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!

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…

Frozen With Fear Or Standing Firm In Faith

Like clockwork about three a.m. this morning, completely cooperating with the predictions of weather forecasters  over the last four days, the pinging of sleet announced it’s arrival. Most of Georgia is officially in a winter weather warning or watch for either an ice storm or heavy snow. For many this is a normal occurrence during the winter months, but not so for Georgians. I can count on less than two hands the times we have experienced any more than the occasional dusting of snow to possibly an inch or two. Of the few times we have had more generous amounts or actually experience the rare ice storm, 1973 stands out as the worst in my mind. I was barely eleven at the time and it made an impression on me in so very many ways. Many lessons were set before me that are still very precious today.

I will first share a little background about the storm. It began in early January and in a short time there was ice accumulations of up to four inches in some parts of northern Georgia. We lived just outside of Atlanta and not far from Hartsfield Airport. It was not long before the weight of the ice began to cause widespread power outages. There were as many as 300,000 people without power. Our family was without power for a full week, despite living only 20 minutes from downtown Atlanta, some further out in rural areas were without for longer. When I think about that storm, I can still hear those snap, crackle and pops of the ice dangling from those lines and trees. For a child, the glistening ice was beautiful-it looked like a winter wonderland on a postcard. It was also a bit scary, because in the quiet of the night with no street lights, no flood lights or porch lights it seemed that the crackling and popping ice sounded much more ominous as branches and limbs overweighted with ice began to break. As I said above, this storm made a great impression on me in a number of ways, and I am still very grateful for ’til this day for lessons learned!

Lesson one, we were blessed. Lesson two, be prepared. Our family lived in a small suburban home at a time when all-electric homes were becoming more and more popular. Our home was a little older, maybe about thirteen or fourteen years old and we thankfully had a gas stove before pilotless ignition.  We also had gas floor furnaces which required absolutely no electricity to run. We had a separate freezer and enough food in it to keep it cold until we could freeze jugs of water to add in to keep it cold and it was cold enough to freeze it outside! We also had lots of quilts, a couple of heaters, camping stoves and several oil lamps and lanterns for camping. We were equipped and were blessed with extra that we could share with a couple of families who had all-electric homes, one of which had recently returned home with their new-born. We were also blessed to have water longer because the floor furnaces kept our pipes warm, many were left with pipes burst and later water lines froze for many between the meters and the houses because of extreme cold.

Lesson three, Philippians 6-7.  ” Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life!”. Remember those scary sounds in the night?? They got scarier! The crackling ice, breaking icicles, snapping branches, gave away to a huge snapping sound followed by an enormous thud, not once but twice during the middle of the night. Oh how I prayed that night, not one but two very good size pine trees uprooted completely and came down. Fortunately, neither hit our home or the home of our friends next door and damage was limited to the fence, the bumper of their car and the shell cover on the back of their truck. I was blessed to have learned at an early age to pray and pray I had done all through that night as the sound of falling trees continued throughout the night and throughout the week until the thaw finally came. Thankfully, most were in the woods across the street and caused no property damage. By the way, this possibly made the biggest impression to me as a child.  To this day when I hear of a storm coming, I begin to immediately pray! It doesn’t matter if it is ice, thunder, lightening, flooding, tornado or hurricane. Prayer changes things and fear is a waste of time. Be anxious about nothing, pray about everything! The peace of God which passes understanding will come if we stand in faith. Speak to fear telling it to go!! Pray, believe, if necessary pray for help with our unbelief, and STAND!

There were probably many other lessons learned that week such as how to have fun without electricity or t.v., get along with and help others, and it is probably where I began to love reading books and the Word. Reminiscing over it today, I can’t help but to think of how much our world has changed since then we have made some great progress since 1973 but we have also tended to become more busy and less connected. Many of us don’t know our neighbors like we did in previous years but only know them on the surface to say hi, if we even know them at all. We had a park over a block away and there were mommas on that road that knew me and the kids next door and if she saw us at the park she would ask, “do your parents know you are here?” Now we are hard pressed to let kids walk two doors down without us right by their side because we live in a much different world.

Imagine if everyone who has faith even as small as a mustard seed resolved to:

Pray for protection and provision for ALL those in the path all of the storms in life, especially the elderly and children and the many people who are working and on call to keep us safe…police, firemen, military, national guard, coast guard, public safety workers, EMT’s, doctors, nurses, transportation workers, and for their families. What if we did it daily, not just when storms are predicted or overwhelm us in their wake? What if we choose to take a few minutes a day to stand in the gap out of compassion and gratitude and believe without doubt that not only is god willing but God is able! Storms and trials may still come but how much better equipped to weather them would we be? How much easier to face them just knowing we are uplifting each other before, during and following the threats that come?

Ecclesiastes 4:9 Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. 10 For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. 11 Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? 12 And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Ephesians 3:20-21 (AMP) Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]—To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen (so be it).

Tried, Tested…and True?

Just thinking this afternoon about how as humans we are always looking to the next thing. Babies learn progressively from the first smile, turning over, sitting up, crawling, pulling up and finally taking steps. We adults do the same with the exception of we often do not take the time just to enjoy where we are at the moment. A few examples: when we are young we can not wait to be grown up; can’t wait to finish school, move out; get married; then, we tend to covet the freedom our single friends enjoy when we are married or the companionship our married friend enjoy when we are single. Many desire children and when they are here, we long for them to sleep through the night, out grow teething, be able to talk so they can tell us what is wrong when they feel bad, walk, start school…

Our techie world continues to teach us to not be satisfied with our phone, computer, tablet, car, TV:  the minute we purchase one it is on it’s way to being obsolete. Chances are that within 2 days to 6 months there will be a faster, better, fancier or sleeker one and many of us will be dreaming of the new best thing!  The world around us makes it hard to be content and just enjoy the moment in which we are living. This becomes even more apparent when we are in a time of trial or difficulty. Many times I find myself looking everywhere for an escape hatch when one of those times come around. Why? because I don’t like conflict, discomfort. I like choices to be easy, people to be loving and kind. The truth is life is not always easy, comfortable and neat and if it were, we would never grow or mature. Take the teething baby for example, in order for the baby to grow teeth, there is pain as the teeth push forward and break the skin. Without that pain the little baby would continue to grow but be relegated to a life of soft mushy food. Many also have used the example of a child. Children are wondrous and a blessing from God, however as they develop there is often morning sickness, stretching and discomfort at times for the mother and they are birthed through travail and pain.