The Lord is Near

Some days I’m not feeling very “godly.” Some days I am just tired. Physically tired. Mentally tired. Emotionally tired. Some days I don’t want to be wise or thoughtful or inspiring. I just want to hide in a corner until the weight is lifted. I know you understand. Some days we want to crawl back in bed and pull the covers over our head until the problem is resolved, the money’s in the bank, the kid gets his act together, the test results are negative, the house is clean, the inbox is empty, the school opens back up, the bills are paid. But that’s not an option. And so we throw back the covers and swing our feet over the side until they touch down on the pile the dog left beside the bed. Great.
The Apostle Paul had some difficult days too. His message was rejected by the people he once counted as his friends. They tried to undermine the work he was doing for God. Then they tried to kill him – they threw stones at him, beat him, and threw him into prison. Yet from his prison cell, he wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Paul used the words, “joy” and “rejoice” thirteen times in this letter. But he didn’t throw those words out flippantly. He gave a reason to rejoice. “The Lord is near” (v. 5). He knew what he was claiming. In Acts 23, while sitting in a Roman prison, the Scripture says, “The Lord stood near Paul” (V. 11). The Lord came to Paul with a personal word of encouragement. He never forgot about the nearness of Jesus.
Oh, I get how difficult it is some days. I’ve had quite of few of those lately. I started writing this devotional from my own raw feelings. As I got to “The Lord is near,” the weight started to lift, and I know that I can make it through this day because Jesus is with me. It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard. It just means I don’t face it alone. So clean off your feet Beloved and get the day started. You’re in this together with Jesus.

Anticipation

My granddaughter is going to be a daredevil. (Nah – she’s too sweet –maybe a dare-angel 😊) We have a game she loves. I’ll say “Are you ready?” then I count. “One” and she smiles. “Two” and she begins to giggle.” “THREE!” and I’ll twirl her around, or drop her just a bit (with my arms firmly around her) or toss her a few inches in the air. She squeals with delight! Yesterday we did that for a half-hour as she sat in her swing on the back porch. Always the same routine. “Are you ready?” “One.” Give the swing a jiggle. “Two.” Pull the swing closer “THREE!” Give the swing a big push. Cue the laughter and smiles. I love it as much as she does, because of her sense of anticipation. She knows that when Nana starts the countdown, fun will ensue.

What do you do when life hands you a challenge? When your world gets turned upside down? When you feel like you’re in the spin cycle of a washing machine? Friend, I’m there, and I suspect you are too. The thought occurred to me as I played with Joy-Joy – what if God is giving the countdown? What if He’s about to do something that will bring delight to our lives? Isaiah 43:19 says: “Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” If only we could hear Him saying, “Are you ready?” “One.” “Two.” Would we hold our breath in anticipation? Would we smile? Would we look around with expectation?

I’ve been around the block enough times with God to recognize a pattern of sorts like my granddaughter recognizes the countdown. Something comes along that interrupts my life. Usually something hard. Then He uses that situation in ways I would never imagine to accomplish extraordinary things. I’m in the midst of one of those hard situations now. I have a choice. Will I sit in hopelessness or listen out for God’s voice?

Beloved, have you lost your sense of anticipation with God? Have you resigned yourself to hopelessness? May I encourage you to tilt your ear toward heaven and listen for the countdown? I think I hear Him – “Are you ready?”

Don’t Drift Away from God

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Words fascinate me. The Holy Spirit knows this about me and so often when I am reading my Bible, He will draw my attention to a word and ask me, “What does that mean?” – and I am off on one of my favorite digs. Yesterday I was reading in Hebrews 2 and He did it again in the very first verse: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” The phrase “drift away” became my holy grail. This is one word in the Greek: pararreo – and it means to glide by, to be carried away, and you would use it to say something “slipped my mind.”. We’ve all missed appointments because they slipped our minds. That’s why we jot them down on our calendars or put a reminder in our phone. Likewise, the writer was saying, don’t let the message of the gospel slip from your mind. That’s easy to do when life is hard, when tragedy strikes, when you’re weary, when the whole world is caught in a pandemic. It’s easy to forget about the hope we have in Christ. But this dig continues.

This morning the Spirit highlighted another phrase for me: “careful attention.” These two words perissoteros and prosecho mean in great abundance, above all else and to hold or possess. Simply put, this means above every voice and every worldview, take hold of this gospel and let everything else go. That’s the key to not drifting away.

The message of the first chapter was that Jesus is the Son of God – He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:3). In a world that says there is no God, or that God is whatever you want him to be, we need to get a firm and secure grip on the truth. In a world that is full of evil and darkness, where death runs rampant and people are scared out of their wits, we need to wave the banner of the gospel and the hope of salvation and eternal life.

Beloved, what are you paying careful attention to? The news? Facebook? The opinions of others? These will cause fear, confusion, and doubt. They will cause you to drift away. Let them go. Pay attention to the truth: Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save you and give you eternal life and hope for today. Hold on to that and never let go.

 

Prescription for Peace of Mind

If I’ve learned anything at all about the Bible, it is that this is a practical book with real-life answers for real-life needs. The Bible doesn’t just give us wise philosophy – or as my grandmother called it – “pie-in-the-sky thinking.” So when a friend came to me recently to talk about her constant negative, anxious thoughts, I offered her the Bible’s prescription for the mind.

“First, you have to get rid of those negative thoughts,” We talked about 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” “You have authority over what goes on in your head,” I said. “You must claim that authority and banish negative and anxious thoughts.” I showed her how I make a grabbing motion over my head to “take captive” my thoughts, then a motion of flinging them aside – literally casting them at Jesus’ feet. I’ve done this with thoughts of doubt and fear and sin. It may look kinda silly, but the physical acting out of it is powerful. I believe it also puts the devil on notice that I’m taking charge of my mind.

I continued, “Then immediately fill your mind with Philippians 4:8: ‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.’” “What do you know is true?” I asked her. “God is in control.” “Yes! And God loves you.” “And God is good.” “Exactly! And God has a plan and a purpose.” Her face began to relax. “What do you know that is praiseworthy,” I asked. “Jesus!” she replied. “What can you praise Jesus for?” “He is my Savior. He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords.” “What do you know that is lovely?” I said. “My daughter,” she answered with a smile. “And when you memorize scripture,” I reminded her, “you have a ready supply of ‘whatsoever is right.’ For every negative thought satan plants in your mind, you need a positive Word from God to counteract it.”

May I offer the same prescription to you, Beloved? Your thoughts are just that—YOUR thoughts. You have authority over them. You can make them obey you – but it takes effort and repetition. What is the result of this practical exercise? “The God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9b). Do you need some peace of mind?

Giving God Praise and Thanks

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I knelt before God this morning and said: “Holy Father, I give you praise and thanks this day. I praise you for who you are, and I thank you for all you have done.” Immediately God stopped me and said, “You say the same words every morning. Why?” And His question gave me pause. “I praise you for who you are, Lord because I need to remember who you are. I thank you for what you’ve done because I need to remember all that you have done for me.”

I need to remember that He is the Creator – that He spoke and the universe obeyed. I need to remember that He is Sovereign. I need to remember that He is righteous and mighty and perfect. I need to remember that He is the God of the impossible – that He parts raging seas and brings down strong walls and makes blind men see. I need to remember that He brings life out of death and that His word is powerful. And I need to never ever forget that He is holy love.

I need to remember that when my cabinets were bare, He sent food to my door. I need to remember that when my car broke down, He sent funds to pay for a new transmission. I need to remember that when I looked for months for a job with no success, He opened the door to the best job I’ve ever had. I need to remember that when I was very sick, He healed me. When I was lost, He found me. When I was lonely, He adopted me. When I was in the pit of despair, He brought me out. And I need to never ever forget that He sent His Son to die for my sins and give me life.

I sensed a smile from my Father. “Just checking to see if you were paying attention child. Please continue on.”

Home

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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.

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.

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.

For The One Who Thinks God Could Never Love You

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“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I asked her to tell me about her son. “He’s a smart boy, really smart. He can add stuff in his head faster than I can write it out on paper.  And oh, he can sing – he has such a good voice.  I think he could be a singer if he tried. But he gets bored easy.  That’s why he gets into trouble at school.”

We met for coffee so she could talk through some difficult things she was facing, largely brought about by this boy.  But before I asked about her son, she told me about herself. She told me that she didn’t believe God could ever love her. She had done things that she was ashamed of.  She was pretty wild in her youth, disrespectful to her parents, and teachers.  She got drunk the night of the prom, slept with her boyfriend, and became pregnant.  She and the baby’s father tried to make it right by getting married, but now – 17 years later – she was three failed marriages down and living with a man she met at a bar.  She had started coming to our church a few months ago in a last-ditch effort to straighten her son out.  That is until the deacons told her the boy was not welcome after he played too rough with some of the younger students and somebody got hurt.  The very next day the police were at her house with a report about her boy and the neighbor’s little girl and the latest nightmare unfolded. Yet, as much as her son’s actions weighed on her, I could tell something else was even heavier on her heart.

“How could God love me?  I’ve made a mess of my life and I’ve even screwed up my kid.”

“So you probably don’t love your son anymore after all the trouble he’s caused you.”

“What? Of course I still love my son! That’s crazy!  Why would I stop loving him just because he’s made some mistakes?”

“I just thought – since you believe God quit loving you because you messed up, you must have quit loving your son too.”

She looked at me as if an entire block of lights had gone off in her head. The weight of so much guilt and fear disappeared from her eyes while tears dripped off her chin and onto her sweater.

Beloved, I don’t know what you’re carrying around today. I don’t know your past. I don’t even know your present. But there is one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  If Christmas is about anything at all, it is about God pouring out His unfailing love on messed up people.