A Work in Progress

If there was ever an extra-biblical word of wisdom that I believe with my whole heart it is this. “Do not think, believer, that your sorrows are out of God’s plan; they are necessary parts of it.” Charles Spurgeon. Like you, I have experienced sadness, sorrow, shock, grief, despair, anguish, and brokenness in my life, and often wondered why God would allow it. What good can possibly come from such pain? But I have learned, and am still learning, that these are the tools He uses to shape me into the image of His Son.

When the great Michelangelo was asked how he could take a block of marble and bring from it his beautiful sculpture of David, he replied, “I took my chisel and removed everything that didn’t look like my vision of David.”  That is God’s purpose for our sufferings and sorrows.  God uses them like a hammer and chisel to remove everything that does not look like the vision before Him – the vision of His Son (Rom 8:29).  It is not always pleasant – in fact, it is very painful – but it is necessary because our hearts are often as hard as a block of marble. 

It reminds me of the work of the ancient craftsmen who made the priestly garments for Aaron. The Scripture says that “they hammered out thin sheets of gold and cut threads from them” to weave into the fabric  (Ex 39:3).  Can you imagine the amount of dedication and intricate work that required? Beloved, that’s nothing compared to how God is working on you And He’s not just weaving the glory of His Son into your life. He is making you into His very image.

You may not welcome it at the moment, but one day, when you stand before your Savior you will be so glad for every blow and every tear that made you into the reflection of your King.  The Bible says that Jesus was made perfect through suffering.  Do you think it will be any less for you?  Oh, Beloved, there is great purpose in your pain. As Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death . . .” (Philippians 3:10).

The Voice of the Lord

My voice is naturally loud, especially if I’m excited – like when I’m teaching about the Bible. Sometimes I want to type in all caps when I’m writing a devotional so I can pump up the volume. Voices communicate more than words. Our inflections reveal what’s happening in our hearts. The tone and timbre of my voice change when I talk to Joy depending on what I’m trying to relay to her. If we’re playing together, I will use a silly, happy voice. If I’m comforting her my voice is soft and gentle, and if she has picked up the cat for the third time, my voice is firm and somewhat sharp.

In Psalm 29 David was meditating on “The voice of the Lord.” He said the Lord’s voice “thunders over the mighty waters” (v. 3), it is “powerful” and “majestic” (v. 4). “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars” (v. 5), “strikes with flashes of lightning” (v. 7), shakes the desert” (v. 8), “twists the oaks and strips the forest bare” (v. 9). Those are frightening images of the fierce power of God’s voice.

But God also speaks with a softer voice. The prophet Elijah was at his lowest point, running from the wicked Queen Jezebel who wanted to kill him. He was worn out and worn down. He told the Lord, “I have had enough” (1 Kings 19:4). He was hiding out in a cave when God called him. Elijah listened for the Lord, expecting to hear Him in “a great and powerful wind,” an earthquake, and a fire. But God was in none of these. He came to Elijah in a “gentle whisper,” in “a still, small voice” (vs. 11-13).

I have not always walked faithfully and obediently. I have made some big, ugly mistakes and fallen into sin. God has never once yelled at me or spoken to me in anger or disgust. He has always spoken in a gentle voice, especially when I am broken. Just as He speaks to you, Beloved. Even if he has to chastise you He speaks with grace. Those harsh voices that shout at you are never God. If you listen closely you will hear that the voice of the Lord is always the voice of love.

You Asked for it – You Got it!

As I was reading the book of Amos an old commercial from the 70s came to mind.  You might remember the jingle: “You asked for it, you got it. Toyota!” Amos was a prophet to Israel just before the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians. God sent him with a message of warning and destruction because Israel had rejected Him. But they told Amos, “Do not prophesy against Israel and stop preaching against the house of Isaac” (7:16). In other words, stop giving us God’s Word.

Well, they asked for it and they got it. The Lord said he was sending a famine – “not of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (8:11). That chills my heart. I do not think I could survive without God’s Word. But the present culture is making the same demands. “Don’t tell us what that antiquated fairy-tale book says! It has no authority over us. It is intolerant, racist, and sexist.” Isn’t it strange that the generation that shouts for “tolerance” is intolerant of the truth?

But let’s flip this. What would our world be like – what would our churches and homes and hearts be like if we sought the Word of God? If we store it up in our hearts (Ps 119:11), rejoice in it (v. 14), and meditate on it (v. 15), What if we delight in and never neglect it (v. 16)? What if we choose the way of truth and set our hearts on the Scriptures (v. 30)? What if we obey it with all our hearts (v. 34)? How might it change us if we love the Word of God (v. 47)? What if we put our hope in God’s Word (v. 81) and let it light our way (v. 105)? What if we stand in awe of the Holy Scriptures (v. 120)? What if we faithfully walk in God’s Word (v. 133)?

My goal as a Bible teacher is to teach myself out of a job. It is to help you see the wonder and beauty and truth in the Scriptures and fall in love with the Bible all on your own. Do you want that kind of passion for God’s Word? Ask Him for it, Beloved. And you’ll get it.

What You See is What you Want

If you’re of my generation you know whom I’m talking about when I say, “What you see is what you get!”  Flip Wilson created his female character, Geraldine, who uttered that famous catchphrase as “she” danced to show off “her” full figure. Vision is a powerful tool to draw people in. Advertisers depend on it. Beautiful women sell men’s shaving cream.  A buff, handsome man in a flannel shirt sells paper towels. One of the most iconic images in advertising is the Gerber Baby whose face sold countless baby food products. That smile and expression grabbed mothers’ hearts, hoping to bring the same to their babies’ faces. They paraphrased Geraldine, “What you see is what you want.”

Satan counted on that too when he enticed Eve to take the forbidden fruit. And, of course, it worked. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it” (Gen 3:6).  What Eve saw became what she wanted and she fell – and took the entire human race down with her. (Adam’s role in this is a whole other post.)

The start of sin for all of us happens when “our hearts are led by our eyes” (Job 31:7, paraphrased). Sin happens in much the same way as advertising: “We see it, we want it, and we buy it.” That’s why advertisers – and satan – put it in such appealing packaging. But sin also happens because we are looking for it.  James pointed out that temptation and sin tap into the evil desires in our hearts.  (James 1:14). Perhaps that is why the Psalmist said that he would “set before my eyes no vile thing” (Psalm 101:3). Consider that verse in a world where “vile things” are available at the tap of a finger. If you want vile, you can get it any time of the day.

How do we break that sinful pattern? We “guard our heart” by “letting our eyes look straight ahead and fixing our gaze directly before us” (Prov. 23,25). At what? David knew. “I have set the Lord always before me” (Psalm 16:8). If your eyes are always on the Lord, He will be the desire of your heart. And what you see is what you want.

Silver Vases and Chamber Pots

When I was a very young girl, and we visited my grandmother we experienced true “country living.” We slept on real feather beds (John Denver anyone?), helped granny pick and snap beans for supper, slopped the hogs, and on cold mornings huddled around the coal-burning stove.  And during the day – when [ahem] the need arose – we visited the outhouse.  But at night, no one wanted to traipse out in the dark and cold, so granny had pans that sat under the bed for our nightly needs. 

Where am I going with this? To Paul’s second letter to Timothy. He said, “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:20-21). 

Keep in mind that Paul is addressing Christians – not the world. He is talking to people God desires to use in Kingdom work on earth. He is saying that how God uses us largely depends on how we live.  We can be “an instrument of noble purposes” if we strive for holiness in our daily lives. Think of a silver vase that holds beautiful flowers in God’s throne room or the golden goblet from which He drinks each day. But if we pursue “ignoble purposes” – if we live for the world and our flesh we will be good for nothing more than an iron dustpan, or a tin mop bucket in the King’s great house. Or the pan under my granny’s bed.

So how do we endeavor to be vessels for noble purposes? Paul continued: “flee evil desires and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (v. 22). We run from things that lead us into sin. We cultivate desires for the things of God, and we align ourselves with believers who are on the same path. If you are in Christ the Father has cleansed you with Jesus’ blood, clothed you in robes of righteousness, anointed you with the Holy Spirit, and set you apart for a holy purpose.  Beloved, how will you be used in the house of God?

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.

You are God’s Masterpiece

I used to write a lot of bad poetry in high school – full of angst and pining and teenage wisdom. I did write a couple of things that were not so awful. My creative writing teacher submitted one of my poems to a national contest.  I got an “honorable mention” award and my poem was published in their compilation of “outstanding works.” I don’t remember the poem or the contest, but it made a mark on me and encouraged me to keep writing. It became more than a hobby. It’s my calling from God as part of this teaching ministry.

In Ephesians 2:10 Paul tells us that “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  When we consider this verse we tend to jump on that last part so quickly. You were created to work for God. Like we’re just one of many employees in God’s business. You – preach. You – sing. You – teach. You – keep the nursery. You – type bulletins. You – cook the Wednesday night suppers.  You gotta stay busy for God.

But consider the original Greek meaning of the word workmanship: “poiema” – from which we get our English word “poem.” Now read that verse again: “You are God’s poem.” You are God’s sonnet of love, His work of beauty and rhythm in a world that is ugly and chaotic. You are the expression of His creative brilliance and power; a testimony to the graciousness of Almighty God. When you do the “good work” you were created to do you are a living ode to the One who created stars and mountains and vast oceans. God created you, not to be a worker bee, but to point the world to Him. Beloved, how will you show the world the creative beauty of the Author of your life?

VBS and the Armor of God

Today kicks off our church’s Vacation Bible School week. I am doing the mission lessons for the elementary school students – trying to plant some seeds of sharing the gospel into the minds of wiggly, giggly bodies will be a fun challenge. I am sure I will need therapy by the end of the week. I loved VBS as a kid. The churches in our community scheduled VBS on alternate weeks throughout the summer to give exhausted moms a break. My brothers and I went to all of them.

I am reminded of one summer when a friend and I created a VBS program based on the Armor of God from Ephesians 6:10-18.  We learned about the heroes of the Bible and their great exploits for the kingdom of God. We studied each piece of the armor, created them as craft projects (man, that was a lot of aluminum foil!), and taught the children to “put on” the armor every day by touching their heads to remind them of the helmet of salvation, touching their waist to remind them of the belt of truth, crossing their arms over their chest to remind them of the breastplate of righteousness and so forth. 

The day we studied the shield and the sword we spent hours blowing up hundreds of balloons and writing words like sin, anger, jealousy, disobedience, cursing, unkindness, etc. First, we took away their shields and swords and tossed them to the kids who had no way to protect themselves. Then we handed them back their armor pieces and “attacked” them again as they blocked the balloons with their shields and batted them away with their swords. It was a simplistic way of explaining the armor, but I think the kids got it and I knew it was a powerful visual to me.

So much of ‘putting on the armor” is mental – but still very practical. It is intentionally wrapping ourselves in truth, remembering that our heart is protected by the righteousness of Christ, that satan’s words have no power because of God’s salvation.  It’s building up a store of “swords” to fight the enemy and reminding ourselves to stay safely behind our faith in God. It’s leaving footprints of peace wherever we go.

Beloved, are you fully dressed to face the day in this world? The Armor of God is not just good theology, it’s good practice every day. Because we’re not just battling balloons out there.

How to Calm a Restless Life

I almost did it. I almost gave you a devotional with a verse taken out of context. I’ve taught the importance of context, context, context for years and I was about to break the rule. Let me explain. James 1:6 says, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” This verse, plucked out of the surrounding passage, sits nicely on a platter of “pray and believe and you will receive.” But wait. What is that “but” all about?

James was writing to encourage Jewish believers who were under great oppression and persecution for their faith in Christ. He said their trials were God’s tools to make them “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (v. 4). Then he adds, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (v. 5). Put all the pieces together and James is saying that wisdom is the mark of a mature, complete Christian and that God will give wisdom to anyone who asks.

But there’s the “but” and that’s where verse 6 above comes in. By now you know that believing = obedience. The wisdom God gives is not just a head full of theology, it is practical action He expects you to take. God doesn’t speak just to be heard, He speaks to be obeyed. The opposite of believing is doubt, so the corollary to our equation is doubt = disobedience. “Doubt” means to make a judgment and thus to hesitate. When we doubt God’s Word, when we hesitate to obey we are judging His wisdom – or more to the point, judging Him – and deciding to reject His Word – and His authority. Hesitance is disobedience.

James calls that being “double-minded” and “unstable” (v. 8 ). A double-minded mind is a divided mind – a mind with two opposite opinions. A double-minded heart is a divided heart – a heart with two opposite affections. Being unstable means being inconsistent – acting first one way and then another. It’s a restless life. It’s no wonder the person who doubts God’s wisdom is “blown and tossed by the wind like a wave of the sea.” 

Beloved, if you’ve been tossed around by life lately, maybe it’s time to take God’s Word – all of God’s Word – to heart. Obedience is a sturdy foundation.

In God’s Eyes

“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me’” (Genesis 16:13).

When you looked in the mirror this morning, what did you see? Wrinkles? Gray hair? A tired expression? That’s what I saw. But God doesn’t see me the say way I see myself. All through the Bible, He tells men and women that He sees what no one else does – not even themselves.

Moses saw himself as a stuttering criminal on the lam, but God saw him as the deliverer of His people (Exodus 3:10).

Gideon saw himself as “the least in the weakest clan of Israel,” but God saw him as a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:15, 12).

David’s father Jesse saw his son as the tender of the family’s sheep, but God saw him as the shepherd-king of His people.

Where the woman with an issue of blood saw herself as ostracized and unclean, Jesus saw her as a “daughter” (Luke 8:48). Simon the Pharisee saw the woman washing Jesus’ feet as a “sinful woman,” but Jesus saw her as a model of love and forgiveness (Luke 7:36-50). Mary Magdalene, whom the whole town knew as a demon-possessed woman Jesus saw as the first witness to His resurrection (John 20:10-18).

And on and on I could go.

God sees you and me far more clearly than we could ever see ourselves.  Who you are in the sight of others, or even in your own eyes, is not who you are in the sight of the God who created and redeemed you.   For those who are in Christ, He sees us as His children (1 John 3:1), with a purpose and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).  Where others see us through the mistakes we’ve made, God sees us with all the potential He placed in us from before we were born.  When we see ourselves through the worldly standards of beauty and success, God sees us through the beauty of His Son and His victory over death.  When we see ourselves as unworthy, hopeless, useless, and unwanted He sees us as valuable, and desired, because He sees us through eyes of love and compassion.

How do you see yourself, Beloved?  When you consider that question, always come back to this truth:  the God who created you sees you as so much more than you can ever imagine.  Ask Him to give you His perspective so you can live as the child of God that you are.