God Knows My Heart

My friend had been trying for 20 minutes to explain why she did something she knew God would not approve of. She wanted to put this thing behind her, but she kept going back to it. “I guess I’m just weak,” she sighed. “In my heart I want to do better, isn’t that good enough?” “After all,” she said with a shrug, “God knows my heart.”
I threw out one of those breath-prayers, took her by the hand and said, “Yes sweet friend, God knows your heart – that’s why He sent you a Savior.”
God does know our hearts. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts” (Luke 16:15). God knows that in its natural state “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). He knows that our hearts are very human and prone to mislead us by our own desires (James 1:14). The only hope for the human heart is a divine Savior. Jesus. He knows your heart and mine and He came to redeem our hearts through His death on the cross. Will you always get it right then? I’m living proof that the answer is “No,” but a heart that has been rescued by Jesus is a heart that can be renewed and restored.
Beloved, God knows your heart – does your heart know Him?

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Lessons Learned in 2017

Looking back over the past year, there are many lessons I’ve learned.  I’ve learned anew God’s faithfulness to care for His children, and I’ve gotten a tiny glimpse into His enormous heart of love with my first grandchild. I’ve learned that Jesus wants me to know Him, not just know about Him, and He wants me to teach the Bible, not just someone’s opinion of the Bible.  But I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is how Jesus expects the church – make that how He expects me – to respond to the “least and the lost.”

What do good church folk do when someone comes in who is rough around the edges, who doesn’t dress in the acceptable modest style, who uses the language of the streets instead of the language of the sacred? Do we (and I’m including myself here) offer a handshake followed by a liberal application of hand sanitizer? Do we walk away shaking our heads at the way they’re dressed? Do we cringe at the things they say in our small group? Do we make it clear they they don’t fit in?  Jesus had a word for the religious leaders of His day that we as a church need to take to heart. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces . . . you will not let those enter who are trying to” (Matthew 23:13).

Look at the Christmas story one more time. God sent His son to be born to a poor teenage girl and to be raised by a common laborer father. The fact that they were poor is confirmed in the consecration offering they gave of a pair of birds (Luke 2:24).  He trained in the woodworking trade of his father Joseph.  The glorious birth announcement was given, not to the religious elite nor to the king, but to lowly shepherds doing the most menial work of all.  Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry He was found among the lepers, the lame, the blind, women with scandalous lives, men who cheated their neighbors, the demon-possessed, and the outcasts.  His closest friends and followers were tax collectors and fishermen, not students from the best Jewish schools.  When he was in the company of religious folk, He didn’t rub elbows –  He often rubbed them the wrong way and the sparks would fly.  He saved His most severe rebukes for them, calling them hypocrites, blind guides, snakes, and a “brood of vipers,” but gently told the ones outside the religious establishment, “Go, and sin no more.” He blessed, He touched, He noticed, and He welcomed.  I believe He expects no less from those who claim to be His Body.  I think Jesus wants us to put away our hand sanitizer and our ideas of who belongs in the church and  to simply be a refuge of welcome. I think people need to feel accepted before they will accept the Gospel. Then I think we need to love them as we disciple them to follow Christ.  Is it easy? No. It requires effort and patience and a humble, obedient spirit, but so did dying on the cross.

I want to hang on to all the lessons God taught me in the past year, but the one I want to hold the tightest is this one: Jesus doesn’t turn anyone away (John 6:37). The truth is when He found me I was one of the least and the lost, and He welcomed me with arms stretched the width of the cross.  May my heart and my arms be open wide to whomever Jesus sends to me this year.

Holy Father, this year, let me be a caring shepherd to lost sheep, a warm embrace to a hurting heart, and a conduit of Your love to the one on the outside looking in. 

Satan Hates Me

“A great door for effective work has opened for me and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:9).

Satan doesn’t like me. Want to know how I know? He has worked overtime this year to break me and to stop the work God has called me to do. He has hammered my family, taken away my husband’s health and livelihood, and brought tension and frustration between the three of us. He has caused financial hardships. He has tried to destroy my confidence in my calling, telling me that I spent four years in seminary for nothing and I will never be in ministry. He has shaken my faith and battered my joy. And I almost believed him, that is until he attacked the heart of my calling.

Last week my 4-year-old laptop died. The one I write on. The one I use to write blog posts and words of encouragement and Bible-study lessons. The one I used to start writing my first book. That’s when I recognized that the enemy had declared war on God’s purpose for my life, and like Paul, I realized that was a sure sign of God’s calling. I am not a young person who can type on my phone with great speed and accuracy (I’ve been at this simple post for more than an hour!), but if this is the only way I can fulfill my calling, so be it. Satan will not win.

Beloved, I don’t know what God has called you to do with your life, but I do know that the enemy wants to discourage you and make you give up. He will use every avenue he can against you, but do not let him win. You stay the course. You keep the faith. You do it to the best of your ability with whatever you have left and you do it with fierce determination and conviction. Because the enemy only opposes what God blesses, so if Satan’s got you in his crosshairs you can know that you’re doing what God created you to do.

Satan doesn’t like me – in fact he hates me. But he hates me because he’s afraid of me and what God intends to do through me. And in the Bible, that’s the clear, bold mark of God’s calling. Let’s get back to it friend – you and I have a purpose to fulfill!

Advent Day 17 – The Real Date of Jesus’ birth is . . .

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son” (Luke 2:6).

One of the great theological debates centers around the time of Jesus’ birth verses our traditional celebration of December 25th.  The Bible does not identify the specific date nor season and scholars and astronomers have attempted to track the date by presence of the shepherds and the star that guided the wise men (Matthew 2:2).  The early Christian church did not celebrate the birth of Jesus for three centuries.  History reports that the church in Rome designated December 25 in the late 3rd Century, and many historians note that the day coincided with existing pagan festivals, possibly as a way to appeal to the citizens and ease their acceptance of Christianity.[1]  That is not to suggest that the Christian church should abandon the celebration of Jesus’ birth – it marks the incarnation of the Son of God and is an important doctrinal and theological statement.

I think God is very wise in not identifying the date.  Even without a specific date the world has turned the traditional day to honor Jesus’ birth into a less-than-holy season of materialism, commercialism, and revelry. But we can identify when Jesus was born.

“When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might received the full rights of sons.”  Galatians 4:4

“When the time had fully come.” God had the exact date of Jesus’ birth circled on His calendar – but it is not a paper calendar of grids and numbers like I have hanging near my desk.  As I look at my calendar, Christmas is only 6 days away, the car payment is due in 3 days, the rent is due in 13 days.  I’m planning when to leave this morning to be at work on time.  But God is not restricted to days and hours.  His is a calendar of a divine order and a timeline with every detail of human history already mapped out from “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) to “Yes, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).  Events are not planned according to schedules (Do NOT plan your wedding during college football season!), they are planned according to His perfect wisdom and sovereign authority.

Beloved, you and I are part of God’s perfectly ordered plan.  He has designated certain things to occur in and around your life and mine according to a greater schedule than T.V. shows, football games, birthdays or days of the week – and He has a plan to bring these things about.  That brings me tremendous comfort and I hope it does for you too.  Perhaps you, like me, are in a waiting season – a holding pattern if you will.  God has spoken a promise to you but in the present moment it seems more like a long-lost dream.  Hold on.  Wait with confidence.  Keep your hope alive.  He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).  God will bring about what He has planned – when the time has fully come.

Read Ephesians 1:3-14

[1] http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/why-is-christmas-celebrated-on-december-25, accessed December 19, 2017.

I Wrote This for You

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

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

Lord, the truth is, depression lingers just below the surface.  I walk through my days like walking across thin ice on a river of discouragement, knowing that one misplaced footfall and I will plunge into the dark waters again.  Then sometimes I think, it would be so easy to give in to it; just take a deep breath and let myself slip under those familiar waves of despair.  In some weird way it is a comfortable foe – we’ve been together for a long, long time.  I fight it most days, but make no mistake – it’s always there, looming, dark and taunting, waiting for me to take that one wrong step and tumble in.

So, am I a fraud when I write words of encouragement and hope? Not at all.  Do I really believe the things I write about God breaking through despair to bring hope?  Yes – because those are the very same words that God speaks to me – His continual stream of goodness and inspiration that keeps my feet steady and my head lifted.  They are His constant reminders of love flowing through His Word and His Spirit and shining in my darkness.  He knows me.  He knows that I can’t make it one day without the hope He gives.  He knows that the frustrations and uncertainty I am facing right now threaten to do me in.  So He speaks to me.

Then He tells me to speak to you.  Because He knows you too.  He knows that some days are so hard you don’t even want to get out of bed.  He knows that you are lonely, grieving, hurting, fearful.  He knows that you have been disappointed, forgotten, rejected, passed over – and so He tells me, “Take the words that have spoken over you and speak it over them.”  That is why I write.  It’s so you can grab onto the same lifeline God threw out to me.  Paul said, “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort . . . comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).  I can’t keep this comfort and encouragement to myself – it’s much too big and wonderful for just me.  It’s for you too.  It’s a warm blanket we can share in a cold world.  The blanket of hope.  The quilt of encouragement.   And the beauty is – there’s always room to welcome more.

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

Holy Father,  You are so faithful to speak words of light and life over me.  As long as I have a voice, whether speaking to one person, a crowd, or the whole world of cyberspace, I will speak of Your goodness and faithfulness and love.  Let me always be a conduit of Your comfort. Amen.

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.

Is the “Good Book” Really Any Good?

Know What You Believe; Believe What You Know: The Bible

“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. . .” (2 Peter 1:16).

Oh, the B I B L E,

Yes, that’s the book for me,

I stand alone on the Word of God,

The B I B L E!

This little children’s chorus has been around since I was a girl.  I taught it to my son and to children in the preschool department for years as we shared stories of Creation, David and Goliath, Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the Whale, the fall of Jericho, Baby Jesus, the Cross and the Empty Tomb.   I loved learning and later telling those familiar stories and like all the other children, I believed them.  But come on you say, you’re an adult – isn’t it time stop believing in “stories?”

I suppose that’s a valid question, and it deserves a solid answer.

The truth is, I would stop believing if I thought they were only stories made up in the minds of men.  But I am confident in the authority of the Bible as the Word of God from the mind of God given to human authors through the Spirit of God.  That’s exactly what Peter says following up our key verse: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.  For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).  God wrote the words of Scripture through the pens of men like Moses, David, the Prophets, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, and James.  David, in the last of his Psalms said, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). It is so important to understand that the Bible is not man’s ideas, thoughts, opinions or views on what God has said – it is man as the scribe recording what God has said through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Many people view the Bible as a directive for how we are to live our lives.  Paul said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  First, notice that Paul confirms the inspiration of Scripture as coming directly from God to man.  Secondly, notice that Paul said the Scriptures are useful for life-direction – but that is not the chief purpose of the Holy Writ.

Neil Lightfoot, in his study How We Got the Bible notes, “It was God’s purpose that by means of a written record he would be revealed to all ages and tongues as Creator and Redeemer.”[1]  God is all about relationship, about knowing and loving us and us knowing and loving Him.  Since the beginning God has been revealing Himself to His beloved creation.  He came to Adam and Eve in the Garden until sin broke that pure fellowship.  He revealed Himself in various ways to Noah and to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to Moses.  He revealed Himself through words given to His prophets.  And finally and perfectly, He revealed Himself through His Son, Jesus.  The Bible is a written testament to the reality of God the Creator and Redeemer of all that exists.  Over and over in Scripture God reveals His will, “That you may know Me.”

Consider this:  If God desires to reveal Himself to humankind, why would he allow men to include fantasy and fallacy in the written account of Himself? Archeological finds such as the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm the accuracy of the Bible as we have it today in comparison to the most ancient manuscripts available.  Most modern translations have been painstakingly taken from the ancient Hebrew and Greek and research has proven that any changes from those manuscripts are minimal and do not affect the original message.

That said, I don’t hold to the authority and authenticity of the Bible because of these things.  They support my faith in the Bible, but they are not the reason I trust it.   I believe in the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God because it has changed my life.  It was there that I met Jesus and He turned this sinful woman into the daughter of the Most High God.  The Bible is so much more than a good book – as Moses declared, “They are not just idle words for you—they are your life (Deuteronomy 32:47).

Holy Father, thank You for all the ways You have revealed Yourself to human beings.  Thank You for inspiring men to records words that we can understand to make Yourself known.  Give me a holy passion to drink in the words of the Bible for as long as I live.  Amen.

[1] Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible: Third Edition, (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2003), 23.

Creation: Fact or Fiction?

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

It’s the simplest truth, taught to the littlest children: God created the whole world. It is the opening statement of the Holy Bible and is foundational to our understanding of who God is, and in turn who we are.  I would like to encourage you to read the first chapter of Genesis before you read any further in this devotional.

Where did the universe come from?  Modern science spins a tale of colliding gasses that somehow formed into a diverse group of planets, stars and galaxies.  Yet out of all those celestial places only one has the exact mix of Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus, and Sulfur to sustain life.  Only one is the precise distance from the sun to keep the inhabitants from freezing or burning to death.  Only one produces plant life that can feed both humans and animals.   Can we seriously believe that this delicate balance was achieved by accident?  Faith tells us that God fashioned the earth purposefully for His living creations.  

The Bible says that God created out nothing.  There were no prior elements that He scooped up into His hand and rolled into a ball.  He spoke into the nothingness and the response was immediate obedience.  “Be” . . . light, water, dry ground, plant life, sun, moon and stars, and living creatures.  And they were.

The Genesis account also says that these creative events occurred over six “days.”  A lot of debate centers on those days.  Were they really 24-hour days like we know today?  Were they thousands, even millions of our years long?  Were there long “gaps” between the days?  I’ll not get into the “young-earth/old-earth” debates, because that is not my intent.  The Bible is not written as a science manual; it is written for faith.  And the first act of faith is believing that God exists; the second is believing that the Word that He has given us is true.  The creation verses say that “there was evening and there was morning” – and calls that a “day.”  The Hebrew terminology agrees with that understanding.

Does it really matter though?  Yes it really does, but not for the sake of scientific argument.

I personally believe that this indicates a 24-hour day, but my conviction is based not so much on the descriptive text but on the One who inspired the text.  If I side with the scientific versions – even from a “Christian” perspective – I have said that the very first truths of the Holy Word of God are questionable.  That leaves everything else from Genesis 2 to Revelation 22 open to debate and alteration for the sake of human agreement.  I have heard “Christians” say that Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the Whale, and many other biblical accounts are just myths.  How easy it becomes then to question to truth of the virgin birth of Jesus, His miracles and even His resurrection. Even in the church.  Think I’m stretching too far here?  Go sit through a lecture at a liberal-leaning seminary.  It’s a wonder students are still believers when the graduate.

Mankind has had one of three responses to the biblical account of creation:

Some receive it as truth and accept God as Creator.

Some receive it as a possible truth and add God to their harem of higher powers.

Some outright reject it and deny the power, and often the existence of God.

Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary science admitted that it is “[extremely difficult] or rather [impossible to] conceive this immense and wonderful universe, including man” without being convicted of the existence of God.  Yet he abandoned that “strong conclusion” and devised the evolutionary theory that the world has received as an alternative to the truth.  (Taken from a video lecture by Dr. David DeWitt).  All that he could see around him convinced him of the existence of God, but his arrogance led him to reject God.  His theory has lead millions of human souls away from God and has become entangled in the church’s teaching of creation.

If the Bible is truly the Word of God, then all of it is true and must be received and believed without compromise.  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  Faith starts right here, at the beginning.  Know what you believe and believe what you know – but be certain what you know and believe is the truth.

Father God, Creator and Sustainer of all that is, forgive us for looking to men to explain Your miraculous works.  You created by your word and You wrote it down for us to believe – not to pick apart and debate.  Create in us hearts that believe You above all else.  Amen.

Know What You Believe; Believe What You Know: Does it Matter?

 

 

 

 

 

“Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse,” Romans 1:20

“It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.”

Can that really be true? Does it matter what you and I believe? And what are we supposed to believe? How do we sort out all the different beliefs that come at us from the world? How do we determine which ones to grab hold of and which ones to let go? Those are a lot of heavy questions, and it’s really hard to understand why all this matters when we are working, raising families, doing chores, going to church, being involved in community activities, being responsible citizens. I don’t know about you, but at the end of a long day I’m too tired to think that hard.

But it does matter. It matters a great deal. Because what you believe translates into who you are and how you live. It determines your thoughts and affects every choice you make. It matters today and tomorrow. What you believe has eternal consequences. So I pose to you two questions: Do you know what you believe? And do you believe what you know? That sounds like double-speak, but I assure you these are the most important questions you’ll ever consider. In the coming weeks at Deeper Roots, we’re going to look into our core beliefs—what is known as our “worldview.”

A worldview is the basis from which we determine all things related to God, the universe, life and man. It is an overarching theme that sets our beliefs in some semblance of order. It answers important questions about the creation of the universe, the origins of all life, morality, individuality, the future of humanity and what follows after this life.

Worldviews often shift from generation to generation and culture to culture. The changes in the world because of advances in education, science, medicine, and a variety of other aspects, while beneficial in so many ways, have also caused modern man to turn away from a worldview that embraces God, creation, salvation and morality. Even the modern church has backed away from many of the foundational beliefs of her ancestors. They don’t ask these important questions and they no longer teach these core issues. This is why the unbelieving world judges the Bible as archaic and Christians as “out of touch” and even “dangerous.”  But a worldview that is founded on the timeless truths and principles of the Bible is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago for two very important reasons.

1) God has not changed. His character, His truth, His promises and His Word stand just true as they did in the days of Adam, Moses, David, Jesus, Paul and on through the ages.

2) Human nature has not changed. We are still creatures steeped in a sin nature and in desperate need of redemption. We are still self-centered and rebellious and foolish and we still demand to be our own authority.

The Christian worldview of Paul’s day remains the true Christian worldview of our day, because the foundation – Jesus Christ – “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). In a world of shifting ideologies and ever-changing “truth” it is more important than ever to Know What You Believe and Believe What you Know.

I encourage you – no I challenge you to join me in the coming weeks as we ask some very important questions and search for answers that are true and timeless. Share these posts with your family and friends – let’s start a conversation about what really matters in this life.

Mighty God – we want to fill our minds with something more substantial than the latest celebrity gossip and the thoughts of men. We want truth. We want to build our lives on what is solid and eternal. Open our eyes and ears to the deeper things of life. Open our minds to receive and believe Your eternal wisdom and truth

 

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.