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 So much so that I thought He had rescinded His call and I burned all my notebooks filled with years of writings because I believed it was all over.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.

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.

Proofreading Your Life

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My late brother, who was a published author, recommended Grammarly to me and it has been invaluable for helping me in my writing both for school and for ministry. It alerts me to misspelled words, incorrect syntax, better word options, poor grammar, incorrect punctuation, and – my most frequent error, too, many, commas. When I open it with my Word document, it sits on the right-hand side of my screen and constantly checks my work. When I make an error, it comes to life with colored lines and warnings about what I’ve done wrong. So far it has caught 13 mistakes in this devotional (*I’m updating this number as I’m writing). Yet for all its benefit and wise advice, it has one flaw – it won’t make the corrections for me. It finds my problems and makes suggestions but leaves the choice to make the changes up to me.

I think you know where I’m going with this. God has given us a powerful tool for our lives: His Word. The Bible can point to the problems in our lives and give us wise counsel for fixing the problem, but it is up to you and me to make the change. Two things can cause Grammarly not to do its job. I can neglect to turn it on and never see the issues in my document, or I can ignore it – which I do when I like the word I’ve chosen and don’t want to change it. Likewise, if we never bother to read God’s Word, we will never recognize what is wrong in our lives. Or, we just ignore what God said because – let’s be honest – we like the sinful choice we’ve made and we have no desire to change.

James said, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). He compared the person who hears, then disregards the Word to someone who looks at his reflection in a mirror and then forgets what he saw when he walks away. All through his letter, James emphasized the hearing and the doing of the Word. Reading the Bible is really useless if you and I aren’t going to obey it. (Note: Grammarly suggested I take out the “really,” but I am ignoring that suggestion because I want the emphasis.)

Beloved, the Bible is the living Word of the living God and it has great power to transform your life – if you will read it and heed it. It’s a good thing to be a good writer, but it’s eternally better to be an obedient doer of the Word of God.

In the Master’s Hands

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I’ve never thought of myself as anyone special or noteworthy. In fact, I’ve always had a pretty low opinion of myself. Lots of things in my life factored into that, but I know I am not the only person who feels the same about themselves. Low self-esteem is one of the most common issues in the world, especially in nations that have such disparity between the talented, powerful, and beautiful and the ordinary, everyday person. The cosmetic and plastic surgery industries have built their fortunes on it. And satan loves to pile on more and more.

Several years ago, God gave me an image of a challis that was at first tarnished and dull. But when wine was poured into it and the master picked up the challis and drank the wine, a little bit of the tarnish disappeared. Over and over it was filled and he drank and the touch of his hands buffed the challis till the old tarnished metal was gleaming with a warm rich glow. He impressed on my heart that the challis was me.  When He first took me in I was tarnished and dull, nothing of consequence nor beauty. The wine that filled the challis was produced when I surrendered myself to Him in obedient service. When I serve, the wine is poured; as the wine is poured, He drinks and the touch of His hand wears away the tarnish and makes me glow. I’ve never ever forgotten that image. I believe it is a promise that as I pour myself out for Him, He is transforming me into something – someone beautiful. Someone who looks like Jesus.

Beloved, that’s what He will do for you too. Life may have left you feeling low and unlovely. But He wants to bring beauty out of every tarnished, scarred, unlovely place in your life. He wants to make your life glow. Will you surrender to the touch of the Master’s hand?

But I Like My Sin

“I know the Bible says this desire is wrong, but why do I have to give it up?  Doesn’t God want me to be happy?”  Yes. And no. Happy in God’s vocabulary isn’t the same as our 21st-century “it’s all about me” understanding. In the Bible, the word “happy” is interchangeable with the word “blessed.” Happiness is a blessing from God. It is not something you can attain from circumstances, pleasures, or emotions. And especially not from sin.

In the last half-century, the church has flung the doors wide open and said, “You don’t have to give up anything – just come sing a few songs and sip some coffee and God will make you happy.” That is nothing less than an outright lie. Before you throw your Bible at me – yes, God accepts us as we are, but His purpose in accepting us is to conform us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).  One who has no love for sin. A more conservative answer is, “You don’t have to give up your sinful desire, just don’t act on it.” It is an attempt to live in the tension between the holiness of God and your flesh. Two things will happen:  you will withhold the most important part of yourself – your heart – from God, and you will eventually give up the pretense.

Here’s the deal, God isn’t after your cooperation, He’s after the desire of your heart.  I Chronicles 28:9 says, “The Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought.”  He knows when your outward obedience masks a heart that still yearns for sin. Friend, the reason you and I fall back into sin over and over again is that we hold on to those fleshly, sinful, evil urges and don’t make Him the complete desire of our heart  That’s what the Bible calls “cherishing sin (Psalm 66:18).  It’s also called a divided heart.  And you can’t survive with less than a whole heart – physically or spiritually. Believe me when I tell you God is stomping all over my toes right now.

Beloved, you may think the sin you desire so much will make you happy, but that’s a lie. When God is your heart’s greatest desire sin cannot compare. When your heart delights in Him He will bless you. That’s true happiness.  

An Unpopular Jesus

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The great philosopher John Lennon once remarked in the mid-sixties, that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.”  Christians took great offense at his statement and the Beatles’ albums were burned and smashed to pieces. It was an inflammatory statement, but the truth is, Lennon was probably right. In the fifty years since, he has been proved right with any celebrity, sports star, or politician you want to name. Even in the church, Jesus is not the most popular figure in the world, at least not the Jesus of the Bible. There are variations of Jesus – the political Jesus (we’ve seen a lot of him lately), the social justice Jesus (he seems to be the one most folks like) the anything-goes Jesus, and on and on.  

The Jesus of the Bible is at the same time humble and exalted. He is gentle and fierce. He is gracious and confrontational. He accepted women with bad reputations and chastened the religious leaders who are lauded for their (self)righteousness. He is unpredictable and yet He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But He never was popular – the same crowd greeted Him as Messiah, shouted for His crucifixion. Throughout human history far more have rejected Him than accepted Him. He may be worshiped in small bands but He is scorned in the public square. But one day . . .

The Bible says that  Jesus will come again, splitting the sky and riding the clouds like a wave. And every eye will see Him. Every person will know exactly who He is. Because God has exalted Him to the highest place and given Him the name that is above every name. One day, that name will ring out -across the universe, and then “every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).  Every knee. Every tongue. 

Yes, you will bow and you will confess. Will it be an act of delight that you have practiced often in worship and praise, or will it be one of shock and horror, when you realize Who you rejected.  The choice is yours now, Beloved. Are you ready?

Be Silent

When I was in first grade I was put in the corner multiple times for talking. I have not outgrown that need to express myself. But I am learning about the power of God in silence. And it’s a very challenging lesson.  There is someone dear in my life who is making some very poor decisions and I have a LOT I want to say to him. But God has urged me to silence.

The lesson is rooted in the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho (admit it – you started singing in your head didn’t you?) When Moses died, Joshua took over the leadership of the nation of Israel. He was well-suited for the next phase in their journey for they were facing a lot of warfare to take over possession of the Promised Land. Joshua was leading the people in the direction of Jericho when the “Commander of the army of the Lord” came to him with the strangest battle plan in history. But he followed it to a T. For six days the entire nation walked silently outside the walls of the city as the priests blew the trumpets. I would have shaken my fist and shouted to the people on the other side of that wall, “You’re going down! God is going to give us the city! You don’t stand a chance!” But that was not the plan. Words were nowhere near as intimidating as the sound of trumpets and shuffling feet.

God is telling me, “I know how frustrated you are. I know you have wise words you think will straighten him out, but he will never hear me with you running your mouth at him. Be silent.” Argh!  But, of course, He’s right. So like Joshua and the people of Israel, I am going to Stand Still (that’s a great song by the Issacs) and pray and watch. You know the rest of Joshua’s story. On the seventh day, the people marched and then the command was given to SHOUT – and the walls came tumbling down. I suspect I’m not the only person dealing with a stubborn stone wall. All your advice and – let’s be honest – nagging have has fallen on deaf ears. So Beloved, be silent. Stand Still. Let God do the work. And the talking

Heroes of the Faith: Stephen

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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.

I want to be like Stephen whom the Bible says was full of faith (v. 5), the Holy Spirit (v. 5), God’s grace (v. 8), God’s 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. The unbelieving Jews dragged him before the Sanhedrin (the ruling body of the Jews who hated Christ) 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 but 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 angered 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. You may know him better as Paul – the persecutor of the Christian church who became the church’s first missionary.

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.

One Way

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How do we live godly lives in an ungodly world?
Jesus said, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). “Shrewd” means “wise, sensible” and its root meaning is “thinking, understanding.” Jesus said think and then make a wise and sensible determination. Let’s be honest – we get mentally and spiritually lazy – accepting as truth whatever we are told without bothering to examine things for ourselves. The advertising world depends on that. We need to be Bereans. “The Bereans…received [Paul’s preaching] with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). We must wake up our dulled minds and think about what we hear – in the world and even in the church – alongside of the Word of God and see if it is true.
In contrast to being shrewd, Jesus also commands us to be innocent, which means “to be pure, not mixed with evil.” His command here is to not get mixed up with the world’s philosophies and ideas. The Israelites were commanded to keep themselves separate from the pagan peoples around them and not fall into their evil ways nor worship their pagan gods. Yet they tried to compromise with the Lord and the culture, believing that they could dabble in paganism as long as they continued to also follow the sacrificial Law of God. In their dulled minds they believed they were still being obedient to the Lord.
Has anything changed? I don’t care what your bumper sticker says, God’s people cannot “coexist” with ungodliness. It didn’t work for Israel and it won’t work for Christ’s followers today. I’m not advocating separatism; Jesus called us to be His witnesses in the world. We must interact with lost people to tell them about Jesus. But we must also keep our hearts purely devoted to Him alone and not allow the world to mix us up. Jesus left us “in the world” (John 15:11) but “not of the world” (v. 14). We live with people who do not follow Christ or His Word and that is by God’s good design; but we live for the One who died for the world, and we live by His Word and for His glory. How will they know that He is the only Way if we live as if Jesus is just one option among many?

When God Inturrupts Your Life

 

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She stood in the dim light of the early morning with her hand over her belly and her heart full of awe and wonder at the life growing within her. It was all so surreal. She tried to remember every detail but it was so wonderful and frightening at the same time. She had heard a rustling beside her and turned to see a man – but not a man – an angel? Yes, it was an angel; he said his name was Gabriel and he called her “highly favored,” but surely he meant someone else. She was a peasant girl from the nothing town of Nazareth. Her highest goal was to marry Joseph and have a family. She pulled her cloak tighter around her and noticed that she was trembling – fear mixed with excitement ran like shockwaves through her small frame. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:30). Mary pointed out that she was a virgin, wondering – not if – but how this would happen. He spoke of the Holy Spirit and an overshadowing and the impossible becoming a reality. Then the angel said the most remarkable thing – that this child would “be called the Son of the Most High God” (v. 35). Oh my! Did he mean that she – Mary of Nazareth – would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah? It was every Jewish girl’s dream.

In the stillness of the morning, the angel’s announcement still rang in her ears. She repeated aloud the words she said to him that day as if reassuring herself and reaffirming her willingness, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (v. 38).

Mary’s quiet, well-planned life was suddenly interrupted by God. She was put in a most scandalous situation, one that could have cost her her beloved Joseph, and possibly even her life. It was an inconvenience to say the least. Yet she humbly surrendered herself to the will of God and embraced an unknown future with awe and wonder and faith. Beloved, has God interrupted your life with something unexpected – something inconvenient, perhaps even shocking? It may be a person, a diagnosis, a major change, or a great sorrow. How will you respond? With fear and anxiety? Or with faith and humble surrender? Are you willing to be the Lord’s servant?