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Eliminating Intolerances

In 2012 I came to understand the difference between allergies and intolerances this way: Severe allergies can threaten your life. People who are allergic to things like peanuts or bee stings have to be prepared to take immediate action in case they come into contact with these. Intolerances, on the other hand, aren’t life threatening, but they will make you uncomfortable, steal your energy, slow . . . you . . . down. In 2006, I learned I was lactose intolerant. In 2012, I became soy intolerant as well. I can let a little bit of each slip into my diet from time to time, but too much messes with my digestive system, joints, sinuses, and energy levels, so I try to be as vigilant as I can about eating right.

Now there’s something new going on inside of me. Doctors haven’t figured it out: a new intolerance, a virus, a disease? It’s a mystery. But I’m becoming even more vigilant about what I eat, eliminating anything suspicious in hopes that I’ll start feeling healthy again. If you happen to think of me, please pray. I really want to feel strong and healthy again.

As I’ve done my part to solve this mystery, I’ve recognized a spiritual parallel. Any sin we allow in our lives is like an allergen. It won’t just slow us down; it will halt our spiritual growth altogether and keep us from enjoying an ever-deepening relationship with Christ. As David prayed, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” -Psalm 66:18. Sin is a deadly toxin that stands between a person and God. It is something we must eliminate. We do this by confessing it to Christ (admitting that we’ve done wrong), receiving His forgiveness by grace through faith, and by turning away from it—turning to Christ instead.

As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, though, His Spirit will begin to reveal other activities, habits, thought-processes that need to go. These wouldn’t necessarily be characterized as sin, but our growing spiritual life won’t thrive, we won’t be able to reach our potential, until they go. Susanna Wesley did go so far as to classify these as sin when she said, “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself.” Her relationship with God was so precious to her that anything that kept her from drawing closer to Him was an abomination. The more any of us comes to know and love God, the more we’ll also aspire to this.

This is how I’m currently treating most anything that threatens my health—even that mouth-watering slice of double chocolate fudge cake that is okay for everyone else in the room to eat. As much as I want it, I reject it because I value my health more. And my relationship with Jesus is more important than my health.

But, like Susanna Wesley, I’m not going to go so far as to start listing what’s okay, what’s not, and how much of something can or should be “tolerated.” That’s taking a legalistic view of the Christian life. The many and ever-growing number of denominations in our nation prove that it’s practically impossible to agree on such a list anyway. Instead, each person has to do what David did—and do it with a sincere heart—one that wants an ever-deepening relationship with Christ. Each of us has to ask God’s Spirit to reveal anything that weakens our reason, impairs the tenderness of our consciences, obscures our sense of God, takes off our relish for spiritual things, or increases the authority of the body over the mind. And, just as I’ve had to eliminate different foods from my diet every few years for the sake of my physical strength, God may ask us to rethink different activities, habits, and thought-processes over time as we grow closer to Him. He leads us to grow up in Christ gradually, knowing that to demand perfection at the moment of salvation could overwhelm and discourage us, could cause us to give up.

We turn away from sin in order to enter a relationship with Christ, then we allow His Spirit to help us remove anything in our lives that impairs our spiritual development and health. As our sincerity and desire for God grows, so will our determination to remove anything that weakens us. Another prayer of David reveals He had this heart for God: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” -Psalm 139:23-24. I want to develop such a heart for God as well.

Lord, just as I want to eliminate any food or product that is stealing my strength and health, I need Your help and guidance to eliminate any activity, habit, or thought-process that a thriving spiritual life can’t tolerate. I want to draw closer and closer to You! You gave me life; You are my life. I surrender to Your scrutiny, testing, and knowledge. Lead me in Your way. Amen.

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Our Most Inspirational Heritage

“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.” -1 Timothy 1:3-4

Oh, no! I hear the old lady singing – again. Now the spunky island princess. Softly. Building . . . building. Brace yourself – here it comes! Four adolescents and their beloved hero, all at the top of their lungs: “I AM . . .”

Can you name that princess, star of the latest cartoon musical slowly driving parents out of their minds? When our boys were little, I could almost quote Pocahontas line for line. Now Moana is getting all the air time.

Every few years, a new princess. I’m okay with that. I love the movies almost as much as my children do. I’d just prefer to see them only once or twice instead of over and over . . . and over . . . again.

I’ll come back to this.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if I knew why genealogies were so significant in Bible times. She was reading through Chronicles. Talk about endless genealogies! I told my friend that if I remembered correctly, it was more cultural than theological. The people of that day found their identity in their ancestry . . . not unlike our island princess. Moana struggled to understand her purpose until she learned that her ancestors had been voyagers. Suddenly all became clear; she knew what she was called to do and found the strength to do it in knowing who her people had been. People in Bible times were the same – and so are some people today.

But what if your people didn’t leave you an inspirational legacy? What if, instead of being the son of King David, you learn you are a child of Saul? Because of his poor choices, he was rejected as king by God. Or even more confusing, what if both David and Manasseh, Judah’s most notorious king, are in your family line? Are you bound to go one way . . . or the other, enslaved to your ancestry? Truthfully, we’ll all find both heroes and villains when we climb our family trees. I think we tend to think we have to follow in the footsteps of those closest in lineage to us. This can be troubling for those whose parents or grandparents made hurtful choices for their lives.

Thankfully, though, once we receive Christ as our Savior, we’re adopted into God’s family, grafted forever onto His family tree. We may trace our biological family lines for the fun of it, discovering the unexpected people and places we’re connected to. But we won’t find our identity in these. Our identity is in Christ, Who gives our lives a meaning and purpose and direction and power and calling greater than that of any spunky island princess. We are not bound to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors. Jesus came to give us the perfect legacy.

You wanna sing with me? Nevermind, I still can’t sing. But I know who I am. I am God’s child. I am a child of the King of Kings.

Lord, may our lives reflect this heritage. Amen.

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” -Romans 8:15-16

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The Conversation Begins: Thanksgiving

The Conversation BeginsThis post is the first of our discussions about the many different kinds of prayer. Considering the holiday, Thanksgiving seems like a great place to start.

An obscure childhood memory popped into my mind this week regarding this theme. I was only five- or six-years-old when this happened, so the details may or may not have happened exactly as I recall. If my mom reads this and calls to correct me, I promise to post an update. For now, here’s the story as I remember it:

My mother, little brother, and I were at the check-out stand at the grocery store. While mom was paying for our groceries, the somewhat elderly (from my point of view, at least) gentleman who was bagging the groceries leaned over to offer my brother and me some candy. (This was back in the days when this was still considered a nice thing to do, not something that should get you arrested.)

He asked me if I wanted a piece of candy. I looked at my mom. She nodded, so I said, “Yes, please.”

He started to hand over the treat, then pulled it back and asked, “What else do you say?”

What else was there to say? Confused, I said the only thing I could think of: “Yes, I want the candy, please.”

The man gave my mother one of those looks that all moms of young children hate. You know the one. The one that says, “Haven’t you taught your children any manners, Ma’am? What’s wrong with you?” I looked at my mother, too, just because I had no idea what this strange person wanted and figured I needed a cue.

The man repeated his question, “What else do you say?” I told him I didn’t know. He put his hands on his hips and said, “You say, ‘Please and thank you.’ If you want the candy, you have to say, ‘Thank you.’” He gave my mom a pointed look.

I realized this man was confused and needed to be set straight. Evidently, his mother was the one who forgot to teach manners. I said, “I’m not supposed to say, ‘Thank you,’ until after you give me the candy. I say, ‘Please,’ before and ‘Thank you’ after. That’s the rule.” I may have crossed my arms over my chest in stubborn indignation at this point.

The man looked at my mom then laughed out loud. I didn’t know what was so funny and was feeling kind of mad. My little brother just wanted some candy. Poor kid!

The man leaned over again and said, “I’ll let you get away with it just this once. But next time, say, ‘Please and thank you’ when you want something.” He gave us each a piece of candy, refusing to release mine from his grasp until I spoke those last two words. (And, if I remember correctly, my wise mother took the candy away when we got to the car with a promise of something better when we got home. I guess people didn’t completely trust strangers bearing candy for children even then. She handled an incredibly awkward situation with patience and grace.)

1 Thessalonians 5-18Unlike the man at the grocery store, our God gives good things lavishly. He even gives good things to those who deny His existence! Everything we have . . . every . . . single . . . thing . . . comes from Him. The man at the grocery store wanted his please and thank you up front, demanded good manners—by his definition—before giving the offered treat, and gave my mother a hard time in the name of teaching her children. She had nothing to thank him for, and in the end, neither did we. But our God just gives . . . abundantly . . . because He loves us. For example:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”John 3:16

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

The man at the grocery store held on to the candy until I said, “Thank you.” He wasn’t taking any chances that he wouldn’t receive his due. But God sent Jesus to die for us—so He could offer us salvation—while we were still sinners, and He continues to give good gifts to everyone with or without their gratitude.

Does He want us to thank Him? Of course! He loves us and wants us to return His love. He knows us and wants us to know Him. He wants us to recognize His involvement in our lives and to thank Him for all He does. But He won’t insist on a response. Thanksgiving has to come from a person’s heart.

Let’s not wait until tomorrow! Let’s start right now, this day, and continue for the rest of our lives. Let’s learn to recognize God’s gifts, and thank Him continually.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone! I thank God for you.

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Who Can Pray?

Psalm 1As we continue our conversation about prayer, let’s consider the question, “Who can pray?” Anybody can pray! We just might not all get the desired response. Let’s take a step back and think about this.

Some people say God only hears the prayers of Christians. They get this idea from Bible verses that talk about God only hearing the prayers of the righteous. (Proverbs 15:29, Proverbs 28:9, Isaiah 1:15 are examples). In fact, David said that if he had cherished sin in his heart, God wouldn’t have heard his prayer (Psalm 66:18-20). These verses are true as presented in their context (the verses that surround them) or under the specified circumstances, but we run into trouble if we claim they present a hard and fast rule that God must obey all the time.

First of all, such a rule would give us the power to limit God. We don’t have that kind of power. We never will. God can hear anything He wants to hear. God can hear everything everyone on the planet is saying all at once. He may choose not to hear, or to ignore or disregard, some prayers, but He does so at His discretion, not ours.

Second, if God only heard the prayers of the saved, no one could be saved. God wants everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9), therefore, He hears the prayers of those yet-to-be-saved—especially when their hearts are turning to Him. He welcomes these prayers—maybe most of all! If someone is seeking Him, He hears and responds (Deuteronomy 4:29, 1 Chronicles 28:9, Jeremiah 29:13).

The Conversation BeginsHere’s a simple way to understand the idea of God not hearing some prayers:

Imagine your three-year-old has been on a rampage all day. You served him breakfast; he told you it was yucky and refused to eat. You served him lunch; he yelled, “Yucky! Yucky! Yucky! I want ice cream.” You served him dinner; he leaned over to his sister and said, “Mommy only makes yucky food.” To your frustration, she joined his game and dumped her food on the floor.

When the last mealtime battle of the day is over, your son comes to you all sweetness and sunshine. “Mommy, I love you. Will you bake me some cookies for dessert?”

You think: “I have had enough of this child for this day.” You say, “Guess what, Kiddo! It’s bedtime. Go get your pajamas on.” Another battle ensues, but you are not baking cookies. You don’t even respond to the request.

Admittedly, that’s a very simplistic, very human example. God is neither simplistic nor human. Yet, if someone is constantly calling him unfaithful, unable, or non-existent, encouraging others to do the same, He’s not going to pay attention to that person’s self-centered prayers. He will respond with loving discipline (note: loving discipline, never petty vengeance). He will continue to woo that person toward a loving and mature relationship with Him. He will not take away that person’s freedom to choose nor compromise what’s right to make a deal. He acts in accordance with His child’s behavior, teaching with the kind of patience mothers everywhere wish they had.

So anybody can pray. But God does not receive all prayers in the same way.

Let’s consider the flip side:

You and your three-year-old are enjoying a great day together. He eats the food you serve and asks for more. He even helps you feed his sister. Then he plays with her while you do the dishes. He folds washcloths and matches socks while you’re folding laundry. He cuddles close and listens attentively during story time. When he asks for cookies, you bake them joyfully. In fact, you make up your mind to bake him cookies before he even thinks to ask. Sharing cookies is the perfect end to this fantastic day.

Again, very simplistic, very human, but with a level of truth we can grasp. God created us to love and enjoy Him. When we do so by spending regular time with Him in prayer, He enjoys our company and enjoys answering our prayers—within the scope of His plans—for us, for others, for His Kingdom, for eternity.

  • Will He always give us the cookies if we’re living His way? No.
  • Does He only give us what we want if we’re living His way? No.

That’s not how the analogy works. (And for the record, if ever you think you’ve found a formula for getting God to give you what you want every time, you need to rethink it. You have thunk something wrong.)

God loves each person He has made and longs to enjoy a relationship with each one. He sees what we can’t, though, and answers our prayers according to His Will, for the good of His Kingdom and the glory of His name. Prayer is a conversation with Him about this relationship, about the business of His Kingdom. We pray to develop this relationship, to more deeply understand our loving God and His plans for us. That’s why anyone can pray; God wants relationship with everyone! But self-centered prayers with no regard for God are meaningless and likely to be ignored.

When we delight in God, He delights in us. Our prayers become more effective as the relationship grows. Anybody can pray. But if we want to be sure that God’s hearing our prayers, we have to want God.

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Trusting God with the Moment That Matters Most

Moment That Matters“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’” –John 4:39-42

One of my college professors used to say that faith is more caught than taught. I saw this in action when my children were little. As a mom who loved Jesus, I looked forward to the day when I could pray with my children, leading them to invite Him into their hearts, knowing they were saved and walking heavenward with me.

It didn’t happen quite that way. We took our boys to church—that was a given, us being a ministry family. But we would have done that anyway. We studied the Bible together. My husband and I shared our testimonies. We prayed with our boys regularly. As my oldest son entered fourth grade, though, that longed-for moment had not yet come . . . his decision to give his life to Jesus . . . at least as far as I knew.

Then he brought home an essay he’d written for school. He was attending a private Christian school at the time, and his teacher had asked the kids to write their testimonies. Justin told how he’d been alone in his room when he decided to invite Jesus into his heart. He’d prayed all by himself. And I knew from both his character and the words he’d written, that his young faith was absolutely real.

That’s probably when I first realized that God works differently in different people and that Jesus doesn’t enter people’s hearts when they say a few prescribed words. He brings salvation when they believe that He does. Each individual knows when that moment comes, whether another leads them directly to it or not.

Not that we didn’t lead our children to it. Like the Samaritan Woman in Luke 4, we told our children what we’d experienced, what we believed. But like the people of the woman’s community, our children had to hang out with Jesus for a while in order to decide they believed for themselves. This is something all people must do! I still love the sweet sentiment of a mother or father praying with their children to lead them to Christ, but it’s that moment of belief in a person’s heart that’s really the most beautiful thing.

Does this mean we shouldn’t tell others about Jesus, instead leaving them to find Him for themselves? Absolutely not! The Samaritan Woman couldn’t help herself; Jesus had told her everything she’d ever done! We can’t help ourselves either. If we walk and talk with Him daily, Jesus will amaze us on a daily basis! And so, we tell. Who He Is. What He has done. How we experience Him. What we’re learning from His Word. We live it; we talk it. It’s what we do!

Then we pray. We pray that people who hear our stories will invite Jesus to hang out with them for a while, so they can get to know Him, too.

And then we trust that the God Who has done so much for us, the One Who told the Samaritan Woman everything she’d ever done, will speak to our children, our friends, our acquaintances, too. We may not be there for the moment of belief, but the One Who matters will be, and He Is faithful to save.

Jesus, help us to live what we believe. Give us opportunities to show and to tell. Then help us to trust as we pray. You’ve invited everyone into Your Kingdom. Now You’re waiting for everyone who will to accept that invitation. Please wait patiently. There are many yet to be saved. We thank You, Lord, for speaking to each heart—through us and all around us. Use our lives as You will to honor Your name. Amen.

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Of Dead Keys and Fruitless Fig Trees

The Dead Key BagIn our house, I’m the Keeper of the Keys. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s similar to being the one who is expected to carry every else’s papers and books at church because I’m the one who carries a purse. (I usually refuse to live up to this expectation, but it’s there just the same.) I don’t carry a purse around the house, yet I’m still the one who gets to keep track of all the spare keys.

Whenever we move into a new home, every responsible inhabitant gets a set of house keys—and I get any extras to keep in a drawer—just in case. Every time we purchase a new padlock or security box or file cabinet, I get the spare keys for those, too. And because there’ve been times when a family member couldn’t find a key and the spare key couldn’t be found in its appointed place for one mysterious reason or another—most likely because said family member never gave The Keeper of the Keys the spare key to begin with, though said family member prefers to think The Keeper of the Keys misplaced the spare key—I’m a little bit obsessive about hanging on to all the keys that have ever come into my possession—ever—from the beginning of my mysterious appointment to this role.

The result of this obsession combined with our tendency to move is what I’ve come to call The Dead Key Bag. It’s a plastic, zipper bag stuffed full of keys that I have no idea what they open but feel compelled to keep—just in case. I laughed out loud when the lady who packed our house for our most recent move found my dead keys, brought them to me, and asked, “Are these important? Do you need to carry them yourself or should I pack them?” I told her that I didn’t know what they belonged to, so she could go ahead and pack them. She looked a little confused but took them back to pack anyway.

That’s when I realized I probably could have taken them and thrown them away right then. (The packer was probably thinking this, too.) We were moving. I had all keys-in-use on my key chain. Any keys in that bag were most assuredly dead. I’d be getting new keys. It was the perfect opportunity to free myself of The Dead Key Bag. Since the lady had already packed them, though, I decided I’d toss them when I found them in my new home.

I shouldn’t have waited. Earlier this summer, I told you about this particular packer and how she collected all the night lights in the house and packed them together in one box. Well, on the other side of the room from the drawer where I kept The Dead Key Bag was a drawer where I kept current spare keys. Spare keys that I could identify. Keys currently in use. My efficient packer friend found these keys—in their different drawer on the other side of the room—and thoughtfully added them to The Dead Key Bag.

It’s a key nightmare! Now I have to keep the dead keys or risk throwing out a key we still use.

The other day my son Seth asked for the spare key to his car. With a sinister gleam in my eye, I handed him The Dead Key Bag. He dumped it out, and we examined its contents together.

“Mom, these little keys are luggage keys—for the little padlocks on your suitcases that anyone can open with a toothpick. They’re useless. You can throw them away.”

I didn’t.

“These are the keys to Justin’s, Alex’s, and my first cars. We’ve sold the cars. You can throw these keys away.”

I think I’m going to have them bronzed—like Grandma bronzed her children’s baby shoes!

“This is the key to Dad’s Ranger the lady hit and totaled two years ago.”

That one needs to be plated with gold! My husband walked away without a scratch. Thank You, Lord!!!

“The rest of these look like house or padlock keys. We should melt them down and make something useful out of them.”

I have no idea how to do such a thing, but Seth will figure it out if I give him permission. In the meantime, I’m putting The Dead Key Bag back in the drawer for a designated project day when I’ll toss every key for which I cannot find a lock.


This reminds me of the parable of the fig tree found in Luke 13:6-8. The owner of a fig tree goes out to search for fruit. For the third year in a row, he can’t find any, so he tells the caretaker to cut down the tree. The caretaker begs him for one more year and promises to give extra attention to that tree for that year in order to help it produce fruit.

The tree’s purpose is to produce fruit. A key’s purpose is to open a lock. A person’s purpose is to find God, accept His gift of salvation from sin through Jesus Christ, and spend eternity enjoying a loving relationship with Him.

The world is full of people who haven’t found their purpose, but God is patient “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Like the owner of the fig tree and The Keeper of the Keys, however, God has chosen a day when His patience will end—a day known only to Him (Matthew 24:36).

Until then, those of us who know God are like the caretaker in the parable. We walk and talk with Him daily. We love Him and strive to get to know Him better. We serve Him faithfully, doing whatever He tells us to do. We’re fulfilling our purpose, while doing all we can to lead others to Him. The end of the year/designated project day is coming. We must help lead people to our Lord.

How do we do this? We do what the caretaker did!

  • We plead with God on their behalf.
  • We offer them Living Water, like Jesus offered it to the woman at the well (John 4:1-26).
  • We give them the nutrients of God’s Word as opportunities arise.
  • We pay attention to their needs, loving them in Jesus’ name as we love ourselves.

There isn’t much we can do for a bunch of dead keys. They’ve served their purpose; they are done. But we can pray for and love people who haven’t yet discovered the purpose for which they were made. Our God is patiently waiting, reaching out to all. Let’s ask Him for a greater awareness of opportunities to help people come to Him.

Father, thank You for salvation. Thank You for Your love. Thank You for sending Your Son to save us from our sins, so we can enjoy an eternal relationship with You. We thank You now for Your patience with those who haven’t found You yet. Please continue to wait. And while You do, please send Your Spirit to help us do all we can to help lead these souls to You. We love You, Lord. We want them to love You, too. For their good. For Your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Habakkuk’s Honesty

The Book of Habakkuk is only three chapters long. It’s one we can read quickly, yet it contains a powerful message. This makes it one of my favorite Bible books. In a sense, it’s the journal of a man frustrated with God. It includes God’s response to him, and his response, in turn, to God. As this man wrestles his way through his issues, the journal shows him choosing to trust and to submit. It shows him finding peace in the midst of turmoil. It shows him claiming God’s strength for his role in it.

Don’t we all wrestle with God this way sometimes?

Let me highlight a few verses that especially speak to me:

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” –Habakkuk 1:2

Wow! David’s psalms are often used to show us how honest we can be with God. But listen to Habakkuk! He’s throwing a temper tantrum! “Lord, I’ve waited long enough! It’s time for you to act! I demand justice now! Where are you and why haven’t you done something about this intolerable situation?” While we do need to fear God, we don’t have to fear turning our honest emotions and questions over to Him. As we initiate the conversation, God can help us see Truth and trust in Him.

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” –Habakkuk 2:14

This is a promise! Someday, the whole earth will know God and His glory. He will saturate our world completely, covering it as water covers the sea. For this reason, we must pray now that unbelievers will allow God to open their eyes to His Presence before this awesome day. Once God reveals Himself to the world, it will be too late for those who refused to see Him before He came.

“But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” –Habakkuk 2:20

This verse takes my very breath away—every time I read it. Can’t you just picture that glorious, holy Temple with the whole world around it, frozen, waiting, knowing that God is preparing to act, anticipating His appearance and the sudden transformation that will come with it? Pause for a moment. Reflect on that.

“Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” –Habakkuk 3:2

Two chapters ago, Habakkuk was demanding action and justice, but here he recognizes God’s wrath and asks for mercy. We must do the same. Though we’re anxious for God to return and set everything right that’s gone wrong with this world, once He does, there’s no mercy for those who don’t believe. God’s patience equals salvation for some. Though He hates sin and longs to pour His wrath out on it, His waiting is an act of mercy.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” –Habakkuk 3:17-18

What a perfect statement of trust! Habakkuk has come back to a place of patience, trusting in God though times are hard. We see a similar statement in Job 13:15: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” When we become impatient for God to act on our behalf, praying these verses helps us stand in confidence.

“The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” –Habakkuk 3:19

Habakkuk not only learns to wait patiently, trusting in God’s timing, that God is doing what’s best for all, but Habakkuk also learns to claim God’s strength to help him endure and to help him accomplish whatever God has for him to do, to go on the heights, enjoying fellowship with God and doing great things for Him.

To summarize, Habakkuk communicates honestly, sees purpose in God’s patience, prays that that purpose will be accomplished, submits to God’s timing (even if it means Habakkuk’s suffering), and claims strength to endure to eventually enjoy the ultimate victory—to go on the heights with God.

Lord, please help us to do the same—to endure while we wait that you can show mercy to others. Give us Your strength that we can serve You faithfully through all the trials that come our way. You are in Your holy Temple—the whole world waits. We long to join You there on the heights some glorious day—when You say it’s time. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

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Devising Ways to Restore Relationship

“Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.” -2 Samuel 14:14

2 Samuel 14-14This verse from 2 Samuel appears in the middle of the account of one of the greatest tragedies of King David’s life. His son Absalom had murdered David’s other son Amnon to avenge David’s daughter Tamar. Then Absalom had fled to Geshur where he stayed for three years. Second Samuel 13:39 tells us that David longed to go to Absalom but refused to do so. The verse above was spoken by a woman sent to David by Joab, David’s nephew and the commander of his army, who wanted to help David restore the relationship with his son. Unfortunately, though David chose to allow Absalom to return to Jerusalem, he still refused to meet with him face to face. Absalom became bitter, tried to steal the kingdom from David, and was murdered by Joab.

I wonder how things would have been different had David welcomed his son home with open arms . . . or at least with a little face time at the day’s equivalent of Starbuck’s.

We can’t be too hard on David, though. We don’t know what Absalom was like before Amnon assaulted Tamar. He may have been rebellious and threatening from the start. And murder is a serious offense. If David wasn’t comfortable allowing a murderer, even his own son, to live under his roof, near his wives and other children, I’m not sure we can fault him for that. Still the ultimate outcome was tragic. Absalom’s death broke David’s heart.

I love the insights of verse 14, however. This verse is all about God and His relationship with us—an example the woman encouraged David to follow regarding his son—one we can follow regarding close family members or friends who wound us. Let’s look at this verse more closely:

“Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die.” We have wronged God, and we can’t fix it any more than we can pick up water once it’s spilled on the ground. What’s done is done. The consequence of death is inevitable.

Or is it? Keep reading:

“But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.”

God is God. What He wants will be. He wants relationship. He won’t force us into a relationship with Him because He wants us to come to Him because we want to. Yet He made a way to make relationship possible again.

I love that this verse was written long before Jesus came. He Is the way that God devised to save us from the consequences of our sin, to restore relationship. But the woman who spoke to David did not know about Him. She must have had great faith in God, in His mercy, and in His love and faithfulness. Maybe she was referring to the then-existing sacrificial system. Maybe she had noticed God’s work in the lives of people around her, His drawing them to Him. Whatever she was referring to, she knew our God wants relationship with His people and works to make it possible in spite of our sin.

This is why it’s so important for us to forgive those who have wronged us. Yes. We need to protect ourselves from further harm, and we have that right. Yet, as far as it is possible, we must strive to restore relationship. We must prayerfully devise appropriate ways to reach out with forgiveness and in hopes of fellowship even if all we can do is call or send a message once in a while to let the person know they’re still in our thoughts, we still care.

Granted, there are times when even that is not possible. The person, like Absalom, may be dangerous (physically, mentally, or emotionally) or may be uninterested in further contact. If that’s the case, our responsibility is to forgive, pray when God brings the person to mind, and move on. But when we can work toward mending a relationship, we offer the one who hurt us a great gift, and we receive an even greater gift from God in return as He uses our actions to make us more like Christ, His Son.

David refused to welcome Absalom home, but God has devised the perfect way to invite His banished children to enjoy a forever relationship with Him. Not all accept the invitation, but it’s there just the same. We thank Him when we follow His example and reach out with forgiveness.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” –Romans 12:18

Father, I’ll thank You forever for sending Jesus to make it possible for me and for all who want to to enjoy life with You! When others wrong me, help me to remember what You’ve done. Give me the desire to forgive and, if there is a way, reveal my part in restoring a healthy relationship. Amen.

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Living in the New-Covenant Kingdom Now

Purple Flower“But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.” –Deuteronomy 8:18

A new thought came to me when I read this verse this morning. When we compare the old and new covenants of the Bible, we talk often about the fact that anything accomplished by the old sacrificial system was temporary, so that those sacrifices had to be offered again and again and again. Jesus’ sacrifice, the sacrifice of the new covenant, happened once for all people for all time. No sacrifice for sin will ever be required again.

Deuteronomy 8:18 hints at another difference between the two covenants, though. Whenever the old covenant is referred to, the rewards for honoring it are temporary things. Throughout the Old Testament, God promised His people wealth, land, long life, big families, and status. Jesus, in the New Testament, didn’t promise any of those things. In fact, regarding this life, He promised suffering!

Don’t get me wrong. People in the Old Testament suffered, too—and sometimes for reasons they couldn’t understand. But when they did, their restoration or “happy ending,” so to speak, involved only temporary things. Joseph became a ruler, second only to Pharoah, and was reunited with his family. Job got his wealth, family, and reputation back. The Israelites in exile looked forward to the day when God would restore His Kingdom on earth.

But God had a bigger plan. Jesus talked about it all the time before His death and resurrection, but His followers couldn’t understand until after those events. When Jesus died and rose again, He brought the hope of eternal life into the picture in a whole new way! He tore the veil between the physical and the spiritual. Because of Him, we live with a dramatically different understanding of what it means to be saved. Before the resurrection, people expected to be saved for this life. After, they knew Jesus had saved them for eternity!

None of the disciples got a “happily ever after” ending like Job did. All were martyred except for Judas, who took his own life, and John, the beloved disciple, who probably suffered more than any who were killed! At the very least, he had to wait the longest to be reunited with Christ in that promised heavenly home.

New-Covenant KingdomBut none of them were looking for Job’s happy ending. Their hearts were set on eternity. Yes. Jesus promised them suffering, but He also promised freedom from sin, comfort, strength, character, wisdom, His Presence, the fruit of the Spirit, citizenship in His Kingdom, adoption into His forever family, a new name, an eternal home in Heaven, crowns they’d be honored to throw at His feet and so. much. more.

If we’re looking for wealth, health, and status in this world, we’re living with an old covenant mindset. Jesus invites us to follow Him and His disciples into His New-Covenant Kingdom now.

Jesus, this life can be confusing, disheartening, even hurtful sometimes. But we choose to trust You. Our hope is not for the rewards this world can offer but for the eternal ones that You promised. Help us to keep our focus on eternity with You as we faithfully serve you here. Help us to boldly follow the example those early Christian set, knowing that eventually, just like Your beloved disciple did, we’ll see You face to face in our new home. Nothing can separate us from Your love! Amen.


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Surprising Lessons from the Mighty Bay Leaf

Bay LeavesI tried a new recipe today. I made my very own red beans and rice from scratch. Well, according to the recipe, they were Jessica’s Red Beans and Rice, but I made a few adjustments—such as leaving the jalapenos out and cutting the amount of red pepper flakes in half. Trust me, there was plenty of heat without that extra bit!

As I was nearing the end of the cooking time, I saw the bay leaf sitting on top and pulled it out to discard just as the recipe told me to do. I looked at it for moment and couldn’t help but wonder if adding one little leaf to a recipe for such a short time could really make a difference. I asked my Facebook friends.

Wow! I had no idea people felt so strongly about the bay leaf! My friends quickly spoke up in its defense. I promised never to question its power again.

Along with his defense of it, my brother made a helpful suggestion, though. He told me to boil a bay leaf in water then smell it and taste it, so I’d know just what flavor I was adding to my recipes. I tried it! I think I understand now why I’m not a big fan of Italian food—that’s the taste I don’t care for. But I can see it adding something worthwhile to beef stew.

My friends were absolutely right! The bay leaf is a powerful addition—even after you pull it out and throw it away. And my brother’s suggestion will help me to use this power with wise discrimination. I may get a handle on this cooking thing yet.

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I feel like that little bay leaf. I wonder if my presence is really making any difference in this great, big world chock full of amazing people. Would anybody notice if I disappeared? Would the aroma of my life linger? Does it make a difference now?

The answers to those questions, though, if I’m trusting God, I don’t need to know. God has already told me everything I need to know about the significance of my life. I know God loves me. I know He created me with purpose—whether I recognize it or not. I know He placed me here—right here, right now, intentionally, knowing exactly what He was adding to this world and the impact my life would make.

Lavender PansyHe did the same for you! Knowing what we know, we can trust that since God chose to add our lives to this world’s mix that He did so with purpose. (Kind of like I can now add bay leaves with purpose—or choose to leave them out. Regarding bay leaves, I know what I’m doing now. God has always known what He’s doing regarding each of us!)

There’s one more factor to consider, though. The bay leaf won’t release its flavor alone. It needs the heat from the water or soup or sauce or stew. Likewise, we can’t be the people God planned for us to be without Jesus. His sacrifice, the one we especially consider today, provides redemption from sin and makes it possible for us to live for Him. When we choose to accept Him as our Lord, to gratefully accept His sacrifice on our behalf, He begins to transform us into the people He always planned for us to be. Best of all, He invites us to get to know Him right now, to grow closer to Him every day—probably the greatest purpose and privilege we can enjoy. As we live in submission to Him, what our lives add to this world turns out to be just what the recipe needs.

Jesus, thank You again for all You have done and are doing for us. We don’t deserve any of it, but You gave Your life—and now You offer Your life that we can seek You and find You and get to know You better each day. You have blessed us greatly! We thank You. We adore You. We’re Yours, Lord. Amen.