Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hold to Our Original Conviction

Hebrews 3:13-14 (NIV):  "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called 'Today,' so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end."

This is my current memory verse.  After reading through the New Testament, this sums up the message that seemed to reoccur.  Our original conviction the writer of Hebrews was referring to was the fact that we understand that we are separated from God in our sinful selves.  But we also believe in faith that God sent us Jesus, who was fully God and fully man and lived a perfect life here on earth.  God's plan was that Jesus would die in our place and have victory over death on the third day of His death.  Jesus is alive and shares His victory over death to anyone who believes.  This is what Easter is all about!  As long as it is today; we celebrate Christ's resurrection and the amazing hope we hold on to.

We are to live through that conviction each and every day, and encourage fellow believers to do the same.  We face difficulties that can wear us down, but God made us (the church) as one body with Jesus at the head so we can lift each other up.  As long as it is called today, this is what we should do.

What an amazing plan!

This post is linked with Spiritual Sundays.

Friday, March 29, 2013

CBE Wrap Up

Well...eight weeks later, we've made it through the New Testament!  If you have been following along with me through the Community Bible Experience, I hope you have been as blessed as I have by reading through the entire New Testament in such a short amount of time.  For me, it has been wonderful to take a break from looking at a small amount of scripture at a time to take the time to look at the New Testament with a broader view.  What new things I saw by taking this bigger picture!  And now my head is filled with so many things I want to back and look at even more.  I truly hope that is the same for you.  The Bible is so rich with treasure that God desperately wants to share with you - you just need to open it up and spend some time with your Creator.

If you fell behind in your reading and didn't finish; don't give up!  It is worth finishing - even reading the stuff that's hard to understand.  Don't forget, God will reveal to you what you need to know right when you need to know it.  You just need to be open to listening to His truth.  And if you didn't follow along with the Community Bible Experience, I hope you would consider reading through the New Testament and get such an incredible picture of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love.

My greatest hope for you is that this just made you want to read the Bible.  Don't forget - it is alive and will change your life!

"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."  Hebrews 4:12 (NIV)

Today is Good Friday - a day when we remember the unimaginable sacrifice that Jesus made for us all.  This is God's plan so He can extend mercy to the entire world.  The victory of Jesus' resurrection three days later is where we stake our hope.  He is risen!

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Come, Lord Jesus

Today is the last day of reading for the Community Bible Experience and what a last day it is!  It has been wonderful reading through the New Testament and reading about how much God loves us; loves us so much that He made a plan for our salvation.  This isn't a salvation from the difficult things in life (at least right now), but a salvation from all of our sin.  This salvation is offered to anyone who believe in Jesus and chooses to follow Him.  But, as we have read throughout the New Testament, this path is one that we must choose to walk on daily.  We must be purposeful in our faith walk, otherwise we may turn off the narrow path.  But we are not alone in this walk - we have the Holy Spirit who empowers us.  God also binds all believers together as one body so we can lift each other up on this journey.  But, there is something else that God has given us to encourage us on the path: hope.  Today's reading through the last chapters of Revelation reminds us of the great hope we have.  Hope of better things to come!

We are living in an age that has been unlike any other.  We have media that puts all information at our finger tips.  Think about the fact that there are people from many countries that stop and visit this blog; that is something that wasn't even possible twenty years ago!  My children do not know a life without the internet.  But with all this accessibility, there are also some great temptations that come at us every moment.  This accessibility also include information about some great injustices going on throughout the world which should be opening the eyes of the church to do something.  But even with all the evil we can see in this world, according Revelation there will be a time that is even worse.  But for those who faithfully and patiently endure, there is a great promise - a wonderful ending.

Revelation 21:4 (NIV) says, "'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  What a wonderful hope to hold!  No more death, mourning, crying, or pain.  We are also given this invitation in Revelation 22:17 (NIV), "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let the one who hears say, 'Come!' Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life."  What a wonderful gift is the water of life.

I will end with one more phrase at the end of Revelation found in chapter 22:20,
"He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.'
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus."

Come, Lord Jesus.

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Patient Endurance and Faithfulness

Do you like the words patience or endurance?  When I hear those words, they always seem connected with something not so great.  For example, you never hear someone say that they have to endure joy.  When I hear the word patience, I think of a long wait...a wait for something that we want to happen.  When I hear the word endurance, I think of having to bear something unpleasant, such as pain.  Today is the second day of reading Revelation, and this takes us through the middle of the book.  There is some powerful imagery and prophecy of things that sound terrible, but then in the middle of it all we read the phrase, "This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people," Revelation 13:10 (NIV).  This phrase is written in the midst of terrible things, and we are reminded of the patient endurance and faithfulness that is required for those who follow Jesus.

Do you find it interesting that phrase is used after reviewing the entire New Testament?  Jesus modeled the patient endurance and faithfulness for us while He walked on this earth.  We are given a sense of urgency to do all that we can to follow Jesus with verses like:

  • "He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27 NIV)
  • “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to." (Luke 13:24 NIV)
  • In the NIV, the phrase "make every effort" is used 8 times throughout the New Testament letters.
  • "Press on," is used three times in the NIV throughout the New Testament letters.
Do you see the patient endurance following Christ requires?  The life to follow Christ will take all our strength!  We need to make every effort.  We need to be faithful to our love.  We will need to endure.  The road is not easy, but the reward is so great.

Pray that God will give you the ability to follow Him with patient endurance and faithfulness!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Warnings and Blessings

This morning, the Community Bible Experience takes us through the first three chapters of Revelation.  I have to admit that I feel completely inadequate to write about the book of Revelation since I haven't ever studied the book under someone with more knowledge.  But with that said, I also have to trust that God will reveal what I need to know through the Holy Spirit as I read through the book this week.  What I saw in the first three chapters are a series of warnings, but there are also beautiful promises of blessing for those who patiently endure.  In all honesty, in these three chapters, I saw a summary of what the New Testament gave to us.

I am not suggesting that one only needs to read through Revelation in order to understand the New Testament, but I am saying that so many of the warnings and promises that we are given throughout the New Testament are placed right in the first three chapters.  The first thing that we see in Revelation is a description of God.  We are first told who He is: the one who is, who was, and who is to come (Revelation 1:4,8).  God immediately establishes that He is the God of today, yesterday, and for all eternity.  We are also introduced to the Holy Spirit, who is described as "the seven spirits," or the "seven-fold spirit" (Revelation 1:4).  We are then introduced to Jesus "who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth," (Revelation 1:5).

The warnings and promise follow this in the form of letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor.  In these letters we are warned against complacency in our faith (forgetting our first love when we came to Christ - Revelation 2:4).  We are warned against following false teaching that will lead us into sin.  We are warned against becoming a dead church.  Finally we are warned from becoming "lukewarm," or in a sense not really having a passion for anything - especially in God.  I think we can all heed these warnings and even consider the culture of our own churches.  Are there things in our church culture that fit these warnings or are signs that we are heading in that direction?

But with these warnings there are amazing promises to those who patiently endure and remain faithful to God.  The promises are: the right to eat from the tree of life, will not be hurt by "the second death," hidden manna and a new name, authority over all nations, dressed in white, name never blotted out of the book of life, no one will take their crown, God's Name written on them, name of the new Jerusalem, and Jesus's new name, and sit with Jesus.  Those are wonderful promises that can help us endure.  Once again, it reminds me of how I saw such a sense of urgency throughout the New Testament to keep pressing on in our faith, to have purpose to continue on.  If we do not purposefully make the choice each and every day to follow Jesus, then we run the risk of becoming what we are warned against.

Do you hold on to the promises given to those who remain faithful?

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Line Is Drawn

This is the last week of the Community Bible Experience.  I know that many of you who follow this blog are not doing the CBE (I am doing it as part of my church's all church journey); however, I hope that by reading through these posts you have had an opportunity to see how rich the New Testament is.  With reading so much in one setting, it has been impossible for me to be able to write about every detail I read, but I have been writing about some points that seemed to be highlighted in my heart.  God gave us so many treasures in the Bible, and it has been wonderful to get a big picture view of the New Testament over these eight weeks.  There have been so many new things I learned by broadening my view and it has been absolutely amazing!  Today's reading took me through 1, 2, and 3 John, and once again it was so good to read through a get the big picture in these letters.

1 John has a few main themes going through the letter, but there was one theme that remained constant throughout the entire letter: this is what it means to be a child of God.  He explains the message of Christ's sacrifice for us, but he spent quite a bit of his time explaining what that means for us.  He spent time drawing a line in the sand for us: if you are a child of God then this is what you should do.  Do you live in the darkness and follow the world, or do you live in the light where God is?  He clearly sums up in a small letter what it means if we claim to know God.  He tells us that if we know God then we will follow His commands (which are not burdensome because God gives us all we need to keep His commands).  He tells us that if we know God then we will live a life of love because God is love.  If you love God, then the world will hate you.  If you know God, then do not follow the teachings of the world.

John drew the line and it is challenging to read through as we examine our own hearts.  Do I live as one who knows God; as one who is His child?  But that is the wonderful thing that John reminds us in this letter - the forgiveness we have received through Jesus.  1 John 1:9 (NIV) says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."  1 John 2:1-2 (NIV) says, "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."  I don't know about you, but this motivates me all the more to start again today to live the life that pleases God with the help from the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is my atoning sacrifice and I have received forgiveness, so I should live a life that shows the light that is living in me.  I need to walk in the light because that is where God is!

Do you choose darkness or light?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

As Long As It Is Day

When I was a child, I used to be afraid of thunderstorms (even during the day).  I remember one afternoon when I was supposed to be taking a nap a storm hit and I couldn't sleep.  My mom came into the room and she told me that the thunder was just the sound of the angels bowling up in heaven and the lightening was them flickering the lights on and off to celebrate a strike.  Even then, I knew it was silly, but it calmed me down and I was able to fall asleep.  But, it is interesting to remember that God created this world that does have its storms and it does have thunder and lightening.  Our world has daylight and darkness.  That is what we see from our human perspective and in our physical world.  When Jesus came, He was opening our eyes to the spiritual darkness and light.  Today's reading through the Community Bible Experience has taken me through a portion of the book of John where we are told of many miracles Jesus did and yet there was still unbelief.

Yesterday, I wrote about the wonderful truth that Jesus was the light.  In fact, He is the light through whom the world was created, yet the world didn't recognize Him when He came.  Today, Jesus took many opportunities to remind people of His light, even referring to the time of His walking on earth as daylight.  One opportunity He seized to get His point across was in John 9, where He healed a blind man from birth.  Jesus said in John 9:4 (NIV), "As long as it is day, we must do the works of Him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  As long as it is day...  Jesus healed the man, yet there were those who refused to believe.  In fact, they threw the healed man out of the temple when he claimed the truth that he was healed by God.

As long as it is day.  This reminds me of reading through 2 Peter a few days ago where Peter wrote four times in the short letter, "make every effort..."  Don't both these phrases give you a sense of urgency?  In 2 Peter, we are given the urgency to do all that we can to do what pleases God.  In this section of John we are given the urgency to do all that we can while there is still time.  Jesus gave us another taste of this urgency when he healed Lazarus in John 11.  When His disciples asked Him why He would go back to heal Lazarus when people in that area wanted to kill Him, Jesus replied (John 11:9-10 NIV), “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”  As long as it is day...

We are given a short time here on earth; that is just part of the human experience.  If we believe in Jesus, we have His light dwelling in us.  This is our hour.  As long as it is day...  We need to do all we can while it is day.  We are all called by God to do His work.  As long as it is day we must to the work set before us.  If we follow Christ, that means we are to live as He lived.  He lived with purpose and determination to do all that He could during His time.   As long as it is day...

What are you doing with your daylight?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Light That Has Not Been Overcome

I have absolutely no luck in buying three way lamps!  It doesn't seem to matter where we bought it or what brand we bought, it seems that after a short period of time the lamp flickers and dims when it is on the highest setting.  Maybe it isn't the lamp; maybe it is that three way light bulbs just have a shortened life span....very short.  I don't know what the real issue is, all I know is that while I was praying this morning my room suddenly seemed to get dimmer.  Yup, the lamp in my room went from the highest setting to the lowest setting all on its own.  I have to admit that it made me chuckle a little bit because we've only had the lamp for about six months and the bulb has been in the lamp probably for two months.  Go figure!  I guess we'll be buying a new light bulb soon.

I am thinking about that lamp right now because I read through the first few chapters of the Gospel of John.  I love the opening of John because he didn't mince words about who Jesus is; on the contrary, he made sure he was painting a clear picture of Jesus.  John 1:4 (NIV), "In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."  The darkness has not overcome the light.  Notice how the second sentence is present tense - the light has not been overcome.  You see, my lamp is fallible; however, the true light - Jesus - will never be overcome by darkness.  His light will always shine through even the darkest hours and will never fail.

Continuing on to John 3:16 (NIV), Jesus said, "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."  We need to believe in the salvation that only Jesus can give - our true light.  But Jesus continued on to explain that there is no condemnation for those who believe in Him, but those who refuse to believe will be condemned.  John 3:19-21 (NIV) explains why: "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God."

Light exposes evil.  Plain and simple.  If my bedroom is a mess, it remains messy whether or not my light is turned on.  I just have to look at my mess when it is dark, but when my light is on I can see everything that needs to be cleaned up.  Our lives are the same way.  We can prefer to stay in the dark so we don't have to see the things that need to change; however, when we choose to believe and step into the light we expose ourselves and see the things that need to go.  It is inevitable that when we choose to follow Jesus, we will change because His light will show us what needs to change and what is good.  The most incredible thing is that this light will never be overcome by darkness!  Light overcomes darkness, but darkness cannot extinguish light.  Isn't that wonderful?

Are you living in the light?

This post is linked with Word Filled Wednesday.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

No Matter What

When I was in the eighth grade, my flute teacher gave me a few pieces to look at for the state's Solo and Ensemble Festival which is where young musicians played in front of a judge to be graded on their performance.  One of the pieces she showed me was a piece that was just above my ability; however, she wanted me to take a look at it.  "Years ago, one of my eighth graders played this piece and got a 1st division rating.  She worked hard and we were really proud of her."  When I went home, I could barely get through the piece but I connected with it immediately.  I loved the piece and was determined to learn the piece and get a first division rating (the highest rating).  No matter what was happening, I made sure to take time every day to work on that piece along with the other assignments my teacher gave me to work on.  When the time came, I was ready to perform the piece and I received a first division rating.  It was the determination I had when I approached the piece that allowed me to be successful.  It seemed beyond my grasp, but I knew if I worked hard and practiced it every day I could accomplish the task.

Reading 2 Peter this morning reminded me of this because Peter reminded all believers to continue on with determination to grow in our faith.  He reminded us of our calling and to keep the truths found in the Bible no matter what was happening in the world around us.  A phrase that we read throughout this short book is, "make every effort."  Make every effort - that is a very challenging phrase when you really stop and think about it.  Back as a middle school student, I made every effort to continue improving my musical skills.  I was always looking at what I wanted to be and took the steps necessary to get to that level.  But when I read the phrase, "make every effort," I see that is the kind of determination that God wants us to have in our faith.

2 Peter 1:5 says, "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love."  He later says in 2 Peter 1:10, "Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election."  He reminded all of us of the wonderful gift of grace and great hope in Jesus and in 2 Peter 3:14 he wrote, "So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him."  Peter wrote of his own determination in 2 Peter 1:15, "And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things." 

Peter wrote these reminders with a sense of urgency to do this because we are surrounded by those who do not believe and may even laugh at our faith.  We may even find ourselves threatened because of our faith, but we are to make every effort to continue on.  Make every effort.  Do you sense the urgency?  Do you understand that we make every effort because of the eternal promises we hold on to?  Make every effort.  This phrase reminds us that this is our first priority.  Our relationship with God is what drives us, this is what defines all of our actions.  Make every effort.  We grow in our faith by purposeful determination to learn and do the things that please God.  Consistent time in the Bible and in prayer.  Spending time with fellow believers.  Wow, this is something that convicts me and reminds me that I need to be more purposeful.  I need to make every effort here because this is such a short amount of time here on earth compared to eternity.

Are you making every effort to grow in your faith?

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, March 18, 2013

God's Culture

Every single culture has something about it that is very good and helps believers grow in their walk with God.  However, every culture also has something about it that becomes a hindrance in our growth.  It doesn't matter where you live or where you grew up, you were raised with values that make it difficult for us to follow God fully and completely.  Last week, I touched on the idea that one stumbling block can be the idea of our "rights."  Reading through the second half of the book of Mark on Friday pointed out God's desire for us to set aside our perceived rights in order to love God and our neighbors.  Today's reading with the Community Bible Experience takes us through 1 Peter, where this seems to be a theme that is continued.  Peter was writing to believers living in what is now known as Turkey, where they were under heavy persecution from the emperor, Nero.  In his approach, we can see the influence Christ had in his heart and his understanding of the life that Jesus modeled for all believers.

Peter starts out the beginning of this letter reminding all believers of the great hope we have in Jesus.  He reminds who we are in Christ: a royal priesthood.  He doesn't tell us this so that we can feel superior to all other people, because it becomes very clear in the rest of the letter that since we are part of a royal priesthood there are some expectations and responsibilities that we are to live out.  One of the first things he tells us after reminding us our identity in Christ is, "Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul," 1 Peter 2:11.  So, we are immediately told that since we were part of God's family, His priesthood, we are foreigners here on earth so we should live as though the culture has no place in our lives.  Our human culture will always have something that is not a part of God's culture, so we should just focus on God's way of living and let go of the human desires.

Peter continued to write something that Jesus lived out and modeled for us, "Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right," 1 Peter 2:13-14.  For the next several verses, Peter reminds us that submission and respect is what is part of God's culture.  Submission and respect - those are words that are not fun to consider.  But they are very much a part of God's desire for us, and they are very much what Jesus lived for us on earth.  He reminded us to love God first and then to love others second.  Isn't it interesting that He never commanded us to fight for our rights but instead told us to become servants.

Peter reminded us of this important posture that Jesus lived out in order for us to understand the heart of God.  He reminded us that this may mean suffering for us.  But this suffering is no different from what Jesus experienced, and even through His suffering He continued to submit to authority.  Consider that for a moment: the very One who had all authority even submitted to the authority He was under here on earth.  So how much more should we submit?  This brings honor and glory to God.

Do you willingly submit to the authority you are under?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Whose Rights?

What do you want?  Can our human desires infringe on the rights of someone else?  There are a lot of debates out there on our rights and all these debates are over whose right is more important that the other person's right.  When you look at our "rights," sometimes there is no right or wrong answer from our human perspective.  Both sides could argue the debate strongly over what their rights are.  But someone's rights will most likely infringe on someone else's rights.  What is the godly perspective on rights?

Today, I was reading through the second half of the book of Mark for the Community Bible Experience.  The thing that stuck out at me so strongly is the idea of who is greatest and who is least.  On every occasion that this conversation was brought up, Jesus had a way of turning everything upside down and said that the least was greatest, and the greatest was the least.  Hmm.  What does that mean?  Basically, God wants humility.  The goal isn't to be the greatest, the goal is to accept that we are servants of God.  When we consider others before ourselves, that is how we honor God.  So when we give up our own "rights" to honor someone else's "rights," we are honoring God through servant-hood.

Mark 10:35 (NIV) tells us of a statement that James and John said to Jesus, "Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. 'Teacher,' they said, 'we want you to do for us whatever we ask.'"  Think on that for a moment...we can want God to do whatever we ask, don't we?  But they went further and basically asked to sit at the most prominent position with Jesus in Heaven.  The desire to be great reflects in all of our hearts at some point; however, with Christ working in our hearts we can also learn to have the godly desires instead.  In Mark 12:32-34, Jesus was pleased with a teacher of the law when He responded to Jesus' teaching: "'Well said, teacher,' the man replied. 'You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.'"  This verse reflects what God revealed about His heart in Hosea 6:6, "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings."  Isaiah 58 expresses God's heart for us to meet the needs of others and He expresses that the kind of fasting He wants is to loose the chains of the oppressed.  So, we honor God when we think of other's before our own rights.

Whose rights are you considering?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why Heal?

Can you imagine what would happen if Jesus had come to earth and walked among us during this day and age?  Reading through Mark 1-8 this morning, I was struck by how Jesus was constantly surrounded by crowds.  At one point in these chapters, we are told that He was surrounded by such a thick crowd in a home that He and the disciples were unable to eat!  Imagine that!  Think about the fact that Jesus lived during a time when the best way for word to spread was word of mouth.  There wasn't radio or TV to spread information; word about Jesus spread because people were talking about Him.  So, if that is the stir He created at that time, imagine what would have happened if He would have waited a couple thousand years later and came during the time of the internet.  We have information just sitting at our finger tips.  In fact, when reading the Bible I often find myself reading right at my computer because I can easily look up several versions of the Bible in one place.  Reading through Mark so far has given me a perspective on the amazing reputation Jesus had.  We are given a picture that no matter where Jesus went, He was surrounded.

A lot of this was because of the miraculous healing people saw Him do.  Mark tells us a fast-paced story of the work of Jesus.  It didn't matter what kind of healing a person required, Jesus healed them.  Fever, blindness, deaf, mute, spiritual (forgiveness), demons, or even death had to submit to Jesus' authority.  Every one reacted in one way or another to the healing of Jesus - amazement, joy, and some eye witnesses even held to their disbelief.  But, there is a small mention of a healing that Jesus did that keeps coming back to my mind this morning.  In Mark 1:29-31, we are told of Simon's (Peter) mother-in-law who was sick with a fever.  Simon and Andrew told Jesus about her fever and Jesus took her by the hand and helped her up.  She was healed by Jesus and immediately began serving all of them.

It began to make me think about Jesus' healing that He offers to all of us.  Each and every one of us who follows Jesus has been healed.  Some have received a physical or emotional healing from God, but we have all received a spiritual healing from Him when we chose to follow Him because we were forgiven.  Just as we see in the Bible the many responses people had to Jesus' healing, we also have different responses.  I am challenged by Simon's mother-in-law because she didn't waste the healing Jesus gave her.  She immediately went to work to serve Jesus.  Isn't that a wonderful thought?  We are told in the Bible that once we are forgiven, we are no longer slaves to sin; we now serve God.  But do we recognize that and do it?  Simon's mother-in-law seemed to understand it - even though the demonstration we have been given is concrete.

So, right now I am doing my own check on my heart and asking myself what I am doing with the healing Jesus has given me?  Am I using the wholeness He has offered to me in order to serve Him?  Do I generously serve in response to the amazing love and forgiveness He has so lavishly poured out on me?  Not serving out of obligation, mind you; serving out of love.  Am I serving as an outflow of the love that resides in me?

What are you doing with the healing you received from Jesus?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Call for Justice

After working a hard difficult day in the field, he walks into his run down trailer shared with a handful of other workers.  There is no running water inside the trailer and the air is unhealthy due to the mold that is growing fueled by the hot and humid weather.  Being given a meager pay, he doesn't eat well because most of his pay is being sent home to feed his family.  But that doesn't stop him from working his hardest out in the field because he is watched closely and threatened to lose his job.  After being sold by her parents to a clothing merchant, the 12 year old girl has barely seen the light of day because she works long hours sewing.  The building she finds herself working day in and day out isn't safe because they are packed in with all exits locked so no one can leave.  If she complains or doesn't meet her goals each day, she is beaten.  But, what does this have to do with me?

Today, I am looking at the book of James as part of the Community Bible Experience.  James gives us a no nonsense view of what it means to follow Jesus.  He explains the amazing generosity of God and how He gives wisdom to all who ask and believe.  But there are also many warnings packed in this book on what it means to live a life that pleases God.  He makes some very strong statements to point out the heart of God and what that means to us.  But a theme that interweaves through the wisdom found in this book is wealth and justice.  Look, I know the majority of my audience are Americans and I also know that very few of you feel wealthy.  But if any of you have stepped outside our country, you will understand when I say that we are rich.  We live in a country where we see extreme wealth, so we do not feel wealthy; however, we have so many resources compared to a lot of the world.  With that said, here is a warning that James gives to those of us who are wealthy:
"Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you."  James 5:1-6 (NIV)
That is very convicting to me!  You may say that you don't pay anyone's wages and haven't cheated anyone; however, let me challenge you with what God has put on my heart.  What we buy, has a direct impact on what someone earns.  We may not be directly paying a migrant worker's wages, but we are wanting to pay lower prices for our food.  We may not be enslaving a person directly; however, do we consider where our clothing is being made?  My heart is broken because I see how each one of us has a responsibility, but we have built a life-style around a dependence of these things.  We cannot stop it, but we can do the work it takes to find out where our food and other items are coming from.  We can be a voice to the voiceless and tell people that today there are more slaves in the world than any other time in history.

This is difficult, because since I know...I now have a responsibility.  I have such a heavy heart over this because it seems overwhelming.  But what if each one of us who calls ourselves a follower of Christ pick up the mantle for the voiceless and do something?  What would happen?

What does the call to justice mean to you?

This post is linked with Word Filled Wednesday.

Monday, March 11, 2013

As Long As It Is Called Today

If you have followed me for a while, you may have read some posts where I have mentioned that I was a music therapist.  I studied music and music therapy for four years in college, completed a six month internship and passed an exam in order to call myself a board-certified music therapist.  However, I quit working after my daughter was born and stayed home with my three children and I never have regretted that decision.  Five years later, my certification expired because I didn't have the finances to do all the requirements needed to keep up my certification since I wasn't working.  So, even though at one point I was a good music therapist and thoroughly enjoyed my job, I can no longer say that I am a board-certified music therapist.  I say all this to point out that there are things that we used to be that we no longer are.  We can change for the better or worse, and we can have a start with something but never finish.

Reading through the Community Bible Experience this morning takes us through Hebrews 1 - 4:13. This is an interesting book because it goes through a systematic approach about who Jesus is and what that means to us.  After spending two chapters giving an explanation of who Jesus is and His authority, the author starts out Hebrews 3:1 (NIV) with, "Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest."  I just want to point out the phrase, "...who share in the heavenly calling..."  Two weeks ago, in Ephesians we read Paul reminding us to "live a life worthy of the call" (Ephesians 4:1).  Today we see that one way to do this is to fix our thoughts on Jesus.  We can see how to live a life worthy of the call by fixing our thoughts on Jesus.  Don't you love the word, fixing?  This feels so strong to me because it gives me the idea that our thoughts our on Him and Him alone.

In fact, the author goes further to say in Hebrews 3:12 (NIV), "See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God."  When our thoughts are fixed on Jesus, it helps us to keep our faith in Him.  If we think on things of the world, our hearts can stray away from our Lord and Creator.  The author continued in Hebrews 3:13 (NIV), "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called 'Today,' so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness."  Isn't that an interesting sentence?  As long as it is called today...isn't every day called today?  That brings me to the conclusion that our faith is an active thing we do all the time every day.  This isn't something that we do when we are in the right mood; this is a purposeful decision to follow and believe God today.  My belief in Him yesterday isn't going to help me today if I stray away and fix my thoughts on the things of the world.  I must actively choose to follow Him today.  Hebrews 3:14 (NIV) continues on by saying, "We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end."  We can hold on to our original conviction by choosing to believe today.  As long as it is called "today" we must fix our thoughts on Jesus.

Where are your thoughts today?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Our True Hope

Yesterday, I wrote about the amazing mercy God poured out on us through Jesus.  It is mercy because we were given forgiveness without having to pay back our debt from sin.  But something I didn't mention was His grace - grace is being given something without any merit on our own.  A few weeks ago reading through Romans, Paul was very clear about the difference of earning wages based on the work we have done and receiving a gift.  Grace is given to us as a gift not as our wages.  When it was time to pick out a new memory verse, Titus 3:4-7 really jumped out at me because it explained both mercy and grace.  I like to add verses that explains mercy and grace so clearly to my memory verses because it gives me a reference and helps me to be ready for when someone may ask me what I believe.

Titus 3:4-7 (NIV):  "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."

Isn't that truth the most amazing thing to hang our hope on?  God's amazing mercy and grace through Jesus is our salvation and hope.  We are made new through the washing, rebirth, and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  We are a new creation!  All the more reason to remember to "live a life worthy of the calling," as Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:1.

This post is linked with Spiritual Sundays.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Desolation and Hope

Today's reading for the Community Bible Experience takes us through Matthew 26 - 28.  This reading takes us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  I just want to point out a few things real quick before getting to my point:

  • In these verses, we get to witness one of the most intimate moments with Jesus and His disciples.
  • Jesus warns His disciples of betrayal and the fact that they will all desert Him.
  • Jesus gives Peter specifics on how he would deny Him.
  • Jesus tells the disciples that He will die and rise again on the third day.
  • When Jesus is arrested, He allows the chief priests and the governor to go through all their motions.
  • Jesus was convicted on false testimonies.
  • Jesus pointed out that He didn't stop things from happening because this was how God planned it.
  • Jesus publicly confirmed that He was the Messiah.
  • Jesus died a criminal's death and rose again three days later.
  • Everything Jesus told the disciples regarding His death and resurrection happened just as He said.
All this happened for us - all of us.  While He committed no sin, He died in our place so we could receive mercy.  He rose from the dead three days later to show us that He had victory and power even over death.  He shares this gift of mercy and victory with anyone who believes and follows Him.  When we humble ourselves and understand the great debt we have in our sin, we understand all the more the incredible gift this truly is!  Not one of us is sinless; and not one of us could ever repay our sin against God.  But Jesus, Who is perfect, can and He did.  He paid the punishment for us and was victorious over that punishment and He wants to share that with everyone.  Just believe and choose to follow Him.  The road isn't easy, but it is full of life and victory.

Are ready to take the journey of a lifetime?  Do you believe?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Little Things

There are certain ingredients that can completely change the chemistry of a recipe.  For example, when making homemade yogurt, I only have to put a small amount of yogurt into a gallon of warm milk and within hours the milk has transformed into an entire batch of yogurt.  The live cultures in the yogurt continue to multiply until you stir up the fresh yogurt and put it in the refrigerator.  Making bread is the same way, just a small amount of yeast in comparison to the flour used for the bread completely changes the bread.  Instead of a flat baked bread you end up with a light and expanded loaf of bread.  The reading for the Community Bible Experience, takes us through Matthew 13-18 and idea of little things making a big difference was something that really stuck out at me today.

In today's reading, the disciples witnessed Jesus do many miracles including healing the demon possessed, healing disease, and feeding thousands of people with just a few loaves of bread and fish (twice!).  But there are some things He points out that it is the little things that make the big difference.  What is the little thing that can make all the difference?  Faith.  The reading for today opened in Matthew 13 where we are told that Jesus returned to His home town.  I want to point out that we left off yesterday when Jesus told the parable of the mustard seed and pointed out that a little faith brings about great change.  Matthew tells us that Jesus performed very few miracles while He in His home town there because of their lack of faith.  However, after He left the area, He began to do many miracles.

After witnessing all these amazing things, the disciples found themselves concerned about the fact that they forgot to bring bread with them on their journey.  Jesus then said something that was an important spiritual warning, "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees."  This caused a bit of confusion with the disciples; however, they eventually understood that the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees was similar to yeast.  It spreads quickly and changes the composition of the dough.  But in Matthew 17, Jesus points to them that it is faith as small as a mustard seed that will bring the right kind of change.  It is the change that will allow God to work through us and do many things.

So my question for today is what is the little thing making a big difference in your life?  Faith or yeast?

This post is linked with Word Filled Wednesday.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Mercy Not Sacrifice

Having two sons, I have been exposed to more superhero movies than I thought I'd ever see.  The movie Captain America is one of their favorites, so I have seen that one a few times.  In the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to a young man who is small and weak and has some physical illnesses as well.  But all of that doesn't stop him from wanting to stand up to bullies, even though he knows they will easily over-power him.  This catches the eye of a military scientist and he enrolls him in an experimental program.  Over the course of a few weeks, the young man is placed in a troop with men twice his size to go through challenges.  He proves himself to have a stronger character than all of them because he doesn't want to go out and kill the enemy to prove he is better than everyone, he just wants to stop a big bully.  Because of his good character, he ends up being chosen for the experiment.

Reading through today's reading in Matthew for the Community Bible Experience, I found that Jesus was pointing out something very similar for us.  The Law required certain sacrifices for different occasions.  There were many occasions that Jesus pointed out that God was looking for something greater than just the person who made all the right sacrifices at the right time.  Yesterday, I mentioned how Jesus turned things upside down and showed them that God's reality was very different from our human ideas.  In fact, it almost seemed like the reading for today expanded on that reality even more by Jesus making strong statements as to what it meant to be his disciple.

The phrase that stuck out the most to me today was, "...I desire mercy not sacrifice..." which Jesus said twice in Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7.  On both occasions, He quoted this text from Hosea 6:6 when the Pharisees confronted Him about something they felt was breaking the Law.  Jesus was reminding them that the heart of God was more concerned about the attitudes in our hearts than all the proper sacrifices we make.  In fact, when our heart is in the right place we will make the sacrifices in our life that is required by following Him such as, willing to leave comfort and home in order to do what we have been called to do (Matthew 8:18-22).  We will sacrifice in the way that really matters when we are more concerned with mercy, which sums up the story of God.

Where is your heart?  Pray to God to help you develop a heart for mercy.

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Upside Down

The hit movie, The Matrix, had many people amazed by its special effects and camera angles.  In fact, many other movies and spoofs have been influenced by some of the newer special effect ideas the Matrix presented.  But, that wasn't the only thing that drew audiences; the story was also intriguing.  It was a sci-fi story that was based on the idea that everything we think is reality is all just a farce and the real world was a very different reality.  The movie goes through the main character learning how to function and react to the real world and set aside his assumptions of what "normal" is.  Thus, he enters the Matrix.

Today's reading through the Community Bible Experience takes us through Matthew 1-7 where Jesus shows us a completely different reality from what was known.  In a sense, Jesus was turning everyone's world upside down.  For example, the Messiah was born in the small town of Bethlehem and His parents had to flee from the Roman rulers.  Think about that for a moment!  The parents of the Savior of the world had to leave their country and live in Egypt for a while in order to protect Him.  When you think about it, it really seems opposite of what God would do, doesn't it?

Where the opposites really start happening at a greater pace is when Jesus was an adult and He was baptized by John the Baptist.  When John protests and tells Jesus that he should be baptized by Him, Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness," Matthew 3:15 (NIV).  But in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), He gives us many opposites:

  • Jesus didn't come to abolish the Law and prophets, He came to fulfill them.
  • It is better to go through life missing a body part than to allow that part of your body to cause you to sin.
  • Don't ever make an oath - just be honest enough so that what you say is known to be true.
  • Give to those who ask.
  • Love your enemies.
  • Don't flaunt your good deeds and righteousness to others - that is private between you and God.
  • Keep your prayers honest and simple.
  • Don't store up treasures here on earth - our heavenly treasures are eternal and far more important.
  • Seek God first and He will supply your needs.
  • Don't worry - God knows your needs.
  • Don't judge - work on your own issues.
That is a very convicting list, isn't it?  It really does turn our world upside down and give us a new reality.  This is a reality that isn't seen through human eyes, but it is God's reality that He revealed to us through Jesus.  When you think about it, God's reality is truly a blessing because it is so much better than our human reality.

Which opposite is convicting you most today?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Poured Out

This morning as I was watching the news, Michelle Obama was being interviewed.  She was asked about how she felt about some of the criticism that has come about from her announcing the winner for the best film at the Academy Awards.  Her response was that there was a lot of media out there that allowed for an expression of opinion and continued, "That means at any point at a given time, somebody’s not going to like what you do. That’s just the nature of things." (read the entire article here.)  She is right; no matter what we do, there will always be someone who disagrees with it.  So do we go through life trying to please everyone, or do go through life trying to please God?  Today's reading with the Community Bible Experience takes us through the book of Titus and 2 Timothy, where Paul is mentoring other leaders in the church.  In both books, there are themes along the same line.

Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:12-14 (NIV), "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of..."  Paul reminded Timothy of the fact that the truth will not be something that many people like and believers will face persecution, but we are to continue on in our pursuit of a godly life.  He urged Timothy to press on in his faith and to encourage all the believers to continue on.  Paul gave Timothy this reminder of the great hope he and all believers have in the walk with Jesus (2 Timothy 4:5-8 NIV):
"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."
Isn't that an encouraging reminder?  We are poured out as an offering to the Lord when we sacrifice for Him.  And to all who believe and follow Jesus, there is the crown of righteousness we will see at the end of the race.  Praise God!

Are you willing to press on even when others don't like it?  Are you willing to be more concerned with what God wants for you than what other people want?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.