What are You Talking About?

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“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance . . .” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

I confess – I spend far more time on social media than I should. I love seeing pictures of your kids and grandkids (sorry, but mine is cuter). I like silly memes and funny posts, especially in this season when the world is so grim. And I love to read your testimonies of God’s goodness and faithfulness to you. Those kinds of posts make my day. I do not like political posts. I do not like posts that contain the words: “like and share,” “bet I won’t get one share,” or “make this go viral.” I don’t like fake posts – grocery stores or fast-food restaurants giving away $250 worth of food or warnings about false dangers. But what I dislike the most are false posts that are “religious” in nature. The one about why Jesus folded the napkin. Images that have been manipulated to look like Jesus in the clouds. The urgent prayer request for 20 Coptic Christians set to be executed or the little kid that shot himself with a nail gun. It’s important to share prayer needs and stories of faith – but only if you know for a fact that they are true.

This world needs truth. Not made-up stories. There are a LOT of people saying a lot of things about God, about Jesus, about Christianity. Not all of it is right and true. That’s Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 15. He was advanced in Judaism and highly educated. He knew a lot of stuff about God. But He said only one thing was “of first importance”: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared [to many]” (v. 3-8, paraphrased).

I will occasionally post something silly or fun, or something meaningful and encouraging, but I am careful and selective about what I put out into the cyber-world. Because only one thing matters: Jesus Christ, crucified, buried, resurrected, and coming again. If the world learned about Jesus only through your conversations: verbal, social media, even overheard in the coffee shop (if we ever get back to the coffee shop) would they hear the truth? Would they hear what matters? Beloved, are you saying what’s of first importance?

When the Way is Dark

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I come from a long line of crafters. My mom was an extraordinary seamstress – I loved the handmade clothes she made for me. My grandmother created beautiful designs with a needle and tread. and I found much comfort laying in bed and tracing the stitches on my “Sunbonnet Sue” pillowcase. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, Mom decided it was time for me to take up the family tradition, starting with learning handwork. She bought me a simple embroidery kit and taught me the up-and-down pattern, and the daisy stitch and how to fill a piece of fabric with color. The kit she bought was a design with an old fashioned oil lamp, a Bible – with a real velvet bookmark – and the words of Psalm 119:105. As I stitched the letters, the words were “sewn” into my heart: Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet and a Light unto my path.

I’ve lost my way a few times since then and found myself in dark scary places. But I would trace the words on my heart, just as I traced the pattern on my pillowcase, and I knew where to find the light. I still go back to that verse often and remind myself that the Bible has the power to dispel darkness and show me the way home.

The Word of God is Light and Life to me. It is stitched on my heart.

For The One Who Thinks God Could Never Love You

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“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I asked her to tell me about her son. “He’s a smart boy, really smart. He can add stuff in his head faster than I can write it out on paper.  And oh, he can sing – he has such a good voice.  I think he could be a singer if he tried. But he gets bored easy.  That’s why he gets into trouble at school.”

We met for coffee so she could talk through some difficult things she was facing, largely brought about by this boy.  But before I asked about her son, she told me about herself. She told me that she didn’t believe God could ever love her. She had done things that she was ashamed of.  She was pretty wild in her youth, disrespectful to her parents, and teachers.  She got drunk the night of the prom, slept with her boyfriend, and became pregnant.  She and the baby’s father tried to make it right by getting married, but now – 17 years later – she was three failed marriages down and living with a man she met at a bar.  She had started coming to our church a few months ago in a last-ditch effort to straighten her son out.  That is until the deacons told her the boy was not welcome after he played too rough with some of the younger students and somebody got hurt.  The very next day the police were at her house with a report about her boy and the neighbor’s little girl and the latest nightmare unfolded. Yet, as much as her son’s actions weighed on her, I could tell something else was even heavier on her heart.

“How could God love me?  I’ve made a mess of my life and I’ve even screwed up my kid.”

“So you probably don’t love your son anymore after all the trouble he’s caused you.”

“What? Of course I still love my son! That’s crazy!  Why would I stop loving him just because he’s made some mistakes?”

“I just thought – since you believe God quit loving you because you messed up, you must have quit loving your son too.”

She looked at me as if an entire block of lights had gone off in her head. The weight of so much guilt and fear disappeared from her eyes while tears dripped off her chin and onto her sweater.

Beloved, I don’t know what you’re carrying around today. I don’t know your past. I don’t even know your present. But there is one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  If Christmas is about anything at all, it is about God pouring out His unfailing love on messed up people.

What do a bunch of old laws have to do with me; or why should I read Leviticus?

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I am doing a slow dig through the book of Leviticus – yes Leviticus – the book where most New Year’s resolutions come to die. Why would I spend months studying a hard-to-understand bunch of antiquated laws that don’t apply to me as a New Testament Christian? Because Jesus is found in Leviticus more than any other Old Testament book. He is the fulfillment of every law therein. Three verses into the first chapter and there He is: “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to bring an unblemished male” (Lev. 1:3). That’s Jesus. Unblemished. Perfect. Sinless. Innocent. Pure. The only sacrifice that could atone for your sin and mine – making us acceptable to a holy God.
I look into the next verse and I see, not only Jesus this time but also me. “He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him” (Lev. 1:4) In the ancient sacrificial system, the person placed his hand on the animal’s head symbolically transferring all of his sins onto it. This innocent animal now bore the guilt for the sinful person; the animal – not the man – died for those sins.
I am the one with my hand on the head of Jesus. Those sins are mine. The guilt is mine. I am shaken by Charles Spurgeon’s comment on this verse: “If the worshipper was a right-minded person and not a mere formalist, he stood with tears in his eyes and felt in his heart, ‘That death is mine.’” Oh, God let me never look at the cross and forget – “That death is mine.”
Beloved, that is your hand on the head of Jesus too. That death is yours. Those sins are yours. The guilt belongs to you. But so does the atonement. The sinless, innocent Son of God graciously received your sins and bore your punishment so that you would be accepted by His Father. May you and I never forget the price that Jesus paid to set us free.

More than Puppy Love

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When I was a teeny-bopper I LOVED Donny Osmond. I knew every word of every song he sang. I knew the inflections in his voice. I could imitate perfectly his cry when he sang “Someone help me, help me, help me please!” in “Puppy Love.” I had a binder that contained every article and picture of Donny that “Tiger Beat” magazine published. I slept on a Donny Osmond pillowcase and I wore purple because that was his favorite color. I knew countless facts about his life, his family and his career. I was an expert in all things Donny. But that doesn’t mean that I knew Donny Osmond, and he certainly didn’t know me. Our “relationship” never went any farther than my dreams.
In the Bible, God repeats the phrase “know that I am the Lord” at least seventy-plus times. This “knowing” goes much deeper than my knowledge of Donny Osmond. It means that the Israelites acknowledged that God is their Lord. They made a life-long commitment to him. But it is also a recognition that comes through revelation. You and I cannot know God unless God reveals Himself to us. Moses pleaded with God, “Teach me your ways so that I may know you” (Exodus 33:13). And that is the key. It is important that we learn about God’s ways – His character, His actions, and most certainly His Words, but we do so in order to enjoy a deeper connection to Him. The word “know” is also used in Scripture in the context of the marriage relationship and the most private moments between and husband and wife. It means that nothing comes between them to hinder their intimate connection. That is the depth of relationship God is offering to you and me.
How could I know so much about Donny Osmond and still not know him? Because I never spent time with him. Knowing God is so much more than gathering information; facts don’t make a relationship. Knowing God is spending time with Him, in His Word, in prayer, and in worship. Beloved you have the remarkable opportunity to know God – deeply, intimately, eternally. Don’t settle for a bunch of facts about God – know Him – with all your heart. He’s an even bigger deal than Donny Osmond.

When to Run and When to Stand: How to Fight Spiritual Battles

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We’re working our way through the book of Colossians in our Ladies Bible study group at BCF. Yesterday we looked at Paul’s warning: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). So we posed the question: what are we watching for? Two points stood out from elsewhere in the Scriptures:

When Jesus confronted his three closest disciples who were asleep in the garden, he admonished them to “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). So the lure of temptation is one area where we need to be watchful.

Then Peter, who was one of the three, gives us another saying, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The reality and work of the devil is another.

How are we to handle these two?

The conventional wisdom is to resist temptation and flee from the devil; but what does Scripture say?

About temptation, Paul said, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). When we face temptation, we take the way of escape. We flee. We run. We get away from the source of temptation, be it a place, a person, a website, or the office breakroom.

And when it comes to dealing with the devil, Peter’s warning continued: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . .” (1 Peter 5:9). We resist the devil, standing firmly and confidently behind our shield of faith in the God of Christ our Lord.

So the conventional wisdom is completely backward – Scripture tells us to resist the devil and flee from temptation. No wonder we’re falling so easily to the enemy.

Why does this matter?

Because as 1 John 4:4 reminds us: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” If you are in Christ Jesus, then Christ Jesus is in you through His Holy Spirit. The very same Christ who has already overcome the devil. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross, the devil has no authority over you. None. And you need to stand firm and remind him of that when he comes roaring at you. Because all he can do is roar.

And because, as Jesus admonished his sleepy disciples, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Your flesh, the part of you that responds to temptation, is weak, even as a Christian. Though we are set free from the power of sin, we are still bound to our fleshly nature that desires sin. Paul said, “I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep doing” (Romans 7:18,19)

Christ has already defeated the devil, but you and I will battle our flesh every day of our earthly lives.

Understanding the enemy and his tactics is vital – not just to surviving – but to thriving and growing and carrying the cross of Christ into a lost and dying world. You need to know your enemy Beloved. But more than that, you need to know your Savior. He has already claimed the victory over the devil. And He will give you strength – to flee when you face temptation and to stand firm when the lion roars.

“Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).

When Everyone’s a Philosopher, How Do You Know What’s True?

In this day of social media, everyone has an opinion and anyone with internet access and a keyboard can become an expert about everything from sports to food to politics to religion. Spend an hour on the web and you will know the deep thoughts of world leaders, celebrities, “influencers,” the media, the local yokel, and even the Kardashians. I’m guilty too, as I flood the cyber-world with biblical commentary. The delivery may be modern, but the idea of sharing ideas is as old as man. The trick is to figure out who’s ideas are worth listening to.

Paul warned the believers in Colossae: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy . . .” (Colossians 2:8). The Colossians were being led astray by false teachers who claimed that the secret to eternal life was a higher plane of knowledge – a knowledge that was superior to Christ and put one on the level with God. Their philosophies sounded right, but they were wrong, and anyone who listened was led astray. It wasn’t just a first-century problem. That warning still applies today. There are a lot of messages that sound like the Bible, but they are not the Word of God. There are a lot of teachings that sound like Jesus, but they are not the Son of God. They have shades of truth, but they are not the truth.  So how do you know what is true?

When bank tellers receive training to recognize counterfeit money, they are not schooled in every possible way that a bill can be counterfeited. Instead, they are taught every detail of a genuine bill, so that when someone presents money that is even a little off, they can spot it instantly. The key to recognizing a false bill is to know the real thing. The key to recognizing false teaching is to know the truth. Luke commended a group of believers in Berea because they listened to Paul’s teachings and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). They didn’t take Paul’s word for what God said; they checked it out in God’s Word.

I hope you do the same Beloved. I hope you take what your Bible teacher says, your Pastor, your favorite author or singer, even yours truly, and lay it beside the authoritative, infallible, inspired Word of the Living God to see if it agrees with what was spoken by the Spirit of God. And if it does not, you run from it and run to the truth. And if I said it, you call me out on it. I also hope that you are making Bible study – not just a five-minute devotional reading – a priority in your day. I hope you are digging in and soaking up the truth. I hope you are learning to recognize the ways and words of God so you are not “taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophies . . .” I hope you know the Scriptures so intimately that anything just a shade off of the truth raises red flags in your spirit. There is far too much as stake to shrug your shoulders and reason that “it sounds okay to me.” Be a Berean. Know the truth. It’ll set you free.

The Life of the Party

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“My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you . . . “ (Psalm 42:6)
I used to throw amazing “pity-parties.” Like celebrations of ancient royalty, I could stretch a good bad mood for days on end. Of course, these soirees were always a solo affair. No one ever seemed to want to come. But a good pity-party was best when it was just me and my dark thoughts. Well, I stand corrected. There was always one guest I could count on every time: Satan. He loved my parties almost as much as I did. He brought the snacks and fed me hopeless thoughts and dismal forecasts. He lowered the lights and played the music of loneliness: “See, nobody notices that you are down. Nobody cares about you. Nobody loves you.” He was the perfect companion and kept the “party mood” going.
But something happened – or Someone happened. God. I discovered an incredible thing: it is hard to keep a pity-party going when God is around. Misery flees when the love of God is present. Despair has no place where there is hope and peace and Joy. Lies cannot exist in the presence of the Truth. And Satan will not stick around when God is in the house.
I still have down days and I will always fight against depression, but I’ve discovered a new way to “party.” I invite God as my Guest of Honor. He feeds me with His goodness and love when I meditate on His Word. I listen to the Spirit now instead of Satan’s playlist. I take negative thoughts captive and replace them with what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. God had brought light where there was once only darkness. He truly is the “Life of the party.”

Hollow Faith

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Waking up on Easter morning when I was a kid meant a new dress and new shoes and an Easter basket at the foot of my bed, loaded down with goodies. There were always jelly beans and marshmallow treats and a book about Jesus. There was usually a necklace or bracelet in mine, while my brothers got toy cars and trucks. But best of all – there was CHOCOLATE! Chocolate coins and chocolate eggs wrapped in thin foil that always tore when you tried to open them. And the bunny. The smiling chocolate Easter bunny who stared at me with his little frosting eyes and beckoned me to nibble on his ears. Oh, I could not resist his charms. One year I pulled my chocolate friend out of his cellophane home and bit down on his ear and got a shock. The chocolate caved in and broke apart because the bunny was hollow inside! Mama didn’t realize the bunnies she bought for us were not solid. My brothers and I felt cheated. We had counted on solid milk chocolate that we could gnaw on for several days. We got a thin veneer of chocolate that was gone before bedtime that day. There was no substance to our chocolate Easter bunnies, they were just a shell.

Paul warned believers to be on guard against “hollow and deceptive philosophies” (Colossians 2:8) of this world that will try to fool us and draw us away from the solid truth of Christ Jesus. They are a very real and present danger to the Christian. Unlike Christ, in whom is “all the fullness of [God]” (v. 9), they are empty and foolish and they crumble under the bite of real life. Unlike Christ, who is eternal, these philosophies have no substance and no staying power, they are founded on the shifting values and priorities of the world. Even in my lifetime “right and wrong” have been turned upside down by the culture. Hollow, worldly philosophies are ever-changing. “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). And unlike Christ who is the Truth, they are rooted in lies and deception. At their core they deny the reality of God and His authority and put humanity on the throne of existence (Romans 1:18-25). And the sad truth is, they are not limited to the world; they are prevalent in the church as well. In Paul’s day it was the “higher knowledge” gospel and the “Mosaic-law” gospel. Enemies of the Christianity held to secret knowledge as the way to God while the Jewish traditions demanded obedience to the Law of Moses, including circumcision. Today we have the “prosperity” gospel, the “social” gospel, the “humanitarian” gospel, the “political” gospel, and on and on. All of these are hollow shells of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Beloved, when the winds of hardship howl and the heat of spiritual battle rages, you need something more than a hollow, Easter-bunny faith. You need something you can depend on, something that will last. You need the solid truth of God, His Son, and His Word. You need a faith that will not crumble. You need the solid rock that is Jesus.

Don’t Let the World Change Your Song

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“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:3).

For many years I sang in church choirs.  I am not a great singer, but I always tried to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” (Psalm 98:4).  I am an alto – I sing on the low female range.  I remember one church choir I was in, I was seated with a soprano to my left, a tenor directly behind me on my left and a bass directly behind me on my right.  Everyone was going in different vocal directions and I had the hardest time staying on my alto notes. Because the soprano was a strong singer, I was constantly being pulled in her direction.  I spoke to our choir director, and he told me he didn’t want to move me, but he did give me some good advice.  He told me to concentrate more on my note – and to lean just a little towards the alto to my right.  He said that he could hear me singing the correct notes, but at the same time, he could tell that I was listening to all the other singers around me and losing confidence in myself.  I will always remember what he told me, “You’re on the right notes, but you have to stay focused and not back off.”

I think about that often when the world is loud and I’m struggling to stay on the right way.  Many different voices are saying many different things, and they are apt to draw me away from what I know is true.  The culture wants me to embrace things that God’s Word has clearly forbidden.  The scholar wants me to trade truth for worldly philosophies that have no regard for God.  The unsaved world wants me to stop singing God’s praises altogether.  My choir director’s advice rings loud and clear: stay focused. Concentrate on what you know is right and true; lean in to godly wisdom and don’t back off.  This world is becoming more evil and more vocal every day. If we are not intentionally listening to God, you and I will be pulled away from what is right and true.  I love this word from Paul to his protégé Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of” (2 Timothy 3:14).  Stay the course.  Focus on the truth.  Let God’s Word drown out the voices of the world. The way of righteousness has not changed just because the music around you has. Beloved, don’t let the world change your song.