You can be Free from Shame

If your life has always been sunshine and rainbows, you can skip it today. But if you have scars on your body or on your heart, if you carry a backpack of sorrow and shame, please stay. God has a word for you.

Isaiah prophesied the coming Babylonian captivity. Why was all this happening? Because they were a “sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They [had] forsaken the Lord; they [had] spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on Him” (Is 1:4). They were steeped in sin and idolatry. Judgment was coming.

Can you relate? I sure can. I have a past filled with regret and shame. I have been places, done things, and been with people I should have given a wide berth. I have made some foolish, disastrous decisions. I hurt people. I hurt myself. You may be nodding your head right now. You understand. You’ve done the same. Maybe you’re still doing it.

But maybe your past wasn’t your foolish actions, but someone else’s. You were abused, misused, rejected, stepped on, then stepped over. I understand that too. Mixed in with my own sin is the stain of others’ sins. A counselor once told me that my actions were a reaction to others’ actions against me. If you hear, “You’re so stupid!” enough you start to act stupid. If you’re treated like you’re worthless you believe you’re worthless and you act like you’re worthless. This is my life story, but I bet I’m ringing some bells.

However you got your backpack of shame, I want you to listen to God’s words: “Do not be afraid, you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace, you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth” (Is 54:4). “How?” you ask, “it’s a huge, heavy burden”. Jesus. Jesus is how you can be free from shame. Because Jesus took it all to the cross. And to the grave. And when He rose to life three days later, He left it all in the ground. God declared, “The former things will not be remembered; nor will they come to mind” (Is 65:17). In Jesus you are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17). That’s your story now, Beloved. Set your backpack down and go live like who you are. Forgiven and free.

Oh, What a Mess!

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Joy loves to play with the box of paper clips on my desk. This morning she grabbed her treasure knocking it off my desk and spilling the paper clips on the floor. “Oh no!” she said dramatically. “It’s okay baby, you just dropped it. Can you pick the paper clips up, please?” All of the sudden my sweet, compliant girl backed away from the mess and shook her head, “No.” I asked her again. She ran to the other corner of the room “No.” She tried to climb in my lap and I said, “Go pick up the paper clips and then you can sit with Nana.” “No, I can’t.” Mommy said, “Joy, pick up the paper clips.” The more we insisted the more she resisted. Instead, she demanded, “I want my cup.” Her sippy cup is her security blanket so I knew that she was getting agitated.

I said, “I think she’s overwhelmed.” Mommy said, “How about we pick the paper clips up together, I’ll help you.”  Immediately her face brightened, she set her cup down and chirped, “Okay!” and the paper clips were picked up in less than a minute. I thought about how many times I’ve told her to pick up her toys and she will lay on the couch and bury her face. Big light bulb moment: the bigger the mess she’s faced with, the more resistant she becomes to cleaning it up. Not because she’s defiant, but because she’s overwhelmed. And then I realized that she is just like me. And probably you too. Big messes make us want to run and hide.

Israel was in a big mess. After a long rebellious state, Isaiah prophesied the judgment of God. He said the Lord was going to send Assyria and Babylon to destroy their cities and take them captive. That’s a huge, overwhelming mess that they could never manage on their own. But then God said, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you . . .” (Is 41:10). God promised to help them out of their mess.

Beloved, I don’t know what kind of mess you are in or how you got there, but I know that you don’t face it alone. “‘Don’t be afraid,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I myself will help you’” (41:14). Until the work is done.

You Matter

I am just a middle-aged (moving closer to senior-adult) woman from a small community in the deep south. I live a simple life. We rent a good house – but nothing fancy. I go to work every day at a small Southern Baptist college in a small town in Florida. I drive a very modest car. I’m married to a sweet, kind man. We help to raise our granddaughter. I love to write but I haven’t published any books.  I teach the Bible to my Sunday School ladies, but I’ve never stood on a stage. I’m not well-known and that’s okay with me. I am one face among the billions of faces in the world. And I have lots of struggles and hard situations in my life.

This morning as I was reading Isaiah 40, I came to this verse: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (v. 26). I sensed the Lord saying, “I don’t miss anything.” That’s when I realized that as insignificant as I am in the world, God hasn’t overlooked me. The Creator and King of the universe is not only aware that I exist, He cares about me and the difficulties I face. And do you want to hear something amazing? The same thing is true for you. You and I are not just part of the vast sea of humanity to God.

The Bible says that “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son . . . to save the world” (John 3:16, 17). But He is also a very personal God; He who knows the name of every star knows your name too.  Jesus attested to that; He is the Great Shepherd who “calls His sheep by name” (John 10:3). Maybe you feel small and insignificant today like no one notices or cares about you. I understand. I feel that way sometimes too. But nothing could be farther from the truth, Beloved. You are seen and you are known. And you matter. Greatly. You need not worry that you are just a face in the crowd – God never overlooks the one He loves.

Why Do You Worship God?

Sunday morning as I walked Joy to her “Honey School” class we walked past the sanctuary and she asked me if I was going to the big church to sing. I said yes. Then, like all good three-year-olds should do, she started peppering me with “Why’s.” “Why do you want to sing” “To worship God.” “Why do you want to worship God?” “Because I love God and because He is great,” I answered.

All of creation worships its Creator. David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Ps 19:1). Every rumble of thunder is a call to praise. The trees clap their hands in worship (Is 55:12). The rocks cry out His praise (Luke 19:40). Birds sing. Crickets chirp. Frogs croak. The sound of their worship fills the skies. I love to worship. Corporately, privately, with shouts, and through tears. I love Sundays with my church family, all our voices blending together to praise the One who saved us. If you see me when I’m driving you may catch me belting out a song with one hand on the steering wheel and the other raised to the roof. You might want to proceed with caution. And worship is not just music. I usually write out my private worship – words are my love language. But the sweetest worship is singing of the goodness of God in lovely harmony with my granddaughter.

We are commanded in Scripture to worship God but the purest worship is voluntary – no, more than voluntary – it is drawn out of us from deep within. Like the angels in Isaiah’s vision who called to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Is 6:3). It is the response of our spirits to the Spirit of God. I think that when we get to heaven and stand in His presence, worship will be more than something we want to do, it will be something we have to do just by the sheer majesty of His glory.

Joy’s question stuck with me all day.  I mulled it over and over: Why do I worship God?  I realized the answer I gave her was true. I worship God because I love Him. I worship God because He is great. I worship God because He is worthy. Beloved, I encourage you to ponder her question: “Why do you worship God?” Then do it.

Holy Father

When I pray, whether written or spoken, I use my favorite name for God: “Holy Father” (John 17:11).  It comes from Jesus’ prayer just before his arrest. I love that name because it is expressing the two most important aspects of who God is. Taken separately, each word speaks volumes.

“Holy” describes the highest moral quality, something or Someone set apart and sacred. I think of the Most Holy place in the Tabernacle where God dwelled among His people. It was a sacred space and entry by man was forbidden – except once a year and then only by the high priest who came to make sacrifices for the sins of the nation. A holy thing would never be used for common purposes by common people. The angels in Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne room constantly called out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty” (Is 6:3). Not just holy, but thrice holy.

“Father” is, of course, a male parent or significant leader to a family, a nation, or an individual. It is a title of honor and reverence. It is also a title of endearment – at least for some. My Dad and I didn’t have the best relationship when I was growing up and we were estranged for much of my adult life. (We did reconcile a few years before his death.) “Father” was not a warm fuzzy thought for me. But coming from the lips of Jesus, the affection was deep and sincere. Most Jews would not dare refer to God in such familiar ways. Remember He is holy – set apart from common, sinful people. But after His resurrection, Jesus told the disciples, “I am returning to my Father and your Father . . . (John 20:17). And He is our Father.

But together “Holy Father” serves as bookends with all the wonder and awe and majesty of God in between.  And together they are the complete picture of this God who is both holy and dear, who both demands perfection and makes us perfect through the blood of His own Son. The words speak to my heart of a Father who will never wrong me, never leave me, never hurt me or shame me but will always love me with the holiest of love. With perfect love (1 John 4:18). Because He is a perfect Father (Matt 5:48). Yes, “Holy Father” says it all.

I Want to See Jesus

She called out my name – not the name “Beth” that folks in Tallahassee called me, but “Dorcas,” a name I hadn’t used since we left home a dozen years before. I was surprised that I would hear my “real” name. She said, “You haven’t seen me since I was a kid,” and then she told me who she was and everything clicked. Her family had lived next door to us for a few years and I had watched her and her brother a few times for her mother to run errands. I asked “How did you recognize me? It’s been so long and you were so young when we moved away.”  She hugged me and said, “I’d know that smile anywhere!”

People change so much – ask anyone who’s gone to their high-school reunion. I was so glad the reunion committee put our senior yearbook pictures on our name badges or I would have been completely lost. We all walked around with puzzled faces until we glanced down at the badge and – “Oh, it’s you!”

Heaven will be filled with faces both strange and familiar. I know I will be scanning the multitude, looking for my mom and dad and brother Jim and my friends Judy, Joey, Dorothy, Virginia, Mavis, Bob, and so many more. But there’s one Face I want most to see. One person who changed everything for me. I want to see Jesus. But how will I recognize Him?

The Bible gives no physical description other than “He had no beauty or majesty” (Isaiah 53:2). Nobody really knows what Jesus looked like and the paintings we have are not true representations of the Lord. I highly doubt he was a light-skinned, auburn-haired man with a chiseled, European face. True, we can make assumptions based on His nationality. But how many people will have the same olive complexion and middle-eastern features in heaven? Yet the Bible does say that we will recognize Him when we see Him. How? I imagine the crown on His head and His throne at the right hand of the Father and the glory that will emanate from Him will be big clues.  But there’s one other way. When He appeared to the disciples John said, “He showed them His hands and side [and] the disciples were overjoyed” (John 20:20). There be no doubt about which one is Jesus – we’ll know Him the same way they did – by His scars.

You are . . .

I don’t typically study the Bible like I’m picking apples, jumping from branch to branch looking for the fruit. I prefer to work through an entire book, slowly and carefully and glean everything I can from the whole. Context is so important to understand and apply the Scriptures appropriately. Recently I studied through Colossians, and I detected a theme Paul had carefully woven throughout this epistle. It’s one you will find through most of his letters. (That’s another favorite method of Bible study – to work through all the books by a single author such as Paul, Luke, or John.) The theme I discovered is “Once you were . . . but now you are . . .” and it is one of the most encouraging words to me in Scripture.

Paul said, “Once you were”: slaves to sin, deceitful, sexually immoral, thieves, greedy, drunkards, angry, envious, wicked, fearful, filled with hate, dead in sin, lost in darkness, and most of all alienated from and enemies of God. . . This is the life you and I once lived – it was our normal, just as it is the norm for anyone without Christ. We lived for ourselves with one goal – to satisfy our flesh.

And this is what He says: “You are precious and honored in my sight and I love you” (Isaiah 43: 4). Those are His words, not mine. Who you were before Christ is not who you are in Christ. Oh, and one more thing God says about you: “You are mine” (v. 1) From His heart to yours Beloved, it’s the truest thing you’ll ever hear.

“But,” Paul wrote, “now you are . . .”: washed, sanctified, justified, saved, renewed, restored, pure, holy, righteous, set free, children of light, and best of all reconciled to God, accepted, adopted, and dearly loved.”  If you are in Christ, this is your new normal. This is the truth about who – and whose – you are. But maybe you don’t recognize yourself this way. Maybe you can’t shake the ugliness of your past. Maybe some people in your life keep reminding you of who you were. No doubt the devil keeps bringing up the old you. But this is where you must take God at His Word – literally. No matter what anyone, even your own confused heart, tells you – God gets the final say.

Heaven

 When I was a little girl, I heard a minister preach about eternity – and it terrified me. I couldn’t wrap my childish mind around something that would never end.  I still cannot wrap my gray head around the concept of eternity – but I am no longer afraid.

Revelation 3:12 speaks of “the New Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from God”  where we will drink “from the spring of the water of life” (Rev. 21:6). The Holy City will shine “with the glory of God,” with the “brilliance of a very precious jewel” (Rev. 21:11) Try to picture with me the descriptions in Revelation 21 and 22:  The city walls are made of jasper, the foundations are twelve precious stones, the gates of the city are giant single pearls  The gold that our world revolves around – that’s just pavement in heaven, where the streets are made of pure, transparent gold.  There is no sun or moon, “for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” 

But here is the most beautiful sight of all: “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him.  They will see His face…” (Rev. 22:3-4, emphasis added).  We will see the face of our Savior!  As a writer, here I fall silent.  What words could I offer to describe the glory of beholding the face of Jesus? And we will have to privilege of looking into His face forever.  For we will have life everlasting!  As hard as it is to comprehend, it is one of the foundations of our faith – everlasting life.

Everlasting life is the promise that has kept the heart of the Christian faith beating strong through trial, persecution, and oppression.  It has been the song on the lips of the martyrs down through history.  Life everlasting is not just about existence that never ends,  It is about the uninterrupted presence of God and His everlasting love (Ps. 103:17); everlasting righteousness (Ps. 119:142); an everlasting kingdom (Ps. 145:113); everlasting joy (Is. 35:10); everlasting salvation (Is. 47:17); everlasting kindness (Is. 54:8); everlasting light (Is 60:19 & 20); an everlasting name (Is. 56:5); and an everlasting Father (Is 9:6)?  It will be an everlasting paradise (Rev. 2:7)!

Beloved, I pray that this is your hope too. Heaven is very real, and so is hell. Your eternal destiny lies in one or the other. Don’t let the day end until you know where you’re going.

The Lord spoke to me

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“The Lord spoke to me with His strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. He said, “The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, He is the one you are to fear, He is the one you are to dread, and He will be a sanctuary” (Isaiah 8:11, 13-14). The Lord commanded Isaiah – as He commands us – to reject the way of the people and to fear Him alone. To stand firm against ungodliness and unrighteousness. To stand courageously when all around you bows to the gods of this world. That same command has run through the history of Christianity since the resurrection of Christ. It is the heartbeat of the saints through the ages till today who faced beatings, prison, exile, stonings, lions, burnings, beheadings, and all manner of persecution for their faith. It has always been the rallying cry of the people of God.

But for Isaiah and the martyrs of the faith – and for you and me – this word is not a call to arms, it’s not a call to protest and public rebuttal. It is a call to personal holiness. Notice that the prophet says “The Lord spoke to ME, with His strong hand upon ME, warning ME . . . the Lord Almighty is the one YOU are to regard as holy . . . the one YOU are to fear . . . the one YOU are to dread . . . This is first and foremost a command for the individual to stand firm in the faith in the solitary moments of our lives when no one else sees or hears. Who we present to the world is rarely who we are in our private moments. Which should give us pause before we speak. Before I call out the sins of the world, before I confront the ungodliness around me, I must call out the sin in my own life and confront the ungodliness within me.

Beloved, we have a command to shine the light of Christ wherever there is darkness, but we must first let it shine in the darkness of our own hearts. The message we carry is too valuable and too important to bury it under our own sin. The Lord spoke to ME . . .

This is Me

Since it’s my birthday, I thought I would share some of my favorite verses with you and why they are special to me.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve loved the account of Dorcas in Acts 9 – for obvious reasons, but also because we both loved to sew. But I love it more because Dorcas, by her life and death and return to life, was an evangelist without even saying a word. The Scripture said that because of her and the work of the Lord in her, her story “became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:42). That’s what I want my life to be about. She has been my life-long inspiration.

I find myself returning again and again to another verse that gave me hope through many years of infertility and through many more years of struggling as a parent: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last there is life and Joy” (Proverbs 13:12). My hope was and is in God and His ability to “call things that are not as though there were” (Romans 4:17).

God used three verses to call me into this teaching and writing ministry: Isaiah 51:16 – “I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand.” and Jeremiah 15:19 – “If you utter worthy not worthless words, you will be my spokesman.” From these two verses, He began to refine my words and their content. Then I came across Ezra, of whom the Scripture said, “The gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees in Israel” (Ezra 7:9,10). God called me to study His Word, live His Word, and teach His Word. He sent me to seminary with Jeremiah 1:17: “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you.”

Finally, my life verse: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:13,14). I have been on an almost life-long mission to seek God, and He has shown Himself over and over in my life. It is a mission I will continue to my last breath. So this is who I am as I’ve been and continue to be shaped by the Word of God. Thank you, Beloved for your love and encouragement in this ministry. You are a blessing to me