God’s Sonnet of Love

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Her hands were rough from years of hard labor. Her face was lined with deep wrinkles from years of living. Her body was bent, her legs weak as she shuffled along. But still she carried herself with a grace that belonged to women in a royal court, not in a grocery store in Alabama. She was scanning the flowers on display in my floral department when I greeted her and offered my assistance.

“My great-granddaughter is coming for lunch today, I want some pretty flowers to let her know she is special to me.”

“How old is she?” I asked.

“She just turned 16 last month. Oh, she’s had such a rough time lately. She’s a little on the heavy side, and the kids in school have been so mean to her. But she’s a wonderful girl and I want to help her see that she is special to me and special to God.”

“She very blessed to have you – I sure could have used those kind of words when I was 16.”

She reached her rough, wrinkled hand across the counter to mine, “Sweetheart, hear it now, you are special to God – like I tell my girl – you’re His poem.”

I placed her bouquet in her cart, hugged her and thanked her for her purchase and her sweet words. She reached up and patted my cheek, “Look up Ephesians 2:10 dear.” I smiled because I knew the verse well: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” I’ve referenced it often in the context of being created by God for a purpose and a good work. But I dug into it again when I got home. As I studied, I saw that the original Greek transliteration of the word workmanship was poiema – from which we get our English word “poem.” I read that verse again with a personal touch, “I am God’s poem.” What a wonderful thought!

Beloved, do you know that you are also God’s poiema? You are His sonnet of love, of grace and beauty and rhythm in a world that is ugly and chaotic. When you look in the mirror you may see freckles or wrinkles, blond hair, or strands of grey. You may see someone with a little extra weight, or the effects of time and life etched into your face. But never forget that you are looking at the pièce de résistance of the One who created stars and mountains and vast oceans. You are the expression of God’s creative brilliance and power. You were formed and fashioned to show the world the creative beauty of the Author of your life. You, beautiful one, are a masterpiece.

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When God Doesn’t Make Sense

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“He makes everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

When his two co-prisoners had strange dreams, Joseph interpreted them accurately and the men met the fates that Joseph had described. The chief baker was hanged, and the chief cupbearer was restored to his position. Joseph had asked the cupbearer to mention his unjust imprisonment to Pharaoh. “Surely,” Joseph must have thought, “I will finally be released from this prison.” But the Scripture says, “The chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (Genesis 40:23). And the very next verse tells us that Joseph was stuck in that prison for another two years. Freedom was so close he could almost touch it, yet it remained just outside of his grasp. Why would God allow Joseph to languish unjustly in prison, especially when He had given him visions of prominent position when he was younger? What purpose could that possibly serve?

Have you asked similar questions about your own life? God, why am I still single? Why am I childless? Why can’t I advance in my career? Why can’t I get healthy? Why am I stuck in ____________. It is so frustrating when we can’t see any logical reason for God not to answer our pleas. If you’ve ever scratched your head and thought, “God, you’re not making much sense here,” you’re in very good company. But dear one, you also don’t know the big picture, just as Joseph couldn’t know how God would unfold His plan.

The Bible says that after those two years, Pharaoh had an unusual dream that no one could interpret. It was then that the chief cupbearer remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh. Joseph not only interpreted the dream, but he so impressed Pharaoh that he was elevated to the second highest position in the land. In that position Joseph was able to save his family from starvation. If he had been released from prison two years earlier, he would have almost certainly high-tailed it out of Egypt and away from the plan of God for his life, for the lives of his family and, ultimately your life and mine, for in rescuing his family, Joseph preserved the nation from which our Savior would come.

When you find yourself becoming anxious about what God is not doing in your life, remember that you can’t see the big picture from your vantage point. Could it be that He is positioning you for a greater purpose than you can imagine? Could He be preparing you – and the situation you’re in – for a miracle? I believe Joseph would counsel you not to fret, but to trust God to move in your life in just the right place at just the right time. When He is directing the lives of His people, God makes every minute count towards His purposes. God has not forgotten about you Beloved; “He makes everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Including your life.

Real Faith for Real Life

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“Take your stand and see this great thing which the Lord will do before your eyes.”  1 Samuel 12:16, NASB

How can we learn to have real faith in a real world full of real problems in our real lives?  By focusing our hearts on a real God and our minds on a real Word. Let me give you an example from my own life.

No too long ago I was dealing with a heart wrenching situation and there was nothing I could do to change it. God knows I tried. After several exhausting months, I finally came to the point of understanding it was out of my control. So my next step was to I beg and plead with God to fix it.  As it drug on and on and took many twists and turns, I began to have physical and emotional health issues from the stress. I was sorely distracted from the work God had called me to and thought about giving up.   Then I realized that was just what the devil was after – to make me abandon the kingdom work and run back into my protective shell. But God (oh, how I love those two words!) began to slowly turn my heart from desperation to dependence.   I started meditating more on God’s character and less on the problem at hand. I began searching the Scriptures so I could pray God’s Word over the matter.   I stopped telling God what I thought He should do and began telling Him that I trusted Him in whatever He chose to do. God gave me a phrase that became like a mantra whenever Satan started to taunt me over the situation: “I have rested the matter in the hands of my Father.”  Mind you, the issue still wasn’t resolved, it continued on and for a time looked even bleaker than when it first began. The devil continued to hammer away at me, but I ran that phrase over and over in my head, and often spoke it out loud so that the enemy could hear me.  I cannot describe the peace that filled my mind and heart.

Beloved, that is real faith for real life. It is making the moment by moment determination to keep your focus on God’s power, faithfulness, strength and promises.  It is trusting in Him rather than trying to solve the problem on your own.  It is looking into the Word of God for a word for your soul, and praying His will through His Word. It is coming before Him in raw honesty and allowing Him to soothe your wounded heart and calm your frantic spirit. And most importantly it is holding up your shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16), remembering His character, remembering His Words and choosing to believe that He is with you in the battle; and God never loses a battle.

Draw Near

I love mornings because they are almost always Joyful! My sweet granddaughter usually wakes up around 6 a.m. and we get to visit while her Mommy fixes her morning bottle. She always wakes up happy and smiling – she lives up to her name every morning. We’ll talk and smile until her breakfast is ready. I’ll lean her little head back into the crook of my arm and touch the bottle to her lips. She smiles and starts to drink, all the while her gray-blue eyes are locked onto my face. As she enjoys her breakfast, the early hour and the bottle start to call her back into the world of sweet dreams. Then the most wonderful thing happens. As she starts to drift off, she will turn her whole body in towards me and give a deep sigh. I draw her in closer to my chest – her head nestled hear to my heart. I feel her body relax and watch her eyes close in sleep. I whisper a prayer that she will always know that she trust me to hold her close to my heart, even if I can’t always hold her in my arms.

These precious moments always bring a verse to mind: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). It is an invitation with a promise. God is inviting you and me to turn our whole selves toward our Him, and He promises that He will pull us closer still. He will give us the comfort and blessing of His presence. He will give us His peace. Beloved, how long has it been since you’ve rested your weary head against your Father’s chest? How long since you’ve felt the beat of his heart against your cheek? The invitation is yours for the taking. His arms are open wide to receive you. Draw near. Nearer. You can “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16). Climb up into His lap and feel His strong arms enfold you. Breath a deep sigh Beloved, and rest.

God, I Don’t Understand

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One of my favorite ways to study the Bible is digging into one book and examining it passage-by-passage, verse-by-verse, and even word-by-word. There is so much wealth in every word of Scripture. I enjoy looking at each word as if I’m looking at all the different facets of a diamond. I love to study word definitions and etymology because one of the most important aspects of Bible study is to understand the author’s original intent. Because the meaning of words change from time periods and cultures, we often read a first-century word with a twenty-first century understanding and it affects the way we interpret, and thus apply, Scripture. For example, when Paul writes about “slaves” you and I picture the horrific slavery of America in the 1800-1900’s. But slavery in the Middle East in the first century was often a business transaction or even a relationship of loyalty between slave and master. So when we examine a passage such as Ephesians 6:5-8 we can have a better understanding of the concept of slavery when Paul told slaves to “obey your earthly masters with respect and fear and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.”

But is slavery really the point Paul is making here? If we pull back from this close-up of one word, we see that the bigger picture is that of obedience to and for the Lord. Pull back a little more and this section is sandwiched between family instruction and the armor of God. Once again the bigger picture is all persons doing all things “in the Lord” and being “strong in the Lord” (v. 1, 10). Pull back even farther and we see the whole theme of Ephesians is living as who we are “in the Lord.” As helpful as it is to examine each verse in a passage and even each word in the verse, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture. You could take this macro-vision even farther by noting that the entire New Testament is what God has done and is doing “in the Lord.” What is the focus of the entire Bible? The Lord.

Right now, you may be dealing with something very difficult and all your attention is centered on this one thing in your life. It’s all you can see. You are hyper-focused on this single issue, person, or struggle. You are looking at it from every possible angle, trying to figure out how you got here and testing out various solutions in your mind to determine the best course of action. Friend, you need a wider perspective. May I encourage you to pull back just a little and look for the bigger picture? This issue, person or need is one word in one sentence of one paragraph on one page of your entire life story. But it isn’t your whole story. God has a much bigger purpose in mind than just the solution to one problem in your life. Over and over the Bible tells stories of people who had a challenge—infertility, oppression, imprisonment, slavery, rejection, even lack of basic life necessities—and God moved in such a way that the resolution to their challenge became a much larger and more God-glorifying part of their story.

I find great comfort in Jesus’ words in the upper room: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7). When I want to say, “God I don’t get this; I can’t figure out what to do here” I hear my Lord say, “You can’t grasp it now child, but you will understand when you see the bigger picture.” Beloved, there is a bigger picture. There is a higher purpose. There is so much more to your story than you can see in the moment. Give God your troubles, your struggles, your difficulties and watch Him unfold something you never imagined. Your life is so much more than this moment. Trust the Author of your life story. He has a beautiful, wonderful ending in store for you.

Wait A Little Longer

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I stood there tapping my toes impatiently.  “Come on!” I muttered under my breath as I watched the timer tick down. 5 . . . 4. . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1.  Then the shrill “beep, beep, beep.”  About time!  My breakfast pastry was finally done!  I popped open the microwave door and juggled the hot food.  Then it dawned on me.  I just told a microwave to hurry up.  I couldn’t wait a minute and forty-five second wait for my breakfast.

In our hurry-up society, we hate waiting.  Doctors’ offices, the DMV, a child who’s late coming home – they all make us a little crazy as precious minutes –or – hours tick away.  Perhaps you know the anxiety of waiting days for test results, or for a phone call after a job interview.  Or maybe your waiting has stretched beyond minutes and days to months and even years.  And you’re not waiting on a doctor or a kid or a phone call.  You’re waiting on God.  You’ve been praying.  And praying. And God delays.  You haven’t gotten a closed door.  But you also haven’t gotten an answer yet.

You’re in good company.  Revelation tells of some folks who are also waiting on God.  They are “the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’” (Revelation 6:9-10).  They are waiting for God to do what they know He alone is able to do – but isn’t.  Sound familiar?  “God, You can do this, You can fix this, You can stop this.  But You aren’t.”

The Scripture says that “each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer . . .” (v. 11).  When God tells us to wait it is because He intends to act.  Are you waiting for God?  Have you been praying for a long time with no end in sight?  Oh, please, don’t despair.  Our Father doesn’t tell us to wait in vain.  And He doesn’t tell us to wait unless there’s something worth waiting for.  Beloved, will you “wait a little longer?”

Don’t Let the World Change Your Song

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“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:3).

For many years I sang in church choirs.  I am not a great singer, but I always tried to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” (Psalm 98:4).  I am an alto – I sing on the low female range.  I remember one church choir I was in, I was seated with a soprano to my left, a tenor directly behind me on my left and a bass directly behind me on my right.  Everyone was going in different vocal directions and I had the hardest time staying on my alto notes. Because the soprano was a strong singer, I was constantly being pulled in her direction.  I spoke to our choir director, and he told me he didn’t want to move me, but he did give me some good advice.  He told me to concentrate more on my note – and to lean just a little towards the alto to my right.  He said that he could hear me singing the correct notes, but at the same time, he could tell that I was listening to all the other singers around me and losing confidence in myself.  I will always remember what he told me, “You’re on the right notes, but you have to stay focused and not back off.”

I think about that often when the world is loud and I’m struggling to stay on the right way.  Many different voices are saying many different things, and they are apt to draw me away from what I know is true.  The culture wants me to embrace things that God’s Word has clearly forbidden.  The scholar wants me to trade truth for worldly philosophies that have no regard for God.  The unsaved world wants me to stop singing God’s praises altogether.  My choir director’s advice rings loud and clear: stay focused. Concentrate on what you know is right and true; lean in to godly wisdom and don’t back off.  This world is becoming more evil and more vocal every day. If we are not intentionally listening to God, you and I will be pulled away from what is right and true.  I love this word from Paul to his protégé Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of” (2 Timothy 3:14).  Stay the course.  Focus on the truth.  Let God’s Word drown out the voices of the world. The way of righteousness has not changed just because the music around you has. Beloved, don’t let the world change your song.

God, I have a Question

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Doubt is a dangerous thing for the Christian.  Doubt causes us to distance ourselves from God.  Distance leads to disobedience and soon we loose our desire to witness for Christ.  God wants us to believe without wavering. But we are finite humans and sometimes it is hard to believe, especially when all things seem to point the other way. If anyone should have believed without wavering, it was Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. Even in the womb, he recognized the Lord, leaping at the sound of Mary’s voice (Luke 1: 41-45). John’s whole life was for one mission, “to prepare the way for the Lord” (Luke 3:4). He knew Jesus was the Messiah and he declared Him as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” This was confirmed to John at the Lord’s baptism – “I saw the Sprit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” He added emphatically, “I have seen, and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29-34). Yet John asked a big question, “Are the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20). What changed? John was in a prison cell after speaking out against the Roman king and his adulterous marriage. John’s circumstances were certainly not what he had expected. He had faithfully proclaimed the coming of God’s Kingdom. He had rebuked the religious elite and the irreligious royals. And rather than blessings, his efforts brought down the wrath of Herod’s wife. He did what God asked of Him and the results were harsh. Can you blame the poor fellow? Haven’t you and I questioned God for less?
With all that he knew, John – weary and discouraged – began to doubt. But Jesus didn’t chastise John. He knew the man’s heart and that those doubts arose from the overwhelming blow he had been dealt. Jesus pointed John back to the evidence. “What do you see, John?” “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22). Look beyond your circumstances John. You preached the coming of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 3:1). You spoke of my power (Mark 1: 7). Your own words are being fulfilled in Me. Then He added, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:23).
Questions are not the absence of faith. I have had many, many questions for God, and like John, my questions made me search for answers. And those answers strengthened my faith. God always answers honest questions. Don’t be afraid when questions creep in – take them to Jesus. He will not chasten you. He will give you answers that will ground and strengthen your faith. Ask your questions Beloved, Jesus not only has the answers, He is the answer.

Have You Drifted Away from Jesus?

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I have several cousins on my Dad’s side – folks I haven’t seen since my childhood.  We used to get together and play from sun-up to sun-down when we made the trip home with our parents.  We never fought or argued, we were having too much fun.  We ran through the fields or played dolls in grandma’s back bedroom.  We sat on her front porch swing and made up silly songs.  We ate all our meals together, sitting at grandma’s Formica table.  We often piled up in one bed together at night just so we could start the day together again.  Then we all grew up and I stopped making the trips back home. I haven’t seen those cousins in more than thirty years.  I remember some of their names, but we could share a seat on a bus today and I doubt that I would recognize them – or they me.  They will always be my cousins, but the fun times we had together as kids can’t sustain a relationship now after so many years apart.

I fear that many folks have the same kind of relationship with Jesus that I have now with my cousins. Every Sunday found you at church – God’s house – with your parents.  You played with your church friends and shared cookies and Kool-Aid and wiggled in your chair watching the flannel-board Bible story.  You sang “Jesus loves me” and meant every word.  But you grew up, and Jesus became less important and now you remember the name, but not the person.  And it shows – in your language, your habits, and your choices.  You and Jesus hung out together a lot when you were a kid, but that can’t sustain a relationship now.

Jesus said we must remain connected to Him – “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  Branches that separate from the vine wither away and die.  So do people.  Beloved, Jesus longs to welcome you home.  He wants to share more than cookies and fruit punch, He wants to share His life with you.  He wants a real relationship with you that will enrich your life today and endure for all eternity.  He’s right where you last saw Him.  Won’t you come back to Jesus?

Messiah over my Messy Life

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Confession: I am not the best housekeeper. It’s not that our home is filthy, but mostly cluttered; it’s not exactly fit for the cover of Southern Living. Perhaps I should just entertain folks on my back porch to keep them from seeing the inside. Heaven help me if they need to use the bathroom! As much as I want to hide my messy home from others, I also want to hide my messy life from Jesus. I don’t want Him to come past the porch and see the clutter, the dust, and the dirt. Can you relate?
Here’s the problem with that – the Bible says that unless we open the door to Jesus and allow Him entry into our lives – yes our messy, un-Jesus-looking lives – we don’t really have a relationship that will sustain us. He said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:21). Tea and cookies on the porch won’t feed our hungry souls. Jesus desires a full, deep and abiding relationship with you and me.
But what will He think when He steps over the threshold and enters our tattered, cluttered, dirt-encrusted lives? How can we ever explain to Him the mud and the muck that has crept into our hearts? I cringe just thinking about all the junk and trash He will have to walk over. But here’s what I know about my Jesus – wherever He is allowed to enter, He brings His transforming power with Him. Somehow, when His feet step over the welcome mat of our heart, His robes sweep away the dirt and dust. He brings with Him the cleansing we so desperately need. By His blood we are washed, and, to our astonishment, our hearts become pure and fit for His presence.
Beloved, Jesus will not glare at the mess in your life and order you to clean yourself up before He will come in. He comes to make you clean, to make you whole; to transform you heart, your life and your world into a place of order and beauty. Do you hear Him knocking? Won’t you open your life to Jesus?

(P.S. – NO – this is NOT a picture of my kitchen!)