Faithful

Do you remember when grown-ups would ask you as a kid, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It often changed for me from year to year. I wanted to be a dancer, a teacher, a garbage collector (what?), a singer, a mommy, and a writer. I often look at Joy and wonder what the future holds for her. We have already determined that she will be a preacher (I know, she’s a girl and we’re Baptists), a dancer, a singer, a chef, and the President of the United States. And she’ll be awesome (and cute) at all of them.

I didn’t follow all those dreams and went in some very different directions at times. I’ve had stints working in retail and the medical field and enjoyed a year as a floral clerk. I hung onto writing and teaching as my calling and I’m exploring the idea of counseling. but I’ve worked in religious administration for most of my career. It’s been sweet and a perfect fit for my skills.

But I’ve discovered something else I want to be. Faithful. Just faithful. Not only in a career or ministry but faithful in my life. I want to love God with all my heart and mind and soul and strength (Mark 12:30). I want to find hope and Joy and peace in Christ (Rom 15:13) and walk in step with the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16-18). I want an undivided, unrelenting, unquenchable zeal for my Creator (Rom 12:11). I want to pursue Him with reckless abandon (Phil 3:12-14). Then I want to rest in Him (Mark 6:31). I want Christ to be my life (Col 3:4). I want my life to be all about Christ (Col 1:10-12).

One day I will stand before the Lord. I don’t want Him to compliment me on the pretty bouquets I created or the nice bulletins I produced or how well I managed the faculty files and textbooks at the college.  I don’t Him to tell me how much He enjoyed my writing and that I was a solid teacher of His Word. As much as I love her, I don’t even want Him to tell me I was a good grandmother to Joy. I only want to hear one thing: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25:21). That will be enough. That will be everything.

The Providence of God

I caught myself the other day thinking, “If I could change one thing about my past…” The problem is I found a lot of things. Choices. People. Places. Priorities. Desires.  I’ll bet you can finish that sentence with a few thoughts of your own. Who hasn’t lamented something in their past? For some, the choices were huge and life-altering. For others, they were moments, that while not quite as monumental, we wish we could do over. I have spent so much time living with regrets, living in the “if only’s,” and wishing I had made wiser decisions, or that circumstances had turned out differently. I have discovered that when I live in constant regret I set myself up for a very sad life.

But I am learning to trust in the sovereign providence of God. Those are words we don’t use much in our contemporary religion, but they are powerful. In the original Hebrew, the word combination has a rich and significant meaning. The word “sovereign” speaks to God’s rightful authority as Creator over nature, nations, mankind, and individual lives. Likewise, the word “providence” is speaking to God’s charge over everything He has made – including you and me.  The root word means “to pay attention, to care for, to be in charge of.” This is His tender, loving oversight as our Good Shepherd and Heavenly Father. God has pledged to pay attention to you, to care for you, and to be in charge of your life – not as a dictator – but as One who seeks always and only what is best for you. Job 10:12 expresses this duality beautifully. “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in Your providence watched over my spirit.” The combination of terms tells us that God is always looking out on your behalf, knows what you need and He has the authority to move heaven and earth to accomplish all things for you – because He loves you.

If you have grieved over your past, know that Your sovereign, providential Father has been watching over and caring for you all along. In His hands, the very thing that caused you the most pain can be the seed for a whole new life. Beloved, God loves you too much to waste the struggles of your life. He has a plan. He has a purpose. And He has you in the palm of His great hand.

You are God’s Masterpiece

I used to write a lot of bad poetry in high school – full of angst and pining and teenage wisdom. I did write a couple of things that were not so awful. My creative writing teacher submitted one of my poems to a national contest.  I got an “honorable mention” award and my poem was published in their compilation of “outstanding works.” I don’t remember the poem or the contest, but it made a mark on me and encouraged me to keep writing. It became more than a hobby. It’s my calling from God as part of this teaching ministry.

In Ephesians 2:10 Paul tells us that “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  When we consider this verse we tend to jump on that last part so quickly. You were created to work for God. Like we’re just one of many employees in God’s business. You – preach. You – sing. You – teach. You – keep the nursery. You – type bulletins. You – cook the Wednesday night suppers.  You gotta stay busy for God.

But consider the original Greek meaning of the word workmanship: “poiema” – from which we get our English word “poem.” Now read that verse again: “You are God’s poem.” You are God’s sonnet of love, His work of beauty and rhythm in a world that is ugly and chaotic. You are the expression of His creative brilliance and power; a testimony to the graciousness of Almighty God. When you do the “good work” you were created to do you are a living ode to the One who created stars and mountains and vast oceans. God created you, not to be a worker bee, but to point the world to Him. Beloved, how will you show the world the creative beauty of the Author of your life?

The Story of God

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The first four words of Scripture tell you everything you need to know about the Bible: “In the beginning God . . .”(Gen. 1:1). The Bible, for all the people and stories it contains, is a book about God. We like to say it is about God and man, God and Abraham, God and Israel. We point to all God’s creative activity, which is worthy of note and awe. But the Bible isn’t about all God did and the humans he worked through. The Bible is about God. The story of Moses is the story of God. The story of David is the story of God. The stories of Jonah and the Apostles are all the stories of God. He is on every page, in every verse, and behind every story, even if His name is not mentioned.

That is because God is the creator and sustainer of all existence. If He were to somehow cease to be, which can never happen because He is eternal, the heavens and the earth – every mountain and tree, every planet and star would disappear. Paul said of Christ (who is fully God) “By Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17). And John the Revelator recorded the angels’ praise: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being” (Rev. 4:11).

Get this – your story and my story is also the story of God. Paul said, “We live and move and have our being” in God (Acts 17:28). We would not exist without Him. We should seek every day to know Him. That is why I teach the Bible. That is why I encourage you to read and study for yourself. Listen to His amazing promise: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord” (Jer. 29:13, 14). You don’t have to hope to know God, you just have to look for Him in the pages of His Word. Beloved, will you open your Bible and seek out the One who created you and loves you?

At the Sound of His Voice

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He proved Himself as God over and over when He walked this earth. He proved His power over creation – His creation – when he commanded the wind and waves to “Be still!” (Mark 4:39). The demons proclaimed His divinity crying out that He was “Jesus, Son of the Most High God” (Mark 5:7). He proved His authority over the spiritual realm when He cast them out of a tortured man (Mark 5:1-20). He proved His sovereignty over disease and death when He healed a woman with a 12-year long issue of blood then raised a dead girl back to life (Mark5:21-43). He was – and still is – the all-powerful, all-mighty God of the Universe. Nature, spirits, sickness, and even death had no choice but to obey Him when He spoke. It was the same voice He used to call the heavens and the earth into existence (Genesis 1).

Yet here He was tiny and helpless in the arms of a peasant woman – the only one who responded to the sound of His voice. He was just a baby now – unable to form words into a command. Yet I wonder . . . did the wind and waves begin to still at the sound of His cries? Did the demons tremble when they recognized His cooing? Did weak legs strengthen when his wails filled the night air? Was there a stirring in the graves as He protested the hunger in his belly? Despite his physical state, the baby in the manger was still God. Still the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Still the Author of life. Still the long-awaited King. Did creation recognize Him, even if His image-bearers did not?

Yes, He was a baby just like any other baby who needed someone to feed and clothe Him, to carry Him from place to place, to wrap Him in swaddling clothes from the cool night air. But He was a baby unlike any other baby and heaven held its breath in awe at the sight of God in tiny flesh, so helpless and frail. I believe the creation that obeyed Him “in the beginning” knew that these were no ordinary cries. There was always power and authority and sovereignty in the sound of His voice. It was just small and quiet tonight.

The God Who Knows You

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My sweet mother-in-law always cooked a birthday dinner for me with all my favorite foods: white peas, creamed corn, sliced tomatoes, and chicken and dumplings. She also made me a coconut cake for my birthday. It was a labor of love. There was just one problem. I didn’t like coconut. What was I to do? Well, I ate it and thanked her, and told her how good it was. So she made it every year. And I ate it every year.

My late brother ordered a gift box of fruit for me every Christmas. Lots of apples, oranges, mangoes, peaches, and grapes. There was just one problem. I am allergic to fruit. But I never told him because he loved doing it and my husband enjoyed the bounty.

While my mother-in-law and brother were family, they didn’t know everything about me. And I didn’t want to spoil their happiness in doing something nice for me just to get what I preferred.  They loved me and that was enough. Besides, after a few years, it’s awkward to say, “Oh, by the way, I don’t like coconut.”

But there is One who knows me well. He knows what I like and what I can’t tolerate. David said, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me” (Psalm 139:1). He knows every move and every thought (yikes!). He knows what I’m going to say before I say it. He is “familiar with all my ways” (v. 3). He even knows when I am feeling confident or am in the dark pit of despair (v. 8). He knows me because He created me and put all those likes and dislikes in me. He fashioned me to be allergic to fruit (but thankfully not chocolate!), to love to write and teach, and to give my heart to a little blond girl with a Joyful smile.

And not only does He know all this about me, He thinks about me with deep affection. David said, “How precious towards me are Your thoughts, O God! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand” (v. 17, 18). He thinks I am precious! And He thinks the same of you, Beloved. He knows you by name (Isaiah 43:1), and He knows you by heart. He will never forget a single detail about you. Not even what kind of cake you don’t like.

God is Here!

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“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:14)

When you look out at the night sky you are looking at the handiwork of God – sparkling stars scattered across black velvet –  dancing in honor of their Creator.  The deeper man looks into outer space, the more he sees God at work. The mountains towering from the earth are grander than any human-built skyscraper and stand as a strong, silent witness to the God who ordered them to rise. The rising and setting of the sun and the moon powerfully declare the God who said, “Let there be . . .” From the towering Sequoias to the delicate Johnny-Jump-Ups, all of nature testifies of its Creator. And so do you.

 When you look in the mirror you are looking at the most powerful testimony to the existence of the Creator. Every cell in our human bodies bears God’s signature. The intricate inner workings that are occurring in your body are amazing – and you aren’t doing anything to make them happen. They are following a prescribed pattern written by their Creator.  Did you know that there is a digestive enzyme in your body that is only needed when you introduce lactose – milk sugar – into your system. It is produced by one specific DNA protein which just quietly hangs around until it is called into duty. When you drink a glass of milk at breakfast, your body signals that little protein to take its place and start producing the enzyme that breaks down the lactose for digestion. When the work is done this little dude goes back into its dormant state until you have cheese on your sandwich at lunch and ice cream for dessert after supper. Isn’t that incredible?! I know I didn’t give a “scientific” explanation there, but the point is – there is far too much intricacy and complexity to the human body – and to all of creation – to think this all happened by accident! Every breath we take, the beat of our heart, our brain waves, and the DNA that makes our bodies work all declare His praises. How can we think we are anything less than the work of a wonderful Creator?

You, Beloved, are a walking, breathing, testifying witness to the existence and creative power of God – without saying a word.  He not only fashioned you with His own hands, but He also put His image in you so that the whole world knows – God is here!

Give God the Glory

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I’m preparing for my fall class by reading Romans over the summer. Actually, I’m writing it out. This is my favorite way to study the Scriptures because I have to pay careful attention to every single word.  This is when the Spirit sends me on those wonderful word studies and calls me to think carefully and deeply about what a verse says.

I hit one of those the other day and I’ve been chewing on it ever since. Paul is explaining why God is justified in pouring out His wrath on sinful, rebellious men. Here’s the verse that caught my attention: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). There are several major points here, but we’re going to focus on two:

Men – all men – know about God. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made . . .” (v. 20) They know that Someone is the creative force behind everything that exists. Paul said that creation is intended to draw men to “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him . . .” (Acts 17:27). Man is “without excuse” (v. 20b) when he denies the truth of God.

Then, here’s what caught my attention – the very minimum man owes God is glory and thanks. God is worthy of glory – which means declaring his splendor and brilliance and power with words of honor, praise, and excellence and assigning the highest status to Him. Not that He needs it. We do. We need to give Him glory to turn our minds and hearts to Him who alone is worthy. And we owe God our thanks as our Creator. We exist because He decided we should. That in itself should be enough to thank Him.

The wicked man refuses to give God even the least He deserves – glory and thanks. Oh but He is worthy of so much more and when we receive His Son as our Savior we give Him the rest – love, faith, trust, devotion, service – our very selves. Beloved, what about it? Are you giving God everything He deserves or just the bare minimum? Or are you refusing to give Him anything at all?

Of Septic Tanks and God

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My son says that I can take anything and find a spiritual application to it. I suppose that’s so but it’s because I see God in everything. He is the Creator and Sustainer of everything. Nothing exists that He did not create with His powerful word or fashion with His divine hand. If he could somehow cease to exist, which He will not, everything in heaven and earth would also cease to exist. So yeah, I see spiritual things in everything and every situation.  

There is this spot in my yard that is especially lush and green. You city people won’t understand, but the country folk know that this is where the septic tank sits.  The “contents” of the tank become fertilizer for the soil so that the grass and bushes in the immediate vicinity are “nurtured.” How can I find a spiritual application in a septic tank?  In God’s hands, the crappiest parts of our life often become the most fruitful for the Kingdom. Ask Joseph whose horrible brothers sold him into slavery. He was taken to Egypt where he was falsely accused of sexual assault and thrown in prison. There, he interpreted a dream for a fellow prisoner who promised to remember him to the Pharoah but promptly forgot. Until two years later when Pharoah had a dream and the ex-prisoner remembered Joseph and recommended him. Joseph not only told the Pharoah the meaning of his anxious dream but how to resolve the problem that the dream was prophecying. Impressed, Pharoah appointed him to the second-highest position in his kingdom and Joseph saved the lives of the Egyptians and became very wealthy in the process. He also saved the lives of his family – including the brothers who had betrayed him. And in doing so, he saved the lineage through which the Savior of all mankind would come.  Had Joseph not made it to Egypt to stand before the Pharoah – however harsh the circumstances – there would be no nation of Israel, no Jewish people, no Jesus, and no salvation for you and me.  Joseph told his brothers, “ You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).

Beloved, if life feels like a septic tank right now be encouraged. God has a way of taking the crappiest things and bringing unexpected good out of them.

The Truth is . . .

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Has anyone ever lied to you?  Ever listened to a politician? Ever asked a toddler, “What have you got in your mouth?” I know people have lied to me. And 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 Bible, 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 me a future and a hope (Jer29:13) and that He will fulfill His purpose for me (Ps 27:2), I need not fear the days ahead.

And most of all, when the Bible says God loves you, you can know without a shadow of a doubt that it is the truth, no matter what your feelings or the world may say. Beloved, the God who is the Creator of the universe loves you. And that’s no lie. It’s the truest thing you’ll ever hear.