Beloved

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If there is one consistent theme throughout the Bible it is that God loves people. From every tribe, nation, and tongue God loves human beings – the pinnacle of His creation. He doesn’t love one gender more than the other. He doesn’t love one race more than the other – in truth, there is only one race – the human race – and He loves them all. I love Psalm 107 because it is all about the love of God for mankind. The first verse says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever.” The last verse says, “Consider the great love of the Lord” (v. 43) and in between the Scriptures speak of ”His unfailing love” four times (vs. 8,15,21, 31).

The Psalmist describes people who are poor and desperate, people who were imprisoned by their sin, people who have foolishly rebelled against God, and people who are “at their wits’ end” because of life’s storms. I think that pretty much covers all of us. I know I fit in at least a couple of those. The point is, God’s love is for everyone. No one is exempt or excluded. No one is cast aside or rejected.

In each scene, when they “cried to the Lord in their trouble,” He “saved them from their distress” (vs. 6, 13, 19, 28). He led the poor to “by a straight way to a city where they could settle” (v. 4). He brought [the prisoner] out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains” (v. 14). He “sent forth His word and healed [the rebel] and rescued them from the grave” (v. 20). He “stilled the storm to a whisper and hushed the waves of the sea and guided [the distressed] to their desired haven” (vs. 29-30). They all “gave thanks for . . . His wonderful deeds for men” (vs. 8, 13, 19, 28).

Where do you fit in these scenes? Are you desperate, bound by sin, rebelling against God, or distressed and anxious because of a storm in your life? God loves you. He who makes springs in the desert, who feeds the hungry, who lifts up the humble and desperate,  loves you. Yes you.  And now you understand why I call you “Beloved.”

Treasures in the Darkness

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I am currently a graduate student at the Baptist College of Florida. I won’t lie, it is hard. I am older and I think many of my brain cells have atrophied. Still, for reasons I don’t know yet, God said “Go back to school.” He even gave me a job right here so that I could do it for free. But I am also working on my doctorate. Surprised? My Masters will be in Christian Ministries with a concentration in Biblical Studies, but my Doctorate will be in Life Lessons and I’m studying at the School of Hard Knocks. The truth is, in one degree or another, we all are.

The ancient Psalmist declared, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Psalm 119:67). He emphasized this in verse 71 saying, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” Though we’re not privy to the details, the Psalmist was clearly in some kind of distress – apparently self-inflicted (as are most of mine). From his struggles and the consequences of his actions, he came away with a hard-won wisdom and probably some battle scars as a continual reminder. I’ve got a few of those too.

While I wish I could just do the right things in life and not have to learn these hard lessons, I’m grateful that God doesn’t waste them. He said, “I will give you the treasure of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord” (Isaiah 45:3). He works in every difficult season with one objective in mind – that you may know Him better. What a treasure!

I don’t know what you’re struggling through right now. I don’t know how you came to be in this hard place. It may have been by your own hand or through the actions of another. But I know two things for certain: God is faithful and He will not waste a single tear. He will “bestow on you a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3). Beloved, that’s the treasure in the darkness.  

This is Why I Write

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“Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs” (Matthew 10:27).

The truth is, what you see in me – or read in my words – is not all there is.  I may look wise and together on paper, but it’s not the full picture.  I wrestle daily with depression; it has been my constant companion since I was very young.  It has taken me to some deep, gloomy places.  It has cost me a great deal in my relationships, health, time, money, and hopes, and dreams.   I’ve tried many things to keep it at bay. Medication, Scripture, and prayer have all been effective and helpful tools. But they haven’t made it completely go away. 

Do I really believe the things I write about God breaking through despair to bring hope?  Yes – because those are the very same words that God speaks to me – His continual stream of goodness and inspiration that keeps my feet steady and my head lifted.  They are His constant reminders of love flowing through His Word and His Spirit and shining in my darkness.  He knows me.  He knows that I can’t make it one day without the hope He gives.  So He speaks to me.

Then He tells me to speak to you.  Because He knows you too.  He knows that some days are so hard you don’t even want to get out of bed.  He knows that you are lonely, grieving, hurting, fearful.  He knows that you have been disappointed, forgotten, rejected, passed over – and so He tells me, “Take the words that have spoken over you and speak it over them.”  That is why I write.  It’s so you can grab onto the same lifeline God threw out to me.  Because I can’t keep this comfort and encouragement to myself – it’s much too big and wonderful for just me.  It’s for you too.  It’s a warm blanket we can share in a cold world.  It’s a quilt of encouragement

Beloved, come join me in the sweet, blessed comfort of our Heavenly Father.  Hear His words of hope, peace, encouragement, and Joy.  Let the warmth of His love wash over you.  We’re in this together – you and I – and the God of Heaven and Earth.  We’re gonna make it—He told me so—and then He told me to tell you.

Stars in the Night Sky

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“Therefore we do not lose heart…For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:16, 17

“Light and momentary?” I want to ask Paul. “Do you have any idea what we’ve been through this week? It isn’t light! The past 18 years? That’s longer than a moment!”  But then I remember I’m yelling at Paul who endured thirty-nine lashes on five occasions, who was beaten with rods three times, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, spent a night and day floating in the sea, facing constant danger, persecution, sleepless nights, without food, water, or clothing – all for the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). He may not know the specifics of my life – or yours – but the man has known suffering and hardship and pain.

My next question then is, “Why, if we are God’s children, do we have to endure so much difficulty?” Paul never stopped serving the Lord; even in prison, he shared the gospel with the guards (Philippians 1:13). I’m trying to be faithful to God’s call to study and write and teach. You’re trying to stay faithful to what God has set before you in your family, work, church, and community. Shouldn’t that get us a pass from troubles? Yet not even God’s perfectly faithful Son was exempt from suffering.

But I think I found a clue to our struggles and sufferings. So that we may “become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15). When are the stars the brightest? When the night sky is at its blackest. When is God’s glory most visible? When things are at their darkest. Like now –in my family, in our nation, and in the war-torn country of Afghanistan.

Friend, believe me when I say, I understand. Just because I’m a Bible teacher doesn’t mean I am exempt from the harsh things of life. In fact, I feel like it puts me constantly in satan’s crosshairs because he would love nothing more than to beat me down until I quit. But I won’t. Paul didn’t. Jesus didn’t. Because this world needs shining stars to bring light into the darkness. The world, Beloved, needs you.

The Power of One Light

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In our continuing study of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7, we’ve learned through the Beatitudes the characteristics of the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. In verses 13-16 Jesus taught about the influence Kingdom people have on the world. These are the “Salt and Light” verses. Jesus declared: “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world.” I have previously written on verse 13 – the salt verse. I will add a link to that post in my blog in the comments. Today we will look at the Lord’s teaching about being “the light of the world.”

From creation, light’s purpose is to shine in the darkness (John 1:5a). Light has power over darkness (John 1:5b) because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. When light is introduced into the darkness, darkness no longer exists. When I was a kid we took a trip to the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. There are caves for exploring all through the park and our group was standing in one of the caves when the tour guide turned off the electric lights. It was pitch black, the darkest darkness I’d ever experienced. You literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Several of us became afraid and started whimpering (and not just the girls). Then he flicked on a lighter and the darkness was gone. One small light overcame the darkness. And every eye was drawn to that light. You couldn’t miss it.

Jesus said that we are the light of the world. This directly identifies us with Him as He declared “I AM the Light of the world” (John 8:12). That means you and I have power over darkness – not our own power, but Christ’s. The world is a very dark place. Evil is everywhere. But you and I have the His light to overcome evil and darkness. When we shine with His light, the darkness has no choice but to flee. And when we shine with His light every eye will be drawn – not to us – but to the Source of the Light.

Don’t hide your light. Don’t bury it under sin and worldliness. You have the Light that overcomes darkness. Shine, Beloved. The world desperately needs to see the Light of Christ in you.

Hope in the Night

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Several years ago I went to a jewelry party. The hostess promised that I could be the model but the salesperson chose another girl instead. I was wearing a light-colored top and the other girl had on a dark top.  The jewelry showed up better against the dark backdrop.  My light top would have made the pieces appear washed out.  Hope is much like those gems, it shows us best against the dark seasons of our lives. I know this from the Word of God and my life.

Paul said, “Hope that is seen is no hope at all” (Romans 8:24). There is a reason that the stars are only visible against the night sky. They fade away in the bright sunlight.  There’s a reason that hope is most powerful when we are at our weakest. My hope in God grew the most when I needed Him the most – when anxiety was high, when I couldn’t see the road ahead, when it looked like everything was falling apart.  I had to hope in Him to survive.  I had to stay on my knees. I had to remind myself of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Those lessons in the night made my faith more real to me than sunshine ever could.

I know some of your stories – you’ve talked with me or private messaged me and asked for prayer for your situation, which I am honored to do.  Most of you I do not know personally, but I know that when the night seems to go on forever, you need hope.  Beloved, hope shines brightest in the dark. And hope is our assurance that the night will eventually give way to the morning.

I love these words from Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher and writer of the nineteenth century who knew a lot about hope in the darkness.

“Hope itself is like a star–not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity. Afflictions are often the black foils in which God sets the jewels of His children’s graces, to make them shine brighter. How can you know that you have faith until your faith is exercised?”

Trials make the promise sweet;

Trials give new life to prayer;

Trials bring me to His feet,

Lay me low, and keep me there.

I am a Christian – and I am Depressed

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“You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light.” 2 Samuel 22:29.

I don’t want you to think I am some super-Christian through the words I write.  I am just as prone to the struggles and hardships of life as anyone.  I love Jesus with all my heart – but I struggle often with depression. And this week has been very hard. The truth is, I always write to encourage myself as much as to encourage you.  Someone reading this is in the dark place of depression. I don’t know your name, but I am writing to you today.

You are doing your best to be a good, faithful Christian.  But you’re questioning your faith because of the darkness.  And the enemy is using that to his advantage.  I hear the accusations too: “If you were really a Christian you wouldn’t be depressed.  God is so disappointed in you.” I hear the reminders that Christians are supposed to be full of joy, joy, joy!  But you’re not.  I am writing this so that you, my weary and hurting friend, will know that there is no shame in depression – even for Christians.  The Bible shows that we are in very good company in this cave – Moses, Elijah, David, Jeremiah, and Paul all expressed similar emotions and seasons.  Many of the great men and women throughout Christian history struggled with depression.

I am also writing this to let you know that God loves you – even in the pit or desert or cave of depression.  He is not angry or disappointed with you.  He has not written you off.  He has drawn near to you like a caring parent does when their child is hurting.  He speaks gentle whispers of love and encouragement, and He tenderly wipes away the tears on your face. Let Him love you – it is His greatest delight.  Let Him minister grace to you.

Beloved, there is hope for you and for me in the face of depression.  God is too good to leave His dear child in pain. He will turn the darkness into light.  We have His Word on it.

You Don’t Have to be Miserable

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I love to read the Old Testament prophets, especially the minor prophets (meaning their contribution to the Scriptures are shorter in length, not in importance). This week I’ve been in Micah. There’s a lot here that speaks to me.

The first several chapters detail the nation’s sin against God. They have worshipped every idol instead of the Lord. They plot evil and reject the commands of God. Their leaders are wicked and have no concern for the people under their care. The people take offense and declare war when they don’t get what they want. (That sounds familiar.) Men “lie in wait” to attack one another. Despite all of God’s goodness to them, they shun His laws and turn their backs on Him. The people cheat and lie and abuse their neighbors and their own family. In the seventh and final chapter, God’s bounty and blessings have disappeared and Israel is in misery. Food is scarce. Evil, wickedness, and sin are rampant throughout the land. It is dark and hopeless.

Yet – God’s good promises are sprinkled throughout the book. Promises of gathering together the scattered flock. Promises of peace. Promises of holiness and rescue and redemption. Promises of a righteous and eternal Ruler. Promises of being lifted out of the darkness and into the light. Promises of the enemy’s defeat. And best of all, promises of pardon and forgiveness and mercy and compassion.

This describes my life. Sin, rebellion, rejecting God’s ways and demanding my own brought about misery, fear, physical, emotional, and spiritual poverty, gloom, and darkness. Then came hope. Light. Rescue. Forgiveness. Redemption. Mercy. Grace. Compassion. Restoration. Peace. Joy. The power of sin was broken and I was set free.

Friend, you don’t have to live in the misery of your sin. You don’t have to stay in the darkness. Life doesn’t have to be hopeless. There is a Savior. His name is Jesus. He comes in the name of God with an outstretched hand of mercy and compassion. Beloved, take that nail-scarred hand. Receive His forgiveness and redemption. There is life and light and peace and Joy in the Lord. All for you.

Not Your Warm and Fuzzy Devotional

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There is a lot of hero-worship in the church. There are “rock-star” pastors with thousands of followers and Bible teachers who sell out auditoriums around the country. Jesus had quite a crowd that followed Him and hung on His every word. Take the fellow in Luke 9: “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you where you go.’” (v. 57). He wanted to be part of Jesus’ entourage. But Jesus didn’t encourage this would-be fan. His response: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (v. 58). I believe Jesus was saying, “This is not going to be the high-life you’re expecting. I don’t have a multi-million dollar mansion to put you up in. I walk hot, dusty roads and sleep where I can.”

What did you expect from Jesus when you chose to follow Him? A solution to all your problems? A good reputation in the community? A full life with heaven thrown in after it’s all over?

Just a few verses before this scene, He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (v. 23) Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and the cross. He might have also told the man, “Don’t hook your wagon to me unless you’re prepared to die.” There is a war going on between good and evil, between light and darkness. Evil and darkness have the upper hand at the moment. God’s people are the enemy of the present ruling authorities who are bent on destruction. If you choose Jesus, you need to know that you are also choosing self-denial, persecution, rejection, and suffering. That is what Jesus endured. Why should we expect any less?

But then, I look at the modern church, so comfortable in our air-conditioned sanctuaries. Where is the suffering? Where is the persecution? Where are self-denial and the cross? Maybe the enemy’s strategy against the church today is not a full-on battle, but just to make us relaxed and contented. Just before he hits us with an all-out assault.

Here’s a thought: If Christianity is comfortable, maybe we’re in more danger than we know.

When the Way is Dark

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I come from a long line of crafters. My mom was an extraordinary seamstress – I loved the handmade clothes she made for me. My grandmother created beautiful designs with a needle and tread. and I found much comfort laying in bed and tracing the stitches on my “Sunbonnet Sue” pillowcase. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, Mom decided it was time for me to take up the family tradition, starting with learning handwork. She bought me a simple embroidery kit and taught me the up-and-down pattern, and the daisy stitch and how to fill a piece of fabric with color. The kit she bought was a design with an old fashioned oil lamp, a Bible – with a real velvet bookmark – and the words of Psalm 119:105. As I stitched the letters, the words were “sewn” into my heart: Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet and a Light unto my path.

I’ve lost my way a few times since then and found myself in dark scary places. But I would trace the words on my heart, just as I traced the pattern on my pillowcase, and I knew where to find the light. I still go back to that verse often and remind myself that the Bible has the power to dispel darkness and show me the way home.

The Word of God is Light and Life to me. It is stitched on my heart.