In God’s Hands

Have you noticed that the Scriptures call us “sheep?” I’ve heard people say that sheep are dumb, and I don’t think that is entirely fair. Sheep just get focused on one thing – filling their bellies – and don’t pay attention to what they are doing or where they are going. A sheep will put his head down to graze and keep it down as he moves from one succulent tuft of grass to another. He doesn’t look up to see where he’s headed or how far he has gone from the shepherd or how close he is to the edge of a river bank. One more step and he is tumbling down, down, down, and into serious trouble. If the shepherd doesn’t find him soon he’ll fall prey to a predator and sheep are helpless in a fight.

If all this sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve wandered. Or maybe you know and love a wanderer. I’ve shared before that I have a prodigal – a wanderer. He grew up in the church and a godly home. But he’s grazing out in the world with his head down. I’ve prayed for him for many, many years: “God, please don’t let him fall away from You.” One morning the Spirit impressed on me to sing “He’s Got The Whole World in His Hands.” “Mama,” He said to my heart, “If I have room for the whole world in my hands then you can be sure my hands a big enough for him to roam far and wide without falling off.”

David said, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast” (Ps 139:7-10). Re-read that last sentence. Your right hand will hold me fast. God loves you too much to let you go. He loves your wanderer more than you do.

If you have wandered from the shepherd, just call out His name from wherever you are. He will leave the ninety-nine and come rescue you and bring you back to the flock. If you are praying for a wanderer, don’t give up. God’s got them, even while they roam. Jesus said the Father is not willing that any of his sheep should be lost (Matt 18:10-14). Beloved, He’s a big God with big hands.

Praying for My Prodigal

I found a word today in the Old Testament story of Elijah vs. the priests of Baal that spoke such comfort to me. If you are so inclined, read 1 Kings 18:16-40. The people thought they could worship both pagan gods and the God of heaven and earth. Elijah called Israel to return to exclusive worship of God. When the Lord God is in the house – or the heart – there is no room for another god. Elijah said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (v. 21).

Elijah proposed a showdown between good and evil – between the Lord God and Baal the pagan god of the people. Each would be given a bull to be sacrificed by fire, but the fire had to be produced by the deity. The priests of Baal prepared their bull and called on Baal from morning till evening. They danced and shouted and slashed themselves in hopes of rousing their god to action. “But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention” (v. 29). Because there was no one there.

Then Elijah repaired the altar of the Lord, dug a trench around it, prepared the bull for sacrifice, and commanded the people to drench the bull and the wood until both were saturated and water filled the trench. Then Elijah called on the Lord, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant . . . [and] that You O Lord, are God” (v. 36-37). And of course, God answered in a mighty way burning up the bull and the wood and drying up the water in the trench. There was no question anymore as to who was the one true God.

Here’s what jumped out at me. When Elijah called on the Lord he prayed that God would “turn their hearts back again” (v. 37). And He did. And that is the prayer of this Mama’s heart. I have a wandering prodigal. I know many of you do as well. The thing is he was raised in a godly home and in church and he even goes to church with his family on Sunday, but he is drawn to things that are not of God Monday – Saturday. I have prayed and pleaded with God for many years with many tears. But now, this is my simple prayer: “Lord, turn his heart back to You.” And I believe He will. Heavy-hearted Moms and Dads, Grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and friends; keep praying. Keep believing. Keep hoping. God is still in the business of turning hearts around. Watch for miracles up ahead.

When the Thunder Rolls

When my son was about five he was afraid of thunderstorms. Like every child, he wanted to be near his parents, where he felt safe; but he was at the age where he really wanted to be “a big boy.” He didn’t want to give in to his fears, but his fears were very real. I’ve been there, and I am sure you have as well.

I remember one night when a storm rolled in just as his dad and I were going to bed. I went to check on him, and He said, “I’m fine Mommy, I’m going to stay right here in my bed.” Okay, son – but I’ll come if you need me.” Another rumble of thunder and I heard a shaky voice say, “Mommy, I’m okay. ” “Okay, son – I am here if you need me.” The thunder crackled outside and lightning flashed through the sky. I heard, “Mommy, I’m just going to lay down here on the floor beside your bed.” “Okay son, I’m here if you need me.” Suddenly the sky lit up and a “BOOM!” rattled the windows. “Mommy, I’m comin’ up there!” And in just a few minutes, lying safely between his Dad and me, my son was fast asleep, even as the storm raged on.

Doesn’t life throw some awfully frightening storms our way? I know I’ve been in some harsh ones in the past few years. Where do we find peace when thunder crashes and lightning crackles and BOOMs rattle our lives? I go to my Father and His Word, especially the Psalms. Psalms is peppered with both pleas and praise for God’s protection during stormy seasons. God is called a “Shield” (Ps. 3:3, 5:12, 7:10,), a “Refuge and Stronghold” (Ps. 9:9), and a “Place of Shelter” (Ps. 55:8), just to name a few. David finds security “in the shadow of [God’s] wings” (Ps. 17:8). He expressed what I am sure my son felt as he drifted off that stormy night: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8).

Storms will come Beloved, but you don’t have to face them alone. You have a Shield, a Shelter, and a Refuge. When the thunder crashes over your life, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). There is peace and rest in the arms of your Father.

Hebrews: It’s in the Fruit

When my son was about Joy’s age he drove all over our backyard with his kid-sized toy car, brightly colored and “foot-powered.” It was his favorite plaything.  If it had an odometer, I am sure he would have logged a thousand miles in it. My brother enjoyed watching my son ride around in his little car.  But what he loved the most was to call out, “Troy, get out of your car like Mommy does!”  And Troy would shove the car door open, jump out and SLAM the door as he walked away.  My brother would be in hysterics, and my face would be red. I didn’t mean to give him that kind of example, but the pint-sized proof was right there.

The writer of Hebrews said, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the Word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” ((Heb 13:7). It brings to mind Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount when he warned against false prophets: “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matt 7:18, 16). By their fruit, you will know if this is someone to imitate or someone you need to guard against.

In Christendom, for every Billy Graham, there is a Josh Harris. Graham was one of the greatest evangelists in the modern era and led thousands to Christ through his crusades across the globe. Harris was a pastor and best-selling author who had a thriving ministry until he walked away from it all in 2019 and denounced His faith in Jesus. What does each man’s fruit say about his roots – and his heart?

My son proved a valid point for me and every minister and leader and teacher at every level in the church. We are not just supposed to be an example – we are an example, whether we intend to be or not. For the good or the bad. I want my life, my words, my actions, my goals, my investments, even my thoughts, and especially my unguarded reactions to be a godly example for others – especially my granddaughter – to imitate.

There are two points I want to make: First, Paul said “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). I need to guard my life and imitate Christ so that those who imitate me are following Him.  Second, check the fruit of those to whom you are looking as godly examples. Is it healthy or are you seeing spots of rot? Beloved, be wise. Be discerning. And above all, be like Jesus.

I Know That Voice

One morning Poppy and I took Joy out to breakfast, then to her favorite park. She was excited to see other children on the playground. She quickly made a few buddies and they were off to the races. Us old folks found a shady place to rest and watch her. I love watching children play. I love their delight at zooming down the slide and climbing high into the sky on the swings. I love to hear their squeals and laughter.  With so many kids talking and shouting and laughing you would think it would be difficult to tell when my kid was speaking, but as every parent and grandparent knows, you just know your child’s voice. Your ears are attuned to them. There were several “Nanas” on the playground that morning, but I knew when Joy called my name– even when she was on the other side of the lot because I was well familiar with her voice.

Isaiah 30: 21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” The most common lament I hear is “How do I know it’s God speaking?” That’s a good question, especially in this noisy world where everyone has a megaphone and an opinion. We know that the “still, small voice” Elijah heard came out of the whirlwind, the earthquake, and the fire (1 Ki 19:12). How can we know that voice?

The same way I know my granddaughter’s voice over all the other kids on the playground – familiarity. I spend time with her. I listen to her constant chatter. I can recognize her pitch and tone from a hundred paces.  You and I can know God’s voice when we spend time with Him in His Word, in prayer, and the fellowship of the Church.  You will not only recognize the pitch and tone of His voice, but you will recognize the content of His message. God will never speak anything contrary to Scripture. God’s voice is in His Word.

There’s one other important thing – to recognize God’s voice you have to have a personal relationship with Him. I didn’t know any other child on the playground, but I knew mine, and her voice rings in my heart. A personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ – who is The Word – is the first step to knowing His voice. And one more – obedience to what you’ve heard enables you to hear more. Priscilla Shirer says, “God doesn’t just speak to be heard, He speaks to be obeyed.”

Know God, personally. Spend time with Him and become familiar with His voice and message. Obey what He says. Beloved, are you willing to hear from God?

Hebrews: It’s for Your Own Good

My parents had very different approaches to discipline. Dad grounded me once for the rest of my life. I guess he didn’t notice that at some point I snuck out of the house, got married, and lived my own life. Mom, however, did not play so loosely with me. She grounded me once for two weeks and I was stuck at home with no t.v. until I had served my time – to the minute. Yep, she wrote it down and held me to it. Dad disciplined in anger, and once his anger had passed, he stopped paying attention. Mom disciplined with a purpose, to teach me that I had best plan to make it home by curfew.

The writer of Hebrews said that, as hard as it may be, God, too, disciples with a purpose. We touched on verse 10 last time: “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.” Verse 11 says that God’s discipline “produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.” So God’s purposes are holiness, peace, and righteousness. But look at one other thing in verse 11 – these are benefits “for those who have been trained by it.” My Dad’s discipline was reactionary, Mom’s discipline was to train me to pay attention to the clock. God’s discipline is a training ground.

Now you can look at me and see that I’m not into physical training, but I sure need to be. I need to develop the discipline of exercise and better eating habits so that I enjoy the benefits of more energy and strength.  But I’m flabby and out of shape. The writer has a word for me: “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees” (v. 12). Now we know he is not talking about the physical but the spiritual. This comes as Isaiah is prophesying the Babylonian captivity for the nation of Judah. The first part of this book is warnings and woes, but then the tone changes as God promises comfort and restoration. And Joy. He declares to the fearful and weary captives, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come . . . He will come to save you” (Is 35:4).

So as we’re lifting weights let’s lift high the name of Jesus. While we’re running in place on the treadmill, let’s run away from temptation. When we exercise to strengthen our core, we need to also “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (Eph 6:10). The benefits of God’s discipline are worth all the sweat and strain. As my Mom would say – this is for your own good Beloved – and also for God’s glory.

Hebrews: Daddy’s Hands

Parents aren’t supposed to play favorites with their children, but sometimes they do.  Just ask Esau or all of Joseph’s brothers. Or me. My Dad’s favorites were my two older brothers. They loved to tinker on cars just like he did. My Mom’s favorite was my younger brother. He was sick a lot as a kid and so she was closer to him. I always felt like nobody’s kid.  Until God told me His special name for me in Luke 8:48.

Before we dig in, please grab your Bible and read Hebrews 12:5-10. The heart of this passage is the believer’s position as a child of God. How do you know that you are God’s child? The writer said we know it because He disciplines us. In the first-century world, it was common for men to have wives and concubines and to father children with both. But they did not involve themselves in the lives of the children of the concubines. These were illegitimate children and they were on their own as far as their “father” was concerned. He did not take any responsibility for their care or discipline. It’s not unlike our culture today, is it?

Good fathers discipline their children. They don’t berate and abuse their children but they also don’t let them run amuck, getting into all kinds of trouble and danger. Good fathers guard and guide their children. They teach them the right way and then redirect them when they get off track. Good fathers pay attention to their children and notice when they need help or correction. (Dad – put down your cell phone/game controller/remote control!)

Discipline involves both training and punishment. A good father will use both, in the correct measures. Paul reminded fathers to “not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Now, this is not a parenting devotional – I am far, far from the expert on raising kids. I want you to see how God “parents” us – His children. He follows the counsel He gave to Paul – He uses correction as well as positive reinforcement. And sometimes, the writer says He has to use punishment. Because He loves us too much to let us run headlong into self-destruction.

The goal of a good father is to raise mature, healthy, responsible children. The goal of our Heavenly Father is to raise children who reflect His Son (Rom 8:29) and share in His holiness ( v. 10). How does our Father know when He has succeeded? When He can say, “I have no greater Joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 Jn 4).

The Father’s Love

“But his father saw him . . . and he ran to his son (Luke 15:17)

I recently read again the parable of the Lost Son from Luke 15.  You know this kid; he took his Daddy’s money and ran to the big city to waste it on wine, women, and song. When the money ran out, he decided to head back home. You could probably name all the sermon points. But there are some details in this story that often get missed. Let me put this in its bigger context. In the culture of the middle-eastern, first-century world, the son’s request was shocking and rebellious and revealed a lack of love for the father. When the son asked for his share of the inheritance, he was, in essence, telling his father, “I wish you were dead.” He wanted his money and the old man was standing in his way. The father gave the son what he wanted and allowed him to go on his merry way – no doubt brokenhearted as he envisioned the life his son was running toward.

Fast-forward to a hungry, humbled young man shuffling his way back on the road that led home. Here is the beautiful part of this story. When the father saw the boy, “a long way off,” he ran to him. In order to run, the father would have had to lift the skirt of his tunic and robe and tuck them into his belt, exposing his legs. This was just as shocking as the son’s request. Elderly middle-eastern men did not undignify themselves in this way unless it was of the greatest urgency – a matter of life and death. And it was. The son’s return would also be noticed by the townspeople and they would follow the Levitical law which commanded that a rebellious son be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). The father humiliated himself to save his son’s life.

Now, do you see the heart of your heavenly Father? Knowing the punishment due you for your sins, He sent His own Son to be humiliated, stripped, beaten, and killed to save you. Beloved, if you’ve turned away from God and run after the world your story isn’t done. Your Father is scanning the horizon for you, to bring you back to Himself. He loves you, no matter what you’ve done. Won’t you come home to God?

This Little Light of Mine

The power went out at our house for five hours during a very strong storm last week. We immediately started grabbing flashlights. There’s something about darkness that is unnerving. Maybe because the Bible equates darkness with sin and evil and emptiness. Before God created all that exists, there was only darkness (Gen 1:2); the first thing He did was call forth light (v. 3-4). But He didn’t create the sun and moon and stars until day four (v. 14-19). So where did that first light come from? From Himself. It was His light breaking through the dark, empty void.

When men were lost in darkness and sin, and could no longer see the light of God, He brought His light down to us. John said that Jesus, the very Son of God, is “the true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9). John also said, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it” (1:5). When we turned on the flashlights and lanterns the darkness dissipated. It was driven away because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. Wherever light shines, darkness cannot exist.

The same is true spiritually. Consider this – Jesus declared that He is “the light of the world.” He added, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Did you catch that – “will never walk in darkness?” That is both a hopeful promise and a statement of character. Jesus brought the light of God so that we won’t stumble in darkness and sin. But John also said, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth” (1 John 1:6). Simply put – Christ-followers WON’T walk in darkness. And if we do we should recheck the validity of our claim. If we have the light of Christ, there should be no place for darkness in our lives.

Paul says that we are “sons [and daughters] of the light . . . We do not belong to the darkness” (1 Thess 5:5). We belong to Christ. Darkness and all it implies have no authority over the believer. Our testimony in the world is the light of Christ. Jesus said that now “we are the light of the world” (John 5:14). That means that you, Beloved, need to let your little light shine.

Just Obey

Joy has a fascination with our cat. Celina does not share the same feelings. She chases her, picks her up, and totes her around the house. All the while we are telling her to “Put that cat down!” It’s not that Joy doesn’t know she shouldn’t aggravate the cat. She has been told countless times to leave her alone. She has sat in her time-out chair multiple times and has taken a couple of swats to the behind over it. And she’s gotten a few scratches from said cat. She knows very well that she is not to harass the cat but she is determined to do it anyway. Joy has trouble obeying.

She is one small example of the human race. Paul said you and I know the reality of God. “What may be known about God is plain to them, because has made it plain to them” (Rom 1:19). And we know God’s law. It has been written on every person’s heart (Rom 2:15). We know what sin is; we are without excuse (Rom 1:20). We know that sin brings death (Rom 6:23). And yet we disobey. And we do so with pride. Why? Because like Joy, we want what we want and we will break every commandment on our way to get it. And we will pay the price for it.

There is a better way, you know. Just obey God’s Word. The Psalmist said, “I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands” (Psalm 119:60). When God handed down the law through Moses he didn’t say, “Here are ten suggestions for a happy life,” He said, “These are my commandments,” meaning they are not optional. Writer and speaker Priscilla Shirer said, “God doesn’t speak to be heard, He speaks to be obeyed.” Believe me, I am preaching to myself here. I know God’s law – I’ve studied it for many years, yet I still have trouble obeying at times. Like Paul, I know what is right, but I still do what is wrong (Rom 7:15-23). And if you’re honest, you will admit the same. There is great blessing in obedience. The Psalmist said, “I run in the path of your commands, for You have set my heart free” (Ps 119:32). Peace. Joy. Freedom. Beloved, let’s walk the path of obedience together.