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.”

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.”

Following the Good Shepherd – December 9, 2015

I’ve had times in my life when I’ve just flat-out felt like throwing in the towel.  When I’ve said, “God, I can’t do this anymore.  I’m not even going to try.”  I think a lot of us get to that point at one time or another, whether it’s as a result of burnout, or maybe because we’re discouraged that things aren’t going the way we hoped, or because we feel that we’ve been doing all the “right” things, like going to church and praying, and still we are experiencing hardship and tragedy.

In a recent study in our small group at church, our lesson asked the question, “Do you think sometimes we do good in the hopes of avoiding pain and suffering?  Sort of like trying in a way to bargain with God?”  That thought hit close to home because I know I have done this many times.  Earlier this year, when our family experienced the heartache of having a teen who was struggling with severe depression, and nothing that we were doing seemed to help, I began to get discouraged.  I was like, “God, I’m trying to do the right thing.  I’ve been praying.  I’ve been trying to get better about trusting You.  Why is this happening?”

I was reading today in the book of Jeremiah where the prophet Jeremiah was sent to a potter’s shop to warn of Jerusalem’s impending destruction.  Needless to say, his message was not popular, and because of his obedience, he was persecuted and endured a lot of ridicule and hardship.  Beginning in verse 7 of Chapter 20, he says, “O Lord, You induced me and I was persuaded; You are stronger than I, and have prevailed.  I am in derision daily;  Everyone mocks me.  For when I spoke, I cried out;  I shouted, ‘Violence and plunder!’ Because the word of the Lord was made to me a reproach and a derision daily (Jeremiah 20:7-8 NKJV).”

If anyone had a reason to be depressed, it was poor Jeremiah.  He was doing everything that the Lord had asked Him to do, but the message He preached put him on the haters’ top ten list of people they wanted to see destroyed.  What struck me though is in the next verse, he says, “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.’  But His word was in my heart like a burning fire; shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not (v9).”

Have you ever had times like that?  Where you just felt like saying, “God, I’m done with this whole Christian thing.  I’ve tried to follow You and it’s just too hard.”  I have too.  But I’ve found that even when I wanted to give up, even in the worst of times, His word was always there in my heart, “like a burning fire,” as Jeremiah describes.

See, the thing is, we can walk away from God, but He never walks away from us.  He is always there, calling and beckoning us to come to Him and find peace, rest and healing.  Sometimes we may experience suffering because of our obedience, and it’s not that we did or are doing something wrong.  Or suffering may come because of someone else’s bad choice, or simply because we live in a world that is imperfect, and there is sickness and pain as a result.  Doing good and obeying the Word is no guarantee that we won’t experience pain, but it is through his Word that we find strength to endure.  He does promise that He will walk beside us every step of the way.

Psalm 23 says in part, “The Lord is my shepherd;  I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  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 (vv 1-4).”

I found an interesting article describing the purpose of both the rod and the staff.  It can be found at:

 http://www.antipas.org/commentaries/articles/shepherd_psa23/shepherd_07.html

It says that shepherds use a rod to gently correct the sheep if they veer off the path, and for careful examination of the sheep, to make sure each sheep is okay and accounted for.  It is also used as an instrument of protection by the shepherd on behalf of the flock to drive off wolves and other predators.

A staff is used to draw sheep together in an intimate relationship.  Sometimes they use a staff to bring a newborn lamb back to its mother if they become separated, so that the ewe won’t reject the lamb because of the smell of the human’s hands.  It is also used to reach out and catch sheep so that they can be examined for injuries and to tend to their well-being, similar to the rod’s use at times.  The third use for the staff described in the article is that of guiding the sheep particularly onto a new path, or along rough, dangerous terrain, and to help free the sheep from entanglements in thorns and brambles.

When we get stuck in the “thorns and brambles” of this life, we can take comfort in knowing that we have a Shepherd who is always there to help us get free.  God keeps us on the right path, and takes a careful interest in our lives, even when the enemy tries to get us to give up.  His Word is like that “burning fire” there in our hearts, waiting to spill out on our lips into words of prayer.  Like the Good Shepherd that He is, He goes out to rescue His lost sheep, and bring us back safely into the fold.

“Father, I thank You that You are the Good Shepherd that never leaves us alone.  I am so grateful for the times that You have brought me or my loved ones out of the darkness of depression or hard times, and that You have been beside us every step of the way.  I pray for anyone who is struggling with depression right now.  Comfort and encourage them, Lord, as only You can, and fill them with the hope of Your presence through Your Son, Jesus.  I pray that Jesus’ gift of hope and salvation would be real in all of our lives, and that we will use the comfort and the hope that You provide us to comfort and provide hope to others.  May we all know the Way of Hope today, and be encouraged not to grow weary in following You and doing good.  Thank You for Your love and mercy, and may we praise the name of Jesus as the Name above all Names.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

From One Procrastinator to Another – December 8, 2015

I’m a big procrastinator.  I’m trying to get better about it, but  I’m still not where I want to be yet.  Today was a good case in point.

I happen to have one of the most hard-headed teenage boys on the face of the planet (my husband lovingly reminds me that he takes after his mom, but I think surely he must be joking…maybe).  He’s on the wrestling team, and really enjoys telling me about the different types of wrestling holds (I think he told me about one the other day called the Chicken Wing or something, and all I could think about was KFC).  I’ve been having to prod this same child to turn in his homework assignments and keep his grades up in order for me to continue letting him participate in wrestling.  Some days I just have to say, “God, I need the patience of Job not to lose my temper because I’ve already told him the same thing four times!

So, he has a wrestling duel tonight, and reminded me again (yes, he reminded me earlier this week and maybe the end of last week too) that we needed to have his doctor sign a paper stating that he is cleared to wrestle since he has a body fat percentage of less than 7% (eats like a horse, but has the metabolism of an elephant, essentially).  This is a school requirement.  Oh, and I didn’t mention that I have had the paper sitting in my e-mail folder for over three weeks, but just hadn’t gotten around to taking it to the doctor’s office to get it signed because, I mean, there are so many more important things to think about, like getting the Christmas tree decorated and paying the gas bill for Pete’s sake!

Anyway, I spent the better part of three hours today going to the doctor’s office, who informed me that they needed a copy of the sports physical he had done at the chiropractor’s office back in September, and that it was also time for his well-child exam, and then making a trip to the school, and then back again to the doctor’s office.  We finally, through much deliberation and having to clarify exactly what the paper was for, were able to get it signed (thank You, God for letting me jump through this hoop for my son today, even though I should have done it two or three weeks ago!).  And he’ll get to participate tonight, never knowing that it has been like an episode of the Amazing Race for me, except without the prospect of winning the million dollars.

I think I’m often a procrastinator with God too.  I sense He wants me to do something, or I know His Word tells me to do something, like forgive when I’m still angry, for example, and I’m like, “Come again?  Did you really say that?” or, “Oh, yeah, about that…um, I forgot?”

Then there have been times too when I’ve been like Jonah and just flat out run from God.  Jonah, if you recall, was told to go to Ninevah and preach the Word to the people there.  But in Jonah 1:3, it says, “But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.  He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”

That was Jonah’s way of saying, “Time for me to bounce.”  When God was first asking me to try to reconcile with my husband after our divorce, that was my first reaction.  I was like, “Is that really God telling me to do that?”  And then later, I was like, “Lord, I don’t think I can do that.  What if it doesn’t work out?  I’d rather just fly to Africa or somewhere.  Put me on a plane far away from here and it’s all good.”

Later on in Jonah’s story, the men on that ship ended up throwing him overboard once they realized that God sent the storm because of Jonah’s disobedience.  Then Jonah was swallowed whole by a whale and ended up in the whale’s belly.  From the whale’s belly, Jonah prayed. He says,

“I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction and He answered me.  Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice.  For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me.  All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.  Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’  The waters surrounded me, even to my soul.

The deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head.  I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever.  Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God (Jonah 2:1-6).”

Jonah was ultimately vomited out onto dry land after calling upon God, and when God asked him a second time to go to Ninevah and preach, he got up and went.

Sometimes the Lord has to give me a swift kick in the rear or a wake-up call to get me to do what He wants me to do.  Yet, even when I procrastinate, or just flat-out run from God’s calling like Jonah did, He might have to get my attention if I’m going the wrong way, but He’ll ultimately lead me safely back to dry land just as He did with Jonah, and this is because He loves me.  It’s during those times in my life that I’ve been able to say with Jonah, “Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God.”

I like the song “Waiting for Tomorrow” by Mandisa.  If any song is a motivator, it’s definitely this one.  The first verse and the chorus goes like this:

“Maybe tomorrow I’ll start over/ Maybe tomorrow I will finally change my ways/Said the same thing yesterday/Don’t know why I’m so afraid/To let You in, to let You win, to let You have all of me

I can’t live my whole life wasting/All the grace that I know You’ve given/’Cause You made me for so much more than sitting on the sidelines/Don’t wanna look back and wonder if good enough could’ve been better/Every day’s a day that’s borrowed/So why am I waiting for tomorrow?”

Procrastinators, let’s unite!  Time to get up and follow the leading of the Lord.  What are we waiting for?

“Father, help me not to procrastinate when it comes to being obedient to You and Your Word.  Help us to realize the time is now and the time is today to do what You would have us to do.  I pray that if anyone reading this doesn’t know of Your great salvation through Jesus Christ, that they won’t wait a minute longer to ask Jesus into their heart and begin a relationship with You, Lord.  Every day is truly borrowed, and all that we have is on loan from You.  Help us to use our gifts, our time and all that we are and have for Your glory.  Thank You for the many times that You’ve reached down and rescued me from the pit of darkness and despair.  Help me to seize today and use it to make a difference for Your kingdom.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Daring to Ask for Help – December 7, 2015

It’s easy to feel weighed down by things that are outside of our control, which if you think about it, are, in the words of some really wise people I know in recovery, “everything beyond the tip of your nose.”

Of course, being the control freak that I am sometimes, this is not always easy to accept.  I want to put people that are hurting other people in their place and tell them to act right, or I want to fix my mom’s mental illness and make it all better, or I want to teach those drivers in rush hour traffic how to use their turn signals.  Or I want to do a better job of controlling my mouth and my thinking.  I realize I’m not even good at having self-control myself sometimes, and Lord knows I need a lot of fixing, so it’s pointless for me to think that I am qualified to fix anyone else.

So, I need help.  We need help.  The whole world needs help.  And this is where I’m reminded that the help is always there, whenever I ask.

Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:7-11 NKJV).”

It’s encouraging to know that God is always there when I have a problem, or when I’m tired, or lonely, or at a loss for what to do in a situation, or when I’m worried about something.  I can also tell Him my biggest dreams and ask Him to help make them a reality.  If it’s something that He knows is going to be good for me, I believe He is a loving Father who wants to give me the desires of my heart.

Psalm 37 says “Trust in the Lord, and do good.  Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.  Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart (vv 3-4).”

Now I’m not saying that this is espousing a “name it and claim it” theology, where God is like a magic genie giving us our every want.  But I believe it says that if we seek His will first, we can bring Him the desires of our hearts and every concern we have, and trust that He will bring about the best for our lives.

Sometimes He might even change the desires of my heart or help me to realign my priorities in line with what He wants for me instead of what I think is best.  When I think back to my teenage years when my first breakup seemed like the end of the world, and when not having a car or a driver’s license and having to *gasp* ride the bus to school seemed like the most depressing thing ever, I can laugh because I can see that I totally had no clue!

Because He’s a good Father, I know that His answer to my prayer is not always going to be yes.  It might be no, or it might be “wait.”  Much like a little kid, it’s hard for me when I don’t get my way.  But let me tell you, there are times I can thank Him now many times over that He didn’t give me what I thought I wanted at the time, particularly where dating and marriage were concerned!  My younger self was not so great at relationships, and my older self still has a lot to learn, so I’m thankful He brought me a husband who’s had the patience of Job with me, and that we’ve been able to grow up and learn together (even if it has at times involved weeping and gnashing of teeth!).

In the book of Jeremiah, God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Israel who had been taken captive from Jerusalem to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar.  He tells them that He would ultimately deliver them from captivity.  It says, “For thus says the Lord:  After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.  For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all Your heart (Jeremiah 29:10-13).”

Whenever I feel that things are out of my control, and even though there are things within my control (i.e. my thoughts and words) that I need to work on, it’s comforting to know that just as He was there for His people back in those days, He will be there for me, and for you.  Not only that, but that He loves us and wants to give us a future and a hope.  The biggest hope that he’s given us is Jesus Himself.  Christmas is perhaps the time of the year that we are most reminded of that Hope, but the truth is that He’s here with us every day.  And He tells us to keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking, because He wants to be there for us and because He loves us, enough to step down from His heavenly home, endure this world, the cold stable, the cross and all, and give up His earthly life so that we could have forgiveness of our sins and abundant life.

We can take those things over which we feel powerless to a loving Father and know that He is able to help.  Who can fix something best?  The One who made it.

“Father, I thank You that You are my ever-present help.  Please help me to seek You when I don’t know what to do, and to seek You first before I go off and try to fix things on my own.  Help us to give You our hopes, dreams, fears, worries, the whole nine yards, Lord, knowing that You know us even better than we know us, for You are our creator.  I thank You that because of Jesus, we can call you Abba Father.  Help us to commit our lives to You, and may we all know the Hope that we have in Jesus’ great gift of salvation, and that through Him we know how good You are and how much You love us.  Help us to remember this today and every day.  Strengthen our faith, Lord, and help us to walk without fear of what we can’t control.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

God, Our Faithful Provider – December 5, 2015

Have you ever had someone do something nice for you for no reason?  I can think of several examples in my life where people have done stuff like that for me, and I’m immensely thankful.  I’ll admit, one of the problems that I struggle with, that I have to pray about, is self-sufficiency and pride.  It’s hard sometimes asking for help.

The good part?  When Jesus is teaching the disciples how to pray in Matthew chapter 6, He tells them they don’t have to use vain repetitions or invoke a special “mantra” in order to be heard by God, as legalism and religious rituals prevailed in that day.  No, He says in verse 8, “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”

When I am struggling with something, or am facing a financial, spiritual or physical need in my life, it is comforting to know that God already knows what I need.

A few years ago, I was on the highway and the transmission on my car went kaput.  My husband and I were divorced at that time, and I couldn’t afford a car payment, nor did I have much money in savings.  (We have a cool story of how God ultimately brought us back together after two years of  the anguish and pain of that divorce, but I’ll save that for another time.)

A business associate asked if I could meet over dinner to discuss some details of his program, which is a government-funded program that provides services to citizens in need.  I almost didn’t go, because I normally preferred to meet for lunch during business hours, but I prayed about it beforehand and felt peace about going.

During the conversation about the program, this gentleman brought up the rental truck that I was driving.  He said something along the lines of, “That’s a cool-looking truck.  Is that new?”  I said no, that I had gotten stranded on the highway and was driving a rental to get me back and forth to work for a few days, while searching Craigslist and those “zero-money down” used car lots for something cheap that would get me from point A to point B.

He said, “I have a car that I will sell you for $100.  It may last a month, or it may last a week, since it has a pretty bad oil leak, but you are welcome to use it.  My wife wants to get rid of the thing because it leaks oil all over our driveway.”

I asked if it was currently running.  He said that it did run, but needed about a quart to two quarts of oil added to it roughly every 5-7 days in order to keep it filled.  He assured me that it would cost more to fix the leak than the car was worth, as it was a little ’88 Subaru GL station wagon.

But for $100??  I told him it was sold!  My husband and I were on speaking terms at that time, and after he followed me to go return the rental, he agreed to drive me to go pick up the car, and look at it to make sure that it would get me back home.  Ultimately, the man just decided to give me the car, as he said he felt bad about taking money for it since he wasn’t sure if it was going to break down in a week’s time.  That car ran for 18 months before it finally gave out.

All my worrying about how I was going to get the money for a car, and this man and his wife gave me one for free!  It really made Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 hit home in my life, though He still has to remind me daily not to worry.  I’m a slow learner.

He tells us, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? (Matthew 6:25-27 NKJV).

What really got me thinking about this today was in reading Ephesians 4:25-32, where Paul is reminding believers of principles that God wants us as Christians to live by once we are saved.  What caught my attention was where he says in verse 28, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.”

Yesterday, I wrote about trying to discern God’s purpose for my life career-wise, and about the lofty goals I had before life threw me a curve ball earlier this year.  But what I got from this verse is that my work is not even so much about me, but so I can have something to give to those in need, just as that man did for me with the car.

I believe He blesses us 1) because He’s a good father and He loves us 2) so that we can be a blessing to others, and 3) So that others might know Him as a result of His power in our lives and theirs.

May we be His hands and feet today and look for ways in which we can bless someone, remembering the many times that He has used others to bless us.

“Father, I thank You so much for Your blessings.  Help me not to take the things and the people in my life for granted today, Lord, but help me to love others as You love me.  Help us to look for ways in which we can be a blessing to others, and to show them Your love and tell them of Your grace and provision in our lives.  You are faithful, and You alone are worthy of praise.  Help us to put our trust in You, Lord, and to know that You care about our every need, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem to us.  Help us to trust You with those needs, and to rest secure knowing that just as You clothe the lilies and feed the birds, You are always faithful to take care of us too.  I love You, Father and I thank You for Your provision.  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.”