November 12, 2017 – Praise God, He Loves Us Anyway

Are there times you feel unworthy or undeserving of the Father’s love?  I know I do.  I was saved as a teenager and my pastor’s wife, a lady who encouraged and invested in me so much, used to tell me, “God can use you.”  I remember thinking, God can use me?  Why in the world would He want to do that?  I still find myself feeling woefully inadequate for His work, even over 20 years later.

I believe that is precisely the point.  None of us are worthy of or deserve His grace, but that’s what makes it Grace, and that’s what makes His love even more profound.  He loves me anyway.  He sees everything I have ever been, all the things I have ever done or ever will do, and He says, “I love you.”

In Acts chapter 8, there is a story about a sorcerer named Simon.  Simon has been deceiving the people through his sorcery and claiming that he has the power of God.  But as the apostle Philip preached the real gospel message,  and Simon saw the real power of God at work through the name of Jesus, he believed and was baptized.

The text says that “…and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.  For as yet He had fallen upon none of them.  They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit'” (Acts 8:13-18 NKJV).

As I was reading this, I thought, What a scoundrel.  But as I pondered the story, I started to wonder why Simon would’ve offered money for a Gift that was freely given to the believers at Samaria.  After all, the text says that “Simon himself also believed (v.13).”

My first thought was ok, maybe the guy thought he could make money and a name for himself by becoming a disciple, especially with the power of God to heal and perform miracles.  After all, he had made money and a name for himself by performing sorcery.  And that very well could’ve been a reason.  But I wonder too if maybe he felt he had to buy this gift from God because he felt unworthy to receive it like the other believers had?  This is pure speculation on my part, but part of me empathizes with Simon if that’s the case.

How often have you or I tried to earn God’s love?  Or felt that we have missed the mark so much in our life that He couldn’t possibly use us?  I have felt that way many times.  And when God has His arms outstretched just waiting for me to receive the gift of His forgiveness and grace when I fall short, how often have I said to myself, “I’ll try harder.  I’ll work more.  I’ll give more.  I must be able to make it up to Him somehow.”? Or gotten discouraged and thought, “What’s the point anyway?  Why should I even try?  I’ll never be good enough to do this Christian thing anyway.”  Yep, been there too.

But what I’ve learned is that He loves me more than I could even fathom.  Not because I’m great, but because He’s great, and because He’s a loving Father.  I can’t “earn” His love and I can’t buy or work for it, and praise God, I don’t have to.  Jesus did the work for us, we can just climb into our Father’s arms and rest.

Simon was rebuked by Peter for thinking that the gift of God could be purchased with money.  Peter told him he couldn’t be a part of their work because his heart was not right with God.  Peter urged him to repent and receive forgiveness (vv 20-23).

But listen to this, “Then Simon answered and said, ‘Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things {consequences of sin} that you have spoken may come upon me.’  So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans (vv 24-25).”

Simon repented and asked for God’s forgiveness.  The story doesn’t specify whether he continued on with the disciples to preach or not, or if he stayed where he was, but I believe that he was forgiven the moment he repented and asked for forgiveness.  There are varying opinions as to Simon’s relationship with God, whether he truly did believe or not, and only God knows his heart, but the message is the same.  While we cannot buy God’s love, it is a gift freely given and so is forgiveness when we reach out to Him with a broken, repentant heart.

Praise God, even when we fall, even though we make stupid mistakes, He loves us anyway.  His arms are open wide for anyone (even the messiest of us).

“Father, I thank You for Your gift of grace over and over again in my life.  I feel so undeserving, and indeed I am undeserving, but I thank You that You love me in spite of my mess.  I thank You that You’re not done with me yet, and I’m humbled that You would want to use me, out of all people, clumsy,  awkward, often prideful me, to work for You.  Not to earn Your love, but to be a part of the greatest work there is, and that is to tell others about Jesus and how much He loves them too.  And that if You can use me in spite of my mess, You can use them too.  I can never thank You enough, and I love You Father.  Thank You for loving me and never giving up on me.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

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November 5, 2017 – Security in our Faith

I don’t know about you, but I tend to worry.  I also have insecurities.  Did I sound like a total dork when I said that?  Is that big zit on my nose really that noticeable?  Do my thighs look fat?  What if they don’t like me?

Most of us, being human, do have these insecurities, and for some of us it turns into worry and fear, which can often be paralyzing.  Chemical imbalances too can cause anxiety and need professional treatment, but what I’m speaking of here is more of the self-consciousness that causes us to be critical of ourselves and others, compare and compete with others, and can cause indecision and missed opportunities.

Proverbs 27:1-2 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.  Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips.”

The first part is a reminder that there are no guarantees in life, and often this uncertainty doesn’t make us feel any better!  We want something we can count on, we want to be able to be sure about our plans.

The second part, if I’m honest, I’m definitely guilty of sometimes.  Like for example, I clean up the kitchen, the table looks nice and pretty, the house is actually clean (well, with a toddler, a pre-teen and a teen, I can dream, ha!  But let’s just go with it.) and it looks great (if I do say so myself).  My husband walks in and if he doesn’t say anything, I say, “Do you like the way I cleaned up in here?  Looks good, doesn’t it?”  I want him to notice it and I’m going to make sure he knows how good it looks!  This is just one example.  A lot of you are probably either nodding your heads in agreement or shaking your head in disgust.  How many of us check to see how many Facebook ‘likes’ we get?  Or how many Twitter followers? Or we “humblebrag” from time to time.  Yikes, guilty again.

But God’s Word tells us that we should leave the accolades to others to give us. Or more importantly,  serve the Lord, so that we can hear him one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant…”(Matthew 25:23)

1 Peter 5:6 says, “Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.”

We can take comfort in knowing that He knows the right time for everything.  We can keep working and not give up, knowing that it’s all in His hands anyway.  Even when it seems like no one notices the hard work we do, even if we feel overlooked or unappreciated at work or at home or elsewhere, God sees everything, and He notices.

We can also find security in that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday,  today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)

Politics and world events and circumstances, even the weather, may change on a dime.  Sometimes it seems like society is dictated by what’s popular, not always what’s right.  But our Lord is the same, unchanging and unfailing in His love, mercy and dependability.

“Father, today I thank You that in a world of such uncertainty, You are the same today, tomorrow and forever.  I thank You that You will never leave me or give up on me, even when I do fall short, and I do every day.  I pray that I would grow closer to You each day and more fully trust in You rather than the accolades and opinions of others.  I pray that I would work, not for the accolades,  but to honor and glorify You and tell others about You, Jesus, and of Your wonderful gift of grace.  Help my faith to be bigger than my fear.  In Jesus Name, Amen.”

God With Us – November 4, 2017

Wow, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve written here.  I tend to be a slacker when it comes to my writing, but am trying to be more disciplined about it since writing is something I’ve loved to do since I learned how.  Anyhow, I had a baby last year, and have had such a busy time with family illness and issues to take care of that I’ve neglected my writing, and my Bible studies have not been what they should be either.  Neither is my house, it’s always a mess these days.  What can I say, I’m just grateful that God doesn’t judge based on merit! 🙂

Do you ever wonder why things happen the way they do?  Or where is God when all the craziness is going on all around us?  I confess, there have been times in my life when God has seemed silent. Like, I know in my heart that He’s there somewhere, but I can’t feel him.  Like being in a large darkened room (think living room or rec room) and feeling around for the light switch, only to find yourself walking around like you’re playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey and still can’t find it, even though you know it’s there somewhere.

Well, with all the troubling stuff in life, be it on the news or things that happen on a personal level, I think those questions are easy to ask and wonder about from a human standpoint, and God knows we have those questions too.  He doesn’t always answer the why, but He promises never to leave us.

I was reading the book of Acts and in Chapter 14, beginning with verse 8, there is an account of where Paul and Barnabas are preaching at a city called Lystra.  God gave Paul the power to heal a man who had been crippled since birth.  When people saw it, they called Paul and Barnabas “Zeus” and “Hermes,” saying, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men! (v.11)”

The passage goes on to say that when Paul and Barnabas heard this, they rushed in to the multitude and “crying out, saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways (vv. 14-16)”

Not always by any means, but could it be that sometimes God is allowing us to “walk in our own ways” while tugging at our hearts to “turn from these useless things to worship the living God”?

But I love this next part that says, “Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness (v.17).”

Wow, what an awesome verse to remind us what Thanksgiving is all about.  Even though I can’t see him, He provides for me.  He provides the food that I eat, the rain that waters the ground, the air that I breathe.  That’s one way I can know He’s there.

But the best news of all, is that He gave us Himself in His Son Jesus who is called Immanuel, literally meaning “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

In Hebrews 13:5-6, we are reminded of God’s promise.  “…For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say:  ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?'”

Because of Jesus, we have the hope that He walks with us in every trial, in every season, in every storm of our lives.  Sometimes when it feels like He is silent, we can reach out in faith and find that the One who can calm our fears is always there.

“…and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Thank You Father, for the security we have that You will never leave us, Lord.  Thank You for Jesus, for His precious gift of salvation, for the fact that He is Immanuel, God with us.  I thank You that even when it feels dark and scary in this world, like you’re not here,  for reminding us that You are, and that You are walking beside us every step of the way.  Take my hand, Lord, and lead me in the path of righteousness, that I will follow you all of the days of my life.  Wrap your arms around us Lord and help us to be all that You intended us to be, without fear of the unknown.  Thank You for all you have provided for us, and for giving us life.  In Jesus name, Amen.

 

God’s Words of Comfort in Times of Fear – January 3, 2016

I wrote a little bit the other day about the news of my pregnancy that we found out right before New Year’s Eve, and about living by faith in this New Year.  I write this as much for me as for my readers, and hope that these words can offer encouragement to the both of us.

I’ve had a lot of fear and anxiety the past few days, as I await speaking with my doctor’s office tomorrow to schedule my first prenatal appointment, as well as some scary symptoms that I have experienced off and on that have at times made me wonder if everything is okay.  Baby seems fine for now, but I’ve been doing a lot of praying and trying to keep God’s Word in my mind as I hope for the best, but try  to mentally prepare for the “what if” of something going wrong.  Because of the miscarriage that we suffered last August, it’s an intensely joyful yet angst-filled pregnancy this time around.

I’m studying some Bible verses on fear, and I’m finding comfort in knowing and remembering that no matter what, His strength is there, and that I am not walking alone.  Let’s take a look at some of the ones I’ve found so far:

Psalm 23:4 “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me (NKJV).” – This one is a great encouragement because again, it lets me know that I’m not walking through the valley alone.  Our Shepherd watches over us with great care and leads us down the right path.

Psalm 115:11 “You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield.” – Because of who God is, I can trust Him in the outcome.  He is my help and my shield.

John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” – Here Jesus is talking to the disciples to let them know that it’s getting close to time for Him to be crucified and resurrected.  He is letting them know that though He is going away shortly to prepare a place for His people in Heaven, He is leaving with them His peace.  This encourages me today because I know that I can call on Him and receive His peace also.

Psalm 56:3 “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.” -This verse reminds me again of the word trust.  I can trust that God is good and that He knows best.

Psalm 112 begins with the verse, “Praise the Lord!  Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who delights greatly in His commandments.”  Then it goes on to say in verse 7, “He will not be afraid of evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” – This tells me that I don’t have to be afraid of bad news because I can still trust that the Lord is good.

Zephaniah 3:17 “The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness.  He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” – This shows the loving character of God, our Heavenly Father, and reminds me of His tender mercy, and also of the way in which He has already saved me through the cross.

Are all of these verses easier said than done?  Absolutely, as least for me they are.  But it’s a great comfort to know that through His Word, He has given us many reassurances that He is there, shepherding His flock and walking us through whatever life may throw at us.

Yes, I am going to keep on praying for my child, and having faith that everything will be all right, but I will commit to trust in Him no matter what because I can trust that He is good.  I will no doubt have more times of anxiety the further along I get, but I can have faith in a God who sees me, knows me, loves me and cares about the things and the people in my life.  After all, if my precious child means so much to my husband and I, how much more does he/she mean to the Creator?

I hope this has perhaps brought a little encouragement to you today, as writing this down did for me.  We serve a mighty God who loved us so much His own Son came down to endure the agony of the cross so that He could bring His children home.  And He’ll walk with you and me every step of the way along this rough and bumpy road called life.

“Heavenly Father, I thank You that You are always there, in good times and in bad.  Please forgive me when I fail to trust You.  Help me to have faith that You are good even in difficult circumstances.  Be with this pregnancy, Lord, for You know what’s best.  I pray that if it is possible, our baby would be born healthy with no complications.  Please draw me closer to You during this time, and for anyone reading this, please draw them closer to You also.  Ease our fears, Lord, and reassure us through Y0ur Word and Your Holy Spirit that You are here right beside us, going before us, in whatever we are walking through.  I pray that this situation in my life will glorify You, Father, and I thank You for Your overwhelming love and grace that You’ve already given me time and time again.  Help us to be filled with Your perfect love that casts out fear, Father.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

Living by Faith in the New Year – December 31, 2015

In reading from Hebrews today, I read some words that spoke deeply to my heart.  It’s wonderful how God sometimes speaks through His Word the exact message we need to hear – of comfort, encouragement and just the motivation to keep on keeping on.

Hebrews 2:10-18 says, “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.  For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying:

I will declare Your name to My brethren;  In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.’

And again:

I will put My trust in Him.’

And again:

‘Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.’

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.  For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.  Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted (NKJV).”

These verses tell us that we can trust Him because He is faithful, and because He has conquered death, sin and temptation.  He’s been in our shoes, and He knows what it’s like to live here on Earth; yes, in Him is our victory.  So, I ask myself, “Why are there times when I’m still so afraid to trust?” and, “When trusting is hard, will I do it anyway?”

The reason these words speak to me today so poignantly is that my husband and I got some great news yesterday:  We are going to have another baby!  I feel a mixture of joy and outright fear, because we had a miscarriage in mid-August of this year during the 5th week of pregnancy.

So, when I read the words that the Lord spoke through the prophets, “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.  I will put my trust in Him.  Here am I and the children whom God has given Me,” I felt the challenge to make this my prayer for the New Year.

Trusting is very hard sometimes, and especially when the outcome is not what we’d like.  As I read the words above, I asked myself, “Do I really trust God with my life and the lives of my children?  I say I do, but do I really?”  I think sometimes I’m afraid to trust because the devil wants to remind me of everything that could go wrong now or in the future.  Yet, I know, in my heart of hearts and through His Word, that He has our best interests at heart.  He has shown me numerous times in both my life and the lives of my children that He is faithful beyond anything I can imagine.

At times when I’ve read in the Old Testament how the Israelites kept wandering from God after He proved Himself faithful over and over – He parted the Red Sea and made water come out of a rock for crying out loud! – I’ve shaken my head in disbelief that they could forget how God had provided.  Yet, I laugh as I write this because don’t we do the same thing?  I know I do.  No sooner does God get me out of one jam, and then something happens that wasn’t what I wanted or how I planned, and I’m wondering if God forgot about me or I’m shaking my fist at Him.

I pray in the coming year that God would remind me (and all of us) of the ways in which He’s blessed us, and that we would cling to His Word of faithfulness, so that when the storms of life come, we will put our hope and trust in a God that we know to be good, loving, merciful and faithful.  One who suffered so that we could have life abundantly – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).”

“Father, I thank You for Your faithfulness, Your love and Your mercy.  Thank You for being with me every step of the way this year, and help me to put my faith in You the way that Jesus did in His example, both through His Words and in His actions.  I pray that I will trust You with all of my heart, with my life and my family, and know that You are good, and will never leave my side.  Please bring to mind all of the times in which You’ve been faithful, both to us and to the people in the Bible, and throughout history, Father.  Grant us an abundance of faith, and peace that passes all understanding, that we may shine Your light into the lives of others.  I pray that in all things we might glorify You.  Thank You for Your Hope and Your salvation and help us to remember that victory is already ours through Jesus.  May we dedicate 2016 to You.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

A Father’s Delight – December 26, 2015

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas!  It’s been a busy week around here, as our youngest son’s 10th birthday was three days before Christmas and I still hadn’t finished my shopping yet that day, so I was among the last-minute people braving the holiday crowds in the stores and parking lots.

All of the hustle and bustle was totally worth it, though.  Like the kids, I was looking forward to time for everyone to open presents.  I wanted to see the smiles on their faces and hear the squeals of delight as they got at least some of the things that were on their Christmas wish lists.

Do you think God does the same when He blesses us with something special?  I wonder if He watches in delight as we savor a special gift, or an opportunity that we’ve prayed for, like a pregnancy test that has two lines, or an announcement of a long-awaited job opportunity, or the moment you meet the person who will be your spouse.  I bet He’s smiling when we admire a beautiful sunset or when our eyes (especially our kids’) light up in the winter after we wake up to a snow-covered yard.  And I bet He cherishes those moments when we bow our heads or lift up our hands in prayer and say, “Thank You, Father,” and give Him a heavenly hug.

1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him (NKJV).”

When we look at all of the beauty of nature, or into the face of a newborn child, His Love is written all over them.  His love was also written all over a blood-stained cross – and His love was the Hope that appeared to the disciples a few days later when they thought that Hope was lost.

After Jesus had been buried for three days, Mary Magdalene and another disciple named Mary (possibly Mary of Bethany) came to see the tomb, and were surprised to see an angel.  “But the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for He is risen, as He said.  Come, see the place where the Lord lay.  And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him.  Behold, I have told you.’

So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.  And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Rejoice!’  So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him (Matthew 28:5-9).”

Can you imagine the look of delight on His face as He shouted, “Rejoice!” and surprised them with His presence?  He had come to announce the greatest News yet:  that victory had been won.  And He gave us the greatest Gift of all: salvation.  We have good reason to rejoice, and Jesus told the disciples that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).”  He loves us so much that when we finally come “home” and ask Jesus into our hearts, He has a big celebration over each one of us!

A book by a Christian author once (can’t remember the author or title) stated that through His death and resurrection, not only did Jesus rescue us, but He also played the biggest practical joke in history on Satan!   It’s true if you think about it.   Just as the devil thought he’d won, Jesus got up and walked right out of that grave, even leaving the linen handkerchief that had been around His head folded neatly off to the side (John 20:7).

We can rejoice not only in knowing that victory is ours if we have placed our faith in Jesus, but that there are even greater things to come.  Jesus told the disciples, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:3).”  He’s with us today, and we’ll physically be with Him in Heaven one day.  I can’t wait to see what great things He has prepared for us up there!

As we get ready to go to bed tonight, I hope we’ll pause and think of some of the greatest gifts/blessings that we’ve been given this year, and tell our Heavenly Father “Thank You,” and “I love You.”  I believe that will bring a big smile to His face, and to ours too!

“Father, I thank You so much for so many ways in which You’ve blessed me, big and small.  I thank You for Christmas, and for Jesus and His great Gift of hope and salvation, and for the victory that has permanently been won over sin and evil.  Please help us to keep the joy and wonder of Christmas in our hearts all year long, and to share that joy and wonder with others, Lord.  I pray that our faces will light up when we think of You and how good You are, and that we will smile more each day as we grow closer to You through Your Word, Father, and it becomes more and more real in our lives.  I thank You for grace, and for a brand new day each morning.  Help me to appreciate and make the most of the gifts that You’ve given me, and to offer You praise and glory.  Let me turn my blessings into praise to You, my King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Can Others See Christ in Us? – December 20, 2015

I’ve heard and read some really good stories and sermons lately that are centered around the meaning of Christmas.  Some have described what things must have been like for Mary and Joseph as they knelt in the smelly stable and beheld the infant Jesus that starry night.  Others are wonderful reminders that the Holy Night at Bethlehem was only the beginning of what would be the greatest Hope of all for mankind – the Savior who was ultimately born to go to the cross, and then to rise from the dead in victory over all that separated us from God, to “…proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19 NKJV).”

I think about the wonder and excitement of that night, and of the Hope in that Message, and yet I’m also convicted.  Sometimes I wonder to myself, “How well am I doing at showing others the love of Christ?  Does my life make others want to know Him more?”  Sadly, often the answer is no.  See, I know that it’s nothing I did or could do that saved me, but His Gift is so wonderful, and His love so amazing, that it should show all over my face, in my words, in my actions, and permeate my life.  So, when I do things like snap at my husband, or have a hard time forgiving someone, or want to shake my fist at that person who cut me off in rush hour traffic, when I compare them to the Christmas message, I fall far, far short.  In fact, we all do.

Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But then in the next verse it says, “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (emphasis mine).”  That means the gift is free.  This passage goes on to talk about how we are saved through faith, that He has forgiven our sins “to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (v 26).”

What do we do once we have asked Christ into our hearts, thereby receiving this free gift?  What does the Word say about how to follow Him?

Titus 3:3-8 says, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.  But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing and regeneration of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works.  These things are good and profitable to men.”

That last part tells us that because we have believed (not to be saved, but as a result of Jesus’ gift), we should be “careful to maintain good works.”  We should do this because it is “good and profitable” for others. God can use us to lead others to Him and be a demonstration of His kindness and love. Conversely, the enemy can use our example to push people away if we are not walking the talk.

Reading these words from the book of Titus this evening was a challenge to me – and perhaps it will be to you too, to think about ways that we can be a better demonstration of our faith in Jesus to those who may be outsiders looking in.  Maybe someone is undecided as to what to think about Christ, but because they see Him in you or me, they might be encouraged to take the step of asking Him into their heart and life also.

The good thing is, when we mess up and we fall short (which we do daily), He gives us grace and forgiveness, and he gives us His Spirit and His Word to help guide the way.  We’re never alone in any decisions we have to make, or any obstacles or crises we face.

Even the Apostle Paul testified to the fact that he struggled with not acting like a Christian at times.  He said, “…For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do (Romans 7:15).”  He then goes on to say, “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?  I thank God– through Jesus Christ our Lord! (vv 24-25).”

So, we will never be perfect this side of Heaven, sadly, but if we have Christ in our hearts, we have been redeemed and forgiven.  Let’s look at one way today that we can be a demonstration of His love to someone else.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:15).”

Lord, I thank You for the message that I read from Your Word today.  I am humbled and convicted.  Sometimes it’s so hard for me to do what You would desire for me to do, and please forgive me where I fall short, Father.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is indeed weak.  However, I know You have promised that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Please help me to lean on You and to be the demonstration of Your love and light in this world that You would have me to be.  I pray for those fellow believers who are reading this, Lord, that they may draw strength and encouragement from You as well, and that this message from Titus may have encouraged and motivated them as it did me.  I pray for those who haven’t yet made the decision to accept You into their hearts, Lord.  I pray that today would be the day.  If there is anything You would have us do today that could make a difference in someone’s life and will help lead them to You, please motivate us and move us to do so, Father.  I pray that we may bring You glory and honor in all we do.  In Christ’s most precious name I pray, Amen.

Faithfully Serving – December 19, 2015

Sometimes I wish I had a maid…and a chauffeur, especially now that I have two teenagers…and when my kids were younger it would’ve been nice to have a nanny to change diapers and clean up the kids’ messes.

When we think about what it means to be extravagantly wealthy, often we think of having bodyguards, a butler and a maid.  We dream of getting rich and being waited on hand and foot, and not having to get our proverbial hands dirty with the menial things.  No, I know that when I get rich (ha!), I’m going to travel and enjoy life and not have to worry about bills or measly things like cleaning the toilet or doing laundry.  No more Hamburger Helper for me!

I say this in jest, of course, as the chances of that are actually pretty miniscule.  But I guess it all depends on how one defines wealth.

In the book of Nehemiah, the king gave Nehemiah permission to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the city’s walls after they had been destroyed.  He led a team of people in the effort to reconstruct.  Chapter 3 lists the names of the people involved in this repair effort, including the names of some of the daughters and sons of those involved, who also joined in the construction.  Since these are included in the Bible, I figure these efforts must have been important to God.  Nothing that we do for Him goes unnoticed.

In verse 5, however, it says, “Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.”  This is the only place in this chapter where it lists those who did not join in the effort.  It’s also of note that these men were nobles, higher-ups perhaps, who seemingly did not want to do the dirty work.

When we picture nobles and kings, we think of people being served.  That’s why the Kingdom Jesus described was such a foreign idea to people at that time, and even goes against our human tendencies and traditions today.

In Matthew 20, the Word says, “But Jesus called them over to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (vv 25-28 NKJV).”

Two of the disciples’ mother had just come to Jesus and asked that her sons be granted the privilege of sitting on either side of Jesus in the Heavenly Kingdom.  They misunderstood, still thinking of a kingdom the way we do, that it was about nobility, pomp and circumstance.  Yet, Jesus showed them and us a better way, and a better kingdom – one that would involve much sacrifice and service, but one that was immensely more rewarding.

In John, Chapter 13, when Jesus was washing Peter’s feet, Peter answered Him and said, “You shall never wash my feet! (v 8).

Then it says, “Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’  Simon Peter said, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’

Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’  For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, ‘You are not all clean.’

So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?  You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.  Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (vv 9-17).”

In essence, He is saying to the disciples that if they truly want to be great, they should serve one another.  By extension, He is saying the same thing to us today.  He came to be an example of the kind of servant leaders we should aspire to be.

I admit, it’s a hard concept for me to apply a lot of the time.  My natural desire is to want to be first in line, get ahead in traffic and in the workplace, and just generally get my way first, before I think about anyone else.  I think it’s just our human nature.  But Jesus admonished us to love other and put others first by serving them.  This is one way that we can bring His light into our dark world.

Let’s take a look at what it means to truly be rich.  Ephesians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”  Further on in this chapter, it says in verse 7, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.”

Jesus gave us the greatest Gift of all:  Himself.  He has promised to those who believe that we have been redeemed, forgiven, blessed with every spiritual blessing because of the riches of His grace.  We can’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, but He loves us so much He wants to come and make His home in our hearts.  If you haven’t yet received this free gift, I would encourage you to talk to Him in prayer and ask Him to come into your heart and be Lord of your life.  He is waiting right there where you are with arms wide open.

Let’s think today of how we can serve someone close to us, or perhaps even a stranger, and show them a little of God’s love, as it draws closer to the Christmas holiday.  Then, let us keep Jesus’ example in mind all year long, as we go forward with the new year and think of new and creative ways that we can be of service.

Like the servant in Matthew 25, at the end of my life I want to hear God say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of our Lord (v 23).”

“Father, I thank You for Jesus’ example of service and love.  Let us today give all of the praise and honor to our King of Kings, who alone is worthy.  Please help us today to be a blessing to someone by serving them, and remind us during the holidays and all year long of ways that we can continue being of service.  I pray that You would raise us up as godly leaders in our homes, our families, our churches, our schools and our world to bring Your light to those that are in need of hope.  Show us how we can best honor You in the areas of service that You have for us.  Remind us each day how truly rich and blessed we are, perhaps not with money, but with so much more than just the material.  We have faith, hope, love, forgiveness and a Savior who never leaves our side.  I thank You once again for Your grace.  Let my life bring You honor.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Blessings Multiplied -December 18, 2015

Several stories I’ve read in the Bible talk of how things, when placed in the hands of God, can be multiplied.  The first example that comes to mind is where Jesus fed the five thousand with just five loaves of bread and two fish that were given to him by His disciples (Matthew 14:13-21).

I was reading today in the book of 2 Kings about the prophets Elijah and Elisha.  These two prophets foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah in many ways.  They were blessed with the Holy Spirit and were able to perform miracles to demonstrate the power of God.  Later, in the New Testament, God Himself would come down in the flesh and perform and preach a message of hope and salvation to the world – in fact, He would be the Message we all need to hear, and the Miracle the world was waiting for.

2 Kings 4:42-44 says, “Then a man came from Baal Shalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley bread, and newly ripened grain in his knapsack.  And he said, “Give it to the people, that they may eat.”  But his servant said, “What?  Shall I set this before one hundred men?”  He said again, “Give it to the people, that they may eat;  for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’  So he set it before them; and they ate and had some left over, according to the Word of the Lord (NKJV).”

The man wondered how twenty loaves of bread were going to be enough to feed one hundred people, just as the disciples didn’t think that the five loaves and two fish would be enough to feed the five thousand either.  But they forgot that God is a God of miracles.  God told Elisha to reassure the man that He would provide enough for the people to eat, and even have some left over.  Matthew 14:20 says that after Jesus fed the 5,000, “they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained.”

When I was reading about this, I got to thinking – how often do we say, “God, all I have is a measly amount of money.  Shoot, I even live paycheck to paycheck.  How can my tiny offering really help anybody?” or, “Lord, I don’t feel like I have what it takes to get involved in ministry.  I’m not good at singing, I’m not a preacher, and I’m very shy.  How could You possibly use someone like me?”

I know I’ve said to myself, “How can God use a socially-awkward, self-proclaimed introvert and ex-drunk like me?”  But I forget that He can take even our measly offering and multiply it over and over.  Maybe you just have 30 minutes a week, or $10, or a beat-up car.  Did you know He can take that and use it for His glory, no matter how small or insignificant you think it is?

I’ve also had times where I’ve said to myself (and my husband), “There seems like no way we’re going to pay all of the bills on this,” and yet at those times, often God has stepped in and made a way where there seemed to be no way.  This month seemed to be like that for us.  My husband works as an electrician, and he came up short the week before last because they were waiting on a builder to finish a house. Consequently, he was short on his check last week for the couple of days that they couldn’t work.

This week, I’ve had the opportunity to work a couple of days part-time at my old job.  I’m not a regular employee, but they’ve graciously allowed me to fill in whenever someone goes on vacation or is sick, etc.  Sometimes I go months without getting an opportunity like this, depending on how busy or slow they are.  The hours are long, but I am so thankful that God has given me the opportunity.  Times like this remind me that He is always faithful, just like His Word says, and that He cares about us and our bills and our lives, even to the smallest detail.

Jesus also encourages us to give of what we have to help others as well.  Like 7:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be put into your bosom.  For with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”  God can multiply our blessings to others in both our lives and theirs.  And it’s such a joy to know when God has used you to make a difference, even in the smallest way.

We can be encouraged to know that in the hands of our Lord, the smallest offering can become the biggest blessing.  We don’t have to be afraid to offer our time, money, talents, possessions, words, deeds or prayers.  All that we have is given by God anyway, and really belongs to Him.  We can trust Him with all things because He is a loving Father.

“Lord, I thank You for all that You have provided, and continue to provide in my life.  Help me to use all that You have given me for Your glory.  Let us offer our lives, time and all that we have to You, to place them in Your hands to be multiplied, knowing that the very same God who fed the five thousand and healed the blind can make much out of little.  Help us to make much of You, Lord, for You are holy.  I pray that when blessings come, we would remember where they came from, and be reminded of how much You love us.  Let us boldly come to You with all of our needs, knowing that You are faithful to take care of us, and care about all of our concerns, no matter how small.  Thank You for being such a loving Father.  In Jesus name I pray, Amen.”

An Awesome God – December 15, 2015

Our God is an awesome God, He reigns, from Heaven above,

With wisdom, power and love – our God is an awesome God!” – Rich Mullen

I’ve got that song stuck in my head as I was thinking on this devotional for today.  I’ve sung the words to that song many times, but I don’t think I truly stop to think about them and what they mean as much as I probably should.

I like science.  It fascinates me, and I love hearing about new discoveries in medicine, or new species that have been discovered throughout the world.  Some try to use science to disprove the Bible, but for me science serves to strengthen my faith and affirm what the Bible says is true.

Have you ever looked at plant cells under a microscope, perhaps in a biology class or with one of those microscopes that come with those science kits that some of us got for Christmas as kids?  When you see how orderly they are, and arranged in neat little rows, it is astounding to think about the One who created them like that, and impossible to believe that the plant just evolved from nothing.

In 2 Samuel Chapter 7, God tells David that He has different plans than the ones David originally had, where David wanted to build Him a house.  Nevertheless, He is pleased with the thought because He knew that David’s heart was in the right place.  So the Lord promised David that He would make him a house, and foreshadowed Jesus’ coming kingdom after the lineage of David.  David then prayed a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord and said, “Who am I, O Lord God?  And what is my house, that You have brought me this far? (2 Samuel 7:18 NKJV).”

How many times can we say the same thing along with David?  “Who am I, Lord?  That you have brought me and my house this far?”  When you think about all that God has brought you through, and the many ways that He has worked in your life in ways that are personal to you, does it not bring about a sense of awe and wonder?  I can look back at many times in my life where things didn’t look good, the future looked bleak, and I just knew there would be no way I was going to get out of the mess I was in, and yet God showed up.  Over and over.  It’s humbling to think that out of everything and everyone in the universe, He loves you and I so much that even our little worries and cares are important to Him, and He wants to help us.

In the Psalms, David writes in Chapter 8, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that you are mindful of him? And the son of man that You visit him?  For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor (vv 3-5).”

It’s breathtaking to think about how little we are in the scheme of things.  Have you ever stood along the beach at night and gazed up at the moon?  I don’t live close to an ocean, but the beach is one of my favorite places to go on a summer vacation.  Standing by the vast, expansive shoreline amid the rushing sound of wave upon wave, and seeing a big, gigantic moon in the sky is both peaceful and humbling.  It reminds me how small I am in comparison.  Yet, when I think that you and I were (and are) important enough to God for Jesus to die for us, now that is awe-inspiring!

Luke 12:6-7 says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins?  And not one of them is forgotten before God.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Our God is so big, and so vast, and so creative that He has made things and species of things that we haven’t even discovered yet, but this mighty God cares about even a sparrow, and tells us that we don’t have to be afraid or ever think that He’s forgotten us, because He cares about us infinitely more.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:16-17).”

The most amazing thing of all is that God, in His vastness, chose to make Himself small, and come down to us in the form of a human, His Son Jesus Christ, to pay for our sins once and for all so that we could be saved and forgiven.  Our Creator endured that agony and laid down His life for His human creation before He rose again and ascended back up to His throne where “He reigns from Heaven above, with wisdom, power and love.”  Our God is an awesome God indeed!

“Thank You, Father, for who You are.  When I think about the vastness of the sky, the stars, the universe, and galaxies we’ve not even found yet, I am amazed and awed that You who created all of that cares about me, and about all of us.  Help me to learn from You with a humble heart, and to offer my life – my time, my energy, my heart and all that life consists of, to You in worship.  Thank You so much for Jesus and His great love and sacrifice so that we could all be forgiven.  I thank You that because He lives, Father, we too can have everlasting life.  I pray that everyone would know about His precious gift, Lord, and I pray that we may give You praise each and every day for Your mighty power, and just for how wonderful You are.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”