Monday, December 31, 2012

Seasons


I am a huge fan of summer.  Growing up in Michigan, going to the beach was my favorite summer activity.  In college, I was in Western Michigan where I fell in love with Lake Michigan.  The West Michigan shore on Lake Michigan is beautiful with the natural sand, lake grass, and huge sand dunes.  One of my favorite college memories was climbing an enormous sand dune at Warren Dunes State Park.  That became one of our favorite camping spots when my husband and I were in our early years of marriage.  When we lived in Western Michigan with our family, I fell in love with Tunnel Park in Holland, Michigan.  There is a tunnel that goes right through a sand dune so you don't have to climb over it to get to the beach; however, our kiddos always chose to climb over the dune anyway.  We found a county run campground and beach in Muskegon, Michigan that became our favorite campground because the dunes were beautiful and the beach was small and not crowded.  But, the downside is the winter.  I'm not a fan of cold weather because the cold wind seems to go right through my bones no matter how many layers I wear.  Even with all the cold I still have to admit that the snowy view is amazing.  The picture above is what my backyard looks like today.  I now live in Western New York, where the weather is similar to Western Michigan.  You have to admit that God's design is amazing!

Something I learned about the snow and cold is that it is very necessary.  I don't have to like the cold and driving on slippery roads, but in order to have the summer things we enjoy the snow and cold has to happen.  Last year we had a warm winter with very little snow for our area, and we paid for it this summer.  Because the winter was warmer than usual, all the fruit trees began to bud early and then most of the fruit was destroyed by a heavy frost.  We also saw a lot more bugs this summer - bugs that ate my strawberry plants.  As a result, I didn't make any apple pie this fall because the apples are just too soft and would become applesauce in my pie.  I didn't make cherry pie this summer because there were no cherries to find at an affordable price.  It was so bad that we couldn't even find an orchard that was open for picking (one of our family's favorite fall activity); all their crops were going to the stores.

Life brings all different seasons, doesn't it?  Some of the seasons are full of wonderful events and memories and other seasons feel life-less.  Some seasons are even filled with pain.  But just as seasons are necessary in nature, our life seasons are important, too.  I look at winter as a time of nature's chance to rest.  The trees can rest after having a season of putting a lot of energy into growth and production.  And late fall or early winter is a great time to prune certain bushes because we have a better view of all the branches without cutting off new growth.

Maybe you feel like your heart is in winter right now.  You don't seem to be growing and things actually feel like it has come to a stand still.  Maybe it is time to allow God to prune away at some things in your heart that just don't belong.  Maybe it is time to rest in God and let Him do His work to prepare the soil in your heart for an even greater produce when summer comes.  This week, I plan to look at some parables that Jesus told about the Kingdom of God and how He related to farming with some of them.  I would challenge you to consider what season your heart seems to be in right now and how you can apply the truths that Jesus told us in these parables.

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.  Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NLT)
Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)
What season are you in right now?
How can God use this season to prepare you for even greater growth and produce in the future?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Friday, December 28, 2012

My Favorite Post


All this week I am reviewing the posts that were the most visited during 2012.  I will return to Matthew next week!

This post was a lesson that God was going to continue to keep in my heart through the year.  While it had a big impact on me, several readers made their way to this post as well and it is one of the most read posts of 2012.  This post is special to me because God led me to new treasures through this lesson; treasure that equaled joy in the midst of trials.  The beginning of the year had bitter water...this post was only the start of the water; however, God also showed me such wonderful healing of my disappointment.  Some things too personal to pen but such wonderful encouragement and healing in my heart.  God certainly has an intimate way to reach the inner most parts of our hearts, doesn't He?

Bitter Water Made Sweet


Exodus 15:22-27

I am still reeling from yesterday's study of God making the water sweet at Marah.  I may be wrong, but I think that is the first time God calls Himself Jehovah Rapha, which means the Lord who heals you.  This is not at all a coincidence that He would call Himself their healer when He healed the bitter water at Marah.  Remember that our God can take the bitter water of life and give us the living water we recieve through Christ - the ultimate healing!  This lesson from the bitter water of Marah is so amazing to me and I want to go back to it for one more day.  Please read Exodus 15:22-27.

Without recapping yesterday too much, I just want to go back to the fact that the Israelites had traveled the wilderness for three days without coming to a source of water.  Dehydration can cause weakness, extreme thirst, weak heart beat, racing heart, and an inability to think clearly.  Picture back to the Israelites feeling some of these symptoms and coming up to water.  Can you imagine their relief and excitement when they saw the water at Marah?  Then imagine as they dip their hands in the water and take the first taste to find out that it is undrinkable.  It probably felt like a cruel joke.  These people were in a great deal of discomfort, maybe even to the point of feeling sick and all they can find is bitter water.

It may not be literally bitter water, but we have all had our taste of bitter water.  For me, I have had a taste of bitter water when our house in Michigan (we relocated to New York) that has been for sale for over two years finally attracted someone's attention.  That person put an offer on our house that is now up for sale as a short sale; however, a few days later they pulled their offer.  That left a bitter taste!  It is hard to explain why after spending so much time praying about this that we would finally see the light of hope only to see it taken away.  We have seen friends go through difficult situations as well and feeling like they finally saw an answer to prayer only to find out later that it wasn't.  That is bitter water.

But God is our healer.  Notice in these verses that He didn't lead them to new water, He healed the bitter water.  He brought them joy from their hopes that had been dashed to the ground.  Think on this for a moment.  Imagine how great their joy must have been when God healed the water and made it sweet.  Perhaps their difficulty or anguish is what made their joy all the greater because their relief was all the greater.  James 1:2-4 says, "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For when your faith is tested your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed you will be perfect and complete needing nothing."

It is so hard to grasp the idea of finding troubles an opportunity for great joy, but yet it is there in the Bible.  Maybe the sweetening of the water is a direct answer to prayer, or maybe it is sweetened by the work God does in us through the difficulty.  We can have joy knowing that God can sweeten the bitter water - He can heal the disappointed heart.  Over these last couple of days, I'm learning to pray that God sweetens the water I have been led to.  Please notice that in Exodus 15:25 that God tested the Israelites with His decrees and reminded them that He is the God who heals.  Just as James tells us that the testing of our faith is for our good, God tested the Israelites to bring them to a place of faithfulness.  Notice verse 27; God took them to the oasis of Elim where they found 12 springs and 70 palm trees.  Water and shade!  After their time of testing, they were able to rest for a while.

Do you need God to heal your heart?  Do you need Him to sweeten the bitter water of pain and disappointment?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Reader's Choice #2


This week I'm taking a look at some of the most popular posts from this year.  I will resume with Matthew next week.

This post surprised me that it was one of the most visited posts of the year.  This was near the end of my Genesis study and I really felt God leading me to ask questions more than give you my thoughts.  One of the things that really struck me during my study of Genesis was Jacob's faith.  He had been through a lot, but He chose to believe the promises God told him and that shaped the decisions he made for the rest of his life.

The Blessing of the Twelve Tribes


Genesis 49:1-28

The verses I am looking at today are so interesting because they are the blessing that Jacob places on each of his sons.  Verse 28 tells us that each one received an appropriate blessing.  In all honesty, I could spend an entire post on some of the blessings and how prophetic they are; however, I don't think that is where I should be going.  (You can now breath a sigh of relief.)  Instead, please read through these verses for yourself.  Some of you have been journeying throughout Genesis with me and have read through Jacob's life and can probably recognize some of the things Jacob mentions in his blessings.  What I would love to do today is ask a few questions for you to reflect on personally:

  • How do you see past decisions of Jacob's sons play a role in their future blessing?
  • How much prophecy do you read in these blessings?
  • Looking at Judah's blessing, there is a lot of prophecy not only about Judah's descendants.  Who was Jacob referring to in the blessing?
  • What do these blessings tell us about Jacob's faith?
Reflect on these verses and be blessed!  We see in these verses that right until his dying breath, Jacob's faith in God was unwavering.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Reader's Choice Post

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas!  The rest of this week, I am posting some popular posts from this past year.  I will get back to Matthew next week!

The following post is by far the most visited post that I wrote this year.  I cannot emphasize enough the power of prayer in our personal lives and in the lives of our loved ones.  I think combining scripture with our prayers holds more power than we can really understand.

A Little Thought On Prayer and Praise


The Bible is full of so many wonderful prayers and praises to God, and I just wanted to look at a couple.  It is good to meditate on scripture, and I like to pray this verse to God in praise:

"Yours oh Lord is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty.  Everything in the heavens and on the earth is Yours oh Lord and this is Your kingdom.  We adore you as the One who is over all things."  1 Chronicles 29:11 (NLT)

It is a good reminder of the greatness of God, and when I pray this I am overcome by the fact that our God allows us to come before Him in prayer.  That is truly amazing!

This is a prayer that I like to pray over my family:

"My you have the power to understand as all God's people should how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.  Then you will be made complete in all the fullness of life and power that comes from God."  Ephesians 3:18-19 (NLT)

Isn't that a powerful prayer to pray over the ones you love?  There are so many more wonderful verses that we can pray into our lives and into the lives of the people around us.  Memorizing these verses make it so much easier to add them into our prayers.

What are some of your favorite scriptures to pray over yourself and loved ones?

Monday, December 24, 2012

The World Did Not Know Him

Whether or not we want to admit, we all have a preconceived notion of who God is.  We all have an idea of what He'll do in our situations (or what He should do).  We all seem to know how God fits into our lives.  But, the problem with all of that is: 1. There is too much of God for us to know all of Him, 2. God already has a plan and knows what He will do in our lives, 3. God is too big to fit into our lives - we fit into His.  John 1:10 (NLT) says, "He came into the very world He created, but the world didn't recognize Him."  How could the world not recognize its own Creator?  For the very reasons stated above!  Please read Luke 2:16-20.

The world was never expecting the Messiah to be born in a manger with poor parents.  The world never expected that the first people to worship the Messiah would be a group of shepherds who were working the night shift.  This just didn't fit the idea of how God would come in and rescue His people.  But His people didn't understand from what they needed rescuing.  God wanted to save them for eternity, but they wanted circumstantial salvation.  But don't judge them because we all have similar struggles.

It makes me wonder how often I've missed a treasure because I was expecting something different.  When have I expected God to behave in a certain way that made more sense to me?  When have I expected God to fit in to a piece of my life when I should have been asking how He wanted me to fit into His life?  This Christmas, as you worship our Savior who came to earth in such an unexpected way, ask God to search your heart and show you your possible stumbling blocks based on expectations.

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

God With Us

"All right then, the Lord Himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’)."
Isaiah 7:14 (NLT)

God with us.  Do those words astound you?  They do me because of the hope that is wrapped up in them.  God is our Creator and decided to come be with us.  He didn't create us just to watch us struggle and suffer here on earth, He created us to be with us.  This is such a powerful desire that even though we failed to live out the lives He created us to live, He came to be with us.  This speaks unfailing love to my heart.  Here is what John 1 says:
In the beginning the Word already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He existed in the beginning with God.  God created everything through Him, and nothing was created except through Him.  The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. John 1:1-5 (NLT)
He came into the very world He created, but the world didn’t recognize Him.  He came to His own people, and even they rejected Him.  But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God.  They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.  So the Word became human and made His home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.  And we have seen His glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.  John 1:10-14 (NLT)
From His abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.  For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.  John 1:16-17 (NLT)
Accept and believe this unfailing love and faithfulness that came through Jesus Christ!

This post is linked with Spiritual Sundays.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Stories

Stories can be used to send out a powerful message.  Throughout the ages, cultures around the world have used stories to entertain, to spread news, and to teach a moral value.  In the United States, about 3.1 billion books are sold in a year.  That is a lot of books!  In the year 2010, there were 328,259 new  books and editions published in the United States.  We have a lot of stories and opinions to tell.  Then, there is also the media such as newspapers, magazines, television, movies, and the internet to consider as sources for stories.  We also like using symbolism, don't we?  When you think of music, art, and dance we send out messages that require a bit of thinking in order to hear the message being conveyed.  How about some music videos that use creative ways to send a message that the listener wouldn't have necessarily thought of if they were merely listening to the song on the radio.  It is like a story inside a story.  Jesus used stories as well, stories called parables.  He used these parables to teach a deeper message that He wanted His followers to think about.  Please read Matthew 13:1-17.

Matthew tells us at the beginning of these verses that Jesus told a lot of parables.  He then wrote out one of the parables Jesus told people about a farmer scattering seed.  I want to dig into this parable later, but I want to look at what happened later when the disciples had a chance to talk to Jesus about His use of parables.  They asked Him why He used parables whenever He talked to the people listening.  Jesus' answer was interesting and it is important to remember that it applies today just as much as it applied at the time He said it.  Jesus explained that people who are truly seeking and listening, they will be given the understanding of the things He says.  However, there are those whose hearts were hardened and listened without hearing.  They would not understand; but Jesus went on to say that the the little bit of understanding they had would even be lost.

We have something that people didn't have - the Bible.  We have these historical events recorded and written out in a way that we are able to read it!  That is exciting and amazing to think that we are also able to hear the things that Jesus said.  But, we need to be sure that our heart is truly seeking what God is telling us in the Bible.  We need to pray that God continues to soften our hearts so His truth will sink deep down and take root.  Don't forget, anyone who believes in our great hope through Christ has been empowered with the Holy Spirit to give us the understanding we need.  The more we seek, the more will be revealed to us.  What an incredible gift and blessing God has given us.  If you do not understand the things you read in the Bible, you just need to pray and ask God for the understanding.  Sometimes the understanding comes from other people God uses, sometimes the understanding comes from a sermon, and sometimes the understanding comes from the whispers of the Holy Spirit in our heart.  Either way, we are promised that when we seek, it will be given to us (Matthew 7:7-8).

Do you seek and ask God to give you the understanding of what He is teaching us in the Bible?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Look At Matthew 12

I really enjoy reading and I absolutely love reading the Bible.  So, part of my job is wonderful for me because I get to be familiar with a lot of books and Bible studies for small groups.  As the ministry assistant for Community Life (which is the department that oversees small groups), I need to be familiar with the materials we have so I can help group leaders find studies for their groups.  There are some good Bibles and curriculum that encourage people to read through the Bible or the Old or New Testaments.  I was asked by someone about why would read through such a large portion of scripture and shouldn't we be digging in to a smaller section of scripture.  That was a great question!  But I want to share my answer with all of you because I think this is so important for all of us to remember.  I told her how I have been digging in the book of Matthew a few verses at a time and that it has been a wonderful experience.  But, I continued to let her know that while it is important to dig in, it is also important to get the perspective of a bigger picture.  Reading through the Bible gives us a view of the bigger picture of which we are all a part.  So, even though I am not reading through the New Testament with you, I want to go back and look at a big picture I noticed as I was reading through Matthew 12.

The chapter starts with Jesus and His disciples being yelled at for "working" on the Sabbath (they were picking heads of grain while they were walking through a field because they were hungry).  Jesus was then tested on whether or not it was okay to heal on the Sabbath.  Jesus was later accused of casting out a demon through the power of Satan.  Jesus answered them by explaining that the fruit of the person will show what is in their heart.  He talks about the sin of speaking against the Holy Spirit.  Jesus rebuked the religious leaders for wanting a sign because if they were listening to the Spirit they would recognize the Messiah.  And at that point I began to look at how Matthew made sure all these stories were mentioned in succession of one another.  That there was a bigger picture that was being painted for us.  As I was processing that, our pastor preached on Galatians 5:16-26; please read those verses!

Paul wrote about living with the power of the Spirit, and he almost seemed to be summing up what Jesus had been telling us through all the interactions we read in Matthew 12.  The first thing we are told is that we are to be guided by the Holy Spirit and we will be led to do what is right.  He writes more on this in Galatians 5:18 (NLT), "But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses."  This is what Jesus was pointing out in Matthew 12!  When we are being led by the Spirit we do not need to be concerned about the law because the Spirit will always guide us to live the way God wants us to live.  The law was there to show us how to live; however, as believers and followers of Jesus we have the Spirit guiding and empowering us to live out a life that honors God.  Following the Spirit's guidance we will show the fruit Jesus referenced: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

"Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives."  Galatians 5:25 (NLT)

Who guides you?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

God's Family

Each morning, I pray for my husband and my children.  God has blessed me greatly through them and I love them dearly.  My mom, brother, and sister are often included in my prayers as well as my husband's family.  As they are brought to mind, I also pray for extended family.  We do not live near either of our families, so we do not get to see them very often.  Our families are literally spread across the country (coast to coast) and it saddens us that we just cannot see all of them.  We miss them, and our children miss playing with their cousins.  But, being a part of the family of God, we are blessed with brothers and sisters that we can see each week at church.  These are the people who were able to provide us some meals when we moved into our current home and helped us move out of our old apartment.  These are the people who let us borrow a car when ours is in the shop or help pick up a kiddo from school when we have to be in two places at once.  These are the people who will drop what they are doing so they can pray with us.  Trust me, if we lived near any of our families they would all do the same and we would for them (in fact, my sister once let us live at her house for two weeks when we were waiting to move into a new house).  But, since we do not have our families nearby, God has shown us in beautiful ways what it means to be a part of His family.  Please read Matthew 12:46-50.

In these verses, Jesus was pointing out the idea of being a part of a bigger family.  Consider the fact that even though we have heard the term, "family of God," since we gave our life over to Christ, this was one of the first time this society was introduced to the truth behind those words.  Jesus wasn't saying that He didn't care about His mother and brothers; He was pointing out that those who truly worship God were part of His heavenly family.  This is the family that will stand through all ages.  We are bonded together through Christ and it is so important to remember that these people who we sit with in church are more than friends or weekly attenders; these people are our family.  When we read in the Bible the phrase, "dear brothers and sisters," it is not just a religious term; we really are a family for eternity!

So, when you are worshiping in church this weekend and for Christmas  remember that you are spending time with your family.  If you are unable to spend Christmas with your family, be blessed by the eternal family God has given you!

This post is linked with Word Filled Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Give Me A Sign

Have you ever seen the movie, Bruce Almighty?  There is a scene where he wants a sign from God and he is calling out, "Just give me a sign!"  What makes this scene so funny is that he keeps passing literal signs and refuses to recognize them.  The signs give direction; however, he is so intent on needing a sign he cannot see the multiple signs right in front of him.  We laugh at the scene, but some of it is because we really do operate in a similar manner, don't we?  We decide what sign we want and foolishly miss what God is showing us.  I wonder how many things I've missed because I was looking for something specific.  Jesus addresses that issue with the Pharisees in Matthew; please read Matthew 12:38-45.

When you read those verses, don't you find it interesting that the religious leaders demanded a miraculous sign to prove His authority?  Last week, we read how they were upset with Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath and they saw Him heal a man from demon possession.  Jesus had already done so many miraculous signs throughout Israel, yet they were asking for a sign!  Jesus could have easily done something to prove His authority, but instead He told them that they will suffer great judgement for having the Messiah right in their presence and they refuse to believe.  He pointed out that the entire evil city of Nineveh repented at Jonah's warnings and that the Queen of Sheba traveled far to hear Solomon's wisdom.  But the people of Israel had the Messiah walking among them and they refused to listen.  How was it that the people who were not God's chosen people could recognize God's truth and wisdom when His own people couldn't?

Jesus then likened them to a person who had an evil spirit leave them.  He said that eventually the evil spirit would come back and see that person's heart unoccupied and would invite more evil spirits to come occupy the person's heart.  If you have been following Matthew with me, you may remember the many references made about the Holy Spirit earlier in chapter 12.  I will explore this more when I finish chapter 12 in a few days; however, I want to remind you that Jesus had talked so much about the importance of being led by the Holy Spirit.  He is coming back around to that idea when He uses this example.  The person who had the evil spirit leave him needs to have the Holy Spirit come and live in his heart, otherwise, the evil spirit will come back and he will be in even worse shape.  Jesus was pointing out that the generation that He was walking among was in a similar shape because they refused to listen to the Spirit.  They didn't need a sign; they needed to listen to the prodding of the Holy Spirit.

We need to remember that as well.  We do not read the Bible to build up empty knowledge; we read the Bible to learn how God wants us to live out our lives.  We read the Bible so we can be familiar with the Spirit's wisdom so when the Spirit speaks to our hearts, we can recognize His voice.  We read the Bible so we can grow in our relationship with God.  Let's learn to listen to what the Holy Spirit is speaking to our hearts!

This post is linked with On Your Heart Tuesday and Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Things Just Don't Make Sense!

This weekend has been a difficult weekend for America.  It is so difficult to understand why the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut had to happen.  It is so difficult to understand why the lives of 20 innocent kindergartners had to be cut so short in such a violent manner.  It is so difficult to understand why the families of the teachers and children have to mourn this loss right before Christmas.  We all just want to ask why!

I have not been shy on this blog that we live in a broken world; a world full of so much hurt.  When events like this horrible tragedy happen, we are reminded of how much our world is hurting and how this world is imperfect.  We are reminded that on our own we are prone to destruction and sin.  But we are also reminded of something even greater than ourselves.  We are reminded of the immense hope we have through Jesus Christ.  Even though we continue to live our lives here on this earth, we have a hope of a much greater life with our Creator when this life is done.

We need to pray for the families that are experiencing so much pain this Christmas season.  We pray for comfort and healing in their hearts.  We pray that the families draw close to God during this time and come to know Him as the One who knows their pain.  God understands the loss of a child and God wants to comfort them.  We pray that they come to know God as the One who hears them and heals them.  We pray that they find the true peace that comes through Jesus.

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty and Monday Musings.

Friday, December 14, 2012

In the Heart

I just bought some oranges through a high school band fundraiser.  When I got the oranges, I was impressed by the size of the fruit, but the skin wasn't a bright orange like we see in the store.  That didn't matter because when I tasted the fruit it was amazing!  Such a sweet, juicy orange!  On the flip side, earlier in the fall I bought some oranges that looked beautiful; however, when I tasted the fruit I was so disappointed at the bland flavor.  The way the fruit looks on the outside doesn't determine the taste on the inside.  Ultimately, it is the taste of the fruit that matters, not so much the look of the fruit.  The verses I am looking at also talk about the fact that it is what is inside our hearts that counts.  Please read Matthew 12:30-37.

Yesterday, I explored what Jesus said to the Pharisees who accused Him of casting out demons with the power given to Him by Satan.  Jesus told them that if it was through Satan, then Satan was casting out himself.  But He went on to explain that it was the power of the Holy Spirit that allowed Him to overpower Satan.  So, today we pick up with Jesus telling them that if they oppose Him, they are working against Him.  But He went on with that statement and said that anyone who isn't working with Him is working against Him.  Have you ever considered that if you are not doing God's work, you are working against Him?  Let's keep going to explore what that means.

Jesus continued to explain that it is unforgivable to speak against the Holy Spirit.  This verse is probably one of the most questioned statement that Jesus makes because everyone wants to know what blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is.  But I think Jesus continued explanation of speaking against the Holy Spirit is what we need to look at.  Basically, the Pharisees had all the knowledge they needed to know the Messiah, yet when He was there they couldn't recognize Him.  In a sense, they relied so much on their knowledge that they refused to see what the Spirit was showing them.  In fact, they not only didn't recognize the Spirit's work, but they actually claimed that His work was Satan's work.

Jesus continued to point out that this happened because of what was in their hearts.  He told them that if there is evil in our hearts we will give bad products.  If there is good in our hearts, we will give good products.  But the only way we will truly have good in our hearts is if we are following Christ.  We will have the Holy Spirit in our hearts producing the fruit that God desires.  Jesus points out that what we say is the evidence of what is in our hearts.  It is not so much that we need to say the right things; we need to have the Holy Spirit do the right things in our heart.  In order to work with Christ, we need the Holy Spirit.  In order to have the Holy Spirit, we need to believe and follow Jesus.

What is in your heart?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Empowered by God's Spirit

The verses I am looking at this morning have really been difficult for me to write about.  I have started and stopped so many times that I was ready to give up.  I think I changed the title three times!  But then I took a breath and realized that I was reading about the empowerment of the Holy Spirit which is what I pray for each day.  I pray that God would use the Holy Spirit to help me understand what I am reading and that the Holy Spirit would write these posts through me.  This is because I don't trust my own opinion; however, I trust the Holy Spirit.  So as I was staring at a blank slate this morning, all of a sudden I realized that I was focusing too much on wanting to write a good introduction rather than write what the Holy Spirit was speaking to my heart.  I was focusing too much on the post than I was on what God wanted to teach me today.  Because of my wrong focus, I wasn't hearing God.  But that was exactly what God was wanting me to learn.  Please read Matthew 12:22-30.

After healing a demon possessed man, people began to question whether or not Jesus was the long awaited Messiah.  But the Pharisees refused to believe that truth and declared he was casting out demons because He was empowered by Satan.  Jesus knew their thoughts and spoke against them. He explained that if He were casting out demons by the power of Satan, then Satan was fighting against himself.  But, Jesus went on and explained that if Jesus was casting out demons by the power of God's Spirit, then the Kingdom of God had arrived.  Jesus told them that only by the Spirit of God could Satan be tied up and plundered.

Here is the lesson in all this: all that we do for God is done by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. We cannot rely on ourselves because we will eventually fail.  We can do what God called us to do because the Holy Spirit dwells in us and gives us our abilities.  Just as I was depending on myself to write this post and was failing horribly, I will fail at all my attempts to serve God without His help.  He wants us to serve Him and I think it is an honor to serve Him, but we can only serve Him through Him.  Isn't that amazing?

Do you rely on the Holy Spirit in order to serve God?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Hope of the World

Yesterday, I watched a news report about dental clinics who were doing unnecessary dental procedures on children with Medicare dollars.  In fact, the report said that some of the procedures were abusive because the children were not given enough anesthesia.  One mother was crying telling the reporter that it was her fault because she couldn't find a job that paid enough for her to afford to take her children to the dentist with her own money.  That ripped my heart out!  People are exposing children to abusive treatments in order to make money and a mother feels it is her fault.  That is a heavy burden to bear.  Today on the news, I heard about a shooting at a mall that killed two people.  I also watched a little 11 year old girl in Mexico fighting leukemia defending her parents who chose to pull her out of a Phoenix hospital to get treatment in Mexico.  While she was in Phoenix, she had an arm amputated due to a bacterial infection she caught in the hospital.  She told the reporter that her parents don't want her to die in the hospital.  That's a heavy weight for an 11 year old to carry.  Where is the hope in all these situations?  Matthew 12:15-21 reminds us there is an eternal hope that transcends everything.

These verses tell us that Jesus knew that the Pharisees were planning to kill Him, so He left the area and continued to heal many people.  He told them to not reveal who He was.  We are told in these verses that this was to fulfill prophecy found in Isaiah 42:1-4.  We are told in these verses that He will proclaim justice to all nations and through Him justice will be victorious.  There are so many interesting statements in the prophecy, but the one that sticks out the most for me is, "His name will be the hope of the world," (Matthew 12:21, NLT).  Look, the hope that Jesus brings is so powerful that His name is the hope of the world.  Isn't that amazing?  The Greek word, ethnos, is the word that is translated world.  This word can mean nations or world, but it is also a term that was used to mean any Gentile nation.

This is an important piece to this prophecy because it draws us to see why Jesus was being pushed away by His own people.  He was rejected by His own and He became the eternal hope to all of us.  When this world pounds down on us so hard, we can cling to the justice and hope that Jesus promises.  The Greek word for justice is krisis, which can be translated as justice, right, judgement,  separation, or selection.  Don't you find it interesting that we are told that this will be brought to even the Gentile nations?  Could this prophecy be telling us that He would select those in all nations?  Consider that we are reminded of this prophecy right after we see that His own people were plotting to kill Him.  He will select those who rely on the hope He brings.  That is our hope in a world that can bring so much hurt.  This is the hope that Jesus wants us to share with everyone.  Our hope is in the sacrifice that Jesus made through death on the cross.  Our hope is in the victory Jesus had over the separation that death put between Him and God.  Our hope is in the victory that He shares with anyone who believes.

That is the hope of the world!

This post is linked with Word Filled Wednesday.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mercy Over Rules

When my husband and I have household rules, we do not create them in order to catch our kiddos doing something wrong; we make rules in so we can have peace in our home.  We have rules so everyone can live in a courteous environment.  We also have rules that are strictly for safety.  The heart behind the rules is so we can love and respect each other; however, sometimes when our kids are nit-picking at each other, the rules are used to finger point.  As a parent, that is so frustrating!  But for a moment, let's consider God's heart behind all the commands we have been given in the Bible.  Do you think He gets just as frustrated with us when they are used in a legalistic way to catch someone doing something wrong rather than to catch the mercy and love behind the rules?  Jesus speaks against this type of legalism in Matthew 12:1-14.

In these verses, Jesus is being questioned about His and His disciple's behavior on the Sabbath.  God had given exact commands as to how much work was acceptable on the Sabbath and instead of it becoming a blessing and a day of rest for people, it became another set of laws that the Pharisees used to burden people.  God's heart behind this command was lost on the Pharisees and they watched the people carefully to make sure they were following the command.  Unfortunately, their watchful eyes and finger-pointing was probably more tiring than the work the condemned.

In these verses, we see that Jesus tried to redirect the Pharisees back to the heart of the law rather than the fine details of the law.  The disciples were being singled out for picking a few heads of grain to satisfy their hunger.  The Pharisees blew it out of proportion and used the word "harvesting" to point out their sin.  Jesus used David to point out that he broke the law by going into the Temple to eat the sacred bread that only the priests were allowed to eat because He and his companions were hungry.  Jesus reminded the Pharisees that mercy was far more important to God's heart.  Jesus then healed a man in the synagogue as an act of mercy to show once again that the mercy behind the healing was more important than the discussion of whether or not the law was broken.

These verses make me think about how I can lose sight of God's heart and worry more about other people's behavior.  When do I forget mercy and consider the rules more important?  When am I forgetting to consider a person's intent behind their actions?  Hosea 6:6 (KJV) says, "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings."

What is more important to God's heart?

This post is linked with Monday Musings and Sharing His Beauty.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Clever or Childlike?

When we were children, we believe everything that our parents told us; we knew that they were bigger than us and that they knew more than us.  When we were teens, we thought we knew all and understood all and that our parents didn't really know what they were talking about.  As teens, we had a lot of education, but little experience.  The reality was that we had no understanding of the burdens adults carry and that they had a lot of experience to share with us.  As we get older, each experience brings us more understanding and greater burdens.  In fact, doesn't seem that the more we understand the greater our burdens become?  But, Jesus told us that following Him doesn't have to be that way.  Please read Matthew 11:25-30.

The first thing that Jesus does is praise God for revealing knowledge of Him to those who were child-like in their belief.  Jesus saw that God revealed Himself to those who were humble enough to believe and accept what He had to say.  He didn't reveal this knowledge to those who had sophisticated thoughts and ideas because they were already sure they knew everything they needed to know.  The problem with the more sophisticated thinking is that it carries heavy burdens and requirements.

Jesus used some terms that He knew His disciples would understand such as "yoke."  A yoke was something placed on oxen or cattle to guide and direct them.  But the word yoke was also used in relation to rabbis and their disciples.  A disciple of a rabbi did everything that the rabbi did.  The rabbi had some rules or laws that the disciple had to follow.  Those rules were often referred to as a "yoke."  Jesus was telling those who were listening to Him that following Him didn't carry heavy burdens or a difficult yoke.  He said that we just need to remain child-like and accept that we do not know all and we can trust what God reveals to us.  As long as we follow in Jesus' footsteps and remain humble, Jesus will reveal our Father to us.  He will tell us what we need to know.

This life has very heavy burdens for us to carry; however, Jesus calls us to Him so we can have rest.  He tells us that He is the teacher we need and He will be humble and gentle with us.  Think on that for a moment; our Creator was telling us that He is humble!  Isn't He beautiful?  When we give up our heavy burdens and difficult yokes, we find that life with Jesus is amazing and wonderful.  He still calls us in to action; however, He gives us what we need to do the work right when we need it.

Do you believe yourself clever or do you have a child-like faith?  Can you give up your heavy burden and choose to take up the yoke of Jesus?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Accountability

Picture a group of believers reading through a well-worn Bible while gathering secretly in a believer's home.  They know that there is a great risk for meeting if they are caught, but the truth found in the Bible surpasses any danger they face.  They know that they are reaching for the promise of eternal life and want to share that truth with their family and friends.  Now picture a church where the believers can worship freely and they have no fear of being imprisoned if the government finds out about their existence.  In fact, these believers can meet as many times as they want in their building and have so many resources at their finger tips.  But after their worship service is over they complain about the song the worship pastor chose to sing and the way the worship team was dressed.  What is wrong with this picture?  Why is it that the underground church is growing so fast and the free church is in decline in parts of the world?  Jesus speaks to this in Matthew 11:20-24.

Jesus speaks to towns and villages who had the opportunity not just to hear of Christ, but to experience Him.  They saw Him walk their streets and heard His message.  They saw Him perform many miracles, yet they refused to repent and believe.  Yet, Jesus tells us that other towns that were known to be full of sin would have repented immediately.  The very people who should have known Him most were the ones who rejected Him, yet the people who didn't know were the ones to accept, repent, and believe.  God gave His people a special relationship with Him and resources that no one else had, and they chose to continue on in their own way.  Jesus points out that the judgement for those who should know better will be harsher than for the ones who didn't know.  I think this is a warning that we should all consider.

For those of us who are living in the free world and can worship together whenever we want, we need to consider that there is a reason that God put us where we are.  Why did God have us living in a place where there is freedom and resources when there are so many believers living with no resources and have to worship underground?  Have you considered that there is a responsibility for those of us who have the freedom and resources?  Have you considered how it makes God feel when our focus as we gather to worship is about the color of the carpet or which version of the Bible we use when there are so many believers who sit on a dirt floor and have one Bible shared among an entire church?  Have we really become so spoiled?

This isn't about feeling guilty; this is about recognizing the responsibility that God has given us.  We need to recognize that we need to be accountable with what God gave us - we cannot keep it to ourselves to make us comfortable.  I am not saying that the free church needs to worship on the dirt floor because we do need to reach out to the culture that is surrounding us; however, we also need to recognize that the church isn't just about ourselves.  It is about all the believers around the world and reaching out to the lost.  It is about considering others over ourselves; it is about considering how we can step out of our own comfort in order to reach out to the lost.  Let us be responsible with the many resources God has given us and worship Him fully.

What has God given you to share?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Public Opinion

A photographer is questioned on the news for capturing a photo of a man about to bit hit by a train.  None of us know him well enough to guess his motives; however, he says that he was merely using the flash on his camera to alert the driver of the train.  It doesn't matter if the general public knows him or not, he will be judged by many people.  Some will decide that selling a good photo was more important than saving a life while others will believe his story that he was snapping photos while he was rushing to arrive at the scene.  No matter what he says, there will be disagreement among a lot of people who never met him about what his true motives were.  We often make rash decisions about people without all the facts.  We are probably better off in such cases to let it go and say that we cannot know the motives and trust that it is between the person and God.  Jesus faced this scrutiny every day of His ministry on earth and He pointed out the clash of opinions that surrounded Him.  Please read Matthew 11:1-19.

These verses open up with the reminder that Jesus just sent His disciples out with His authority to heal people from all disease and to cast out demons.  We are told that John the Baptist was in prison and sent his disciples to question Jesus about His identity.  There are so many things that could be written about in these verses, but I want to point out more of what Jesus had to say about John.  Jesus gave a message to send back to John that would confirm He was the Messiah, but He also addressed the crowd about John.

Jesus knew that there were a lot of opinions going around about Himself and John the Baptist.  Jesus explained to the crowd that John was the prophet Elijah, fulfilling prophecy.  Everyone knew that the coming of Elijah meant that the Messiah would be coming.  Jesus didn't tell John's disciples that He was the Messiah; instead, He used more prophecy to confirm His identity.  Jesus knew that John would understand what was being said.  In the same way, Jesus didn't tell the crowd that He was the Messiah; He used John's true identity to speak to the crowd.  They knew the prophecy and would have understood that if John was Elijah then Jesus was the Messiah.

This is an interesting thing to think about.  Don't you think it would have been easier to just say to everyone, "I am the Messiah"?  But, perhaps Jesus knew that no matter what He said about Himself, people would have their own opinions even though they didn't know Him.  Jesus chose to speak of the fulfillment of prophecy and allowed them to think through all that they knew about the prophecy of the Messiah to decide whether or not they would believe Him.  Jesus pointed out that no matter what He or John did, there would be those who would judge their actions.  Jesus told them that, "wisdom is shown to be right by its results," (Matthew 11:19, NLT).  So, what do you see in the results?  Do you see a crazy man who died for nothing, or do you see a Creator who desperately wanted to save us?  I choose to believe that our Creator came to sacrifice Himself in order to give us life with Him.

What do you believe?

This post is linked with Word Filled Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Division and Love

A man walks in the front door of the church clutching his well-worn Bible.  Most people come in the doors by the parking lot, but this person didn't drive a car to church so he came in the doors closest to the sidewalk.  Aside from his clothes, this has already set him apart because no one ever uses those doors.  His clothing also draws negative attention to him.  Not because he is wearing jeans; a lot of other people wear jeans to church, but because his jeans are torn and dirty.  His shirt is wrinkled and a bit out of date.  If this man came into your church, would he be welcomed; would anyone talk to him?  Would anyone help him find his way around?  Would anyone give him more information about your church?  Would anyone stop to hear his story?  The verses I read warned us about how the world may treat us as followers of Christ; however, today's verses talk a little how we treat each other.  Please read Matthew 10:32-42.

When you read through these verses, do they seem to contradict themselves?  Let's look a little deeper into what Jesus was telling us.  Jesus fist tells us that He wants all His followers to acknowledge Him here on earth.  It is important that if we are following Him, we tell others about the hope we have in Him.  Jesus then tells us that He didn't come to bring peace; rather, He brought a sword.  As part of the Armor of God, we are told that we have the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17).  Remember, Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1) so He has truly brought us a sword!

He begins to talk about how the family will even be set against one another.  But we need to consider the fact that Jesus was quoting Micah 7:6.  In Micah, Israel is being warned of a time of confusion and judgement as a result of their sin.  Jesus used these verses while He spoke to His disciples what it would mean to follow Him.  Even our own families would not understand our commitment to follow Him.  Was Jesus telling us to hate our families?  Absolutely not!  He was telling us that following Him had to be our first priority no matter the consequences.  The consequence of sin and unbelief would be divisions among family and friends.

Jesus tells us that following Him means that we need to be willing to give up what is so important to us in order to follow Him.  We are told that when we give up our life, we will actually gain life.  God asks us to let go of things because He has something better for us.  But then, Jesus begins to talk about hospitality toward His followers.  Are we willing to accept His prophets and other followers?  When we accept those in His family, we are accepting Christ.  And when we accept Christ, we are accepting God.  So, no matter how others treat us, Jesus told us to treat His followers with love and hospitality.

Now that we looked into these verses a little, do they contradict each other?  Not at all!  Jesus warns us of how we will be treated as His followers, but He tells us how we are to treat each other as part of His family.  He first talks of the divisions that will happen in our earthly families; however, He tells us how our spiritual family should look.  If we love Christ, we will love fellow followers.  The church isn't about ourselves and our comfort; it is about Christ.  There is sacrifice in the walk, but there is life in the walk!

Are you willing to accept the consequences of following Christ?  Are you willing to love His followers?

This post is linked with On Your Heart Tuesdays and Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Value

There are so many tragedies and atrocities in this world that remind us of how imperfect our world is.  Last week, I wrote about a horrific story that a young nine year old girl relayed to a missionary.  We read terrible things in the news about what one human does to another.  We hear about the abomination of human trafficking and how some view human life as disposable.  The stories we hear often reveal the fact that we forget the value of life.  In fact, I think that is exactly one of the ways the enemy attacks us.  If we cannot value human life, we will not recognize our significance to God, our Creator.  If we believe the lies of the enemy that we are not worth anything, we will not believe that God places a high value on us.  But, Jesus reminds us that no matter what people call us, or what they do to us, we are more valuable than we can understand.  Please read Matthew 10:24-31.

Jesus reminds us in these verses that even He has been called the "prince of demons."  If that is the case, His disciples will be called even worse.  But, Jesus also reminded us that we do not have to be afraid of other humans who will call us terrible things or who will want to kill us because they still cannot touch our souls.  Only God has the ability to condemn our souls and He is the One who we should please and believe.  The example Jesus gave us to consider is the sparrow, which had very little value (and probably still would today if they were sold since there are so many).  Jesus pointed out that even though they had such little value, God still knew when one fell to the ground. If God was so aware of a creature with so little value, imagine how much more God values us!

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy; but now you have received mercy.  1 Peter 2:9-10 (NLT)
For we are God's masterpiece.  He created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.  Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)
We are God's masterpiece and His special possession!  Does that encourage you at all?  Can you believe the truth in these words that God penned thousands of years ago and kept fresh so you could read it today?   But notice that there is a responsibility to being His masterpiece and special possession - we are to give Him praise and do the good things He planned for us long ago.  Remember, you are so important to Him that He knows the very number of hairs on your head.  We are valuable to God and He is aware of our every moment; let's live like every moment counts!

Do you believe God places a high value on your life?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty and Monday Musings.