Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reader's Choice Post of 2013 #4

I think this post is such an encouraging reminder of how God can use anyone and anything because it is really His power and action taking place.  Maybe that is why this post is the fourth most read post written in 2013.  I know I have had times where I've really needed this reminder of God's power working in the most unlikely.  It encourages me when I feel inadequate for the task in front of me.

A Horn, A Torch, and A Jar

A few years ago, my mother and father-in-law were given the opportunity to go to Israel.  They were completely amazed at the things they experienced and saw and of course, they came back with gifts for the family.  One of the gifts they gave my son was a ram's horn (or shofar).  It was fun watching everyone trying to get a sound out; some were more successful than others.  When played correctly, the ram's horn can be very loud and heard from a great distance.  It was used on holidays and important events and was also used as a call to arms.  Some scholars also say that it was a reminder of Abraham's trust in God when he was told to sacrifice Isaac; God substituted a ram instead.  The shofar played a huge role in how God used Gideon to defeat the Midianites.  That's not exactly what you would expect for a weapon, is it?  Please use the link and read Judges 7:15-25.

In Gideon's story, we get to see how God transformed Gideon from a struggling person who claimed to be the weakest of the weak to a mighty warrior that was willing to make his first attack on the Midianites with a horn, a torch, and a jar.  Think of that - all within a few days!  He quietly assembled 300 men around the enemy camp and they all blew their horns and broke their jars at the same time.  Just knowing how loud one ram's horn can be, I'm sure hearing 300 blasting at the same time must have been an amazing sound!  Then add the sound of 300 clay jars shattering at the same time.  Think of how disorienting it would have been to wake up to that sound in the middle of the night.  Then think of coming out of your tent and seeing all the blazing torches surrounding the camp.  Even with all of that, what happened next can only be explained as a tremendous show of God's power.  The Midianites began attacking and killing each other!

When God has called us to something that seems so much greater than ourselves, one thing we can count on is His incredible resourcefulness.  God can take the most unlikely things and use them for His purposes.  No one would have ever imagined Gideon to be a great warrior and leader.  No one would have imagined shaking the army down to only 300 men.  No one would have imagined using the enemy to speak encouragement into Gideon.  And no one would have imagined that the most powerful weapons used in battle were a horn, a torch, and a jar.  But it doesn't matter if it fits with our understanding of how things work because it fits with God's understanding.  God tells us in Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV), "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord.  'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'"

Are you willing to trust God's ways - even if it goes outside of our conventional thinking?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Reader's Choice Post 2013 #3

This week, I am continuing to go through some of the top read posts written in 2013.  This is a post that I know every one of us can relate to because we are either dealing with something that doesn't make sense or we know someone who is.  Perhaps that's why it is the third most read post written in 2013.  I guess with Christmas so fresh in our memories, this is a good post to read and reflect on how God's plan didn't make sense at times.  Why would He send Jesus as a baby to grow and die on the cross.  Imagine how that had to be so confusing for those who didn't have the hindsight that we have - they lived through all those events!

Things don't Always Make Sense

I know people who are going through things that just don't make sense.  I've gone through situations that don't make sense.  And I'm sure you can say the same.  I know a few people who have amazing faith that are struggling through a recurrence of cancer and have gone through two or three years of treatment and the cancer is still there.  I know people who have been treated unfairly in their workplace.  I know very gifted people who are struggling to find a job.  I've prayed for children struggling with a chronic illness.  There are things in life that absolutely do not make sense and we know without a doubt that God could take it all away, but for reasons we just don't understand He doesn't take it all away.  The verses I am looking at today have made me think about the things in life that don't make sense.  This is because Jesus' death just doesn't make any sense at all from our human perspective - especially if we are only looking at His death.  Please use the link and read Matthew 27:27-56.

Crucifixion was one of the Roman Empire's form of torture and death for criminals.  In these verses we see that Jesus also experienced terrible beatings and mocking before hand.  If only those people knew who He really was!  At any one of those moments, Jesus could have saved Himself from this unfair and horrific treatment; however, He didn't.  That just doesn't make sense on the surface - He is God, why did He do this?  Even on the cross, He continued to suffer and people continued to mock Him, yet He didn't stop it.  He even suffered the anguish of being separated from God, yet He stayed on the cross.  God could have stopped all these events, in fact He could have prevented all these events, but He didn't.  Leaving the story where I left it today would leave us all confused and wondering how such awful things could happen.  But we get to see the end of the story, which is the fact that Jesus rose from the dead three days later.

We understand that all this happened so that we would no longer have to be separated from God.  Jesus didn't stop any of it from happening because He loves us.  God didn't rescue Him, because His plan and victory would be all the greater when He let Jesus die.  But remember that all of those people who followed Jesus didn't understand all this and lived through the confusion and pain.  This didn't make sense!

James 1:2-4 (NLT) says, "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that 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."  When we are going through difficulties or even things that we would consider horrific and God just doesn't seem to be taking you out of that situation, it is really hard to have the perspective of considering it an opportunity for great joy.  But I think we need to remember that it is an opportunity for joy - meaning we can know that great joy will be coming in the end.  That can be the very thing that we can hang our hope on - we know that joy will be coming.  We may not know when the end will happen, but our joy will come.  When we believe in the hope of the victory Jesus shares with us, we can endure.

Are things just not making sense right now?  Do you trust that God has bigger plans for you?  Can you place your hope in Jesus' victory to help you endure?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Reader's Choice of 2013 #2

As I continue to finish up the year with the top read posts of 2013, I have to admit I was surprised that this post was the second most read post written in 2013.  This is because it is a post that reminds us that our faith is more than just knowing what we believe, it is doing what we believe.  With that said, please enjoy the second most read post written in 2013:

Live It Out

A few days ago, I mentioned how there are certain things in life that we must do ourselves - no one else can do it for us.  I used the example of playing an instrument; we can either play it or we cannot, no one can play it for us.  The other day, we were having a discussion at the table I made the comment, "I understand how football is played, but I can't play football."  That statement is truer than you realize; I was not born with gross motor coordination.  I can have a complete understanding of how something works, but in the end it takes more than understanding, it takes action.  The parables I have been looking at this week addresses the kingdom of heaven, and the parable I am looking at today addresses the idea of knowing and doing.  Please click the link and read Matthew 25:31-46.

I think these are very difficult and challenging verses to read because they probably convict every heart that reads them.  When you look around and see so much need in this world, you cannot help but be convicted from these verses.  But something that is even more convicting is the idea that the salvation we receive through Jesus is something that should be mobilizing us into action.  He is showing us that our belief in Him is important and is what gives us our salvation, but He is also showing us that there is a responsibility that comes with being a part of His family.  If we believe Him and make every effort to understand His heart, we will see that our relationship with Him should be shining through the good things He has called us to do.

How do we get started in knowing what we are do?  When we spend time in the Bible every day, we read about the things that God feels is important to His heart.  When we pray, we can ask God to open our eyes to the things that we can do to show His love to the vulnerable.  I know I mention the Bible and prayer to the point that you probably roll your eyes over it, but there is no disputing this importance.  However, something that I do not mention nearly as much and is equally important is serving.  When we serve in our church and serve the vulnerable, God does an amazing work in our hearts and when we combine it with daily Bible reading and prayer the result is a vibrant faith.  I believe this is because we are doing what is important to God's heart, so we are growing more like Him every time we serve Him by serving others.  This is the difference between knowing about our faith and living it out.  As I wrote yesterday, this is why God has given us all that we have - we invest it back into His kingdom.  And the thing that we have to understand is that no one can live our faith out for us.

What are you doing to live out your faith?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Reader's Choice Post of 2013

As I take a small break between now and 2014, I will be posting the top read posts of 2013.  Today's post is by far the most read post written in 2013.  I'm sure that the reason for this was because of the title I chose: "The Treasure Is Not In a Graveyard."  I didn't think my blog received enough traffic for that title to draw many visitors interested in a real treasure hunt happening out west.  But alas, I found out I was wrong and was surprised to see more traffic than usual on my blog that day!  The awesome thing about this being the top read post is that I really liked this post.  This is because our true treasure really isn't in a graveyard.  Jesus is alive and conquered the grave!  With that small introduction in mind, here is the top read post written in 2013.

The Treasure Is Not In A Graveyard

There is a treasure hunt happening somewhere in western United States.  The man who hid the treasure has been putting out clues on occasion to help people hunt for the treasure.  This morning, he was on the Today Show to reveal a new clue to the location of the treasure.  So, as many people sat on the edge of their seats and tuned in to hear the clue, he simply said, "The treasure is not in a graveyard."  I can't help but wonder what the reaction was to the many people who have been spending time studying the clues and scouring the mountains to find the treasure.  Were they elated because it helped redirect them, or were they disappointed in the clue because it didn't seem to do anything for them except to tell them where not to look?  But I laughed when I heard the clue because it fit so perfectly with the verses I am looking at this morning!  Please use the link and read Matthew 23:25-28.

These verses are a part of an entire chapter where Jesus was giving warnings against the teachers of the law and the Pharisees.  In these words of Jesus, we see Him explaining a few reasons why He called them hypocrites.  Jesus used some interesting objects to explain the importance of having our hearts in the right place.  First, He used a housekeeping item: dish washing.  You have to admit, this is something we can all relate to.  Jesus explained that it was more important to have the inside of the dish clean rather than the outside.  After all, who wants to put the food we are going to eat in a dirty dish?  Who cares if the dish is clean on the outside, I'm more concerned that the part the food will be touching is clean!  Jesus points out that if we take the time to clean the inside, the outside will get cleaned.  When we focus on making our hearts right, we don't need to worry about appearances - all of those things will fall into place.

Then He used an analogy of a white-washed tomb.  He explained that how the tomb looked on the outside didn't matter because the inside of the tomb was full of dead bones.  Jesus continued on to let us know that is what our hearts are like when we focus only on how righteous we appear rather than truly living righteousness.  It makes me think that when we focus only on appearances (looking holy) it is like hunting for heavenly treasures in a graveyard.  The problem with that is that God is the God of the living (Matthew 22:32) and He doesn't put His treasure in a graveyard.  If we are lingering in the graveyard, our hearts will reflect those dead bones.  But if we are treasure hunting in the Bible, which is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12), our hearts will be thriving and growing.  The treasure is not found in appearances, it is found in God.

Where are you treasure hunting?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What It Is All About

I don't know about you, but with all busyness of the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas it is so easy to get caught up and overwhelmed and lose focus.  There is some busyness that we don't have control over such as school concert schedules; however, we also create some of our own frenzy.  It is really easy to get trapped in the consumerism that we've made Christmas to be, which then creates more busyness because we have to carve out enough time to buy presents.  Then we have to find time to wrap presents...then time to open presents...visit family...bake cookies...and so on.  I've even justified some of it because most of what our kiddos receive for Christmas is what they need.  If their pajamas are getting worn out, they get new pajamas.  Growing out of jeans...we get them new jeans.  Of course, socks are always a guarantee.  I'm sure many of you can relate to what I am saying.  But then, the real reason we began celebrating Christmas gets lost - we celebrate Christmas because one evening a precious baby entered the world to eventually sacrifice Himself so we could all receive eternal life.  We just need to believe Him.

So, where did all the crazy frenzy and consumerism come from?  Every culture has its own thing that wants to pull us away from our focus on Christ and I believe that my culture has consumerism and time mismanagement as its main struggles.  Why don't I just replace their clothes right when they need to be replaced rather than waiting for Christmas?  Why wait until the holiday season to fulfill our baking fun?  Why do all the family visits have to happen around the holidays rather than throughout the year (yes...school schedules play some role for those of us who live far from any relatives)?  The more we create the perceived need for these traditions, the easier it is for the real reason we celebrate Christmas to get lost.

Many of us will be attending a Christmas Eve service tonight.  I challenge you to do all you can to clear your mind of the things that still need to be done before tomorrow in order to truly celebrate the reason we have life!  I know the verses I am about to ask you to read are verses you have probably read or heard so many times, but please pray that God gives you a fresh perspective on His love as you read them.  Ask God to reveal to you something new in these verses that you never noticed before.  Please use the link and read Luke 2:1-21.

Have a blessed Christmas and enjoy praising our wonderful Savior!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Blessed Is She Who Believes

There is nothing like a shared experience.  For example, my church has sent several teams to Zambia and there is a common bond among the people who have gone.  Even though they haven't been on the same team, they have been through a similar experience and share an understanding with each other.  You especially notice this when a team arrives home from Zambia and everyone else who has gone in the past want to come and talk to them about their trip.  And for the person just returning, it is so refreshing to be able to share their trip with someone who understands.  As I continue to look at the events leading up to Jesus' birth I want to look at the shared experience that Elizabeth and Mary had.  Please use the link and read Luke 1:39-56.

I think this scene is absolutely amazing.  First we see that Mary rushes over to visit her relative, Elizabeth who is also pregnant.  But this pregnancy is a miracle just like Mary's.  Being single and pregnant isn't easy and then add to that the miraculous conception that you know no one else will believe!  I think it was such a blessing that God made sure she knew of Elizabeth's miraculous pregnancy.  To me, it makes perfect sense that she would hurry to Elizabeth's home where she knows that she will be understood.  And she was right.  As soon as she entered Elizabeth's home, Elizabeth greeted her with an amazing prophecy.

This prophecy is something that is really sticking out at me this morning.  "Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!"  (Luke 1:45, NIV).  What an amazing greeting!  And who would understand more than Elizabeth what a blessing it was that Mary believed; Zechariah was mute throughout Elizabeth's pregnancy because of his momentary lapse of belief.  The more I look at the story of Jesus' birth, the more I see how God not only looked for people of faith, but He also honored and blessed those people as they exercised their faith.  Remember, Elizabeth also understood the importance of believing God because she and Zechariah were considered righteous by God.  We have been told in Hebrews 11 that it is our faith in God that makes us righteous in God's eyes.  So, Elizabeth's greeting was one that was full of wisdom and understanding by a woman of great faith.

Blessed is she who believes...that is something I want God to speak over me.  I want to have the kind of faith that He sees.  I want to have the kind of faith that pleases Him.  I want to have the kind of faith that brings Him glory.

Do you believe?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Friday, December 20, 2013

May Your Word Be Fulfilled

Have you ever been asked to do something that you knew would be incredibly difficult.  In fact, you knew there would be difficulties, but you had no idea what they would be?  What was your reaction?  Did you say no?  Did you do it with complaining?  Or did you manage it well and did the task with peace?  I am continuing looking at the event leading up to Jesus' birth, and today's story has me looking at how Mary was told that she would be the mother of the Messiah.  Please use the link and read this portion of Jesus' story in Luke 1:26-38.

In these verses we see that Gabriel appeared to Mary and greeted her with a greeting that troubled her.  She was told that she highly favored.  I'm sure this troubled her because she was just a young lady who was just going through life.  She worshiped God, but she hadn't done anything spectacular.  But as we continue to look at what she was told and how she reacted, we can see why she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus.  Gabriel told Mary that her son would be the one they had been waiting for - the one who would restore the kingdom of God.  What was Mary's reaction?  She didn't say it was impossible!  She wondered how this would happen since she was a virgin.  Do you see that?  She believed what she was being told, but she just couldn't understand how it would happen.

I love that about her!  I would make assumptions of how God would do it instead of asking.  But Mary was smart enough to ask for more details.  Do you see why she was favored?  She believed and trusted God.  In fact, her trust was so great that her final response is one that humbles me.  She said, "May your word to me be fulfilled."  She didn't run away from this overwhelming word.  She seemed to understand that if God had it planned that she would be the mother of the Messiah that He would also make everything work out.  She trusted Him with the details!  This is challenging because I know when God asks me to do something new (nothing at the level of raising the Messiah!) that I worry about the details.  This is such an amazing reminder to trust God with the details and just follow His lead.  He knows what He is doing.

Do you trust God with the details?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Beginning of New Things

This Christmas season has been an especially busy season for our family and we are really looking forward to tomorrow being the last day of school.  We are looking forward to the weekend to relax a bit and spend some time together.  With that said, I am so thankful to have time in the morning to pray and read the Bible to remember what this season is supposed to be about.  Even though the busy things we are doing are so we can celebrate the birth of Jesus, it is too easy to lose that perspective in the midst of all the activities.  We may feel to busy to stop and spend time with God, but the reality is that the busier we get, the more desperately we need to spend time with God.  I have spent some time reading through what Jesus called Himself and then spent a couple days looking at prophecy and now I want to start looking at the events leading up to Jesus' birth.  I wanted to spend a little more time on prophecy and I would encourage you to do so...I had been battling a cold that was making me move slower than normal in the morning.  While I had time to read the Bible, I had no time to write a post.  You will be blessed by looking at the prophecies spoken about Jesus; I believe they will remind you of why He came to earth as a human.  Today, let's look at the story of Mary's Aunt and Uncle found in Luke 1:5-25.

I love the introduction we receive about who Zechariah and Elizabeth were; we are told that they were righteous in God's eyes.  In Hebrews 11, we learn that we become righteous in God's eyes when we have faith.  He wants us to believe Him - not just believe in Him, but believe what He says.  He wants us to trust Him fully and completely.  So we know that Zechariah and Elizabeth had faith in God.  I stress that because later in this story, we see that Gabriel made Zechariah mute because he didn't believe what he was told about having a son.  I think there is a difference from living a consistent life of faith and having a moment where God says something that seems crazy to us.  Zechariah is commended for being righteous which means he believed God; I think he had a momentary lapse because the news seemed impossible.  But with God, all things are possible.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were old and had settled to the fact that they probably were not going to have a child.  Have you been there?  Have you had such a strong desire in your heart and finally you let it go thinking that the opportunity was past and it will never happen.  I'm sure that was where Zechariah was with the thought of having a child.  Think about how astonishing the news must have been to hear that he was going to have a son after he had finally let go of that hope.  But, God didn't stop working in him just because of his momentary lapse; instead, God gave him even stronger evidence of His work.  God knows our heart and He knows our faith.  God wants to see consistent trust so when we have a moment struggling to believe what He tells us, He has something to work with.  Let's not beat ourselves up over the momentary struggles; instead, let's do what we can to strengthen our faith.  Let's ask God to give us more faith.  Let's spend time in prayer and in the Bible to strengthen the faith we already have.

How is your faith?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

God With Us

Do you believe our God is with us?  Do you believe we were not put on this earth to fend for ourselves?  Do you believe that God cares for us?  I do!  I know that He gave us purpose and is with us every step of the way.  I couldn't possibly list in this post every reason why I know that God loves us and we are so precious to Him, but I can show one reason why I know this to be true.  There is a lot of prophecy about Jesus in the Old Testament and I am looking at what we are told about Jesus in Isaiah 7:14 (NLT).  "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’)."  God is with us!

God spoke the reality that He is with us through the prophecy about Jesus.  I know that was specifically spoken about Jesus walking this earth as a human; however, I also know what Jesus promised when He ascended into Heaven.  He promised us the Holy Spirit, which is also God.  He promised that we would be comforted, empowered, and gifted by the Holy Spirit.  While I cannot even imagine what it was like the night that our Savior was born as a human, I know that He did not come only to abandon us 33 years later.  He is still with us!

This Christmas, we have so much for which to give thanks!  God sent us our hope for eternal life, but He also sent us what we need to continue learning and growing in Him.  Remember as we celebrate the birth of Christ that we are celebrating the birth of life change.  We are celebrating that the promise of life is given to anyone who chooses to believe in Jesus.

Do you believe our God is with us?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

No More Gloom

For most of my life I have lived near a great lake (I'll also put my plug in - vacationing along the West Michigan shore of Lake Michigan is worth it!).  Having such an incredible natural resource so close by is absolutely wonderful.  I live about 2 miles away from the Lake Erie shore in Western New York, so it is nice to see the beauty of the lake at any given time.  There is one draw-back for living in the great lakes region...a lot of clouds in the winter.  It is so gloomy in the winter!  We can go for weeks without seeing the sun because the cloud coverage is so thick.  I know that the clouds help keep the heat in, but it really gets hard when all you see is gray in the sky and old, dirty snow on the ground (that's what it looks like in February around here).  You know, there is also a gloom that invades our spiritual lives.  Watching the news, it can get overwhelming when we see how much we hurt each other.  Theft, murder, human trafficking, terrorism, school shootings, and so on just remind us of how much pain this world is in and it would be really easy to allow that to cloud our spiritual thinking.  But, there is prophecy about the Messiah (Jesus) who is like the sun breaking through the gloomy clouds.  He breaks through that spiritual gloom and shines amazing light in our lives.  Please use the link and read some prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 9:1-7.

Around here, when we have a sunny day in the winter we all get excited.  It may be cold out there, but to see blue sky and sunshine in the middle of winter is a wonderful thing!  That is what I think of when I read Isaiah 9:2 (NIV): "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned."  Verse 1 even tells us in the NIV that there will be no more gloom for those in distress.  I think that even the hope of the Messiah must have been like the sun peeking through the gloomy clouds.  The idea of this great light breaking through all this worldly pain makes me think of what John wrote in John 1:9,14 (NIV) "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world...The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."  

Did the light come with great trumpet blasts?  That is the crazy thing!  Our Messiah came as a poor, humble little baby.  A baby that was dependent on Mary and Joseph to meet His needs.  This amazing light entered the world not as a king but as a child.  He grew up among us and walked among us full of grace and truth.  This was foretold long before He was born!  To me, I see all the more how much He loves us to humble Himself in that way.  He is our true light and He breaks through the gloom and gives us the light of the great hope we have in Him.

Do you focus on the light of Jesus?

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Good Shepherd

I have a friend who grew up raising sheep.  I remember she once explained that sheep recognize the voice of the one caring for them and will only respond to them.  In fact, if someone new comes and calls to the sheep using the same commands the sheep will not respond because they do not recognize their voice.  The sheep trust the person who cares for them and listen for their voice.  In the New Testament, Jesus described Himself as the good shepherd.  Please use the link and read John 10:1-18 to see what Jesus meant by that description.

There are a couple of things I want to draw out in these verses.  First, Jesus is our shepherd; He cares for us and protects us.  Jesus tells us in these verses that a good shepherd would face the enemy and be willing to die in order to protect his flock; no one else would be willing to do that.  Jesus cares so much for us that He died for us in order to keep the enemy from claiming us.  Instead of allowing the enemy to enter through the gate, He died and had victory over death and reclaimed His own life.  There is no one else that can do that!

That brings me to my next point; we can trust Him.  It is hard when the pressures around us feel suffocating to have the perspective that Jesus will not lead us into harm, but if we can remember all that Jesus did for us we can trust Him completely to where He is leading us.  Just think, the whole purpose of Him coming to earth was to ultimately sacrifice Himself in order to save us.  There is no greater love!  Why would He do all that just to hand us over to the enemy for destruction?

We can trust Him.
We can follow Him.

Do you trust our Good Shepherd?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Vine

My husband and I had only been married three years when we moved into a house that was much bigger than what we needed.  We were renting the house; however, we were able to pick the cherries from the large sour cherry tree (they make the best cherry pie!) and we were told that we could plant a garden in the large yard.  The backyard had a slope and about halfway down the slope was an arbor where there had once been a grape vine.  We moved in the house in the spring and discovered that there was a little shoot coming out of the stump of the grape vine.  My husband had spent time that summer nurturing the shoot and watching it climb up the arbor.  He had visions of one day enjoying fresh grapes from our vine.  Those visions quickly disappeared when in one fateful second he accidentally put the weed whacker too close to the little vine.  One second and the vine was taken down.  He was so disappointed!  We currently live in a region where there are a lot of orchards and vineyards, so I have had the opportunity to see healthy vines.  These vines are not little shoots that are susceptible to a weed whacker (although I would advise keeping your weed whackers as far away from your grape vines as possible!), the vines are solid and stable.  As I celebrate Advent, I am looking at the various ways Jesus described Himself.  Today, I want to look at a few verses where He describes Himself as the vine.  Please read John 15:1-8.

Reading these verses, I certainly see how Jesus was showing us that He is our life source.  Without Him there is no purpose, there is no life, and we certainly will not bear the fruit that God wants in our lives.  We need to remain in Him in order to have the source of life it takes to bear fruit.  The fruit that Jesus was referring to is the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  As long as we remain in Jesus - this means purposefully choosing to follow Him - we will bear fruit.  What a beautiful gift we have in Jesus!

Are you staying on the vine?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Light of the World

I am very near-sighted, but now that I am in my 40's I am having trouble reading things too close.  It is kind of strange (and annoying) to not see anything far away, but also not to be able to see things close up.  Since I have astigmatism, I cannot correct the reading issue with cheap drug store reading glasses, the eye doctor has said the dreaded words: bifocals.  Yuck!  That will probably happen the next time I buy glasses.  The most annoying thing with my vision is that I really struggle at night.  I don't like to drive at night because the lights from other cars get a little blurry in my vision.  But, we need those car lights and street lights otherwise it would be too dangerous to drive at night.  I'd rather drive when it is light out when I don't have a problem.  True light is so much better than the artificial street and car lights.  We don't just see a portion of the road when it is lit up, in sunlight we see the road and everything around it.  Today, I want to look at another truth the Bible tells us about Jesus in relation to light:
Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”  John 8:12 (NLT)
Jesus was referring to a light that was so much greater than the light we get from the sun.  This is a light that breaks through spiritual darkness.  Spiritual darkness - the darkness of the soul that makes one feel lost, wondering if there is a point to this life.  When we are stuck in that darkness, we cannot see clearly and we feel alone even when there are people around us.  When we are in darkness, we are wandering around bumping into people hurting others and ourselves.  We need light in order to live out the lives we were created to live.

Jesus is our light.  He is the One who gives us a spiritual vision and perspective to see there is a lot more on this road than wandering around.  This light leads us to eternal life and gives us purpose.  Suddenly we become aware that there is more to this life than just ourselves; we are aware that we are not alone.  We have a Creator who loves us and has plans for us to do good things.   This great and wonderful light came into our world full of darkness so we could see there is so much more to life on this earth.  We have a hope that surpasses anything!

Are you focusing on the light?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Word

There are a lot of things in this world that I just do not understand.  How does an airplane fly?  How does the earth keep spinning?  How do birds instinctively understand when and where to migrate?  And so on...  I don't have to understand these things, but I see airplanes fly overhead every day.  The sun rises and falls each day with regularity.  Every Autumn and Spring, I see birds on their migratory paths.  Just because I don't understand how they work, doesn't mean that it isn't true.  Today, I am looking at another truth of who Jesus is: the Word made human.  I cannot understand how this happened; however, the validity of that truth doesn't rest on whether or not I understand.  I just have to believe in faith who Jesus is.  Please use the link and read John 1:1-5, 14.  You will need to keep scrolling down the page to read verse 14.

In these verses, we read an incredible description of Jesus.  He is God's Word made a human so we could experience Him so intimately.  But we are also given an understanding of how powerful God's Word is:  everything was created through Jesus and Jesus gave life to everything that was created.  That is amazing!  Once again, I don't have to understand how it worked, but if the Word created everything and gave life to everything, then I guess if He decided to be human He could.  Basically, what I learn from these verses is that there is nothing that can't be done by our amazing God.  And His awesome Word came to walk on this planet with us in order to sacrifice Himself to save us.  Do you see how outrageous that is?  The very One who created us and gave us life did the ultimate sacrifice to give us eternal life.  That was such a humble act of the most incredible love this world has ever seen.

Take time today to thank God for this amazing act of love - the Word made human.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Bread From Heaven

This fall, I have been blessed through a new Community Group that I am a part of.  Over the last four years of working at church with groups, I have seen many new groups start up.  It has been fun and refreshing to be a part of this new group and see how God put us together.  Last night, we were talking about the "Sword of the Spirit," which is the Word of God.  In our conversation, it made me think of how I hunger for His Word and how much joy God gives me by discovering new treasures in His Word.  I absolutely love my time with God while reading the Bible.  I love the truths that are in there that become more solid in my heart the more I read them.  The more we spend in the Bible, the more familiar we are with the Bible and the more it becomes our sword when we are facing trials and temptations.  So, this morning as I went on to Bible Gateway to look up what I was going to read today, the verse of the day caught my attention.  It was John 6:35, but I want to look at the verse this morning with a little more context.  Please use the link and read John 6:25-35.

Perhaps I am stepping out of the order I thought would make sense and I should have started with John 1:1, but these verses were really speaking to me.  In John 1, we are told that Jesus is the Word of God; everything was created through Him.  We are told that He is the Word who became human.  With that thought in mind, what do these verses in John 6 speak to you?  Earlier, I mentioned my hunger for His Word and in these verses Jesus tells us that He is the bread of life.  Knowing that Jesus is the Word and the bread of life, do you see how filling our hearts with the truths in the Bible is what sustains us?  The hunger and thirst Jesus was referring to in theses verses are much deeper than a physical hunger and thirst; this is a hunger that longs for truth and life.  Do I understand how Jesus is the Word of God made human?  No!  That is far beyond my ability to understand how God did that, but I believe it (I also don't understand how gravity works, but that doesn't mean it isn't working).  Reading Jesus' words explaining that He is the bread of life helps me see why we are sustained when we spend time reading the Bible.  Jesus reminds us in verse 29 we have to believe in Him.

The more I understand who Jesus is, the more overwhelmed I am by the incredible gift we have been given through Him!  Our God is so amazing and loving that He would bless us with His Word walking among us and explaining that it is through Him we are given life.  When we are filling our hearts with the Bible and believing, we are filling our hearts with Christ.  He is the One who satisfies our hunger and thirst.

Do you take in the true nourishment we receive from Jesus?

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Advent 2013

In our house, we have five concerts done and four more to go this Christmas season.  There was also a marching band performance for the parade this past weekend and there is a Christmas production at church coming up.  Fill in the gaps with the regular evening activities, school musical rehearsals, and staff parties and the calendar is pretty full.  I know that so many other families have schedules that look like my family's schedule and it is also easy to see why our focus on why we celebrate Christmas gets lost.  It is interesting how so many of these extra activities have come about so we could celebrate Christmas together, but the end result has been a season of busyness that makes people stressed-out and tired.  In our home, the majority of our busyness is from school, so it isn't a schedule we can control completely.

My hope on my blog is to help us all get re-focused on Christmas and the amazing gift we have been given in Christ.  I pray that it isn't just a nice thought to have while reading the blog but that God will help us turn our eyes to Him even when our days are busy.  I pray that through our busyness, we will remember why we are busy - we celebrating the birth of our Savior.  I will be looking at three different topics - a reminder of who Jesus is, prophecy about Jesus, and the stories leading up to the birth of Jesus.  Today, I thought looking at who Jesus is would be a great start to this Advent season.  Please use the link and read Hebrews 1:1-4.

These verses are such a powerful description of who Jesus is.  There are some truths found in these verses that we can meditate on throughout our day:

  • God speaks to us through Jesus rather than only through prophets.
  • God has given Jesus everything.
  • Everything was created through Jesus.
  • Jesus radiates God's glory.
  • Jesus expresses the very character of God.
  • Jesus sustains everything.
  • Jesus cleansed us from our sins.
  • Jesus sits at the right hand of God - a place of honor.
  • Jesus is greater than the angels.
  • Jesus' name is greater than the angels' names.
That is a lot of truth packed in four verses!  Each point in and of itself shows us why we worship our incredible Savior.  Take time today to choose just one or two of these truths to thank God for the awesome gift we have in Jesus.

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Wrap Up - Entering Rest

Yesterday was such a nice day!  We spent most of the day taking it easy and being with each other.  We went to spend Thanksgiving with some friends later in the day, so I prepared the couple of dishes I was bringing.  It was a very easy and restful day!  It was so nice to spend such an easy day with our family and then to finish off the day with friends.  Just think, God's rest will be even better!  As I wrap up my "Entering Rest" study, it makes me think of how amazing it will be to be in the rest God promises for all who follow Him.  I want to go to where we started seven weeks ago and remind us of Hebrews 4:1 (NIV), "Therefore, since the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it."  I would like to throw out the reality that none of can fully comprehend what this rest will be like, but I know that it will be better than any rest here on earth could possibly be like!

Some things that God has made very clear throughout these seven weeks are:

  • The promise for His rest still stands.
  • We need each other to help motivate us to keep from falling into sin.
  • We need the Holy Spirit to empower us on this journey.
  • When facing temptation, God gives us what we need to be victorious.
  • When we can remember the great prize that lies before us, we can be motivated to press on - even in the face of temptation.
  • When we remember and are thankful for all the Christ has done for us, we will be motivated to continue on in obedience.
I hope all of my U.S. readers enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and friends and took the time to reflect on what God has done for them.

This Sunday marks the beginning of Advent, so I would like to spend the next few weeks looking at verses that remind us of why we celebrate Christmas.  I hope you join me and take time during this busy season to remember the great hope we have in Christ.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

In All Its Richness

Each year, my church has a tradition to have a Communion service on Thanksgiving Eve.  But this service is such a casual service of giving God thanks for all He has done.  There is a time when people have the opportunity to share why they are thankful and it is always so wonderful to hear people express how God provided for them.  Last night, we had the opportunity to hear some people say that they started their journey following Christ this past year.  We had the opportunity to hear from people who experienced a difficult year but within that year also experienced God in ways that they needed.  Others expressed thankfulness for God's provision through the church body.  And of course, children expressed thankfulness for having Jesus.  God is a great and generous God and we really do not need to look far to remember what we have in Jesus to give us a heart of thanksgiving.  This week, I am wrapping up my "Entering Rest" study and how appropriate and wonderful it is that God directed me to finish up with giving thanks to Him.  For one final time, please use the link and read through Colossians 3:1-17.

"Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives."  That phrase is sticking out at me this morning!  If we just cannot find anything in our lives for which to be thankful, this is what redirects our hearts to thanksgiving.  If we let the message of Christ fill our lives we would always be thankful.  The wonderful hope we have is something that this world just cannot offer.  Our Creator, who is perfect, has lavished His generous mercy on us so that we will not pay the penalty for our arrogant sin.  Yes, our sin is arrogant because when we are in the moment of sin we are forgetting about our amazing God and we are choosing to please ourselves.  But even with our self-centered motives, God still chose to give us the gift of Jesus so we could experience eternal life.

I love the phrase, "in all its richness."  What a rich message the love of Christ is to our hearts!  It is such a rich and wonderful message; there really are no human words that can possibly express God's amazing and prodigious love for us.  This is the wealth we are to be seeking; so many treasures are buried in His amazing love for us and He sets us on a journey where we get to discover them piece by piece.  We have an extraordinary God who wants to be with us.  Let the message of Jesus fill your heart in all its richness - you will be overwhelmed with thankfulness!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

And Be Thankful

Throughout the last 6 1/2 weeks, one thing that keeps coming back to me is the idea that the promise of eternal life is a hope that helps us with all that we are facing here.  Are you facing temptation?  Keep your eyes on the prize that we are looking forward to.  Are you overwhelmed and tired?  We have a hope that reminds us to keep pressing on.  Do you feel incapable?  God empowers us with the Holy Spirit so we can live a life worthy of our calling.  Today, I want to focus a bit on how our attitude should change as a result of knowing that we have such great and precious promises.  Please use the link and read Colossians 3:1-15.

Reading through this can seem overwhelming because it is a list of very specific dos and don'ts; however, remember the wonderful reminder we are given in verses 1-4.  When Christ appears, we will share in His glory.  The very idea that someone like me who has failures and sins on my record could share in His glory overwhelms me!  But, when we believe in Jesus and His sacrifice for us and His victory over death, He shares His victory with us.  Those failures and sins are not only wiped away, but God can even redeem all our failures and turn them into something He can use.  It is so wonderful to see how God chooses to use us (failures and all) and shows His glory by redeeming us.  Have you ever thought about the idea that we share in His glory even here on earth just by Him using us?  Incredible!

And that brings me to my final point - thankfulness.  When you think on these things, is your heart filled with thanksgiving?  After being told very specific things that God wants to see in our lives (with His help), notice the last sentence, "And be thankful."  NLT tells us to always be thankful.  We can have those difficult days (or years) where it is truly hard to scrape up anything to be thankful for, but when we focus on the promise of eternal life and entering God's rest we have a lot for which to be thankful.  There is no greater gift and it is one that can keep us going.  And be thankful.

Are you thankful for God's great gift we have in Jesus?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A New Perspective

There are times when things can just bog us down and we forget why we do what we do.  For example, when we are in the midst of preparations for something big, we can lose the joy in all the details.  We can lose sight of what we are preparing for and focus merely on the preparations.  All of us have been there!  Think about hosting a Thanksgiving meal.  I love to prepare and cook a Thanksgiving meal and have company over, but the details of cleaning the house and cleaning up the cooking mess as I prepare throughout the week can get me off-focus.  While mopping the floor, I could easily forget and lose sight of how much fun it will be to be with family and friends giving thanks to our amazing Creator.  We each have different things that weigh us down, but we also can redirect our minds to why we do what we do.  The verses I am looking at today remind me of this.  Please use the link and read Colossians 3:1-11.

These verses have a long list of things that we need to clean out of our lives.  When we choose to follow Christ, He sets up home in our hearts and He wants to help us do some housekeeping.  I like to have company over, but the preparations can be a lot of work.  That is the way it is when we choose to follow Christ.  We want Him living in us, but the housekeeping is work!  This list of things that God wants out of our lives has different challenges for each of us.  One person may not struggle with lying, but they struggle with greed.  Another person may struggle with anger.  But, we are told in a few verses right before this list why we want to clean the garbage out of our hearts.  Colossians 3:3-4 (NIV), "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory."  Christ is our life and we are told that we will be with Him in glory.  That is amazing and something that we can focus on while we allow God to clean house in our hearts.

So, instead of thinking of it as a list of don'ts, we can have a thankful heart for what is to come and clean up the garbage with joy.  God is working something wonderful in our lives!

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, November 25, 2013

On Things Above

I enjoy Black Friday shopping with my husband.  It is kind of strange that someone like me would like Black Friday because I really don't like crowds.  However, early in the morning there is almost a camaraderie with fellow shoppers that forms while waiting in the long line; people chat with each other and share info on other deals.  But, Black Friday is changing and it is bleeding over into Thanksgiving which I think is unfortunate.  I really enjoy Thanksgiving because it is a day to spend with family or friends and reminds us of why we give thanks to God.  I think it is too bad that a day set aside to be thankful for what we already have is becoming a day filled with consumerism; it is the opposite of what Thanksgiving is about.  But, it made me think of how there is so much in this world that wants to pull our attention away from what we should be focusing on.  Distractions are everywhere, but we are told to set those aside and focus on the One who gives us life.  Please use the link and read through Colossians 3:1-4.

These verses are very clear that our focus should be on the things above.  The promise of entering God's rest comes to us because Jesus' has victory over death.  So, when we chose to follow Jesus we died to ourselves and were raised to new life in Him.  Colossians 3:1 (NIV) says, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God."  Since we have been raised with Christ, we shouldn't be focusing on the things that we rose from.  We focus on the One who raised us and promises us life.  I think this is key to helping us with our temptations and the things that want to drag us away from the amazing promises of God.  When we keep our hearts focused on Him, it will help us to keep our minds from wandering into our desires.

Maybe this is why I wanted to do this study on the promise of entering rest because it is helping me to stay focused on things above and the things to come that are promised for all who believe.  As you go throughout your day and find the things surrounding you wanting to take your focus away from God, pray that God helps you keep your eyes on Him.  2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV) reminds us, "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  What is unseen is eternal, so let's keep our hearts focused on that!

Where is your focus?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bound in Peace

When I think of the amazing design of the human body, I am reminded of how marvelous our Creator is!  Something I am thinking about this morning are ligaments.  Ligaments are bands of tissue that connect bone to bone.  These are what hold the body together.  Ligaments can either provide elasticity to allow movement in joints (for example, the knee), or they hold bones in place (for example, the ribs).  In joints, ligaments provide both movement and stability.  Without ligaments, our bodies would not move the way we want them to move.  In fact, our body wouldn't work correctly at all!  Yesterday, I explored the idea that an important part of our faith walk includes the body of believers and how we are motivated by love.  Today, I want to look at a wonderful word-picture we are given in Ephesians about how we are bound together in the way that ligaments holds the body together.  Please use the link and read Ephesians 4:1-7.

Ephesians 4:3 (NLT) says, "Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace."  Over the last few weeks, we've seen the phrase, "make every effort" several times.  This phrase not only gives me a sense of urgency, but it also conveys the idea that it isn't easy.  I guess if it were easy we wouldn't have to put much effort into it at all.  Unity is definitely something that requires effort because it really is a lot easier to react poorly to situations than to exercise self-control.  I know from my own experience that if I am reacting immediately to a difficult situation, I will most likely find myself ashamed from my response.  However, if keeping peace is my goal and I hold my tongue, I've just given myself time to think through things and will even find error in my own thinking.  Keeping peace isn't about controlling someone else's behavior, it is about controlling our thoughts and behaviors.  The wonderful thing about peace is that the Holy Spirit is the one who empowers us with peace.

Peace is amazing and necessary in the church body.  We are told in Ephesians 4:3 that it binds us together.  The word translated as bind is the Greek word, syndesmos.  This word means "that which binds together, a band, bond of ligaments by which the members of the human body are united together." (see footnote 1).  Just as the ligaments hold the body together and allow for movement, peace does the same for the church body.  Isn't that amazing!  Peace is absolutely necessary for us to work properly as the body of Christ.  Let's make every effort to come to one another in peace.

Have you prayed for God to fill you with peace?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

1. Greek Lexicon :: G4886 (NIV). Retrieved from 
http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4886&t=NIV

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fueled By Love

How often do you think of your faith walk as something that is done collectively with other believers?  We each have our individual response to God when we believe Him, and we are each accountable to God for believing and trusting Him.  However, we also have been given the beautiful gift of being a part of the body of Christ, which is the church.  This is so much bigger than the local church building that you meet in every week, this is the collective body of believers.  Yesterday, I explored the fact that it is such an honor to have high expectations placed on us by our wonderful Creator; today I would like to look at how those expectations are lived out within the body of Christ.  Please use the link and read through Ephesians 4:1-7.

"Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love." Ephesians 4:2 (NLT).  That phrase "because of your love" is jumping off the page for me this morning.  Because of your love....be humble.  Because of your love...be gentle.  Because of your love...be patient with each other.  Because of your love...make allowance for each other's faults.  None of those expectations are easy, are they?  Last week and the beginning of this week I explored the qualities that we are expected to have in our individual walk with Christ - these were things that we worked into our lives on our own with God.  But this list is specifically how we interact as a body of believers and it is fueled by our love.  Remember love was the last quality listed in 2 Peter 1:7 that we are to add to our faith?  Do you see how our personal growth with God has a direct impact on our collective growth as a body of believers?  When we are adding love to our faith, it will fuel our passion to the body as a whole.

Think about it for a moment.  The moment we add love to our faith we begin to look outside ourselves, because that is what love does.  Love doesn't mean to think only of ourselves; love requires us to consider the people around us.  That in and of itself builds humility because love makes us think of others.  Love will treat people the way we would want to be treated since we are thinking of others.  That shows us how love helps us to be gentle.  Love will remember that the person your are interacting with is human and imperfect just like you, which will in turn help you to be patient with them and make allowance for their faults.  Do you see how it is impossible to sustain these healthy interactions without love?  When we add love to our faith, we are given the ability to interact with one another the way God intended.  If you struggle adding love to your faith, remember what you believe.  The very fact that we are saved through Jesus was the greatest act of love!  We were created because God loves us!  Meditate on His outrageous love for us and it will help grow love to your faith.

Are you fueled by love?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Worthy of Our Call

When I know someone has high expectations for me, it motivates me to do all I can to live up to those expectations.  Can you relate?  It is not a high pressure thing; if I feel someone has seen enough in me to think I can do something, I want to do all I can to live up to it.  As parents, we are told that when we allow our kids to see that we believe in them and their ability to accomplish something, it is like we've empowered them to do it.  This morning as I was praying, I was feeling as if God does the same with us.  For a little over a week, I've looked at how the promise we have of entering God's rest also comes with expectations.  God wants to see us grow more like Him and He has even given us the Holy Spirit to change us.  But as I was praying, I was astonished by God's incredible expectations for us.  It was such a beautiful thing to realize that these expectations for us came out of His immeasurable love for us.  He doesn't give us tasks that crush us, instead He asks us to use the power of the Holy Spirit to do something we didn't think we could accomplish.  Isn't that amazing?  With that thought in mind, please use the link and read Ephesians 4:1-7.

I love what we are told in Ephesians 4:1 (NLT), "Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God."  Have you ever thought about having a calling on your life?  So often we think of someone being "called" as someone who has stepped into some type of ministry position.  But that is not what I see in these verses.  You have been called to live a life for God - whether or not you have taken a ministry position in a church or other organization.  This calling is to follow Christ which is the most worthy calling you will ever have and it comes with high expectations.  But remember, it isn't to crush us or overwhelm us; these high expectations come from the One who created us.  He knows what we are capable of achieving, especially since we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.  So, just as any other job has expectations of how to live up to the job, we have these amazing expectations to live up to the most honorable calling that exists.  The awesome thing about God's incredible expectations are that they just make our lives even better.

Pray and ask God to open your eyes to see what an honor it is that He would place such high expectations on your life.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Proof

If you couldn't tell people you are a Christian, how would people know?  What are the non-verbal ways you show you are a Christ follower?  As I have continued through my study of the promise of entering God's rest, I have spent some time looking at the expectations God has for us.  When we call ourselves Christian, we are saying we are following Christ.  That means that we need to live according to the example Jesus gave us when He lived on this earth.  So, my question is: Since we call ourselves Christian, are we living in a way that shows we are following Christ without having to verbalize it?  If people look at the way we are treating others and how we are living out our lives, will they be pointed to Christ?  It is really easy for me to type out those questions and be convicted of the things I am ashamed of doing or saying.  However, instead of looking at our failures and being stuck there, let's consider the redemption we experience and look at what we can do to bring God glory.  One more time I am going to ask you to click the link and read through 2 Peter 1:3-11.

I want to remind you of 2 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV):
"His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires."
 I feel these verses are very important because they remind us that we are given the ability to live out a godly life through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  We are not doing this alone or by our own strength; God gives exactly what we need right when we need it to obey Him.  We have great and precious promises to share in His divine nature!  That is incredible.  Since we have these promises and we know that we have what we need to add to our faith all the wonderful qualities listed in these verses, let's look at 2 Peter 1:10-11 (NLT):
So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We are told to work hard or "make every effort" (NIV) to show that we really are part of God's family.  I look at that statement as what we need to be asking ourselves - Am I living in a way that shows that I am a Christ follower?  Without going into this too much, we are told that we are not saved by what we do; we are saved by faith.  However, we can also see that our faith should be the motivator for what we do.  What we do is the evidence of what we believe.  When we are working hard to obey God because of His extravagant love for us, we are providing proof of our faith.  I want to be clear: without faith we will never be able to consistently add these qualities.  Faith is what gives us what we need to add these qualities.  And the promise we have is so great!  We will receive a grand entrance into Jesus's Kingdom!  The prize at the end is worth it.

Are you living in a way that proves you have faith in Christ?

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Productive and Useful

If you have ever applied for a job or college, applied for a special position, or auditioned to get a part or a position, you know that just getting accepted isn't the end of the story.  There are minimum requirements that you need to keep in order to keep the position you have been given.  That is just a normal expectation for most things we will do in life - it isn't unfair.  Those requirements just assure that you are doing what you should be doing.  They also help you to stay fresh in your school work or job.  In our faith walk, we should be motivated by God's love to continue to work going beyond believing - it should make a difference in all that we do.  Last week, I looked at the qualities that God wants to see us add to our faith as we grow in our walk with Him and I want to continue looking at what we are told in 2 Peter why we need to add these qualities to our faith.  Please use the link and read 2 Peter 1:3-11.

Today, I am focusing specifically on verses 8-11 because these tell us why we need to make sure those qualities are evident in our faith walk.  Notice the first thing we are told why to make sure we are adding these qualities to our life in verse 8.  The NLT tells us that we will be more "productive and useful" in our knowledge about Jesus.  Isn't that an interesting phrase?  Our knowledge of Jesus is supposed to be productive and useful.  Last week, I explored the word, "knowledge" in verse 6, but the word "knowledge" in verse 8 is a different word.  Verse 6 expressed a knowledge of understanding our faith, in particular how we are supposed to live.  In verse 8, the word knowledge is epignōsis, which means, "precise and correct knowledge; used in the NT of the knowledge of things ethical and divine."  (see footnote 1.)  So, in this verse, Peter is specifically referring to our spiritual knowledge of God.  This is the knowledge that our faith is based on.  However, don't you find it interesting to see that we could become ineffective and unproductive in this knowledge?

We are told to not just add those qualities to our faith, but we are to add them in "increasing measure."  To me, that means that we should continue to grow in those qualities.  There is no mark that says that we have enough of those qualities.  We are even warned that if we are not adding these qualities to our lives continuously, we are forgetting the great sacrifices that Christ made in order to cleansed from our sins.  I don't want to be near-sighted in my faith!  I don't want to forget how much Christ has done for me!  I don't want my knowledge to be unproductive.  Reading the Bible is a good and necessary thing to do, but if all we do is read to increase our knowledge we are missing the point.  Look at what James 1:22-25 (NIV) says about that:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
Let's not just add to our knowledge about God - let's make sure that we are motivated by His love to add these qualities to our lives.  Let's not deceive ourselves.  Let's make sure our knowledge is productive and useful.

Are you adding these qualities to your faith?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

1. Greek Lexicon :: G1922 (NIV). Retrieved from
http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1922&t=NIV

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Furnishings

Think of a person who is building a mansion for a king.  It is a beautiful building which the builder spared no expense.  The best materials were used in the construction of the mansion and the best construction workers were found to build it.  Once the mansion is finished, the interior decorator comes in to fill the home with furnishings.  But the interior decorator decides that it just isn't worth the effort to seek out the best furnishings for the new home and puts in old, used furniture.  This furniture isn't just old and used, it is stained and ragged and doesn't fit the surrounding of this beautiful mansion.  Do you think the king will be pleased when he sees his new home?  We are told in the Bible that we are to be adding certain qualities to our hearts, which is similar to furnishing our hearts.  For the last few days, I've been looking at 2 Peter at the qualities we are to be supplementing our faith.  Please use the link and read 2 Peter 1:3-11.

The word supplement from the NLT is really sticking in my mind this morning and I want to look briefly at the original Greek word.  According to BlueLetterBible.com, the Greek word is, epichorēgeō and it means, "to supply, furnish, present." (see footnote 1).  I like the word furnish.  It makes me think of an empty house that needs to be filled with furniture.  Think of our faith in Christ as that house, which is good and important.  We all need to have the shelter of a building; however, it would also be good to have furniture to sit or sleep on and a place to sit when eating meals.  So, while our faith is absolutely important and necessary, think of it as an opportunity where God cleans house in our hearts and now it needs to be furnished with good things.  If we do not furnish our faith with the qualities mentioned in these verses, it is like building a new home and inviting a king to live there and filling it with old, ragged furniture.  We don't need to let our old human nature to stay as furnishings in our hearts, we need to fill it with good, high quality furnishings.  After all, we are told that the Holy Spirit is taking residence in us and He deserves the best!

I spent a little time in yesterday's post looking at what each of these qualities mean.  It is worth finding out the original Greek definition because our English version just doesn't quite give the entire picture of what God is telling us how to furnish our hearts.  Once again, we are given everything we need in order to do this!  The Holy Spirit empowers us to be able to choose the best items to furnish His residence.  So, we are not doing this alone; we have the best help!  We just need to make the effort to work with Him to add quality furnishings.

How are you furnishing your heart?

1. Greek Lexicon :: G2023 (NIV). Retrieved from
http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2023&t=NIV

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Recipe For Success

My daughter has recently discovered a love for baking, so it has been fun watching her look up new recipes to try.  She enjoys watching shows like Cupcake Wars and DC Cupcakes and it stirs up her creativity.  Something she has learned from watching Cupcake Wars and from her own baking experience is that every ingredient is important.  If you forget an ingredient, it will change the flavor and consistency of the cake or cookie.  God has given us a recipe for success to follow.  But, success in God's eyes is so different from how humans like to define success.  In God's eyes, success means becoming more like Him.  I want to continue looking at 2 Peter to read through the recipe that is guaranteed to please God.  Please use the link and read 2 Peter 1:3-11.

Yesterday, I focused on verses 3 and 4 and explored the mighty power we have living in us - the Holy Spirit.  We truly are empowered to live out the life that pleases God!  Today, I want to dig through verses 5 through 8 and read through the "ingredients" that are a part of God's recipe for success.  The first thing we read is faith; faith is the required ingredient to live a godly life.  Without faith, all the rest of the qualities will amount to nothing.  In fact, I think it is impossible to add the rest of the qualities to our life without faith because when we do not have faith we cannot be empowered by the Holy Spirit.  So, we must believe that God is the one and only God and that Jesus sacrificed Himself so we could experience forgiveness from our sins.  Jesus, who is God, had victory over death and came back to life and shares that victory with everyone who believes in Him.  Once we have the faith to believe this miraculous plan God has for us, we are given the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit to empower us to add godly qualities to our life.

So, we are told to add goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love.  In fact, we are told to "make every effort" to add these things.  Whenever I see that phrase, I am given a sense of importance and urgency.  It gives me a feeling that we cannot afford to not work toward adding these qualities to our faith.   Since this is a blog post and not a book, I am going to quickly look at the definitions found on BlueLetterBible.com to see what they mean (see footnote 1).  For example, goodness isn't a very descriptive term to me and the definition is: "a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action."  It is not just what we do externally, but it is also internal - a part of who become.  One definition of knowledge is "moral wisdom, such as is seen in right living."  Knowledge just isn't knowing a lot of information, but it is understanding how we are supposed to live.  Self-control used in these verses means, "the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, esp. his sensual appetites."  Perseverance means, "in the NT the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings."  Godliness means, "reverence, respect" [toward God].  Mutual affection means, "brotherly love."  And love means, "affection, good will, love, benevolence, brotherly love."

As you can see, the English words don't always give us the bigger picture of what was originally stated.  It would be really easy for us to come up with our own definition of what they mean, but when we look up the Greek, we see what God is expecting from us.  I will continue more on these verses tomorrow, but I hope this has helped open your eyes a little to how we are supposed to live - I know this has helped me!

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

1. 2 Peter 1 (New International Version). Retrieved from 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Great and Precious Promises

A while back while on a diet, I learned if I focused on what I could eat rather than what I couldn't eat I was more successful.  The weeks where I had more victories in my weight loss were the weeks where I had spent time meal planning good food that was good for me.  Because I had planned out my meals, I had less hunger and cravings throughout the day and I experienced greater will-power to resist the foods that would increase my cravings.  I believe that the same practice is true for our spiritual selves; when we have a plan and focus on what God wants us to do we will be more likely to live it out in our lives.  I spent all last week on temptation and how God has promised us help when we face temptation.  He has given us each other to give us encouragement and prayer when we are facing temptation.  He has given us the Bible that is full of humans who had their own struggles with temptation and successfully ran the faith race.  And most importantly, He has given us Jesus, who died for us, and we are told to keep our eyes on Him who perfects our faith.  When we think of Jesus' sacrifice, it helps us overcome our temptation.  What wonderful gifts!  I believe when we focus on the good things God wants for us we live it out in our lives more and more each day, so I want to spend this week looking at the good God wants us to do.  Please use the link and read 2 Peter 1:3-11.

I love these verses!  They are packed with so much and I believe these verses give us a plan on how to live the life God called us to live.  I want to spend a little time looking at verses 3 and 4 because they remind us why we live a life that pleases God.  We are first reminded that God has given us everything we need to live a godly life.  I don't know about you, but I think it is such an empowering statement!  That statement in and of itself reminds me that I am not doing this on my own, I have the divine power of Christ working in me.  Look at what Romans 8:10-12 (NLT) tells us about that:
And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God.  The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, He will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.  Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do.
That is some serious power we have in us - we really have been given everything we need to live a life that pleases God.  I can confidently say there is nothing more powerful than what is living in us who believe.

We are reminded that when we tap into this amazing power and live out a life of faith, we are given "great and precious promises."  Oh, how precious these promises are!  These are promises of eternal life - experiencing God's rest.  When I think of the fact that these promises are given to me through Christ even though I do not deserve them, it motivates me all the more to do the good He wants me to do.  So much has been sacrificed so I can experience these promises and I want to live up to them.  I want to live a life that is worthy of these "great and precious promises," and I have the greatest power living in me and giving me what I need to do it.  So, not only do we have the promise of life, but God even gives us what we need to live up to it.  How amazing is our God!?

Do you look forward to these "great and precious promises?"  Does it motivate you all the more to live a life that honors our great God?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Unshakable

When I was studying music in middle school and high school I was taking private lessons where my teachers would have me do exercises that were not always fun and often difficult but they were intended to make me a better musician.  It worked because when it came time to audition, I got accepted into music school and was able to work toward my goal of becoming a music therapist.  Then once in music school I had to face my performance anxiety in order to continue on in my major.  Once again, it was unpleasant but it was worth reaching my goal.  That is kind of what this week felt like in my study because this week's focus has been on an unpleasant topic - temptation.  No one likes to talk about temptation and the dangers of caving in to temptation, but since the Bible gives us warnings about temptation and promises for help it is something we need to look at.  None of us are immune to temptation and I think we each have periods in life where the temptation pounds on us with great intensity.  Knowing the warnings and understanding the tools God has given us to walk away from temptation is important in keeping us on track in our walk with God.  I want to wrap up this week with one more reminder of why we don't want to cave to temptation and what God gives us to help us.  Please use the link and read Hebrews 12:25-29.

We are reminded in these verses that the reward is great when we stay the course - an unshakable kingdom.  Imagine a kingdom that cannot be shaken!  There is nothing on earth that cannot be destroyed, yet God has a kingdom that cannot even be shaken and He wants us to be a part of that.  We are told in these verses to listen to God, and to be thankful and worship Him.  There is nothing in these verses that tell us it will be easy; however, we are told that it is worth it.  Remember Hebrews 12:1 (NLT), "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us."  Yesterday, we were reminded of Esau giving up his birthright for a meal and how that is what we are doing when we purposefully choose to walk back into sin.  We were reminded that what we are promised as God's children is so incredible and we do not want to give it up just to satisfy a human desire.  Paul wrote in Philippians 3:7 (NLT), "I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done."  This what we looked at in Hebrews 12:2-3 and were reminded of how much Christ sacrificed for us.  That is far more valuable than giving up a sinful desire.

We also looked in James 1 where we were reminded that God doesn't tempt us; our temptations come from the desires in our heart.  Look at what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 about temptation:  "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."  What an amazing promise that God will provide a way out!  This happens when we keep our eyes on Jesus, the One who sacrificed so much for us.  Being a part of a body of believers is also the gift God has given us.

And one last reminder: the rewards are great when we resist temptation.  James 1:12 (NLT) says, "God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him."  So press on and pray for God to give you what you need in the midst of your temptation.  He has an unshakable kingdom waiting.  It is worth it!

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Single Meal

In recent posts, I've already shared how I feel it is important to get into a small community of believers (small group) to help you grow in your relationship with God, grow with each other, and serve others.  One of the ways that a small group that is essential in your relationship with God is helping each other from falling into sin.  I've already looked at a few verses that show what a beautiful gift God has given us through fellow believers and the verses I am looking at will remind us of that reality again.  However, that will not be my main focus for today as I look at a greater warning the author of Hebrews gave us.  Please use the link and read Hebrews 12:14-17.

Okay, first I will point out verse 15 that says, "Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God." (NLT).  This another reminder that God has a wonderful plan for us to be in unity so we can help each other in our walk with God.  We do this by encouraging one another just as the author of Hebrews did at the beginning of Hebrews 12.  But now I want to look a little further at the warning we are given of falling into sin.  "Make sure that no one is immoral or godless like Esau, who traded his birthright as the firstborn son for a single meal." Hebrews 12:16 (NLT).  This is referencing the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25:24-34.  Esau in a moment of hunger let go of his birthright for a bowl of stew.  Now, before you consider how ridiculous that may sound, think about what is something that is a great temptation for you.  Yesterday I looked at Hebrews 12:2-3 where we are told that all we need to do is look to Jesus to help us from caving into sin.  We are reminded that He has done so much for us and that is all we need to remember not to let our temptations lead us away from God.  But, going back to the example the author gives us about Esau giving up his birthright is the very warning we need to heed.  When we choose sin over Jesus, it is the same.

Without going too far into this, we are told in the Bible that when we believe and follow Christ, we are adopted into God's family.  We are His children.  But when we know this and still choose sin over the great promises we have as God's children, it is no different than Esau giving up his birthright.  I am talking about a purposeful and willing walk right into sin.  This is why God gave us each other - we can go to one another to encourage us and pray for us when we are facing great temptation.  We don't want to give up our birthright just for a single meal - a moment of pleasure.  We don't want to give up the great promise of entering God's presence and experiencing His rest just for a single meal.  We have too much to look forward to and we just need to look to Jesus and remember all that He has done so we could have the birthright we possess.

What is the single meal that tries to lure you away?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Temptation

Today, I just want to jump in where I left off in yesterday's post. I left off with the idea that when we are in a difficult situation or facing temptation, we are also given the encouragement of those who came before us. The greatest encouragement we have in everything we face is Jesus, who faced the same temptations we face and lived a sinless life. Being perfect, He offered Himself as a sacrifice for all of us so that we could be right with God. He was scorned and mocked by the very sinners He sought to save, yet He continued on His mission because His love for us was greater than the temptation to walk away. That is why it is so important to turn our eyes to Him when we are overwhelmed by our temptations and situations. Hebrews 12:1-4 (NLT) says,
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility He endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.  After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin."
 Jesus has done so much for us so that we could have victory over sin.  This is why it is so important to keep our thoughts on Him when we are struggling with temptation.  None of us are immune to temptation - even Jesus face it.  But that is the very reason we can turn to Him; He understands how overwhelming it can be at times and He also shows us that we can come out of it victorious.  We just need to turn to Him.  Hebrews 12:4 reminds us that He has done so much more than we have in our struggle against sin, so we have to turn to Him and remember His sacrifice.

James 1:12-13 (NLT) reminds us:
"God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.  And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, 'God is tempting me.' God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else."
Our temptations may be a time of testing that God can use to perfect us; however, He is never the one who tempts us.  In fact, James 1 continues to tell us that our temptations come from our own desires.  But when we endure the temptation and trials, we have the promise of eternal life!  We fix our eyes on Jesus who endured so much more than we have and know that it is because of Him that the hope of this promise is ours.

Are you being tempted today?  Have you turned to Jesus and remembered His sacrifice?