I don’t hear your words, I hear your heart

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I have hundreds of verses marked in my Bible, but two have very special significance to me.  Isaiah 51:16 says “I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand.” God pricked my heart years ago through that verse and I asked Him to put His words in my mouth and let me be His spokesman. I used that exact word. The very next day I read, “If you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesman” (Jeremiah 15:19).  The connection was a clear as day to me.  I remembered hearing about ancient Scribes who copied the words of Scripture and every time they wrote the name of God they would use a brand new pen to write that one word and break it immediately afterward so that the pen that wrote the holy name could never be used to write anything profane.  If I wanted to fulfill my calling, my words – my mouth – would have to radically change. I thought, “okay, I can do this – I will diligently watch what I say.” Then something made me angry. And someone said something I didn’t appreciate. And my boss asked me to do something I didn’t want to do. And you know what – I didn’t say a “worthless word.” But I sure thought them. In my mind and heart I was spouting off left and right. That’s because my tongue wasn’t the real problem – my heart was. Jesus said: “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34) I didn’t need to watch my mouth, I needed to watch my heart.

Have you ever noticed how many celebrities and politicians have to hastily take down tweets or backpedal comments trying to soften their words?  Sure, most of them have speechwriters and handlers who prepare well-worded messages for them, but they always seem to get in trouble over words said (or tweeted) in unguarded moments.  Because those words were coming straight from their heart. You and I are the same, just without all the publicity. The words we speak, especially when we are not “in control,” reveal the true condition of our hearts. It’s so much deeper than the words we speak. Beloved, what do your words – spoken, posted, or thought – say about your heart?

Glory!

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Why did Jesus die? To atone for our sins, yes. To bear the curse of mankind, yes. To bring redemption to lost sinners, yes. But what if there’s more to it than that. Reading John 17:1-5 and something jumped out at me.

Glory.

Five times in these verses Jesus speaks of glory.

“Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (v. 1).

“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (v. 4).

“And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (v. 5).

Jesus began His prayer by saying, “Father, the time has come.” Because we know “the rest of the story” we automatically think he means the time for His death had come. But these verses tell us Jesus had a much different focus. The time had come – not for death – but for glory!

In fact, not once in those five verses did Jesus even mention death. He spoke of eternal life and the work given to Him by the Father. He talked about making known “the only true God.” But death? Not a word.

The cross was the plan. Glory was the purpose.

But how can the cross bring glory to the Godhead?

By lifting high the Son of God so that all men can see Him and believe and have eternal life. God sent His Son to die for you and me, and in His death and resurrection by the Spirit, to glorify the Father and the Son. I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to shout . . .

When You Wonder “What Happened?”

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Ruth’s story in the Bible is a romance for the ages. Widowed and devoted to her grieving mother-in-law, Ruth, a Moabitess accompanied Naomi back to Judah. She left home to go to an unknown place and an unknown people (who traditionally hated the Moabites) and faced an unknown future. She encountered many challenges in Judah, and it is in Judah that she found love. Oh, yeah, she met this Boaz guy, but that’s not the love I mean. The love she discovered in a land far from home was the love of the God of the heavens and the earth.  The God who moved heaven and earth for her and the nation of Israel.

As Naomi and Ruth settled in Bethlehem, the barley harvest was beginning. The law commanded that the poor in a community should be allowed to glean from the fields for their survival, going behind the harvesters and gathering what remained. We pick up Ruth’s story in chapter two as she takes to the fields to gather food for herself and Naomi.  Verse 3 says: “She went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters.  As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.” As it turned out. Do you think for a moment that she was working in Boaz’s field by happenstance? No, my friend. God was directing Ruth’s path. He guided her to the very one who could redeem her and give her a home and a family and love. And a place in the lineage of King David (her great-grandson) and Jesus (her true and eternal Redeemer). God gave Ruth a future and a hope beyond her wildest imagination.

As it happened.  Beloved, where do you “happen” to be right now? Somewhere you never expected? Somewhere that feels far from home? Somewhere that is strange, maybe a little scary, and possibly even painful? You’re not there by happenstance. God’s people don’t wander aimlessly. In His providence and sovereignty, He guides us where He wants us to be. Whether it’s a physical place or a season in life, you are where you are by His good and gracious hand. So put your hand to the work before you and keep watch for what God will do.  What “happens” next will be amazing

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.

The Call

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I like to look back at my Facebook memories each day. I love seeing Joy grow over almost two years. I cherish memories of friends who are now in heaven. I especially love to recall God’s hand in my life. It helps me remember His faithfulness. And I cringe at times I thought I was so intelligent and spiritual.

This morning FB reminded me that seven years ago today was my last day after 17 years of serving at Tallahassee Heights United Methodist Church. I was devoting myself full-time to seminary, Bible study, writing, and teaching. That was a huge leap of faith. But it wasn’t a decision I made willy-nilly; God called me to it and I had to obey.

A few months before I had encountered a verse that became God’s call on my life and still guides me today: “The gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws to Israel” (Ezra 7:9b-10). God said to me, “Devote yourself to study my Word, live my Word, and teach my Word.”  And that is what I set out to do and am still dedicated to doing.

But the call goes back even farther than seven years. Ten years before that I was sensing a call to ministry. I was ready – or so I thought. God had some sifting and refining to do in me first. And some major humbling. So much so that I thought He had rescinded His call and I burned all my notebooks filled with years of writings because I believed it was all over. But He was just beginning – and so was I. Today, seven years from the day I surrendered to that call, I am still studying, writing, teaching, and preparing – now in graduate school.

Why am I sharing this memory and my story? Because someone has felt God’s call in the past. You were excited about it and ready to go. But you’re still waiting and it seems like a long-lost dream. You may have had to go through some hard refining and you wonder if God has changed His mind. He hasn’t. He’s just been preparing you. Paul said, “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). I’m living proof of that. Beloved get yourself ready to do what God called you to do. He’s not through with you yet.

The Path of Life

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I’ve been a little overwhelmed and discouraged lately so I opened my Bible and searched for my “comfort verses,” you know, like comfort food (homemade creamed potatoes for me). I’ve got many verses marked that have spoken to my heart before and I was skimming through reading those verses. I came to Psalm 16, where David expresses his trust in God because of the Lord’s faithfulness in the past and his assurance of God’s grace in the days to come. Something stood out to me in these words that I’d never noticed before.

Verse 11 says, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with Joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” The word “path” lit up in my heart.  There are a lot of uncertain things in my life these days and I don’t know what God is up to. I had what I thought was a clear direction for my life and I was working toward that direction in graduate school. Then something – or someone – came into my life and all my well-made plans seemed to be thrown out the window. Has God changed His purpose for me? Am I supposed to be a student or a grandmother? Is there a different priority for my life? Am I called to ministry or is Joy my ministry? Where am I going, Lord?

I sensed the Spirit saying, “I gave you a path, not a destination – you just need to be faithful to what I put before you, and I will get you where I want you to go.” What’s before me is the opportunity to continue my education for free. What’s before me is a little girl with a love of music and books and an inexhaustible supply of energy.  I also sensed God saying, “It’s not an either-or; it’s both.”

I have a feeling that I am not the only one who wonders where life is going. Something or someone has come along and the way that once seemed certain is now shrouded in a thick fog. Beloved, be assured, God is in control of the destination. Your only concern is your feet. Walk the path He has put before you and He’ll get you where you’re supposed to be. And He’ll go with you every step of the way.

Bible Study

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You’ve heard me say this before, and I’ll say it to my dying day – one of the most important Bible study lessons I’ve learned is to not take any Scripture out of its greater context. That is crucial to understanding the text and making the right application.  When we isolate a verse or passage we can make it say pretty much anything we want. I’ll give you just one example.

Two points are always taught from the miracle story in Luke 17:11-19. Jesus met ten lepers who cried out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (13) And He did. He told them to “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” which the Law demanded. The first point is that the lepers didn’t wait around until they saw their flesh restored but immediately did what Jesus said, and “As they went, they were cleansed” (14). The lesson is drawn that obedience proceeds blessings. The second, and you’re probably familiar with this one, is that only one of the ten healed men returned to thank Jesus – and this brings the lesson of gratitude.

But the point of this miracle story is not just a reminder to be obedient to God’s commands nor to be grateful for what God has done for you, although these are both important lessons and life habits that we should adopt. They are secondary to the miracle-working power of Jesus which added evidence to His claim to be the Son of God. That is Luke’s point throughout his entire gospel – the greater context. Luke stated his purpose for writing in 1:1-4. He wanted to assure “Theophilus” of “the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Now we don’t know who Theophilus was, but we know what he was taught. The heart of the gospel is in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Everything in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, points to Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. Without that firmly fixed in our minds, Bible study misses the point.

Beloved, I am passionate for you to get into the Word and get to know God’s heart for you – it begins and [never] ends with Jesus.

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.

Of Septic Tanks and God

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My son says that I can take anything and find a spiritual application to it. I suppose that’s so but it’s because I see God in everything. He is the Creator and Sustainer of everything. Nothing exists that He did not create with His powerful word or fashion with His divine hand. If he could somehow cease to exist, which He will not, everything in heaven and earth would also cease to exist. So yeah, I see spiritual things in everything and every situation.  

There is this spot in my yard that is especially lush and green. You city people won’t understand, but the country folk know that this is where the septic tank sits.  The “contents” of the tank become fertilizer for the soil so that the grass and bushes in the immediate vicinity are “nurtured.” How can I find a spiritual application in a septic tank?  In God’s hands, the crappiest parts of our life often become the most fruitful for the Kingdom. Ask Joseph whose horrible brothers sold him into slavery. He was taken to Egypt where he was falsely accused of sexual assault and thrown in prison. There, he interpreted a dream for a fellow prisoner who promised to remember him to the Pharoah but promptly forgot. Until two years later when Pharoah had a dream and the ex-prisoner remembered Joseph and recommended him. Joseph not only told the Pharoah the meaning of his anxious dream but how to resolve the problem that the dream was prophecying. Impressed, Pharoah appointed him to the second-highest position in his kingdom and Joseph saved the lives of the Egyptians and became very wealthy in the process. He also saved the lives of his family – including the brothers who had betrayed him. And in doing so, he saved the lineage through which the Savior of all mankind would come.  Had Joseph not made it to Egypt to stand before the Pharoah – however harsh the circumstances – there would be no nation of Israel, no Jewish people, no Jesus, and no salvation for you and me.  Joseph told his brothers, “ You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).

Beloved, if life feels like a septic tank right now be encouraged. God has a way of taking the crappiest things and bringing unexpected good out of them.

Okay, I’m Saved. Now What?

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Yesterday I wrote about God’s grace, about how salvation is a work that God alone accomplishes on our behalf. It is truly an amazing thing. But what comes next? Now that we are a “new creation in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17) do we just wait around for heaven? No. Now a new work begins. It’s called sanctification and it’s not just behavior modification though your behavior will change. It involves a transformation on the inside that works its way to the outside.
Like salvation, sanctification is God’s work. But it is not His work alone. It is also our work. It is a combined, life-long partnership between us and the Holy Spirit. Paul explained it well saying, “It is God who works in you” (Philippians 2:13) as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (v. 12). After His opus of salvation, God works in us through His Word and His Holy Spirit. We read the Word which “teaches, rebukes, corrects and trains us in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). The Spirit roots those truths in our hearts. He convicts us of sin, encourages us to persevere, and empowers us to obey and to walk in righteousness. That’s a lot! What’s left for us to do? Our part is studying His Word, praying, coming together with the Body (the church), and especially, responding in obedience to His commands and His promptings.
“Working out” what God is “working in” us is a daily discipline. And it’s hard work. There are no shortcuts to sanctification. It will require everything of you. Part of sanctification is pruning – removing from us those things that hinder our progress – habits, addictions, wrong thoughts, immorality, prejudices, pride, rebellion, selfishness, anger, laziness, lack of self-control. Oh, He has so much work to do in me. But then He begins the building work – filling us with “the fruit of the Spirit:” love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). That’s where we see the transformation on the inside working its way to the outside.
What’s the goal? That you and I might be “conformed to the likeness of the Son of God” (Rom. 8:29). That the world might see Jesus when they look at you. Beloved, will you join God in the good work of sanctification?