Waiting Well

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But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Waiting seems to be the antithesis of everything 21st century America. Our modern culture is unaccustomed to the idea of waiting. We are conditioned to instant gratification with immediate results. We generally do not wait well. Maybe it’s just me. In the days of Jesus, time moved more slowly. They didn’t hop in the car and arrive at their destination miles away within an hour. If the destination was 40 miles away, that was approximately two days of walking. Just imagine that for a minute. Perhaps there is something deeply rooted in the concept that it is not about the destination but the journey itself. If Jesus could have arrived at His destination within minutes rather than days, what miracles would have been missed, what parables would never have been taught.

Lately it feels like I am doing the thing I dislike the most: waiting. When I read the words of Isaiah, “they who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength,” it has made me consider the impact waiting has on my life. Do I often feel like my strength is renewed when I wait? Honestly, I do not. I had to wait for news from the vet about blood work on my dog, and it took about a week. The wait felt long, and it was mentally draining. All the questions left unanswered in the wait. All the worst-case scenarios playing through my mind. No, I definitely did not feel renewed. At least, not until I surrendered it to the Lord–regardless of what the outcome would be. Jesus kindly and patiently has been teaching me that I may not know the answer, but I know the One who does. And He is good. He is faithful. And He is trustworthy. He will be my strength, no matter what may come.

Jesus has been teaching me a beautiful lesson in recent months of my life. I have never been a patient waiter. Knowing and being fully informed makes me feel like I am in control. If I can be prepared, then I will be okay. At least that’s how I once operated. Growth happens in the in-between. Think about the prayers you have prayed throughout your life. What if God had answered them immediately and had answered them exactly as you imagined?! Are you cringing? I am. I am so thankful that God has NOT answered my prayers when and how I have asked. That alone should fuel my faith. He has never once let me down. Sure, in the moments I have not always understood what He was doing nor have I always liked it. But I can see through the gift of hindsight, how loving His answers have been.

My prayer, and the desire of my heart, has been “Help my unbelief. Teach me what it means to truly trust You.” Faith is rarely grown instantaneously. Were it to be so, then would it really faith? When we are waiting for something, we often have several choices. We could be like Sarah in the Old Testament, who grew weary of waiting for God to fulfill His promise to Abraham to make him the father of many nations. She decided to take matters into her own hands and get ahead of God’s timing. In doing so, she made life more difficult for herself, her servant, Hagar, Hagar’s son, and her future son. She chose to give Abraham a son through her servant and didn’t wait for God’s timing. God faithfully fulfilled His promise to Abraham, as He does, but she tried to force His timing and His plan, thus bringing unnecessary trials and heartache to her family. What blessings did she miss due to her lack of patience and faith?

Sometimes, as we wait, we manage it by working ourselves into an anxious tizzy. Or we look for signs everywhere to point us in the direction we want to go, convinced it is God’s hand. Or we choose to not wait at all and bulldoze ahead into whatever disaster awaits at the end of our lack of patience. However, the wisest choice for while we wait is to persist in prayer. Pray and learn to recognize and yield to the voice of the Holy Spirit within us. Faith is matured while we wait. Many, many times I have jumped ahead of God’s timing, not waiting on the Lord. Those times were filled with a lack of peace, a lack of strength, and weariness. When we wait on the Lord, however, we experience renewal, refreshing, and strength beyond our limits. Isaiah said those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength. The key is to wait on the Lord.

My life is in a season of waiting. As I mentioned before, I don’t wait well. Yet, I am learning to be appreciative of the waiting periods. I have had to wait on inconsequential things, but I have learned to pray about even those. God, in His faithfulness, has helped me to see and to recognize that if I didn’t have to wait as I did, then I would not have experienced the joy in the answered prayers I have received. Sometimes, waiting has resulted in an answer to a prayer, only different than how I thought the Father would answer, and I grew in understanding of the wisdom and knowledge of God. My faith is growing. The answer to my prayer for helping me overcome my unbelief has been to wait on the Lord. Waiting on the Lord is a gift all by itself. As I wait for the Lord, my relationship with Him grows stronger. My intimacy with Him increases. My delight in Him explodes. Waiting on the Lord teaches me about the character and nature of relationship with God. It is priceless. It is inexplicable.

I have been waiting several months to hear back about a book contract through an agent. The struggle is real in the waiting. The doubts come unbidden. Did I hear Him wrong? The assaults from the enemy hiss at my insecurity. I’m still waiting. But I can, with confidence, say, I know who I have believed, and I trust He is working this out for His glory and my good. I have this certainty that God is moving in my life and about to bring some change into it. I don’t know what it is going to be or how it will manifest, but I am waiting on Him to see what will be. At church, I don’t really know my role anymore or to what God is calling me. I know I feel like the outcast, but I also know that God will use this trial to achieve His plan and His purpose, and it is so far beyond my human understanding and beyond me. But it will be good. Sometimes what we think God has called us to shifts and changes, and as we wait on Him, we learn what it means to trust Him. We see that He is good and He is kind and He is faithful. At work, I left the other day feeling utterly demoralized, asking myself, what am I doing? Asking God, is this what You have for me? When I am waiting in my own strength and power on my own wants and selfish desires, I grow faint and weary. But as I wait on the Lord, I experience a renewal that is unachievable in my own strength. If God is doing an entire recharting of my course, I know I can trust Him. I have learned that I no longer need immediate answers. I have learned a secret in my relationship with Jesus that fuels my faith and empowers me to wait well: as I wait on Him, He invites me into a deeper knowledge, understanding, and relationship with Him. He reveals Himself to me. He lets me know Him, find Him, and do life with Him. And THAT is where the joy and peace are found.

I don’t know what God is doing in my world right now. When I view it through my own human lens, in some ways, it can feel overwhelming and somewhat hopeless. But I know my God is with me and is saying to wait for Him to show me the next step. Not the next fifty steps, just the next one. Waiting is abiding in Jesus. What a gift! Whatever you are waiting on from the Lord today, trust Him to continue waiting for His hand to guide and direct you. Believe Him. Abide in Him. And watch in wonder as He takes you to places with Him you never could have imagined.

The Sacrificial Lamb

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“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

If you know me at all, you know that I love animals. I thank God that He is Creator, and in His wisdom, love, and sovereignty, He created the innumerable animals that He did. When an innocent animal is injured, wounded, or mistreated, I feel it deep inside of me. I hate the thought of helpless ones being hurt. I have often quoted the verse from Proverbs 12:10 that says, “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast.” God created the animals that walk the earth in Genesis and declared His own creation, “good.” So I feel quite justified in my love for the furry beasts God created. Reading the book of Leviticus can be a shock to one’s senses when you stop to focus on the number of animals sacrificed under the old covenant. Death only entered the scene following the sin of Adam and Eve. Death was the result of sin, and subsequently, sin required the shedding of blood to be atoned for and forgiven.

As I was reading in the Word, I was struck again by the loss of life to animals for the sacrifice of sin. I contemplated that concept for a while, and I found myself at the cross, where it was no animal that was sacrificed for sin. No, it was the perfect and sinless Son of God, Jesus Christ. He came to die and to fulfill the old covenant. He came to die, once for all, to cover my sins and yours and, thus, rendering us no longer in need of a sacrifice of goat or ram to atone for our sins. Even as Jesus was introduced by John the Baptist in John 1:29, we learn that He was always the Lamb of God with His mission on earth never wavering: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

How calloused have we become to the high price Jesus paid for our sins? How ambivalent are we to the physical anguish and mental suffering Jesus endured? We have become so focused on the love of God that we have discounted what His grace cost. Did the Israelites take sin more seriously because of the planning and forethought of the offerings and sacrifices? They had to do it repeatedly. Did this make them more aware of the deep need for atonement? I am so thankful I was born under the new law, following the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. However, do we take grace for granted? Perhaps the better question is: how can I not take the grace and gift of Jesus for granted? Those of us who are “churched” can easily become desensitized to what Jesus did for us, for it is a truth we have known for years. Consider the excitement of a brand new believer. The idea that the perfect love of Jesus compelled Him to come to earth as a human and humble Himself to the point of death on the cross for our sins is astounding to those new to the faith.

This concept made me contemplate ways I could keep the grace of Jesus and the price He paid at the forefront of my relationship with Him. I know that when we are forgiven of our sins, Jesus removes them from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12); however, there is a reason we do not forget our sins. To forget all from which we have been forgiven causes us to forget our great God and Father, and the gift of His love and grace to us in Jesus the Son. Yes, we are all born sinners, and we ALL must recognize our desperate need for a Savior. Yet, for me, I count myself among the worst of sinners. I am the Samaritan woman. I am the woman who threw herself at the feet of Jesus, anointing them with tears and drying them with her hair. I am the woman who has been as judgmental as the Pharisees. I am the woman who is the prodigal son (daughter), and I, too, have been the brother of the prodigal son who was angry and self-righteous. I need Jesus as much as I need my next breath, more so, in fact. I need Jesus every single minute of every single day. I am not okay without Him.

All of these things bring me back to Isaiah 53, where it talks about the Suffering Servant and all Jesus would endure when the Messiah came. He was despised. He was rejected. He was a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He was stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. For both our intentional and unintentional sins. His wounds brought us healing. Our peace with God cost Him dearly. The Lord laid on Jesus the iniquity of all humanity. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted. And He willingly did it all to pay the price that my sins and yours demanded. Why? Because it pleased God. Why? Because God loved us so much He did not want us eternally separated from Him.

Life is not about the right here and the right now. The brevity of life and the sacrifice of Christ should be the motivator to live with eternity in mind. Do you love Jesus? Do you know how loved by Jesus you are? When we fully grasp all that Jesus did for us on the cross of Calvary, we should be bowing at His feet in worship, washing His feet with our tears. Why? Because, “our “her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47) Do you find yourself complacent in your walk with Jesus? Do you feel like He is far away from you? Have you lost the joy you once felt when you came to know Christ? It is high time for the church of Jesus Christ to remember and to act on what we know is true about God and His love for us. Jesus’ return grows ever nearer. There is no better day than today to hit our knees, repent, and receive the times of refreshing that will come from the Lord Jesus (Acts 3:19-20). Our sins cost Jesus His very life. The only One who didn’t need a sacrifice for sin was the very One who offered Himself as THE sacrifice for sin.

Easter is approaching. Don’t let it come and go as just another holiday on the calendar. Walk the path that Jesus took to the cross, knowing every step toward Calvary, He did for you and for me. He took the steps we could not. He died a sinner’s death meant for us. Let it change the way we live for Him. Life is not in the abundance of one’s possessions. Life is found at the foot of the cross and in the empty tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ. His life brought us healing. His death brought us forgiveness. His resurrection brought us freedom. Remember the cross and the cost!

But God

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“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!” Ephesians 2:4-5

In 2016, I wrote a Bible study entitled, “But God.” It was the sort of thing that only could have happened by the power of the Holy Spirit. Deep down, I knew I wanted to write a book someday. I have loved books and loved words for as long as I can remember. During my childhood days, I even started my own neighborhood newspaper. I guess I fancied myself a reporter and was determined to do what I could even then to put words on paper and spread it around. Now, mind you, those newspapers most likely came at great cost to my elderly neighbors who let me invade their space, and their woods, for more hours than they would have liked. I was keeping tabs on the goings-on of the neighborhood (which was not a metropolis by any means–picture several houses set on acres in the middle of the country). I created a plethora of articles and short stories, hand wrote them, and delivered them. The Sunny Side News. I was in all my glory. I loved every minute of it. As a girl, I would save my money and beg to be taken to the bookstore to buy a new book, which never lasted me any time at all. To this day, I am a voracious reader and consider myself book poor because that is my favorite way to spend money.

In 2016, my beloved grandmother died. She was the matriarch, who also loved to read. I remember saying to her many times throughout the years, “Someday, I am going to write a book.” Yet the first words I ever wrote that were read aloud were the words I penned for her eulogy and read at her funeral. I get choked up just thinking about it. Somehow, I knew then that I would not let her down, and I WOULD write a book someday. But God, who has His own plans and His own ways, also determined that I would write a book. Yet the book He had ordained for me to write was not of the fictional sort that my grandmother and I both enjoyed. One morning, about five months following Mamaw’s funeral, I was on a run. And I loved to talk to God on my runs. On that particular day, I was praying and trying to determine which Bible study He would like me to do next, what was it that God was wanting to teach me? I had just finished a fantastic Bible study about the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years. And I felt the Holy Spirit whisper quietly in my spirit, “Do not begin a new Bible study. The time has come for you to write one.” I pondered that as I ran on, and excitement grew within me. I thought and asked God, “Peter, Lord? Do you want me to write about Peter and his life?” I relate to Peter. I am the 21st century, female version of Peter, though way more flawed and way less holy. I was already outlining in my head all the things. But I felt the Holy Spirit say, “Not Peter. Joshua.” I kid you not, I stopped in the street, and said back to Him, “Joshua? Like fought the battle of Jericho, Joshua?” I knew then it was exactly what God wanted me to do.

Each morning, I rose early, and with little confidence, I pulled out my MacBook to begin to write. Every single morning, I depended on God to lead, to guide, and to direct. And every single morning, I set beside my Bible, my notes, and my commentaries, the Bible study written by an actual, well-known author that I wanted to do, just in case God didn’t show up and give me the words to write. But God did. Every day, I faithfully showed up with Him, and He faithfully directed me until the entire Bible study was written. The completed work itself was the very definition of a “But God” moment. I had my plans, my dreams, my thoughts, but God has His own for me. What a blessing it was to surrender my wants and wishes to Him and to allow Him to work in me and do His thing, getting me out of the way.

Upon the completion of writing this study and sharing the story with a small group of ladies who I considered friends, one of their husbands commented on the title of it. She told me he had made a joke about what is a “But God?” I laughed along, and honestly, I took a measure of personal offense to it. But shook it off because writers must be prepared for extensive criticism of their works. However, our God is entirely the “But God” of the Bible. I began to pay close attention to how many times and in a variety of forms, some version of the phrase, “But God” appears in the Bible. He is one million percent a “But God.” In fact, I believe wholeheartedly He delights in showing up in “But God” fashion.

How beautiful and redemptive are these words found in Ephesians 2:4-6: “We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. BUT GOD, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!” (Emphasis added is mine.) We were dead in our sins and trespasses, and that is when God intervened. He didn’t wait for us to be ready to love Him and be willing to make different choices and turn from our sins. He sent His Son to die on the cross while we were still dead in our sins because He loved us so much. That is the God who allows us to live with faith when our circumstances seem too painful or difficult to bear, when life feels overwhelming, when we don’t think we have the strength to say no one more time to the temptation or addictions we face. But God, who is rich in mercy. But God, who always makes a way of escape. But God, whose ways and plans and thoughts are higher than our own. But God, who comforts us so we can comfort others. But God, who takes the least and makes them the greatest. But God, who raised Jesus from the dead and conquered the grave. But God, who makes a way when there seems to be no way. But God, who lifts our head and offers grace and forgiveness. But God, who allowed Jesus to be struck down for our rebellion. But God, who was pleased for Jesus to be crushed severely for us. But God, who makes a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. But God, who has redeemed us and called us by name. But God, who is our shield, our refuge, our protector, our light and salvation. This is the God who adds the “but” to any and every situation that feels too much in our own strength, will, and understanding.

I just finished a book about the life, and death, of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I found myself wondering how he and his family endured what they did in Nazi Germany during WWII. They had such faith, such boldness, and such courage. Many of his family members were executed, as was he. In their own strength and humanity, he could not. But God sustained and strengthened him. What a powerful witness and testimony his life and death have been since then.

Where do you need to hear “But God” in your life and circumstances today? God is so much stronger, bigger, and powerful than our finite, human minds can fathom. He wants us to invite Him into whatever the hopeless, hurtful, harmful, devastating, impossible situation we are facing today and open our palms upward toward Him, and pray the simple words, “But, You, O God.” Then wait with expectation, awe, and praise for Him to do what only He can do. But God!

Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

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” ‘But you,’ he asked them, ‘who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘God’s Messiah.’ ” Luke 9:20

That question echoes in my mind: “Who do you say that I am?” If I were Simon Peter, and Jesus the Messiah asked me that question, what would my response be? Peter answered it accurately. Jesus is God’s Messiah. Peter knew this. Ironically enough, in a matter of time, Peter would find himself standing at a distance, watching the trial of Jesus from afar, and deny that he was a follower of Jesus. In Jesus’ most painful and trying time draped in human form, Peter denied Him and turned His back on Him–and he knew who Jesus was. He was there with Jesus for the feeding of the five thousand. He witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus when Elijah and Moses appeared with Him. He watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. Peter, with utmost certainty, knew Jesus. And Peter didn’t just know Jesus as his rabbi and teacher. No, Peter knew Jesus as a man. He knew His habits–that tendency of Jesus to rise early, escape the crowds, and pray to His Father in heaven. Peter knew what Jesus liked to eat and when He went to bed. He knew Jesus’ daily routines. Peter was Jesus’ friend. Peter laughed with Jesus and knew His sense of humor. Oh to have such intimate knowledge of the Savior of the world. When Peter answered Jesus’ question, Peter was confident in his response: “God’s Messiah.”

I have a soft spot for good ole’ Simon Peter. He was impulsive. He literally chopped off Malchus’ ear with a sword when they came to arrest Jesus (John 18:10-11–don’t worry, Jesus reattached his ear!) Peter represents to me so much of each of our own broken humanity. He is the walking depiction of the battle that rages between the flesh and the spirit. Peter loved Jesus and followed Him. Peter, when all was said and done, refused to be martyred in the same manner as Jesus and was crucified upside down. He was utterly human. And Jesus was infinitely merciful. Jesus knew all along that Peter would deny Him. On that very day, Jesus even told Peter, “Simon, Simon, look out. Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31). Jesus demonstrated His grace to Peter before Peter even knew how much he would need it. Jesus allowed Satan access to Peter because there was something in Peter that needed to be gone so that he could be fully used in God’s kingdom work. And boy, did Peter ever use his sifting to strengthen his brothers.

In Matthew 16:17-18, when Jesus asked who they said He was, Matthew included this response of Jesus to Peter: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Jesus told Peter who he was, renaming him from Simon to Peter. Peter, Petros in the Greek, means “a specific rock.” Jesus was building his church upon the foundation of Peter’s confession, identifying Jesus as both the Messiah and the Son of God. Yet, mere verses later, when Jesus shared about His pending death and resurrection, Peter rebuked Jesus. Imagine! Rebuking Jesus! Oh Peter! Peter loved Jesus, followed Jesus, believed in Jesus, denied Jesus, rebuked Jesus, and Jesus used Peter as a foundational building block of His church. Only a beautiful and loving Savior could take all of that sinful humanity and pour out grace in abundance over that life, and use it powerfully for His kingdom’s purposes! Hallelujah–what a Savior!

There is something so precious to me about this conversation with Jesus. Jesus is asking His disciples who people said that He was, then followed it with the question of who they said He was. But, then, He looks at Peter and renames him, telling Peter who he is. In a world so fixated on our identity and our “truth” and who we are, how about the moment when Jesus swoops in and says, “This is who you actually are!” Glory be to God! Jesus sees us. He knows us. He calls each of by name. In fact, God says this in Isaiah 49:16, “Look, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” You are inscribed on the palms of the hands of God. Absorb that. Let it sink in.

The question before us today, then, is, who do you say that Jesus is? Do you call Him Messiah, Savior, Redeemer, but then deny Him with your actions, your words, your thoughts? Is He everything to you, or does He merely exist in the periphery of your day-to-day? I have been like Peter myself and denied Jesus over and over and over again with my action, my thoughts, my words. I have erected false gods and placed them ahead of Jesus in my life. I have claimed to follow Him and trust Him, yet lived within my western culture comforts. Like Peter, I have been through sifting seasons that have left me forever altered and more in love with Jesus than ever before. Sadly, my memory grows too short at times, though. Yet what I have not forgotten or lost sight of is how very much I have been forgiven by Jesus and His blood on the cross. And that is exactly why I love Him so much. He is everything to me, and my heart aches when I fail Him or place myself or my agenda ahead of His will for my life. Oh that my life, and yours, will reflect who Jesus really is–and may it not merely be with words, but in how we live our lives for Him. The Easter season is upon us. How do you answer the question with your life: Who do you say that Jesus is?

Passionate Purpose

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“But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24

Every day I am witness to the wandering purposelessness of mankind. Humans racing from here to there, searching, striving, seeking to find some sense of purpose or fulfillment, mostly in all of the wrong places. Why am I not more outspoken of the answer I carry within me? Where is the boldness and courage to testify to the magnificent, unparalleled grace of God?

Once upon a time ago, the phrase “life verse” was commonly used within the church. I don’t hear it as frequently these days, but if someone were to ask me, my response would be automatic, Acts 20:24. “But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” I would have provided that answer 20+ years ago as well. Yet what it means to me now has grown and convicted me in new ways. This verse has taken root in my soul and wrapped itself around my heart. At various times throughout my life, I have felt frustrated by the fact that I wasn’t living out the ministry God called me to. In hindsight, I can see that I had the opportunity and the means to testify to God’s grace, but did not utilize them. The rearview mirror has revealed to me that God also needed to do some refining, purifying, and sifting in me. With every refining fire, every purification process, and every sifting season, God has faithfully uprooted something in my life that was preventing His work and movement in my life. In some seasons, I turned my back on the Lord and utterly neglected my faith walk with Jesus. In my younger years, I did not realize just how fleeting life really is. I felt like I had all the time in the world to fulfill God’s purposes for my life. I would wait for the exact right time for Jesus to catapult me into the ministry He had prepared for me, but, God doesn’t move like that. He wants our faithful obedience in the routine of everyday life. If I could not faithfully testify to the gospel of God’s grace right where I was, why would He move me on to the next thing with more responsibility?

When I read Acts 20:24 now, my heart is drawn to the opening words: “But I consider my life of no value to myself.” I missed that part for a long time. I cannot live for myself and for Jesus at the same time. What has prevented me from finishing my course and the ministry I received from the Lord? My desire to chart my own course, to satisfy my wants and my desires, to live for myself–basically my selfishness and old sin nature that I failed to fully crucify. Yet when I begin to consider my life of no value to myself, then I have learned to release my pride, my striving, my selfishness, and my focus has shifted to the grace of the Lord Jesus in my life. And how can I withhold sharing so beautiful a Savior and Redeemer while others scurry about, seeking their own fulfillment?

The purpose and passion of the Christian faith is not to be kept to ourselves. It is meant to reach far beyond the doors the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. The life lived for Jesus requires boldness and courage. It demands a setting aside of our rights. The fear is what holds us back. The fear asks us what about what we want? And Jesus promises that what He has for us is far beyond anything we could ask, think, or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). If we are grasping tightly to what we want, then our hands are all tied up and unable to reach for what God has for us. But, are we willing to trust Him? Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:1). David says this in Psalm 37:4 “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” When we focus on the mission and the purpose of testifying to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, our hearts desire HIM. Jesus gladly and willingly gives us more and more of Himself. He wants us to learn what it means to delight in Him and then not keep that to ourselves. Testify to His grace, friend!

Daily, I am surrounded by people, and I wonder what makes them tick. I wonder if, when they lay their heads down on their pillows at night, do they ever ask what this life is all about, what the purpose of life is. I watch as people try to find meaning in social media, but are merely wasting their time with mindless scrolling. I see the struggle to stay young and thin and fight the aging process. To grow older is a gift not all may be able to experience. I am becoming more appreciative of the days because, with age, for me, has come wisdom, and another day lived with the Lord. People have grown hardened, defensive, angry, and rude as a way to protect themselves from a plethora of things, thoughts, feelings, relationships, experiences. The sad and mistaken mantra of this current culture is that everyone has their own truth. But, the absolute truth is found in Jesus Christ, and He Himself said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

I find myself more and more relating to the words the apostle Paul penned to the Philippian church: “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). When people do not know Jesus, then they have no true sense of purpose. I know my purpose: to consider my life of no value to me and to testify to the gospel of God’s grace. When I–and you–are living out our passionate purposes in Jesus, then we are inevitably inviting others to join us. We are offering hope and truth to a lost and dying world. And, friends, the people around us are hurting, are broken, are lost, are searching, and are without hope. Testify to the gospel of God’s grace! If you know Jesus, then you have a story of grace to share. I find myself graced by Jesus on the daily. Who am I telling? With whom am I sharing that grace? I want to live out the life verse Jesus gave me all those years ago: “But, I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” I have wasted enough time–I don’t want to waste another day. Do you?

Love Is Obedience

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“But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:5-6

Obedience is not a popular word in 21st century America. “To each his own” is the common philosophy of our times. We bristle against anyone limiting us or placing restrictions on us. Yet, obedience has been the hallmark of God’s children since the dawn of creation. Perhaps, better said, a resistance to obedience has been the battle of God’s children. Our human nature wants to do what we want. We teach our children early on to learn obedience. Granted, the abuse of the term obedience has contributed to our reluctance and rebellion against obedience. Men and women have misused the concept of obedience for personal gain throughout history. But, they, too, are human. They are not the perfect God, who has no malicious intent behind His commands to obey. God is the Father of Lights. There are no shadows with Him. There is no darkness in Him whatsoever. Thus, He will never abuse the power of obedience. We must settle this from the start; otherwise, we fail to trust in His kindness, goodness, and will for our lives.

I, myself, have wrestled with the premise of the word “obedience” in the past. It feels like a surrender of power and control. Obedience has always suggested rules to me. Rules generally did not equal fun. Obedience sounded like a drudgery that would pose an impediment to what I wanted. Funny enough, with maturity, it is evident that my opposition to obedience was rooted in selfish wants and desires. And perhaps even some fear. Fear of what I would lose if I surrendered my will. Now we are getting to the heart of it. Throw onto that low-burning flame the mindset of popular culture and we have an inferno. Society screams to do what you want, to not conform for anyone while Jesus gently beckons to follow Him, to choose His will and His ways, and to not conform to the world but, instead, be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2).

In the church denomination of my early childhood, being a Christian was synonymous with boredom, a lack of joy, and appearing burdened and unhappy. I didn’t see it then, but as I grew up and became an adult with my own relationship with Jesus, I felt heavy-hearted with how much was lacking in those churches. All that mattered were the do’s and the do not’s, very much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They were the individuals who imposed man-made rules on the Jewish people. They added to the Law and created burdens for the people. The joy was lost. Jesus never meant for His rules to be burdensome. 1 John 5:3 tells us, “Loving God means keeping His commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.” Faith follows Jesus. Obedience follows faith. Freedom and joy follow obedience.

To have saving faith in Him, the follower of Christ says to Him, “I believe that You loved me so much that You sacrificed Your life as the payment for my sin and that You shed your blood on the cross out of Your deep, unconditional love for me.” The believer acknowledges their own personal and desperate need for a Savior. Jesus loves us so much. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Jesus demonstrated His love for us by sacrificing His life for us. I love Jesus beyond measure because of His great love and forgiveness. How do I, in turn, then show my love for Jesus? John answers that for us quite clearly in 1 John 2:5-6. We show our love for Jesus by obeying Him and keeping His commands and by living our lives as Jesus did. We know that Jesus lived His life on earth to glorify the Father and to love others. Jesus lived a selfless and humble life. Jesus put the needs of others ahead of His own. Jesus came to fulfill the will of the Father. Jesus was obedient to the Father–to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:8). The perfect Son of God was obedient to His Father. How much more should we, who are imperfect, obey the commands of the Father? The commands of God are for His glory and our own good. They provide freedom and life. They offer us a way to live with joy and in peace. God’s rules protect us.

That being said, we must be on guard to never make our relationships with God about following a bunch of rules and checking things off a list. That is called legalism. Obedience to Jesus should flow from a heart that is responding to the great love of Jesus in our lives. Jesus has done a work in my own heart and life where this is concerned. I would read passages like Ephesians 5:22-23 or Colossians 3:12-17 which both outline certain behaviors that should be associated with the attitudes and actions of a follower of Jesus. I would try to embody those character qualities, which is not a bad thing. I had it backwards though. I tried to follow the rules because it was what I was supposed to do rather than out of a love for Jesus. However, by loving Jesus with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, these character qualities would be the result of obedience in my life. When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, He discussed some of the Ten Commandments and the Law. The people were so fixated on following the Laws that they missed the whole purpose. They would obey the Law by not literally committing murder, but Jesus said being angry at a brother made them guilty of murder. It is what is in our heart and the motivation behind the behavior that matters. His point was, and is, that our desire to obey Him should originate from a heart that is set on loving Him. We can never earn our salvation or be good enough for Him. Obedience stems from a heart that is in love with Jesus and a desire to please Him and bring honor and glory to His Name. When we love Jesus, we will obey Him.

Where is He desiring your obedience to Him today? I encourage you to not delay your obedience any longer. Follow Him. Faith follows Jesus’ example, and joy follows obedience. To love Jesus is to obey Him. When you love Jesus, you want to obey Him.

Life Lessons

“You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” –Psalm 16:11

What makes you feel alive? What causes you to laugh with abandon and utter delight? When was the last time you paused long enough from the busyness of life and the chaos of the everyday assault of activity to remember? Go ahead. Take a moment. Remember. Close your eyes. Invite God into your moment and ask Him to show you. I’ll wait.

Welcome back! What popped into your mind? What memory came alive? How long has it been? That’s the tricky thing about time. It sneaks up on us and then is gone. It feels elusive and like we are constantly working against it. We fight the clock in some manner nearly every day. In the midst of the living, have we forgotten what it means to truly live? I am, by nature, a reflective person. I want to consider where I was, what God has taught me, and where I am going. Yet I am also very much a list-maker. I love myself a good to-do list. There is a sense of great satisfaction as I check items off, one by one. Somewhere along the way, I fell victim to the lie that I could relax and enjoy what is going on in my world, once my list is all taken care of. What have I missed amidst the doing, the activity, the to-do list?

Life happens so quickly. It is here, then it is gone. Life passes us by and we are merely passengers without the intentionality of truly living. When I was a young mom with four small kids, the days often felt long but the weeks flew off the calendar. I remember thinking, mistakenly, that I had all the time in the world with my children. It didn’t seem like the time would come for them to move on and live their independent lives. Sure, I knew the day would come. Yet, it seemed so far away. What I missed one day I could surely make up for the next. But that’s not quite how life happens.

Motherhood was my world. I loved being a mom. I felt like it was what I was created to do. When they were little, I loved it. I was exhausted a lot but I loved it. The primary school days and days of middle school were a different type of busy, but we lived it, we loved it, and I embraced it. Single motherhood was not easy, but I found my groove with Jesus and He carried us along. The teenage years, though dreaded by many, were not too terrible for us. We were a team that worked together to get it done. There were fights, disagreements, heartaches, heartbreaks, celebrations, disappointments, and every thing between the extremes, but I found myself rather enjoying those years and the people my kids were becoming. One by one, they grew up. One by one, I shifted from the center to the sidelines, forever their greatest cheerleader in life, wherever God decides to take them.

Life on the periphery of motherhood feels a bit differently than what I once had, who I once was. This transition, this void, compelled me nearer to the heart of Jesus. My role is changing, and the focused energy of my days is as well. Last year, a friend referenced this major life shift as a sort of grieving. At the time, I somewhat scoffed at this, not fully understanding. Yet, that was before one child moved 13 hours away, the first son headed off to college, and the youngest girl began her senior year of college, leaving me with only one kid left at home–and he has the busiest social life of them all. So I brought my question to Jesus–what does life look like for me now? What next?

Every year, Jesus and I dialogue about the focus of the upcoming new year. For 2023, He left me a beautiful word: life. Paul said it well, “For to me, to live is Christ,” Philippians 1:21 (ESV). Again, in Colossians 3:3-4 (NLT), Paul says, “For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.” I love it when Jesus is so sweet, tender, and kind to me. Those moments when He says, “I see you, and I am not finished with you yet.” That’s the gift He gave me with the word “life” for 2023. In the Greek which is the language of the New Testament, life is translated “zoe,” which means unending life, God’s life. Jesus Himself told His followers in John 10:10 (ESV), “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus came to bring life that matters, life that doesn’t lose purpose or fade as the years pass by.

Truly living is found in the simple moments, the unexpected joys, such as the playfulness of puppies, the deer grazing in the meadow, the sky as the sun sets. In those moments where you know Jesus is speaking His love over you. Life is found in the relationships we have with others. Our families of origin, our church families, our coworkers, our friends, our immediate families. Yet there’s so much more than that. Life is Jesus, our relationship with Him, the mission He has set before us right where we are. Life changes, sure, but Jesus doesn’t. As long as there is breath in our lungs, He has a purpose for us. The landscape of our mission field may change, but Jesus wants us to truly live during our time here on earth. It is all a precursor to fully living in eternity with Him.

Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, had much to say about life in the book of Proverbs. “My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying,” Proverbs 3:1-2 (NLT). Again in Proverbs 4:13 (NLT), he says, “Take hold of my instructions; don’t let them go. Guard them, for they are the key to life.” Knowing, keeping, guarding, and obeying God’s instructions give us life, show us the path of life, and teach us how to truly live.

What does this mean for me and for you, friend? For me, it is a notebook to write down everything God is teaching me from His Word about life in 2023. It is not waiting until the to-do list is complete before I enjoy the moments. Life is about Jesus, amidst the ups and downs. Good days will come, along with the bad. Seasons of life will change, and so will we. But God’s promise of life never does. I will enjoy the days as they come, rather than wait until all is perfect. I will not take for granted the beauty and the gift of the moment. I will live in Jesus’ will for my day and walk in obedience to His Word. He promises abundant life. He promises the joy of His presence. He promises to satisfy us. Will you trust Him to strengthen you to fully live, as you surrender your life to Him? Life is found in Jesus.

A Celebration of God

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Merry Christmas, King of Kings

Happy birthday, Lord of Lords

You came to earth

To make a way for mankind

To have a home of eternal belonging

The busyness of our days,

The hustle, the bustle, the haze

Often blind and distract us

From worshiping you as we should

Reorient our hearts to You

For You, O God, are more than worthy

Of power, of honor

Of glory, of praise

You are the Friend of sinners

You are the Healer of broken hearts

You are the intimate Lover

You are the Keeper of the stars

You are near to us

You are in us

You hear us

You love us

You are the Light on our paths

The hope of our days

The anchor in our storms

The home for which we long

Focus us to You this Christmas

Fill us with hope, joy, peace, and love

Inhabit our praises 

As we celebrate You

For now and always

Finish Strong

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“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7

“They will still bear fruit in old age, healthy and green.” Psalm 92:14

“Pray that I finish strong.” The words spoken to me from a dear friend and mentor in the faith. Each time she says it, I am taken aback a little. Here is a woman who exudes the joy of the Lord, whose heart is set on eternal things. She is a selfless, kind, and giving woman, yet her prayer is that she finishes strong. More than once this has caused me to pause and reflect on her words. At times, I am puzzled. Sometimes, I shake my head and chuckle because she is the last woman who should be worried that she wouldn’t finish her race of faith strong.

Yet, in the last few weeks, these words have hit me differently, striking a chord within me. Perhaps it is because another birthday has since come and gone. With each passing year, the days feel fleeting and the urgency to fulfill God’s plan and purpose for my life kicks into high gear. Perhaps it is because I am now left with only one child at home and I am faced with the question, “What’s next?” since all I have known is motherhood. Either way, finishing strong is at the forefront of my brain these days. Yesterday I ran another half marathon, maybe my eighth, possibly my ninth, but I have stopped counting. The last few miles are the most difficult. The first few, I am just warming up. Miles four through eight, I am settled into a groove, running on autopilot and feeling pretty good, but I know the toughest miles are just ahead. Miles nine and ten are manageable. But it is the last three that are the do or die miles–every single time. I’ve run it enough to know that it becomes mind over matter, so to speak. When you’ve been running for that many miles. one would think that the last three should be the easiest because you are almost there. But it is in those miles that I am truly tested. Do I have what it takes to finish strong? Perhaps this is why the apostle Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” The last few miles are often the toughest.

Paul packs a lot into those three sentences. Paul didn’t just say, “I finished the race.” What would it all have mattered if he merely finished the race of life, yet failed to keep the faith? Three important things we learn from this verse.

  1. The Christian life is a fight. In the book of Jude, Jesus’ half-brother writes these words in verse three: “I found it necessary to write, appealing to you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all.” Contend for the faith, fight for the faith, go after the faith, argue for the faith. Nothing about fighting the fight is passive. We do not grow spiritually by accident. We will face suffering and trials, just as Jesus did. Jesus Himself said that the world would hate us as it hated Him (John 15:18). The book of Acts is the story of the early church and how the Gospel, our faith, was spread far and wide–namely through the persecution of the church. Sometimes the fight will be internal, our flesh nature versus our spiritual nature. Paul speaks of spiritual battles in Ephesians 6. This Christian life is not for the faint of heart, but we have a God who sustains us in battle and we are reaching for the upward prize in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:14).
  2. The Christian life is a race. Paul is not the only writer in the New Testament who refers to life as a race. The writer of Hebrews in chapter 12 verse 2 says: “Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us.” Just like in a physical race, the spiritual race requires endurance. We need to train, to be ready, and to fix our eyes on Jesus who is the example for us. Yet we don’t run this race alone. Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us, “Let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” In the last mile of my half marathon yesterday, a fellow runner joined me and began making conversation as the race neared its end. It was exactly what I needed to finish strong–just like we need each other to finish the race of the Christian life strong.
  3. Keep the faith. When all is said and done in this life, what we do for eternity is all that will matter in the end. Where we live, how much money we made, what accomplishments we have–none of this matters if we have not kept the faith and used our time here on earth wisely. Kingdom work is the focus of our faith. Are we pointing people to Jesus in our daily lives? Are we living for today or are we living for eternity?

Thinking back to the desire of my friend to finish strong, it resounds with startling clarity. Life wears us down. We grow tired and weary. We lose our motivation. Life, like long races, makes us want to give up and to quit at times. I once thought it would be easier to let the things of the faith slide during the bewitching years of life–when life is full of carpools, ball games, activities, and commitments. Yet, I see now how difficult the challenge is to keep it strong until the end, as it nears the final stretch. As life changes and the demands on us decrease, it would be simple to slide into the thought patterns that what we do next will not matter as much. Yet, God promises to complete the work He began in us (Philippians 1:6). He also says that the righteous will bear fruit in old age. How we finish matters to God.

The last three miles are the toughest, for sure. Yet what awaits us at the finish line is only the beginning and a cause for celebration. As I finished the half marathon, I wasn’t focused on how tough it was to get there. I was elated that I finished strong and I finished well. When we cross the finish line of this life’s race and reach our heavenly destination, we will be in the presence of Jesus. And every battle we fought, every setback along the way, every aching muscle will fade away and be totally worth it. We will be celebrating that we fought the good fight, we finished the race, and we kept the faith. Finish strong, friend, because Jesus is not finished with us yet. We will bear fruit in old age!

No Greater Love

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No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

Tragedy struck close to home this week. At the college my daughter attends, there was an active shooter situation in which two brave law enforcement officers paid the ultimate price with the sacrifice of their lives in protecting the students and faculty on that campus. Several days have passed since this event, but the impact and effects have only begun to be felt. Many have wondered at the crisis in such a small, close-knit community and how such a horrific thing could occur. Evil is present and lurking in this world, and nothing is off-limits to the enemy of our souls.Initially, shock was the immediate reaction, but as time elapses from the event, humble gratitude that can never be repaid or adequately expressed abounds.

Yet, light, God’s light, is always present in the darkness. Two men exemplified the words of Jesus found in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (KJV). Most run from danger. Many mock the men in blue. Yet, as students sat in their classrooms on that Tuesday afternoon, two men, two officers, approached danger head-on. They stepped into the line of fire to protect those students and faculty who were unaware of the threat lurking right outside the windows. Only our Father in heaven knows how many lives were saved by these officers. These officers were well-loved by their college community. As I have ruminated on the events of this week, I keep coming back to the choice they made that day. I doubt they knew what the outcome of their day would be, that the suspicious individual they approached would turn and open fire on them. Yet, I suspect they would do it all over again, had they known. They would have chosen to lay down their lives to protect the community, just like Jesus.

Scripture verses like John 15:13 are easy to quote, yet many of us would not truly expect that such a thing would ever be required of us. Jesus is our ultimate example of sacrificing Himself for the good and salvation of others. Lately, I have been reading books set during World War II, books that highlight the willingness of others to put their lives at risk in order to provide safety and refuge to the Jews during that time. Prior to the tragedy this week, I found myself contemplating whether or not I would have the courage to make the same choices. Would I be willing to die to save the life of another, just like Officers Painter and Jefferson?

While I may never be placed in a situation that requires me to choose between my life or saving the life of another, daily I have the opportunity and the challenge to make a choice between what I want or what I can sacrifice for the good of others. I can be kind or I can be cruel. I can put myself first or put others first. I can be patient or I can be rude. I can be distracted or I can be present in the moment. I can offer my time or I can be too busy. I can live me-centered or I can be upward and outward focused. Often, the easy choice is the safe path. I can stay within my safe perimeter or I can step out of my comfort zone. Proverbs 28:1 tells us this, “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing them, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” Oh that I may be bold as a lion.

Jesus laid down His life for me, for you, that we may receive in His eternal inheritance. Jesus carried our sins with Him to the cross and paid the penalty of death so that we may live for Him and with Him forever. Jesus calls us to imitate Him, to be like Him, to follow Him, which means do as He did. Lay down our lives, even in small ways, for others. I long to honor my Savior, and this week, honor the legacy of the heroes who died protecting others, by being kind and dying a thousand deaths to myself for the good of others. Their sacrifice will never be in vain.

Please join me in prayer for the fallen officers, their families, and the college community and surrounding area: “Blessed be the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in our affliction, so that we may know and be able comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Officer John Painter and Officer JJ Jefferson, E.O.W. 2.1.22