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