For the Name of Jesus

She looked at me with disgust, “Keep that stuff to yourself” she snarled. “God bless you!” I called out to her as she stormed away. I was young in my faith and bold – maybe brazen is the better word. I was sitting in the food court of the local mall with a friend who was giving witness to God’s work in her family. I raised my hands and shouted, “Wooo! Praise God!” That’s when the woman at the next table picked up her bags and launched her bomb at me. I wasn’t fazed. In fact, I wore it as a badge of honor. I counted it as “religious persecution,” and for the time and the culture, I suppose it was.

But what I called persecution was not even a slap on the wrist compared to believers in China, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Nigeria, Cuba, and dozen more. There the threats are not merely verbal but physical, economic, and relational, and often end in violence and death. I dare say their faith has been forged in the fire. Just as the apostles’ was.

Even after being ordered to stop preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus, His followers didn’t quit. The religious leaders were filled with jealousy and ordered them to be arrested (Acts 5:17-18). They responded by escaping jail with the help of an angel who said, “Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life” (v. 20). After being brought again before the Sanhedrin – the ruling council of the Jews – they declared, “We must obey God rather than men!” (v. 29). In return they were flogged and the Bible says they “left the Sanhedrin rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (v. 41).

In our modern, western culture, religion is regarded as a personal preference, not a life-giving entity.  It is kept private and should not be allowed to spill over onto others.  In schools, workplaces, among our peers, and even in the food court at the mall we are told to keep our religion to ourselves, or “save that stuff for church.”  And we do because we don’t want to rock the boat.  But true Christianity – the kind that changes the world – is all-or-nothing. Beloved, it’s time for you and me to not only rock the boat but get out of it and walk on the water.

A Matter of Life and Death

Since I was a little girl, I have known and loved the story of Dorcas in Acts 9:36-42 – for obvious reasons. This was “my story” because, in my childish mind, she was me. I loved to tell about Dorcas, a kind and generous woman who loved the Lord and loved people.

Dorcas’ story has become mine for more reasons than just a shared name. Dorcas was a seamstress and I have also done a good deal of sewing. She used her talent to benefit her neighbors, and I have also sewed to bless others. And Dorcas died and was restored to life through the prayers of Peter. “Now, wait a minute,” you may be saying, “you have never died.” Well, I haven’t in the literal sense of the word, but I have in other hard ways. Dorcas died a physical death – I died emotionally and my very spirit became lifeless and gray. She was laid on a bed in an upstairs room. I have laid before the Lord in deepest pain and soul-rending anguish. When she died, Dorcas’ heart stopped beating and her breath ceased. I have had seasons of brokenness where my heart lay in shards and splinters around my feet and the simple act of drawing a breath was more than I could manage. Dorcas entered the darkness of death. I have been in the darkness of depression and despair – surrounded by the deepest hues of black.

But God restored Dorcas to life – and He graciously restored me too. He heard my prayers and my cries and sat with me in the dark and gloom. His Spirit spoke life to my spirit. His tender mercies restored the pieces of my heart and He breathed hope and peace into my lungs. He restored my soul. He brought light and He brought Joy.

This is for the one who feels dead in your soul today. You have cried an ocean of tears and you have given up on ever feeling alive again. Beloved, please hear my words and my heart: God will restore you back to life. That is His specialty. Bringing life from death. Making broken hearts whole. Bringing light into the darkness. Breathing hope and peace and Joy into your soul.

Please do not give up, Beloved. I died. God restored my life. He will restore you too. I am living proof.

Tangled

My husband is a Christmas movie junkie – you know, those sappy Christmas love stories where the plot never changes. He was watching one this week (in August!) and the couple was decorating a tree for the holidays. I could tell it was make-believe because the girl pulled the strand of lights out of the box and they were tangle-free. How many hours have we spent trying to untangle strands of wires and bulbs? “Pull that end through this loop. No! THIS loop! Wait, the bulb is stuck. Why didn’t you put them away right last year?” How many times did we chunk them and go out and buy new lights? More than I want to confess.

Tangled lights are frustrating. Tangled lives are heartbreaking. You didn’t mean to get so deep into that sin, that relationship, that dark situation, that addiction, but here you are and you can’t figure out how to get free. I know of a few people in the Bible that would understand. Like the man in Mark 5 who lived in the tombs in the Gerasenes. He was possessed by multiple demons – so many that they called themselves “Legion.” The townspeople tried to chain him, but he broke free of them every time. Yet he could not free himself from the demons. Or a woman named Mary Magdalene who was also possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2). Or an unnamed woman from Samaria who had been entangled in sin with multiple men (John 4). Or a little man named Zacchaeus who was tangled up in greed with the Roman rulers (Luke 19). Or a very religious man named Saul who was so caught up in self-righteousness that he set out to persecute Jesus’ followers (Acts 9). Jesus set each one of them free from the things that bound them.

Or if you need a more recent example, look at the one who is writing these words right now. Oh, the chains that Christ has broken in my life! He has set me free from a life tangled up in sin, selfishness, depression, fear, self-hatred, unforgiveness, abuse, anxiety, foolishness, and so much more. Beloved, whatever you’ve gotten yourself tangled up in – God can unravel your mess. It’s why Jesus came. So that you might know the truth – that God loves you – and be set free (John 3:16, 8:32).

God is With You

The Lord God told Abram (Abraham) “I will bless you . . .” (Gen 12:2) and at first glance, we see that God made Abram a wealthy man with “livestock, silver, and gold” (13:2).  So much so that he and his nephew, Lot, had to part ways because the land could not support them both (v. 6). That’s a lot of blessing! But the real blessing of God is found a couple of pages over. “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Gen. 15:1). The greatest blessing God gave Abram was Himself.  The more I read the Bible the more I’ve discovered that the blessing God desires most to give us is the same.

To Moses, who questioned his ability to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, God said “I will be with you” (Ex 3:12). To Joshua, as he prepared to lead them into the Promised Land, “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God goes with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). To Gideon, “The Lord is with you mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). To the disciples Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). And when Paul was in prison, the Lord Jesus Himself “stood near” him and gave him strength (Acts 23:11). And Jesus promised that He was returning to heaven to “prepare a place for you . . . that you may always be where I am” (John 14:2-3). Forever.

But God’s presence is not just relegated to the past. Jesus promised His own Spirit would dwell in His followers so that His presence would never leave them (John 14:16-17).  That means when you accept Christ, you are given His Spirit at that very moment. The same God that was with Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, the disciples, and Paul is with you. In you. What you and I need now is an awareness of His presence. That’s my prayer for us both today, that we would be acutely sensitive to the Spirit, keenly attuned to His voice and His leading. The most comforting words in Scripture are not, “it’s all gonna be okay,” but “I am with you.”

Stuff I’ve Learned in My Life

I’ll admit, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. The running joke in my family was, “Dorcas is so dumb that . . .” and then add a punchline. I believed it for a long time. I’m sixty+ now, and I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Like, don’t try to sneak off at midnight on a bike with a leaky tire. Don’t get so caught up in an audiobook that you run a red light and T-bone another car. Don’t abuse credit cards. Don’t let your mom brush your hair when’s she mad. Don’t eat junk for forty years and think it won’t come back to haunt you. I’ve learned that true friends are the second rarest gems on earth. Grandchildren are the first. I’ve learned that wisdom usually comes with scars and kindness can change almost every situation. I’ve learned that being fulfilled is more valuable than a fat paycheck. Those are lessons I learned just living my life.

But the Bible has been my greatest teacher. Through Abraham, I learned to trust God even when His promises look impossible (Gen 15). I learned from Joshua’s story that God will never leave me nor forsake me (Josh 1:5) From Gideon – God sees me as the person He created me to be, not the loser I think I am (Jud 6). I found my calling in Ezra: to study the Word, obey the Word, and teach the Word (Ezra 7:10). I’ve learned to not judge others from Job, to confess my sins from David, and Daniel taught me to stand firm in my faith despite the whims of the world. Jonah taught me that I can’t run from God, and Zechariah told me where to look for the return of Christ (Zech 14:4).

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John told me about my greatest love, Jesus, who died to save me. Acts taught me the power of the Holy Spirit and Dorcas taught me the power of helping others (Acts 9). Peter taught me about forgiveness, Paul taught me about righteousness, and Mary taught me about humility. Revelation taught me that God wins.

Of all the things I’ve learned the one I most want to leave you with is this: God loves you. Yes, you. He loves you with an everlasting, never-failing, unshakable,  eternal, perfect, holy love. That, Beloved, is the most important thing you need to know.

Hebrews: The Disgrace of being a Christian

I became a Christian at nine years of age. I still remember sitting in the pew after I was baptized and feeling the water dripping from my hair and down my back. I remember standing in front of the church and receiving “the right hand of Christian fellowship.” One of my teachers hugged me in class on Monday and congratulated me on my decision for Christ. But for first-century believers, being a Christian was vastly different.

The writer of Hebrews said, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publically exposed to insult and persecution, at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated” (Hebrews 10:32-33). For a Jew to make a public profession of faith in Jesus was, at best, to open yourself to public ridicule and often worse. Many lost their employment or the community would cease doing business with them. Sons were disowned by their fathers and wives faced severe repercussions from their husbands, including beatings. They were stripped of their possessions, even their homes, and many were imprisoned just for taking hold of new life in Christ.

How did these early believers respond to such awful treatment? Better than I would have. “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property . . .” (v. 34a). They found Joy in the persecution they faced. Why on earth? Because they weren’t thinking about earth. “You knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (34b). They were thinking about heaven and eternity. They were thinking about what Peter called, “an inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:4).

They remind me of the apostles who, after being beaten by the Sanhedrin for preaching the name of Jesus, rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

I live in the US where the cost of being a Christ-follower is mild compared to the early Christians and to believers today in places where faith in Jesus is tantamount to a death sentence. We might get insulted on social media, and some factions are working through the liberal courts to shut down Christian businesses, but on the whole, being a Christian here is not a hardship. And maybe that’s the problem. But I am certain it’s coming. The cultural winds are shifting to the left and blowing in real hatred for God and His people. You and I need to be ready. It takes a firm faith and an eye to eternity to rejoice in the face of persecution. Beloved, are you willing to suffer disgrace for the Name?

When the Heat is On

A woman read in the Bible that God refines His people like silver and gold so she visited a silversmith and asked about the process of refining the precious elements. The smithy said he put the silver in a kettle and exposed it to extremely high heat that caused the dross, or impure elements, to rise to the surface where he could scoop it out. This process took intense heat and so she asked, “how do you keep from burning it?” The man replied, “I lean in very closely to the kettle and watch it carefully, using only as much heat as necessary until it is just as I want it.” She asked, “How do you know when it’s ready to be removed from the heat?” The smithy answered, “When I can see my reflection.”

You and I are called to be the reflection of Jesus Christ to the world and that image must be pure. God uses all sorts of “heat” – financial struggles, relational heartache, health problems, emotions, culture, rejection, persecution, consequences, and yes, often spiritual heat to bring the impurities in us to the surface where they can be removed. How do I know this? He’s been cooking some junk out of me for a while. Why would He do that to me? Because, like His friend Peter, some things in me need to be removed before God can use me for His Kingdom and His glory. Remember in Luke 22:31-32 how Jesus allowed His friend to be sifted by satan? He let His disciple go through the crucible of intense suffering to remove what was marring His image in Peter (Luke 22:54-62). Afterward, Peter became a mighty Apostle and preached the first Gospel message after Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:14-41. The Lord used a humble Peter mightily in the birth and growth of His church.

None of us welcome the seasons of suffering and pain in our lives but know that God is at work, purifying your faith and refining you to be His witness to the world. And you can be assured that in this time of intense heat, He is leaning in close and carefully watching over you, allowing just enough heat to accomplish His purpose – to see His Son reflected in you. And don’t forget that Jesus is praying for you (Luke 22:32). In the end you, Beloved, will come forth a beautiful vessel for His glory.

Hebrews: Church Leaders

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“So you want to do something in the church,” the Pastor said.

“Yes, sir!” the man answered.

“What do you think you want to do?”

“I don’t know. What do you have?”

“We could use some help in the youth department.”

“Hmm. Teenagers are not really my thing.”

“Okay, we need people to help with cleanup after Wednesday night suppers.”

“Oh. Well, I was thinking of something . . . more . . . I guess, more important.”

“Well, tell me what you have in mind then.”

“I want to be a deacon – you know, hand out the bulletins and take up the offering.”

“Being a deacon is much more than that, it’s a calling from God. Deacons are spiritual leaders in the church.”

“Yes! I can do that – I can be a leader.  Go call the rest of the guys to come lay hands on me!”

I may have embellished this conversation just a bit, but the truth is, a lot of people want to be leaders in the church. But leadership is not something to be taken on a whim; it is a holy responsibility and should be approached with reverence – and a calling. The author of Hebrews addressed “the laying on of hands,” as part of the ”elementary teachings” of the faith (6:2). This is a practice within the church of conferring a spiritual office on someone who has proven their call to leadership, usually as a pastor, elder, deacon, or other position of ministry.  It expresses the gravity of the role they are assuming in the church.

Paul warned Timothy to be careful in selecting leaders for the church in Ephesus. He counseled him not to appoint out of partiality or favoritism then added, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands,” (1 Timothy 5:21-22). Church leadership should never be handed out as favors and candidates for church leadership must prove their calling and fitness for service. You’ve probably seen the damage that can result from ungodly leaders – they can destroy a church and people’s lives.

What should we look for in a leader? The Bible gives us a great example in Acts 6 through Stephen who was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (v. 5), “full of God’s grace and power” (v. 8), and spiritual wisdom (v. 10). He knew the Scriptures well (I once had a deacon ask me where in the Bible is the story of the Little Drummer Boy). Stephen died defending the name of Christ. That’s a man who is called to serve the church. Beloved, we must be wise in choosing leaders and wise in whom we follow, lest they lead us right to the gates of hell.

Wherever God is . . . There is Life

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Since I was a little girl, I have known and loved the story of Dorcas in Acts 9:36-42 – for obvious reasons. This was “my story” because, in my childish mind, she was me. I loved to tell about Dorcas, a kind and generous woman who loved the Lord and loved people.

Dorcas’ story has become mine for more reasons than just a shared name. Dorcas was a seamstress and I have also done a good deal of sewing. She used her talent to benefit her neighbors, and I have also sewed to bless others. And Dorcas died and was restored to life through the prayers of Peter. “Now, wait a minute,” you may be saying, “you have never died.” Well, I haven’t in the literal sense of the word, but I have in other hard ways.

Dorcas died a physical death – I died emotionally and my very spirit became lifeless and gray. She was laid on a bed in an upstairs room. I have laid before the Lord in deepest pain and soul-rending anguish. When she died, Dorcas’ heart stopped beating and her breath ceased. I have had seasons of brokenness where my heart lay in shards and splinters around my feet and the simple act of drawing a breath was more than I could manage. Dorcas entered the darkness of death. I have been in the darkness of depression and despair – surrounded by the deepest hues of black.

But God restored Dorcas to life – and He has graciously restored me too. He heard my prayers and my cries and sat with me in the dark and gloom. His Spirit spoke life to my spirit. His tender mercies restored all the pieces of my heart and He breathed hope and peace into my lungs. He restored my soul. He brought light and He brought Joy.

This is for the one who feels dead in your soul today. You have cried an ocean of tears and you given up on ever feeling alive again. Beloved, please hear my words and my heart: God will restore you back to life. That is His specialty. Bringing life from death. Making broken hearts whole. Breathing hope and peace and joy into your soul. Bringing light into the darkness.

Please do not give up Beloved. I died. God restored my life. He will restore you too. I am living proof.

You’ve Been With Jesus!

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There’s a verse in Acts 4 that has been on my mind lately. It comes in the narrative of Peter and John before the religious leaders. They had been arrested and were being questioned by the ruling Jewish council. Luke said that these fishermen turned preachers astonished the learned and (self)righteous men and “they took note that these unschooled, ordinary men had been with Jesus” (v. 13). How do people know that you and I have “been with Jesus?”

This story says the council “saw the courage of Peter and John”  who had just boldly declared the name of Jesus of Nazareth before them. Boldness and courage were the tell-tale signs for the Lord’s disciples. You and I are going to need their boldness and courage in the days ahead. We get that when we spend time with Jesus.

Peace is also another way that others can see that we have been with Jesus. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). When you and I can face the challenges of life with peace others will notice. They will want to know how, and we can tell them, “I’ve been with Jesus, the peace-giver.”

Probably the most definite sign that we have been with Jesus is love. He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Love is the hallmark of those who have been with Jesus. You cannot be around divine love without it “rubbing off on you.” Love one another.

Then there is the story of the woman who anointed Jesus prior to His death. She came with her alabaster jar of perfume “which she poured on His head” (Matthew 26:7). As I meditated on this scene, it occurred to me – now Jesus smelled just like her and she smelled just like Him. She brought her love and worship to Him. He welcomed and received her fragrance – and her – and in return He shared with her His grace. She was there to pour out her worship on the Lord and when we worship Him, He joins with us and we share in His sweet fragrance.

That, Beloved, is how the world will know that we have been with Jesus.