Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Unity In the Body - Repost

As I have grown in my relationship with Christ, He has stretched me to view my relationships with His eyes.  The amazing thing is that I assumed that viewing things with His eyes meant that I would understand the other person better so I could be more patient with them.  That is partially correct; however, the greater vision He has given me is where my thoughts do not match His.  You see, I could be completely right in a situation; however, Christ isn't worried about me being right.  He is more concerned with my pride that wants to be right and my need to get what I deserve.  When my Christ vision is turned on, I find myself correcting my thoughts to match His so that I approach the situation with humility.  When my thoughts are turned back to Christ, I am more focused on what pleases Him rather than what pleases me.  Some days, it feels like a battle in my mind!  Please turn to Ephesians 4:2-3.

In verse 1, Paul begged believers to live a life worthy of their calling.  Ephesians 4:2-3 seems to give us what it means to live a life worthy of the invitation to salvation.  The first thing that Paul puts on this list is to be humble.  I have to say that this goes completely against our human nature!  I also want to make a note that humility is not self-hatred or self-degradation.  Humility is remembering that our invitation to salvation was given to us out of grace not out of anything we have done.  When we remember our undeserved grace, it has a way of turning our thoughts off of ourselves.  Christ didn't die because He deserved to die - He died for us out of love and humility.  The other thing we are told is to be gentle.  There is no reason to be harsh with someone.  Just because harshness startles or scares people doesn't mean that harsh words make people listen better.  Paul takes it even further by telling us that we should be making allowances for each other's faults.  After all, we all have our idiosyncrasies and we are all human with all the faults that comes with the package.

We are told that we are to make every effort to stay united in the Spirit.  Remember, one of the themes of this book is how we are united into one church and one body.  This is a unity that can only come through Christ and He has sent the Holy Spirit to empower us.  It is in working with the Holy Spirit in our lives that we can stay united.  We are told to be bound in peace.  The phrase "binding together" is from the Greek word syndesmos.  This word is awesome in relation to the book of Ephesians because it means to bind something together but it is also used when talking of the bond "of ligaments by which the members of the human body are united together," (see footnote 1).  Peace works in the body of Christ in the same way that the ligaments work in the human body.  Peace binds all of the different parts and personalities in the body of Christ and allows for movement so the church can "do the good things that God planned long ago," (Ephesians 2:10).

Are you making allowances for other members in the body of Christ?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Body - Repost

I clean because I want a clean house not because I enjoy cleaning; in fact, I don't think it would be an exaggeration at all to say that I hate cleaning.  So, years ago when the small church we were attending put out an all call for help with cleaning on Saturdays, I cringed.  The person who had been cleaning the church was just not physically able to do it anymore and the church was asking for people to sign up to be put on a rotation to help clean.  That was definitely a sacrifice to go do something at the church that I hated to do in my own house!  However, the person who had been cleaning loved cleaning.  They found so much joy cleaning the church even though most people had no idea who was cleaning the church.  There was another person who mowed the lawn each week because that gave him so much joy to share his gift for taking care of landscaping.  On the flip side, I enjoyed working with the kids and being a part of the worship ministry (and not everyone liked that). 

All of those things needed to happen in order for the church to function properly - if the church was not clean, no one would want to come.  If the lawn didn't look nice on our busy street, no one would find the church worth visiting.  If the kids were not safe and learning godly lessons, families wouldn't return.  I could go on; however, my point is that no matter what task God has given you - it is important.  Ministry takes on so many forms and there is not one type of service that is more important than another.  If one task fails, it affects all other tasks.  Romans 12:4-5 says, "Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other."  We all need to use the gifts that God has given us and to do the things that we enjoy to build up the entire body of believers.  1 Corinthians 15:58 says, "Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, for you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." 

No matter what you are doing, it is important to God.  If it wasn't important, He wouldn't have given you the task.  When you are serving, remember that you are serving the Lord and He is using your service for His glory.  We are serving the King of all kings!  Is there any greater honor?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Princess For A Day Repost

Thanks to my husband's wonderful parents, our family got to go to Disney World in Florida with the rest of my husband's family.  This was my first visit to Disney, so it was quite an experience and I have to say that when they say it is "magical" in the commercials they are not exaggerating.  Disney has created an escape where families as a whole (not just the kids or just the parents) can enjoy every experience.  One of the wonderful things that my daughter experienced was the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique in Downtown Disney.

My daughter's aunt and uncle treated her to a princess makeover at the boutique where she had her hair, makeup and nails done by a Fairy Godmother.  It was so much fun watching her get treated with so much attention and care and being told that she was special.  She sat in the chair and had her French braid taken out carefully as she was being complemented on her pretty hair and nails.  Her fairy Godmother let her pick out a hairdo and began to work on it with much care.  Another Fairy Godmother came over to work on her nails and makeup and asked her what colors she would like to wear.  Her picture was taken by the "royal photographer" the entire time she was in the chair.  She even had a tiara put on her head to wear with her fancy hairdo and had "pixie dust" sprinkled in her hair.  It was absolutely precious to watch her feel special and be treated with such care.  For the rest of the day, whenever a Disney employee saw her they would address her as "princess" - even as we were getting off the elevator back at the resort!  It was a magical time in the boutique and in the park that day!

Then we returned home to our reality and went to church.  In church, our pastor showed a picture of two precious little girls who were dirty, alone, and living under a bridge somewhere in India.  They were clinging to each other because that was all they had.  He put the word "worthless" up on the screen over their picture and explained that in India they were considered worthless.  Worthless because they were girls; worthless because their parents didn't want them.  God's precious creation was being given the message that they were unimportant and unlovable.  It broke my heart to see such an incredible contrast and it was all I could do to keep myself from bursting out in tears.  Those little girls are just as precious and special as my little girl and they should have a chance to have their hair done up pretty and wear a tiara and be called princess all day.  The unfairness of it all shook me to the core.

I want to take them in my arms and tell them how I am a princess of the King of Kings and that they are not worthless.  I desperately want them to know how valued and loved they are by God and that they can be His little princesses too.  I want them to know that the hope we have in Christ is better than anything this world has to offer.  I want them to feel loved.

I do not begrudge my daughter's moment to be a princess for a day, in fact I am so happy that she got to experience that day.  I do mourn that many more girls do not get tucked in by their mom every evening because of this broken world we live in.  I mourn that even here in America, we have little girls that are abused, mistreated and told they are worthless.  We can not keep God to ourselves!  There is a hurting world that needs to know that there is so much more to this life than making it through the day.  There is a hurting world that needs to know that they are special to God.  Let us share the light that God has put in our hearts.  (2 Peter 1:19Philippians 2:14-16)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Make the Most of Every Opportunity Repost

When I was a senior in college, I took a few classes that I did not need to take because the subject interested me, I had the time, and I wasn't sure if I was going to have that opportunity again.  For the last 19 years, that opportunity has not presented itself again, and there are other classes I wish I could have had time to take while in school.  We just never know when an opportunity will present itself, and it is good to make the most of the opportunities that come our way.  Paul wrote about making the most of every opportunity, but he was referring specifically to how we are living out our lives.  Please read Colossians 4:5-6.

Do these verses convict you at all?  They convict me!  This is because I have to admit to myself that I do not make the most of every opportunity.  When I am at the store, am I thinking about living in a way that allows my hope in Christ shine through?  I am not talking about being ashamed of my behavior because I reacted poorly to the people around me.  I am talking about making the most of the opportunity I have while I am around those who do not believe in Christ.  Am I taking every opportunity to show God's love?  One of the keys that Paul gives us is to walk in wisdom.  There are many reasons why we would need wisdom; however, one of the big reasons that comes to mind is codependency.  In our quest to show God's love, we may end up creating a situation where we are nurturing codependency.  Wisdom will allow us to understand how we can show God's love in way that is healthy and will minister to those around us.

The other point that Paul makes is that our conversations should be "gracious, seasoned with salt..." so that we will always have the correct response to the people around us.  I think of gracious as listening to the person with whom we are interacting.  Grace allows us to listen without judgement; it allows us to care.  Seasoned with salt is an interesting term because we know what salt does for food when we use it.  The food tastes so much better!  The thing is, we need to understand what kind of food we are cooking because some food needs little salt and other food needs a lot of salt.  The wisdom and grace that we are to use in our interactions can help us know what exactly we need to say.

In Matthew 5:13 Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot."  When we are making a point to listen with grace and walk in wisdom, we can make the most of every opportunity and be the salt of the earth that Christ called us to be.

Are you making the most of every opportunity?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Hiding From the Call

Something I've said repeatedly in this "Unprepared" study is the fact that God puts tasks in front of us that are bigger than us.  I don't know about you, but when that happens and we begin to grasp the reality of what we are about to step into, it is so tempting to say, "I quit!  I'm done.  I don't want to do this anymore."  Ever been there?  It is kind of like a woman in labor who gets to the point where she is in so much pain and is physically exhausted and wishes everything could stop.  I remember that feeling and turning to my husband saying, "I can't do this anymore."  But, that really didn't matter by that point; I was in and there was no turning back.  Each time I was in labor and told my husband that I was done, he would encourage me and tell me that I could do it.  His encouragement went a long way!  At some point in our call we get tired and scared and are sure that we can't do it and that is when we can rely on the body of believers to which we belong.  We can ask for the support of prayer when we need it.  This week, I've been looking at Saul's call to be king of Israel and today I want to specifically look at his reaction to Samuel's public proclamation of Saul's anointing.  Please use the link and read 1 Samuel 10:17-27.

Poor Saul was scared and God and Samuel were not going to let him off the hook!  Could you imagine being in his shoes?  You would go from working for your father on the farm to being king in one day.  That really would be daunting!  What was his response?  He hid among the supplies.  We can't hide from God and neither could Saul; he was brought before Israel and declared their first king.  One of the last verses in today's reading really stuck out at me because it is a good reminder that God gives us what we need through the church body.  1 Samuel 10:26 (NIV) says, "Saul also went to his home in Gibeah, accompanied by valiant men whose hearts God had touched."  

I want to share two things I noticed in that verse.  First, notice that Saul didn't go home alone after he was declared king.  He went home accompanied by valiant men.  The second thing is the fact that God had touched the hearts of the valiant men.  Why is that so important?  It is important because God made sure that Saul had the support he needed to fulfill his call.  God didn't make him go home alone.  Know this: God knows exactly what we really need and He will provide it for us right when we need it.  We can trust that we are never alone when we are serving God.  We are a part of a great family in Christ and we are to lift each other up.  There is nothing like knowing that we have a group of people lifting us up before God's throne in prayer.  Ephesians 4:16 (NIV) says, "From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."  God gave us this body of believers to build each other up!

Do you turn to the support system God has given you to help you in your call?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

No Time To Think

There are times when we are given an opportunity to make a decision and we can spend a lot of time in prayer.  Then there are times where our decisions need to be made quickly and we have little time to go to God in prayer.  But, then there are the times when God just thrusts something on us before we can react.  Have you ever had that happen?  There really wasn't a decision to be made because God said that was the way it was going to be and He then He spun the things into action before we could even protest.  Maybe you're volunteered on the spot to lead a project or you're asked without warning in front of a group of people to share your thoughts.  Does this resonate with you?  I think all of us have been pushed into a situation where we would have easily said no if given the opportunity, but no opportunity was given.  Saul was in a very similar situation.  He found himself in the presence of a great prophet who was giving him a place of honor for no apparent reason.  Yesterday, I left off in his story when Samuel asked him to stay behind for a moment while he gave him a word from God.  Please use the link and read 1 Samuel 10:1-9.

As I read these verses, I keep thinking of how perplexing and overwhelming this had to be to Saul!  Saul was innocently looking for lost donkeys and then was anointed to be the ruler over Israel.  Think of how crazy that all must have been!  Samuel then gave Saul some signs of what he would encounter on the way home that would give him confirmation of what just happened.  But the verse that amazes me the most is 1 Samuel 10:9 (NIV), "As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day."

Isn't that amazing!  God changed Saul's heart in that moment.  I want to camp on that thought because it is something to remember.  Saul had just been anointed when he turned to walk home and that is when his heart was changed.  We also receive an anointing from the Holy Spirit.  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."  What an amazing truth!  The Holy Spirit is the gift God gives us in order to do what we have been called to do; that is how our hearts are changed.  Remember, it is not by our own strength that we are able to fulfill our call, it is all God.  All our hope is in Him!  What God requires from us is our obedience.  Whether we have time to pray about our decisions or we are just thrust into situations, the Holy Spirit is what gives us what we need when the time comes.

Have you been thrust into something new?  Do you believe that God has equipped you through the Holy Spirit?

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Divine Appointment

There have been times when God has put someone on my heart to pray for them or to go help them.  Those moments are amazing to see His work and leading, but it becomes such a testimony to the person who needed the help or prayers.  Because of that, when God puts someone on my heart I try to remember to let them know that I was praying for them so they can see how God is intervening in their situation.  I don't have to know the details in their situation, I just want them to know that God is at work and has people praying for them.  Have you been the recipient of such help or prayers?  I have and it never fails to amaze me how God reaches down and uses other people to provide what we need in that moment.  What about when God uses someone to reveal a next step for you?  Sometimes it can be exciting and sometimes it can be a little scary.  For the next few days, I want to look at how God used Samuel to anoint Saul as Israel's first king and how Saul reacted.  Please use the link to read 1 Samuel 9:17-27.

In these verses, Saul was just looking for a couple of lost donkeys and Samuel was waiting for God's revelation of who was to be king.  If you read the entire chapter of 1 Samuel 9, you would see that Saul went out searching for his father's donkeys and ended up far from home.  In fact, he was far enough that he knew his father would forget about the donkeys and begin to worry about him.  But you can also see how God directed Saul's steps so that he ended up in the village where Samuel resided.  God had revealed to Samuel that Saul would be coming and that he should be anointed as the first king of Israel.

Poor Saul was not mentally prepared what was about to happen when he went to see the great prophet.  Samuel told him that all of Israel was anticipating him and Saul's response was to say, "But I'm just a Benjamite in the least clan."  Does that sound familiar to you?  That is pretty similar to Gideon's response!  Saul didn't see much in himself, but that didn't deter Samuel.  Samuel had actually had a feast already prepared for him and sat him at the head of the table and gave him a good cut of meat.  Can you imagine how overwhelming that had to be for Saul?  After all that, Samuel told him that he had a message from God.

I don't know about you, but I think by this point I would be freaking out!  Samuel understood what Saul didn't see yet - God had created a divine appointment for Saul to wander so far away from home.  God had orchestrated events to send Saul to this stranger's doorstep so that his calling could begin.  What started as an annoying set of events for Saul ended up being the very thing God used to push him into his anointing.

Yesterday, God used someone to reveal to me how He used a troubling situation last week to allow me to see His work so I would be prepared for something to come.  He gave me a divine appointment with someone to understand more of a situation where I had the opportunity to see God at work.  He helped me to understand its purpose.  God will do what He needs to do in order for us to see what we are to do.  Even the annoyances and troubles of our lives can be used by God to prepare us for our call.

What has God used to prepare you?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Friday, July 19, 2013

All Are Called

This has been a tough week for me - I've been juggling a lot of stuff!  None of it is hugely time consuming; however, there is a lot of it, so it has seemed overwhelming.  A lot of this is because as I have been writing this study, "Unprepared," God has been preparing my heart for going to Zambia.  I've been there before, I understand what cultural things I will be experiencing; the big difference is that my husband and I are leading the team and that is a whole different experience.  We are also taking our entire family.  It is an awesome opportunity and our team is amazing; however, there are a lot more things on my list as I prepare my family and team.  But do you see the slight problem in that statement?  It really isn't me or my husband preparing my family and team - it is God!  And I think that is an important reality that we all need to remember as we step out into something new with God.  The very fact that it seems overwhelming and bigger than us is because it is.  This is so we can see God at work and we get to participate!

With that said, one of my favorite section of scriptures is on my heart this morning.  Please use the link and read Ephesians 2:1-10.  Don't you think those verses are an incredible reminder for us when we are overwhelmed?  Who we are today has absolutely nothing to do with us; it has everything to do with God!  That is a truth that we can hang on to when we are overwhelmed because we no longer need to rely on our abilities to get the job done; we can fully and completely rely on God to work through us to get the job done.  Think about the people we have looked at so far in this study.  Before their call, none of them were doing anything extraordinary; however, when they chose to believe God and follow Him, He used them in ways that seemed impossible for them.  It had nothing to do with them - it had everything to do with God.

So, when you are having a week like I've had and feel overwhelmed with the tasks set before you, remember that it isn't done with your strength, it is done with God's.  Praise God it isn't done with my strength!  Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV) says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."  We are God's handiwork, His masterpiece.  He created us in Christ Jesus to do His work, which He has planned for us long ago.  That is the truth to remember.  It isn't anything we've done, it is everything He has done through Jesus!

Feeling overwhelmed by your call?  Do you believe that God has created you for this moment?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Difficult Message

Have you ever had to give someone bad news?  I'm terrible at it because it makes me sick.  Some of it is because I put myself into the other person's shoes and think of how horrible it would be to have the bad news delivered to them.  Maybe you're a person who works in a field where you are having to deliver bad news to people often.  I don't know how you do it!  Samuel was a prophet during the early years of Israel's kings and the first message he was given from God was a difficult message.  Please use the link and read 1 Samuel 3:10-21.

This is the first time Samuel had ever heard God and he was only a boy.  Eli was the high priest he served under and Eli had raised Samuel since he was a very young child.  So, you can just imagine how difficult it had to be for Samuel to hear.  God gave him a message about someone he knew closely and it was a terrible message to have to deliver.  Since Eli knew that God had called out to Samuel in the night, when morning came Eli asked Samuel what God had told him.  Notice that in these verses that Samuel was afraid to tell Eli; however, he chose obedience rather than cave into his fears.  He chose to listen to God when He called and he chose to obey God even when the message was difficult.

Has God put a task in front of you that seems very hard?  Something we need to remember is that God is in control and He is with us.  If He tells us to do something, we need to listen and obey even if it is difficult.  Our obedience is what pleases Him.

How are you currently responding to what God has told you?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Your Servant Is Listening

When I call my kiddos, the main thing I want to see happen is them responding to me.  I want them to come from where they are to me so I can give them direction.  In fact, it is very frustrating when I have to call multiple times before I get a response; this is because I am their mom and they know my voice.  They understand my authority when I call.  As I continue on in my "Unprepared" study, one thing that has become clear is that God doesn't only call those who know Him.  Gideon is a wonderful example of that; He knew of God, but when God visited him he didn't recognize Him.  He knows each and every one of our hearts and He calls us accordingly.  Today, I want to skip quite a bit of history and go to 1 Samuel 3:1-10 and look at Samuel's call and his response.

When I read through these verses, I noticed something new today!  1 Samuel 3:7 (NIV) says, "Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him."  Isn't that interesting?  We are told that when God called him (literally), Samuel didn't yet know Him.  I want that to sink in your hearts for a moment.  This is because I believe there are a lot of people who compare themselves to someone doing big things with God and think that God called them because of their great faith in Him.  They believe that God will never use them in that way because they are not doing big things where they are or because they struggle with understanding the Bible.  I believe that is not true!

Look at Gideon and look at Samuel!  Neither one of them recognized God when He called!  God calls and seems to understand our unfamiliarity with Him.  And when He calls, He will make sure that we will eventually understand who is calling us.  His call doesn't necessarily have to do with our knowledge and understanding of God in that moment.  Our response should be very similar to Samuel's response:  your servant is listening.  In fact, I believe that when that is our response, our faith grows.

Do you believe God wants to use you no matter where you are in your walk with Him?

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Horn, A Torch, and A Jar

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

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

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

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

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

That's Just What I Needed!

My family plays in a community concert band, and two days ago I had the opportunity to share with the band my family's trip to Zambia.  I shared with them that we would be teaching at a music academy whose students are orphaned children due to the AIDS crisis in Zambia.  I explained that the academy needs consumable music supplies such as reeds and valve oil and asked the band members to consider donating some supplies for our team to take to Zambia.  After the rehearsal, I was completely overwhelmed by the response of the band members telling me that at our next performance they would bring supplies with them.  I had band teachers telling me that they would bring music their school was no longer using for the academy to keep.  I was so blessed by their reaction!  Blessed because I wasn't sure how they would respond and blessed to see how God will use anyone and anything for His purposes.  Gideon had the opportunity to experience encouragement when he needed it from a very unexpected source.  Please use the link and read Judges 7:8-15.

In these verses, we see that God allowed Gideon to listen in to a conversation in the enemy's camp!  I emphasize enemy because I'm sure Gideon wasn't expecting a word of encouragement from that source.  But what Gideon heard while he was there gave him the encouragement and the courage to take the next step required to defeat the enemy.  I think one of the wonderful things about Gideon's story is how we see the journey God took him through to the moment that Gideon shouted, "Get up!"  God gave Gideon faith and encouragement through direct contact and signs, but God also used the unexpected sources such as people who didn't follow or believe God.

Think about that for a moment.  Just as God used the community band that I am in to give me a blessing and encouragement, God can and will do that for you.  I guess the bigger question is:  do you understand Who the encouragement is coming from?  When those moments of encouragement come in the time of need from an unexpected source, do you recognize that it is still God?  This morning, as I was reading these verses I immediately understood what God was telling me and it brought me to a place of total worship.  Notice Gideon's response - he fell on his knees in worship in the middle of the enemy's camp!  Remember that all good things come from God (James 1:17).

Do you praise God for all the good you've received no where it came from?

This post is linked with Thought Provoking Thursday.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

When God Is the Only Explanation

We've all heard "God" stories that could easily be explained away by modern medicine or "coincidence."  The person telling the story is so animated and excited about what God has done; however, you can see on some people's faces that they feel that there are other explanations.  I have many of my own God stories like that - how God provided cars for us right when our other car died (He has done this more than once!).  There was the time when God used my dad to save my life by pulling me out of an undercurrent by my ponytail.  Or how about the time I only had mono for a week because my mom's friend came over and prayed for me; the next day I woke completely better.  Then there was the time that my husband and son were in a car accident that was bad enough to total our van, yet they walked away without a scratch even though the air bags didn't deploy.  Oh, I have so many stories of how God has intervened in my life but you can see how it would be easy for someone to say that we were "lucky."  But then there are the stories where God is the only explanation because it cannot be explained away by human capability or science.  How many prayers have I prayed for what was impossible and I received?  I've personally experienced miraculous healing and I've witnessed friends healings.  I've seen people freed from demons through the power of God.  There are times when God moves in a way that removes any doubt that He did the job - He is the only explanation.  The verses I am looking at this morning continues Gideon's story and how God wanted to make sure that no one would mistake His mighty hand at work.  Please use the link and read Judges 7:1-8.

Gideon was convinced that God had called him to be the one to lead the army of Israel against the Midianites.  As crazy as it seemed (since he was the weakest of the weak he probably didn't have good military experience), he took his army and moved toward the Midianties.  But God did something that seemed even crazier; He told Gideon that his army was too big!  Who has ever heard of a country worrying that their army was too big?  But that was the point - it wasn't supposed to be about the strength and numbers of the army.  God didn't want the Israelites to think that they were the reason for their victory; He wanted the Israelites to know without a doubt that God delivered them from the Midianites.  So, God first weeded out those who were frightened and really didn't want to fight anyway.  Then God had one more test so that the army only consisted of 300 men.  Don't you wonder what they must have been thinking once it was just down to them?  I wonder if they understood that they were about to be a part of an incredible story that was going to be told of God's power for ages to come.

I really like how God did things just for Gideon to witness and how He did things for the entire nation to witness.  In all those instances, God knew exactly what everyone involved would need in order to understand that they were witnessing God's power.  When God calls us, He knows what we need.  He understands us well enough to know what it is that we need in order to understand that it is God's power.  Sometimes it will be a silent whisper to our heart and other times it will be so incredible that it will be a testimony to everyone around us of His amazing work.  And when we get to witness those moments, our response can only be praise.  So, if God is impressing something on your heart that defies convention, maybe you are about to witness an amazing work of God!  You will get to be a part of a story where God is the only explanation.

What are your God-stories?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Oh, the Roller Coaster!

Big or small, God has a way of calling us to do something that is outside our comfort zones.  For example, I do not consider myself a public speaker.  In fact, when I was younger just the idea of being up in front of people (even a classroom of friends) would make me feel dizzy and sick to my stomach.  Yet, there have been a few times within the last year that God has given me the opportunity to speak in front of people.  What I can say without any doubt is knowing my history of stage fright it was only through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that I was able to do it!  Just the process of preparing my talk was such an incredible experience of growth for me.  This was because I knew that God wanted me to do it even though it was so far out of my strengths.  But even with the conviction of knowing that God wanted me to do those talks, during my preparation I would fluctuate between confidence and uncertainty.  One day I would feel totally empowered and ready to do it and the next I would wonder if I had a moment of insanity when I said "yes."  For you, it may not be public speaking but I'm sure you can relate to the roller coaster we go on when God puts new experiences in front of us.  Today, I want to continue looking at Gideon's call and the roller coaster he was on.  Please use the link and read Judges 6:33-40.

As I was reading through these verses this morning, I was struck by verse 34 (NLT), "Then the Spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon. He blew a ram’s horn as a call to arms, and the men of the clan of Abiezer came to him."  I find a few things incredible in that verse!  First, we see that the Holy Spirit took over Gideon.  Even though Gideon considered himself the weakest of the weak, he was able to make the call to arms.  The second thing I find amazing is that the men answered the call and came to him!  Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit.  Even if Gideon and everyone around him looked at him as a weakling, the Holy Spirit gave him the charisma and leadership needed for that moment and people responded.  But the thing that happened next is something I hate to admit that I can relate to.

Gideon saw a miracle when he met God face to face and he experienced God's protection when he tore down the altar and pole.  He even experienced the empowerment of the Holy Spirit!  Yet, he then asked God for a sign to prove that he was the one that God was going to use to deliver Israel from the Midianites.  Can't you just feel the roller coaster flying down-hill?  I can!  I've heard so many people refer to Gideon's lack of faith in these verses, but how is it any different from when we have our own roller coasters?  And I know for a fact that God has never called me to lead an army to defeat a strong enemy.  God seemed to understand Gideon's need in that moment because I also don't see anywhere in these verses that Gideon's request made Him mad.  Do I wish that my faith was so strong that I didn't experience the roller coaster?  Absolutely, and I'm sure Gideon felt the same way!  But what I do know is that Gideon didn't walk away even though the call was crazy, instead he asked God for what he needed in order to take the next step.  To me, that also shows more faith than we sometimes recognize.  Don't forget, Gideon is mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a man of faith (Hebrews 11:32-34).  His faith is seen in the fact that he clearly knew his weakness, yet he still obeyed God.

What should our response be to Gideon's struggles and victory?  Hebrews 12:1-2a (NIV) tells us, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith."  We don't perfect our faith, Jesus perfects our faith.  When we are experiencing the downs on the roller coaster, look back up at Jesus.  Maybe it is in those down hill moments that our faith is strengthened all the more because we are truly recognizing our own inabilities.  When we understand what we can't do, that is when we get to experience what God can do.

Where are you on the roller coaster?  Are you keeping your eyes on Jesus so He can perfect your faith?

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Impact We Make

Yesterday at church, someone asked me how things were going in preparation for our team and family going to Zambia.  I explained that this experience is already so different from the last time I went because I only had to prepare for myself.  There are many details each person needs to take care of in preparation for the trip and since our entire family is going we also need to prepare for the minor details of having a house-sitter, etc.  I told my friend that even though I'd gone on a mission trip before, I still didn't properly calculate the amount of time spent in doing all the preparations for the family.  None of the physical preparations are difficult, but when you add all the details times five it is time consuming!  Everything ranging from getting shots to making sure everyone has enough appropriate clothing to take on the trip just requires a bit of organization and planning.  I'm definitely not complaining because whenever I think of the fact that God has called our family to go together I am completely humbled.  But I did joke with my friend that God probably kept me from totally grasping all the responsibilities so He could take me by the hand do each thing as they come.  Gideon's story is a lot like that.  God told Gideon up front the call He placed on him; however, He also gave Gideon step by step directions as they needed to be done.  I ended last week with a look at God calling Gideon to tear down the altar to Baal and the Asherah pole in preparation for what was next.  I want to look at the last few verses of that part of Gideon's story today.  Please use the link and read Judges 6:28-32.

Something I didn't mention too much in Friday's post was the fact that aside from Gideon needing to believe God, this was was the first point of action that God required from Gideon.  But I believe it was a necessary and significant action that God had Gideon do.  Tearing down the altar and pole and replacing them with an altar to God was the first step in getting Israel back to putting God in the place of honor.  Just because Gideon's heart was refocusing on God didn't mean the rest of the people in his town were focused on God.  But God needed them to see that it was He who was delivering Israel from the Midianites.  If God would have let Gideon keep the altar and pole in place, the people would have continued their worship to these false and detestable gods and they may have questioned which god delivered them.  When God moves His hand, He will make sure that there is no doubt that it was Him.

Notice the people's reaction when they saw the altar and pole replaced with an altar to God.  They didn't rejoice in their Creator; rather, they came to Joash (Gideon's father) and demanded him to turn Gideon over.  Joash's response was incredible because he told the people that if Baal was really a god, he could defend himself.  His response makes me wonder why the altar and pole was on his property in the first place.  Did he worship Baal or because his family was so weak, was the altar and pole placed on his property without permission?  Or did he have a change of heart about worshiping only God because of Gideon's encounter with God?  We don't know Joash's heart, but what we do know was that in that moment Joash seemed to be declaring who was truly the One and Only God.  As God was changing Gideon's heart in preparation for serving Him, He was also changing the people around Gideon.

Have you ever considered that as God is working on your heart and preparing you for what is next in your story, your story is having a direct impact on the people close to you?  As we follow God's direction for our life, our actions will be speaking to others.  We have a choice - we can ignore God's purposes for our life and not leave a distinguishable mark of where we have been, or we can choose to follow God and leave a mark with each and every step we take.  Trust me, the preparation for the call is just as impactful as the call itself!

Are you following God and letting Him prepare you for what is next?  Is your life leaving an impact on the people around you?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Right Fuel

Two days ago, my son built a fire for my three kiddos to burn all their school papers from this last school year.  It made them feel pretty good about getting rid of all their classwork and to be able to take a break and start fresh again in the fall.  We could have easily had them put their papers in the recycling bin; however, there really is something cathartic about throwing it in the fire pit and using it a fuel.  I guess it makes it final because once it is burnt up, there is no going back and retrieving it.  In fact, I may throw those ashes in my garden.  As part of my "Unprepared" study, I've been looking at Gideon's call to lead Israel out of the Midianites' oppression.  In the verses I am looking at today, God calls Gideon to burn something detestable to God in order to rid it from the Israelites.  Please use the link and read Judges 6:25-32.

Now that Gideon fully recognized and understood God's voice, notice how he responded to God's call to destroy the alter to Baal and the Asherah pole.  He didn't question it, he just obeyed.  I love that because what God was asking him to do was something that had the potential for serious consequences.  In order to understand the significance of Gideon tearing down the pole and alter, I want to go back to the beginning of Gideon's story; please use the link and read Judges 6:7-10.  These were the gods of the Amorites and the worship of these gods not only stole the honor the Israelites should have been giving God, but they also required terrible practices such as child sacrifice.  The other thing that I want to point out is that the alter and pole were on the property of Gideon's father, which gave him easy access to tear them down.

Think about this part of Gideon's story in relation to yourself.  Jesus told us that it would require a different kind of sacrifice in order to follow Him; we needed to sacrifice the things that took His place.  In Mark 8:34-35 (NLT) Jesus said, "Then, calling the crowd to join His disciples, He said, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.'"  What we see in Gideon's story is a tangible way to give up and sacrifice the things that come between us and God.  But the thing that I think is awesome is the fact that God had Gideon use the wood from that Asherah pole as fuel for the sacrifice to God!  It was such a final statement that the worship of Baal and Asherah was done. With the pole used as fuel, there was no way it could be taken by someone and erected again.  There was no guessing that it fell over by accident - this was real and final.

If there is something that is coming between us and God, He is going to want us to sacrifice it as preparation for our call.  But, God wants it to be permanent.  He doesn't want any remnants to remain for us to pick up and erect at a later time.  Think of burning the things that don't belong as fuel for the good things that God planned for us.

What is God telling you to tear down in your heart?  Are you willing to let God burn it up?

This post is linked with Faith Filled Friday.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Is It Really You?

Three years ago I had only been a half year into my employment at my church.  Aside from learning my job as the ministry assistant for small groups and outreach, I was also learning about all the ministries we partnered with throughout the city and throughout the world.  Without going into a lot of details and cutting a very long story down to a few sentences, I found myself feeling God calling me to go on a mission trip to Zambia.  I cannot explain it other than the fact that God had placed a strong desire and need to go.  The problem was, at that point there wasn't a trip scheduled and I still wasn't sure if it was God prompting me or if it was my own desires.  Within a week of feeling this need to go, a trip was scheduled!  Still not being sure if it was God prompting me (I look back now and laugh at myself), I asked Him to send me a confirmation.  He didn't just give a confirmation, He gave me multiple confirmations.  That trip completely changed my outlook on the world, my life, and it grew my faith.  Moving on in Gideon's story, he also was called by God to do something that he just wasn't sure about.  He asked God not for confirmation of the call, but for confirmation that it really was God that was calling him.  Please us the link and read Judges 6:15-24 to see how God answered.

Gideon questions God on how he could be the one to deliver Israel from the Midianites because he was the weakest of the weak.  God's reply was that He would be with him.  But notice Gideon's response - he wasn't sure God was who He said He was.  This is something I think is important to stop and park at for a moment.  When we cannot believe that God is who He says He is in the Bible, then we will never feel the empowerment to do the job He has called us to do.  But this is the beautiful thing in the interaction between Gideon and God; Gideon asked for proof and God so kindly and gently gave it to him.  That amazes me because Gideon asked the Creator of everything to prove who He is, and God didn't get mad at him.  Instead, God seemed to understand and gave Gideon the proof he needed.

This is something I believe that we can take and apply in our own lives.  God doesn't want a distant relationship with us; if He wanted to be distant then He wouldn't have sent Jesus to live with us.  God wants us to be close to Him and He knows when we are truly seeking Him.  If we find ourselves in a Gideon moment and feeling unsure that it is God calling us, we can ask Him to help us know for sure.  Don't forget, Gideon had never seen the man that was sitting under the tree before and he had never experienced God in that way.  Be prepared; however, to find yourself amazed when you ask God to let you know that it is Him.

Notice what happened to Gideon when he realized who he was talking to.  Gideon was sure he was a goner.  In fact, notice that in his earlier interactions with God he addressed him as Lord, which was a way of acknowledging honor to a person.  However, once he realized who he was talking to, he called him LORD (all capital letters).  When we see all capital letters for LORD in the Bible, we know that His name, Yahweh is used.  So Gideon went from being polite to being in awe.  God knows our hearts and He knows when we are truly wanting to know Him.  He will provide us with what we need to move forward in our call - we just need to ask and trust Him.

Are you struggling to recognize if your call is from God?  Have you asked Him for confirmation?

This post is linked with Winsome Wednesday.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Called By a Strong Name

We've all heard the saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." Oh, that is so untrue!  What people call us has the potential to stick to us for years or even a lifetime.  And for some reason, it is so much easier to remember the hurtful things said to us than the encouraging words.  We've all been called something that is really just a lie.  Stupid.  Ugly.  Clumsy.  Dirty.  Unworthy.  Weird.  Whatever the lies we've been told, we can know they are lies because God created us and loves us and calls by a different name.  The story I am reading today is a perfect example of how God calls us by a different name.  Today, I am leaving our look into Joshua's call and skip through many pages of history and take a look at God's call on Gideon.  Please use the link and read Judges 6:11-16.

Every time I read through this story, I always look forward to the greeting that the Lord gave to Gideon.  "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior!" (Judges 6:12, NIV).  Picture the scene for a moment.  At this point in history, the Israelites had been tormented by the Midianites who have bullied them and have taken all their food.  The scene opens with the Lord sitting under a tree and Gideo coming up from a wine press after hiding from the Midianites in order to crush his grain.  What do you know about bullies?  They not only do mean things, but they say mean things.  I cannot help but wonder what lies they spoke into the Israelites...  I'm sure one of the biggest lies was "weak."  The Midianites dominated over the Israelites.  So, how does Gideon respond to the name the Lord gave him?

Can you find a response in these verses?  I don't.  Instead, he refutes the idea that the Lord is with Israel and he questions why they are being tormented.  Think about that for a minute.  I know that Gideon isn't the only person on this planet who didn't respond to a new name the Lord has given them.  I know that because it took me years to believe God in what He called me.  Having lived with shame from my past, it was hard to believe Him when He called me "beautiful, loving, servant of God..." and so many more intimate and wonderful names.  I completely understand how the term "Mighty Warrior" didn't even seem to cause a blip on Gideon's radar.  Can you relate to this?

Finally, Gideon responds to God's call by explaining that he is the weakest person in his family who is from the weakest clan of the weakest tribe of Israel.  Isn't that just like God to take the most unlikely person to show His strength and power?  Isn't it just like God to use the most unlikely person to show that it is God who decides what a person is?  The world wants to tell us many things about ourselves that just isn't true.  The only One who has the authority to claim who we are is God, and trust me the name He gives us is so much greater than the names the world gives us.  When God calls, He need to believe and trust in who He calls us and what He has called us to do.

What is God calling you?

This post is linked with Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Circle the City

Yesterday, as our Zambia team was meeting, we had a special speaker come and talk about spiritual warfare.  He is a man in our church who has an amazing personal testimony and his testimony also declares the power and authority of Jesus.  But beyond that, he shared how we need to listen to what God is telling us and obey His prompting.  He shared with us a few times that God prompted him to do things to reach out to complete strangers and he shared how God showed His power in those moments.  It was very inspiring to hear the stories he shared with us.  But then, I went home and read a few chapters in Undaunted by Christine Caine.  The chapters I read yesterday went hand in hand with what I heard in our Zambia meeting and in the book, Christine Caine shared even more stories of times when God had her reach out to complete strangers to show His love and power.  Something that our friend shared with our team yesterday is that one way to be sure that we are hearing a prompting from God is to spend regular time with Him in prayer.  When we spend time in prayer, we become more familiar with His voice and we develop and grow our relationship with Him.  Today, I am taking one last look at Joshua's call; please use the link and read Joshua 5:13-6:6.

Ever since I heard the story of the fall of Jericho as a child, I have always been intrigued by the idea that the Israelites had to circle the city for seven days before they could claim the city.  God had told Joshua that He had already given the city over to the Israelites; however, God also commanded them to do this unusual battle strategy.  This is a strategy that made absolutely no sense and is one that I don't think has ever been used again in the history of the world.  But as far as spiritual battles it is one that is used often.

We are humans and we operate in the physical, yet there is a spiritual war waging around us at all times.  Sometimes we are more aware because we can feel the direct attacks on ourselves, our family, or our friends.  Something that we can know without a doubt - God has already declared His victory.  We know by reading the Bible that He is victorious!  Even though God told Joshua that He already had victory with Jericho, the Israelites still had a job to do.  They had to circle the city.  I have heard from many pastors that we can liken that to our prayer lives.  We know that when we believe in Jesus and His victory that He shares His victory with us.  But we also need to spend the time in prayer to strengthen our relationship with Christ and to grow our faith in Him.  Our time in prayer is just like circling the city, and when God calls us to do something it is our time in prayer that allows us to be more aware of the Holy Spirit's empowerment.  We, too, need to circle the city!

Are you circling the city?

This post is linked with Sharing His Beauty.