Work in Progress – December 4, 2015

I like what Joyce Meyer says frequently, in her talks and in her writing.  She says, “I’m not where I want to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be.”  That about sums up my thinking today.

Do you ever feel woefully inadequate to do what you feel like God is leading you to do?  Or do you wonder what it is exactly that He is leading you to do?  If so, you’re not alone.  With me, it’s a little of both.

Sometimes when I write, I don’t know exactly what I’m gonna say, or I look over what I’ve just written and I think, “Can anyone make sense of that?”  Yet, writing is something I really enjoy, and I especially enjoy sharing my studies of the Bible and what I’m learning as I read.  I’m also working on a fiction novel, which has been decidedly slow-going.

Another quandary I find myself in is wondering exactly what it is I’m supposed to do as in career-wise.  I graduated back in May with my MBA, and when I started school originally, had all of these big plans about how I was going to try and get a high-paying job that would help us get the house paid off quickly and save up money so that we wouldn’t have to worry about finances anymore.

I resigned my full time job last November so that I could focus more on my school work, as a lot of it was very time-consuming, and I was getting close to the end, where I was going to have to write a lengthy report for my capstone class.  Not to mention, the classes on math and finance were challenging to this English major, to say the least.

Then, in December of last year, and for the next several months, we went through a major crisis with our teenage daughter.  She has asked me not to go into detail out of respect for her privacy, but I’ll just say she struggled with depression and had a really rough time, and really needed my care and attention, so it ended up being a blessing in disguise that I quit my job at the time that I did, even though it ended up being for a different reason that what I thought it was going to be.

Throughout that time, my husband and I were driven to our knees in search of answers, and had to lean heavily on the Lord to get us through.  I went through a period of asking God, “Why?” and at the same time, begging Him to please help my little girl.  It’s a strange thing, being powerless.  When you get to the absolute end of anything you can do, you get your loved one (or yourself) all of the help that you can, and then from there on out it is between them and God.

And God is faithful.  My daughter received inpatient help for her depression a few times, and during her last stay, she met a tech there who encouraged her from the Word of God, and even bought her a Bible with her name on it.  The tech told her that though it was against policy for her to distribute Bibles to the patients, she felt like it was something that the Lord had laid on her heart to do for these kids, and that she was willing to risk losing her job if found out.  As far as I know, that lady is still employed there, and I am so very thankful that God put that angel in our daughter’s path.  You see, my daughter was a Christian, but was, much like I’ve been at the lowest points of my life, really discouraged and in need of being reminded that God was still there, that He hadn’t left her alone.

And He was reminding her of exactly the same thing that Paul was speaking to the believers about in Philippians chapter 1.

So, when I was reading from this book today, and thinking of the uncertainty of my future career, and how far I still have to go before I’m anything like Joyce, for example, I read where the apostle Paul wrote in Chapter 1, verse 6, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”  No matter where I falter, or am unsure, or feel that I lack the resources, it says He who has begun a good work in me (and in you) will complete it.  It says it won’t get done by my (or your) strength, but through His.

Because of this, I don’t have to worry about knowing exactly what I’m to do next month or next year, but just to follow where He leads.  I’m His work in progress.

Further on in the chapter, Paul writes, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear (vv 12-14 NKJV).”

Paul saw the bigger picture.  Yes, he had been imprisoned, but many saw the power of God working in Paul’s situation, and this gave the believers of that day more courage to be outspoken for Christ.

Sometimes, I can look back on things that happened in my life, and I can see God’s hand in the situation.  I can see how God was there for me and for our daughter earlier this year.  I also see that though I am now only working part time and am nowhere close to the big salary that I had dreamed of when I started school, God has given me this gift of time.  Time for me to take a break from the rat race, and time to think about what’s really important in my life.

Paul didn’t know how things were going to turn out for him either.  But he was able to say, even as he sat imprisoned, and even with the possibility that he could lose his life, “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (vv 19-21).”

No matter where you or I are in life, God has given us through His Word, the great hope of Jesus Christ.  He promises that the good work He begins in us, He will continue until the day He calls us home.  He gives us the hope that no matter our situation, things are going to turn out all right in the end.  And, like Joyce, we can thank Him that even though we haven’t arrived yet by any means, we can look back with deep gratitude at the things that He has brought us through so far.

“Father, I thank You for Your provision in our lives.  Lord, I pray that I would give You the glory in all that I do, and that I would seek Your will day by day.  Take our feeble human efforts and use them for Your glory and Your praise.  Help us to look for ways in which we can encourage one another today.  I thank You for the testimonies of other believers, including the words and the testimony of the apostle Paul, and of course, for Your life and Your example.  I pray that we as believers would depend on You, knowing that You are faithful in all things, and that we would not worry about provision from one day to the next, being confident that You are able to open doors no man can shut.  Thank You for all of the ways in which You have been faithful to me, to us all.  I love You Lord, and I praise Your holy Name.  In Jesus name I pray, Amen.”

Hope in the Midst of Trouble – December 3, 2015

It’s easy to get discouraged with everything going on in the world today.  I’ve often asked myself, “Is it that crime is worse today, or just that we are more aware of it, thanks to satellites and 24-hour news coverage?”  I think it’s a little (or a lot) of both.

To an extent, I’ve always been aware of crime, as I didn’t grow up in the days where people could leave their doors unlocked, and where you didn’t have to watch your back to some degree.  As a kid, we were taught of “stranger danger,” and even had our parents check our Halloween candy because of news reports of candy being tampered with.   So, I can’t say that I was ever really naive of the realities of crime, but today, when I hear about the horrific realities of what happened yesterday in San Bernardino, I never fail to be saddened and wonder how people could be so cruel.

When I saw the headline above, of course as a Christian I was saddened by the hopelessness of the statement, but I can empathize and relate to the disillusionment and the questions surrounding the whys and how to stop all of the violence.  It’s easy for you or I to say, “God’s in control,” when it isn’t our child, or our spouse, or mother or friend that is a victim of some senseless crime such as this.  I get that.

I also know, and this from years of working in Tribal politics, that we can’t legislate morality and that the law can’t force us to love our neighbor and be decent human beings to one another.  This is not to say that I think guns are necessarily a good idea by any means.  But the root of the problem is with the condition of the hearts of those who choose to commit such violence, and with man’s inhumanity to man.

Where then do we find hope?  Or comfort?  Or help?  Jesus is still here, and He knows what it’s like to feel sorrow, pain, suffering and even to feel alone and abandoned.

Jesus told the disciples in John 16 that they would experience suffering.  He says, “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.  They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.  And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.  But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them (John 16:1-4 NKJV).”

The Pharisees called for Jesus’ crucifixion too, deluding themselves into believing that they were doing God a favor.  They accused Jesus of blasphemy, but it was really to retain their political favor and status.

When He finishes letting the disciples know of His impending death and resurrection, He says, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”

Sometimes we ask Him the question, “God why aren’t you fixing this?”  We’re not alone in that either.  The disciples were confused too.  They thought at first that when Jesus said He was going to establish a kingdom, that He was going to establish peace and prosperity for the Jews here on earth at that time.  So imagine how they felt when He was beaten, mocked and ultimately put to death by crucifixion.

Luke  24  tells of how two of Jesus’  followers were traveling on a road to a small village just outside of Jerusalem, when Jesus met them on the road and began walking with them.  Verse 16 says, “But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.”

In verse 17, Jesus asks them what they are talking about and why they are so sad.  They are surprised that this man they are speaking to hasn’t heard the news about the “things” everyone is talking about, so they tell Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him.  But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.  Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened.  Yes, and certain women of our company astonished us.  When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive (Luke 24:19-23).”

Yes, the people were disappointed that it appeared that Israel’s victory didn’t come as expected.  But they still had a glimmer of hope because of the empty tomb…

So I guess I have to ask myself when ask, “Why isn’t God fixing this?”, what if the victory and the solution is just different that I imagined?  What if I am looking at the wrong “this”?  When He says, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,” He means that He, like us, had to walk through a lot of pain, but He overcame it.  Not only that, but He gives us hope that this life is not all there is.  We may suffer in the here and now, but not only does He promise to walk with us through it, He promises that it’s just a matter of time before we get to see the Promised Land (heaven), where things will be set right.

Now, I don’t claim to understand all of Revelation, but I believe that John is talking about Heaven when he says beginning in verse 3 of Revelation chapter 21, “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.  God Himself will be with them and be their God.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

I look forward to a place like that.  Jesus has promised us that we aren’t alone now, in whatever the world and our enemy may throw at us, and that we will be with Him when we pass from this world.  He tells us in John 14:1-6, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  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.  And where I go you know, and the way you know.”  Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

What a comfort it is to know that Jesus is the Way and the Truth that lights our troubled world, and that there is a greater world to come.  I pray that we would all be comforted with this Truth, and know that even though we have troubles now, He is with us, walking beside us and in front of us every step of the way.  If we believe that He died to save us and that He lives today, we can also be confident that He will never leave us nor forsake us.

“Father, I pray for our troubled world.  I pray that those who are plotting evil in their hearts would be convicted of their sin and stopped from committing such evil, and I pray that we would all seek to do good to one another, rather than harm.  I pray most of all that everyone would know the Truth that will set them free, Lord, the truth of Your great love and salvation.  I pray that we as Christians may abide in the hope of Your promises never to leave us and that You will one day deliver us out of this present world into a heaven where there is no more sorrow.  I pray that if someone reading this right now feels hopeless or despairing, that You would strengthen and encourage them and let them know that You are right by their side and that You love them and want to heal them.  I pray that You would lead us as a country and as individuals down the right path.  Show us Your will, Lord, and help us to look to You for guidance and for the answers.  I pray for comfort, peace, and most of all, hope for those who have lost loved ones due to the terrible tragedy yesterday.  I pray for healing too, Lord, for all involved, from the injured, to the families of those injured and killed.  Thank You for the hope that is found in You, Your grace and most of all, Jesus’ gift of salvation.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

What is My Job?: Speaking the Truth In Love – December 2, 2015

Judge_meme

So I saw this online again today, and it bothers me because of the message it was used to convey within the context of a conversation that I was watching unfold.  A lady who is not a Christian took issue with another lady for posting about Jesus being the Way, the Truth and the Life.

So the lady who was chastised backtracked and posted this meme, and said that she needs to remind herself not to be so judgmental, that it is not her job to tell anyone what to believe.

So what does it mean to “judge”?  I think this is where things get misunderstood.  Is it “judging” if I see a good friend hurting themselves and I say, “Honey, your drinking has become a problem, and I am worried about you”?.  If the person really does have a problem, I believe that it is being a good friend or a caring neighbor.  I had loved ones do that for me at the height of my own problem, and though I didn’t get sober right then and there, it meant a lot that people cared enough to a) be concerned about me and b) tell me the truth.

When I tell people about the salvation of Jesus Christ, how He is the only One who could’ve paid for our sins, but that He did (praise the Lord!) and He paid for us in full so that we can know what true freedom in Christ is, I’m not telling them what heathens they are and how they need to be like me because I’m better (which I’m most certainly not).  Shoot, no!  If anything, I was probably one of the most heathen of the heatheny (I know, I made up that word, but I thought it sounded cool) and God loves me anyway!  So much, in fact, that He was willing to lay down His life for me, so that He could rescue me from that dark pit of despair and give me hope!  I want to shout it from the rooftops.

Yet, there have been times when I have been cowardly when I should have spoken up, and there have been other times when I’ve gotten angry and just run off at the mouth, spouting opinions and giving people a piece of my mind, when people don’t need to hear my opinion, they need to hear the Truth.  The Truth that really matters is Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 4:14-15 says that “we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-Christ-from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (NKJV)

Paul is speaking to Christians here, and telling us that a hallmark of being mature as believers is being able to avoid being swayed by petty arguments and tossed about by deceit, but being able to speak the truth in love.  Again, at the end of the passage, he reiterates this, speaking of how if we work together in Christ (not alone but by seeking His will), it “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”  The way that people are reached with the love of Christ and the good news of Jesus’ saving grace is not by shying away from the truth and reality of the fact that we are all sinners, but sharing (speaking) that truth in love.

Here is where I think some of us (including me) get tripped up sometimes.  1 Corinthians 13:1 says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.”

It’s saying that even if you or I were the most articulate person in the world but we didn’t speak with love, all people are going to hear is blah, blah, blah.  I’ll use the analogy again of the friend who confronted me about my drinking problem.  Was she “judging” or was she speaking the truth?

According to the dictionary, the top 3 definitions of the word “judge” are:

  1. To form an opinion or estimation of after careful consideration
  2. To hear and decide on in a court of law; to pass sentence on/condemn; to act as one appointed to decide the winners of
  3. To determine or declare after consideration or deliberation

(http://www.thefreedictionary.com/judging)

My friend was not stating an opinion.  She was stating a fact based on her repeated observations of my behavior and its effects.  She was not appointed, nor was she trying to make a determination in order to condemn me.  She was simply speaking the truth in love to me as a friend.

In Acts 5:30-32, Peter and some of the apostles were brought before the council and got into trouble for teaching about Jesus.  They answered and said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.  The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.  Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  And we are His witnesses to these things…”

We are witnesses too, once we have been changed by His love.  We can speak about how Jesus has changed us, and we can live a changed life.  This meme that I shared says, “You job is to lift the fallen, to restore the broken, and to heal the hurting.”  Jesus says in Mark 29-31, “The first of all commandments is ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  This is the first commandment.  And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Jesus is the One capable of lifting the fallen, restoring the broken and healing the hurting.  Our job is to love Him, and to love our neighbor enough to reach out and tell them the Good News of a Lord who came to save, heal and change their life.  May we have the courage to do so.

“Father, I humbly ask Your forgiveness for the times I’ve spoken harshly and when I’ve spouted off without thinking about things that in the long run don’t even really matter.  Help me and my life to be a good witness of Your love, Your power and all that You’ve done for me.  Grant me wisdom and courage, Lord, that I may know when to speak the truth in love, and let me not be afraid to tell others about You and Your Amazing Grace.  Help me to also know when to sit down and be quiet, such as in a pointless debate or argument.  Take my words and my life and use them for Your glory.  I love You and thank You for what You’ve done in my life, and simply for who You are.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Our Story, His Glory – December 1, 2015

Are there things you look back on that make you hang your head in shame or regret?  Do you wish you could blot some of your most embarrassing moments from your memory?  I know there are times I look back and I cringe at things I have said or done and think, “Wow, really??”

The good news for all of us is that in God’s hands, our past can actually become a tool for His ministry.  He can bring good out of even the most improbably sad or embarrassing moments of our lives, our biggest faux pas.

For a long time, I struggled with an addiction to alcohol, and this was even as a Christian.  I tried my best to hide the effects of my drinking from co-workers and from church friends and other friends that I thought might judge me.  As my drinking progressed, there was no longer much hiding it from anyone.  My children and husband lived with me, so although in the early stages I hid the cans and bottles from them, I didn’t do it for long.  I was really just one walking hypocrite, and felt totally ashamed, guilty and depressed.

Then, on one particularly bad drinking spree, I thought that it would be a good idea to post about my struggle on social media.  There was all of my business out there for friends, family, business associates and co-workers to see, some of whom didn’t even know me that well.  I know now that it was a cry for help – I was reaching out to anyone and everyone who might understand.  I was tired of hiding and trying to pretend that I was doing okay on my own.  The weight of trying to keep it all in caused me to collapse.  I also posted numerous statuses on Facebook crying out to God for help.  However, in the days that followed, I would wake up hungover and unable to remember what I’d said (or typed), but I just felt utterly humiliated, ashamed and depressed.

Several friends and acquaintances (even from work!) responded and told me that they were praying for me.  Some even related their own struggles.  It took a long time to get over the shame that I felt, and I had a ways to go before I would finally be able to find sobriety, but the mask was off.   Once the initial shock and humiliation of what I’d done sank in, I began to feel relief.

I hope and pray that by sharing my past and my struggles, someone else may find the courage to share also, and come out of the dark into the light.

Today I am sober, not because of anything I’ve done, but it’s solely by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in my life.  Many times I thought I was ready to quit drinking, and I sincerely meant it, only to reach back for the bottle when things got stressful.  Other times, I had prayed for deliverance from the alcohol addiction, only to find that I wanted another drink more than I wanted to get sober.  I can’t really explain why or how I am sober today other than by His power.  And perhaps that is how He had to deal with me so that I am unable to boast about anything I’ve done or how I got myself out of that situation, as I am so prone to do.  I think He knows that my pride and my self-sufficiency will kill me if left to my own devices.

In Romans 6:4, the word says “that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should also walk in newness of life.”  I love that we get the chance to walk in newness of life!  Newness!  Meaning that the old, the past, the scars, no longer have dominion over me anymore.  “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin may be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. (Romans 6:6 NKJV)”

Now this doesn’t mean that we won’t sin.  After all, we don’t become perfect when we accept Christ, just forgiven.  But this does say that I no longer should be a slave to sin.  Therefore, I need to be vigilant about participating or partaking in anything that may lead to bondage.  This is why I don’t even take one drink of any kind of alcohol now, as I know that there is a high probability that it would lead me back to being alcohol’s slave.

I want to be clear that it is only by His grace and what Jesus did on the cross that we are saved, through faith alone and not of our own works.  I was saved as a teenager, and the Lord promises that there is nothing we do or could have done that can cause us to be “unsaved.”

What Paul is saying in this chapter is that because of Jesus’ gift of us, and the price he paid for our freedom, we should not be like pigs returning to the mire, but should live for Him.  I didn’t do that for a long time.  I was still living for me.

Paul goes on to write in this chapter to the Romans:

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  Certainly not!  Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:15-16)”

And then further on he writes, “What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed?  For the end of those things is death.  But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:21-23).”

Addiction was leading me straight toward an early death.  But thank God through His Son Jesus, I no longer have to walk that way.  And I no longer have to hide or hang my head in shame, but can bow my head in humble gratitude and adoration and say, “Thank You, Lord.  Let my story become Your glory.”

“Father, I thank You so much for the opportunity to walk in newness of life.  I thank You that I no longer have to live in shame, guilt and fear.  Be with those reading this, and whatever our struggles, help us to remember that in Your hands, the victory is won and those struggles can be transformed from instruments of shame in our lives to instruments of healing and ministry.  I want to give You the praise and the glory, for You alone are worthy.  Help us to find freedom in any area in which we still struggle, and to look back on the past with peace rather than regret.  Bring to rememberance the ways in which You’ve been faithful, even when we haven’t been, and how You’ve carried us when we didn’t have the strength to walk one more step.  Let my life bear fruit toward holiness and give You praise.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

 

Getting into the Christmas Spirit- November 30, 2015

My family and I got in the Christmas spirit last night after we got home from our relatives’ house after a busy and fun Thanksgiving weekend.  The kids wanted to put up the Christmas tree, which in the common tradition we typically put up right after Thanksgiving.  My son wanted to listen to some Christmas music, and we had fun picking out songs, everything from the Transiberian Orchestra to Wham’s “Last Christmas,” and the old favorite “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

My new favorite Christmas song over the past couple of years though is one by a group called Cloverton, set to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” but with the verses written to reflect the Christmas theme.

The last verse gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes, as it captures the enormity of what Christmas really means.  It goes like this:

“I know You came to rescue me;

This baby boy would grow to be

a man who’d one day die for me and you.

My sins would drive the nails in You

That rugged cross was my cross too.

Still every breath You drew was “Hallelujah!”

Today, I just want to share this song with you and encourage you to think about what Christmas means to you.  I hope you are as touched and encouraged by it as I am.  We can be thankful that because He did come down to rescue us and pay for our sins in full, we can also say, “Hallelujah (which means ‘Praise the Lord’)!”

“But God commends His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8 (NKJV)

“Thank You Lord, for the enormity of Your gift to us.  Help us to reflect on this more as we near closer to Christmas time.  I thank You that because of Your great love and mercy, You took my cross upon Yourself, and carried the burden of my sin, and willingly laid down Your life for me.  I also thank You that the story doesn’t end there, but that You won the victory for us forever.  Help me to live today saying “Hallelujah” with every breath I take, for You are worthy, and I can’t thank You enough.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

 

Just As I Am – November 28, 2015

Just as I am, without one plea,

but that thy blood was shed for me

I love this old hymn.   When I hear it, I typically think about how Jesus calls us to come “just as we are” and surrender ourselves to Him. How we don’t have to try to clean ourselves up in order to accept Jesus’ free gift of salvation – we can come to Him warts and all. But in reading Ephesians chapter 1, this song took on a whole new meaning for me.

I accepted Christ into my heart when I was 14 years old, yet I often struggle with anxiety in social situations, afraid that I’ll say something stupid or I find myself feeling awkward and at a loss for words, which makes me seem like I am being standoffish or snobbish, when in fact it’s just me being nervous. Then I walk away thinking, “I hope they didn’t think I was being rude.”

I think too often as believers we accept the gift of salvation, but because we still struggle with insecurities and the failings of being human, we struggle with prayer because we’re afraid we’ll sound stupid, or telling others about Jesus because we’re afraid it’ll come out wrong. Or we struggle with legalism because we think we have to do everything “right” in order to be accepted by God. Or with service because we feel that we don’t have the gifts necessary to participate in ministry. I have at different times with all of the above. Thank God He gives me His Word to remind me that not only can I come to Him just as I am, I am permanently accepted and love just as I am also.

Beginning in verse 3 of Ephesians 1, the apostle Paul writes, “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, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise and glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:3-6 NKJV).”

He’s telling us here that when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, God sees us as sons and daughters and made us “accepted in the Beloved [Jesus]” “to the praise and glory of His grace.” That’s the awesome thing about grace. We didn’t do anything to earn or deserve it, and because of that fact, we can’t do anything to lose it either. There’s no points or merit system. It’s all because He loved us enough to pay the price so that we don’t ever have to worry about not being accepted or loved.

Verse 13 and 14 tell us that, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”

This tells us that once we are saved, we are promised an inheritance in Heaven. Where the Word says, “you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,” I think of when my husband and I took our wedding vows. We made a promise to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, etc. until death do us part. Even more glorious here, is that God not only promises that we are accepted in the here and now, He has promised us a permanent residence in the Promised Land in our life to come.

We know that the Lord always keeps His promises; that’s why this is such a comfort when we struggle with anxiety, or with insecurities, or when we simply have days where we feel clumsy and out-of-sorts. We don’t have to worry about making a fool out of ourselves or whether or not our prayers are grammatically correct- He loves and accepts us just as we are.

“Father, I thank You for your unconditional love and acceptance of me, warts and all. Where sometimes all I can see is where I need to improve, Your grace abounds and reminds me that You are my ever-present help. I have nothing to fear from what people think, because I know that I am perfectly loved by a perfect Father. Please help me to love others like You love me, and not to be afraid to dedicate my efforts to Your service, no matter how feeble I think they are. Help me to remember that You are the one capable of taking five loaves and two fishes and feeding five-thousand, or a widow’s mite and multiplying it for Your glory. I love and I thank You, Father. Help us to give You all of the praise, honor and glory and to relax and enjoy life as it comes, for You came to give us life abundantly. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

 

Deliver Us From Evil…And Holiday Traffic – November 27, 2015

I must say,  we had quite a ride getting to my husband’s parents’ home last night.  We were already excited to spend time with our out-of-state family, but the four-and-a-half hour drive turned out to be a nail-biter in more ways than one.

First, we ended up leaving just as a torrential rainstorm began, which resembled more a typhoon than anything.   Then, as we headed south, more rain, and at one point we narrowly dodged hydroplaning when we hit a puddle that looked to be two feet deep.  Every so often, we would pass a car that had landed in the ditch, or that had had a fender bender with the retaining wall and think, “This could be us up around the next corner.”

Thankfully, I wasn’t the one driving.  The last thing any of the poor souls stuck in rainy, Thanksgiving Day traffic need is a sleep-deprived woman, bordering on delirious actually, from working the overnight shift, behind the wheel of the car on the freeway next to them. Especially one who is close to foaming at the mouth after everyone, including three kids and a husband, has finally managed to get crammed, along with all of the luggage, into a small double cab truck which has seemingly morphed into a smart car with no leg room.

I began praying for God to please get us to our destination safely through the storms and in one piece (and without killing one another), and to help me to snap out of the crabby mood I was in.  It is, after all, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  I just wasn’t feeling it at the moment. How I wish at those times that there were some kind of divine teleportation mechanism to lift us up and carry us out of the storms, the long lines of traffic, etc.

In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus teaches the disciples (and us) how to pray.  He says:

“In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.  For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen. (NKJV)”

What does deliverance from temptation and the evil one look like (and yes, I think holiday traffic is the work of the evil one!)?  When I think of being delivered from something, I think of God lowering down a rope or a safety net and rescuing me right then and there.  Or like the way that He helped Moses to part the Red Sea to deliver the Israelites out of the hands of the Egyptians in Exodus.

But sometimes I fail to see that deliverance might not be what I think. Deliverance might mean protection. I think sometimes our plans go awry because God might be keeping us from harm.

And then, sometimes, I think deliverance means walking with us through whatever we are going through, and helping us to come out safely the other side.  I’ve heard a saying that sometimes the only way out is through, and I believe that.  Even if whatever it is means emerging from this side of life into Heaven on the other side, God will get us through it, and He will walk with us all the way.

The Apostle Paul had some kind of “thorn in the side”.  The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what it was.  Perhaps a physical illness or disability, perhaps anxiety or depression, or some kind of temptation that he struggled with. No one can really be sure.  Whatever it was, it was troubling enough to Paul that He asked the Lord to remove it three times.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 (NKJV):  “Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.  And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'”

The Lord was telling him that He was choosing not to remove Paul’s thorn in the flesh, as He would be able to use Paul’s weakness to demonstrate His strength.  In other words, He was going to be able to take something that Satan was using to bother Paul (v.7) and use it as part of Paul’s ministry for His glory.

So then, we can be encouraged when the trials and storms come, and know that though God has different ways of delivering us from storms,  He promises to be with us every step of the way.

Our Thanksgiving story has a happy ending.  We arrived safely in time to have Thanksgiving dinner with most of the relatives.  A good time was had by all of us.  A few had left, but we have the rest of the weekend to be able to catch up and visit with everyone before we head back home Sunday.  The Lord reminded me of all that I have to be thankful for – most especially, His grace that is sufficient for my every need.

“Father, thank You for all that You are, and for You grace that sustains me daily.  Please forgive me for the times when I forget to be grateful, and help me to give thanks in all circumstances, for You are able, and You are mighty to deliver us from anything the evil one tries to throw our way.  I’m grateful for family, fellowship and that we get to spend this time together for the holiday weekend.  Please be with those reading this and bless their homes and their families, Lord, and give them safe travels.  May we all draw closer to You today and always.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Slow Down, You Crazy Child – November 25, 2015

Ok, I know.  The title for this post is actually part of the chorus from the song, “Vienna” by Billy Joel, but I thought it was apropos for what I was thinking about today.

We all know tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and the official holiday season is upon us.  I emphasize that because we don’t just have Thanksgiving or Christmas Day.  We have the 45 shopping days left till Christmas, or whenever you start counting, and Thanksgiving eve (still time to buy those turkeys and anything else you might have forgotten on your last trip to the grocery store!) and then Black Friday, which now lasts from part of the evening Thursday to sometime Friday afternoon or evening in some places.

So, in the frenzy of all of this activity, I thought about the story of Mary of Bethany and her sister Martha in Luke 10:38-42 (not to be confused with Mary the mother of Jesus, or Mary Magdalene, who are also Biblical characters.  Apparently, just about everyone named their girl children Mary back then).

It says, “Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.  But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Therefore tell her to help me.’

And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.  But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.'(NKJV)”

So, I ask myself, “Am I a Martha or Mary?”

Well, I do have some days where I say who cares if the kids pick up their socks out of the floor, and we can worry about the bills, the trash, the dishes and dinner tomorrow.  I just want to read the new Joyce Meyer book and eat chocolate.  Does that count as being a Mary?  And maybe sometimes, I’m half-Mary and half-Martha, where I’m making mental lists of things I must do before the shopping days are over, but the Mary part of me wants to sit down and eat a bag of chips and say, “C’est la vie.”

But a lot of the time I think I lean solely toward being a Martha.  “Lord, do You not care that my kids don’t know where the trash can is, or that these dogs have left pee on my carpet and no one knows who forgot to let them outside?  Do You not know that my house is a wreck because I have three children, two of them teenagers?!  And that Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and we have to find someone to babysit the dogs??”

At those times, He reminds me through His Word that He does care.  And He gives us His strength when we’re tired to help us get through these hectic times.  But the enemy would have me believe that He has left me all alone to deal with the hectic pace of this life and all of its responsibilities.  And that’s simply not true.  It’s just that God doesn’t get all bent out of shape about the condition of my kitchen, or about whether the presents are perfectly wrapped, etc. like I do.  He sees from an eternal perspective, and knows that I won’t remember what our kitchen looked like 20 years from now, most likely, but I’ll remember how blessed I was to see the smiles on my kids’ faces as we share what we’re grateful for this year and celebrate together as a family.

It’s not that He doesn’t care about our concerns over the adult responsibilities that we all have though.  In fact, He’s called us to be good stewards of quite a lot- and that’s why His help and His strength are always available for the asking.  He knows he is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20 NKJV).

He’s telling us in the passage above to choose “the good part,” which is taking time to sit at His feet and learn from Him.  He’s telling me that to be a Mary, I need to turn off the tv, unplug from the Internet, take off the superior sound-system headphones and forget about the messy house for a minute and just spend some time with Him.

When Jesus tells Martha that “one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part,” I believe He is telling us we need Him most of all, and that if we put Him first, we won’t be as “worried and troubled about many things.”  We’ll be able to relax, knowing that He’s right there with us, in whatever we have to do today.

“Lord, today I ask that You help me to be more like a Mary, and just make it a point to spend time with You, rather than worrying and getting all nervous about this or that.  Help me to be still and know that You are God.  Show me what You would have me to learn today, and what You would have me to do.  Help us as Christians to look for ways in which we can help others as well, that we may shine Your light into the dark places in the world.  I pray that we may be deeply aware of Your love this holiday season and that we will be reminded that we have a great Lord, who is our Redeemer and Provider.  Thank You Lord, for who You are.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

God’s Strength When You’re Tired – November 24, 2015

Some days, it seems, I just wake up tired and dragging.  This morning was one of those times.  I stayed up late last night reading and surfing the net, not exactly the best thing to do when my busy mind is already in gear from a full day.  Nevertheless, I did, and was definitely feeling the effects this morning, when the alarm went off (way too early it seemed!) and it was time to get the kids up for school.

I saw a cartoon once that showed Jesus talking to a man and showing him the footprints in the sand.  It said, “You see these footprints over here?  That was when I carried you.  But, you see this long groove in the sand over there?  That was when I dragged you for a little while.”

That always makes me chuckle, because how true it is.  Some days, I feel like the Lord has to drag me around because I just don’t have the strength it seems to get everything done that I need to do in the twenty-four hours I’ve been given, yet my self-sufficiency (i.e. pride) tells me that I don’t need to be carried, I can do things just fine on my own, thank you very much.  I tell myself I’ll ask for help when I really need it.

I’ll bet God smiles when He sees my pathetic attempts at dragging myself around and trying to carry everything on my own little shoulders, and thinking that I am so strong and so big, not realizing that He is holding the load up so that it’s bearable and doesn’t break me.

Can you relate?  I smile now even as I write this because I think of my fourteen-year old son who says that he can’t wait to move out when he’s eighteen.  I tell him that as an adult there are bills and rent, cleaning the house,  forty-hour workweeks and things like paying taxes that aren’t as fun as playing Xbox live and hanging out with friends most of the time.  He’s sure that when he’s eighteen he’s got it made, not really understanding the concept that his parents are paying the utilities, providing for his shelter, and making sure that there is food in the house.

Don’t we often do that same thing though when we relate to God?  We say, “I got this,” not realizing that we are only breathing and our heart is still beating because He has given us another day to live.

The good thing is, we don’t have to come to the end of our rope to ask God for help and for strength.  I’ve done that far too many times- when I am sick, or when there’s a crisis, I finally say, “Lord, I can’t do this alone!”  But He is there to give us strength in every situation.  That’s why I love Matthew 11:28-30.  Here, Jesus says:

“Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (NKJV).”

Isaiah 40:28-29 says, “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary.  His understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.”

I’m praying for His strength for today and over the next couple of days, as I have to work a graveyard shift tomorrow night, and then we head to my in-laws’ house for Thanksgiving, so I will need His, because my body will probably be ready to sleep for about two days straight before we even get on the road Thanksgiving morning for the four and a half hour drive to my in-laws’ house.

Matthew 28-30 also promises that when we call upon Him, we will receive rest.  How lovely is that word, especially when I stop to think of all that it entails.  Not just rest as in sleep (though naps are nice too!) but rest from worry, from all of the hectic goings-on and the noise around us, rest from strain and struggle and toil.  Just resting in His arms and knowing that He is awake, even when we sleep.

“Thank You Lord, that You are our strength, that You are our refuge from the worries, the cares, the fatigue and the daily stresses in our lives.  When we are tired, I pray that we might run into Your arms and let You hold and carry us.  Forgive us when we try to go it alone, Lord, and forget that we need You.  Help us to desire to walk close with You each and every day.  I’m thankful that You’re right beside us always, and that You have been where we are so You understand, and that You’re with us in each tomorrow as well.  Help us to be living testimonies of Your strength and Your peace in our lives.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Loved by Our Maker – November 23, 2015

Do you know how much God loves you?  I mean, I know you’ve probably heard a preacher or someone tell you that, or have heard the song, “Jesus Loves Me,” but do you really know, deep down in your heart how loved you are?

I’m still amazed whenever I read or think about or realize how much God loves me.  Even after all of the times I’ve messed up, or gotten angry and turned my back on Him, or the years when I lived in addiction – He never stopped loving me, or thought of me as less than anyone else.

I grew up being taught the notion that I was “lucky” if I could find a man who would help me out with the kids or the house, and that it was my job to take care of my husband.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not some hardcore feminazi or anything like that, and my husband and I love each other dearly.  I am, by the way, blessed with a husband who is a good father, and we make a great team helping one another out.

But, why was I expected to take care of my husband, when and if I got married, but I was supposed to consider myself “lucky” if he helped take care of me and the kids?  I guess the notion I walked away with was that as a woman I was lower on the priority list.  My family didn’t attend church, or speak much about Biblical principles, so when I came to know Christ, and began studying His Word, I was amazed and continue to be amazed at how much He loves us.  All of us.

The more I read the Word, the more I realize I’m not alone in the way I felt back then.  Women in the Jewish culture were regarded much the same way.  This wasn’t the way God intended, but was how the culture viewed women in society at that time.  I think of many other cultures today around the world where women or minorities in that society are treated as second-class citizens based solely on their gender or ethnicity.

Yet, when we come to the story of the woman at the well in John 4, Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water.

The story continues in verse 9:  “Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?’  For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink”, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

He is telling her that He is not looking at gender or race, but that He is able to refresh and revive her soul.  He breaks down those racial and gender barriers to look at who she is as a person.  He knows that she is missing something in her life, as later in the exchange, as they get to talking more, He acknowledges that she has had five husbands, and that the man she is currently living with is not her husband.

He doesn’t say this to condemn her, but to point out her need for salvation.  He also comes right out and tells her at the end of the chapter that He is the Messiah she has been looking for.  How many of us indeed have tried to fill a void in our lives, with food, alcohol, drugs, relationships, work, things, etc.?  Do you know that Jesus can fill the God-shaped void in your heart?

Even after I became a Christian, it was easy for me to fall back on tangible things and people rather than putting my full trust in God.  For a long time, I didn’t.  I trusted alcohol to take away the pain, or the boredom, or for confidence to mask my insecurities.  But I found that after awhile, it turned on me and became my worst enemy, threatening to destroy all that I held dear.  I realized that only God could give me the joy, the sense of purpose, the security and the comfort that I was always looking for.

We see again God’s great love and mercy in John 21.  Peter had not too long ago denied Jesus three times, and was probably still feeling guilty, even though by this time Jesus has risen from the dead and is again spending time with His disciples.

“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’

He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’

He said to Him, ‘Feed my lambs’ (John 21:15).”

Jesus goes on to ask Peter this question two more times, responding each time with “Tend my sheep,” or “Feed my sheep.”  At one point in the passage (v 17), it states that Peter is “grieved” because the Lord keeps asking him this question.  It’s hard for us to know what he was thinking here, but I’d guess that Peter was probably feeling ashamed, thinking that the Lord had a good reason to believe Peter didn’t love Him.

I think this passage is a good example of the Lord’s mercy.  I believe that just as Peter denied Jesus three times, He is giving Peter the chance three times to tell Him that He loves Him.  And He is letting Peter know that He still wants Peter to preach His Word, that He still wants to use him in ministry.

I just love this story, because it shows that God wants to use us too, no matter how badly we may have blown it in the past.  In His hands, even our most embarrassing mistakes can be a great testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness in our lives.

Jesus loved all of us enough to die for us – men, women, old, young, every race and nationality.  He simply says to all of us, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).”

“Father, I thank You today that You loved me enough to die for me, and that You’ve promised You’ll never leave me or give up on me.  I thank You that You still want to use me and my life for Your glory.  Please be with each person reading this, and help him or her to know just how much You love them too.  Help me to be a good steward of the time and blessings that You have given me.  Help me to be a good wife and mom, too, Lord, that I won’t be selfish with my time or love toward my family, but that I will be the woman You created me to be, and that I will serve those I love out of a pure heart.  I thank You that Your love for me doesn’t depend on how well I perform, and that I’m not graded on a curve.  You know me inside and out, and because of Your faithfulness, I can always depend on You.  Show me the way in which I should walk today, and may I give You the glory.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”