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Responding Like Jesus

“He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” -Isaiah 53:3NLT

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” -Hebrews 5:7NIV

The Sadducees and Pharisees harassed and heckled and challenged Jesus everywhere He went. Yet He always responded with patience and wise teaching. Most of his tormentors rejected this, slinking away silenced. But others who witnessed these encounters, including some of the Sadducees and Pharisees, noted and learned from Jesus’ response. Our amazing Lord turned His challenges into teachable moments for others instead of letting His enemies put Him on the defense. Later, when He was alone, He prayed for those enemies—and most likely for Himself—for needed strength to face them again and again.

Father, please help me to remember Jesus’ example in this. Teach me how to respond to challenges and insults with patience and wisdom and sound teaching. Then remind me to bring and release the pain from such encounters to You. Help me forgive those who hurt me and pray for them as well. In Jesus’ name, I pray. I choose to follow His ways. Amen.

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How Not to Harden into Salt

“But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” -Genesis 19:36

I tend to feel a lot of sympathy for Lot’s wife. Having moved many times, I can relate to the longing to look back. Even when I’m ready to move, to experience a grand adventure in a shiny new place, once there, I miss friends and familiarity. But Lot’s wife was forced to move quickly with no time even to pack. God’s command to not look back would have been a challenging one to keep. Only complete trust in His goodness even in harsh circumstances could have enabled Lot’s wife to follow through.

Thankfully, God hasn’t commanded all of us to never look back. We can cherish the memories of past seasons of life. Maintain some traditions. Keep in touch with friends. We only run into trouble when looking back tempts us to go back or keeps us from moving forward. Life is a journey toward eternity. If we stop or try to go back, we’re not letting Jesus lead us onward through the next phase of our trip.

Childhood. Youth. Early days of marriage. Parenting preschoolers, elementary schoolers, teenagers. Launching children. Enjoying the empty nest.

I really liked my empty nest.

But God is filling it back up!

There are days now when I face down stubborn or wipe yogurt spills up off the couch and pause to look back . . . with longing . . . at the quiet, ordered life I was able to enjoy for a few years.

There is no going back, though, without turning into salt. And deep inside I know, the time for quiet, ordered came too soon to last for the rest of my life. I don’t know how long I’ll get to live on this earth, but forty or fifty years of quiet and ordered just might have driven me insane. I’m thankful God called our family into this new thing. I’ve lost all control, but I’m eager to see where God is taking us all.

Back to thoughts of turning to salt. When water dries up, it leaves a mineral residue. The Bible refers to Jesus as the Living Water. It also says that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us, but could it be that when we stop following, the Living Water flowing through us evaporates as Jesus tries to lead us on? He calls us forward, but we stand still, looking back determined, baking in the harsh sun. Eventually we stiffen up, harden . . . until nothing is left but a residue of salt.

When hardships and challenges come, we must look beyond them to Jesus before us and follow Him on through. We’re on a journey to Heaven where the best is yet to come. Looking back may give the illusion of comfort, but our hearts, our lives, will harden with that choice. Best to stay close to Jesus, practicing trust in His goodness, come what may. He is the One enabling us to follow Him all the way.

Jesus, please keep us moving forward, following You through each new phase of life. When we reach our destination and see Your name glorified above all, we will be so thankful we did not choose to turn back.

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When God Chooses Not to Rescue You

psalm-20-4

Moses had it good. He had a wife, a couple of kids, and a steady job that gave him plenty of time to enjoy the great outdoors—alone. It gave him time to ponder, reflect, and pray. Moses was content, I’m sure.

Then God showed up in a most flamboyant way. “Moses, I’ve got a mission for you. I want you to go to Egypt and rescue my people. They are suffering.”

Moses didn’t say no, but he offered every excuse he could think up as to why God should go away and choose someone else. God said, “Moses, I chose you. Go!” (This is my simple summation. You can read the Bible words for yourself in Exodus 3:1-4:17.)

Fast forward a bit. (See Numbers 11.)

Moses is now leading God’s rescued people through the desert to the Promised Land. The people are tired and cranky. They are especially unhappy with the food, so they start to complain. Moses decides he’s had enough. In fact, he has a meltdown. A mo-ment. (You know the kind.) In utter exasperation He goes to God, not with a polite request, but with a bold demand for relief:

“Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’  I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.  If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” -Numbers 11:11-15

His prayer made me laugh. My interpretation: “Lord, I don’t know what I did to make you angry, but surely it doesn’t deserve this slow and tortuous sentence of death by whiny toddler-adults whose lives I am not responsible for. I’m done. Kill me now.”

God chose to ignore that request. Instead he sent Moses some help.

I find that comforting. Sometimes God gives us hard assignments, missions that will push us to our limits and then some. We may be tempted to quit. If we choose to continue on though, knowing it’s what God wants us to do, we may start giving God all the reasons we can think of as to why He should choose to pass the assignment on to someone else. Then we may start begging for rescue, and if that rescue doesn’t come, we may start feeling picked on and betrayed.

But God doesn’t rescue us from the assignments He’s given us. He hears. He sees. He knows how we’re feeling and how deep the struggle is. But He wants us to finish the work, and He knows that deep inside, we really want to finish, too. (Come on. Admit it. You know it’s true.) We want to end triumphantly, hearing our God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21). And so, instead of rescue, God sends some kind of relief.

Psalm 20:1-2, a psalm David wrote for facing battle, says, “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.”

God answers. He protects. He helps. He supports. He gives us all we need to carry on. There’s no rescue required. We don’t need rescue from the missions He gives. We just need some God relief. We need to remember that when He sends us out on assignment, He helps us complete the task. Instead of pulling us out of the distress of it, He helps us through to victory.

Psalm 20 continues along this theme. Verse 4 says, “May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” When our plan is to complete the mission, to help others and honor His name, He’ll give all the help we need for that plan to succeed.

Lord, victory is the desire of my heart, for their good—and mine—and for the glory of Your name. Thank You for seeing my struggle and for sending all the support and strength I need. I will carry on for You. You are my God and I love You. Amen.

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Prowling Devil, Crouching Sin

abel“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” -Genesis 4:7

The Bible doesn’t tell us, specifically, why God looked with favor on Abel’s offering but not on Cain’s. It only hints that perhaps Cain gave less than his best, a token offering of obligation, in place of a gift of worship from a fully grateful heart. In contrast, Abel brought fat portions from the firstborn of his flock, showing thanksgiving for all he’d received and trust that God would continue to give more.

Cain became angry, though he probably knew what he’d done. But God responded with kindness and grace, gently letting Cain know that he could have favor, too. He only had to choose to do right. Instead, Cain followed the path he’d set out on when he chose to give God less than his best. He received God’s response to his gift with an angry heart. Then he made his situation worse, murdering his brother in a field. (See Genesis 4:8.)

When we do what is right, following God obediently with love and gratitude, He blesses us with everything we need to live out His plan for our lives. We enjoy His Presence, the knowledge that our lives honor Him, and His Spirit within. This Spirit gives us guidance and strength as we continue to walk with God.

If we choose not to do right, though, making selfish choices and holding back from God what is His, sin crouches at our door. We give the devil an opportunity to tempt us even further from God. Peter warns us just as God warned Cain:

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” -1 Peter 5:8

It works like this:

If we think of life as a journey toward greater knowledge of and a closer relationship with God, every right choice is a step toward that end. Our obedient choices draw us closer to God Who makes us more like Christ, developing strong character and a healthy heart. Every wrong choice, though, is a step away from this that gives the devil an opportunity to lead us further away. Too many steps away, steps we might not even realize we’re taking, can leave us wandering like Cain, a lion’s meal in the making.

This is why we must live alert and keep a sober (as in contemplative or restrained) mind. As we make daily decisions, we must ask what draws us closer to God, what makes us more like Him, what honors His name, what helps His Kingdom grow?

Though Abel’s life was cut short, he earned a place in Hebrews’ Faith Hall of Fame:

“By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” -Hebrews 11:4

He didn’t set out to do anything special, he simply lived to honor God and offered his best to Him. We can choose to live this way, too.

Father, help us to remember that our choices matter. Open our eyes to clearly see which decisions honor You, draw us closer to You. We choose to live by faith, with gratitude. You are our God, and we love You. Amen.

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Finding Purpose in Place

Place and Time“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” -Genesis 2:13

Just like He did for Adam, God has intentionally placed each of His children—that is, each and every person He created—where they are, not only in location but also in time. And just like He did for Adam, God created each of us with purpose. He gives us meaningful work—a reason to live. He didn’t just create us to exist until our time to die.

But sometimes we struggle to understand what our purpose is. Genesis 2:13 gives us a hint. According to this verse, God put Adam in a specific place to do a specific thing. According to Acts 17:26, God placed each of us in a specific place. That place is where our search for purpose must begin.

In other words, the key to discovering God’s intention for our lives may be as simple as asking,

  • “Where has God put me?”
  • “What or whom has He given me the responsibility to tend, to take care of?”
  • “How can my life help something or someone around me to produce something good?”

The Hebrew word shamar, interpreted in Genesis 2:13 as take care of, literally means to guard and preserve. What has God given you to guard and preserve or to improve or to bring out its best? When we can answer that question here, where God has put us, we’ll begin to enjoy purpose-filled, productive lives that will continue to flourish anywhere He leads.

Father, as we stop and take in our surroundings today, help us to see what we can do. You put us here with purpose. Show us what we can do. And then help us to do it for You! In Jesus, we pray. Amen.

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Progressing through Hurt with Hope

Progressing

“Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.” -Deuteronomy 26:7

I like Deuteronomy 26. It shows a common progression through life – something we all experience, yet all in different ways. It also reveals the hope that comes from trusting God through it all.

As we travel through life, we all experience times of “misery, toil and oppression.” The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt. Most of us experience different kinds of troubles, trials, and pain. If we’re wise, though, we cry out to God through these times, knowing He will hear our voices and deliver us at just the right time. He did this for the Israelites – then He did it for them again and again. He has done it for His people throughout history. He has also rescued you and me from one thing or another all through our lives. Ultimately, He’ll come a final time to take us home to heaven where all suffering will go away for good. This recurrence of pain on earth will end.

Back to life’s progression. 1) We experience some kind of suffering. 2) We cry out to God. 3) He rescues us – in His time . . . at just the right time. 4) “Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household” -Deuteronomy 26:11. We praise Him. We thank Him. We celebrate His victory on our behalf.

But that’s not all.

Verses 12 through 15 talk about living faithfully for God after He rescues us. We follow our celebration of God’s goodness and our freedom with obedience and by reaching out to others who need rescue as well. Moses told the Israelites to care for the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless, and widows. We can ask God to show us who to strengthen, encourage, and comfort in His name.

And then, (yes, there’s another then) when we least expect it while we’re still living on this earth, we’ll probably get to go through the whole process again because, as painful as it is, each time we go through it, cooperating with God’s Spirit, crying out to God, He’ll draw us closer to Him. He’ll make us more like His Son. He’ll use our experience to build new skills that we can use to minister to others more effectively. He’ll reveal His glory in and through us . . . again.

You’re probably wishing I’d have left at least the first part of that last paragraph out. Me, too. But as I struggle through a season of crying out, I’m trusting that all I’ve written there is true. Our God is in control. He sees. He hears. He uses all for good.

“You have declared this day that the Lord is your God and that you will walk in obedience to him, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws—that you will listen to him. And the Lord has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands. He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.” -Deuteronomy 26:17-19

We have declared that we will follow Jesus no matter what. God has declared that we are His treasure and He will keep His promises to us. This is what really matters whether we’re crying out, rejoicing, or serving others in His name.

I thank You, Lord, for Your continued interest in me. I know You will use every painful experience for good. In You all is redeemed. Please work in and through me as You want to for the glory of Your name. In Jesus, I pray. Amen.

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The Real Value of Bible List Verses

Fruit of the Spirit

“Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.”John 6:24

I used to be a big fan of list verses. That’s my name for the Bible verses that contain lists of character traits we all want more of in our lives. For example, Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 lists ways to identify love: it’s patient, it’s kind, it does not boast, it is not proud, it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, it does not rejoice in evil, it rejoices in the truth, it always protects, always hopes, always trusts, always perseveres, and it never fails. Colossians 3:12 tells us what virtues to clothe ourselves in: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. In fact, verses 1-17 of that chapter are one big good stuff/bad stuff list.

All of these verses are helpful, and I am still a big fan. But over the years, there’s been a shift in my understanding of them. Now I love them for completely different reasons than I used to.

You see, I used to see them as to-do lists. I wanted to accomplish the getting of these traits into my life. My motivation was right: I wanted, and still want, to live a life that glorifies God. I thought developing these things in my life was what God wanted me to do.

The truth is, though, that I am not able to develop these things in my life. I need God to develop them in me. This is what He wants to do. God Is love, therefore His active Presence in my life produces everything on the Corinthians list. The Galatians list is called The Fruit of the Spirit for a reason; those virtues flow from Him. And even the virtues from the Colossians list come from setting our hearts on what’s above: Christ, now seated at the right hand of God. (See Colossians 3:1-4.)

The list verses have great value but not as to-do lists, things for us to generate in our lives in order to glorify God. In fact, in John 5:41, Jesus said, “I do not accept glory from human beings.” His glory comes from His work in our lives not from anything we try to do ourselves.

But when we look to Him, remain in His Presence, keep our lives rooted in His Spirit, we allow Him to work through us, producing all good things. The value of the lists comes from the way they help us recognize God’s Presence and work in our lives—or the lack of such.

The Real Value

In John 6:24, the crowds realized that Jesus wasn’t with them. They wanted what only He could offer, so they went in search of Him. We can do the same thing. When we realize that our lives aren’t as loving as they should be, that the Spirit isn’t producing fruit in us, that our spiritual clothing is becoming tattered, that’s our cue to drop everything we’re doing and seek Jesus with all our hearts. The Christian life is all about learning to be where Jesus is all of the time, so that He can continue to work in and through us for His glory and our good and the good of everyone around us. The lists, lists of things God produces, help us identify problems, so that we can know when we need to draw closer to our God.

When the crowds found Jesus, He gave them the only to-do list we need:

“Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’

“Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’” -John 6:28-29

We stick close. We believe. He makes us into people who bring Him glory.

Father, thank You for inspiring Paul and others to give us lists that help us see how closely we’re living to You. When we recognize actions and attitudes that don’t come from You, from Your Spirit, from above, help us to act on that cue to talk to You, to read Your Word, to enjoy worship and fellowship with Your people who are doing the same. More of You in our lives, Lord. That is all we need. Amen.


Do you want to learn more about drawing closer to God through prayer throughout each day? Read Parachute Prayer: The Practice of Praying Continually. Click here to learn more.

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Thanking God for What He Gives Us to Give

Thankful Giving

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’”Matthew 26:26

A new thought occurred to me when I read this passage yesterday morning. As many times as I’ve read the story of the Last Supper and heard it read during communion celebrations at church, I’m surprised—and thrilled—to have a new concept to consider. For me, it has come at just the right time. (Our God tends to work that way.) My husband and I are fairly new empty-nesters, entering what some generational researchers are starting to call our second adulthood. It’s a tempting time, a time when people are tempted to say, “We’re done! Let’s go play for the rest of our lives.” But we’ve still got a lot of life left in us—at least we still feel like we do—most days. We’re asking God how He wants us to spend this next phase of our life and thanking Him for every opportunity to serve.

This is how Jesus taught His followers to live. His actions at the Last Supper are the prime example for all of us.

Matthew 26:26 tells us that Jesus took the bread and gave thanks. I’ve always pictured this as Him saying grace before the meal, thanking God for the food as many of us do. But what I noticed yesterday was that, in this instance, Jesus didn’t give thanks for what He was about to receive, like we do at meals. He wasn’t simply and routinely thanking God for food that He was getting ready to ingest. Look more closely here. He gave thanks for what was already His, for what He was able and preparing to give—His life for us. Jesus gave thanks—then He gave.

Jesus gave thanks for the bread that represented His body which He gave away. He gave thanks not for what He had to keep for Himself but for what God had given Him to give away— to save everyone else.

It occurs to me that if we want to be more like Jesus, we have to realize that life isn’t about collecting and keeping and giving thanks for what we claim as ours. It’s about thanking God for the resources He provides that enable us to participate in His plan to provide for others wherever we see a need: our money, our time, our strength, our ideas, anything we think we possess. We trust God to care for us; we use His gifts to care for others in His name. And we celebrate the blessing of being able to do so. We give God our thanks.

First Peter 4:10 says it this way: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

What gifts has God given you that you can thank Him for and give away in Jesus’ name? Ask Him for what purpose He has graciously placed various resources in your care. Ask Him to help you use them to meet needs, and thank Him for every opportunity you seize.

Father, thank You for all of the resources You’ve entrusted to our care. Show us how to share them for the benefit of others, for the health of Your Kingdom now. In Jesus, we pray. Amen.

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Trying to Pray Daniel’s Way

Praying Like Daniel“But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.” –Daniel 6:10

“Then they told the king, ‘That man Daniel, one of the captives from Judah, is ignoring you and your law. He still prays to his God three times a day.’” –Daniel 6:13

The Bible tells us that Daniel prayed three times a day. But it doesn’t tell us how long he prayed each time. I kind of wish it did. Daniel is such a great role model; I’d like more detail, please. But maybe the leaving out of the detail was intentional. I’m guessing Daniel probably talked with God about whatever needed talking about at the time for as long as it needed to be discussed. If we’re going to follow his example, that’s probably a good way to start.

Then why does the Bible tell us, specifically, that he prayed three times a day? I think that little detail is helpful. If we want to talk with God about whatever needs talking about, having set times to sit down and ask Him if there is anything that needs to be talked about is a good thing. I imagine Daniel greeting God each morning, worshipping Him, thanking Him, asking for guidance for the day to come. Around midday, he probably checked in to thank God for how the day was going, to make sure he was still on course, to present any new business or concerns, and to learn if God had any new directions for him. Then maybe just before bed, he’d meet with God once more to go over the details of the day, thanking God for its surprises, asking forgiveness for his own failings, and enjoying God’s presence as he prepared to go to sleep.

Of course, I don’t really know if that’s exactly how Daniel prayed, and I certainly don’t believe we have to pray at three, precisely-specified times each day. But I like the idea of starting and ending the day with God, checking in with Him as needed in between. Daniel is such a great role model. I’m glad God gave us all the detail about his life we need.

Father, thank You for giving us everything we need to live faithfully for You. Thank You for Daniel’s example and for the examples of other people we meet in Your Word. Help us remember to communicate with You often about anything we need to discuss and with listening hearts to hear anything You may choose to impress upon us. We love You, Lord, and long to live Your way. Thank You for teaching, guiding, and correcting. Amen.

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Thanksgiving and Prayer

Thanksgiving and Prayer“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people.”Colossians 1:3-4

Paul starts his letter to the Colossian church with thanksgiving and prayer. He tells them that he is thankful for them and why. He is thankful for them because he’s heard of their faith in Christ and their love for His people.

  • Who are you thankful for today and why?

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.”Colossians 1:9

Because Paul is thankful for the Colossians, he and his ministry team pray for them.* They pray that:

  • God will fill them with the knowledge of His Will (v. 9).
  • They will live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way (v. 10).
  • They will bear fruit in every good work (v. 10).
  • They will grow in the knowledge of God (v. 10).
  • They will be strengthened with all power according to God’s glorious might (v. 11).
  • They will have great endurance and patience (v. 11).
  • They will be joyfully thankful for the inheritance they share with all of God’s people (v. 12).

What a beautiful way to honor someone you are thankful for!

  • What blessings are you asking God to bestow on the people you are thanking Him for today?

*Click here to read the full passage at BibleGateway.com.

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