Advent 2022: Sweet Little Baby Boy

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son” (Luke 2:6).

They say that having a baby will change your life completely, and every parent knows that’s true. Everything changes when a baby comes. Your time is no longer your own – your days are filled with feedings and diaper changes, and more of the same through the night. Your money is not yours anymore – whoever imagined someone so tiny would need so much stuff? Your priorities are different, your goals are reshaped, and your entire identity is redefined. And you wouldn’t have it any other way.

There is a Baby who will change your life in far greater ways. This Baby will give your life direction and purpose. This Baby will bring you peace in the midst of a storm. He will comfort you when you are weary and broken. He will lift you up when you fall. This Baby will bring you immeasurable Joy. He can wash away the stain of guilt and shame and make you new. This Baby brings hope where all hope is faded. He brings light into the darkest night. This Baby brings healing to body and mind and heart. This Baby will change the way you think and the way you live. He will transform your heart and cause you to love in ways you never expected. And if all that wasn’t enough, this Baby will change your life beyond this life.

This Baby left the glory of heaven to save the entire human race. He brought peace between God and man. He broke the chains of sin. He erased the curse of death. This Baby took on your sin and mine; He bore the punishment that you and I rightly deserved. He surrendered His body to the cross and the grave. He did it all so that you and I could have life – full and abundant and eternal. He gave Himself away so that you could get yourself back. This Baby – the Lord Jesus Christ – changes everything.

I pray you know this Baby, not just know about Him. I pray that His birth is more than a familiar story to you – that it is truth that is firmly rooted in your heart. I pray that His name is sweet on your lips and even sweeter to your soul. I pray that this Baby is your Savior, Beloved, and the Lord of your life.

God’s Got This

“Well, I didn’t see that coming.”

“Why this? Why now?”

“I never dreamed this would happen.”

“Not again! I thought this was all over.”

Ever said any of the above?  Sure you have. I have too – very recently in fact. We all experience it. The curve ball. The surprise. The “What is this?!”  The shocks of life are constant – and not always pleasant. But I have learned two things along the way: My heavenly Father is never caught off-guard, therefore I need not worry. He is never frantic over the epic ups and downs of my life. God never sits on His throne wringing His hands over the foolish situations I’ve put myself in – or that someone else has put me in. He’s never said, “I didn’t expect that! Now how am I going to work around the mess she’s in?”

How can I be so sure? Because His Word says that God knows “the end from the beginning” (Is 46:10). There is nothing coming, nothing I will do, nothing someone else will cause, and absolutely nothing that satan can attempt that God doesn’t already know. Every event, situation, circumstance, hardship, trial, and trouble has long been taken into consideration in His purpose and plan for my life. Do you know what that means? God figured out the resolution before I ever encountered the problem. This most recent bomb that dropped on me did so with His full knowledge and understanding. And here is something I am sure of to the marrow of my bones, if it was going to derail His plan for my life He would not have let it happen.

So what now? I honestly have no idea. But I have peace. Even in the unexpected, I know God is not worried. So why would I be? I don’t know what has hit your life and thrown you for a loop, but I know that God saw it coming before you did. The diagnosis. The failure. Your kid’s actions. Your spouse’s affair. The end of your career. The injury. The broken heart. Your loved one’s death. Whatever it is, He knew first and He’s got it figured out so that you are blessed and He is glorified. My constant mantra in times like these is: “I have rested that matter into the hands of my Father.” I offer it to you today. Say it as often as you need to. Then do it. He’s got this, Beloved, and He’s got you.

Consider it All Joy (part 2)

Yesterday’s devotional started a conversation about God’s purposes in our suffering. We’re going to continue today in part two. I’ll post a link to part one in the comments.

Sometimes trials are a means of discipline in our lives – I know this one well.  The psalmist declared, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word” (Psalm 119:67).  Hebrews adds, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).  Trials that come as a consequence of our sinful and foolish behavior are meant to teach us valuable life lessons.  Or as my mother said, “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.”  If you can connect your trial to your actions, take that as a means of discipline and training. The writer of Hebrews also said that discipline identifies us as God’s true children. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?” (See Hebrews 12:5-10). Discipline means that God is being a good Father to you.

Our trials reveal God to the world.  When Jesus and His disciples encountered a man who had been blind from birth, He said, “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). When the Lord healed this man everyone knew it, and he became a living testimony to the power of God.  You and I are the canvas on which God paints His own portrait for the world to see.  Just as silver and gold show up most brilliantly against a dark backdrop, the power and glory of God are on vivid display in our trials.  Our difficulties become the means by which God shows up and shows off.

Beloved, I don’t know what trial you are facing today, but I know that God has brought you to it for a good purpose.  He is at work in your life, stretching your faith, moving you into His will, preparing you to minister to someone else, teaching you discipline, and making your life a display of His glory.  Every trial is an opportunity for you and me to draw closer to our Father, to walk by faith, and to point others to Him.  Yes, we can count it all Joy when trials come, because we know God has a purpose and a plan – and we will be the richer for it.

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

When the Thunder Rolls

When my son was about five he was afraid of thunderstorms. Like every child, he wanted to be near his parents, where he felt safe; but he was at the age where he really wanted to be “a big boy.” He didn’t want to give in to his fears, but his fears were very real. I’ve been there, and I am sure you have as well.

I remember one night when a storm rolled in just as his dad and I were going to bed. I went to check on him, and He said, “I’m fine Mommy, I’m going to stay right here in my bed.” Okay, son – but I’ll come if you need me.” Another rumble of thunder and I heard a shaky voice say, “Mommy, I’m okay. ” “Okay, son – I am here if you need me.” The thunder crackled outside and lightning flashed through the sky. I heard, “Mommy, I’m just going to lay down here on the floor beside your bed.” “Okay son, I’m here if you need me.” Suddenly the sky lit up and a “BOOM!” rattled the windows. “Mommy, I’m comin’ up there!” And in just a few minutes, lying safely between his Dad and me, my son was fast asleep, even as the storm raged on.

Doesn’t life throw some awfully frightening storms our way? I know I’ve been in some harsh ones in the past few years. Where do we find peace when thunder crashes and lightning crackles and BOOMs rattle our lives? I go to my Father and His Word, especially the Psalms. Psalms is peppered with both pleas and praise for God’s protection during stormy seasons. God is called a “Shield” (Ps. 3:3, 5:12, 7:10,), a “Refuge and Stronghold” (Ps. 9:9), and a “Place of Shelter” (Ps. 55:8), just to name a few. David finds security “in the shadow of [God’s] wings” (Ps. 17:8). He expressed what I am sure my son felt as he drifted off that stormy night: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8).

Storms will come Beloved, but you don’t have to face them alone. You have a Shield, a Shelter, and a Refuge. When the thunder crashes over your life, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). There is peace and rest in the arms of your Father.

Faith and Fear

If I give my mind just a little rope it will always run into the pit of anxiety and fear. I was very fearful as a child and it stuck with me all my life. “But you’re a Christian,” you say, “and you write often about not giving in to fear.” And you are correct. It’s been a hard lesson for me, and I don’t always get it right, but God has revealed something to me in His Word and I need to pass it on to you.  Please take a moment to read Genesis 32:1-12.

Genesis 32:7 says Jacob was “in great fear and distress,” and with good reason. He was returning home to the brother whom he had years earlier cheated out of their father’s blessing. The brother who had sworn to kill him. The brother who was coming toward him accompanied by four hundred men. I would be in great fear and distress too. Jacob prayed to the God of His father Isaac and grandfather Abraham saying, “Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me” (v. 11). Then he immediately follows his confession of fear with a profession of faith – “But You have said, “I will surely make you prosper and make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted” (v. 12).

Do you see the pivot point? “I am afraid…” “But You have said…”(vs. 11,12). Jacob was afraid of his brother, but he trusted God and took Him at His word. “I will believe what You have said, Lord.” Notice that Jacob didn’t say, “My brother is coming after me, but I’m not afraid.” He was honest about his fear – just as I have been many times. Then he picked up his shield of faith – just as the Spirit has taught me to do, too.  David said, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you” (Psalm 56:3). That’s a simple, yet powerful prescription for fear.

Whatever is making you anxious today, Beloved, take your fears to God in prayer. He will not condemn you for being afraid, but He will remind you of His promises and give you the peace and courage you need. Faith is the hinge on which our hearts swing between fear and hope.

Sit Up Straight!

I am wearing a Holter monitor for the next thirty days. It is a mobile telemetry system that works like a continuous EKG. The monitor is stuck to my chest over my heart by a patch with leads that sends signals to a cellphone that records what the monitor detects. When I bend over or sit less than straight, the phone emits a piercing sound that tells me the monitor is out of position. All. The. Time. It just went off again. It’s driving me crazy.

But it’s also doing something else. It’s making me very aware of my posture. If I want to keep this thing quiet – and Lord knows I do – I have to sit very straight. That’s not natural to me. I tend to slump when I’m sitting, especially when I’m studying or working on my laptop, as I am now. I remember my mother constantly telling me to sit up straight as a kid. It clearly didn’t stick with me. Slumping is my norm – and it’s got to change or I will be a basket case when my thirty days are up.

What possible spiritual application can I get from a heart monitor? Simply this – some of us are going through our lives with a spiritual slump, and that’s got to change. One of Paul’s mantras was “once you were” – “but now you are” (Col 1:21-22). He contrasted life before and after Christ. But he said some of us are still behaving by our old nature. Once we were sexually immoral, evil, full of rage and malice, slanderous, idolaters, drunkards, practicing witchcraft. Those are pretty extreme aren’t they, but what about being impure and lustful, greedy, angry, using filthy language, lying, jealous, selfish, and causing disagreements (Col 3:5-9; Gal 5:19-21 adapted)? Did you squirm at a few of those like I did? Some of us are still slumping because it’s an old habit.

“But now,” he said, we “live a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power” (Col 1:22). Because of Jesus and His Spirit in us, now we are full of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). We don’t have to be who we were. We can be who we are now.

This monitor has gone off three more times as I’ve been writing this. I keep forgetting to keep my back straight. By the end of this though, I bet it will be my new normal. I wonder if the Spirit had a monitor on me how many times it would go off in a day. Beloved, let’s become very aware of our spiritual posture and start living like who we are now. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Eph 5:8).

Fill My Cup, Lord

“He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107:9)

I used to spend my days wandering around with my empty cup of needs, imploring everyone I met to pour a little something in. No, I didn’t have an actual tin cup and I didn’t beg for alms. What I needed money could not fix. “Might you have some peace you could give me? “Can you spare a little hope?” “I could really use some Joy.” “You sure seem happy – could you share some of that with me?  And the gaping hole in my soul kept me constantly asking, “Please, do you have some love for me?” I cringe now when I realize how needy and desperate – and probably annoying – I was.

I’d like to claim that those were “pre-Jesus days” when I didn’t know Christ, but it wasn’t. I was in church every Sunday, sang in the choir, attended every women’s ministry event, and wore a cross on a chain every day. But I still felt like I had to run to people and beg for what I needed. If a kind soul put something in, I came back to them again and again and again. One, because I had found a source, and two because whatever they put in didn’t last very long. And that was by design. It wasn’t supposed to last because their offerings were human. I needed something more. One day I heard a song and the lightbulb went off.

Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord!

Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;

Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more–

Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!

Richard Blanchard – “Fill My Cup, Lord”

I realized that only He could fill my empty cup – and keep it full. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt 5:6). How? By His Spirit. Acts 13:52 says, “the disciples were filled with Joy and with the Holy Spirit.”  He alone can fill the holes in my heart and soul because He is what I need. He is my source of peace and hope and Joy and love. 

I pray you have found Him to be yours too. And I pray that His Spirit fills you and spills out on those around you. “May the God of all hope fill you, Beloved, with all Joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13).

Does Anyone See Me? Does Anyone Care?

When her cousin Elizabeth blessed the Baby in her womb, Mary broke out in praise. Luke 1:46-55 is called “The Magnificat” for the first word of her song: Magnificat anima mea Dominum – “My soul glorifies the Lord.” Her reasons run from His blessings to her as an individual to His work on behalf of the nation of Israel to His mighty hand in the world – all declaring His faithfulness.

She said, “He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant”. (v. 48) The NLT renders this “He took notice of His lowly servant girl.” Mary was just one more simple girl living in a poor Judean village – she had no wealth, no status, no theological or religious education – but the Lord God of Heaven and Earth was mindful of her. She celebrated the God who “lifted up the humble – the lowly and despised” (v. 52).

I wonder if you feel unnoticed, overlooked, or disregarded. Day after day you do the thing – care for your family, work a long day at your job, pour over the books as you study, sit with sick loved ones (or maybe not-so-loved ones), wipe noses and bottoms (your own littles or someone else’s), clean floors and dishes, carry responsibilities that aren’t yours to bear. Maybe you come home to a quiet empty apartment every day, or to kids looking to you alone to meet their wants and needs. You are probably wondering how to stretch a little money a long way and when you will ever get a break. Does anyone see you? Does anyone care?

Yes, beloved – God sees you and God cares. Mary could praise the God who took notice of her – a lowly servant girl in a poor village. This is the same God who was named “El Roi” – the God who sees me – by a pregnant Egyptian slave girl on the run in the desert. God told her to name her son “Ishmael,” which means “God hears.” This same God sees and hears you – every tear, every sigh, every lonely, exhausting night, every whispered prayer for help and hope and strength. You are not unnoticed Beloved. The God who created you, who sent His Son to die for you, is mindful of you. He loves you. You are precious in His sight.

I Can Love

Joy and her friends at church. Photo by Wanda Williams

My granddaughter preached a sermon the other night. As I was taking her to her mommy to settle in for the night we were rehearsing all the people that she loves. She loves Mommy and Daddy. She loves Nana and Poppy. She loves Mimi and Papa. She loves Aunt Linda and Uncle Wayne and Aunt Rhonda and Uncle Mike and Aunt Alta. She loves Granny. And she turned to me and said, “And I can love Uncle R (name redacted). Her mommy and I looked at each other with a “Wow!” Uncle R is not a nice person. He has been mean to the rest of his family. He has a history of violence and cruelty. And the last time he was around Joy, he took delight in sneaking up behind her and scaring her. He is not allowed around her anymore. But she said, “I can love him.” Out of the mouths of babes . . .”

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:43-44).  I want to ask Him, “Love him? Why? I mean, who gets their kicks from scaring a little girl?” And Jesus’ words continue: “that you may be sons [and daughters] of your Father in Heaven (v. 45). And there it is. God said that His children are called to live in a radically different way. They love – even their enemy.

“Love your enemy” sounds good on paper, but it’s not always easy to do. That’s by divine design. Love –genuine love – has to come from God. John said, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God” (1 John 4:7), and “We know and rely on the love God has for us” (v.16). We can only love those who mistreat us because God loved us first, and His love fills us up and spills out onto the one we cannot love on our own. I know that Joy’s parents have the good sense to keep a distance between her and Uncle for her safety. But what if – someday –she’s the one who will love him to Jesus? Isaiah prophesied, “a little child will lead them” (Is 11:6). I don’t think Uncle R stands a chance against a little girl who is determined to love him.

Hebrews: How to be a Christian Neighbor

The culture knows Scripture – at least a few verses that they are passionate about. “Judge not” (Matt. 7:1), “God is love” (1 John 4:16), and “Let him who is without sin . . . cast the first stone” (John 8:7). I found them a new one that I think they will really like: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men” (Heb 12:14). What’s interesting about these cultural favorites is that they are only partial verses or plucked out of their context so that their meaning is skewed. It is a favorite ploy of the devil, who knows more Scripture than most people in the pews. When he came to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, he quoted from Psalm 91:11-12, but he stopped just shy of his own demise in verse 13. (You should go look that up. In fact, I encourage you to look up all of these verses and read their surrounding context.)

Hebrews 12:14 has a second part that colors the whole verse differently. “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord.” Oh. When you add verse 15, it becomes clearer: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Now, before I started digging deeper into this verse, I thought it meant something like “let no ill feelings take root” but I was wrong (that’s not easy to say!). First, the word “bitter” metaphorically means “extreme wickedness” and literally means “poison”. Poison kills.

This reaches directly back to Deuteronomy as Moses was reiterating the covenant they had made with the Lord God. He said, “Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those [pagan] nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison” (Deut 30:18).

I’ll be honest, I’ve wrestled with this all week. It’s not an easy passage. But I believe it means to live in peace with your neighbors, especially your unsaved neighbors, don’t condemn them or harasses them over their lifestyle. Don’t cause them to turn to wickedness because of your self-righteousness. But you – and remember, the writer is speaking to the community, not to individuals – live a holy life, set apart unto God. Because Jesus showed us that a truly holy life is attractive and winsome to a lost world. And so must we be.