Face-to-Face

Many years and a lifetime ago, my ex-husband abandoned me six hours away from my family. I called my mom (collect) and cried. She said that she and my dad would be there at the end of the week to help me pack up and come back home. I called her every day that week, multiple times a day and cried as she comforted me. I was so grateful for those phone conversations, but nothing could take the place of that moment when she stood with her arms around me and said, “We’re here. We’ll help you get home.
There are two verses in Isaiah 41 that came together for me in a powerful way this week. Verse 10 says: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” That is awesome! God has taken hold of me with His right hand. But then I saw something in verse 13: “I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” Did you see it? God has taken hold of my right hand. With His right hand. The only way that works is if God and I are standing face-to-face.
I know life has been a struggle lately and you wonder if God cares or is even paying attention. Oh Beloved, t’s time to look up. See your Heavenly Father standing right in front of you. Feel the warmth of your right hand in His right hand. Hear Him as He looks into your eyes and speaks. “Don’t be afraid. I am here. I will help you.” He knows. He cares. He is with you. Face-to-face.
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On the Outside Looking In

I was never popular in school. I had a weird name, I was tall and gangly, clumsy and awkward. I wore hand-me-downs and homemade clothes and every school picture looked like I didn’t own a hairbrush. I wasn’t very smart and wasn’t part of the “in” crowd. Oh but I wanted to be. I wanted so much to be accepted by the pretty girls who dressed in the latest fashions and carried themselves with an air of confidence I could never master. That carried over into my adult life, always feeling like I was on the outside looking in. When I became a Christian, those feelings didn’t change. I had a past—a pretty ugly one, and all those Bible-toting women at church, seemed so perfect. Had they ever made some of the choices I made? Did they feel ashamed of the things they had done? I drew back because I didn’t feel like I belonged among them. I felt like an outsider.

That’s why I love Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. He writes, “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (2:19). Paul says I belong. It’s not because I’m less awkward or because I dress better or finally found a hairbrush. It’s because of Jesus. Jesus made me acceptable to God. He made me part of the family. He died to cover all my sins and to take away my shame. Because of Jesus I am not an outsider; I’m part of the “in” crowd – because I’m in Him. It’s not a popularity contest. In God’s Kingdom everyone is the same – rescued, redeemed, restored and joined together as one holy dwelling place for the Lord (2:21).

My friend, God’s hand is stretched out to you too, to welcome you into the family, to be “in,” and to never be rejected again. It doesn’t matter what you wear or where you live or work or whether your hair is neatly brushed. It doesn’t matter if you never finished school or if you have a string of letters after your name. It doesn’t matter if you made all the right choices in life (like anyone has) or if you made every mistake possible. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, live in a mansion or a tent come from the right family or the wrong side of the tracks. God says to you “Come.” Take Him up on His offer. There’s more than enough room at the family table for you. You can sit next to me.

Holy Father, what a blessing to be part of Your family, to be accepted and welcomed with every other saint of God. I have nothing of value or worth, I’m just a sinner saved by grace. Oh but grace! Thank you for making a place for me a the family table. Amen.

The “Perfect” Christian

“Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

 

Perfectionism is the preferred disease of the twenty-first century and it’s killing us.  Ever said or heard one of these?

“I want my wedding day to be perfect.”

“This proposal has to be perfect – dot every “i” and cross every “t.”

“Get this mess cleaned up! Our guests will be here in an hour and this place has to be perfect.”

“I stayed up all night to work on my paper – it has to be perfect if I’m going to get an “A” in this class.” (That would be me.)

Or maybe this one sounds most familiar to you:

“Why did I do that/say that/think that?  I’m a Christian – I’m supposed to be perfect!”

I thought you would recognize the last one – I know I’ve heard it in my own head countless times.  And we have the mandate of Jesus in our key verse to back up that relentless voice.  “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) “Be perfect – be perfect – be perfect.”   Yet we know that only One was perfect – the speaker Himself.  Does that mean He was setting up an unrealistic standard for us?  Not exactly.  When Jesus used the word “perfect” He was not saying be flawless – He was speaking of maturity – the word (in Greek) teleioo and its root telos mean “to reach a goal, to finish or complete.”   Jesus was saying we need to continually strive for maturity as the goal of our faith.

What’s interesting is that while the Bible uses the word “perfect” just forty-two times,  the word “good” appears more than six hundred times.[1]  Like in the creation account when, after completing each day’s creative work, God examined what He had done and “saw that it was good.”  In the original Hebrew this means that God found His work “pleasing, favorable and satisfactory.”  Think about it – if God, at the zenith of His creative work, was content with “good” shouldn’t “good” be good enough for us?

There’s more:  He promised a good land to the Israelites when they escaped Egyptian bondage (Exodus 3:8), Jeremiah told the people to “ask where the good way is and walk in it” (6:16).  Jesus said the Father gives “good gifts” (Matthew 7:11), He proclaimed the soil with the greatest harvest good ((Luke 8:8) and Paul tells us to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21) – not perfection.[2]  Even the Gospel that saves us is called “the Good News” (Acts 5:42).  Why then, are we trying so hard to be perfect?

God didn’t saddle us with this obsession for perfection – it was the enemy who planted that impossible seed.  But we have watered and nurtured it until it has become a weed of gigantic proportions and, as weeds so often do, it has choked the life out of us and the “good works” we were created to do (Ephesians 2:10).  It’s his way of keeping you distracted, dissatisfied, frustrated – and fruitless.  Perfectionism will drive us to the point of exhaustion as we push ourselves to reach for an unreachable standard.  Or, on the flip side, it will leave us in a state of paralysis, fearful of even attempting anything because we know we’ll never measure up.  I’ve been both – and it’s no way to live.  You and I will never pull off perfection this side of heaven.  And that’s okay.

My friend, only God is perfect and making you perfect is His work alone, through the blood of Jesus and the power of the Spirit.  But you won’t see the perfectly finished product until you stand before Him in heaven.  So hang all your perfectionist tendencies on Him and be free from that burden you were never meant to carry.  Being good is good enough.

Holy Father, You didn’t ask me to measure up to some perfect standard, but it’s what often demand of myself.  Please help me to rest in the knowledge that good is good enough for You.  Amen.

[1] I am using the NIV – New International Version, other translations may have a different word count.

[2] All Scripture emphases were added by me.

The Bigger Picture

world-map“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

“I need a bigger map than this,” I complained. “I need to see my whole route.”  The image on my GPS only showed the next several hundred yards in front of me.  But that wasn’t enough for me.   I needed to see my present location in relation to where I wanted to end up.  I needed a bigger picture. 

Of all the lessons the Lord has taught me in the past 45 years, I think the most powerful teaching has been that of gaining a bigger picture.  We live in the moment, in the hours of our days, looking at our weekly schedules and our monthly calendars, planning big events a year or more ahead.  We plan for college educations and retirement and think we’re wise in our future forecasts.  But life isn’t just about our plans for the here and now.  Life – real life – is eternal, and the greatest lesson I’ve learned is to have an eternal perspective in all things.

I’m learning to evaluate every situation and circumstance and consider what kind of impact it will have in eternity.  Is this struggle I am in going to change my eternal destiny?  Will this difficult season continue on eternally?  Yes, this life hands us some very hard and painful things, but this life is also temporary, and eternity is—well—eternal, it’s forever and ever and ever.  Just prior to our key verse, Paul wrote: “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (v. 17).  Though they often do not feel “light and momentary,” in the reality of eternity, they are just one tick on the clock of forever. 

I’m also learning to let the words I say pass through this eternal filter.  Several years ago, God gave me a verse to motivate me towards my calling: “If you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesman,” (Jeremiah 15:19).  I’m making an intentional effort to speak and write “worthy words” that have an eternal purpose.   I ask myself, “Will the words I’m about to say have an eternal impact?”

This eternal perspective affects my desires too.  When I start to feel the pinch of envy, I remember that Jesus is preparing an eternal place for me that my brother’s beautiful, custom-built home can never match.  I will wear a robe of righteousness forever that no fashion designer could ever create.  I will have a perfect body that doesn’t require hours in a gym.  Even the events of this world don’t seem so overwhelming when viewed in the light of eternity.

Thinking back to my GPS, when we have a “bigger picture” of life that culminates in eternity, we understand the journey we are on and the route before us.  We can traverse twisting roads, sharp turns, long stretches and detours with the assurance that none of these will stop us from reaching our final destination – heaven and the presence of God forever.  Beloved, I encourage you to widen the view before you and trust the One who is leading you.  This life with all its heartache and struggle is part of the journey to your perfect eternal destiny.  Let’s travel on together with our hearts set on forever.

What Will You do With Your New Year?

2017-year-calendar-template“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

What will you do with the new year you’ve been given?  What goals and aspirations so you have for the next 12 months?  Start a new job?  Go to college?  Graduate? Buy a house or a car? Get married? Take on an exciting challenge?  I’ve got a couple of my own in that list.  It’s good to have goals, I think we wander through life without them.  It’s important to look ahead and consider possibilities and options and to sketch out some plans for the future.  That doesn’t mean we’re not walking by faith, God gives us wisdom and vision to guide us through our lives.

But don’t let the “big picture” crowd out the details.  As you approach this new year, don’t forget that you’ve been given 365 individual days which are broken into 8,760 hours. Consider that about 2,920 will be given to sleep, and about the same number at work. That leaves another 2,920 hours of “disposable time,” which you can use any way you choose.  That is generally spread out over several work days and days off.    Certainly there are chores and other responsibilities to be done, yet we still have a good portion of that time left over. 

This is where Moses’ prayer in our key verse comes in.  We can use our time to sit numbly in front of a screen, or to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.  We can fill our minds with trivial accounts of the rich and famous.  We can fritter away those hours with mindless distractions or create things that won’t last.  Or we can spend our time wisely.  We can draw closer to our Heavenly Father through prayer and studying His Word.  We can grow in the fellowship of other believers.  We can give our time to Kingdom work.  We can invest well in others; serving, mentoring, teaching, caring, loving.  We can use our words to bless and encourage and build up. We can share what the world so desperately needs: love, hope, and peace. 

It’s really up to you.  God has granted you a fresh, new year and the possibilities are endless. How will you invest the treasure of time you’ve been given?  With frivolity or with wisdom? With mindlessness or with purpose? Beloved, how will you number your days this year?

Cheering You On!

cheering

“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses . . .” (Hebrews 12:1)

Facebook can be a curse and a blessing.  I waste more time on FB than I really can afford to lose (I see you nodding your head in agreement).  One quick scroll can turn into 30 minutes of mind-numbing uselessness.  I love to see your precious babies and your memories and I welcome the laughter from the funny things you share.  I’ve been blessed to reconnect with long-lost relatives and friends plus, FB makes birthdays a blast!  But I really don’t have time for this!  Still Facebook, and other social media give me opportunities to reach out with the Word of God to encourage, inspire, and teach more people than I could fit in my living room or a class room at my church.  And the encouragement and inspiration I receive from you is balm to my weary heart.

Hebrews 11 lists what we consider the “greats of the faith” – Like Noah, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and even Rahab – a prostitute no less.  They are all part of the “great cloud of witnesses” who serve as encouragement and inspiration for us today.  Add to that list the apostles like Peter, James, John and Paul, plus those through the centuries who have died for the cause of Christ – men and women who stood in the face of torture and death and praised the Name above every name – and it is indeed a “great cloud” of faithfulness.  They are models and examples to us and they are cheering you and me on in our Christian journey.  They paid the price for being a Christ-follower and they want us to know that it is worth it.

There is another in that great cloud who is particularly watching and encouraging us.  Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The Scriptures tell us that Jesus is praying for us; He is asking His Father to give us faith that will not fail (Luke 22:31, Romans 8:34).  He is speaking to our hearts through His Spirit.  And when the battle is the hardest and we think we have been forgotten, He who sits at the right hand of the Father, stands to bless and encourage us (Acts 7:55, 56).  Beloved, you have all the saints of the ages cheering you on.  You have brothers and sisters in Christ to support and encourage you.  And you have the very Son of God praying on your behalf.  With all that – how could you possibly fail?

Promises, Promises

promise

“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:45).

You stood together at the front of the church and promised to “love, honor and cherish till death do us part.”  Yet, here you are alone and hurting.  My child promised to come home on time, and two hours later I’m fuming as I hear his key finally turn in the door.  They promised advances and promotions when you were hired, but you’re still stuck at entry level. What happened?  Promises were made and then broken.  You’ve been on the receiving end, I’m sure.  You may have been on the giving end as well. 

Part of our human sinful condition is that we are selfish and self-centered and that often means we will fail to keep our word.  We make promises because we believe we will always feel the way we do in the moment. We never expected that our feelings would change.  Sometimes promises are made because we see that we can gain an advantage.  We really have no intention of keeping that promise, but we make it anyway.  I have made promises that I later could not keep.  I thought I could do what I said I would do, I have every intention of doing what I said I would do, but something unexpected happened and I failed to keep my word.  The end result is always the same – someone gets hurt.  Someone is placed at a disadvantage.  Is it any wonder that we find it hard to trust others?  Even God.

One thing I am certain of to the marrow of my bones is that God is faithful to His promises.  His Word is as sure as His character, and His character is flawless.  God doesn’t make promises based on feelings, so we never have to worry that His feelings will change and His promises will fail.  He does not need to make promises to gain and advantage.  He always has the advantage.  He doesn’t make promises He cannot keep.  He is almighty, all-powerful, and able to do everything He says He will do.  He never makes a promise He doesn’t intend to keep.  God wouldn’t be God if He did not or could not keep His promises.

What has God promised you?  If you are in Christ He has promised you salvation and eternal life.  He has promised you hope and peace and joy.  He has promised His presence, His power and His protection.  He has promised to provide, comfort and care for you.  He has promised you victory over sin and death and this world.  He has promised and He will accomplish.  Blessed are you when you take Him at His Word.

Hearing Voices

bud-flower-drops-close-upForget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See I am doing a new thing! (Isaiah 43:18,19)

I hear voices every day. I’ll bet you do too. No, we’re not crazy; those voices are from the past, from other’s opinions and judgments of us. And they tend to weigh heavily on us long after we’ve grown up. I was the klutzy, clueless, dumb kid growing up. I was teased terribly in school (try growing up with the name Dorcas Beegle and see if you don’t get razed day in and day out). I was reminded continually that I was not the pretty one or the smart one. I went through most of my life gathering up all those voices then every morning I hit play and rehearsed all the things that people said about me. My self-esteem was in the pit. I gave up before I ever tried because of the words stored up in my head. I’ve always wanted to write, but someone once said I had nothing of value to say. I longed to go to college, but other voices said I was too dumb. I dreamed of being in ministry but didn’t pursue it because the recordings said I was a failure. I lived out what I heard others say throughout my life.

Until God said differently.

God began a long process of healing and re-writing my sense of who I was. He reminded me that I was created in His image, which meant I had value and intelligence. He patiently recorded over those old tapes and pulled those long-lost dreams of writing and college and ministry back to the surface. He put words in my mind and told me to write. He put me on the path to seminary and He and I have maintained a 4.0 average for three years now. And He opened doors to a ministry of teaching and mentoring. Now I am living out what God says about me.

Beloved, no voice from your past truly determines your life. You are who God says you are. His opinion is the only one that matters. What is He saying to your heart today?

I Can Do It Myself

rosietheriveter

I felt the soapy dishwater drip from my fingers as his words cut into my heart.

“I don’t need you anymore.”

The cool November breeze floated through the open door as he turned and walked away.

Not need me anymore? How could he say that?  

I looked out the window watching those brown boots carry him across the yard.  My shoulders rose – then fell as a sigh escaped my lips.  I knew the day would come, but I didn’t know how much it would hurt.  It was just an innocent comment from my then four-year old son, but it stabbed my heart like a dagger.

“Mama! Mama!  I can swing by myself!  I don’t need you anymore!”  For this mother, it was one more sign that my job was changing every day; and this was a good change—he was showing independence, something we all work towards for our children.  Almost as soon as he could talk I heard, “Me do it! Me do it!”  He wanted to be his own (little) man.

Independence is a good thing; it’s a healthy goal as we raise our children.  But it’s not the goal of God for His children.  In fact, the opposite is true – God desires greater dependence, and less independence.  Unlike human parents, He measures our growth by how much we rely on Him.

Throughout Scripture we find man trying to run ahead of God, trying to establish his own autonomy, trying to distance himself from his creator.  Isn’t that the idea behind Satan’s lies in the Garden?  By promising Eve “wisdom and knowledge” he was telling her she could be independent from God; she could make up her own mind about what was good and evil and determine her own destiny.  She could get out from under God’s thumb.

The Bible shows the nation of Israel’s constant attempts to go their own way, make their own rules, and live by their own authority, and over and over we see them fail because God did not call them to independent greatness.  He called them to be His people, in a covenant relationship with Him where He provided and guided and they relied and followed.  When God led them out of Egypt and started for the Promised Land, He meant for them to trust and rely on Him.  But when they came to the edge and saw the size of the enemy they balked and determined to strike out on their own back to Egypt.  The result was hardship and death.  God called them into a covenant relationship that required their complete dependence, but they would not humble themselves before Him. They exemplified the heart of disobedience – prideful independence.  The last verse in Judges gives a chilling report:  “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25).

The Christian faith is built on this same dependent relationship.  We depend on Christ for our salvation. We depend on the Holy Spirit for guidance and wisdom.  We depend on our Heavenly Father for our “daily bread,” for our future, for strength, and for eternal life.  We don’t “stand on our own two feet,” as believers we stand on the work and worth of Christ.  We stand on God’s faithfulness.  No, scratch that—we rest on the work and worth of Christ and the faithfulness of God, and that is what the people of Israel – and you and I – miss when we struggle to be independent of God—we miss His rest.  For those who give up their “right” to autonomy and depend on God there is rest.  Physical rest.  Emotional rest. Spiritual rest.  And isn’t that what we really want?

Perhaps you’ve heard the “verse,” “God helps those who help themselves.”   Friend, I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover many times over—trust me when I tell you, it ain’t in there.  From Genesis to Revelation I find no place where God chastised people for depending on Him too much, but I do find over and over that He rebuked them for trying to live independent of Him.  God wants—demands our reliance.  There’s no other way to live in relationship with Him.

It’s true that Scripture tells us to “grow up in the faith” (Ephesians 4:15), but the mark of maturity in Christ is greater dependence on Him.  Just as the branch relies on the vine for its nourishment and fruit, believers in Christ are to remain attached to our Life-source for our every need.

Let’s declare this our DEPENDENCE day in Christ.

Holy, gracious and wonderful God, it’s not that you want to rule over me: You want to love me, care for me, provide for me and guide me.  Lord help me to rely on You for every need in my life.  I’m so grateful that I can always depend on You.  Amen.

The Desire of the Heart

follow-your-heart“Each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”  James 1:14-15

I used to work in a church office and we were often contacted by prisoners in jail who wanted us to visit and usually to try to intervene with the law on their behalf.  They almost always gave the same story, “I found myself in jail.”  As if they were innocently living their lives and suddenly looked up to see bars all around them.  It’s just one example of the human mantra, “It’s not my fault!”  And it’s as old as humanity itself.  In the Garden, at the scene of the first sin, Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed Eve and even God.  But the Lord knew the truth then, and he knows the truth now.  As our key verse clearly says, we are tempted by our own evil desires.  No one ever just wakes up unexpectedly in the pit of sin.  There is a progression and we are wise to recognize where it all begins.

James lays it out:

Man’s own sinful desire

The lure of temptation

Taking the bait

Sin is born

The final outcome: Death

At the heart of all sin is our innate sinful nature and our own sinful desires.  Paul explained it in Romans 8:5 saying, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires.”  The Bible offers us countless examples of this truth. King David showed a previous bent toward lust with many wives, and when he was tempted with the beautiful Bathsheba, he answered that call.  The same was true of his son, Solomon, who “loved many foreign women” (1 Kings 11:1). He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines – that’s a thousand women – and “his wives led him astray” (1 Kings 11:3).  In fact, sexual lust was, and continues to be, the most “popular” desire among human beings.

Judas was tempted by wealth; the gospels reported that he was stealing from the funds for the poor even before his betrayal of Jesus (John 12:6).  When the temptation was offered to earn thirty silver coins, his desire overwhelmed him and he turned on his Friend.

Satan goes for our desires, which are often our weaknesses.  Money, sex and power are the usual enticements into sin and death, but there are more than we can conceivably count.  Every person has their own desire, their own personal lure, and be assured Satan knows it.  He has devised a scheme just for you and just for me, tailor made to match that craving inside us.  We answer to the temptation that calls out to our innate desires. If your desire is for material possessions, he will pull you into the mall, or entice you with advertisements for the newest shiny thing.  If your desire is lust, every TV commercial for lingerie will catch your attention and he will make certain you get plenty of pop-ups for sexual sites on your I-phone.  Want power, prestige, fame, a high?  He’s got just what you’re looking for.

But Satan is not the one that God will hold responsible. We are all held accountable for our own desires.  King David warned his son Solomon, “The Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought” (1 Chronicles 28:9).  He knows that while Satan sets the trap and pulls the string, you and I are to blame for crawling in to take the bait.  Our hearts – our desires – will deceive us and lead us into self-destruction (Jeremiah 17:9).

Our only way of escaping his trap is to have but one desire: God.

God wants to be the desire of your heart and mine.  Nothing can drag us away into sin if the desire of our heart is to please and honor the holy, sovereign Lord of the Universe.  We will still face temptations, but if our one and only desire is to be like Christ, those temptations will fail to entice us.  Jesus resisted temptation because He had no evil desires.  His desire was only to do the will of His Father, therefore He had no pull to the temptations of the devil.

One of the church’s favorite verses is Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.”  I have it highlighted in my Bible too.  But we tend to overlook the first part in favor of the second.  We hone in on “He will give you the desire of your heart,” but rush past the requirement expressed just before it: “Delight yourself in the Lord.”  In other words, if your heart yearns for God alone, He will give you your heart’s desire.  And after that desire is met in all His fullness, any other gift He chooses to give to you is “icing on the cake.”

If we are serious about living pure and holy lives, especially in this culture, we must adopt the attitude of Asaph who proclaimed: “Earth has nothing I desire besides you…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25, 26).  When God is our heart’s desire, He will make sure we have the desire of our heart.

 

Holy Father, I know my desires are not often pure and the enemy know it too, as he casts his temptations before me.  My only hope is for you to be the sole desire of my heart.  I can’t do that on my own Lord, I need you to change my heart.  I want you to be my heart’s desire.  Amen.