The Scales in Paul’s Eyes – and Ours – September 9, 2019

I’m back after a pretty long hiatus.  Just life and stuff (including having another baby!) has gotten in the way of my writing, but I’m working my way back into it, as it’s something I enjoy immensely.

So here I am studying the book of Acts, and I was reading about the martyr of Stephen brought about ultimately by the widespread persecution of Christians spearheaded by Saul (who would later become the Apostle Paul) and Saul’s conversion, blindness, and restoration of his vision, in more ways than one (Acts 7:54-9:19).

In reading, I found myself wondering, “What were the scales that fell from Paul’s eyes?”  Verses 17 and 18 of Acts 9 read, “And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.”(NKJV)

I’ve always been interested in medical subjects, so I wonder if Paul may have been afflicted with some sort of eye infection that blinded him for three days.  Believe it or not, I read several commentaries on this out of utter curiosity.  According to one, it stated an infection could have been possible, and that the scales that were removed were the “encrustations” formed around the eyes as a result  (really pretty picture there, eh?).  Another commentary postulated that there were no physical scales that came off when God opened Paul’s eyes, but that it was the sensation of his eyes being opened that felt as if something like scales fell from them.

We don’t know for sure what the physical scales were, but we are all born with spiritual scales that render us blinded to the truth of the word of God.  Those are the scales of sin that result from being born with a fallen nature in a fallen world.

Even those of us who are Christians whom God, through the power of the gospel has opened our once blinded eyes, can allow ourselves to get scales in our eyes in life, scales that infect our spiritual eyes and cloud our vision of God like unpleasant spiritual encrustations  (oh, what a gross word!).  They can be scales of pride, lies, injustice, hatred, unforgiveness, addictions, despair, selfishness, insecurity, the list goes on and on.

But the absolute beauty of what a loving God we serve, and His magnificent ability to make things new, is that He is able to remove those scales and restore our sight, just as He did with the apostle Paul.

Friend, if you’re reading this, walking in darkness, thinking you might never see a light at the end of the tunnel, or if the scales in this life have dimmed your light and made it hard to see God, know that He has the power to restore you and heal your spiritual blind spots.  He can open your eyes to the gift of His wonderful grace and love.  We can come boldly before His throne and find our Father waiting there with open arms.

“Father, I love You and I thank You for the gift of Your mercy, grace and restoration because of your Son, Jesus, who died on the cross and rose again three days later, who paid the price for our sins, so that our eyes can be opened, so we can see You and know of Your great mercy.  I am humbled to think about Your awesome love for us, and Your awesome power, Your amazing grace.  Please lift the scales from my eyes, Lord, where I have allowed my vision to get cloudy, heal my blind spots, Father.  Show me where I’ve allowed my vision to get foggy spiritually, and help me to change what needs changing to match up to what You want me to be.  Open my eyes, Lord, I want to see You better, I want to know You more.  I love You, and I praise You, and I thank You again.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Trusting God When You Can’t See – January 18, 2018

Lately, I’ll admit I’ve struggled with the ‘why?’ a lot.  These past few years have been both a joyous time and a rough time for me and my family.  Our littlest one was born in summer 2016 happy and healthy, and we are thankful.  It was a bumpy ride getting through the pregnancy, and has gotten bumpier and busier with other stuff going on since, but she’s been a joy in our lives.

I started blogging here a few years back to openly share some of my struggles and questions and things that I am learning in my studies of the Bible, the way I feel like God’s Word speaks to me and how to apply it, because writing is a good therapy for me, and I hope my experience can help encourage someone,  just as so many posts on here have encouraged me along the way too.

Often the studies leave me with more questions than answers, but that’s okay.  I think I’m being taught a lesson here, maybe it’s to trust Him when I don’t know or understand.  So often I want things in black and white with no extraneous spaces in between, spelled out in specific detail.  I think it’s just human nature  (don’t I wish my kids had come with instruction manuals too?!).

I struggle with OCD.  Some days, weeks, and months are better than others.  Sometimes it’s exacerbated by stress, other times it flares up out of the clear blue.  My 19 year old daughter was, after several inpatient stays where we couldn’t figure out what was wrong, finally diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, and my mom is diagnosed with schizophrenia,  and we are currently waiting on a neurology referral to find out if she has had a stroke or has an underlying neurological disorder that is causing her difficulty with movements and normal activities of daily living.  She is not yet even 60, but has just in the past few months declined significantly both mentally and physically, and my sister and I are currently sharing caregiving tasks.

I say all of this because mental illness is one thing I definitely don’t understand.  And I get that we live in a fallen, sin-filled world where sickness and disease runs rampant.  But it hurts to suffer, and to see the ones you love suffer, and you try to trust in the Lord, knowing that He has the answer, but you can’t help but wonder why He won’t give it to you.  Where is the cure?  Where is the healing?

It’s times like these when I hang onto the words that Jesus said even more.  I don’t want to let go.  I pray when struggles come that I’ll run to Him, not away (been there, done that).  Deep down in my heart of hearts, I know the Truth, even when I get discouraged.

So, in my study today, I was reading about the guy commonly known as Doubting Thomas in John chapter 20.

It says, “Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  The other disciples therefore said to Him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’

So he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’

And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them.  Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said ‘Peace to you!’

Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at my hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into my side.  Do not be unbelieving but believing.’

And Thomas answered Him and said, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’ (vv 24-29 NKJV).”

Did you catch that last sentence?  That’s what got me.  He says we are blessed when we believe when we haven’t seen.  So often, I wish Jesus were standing in front of me and I could reach out and hug Him or talk with Him face to face.  And oh how easy is it for me to say, “Well, if you’re there, why don’t You heal this problem, or why don’t You show me a sign?”

But then, the cross.  Oh, I guess He did give me a sign.  Oops.  And when I think about what He did for me on the cross, how much He’s forgiven me for, how many second, third, fourth, umpteen chances He’s given me, and the things He’s delivered me from, all of a sudden I fall silent.

I’m still left with questions.  Will there ever be a cure for the mental illness?  Will we ever be delivered?  Will it always be this hard?  What part does all of this play in God’s plan for my life?  How is He going to bring good out of this?

But when I read His words to Thomas, I realize the questions are okay.  But He’s not asking me to figure it all out.  He’s just asking me to believe.

“Father, I thank You for the hope I have through your Son Jesus.  I thank You that through Thomas’ story, I can see myself and identify.  I do believe, Lord, help me in times of my doubt and unbelief.  Please forgive me for the times I don’t trust You enough.  Please give me strength, both physically and in my walk of faith, that I would not waver, that I will be obedient even when I can’t see.  I pray for others struggling with mental or physical health issues,  Lord, that You would wrap Your arms around them with Your peace and Your presence as well, Lord.  Thank You for all that You have brought me through.  I pray that through it all You would be glorified. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

 

Overcoming Doubt – December 16, 2017

Do you think of yourself as a Doubting Thomas or a person of faith?  I know I like to believe I am a person of faith, but doubt creeps in before I even realize it sometimes, and I find myself slipping into negative thinking and neglecting my time with God, which for me often leads little by little to impatience, a quick temper, worry, and trying to do things in my own strength rather than trusting in Him.  Then I find myself worn out, tired with a stomach ache and a million worries going, “Lord, help!”

I know I’m not the only one.  When I was reading Matthew 16, it hit me right between the eyes.  Jesus spoke about this very thing.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees, it seemed, also had a problem with doubt.  Verse 1 begins with the Pharisees and Sadducees testing Jesus and asking Him to show them a sign from heaven.  I thought to myself as I read this, how often do I do the very same thing?  “God, show me a sign!”

But Jesus refused. “He answered and said to them, ‘When it is evening you say, ”It will be fair weather, for the sky is red”; and in the morning, “It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.”  Hypocrites!  You know how to discern the face of the sky but you cannot discern the sign of the times.  A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.’  And He left them and departed (vv 1-4).”

The Pharisees were so caught up in following laws and traditions that when the One that they had been waiting for was right there in front of them, they refused to believe it.  There had already been healings. Mute people speaking, lame people now able to walk, blind people being able to see (Matt. 15:29-31).  The Pharisees saw this and couldn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  They couldn’t stomach the idea of a servant King.  In their minds,  He was supposed to solve the political problems of the day and establish an earthly rule.

The Sadducees on the other hand did not believe in an afterlife. Hence, they denied the resurrection.  From what I’ve read, they weren’t necessarily atheists, as they did believe in some tenets of the Torah with regard to the Law, but they largely denied the spiritual realm.  In essence, as they saw it, people are created, they’re born, then they die.  They too tested Jesus, asking for a sign.  Is it possible that deep down they were starting to doubt their own philosophy,  yet looking for a way to disprove it because it was easier to do that than to embrace change and the unknown?

Doesn’t it sometimes seem easier for us too to just try to reason things out on our own and “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” than to trust God, who we can’t see?  Or to keep our blinders on because it’s easier to remain comfortable than to step out of our comfort zone and embrace change?

See, when first reading this, it’s easy for me to say about the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Were they blind?  Did they not see the miracles that Jesus was doing all around them?”

But, I need to ask myself the same question in my life when I start to doubt.  “Am I blind?  Do I not see all the miracles and changed lives because of Jesus?  Has He not answered many prayers and saved me?  Not just my soul, but rescuing me time and time again from myself.

What Jesus is getting at here is that the sign He gave them was Himself.  The sign He gives us is Himself.  His trip up the hill to Calvary, being crushed by the weight of the cross, then being nailed to that cross after having been mocked, beaten and suffering, and giving up His final breath on earth as He said, “It is finished.”  Then, just when His haters thought they had won, He rose from the dead so that now you and I can have eternal life too.  His very presence a sign in neon lights for sure!

Jesus talked with the disciples after the exchange with the Pharisees and Sadducees and explained how a little bit of false belief or doubt (in this instance the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees) can become a huge problem.  He likened it to the way that yeast makes bread rise (vv 5-12).

When those thoughts of doubt, worries and stresses creep in, what I need most is more time with Jesus.  Somehow, when I talk to the One who is in charge of miracles, I find that He changes me.

“Thank You Father, for Your Word, and for exactly what I needed to read today.  Help me to remember You are more than enough, and that You are more than able.  Forgive me for many times trying to figure things out on my own, and sometimes acting like I don’t need You.  I do, Lord, I do need You desperately, every day, every hour.  Forgive me for the times when I doubt.  You proved Yourself faithful 2000 years ago, and You’re still faithful Lord.  I pray for anyone reading this who may not yet have trusted You.  I pray that they will ask You into their heart and life and that You will change them in a great way, that they will truly know Your precious gift of forgiveness and salvation by grace.  Change me too, Lord.  Make me more like You.  I love You, Father.  In Jesus name, Amen.

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’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.”

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.

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.”

Overcoming Temptation – December 14, 2015

Do you ever have those times where it seems like it’s just one thing after another?  A sick child, the car breaks down, the roof begins to leak, a loved one is in the hospital, a deadline at work right before the holidays, or some other minor or major crisis at the least convenient time?  I have those days (and sometimes those weeks) too.

Here lately for me, it’s been a hectic time, with Christmas just around the corner, and I have a parent that has been struggling with a mental illness off and on for the past several years, but recently it’s become more debilitating, and we’ve looked into more doctors and more treatment solutions.  I sometimes just feel like my energy is zapped, and that it’s one thing after another.  Yet, I am reminded of God’s faithfulness.  He got us through a crisis late last year and early this year with our daughter’s depression, and I know He will help us navigate this too.

At those times, when we feel weak, or burned out or stressed out, is when we are most vulnerable to temptation.  The temptation to return to old habits or unhealthy coping mechanisms (in my case, for a long time it was drinking) or to try to handle things all on our own and neglect to pray and ask God for help, or to get so busy we neglect our family life– the enemy attacks us when he knows we’re at our weakest.

Today, I was reading about where Jesus was tempted in the wilderness right after He is baptized by John the Baptist and just after He heard the Father tell Him, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  Jesus knew He had an important mission ahead – one that would bring about the redemption of you and me, and pay for the sins of mankind.  The devil wanted nothing more than to get Him to mess up and dishonor God so that He could discredit Jesus’ entire ministry and mission.

Beginning in Matthew 4, the Word says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.  Now when the tempter came to Him, he said ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’

But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” (Matthew 4:1-4 NKJV)

Boom.  Strike one.  The devil had already lost the first round.  Jesus wasn’t going to dishonor the Father by giving in to a temptation based on His physical need.

Do you ever feel like you’re in the wilderness of life?  Just kind of winging it, maybe living paycheck to paycheck, or having to improvise because things haven’t gone as planned?  It’s when we often find ourselves tempted.  Reading these verses brings a great deal of comfort in knowing that we have a Savior who was in the wilderness too, and was tempted just like we are.  And the greatest thing of all is that He overcame the temptation, and because He overcame, He gives us the strength to overcome also.

Imagine how hungry Jesus must have been!  I can’t imagine fasting for four days, let alone forty!   The dirt on the ground must have looked good enough to eat at that point.  Not only that, but He had the power to turn those stones into bread and make Himself a sandwich right then and there!  Yet, He refused to dishonor His Father, and He loved us too much to give us on His mission, which was to rescue us from the enemy’s clutches.

After the bread incident it says, “Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down.  For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over You.’ and ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ‘

Jesus said to him, ‘It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’

Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if you will fall down and worship me.’  Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan!  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’

Then the devil left Him and behold, angels came and ministered to Him (vv 5-11).”

The devil tempted Jesus to give into pride and the desire for material things, but Jesus still refused.  When we feel that urge to just say, “You know what, I’m done trying to do the right thing, I might as well _____ (you can fill in the blank here, it’s usually related to one of our weaknesses),” we can know that that’s not of God, but the enemy tempting us to give up on what God would have for us to do, or maybe to even give up on following God altogether.

I love what Hebrews 4:14-16 says: “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Jesus wasn’t just tempted in the three points described in Matthew.  It says He was tempted in all points as we are.  This is a great comfort to know that whatever I am tempted with, our Savior was tempted also, and because He overcame, I can overcome also.  It says that we can come boldly to the throne of grace.  We don’t have to be shy, or ashamed, or afraid.  No, we can come boldly and find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.  Isn’t that wonderful?

The first verse in Hebrews 4 above tells us to hold fast our confession (our faith in Christ) because He knows what it’s like, He’s been there, and He will not fail us.  He will always be there to provide the grace that we need to overcome.  Reading this really encouraged me today, and I hope it encourages you to know that He loves you too, and will help us in our every need.  We don’t have to listen to the lies of the enemy that tell us to give up or to go back to our old ways.  Instead we can hold fast to our Savior.

“Father, I thank You for your grace that is available in every situation, and most especially in our time of need.  The truth is, though, that we need You every day, every minute, and I’m glad You’re always there.  Help us to hold fast to Your truth and not give into the temptations of the enemy to turn away from You.  Let us instead draw closer to You in these times, and ask what You would have us to do or to learn from the situation.  I thank You that You are faithful, always and forever, and that You loved us enough to overcome and win the fight for us, enough to even die and lay down Your life so that we could be set free.  Help me to live my life to honor You, Lord, and use the trials in my life for Your glory.  I give You all the praise and the thanks and the glory.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”