Quiet Moments can Change Your Perspective

It’s been a busy few months! I haven’t done much writing and honestly I have rushed through my morning quiet times, prayed on the run and kept a pace that if I am honest; I am just not comfortable with how it’s been going. Lots of changes, transitions and at least one or two small meltdowns and today I found myself sitting quietly in the early morning pouring my heart out to the Lord. I began prayer time as I normally do. Acknowledging who God is and sharing my gratitude, praying for family and others. Then I was reminded of Saturday. Saturday was a good day, informative, helpful even. It also presented me with a challenge for which I wasn’t sure I was ready.

Long story, short: I spent some time bouncing it off my sweet and patient husband, questioning my reluctance about the challenge and vocalizing some sentiments about my life that I have scarce allowed myself to consider and have never shared out loud. Needless to say, it was emotional but was also healing. Honestly, they were the type of things I would only share with the Lord during my prayer time. As I spent time with Him this morning, I realized I had never entirely shared those things with God; so I did. It was very cathartic and healing. Then, as I opened my Bible and wondered where I should read this morning, Psalm 113 came to my mind. I think someone had mentioned it yesterday, so that is where I began. What a beautiful reminder of who He is and how much He loves us!

Psalm 113: 1-9 (Message)
“Hallelujah!
You who serve God, praise God! Just to speak his name is praise!
Just to remember God is a blessing—now and tomorrow and always.
From east to west, from dawn to dusk, keep lifting all your praises to God!
God is higher than anything and anyone,
outshining everything you can see in the skies.
Who can compare with God, our God, so majestically enthroned,
Surveying his magnificent heavens and earth?
He picks up the poor from out of the dirt, rescues the wretched who’ve been thrown out with the trash,
Seats them among the honored guests, a place of honor among the brightest and best.
He gives childless couples a family, gives them joy as the parents of children.
Hallelujah!”

God is gracious and loving, and He is enough! He can handle our concerns, our frustrations, and even our meltdowns; small or large. In fact, I truly get the idea that when we do share them with Him, it is almost as if He says, “I know, thank you for being honest and sharing them with Me. I knew you were struggling and longed for you to tell Me; to share your heart and your concerns with Me. Now, we can begin to work it out.” God made each of us to be unique, one of a kind. We all share commonalities, but we are each uniquely created and uniquely gifted with the capacity to grow and change when yielded to Him. As we grow and change in Christ, He will take us from glory to glory.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. ” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)

 

 

Then my eyes crossed the page to Psalm 116. As I read this encouraging Psalm, my heart was full! He hears our voice and our supplications. He inclines His ear to his children! Yes, even when we feel the cords of our circumstances, challenges, or even death choking us; when in sorrow and distress, He knows. He cares! We can always cry out to our Heavenly Father! He hears us; He answers!

David describes God this way: “I love the Lord because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul! Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. I believed even when I spoke: “I am greatly afflicted””
(Psalm 116:1-10 ESV)

In Him, may you find grace, encouragement, and peace as you go through your day!

How to Gain Your Sight?

 

Can I just say that I love Wednesday nights! I look forward each week to meeting with this group of individuals who love God and love to get into His Word and study together and challenge each other. “As iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens [and influences] another [through discussion].” Proverbs 27:17 (NASB) We begin with a pre-assigned topic, portion of the Word or portion of a book about God’s Word. Several days in advance, thanks to some very dedicated individuals, we are emailed some great thought provoking questions about the assigned topic. On Wednesdays, we all come together in one large group for a few minutes for an overview. Then we break out into smaller groups based on personality tendencies where we have exciting and challenging discussions about the proposed questions. Finally, we come back together as a large group and share the insights that stood out inside the small group discussions.

Did I mention the degree of depth of the questions presented for our consideration? It is so interesting to interact with a small group over the proposed questions and even more so to hear the variety and depth of each person’s response! one of our questions last night was about the story found in 2 Kings 6: 15-20. The king of Aram (Syria) was plotting war against Israel, the prophet Elisha warned Israel, which made the Syrian king angry. Realizing that someone was helping Israel, this king became enraged and determined to have retribution. How did this man Elisha reveal to his enemy the things he’d spoken in private in his bedroom? Determined, the king of Aram sent out a mighty army with horses and chariots against Elisha.

“The servant of the man of God got up early and went out, and behold, there was an army with horses and chariots encircling the city. Elisha’s servant said to him, “Oh no, my master! What are we to do?” Elisha answered, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “Lord, please, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servants eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha. When the Arameans came down to him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Please strike this people (nation) with blindness.” And God struck them with blindness, in accordance with Elisha’s request. Then Elisha said to the Arameans, “This is not the way, nor is this the city. Follow me and I will lead you to the man whom you are seeking.” And he led them to Samaria. When they had come into Samaria, Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of these men, so that they may see.” And the Lord opened their eyes and they saw. Behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. When the king of Israel (Jehoram) saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” Elisha answered, “You shall not kill them. Would you kill those you have taken captive with your sword and bow? Serve them bread and water, so that they may eat and drink, and go back to their master [King Ben-hadad].” So the king prepared a great feast for them; and when they had eaten and drunk he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the marauding bands of Aram did not come into the land of Israel again.” (2 Kings 6:15-23 AMP)

Our question was: We often are guilty of having the “Gehazi Syndrome”. Why is this sometimes intentional? How do you gain your sight? As I considered Gehazi’s observation about their situation and Elisha’s response, I first noticed Gehazi’s exclamation. “Oh no, master!” He was apparently taken aback by the encampment of the enemy on every side. Appearances clearly show that they are both outnumbered and under-equipped for the potential events that seemed destined to unfold. This is not an uncommon reaction when our circumstances overwhelm us as many in our group attested to last night. So how do we gain our sight in such situations? How do we make sure we do not panic and become overwhelmed when our circumstances seem ready to crash over us and drown us in their wake. As the room quieted and we pondered our responses, this rose up in my heart and spirit:

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthian 5:7 NKJV)

When we are focused solely on our circumstances, we are walking by sight, and it is easy to be overwhelmed and defeated. Faith is also absent when we are focused on our circumstances alone and for those of us who are believers, this is not okay. Appearances do not have the final say. However, since we are not entirely using this scripture in it actual context, the resurrection of the body; we need other scripture also to agree with the principle to take a stand.

“Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. For our ancestors won God’s approval by it. By faith, we understand that the universe was created by God’s command, so that what is seen has been made from things that are not visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-3 HSCB)

“Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6 HSCB)

Elisha’s response to his servant’s observation was a foreshadowing of these very scriptures that were later taught in the New Testament. Elisha, being a prophet, a man of prayer, and one with whom God shared mysteries to come; he did not walk by sight and was not deterred by what he saw. He prayed first for Gehazi to be able to see that God had provided help of which he was not aware, and secondly to blind their enemies so they could be led away and taken captive. Lastly, Elisha did not harm them but prayed once again and did as the Lord told him. God told Elisha to feed them and let them return to their master. It is a clear and excellent example of walking by faith. Elisha wasn’t a stranger to the many times God had acted in impossible situations on behalf of His people. He had been handed down generations of stories of God’s character, provision, and protection. We can also experience this kind of faith. Each time we exercise our faith based on what God has done for us in the past, our faith grows stronger. Each time we open His Word and read the examples found there we find the strength to exercise our faith a bit more. Hebrews 11, known as the hall of faith gives some excellent snippets of the faith of the patriarchs in the Old Testaments.

One of the greatest gifts we can ever give ourselves is exercising our faith rather that letting our fear overcome us. One of the most memorable gifts we can give our children, grandchildren and friends is to share our experiences of God’s faithfulness when they struggle; helping to bring comfort build their faith.

“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 HSCB)

Lord, please give us the grace to share our stories!

Why Do I Love God’s Word?

Today as I looked at “You Have A Memory” on Facebook, a post from two years ago popped up on my screen. I had totally forgotten about the experience or that I had written about it. I have to say that it still holds true and even more so today. I hope it will be an encouragement to someone as I sense the Heavenly Father prompting me to share it once again!

June 2, 2014
Kevin said I should post this; it’s long but here goes…

What an interesting question that was posed today in the current Bible study I am doing! Why do you love God’s Word? It was followed by this proposal…consider a friend or acquaintance asked you this question because they did not understand your love for the Bible and you were too taken off guard to respond at the time. Now, you sit down to write a note or letter to explain. How would you explain? So here goes let’s give it a try…

Dear Friend,

I was taken aback a bit by your question today and needed a little time to process your inquiry because many emotions rose up within me at that moment. Too many to put into words immediately. God’s Word is life and health to me! Without it, I would not be the person I am… I probably would not be alive and certainly would not even resemble the person you know. His Word has been the source of strength to carry on in the darkest of days, when sorrow, grief, and loss were so very overwhelming that easily I could have crawled into a dark hole, given up and disappeared. It has brought comfort and peace in the most frightening of times; it has been my source of encouragement when all seemed lost, when I felt utterly alone; it has been a well of hope springing up in the driest of deserts; a balm to heal my heart when it has been wounded or too heartsick to even move. His Word has been freedom to a soul held captive by her circumstances, and it has flooded joy into a heart teaching me that joy is available even in the times where happiness is elusive and circumstances are challenging. When I have been wise, it has offered me the keys to navigate through every passage on this journey of life. When I have been foolish, He has drawn me back to it to shine light lovingly on the areas that could have been better navigated and teach me better ways for the future. Yes, it is life; strength; comfort; peace; encouragement; healing; freedom; joy; direction; and instruction. God’s Word also displays my Father’s character, shows the greatness of His love, and tells me who I am In Christ. In Him, we are called a friend; son or daughter; beloved; accepted; redeemed; justified; set apart; precious; blameless; chosen; and kings and priests…just to name a few. It contains everything needed to live a victorious life and to avoid the pitfalls life tends to throw our way. It is a precious gift and a much-needed tool for my life. Dear friend, I hope this at least in part answers your question and thank you! for challenging me with this question. It is beneficial to be challenged; to be able to put words to such profound emotions and beliefs and to bring to remembrance why we hold something or someone so dear and precious. It keeps it fresh to us and
prevents us from taking it for granted!
Grace and peace to you my friend!

Dry Places

Have you ever found yourself right smack-dab in the middle of a dry place? That place where you feel a bit out of place or out of touch? In a spot where answers evade you to the questions pressing on your mind or heart? Have you ever felt distanced and far from all that seems normal and feels right in your life? I know I have during seasons of my life!

I am willing to bet that is exactly how the Hebrew slaves felt walking in the wilderness after being freed. Likely it is also how Moses felt during and after his experience with God at the burning bush in Exodus 3. Consider for a moment, if you will: seeing that bush on fire yet not consumed; a voice from nowhere calling out for you by name; asking you to stop and remove your shoes because the ground you are standing on is holy; followed by an encounter Most High God. Can you just imagine, not only being called out by name in the desert but being commissioned to return to the town you grew up (where they know you killed a man while defending another) to exact freedom your people enslaved there?

God had heard His people’s cries. After four hundred years of slavery increasing in workload and pressure, this group was suffering more than ever. God commissioned Moses for the job and allowed Aaron as his side-kick. Interestingly, after this encounter when Moses entered Egypt and approached the Pharoah, he approached with the request to be allowed a three-day retreat into the desert to worship and sacrifice to God. Notice Moses initially mentioned nothing about freeing the people or the Promised Land.

If you know the story, you also realize it was a long, arduous process but in the end leads to the release their people. Time after time Moses approached Pharoah each instance Pharoah either answered no or changed his mind. Ten plagues later, Pharoah released them and sent the people away with many riches only to chase after the Hebrews and be swallowed up by the Red Sea.

Two Choices in the Wilderness

It only took a short time in the wilderness for the people to begin complaining and grumbling about their circumstances. God purpose was to get His people to the promised land via the desert. There was a shorter way, but it would lead them to the land of the Philistines, and they were not yet prepared to face this enemy. Here the people had two choices: trust, obey and worship the God of their fathers that had freed them from oppression; or we can grumble and complain. As we observed, they choose the latter.

When faced with a dry place, desert experiences or simply times that God seems quiet in our lives we have a choice of how we respond. Will we choose to turn inward and if we do will we focus more on ourselves or seek to change and grow? Will we grumble and complain fighting against whatever God may be trying to bring forth in our life? Will we choose to press into the things of God and accept that He has a purpose or plan for the things we encounter? Will we continue in faith to trust His heart and His goodness? Will we worship Him in these times?

Many times we can not control our circumstances, but we can control our response. Our response can mean the difference between a more direct route and a long winding journey. The Hebrew response resulted in a forty-year journey; ours does not have to! Our response to our circumstances can make all the difference!

 

Why Struggles?

     Over the past few days, I have been looking back at life. You see, my husband and I have been asked to be a part of a relationship conference this next weekend. It will consist of a brief testimony from five couples about marriage and then will be followed by a “rapid fire” question and answer period. The groups will be divided into unmarried, married under ten years, married over ten years. Then all the groups will reunite for an overview and more q&a.  We are blessed to have four couples with over 35 years experience participating!

     I have to say the secret to our longevity in marriage is most likely tenacity. That put plainly; stubbornness.  We are both stubborn people and come from stubborn people. We also started our marriage out with the mindset that this is forever. By beginning from the faith perspective and from a Biblical world view, that means our perspective was to make it work; fix what was broken.  Have we ever felt like quitting? Yes. Thankfully, when one was discouraged the other usually picked up the slack and we muddled our way through by prayer, God’s help and sometimes sheer determination. Has it always been easy? Not at all!  We really were just babies starting out; though we’d never admit it then.  I remember one couple in their sixties who were friends with our parents declaring, “they will never make it! It’s puppy love and they are too young to get married.” I wonder what they’d say today…

     I spent some time this weekend looking back at the things we have been through together.  I was amazed to see how quickly the challenges began in our marriage and how those struggles were clustered together; back to back, and sometimes year after year. Many were heavy duty challenges, not just the typical adjusting to life together or financial issues.  Those can be difficult enough. We experienced a number of deaths of loved ones close in succession; some following long term illness and some sudden.  It was  a little shocking to look back.  It was also pretty gratifiing at the same time seeing all that we have come through and how it changed each of us; how we grew through those times.

     The thing is, often it is those very struggles in life that cause us to grow, mature and strengthen.  They push us to do something other than just get by.  They force us to look for answers, to seek wisdom.  Hopefully they lead us to seek out God; His wisdom and understanding; and godly answers.  Even when that is not the case, we are able to learn what not to do the next time and what does not work.  As we grow and mature through these times, it puts us in the perfect place to help others who go through similar situations.

     “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 ESV  

     I could’t help but feel a little overwhelmed and amazed as I glanced the highlights of the years.  Just the major events, both the good ones and the hard ones.  Would we have ever signed up for this if we’d known what was coming?  I really don’t know. I would hope so!  I have to say as good as the good has been and as hard as the hard has been; I wouldn’t change a thing! There are times we each wish we had done better or differently but the truth is it has all worked together for good to get both of us were we are today.  We are better for those struggles because they have changed us. They have stretched and matured us.  Fears are fewer; faith is stronger. Best of all, our Heavenly Father is so very real and present in our lives.  He is the true reason that we are here today!  If our stories can help others coming along behind us, all the better.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16

     By His mercy and grace, we have and continue to hold fast in both our faith and in our marriage.  Love deepens with both the good times and the struggles we face when our hearts are set on Him! He is the unifier and the glue that holds this relationship together on the sunny days and on the stormy seas.

 “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.” Isaiah 43:1b-3a ESV

May God’s mercy, grace and peace surround you this day!

 

Be Encouraged

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This scripture is one of hundreds of favorites! It is a reminder that our Heavenly Father does not miss a thing. Just as He chose Israel, we are also told we are chosen. He has a purpose and plan for every one of our lives but when difficulties and trials come along we can forget. Sometimes we will wonder; does God see what’s happening? Does He hear our cries? At times it may feel God is far off and distant; He is not! Sometimes when He is silent we can wonder if God is still near; He is! More times than not when I feel any of these, the truth is I am tired or impatient. I want things to happen in my timing rather than in God’s timing. I want to know what I don’t know about the situation. I just want the difficulty to be over.

Thankfully, God knows our hearts. He also knows we are humans and we have weaknesses. Psalm 3:14 reminds us, “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” His Word also reminds us that even when we are faithless; He is faithful. Paul told us in 1 Coriinthians 12 that God’s grace is sufficient and in our weaknesses, He is strong! Jeremiah 29:11 and the verses following are a great reminder that our Father knows us; He loves us. God has good plans for us and for our future! He’s not sitting up there idle even when it might seem that way to those of us down here. His timing is perfect and God is always working things out behind the scenes. Romans 8:28 tells us that God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Notice it did not say all good things but that all things (even the bad things) can be worked for our good and His glory.

We will always have trials and troubles as long as we walk this earth BUT God is able to help us whatever comes into our path, if we are patient and allow Him to work. In the end, He will redeem it and use if for our good and His glory. Does that mean we will like what we sometimes must walk through? No! What it means is we will not have to walk through it alone and He can and will redeem it and use it to refine us into a better person in the long run. It may not be in our time frame, but it will happen in His perfect timing. I can say with complete honesty, every trail I have struggled with (in hindsight) has worked to make me who I am today. There have been many struggles that I just wanted to go away. There have been great, seemingly senseless losses of loved ones. There have been trials that if you’d asked me then my remark would have been, “I will not survive this!” Do I want to repeat them? NO! I can say with all certainty and confidence looking back on those times that I NEVER walked alone even when it felt as though I did. God never abandoned me even if it felt like it. Lastly, everyone of those experiences have culminated in who I am today and have solidified my faith; taught me to face my fears; and given me hope to go forward and walk this path no matter what the world or the enemy throws my way!

Our God is faithful! He will never leave or forsake His child! Feelings lie and say He has, but He will not!

Days of Grace-Day 20

      Grace, defined as unmerited favor by some; a gift of something we did not earn or deserve others will say. A little surfing the net, here are a few of the definitions I found:

  •       Beauty of Form
  •       Good Will
  •       Favor rendered by one who need not do so; indulgence
  •       To give beauty, excellence or charm to
  •       Divine love, protection; freely given
  •       Excellence or power granted by God
  •       Effortless movement
  •       A condition of protection or sanctification by the favor of God
  •       Reprieve, pardon
  •       Mercy

      It has been twenty days since I felt challenged in my spirit to study this word grace.  Many people of faith observe Lent each year. Lent is a forty day period leading up to Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb.  According to About.com Christianity, it is a time of “fasting, repentance,  moderation, and spiritual discipline” that is observed by some but not all Christians. I was not very familiar with Lent though I had heard numerous friends over the years talk about giving something up for Lent or fasting.  Being curious, as it approached and I was around their conversations, I studied the concept. As I said earlier, I felt a still small challenge to focus each day on Grace. As it happened, when I looked at the calendar it was Ash Wednesday, which is the traditional starting day. I counted the days and determined it would be forty-five days and then Easter. So here we are on Day 20.  So far it has been an interesting journey for me and hopefully for those who have been walking it with me via this blog.

      Today’s grace verse comes from Acts 11: 23. On day 18 and 19 we looked at Stephen. After his trial and sentence, he was killed and persecution broke out among the followers of Christ’s teachings. Despite persecution, the church grew in strength and number. There also arose some confusion about the differences between the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers that were coming into their fellowship. Peter had a vision in chapter 10. Actually, he had it three different times.  Peter was perplexed and just after the last vision, some men came looking for him. They had been sent to Peter by a man named Cornelius so that they could request that he come to Cornelius’ home. Cornelius was a God-fearing centurion and a gentile (those who were not of the Jewish nation).  Peter accepted his invitation and went to him; there Peter told Cornelius and all his household and people about Jesus.  The Holy Spirit moved in power and they all believed and received the Holy Spirit. Next they were all baptized and this was the beginning of the gospel going out to the gentile nations.  Their cultural difference is what began the confusion previously mentioned. Questions over whether or not they were free to just follow Jesus or would have to conform to the Jewish traditions as well were the topic. Peter returns to Jerusalem and hears about the questions and concerns. Peter tells them all about his visions and all that had happened while he was with Cornelius. He told them how the Holy Spirit had moved in power and how they had received the Holy Spirit and then requested to be baptized right away. Peter said to the Jewish believers, “Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”  When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” Acts 11:17-18  This ended the confusion and questions from within  for now but the persecution from outside continued. The believers were now scattering because of the persecution of the church. Some scattered to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.  Others went to Cyprus and Cyrene speaking to the gentiles (Greeks) preaching the gospel of Jesus.

Acts 11:21-23  (NAS) “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.  Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.”

      Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, the obedience of Jesus,  and  gracious hand of His  Father; salvation, freedom, healing and deliverance was not just for the Jewish people but for all people. Secondly, due to the persecution many went out from Jerusalem into different areas spreading the word, remaining faithful to God and bringing many people to the realization of what was available by living a life for Christ. Once again we see the Grace of God abounding in His people lives even in the middle of trials and struggles. Stephen paid a high price but he graduated into God’s presence. Persecution came and caused chaos and havoc, yet if we look closely… We have seen examples of good will, Peter going to Cornelius. Possibly, that would even be considered indulgence; favor rendered by one who need not do so…but God. We see divine love and protection as people leave their home and are scattered. We also see excellence, power granted by God in the movement of the Holy Spirit. There is good will, mercy and reprieve handed to Cornelius’ household and to all the gentile people. We see God’s grace extended, His kingdom expanded and His glory revealed to all people and it is marvelous in our sight!

Grace and peace to you!

Days of Grace- Day 18

     As the early church grew, so did the needs among the people as they would in any growing population. This group of like-minded believers were made up of both Hebraic Jews and Hellenistic Jews, the difference being their language and their culture. The Hebraic from Hebrew and the Hellenistic from Greek language and culture.  The Hellenistic people were concerned that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution and brought it to the attention of the Twelve.  They summoned all the disciples and held a discussion as to what to do in order to more effectively serve the needs of the widows and those who had needs.  Clearly this was very important, but so was the continuance of ministering through prayer and the Word. One should not be neglected for the other, so they gathered together to choose seven men full of the Holy Spirit, with a good reputation, and full of wisdom.  They would be put in charge of food distribution, serving and making sure those in need were no longer neglected.

     The disciples selected Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas. Now they were set apart for this purpose by going before the Apostles for prayer and the laying on of hands. With this concern now addressed, the Word of God continued to be taught and the number of followers continued to grow in Jerusalem.

    Today’s grace verse focuses on one of these men, Stephen. We know that Stephen was one of the men chosen to oversee serving by the disciples which indicated that he was of good reputation, wise and full of the Holy Spirit. The first we hear of Stephen is in Acts 6:5 and we are told Acts 6:8: “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.” One would look at this and believe that Stephen was a good man, living his life, serving God and the people around him, and he was. There was just one problem, some men from the Synagogue of Freedom could not bear the wisdom and Spirit of what he was speaking. They not only stirred up an argument against Stephen, they incited some people against him, drug him before the Sanhedrin and encouraged false witnesses to testify against him. Press pause on Stephen’s story…

     “Where is the grace in what happened?” I am tempted to ask. Maybe you have been tempted to ask that same question. We all have times in life when we are living the best life we know how; juggling maybe, but keeping it balanced and steady, then out of the blue a “suddenly” moment happens. One minute all seemed perfect…ok maybe that should be all seems normal and then suddenly it’s not. If we live long enough, we all have these “suddenly” moments. Some are small; others much bigger. The question is what do we do with those moments? How do we survive false accusations? How do we get past a betrayal? What do we do with a big loss; when we feel as if the world is against us; when hopelessness threatens us?  The questions are endless when a “suddenly” moment happens and the answers in that moment are few. Often we either go on blind instinct or shut down for a while until we begin to be able to process what has happened.

     Personally, I have experienced a number of “suddenly” moments, some were unexpected losses. I would love to be able to say I have handled them well  but it wouldn’t be true. What is true, however, is there was always grace because whether or not I realized it at the time God was always there with me! His Word says He will never leave us or forsake us, and His Word is truth. I might not “feel” Him there or that His grace is with me but that doesn’t change the reality. Looking back on those times, the ones best navigated were the ones that I neither shut down, nor acted on instinct, but those that I hit my knees and immediately turned to God in prayer.  There grace met me. It was the times that I immediately turned to Him being totally helpless in the situation that I found the strength to take the next breath; the next step.  Being told that my Mom had died suddenly when she was in good health and still young; seven years later to the month, my Dad gone suddenly-no major known illness-just gone in a moment; still I will say… He has never left or forsaken me.  Where He is there is grace and His grace is always sufficient!

     Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me.  Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Days of Grace-Day 11

     We  have now spent ten days focusing of the Grace of God. I don’t know about you, but His grace never ceases to amaze me! Sometimes it seems to show up at the very last possible moment, just when you think you can not make it another day or another step. Other times it comes suddenly and unexpectedly. Sometimes it comes before you even realize you need it; or right in the midst of something; then He reminds you… remember, I have already made provision for that.  I don’t know about  you, but sometimes for me grace can be as simple as a glimpse of a rainbow that brings a big smile to my face and child-like joy and wonder in the middle of an ordinary or complicated day. “Why is that grace?” you might ask. These are just a few examples of things I just delight in: a rainbow; a beautiful cardinal or blue bird that lands on the rail of my back deck unexpectedly while I am studying or writing; a child’s laughter or children running and playing; a beautiful sunrise or sunset; a beautiful blue sky filled with fluffy clouds that form all kinds of shapes gently blowing over my head. Again, “why?” You see, I am one of those people (you might know one or be one,too) whose mind runs constantly full speed ahead and  rarely slows down or  takes a rest from thinking. Seriously the wheels are always turning! Even in my sleep, I have vivid dreams. It is always nice to get unexpectedly surprised by one of these grace moments when the glory of God shows up and my mind just takes a few moments to pause and relish in the moment of glory rather than rushing around and missing them. His glory is  all around us if we just take the time to notice!

     The scripture for grace today is a prophetic word from Zechariah found in chapter twelve. It is a prophecy for a future time. Commentators aren’t completely in agreement or completely convinced when it will take place but let’s look at it anyway and then we’ll talk about it just a little.

“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced ; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.  “In that day there will be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo.  “The land will mourn, every family by itself ; the family of the house of David by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself and their wives by themselves; all the families that remain, every family by itself and their wives by themselves. Zechariah 12:10-14

     I don’t know about you but the Spirit of grace and supplication seems to refer clearly to the Holy Spirit because He is the one Who draws into belief in Jesus, the One they pierced. This gives us a good indication that the prophecy takes place in the future and after the time of Christ’s birth, death, burial and resurrection. Other than that, it could be hard to pin point. Many believe that this referred to the time in AD 70 when the Romans sieged Jerusalem and the second temple of the Jewish people was destroyed. Still others believe that it is a future event, and some believe it is a double prophecy depicting both.

     Since our focus is on grace and the Spirit of grace (Chen, meaning grace, favor, charm, elegance and acceptance) and supplication ( Tachanuwn, meaning supplication, supplication for favor with God or man); I think we can say for certain that this prophecy would take place after Christ’s return to Father God’s right hand and after the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given to all believers in Christ. AD 70 seems like a definite fulfilling of this prophecy, because there certainly was great mourning in the land over the loss of their homeland and the loss of their temple. Will we once again see it fulfilled, in our lifetime or the future? Who can say but our gracious God.

     This I do know, both from personal experience and based on the history we have traced over the last week and a half: God has this and He will provide His people every ounce of grace and mercy needed if there is yet another fulfilling to come!  His grace is sufficient for everyone; His love is unending; His mercy endures forever; and He is enough for any and every situation that we face in our life! Skeptical? Just give Him a try! He is who He says He is! He is faithful even when we doubt Him and when we are not faithful. His promises are true even when they are not in our timing and His timing is always right on time because He sees things from a much bigger perspective than we do. In every trial, difficulty or loss that I have experienced in my life, He has proven this true. It may have taken more time for me to see it than I would have liked, but never-the-less it is true!

Grace and blessings to you, my friend! Until next time…

Days of Grace-Day 10

     In yesterdays, post I briefly mentioned the rebuilding of the second temple in Jerusalem. The rebuilding of the temple was authorized by Cyrus the Great, who was a Gentile king.  He was at that time in charge of the land where the Babylonians had once ruled. An interesting thing to know about Cyrus is that the prophet Isaiah foretold his kingdom 150 years before Cyrus was born! Let’s look:

     This is what the Lord, your Redeemer who formed you from the womb, says:  I am Yahweh, who made everything; who stretched out the heavens by Myself; who alone spread out the earth; who destroys the omens of the false prophets and makes fools of diviners; who confounds the wise and makes their knowledge foolishness; who confirms the message of His servant and fulfills the counsel of His messengers; who says to Jerusalem, “She will be inhabited,” and to the cities of Judah, “They will be rebuilt,”and I will restore her ruins; who says to the depths of the sea, “Be dry,” and I will dry up your rivers; who says to Cyrus, “My shepherd, he will fulfill all My pleasure” and says to Jerusalem, “She will be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Its foundation will be laid.” Isaiah 44:24-28 (HSCB)

     Just as the Lord had spoken, Cyrus was born, grew up and became king. Cyrus wrote the following decree:  ” In the first year of King Cyrus, he issued a decree concerning the house of God in Jerusalem:  Let the house be rebuilt as a place for offering sacrifices, and let its original foundations be retained. Its height is to be 90 feet and its width 90 feet, with three layers of cut stones and one of timber. The cost is to be paid from the royal treasury.  The gold and silver articles of God’s house that Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and carried  to Babylon must also be returned. They are to be brought to the temple in Jerusalem where they belong and put into the house of God.” Ezra 6:3-5 9 (HSCB)

     So the building began.  Can you just imagine how elated the Israelites were to be allowed to return to their land and start this rebuilding process? Not to mention they had the blessing and support of Cyrus. They had mourned for a long time over the destruction of their temple. Construction for the foundation was said to take about two years and then the delays began.  Because of opposition and delays, it took many years for the Israelites to rebuild the temple.  In fact, it was not finished until after Darius had become the king. He also had a decree written about the temple. He echoed Cyrus’ decree and added to it a directive about what should happen to anyone who interfered. You can find this in verses 6-11 in Ezra 6.

     This leads us to today’s verse on grace. As Zechariah 4 begins, an angel is speaking to him about things pertaining to the temple. The angel asks him what is it that he sees. Zachariah describes the golden lamp stands and two olive trees and asks “what are these, my lord?” The angel responds don’t you know?” and he responds, “no.” Next, we find today’s verses in the angels reply:  “Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts.  ‘What are you, O great mountain ? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain ; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of “Grace, grace to it!””Also the word of the LORD came to me, saying,  “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. “For who has despised the day of small things ? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb-line in the hand of Zerubbabel – these are the eyes of the LORD which range to and fro throughout the earth.” Zechariah 4:6-10 (NAS)

     The angel is speaking to the prophet Zechariah with a message to Zerubbabel, who was the civil head of Jerusalem. The message is that the work will be completed and the top stone will be placed but it will not come by the might or power of the people, it will come by God’s Spirit! The mountain which stands before them delaying the building will become as a plain, the obstacles removed and the top stone placed. Then there will be shouts of “Grace, Grace”. Then you will know God has sent me. What an incredible message of hope and encouragement for Zerubbabel and the people. Not only would the obstacles be done away with but the temple would be completed, and in Zerubbabel’s lifetime. Those who began the work would see it to completion even though right now that looked impossible to them. Now that is grace, it is the promise of God’s favor to accomplish that which He had begun! Grace that He announced through the prophet Isaiah 150 years ahead of schedule that though they are taken captive and away from their homeland, the temple destroyed, He will send Cyrus and they will find favor and return to rebuild their beloved Jerusalem. That my friend, is God’s grace and His favor! No matter what we are going through, He sees our struggles and our pain. Even when we are not rescued from them or spared, He has a plan. We may not understand but He is working to redeem our hurts and pain and in His timing restore us and bring us to an even greater place.

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