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!

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.

The Heavens told the Christmas Story

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“The heavens declare the glory of God . . .” Psalm 19:1.

When my son was very young, we would pull an old blanket out into the yard and lay down to watch the stars.  I tried to identify some of the constellations, but he was much too young to understand, and I was too far removed from high-school science to remember.  But it is a memory I cherish—stargazing with my boy. There were stargazers in the Bible too. Matthew said of the Magi: “When they saw the star they were overjoyed” Matthew 2:10.

Scholars believe that these were Persian astronomers who studied the stars for prophecies, premonitions, and promises.  How did they know about a Jewish prophecy so far removed from Palestine?  Remember Daniel – you know, the guy from the lion’s den?   When the Jewish exiles left Babylon after seventy years of captivity, Daniel opted to stay as did many other Jews who had put down roots in the area.  Daniel knew the Hebrew Scriptures well and likely shared the ancient prophecies of a coming King who would rescue His people.  These were handed down through the generations to the time of Jesus’ birth.  When the star appeared and the astronomers put all the pieces together, they realized something very special had happed in Judea.

For the past fifteen years, I have been a student of the descriptive names of God in Scripture. One of my most names of the Lord is El Emunah—the Faithful God—because it reveals Him as the God who keeps His promises.  The Magi were overjoyed when they saw the star because they understood that the ancient prophecy of a new King of the Jews had been fulfilled.  God had kept His promise to send His people a Messiah.

The same God who was faithful to the Jews has promised His faithfulness to you.  He has promised to redeem you and restore your life.  He has promised to walk with you and guide you every day.  He has promised His presence, His peace, and His unfailing love.  He has promised to prepare a place for you in heaven, and He has promised to come again to take you home.

The Magi rejoiced when they saw the star because God had kept His promise to the Hebrew people.  He continues to be the Promise Keeper today for all who trust in His Son Jesus.  Beloved, every promise God makes is a promise you can take to the divine bank. He is forever faithful.

Christmas Cookies

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“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man to takes refuge in Him” (Psalm 34:8).

I was searching for some recipes for Christmas cookies and scrolled through some offerings from one of my go-to recipe sites.  I saw a cookie recipe that looked particularly yummy. It called for all the basic ingredients: flour, sugar, nuts, cocoa, and shortening. I always check out the comments to see if others liked them and the first comment was: “I don’t like to use shortening. I’m using butter instead.” The original recipe poster replied: “It won’t turn out right with butter. It will flatten out in the oven. Only shortening will allow it to retain its round shape and texture.”

There is a “recipe” for a godly life. The ingredients haven’t changed in thousands of years: Jesus Christ, the Word of God, prayer, faith, fellowship, and obedience. But like our baker friend, we often try to substitute ingredients in the original recipe. A five-minute devotional won’t produce the same flavor as investing time in the Bible. Love for God can’t be replaced with love of self. Complaining to your friends is a poor substitute for prayer. Watching that “adult” T.V. show that’s just a little spicy will never produce holiness. Following worldly wisdom instead of godly wisdom will cause us to go flat in the heat of life. Compromising at work doesn’t have the same consistency as integrity. Sundays on the ball field rather than God’s house means children don’t rise properly. Still, we mix it all up in the same way and bake it for the same amount of time. Then we’re surprised that we don’t get the same result.

If you want the cookie to turn out right, you have to follow the recipe. If you want life to turn out right, you have to follow the Word and the ways of God. Beloved, there’s just no substitute for Him.

Beloved

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If there is one consistent theme throughout the Bible it is that God loves people. From every tribe, nation, and tongue God loves human beings – the pinnacle of His creation. He doesn’t love one gender more than the other. He doesn’t love one race more than the other – in truth, there is only one race – the human race – and He loves them all. I love Psalm 107 because it is all about the love of God for mankind. The first verse says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever.” The last verse says, “Consider the great love of the Lord” (v. 43) and in between the Scriptures speak of ”His unfailing love” four times (vs. 8,15,21, 31).

The Psalmist describes people who are poor and desperate, people who were imprisoned by their sin, people who have foolishly rebelled against God, and people who are “at their wits’ end” because of life’s storms. I think that pretty much covers all of us. I know I fit in at least a couple of those. The point is, God’s love is for everyone. No one is exempt or excluded. No one is cast aside or rejected.

In each scene, when they “cried to the Lord in their trouble,” He “saved them from their distress” (vs. 6, 13, 19, 28). He led the poor to “by a straight way to a city where they could settle” (v. 4). He brought [the prisoner] out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains” (v. 14). He “sent forth His word and healed [the rebel] and rescued them from the grave” (v. 20). He “stilled the storm to a whisper and hushed the waves of the sea and guided [the distressed] to their desired haven” (vs. 29-30). They all “gave thanks for . . . His wonderful deeds for men” (vs. 8, 13, 19, 28).

Where do you fit in these scenes? Are you desperate, bound by sin, rebelling against God, or distressed and anxious because of a storm in your life? God loves you. He who makes springs in the desert, who feeds the hungry, who lifts up the humble and desperate,  loves you. Yes you.  And now you understand why I call you “Beloved.”

Turning the Church Back to God

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Psalm 74 was written during a hard time for Israel. Once they were God’s holy and righteous nation, but slowly, in seemingly insignificant ways, a drift away from God had been taking place.  A small compromise here, a little concession there and they drifted right into captivity. In verse 4 the psalmist said, “[The enemy] has set up their standards for signs. And in verse 9 he lamented, “We do not see our signs.”  Israel could no longer see the signs – that is “the line of measure” – of the Lord. They were lost and confused, and easily drawn into captivity without them.

The Christian Church today – particularly in the West – has drifted dangerously away from the signs of truth.  We have slowly and imperceptibly allowed the world to influence the church’s beliefs and standards. We have allowed the heart of the church to become cold to God, His Word, and His ways. We are repeating Israel’s folly and being taken captive by the world – and we don’t even realize it’s happening.

Lest we forget, the church is you and me.  And if the church has been taken captive, it is because you and I have been taken captive. And if the church is to turn back to God, it will only happen when you and I turn away in repentance from worldly influences, deny ourselves the pleasures of sin, and seek God’s face in whole-hearted devotion. 

Remember the lament of Asaph?  Though the enemy had set up their wicked standards in the Temple, he knew where his salvation and his loyalty lay.  In verse 12 he said, “But you, O God, are my King from of old, who works deeds of deliverance.” Asaph knew that only by keeping his heart devoted to God and to His ways and words, would he be delivered from the hands of the enemy.  His deliverance is our deliverance too.  Only through faith in and wholehearted devotion to Jesus Christ, who is “the same, yesterday and today and forever,” will His church, His people – you and I – be delivered.

I was reminded today of the power of encouragement – that is urging – even begging and pleading – believers to faithfulness. Beloved, with all my heart, I encourage you – return to the Lord, renew your faith, and fall in love with His Word. Walk in His holy ways. Be the one who turns the heart of the church back to God.,

The Whole Truth

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The joke goes, “How can you tell when a politician is lying?  His lips are moving.” The same punchline applies to the devil. Anytime he opens his mouth or impresses a thought or speaks through the culture, he is lying. Jesus called satan “the father of lies” (John 8:44). Lying is his native tongue. But you may not realize that he is also the father of half-truths that look right and sound right but are not right.

Take his temptation of Jesus. Matthew 4 records this scene as the devil tried to coerce Jesus into sin. He questioned Jesus’ position as the Son of God (v. 3) enticing the Lord to turn stones into bread or jump from the highest point of the temple to “prove” Himself (v. 5). In the temple temptation, Satan actually quoted Scripture to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone'” (v. 6). That’s a good-sounding argument right out of Psalm 91:11-12. Should be a witness to Bible-believing fellow, right? But Satan stopped short of the whole truth in that passage. The very next verse speaks of his own demise: “You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent” (Psalm 91:13). The rest of this Psalm describes how God will rescue, protect, deliver, and honor the one who loves and worships Him alone.

Many of us are on guard against satan’s lies – but we are not always as wise to his half-truths. They come at us from the world who is captive to the devil. They come stealthily from those who have mixed the pure Word of God with cultural whitewash. They come from pulpits and social media and “Christian” podcasts and blogs (yikes!) That is why it is vital to know the whole context of Scripture. The best way to tell a counterfeit bill is to know what the real thing looks like. The best way to discern a lie – or a half-truth – is to know the whole truth. Beloved, “They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deut. 32:47).

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.  

The Goodness of God

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I’ve had this particular Bible since at least 1997. I know this because there are three dated notes beside a particular pair of verses – they are 1997, 2012, and 2018. I just pulled out a much older Bible and turned to that same spot and there was another date penned – Summer, 1987. It was a very hard year. My mom had died of cancer, our home had been repossessed, my husband was working out of state, and I was living in an unsafe environment. I began to experience almost daily panic attacks. I wasn’t walking closely with the Lord at the time, but I knew the Bible was a resource of peace, so I started reading the Psalms. And I found words of peace.

“Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him” (2:12).

“Thou, O Lord, are a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and He heard me out of His holy hill.” (3:3-4)

“I will lie down in peace and sleep, for You alone, O Lord make me dwell in safety” (4:8)

And there were so many more.

Then I came to the words God used to calm my heart.  And I continue to run to these verses when anxiety threatens to overwhelm me as it has lately. “I am still confident of this; I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (27:13-14). Every time I read those words I remember what the Spirit said to me: “The goodness of the Lord is not just for heaven. It is yours now – in the land of the living. Trust God and wait for Him.” For every date that I have written beside those verses, God was indeed good to me. My trust has never been in vain.

Beloved, I don’t know your struggle. I don’t know what is keeping you up at night. But I know – without a doubt or hesitation – that God is good and He is trustworthy. I understand you may have a hard time accepting that in the dark place in which you find yourself. I can’t make you believe, but I can tell you that He has never failed me. And He will never fail you. Be strong and take heart and wait for Him. God is good.

Finding Joy

I come from a long line of negative women. I love my mom, but she tended to be very pessimistic. She came by it honestly because my grandmother was also. It’s not that any of us had a really bad lot in life, but that was just ingrained in us. Who knows how far back it went in our family. Fast forward several years ago, when 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 years with a bitter, miserable heart.”

That was like a glass of cold water in my face. I had to make a change, but I wasn’t sure I could do this. To be honest, being miserable became a comfortable, known place. But God started gently through my best friend who began to rain down “Joy” on me. She gave me coffee cups, kitchen towels, figurines, photos, whatever she could find with those three letters emblazoned on them. She said, “I’m going to make you Joyful whether you like it or not.”  Then the Spirit began to direct me to Joyful verses in His Word:

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with Joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with Joy” (Psalm 30:11).

“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of Joy” (Psalm 65:8).

“This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Then He pulled out the big guns and send a beautiful little girl into my life named Joy.  She calls me Nana and she lives up to her name. Not that my Joy is in her, but she is a constant reminder that “The Joy of the Lord is [my] strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

I don’t know your life or what traits were passed on to you, but I know that in Christ, you can be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Lord can set new patterns in your mind and heart and give you Joy, hope, and peace. If you’re tired of negativity and misery, today can be the start of a new attitude. Come, Beloved, find your Joy in the Lord.