Stuff I’ve Learned in My Life

I’ll admit, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. The running joke in my family was, “Dorcas is so dumb that . . .” and then add a punchline. I believed it for a long time. I’m sixty+ now, and I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Like, don’t try to sneak off at midnight on a bike with a leaky tire. Don’t get so caught up in an audiobook that you run a red light and T-bone another car. Don’t abuse credit cards. Don’t let your mom brush your hair when’s she mad. Don’t eat junk for forty years and think it won’t come back to haunt you. I’ve learned that true friends are the second rarest gems on earth. Grandchildren are the first. I’ve learned that wisdom usually comes with scars and kindness can change almost every situation. I’ve learned that being fulfilled is more valuable than a fat paycheck. Those are lessons I learned just living my life.

But the Bible has been my greatest teacher. Through Abraham, I learned to trust God even when His promises look impossible (Gen 15). I learned from Joshua’s story that God will never leave me nor forsake me (Josh 1:5) From Gideon – God sees me as the person He created me to be, not the loser I think I am (Jud 6). I found my calling in Ezra: to study the Word, obey the Word, and teach the Word (Ezra 7:10). I’ve learned to not judge others from Job, to confess my sins from David, and Daniel taught me to stand firm in my faith despite the whims of the world. Jonah taught me that I can’t run from God, and Zechariah told me where to look for the return of Christ (Zech 14:4).

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John told me about my greatest love, Jesus, who died to save me. Acts taught me the power of the Holy Spirit and Dorcas taught me the power of helping others (Acts 9). Peter taught me about forgiveness, Paul taught me about righteousness, and Mary taught me about humility. Revelation taught me that God wins.

Of all the things I’ve learned the one I most want to leave you with is this: God loves you. Yes, you. He loves you with an everlasting, never-failing, unshakable,  eternal, perfect, holy love. That, Beloved, is the most important thing you need to know.

The Father’s Love

“But his father saw him . . . and he ran to his son (Luke 15:17)

I recently read again the parable of the Lost Son from Luke 15.  You know this kid; he took his Daddy’s money and ran to the big city to waste it on wine, women, and song. When the money ran out, he decided to head back home. You could probably name all the sermon points. But there are some details in this story that often get missed. Let me put this in its bigger context. In the culture of the middle-eastern, first-century world, the son’s request was shocking and rebellious and revealed a lack of love for the father. When the son asked for his share of the inheritance, he was, in essence, telling his father, “I wish you were dead.” He wanted his money and the old man was standing in his way. The father gave the son what he wanted and allowed him to go on his merry way – no doubt brokenhearted as he envisioned the life his son was running toward.

Fast-forward to a hungry, humbled young man shuffling his way back on the road that led home. Here is the beautiful part of this story. When the father saw the boy, “a long way off,” he ran to him. In order to run, the father would have had to lift the skirt of his tunic and robe and tuck them into his belt, exposing his legs. This was just as shocking as the son’s request. Elderly middle-eastern men did not undignify themselves in this way unless it was of the greatest urgency – a matter of life and death. And it was. The son’s return would also be noticed by the townspeople and they would follow the Levitical law which commanded that a rebellious son be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). The father humiliated himself to save his son’s life.

Now, do you see the heart of your heavenly Father? Knowing the punishment due you for your sins, He sent His own Son to be humiliated, stripped, beaten, and killed to save you. Beloved, if you’ve turned away from God and run after the world your story isn’t done. Your Father is scanning the horizon for you, to bring you back to Himself. He loves you, no matter what you’ve done. Won’t you come home to God?

When the Heat is On

A woman read in the Bible that God refines His people like silver and gold so she visited a silversmith and asked about the process of refining the precious elements. The smithy said he put the silver in a kettle and exposed it to extremely high heat that caused the dross, or impure elements, to rise to the surface where he could scoop it out. This process took intense heat and so she asked, “how do you keep from burning it?” The man replied, “I lean in very closely to the kettle and watch it carefully, using only as much heat as necessary until it is just as I want it.” She asked, “How do you know when it’s ready to be removed from the heat?” The smithy answered, “When I can see my reflection.”

You and I are called to be the reflection of Jesus Christ to the world and that image must be pure. God uses all sorts of “heat” – financial struggles, relational heartache, health problems, emotions, culture, rejection, persecution, consequences, and yes, often spiritual heat to bring the impurities in us to the surface where they can be removed. How do I know this? He’s been cooking some junk out of me for a while. Why would He do that to me? Because, like His friend Peter, some things in me need to be removed before God can use me for His Kingdom and His glory. Remember in Luke 22:31-32 how Jesus allowed His friend to be sifted by satan? He let His disciple go through the crucible of intense suffering to remove what was marring His image in Peter (Luke 22:54-62). Afterward, Peter became a mighty Apostle and preached the first Gospel message after Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:14-41. The Lord used a humble Peter mightily in the birth and growth of His church.

None of us welcome the seasons of suffering and pain in our lives but know that God is at work, purifying your faith and refining you to be His witness to the world. And you can be assured that in this time of intense heat, He is leaning in close and carefully watching over you, allowing just enough heat to accomplish His purpose – to see His Son reflected in you. And don’t forget that Jesus is praying for you (Luke 22:32). In the end you, Beloved, will come forth a beautiful vessel for His glory.

Open Eyes, Open Mind

I was looking for something in the first chapter of John and my eye caught two verses I had previously marked on the opposite page: Luke 24:31 and 45. Luke 24 is the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus as witnessed by His disciples. The first was when Jesus met up with two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. For most of their journey together they didn’t recognize Him, even though they talked about Him the whole way. (Boy, there’s a commentary on the state of the church!) Actually, Luke reported that “they were kept from recognizing Him” (v. 16). Why? As the account plays out, Jesus gave them the bigger picture of Himself and the purpose for his life and death – and resurrection, which they were struggling to believe. Verse 31 says: “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” Their physical eyes were able to recognize Jesus their teacher and their spiritual eyes were able to recognize Jesus the Son of God.

While the now seeing disciples reported their encounter to the rest of His followers Jesus came into the room and showed them His hands and feet, proof that He was indeed alive. Luke says, “they still did not believe it because of Joy and amazement” (v. 41).  He reminded them of the things He had taught them about the Law of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms, and the fulfillment of prophecy. “Then,” the Scripture says, “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (v. 45).  This means that He enabled them to put what the Scriptures (what we know as the Old Testament) proclaimed about the Messiah with what they witnessed about Him. He enabled them to finally understand who He was and what His mission was all about. And what their mission was going to be: that they would be witnesses of all they had seen and heard and experienced “to all nations” (v. 47).

That’s my prayer for the church: that our eyes would be opened to recognize the Lord and our minds would be opened to understand the Scriptures. And our hearts would be opened to share the gospel – the good news of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God with a lost world. Beloved, do you understand who Jesus is? Pray for your eyes and mind to be opened wide to believe that He is . . . everything.

Questioning God

If anyone should have believed in Jesus without wavering, it was John the Baptist. John’s whole life was for one mission, “to prepare the way for the Lord” (Luke 3:4). Even in the womb, he recognized the Lord, leaping at the sound of Mary’s voice (Luke 1: 41-45). He knew Jesus was the Messiah and he declared Him as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world !” This was confirmed to John at the Lord’s baptism – “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” He added emphatically, “I have seen, and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29-34). Yet John asked a big question, “Are the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20). What changed? John was in a prison cell for calling out the unrighteousness of the King. No wonder he was questioning Jesus. He did everything God asked of Him and the results were harsh. Can you blame the poor fellow? Despite all he knew, John – weary and discouraged – began to doubt.

But Jesus didn’t chastise John. He knew the man’s heart and that those doubts arose from the overwhelming blow he had been dealt. Jesus pointed John back to the evidence. “What do you see, John?” “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22). Look beyond your circumstances, John. You preached the coming of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 3:1). You spoke of my power (Mark 1: 7). Your own words are being fulfilled in Me. Then He added, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:23).
Questions are often the starting point for discovering the truth. Do you have a question for God? He will not chasten you. He will give you answers that will ground and strengthen your faith. Ask, Beloved, even with hot tears and a twinge of doubt. You will find that Jesus not only has the answers, He is the answer.

Put that Burden Down

Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote a powerful and beautiful song called “He Touched Me” and the first lines go like this: “Shackled by a heavy burden, ‘neath a load of guilt and shame.”

I can relate to that. I carried guilt and shame for most of my life. It weighed a ton. I know many of you are nodding – you have carried the same load.  We know what we’ve done and we’re mortified.   What misery is ours when we just stop there – shacked and bound, burdened and ashamed. But listen to the next lines:

“Then the hand of Jesus touched me, and now I am no longer the same!”

Oh, the blessed release when we allow the hand of Jesus to reach out and take away our burdens and shame and break the shackles from our feet.

Jesus came into this sinful world to set us free – as He read from Isaiah – “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because He has anointed me to preach the Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”( Luke 4:18-19). He told Nicodemus, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17). Jesus came, not to point to you with all your bags and say “I AM ASHAMED OF YOU!” He came to say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Rest from the weight. Rest from the shame. Rest from the guilt.

Maybe this morning you come to God, with your head and eyes downcast, ashamed and guilty, expecting chastisement and rejection. Beloved, Jesus is reaching out His nail-scarred hand to take your bags of misery and shame. There is love in His eyes, not condemnation. He bids you rise and face the day, forgiven, freed, and radiant in Him.

“He touched me, Oh He touched me,

and oh the joy that floods my soul!

Something happened and now I know,

He touched me and made me whole.”

When Anxiety is Great Within Me . . .

I’m dealing with some major anxiety this week. Yes, even the Bible teacher gets overwhelmed by life sometimes just as you do. The Spirit led me to Psalm 94:19: When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought Joy to my soul.”  Yep, that’s the verse for me – it’s got anxiety and Joy. This Psalm is a lament; the psalmist is in a hard place because of “the wicked” who trample on God’s people. Hmm, I have something similar going on in my life. He calls on the Lord for help. I found it interesting that he didn’t ask God to remove him from the cause of his anxiety. Sometimes – as in my case – that is not an option. Too much is at stake. So how does he handle his anxiety and the cause of it?

First, he remembers that God is his Avenger (v. 1); he doesn’t have to seek revenge or demand his rights. He noted that even though his enemy doesn’t acknowledge God (v. 7), God knows everything that is happening to him (v. 11). He reminds himself (oh, that’s so important) that God will grant him relief (v. 13), He will not reject or forsake him (v. 14), and will be his Defender (v. 16). The Lord will help him (v. 17). He will hold him up with his love (v. 18). He will bring him comfort and Joy (v. 19) (did you hum that Christmas song?). And the Lord will be his fortress, his rock, and his refuge (v. 22). I don’t know about you, but after all that, my anxiety has decreased to near-manageable levels.

But consider this too. God never chastised him for being anxious. I know, you’re going to ask me why did Jesus say, “Do not be anxious (or worried) (Matt 6:25, 30, 34) .” Context. First, Jesus was teaching in vs. 19-24 about storing up treasures on earth vs. treasures in heaven. He was saying that wealth will not bring peace. But the Father does. In vs. 25-34 Jesus spoke of God’s goodness, care, compassion, and faithfulness. When He said “Do not be anxious,” He wasn’t barking out an order, He was reminding the people that “your Heavenly Father knows” all about the needs of His “little flock” (Luke 12:32). Those are words of tender, fatherly love.

We don’t want to walk around like tight balls of anxiety, but the struggles of this life are unavoidable, and some of them are really hard. The best way to cope is to focus on all God brings to us in our time of need. Hope. Peace. Compassion. Love. “The Lord is my Shepherd, that’s all I need to know.”

Love One Another

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It is very compelling to me that in all the Gospels, there is only one time that Jesus declared a commandment: “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17). A command means it’s not up for debate. Ah, but we do debate it, don’t we? “Who are the ‘others’?” “Did Jesus just mean fellow Christians?” “Did He mean everyone everywhere?” “And what did He mean by ‘love’?” We are much like the lawyer who asked Jesus “And who is my neighbor?” And Jesus told Him the story of the Good Samaritan. You know this parable from Luke 10: 25-37.

A man was beaten and robbed and left for dead on the side of the road where two very religious men passed him by on the way to do their religious duties. But a Samaritan, whom the Jews despised, stopped and helped the man, took him to an inn, and paid for his care.  When the lawyer asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” he wanted to know whom he was “required” to love. Jesus turned his question around by defining the neighbor as the one who gave love, not the one who received it. The one giving love is living out the second great commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).

So love your neighbor. But God doesn’t allow us to pick and choose our neighbors. He commands us to love the person He places in front of us. Sometimes that’s a hard love because they are prickly and unpleasant and downright hateful. They take and never give. They growl and complain. Does that mean we are excused from the love command? I think they are the very ones Jesus had in mind.

Several years ago I read something in “Reader’s Digest” that has stuck with me ever since: “Don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most.” I think sometimes we withhold love because are afraid we will be “cheated” – giving more love than we receive. But the very act of loving others fills the one who gives it all away. Here’s how John said it: “If we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us” (1 Jn 4:12).  Beloved, the more love you give away the more of God’s love you have to give. Love each other – all the others – the way Jesus loves you (John 15:12).

What is God Worth to You?

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When I sit down to write every morning, I ask the Lord, “What do you want to say?” Some days it’s a word of encouragement. Everyone seems to like those. Some days it’s a Scripture lesson (like the Hebrews series). And some days God directs me to a passage of Scripture and I think, “This is not exactly a heart-warming story.” This is one of those days. I almost changed it, but God can be very insistent.

King David took a census of the men of  “fighting age” in Israel, a sign that his trust for his nation was in the strength of his army and not in the strength of his God. He soon realized his census was a slap in the face to the Lord God (2 Sam 24:9). He confessed his sin and pleaded for the Lord to take away his guilt. God gave him three options.  Israel could face three years of famine, David could spend three months running from his enemies, or there could be three days of plague in the land.  David decided on the last option and seventy thousand citizens of Israel died. The Lord finally stayed the hand of the death angel “at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite” (v. 16). The king approached Araunah to purchase the threshing floor that he might “build an altar to the Lord, that the plague on the people may be stopped” (v. 21). Araunah offered the threshing floor free of charge but David would not hear of it. He said, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (v. 24).

Here’s what I hear from God: “Why are my people so stingy towards me?” In the little book of Malachi, God said He would prefer that the temple doors be shut than for the people to give Him meaningless offerings – “injured, crippled, blemished or diseased animals” burned on “useless fires” (1:10-13). But above all, the people considered their gifts and service to Him to be “a burden” (1:13). Jesus talked about the cost of being His disciple (Luke 9:57-62) and Matthew recorded His parable of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price (13:44-46) to express how valuable the kingdom of God is. 

This is not about money, although giving is an important part of the relationship. This is about giving God our hearts, our time, our thoughts, and our whole selves. Is the kingdom worth giving up sleep to spend time every morning with the King? Is it worth turning off the T.V. to read His Word to your kids? Is it more valuable than having them excel in sports or dance? Is God your heart’s first desire, or your fifth or twentieth?

Beloved, my toes are throbbing too, but the question stands: What is God worth to you?

Don’t Pack Up the Christmas Spirit

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Christmas Day has come and gone and my living room looks like a toy store exploded all over the place, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. So what now? Well, I’ll clean up the blast zone and eventually pack away the ornaments on the tree. We’ll finish off the last of the Christmas dinner leftovers today. But, where does the Christmas spirit go for the next 11 months?

You probably know by now that Joy abides in my house year-round in my precious granddaughter. But what of the peace the angels declared? According to Jesus, that peace was His gift to me, something the world can’t offer (John 14:27). It doesn’t belong in a box in the shed. It belongs in my heart to rule over my relationships (Col. 3:15). 

Is there a box in my shed for the “Hope” of Christmas? The Hope that God is who He claimed to be, that He is trustworthy and faithful (2 Thess 3:3), that His love is unfailing (Ps. 136) and His promises are as sure as His Name (Heb. 6:13). Hope that His eye is ever on me and His ear is tuned to my cries (Gen. 21:13, 11). Hope that one day this wicked world will be turned right-side-up (Rev. 21:5). I am hanging on to hope – it is my word from the Lord for the coming year. I need it desperately; this past year has drained most of my hope.

And then there is love – the greatest of all gifts (1 Cor. 13:13). Love slept in a manger (Luke 2:7). Love walked the dirty streets, healing and lifting up the downtrodden (Matt. 8:1-3). Love died on a cross (Mark 15: 37) and love brought life from death (Mark 16:6). Love must never be packed away for the world needs it more than any other thing. Love – holy love – is the only thing that can save mankind. And it is the only thing that will draw men out of darkness into the light.

I don’t know if your Christmas was merry or jolly or less than you’d hoped, but I know that the spirit of Christmas lives in the hearts of God’s people all year long. Beloved, pack up the decorations but don’t pack away the Joy and peace and hope and love. Set it out for all the world to see.