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My dad served in the U.S. Army for more than 30 years so we were accustomed to packing up and relocating. It was a way of life for us. The scenery changed often, Texas, Okinawa, Georgia, Alabama, Germany, back to Alabama. Yet there were certain things that always went with us. Wherever the next duty station took us mom always had her Bible and her sewing machine. Every three years or so my school and my friends changed. But home was wherever Mama’s Bible was opened on the kitchen table and her trusty Singer hummed.

Since I’ve been grown and on my own, I’ve moved around more. From Dothan to Midland City to Tallahassee to Woodville to Crawfordville to Tuscaloosa, and now back home to Dothan. Like Mama, one thing that has always gone with me is my Bible. It is the last thing that gets put in the moving van and the first thing that comes into our new home. If I have to be out of town for even a few days, my Bible is the last thing in my suitcase – sitting right on top where I can find it when I get settled.  That’s because where I go, long-term or short, I want God to go with me. I am home wherever God is. And He is always faithful to accompany me on my journeys.

Moses said, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations” (Psalm 90:1). He knew something about moving around. Forty-plus years of it. But God was the constant in every step he took. I’ll be honest and tell you that not every move was a good move and not every place we lived was happy. But God was – and continues to be – my faithful Companion. No, more than that – He was – and continues to be – my Dwelling place. I don’t know where you are right now – physically or emotionally or spiritually. You may be in a mansion or a hovel. You may be on a mountain top or at the bottom of the deepest pit of your life. I do know that if you are in Christ Jesus, God is there. Dwell in Him Beloved, and you will always be at home.

Why?

Reading in Acts 16 this morning where Paul and Silas are in prison for preaching the Gospel. There are a lot of why’s in this story. At the beginning of Acts 16, Paul wants to go to Asia, but God wouldn’t let them. Why? They were stripped, beaten, severely flogged, thrown in prison, and fastened in the stocks (vv. 22-24). Why? Despite it all, in the middle of the night, our boys “were praying and singing hymns to God. Why? But wait, it gets better. A violent earthquake shook the prison and “all the prison doors flew open and everyone’s chain came loose. But they all stayed. Everyone. Why?

Why did all this happen? So the jailer would see and believe in the power of God and so that he and his family would hear the gospel and be saved. I suspect a few prisoners also believed that night.

I take tremendous hope in this story because it tells me if God would go to such lengths to bring the man and his family to salvation, He will move mountains to save my loved one too. I have no doubt that when these new believers came up out of the baptismal waters, Paul and Silas realized all their suffering was worth it. God had directed every single thing to save this family.

Beloved, I know that you are suffering. I know that you are asking “Why?” I know it’s hard and painful. Believe me, I know, because I am there too. But I’m going to pray and praise God in the suffering because I believe He will use it to show His power. And He will break the chains that bind my loved one and throw open the prison door and set them free. It’s going to be worth it all one day. Suffering in God’s hands always – always – brings Joy. Just ask Paul and Silas. And Jesus.

And Who Is My Neighbor?

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This week our Ladies studied the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). I ran across this modern adaptation of the parable and it spoke volumes to us. (Disclaimer: This has been edited for space and application.)

[Jesus is speaking to a group of Southern Baptists:]
An elderly couple was mugged and robbed by a group of thieves outside a restaurant. As the couple lay dazed and bleeding on the sidewalk, a Methodist preacher walked toward them on his way to Bible study, but instead of stopping to render aid, he crossed to the other side of the road and continued on his way. A short while later, a couple of Baptist preachers came along, but since they were running late to their prayer meeting, they also crossed over and hurried on their way.
Finally, an atheist came along and felt compassion for the couple. He rendered whatever medical aide he could, then helped them into his van and drove them to the nearest hospital. He paid the deductible cost of their insurance and made arrangements to further pay any amount not covered by their policy
[Jesus then asked], “Which of the people who came upon the couple acted as a neighbor to them?” The Baptist replied, “The one who had mercy on them”. [Jesus then commanded] “Go and do likewise”.

The man who asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” wanted to know whom he was required to “love” according to the Law. Jesus said the point is not the limit of the Law, it is being the one who goes above and beyond in compassion. Beloved, who needs you to be a neighbor today?

Against All Hope

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“Abraham! Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love . . . and sacrifice him as a burnt offering . . . (Genesis 22:1-2).

If I were Abraham I would gather up my son and run screaming in the other direction. But the very next morning he set out to do what God had commanded him to do. I never understood how Abraham could just willingly sacrifice his beloved son until I studied his story alongside two other Scriptures. Hebrews11:19 says, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” And Romans 4:18 and 20 says “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God

The Spirit showed me that the reason Abraham believed that the Lord would raise his son from the dead is because of God’s promise to build a nation through Isaac (Genesis 17:19). He knew that Isaac would have to live for the promise to be fulfilled. But God had told him to kill the very same son the promise was built upon.  Dead men can’t father children. Yet he reasoned that somehow God would keep His word. Abraham’s faith was in the Promise-keeper, not in the promise. I don’t know about you but needed that reminder again today.

No matter how impossible the situation looks our hope must always be in God, not in an outcome. He is always good and will always do what is right. He is perfect in wisdom and knows what you and I don’t. Beloved, don’t hope that God will do thus-and-so. Trust that God will be God.

Grace

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Friends, I am not the good girl you think you know. Yesterday I broke the law and had to face the consequences of my actions. I was running behind driving over the speed limit. I topped a hill and there he was. The blue lights came on and I pulled to the side of the road. There was no use in denying it – I was guilty. I told the officer I was running late to a wedding. He took my driver’s license and walked back to his patrol car. A few minutes later he came back and said, “You have a clean driving history, so I’m going to reward your good behavior and let you go with a warning.” I thanked him profusely and then he said, “Please slow down ma’am. The roads are wet, and I want you to arrive safely and enjoy your friend’s wedding.” I thanked him again and carefully pulled away. It all ended well – he gave me leniency because he found no fault in me and I made it to the wedding just before the bride walked down the aisle.

Friends, I am a sinner and I sometimes let my sin-nature drive me into sinful behaviors. But God doesn’t see me that way. He looks at me through eyes of grace because of the work of His Son on the cross. Paul said, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9). My record of wrongdoing is long and ugly and there’s no getting off for good behavior. I am a sinner – but a sinner saved by grace.

God has issued an invitation to the wedding of the universe. He wants you to come and enjoy the eternal celebration, but you can’t get there on your own clean record because you’re a sinner too. You have the same sin-nature and the same tendency to sinful behaviors that I do. But there is grace. There is a cross. There is a Savior. His name is Jesus – the Son of God. He died to take away your sins and make you right before His Father. Your place at the wedding is waiting Beloved, and the path is paved with grace.

A Place Called Home

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“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).

Two summers ago when everything in our lives fell apart, we had to find a place to live back in our hometown. We drove around for days looking at apartments, houses, mobile homes – any place we could land. But when we found this house, I knew I was “home.” When I drive around town and see houses for sale or rent, I don’t give them a second thought because I am happily settled where I am.

In John 15:1-11, Jesus told His disciples that He is the Vine, and they (and we) are the branches. Branches must stay connected to the vine to live and to produce good fruit – the word he used is meno meaning to “remain” or “abide. He used it three times in this passage: “remain in me, [let] my words remain in you,” and “remain in my love” v. 9). The word gives the idea of being settled – like we are here in this house.

I think Jesus wants us to “settle down” with Him. I think He wants us to dismiss all other options and opinions because we are happily abiding in Him, curled up on the couch drinking in His Words, wrapped in the warm quilt of His love. Maybe even a cat purring at our feet. Storms may rage outside the walls, but we are not anxious. We are at home.

Beloved, do you long for this kind of peace and contentment? Are you weary of the storm and the confusion of the world? The Master of this house will never turn you away. Come home to God through Jesus Christ. The door is open for you

Joy and Delight

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From the day they moved in with us, we have made it a point to sing to our granddaughter. Poppy makes up songs with her name. I sing hymns and songs from my childhood, like “This little light of mine,” “Jesus loves me,” and “Oh, little playmate, come out and play with me.” I sing them fast and silly when we’re playing and soft and slow when I’m trying to soothe her or rock her to sleep. We’re pretty sure she sings to us too when she oohs and aahs back. I guess you could say singing is our love-language with her.

Last night she was playing beside me, standing at my footstool when I looked at her, overwhelmed with love and started singing her favorite song – “I love you a bushel and a peck.” She lit up in the biggest grin, threw her head back laughing, and started jumping up and down. It blessed my heart so much to see her Joyful reaction. I sang it again and again, holding her sweet little hands while she jumped and laughed. Let me tell you – nothing this world can offer will ever compare.

It gave me a glimpse into one of my favorite verses, Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Imagine this with me. You are doing life, going about your normal day – or maybe it’s not a “normal” day. Maybe it’s a hard, painful day, or a dull, colorless day. God looks at you and His heart swells with delight and He breaks out in a song – a song just for you. Maybe it’s a soft melody to “quiet you with His love,” or it may be a happy song of rejoicing. But it is inspired by the pleasure He finds in you. Yes, YOU! You are a delight to God, just as my granddaughter is a delight to me.

How should you respond? Just like Joy-Joy did – with a big grin and a holy laugh and yes, even a happy jump or two. Your delight in God delights Him. It’s a never-ending circle of mutual gladness. Maybe that’s the secret behind Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. When God is the desire of your heart Beloved, He will be your delight.

When God Brings the Pain

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Yesterday I enjoyed one of my Christmas gifts – a deep-tissue massage. Because I spend a lot of time typing between my job, grad school, and writing, my neck and shoulders have been aching for several weeks. Add in a lot of life stress and this was greatly needed. Deep tissue massage involves firm, sometimes intense pressure and the therapist was doing exactly that. It wasn’t really painful – until she hit one of those spots – then wow! My instinct to pain is to tense up, but I willed myself to stay relaxed in her hands as she worked to release the kinks and knots she found. I knew the momentary discomfort would give way to relief.

In those moments I sensed God speaking to me, “Why then, Child, do you tense up when discomfort hits your life? Do you not realize that I am working on those kinks and knots in your character? Can you not trust my hands as you trust hers?”

The Bible says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). Those painful trials are God’s hands working out the un-Christlike things in us to work in us endurance, maturity, and full Christlike character. When we “tense up” against these trials we make it that much harder for God to work. Oh, believe me – I am preaching to myself this morning. God has been working on a major “knot” in my life – working out my impatient nature to work in the patience of Christ. This is the hardest lesson of my life. And oh, so painful. But do I tense up against the pressure and pain, or do I yield to His hands and allow Him to work?

Beloved, I don’t know the particulars of what God is doing in your life, but I know that tensing up and resisting His hand will only make the process harder. Trust the work of God in your life. Trust His hand, and when the pressure is on, trust His heart.

Is the Christian Church Dying?

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The pollsters tell us that in the last ten years, Christianity in America has declined by more than 10%. Of those who claim to be Christians, less than half report regular church attendance. Those who claim no affiliation with religion – the “nones” have increased – from only 6% in the early 1970’s to 22% in 2019. [1] Add to those reports the rise of hatred against Christianity and the trend for modern churches to turn away from biblical truth and you begin to wonder if the true church has a future at all. Is Christianity dying? Is the Christian church going to survive?

Christianity is by no means dying and the church will survive because her Head is Jesus Christ, the ultimate and eternal Victor. But the church and her children will take some difficult blows. Jesus warned His followers that the world would hate those who love Him, He said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20). When we become Christians and live like Christians, we will become offensive – not acceptable – to the world.

Perhaps the unpopularity of the Christian faith will be her saving grace. When being a Christian becomes a stigma instead of a tradition, only the most devoted to Christ will remain. Throughout the history of the church, God has often used persecution and oppression to purge and purify His people.

Jesus also said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11). When they were imprisoned and beaten for their testimony of Jesus, the Apostles were “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). Persecution is on the horizon for the church in the U.S. – it’s already a reality in other parts of the world. Beloved holding fast to your faith in Jesus may be the hardest thing you ever do. But it will also be the sweetest. Be faithful to God, walk in His Truth, refuse to compromise the faith and the message, and trust Him to either stand in our defense or stand to receive us into heaven.

[1] https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/

It’s Time to Put Christmas Away

 

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I’ll be taking down our Christmas tree today. Packing away the ornaments, wrapping them carefully so they won’t get broken and schlepping them back to the storage shed in the backyard. I’ll throw the tree on the burn pile and sweep up the pine needles and try to restore my home to its normal disorder. We also have to get the house ready for a mobile baby so she can roam safely to her little heart’s content. Christmas has to give way to everyday life.

But I’m not going to pack away the essentials of the holiday. I’m keeping out the hope and peace and faith and Joy and love. I liked focusing my mind each day on the good stuff, and I think you did too. I think we have to keep those things front and center every day in every season least we lose them – and lose our way. Do we need a refresher?

Hope – the confident expectation we have as we look for God, always considers His faithfulness, goodness, graciousness, and lovingkindness. Peace – the quiet assurance we have in God – is the fruit of hope– and it grows in the soil of faith – which is stepping out on His promises and knowing our feet will meet His hand. It blossoms into Joy – an unshakable sense of cheer even when there’s little to be jolly about, all of which find their strength in the love of God – the wide, long, high, deep and perfect love of God.

The calendar may say that Christmas is over, but your heart doesn’t have to surrender the experience of the holiday. Hold tightly to everything you received this Christmas Beloved – no, not the stuff that was under your tree – but the true expressions of the season. Hope. Peace. Faith. Joy. Love. You’re going to need them all year long.