Tuesday, November 6, 2012

11/6/12 - The Ocean

     The smell of salt water. The calm sound of the tide rolling in and out in a steady rhythm. The feel of warm sand beneath my feet. The sound of seagulls soaring overhead. The splash of the surf hitting the rocks. Ah, I'm feeling warm and peaceful in my daydream. On cold mornings like today, when the frost covers the ground, thoughts of our trips to the ocean can be a pleasant diversion! When we lived in Florida it was a thirty minute drive to the beaches of the Gulf Coast. What a great way to spend a day off. Personally, my favorite thing to do at the beach is to walk right along the edge of the surf. With the sound of the tides rolling in and out and the waves lapping at my feet, I could walk and walk and walk. I end up walking much farther than I plan to on many occassions. There's just something so peaceful about it and I end up feeling so close to God while I'm there.
     Another favorite activity at the beach is looking for beautiful seashells. Sanibel Island is home to some of the best shelling in the world, but you have to get there early to get the best shells before they're snatched up by the professionals. After awhile we began to know which shells were commonplace and which were special. There is even a fabulous shell museum on the island where you can go and see the many types of shells and learn about the life cycle of different shells. You can even hold live shells in a tank. After, attending a field trip there we really began to see how special some shells are and why they are so rare.
     So, when I was walking along the ocean one afternoon and I just looked down and there at my feet was a perfect, beautiful banded tulip shell. It felt like a special gift from God! It was my favorite shell at the museum. I've only ever seen two others on subsequent trips and they were both flawed. I still have that shell. For several years it sat on the edge of my kitchen sink so I could admire it daily. Now it is kept in a special jewelry box so I can pull it out and enjoy it every now and then.

     Each special shell I find is like a small way of taking the ocean home with me. I can remember the special time with God and the peaceful feelings of just being there at the ocean. For me, it's like the ocean is the strong presence of God and those beautiful shells are a special treasure He reveals, much like the scriptures He has given us. Each verse that jumps to life on the pages of the Bible are those special treasures. Each word that assures me of His love and grace and even His justice have a place in my collection. Each word that I memorize or hang on my refridgerator so I won't forget is like another gleaming, treasured shell. Each verse that transforms me is like the treasured, special shells that get a place of honor in my home and among my keepsakes. God's word is alive and active and truly is a treasure trove of wisdom. So, let's keep digging in to the pages of the Bible and letting God highlight those passages that he wants us to learn to treasure.
     Today, let's take time to remember a few of the treasures He has given us in the past from His word. Words that lit your path in times of trouble and darkness. Words that filled you with hope when all hope seemed lost. Words that challenged you to live a more godly life. Words that assured you of His love expressed in human form through Jesus. Words that reminded you that His grace was more than big enough to cover your sin. I'd love it if you would take the time to share one or two of your treasured scriptures with me and the other readers as a comment below. Maybe we'll each find a new treasure as we share. May God bless your treasure hunt!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

8/29/12 – Guaranteed!

     Satisfaction guarateed. Remember those words? Remember when they meant something? I don't know about you, but lately I've been very disheartened by the lack of quality in the goods I've purchased. And customer service, forget about it! The last time we bought a vacuum cleaner, we had to return it two times before we got one that worked. Sad, eh?
     And it seems that even buying “name brand” doesn't always help. My daughter, Juli, and I enjoy decorating cakes. In the cake decorating world, “Wilton” was always a name brand you could trust to have excellent quality. Recently though we bought a cookie sheet from them that burns everything you put on it and two decorator bags that split wide open before their first use. Not what we expected when we went with the Wilton product. We've also seen it in the motorcylcle world. My husband, John, had the opportunity to work as a fill-in worker at the Harley-Davidson plant during his lay-off. While working there, he saw the decline in quality parts and the rush job in labor just to get more bikes on the road faster. Of course, the result is more recalls, unhappy customres, and unhappy employees. Several men shared with John that they used to be proud to work at Harley and to own the product they produced. Now, many employees confessed that they would never buy the product they are producing now. (Sorry to all you Harley fans out there!) And the bad experiences don't stop there, but my “ranting” will! (Aren't you glad?)
     Aren't you also glad that our God is a God of His word. He is a God of promises and a God of keeping His promises. He is the God who promised Abraham and Sarah a child in their old-age. He is the God who promised Noah a way through the flood. He is the God who promised David that he would be king one day. He was the God who promised Israel a land of their own. He was the God who promised Moses that he would go ahead of the Israelites through the desert. He is the God who sent Jesus to be our reconciler and redeemer! He is a God who keeps His promises! Guarateed!
     Even the names of God show His promises and hold a light up to reveal His character. He is Jehovah Rophe, the Lord our healer. He is Jehovah El Emeth, the Lord God of truth. He is El Eyon, most high God. He is El Emunah, the faithful God. He is Jehovah Elohe Yeshuathi, the Lord God of my salvation. He is Jehovah-jireth, the Lord shall provide. He is Jehovah Bore, the Lord Creator. He is El Rai, the God who sees me. He is Jehovah Maginnenu, the Lord our defense. He is Jehovah Shalom, the Lord our peace. He is Jehovah Tsidkenu, the Lord our righteousness. The list of name could go on and on. He is a big God and a single name would never do Him justice. But tucked in those names are promises, beautiful promises. He will provide. He will judge. He will make a way! It's in His name, it's in His charater, and we have witness in His word that He has kept every promise He ever made. Finally a guarantee we can count on!
     Take a little time today and read through Hebrews chapter 11. Often called the great faith chapter, it recounts the work of God in the lives of men and women throughout the old testament who walked by faith and saw God's faithfulness first hand. But remember, they are not supernatural human beings. They were men and women, just like you and I, who walked in faith, believing in their supernatural God to keep His word. Then, as the writer of Hebrews says, “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down st the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

8/21/12 – Giving Up

     Have you ever felt like just giving up? Chances are that at some point in your life you've faced hardships or disappointments that made you feel like just throwing in the towel. If any of those times in your life stretched on for months or even years, then you can relate to the feeling of being on an emotional roller coaster. One day, you wake up and feel ready for the challenges. Nothing can bring you down. This trial can only last so long, right? You've got this! But then you wake up the next day and there's more bad news to face, more bills in the mailbox, another broken appliance, another child needing to go to the doctor, another bad test result. On those days, you just want to throw up your hands and yell, “I've had enough!”
     David, in the book of Psalms, puts these feelings into words beautifully. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;” (Psalm 13:1-3) It sounds like David was definitely on the low end of the roller coaster ride when he penned these words, doesn't it? He obviously felt like giving up. But, he didn't give up. Instead he poured out his heart to the God he knew could bring him through. The God who had promised him that he would one day be king. The God who promises all of us that He will never leave us nor forsake us. (Psalm 27:10; Hebrews 13:5)
     After pouring out his heart to God, holding nothing back, David ends this prayer with a beautiful statement of faith including his resolve to praise God for His goodness. “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:5-6) It would be fun to know how long it took David to write this Psalm. Was it written all at once, or did it take him some time? I know I have some journal entries that run a lot like this prayer. I come to God with questions and fears and He slowly, but surely draws me back to the truth of His word and the power of His promises. Sometimes this transformation of my attitude can take 10 minutes, other times an hour. Sometimes I leave my devotional time without feeling much better, but with at least a much better mindset. Off course, that change in mindset slowly works it's way into how I feel, but there are times when my heart can be pretty stubborn!
     So, the next time you're at the bottom of your roller coaster ride, remember your heavenly Father wants you to know He's right there with you. He feels your every pain and wants to help you through it. He never rejoices in our pain, He grieves with us and wants what's best for us. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

3/20/12 – Speaking Truth into your Life

What a stressful year it has been. I won’t go into all of the details, but for the past year my husband has been laid off. Needless to say, that has caused a lot of stress. But as always, God has been faithful. He has provided for us in amazing ways during that time and to be honest we lack nothing. But if I’m truly honest with myself, I know I wasn’t always as confident in God’s provision as I should be by this point in my life. I would tell myself that I trusted God to provide, but my blood pressure and my stomach issues said that I was probably still stressing over our situation more than I wanted to admit.

I have had good days and bad days dealing with the stress and the questions. The days I did best though were always the days when I took the time to spend time with God and get perspective on my situation. Those quiet times with God spent praying and feeding on His word. Those times when I took time to drink in the truths of God, who He is, and how much He loves me. Those times when I would open my heart to God, with all of my questions and fears, and He would answer with beautiful truths and reminders that He has been faithful before and He’ll be faithful again, reminders that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and reminders that He is ultimately in control and He has it all under control. What a great God I serve!

Recently, I’ve been working on a study of the Psalms. As a musician, I’ve always been in love with the beauty of the poetry in the book. I’ve also always been attracted to the raw honesty of the book, the deep life questions and heart-felt prayers of the writers. I’ve always loved the pattern of so many of the psalms that started with praise, threw out some tough life questions and doubts, and ended with praise as the writer realized the sufficiency of God to meet all of their needs.

In particular, I’ve always related very strongly to the psalms of David since we can know his story. In Psalm 59, we see him go straight to his fears and then remind himself of God’s power and justice as he is faced with Saul’s men who have been sent to find him so Saul can have him killed. In Psalm 57, we see him take comfort in the shelter of God’s love as he hides from Saul once again in a cave. In Psalm 51, we get to see an intimate picture of repentance as David is confronted with his sin with Bathsheba and he draws on the forgiving nature of God. And in Psalm 3 we see him drawing comfort from the fact that God is always in control as he runs for his life from his own son who is trying to forcefully take the throne.

David’s life was certainly filled with a lot of stress! And I guarantee he had a lot of questions for God during his lifetime. Let’s face it, he was promised this kingship by God Himself and yet it didn’t always come easily. He had to walk through a lot of hardships to gain the promise and maintain the promise. We have the same struggle, don’t we? We know we have the promises of God, but the situations that arise in life can easily get us distracted. We are told that, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:9) But the stresses of life cloud our vision of how God will provide the way and the means for us to do those good things. We know that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 4:9) Yet, we wonder if that’s really true for our latest poor choices. We can know Paul’s words to the Philippians that, “my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) But we begin to doubt that when we lose our steady source of income and our financial plan doesn’t work out.

So, how do we overcome this cycle of fear and doubt? The same way the psalmists did. Lay out your requests to God, including your questions and doubts, and then spend time every day soaking in the truth of God’s word. You’ll be amazed at what a faithful and loving teacher the Holy Spirit can be. I’m always amazed at the power that our thoughts can have on us. So, feed your thoughts with God’s word so that it’s truth you find yourself repeating to yourself in times of stress and doubt. Finally, remember that getting to know God’s word is not a once and done thing. It is more like our need for food and water. We need a steady diet of truth to be at our best.

11/7/11 - Julianna's story

     I look around and I am in a stark white room. It seems so beautiful until I notice the ugly black stains all over the walls and floor. I see Him, Jesus, standing before me with a scrub brush and bucket. I expect Him to start washing them away. He just stands there. I become angry and yank the brush from his hand. After awhile I give up. “Why hasn’t it worked?” I a...sk myself. Looking into His eyes I realize why. Placing it into His scarred hands, I offer a simple “Please?”. Dipping it into the bucket of His own blood and setting to work, every last stain is gone. Putting down the bucket He reaches His arms out to me and I welcome them gratefully. I am His. He has saved me and I am beautiful.
                                                                     Written by Julianna Williams for the Glory of God

      I love this beautiful little story that Juli has written. What a beautiful reminder of what Jesus did for us on the cross. We could not save ourselves, but he took on our sin and our shame so we could be pure again in God's eyes. Try as we may to wash away the guilt, shame, and nasty consequences of our sin; we find that we are powerless on our own. It took a great love and a great sacrifice that we could never deserve or earn on our own to set us free. I pray you know that great love and bask in that great love.

      This Thanksgiving as you're taking time to praise God for all you have been given may it be with the knowledge that the greatest gift was what he did for us on the cross to restore us to God.
"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
                                                               Romans 5:6-8

9/9/11 - Dear God, Look at Me!

      Our family watches a three-year-old named Jackson. He’s been coming here a day or two each week since he was three months old. During that time, he has grown to love family meal times. He loves to help set the table and make sure each person is in their place. In our family, we each take a turn praying for the meal. We’ve never made him say anything, but have taught him to bow his head with us and wait patiently while we pray. Occasionally, he’ll say “amen” with us, but that’s the extent of his participation. So, we were surprised to have him say it was his turn a few times last week. The first day, his prayer was rather unintelligible. But the next day, his prayer was very clear.
      “Dear God, look at me. Amen!” he proudly exclaimed.
      We tried to contain our laughter so we wouldn’t discourage him, but that was not an easy task! We were just so excited that he wanted to participate that we simply said, “Good job.” I’m sure God saw right to the heart of Jackson’s simple prayer. The worst thing we could have done was to mock his prayer or even correct it right then. He wanted to pray and he did. That was enough for the day. Down the road we’ll help him find the words to pray, but for now, he prayed on his own, and that was mattered.
     Have you ever worried about whether you were using the right words or whether you were praying “correctly”? Have you ever felt too intimidated to pray in the presence of others who seem to know exactly what to say? God just wants us to come to Him, speak from our hearts and learn at His feet. Jesus had a lot to say about having a good attitude in prayer and even gave us a sample prayer to pray to help us learn what to pray about. (Matthew 5:5-14) But, I guarantee, He does not want you to wait until you have it all together to start praying.
Paul told the early Christians to “pray continually.” (I Thessalonians 5:17) In Ephesians he told the early church to, “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” I’ve been in discussion groups on prayer that debated what it was alright to pray about. I say, pray about everything. If it’s a selfish prayer, God will open your eyes. If it’s a foolish request, He will say no. He’s a big God and He can handle your joy and pain, your praise and your anger. Just go to Him and learn from Him and His word. Read the prayers recorded in the Bible and learn from them. Pray scripture. It’s a powerful thing to call on the promises of God.
     One final thought, there’s an awesome promise in the letter of Paul to the Romans. He told them, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26) Now that should fill us with confidence. Even when we don’t know what to pray, God has given the Christ-follower the gift of the Holy Spirit to intercede for us. That’s powerful!
     So, pray on fellow Christ-follower. Pray continually, knowing that you have back-up. Pray confidently, knowing that you are loved. Pray about everything, knowing that we serve a patient God who wants to teach us at His feet. Pray fervently, knowing that God wants to have a relationship with you. Pray!

4/11/11 - Discipline

Discipline, what an ugly word. It's not a word we get excited about when we hear it. We often try to avoid even talking about it. Maybe when you hear the word, it only brings up negative thoughts. Maybe all you can think about is raising children. But today I'm referring to self-discipline. Even worse, right? You see, I've been thinking about this word a lot lately as I looked at my own goals for this page of the website. My goal was to put up a devotional every week. Fortunately, I never told everyone my exact goal. I left it rather ambiguous in the description box on this page, so I could let myself off the hook a little. But still, I know what my goal was and I'm not happy with myself. I could give all kinds of excuses about being too busy, but I know the real problem, self-discipline. The discipline it takes to set time aside and put in the work it takes to write well, whether that's a song or a devotional. It's the same discipline I lack when trying to lose a few pounds! But, let's not go there!
In fact, we won't spend a lot of time at all on the struggle to do the right thing. What I do want to focus on is the power we have to overcome our struggle. As I was praying about my goals and priorities recently I was reminded that when I focused on my short-comings, I was left feeling so discouraged that I wanted to give up. But when I focus on my position as a loved, redeemed, child of the Father, I suddenly feel like there's nothing I can't take on. (Now, if I could only discipline myself to get into God's word every morning to be reminded of that!) As a child of God, I know that I can trust God to be faithful and just and forgive. (I John 1:9) As a child of God, I can rest in the promise that my salvation does not depend on my hard work, but on His mercy. (Romans 9:16) As a child of God, I can know that Jesus will remain in me as I remain in Him. And as I remain in Him, He will make me useful. (John 15)
So, even though I'll never be as disciplined as I'd like to be, I can keep trying knowing that I am loved anyway. I can keep trying, knowing that God will make me better than I could ever be on my own. I can keep trying, knowing that "we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." (Romans 8:37

2/13/11 - Emergency Fund

     Through the years, John and I have been through our share of ups and downs financially. We’ve known times of feast and times of famine. We learned many lessons the hard way. We learned not to rely on credit cards or think of them as a security blanket. We’ve learned to become savers. We’ve learned there is value in having an emergency fund. Life can feel a lot less stressful when you borrow only from yourself. We’ve learned to economize and set priorities that include some fun or life can get pretty depressing. We’ve shared with our kids what we’ve learned and have tried to make sure they learn to set wise limits on their own spending. As in everything else in life, it’s all a learning process and we still make lots of mistakes.
      Recently, we’ve had to spend our emergency fund on emergencies. It felt great knowing it was there and we thanked God for providing the money in that emergency fund. But then, this past week we had an emergency that not only wiped out the last of the fund, but it also left us owing money to a general contractor. Not a good feeling, especially when faced with the knowledge that Friday was John’s last day at his job. He is now unemployed. My first response was, “Oh no, my emergency fund is gone and we’ll have no way of replacing it.” I was worried! But then, I began to remember all of the many times God has provided for us in the past and I was reminded that my security lies not in an emergency fund or a good paying job. My security lies in knowing that my Father has it all under control. He miraculously kept the tree in my front yard from falling on my house after it cracked following the ice storm, so I’m sure He can take care of my bank account! Seriously, the tree removal people could not understand how the broken limbs were staying in place!
      So, where does my security lie? In God and God alone. I guarantee I’m going to need plenty of reminders of this truth throughout the upcoming months, but I am sure of the One who promised to never leave me nor forsake me. (Hebrews 13:5) I will choose to meditate on His promises to me and read them over and over so I can say with Paul that I “have learned the secret of being content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11) I will read Matthew 6:25-34 every day until I live it out. I will choose to trust God and His promises and I will live in that hope no matter what comes my way. Don’t get me wrong, I can almost guarantee I’ll have some pretty challenging set-backs, but He who promised is faithful. He’s done it before and He’ll do it again!
      Take time today to read Matthew 6:25-34 and let the words soak in. Take time today to remember the many times God has provided for you. Take time to thank Him for how very blessed you are. Then, live every day with the knowledge that He has been faithful before and He will always be faithful. God’s best to you!

2/2/11 - Memories

      Standing in my kitchen making homemade noodles yesterday, I was reminded of my Grandma. As the smell of the chicken and noodles rose up from the stove, I could picture myself in Grandma's kitchen. Those are sweet memories. Grandma had a way of making us feel loved and special just by being with her. I have so many wonderful memories of my Grandma, from Sunday dinners, to summertime picnics, to sitting by her side in church. I remember well kneeling beside her in prayer. I didn't always understand everything the worship leader was saying, but I could feel the heart of his prayers. I learned a lot from my Grandma about love, service, and commitment as I watched the way she taught her Sunday school students, took food to her co-workers, spent time practicing and choosing music for worship, called her friends to check on them, drove my great grandma places, and so generously gave to her grandchildren. She was a thoughtful, Christ-like woman and a wonderful role model.
      As I grew older, I of course began to realize Grandma wasn't perfect. But the realizations of her struggles and hardships only served to heighten my admiration for this woman who laid a beautiful example of Christ-likeness before me. I saw her love and serve her husband even though he didn't always treat her very well. I saw her continue to serve in her church without grumbling even when she heard messages on how "sinful" she was for having short hair. I saw her love her children constantly and consistently even as she saw them leave behind the faith that made her strong. I saw how she made her home so comfortable and inviting even on a farm hand's salary. I know they didn't make much money, but somehow you never felt any kind of sense of need in their home.
She lived out her faith and demonstrated it to all of us in all she did. I really don't remember her telling us about her faith nearly as much as showing us her faith. But, I guess it really is true that actions speak louder than words. Reflecting on her example, I'm encouraged to just keep living out my faith. I'm encouraged to love God with my whole heart, love His church, and love everyone around me.
      Thank you, Grandma, for your faithful love. Thank You, my God, for giving me such an excellent example of faith in action. Now, I pray that I will go and do likewise. I pray I will be reminded every day that my whole duty in life is to love God and love others. I pray I will remember that the next generation is watching and learning. I pray I'll remember that a lost and dying world is watching and longing for hope. I pray I will rise to the challenges of this life and meet them head-on armed with faith and the presence of a faithful God.
      "Since my youth, O God, You have taught me, and to this day I declare Your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare Your power to the next generation, Your might to all who are to come."
Psalm 71:17-18

11/30/10 - It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

I love Christmas! From the music, to the lights, to the fun parties and gatherings. I love the trees and the lights, the music and the cards. I love Christmas cookies and candies, even if my
hips don't! Most of all I love the reason for the season, my Savior!
Over the years we've developed lots of fun family traditions to make sure we never forget the true reason we celebrate Christmas. We have, from the beginning with our children, always read the Christmas story before opening presents on Christmas morning. It became an important right of passage to be old enough to do the reading. We've always put out lots of nativity scenes around the house and in the kids rooms. They even have their own miniature Christmas trees in their rooms. We've always been purposeful on where the nativity and angel ornaments go on the tree, making sure they are very prominant. We go out of our way to say, "Merry Christmas" to people. We've always put special emphasis on extra giving over the holidays, from giving to angel tree, to operation Christmas child, to World Vision's Christmas gifts. We want to make sure our children grasp that Christmas is about more than gifts and decorations. It's about Jesus.
Since they were little our children have had an advent calendar just about every year to add to the anticipation of Christmas day. Of course their favorite calendars are the ones filled with chocolates. They looked forward to opening the doors and seeing Christmas draw closer and closer. A few years ago, one of my piano students gave us a beautiful, wall-mounted Advent calendar. Each day you open the door and there is an ornament inside to be hung on the knob of each door numbered 1-25. About 3 years ago, my daughter and I began making chocolates together to give as Christmas gifts. Of course, we eat a few along the way! Last year, I decided to integrate the two traditions of our wooden calendar and the hand made chocolates. So, now they open the door and get not only an ornament, but also a chocolate. They loved the idea, but I decided to take it one step further and place a devotional scripture inside the door as well. I scoured my Bible looking for the many places I had marked where Jesus was prophesied. I took that list, put them in order, and placed them on strips of paper inside the doors. To make it all even more meaningful, since they are teenagers now, I had them read from Josh McDowell's book, A Ready Defense. There is a wonderful chapter in the book called "Messianic Prophecies Fulfilled in Jesus." It turned out to be one of the best Christmas devotional times we ever had as a family.
So, this Christmas I'd like to share those scripture readings with everyone. I pray that as you read them each day, your heart will be filled with joy and wonder at how amazing God's plan truly is. How incredible it truly is that our holy, majestic, pure God would choose to send His one and only Son for us. So, celebrate this Christmas! Hang those lights, decorate that tree, give those gifts. But all the while, keep your focus on the One who gave up heaven's glory to become Emmanuel, "God with us." The One who came to die for our sins and rise again to give us hope and a future. Celebrate out Messiah!!

Merry Christmas!
Advent calendar scripture readings
1st - Psalm 16:8-11
2nd - Psalm 22:1,7,8,16-18
3rd - Psalm 110:1,4
4th - Psalm 118:21-23
5th - Isaiah 7:14
6th - Isaiah 8:13-15
7th - Isaiah 9:2,6-7
8th - Isaiah 11:1-5,10-12
9th - Isaiah 16:5
10th - Isaiah 28:16
11th - Isaiah 40:3-5
12th - Isaiah 52:13-15
13th - Isaiah 60:1-3
14th - Ezekiel 36:24-29
15th - Hosea 13:14
16th - Micah 5:2-5
17th - Zechariah 2:10-13
18th - Zechariah 9:9
19th - Zechariah 12:10-13:1
20th - Matthew 12:39-40
21st - Isaiah 53
22nd - Malachai 3:1 (John the Baptist)
23rd - Luke 1:26-79
24th - Matthew 1:18-25; 2:1-12
25th - Merry Christmas! - Luke 2:1-20

11/25/10 - Happy Thanksgiving!

“Thanksgiving comes, by statute, once a year; but to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow.”
- Edward Sandford Martin

I borrowed this quote from a friend on facebook. It so beautifully sums up my thoughts today as I write this Thanksgiving devotional. You see, I love Thanksgiving with its reminder to be thankful for the many blessings we enjoy. Even though some are unsure just Who they are thanking, it’s still wonderful to celebrate such a positive holiday and take time to realize just how many good things are in our lives.
In the New Testament, as the writers are trying to encourage and teach the first Christians about living for God, there are many reminders to be grateful. In Colossians 4:2 it simply says, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” In Colossians chapter three we’re told to “Let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts…..And be thankful.” Later in the same chapter we’re told to do everything in the name of Jesus, “giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” In Philippians chapter four we’re told to present our requests to God with thanksgiving so we will “not be anxious about anything.” In I Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul writes, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Obviously, thankfulness is important to God and is meant to be a part of our everyday lifestyle. It never ceases to amaze me how much better life is when I wrap my head and heart around what God asks of me and then just do it. When I truly live my life with an attitude of gratitude, it takes my mind off of what my need is and places it back on how blessed I already am. It helps me remember how faithful God has been in the past, bolstering my faith that He will be faithful again to meet whatever need I may have. Remember God has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us. Gratefulness also leads to an attitude of praise and will often open my eyes to ways God has been faithful even in the midst of my trials.
It’s not a coincidence that in almost every reference listed above Paul goes on to talk about peace and contentment. A grateful heart can truly give us perspective. So, my prayer this Thanksgiving is that it won’t be just a day of gratefulness, but instead it will kick-start a lifestyle of gratitude. I pray we’ll keep our eyes on the Creator of all we have to be thankful for and that we’ll live our lives demonstrating our gratitude for the greatest gift He ever gave us - Jesus. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

10/29/10 - Window seat, please

     We just returned from a fabulous vacation in Fort Myers, FL. On our return flight, as always, we requested a window seat for me. I feel much better when I’m flying if I can look out of the window. As we boarded the plane, however, we realized, not only was I not in a window seat, we were in the very back of the plane and there were no windows whatsoever. I was quickly losing my cool. I envisioned myself stuffed in this little corner seat going through turbulence, freaking out! I turned to my husband with pleading eyes and words. He turned to the stewardess asking if there were any window seats available. She informed us that it was a full flight and we’d have to ask if anyone would be willing to trade seats. All I could do was wait while the plane finished filling up. In the meantime, I had calmed down and tried the aisle seat in our row and discovered that I could see out of the windows in front of me from an angle. Realizing it was much easier in this instance to change my attitude rather than the situation, I decided to trust God to help me keep my cool during the flight. In short, God did just that. We had a very smooth ride and seeing the window, even from a few seats back, was enough to help me feel much more stable 30,000 feet up in the air.

     God is good all of the time. The neat part of this story though is that He not only helped me remain calm as I put my trust in Him for a safe flight, but He also gave me an insight into how my need for a window seat is much like my need for scripture. You see, for me, looking out of the window allows me to see that even when my equilibrium feels off during flight, that truthfully very little is happening outside of the plane. I can see when turbulence is simply being in the midst of clouds. I can see that even though the plane feels like it’s bouncing around a lot, it’s really remaining quite steady. Looking out of the window gives me perspective.

     God’s word does the same thing for my life. When I’m in need I can remember Matthew 6:25-34 and know that God will meet every need and I have no reason to worry. When I am feeling unworthy of God’s love I can remember Psalm 103:11-12 and Romans 5:6-8 and know that He allowed Christ to die for me and make a way for me when I was completely unworthy. When I’m feeling unloved I can remember Psalm 139:13-14 and know that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by life I can remember Romans 8:37-39 and know that there is nothing in this world that can separate me from God’s love when I remain in Him. When I’m experiencing troubles I can remember John 16:33 and know that I can go through trials while experiencing His peace knowing that ultimately He has overcome the world. That’s good news!

     One other way I gain perspective on a flight is by watching the stewardesses. Once, on a particularly bumpy flight, as I was getting incredibly nervous, I noticed that the stewardesses weren’t nervous at all and were sitting in the front chatting casually. Their calmness in the midst of the turbulence reassured me since they fly every day and would know if there was cause for worry. Those of us who have experienced life trusting God and His word, knowing His truth and gaining peace from it, can serve as witnesses to those who have not. We can go through trials with a calmness and a peace that others will notice and gain strength from.

     So, dig in to God’s word. Learn His promises and know His truth. Gain wisdom and perspective from the stories of the men and women in the Bible from times gone by. Get to know the God who wants to be your peace and stability in this uncertain world. He loves you, His creation (Genesis 1:27), His redeemed one (2 Corinthians 5:17,21), His child (Ephesians 1:5).

9/29/2010 - Carrots

Well, we’re reaching the end of the another growing season. Last week we pulled the last of the carrots. If you’ve ever grown carrots you have seen the funny shapes that they can come in. They’re not all as perfect as the ones we get in the grocery store. Some stay short and stumpy. Some get odd shapes as they grow around rocks. Some split off into several sections. Still others bend around each other or simply don’t grow as well as they should since they’re too close to the other plants. The interesting thing is, you’re never totally sure what you’re going to get when you go to pull the carrot just by looking at the green leaves.

     When I pull carrots I like to get in close and try to choose the best carrots by seeing the tops that stick out of the ground. Most of the time, this technique works pretty well. Sometimes, though I get surprised by what comes out of the ground. The leaves may have looked full and beautiful and the top of the carrot may have looked full and round, but when I pulled the carrot up, it was short and stubby. This year, I was even surprised by a few that I pulled to thin the carrots in an area. I pulled them thinking there was very little carrot there and I’d be making room for the other carrots to finish growing, only to find that they were longer and fatter under the ground than I had imagined.

     Where am I going with all of this? Is this just a lesson in harvesting carrots? Not quite. You see as I was pulling my carrots it struck me that this is much like the way we see each other. We can only see the showy green leaves of each others’ faith and maybe some evidences of the growth beneath the surface. But only our Gardener can see the full growth under the ground. “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)

     I love that verse. It’s taken from the story of Samuel going out to anoint David as the next king of Israel. Saul, their first king, had been chosen by God after the people had demanded a king. Saul was described as “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites - a head taller than any of the others.” (I Samuel 9:2) He may have looked impressive, but his heart was anything but impressive and he was eventually rejected by God because of his disobedience. Now, Samuel was sent to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king and as he looks over each of the sons of Jesse he thinks he sees the next king by virtue of appearance, but the Lord sets him straight with the words above. You see this time, God chose the king based on his heart. This time, he chose the youngest and least likely candidate. But God knows the heart and He knew what He wanted to accomplish through David.

     So, how do view others? Are you judging others merely by what you see, or trusting that God knows their heart as well as he knows your own? Then are you asking yourself, what’s growing in your own garden? Are you allowing God to water and nourish your inner being? Are you growing in grace and knowledge? Are you growing around those rocks of hardship in your life or are they stunting your growth? Are your leaves green and beautiful? Are there evidences of the fruit of the spirit listed in Galatians 5? We serve an amazing God who wants to produce amazing things in us. All we have to do is yield to His care and drink in the nourishment of His word and allow it to transform us. Then, as we look at others, we’ll be able to give them room to grow as well and celebrate with them the evidences of God working in our hearts.

9/17/2010 - A Great Cast of Characters

     "In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories… duh…duh…" (Law & Order) Every great TV show has a great cast of characters. As the opening to Law and Order states, there are two sides to catching and putting away criminals. Without police investigating there would be no evidence to present at trial and without a trial there would be no verdict rendered. They must work as a team or justice would not happen.

     On the lighter side, think of “Gilligan’s Island.” Let’s face it, without Gilligan, they would have made it off that island! Without the professor, they wouldn’t even get close to making it off the island. Then, there’s detective “Monk.” Without his assistant he couldn’t function, yet without his insights some very difficult crimes wouldn’t get solved. Then, there’s “The King of Queens.” Who would want to watch Doug and Carrie fight without the comic relief Arthur adds to the show? Then, there are spin-off shows. Many of these shows do not make it since they’re centered around one character taken from a popular show. Since they no longer have the supporting cast, they don’t make it. A notable exception, “Frasier.” Frasier was a character taken from the popular show, “Cheers.” The reason this one worked - they created a strong group of characters. Frasier’s father and housekeeper offer a much needed balance and comic relief to Frasier’s uptight personality.

      Our family has a new favorite show, “Leverage.” A team of criminals are assembled by a former insurance agent to catch people who’ve taken advantage of others. Each criminal assembled has their own specialty. They have a hitter, a grifter, a thief, a hacker, and the mastermind. Each plays a key role in pulling off the cons they run to catch the bad guys. Then, in the end, they give everything to the victim. It’s fun seeing them learn to work together and become a team. Together, they can accomplish what none of them could or would do on their own.

     “How does all of this relate to your spiritual life?” you ask. In I Corinthians 12:12-31, Paul uses the analogy of the body to discuss this principle as it relates to the church. Our bodies are a unit made up of many parts that must work together in order to function properly. As the church, we need to learn to see each member as a valuable asset. We need to strive to work together and not try to complete the mission of Christ as a solo unit. We need each other. We can accomplish so much more as a unit than we can on our own. Each of us is created with our own set of strengths and weaknesses. We need others around us to balance our strengths and weaknesses and spur us on and encourage us. We need others around us functioning in community to achieve what God would like to accomplish through us.

     As a solo singer, I could easily write all of my songs for piano and solo voice. But, what a boring album that would be. The music becomes so much better when I pull in other instrumentalists and singers. Then there are the contributions of a producer that add such dimension to the music. As I allow the music God gives me to be shared and honed by fellow musicians, it gets better. Far better than anything I could do on my own.

     So, what cast of characters has God placed near you? How can you work together in ways that none of you can do alone? Ask God to show you the value in each character He places in your life. Ask Him to show you how function better in community. Then, be amazed at what He will do.

8/19/2010 - A Place at the Table

      Two or three days a week I babysit a two-year-old named Jackson. He’s been coming since he was three months old so he has a well-established routine. He counts on that routine. He knows where to find his toys, his books, his booster seat. He also knows where “his” place at the table is. He knows that every day at lunch we gather as a family around the table and we each have a spot. Recently, while my son Josh was gone on a week long camping trip, we tried to change that seating pattern and he would have none of it. Yesterday as he helped Julianna set the table, he named each person as he set the napkin in it’s place. There is stability, order, and love expressed in knowing he has a place at our table. Having a place at the table means he belongs and is wanted and loved.
      God wants us to feel the same thing when approaching Him. He wants us to know that we each have a place at His table. Because of Jesus, we can be the sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. (Ephesians 1:4-6) We can have the stability of knowing that through the blood of Jesus our place at God’s table is sure. We can know the peace that comes from living God’s way, bringing order into the chaos of life. And we can marvel at the amazing truth that God loved us enough that even while we were living sinful, self-seeking lives, God sent His one and only Son to reconcile us to our Creator. (Romans 5:6-8) Wow! That kind of love still amazes me. You and I can be in the family of God and rest assured that we have a place at His table. So, take time to today to sit at His table and “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

7/23/2010 - Love God, Love Others

 Your community, your mission field     "Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadduccees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?'  Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:34-39)
     Have you ever found yourself wondering what your purpose is? What does God want you to be doing? For many of us when we ask that question we begin to look around and compare ourselves with great Christians leaders around us and we feel inadequate. We think only the Billy Grahams of this world are truly "called" of God to anything special. We see the contributions of others as far outweighing anything we have to offer and we get side-tracked from what God does have in mind for us. The comparison game will never help us find our place in this world.
     In the passage above Jesus sums up our whole duty in two great commandments. Love God with your whole being and then share that love with everyone you come in contact with. When you look at our duty in that light it seems almost too simple. We want a defined checklist of tasks and a job title instead of the constant vigilance it takes to build relationships and truly love even those who are rather unlovable. We want something that will make us feel self-fulfilled instead of learning to be a self-sacrificing servant.
     The truth is we need to view the community God has placed us in as a mission field. We need to ask God to show us how to demonstrate His love in our homes, to our children, to our spouses, and to our guests. Then we need to view our jobs and community groups as places to demonstrate godly love and care to everyone we meet. We need to be kind-hearted, forgiving neighbors who are open and friendly. We need to see our schools and towns as vital places to serve and jump in wherever we're needed to help love those who are struggling. We need to be vital parts of our communities so that we truly can be light and salt as Jesus told us. (Matthew 5:13-16) In short we need to love people the way God loved us, even when we didn't deserve it.
     So, how does this change your view of your community? Can you see it as a mission field? Can you identify your roles in your community and see how God would like to use you? For many of us, we may never be called to travel to a foreign country to share God's love. We may never be asked to preach the good news to thousands of people at a time. But, we are called to simply love God and then share that love with our community.
     So, this week, spend lots of time with the One who loves you so much He sent His one and only Son to die for you and praise Him for that love. Then go and be the only smiling face your cashier has seen all day. Be the listening ear when your neighbor needs to talk. Catch up with an old friend and encourage them. Take a meal to that new mom down the street. Do your best work on whatever task you're assigned, even if it feels mundane. Forgive your sister, even if she doesn't deserve it. Be kind to that co-worker who has been getting under your skin for weeks. Share what God has been doing in your life with whoever will listen. Then know that you are accomplishing God's will for your life - loving God and loving each other.

6/18/2010 - Who is God to you?

     Who is God to you? A close friend? A stranger? A loving Father? A scary judge? A far-off hazy idea? A Savior? A vague higher power?
     One day in Wal-Mart with the entire family, my teenage son, Josh, went off to check out the newest CDs in the electronics department. On his return to the grocery aisles, we all excitedly called out, “Hey Josh! You’re back!” It struck me that I was standing there surrounded by people and yet Joshua’s return was special to us because we have a relationship with him. He’s family.
     I began to think about our relationship to God and how it related to what I just felt at seeing my son. For me, seeing evidence of God’s hand in my life is an exciting and welcome thing because I have a relationship with my heavenly Father. I’m excited to see what He is going to do next because I know Him to be a faithful, loving God who has forgiven my sins and adopted me as His child. (Ephesians 1:5) I not only know the truth of His word, but I’ve experienced it. I can say with the Psalmist that I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34:8)
     As we continued through the store, my mind still thinking about this relationship connection, I began to really look around me at the many faces. Most were complete strangers. One or two I recognized as acquaintances and I would wave or nod and say hello. Some of the people looked interesting, some simply blended in with the crowd. Some people seemed a little strange, while others appeared to be very nice. Some people seemed frazzled , while some appeared to be having a good time.
It occurred to me that by judging by their outward appearance I could be dead wrong in my estimations of them as people. Without talking to them and getting to know them, I truly know very little about them. To know them best, it would take time with them and a relationship. That mom struggling with her disobedient children may not be a bad mom, she may simply be having a rough day. That rough-looking, tattoo-covered man may be a child of God. I would have no way to know without getting to know him.
     So, what is your view of God based on? Are you basing your view on your own observations of life or are you getting to know God? Are you basing your faith on what others tell you about God or are you searching His word to know Him better? Truly the only way to know God is to seek Him out for yourself. Others who already know God can help point you in the right direction, but we must seek God out for ourselves to truly know Him. We all need to base our faith on the truth of God’s word and then spend time in prayer to seek out how His word applies to our daily lives. The good news is, even as our view of God changes as we get to know Him, God himself never changes. He is the only constant in this ever-changing world and He promises to reveal Himself to whomever will seek Him with their whole hearts. (2 Chronicles 7:14; Jeremiah 29:12-13) So, seek Him out. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Allow Him to reveal Himself to you and you’ll never regret it. He wants to call you His child. He wants to have a relationship with you. He wants to be family. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (I John 3:1)

6/11/2010 - Fruit!

     Well, I’m at that time of year again. That time when I look out at my young vegetable garden and wonder if all of that work is worth it. Right now there are just a bunch of baby plants that need weeded, watered, and fertilized. Hard work! UGH! But then, I try to remind myself just how fun it really is to eat all of those vegetables fresh from the garden. There is nothing like homemade salsa or eating soup with vegetables you know that you grew. Then there are the fresh strawberries, green beans, peppers, squash. Nothing I’ve ever bought from the produce department at the grocery store tastes like truly fresh vegetables from the back yard. Then there is the added fun of walking through the grocery store and seeing how much money you have saved. Plus, we often get so much food we have to give it away to neighbors and friends because we can’t eat it fast enough or make room for it all in the freezer. Growing something worthwhile takes work, but in the end it really is worth it.
In the Christian life we find the same principle at work. In order to be fruitful we have to put in the work. Now I’m not talking about working to somehow earn God’s love or salvation. That is a gift we could never earn. (Ephesians 2:4-9) What I am talking about is the work it takes to live a victorious, fruitful life. The work of daily submitting ourselves to our Heavenly Father, learning to do things His way, and then seeing the amazing fruit He causes to grow in our lives.
     So, how do we do this? How do we grow anything good? Well, let’s start by remembering that on our own, we can’t. Jesus put it very clearly in John 15:1-5 that apart from Him we can do nothing. “I am the true vine,” He tells us. He goes on to say, “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” So, first of all realize there would be no garden without the cross. First and foremost we must be connected to the Father, then He will cause all things to grow.
     All of us who have lived any length of time trying to follow Christ realize that for our garden to be fruitful we must do some work on our end. What do we need to do? Dig in to the Word of God. Allow it to change your heart and mind and do what it says. (James 1:22) Allow God’s word to be a constant reminder of who you are in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3-8; Colossians 1:13-14) Daily bow before the throne of God in prayer and seek His will for each day. (Matthew 6:9-10) Cast all of your worries on Him and trust Him. (Philippians 4:6-7) Humble yourself and ask God to show you how to love others as He does. (John 15:12-13; Philippians 2:3) Practice the art of forgiving as you have been forgiven. (Colossians 3:13) These acts of seeking, submitting, and obeying act as water and fertilizer in the garden of our lives. When we actively submit our will to His, we become more like Christ and we start to see amazing things growing in our lives.
     So, what good things does God want to grow in our lives? In Galatians 5:22, Paul lists the fruit of living by the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Now, that is a garden we could all enjoy. So, are you seeing these fruits growing in your life? Are you being transformed into His likeness? Personally, I’m often amazed at how God has changed me when I think back to what a mouthy, stubborn, impatient, prideful person I was in the past. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a long way to go. But, the good news is, I’ve seen first-hand just how God really can change my attitude and make me more fruitful. So, press on fellow gardener. Seek Him in all things and let the master gardener have His way in you. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)  

5/21/2010 - Weeds

     Yesterday, out in my garden, I was struck again by just how easy it is to grow weeds. If only weeds had more purpose. We’ve noticed that we have to be careful where we throw the weeds we pull since they have a tendency to simply grow wherever we throw them. Too bad this doesn’t happen with plants we want to grow. Try pulling a tomato plant up by the roots and tossing it in your yard. You are not likely to see lots of new tomato plants coming up all over your yard. But if I toss a wild violet plant into the yard, I’m likely to see a whole patch of them taking over an area in no time, crowding out the grass.
     Sin acts much the same way in our lives. It’s far too easy to grow and seems to come naturally to us. The good habits and virtues in life are much harder to grow and they take care and tending to cultivate. Sin is invasive, often addictive, and it crowds out the good. How easy is it to resolve to change and then fall right back into our old patterns? How long do most of our New Year’s resolutions last?
     I’m reminded of one particular weed that drives me crazy in my yard, the wild violet plant. It seems to love our yard. When we first bought this house it was all over the flower beds. I tried pulling them only to have them come right back time and time again. You see, it has this tuberous root system that is extremely hard to simply pull out. I had to dig down all around the roots and grasp the root to get it out. By the time I was finished pulling them my hands felt like they were going to be permanently stuck in a claw position. They were stiff for days. Now I keep a close eye out for these weeds and try to get them pulled as baby plants before the roots can dig down deep.
The wild violet strongly reminds me of sin every time I pull it out. You see, left to grow the violets will flower for a short time and can be quite pretty. But their beauty is short-lived and their invasive crowding of everything around them actually kills off many of the plants that I want to grow. Sin is a lot like this weed in that it seems like fun at the time and may well be fun, but once it takes root in our lives, it crowds out the good that God would like to cultivate in our lives. Once the roots of sin get deeply embedded, it can be extremely hard to pull them up. Often it feels like just too much work, but the results are worth it when we see good things growing in our lives.
     Another sad but true reality of weeds is that I will never be done weeding. As long as I have a garden, I will have weeds. But with proper tending, I can at least stay ahead of them and grow something beautiful. Once again, the same is true with sin. This side of heaven, we will constantly be faced with sin. But through the power of the cross and an on-going relationship with our Creator, we can have our eyes opened to sin and its consequences and learn to be over-comers, living more productive, fruitful lives.
     So, what weeds are you struggling with? What sins are crowding out the good and keeping you from being all God created you to be? Are you struggling with addictions, anger, sexual purity, selfishness, materialism, food, impure thoughts, jealousy, gossip? The list could go on and on since we all struggle with sin. (Romans 3:23) Whatever your temptations are, know that God can and will forgive through the power of the cross. Know that He is a loving and powerful God who will help us dig down to the root of our sin problems and give us the power to overcome and see amazing things growing in our hearts and lives.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

5/8/2010 - The rest of the story

     Who doesn’t love a great story? Whether we enjoy our stories via television, movies, or a great book, we simply love them. From a beginning that draws us into the characters’ lives to the events that create the drama that leads us to the exciting climax of the action. A great story can take us into other peoples’ lives and help us feel what it would be like to live a different life. They can motivate, teach, warn, inspire, or even lead us in the wrong direction. God has used stories to teach and lead His people throughout time. Jesus was famous for His stories and hundreds of people would gather to listen to them. The entire Bible is the great story of our God, His beloved creation, and the lengths to which He would go to reveal Himself to all who were willing to seek Him.
     Let’s think though for a minute about a few of those great stories in the Bible and how different things would be if the story had ended in the middle. How would things be different if these men and women of God had not pressed on through their trials to find what God had for them on the other side of their suffering?
     Job was widely known as a righteous man and was very blessed. Yet, God allowed Satan to test him severely. He lost everything including his children and his property. All he was left with was a wife who hounded him to “curse God and die” and three friends who kept telling him that obviously he had sinned somehow or he wouldn’t be suffering. If the story had stopped here, Job could easily have felt completely abandoned by God. But the story does not stop there. God never fully answers Job when asked why he had to suffer, but God does remind him that he is in the hands of the Creator who is more than capable of running the universe. Job wisely accepts this answer, humbles himself yet again, and perseveres. Eventually he is rewarded by God with the restoration of his fortune and a new family.
     Then there is the story of Joseph. Sold into slavery, then later thrown into prison on false charges, he never gives up his faith or his godly lifestyle. Yet, if we only look at the story up to the point where we find him in jail, we would think he has no reason for such faith when God would allow him to go to jail for a crime he did not commit. Yet, the story did not end in prison. By holding on to his faith and waiting for God’s perfect timing, Joseph was later given a place of authority and was able to save all of Egypt and his entire family from famine.
     Then there is the story of Daniel. As an Israelite, he found himself in slavery in a foreign land forced to accept ways and practices that were not his own. Yet, he managed to prosper, but only until he faith was tested. Then he quickly fell from grace when he refused to pray to anyone but the One, True God. As he sat in the lions’ den praying not to be devoured, I’m sure he had many questions. And yet, he persevered and God saved him from the mouths of those lions and restored him to a place of leadership again.
     The Bible is filled with stories like these. Stories of men and women who chose to trust God through very trying times and circumstances. They are given to us in God’s word to give us hope that we too can persevere and live lives of faith and trust. We too can live our lives for God. We too can stand up to whatever trials come our way knowing that we can be safely held in the hands of the God who made and maintains the universe. We can rest securely in His hands through the fiercest storms of life.
     Remember, Jesus himself was our greatest example and even He had to suffer in this life. He had to suffer a humiliating, excruciating death on a cross to fulfill God’s ultimate plan, the plan of salvation. Remember, He did not stay embalmed in that tomb. I’m sure the disciples were beside themselves thinking that it was the end of Jesus’ story. But fortunately it was not the end of the story. He rose again and the story gives hope to us all. As Jesus told His disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
     So, wherever you find yourself in life, keep the faith. Hold on to the truth of His word. Know that your life is safely within His hands if you trust in Christ. Trust Him for the strength to run this race and win. Don’t get discouraged in the middle of the story. He knows the ending and He’s promised to be faithful and be right there with you through it all. As the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

4/30/2010 - Who do you trust?

     The Psalms are my favorite devotional book. I could spend hours just letting the words soak in. Maybe it’s the musician in me. Maybe it’s the glimpse into another person’s heart. Whatever it is, there is nothing like spending time in the Psalms. As I was reading Psalm 20 a few weeks ago, I came across a verse that sparked an idea for a good exercise.
     Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Well, I can honestly say I don’t get hung up on putting my trust in horses or chariots, but I did ask myself, “What do I trust in apart from God?” So, ask yourself, if you were to fill in the blanks for chariots and horses, what would you say? “Some trust in _________ and some in _________.”
       Then I read Psalm 146:3-4. “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that day their plans come to nothing.” This verse took the thought one step further showing the downfall of the thing we trust in. So, how could the things you filled in the blanks fail you?

Let me give you a few of the answers I came up with:
* Some trust in retirement funds and savings accounts. Well, we’ve all been reminded of how fragile our savings are these days with banks failing all over the place.
* Some trust in security systems and guns. Our homes can still be robbed and personally, we have had a car stolen.
* Some trust in nutrition and exercise. Let’s face it, we’ll die anyway whether we eat salad every day or not.
* Some trust in getting stuff and getting rich. But it doesn’t satisfy and we can’t take any of it with us anyway.
* Some trust in seeking thrills and pleasure. Then we find it’s never enough. We begin to need a bigger thrill and often ended up addicted to what we crave.
* Some trust in Oprah and Dr. Phil. But remember, they’re only human and their philosophies often follow their ratings and pop culture.
* Some trust in fully-stocked pantries and big freezers. But the food goes bad before we can even use it.
* Some trust in higher education and high-paying jobs. But we’ve all heard about the former CEOs who are today managing their local McDonalds.

     Now before you take offense or exception to any of these examples, please know that I’m talking about things we trust in, in place of God. Some of these things are very good things and can make our lives here on this planet much better, but we must realize that everything on this planet is going to wear out, break down, and come to an end. We live in an uncertain world. Jesus reminded us in Matthew 6:19-21 to not store up our treasures here on earth where they will break, be destroyed, or be stolen. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.”
     So, we need to realize that our ultimate hope and security in this life need to be set on the Author and Creator of our souls. It’s only in Him that we can feel secure even as our retirement fund tanks, we lose our home to foreclosure, our job gets cut, or we find we have a life-threatening disease. Take comfort in the truth that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow and He cares deeply for His creation. As the Psalmist in chapter 146 goes on to say in verses 5 and 6, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them - the Lord, who remains faithful forever.” So, through it all, hold on to the Rock. Set your hope in the Redeemer. Trust in His never-failing love. Know that He will never leave you nor forsake you when you're trusting in Him.                 

4/15/2010 - How is your garden?

      I love gardening. It's so fun seeing the beauty of a flower bed or tasting the freshness of a home-grown tomato and knowing that your hard work helped make it happen. It's fun giving away to the abundance of vegetables that we could never eat or store. And what a joy to have people tell you that the beauty of your garden just brightened their day.
     My gardens were not always what they are today though. When we first bought this house the flower beds were overrun with weeds since the former owners were not gardeners. It took hours to dig up those weeds and make way for the flowers I wanted to see growing. Then we decide we wanted to add a vegetable garden and more flower beds. This took even more hard work and time since new gardens required pulling out the grass and digging up many rocks. In the middle of that process I often felt like giving up. Seeing the new gardens planted made it all worthwhile and made me glad we had persevered and put in the work. Once the gardens were in place, our work was definitely not over though. We had to keep the weeds and bugs in check and make sure the gardens were well watered and fertilized. Sometimes I wondered why I bothered since the weeds were obviously much easier to grow, though they are worth very little and cause more harm than good. Each time I saw a flower of vegetable flourishing, however, I knew that it was worth the effort.
My favorite part of gardening though are the spiritual lessons God teaches me while I have my hands in the dirt. God reminds me that my life was once that weed-filled patch of soil that desperately needed the gardeners touch. He shows me that only with the care and tending of the gardener will anything good grow. He reminds me that sin is much like those weeds that pop-up; good for nothing, invasive, and counter-productive to growing the good stuff. He reminds me that growing good things takes a constant supply of water and nutrients from a strong root system. God reminds me that there are seasons to everything in life and that sometimes we just need to wait for the proper time for things to grow and come to fruition. He shows me that many things in this life require hard work, perseverance, diligence, and patience.
      So, how is your garden doing? Are you growing a crop of weeds or are you seeing the evidence of God's work in your life? Are you growing in your relationship with the gardener as you yield to His work in your life? As Paul wrote to the Galatians in chapter 6, verse 7, let's remember that we will reap what we sow. So let the Master Gardener have His way in the garden of your life and see what He causes to grow. "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." Galatians 6:7-9

4/8/10 - “Revelation Song"

     I cried in worship a few weeks ago. Oh, I often get tears in my eyes when I ponder the work of the cross, but today I cried tears of absolute joy for some dear servants of God who got to spend this Lord’s day in front of the throne of God. As the notes to “Revelation Song” began, I started to think, as I often do, of what it will be like to stand before the throne of God singing these very words. Today, however, the faces of John Hamilton, Kylee Boden, and Isaac Smith came to mind and I realized that they were now before the very throne of God. Wow! I was overwhelmed with the very thought of being in His presence.
     Oh, how I long for that day. Not that I want to rush through my time here, mind you. I have a wonderful family who I wouldn’t want to leave just yet. But oh, what a day of rejoicing John, Kylee, and Isaac must be experiencing. All three were incredible servants of God who lived their lives in such a way that there was no doubt who they were living for. They touched many lives in the process and left us with great examples of sold out devotion to our King. May we all be so faithful and live every day for Christ. As Paul said in Philippians 1:20-21, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
     So, I look forward to singing with them around God’s throne in that place where Jesus will be our light and where our Father will wipe away every tear, even the tears we shed for a faithful missionary, a young wife and mother, a young newly-wed who loved working with youth, and the families they left behind. Until that day, we grieve our loss, but celebrate their gain. We strive to live our lives so that we leave a great testimony to the power and love of our Savior. And we look forward to seeing the words of Revelation fulfilled….”Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their Shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Rev. 7:16-17

3/18/2010 Consider the Lillies

"See how the lillies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If this is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much
more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
                                               ~ Matthew 6:28-34 ~

This is one of my favorite portions of the
Bible. I have read it and re-read it so many
times when I needed reminded of just how
great our God is and just how much He
loves me and cares for me.
Jesus knew how tough life in this world could be. He was at least thirty by the time he spoke these words. So we can be sure he had lived long enough to see many sad, distressing events in the lives of everyone around him. His heart broke at the thought of how many people needed the Father God, but would not turn to Him. So, sitting on a mountainside teaching the crowds, He reminded them to look around them and see the evidences of God's love, care, and provision.
And what a beautiful reminder flowers are. God could have given us a bland, boring, colorless world, but instead He took the time to create beauty all around us. Each spring, as the snow melts, the earth seems to come alive with beauty. Out of barren, ugly, dead winter spring comes again in all its beauty. So, read these words of Jesus again and let them soak in. Look for the beauty around you and think of God, your Creator, who loves you even more than anything in this world. Then, seek Him first above all else.

3/4/2010 - Philippians 4

Philippians 4:4,6-7

Today’s devotional offering came to me one day as I was searching the Bible for a connection between living with gratitude to God and gaining peace. It seemed to me that the more I focused on what I have in Christ and who I am in Christ, the more peaceful my life became. When I realize He has given me all I need and that He is in control of my future as well, then I can have peace even in the midst of trials and storms in life. Let’s take an interactive look at Philippians 4:4,6-7 and see if this begins to make sense to you as well.

Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Take a few minutes to focus on who God is by listing as many of His names and qualities as you can…

Over the years my perceptions of God have grown and changed. I realized He was my redeemer, my Savior. I understood He was the Creator of everything. Later I realized He was with me all the time. When I really dug into His word I learned He had many names that described His character. The awesome thing is, though my ideas of Him have broadened, He has not changed. What a comforting thought. When we realize He is all we listed and so much more, we can really relate to what Paul says in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” We serve an awesome God! Rejoice!

Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious in anything, but by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Next, take a few minutes to present your requests to God. Start by praising Him for who He is. Then, lay out your thankfulness and your requests in this format. Make two columns side by side, one for requests and one for thanksgiving. Really get into this. Think of everything you have to be thankful for…..

If you’re like me I ran out of requests long before I ran out of things to be thankful for. In light of who He is and all He’s done for me, my requests certainly seemed more manageable when put in the hands of the God of the Universe. He’s been faithful before and He’ll be faithful again. We simply need to trust Him.

Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Reminding ourselves daily of just who God is and remembering with a grateful heart His faithfulness can truly bring us peace. We can live with confidence knowing He’s got it all under control. We can say with Paul, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:13) 

2/26/2010 - Snow!


“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:7 Not many sights are as beautiful as fresh-fallen snow blanketing the ground. No wonder David used the image as a picture of the restorative power of God. It’s a truly compelling image.
But, for many of us, we’ve had so much snow this year we fail to see the beauty of it anymore. Especially as it lies in ugly three, four, and five foot heaps gathering more and more dirt. It then becomes a picture of our lives as they appear once stained with sin. The anger, the guilt, the hurt, the pain are all that is left in the wake of what seemed like harmless fun at the time.
Recently, this word-picture was driven home to me as I drove along after yet another snow storm. This one was at least mercifully small leaving only a coating over the ugly, dirty snow of the past several weeks. I was reminded that this is how God sees our lives in the absence of Christ. Dirty, sin-stained souls trying desperately to cover our sin with a thin veiling of good deeds, excuses, and plenty of blame for everyone but ourselves. But ultimately, we’re just lightly covering over the real heart issues and our sin is still peaking through just as visible as ever.
God has a better way in mind though. God wants to remove our sins, not just cover them up. As David wrote so beautifully in Psalm 103:11-12, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Think about that for a moment. The east and the west never meet up. They are complete opposites. You can not go both east and west. God wants to give you a clean slate. He wants to completely remove that ugly, dirty sin from your life leaving room for green grass to grow and spring flowers to bloom.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

2/8/2010 - Winter Olympics

2010 Winter Olympics
I love watching the Olympics. To see people fulfill lifelong dreams is so exciting. You hear the stories of sacrifice and hard work and you root for the competitors wanting to see everyone do their best.
Watching the pairs figure skating finals, I was struck by one of these stories. The Chinese head coach was once laughed at when he and his partner skated in the world championships in the early 1980s. You see, no one from China had ever competed in pairs skating and he and his partner were under-trained and lacking basic skills. Fueled by this failure, he went home determined to coach young Chinese skaters and make the Chinese team a force to be reckoned with. His hard work was rewarded at this Olympics as his skaters captured the gold and silver medals. Talk about fulfilling a dream.
God wants to accomplish big things in our lives. He wants to take our meager, faltering efforts and turn them into gold medals. You see, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) While we were still stumbling around in our sin, under-trained and lacking in basic knowledge of God, God had already made a way out. Many of us have set our hope in that way, Jesus. We realize God holds us in His arms and forgives our every fault and failure. He lifts our head when we’re laughed off the ice and reassures us that, through Christ, we are victors in His eyes.
But do many of us also realize that He wants to do even more with us while we are still here on earth? He not only wants to give us victory over death, but also victory over life. Jesus said, “I came so they could have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” (John 10:10, the Message) He wants to be our constant companion, intimate friend, and Lord. He wants to hang a medal around our necks and say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13