Do You Measure Up?

When I post my devotionals every morning to this blog, I have to go into the admin page. This page contains a bar graph showing how many people have visited each day.  I try not to look because I used to get really excited when the bar went high and really discouraged by low numbers, thinking I should just quit since no one wants to read what I’m writing. The ego is a very fickle thing, even for people in ministry. Yesterday I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the bar graph was all the way to the top of the chart. Wow! That’s gotta be some pretty high numbers. So I looked. And sure enough, I had hit at or near the highest line on the chart. The number thirty. The graph adjusts itself based on the past ten days. Well, that’s kind of deflating.

But it made me think about a verse in one of Paul’s letters: “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.  When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Corin. 10:12). In the church, we tend to compare ourselves with others – discouraged (or jealous) when we don’t measure up to the most “devout saints” and a bit smug when we think we are more righteous than someone who struggles with things we don’t. Paul said such comparisons are not serving the Body. Because there is only one standard to measure up to – that of Jesus.

I may think I am holier-than-thou, but am I as holy as Jesus? You may consider a woman’s outfit inappropriate for church, but are you wearing robes of righteousness? I may not string together a chain of profanities, but are my words always light and life? Your faith may be a little stronger than mine, but can you go willingly to the cross like Jesus? For my sins?

We are all struggling in this life. None of us will reach the top of the bar like Jesus – at least not this side of heaven. Instead of measuring ourselves against other fallible human beings, we need to make Jesus our only goal. Beloved, I am not better than you and you are not better than me, but we can help each other be more like Jesus. I’m willing – are you?

Not Where I Thought I’d Be

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“This is not where I saw my life going,” she said sadly. “I’m not even sure how I got here.” My friend once believed that God had a call on her life. Yet she drifted. Marriage, children, jobs, responsibilities, distractions, troubles, many of her own making. Yet every year on her birthday, she would look wistfully into the dusty box of what she had hoped for in her life and realize how far away it all was.  And how far away she was from God. Early morning devotions gave way to getting kids ready for school and herself to work.  Sundays became the day to catch up on chores at home. Her Bible was buried under stacks of bills and commitments. Before long, God was a distant thought; until her husband packed up and walked away.  She was a broken woman who thought she was a lost cause to God. My heart was so tender to her as I shared a story from the Bible that I pray offered her some hope.

The Israelites were about to cross over into The Promised Land. Moses warned them about their tendency to drift from God. He knew that once they were settled, they would become complacent and their hearts would every so gradually be drawn astray. They would become self-focused and push God aside for idols of wood and stone.  And they would be punished.  God would cause their enemies to overtake them and scatter them far from home. But He would not leave them there. Wherever they went, God said, “if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 4:29).

I took her hand and told her “If you will seek God, even from where you are right now as far as you may be from Him, you will find Him.”

“How do I do that?” she asked.

“Heart and soul – by telling Him that you know you are far away, but you want to come back to Him. And going back to what kept you close in the beginning – His Word and church and prayer.

“But what if I miss Him?” she asked with tears in her eyes.

“You won’t. He won’t let you.” I answered. “As soon as you start seeking, He will put Himself right in your path.”

I don’t know where you find yourself today Beloved, but I know for sure you are just a prayer away from God. Just say the words, “I want to come home.” He’ll meet you on the way.

I am a Christian, and I am Depressed

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“How long, O Lord must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:2).

I’ve had a lot going on in my life lately. Some painful things – emotionally and physically. Some hard things. Some heavy things. Some unfair things. My mind is both dulled and racing. And the devil snarls in my ear, “Where is your peace, Oh Bible teacher?” “Where are your joy and contentment?”

I haven’t tried to hide the fact that I struggle with depression. I have for most of my life. I’m not ashamed of it, it is part of my chemical makeup – and probably a lot of conditioning from trauma over the years. Sometimes it is overwhelming. And the enemy adds fuel to the fire. “You are a FRAUD!”

Why in the world am I telling you this? Because I know others struggle in the same way. Maybe you. I want you to know that you are not in this by yourself. Satan loves to turn our eyes to ourselves so that we think we’re alone in our depression. Isolation is a huge part of this disease, so I want you to have the assurance that you’re not the only one. There are a lot of us out here.

I am also telling you this because I want you to know where I find my hope and comfort and – yes peace in seasons like this. Stop right now and read Psalm 13. I’ll wait right here for you. This is a lament of David. Saul is king and he had determined to kill David out of jealousy because he is the hero of the Goliath story and because the Lord has anointed him as the next king of Israel. David has been running like a hunted animal for a long time. He is bone and heart weary. He is exhausted and depressed. Still, he holds on to one sure thing: “But I trust in your unfailing love . . .” That’s my hope and comfort and peace and Joy – the never-failing, never-ending, never-diminishing, always consistent love of God. When satan calls me a fraud, God calls me Beloved. And that’s why I call you Beloved too. Because despite depression and anxiety and darkness, the love of God never fails. Never. Rest your broken, weary heart in this: God loves you.

The Lord is Near

Some days I’m not feeling very “godly.” Some days I am just tired. Physically tired. Mentally tired. Emotionally tired. Some days I don’t want to be wise or thoughtful or inspiring. I just want to hide in a corner until the weight is lifted. I know you understand. Some days we want to crawl back in bed and pull the covers over our head until the problem is resolved, the money’s in the bank, the kid gets his act together, the test results are negative, the house is clean, the inbox is empty, the school opens back up, the bills are paid. But that’s not an option. And so we throw back the covers and swing our feet over the side until they touch down on the pile the dog left beside the bed. Great.
The Apostle Paul had some difficult days too. His message was rejected by the people he once counted as his friends. They tried to undermine the work he was doing for God. Then they tried to kill him – they threw stones at him, beat him, and threw him into prison. Yet from his prison cell, he wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Paul used the words, “joy” and “rejoice” thirteen times in this letter. But he didn’t throw those words out flippantly. He gave a reason to rejoice. “The Lord is near” (v. 5). He knew what he was claiming. In Acts 23, while sitting in a Roman prison, the Scripture says, “The Lord stood near Paul” (V. 11). The Lord came to Paul with a personal word of encouragement. He never forgot about the nearness of Jesus.
Oh, I get how difficult it is some days. I’ve had quite of few of those lately. I started writing this devotional from my own raw feelings. As I got to “The Lord is near,” the weight started to lift, and I know that I can make it through this day because Jesus is with me. It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard. It just means I don’t face it alone. So clean off your feet Beloved and get the day started. You’re in this together with Jesus.

I’m Supposed to be Thankful for This?

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One of the most challenging verses in the Bible is 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In some seasons of my life that is an easy verse to obey – things are good, everyone is healthy, bills are being paid, the pantry is full of food, and the tires on the car have plenty of tread. Then there are those days when that verse is a hard pill to swallow. The medical bills are stacked three inches high, the rent is late, the cupboards are bare, the kid is expelled from school, and the car needs a new oil pump. And I’m supposed to give thanks? The key to gratitude in those hard seasons is being thankful IN all things, not necessarily FOR all things. And the focus of our thankfulness is always God and His faithfulness and sovereignty.

I’m reminded of the story of Corrie and Betsy Ten Boom, the Dutch sisters who endured the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp for the crime of hiding Jews from the German Polizei. The building in which they were crammed was infested with fleas, which cause Corrie to complain. Her sister reminded her that they must “give thanks in everything,” which Corrie could not understand. But because of the fleas, the guards refused to go into their building and they were free from sexual assaults and also free to hold daily prayer and Bible study sessions with their fellow prisoners. The Bible is full of similar stories of God using the hard things to bring about good.

Despite our circumstances, we can be thankful for God’s presence, His faithfulness, and His sovereignty. I have lived through a lot of hard stuff – some really gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, soul-crushing things – but God was always there. He comforted, encouraged, provided, healed, protected, strengthened – and always brought me through. He never let me down. Never. Not one single time. Beloved, if you’re finding it hard to give thanks this year, may I gently remind you to turn your gaze from your circumstances to the God who is able to make even fleas a blessing. He is up to good in your life. In all things.

Painting: “The Thankful Poor” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

But I Don’t Feel Like Praising the Lord

Praise-08-782013“Keep your eyes on Jesus . . .” (Hebrews 12:2 The Message)

All around the sanctuary, hands were being lifted as the song proclaimed the goodness and majesty of the Lord.  Usually, my hand is one of the first to raise, but today, I’m just not feeling it.  The past several months have been difficult for my family.  The stress we are under is draining my energy and my joy is just about gone.  I want to feel the swell in my heart and the lift in my spirit, but my hand hangs by my side.  I listen to the music, watch the faces lift to the heavens, the hands swaying in the air and I wonder, “What do I do when I don’t feel like praising the Lord?”  As if he heard the question in my head, the worship leader softly spoke into the microphone, “Just focus on Jesus.”

What excellent advice.  So I did.  I paid attention to the words of the songs we were singing, songs that spoke of His love and His sacrifice.  Songs that reminded me of my helpless state before He rescued me, and of the hope and glory that is mine now in Christ.  My heart began to open is I focused more on Jesus, who left the glory and perfection of heaven for me.  I considered this One who paid the debt for every sin I ever committed and who shed His holy blood to cover my unrighteousness.  I joined in singing about the glory that awaits because of all that Jesus has done for me.  My mind was now engaged in praise, my worries—at least for the moment—slipped away and my hand lifted into the air.

Oh how can I not praise this One who died for me?  How can I withhold my heart from exalting my wonderful Savior?  How can I let the worries of life crowd out the honor and majesty of the King of the Universe who gave Himself for me?  I cannot.  I must not.  He is too precious.  He is too wonderful.  He is too worthy.

What struggle of mine is greater than His struggle on the cross for me?  What burden do I bear is heavier than the weight of my sin on His holy being?  What trouble in my life can diminish His majesty?  What need do I have that He has not promised to meet?  He has given me His own peace and joy.  He has given me His righteousness.  He has given me an eternal home – His home.  He has broken my chains and set me free – what momentary trouble in this life compares?

So I will focus on Jesus, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame.”  I will “Consider him who endured . . . so that I will not grow weary and loose heart” (Hebrews 2,3)  I will remember what God has done and I will “put my hope in God, and I will praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5).  And I will “lift my heart and my hands to God in heaven” (Lamentations 3:41).

Holy Father, when I focus my mind on my troubles and my heart is weighed down with burdens it is hard to find reasons to praise You.  But when my focus moves to the cross and to all that Jesus has done for me, praise takes over my mind and heart and sets me free.  Lord, help me to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and my mouth filled with praise.  Amen.

In the Hard Places

“There you will be rescued. There the Lord will redeem you.” Micah 4:11

“How did I get here Lord? This is not where I’m supposed to be!”

Sometime we find ourselves where we don’t want to be. It may be in a physical place or a season of life, but it is unexpected, uncomfortable and, at times, even unbearable.   I have been in physical places that were so discouraging and depressing that I felt hopeless. I have been in seasons of my life that were hard, frightening, and lonely; I felt like Paul who said, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor.. 1:8b). I am sure that you have too. These places and seasons come to all of us.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve wondered, “Lord, how did I get here?” The Word of God gives us the answers. The Old Testament prophet Micah preached to the people of Israel and Judah some seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus. He proclaimed the judgment of God against the sinfulness of the people, and told them of coming disaster from the hand of the Lord. He identified some key issues that brought them to this place.

He rebukes them for their sin, proclaiming “All this is because of Jacob’s transgression, because of the sin of the house of Israel” (Micah 1:5). Sin separates man from God, and also separates us from God’s best for our lives. It has been rightly said that sin will take you farther than you meant to go, keep you longer than you meant to stay, and cost you more than you meant to pay.

Another reason for the places we find ourselves is deception. The people in the ancient world were dependent on the religious leaders, who often distorted the words and laws of God, leading many astray.   But we have Truth written for us in the Bible, and the Holy Spirit helps us to understand and apply those truths to our lives. If we are not studying the Word of God, if we let others define truth for us, we will always be led astray.

Micah also recognizes the problems we face when we forget who God is and what He has done. In Micah 6, God asks through the prophet, “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you?”(6:3), and then reminds them of His redemption, faithfulness and love. God is full of grace, mercy, compassion, tenderness and love so vast that we cannot fully comprehend it. When we forget that, when we doubt His love and care, we wander off in search of the things He longs to give us. We find ourselves in difficult places and seasons.

Stepping out of the book of Micah, we find another reason for the places and seasons of our lives Joseph was sold by his jealous brothers into a life of slavery, but God was always with him, and He used Joseph to save countless lives, including the lives of those same brothers, from a seven-year famine. Joseph recognized God’s hand, telling his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to…[save] many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Sometimes God allows difficult season and places to accomplish a much greater purpose that we can’t see in the moment.

But God is faithful to His children, and when we are lost, He seeks us out and brings us back home. That is the heart of our key verse. And that is the heart of our Heavenly Father, as Jesus demonstrated in a parable He told in Luke 15: 3-7. He tells of a shepherd who leaves his ninety-nine safe sheep to go after the one sheep who has wandered away. “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (15:6). The shepherd had ninety-nine other sheep, but his heart would not let him abandon the one who was lost.

Your Heavenly Father has the same heart for you. Whether you are in a place you never expected nor wanted to be, or you are in a season of life that is hard, painful and seemingly unending, God has promised He will find you there and bring you safely home. In truth, He doesn’t have to look very hard, for He never left you, even when you wandered away. His promise is and always has been: “I will never leave you nor forsake you. Your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5, 9). Wherever you and I go, if we are God’s children, He is with us. Even if we are lost because of rebellion. Even if we are so far away from His fold that it seems impossible to get back. No matter where we roam, in physical places or seasons of life, God’s heart never leaves us. He never forgets about His children.

Are you in a difficult place? Are you in a hard season? Whether it was your own wandering or the providential hand of God, trust in His faithful love for you. Turn to Him and call His Name, then watch for His rescue. There is no place that His love will not reach.

Faithful Lord, my Good Shepherd, You have promised to always be with me. Even when I am in hard places and seasons, You are there. Father, help me trust in Your love and know that wherever I am, I am never far from Your heart. Amen.