The Love of God


Ephesians 3: 18  “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.”

Oh! And all God’s people said, “Amen!”

When someone is about to confide in me but hesitates, I often say, “Look. I’ve done and seen pretty much everything there is to do and see. I won’t be offended and I won’t be surprised.”

It’s the truth. If I were to list off my sins, my mistakes – well, many of you who know me would actually be offended, because it would blow your mind how different I am today than I was even a decade ago.

Beth Moore says one reason we can’t understand God is that we try to humanize Him. Oh sweet Lord, how true that is. When we try to grasp how much – or how, period – He loves us, we can come up short.

Oh, especially when we’ve lived lives unsure of the love of anyone, right? The love of any human being? And when – if we’re lucky – we find out that we were wrong – that he or she – or they – actually do love us, well – that presents a beautiful challenge.

What do we do with our lives when we realize we were living them under the wrong assumption or belief? The first thing that we understand, friends, is the depth of the mistakes we made because we believed we were unworthy of love.

So – what constitutes an unforgivable offense here? Just by looking at my life, and the lives of people I know, here’s a quick list I compiled.

“God couldn’t love me because I’ve had too many sexual partners.”

“God couldn’t love me because I lied – all the time.”

“God couldn’t love me because I manipulated people and tried to control them.”

“God couldn’t love me because I had a baby out of wedlock.”

“God couldn’t love me because I haven’t lived a mature, responsible life. I’m not a success, I’m sometimes lazy, and I don’t make as much money as I should. It’s my own fault.”

“God couldn’t love me because I have doubted His love for me for years.”

“God couldn’t love me because I got divorced.”

“God couldn’t love me because I don’t look, think, or act like all those other Christians.”

You know what? Beth Moore also said that belief is not a feeling – it is a choice. And she is right. Some days or moments it’s easy to feel God’s love. Because it was a “good” day – no one got mad at you and you didn’t make an insanely huge screw-up. Or something bad has happened and God came through for you in a big way.

But most days we’re just human. We make mistakes, hurt someone, or let someone down. Maybe we get in trouble at work, at school, or at home. And satan comes strolling into that hot mess and just tells us how worthless we are. And if you’ve heard those words come out of the mouths of people, his voice sounds an awful lot like theirs. And you believe it.

You have a choice, my friends. The choice to believe the Word, not the words of satan, not the words of people who are also screwed up and don’t know how to love you like they should.

Make the choice. And while you’re at it, encourage someone today. You never know, y’all. You never know how much they might need it.

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The Freedom of Biblical Law


That’s an oxymoron, right? Modern-day Christians are given one axiom in regards to the Old Testament law versus the love-driven, Spirit-driven, Jesus-driven life of the New – and that is that the Law no longer applies. This belief – this precept – is pounded into us.

We like it that way, don’t we? That way, all we have to do is love. And that provides us the perfect shelter of all kinds of wonderful things – pre-marital sex and homosexuality to name two current topics of intense debate and discussion (although we gloss over pre-marital sex and living with our partners pretty quickly.) In the name of love, we can love whomever we want to – and then take it further. We can sin with total abandon.

If I haven’t lost you already, please keep reading. Because what we are being told chokes us – the Law – is in point of fact what sets us free. Christ said, “you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32). Of course He was referring to the Word, and y’all, the Word includes the Old Testament. That’s right.

Don’t be frightened by this. Consider the good news of Hebrew 10:1 in that “the Law has but a shadow of the good things to come.”

Whoa! Consider what Beth Moore said on the subject of this verse – and this doctrine – “The law poured concrete into God’s mold for human relationships, but it also whispered a kingdom to come in which order, sanity, health, and decency dwell under the safe shadow of Christ’s scepter. Jesus’ second coming will usher in a world in which children can’t be sold for sex or shot in their schoolrooms.”

The key world here is “order.” Not “sacrifice” or “altar” – “order.” The Law of the ancient prophets isn’t applicable in that we don’t have to go through a priest to get to Christ or to God, and we don’t have to sacrifice animals and food to please God and ask for forgiveness, or even to celebrate what He has done for us.

But the Law is much more than that. Matthew Henry, a wise man whom I use often to discover the context of verses that, on their own, mean one thing, but taken as a whole with a chapter or book, can mean quite another – put it like this: “Here the apostle (meaning Paul, the author of Hebrews), by the direction of the Spirit of God, sets himself to lay low the Levitical dispensation; for though it was of divine appointment, and very excellent and useful in its time and place, yet, when it was set up in competition with Christ, to whom it was only designed to lead the people, it was very proper and necessary to show the weakness and imperfection of it, which the apostle does effectually, from several arguments. As, [t]hat the law had a shadow, and but a shadow, of good things to come; and who would dote upon a shadow, though of good things, especially when the substance has come? Observe, 1. The things of Christ and the gospel are good things; they are the best things; they are best in themselves, and the best for us: they are realities of an excellent nature. 2. These good things were, under the Old Testament, good things to come, not clearly discovered, nor fully enjoyed. 3. That the Jews then had but the shadow of the good things of Christ, some adumbrations of them; we under the gospel have the substance.

First of all, what is “Levitical dispensation?” Well, “Levitical” refers to the Levites, a segment of the Israelits of the Old Testament set aside as priests. Easton’s Bible dictionary defines “dispensation” as “[t]he method or scheme according to which God carries out his purposes towards men is called a dispensation.” Therefore, how the Levites carried out God’s plan towards their fellow men, while of “divine appointment,” could not compete with Christ. At the time, it was a necessary thing for the Israelites. But Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection denied its usefulness when that curtain in the Temple was rent in two!

Matthew Henry acknowledges that the Law had its own weaknesses – and you don’t have to guess what the most important one was. It was that no one could follow it to the letter. And even if a person did, the sheer willpower of doing so would delete all actual closeness with God, because there would be nothing genuine left over to give to Him. God knew that. He wanted to give them a blueprint for how to live their lives in a pleasing manner to him and to each other. Here is the key point: to each other. He gave them direction, He provided a way out of immoral and chaotic worldly living. And when they – inevitably – screwed it all up, He gave them a way to make peace with Him, with each other, and with themselves.

But the ultimate goal wasn’t the Law – it was the love of Christ. Grace, mercy, and forgiveness do not negate the Law – they make it possible. By that, I mean they make our lives worth living when we fail. All the sins the Law listed are still, in essence, sins today. Some of them are more about what we feel and believe in our hearts rather than what we act out, but they are real, and they are relevant.

The Law brings freedom because it ushers Christ into His rightful seat at the table, folks. Just like we know our kids need boundaries for security reasons – and not just physical safety – we know in our hearts we need rules and order to survive what is truly an anarchic world – but taking it further into the depths of those very same hearts, we know we need the Law to thrive in it!

Blessings y’all!

Quality of Life – God’s Way


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What does quality of life mean to you? Well, Google defines it as “the standard of health, comfort, and happiness experienced by an individual or group.”

The question is, who decides that standard? Because the world is what creates that benchmark, and because the world operates quite differently from God’s word, you’re always going to come up short by defining your quality of life on worldly canons such as money, fame, recognition, success, your career, the appearance of perfection in your life (including your spouse and children and other family members), popularity, how many followers you have on Facebook or Twitter, etc.

Joyce Meyer made an excellent point about quality of life. She wrote, “It’s not the things that happen to us that determine the quality of our lives; it’s how we respond to those things…how much we trust God with them. Doing what we want and getting our way all the time isn’t what will make us happy. Being selfish and self-centered is actually a miserable way to live.”

I know what you might be thinking – how you would really, really love to get your way all the time! That having things worked out to your specifications would be just great. Take it from someone who’s living that way a lot of the time – that’d be me – it’s not true. She’s right – it is absolutely miserable because I know it’s wrong and it’s not fair to others, and since I’m used to pushing people around sometimes to get what I want, it’s a hard habit to break.

The world would call that ambition, or even excellence – if it only happened at work. Other women might applaud me for being “strong.” But here’s  the thing, y’all – taking advantage of others and feeling entitled are not signs of strength; they’re actually signals of great weakness.

It is meekness – humility – that make a person strong. Kindness. Love. Generosity (with money and time). Consider Acts 20:35 – “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

How about Colossians 3: 12-14: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

End Times – & All That Jazz


End-timers. You know the ones. They can be found around dinner tables, in their churches (with their pastors preaching about it!), and huddled in friendly groups, their voices high-pitched and their eyes casting anxiously about. For you. Many of them are looking for you.

You know the ones. The ones who aren’t saved. The ones who aren’t believers in the Word of God. OR – get this – the ones who are, but don’t agree with them.

I’m one of the latter. I have had this argument shoved in my face more times than I can count. It drives me batty, but I’ve come to realize that from people I know, it comes from a well-meaning place. Sort of.

Many times, I have tried to get my opinion – what I believe the Bible says – across to others. I don’t think I’ve ever actually been able to articulate it properly. Then, voila! Today I came across Acts 17: 30-31.

30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: 31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

Before you decide I’m trying to scare you just as much as radical end-timers, hear me out. I realized why I want you think about end times.

Because if you aren’t saved, if you don’t believe in Christ – guess what? You aren’t living right now. Right now – these are YOUR end times. You’re stuck, you’re in despair, you’re afraid of your own shadow – you are, in short, entirely miserable. And you don’t have to be!

Yes, the Bible tells us of signs that will occur when Christ comes back. And yes, I am one of those Christians who – personally – wants Him to come on! But on the other hand, what do end-timers miss?

The point – the entire point of Christ’s coming in the first place. To save. To heal. If the end times come quickly, how many lives will be lost to hell? Think about that, y’all. We still have time to usher others to Christ!

So here’s my take on end-times, if you’re still with me (and I hope you are). Nobody can tell when they’re coming. And pretending that we’re in them and you know it, especially if you’re a pastor, is a scare tactic. And thundering that opinion that we are in the face of other Christians is beyond rude. I’m sorry, but it is. We have enough petty, divisive issues we all need to get over, brothers and sisters. This is certainly one of them.

The Word says He will come “like a thief in the night.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). So there it is. If you can predict when a thief will target your home, then by all means – get in my face. Otherwise, keep your fears and your anger to yourselves. Please? Thank you.

I want y’all to experience the love of Christ. That’s my mission – my purpose. I know I have a ways to go! But I know I have been redeemed, my guilt and shame cast away, because of His love. That’s a wonderful thing! Blessings!

Minding Your Own Beeswax & Whatnot


Oooooh, goody goody! I found a passage in Thessalonians that just made my heart sing! Some very simple verses caught my attention, and I promise I have done my due diligence in finding out what Bible commentator Matthew Henry says, but I can’t wait to add my own thoughts!

1 Thessalonians 4: Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

It’s actually verses 11-12 that I wish to have you consider this morning. So here we go!

  1. “To aspire to live quietly.” Henry’s observations coincided quite nicely with mine on this one. If you, like me, are not quiet by nature, this portion can be disheartening. But Henry and I agree that it means to have “a calm and quiet temper, and to be of a peaceable and quiet behavior.”

Whoops. He got me there at the end. Well, we can all agree that peace is of the utmost importance in this life when it comes to living a godly life. We aren’t to seek strife. We aren’t even to be striving all the time! Being calm and peaceful in a tense or negative situation is our aim. But Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time for war and for peace (chapter three, verse eight) – basically a time for every purposed under heaven. So it’s the learning when to stay quiet and when to talk that’s difficult.

I think an excellent point about living a quiet life is akin to living a simple life. Complications steal our joy and peace, and while we all have to cope with complications every now and then, we don’t have to go looking for them – bringing them on ourselves!

For instance, as a mom, I have a choice: to employ my kids’ time in activities non-stop or to halt all the nonsense. It is nonsense! If your child has some ah-mazing athletic or musical gift, that’s one thing. But if you’re using sports and other extracurricular activities as babysitting or just because everyone else does i, you’re missing the point of a quiet life! SO many people complain about their time being sucked up by myriad events each week – even missing church on a regular basis! Well, y’all, you’re doing it to yourself.

2. “To mind your own affairs.” Well, this couldn’t be more clear! Henry explains why this causes a problem in our lives by stating the following: “Those who are busy-bodies, meddling in other men’s matters, generally have but little quiet in their own minds and cause great disturbances among their neighbors; at least they seldom mind the other exhortation, to be diligent in their own calling.”

Wow, Mr. Henry. Don’t sugarcoat it or anything! You see, he points out what we already know from personal experience – meddling in others’ problems just creates disquiet – angst – in our hearts!

3. “To work with your own hands” – this exhortation is two-fold, so let’s take the first. Does this mean that a businessman in a suit and tie, in a nicely temperature-controlled office, is doing something wrong?

No, it doesn’t. Works is work. Is physical labor more difficult than mental labor? Having done both, I’d have to answer in the affirmative. But that’s not what Paul is writing to the Thessalonians about!

What he meant was the work that God has called you to do. And that’s not necessarily your job. A pastor is working with his or her hands every moment, pretty much. Their work and their calling are the same. But what if, like my own husband, you have an office job and talent working on cars?

He’s in luck because twice a year, our church hosts a car-care service project. But if my husband only put those skills in serving others to use twice a year, he’d be wasting one of the gifts God gave him to help others! Instead, when he sees a need he pitches in, often spending his own money to do so. I could resent the time that occasionally takes away from his own family, but it clearly is a talent that he’s using to serve others. The work of his hands! Quite literally!

The work of your hands may be tutoring, singing in the church choir, teaching at school or at church – the things that come naturally to you are the things that God uses as your work. Now, when I typed the word “naturally” I had to remind myself of Moses.

Moses had zero desire to speak before Pharoah about God. Heck, he wasn’t too keen on going back to Egypt at all, seeing as how he murdered an Egyptian and that’s why we was out in the blasted desert in the first place! Not only did he have a fear of public speaking, but also he had a fear of being punished for murder!

Sometimes God takes our fears and erases them. Others He works with our natural abilities. In Moses’ case, He used his brother Aaron as the speaker. But Moses was the true leader! What might not seem natural to you at first can quite quickly become a natural talent.

Avoiding using these talents to serve God doesn’t just do Him a disservice!

4. “So that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” Henry wrote that the command to use the work of our hands “is enforced with a double argument; namely, So we shall live creditably. Thus we shall walk honestly, or decently and creditably, towards those that are without.”

God is clear – it’s not honest living to keep our gifts to ourselves. My husband could use his talent of working on cars to only serve our own family. That wouldn’t cost him as much money as it would to give that service away to someone else – even a stranger!

We once gave an old car away to a single mother. When we did, we put in the most expensive battery we could buy, knowing she wouldn’t have the money to replace it. At the very least, it bought her some time.

Does that make us super-special Christians? NOT AT ALL! Following God’s commands – obeying what He tells us to do – doesn’t make anyone super-special. It’s just what we’re expected to do.

Go be a blessing with your talents and gifts today!

 

The Work of Faith


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John 6: 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

The Bible passage above is quite a revelation! I think it means that when we think of “work” and how it relates to our salvation, we think of “works” instead. Good works. Living a godly life. The phrase that easily convinces us that good works get us into heaven far more believably than simply believing in Christ does.

So, we spend most of our lives trying to “be good,” and if you’re like me, failing miserably at it. Which then leads to confusion over our own salvation. And because no one wants to talk about their own sin, we believe we’re the only ones who are such miserable failures. Even when someone prominent, like a transparent pastor, admits to his or her own sins, we think – nah. It’s just a story. It doesn’t count because surely this person is so amazing and Spirit-filled that he/she is going to heaven no matter what.

John makes it clear, y’all. The “work” of faith is simply faith.

If you think that sounds easy, then you haven’t had your faith sorely tested yet! Mine is on a regular basis. But then, I’m a cynical, distrustful person. So faith is super-hard for me. Even those of you who see the best in people – who are so darn optimistic – there will come times in your lives when your faith is put into question, and Jesus is telling us that it is those times when the “work” comes into play.

 

Change of Plans


When I got married the second time around, I had a job. I rather liked it. It required definite use of brain cells. Being a mom, much of the job is menial, tedious, mind-numbing work. It doesn’t take a genius to wash clothes and wipe booties.

Well, six months later I was laid off. A second baby was well on the way. Did I ever picture that as my life? Of course not! I had big dreams, like most people. As a teenager, I read The Lost City.  Never again did I want to be an ordinary journalist. I wanted to some day work at a foreign news desk. For The Washington Post!  I never made it out of middle-sized small town papers. Thank God. I would have sucked at being a reporter at a bigger place. I just wasn’t meant to do it, I guess.

So not one of those big dreams came true. Because it’s just not what my life is supposed to be, and you know what? I’m ok with that. Because my big dreams are different now. Maybe not as exciting in the world’s eyes, but they’re pretty major to me.

I’m reading Discerning the Voice of God by Priscilla Shirer. Today’s quote that sent me hurrying to blog is this: “If we don’t prepare to modify our plans, we will end up more and frustrated and overwhelmed.”

As women who marry and intend to – one day – have children, inevitably, we are surprised when they come. We aren’t just “not ready” – we don’t always want one right then. We have jobs. A social life. Spontaneity. And then we rearrange our lives for a period of time – forever or just six weeks or so – and change course. That’s our new direction.

Maybe we want a second child – in theory. I did. Guess what day I decided maybe I didn’t? Yep. The same day I found out I was pregnant with said second child. I am not kidding. It was probably an hour before I took the pregnancy test.

Wowza. Change course again. New life begins. Life gets more complicated.

I admit I have been adrift for years. It’s very unpleasant. It’s only been about six months since things really began to look up. Prior to that, I did not know what the plan was, so I kept doing what I was doing. Being a wife and mom. A writer. A nose-wiper. A daughter, friend, and neighbor.

It isn’t that now I see some deep plan unfolding in a vision. It’s an energy I feel. I know something different is on the way!

If your life is stuck, pray. If your life is moving forward and you aren’t sure exactly where God is taking it, pray! He might not reveal all just yet. But Shirer is right – you don’t want to be frustrated and overwhelmed when you suddenly wake up and realize your entire life plan has changed and you somehow forgot!