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 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!