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.

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!

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!

 

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!

The Golden Tumors


Today’s blog post concerns the words of the Philistines in 1 Samuel 6. I have read this passage many times, and not once did it occur to me how absolutely ridiculous the pagans were in response to God’s wrath against them. Check this out!

1.The ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months.And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us with what we shall send it to its place.” They said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why his hand does not turn away from you.” And they said, “What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him?” They answered, “Five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines, for the same plague was on all of you and on your lords. So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you and your gods and your land. Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had dealt severely with them, did they not send the people away, and they departed? Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never come a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. And take the ark of the Lord and place it on the cart and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way and watch. If it goes up on the way to its own land, to Beth-shemesh, then it is he who has done us this great harm, but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that struck us; it happened to us by coincidence.” (ESV)

As it turns out, as soon as they set the cows free, the animals plodded along to Beth-Shemesh, and what a rejoicing it was to the people of that region!

But…why all the protocol in the first place, when all the Philistines had to do was hook up a wagon or whatnot and send it on its way?

So so easy to make fun of those stupid Philistines. What neanderthals. But y’all, if we don’t stop and consider how we do the same thing, then what is the point of this chapter in the Good Book?

Don’t believe me? Then think about how we all ritualize our lives! It doesn’t even have to apply to our relationship with God. What is a ritual if not a series of steps achieved to arrive at a certain goal? For example – we can’t relax if we don’t first complete A,B, and C. Our child isn’t properly Christian if it’s not christened. Our child isn’t properly Christian if it is.

God didn’t make up these rules – man did. And yet we accuse one another of blaspheming the Lord if people don’t do things our way. And yet all this posturing, this false hoping, this process – is putting a golden tumor on a slab of wood and sending it off with desperate prayers to one god or idol or another in hopes of success.

The only success we can possibly have is with God, and He doesn’t require elaborate reinventions of the wheel, y’all! He just wants us.

We don’t have to make Him complicated. He is already so far out of our reach it’s not funny. We will never be able to understand Who and What He is. He just is, and as A.W. Tozer wrote, we should spend time contemplating that. How big and wide and deep His love – His very being, which is love – is. Tozer went on to write that we are secularizing our religion.

By including these tumors, and the elaborate steps the Philistines took to try to please a god they did not know, all they did was add unnecessary work! What were the Philistines, if not Gentiles? And had they stopped for a moment to ponder the implications, they could have found the True God – the Truth – and let go of their pagan ways. But they didn’t, and y’all, even us Christians don’t really do that.

Tozer was SO right when he wrote that we try to compartmentalize God so that we bring Him down to our level. By believing in and worshiping pagan gods, people are able to bring “order” to their lives. But they simply complicate it! There is no order! God is HUGE. He doesn’t operate in a way that we can box in. A way that we can fully understand, and that’s the beautiful mystery of it all!

The Census That Really Mattered


I confess – when reading the first chapter of the Book of Numbers, I skipped over most of it.

Come on! A lot of names and numbers (no pun intended). But there are two things in the first 50 verses that just jump off the pages at me! And they are the following:

“The Lord spoke to Moses” (v. 1)

“For the Lord said” (v. 47)

What do you think that felt like for him? Have you ever thought about it? I have. Mostly because it made me feel like less of a freak in today’s world. When you tell people that God speaks to you – in His own voice sometimes – they look at you like you just stepped off the non-denominational crazy train into their presence. That’s no slur against non-doms. They are what they are and that’s their business. But in a good ‘ole Southern Baptist church, that’s not what folks are expecting to hear.

So I posed four questions to God about it this morning. Am I just super-lucky and blessed? Or do I just pay attention? Or is it part of Your plan that I don’t know yet? Or all three?

In case you’re wondering, He did not speak an answer to that. Guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

However, in this first chapter, something else interesting happens – God commands Moses to make a census. And he gets nothing like the information gleaned from one our country does periodically. As someone who has analyzed the data, I can tell you that for sure!

What God seems to want to know is how many men are of fighting age. Why? Well, keep reading the Old Testament, my friends, and you’ll figure out real quick. But then…something important is decided.

There are 12 tribes of Israel, but only the Levites (who become Levitical priests) are called not to fight. The reason is that He wants them to take care of the Tabernacle (the Temple tent that God dwelt in before a stone-and-mortar  building was erected much, much later).

See in Numbers 1: 50-51 “But appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and over all that belongs to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it and shall camp around the tabernacle. When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.“

So then, it begs the question – am I a fighter or a priest? Or – am I both?

You see, war is necessary. I don’t think all – or even most – of the wars fought throughout history were needed. But some of them were. And I do not have the character or moral fiber to fight in a war. At least, not a war between humans.

The answer, friends, is both. I am both a fighter and a “priest” – in the sense of someone who is responsible for taking care of my church, and the Christian Church as a whole. And what war do I fight? Why, the Battle Between Good and Evil. Otherwise known as the war between God and satan.

That war, y’all, has been going on since the beginning of time, practically. It rages every moment of every day. And you and I are a part of it. Check out Priscilla Shirer’s Bible study called The Armor of God and you will see what I mean. She can explain WAY better than I.

Today, the Church has a battle to fight – for our souls and the souls of others. But we also have a Church to take care of. Blessed God! He gave us multiple ways of doing so, using our gifts and talents He bestowed through the Holy Spirit.  I think this Bible.org post lists them in a clear and concise way.

Go forth, my brothers and sisters, and use your gifts to bless, serve, and protect each other – and those people who need Christ. We are called to do it! It is part of the commission we have been given. Blessings to you!