The Truth is . . .

Has anyone ever lied to you? Ever listened to a politician? Ever asked a toddler, “What have you got in your mouth?” Or asked your teenager, “Do you have homework tonight?” Yep, you’ve been lied to. I know people have lied to me. Some were “white lies” and some were “indiscretions.” And there’s the occasional covering up a birthday surprise. Few things will draw my ire more than a bald-faced lie – when someone lies to my face and we both know it. If I’m truly honest, I’ve lied to people too – but not intentionally. Well, maybe sometimes intentionally. Like that time as a teenager when I . . . on second thought, I’d better not divulge that. Most of the time, the lies I told were when I said I would do something and failed to follow through. That usually comes when I over-promise. I have every intention of doing the thing, but for a variety of reasons, I just can’t pull it off. I’ve eaten a lot of humble pie in my life admitting I fell short of my promises.

Hebrews 6:18 tells us “it is impossible for God to lie.”  God is truth, and everything He says is true. You and I can take it to the proverbial bank. The Bible is God’s Word, thus, whatever the Bible says is the absolute truth.

When the Bible says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1), we can trust that is true.

In the Scripture, God said, “I will be with you, I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Jos 1:5). That’s a true and trustworthy promise.

When the Bible says that God is your shield (Ps 7:10), your strength, rock, fortress, deliverer, refuge, stronghold, and salvation (Ps 18:1-2), you can be assured that you are safe in His arms.

When the Bible says that God sees your trouble and grief and listens to your cries (Ps 101:14,17), you can rest your weary head on His shoulder and pour out your heart into His ears.

When the Bible says that God has good plans to give you a future and a hope (Jer 29:13) and that He will fulfill His purpose for you (Ps 27:2), you need not fear the days ahead.

And most of all, when the Bible says God loves you – that He lavishes His love on you (1 John 3:1) – you can know without a shadow of a doubt that it is the truth, no matter what your feelings or the devil, or the world may say. The Creator of the universe loves you. And that, Beloved, is no lie. It’s the truest thing you’ll ever hear.

Advent 2022: Hope and Love

While her husband loaded presents into the trunk, the woman hugged her friend and pressed some folded bills into her hand.  “I know this is a hard time, but God is going to come through for you. He has always come through for us.”  The woman thanked them both and sighed, “I hope so.  I don’t know how much longer we can go on like this.” “Keep that hope alive, sweetheart,” the man said as he closed the stuffed trunk. “The Bible says hope will never disappoint you.”

That’s good to know because hope is as essential to the spirit as oxygen is to the lungs.  When life is hard, hope seems more of a desperate gesture than a sure belief. Our hope fades, our spirit is weakened, we become disheartened, and our thoughts forlorn. That’s why the Bible always presents hope as a confident conviction, not a desperate, wishful longing.

The verse the man quoted was from Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts . . .” (5:5). You and I can have that kind of confident hope because we know God loves us. He proved His love at the manger. He proved it again on the cross. Then He sealed the deal at the empty tomb. Need more? John said the Father has lavished great love on us and called us His children (1 John 3:1). He said we can “know and rely on the love God has for us because He is love and His love is perfect (4:16, 18). His love is trustworthy and true. It is a firm foundation for hope.

Beloved, if hope is in short supply right now, I want to remind you that Christmas confirms the power of hope in the love of God. He will not – cannot – betray His love. It is His very essence. I also want to assure you that God does indeed always come through.  I was the woman hanging onto a thread of hope. And my hope was not disappointed.  God is faithful. God is love. Christmas is proof.

Stop Looking Back

I have a lot in common with Moses, the hero of God’s people. No, I’ve never parted a sea or made water come from a rock. I’ve never led a nation out of slavery nor floated down the river in a basket as a baby. What I have done that Moses also did was argue with God.

After Moses fled Egypt as a wanted man, he settled down and started working for his father-in-law as a shepherd. Then he saw a burning bush and heard God say, “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (Ex 3:10). And he argues with God. Moses starts giving all the reasons why he can’t do what God has called him to do. “They won’t listen to me. They won’t believe me. I’m not an eloquent speaker. I stutter.” Finally, Moses says, “O, Lord, please send someone else to do it!” (Ex 4:1-13).

My version of Moses is: “I’m not good enough. “I’m not smart enough. And then the sure kicker: “I have an ugly, sinful past, God, I’ve done so many shameful things.” Then I pull out my carefully cataloged and categorized list of all my failures so that He can see why I am the absolute wrong person for the job. I was recently struck by what Bob Goff, lawyer, speaker, and New York Times best-selling author said, “We spend a lot of time memorizing failures that God spent a lot of love saying we could forget.”

He’s right. John said that the Father lavishes great love on us and calls us His children (1 John 3:1). Even before we called Him our Father. Paul said, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). God loved you while you were doing the very things that sent His Son to the cross. When you accepted Christ, all your sins went under the blood of Jesus and left nothing but the Father’s love.

You are no longer a sinner in the eyes of God. You have been cleansed and reborn and filled with His Spirit so that you are enabled and empowered to do that thing for which He created you. Oh, Beloved, don’t look back when God calls you to move forward. He knows who you were – and who you are now. You are His child.

Jesus in Your Shoes

All across this nation, the anti-Christian machine is working to shut out every mention of God and deny the rights of Christians to express our beliefs. Nativity scenes are banned from the public square, or equal space must be given to anti-Christian displays. The Ten Commandments are being removed from government facilities, and students in school are forbidden to give reference to their faith. Lawmakers are pushing to ban all teaching of “religious doctrine.” God is unwelcome and unwanted in this country.

But don’t miss what John said, “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Brothers and sisters, don’t forget that the Spirit of Christ dwells in you. Everywhere you go you take Jesus with you. So as believers, we take Jesus into the marketplace and the government sector. Students take Jesus into their school. Employees bring Jesus to work.

The Lord declared that His followers are ”the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt 5:13, 14). Salt is our witness in the world. Light’s purpose is to shine in the darkness (John 1:5a). Salt is essential for life in general. It is one of the oldest and most universal food seasonings and methods of food preservation. Saltiness is one of the basic human tastes and it makes us thirsty. Here in the deep south, boiled peanuts are a favorite snack, but you’d better have a drink nearby because properly prepared boiled peanuts are very salty.  A salty Christian seasons the world with love, Joy, kindness, grace, compassion, and the good news of the gospel. They preserve the character of Christ in a tasteless culture and a properly prepared Christ-follower makes others thirsty for the Living Water.

From creation, light’s purpose is to shine in the darkness (John 1:5a). Light has power over darkness (John 1:5b) because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. When light is introduced into the darkness, darkness no longer exists. That means you and I have power over darkness – not our own power, but Christ’s. The world is a very dark place. Evil is everywhere. But you and I have the His light to overcome evil and darkness. When we shine with His light, the darkness has no choice but to flee. And when we shine with His light every eye will be drawn – not to us – but to the Source of the Light.  

Sure, they can ban public displays of Christianity, but by your presence as a Christian, Beloved, Jesus still walks through this nation – in your shoes.

Footprints

I came across “The Footprints” poem the other day. You know the one about the person who dreamed of seeing two sets of footprints in the sand – one was their own and the other belonged to Jesus. At certain points, the second set of footprints disappeared and the dreamer was dismayed that Jesus would abandon them at the hardest points in their life. The Lord assured them that He would never leave them, especially during trials and testing. He said, “When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.” That is a beautiful and encouraging image and expresses the heart of our Savior in our times of suffering.

Later, as I was studying 1 John I read this: “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (2:6). A different thought came to mind.  What if, when I questioned Jesus about that single set of footprints in the sand, He said, “That is when you followed me so closely that you stepped right into My footprints.” Oh! What a commendation that would be! That’s the goal of the Christian life, to emulate Christ in every way. To walk as He walked. To speak as He spoke. To give as He gave. To love as He loved. To be holy as He is holy. The first believers were called “Followers of The Way” until were dubbed “Christians” meaning “little Christs.” Not just because they claimed allegiance to Him but because they patterned their lives after Him.

I’m sure you know Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Have you ever wondered what His purpose is? It’s right in the next verse, “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). To be “little Christs” in our generation, walking in His very footsteps so that there’s nothing of us left behind –  only Jesus. That’s my desire, especially as I see my granddaughter following me everywhere I go.

How do we do that? How do we “walk as Jesus did?” By keeping our eyes fixed on Him. By knowing Him through His Word. By living according to His Spirit (Rom 8:5-16). One footfall at a time. Beloved, what do your footprints say about your life?

Blood-stained Faith

I know, this is Hebrews Monday, but this morning the Holy Spirit has a different word from the Word. It is one of those Old Testament to  New Testament connections I love so much.

The psalmist said, “May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands” (Ps. 149:6). You probably picked up on that “double-edged sword” and recognized it from Hebrews 4:12: “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword . . .” You may also recall John’s vision of Jesus in heaven: “out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword” (Rev 1:16). You know that this sword is none other than the Word of God – the Bible – the Holy Scriptures. You know that in the Armor of God the sword of the Spirit is the only offensive weapon we have (Eph 6:17) – but it is enough because the Word of God sends satan packing. This sword is powerful and purposeful.

But the Spirit made another connection for me as He reminded me of the scene in heaven. Under the altar dwelt “the souls of those who had been slain” – martyred saints. Why? “Because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained” (Rev. 6:17). And what was their testimony? The same writer said, “And this is the testimony: ‘God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son’” (1 John 5:11). Do you see the connection?

What is praise but declaring the great Name and work of Almighty God? The martyrs throughout the history of the church have held tightly to the name of Jesus and the Word of God as their source of strength and conviction. But martyrs are not only part of the church’s past. Believers are being slain for their faith today, and as the world moves farther away from God, more saints will face the same fate. Maybe even you and me. How will we endure? How will we not fail our Savior? The same way they did. With the name of Jesus on our lips and our hands frozen to the sword (2 Sam 23:10). Come to think of it, this verse is right in line with the message of Hebrews: stand firm in Christ Jesus and do not lose heart. Hard times are coming Beloved, but so is Jesus!

God loves you. Yes, you.

I’m taking a “Counseling and Spiritual Integration” course this semester and we are our clients. This week I worked on the feeling I struggle with the most: accepting love. The issue is rooted in my childhood.  The Holy Spirit drew my mind to the verse I pray over my granddaughter every day: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

I dug into that verse and examined the dimensions that Paul used to try to express this love. I thought about the highest thing I knew – outer space, and the longest thing – eternity, and the deepest thing – the ocean, and the widest thing – the arms of Jesus stretched out on the wooden crossbeam. His love is higher and longer and deeper and wider than that. I thought about how God’s love doesn’t depend on me. It’s all Him – God is love (1 John 4:16). It’s perfect love (v. 18) so I can’t mess it up no matter what I do or don’t do. It’s a love I can rely on (v. 16). God doesn’t love me because I love Him, He loves me because it is His very essence (v. 7,10). I thought about how God is so generous with His love. John said that He has lavished His great love on me and had claimed me as His own child. (1 John 3:1). The truth is, I don’t deserve God’s love, but He gives it to me anyway.

I’ve been in teaching ministry a long time and one of the most consistent issues Christians struggle with is feeling unloved. It affects us in every aspect of our lives, in our friendships, marriages, raising children, working and community relationships, and it’s rooted in our relationship with God. We can’t give what we don’t have. But when we are “rooted and established” in the unfailing, unending, unshakable love God has for us, the fruit will be all the sweeter as we share it with others. Beloved, hear this clearly and receive it deeply: God loves you. Yes, you.

Peace, Love, and, Baseball

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Several years ago my husband was a Little League umpire. He stood behind the plate looking over every pitch and called them “balls” or “strikes.” He also called players out or safe as they came to home plate. His call was the rule on the field. Paul wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15). He uses a word that brings to mind the modern-day umpire. He said that peace should always govern everything we do. The context for this passage is speaking of community life (vs. 12-14) and he is saying that we should determine what will bring peace to the Body of Christ and in situations with others and respond accordingly. Let peace be the rule.

Now, this was originally going to just be a post about having peaceful relationships, but two things literally just jumped out at me. First, Paul said, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” While his context is the community, this is also a personal word. You let peace rule in your heart. It’s our responsibility. Then the word, “Love.” When he spoke of community life in verses 12-14, Paul said, “over all these [compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness,] put on love which binds them all together” (Col. 3:14). And suddenly it all makes sense. Love is the driving force of peace. I can be compassionate and kind and humble and gentle and patient and even forgive, but if I fail at love – “sincere love” as Paul commanded in Romans 12:9 – I will not have peace. Oh, the exterior may look good, but without love, these actions are forced at best and resented at worst – and there is no peace in my heart. And eventually, that exterior peace erodes. And isn’t that the point of 1 Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter?” If I have gifts and faith and can preach and teach and even perform miracles, but don’t have love – “I am nothing” (v. 2). 

Look at the world around us. What are people crying out for? Peace. But what do they need to have peace? Love. Sincere Love. God’s love. When we “know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16), there will be peace – in our hearts, in our homes, in our churches and communities, and in the world. Beloved, you and I are called to be the catalysts of peace by being the conduits of God’s love in a broken, angry, dark world. Maybe even in your own home. Let love be the rule and peace make the call.

Hebrews: Am I a Child of God?

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The humanity of Jesus has long been a point of contention among scholars, theologians, and skeptics. It is difficult to grasp the idea that Jesus is God. A man. The divine in human flesh. It raises so many questions. Why would God subject His one and only Son to the frailties of a human body?  Why would He send Him away from perfection in heaven to walk with sinful men? Why would He impose death on His own Son for such sinful, ungrateful creatures? The author of Hebrews gives us several points in these next eight verses.

We’ll start here: “In bringing many sons to glory . . .” (Hebrews 2:10a).

God’s plan was to “bring many sons to glory,” to bring lost human beings into His eternal family. You have probably heard someone say “We are all God’s children.” It’s a nice sentiment, but it isn’t true. We are all God’s creation, but only those who have trusted in Christ as their Savior are God’s children. Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister . . .” (Matthew 12:50). What is the will of the Father?  “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life . . .” (John 6:40).  The children of God believe in the Son of God. God’s desire is not to build a household of servants or an army of soldiers or a cult of mindless followers, but a family. Jesus’ death and resurrection are His means to accomplish that goal.

How do you know if you’re a child of God? If you “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7). If you “obey His commands” (2:3; 5:3). If you “walk as Jesus did” (2:6). If you “love your brother” (2:10; 3:10, 11; 4:21). If you do not “love the world” (2:15).  If you “do what is right” (3:10). If you “love with actions and in truth” (3:18-19). If you “acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come from God” (4:2). If you believe “that Jesus is the Christ” (5:1). If you “do not continue to sin” (5:18).

The only question then is, Beloved, are you a child of God?

Got Love?

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Got anybody in your life who is hard to love? Yeah, me too. I think every person who seeks to follow Christ will have the “blessing’ of hard-to-love people. It’s one of the tools God uses to shape and mold us into the image of His Son, which is the point of our lives (Romans 8:29). 

Hallmark makes love look so easy. It’s not.  Love is hard. It’s painful. It’s demanding. It’s often unfair. Love will take you to hard places and cost you more than you ever imagined. That’s why people give up on love so easily.

I’m struggling with some of those people so this morning I prayed: “Lord, help me to love as You love.” He sent me to 1 John. I learned some stuff I thought I’d share with you. By the way, I purposefully left off the actual verse so you would look these up for yourself.

First, I cannot love difficult people on my own.  I can only love them out of the love God has for me (4:16).

Love comes only from Him (4:7). (Not my human emotions).

God is love (4:16). He has lavished His great love on me (3:1).

Because God loves me, I can love them (4:19).

Because I know God – who is love – I can love them (4:8)

Because He lives in me through His Spirit, His love for others lives in me as well and completes and perfects my insufficient love so that  I can love them (1:12, 17, 18).

God loved me sacrificially (4:9-10). The love I show to others must follow suit (4:11).

God expects me to love them (4:20-21).

When I consider how unloveable I have been – and often still am – I marvel that God loves me. Yet He does. So how can I, as His child, in whom His Spirit dwells, withhold love from those who are unloveable to me?  I have read the Bible from cover to cover and I find no place where God said, “Stand up for your rights!”  But over and over I find two things I lean on hard: God calls me to love, and He promises to fight for me.

Beloved, I don’t know how much clearer it can be. We are called to love God and love others – even, especially, the ones who make it hard to love. They need it most of all.