Consider it Pure Joy (part 1)

Check this out – James says that as believers we are to greet every trial as a cause for Joy.  “Consider it pure Joy, my brothers [and sisters], when you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). Excuse me? Joy is not my default reaction when life gets hard. I don’t like trials and I’ll bet you don’t either.  But the Bible says that we can have Joy because our trials are not without purpose.  God has a reason for every trial we face.

James follows up our key verse by saying, “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3-4).  We know that we become physically stronger when we work our muscles, and any trainer will tell you that resistance training is the best strengthening exercise.  Our faith becomes stronger when we have opportunities to exercise it as we strain against some resistant force – like a trial.  How will you know that you can trust God if you never have to?  Trials strengthen our faith and lead us into spiritual maturity.

Trials also accomplish God’s wider purposes.  Joseph was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and unjustly imprisoned.  But all of those very hard things positioned him to be in the right place at the right time – God’s place and God’s time.  Joseph was used in Egypt to save thousands of lives during the famine, most importantly the life of his own people – the Jews, through whom our Savior, Jesus, would come. Through some pretty hard trials in our life, God moved us back home positioning us for many good blessings including placing me in a great job with the opportunity to further my education – for free.  Trials often become the catalyst for a God-ordained redirection into His good plan.

Our trials prepare us to minister to others.  Paul said, “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). I have benefited greatly from the wise counsel and comfort of others who have “been there, done that” and survived.  Their testimony brought me hope and confidence in God and they gave good advice drawn from their own experience.  Perhaps your trial today will give you the wisdom to come alongside someone in a similar situation one day and offer them hope.

This is part one. Part two will post tomorrow.

The Way of Wisdom

I am not a young chick anymore – I’m nearing #62 at the end of the year. I know some of you are well ahead of me, but this number has really caught my attention. What have I done with those 62 years? Did I do anything I set out to do with my life? The truth is, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a very long time. I thought life would just unfold before me and the choices would make themselves. I never knew that my life had a purpose. I wish someone had told me that when I was younger. It would have changed everything for me. What I studied in school, the people I hung out with, and especially the choices I made. You can bet I will tell my granddaughter.

I came across Moses’ Psalm and one verse, in particular, that is highlighted in my Bible. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Wisdom. I’ve been told that I am wise (that’s a shock to me!). I wish I could say it was because I numbered my days and carefully evaluated my life with every decision. The truth is, any wisdom I’ve gained has come through blood, sweat, and tears (No not, the 60’s rock group). It has come with scars and pain. I often quote my mom who said: “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.” I have paid dearly for any small measure of wisdom I have. But I’ve learned some valuable life lessons this way. I’ve learned there are some things that I don’t want to ever do again because the cost was way too high. If that’s wisdom then, I guess I am wise.

Maybe you, like me, look back over years of mistakes and failures and self-destructive behavior. We did more wrong than we did right. We made some truly bad choices. But here’s a choice we can make today that can affect the poor choices of the past. We can wise up. If we wallow in our misery then we learned nothing from it. But if those hard lessons brought about good changes and especially brought us to the cross of Christ, then we’ve invested well.

Here’s where I hang my hope: God can take every mistake I’ve made, every failure, and every sin and teach me more than I could learn in scholarly books and classrooms. And they become common ground to reach out to other mistake-prone souls. Beloved, will you put your mistakes and scars in the hands of your good and loving Father? They tell a powerful story the world needs to hear.

More Than Words

The more tired she is the more Joy fights sleep. I suppose she doesn’t want to miss a thing around her. When she was just a baby I would snuggle her close in the rocking chair and give her her bottle. She would drink just a little, pull away, then immediately complain because she didn’t have her bottle. I’d plug it back in and say, “You’re the one who turned away from it sweetie.” We would repeat this cycle several times until she finally gave up and drifted off.

This little ritual reminds me of people who complain, “I don’t feel God anymore. I don’t think God cares about me. Why does God not love me?” The first thing I ask them is, “What is God saying to you in His Word?” And they answer, “Oh, I haven’t read the Bible in a while – I know I should, I just haven’t felt like it.” DING-DING-DING! They just answered their own question. They don’t “feel” God or think he cares about nor loves them because they have turned away from the very place they find Him.

God gave the Israelites His commandments and His Law so that they would obey Him. But it was about more than just compliance, it was about knowing Him. The closer they lived to the commands of God, the more He revealed Himself to them. They came to know God by knowing and obeying His Words. Moses declared to them, “The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” (Deut 30:14).

The Word of God has never been more readily available than it is today. The Scriptures are literally at our fingertips, in printed form, electronic media, by audio and video – and in almost every language on earth. You can have it any way you want it. But you have to want it. You have to pick up the book or open the app or pull up the podcast. You have to make God’s Word a priority in your life. The less you read, the less you want to read.  And the converse is true: the more you read, the more you want to read.

The Bible is not just a bunch of stories and rules and words on paper. It is the true and living Word of God (Heb 4:12), inspired and empowered by the Spirit of God (2 Pet 1:20-21) and embodied in Jesus Christ, the Son of God (John 1:14). Have you turned away from the very thing your spirit is craving? Come back to the Bible, Beloved. “These are not just idle words for you, they are your life” (Deut 32:47).

How to (not)Resist Temptation

I love fall. I love the colors of the leaves (even though they don’t change here in the deep south). I love the cool, crisp bite of the morning air. I love back-to-school season. I love the ground carpeted with shed leaves. I love college football. I love to watch the harvesters at work in the fields, bringing their bounty to bless the world. Except for peanuts. Oh, I love to eat peanuts. But the nut is produced under the soil and the farmer has to turn the plants over to harvest the crop, which releases all kinds of things into the air – like mold – to which I am highly allergic. And I live in the peanut capital of the world. Achoo! And yet I keep the window in my study open to enjoy the aforementioned cool, crisp air. I know. That’s pretty stupid. Just like standing in the path of temptation.

The mainstay of Christian conviction has always been  “Resist temptation!”  But the Bible says we are to run from temptation.  We are told to “flee from sexual immorality” and “idolatry” (1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:14); “flee from greed [the love of money]” (1 Timothy 6:10,11); and “flee from evil desires” (2 Timothy 2:22).  Why flee? James said we are all “tempted when, by [our] own evil desire, [we] are dragged away and enticed” (1:14). Our evil desires are internal. We have to flee from temptation because it is tapping into those desires. That’s why you can’t stand in front of temptation and try to talk yourself out of it – you have to get away from it. If your flesh is agreeing with the thing in front of you, run. You are standing on dangerous ground.

I knew a man who drove six miles out of his way on his daily route just to avoid driving past a bar he used to frequent in his drinking days. He knew the desire was always in him so he detoured away from the temptation. He took Paul’s word to heart: “when you are tempted, [God] will provide a way out” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The way out for him was an alternative – if longer – route. A married woman quit her lucrative job to distance herself from a coworker to whom she was attracted. Another man gave up his smartphone with internet capabilities for a simple call-and-text-only phone to avoid the pull of pornography.

Jesus wants you and me to be victorious over temptation. He gave us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do just that. But we still have to put distance between ourselves and temptation. If I want to stop sneezing I’ve got to close the window. Beloved, If you want to stop falling into sin take the way out. Take the long way home. Change your job. Cancel the subscription. Change your phone. Cry out to Jesus for help. Then run.

I Know That Voice

One morning Poppy and I took Joy out to breakfast, then to her favorite park. She was excited to see other children on the playground. She quickly made a few buddies and they were off to the races. Us old folks found a shady place to rest and watch her. I love watching children play. I love their delight at zooming down the slide and climbing high into the sky on the swings. I love to hear their squeals and laughter.  With so many kids talking and shouting and laughing you would think it would be difficult to tell when my kid was speaking, but as every parent and grandparent knows, you just know your child’s voice. Your ears are attuned to them. There were several “Nanas” on the playground that morning, but I knew when Joy called my name– even when she was on the other side of the lot because I was well familiar with her voice.

Isaiah 30: 21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” The most common lament I hear is “How do I know it’s God speaking?” That’s a good question, especially in this noisy world where everyone has a megaphone and an opinion. We know that the “still, small voice” Elijah heard came out of the whirlwind, the earthquake, and the fire (1 Ki 19:12). How can we know that voice?

The same way I know my granddaughter’s voice over all the other kids on the playground – familiarity. I spend time with her. I listen to her constant chatter. I can recognize her pitch and tone from a hundred paces.  You and I can know God’s voice when we spend time with Him in His Word, in prayer, and the fellowship of the Church.  You will not only recognize the pitch and tone of His voice, but you will recognize the content of His message. God will never speak anything contrary to Scripture. God’s voice is in His Word.

There’s one other important thing – to recognize God’s voice you have to have a personal relationship with Him. I didn’t know any other child on the playground, but I knew mine, and her voice rings in my heart. A personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ – who is The Word – is the first step to knowing His voice. And one more – obedience to what you’ve heard enables you to hear more. Priscilla Shirer says, “God doesn’t just speak to be heard, He speaks to be obeyed.”

Know God, personally. Spend time with Him and become familiar with His voice and message. Obey what He says. Beloved, are you willing to hear from God?

Bitter or Better?

In my younger days, I was a very negative person. I could always find something to complain about. When everyone else saw the rainbow, all I saw was the wet, muddy ground. My mom said as I child I worried like an old woman. Even after I became a Christian, negativity was my constant focus. When a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age I prayed for her and 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.”

What makes us bitter? Life in a fallen world. There’s so much evil and sin and hurt and grief and loneliness and – well, I don’t have to tell you – you know. You’ve seen it and experienced it for yourself. The bigger question is what makes us better? What can turn a bitter, broken heart into a healed, whole heart? I can tell you it’s not anything the world can offer. It’s not the perfect spouse, the perfect kids, the perfect house or job or ministry – if they even existed. It’s one word. Faith.

In Psalms 106 the psalmist is relaying Israel’s history with God. On one hand, the Scripture says, “they sang His praises” but on the other “they grumbled in their tents” (vs. 12, 25). What made the difference? Faith. Listen: when “they believed His promises they sang His praise .” When “they did not believe His promise, they grumbled in their tent.” Believing God changes everything, including – especially – our hearts.

What does it mean to “believe God?” It’s more than intellectual assent. James said, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (Jas 2:19). Faith – believing God is knowledge combined with trust. The writer of Hebrews said that faith that pleases God “believes that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Heb 11:6 – emphasis mine). Believing God, by definition means to trust, to be certain, and – get this – to be quiet. No more grumbling in the tent.

Believing God also means obeying Him. The psalmist noted that the grumblers “did not obey the Lord.” James said that faith and actions work together (2:18-26). That’s the difference between demons and God’s redeemed people. We believe in God – more than that – we believe God and we act on it. Sometimes that means marching around the city wall or stepping out into a raging river. Sometimes it’s singing His praises and sometimes it’s being quiet and still before Him. That’s where I’m putting my faith in this difficult season. Beloved, do you believe God?

God, I Don’t Understand!

One of my favorite ways to study the Bible is digging into one book and examining it passage-by-passage, verse-by-verse, and even word-by-word. There is so much wealth in every word of Scripture – and you know how much I love word etymology. But I also want to consider the context so I pull back from the close-up of one word and see the bigger picture of the passage. Pull back a little more and I can see how the passage fits into the theme of the section and even the entire book I’m studying. If I  take this macro-vision even further I can see the bigger-bigger picture of the Old or New Testament and finally the whole Bible.

That’s also how we need to look at our lives. Right now, you may be dealing with something very difficult and all your attention is centered on this one thing in your life. It’s all you can see. You are hyper-focused on this single issue, person, or struggle. May I encourage you to pull back just a little and look for the bigger picture? This issue, person, or need is one word in one sentence of one paragraph on one page of your entire life story. But it isn’t your whole story. God has a much bigger picture in mind. The Bible tells stories of people who had a challenge—infertility, oppression, imprisonment, slavery, rejection, even lack of basic life necessities—and God moved in such a way that the resolution to their challenge became a much larger and more God-glorifying part of their story.

I keep going back to Jesus’ words in the upper room: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7). When I want to say, “God I don’t get this; I can’t figure out what happening.” I hear my Lord say, “You can’t grasp it now child, but you will understand when you see the bigger picture.” Beloved, there is a bigger picture. There is a higher purpose. There is so much more to your story than you can see in the moment. Give God your troubles, your struggles, your difficulties, and watch Him unfold something you never imagined. Your life is so much more than this moment. Trust the Author of your life story. He has an eternal ending in store for you.

Just Tell Them About Jesus

Several years ago we made a trip to North Carolina for the wedding of our son in the faith. We rented a car and my husband was excited to find it had built-in GPS. I, however, was not as thrilled. I didn’t trust that thing. Now I depend on mine like a man depends on oxygen, but this was my first personal encounter with one. Fearing it would fail us, I printed out turn-by-turn directions from MapQuest as a “back-up.” All was fine until we got into Tennessee. My directions wanted to take us one way and the GPS wanted to go another. I expressed my concerns forcefully and my husband reluctantly followed my directions. Big mistake. Instead of bypassing Chattanooga, we ended up going right through it and adding time to our trip we could have avoided. Hubby stopped for gas outside of the city and threw my printed directions away. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Do not attempt to use MapQuest to second-guess the GPS. Frustration will follow.

Including in our faith life. Paul confronted the church in Galatia saying, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Gal 3:1). Someone had come to these believers and preached “a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all” causing confusion and “perverting the gospel of Christ” (1:7). Paul’s gospel was simple: Christ was crucified to redeem man from sin and death. He alone gives life to all who believe in Him. The infiltrators were insisting that salvation required adherence to the Mosaic law of circumcision. Paul said, “No!” These are “human commands and teachings that are destined to fail” (Col 2:21-22).

The current version of Christianity tells us we have to say all the right things, think only positive, affirming thoughts, keep a smile on our face, have perfectly behaved kids, and know all the correct church lingo to “prove” our place in God’s people. It’s time to stop. Stop all the rules and expectations and get back to the sweet simplicity of the gospel of Christ Jesus who gave His life to set us free – nothing more and nothing less. Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient to save. There is nothing you or I can add to make it better.

I’m convinced that the world refuses to listen to the church today because we’re still all about the “dos and don’ts.” But they will listen to the gospel. Just give them Jesus, Beloved. That’s all the world needs.

Hebrews: The Faith of a Harlot

I have a list in my Bible taken from the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel of the most unlikely people God chose to use in Israel’s history. Abraham was a liar, twice putting his wife’s life in danger to save his own skin. Jacob, Abraham’s grandson followed in his footsteps as a liar, a thief, and a cheater. Judah cheated his daughter-in-law Tamar out of her rightful place in the family. Tamar tricked Judah into sleeping with her (which he willingly went along with) and impregnating her with twin sons, one of whom, Perez, is in the lineage of Jesus. There is Ruth, a despised Moabitess (a people of mixed heritage), David, an adulterer and murderer, and Solomon, the product of David’s affair, who was a womanizer and idolator.

And let’s not forget Rahab, whom the author of Hebrews identifies as “the prostitute [who] welcomed the spies” (Heb 11:31). Some have tried to clean up her reputation and claim she was “an innkeeper,” and she may have been, but it was a side gig to her regular job as a prostitute. Why, if we’re talking about the Son of God, would the Bible include such unsavory characters? Because liars and adulterers and thieves, and cheaters, and murderers, and womanizers, and idolators, and – yes, prostitutes need Jesus. Just as drug addicts, alcoholics, homosexuals, abortionists, abusers, war-mongers, and rapists do. So do housewives, company presidents, preachers, police officers, school principals, grandparents, farmers – well I think you get the picture. There’s not a soul alive that doesn’t need Him. And the beauty of it is he will never refuse anyone.  He said, Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). That’s good news for those of us with a “colorful” past – or present.

I think there is another reason for including these people. It’s in the introduction the writer used for every person in this chapter. “By faith  . . .” Rahab was everything God’s Law stood against, but Rahab had faith in God. And faith changes everything. Rahab the prostitute (and Gentile) became the heroine of the Jewish nation and the great-great-grandmother of King David. Faith turns the unlikeliest sinners into saints – even better – into the image-bearers of Christ (Rom 8:29). Rahab assures us that no one is too far gone for God. Not your spouse, neighbor, or hard-headed kid. Not even you, Beloved.  All it takes is faith.

When You Feel Yourself Falling

It's easy to lose your balance in this crazy world. You need something strong and stable "When You Feel Yourself Falling." Check it out at Deeper Roots.

I lost my balance this morning. I felt myself tilting backward so I aimed for the wall behind me. When my back made contact, I immediately stopped stumbling. I let my body fall against the solid structure of the wall and it held me upright until I could regain my footing. If the wall had not been there, if it had not been a firm edifice, I would have hit the floor and probably caused some bodily damage at my age. I’m so grateful that wall was there for me to lean on.

I was talking to a friend recently about how the world had changed so much in just my lifetime. We’ve seen incredible advances in technology, education, health care, and pretty much every area of life. But we’ve also seen a drastic downturn in morality, responsibility, and integrity. It’s enough to make your head spin – and throw you off-balance. How do you and I regain firm footing in this chaotic environment? Two things come to mind.

Solomon – the great king of wisdom said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight (Prov 3:5-6). To keep our balance you and I must trust in and lean on God. The idea is the same as me leaning into the wall to keep from falling. God is the only secure place to stand when everything around us is in a state of flux. How grateful I am that God does not change (Mal 3:6).

The psalmist declared, “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ Your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought Joy to my soul” (Psalms 94:18-19). In all the confusion that surrounds us, there is one constant you and I can trust: God’s love. Just as I leaned against the wall for support, I lean against Him, the one sure and solid force that I can trust. I regain my balance in His goodness, kindness, grace, and never-ending, never-failing, ever-faithful love.

It really is a challenge to stay stable in this unstable world, but it’s not impossible when you lean on and trust in God and His love. Beloved, when the world around you is spinning, nothing and no one is more secure and sure.