Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Weary and Burdened

Matthew 11:28-30

The holidays are a wonderful time to spend with family and friends, but for many different reasons, they can also be exhausting. For me, I can be exhausted because of the business that leads up to Christmas with school and church concerts and programs. I know for some, family can bring on added stress and anxiety. Whatever the reason may be, our focus gets lost on why we celebrate Christmas and we bear our stress and business burdens with us wherever we are during the season.

The irony of all the burdens we bear at Christmas is that we are celebrating the very person who came to take away our burdens. Please look at Matthew 11:28, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Jesus has a much better way than what we have, yet we cling needlessly to our burdens as if we know what is best. Reading on in this passage, we see that Jesus tells us to take His yoke on us and let Him lead us. A yoke is what they put on two oxen to do the work that was desired from them. Jesus tells us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. We do not need to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders because that is God's job, our job is to follow Christ's leading and allow Him to take our burdens.

Are you trusting that Christ can carry your burdens and following His lead?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Watch What We Say

Proverbs 17:27

Yesterday, while in the company of relatives, I made reference to a joke between my husband and I. While my husband knew exactly what I was referencing and smiled; other people at the table didn't understand the reference to the private joke meant for my husband. I realized after I said it that it could have been taken for an insult towards my husband because of the fact that they didn't know the inside story. It was a reminder of how I need to remember that what I say and what I mean can sound very different to a listener that has a different background than me.

When our team was preparing for Zambia, we were prepped very carefully by our team leader to be sensitive to the culture and understand that we were going to things they may not understand and become offended. Their experience wasn't going to understand some of our American references and even though we don't mean to cause an offence, the difference in our cultures would sometimes do just that. We were reminded to think about what we were going to say in reference to their culture before we said anything. On the flip side, we were also prepped to not become offended by some of our cultural differences as well.

This makes me think of the verse, Proverbs 17:27 which says, "The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered." We need to exercise restraint with our tongues and think about how our words will be received and understood by the listener. We also need to have understanding that our backgrounds are different from the person speaking and not take offense easily because they may not be trying to offend.

Are you exercising restraint with your tongue and being sensitive about what you say? Are you showing understanding by accepting that a person is speaking from their own history and not meaning to offend?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Time For Rebuilding

Haggai 1:1-15

I don't like to be uncomfortable, in fact, I'll even admit to going out of my way to avoid discomfort. I have found that God wants to pull me out of comfort and bring me to a place of obedience and discomfort. Discomfort not for the sake of seeing me squirm, but a healthy discomfort to see me grow. I know for a fact that the times that I have experienced discomfort are the times that God stretched me and grew me in unexpected ways. I have seen where God has given me a choice between growth and comfort. Sometimes it can be easy to overlook what God wants us to do and look at what makes us comfortable instead. Please look up Haggai 1:1-15.

God didn't mince words when He said, "Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?" I know that God was directly talking to the Israelites at that time; however, it still makes me think of the fact that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. It makes me wonder where my heart needs some rebuilding or fixing up. The house I should be most concerned about is my heart; comfort shouldn't be my number one goal. Please look at what God says in verses 5-6. I don't want my comfort to make me do meaningless things. I can look at my life and see how I have filled the time with meaningless things for the sake of comfort when that could have been time spent building my relationship with God.

Where is God challenging you to be uncomfortable? Where does God want to see some rebuilding in your life?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone! I pray that you experience a fresh new taste of Christ this Christmas.

Luke 2:1-20

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gift of Peace

Just today, I read a story about Christmas Eve 1914 during World War I where a brief and unofficial truce happened between the German and British soldiers on Flanders Field in Belgium. It began when the Germans began singing Silent Night and the British answered with a British carol. Each side continued singing to each other and eventually exchanged small gifts. The truce held through Christmas while the British were able to have a Christmas service. This was such a beautiful and unexpected gift of peace in the middle of what was one of the deadliest wars in world history. And even though the peace was not a political peace, it was a peace that the soldiers were able to enjoy each other and celebrate Christ's birth. The reality of Christ's birth brought an unexpected peace and joy for the soldiers.

When Christ came to Earth, the Jews were living during a politically stressful time under the Roman Empire. They were sure that the coming Messiah would return political peace and free them from the Roman rule. That was not the kind of peace that Christ would bring. Romans 5:1 tells us, "Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us." This peace is a much greater prize than what any government could ever offer; a peace with God! When things are not going well, it is difficult to remember that we have a gift from Christ that surpasses anything. I guess when we look at our problems here in comparison to the hope that God gives us through Christ, we can experience joy as well.

As you celebrate Christmas this year, remember the true gift of peace that we have with God.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Dry Bones

Ezekiel 37:1-14

This morning before jumping onto my blog to write this post I read an article where there is speculation of whether or not some of Amelia Earhart's bone fragments were found. The bones need to be tested to see if it is human DNA and then compare the DNA to a female relative of Amelia Earhart to see if they belong to her. These bone fragments could belong to Amelia Earhart or they could belong to a nearby turtle shell that was found, either way they were dry, old bones that were scattered on a beach and no longer served a purpose. It is hopeless to think that those one inch bone fragments could ever do anything purposeful in this world again.

We have things in our lives that those bone fragments represent: things that are useless or a part of our past that seems hopeless. We have past mistakes or hurts that just don't seem to represent a purpose any longer, yet God has a different view on those "dry bones." Please look at Ezekiel 37:1-14. I want to look particularly at verse 5 for a moment, "This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life." If you have "dry bones" setting up and taking space in your life, know that God can make them useful and bring them to life. Can you imagine what that could mean in your life? That hopelessness that you are looking at is not hopeless when God puts His breath into it!

What is God's breath? There are many references to the Holy Spirit being the breath of God; and we know that the Holy Spirit is the gift that Christ gave to all believers when He physically left Earth. But I want to look at 2 Timothy 3:16 for a moment and see another way to look at the breath of God. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness..." Scripture is also known as the Word of God, which is breathed out to us from God. Think about it this way; when you speak you have to release your breath. When God spoke His Word, He put His breath into it! Now, please look at John 1:1-4 and savor every word. Now look further down the page and read John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." Jesus was God's breath put into living flesh and bones!

Please read Ezekiel 37:3, "He asked me, 'Son of man, can these bones live?' I said, 'Sovereign LORD, you alone know.'" Only God knows what He can and will do with those dry bones but know this: God can use them! God brought a solution to those dry bones in your life and it is His breath, His Word; Jesus Christ is the one that can bring life to those dry bones! Praise God that He can breath new life into any situation!

As you celebrate Christmas this year, think of the hope that God gave us in Christ. We can have new life because Christ sacrificed for us.

This Christmas, will you allow God to breathe new life into your "dry bones?"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Joyful Faith

Luke 1:39-56

As I was in church this weekend, our pastor preached on the faith of Mary. In the children's programming, they talked about how Mary's faith brought her joy. I would have to agree that when a decision is made to believe in the hope we have in Christ, there seems to be a release of joy. To know that we cannot bear the burden of our sins, but Christ can brings so much joy to our hearts.

Please read what Elizabeth said when Mary came to visit her in Luke 1:45: "Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” We know that Mary believed God because that is what Elizabeth prophesied. Mary's response in verses 46-56 show the joy that had overtaken her because she believed God. Mary had a tough road ahead of her and she knew it because culturally she appeared to not follow God's laws. She was pregnant without a husband! Even in the midst of a scandal, she found joy in God's promises. She found joy in His eternal salvation.

Are you finding joy this season? Do you remember what Christmas is truly about?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Nothing Is Impossible With God

Luke 1:26-38

As I have grown in faith and in my walk with God, I have often found myself amazed at how God works with the impossible. I have had friends in hopeless situations and have seen myself in situations that seemed overwhelming, and then watched God move His hand in such an unexpected way. Gabriel's visit to Mary is one of those moments in history where God does the impossible to show His incredible and unending love for us. Please read Luke 1:26-38.

Nothing is impossible with God! Please let the truth of those words pour over you. Who ever heard of a virgin becoming pregnant? Who ever heard of being fully God and fully man? Yet God worked the impossible to fulfill His plan of salvation and restoration with us! Maybe you are finding yourself in what seems to be an impossible situation. God wants to do a mighty work to reveal His power and glory to you and everyone around you. He may not answer in the way you expect; who ever expected the Messiah to be born to a poor family and have such a humble beginning by being born in a stable? That baby, Jesus, changed the world forever and He changed me. When God moves in your situation you will be changed.

Have you let the truth that nothing is impossible with God wash over you and your situation? We may not be able to handle our situation, but God can! 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Praise God that His power shines in our weakness! Nothing is impossible with God!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Prayers For Those In Ministry

3 John 1:2

Today, I found myself hearing news of a friend who works at a church dealing with a difficult situation. Ministry is never easy and the pastor or leader can find themselves in trying situations where they have no choice but to turn to God for guidance. As I found myself praying for her today, I was reminded of the verse I read earlier about John's prayer for a dear friend in ministry. Please read 3 John 1.

I want to focus specifically on verse 2 where John wrote, "Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well." Such a simple prayer, but a prayer that I feel covers a lot of territory. Ministry can take a toll on a person and during busy times the minister may find themselves falling ill or becoming frustrated. Praying that they would have good health and that all goes well is a wonderful prayer of blessing.

Have you prayed for your pastor or other godly mentor lately?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Stay the Course

Joshua 3

When I was in 4th grade and just learning to play the flute, I had only learned a few notes. Then the note E flat became part of my repertoire. I remember going home that afternoon and trying to play it to no avail. No matter how hard I tried, that E flat would not come out. I flung my flute on my bed and stormed out of my bedroom and announced to my dad that I was going to quit flute. Since I had only been playing for a week or two, my dad calmly asked why I was going to quit. I explained how that E flat refused to work for me and I couldn't possibly play if I couldn't play an E flat! My dad walked with me back to my room and asked me to show him how to play E flat and he played it on his first try. He laughed and handed it back to me and said, "I've never played flute before and I can play it. You've been playing for two weeks so you know more than me. You can do this." I tried again with less frustration and found myself playing E flat. That is the only time I ever felt like quitting the flute and I am so glad I didn't! Years later, I became accepted to a university for the flute and majored in music therapy.

Please read Joshua 3. The Israelites had a few choices to make when they reached the Jordan River after spending 40 years in the wilderness. They could look at the seemingly impossible and undesirable situation they were facing and run away, or they could trust God's direction and stay the course. They chose to stay the course and cross over to the promised land. The first opportunity they had to enter the promise land, they decided it was impossible and the result was 40 years in the wilderness. Maybe 40 years made them desperate enough to risk the Jordan at flood stage. Either way, trusting God's direction allowed them to finally enter the promised land!

This makes me think of what the author of Hebrews was telling us in Hebrews 12:1-2: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. " Looking at the impossibilities can entangle us and sap our perseverance; looking at Christ encourages us.

Are you looking at the impossible, or are you looking at Christ?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Joyful Surrender

Luke 1:57-80

The story of Zechariah is amazing to think about. He was an older priest who had his once in a lifetime opportunity to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. During this moment, an angel visited him and told him that he would have a son and he was to name him John. Zechariah questioned the angel and as a result, the angel made him mute. We are not told what type of emotions Zechariah had during Elizabeth's pregnancy, but we are given a picture of his complete surrender at his son's circumcision. Please read the joyful prophecy that Zechariah spoke in Luke 1:67-79.

What a beautiful prophecy of hope, love, and joy! Can you imagine the scene that took place as Zechariah spoke for the first time in nine months? Zechariah completely surrendered to God's plan and spoke of the amazing hope that was to come. When we come to a place of surrender, we experience a hope and joy that is difficult to explain. God truly gives us a joy when we surrender to Him. I know of many people who became second career pastors and when they shared their stories with me, a common thread was experiencing peace and joy when they finally surrendered to God's plan. I am by no means implying that they never experienced difficulties from that point on, but before they surrendered, they were miserable knowing that God wanted something so much more for them but they were not following His call.

What does God want you to surrender to Him?

Friday, December 3, 2010

White As Snow

Psalm 51

Living in Western New York means lake effect snow in the winter. Personally, I am not a fan of winter or snow; but I do enjoy the scenery that snow creates. I want to share with you the scenery that I woke up to see this morning. This is my backyard and the snow that came last night was on top of a snowfall that happened the day before. My children had spent a total of 5 hours out in the snow yesterday, but because of a fresh snow falling throughout the night it is all new again.

There are several references in the Bible to the image that snow creates, but I want to focus on Psalm 51:7. "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow." Whiter that snow! If you have ever lived in an area that receives snow, you know that when the sun shines on the snow it can be blinding. It is a great reminder that the work God wants to do in our hearts can be blinding and noticeable to everyone around us. Psalm 51:10 says, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." God can create a pure heart and renew our spirit. I looked at the thought of renewing our mind the other day, but we see that God can renew our spirit so we can honor Him.

Please look at Psalm 51:13, "Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you." God's work in our hearts is not just about our own redemption; God does this in our lives for His glory. We are to shine whiter than snow so we can reveal our Father to others.

Allow God to create a pure heart in you!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Transformed Christmas

Romans 12:2

The last post I wrote was about needing to live a transformed life by allowing the Holy Spirit to renew our minds. The God-moment for me was that I wrote that early Sunday morning and when I went to church later in the morning, the pastor spoke on that verse! He related it to Christmas and how can we change the way we do Christmas that would show that we are living transformed lives rather than conforming to the world’s view of Christmas.

He gave some very interesting statistics about Christmas; a few of which are still spinning in my head: each year, Americans spend $450 billion on Christmas and the results of a survey show that 60% of what is spent on Black Friday is bought for them. He then told us that research shows that it would take $10 billion to give every person in the world access to clean water. After being in Zambia, the reality of those statistics hit me hard; there are a lot of people who are sick or dying as a result of unclean water. The thought that a small percentage of what we spend on Christmas as Americans would change people’s lives in other countries is amazing to me. This is not our annual spending; this is our Christmas spending.

That makes me think of what a transformed life would do at Christmas. Even just a few less presents each year and donating the money saved to an organization could change our world. Isn’t that what Christ wants us to do? He called us to live differently so we could radically change our world. Three organizations that my church partners with has a holiday "gift catalog," where you can see how you can give a gift to someone around the world. These are organizations that have shown integrity with how they use the money that is donated:

How will you have a transformed Christmas?