Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Do You Have Room?

"She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Luke 2:7

No room in the inn? The Savior of the world was about to be born but there was no room for His mother Mary to give birth to Him. The phrase "no room for them in the inn" is where I have camped my thoughts and study time today. Joseph and Mary returned to their own town, the city of David, to register for the census. Given the numbers of people that had traveled to Bethlehem for the same reason, the city and its "inns" were full.

As I studied, I discovered that the modern Christmas legend that paints the manger scene as a building with guest rooms not unlike a hotel, and a heartless innkeeper that turned a young woman away about to give birth, is rather inaccurate. Digging down a bit, it is found that the Greek word used for "inn" here is not the same word used in other parts of the gospel. The word here, kataluma (inn) actually refers to a lodging place for a guest. It was guest room, if you will, such as one at a personal residence. It is the same word used for the room where the disciples ate the Passover meal, an upper level room. So at the residence where Joseph inquired, the guest room was already full probably due to travelers that arrived before them. They were likely directed to the homeowner's main room, the lower level floor where the animals stayed at night to feed, keep warm, and produce warmth for the owners and guests on the upper level while they slept. It was in a place like that that the baby Jesus was born, wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in the manger, the animals' feeding trough.

This paints a different picture than the hotel being full and the couple being sent out back by an insensitive innkeeper to a barn full of smelly animals. In fact, on examining this passage again, there is no reference to animals being present at all. Given the poor status Joseph and Mary held, not being from a line of wealth or notoriety, no special concessions were made. They were likely given what was left available, not necessarily turned away. This leads me back to a quote I penned in the margin of my Bible, "Each of us is an innkeeper who decides if there is room for Jesus" (Neal A. Maxwell).

Father God, I pray that for the very first time this Christmas, many will come to understand who You are and why You came. May the realization that the Savior of the world was born penetrate hearts and change lives here and around the world today. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Expect Opposition

"Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves." Luke 10:3

Those who dare to live their lives on mission for the sake of the gospel should "go" expecting opposition. There is so much work to be done. "The harvest is plentiful," God's Word says, "but the workers are few" (v. 2).

It would seem the vast majority of believers want the "easy button" and that's why there are so few workers. When God's work gets hard, feels uncomfortable, appears dangerous; when the opposition is great and naysayers seek to discourage, when situations come about that terrify, most shrink back. They revert to what they know, to what is comfortable, preferring their load to be easy and light and in their control. Instead of fearing God, they fear their  circumstances. That may mean living a lukewarm or safe-feeling life, pursuing the "American dream" or "keeping up with the Jones'" instead of getting their hands dirty for the sake of the gospel, or doing hard things for the cause of Christ.

Warfare is real. Just for the record, opposition can be expected. There is an unseen world out there that would scare us half to death if we could see it, but God... God is the Victor. If warfare were visible, we would also see how much interference the Lord runs on our behalf to protect us and prevent bad from becoming worse. Even warfare is used by God to bring about His divine plans. 

Nonetheless, warfare or not, God doesn't want us shrinking back from hard things. Over and over His Word tells us to take courage and not be afraid. Obviously that is our fleshly tendency which is why He said, "Do not fear" more than 365 times in the Bible. It's as though we need to be reminded daily.

As lambs, we are to do our best to remain peaceable and patient in a cruel and threatening world. We are called to be "lambs among wolves." As we set out to follow Christ we must go with resolve to do whatever He calls us to do, and we must go expecting opposition. The work of Christ always gets satan's tail feathers in a ruffle. If we just expect difficulty, trouble, persecution and the like, we won't be so surprised when it knocks on our door. If we anticipate it like we anticipate company, we can almost laugh and say when it arrives, "I was expecting you!" Then leaning into Christ, and with His help, we press on determined to make the best of it, all the while striving to focus more on the mission and less on the distraction. The fruit is worth the trouble!

Go out as lambs among wolves. Expect opposition.

Father God, following You is not always easy, but it is so worth it. I depend on You and ask that You undergird me with Your strength and Your peace, especially when things are hard. Help me to keep my mind on the mission, my heart focused on my calling, and my eyes fixed on You. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Broken Heart

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." Psalm 51:17

Both David's broken spirit and broken heart are found pleasing in the sight of the Lord in this passage. As an onlooker, I see him pouring out his heart before God in repentance, truly sorry for the sin of adultery he commited with Bathsheba. Here, near the end of the Psalm, he is humbling himself and professing his willingness to do whatever might please the Lord as recompense for his sin. He knows that sacrifices and burnt offerings will not suffice. David comes to realize it is a heart broken over sin and his sincere remorse that God is looking for.

broken - adjective
     reduce to fragments; ruptured; torn; fractured; changing direction abruptly

contrite - adjective
     caused by showing sincere remorse; filled with a sense of guilt and the desire for atonement

When pride is crushed and the spirit is broken, God often gets our full attention. His Word says in Proverbs 16:18, "Pride goes before destruction; a haughty spirit before a fall." Our pride (which itself is sin) and the sin that ensues from it, breaks the Father's heart. It is when we fall and lay pride aside that we tend to look up at Him. 

Pride, just for the record, goes two ways. It means thinking too much, or too little, about one's self. We are prideful when we think we deserve ...x-y-z. We are also prideful when we think too little of ourselves to admit we have any needs. It is when either of those are crushed, and we truly lament over the sins our pride caused us to commit that Jesus is pleased with our heart's condition. He is pleased when our hearts are broken over sin. More than anything, He wants the result of our brokenness to be an abrupt change in direction, where we turn and follow Him. It is in that place of humility that God can mold and shape our lives to look more like His.

Thank You Jesus for the ways You've broken me, changed me, and made me more like You. Help me not to think too much or too little of myself and to find my confidence solely in You. Keep me far from sin and close to You, my Creator, my Father, my Friend. I love You and ask this in Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Heart's Desire

"They answered, 'We saw clearly that the LORD was with you..." Genesis 26:28

After spending time in Gerar Isaac became wealthy and powerful, so Abimilech the king asked him to move away. He went up to Beersheba with his wife Rebekah and there, Isaac pitched his tent and his servants dug a well for him. 

Meanwhile, Abimilech came up to see him, admitting he had been hostile toward Isaac when he lived in Gerar. Since his departure, the king had come to realize that Isaac was blessed by God and he wanted to make amends. It had become evident that the things Isaac put his hands to had the favor of God upon them. When he planted crops in Gerar they reaped a hundredfold the same year "because the LORD had blessed [Isaac]" (Genesis 26:12). His wealth grew (v. 13). He obtained so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him (v. 14). In their envy, they plugged up Isaac's wells with dirt and the king asked him to move away (v. 16). In hindsight, Abimilech says to Isaac, "We saw clearly that the LORD was with you..." (v. 26).

Wouldn't that be my hearts desire? That those I encounter would be able to look back and say, "We saw clearly that the LORD was with [her]." That they could say, "She was blessed by the LORD."

Charles Spurgeon speaks wisely to this passage with regards to carefully choosing who we walk with. He says, "In your choice of friends, choose those who are friends of God. If you would have a blessing on your friendship, select a man whom God has blessed. Look out for one who is a disciple of Christ and say, 'Thou art the blessed of the Lord, therefore I seek thine acquaintance. Come under my roof; you will bring a blessing with you.'" He goes on to say he values a good man's blessing. 

We are blessed to be a blessing. Those who follow Christ and desire to do His will with all their heart are blessed, and they evoke a blessing on others. Just like Isaac's blessings blessed Abimilech, he just didn't realize it at the time. 

Father God, in my closest friendships I desire to walk with those that walk with You. Lord, I ask You to bless me that I might be a blessing. I ask for Your hand of favor to be upon those things I put my hand to when they are Your will for me. I choose to walk with You. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Friday, December 13, 2013

"But First..."

"...'I will follow You, LORD; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.'"
Luke 9:61

God's Word shows us that He tests His people. In this passage in Luke 9 the discipleship of Jesus' followers is put to the test. One man approaches Jesus and tells Him, "I will follow You wherever You go" (v. 57). Jesus' response implies that it won't be easy and won't always be comfortable. He says, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has no place to lay His head" (v. 58). To others Jesus said, "Follow Me." Their reply was, "I will, but first let me..." Let me go and do such and such, like bury a father who is dying, or say goodbye to family. Each case implies that though the followers desired to follow Jesus, someone/something else took greater precedence in their lives. The LORD however, wants followers that are willing to put Him first, period. Willing to walk in immediate obedience to whatever He calls them to; not obedience that is delayed on order to take care of personal desires first.

When God calls me to something, am I willing to count the cost, trust in His provision for all the "but firsts..." that I might come up with, and immediately follow Him? If I really want to walk with God, I must be willing to bypass thoughts like, "I will follow You LORD,  but first let me" ...get some more sleep, go here or there, do this or that, consult with my spouse or friend for their opinion on the matter, and just do what He's told me to do. There may be naysayers. There may be people who do not agree. There may be others who think they should come first in my life. Nonetheless, I just need to do what Jesus tells me to do as the greatest authority in my life, and walk confidently in it!

Father God, please forgive my unfaithfulness this morning. For saying "I will follow You," but putting laundry and cleaning the kitchen for early morning company in front of my time with You. When tested, I want to be found faithful to You. Help me to walk with confidence in the things You've called me to without delay and without excuse. Guide my steps and make straight the way as I trust in You (Proverbs 3:5-6). In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

My Way or the Highway

"'Master,' said John, 'we saw a man driving out demons in Your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.' 'Do not stop him,' Jesus said, 'for whoever is not against you is for you.'" Luke 9:49-50

This man the disciples encountered was not one of "them." He was not one of the twelve, that is. And he was not one that was associated with them. Yet, in using Jesus' name to drive out demons it was obvious He had heard of Him, had faith in Him, and believed in the power of His name. He was using His name for His glory, not his own, and not satan's. Therefore he was for the same things the disciples were.

So then, like the disciples did in this case, why do we question people? Let me start with myself... Why do I question people? Am I questioning their motives, or do I lack trust that God will use their different way of doing things for His glory? Am I being overly protective, or is it a control issue? Do I think my way is the best, most thought out plan? Or is it that I want to get the credit, meaning my motives are impure? To answer honestly, sometimes it's a mixture of all these things. 

Lord Jesus, Please forgive for the times my thoughts and motives get out of line. For the times I want the right things for the wrong reasons. For the times I feel indignant about things I should probably not have such strong feelings about. I recognize now that it usually happens in areas where I need to trust You more. That's happened twice in the last two days! Thank You for Your forgiveness in those things and the grace I was able to show myself. I certainly don't want to be a "my way or the highway" personality. Lord, help me to be a vessel of Your grace towards others, and myself. Make my motives pure and help me to be slow to speak, slow to anger, and slow to judge. I need to trust Your Word where it says that You will work for the good of those who love You, who have been called according to Your purpose (Romans 8:28). Thank You that You can be trusted for that! In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

What Needs to Change?

"Jesus, knowing their thoughts..." Luke 9:47a

My focus in this passage about the disciples battling prideful thoughts is honed in on half a sentence. "Jesus, knowing their thoughts..." The disciples may not have been saying prideful things out loud, but they were thinking them in their hearts. They were wondering who would be the greatest among them. Jesus, knowing what they were thinking, drew a child to His side and said, "Whoever welcomes this little child in My name welcomes Me; and whoever welcomes Me welcomes the One who sent Me. For he who is least among you all - he is the greatest." (v. 48)

"Jesus Christ is perfectly acquainted with the thoughts and intents of our hearts." (Henry)  His Word says that He perceived their thoughts. He perceives mine as well. My thoughts are words to His ears, therefore I must strictly govern my thought life. I must consider whether my thoughts are truthful and in line with God's Word and what He says about me and how I should act, or if they are destructive, prideful, negative, or the like. I can build myself up according to His Word, or I can tear myself down. Thoughts in the latter category need to be taken captive and replaced with truth. "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God,and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:5. The mindset with which I truly live my life - be it victorious or defeated, humble or prideful - is a reflection of my thoughts. So what does it say about the private dialogue I carry on in my head and my heart? What needs to change?

Father God, You care about every detail of my life, including my thoughts. You want everything I do - including what I think - to bring glory to Your name. I have some cleaning up to do in my thought closet. God, will You please show me what needs to change? Help me to tell myself the truth! Thank You for loving me enough to want me to have kind, humble, truthful thoughts toward myself. In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dying of Thirst

"Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water..." Genesis 21:19a

Abraham and Sarah's maidservant Hagar bore them a son who was named Ishmael. As he grew, Sarah took note that the boy was "mocking" (his brother Isaac, no doubt, according to Galatians 4:29 where it says, "But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now."). She instructed Abraham to get rid of the boy and his mother even though Ishmael was Abraham's son. She did not want Ishmael sharing in her son Isaac's inheritance. So Abraham gave Hagar some food and a skin of water and sent them on their way into the desert. 

This mother and son traveled into the the desert of Beersheba alone. When their water ran out and Hagar saw that her son was dying of thirst, she put him under a bush crying and then went about a bowshot away and sobbed herself. As she wept an angel of God called to her asking what was wrong. The angel instructed her not to be afraid and assured that God heard her sons cries. The angel told Hagar to lift her boy up by the hand, for he would be made into a great nation. Then God opened [Hagar's] eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water and gave her son a drink. God heard their cries. God met their need. 

What do I do when I have an urgent need? Do I really trust God to meet it? Do I cry out to Him with hope and make my need known? Or do I wallow with a spirit of despair? Do I let fear creep in, or do I trust that God will meet my needs? As I have marinated in this passage I have also pondered for myself the question Jon Bloom poses in this quote: "Can we bear not knowing how God is going to provide for our most urgent needs and still trust that He will?" And I add to that my own reminder:  When He does meet my needs, do I remember to be grateful and intentionally thank Him for His abundant provision?

God in Heaven, Provider of my needs, I trust You. Oh God, please help any lack of trust! I know You know my needs before I am even aware that I have any. You hear me when my heart cries out to You in prayer. Thank You for Your faithfulness to answer in Your time, in Your way. You hear my cries. You meet my needs. Open my eyes to see the well of water You put before me. In Jesus' name, amen.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Losing My Life

"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it."
Luke 9:24

We tend to toil doing so much to make our lives easier, more comfortable, yet these things have no lasting eternal value. How is that denying self? Not to say God doesn't bless with good circumstances and nice things. But if I become more concerned with preserving my own life, rights, freedom, interests or belongings - if I try to make things happen in my own strength rather than serve Christ, disregarding the things He has instructed me to do - then I am not living according to His Word and His will. If I get more concerned about me than living the life Christ has called me to, am I effectively denying myself and losing my life for Him? His Word says my life is saved when I lose it for His cause, and lost when I try to control and save it on my own terms.

When I get bogged down with the cares of my own little world vs. the cares of the world that matter to Christ, my spirit gets grumpy, dissatisfied or unsettled. It struggles to find peace. On the other hand, when I am focused on doing "all [things in word or deed] in the name of  the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God" (Colossians 3:17), my soul finds rest. Whether serving my family or doing mundane tasks in day-to-day life, doing my job or doing ministry, I can do all for the glory of the Lord. In fixing my thoughts on Him, I can pray for my family when I'm folding their clothes, work with excellence at the job God has provided, and be a reflection of Christ to those He puts in my path to minster to, and give Him glory. And in fixing my thoughts on Him, I can endure what comes my way. When I am living for Him and my soul is at peace, I can endure much. Matthew Henry says of this, "The body cannot be happy if the soul be miserable...but the soul may be happy though the body be greatly afflicted and oppressed in this world."

Thank You Jesus for the reminder to always fix my eyes and heart and thoughts on You. You are the source of my joy and my peace. In You and You alone my soul finds rest. Praise You! In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Desolate Places

"Come and see the works of the LORD, the desolation He has brought on the earth."
Psalm 46:8

God is sovereign over all things. His Word says that even desolation is a work of the LORD. Desolation serves a purpose. He uses both the good and the bad to push His kingdom forward; to get the attention of people and turn their hearts toward Him. Destruction that seems senseless to the world on the surface, serves God's divine purposes at the root. He orchestrates every detail, sparing those whom He would spare, according to His master plan. For it is in the midst of destruction and despair that hearts are often most open to the word of the LORD. Desolation leads to desperation, which can lead to doors being open to the gospel.

God's hand can always be traced in desolation, for He is present everywhere. I reflect on the stories that we heard around 9-11. How in His divine providence, some had unexpected illness, delays or appointments elsewhere that dreadful day which prevented them from being in the buildings that morning. He spared whom He would spare. He called home whom He would call home. He allowed to be destroyed what He would destroy. He uses all things for His glory and I trust, though we may never know the details, that He called many into the fold as a result of that day.

I reflect this morning on the recent tragedy and destruction in the Philippines. Once again, God's hand can no doubt be traced. In reading reports from some key Christian organizations that have a presence there, I see God sparing. The IMB (International Mission Board) has a missionary family there that was sent from one of our sister churches here in the Brandon, Florida area. Their story of following the prompting of the Holy Spirit to endure the typhoon with their neighbors - sharing a Dr. Pepper as they floated on a mattress and rode it out - blessed me to tears! God has them strategically placed now for the ministry that will happen in the aftermath. God spares whom He will spare. Read their story here: http://www.imb.org/main/news/details.asp?StoryID=12593&LanguageID=1709#.Uov9WH-9KSN

IJM (International Justice Mission) who works to rescue and serve victims of human trafficking has three offices in the Philippines because the problem is so great there. All three offices were protected through the storm and, at the time the article was written, the clients they serve that they had been able to reach with supplies had all survived as well. Some had lost everything, but their lives were spared. God spares whom He will spare. Read that story here: http://www.ijm.org/news/ijm-brings-relief-clients-living-areas-hit-typhoon-philippines

According to Twitter, the Love 146 round home, a restoration home for child victims of trafficking and exploitation in the Philippines, also came through the storm unscathed. God spares whom He will spare. Each one of these has been spared by God's hand for a reason. May all three be a beacon of hope in a desperate and desolate place in these difficult days, drawing many to Christ.

Sometimes life takes us to desolate places. Maybe not to the magnitude of destruction that we saw in New York City or the Philippines, but a place that feels barren, abandoned or lonely nonetheless. I'm finding myself in such a place right now. Yet I know that I know God is working. He is changing seasons in my life. Orchestrating significant changes. On the surface it doesn't seem to make much sense, but I have to trust the Master's hand. Trust that at the root He is orchestrating His master plan and the pieces will eventually fit together and lead to a place of greater faith, greater peace, and greater use by Him.  

Father God, Your Word says in all things we should rejoice. So today, even though I'm in a desolate-feeling place on many fronts, I rejoice and trust that I am right where You want me. Thank You for the ways You do use me. Thank You for the things You are showing and teaching me in this place. Thank You for the ways You are working around the world. Thank You for sparing whom You would spare. Use all these things, including me, to push Your kingdom forward. In Jesus' name, amen.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Eyes Wide Open

'"But what about you?" He asked. "Who do you say I am?"' Luke 9:20

After drawing away to pray privately with His disciples, Jesus asked them who they would say He was. Peter answered correctly in saying He was "the God of Christ." Jesus just didn't want this made public yet because it was not the proper time. Word was not to get out until after His death, burial and resurrection.

This passage prompts me to ask myself, "Who do I say Christ is today?" What characteristics of Christ am I learning right now in this season of life? Over my twenty-five years of being a believer I have come to see so many facets of my Savior's character. Many, many times I've learned the most about Him in the throws of life's difficult trials. Because He walked with me, I could persevere through them with hope.

In one of the most trying times, the Lord taught me to look for Him and discover the blessings that lined each difficult day. He taught me to express gratitude for them as I saw His hand at work. It was in that period of time that I learned to praise Him for who He is and how He was working and providing, even when I didn't feel like it. I learned how important it was to praise Him out of obedience to His Word, even if it meant doing it without emotion in a monotone voice. And in so doing, I found it enabled me to fix my eyes more on my Savior and less on my situation.

In that season I saw God as: Sustainer, Provider, Daily Bread, Able and my Hiding Place.

So today, on this Saturday morning as I sit in the quiet of the woods by a smoldering camp fire, who do I say that He is? In this particular season, I am trying to wrap my mind around God's sovereignty when it comes to a tough social justice issue. I am asking Him as God who is Just to bring justice and salvation to human traffickers who are oppressing the innocent. That He would restrain their hands and prevent further abuse. As Rescuer, to rescue victims in bondage. As God who orchestrates my life and directs my steps, to show me how to make a difference. 

In this season I see God as: Sovereign, Just, Protector, Rescuer and the One who orders my steps.

Father God, it is good to ask myself regularly who I think You are. To examine my life and be intentional about finding You. To think on what You've been teaching me about Yourself, and to acknowledge what I'm learning. You are my Savior and so much more. You constantly teach me about Yourself. I must be willing to take time to reflect and take it in. I will never know You fully this side of heaven, but I always want to know You more. Help me to keep my eyes wide open that I might see Your hand each day and reflect on who You are. In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Make Me Beautiful

"Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear;
Forget your people and your father's house.
The king is enthralled by your beauty;
 honor him, for he is your lord."
Psalm 45:10-11

In this Psalm about the King and His beauty, I have camped on some rich truths in verses 10-11. Verse 10 is calling daughters to pay attention to what is about to be said. The word "daughter" refers to the royal bride here, meaning the church. This refers to those who trust in Jesus. They should give ear to this instruction and then comply. By this method she profits from the Word of God.

The instruction given is this: "Forget your people and your father's house." This means as a believer I should renounce anyone or anything that I have more love and affection for than Christ. I should examine where I spend my time, talent and treasure. If it is not on the things of the Lord, then I need to reevaluate. If I am fully committed to Christ, then I will love Him so much that my affection for others and earthly things (my "people and my father's house") will pale in comparison.

"The king is enthralled with your beauty." This beauty comes from conforming entirely to God's will, seeking holiness; not mixing old (or past) affections with my religion because that would cause blemish. True beauty that captivates King Jesus comes from pure devotion to the Lord. This beauty comes at a great price on my part. When I sacrifice all else and put Jesus on the throne of my life, making Him the object of my affection and attention -- my devotion not tarnished by idols (things or people of this world that would wish to draw me away) -- this is very amiable to the Lord. This makes me beautiful. 

As a believer, the royal bride, I am subject to Christ as the wife is to her husband. In my devotion to Christ I am called to "honor him, for He is [my] lord." That is, love Him, reverence Him, and obey Him. He's convicted me deeply this week after a big failure to do what He says, when He says, and how He says to do it. When I do things my way or alter His plan, I get an altered result and sometimes, it's just the opposite of what He intended to happen if I had been completely obedient. 

I will close by sharing a quote a friend posted yesterday from what I assume to be a seminary professor. "If it's not all about me, but it's all about God, then we ask humbly how we fit into His wise and glorious plan rather than refashioning God to better fit into the kind of life we might wish to design for ourselves." - Dr. Ware. 

Lord Jesus, I love and honor You. I want my heart to always be fully devoted to You and not distracted by the people and things of this world. Help me to keep them in their proper place in my life and to seek holiness. Call my heart back when I wander away I pray. Help me to walk in tune with You; make my heart to beat with Yours so my time, talent and treasure are rightfully devoted to the things that matter most to You. In these things Jesus, make me beautiful. I pray this in Your name, amen.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Do It Again, Lord!

"Rise up and help us; redeem us because of Your unfailing love." Psalm 44:26

Sometimes life can be crushing. The enemy may press in on all sides. My circumstances may tell me to fear. But God...

God says, "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" God will be my Help. He will redeem me in due time. I may suffer hard things, but I must not let them keep me from God, but instead, allow them to push me even closer. Sometimes that's easier said than done, I know. But I've come to learn that even when the Lord seems withdrawn and quiet, and slow to answer or bring relief, I must not harbor ill feelings toward Him, or pull back in service to Him. I must keep walking toward Him with integrity. He will not leave me if I do not leave Him. My God is an infallible judge of my words and actions, and more than anyone, He knows my heart.

If God has allowed trying times or even calamity in my life, then it is God and only God that can redeem me. God's Word says in Hosea 6:1, "He has torn us to pieces but He will heal us; He has injured us, but He will bind up our wounds." The hand that tears is the same hand that heals. The hand that injures also binds up.

Because the Lord has not appeared immediately to deliver me from troubles does not mean He doesn't see. And He's surely not asleep! Psalm 121:4 says, "...indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber or sleep." The same God who watches over Israel, watches over me. He has not forgotten, and I am so thankful for that. He will redeem me at His appointed time, not mine, for He alone is my Redeemer. And so I press on in prayer, making my plight and my petitions known to Him: "Rise up and help us [with _______________ ]; redeem us because of Your unfailing love." I trust that He will answer. 

Thank You Father for being my Help in times of need. Thank You for redeeming me from the pit, and from oppression at the proper time. Rise up and help us again, I pray. You have always been faithful. Do it again, Lord. Do it again! In Jesus' name, amen.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pep Talk for the Soul

"Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God."
Psalm 42:5

David is walking through a tough season of life. His circumstances are tempting Him to question God, asking "Why have you forgotten me?" and "Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?" (v. 9)  In this Psalm, David experiences the pain of words that sting from his enemies. They taunt and tease him asking continually, "Where is your God?" (v. 3)  But even in the midst of the turmoil, David anchors himself to God. He wants nothing more, he knows he needs nothing more, than more of God.

Choosing to anchor himself to God first, David unloads the full weight of his grief and doubt and fear before Him, and then rides the storm out with Him. Though his sorrow is not without good reason, he must not let it overtake him. He must keep it in perspective in the grand scheme of things. He must keep the fear and grief in their proper place in his life so they don't consume him. So he gives himself a little pep talk as if having a conversation with his soul... "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?" Then David's faith kicks in and answers, "Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God." (v. 5)

Sometimes my soul gets weighed down with the circumstances of life too. Sometimes fear gets out of its proper place in my life, and doubt creeps in. Sometimes pain causes me to lose my perspective for a while. In those times, I do best when I anchor myself to God, examine my heart, confess any sin on my part, and then ride out the storm holding on to Him, trusting Him to make things right or work them out for my good. Most importantly, I must find words of praise even when I don't feel them, for praise keeps me from sinking, and praise changes my perspective. It may not change my circumstance, but it will change the way I go through it and prayerfully, point others to the One sustaining me.

Thank You Jesus that my hope is in You. Thank You for showing me through seasons of need and desire for mercy, the true value of receiving mercy. Thank You that I can anchor myself to You, and for being there to hold me when the storms do come. I love You. In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Desperate Measures

"[Lot] said, 'No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them.'" Genesis 19:7-8

Two angels arrive at Sodom in the evening and find Lot sitting at the city gate. Lot greets them by bowing down face to the ground, out of respect. He insisted that the men (angels) stay at his house for the night. After a good meal, as they are preparing to go to bed, men of all ages surround the house and call to Lot. They want him to send his male guests out so they can have their way with them. This vile behavior is where our word "sodomy" comes from.

Because the men (angels) were his honored guest and under the protection of his roof, Lot denied their request. Instead of saying "no" to all sin however, Lot chooses what he must have thought to be the lesser of two evils -- he offers the men his two virgin daughters instead. This is the first recorded attempt at human trafficking recorded in the Bible. Lot was ready to prostitute his own girls! As I read that the angels were under Lot's protection while under his roof I wanted to raise my voice to Lot and beg the question, "Why aren't your daughters under your protection in their own home, Lot?" Unfortunately, not all dads protect. Not all dads are safe. Some dads make really bad decisions.

Such decisions are how abuse and trafficking begin: desperate people taking desperate measures, selfish people making selfish decisions. "[Lot] unadvisedly and unjustifiably offered to prostitute his two daughters to them, v. 8. It is true, of two evils we must choose the less; but of two sins we must choose neither." (Matthew Henry, emphasis added.)

Thankfully, this story didn't stop there. The angels opened the door and pulled Lot back inside after making such an appalling proposition. Then they struck the men outside blind so they couldn't find the door. The girls were safe that night.

Tonight and every night, so many girls are not safe. Millions have been trafficked into the commercial sex trade. It's happening in my own backyard. The Tampa area ranks #1 in human trafficking in the state of Florida, and #3 in the nation. Trafficking people is the second largest business in the world, second only to trafficking drugs, and is on the rise. An estimated 27 million men, women and children are coerced, abused and held against their will for slave labor, domestic servitude and prostitution worldwide. In my city, the average age a child is trafficked is 10 or 11 years old. Now that we know, we can't turn our backs. We must work to bring an end to this injustice. But for the grace of God, it could have been me...

Father God, there is so much desperation in the world. So much depravity. I know it breaks Your heart. I know it's breaking mine. God, would You shine a light in the darkness and help us expose this injustice? My own community is in dire need. By a mighty move of Your hand would You remove the blinders and bring awareness that leads to action, that leads to abolishing slavery? You are mighty to save. Save the innocent now I pray and bring justice where justice is due. In Jesus name I ask these things, amen.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Private Healing

"Her parents were astonished, but He ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened." 
Luke 8:56

Jesus is asked to come to the house of Jairus because his twelve year old daughter is dying, and Jairus believes Jesus can heal her. On His way however, someone in the crowd touches the hem of His robe and He instantly knows it. He is delayed in His travels because He stops to ask around to see who it was. When His robe was touched in faith for the purpose of healing, He knew. He would feel the power go out of Him. 

During this delay, someone from Jairus' house comes to announce that the girl has died. Jesus heads on to the house anyway, saying, "Don't be afraid; just believe and she will be healed." (v. 50) He arrives to find family and friends "wailing and mourning" over the girls death. He tells them, "stop wailing... She is not dead but asleep." (v. 52) Well, they knew full well that she had died and in their disbelief, they they laughed at Him. So, He left the mockers outside and only let the girls' parents, Peter, James and John go into the house with Him. It was as if the nay-sayers didn't deserve to see the miracle. Jesus "took her by the hand and said, 'My child, get up!' Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up." (v. 54-55)

After Jesus brought the girl back to life, God's Word says her parents were astonished. This word "astonished" comes from the Greek word "existemi" which literally means standing outside of  yourself. Her parents must have felt like they were dreaming, unable to take their experience in or wrap their minds around what they had seen. They had been privileged to see Jesus perform a miracle! Then Jesus gives them strict orders to "not tell anyone what had happened." (v. 56)

What? Not tell anyone what happened? It would be obvious since the funeral was cancelled and the mourners went home, for their daughter was back among the living. The news would no doubt spread on its own -- it just wouldn't be their responsibility to tell. Her healing would speak for itself and no doubt, point people to Jesus. Sometimes, as is with this case and has been in some of my own, God does something so sacred it's not meant for a public audience. Sometimes it's only meant for a select few. You see, private healing has transforming power.

Thank You Jesus that You have the power to heal. You have the power to raise the dead -- both the physically and spiritually dead. And in so doing, You transform lives. Thank You for transforming mine. Because of You, I have freedom and I have life, and have it abundantly. Please continue to use the work You've done in my life to point people to You! In Jesus' name, amen.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Reputation on the Line

"But You, O LORD, have mercy on me; raise me up, that I may repay them." Psalm 41:10

David is under great stress. The warfare seems insurmountable. His enemies are persecuting him with their words and lies. His reputation seems on the line. They are out to destroy him, but God...

God is his Vindicator. The LORD is the One who "delivers him in times of trouble" (vs. 1). "The LORD will protect him and preserve his life" (vs. 2). The LORD "will bless him...and not surrender him to the desire of his foes" (vs. 3). David first recognizes who God is and reminds himself of God's promises.

David goes on in his prayer to admit his own sin to God and tell Him about the things happening to cause him such unrest, all the while asking for healing. He explains that his enemies wish him harm, speak falsely about him and spread rumors. Even his close, trusted friend whom he fellowshipped and shared meals with has "lifted up his heel against" him (vs. 9). Sounds like he's been beat up one side, and down the other, but God...

God is his safe place. The One he runs to in times of trouble. He pleads with God, "have mercy on me" (vs. 10) for his foes have been unmerciful. He prays, "raise me up" and be the lifter of my head. The enemy wants him to believe his lies, but David knows better! He can hold his head up because he and God know they are not true. He may feel like his reputation is at stake, but instead of justifying himself to those that are against him, he turns to God and trusts Him to secure his reputation. He is the only One who can right the wrongs.

David also asks for God's mercy so "that [he] may repay them" (vs. 4). He asks the LORD for opportunity to show his enemies that he is walking in forgiveness and harbouring no malice toward them. He desires to repay the evil with good. David is a man who strives to live life with integrity, even in the midst of strong adversity.

When I am thought or spoken of poorly, I have learned to first check my heart. I ask God to examine it and show me "if there is any offensive way in me" (Psalm 139:24). I ask Him to reveal to me if I've done something wrong, so I can quickly make it right. If I find that my heart is clean and my motives were pure, I forgive the one(s) speaking against me and take my situation to the LORD, asking Him to be my Vindicator and the healer of my hurting heart. He is my Defender, the One who clears my name and upholds my reputation. My response to adversity should always be integrity.

Father, thank You for the peace that walking with integrity brings. Thank You that even though we are sometimes wronged, You have the power to make things right. Thank You Lord that we don't have to please the world; we need only live to please You. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Tell Your God Stories

"'Return home and tell how much God has done for you.' So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him." Luke 8:39

God wants the stories of His goodness and faithfulness told. I know full well that He did not set me free from sin and shame for me to keep my mouth closed. He wants me to use my voice! So it was for the demon-possessed man as well.

In this parable, Jesus is met on the shore of Gerasenes by a man who was possessed with demons. When Jesus speaks to him, the demons recognize Him as the Son of the Most High God, and panic. They ask to be driven into a herd of nearby pigs instead of the Abyss. Jesus agrees and gives the command. The spirits come out of the man and go into the pigs, who rush down into a steep lake and drown. The man is restored to sound mind and is found sitting at Jesus' feet. 

Those who watched this story unfold ran off to report it to the townspeople, announcing that the man had been cured. When they came to see the man for themselves they trembled with fear and asked Jesus to leave. The man who was healed wanted to go with Jesus, but He commanded instead, "Return home and tell how much God has done for you." In other words, go and tell your God story!

Jesus, thank You for the God stories You have created in my life. I pray that You would use them for Your glory and to point others to the hope and freedom that are only found in You. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

When God Moves

"I waited patiently for the LORD; He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD."
Psalm 40:1-3

I love this passage! In 2006 it became the life verse for our marriage after God had done a mighty work in our lives. It was used as the key scripture for our vow renewal ceremony one beautiful October morning that year as we celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary.

As the passage starts out in verse 1, David declares that he has waited patiently for the LORD. If I could change just one word to make it most accurate to fit my own story, it would be that one. Though we waited and worked through things the better part of those first fifteen years together with fortitude and perseverance, I would say it was not always with calm and without complaint. We were not always super patient. Nonetheless, we hoped and looked to God knowing He was the only One who had the power to deliver and heal. Like David, we expected relief to come from God, and God alone. We have come to believe that when waiting on God, though we may wait long, we will not wait in vain.

By verse 2, though there is no indication as to how much time has physically passed, God moves. He lifts David from "the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire," and all that represented for him. One moment his soul is downcast and he's crying out to the LORD, and in the next, God moves and rescues His child and his hope turns heavenward. Not only is he rescued, he's given firm footing; a solid foundation to stand on. Likewise, God moved in our marriage by bringing healing and freedom where it was needed. He pulled us out of the pit and gave us a firm foundation to stand on in our marriage, the solid rock of Christ!

In verse 3, David has cause to rejoice. Fresh mercies equate to a new song of praise to the Father in his heart. It's a song that no doubt has changed his countenance, and caused others to take notice. His deliverance encourages onlookers to ask questions, hear his story, see his passion and resolve to put their hope and trust in the LORD too, whatever pit they might find themselves in. I love that part! God gets all the glory.

We pray that the new song He gave us in our marriage has, and continues to, put the gospel on display. Our desire is to point others to Christ. He is our only hope. He is still in the rescuing business. 

Though it may feel like He's tarrying in your life, He will not delay. He always moves at just the right time. And when He does, may it prompt a song of praise!

Thank You Jesus for hearing my cries all those years ago, and moving to answer at just the right time. Looking back, I realize sometimes You don't answer immediately because You have a work to do in me in the process. But when You move to answer, wow! You rescue mightily from the pit! It's like giving a step up to a new, even firmer step to stand on. I thank You for making my footing sure and giving me cause to rejoice. May my life ever be a song of praise that points to You, my faithful God. I love You. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hospitality is About the Heart

"He said, 'If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and go on your way - now that you have come to your servant.' 'Very well,' they answered, 'do as you say.'" Genesis 18:3-5

Abraham, known as a "friend of God," had a servant's heart. He looks up from the door of his tent and sees these three men standing nearby. As was custom in his day if the guests were distinguished, he hurried to greet them, bowing low to honor them. He counts it a blessing to be able to serve them, that they might be refreshed along the way, and hurries to do so. "When he saw them, he hurried...to meet them." (v. 2)  "...Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. 'Quick,' he said...bake some bread." (v. 6). "Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it." (v. 7). He then brought milk and butter and the food that was quickly prepared and set it before his guests. This was not a grand feast, but a hearty meal. He and Sarah were attentive and hospitable, offering the best of what they had. Abraham happily waited on his guests, entertaining strangers, who just may have been angels! 

"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have 
entertained angels without knowing it." Hebrews 13:2

Many times we hesitate to entertain guests offering a variety of excuses: my house isn't clean enough or pretty enough, I don't know what or how to cook, I don't have enough extra to go around, it's just not my gift. But being hospitable is more about the company than the atmosphere or food. It doesn't have to be elaborate. This passage reminds me of a time years ago when my husband and I invited our Bible Fellowship teach and his wife - dear friends - over for lunch after church. Our budget was incredibly tight and we lived in a very small, old home, but I didn't want that to keep me from the joy of having company. I prepared a chicken enchilada soup and then realized I didn't have much to go with it, and no means to go to the store and buy something more. So I decided to pair it with grilled cheese sandwiches made from ingredients I had on hand. Though the meal seemed a bit meager, I set a nice table, we made our guests feel welcome and we had warm and wonderful conversation. I distinctly remember our friend Clark saying matter of fact, "I never thought of serving grilled cheese and soup!" I just smiled. I think he realized it was our best at the time and by all indications, he and Leslie left satisfied. We would share many more meals with our friends over the years, and still find great joy in doing so.

Father God, help me to remember that hospitality is not so much about the food as it is the heart. More than anything I pray that guests feel "at home" in my home, that they sense Your presence, and they leave feeling taken care - whatever I have to offer them from the kitchen! In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Silencing Your Fears

"The disciples went and woke Him, saying, 'Master, Master, we're going to drown!' He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 'Where is your faith?' He asked His disciples." Luke 8:24-25b

So often when storms and trials arise, and the least bit of fear sets in, we forget Whose we are, and Who is in control. He has always been faithful, but how quickly we forget. Most often the anxiety that results when the winds and waves pick up is rooted in fear. Fear of death, fear of disease, fear of the unknown, fear of ________________.

We must remember that Christ has power over all things, even the wind and the waves. And all things serve His purposes. Satan raises the storm, but Jesus lays it down. He can bring calm, even in the midst of it. That calm comes from trust rightly placed in Him as we cast our fears and anxiety on Him, and results in the peace that passes all human understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). It is a choice to live by faith and not by fear.

"The way to have our fears silenced is to bring them to Christ, and lay them before Him." (Henry) The Freedom in Christ ministry offers an incredibly effective prayer that helps recognize and silence the fears in our lives:

Dear Lord, 

I confess and repent of the fear of _______________. I have believed (state the lie you've been believing related to this fear) _______________. I renounce that lie, and I choose to believe the truth (state a truth from God's Word that opposes such a lie) ________________. I also confess any and all ways this fear has resulted in living irresponsibly, or compromising my witness for Christ (be specific, listing ways you've lived according to the lie vs. how you should live believing the truth) ________________.  I now choose to live by faith in You, Lord, believing Your promise that You will protect me and meet all my needs as I live by faith in You. 

                                                                                                  In Jesus' trustworthy name, 

Once we give our fears a voice by openly admitting them to the Father, choosing to lay them down and replace them with the truth of God's Word (2 Corinthians 10:5), He sends the calm. He may not take the storm away, but He will give the peace needed to endure it as long as we are trusting in Him, with our minds fixed on what He says is true. How thankful I am to have an option! I'd rather live according to God's Word, in peace...

*** Freedom in Christ is a ministry of Bell Shoals Baptist Church. Prayer excepted from Ministering the Steps to Freedom in Christ by Neil T. Anderson. For more information on this 7-step discipleship process, please feel free to message me.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Muzzle My Mouth, Lord!

"I said, 'I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.' But when I was silent and still, not even saying anything good, my anguish increased." Psalm 39:1-2

The tongue is a powerful persuader. It can cut to the core or build up with encouragement. Most importantly, it can point people to Christ. What comes from my mouth is an indicator of what is in my heart. "For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks." (Matthew 12:34b) If I want to live a life that is pleasing to God, "I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin." Like David, I resolve to be ever mindful of what I do and say - to walk circumspectly - that my life would line up with God's Word. 

     circumspect -adjective

          1. watchful and discreet; cautious; prudent: circumspect behavior. 
          2. well-considered: circumspect ambition. 

          Synonyms: considerate, guarded, safe, vigilant, deliberate

David remembers his covenant "against tongue sins - that he would not sin with his tongue, that he would not speak amiss, either to offend God or offend the generation of the righteous (Psalm 73:15). It is not so easy as we could wish not to sin in thought; but if an evil thought should arise in his mind, he would lay his hand upon his mouth, and suppress it, that it should go no further." (Henry)  He "muzzled" his own mouth to prevent his tongue from committing sin; to prevent sinful thoughts from coming out of his mouth. When I find the need to muzzle my own mouth, I must take this as an indicator that I have a heart issue to deal with. I should evaluate and repent of any sin in my heart that is muddying up my mind.

David was particularly diligent in watching his tongue in the presence of the wicked. As he pondered their pride and prosperity, he was more apt to speak amiss, therefore he had to be doubly resolved to take care with what he said. "If good men fall into bad company, they must heed what they say" so as to not cause the hearts of the wicked to harden all the more toward God or give them occasion to blaspheme. (Henry)

In bridling my tongue, I must be cautious however, not to run to the other extreme: not saying anything good. In David's mind it may have been "an easy, safe and effectual way of avoiding sin, if it did not involve a neglect of duty which he owed to God to speak well of His name. ...A sound course of action [can] be pushed to extreme and become a fault." (Spurgeon)  While being resolved to be watchful with my words even in the midst of wickedness, I must not grow silent. God's Word instructs in Ephesians 4:29, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." My words are meant to edify, to build others up, and to glorify the Lord. Resentment harbored will turn to bitterness and burn within. I should always take such feelings to the Lord. As I consider speaking up, I should pray for God's grace with my words. I am not to speak about indignation as though I am above such things, as I too have been in need of much grace, but speak in a way that points to the Grace Giver, who is also our Righteous Judge. 

Father God, You are the Grace Giver. Thank You for the undeserved grace You have shown me. Help me Lord to be a minister of grace to those I interact with. Prompt me to muzzle my mouth, I pray, before thoughts not of You pass over my lips. Help me to keep my heart in check so that out of the overflow of it, I speak words that give life vs. words of destruction. I ask this in Jesus' name, amen.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Under God's Blessing

"And Abraham said to God, 'If only Ishmael might live under Your blessing!'"
Genesis 17:18

Abraham has just received the news from God that his wife Sarai's name is to be changed to "Sarah" which means princess. He is reminded of God's promise that she will bear him a son, and he is to be called "Isaac" meaning laughter. At this, Abraham fell facedown and laughed because Sarah was 90 years old. While he believed God he didn't want Ishmael, his son by Hagaii, to be overlooked. So while he had the Lord's undivided attention, he asked that Ishmael might live under His blessing too. And the Lord agreed.

As a parent, it is my God-given duty to pray for my children just Abraham did for his. To pray they too would live under God's blessing...

     - walking in grace before Him with an upright heart
     - keeping His commands
     - spiritually blessed

Father God, I'm not always as faithful to pray as I'd like to be for such things. I often feel I pray the same things over and over for my family. I ask You to give me wisdom, insight and understanding so that I can pray more specifically for what's going on in my children's hearts. I pray my children would love You like crazy and serve You with their lives. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

From the Head to the Heart

"He [Jesus] replied, 'My mother and brothers are those who hear God's Word 
and put it into practice.'" Luke 8:21

So often the tendency is to read or hear the truths of God's Word, think it sounds like a good idea, but walk away and fail to apply it. God doesn't want us to take in His Word to store up as head knowledge. Even the enemy knows scripture. No, God's deep desire is that we apply it to our lives.

     apply uh-plahy -verb

     1. To make use of as relevant; suitable or pertinent.
     2. To put to use, especially for a particular purpose.
     3. To bring into action; use; employ.
     4. To devote or employ diligently or with close attention.
     5. To place in contact with; lay or spread on.
     6. To attach to, to devote oneself to.

Those that the Lord considers close, like family, are those that understand His Word is something to devote themselves to. They spread it over areas of their lives that didn't previously line up with God's Word. They are said to put it into practice. Faithful followers of Christ are not just hearers of the Word, but doers of the work. Knowledge gained makes it from the head to the heart.

I must regularly examine my life, especially as I read God's Word. When read His directives in the scriptures it should prompt me to consider my ways and ask, "Does my life line up with the Word?" If it doesn't, I should immediately repent, be intentional about turning myself in a new direction, and put God's Word into practice. Anything less would be sin on my part because the Bible says to be doers of the Word, not hearers only. In so doing, one's life - if not lined up with scripture - should radically change and look more and more like Christ sooner, rather than later. 

Father God, I pray You would continue to show me Your ways through Your Word, and give me a willing spirit as I apply Your truths to my life. Bring about radical change in any areas where I am "off" I pray. I want to walk close to You. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Too Heavy to Bear

"My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear."
Psalm 38:4

Sin is a burden, plain and simple. It equals weight in our lives. It keeps the believer from pressing forward or soaring upward until his or her heart has been pricked by the Father for it, and it's brought into the light and properly dealt with. 

The heavy load of sin takes a toll on the body...

sapping it of strength;
"my bones have no soundness because of my sin" (v. 3)

the stress of it can lead to depression;
"I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning" (v. 6)

it can produce unexplained aches and pains, even disease;
"my back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body" (v. 7)

it might bring on anxiety;
"my heart pounds, my strength fails me" (v. 10)

sin can cause the light in our eyes to grow dim;
"...even the light has gone from my eyes" (v. 10)

it can lead to loss of friendships.
"My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds." (Psalm 38:11)

Sin can also lead to denial, rebellion and anger that gradually seeps into all areas of life. So what is the cure? It's repentance that leads to forgiveness that leads to a change of heart and direction. In genuine repentance, no excuse is made for sin because it is "the goodness of God" that leads each one of us to repentance. (Romans 2:4)  We must have a heart willing to turn from those things that abhor the One that loves us so; turning away from anything that grieves Him in any way. Children used to sing an old hymn that said,

     "Repentance is to leave
          the sins we loved before,
       And show that we in earnest grieve,
          by doing so no more."

Charles Spurgeon speaks to it this way, "Repentance is a discovery of the evil of sin, a mourning that we have committed it, a resolution to forsake it. It is, in fact, a change of mind of a very deep and practical character, which makes the man love what he once hated, and hat what he once loved." 

So when God pricks our hearts to turn from our sin, we lay it down by seeking forgiveness. We ask for our Father's forgiveness, and then we forgive ourselves. Forgiveness that gets to the emotional core I have found to be the most complete. If it doesn't strike us at the core of who we are, we may not truly be grieved enough to turn away...permanently. Turning away in obedience to God stems from a heart change. "Regeneration is the implanting of a new nature..." (Spurgeon)

Father God, I thank You for this reminder of the burden of sin and the freedom found in repentance and forgiveness. Help me Jesus as I strive to live my life with clean hands and a pure heart toward You. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Nothing to Hide

"For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open." Luke 8:17

This is the parable of the lighted lamp. God's Word says that no one lights a lamp only to cover it up. No, they light it and put it on a stand so those that come in can see the light. It is meant to pierce the darkness. Nothing is hidden when the light shines forth.

So it is with believers. We are meant to be the light in a dark world. Matthew Henry says, "Ministers that have the dispensing of the gospel committed to them, people that have profited by the Word and are thereby qualified to profit others, must look upon themselves as lighted candles...for a candle must not be covered with a vessel nor put under a bed (v. 16)." If we as believers daily spend time in the Word, and we apply it to our present lives, we are then "qualified to profit others". As I take in nuggets of truth for myself, I then have truth to draw upon to encourage others as well. I'm able to build others up, not with shallow words or worldly wisdom, but with truth.

Because the light pierces the darkness and God's Word says "there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed," I must be careful to consistently apply His Word to my life. My light is meant to shine before man, therefore I am called to not only be good, but to do good. Our sins will find us out. In fact this is a prayer I often pray over my own family, that our sins would find us out; that we might walk blameless before God. Better to live honest and open. It is best to live with nothing to hide!

The same holds true for gifts and talents, according to this parable. God did not bless us with abilities to have them hidden, but to manifest them in us and have them made known. They are to be made use of for the glory of God, or they may be taken away. Verse 18 says whoever has "gifts, and does good with them, shall have more; but he that buries his talent shall lose it." (Henry) The NIV says it "will be taken from him." (Maybe that's where the "use it or lose it" catch phrase came from.) I want to use my gifts for God's glory, to the best of my ability.

Thank You Father, that You are the Light of the world, and Your light is in me. Help me Lord to shine before man and share the truths that You teach me in such a way as to profit others. Help me to use my gifts and talents for Your glory. I love You Lord, and want my life to be fragrant with You. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Watching My Step

"If the LORD delights in a man's way, He makes his steps firm;
though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with His hand." 
Psalm 37:23-24

God orders the steps of a good man both by His Word, and in the whispers of his conscience; that still, small voice that says, "This is the way, walk in it." In those moments, when I turn away from the desires of my flesh and go where He leads me, it brings my LORD delight, and He responds by making my steps firm, as on level ground. He is pleased when I heed His guidance.

If a good man is overtaken by fault, the grace of God is able to rescue and restore him through the process of repentance. Though he may feel shame or embarrassment, and his spirit may be downcast for a time, the LORD upholds him with His righteous right hand. He is able to bring him back to the joy of his salvation. He will not be destroyed.

The watchful eye of the LORD is upon me, watching my every step. He sees me when I choose the path of life, and smiles. He sees me when I falter. The New King James Version words verse 23 this way, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way." It is most pleasing to God when I consult Him on each decision I make. Quite frankly, I find that easier to do on the big decisions. It's the seemingly small ones where I falter. Like today's dilemma... whether I should spend money on a new top to wear for an event next week, or put that few dollars toward an unpaid medical bill. I try to justify what my flesh wants, but deep down I know the honorable thing to do, as much as I don't prefer it. It is in these little everyday decisions that I must really examine my choices. Proverbs 4:26 instructs, "Ponder the path of your feet, then all your ways will be sure." (Sounds like a verse I need to post on my bathroom mirror!) When I yield my decisions big and small to the Lord, He directs my steps in the way that brings Him the most honor and glory. Today for me that means, put money towards the bill and forego the shopping trip...

Father God, Your ways are perfect. If I want to walk blameless, I must strive to yield every area of my life to You, and bring every decision to be made under the umbrella of Your will. You have always been an "if/then" God. If I will commit my ways to You, then You promise to make my steps firm. Today I choose to steer clear of the clothing store and rest in You. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Second Chances

"When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Him and said, 'I am God Almighty; walk before Me and be blameless...'" Genesis 17:1

Shortly after Abram's faith was credited to him as righteousness, he discredited himself by trying to accomplish God's will in his own strength. Instead of waiting on God to fulfill His promise of a son, he and Sarai took matters into their own hands and fell into sin. Abram took Hagar as a second wife (polygamy was never God's plan) and she bore him Ishmael, the wild son. 

After Ishmael's birth, nothing is recorded. So far as we can gather from scripture, there were no brave acts of faith or noble deeds that following this sin. We do not find record of Abram doing anything significant, or having an audience with the LORD. Not until now, thirteen years later. It is here that God Almighty appears to Abram again. His purpose is to call him to obedience saying, "walk before me and be blameless." In so doing, "the LORD would bring [Abram] out of his state of distrust and distance into one of dignity and sanctity" by manifesting Himself to him. (Spurgeon)

God is a God of second chances. It's as if He was saying to Abram, "Let's try this again. Starting today, remembering that I see all things, I want you to strive for perfection. I am calling you to live your life in exemplary fashion, with impeccable integrity, with clean hands and a pure heart, untarnished and above reproach. Then, I will grant you increase." In His instruction, God was consecrating Abram to Himself; He was setting Abram apart for His purposes.

This command would have required Abram to have much trust in the LORD. Those of little trust usually have little obedience. "If we have grand conceptions of the glory of God, we shall learn to confide in Him most thoroughly, we shall receive mercies from Him most plentifully, and we shall be moved to serve Him most consistently. Sin at the bottom of it very frequently has origin in low thoughts of God." (Spurgeon) Abram's sin was just such an example. He could not fathom how God would fulfill His promise to bless he and Sarai with a son at her age and in her barrenness. So in lack of trust he sinned with Hagar. He seemed to forget who God was. That He is God Almighty, El Shaddai, the all sufficient One. Had he remembered and trusted, he would have stayed true to his wife and waited patiently with hope for the fulfillment of His promise. 

So God appears to Abram once again, this time calling him to a deeper level of trust. He is calling him to pursue true holiness. To consider God in all his actions, public and private. To not leave Him out of any equation, but instead sense His presence, seek His counsel, and serve His purposes only.

Living a sanctified or consecrated life is a high calling, but most pleasing to the One who paid a high price for my freedom and salvation. I too am called to pursue holiness; to walk blameless before the LORD. In order to do so, I must have a high view of God and offer Him my highest level of trust. It has been said, "The saint feels that he must not, dare not, transgress, because he is before the very face of God. This is the model of the sanctified character, for a man to realize what the Lord is, and then to act as in the immediate presence of a holy and jealous God." (Spurgeon)

The standard is perfection, because anything less would leave room for excuse. We are not told to be as good as we can be, for there would be room for error. We are called to be perfect (blameless), even as our Father in heaven is perfect...

"This God--His way is perfect." 2 Samuel 22:31, Psalm 18:30
"The law of the LORD is perfect..." Psalm 19:7
"You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48
" Jesus said to him, 'If you would be perfect, go sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.'" Matthew 19:21

No one but Jesus has ever attained perfection, but it is the standard nonetheless, that every believer should strive for. Paul aspired to it in Philippians: "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own." God does not water it down due to our weakness. He calls us to rise above our flesh and weaknesses with sincerity and live to a higher standard, striving toward perfection.

Father God, I know I can never be perfect, but perfect is the standard I should aspire to. Forgive me Lord for the times my faith and trust have been lacking. God, I want to have a grand view of You! I want to believe that every thing You will in my life is possible. I need to trust You more. In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Forever Grateful

I had just moved from Daytona Beach to Brandon a fews days prior. Starting over in a new city, I went to the church my parents were attending that first Sunday. I figured it would be a good place to meet "good" people. As a 19 year old guest, I was taken to the college and young singles class. Afterwards, I was invited to join the group the very next weekend at a beach retreat. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I went! There on North Reddington Beach, I made some new, life-long friends. I believe they realized pretty quickly that I was not a believer, but they took me in and made me feel so welcomed and encouraged. I also believe some started praying for me immediately. I noticed something different about these new friends. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I wanted it!

We returned from the beach and that Monday night would be the start of a revival in Plant City. Some of my new friends were going and invited me. My social calendar was clear at this point, so even though I didn't really know what a revival was, I went. I sat with Valerie, a girl I'd met at the beach. We listened to a sermon from the bleachers on a football field that summer night.

The pastor was preaching on the wheat and the tears. He explained the difference between the two: the wheat contained seed, and the tears did not. He likened that to believers and non-believers. I quickly understood enough to know that the "seed" I recognized in these friends was Jesus, and I was the one without. I wanted Jesus too! The pastor closed in prayer, asking God not to let anyone leave that needed Him. I felt my knees turn to Jell-O and conviction overcame me. Valerie noticed. She took me by the hand and walked with me to the football field. We knelt at a brown metal folding chair and I asked Jesus into my life. That was twenty-five years ago today.

In those twenty-five years my God has given me a firm place to stand, revealed my brokenness, rescued me, healed me, restored me, and set me free. I am forever grateful for my friend Valerie's obedience to the gospel, and for reaching out to befriend me - the new girl - all those years ago. As God would have it, we are still in touch. We attend the same church (a different one from where we met) and are in the same Bible Fellowship class. Her oldest daughter now spends time in Bible study at my house as part of our church's college ministry. How special that is! So tonight Lord-willing, my friend Valerie and I will celebrate and eat cake, and reflect on God's goodness over the years. For her friendship and the gift of salvation, I am forever grateful.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Good Soil

"...the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word,
retain it, and by persevering produce a crop." Luke 8:15

This is the parable of the sower and the soil. Here, Jesus is speaking to a large crowd about the seed and what comes of it as it lands on different types of ground. When His disciples ask Him to explain the meaning, He shares that the "seed" represents the Word of God. Where it falls determines whether it will grow. If it falls along the path with no place to take root, the enemy carries it away and the hearer does not believe. If it falls on the rocks, the hearer may receive it with joy but it doesn't take root; in the time of testing they quickly fall away. If it falls among thorns, it may take root but life's troubles and worries choke it out and it fails to grown and mature. But if the seed falls on good soil, the hearer receives it in his heart, applies it to his life, and perseveres in a way that produces a crop. 

persevere [pur - s uh - veer] verb
to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose in spite of difficult,
obstacles, or discouragement; continue steadfastly

The key is to not only be a hearer of the Word only, but a doer. James 1:22 says, "Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." I cannot just hear the Word and survey the scriptures and expect it to change me. I must apply it to my life and to my sin. Though hearts may be touched or moved by the Word, they are not changed by hearing alone...hearts are changed in the doing of what it says. Consistent, persistent, steadfast doing is what then produces a crop.

Father God, help me as I strive to consistently apply Your Word to my heart and my mind. Change me as I apply it so that my actions line up with Your Word. I want my life to be a reflection of You, a reflection of the gospel, and to produce a crop. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Misery Acknowledged

[An angel of the LORD to Hagar]  
"...the LORD has heard of your misery." Genesis 16:11c

[Hagar to the LORD]
"'...You are the God who sees me,' for she said, 'I have now seen the One who sees me.'" 
Genesis 16:13

Hagar, having been used by Sarai to bear a child in her barrenness, and then mistreated while pregnant, runs away miserable. Before long, she is met with an angel of the LORD who listens to her story and gives her clear instruction. He tells her to "go back" to her mistress Sarai and submit to her. At the same time, he gives her a promise of "increase" -- that she will have descendants too numerous to count. 

During this encounter, the angel of the LORD acknowledged her misery. Nothing is hidden from God's sight! Her cry of affliction was heard, for "tears speak as well as prayers." (Henry)

With grateful reflection, Hagar acknowledges the LORD and His goodness. There, she turns the well where the encounter took place into a memorial; a place to remember where the LORD cared for her in a time of distress. The God that sees all, saw her. The memorial was a reminder. The God that sees all, sees me too. May I never forget!

Is anything causing me distress today? Am I running away from any circumstances where I should be staying and submitting and crying out to the Lord, instead of putting my running shoes on? Though the answer may not be immediate, I must not forget that my God sees me and He hears my cries. He is my Vindicator and in His time, He will make things right. May I find rest and peace in that...

God, I know You see me. In joy, in despair, in misery...You see me. And Your grace is upon me. May this knowledge ever keep me far from sin and close to You, eager to do Your will. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.