Why Are You Here?

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What is it you’re here for? What is God’s good plan for your life? I’ve asked myself that many times and my answer changes over the years and seasons. To be a teacher? A writer? A scholar? A grandmother? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. But something inside me always believed there was something more. Oh, a speaker? A published author? Is that even enough?

One of the great scholars of the Renaissance, Erasmus, told a mythical tale about Jesus’ return to heaven after His time on earth. The angels gathered around Him as Jesus told them of His miracles, His teaching, and then of His death and resurrection.

When He finished, Michael the archangel asked, “But Lord, what happens now?”

Jesus answered, “I have left behind eleven faithful men who will declare my message and express my love. These faithful men will establish and build my church.”

“But,” responded Michael, “what if these men fail? What then?”

And Jesus answered, “I have no other plan.”

This may be a mythical story, but the concept is true – the church – that is you and I – is Jesus’ sole strategy to bring the Plan of the Ages to the world. We are Jesus’ plan A – and He doesn’t have a plan B. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). We have an urgent mission – a Great Commission – to tell His story, bring those who receive Him to the waters of baptism, teach them to walk in obedience to His Word, and train them to be the next generation of Great Commission followers.

Beloved, this morning, when you look at your reflection in the mirror remind yourself: “I’m it.” Then go fulfill your mission.

Deep People

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God is looking for deep people. No, not intellectual people but . . .

people with deep conviction—1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 says  “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.”  People who are convinced that Jesus Christ is exactly who He claimed to be. They are people who . . .

take “hold of the deep truths of the faith” (1 Timothy 3:5).  The bulk of the New Testament is made up of Paul’s replies to people who were not content with a surface knowledge about Jesus but searched the Scriptures for Him and wrote to Paul seeking clarification. These are people the Lord can entrust with . . .

 “the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).  That’s not knowledge outside of the Bible, but it is “spiritual truths . . . taught by the Spirit . . . in spiritual words” (2:13). In other words, people who are walking with and listening to God’s Spirit expressing the deep things of God’s Word. They are also people . . .

 with deep love.  Paul prayed that the Ephesian believers would be “rooted and established in love, [and have] power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that [they] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19) Paul is not trying to put parameters around God’s love, but rather to express its greatness and better understand its limitlessness. Then, from the deep love of God comes . . .

deep love for one another. Peter added: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). This is how we obey Jesus’ command to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). We can’t deeply love people until we deeply love God.

Oh, Beloved, I pray you are stirred with a yearning to go deeper with God. What better time than the Easter season to set your roots in the depths of His love.

Love Your Enemies

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Our Ladies Bible study group continues to study through the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. Six times in chapter five Jesus said, “You have heard . . . “ and followed it with “But I tell you . . ..” In matters of murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, and, in verses 38-48, revenge, and enemies. Maybe you should grab your Bible and read those verses. In vs. 38-42 He said “Do not resist an evil person” and gave specific examples of people who persecute and take advantage of you. He established the principle of “going the extra mile and turning the other cheek.” He said when someone makes demands of you – not only should you meet their demands, but you should exceed them. Peter took this to heart when he said, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing . . .” (1 Peter 3:9). In our “stand up for yourself” culture, that rubs the wrong way.

In verses 43-48 He said we are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Again, that is so completely counter-cultural. But there is a purpose in all of this. Peter continued in his letter by saying “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (3:15).

My family was stationed in Mannheim, Germany in the early-mid ’70s and my oldest brother was working at one of the base stores as a stocker. Jim carried his Bible with him to work and read it on his break. One of his co-workers constantly ridiculed him. Jim never said a word back, but was gracious to the guy and often helped him complete his work. One day the co-worker took his box cutter and slashed several pages of my brother’s Bible. Again, Jim never said a word but spent his break taping the pages back together. Finally, the offender asked, “Why?” And Jim was able to lead him to faith in Jesus. He asked my brother if he could have the very Bible that he had tried to destroy.

That’s why we don’t resist and we love those who hate us. Because our example could be the bridge to brings them to Christ. Beloved, who comes to mind when you think about people who do you wrong? That’s the very one you need to pray for and love into the Kingdom.

Love One Another

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In this week building up to Valentine’s Day, we’re talking about love – not “Hollywood” love, but real love as the Bible defines it.

There is only one time in the four biblical accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings that He utters “This is my command.” It wasn’t, “Thou must tithe.” It wasn’t, “Thou must be in church every time the doors are open.” It wasn’t even, “Thou must not cuss.” It was a simple but profound statement: “Love one another.” That’s not to say that we can ignore all the rest of what He said, but it means that this is a non-negotiable. We must love one another. John recorded four times Jesus said it. The epistles say it another eight times ( six of them in 1 John). God is serious about loving one another. Jesus specified how we are to love one another: “as I have loved you.” (John 15:12, 17). How did He love us? “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (v. 13). He loved us by laying down His life for you and me giving Himself for us that we might be saved. It’s very unlikely you will be called upon to die for someone, although many a soldier has done it, but you may be called to lay down something else for another. Like your time, your privilege, your resources, your opinion, your dreams, even – gasp – your phone. When Jesus commanded us to love one another as He loved us He meant with no reservation or hesitation. Whether you think they deserve it or not.

Jesus is the perfect model of loving others. The cross is the ultimate expression of His love, but there are some practical ways we can love others. “Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love” by washing the disciples’ nasty feet. (John 13:1-17). When He was done He said, ”Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (13:14-15). Washing feet can take many forms – giving when there is a need, taking a meal, grocery shopping, taking care of kids, cutting the grass, repairing a leaky faucet, walking the dog, opening your home, sharing your resources.  They are practical ways to show you are a follower of Christ.

Here are a few other ways the Bible says we can “Love one another.”

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves” (Rom 12:10).

“Live in harmony with one another” (Rom. 12:16).

“Stop passing judgment on one another” (Rom 14:13).

“Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you,” (Rom. 15:7)

“Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13).

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you” (Eph 4:32).

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19).

“Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another (Col 5:13).

“Love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

“Have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7).

“Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26; 1 Pet 5:14). Socially distanced, of course.

Did you notice that none of these are labor some or costly in terms of money? But they sure can be a challenge. Love one another Beloved, because Jesus loves you. And that’s reason enough.

Real Love

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This is the week building up to Valentine’s Day, and I plan to write about love all week. Not sappy, “Hallmark movie” love, but the love that is true and perfect and eternal.

I’m intrigued by a verse in 1 John: “Everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and caring out His commands” (5:1-2).  I expected that John would have said “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by caring for one another, meeting needs, sharing the blessings of God, etc.” But he says that love for one another is revealed in our love for God and our obedience to His commands. That seems strange until we realize that love for God will always manifest itself in love for people. A heart that loves God will love what God loves.

The heart and soul of true love—of agape love­—is the love of God. This is perfect love (1 John 4:18). And it is nothing like the “love” this world desires. In our culture today, “love” means “anything goes.” Love, in the modern sense, is unrestrained permissiveness. If I claim to love you, I should never stand in the way of you fulfilling your desires. But what if I know that your desires are self-destructive? If my granddaughter desires to run into the middle of the street (and she does), does love demand that I allow her to do so? No! Because grandmother love has a greater demand: that I do what is in Joy’s best interest. So even though it made her very angry, I stopped her before she reached the end of our driveway.  Should I be any less concerned when I see someone blindly following the whims of this sin-sick world into self-destruction? Real love cares enough to say “This will destroy you.” Paul said that love “always protects” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Is it protective to say, “Because I love you, I approve of your sinful choices.”? Real love doesn’t turn a blind eye to sin.

God is the source of real love. 1 John 4:7 says, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Real love is holy love. And because He is the definition of love, anything outside of God is not love. Beloved, it is time for us to speak the truth in love while we also speak the truth about love.

The Enemy’s Not Who You Think

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Going a completely different direction this morning, all because of a . . . well, let me start at the beginning. I was working on a very passionate and theological post. But something wasn’t right. With the post, but also with my computer. I was waxing elephants with my words, but not making any real sense. Plus, I noticed a random period between two words where a period shouldn’t be. I backspaced to erase it and retyped the sentence. There’s that stupid period again. I thought I must be accidentally hitting the period key. Backspace and try again. It’s still there. What in the world? Then I wiped the screen and wiped away a tiny little black spot that was perfectly positioned to pretend to be a naughty period. And drive me crazy.

Oh, you bet there is a spiritual application here my friends. Things are not always what we think they are. You and I can be deceived and end up fighting the wrong battles. That’s why Paul said we must take a stand against the devil’s schemes because “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:11, 12). Just as I blamed that errant period for being in the wrong place, you and I often put the blame in the wrong place. Satan loves to stir up tension between you and your spouse, your child, your coworker, your parent, your sibling, or even – especially – a brother or sister in Christ. We have to remember that the enemy s not the other person – it is the evil one “behind the curtain,” using your loved one’s finger to push your buttons. It is the devil who loves to drive a wedge between us. And yes, I know, sometimes people do some pretty awful things to us. They’re still not the enemy. Satan and his evil minions are.

Who has “pushed your button” lately? Who has caused friction and tension in your life? Your real enemy wants you to be angry and hate them. Instead, Peter admonished, “All of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, because to this {harmony, sympathy, love, compassion, humility] you were called” (1 Peter 3:8-9). Fight the real enemy, Beloved, and love one another.

What is the Church Talking About?

*Steel-toed boots warning*

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Ever stood outside a church or in a classroom as the folks gather and listened to the conversations? “Man, did you see Harris hurdle that defender?” “I see you bought a new truck.” .My neighbor shot a 12-pointer this week!” “You gotta try the new diner down the road – boys, that’s some good eating!” “I didn’t vote for him and I’m not gonna support him!”  I’m guilty too. I talk about clothes and kids and grandchildren and work and I admit that too often more of our ladies’ prayer and accountability group is eaten up with everything but prayer and accountability. Conversations among believers aren’t always about God, are they?

A verse in Malachi is very convicting and I think should be written on every believer’s heart: “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard.  A scroll of remembrance was written in  His presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored His name.  ‘They will be mine,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 3:16-17a). Did it ever occur to you that God is listening to the conversations of His people? Of course you know that, but did you know that He is paying very close attention to what we say when we are in each other’s company? That He is “taking notes?” I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty sobering. What do you suppose Paul and company said to each other as they gathered together? Did they talk about tents or politics and grumble about the state of the Roman government? I don’t think so.  I think they ran up to one another and said, “Did you hear what God did for me this week?” “Will you come and kneel with me? Brother so-and-so needs our prayers.” “She was a woman of low morals, but Christ saved her and she loves Him so much!” “Let us pray together right now for our persecuted brothers and sisters!” The Scriptures say they were immediately and constantly in prayer together. Perhaps we’ve found the cause and the cure for our dry and fruitless churches.

When the people of God are together, shouldn’t our conversations center around awe of God’s deeds and honoring His name? How it would delight His heart to take note of those discussions.  Jesus said our words reveal the condition of our hearts (Matt 12:34).  To the world and to God. Beloved, what are you talking about?

For The One Who Loves a Prodigal

I wrote this almost 5 years ago and just rediscovered it. God’s timing is impeccable. I need this message now more than I did then. Someone else may need it too. It’s for those of us who love a prodigal.

Acts 8:26-40 records the account of Philip and the Ethiopian (go ahead and read it-I’ll wait right here for you). Philip met an angel of the Lord who sent him on a mission. “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” There Philip met an Ethiopian who served in the court of the queen of the Ethiopians. Scholars contend that he was a God-seeker who had not converted to full Judaism. He was returning from Jerusalem where he had gone to worship. He was riding in his chariot, reading from Isaiah – about the “sheep led to the slaughter,” and did not understand what he was reading  Enter Philip who clarified the Scriptures to the man, and from them, shared the good news about Jesus.  The Holy Spirit worked through The Word and Philip’s words and the man received Christ and immediately was baptized.

I want you to zero in on verse 29: “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.'” This phrase in Greek means “Go to that chariot and ‘stick with it.'” I thought about someone I love that I’ve been praying for many years and how I wonder if they will ever “get it.” The Spirit spoke to my heart and said, “Stick with them.” In our human nature, it is easy to become weary and want to just give up on difficult people. But if God has set them in your life, no matter how stubborn they are, He has called you to “stick with them.” That means more than tolerating them. That means: Keep praying. “The prayer of a righteous man [woman, parent, grandparent, sibling, friend, pastor] offered in faith . . . is powerful and effective” (James 5:15,16). Keep loving. “Love always hopes and always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:7,8). Keep forgiving. “I tell you, [forgive] not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Then trust God to do the rest. “Salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). 

Years later my prodigal is still a prodigal, but I’m sticking with them because God is faithful. Beloved, whom has God called you to stick with?

Heroes of the Faith

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The Bible gives us so many people to admire and try to emulate.  I have a few favorites:

God called me to ministry through Ezra.  A scribe and teacher whom God blessed and used powerfully, “Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). He has inspired me to devote my life to study the Word, live the Word, and teach the Word.

I love Daniel because he stood firm for the Lord in the face of pressure and oppression.

I love Habakkuk who, despite having bare fields and empty stalls, chose to be “joyful in God my Savior” (Hab. 3:18). He speaks to my heart in this season.

Like many, I love Peter because his rash, impulsive nature means that God can use even a goof-ball like me.

Several women have touched my heart deeply:

I love Ruth for her sweet, humble manner with her bitter mother-in-law. Ruth loved Noami and was willing to work hard to care for her. Her life speaks volumes to me right now.

Dorcas is another one of my heroes, for obvious reasons – we share a name –  but also because Dorcas was a woman who “was full of good works which she did” (Acts 9:36). She inspires me to get up off of my intentions and put them into fruitful action.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, who received Gabriel’s astonishing message with a humble, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

Anna – the first to proclaim the coming of God’s redemption (Luke 2:36-18).

Mary of Bethany – who chose sitting at Jesus’ feet over duty (Luke 10:38-42) – then anointed His feet for burial (John 12:3).

Lydia – the first European convert to Christianity (Acts 16:13-15).

Priscilla – along with her husband Aquila, mentored the young preacher Apollos in the faith (Acts 18:24-26).

Phoebe – a fruitful servant alongside Paul, and a deacon in the early church (Rom. 16: 1-2).

And the woman I admire the most: Mary Magdalene who was the first to see the resurrected Jesus and the first evangelist who proclaimed that the Lord had risen from the dead. A woman who preached the resurrection.

They are all part of that “great cloud of witnesses” who are cheering me – and you – on to perseverance and faithfulness. Beloved, who are your heroes of the faith?

Got Love?

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Got anybody in your life who is hard to love? Yeah, me too. I think every person who seeks to follow Christ will have the “blessing’ of hard-to-love people. It’s one of the tools God uses to shape and mold us into the image of His Son, which is the point of our lives (Romans 8:29). 

Hallmark makes love look so easy. It’s not.  Love is hard. It’s painful. It’s demanding. It’s often unfair. Love will take you to hard places and cost you more than you ever imagined. That’s why people give up on love so easily.

I’m struggling with some of those people so this morning I prayed: “Lord, help me to love as You love.” He sent me to 1 John. I learned some stuff I thought I’d share with you. By the way, I purposefully left off the actual verse so you would look these up for yourself.

First, I cannot love difficult people on my own.  I can only love them out of the love God has for me (4:16).

Love comes only from Him (4:7). (Not my human emotions).

God is love (4:16). He has lavished His great love on me (3:1).

Because God loves me, I can love them (4:19).

Because I know God – who is love – I can love them (4:8)

Because He lives in me through His Spirit, His love for others lives in me as well and completes and perfects my insufficient love so that  I can love them (1:12, 17, 18).

God loved me sacrificially (4:9-10). The love I show to others must follow suit (4:11).

God expects me to love them (4:20-21).

When I consider how unloveable I have been – and often still am – I marvel that God loves me. Yet He does. So how can I, as His child, in whom His Spirit dwells, withhold love from those who are unloveable to me?  I have read the Bible from cover to cover and I find no place where God said, “Stand up for your rights!”  But over and over I find two things I lean on hard: God calls me to love, and He promises to fight for me.

Beloved, I don’t know how much clearer it can be. We are called to love God and love others – even, especially, the ones who make it hard to love. They need it most of all.