Dig a Ditch

This is a word to someone besides me. But first a Bible study lesson. Under the Lord’s direction, three nations – Israel, Judah, and Edom – joined forces to do battle against a common enemy, Moab. After days of marching the three armies were out of water – a very dangerous situation. They called on Elisha, the prophet of the Lord who said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Make this valley full of ditches. You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water, and you, your cattle, and your other animals will drink.” This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord; He will also hand Moab over to you.” (2 Ki 3:16-18).

In the morning, every ditch overflowed with water. The animals and people were refreshed and the army was encouraged by the hand of the Lord. But that’s not all. When the early morning sun hit the water it appeared red to the Moabites in their camp across the way. They thought the three armies had killed one another and filled the valley with blood. They took off to gather the plunder, unprepared for the ambush that followed. Not only did God provide water to aid the armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom, but the water became a trap for the Moabite army.

What does that mean for you and me? I’m so glad you asked. When we come to God seeking His help and favor, don’t think He will reject us or begrudge our asking. Instead, we should dig ditches to prepare for His blessing. We shouldn’t limit God’s ability to overcome our difficulties. We should expect that He will “do immeasurably more than all we ask or image, according to His power” (Eph 3:20).

I’ve seen Him do some amazing things just this week. Makes me wonder what He would’ve done if I’d dug my ditches a little wider. I don’t know what your need is today – water, funds, hope, strength, healing, peace, wisdom, or a full-blown miracle. Here’s my advice, Beloved, grab a shovel and start digging.

The Overwhelming, Unfailing Love of God

The Psalms are a favorite place in the Scriptures for many of us. The writers (no, David didn’t write them all) often express thoughts and feelings that we can identify with. There is praise and worship and heartache and loneliness and raw emotion. My Bible is full of underscores, dates, and notes – markings to remind me of who I am and whose I am and what God has done. I can find myself in pretty much every chapter. I have been the little lamb in the care of the Shepherd (Ps. 23) and I have been the contrite sinner (Ps. 51). I have taken refuge under the feathers of His wings (Psalm 91) and I have walked the path with only His Word to light my steps (Psalm 105).

This morning, I find myself in Psalm 107 – a psalm of thanksgiving. I encourage you to grab your Bible and read the psalmist’s words – perhaps you will see yourself here too. I have wandered in desert wastelands (v. 4) and been hungry (v. 6) and He led me to a place where I could settle (v. 7). I have sat in darkest gloom, in a prison of my own making (v. 10-11), but He brought me out of the darkness and broke away my chains (v. 14). I have been a fool and a rebel and suffered because of my sin (v. 17) yet God sent forth His Word and healed me (v. 20). I have been lost in a storm and cried at my wit’s end (v. 25-28) and He stilled the storm to a whisper and guided me home (v. 29-30). He has poured his showers of blessing out on me when my heart was parched and dry (v. 33-35); and when I was needy and afflicted, He lifted me up and filled my life with Joy (literally) (v. 41-42). I give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for me (vv. 8, 15, 21, 31).

God has been so good, so kind, and so generous to me. How can I do anything but give Him thanks when I consider His great love (v. 43)? I pray that as you move through this day God brings to mind the many wonderful things He has done for you. I pray you are overwhelmed by his unfailing love. And I pray that when this day is done, Beloved, your heart is filled to overflowing with gratitude and Joy.

(P.S. Who are the movers and shakers of the church? What events and people shaped the Christian faith? Get ready friends – we’re going to history class – that is the history of the Christian church. We’ll start with an overview of Acts and then move beyond. Join me here on Mondays for this exciting study!)

If You Only Knew . . .

Ever wish you had a crystal ball to see what’s ahead? Maybe with some advance notice, I could have avoided some of the disasters that hit my life. I know I would have made a lot of different decisions had I been able to see their outcome. I would have taken a different route home and saved myself from a car accident. I would not have taken a job that I grew to dislike. I would have put more time and effort into education and less into frivolous, fruitless distractions. I would have steered clear of certain relationships that broke my heart. I would have taken better care of my physical – and fiscal – health. Yes – things would be different if I’d only had eyes to see the future.

Luke 22 recalls Jesus’ final events with His disciples – the Passover Meal that became “the Last Supper,” His prayer on the Mount of Olives, and His arrest. Luke added a conversation Jesus had with one disciple in particular, Simon Peter. Jesus knew about the events that would unfold that night – including Peter’s coming denial of His friend and teacher. Jesus told him, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (v. 31-32).  He knew what Peter would face. He knew that Peter would stumble. And He held His disciple up to the Father and asked for divine help. Notice that He didn’t pray that Peter would avoid the trial, but he prayed for Peter’s faith. That makes all the more sense when we read Peter’s words years later: “your faith [is] of greater worth than gold.”  He knew that all too well for his faith had been “refined by fire” (1 Pet 1:7) and it had come out strong and pure. Because Jesus had prayed for him.

You and I don’t know what the future holds – we don’t even know what will happen today. But Jesus does.  And He has already prayed for you Beloved – not so much that you can avoid the trials of the day but “that your faith may not fail,” and the Father always honors the prayers of His Son. What an amazing way to start your day, knowing that Jesus has been praying for you!

Hebrews: The Hands and Feet of Jesus

Photo Credit: Ashley Andrews

Now that the Advent season is done, it’s time to finish up our study of Hebrews. We’re in the last half of the final chapter. Since we’ve been away a while, let’s review a little. Hebrews was written to Jewish believers who were under tremendous persecution to abandon their faith in Jesus Christ. The writer wanted to encourage them to stay true to the Lord. He showed them how Jesus was superior to every aspect of Judaism because He is the Son of God and equal in divine power and authority. Yet Jesus was also a man who suffered for the sins of humanity and fulfilled the demands of the Mosaic Law.

He also used the example of the heroes of Jewish history to prove that faith, not adherence to rules, made them righteous before God. He encouraged them to persevere despite their suffering because suffering was God’s tool for perfecting His children. Here at the end of his message, the writer exhorted his readers to live in a community of love, purity, contentment, faithfulness, diligence, and praise.

So we pick up where we left off with a good word in verse 16: “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” For the past month, my church family has lived out this verse. You may be aware that, in September, my son and his family – including my granddaughter Joy, moved from our home to live with other family several hours away.  You may not know that they came back to us at the end of November. It has been a sweet reunion, but it’s also been difficult financially. We’re trying to stretch our very meager income to cover all five of us until my son goes to basic training for the Army National Guard in a few weeks. And in all that to give Joy a good Christmas.

Our church family and friends have exemplified our focal verse. They have stepped in and blessed us incredibly with food, funds, and so many gifts for Joy that we can’t stop shaking our heads in amazement. There is no doubt that God is well-pleased with their generosity and love. And here’s the amazing part – we didn’t tell anyone that we were struggling. But God did. And they listened and acted on it.

Jesus said whatever you do for the least of His brothers, “you [do] for me” (Matt 25:40). Somebody has a need that you can meet. Beloved, will you bless them – and Him – today?

God’s Got This

“Well, I didn’t see that coming.”

“Why this? Why now?”

“I never dreamed this would happen.”

“Not again! I thought this was all over.”

Ever said any of the above?  Sure you have. I have too – very recently in fact. We all experience it. The curve ball. The surprise. The “What is this?!”  The shocks of life are constant – and not always pleasant. But I have learned two things along the way: My heavenly Father is never caught off-guard, therefore I need not worry. He is never frantic over the epic ups and downs of my life. God never sits on His throne wringing His hands over the foolish situations I’ve put myself in – or that someone else has put me in. He’s never said, “I didn’t expect that! Now how am I going to work around the mess she’s in?”

How can I be so sure? Because His Word says that God knows “the end from the beginning” (Is 46:10). There is nothing coming, nothing I will do, nothing someone else will cause, and absolutely nothing that satan can attempt that God doesn’t already know. Every event, situation, circumstance, hardship, trial, and trouble has long been taken into consideration in His purpose and plan for my life. Do you know what that means? God figured out the resolution before I ever encountered the problem. This most recent bomb that dropped on me did so with His full knowledge and understanding. And here is something I am sure of to the marrow of my bones, if it was going to derail His plan for my life He would not have let it happen.

So what now? I honestly have no idea. But I have peace. Even in the unexpected, I know God is not worried. So why would I be? I don’t know what has hit your life and thrown you for a loop, but I know that God saw it coming before you did. The diagnosis. The failure. Your kid’s actions. Your spouse’s affair. The end of your career. The injury. The broken heart. Your loved one’s death. Whatever it is, He knew first and He’s got it figured out so that you are blessed and He is glorified. My constant mantra in times like these is: “I have rested that matter into the hands of my Father.” I offer it to you today. Say it as often as you need to. Then do it. He’s got this, Beloved, and He’s got you.

Jesus is in it for the Long Haul

Do you ever feel like a heavy weight on your family and friends? I know I have. In long-running seasons of difficulty, I have had friends turn away from me because they just couldn’t deal with me and my problems. It’s a hurtful thing, but honestly, I get it. They have their own struggles and responsibilities, and they can’t be expected to carry the extra weight of me. If I’m honest, I’ve done the same. We all have limited energy and resources, and we can’t allow one person to drain us dry.

I’m so glad that God has no such limitations. Isaiah said, “He will not grow tired or weary” – in fact, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (40:28-29). God’s compassion is endless. He has boundless energy and ceaseless love. “His compassions never fail. They were new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22,23). As the God-man
Jesus, He bore the whole weight of all your sins and mine on the cross. Surely, He can bear the weight of our “light and momentary troubles” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Charles Spurgeon said, “If Christ were only a cistern, we might soon exhaust His fullness, but who can drain a fountain?” He is a continual source of love and help in our time of need. His goodness toward you and me overflows and we will never use up His kindness. You can come to the well of His mercy over and over and over again. There’s no bucket big enough nor a rope long enough to drain His grace.

Whatever struggle you are in, He is in it with you – for the long haul. Others may not be able to bear the weight of your burdens, but He willingly carries you the full length and depth of it all. He is strong and He is compassionate. He is your Father, your Shepherd, your Forever Friend. He will never give up on you, Beloved. I’m living proof.

Little Lost Lamb

In Luke 15: 3-7 Jesus tells of a shepherd who leaves his safe flock to go after the one sheep who has wandered away. “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (15:5-6a). The shepherd had ninety-nine other sheep, but his heart would not let him abandon the one who was lost. I find a lot of comfort in that.

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

Something else I noticed – probably because I’m extra aware of seeing my granddaughter’s name in the Scriptures – He brings the lost sheep home with Joy. Not begrudgingly, not with words of anger or impatience. Not with frustration or resentment over the trouble the sheep caused. He’s just so happy to have His little lamb back with Him.

Are you in a difficult place? Are you in a hard season? Trust in God’s faithful love for you. Did you carelessly wander away because you were distracted by the glitter and lights of the world? Did you stomp your feet and run in outright rebellion? Beloved, God is not mad at you. He wants you to come home. Call His Name from wherever you are right now, then watch for His rescue. There is no place that His love will not reach.

This is the Way

Hubby and I went into town yesterday to run some errands. But first breakfast at our favorite breakfast spot. When we got to the 3-way intersection by the church, I expected him to take the middle road, knowing where we were headed. He went to the road on the right. I opened my mouth to say that this was the wrong way, but then I remembered that he grew up driving on these backroads and I settled back in my seat. He loves to take alternate routes. Riding with him is an adventure but we always end up in the right place.

After 400 years of enslavement, the Israelites were allowed to leave Egypt and journey to Canaan, the Promised Land. But there would be alternate routes all along the way. If you look at a map, the easiest way would be due east, hugging the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, but God didn’t lead them that was because they would have crossed through Philistine country and faced a fight they were not strong enough to handle. He said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt” (Ex 13:17). So He detoured them to the south toward the Red Sea.

Then he turned them back the way they came. I’m sure they were thinking, “God, what are you doing here? Where are you taking us?” But He said, “Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’” Thinking he had the upper hand Pharaoh pursued them, but God divided the sea and led the people across on dry ground. Then He closed the waters up over Pharaoh and the Israelite army. And they glorified Him. (Ex 14:1-31).

Of course we know about the detour through the wilderness when the Israelites disobeyed Him, but in the end, they crossed over the Jordan (again in a miraculous way) and into the Promised Land. Even in their sin, God was working to take them where He wanted them to be. Traveling with God is always an adventure. He never directs me the way I expect. But He has never gotten me lost. Every time I think He’s given me a wrong turn it turns out to be a different path to the right place. And when I fail to listen and think I know the way, He guides me back to the place I need to be. He knows every backroad and every detour because He blazed the path long before.  Beloved, you can trust God to lead you well. Whatever path he guides you to, He will always get you Home.

How to (not)Resist Temptation

I love fall. I love the colors of the leaves (even though they don’t change here in the deep south). I love the cool, crisp bite of the morning air. I love back-to-school season. I love the ground carpeted with shed leaves. I love college football. I love to watch the harvesters at work in the fields, bringing their bounty to bless the world. Except for peanuts. Oh, I love to eat peanuts. But the nut is produced under the soil and the farmer has to turn the plants over to harvest the crop, which releases all kinds of things into the air – like mold – to which I am highly allergic. And I live in the peanut capital of the world. Achoo! And yet I keep the window in my study open to enjoy the aforementioned cool, crisp air. I know. That’s pretty stupid. Just like standing in the path of temptation.

The mainstay of Christian conviction has always been  “Resist temptation!”  But the Bible says we are to run from temptation.  We are told to “flee from sexual immorality” and “idolatry” (1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:14); “flee from greed [the love of money]” (1 Timothy 6:10,11); and “flee from evil desires” (2 Timothy 2:22).  Why flee? James said we are all “tempted when, by [our] own evil desire, [we] are dragged away and enticed” (1:14). Our evil desires are internal. We have to flee from temptation because it is tapping into those desires. That’s why you can’t stand in front of temptation and try to talk yourself out of it – you have to get away from it. If your flesh is agreeing with the thing in front of you, run. You are standing on dangerous ground.

I knew a man who drove six miles out of his way on his daily route just to avoid driving past a bar he used to frequent in his drinking days. He knew the desire was always in him so he detoured away from the temptation. He took Paul’s word to heart: “when you are tempted, [God] will provide a way out” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The way out for him was an alternative – if longer – route. A married woman quit her lucrative job to distance herself from a coworker to whom she was attracted. Another man gave up his smartphone with internet capabilities for a simple call-and-text-only phone to avoid the pull of pornography.

Jesus wants you and me to be victorious over temptation. He gave us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do just that. But we still have to put distance between ourselves and temptation. If I want to stop sneezing I’ve got to close the window. Beloved, If you want to stop falling into sin take the way out. Take the long way home. Change your job. Cancel the subscription. Change your phone. Cry out to Jesus for help. Then run.

A Lesson in Love

The man asked a burning question, “What must I do to be saved?” And he knew all the right answers – love God and love your neighbor. He even claimed to practice them regularly. But he wanted to “justify himself,” as the Greek says to “exhibit oneself such as he wishes to be considered.” He wanted to appear supremely righteous – even more righteous than Jesus – so he asked another question: “Who is my neighbor?” and Jesus told a story of a wounded, broken man and the “righteous” people who passed him by. But an unlikely person came along – one who was considered most unrighteous.  It was he who stopped and rendered aid – he cared for the man and about the man.

Then Jesus turned the question around. “Which of these was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  See, the man wanted to know, according to the Law, whom he had to love. Jesus said love isn’t done according to the law, but according to the heart. The Lord pointed to the neighbor not as the one in need but as the one who met the need.

People are sad.

Lonely.

Hungry.

Abused.

Hurting.

Broken.

Homeless.

Afraid.

Grieving.

Helpless.

Sick.

Mistreated.

Hopeless.

And yes, angry.

There is no end to the needs in the world.

But I can’t fix everybody. Where do I start?

With the person God sets in front of you.

“Who is the neighbor. . . ?”

“The one who had mercy on him.”

“Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37