Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Lifeline

Unusual, frightening circumstances. I had answered the phone, anticipating a light-hearted chat with our daughter, Riley. Instead, she informed me that she was on her way to the emergency room with symptoms that mimicked appendicitis. What to do? It would take close to six hours to drive to the hospital, and the Weather Channel continued to warn of severe thunderstorms and potential tornadoes moving into our area.

Powerless to DO anything, prayer became a lifeline. God's Word offered me truth, "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus," (Philippians 4:6-7; KJV). I placed my anxious thoughts at the feet of my Heavenly Father and prayed for wisdom for the doctors, and God's touch of healing and grace for our daughter. His peace followed.

Technology can be a blessing. Text messaging allowed us to stay informed about the doctor's findings. Riley was released from the hospital a few hours later. Her diagnosis a bit unclear, my husband and I headed off to bed continuing to pray for our girl's health and protection from the storms that were moving in our direction. Aside from the weather alarm going off a couple times, the night passed in relative calm. By morning, Riley's condition hadn't worsened, and the threat of devastating storms was gone.

Once again I was reminded that I'm not in control. Circumstances often occur in such a way as to draw me to my knees, dependent on the Lord to move in a way only He can. He invites me to cast all the things that concern me on Him, because he cares for me (1 Peter 5:7). I need to trust Him with each need.

The disciples were diligent to pray. Herod had put Peter in prison with the intention of killing him. The situation seemed hopeless, yet, "...prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him, " (Acts 12:5b). At night, as Peter slept between two guards, the angel of the Lord woke him up, and lead him out of the heavily guarded prison. When he realized what had taken place, Peter went to the house of Mary the mother of John, where the disciples were praying.

Remember what happened? "And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter's voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel. But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished," (Acts. 12:13-16).

When the disciples knew they couldn't do anything to affect Peter's release, they prayed to the Almighty God who could do far more than they could think or imagine. Their response to God's answered prayer is almost comical. They were so deep in prayer for Peter, that when God's answer came, they nearly missed it! They almost left Peter waiting on the doorstep!

When I feel helpless, and circumstances appear hopeless, prayer connects me to the One who restores help and hope. His words remind me to remain in His presence, "Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you," (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18).

What situation is beyond your control today? Take advantage of Christ's invitation to seek Him, and pray!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the invitation to come boldly to Your throne of grace, to obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). Forgive me when I think of prayer as a last resort. Help me to be a prayer warrior. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Helping Hands

He did it again. Provided just the words of encouragement I needed to pick up and move ahead. My husband's good at that. He helps me see things from a different perspective. He provides the sounding board I so desperately need when I'm considering my options. He talks me through discouragement, pointing out the endless possibilities. He cheers me on when I feel like quitting. And guides me to the One who filled me with a purpose in the first place - my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I was never promised life without difficulties. Even when I'm convinced that I'm pursuing the purposes God has called me to, challenges pop up along the path. Yet with each challenge, God provides me with someone to come alongside and help put things in perspective. Precious believers, living out the words of the Apostle Paul, "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ," (Galatians 6:2; KJV).

I'm reminded of the mighty man of God, Moses. He had no small task leading the children of Israel out of Egypt to the promised land. Imagine being responsible for the well-being of millions of people! Along their journey, the Amalekites had come out to fight with Israel in Rephidim. Moses' directions to his military leader, Joshua, were clear, "Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand," (Exodus 17:9).

The next day dawned with Joshua leading the army out to battle and Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbing to the top of the hill - a great vantage point from which to view the fight. Moses quickly noticed an amazing phenomenon, when he held up his hands, Israel overcame the enemy, but when he put his hands down, the Amalekites began beating the Israelites. A bit uncanny, but true!

Moses soon realized he wouldn't be able to hold his arms up throughout the battle without help. Aaron and Hur to the rescue! They found a stone for Moses to sit on, and with Aaron on one side and Hur on the other, they held up Moses hands for him. What were the results? "...and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword," (Exodus 17:12b-13). Wow! Look at what was accomplished when these friends came alongside Moses and offered their help! A great victory!

King Solomon outlined several blessings of godly companionship. "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will life up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken," (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
When I'm rooted in Christ and I come alongside a fellow believer, there's no limit to what God can accomplish!

Is there someone the Lord is directing you to help and support? Arm yourself with the Word of God and prayer and be prepared to see God work!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for believers You've put in my life who provide encouragement and support. Help me to be quick to come alongside others who are in need of help. Allow me to point them to You and be careful to praise You for the outcome. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Perfect Storm

The sky is studded with grey clouds. The weather alarm is warning of probable thunderstorms. I can almost hear the rumble in the distance. There is an incredible stillness - reminiscent of the calm before a storm. I'm reminded of some unusual occurrences in nature many years ago. A couple thousand years ago, in fact. On the other side of the world, a group of people experienced the perfect storm.

It wasn't an ordinary day. Rumor had it that today was the day Jesus was to be crucified. Curiosity drew many people to Golgotha where He would be put to death along with two other men charged as thieves. Everyone had an opinion. Some believed Jesus to be a prophet, others considered Him just a good man, the religious leaders thought Him to be a fraud, while His followers believed Him to be the promised Messiah. Regardless of anyone's opinion, it wouldn't matter after today. He would be dead.

Standing several yards from the crosses, there was much to take in. The sign above Jesus' head read, "This is Jesus The King of the Jews," (Matthew 27:37; KJV). To the left, a group of Roman soldiers sat throwing dice, trying to determine who would get Jesus' clothes. Christ's followers stood wailing and comforting each other, while the chief priests, scribes and elders strolled in front of the cross mocking and deriding Him. "He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God," (Matthew 27:43).

A voice could be heard above the din. A voice that commanded attention. Jesus' voice speaking unthinkable words, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do," (Luke 23:34). I can imagine the looks of incredulity that passed among the crowds that day. The gasps of amazement at these words of pardon spoken by One who had done nothing worthy of death.
As the minutes ticked by, clouds began to gather. People glanced up at the sky, wondering at the darkness that seemed almost palpable. This wasn't normal. Something was wrong. As the darkness descended, and remained, Jesus cried out in agony, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). What was going on?

Unbelievably, His voice rang out again with the proclamation, "It is finished," (John 19:30), followed by a simple prayer, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," (Luke 23:46). As the onlookers tried to make sense of His words, it was apparent that Jesus had died. But wait, what was happening? The ground was shaking so violently those in the crowd could barely stand. Rocks that moments before had been part of the landscape, now came careening down the hillside. Graves that had long since been sealed were opened, and believers walked out and appeared to many (Matthew 27:51-53).

Never before had anything remotely close to this occurred. A Roman centurion and group of soldiers standing by Jesus cross, witnessing the earthquake and everything that happened, came to a conclusion, "Truly this was the Son of God," (Matthew 27:54). The very God who created all things, used His creation in the perfect storm to point to Himself as the perfect Savior!

Who do you think Jesus is? Allow His creation, and even the storms, to point you to the Savior. And confidently proclaim with Peter, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," (Matthew 16:16)!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins and rising again the third day! You are worthy of all of my praise. Creation does indeed testify to a great Creator. Help me to be aware of Your presence daily. I love You, Lord. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Who Knows Best?

He stares at me. Tail wagging, tongue hanging out of his mouth. It's almost as if he believes he can cause me to do his bidding if he uses the charm factor. Our Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Joe, IS adorable. And he's hard to resist when he cocks his head just so, and puts on a big 'smile.' Yet sometimes he forgets we're his owners and not the other way around.

Just a couple days ago, he tried pouring on the charm. I went out to spend a few minutes with both dogs. Our Golden Retriever, Precious, just wanted to cuddle. Joe, on the other hand, was ready to play. I grabbed a tennis ball and headed out to indulge him with a game of fetch. But Joe wanted to make up the rules. Instead of retrieving the ball, Joe caught it and stood looking at me expectantly. The more I coaxed him to bring me the ball, the more determined he was to get me to come get the ball from him. He wasn't interested in playing our usual game of fetch.

Much to Joe's chagrin, I stood up and headed back in the direction of his doghouse. Realizing his opportunity to play was disappearing rapidly, he streaked by me and stood in the middle of the path, tennis ball on the ground in front of him. Stooping down to scratch his head, I gave his ball a final toss. He brought it back in seconds flat. Next time I went out to play, he resembled a boomerang. We both enjoyed an invigorating game of fetch.

Joe's antics are surprisingly familiar. If I'm honest, I have to admit that sometimes I do the same thing - with God. Knowing that I'm His beloved child, sometimes I forget that He's also my Creator, and I expect Him to do my bidding. Although what He expects of me is clearly laid out in His Word, I minimize who He is, and get caught up in a 'buddy' mentality. Since He's my friend, surely He'll do ______(fill in the blank) for me! Or, since He wants what's best for me, He definitely won't allow ________(fill in the blank) to happen! I temporarily forget that God's plan for me is not to make me happy - it's to conform me to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

The prophet Isaiah gently reminds me, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts," (Isaiah 55:8-9; KJV). As the holy Creator and sustainer of everything, including me, my responsibility is to acknowledge God for who He is, and follow the instruction manual He's so graciously given me.

How could I possibly think I know what's best? Time and time again, when I've tried to bargain with God and do things my way, the results have been disastrous. Acknowledging His authority and submitting to His will for me bring wonderful blessings. The Psalmist, David, writes, "Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy ways unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass," (Psalm 37:4-5). God's desire IS to bless me. My problem is that far too often I think of God's blessings in terms of material things rather than spiritual things.

God's plan for me is to, "...grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, " (2 Peter 3:18a). My prayer today, echoes that of the Apostle Paul for the believers at Colosse, "...that ye (I) might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye (I) might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father..." (Colossians 1:9-12a; words in italics mine).

What about you? Do you try to charm God into doing things your way? Realize His plan is so much better than anything you could come up with - and let Him be in charge!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me when I minimize You and think I know what's best for me. Help me to remember that my life consists of so much more than things. You are what's most important. I desire to grow in my knowledge of You. Thank You for Your Word. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tired of Just Going through the Motions?

I'm determined.

After a weekend of fast food, and treating myself to beautifully decorated cupcakes at my nephew's wedding, this week's grocery list included healthy choices. Fish, vegetables, and fruit ranked high on the list. Snacks, desserts, and junk food didn't make it into the cart. Okay, let me be honest. I've been battling the same irritating couple of pounds since Thanksgiving! It's time to do something about it.

As a kid, I never battled my weight. In fact, as I entered my teen years, I actually ate foods to help me gain weight. Good problem to have, right? Now as a forty-something adult, I'm having to re-evaluate my eating patterns and keep a closer eye on portion sizes. Clothes that have fit for the past few seasons have mysteriously shrunk while hanging in my closet. And my weight seems to be shifting to areas I never had problems with before. Welcome to a slowing metabolism.

The good news is that I'm aware of the problem. That's half the battle. Now I have the opportunity to do something about it. Educating myself, setting some rules in place, and following through on my plan will all help me achieve my fitness goals.

The same is true in my spiritual life. Sin has a way of tripping me up and causing me to drift. The gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit makes me aware of my struggle. His Word points out the importance of staying close to Him, "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing," (John 15:5; KJV).

I get fed up with just going through the motions of living the Christian life. Something's got to give. I'm resolved to draw close to the Savior. When I'm aware of what causes me to drift, I can look up specific verses that deal with that issue and begin memorizing them. Timothy puts it this way, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth," (2 Timothy 2:15).

Armed with God's Word, I'm ready to put some boundaries in place. How does it work? When I struggle with over-eating, I need to remember the words of the Apostle Paul, "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's," (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). And act on them. Am I really hungry? Or am I eating because I'm watching Food Network? If I AM hungry, am I eating something that is nutrient rich or just empty calories? I can avoid over-eating by determining my motive for eating and then steering clear of eating additional food after dinner.

Memorizing God's Word and putting boundaries in place, both allow me to follow through with my commitment. An accountability partner is the icing on the cake - or should I say the sugar-free topping on the fruit?! My accountability partner knows where I struggle and is able to hold my feet to the fire when necessary, as well as cheer me on when I'm succeeding.

Is there an area where you struggle? Remember, admitting it is half the battle! Arm yourself with God's Word, set some rules in place, seek an accountability partner, and follow through with your plan. You'll find yourself abiding in Him and reaping much fruit! Well worth the effort!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, please show me the things in my life that are displeasing to You. Help me agree with You that those areas are sin, and to take the steps necessary to break free from sin's grip. Give me the ability to memorize your Word, set boundaries, and follow through with my commitment to live a life that's pleasing to You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Promise Keeper

Childhood memories. Along with the pleasant recollections, I do remember getting in trouble on occasion. One time I got caught doing something I wasn't supposed to. Boy was I sorry. I reassured my parents I wouldn't do it again, and promised them, "I'll be good!" I think I repeated that phrase over and over in hopes that I could lighten my punishment. I received a well-deserved spanking in spite of my promises.

My guess is that I stayed out of trouble for awhile - the stinging repercussions of my behavior serving as inspiration to do what I was told. But more than likely, given the passage of time and the right temptation, I'm sure I broke my heartfelt promise to be 'good.'

Fact is, all of us humans struggle to keep our promises. Oh, we have good intentions, but when circumstances change, we justify breaking our word. Remember Pharaoh in the book of Exodus? He and his people experienced horrific plagues that caused severe damage. Over and over he pleaded with Moses to call on God to remove each plague. He assured Moses that he'd let the Israelites go to sacrifice to their God, if the plague was eliminated.

Pharaoh was desperate, yet his response was the same every time each plague was removed, "But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them (Moses and Aaron); as the Lord had said," (Exodus 8:15; KJV; words in italics mine). He promised to let the Israelites go if the plagues disappeared, but when there was relief, he went back on his word every time. The last plague, death of every firstborn, finally convinced Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go. But not for long...

As the Israelites fled from the land of Egypt, Pharaoh and his army realized what they had done - let their entire workforce leave. You guessed it! Pharaoh goes back on his word one last time, "...Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us? And he made ready his chariot, and took his people with him," (Exodus 14:5b-6).

But God wasn't caught by surprise. God instructed Moses to encourage the Israelites, "Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you today: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace," (Exodus 14: 13-14). The Israelites walked through the Red Sea on dry ground. When the Egyptians began to pursue them, the water the Lord had parted, crashed down on the army leaving no survivors.

The God who kept His promises way back in the days of Moses, still keeps His promises today. He promises to forgive my sins (1 John 1:9), to be with me (Hebrews 13:5), to meet all of my needs (Philippians 4:19), to finish the work He's begun in me (Philippians 1:6). "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever," (Hebrews 13:8). Know that what He promises, He'll deliver. You have His word on it!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for reminding me of Your faithfulness. You always keep Your promises. Forgive me when I break my word. Help me to take refuge and find encouragement in the promises You lay out in Your Word. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Taming the Worry Monster

Worry. A short, five-letter word that can cause colossal problems when put into practice. Health concerns, financial pressures, relationship issues, and a whole host of other situations, can cause the worrywart to surface in me. I have to admit, when a situation is out of my control, I have a tendency to leave the door wide open for Worry to waltz in and command center stage.

Worry lives up to his definition, causing me to become anxious, distressed, and troubled. Instead of providing solutions, Worry invites irrational thoughts to surface and pretty soon my heart rate is elevated, my stomach is in knots, and I'm forced to count sheep in an effort to get some sleep. Can anyone relate?

Fortunately, the Worry monster CAN be tamed. God's Word sheds abundant light on the subject of worry. The words 'fear not,' appear 62 times in the Bible! God's trying to tell me something! What's He saying? Don't worry! He shares the futility of worrying with a lesson from nature:

"Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek): for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," (Matthew 6:27-33; KJV).

Point? He cares about my every need. Simply put, worry accomplishes nothing. More seriously, worry is a sin. The Lord wants me to trust Him with my life and all it includes. The big things, and yes, even the small things. He instructs me to trust in Him with my entire heart and refuse to lean on my own understanding. To acknowledge Him in all my ways, knowing that He WILL direct my paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).

As I put this principle into practice, will my life be problem-free? Absolutely not! But I have my gracious Heavenly Father's promise, "Be careful (anxious) for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God," (Philippians 4:6; italics mine). Like a child, confident that her father will take care of the problem, I can approach my Savior knowing that He will deal with my difficulty in His perfect will.

The result? Look at the promise: "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus," (Philippians 4:7). Perfect peace in the midst of my storm. A peace that calms my anxious heart and assures me of my Heavenly Father's care. Now that's what I need! How about you?

Do you have a tendency to worry? Are you willing to trust God with your concerns? What will you do today to tame the Worry monster?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me for worrying about things I have no control over. Open my eyes to see that worry doesn't accomplish anything constructive, and in fact, can be very destructive. Help me to trust in You completely and to bring my concerns to You, so I can experience Your peace. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Time for a Little Cleaning

Springtime. Flowering trees give way to leaves. Grass that lay dormant for a season becomes lush and green. New life offers excitement and hope. Just the motivation necessary to tackle spring cleaning. You know, the kind that requires you to set aside some time, roll up your sleeves, and get down to business.

Decks and porches need to be pressure washed. Windows need cleaning inside and out. The garage needs to be de-cluttered. And yes, even the basement could stand to be organized. As I tackle these chores one by one, cleanliness replaces dirt, tidiness takes the place of chaos, and neatness overcomes disarray. It doesn't happen automatically. It takes purpose, a plan and follow-through.

The same is true in my spiritual life. It's easy to get lazy and allow the cobwebs to form over a period of time. A thorough cleaning of my thoughts, motives, and desires is just the ticket. Time to do a little analyzing.

Have I been dwelling on the truth, or believing lies? Where I've believed lies, it's time to break out the heavy-duty cleanser of God's Word and do business. "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ," (2 Corinthians 10:5; KJV) Once clean, I can replace lies with truth. The Apostle Paul provides a great list of things to focus on, things that are: true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).

Armed with rubber gloves and scrub brush, it's time to tackle my motives. Why do I do what I do? Am I self-focused or others-focused? Wrong motives can be done away with by applying the truth: I'm to love my fellow man as I love myself (Luke 10:27). I'm also to hold him/her in high esteem (Phil. 2:3). Just taking the time to do some spring cleaning in these areas helps me renew a proper focus.

One more area for consideration - my desires. What do I long for? Fame, wealth, power? No better cleanser to cut through the grime than Bible truths, "I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised:" (Psalm 18-1-3a). My desire is clear once again - to love the Lord and bring Him honor and glory with my life.

Do you have some spiritual spring cleaning to do? Roll up your sleeves and arm yourself with the Word of God - the best cleanser known to man!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for reminding me of the importance of maintaining a 'clean' spiritual life. Help me to evaluate my thoughts, motives and desires in light of the truth of Your Word. Show me where I've been deceived and help me to replace lies with the truth. Thank You for Your presence and Your life-giving Word. In Jesus' name, Amen.