living holistically, intentionally, and authentically in the hope of Christ Jesus
Azalea Trees and Tea Rooms was born out of an idea from a dear relationship I had with a Sister in Christ. We would walk the streets of Richmond, Virginia to exercise after work and during that time we spent much time praying and growing in Christ Jesus. We would frequent Mrs. Morton's Tea Room, along with other restaurants in the Fan area of Richmond and would admire the beautiful Azaleas along Monument Avenue. I mistakenly called them Azalea "Trees" one day and well, there you have it. I invite you along for stories, lessons, and a holistic approach to living organically and authentically in the HOPE of Jesus, as I experience through the Gospel and life and share my heart with you.
When I was a teenager and young adult, and a babe in Christ, I continuously doubted my salvation. I truly understood Christ’s ability to save me…I understood the gift of His mercy and grace…I understood well that His blood could cover all of my sins…yet, it seemed every other Sunday I was back at the alter weeping out of fear that Christ had not saved me thoroughly or that I had somehow lost my salvation. My heart and mind were a complete mess.
As I continued in this effort to “get saved again,” each Sunday, my pain and doubt kept cementing that I was not saved at all…thus…I was at the alter again. However, one night I was talking to a lady I knew from work who was also a Christ-Follower and she shared two verses from God’s Word that had a changing impact on me. She said, “Tammi — I have no doubt that you are saved because you are broken over your sin. You have been continually taking your sin to Him. Sweet girl, God loves your brokenness over sin and that you are inclined to bring it to Him often. He will not turn you away for that or mock you or even despise you…He loves you. When you think you’ve lost your salvation, you are feeling the Lord’s discipline on you.”
She then opened the Bible and showed me from Psalm 51:17 where David says to the Lord, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”
This verse comes out of prayer after Nathan had confronted David because of the sin he committed against God with Bathsheba. David was broken over his sin against God…if you read the entirety of the Psalm, you can feel that brokenness of spirit. I find myself particularly drawn to verses 11 and 12,
“Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.” (Psalms 51:11-12)
In those two verses, I understood David’s heart — not only had his sin broken him, but he was begging God to not throw him away because of it. He felt the pain that there could be should he no longer be in the presence of God. His brokenness brought him to the alter of contrition and repentance. But, it is important to understand that David did not get there own his own. None of us can…because when you come to that alter, God has been convicting you and discipling you so that you are brought there wholly.
Proverbs 3:12 says, “My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD Or loathe His reproof, For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.”
When we abide in Christ and long to do God’s will, He, like a father, will chastise us and discipline us for our sins. Paul gives us a stern warning about God’s discipline, “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” Hebrews 12:7-8 (Emphasis mine)
My heart cries out from that verse, “Lord, please chastise me and discipline me when I have sinned against you. Don’t delay, Father, please don’t delay.”
And so, I come often to that alter of contrition — I drop there in deep sorrow over my sin. Honestly, contrition or contriteness is a word we don’t often here from people — so I researched it to find out where such a word comes from and I was astounded. It comes from the Latin word, “Contritus,” which literally means “to ground to pieces.” Oh, yes, Lord, I’ve been ground to pieces —
Does your sin ground you to pieces on His alter? If it is not, I pray that you will allow Him to discipline you as a son or daughter. Let Him love you so thoroughly that you lie before Him prostrate and broken…ground to pieces and then allow that precious Blood to wash you clean — whiter than snow. Beg Him, as David did in Psalm 51:2, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin.” “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.” (Psalms 51:7-8)
As many women do, I struggle with many things. Sometimes the thoughts that satanic spirits would put into my head about myself can consume me. Am I pretty enough, am I smart enough, am I skinny enough, am I funny enough, am I liked enough, am I a good mother, am I a good wife, and the list gets longer and longer the more I dwell on it. I have spent most of my life striving for people to like me…or to even like myself.
These years have kept me in bondage to satan on different levels through eating disorders, self-harm, even promiscuousness as a young adult, as I searched for some man to love me and take me away from it all, like Prince Charming took Cinderella away from the awfulness of her life. But, I tell you that none of the things I have done to harm myself ever took me away from anything. They only added more misery to my life. For that was always satan’s plan — to keep me in misery.
However, there is a new lie that satan is peddling to women and that lie is that “I am enough.” Though, it seems like it could be a good and true statement off of the cuff, is it really? I am going to explore why I believe it is false and why we need to reject it.
First, let’s explore the lie, “I am enough.” Those three words are supposed to empower women to believe that looks, smarts, body image, and all of the other things that women feel that make them less valued are false, to be rejected, that they can then know and believe that they are enough…even more than enough. Further, satan tries to validate it with Scripture found in Psalm 139 to say, then, that a woman is to tell herself, “I am enough.” If you will recall, satan used Scripture to tempt Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11, and it is a practice satan employs often. So, some have put this thought into women’s minds that it is settled because “Scripture says so.” But, does it?
As I have searched the Scriptures and prayed on it and dwelt on it, I surmise that I am not enough. But, why am I not enough?
1. God’s Word tells me that I am a sinner and that I am utterly unrighteous.
“What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.” (Romans 3:9-12)
Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
2. God’s Word tells me that there is only one remedy for sin and that is Christ Jesus.
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
3. God’s Word tell me that if I repent and believe on the Lord Jesus, I will be saved.
“But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” (Romans 10:8-13)
Precious friend, Psalm 139 is true, we were knitted in secret in our mothers’ womb by God. But, because of Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden, sin was passed along and we became sinners.
“For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.” (Psalms 139:13-16)
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—” (Romans 5:12)
My friend, I say all of this to bring you Hope not discouragement. There is Hope that while we are not enough in ourselves, Christ became all that is sin, for us…He and only He is enough.
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21, Emphasis mine)
Do not believe the lies of satan…they are subtle and are meant to harm you with the worse kind of harm and that is eternity in hell being tormented. You are very precious in the LORD’S sight and that is why He sent His only begotten Son to take our sins upon Himself and to die for us…that we might live…eternally…with Him. While I’ll never be enough on this earth in all of its darkness, Christ is enough for me and I am so thankful to be grafted into that True Vine. Jesus reminded us of our value to God,
“Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)
Pray that you will see the value God has placed on you and not the lies of satan. If you have not repented of your sins and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, please do it now. We are not promised tomorrow.
“And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain— for He says, “AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU.” Behold, now is “THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,” behold, now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION”—” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)
I was a bit plowed down by this question this past week. Why did Jesus weep? My heart was not completely able to navigate that question, as I read John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” I have read that many times over the years, but in my grief I was overcome by the question. It was begging for an answer and I felt compelled to explore the “why.”
Before we can answer the “why,” we have to put some context to the verse. Jesus had been summoned by Mary and Martha because their brother, Lazarus, was very sick.
“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. Then after this He *said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” John 11:1-7
Mary and Martha knew that Jesus could heal their brother…they had seen Him heal so many throughout Judea. They also knew that Jesus loved Lazarus and would come at their harkening. However, He delayed coming to Bethany. We might wonder why Jesus would delay coming, especially knowing the depth of His love for Lazarus and Mary and Martha.
The answer becomes quite obvious as you read the account further.
“This He said, and after that He *said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” John 11:11-15
Jesus knew that Lazarus had died. Since He was fully God, He knew His mission was not to heal a sick man, but to raise a dead man. But, why??? He clearly tells His disciples it was for their sakes. I believe that Jesus needed for His disciples to see Lazarus raised from the dead so that when He resurrected, after His own death, they would believe it.
However, when Jesus arrived in Bethany, Mary and Martha were distraught. They did not understand why Jesus would delay coming to them. I am sure they felt quite abandoned by Jesus at that moment.
“So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus *said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha *said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” She *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she *got up quickly and was coming to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They *said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” John 11:17-34
And now, we have arrived at the verse that has caused my heart to ponder so deeply its meaning:
“Jesus wept.” John 11:35
Two words that have pierced my heart and my grief so profoundly…Jesus wept. This little verse was not included in John’s account by accident…God is very intentional in His Word so that we can understand better. In God’s intention for me to understand His Word, I have understood so much regarding this verse.
Jesus Wept — He wept because He loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus so very much. He was “deeply moved” by their grief. His heart was pained to see them hurting at the loss of their brother. It reminds me that our Lord is acquainted with our grief and our sorrow. The prophet Isaiah tells us of this surety in chapter 53, verse 3 and 4.
“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.”
Jesus Wept — He wept because He understood that when He raised Lazarus from the dead that Lazarus would die another physical death again. Yet, He knew that His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave had swallowed up death. If we Believe upon Him, we are given eternal life.
“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:50-57
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?“ John 11:25-26
Jesus Wept — He wept because of their lack of faith. While it was a momentary lack, Jesus knew that we too would suffer momentary lacks of faith from time-to-time. Martha and Mary’s momentary lack of faith was used to teach us to better trust.
“Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” John 11:21-22
Jesus Wept — He wept because He knew that He would soon suffer on the cross. While Jesus was resolved to complete the Father’s will, He still struggled with the cup He had to drink, while praying on the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest.
“And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, and said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46
God has given us such a beautiful picture of His love for us through His Son’s life on this earth. Jesus became like us…fully God and fully man and yet without sin. He set an example for us to follow..in His steps. His heart is ever toward us, as the Psalmist reminds us.
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15
“For His lovingkindness is great toward us, And the truth of the LORD is everlasting. Praise the LORD!” Psalms 117:2
John Piper said, “Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to the glory there, but all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain from the fallen nature of man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that. I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course, you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen. When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory. Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But, take these truths and day-by-day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach His Word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for!”
My grief this past week has only been met by God’s enduring love for me. I must become like Jesus in all things…even my sorrow…it is always for God’s glory. We were created to glorify Him and that does not change because I am sick or pained or tired or grieved. He is acquainted with my grief and my sorrow, but more than that, He suffered greatly physically…oh, what a Savior!
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4
As I walked around the house Christmas night, tidying up the kitchen and wiping everything down. The Christmas dishes washed and ready to be placed back in their lonely box until next year, I caught a reflection in a Christmas Bauble on the tree, which was sitting quite alone in the living room — the family no longer gathered around its evergreen branches — packages unwrapped and sitting under it — all was quiet.
I saw reflections of love and laughter and joy that had been unpackaged throughout the day. Hearts that reflected Christmases that have long been packed away in our remembrances and new ones that will be wrapped in the fragility of time.
That red Christmas ornament gave me glimpses of all that the Lord has lavished on me throughout the years — the blessings that have been counted one-by-one — the aroma of Christ…come wrapped as a Babe and placed in a feeding trough. The red causing me to recall His blood shed on a tree that bore only two decorations — a plaque that read, “Jesus King of the Jews,” and not a shining, glittering star, like the one God placed over Bethlehem to lead the Wise men to the babe, but a crown of thorns that pierced His brow. The gift given? Salvation, to the world — not wrapped in shiny paper, rather wrapped in Grace and Mercy. All that He has given in His goodness to me — strung, if you will, like lights wrapped around the Christmas Tree…encircling my life and wrapped tightly much like Mary wrapped the Christ-Child in swaddling clothes.
He gives to us generously from His store-house — He sifts those gifts and blessings through His sovereign hands — sifting out that which would cause harm — keeping that which would mature and sanctify. Some gifts we don’t understand, but they are gifts nonetheless — given by a Father who loves us and He only gives good gifts.
As I lean down to unplug and extinguish the lights on that Christmas Tree, I am reminded that He is the Light of the world that can never be extinguished…forever beckoning the wayward to “come unto Me.”
“I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46)
With the room darkened and only the street light shining through the front window blinds, I sit in a nearby chair to think about the past year. It has been a tough year for all of us and even tougher on some. We’ve ploughed through a pandemic, school closures, businesses shuttered their windows, and for many even death.
“Lord, please show me the reason…the lesson…the value in these things we do not understand?” As I ask the question, the room is still…the night is quiet…my family is asleep…my question is answered.
While 2020 has been one of the most difficult times I can remember in our country and the world, I know from His Word that the things that have passed were necessary and there is more to come.
“You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. “At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:6-14)
We must be ready — ready to persevere — ready to share the Gospel with others — ready to withstand the tribulations that are coming. Our purpose, as He tarries a bit longer, is to make Christ known and bring others with us into eternity.
“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Be ready to give an answer to those around you by the word of your testimony, as to why you follow Christ. Be ready to help them understand their need for Jesus and why He came — that is to save us.
“We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” (1 John 4:14-15)
“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
Therefore, gird yourself…put on the whole armor of God, for we will be in the toughest battle of our lives until the end. He will equip us, He will help us, He will comfort us, He will abide with us.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:10-20)
Thanksgiving always ushers in the promise of Christmas. When I was growing up in Virginia, we knew that as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes could be washed and put away that the Christmas Tree would be cut down and all of the decorating would begin. There were Christmas Tree balls, lights, tinsel, and the smells of Cinnamon and Cocoa, as goodies cooked in the oven.
Those few weeks leading up to that “magical” day were filled with busy. We bustled from one house to another expecting laughter with cousins, kisses from aunts and uncles, and all the pure love we could get from our grandparents. Packages were left under their trees, as were left under ours when they visited. Everyday we visited our Christmas Tree to see what new packages had arrived and we would pick them up and shake them hoping to figure out what was inside.
The thrill of all that Christmas promised was more than my child-heart could contain and I always so looked forward to every minute of it. I enjoyed the decorations and presents, but that which my heart loved most was our family being together and laughing and enjoying how we were all connected sinew by sinew — strengthened, loved, and cared for because we belong to one another.
Family and friend relationships are so very important as we sojourn this harsh world. Our human experience of suffering and disconnect is restored by coming together during the holidays. We all long for those times, but we know, and especially in 2020, how fragile such is. The pandemic that has torn through our year…taken captives…left many lost and without family because of quarantines, and sadly death has left darkness in many lives.
However, if we reflect on the reason we celebrate Christmas, it all becomes clearer and perhaps we can be comforted.
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” Matthew 1:18-25
Salvation had been born in a cave and laid in a feeding trough! The Messiah, promised to the Jews, did not come as the King or Ruler they were looking for, rather He came in helplessness and needed to be nurtured and loved and cared for so that He could then, as a man, be beaten, flogged, and nailed to a tree — a cruel Roman cross. God came to earth on what we call Christmas. He packaged Himself in the form of a Babe born to a virgin, Mary, and an earthly father, Joseph. These two did not erect a tree with lights and tinsel — no, they laid God — Immanuel — Jesus — in a feeding trough that was shadowed not by a Christmas Tree, but a cross. He was not wrapped in shiny paper with bows…He was wrapped instead in swaddling clothes and then death clothes.
Yet, what is the Hope?? He is our Hope! Before the foundation of the world God had a plan — His plan would redeem us to Himself.
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:21-25
As you gather for Christmas and gaze up on the lights and presents, do not forget He who came to give you the gift of everlasting life! There is no greater gift, hope, or joy!
“And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” Luke 2:9-14
Upon becoming a Christ-Follower in 1981, I knew and understood very little about God’s Word. I certainly understood that Christ Jesus came to die on a cruel cross for my sins and the sins of the world, and I completely submitted to my need of salvation, and laid my life prostrate before Him in repentance, receiving this free gift He offered…that of Eternal life.
What I couldn’t understand, at that moment, was how important it would be for me to daily sit at His table learning and memorizing all of his precepts. I honestly would not realize its importance until I was in my early twenties. I knew well the verse in Psalm 119:11,
“Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.”
But, I didn’t understand what that meant really. In my mind it was just a Bible verse I should know — there was no application or need for application.
That all changed for me when I was around 25-years old. I met my friend, Wanda, and she was a student of God’s Word. She dwelt in His Word — she devoured His Word — she shared His Word with other malnourished souls, such as I. But, one day she just got down with me and said, “You need to be in God’s Word — reading it, meditating on it, chewing on it like a cow chews its cud! It’s sustenance for a starving soul and yours is starving.”
It all became clear — I needed God’s Word as much as I needed to eat and drink to live. My soul was starving and parched — and what do you do with all of that need?? Well, I sat down with my Bible and begged the Lord to feed me and He did and He has.
The prophet, Jeremiah, declared,
“Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.” Jeremiah 15:16
How is that any different when we feed our body?? I think you would agree that when our body is physically hungry and we satisfy it with food, we feel full afterwards, and contented. I have Type 1 Diabetes and when my blood sugar drops too low, I have to give myself food to bring my blood sugar back up and balance the insulin that is in my body. If you’ve never experienced a low blood sugar, I will tell you that when it drops you become clammy and confused…you start to feel shaky. It is imperative to bring your blood sugar back up because if you don’t, you can slip easily into a diabetic coma. This I understood and I understood it well because I’ve experienced it.
Jeremiah is saying the exact same thing, but the difference he is talking about is feeding his soul and when he did, God’s Word became a joy and a delight to his heart. Well, I am not a rocket scientist, but I realized how low my spiritual blood sugar was — that I had an imbalance! So, I just propped myself up to the Lord’s table and began to feed!
Jesus told the disciples in John,
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” John 6:63 (Emphasis mine)
As I learned to dine consistently and often in God’s Word, I became stronger, more discerning, and better able to understand the Lord’s will for my life. I began longing more and more for the Word — I couldn’t hardly wait for an opportunity to get back into my Bible and study. Peter, when writing to several of the scattered churches encouraged them to “long for the pure milk of the word,” like babies! Babies when hungry and given the breast, suckle fast and hard…they want to get out every bit of goodness from their Mommas. If you’ve ever nursed a baby, you will understand. They are so contented…it is a “delight” to their bellies and it causes them to grow strong — feeding every ounce of them.
“…like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,…” 1 Peter 2:2
The more I read the Bible…the more I studied it…the more I suckled every bit of goodness from it, my heart was delighted with pure joy — I felt full and contented. Conversely, when I do not sit daily to read my Bible, I suffer greatly and my soul does languish. David understood this and he meditated on God’s Word — he treasured the Lord’s precepts — he declared that they were pleasing to his taste buds and “sweeter than honey or the drippings of the honeycomb.”
“The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.” Psalms 19:7-11
I encourage you to make time daily to read God’s Word. Ask Him to reveal it and to open your eyes — to feed you from it — so that you may be sustained and restored by it. He will — He most certainly will!
When I was around 4-years old, I was still walking around the house with a baby bottle hanging from my mouth — held there by my baby teeth that had protruded through tender gums. There wasn’t milk in that bottle, rather my Momma kept it filled with Pepsi Cola! Oh, how I carried that bottle around drinking that sugary soda…it was all I wanted…it kept me and my 4-year old appetite satiated!
As much as I could, I understood that I probably was too old to be walking around with a baby bottle — but it was a comfort and had all of that sweetness inside of it. Why in the world would I want to give up such a delight?? However, one day my Aunt Scarlett came to visit us. I saw her car pull up into the drive-way and she started walking toward our front door. I panicked! Totally, full-on pan…shame! I ran toward the kitchen and hid that bottle in the refrigerator so that my Aunti wouldn’t see it.
Not long after that confrontation with my shame, one morning I walked into the kitchen and asked Momma for my bottle and she announced that there were no more bottles — the rats had eaten them! I do not remember crying over it or throwing a fit. I must have just taken her word that rats had eaten my bottles and they ceased to be. I had finally out grown the baby bottle and was expected to now eat and drink the same things the rest of the family did.
I remembered all of that when I was studying in Hebrews this morning. The writer in Hebrews 5 and down in verses 12 through 14, speaks of the the Body of Christ needing milk again, even though by then they should be teachers.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Hebrews 5:12-14 (Emphasis mine)
When I read that passage, I felt such overwhelming conviction in my heart. There are many days when I do not feel that I’ve had any recent or sustainable growth while following Jesus. I find myself back in a place when I first came to Christ when I was 15-years old — having trouble discerning God’s Word and applying the wisdom I should have gained by now in my life. Truly, I feel malnourished and lacking the discipline I should have as a disciple of Christ…I’m still sucking on the bottle of milk rather than chewing on the meat and marrow of His Word.
I keep falling into the same ole’ sins — sins that keep me from a deeper fellowship with the Lord. Paul addressed this very thing with the Romans,
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Romans 6:1-2
My heart felt such defeat because I am still stumbling over the same sins that were forgiven and not living in the newness of Christ. Paul said,
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Romans 6:12-14 (Emphasis mine)
…and, as I asked the Lord to forgive me for falling back into the slavery of sin, I realize that I need to drop that bottle I am sucking on and pick up a fork to start eating the meat of His Word.
Milk certainly helped me to grow when I was a babe in Christ, but in order to strengthen my faith and walk, I must suck that rich marrow out of God’s Word that will build me and make me “an instrument of righteousness to God.” I no longer need to be weaned…I am more than ready to masticate on His Word…it’s really the only way to keep me mature in Him, discerning of His precepts, and more able to apply wisdom in my decision making.
BUT, it’s not just about me — nothing is ever just about us alone. When I allow God to feed me that which sustains and strengthens me, I can then be the teacher that Hebrews 5:12 declares I should be. We are not here to live like fat little babies, but we are here to be tools that God can use for His glory…we are to bring others to Christ. We are here to share the Gospel — that Good News — because HE is not willing that any should perish!
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
My encouragement and prayer for you, dear friend, is that you will lay that baby bottle down and pick up your fork and sit down and feast on God’s Word. Learn His precepts…love His law…ask Him to feed you generously at the table of His Word and to forgive you for not supping there, as you should have. He will not despise your contrite heart…in fact, He loves a contrite heart!
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Psalms 51:17
One day we will all meet at a Banquet Table set by Holy Hands and fellowship together with Christ at the center. Oh, how I look forward to that day!
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he *said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'” And he *said to me, “These are true words of God.” Revelation 19:7-9
I have many memories of my childhood from growing up in Virginia. Some of the fondest I have were spending time with my grandparents. We spent the summers running the fields and fishing and playing…they were full, and welcomed each year.
When my Momma’s mother died, it was the first time that I had ever lost one very close to me. I was 15-years old when she passed. I loved her ever so dearly…and as I remember her I can still smell the Oil of Olay on her skin and how soft she was when I touched her and hugged her. I smile as I remember how she would giggle and cover her mouth as she did, or how she crossed her arms together when she was sitting and listening or talking. I do not remember what her voice sounded like, but I can almost hear her say my name. I stand in her 4’10” shadow and know that I will never be half the woman that she was — she was so strong — like the Appalachian Mountains she called home for so many years.
I do believe that the hardest thing I ever had to do was bury my Momma. She was another strong woman — not letting much get the better of her. However, our relationship (as close as it was) was tumultuous at best. There was a deep need within both of us for someone to love us without condition — that need rose above everything that we did or touched.
Oh, we would fight…almost to the death…but I was tethered so tight to her that the our need for each other outweighed the angst between us. She resented my pulling away from her in every way I could and I resented her tight control of me that was suffocating much of the time. Yet, still, she was mine and I was hers and we stayed tethered so closely in angst and love all wound up together — sometimes resembling something beautiful and other times revealing an unfathomable mess with knots and frays — that neither of us understood how to unravel — so we loved because honestly, there was no other choice. We were tethered to each other until death.
I broke my parents’ hearts so many times over their lifetime of raising me. I caused them to walk the floor many nights and days too. One of the most poignant struggles was August of 1981 when I attempted to end my life. I was only 15-years old…confused and I desperately needed someone to somehow show me how to aright my life. I felt so lost and in that lostness there was so much unbearable pain. So, from there began years of pain for me and for them.
Daddy died about 10 years before my Momma did and it was hard. However, in 2009 when Momma suddenly died, a pain entered my soul that I had never experienced before. I was living in Florida by then with my husband and we received the call that we needed to get to Richmond and soon. However, the morning my plane landed and unbeknownst to me, Momma had died.
The journey from Richmond to Powhatan, where my childhood home was, seemed so much longer than it ever had before. Every thing I saw betrayed my senses and the world was so unaltered by my grief and her absence. I couldn’t breathe really — air betrayed me — my chest was so tight with pain. How was I supposed to go on from here without her? Because I knew that the tether that kept me planted on the ground was now irreparably severed. Who would I be without her? Was I now an orphan??
There were no answers to my crushing questions — only darkness — only grief.
As we climbed the little hill and turned toward the house — we descended the next hill — there was her home and at the end of her drive-way, the loveliest Irises were in bloom. The purple and lavender hues reached toward the Creator of all things and I knew at that very moment that I was tethered to Christ.
I understood at that very moment that I was not orphaned at all — but I was rooted in Him — in the midst of grief and pain and sorrow beyond measure that my roots were firm and sure because He is my surety. I was so grateful for that reminder in simple Irises and took my breaking heart and hid it under His pinions — my Refuge and my Strength!
“Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.” (Colossians 2:6-7)
“He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.” (Psalms 91:4)
The Lord reveals Himself in the beauty of Irises and grandparents and Mommas — He tethers us to earthly things while we are learning Kingdom things. He demonstrates His great love for us through the death of His son and the beauty of earthly relationships.
He is faithful to care for us in these things — He is faithful to me —- and YOU!
There are days that I just want to throw in the towel…I’m done! My mind and heart become so darkened by the daily-ness of living and being and existing. There have been days when I do not want to breath or blink or even think of breathing another breath.
My mind has felt so fractured — so full of things that distract me from the work I must do in the name of Jesus. My mind fills with constant noise and red bouncy balls that are incessantly maddening — it is hard to catch my breath. I feel like I’m drowning in an ocean so very deep that I find the light almost impossible to distinguish.
I cry out to the Lord minute-by-minute and beg Him to help me — beg Him to hold me up out of the depths of the depression and darkness that threaten to end me. David cried out to the LORD in his darkness,
“O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger, Nor chasten me in Your wrath. Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am pining away; Heal me, O LORD, for my bones are dismayed. And my soul is greatly dismayed; But You, O LORD—how long? Return, O LORD, rescue my soul; Save me because of Your lovingkindness. For there is no mention of You in death; In Sheol who will give You thanks? I am weary with my sighing; Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. My eye has wasted away with grief; It has become old because of all my adversaries. Depart from me, all you who do iniquity, For the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping. The LORD has heard my supplication, The LORD receives my prayer. All my enemies will be ashamed and greatly dismayed; They shall turn back, they will suddenly be ashamed.” Psalms 6:1-10
When I read David’s prayer to the LORD, which is prayed from the depths of his utter despair, I do not feel so far away in my own despair. I believe God recorded David’s prayers in His Word so that we wouldn’t feel so foreign and worn and fractured when life weighs heavily in on us. God gave us more than David’s laments, He also recorded David’s declaration of God’s faithfulness to him. “The LORD has heard my supplication, the LORD receives my prayer.” One can draw such comfort from those words — words of promise — words that ensure we’ve not been forsaken or ignored.
In fact, God assures Joshua through Moses,
“The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8
He assured Jacob,
“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28:15
“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
With all of those assurances God has given in His Word, I am most comforted by Solomon’s words upon bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the Temple,
“May the LORD our God be with us, as He was with our fathers; may He not leave us or forsake us, that He may incline our hearts to Himself, to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances, which He commanded our fathers.” 1 Kings 8:57-58
As the doubts and darkness and aloneness found in sleepless nights invade my fractured and splintered mind, I am reminded that in the depth and midst of those fractures their is Light breaking through. The Light is Jesus and He dispels the darkness with Hope and urges me to persevere…even when the very next breath is difficult. He is my Light and my Breath — amidst a fractured and broken mind. David again reminds me of this truth,
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?” Psalms 27:1
However, as I look through the fractures and through the lens of God’s all-knowing, eternal Word, I cannot help but see the Eternal Promise God has given us in Revelation,
“There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 22:3-5
As I eagerly await Christ’s return, I will allow the Light to seep through the fractures in my mind and heart — I will hope — I will persevere! There really is no other way and how sweet He is to allow me to rest here until then!
My sojourn here seems to have lengthened into a snail crawl over the past ten plus months. The news, the pandemic, and the uncertainty for tomorrow that we all are facing makes one quake in their shoes. I find myself praying more to the Lord about being afraid than I ever have before.
In a couple of weeks, our country will vote to decide who the next President of the United States will be and regardless of who you are voting for, it is a scary thought. Our votes will count for more than the next four years because with each President that is elected, it counts for policies that reach into future generations. I will consider my vote very soberly and pray that I’ve voted according to the will of God, and the candidate that lines up more closely with my Biblical world view.
However, I am afraid. I am afraid because I just don’t know what will happen. Yet, God’s Word assures me that I do not need to be. Again and again, His Word tells me to trust in Him and to leave my anxieties with Him for He is able to bear these burdens of my flesh. The Psalmist wrote:
“When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.” (Psalms 56:3)
Those words from David should bring comfort to me, but my heart is still beating erratically. “Lord, help me to trust You!” “How can I trust You when I am so afraid, Lord?” As I cry out these prayers to the Lord, I remember His pinions and drag my frightened soul beneath them and as a Father does, He wraps them around me and hides me. He beckons me to rest there where I can be safe. As I tremble beneath those sheltering wings, I hear the Holy Spirit speak gently to my soul, “Rest child and trust He who calls you His beloved.”
Still my spirit shakes with fear and I beg Him to show me how. Then more firmly, He says to me, “Child, all that is happening in the world is being carefully sifted through my Holy hands. Do you think that I’ve now abandoned you? Who told you such a thing!?!”
I know well who told me such a thing! I know who places the doubts and fears into my soul. “Oh, Lord, forgive me for listening to the destroyer of this world, please forgive me.”
In Romans, Paul answers my question acutely and firmly:
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-39)
In those last two verses, we are told that we can be confident through tribulation and to know that there is nothing that can come in and separate us from Him. What a sweet promise with much certainty for us!
There will be times when we are afraid, but in our fear we are sheltered beneath His pinions where we are secure and nothing can sever us from Him. Mary Sullivan wrote this poem:
Give us wisdom, Lord of mercy. Confused we are by worldly things. Instruct us through our days and nights. Hide us all beneath Your wings.
In You, O Lord, we are at rest. To our minds, the truth You bring. Our hearts rejoice, with thoughts of You, Who keep us safe beneath Your wings.
You are our mighty fortress, Lord. Our King above all earthly Kings. Your strong pinions cover us. We are secure beneath Your wings.
Give wisdom to our loved ones, Lord. Confused they are by worldly things. Instruct them in the way of truth. May they too hide beneath Your wings.
May loved ones turn to You, dear Lord, Seek You as their only King, May they ever seek Your will. Shelter them beneath Your wings.
“He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.” (Psalms 91:4)