Jesus Loves You Fiercely

When our thoughts are cloudy, our feelings and emotions have us tied in knots; we can cling to what God tells us because His Word remains faithful and steadfast, never changing and never-ending (Lamentations 3:22; Ps. 136:3, ESV). Recently, I had to remind myself of this and prayed to God to let me hear His truth – that He will always love me no matter what. I knew my emotions were telling me a different story, and even though our feelings are real, the things we tell ourselves when we are down are not to be taken to heart and allowed to fester inside us.

I can trust what God says when everything seems cloudy around me. He knows exactly what I need because He knows me and my heart.

During these times of despair or sadness, we can cling to His promises, truth, and love. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8, ESV). So, cinch on the belt of truth (Eph, 6:14) and guard against allowing your feelings to rule you and take over what we know to be true in God’s Word. “[Jesus] will wear righteousness like a belt and truth like an undergarment” (Is. 11:5, emphasis mine).

Take it from me, when we are tired, emotionally down, or distressed, it is not a time to make rash decisions or take a quiz, for that matter. Turn to God instead and ask Him to help you see clearly and not lose sight of His love during this season.

Jesus said, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20, ESV, emphasis mine).

God told Moses, “I am who I am” (Ex. 3:14, ESV). He instructed him to tell Israel that “I AM has sent you.” Then in John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (emphasis mine)

With these verses in mind, I want to propose something for you to cling to that helps me put things into perspective: You are because I AM.

I encourage you to meditate on these verses and let them bring hope as you trust in the only One who sees and knows everything about you and still loves you fiercely.

Debt Free

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing to experience? I remember my dad telling a story about my grandpa being away from home – probably visiting a church since he was a preacher too. Times were hard, and their family had to charge for more groceries at the local store than they liked. When he got home, my grandma asked him to go to the store. Knowing they owed a lot already, he dreaded going. But when he got there, with his head down, and asked for more credit, saying he knew he owed so much already, the grocer informed him that the debt had been paid while he was away. Grandma had found a way to pay it off. His dread turned into joy.

Jesus tells his disciples a parable about the good Samaritan who had compassion for a man who was robbed and beaten on the side of the road. He bound up his wounds and took him to an inn where he cared for him. When he had to leave, he gave the innkeeper enough money to care for him and said he would check when he came back to see if he owed any more (Luke 10:34-35, ESV). He did not do this expecting to be paid back; he did it out of love and compassion.

Jesus came to free us from sin’s bondage because we could not free ourselves. He canceled our debt by nailing it to the cross (Col. 2:14, ESV). God’s justice demanded an answer for sin, but His love supplied the answer in His Son so that our dread could turn into joy.

The Old Testament covenants had conditions attached. They were foreshadowing the coming of Christ, but Jesus was a new and better covenant because He is a covenant of grace instead of works. God made an irrevocable promise for salvation (Rom. 11:29), fulfilled in Christ. Jesus elevates Himself and the message of the kingdom to be greater than, and the fulfillment of, the three most important institutions in Israel – priest, prophet, and king, when He shows how Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of a great fish as a foreshadowing of Himself spending three days in the earth (Matt. 12: 38-42; Luke 11:29-32, ESV).

Jonah was grateful for his salvation but wanted to keep the prophetic message private from the people of Nineveh. He knew God’s character and that if they repented, God would change His mind about destroying them. He finally shared the message with the people by shouting to the crowds when he entered the city – “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4, ESV, emphasis mine). The people understood what that meant. He used the same verb as when God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen.19:21-25, ESV).

The story of Jonah shows us how determined God is to get His message to the nations and the need for repentance from sin. It also shows us God’s character and assures us that He “will relent when people repent” (Jonah 3:9, ESV Study Bible notes).

In reading the OT, sometimes it is difficult to understand all the laws, restrictions, and sacrifices God put in place. But it took a lot of sacrifices and rules to do what Jesus Christ did on the cross—nothing we can do ourselves covers that many sins. Our sin was so great that it required Someone much greater to appease the wrath of God. The burdens are lifted, and the laws of Moses are no longer needed because of Jesus Christ!

The gates of hell will not prevail against His Church (Matt. 16:18, ESV). Jesus Christ defeated death. He has risen (Matt. 28:6, ESV)! The love inside us because of Jesus can overflow into the lives of others. We are free because of Christ. He erased our debt. Let us not keep that message to ourselves like Jonah, unwilling to share it with anyone we believe doesn’t deserve to hear it. If you have the hope of Christ in your heart, you were still sinners when God showed His love for you (Rom. 5:8, ESV).

When Jesus was persecuted for dining with the tax collectors and sinners, He told them that those who are well don’t need a doctor; sick people do (Matt. 9:12-13). I want everyone to experience this freedom so they, too, can feel the joy it brings. But that does not mean everything goes and our sins are acceptable before God. We are still called to repentance and obedience as we live for God as new creations (2 Cor. 5:17-21, ESV).

Birds Sing in the Dark

You may (or may not) have noticed that I didn’t post last week. I think God is teaching me how to wait on Him and trust His perfect timing. Have you experienced a season of waiting? Like me, you may find it difficult. When we receive a glimpse from God, we are ready to forge ahead, but most of the time, we are to wait on God. In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers notably said that with every vision comes darkness. We are not given the complete view and results – only one small glimpse. When we are in the dark, we must wait for God to speak and show us the right time to move.

Any pressure to perform or move forward is of myself, not God. His yoke is easy, and His burden light (Matt. 11:30, ESV). Chambers also said that when our spirit is dejected, or in my words, disappointed and depressed, it is always of our own doing because we have tried to get ahead of God. Ouch! That stings, but only because it holds so much truth. There is freedom (not bondage) where the Spirit of the Lord is (2 Cor. 3:17, ESV).

We find Jesus speaking to His disciples, teaching them to ask, seek, and knock in Matthew 7:7-11 and Luke 11:5-8. Luke even says those who ask will receive, those who seek will find, and those who knock it will be opened. But before we jump on board, let’s dive deeper to see how to apply this correctly. The ESV Study Bible notes that ASK or PRAY: means coming to God humbly and aware of our needs; SEEK: hitches our prayers with responsible actions in pursuing God’s will, not our own; and KNOCK: is our perseverance. Don’t give up just because God hasn’t answered yet. Our persistence comes with the confidence that the Father will provide whatever His gracious and sovereign will is because He knows what is best for us.

But I want to add one more….TRUST. That’s a big one. After we ask, seek God’s will, and knock repeatedly, we must trust God with the outcome and not worry or be disappointed. But waiting in the dark, depending on God’s timing and answer, will be better than we can imagine when it does come.

Waiting is hard, especially when we are in the dark about what God is doing or not doing. But God…is a loving Father who gives GOOD gifts to His children (Matt. 7:11, ESV).

Even birds sing in the dark.

We can still praise God in our hearts – even in the dark and the seasons of waiting. I think God’s love language must be quality time – He loves spending time with His kids. Maybe the seasons of waiting are to draw us closer to Him, allowing the Holy Spirit to comfort us under the shelter of the Most High (Ps. 91:1). Under His wing’s shadow, there is no darkness that His light cannot penetrate.

Do you hear His call? “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28, emphasis mine).

Keep Fighting

Keep fighting…but know you are not alone in the fight. Do you keep things that are bothering you to yourself? I find myself doing that sometimes. Even though I know, I have friends and family who will pray for me and with me.

We all go through low times or a season of feeling off; thankfully, they are few and far between. Sometimes we must go through the valley to get to the next, and sometimes higher, mountaintop. There are also times when the enemy will try to keep us down. He does not want us to share our concerns with others because it makes his job easier.

On the run recently, on a morning, the wind was particularly gusty; at one point, in a straight stretch, it felt as if someone had their hand on my forehead holding me back, almost like I was running in place, not making any progress. It can feel the same way when the enemy is interfering – I had another group leader tell me recently that she felt like someone had both hands on her shoulders, weighing her down. Have you ever felt like that?

In these times, we must share our burdens and pray, using the spiritual weapons God gives us. (Putting on the whole armor of God and always praying in the spirit (Eph. 6:11-18, ESV). The enemy must flee by the power of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’s name. Jesus is already a victor over death, the grave, and the devil. We can rely on His strength when we are weak.

When I finally blurted out what was troubling me to a trusted friend, the load was lighter because I was no longer carrying it alone. Saying it aloud makes it lose its power and no longer fester inside us. We are not supposed to go it alone. A threefold cord is not quickly broken (Eccl. 4:12, ESV).

This reminded me of the homeplace where I grew up –a bank in our front yard was covered in deep purple irises. When I got older and moved next door, I wanted to dig up a few for my yard, so I tried to divide the many years’ worth of entangled roots to separate them. Even though iris roots are not deeply rooted and are sometimes ‘exposed,’ they intertwine to create a dense mat. Let’s say I didn’t get as many as I had planned. On the other hand, sunflowers can go ten feet deep and branch out. Both grow best in full sun.

We, too, grow best in the full light of the Son. When we feel exposed, it is a time to join forces with others, encourage and help carry one another’s burdens (Heb. 10: 23-25; I Thes. 5:11; James 5:16, ESV). We can stand firm on the promises of God. Jesus promises to always be with us (Matt. 28:20, ESV). May we be deeply rooted and grounded in love (Eph. 3:17, ESV) as we fight the good fight together (I Tim. 6:12, ESV).

The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust Him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving (Ps. 28:7, emphasis mine).

Balancing Act

I didn’t find my voice until I was 47. It was a decisive moment and the first time I stood up for myself as God whispered in my heart that I did not have to allow what was happening. This was preempted by an accident that I call my wake-up call.

I whispered a lot growing up, even to my mom when my siblings were around. This one little thing about me drove my brother Butch crazy. I can look back and see how shy I was most of my life. Sitting in the back of the room, just listening to everyone else, trying not to be noticed or called on, became my main goal in most group settings.

I got good at listening, but I was too preoccupied with my fear of being called on to pay close enough attention to what was being said most days. Then comes that moment, you know, when you realize if they called on you, would you even know what they were talking about? That is when I started listening closer, just in case.

In God’s divine sense of humor, He began preparing me for public speaking through my jobs. First, when I had to give presentations or stand up and tell something about myself in a networking group. Then, through my job as a newspaper reporter and photographer. I had to attend meetings, conduct interviews and ask questions, even when I was just the photographer. My mom used to say she wished she would be a fly on the wall to hear me speak.

Today, I use my voice to pray for others, praise God in all circumstances, and advocate for other women who need hope and healing. On occasion, I even speak to groups. Do I still get nervous? Yes. But I don’t allow that to stop me anymore. My relationship with God makes all the difference. I rely on the Holy Spirit to help me and give me the words and courage to step out in faith.

Now, I have been working on being a better listener. Listening is a form of love. I want to listen to understand, not just respond. Now that I have found my voice, I find it harder not to speak too quickly. I know my tongue is something that I not only use for good things but can also be harmful if I am not careful and take time to pause before allowing my words to spew.

Listening is a big part of our conversations with God. Sometimes I talk too much and must remind myself to stop and give God a chance to speak.

“Do you know why we only have one mouth and two ears? Because we are supposed to listen twice as much as we talk.” This is a quote attributed to Epictetus, a Greek philosopher.

James also has a few things to say about speaking less. Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19, NLT). I, for one, have said many things I wish I could take back. Whispering, “help me, Holy Spirit,” aids me in this endeavor.

James also says the tongue is like a rudder, a bit, and a spark. It may be one of the smallest organs in the body, but like the rudder makes a huge ship turn, a bit directs a horse, and a tiny spark can set a forest on fire, the tongue is more than capable of causing a lot of damage. It has similar control over everything a person is and does (ESV Study Bible). He compares someone who speaks both blessings and curses to a tree yielding two different kinds of fruit (v 9). Just as no tree produces two types of fruit, a true believer would not give blessings to God and curses toward others made in His image (ESV Study Bible).

The book of Proverbs also has much to say about how words are used. I recently found four categories for how the tongue is used in Proverbs in the Chronological Life Application Study Bible: The caring tongue, the controlled tongue, the conniving tongue, and the careless tongue. What we say and how we say it sometimes affects people more than other actions.

Both listening and speaking are balancing acts that God can help us master.

“in quietness and trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15, ESV, emphasis mine).

Grace Falls Like Rain

The sky opened up;

grace fell like rain.

In a moment of love,

God washed away my pain.

Grace fell like rain.

He whispered like a gentle breeze.

God washed away my pain

and filled my heart with promises – He would keep.

He whispered like a gentle breeze

and broke away the rusty chains.

My heart was filled with promises – He would keep

after walking through the flames.

He broke away the rusty chains

and gave me a new life

after walking through the flames

of heartache, misery, and strife.

He gave me a new life,

but my story isn’t complete.

Without heartache, misery, and strife,

He makes me feel unique.

My story isn’t complete,

but my past is forgiven.

He makes me feel unique

in the light of Christ, who is risen.

I know my past is forgiven.

Looking up to the sky, with arms outstretched,

in the light of Christ, who is risen,

my heart is refreshed.

Singing Praises to God

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1, ESV, emphasis mine). ESV Study Bible notes: The skies bear witness to the Maker.

As the sun of our Glorious Creator rises with new mercies each day (Lamentations 3:22-24, ESV) and sets each evening, offering spectacular views like this one, we can reflect on His faithfulness throughout the day, no matter what we face. What better way to begin and end our day than singing praises to our Lord and Savior – Jesus Christ! “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night” (Ps. 92:1-2, ESV, emphasis mine). Giving thanks every day will change our attitude.

There are 150 Psalms, about half of which were written by David, poems that express a wide variety of emotions. With many reasons to read the Psalms, we can turn to them for comfort in times of pain or grief or when we feel alone, to name a few. As the Chronological Life Application Study Bible suggests, “They put into words our deepest longings, thoughts, and prayers.” This is because they were written by people experiencing all of life’s highs and lows, just like us. If we compare these praises, prayers, and sometimes pleas for help or mercy to the events in David’s life, we can see how they fit and offer the same grace to us today that he received then.

The Greek name for the book means “song” and was already established by the time of the New Testament. The Hebrew name Tehillim means “praises,” – which points to the use of the Psalms as songs of praises offered to God in public worship (ESV Study Bible). The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary calls it the “hymnbook of Israel” and a source of instruction, comfort, and blessing for the people of God by teaching His people how to worship, serve, and glorify God forever. But the book’s focus, along with the entire Bible, is on the Messiah as our hope and the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Next time you feel alone, read 27 and 40. Comfort: 23; to learn a new prayer:136; to learn a new song: 92; forgiveness: 51; hope: 16; 17; 18; 23; 27; decisions or to understand why we should read the Bible: 119; and I could go on and on. When we learn to praise God in all circumstances, our attitudes will not be the only thing that changes.

“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2, ESV, emphasis mine).

Brand, C., ed., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville: B & H Publishing, 2015).

Getting Outside My Bubble

Nothing like being gone for a few days to make me appreciate being home. Not that I don’t enjoy the scenery in a new place, the opportunity to capture our Creator’s artwork in a new area, or visiting my family. It’s just that I enjoy being home too.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Alabama, an eleven-hour drive. Like many others, it had been three years since I traveled this distance.

Did I feel a little anxious about traveling again? Yes. Did every muscle in my body tense up as I gripped the steering wheel and leaned in as if that would help when I drove through Nashville? Yes. Did I do it anyway? Yes. Why? Because I knew I needed to get outside my bubble, and I probably will not have another chance all year due to my schedule. Granted, it may be a while before I do it again, but I am happy I did not give in to the anxious thoughts.

As I drove through several lanes of traffic with my white knuckles, I realized, in a more profound way, why my dad did not like to travel. He also did not like being away from home after dark. Like me, he enjoyed the comfort of his bubble a little too much.

As the Great Commission summons us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, I sometimes find it easier to stay inside my bubble. Unless I am intentional about going, seeing, listening, and even finding others to share it with, I tend not to do it as often as I should. I get too comfortable, too busy, too anxious, and so forth. But when I go, take a step of faith which sometimes feels like a giant leap, I am the one who is blessed the most.

Our challenge is to avoid getting too comfortable inside our bubbles and be intentional about loving others in a more profound way that sometimes requires us to go and share in person. To see, pay attention, and listen.

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns” (Is. 52:7, ESV).

(Watch for one of God’s many amazing sunsets over the waters of Fairhope next week)

Tin Star

Do you know who you are? More importantly, do you know whose you are? Paul wrote in Romans 8:14 that all those led by the Spirit of God are sons (and daughters) of God. Only Jesus Christ defines who we are. Our identity was carved out at the foot of the cross by our loving Savior. He has scars on his hands to prove His love for us. We are a chosen people (I Peter 2:9, ESV).

Once we figure out whose we are, the Holy Spirit begins to form our character and shape us into the image of whom we were created to be like, Jesus Christ. We may need new friends when our character changes since bad company ruins good morals (I Cor. 15:33, ESV).

It matters whom we hang out with, whom we cultivate friendships with, and whom we forge partnerships with. Our close-knit friends influence who we are, whether we realize it or not. Jesus ate with and socialized with those with questionable character, but He also had an inner circle of close friends. Peter, James, and John were among them, as were Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

It matters whom we follow. Anyone can pin on a tin star and pretend to lead us in the right direction. But a genuine leader will shine from within. We can recognize them by their Jesus qualities and character.

We are called to love everyone and cast a wide net to be “fishers for men” (Matt. 4:19, ESV). We are to share the Good News about Jesus Christ with those we meet, especially the lost and sometimes undesirable characters, but at the end of the day, we still need that one person or group of friends who we know has our back, holds us accountable, and whose character will not change with the culture; rooted and grounded in love (Eph. 3:17, ESV). Trustworthy enough to keep us sharp (Prov. 27:17, EV). Someone who won’t take offense when we speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15, ESV). Someone who will pray with us and for us.

We may not have too many friends like that, if at all. The challenge is intentionally building those kinds of relationships and sticking them out when it gets complicated. Because it will; relationships are messy, and people are complex. Remember- you always have a friend in Jesus (John 15:15, ESV). He is an actual model to adore and learn from. If we keep Him close and imitate His actions, soon we will be more like the friend(s) we look for. We must first be trustworthy people to attract faithful friends.

For further reading: Gal. 6:2, Prov. 18:24, Prov. 13:20, Eccl. 4:9-12, Heb. 10:24, James 5:19, I John 1:7, 2 Cor. 6:14.

The Sweet Presence of God

Most nights, I don’t have any trouble sleeping. Although I do wake up earlier than most, I enjoy starting my day in quiet reflection. I haven’t used an alarm clock in years. My internal clock naturally wakes me when it is time to get up, which is much more pleasing than a loud noise.

Occasionally, it is harder to fall asleep, especially if thoughts from my day are still roaming around like a night owl. It is usually only when I have not had a chance to calm down and get sleepy before bed. If I don’t doze off in the living room first, I might as well not even try to go to bed.

Sometimes I wake up extremely early, even for me, and can’t go back to sleep. In the past, those times frustrated me because I knew I had to work the next day and that it would be difficult to get past three o’clock without being exhausted (I call these the three o’clock yawns). But recently, when those times have occurred, I am more prone to think that God is waking me up to bless me with His presence because I have learned to use the time to communicate with Him instead of worrying and watching the clock, which never helps.

Sometimes, I pray about what was on my mind when I fell asleep or what suddenly shows up once I am awake. Other times, I meditate on something in His Word that I read that day or take the opportunity to communicate with Him through praise and thankfulness as I lay there in the dark. It is also an excellent time to talk out any potential worries that come up so I can give them to Him instead of letting them linger too long.

During these wee morning hours, God shows up in all His sweetness and gently reminds me that He is in control and I have nothing to fear. I consider any time spent with God in the quietness of these moments a sacred space that the Holy Spirit fills with sweet peace and joy, a blessing, even if I think I should be asleep. This has given me a new perspective and allowed me not to see these times as frustrating but as a gift from a Father who lovingly holds me in His hands and sometimes even redeems any sleep loss with a glorious nap later in the day, which is another gift.

There is such a sweetness about the presence of God that brings joy to our hearts no matter the circumstances and melts away all fear and worry, knowing He will provide.

“Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” (Ps. 100:2, ESV Emphasis mine).

For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence” (Ps. 21:6, ESV Emphasis mine).