Stars in the Night Sky

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“Therefore we do not lose heart…For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:16, 17

“Light and momentary?” I want to ask Paul. “Do you have any idea what we’ve been through this week? It isn’t light! The past 18 years? That’s longer than a moment!”  But then I remember I’m yelling at Paul who endured thirty-nine lashes on five occasions, who was beaten with rods three times, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, spent a night and day floating in the sea, facing constant danger, persecution, sleepless nights, without food, water, or clothing – all for the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). He may not know the specifics of my life – or yours – but the man has known suffering and hardship and pain.

My next question then is, “Why, if we are God’s children, do we have to endure so much difficulty?” Paul never stopped serving the Lord; even in prison, he shared the gospel with the guards (Philippians 1:13). I’m trying to be faithful to God’s call to study and write and teach. You’re trying to stay faithful to what God has set before you in your family, work, church, and community. Shouldn’t that get us a pass from troubles? Yet not even God’s perfectly faithful Son was exempt from suffering.

But I think I found a clue to our struggles and sufferings. So that we may “become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15). When are the stars the brightest? When the night sky is at its blackest. When is God’s glory most visible? When things are at their darkest. Like now –in my family, in our nation, and in the war-torn country of Afghanistan.

Friend, believe me when I say, I understand. Just because I’m a Bible teacher doesn’t mean I am exempt from the harsh things of life. In fact, I feel like it puts me constantly in satan’s crosshairs because he would love nothing more than to beat me down until I quit. But I won’t. Paul didn’t. Jesus didn’t. Because this world needs shining stars to bring light into the darkness. The world, Beloved, needs you.

For the One Who is Losing Hope

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It’s been such a hard year and a half for the world. So much tragedy and pain and loss and anger. So much despair and hopelessness. I see you, friend – struggling to hold your head up. This message is for you – the one who is losing hope. I know how that feels. I have been there. When you think that these hard days will never end, the pain will never stop, the sin will never leave you, the loneliness will never go away. When you wonder if there’s any point in going on.

Please hear me: there is a reason to keep going – you are only in the middle of your story. When I read a book, and the plot twists put the heroine in a desperate situation, I know there are more pages and chapters for the story to turn around. But when we are in the middle of our life story, we think this is all there is, and this is how it will always be. But there are more pages and chapters to come. And with them comes hope. Because the Author of your story is the God who loves you, and He is writing a glorious turnaround for you. He sees your story from beginning to end. He sees you in the middle, where the struggle is now – and He sees you on the other side, whole, stronger, at peace.

Psalm 33:11 says “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” He has a plan and a purpose for your life – and for this present season that seems unbearably hard – and He has the power to fulfill His plan. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). He never leaves anything unfinished. And that includes you and me.

If life is hard right now, remember that this is one page in the story of your life – but it’s not the whole story. The struggle, the pain, the ache you’re feeling now is not the final word. Let God keep writing your story. Trust Him to turn the plot around. Beloved, as long as there is breath in your body, your story is not done – there is hope. Please keep reading – the best is yet to come.

The Notes in my Bible

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Some people revere their Bibles and keep them pristine with all the pages smooth. They would never dream of making a single mark in them. I also revere the Bible, but mine is in pretty rough shape. The faux leather cover is almost flaked off. Pages are curled up at the corners and almost every page has underlines, highlights, notes, and dates on them – and a few coffee stains.

One page has two dates in the margin, a year apart. Zephaniah 3:20  is a reminder of God’s faithfulness and goodness to my family.

May 29, 2018: Verse 20a – “At that time I will bring you home.” On May 29, 2018, we rolled out of Tuscaloosa heading back home to Dothan after 23 years away. But it wasn’t exactly happy circumstances. My husband had to medically retire and my job had ended in a company merger that shut our office down. To top it off, I was dealing with a raging case of cellulitis that would leave me flat of my back for a month. So much was uncertain, and honestly, scary. We were trusting Him for – – well, everything. Provision. Healing. A job. Hope.

May 29, 2019: Verse 20b“I [will] restore your fortunes before your very eyes.” Here’s the note I wrote: “A year later and I’m stunned at what You’ve done for us. I never dreamed of all You would bring about – Thank you so much!” In those 365 days, we moved into a house we still love, I landed the best job I’ve ever had, and started Graduate school – for free! God had indeed provided, healed, and guided. Oh – and one more blessing happened on May 29, 2019 – a little girl came into the world and changed our lives forever. Exactly a year to the day after one of the hardest days of our lives, Joy was born. Talk about a turnaround!

But this is not about marking up my Bible. This is about encouraging you to trust Him. I know many of you are facing hard, uncertain, painful things. But don’t lose hope. God is all about rescuing and restoring and turning lives around. I’m living proof of that. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s another verse I’ve marked and dated: “From this point on, I will bless you” (Haggai 2:19) – 9/20/2012. Beloved no matter what, God is faithful.

I Need to Talk to my Father

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I’m pretty much an open book. You will know if I am excited, happy, angry, or sad. I believe it is important to be honest and even vulnerable for a couple of reasons. You may be dealing with a struggle that is similar to mine, and I want to encourage you as God encourages me. I want to be honest so that you know me and can trust the things I say. And because, sometimes, I need to put my faith out there where I can see it, just as I did when I wrote about my granddaughter moving away.  I publicly shared my pain because I needed to publicly declare my trust in God for my own heart to hear. You see, when I write, I am first and foremost writing for me. I need to have my toes stepped on. I need to be taught and chastised and challenged and encouraged. I need to hear God speak. So I share my life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – to share God’s message.

But I can’t tell you everything. There are matters so personal and so private that I have to keep them to myself.  Well, not just to myself. I can talk to my Father about them. You would probably be shocked by what you don’t know about me, but my Father never is. You might be repulsed at some of the things I don’t share, but my Father never is. There are other people involved in some of my private concerns and I am not at liberty to divulge their stories. But I can tell my Father. And some pains go so deep and are so heavy you simply could not bear to hear them.  But my father can.

The Bible says “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed” (Mark 1:35). Even the Son of God had things He could only discuss with His Father. He gave me a good example to follow. Yes, I have faithful friends who love me and help carry my burdens and share my Joys, but it is my Heavenly Father who hears my whole, raw heart. And He wants to hear yours too. Let Him carry your burdens and struggles and even your deepest darkest secrets. Beloved, there is nothing you cannot tell your Father. Are you ready to pray?

Do You Want to Get Well?

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“Do you want to get well?”( John 5:6) Rumor had it that an angel would descend with healing powers and stir the waters so that the first person who made it into the pool would be healed. The man was an invalid and was alone at the pool –  in misery. For thirty-eight long years. So we find ourselves questioning Jesus’ question. Of course, the man wanted to get well. Why wouldn’t he? We expect him to offer a hearty, “Yes! I want to get well!” But check out his response to Jesus: “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred.  While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” (v. 7). Not exactly the answer we were expecting.

I’ve been the emotional invalid at the side of the pool. I didn’t suffer in silence; I would whine to anyone I could corner. My prayers were little more than a list of what was wrong in my life. I went to counseling and there was much advice given, but I never took it.  Like the man beside the pool, I always had a reason why I couldn’t do what was necessary for my healing. To be honest being miserable became a comfortable, known place. Healing and wholeness seemed – frightening.  But then a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age and as I prayed for her I said, “What a waste of a beautiful life it will be if she dies this young.” And the Lord replied: “No more a waste than if you live for 100 miserable years.” I blew out the candles and walked out on my pity party.

Charles Stanley said, “Sometimes our troubles and infirmities become such a part of our lives and identity that we have difficulty letting them go and allowing God to handle them. Have you been holding on to a painful experience or problem? You must choose to let it go. God offers you His healing, so there are no more excuses. You must decide what is more important to you – getting better or having a reason to say, ‘Woe is me.'”

Sometimes the biggest obstacle to our healing is us.

I am a Christian, and I am Depressed

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“How long, O Lord must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:2).

I’ve had a lot going on in my life lately. Some painful things – emotionally and physically. Some hard things. Some heavy things. Some unfair things. My mind is both dulled and racing. And the devil snarls in my ear, “Where is your peace, Oh Bible teacher?” “Where are your joy and contentment?”

I haven’t tried to hide the fact that I struggle with depression. I have for most of my life. I’m not ashamed of it, it is part of my chemical makeup – and probably a lot of conditioning from trauma over the years. Sometimes it is overwhelming. And the enemy adds fuel to the fire. “You are a FRAUD!”

Why in the world am I telling you this? Because I know others struggle in the same way. Maybe you. I want you to know that you are not in this by yourself. Satan loves to turn our eyes to ourselves so that we think we’re alone in our depression. Isolation is a huge part of this disease, so I want you to have the assurance that you’re not the only one. There are a lot of us out here.

I am also telling you this because I want you to know where I find my hope and comfort and – yes peace in seasons like this. Stop right now and read Psalm 13. I’ll wait right here for you. This is a lament of David. Saul is king and he had determined to kill David out of jealousy because he is the hero of the Goliath story and because the Lord has anointed him as the next king of Israel. David has been running like a hunted animal for a long time. He is bone and heart weary. He is exhausted and depressed. Still, he holds on to one sure thing: “But I trust in your unfailing love . . .” That’s my hope and comfort and peace and Joy – the never-failing, never-ending, never-diminishing, always consistent love of God. When satan calls me a fraud, God calls me Beloved. And that’s why I call you Beloved too. Because despite depression and anxiety and darkness, the love of God never fails. Never. Rest your broken, weary heart in this: God loves you.

Trust Me

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“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in Me.” John 14:1

The disciples were anxious because the Lord had told them, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. Where I am going you cannot come.” (John 13:33).  Peter, speaking what everyone was thinking, wanted to know where He was going and why they could not accompany Him (John 13:36, 37).

Jesus understood their fears.  That is why He offered them words of comfort and assurance.  Notice, though, that He did not say, “Now don’t you worry, everything is going to turn out fine – just wait and see.”  He didn’t even tell them, “It’s okay – see this is all part of my plan.”  No, the answer Jesus gave them was:

“Trust in God.  Trust also in me” (John 14:1b).

He did not soothe their frazzled minds with the common words of assurance.  He was their assurance.  They just needed to remember . . .

They had walked with Him for three years.  They had heard His words, experienced His love, seen His power over the storm and in the storm, felt His hands pouring water on their dusty feet.  They knew that He was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  They knew He was their friend (John 15:15).

“Trust in me.”

Beloved, Jesus knows you are afraid and weary.  He knows that you can’t see past this moment – this grief, this shock, this heartache, this very hard season.  He knows you cannot envision the road ahead and you don’t know what will happen.  He knows your anxious heart and He says to you,

“Trust in me.”

Trust in the words He has said – “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you” (Isaiah 41:10).  “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Trust in His love.  Trust in His faithfulness.  Trust in His promise.  Trust in the One who gave His life to redeem you from your sins.  Trust in the One who rose from the dead to give you eternal life.

Trust in Jesus – there is no greater assurance.

Bitter or Better?

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I don’t know much about Josh Shipp, other than he had a rough start to life. Abandoned at birth and passed from one foster home to another, he was on a self-destructive path until a foster family intervened and invested in his life. I don’t know his faith story – of if he even has one, but I love his quote:

You either get bitter, or you get better.

It’s that simple.

You either take what has been dealt to you and allow it to make you a better person, or you allow it to tear you down.”

For something outside of Scripture, that is a powerful truth. His words immediately took me to a familiar verse: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Both of these speak volumes, especially for those of us who have had to struggle in life. Like my daughter-in-law who is preparing to start college this fall. She wants to be a child psychologist. She wants to be for other children the person she needed in her childhood. She could let the hard things in her life make her bitter, but she’s put them in God’s good hands and is determined to let Him use them to make her better. And make other kids’ lives better too.

It’s a story repeated often in Scripture and in human history. Difficulty + God + time = purpose. Ask Joseph. Ask Ruth. Ask Paul. Ask me. I grew up the butt of everyone’s jokes at school and at home because I was naive and often said and did dumb things. My sense of self-worth was shot. I was stupid. So I determined to keep my mouth shut and learn so that when I said something it was well thought out, sensible, and would build others up. In the process, God built a fire in me for the Bible. The words you’re reading now are the product of God taking bullying, shame, and abuse and turning it into a ministry of The Word and words.

Beloved, whatever hard thing that has happened in your life can either make you bitter or, placed in the hands of God, become the mission and ministry of your life. It’s your choice. Choose the better path.

Caring for the Wounded Body (of Christ)

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“But God has combined the members of the body . . . so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25)
Have you ever noticed when one body part suffers, your whole body becomes invested in the healing process? When I had a severe infection in my leg a couple of years ago my whole body had to be committed to rest and elevation and medication for my leg to heal. My whole body was flat of my back for four weeks.  My arms didn’t grumble about it. My other leg didn’t resent it. My heart and lungs kept doing their job so that the wounded part could heal. No part of my body forgot about that leg for a second.
I think, in our modern “personal” and private religion, we’ve forgotten how to take care of one another. How to give attention to the wounded parts of our body – the wounded people in the Body of Christ. We throw a half-hearted “praying for ya!” in their direction and maybe even take them a meal if we have the time to spare, but I feel like we’ve lost something. Commitment to one another? One part of my ministry is listening to hurting people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “When my life became difficult, my church forgot about me . . .ignored me . . . overlooked me . . . gave up on me.” I know they’re telling the truth because it has happened to me too.  What would our Head think of all this?
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (v. 26)
Am I rambling or is any of this resonating with anyone?

When the Tears Fall

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It’s six o’clock in the morning and my granddaughter is crying. I can hear her from my study. It’s probably just a diaper change – she hates those. But it’s breaking my heart. I’ve gotten up from my desk twice now and started back to see about her and stopped myself. Oh, how I want to comfort her and make whatever is making her cry go away. I think about all the times in her life she will probably cry – all the skinned knees and the times she doesn’t like hearing “No” and the broken hearts and disappointments that are coming. I wish I could protect her from them all. But I can’t. I know that. Still, every time she cries, my heart cries with her.

If I have such a response every time my granddaughter cries, how do you imagine God feels every time you and I cry? I am sure His great heart aches when ours breaks. In Psalm 56:8 David said that the Lord “Puts my tears in Your bottle—are they not in your record?” God is paying attention. When you cry, when the tears drip from your chin, He catches them, one by one. Do you know what that means Beloved? He is very near. He has drawn you into His arms so that He can gather every tear that falls. Your tears are precious to Him.

All is quiet now in Joy’s room. A clean diaper, a fresh cup of milk, and warm snuggles in her mommy’s arms work wonders. Her tears are gone and she is back in dreamland in her soft pink pajamas. My Nana-heart is happy.

Let the tears fall Beloved. God is near, like a good, good Father. Oh, how He loves you.