Proven Faith

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A “proving ground” is a military term – a place or situation used to demonstrate whether something, such as a theory or product, really works. Say a company has created something they want to market to the United States military. Do you think Uncle Sam is just going to take their word for it, buy this thing, and put it into a soldier’s hands? No – they are going to take it into situations and places in which it will be used and they will put it through rigorous tests. They may discover a weakness and will work on that area to strengthen it. And they’ll test it again. Only after it stands up on the proving grounds will it be purchased and put into use.
When God wants to “prove” the faith of His child He uses the fires of adversity, struggle, trial, heartache, disappointment, discouragement . . . I think you understand. The Apostle Peter wrote from very personal experience: “These [trials] have come so that your faith – of great worth than gold . . . may be proved genuine” (1 Peter 1:7). Remember the scene outside the house of the high priest? Peter denied three times that he knew his friend and Lord. But Jesus had warned him, “Simon, Simon, satan has asked to sift you (plural) as wheat, But I have prayed for you (singular), Simon, that your faith may not fail. (Luke 22:31-32).  But it did fail – for a moment – but in the end, Peter’s faith proved true. Why did the Lord allow satan to “sift” Peter? Because there were things in him that would prevent him from fulfilling God’s plan for his life. Jesus assured Peter, “When [not if] you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (v. 32). The Lord was molding Peter into a mighty leader in His Kingdom.

Beloved, when hard seasons come God is not out to destroy you, He is preparing you. He is proving your faith, finding the weak places so that He can strengthen you, making sure you are fit for the good work He has for you. The proving ground is the place where your faith takes root so you can produce fruit – fruit that will last. Fruit that will glorify the one who brought you all the way through the fire.

Saving the Best for Last

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I always eat the least favorite thing on my plate first and save my most favorite thing for last. When I have chores to do I do the hardest one first then do the easiest last. Why? Because I know that if I eat my favorite food or do the easiest chores first, I will give up before I do the rest. It’s a discipline I learned as a kid: “save the best for last.”

I think that is a very simple explanation for Paul’s message to the churches in Rome.  He said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (8:18). Let’s get the truth out on the table – this life is hard. And the Christian life, I believe, makes it harder. Christians are constantly at odds with the culture of the world. Our priorities are very different. Our desires are (or should be) counter-cultural. Our sense of right and wrong rubs against the ever-changing “morals’ of the day. And our worldview is 180 degrees from the ethos of the world. Sometimes we wonder why we continue to swim against the stream and make ourselves a target of the enemy. Wouldn’t it be easier to just go along with the world and save ourselves the struggles and pain? Maybe. But at what cost? “Glory.” The reward for endurance and perseverance is glory. And not just a glory we can see at a distance. Paul said the glory to come is “in us.” He told the church in Corinth that this is “an eternal glory that far outweighs our light and momentary troubles” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Maybe you don’t consider your troubles “light and momentary.” You may have lost a job or a friendship because of your commitment to your faith. You won’t be the first. The history of the church is written in the blood of men and women who died for the name of Christ. It still happens today in certain parts of the world, and I believe it is coming to the Western church soon Paul isn’t dismissing these hard things. But he is saying there is something better coming, something that makes all our difficulties in this life pale in comparison. He said, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9). Those are not just fluffy words – they are a rock-solid promise from the heart of God. You and I cannot imagine the glory that is coming. Hang on Beloved, the best is yet to be.

The (Complete) Nativity Creche

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When we set up our nativity scenes, we place the star above the stable, and we add the animals – cows and sheep (but no pigs, this is a good Jewish family) – and an angel or two (which the Bible doesn’t mention in the birth scene) and the shepherds. We set Mary and Joseph beside the manger where the little baby sleeps. We even add the wise men, though they didn’t actually come on the scene until some 2 years later. Now everyone is present and accounted for.

The truth is, Satan is also part of the Christmas story, for the Holy Child in the manger was born to break the curse of evil. He was born to set men free from their sins (Romans 6:18). He was born to bring light and life where death and darkness reigned (John 1:4-5). He was born to set right what had been made horribly wrong (Romans 8:22-24). This little baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise, the seed that would crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15). When this newborn baby’s cry pierced the silent night, all of hell trembled.

As you celebrate Jesus, the reason for the season, remember the reason Jesus came and praise God for the greatest gift ever given. The Savior of the world is born.

The Gift

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“The Gift of the Magi” was published in 1905 and is a sweet tale of love and sacrifice at Christmas focused on a young couple who wanted to give their beloved a gift. But money was scarce and so, unbeknownst to the other, the gift-givers sold their prized possessions to buy something special for their spouse. Della sold her long, beautiful hair to buy Jim a chain for his pocket watch. Jim sold his heirloom pocket watch to buy Della a set of bejeweled hair combs. O. Henry finished his story with a nod to the Magi – the Eastern wise men who traveled long to bring gifts to the Christ Child. He wrote: “The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”

While I appreciate this lovely story, I think O Henry got one thing wrong – Christmas presents didn’t originate with the Magi – the first Christmas present was given by God. The story of the Young’s Christmas is a shadow of the real story of Christmas. The young lovers sacrificed their most treasured possessions to give to their beloved, God’s sacrifice was far greater. He gave His One and Only Son to redeem men from their sin. The gifts they gave one another were costly – the gift God has given is priceless. “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18, 19). Jim and Della’s gifts – and the sacrifice that enabled them – were given from love, but their love pales in comparison to the great love of God. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .” (John 3:16). In O. Henry’s story, the sacrifice is part of the gift. In the Gospel story, the sacrifice is the gift.

Have you received this gift? Watch chains and hair combs can never express love like the cross can. Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior Beloved? He is the greatest gift of all.

Telling the Story of Christmas

It is a scene from one of the most beloved Christmas programs ever made. A bewildered Charlie Brown cries out, “Isn’t there someone who knows what Christmas is all about?” I always get goosebumps when Linus walks to center stage, drops his blanket, says “Lights please,” and recites the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2.

“And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and goodwill toward men” (vs. 8-14)”.

It seems to be a holy moment in the middle of a simple animated television show. For fifty-six years the world has heard the Christmas story through a blanket-carrying theologian.

As much as I love “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and Linus’ message, I’ve always thought there is an even better verse that he could have chosen to explain what Christmas is all about.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Christmas is all about the love of God that sent His Son to earth as a baby who would grow up to die on a Roman cross for the sins of the world. Linus recounted the events around the Christmas story, but the heart of Christmas is a loving Heavenly Father who gave the very best He had to redeem a lost world. The blessed Christmas story is about a manger and a star and shepherds and angels. It is about a young mother and father with their newborn son in a stable. But the story isn’t complete until the baby in the manger is the Savior on the cross. Because the story of Christmas is a story of love.

Hebrews: Examing the Hard Stuff

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And so we come, in our study of Hebrews, to one of the hardest passages in the Bible. Let me remind you where we are in this message: “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (Hebrews 6:4-6).

If you’re wondering where I’ve been the past two weeks, it is dealing with life issues and researching this passage. Here is what I’ve discovered: There is more confusion around these words than coherence. These are people who were never saved to begin with.  Or, they were once saved and became so hardhearted they drifted or walked away. In either case, there is no assurance of salvation and eternal life. So who’s right?   In today’s devotional, we’re going to define some terms. It’s not important that you know the original Greek words, but that you understand them as the original author did. This may be a little dry, but hang with me, we’ll put it all back together later.

Impossible: the word combination negates the power to accomplish a task. Because we know He has infallible power we can reason that the task is not impossible for God.

Once: once for all; what is done is eternally valid and never needs to be repeated.

Enlightened: to illumine; spiritually imbue with saving knowledge, to instruct, inform, teach.

Tasted: to come into existence: to prove to be – implying the partaking and enjoying of the experience.

Gift: a thing given

Shared: sharing/participating in (by context: sharing in the Holy Spirit)

Fall away: to fall beside a person or thing; to slip aside; to deviate from the right path (by context to fall away from the true faith and worship of Jehovah God).

Brought back: renew, restore; to renew that he shall repent (only appearance in Scripture)

Public disgrace: to make a public example in a bad sense, to expose to public disgrace.

What do all these words and terms mean together?  That’s the next Hebrews devotional. Stay tuned . . .

The Finished Project

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My granddaughter, Joy, painting pumpkins.

I used to enjoy craft projects of various kinds – cross-stitch, sewing, crochet, beadwork. I have many that are in various stages of incompletion.  I’m good at starting things, but not so good at finishing them.  That is why I love Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” God always finishes what He starts, and He finishes it well.  The creation account in Genesis 1 is a great example. At the end of every day, the Scripture says: “God saw that it [His work] was good.”  At the end of the week, “God saw that it was very good.

Paul says that God “began a good work” in us.  What was that good work?  Salvation.  The restoration of our relationship with Him.  And with it the transformation of our lives, that is sanctification – working to make us more like Jesus, “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29).  God’s purpose is to make sinful creatures into holy sons and daughters.  It is a life-long work that will only be completed when we are united with Christ.  But here’s the important point to remember:  it will be completed.  It will be accomplished.  God’s good work in you and me will be finished and it will be “very good.”

I hope that is as encouraging to you as it is to me.  Salvation and the transformation of my life are not up to me and my ability to get the job done.  I have boxes full of unfinished projects to prove that I can’t pull this off by myself. And neither can you.  But God has a cross and an empty tomb to prove that He can.  He has the power and the vision to accomplish this good work.  And He will prove Himself faithful.  Paul said that it is God Himself that will sanctify us “through and through” (*).  It is He who will keep us, “spirit, soul, and body blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (*) Beloved, You and I are not “unfinished projects.”  We are divinely designed and destined by God to accomplish His “good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2) – to be like His Son. “The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24*).

Peace, Love, and, Baseball

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Several years ago my husband was a Little League umpire. He stood behind the plate looking over every pitch and called them “balls” or “strikes.” He also called players out or safe as they came to home plate. His call was the rule on the field. Paul wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15). He uses a word that brings to mind the modern-day umpire. He said that peace should always govern everything we do. The context for this passage is speaking of community life (vs. 12-14) and he is saying that we should determine what will bring peace to the Body of Christ and in situations with others and respond accordingly. Let peace be the rule.

Now, this was originally going to just be a post about having peaceful relationships, but two things literally just jumped out at me. First, Paul said, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” While his context is the community, this is also a personal word. You let peace rule in your heart. It’s our responsibility. Then the word, “Love.” When he spoke of community life in verses 12-14, Paul said, “over all these [compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness,] put on love which binds them all together” (Col. 3:14). And suddenly it all makes sense. Love is the driving force of peace. I can be compassionate and kind and humble and gentle and patient and even forgive, but if I fail at love – “sincere love” as Paul commanded in Romans 12:9 – I will not have peace. Oh, the exterior may look good, but without love, these actions are forced at best and resented at worst – and there is no peace in my heart. And eventually, that exterior peace erodes. And isn’t that the point of 1 Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter?” If I have gifts and faith and can preach and teach and even perform miracles, but don’t have love – “I am nothing” (v. 2). 

Look at the world around us. What are people crying out for? Peace. But what do they need to have peace? Love. Sincere Love. God’s love. When we “know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16), there will be peace – in our hearts, in our homes, in our churches and communities, and in the world. Beloved, you and I are called to be the catalysts of peace by being the conduits of God’s love in a broken, angry, dark world. Maybe even in your own home. Let love be the rule and peace make the call.

Dance Anyway

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David danced before the Lord with all his might.” 2 Samuel 6:14

Deep within the soul of a little girl beats the heart of a dancer. When she was very small she would twirl around the room making her skirt billow out wide, curls bouncing as her feet leapt with the joy in her heart. But sometimes life can just knock the breath—and the joy—right out of us. We start out well, full of dreams and enthusiasm, but real-life struggles and heartaches come along and we find those dreams fading and our excitement waning.

Perhaps you are not a dancer at heart, but you have a God-given desire to step into something that would bring Him great glory, yet you also have a past that has weighed you down with shame and regret. You think, “I can’t dance (or sing or write, or whatever that desire is), people know my past and they will not approve.” My friend that is the very reason you need to tie on your ballet slippers.

King David tried to return the Ark of God to Jerusalem after it had been captured in battle. But his first attempt was a humiliating failure. At his second attempt David celebrated, “dancing and leaping before the Lord,” and his wife chastised him saying, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would” (v. 20). Sound like some voices you’ve heard lately? David replied: “It was before the Lord [that I danced]” (v. 21). He didn’t care what she thought because God was glorified in David’s dance.

Why do we think we can’t live for the glory of God when we have made mistakes – that we have to sit down when we’ve stumbled in life? Everyone out there has made mistakes. If we all sat out the dance because of the mistakes we’ve made, no one would ever dance again. And that is all the more reason why we should– to show the world that Jesus forgives and restores and makes life worth living again.

Beloved, someone else has stumbled over the same rock that brought you down; let them know they can get back up again. Celebrate before the Lord with all your might. The world doesn’t need to see you dancing out of perfection, they need to see you dancing out of redemption.

Treasures in the Darkness

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I am currently a graduate student at the Baptist College of Florida. I won’t lie, it is hard. I am older and I think many of my brain cells have atrophied. Still, for reasons I don’t know yet, God said “Go back to school.” He even gave me a job right here so that I could do it for free. But I am also working on my doctorate. Surprised? My Masters will be in Christian Ministries with a concentration in Biblical Studies, but my Doctorate will be in Life Lessons and I’m studying at the School of Hard Knocks. The truth is, in one degree or another, we all are.

The ancient Psalmist declared, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Psalm 119:67). He emphasized this in verse 71 saying, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” Though we’re not privy to the details, the Psalmist was clearly in some kind of distress – apparently self-inflicted (as are most of mine). From his struggles and the consequences of his actions, he came away with a hard-won wisdom and probably some battle scars as a continual reminder. I’ve got a few of those too.

While I wish I could just do the right things in life and not have to learn these hard lessons, I’m grateful that God doesn’t waste them. He said, “I will give you the treasure of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord” (Isaiah 45:3). He works in every difficult season with one objective in mind – that you may know Him better. What a treasure!

I don’t know what you’re struggling through right now. I don’t know how you came to be in this hard place. It may have been by your own hand or through the actions of another. But I know two things for certain: God is faithful and He will not waste a single tear. He will “bestow on you a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3). Beloved, that’s the treasure in the darkness.