When the Way is Dark

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I come from a long line of crafters. My mom was an extraordinary seamstress – I loved the handmade clothes she made for me. My grandmother created beautiful designs with a needle and tread. and I found much comfort laying in bed and tracing the stitches on my “Sunbonnet Sue” pillowcase. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, Mom decided it was time for me to take up the family tradition, starting with learning handwork. She bought me a simple embroidery kit and taught me the up-and-down pattern, and the daisy stitch and how to fill a piece of fabric with color. The kit she bought was a design with an old fashioned oil lamp, a Bible – with a real velvet bookmark – and the words of Psalm 119:105. As I stitched the letters, the words were “sewn” into my heart: Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet and a Light unto my path.

I’ve lost my way a few times since then and found myself in dark scary places. But I would trace the words on my heart, just as I traced the pattern on my pillowcase, and I knew where to find the light. I still go back to that verse often and remind myself that the Bible has the power to dispel darkness and show me the way home.

The Word of God is Light and Life to me. It is stitched on my heart.

When God Brings the Pain

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

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

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

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

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.

A Beautiful, Imperfect Life

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“If you make a stone altar for me, do not build it out of cut stones. If you use your chisel on it, you will defile it” (Exodus 20:25).

For several years my son and I served with Samaritan’s Purse as the Collection Center Coordinators for Operation Christmas Child. We received thousands of gift-filled shoeboxes from churches in the North Florida region and packaged them in shipping cartons for transport. We quickly learned the most efficient ways to arrange the boxes to get as many as possible in the cartons. We turned them this way and that and searched for small boxes to fit in small spaces. It was like a real-life game of Tetris.

We like it when things fit together well, when there is order and balance. But that’s not always going to happen, especially in life. Things in our lives don’t always fit neatly in place, do they? Like that scary diagnosis or the spouse who walked away. Losing your job didn’t fit in with the structured life you had planned, and that hard-headed, rebellious child of yours has turned your ordered life into chaos. Depression doesn’t sit neatly in your tidy world. If only life cooperated with our well-thought-out plans.

When God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, He commanded them to build an altar for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but they must not cut the stones used in building the altar. Doesn’t that seem odd? Wouldn’t it be nicer to cut the stones to size so that they all fit together neatly? It could be a beautiful monument of perfectly shaped stones. But God did not want man’s “perfection.” To me, this becomes a powerful object lesson – that true worship comes from imperfect lives. Try as we might, we’re not going to make all the pieces fit neatly together. But when God takes the pieces of our lives, the odd shapes and sizes, and even the broken fragments, He makes something beautiful from them, something that speaks of Him to a world full of imperfect people.

Real life is not neat and tidy. It’s messy and misshapen and broken. But God – those are my two favorite words – but God can take your imperfect life and turn it into a beautiful testimony of His grace. Put the pieces of your life in God’s hands Beloved, and worship at the altar of His love.

I Need Peace

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I need peace. I need peace in my home and peace in my mind. I need peace in the midst of struggles and anxiety. I need a peace that doesn’t depend on knowing that everyone in my family is behaving and there’s enough money in the bank. I need a peace that doesn’t hang on having all the answers. I need a peace that:

  • “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). In today’s language that means I can have a peace that doesn’t make sense, a peace that defies the circumstances of my life.
  • looks up, that “sets your heart on things above” (Colossians 3:1). Peace comes when I keep my heart set on “the hope that is stored up for me in heaven” (Colossians 1:5).
  • trusts in the heart of my Father, knowing that He is aware of my needs (Matthew 6:3) and is not just able to meet them, but delights in doing so (Matthew 7:9-12).
  • doesn’t deny the real challenges of life but “lets the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15). That is, I need to let the words of Christ answer my doubts and questions.
  • knows I’m not alone, that God is always with me. A peace that knows “the LORD your God . . . will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). 
  • calms the storm within me, even while the storm rages around me. I need to hear Jesus say to my heart and mind, “Peace. Be still.” (Mark 4:39).

How do I get this peace? Can I make it? Where can I buy it? Could I even afford it?

There’s only one place to find this peace – Jesus. And it is free for the taking. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27). Jesus offers real peace for real life. Do you need peace today Beloved? Come to the source where peace overflows. Come to Jesus.

When God Doesn’t Make Sense

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“He makes everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

When his two co-prisoners had strange dreams, Joseph interpreted them accurately and the men met the fates that Joseph had described. The chief baker was hanged, and the chief cupbearer was restored to his position. Joseph had asked the cupbearer to mention his unjust imprisonment to Pharaoh. “Surely,” Joseph must have thought, “I will finally be released from this prison.” But the Scripture says, “The chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (Genesis 40:23). And the very next verse tells us that Joseph was stuck in that prison for another two years. Freedom was so close he could almost touch it, yet it remained just outside of his grasp. Why would God allow Joseph to languish unjustly in prison, especially when He had given him visions of prominent position when he was younger? What purpose could that possibly serve?

Have you asked similar questions about your own life? God, why am I still single? Why am I childless? Why can’t I advance in my career? Why can’t I get healthy? Why am I stuck in ____________. It is so frustrating when we can’t see any logical reason for God not to answer our pleas. If you’ve ever scratched your head and thought, “God, you’re not making much sense here,” you’re in very good company. But dear one, you also don’t know the big picture, just as Joseph couldn’t know how God would unfold His plan.

The Bible says that after those two years, Pharaoh had an unusual dream that no one could interpret. It was then that the chief cupbearer remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh. Joseph not only interpreted the dream, but he so impressed Pharaoh that he was elevated to the second highest position in the land. In that position Joseph was able to save his family from starvation. If he had been released from prison two years earlier, he would have almost certainly high-tailed it out of Egypt and away from the plan of God for his life, for the lives of his family and, ultimately your life and mine, for in rescuing his family, Joseph preserved the nation from which our Savior would come.

When you find yourself becoming anxious about what God is not doing in your life, remember that you can’t see the big picture from your vantage point. Could it be that He is positioning you for a greater purpose than you can imagine? Could He be preparing you – and the situation you’re in – for a miracle? I believe Joseph would counsel you not to fret, but to trust God to move in your life in just the right place at just the right time. When He is directing the lives of His people, God makes every minute count towards His purposes. God has not forgotten about you Beloved; “He makes everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Including your life.

God, I Don’t Understand

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One of my favorite ways to study the Bible is digging into one book and examining it passage-by-passage, verse-by-verse, and even word-by-word. There is so much wealth in every word of Scripture. I enjoy looking at each word as if I’m looking at all the different facets of a diamond. I love to study word definitions and etymology because one of the most important aspects of Bible study is to understand the author’s original intent. Because the meaning of words change from time periods and cultures, we often read a first-century word with a twenty-first century understanding and it affects the way we interpret, and thus apply, Scripture. For example, when Paul writes about “slaves” you and I picture the horrific slavery of America in the 1800-1900’s. But slavery in the Middle East in the first century was often a business transaction or even a relationship of loyalty between slave and master. So when we examine a passage such as Ephesians 6:5-8 we can have a better understanding of the concept of slavery when Paul told slaves to “obey your earthly masters with respect and fear and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.”

But is slavery really the point Paul is making here? If we pull back from this close-up of one word, we see that the bigger picture is that of obedience to and for the Lord. Pull back a little more and this section is sandwiched between family instruction and the armor of God. Once again the bigger picture is all persons doing all things “in the Lord” and being “strong in the Lord” (v. 1, 10). Pull back even farther and we see the whole theme of Ephesians is living as who we are “in the Lord.” As helpful as it is to examine each verse in a passage and even each word in the verse, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture. You could take this macro-vision even farther by noting that the entire New Testament is what God has done and is doing “in the Lord.” What is the focus of the entire Bible? The Lord.

Right now, you may be dealing with something very difficult and all your attention is centered on this one thing in your life. It’s all you can see. You are hyper-focused on this single issue, person, or struggle. You are looking at it from every possible angle, trying to figure out how you got here and testing out various solutions in your mind to determine the best course of action. Friend, you need a wider perspective. May I encourage you to pull back just a little and look for the bigger picture? This issue, person or need is one word in one sentence of one paragraph on one page of your entire life story. But it isn’t your whole story. God has a much bigger purpose in mind than just the solution to one problem in your life. Over and over the Bible tells stories of people who had a challenge—infertility, oppression, imprisonment, slavery, rejection, even lack of basic life necessities—and God moved in such a way that the resolution to their challenge became a much larger and more God-glorifying part of their story.

I find great comfort in Jesus’ words in the upper room: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7). When I want to say, “God I don’t get this; I can’t figure out what to do here” I hear my Lord say, “You can’t grasp it now child, but you will understand when you see the bigger picture.” Beloved, there is a bigger picture. There is a higher purpose. There is so much more to your story than you can see in the moment. Give God your troubles, your struggles, your difficulties and watch Him unfold something you never imagined. Your life is so much more than this moment. Trust the Author of your life story. He has a beautiful, wonderful ending in store for you.

The Day Between Death and Life

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“It was preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.  The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how His body was laid in it.  Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”  Luke 23:54-56

It was the darkest day of their lives – the day after Jesus had been crucified on the cross.   They’d heard the hammers pound the nails into His hands and feet.  They listened to Him cry out to His Father in anguish and surrender.  They saw His body slump as He give up His Spirit.  They watched the soldiers pierce His side and witnessed blood and water drain from His battered body.  They held their breath as Joseph and Nicodemus took His lifeless body down from the cross.  They followed in a sad processional to the garden where their Lord was entombed.

In our modern understanding of these days, we hold solemn vigils on Good Friday, remembering the death of Jesus, and we come together for joyful celebrations on Easter Sunday to celebrate His resurrection.  But Saturday is the day for egg hunts, travel, shopping, and preparing our Easter Sunday finery.

More and more the Holy Spirit is teaching me to sit in the moment with the Bible characters.  To put myself in their sandals and their experience and not rush on to the end of a familiar story.  He is teaching me to take a holy pause.

What must this day have been like for these devoted women?  Were they numb with grief?  Or was it the kind of sorrow that aches deep in the bones?   This day – the day after darkness filled the noon-day sky and the curtain was torn in two – must have left them empty inside – confused, in anguish, and filled with disbelief.  How could this be?  Their Jesus was dead.

Looking back from this side of the Cross, we want to take their faces in our hands and tell them, “Just hold on! Don’t grieve. Everything is going to change tomorrow!”  As Paul Harvey says, we know “the rest of the story.” We know death cannot keep its grip on Jesus. We know they will soon find the tomb empty.  We know this is only the day between death and life.  But they didn’t.  In their world, death was final.  It was all over.

They didn’t know they were only waiting. . .

Guest Blogging Today

I am guest blogging today on the website “All Mom Does.”  Check out my Thanksgiving devotional, “Giving Thanks in the Desert.”

https://www.allmomdoes.com/2018/11/21/giving-thanks-in-the-desert/

 

I Can Do All Things . . .

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“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13)

“Let a Christian begin to boast, “I can do all things,” without adding, “through Christ who strengthens me,” and before long he will have to groan, “I can do nothing.” Charles Spurgeon

Philippians 4:13 is one of those favorite “pull-out” verses for believers, and it is a good reminder when we face big tasks.  But do you know this verse in its context?  It really isn’t about strength at all.  It follows up a different principle altogether.

Paul is in prison – and 1st century prisons were nothing like our modern American facilities. There were no cots, no pillows or blankets, and no meals provided. Prisoners slept on hard floors and were at the mercy of others for their basic needs. If family, friends or a kind benevolent soul did not bring them food, they would starve to death in prison. This “strength” verse comes as Paul thanks the Philippian church for their gifts and concern for him.  He wants to assure them that, despite his situation, he is not in despair.  Rather, he says, “I have learned to be content’ whatever the circumstances . . . In any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:11-12).  Paul is making a point about contentment.  And he said that the secret behind his unshakable state of contentment is the strength he receives from the Lord.


This is not a power-lifting verse.   It’s not a touchdown verse (and I do love Tim Tebow). It’s a getting through life verse. Paul is not trying to perform great feats of strength – he’s trying to endure his chains.


The beauty of this verse is that the same strength that sustained Paul in prison is there for you and me in the challenges we face every day.  I can do all things . . . be gentle with my frustrating child this morning – face my overly demanding boss – have a Christ-like spirit towards those co-workers who reject my faith – eat beans and hot dogs for supper for the third time this week – bathe my aging parent who can’t remember my name. We don’t just need Christ’s strength in the gym or on the ball field. We need it in our homes and workplaces and relationships.


Beloved, whatever your “all things” is today, God will give you strength, not just to do the thing that needs to be done, but to do it with a heart of contentment, knowing that One who provides the strength also holds you in the palm of His great and loving hand. Yes, you can – through Him.