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3 Spiritual Questions

Christmas is over.  The climatic hustle of the western world has descended to the natural outcome of gifts exchanged, swelled stomachs, and wearied travelers destined to face the unalterable fact that there is an inescapable void from living in a fallen world even with all the promises that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.               This day of facing the complex reality of living in a fallen world is a perfect opportunity to face that void within and ask yourself some important spiritual questions that have the potential to restore your soul and set you on track spiritually to live out the true promises of God.                God who is your Creator, is your Provider and Protector.  He defends and befriends you and gives you this pattern from the beginning of His Word.  He created the world and provided everything human beings would need to live within it, including the warning not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—one command. …

Advent for the Soul

Christ’s coming to earth, taking on human flesh and living among us, leads a soul to feel its worth.  Weary souls rejoice because Christ was born to be our friend through our trials.  Souls are thrilled with hope because the sin and error can be redeemed.  This is the message in the lyrics of O Holy Night.  Theyproclaim the spiritual transformation of Advent on the soul.                  Are the burdens of life the reason for your soul’s anguish?  Does your soul demand to be loved, honored and cherished, yet receive so much less than what it was created to enjoy? My soul demands to be accepted, yet it receives condemnation, loved yet it is despised, valued though it is detested.  In the fallen world in which I live, I receive contempt from the most unlikely of relationships.  My soul cries out against this treatment.  My soul detests these insults that it is no power to defend.  Then Christ was born and the soul’s worth is restored.                 The birth of Christ r…

Waiting Without

When you are waiting you are without what you are waiting for. As a new grandmother I experience this absence in an intense way. On the second Sunday of Advent I had to leave my post as chief cook and bottle washer after Lila was born. It's a role every grandmother covets and carries out with the greatest of love. Since I live several states away, I won't be able to see her again for three weeks. During weeks three and four of Advent, I will not only wait for Christmas, but also I will wait to be reunited with Lila, this time with Grumps by my side; his wait to meet her is a little longer than mine. Waiting to see Lila again puts me in touch with the intense ache of being without what my heart longs for. Perhaps this absence of what we most want is part of the reason we distract ourselves from the spiritual gift of Advent. Maybe it is the angst of waiting that compelled us to create fantasies of gifts, parties, feasts, and endless shopping during the season of Advent. It'…

Waiting on Lila

On the first day of Advent I awoke to a call at 3:20 am that I should come to the hospital because my daughter was being taken down to deliver Lila—my first grandchild!  I had been first alerted to her early arrival two days before when Rachel's water broke, but not much labor. I arrived in Birmingham seven and a half hours later (it would have been sooner but there wasn’t a direct flight!). And then...we waited. We waited on Lila’s lungs to respond to a couple of steroid shots (she was three weeks early). As we waited, we halfway watched football and occasionally made small talk about subjects other than Lila’s birth; but mainly we carried on just wishing, wondering and thinking we could plan for the time that Lila would arrive based on the medical advice we were given.  All we could think about was what we were waiting for, our baby girl to come into the world.

While waiting on Lila, a code blue was called to her room; then the number was changed to the room next door. We Gran…

Immanuel--God with Us

Advent draws our thoughts towards the beyond-good-news that God shared with the world over 2000 years ago.  God’s news spread throughout the whole world and continues to encircle the globe.  This news began broadcasting long before our modern media communication tools.  Similar to the way the good news spread in the vicinity of Bethlehem on the eve of His birth, this particular news has best been shared through word of mouth from individuals whose lives have been personally transformed after encountering Jesus.  After the angels, sent from heaven, startled the shepherds by announcing the birth of Jesus, the people of God have taken it from there.  The church can’t stop sharing the reality of what it means that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came to our world to be one of us.  He did this so that God could restore any who will put faith in Jesus Christ to become one with Him.               As we prepare to gather in crowded churches on Christmas Eve, let us consider ho…

Thankful Hearts

It’s Thanksgiving in America.  I’m thankful for Thanksgiving.  I’m thankful that the pilgrims and the Indians joined together to celebrate Thankfulness in the new community that was forming.  They demonstrated a moment in history that is worth repeating and celebrating.               History reveals that supporting one another’s mutual good was not maintained in the years that followed this celebration.  Mutual thankfulness gave way to distrust, greed and war. The outcome was years passing without an annual celebration of thankfulness.  I wonder if we can learn from history how thankfulness and mutual care for one another in America can produce a good result for all who come to the table.                 Thanksgiving 2016 happens in a year of a divided nation.  Riots and protests plagued our country after a hotly debated election.  Thanksgiving calls us to come to the table.  To set a historical Thanksgiving table, you could invite those who are different from you.  Wo…

He is Good

I don’t think you can progress spiritually until you resolve the question of whether God is good.  The goodness of God will make all the difference in your devoted love for God.  What keeps us from believing in the goodness of God?  After all He sent His Only Son to die on a cross to enable humans to become reconciled to Him in spite of our innate sinful condition.  How could He express the extremity of His love more?                God created this world with goodness in mind.  Each and every day of creation He looked at what He made and declared it good.  Inherent in all of creation is an unrelenting goodness.  In the most horrid of experiences there is potential to see good, if you learn how to look for it.               This Sunday our opening prayer went like this: God the Revealer God reveals Beauty to us…if we open our eyes to see it. God reveals Truth to us…if we open our minds to accept it. God reveals Love to us…if we open our hearts to receive it God reveals Wond…

Casting Anxiety

Every person reading this devotion has personally experienced anxiety.  Anxiety is a common result of living in a sinful world.  God knows that all people face anxiety.  He assumes anxiety is a part of our human condition.  There is a lot of anxiety in America this week regarding our 2016 election.               I love how Peter addresses anxiety.  We see his vocation as a fisherman displayed in the way he describes what to do with the emotion of anxiety with which we all find ourselves constricted.  He uses an old fisherman’s term—casting.  He tells us: Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).  This statement is made at the conclusion of some other advice he gives to all Christians about submitting to others, being humble, trusting God’s mighty hand—basically the selflessness Christ demonstrated to us.  It’s as if he knows this advice would naturally produce anxiety.                Peter’s advice for overcoming anxiety is bold and irrational…

Don't Judge Me for My Vote

Election seasons are always divisive for our country, but this election seems to be pitting Christians against Christians.  Should all Christians vote the same way?  Is there just one answer like on a college exam?  I am praying that all Christians will vote.  Is that a good prayer?  Should all Christians vote?  Are you sinning if you do not vote?  Are you sinning if you vote prochoice?  Are you sinning if you vote for someone who has moral failures?  Can you vote if you refuse to vote for someone who moral issues? The place I go to find answers to these questions is the Scriptures.  Our election invites us to deeper spirituality.  We have to fight the natural urges to allow the media and heated discussions and accusations to disturb our souls.  The best way to have peace about voting is to pray through your vote and read God’s word for His personal answer.  That is where I go to make my decision.  Here are some things I keep in mind about myself and others during the election.  God…

Don't Stop Praying

Do you ever wonder why we pray?  Do we think we can tell God how to run the world better?  Is the God of the universe in need of our advice?                Obviously, God is not in need of advice from us mere mortals.  Still, He invites us to pray.  He tells us to nag Him in prayer!  He says he is attentive to our prayers.  Jesus recommends that we pray persistently, like our life depends on it.                Earlier this spring, it surprised me when I recognized that I had buried my spiritual gift of prayer.  I do pray every day, throughout the day, and every evening.  My prayers had become mostly about connecting to God—which is a good reason to pray.  I also focused on covering my family and ministry prayer.  However, I had not been asking for specific requests consistently and determinedly.                 Luke 18:1-8 has become a personal invitation for me to keep on praying even if it doesn’t seem that the subjects of my prayers are important to God.  He doesn…

The One We Can Trust

As Christians we need to remember that the One we can trust is always our good God.  He alone cares for us.  He alone provides for us in a worn and weary land.  Why is it so hard for us to stay in touch with this truth we all know?               We live a world that is distant from the very presence of God.  When God created the world, He created it in a way that His presence would be a daily highlight of our lives.  In Genesis 1-2 we understand how not only was the world perfectly suited to give Adam and Eve everything they needed physically in the garden God planted but it also gave them everything they needed to have purpose and meaning.  The meaning of life increased as they cultivated the garden and enjoyed the pleasures of the world. They had everything they needed in a perfect relationship where their differences made them perfectly suited for each other.  Neither was blaming the other for not seeing the world as they did; rather their differences created their o…

Our True Country

I’ve just concluded a study of Peter’s first letter to the church.  He wrote it from Rome to churches that were facing persecution in Turkey and southern Asia.  I have Christian friends in those same places, and many of them are dealing with degrees of persecution because they are Christians. Their faith in Christ puts them at greater risk than people who profess faith in Islam or other religions in those regions.  I was reading it as if Peter were writing to my friends today, and I found it contained so much encouragement and spiritual direction for them and for me.               I especially liked the way Paul closed his letter.  Formerly he thought Christ only came to save Jewish people, but it was revealed to him early on that Jesus came for Jews first and then for the whole world.  In his concluding remarks Peter mentions Babylon as chosen by God too.  Most believe that this was a reference to Rome—the World Government of his time.  That Babylon was chosen can also…

Praying for Our Country

My word for the year is prayer.  At the end of 2015 I took some time to reflect and pray and ask God for a spiritual focus for 2016.  I can’t remember how, but the verse God led me to was Luke 2:37…she never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.  I have been doing a lot of praying this year, but I haven’t fasted except during Lent.  I usually fast when there is something really important coming up.  I do have a concern regarding a major decision that I am powerless over, so I thought I would gear up my prayer with fasting once a week.  I don’t see fasting as a way to make God more inclined to do what I want Him to do.  Rather, I see it as a way to remind myself of how dependent I am on God’s grace and through my tangible efforts.  Fasting is a spiritual discipline that reminds me that the best I can do is entrust my concerns to His care.  When I go without food as a reminder to myself that I am called to pray for a certain concern, I am acknowl…

Blessed Suffering

How can suffering be blessed?  There is one and only one way.  It is when you suffer while you love God.  In fact, Peter tell us that we are called to obtain the blessing because we do not revile when we are reviled.  Peter seems to assume that each one of us will have opportunities to follow Christ in the way of suffering unjustly.  Here are a few of Peter’s thoughts on the subject of blessed suffering: Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing…..Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed (I Peter 3:8-9; 13-14).               Laura Story wrote the words to the song: Blessings after her husband was diagnosed with cancer, and she was challenged by her sister to consider the ble…

Self-Control

How can you control your fears in the crazy world in which we live?   The key is self-control and sober-mindedness.  Why?  So you can pray.  Peter tells us this is in 1 Peter 4:7: The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.               I find living as if the end of all things is at hand is the very opposite of my natural instincts.  Rather than looking at that dress I admire and thinking through how long that will be in style, how many years I can wear it, why I might need a new dress when my closet is full of dresses (some I haven’t worn this year). I just want it.  I want it now.  I am a good enough steward, though, to forgo the purchase if it can’t be accounted for in my budget.  But does God have a better way for me to spend that money?  If I am sober-minded thinking about the end of the things of this world, it will lead me to pray about my purchase and make the best choice.  Sometimes I do buy the…

Telling Our Stories

Every life is a chapter in God’s ongoing story.  He never tires of reading the stories we write each day we live.  I’ve got to believe that so many of our stories must bring tears to His eyes as he thinks about the cruel things we say and do to one another.  Yet He records our lifetime experience, each life a book that has the potential to become a bestseller in God’s eyes.                Revelation 12:11 says: They triumphed over himby the blood of the Lamband by the word of their testimony.  It’s important that we recognize the power in telling our stories.  Once you tell what you saw God do in your life to someone else, you have received it deeper into your truest reality.  We do overcome by the power of telling our story.  Telling our experience in walking with God to another person solidifies what you believe about your experience.               Many avoid telling their stories because of the way they have seen others rejected for speaking about God’s movement in t…

Baptism

As a Baptist minister, I have lots of conversations with people about baptism.  Besides confessing Christ as Lord, believers baptism is the only other requirement for becoming a member of a Baptist church.  Other denominations have classes that must be attended for a number of weeks before baptism.  Baptism is a highly regarded sacrament for a Baptist church and, indeed, how you view baptism does matter. I’ve served at a church that practices infant baptism.  It is essential for that church that no one have two baptisms.  They refer to the creed where it says there is one baptism, so as long as you have been baptized you can take communion and move towards membership.  In their view of baptism, parents dedicate their children to be raised as Christians so they baptize them right away, believing that the child will make a decision to accept Christ at their confirmation (between the ages of 12-14).  Every time baptism is done in their church all who have been baptized participate by re…

What is Holiness?

There are many difficult passages in the Bible.  One that has puzzled me for decades is found in 1 Peter 1:15-16: But as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy. (quoted from Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7)               First of all, how can anyone be holy living in these dirty, uncivilized conditions we live in here on earth?  Seriously, try to remove yourself from the scum of sin!  There is no place you can go.  Even monasteries are affected by the stink of sin.  I discovered this spiritual truth cleaning my house and doing the laundry.  You can never have all the laundry completed because the clothes you are wearing while you do the laundry are becoming soiled as you work.  Moms of young children know the futility of believing they can have a clean house; the very moment they are cleaning the bathroom, the bedrooms are coming unglued!  In my opinion this command to be holy is just as impossible.  …

God's Simple Answers to a Culture in Chaos

I do not easily cry. As I sat in church listening to a well-known Southern Baptist preacher, I did not expect to shed a tear.  It wasn’t that he preached an emotional sermon.  His antidotes were not tear-jerkers.  The reason I cried in church last week is because OS Hawkins clearly and unashamedly spoke God’s truth about our culture and trough one simple verse, showed us God’s answer to our culture in chaos.  It wasn’t a perfect sermon.  I don’t think he made it clear enough that Baby Boomers are part of the crowd that wants something for nothing. The facts are: sinners are sinners no matter what decade you are born.  Another point I recognized as unhelpful was his jibe at transgender folks by his offhanded comment: When you wake up in the morning and after you shave or put your make-up on, or in this culture maybe both.  I laughed at the time but can’t recommend his sermon without acknowledging that it didn’t need to be said.I have a friend who does wake up in the morning and shaves …