Give Careful Thought

I love deep Bible study, taking verses one at a time, researching the words and context, and mining for treasure. I’m in a writing group that is working through the biblical text in small sections to allow us to notice every word. The insight we’ve gained and shared is remarkable. But there is also a lot to be said for taking on bigger chunks of Scripture. Like the little book of Haggai. Grab your Bible first and read this book in its entirety – it’s only two chapters and 38 verses – then come back.

Haggai is set in post-Babylonian captivity. When the Hebrew people returned to Jerusalem they set to work first rebuilding the city walls (see Nehemiah), then began restoring the Temple – the house of the Lord (Ezra 1:2-6). But they faced opposition from their enemies and struggled with their own issues and needs. They were also discouraged because the new structure was much smaller than the original Temple built by King Solomon. Eventually, lethargy, disappointment, and interference brought the work to a halt. The Jews turned their focus from God’s house to build their own homes.

Enter the prophet Haggai to proclaim God’s message of gentle chastisement and strong encouragement. I found one phrase five times in this little book: “Give careful thought” (1:5,7; 2:15,18 twice). Guess what that means (you’ve heard it from me before)? “Pay attention.” He said, “You plant much, but harvest little,” (1:6). “You earn wages, and it falls through the holes in your purse” (v. 6). “You expect much, but it turns out to be little,” (v. 9). “What you bring home I blow away” (v. 9). Why? In their depressed state, they gave up on the work of the Lord.

Now, I’m not some great theologian or prophet, but I think it’s pretty clear that the church today needs to “give careful thought.” Our ministry efforts are failing. Evangelism is ineffective. Teaching and preaching are weak. Why? Because the attacks of the enemy and the culture have discouraged God’s people and we have turned our attention back on ourselves. And we’re focused on our own issues and needs. Like the Jews, we’re sitting at home licking our wounds while the church goes lacking.

But, God says when we give careful thought to our ways, when we make His priorities our priorities, when we humble ourselves under His authority, He “will grant peace in this place” and He “will bless you – from this day on” (2:9, 19). The Lord is calling His people back to Himself. Beloved, it’s time to put down the phone, turn off the t.v., and pay attention.

Hebrews: The Pastor/Shepherd

I spent much of my career serving in administrative roles in churches. I’ve seen churches and pastors with wonderful relationships and I’ve seen churches and pastors with unpleasant relationships. Rarely was the problem with the pastor. Most often the tension arose from within the church and usually involved a handful of people and a power struggle.  The author of Hebrews said, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a Joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb 13:17). He was writing about the structure of the church. He was calling the Body of Christ to proper order starting with submission to the leadership.

All through the Bible – particularly the New Testament – God lays out a hierarchy. In the home wives and children submit to the husband and father. In the church, members submit to the pastor/elder whom God had placed over them. The pastor/elder submits to Jesus Christ, the head of the church (Eph 1:22-23). Scripture also says that Christ submits to His head, which is God (1 Cor 11:3).

The godly pastor/elder serves the church by caring for and about its members. The Bible called church leaders “shepherds” over a flock of sheep. A shepherd’s priority is no how much the animals will bring at the market but the well-being of the flock under his care. The same is true of the shepherd of God’s flock. He provides for the sheep. He comforts the sheep. He guides the sheep. He walks beside the sheep through dark valleys. He sets the righteous of God always before them. He fights the enemy on their behalf, prepares them for serving, and blesses them in the name of the Lord. (Reference Psalm 23). He warns the sheep of danger. He even points out their sinful and self-destructive ways. And, the writer says, the Lord who appointed him holds him accountable for how he tends the sheep under his care.

A submissive church is a Joy to her pastor. Barna recently reported that 42 percent of pastors are considering leaving their ministry. The pressures and demands and struggles of pastoring often outweigh the benefits. As church members, you and I play a big part in whether the Pastor’s work is a Joy or a burden. This verse says submission and obedience make the relationship work for everyone. Beloved, will you be a blessing to your Pastor?

Hebrews: The Hands and Feet of Jesus

Photo Credit: Ashley Andrews

Now that the Advent season is done, it’s time to finish up our study of Hebrews. We’re in the last half of the final chapter. Since we’ve been away a while, let’s review a little. Hebrews was written to Jewish believers who were under tremendous persecution to abandon their faith in Jesus Christ. The writer wanted to encourage them to stay true to the Lord. He showed them how Jesus was superior to every aspect of Judaism because He is the Son of God and equal in divine power and authority. Yet Jesus was also a man who suffered for the sins of humanity and fulfilled the demands of the Mosaic Law.

He also used the example of the heroes of Jewish history to prove that faith, not adherence to rules, made them righteous before God. He encouraged them to persevere despite their suffering because suffering was God’s tool for perfecting His children. Here at the end of his message, the writer exhorted his readers to live in a community of love, purity, contentment, faithfulness, diligence, and praise.

So we pick up where we left off with a good word in verse 16: “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” For the past month, my church family has lived out this verse. You may be aware that, in September, my son and his family – including my granddaughter Joy, moved from our home to live with other family several hours away.  You may not know that they came back to us at the end of November. It has been a sweet reunion, but it’s also been difficult financially. We’re trying to stretch our very meager income to cover all five of us until my son goes to basic training for the Army National Guard in a few weeks. And in all that to give Joy a good Christmas.

Our church family and friends have exemplified our focal verse. They have stepped in and blessed us incredibly with food, funds, and so many gifts for Joy that we can’t stop shaking our heads in amazement. There is no doubt that God is well-pleased with their generosity and love. And here’s the amazing part – we didn’t tell anyone that we were struggling. But God did. And they listened and acted on it.

Jesus said whatever you do for the least of His brothers, “you [do] for me” (Matt 25:40). Somebody has a need that you can meet. Beloved, will you bless them – and Him – today?

The Chasm

As this year comes to a close, I find myself wondering how much longer the human race can survive. With wars and violence and hatred and abuse all across the globe, and the rise of sexual perversion taking firm root in the culture. It seems we’ve turned right and wrong upside-down. But if you study the Bible you are not completely shocked. Isaiah prophesied a day when evil will be called good and good evil (Is 5:20).  Unless you’re living under a rock, you know we’re there – even in the church. Paul warned “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4:3). We’ve seen this sad reality as every kind of sin has been welcomed and celebrated by the “church” in recent years. But where the line between “right and wrong” has been so blurred, it must become more clearly defined. The fence is getting to hot to sit on much longer.

Scripture tells us that the chasm between the people of God and the people of wickedness will get wider as the day draws near. And how does a chasm grow? Quakes and tremors deep in the earth. The same is true for the church. We are experiencing the “birth pains” of that chasm growing as faithful Christians are separating themselves from those on the side of wickedness. Again, if you know the Scriptures, you are not surprised. Daniel 12:10 says – “Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked.” And Jesus said, “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” (Rev. 22:11).

So what does that mean for you and me? We are the church. We are the Body of Christ. We must make a stand for what is right and true – but it must come from the conviction of our own hearts. It’s not enough to rant about the sin in the church or the world if we’re not ready to confess the sin in our lives.  Beloved, you and I must separate ourselves from sin and wickedness. The quakes and tremors have to start here. May we be a generation of faithful, holy people.

Roots and Fruits

 

I spent most of my growing-up years on the move. As a military family, we picked up stakes and set up “home” somewhere new every few years. From Texas (my birthplace) to Okinawa, Georgia, Alabama, Germany, and back to Alabama again where my Mom said “Done.” I look back on those years with fondness now, but as a kid, I just wanted to settle down somewhere and stay. I wanted to put down roots.

As an adult, I look back over my life and see the seasons when I wandered away from God; those times I thought I could manage my life better on my own. I made some very foolish moves to get away from the structure of church and “rules.” I didn’t want roots. I wanted the freedom to do “my thing” and make my own decisions. But I wasn’t really free. I was just running like a grown-up lost girl. I am so thankful that Jesus came on a mission from the Father to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

And when He found me, do you know what He did? He gave me roots – not in a place or even necessarily in a church (though I love my church family) – He gave me roots in Him. Roots that are strong and fixed in the rich soil of His love. Roots that hold firm when the storms of life blow through. Roots that draw deeply from His Holy Spirit. Roots that produce. Isaiah declared “[You will] take root below and bear fruit above” (2 Ki 19:30). What’s amazing is those deep, strong roots go with me wherever He may lead.

Beloved, Jesus came to give you an abundant life (John 10:10), a life that is meaningful, rich, and rewarding.  Deep roots make luscious fruit. Come settle your soul in Him.

Advent 2022: Why December 25th?

Did you know that the early church did not celebrate Christmas? The church’s testimony about Christ was completely centered on the resurrection. Church officials decided that the birth of Jesus should have equal emphasis with his resurrection. Pope Julius I picked the date in 350 AD, and it was formalized in 529 AD, when Roman Emperor Justinian declared Christmas to be a civic holiday. December 25th was borrowed from secular festivities as the designated day for celebrating. Both the Pope and the Emperor liked this date because it coincided with the pagan festivals celebrating the winter solstice, which dated back centuries. Combining Christmas with these ancient celebrations allowed the church to keep the winter holiday tradition while refocusing the party on the “new” religion of Christianity. It was a grand gesture, but the pagan influences of the holiday, unfortunately, stayed with it. Through the years the church has alternately banned and embraced Christmas as celebrations became more about feasts and parties and selfish behavior and less about the Christ Child. Yet Christians continually talk about “getting back to the real reason for the season.”

The truth is, we really don’t know the date of Jesus’ birth. At least not on a calendar. But the Scriptures do tell us exactly when the Child came. Galatians 4:4 says, “When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman.” I find so much comfort in that. The Bible is chock-full of references to time, from the record of Creation to “the day [when] His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives.” God actually does have a calendar of sorts – a divine calendar – and all of human history flows according to the plans He made before the creation of the world. Everything will happen “when the time has fully come.”

I hope you take that personally. Because the same God who established the universe’s timeline has your name on His calendar too. He is moving in your life according to His purpose and design. He is making things and people and events come together just as He planned. Beloved, your life is not some crazy quilt with pieces of all shapes, sizes, and colors haphazardly sewn together. It is a work of beauty, precision, and exactness, stitched firmly together with blood-red cords. Every moment of your life has been leading up to the magnificent finished project that will be revealed, “when the time has fully come.”

The point is not to know when He came, but to know that He came and why He came. To set you free from your bondage of sin and to give you eternal life. So feel free to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th with joy and thanksgiving for God’s perfect, divine plan. And remember that He’s an “on-time” God. It won’t be a second late. Nor will it be a second early. It will be “when the time has fully come.”

Give Thanks

On this Thanksgiving Day I am drawn to 1 Chronicles 16:41: “With them were  . . . those chosen and designated by name to give thanks to the Lord, ‘for His love endures forever.’” Let me set the scene for you.  The Ark of the Covenant, the one element of the tabernacle that was God’s special seat, had been captured by Israel’s enemy, the Philistines.  David set out to bring the Ark home, and the people and their king were ecstatic. They celebrated the return of the Ark with sacrifices, offerings, praise, and joyful thanks. David crafted a beautiful Psalm of Thanks, which I encourage you to read in its entirety (1 Chronicles 16:7-36).

After the Ark was securely in its place in the tabernacle, David chose a group of priests to minister daily before the Lord, “To present burnt offerings . . . morning and evening, in accordance with . . .the Law” (v. 40). That was a crucial position in the spiritual life of the nation. But look again at verse 41.  Do you see that there were specific priests who were “chosen…to give thanks to the Lord”?  Their sole responsibility was to express gratitude to the Lord who was again dwelling among His people. They led the Israelites in exclamations of thanks with trumpets and cymbals and sacred songs. Theirs was a sacred responsibility.

Did you know that you and I are chosen by God to be His royal priests?  Peter said, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Pet 2:9). Jesus has provided the sacrifice, so the only priestly duty that is left is thanksgiving.  We have been chosen to lead our families, churches, communities, and nations in gratitude to the God who created us, sustains us, provides for us, and, most importantly, saved us.  We have been chosen to be thankful people. In the days of King David, the Ark was the assurance of God’s presence with His people, and they were grateful for His return. Today we have God’s presence in the indwelling Holy Spirit – and no one can take Him away. He will always be with us. And one day we will forever be with Him. Now that, Beloved, is something to be thankful for.

Fruit Inspection

Steel-toe boot warning.

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious . . .” (Galatians 5:19).
If you claim to be a Christian, but you indulge in porn, I question your claim. If you profess to be a Christian, but profanity spews out of your mouth, I’m going to doubt you. If you tell me you’re a Christian, but you’re unfaithful to your spouse (either in act or desire), I find it hard to believe you. If you can sing the old hymns or the latest Christian songs, but you lie and deceive, your songs also lie. If you are sexually immoral, your choices defy your profession. If you go to church on Sunday morning and are yelling at everyone in your house by Sunday evening, I wonder why you bother to go to church at all. If money is your passion and you step on others to climb the ladder, your actions – not your claims – tell the truth about you.


If you claim to be a Christian and you are kind and patient with your elderly, grouchy neighbor, I will tend to believe you. If you say you are a Christian and you turn away from temptation, I’m more apt to agree. If you go to church on Sunday morning and are still full of joy on Thursday, if moral goodness marks your life, if you’re gentle when speaking to your children, if you bring peace instead of strife wherever you go, if you are loving and faithful to your spouse – I will trust you and I will trust what you say about this Jesus you claim to follow. Paul said our actions reveal our true nature. We either confirm or refute our testimony by how we live.

I am not judging anyone – But Jesus did say, “By their fruit, you will recognize them” (Matt 7:16). I’m just inspecting fruit. And yes, I see some bad apples in my own life. So what do I do about them? Do I determine to act better? Grit my teeth and be nicer?  No, this is not about behavior modification, this is about your heart. Jesus also said, “The good man [or woman] brings good things out of the good stored up in him”( Matt 12:35). A good heart – a heart that is set on Christ – is full of good fruit. A bad heart – a heart that is set on the world, self, or pleasure – is full of rotten fruit.

Paul said that “those who live like this [the first paragraph] will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21).  In other words, there won’t be any rotten fruit in heaven. Check your fruit, Beloved. What is true about your life? What is true about your heart? 

Hebrews: “Strange Teachings”

Was Jesus some kind of space alien? Is there really power in sacred underwear? Check out my latest devotional in the series: "Hebrews: Strange Teachings" at Deeper Roots.

If ever there was a word for the church today, I believe this is it: “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” (Heb 13:9). The writer was referring specifically to dietary regulations to which the Jews strictly held. “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (Col 2:21). Paul had adamantly preached that “Food does not bring us near to God” (1 Cor 8:8).  Nor did food make them unclean before God. Our writer went on to say, “It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them” v. 9). Jewish believers were torn between trusting in their ability to obey all the rules and trusting in the grace of God through Jesus Christ. That’s so foreign to us in the twenty-first century in the west.

But boy, do we have some weird stuff of our own in the world today – and sadly in the church too. Google “strange religious teachings” and you’ll see all sorts of things from snake handling to sacred underwear that protects believers from spiritual contamination, fire and speeding bullets. You’ll see the prosperity gospel, the humanitarian gospel, the social gospel, the gay gospel, and the feminist gospel – none of which resemble the true gospel at all. You’ll find Bibles that are gender-neutral and exclude certain portions of clear truth so as not to offend. There are so many different religions in the world, it’s impossible to keep up. And so many blatantly unbiblical teachings expressed on social media, published in “Christian” books and “Bible” study resources, and even preached from pulpits.

Is there any doubt that we are the generation of which Paul spoke when He warned Timothy, “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4).  The church today resembles what he called: “infants tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14). That is why way back in chapter 6 he said, “Let us leave the elementary teaching about Christ and go on to maturity” (v. 1) – which is a very nice way of saying “GROW UP!”

Strange teachings, whether about dietary regulations, Kabbalah, or sacred underwear, will always grab those who prefer to be spoon-fed. If all you know about the Scriptures is what you’re told, how can you know you’re being told the truth?  That’s why personal Bible study is like oxygen to a Christian. I love teaching you, Beloved, but I want you to dig into the Word for yourself. Then we can have some incredible conversations over a cup of coffee and the Words of Life we both love.

Seeking Jesus

“Why are you here?” I asked my class asked one Sunday morning. After a minute someone said, “Because it’s Sunday morning and I’ve gone to church every Sunday for my whole life.” Another answered, “I am here for the fellowship of my church family.” Others chimed in: “I’m here because the Bible said ‘Forsake not the assembling of your selves together.’” “I am here to be fed in my spirit.”

I recalled this conversation while reading John 6. Jesus confronted the crowd that followed Him after He had fed more than five thousand people the day before (John 6:1-13). When they came looking for Him Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill” (v. 26).

Now verse 2 said that the people “saw” the miraculous signs He had performed.” So what did Jesus mean? Here’s where the Spirit stirred up the word nerd in me and said, “Saw?” The word used in verse 2 is to see as a spectator, to view with the eyes. But the word that John used in verse 26 means to discern clearly, to behold – to experience. It’s like the difference between watching a football game from the stands and playing it on the field. You can be a fan, but until you put the pads on and take the hits and cross the goalline with the ball in your hand you haven’t experienced the game. The crowd has seen with their eyes the miracles of Jesus – healing the sick and feeding the multitudes – but they did not understand what the signs were pointing to because they did not see them with their hearts. They were fans, but they hadn’t experienced Jesus.

The Lord said they were back because He fed their bellies and they expected more of the same, but if they had looked with faith – if they had experienced Him – they would know Him. They would follow Him because He is the very Son of God and the only means to eternal life.

You and I need to seek Christ for who He is, not just for what he can do for us – to know Him for the Joy of His presence, and not only for His presents. I can find nowhere in Scripture that God says, “I want You to know all I can do for you.” But I lost count after 200 times that I read “That you may know Me…” In knowing God, we discover what He can do, but if we are only seeking Him for what we can gain we have missed the whole point of the relationship.

Beloved, why are you seeking Jesus?