A Work in Progress

If there was ever an extra-biblical word of wisdom that I believe with my whole heart it is this. “Do not think, believer, that your sorrows are out of God’s plan; they are necessary parts of it.” Charles Spurgeon. Like you, I have experienced sadness, sorrow, shock, grief, despair, anguish, and brokenness in my life, and often wondered why God would allow it. What good can possibly come from such pain? But I have learned, and am still learning, that these are the tools He uses to shape me into the image of His Son.

When the great Michelangelo was asked how he could take a block of marble and bring from it his beautiful sculpture of David, he replied, “I took my chisel and removed everything that didn’t look like my vision of David.”  That is God’s purpose for our sufferings and sorrows.  God uses them like a hammer and chisel to remove everything that does not look like the vision before Him – the vision of His Son (Rom 8:29).  It is not always pleasant – in fact, it is very painful – but it is necessary because our hearts are often as hard as a block of marble. 

It reminds me of the work of the ancient craftsmen who made the priestly garments for Aaron. The Scripture says that “they hammered out thin sheets of gold and cut threads from them” to weave into the fabric  (Ex 39:3).  Can you imagine the amount of dedication and intricate work that required? Beloved, that’s nothing compared to how God is working on you And He’s not just weaving the glory of His Son into your life. He is making you into His very image.

You may not welcome it at the moment, but one day, when you stand before your Savior you will be so glad for every blow and every tear that made you into the reflection of your King.  The Bible says that Jesus was made perfect through suffering.  Do you think it will be any less for you?  Oh, Beloved, there is great purpose in your pain. As Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death . . .” (Philippians 3:10).

The God of the Bible

We’re New Testament Christians – why should we read the Old Testament? What good does it do me to study old laws and rituals? Why should I learn about people so far removed from my own life? Because we don’t study the Bible to learn about laws and rituals and long-dead people – we study the Bible to learn about and draw hope from God. I am in a group that is writing through the Bible, we’ve been mired in Job for months. Lots of misery and grumbling and arguing. But by slowing down the pace and paying attention to the text, we’ve come to understand Job – and God – from a whole new perspective.

Paul said, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). He’s talking about the Old Testament. When I am discouraged, I go to the stories of God’s deliverance in Exodus. When my life has fallen apart I turn to Nehemiah where God enabled His people to rebuild the broken-down walls. When I face a frightening situation Esther is my go-to book as I remember how God rescued His people. And when the world looms dark and evil, I turn to Daniel and witness God’s sovereign control over human events.

The Old Testament is filled with evidence of God’s power, purpose, love, and faithfulness. The same power, purpose, love, and faithfulness is found in the New Testament and in my life two-thousand plus years later. In the Old Testament, I find the God who delivered Israel, rebuilt Jerusalem, and rescued the Jews. In the New Testament, I see the same God who delivered mankind, broke the bonds of sin and death, and changed the world. He is the same God I call to in this present season of struggle. I know He is able to do for me today all that He did then. I put my name in those verses of rescue and promise and the God of the Hebrew people, of Nehemiah, Esther, and Daniel becomes the God of Dorcas Elizabeth. He hasn’t forgotten how to rescue and restore. His power hasn’t diminished one bit. This God is your God too if you have trusted in Jesus. Beloved, get to know the God of the whole Bible. Get to know the God of your life.

The Providence of God

I caught myself the other day thinking, “If I could change one thing about my past…” The problem is I found a lot of things. Choices. People. Places. Priorities. Desires.  I’ll bet you can finish that sentence with a few thoughts of your own. Who hasn’t lamented something in their past? For some, the choices were huge and life-altering. For others, they were moments, that while not quite as monumental, we wish we could do over. I have spent so much time living with regrets, living in the “if only’s,” and wishing I had made wiser decisions, or that circumstances had turned out differently. I have discovered that when I live in constant regret I set myself up for a very sad life.

But I am learning to trust in the sovereign providence of God. Those are words we don’t use much in our contemporary religion, but they are powerful. In the original Hebrew, the word combination has a rich and significant meaning. The word “sovereign” speaks to God’s rightful authority as Creator over nature, nations, mankind, and individual lives. Likewise, the word “providence” is speaking to God’s charge over everything He has made – including you and me.  The root word means “to pay attention, to care for, to be in charge of.” This is His tender, loving oversight as our Good Shepherd and Heavenly Father. God has pledged to pay attention to you, to care for you, and to be in charge of your life – not as a dictator – but as One who seeks always and only what is best for you. Job 10:12 expresses this duality beautifully. “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in Your providence watched over my spirit.” The combination of terms tells us that God is always looking out on your behalf, knows what you need and He has the authority to move heaven and earth to accomplish all things for you – because He loves you.

If you have grieved over your past, know that Your sovereign, providential Father has been watching over and caring for you all along. In His hands, the very thing that caused you the most pain can be the seed for a whole new life. Beloved, God loves you too much to waste the struggles of your life. He has a plan. He has a purpose. And He has you in the palm of His great hand.

Silver Vases and Chamber Pots

When I was a very young girl, and we visited my grandmother we experienced true “country living.” We slept on real feather beds (John Denver anyone?), helped granny pick and snap beans for supper, slopped the hogs, and on cold mornings huddled around the coal-burning stove.  And during the day – when [ahem] the need arose – we visited the outhouse.  But at night, no one wanted to traipse out in the dark and cold, so granny had pans that sat under the bed for our nightly needs. 

Where am I going with this? To Paul’s second letter to Timothy. He said, “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:20-21). 

Keep in mind that Paul is addressing Christians – not the world. He is talking to people God desires to use in Kingdom work on earth. He is saying that how God uses us largely depends on how we live.  We can be “an instrument of noble purposes” if we strive for holiness in our daily lives. Think of a silver vase that holds beautiful flowers in God’s throne room or the golden goblet from which He drinks each day. But if we pursue “ignoble purposes” – if we live for the world and our flesh we will be good for nothing more than an iron dustpan, or a tin mop bucket in the King’s great house. Or the pan under my granny’s bed.

So how do we endeavor to be vessels for noble purposes? Paul continued: “flee evil desires and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (v. 22). We run from things that lead us into sin. We cultivate desires for the things of God, and we align ourselves with believers who are on the same path. If you are in Christ the Father has cleansed you with Jesus’ blood, clothed you in robes of righteousness, anointed you with the Holy Spirit, and set you apart for a holy purpose.  Beloved, how will you be used in the house of God?

You are God’s Masterpiece

I used to write a lot of bad poetry in high school – full of angst and pining and teenage wisdom. I did write a couple of things that were not so awful. My creative writing teacher submitted one of my poems to a national contest.  I got an “honorable mention” award and my poem was published in their compilation of “outstanding works.” I don’t remember the poem or the contest, but it made a mark on me and encouraged me to keep writing. It became more than a hobby. It’s my calling from God as part of this teaching ministry.

In Ephesians 2:10 Paul tells us that “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  When we consider this verse we tend to jump on that last part so quickly. You were created to work for God. Like we’re just one of many employees in God’s business. You – preach. You – sing. You – teach. You – keep the nursery. You – type bulletins. You – cook the Wednesday night suppers.  You gotta stay busy for God.

But consider the original Greek meaning of the word workmanship: “poiema” – from which we get our English word “poem.” Now read that verse again: “You are God’s poem.” You are God’s sonnet of love, His work of beauty and rhythm in a world that is ugly and chaotic. You are the expression of His creative brilliance and power; a testimony to the graciousness of Almighty God. When you do the “good work” you were created to do you are a living ode to the One who created stars and mountains and vast oceans. God created you, not to be a worker bee, but to point the world to Him. Beloved, how will you show the world the creative beauty of the Author of your life?

More than Live, Love, Laugh

This week in VBS we are learning about the value of life. One night our lesson was about God’s design for us. We were made by a Designer for a wonderful purpose. I asked the 5-6 graders what are the three purposes for which man was designed. One student blurted out “Live, Laugh, Love.” Somebody’s mama loves Hobby Lobby. The correct answer was “to know God, to praise God, and to love God.”

Jeremiah 24:7 says, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” Paul said that everything God does in this world is so that “men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him . . .” (Acts 17:27). Of all the things that God created – which is everything – only man was designed to know his Creator. When we miss getting to know God, we miss the foundational purpose of our lives.

We were also made to praise God. The psalmist said, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). Praise is the natural response to knowing God. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, seen the Eiffel Tower, and witnessed both sunrises and sunsets and my reaction is always the same: “Wow!” How much more so when we see even the smallest glimpse of God.

We were made to love God. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Your heart is the foundation and seat of your thoughts, passions, desires, and intelligence. Loving God with all your heart is an emotion driven by reason or conscious thought. The mind is the part of the inner person that thinks and processes information into understanding. Loving God with your mind involves making choices driven by a thoughtful process of information. The soul is the immaterial (and eternal) part of the inner person, Loving God with all your soul involves emotion fueled by desire and affection; a special connection to the beloved (in this case, God).  Strength is a marker of great degree or quantity, something beyond measure. Loving God with all your strength denotes a measure of quantity, abundance, and ability, in other words – obedience. When we know God, praise God, and love God all the rest falls into its proper place. Beloved, do you know your purpose?

Why I would rather study Jesus than Algebra

Do you know who Mahommed ben Musa al-Jhwarizmi is?  He is the person responsible for creating algebra.  If heaven is truly heaven, he won’t be there. In case you didn’t know, I am not a fan of math in any form but I absolutely hate algebra. For the past 9 years, I have been a Theology student studying the Bible.  I love learning, but I bawled my way through a year of algebra. There is no mention of algebra, quadratic equations, factoring, Venn nor Euler diagrams, square roots, linear equations, exponents, polynomials, or rectangular coordinates in the Scriptures. I do not need to learn about angles – I needed to learn about angels. By the grace of God and the patient tutoring of Julia Brown, I passed college algebra with an A. I’m still stunned by that statement.

It turns out that I am more drawn to the purpose of learning than the facts of learning. In other words, the “Why” is what’s important to me. The reason I hated algebra was because I couldn’t find any purpose for it. When I asked Julia, “Why do I have to learn this stuff?” The answer was always, “So you can do higher algebra.” So . . I am slogging through something I hate just so I can do more of it? No thanks! If I know the “why” I can press on. Words have that kind of purpose for me. So does living for Jesus Christ.

The “why” of being a Christian, of following Jesus, of praying and studying the Bible and teaching and witnessing and proclaiming is the force that makes me get out of bed every morning. The “why” is the reality of eternity and of the love of God and the power of transformation and the hope that comes through faith in Christ. Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). He is the “why.” He is the purpose – the eternal purpose of my life and all creation. We invest ourselves in a lot of things. But what has eternal significance? People. Truth. Love. Jesus. The “why” is because these are all that will matter in the end.

The Apple of God’s Eye

Joy and I were playing with her “princess crown” a few days ago. She was trying to put it on my head but my glasses kept getting in the way so she asked me to “take you gwasses off Nana.” So I took my gwasses off and she started putting the crown on me again, but in her approach, she almost poked me in the eye. As the crown came closer I instinctively closed my eyes to protect them. Only when the crown was finally secured on my head did I open my eyes again. I now have a better understanding of David’s words in Psalm 17: 8 “Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings.”  David was proclaiming the protective nature of God towards His children.

You know how I love word terminologies – and I found a good one here. The Hebrew word for “keep” of course means to guard, to keep watch, to shield, and protect. That’s God being a watchful Father, always looking out for possible danger. Nothing sneaks up on Him and He will not allow anything to come near to you that does not fulfill His perfect plan for your life. Notice I didn’t say He would protect you from every unpleasant thing in life. Some of them are necessary. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m rather stubborn. God has had to sand off my self-will with some pretty rough sandpaper. We’ve been through this more than once and I know that when hard things come to me, it is because God is working to remove something in me that interferes with His plan.

The word “keep” also means to “look narrow.” I love that because it tells me that in a world full of people, His focus is on me. Just me. I often feel like just one face in a very large crowd. One more person among so many people. But God’s vision is narrowed so that He only sees me out of the throng. And somehow – at the same time – He sees you. Just you. And every other person that claims the name of His Son. I don’t know how, I just know it’s true.

God’s child is never out of His sight. He will keep you, Beloved, because you are the apple of His eye.

Tapestry

May be an image of indoor

Our Sunday School class is studying Job and this poor fellow has lost everything including his wealth, his children, and his reputation. He was left with a bitter wife, a few terrified servants, and painful boils all over his body. In his pain, he said, “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, they come to an end without hope” (7:6). Beside this verse I wrote, “Unless God is the weaver.”

Years ago I was an avid cross-stitcher. One day, as I was working on an intricate design-a mixture of dark and light colors and metallics, I flipped the fabric over and saw that the reverse side of my work was a mess of knots and tangles and threads crossing from side to side, looking nothing like the picture that was forming on top.

That is when the Holy Spirit revealed a precious truth to me: My life is like that cross-stitch picture. While I only see the bottom of the fabric, with all my imperfections, sorrows, hurts, and trials, God is working on the top, and He sees the beautiful picture He is creating from the master design He has planned. Where I see tangles and knots and wonder why there are so many dark colors – God sees light contrasting against dark and how brilliantly the gold and silver threads of His majesty and glory stand out against the dark places in my life. And isn’t that the purpose of my life – to make much of God, to glorify Him and show His beauty to the dark world?

Your life is a masterpiece in the making and the Master Craftsman is adding light here and shadow there, a splash of joy, broad strokes of wonder, and accents of peace amid dark shades of sorrow and heartache. Oh, Beloved if you could only see – the pattern God is using as He crafts your life is the image of His Perfect Son.

The Weaver

My life is but a weaving

Between my Lord and me,

I cannot choose the colors

He worketh steadily.

Oftimes He weaveth sorrow,

And I in foolish pride

Forget He sees the upper

And I, the underside.

Not till the loom in silent

And the shuttles cease to fly

Shall God unroll the canvas

And explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful

In the Weaver’s skillful hand

As the threads of gold and silver

In the pattern, He has planned.

– Grant Colfax Tullar 

The Day Jesus was Born

See the source image

A friend asked me about the validity of celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25th. The Bible doesn’t put a date on a calendar, and while we can get a good idea from tracing the astronomical records of a unique star, no one wrote the exact date into the annuals of human history. Many people have commented that shepherds would never have their flocks out in a field or on a hillside where they would be exposed to frigid temperatures. But several scholars have noted that generally, the temperature does not drop to those levels until after our traditional Christmas season, so there is reason to assume we’re pretty close.

I did say that the Bible doesn’t give us a precise date, but it does actually tell us when Jesus was born. Galatians 4:4 says, “When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman.” I find so much comfort in that. The Bible is chock-full of references to time, from the record of Creation to “the day [when] His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives.” God actually does have a calendar of sorts – a divine calendar – and all of human history flows according to the plans He made before the creation of the world. Everything will happen “when the time has fully come.”

I hope you take that personally. Because the same God who established the universe’s timeline has your name on His calendar too. He is moving in your life according to His purpose and design. He is making things and people and events come together just as He planned. Beloved, your life is not some crazy quilt with pieces of all shapes, sizes, and colors haphazardly sewn together. It is a work of beauty, precision, and exactness, stitched firmly together with blood-red cords. Every moment of your life has been leading up to the magnificent finished project that will be revealed, “when the time has fully come.”

The point is not to know when He came, but to know that He came and why He came. To set you free from your bondage of sin and to give you eternal life. So feel free to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th with joy and thanksgiving for God’s perfect, divine plan. And remember that He’s an “on-time” God. It won’t be a second late. Nor will it be a second early. It will be “when the time has fully come.”