Friday, May 31, 2013

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?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Well Known Prisoner

At any given point, the media will be focusing on a certain trial in our country.  So, for a while we become so familiar with a name in the news that even if we do not really want to follow the story we know all the details anyway.  For example, Jodi Arias has been all over the news lately because of her trial.  Thanks to today's media, we are even able to watch court trials on TV.  Our society seems to have an obsession with trials and criminals and we've even created television dramas based on the criminal trial system.  Keep the perspective in mind when you read today's reading because it shows us that this obsession is something that has been going on for thousands of years. The only difference is that we have radio, newspapers, television, and the internet to keep everyone informed.  Please use the link and read Matthew 27:11-26.

These verses show us the trial Jesus had before Pilate.  Reading through these verses, you see that there really wasn't much of a trial and Pilate didn't know what to do.  He had even been warned by his wife that she had troubling dreams about Jesus and he should stay clear of any harm to Jesus.  So, Pilate's solution was to let the crowd decide what they should do.  He knew Jesus was innocent, and he was sure that if he gave the crowd a choice between Jesus Barabbas and Jesus the Messiah, they would choose Barabbas.  We are told in these verses that Barabbas was a well-known prisoner, which means that this was probably a man that everyone was happy to see in prison.  But the crowd surprised Pilate by choosing Jesus the Messiah to be crucified.

You can see Pilate's fear in his reaction because he told the crowd that he would not be guilty of killing an innocent man and that His blood would be on their shoulders.  The crowd's reaction is one that sends terrible shudders down my spine; they cried out, "His blood is on us and on our children!" (Matthew 27:25 NIV).  The reason that this is so horrible is that this was a culture that should have known what they were saying.  This was a culture where they knew that God declared blessings or punishments on future generations (Exodus 20:5-6).  Basically, they declared a punishment on their future generations.  So, in a sense, they had set a well-known prisoner free and put themselves and their future generations in chains.  They were now the most well known prisoner to themselves.  The very One who had the power to forgive their sins and set them free was the very One they crucified.

Here is the incredible thing:  Jesus' death and resurrection is exactly what could release these chains they had put themselves in.  Jesus was the One who could forgive them and they would just have to believe.  But they are not the only people to put themselves in chains.  We are also bound by chains because of our own choices and sin.  But we also have hope through Jesus.  He shares His victory over death with us and breaks the chains of sin for anyone who believes in Him.  Anyone who believes He is God and has died in our place and conquered death three days later gets to share in Jesus' victory!  That is amazing, and it is life changing.

Are you still a prisoner to sin?  Do you believe that Jesus can set you free?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"That's Your Problem"

I remember a conversation I had with my mom when I was a very young child.  I had done something I wasn't supposed to do and when my mom confronted me about it I said, "But the devil made me do it."  That was when I learned the difference between temptation and sin.  She explained that he didn't make me do anything, I chose to give in to temptation.  Peer pressure during our school years can also put temptation on us because we want to please our friends.  However, when we are caught our friends aren't going to be the ones to raise their hands and say, "We gave him/her the idea!"  If anything, we'd probably hear, "You did it, not me!"  Even as adults, we are really quick to shed any blame off ourselves and point our fingers to someone else.  The verses I am looking at show us how Judas discovered this reality.  Please use the link and read Matthew 27:1-10.

"What do we care.  That's your problem?"  That was the response Judas received from those who used him to betray Jesus.  Really, they were responsible for the planning and plotting of Jesus' arrest; however, they wanted nothing to do with Judas' sudden change of heart.  They were not the ones who betrayed a friend; they simply provided the opportunity.  The reality is, they were already sinking and there was no way they would have been able to help Judas.  Sadly, the very One who had the power to help was the very One Judas had just betrayed.  Judas was looking for absolution from the wrong place.

There are plenty of things in this world that tempt us and open new doors to sin; however, we are still responsible for our own actions.  Even if someone else was sinning in a way that created a temptation for us, we still have to answer for our sin.  In fact, when we point our fingers back at the tempter, we will find no sympathy:  "I'm not the one who destroyed your marriage.  You are the one who decided to look at my pornography."  "I'm not the one who made the bomb.  I just wrote the book on it."  Let's face it, the world is already in so deep in sin, there is no way that we will see the world try to help us out of our sin.  The only One who can help pull us out is Jesus.  This is because, even though He has absolutely no sin, He still considered our sin His problem.

Do you see the difference?  The world is too bogged down in its own sin to help us with our sin problem; however, Jesus decided that our problem was His problem.  And He did something about it to help pull us out.  He loves us so much that He took on our sin and died even though He was innocent.  We just have to believe that truth.

Do you believe that Jesus took your sin on His shoulders in order to save you?

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Going To Zambia!

I am so excited to tell you that my entire family has been asked to go to Zambia this summer to teach at a music academy along with our team!  I have taken down my Zambia Report page (which was pretty old anyway) and replace it with "Preparing for Zambia."  I will update it every now and then with prayer requests so you can follow along with us on our journey.  We would most definitely appreciate your prayers!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Failure Isn't the End


Yesterday, I saw an interesting exchange between a bunny and a crow.  At first the crow was chasing the bunny and the bunny ran and hid in a wooded area.  The crow waited for the bunny for a while and then seemed to fly away.  The bunny came back out and the crow came back down, but this time the crow stayed about five feet away.  The bunny and crow watched each other out of the corner of their eyes and the crow slowly crept closer and closer to the bunny.  It seemed as if the crow thought it was being sneaky; however, the bunny was very aware of the crows presence.  Then the crow started cawing, but the bunny wouldn't move.  In fact, the bunny acted as if he didn't care.  So, the crow continued to creep closer until it was about two inches away from the bunny.  The bunny pretended as if it didn't know the crow was there, until suddenly the bunny made a quick vertical leap and frightened the crow away.  It may seem unrelated at first, but please use the link and read Matthew 26:69-75.

For me, these are tough verses to read because if Peter had spent three years eating, sleeping, and walking with Jesus and hearing His teaching all day and still had a moment of failure in his faith, what does this mean I am capable of?  I think all of us can relate because we have all experienced fear at some point and was later very disappointed in our response to the fear.  In fact, remember that Peter was the very one who told Jesus that he would never deny him, yet three times in one evening he denied Jesus.  He didn't just deny knowing Him, he swore to it.  But then noticed that once he realized the trap he had fallen in, he was filled with bitter tears.

Even though these are the only verses I am looking at today, I want to remind you that this isn't the end of Peter's story.  In fact, this really is only the beginning.  Peter ended up becoming one of the pillars of the early church, and I think we need to remember this as we read these verses and think about how we can apply them.  It is kind of like the bunny in my yard yesterday.  He originally responded to his fear by running away.  But, eventually he realized that he was a little bigger than the crow and instead of running away he could chase the crow away.

There are things that will oppose our faith, and we may even find ourselves at a very weak moment in our faith.  But we need to remember that just because we found a chink in the armor doesn't mean that we are complete failures.  The weak moments we experience remind us where we need to allow God to do some work and build up those areas.  If we come back and let God to that, we will find ourselves in a stronger place than when we first started.  A failure isn't the end of our story, it is just the beginning of God making us better.

Are you experiencing a weak moment in your faith right now?  Will you allow yourself to go back to God and let Him do the work He wants to do in your heart?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Resistance

When we resist something, it often makes it harder on us, doesn't it?  For example, if I tell my kiddos to go clean their rooms, they just need to go do it.  If they resist, their resistance isn't going to stop the fact that they need to clean their room and it will probably make the experience even more unpleasant for them.  I don't ask them to clean their rooms because I am mean; they need to clean their rooms for safety, health, and just so they can find their things.  Cleaning isn't fun, but it is necessary.  Do you think there are times in our lives when God allows us to go through unpleasant experiences?  Maybe it is to clean things up in our lives - it is not punishment it is simply a straightening up.  Maybe it is to help us grow.  Just like it is hard for my kids to understand the why's behind my decisions, we don't always understand why God allows for something bad.  But, Jesus modeled for us how we can trust God even in the worst circumstances instead of resisting what He wants.  Please use the link and read Matthew 26:47-67.

In these verses, we see how Jesus knew what was going to happen and He didn't resist.  Why?  He told us why in Matthew 26:53-54 (NIV), "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?"  Jesus knew that God's will was more important than resisting.  I'm not saying that we cannot pray through the situation because as we saw yesterday, Jesus still prayed.  He prayed hard.  But I guess if we've given it to God in prayer, we don't have to resist.  Wow...those words were really hard to type out and even harder to think about.  Resistance is a knee-jerk reaction for me.  If we are calling ourselves disciples or Jesus followers, then we need to seriously consider the fact that Jesus didn't resist.  If we are following Him so close that we are getting covered in His dust, then we cannot ignore Jesus' reaction.

Do you pray through your difficulties or do you resist?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Your Will Be Done

Twenty years ago when I married my wonderful husband, I had no idea that I was beginning a journey in which I was learning how to let go of control.  In my teen and college years, there were enough things that were out of control in my life that I think I learned to cling to control where I could find it.  It was more comfortable to have control in certain areas making life in those areas more predictable.  However, marriage isn't about control, it is about relinquishing control.  I've learned to let go of a lot of things that are both out of my control and in my control.  I've discovered that there is a lot more internal peace when we allow things to happen even if it is not the preferred way.  This is because it takes a lot of energy and stress to maintain control, but letting go really is peaceful.  Our relationship with God can be the same way.  God wants us to let go of all control and allow Him to lead us the way He knows is best.  He wants us to trust His sovereign understanding of things that we don't even know about.  Jesus modeled for us what it looks like to relinquish control and allow God's will to be what takes place in our lives.  Please use the link and read Matthew 26:36-46.

Three times, Jesus prayed that God's will would be done.  But notice that in the first prayer that we see that He is asking for what was to happen to go away.  He knew that what was to happen would be the worst thing He would ever go through in His human life.  Even with that request, He showed that He was still willing to let go of control over the situation by praying that if it was God's will, let it happen.  The next time He prayed, He showed even more recognition that He was giving control to God in this horrible moment.  He recognized that the only way to get out of the situation was to go through it.

Think about this for a moment.  I cannot imagine being where He was.  He could have called angels to rescue Him from what was about to happen, but instead He was willing to allow God's will to happen.  Letting go of control and allowing God's will in our lives doesn't always mean that it will be easy; the fact that we have to think about letting God have control is a signal that it is difficult.  But there is also a peace that washes over us when we can allow someone so much greater than us have power and control in our situation.  The process may not be something we desired, but the end result is something that will reveal God's glory in our lives.  We just have to let go of control and let God's will be done.

Do you allow God to take control in your life?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Going Ahead

Imagine living the past three years of your life traveling with Jesus.  You ate with Him every day, talked with Him, witnessed His countless miracles, and slept everywhere He slept.  You heard many conversations He had with priests and Pharisees and saw Him silence their arguments.  You experienced Him showing authority over demons and even the weather.  You felt secure in His presence, and you knew that He loved you.  You even began to grow in your own knowledge of God because of walking with Jesus every day.  Now think about what it would be like if suddenly Jesus were taken away from you...how would you respond?  I honestly don't know how I would respond because even though I am not in His physical presence, I rely on Him every day.  I don't want to be away from Him.  In these verses, Jesus warned His disciples that He would be taken from them and He warned them of their response.  Please use the link and read Matthew 26:31-35.

In these verses, Jesus told His disciples that they were going to fall because of Him.  He explained that this would fulfill the prophecy found in Zechariah 13:7 that said that when the shepherd was stricken, the sheep would scatter.  Remember that Jesus referred to Himself as the "Good Shepherd."  But when you read these verses, do feel that Jesus was telling them this to express judgement on them?  Personally, I do not read that in these verses.  I actually think that Jesus was telling them this ahead of time in order to encourage them in their darkest moment.

Notice that Jesus told them that after He rose He would go ahead of them into Galilee.  Don't you think that is an encouraging statement?  Think about what it meant to be a disciple.  A disciple was always following in the footsteps of their rabbi.  In fact, a disciple was to be following their rabbi so closely that they would be covered in the dust his feet created as he was walking.  So with that thought, think about what Jesus was telling them when He said that He would go ahead of them.  First, He was telling them His physical location of where He would be, but I also think it was a beautiful reminder that even when they fell away, they were still His disciples.  It was as if Jesus understood that they had come to depend on Him and there was no way that they would function without His presence.

We all have moments when we fail.  We all have moments when we are very disappointed in our reaction to our circumstances.  But we can also remember that Jesus is ahead of us and we can continue to follow Him.

Do you remember that Jesus is ahead of you?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Crawling In the Mud

Several years ago, my family took a vacation in Arizona.  For two weeks, we put over 3,000 miles on the rental van just in the state of Arizona!  One of the places we went to visit was Kartchner Cavern State Park, which is a cavern that was discovered in 1974.  The two men who discovered the cavern had found it while exploring the mountain.  There was just a simple sink hole (or blow hole), which I learned can be a sign of a cave underneath.  They had to squeeze through this blow hole because it was so small and they crawled through a lot of mud.  Eventually they discovered the beautiful structures that make up the caverns and they realized that they had found something so much bigger than they ever expected.  Hidden underneath the mountain for years, this cavern had plenty of time to build its stalactites, stalagmites and amazing columns without interruption.  Most people wouldn't have expected something so amazing from such a humble entrance.  People are like that as well.  What we see on the surface is nothing compared to what is hidden in our hearts.  We sometimes are unaware of what we are capable of!  The verses I am looking at today show us how the disciples also wondered if they were capable of causing pain to Jesus.  Please use the link and read Matthew 26:17-30.

So often, when we read through Jesus' interactions with His disciples, we see their naivete shine through, yet we also get a peek at the fact that the time spent with Jesus was also resulting in wisdom.  In these verses, we see the fact that Jesus revealed to them that one of them was going to betray them.  The thing that I find interesting was the fact that each of them said, "Surely you don't mean me, Lord?"  Each one of them so desperately wanted to believe that they were incapable of betraying their Lord, but at the same time they also found the need to ask the question out loud.  Just the fact that they had the needed to voice that question shows the same human reaction we would all have.  We each deep down know that we are capable of hurting our Lord, yet we also want to turn away from such a thought.  Instead, we say, "There is no way I could do that!"

But, isn't it interesting that the very things that we can be the emphatic about are the very things that deep down we feel doubt?  Instead we voice something loud and strong so we don't have to explore the caverns in our hearts that may reveal something that we are ashamed of.  But, at the same time, I think they were also looking for the reassurance that He wasn't talking about them.  You have to admit, there would be an incredible sense of relief if we could hear God tell us, "No I wasn't talking about you.  You would never do anything to hurt me!"  Unfortunately, we are human and we do possess the capability to hurt our Lord.  In fact, the more we shout to ourselves that we are not capable, the more we become susceptible to fall to our temptations.

So, for as much as we really don't want to explore the dark recesses of our hearts, we also discover amazing beauty and treasure when we do.  Because when we begin to allow ourselves to follow God's lead into the caverns in our hearts, we may have to crawl through a bunch of mud and muck, but we eventually we will be led into great rooms full of the beauty that God has been slowly building up in our hearts.  We will see the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control that God has been washing through the caverns - and God's work is always amazing.  It is worth the journey!

Are you willing to crawl through mud to find a treasure God is building up in you?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Anoint or Betray?

Memory is an interesting thing, isn't it?  We each remember things differently; some people are visual while others remember scents or sounds.  For me, when I remember a specific event, I often associate it with other things going on in my life or current events.  For example, I remember right where I was in the room when I heard the news about the space shuttle, Challenger exploding (in the lunch line at school).  I remember walking through the common area at the nursing home I worked at when the journalist on the TV announced the Oklahoma.  I remember where I was as each event of the September 11th attach rolled out.  I also remember right where I was sitting in my 5th grade class room when my best friend who I trusted betrayed me.  Painful or shocking memories have a way of burning themselves into our brains, don't they?  But so do good memories.  I remember when I was told after my audition into music school that I was accepted.  I remember meeting my future husband for the first time.  I remember when my husband proposed to me.  And I have vivid memories of the births of each of my children.  In the verses we are reading today, we have a few scenes described to us of moments that are forever burned in time's memory.  Please use the link and read Matthew 26:1-16.

The first thing we read is Jesus mentioning the Passover and that He would be crucified.  I can't help but wonder if the disciples heard Him saying that and not understanding, yet it still was burned in their memories.  The next scene we read about is the fact that there was indeed a plot to kill Jesus.  But then, there is a scene that I have no doubt was a scene that played over in the disciples minds again and again.  Jesus was eating a Simon's house, who had been healed from leprosy.  While He was there, a woman came in and anointed Jesus with expensive perfume.  When she was rebuked, Jesus mentioned that she was merely preparing Him for his burial.  Then He tells them how this memory would forever be burned in time - wherever the Gospel was preached.  Can you imagine the scene?  Jesus not only acknowledged her anointing, but He said it would always be told.

We are then told of Judas's plot to betray Jesus.  As I mentioned about the betrayal I experienced, it was painful enough that I remember each moment unfolding and can picture the room and right where my desk was.  Imagine how painful the betrayal of our Lord had to be?  Think about it - the very One who humbled Himself and became man in order that we would be saved was betrayed to the point of death.  Betrayed by a friend.  This is a moment that is burned forever in time, because it is a moment that forever changed the world.

But here is something that is going through my mind right now: each and every day, we choose whether or not we will betray or anoint our Savior.  What I mean is that there are choices that we make that either honor or dishonor the sacrifice Jesus made.  So, when we set aside what we know is right and choose to please our human desires, it is like a betrayal.  But when we sacrifice our human desires in order to do what pleases God, it is like an anointing.  Just as in the scenes in Matthew 26, we have full capacity to choose what we are going to do.  We can choose to honor Jesus' sacrifice; God even empowers us to choose to honor.

Do you choose to betray or anoint?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Wednesday, May 15, 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?

This post is linked with #Tell His Story.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Investment

In high school, I spent four years studying the German language.  My German teacher was a good teacher and by the time my class was in our third year of study, he was lecturing us in German about art history.  By our fourth year, we were fully expected to be conversational in our skill with the language.  When I went to college, I intended to continue my study in the German language and culture; however, when I learned how full my schedule would be, I set aside the desire to continue studying.  Now, so many years later of never using or speaking German, I honestly could not hold a conversation in German.  I can understand a fair amount if someone were to speak it to me or if I were to read text; however, I do not have the recall to speak the language.  Learning a language isn't like riding a bike - if you do not use it you will lose it.  Jesus told a parable about the kingdom of heaven that showed us that we are expected to use what God has given us, which takes a plan.  Please use the link and read through Matthew 25:14-30.

Jesus used a lot of parables to help have an understanding of things that cannot just be explained by experiencing it.  But, when He told parables, He always used current experiences and ideas of the day.  The parable He told in these verses relate to three servants of a rich master who were given bags of gold (NIV) to keep while the master was away.  When the master returned, he was pleased to find out that the first two servants doubled the bags of gold and they were rewarded.  However, the master was displeased with the third servant because he buried the gold since he was afraid of the master.  The master's response was to take the gold away from him and give it to the first two servants and to throw the third servant out of his household.

There are so many details in this parable that I just cannot mention in one small post; however, there are some things that I do want to point out today.  First of all, notice that the bags of gold were clearly the master's gold and the servants still doubled his money.  I think this is a good reminder that everything on earth belongs to God, which can also help change the way we look at what has been given to us.  I'm not just talking about monetary or physical possessions, but I am even considering things that cannot possibly have monetary value such as family, skills, and talent.  When we remember that they were all given to us from God because He wants us to use them, it can change the way we use them and the passion with which we use them.  We can invest into everything that has been given to us in order to bring God glory.

If we have been given money, we can consider how to invest the money in a way that honors God.  Do we invest it in the world in order to have more financial gain, or do we invest it in people in order that they may have spiritual gain?  Do we invest into our family in order to grow in our faith together?  Do we invest in the talents God has given us and use it to build into God's kingdom?  In this parable, the servants who invested wisely were given even more but the servant who didn't invest wisely had what was given to him taken away.  It takes purpose to use what God has given to us to His glory.  If we are not purposefully investing into His kingdom, we will unintentionally bury what has been given to us.  God wants us to look and live life with kingdom vision, not with the temporary vision of this life.  That isn't always easy when we are facing the pressures this life can throw at us, but the rewards for kingdom investment is great!

What do you invest into?

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Filled With Oil

Each of my children play an instrument, and they each go to festivals to be judged on a solo.  One thing that my husband and I find ourselves always reminding them is the importance of consistent practice.  If you consistently have productive practices, you improve the chances that you will have a good audition or performance.  Everyone at some point in time, has an audition or performance that goes bad no matter how hard you've practiced.  That is just reality.  Either nerves have gotten the best of you, or you are just having an off day.  But one thing that guarantees a poor performance is a lack of practice.  If you go to an audition without good preparation, you will be more nervous and you will also not know the piece as well as you should.  The other thing with music is that no one else can do the practicing for you.  There are some things in life where you can get help from others if you are not fully prepared, but in music you can either play it well or you can't.  Bottom line.  Our spiritual life is the same - it takes purpose to live the life that pleases God.  It is living purposefully with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit each day that helps mold us into the person God wants us to be.  Please use the link to read a parable that Jesus told about this in Matthew 25:1-13.

In this parable we are introduced to ten women waiting for their groom.  They didn't know the hour when he would come, and we also see that they prepared differently.  Five had lamps filled with oil.  The other five had lamps filled with oil and extra oil to last them the night.  The five that didn't prepare wisely found themselves running out of oil.  The five that were wise in their preparations found that they had enough oil to make it through the wait.  The unprepared women were surprised to find out that no one else was going to prepare for them, so they were not ready when the groom came.  The five that were prepared were able to leave with their groom and rejoice.

What does that mean for us today?  Even though we have no idea when Jesus will return, we are told to be ready for whenever it may happen.  We prepare ourselves by spending time in prayer and reading the Bible.  I know that is something I say often, but I do not believe I can say it enough.  We are prepared for the day when we start off our day with God.  It is like filling our lamps and jars with oil.  Don't you find it interesting that having oil for our lamps was used in this parable when Jesus had told the disciples earlier in Matthew that we were the light of the world?  How can we possibly shine our lights if we are allowing ourselves to run out of oil?  It takes preparation and purpose to live the life that shines God's light.  And Jesus will be looking for those who are shining their lights in preparation for His return.

Fill your hearts with His truth - that is the way we prepare!  Are you filling your lamps and jars with oil?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Pop Quiz

Do you remember the pop quizzes in school?  They never seemed very fair; however, if you step back and consider one perspective of their purpose maybe they are not as unfair as they seem.  Think about the teacher who gives the students a warning and says, "Take good notes and study because I will have pop quizzes on this information."  So, the students have been given fair warning and understand that it is important to study regularly so the information will be in their minds in the event of a pop quiz.  The teacher designed the pop quizzes not to trap the students, but more to motivate them to study on a regular basis.  The verses I am looking at this morning made me think of pop quizzes; please use the link and read Matthew 24:36-51 to see why.

Jesus told His disciples that He didn't even know the exact moment He would return, which He then reminded them how important it was to always be on their guard and be ready.  He used a parable to explain what His return would be like - an owner coming back unexpectedly to see how the head servant was treating all the other servants.  So, the question that you may be asking is this:  Is God just trying to catch us doing something wrong?  I don't think so...actually, I think it is the exact opposite.

Think again on the idea of the pop quiz.  Perhaps the material being learned is difficult and requires a consistent study habit.  The teacher knows that most of the students in their class would wait until the last minute to study the material if they always knew when the test was coming.  The students wouldn't really be retaining the information because they were studying just enough for that one test.  But if the teacher told the class to study every day because there would be pop quizzes, perhaps the students would be more motivated to study regularly, thus having a deeper understanding of the material and better retention.

Perhaps this warning that Jesus gave was really more of an opportunity to succeed and grow in our faith.  Since God created us, He fully understands our natural inclinations.  If we all knew when Jesus was coming, maybe we would be more inclined to live the life that pleases our human nature until we got close to His return.  To live the life that God wants us to live requires us to be persistent and purposeful in the choices we make.  If we have no idea the day or hour of His return, we will be more inclined to be on our guard and more consistent with living out the life that pleases God (which, ultimately is the life that leads to good choices).  You see, I believe that our Creator isn't One who is looking for our every little mistake; I believe He is One who empowers us to live out a life of vibrant faith.  He doesn't want us to fail; He wants us to succeed!

Do you believe that God wants what is best for you?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lesson From the Fig Tree

Our house is nestled back away from the road and is surrounded with trees.  All day, we spot rabbits in our yard and we often see deer munching grass right next to our house.  We have cardinals making their home all around our small house, so we are serenaded every morning and evening with their songs.  Occasionally we hear an owl and we've even seen over a dozen wild turkeys in our yard from time to time.  For someone like me it is wonderful, especially in the Spring when everything is fresh and green and some trees are flowering.  So far, it has been an amazing Spring where I live and everything is growing and thriving.  The warm air, the green trees, the daffodils - these are all signs that tell us that Spring is here and it is time to start working on our gardens.  So, I have started on my garden!  It is only a start, mind you; there is still a lot of weeding and cleaning to be done.  In the verses I am looking at today, Jesus uses the fig tree as an example of how we can tell what is to come.  Please use the link and read Matthew 24:29-35.

These words Jesus spoke came after prophecy about what was to come.  The disciples had asked for an explanation of the end times.  It isn't easy to read through the prophecy of the end times because it isn't always clear what it means.  But, Jesus was pretty clear about the fact that there would be persecution of His followers and false prophets and false messiahs.  He finishes with a statement that "this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened."  This is a statement that is confusing because obviously the end hasn't happened yet, and He was speaking to the disciples.  I've read a little and heard other's thoughts on this statement and the opinions are all over the place.  Many scholars have said that Jesus was telling us that the generation that sees the beginnings of the end will see it all.  Either way, He likened the signs to those of the fig tree.

Jesus told His disciples that just as the fig tree shows signs of summer coming, the end will have signs that we must recognize and understand.  So, we need to spend time recognizing what is happening around us and recognize how it matches up with what we have learned about the end times.  I believe that this is why we have books like Daniel and Revelation in the Bible; God has given us a glimpse of what is to come.  It is often foggy as we read through it because the images are difficult to understand, but there are some things in there that will help us understand and navigate through what will be a difficult time.  Do we need to make this our focus and be anxious about the end times?  No, but we can pray that if we are the generation to witness all this, that God will give us the strength we need during that time.  We can do all that we can now to be ready by reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, and surrounding ourselves with fellow believers.  This not only makes us ready for the end, but it makes us ready for life.

Have you spent time learning the signs?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Crying Wolf

Do you remember the story of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf"?  This is one of Aesop's Fables, where a shepherd boy is introduced to the readers.  He decided that it would be a good trick to play on the village if he cried out that there was a wolf.  The villagers came out to help the shepherd save his herd from the impending danger; however, they quickly realized it was just a joke.  The shepherd boy decided it was a good trick and did it several more times.  Then a wolf really did come and when he cried wolf, no one believed him.  Today's reading in Matthew 24 made me think of this story because we are warned against this very thing in regards to the Messiah.  Please use the link and read Matthew 24:15-28.

These verses made me think of the boy who cried wolf because Jesus warns us that there will be many claims that the Messiah has returned.  While Jesus' return will be an event to rejoice for His followers, these claims are just as dangerous as the shepherd boy in Aesop's tale.  First of all, it is dangerous for those who listen to the claims because they will be led astray and follow a false prophet.  But we are given these warning so we do not fall into their trap.  Jesus tells us that there will be many people calling out that the Messiah is here and people will be following their claims.  He even said that they will be performing great signs to make their deception believable.  But Jesus said that His return will be so clear and obvious, we will not need to heed the calls of the false prophets.

Jesus said something interesting in Matthew 24:28 (NIV), "Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather."  He said this right after telling us that His return will be unmistakably obvious, so what did He mean by this statement?  The NLT adds its own interpretation by adding this phrase: "...so these signs indicate that the end is near."  Perhaps that is what Jesus was telling us; when we see these things, we will know that the end is near.  But I also wonder since Jesus had just mentioned the false messiahs and false prophets if He was referring to them as vultures.  It is almost as if Jesus was telling us that maybe they were preying on those who did not know Christ.  No matter how we look at that phrase, we know that Jesus had given us warnings to only follow Him and to not be deceived by false messiahs and false prophets.  I think prayer is what will protect us from falling prey to their deceptions; prayer for wisdom and understanding.

Are you praying that God will give you wisdom to navigate away from the things that want to pull you off His path?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Where To Place Our Hope

Last summer, my family took a vacation to Washington DC.  We had a great time visiting the National Zoo, some of the Smithsonian museums (Natural History was our favorite), and touring the monuments and memorials.  Our kiddos were impressed with how big and amazing all the buildings were and especially enjoyed the evening we took a bus tour.  There is so much to see and do in Washington DC, and we were only there for one week, so there was a lot that we didn't get to experience.  What we had the opportunity to see was impressive; however, they were all things that were made by humans.  The verses we are reading today give us a glimpse of a moment when the disciples were in awe of the great city of Jerusalem and Jesus took that opportunity to remind them of more important things.  Please read Matthew 24:1-14.

I like the scene that is painted for in the first two verses of Matthew 24 because it reminds us that throughout history we have been impressed with our architecture.  I'm not saying there is anything wrong with the ability to design an impressive building, in fact, God gave people the creativity and understanding to design.  But we also see in these verses that Jesus used their awe in structure to remind them that God has done and will do even greater things.  He used this as an opportunity to remind them that no matter how impressive we design a work of art or building, those things will pass but God will always remain.

The disciples, seizing the teaching moment, asked for understanding of the end times and what signs will be seen.  Jesus began telling them the unpleasant things that will be witnessed and reminded them that those were just the beginning of the end.  Jesus didn't say how long those things would last or when they would begin to happen; He just told them what to watch for.  Awful things like earthquakes, war, and famine would be seen.  But Jesus told them those were just the early signs that the end was coming.  He warned them of the coming persecution of His followers, and warned them of false prophets claiming to be the Messiah.  He said their deception would be so strong that they would even try to deceive those who follow Christ.  Yet, with all those warnings He also said that the message of the Gospel would spread throughout the world.

Things will look bleak, but God is still in control and His message will continue to spread.  Be encouraged because just as the things that are built with human hands will eventually fall, God's Word will never fail.  All the things we know and often take comfort in will pass, but God will always remain.  That is where we need to place our hope.  Our hope shouldn't be anchored in what we see; we should be rooted in what we cannot see.  Hebrews 11:1 (NLT) says, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." 

Where is your hope?

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Lessons From History

When I was a child, I loved reading books like Little House on the Prairie, Little Women, and Anne of Green Gables.  I particularly loved the detail given in Little House on the Prairie for how they lived day to day.  I thought it was a wonderful time to live and I was sure I would have enjoyed living as a pioneer.  But, now that I am an adult, I know that it would have been a difficult life.  I enjoy history and I have often found myself wondering how I would have responded during different periods in history.  I learn by watching other people, which may be why I like history.  I once had a teacher explain why history was so important - we could learn from both the successes and failures of others.  We could learn from other people's mistakes so we don't need to make them again.  But with that said, we also need to be careful of pointing fingers at past mistakes because the reality is that we have no idea how we would have responded if we lived during that period.  Who we are is shaped by our experiences and by learning from the past.  So, we have a very different perspective from people who lived before us.  With that thought in mind, please read Matthew 23:29-39.

In these verses, we read how Jesus points out that the Pharisees condemn Israel from the past because they killed the prophets God sent.  They claimed that they would have honored the prophets rather than killed them, but Jesus pointed out that their hearts were no different.  In fact, Jesus prophesied that they would do the same to the teachers, wise men, and prophets He would be sending.  He told them that they were no different from the Jerusalem of the past.  This is something that is important to consider.  I think we need to be very careful of our attitudes when we are reading through the Bible and how we think about the people we are reading about.  We are all human and we all come from very different experiences.

Instead of feeling good about ourselves while we point our fingers at the Pharisees we read about in the Bible, we should be looking at why Jesus was warning them.  We should be looking at why God felt it was so important to document those moments in the Bible so we could read them today.  Perhaps it has been placed in the Bible for us to read today because we are also likely to fall into the same or similar trap.  We are human, which means that we face the same temptations that people have faced throughout history.  If we can look at these verses and ask what we learn about God's heart and what we learn about what God wants from us, we can stay away from judging those who lived before us.

Let's not be guilty of the the same thing that Jesus was warning the Pharisees of.  Let's not assume that we would have lived better than them because we really don't know if we would have.  Let's instead ask what we need to do today to keep from falling into the same trap.  Let's spend time developing our relationship with God which will help us focus on changing ourselves rather than changing the behavior of everyone around us.  Let's spend time in prayer asking God to guard our hearts from the temptations of this world.  Let's spend time asking God to probe our hearts and point out the things that need to change in ourselves.  Isn't it beautiful that God has given us this opportunity to learn and grow through the rich history in the Bible.

How are you learning from the history given to us in the Bible?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Friday, May 3, 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?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Important Matters

About six or seven years ago, I found myself sitting in a chair with tears in my eyes as I heard the stories of women who were rescued from human trafficking.  These stories were of women who were taken as sex slaves and someones else had risked their life to rescue them.  The woman who was speaking was representing her ministry and explaining how their ministry rescued and provided loving rehab to these women in the name of Christ.  They would slowly gain trust with the women and let them experience true love.  A part of their rehab was teaching them skills that would make them employable or allow them to start their own business.  One of the skills they were taught was making jewelry.  For many women, the story of the Gospel took hold in their hearts because they knew that these people in the ministry really cared about them.  This ministry saw the need for justice and did what they could to give hope to the hopeless.  Justice, mercy, and faithfulness - three words that change lives.  Jesus stressed the importance of justice, mercy, and faithfulness in Matthew 23:23-24.

In these two verses Jesus told us that it is important to tithe, but it is equally as important to show justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  He then used a parable telling them that they are straining out a gnat out of their water (a gnat was forbidden to eat), yet they were eating a camel (also forbidden to eat).  He was showing them that they were being careful on one point of the law while forgetting something big that was so important to God's heart.  So, if we are doing all the right things, but we are not concerned with the injustices of the world, we are forgetting what God feels is important.  If we are doing all the right things, but not showing mercy by forgiving or caring for someone else, we have forgotten God's heart.  If we are doing a lot of good things but we are unfaithful in other things, we have forgotten that God has shown us amazing faithfulness to us, mere humans.

My husband made an interesting point about the sequester we are experiencing here in America - we can make cuts in programs like Head Start which helps the poor and we don't yell until our air travel is effected.  Just because we don't all feel the pain of cuts in certain areas doesn't mean we shouldn't care.  God wants us to care!  If our taxes cannot cover the cost, what can the church do? What can we do as a body of believers to make a difference for those in need?  There are so many needs and it can seem overwhelming, but God also is so creative that He created this entire world.  All we need to do is ask Him to inspire that creativity in us so we can show justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  God wants to use each of to make a difference in this world - one life at a time.

What does God want you to do?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Blind Guides

I recently got new glasses and it has been wonderful to see things so much clearer.  I didn't realize this until I went to my eye exam, but it had been 4 years since I had my eyes checked.  Over these four years my eyes gradually changed to the point to where they are now.  But the change was so gradual, I didn't notice the changes until there were things I couldn't read anymore that I was sure I used to be able to read.  These gradual changes over the last four years added up to a big difference  in my new prescription.  It is interesting how those little changes went unnoticed.  Eventually, my memory told me that I used to see better and that triggered that something was wrong.  I really think that our walk with God can be similar.  We can allow ourselves to gradually make small little changes that slowly turn our attention away from God.  Over time, we find ourselves groping around unable to see our Creator.  What about when we are bringing others with us?  Jesus warns against blind leadership in Matthew 23:13-22.

Yesterday, I looked at how Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites.  As we continue on through Matthew 23, we see that the entire chapter is warning against the hypocritical behavior that we see in the Pharisees.  Yesterday, I considered the difference between someone who was working hard to follow Jesus but still found themselves facing temptation and sin and the person who was always pointing their finger at everyone else and not even worrying about their own sin.  I pointed out that when we are more concerned about our hearts and our relationship with God rather than worrying about what everyone else is doing; it guards us from hypocrisy.

Continuing that idea, don't you find it interesting that Jesus would call the hypocrite a "blind guide?"  Think about it for a minute...what are we looking at when we are concerned about other people's behavior?  We certainly are not looking at God, are we?  The more we become concerned with everyone else's actions, the less we are looking at our Lord.  Without having the true light of the world on our vision, we really will be blind.  So then, as leaders, when we focus on others rather than focusing on our relationship with God, we will become blind leaders.  As you see in these verses, Jesus tells us that the Pharisees were leading people in the wrong direction because they were focusing on the wrong things.  They were not allowing others to enter the kingdom of heaven because they couldn't find it themselves.  They had forgotten who was the One who declared what was sacred.

The more we spend time with God in prayer and reading the Bible, the more our vision is corrected and focused on what keeps us from becoming a hypocrite.  This happens because the more we are in the Bible and the more we come to God, the more He reveals what needs to change in our own hearts.  This is good and this honors God.

Are you keeping your focus on God by spending time with Him?