Monday, August 30, 2010

Grace Living

The scenario is often similar. I begin the day with checklist in hand. My list usually spells out enough tasks for two or three days, but I'm confident I can complete them in a single 24-hour period. From routine weekly chores to the projects that require immediate attention, there's plenty to keep me busy. At the end of the day, I glance at my checklist and evaluate how I did. Checkmarks validate my success. An uncompleted task pushes my toward failure.

Then I see it. Subconsciously, I've slipped into a familiar pattern. Once again I'm measuring myself based on performance. It's all too easy to shift into a mindset that requires a certain amount of work to be done in order to be validated. That's human nature at its best. If I DO x, y, and z, surely I'll be accepted and counted worthy. But there's a better way.

It's spelled, G-R-A-C-E. The dictionary defines grace as divine love and protection bestowed freely upon mankind. Sound familiar? The Apostle Paul writes of God's gift of grace freely extended to all mankind, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9; KJV). Before I was saved, I could do nothing to earn my salvation. After all, "...God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). So why should I think that after salvation, I have to maintain favor with God through performance? Once again, grace comes to the rescue.

Living by grace takes the burden off of me to perform. As I humble myself in the presence of a holy God, I realize I can't live the Christian life in my own strength. But as I submit myself to His will, I can accomplish anything I face through His strength. The Psalms attest to the strength found in the Lord. "It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect" (Psalms 18:32). "Unto thee, O my strength, will I sing: for God is my defence, and the God of my mercy" (Psalms 59:17). And again in Psalms 71, the author acknowledges the strength of God, "I will go in the strength of the Lord God: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only" (Psalms 71:16).

Grace living. Shifting the focus from a need to perform, to a desire to submit. Taking the emphasis off of self and placing it on the One who is worthy of all praise, the Lord Jesus Christ. It's the age-old struggle between pride and humility. Do I find my sense of self-worth in my own accomplishments? Or do I base my self-worth on who I am in Christ? Only grace living frees me to be all that God created me to be. Only then can I accomplish what He has called me to do!

What about you? Do you find yourself performing or living by grace? Choose to humble yourself today and go in the strength of the Lord your God! "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up" (James 4:10).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for reminding me of Your love. I cannot do anything that will make You love me more, nor can I do anything that will make You love me less. Help me to submit to Your will that I might be able to live by grace through Your strength. Amen.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Perfect Prescription

I noticed that she didn't have the usual sparkle in her eye, or the spring in her step. In fact, her demeanor was puny at best. For a puppy who usually runs down the hill to greet me, tail wagging all the way, Precious' current lack of enthusiasm clued me in: I knew a trip to the vet was necessary.

Following her appointment, I walked to the car, three different medications in hand. An ear infection warranted two of the prescriptions, while a skin irritation required the third. There wasn't a general pill that could be given to take care of both problems, but rather specific medications for each need. Otomax to be messaged into her ears to clear up the ear infection, as well as an oral antibiotic to rid the infection from her system. Hydroxyzine could be given up to three times a day to help with the itching caused by an allergic reaction.

Within 24-hours, Precious had visibly improved. Her eyes were clearer and she once again bounded down the hill to greet me. There was no doubt in my mind that the medications were working.

I was reminded that just like the vet knew the specific medications my dog needed, the Great Physician knows exactly what 'medicine' I need for each trial I face. When I'm discouraged that the article I labored over wasn't accepted, He gives me the prescription for encouragement, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance" (Psalm 42:6; KJV).

When the phone calls I make are met with insensitivity, I can meditate on His sensitivity as shared in Psalm 42:8, "Yet the Lord will command his loving-kindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life." When those negative thoughts begin to bombard my mind, I can take His 'pill' for positive thinking, "Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Philippians 4:8).

His prescription for worry is outlined in the book of 1 Peter, "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you" (1 Peter 5:7). When I'm having an especially difficult time forgiving that friend or relative, He gently reminds me, "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15).

Just like I needed to take my dog to the vet to get the medicine that would make her well, I need to go to the Great Physician and receive the 'medicine' from His Word that will heal my soul. My Heavenly Father knows when I'm in need of a prescription. He's well-acquainted with every 'sickness,' and He knows the exact 'medicine' I need for my soul.

If you're under the weather today, won't you schedule an appointment with the Great Physician and let His Word apply healing balm to your soul? There's never a wait, and His prescriptions never fail!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Amazing Love

He spoke the world into existence. Plants and animals appeared at His command. He created man in His own image. Man chose to disobey his Creator. But God made a way for fellowship to be restored. A sinless sacrifice was required. Only Jesus Christ could pay the price. He, "...made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:7-8; KJV). Amazing love!

Over and over, throughout the Bible, God demonstrates His power and love. Only an all-powerful God could deliver the Israelites from the Egyptian ruler, Pharaoh. The children of Israel had been slaves to the Egyptians for four hundred, long years. Using His servant Moses, God freed the people and brought them to the banks of the Red Sea. All seemed hopeless, until the mighty hand of God, "...caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left" (Exodus 14:21b-22). God cared for His people.

Remember the walls of Jericho? Only a mighty God could cause the walls of a fortified city to fall down flat, using only trumpets and the shouts of people. An amazing feat? Not so much, when you consider an amazing God who is, "long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9b). Before Jericho's walls came tumbling down, one of the cities' residents and her family was rescued: Rahab, her dad, mom, and brethren. Rahab had chosen to believe in the God of the Israelites to the saving of her family. She was convinced of God's love and experienced His provision.

I'm sure the orphan, Esther, never dreamt of being in a beauty pageant, let alone being chosen as the queen of Persia. When she realized the role for which she had been chosen by God, she saw His mighty hand at work. In spite of King Ahasuerus' edict that called for the execution of all the Jews on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, Adar, Esther approached him, risking her life to beg for the life of her people. It wasn't that easy, though. You see, what was put into law by the King, could not be revoked under any circumstance. But the King of Kings triumphed. King Ahasuerus issued a decree that the Jews would be able to defend themselves on Adar 13th. God's plan prevailed and as a result, "many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them" (Esther 8:17).

What are you facing today? Remember that the God of the universe is all-powerful. Whatever you think He's capable of, He's capable of more! His love for you is vast and beyond measure. "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). Praise Him today, for His amazing love!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You that You are the all-powerful God who loves me. No matter the challenges I face, help me to turn to Your Word that I may re-discover Your greatness. Praise You Lord for who You are!

Monday, August 16, 2010

God and a Campsite

Numbers. Not the kind used in arithmetic. But the book of the Bible that gives the account of the numbering of the children of Israel. As I opened my Bible, I can't say I was especially excited to dive into this portion of scripture. The genealogies of the twelve tribes of Israel are given in great detail, complete with names that are sure to challenge any tongue on the planet. I took a sip of coffee, and no doubt, began slaughtering the names on the pages before me.

But hold on, it gets interesting. The Lord didn't stop at merely numbering the fighting men of Israel. He broke them down into groups, and gave each group a specific territory to occupy around his tabernacle. If you enjoy camping, this section was written just for you. Imagine you and your family along with 599,000 of your closest friends and their families all camping together! My, the evening sky must have been ablaze with all of those campfires! I wonder if they roasted any s'mores? It's been estimated that the campsite alone was well beyond twelve square miles. Can you picture it?

Once the Israelites were camped around His tabernacle, the Lord laid out the responsibilities of the Levites, those who were to minister in His house. At first glance, it may be difficult to identify with a huge group of foreigners setting up camp somewhere in a desert far, far away. To understand the importance each family played as they performed their role. But as the chapters of scripture came alive in my mind, I saw a God of order. A God who had a specific place for each tribe to dwell. A God who placed the tribes around a central focus, the tabernacle, so they'd be inspired to look to Him and make Him the center of their lives. A God of order, who was preparing them for the next task that lay ahead: conquering the promised land.

I can relate to order. I admit I'm a far cry from the most fastidious housekeeper, but I love it when my house is clean and orderly. There's just something about the saying, "A place for everything, and everything in its place." When the dishes are put away, and the clutter is picked up, it's easier to focus. I can begin concentrating on the next task the Lord has for me. When I'm in the place that God has called me to, and I'm focusing on Him, the book of Proverbs states, "Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established" (Proverbs 16:3; KJV).

Looking back on my life, I see the orderly steps God has planned for me. I can identify the love for reading and writing. The opportunities I've had to write articles for different publications. The not-so-coincidental meeting with a friend who encouraged me to start a blog. The writing classes to hone my skills. All part of my orderly God's plan, to take me one step closer to conquering the 'promised land' He has for me.

Do you see God as a God of order in your life? Have you made Him your central focus? Do you realize He's preparing you for an important task? Trust Him to order your steps to bring Him maximum glory!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Overcoming Fear with Faith

Several hundred feet above the desert floor, the aerial tram crawls up the face of Mt. San Jacinto. A true engineering marvel, the tramway has been dubbed the eighth wonder of the world.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not fond of heights. In fact, to be totally honest, I’m afraid of heights. As we prepared to board the tram car, it was comforting to know that “more than 12 million people have been safely transported by the Tramway into the majestic mountains overlooking the Coachella Valley since the attraction opened in September 1963.” (

Although the rotating tram car was a bit unnerving, I found that if I focused on a spot above the horizon, I could actually appreciate the eleven minute ride up to the top of the mountain. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t as nerve-wracking as I’d originally anticipated.

Once we arrived at the top of the mountain, the discomfort I had experienced as we traveled the 8500-feet was well worth it! The views were breath-taking. The temperatures a full forty degrees cooler than those we had left behind. It was as if we had been transported to a different part of the country. Where there had been sparse vegetation on the desert floor, different varieties of pines and flowering plants covered the ground as far as the eye could see. A true oasis.

Oftentimes the Savior desires for me to face my fears, the things I dread, in order for me to arrive at the ‘oasis’ He has for me. Much like the safety information printed about the tram cars helped to quell my initial fear, the Bible spells out countless reasons why I can put absolute faith in my God.

I think about the many heroes of the Old Testament, ordinary men and women who overcame fear with faith and did extraordinary things for God. Remember Joshua, the leader who had brought the children of Israel successfully into the promised land? After an unsuccessful attempt to overtake the city of Ai, the Lord appeared to him with the words, “Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land:” (Joshua 8:1; KJV). I imagine Joshua was more than a little afraid! Yet he trusted God, faced his fear, and was rewarded with a spectacular victory over the people of Ai.

Do you recall Gideon, the Israelite who hid by the winepress to thresh wheat, in order to keep it from the Midianites? The angel of the Lord appeared to him with the words, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour” (Judges 6:12) You might wonder what the Lord saw in a man who was hiding in fear from the enemy. The answer is one simple word, faith. Gideon believed the Lord when He said to him, “Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16). Because he chose to overcome his fear and trust God, we see the mighty way God was able to use him, “Thus was Midian subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted up their heads no more, And the country was in quietness forty years in the days of Gideon” (Judges 8:28).

What about Ruth, the Moabitess? After her husband died, she made the choice to return with her mother-in-law, Naomi, to the city of Bethlehem. This might seem like an insignificant decision, until you realize that the Moabites were hated by the Israelites. Don’t you suppose Ruth feared the possibility of rejection from Naomi’s people? Yet she saw something different in the God of Naomi and put her life into His hands. Because of her obedience, she ended up marrying a godly man named Boaz, and having a child who became the grand-father of King David!

Is fear holding you back? Take a fresh look at the many times God’s word challenges you to ‘fear not.’ He is a God who can be fully trusted! Talk to Him about your fear, lay it at His feet, and then choose faith in Him to transport you to the oasis He has for you!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I stand amazed at Your goodness. I praise You for the opportunity to overcome my fears through faith in You. Help me to remember that You will never leave me nor forsake me. I’m placing my trust in You. Use me today for Your honor and glory. Amen.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Gray Skies

The sky was gray. The mist was especially heavy, leaving little hope for a sunny day, much less, warm temperatures. As we ate a leisurely breakfast, my daughter and I discussed our plans for the day. Our hotel was situated across the street from a large mall. Considering the weather, a bit of walking and window shopping might not be a bad option.

No sooner had we crossed the street, when the first rays of sunshine pierced through the mist. I scanned the sky, noticing that several patches of blue were now visible. The waiter had been right when he told us that the heavy mist should burn off by noon. With glimpses of sunshine and blue sky getting more prevalent by the minute, it seemed his prediction would be quite accurate. We were able to enjoy the beauty of a sunny day after all.

Life can be a lot like the weather. When the gray skies come, I sometimes change my plans, not realizing that God sees the bigger picture. The very storm I dread, may be useful in purging pride from my life, or helping me to identify an unhealthy attitude. The book of Hebrews shares some encouragement, “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:11; KJV). Following correction, I’m promised a harvest of good fruit!

Persevering is key, trusting in my Father’s plans for me. Not losing hope. Faith and hope work hand in hand. Faith in a loving God who desires to conform me to the image of His Son. Hope causing me to believe that with God, all things are possible. If Satan can’t get me to question my faith in God, he can try to capsize my hope. Ever been there? A situation that just doesn’t seem to change, no matter how much you pray? A conflict with a friend that seems beyond resolution?

Hope is essential. God is a God of hope. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:13). As I submit to my Heavenly Father, trusting His ultimate plan for me, I am able to abound in hope, knowing He’ll bring it to pass. Joy and peace are glorious by-products of this way of living!

Are there gray skies in your forecast? Don’t lose hope! Remember that your Heavenly Father is in control, and when the clouds part letting the sun shine through, you’ll be able to say with the apostle James, “…count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:2-4).

Prayer: Gracious Heavenly Father, thank you that Your view isn’t limited by cloudy skies. You know the plans You have for me. Help me not to be discouraged by the gray skies that come into my life. Strengthen my faith and hope in You, that I might be used for Your honor and glory. Amen.