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God’s Grand Gift of Life

“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.”Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV

My father-in-law sent me roses for Mother’s Day this year. He knows that without me, he’d have no grandkids. And that man loves those boys!Mother's Day Roses

The blooms on the roses lasted about a week. As they started to droop, I removed them from the vase, a few at a time, leaving the strongest roses for last. As I was getting ready to toss the final three roses, however, I noticed that their stems had developed new growth! Curious to see what they would do, I decided to leave them alone. By the next day, though, the new growth had expanded considerably. I wondered what would happen if we planted them in the yard.New Growth

My youngest son was home from college and my oldest and his wife were visiting at the time. They got excited about the experiment, too. (Once a homeschool family—always a homeschool family, I suppose.) I clipped the dead blooms from the stems. Seth planted them in the yard. Justin arranged shelters of landscaping pine needles to protect them from the heat. My husband used the experiment as a sermon illustration on hope.

PlantedYes. We were hoping new roses would grow. But we were skeptical. And the heat, up to 90 degrees that week, was discouraging. We’d moved the plants from a bowl of water in an air-conditioned house to dry ground under a hot sun.

And, technically, since they’d been removed from their original bush, weren’t they already dead?

A week later, two of three were gone. But one continues to grow! It’s even sprouted a new branchlet! My father-in-law may have sent me a rose bush for Mother’s Day. Thank you, Dad! This has been fun.

Now you have to understand, I do not have a talent for making things grow. My grandfather had the greenest thumb I’ve ever seen, but so far, as far as I know, none of his descendants have inherited his gift. I let other people grow flowers, then I take pictures of them and console myself with the joy of preserving their beauty that way.Growing

I didn’t make my roses grow either. I received the roses as a gift. I watched them sprout. I told my son, and he planted them. I watched, watered and pruned. Someday, hopefully, I’ll have a new picture of a home-grown flower to show.

This is how our spiritual lives grow!

  • We start out dead in our sins and cut off from God.
  • We open the door to receive God’s gift of salvation through Christ.
  • Our spirits take root in the soil of God’s love and begin to grow.
  • God’s Spirit nurtures them, allowing us to help through Spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading, prayer, worship, and fellowship.
  • Our lives begin to bear fruit, showing others what God can do which builds His Kingdom and glorifies His name!

If my family and I are having so much fun watching a little rose clipping grow, imagine the joy of our Savior as we grow in Him each day. His Spirit does all the work, but let’s nurture it as He directs and watch blooms develop, open, and show.

What we're hoping to find someday!

What we’re hoping to find someday!

Thank You, Lord, for bringing life from death, for salvation from sin and the opportunity to glorify and praise Your name. Keep nurturing these little plants as we stay firmly rooted in You. May our lives display Your work and bring honor to Your name. We love You, Lord! Amen.

I’m sharing today’s post with: Imparting Grace, Faith Filled Friday, Fellowship Fridays, Friendship Friday, and Essential Fridays.

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Psalm 18:35 on My Mind

NewOMMYou make your saving help my shield, and your right hand sustains me; your help has made me great.”Psalm 18:35, NIV

“You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.”Psalm 18:35, ESV

This is our fourth week of five, memorizing Psalm 18:32-36. I hope you’ve been following along, adding one verse each week. If you’re new here, though, don’t worry! Psalm 18:35 is quite powerful all by itself. I encourage you to jump right in, focusing on this one verse this week. To see the whole passage at BibleGateway.com, however, you can click here. To see the previous three posts on this passage, click here, here, and here.

Before we go on, I do ask that you indulge me in something I don’t usually do. My OCD tendencies rebel against it. My editorial training does, too. But some things just can’t be helped! So far we’ve been looking at this passage in the NIV. It was my intention to continue in that version through the whole thing. But I stumbled across verse 35 in the ESV and loved it! In this instance, it makes everything so clear. So–I will memorize the passage in the NIV, but I will share my thoughts on the verse from the perspective of the ESV. In my mind, one brings out the meaning of the other. As we remember the NIV, we’ll also remember what we learned about each phrase from the ESV. Please consider this a parallel version study.

Verse 35 of our passage goes right along with my post from last Thursday. In that post, I talked about how all people alive on Planet Earth right now are somewhere in the process of making right choices in order to grow in Christ. Some have yet to choose to follow Him at all. Others are learning to choose to do the things that will help them mature spiritually. They are choosing to grow toward God–or not. In Psalm 18:35, David explains what has happened since he chose to accept God’s call on his life and to serve faithfully as king.

  1. God saved him from all his enemies. Through Christ, God has saved us from bondage to sin (if we have turned away from our sin and asked Jesus to be Lord of our life*). Remembering we have the shield of salvation can give us courage to face anything. With the promise of eternal life, we have nothing to lose when we live our lives for Christ.
  2. God’s right hand supported him. References to God’s right hand are symbolic of His power. God is all-powerful. He was powerful enough to protect David and establish him as king. He is powerful enough to help us achieve anything He calls us to do.
  3. God’s gentleness made David great. I picture moms with preschoolers here. These moms must be firm, yet gentle as they love, discipline, teach, nurture, and train. An overly harsh approach will cause children to live in fear, unable to mature and function independently. Firm, but gentle correction enables children to grow in confidence, able to make right choices and develop strong skills. David didn’t have an easy life, but God dealt with him gently even as He used some tough realities to prepare David to be a great king. God never gave David more than he could bear. God does the same for us.

Father, thank You for the shield of Your salvation, the power we need to do anything You ask, and Your gentle guidance intended to make us great. David chose to cooperate. Help us to do so, too! For the glory of Your Kingdom. We love You, Lord. Amen.

*If you haven’t yet asked Jesus to be Lord of your life, please click here to learn how. It’s easy! He’s waiting to hear from you today. He loves you. He died for you. He lives for you today. (The link will take you to a post I wrote on an older blog of mine. If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, my request still stands!)

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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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Praying for Victims of Abuse

Parachute PrayerWhile out running errands a few days ago, I noticed a car stopped across the intersection that had some truly unusual dents. It didn’t look like it had been hit by a car. The paint wasn’t damaged. But both driver’s side doors had people-sized indentations–like two people had literally thrown themselves up against the car with all the force they had. I can’t imagine anything else that would have made dents like that. Knowing that people don’t throw themselves up against cars just for fun, I’m pretty certain that the situation which resulted in the damage to that car also resulted in some damage to people. It probably wasn’t a pleasant sight, and people may still be recovering both physically and emotionally.

These thoughts prompted a new Parachute Prayer. When we see dents in cars, let’s pray for damaged people–people who suffer from physical, verbal, and/or emotional abuse. Except in the case of extreme physical abuse, we may never see the wounds these people have received. The bruises are real, however, and these people are hurting.

If you have time, add prayers for those who self-inflict such pain. Pray that people who care will notice and gently steer them toward the help they need–or that they’ll recognize the need for such help themselves.

Finally, don’t forget to pray for those who abuse. Those who hurt others usually do so because they are hurting or because they have been hurt. Pray they’ll recognize their own suffering in the eyes of those they abuse. Pray they’ll choose to stop hurting others and seek healing. Pray they’ll seek forgiveness, too, from God and from those they’ve caused pain.

Father, this world is full of pain and sometimes people are cruel. Please bring an end to such suffering! Protect those who are being abused. Lead them to shelter. Help them to recognize their value in Your eyes and to seek refuge in You and with people who can help them escape. Stand up for those who are helpless by helping others to see what they are suffering. Bring hidden pain to light that victims can be saved. And please cause those who inflict pain to realize that what they are doing is wrong. Prompt them to do what they must to stop. We thank You for seeing what we don’t. We thank You for caring always! We pray that You’ll act to bring relief in all situations. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

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Braking for Squirrels

Wildflower ThoughtsThere are a lot of squirrels in our neighborhood. I like them. Family members know I think of the ones that visit my yard as pets. This, they don’t understand.

“They’re vermin,” they’ll tell me. “People exterminate them.”

Not if they live in my yard, they don’t!

Besides, I know all about Cinderella and Snow White. Sometimes, having furry rodents for friends can work in your favor.

One day, a few years back, I was driving out of our neighborhood with my youngest son riding in the passenger seat. Suddenly a baby squirrel darted in front of us. I gently stopped the truck to let the cute, little critter pass. (Seth says I slammed on the brakes, but he’s wrong. And Daddy, if you’re reading this, I know you’ll take his side, but really, I gently stopped the truck. This is true—this time.)

The squirrel hesitated, so I said, “Go ahead, Baby. Cross the road.” Seth’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped, and he looked at me like I’d absolutely . . . lost . . . my . . . mind.

The squirrel stood up to look at me, too. He cocked his head curiously. I think he was trying to decide if I was friend or foe. (Or maybe he had a little power complex and wanted to enjoy the thought of suddenly stopping such a big truck all by himself. No—he was too sweet. I’m sure that wasn’t it at all.)

“It’s okay,” I said, waving him across. “Go ahead.” He did; he safely crossed the road.

Seth looked at me incredulously and shook his head. “That was wrong, Mom. That was just wrong.”

I smiled and wondered, “Do they make bumper stickers that say, ‘I brake for squirrels.’?”

The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin has corrupted all people. It has turned us into vermin awaiting extermination (or, more accurately, eternal banishment from God’s Presence by our choice not to trust in Him).

But God loved us so much that He sent His Son, not to condemn the world, but to save it. (See John 3:16-17.) Through His own death, Jesus stops the extermination truck for all who trust in Him. When we look to Him in faith, He gives us a nod and waves us across, “It’s okay. Go ahead!” He invites us to safely join the Kingdom of God with assurance we will live eternally with Him.

I think I feel a power complex coming on. But it’s okay. It’s Christ—no power of my own. None at all. No, no. (Consider 1 Corinthians 1:18, 2 Corinthians 12:9, and Galatians 2:20.) I trust in the One Who can stop the great, big death truck for me—and for everyone else on this human life journey.

Thank You, Jesus! Amen.

Note: Clicking the highlighted Bible verse references will take you to Bible Gateway where you can read the verses for yourself, read them in context, and find study helps for learning more about God’s Word.

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Hebrews 10:23 on My Mind

NewOMM“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.” –Hebrews 10:23, NLT

Though we can’t always understand God’s ways or His timing, one thing we can always know is that God will keep His promises. We can trust Him completely to do everything He has promised to do.

Therefore, whenever we’re called to pray about something long-term, no end in sight, we can encourage ourselves to hang in there and keep on praying by seeking out promises that we can cling to, by carefully studying God’s Word.

In Hebrews 10, the author is doing just that. The people are becoming discouraged as they suffer under great persecution. The author reminds them that God has promised them a great reward for their patient endurance (v. 35-36). Christ, who died for their salvation, is coming back to take faithful believers to their future home (v. 34, 39). The author of Hebrews quotes promises from Deuteronomy and Habakkuk in order to give the people solid hope to cling to.

None of those believers lived long enough on earth to see those promises fulfilled, but those who hung in there, as the author encouraged them to, will see it all happen someday, just as we will, in God’s perfect timing. Hebrews 10:23 assures us all will be well. God keeps His promises.

And His Word is full of them! To encourage us all through this life. To give us something to hold tightly as we prepare to journey into Eternity with Christ.

This doesn’t mean we can take the Bible’s promises out of context and twist their meaning in order to manipulate God into giving in to something we want Him to do for us now. He wouldn’t fall for that kind of thing anyway. Yet we can carefully study what the Bible has to say, pray over passages that give us hope and build our confidence, and trust God to do everything He plans to just perfectly.

When life tempts us to give up or give in, let’s choose to hold tightly to hope by seeking to understand all that God has promised in the Bible, His Word.

Father, lead us to the verses we need to see. Use Your written word to speak truth to us each day. Help us to understand Your teaching that we’ll come to know and fully trust You. The Bible says You keep Your promises. I’ll believe this, Lord, as I continue to wait and pray. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Freedom’s Door

“Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his country.’” –Exodus 6:9-11

The Israelites had been in bondage for years. You would think they’d throw a party to celebrate and run to pack their bags on hearing Moses’ report that God was preparing to set them free. They didn’t, though. They were so discouraged and beaten down by bondage that they completely ignored the messenger and refused to believe the good news.

At this point, God could have said, “Well, fine. If you aren’t interested in being rescued, I’ll just leave you there.” But He didn’t. He loved his people too much for that; He wanted the best for them. So He went to work doing just what He’d said He would, showing His power and putting Pharaoh in his place. It was the beginning of the second greatest rescue of all time!

Second greatest? Yes! The Israelites were in bondage to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. But all of humankind is in bondage to Satan and this world. Some people are so discouraged and beaten down by this bondage that, like the Israelites, they can’t hear or understand the good news. God has opened the Door to their freedom anyway! Captives discouraged by sin don’t stop Him from putting His plans into action.

The plan? God sent His only Son, Jesus, to die for our sins and rise again that all people can be free. We’ve just celebrated that coming, and now, as a church, we’re contemplating Jesus’ growing up years and His ministry in anticipation of Easter’s celebration: God’s rescue plan fulfilled in Christ. As I consider Exodus 6:9-11, I’m so thankful God sets His plans in motion, even for people who can’t see the path out through their pain.

But it still comes down to personal choice. It always has. The Israelites didn’t have to leave Egypt. They could have said, “Thanks, but no thanks. You’ve opened the door, but we’re not walking through it. We’ll stay here and suffer rather than follow You to that so-called Promised Land.” They didn’t say that, though—well, they did, but that was later when they were on their way and discovered that the path to the Promised Land wasn’t a cakewalk. But that’s another story about another spiritual issue. What matters today is that the Israelites chose to follow God out of bondage, to begin their journey to the Promised Land. That choice is now available to all humankind: to follow Jesus out of bondage to sin and to begin the Christian’s journey to our eternal Promised Land.

Remembering the story of the Israelite response to Moses’ good news, let’s pray for today’s discouraged, burden-laden captives. Whenever we encounter people who can’t hear the good news over the screams of the captor bent on their abuse and destruction, let’s pray that God will speak a little louder and that He’ll make the door frame a little brighter and that He’ll show His power in miraculous ways so that the captives will see and believe and let Him set them free! Our all-powerful God is more than capable—people just have to follow Him out of sin’s prison door.

For more thoughts based on God’s Word this weekend, visit The Weekend Brew and Spiritual Sundays.