My sun porch

My sun porch

Friday, September 30, 2011

NTC Day 19 - Help me with my unbelief...

My memory verse for this week:
"Therefore, let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way." Romans 14:13

NTC Day 19
Mark 9-10 and 1 Corinthians 5-7

"I do believe! Help me overcome my disbelief!" (Mark 9:23)

Faith is never perfect. It is often mixed with unbelief. Sometimes you need to realize what you don't know or understand so you can search for the understanding you need. That is the case for me today. I have found such peace and joy while reading the NTC in the past few weeks. I am constantly finding new things in verses I have read many times. Today, while still finding joy, my heart is troubled by how much I still have to learn.

I write these messages everyday as my way of reaching out to the world and spreading the good news of God's plan for the salvation of his beautiful human creations who have such messes of their God-given lives. 

While I just speak what is in my heart, I realized once again that I have SO MUCH TO LEARN! I am not a pastor...I really do not have the training to teach anyone about God's word. What if what I say and how I interpret what I read in God's word is wrong? So, dear friends, please take what I say with a grain of salt. (Funny that I use the word salt. Mark 9:50 talks about salt being good, unless it loses its saltiness...I don't want to lose my saltiness!)

All week long, (and really the theme of my blog) I have been talking about how we are not to judge one another. Well...1 Corinthians 5 talks all about how the church is to exercise spiritual discipline over those who claim to believe in Christ. Paul says that claiming to be Christians while continuing to live an immoral life is degrading and wrong and might put their testimony in question. 

Paul goes as far as saying that the church is to hand those Christians who are living immoral lives over to Satan so their sinful nature will be destroyed and they will be moved to repent and be saved. 

I have to admit that I am troubled by this because it sounds like the church is given the right to turn sinners away from the church...we are ALL sinners aren't we? I thought all sins were didn't matter the type? 

I don't like the thought of "cherry-picking" from the Bible...taking and putting into practice only the parts I like and disregarding the parts I don't like. I do believe that the Bible, ALL OF THE BIBLE is God's word and he breathed his breath into the men who wrote all parts of it. So...I have a lot to learn about how God feels about sins and immoral behavior and what God considers immoral behavior. 

Just like the man in Mark 9:14-32, I have faith, but it it isn't perfect and I need help with my unbelief.

What I do know...we are treat all others with love. Jesus said that besides loving God, this was the greatest commandment. So, perhaps this love comes into play with HOW we discipline those believers in the church living in immoral we treat we judge them...

I have a lot to learn...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

NTC Day 18 - judge not

My memory verse for this week:
"Therefore, let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way." Romans 14:13

NTC Day 18
Mark 7-8 and 1 Corinthians 3-4

I think I picked a good memory verse for this week's lessons because over and over in God's word this week, I have read about how judging others is NOT what God wants us to do!

In Mark 7, the Pharisees are once again judging Jesus and his followers...and trying to bring them down by bringing up the fact that they are are following Jewish traditions, such as the ceremonial washing of the hands before eating. They have already questioned the things they had eaten and who they were eating with. Jesus explains that it is not what goes into our bodies that makes us unclean, but what comes out.

An unclean heart produces things like evil thoughts, greed, sexual immorality, theft, adultery, malice, deceit, lewdness, slander, arrogance and folly. 

Jesus is trying to get the Pharisees and the listeners around to understand that if we follow God's commands instead of getting so wrapped up in our religious traditions that we lose sight of God's commands. And, using those traditions to judge the worthiness of a person is an act of judgement which is saved only for God, not man. 

In Mark 8, the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign from heaven. Verse 12 says that Jesus sighed heavily and asked WHY people need signs from heaven as proof of God. He was frustrated with them and with others around them. They just weren't getting it! There were miraculous signs all around them, but their hearts were hardened so they couldn't see and accept them.

Again, even the disciples didn't get it! Jesus again had compassion on the large group of 4 thousand around him listening to him preach...they were hungry. He once again uses a small amount of food to feed the many, right in front of the disciples' eyes. But later, when they were in a boat and Jesus warns them about the "yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod," the disciples took what he said literally and thought he was talking about their one loaf of bread in the boat. They STILL didn't get it! They were seeing and witnessing the miraculous signs from heaven but didn't understand.

As I read this, I begin judging those disciples. I think, "Come on! He just fed 4 thousand people with a few loaves and fish! He just healed a deaf man! He just brought a little girl to life! He has healed hundreds of people! Do they not see who he is???"

But, as I turn that judgement on myself, would I have seen? Putting myself in the shoes of the disciples, would I have been able to understand that Jesus was God? Would I have been able to understand his sometimes cryptic lessons? Knowing myself, I probably would have taken Jesus literally too, and worried about that one loaf of bread in the boat.

Jesus begins teaching his disciples about his coming suffering and death. Peter takes Jesus aside and argues with him. Peter thinks of Jesus as the Messiah, but doesn't understand, or doesn't WANT to understand that in order for the Messiah to save us, he has to suffer and die FOR US. 

Jesus says, " Get behind me Satan!" I have read these words he said to Peter before, but I never realized before that Peter was in a way tempting Jesus not to suffer, much like Satan tempted Jesus in the desert. 

Jesus goes on to say that if we want to be his followers, we must take up our cross and follow him. (my memory verse from last week!) Exactly what did he mean by taking up our cross. I used to think that this meant we must deal with those things that trouble us and give them to God in order to move toward forgiveness and salvation. But, reading this today, I realized that it could mean something much deeper. 

Pick up our cross...Jesus had to carry the heavy beam to his cross...he had been condemned to death. If we are to carry our cross...that means we are already condemned to death! He says to follow him...he died on his cross, but was raised again in heaven...if we follow him, we die and are raised. In order to save our eternal lives, we must die to our physical lives, as Jesus did.

Wow! That is pretty deep stuff for an early Thursday morning! I'm not sure I was ready for those revelations. 

That cross carrying and dying to live stuff sounds pretty it is between God, Jesus (whom I am following) and me. No wonder Jesus and Paul talk so much about not judging others!  There's not time to judge others...we should be spending all our time figuring out our own crosses to bear!

In 1 Corinthians 3 and 4, Paul is speaking to a church that had been quarreling amongst itself about religious philosophies. Paul explains that he planted the seeds by teaching the words of Jesus, Apollos and other teachers watered those words with more teachings, but it is God who makes them grow. 

WE are the church. If we build it on a good foundation, the word of God and the teachings of Jesus, but we try to continue building it on religious traditions and false teachings, and then judge each other and fight with each other about it all, then our church will fall. God won't make something grow that isn't built on his pure word. If our work and our teachings are pure and of God, then he will make it grow.

As we have read in these New Testament readings so far, Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God, and then love people (your neighbor.) If we truly do those two things, then judging others will become a habit less and less. If we continue to love God and love people, we will find ourselves serving others more and more. When we stay true to loving God and loving people, then our church will grow. 

Does this make us wonder why our church, Christianity, has been on the decline? Does this make us wonder why Christians are looked at as judgmental hypocrites by those outside the church? If it doesn' should.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

NTC Day 17 Our human-ness hold us back...

My memory verse for this week:
"Therefore, let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way." Romans 14:13

NTC Day 17
Mark 5-6 and 1 Corinthians 1-2

Almost all the problems we have in this life and caused by our human-ness. We are afraid, we worry, we lack faith, we are greedy, we doubt...all of these characteristics lead us to judge others, act in hateful manners, gossip about others and act in other despicable manners....all because we are human.

If God created us, why didn't he take that human-ness out of us? It is said that God doesn't make mistakes...well, doesn't it seem that the human creation is one big mistake? Adam and Eve couldn't even last in the garden without making a mistake. Why would God make us with the ability to make so many mistakes?

If he made us perfect, we wouldn't need him. We would be so full of ourselves, we wouldn't feel the need to reach out and connect with our creator. No, God doesn't make mistakes, and he even created a plan to save us from ourselves. Through Jesus, all of our many mistakes can be forgiven and we can come to him in the perfect form he wants us to be.

Through God's word, we see all the mistakes that his people have made through the centuries. People's human-ness keep them from seeing God right in front of them.

In Mark 5 we read of Jesus saving a severely demon possessed man from the legion of demons within him. He allowed the demons to go into a herd of pigs, and then sent those pigs into a lake to drown. Instead of being overjoyed by this miracle, they were afraid and asked Jesus to leave. For one thing, their greedy selves worried about the loss of financial gain from the destroyed herd of pigs, and they also feared the powerful force at work that they didn't understand. Their human feelings kept them from further benefits of Jesus' power.

The people of Jesus' hometown also allowed their human feelings to send Jesus away. They were also amazed at Jesus' wisdom and power, but because they had seen him grow up and where he came from, they didn't want to think he was any different from themselves. Because of their disbelief, Jesus refused to do many more miracles in that town and quickly shook their dust off his feet and left.

Even the disciples, who saw ALL of the miracles of Jesus and heard his teachings...they did not really get it either. Think about it...they were probably the only ones to really see the miracle of feeding over 5 thousand people. They knew what they started out with and what they ended up with. But, shortly after that incident, they were filled with fear when they saw Jesus walking on water, thinking he was a ghost. Their human minds allowed their hearts to remain hardened to the fact that Jesus was really from God.

In 1 Corinthians 1:18-19, Paul says that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those being saved, it is the power of God. Some Wise people who study science and math through the centuries have had real problems believing in God and his promises and his miracles through time. Our human-ness doesn't want to believe what we can't prove.

Today, there are many who don't believe for just that reason. Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians 2 to explain that he didn't preach from a wise man's perspective, but through the Spirit of Christ. If someone listening to him, didn't have the spirit in him, he wasn't ready to listen.

Instead of making those of us who do believe give up speaking about what we believe, I think that means we are to keep talking...not ramming our thoughts a d beliefs down anyone's throat and not judging those who believe differently...but understanding their human-ness and our own as well. I speak from my heart, and I believe that some will hear me and like what I say enough to reach out to God for themselves....working through their own human-ness to accept the gift of Grace he offers to each of us.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NTC Day 16 - Don't allow obstacles to get in the way...

My memory verse for this week:
"Therefore, let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way." Romans 14:13

NTC Day 16
Mark 3-4 and Romans 16

In the Mark readings today, we hear again about the work Jesus did in healing and teaching. We also still see those Pharisees accusing and plotting against Jesus.

They were with Jesus when a man with a withered hand came to him. The Pharisees knew Jesus COULD heal (they believed in his power) but they wanted to see if he WOULD heal on the Sabbath, thus breaking one of the laws. What they couldn't see was that by the act of plotting to kill Jesus on the Sabbath, they were just as guilty of breaking that law as Jesus was.

Why is it that many of us are so willing to condemn others for their sins and not see our own sin blaring in front of us...that message is just as relevant today as it was when Jesus was alive!

Mark 3:27 - When accused of being possessed by Satan because he drove out an evil spirit, Jesus said that Satan cannot drive out Satan. He spoke of how no one can rob a strong man's house and steal his possessions without first tying up the strong man. Jesus was doing just that...tying up Satan's power by freeing his people...freeing the person from being possessed by Satan's spirit.

Last week we talked about how it takes training to live the way God wants us to live. Everyone we meet might be on a different level of training, so we have to be careful how we treat them. Jesus' famous parable of the planting of the seeds illustrates this well. Some hear the word but just aren't ready to believe. Some hear, and want to believe, but they haven't had the training to make it stick. Some hear the word and believe, but are not strong enough to trust God when things get tough. And still others hear, believe, trust and therefore produce a good crop of results for God. Whatever place you are in that continuum, you shouldn't judge others...but continue your training and learn to trust. Even the disciples, who heard all the parables Jesus taught, had Jesus explanations of those parables...they didn't trust enough and were afraid in a storm. 

The church is the place for us to support each other and build each other up. In Romans 16, Paul mentions many people of the early church, both men and women, all who had worked hard for the Lord. He also warns that we should be careful not to allow Satan to work his way into the church, causing divisions and obstacles in the good work that we do for God. All the good that we do, building others up, loving others, telling others the good news...these are all to be done for the glory of God, the ultimate purpose of all things.

Monday, September 26, 2011

NTC Day 15 - Love more, judge less

My memory verse for this week:
"Therefore let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way." -- Romans 14:13

NTC Day 15
Mark 1-2 and Romans 13-15

I know there are those who don't like the reading 2 chapters in one book and skipping ahead to read 3 chapters in another book, but I am really seeing the parallels in Jesus' teachings and the words of Paul. 

In Mark 2:17 we hear again the words of Jesus saying that he didn't come for the righteous, but for the sinner. My study Bible explains this as a self-righteous man doesn't realize his need for salvation while an admitted sinner does.

The Pharisees were all about "the rules." They worked hard to follow all the rules, tried to make sure that everyone else followed the rules and persecuted those who didn't follow the rules. They didn't worry about their need for salvation, because they were sure they were doing as God wished by following all the rules. What they didn't see is they needed a savior as much as the ones not following the rules.

The Pharisees get a bad wrap throughout the New Testament. They were the rulers and teachers of the Jewish community. Reading it today, it is easy to truly dislike those Pharisees who were trying to trip up Jesus, his disciples and then Paul in later years. We get fed up with their "holier than thou" attitude. 

But, reading Paul's own words in Romans 13, we see that those Pharisees were in place to protect the people, even from themselves. They got so hung up on the rules because they thought they were doing what God wanted them to...they thought they were right, even if we can see now that they were doing it in the wrong way. Paul says that we are to submit to the ruling authorities because they are established by God. He says that of course we are to obey God first, but our rulers were put into place by God to protect society. Civil authorities are ordained by God to maintain order. We are to pay taxes, respect and honor our rulers. As Jesus said, give to Caesar what is Caesar's but give God what is God's.

Wow! In Romans, Paul was talking about the Jewish leaders and Roman rulers of the time...but do you think we are to do the same in this day and age? BIG QUESTION!

Many Christians today are conservatives and do not like, respect or show honor to our more liberal President. Many claim he is not a Christian... I have heard Christians making racial slurs against him. I have heard many hateful things about President Obama, and also about most of our other congressman, Senators, governors, etc. IF WE TRULY BELIEVE IN WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS WE ARE TO you think those actions are how we as Christians are to act?

Yes, I also get fed up with how corrupt it seems our government has become, but if God ordained them to be our civil authorities...we at least owe them respect, even if they don't earn it.

Paul goes on in Romans 14 to state that we are not to judge others. Romans 14:10 says that God will do the judging. While there are bound to be times when we see weaker Christians acting in ways we don't agree with...Paul says we are to keep our thoughts between us and God. (Romans 14:22) 

 Romans 15:5 wishes for a spirit of unity to be with believers of Christ. While I don't think this means we have to agree on everything, it does mean we are to agree to disagree in LOVE and not judgement.

Through the words of Jesus and the words of Paul, God is trying to teach us how to live a more peaceful existence in this earthly life. I don't think we listen to those words of wisdom enough or put them into practice enough either. Imagine what our world COULD be like if we each judged less, respected each other and LOVED more!!!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

NTC Day 13 Blessed by the word

My memory verse this week:
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it and whoever loses their life for me will find it."-- Matthew 16:24-25

NTC Day 13
Matthew 27-28 and Romans 10-12

It's Sunday, always a busy day for me. It seems I am so busy getting things ready for KidsPraise and today, singing with the choir, and rushing off to my inlaws for lunch right after church...and some Sundays, I don't even hear the pastor's sermon because I am helping with KidsPraise. I LOVE all of those things, but there are some Sundays I don't feel I have taken time to thank really worship and praise rest...

This morning, as I got ready for church, I LISTENED to the NTC readings. No, I don't think I studied them this morning, as I usually do, and perhaps I didn't get as much out of them as I should have, but they were a blessing to me just the same.

The last two chapters of Matthew tell of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Each Holy Week I read these verses and am amazed again at what Jesus went through for us and the magnitude of God's plan for our redemption. It is not just a story...not just the climax of a popular novel...No, it is the beginning of God's grace for his beloved people. 

This week in our readings, we have touched on predestination...that God knows what each of us will do with our lives. Sometimes that thought is comforting, and sometimes it makes me wonder. He wants each of us, no matter our race or beliefs or lack thereof, to be with him in heaven above. But, he gives us that choice. He has plans for us...each one of us, but we have to accept Him and his plan.

Hearing of the pain and humiliation that Jesus went through makes me sad, but so overwhelmingly grateful. To those who don't believe, the whole story may seem outlandish and far fetched, but to me, God's plan for my salvation through Jesus' suffering and death is a plan of love.

I have said this week that Paul's words sometimes confuses me, and Romans 10 and 11 reinforces that statement. But Romans 12, I love. Paul speaks of how we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. And it goes on to give us good advice on how we are to find what we are good at and do that to the glory God. And, he restates what Jesus said about how we are to love others.

After 2 weeks of the New Testament Challenge, I am grateful for this chance to read and hear the word of our God and to get the messages that God is sending me through those words. If possible, I feel even more blessed that I was before!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

NTC Day 12 Questions, questions

My memory verse this week:
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it and whoever loses their life for me will find it."-- Matthew 16:24-25

NTC Day 12
Matthew 25-26 and Romans 7-9

Paul's writings are very hard for me to understand...and in some ways, his words seem contradictory. That is why I am glad I also read Matthew 25-26. Those chapters spoke of Jesus' lessons and promises of reassured me.

In Romans 9, I found myself a bit confused and asking more questions. Paul seems to understand this confusion, because even though he explains to us such difficult concepts as predestination, he poses questions as if we are asking.

Paul quotes Testament scriptures as he explains what God said to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." He hardens who he wants to harden. (verse 18)

We might feel that God is unjust because he doesn't have mercy on everyone. Why would he harden anyone? And if God  chooses some and not others...why would those living in sin and away from God ever hope for salvation? Might some feel, if God only chooses a few, my chances aren't good, so why don't I just live it up and live the way I WANT to?

If you only read Romans, chapter 9 and nothing else, you might feel this way. But most of our readings today are more reassuring and hopeful.

In Matthew 25, Jesus teaches that we don't know the day or hour of his returning, or our death, for that matter. We should be prepared and ready at any moment. His parables teach us that we should trust God and live each day loving, serving and giving to others. We are not to sit around doing nothing, but living in his service, producing positive results. We shouldn't serve others just for the rewards we would get in heaven, but serve out of love. God's rewards in heaven come from his grace, not our efforts.

And in Matthew 26, Jesus tells his disciples about his coming persecution and death. He explained that one of them would betray him. The whole story of Judas has always bothered me...why would a man who had followed and loved Jesus all these months and years do such a despicable thing as betraying him and turning him over to the people who want to kill him. 

There was something the heart of Judas that wasn't true...he didn't love Jesus or God enough to resist whatever feelings of greed that tempted him to do so. And...(this is the part that gets me) God used that weakness as part of his plan. SOMEONE had to betray order for Jesus to suffer and die for us...someone had to start the ball rolling. God used the weakness of Judas.

Why didn't the Jewish leaders believe in Jesus as the son of God? God used their hardened order for Jesus to suffer and die for us, SOMEONE had to persecute and kill him. God used their harden hearts to do so. 

Did God harden their hearts? Or, did they choose to harden their hearts...that is the part that confuses me.

I believe that God does love each and everyone one of his creation. He gives us each a chance to choose to love him. But, when we chose NOT to love and trust him back, he can use our hardened hearts to make good come from our bad.

If we love God and believe in his promises, and the spirit of Jesus is living in us...NOTHING can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:38-39)

I also believe that NO ONE is beyond this love. Even Paul, who had persecuted and even KILLED early Christians CHOSE to believe in Christ. 

This is so hard to sort through! So many questions come to my mind! I don't understand God's plans...but I don't think I am supposed to. As much as I question, I also am reassured by God's love through these readings. While my mind struggles to understand, my heart has peace that rests in God's love.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

NTC DAY 11 Meaty and important chapters

My memory verse this week:
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it and whoever loses their life for me will find it."-- Matthew 16:24-25

NTC Day 11
Matthew 21-22 and Romans 1-3

WHEW! some meaty chapters today! Both Jesus in the Matthew chapters and Paul in the Romans chapters speak some basics about our faith...some of these things are hard to understand.

In Matthew 21, Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem to cheers and palm branches being waved at him. Little children are shouting and laughing and cheering. I find this troubling every time I read can these people cheer and love Jesus so much one day, and just a few days later scream with hatred for him to be crucified???

Jesus tells three parables to the Jewish leaders and teachers, each with a message about what the kingdom of heaven is like, and how we get there by our faith.

Jesus told of the Kingdom of Heaven being like a wedding banquet. Many are invited but don't come, so the invitation is opened to anyone who wants to come. But, our actions do play a part in our place in heaven. If we come to the wedding banquet and yet refused the wedding clothes offered to us, we will be asked to leave. I think this means that even though we get to heaven by our faith...that gift of God through Jesus, we are still accountable for our actions.

Those Jewish leaders who wanted to bring Jesus down, tried to trick and trap him with questions. They asked him if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus told them to look at the coin. Whose name and face is on it? Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's. (Many of us that don't like to pay taxes should think about that, huh?)

They also try to get Jesus by asking the greatest command of God. Jesus replies that we are to love God with all our heart, mind and soul and love our neighbor as ourselves. All the other commands stem from those two. 

Each time they try to trip Jesus up, he gives them answers that make sense and reinforces that he is from God. The verses say that they were amazed at him! Why then do they not believe? It seems so obvious! However, as we have talked before, their refusal and denial of Jesus was all part of God's plan.

The Romans chapters are very meaty and important and I am running out of space and time to go into them today as I should. Paul is sometimes very deep and hard to understand. My study Bible Is a great help to me. Romans 3 is a very important chapter and explains some of the basics of the Christian faith. Read it and study it for yourself and see what new information is revealed to you. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

NTC Day 10 - The Gospel is a gift meant for EVERYONE!

My memory verse for this week:
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it and whoever loses their life for me will find it." Matthew 16:24-25

NTC Day 10
Matthew 19-20 and Acts 28

Both the Matthew and Acts readings today encourage the reader to believe that God is a generous God who wants to include everyone in his kingdom.

Matthew 19:13-15 is the familiar passage about letting the little children come. Jesus welcomed the children and said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. This story is repeated in Mark 10:13. Jesus is trying to get the point across that eternal life in heaven is a gift from God and we should be like children receiving a gift with open hearts. We cannot EARN that gift, but should understand that the gifts of heaven are freely given by God.

In Matthew 20, God's generous nature is highlighted again. Jesus tells the story of the landowner who hires men to work in his vineyard. Some work all day, and some, he hires late in the day. But he pays all the men the same wage, no matter how long they had worked. Jesus tells us we shouldn't be upset or envious of these "latecomers," as their reward illustrates the generous nature of God.

In Acts 28, Paul is in Rome and is explaining his beliefs to the Jewish leaders of this region. People had come from miles around to hear Paul speak. He tells them about how Moses and the Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of Jesus. He convinced some, but others would not believe. All listened to him, until he spoke of how the Gospel is meant for Gentiles and others as well as for the Jews. This upset the Jews, for they felt THEY were God's chosen people.

Today's chapters spoke of other things, such as Jesus' teachings about divorce, and giving up everything to follow him and how hard that is for some. And the first part of Acts explains how Paul and the others with him faired after the shipwreck...they were well taken care of, and even though he was still a prisoner, Paul had much freedom. 

But the most important part for me today was to understand that salvation and eternal life through Jesus is a gift, open to ALL who believe. There is so secret club, you can't earn your way in...yes, Jesus says we are to follow the commands, but follow them as an expression of faith. Our faith in Jesus as the giver of Grace from God is what causes God give us his gift of salvation! 

For all those who think that you have to act certain ways and do certain things to get into heaven, today's passages use Jesus and Paul as the vehicles to prove them wrong. Living as Jesus wants us to live takes training and time. If you confess your belief in Christ, and believe that he died to save you, then you are on your way. But it is journey, an active journey and every one you meet might be on a different part of that journey. That is why Jesus talks so much about loving and forgiving others. It IS a radical love that we are to show to everyone around us, a love that encourages and doesn't judge.

I much rather work on my own training, reading God's word, minding my own tongue, loving and encouraging others than I would to tear others down and make them feel they are not worthy of God's grace because of the way they are acting. Let's be good examples instead and show how God's gospel is meant for everyone and not just the "super saints!"

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

NTC day 9 Makes me want to read more!

My memory verse for this week:
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it and whoever loses their life for me will find it." Matthew 16:24-25

NTC Day 9
Matthew 17-18 and Acts 25-27

Today's Acts chapters returns us to the courtroom drama of Paul. I like knowing the history and political intrigue of the times because it tells the temperature of the people at the time. Felix, who we read about yesterday, is succeeded by Festus. My study Bible says that history states Festus was only in office there for 2 years before he dies, but that his rule showed wisdom and honesty, superior to Felix.

In chapter 25, Festus talks with Paul and listens to the charges brought on him by the Jewish leaders. He thinks Paul has done nothing wrong, and wants him to face his accusers in Jerusalem. Paul refuses, and appeals to Caesar. Being a Roman citizen, Paul had this right, to take his case to the highest court.

In the meantime, King Agrippa and his sister come to visit Festus. It was customary for rulers to pay their respects to new rulers, and advantageous if rulers had good relationships, (such as Herod Antipas and Pilate years before.)

Festus and Agrippa talk about Paul's case and Agrippa wants to hear from Paul himself. Paul is agreeable to this since Agrippa has experience and knowledge of Jewish customs and laws. He tells his whole life story to Agrippa, from his years as Pharisee to his transformation on his way to Damascus. 

During his retelling of his story, Festus interrupts him and says that his learning has made him crazy. Paul defends himself and appeals to Agrippa's knowledge of the prophets and asks if he believes those prophets.

Agrippa, while he thinks Paul has done nothing wrong, he evades Paul's question by making a statement that in this short time, he will not persuaded to become a Christian. 

Paul is then placed on a ship and headed toward Rome for his trial. All of Chapter 27 is about this journey...a terrible storm comes up and they end up shipwrecked.

All of this is quite like reading a much drama, excitement and intrigue! 

Today's Matthew chapters are exciting in their own right. Peter, James and John get to witness the transfiguration of Jesus...for a brief moment, his appearance changed and he was seen in all his glory, along with Moses and Elijah. This experience had 3 outcomes for these three men.1) they got to see Jesus in God's glory, which is hidden now, but will be revealed when he comes again. 2) it was a confirmation of the difficult teaching that they were receiving about the future of Jesus. 3) it was a beneficial, encouraging experience as they were discouraged about being told of Jesus' coming suffering and death. Peter, James and John were amazed and afraid of the power of God they were witnessing.

A boy with seizures was brought to Jesus. The disciples had tried to heal him before, but they had failed. Jesus says again their faith is too little...not in quantity, but in quality...they need a faith bathed in prayer. Jesus makes his famous statement about faith the size of a mustard seed...When that faith comes from God you can move mountains.

Again, so much to think about and write about in just 5 chapters of the Bible! They are all filled with lessons that are interesting to read and that make you want to read more! I don't have time to write more. I encourage you to read these chapters for yourself and see how God speaks to YOUR heart!

Monday, September 19, 2011

NTC Day 8 - Oh you (and me) of little faith...

My memory verse this week:
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." (Matthew 16:24, 25 NIV)

NTC Day 8
Matthew 15-16 and Acts 22-23

After reading the Acts chapters today, it felt rather like I just watched an episode of Law and Order! There is so much intrigue regarding Paul's imprisonment and his trials. The Jewish leaders are so worried about Paul's teachings gaining a following and making them look bad, they plot to kill him. Hmmm sounds familiar, doesn't it? Those Jewish leaders of that time just tried to get rid of who they didn't like instead of dealing with them.

Paul tells the story of his conversion to the Jewish leaders and the people. They listen to his story until he mentions that God sent him to the Gentiles to protect him from the Jews. Because they didn't like what he said, the screamed for him to be put in prison.

I hadn't realized how similar Paul's story was to the "trial" of Jesus and the Jews. A Centurion felt that Paul was being unfairly accused and sent him, along with a letter explaining his opinions, to Governor Felix. The buck is being passed yet again. While Felix agrees to a point that Paul is being railroaded, he still keeps him in protective custody. During this time, Felix and his wife listen to Paul talk about his faith in Christ. But when Felix heard Paul speak of righteousness, self control and judgement, he was afraid of the mistakes of his past...he didn't want to hear anymore, and he kind of blew off Paul.

Oh you of little many people today turn away from God, or refuse to get closer to God because they are afraid or don't want to give up control of their lives?

The Matthew chapters let us hear Jesus' words about our lack of faith. In Matthew 15, AGAIN Jesus feeds thousands of people with just a few loaves and fishes. But later, when Jesus is trying to give his disciples real advice and warnings, all they can think about is how will they feed the people. Jesus scolds them...didn't they remember what he has already done? TWICE he fed thousands with many left overs!

And when he was telling his disciples what was going to happen to him in the near future, Peter doesn't WANT to believe him and says that would never happen. Again Jesus scolds him! This is Jesus, the Son of God speaking...if he says it is going to happen, you can have faith that it WILL happen!

My memory verse says that we should take up our crosses and follow Jesus. Picking up that cross means giving up...surrendering your life...Many are not willing to do that, or even try to do that because they are afraid and fear the unknown. Just as Felix was enjoying hearing about Paul's faith until he heard about judgement....many of us fear God's judgement and fear the loss of control. Fear it so much, we stay away from God instead of drawing near.

Yes, it is hard to lay down your life and have enough faith to trust in Jesus to take care of your life. I have faith and I believe...but many times I find myself picking up the control again... not totally trusting enough to fully surrender. It is usually the times when I go out on my own...making selfish decisions that I find myself in trouble. 

But I realize that God never leaves me...even when I make bad decisions...he is always there. And when I give my problems back to God...when I give up control of my life...he helps me find the purpose of my life once again and I find peace. In this life, it seems that this is a pattern of struggle that we  must go through and one day all the wrongs will be made right and we won't have to struggle any more! I have that faith and it will see me through!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

NTC Day 7---Is it POSSIBLE for me to be brief?

My memory verse this week:
"You have made known to me the paths of life; you fill me with joy in your presence." -- Acts 2:28

NTC Day 7 
Matthew 13-14 and Acts 19-21

Brief posting today...In KidsPraise today we talked about knowledge...learning something NEW so you can be BETTER at whatever you DO. THAT is why I am loving this New Testament Challenge. I am learning new aspects from God's word that is helping me do better at what I do.

It's also making me WANT to do better at everything. As usual, there are parts of my daily walk that I am getting just right...I am studying each day and loving others and encouraging others...but there are also parts of my life that I just seem to shove off to the side...the taking care of myself parts.

Perhaps I need to put some of the lessons from Jesus' parables to work inside myself. Oh, I am good about how I treat others, but perhaps I need to love myself, or the body that God gave me enough to take better care of myself.

I know you have heard me say that you think I will EVER learn? Learn to get enough rest each night...learn to get more fruits and veggies and less carbs and sweets...learn to say no once in a while so I am not overbooked and over extended. 

Like Peter, (Matthew 14:30) I seem to take my eyes off Jesus when it comes to my own health and well-being. 

Anyway, today's readings were some of my favorites. In Matthew 13-14 we hear some of Jesus' famous parables. And Acts 19-21 we hear more about Paul's work of spreading the news. My favorite part of that was how Acts 19:24 is so much like how things are's all about the money and greed! Read it and see why! 

So much good stuff to write little time!!!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

NTC Day 6 - study takes time, but it's worth it!

My memory verse this week:
"You have made known to me the paths of life; you fill me with joy in your presence." -- Acts 2:28

NTC Challenge Day 6
Matthew 11-12 and Acts 16-18

In the past couple of days, I have been listening to the audio version of the Bible (a very pleasing, British sounding narrator makes it quite enjoyable) and also checking in the Message translation and using my study bible to look up passages I don't understand. It has helped me grasp concepts I never understood before and has caused me to spend more time on Bible study than I have ever spent before...I don't always have ENOUGH time and wind up running late to something else, but it has been worth it so far!

In both the Matthew and Acts readings for today, there was a lot of referring back to the Old Testament scriptures to prove that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Both Jesus and Paul quote scriptures that the Jewish leaders would be familiar with. This is their language...this is what they study and know. While some Jewish leaders are persuaded to believe, many refuse and become jealous of the following that Jesus is getting. That is why they begin plotting how to kill Jesus (Matthew 12:14) and why Paul, Silas and other Christian leaders are harassed and put in jail. (Acts 16:23)

I guess I can understand the Jewish leaders feeling threatened by this new way of thinking, but I am confused by the fickle nature of the people in the towns. One moment we read how Jesus has many people following him, bringing their sick and lame to be healed, and the next minute they turn on him. The same goes for Paul. He was also healing many people in the name of Jesus, and instead of rejoicing in that fact, the people get stirred up by the Jewish leaders and want Paul put into prison. Are people THAT afraid of truly believing what they see and feel in their hearts?

There was so much meat to today's readings! A lot of background information and history. If you are reading along with me, don't skip over the history parts or the parts about the politics of the area being discussed. It really helps to understand the motivation of the people.

For example, when Paul was in Athens (Acts 17:16-33) we learn that the Greeks had many gods and were so afraid of offending the gods, they even made an alter "to an unknown god." This gives Paul the chance to explain about God, and how He is a more personal God who created everything and is the designer of everything, which is in great contrast to how the Greeks believed.

Sometimes it gets hard to keep telling people about the Good News when they don't seem to want to hear or even care. In today's society, if you talk about your faith, you are many times looked at like some "Jesus freak" and it gets tiresome always defending yourself. Even Paul felt this way...

In Acts 18:5-6. Paul was teaching and preaching and talking with the Jews. They didn't want to listen and even became abusive. He kind of gives up and says I'm done with you!

But Jesus speaks to Paul in a vision and encourages him to not be afraid and not give up speaking. He tells Paul he is with him. This vision gives Paul the strength to go on.

Jesus can encourage us as well. We can tell others what we believe, why we believe and how Jesus has made our lives different and better. Ours is a very relational journey. It is not necessarily just about "winning souls for God." or getting people to is about being honest and talking with people and telling them what works for you. It's not about "religion," it's about faith. God will do the hard work of winning their souls...he is God. We are his children and are his best spokesmen! 

Friday, September 16, 2011

NTC- Day 5 - Faith, Grace and humbleness

My memory verse this week:
"You have made known to me the paths of life; you fill me with joy in your presence." -- Acts 2:28

NTC Day 5
Matthew 9-10 and Acts 13-15

Again, I am amazed how two books in the Bible, written by two different hands, in different time periods, in different locations can be so closely tied together in their themes. It must be God's hand...HIS word to us!

In Matthew, we hear the words of Jesus, teaching his disciples and others about why he has teach us about God and how God wants us to live in this life so we can continue living with him in heaven. 

In words that are now familiar, Jesus tells the religious leaders that it's not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. He didn't come for the righteous, but for the sinners. (Matthew 9:12) Jesus hung out with the "unworthy" kinds of people, like tax collectors and other sinners and not with upstanding religious leaders...they already knew the laws and thought they knew God. But, when you think about it...there are not ANY of us who are righteous or worthy...we are ALL sinners. Jesus could have been hanging out with me!  

But it's FAITH that really works wonders! In Matthew 9, we read of MANY people who were healed by Jesus in many towns along the way as he was teaching. The woman who knew if she just touched the cloak of Jesus she would be healed....the men who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus because they believed and knew Jesus could heal him...the daughter of the Jewish leader who was brought back to life after dying because of her father's faith. Jesus made a point of pointing out that it was their faith that caused him to heal them.

Faith leads to grace. When you believe and have faith in Jesus, God grants grace to you. In Acts 15, Paul is explaining to some believers who think that Christians need to follow Jewish laws in order to be saved, that it is by GRACE that we are saved...just as we are. (Acts 15:11) He says that new believers shouldn't be burdened with a yoke, the law, because we have proven over and over that we can't keep the laws ourselves! God knew that his creations, we humans, couldn't keep the laws, but he wanted us to be saved, so he provided us a way out...the Grace of Jesus. If we believe in him, we will be saved!

So, if all we have to do to be saved is believe...why would we ever want to follow God's commands and Jesus' teachings? God's commands and Jesus' teachings were given to us so that we might have a better life on this earth. They are guidance for our daily lives. When you don't follow them, you are putting your needs and desires ahead of God. God knows those behaviors will only cause trouble for us, so Jesus urges us to not be selfish, and think of ourselves humble ourselves.

Matthew 10:39 - if your first concern is to look after yourself, you'll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to Jesus, you'll find both.

In Acts 15:20  Paul says that even though we are not bound by the law, we should still follow some Jewish customs, such as not eating food that had been sacrificed to idols, staying away from sexual immorality, and eating blood. Why would he say those things if our actions don't result in our being saved?

I believe those practices could be harmful to our human bodies and Paul's advice to the new Gentile believers was to protect them from themselves. 

When you believe that God is a loving and protective Father, you find his grace and you learn that the wise thing to do is to follow his advice for a better open your mind and your heart to a different and better way of living. Being humble enough to think of yourself is not Jesus said in Matthew 10:34 "I have not come to make things cozy, but to cut through the cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God." (The Message Translation)

Your faith leads to the saving power of God's grace and your humble behavior leads you to have a more rewarding and peaceful life on this earth and an eternity in heaven.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

NTC Day 4 AND a message from Linda's soap box...

My memory verse this week:
"You have made known to me the paths of life; you fill me with joy in your presence." -- Acts 2:28

NT Challenge Day 4- Matthew 7-8 and Acts 10-12

I find it very interesting to read these two books at the same time. In Matthew, we hear of Jesus' teachings and miracles, and how he interacted with his chosen disciples. In Acts, we read of how those same disciples work to begin the Church. 

MANY things hit me while reading today. If I wrote about all of them, this message would be WAY to long. Here are a few of them:

Matthew 7 continues on with Jesus' sermon or teachings about God's laws and how we should live. From one famous passage, I found some new insight this morning. 

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13, 14 NIV)

To be honest, I always had the idea that these verses meant that the gate and road we should take is narrow as a way to keep the wrong people out of heaven. I mean if you take the easy path full of sin and destruction, then you can't find God, or you shouldn't deserve heaven, right? But, I think those ideas are wrong. I think the gate to heaven is narrow so you have to LOOK for it. If it were easy, then it wouldn't MEAN anything! Jesus says in verse 24 that if you hear his words and put them into practice, you will have a firm foundation and will not fall in a storm. (My own translation of the house built on the rock.)

I believe that even if you start down the wrong path, headed to destruction, if you begin looking for the narrow path, reading Jesus's teachings and begin to put them into is never to late! You will find that narrow gate!

Something else that seemed important to me from today's readings: "...God does not show favoritism." Acts 10:34. 

Peter had a vision that occurred to him three times, and in Acts 10, he tells the same story twice. When things are repeated in the Bible, it must mean they are important concepts! Peter's vision had the following message from God: "Do not call anything unclean that God has made pure."

Those first people of the church had been preaching to Jews, telling them the Good News about the saving grace of Christ. Cornelius, a Gentile, had a vision also, where he was called by an angel to bring Peter to him. Peter did come to Cornelius and preached to him and many others. The Holy Spirit came to them...they received the gift of God as well! Peter saw that his vision was true..."So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God's way?" (Acts 11:17 NIV)

There are those Christians out there who think their denomination is the only way to God...who are we as humans that we think we know better than God? How do we know that people who aren't immersed won't be saved? How do we know who God is working on? I believe there are different denominations because different people need to worship in different ways. God knows that. But when we start judging others because they don't follow our customs and practices...we are holding back the kingdom of God! If A person has been seeking, praying and asking God to come into his life, who are WE to keep them from that narrow gate? Who are we to judge who and how a person receives God's gift of the Holy Spirit? 

I'm sorry for getting up on my soap box, but I have had friends who have been very hurt by other Christians who tell them they are not going to heaven because they are going to the wrong church...what arrogance! Only God makes that decision! God can work in ANYONE...ANYWHERE...ANYTIME! As Christians, let us be loving, kind and make sure we take care of the planks in our own eyes before we try to take the speck out of someone else's! God doesn't show favoritism and neither should we!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

NT Challenge Day 3

My memory verse this week:
"You have made known to me the paths of life; you fill me with joy in your presence." Acts 2:28

NT Challenge Day 3
Matthew 5-6 and Acts 7-9

Reading today's chapters caused me to have a question: how can we take part of what Jesus says literally and know that part of what he says is figurative? For example: In Matthew 5, (which my grandmother called the Beatitudes) Jesus talks about how different suffering people are blessed. Then he goes on to talk about sins, such as adultery and lust, saying that you should gouge out your eyes instead of lusting and if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. I am smart enough to realize that this is an exaggeration to get his point across. However, in the same sermon, Jesus also talks about loving your neighbor and turning the other cheek when wronged and willingly loaning to people when asked...these are also pretty outlandish commands when you think about them...Jesus mixes hyperbole (exaggeration) with his commands. This is what makes the Bible confusing sometimes and why it is so important to study what you read, working to truly understand the meaning behind the words.

I like the Acts readings for today, because mixed in with other stories, we learn about Saul's murderous actions toward Christians and how he sees Jesus and becomes Paul and a great leader of the early church. Even though Paul's words sometimes rub me the wrong way, I love the thought that God uses the most unlikely people for good. No one is beyond hope!

There are so many stories in the Bible where we never hear the ending...we don't know how the story turns out. For example, in Acts 8, we hear of Simon, a known sorcerer who is well known for his magic. He witnessed Philip doing great miracles in the name of Jesus and believes and is baptized. He follows Philip around everywhere and wants to do miracles too. He sees Peter laying hands on someone and bringing the Holy Spirit to them. Simon wants to do that too and offers Peter money to show him how. Peter explains to him that you cannot buy the gift of God with money and tells him he should be ashamed! Then...the story ends! What happens to Simon? Did he learn from the lesson Peter taught him? Did he continue believing and following Christian beliefs? Or, could he have been offended by Peter's statement, get mad and leave the church? I wish I knew! I want to believe that this even further strengthen his faith and he went on to share the good news with others. But, I have known people who have been offended by someone in a church and left the faith altogether...that is sad to me!

Reading God's word amazes me because even though I have read these stories many times before and taught about them in KidsPraise, I still find I learn something knew every time, more questions arise and make me want to learn more! How are you coming in the NTC? Are you still with us on day 3?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Challenge Still Stands!

My memory verse this week:
"You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.' (Acts 2:28 NIV)

NT Challenge - Day 2 
Matthew 3-4 and Acts 4-6

Even though John the Baptist did as God led him to: prepare the way for Jesus...I have always thought of him as a little crazy. He lived by himself in the desert, wearing rags and eating locusts and honey. And when I read what he preached, I think of those "fire and brimstone" preachers who yell at everyone to repent or die! What a strange way to begin Jesus' loving and compassionate teaching ministry!! 

But, if you think about it, it's kind of like the tongues of fire and wind God used at Pentacost to bring the Holy Spirit....He wanted to get the attention of the people. John did that...people took notice of this strange man preaching about the coming Messiah. That just further proves that God can use the unlikely person to get his point across.

And what about the ranting about "repent or die?" One of the biggest complaints I hear from non-Christians is that everything fun and pleasurable is against "the law." Why would a loving God make it so that everything that comes natural to us and that brings us pleasure is sin that we need to quit and repent for? 

In my studies, I have found that most of the THINGS we do are not sin in God's's the selfish way we do them that is sin. Sin is basically when we put ANYTHING in front of our devotion to God. Excess is the thing that makes natural things become sin. Having a glass of wine (if you are of age) is not sin...getting drunk on wine is. Having sex with your husband is not sin...having sex with someone else's husband is. Having lunch with your girlfriends is not a sin...gossiping about others during that lunch is. We all sin, it IS human nature and we CAN'T help it. When you put your needs and desires above God, or forget about God altogether, that is when you sin. BUT, just because we can't help sinning doesn't give us the right to knowingly keep sinning. THAT's why we need to repent.

 Repenting, as John the Baptist and Jesus and many others have said, is getting right with God...getting connected with God again after you sin. It is a way for us to have hope and to keep trying. If you couldn't go to God and ask forgiveness and try to do better...what is the use of trying in the first place? THAT is the reason our world is in such a mess...not enough people turn to God...not enough people fear God. I mean fear God's consequences....kind of how I would fear my dad and the consequences I would face from him when I did something bad. When you don't fear or don't even think about the consequences of your actions, you don't care what you do.

The other thing that struck me about today's readings was the WHY question found in Acts 24:4. David is quoted from the Psalms - "Why do nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?" I have questioned that too...why did so many hate Jesus enough to want him killed, and why do so many hate him now?

I still don't totally understand, but I think it is all part of God's plan. Acts 4:28 says: "They (Herod and Pilate) did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen."
Perhaps for people to believe, there has to be some who don't believe?

That is why I continue to read and study...I have so many questions and want to learn more! I am NOT a blind fool, following anywhere...I do want to educate myself and seek answers. I look forward to the rest of this NT Challenge!

Monday, September 12, 2011

I Challenge You!

My memory verse this week:
"You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.' (Acts 2:28 NIV)

I took a week's vacation from my blog. To tell you the truth, I have missed it greatly. Writing each morning, studying God's word and learning what it is leading me to do...that seemed to ground me. This past week, I haven't had that grounding, and I have felt a bit lost and lonely. That sounds a bit silly to some, I suppose, but it is how I have felt. This morning, I have read, and now am ready to write about what I read, and as the memory verse above states...I am filled with joy!

My whole church began a challenge today...the New Testament Challenge. We are all reading the whole New Testament in 63 days. That's a lot of reading, right? But, it's more than that. We are also studying what we read and meeting in small groups during that time to discuss what we read and learn. 

Our pastors yesterday described the challenge and just WHY we would want to do this. There are many reasons, but to me, the best reason is to hear from God. God has never SPOKEN to me in words, but I have experienced God's message to me before....but this only happens when I have been reading and studying the Bible. I don't think I am special or a prophet or anything like that...but I believe that the bible is God's way of communicating with us, and when we open ourselves up to that line of communication, we clear a pipeline between us and God and we are more able to "hear" his guidance and messages to us.

Today's New Testament readings are Matthew 1-2 and Acts 1-3.

I have skimmed over the first book of Matthew many times. The genealogy of Jesus didn't seem that important to me, and I couldn't pronounce many of the names anyway! But, in order to help tie up all the Old Testament prophecies...the first two books of Matthew are very important. To understand WHO Jesus is, where he came from, and how his coming was foretold HUNDREDS of years before is VERY important to us...we are not following blindly...we want to know WHERE our faith came from, and WHY it is relevant, reliable and has survived thousands of years!

Acts 1-3 are more exciting! Reading about how the Holy Spirit came to the disciples in tongues of fire always seemed a little far-fetched to me, but exciting all the same! Why wind and fire? God wanted people to be amazed and take notice! And they did! This was the beginning of Christianity...the numbers grew from just over 100 to thousands in a short period of time!

I am excited about this Challenge too! God wants us to be amazed and take notice today too! Read the New Testament along with us and you might discover that God's word is living and active is not just a book to collect dust on your shelf or a strange App hiding in the corner of your IPhone! When you read open up a whole new world for yourself!

Friday, September 2, 2011

An intelligent person's thoughts on beliefs...

Today's memory verse: "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." -- John 20:31 Ok...I need to talk about what has been on my mind yesterday and today. I read a Facebook friend's post about "How to keep your child from becoming an atheist." It was really a slam against closed-minded Christians...well against any Christians at all, and suggested that believing in God was the same as being stupid and ignorant. I read it and instantly wanted to defend my own beliefs and defend God...but, fortunately, I caught myself before I did anything stupid. First of all, when someone says insulting things about your beliefs, they most likely are LOOKING to get you riled up so you WILL argue with them. And, secondly, God is God...he doesn't need me to defend him! He knows full well how some people feel about him, and he can take care of himself. In this country, we have the right to believe anything we want. Atheists have the right NOT to believe... I have friends of many different faiths, and some friend's who are Atheists as well. I am always interested to hear what and how they believe, or not. I have spent hours talking with these friends, not because I want to change their minds or beliefs, but because I am earnestly interested. It does open your eyes as to the power of God... I could go on and on about this topic...but I won't. I guess my reason for writing this morning is to reassure myself that not all Christians are "mindless sheep" who would rather live in ignorance than use their minds to think. I believe God gave me a brain and curiosity and intelligence, and I use it to question for answers and learn from others. I have found that when I do engage in study, of the Bible, of other belief systems, in faith in a loving and caring and powerful God is strengthened even more! "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46:1-3, 7 NIV)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

God helps with everyday feelings of discouragement...

Today's memory verse:
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9 NIV)

Do you want to know how I know that God is with me wherever I go? Because I have felt him...or his presence...or I have felt his message...I know it sounds pretty far fetched, but it has happened too many times for me to ignore.

Take this morning for example. I am feeling pretty discouraged this morning. I had a really good day at work yesterday and came home feeling pretty good about myself, only to walk in the door to a pile of bills I can't pay until next Friday, a grouchy daughter with a cold who argues with every word I say and all I smell is a rabbit pen and and cat boxes that need cleaned out. Needless to say, the good feelings from my day quickly were replaced by feelings of "I can't win!" 

And, unfortunately, those feelings were still there when I got up this morning. I needed some encouragement and I went to my bible to look up my favorite verse (the one above) but for some reason looked up James 1:9 instead. It said, "Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. (James 1:9 NIV) Well, I am certainly in humble circumstances...I need to be reminded that I am STILL a child of God. I went on to read a little farther..." Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12 NIV)

It was no accident that I looked up the wrong verse. It may look like that to most, but I know it was God's way of sending encouragement to me when I needed it. This too shall pass...these "trials" that I am dealing with that are ruining my mood...they are nothing!  Why let it mess up my mood? 

So, I sent my daughter a text that I loved her and I wrote this message to you. Perhaps God might use this message to encourage you today! Be strong! Don't be discouraged! God is with you everywhere you go...all the time...he knows you and knows what you need, even better than you do!