When You Wonder “What Happened?”

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Ruth’s story in the Bible is a romance for the ages. Widowed and devoted to her grieving mother-in-law, Ruth, a Moabitess accompanied Naomi back to Judah. She left home to go to an unknown place and an unknown people (who traditionally hated the Moabites) and faced an unknown future. She encountered many challenges in Judah, and it is in Judah that she found love. Oh, yeah, she met this Boaz guy, but that’s not the love I mean. The love she discovered in a land far from home was the love of the God of the heavens and the earth.  The God who moved heaven and earth for her and the nation of Israel.

As Naomi and Ruth settled in Bethlehem, the barley harvest was beginning. The law commanded that the poor in a community should be allowed to glean from the fields for their survival, going behind the harvesters and gathering what remained. We pick up Ruth’s story in chapter two as she takes to the fields to gather food for herself and Naomi.  Verse 3 says: “She went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters.  As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.” As it turned out. Do you think for a moment that she was working in Boaz’s field by happenstance? No, my friend. God was directing Ruth’s path. He guided her to the very one who could redeem her and give her a home and a family and love. And a place in the lineage of King David (her great-grandson) and Jesus (her true and eternal Redeemer). God gave Ruth a future and a hope beyond her wildest imagination.

As it happened.  Beloved, where do you “happen” to be right now? Somewhere you never expected? Somewhere that feels far from home? Somewhere that is strange, maybe a little scary, and possibly even painful? You’re not there by happenstance. God’s people don’t wander aimlessly. In His providence and sovereignty, He guides us where He wants us to be. Whether it’s a physical place or a season in life, you are where you are by His good and gracious hand. So put your hand to the work before you and keep watch for what God will do.  What “happens” next will be amazing

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.

Of Septic Tanks and God

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My son says that I can take anything and find a spiritual application to it. I suppose that’s so but it’s because I see God in everything. He is the Creator and Sustainer of everything. Nothing exists that He did not create with His powerful word or fashion with His divine hand. If he could somehow cease to exist, which He will not, everything in heaven and earth would also cease to exist. So yeah, I see spiritual things in everything and every situation.  

There is this spot in my yard that is especially lush and green. You city people won’t understand, but the country folk know that this is where the septic tank sits.  The “contents” of the tank become fertilizer for the soil so that the grass and bushes in the immediate vicinity are “nurtured.” How can I find a spiritual application in a septic tank?  In God’s hands, the crappiest parts of our life often become the most fruitful for the Kingdom. Ask Joseph whose horrible brothers sold him into slavery. He was taken to Egypt where he was falsely accused of sexual assault and thrown in prison. There, he interpreted a dream for a fellow prisoner who promised to remember him to the Pharoah but promptly forgot. Until two years later when Pharoah had a dream and the ex-prisoner remembered Joseph and recommended him. Joseph not only told the Pharoah the meaning of his anxious dream but how to resolve the problem that the dream was prophecying. Impressed, Pharoah appointed him to the second-highest position in his kingdom and Joseph saved the lives of the Egyptians and became very wealthy in the process. He also saved the lives of his family – including the brothers who had betrayed him. And in doing so, he saved the lineage through which the Savior of all mankind would come.  Had Joseph not made it to Egypt to stand before the Pharoah – however harsh the circumstances – there would be no nation of Israel, no Jewish people, no Jesus, and no salvation for you and me.  Joseph told his brothers, “ You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).

Beloved, if life feels like a septic tank right now be encouraged. God has a way of taking the crappiest things and bringing unexpected good out of them.

REPENT! THE END IS NEAR!

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He stood on the corner of a busy intersection in Tallahassee holding signs that read: “REPENT! THE END IS NEAR!” “JESUS IS COMING AGAIN! ARE YOU READY?” People gave him the middle finger salute of ridicule.  I doubted that his methods were very effective, but I knew that he was not wrong. The end is near. Jesus is coming back. Soon. But this has been said in every generation since the Apostle’s day. Before the dust had settled at the empty tomb, Peter and Paul were watching the eastern skies. Maybe I’ve just become very cynical in my “old age,” but I believe the signs are so prevalent that we really are in the last days.

Let’s consider Paul’s words in the context of our world today: “Mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves (the ‘selfie’ generation), lovers of money (how high did the latest lottery get?), boastful, proud (entertainers and athletes), abusive (people punching out random strangers), disobedient to their parents (ever raised a teenager?), ungrateful (see the previous), unholy (sexual deviants in church leadership), without love (mass shootings), unforgiving (how high is the divorce rate?), slanderous (politics in general), without self-control (how high is the illegitimate birthrate?), brutal (Antifa), not lovers of the good (Washington, D.C.), treacherous (I refer you back to politics), rash (daily shootings), conceited, (refer back to boastful and proud ), lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (pretty much the world in general), having a form of godliness but denying its power (the Western church). ” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, adapted).

Globally many things are coming together according to prophetic Scriptures of the end. Nationally, evil rules the day from the highest office in the land to the decisions of the local school board. Jesus spoke of the end of the age with an increase in war, natural disasters, famine, persecution of Christians, unholiness in holy places, and an increase of wickedness and a decrease of love. If you don’t recognize these things in the world today, you need to put down your phone.

But there is still time – at least a moment – before the end.

Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

If Jesus is your Lord and Savior, are you spreading the gospel?

Beloved, it is time to repent because the end is near. Jesus is coming back. Are you ready?

Serving God in Hard Seasons

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I originally wrote this three years ago today, when I was in a job I disliked. God has worked in such amazing ways since. Within six months of this post, we were back home and I was in my dream job at The Baptist College of Florida. I am blessed every day to work among men and women who love the Lord, to be immersed in my two passions, Jesus and learning, and to be pursuing a Master’s degree for whatever God has ahead for me.  

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:1)

Paul and Timothy were in prison, yet they continued to see themselves as “servants” of the Lord. Wouldn’t you think that being in prison would give them a “pass”? I mean, they are not able to do all the things they did as free men. They can’t go to the market and share Christ with people. They can’t stand in the public square and proclaim the Gospel. They can’t gather with and teach fellow believers about the resurrection and the return of Jesus. They are isolated, cut off from every avenue of fulfilling their calling. Yet they are still servants.

This spoke to me so deeply. I am not where I thought I should be. I am not “in ministry” like I envisioned. I am not in a position serving God as I expected or hoped. But God says I am still a servant – His servant. I am not on a shelf nor am I excused from doing the good work God created me to do. Servants go where the master assigns and do what the master commands. Servants serve wherever they are.

My friend, it may be true that your place in life is not what you expected, hoped, envisioned, or wanted. But you are God’s servant nonetheless. You are called to a good work by a good Master. Let’s be good servants right where find ourselves today, whether in a palace, a prison, or a pre-school. It’s who we are.

It occurs to me that God could have inspired this post today in this pandemic, lockdown, snowed-in, life-changing time in the world. The circumstances may be different, but the feelings of frustration are the same. Beloved, you and I are servants of the Most High God. How we serve may change, but the call to serve does not.

Hope in the Night

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Several years ago I went to a jewelry party. The hostess promised that I could be the model but the salesperson chose another girl instead. I was wearing a light-colored top and the other girl had on a dark top.  The jewelry showed up better against the dark backdrop.  My light top would have made the pieces appear washed out.  Hope is much like those gems, it shows us best against the dark seasons of our lives. I know this from the Word of God and my life.

Paul said, “Hope that is seen is no hope at all” (Romans 8:24). There is a reason that the stars are only visible against the night sky. They fade away in the bright sunlight.  There’s a reason that hope is most powerful when we are at our weakest. My hope in God grew the most when I needed Him the most – when anxiety was high, when I couldn’t see the road ahead, when it looked like everything was falling apart.  I had to hope in Him to survive.  I had to stay on my knees. I had to remind myself of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Those lessons in the night made my faith more real to me than sunshine ever could.

I know some of your stories – you’ve talked with me or private messaged me and asked for prayer for your situation, which I am honored to do.  Most of you I do not know personally, but I know that when the night seems to go on forever, you need hope.  Beloved, hope shines brightest in the dark. And hope is our assurance that the night will eventually give way to the morning.

I love these words from Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher and writer of the nineteenth century who knew a lot about hope in the darkness.

“Hope itself is like a star–not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity. Afflictions are often the black foils in which God sets the jewels of His children’s graces, to make them shine brighter. How can you know that you have faith until your faith is exercised?”

Trials make the promise sweet;

Trials give new life to prayer;

Trials bring me to His feet,

Lay me low, and keep me there.

Don’t Give Up on God

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I hope you’re not tired of hearing about my cat. Celina is a black-and-white Bible teacher with a tail. Every morning I stumble into the kitchen headed for the coffee maker. Celina runs ahead of me and parks herself in front of her food dish and begins her usual cries of lament. “Feed me. Feed me.  Feed me.” Never mind that the bowl still has food in it. As I’ve shared before, she demands a fresh scoop to start the day. This morning I was a little distracted and slower to respond than usual.  She continued to meow – but each one got softer and quieter. It was like she was slowly giving up – losing hope that I would take care of her.

Some of you, like me, have a prayer you have carried for a long time. And nothing is happening. God is silent. You are starting to losing hope that He cares and will answer you. You are slowly giving up. Don’t.

Jesus told two parables reminding us to be persistent in prayer. In Luke 18:1-8 He tells us about a persistent widow who kept coming to a judge seeking justice against her adversary. Luke introduces the story with this comment: “Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and never give up” (v. 1). Luke 11: 5-10 is the parable of the man who goes to his friend at midnight asking for bread. The friend is reluctant at first, but “because of the man’s boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs” (v. 8) The word “boldness” means shameless, barefaced persistence. Jesus completes this parable with the reminder to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened” (v. 9). The original Greek used here literally reads: ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking. The key to these two parables is that the pray-er was persistent because they knew that the one hearing their prayers would come through.

You and I can be persistent in prayer because we have faith in the one who hears our prayers. Don’t give up on God, Beloved. ASK – Ask, seek, knock – again.

When You’re a Long Way From Where You Thought You’d Be

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“God, I know you called me to ministry, to teach and share your Word. Why am I fluffing flowers at a grocery store? I thought there would be more to my life than this.”

Facebook memory reminded me today of a dry season in my life. I had felt God’s call more than ten years before but I was toughing it out in seminary and working at a grocery store. Every attempt I made to start Bible studies and discipling fell apart. I was frustrated and disappointed. Had I heard God wrong?

In Acts 23 Paul is under arrest for declaring the name of Jesus, accused by the Romans of inciting riots, and by the Jews of blasphemy. I often wonder if, in that prison, Paul questioned whether he had gotten it wrong too. To understand his call, you have to go back to Acts 9:15, when God declared that Paul would carry His name before Jews, Gentiles, and kings. At this moment, he is a long way from fulfilling his destiny. But then the Lord Jesus came to him in his cell and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify about me in Rome” (Acts 23:11).

Paul endured multiple trials and great persecution, faced a storm at sea, and was shipwrecked and snake-bitten along the way. But Acts 28:14 says, “And so we came to Rome.” God was faithful to His promise to Paul, and he did indeed preach the Gospel and declare the name of Jesus in Rome. But there was a lot of space between the promise and the fulfillment. 

V. Raymond Edman said, “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.”  As I look back at that memory, and consider that today I am working in a seminary, teaching Bible studies, teaching through writing, and continuing to prepare for something more through grad school, I realize God’s call and His faithfulness are just as true for me.

I don’t know what God has spoken over you, nor how long you’ve waited to see it come to fruition. But I do know that His promises never fail and His Word never returns void. Stand firm in the faithful nature of the Lord, Beloved, and believe that what He has declared in the light, will be fulfilled despite the darkness.

“And so we came to . . .”

Bible Lessons with My Cat

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My cat doesn’t know Jesus, but she teaches me some valuable spiritual lessons.

We keep Celina’s dry food bowl full so she can nibble throughout the day (kind of like I do), but every morning when I come into the kitchen she sits by her bowl and cries for food – even though there’s still plenty there! I dump the old food back into the plastic tub we store it in, and scoop it right back up into her bowl. This morning as I set her bowl before her I said, “Celina, you do realize that I’m giving you back the same stuff that was in there.” But she attacked it like it was something new and wonderful.

The world treats us the same way, my friends. When we cry to the world to have our desires met what we receive is the same old thing that failed to satisfy us yesterday and the day before. The world has nothing new to offer us; when we feast on worldly things we’re always hungry for something more. Only God can satisfy.

Another lesson she teaches me is about trust.  When I pick up her bowl and head to the cabinet, she follows me, sticks her nose right in the middle of what I’m doing, and watches intently to make sure I do it right.  She meows as if she’s telling me how much food to put in the bowl.  The thought occurs to me – how often do I bring an issue to God and follow Him around, giving my opinions and expectations for the solution? As if I know better than the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. “God if You would just . . .” I’m learning – ever so slowly – to stop telling God what to do and just tell Him about the need. He never fails to come up with better solutions than I ever could.

Jesus said that those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). Isaiah said, “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31). Your Father’s provision is always fresh, and He will always meet your needs perfectly – without your help. Don’t be like Celina, Beloved. Trust God to give you exactly what you need, exactly when you need it, and plenty of it.

It Came to Pass . . .

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“So it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made” (Genesis 8:6)

When my son was a baby, a friend gave me some great advice: “Remember, the Bible says, ‘It came to pass,’ not it came to stay.” You can bet I passed it on to my daughter-in-law when my granddaughter was born. Those long sleepless nights will eventually pass and she will sleep through the night. Teething and colic eventually pass. When I spend a couple of hours holding her while she sleeps I remember that these days will pass all too quickly and I’ll miss watching her peaceful face. It’s good parenting advice, but it’s also good life advice.

We will all face difficult days and seasons. But it’s helpful to remind ourselves that those days come and go – they are not forever. In those times I look back at Noah’s story and remember that after many, many days aboard the ark, it came to pass that the waters began to recede and Noah opened the window to let out the dove and let in the fresh air and sunshine. My troubles will pass and so will yours.

Another way to look at this is that the days of our lives come to pass not to stay and the opportunities before us and the people around us are also not permanent.  I have many regrets over things I knew the Lord wanted me to do that I thought I could get around to later. But later never came and the window closed. This past year has taught me, as it has so many of us, that the people we love cannot stay in our lives forever. I never dreamed my big brother would be in heaven before the year’s end. I know many friends for whom COVID has caused great grief. Jobs and business were shown to be temporary, and even the highest office in the nation passed from one hand to another this year.

So here is my advice: Don’t fret the sleepless nights of parenthood, nor the difficult days of life. It does not seem so in the middle of it all, but they will pass. And don’t waste the opportunities God gives you, nor time with the people you love. Life on earth comes to pass, not to stay. Make it count Beloved.