Thursday, June 30, 2011

What Does God Expect From Me? Part 1

2 Peter 1:1-11

I love my husband dearly.  He knows me like no one else knows me and I know him better than anyone else.  We each have a desire to continue to learn more about each other and to continue to grow closer together.  In a relationship like this; however, there is more responsibility than just adoration.  We are responsible to show each other respect and to think about what makes each other happy.  Some of the things that make my husband happy are things that I'm not crazy about doing, but I do them because I love him.  On occasion, my husband will go to the store and rent a "chick-flick" because he knows that he may not enjoy it completely but I will enjoy it and on the flip side I will watch a action/adventure movie with him.  When we are in a relationship with someone, whether it is in the form of marriage or friendship, there are responsibilities to keep the relationship fresh and full of respect.  Our relationship with God is just like that as well.  Please read 2 Peter 1:1-11.

The first thing Peter points out is that we have been given our faith through the righteousness of Jesus and that we are to grow in our knowledge of God.  As we grow in that knowledge, we will receive more grace and peace.  Yesterday, I looked at the promises of God, and I think this is a wonderful blessing that is poured out on us as we receive God's instruction.  I also think that receiving more peace as our knowledge of Christ and God increases is a natural process.  The more we understand who God is, the more trust we place in Him and we are able to let go of the control we want to have.  The more we relinquish control to God, the more peace we will experience.

Verse three tells us that God has given us all the tools we need in order to live the life that He has called us to live.  This is important to remember because God is not expecting a standard from us that is impossible - in Christ godly living is always possible.  Philippians 4:13 tells us that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength; that includes living a lifestyle that reflects that we are children of God.  We may look at the expectations that God placed before us and feel overwhelmed; however, it is not our abilities and strength we rely on.  We rely on God.  We relinquish the control of how we react to circumstances and how we handle temptation; we need to rely on the Holy Spirit who is living in us to guide us in all we say and do.  James 1:14 tells us that temptations come from our own desires and Jesus reminds on many occasions that we are to pray so that we do not yield to temptation.  1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds us of another promise that God has given us; please look it up.  God will always show us a way out of our temptation if we turn to Him for guidance.  We are told in 2 Peter that God's promises are what help us to share in His divine nature and escape the human desires.  We really can live the life God has called us to live.

Because these verses are packed with so much information, I would like to continue looking at what God expects from us in tomorrow's post.  God desires to be close to us and He wants us to strengthen our faith.  We grow as we live a godly life; be encouraged that it is not impossible.  It is just like anything we practice, the more we do it, the more it becomes a part of who we are.

Do you rely on God's strength to live out your faith?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


2 Corinthians 1:19-22

Growing up, I was close to someone who liked to make a lot of promises.  Some were little promises and some were very big promises and all the promises were made with the best intentions.  The problem was that this person didn't follow through on their promises very often.  That left me deflated and disappointed and I didn't take people seriously when they would make me a promise.  I figured that if I didn't expect the promise to come true, then I wouldn't be disappointed.  Everyone has dealt with the disappointment of a broken promise; however, God does not break His promises.  Please turn to 2 Corinthians 1:19-22.

This passage of scripture tells us that all that God promises to us are given to us through Christ.  All of God's promises are a "yes" through Christ and we give our praises to God for His glory.  The following scriptures give us some of the promises we can look forward to in Christ:

  • John 3:16  "For God so love the world, that He gave His one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."  We have a promise that we will have eternal life when we believe in Christ's sacrifice for us and His resurrection over death.  This is an amazing promise of grace and forgiveness!
  • John 16:5-15  This passage of scripture promises the Holy Spirit to all believers.  We are told in these verses that the Holy Spirit will guide us in all truth and will tells us everything He has received from Christ.  We are not alone in this world, Christ promised the Holy Spirit!
  • John 16:22-24  We are told that we can approach the throne of God by using the name of Jesus.  We can ask and receive and have abundant joy.  Do you realize what it means to ask God directly?  There are people who are so powerful on earth that we will never be able to approach, but we can approach the God who is over all things!
  • Isaiah 40:31  "But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.  They will soar high on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not faint."  We are promised strength when we trust in God.  When we are relying on Him and not ourselves, we find that we are using His strength and not our own.
  • Revelation 21:3-5  This passage of scripture reminds me that I am not home yet.  There is so much pain in this world and we are promised that God will wipe every tear from our eyes.  Every tear.  There will be no sorrow or crying or pain; they will be gone forever!  We will be living in a world the way this world should have been.  Every bit of pain we feel can remind us of the wonderful hope of where we will be some day.  We are also reminded again that everything God says is trustworthy and true.
Are you encouraged yet?  These are just a small handful of the promises in the Bible, but these pack so much hope!  And remember - God says yes to these promises through Christ.  We can shout the Amen and give God all the glory because we looked at the fact that God is righteous and we know that God is always true and trustworthy.  God's promises are amazing and overwhelming and show us His great love for us.  We will not be disappointed from God's promises.

Do you look with great hope and anticipation in the promises God gave us?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

God's Nature

2 Peter 1:1-11

Do you have a close friend that knows you like no one else?  Perhaps it is your spouse or a childhood friend that has known you for years.  My husband knows me better than anyone else - he has seen the good and the bad and still continues to stick around with me.  He knows what brings me joy, and he also knows what gives me pain.  Without a doubt, the reason why he knows me so well is because of the amount of time we spend together.  The same holds true with God; the more time we spend with Him and in His Word the better we will understand who He is and what He expects from us.  We will better understand what brings Him joy and what brings Him pain.  Yesterday, I asked you to look at 2 Peter 1:1-11 and think about what the passage says about God and what it says we should do.  Today, I want to look at what it says about God.  Please read 2 Peter 1:1-11.

The first thing I notice the Bible says about God is that He is righteous.  The Greek word that is used for righteousness is dikaiosynÄ“ which means the condition that God finds acceptable.  It also means that something is the way it should be.  Without going into a huge theological dig into the word righteousness, I look at the idea of God's righteousness to mean that He is who He says He is.  He is true to Himself and is acceptable to Himself.  It makes me realize how that is so opposite of my human nature.  I like to please people and that caused me to behave in a way that was not my nature when I was in school.  God is always true to who He is and He does not change His nature to please people.  He does what is acceptable to Himself.  

The next thing I notice about God is that He has "divine power."  The Greek word for power is dynamis and according to the lexicon on it means "inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth."  The word divine tells us that this power comes from His deity and His power is part of His nature.  This is the same power that created the world and the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.  This is power that is greater than anything and it is a part of who He is.

We are also told that He calls us to Him by His glory and excellence.  I once heard a pastor say that the word, glory, represents the essence of who God is.  His glory and excellence is what draws us to Him.  The Greek word, doxa is used for the word glory.  It means spendour and brightness (like a star).  It also means an opinion of someone and it is always used as a good opinion in the New Testament resulting in praise.  God's nature results in praise of Him.  I also noticed in this scripture about God is that He has given us great and precious promises.  Because we know that God is righteous, we can trust Him at His word; God will do what He promises.  Tomorrow, I would like to spend some time exploring some of what He has promised to us.  The last thing that sticks out to me about God is that He will give us a rich welcome into His eternal kingdom if we continue to follow His direction.  What that means to me is that He looks forward to welcoming His children home.

What a rich passage of scripture!  We are given such a beautiful view into God's nature in these eleven verses, and I have only scratched the surface of what we are told in this passage.  What I have read about God in these verses is that He is righteous and He calls men to Him by His very nature.  God has given us wonderful promises and we can trust that He will follow through.  God wants to welcome us into the eternal kingdom.  What a wonderful homecoming that will be!

Have you learned something new about God?

Monday, June 27, 2011

New Study!

2 Peter 1:1-11

Having grown up in the church, I have heard many arguments about how to read the Bible.  There are arguments that show that a person should be reading the Bible as a whole and seeing the "big picture" of who God is according to the Bible.  There are those who would argue that the Bible is a collection of narratives and history that can be individually dissected to give us a an application of truth and how we should be living.  Personally, I believe the Bible should be looked at both ways.  Looking at the Bible as a whole shows us who God is and how He has been drawing us back to Him through the ages.  Looking at parts of the Bible and reading through the history also gives us points of application to our daily lives.  If we do not learn both ways from the Bible, I fear the reader/believer is missing a part of the story.

Since I have studied music, I would liken it to music theory.  When a musician is learning a piece of music, they need to look at it and interpret it in several ways.  First the musician must decipher the notes and rests - the technical aspect of the piece.  If they are unable to do this, they will not play the music accurately.  The musician must also consider the composer and the genre of the music so they will understand how the music was intended to be played (ie, aggressive, with embellishments, etc...).  The musician must also consider the tempo, dynamics (loud or soft), and many other musical ideas.  The musician must also consider the idea of the entire piece as a whole in order to convey the idea to the listener.  Once all the pieces are put together, the piece will be played musically as a whole yet technically accurate.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I would like to focus on 2 Peter, which looks at both the story of God and man, and the application of living as Christ called us to live.  With that in mind, please look up 2 Peter 1:1-11.  I am not writing much of my thoughts on this section of scripture today because I want you to consider a few questions:

  • What does this section of scripture say about God?
  • What does this section of scripture tell you about how you should live?
Please pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal to you the truth of what God is saying in this scripture.  Tomorrow, I will begin to share my thoughts on 2 Peter.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Simple Saturday - God's Protection

2 Thessalonians 3:3

"The Lord is faithful; He will strengthen and guard you from the evil one," 2 Thessalonians 3:3 (NLT).

In the eighty's, Amy Grant had a song called "Angels" where she sang about the fact God rescues us from dangers that haven't even come to our knowledge.  Today I am reminded of a time when I was in high school and I was the only child left at home.  Our screen door on the side of the house was broken, so my mom had a routine every night to purposely pull it closed so it would blow in the wind.  Late one night after my mom and I had been in bed for a few hours, my brother called.  He had felt an urgency to pray for us and called to see if we were okay.  When he called, my mom flicked on the light next to her bed.  We were fine and my mom told him so.  The next day, we discovered that the screen door next to my mom's bedroom window was open and blowing in the wind.  Maybe my mom didn't close it as tight as she thought, but we also heard from neighbors that there was a man wandering the neighborhood that night trying to get in houses. We think that when my brother called and my mom turned on her light he was at the door and the light scared him away.  We believe that God protected us that night.

The Bible tells us that there is a lot of evil in the world and I'm sure that we have all experienced it.  I do believe; however, that we are often protected from evil that we are unaware is present.  For nine weeks, I have focused on the armor of God and looked at what that means for us to be prepared for spiritual battle.  For just a brief moment, I am reminding myself that while we are to put on armor for battle there are also battles that we never fight.  God protects us!  He may use your prayers to protect someone on the other side of the world, I have heard so many amazing stories from missionaries how God protected them and they later discovered that someone was praying for them that very moment.

Let us continue to lift each other up and pray, but even more importantly - let's trust God!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Pray the Armor of God

I enjoy reading fantasy fiction and watching fantasy movies.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Lord of the Rings and how the movies were able to capture so much of what was written in the books.  My favorite scene in the Fellowship of the Rings is in the Mines of Moria and Gandolf is fighting a large, evil creature trying to destroy them.  As they cross a stone bridge, Gandolf stays behind and plants his sword into the bridge and yells at the creature that he will not pass the bridge.  At that moment the bridge crumbles and the creature falls.  There is so much more to that scene; however, I enjoy the power that is conveyed in the scene and the battle between good and evil.  Even though we cannot see the enemy we are battling, it is very real and we have the power and strength of God to fight.  Please look up Ephesians 6:10-18.

I do not think the fact that Paul added the emphasis of prayer after writing about the armor of God in Ephesians.  I believe that prayer is a key piece to how we fight our battles - we pray over ourselves and other believers using the armor of God.  I have begun the practice of praying through the armor of God over the last couple of months, and I would encourage you to do the same.  It serves not only as a reminder to me as I start my day of the fact that I have God's protection and strength but it also seems to prepare me for whatever I am facing.  As I am praying, I spend a little time praying that God will help me wear this armor successfully and pray through each piece:

Belt of Truth:  I ask God that I am able to discern what I am exposed to throughout the day whether it is God's truth or if it is untruth.  I ask that I am able to discern the lies of the enemy so I do not listen to them and can stand firm in God's truth.  I ask that God gives me strength to speak the truth.

Breastplate of Righteousness:  I thank God for allowing me to wear the body armor of righteousness.  I pray that I will respond to my circumstances in the way that Christ has called me to live.  I praise God for the fact that in Christ there is no condemnation and that I do not have to listen to the lies of the enemy that try to heap guilt and shame on me to prevent me from doing what God has called me to do.

Shoes of Peace:  I ask God to help me within my circumstances to have His peace.  I know that because of Christ I have the hope of eternal life with Him and that is the most important thing to focus on.  I ask for peace to remind me the perspective of eternity.  I also ask that God give me peace to share my story and the hope in Christ to those who need to hear it.

Shield of Faith:  I ask God to help me be effective in using the shield of faith.  I ask that when I face a situation that seems overwhelming that I remember that I have the Most High God who loves, cares for, and protects me.  I ask God to help me remember all the ways He has provided for me and for my friends so that I can lift up the shield with confidence knowing that God wants good things for me.  I also ask that God continue to stretch and grow my faith.

Helmet of Salvation:  I ask God that He continue to weed out all the things in my life that are not consistent with what He wants in my life.  I ask God to give me the strength and ability to live the way that a child of the King should live.  I ask God to help mend my thought processes that do not honor Him and that I would only think on things that please Him.  I thank Him for the beautiful gift of salvation that He has extended to us through Christ.

Sword of the Spirit:  I ask God that He help me use His Word effectively.  I ask that as situations arise throughout the day that I am able to use the Word to help me resist the enemy.  I ask that He bring to my mind the scriptures that I have read, studied, and memorized to be able to resist temptation and any other weapon that the enemy has used against me.

Depending on my circumstances that I may be facing, I have also found that I pray specifically for help with those circumstances in relation to the armor of God.  I feel that these nine weeks has helped strengthen and deepen my prayer life.  Our enemy seems scary; however, we have been given a tremendous armor to wear and use and God is so much stronger than anything we face.  God has given us a heritage that we can claim, please turn to Isaiah 54:16-17.  No weapon against us will prevail and God will silence our accusers.  We are His children and His servants and He loves us!  When we pray in the mighty and powerful name of Jesus we are using an authority that is above everything.

Put on your armor and pray, for God is with you mighty warrior!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pray For God's Mighty Power

1Peter 5:6-11

No one likes to go through trials.  Have you ever asked God to strengthen your faith by having more suffering in life?  I know I haven't, in fact I used to joke that a person shouldn't pray for patience.  I would joke that if a person prayed for patience they were sure to have difficult situations come their way.  I don't joke about that any more because I really do want to show the fruit of the Spirit in my life so I pray that God prune and shape me so that I bear fruit that pleases Him.  I still don't want difficulty in life, but the reality is that here on earth there will be pain and difficulty and we can pray that God grows us through those times.  But we also need to be praying for ourselves and other believers that we can resist temptation during those difficult times and instead turn to God and lean on Him.  Please turn to 1 Peter 5:6-11.

This section of scripture reminds us that when we humble ourselves and lean on God we can make it through our trials and sufferings.  It is through God's mighty power that we are able to grow and stand firm.  Do you see any similarities in this section of scripture with Ephesians 6:10-18?  Ephesians 6:10 says, "Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power."  Our strength comes from God.  Depending on God's strength and mighty power truly requires humility because we need to acknowledge that our own strength is not enough.  I can be very independent and I hate asking for help; however, I have come to a point where I am handing much more of my battles over to Him.  It is okay to admit that I don't have the ability or answers to situations I face and it is okay to call out to God for help.  According to 1 Peter 5:7, we can come to God with everything.

Ephesians 6:13 says, "Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm."  1 Peter 5:8-9 reminds us who are enemy is.  We are told to stay alert because he "prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."  I know the times in life when I have been side-swiped have been the times when I have gotten comfortable and put down my guard.  When we put on the armor of God, we are preparing ourselves and keeping our guard up for the times when our enemy attacks.

We have hope!  1 Peter 5:10 says, "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." (NIV).  One of my favorite verses in the Bible helped me through a difficult time.  2 Corinthians 4:17 says, "For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!" (NLT).  We can stand firm in our trials knowing that God is going to use them to change us and produce something so much greater than ourselves.  We can stand firm knowing that it is not our strength that will get us through the trials, but it is God's strength.

Are you humbling yourself and relying on and praying for God's strength?  Are you remembering the hope that we have of what God is doing in us through our trials?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pray For All Believers

Jude 1

We all face trials and temptations.  We can face temptations that lure us with lies that they will give us a way out of trials.  We face heart-ache and pain.  We face times in our lives that we wonder how we will ever make it through.  It is during those times when we need others to be praying with and for us.  I believe that one of the reasons that I was able to heal from my childhood hurts at such a young age was because I had people praying for me.  Sometimes when we are outside of someone's circumstance, we are able to see what they need better than they can see it and we need to pray over those needs.  Ephesians 6:18 tells us to pray for all believers everywhere and I know this means to even pray for those who we don't even know.  How often do we pray for the believers in countries like China where they are risking their lives to worship God?  How often do we pray for the believers in Africa that are suffering from HIV/AIDS and starvation?  How often are we praying for the church that is struggling with dissension?  Please read Jude 1.

You just read the entire book of Jude!  It is a short book; however, it is one that cannot be ignored.  Sometimes the smaller things in life pack the greatest punch, and Jude gives us wisdom that is worded strongly and we believers must listen.  Jude warns of the dangers of how certain unbelievers can cause division within the church and the answer Jude gives to the temptations that we face is prayer.  Jude 1:20 reminds us to build each other up in the faith and to pray in the Spirit.  I believe the very things we need to pray over are the temptations and trials the believer faces and to pray against dissension.  When we see a fellow believer struggling, we need to pray - it does no good to talk about it to others.

The last eight weeks I have been looking at what it means to put on the armor of God.  One of the most powerful ways that we use our armor is when we are praying for each other.  We can go into our prayers before God with the confidence that He listens to our prayers when we pray in the mighty and powerful name of Jesus.  This is what our armor is for.  We pray for healing, protection, and provision over each other.  We are so much more effective when we work together as one body in Christ.  1 Corinthians 12:12-26 explains how we are one body and when one suffers we all suffer.  We also see that when one believer is rejoicing, we can all rejoice.  We need to pray for this unity within the body of Christ - for all believers.  Pray for the believers you don't even know.  On the right side of my blog is a widget from the Joshua Project.  Everyday there is a new ethnic group represented so we can pray that they come to know Christ.  We can also pray for the believers within that ethnic group as well.  Let's pray for each other.

Are you praying for fellow believers?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Praying In the Spirit

Ephesians 6:18

I love my job!  I work as a ministry assistant at the same church that my husband is the children's pastor.  I work as the ministry assistant for groups and outreach.  The outreach portion of my job has allowed me to meet people who are serving God around the world.  I love hearing their stories of how God is moving in the lives of the people they are working with.  One day, the Holy Spirit laid a person that I had met from Africa on my heart and that I needed to pray for him.  My husband and I were praying together later and I mentioned to him that we needed to pray for this man.  The Holy Spirit revealed to my husband that we needed to pray for his blood.  Not understanding what that meant, we prayed for healing of his blood.  The next day, I learned that he was sick with malaria but he was getting better.  We were amazed at the direction the Holy Spirit had taken our prayers!  Please turn to Ephesians 6:18.

Ephesians 6:18 tells us to "pray in the Spirit."  What does that mean?  As I did a little research, I found that the word in Greek translated as "in" can also mean by or with.  It is amazing how one word can give a different view, because the idea of praying with the Spirit or by the Spirit seems a little different to me.  I look at it to mean following the Holy Spirit's lead on what to pray and also that we are praying with the power of the Holy Spirit.  Just like the story of my husband and I praying for someone halfway around the world (and my husband has never even met him), the Spirit will lay someone on our hearts to pray for.  Sometimes we remember that we should be praying before we go into a situation such as an important meeting and it is often because the Holy Spirit reminds us to pray.

I have learned to follow the direction of the Holy Spirit and when I feel strongly to pray for someone, I pray.  When someone pops into my mind, I pray for them.  That happens often, and every now and then I'll find out why.  One time I found out the person I was praying for (who I hadn't seen in 17 years) was sick with cancer.  I usually have no idea why I am praying, but the Spirit does.  Please turn to Romans 8:26-28.  The Spirit prays for us according to God's will.  We have that Spirit living in us; please look up Romans 8:11, 15-16.  It seems that with the Holy Spirit living in us, this gives us a whole new dimension to how we pray.  Please look up Jude 1:20.  Once again, this verse tells us to "pray in the Spirit," but the way the New Living Translation words it is, "pray in the power of the Spirit."  The Greek doesn't use the word "power," but I still like the wording because it reminds us that the Spirit is powerful.  This is the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwelling in us and praying with (and for) us!  We can know that we have power in our prayers and the Spirit can lead us to pray for who needs prayer.

Are you relying on the power of the Holy Spirit in your prayer life?  Are you following His lead?

Monday, June 20, 2011

What Is Prayer?

Ephesians 6:10-18

I cannot believe that I have already gone through and looked at each piece of armor in the Armor of God; the time has gone by so fast!  God has shown me some new things through studying the armor and I feel like it has help to strengthen my prayer life.  I love the fact that when we are in the Bible regularly, we will not walk away the same person as we were before we started.  God's Word is is life and is active!  It has been a week since I have read through the entire section of scripture that teaches us about the Armor of God, so I want to read through it again to remind me of where I left off.  Please look up Ephesians 6:10-18.

I am focusing on verse 18, which concludes the teaching of the Armor of God by telling us to pray.  The first half of the verse tells us to pray in the Spirit on all occasions, and the second half tells us to pray for all the believers.  How do we always pray?  First, I want to look at the verse in the King James version because I like the way it is worded compared to the Greek.  I think that we need to remember that prayer can take on many forms throughout the day.  What my husband and I have told our children that prayer is talking to God, but that is a little short-sighted because we are also to spend time listening to Him as well.  I spend time in prayer in the morning to prep myself for the day.  It is at this time that I pray for my children and husband and that I pray that God would guide me throughout the day.  It is here where I feel that I put on my armor so I can be ready for the day.

Throughout the day, I often find myself having little prayers.  These prayers can range from needing guidance to needing help to praise.  Sometimes, these are the moments that seem more intimate because I know I can come to Him at any time with whatever I need to talk about.  I pray before I read the Bible and write my blog posts because I want to grow and learn every day and I want nothing but God's truth written in my posts.  Sometimes I find myself venting about a difficult situation and He begins to soften my attitude and correct my judgement of the situation.  Then there are times when I am absolutely desperate for more time alone with Him and I shut myself in my bedroom and close my eyes just to be with Him.  I don't always say anything, but we are together.  Other times I schedule huge blocks of time in my day to spend with Him, but I'm not necessarily speaking a prayer during that entire time.

The more I spend time in prayer, the more I want to pray.  God wants to spend time with us and He wants us to bring everything to Him.  Even if it seems too trivial to bring before our maker, if it a concern of ours God wants to hear about it.  God loves us and desires to be with us more than we can comprehend and I think that we humans have made prayer so formal that we have forgotten that it is also intimate.  I am not saying that there is anything wrong with a formal or even written prayer - Jesus gave us a guide through the Lord's Prayer.  I'm just saying that we also need to embrace the prayers that are heartfelt and in our own words.

Are you spending time talking with God?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Simple Saturday - Forest Fire

I have added a new feature to my blog called Simple Saturday.  I plan to break away from my regular study on some Saturdays to share a thought with you.  It may be a random thought that doesn't have to do with the topic I am currently looking at, but yet it is something I have been thinking about.

I think when God created the aspen tree He was having a great time!  Aspen trees are often confused with birch trees because they look so similar; in fact, they are in the same family.  The aspen tree has a beautiful white bark and when my family visited my mom in Arizona, we saw them growing up in the mountains.  Unless someone is growing an aspen tree in their yard, you typically will not see just one aspen tree.  They are usually found in large quantities in the places they are growing.  A few years ago, I read an article in Arizona Highways that explained why.  Aspens have a root system that can extend several yards and perhaps even up to a mile.  Within this root system more aspens will shoot up and soon there will be a whole grove of aspens that have the same DNA as each other.  Aspens require a lot of sun and will grow tall to continue reaching up toward the sunlight; however, they also leave the soil in a condition that is perfect for Ponderosa pines.  The pines will grow in these perfect conditions and eventually outgrow the aspens and choke out their sun.  The aspen trees die off, but the root system doesn't die.

The reason I am thinking about the aspen tree is because of all the forest fires in Arizona that have been on the news.  On a side note, please pray for the residents of Arizona and New Mexico; that area had some beautiful forests and people have lost their homes.  Forest fires are devastating - there is no doubt about that.  What was once thick green forests is full of blackened, charcoaled stumps.  My family saw the results of a forest fire in Arizona as we were driving on the Coronado Trail and it looks terrible.  The interesting thing is that it hasn't completely devastated the forest because the aspens begin to come back once the roots are exposed to the sun!  Right there in the blackened and ugly soil, shoot up beautiful white trees.

It is almost as if God put them in creation to remind us of our human cycle.  God created man and woman perfect and without sin.  Yet we chose to be lured by temptation and sinned against God, creating a division between us.  This sin causes many problems and serious devastation, which is quite ugly in our lives.  But God created a way out!  Through Christ, we have a way to become right with God once again.  We are made new through Christ!  Praise God we are made new!

There are many other examples of some seeds requiring a fire in order for them to germinate.  Some of them germinate as a result of the chemical reaction that happens from the charcoal left behind, while other seeds are covered with a wax-like coating that needs the extreme heat to melt it away and crack open the seed.  Going through the spiritual fire is also hard, but there are new seeds that God wants to crack open in your heart.  He wants you and me to bear fruit for Him.  If you are going through the fire right now, be encouraged and know that there will be so much blessing when it is over.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Word Through Prayer

John 15:7-8

I have a friend who has memorized a lot of scripture.  In fact, she knows so much scripture that she uses it to encourage others and to remind herself of what she should be doing as a Christian.  She has used scripture to test what she has been told by others to see if it is God's truth.  But I think the most powerful way she uses scripture is to use it in prayer.  It is pretty amazing to pray with her to hear her praying the Bible into my life or the lives of people we love.  She prays scripture over difficult situations and she prays scripture to lift praise to God.  To me, that is using the Word of God as a great sword!  Please look up John 15:7-8.

What a wonderful promise that Christ left us!  This takes me back, once again, to the importance of memorizing scripture.  If we remain in Him and His words remain in us, we can as for anything!  It is important to remember that we need to be in Him; meaning that we are following His will for our lives and not our will.  I believe that it boils down to the fact that when we are in Him and His word is in us, we will be asking for what pleases Him and is His will.  There is one more important thing to note with praying; please look up John 15:16.  We need to be praying in the Name of Jesus; the power in our prayer is because of His Name.

These are some scripture I have used in my prayers as I am praying for myself, my family, my co-workers, and my friends:

When you are facing fear or very difficult situations, the book of Psalms has many prayers that you can lift up to God.  Sometimes scripture tells us what to pray for and we become encouraged by the words that scripture gives us when we are praying.  God has given us promises that we can pray over our lives.  Sometimes the situations seem so much bigger than we know how to pray and scripture gives us the words we need to bring to God.  I don't speak scripture into most of my prayers, but I believe there is great power in praying the Word!

Do you use the power in the Word of God for your prayers?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Using the Word In Battle

Luke 4:1-13

Over the years, the more I have dug into the Bible and searched to understand what God is telling us, the more I have found it to be effective at helping me in many situations.  These situations can vary from being tempted to facing fear.  I remember as a child, I had a lot of fears and I would often quote, "Greater is He that is in me than He that is in the world," (1 John 4:4).  When I need to remember that even though a task seems beyond my ability that God has put before me I tell myself, "I can do all things through Christ Jesus who gives me strength," (Phil 4:13).  Jesus modeled for us using the scripture in spiritual warfare.  Please turn to Luke 4:1-13.

If you notice in verse 1, we are told that Jesus was returning from the Jordan river full of the Holy Spirit; He was returning from His baptism.  He was led by the Spirit to go to the desert and fast for 40 days, during which time He was tempted.  Jesus used the scriptures all three times He was tempted.  If you look at verse 4, you see that Jesus quoted part of Deuteronomy 8:3.  Please turn to Deuteronomy 8:1-3 to look at that scripture in context.  Jesus was pointing out that food is not our only nourishment - we need spiritual nourishment from God's Word.  The devil then tempts Jesus by offering Him all the kingdoms in the world if He bows down to Him and Jesus once again quotes scripture.

The next thing that happens is important for us to remember - the devil used scripture out of context to tempt Jesus.  Please look up Psalm 91 to see those verses in the context of the whole chapter.  This scripture was not saying that we could be foolish and God would send His angels to protect us; this scripture was saying that if we rely on God's protection from our enemies we will be safe.  Jesus used another verse to combat this temptation as well by using a verse that says we are not to test God.  We are faced often with scripture used out of context and it is very important that we look up scriptures ourselves and read the verses around them to get the full context.  There are many people who use verses out of context to support their sin or hatred.  Spending time in the Bible is what will help raise a red flag when things do not seem to add up.

Jesus gave us such a wonderful example of why having scripture memorized and understanding the application gives us a powerful weapon to fight the enemy.  I believe I have said this every day this week; however, we cannot expect ourselves to use this weapon efficiently if we are not spending time every day in the Bible.  This is essential to us growing in our faith and growing in our knowledge and understanding of God.

Are you using the Bible to support you in resisting your temptations?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What Do You Treasure?

Psalm 119:10-12

There are certain moments in my life that I treasure and I never want to forget them.  I remember the day I met my husband, although at the time I had no idea that he would be the one that I was going to marry.  I remember the evening he proposed to me.  I remember our wedding day and how we were running late on our arrival to the church and we savored every moment we had alone in the car on the way.  I remember each moment that our children were born and how precious they were to us.  I remember the first of many sleepless nights when we brought our first-born home.  I remember the day we moved into the parsonage when my husband first went into ministry.  There are so many precious memories to me and some too private to list that I have treasured up in my heart and I think back on them with joy.  I have also treasured up verses in the Bible with joy knowing that they will change my heart.  Please look up Psalm 119:10-12.

The Hebrew word translated as "hidden" is tsaphan which means to hide or treasure up.  In this verse, it doesn't mean that God's Word is being hidden away never to find; the author means that he is storing it up in his heart as if it were great treasure.  God's Word is precious treasure that He has shared with us!  As I have been looking at the Armor of God, I have explored the fact that it is a powerful weapon that we possess.  So God's Word is a valuable and powerful weapon that we have been given permission to use.  Job 23:12 says, "I have not departed from his commands, but have treasured his words more than daily food."

How do we treasure up God's Word?  I believe that memorizing scripture is a great way to do this; however, it can't be that we are just rattling off a bunch of verses - they need to mean something to us.  We treasure His Word because it is breath and life to us.  If we understand that the words that we are memorizing are life-changing, they have greater value.  I think that if you can partner with someone or a group of people to hold you accountable to keeping up with memorizing verses, you will find that you can do it.  I am currently holding myself accountable by using Beth Moore's blog and recording a new memory verse on the 1st and 15th of each month.  This has been a great experience for me because we all memorize a verse that means something to us at that moment in our lives.  By the end of the year, I will have 24 new verses treasured up not only in my brain but in my heart doing a good work in me.  Yesterday, I explored how the Holy Spirit helps remind us of what we have learned about God, but we need to be actively in the Word.  I believe that because we are told that He will bring to memory what we have learned, memorizing these verses will be used at the time when I need them.

What do you treasure in your heart?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Guidance From the Holy Spirit

Luke 11:11-13

When I was in college, I had an experience that I will never forget.  I worked as a receptionist at the front desk of the dormitory I lived in.  Another girl who lived there knew I was a Christian, but she wanted nothing to do with Christianity.  At this point in time, she was taking a philosophy course which would explore some Christian beliefs; however, the class was being taught by an agnostic professor.  Needless to say, she wasn't really learning the truth of what was in the Bible.  She had just gotten back from class and came to the desk to collect her mail when she saw me and began to ask me questions about what she had learned in class that day.  The topic had her very upset and she couldn't understand how I could follow and believe in God.  I grew up in church all my life; however, until going to college, I had never really had my faith questioned.  An amazing thing happened to me in that moment, I felt an urging to tell her a story from the Bible that didn't seem to have anything to do with her question.  I had no idea why I should tell her that story, but I did anyway not really knowing where it would be going.  After I told the story, I nervously waited to see what she would say thinking she would become impatient with my seemingly evasive answer.  Instead, she exclaimed, "I get it!"  And she then rattled out the truth of what her question was!  I knew in that moment that the Holy Spirit had led me to tell that story knowing that was what would make it click for her.  Please turn to Luke 11:11-13.

This week, I am exploring how God's Word (the Bible) becomes a weapon in our Armor of God.  This is our sword, and yesterday I looked at how there is no sword sharper than the Word of God.  Since it is called the sword of the Spirit, I want to look at the Holy Spirit's role in using this weapon.  Jesus tells us in Luke 11:11-13 that if we ask, God will give us the Holy Spirit.  Jesus also tells us in John 7:37-39 that if we believe in Him, we will receive the Holy Spirit (living water).  So, we know that all who believe will receive the Holy Spirit, but what role does the Spirit play in the use of the Word of God?  Please look up John 14:26.

The Holy Spirit will teach us all things and will remind us of everything that Christ has said.  What an incredible gift we have been given!  First of all, the Spirit will help us understand the Bible - I am a living testimony to that!  There have been many times that I am not understanding something I have read in the Bible and I have prayed that I would understand the truth.  The Holy Spirit will either use someone else in my life, or a sermon at church, or even just show me through another scripture what it is that I don't understand.  If we want to learn more in order to grow in our relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit will answer our prayer.

The other thing that we see in John 14:26 is that the Holy Spirit will remind us of what Jesus taught.  When we are in a situation where we need wisdom to support our faith, we can trust that the Holy Spirit will remind us of what we have read in the Bible.  The important thing to note here is that we can only be reminded of what we have learned - we need to be reading the Bible.  If we have not spent time reading the Bible, we will not have this weapon fully developed to use.  Please read Luke 12:11-12.  We see that the Holy Spirit will speak through us when we need Him to speak.  Remember that God's word is alive and active and we have the access to use it through the Holy Spirit.

Do you trust the Holy Spirit's guidance?

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Sword of the Spirit

Ephesians 6:10-18

It has been a while since I have read the whole section of scripture about the Armor of God.  It is good to reread that section of scripture to see how all the armor fits together.  Please read Ephesians 6:10-18.It is important to remember that even though we do not see the armor that we are to wear daily, it is very real.  Probably the most tangible piece of armor is the one I am looking at this week, which is the sword of the Spirit.  Paul defines the sword of the Spirit as the Word of God, which makes it something we can understand and relate to the easiest because the Bible is the Word of God.

This week, I want to explore how we can use the Word of God more effectively and how it becomes a weapon that we can use.  Something I noticed about the Armor of God is that the sword of the Spirit is the only weapon that is mentioned, everything else is a piece of protection.  The Bible tells us that this sword is sharper than any other sword; please look up Hebrews 4:12.  In this verse we see that God's Word is not passive, it is active.  God's Word is not the past, it is alive.  There is no weapon more powerful than His Word.  God created the world by His spoken Word (Genesis 1) and the Word became man and lived among us (John 1).

We are to use His Word as our weapon in battle.  The battle may be to fight the oppression that we are facing, or it may be to speak encouragement into someone's life.  We are told that His Word always produces what He intends to produce (Isaiah 55:11).  Hebrews 4:12 tells us that His Word judges our very thoughts and desires - it reads our hearts.  This is the very weapon that we are to use!  This is our sword.  God gave us His sword to use.  Since we are told that this weapon is alive and active, I believe that our use of the sword is to be active and not passive.  The Bible wasn't meant just to read, the Bible is meant to be used to change our lives.  This happens when we are actively in the Word.

Are you reading the Bible regularly?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Memory Verse #12

1 Chronicles 29:11

"Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things."  This memory verse was chosen because it was a verse of the day and I loved this expression of praise and trust.  When I saw this verse, I had to look up and read the story that went with it and I am so glad I did!  This is the beginning of a prayer that David gave up to God as He and the Israelites were giving their gold, silver, and other earthly goods so his son, Solomon could build the temple.

My small group has been doing the study, Anointed, Transformed, Redeemed: A Study of David by Priscilla Shirer, Beth Moore, and Kay Arthur and we just completed the last video session by Kay Arthur.  This just so happened to be the story that Kay Arthur focused on in the video.  She pointed out that David had a life-long desire to build a temple for God, but God told him that he would not be the one to build it.  God told David that his son, Solomon would build the temple instead.  David could have been upset by hearing God tell him "no," but instead he saved and collected items to eventually pass off to Solomon to build the temple.  When you think of the fact that he had to deal with a disappointment that had to be monumental to him, it is wonderful that he was able to turn it around and give God praise.

I just recently had God tell me no about something I so desperately wanted to be "yes."  This can be a reminder to me that I can choose to be upset about the "no" or I can choose to rejoice and pray for those who get to hear a "yes."  I choose prayer and praise!

Friday, June 10, 2011

What Are You Doing With Salvation?

Ephesians 2:4-10

I remember cleaning out my children's closets and pulling out items that they had received as a gift but were just collecting dust.  Sometimes it was because the gift was not a good fit for them, but other times it got put in the closet because they didn't understand what to do with it.  My husband and I would see something at the store as we were shopping for Christmas or their birthday and saw something that we knew without a doubt that they would have so much fun using the item.  The dust collecting item often required help from an adult and the child never brought it out to work on it with us.  I think that sometimes we treat salvation in the same way; please look up Ephesians 2:4-10.

Salvation is a beautiful gift of grace from God!  I just had the pleasure last night to listen to Kay Arthur do a session on God's grace and it was so wonderful to be reminded that we receive the gift because God gives it to us so freely.  Ephesians 2 points out that we are saved only through the gift of grace and not by anything that we do (Ephesians 2:8-9).  But what do we do with that gift?  Do we receive it so that we can continue to live our lives as we always have because we have the confidence that we have been saved by grace?  No!  Please look up Romans 6:1-4.  God wants us to change the way we live as a result of the gift that we have been given.  Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."  We are created to do good works!  But, just as the gifts I gave my children were collecting dust because they needed my help to use them, we need Jesus to use our gift of salvation.  We are created in Christ Jesus to do good works.  I also love how the verse says that God prepared us in advance for us to do good works.  I Corinthians 15:10 says, "But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace."  We can do what we can do for God because He is working through us.

I am always amazed when God involves me in something that He could do entirely on His own.  He doesn't need me to serve Him, but He wants me involved in His work.  I get to serve Him and I get to be involved in His work.  We all get to serve Him!  When we believe and accept that we have our ability to serve Him because He gives us those abilities we can have the confidence to do the good works that He called us to do. This is tremendous armor because the enemy wants us to believe that we cannot accomplish the tasks that are set before us.  Philippians 4:13 says, "I can do all things through Christ Jesus who gives me strength."  When we receive the gift of salvation, we are no longer doing things on our own.  We have been given the strength to do the work set before us because Christ is doing a good work in us.

Are you letting your gift of salvation collect dust in the closet, or are you doing the good works that God called you to do through Christ?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Live Out Your Salvation

Titus 2:11-14

I am a person that gets excited about the little things in life, so when I noticed this morning that Bible Gateway's updated site makes it very easy and nice to view parallel versions of the Bible I had to start using it!  I will often look at other translations because it gives me a broader view of how a word or phrase may be interpreted.  This also will alert me to when I need to use to look up the Hebrew or Greek word.  I will use the page for the parallel Bible when I reference a verse so you can compare two different versions yourself.  Happy Reading!

Another thing that got me excited was that when I was talking with my husband about the Armor of God, he mentioned that so much of our protection comes from living the life God calls us to live.  It keeps us from making mistakes that will cause even more difficulties for us aside from the spiritual oppression we can face.  So, this morning when I looked up Titus 2:11-14, I enjoyed how God confirms His truth for us.  Please read these verses (and enjoy using the parallel Bible)!

I may sound like a broken record on this topic; however, I will say it again (because I need to hear it myself). Our salvation comes from God's powerful grace through Jesus and we become His children.  However, there are responsibilities that we have as children of the King; we are to live like children of the King.  I think of how royalty are expected to behave a certain way and when they don't it gets splashed all over the media.  In the same way, as God's children we need to change our thoughts and behavior to reflect who we are in Christ.  In Tuesday's post, I looked at how the hope of our salvation can change how we react and think in this world.  Today, I want to look at how Christ's sacrifice was to give us a hope that will make us live out our salvation.

Verse 12 says, "And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God..."  Christ sacrificed His life not just to offer grace and forgiveness, but He wants to see us growing and changing and living out our salvation just as He lived out His life.  Christ is our model for how we are to live with "wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God."  Verse 14 says, "He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds."  A few weeks ago, I shared my memory verse and how exciting it was that we are God's special possession.  Part of being His possession is that He wants us totally committed to doing the good work He assigns to us.  These good works could range from volunteering in a prison ministry to reacting to a difficult situation at work with forgiveness and patience.  No matter where we are or what we are doing, God wants us to live out our salvation.  If you read through all of Titus 2, we are given examples of all situations of how to live out our salvation that we received so freely through grace.

Are you living out your salvation?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

More Than Conquerers

Isaiah 59:16-21

When I was a preschooler, my mom babysat a boy the same age as me.  We got along great and spent the entire day playing together.  One of our favorite games to play was "Underdog."  We watched the cartoon on T.V. and decided that it would be fun to play it out.  I had a knit hat with curly-cues on it and I would wear it to play the part of Sweet Polly; my friend would then play the part of Underdog.  I would find myself in situations where I would need a hero and Underdog would step in and save me from my peril.  Sometimes, we find ourselves in real-life situations where we wish we could have someone come in and pull us out of the stress and danger.  The great thing is that we have a Savior who not only can save us from our eternal death, but He wants to step in and be a part of our everyday lives.  Please turn to Isaiah 59:16-21.

Today, as I was reading this prophecy, it just seemed like Christ was coming in as our super-hero.  My husband is a children's pastor and during the large group time of the children's ministry they occasionally sing a song where one line in the lyrics says "Jesus, You're my super-hero..."  Kids are bombarded with super-hero hype with movies, cartoons, comic books and action figures; they get to hear the message that Jesus is the true super-hero who saves us from our sins.  Reading in Isaiah 59, we see the strength and might of Christ to "step in and save" the oppressed.  Please read in verse 17 what He wears for armor!  I know I looked at this verse when I was studying about the breastplate of righteousness, but I love how Jesus also wears salvation for a helmet!

Jesus came to save us from our own self-destruction.  The Hebrew word for salvation in verse 17 is yeshew ah, which definitions include salvation by God, deliverance, and victory.  This word is such a good reminder that the victory is won!  There are a lot of things that can destroy us on earth; however, when we are a child of God there is nothing that can separate us or destroy our eternal victory.  Please look up Romans 8:34-39.  Verse 37 says that "overwhelming victory is our through Christ."  That phrase could also be translated as "we are more than conquerers through Christ."  It is amazing to think that we have "overwhelming victory," or that we are "more than conquerers" because of Christ's victory.  Only God could give us a victory that is overwhelming or make us something even more than a conquerer!  What an incredible piece of armor and an amazing gift God gave us.

Are you living in the victory that Christ gained for you?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hope of Salvation

1 Thessalonians 5:5-10

When I was in college, the first semester was spent experimenting with alcohol.  I didn't drink often, but I occasionally went to parties and enjoyed how easy it was to try some alcohol.  I look back on those years and shudder to think of how close I came to getting into some bad situations.  Alcohol was definitely the issue in those circumstances because I wasn't thinking clearly.  I didn't even realize at the time that I was making poor choices until the next morning and I thought it was strange that I acted out of character.  The passage of scripture I'm looking at today shows a spiritual application to being sober; please look up 1 Thessalonians 5:5-10.

I find it interesting that this section of scripture talks about the importance of living as children of the day and light and to be sober and in the same breath it mentions putting on armor.  The Greek word for helmet is the same as yesterday's word and means to wrap around the head.  The New Living Translation uses the word, "clearheaded" instead of sober, which fits in with the idea I mentioned yesterday about keeping our thoughts captive to whatever is good and worthy of praise.  One of the things this section of scripture tells us to use as our helmet is the "hope of salvation."  I like that this scripture goes on to explain what that hope is: "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him."  We receive salvation through Jesus Christ and His sacrifice that He made on the cross.

Our hope is that no matter what, when we receive the beautiful and wonderful gift that Christ extended to us through His sacrifice we may, "live together with Him."  Sometimes, when I am pressed in with trials, it is that hope that helps me continue.  I want to live a life that pleases God, but I am looking forward to the day that I get to sit at His feet and worship Him.  I look forward to the day when every tear will be wiped away.  That hope of salvation is what reminds me that this is just temporary, but what I cannot see today is forever (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).  It is the hope of living in our permanent home with Christ Jesus, our amazing Savior!

We can focus our thoughts on that amazing and awesome hope of our salvation and be "sober," or clearheaded.  The perspective of eternity allows us to stand firm and continue our labor for the Lord.  We can remember that God has a purpose for our lives and we can run the race with endurance, after all Christ bore the burden of our sin and shame and is now sitting in glory at the right hand of God (Hebrews 12:1-3).  Praise God!  We have a hope in salvation!

Is the hope of salvation keeping you focused and "sober?"

Monday, June 6, 2011

Helmet of Salvation

Ephesians 6:17

When I think of a helmet as a piece of armor, I think of the kind of armor used in movies such as the Lord of the Rings, where the helmet was a heavy metal covering placed on the soldier's head.  Today, while soldiers still use helmets (which look quite different), we also use the term "helmet" for other head coverings.  When my children are roller blading or riding their bikes, I make them wear a bicycle helmet to protect them from head injuries.  Many states have laws that require anyone riding a motorcycle to wear a helmet to protect them in case they are in an accident.  Construction workers wear construction hats to protect them from getting a serious head injury if something were to fall on them.  Humans have learned over the years to value the head as an important part of the body to protect.  The idea of this vital piece of armor is used in Ephesians 6:17.

This week, I am focusing on the armor of the helmet of salvation and I want to learn more about how salvation becomes a piece of spiritual armor that we are to wear daily.  The Greek word used for helmet is perikephalaia which is a combination of peri and kephalaia and literally means around the head.  It just makes me think of how important our thought processes are when we are in spiritual battle.  When we protect our thoughts and keep them captive because we are saved through God's gift of grace we are putting on a great piece of armor.  There are many references to the importance of our thoughts, and the metaphor of the helmet makes me think of how our thoughts should change as a reflection of the hope we have in Christ.  This week, I also want to look at other references in the Bible to salvation being a helmet.

Philippians 4:8 says, "And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise."  Let us fix our thoughts on things that honor God and praise Him for He is the one who has given us our salvation.  It is not easy when we are looking at our situations with our human eyes; however, God wants us to change our thoughts to reflect the fact that we are His children.  Protect your mind with the hope of your salvation!

What are you focusing on?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Faith During The Storm

Luke 8:22-25

This has been a rough Spring across the continental U.S. with a record number of tornadoes.  We haven't just seen a record number of tornadoes, we have seen very powerful and destructive tornadoes.  We have also seen record flooding near the Mississippi River.  Every time I think of all the families that are displaced from their homes because of a storm, my heart just breaks.  Please pray for those families!  It is even hurting the economy because farmers have been unable to plant in their saturated fields.  When we look around the world we have seen terrible earthquakes and a deadly tsunami that completely wiped out an entire town.  It reminds all of us of how vulnerable we are to nature and I can relate to the way the disciples must have felt in the story I am looking at today.  Please turn to Luke 8:22-25.

Storms come and go in life; not just storms of nature, but spiritual and emotional storms.  Sometimes they can seem scary and sometimes they are absolutely devastating.  We can be in the middle of the storm and feeling like we are going to drown.  Whether we have lost a job, become seriously ill, lost a loved one, or faced a huge disappointment the storms in life can leave us breathless and terrified.  When I read the story of Jesus calming the storm, I notice several things - the disciples were terrified of the storm, they turned to Jesus, they were questioned about their faith, and they were both amazed and afraid of Jesus.

We can all relate to the disciples fear of whether or not they would survive the storm because they were in a boat that was filling up with water.  I've been there!  I've been afraid of the circumstances I was in and I wasn't sure if I'd come out okay.  I really don't believe that Jesus questioned their faith because they woke Him up, I think He questioned their faith because of their panic.  I know when God has spoken to my heart and said, "Sharon, do you trust me," it was when I was in a panic.  Who knows what would've happened if they would have waited out the storm because the situation was desperate, but I can think of Paul who had no control over how to react to the storm other than trust God (Acts 27).  He was at the mercy of other people's decisions, and God brought him through the storm.  This is a good reminder for me because it is okay to go to God for help, but I don't need to panic in the midst of the storm.

Do you trust God in the middle of your storms?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Productive Faith

James 2:14-20

When I used to teach flute lessons, I found myself with a variety of students at all different levels.  I enjoyed the challenge of helping each of them improve; however, the students that frustrated me the most were the ones that had talent but never practiced.  In fact, I remember having a student that had a lot of natural talent and another student that was decent, but she had to work very hard to get better.  The decent student began playing better than the more talented student because she worked hard and practiced every day when the naturally talented student relied on being naturally talented.  Talent can only take us so far; we eventually need to practice hard to keep up with the competition.  My naturally talented student believed that I could teach her and she came back every week for a new lesson but she never put what I taught her to practice.  The hard working student not only trusted my teaching, she put it into to practice and worked hard.  I remember telling the naturally talented student that she was wasting her parent's money on lessons if she wasn't going to practice.  The Bible tells us Christians a very similar message about faith; please look up James 2:14-20.

"So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead," James 2:17.  This is a very strong statement, but one that we need to hear desperately if we want to have faith that is alive and active.  I believe that this verse can be taken out of context very easily and be used to support works over grace; however, we also cannot shy away from looking at the message that God purposely put in the Bible for us to hear.  The Greek word for "works" is ergon and has the following meaning according to
1) business, employment, that which any one is occupied
a) that which one undertakes to do, enterprise, undertaking
2) any product whatever, any thing accomplished by hand, art, industry, or mind
3) an act, deed, thing done: the idea of working is emphasised in opp. to that which is less than work
Looking at definition number two, we can see that the word could also mean "product."  I think that James is pointing out that if there is no product to show from the person's faith, what is the point?  If we are not being changed by our faith than it is a useless faith.  Verse 19 says, "You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe - and shudder!"  We are children of God and that bears a responsibility that goes beyond believing in God.  We should be producing fruit in our lives as a result of our faith; Jesus tells us that if we love Him we will produce fruit (John 15:9-17).  John 15:16 says, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you."  

Apply this truth to the Armor of God and the shield of faith is amazing!  Putting together what Christ has told us and the bold truth that we read in James tells us that our faith is alive and active when we are obeying God.  We are given permission to use the authority of Jesus' name when we have a faith that is alive and active and producing fruit.  When we are living the lives that we are called to live, we become a warrior with a strong and mighty shield of faith!

Is your faith alive and producing fruit?

Friday, June 3, 2011

No Doubt

Matthew 21:18-21

When I was a child, I was susceptible to getting "swimmer's ear" or an infection in the outer canal of the ear.  We were at the beach on a day when I was recovering from swimmer's ear and I so desperately wanted to play in the water.  My mom said I could go ahead and wade in the water, but I was not to go into the water and get my ears wet.  I couldn't resist the temptation once I was in the lake and I began jumping into the waves getting my ears good and wet.  What resulted was probably the worst case of swimmer's ear I have ever had.  Since we were at our cottage, we had to go to an emergency clinic to get medicine for my ear.  The pain was so great while we were in the car, I couldn't even talk because it hurt to open my jaw.  My dad stopped the car and said that God wanted him to pray for my ear.  He prayed, and I knew that God could heal me.  When he finished praying, the pain was completely gone and it didn't return!  We were all amazed to witness God's work on my ear.  Please turn to Matthew 21:18-21.

This passage of scripture makes me wonder how often do I ask and pray expecting an answer, or am I going through the motions?  There have been many times in my life where I have seen direct answers to my prayers, yet do I pray expecting to see results?  Is there any doubt?  When we are talking about spiritual warfare and the armor of God, we need to believe without doubt the authority of Jesus' Name.  The point isn't that we should be walking around cursing fig trees or telling mountains to move, the point is that faith is the key to get things done.  Faith without doubt.  How can we have faith and still doubt?  I think some of it is comments such as, "I believe God can do anything, but He is too busy to deal with my needs."  Or sometimes it could be, "I know God can provide for all my needs, but I don't want to ask Him too much."  Or it could even be, "I will ask because God can do this, but I don't think I deserve it."

We can know that there is no one greater than God, and He controls everything, but do we live life expecting that reality to effect our world?  We may not get the answer we want and we may not understand the reason; we need to trust that the bigger picture God sees is more than what we see.  Sometimes we don't get the immediate answer because God has something so much more in store for us.  Either way, we cannot have doubts because we don't understand.  We need faith without doubt.  The day that God healed my ear, I knew that He would heal me in my child-like faith.  I need to trust that when I ask, God will provide exactly what I need when I need it.  If I cannot trust in my shield of faith, I will run away when I am in battle.

Do you have doubts?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Faith In Christ's Authority

Luke 7:2-10

Jesus amazes me!  I am amazed that He would humble Himself and come to earth as a man to live among us.  I am amazed that even after living among us, He still loved us so much that He would sacrifice Himself on the cross so we could be right with God.  I am amazed by all the miracles He did to show us His authority over all things.  I am amazed that He rose from the dead.  I am amazed that He continues to draw us to Him even though we often push away.  I am amazed each time I think of His love for me.  I never stopped being amazed at our awesome Savior, yet I wonder if I have ever amazed Him.  Please look up Luke 7:2-10.

I like this story because the Roman officer shows so much trust in Jesus' authority.  The Roman officer understood Jesus' authority because of a few of his own life experiences.  As a person serving as an officer, he had an authority figure he obeyed; whatever his boss asked him to do, he did it.  He also understood authority since he was an authority figure as well.  He was very familiar with the idea that if he told someone under him to do something, they would do it because they had to obey.  The Roman officer knew that Jesus had authority as well and knew that if Jesus commanded it, his servant would be healed.  He even understood that Jesus could command it right from where He was at!

Sometimes I live as though I have forgotten that Jesus has authority over all things - not just some things.  I forget because I am consumed with my human vision rather than my Jesus vision.  Remembering Christ's authority is like holding up a shield knowing and trusting that all things must obey Him.  Please look up John 14:12-14.  Christ allows us to use His name to ask for anything.  Why does He do this?  He tells us in verse 13 that He does this so that He can bring glory to God.   I enjoy hearing stories of answered prayer because God gets all the glory in those stories.  We are all reminded of His power and authority and we are able to hold up our shield of faith all the higher.

Do you trust in Jesus's authority?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Shield of Faith

Ephesians 6:10-18

I believe in God.  I know He exists because He has done a work in my life that could only be accomplished by Him.  I have experienced His provision, His healing, His protection, and His love.  I believe that He is so crazy about me and everyone else on this planet that He sacrificed the greatest sacrifice so we could be with Him.  I believe that Jesus is both God and man and is God's son.  I believe that Jesus's death and resurrection is the only way to receive salvation and that through Him we are justified.  I believe that this earth is not my home and I will some day be at home with my loving Father in Heaven.  I believe that God the Father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit are one.  I believe that God is the one true God.  I believe God is the creator of the universe and controls all things.  Yet, why do I find myself struggling to hold up the shield of faith at times even when I believe all these things?  Please turn to Ephesians 6:10-18.

I looked up the Greek word translated as faith in this verse.  It is the word, pistis.  I means to have a belief that God is creator and ruler of all things and He provides salvation through Christ.  It also means to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and we receive salvation through Him.  But the definition that I am looking at today according to is, "belief with the predominate idea of trust (or confidence) whether in God or in Christ, springing from faith in the same."  Trust.  I have had a lot of things on my plate that are HUGE areas of stress for me, yet I keep hearing God ask me, "Sharon, do you trust me?"  I am learning to give more to Him and let go of areas that I so desperately want to control.  As soon as I feel like I have conquered an area of distrust, God shows me another layer that needs to be peeled off.

What about when I cannot seem to navigate through some of the difficulties on my own?  Please look up Psalm 18:27-29.  God lights up my darkness.  Psalm 139:12 says, "but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.  To you the night shines as bright as day.  Darkness and light are the same to you."  God sees all and sees a completely different perspective than I can see.  His vision penetrates the darkness and He will lead me through it.  Knowing this, we can trust God even in our darkness.  I guess I am like my children when they were very young.  If they were afraid of something, they would grab at me and cry even though I was already holding them.  I was protecting them and wouldn't let whatever they were afraid of harm them and I need to trust God in the same way.

There are many authors that have written incredible Bible studies and books on faith.  I would highly recommend completing the study, Believing God by Beth Moore.  In this study, she outlines 5 faith statements that will move you to a greater trust in God.  In his book, The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living As If He Doesn't Exist, Craig Groeschel writes about many areas of faith struggles.  Please read these incredible resources on faith and trust; you will be challenged to trust God in areas that you have not given over to Him.

Do you believe God?  Do you trust God?