My sun porch

My sun porch

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Something yucky into something beautiful...

This week's memory verse:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." --Romans 8:28

All week we've been talking about about why things happen the way the do...or why God lets things happen the way they do. We keep trying to figure out God...we will not always see God's plans and purposes because our thoughts are not like God's thoughts. But one day, we will learn the reasons. 

All the good things and bad things go into making us the people we are. How we handle the things that happen to us are what determines our character. I recently received an email with a nice little story that helps us to understand this a little better.

A teenage girl was in the kitchen complaining to her mother about how bad her life is...boyfriend troubles, too much homework, her best friend is mad at her, she's scared about going off to college...nothing was going right. Her mother asked her if she wanted some cake to comfort her...and handed her the bottle of cooking oil. YUCK said the girl. How about a nice cup of flour asked the mom. NO WAY said the girl. How about an egg or some baking powder? OOOH! WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? Yelled the girl. The mother smiled at her daughter and said, all those things alone seem like yucky snacks, but when they are put together by a skilled baker, they make a delicious cake!

Our lives are a lot like that...many yucky things happen to us, as well as a lot of good things. Many times we wonder why God would let us go through such bad and difficult times. But, God is like the skilled baker...he puts all of our experiences together to make our life. When he puts the together in his order, they always work for good. We just have to trust him and know that eventually they will make something wonderful!

Start with our memory verse, Romans 8:28...but read further, on to verse 39. This reinforces this idea that we can trust God's powerful love for us. NOTHING we've been through or will go though will separate us from God's love. Our sins and our human nature try to get us in trouble and try to kill us, but the love of God and Christ saves us. This can help us deal with things from our past and assures us that our futures are secured too.

God can take all the heartache we've been through and turn it into something beautiful! Do you believe it? Can you trust Him? What could your life be like if you trusted God more and got depressed about your situation less?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Love is...more than a royal wedding...

This week's memory verse:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

It's all about love today! I didn't get up at 4:00 am, but I did get up at the normal time and found myself wrapped up in the romantic and storybook-ness of the royal wedding this morning! I am one that has gotten very tired of EVERYTHING ROYAL in the past few months, but I must admit, it was beautiful and moving. And I loved the whole service. The sermon was wonderful...every wedding is a royal wedding. Even though MILLIONS were present and watching around the world, I feel God was also present and making himself known to those watching as well. Who knows who he spoke to during that service?

And, as is the case so many times lately, my Bible study today closely relates to other's about love! God's love for us! 

Read Psalm 103:13-14. 

Again we are reminded that God is like a loving father. He has compassion for us. He knows that we were made from dust. He knows that because HE MADE US! He is tender and merciful with us BECAUSE he made us. What artist is not tender about one of his creations...even though it may not be a masterpiece?

God knows EVERYTHING about us! Psalm 139 says that he perceives my thoughts from afar; he is familiar with my ways; he knows what I am going to say before I say it! Imagine that! He loves me even though he knows the nasty, personal thoughts that go on inside my head sometimes! He lays his hand upon me; I cannot hide from him. His hand will guide me and hold me tight. All my days are written in his book. What happens to me is not a surprise to him. That comforts me because I know that no matter what good things or bad things happen in my life, the one constant thing is God's presence, power and love.

My past, present and future is all connected and God knows it all. He will guide me and love me because he made me and knows me. Even if I make wrong choices, he will use those experiences to accomplish something significant in my life and heart and may use it to work in someone else as well.

Last night, I had a lovely conversation with a sweet person who has recently become a dear friend of mine. We have been discovering that we have a lot in common, even though she is quite a bit younger than me. I shared with her a HUGE mistake I made several years ago, and how that experience changed my life...for the better. I discovered during and after that time in my life that God DOES love me enough to forgive me and help me learn from that mistake! I had a lot to be forgiven for, and in return I have a lot to be thankful for and praise God for! 

God's love has allowed me to move forward and love others even more! God helped me to make the most of an learn as much I could from the experience. He used it in my life in a very powerful way! Now I can share that experience with others...spreading God's love all over the place!

My life may not contain a royal carriage ride on world-wide television, but I do feel my life is a is a story with a happy ending, written by God and covered with his love!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

God protects from ourselves...

This week's memory verse:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." -- Romans 8:28

I love when a message hits me from many angles that I can't ignore it! Last night, I watched a live, online conference...the Orange conference. I have attended this conference for the last 2 years, but this year I couldn't go. But they are broadcasting parts of the it live. I watched Andy Stanley speak last night. One of the things he talked about was what is natural to us...sin. Today's Bible study lesson is about sin... I think that is pretty cool! I'm ready to learn!

Did you ever really think about the 10 commandments? I learned them as a kid, memorized them through a catchy tune at Bible school, I think. There has been much controversy over the 10 Commandments in the last several years...should they be hanging in our courthouses and other government buildings? But did you ever really think about WHY they were so important to God? Why did he give his people laws to follow?

God, our loving father and creator, wanted to do all he could to protect us...from ourselves. Galatians 3:24 says that the law was our guardian until Christ came to justify us.

I'll get to the justify part in a minute. I want to think about the guardian part for a bit. We are humans...God created us, but he gave us free will...we can do what we want and unfortunately, our nature is to sin. It is natural for us to be is natural for us to is natural for us to try to hurt someone who has hurt us...God gave his people the law to PROTECT us from those natural tendencies. He knows how we are and wanted to teach us how to protect ourselves from ourselves! He gave his people time to learn his laws and learn that alone, they couldn't keep those's not NATURAL...and then he brought Jesus into the picture to save us from our natures.

The very thing that condemns us - our inability to keep God's commandments, set in place to protect us - is what God uses to show us how much we need a savior!

We are quick to judge others when we see their human nature coming out and see them unable to follow God's laws, but we are slow to see the same in ourselves.

Read John 8:1-11. The Pharisees are trying to set Jesus up by giving him an unanswerable question.  The law says that someone committing adultery should be stoned...what would you do with her? Jesus turns the tables on them by saying let the one without sin cast the first stone. Everyone backed away and left, the oldest first. I think the oldest among them remembered more sins that they committed in their lifetime...because WE ALL SIN!

My faith in God's plan through Christ gives me hope and peace because I realize that I is my human nature. Yes, God created me, but he didn't make me hard as I try...I am driven by that human nature and I mess up. Christ died and paid my penalty for that inability to keep the law...and I am saved, able to face God.

This doesn't give us free reign to just go and sin as as we want knowing that Jesus will save us in the end. But, when you have Jesus in your heart, you learn from past mistakes and you WANT to follow the laws because you see that God wants us to live that way so we won't hurt ourselves and others...knowing God and listening to him helps you live a better life. AND knowing that EVERYONE is led by their human nature helps you learn to be more forgiving and compassionate to those in your life who do mess up from time to time.

I thank God that his grace is greater than my sin. When I mess up he shines even brighter through me when I realize how much I NEED him! You are is your nature to sin. You NEED a savior from those sins too...grab on to the hope and peace that comes from knowing that God loves you so much he wants to protect you and save you from yourself! 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

God uses our struggles to train us...

This week's memory verse:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." -- Romans 8:28

A friend and I were talking about suffering just yesterday. We wondered to each other why people have to suffer...why is that little girl in the hospital with a painful disease? Why did a hate crime have to take the lives of innocent horses and deeply wound the heart of their owner? Why did the the earthquake and tsunami in Japan kill THOUSANDS of people? Why are several bad events happening in one man's life right now, causing pain, anguish and financial struggle? Why why why?

Why is such a frustrating question because we know we will never have a satisfying answer in this lifetime. Today's Bible study lesson was another hard one for me...hard to TRULY understand and accept...but comforting in a way too.

James 1:2-4 says we should respond with joy in our trials and struggles because we know that testing of our faith produces perseverance - so we can be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.

That is much easier to see when you are NOT in the middle of the struggle. When you are in pain, it is very hard to put the pain aside and see the benefit from it. AFTER it's over, you can look back and see good that came out if it...but when you are knee deep in trouble, all you want is a way out!

 But, seeing good after and during a struggle, and leaning on God the whole time gives you strength and comfort. When you have made it through something hard, especially when you have found the strength of God during it, you remember that experience and can draw from it when another struggle hits you. You can also share your experiences with others, giving them some of the same hope and strength. 

I have read of Corrie ten Boom's horrific experiences in a Nazi death camp before. Today, I read a quote from her sister, Betsie ten Boom that touched me. "How wonderful that the reality of His presence is greater than the reality of the hell about us." If she could say that after all that those two girls went through, certainly I can lean on my faith that God is with me, even in the horrible times, right?

Hebrews 12:7-11 talks about God using our struggles as discipline. I must admit, this is where I get ouchy....God uses tragedies to teach us a lesson? What did that little girl do that landed her in so much pain in a hospital bed?

The Message Translation states it: "This trouble isn't your punishment, it's training." "God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God's holy best."

When we see God IN our struggles, we see that those struggle produce good things in us and a more mature relationship with God.

I am seeing that now as I have had much unrest worry over my family's financial situation...until I get right with it and truly surrender all my spending, saving and giving over to God, and stop living like it all belongs to me...I will continue to struggle and have unrest. I am learning lessons from my struggles...God's discipline for me.

I also see it in my past...when I was at my lowest, I was driven to my knees... SEARCHING for answers and relief from my pain. I was drawn to my church and to a relationship with Christ, and I have been SO rewarded with some of the closest, dearest and most supportive friends I have ever known. They make me see I am NOT alone! God gave me what I needed. Had I not had to go through those dark days, I may not have seen the need for church and those supportive friends.

I don't think I will ever totally understand why people have to deal with such tragedies as my friend I were discussing yesterday. But I can have FAITH that our God uses those experiences to train us and draw us closer to Him.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

All things for Good...a hard concept

This week's memory verse: 
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

Sometimes when I am writing this blog, I think, what right do I have to be writing this stuff? I didn't go to seminary...I am no Bible expert...I really don't know what I am talking about. I just write was is in my heart as I read and study God's word each day. Today is one of those days because the lesson today is one that is sometimes hard to understand.

What exactly does "God works all things for good" mean? I have friends who cannot bring themselves to God because of this phrase. I had a long conversation with one friend a while ago about it. Why would a loving caring God CAUSE bad things and suffering to happen to the people he created and loved? OR if God didn't cause them to happen, he is supposed to be powerful enough to stop it...why wouldn't he? If we liken God to a loving father, most fathers I know would do about ANYTHING to keep their children from suffering...why wouldn't our heavenly father do this as well?

These are TOUGH questions that I don't feel worthy enough to answer on my own. Today's First Place 4 Health Bible study takes us through some of this much better than I can.

God is sovereign. The dictionary definition of sovereign is: indisputable; greatest in degree; utmost or extreme; above all others in character, importance and excellence. Jesus is a big part of God's sovereignty. Look at Colossians 1:15-20

* Verse 15 - Jesus is the image of God, first born in all creation
* Verse 16 - In him, ALL THINGS were created. Created IN HIM and FOR HIM.
* Verse 17 - Jesus is before all things and holds all things together
* Verse 18 - Jesus is the head of the body, the church, he has supremacy over all
* Verse 19 - God is pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him
* Verse 20 - Through Jesus, God reconciles his relationship with all his creation. Jesus' blood on the cross brought peace

There is a lot of evil in the world. Many people refuse God, don't know is a fallen world. But God has the authority and the ability to make all things come together for good. This doesn't mean God will make all things comfortable, pleasing and happy for us. This is an issue I have had in the past...if I am following Jesus, relying on God and living as I should, why am I still struggling and unhappy? Have you ever had those thoughts?

When you seek God and follow him, he is working on you...making you more like Jesus. He uses our struggles, our pain, our unhappiness to mold and shape us into the people of character he wants us to be. We will have ultimate joy with him in heaven when we rely on him now. I know people who say they don't want to live this life just waiting on life in heaven...I say...what else is there????

Read Colossians 2:13-15

God made us alive with Christ! That is an amazing statement! When we believe and accept Christ as the one who saves...our sins are nailed to the same cross as Christ was...they are taken away...dead and buried! We are then alive as Christ is alive! All the power of sin and evil authorities on earth has been taken away! We will live in heaven...filled with more pain, tears, tragedies, fears....that is God's promise to us!

Jeremiah 32:27 says "I am the Lord, God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?"

I say no...nothing is too hard for God! 

I don't know much...there is SO MUCH I don't understand. When I don't understand, I go to God's word and rely on what it says. is faith that holds me together. I don't know why there has to be suffering on this earth to get to the joy of heaven, but...I do know that it's part of God's plan...he takes EVERYTHING and makes it work for good. If we didn't have suffering...would we know what peace and joy was?

I like how The Message translation states our memory verse for this week: "That's why we can be sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good." 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Lessons from the past

This week's memory verse:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." --Romans 8:28

As you read this today, I am praying that God will open your eyes and show you where he has been at work in your lifetime, even when you were unaware, or even when you were unbelieving. 

I must admit that sometimes I don't enjoy reading some of the old testament. It is so heavy and many times hard to understand. But, it also can be exciting and intriguing as well, with plot changes, mysteries, sex, betrayals and battles that might rival any modern day novel. There are a lot of lessons to be learned by reading the old is part of our history. When you take lessons from the past and put them to use in the present, I believe you are really benefiting from those who went before you.

I found out today that the root word for Deuteronomy, "deutero" means repetition. The book of Deuteronomy tells the story of the Israelites being enslaved in Egypt, Moses leading them out of captivity, their 40 years in the desert, and their arrival into the promised land. What do you think "repetition" has to do with anything? I think it might be that the Israelites kept making mistakes along the way, but it could also mean that these mistakes were bound to be repeated by future Are there lessons we can learn from the mistakes of the Israelites?

Read Deuteronomy 8:1-2. Why did God lead his people out of Egypt and into the desert? God kept pushing them to their limits and testing them so that he could see what they were made of...whether they would keep his commands or not. God knew what was in their hearts, but he needed to make sure THEY KNEW! 

During their LONG journey, the Israelites learned several things while in the wilderness that long...
* God provided them with food when there was no food
* They learned to rely on God for everything
* Their clothes did not wear out
* Their feet did not swell during all that walking 

They needed to be reminded that God was there and would provide for them. 

Can you think of times in your life when things got very hard and you HAD to turn to God for help? Sometimes it takes a hardship or difficulty to get our attention. I don't necessarily think God CAUSES those difficulties...many times we do that ourselves...but he sure does USE them to teach us and remind us.

I can think of many times like that in my life. When my dad got sick with cancer and we were still trying to run the farm. It was very hard to be losing someone you love that much AND be responsible for doing something that you didn't know that much about. Dad was our world...he made the big decisions, he led us to make big decisions in our own lives. When he was gone, we had to learn to lean on God to help us with those kind of decisions, and let God lead us to rely on him.

I also think about Tom's accident a few months ago. At that point in my life, I was pretty grounded in God and thought I did a pretty good job of relying on God every day. But, I learned how much God is REALLY looking out for me and my family. I truly believe he reached down and saved Tom's life, and I believe he sent angels, in the form of friends and family to comfort, support and love me and my daughter. There was a lot of prayer going on during that week...Even though it was a very difficult time, I am grateful for it as it taught me many new lessons about God's grace and loving guidance.

I have said this many times before, I get frustrated with the stories of the Israelites...repeatedly, they see God's miracles right in front of them, and repeatedly, they forget and do their own thing, forgetting about God...until another tragedy strikes. Hmmmm....and we wonder why Deuteronomy means "repetition???"

Don't you think we are like the Israelites? We go on about our business, doing our own thing, not really thinking about God...until something major happens and we cry out for God to  save us or help us through.

I was drawn to the First Place 4 Health program because of the weightless aspect, but I have gained SO MUCH MORE  than losing a few pounds. Through the daily Bible study, I have learned to strive to keep God in my life and in my decisions every day. This blog is my way of journaling my own feelings related to my Bible study, as well as a way to share my faith with others. God is using this activity in my life to teach me more about himself and is helping me to "tell the world" about him. I believe that I am benefitting from this so much because I have opened my mind and my heart to what God can do. Is your heart open? Do you want it to be? Remember times when you reached out to Go in hard times. Reach out to him now, even if things aren't that bad. Learn to lean on him every day...not just the hard times. You will see how much closer you get to God. Learn from your past...see how God carried you and will continue to do so in the future.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday and "the next right thing"

This week's memory verse:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" -- 2 Corinthians 5:17

I am so amazed at God's timing! Our First Place 4 Health group was a week late starting our next Bible study lesson, and this book is not calendar related at all...but the week 2, day 5 lesson for today is PERFECT for this Good Friday! I am touched by what I read and was reminded of this morning.

People are watching you all the, I don't mean like "Big Brother is watching," but your family, friends, coworkers, and your community sees how you act every day. If you are living a godly life, being obedient to God in how you behave, work, live, and treat others, those around you see that. They also see when you aren't living right as well, and they also see when you claim to be living in God and aren't. People are watching...

While that seems like a lot of pressure, it is also an incredible honor as well. Titus 2:11-14 says that we are to stay away from ungodliness, worldly passions and self indulgence, and we are to be self controlled, making good choices, and live God honoring lives. 1 Peter 2:11-12 says we are to be examples - not indulging in our selfish and sinful desires - when the world sees us living this obedient life and the joy and hope that comes with it, they might desire to have what we have and be drawn closer to their own relationship with God. While our primary reason for being obedient to God is to bless the heart of God and show Him our thanks for all that He has given us, an added benefit is to work into hearts of those who don't know God.

What does this have to do with Good Friday, you ask? Read Colossians 1:21-23. God's plan to save the human race that He created involves one heart at a time. He sent Christ, his son, to earth for a reason. Christ gave himself freely for us, actually dying for us - this brought us over from our sin and it's consequences of death to God's side, putting our broken lives back together so God can see us as whole and holy once again, as He intended in the beginning. In order for God to see us this way, we must believe and trust in Christ and God's plan and stay grounded in God THROUGH Christ.

What Christ did on that dark Friday thousands of years ago was for US! He was criticized, mocked, beaten, spat upon, and ultimately died that day....he didn't have to....he could have chosen not to...but he did it all freely because he knew he was the most important part of God's plan for us and he wanted God to be glorified for THOUSANDS of years because of what he did. What he did was not easy...

Living a godly life is not easy. Knowing people are watching you is not easy. Sometimes knowing that we are to honor God in everything we do is overwhelming. We CAN'T live up to what God wants us to be. THAT is why Good Friday and Easter is so important and significant...we don't HAVE to be perfect! We strive to live Godly lives, but when we mess up, we remember what Christ did for us and how HE makes us whole and holy in God's eyes!

Carol Lewis, the national director of First Place 4 Health has some great advice for us..."Start right where you are." That means taking whatever positive step is right in front of you..."do the next right thing." Don't stress about trying to live a perfect life without indulgent sin...don't worry about people watching you and waiting for you to mess up...Believe and trust in what Christ did for you that dark Friday long ago, and just do the "next right thing."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

God's process isn't magic, it takes work

This week's Bible verse:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" -- 2 Corinthians 5:17

I have come to realize that faith isn't usually just doesn't happen. Events and life experiences build and help you create the faith that you hold. You might have faith in God as a child, but it's not until you have really lived that you come to understand and embrace your faith, or conversely, lose that childlike faith.

I also see that faith and the benefits of that faith can't sit dormant within you...if you don't use it, it fades away. How many of us in our lifetimes have been "Sunday Christians" who go to church on Sundays and forget about God during the week? I have been there! That was me! And, I didn't even go to church many Sundays either. God was in the background of my life...I knew he was there somewhere, but I didn't think about him much. And if you looked at my life then, you could probably tell that.

It's when we put ourselves aside and pick up that faith, examining it, questioning, searching, seeking, that God starts to help us benefit from that faith inside us. Jesus said in Luke 9:23 that if you want to be a true disciple, you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him. Pick up your burdens, give them to God and let Jesus be your example. God will take care of you when you give yourself to him.

I read a saying this morning that really sums it up..."I ain't what I want to be. I ain't what I'm gonna be. But praise God, I ain't what I used to be!" 

This process isn't magical either. It takes work along with faith. No, you aren't saved by the good work that you do, but your human nature wants to pull you back into old habits from your "old self." We have to continually be in communication with God to fight that "old self." ACTION must accompany our faith. You can't just sit back and think that God will do all the work.

God works on you from the inside out...he's working on and in your heart. But, he also requires us to put in some effort to and work from the outside in. 2 Peter 1:3-8 says that God gives us everything we need for a godly life. But we need to exhibit the following characteristics: ( this is taken from The Message translation)
* good character
* spiritual understanding
* alert discipline
* passionate patience
* reverent wonder
* warm friendliness
* generous love

Each of those characteristics take effort on our parts....they don't just magically happen when we accept Jesus. But, God leads us, guides us and encourages us and we find that each one fits into and develops the others. 

Where does the motivation to work that hard come from? Philippians 2:13 says that the ability to resist the "old self" and walk into our "new self" who exhibits the characteristics above comes from God. He gives us an energy deep inside us to do the good works he has set aside for us!

And, he sent Jesus to walk this earth to be our example and to teach us how to live to please him! Why do you think the Bible and the stories of Jesus have survived and been taught for over TWO THOUSAND YEARS???? it's all part of God's plan to help the people he created and loves so much!

As we enter the Holy week celebrations with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter...think about God's plan. Think about what Jesus did for you...think about how you can build your faith by concentrating less on you and more on Him!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Looking for the lamp to light my path

This week's Bible verse:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" 2 Corinthians 5:17

It is hard to live the way we should in God's eyes, especially when everything we see on tv, on our streets, in the mall, and even in the library ;-) shows people acting anyway they want. Our human-ness wants to follow the pack...but I also think that when we do give in to bad behaviors, we find ourselves not being fulfilled by them and yearn for a better way. 

Our memory verse is true...when you believe and ask Christ into your heart, you put the old behind you and are a new creation. That DOESN'T mean you don't sin...

I remember when I reconnected with God about 11 years ago. I had a wonderful experience where I recommitted my life to was very moving for me. I thought, NOW I can live the life I want to live and be right with God. I thought, I really did, that I wouldn't sin as much. 

Well, as I have said, when you are in Christ, you are new...but you still have free will. You will still sin. To be honest, I had one of the toughest battles with sin AFTER I recommitted my life to Christ.

As children of God, and followers of Jesus, we have responsibilities. Read Ephesians 5:1-8. Our new way should be to follow Jesus, to use him as an example on how to live. There should be no obscenities, sexual impurities, greed or even course talk. Ok...I could be in trouble! LOL Really, we KNOW what pleases God...goodness, righteousness and truth.

In our KidsPraise program we tell the kids the Bible is like a sword, or a letter from God...or a light. Psalm 119:105 says the Bible is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. If we read the Bible daily, we are staying in contact with God, learning what Jesus did and being reminded what pleases God. This DOES help us with our responsibility.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says that we should honor God with our bodies...another reminder of how God wants us to live. Do we think stuffing our face with that Big Mac is honoring God with our bodies? 

Becoming a Christian doesn't mean we don't and won't sin. It DOES mean that we KNOW how to act and behave and we know where to go when we need guidance...and we know who to turn to when when we mess up...and we WILL mess up! I think we are to support others, help them learn to lean of God for guidance and forgiveness, but we should NOT judge others. It's a fine line we have to and advise and be kind to others, even when they are struggling. But when we turn that support into judgement, then we turn hypocritical and could end up doing more damage than good.

I know I can't be good on my own efforts...I have tried and failed so many times. I'm glad and thankful that I can rely on God, his word and my relationship with Christ to help me to bring me back when I'm tempted and to forgive me when I fall.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Grace + Faith = Good works

This week's Bible verse:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!" -- 2 Corinthians 5:17

There has been a big debate in the world over faith and good works. Some feel you are saved by grace and faith alone while some feel you are judged and saved by the good works you do in this life. Many religions ARE based on earning a place in Eternity by the good you do in this life.  This all confused me for a long time. I WANTED to be a good person and go to heaven, so I TRIED to be good and do good. But, I also wanted to believe that God loved me and sent Jesus to save me...just by his grace. How do I balance those two ways of thinking in my own mind?

I have come to realize that they BOTH are true in a way. When you realize that God loves you SO MUCH to give up his son for YOU, and you give your heart to Jesus and believe in God's amazing plan with all your heart...then you WANT to good things and are LED by God to DO those good things. It's still up to you...God doesn't force you to be good and do good, but you WANT to!

Today's lesson lists and discusses several verses from the Bible that helps us to understand this concept even better. Grab your Bible and study along with me!

Ephesians 2:8-10 - explains it perfectly! At first, it seems to contradict itself...we are saved by grace and faith alone, not by works...but then verse 10 says that we were created to do good works that God planned for us in advance. But think about it...when you let God lead your life, you are saved AND you become instruments of God, doing His work and telling others what God has done in your life! A perfect plan!

Read Psalm 139:13-16 AND Jeremiah 29:11-13 (one of my FAVORITE verses!)

God knew us and created us before we were born AND He has plans to prosper us and give us hope and a future. He doesn't have plans to harm us, but to give us a good life and a future. He wants us to call on him, pray to him and he will listen. When we seek him with all heart, we will find him.

Jesus goes on to reinforce this thought in John 15:14-16 as he called us friends. He shared with us his knowledge of God so we could understand and give our hearts to God. A friend shares and listens and wants good for you, right? AND. Jesus goes even further to call his friends to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. What does that mean? We are to live lives that are pleasing to God, listening to his leading, growing in knowledge of our God, giving him joyful thanks at all times. By doing this, others will see God in us and might be led to God through us...bearing good fruit.

It's not about TRYING to do good...when you are seeking God with all your heart, you can't help but do good! We aren't perfect and we will still mess up and NOT to the right things sometimes...but we will have many opportunities to do what God leads us to do. I have found that the more I find myself engaged in God in my life, the more opportunities he gives me!

So there is really no debate. God know what He is doing! He saves us by Grace, and when we choose to really give hum our hearts and have faith in him, we WILL do good works!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Another New Beginning

This week's Bible verse:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" -- 2 Corinthians 5:17

It is a new day! I felt the need to be in my sun porch this morning, so here I am...wrapped up in a blanket with the hood of my sweatshirt pulled up to cover my ears. It is chilly, but the fresh air and songs of the birds are so worth it!

What a great time to start a new devotional book, especially one titled "A New Beginning!" Finding balance in your life, and allowing God to lead you to that balance takes perseverance. If you mess up along the way, acknowledge your mistake, learn a lesson from it that you can remember later, and move on to try again. God is a God of second...third...fourth...many chances. He WANTS us to succeed, but knows how hard it is, so He doesn't give up on we shouldn't give up on ourselves.

What do you think about when you hear the term "born again?" I must admit that I get a picture in my head of a tv evangelist pushing someone on the forehead while they fall backward...healed and yelling about being BORN AGAIN! Television, our culture, and...many times, our own Christian hypocrisy have jaded that term that originally came from the mouth of Jesus. 

In John 3:1-3, Jesus is telling Nicodemus how to see the kingdom of being born again. This of course brings confusion to Nicodemus as he says it is not possible for us to enter our mother's womb again. Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit." 

I'm sure this sounded very strange to Nicodemus, as it may sound to us. We all sin. We can't help it. God knows we can't help it. But He also can't STAND our sin. Our punishment for that sin should be death. So, He came up with a plan to fix the problem. John 3:16 says "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."

God LOVED us...and loves us still! He didn't want our sin and the fact that we can't help sinning to keep us from Him! He sent His son Jesus to take our take our punishment...our death. What a gift!

My next statement will probably not go over too well...but I had a revelation while studying these verses this morning. God so loved the WORLD! God so loved...the Jews, the Muslims...the Hindus...the Iraqis...the Pakistanis...the Germans...the crack addicts...the murders...the prostitutes...yes, even the atheists! God loves the WORLD!!! He created them...don't you think He loves them...even if they don't believe in him? That's why we should love them too! John 3:16 DOESN'T say God so loved the Christians! How can we share what we know and believe is God's plan for salvation for the WORLD when we are so busy hating people who don't believe? Doesn't make much sense does it?

This is Holy Week where we get the opportunity to remember and celebrate God's plan and what Jesus willingly did for us. I challenge you to put aside your feelings of dislike, fear, hatred and distain for non- Christians. Show God's love this week to someone someone in someone different. Allow God to shine through you so those who don't believe will be able to see God in you!

My fingers are numb out here...but what a blessing to start out my day this way! I wish you all a wonderful and blessed week!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Content without cable? Are you kidding?

"Godliness with contentment is great gain." 1 Timothy 6:6

Stuff...we have too much of it, but we are all spending our money on more of it. 

Time...we don't have enough of it. We're worn out and claim not to have the time to do the things we say we want to do, like giving time to charities or even to take part in hobbies and other things we think we would enjoy doing.

Why then do we spend so much of that precious time in front of a tv? And why do we spend so much of our money on "stuff" that usually ends up in a yard sale or in a Goodwill bag?

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this lately. My family is in the process of getting rid of cable. I say process, because we are working ourselves up to it. We have been talking about it for weeks, trying to figure out how to save a few bucks here and there, and cable seemed to be a logical choice of something to cut out. However, as the day quickly gets closer, we realize that we will only be able to see one channel on our tv...we start to panic.

Why is this so painful? Because we have allowed tv to become the center of our family life. It is on way too much, even when we aren't really watching it. We complain that we can't find anything to watch on the over 200 channels we pay a lot of money for. But that box of light and sound is a comfort to us in some way. Shouldn't we be able to be comforted by each other more than by the tv?

I usually write about what's on my mind, and this is on my mind today. I guess writing about what I am feeling helps me to deal with it. I am reading "The Total Money Makeover" by Dave will hopefully help me and my family get out of the financial hole we are in and help us to learn to think differently about money. I haven't got to the meat and potatoes of the book yet...the author has been leading up to that by explaining money myths and misconceptions about money that many of us have been living with. It is pretty scary and honestly pretty depressing. We (our family) have been spending and using our money in all the wrong ways, but mainly because we (our culture) have taught us to think that way. We want more, more, more and we want it NOW!

Today, just for today, I want to be content with what I have...really, I want to be content with LESS than what I have. I want to see my "stuff" in a new light...seeing that I don't really need it all to be happy and content. I want to let go of my addiction to the tv and know that it's my family that makes me happy...not the time we spend together in front of that "squawk box." I say just for today because that's what I can day at a time.

I thank God for all the blessings he has poured out to me in my life, and I thank him for allowing mento be more aware today of the things in my life that are holding me back from being truly content. I ask that God gives me wisdom today to spend more of my time thinking about him and those blessings instead of worrying about what I am giving up and what I don't have. I ask that just for today I can find happiness and fulfillment in my family, friends and my job and worry less about the next few months and years. Amen


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

No playing the fool for me today!

Today's Bible verse:
"It is to one's honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel." -- Proverbs 20:3

I had to laugh...this is the verse I read just AFTER I turned off the TV this morning after being disgusted at a quarrel between Donald Trump and Bill Cosby. A commentator said that "The Donald" loves when someone challenges him and NEVER backs down from a fight. Well...from the verse above, we can get an idea of what God thinks of that kind of behavior.

Why is it that we are FASCINATED by celebrities that love to make fools of themselves by arguing, fighting, cursing and just plain being ignorant on TV??? I mean how many times do I need to hear about the latest Charlie Sheen rant? I admit to talking about this stuff with friends and coworkers...and I admit to watching it on TV so I am part of the problem!

Then, an even bigger problem occurs...we think we can take this kind of behavior and make it work in our own lives. When we don't get our own way, we get angry and argue. I do this, especially with my daughter. Why do I think that arguing with her is the best solution? Well...I don't THINK when in that situation, which is the root of the problem. We are ruled by our emotions and our own selfish wants and we don't take time to THINK before we speak or act. It is easier just to yell and fight.

Yesterday I talked about how we get hung up on what's FAIR... we want what's fair at all costs...when it's best for us. If we don't think something is fair we are up in arms to fight for what is right. Now, there are times when fighting for what is fair and right is the RIGHT thing to do. Fighting injustice for those weaker and unable to fight for themselves is a noble and true thing to do. But when we are only concerned about how it is affecting us...what's in it for us...that's when fairness turns into selfishness. Honestly, this is a thin line, and one that I know I have crossed before.

How do we fight against our natural instinct to fight and argue? One way that I have found that works for me is to read, contemplate and meditate about such verses as the Proverbs one above. When I know how God thinks about things, it helps to guide my thinking. This practice also guides me to keep God in my life. He wants to be involved, not just on the sidelines waiting to be called into the game in times of struggle. I have learned that over the years.

I also find that God has a sense of humor, leading me to a verse that is so appropriate and often funny, like today! "The Donald" may be a billionaire and may very well run for president, but his argumentative ways make him a fool in my eyes and from the looks of Proverbs 20:3, it looks like God feels that way too! However, God loves Donald Trump too, and may have bigger lessons in store for him as well. God's plans are too complex for us to understand. 

 Every kingdom needs some fools for us to learn from, right? So if Donald Trump is a court jester...and a fool, then I'd better be careful and not act like him! No arguing for me today! ;-D

Monday, April 11, 2011

I don't to be a judging Jonah...

(I'm stealing today's Bible verse from my friend Brenda's Facebook post today...just what I needed this morning)
"but those who hope in the lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." -- Isaiah 40:31

I'm back in my sunporch this morning! Hooray! What a beautiful day yesterday was, and this morning is warm and breezy...the birds and my wind chimes are singing me a pleasing song as I sit out here enjoying my coffee and quiet time.

I have been contemplating Pastor Brian's sermon yesterday. For the last 3 weeks, we have been studying the story of Jonah. His story really does parallel our lives in so many ways...he decided to do his own thing and ran from God...that I have always understood. But I had really never thought about the rest of the story...after Jonah went to Nineveh. He became a judgmental follower of God. we have any of those today? Could any of us fall into that category ourselves? Would we admit it if we were?

It's all about what's fair today isn't it? We only want what's fair. I know I have said that phrase so many times. It's not fair that some have a lot of money and some don''s not fair that bad man got out of prison's not fair so many innocent people were killed in's not fair someone took my sandwich from the staff refrigerator...the list goes on and on.

Then...we just LOVE to talk and complain about how unfair life bad our politicians we hate that gas prices are sky high and whose fault it all is...always someone else's of course.

I admit to saying many of these things myself. Many complain that Christians and other religious people are judgmental and know...they are right we are. 

Pastor Brian taught us yesterday that after Jonah preached to Nineveh to repent and change their ways...they did and then God saved them and didn't destroy them as He said he would. Jonah became the judgmental God follower and was mad at God for not punishing these people for their wicked ways...he thought God was wrong...NOT FAIR!

God's ways...we don't understand them and we may not agree with them...but they are GOD'S WAYS! We don't have to understand them! God loves ALL HIS CREATIONS and doesn't want ANYONE to perish! Don't you think He is going to give ALL OF US as many chances as possible to repent and then forgive us when we do?

Those people of Nineveh were wicked...doing all sorts of bad things...sinning all over the place! That's why God sent Jonah there to warn them!

There are a lot of people in this world today doing all sorts of wicked things...sinning all over the place! Don't you think God is sending many different messengers to these people in many different forms to get them to repent and ask for forgiveness? God wants us ALL to be in heaven with him...even the people we hate!

So...let's stop talking bad about the president...about the governor...about the lady down the street who comes in at all hours of the night. a beacon of God's light. Be kind to not judge others by their actions or their appearance. Let's try helping to fix problems in our community, our state, our country and our world through getting off our butts and putting our time, talents and treasures toward HELPING PEOPLE! Be creative! Get involved!

Don't be a judging Jonah! God has a plan for this world and it's up to Him to judge and discipline those of His creation not following His ways. Why do we think we know better than God? Let's not worry about what is fair and what is not...after all...if we're really talking fair...we should all be sentenced to death because we ALL sin from time to time, right? I'm glad judging is God's job and not mine! I'm going to work at showing God's love in practical ways and stop trying to BE God in this world. How about you?

Friday, April 8, 2011

I pray for wisdom...

Today's memory verse:
"So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?" 1 Kings 3:9

King Solomon could have had anything he wanted, because God was pleased with him. But as you see in the verse above, Solomon asked for wisdom...discernment. He let go of selfish desires and wanted to do right by the people he was leading in his kingdom.

I searched for verses about wisdom and discernment today because I have not been wise in some areas of my life in the past and am now aware and feeling the consequences. When a child gets caught doing something wrong, there is that moment of despair...maybe not remorse for the wrong-doing, but because he was caught. THEN, after a discussion with parents and after the punishment, the child understands what he did was wrong and possibly understands why there are consequences for his actions. This time, I am that child.

Financial wisdom is a hard thing to come by these days, and not many people in our culture are using it. Even if you are not spending on frivolous things, just spending to get through each day, it costs a lot! Then add in all the times you eat out, go to the movies, buy a new purse, go on trips, over do at Christmas...not to mention the cost of your house, the price tag on that student is very easy to get wrapped up in debt these days and even easier to bury your head in the sand and not pay attention to what is going on.

Now, please don't worry, my family is not destitute and our situation is not dire...but it is serious. We have had to really take a look at our finances and try to figure out how to fix things.

We tell kids in our KidsPraise program that the Bible is like a light to shine on the right path, and like a mirror because it shows you what you need to change, and like a sword as it gives you the tools to fight in the hard situations in your life. I sometimes wonder if I have truly believed and relied on that fact...actually, no, I don't think I have. I have taken the bible...God's communication tool to us, his instruction book, for granted.

When I look for verses about financial planning and managing money, I find MANY and they truly do translate to today's world! When I look for verses about wisdom, again there are MANY! God wants to help us figure things out!

So, as I look for ways to help my family get on firm financial standing again (have we EVER had real financial stability????) I need to turn to God...surrender my selfish wants and desires and be willing to work hard and sacrifice. I pray for wisdom, as Solomon did, I pray for discernment so I can make wiser choices, I pray that God will give me diligence so I get rid of lazy habits and work hard toward getting out of this financial hole. I pray that my husband and my daughter learn to look to God in this area as well, and that we work together as a family in God's grace.

It is all very scary, giving up things you are used to, like 200 some useless cable channels and lunch out with the girls all the is scary to think that I might not be able to make this work and with the costs if things going up and up, it still could get worse. These worries keep me up at night and make my stomach hurt. But, these are the consequences of our actions...God will be there to support us, He has ALWAYS BEEN THERE! I thank God for the many blessings he has given me, even if I haven't managed them well. I thank God for supportive friends who pray with me and give me advice and love...I know things will work out. I just won't bury my head any longer!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Praise God FIRST!

Today's memory verse:
"You are worthy, our LORD and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being" (Revelation 4:11).

Why do we think we can "improve" ourselves on own power? We go on diets that we don't follow, exercise plans that fall to the wayside, budgets that we don't stick to...I am sure there are those who can pull themselves up by their boot straps and do anything they put their mind to...but I have found that even though I am a smart, strong-willed woman...I fail every time I try to do something like this...on my own.

God WANTS to be part of our lives and part of our plans! He created us, and knows what is good for us...AND He gives us so many blessings...why are we always dissatisfied and unhappy and striving for more?

In my studies in the past few years, I have read hundreds of examples of people who learned to praise God FIRST. Praising God in all situations, the good, the bad and the ugly, keeps you grounded and focused on God, right where He wants you.

Even if you are struggling with hardships, worries and fears, looking for SOMETHING in your life that is good and praising God for his blessings and his mercy will remind you of His greatness. Relying on this "higher power" instead of yourself will give you more strength to deal with those worries.

"Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant" (Psalm 135:3).

For example: I am praising God this morning for a lesson I learned last night at small group. My family has been struggling financially lately and it has been wearing on me as I try to figure out a solution. Notice that I said "I" (me, myself and I.) Again, I was trying to figure it out alone.

We watched a video last night and had good discussions about how we don't act as if our money belonged to God. At work, I am very responsible with what funds I have to manage, but at home, I sometimes have no idea how I am spending money. I need to remember I am merely a money manager for God! I should be doing a better job!

So, not only am I praying for God's wisdom, but I am working toward following a plan that will help me and my family learn to put God FIRST in our financial decisions. The first step is to be thankful and praise God for what He has given us!

It didn't take us a few days to get in debt or in the financial situation we are in, so I can't expect to have God magically fix it in a few days either! Along with praising God, I need to have patience AND tenacity AND work hard!, I thank God with joy for the lessons I am learning every day, and I celebrate His goodness and grace! I love God with all my heart, mind and soul and love the fact that I am blessed enough to realize all this in my life!

Monday, April 4, 2011

We need to turn our eyes an focus on God

Today's memory verse:
"While they were conversing and discussing, Jesus himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him." -- Luke 24:15-16

We all have our own ideas of what God is and how Jesus fits into the picture. Some don't believe in Jesus at all, some believe in the idea of Jesus but have no idea how to make that mean anything, some know the power of a personal relationship with Jesus, and still some others are searching for ANYTHING to believe in. It all depends on your perspective and your experiences...and your heart. If you haven't experienced God, or found how fulfilling a personal relationship with Jesus can be, how can you?

God wants our praise. He wants us to look to Him and acknowledge Him and what His power has done in the world. Have you ever seen a brilliant sunrise...or the spectacular colors of a fall landscape...or wondered about the mystery of a double rainbow???? Don't you think that could be God trying to get your attention for just a moment so you will acknowledge his wondrous creation? God wants us to focus on Him! Not because he is an ego-maniac kind of god, but because He KNOWS what blessings will come to us when we focus more of our attention to Him instead of on ourselves!

In "Working the Angles," Eugene Peterson writes the following about churches: "The biblical fact is there are no successful churches. There are instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. In these communities are sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor's responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God."

I love the phrase "attentive to God." If we are wanting more meaning in our lives, or wanting to reinvent our lives, we need to be attentive to God. By focusing on God, who He is, what He he is doing, we can acquire a new set of eyes that will recognize Him and what He is doing in us and in the world around us. That is the beginning of developing a heart of praise!

God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit don't always appear in our lives in ways we'd expect. Take some time to do the following...this will help you focus on God and how He has been in your life. Think of a time when you honestly felt God in your life. Maybe you were at church...maybe it was the birth of your child...maybe you were out in nature...or in your car. Picture yourself in that moment again. Think about what was going on inside of you at that moment. What were you feeling and thinking? How would you describe God at that moment? You might be disenchanted with God at this moment in your life, but chances are, at some point in your life, you have felt God in some shape or form. Just think, remember and focus on THAT moment.

This is a baby step...a chance for you to just take a glimpse at who God MIGHT be. If you write God off in your life, you will never know the feeling of peace, and hope that He wants to give you! Just like the men walking to Emmaus in today's memory verse, many times God is right beside you, but your focus is not on Him so your don't recognize Him!