New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are so easy to make and so difficult to keep. Old habits die hard.  Old desires still burn within. Many of us resolve to start good habits, eating healthy, exercising, and reading the Bible every day.  These are good, life-affecting habits, but all too often we get sidetracked and let our good resolutions fall by the wayside.  I would like to encourage you in one particular good resolution, that of reading the Bible daily.

When we determine to read the Bible, we start off well, but somewhere around Leviticus, our resolve weakens.  The book closes and the dust starts to build.  And satan claps his evil hands in delight.  I’ve heard it said that the devil doesn’t care if you look at porn or Facebook as long as you don’t look at your Bible. Why? Because this is the Living Word of the Living God. Moses said, “These are not just idle words for you, they are your life” (Deut. 32:47). They are protection against sin (Ps 119:11), and a source of delight, truth, and hope (vs. 24, 43, 49). They preserve our lives (v. 37), are ancient and time-tested (vs. 52, 140 ), give us knowledge and good judgment (v. 66), and are trustworthy and eternal (vs. 86, 89).  They are wonderful (v. 129), righteous (v. 138), true (v. 142), and forever right (v. 144).

The Word of God is “a lamp to my feet and a light for my path (v. 105) and “the Joy of my heart” (v. 111). I have been reading and studying the Bible for many years, getting up early every morning to spend time in prayer and to soak my spirit in God’s Holy and perfect Word, to study and dig deeper for understanding and nuggets of wisdom and truth. It shows me who I am, who God is, and the price He paid to redeem me and change my heart and my life.  And it will do the same for you if you don’t give up.

I have started a Bible-writing group on Facebook, to write down every word of the Scriptures on paper and on our hearts. It’s a long-term commitment and it can change your life. You can learn more about it here. Beloved, riches are waiting for you beyond your wildest imagination between Genesis and Revelation. Dive into the deep end and keep swimming.

Hebrews: Sowing Seeds

“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away . . .” (Hebrews 6: 4-6a).

This is one of the hardest passages I’ve ever studied. Once saved, always saved? Or can a person lose their salvation? The word terminologies we looked at in our last devotional could support either perspective. But I will defer my answer to the original author of the entire Bible.

Jesus told a parable of a man sowing seeds, some of which fell on hard ground, “and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, sprang up but “withered because they had no moisture.” Still more seed fell in the thorny grass, and the thorns “choked the plants.” Finally, some of the seed fell on good soil and produced a bountiful crop.  The Lord explained that the seed is the gospel that is sown in men’s hearts. The seeds on the path “are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts so that they may not believe and be saved.” The seed sown among the rocky ground are “the ones who receive the word with Joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing, they fall away.” The seed that falls among the thorns are those who hear “but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches, and pleasures, and they do not mature.” The seed that falls in the good soil are “those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”  (Luke 8:1-15)

Laying this parable beside the Hebrews passage (let Scripture interpret Scripture) we understand that the one who falls away never took root and grew to maturity. They are the rocky hearts in which the gospel doesn’t take a firm hold. And they are the hearts that are distracted by “life’s worries, riches, and pleasures.” Which soil did Jesus call good? The one that “by persevering produce a crop.” And perseverance isn’t gritting your teeth and hanging on for dear life. It is trusting in the promises and the Promise Keeper. Perseverance isn’t something you do to keep your salvation. It is the evidence of your salvation. Simply put, if you are not saved, you will not persevere.

Can you lose your salvation? You cannot lose what you never had.  But be assured, if you are in Jesus’ hands you will not fall away. “The one who calls you is faithful and He will [keep your whole spirit, soul, and body blameless]” (1 Thess. 5:24, 23).

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).

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.

The Measure of Love

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When I am being a little lazy and I want something to drink, I’ll ask my husband “How much do you love me?” He will answer “With all my heart.” Then he’ll ask, “What do you want?” I’m really not trying to “measure” his affection, besides, there’s no tape measure long enough to gauge love.

Paul said, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19.

How high is the love of God? Psalm 103:11 says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him.” Man may have climbed to great heights through space exploration, but we have yet to pierce the highest heavens. God’s love exceeds heights man can never reach.

How long is the love of God? Jeremiah 31:3 says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” God loved us before time began, and He will continue to love us throughout all eternity. His love for you and me will never end.

How deep is the love of God? “Jesus Christ, being in very nature God…made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness…humbled Himself…to death” (Philippians 2:6-8.) Jesus Christ stepped from the glory of heaven and humbled Himself all the way to the depths of the grave for you and me.

How wide is the love of God? “Carrying His own cross, He went to the place of the Skull. Here they crucified Him” (John 19:17-18) Jesus willingly stretched His arms out to their full span, so His hands could be cruelly nailed to the cross.

Beloved, you will never be able to measure the love of God, but you can trust it. It’s a firm foundation on which to build your life, and it’s a sweet, soft pillow on which to rest your head at night.

Hebrews: Grab Your Sword!

In the 1986 movie “Crocodile Dundee” Mick Dundee, an Australian crocodile hunter is out with his lady friend when they are approached by a young thug. His friend says, “He’s got a knife!” To which Dundee replies, “That’s not a knife. This is a knife,” and pulls out a Bowie knife with an eleven-inch blade. Needless to say, the thug couldn’t get away fast enough.

Ever notice that the Word of God calls itself the “sword of the Spirit”? There’s a good reason for that moniker – it is the only offensive weapon in our Christian arsenal (Ephesians 6:17).  And it is enough because satan runs from the holy power of God’s Word.  Hebrews 4:12 says “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.” John’s vision of Jesus said “out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword” (Revelation 1:16). Even in the heavens, Jesus still uses the Sword of the Spirit to deliver justice.

So where do we get this sword, and how do we learn to use it? Psalm 119:11 gives us the answer – “I have hidden your Word in my heart,”   Simply put, we memorize Scripture. Every verse, every passage, every promise, and every truth adds to the weight and length and strength of your Sword. And the more you study the Word and meditate on it, the more adept you will be at using it. Is there a particular area of weakness or stronghold where Satan usually attacks? Look for Scripture that addresses that area. Read the verses aloud, write them on notecards and place them in areas like the kitchen, your desk, your bathroom mirror, or bedside table. Get a journal and write the verses out, look up the words, consider how this verse applies to your life – these are all excellent “drills” to help you grow in knowledge and strength in the Word of the Lord.

Consider this, when Satan launches an attack against you, and all you know is John 3:16, (which is an awesome verse to know), you are trying to defeat the enemy with a pocketknife. But if you have been reading, studying, meditating, and memorizing Scripture, when you reach into your heart where that Word has been stored and grab hold of those verses, you are going to pull out a SWORD that will send satan scrambling. Beloved, that’s how you do battle with the enemy of your soul!

(We’re not done with the Sword. We’ll dig into it more in the next devotional.)

A Word for the Weary

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David and his men returned home to Ziklag after a three-day trek to find the Amalekites had raided the region, burned their homes, and took their families captive. They did what you and I would do: “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (1 Sam 30:4). Ever been there? I know I have. But after the weeping, he did something else, “David found strength in the Lord his God” (v. 6).

This morning as I sat down to my prayer journal, I wrote my usual greeting: “Holy Father,” then I stared at the empty page.  Some mornings that about all I can muster – just to call His name.

Because I’m weary.

Because I’m overwhelmed.

Because I don’t know what to do.

Because I don’t see any way out of my circumstances.

Then I remembered David and I determined to follow his good example.

Because the Lord said, “Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Because the Scripture says: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7).

Because He promised: “Whether you turn to the right or to the lift, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Is 30:21).

Because He acts on behalf of his people: “The Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and . . . the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground” (Ex. 14:21,22).

Just like David, I found strength in the Lord my God. His Word refreshed me and encouraged me. The Scriptures remind me of His unfailing, never-ending, always faithful love. His promises give me hope.

Beloved, what has you weary this morning? Grief? Despair? What is overwhelming you? Needs? People? Are you at a loss to know what to do? Do you feel like there’s no way out of your circumstances? There is strength and encouragement and peace in the Word of God. From Genesis to Revelation, you will find hope to refresh your soul and Joy to fill your heart. God has a Word for you today.

But Can I Trust Him?

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Today I came across a Scripture that is bittersweet to me: “Therefore I [Jesus] tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Matthew 11:24).  Today of all days it touches a deep place in my heart. Today is my Mom’s birthday. No, this is not a “Happy birthday to my Mom in Heaven” post. If heaven really is heaven, God has banned social media completely. She will never see it. She doesn’t need to. I’m pretty sure they don’t celebrate earthly birthdays in heaven. My Mom was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1982. After all kinds of treatments, the doctors told her there was nothing left they could do for her. Matthew 11:24 came to my attention so I boldly asked God to heal my Mom. And no one on the face of the earth ever believed more than I did. As she grew progressively worse, I didn’t allow myself one single doubt. I knew my Mom was going to be okay. She died on April 5, 1987.  So who failed – me or God? Jesus said, “ask and believe” and I took Him at His Word. I believed with every fiber of my being. For more than thirty years, every time I come across this verse, it takes my breath away.

Every syllable of God’s Word is true. My belief that God would heal my Mom was as well. How do I resolve this?  I don’t. But here’s what I’ve come to understand. God is sovereign and reserves the right to answer my prayers according to His will, even when it differs from mine. I do not always understand His will. But He is God and I am not.  I could have let my Mom’s death push me away from Him. Instead,, it pushed me closer, because, despite missing my Mom for thirty-plus years, I know that my Father is still trustworthy and loving and good and He is perfectly faithful to His Word. I wish I could wrap this up in a nice, neat bow of encouragement. This is not that kind of devotional. I don’t have any profound words today. This is just the heart of a daughter who misses her Mother and trusts her Heavenly Father.

Time to Grow Up

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”   2 Timothy 3:16-17

I’ve been in church pretty much all my life, from the “cradle roll” (who remembers that?) to being a Bible teacher today. Other than a short stint of youthful rebellion, church has been part of my life all my life. I was taught all the Bible stories, David and Goliath, Jonah and the Whale, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Baby Jesus and the Empty Tomb. As I got older I listened to my Sunday School teachers and Pastors tell me what the Bible said – and I took their word for it and went on my merry way. Until about ten years ago, when God began to stir something up in me – a deep thirst for His Word – and so began a journey that I will be on for the rest of my life, studying the Bible – for myself. Because, while my teachers and Pastors did their best, they couldn’t speak truth into my heart and life like the Word and the Spirit can.

Our key verse was the first Bible Drill verse I learned as a kid (who remembers that?). And it is a powerful word about the inspiration of the Scriptures, the whole counsel of the Word of God. The Bible is not a man-inspired construct, but is man-penned through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. It is truth, and it is true. I believe it is infallible, inerrant and as relevant today as the day the fresh ink hit the papyrus.

I couldn’t always say that though, or at least not with the same conviction, because I didn’t know the Bible well enough. I took what had been spoon-fed to me all my life and that was enough for me. Until it wasn’t. I was like the people in the book of Hebrews, who were still drinking milk and refusing to sink their teeth into the meat of truth. The writer says, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn” (Hebrews 5:11). From our contemporary perspective, that seems to imply a learning disability, but in the original Greek text, the word “slow” is translated “lazy and undisciplined.” That just took my breath. Read the verse and explanation again. They could not understand the deeper truths of the faith because they were lazy and undisciplined. Today we could say they spent more time watching T.V. and playing video games and Candy Crush Saga than attending to their souls. They went for the snooze button rather than the Scriptures every morning. Yes, we all need down time to give our brains and bodies rest, but have we gotten that out of balance? Don’t our spirits need to be refreshed as well, if not more so? Look at verse 14: “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (emphasis mine). Ask any talented musician how they play so beautifully and they will tell you – constant practice. Ask a pro athlete how he became so good and he will tell you – constant training.   Do you want to be a more mature Christian? Get into a Spiritual training program –a Sunday School class, Bible study class or seek out a godly person to be your spiritual mentor. Put in the effort, and God will reward you with understanding and revelation and a deeper hunger than you ever imagined. Yes, understanding comes from the Spirit, but the Spirit ain’t gonna do all the work for you.

Let me show you one more thing I learned. As I said, I’ve heard this verse almost all my life, but I saw something very personal in it this morning. This is in the center of Paul’s charge to his young protégé Timothy, whom he has appointed as the Pastor and leader of the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). From 2 Timothy 3:10 through 4:5, Paul exhorts the young Pastor in his calling. The passages in our key verse are a personal word of advice and instruction to Timothy. And that is what God spoke to me today (note: I am using my given name Dorcas, because God uses that name to speak to me): “Dorcas, all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching you Dorcas, rebuking you Dorcas, correcting you Dorcas, and training you Dorcas in righteousness, so that you Dorcas may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

This passage is not intended to be used to point to – or worse – point at others, especially non-Christians about the authority of the Bible. It is meant to be pointed at me. God is calling me to submit to the authority of His Word and to allow it to teach, rebuke, correct, train and equip me “to do good works, which God prepared in advance for [me] to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Maybe you got that long ago, but it hit me with great force this morning.   As a Bible teacher, I tend to read the Scriptures searching for the lesson I am to present. I often forget God wants the lessons to apply to me first.  As important that it is to know the inspiration of God’s Word it is even more important for me to know its authority over my own life.

What does God’s Word mean to you? Is it light and life to you? Is the Bible your delight and hope? Come, dig into the rich treasure of the Scriptures as see how sweet it is. It’s there for tasting.

God of the Word, please stir in me a hunger and thirst for Your Word; that passion for the Scriptures will press me closer and closer to you. Amen.