If Only…

Have you ever found yourself thinking “If only I had done this” or “If only that hadn’t have happened” and find yourself fretting over the way things play out in life?  I most definitely have done this very thing on more than one occasion.

In Acts 25 & 26 We find Paul has been arrested because the Jews are unhappy with him spreading the gospel of Christ.  They ask Festus, the leader at the time, to do them a favor and have Paul sent to Jerusalem.  Secretly, they had plotted an ambush to take place during the transportation, with the purpose of killing him.  Paul, having no knowledge of this plan, decides to request that he stand before Cesar, instead of going to Jerusalem.  Festus honors the request because Paul is of Roman decent.  While still in jail, waiting his turn to go before Cesar, Agrippa the King and his wife Bernice arrive.  Festus laid Pauls case before the king and Agrippa says he would like to hear from Paul himself.  Paul goes before them and shares his testimony and the gospel of Christ. We see here that one more time, in the middle of Pauls trials, the opportunity is made to share the Gospel with people in leadership that might otherwise not have heard the Gospel.  After the king hears Paul, he is talking with Festus and says, “If only he hadn’t requested to go before Cesar, he could go free!”  This implies that the king would have pardoned him.  If only…. What they don’t understand, is that if he hadn’t of requested to go before Cesar, he would already be dead and the king would never have heard the Gospel, but God knew.  Paul of course goes on to share the Gospel everywhere he is taken.

We have a tendency to worry and fret over circumstances in our lives because we don’t have the ability to see and know the whole story.  I am more and more convinced that we should not stress over these things.  I admit that it is difficult not to react in this way, because in our own understanding things don’t seem right or just, but the reality is, God is orchestrating everything!  Even the evil in the world can be used to further Gods plan. That is not to say that he causes or approves of evil, but that he can use that evil to bring about a miracle and/or a beautiful story of redemption.  Think about it.  The people Jesus healed while on earth were first, plagued by disease or evil, then healed.  The life of Christ is the ultimate example of evil being present.  Evil worked his plan to kill Jesus by planting a traitor right in his inner circle, and the plan succeeded!  Jesus was crucified.  I’m sure the disciples thought, “If only we had stayed awake to pray…” but God brought about the most miraculous and beautiful story of redemption ever told.

I am reminded of the scripture Isaiah 40:28 “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not grow faint or weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”  In other words…..
“What in the world are you worried about???”  I can picture him up there, pacing back and forth, throwing his hands in the air as he says “Do you think I don’t see?? Do you think I have dropped the ball???  WAIT upon the Lord Isaiah 40:31 says. I think he uses his hands when he talks, don’t you?  I picture him up there looking at us, beating his hands on his chest saying in a voice mixed with love, frustration and authority, “I’VE GOT THIS!” while we are fretting saying “If only…”

Sometimes in life things happen that are heartbreaking. Sometimes we see how God redeems it, sometimes we don’t get to see how he redeems it.  We live in a fallen world, so bad things happen.  But God can make beauty from ashes if we will bring those disappointments, broken dreams and heartbreak to him.  Isaiah 40:28 says his understanding is unsearchable.  I believe I have seen the heart of God in the scriptures and in my own life.  God is love. God is holy. God is sovereign. So I will choose to trust him.  Will you? I will strive to be “easy going” in this life and remember to trust him, even in the things I cannot understand.

Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.  Lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways, acknowledge him and he will direct your path.”

The next time you think or sayIf only..” follow it up with, “But God…”

 

 

 

Do This In Remembrance Of Me

This last year we lost my husbands grandmother.  She was a strong woman. Strong in mind, spirit and faith.  She was also a wonderful cook.  One of our favorite things she made is her caramel pound cake.  My son loves this cake!  He and I are going to attempt to make it for Thanksgiving.  I can promise you that when we sit down to eat a piece, our hearts will be full of love and our minds will be full of memories of her.  Even now, just thinking about it, tears slip down my cheeks.  I’m guessing that you may have a similar experience about someone you have loved and lost.   Today I want to present to you an idea. Perhaps it is a new way of looking at an old tradition.

Matthew 26:26-28  “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it, broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take; eat; this is my body.” and he took a cup, and when he had given thanks gave it to them, saying “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

In scripture all through the Bible, we see that Jesus used parables, which are analogies, to help explain to people the meaning of what he was trying to teach.  At his last meal with his disciples, this was no different.  It was his last opportunity to teach them.  He was about to willingly be taken into custody, where he would be humiliated, beaten and ultimately be killed for all of mankind. The law was about to be abolished and a new covenant established.  No longer would we be accountable to laws that we could not possibly consistently follow with perfection.  Jesus taught us that in this new covenant life, God looks not just to our actions, but looks beyond them, to our heart.  Which in theory makes it even harder to obtain perfection, but God had a plan.  He offers the sacrifice of  Jesus in our place.  Jesus becomes the sacrifice and payment for our mistakes, bad choices and all of our sins.  Jesus ushers in a new covenant of eternal life and forgiveness of sins through grace.  Grace is a wonderful thing!  To be forgiven by His amazing grace makes my heart burst with overwhelming gratitude.  So much gratitude, that I want to spend the rest of my life worshiping Him and trying my best to live each day the way He taught us; loving God, loving others and trying to live righteously (in right standing with God) in honor of his sacrifice for me.

I would like to take a moment to say to each of you, that if you have not accepted Jesus as your Savior and experienced this new covenant life with Him, to think about it.  Examine your life and this freely given gift that is offered through Jesus.  It isn’t like the old law where we are condemned because we can’t possibly measure up.  This new covenant life through Jesus is full of love, freedom and hope, because of the amazing grace of forgiveness.

John 14:6 “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Let me take you back to the table where Jesus sat with those he loved, to share a meal together.  They sit down to eat good food and drink good wine and have fellowship together.  He picks up the bread and blesses it and breaks it, and passes it around the table for everyone to have some and he says this bread is like my body,  which is broken for you. (He was called the Bread of Life in John 6:32)  He blesses the wine and pours it in the cups and passes them out to everyone.  Many times in scripture he used the analogy of a vineyard, a vine or fruit of the vine.  He even refers to God as the Vinedresser.  (There is a LOT of teaching that can come from looking at the process of making wine)  So, as he passes out the wine, he says, this wine is like my blood,  that is poured out for the forgiveness of sin.  It is an analogy of what is about to happen.  Then sitting at the table, sharing this meal in fellowship with those he loved, he says to them,  “Do this in remembrance of Me” because he knows that He won’t be there for their next meal or any others, until they meet him in heaven.

I have grown up in church having communion.  We even occasionally have it at home when we gather with family for the holidays.  We have the unleavened bread and wine or grape juice for those that prefer it.  I love this tradition.  I think that it is nice and important to do. However, I don’t think it has to be done just in this way.  I think Jesus meant that anytime you come together in fellowship and share a meal, and partake of bread and wine (or whatever you prefer) that you let it jog your memory and you remember the sacrifice and the gift he has given, but not just that…. but also the fellowship with him and each other.  Think about it.  What is the “Great Commission?” Mark 12:30-31 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.”  I believe God wants us to come together in fellowship with one another, and when we partake of bread, remember that He is the Bread of Life,  and when we pour a glass wine (or whatever) to remember that he poured out his blood for us.  Just like I am going to have that piece of cake that Mamaw Peak use to make and remember her,  I think that is what He was talking about.  Each time we do these things, He wants us to remember Him, with our hearts full of love and thankfulness.

So this holiday season and beyond, let us all gather with our loved ones and break bread together and fellowship with one another, with thanksgiving in our hearts as we do this in remembrance of Him.

In this next video someone sings Amazing Grace. They are not the greatest singer of all time, but just a person, imperfect, singing it the best they can with a grateful heart.  I chose these versions on purpose. This is all the more poignant as I am reminded that I too am imperfect and saved by grace.

What do you have?

Have you ever found yourself faced with a situation where the need was so great, and a solution seemed so out of reach, that you didn’t even know where to begin?  I have felt that way many times on mission trips, when I see people struggling to have enough food to eat or clothes to wear.  I feel that way when I hear about sex trafficking or the drug problem that is rampant all over the world.  It can seem so overwhelming.  It is easy to feel so unequipped to handle it or help, that we simply shake our head with a heavy heart and walk away thinking, “I don’t have an answer to that problem” and we pray “God please help these poor people.”

In Matthew 15:32-39 we find Jesus has been teaching a crowd of people for three days. He turns to his disciples and says, “I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”  Although it is not my intention to teach on the symbolism here, I believe it is worth mentioning…. He has been teaching three days….Jesus is going to die and be dead three days…..then he will be raised up and then leave and ascend to heaven, but he is unwilling to send us away (with our souls empty) so he gives us the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide and strengthen us, “lest we faint along the way.”  There are so many of these pictures of what is to come, throughout scripture.  Genius!  Now on to my point..

Jesus presents a problem to the disciples.  Their response is to tell him they can’t help the people because they don’t have enough.…They  don’t have enough food or money to buy food and they are too far away to find some anyway! All good arguments.  They give him facts.  They give him physical evidence that there is no easy or practical resources that they have at their disposal to meet the need.  They don’t have enough. Jesus responds to them by asking them, “What DO you have? This too has symbolism for us.  I think sometimes we see a problem and tend to think we have to wait until we “have it all together,” until we are a better Christian, until we have read our Bible through, or make more money, or have more time. THEN we will do something to help.  In these moments when our hearts are tugged and we feel compassion, Jesus is asking us, “What do you have?”  

Then what will he do with it?  Having given thanks, (for what they were willing to give) he blessed it and broke it into enough to feed them all, with seven baskets full of pieces left over. Matthew 15:36-37  He took what they gave him, prayed over it with thankfulness and blessed it, then miraculously transformed it into just what was needed and gave it to the people.  We don’t have to wait around for perfect circumstances.. There will never be perfect circumstances.  He is teaching us in this scripture, to give what we have, as who we are right now.  We don’t have to be “Super Christian.”  Be who you are right now, where your are right now and do what you can right now to love and serve others.  He will take care of the details.  It is not us who work the miracles,  and heal wounded hearts and lives.  We are not the Savior, BUT we know him and we can introduce him to those around us as we give what we have.  He isn’t asking us to have enough.  He is asking us what we have that he can work with!   Just bless it and give it.  He will turn it into whatever is needed.  It’s not about WHAT you have to give.  He is the Creator of the Universe, the great I AM. Do we really think it has anything to do with WHAT we have to give?  NO!  It is completely irrelevant how good of a person we are or what specifically we have to offer.  Do you think that if Jesus had been given only one loaf of bread and one fish, that it would have changed the results? Of course not. He is God. The WHAT doesn’t matter, just the WHO that we are giving it to.  When we give what we have, we get to be a part of the miracle he performs in other peoples lives.  Guess what? That miracle affects us too!  They were amazed, and in awe of him.  Their faith was made stronger and their boldness bigger!   Thank him for whatever you have to give, whether that is great or small, whether it is resources, physical labor, loving on someone, or praying for someone.  Just thank him that you have something to offer, ask him to bless it, then give it. What do you have?

What Is Your Dream?

I remember when I was the farthest I’ve ever been from my dream…and when faced with a choice, I shared a dream of being married, to a Christian man, living a life for Christ, raising my kids to do the same.That was my dream. I know it sounded crazy to the person I shared it with at the time, because I was in no way living a life that followed Christ. Nevertheless, it was my dream.

Guess what!

Through a series of events that only God could have orchestrated, here I am. Living that dream. Only the kid part is a LOT harder than I thought. Honestly, as I look back… the marriage part has been hard at times too… really hard at moments actually. Still… God gave me the desire of my heart, even when I wasn’t actively pursuing it.  Why? Because it was a desire that HE planted there. It’s been a crazy wild ride so far. There is no reason for me to think, based on precedent, that the future will be calm and peaceful… I guess another adjective could be boring. There is definitely nothing boring about God! Have you read any of the Bible?  Definitely NOT boring…. or normal… or predictable. Why should I expect anything different?  That’s ok.  Even in the difficult situations, I would rather be in the middle of the mess…serving him, than anything I would have come up with. Let’s be honest. I would have planned a perfect life.  A perfect family, perfect kids, I would be perfect. Do you notice anything missing from that sentence??? GOD. My desperate need for GOD.

FACT: If everything in my life was perfect, I would still need God. I just wouldn’t realize it!!!

So… I will continue to live out this dream life… with its good times and it’s bad times, with a happy and grateful heart.  I am and will be grateful that God has blessed me with my dream… and enough trouble to cause me to press in to him, to seek him, and to pray “Show me your ways Oh Lord, teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me. For you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you ALL DAY LONG!!!  Psalm 25:4-5. I’ve had that memorized since I was pregnant with my first child.  It is STILL my prayer. I don’t see it changing any time soon. Won’t you join me? What dream has God planted in your heart? He can make it come true.

Tip: If you seek Him, it will help…

Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV) ” For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you hope and a future.”

Ephesians 3:20 “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”

Who’s In Your Boat?

Luke 8:22  “And Jesus got into a boat with his disciples and said, ‘Let’s go to the other side of the lake.’ “

Are you in the boat with Jesus?  Has he asked or directed you to go somewhere or do something? I hope each of you reading this have responded to his invitation to get into the boat and give your heart and life to God.  The next step then, is to respond to the invitation “Let’s go.”  He will most definitely  guide you, direct you and ask you to go and do.  Are you listening? Are you open and trying to hear his voice?  It might be as subtle as a fleeting thought or idea to call that friend or see that person who you learned is sick or going through a difficult time, maybe it is to invite that acquaintance to dinner and get to know them better or invite them to church.  He is always prompting us to reach out to others and ask them “what’s going on in your world?”  Just the other day I thought about going to see someone I had learned  was in the hospital.  I was tired and it was inconvenient timing so I didn’t.  It keeps haunting me.  I now know that it was a prompting from the Holy Spirit.  I intend to follow through with that prompting!  How about you? I challenge you to pay attention to the promptings.  What is God leading you to do?  Sometimes it is more than a gesture.  Sometimes it’s a journey, a job, or a ministry. So If we agree “To go” then we know it was his idea and he is in the boat with us.  

For a minute let’s think about what it was like to be one of the disciples of Jesus during his ministry here on earth. What a wild ride that was! They witnessed the blind being healed, leprosy disappearing before their eyes and even the dead coming back to life! Of course they also were there when he was arrested, tried, convicted, beaten, and crucified. That must have been confusing, heartbreaking, even frightening!

Luke 8:23 “So they set out, and as they sailed, he rested and fell asleep and a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger.”

Have you ever been in a situation or position in life that you know God led you to, then found yourself in the middle of a storm?  I certainly have. Maybe you are in that situation right now.  I definitely know what that is like!  There have been times when I knew God lead me there, and even showed me in many ways that he was there with me. Then thunder would shake the walls around me.  Lightening would strike too close for my comfort.  Do you know what I mean? My heart would grip with fear, my emotions so strong, I felt overwhelmed.  My faith would begin to falter.  Have you ever felt that way?

Luke 8:24 “And they went and woke him saying, Master, Master, we are perishing!”

For a minute, let’s not look at our own situation, our own story, but look at what is being played out in Luke 8.  The disciples find themselves in the boat WITH JESUS and they are worried about a storm.  I can easily point my finger at them and judge them.   I mean, they are worried about a storm when Jesus is LITERALLY  WITH THEM in the boat!  Do they really think God is not paying attention?  It’s easy to judge them, isn’t it?

Now let’s step back into our own story.  I KNOW I’m in the boat with Jesus. Do you?  When the storms of life come, and the weather turns dark, it is unnerving. What does your storm look like? Maybe you lost your job, a relationship ended or you lost a loved one.  Sometimes life can be very difficult.  When the thunder, lightening and waves get so big and so strong, our emotions can begin to overwhelm us and we might focus on the problem and what we are feeling.  Sometimes we are distracted by the problems and emotions and forget to THINK and remember that he is there….in the boat….with us.  When despair knocks on the door of our heart, we have a choice of how we are going to respond.

Luke 8:24b-25 “He awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?”

God knows we are only human.  He knows we are going to get focused on the storm from time to time and forget he’s in the boat with us.  Nevertheless, he is calling us to look and see where and what we are putting our faith in?  He is calling us to trust him more than our circumstances.  This is my favorite miracle that Jesus performs in the Bible.  It shows us that there is absolutely NOTHING, that is not subject to his authority. He is the Creator of the universe and everything in it. In the same chapter of Luke 8, in the verses that follow (Luke 8:26-32 & Ma. 8:32) Jesus encounters two demon possessed men.  Before he even speaks, the demons know who he is and they beg him not to send them into the abyss.  Scripture says he gives them permission to go into some nearby pigs and with one word “Go” he sends them.  People…..what are we worried about???  When we find ourselves in the middle of a storm, we need to ask ourselves “Did God ask us to go here? We need to look around.  Isn’t he with us?  We need to ask ourselves “Where is our faith?  Is it in our own abilities?  Is it in the circumstances, or is it in God?

Food for thought:

It’s easy to judge others.

Don’t look at the storm instead of the One who has authority over it.

Is Jesus in your boat?

Are you willing “To go” wherever he wants to go?

Where is your faith?

In the Weeds

Do you ever feel like life is getting the better of you?  Maybe that weakness is rearing its ugly head? Maybe you feel like there is trouble or defeat everywhere you look.  Sometimes life can feel that way.  This morning I was reading some of the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 13.  This chapter was such an encouragement to me.  In this chapter he speaks of the kingdom of heaven, our life in him on this earth.

Ma. 13:32 “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

This scripture is encouraging to me on many levels, both personally and as a parent.  When we hear the Word of God and accept it, believe it and apply it to our lives, something amazing happens.  It germinates and transforms and grows into something that looks different, acts different.  It transforms into a strong, beautiful plant that serves a purpose and even repopulates.

Hebrews 4:12  “The Word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

The Word of God is ESSENTIAL to our lives.  It is the water to our soul.  It is essential to us becoming what God calls us to be.  We don’t have to become or be this amazing person on our own or in our own power.  We can’t! We need to water our soul, mind and spirit with the Word of God.  He will transform us.

Philippians 3:9-10,12 “Not having righteousness of my own that comes from following the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, that DEPENDS on faith, that I may KNOW HIM and the power of his resurrection. Not that I have already obtained this or am perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Jesus Christ has made me his own.”

We need to water with The Word. In Matthew 13:24-30 Jesus tells us the parable of the weeds.  In this parable the servants see weeds in the wheat field.  They ask the master if they should go pull the weeds.  The master says no. He says that if they pull the weeds now, the wheat might get pulled up with them. The wheat is young, their roots are shallow and it is hard to tell them apart from the weeds.  He says to let them grow together with the weeds, then at harvest (When they are grown, healthy and strong with deep roots,  they will look different from the weeds) the weeds can be pulled and the wheat will not be affected. THIS WILL PREACH!!!  We can apply this principal to our own walk as well as guidance for those of us who are parents. Notice that the master is not worried about the presence of the weeds.  HE KNOWS, FOR CERTAIN, that if the field is watered and cared for, that the wheat will grow, transform and produce a harvest and that the weeds will not overcome the wheat. HE KNOWS that the weeds will be destroyed at the end. He knows that if he de-weeds the field before it is time, he might lose some of the wheat and he is NOT WILLING TO SACRIFICE ANY LOSS of the wheat.  Doesn’t that make you feel so loved? He is not worried about the weeds. He knows the end result. We don’t need to worry about the weeds, just water our soul with The Word.  In our lives, if we will simply feed our mind, soul and spirit with the miraculous, nourishing Word of God, we will slowly transform into his image and he will fulfill his purpose in our lives.

WORD TO PARENTS: As parents, we can have this same confidence. “His Word does not return void.” Is. 55:11  We need to keep speaking The Word of God over our kids and to our kids. We need to  let our life speak his words and take them to church so they can be fed The Word.  We can have confidence.  “Raise a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6  (Notice there are no promises while they are young)  When they are in the weeds, have faith!

“He who began a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it.” Philippians 1:6

In Matthew 13:33 Jesus tells a parable of a woman who hid leaven in three measures of flour until it ALL became leaven. The Word of God is powerful!!  We can have confidence as we hope in the Lord.  He is not worried about the weeds.

We need to keep our eyes on our Savior, The Creator of the Universe, the great I AM.  We need to get in his presence, keep teaching our kids about him and pray scripture over our family.

So be encouraged.  Whether you are in the thick of it, surrounded by weeds, or it’s someone you love, you can have his confidence. You don’t have to worry about the weeds, just water with The Word. He will take care of the rest!

 

 

 

Good Treasure

Have you ever attended a funeral?  I just attended my second one in two months.  In both services there was a common theme.  People got up and talked about the lives of these women and how they loved God and served him.  They had raised their children to know God and serve him.  They loved and served others and pointed them to God.  I sat there listening with a strong desire to live my life this way.  I want to leave a legacy like that.  When it is my turn to go, and someone plans to speak at my funeral, I want the first thing they think of when they think of me, to be “She loved God, she loved her family and and she loved people, and her life was spent walking out that love.”  What do you want people to say about you?

Luke 6:45 “The good person, out of the good treasure of his heart, produces good, and the evil person, out of the evil treasure of his heart, produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

This verse speaks of treasure and abundance. It causes me to stop and ask myself, “What is the treasure in my heart?” “What are the most important things in my heart?”  “What is there an abundance of?”  What about you? What are the first two or three things that come to your mind, that you love most?  For me, there are many things that fill my heart and my life.  I think it’s probably safe to say we all have good and a little evil in there too. The question here is “What is the treasure and what is abundant?”   If after some self reflection, we wouldn’t like how hard someone would have to work to say good things about us at our funeral, then we need to figure out how to get more of that good treasure in our hearts.

Psalm 119:11 “Your words have I treasured in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Matthew 6:20 “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” vs 21 “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

The treasures in our heart, are the things that are most important to us. They are what we love most, think about most, do the most.  There is nothing wrong with enjoying the things of this world.  God made them to bring us pleasure, but not to be our treasure.  I love to travel, probably more than any other pleasure this world Has to offer.  I enjoy it most, when I can do it with people I love.  I love to share a beautiful view,  a good glass of wine and great conversation with a friend or loved one.  I enjoy pretty things.  All of that is ok, as long as it isn’t the first things that pop into my head when I think of what is most important to me.  What should fill up the abundance of my life, should be the time I spend with God, “Your Words have I treasured in my heart” and the time I spend with my family and others, loving them and serving them.  What takes up the abundance of your time? Luke 6:45 “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”    We do what we care about.

Self reflection is a good thing.  I know there are some adjustments I want to make in my life.  How about you? Do your treasures have an eternal legacy?  What do you want your life to speak?  One day when someone sifts through the story of our lives, what will the abundance of it look like?  No one is perfect, least of all me, but I want the abundance of my life to be spent loving and serving God and others.  I want to produce good. I want to make a positive difference in the lives of those I come in contact with.  Let’s leave this world and the people in it, better for having known us.

I love this song.  It is an oldie but a goodie!

A Golden Calf Moment

Have you ever done what you wanted, even though in the back of your mind you knew it was wrong?  Don’t we all, on occasion, “justify” what we want, so that we can do it with a clear conscience?  Well, maybe not totally clear, but we justify it, then choose not to think about it anymore.

I was reading this morning in Nehemiah chapter 9.  In this chapter the Israelites are confessing their sins to God, blessing and honoring him.  Lets look at verses 17-21.

Nehemiah 9:17-21 “But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. EVEN when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, “This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt” and committed great blasphemies, you in your GREAT MERCIES DID NOT FORSAKE THEM in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way, did not depart from them by day nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go.  You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. FORTY YEARS YOU SUSTAINED THEM in the wilderness (all while they worshiped a man made golden calf!!!) and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.”

As I read these scriptures I wept.  I am overwhelmed at his love, his great mercy and grace toward us!  Creating a golden calf from their own hands, and claiming IT lead them out of Egypt was like spitting in the face of God.  The hurt he must have felt…the betrayal, the anger.   Is that how I make him feel when I ignore his Word and his leading? When I justify my actions and take my life into my own hands and do things my way.  Isn’t that just like making my own golden calf?  My way, my rules….my golden calf moment.  Verse 19 says “Yet in his great mercies, he did not forsake them.” My friend, that is LOVE.

In verses 26-28 it says that even though God didn’t forsake them in their sin, they continued to be rebellious.  They finally turned their back on him completely and actually killed the prophets and people he sent to point the way back to him. They wanted nothing to do with him. So, he let them go.  It was what they wanted. He knew what the enemy would do to them, but they wouldn’t listen. He let THEM go, but he didn’t go anywhere!  He was right there waiting for them. Waiting to forgive, redeem and restore in his great mercy, grace and love.

Nehemiah. 9:28 “Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard them and delivered them according to your mercies.”

Nehemiah 9:31 “Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

“Even when I run away, you will wait for me to come back home.”

I think we can all relate to this story in more than one way.  As I mentioned earlier, I’m sure we have all had moments of turning our back on Gods way and instead doing things our own way.  We also have probably been on the giving and receiving end of the golden calf moment with others in our life. Maybe you have been wronged or been the one who wronged someone. It might have been a spouse, a child, family member or friend.   It may seem unforgivable.  These verses show us how God handles these hard situations.

Nehemiah 9:17 “But you God are ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and did not forsake them.”

First,  receive Gods forgiveness, his mercy and his grace.  Then, as he has forgiven you,  forgive yourself.  Forgive others who have wronged you.  Maybe there is someone you need to go confess to and ask for forgiveness.

Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Whatever your golden calf moment,  let us all rejoice in his steadfast love, wonderful grace and precious mercy towards us.  He is faithful.  Let’s try to walk in that same grace, mercy and love with the people in our own lives.

Hope Chest

As I sit down this morning in my usual spot on the couch with my cup of coffee in hand, I’m listening to an old hymn playing from my phone and I’m brought to tears.

“All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give.  I will ever love and trust him, in his presence, I daily live, and I surrender all….”  In my mind I picture a hope chest full of boxes.  On each box there is a word written. Plans, marriage, career, children, pride, control…that one is a BIG box, mistakes, health, finances, ministry, relationships, anger, eating habits, time, talents, weaknesses, faith, patience, expectations, disappointments. I could go on and on. What is in your hope chest?

I have been on a journey for the last year.  It has been exciting….scary….AMAZING…heartbreaking….and precious.  Yes that description is all over the place! A lot like my emotions have been!  I haven’t reached the end of this journey yet… I will let you in on a secret. If you know me well, it may not be such a secret.  I do not have a slow bone in my body!  My mind works very quickly.  Unfortunately, my mouth is attached to it, so that’s not always good! 😮   Anyway, I do everything with an underlying sense of urgency.  What that means is, I hate waiting!!! Maybe you can identify with me.  On this journey I have had the Lord prompt me to “Go here” and “Do that” in some areas of my life, while in others, he has prompted me to “Wait”  and to “Be still and know that I am God.”  So as I said, my life has been all over the place while on this journey.  Along the way, I have unpacked some of those boxes from my preverbal hope chest and laid them at the feet of my Savior.  Each time I think I have things figured out, I see another box I need to unpack and lay down.  Sometimes…..I lay one down at his feet, then go back later and pick it up.  Do you ever do that?

Ps. 25:11  “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.”

Here it is Lord!   I surrender my control.  I surrender my expectations…. my timeline.   I surrender all….

Ps. 25:12  “Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him, he will instruct in the way he should go.”

Ps. 27:8  “Lord you have said “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

Ps. 25:13  “His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land.”

My friends, I encourage you to unpack your boxes and lay them at his feet and seek his face.  In my earlier description of my journey, I used the word “precious.” I have been seeking his face and every now and then, I bump right into him!  He will meet me in a very personal and specific way that shows such love and intimacy… I can barely believe it when it happens.  When it happens, it reminds me of the scripture where David says “What is man that you are mindful of him?”  It also reminds me of the song “His Eye is On The Sparrow”

Ps. 25:14  “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.”

“I will ever love and trust him, in his presence I daily live, and I surrender all…..  I surrender all….. I surrender all, all to thee my blessed Savior, I……surrender……..all.         I hope you will be encouraged by these words and seek his face and his presence.  It’s a precious place to be…

This scripture sums up how I feel right now in my journey. My declaration.

Psalms‬ ‭26:6-7‬ ‭ESV

“I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O Lord, proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds.” ‬‬

Spoiler Alert

Have you ever watched a really good suspenseful movie twice? I love to rewatch my favorite movies over and over again.  However, it is never as emotionally intense as it is the first time I watch it.  I remember watching “Saving Private Ryan” with Tom Hanks.  The battle scene on Omaha Beach left a mark on my soul.  As I watched it the first time, I emotionally and mentally put myself in their shoes.  I felt hopeless…It was like shooting fish in a barrel. The bravery of those men to get off of that boat and try to move forward under that heavy attack is absolutely astounding to me.

The feeling of hopelessness makes it extremely difficult to fight, to keep going, to even try. Fortunately for the whole world, the men on those boats DID fight, did keep going, did try…..and succeeded! Now that I have seen the movie several times, I don’t feel hopeless when I watch that scene.  I just sit with tears streaming down my face and watch in amazement at the bravery of those men.  The stress and worry about what is going to happen and who’s going to make it, is gone.  I know what is going to happen in that scene.  In fact, I know the ending of the whole movie.  Wouldn’t it be helpful in stressful, or difficult situations in our real lives to know ahead of time how things are going to work out?  Maybe there is something you are going through right now that is difficult.  You may be worried about a marriage, a health diagnosis, a child or a job situation. I can certainly relate.  I think we all have been there a time or two, maybe even right now.

In Isaiah 43:1-4 God speaks to us.  “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.”

Oddly enough, he begins with a spoiler alert! He tells the ending in the very first verse! Verse one says  “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” He then goes on to tell us that we may encounter difficulties, even disastrous circumstances where we might feel frightened, exhausted, discouraged, even hopeless, but he says you WILL NOT be overwhelmed or consumed by these circumstances. Remember, he says at the very beginning, I HAVE redeemed you….not I WILL redeem you, but I ALREADY HAVE.  It’s a done deal.  The victory is SURE.  It may be frightening, it may be exhausting to fight the battle.   At times the battle may ebb and flow and look like there is no hope for victory, BUT…. you can have peace in the middle of the battle, even when the bullets are flying in front of your face.   You can have confidence that the battle is already won.  You just have to keep moving forward. Keep praying, keep spending time in worship and reading his Word.  Keep putting one foot in front of the other.  You do your part.  He has ALREADY done his. Why has he already won the victory? Verse four tells us, “Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.” He starts with the spoiler alert, in hopes of relieving the intense emotions that we can feel as humans when we are facing something devastating or seemingly hopeless, like when you watch that suspenseful movie for the first time.  So, take a deep breath.  He says in verse three “For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One, your Savior.”   Scripture tells us that sometimes life will be hard, even frightening.  So how do we walk through the river of troubles and the fire of devastating circumstances and not be emotionally overwhelmed and consumed?  Over Christmas holiday I spent some time with my husbands grandmother, who has since passed on to be with her Savior. She was a mighty woman of God.  I asked her this same question….I asked her how she did it.  She gave me a scripture that got her through the tough times.  Isaiah 26:3 (Yes Isaiah again!  There is a lot of helpful scripture in that book!)  It says, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusts in You.”  I will admit that it sounds easier than it is.  I struggle.  I do believe that every word He says is true.  I have faith that he will keep his promises.  The peace part is where I struggle….What did that verse say again? “he whose MIND is STAYED ON THEE.” So that is how I survive the stressful situations in my life.  It’s not rocket science.  The answers are right there in black and white.  However, it does take mental discipline. I KNOW he is faithful. I know the ending.  I just have to keep spending time in worship and scripture to remind me of who he is.  One last time, lets look at scripture to remind ourselves of who He is.  Of course, it’s in Isaiah.  In Isaiah 40:28-31 God speaks to us himself…

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable (His thoughts are higher than ours…He sees the WHOLE picture, while we only see a part) He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no more might, he increases strength. Even young strong men will get exhausted; but they who WAIT for the Lord (in faith, in his presence, while HE fights and WINS the battle) shall renew their strength; then they will mount up with wings like eagles (having rested in his presence) and will be able to  run and not be weary; they will walk and not faint.”

I hope these scriptures encourage you when you are being attacked by the enemy.  They are a light and a hope for me.  I will add one piece of advice.  Don’t go through it alone.  Find some trusted prayer warriors to support you.  If you don’t know any, call or walk into a Bible believing church.  They will have a prayer team that will dutifully pray over your situation.  Never forget, He says, “Fear not, I HAVE redeemed you.”