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.

Do Not Worry

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As I prepared the lesson for our Ladies Bible study group this week, I knew there was a lot of fear in a lot of hearts and minds because of this virus. So I asked God what message He wanted to bring to the group. He led me to Luke 12 and the Parable of the Rich Fool. A parable about greed. Thanks God, that’s gonna be real helpful.

But one key of studying the Bible is to look at the surrounding passages and as I did I began to see what God was up to. Let me set the stage. Jesus tells the story of a rich man who, after a bountiful harvest, decided to hoard up all he had, even though he had more than he needed. Sound familiar? The man would not enjoy his harvest though, for that night he would die. That’s pretty straight forward. Don’t be greedy. But look at the bigger picture. Before and after this parable, Jesus says over and over: “do not be afraid,” and “do not worry.” (Check out John 12:7, 11, 22, 25, 26, 29, 32.) He followed the parable with the famous discourse of the Father providing for the birds and the flowers – “how much more valuable are you than they?” (v. 24).

Worry and fear cause us to “run after” the things the world chases (v. 29-30) or to hoard up what we have in fear of not having enough (v. 16-19). Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been living out the illustration of this message as stores are stripped of basic necessities and people are stockpiling toilet paper. Jesus told us not to worry. Why? Because “your Father knows that you need [these things].” And because it delights the Father to provide for His children.

God knows all about this pandemic and the ripples it’s causing. He knows that these are scary times. He knows what you need. And He says, “Child, do not be afraid.” Beloved, your Father is the King of Heaven and Earth – what could you possibly have to worry about?

Don’t Drift Away from God

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Words fascinate me. The Holy Spirit knows this about me and so often when I am reading my Bible, He will draw my attention to a word and ask me, “What does that mean?” – and I am off on one of my favorite digs. Yesterday I was reading in Hebrews 2 and He did it again in the very first verse: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” The phrase “drift away” became my holy grail. This is one word in the Greek: pararreo – and it means to glide by, to be carried away, and you would use it to say something “slipped my mind.”. We’ve all missed appointments because they slipped our minds. That’s why we jot them down on our calendars or put a reminder in our phone. Likewise, the writer was saying, don’t let the message of the gospel slip from your mind. That’s easy to do when life is hard, when tragedy strikes, when you’re weary, when the whole world is caught in a pandemic. It’s easy to forget about the hope we have in Christ. But this dig continues.

This morning the Spirit highlighted another phrase for me: “careful attention.” These two words perissoteros and prosecho mean in great abundance, above all else and to hold or possess. Simply put, this means above every voice and every worldview, take hold of this gospel and let everything else go. That’s the key to not drifting away.

The message of the first chapter was that Jesus is the Son of God – He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:3). In a world that says there is no God, or that God is whatever you want him to be, we need to get a firm and secure grip on the truth. In a world that is full of evil and darkness, where death runs rampant and people are scared out of their wits, we need to wave the banner of the gospel and the hope of salvation and eternal life.

Beloved, what are you paying careful attention to? The news? Facebook? The opinions of others? These will cause fear, confusion, and doubt. They will cause you to drift away. Let them go. Pay attention to the truth: Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save you and give you eternal life and hope for today. Hold on to that and never let go.

 

Prescription for Peace of Mind

If I’ve learned anything at all about the Bible, it is that this is a practical book with real-life answers for real-life needs. The Bible doesn’t just give us wise philosophy – or as my grandmother called it – “pie-in-the-sky thinking.” So when a friend came to me recently to talk about her constant negative, anxious thoughts, I offered her the Bible’s prescription for the mind.

“First, you have to get rid of those negative thoughts,” We talked about 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” “You have authority over what goes on in your head,” I said. “You must claim that authority and banish negative and anxious thoughts.” I showed her how I make a grabbing motion over my head to “take captive” my thoughts, then a motion of flinging them aside – literally casting them at Jesus’ feet. I’ve done this with thoughts of doubt and fear and sin. It may look kinda silly, but the physical acting out of it is powerful. I believe it also puts the devil on notice that I’m taking charge of my mind.

I continued, “Then immediately fill your mind with Philippians 4:8: ‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.’” “What do you know is true?” I asked her. “God is in control.” “Yes! And God loves you.” “And God is good.” “Exactly! And God has a plan and a purpose.” Her face began to relax. “What do you know that is praiseworthy,” I asked. “Jesus!” she replied. “What can you praise Jesus for?” “He is my Savior. He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords.” “What do you know that is lovely?” I said. “My daughter,” she answered with a smile. “And when you memorize scripture,” I reminded her, “you have a ready supply of ‘whatsoever is right.’ For every negative thought satan plants in your mind, you need a positive Word from God to counteract it.”

May I offer the same prescription to you, Beloved? Your thoughts are just that—YOUR thoughts. You have authority over them. You can make them obey you – but it takes effort and repetition. What is the result of this practical exercise? “The God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9b). Do you need some peace of mind?

But I Don’t Feel Forgiven

 

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Through many years of serving in women’s ministry, the most oft-repeated statement I hear is: “I just can’t forgive myself.” The weight of shame and the burden of past sins and failures seems to be the most popular accessory for Christian women today. What if I told you that you didn’t have to carry that over-stuffed bag around anymore? Sweet friend, if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, the Lord says: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). If God doesn’t remember your sins, why do you need to?

That fashionable bag of shame you are carrying is empty of all your sins. Oh, there is still a heavy weight there, but it is not your sin – it is stones of false guilt put there by the enemy – the accuser who wants you to feel the weight of a sin that no longer exists. But you say, “I don’t feel forgiven.” Here is where you are going to put faith in action.

I want you to grab 2 pens – one of them with red ink, and go to an empty page in the back of your Bible. One by one, take out those stones from the bag – yes, your sexual promiscuity, the abortion, the affair, the failed marriage, the crime you committed, the stupid thing you can’t believe you did – and write it down. Now beside every entry write in red ink “1 John 1:9.” This verse declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Confess it, thank God for His forgiveness and claim it as a truth, not just a feeling. Then when the enemy tries to throw that rock back in your bag, point to your written confirmation of freedom and own what Jesus did for you.

Here’s the bottom line my friend: you don’t have to forgive yourself. God has already forgiven you through Jesus’ sacrifice. There is nothing left to forgive. Now pick up your empty bag, fill it with the joy of freedom in Christ and claim the new life you have been given.

Giving God Praise and Thanks

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I knelt before God this morning and said: “Holy Father, I give you praise and thanks this day. I praise you for who you are, and I thank you for all you have done.” Immediately God stopped me and said, “You say the same words every morning. Why?” And His question gave me pause. “I praise you for who you are, Lord because I need to remember who you are. I thank you for what you’ve done because I need to remember all that you have done for me.”

I need to remember that He is the Creator – that He spoke and the universe obeyed. I need to remember that He is Sovereign. I need to remember that He is righteous and mighty and perfect. I need to remember that He is the God of the impossible – that He parts raging seas and brings down strong walls and makes blind men see. I need to remember that He brings life out of death and that His word is powerful. And I need to never ever forget that He is holy love.

I need to remember that when my cabinets were bare, He sent food to my door. I need to remember that when my car broke down, He sent funds to pay for a new transmission. I need to remember that when I looked for months for a job with no success, He opened the door to the best job I’ve ever had. I need to remember that when I was very sick, He healed me. When I was lost, He found me. When I was lonely, He adopted me. When I was in the pit of despair, He brought me out. And I need to never ever forget that He sent His Son to die for my sins and give me life.

I sensed a smile from my Father. “Just checking to see if you were paying attention child. Please continue on.”

Home

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My dad served in the U.S. Army for more than 30 years so we were accustomed to packing up and relocating. It was a way of life for us. The scenery changed often, Texas, Okinawa, Georgia, Alabama, Germany, back to Alabama. Yet there were certain things that always went with us. Wherever the next duty station took us mom always had her Bible and her sewing machine. Every three years or so my school and my friends changed. But home was wherever Mama’s Bible was opened on the kitchen table and her trusty Singer hummed.

Since I’ve been grown and on my own, I’ve moved around more. From Dothan to Midland City to Tallahassee to Woodville to Crawfordville to Tuscaloosa, and now back home to Dothan. Like Mama, one thing that has always gone with me is my Bible. It is the last thing that gets put in the moving van and the first thing that comes into our new home. If I have to be out of town for even a few days, my Bible is the last thing in my suitcase – sitting right on top where I can find it when I get settled.  That’s because where I go, long-term or short, I want God to go with me. I am home wherever God is. And He is always faithful to accompany me on my journeys.

Moses said, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations” (Psalm 90:1). He knew something about moving around. Forty-plus years of it. But God was the constant in every step he took. I’ll be honest and tell you that not every move was a good move and not every place we lived was happy. But God was – and continues to be – my faithful Companion. No, more than that – He was – and continues to be – my Dwelling place. I don’t know where you are right now – physically or emotionally or spiritually. You may be in a mansion or a hovel. You may be on a mountain top or at the bottom of the deepest pit of your life. I do know that if you are in Christ Jesus, God is there. Dwell in Him Beloved, and you will always be at home.

When the Way is Dark

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I come from a long line of crafters. My mom was an extraordinary seamstress – I loved the handmade clothes she made for me. My grandmother created beautiful designs with a needle and tread. and I found much comfort laying in bed and tracing the stitches on my “Sunbonnet Sue” pillowcase. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, Mom decided it was time for me to take up the family tradition, starting with learning handwork. She bought me a simple embroidery kit and taught me the up-and-down pattern, and the daisy stitch and how to fill a piece of fabric with color. The kit she bought was a design with an old fashioned oil lamp, a Bible – with a real velvet bookmark – and the words of Psalm 119:105. As I stitched the letters, the words were “sewn” into my heart: Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet and a Light unto my path.

I’ve lost my way a few times since then and found myself in dark scary places. But I would trace the words on my heart, just as I traced the pattern on my pillowcase, and I knew where to find the light. I still go back to that verse often and remind myself that the Bible has the power to dispel darkness and show me the way home.

The Word of God is Light and Life to me. It is stitched on my heart.

A Place Called Home

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“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Two summers ago when everything in our lives fell apart, we had to find a place to live back in our hometown. We drove around for days looking at apartments, houses, mobile homes – any place we could land. But when we found this house, I knew I was “home.” When I drive around town and see houses for sale or rent, I don’t give them a second thought because I am happily settled where I am.

In John 15:1-11, Jesus told His disciples that He is the Vine, and they (and we) are the branches. Branches must stay connected to the vine to live and to produce good fruit – the word he used is meno meaning to “remain” or “abide. He used it three times in this passage: “remain in me, [let] my words remain in you,” and “remain in my love” v. 9). The word gives the idea of being settled – like we are here in this house.

I think Jesus wants us to “settle down” with Him. I think He wants us to dismiss all other options and opinions because we are happily abiding in Him, curled up on the couch drinking in His Words, wrapped in the warm quilt of His love. Maybe even a cat purring at our feet. Storms may rage outside the walls, but we are not anxious. We are at home.

Beloved, do you long for this kind of peace and contentment? Are you weary of the storm and the confusion of the world? The Master of this house will never turn you away. Come home to God through Jesus Christ. The door is open for you

It’s Time to Put Christmas Away

 

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I’ll be taking down our Christmas tree today. Packing away the ornaments, wrapping them carefully so they won’t get broken and schlepping them back to the storage shed in the backyard. I’ll throw the tree on the burn pile and sweep up the pine needles and try to restore my home to its normal disorder. We also have to get the house ready for a mobile baby so she can roam safely to her little heart’s content. Christmas has to give way to everyday life.

But I’m not going to pack away the essentials of the holiday. I’m keeping out the hope and peace and faith and Joy and love. I liked focusing my mind each day on the good stuff, and I think you did too. I think we have to keep those things front and center every day in every season least we lose them – and lose our way. Do we need a refresher?

Hope – the confident expectation we have as we look for God, always considers His faithfulness, goodness, graciousness, and lovingkindness. Peace – the quiet assurance we have in God – is the fruit of hope– and it grows in the soil of faith – which is stepping out on His promises and knowing our feet will meet His hand. It blossoms into Joy – an unshakable sense of cheer even when there’s little to be jolly about, all of which find their strength in the love of God – the wide, long, high, deep and perfect love of God.

The calendar may say that Christmas is over, but your heart doesn’t have to surrender the experience of the holiday. Hold tightly to everything you received this Christmas Beloved – no, not the stuff that was under your tree – but the true expressions of the season. Hope. Peace. Faith. Joy. Love. You’re going to need them all year long.