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Liking Having to Get Along

Words Aptly Spoken“I actually liked having to get along with people I didn’t particularly care for and finding ways to work together. Because in the army it can’t be all about me, it has to be about we.” –Emma, The Merciful Scar, p. 209

I had an “Aha!” moment when I read this sentence. Something about the way it’s worded really appeals to me.

Why? It challenges me.

Getting along with all people all the time is difficult, perhaps impossible. Yet this is what God commands us to do, Jesus prayed for us to do, and we, in fact, must do, if we’re to glorify God through His church.

My favorite way of getting along with people who test me, however, is to avoid them. I let them do their thing while I do mine. I pray for them from a distance and figure that’s the best that the situation can be.

I find a sadness in this, though. Emma, the character who made the above statement, is talking about getting along with people she doesn’t really care for. Truthfully, there aren’t too many people I don’t really care for. I may be quiet, but I adore people. I find them fascinating. I want to learn their stories and invite them to know mine. I want to listen to them, pray for them, encourage them, and share joyous discoveries to build them up in Christ. I like being a friend.

The people I try to avoid, therefore, are the ones who’ve made it clear (at least from my point of view) that they don’t care for me. In a sense, I figure I’m doing them a favor, while protecting myself from the pain of rejection.

Yet I sense defeat in this.

The Merciful ScarEmma’s statement challenges me to work a little harder at this working together thing. It also tells me how.

First, I have to set aside the assumption that the other person doesn’t like me. I have to ignore and overcome my insecurities. This has to be my choice.

Second, I have to identify the mission and keep my mind on that. If God has given me something to do and people to do it with, completing the task is the most important thing. I must get to work.

I stumbled across a few Bible verses this morning that added to my thoughts on this getting-along subject:

In Philippians 1, Paul addresses the issue of motive. There is a concern that some people are preaching the Gospel for selfish reasons. Paul says, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice” (verse 18).

If we’re working together to build God’s Kingdom, we’re not sitting around analyzing each other’s reasons for doing so. Only God can accurately judge what’s in another person’s heart. We can and must let go of this concern, work together, and rejoice when God’s Spirit brings results. (This is true even if our own motives are off. We continue to do the work, and trust God to fix our hearts.)

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul addresses the issue of credit for work done. There is a concern about the wrong people getting credit for conversions and baptisms. Paul says it doesn’t matter who gets the credit, so long as the work gets done. Verse 9 says, “For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” God is building His Kingdom; ultimately it’s His work. We’re privileged to take part in it. We’re working together for God’s glory and His creation’s good.

Father, thank You for Emma’s insight. Help us all accept the challenge to find ways to work together—whether or not we naturally get along. We’re working for Your glory, for the honor of Your name. Achieving the objective isn’t about us. It’s about You. Please give us willing hearts and wisdom to accomplish Your purpose. Amen.

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Praying for Our Hearts

Parachute Prayer“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”Ezekiel 36:26

Though most Parachute Prayers are meant to remind us to pray for other people, sometimes we need to pray for ourselves. And if we’re trying to follow Jesus who told us to love God above all others and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Mark 12:29-31), I think praying about the condition of our hearts is one of the most important prayers we can pray for ourselves. This world is designed to harden our hearts, to turn them to stone, to keep us from loving anyone well. This is something we must guard against (Proverbs 4:23).

Keeping this in mind, when we see stones, whether pebbles in a stream, rocks used as decorations outside a store or home, or boulders built into monuments, let’s pause and ask God to soften our hearts. Then, when time allows, let’s use that time to examine our hearts more thoroughly, giving God the time He needs to fully answer that prayer. Heart surgery can’t be done in a moment, but the Parachute Prayer can initiate the process, so God’s Spirit can begin to work, to let us know what attitudes need to change, so He can soften our hearts.

Father, thank You for designing us with a great capacity to love. Help us to protect our hearts, so we can continue to love You and others well. Please reveal any hardness in our hearts. Then show us how to cooperate with Your Spirit, so You can bring healing. Teach us to love as You do. Amen.

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Acts 10:43 on My Mind

NewOMM“He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”Acts 10:43, NLT

God had to get creative in order to help Peter learn this lesson. It started with a vision of forbidden-to-be-eaten animals that a voice from Heaven ordered Peter to eat. God presented the vision three times.

While Peter was still trying to figure out what the vision meant, a group of Gentiles came to his door, asking Peter to be Cornelius’ house guest. Cornelius was a Gentile, but he had met the one, true God. He needed someone to introduce him to Jesus Christ, though, to welcome him into the Christian faith, so to speak. God told Cornelius to seek Peter; God prepared Peter’s heart for Cornelius. (You can read the whole story here at BibleGateway.)

You see, eating in a Gentile’s house was just as forbidden as eating the animals in Peter’s vision would have been. But Cornelius’ men arrived at just the right time for Peter to understand God’s message: Jesus came for everyone who believes in him! Peter’s words to Cornelius found in Acts 10:43 suggest to me that once Peter understood his vision, he came to see the testimony of the prophets (found in our Old Testament) in a whole new light, recognizing God’s desire to reach all people, not only the Jews.

As we grow closer to Christ throughout our lives, if we study God’s Word regularly, God’s Spirit will shed new light on familiar verses granting us deeper understand of God’s will and His ways, too. We put the information into our brains; God’s Spirit, at just the right time, reveals more of its truth.

That gives us two reasons to commit this verse to memory this week! First, we learn the verse so we’ll remember that salvation is available to everyone who believes, but like Cornelius, they can’t believe unless they hear the message from someone, perhaps from someone who looks like us.

Second, we learn the verse so we’ll remember why we study God’s Word each day. God may not always grant us new insights, but we can trust that He’s preparing our hearts for whatever understanding we will need, understanding that will come at just the right time.

Father, thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus, to die on the cross and rise again, so that everyone who believes can be saved. This is the best news ever! Please give us the opportunity and the courage to share it as often as we can. We do want everyone to know.

And help us to study Your Word faithfully, knowing that Your Spirit will grant us all the understanding we need, right when we need it to fulfill Your purposes. What an honor it is to be used to further Your goals. We love You, Lord. Amen

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Isaiah 60:20 on My Mind

NewOMM“Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.”Isaiah 60:20

This is a great verse to memorize for dark times. All may be well for you right now; I hope it is! Even so, this world tends to bring us trouble. I don’t say that to be negative. Just to plan ahead. Just in case. Of what we hope will never come to pass. If we commit Isaiah 60:20 to memory now, God’s Spirit will be able to help us recall it if then ever comes to be.

And if somehow it doesn’t, this verse will remind us to be thankful for that.

If you are going through a dark time now, I pray the words of this poetic promise will comfort you. This. Too. Shall. Pass. Keep hoping and trusting in Jesus. Your days of sorrow will eventually end.

Father, You know the needs of every person reading this today. Please comfort and encourage those who are going through dark times now. Fill their hearts with hope. Let them know You are with them now. And please help the rest of us to remember the words of Isaiah 60:20. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” He also promised He has overcome the world. Someday His everlasting Light will chase all darkness and shadow away. We can count on this. Amen.

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Born Again? Absolutely!

“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’”John 3:3, NIV

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an article listing phrases the author thought Christians should stop using and why this was his opinion for each. One of those phrases was born again. The author, a Christian himself, said Christians shouldn’t use that phrase because it confuses people.

DSC01954eI’ve been thinking about that.

You see, Jesus actually coined that phrase. Jesus! Our own, eternal Master, Savior, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Son of God, Jesus said that people need to be born again.

He introduced the concept to Nicodemus, a religious leader who visited one night to ask Jesus questions about His teachings and miracles. True. The concept did confuse Nicodemus, who asked, “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4).

But that’s the point. Nicodemus’ confusion made him curious, and his curiosity gave Jesus the opportunity to explain. In fact, that conversation led to Jesus presenting the single, most important Truth that all people, everywhere, throughout all time need to know: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

It seems to me that this one, little phrase has been used effectively ever since then to open doors, eyes, minds, and hearts to the good news that Jesus’ sacrifice makes it possible for people to be saved from sin and to enjoy eternal life in the presence of God.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, His followers continued to use the term. Peter used it: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). James, Jesus’ own brother, also used the concept: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (James 1:18). Instead of rejecting the phrase, these followers of Jesus listened to Him, absorbed the Truth, claimed it for themselves, and shared it with others.

We can do this, too!

If the concept perplexes you, and you fear you’ll only confuse people if you try to explain it, I encourage you to read, ponder, pray, and study it for yourself until you make it yours like Peter and James did. Until then, share God’s Truth with others in your own way as the Spirit leads. This Spirit has an infinite number of ways to lead people into God’s Kingdom. As opportunities arise, say what you feel led to say.

If, however, the Spirit prompts you to talk about being born again, please don’t hesitate, fearing this is wrong. If you’re using the words of Jesus, as the Holy Spirit leads, God will help you speak, and He’ll help those who listen to understand. The God Who loves the world is faithfully helping His born again children to deliver His Truth to whoever is ready to hear it, believe, confess, and be saved.

Father, thank You for the privilege of sharing this good news. Please give us opportunities to tell others about all that Jesus has done for them. Fill us with Your Spirit and give us just the right words to say. We love You, Lord, and we know You love Your creation. Please help us to share Your Word and to encourage each other as we do. Amen.

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Carrying Burdens

Galatians 6:2“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”Galatians 6:2

Most of us, when we see someone carrying a heavy burden, will offer to help if we can. And we appreciate help when the burden is ours! We open doors for mothers pushing baby carriages or people entering the post office with bulky packages. We accept help from our families to carry the groceries into the house. Our librarian keeps plastic bags on hand for patrons who check out a lot of books. It’s common courtesy—when we see a need, we help. This fulfills the law of Christ: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:19, 22:39, Mark 12:31 and 33, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8).

Physical loads are usually pretty easy to see. But what about mental, spiritual, or social ones? We may need some help being made aware of these. If we ask, God’s Spirit will reveal people who need to talk, who need to know about Christ, who need friendship or an encouraging word. Sometimes, just being noticed can lift someone’s heavy load.

We can’t meet every need—only God can do that. But we can ask for eyes to see what God wants us to see, to recognize burdens and our ability to offer aid:

Spirit, You know whose loads are too heavy today. Please show me what I can’t see—whom, what, where, when and how to lift burdens today. And thanks for sending help when the need is mine, so others also can fulfill the law of Christ. Amen.

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Praying for Flowers That Matter to Bloom

IrisesI love finding surprise flowers growing in my yard. I have no idea where these came from, but I’m treasuring the gift.

I’m getting impatient, though! I’ve been waiting three days for them to fully open up, to show their glory in the bright sunlight. Earlier this year, two different bunches of daffodils started to open just before the weather changed. One bloomed beautifully just in time to be destroyed by a sudden downpour. The other was buried in snow before it ever had a chance to show its splendor. I’m hoping the weather doesn’t turn ugly on these. Even now, I can see their potential. These are going to be gorgeous!

These flower thoughts are leading me to think of people I know today. God inspired several authors in the Bible to compare people’s lives to flowers: Isaiah, Job, David, Solomon, James, and Peter–to name a few. Even Jesus used the analogy. I’m thinking of Peter’s (which quotes one of Isaiah’s) today:

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.'”1 Peter 1:23-24

In light of eternity, our lives are as brief and as fragile as the flowers in my yard. Some people live very short lives. It seems they move on into eternity before their lives bloom fully. Others live a long time but refuse to bloom at all. I have several like this in my yard right now. The green part of the plant came up, but the flowers have yet to show. For whatever reason, they probably won’t this year. That is just as tragic as being squashed before the bloom. And then, of course, there are the ones whose flowers reach their full potential, so we can enjoy them for a little while before they die.

People don’t get to choose the length of their life. They don’t really get to choose what their flower looks like either; God gives people their appearance, personality traits, abilities, interests, and such, then they work with what they have. But people do get to choose whether or not they will reach for the sun (be saved through Christ), drink in the rain (listen to God’s Spirit by reading God Word, praying continually, and worshiping with God’s people), and do all they can to become what God created them to be (practice spiritual disciplines, so they can know God and live in tune with His will).

All people alive on earth right now are somewhere in the process of that choice! And God, their Creator, is waiting in anticipation, along with all the hosts of Heaven, I’m sure, to see each person bloom!

Just stop for a moment and try to imagine that. I’ll wait. Close your eyes and picture it right now: God watching in earnest anticipation to see you reach your potential in Him.

I’m thankful that God is patient. He “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). “He is patient . . . not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

After we are born again, God wants us to continue to grow and mature. He wants us to grow in grace, in righteousness, in knowledge, in wisdom, in unity, in love, in Christ! All of these add to the beauty of our bloom, but salvation, as Peter explains in 1 Peter 1:23-24 is the most important thing. Our lives are short. If we bloom gloriously on earth without Christ as our Savior, then it’s all for nothing when we die. But if we’re born again, of imperishable seed (Jesus Christ), then we’ll share God’s glory forever whether or not our petals have a chance to bloom in this world.

The ideal progression:

  1. We’re born again in Christ and start to grow in Him now.
  2. We reach for the sun, drink in the rain, and do all we can to become whatever God has created us to be while we’re on earth.
  3. God takes us to Heaven where we share in His glory by His grace throughout eternity.

Let’s pray for all people as God waits patiently. He won’t wait forever. Let’s pray for God’s flowers to bloom!

Wildflower ThoughtsFather, remind us to pray regularly for all the people we know. Some are striving to bloom on earth without Your Son. Thank You for Your patience with them. Please make Yourself known and open their hearts to Your truth. Others know You and are growing. Help these to reach their potential. Help their lives to bloom brightly and glorify Your name. Still others feel they have done all they can and are waiting to go home. As they linger, according to Your timing, will, and perfect plan, draw them ever closer to You. As long as we’re breathing, that’s the ultimate reason why. We long to know You better as we wait to meet You face to face in eternity someday. In Jesus’ name, amen.

This post is linked to A Little R & R and Fellowship Fridays.

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Isaiah 58:11 on My Mind

NewOMM“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” –Isaiah 58:11, NIV

Oh, how I needed to read these verses this morning! They’re just perfect for a Monday—don’t you think? Especially for a Monday after week like the one just past: I was so sick last week! My poor husband kept looking at me in confusion and saying, “But you don’t get sick.”

It’s true. I don’t. Not usually. But last week I did and nothing I tried to do to hurry myself well again would work. I drank tea by the gallon, ran on my treadmill, took Vitamin C, ate healthy—mostly, and firmly told myself not to be sick. I laughed one evening when my husband and I were watching a television show about a virus that was claiming victims one by one. The main character looked at herself in the mirror and said, “I will not be sick.”

I said, “Give it up, Honey. I tried that. You’re doomed.” I was right. She got sick, too.

At least I didn’t get what she got! I guess things can always be worse.

Sometimes our bodies just have to ride illnesses out. On the bright side, these illnesses, if they’re minor ones like sinus infections or colds, force us to rest and relax—they actually give us permission to do so as they insist on it! I didn’t reach my writing goals for the week and missed attending Bible study, but I got lots of reading done and enjoyed catching up on the US Figure Skating Championships. I’m ready to watch the Olympics now; I know what’s going on.

That said, this week I’m feeling mostly better, so Isaiah 58:11 encouraged me greatly. I hope it will encourage you, too! God’s given us some beautiful promises for the start of a new week:

1. He will guide us always. As I begin to feel better, I long to dig into all the projects I had to neglect last week all at once. Trying to do so will only defeat me—and maybe cause a relapse. I’m thankful God is there to help me prioritize as I complete one task at a time. God doesn’t only guide us through the big decisions of life. If we’ll let Him, He’ll guide us through our daily decisions, too.

2. He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land. My land is currently covered in frost, but God will meet my needs here, too. He knows our needs better than we do; we can trust Him to provide.

3. He will strengthen our frames. Aren’t you glad God made our bodies able to heal themselves most of the time? As I am recovering from this recent illness, I’m looking forward to running again in a few days, rebuilding endurance and strength. I realize, though, that God, in His perfect, yet often mysterious wisdom, doesn’t always grant physical healing. Even so He does always give strength. He will always provide all the strength we need to accomplish His purposes for our lives. We can count on this.

4. He will make us like well-watered gardens. Gardens are fruitful, beautiful, pleasant, temperate, inviting, and peaceful. In the Bible, gardens are often places where people meet with God. Therefore, the promise of Isaiah 58:11 assures us that God will make us into people He can use to draw others to Himself whether He does this in social situations, through writing projects, in random encounters, or in our homes. When we devote our lives to God, He uses them to invite others to meet with and get to know Him, too.

5. He will make us like springs whose waters never fail. This is closely related to the promise of the well-watered garden. Jesus is the Living Water. God promises He’ll flow through us. If I really think about that picture, that means we’re simply the ruts in the ground that carry the real Water. But that Water is essential for life—for eternal life, for abundant life, for really-real, genuine life. (The redundancy there is intentional: life defined does not exist without Christ!) Therefore, let’s be happy to let God form us into springs that carry the Water of Life.

As always, I invite you join me in meditating on or memorizing Isaiah 58:11 to firmly get it placed on your mind. The more Scripture we put in our heads, the more God’s Spirit can use to help us on our journey through each day.

Father, thank You for the promises of Isaiah 58:11. Help us to absorb their Truth as we reflect on them this week. As You keep these promises, we know You’re making us into people who honor and glorify You. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

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Christian Confidence

“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’” –Daniel 3:16-18

It was the ultimate test. Deny God or die. As Michael W. Smith sings, “It was a test we could all hope to pass, but none of us would want to take” (This Is Your Time). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego not only passed, but also shared a profound statement of faith—one that can challenge even those of us who aren’t, at this time, facing that ultimate test.

Look closely at their response. First, on trial for refusing to worship the image of the king himself, these three young men boldly proclaim, “We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.” The king’s judgment doesn’t count. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stand before God Himself. They go straight to the highest court of appeals and place their lives in His hands alone.

Next they say, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.” Wow! First they call on a higher power, then they tell Nebuchadnezzar Who is really boss. They confidently declare that Nebuchadnezzar’s efforts to take their lives will be in vain should God choose to save them.

As if that weren’t enough, though, they show their absolute allegiance to God with their final sentence, “But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” But even if He does not! This reminds me of Queen Esther’s “If I perish, I perish,” statement (Esther 4:16). Her life was on the line, too. Knowing that God had placed her where He did, she chose to act on behalf of His people with no guarantee of how it all would end for her. Likewise, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had no guarantee that God would save them, though they didn’t doubt His ability. Facing the fire, they chose to do the right thing.

We may not be facing a fiery furnace or a king who could have us beheaded just for walking into the room. We may never be called on to face that ultimate test. But we do face panic situations from time to time as we live our daily lives—situations where telling a little lie or cheating just a bit might make life easier for us. If we yield to temptation, we are doubting God’s ability to save us. Daily, we must make the decision to trust God and not sin. We need to proclaim to ourselves and to the temptation:

  • I do not need to defend myself before you. God’s opinion is the only one that counts.
  • God is able to save me. I know this.
  • But even if He does not, no matter what I’m facing, I will not give in and sin.

And in that confidence, the Holy Spirit will help us stand firm. When we resolve to serve God faithfully no matter what, He walks with us, just as He walked with those three young men, right into the flames (Daniel 3:25).

Lord, thank You for promising never to leave me, never to forsake me (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5). I gratefully place my confidence in You. Amen.

This post is linked to: A Little R & R.

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Revelation 22:17 on My Mind

NewOMM“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” –Revelation 22:17

I think this must be one of the happiest verses in the Bible. Can’t you feel the excitement? The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” It’s a party invitation. And this party includes free water of life for all who are thirsty. Life. Joy. Everything we need.

A key part of this verse, though, can be found in the first few words. Look who’s doing the inviting: the Spirit and the bride. The Spirit, of course, is God’s Holy Spirit, the One Who draws people to Christ, the Source of the free gift of water in this verse. (See John 4:10-13.) The bride, though, is us! If we’ve received this living water and are on our way to the party (eternal life in Heaven with our Lord), we’re not to be silent about it. We’re to yell, “Come!” As we travel, we tell everyone we meet where we’re going and that they’re invited, too. Just picture yourself walking, or maybe even running, toward the great feast in God’s Kingdom that you’ve been invited to. As you go, you reach out toward everyone you see along the way, eagerly taking their hands, looking in their eyes, and urging them to come with you.

“Come!” you say.

“Come!” the Spirit says.

Those who recognize what they are thirsty for will be happy to go with you.

I’ve written this verse on an index card and placed it where I’ll see it often this week. I invite you to do the same. As we meditate on these words, perhaps even coming to memorize them, let’s remember where we’re going and ask God to help us invite thirsty people to come along. In our prayer time, our thoughts on this verse will help us remember to pray that God will cause all people to recognize their thirst and to realize the truth: Jesus is the living water Who can satisfy their needs for all eternity.

Father, thank You for these joyous words. Help us to think of them often this week. Remind us, as we face whatever comes our way, that we’re on our way to eternity with You. Show us how and when to invite other people to come along. We’re looking forward to that future, happy day. We love You, Lord. Amen.