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