When the Way is Dark

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I come from a long line of crafters. My mom was an extraordinary seamstress – I loved the handmade clothes she made for me. My grandmother created beautiful designs with a needle and tread. and I found much comfort laying in bed and tracing the stitches on my “Sunbonnet Sue” pillowcase. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, 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 the up-and-down pattern, and the daisy stitch and how to fill a piece of fabric with color. The kit she bought was a design with an old fashioned oil lamp, 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.

I’ve lost my way a few times since then and 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.

Why Should I Read the Bible?

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“They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47).

When I study the Bible, I like to do so slowly and deliberately, digging in deep, examining details, context, and words, asking questions of the text, cross-referencing Scriptures and consulting resources for a better understanding. Like a jeweler turning a diamond over and over in his hand, I look at a verse from different sides to see what new facets I can find. What’s amazing is, no matter how much I look, I can never see it all. It’s a living Word and is constantly producing truth and wisdom. Not new truth or new wisdom, but more of what it has faithfully said for thousands of years.

Yet for all my digging and study, there are things about the Bible that I cannot make sense of. Not all of my questions about the text have nice, neat answers. Maybe I should stop reading the Bible. Come to think of it, God has yet to answer a lot of my questions about life. Maybe I should stop believing in God.

Or maybe I should have faith. Maybe I should believe that God is good and His Word is true, even though I can’t resolve every issue with the Scriptures or with life. Maybe I should trust that things will make sense – in another time and another place. Maybe I should take Jesus’ words to heart: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:12).

Beloved if you’re approaching the Bible for the sole purpose of finding answers to all your questions, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. The Bible isn’t a life-answer book or a self-help book. It’s not just a book of wisdom or direction – although those are all there. It is the testimony of Almighty God – His autobiography you might say. When you approach the Bible as anything less you miss the point entirely. And you miss God. If you come to the Bible to know God you will find Him on every page in every word. Let’s make 2020 the year we study the Scriptures and believe what God has to say.

What do a bunch of old laws have to do with me; or why should I read Leviticus?

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I am doing a slow dig through the book of Leviticus – yes Leviticus – the book where most New Year’s resolutions come to die. Why would I spend months studying a hard-to-understand bunch of antiquated laws that don’t apply to me as a New Testament Christian? Because Jesus is found in Leviticus more than any other Old Testament book. He is the fulfillment of every law therein. Three verses into the first chapter and there He is: “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to bring an unblemished male” (Lev. 1:3). That’s Jesus. Unblemished. Perfect. Sinless. Innocent. Pure. The only sacrifice that could atone for your sin and mine – making us acceptable to a holy God.
I look into the next verse and I see, not only Jesus this time but also me. “He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him” (Lev. 1:4) In the ancient sacrificial system, the person placed his hand on the animal’s head symbolically transferring all of his sins onto it. This innocent animal now bore the guilt for the sinful person; the animal – not the man – died for those sins.
I am the one with my hand on the head of Jesus. Those sins are mine. The guilt is mine. I am shaken by Charles Spurgeon’s comment on this verse: “If the worshipper was a right-minded person and not a mere formalist, he stood with tears in his eyes and felt in his heart, ‘That death is mine.’” Oh, God let me never look at the cross and forget – “That death is mine.”
Beloved, that is your hand on the head of Jesus too. That death is yours. Those sins are yours. The guilt belongs to you. But so does the atonement. The sinless, innocent Son of God graciously received your sins and bore your punishment so that you would be accepted by His Father. May you and I never forget the price that Jesus paid to set us free.

When to Run and When to Stand: How to Fight Spiritual Battles

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We’re working our way through the book of Colossians in our Ladies Bible study group at BCF. Yesterday we looked at Paul’s warning: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). So we posed the question: what are we watching for? Two points stood out from elsewhere in the Scriptures:

When Jesus confronted his three closest disciples who were asleep in the garden, he admonished them to “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). So the lure of temptation is one area where we need to be watchful.

Then Peter, who was one of the three, gives us another saying, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The reality and work of the devil is another.

How are we to handle these two?

The conventional wisdom is to resist temptation and flee from the devil; but what does Scripture say?

About temptation, Paul said, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). When we face temptation, we take the way of escape. We flee. We run. We get away from the source of temptation, be it a place, a person, a website, or the office breakroom.

And when it comes to dealing with the devil, Peter’s warning continued: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . .” (1 Peter 5:9). We resist the devil, standing firmly and confidently behind our shield of faith in the God of Christ our Lord.

So the conventional wisdom is completely backward – Scripture tells us to resist the devil and flee from temptation. No wonder we’re falling so easily to the enemy.

Why does this matter?

Because as 1 John 4:4 reminds us: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” If you are in Christ Jesus, then Christ Jesus is in you through His Holy Spirit. The very same Christ who has already overcome the devil. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross, the devil has no authority over you. None. And you need to stand firm and remind him of that when he comes roaring at you. Because all he can do is roar.

And because, as Jesus admonished his sleepy disciples, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Your flesh, the part of you that responds to temptation, is weak, even as a Christian. Though we are set free from the power of sin, we are still bound to our fleshly nature that desires sin. Paul said, “I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep doing” (Romans 7:18,19)

Christ has already defeated the devil, but you and I will battle our flesh every day of our earthly lives.

Understanding the enemy and his tactics is vital – not just to surviving – but to thriving and growing and carrying the cross of Christ into a lost and dying world. You need to know your enemy Beloved. But more than that, you need to know your Savior. He has already claimed the victory over the devil. And He will give you strength – to flee when you face temptation and to stand firm when the lion roars.

“Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).

When Everyone’s a Philosopher, How Do You Know What’s True?

In this day of social media, everyone has an opinion and anyone with internet access and a keyboard can become an expert about everything from sports to food to politics to religion. Spend an hour on the web and you will know the deep thoughts of world leaders, celebrities, “influencers,” the media, the local yokel, and even the Kardashians. I’m guilty too, as I flood the cyber-world with biblical commentary. The delivery may be modern, but the idea of sharing ideas is as old as man. The trick is to figure out who’s ideas are worth listening to.

Paul warned the believers in Colossae: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy . . .” (Colossians 2:8). The Colossians were being led astray by false teachers who claimed that the secret to eternal life was a higher plane of knowledge – a knowledge that was superior to Christ and put one on the level with God. Their philosophies sounded right, but they were wrong, and anyone who listened was led astray. It wasn’t just a first-century problem. That warning still applies today. There are a lot of messages that sound like the Bible, but they are not the Word of God. There are a lot of teachings that sound like Jesus, but they are not the Son of God. They have shades of truth, but they are not the truth.  So how do you know what is true?

When bank tellers receive training to recognize counterfeit money, they are not schooled in every possible way that a bill can be counterfeited. Instead, they are taught every detail of a genuine bill, so that when someone presents money that is even a little off, they can spot it instantly. The key to recognizing a false bill is to know the real thing. The key to recognizing false teaching is to know the truth. Luke commended a group of believers in Berea because they listened to Paul’s teachings and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). They didn’t take Paul’s word for what God said; they checked it out in God’s Word.

I hope you do the same Beloved. I hope you take what your Bible teacher says, your Pastor, your favorite author or singer, even yours truly, and lay it beside the authoritative, infallible, inspired Word of the Living God to see if it agrees with what was spoken by the Spirit of God. And if it does not, you run from it and run to the truth. And if I said it, you call me out on it. I also hope that you are making Bible study – not just a five-minute devotional reading – a priority in your day. I hope you are digging in and soaking up the truth. I hope you are learning to recognize the ways and words of God so you are not “taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophies . . .” I hope you know the Scriptures so intimately that anything just a shade off of the truth raises red flags in your spirit. There is far too much as stake to shrug your shoulders and reason that “it sounds okay to me.” Be a Berean. Know the truth. It’ll set you free.

The Life of the Party

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“My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you . . . “ (Psalm 42:6)
I used to throw amazing “pity-parties.” Like celebrations of ancient royalty, I could stretch a good bad mood for days on end. Of course, these soirees were always a solo affair. No one ever seemed to want to come. But a good pity-party was best when it was just me and my dark thoughts. Well, I stand corrected. There was always one guest I could count on every time: Satan. He loved my parties almost as much as I did. He brought the snacks and fed me hopeless thoughts and dismal forecasts. He lowered the lights and played the music of loneliness: “See, nobody notices that you are down. Nobody cares about you. Nobody loves you.” He was the perfect companion and kept the “party mood” going.
But something happened – or Someone happened. God. I discovered an incredible thing: it is hard to keep a pity-party going when God is around. Misery flees when the love of God is present. Despair has no place where there is hope and peace and Joy. Lies cannot exist in the presence of the Truth. And Satan will not stick around when God is in the house.
I still have down days and I will always fight against depression, but I’ve discovered a new way to “party.” I invite God as my Guest of Honor. He feeds me with His goodness and love when I meditate on His Word. I listen to the Spirit now instead of Satan’s playlist. I take negative thoughts captive and replace them with what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. God had brought light where there was once only darkness. He truly is the “Life of the party.”

Hollow Faith

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Waking up on Easter morning when I was a kid meant a new dress and new shoes and an Easter basket at the foot of my bed, loaded down with goodies. There were always jelly beans and marshmallow treats and a book about Jesus. There was usually a necklace or bracelet in mine, while my brothers got toy cars and trucks. But best of all – there was CHOCOLATE! Chocolate coins and chocolate eggs wrapped in thin foil that always tore when you tried to open them. And the bunny. The smiling chocolate Easter bunny who stared at me with his little frosting eyes and beckoned me to nibble on his ears. Oh, I could not resist his charms. One year I pulled my chocolate friend out of his cellophane home and bit down on his ear and got a shock. The chocolate caved in and broke apart because the bunny was hollow inside! Mama didn’t realize the bunnies she bought for us were not solid. My brothers and I felt cheated. We had counted on solid milk chocolate that we could gnaw on for several days. We got a thin veneer of chocolate that was gone before bedtime that day. There was no substance to our chocolate Easter bunnies, they were just a shell.

Paul warned believers to be on guard against “hollow and deceptive philosophies” (Colossians 2:8) of this world that will try to fool us and draw us away from the solid truth of Christ Jesus. They are a very real and present danger to the Christian. Unlike Christ, in whom is “all the fullness of [God]” (v. 9), they are empty and foolish and they crumble under the bite of real life. Unlike Christ, who is eternal, these philosophies have no substance and no staying power, they are founded on the shifting values and priorities of the world. Even in my lifetime “right and wrong” have been turned upside down by the culture. Hollow, worldly philosophies are ever-changing. “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). And unlike Christ who is the Truth, they are rooted in lies and deception. At their core they deny the reality of God and His authority and put humanity on the throne of existence (Romans 1:18-25). And the sad truth is, they are not limited to the world; they are prevalent in the church as well. In Paul’s day it was the “higher knowledge” gospel and the “Mosaic-law” gospel. Enemies of the Christianity held to secret knowledge as the way to God while the Jewish traditions demanded obedience to the Law of Moses, including circumcision. Today we have the “prosperity” gospel, the “social” gospel, the “humanitarian” gospel, the “political” gospel, and on and on. All of these are hollow shells of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Beloved, when the winds of hardship howl and the heat of spiritual battle rages, you need something more than a hollow, Easter-bunny faith. You need something you can depend on, something that will last. You need the solid truth of God, His Son, and His Word. You need a faith that will not crumble. You need the solid rock that is Jesus.

Don’t Let the World Change Your Song

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“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:3).

For many years I sang in church choirs.  I am not a great singer, but I always tried to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” (Psalm 98:4).  I am an alto – I sing on the low female range.  I remember one church choir I was in, I was seated with a soprano to my left, a tenor directly behind me on my left and a bass directly behind me on my right.  Everyone was going in different vocal directions and I had the hardest time staying on my alto notes. Because the soprano was a strong singer, I was constantly being pulled in her direction.  I spoke to our choir director, and he told me he didn’t want to move me, but he did give me some good advice.  He told me to concentrate more on my note – and to lean just a little towards the alto to my right.  He said that he could hear me singing the correct notes, but at the same time, he could tell that I was listening to all the other singers around me and losing confidence in myself.  I will always remember what he told me, “You’re on the right notes, but you have to stay focused and not back off.”

I think about that often when the world is loud and I’m struggling to stay on the right way.  Many different voices are saying many different things, and they are apt to draw me away from what I know is true.  The culture wants me to embrace things that God’s Word has clearly forbidden.  The scholar wants me to trade truth for worldly philosophies that have no regard for God.  The unsaved world wants me to stop singing God’s praises altogether.  My choir director’s advice rings loud and clear: stay focused. Concentrate on what you know is right and true; lean in to godly wisdom and don’t back off.  This world is becoming more evil and more vocal every day. If we are not intentionally listening to God, you and I will be pulled away from what is right and true.  I love this word from Paul to his protégé Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of” (2 Timothy 3:14).  Stay the course.  Focus on the truth.  Let God’s Word drown out the voices of the world. The way of righteousness has not changed just because the music around you has. Beloved, don’t let the world change your song.

Are You Disappointed With Me God?

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“I am so disappointed in you.” She could have hit me, grounded me and taken away my car, and it wouldn’t have cut me as deeply as knowing I had disappointed my Mom. Her words stuck with me for many, many years and colored my life and my relationships. I have always feared disappointing others – teachers, bosses, friends, family, strangers. And most especially God. Oh, I know I am saved and have eternal life – that is rock-solid. But I have carried this sense of being a disappointment to God for as long as I can remember. Until this morning, and something the Lord impressed on my heart.
Paul wrote often about being “in Christ,” meaning to trust in Him for salvation and eternal life. And I have. That also means that Christ is “in me” (John 17:23). I in Christ and Christ in me. By that, God considers me as one with His Son and all that the Son has is mine (Corinthians 3:21), including His righteousness before God (Romans 3:22). Now come stand with me at the water’s edge and hear the Father’s words as Jesus emerges from the Jordan River: “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This, too, is mine in Christ. This rocked my world this morning: God is never disappointed in His Son. And because I am in Christ and Christ is in me, God is never disappointed in me. Friend, the same is true for you – if you are in Christ, He is never disappointed in you.
“But,” you argue, “Jesus was perfect and sinless, and I am not.” It doesn’t matter. You and Christ are one in God’s eyes. “But I am disappointed in myself.” That doesn’t change the truth. You are in Christ and Christ is in you. God is not – will never be – disappointed in you.
When you grab hold of that, it will change everything. It will become your mantra when the enemy tries to dump shame on you. “There is no condemnation for me, because I am in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1). You will “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16) because you know He gladly welcomes you into His presence.
Beloved, when God looks at you, He doesn’t see the foolish, sinful person you think you are. He sees His Son in you. And He says – “This one is mine, the one I love, with whom I am well pleased.” Not disappointed. Ever. Christ in you and you in Christ. It’s a beautiful combination.

Is That What the Bible Really Says?

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One of my responsibilities is to help my sister-in-love create a bulletin board in the church. The Lord gives her the image and I craft it. She is in charge of inspiration and I am the perspiration. This month, we naturally did an “Easter” theme – based on the song, “Love Grew Where the Blood Fell” and on Luke 22:44: “And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” My husband crafted a wooden cross and we mounted it to the board. Because we wanted to emphasize the Lord’s prayer of surrender in Gethsemane, we talked about adding the “rock” upon which Jesus prayed. But something stopped me. I went to the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all speak of the anguished prayer in the garden, but there is no mention of a rock; rather, the Scriptures say “He knelt down and prayed” (Luke 22:41) and “He fell with His face to the ground and prayed” (Matthew 26:39). No rock. But, the prayer on the rock is entrenched in our memory of the story. So where did the rock come from? From the 1886 painting, “Christ in Gethsemane” by Heinrich Hoffman. This classic work of art has become part of the story, just as the “Three wise men” have become part of the Christmas story. But read Matthew’s account again – there were three gifts, but no mention of the number of wise men. John Henry’s 1857 song, “We Three Kings” cements the idea in our minds.
I share this to warn you and me – don’t let side stories and paintings and songs and culture add to or take away from the Word of God. Sure, there’s no harm in having a rock in Gethsemane or three kings in the Christmas story (who, by the way, did not come to the manger, but to the holy family’s house about 2 years after Jesus’ birth). But there are other false teachings that slip in just as easily and can do great harm to your faith and mine. Even if it is something you are sure of, go to the Scriptures and verify it. Our own thoughts and recollections can be colored by something as simple as a children’s nativity play. Friend, we need to be like the Bereans – who listened to Paul’s teachings and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts17:11). I’ve been a Bible teacher for 20+ years, and my sister-in-love has studied the Bible even longer and we both had a rock in Gethsemane. We were both surprised to discover that there ain’t no rock. Beloved, don’t take anyone else’s word for what God said but God Himself. Even mine. Go get your Bible right now and check it out.