Jesus and John Lennon

The Beatles sang it in the mid-’60s and it is the mantra of our culture today: “All you need is love, love, love.” In a world of mass shootings, child abuse, hatred, racism, and war, love is the only antidote. And the Bible agrees. The problem is our definitions of love. John Lennon’s lyrics are empty. He called for love but said nothing about how to love. The culture deems love as permissiveness and approval to indulge in every kind of earthly attraction. But is that truly love?

In a sense the Beatles and the culture are right. Jesus said that the second most important commandment, after loving God, is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). But what does that look like? Whose meaning is right?  I believe the Author of love is the best one to define it.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves” (Rom 12:10).

“Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13).

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you” (Eph 4:32).

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19).

“Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another (Col 5:13).

 “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16)

“Love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

Does that look like the kind of love the culture is touting? Do you see that in Lennon’s lyrics? No and no. But can you imagine how this love would change the world? How about just your family? Love is much more than an ethereal notion. It is practical. It has substance. It has hands and feet. It has a voice. Your hands and feet. Your voice. And mine. Truly, all we need is love – love for God and love for one another. Yes, John, you were right – love is all we need.

When Misery Becomes Ministry

“Lord, why do I have to go through this? It is awful. It is painful. It is scary. Why?” Ever thought that? Yeah, me too. More than once. And recently. I’ve also wiped tears from someone’s face who said much the same. The question looms large in our minds: “Is there a purpose for all this pain?” Let me encourage you friend – I believe there is. Paul put it this way, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor 1:3-4).

Alcoholics Anonymous understands that a recovering alcoholic is uniquely qualified to help another find sobriety. Bosom Buddies brings a breast cancer survivor alongside one who is newly diagnosed. I have a dear friend who has a powerful ministry to post-abortive women because she made that same choice years ago. Because of my past experiences, I can sit across the table from a someone dealing with childhood bullying, sexual abuse, divorce, rejection, ridicule, depression, self-esteem issues, financial failure, a wayward child, uncertainty, and the fallout of their own sinful and foolish choices and say, “Been there, done that, and let me tell you how God got me through it.”

Paul continued his thought saying: “For just as the suffering of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows” ( 2 Cor 1:5). It’s like that old game of “Barrel of Monkeys,” where you link the arms of plastic monkeys to see how many you can pull out of the barrel in a conjoined string. All these things I’ve been through make me uniquely qualified to link arms with another and help them out of the barrel. In the end, we hopefully become a long string of survivors pulling more and more people out of despair, depression, and hopelessness.

One thing of which I am certain to the marrow of my bones: God wants to take your misery and turn it into ministry. He wants to use you and your story and your scars to speak hope and life into another suffering soul. You can sit and stew in your pain or you can help Him pull monkeys out of the barrel. Beloved, which will it be?

Bought Lessons

If you’ve read my devotionals for very long, you’ve heard me quote my Mom who used to say “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.” It is the most profound thing she ever told me and I have the scars to prove that she was right. I’ve done some very foolish things in my life that I will never, ever do again. Her mantra reminds me of Psalm 119:67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word.”

One lesson I bought is that when I ignore the Word of God I will wind up in trouble. Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27. He said the wise man built his house on the rock and the foolish man built on the sand. The wise builder illustrated a person who built his life on obedience to Jesus’ words. No storm could destroy the house built on the rock, and no storm can destroy the person who builds their life on – not just by reading the Bible – but by putting its teachings and principles into practice. Knowing and obeying the Bible can save us so much trouble and heartache in life.

But I’ve also learned a gentler lesson: God doesn’t give up on us just because we messed up. He won’t write you off, wash His hands of me or turn away from us because we stumble. All through the Bible God tells us that He is patient, forgiving, compassionate, merciful, and full of grace. He loves you, even when your knees are bloody because you fell. He loves me, even when I am covered in the muck of my own choices. Jesus died so you and I can be forgiven, so we could have a second chance at life.

Have you made a mistake somewhere along the way? Have you run in the wrong direction, played with the wrong people, touched something that left you in pain? Take heart, Beloved, God has not given up on you. Take this affliction, this difficulty, and the pain it has caused and place it before your loving Heavenly Father. Then put your hand in the nail-scarred hand of Jesus and start walking, a little wiser, in the right direction.

You Matter

I am just a middle-aged (moving closer to senior-adult) woman from a small community in the deep south. I live a simple life. We rent a good house – but nothing fancy. I go to work every day at a small Southern Baptist college in a small town in Florida. I drive a very modest car. I’m married to a sweet, kind man. We help to raise our granddaughter. I love to write but I haven’t published any books.  I teach the Bible to my Sunday School ladies, but I’ve never stood on a stage. I’m not well-known and that’s okay with me. I am one face among the billions of faces in the world. And I have lots of struggles and hard situations in my life.

This morning as I was reading Isaiah 40, I came to this verse: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (v. 26). I sensed the Lord saying, “I don’t miss anything.” That’s when I realized that as insignificant as I am in the world, God hasn’t overlooked me. The Creator and King of the universe is not only aware that I exist, He cares about me and the difficulties I face. And do you want to hear something amazing? The same thing is true for you. You and I are not just part of the vast sea of humanity to God.

The Bible says that “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son . . . to save the world” (John 3:16, 17). But He is also a very personal God; He who knows the name of every star knows your name too.  Jesus attested to that; He is the Great Shepherd who “calls His sheep by name” (John 10:3). Maybe you feel small and insignificant today like no one notices or cares about you. I understand. I feel that way sometimes too. But nothing could be farther from the truth, Beloved. You are seen and you are known. And you matter. Greatly. You need not worry that you are just a face in the crowd – God never overlooks the one He loves.

Who are You Praying For?

We know that praying for others can make a big difference in someone’s life. James said, “The fervent prayer of a righteous man [or woman or parent or grandparent or sibling or friend or – well you get the idea] is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). But sometimes we struggle to know how to pray. We feel the weight of the need but just don’t know where to start.  That’s when I turn to the Bible.  When I pray for someone, I like to use prayers from the Scriptures, for they are God’s own words and we know that His word “ will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire, and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Paul’s letters are always a good source for prayers, and Ephesians is a gold mine of inspiration.

For someone who is struggling with a difficult situation, I pray that they “May be given the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, and the eyes of their heart may be opened so that they may know the hope to which You have called them” (Ephesians 1:17-18).

For someone who is depressed and discouraged I pray that they “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 they may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-18). (I also pray this one over my granddaughter every day.)

For one who has wandered from God, I pray that they may “Live a life worthy of the calling they have received and be completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with others in love and making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

But sometimes we don’t even know the need – how do we pray then?  I borrow from Lazarus sisters’ prayer in John 11:3: “Lord the one You love needs You.” He has the wisdom to understand the need, the heart to care about the need, and the power to meet the need. Remember the friends who lowered the paralytic through a roof to Jesus (Luke 5:17-26)? That’s what we’re doing when we pray for others. Beloved, who can you bring to Jesus today?

Bear One Another’s Burdens

A few years ago my family was riding in the car together. My husband and son were in the front seats and I was in the back. I overheard this conversation:

Son: That truck’s tires are really low.

Dad: Well, he’s carrying a load of bricks in the back.

Son: Oh, I saw the tire, but I didn’t notice the load.

How many times do you and I notice when someone is “low” but never notice the load they are carrying?

I thought of the Israelites in their first battle on the way to the Promised Land from Egypt. Moses told Joshua to pull an army together and fight the Amalekites, while he stood atop the mountain and held “the staff of God” high above his head as a sign to the Israelite army that God was on their side. Now if you’ve ever tried to hold anything over your head for very long you understand how tiring that can be, and Moses was no exception. As long as he kept the staff raised high, the Israelite army had the advantage in the battle. When he got tired and dropped his weary arms, the tide of the battle turned and the Amalekites got the upper hand. No one else could hold up the staff – it was Moses’ God-given responsibility. But others could help him bear his burden, and a rock was placed behind him so he could sit down and “Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his arms remained steady till sunset” (Exodus 17:12). The result? “So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (v. 13). Joshua fought the battle, Moses held the staff, and Aaron and Hur held Moses’ arms till the enemy was defeated.

That is how the church works when it is at its best – holding one another up till the battle is over and Christ has claimed the victory. Sometimes you’re the one in the battle. Sometimes you’re the voice of encouragement to the weary warrior. Sometimes you’re the practical helper who keeps everyone else going. Everyone is crucial – every task is vital.  Do you know someone who is carrying a heavy load?  Find your place in the battle, Beloved, and “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). What is the Law of Christ? “Love one another” (John 15:17).  

Pointing Fingers

I’m studying Job in two groups right now – I am sure by God’s provident timing. In the first two chapters of Job, satan comes before the Lord twice to give an account of what he’s been up to. I have a note jotted beside satan’s second appearance before God: “last mention of satan.” This is the last time that ugly face is seen in this book. But it’s not the last time satan himself shows up. You can bet he is the impetus behind what comes next in Job’s story.

You know the story. God gives satan permission to take all that Job has – his wealth, his children, and his health – to prove that Job will never curse the Lord. Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to “sympathize with him and comfort him” (v. 11). When they see him sitting on the trash heap, covered in sores and misery, “they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights” and “No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (v. 13). If only they had kept their mouths shut.

I said that satan’s last mention was in chapter two, but he shows up in Job’s “friends” every time they speak. They all condemn Job for what must be grievous sin in his life. Why else would God bring such harsh punishment on him? But they don’t know what God has said about Job: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8; 2:3). Satan didn’t have to show his face, he just let E, B, and Z do his dirty work. If Job’s friends truly wanted to comfort him, they should have reminded him of God’s faithfulness and love. They should have sang songs of hope, not blasted him with condemnation. Rather than comforting their friend, they added to his suffering.

Here’s my takeaway: Never assume you know a person’s heart before God and God’s reason for their situation. We are called to a ministry of “encouraging, comforting, and urging [one another] to live lives worthy of God” (1 Thess 2:12). We are not called to “straighten one another out.” I don’t want to ever be satan’s tool of misery in someone’s life, no matter how “righteous” my reasoning. Beloved, make sure you are God’s messenger of grace, not satan’s sledgehammer.

The More You Know . . .

To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him

Just to see him smile make my life worthwhile

To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him

And I do.

Written by Phil Spector and first recorded by “The Teddy Bears,” this song hit the number one spot in 1958. Through the years it was covered by many other artists and I bet as you read those lyrics, you were singing the melody. I know I did as I typed them. One of my daily prayers for my granddaughter is that she will grow in the knowledge of God and love for God every day of her life.  Because the more she knows God, the more she will love Him. How can she not?

When she knows that God is holy, when she knows that He is righteous, when she knows that He is high and lifted up and that He not only sees her but cares about her (Gen 16:13)  . . . when she knows that He is mighty, when she knows that He uses His power on her behalf (Eph 3:20) . . . when she knows that God is faithful and will “never leave [her] nor forsake [her] (Jos 1:5), when she grasps “how wide and long and high and deep” is His love for her (Eph 3:18) and understands that “nothing can separate [her] from the love of God (Rom 8:38-39) . . . when she knows that He loves her so much that “He sent His one and only Son” to die to save her (John 3:16) . . .

How can you not? Perhaps it never occurred to you that you can know God, but over and over His Word invites us to do just that. Paul prayed that believers will “know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:19). I have discovered that the more I come to know Him, the more I love Him and the more I love Him the more I want to know Him. Beloved, can there be any better pursuit for your life than to seek to know God? “My heart says of You, “Seek His face!” Your face Lord, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8).

Saints and Sinners

How should the church respond to the lost world? We seem to go to the extremes of either approving of worldliness and sin or pointing fingers and railing at those who do what we would never do. There’s a better way. Jesus was called “a friend of sinners,” and I believe He bore that title with delight rather than shame. That doesn’t mean that He joined them in their sin, but He loved them out of it. He was tender with wounded souls, gentle with the ones who didn’t understand, and kind to those who had been harassed by the enemy. And He saved His harshest words for the religious crowd who rejected the lost, the poor, the lonely, and the wounded – and Him. They were the self-righteous scholars who diligently studied the Scriptures, but missed the whole point of God’s plan. 

Paul said, “The Lord’s servant must . . . be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful,” (2 Timothy 2:24).  The goal of such kindness – that God will grant the lost repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26). As believers, our character should be the same as Jesus: kind, gentle, helpful, and sympathetic.  Why?  Because unbelievers have been taken captive by the devil.  They have been deceived, led astray, fooled, and fed lies to the point that they can’t recognize the truth.  They are under the influence of satan, and they deserve our compassion rather than our hate.

Christian, you have a call to be “salt and light” in the world.  Salt to make people thirsty for God and light to lead the way to the cross and redemption. Finger-pointing, harsh words, and belittling attitudes will never win anyone to Christ.  But a kind and gentle spirit can.

If you are not a Christian, let me assure you that Jesus does not look at you with hatred or disgust; He does not see you as His enemy – He died so that you could be His friend for eternity.  He loves you with an everlasting love that will never turn you away.  Please come and see for yourself that He is a gentle King and a kind Savior.

Perfect Balance

See the source image

I read it first on a Bible cover, It was embroidered with red thread on a quilted grey paisley print. “One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong and that you, O Lord are loving” (Psalm 62:11-12). For some reason, I couldn’t stop staring at it.  I’m sure the woman who owned the Bible was a little concerned that I might try to sneak off with it. The verse captured me – and like the Holy Spirit often does, He asked, “What does that mean?” I quickly jotted down the reference and turned my attention back to the teacher.

When I got home I went to my concordance and started to dig. Guess what? Strong means strong and loving means loving. Well, that was . . . enlightening. But then the Spirit said, “Not the individual words, the whole verse – what does it say about God?” He is strong. He is loving. “Don’t separate the two words. What do they mean together?” God is strong and loving. And then I understood.

If God were just strong, we would fear for our lives. His power would overwhelm us and He might use His strength against us. If He were just loving, He could do little to help us. He would look on us with pity and sorrow for our sufferings, but could only pat us on the shoulder and wish us well. But He is strong and He is loving. His strength is perfectly balanced by His affection. His love is equally matched by the power to rescue. His love allows Him to see our needs and respond with compassion, mercy, and grace. His power enables Him to work mightily on our behalf, parting seas, holding back the sun, bringing down strong walls, and overwhelming enemies. And rising from the grave.

There have been many powerful men throughout history who had no compassion and left a wake of pain and destruction behind them. By the same token, many benevolent hearts offer empathy, but cannot render any real aid. God is sufficiently both; He cares and He moves. This, Beloved, is the God who listens to your heart’s cry and responds with power. He sees you. He hears you. He loves you. And He is coming to your rescue.