A Snack and a Nap Does a Body Good

I am a firm believer in never giving up. I’ve written about it many times. I take my cue from Eleazar who was one of David’s “three mighty men.” He fought at David’s side in the fiercest battles the king faced. The Scripture highlighted one in particular – the battle at Pas Dammim. The men of Israel were confronted with the dreaded Philistines and they were terrified, so much so that they retreated. But not Eleazar. “He stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword” (2 Sam 23:10). That’s some perseverance!

I told my best friend yesterday that I have hit that wall of being so overwhelmed that I am exhausted. Her advice: you need some rest. And she’s right. I’ve been caught up in a long, intense season of warfare and it’s wearing me down. I told her I don’t know how to rest anymore because my hand has frozen to the sword. Maybe you can relate. Some battles seem to never end. And some of us are very tired.

Later, while listening to the radio, the DJ relayed the story of Elijah who, after an intense showdown with the prophets of Baal, went on the run from the evil queen Jezebel. He was afraid for his life and he was exhausted. He just wanted God to take him out. He finally did the only sensible thing a body can do: “he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.”  And God sent angels to minister to the weary prophet. “An angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat,” and he found bread and water. He ate and rested again. Then the angel returned and encouraged him to eat some more “for the journey is too much for you” (1 Ki 19:5-7).

Sometimes, fellow weary soul, it’s all too much. Sometimes you just need a snack and a nap. You need to let the Lord refresh you. You need to lay down your weapons and your body and trust God to hold the world together while you rest. You need to peel your fingers from the hilt because it’s hard to rest with a sword in your hand. That doesn’t mean you’re giving up. It means you are recharging so you can keep going. After your nap. Remember, “The battle is the Lord’s” (1 Sam 17:47). Eat your snack, turn off the light, Beloved, and rest.

The Road is Long, But God is Faithful

Let’s be honest, life is hard. Sometimes it feels like we’re buried under burdens that threaten to crush us. Sorrow, responsibilities, anxiety, family, pain, injustice, sickness, and more. It wears on you. I understand. Paul did too. He said, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9).

But what if you just can’t keep going? What if it’s just too much? I understand that too. So did Jesus’ brother, James who said, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (Jas 1:12). James led the Christian church in Jerusalem – a church under severe persecution. He saw their troubles as a means to an end and called for perseverance.

Another brother, Jude, added some advice and encouragement for persevering: “But you, dear friends, built yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Chris to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 1:20-21).

Build up your faith by remembering God’s history of faithfulness, power, wisdom, and victory.  “Pray and don’t give up” (Luke 18:1) – that pretty well explains itself. Stand firm in the love of God – one of my favorite ways to do this is to consider 1 Corinthians 13 and how the Lord has manifested each expression of love.  And then wait. Augh! That’s the hardest part. How long? Until He says, “It is done” (Rev 21:6). And it will be done because God leaves nothing unfinished – “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6).

The choice to persevere or give up is one we all face. Friend, I don’t know your burdens, just the weight of my own. And friend, they are very heavy. Every time I think I can’t keep going God sends me a reminder of what – and who – is at stake. I can’t give up. I won’t give up. And neither should you. Let’s commit today to persevere with God’s help. And each other’s. The Lord says, “As for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded” (2 Chron 15:7). Hang on Beloved, there’s Joy ahead for us.

Great is His Faithfulness

I sat on the back porch in the wee hours of the morning and prayed, “God I want to know you.” And for the next three years, the Lord pulled me out of a deep depression by taking me on a study of His names in the Bible. I still go back to those notebooks and it never fails to refresh and encourage me. If you want to know who God is, look at what He says about Himself in His Word. His attributes are woven throughout the Scriptures – His great power, His mighty strength, His sovereignty, holiness, wisdom, love, grace, mercy, goodness, kindness, gentleness, sweetness . . . the list goes on and on.

But when I reflect on all He is, the attribute that I think I love the most is His faithfulness. When Moses asked the Lord to “show me your glory,” He revealed Himself as “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness . . .” (Ex 34:6).  David declared, “You love, O Lord reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies (Ps 36:5). Probably my favorite verse on the subject is Lamentations 3:22-23: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” And least I ever think God’s faithfulness is dependent on my faithfulness, Paul said, “If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself” (2 Tim 2:13).

That means He is too faithful to give up on me. And I have given Him ample reasons to do so. I have wandered often and far. I have drawn water from tainted cisterns. I have sought comfort and peace and love in all the wrong places. I have made more foolish decisions than wise ones. I have run away. I have given up and given in. I have failed Him over and over and over.

But He never once shook His head and said, “I can’t deal with your messes.” He never dusted His hands and said, “I am done with you.” He never glared at me and said, “You’ve gone too far this time.” He never said, “I can’t love you anymore.” He is my El Emunah – My Faithful God. And He is yours too Beloved. You can trust Him. He is faithful and true.

Fixing My Eyes on Peace

Today’s devotional is for me, but you’re welcome to read along. I’m in a very hard season right now and my mind wants to chew on the problem constantly. I will drive myself crazy if I don’t find some peace soon. A verse has been coming to me repeatedly in recent days. “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is stayed on You because he trusts in You.” (Is 26:3). What does that mean? Perfect peace comes from trusting God.

What does it mean to “trust God?” Do I just sit around and think ethereal thoughts about Him? Not exactly, but it does help to know who He is. That’s why I often rehearse the names and characteristics of God: He is faithful, He is mighty, He is good, He is my Fortress, my Defender, my Sword and Shield, and the God of my life.  And because I know these things about Him, I trust Him.

Trusting God means having confidence in Him. What does that look like in real life? “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7). It looks like taking all my worries and heartaches and these things that are too big and heavy (even in small packages) for me to Him and believing that He can and will do what is right and good. It looks like thanking Him for His love and faithfulness – over and over and over until that peace fills me and stands guard over my heart and mind.

One more verse has come to mind just this morning. Hebrews 12:2 tells me to “fix your eyes on Jesus.” Why? With my eyes fixed on Jesus, I see promises not problems, I see provision not want, I see strength, not weakness. I see healing, not pain. I see hope, not despair; Joy, not sorrow; truth, not lies; love, not hate; peace, not turmoil; life, not death. With my eyes fixed on Jesus, I see – not an end, but eternity.

A dear friend sent me a good word this morning. If your heart is heavy and weary, I’ll share it with you, Beloved. It’s simple but powerful: “My heart is fixed, and the anchor holds.” Amen.

Acts: The Sovereignty of God

“In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:11)

I want to take you on a ride through history, but first, grab your Bible and read Acts 8:1-8. This is just after the death of Stephen, the Church’s first martyr (7:54-60). It begins the fulfillment of Jesus’ proclamation in Acts 1:8: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In 332 BC, the nation of Israel, along with much of the known world was conquered by Alexander the Great, a Greek warrior and king. Alexander’s conquests were not meant for destruction, but rather for assimilation into the Greek empire. All nations were educated in the Greek language for unification. Alexander ordered the ancient Hebrew Scriptures to be translated into Greek, a work that was accomplished in 70 days.

In 63 BC, the Roman Empire took Israel from the Greeks. Though known for their cruelty and harsh rule, they also established strong infrastructure wherever they went to enable swift transport for their military. Roads were laid by the Romans throughout the European and Asian continents.

Now, come back to the point of our key passage in Acts 8.  After the stoning of Stephen persecution drove Jesus’ followers from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria and all throughout the region. As they went, they traveled along those Roman-built roads and shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the unified Greek language. The story of God’s mercy, grace, and love could be read and taught – and understood – everywhere because the language was the same wherever they went.

While all these events seemed to be unconnected, harsh circumstances, it’s clear that the God of heaven and earth was “working all things together” for the spread of the Gospel. Now, don’t you think this same sovereign God is able to manage the circumstances of your life? He is at work “perfecting that which concerns you” (Psalm 138:8). I’m clinging to this promise with all my heart right now. He’s got the whole world in His hands – and that includes you. Stand still, Beloved, and watch Him make a way as only He can.

It All Matters to God

The woman told her pastor, “I never bother God with the little things.” “Madam,” he replied, “He’s God. To Him, it’s all little.” I chuckle at that, but at the same time, I recognize the truth therein. God is bigger than all man’s problems. No trial or struggle will ever measure up to Him. Overflowing sea in front of you and the Egyptian army at your back? No problem. Massive wall around the city God has given you? No problem. Giant threatening your nation’s army? No problem. A royal edict to wipe out your people? No problem. God’s got it.

But what about the “little” problems? That headache you’ve got from your kids running through the house at top speed and volume all day? The pile of laundry sitting beside the broken-down washing machine? The stack of work on your desk that keeps growing no matter how much you do. The dog next door that barks. All. Night. Long. And what’s that weird clunking sound your car has been making all week? Does God care about those things? Why would He even notice your everyday stuff while He is busy keeping the universe spinning?

The God who took the Israelites through the sea on dry ground (Ex 14:22) and drowned the entire Egyptian army (vv. 26-28), pulled down the walls of Jericho (Jos 6:20), put a small stone in a giant’s head (1 Sam 17:48-50), and rescued the Jews from annihilation (Est 9:5) also gave His thirsty people water from a rock (Ex 17:5-6), provided a poor widow with overflowing oil to buy her sons out of slavery (2 Ki 4:1-7) and gave another an inexhaustible supply of flour and oil to sustain her family through a drought (1 Ki 17:12-16).

That’s why Paul said, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayer and requests” (Eph 6:18) – of every size and shape.

So I will leave my problems – the big ones and the small ones, and the big ones in a small body – in my Father’s hands. But I’m not going to walk away. I’m going to sit down at His feet and watch what He will do. And maybe crawl into His lap for hug. I encourage you to do the same. Beloved, If He has “numbered the very hairs of your head” (Mat 10:30) you can be sure that He is paying attention to you and everything that concerns your life. Big, little, and everything in between.

Acts: Stephen, the First Martyr of the Church

I want to be like Stephen. Stephen was a disciple of the Lord in the first-century church. He was one of seven men chosen as the church’s first deacons. His story starts in Acts 6 and runs through chapter 7. You will be blessed if you read these two chapters.

I want to be like Stephen whom the Bible says was full of faith and the Holy Spirit (v. 5), God’s grace and power (v. 8 ), and wisdom (v. 10) And it showed. It showed in his service to the church as he ministered to the widows in need. It showed as he “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (v. 8 ). And it showed in the way he faced opposition. Some unbelieving Jews dragged him before the Sanhedrin and charged him with blasphemy. Standing before his accusers, Stephen had an other-worldly expression about him. “His face was like the face of an angel” (v. 15)

I want to be like Stephen because he was full of holy boldness. He did not cower or shrink back nor did he try to defend himself against the false accusations. He told the story of Israel, a stiff-necked people who had rebelled against God for generations. The same people who rejected God in the flesh (Acts. 7:1-53). You’re probably not surprised to learn that Stephen infuriated the religious leaders, even though he simply told them the truth. He was dragged out of the city and stoned to death (v. 57).

I want to be like Stephen because Jesus was pleased with him. As he faced his “punishment,” he was given a glimpse of the Lord in all His glory. Christ stood to receive His into the fullness of His Kingdom (vv. 55-58).

I want to be like Stephen because, even in his death, he was a man of godly influence. Standing among the crowd, “giving approval to his death,” was a young man named Saul (8:1). We’ll encounter him again as Paul – the persecutor of the Christian church who became her first missionary and writer of much of the New Testament.

I want to be like Stephen who was the first martyr for the Christian faith. To the church, he died a hero. To the world, he died a fool. But to the Lord Jesus Christ, he died a good and faithful servant. And that’s all I want to be.

Do You Love God?

My best friend turned me on to the stories of the martyrs of Christendom.  Martyrs are people who suffered persecution, and often death, for their faith in Jesus Christ. The first martyr was a man named Stephen, We’ll learn more about him on Monday. He died with the gospel on His lips and his eyes on Jesus (Acts 7:56). The history of the church is replete with men and women that “did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Rev. 12:11). People like Perpetua and Felicity, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Bishop Ridley and Bishop Latimer, Martin Luther, and on and on and on even to the present day. Tertullian wrote, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”

But what enabled them to stand under such extreme abuse and the threat of death? And why did some give in to the demands and recant their testimony? What made the difference? We get a clue in the verse from Revelation above. And we find more in the book of James – who by the way was Jesus’ half-brother and was only converted after the resurrection (Acts 1:14). James wrote, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (Ja 1:12). What makes someone die for their faith? They loved God.

Consider Jesus’ words in John, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (15:13). The Lord was talking about the love of one Christian for another, but could it not also apply to the Christian’s love for God? If we count God as even a friend, but more than a friend, as our Creator and Father and Redeemer, should we not also be willing to lay down our life for Him? Did He not do the same for us? How, then, should we love God? “. . . with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). With your thoughts, desires, actions, emotions, intentions, affections, obedience, and yes, your physical body – which may even mean death rather than denying your Beloved.

God has already expressed His love for you and me at the cross. Men and women throughout history have returned His love with their own lives. I’ll leave you today with the question all believers must answer: Do you love God?

Power and Love

If you want to know what was important to the biblical writers – and thus to the Holy Spirit who inspired the message – look for repetition. I was going in a whole other direction with this devotional when the Holy Spirit stopped me and said, “Look at the text. What do you see over and over?” Power and love. Both words appear three times in Ephesians 3:14-21. I’ll let you read that passage while I wait for you here.

This is a beautiful prayer from Paul’s heart to “the saints in Ephesus” (1:1). It is also my daily prayer over my granddaughter. It is the apostle’s plea that God would “strengthen [them] with power” (v. 16) and “establish [them] in love” (v. 17). He prayed that they would have unified power to know and understand the immensity of Christ’s love (v. 18-19). And he assured them that God’s power was working in them to bring everlasting glory to Christ Jesus (v. 20-21).

The “power” that Paul used in verses 16 and 20 is dynamis and is the root word from which we derive “dynamite.” It’s not an explosive, destructive force, but is the power, or energy, that the Holy Spirit exerts for a strong and dynamic faith through which God can work. The power in verse 18 means that this is “full-strength” power – the Spirit is giving us everything He’s got.

Here’s what amazes me. This power is directed toward enabling us to grasp how much Christ loves us. I just looked up the word “grasp” and I kid you not, I have holy goosebumps. In English it means “to comprehend” but check out how deep it goes in the Greek: “of Christ by his holy power and influence laying hold of the human mind and will, in order to prompt and govern it” (Strong’s Greek Lexicon (niv) (blueletterbible.org).

For most of my life, I had the hardest time believing God loved me. Growing up, people who told me they loved me abused and used me. I was rejected by my peers and then by my ex-husband. And I was supposed to somehow believe that God loved me. Oh, I believed in God’s love – but not for me. And then Christ began to work His power in me to help me grasp how wide and long and high and deep His love is – for me. I may forget every theology lesson I’ve ever learned, but I will never forget that Jesus loves me – this I know.

He loves you too. That’s why He prompts me to call you “Beloved.”  Do you want to know how much He loves you? Just look at the picture.

The Word of God

Likely not the exact same picture I made, but it is the same design.

I come from a long line of crafters. My mom was an extraordinary seamstress – I loved the handmade clothes she created for me. My grandmother painted beautiful designs with a needle and thread. I often lay in bed and traced the stitches on my “Sunbonnet Sue” pillowcase. Mom decided it was time for me to take up the family tradition, starting with learning handwork. She bought me a simple embroidery kit and taught me how to rock my needle back and forth to make the straight lines of stitching, then she taught me the French knot and the daisy stitch and how to fill a piece of fabric with color. The kit was a design with a candle, a Bible – with a real velvet bookmark – and the words of Psalm 119:105. As I stitched the letters, the words were “sewn” into my heart: “Thy Word is a Lamp [unto my feet] and a Light [unto my path]”.

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible and all 176 verses speak to the wisdom, beauty, blessing, and perfection of the Word of God. He said this Word brings blessing and Joy to the one who walks accordingly (v. 1). It helps young men – and old women – live a pure life and eschew sin (v. 9, 11).  When he is weary God’s Word gives him strength (v. 28). It sets his heart free (v. 32). God’s Word is precious to Him (v. 72). It gives him knowledge and good judgment (v. 66) and fills him with hope (v. 81). The Word of God is sweet – it is the Joy of his heart (v. 103, 111). It is true, righteous, trustworthy, right, and eternal (vs. 137-144, 160).

The Psalmist said that even when he “strayed like a lost sheep” he never forgot the good commands of the Lord (v. 176). I’ve lost my way a few times since I made that picture for my grandmother. I’ve found myself in dark scary places. But I would trace the words on my heart, just as I traced the pattern on my pillowcase, and I knew where to find the light. I still go back to that verse often and remind myself that the Bible has the power to dispel darkness and show me the way home. The Word of God is Light and Life to me. It is stitched on my heart.