Election Angst?

     Seven days have passed since the historic election of 2016. One would think that by now things would be beginning to settle, yet emotions for many are still running high. From fear to elation, the sentiments range the gamut! Tears, riots, all the way to shouts of joy have been present. Never have I witnessed a political season like the one we have seen this time! For the most part, it is my personality, to keep quiet about such things; research the candidates, their records, and their character and quietly make my decision. I seldom if ever weigh in over social media but today I feel compelled to comment hoping to bring some peace and reassurance to those who are uncomfortable, fearful, worried or downright angry.

     This may not mean anything to you if your aren’t a person who believes in the God of creation and the Lord Jesus Christ, but Scripture tells us in Daniel:

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Based on this scripture alone, God is NOT surprised by the outcome of this election! He is not wringing His hands with concern about what the future holds. God already knows, and there is a purpose and plan for our country and for those He has allowed to come into positions of authority. He is perfectly aware that many of us have been shaking our heads for months over the political circus and were surprised at those chosen for the final leg of this journey. Many people found it hard to choose because they had issues with both of the candidates. The good news is that comfort can be found in Scripture. The Bible is full of hope for us, we just have to search it out.

One such story that comes to mind is found in the book of Esther. The King’s right-hand man plots and schemes until a directive was signed to rid the kingdom of all Jewish subjects; which by the way would include the Queen, unbeknownst to the King. Though God’s name is not mentioned once within the book; it’s obvious He is active throughout the events.

Then there’s the mighty victory of Gideon whose army was whittled down from 22,000 to 300 men. These were impossible odds for success, but with God on their side, nothing was impossible! The key is for us to stir up our faith and trust God; remind our self that He is Sovereign and in control; He not only has a plan but it is a purposeful plan for a good outcome for His people.

We like David must encourage ourselves in the Lord. 1 Samuel 30:6 “And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”

God is mighty and does mighty exploits. We must remind ourselves that God is faithful and He is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) Below are some verses that you may find helpful:

    I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 ESV

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine. Isaiah 43:1b ESV

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened,                                                        and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 ESV

                         

Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Isaiah 35:3-4 ESV

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life,  what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.  Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Luke 12:22-27 ESV

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom should I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom should I be afraid?
 When evildoers came against me to devour my flesh,
my foes and my enemies stumbled and fell.
 Though an army deploys against me,
my heart is not afraid;
though a war breaks out against me,
still I am confident. Psalm 27:1-3 HCSB

“Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

There are 365 fear not scriptures. Many scriptures can be found about hope, peace, trust, comfort, etc. When I find myself in need of encouragement, I find key words and Google to be particularly helpful (key word + scripture).

May His grace and peace abound to you!

The Correct Fit is Crucial

This morning I have been thinking about the importance of how a thing fits. Whether it is an item of clothing, shoes, a career, a relationship, a hobby or perhaps volunteer work; if it fits well, it is much more enjoyable! Don’t believe me? Try walking around in shoes that are either two sizes too big or too small, pants so tight they challenge your circulation or so large that… Well, for some that is fashionable so I won’t go there. The truth is for most of us wearing the wrong fit ranges from uncomfortable to unbearable.

We are all different in our body types, our personalities, our talents, and giftings are different as well. We are from different ethos. Our varied experiences upon which we tend to base our view of life are unique to our life. Even those raised in the same household can find that they are very different in some areas. Even so, we live in a world that many find themselves in the trap of comparison and competition. In this world, many of us try to fit into what some consider ‘normal’ rather than celebrating who we were created to be in the first place.

I have to ask, is this healthy? Each will have to answer this question for themselves. Is it healthy for a person to grow and stretch? Absolutely! But is is healthy to force yourself to fit immediately into a mold that is meant for someone else? For example, an introvert may never be the first to speak out publicly or become the life of the party. However, it is very likely they will grow more comfortable being around larger groups and speaking out as they grow and mature through the circumstances of their life.

Take David and Goliath for an example, many of us are very familiar with this story from our childhood. David, a shepherd boy, faces off with a scary, huge giant who was terrorizing the Israelites. David takes a slingshot and five smooth stones. He aims and hurls the first stone killing the great beast of a man. Then David becomes king. What I was not told and had to learn as an adult was that David had been chosen and anointed as the next king of Israel while still tending sheep. He was tasked with caring for a flock and protecting that flock. While in the wilderness, he had protected his charges from the threat of wild animals.

Then he became an armor bearer for King Saul, the king he was to replace. When Saul became tormented, David is called upon to play his harp which would sooth the king.
Fast forward to the gathering of the Philistine army for battle. They gathered on the land belonging to Judah, encamped in the area between Soccoh and Azekah. Saul and the men of Israel gathered nearby to protect their property. Goliath led the Philistines and taunted the men of Israel both by his size and with his mouth. Saul and his men were alarmed and afraid. That’s when David arrives bringing food to his three older brothers who are with Saul. David then inquires of the men, “what will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?” 1 Samuel 17:26 Then David takes up the challenge but immediately is told he is a youth and unprepared. David reminds them that he had protected the flocks in the wilderness and had killed both a lion and a bear while the sheep were in his charge. “The Lord delivered me from the paw or the lion and the paw of the bear; He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (verse 37).

Next, they proceeded by dressing David in the king’s armor. David tried to walk in the ill-fitting armor and promptly said he could not wear what he’d not tested. He removed the armor and took up his slingshot. Only when properly fitted with the tools that fit him, was David able to accomplish what the army of Israel had not been able to accomplish.
We all have a destiny and a purpose according to scriptures like Psalm 139, Jeremiah 29:11-13; Ephesians 2:10 and others. What we have to remember is that growing into that destiny is a process and rarely happens fast and certainly not overnight. Instead, the circumstances, trials, and people God places in our lives help us grow and stretch. Our boundaries are increased as are our experiences. We are strengthened and renewed to prepare us to face the next new challenge as we choose to cooperate with Him. When we don’t, we can become stuck and risk growing weary or stagnant in that place.

Lord, teach us to be wise and not try to wear another’s ill- fitting armor or try to be someone we are not. Please, teach us about ourselves and help us walk in the personality, talents, and giftings that you have given us. Help us to have the courage and grace to be who You created us to be! Teach us who You say that we are. Please help us to have the wisdom to walk in the rhythm of Your grace in our lives and the value that You place on us, rather than comparing ourselves with others and determining our worth based on how we measure up to someone else. With Your help, we can be all that You created us to be, walking in step and sync with the plan You had for us before the foundation of the world. We can be transformed from glory to glory until we are a reflection of Your glory.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

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!

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!

 

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!

Well Placed Confidence

This morning I woke up still trying to unravel a puzzle. Most Sunday evenings, a couple of friends and I get together to fellowship and study God’s Word. Currently we are working our way through the Book of Ezekiel and are focused on idolatry and Israel’s problems with it and punishment for it. Prophecy can be a interesting study but It can also be very challenging. As we read the commentary on this particular passage, the section about original meaning was helpful and clear but as we read the sections bridging context and application for today we were perplexed by some of the statements we read. Perhaps because we were looking at it from this side of the cross and his focus was more from just the Ezekiel context. Next, I opened my Bible to Psalm 49; captioned “Misplaced Trust in Wealth” (HCSB). The NASB captions it “Confidence in God Rather Than Riches”.

Just what is it that we humans are tempted to put our trust in? Could it be that we are trusting in something other than in God; even those of us who confess Jesus and profess to be Christians? When something comes up, small or large, do we first try to fix it ourselves before seeking Him and His wisdom for the situation?  Maybe you haven’t, but I have. At one point in my thirties, I was suffering with some undiagnosed  joint pain and walking at that time was pretty painful. We were running low on groceries and I had a family to feed. Shopping was imperative and I had to go.  The only parking spots were about thirty-five cars out from the door. I had a nudging that I should pray. I ignored it at first thinking that’s silly to bother God with this. It seems strange now when I am not suffering the malady that I would have considered this small.  Over-working the joints at that time had the potential put me in bed for a day or two afterwards, yet still I considered it small and not worthy of bothering God with prayer.

I repeatedly circled and nothing was available.  As I thought of walking that far, as well as around the rather large store; I became concerned about being able to accomplish the task at hand. I felt that nudge again, so I prayed driving down the lane. I proceeded up the next lane. As I rounded one more time, back-up lights switched on and the very first spot became available and it wasn’t a handicapped spot. That day proved to me once and for all that God is concerned about even the things we consider small in our lives.

Through Paul, God tells us “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”   Philippians 4:6-7 NJKV 

     Where do we place our confidence? In ourself? Our family or friends? Our financial standing? Our position or lack of position? When struggles, trials or troubles reach our way, where do we tend to turn first? Wisdom tells us to seek God first; pray. How often do we run to Him first? In light of these questions, the next one that comes to mind is: If God is not the first place we run as believers; is it possible that the place we choose to run may actually be an idol in our life? I have heard it said anything that we exalt over God in our life or anything that keeps us from placing Him first in our life is an idol. If that is true, is seeking to solve our problems ourself outside of prayer and His wisdom for the situation idolatry? Hmmm, Selah. (pause and reflect)

How about when someone does something and the gut reaction is to call a trusted friend rather than hit my knees? Or just react with a knee-jerk reaction? Oh, I guarantee that I have been in each of these places more than once. Yet as I study wisdom as defined by scripture, I am challenged to run not walk into a quiet place and seek God first. I am not saying it is easy or convenient but I will say that when I manage to follow through and do it things turn out a great deal better.

It is far from easy to hold your tongue in a volatile situation and say let me get back to you so that you can take time to seek His face about a situation. Nor is it easy to have the mind to not panic when you get some really bad news. I vividly remember one sunny afternoon answering my phone. It was my daughter, who had only been driving for a short time. She had an accident on a winding, hilly road fifteen minutes away from our home. She had run off the road and hit a tree. A young lady a couple of years older came along and saw the wreckage. She stopped and let my daughter sit in her car until I arrived.

That call sucked the breath right out of me and all I could do was pray! I had to get to my baby girl and fast! I didn’t know if I could drive I was shaking so badly. God got me there quickly and safely. Thankfully, other than some bruises and scrapes, she was fine. Those who saw the car damage were amazed she walked away with little injury.  The car had actually jumped a big culvert rather than careening into it. A tree finally stopped the car.  The scar in that tree remains even to this day! God’s protection and provision was very evident. He got me to the scene safely and even before the officer arrived to question my very shy daughter. It is easy to run straight to God when you are in crisis mode but will we choose to seek His wisdom more routinely? Will we seek to make it more and more a part of every day life?

Just a few wisdom scriptures to ponder today:

“Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” 

Psalm 90:12

“The proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel: That people may know wisdom and discipline, may understand intelligent sayings; May receive instruction in wise conduct, in what is right, just and fair” Proverbs 1:1-3

Proverbs 2

“Happy is a man who finds wisdom and who acquires understanding, for she is more profitable than silver, and her revenue is better than gold.” Proverbs 3:13-14

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!

How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways!

 For who has known the mind of the Lord?

Or who has been His counselor?” Romans 11:33-34

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?” Ephesians 1:7-9

May wisdom and understanding be ours!

 

Beautiful

     As I look out the picture window in front of my desk, with a winter vista of leafless trees, a foggy mist just beyond the trees reaching from the ground almost to the tree tops all I can think of is Your beauty Lord! I understand that to many this will seem odd and may I just say myself, it is a bit of an oxymoron to say the least. Yet, it is true! In just a few weeks, before we know it and before my very eyes, the same trees that appear all but dead will break forth in tiny buds and within a couple more weeks will begin to fill with beautiful foliage. As spring begins to break forth, all this deadness will begin to be made new, trees and flowers will start with tiny spots of new life budding and before we barely blink, suddenly new life will be surround us as winter turns to spring… That is how You planned it! What a glorious plan! Just when all seems to be dying, grey, cold and bleak Your cycle begins all over again. Hope springs forth, faith rises, and You make all things new!!

     I can’t help but wonder how many of us question the way You choose to operate in our earthly dimension; why You choose to do things the way You do, Lord. Recently a little one asked, “why did God make the devil if He knew that he would do bad things?” Out of the mouth of babes. Oh the innocence of that sweet little guy! Yet even as adults we ask similar questions, and many times we are shaking our fist in frustration or anger rather than asking in child-like innocence. All I could think of  when I heard the sweet and innocent question this little one posed was Your Words in Isaiah 55: 

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.”This is the Lord’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return there without saturating the earth and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.” HCSB  

      Then my thoughts jumped backwards quite a number of years to a song that at the time was a favorite…”How Would I Know” This song asks a lot of questions and I will use it’s thought process to ask this one…if we never see the bleakness of winter, how can we ever truly enjoy the beauty of spring, the warmth of summer and the beautiful colors of fall. Or perhaps this one, if we experience only good things, will we then take it for granted and no longer see the goodness in those things?  I have to believe in God’s sovereignty and His goodness. I am compelled to believe that Isaiah 55 is true and His thoughts and ways are higher and more complex, though I understand that many do not share this belief. I can even understand how to some my faith may seem silly or even as some call it a ‘crutch’. I can tell you with great confidence that it is not, however unless you have walked my path; share in my trials and suffering; experienced my joys and triumphs; and witnessed His hand at work in each of the seasons of my life, you may never truly understand! I can share my stories as vividly and sincerely as I possibly can, still some would not be persuaded. The Christian life is a faith walk that we each must choose or deny for ourself. Jesus provided for our salvation and made it available to anyone, it is a gift of God’s grace to reconcile us to Him but He gives us the choice to accept it by faith or walk away in doubt and denial. My job is not to convince you. That is the work of the Holy Spirit! My job is to be able to “But in your hearts set Christ apart as holy [and acknowledge Him] as Lord. Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully.” 1 Peter 3:15 Amp. Bible

     I can share the messes He has seen me through or gotten me out of and every answered prayer. I can tell you He has healed me of an aortic aneurysm and provide copies of the diagnosis report, a second report in which it had decreased a bit, and the latest report in which the aorta measured well within normal limits. Still, you may or may not be persuaded. The best  way to experience the faith walk and Christian life is to experience it personally, it is how God intended it to be. Personal, relational, experiential, you can not experience it for me, nor can I experience it for you. Yet when we share our experience with each other, we share encouragement and hope…”As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Proverbs 27:17 (NLT) Hopefully, we learn to love God better, follow Him closer, love those He places in our lives better even  when we do not understand their ways or His. He is beautiful and His ways are beautiful!

“Eternal One:My intentions are not always yours, and I do not go about things as you do. My thoughts and My ways are above and beyond you, just as heaven is far from your reach here on earth. For as rain and snow can’t go back once they’ve fallen, but soak into the ground And nourish the plants that grow, providing seed to the farmer and bread for the hungry, so it is when I declare something. My word will go out and not return to Me empty,But it will do what I wanted; it will accomplish what I determined. For you will go out in joy, be led home in peace. And as you go the land itself will break out in cheers; The mountains and the hills will erupt in song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands. Prickly thorns and nasty briers will give way to luxurious shade trees, sweet and good. And they’ll remind you of the Eternal One and how God can be trusted absolutely and forever.”  Isaiah 55:8-13 Voice

Days of Grace-Day 30

       One of the greatest blessings in my life has been learning to look for grace in unexpected places. It may also be one of the hardest lessons that I have learned.  There are typically two types of learners when it comes to these things; the ones who learn by watching or hearing of the experiences of others and those who have to actually go through something in order to learn from it and move on.  I don’t know about you, but I have been seated in both of those seats and I would much rather learn from others if I have that option. 

     I would like us to take a look at a specific passage today that has meant a lot to me over the last ten years. Although grace is only mentioned once in the passage’s greeting, it is all about the grace and favor available to us through our relationship with Christ.  For me personally, this passage came very alive at a time in my life when I felt that the floor had been snatched right from under me and that life as I knew it would never be the same.  Hope was greatly in question and it was emotional pain like I had never known.  I had absolutely no idea how I would navigate the future because I could not even imagine getting past this one moment; how could I find my footing and try to stand, much less try to take a step forward into the future. Everything had changed in a moment and ‘normal’ and ‘comfortable’ looked like it was gone forever. I know how dramatic that sounds, but you can ask my husband, I am not a dramatic person by nature.

     We all experiences difficult times at some point in our life and it is often accompanied by pain. Pain is very relative. What I mean is if the greatest physical pain we have ever experienced is a severely inflamed hang nail, then for us that is the greatest pain. Likewise, for the one who has experienced the pain of giant kidney stones or multiple broken bones from an accident, the first persons pain is quite small. To be fair to all, we have to realize that pain is relative to what we have experienced. That first person will never understand the greater pain until they either experience it or see someone they love experience it.

Before I continue, Let me share the scripture passage:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 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 will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:1-5

     So, here I am on the possibly the hardest night on my life, free-falling and not in a good way. (no parachute) What does one do when the worst thing they could imagine happens?  How does one deal with it? I can only share with you what got me through that night and the weeks, months and couple of years that followed in hopes it might bring help and comfort if you ever find yourself in this situation. I found myself in a place that no individual could help me or bring comfort. I grabbed my Bible and kneeled on the living room floor with it open on the couch in front of me, laid my head on it and cried. I cried hard and loud as I cried out to the only One who could begin to understand and could change what was happening. I begged to know what I did that could have triggered or caused the events, how they could have been prevented…no answers. I was there for hours praying, waiting, listening until the wee hours. No answer came but in time a peacefulness began to seep into my heart little by little. In a while I was able to ask God to lead me to some scriptures to help me; He did. My peace increased; circumstances were the same. After hours, my heart calmed. Nothing had changed except I knew beyond a doubt that God was with me, He had the answers; He would take care of me even if nothing changed, I would be alright in time.  I also got up from that place with an assurance that everything would be ok. It might be different, but it would be restored at some point.  It was resolved in my heart that no matter what, I could trust my God.

     My challenge to you is this; when you find yourself in one of those tough spots in life that tend to come around unexpectedly, turn to Him. The above passage promises abundant comfort. It also promises that when we have endured and found His comfort we are then equipped to be able to use that which we learned in our struggle to comfort others who may be going through a similar struggle. This is just one of the ways our trials and difficulties can be redeemed and we can learn to say like Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” Job 13:15a

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord
for the display of His splendor.They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated  Isaiah 61:1-4

My friends, grace and peace to you in the Name of the Lord Jesus!!

 

Days of Grace-Day 22

     We have traced grace all the way through the Old Testament and through the life of Jesus. This new movement of His followers has spread outside of Jerusalem and throughout many cities. The body of Christ is spreading, growing like wild-fire and planting new fellowships in many areas. They are being blessed in great ways  but life is not without many trials also. Many people, both Jew and Gentile alike, are hearing the good news and are seeing the wonders and miracles. People are being healed, delivered and set free from the things that bind them; hold them back. Still there is division and strife from some of those who choose not to believe.  Acts 14 tells us “After they had reached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch staying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed They passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles And they spent  long time with the disciples. Acts 14:21-28

     Sometimes when one comes to believe and follow Jesus, the impression is given, though it is not true, that it will make life smooth sailing and we will never have any major problems or struggles.  Then when the trials of life do come along and buffet us on every side we get discouraged, desperate or worse. We wonder where God is or what we are doing wrong that these things have come upon us.  Sometimes we blame God. As in the above passage, God tells us here and in other places in the Word, “Through many tribulations (troubles, trials) we must enter the kingdom of God”.  He also proves it to be true by showing us in the lives of the people in history.  Jesus never promised us an easy life but He did promise us a full or abundant life in John 10:10. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly. (NET)

     James tells us to consider it joy, all joy, or great joy when we face various trials… lets look. My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything. But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.” James 1:2-5  Why? was my first thought when I first saw this scripture many years ago. Am I supposed to be joyful, happy that something terrible happened? How can you be joyful when a loved one dies or tragedy happens? So I reread it many times and did as it said. I prayed for wisdom. I was finally able to understand the true meaning of the message. I believe what James is actually saying here is: in the midst of trials, He will see us through and in the process we will grow in faith, in endurance and in wisdom. When we don’t understand what we are going through we need to ask for wisdom, understanding and grace to move through the situation.

     In my experience with walking with God, there have been many  scary times, hard times, struggles and losses of very dear loved ones.  One of the earliest and most frightening times I can remember was when I was about five years old. All I knew of God at the time was the normal children’s Bible stories parents read to their children. A situation arose and I was scared to death. I literally feared that might be my last night.  I feared what the future would be if it wasn’t and this continued. In the back seat of a car in the dark, I cried out to God. I prayed hard! He answered that little girl’s prayer and the chaos began to subside. It was not completely resolved for several years but the circumstance was drastically changed within the next hour or two. That answered prayer was favor; it was grace. He met me where I was and granted me grace to hold on not just initially but time after time until the issue was completely resolved several years later.  That was the night I gave my heart to Him. In every trial and trouble throughout my life, this has been the case. Did all of them turn out the way I like? Absolutely not. Did I always understand the whys? No. Did I feel at time He wasn’t there? Yes. Did He ever leave me or forsake me? NO!  Today, I can say with boldness:

  • God is good and has goodwill toward us.
  • His thoughts and ways are higher than ours, He sees the big picture.     Isaiah 55:8-10
  • God knows what we are suffering is hard.                                               Hebrews 4:14-16
  • He sees every last tear and He knows our pain.                  (NKJV)        Psalm 56: 7-8
  • God knows the outcome, even though we don’t.                                      Psalm 139: 1-18
  • He will provide for all our needs.                                                             Philippians 4:19
  • God will see us through.                                                                          1 Peter 5:6-10
  • He will redeem our troubles.                                                                    Romans 8:28
  • God likes to bring restoration, restoring what was lost.

     Many would challenge my thoughts here. What if things would have turned out differently? There were times they did, times my prayers seemed unanswered or were answered very differently than I would have liked. God was always there even when it did not feel like it.  God has proved Himself faithful to me and proved each of the above things in my life over and over again. His love, grace and mercy has been the sustaining force  in my life and He can do the same in any life.  Our job is to  turn to Him rather that blame Him when the struggles, trials, and troubles come desiring to overtake us.  It is to believe He is who He says. Hold on to the promises in His word.  Trust in His grace to get us through both difficult days and good days.   He is able!

Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLqTZ07ja7g

 

 

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!