Waiting for the Sunrise

Psalm 130 is a cry for the Lord to rescue and redeem His people Israel. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word, I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning” (v. 6). This is not just aimless waiting, it means “to hope in, to look for, to expect.” It’s the difference between waiting with doubt and fear of disappointment and waiting for something you are certain will come.   Notice that the Psalmist twice says he waits “more than watchman wait for the morning.” Have you ever gone outside before dawn, while the night was still black to see the sunrise? Would you have been out there if you didn’t think the sun would actually come up? We watch for the sunrise because we know it will come, and when it does it will be a glorious sight. The watchman stood guard through the night, scanning the inky horizon, knowing that when the first rays of light hit, he could go home to rest.

When we are in a position of waiting, whatever we may be waiting for, we must adopt the attitude of the watchman and trust that when the waiting is over, the sun will shine and our rest will come. We must follow the model of Joseph who put his hope in the word of God while he waited. He was confident that what God had promised him would come to fulfillment. If you know his story (Genesis 37, 39-50) you know that while he waited he served and ministered wherever he was – in Potipher’s house and even in prison. He knew that God had not forgotten him and He would be faithful to His promise.

What has God promised to you? Do you trust Him to fulfill that promise? Then spend your waiting season serving wherever God has placed you for the moment, and know that when the waiting is over and the promise comes, it will be more wonderful than you ever imagined. God never forgets His promises, Beloved. He is forever faithful, and even more dependable than the sunrise.

When Misery Becomes Ministry

“Lord, why do I have to go through this? It is awful. It is painful. It is scary. Why?” Ever thought that? Yeah, me too. More than once. And recently. I’ve also wiped tears from someone’s face who said much the same. The question looms large in our minds: “Is there a purpose for all this pain?” Let me encourage you friend – I believe there is. Paul put it this way, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor 1:3-4).

Alcoholics Anonymous understands that a recovering alcoholic is uniquely qualified to help another find sobriety. Bosom Buddies brings a breast cancer survivor alongside one who is newly diagnosed. I have a dear friend who has a powerful ministry to post-abortive women because she made that same choice years ago. Because of my past experiences, I can sit across the table from a someone dealing with childhood bullying, sexual abuse, divorce, rejection, ridicule, depression, self-esteem issues, financial failure, a wayward child, uncertainty, and the fallout of their own sinful and foolish choices and say, “Been there, done that, and let me tell you how God got me through it.”

Paul continued his thought saying: “For just as the suffering of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows” ( 2 Cor 1:5). It’s like that old game of “Barrel of Monkeys,” where you link the arms of plastic monkeys to see how many you can pull out of the barrel in a conjoined string. All these things I’ve been through make me uniquely qualified to link arms with another and help them out of the barrel. In the end, we hopefully become a long string of survivors pulling more and more people out of despair, depression, and hopelessness.

One thing of which I am certain to the marrow of my bones: God wants to take your misery and turn it into ministry. He wants to use you and your story and your scars to speak hope and life into another suffering soul. You can sit and stew in your pain or you can help Him pull monkeys out of the barrel. Beloved, which will it be?

But I don’t want to, God!

I love the Word of God with all my heart. The Bible has transformed my mind and heart and life. It has become my passion, my calling, and my ministry. I believe every verse is true and right. I believe as Paul said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man [or woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-7). I honor the Scriptures as the authority over all creation – especially over me. But I don’t always like what it says. Sometimes the Bible meddles. Like Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without complaining or arguing . . .” Uh-oh.

I believe that obedience to the Scriptures is vital to God’s people. It was a major issue with the Israelites. They wanted God’s blessings without obedience. I strive to obey God every day. I don’t always get it right, but I so want to follow Him and walk in His ways. But sometimes I do so with a chip on my shoulder and a bit of an attitude. “I’ll do it God, but I really don’t want to.” “I will make this sacrifice, but it’s not fair, they’ve done nothing to deserve it.” “Why do I have to take this on God? Don’t I have enough on my plate?” I’m like a petulant child stomping her feet in protest on the way to bed. I sure hope you’re nodding your head in agreement, otherwise, I’m the worst kind of Christian.

But Paul said God expects obedience with a humble and grateful spirit. That is exactly what Jesus did. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus went to the cross – to His death with Joy. How could that be? Crucifixion was a horribly painful and humiliating way to die. Because He knew what the end result was going to be. Granted we don’t have that same advantage. But we have the same Heavenly Father who has never failed us, who works all things to fulfill His good purpose. We have a God we can trust when we are told to do something hard.

What is the end result of our humble obedience? We “become blameless and pure children of God [who] shine like the stars in the universe” (v. 15). In other words, we become like Jesus. And that is the desire of my heart. How about you, Beloved?

In the Morning . . .

My alarm goes off at 4:30 (yes a.m.) and after a shower and a steaming cup of life elixir, I am at my desk, ready to dig in and get all spiritual. I open my laptop and see that Facebook says I have notifications – I’ll just check those real quick to see if I need to respond to anyone and see who is having a birthday. I’d also better check the weather to see how I should dress today then I’ll get back to my quiet time But first I need to post the Scripture we’re writing today.  Oh, a friend is asking for prayer. I need to respond to her. And this looks like a good article. Oops, look at the time, I’ve just wasted 20 minutes! I need to get to writing.

I take the responsibility of writing a devotional every day very much to heart. (There have been a few mornings that a little girl needed her Nana and I didn’t get to the devotional.) I get in the Word and start to study, then with fingers on the keyboard, the Word and the Spirit speak and I type. I post the day’s devotional to Facebook and to my blog. Now I have just enough time to fix some breakfast and finish getting ready for work.  But wait. Something is missing. When did I take the time to pray? I didn’t.

With all the things I try to accomplish every morning – shower, feed the cat, clean up after midnight kitchen raids, study, write Scripture, write a devotional, eat breakfast, make lunch, and get out the door and off to work – prayer is too often a casualty of busyness and – let’s be honest – distractions. I know the power of prayer, yet I often fail to make time for it. So I decided to do just that – make time for it. I set my alarm for 4:00. Yes a.m. And to remind me that prayer is the priority, I made a lock screen for my laptop that I see before I can log on. 

David said, “In the morning, O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation” (Ps 5:3). I realize that God cannot hear my voice in the morning if I’m not praying. I don’t want to miss this precious time. Beloved, have you been with the Lord yet?

The Ministry of Experience

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Ever done anything foolish in your life? Yeah, me too. What do we do with the failures of our past? We put them in God’s hands so that others can benefit from our hard-earned wisdom. I believe that’s what Paul meant when he said, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). As survivors redeemed by Christ we reach back and help someone else who is fighting the same battle. Why is AA so powerful? Because it is built on experience and a shared struggle. It is one person who has found freedom from addiction walking alongside someone who is trying to break free.

I can minister to a child who is bullied by her peers, to a teenager suffering sexual abuse, to a woman abandoned by her husband, to a person who struggles with depression, to someone battling anxiety and fear, to a mom with a wayward child, to a couple who has lost everything, but most of all, I can reach out to someone suffering the consequences of their own foolish actions because I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt to prove it. And because I have the grace of God to show how He ministered to me in the midst of it all.

It is the deepest belief of my heart that God will take what the enemy meant to harm me and turn it into a means of blessings for others. When I allow God to turn my misery into ministry, Satan loses.  Then I can say with Joseph, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

This is how we redeem our foolish past—we take our experiences, our failures, and our sins to the table and say to another struggling soul, “I know where you are, I understand what you’re feeling and I will walk with you until you are free in Christ.” Beloved, don’t let the enemy bury you in shame. Let God use you and your scars to turn mistakes into ministry and heartbreak into hope.

Can’t I Just Get Some Rest?

I’m not very spiritual or eloquent this morning. What I am is tired. Joy had oral surgery this week and we have been taking care of her for the past couple of days. I say taking care of her, but really we’ve been keeping up with her. She has been going wide open since the second day. Plus, I have a Bible study lesson to prepare and teach today. Laundry needs to get done. Floors need mopping. And there is always that 2-year-old ball of sweetness and fire that wants Nana’s attention.

What I want to do is follow Jesus’ advice to His disciples to “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). Rest is important. It was modeled for us by God Himself in the creation week when He rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2). Yes, rest would be so nice. Let me just sit with Jesus in a quiet place as the disciples did. Or did they?

Let’s look a little farther into this story. “But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them” (v. 33). What happened to their solitary, quiet place alone with Jesus? What happened to their day of rest? It got swallowed up by needy people. “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 34).

I want to talk to those of you who are tired. I’d love for this story to say that Jesus sent the crowd away so His disciples could rest. But it doesn’t. He taught them and then He fed them. More than five thousand of them. And the disciples were right there helping Him. Then Jesus sent them off in a boat and into a storm. When they got to the other side of the lake, more people were waiting. Oh, how I relate! But He showed up for all of them. The needy people and the disciples. And He will show up for you and me. Weary, beloved servant, Jesus knows. He cares. And He is with you.

Before I could finish this post, Joy woke up and came running into my study. Laundry and floors can wait. My girl needs morning snuggles. Jesus knows.

Do You Measure Up?

When I post my devotionals every morning to this blog, I have to go into the admin page. This page contains a bar graph showing how many people have visited each day.  I try not to look because I used to get really excited when the bar went high and really discouraged by low numbers, thinking I should just quit since no one wants to read what I’m writing. The ego is a very fickle thing, even for people in ministry. Yesterday I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the bar graph was all the way to the top of the chart. Wow! That’s gotta be some pretty high numbers. So I looked. And sure enough, I had hit at or near the highest line on the chart. The number thirty. The graph adjusts itself based on the past ten days. Well, that’s kind of deflating.

But it made me think about a verse in one of Paul’s letters: “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.  When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Corin. 10:12). In the church, we tend to compare ourselves with others – discouraged (or jealous) when we don’t measure up to the most “devout saints” and a bit smug when we think we are more righteous than someone who struggles with things we don’t. Paul said such comparisons are not serving the Body. Because there is only one standard to measure up to – that of Jesus.

I may think I am holier-than-thou, but am I as holy as Jesus? You may consider a woman’s outfit inappropriate for church, but are you wearing robes of righteousness? I may not string together a chain of profanities, but are my words always light and life? Your faith may be a little stronger than mine, but can you go willingly to the cross like Jesus? For my sins?

We are all struggling in this life. None of us will reach the top of the bar like Jesus – at least not this side of heaven. Instead of measuring ourselves against other fallible human beings, we need to make Jesus our only goal. Beloved, I am not better than you and you are not better than me, but we can help each other be more like Jesus. I’m willing – are you?

When You’re a Long Way From Where You Thought You’d Be

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“God, I know you called me to ministry, to teach and share your Word. Why am I fluffing flowers at a grocery store? I thought there would be more to my life than this.”

Facebook memory reminded me today of a dry season in my life. I had felt God’s call more than ten years before but I was toughing it out in seminary and working at a grocery store. Every attempt I made to start Bible studies and discipling fell apart. I was frustrated and disappointed. Had I heard God wrong?

In Acts 23 Paul is under arrest for declaring the name of Jesus, accused by the Romans of inciting riots, and by the Jews of blasphemy. I often wonder if, in that prison, Paul questioned whether he had gotten it wrong too. To understand his call, you have to go back to Acts 9:15, when God declared that Paul would carry His name before Jews, Gentiles, and kings. At this moment, he is a long way from fulfilling his destiny. But then the Lord Jesus came to him in his cell and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify about me in Rome” (Acts 23:11).

Paul endured multiple trials and great persecution, faced a storm at sea, and was shipwrecked and snake-bitten along the way. But Acts 28:14 says, “And so we came to Rome.” God was faithful to His promise to Paul, and he did indeed preach the Gospel and declare the name of Jesus in Rome. But there was a lot of space between the promise and the fulfillment. 

V. Raymond Edman said, “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.”  As I look back at that memory, and consider that today I am working in a seminary, teaching Bible studies, teaching through writing, and continuing to prepare for something more through grad school, I realize God’s call and His faithfulness are just as true for me.

I don’t know what God has spoken over you, nor how long you’ve waited to see it come to fruition. But I do know that His promises never fail and His Word never returns void. Stand firm in the faithful nature of the Lord, Beloved, and believe that what He has declared in the light, will be fulfilled despite the darkness.

“And so we came to . . .”

Make Every Minute Count

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A verse came to me this morning: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You” (Psalm 73:25). Then another: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). They were very convicting to me.  If I can truly say that earth has nothing I desire above God, and that Jesus alone has the words of eternal life, then why do I spend more time on Facebook than I do in the Good Book? Why do I listen to the opinions of others rather than listening to the only words that matter? And why does my quiet time get derailed by social media and emails and news and checking my bank account?

So I asked the Lord, “Have I forsaken my first love?” In Revelation, the Lord Jesus addressed seven churches, the first was the church in Ephesus (2:1-7). He commended them for their perseverance, endurance, and not tolerating wickedness and false apostles. But He also chastised them for “forsaking their first love” (v. 4) He said, “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Remember the things you did at first” (v. 5). I remembered the days before the internet was part of my daily life. I would spend long stretches of time studying God’s Word and writing – prayers and devotions and lessons. I would spend days chewing on one passage or theme in Scripture. Those are the “things I did at first.” Granted, a lot more has changed in my life: work, school, my granddaughter, but those legitimate things should make me all the more determined to make every minute count when I have one.

Yet social media is a ministry platform, a way to speak life and truth and encouragement to others – to you. I believe God has called me to this.  But it should not take away from Him. I must allow the Holy Spirit to work the fruit of self-control in me.

Beloved, are you paying attention to how you spend the gift of precious minutes? Who gets the most – God or a hand-held device?  (Yes, I know, you’re probably reading this on your phone.) I would ask the same question another way – who sees your face the most – your children or your screens?  If I stepped on your toes, know that mine are also throbbing. To adapt Moses’ words: “Lord, teach us to number our minutes aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). What will you do to make every minute count?

Needy People

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I was so tired. It had been a hectic morning in a busy week and I just wanted to eat my lunch in peace. I had chosen the farthest corner to get away from everyone else in the cafeteria. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her. I tried to make myself small and unnoticeable. But she noticed anyway and set down her tray on the other side of the table. “I’m so glad to see you! I need to talk to you.” And she launched into her latest drama. “Why couldn’t she see that I wanted to be alone?” I thought. I listened to her non-stop for thirty minutes and as she prepared to leave, the Spirit prompted me to pray with her. She hugged me tightly and said, “Oh thank you! You always know how to make me feel better.” As she walked away, I stared at my half-eaten lunch just as my phone chimed. I opened the daily devotional app to read Luke 9:10-11: “Jesus took them with Him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed Him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.” He welcomed them. Not just tolerated them. He received them with delight. And He shared the kingdom with them. His time alone with His disciples had been hijacked. Or was it a divine interruption?

The truth is, I was once a needy sponge myself, searching out kind faces and willing (more like reluctant) ears to listen to me. No doubt I wore some folks out. But somebody cared enough about me to pour into my empty heart and lead me to God’s healing touch. Now I try to be the one who cares and listens. When a needy friend comes around I remind myself that Jesus welcomed people who interrupted His life. People like me.

Maybe, Beloved, God wants you to be His conduit of love and kindness – and patience – to lead someone into His healing arms. You could be the hinge on which their life turns around. Jesus welcomed needy people. He welcomed me. And He welcomed you. Somebody needs you today. Will you welcome them in Jesus’ name?