But . . .

Have you ever asked the age-old question, “Why?”  Perhaps you had enough spiritual understanding to wonder “What is this all about?” Or maybe it was so hard all you could do was cry out for relief. Oh, I have been there – the truth is, I’m still there. “God, why have you allowed these things to happen?” “What is your purpose in this?” “God, help me, I cannot take anymore!” I may look strong in this blog, but after a very long season of struggle, heartache, and enemy attacks, I am about worn out. And yet, something tells me to keep going and keep trusting the Lord. Maybe it’s Joy’s letter magnets. Yesterday I found one as I swept the floor and stuck it on the fridge. This morning, I found two more: “T” and “B” and I carried them to the kitchen and realized yesterday’s find was the “U.” BUT. I knew exactly what that meant. I went to the box with the rest of her letters and found the “G,” “O,” and “D.” BUT GOD. Next to “Jesus Christ”, they are my two favorite words in the Bible.

Over and over in the Psalms David and the other psalmists share their woes honestly and always come back to the “But” – “But You, O God,” (Ps 10:14) which then becomes “But I trust in Your unfailing love” (Ps. 13:5). Or “But you, O Lord” (Ps. 22:19) which is followed by “[those] who seek the Lord will praise Him” (v. 26). When Joseph confronted his brothers who sold him into slavery he said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Gen. 50:20).

In grammar, the word “but” is a conjunction, joining two phrases or clauses together (“Conjunction Junction,” anyone?). In the Bible “but” is a hinge. Like a door, “but” causes the whole trajectory of a sentence – or a life – to swing in the other direction. “But” enables us to pause and remember who God is and what He has done and can do. “But God” can change our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, and our circumstances, and our lives – that’s what the cross is all about.

Beloved, I know it’s been a hard year for you too. BUT I am convinced that GOD is able and He is faithful and He will help us get through – not limping along, like wounded warriors, but leaping and dancing with Joy and hope and praise. I hear the music warming up!

Treasures in the Darkness

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I am currently a graduate student at the Baptist College of Florida. I won’t lie, it is hard. I am older and I think many of my brain cells have atrophied. Still, for reasons I don’t know yet, God said “Go back to school.” He even gave me a job right here so that I could do it for free. But I am also working on my doctorate. Surprised? My Masters will be in Christian Ministries with a concentration in Biblical Studies, but my Doctorate will be in Life Lessons and I’m studying at the School of Hard Knocks. The truth is, in one degree or another, we all are.

The ancient Psalmist declared, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Psalm 119:67). He emphasized this in verse 71 saying, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” Though we’re not privy to the details, the Psalmist was clearly in some kind of distress – apparently self-inflicted (as are most of mine). From his struggles and the consequences of his actions, he came away with a hard-won wisdom and probably some battle scars as a continual reminder. I’ve got a few of those too.

While I wish I could just do the right things in life and not have to learn these hard lessons, I’m grateful that God doesn’t waste them. He said, “I will give you the treasure of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord” (Isaiah 45:3). He works in every difficult season with one objective in mind – that you may know Him better. What a treasure!

I don’t know what you’re struggling through right now. I don’t know how you came to be in this hard place. It may have been by your own hand or through the actions of another. But I know two things for certain: God is faithful and He will not waste a single tear. He will “bestow on you a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3). Beloved, that’s the treasure in the darkness.  

Blessed Be The Name of the Lord

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I remember when “cool” was a temperature, then it became a word of affirmation. Sometimes it’s used to describe someone that is aloof – but it also describes someone who is fascinating. Then again, the weatherman said a cool front is passing through this week. And don’t forget about Paul Newman’s movie “Cool Hand Luke.” I think I’ve confused myself here. But consider how important words are. Words we used in the past are now banished because they are deemed demeaning and offensive. On many college campuses, some words are forbidden because they might “trigger” an emotional response of fear or anger. Yet today, words that were once spoken in reverence are spat out like curses.

Consider how our culture uses the words “Lord,” “God,” “Jesus,” and “Holy.”  Yet they identify the Righteous Creator and Sovereign King of the universe. Tradition says that in the medieval days when monks were transcribing the words of the Bible and they came to the Name, they would leave their table, wash themselves, get a new quill, write the Name then break the quill. This was to ensure that they did not approach the Name of God in an unclean state and that the pen that wrote the Holy Name would never be used to write something profane. That may be a bit over the top, but oh, that we still venerated the name of God!

One of the ten commandments says: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name” (Exodus 20:7). When we speak these designations of God as mere words in anything less than reverence we are misusing God’s name and identification. When we say “Good Lord” it should only be to praise Him, not register frustration. “Oh my God!” should be spoken as a prayer, not an exclamation of surprise or excitement or – worse – disgust. “Jesus Christ” is the name of the Son of God and our Savior, and is not to be spat out like a curse. And “Holy” is the highest description of the Lord God, and should never be joined to farm animals, bodily functions, and sexual slang.

Yes, our words carry meaning. Beloved, let’s consider carefully the words we say and use our mouths to speak of our God and Savior in the reverence due them.

Give God the Glory

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I’m preparing for my fall class by reading Romans over the summer. Actually, I’m writing it out. This is my favorite way to study the Scriptures because I have to pay careful attention to every single word.  This is when the Spirit sends me on those wonderful word studies and calls me to think carefully and deeply about what a verse says.

I hit one of those the other day and I’ve been chewing on it ever since. Paul is explaining why God is justified in pouring out His wrath on sinful, rebellious men. Here’s the verse that caught my attention: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). There are several major points here, but we’re going to focus on two:

Men – all men – know about God. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made . . .” (v. 20) They know that Someone is the creative force behind everything that exists. Paul said that creation is intended to draw men to “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him . . .” (Acts 17:27). Man is “without excuse” (v. 20b) when he denies the truth of God.

Then, here’s what caught my attention – the very minimum man owes God is glory and thanks. God is worthy of glory – which means declaring his splendor and brilliance and power with words of honor, praise, and excellence and assigning the highest status to Him. Not that He needs it. We do. We need to give Him glory to turn our minds and hearts to Him who alone is worthy. And we owe God our thanks as our Creator. We exist because He decided we should. That in itself should be enough to thank Him.

The wicked man refuses to give God even the least He deserves – glory and thanks. Oh but He is worthy of so much more and when we receive His Son as our Savior we give Him the rest – love, faith, trust, devotion, service – our very selves. Beloved, what about it? Are you giving God everything He deserves or just the bare minimum? Or are you refusing to give Him anything at all?

God is moving . . .

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The Bible is a full-circle story – from Genesis to Revelation and points in between.

In Genesis 11 men, in their ego and disobedience, determined to build a tower “that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (v. 4). In response to their pride and sin, the Lord confused their language so that they could not complete their ego-driven building project and He scattered them across the earth.

Now jump ahead to Acts 2 and the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled the believers and they “began to speak in other tongues” (v. 4). Because of the season, Jerusalem was filled with Jews from many different countries and suddenly they could hear and understand the Gospel – in their own language. God was moving . . .

Our final destination in Scripture is Revelation 7:9 where “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” will stand before the Lamb. The throne room of heaven will ring with Christ’s praises – in every language – languages that came to be because God had to punish man’s rebellion and sin.

God has been working throughout human history for one purpose: the glory of His Son. Every moment, every action, every life is leading us to this scene. Imagine the beautiful sound – praise to the Lamb of God in every tongue known to man.

So what does this mean as you struggle through your day? The same God who is in control of human history is also in control of your life. Nothing, not even your foolishness and failure, is wasted in the hands of the One who holds it all. And just as a multi-language song of praise will fill the heavens, all things in your life will all come together in a beautiful, multi-color picture of God’s glory and grace. Beloved, God is moving . . .

A Song of Love

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On the weekdays when Joy stays with us, she goes to a terrific babysitter while I am at work. I know she is getting good care, but when I pick her up every afternoon she is tired and not too happy. I can relate. Yesterday was one of those days. She fussed as soon as we started driving away. She had a fresh cup of milk and a snack, and her favorite musical toy. Nope. Not what she wanted. The fussing got louder until her favorite song, “Good God Almighty” came on the radio. I turned it up and started singing along with Crowder. Almost immediately the fussing stopped and I heard a new, sweet sound from the backseat. Two little chubby hands clapping her delight. The rest of the ride home the car was filled with her happy chatter. It filled my heart with – you guessed it – Joy!

One of my favorite verses is Zephaniah 3:17. Let me give you some context. Zephaniah was a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah, just before the nation would fall to the Babylonians. The people had been under a great deal of oppression because they had turned away from God to worship idols. Their sin had caused them great misery. That sounds all too familiar to me. God declared that He would bring punishment on them—and He would also bring gladness to them again. For a season, they would be removed from their beloved Jerusalem, but God promised to take away their chastisement and fear and to bless them once again with His presence. He said, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Now, I’ve never heard His audible voice, but I always feel His love and comfort in songs of worship and praise. And yes, I’ve even sensed His delight as I lift (and clap) my hands in glad adoration.

Some days are just hard. God knows that. But He wants you to know that He is always near to you, always working on your behalf, lavishing love on you to quiet your anxious heart and rejoicing over you with songs of delight. Beloved, get still and quiet and see if you don’t hear the faintest melody in your spiritual ear. And maybe clap your hands to the rhythm of Joy.

Star-Struck

Screaming Beatles Fans – GALLIVANCE

I used to be so “star-struck.” I was fascinated by the life of the rich and famous. I bought all the magazines so I could keep up with my favorite celebs. I soaked up every detail of their lives – where they went, what their house looked like, and especially what they wore. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be them

.Then I met Someone – He wasn’t a star by the world’s standards, but He created the stars and calls them all by name. And suddenly the lives of actors and singers fell far short; their glitz and glamor couldn’t compare to His splendor. I don’t waste money on magazines since I found the Book He wrote. I want to soak up everything about His life. I want to walk like He walked. I want to be wherever He is. I want to look like Him and talk like Him. I want to be like Him. His name is Jesus.

This world idolizes celebrities and makes kings and queens out of men and women who can sing a song, pretend to be someone else, bounce a ball, or show themselves off in outlandish ways. But there is One who set aside His incomparable splendor and became the most humble of men. He deserves all our worship and all our praise. One day, at the mere mention of His name, “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11). Even LeBron and Miley and the whole Kardashian clan.

Beloved, who has caught your attention? Who is a “star” in your eyes? No one will ever shine as brightly as Jesus.

The Path from Despair to Praise

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 “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in You.”       Psalm 39:7

How do we reconcile our trust in God in the face of hard, devastating circumstances?  The writers of many of the Psalms were well acquainted with the conflict of faith amid disappointment.  I find tremendous help in their honest writings.

Psalm 77, for example, ranges from raw angst and discouragement – “Has [the Lord’s] unfailing love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time?” (v. 7) to glorious praise – “You are the God who performs miracles; You display Your power among the peoples.” “You lead Your people like a flock,” (vs. 14 & 20).  How did he swing from despair to exultation? Verses 10-12 are the pivot point in this Psalm. After heart-wrenching despair, he says, “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal; the years of the right hand of the Most High.  I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds.’”(v. 10-12)    Asaph determined to turn his thoughts around and meditate on the long history of God’s miracles, works, and mighty deeds.  And as he followed this line of higher thinking, you can sense his spirit lifting as the words build to a crescendo that bursts forth in praise: “Your ways, O God, are holy.  What god is so great as our God?” (v. 13) He comes to the foundation upon which all faith must rest: God. Not just what He can do, but who He is. After digging through my exhaustive concordance, I lost count after 200 times that I read “That you may know Me…” It is the whole point of our faith.  Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” (John 17:3). Beloved, if your burden is heavy today, follow the path the psalmist laid out. Come to him in your honest despair. Ask the hard questions that weigh on your heart. He can take it. Remember His faithfulness to you in the past as you meditate on who He is.  Then let your angst be lifted up in praise.  I know it works – it is the road I traveled this morning.

Shut up, Satan!

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants, You have ordained praise because of Your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. Psalm 8:1-2

I have always read this verse with the image of the “Cherub Choir” of little children gathered in front of the church, singing (and wiggling and giggling and waving) to the delight of the congregation. It’s such a sweet vision. But God gave me another perspective of this verse as I wrote it in my prayer journal this morning.  “Ordained” jumped out at me, like the Spirit turned a spotlight on that specific word. Oh, the dig is on! This word means “to lay a foundation, to establish,” and as I researched farther I found a slightly different version of verse 8: “Through the praise of children and infants You have established a stronghold against Your enemies.” I got glory goosebumps as the Spirit turned that Cherub Choir into a fortress, a strong tower against the enemy that God and I – and you – share.

I have studied the Names of God for many years and one name that I use often is The Lord my Stronghold. When I call on Yahweh Metsudhathi He surrounds me and protects me from our enemy. This verse says that what builds that stronghold, that protective wall, is praise. That is why I always try to start my prayers – written or spoken – with praise. It’s not that God needs an ego boost, but I need to look at my struggles and trials and challenges in the shadow of the One who is greater than all of them. There is a bonus to praise that verse 2 presents. Read it again. Do you see how the praise of little children “silences the foe and the avenger.”? When you and I praise the Lord, the enemy shuts his lying mouth! Yes!! That’s the power of praising the mighty Name of God! Have you ever wanted to stop satan’s taunts? Praise the Lord!

You have a real enemy and you will never get through this battle without a strong tower, a fortress, a place of defense, and protection. Beloved, God is your Defender, and praise is your defense – it is your shield of faith. Tell the devil to shut his mouth by filling yours with praise!

Giving God Praise and Thanks

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I knelt before God this morning and said: “Holy Father, I give you praise and thanks this day. I praise you for who you are, and I thank you for all you have done.” Immediately God stopped me and said, “You say the same words every morning. Why?” And His question gave me pause. “I praise you for who you are, Lord because I need to remember who you are. I thank you for what you’ve done because I need to remember all that you have done for me.”

I need to remember that He is the Creator – that He spoke and the universe obeyed. I need to remember that He is Sovereign. I need to remember that He is righteous and mighty and perfect. I need to remember that He is the God of the impossible – that He parts raging seas and brings down strong walls and makes blind men see. I need to remember that He brings life out of death and that His word is powerful. And I need to never ever forget that He is holy love.

I need to remember that when my cabinets were bare, He sent food to my door. I need to remember that when my car broke down, He sent funds to pay for a new transmission. I need to remember that when I looked for months for a job with no success, He opened the door to the best job I’ve ever had. I need to remember that when I was very sick, He healed me. When I was lost, He found me. When I was lonely, He adopted me. When I was in the pit of despair, He brought me out. And I need to never ever forget that He sent His Son to die for my sins and give me life.

I sensed a smile from my Father. “Just checking to see if you were paying attention child. Please continue on.”