Deeper Roots

“Nana, I watered your flowers!” Joy burst into my study the other day and dragged me by the hand to the porch to take a look. “See! Didn’t I do a good job!?” I smiled down at her eager face and gave her a big hug. “Yes, you did! Thank you, sweet girl!” I said, noticing that the leaves glistened with moisture but the soil was barely damp. Her idea of “watering my flowers” was to sprinkle water across the tops of the plants. When she proudly ran off to play, I turned on the hose and gave the plants the good, long drink they needed to survive and flourish. I returned to my study with a fresh cup of coffee and my Bible. I checked the reading plan and turned to Psalm 119:9-16 to read. I started to close my Bible and get on with the chores that nagged me when I sensed a “Stop!” in my spirit. “Read it again. Slower.” So I sat back down and re-read the passage. I realized that the Psalmist wasn’t doing a quick reading of the Scriptures, He was soaking it in. Like my granddaughter’s idea of watering my plants, I was sprinkling God’s Word over the surface of my heart, but I wasn’t spending enough time in it to do my soul much good. When I looked further into Psalm 119 I found verse after verse after verse about the power of the Bible for those who will give it more than a quick read.

I’ve quit trying to read the Bible through in a year, I’m more focused on reading it. thoroughly. I decided to slow it down and take smaller, deeper bites that I can chew on all day. Peter called believers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). Growing in knowledge takes time, but it pays off with deep roots. Deep roots bear fruit (2 Kings 19:30, paraphrased). Jesus said that we were chosen and appointed “to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16). That requires time in the soul-nurturing Word of God. Beloved, it’s time to put away the watering can and pull out the soaker hose. Go deep in the Word of God and let God’s Words go deep in you.

Jesus and John Lennon

The Beatles sang it in the mid-’60s and it is the mantra of our culture today: “All you need is love, love, love.” In a world of mass shootings, child abuse, hatred, racism, and war, love is the only antidote. And the Bible agrees. The problem is our definitions of love. John Lennon’s lyrics are empty. He called for love but said nothing about how to love. The culture deems love as permissiveness and approval to indulge in every kind of earthly attraction. But is that truly love?

In a sense the Beatles and the culture are right. Jesus said that the second most important commandment, after loving God, is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). But what does that look like? Whose meaning is right?  I believe the Author of love is the best one to define it.

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

“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).

 “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16)

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

Does that look like the kind of love the culture is touting? Do you see that in Lennon’s lyrics? No and no. But can you imagine how this love would change the world? How about just your family? Love is much more than an ethereal notion. It is practical. It has substance. It has hands and feet. It has a voice. Your hands and feet. Your voice. And mine. Truly, all we need is love – love for God and love for one another. Yes, John, you were right – love is all we need.

Hebrews: Noah and (more than) the Ark

I grew up on Bible stories: Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Joshua and the Battle of Jericho (if you’re my age you just sang that one), and Noah and the Ark. Bible stories are great – when you’re a kid, but at some point, we have to grow up. We have to dig deeper into the familiar stories of our childhood and find the treasures under the surface. Noah and the Ark is a good place to start.

The writer of Hebrews placed Noah in this chapter of heroes – not for the ark that he built, but for the reason he built it.  “By faith, Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family” (Heb 11:7). What was the “thing not yet seen?” Rain. Since creation “streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground” (Gen 2:6). So when God comes to Noah and says, “I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights” (Gen 7:4), Noah had no idea what “rain” was. He had to believe in something he had never seen. Noah obeyed because he was sure that God was going to do what He said He would do.

But there’s another phrase in the verse that gets overlooked: “in holy fear.” Wait – Why was he afraid of God? He is all love, love, love. “Holy fear” means Noah reverenced God. He was in awe of His greatness and power. He respected God. That has been lost and it shows. Noah believed when the Lord said, “I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens . . .” (Gen 6:17). He also believed in God’s promise to save him and his family (Gen 6:18). He did what God told him to do because he believed in God’s power and authority to destroy all living creatures and in God’s salvation.

That’s the foundation of the gospel. I know we’re not supposed to re-write the Bible, but I want to tweak John 3:16 just a little: “For God so loved the (sinful, disobedient, condemned) world that He gave His one and only (perfect, holy) Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish (as he deserves to) but have eternal life.” The gospel of love is incomplete without the truth of man’s sin and condemnation. We have to tell people why they need to be saved. Noah believed in both the judgment and the mercy of God. Do you, Beloved?

Hebrews: In the Beginning . . .

It’s the simplest truth, taught to the littlest children: God created the whole world. It is the opening statement of the Bible and is foundational to our understanding of who God is, and in turn who we are.  It is also the first step of faith. The writer of Hebrews said, By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

Modern science spins a tale of colliding gasses that somehow formed into a diverse group of planets, stars, and galaxies. But that is not the biblical account of creation. The Bible says that God created ex nihilo – out of nothing. There were no prior elements that He scooped up into His hand and rolled into a ball.  He spoke into the empty nothingness and the response was immediate obedience. He said “Let there be” . . . light, water, dry ground, plant life, sun, moon and stars, and living creatures of all kinds. And they were. Nature obeys the creator, even if man, God’s highest creation doesn’t.

Does it really matter how the universe got here?  Yes, it really does, but not for the sake of scientific argument. If I side with the scientific versions – even from a “Christian” perspective – I have said that the very first truths of the Holy Word of God are questionable.  That leaves everything else from Genesis 2 to Revelation 22 open to debate and alteration for the sake of human agreement.  Those who doubt the creation account then say that Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the Whale, and many other extraordinary biblical stories are just myths.  How easy it becomes then to question the truth of the virgin birth of Jesus, His miracles, and even His resurrection. Think I’m stretching too far here?  Go sit through a lecture at a liberal-leaning seminary.  It’s a wonder students have any semblance of faith left when they graduate.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  Faith, the author of Hebrews says, starts right here, at the beginning.  Christian, it is absolutely vital that you know what you believe and then believe what you know – but be certain, Beloved, that what you know and believe is the truth. The Bible is not written as a science manual; it is written for faith.

Hebrews: Faith

Several years ago I posted a question on social media and asked, “What is faith?” The answers ranged from a shield to a conviction to a gift. But the most consistent answer was “trust.” And I believe that is the essence of faith in a single word. As we (finally) come to the well-loved “Hall of Faith,” we are greeted by the writer’s summary first: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for” (Hebrews 11:1-2).

“Faith” gets used a lot in churches and Christian circles – so much so that it has lost its meaning. In the modern Christian culture, we say we have faith because we think about God and talk about Bible verses. But biblical faith is not just sitting around with our ethereal musings. By definition, faith is a belief that leads to a corresponding action – even when the reasons for that action are unclear and the results are uncertain.

Mind you, faith isn’t “blind” either. It sees the improbability of what God is asking. Faith does it anyway. Because faith “sees” God. This thing that we “hope for,” that “we do not see” is God. The NLT says “faith shows the reality.” The reality is God is trustworthy. He is faithful. He is true. Faith allows us to step out into the unknown, confident that He knows the end from the beginning and every step we will take along the way.

What has God asked of you that requires great faith? Trust Him and do the thing whether you understand the reasons or not. Do it when it doesn’t make a bit of sense. Do it even though you can’t see the outcome. If your knees are knocking – do it afraid, but do it. Then when God slides His hand in place just as your foot reaches the empty space, you will stand on the most solid ground you’ve ever known. Have faith Beloved. Just do it.

The Measure of My Faith

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent”  (John 17:3).

One morning not too long ago I had the urge to grab a tape measure and measure the distance between my head and my heart. 22 inches.

“What does that mean Lord?” I asked.

“That is the difference between what you know in your head and what you know in your heart.”

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical and Theological Studies and I am working on my Master’s. Thus far I have seven years of studying and pounding out acres of papers, reports, and tests.  I read scores of pages every week in my textbooks and have taken numerous studies of books of the Bible. I’ve dug into words and context and history and I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve learned about the Bible, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, creation, Israel, the Church, prophecy, doctrine, apologetics, theology, eschatology, ecclesiology, Christology, – and yes, even algebra.  None of that makes me an expert – far from it. In fact, I’ve barely scratched the surface. Still, all that knowledge does me no good if it just sits in my head and never reaches my heart.  It’s like a seed lying dormant on the surface rather than under the ground where it can put down roots and grow strong.

I used to think it was enough to learn all I could know about God, but I’m finding that when it’s all head-knowledge, it doesn’t move my heart – and my heart is what God is after. My heart is where change happens. So how do I make all this knowledge transition from my head to my heart?  Honestly, that’s a work of the Holy Spirit.  But I do have some responsibilities, such as coming to study the Bible with an attitude of humility and inviting the Spirit to teach me, then meditating on what He has revealed.  Oh, and then living it out. It’s the practical application of the Scripture that makes it take root in my heart.

Twenty-two inches isn’t much on a tape measure, but it is the difference between knowing about God and knowing God. I’m not satisfied with a head full of knowledge anymore.  I want to know God with all my heart. How about you, Beloved?

What Has Happened to the Church?

Charles Spurgeon said, “If we cannot be torn in pieces by the roaring lion, we may be hugged to death by the bear.”

(I hope you’re ready for a history lesson)

In the earliest centuries of the Church, Christians faced unfathomable persecution. Their property was confiscated, their jobs taken away, and they were subject to physical attacks. Steven, the first martyr was stoned to death for the name of Jesus. James was beheaded for His commitment to Christ. Paul wrote of “troubles, hardships and distresses, beatings, imprisonments and riots, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger” (2 Cor 6:4-5). He was stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19), shipwrecked three times (2 Cor 11:25), and in constant danger everywhere he went (2 Cor 11:26). We’re all familiar with the stories of Christians facing lions in a public arena for the amusement of the Romans. These men and women gladly surrendered their lives rather than deny the name of their Lord, Jesus Christ. The faith of the martyrs shone brilliantly and boldly against the dark backdrop of persecution.

But in later years, when Emperor Constantine of Rome (272-337) declared Christianity as the state religion, persecution in the west ended and every citizen became a “Christian”–whether they believed or not. Being a Christian was all about nationality, not grace as Christianity was fully embraced by the civilized world. It could be considered the worst thing to ever happen to the church. The standards for Christians became more and more lax over the centuries, and by the twentieth century “Christianity” looked nothing like the faith that men and women once died for.  It had been smothered in a bear hug of cheap grace as the church preached a “light” version of sin and salvation.

But I believe we’re coming back full circle to the days of persecution for true believers. Once again, Christians – Bible-believing, Christ-following Christians are persona-non-grata. Christianity has become the enemy once again. Even in the church.  As churches embrace every sin that the culture can dream up, they also reject the truth and those who live by it. Subtly, degree by degree, hatred for true believers is growing and they are being forced out. It’s happening in churches right now in your own community. The days of the bear hug are coming to an end – and it may be the best thing for the church. It’s certainly following in the footprints of Jesus who said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matt 16:25). The lion is stirring again. Beloved, are you ready to stand firm?

What the Heart Wants

Why do we sin? Of course, we sin because our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, sinned and passed that sin nature down to us. But James revealed another reason you and I sin, “Each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15). At the heart of all sin is our innate sinful nature and our own sinful desires.  Paul explained it in Romans 8:5 saying, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires.”

And satan goes right for those desires, which are often our weaknesses.  Money, sex, and power are the usual enticements into sin and death, but there are more than we can conceivably count.  Every person has their own desire, their own personal lure, and be assured Satan knows it.  He has devised a scheme tailor-made to match that craving.  We answer to the temptation that calls out to our innate desires. If your desire is for material possessions, he will pull you into the mall, or entice you with advertisements for the newest shiny thing.  If your desire is lust, every TV commercial for lingerie will catch your attention and he will make certain you get plenty of pop-ups for sexual sites on your I-phone.  Want power, prestige, fame, a high?  He’s got just what you’re looking for.

Our only way of escaping his trap is to have but one desire: God.

One of the church’s favorite verses is Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.”  But we don’t take the whole verse, we just hone in on “He will give you the desire of your heart,” and rush past the requirement expressed just before it: “Delight yourself in the Lord.” If you and I are serious about living pure and holy lives, especially in this culture, we must adopt the attitude of Asaph who proclaimed: “Earth has nothing I desire besides you…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25, 26).  When God is your heart’s desire Beloved, He will make sure you have the desire of your heart.

Home Keys

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My typing teacher taught me a mantra that has stayed with me for forty-plus years: “Start with your fingers on the home keys.” Home keys are the center row of letters on a standard “QWERTY” keyboard. Here’s a little history for you: The QWERTY keyboard was invented by Christopher Sholes who redesigned the earlier keyboard because fast typists had problems with the strike bars colliding with each other and getting jammed. So he arranged the keys in a pattern where the most commonly used letters were spread apart to slow the typist down just enough to prevent jamming. Keyboard manufacturers even make it easy to identify the home keys by putting raised marks on the “F” and “J” keys where your index fingers go. It’s as natural as breathing to me to put my fingers on the keyboard and rub the marks to make sure I’m on the home key row.

Unless you live under a rock, a lot has changed in the world – even in my own lifetime. And those changes have crept into the church, some for good, but many have caused great harm to the Body of Christ. Most noticeably, the Word of God has been twisted and misconstrued until it’s unrecognizable. It’s almost as if the church is retyping the Bible into gibberish because they don’t have their fingers on the home keys.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah has a word for us: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls” (Jer 6:16). The God of the universe established His Word as the authority for His people. He has not changed His mind nor His message to accommodate the changes in the culture. What was sin is still sin. What was holy is still holy. What was wrong is still wrong. What was right is still right. And what was the path of peace – Jesus Christ – is still the only path. The ancient ways of God are just as firm as they were when God spoke His Word to men through His Spirit. The world’s message will take you on the wrong path away from God. But the Scriptures are the “home keys” of the believer’s life. Beloved, look for the ancient marks of truth and stay on the path of rest and peace.

Who I am in Christ — or Whose?

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There is a trend in Christianity that both excites me and makes me wary. “Discipleship” is the command of our Lord and Savior: “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). Discipleship is Jesus’ marching orders for the church. But what are we to teach? Everything He commanded. Everything He taught. Everything He did. But above all, everything He is. The focus of all our teaching and discipleship should always be centered on Christ.

And that’s why I have had a wariness in my spirit. For the past several years the content of our discipleship, especially to women has taken a spiritually unhealthy turn.  This morning I was reading in Colossians, where Paul said: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved . . .” (3:12) and immediately my mind went to the manta of women’s Bible studies: “Who I am in Christ.” Now, please don’t misunderstand me, I am all for us claiming our identity as sons and daughters of God. As one who grew up rejected by both sides of the kickball teams, it is a great comfort to know that I am chosen in Christ. Because my former husband said, “I don’t love you anymore,” it is a balm to my heart to know that I am dearly loved by God. But the focus has turned in recent years from awe at what God has done for a wretch like me, to how God has elevated me, to it’s all about me. It reminds me of an advertisement I heard once for a “Christian” talent agency whose tagline was “Become famous for God!” No! No! No! We make God famous, not ourselves.

All the verses that we claim as our identity labels, when taken in their full context, are teaching us who we are so that we can then walk appropriately. The rest of Colossians 3:12 says “clothes yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Paul goes on to talk about forbearance (patience) and forgiveness and the unity that comes with love. He said, “because you are this, your character should be this.” The Scriptures never tell us “who we are” to boost our ego but to humble us in our relationships with one another and with Christ. When we pick out select words to focus on ourselves, we miss the point entirely.

Beloved, I encourage you to learn what the Bible says about you because above all else, you are God’s image-bearer. Now act like it.