of the race. It is hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant!” when you and Jesus bust through the tape at the edge of heaven. That’s the “runner’s high.” That’s worth lacing up your running shoes, Beloved.

Sing Your Song

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Yesterday after church and lunch, my sweet Joy-Joy and I settled into the recliner for our Sunday afternoon siesta. She wanted her toy dog “Violet” to play lullabies, but even as she snuggled next to me with the soft music playing, she let me know she wanted to me sing to her. I turned Violet off and started our nap-time song selection. That wouldn’t do. Joy wanted both. I turned the lullabies back on and started trying to sing. Have you ever attempted to sing a song while a different song was also playing? Let me tell you, it ain’t easy! I had to focus very intently on what I was singing to avoid being pulled into Violet’s tune.

There’s a lot of noise in the world around us that can interfere with the Jesus-song we’re trying to sing with our lives. It’s a constant cacophony of voices and shouts and it seems that everyone has a megaphone. There’s a lot of “wisdom” and folks are quick to share their advice. How are we supposed to stay true to the song of Christ? Paul gives us three pointers that will help us stay focused. Go grab your Bible and read Galatians 5:16-25. I’ll wait for you here.

Did you see them? “Live by the Spirit” (v. 16), be “led by the Spirit” (v. 18), and “keep in step with the Spirit” (v. 25). Jesus promised to send His Spirit to live in us, to remind us of His teaching and help us stay true to the song of the Savior. I know, that sounds really “spiritual,” but not practical. But it is. It comes from the Bible and prayer. If you and I are not filling up on the Scriptures every day, those outside voices are going to be hard to shut out. That worldly wisdom is going to sound so sensible.

Beloved if you’re struggling to stay on pitch, I encourage you to get into God’s Word, spend time in prayer, and then listen. That still, small voice becomes the sweetest song and stands out above all the rest. Trust me, you’ll recognize the tune; it’s the song of holy love.

 

Are You Sure About That?

What do these statements have in common?

“Copy and paste this to your page to circumnavigate the Facebook algorithms and see all your friends again!”
“If you’re being held up at an ATM, put your pin in backwards and the bank will alert the police.”
“My lawyer friend said to copy and share this legal statement to prevent Facebook from using your photos and posts without your consent.”
“When Jesus folded the napkin, it was a sign that He is coming back!”

Besides the fact that they are shared over and over and over on social media, they are all false. They are lies. But because they have been passed on multiple times, people assume they are true. And they keep sharing them.
Paul warned about false doctrine that takes deep root in the church. He said, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). In the three letters Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus, he prefaced several statements of doctrinal truth with the words: “Here is a trustworthy saying:” He wanted these two young men, whom he had assigned to care for the believers in Ephesus and Crete, to be careful with what they believed and what they taught. He wanted them to only pass along “trustworthy sayings.” My favorite Bible folks are the Bereans from Acts 17 who were considered “noble” because they checked out everything Paul told them. They didn’t take his word for it. They wanted to know if what he was saying was true.
I want you to be a Berean. On Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In your daily life. In your knowledge of the Bible and spiritual things. In what you pass along to friends and family. In what you teach your children. Check things out. Especially where it concerns the Scriptures. You need to build your faith and your life on “trustworthy sayings,” not “myths and old wives’ tales.” As Paul said, “Train yourself to be godly” through daily Bible study (not just a 5-minute devotional), meditation on God’s Word, and prayer. Fill your mind and your heart with truth.
What do you believe? Why do you believe it? Because it’s what you’ve always heard? Or because you’ve checked it out for yourself and found it to be trustworthy and true? Be a Berean Beloved.

A Tangled Heart

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God will” (Romans 8:26-27)
There have been times in my life when I was overwhelmed with a deeply painful issue. My heart was broken and when I tried to pray my mind was awhirl with thoughts going this way and that. It was like a hundred different voices all speaking at once in my head. I couldn’t shut them up long enough to get a word in edgewise. I expect you are nodding your head in understanding.
But God was so gracious to me. This verse promises that the Holy Spirit was praying for me when I couldn’t pray for myself. The Greek word for “groans” finds it root in the word stenos – which means “to narrow.” The image is of the Holy Spirit sorting through the jumble of thoughts and feelings to pull out the thin, narrow strand of truth from our heart, from which He weaves a tapestry of prayer before the Father. All I needed to do was pour it all out and let the Spirit, who knows both my heart and God’s will, sift out the prayer I couldn’t express.
Beloved, you don’t have to filter your heart when you come to God in prayer. You don’t have to have your thoughts and feelings organized – you don’t even have to know what you should pray for. That is why Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit. Let Him do the sorting and sifting – He’ll find the thread of your heart’s prayer and carry it to Your Father.

The Lord is Near

Some days I’m not feeling very “godly.” Some days I am just tired. Physically tired. Mentally tired. Emotionally tired. Some days I don’t want to be wise or thoughtful or inspiring. I just want to hide in a corner until the weight is lifted. I know you understand. Some days we want to crawl back in bed and pull the covers over our head until the problem is resolved, the money’s in the bank, the kid gets his act together, the test results are negative, the house is clean, the inbox is empty, the school opens back up, the bills are paid. But that’s not an option. And so we throw back the covers and swing our feet over the side until they touch down on the pile the dog left beside the bed. Great.
The Apostle Paul had some difficult days too. His message was rejected by the people he once counted as his friends. They tried to undermine the work he was doing for God. Then they tried to kill him – they threw stones at him, beat him, and threw him into prison. Yet from his prison cell, he wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Paul used the words, “joy” and “rejoice” thirteen times in this letter. But he didn’t throw those words out flippantly. He gave a reason to rejoice. “The Lord is near” (v. 5). He knew what he was claiming. In Acts 23, while sitting in a Roman prison, the Scripture says, “The Lord stood near Paul” (V. 11). The Lord came to Paul with a personal word of encouragement. He never forgot about the nearness of Jesus.
Oh, I get how difficult it is some days. I’ve had quite of few of those lately. I started writing this devotional from my own raw feelings. As I got to “The Lord is near,” the weight started to lift, and I know that I can make it through this day because Jesus is with me. It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard. It just means I don’t face it alone. So clean off your feet Beloved and get the day started. You’re in this together with Jesus.

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).