My sun porch

My sun porch

Monday, October 31, 2011

NTC DAY 50 - Don't be a blind sheep

My memory verse for this week:
"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as The Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep." -- John 10:14-15

NTC Day 50
John 9-10

I think these two chapters have some of the most important words of Jesus...he explains who he is and why he is here on earth. 

I have written before why I relate to Jesus' sheep analogies...I grew up on a sheep farm, and so relate with how much care sheep require. They really do recognize their shepherd's voice. I can remember my dad (and my grandparents too) calling the sheep. They would come running...mainly because they knew that voice meant food! I would have a tougher time getting them to come to the barn for me...they didn't recognize my voice. They would finally come, but only out of hunger.

Jesus speaks of being the good shepherd...and he not only cares for us...he laid down his life for us! The problem is...while we are all sheep, we don't all know Jesus and therefore don't recognize his voice when he calls. Those sheep are like wild mountain goats, wandering around fending for themselves. Jesus tries to get our attention, but if we don't make the effort to get to know him, we don't recognize his voice and run away...scared of a stranger and blind to the blessing that is right in front of us.

The miracle that Jesus performed most often, or at least the one that we read about the most, was healing the blind. In the Old Testament, it was said that the Messiah would come and heal the Jesus was fulfilling prophecies by doing so. But it was so much more than that. He was making the blind see, but he was also opening the eyes of the spiritually blind as well. 

In John chapter 9, Jesus heals a man that had been blind from birth. Think about what a miracle that was for that man...he had never seen the beauty of the world around him, and after Jesus put the mud on his eyes and he washed it off...he could see everything for the first time! Talk about overwhelmed! He was excited! 

But the Pharisees didn't WANT to believe...they didn't WANT to see the miracle of this man seeing the world for the first time. In fact, they were blinder than the man was...they just didn't know it!

As I have said before...sheep are pretty dumb animals and can get themselves in a lot of messes to be rescued from. Can you imagine a BLIND sheep? I am afraid a blind sheep on our farm would have had to spend most of it's time in the safety of the barn. A blind sheep would have wandered off, fallen in holes, and not been smart enough to get out. A blind sheep REALLY needs the care of it's shepherd. But what if that sheep didn't realize it was blind? It might be with the flock, following the sounds of the group, and as luck was with it, it might be able to survive.

How many of us are blind sheep? We follow the flock...we listen to the voices of those around us and let them lead us wherever they go. We can survive that way, but it might not be as fulfilling a life as if we were listening for the voice of our shepherd. Our shepherd knows us, knows our needs and wants to being us into the safety of the barn. Our shepherd has laid down his life to protect us. When we listen for his voice when he calls, we can follow his voice to safety. And the good thing is...he will heal our blindness and help us to see the beauty of this world....maybe for the first time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NTC Day 44 Paying it forward...

My memory verse for this week:
"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ." Titus 2:11-13

NTC Day 44 Luke 23 and Philemon 1

Although i haven't done it, I have heard of some generous people who, when paying for their fast food in the drive through line, they pay for the person behind them as well. That seems like such a small thing, but to the person who gets their meal for free, it could be huge! Would you be willing to pay someone else's bill, or even their debt? In today's readings, that seems to be the theme. 

Philemon is a very short book of the Bible, just one page. To be honest, I don't think I ever really read it before! Apparently, Paul writes this letter to Philemon to plead the case of Onesimus, who was a run away slave belonging to Philemon. Onesimus had stolen something from Philemon and then run away. He met Paul, the two became friends and Paul led him to Christ. Paul thinks so much of Onesimus, that he writes this letter to his friend and fellow Christian leader, Philemon, asking him to forgive Onesimus. He even goes as far as offering to pay whatever debt Onesimus owes.

In verses 17-18, Paul says, "So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me." That is a kind thing to do for someone, isn't it? 

When you think about it, isn't that what Jesus did for all of us? Our Luke reading for today is about Jesus' final moments. He is sent to Pilate, wrongly accused, questioned, sent to Herod, questioned, mocked, and sent back to Pilate. Pilate gives the people the chance to set him free and they refuse. He then is beaten, mocked, forced to carry his own cross, and then is crucified. Jesus didn't have to do this...God didn't have to follow through with his plan to save us from our sins...the suffering and death of Jesus was done to pay our debt.

Our debt is much more than a Happy Meal at McDonalds, and even much more than Onesimus had stolen from Philemon. Our sins, which we cannot help doing, deserve death. We owe God our lives. Jesus paid that debt for us. He gave God his life for ours. We should rejoice at the gift of grace given to us by what Jesus did for us!

Have you seen the movie "Pay it Forward?" It premise behind it is, since someone did something nice for you, you should do something nice for someone else. Jesus did something more than nice for you...he paid your life-debt to God. Doing good for others every day of your life could never pay back what you owe, but it sure feels good! Look for ways every day to "Pay it Forward" and do nice things for others! It could be a's simple as paying for someone's Happy Meal!

Monday, October 24, 2011

NTC Day 43 - Is cleanliness really next to godliness?

My memory verse for the week:
"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ." -- Titus 2:11-13 (WHEW! that's a long one!!!)

NTC Day 43 - Luke 22 and Titus 1-3

You have heard the familiar old saying, "Cleanliness is next to godliness," meaning that besides worshiping God, being clean is most important. In the readings I have read in the past several months, it was very important to the Jews to be clean, and not to associate with "unclean" food and people for that matter. I think, more importantly than cleanliness, do we really understand what "godliness" means? 

Our pastor talked about this yesterday and our Titus readings for today did as well. I liked how my pastor defined the word. Godliness - fully devoted to God.

He went on to say that when you are FULLY devoted to God, you begin to resemble Jesus. And...just HOW do you do that? By spending time with him!

In the Luke 22 reading for today, we learn a lot about Judas. The chief priests and Jewish leaders were looking for a way to being Jesus down. They found Judas to help them. Why, oh why, would one of his followers, who had seen all his miracles, heard all his amazing teachings and gotten to have a close relationship with Jesus, betray him like he did? There are a lot of theories about this, but in my mind, Luke 22:3 says it best: "Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve."

My study bible says that Judas had never displayed a high motive or commitment to Jesus. I guess that might have been true...I have read a lot about Peter, John, James, Matthew and the rest, and how they interacted with Christ during his ministry. But you never really hear of Judas saying or doing anything until he betrays Jesus in the end. I wonder why? Perhaps he didn't spend enough one-on-one time with Jesus in order to really get to know him and understand where he came from and what his presence meant. And, because he didn't have the level of commitment that the others had, Satan saw an opportunity, and he took it.

In that regard, could I be a little bit like Judas? What a silly question...of course not...right? Well, if godliness is full devotion to God, and we can become "like" God by spending time with him, when I choose one of my many activities over spending time in prayer and Bible study, or when I find myself gravitating to having too much to drink, or gossiping, or being wasteful, or letting curse words fly, or being I opening the door and giving Satan an opportunity to come into my life to cause havoc?

There have been some who have called me a "goody two shoes" at times in my I really don't consider myself a "trouble maker," but almost every day I find myself in situations where I have choices to do the "right" thing or to go along with the crowd. MOST of the time, I think I make wise choices...especially when I find myself having my daily quiet time with God, in prayer and Bible study. It's like my pastor said, spending time with Jesus helps you to become more like him. It's is strange, but true: the times I find myself making the WRONG choices are times when I have NOT made time for God.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't claim that it's through my own willpower or wisdom that make wise choices...not nearly! If left to my own devices, I'm afraid of what my life would be like...I've seen too many glimpses of that...way to scary for me!

Titus 2 says that the gift of God's grace saves us from our sins, but believing in Christ and being godly - fully devoted to God -  teaches us ethical behavior and leads us to do good works.

So, you see, it's not ME being godly, it's GOD showing me how to be godly. And the only way to let God show me, is to spend time with him and open my heart and mind to his leadership. I want to clean out the bad stuff and bring in the good guess cleanliness IS next to godliness!

Have a GREAT week, my friends!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

NTC day 39- persistently seeking understanding

My memory verse for this week:
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." -- 2 Timothy 2:15

NTC Day 39
Luke 18 and 1 Timothy 1-3

One who correctly handles the word of truth...I have struggled with this sentence this week. Because anyone can read the Bible and interpret it any way they want, I often worry that what I get out of what I have been reading every day is my own interpretation and not the TRUE meaning that comes from God. But, because I WANT God's approval of my thoughts and my writings, and I don't want to have cause to be ashamed of what I write, I have to persistently ask God to guide my mind and my fingers as they type. 

I have good reason for this persistence...Jesus tells a parable in Luke 18 about a widow woman who PERSISTENTLY goes to the judge in the town, pleading for justice against someone who has wronged her. He ignores her most of the time, but finally, he gets so fed up with her bugging him that he finally gives in and grants her wish. The point Jesus is trying to make here is that this human judge, who didn't even care that much about God, heard this woman's persistent pleas and gave her the justice she deserved. Our God is our judge and is so much more faithful than this flawed earthly judge, and will listen to our persistent pleas and give us the grace we NEED instead of the justice we DESERVE. He loves us that much.

But it's the persistence that gets me in this story...the woman just wouldn't give up. If you have children, you understand how kids just keep asking and asking for something they want badly....they will whine, cry, beg, plead and bug you until you can't take it any more and FINALLY give in. Children understand persistence....WHEN it's for something that they want badly enough. 

Jesus understood this about children and said that we need to come to God like a little child...I think he meant for some deeper reasons too, but persistence is part of it. Children are totally dependent on the their parents for everything. They trust that their needs will be taken care of and they are frank, open and sincere in their wants, needs and desires. They haven't had the opportunity to be jaded and hurt by life yet. 

Jesus calls us to be totally dependent on God, to trust him, to be open and frank and sincere...and persistent with our needs. In other words, we should pray continually...depending and trusting God that he will listen and grant us his grace we don't deserve, but he willingly gives.

So, when I have a need, I go to God. When I don't understand something I read in the Bible, I ask for clarity. When I am writing about God's word, I ask for God's wisdom in what I say, so that His truth comes through my words and they aren't jaded by my own thoughts and opinions.

For example: in 1Timothy 2, Paul gives instructions that women are not to teach in the church. He says they are to be quiet. Because Adam was created first and it was Eve that sinned and led Adam into sin. Well...being a woman, and a women gifted to teach, I have a lot of problems understanding Paul's meanings here and what that means for me today. I know people who believe that this is still true today, and they belong to churches where women cannot be teachers or have any leadership role in the church at all. While I see why they believe that...Paul, whose other words I believe and trust, said it, so it must have some validity, right? Because I don't understand it, and I have trouble believing it to be true, I have to give my questions and understandings to God. I have been persistent in asking about this issue for a while now...I truly believe that one day, I will have a clarity about it because God hears my prayers and one day will answer that prayer. Until then...I'd better just keep my mouth quiet about it. :-)

After all, God showed grace to Paul, who in ignorance and unbelief, persecuted Christians for a long time. If he can do that for Paul, I have faith that he will do that for me too!

Monday, October 17, 2011

NTC Day 36 - Lost and Found

My memory verse this week:
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

NTC Day 36
Luke 15 and 1 Thessalonians 1-3

I chose the memory verse above for several reasons...for one thing, I have a personality which seeks approval. I like to be doing the "right" thing and I like to do it well and I like to hear that I am doing it well. Sometimes that kind of personality trait can get you in trouble because you end up being a "people pleaser" and do things because OTHERS want you to and not necessarily because YOU want to. But...when the person I am trying to get approval from is God, I will do whatever I can to please him, and I long to hear "Well done, good and faithful servant."

I also chose that verse because I want to be one who handles the word of truth correctly. I do a lot of writing about the Bible and how I feel about the Bible. I want what I write and share with others to be as correct as it can be, coming from the mind of a flawed human being.

For example, one of our readings for today's NTC was Luke 15. This chapter contains 3 of Jesus' most familiar and most loved parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son. I know how those stories make me feel and what they make me think...when I share those feelings with you, I pray that my thoughts are at least closely tied to God's purposes.

Lost and found. We all have lost something important to us...whether we just misplace it or it is gone forever, we all HATE that feeling of loss when we don't know where it is. We will search and search, spending a LOT of time looking, sometimes growing more panicked as time goes on. IF AND WHEN we find that item, we are elated! We celebrate with a cheer, a yell, a dance for joy...I found it!!!

When that item is a loved one...we only then understand the father's actions in the parable of the prodigal son...and then we realize who was telling the story and what that story really means.

Jesus, who was from God, who WAS God on earth...he told that story to help us understand our heavenly Father's love for us. He created us, but gave us the choice to love him and accept his great love for us. So very few of his beloved creations make that choice to love and accept him that when one does...HE CELEBRATES! 

Jesus also told that story to teach the negative Pharisees why he hung out with sinners. He hung out with sinners because they hadn't made that choice to love and accept God yet. He hoped that his teachings would touch some of their hearts and be moved to love God.

Lost and found...there are so very many lost people out there in our world today, lost and looking for love and acceptance. Those of us that already love God can reach out to those lost souls and share the faith, hope and love that we have found in Jesus with them. That doesn't mean we have to go around preaching and scaring people away with our "religion." We can find HUNDREDS of ways to share God's love in practical the lost just a glimpse at what it's like to be found. They might just make that choice themselves and then...there will be a party in heaven as God celebrates!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

NTC Day 34 I want to be a blooming fig tree!

My memory verse for this week:
"Since we live by the spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other." Galatians 5:25-26

NTC Day 34
Luke 13 and Colossians 1-2

I have come to another point where I question what I thought I knew...or perhaps what I want to believe. I see a contradiction, and since God doesn't make mistakes, it must be my understanding that is wrong.

The Great Commission: Jesus says in Matthew 28:19 "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,"

Then, in Luke 13:24-30, Jesus says that few will be saved. "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to."

The image I have in my mind and in my heart of my loving and caring Father in Heaven, is a forgiving Father who wants ALL of his children...those he be saved and be with him in heaven. That's why I tell people about my faith...I share with the hope that perhaps they will be touched or moved enough to WANT that saving, loving and forgiving relationship with God too...and repent and be saved. I want EVERYONE to be saved...I've been told it's never too late...even in your last dying moments on earth, if you reach out and ask Christ to be your savior, he will save you and you'll be with him forever in heaven. I don't like to think about hell...I don't like to think about Jesus saying "I don't know you. Away with you." to anyone. But, the reality is, God gave us a choice, and many do not choose Christ, and many will perish.

Jesus tells of a man who planted a fig tree and for three years it bears no fruit. The man wants to cut it's not any good...but the caretaker says give it another year...he offered to water it and give it fertilizer... Hoping it would produce fruit. I want to be a fruit-bearing tree. I want to bloom where I am planted and produce the crop I was meant to produce. Jesus is that caretaker...he wants to give me another chance...he wants to give me fertilizer (food for me to grow-The Word) 

Paul's mission in life was to spread the gospel- tell people about the saving power of God's grace through Jesus. With Jesus' Great Commission and Paul's example, Surely that means we are follow in Paul's footsteps and share our faith with others. They still have the choice, but if we tell them the joy we find in that grace, then at least they will hear and be able to make that choice.

I may not understand God's purposes and his ways...I may think there on contradictions in what I read...but one day...I have faith and hope that one day all will be made clear to me. God's grace will save me from my confusion. I want to be a blooming fig tree!

Friday, October 14, 2011

NTC Day 33 A needed message of encouragement...

My memory verse for this week:
"Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other." --  Galatians 5:25-26

Luke 12 and Philippians 3-4

Well, God is at it me a message that I need in my heart and soul. I missed yesterday's readings as my routine was changed a bit and there was no time for reading, contemplating and writing about my thoughts. To tell you the truth, my day was off yesterday. I was so wrapped up in the busy-ness of the day and the worries that came with it, I spent very little time praying or even thinking about God. 

This morning, as I read the assigned chapters, it was EXACTLY what I needed to hear! Again, Jesus and Paul were talking about the same things, though in very different ways.  These chapters are filled with many lessons and familiar stories and verses, but today I heard just what I was supposed to hear...I was reminded of things I already know...I was encouraged and my anxiousness was eased.

Many lessons are in Luke 12, but what I heard not worry. Right now I am worried about my back pain, my health and money. All three things I tend to worry about often...they all play a part in my future and the future of my family. But from the words of Jesus, who I love and trust, I am reminded that God doesn't want me to worry.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear." Luke 12:22

"For the pagan world runs after these things and your Father knows you need them. But seek his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well." Luke 12:30-31

Paul reminds me as well. 

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7

I have that verse memorized...I know it and believe it...why oh why is it so easy to forget when I am in the middle of a trying situation?

Paul again reminds me of a verse I know and even have underlined in red in my Bible...

"I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:12-13

What a better reminder than that, right???

Yes, I have responsibilities and yes I have health concerns, and yes, there doesn't seem to be enough money to go around, but...I need to be thankful for those things because when I get through them, I will be a stronger person. It might seem tough right now, but I WILL make it through and be better off in the long run. 

God doesn't want me to worry...He will take care of my needs. God wants me to learn to be content with what I have and to lean on him through prayer...he will give me what I need.

Oh, did I NEED to hear this message this morning! Thank you Lord! I can make it through whatever today brings! Your words were a comfort to me today. May your words bring comfort and peace to my friends as well, because they too may be worried. Take their worries and turn them into joys this morning as they read your word. Amen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NTC Day 31 - Love God, Love your Neighbor, Serve others

My memory verse for this week:
"Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other." --  Galatians 5:25-26

NTC Day 31
Luke 10 and Ephesians 4-6

I missed writing a message yesterday, but today's readings were enough to fill a week's worth!

We're about half way through the challenge! I think it has been a challenge...both to stick with the daily readings and to understand all that I read. In fact, I DON'T understand a lot that I have read. Many chapters and verses make me question what I have known and believed before. Sometimes those questions make me want to study more, and to be honest, sometimes the questions I have frustrate me and cause me to want to give up. Why does God have to be so...mysterious?

But today's readings weren't mysterious...they laid the truth right on the line. Both Jesus and Paul gave important instructions to their audiences that are still very important for us today.

In Luke 10, Jesus sends out 72 more followers to prepare people for his messages and he gives them power to heal and cast out demons. Jesus had God's power over Satan and he gave some of that power to his 72 followers. I couldn't help thinking...if I am a follower of Christ, could I have a little of his power? At least enough to overpower Satan in my own with my temptations and my potential failures? I believe that if I lean on God's power instead of my own willpower, anything is possible!

Jesus also told a parable to a Jewish expert in the law that explained that anyone we meet is our neighbor. So...if we are to love our neighbor as ourselves...then we are to love everyone we meet as we love ourselves. This comes into play again later in what Paul says as well.

And speaking of what Paul says...Ephesians 4-6 are filled with some important instructions that we can put into practice today. 

Ephesians 4
God gives each of us a calling...and that doesn't just mean your chosen career. As believers and followers of Christ, we each receive a calling, or a job to do, to build up the church. That doesn't mean just the pastors and leaders of the church, but everyone...we are to build and take care of the church and bind it in unity. I don't think this is just talking about our own personal church, but all the people who claim to be believers and followers of Christ....WE are the body of Christ, which is the church. It doesn't matter the denomination, or the building...but we are to build the body of Christ by following our calling, whether it be pastor, choir director, Sunday School teacher, small group leader, secretary...or whatever job you've been given to do in the church using the gifts God gave you. If you don't have a job or a place to serve in the church...have a leader in your church help you find one! There is PLENTY of work to go around! We are preparing the people of our church (believers in Christ) to do works of service in our communities and in the world. It takes many hands to fill the needs of the world!!!

And Paul talks about our neighbors, just as Jesus did! Our neighbors are everyone we meet! Paul gives us some advice on how to treat our neighbors.
* Speak the truth in love
* Don't go to bed angry. Which means don't let your anger overcome your good judgement on how to treat those you are angry with. Acting in anger only gives the Devil room to work in your soul.
* Share with those in need.
* Don't let unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only helpful talk. 
* Get rid of bitterness and malice
* Be compassionate and forgive others as Christ has forgiven you.

Ephesians 5
Paul says we should be imitators of God. This means we shouldn't behave in immoral or course ways. Why? Why is the Lord against course behavior? Because it opens the door to sin. Every time you tell a dirty joke or act in inappropriate ways, you find it becomes easier and easier to do so. If we know we don't want to act in those ways, then we shouldn't practice them or even flirt with them. Does that mean we are going to hell if we tell or laugh at a dirty joke? No, I don't believe so. But touch a hot stove and you'll get burned. God is a loving Father who wants to keep us from making mistakes that will hurt us and cause us pain. So he instructs not to act in ways that could hurt us in the long run. Any good parent does the same thing for their children.

Chapter 5:21 says we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. While on earth, Jesus always put others' needs ahead of his own. It is by his example we should follow. The rest of Chapter 5 and part of chapter six explains the different relationships we have and how mutually submitting to one another creates better relationships.

* Wives to husbands (yes, I used to have a problem with this one until I realized it is a mutual submission.)
* Husbands to wives
* Children to parents
* Parents to children
* Slaves to masters (or in our case, workers to boss)
* Masters to slaves (bosses to workers)

And just HOW are we selfish human beings supposed to act like God, imitate Christ and put others needs ahead of our own??? That is expecting a lot out of us, don't you think? Paul explains that to this and to protect ourselves from the evil one, we are to put on the armor of God. God has given us everything we need to behave and love others and protect ourselves:
* Truth- God's truth and plan for our salvation
* Righteousness - We KNOW what to do to live right...we just have to DO IT. And...when we fail, we ask for forgiveness and allow Christ to forgive us and restore our righteousness
* Faith - in God's truth
* Salvation - KNOW that through Christ you are saved!
* The Spirit - Believe that he lives in you and will help protect you and help you to live righteously.
* Prayer - pray at all times, in all occasions, pray all kinds of prayers...just keep on praying.

WHEW! That was a lot of information and a lot of promises...but it sounds like good advice to me. There's nothing too mysterious in that! Love God, love your neighbor (EVERYONE) and serve others. Sounds like a way to live a life of love.

Monday, October 10, 2011

NTC DAY 29 - The good farmer knows...

My memory verse for this week:
"Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other." --  Galatians 5:25-26

NTC Day 29
Luke 8 and Galatians 4-6

My dad was a farmer. He had some acres in hay to feed his animals through the winter and he had some acres in corn to grind for feed for his animals as well. If those fields didn't do well, he would have to buy hay and feed for his sheep and cows, and that was costly. It was to his benefit to raise good crops. He had good soil so if he planted well and the weather cooperated, he usually had good results. But, he had to take care of those fields, giving them good fertilizer and making sure the weeds didn't overtake the crops.

In Luke 8, Jesus tells the parable of the seeds. We know the one...if seeds are scattered along the way in the paths, the devil comes along and takes away the word from their hearts. Those planted in the rocks aren't deep enough to survive the trials and tests of life. Those planted in the thorns get the word choked out of them by life's worries and they don't mature. Those planted in the good soil hear the word and flourish, producing a good crop.

That's how the parable ends, but there is more too it. Just like my dad knew...even seeds planted in good soil need tending and care. In Galatians, Paul is explaining this to the church in Galatians. They were planted in good soil...they heard the word, and believed, but they are going back to their old ways of being tied to the law and religious practices, and their crop was being destroyed.

Paul is desperately trying to get them (and us today too!) to see that it is by faith in Christ that we are saved, not by our works or by following the law. 

Going to church and following certain religious practices and following the law is not bad...all those things keep us in contact and in relationship with Christ. But...if we open our hearts and let our faith in Christ allow the Spirit to take control of our lives... the Spirit will guide us PAST our sinful nature...THAT is what saves us! 

We sing a song in KidsPraise about the fruits of the, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. If we are living with THOSE fruits in our lives everyday...then the sinful nature has no room to flourish in our lives. Does that mean we don't sin? Absolutely not! We can't be perfect and live with all of those fruits thriving perfectly all the time. But...when we allow the Spirit to fill us with love, and love be what we live by everyday, we will find ourselves more able to fight off the sinful nature that seeks to destroy us.

It is the law that makes us aware of our sinful nature. It is wrong to is wrong to is wrong to steal...and so forth. But...if we were ONLY judged by the way we followed the law, if THAT were the only thing that decided our eternal life, we would ALL be in trouble!

There are those who do a good job following the law. They watch their own behavior and make sure they aren't breaking any laws. The problem with these people...they get so obsessed with following the law that they become self-righteous and critical and judgmental of others. The only things that end up coming out of self-righteousness, judgement and criticism is cruelty and hatred. When such a person sins himself, (which he is bound to do) he sees the sins of others even more and lets self hatred turn into hatred of others.

God knew this...he gave us the law so we would be aware, but he gave us Christ to be saved. It is through that faith that we come new creations. Not creations that never sin, but creations that let faith and the Spirit guide us through life, fighting off our sinful nature and loving those around us. 

So, if we want that Spirit within us...we have to KNOW that God's word was planted in the good soil of our hearts and then TAKE CARE of those seeds by giving it food and water to make it grow (reading the Bible and going to church to be fed.) When you open your heart to God's word, you will grow and flourish and produce a good crop.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

NTC DAY 27 He still leads me...even when I am a cry baby!

This week's memory verse:
"Therefore since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart." 2 Corinthians  4:1

It is early on Sunday morning, before my busy day starts. I am feeling myself draw away again...what I seem to do when things get hard. Whatever back issue I have going on, pain has become the norm instead of occasionally. Isn't it funny...the pain should be a reminder to pray more, shouldn't it? But, as I look back at my behavior over the last week, instead of praying more, I have whined more and sulked more and felt sorry for myself.

I have read Luke and Paul this week. Their words are good reminders of God's love and mercy through Christ's pain and sacrifice. Luke tells the story of Jesus' ministry and Paul tells us (through his letters to the Corinthians) how God wants us to live and worship and love each other. 

If I can whine about my pain even after reading of Christ's pain, imagine what a cry baby I would be if I hadn't been reading God's word all week! 

Life is sometimes hard...that is the plain hard truth. As much as I would like to believe in sunshine and rainbows all the time...we wouldn't even have the rainbows if we didn't have the rain!!! I am writing this as an encouragement to myself, but I bet there are many more out there like me.

I believe...I have faith in a loving and caring God...I believe in God's miracles and in his healing. In times when I am not able to do what I want to do, in times when pain gets in the way and tries to steal my joy...I need to hang on to what I learn each time I open the Bible. I need to cling to my faith, even when it is small...God still leads me with extending grace, his mercies are new each day. No matter what comes, he will keep my soul and I can rest in that knowledge and chase away the whiny baby thoughts!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

NTC Day 25 - We too can put a "ding in the universe"

My memory verse this week:
"Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart." 2 Corinthians 4:1

NTC Day 24
Luke 4 and 2 Corinthians 7-9
(I apologize...I think I had my days numbered wrong in the last few days.)

Luke 4 is filled with a lot of important stuff! First, Jesus is tempted by the Devil in the desert. The Devil keeps taunting Jesus to prove his power..."IF you are the son if God..." The Devil knows all too well who Jesus is! He tries to bring him down, make him fail, thwart the plans of God. The Devil is not dumb and uses temptations that might have worked on a regular man...but Jesus was no ordinary guy! He WAS God and knew what he was supposed to do, even at his weakest moment.

While the Devil is not dumb...he is blind. He knows the power of God but doesn't realize that he will NEVER win! He STILL thinks he can win! But Jesus sets the best example for us...he used God's own words to fight him off and send him away. What a great idea for us even today...put God's word into our minds and hearts and be able to pull those verses out to fight the temptations that come to us every day.

I usually write these messages in total quiet. But today, as I write this on my IPhone, I am listening to the people on the Today Show talk about the impact of the life of Steve Jobs. The creator of the very instrument I am using at the moment had such an impact on the lives of us all, whether you have an Apple product or not. Jobs said he "wanted to put a ding in the universe." It seems that he did just that.

Humans need people to look up to. We need visionaries who make a difference in this world. But...we can't always leave that job to others. We should each strive to make a difference in this world. We have an excellent example to follow...Jesus. If we study how Jesus lived, worshiped, loved, and moved the world, we too can learn how to move the world.

Jesus talked and taught a lot about love. And he loved even when those around him were NOT lovable. He loved even when his life was ending. If we each could love those around us with just a fraction of the love Jesus showed...we would make a difference in the world.

Steve Jobs made a difference in the computer world and the strength he showed during the last years if his life has been an inspiration to many. I thank him for his contributions to this world. Through Christ's love for me and the world, I hope I can put a ding in the universe as well!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Prepare the way and let your light shine!

My memory verse this week:
"Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart." 2 Corinthians 4:1

NTC Day 23
Luke 3 and 2 Corinthians 4-6

Luke 3 describes John the Baptist's ministry. He was baptizing people and preaching about the coming of the Christ. People started going to hear and see John because it was "the thing" to do...some were "rubber-neckers"....they wanted to see what was going on and what the fuss was all about. John called them out on this. 

They listened to John preach about how they must change their lives and they then asked him how they should do that. He gives them a preview of Jesus' teachings...give your things to those who have not; tax collectors should be honest and not take more than they are due; soldiers should behave honorably with no shake downs and blackmails to get more than their due.

John seems so serious and solemn. But, when I read about John's ministry, I can't help but think of the musical "Godspell." I see him as joyously preparing people for something better...inviting them to leave the trappings of this life behind and joining the way to a better life.

In the opening song of the 1973 musical "Godspell" we hear John singing alone "Prepare ye the way if the Lord." He is CALLING OUT to those with open ears to come. You then see a few people in the crowded streets leaving their jobs and old ways, and joining John for a joyous baptizing in a fountain. Even though being baptized is a very serious event, it is such a  joy-filled event too! Soon, the whole group is singing along with John about preparing the way for the Lord! They were so happy, they just couldn't hold it in...they were letting their light shine!

2 Corinthians 4 says that the god of this age (the devil) has blinded unbelievers to the light of Christ. We wonder, if people can't see and won't believe, what's the use of sharing our faith in Christ with nonbelievers? But...what was one miracle that Jesus performed over and over? Making the blind see! Through Jesus, God CAN AND WILL take the devil's blindfold off of their eyes and they WILL see!

We who know and believe in Christ have his light deep inside us, treasured away in our "jars of clay"...our human bodies. Through our cracks...the hardships and trials that Christ has walked us through, that light escapes for the world to see. 

Those trials and difficulties that cracked our human bodies are only temporary...By comparison, they are NOTHING to the glories we will receive in heaven with Christ!!! So, we fix our eyes on heaven and away from the troubles of this life. By doing so, our light WILL shine and others can not help but see and be drawn to that light of our hope in Christ!

Yes, some may call us "Jesus freaks" or crazy in Christ, as they did Paul in 2 Corinthians 5. But if we stay close to God and his word, and trust in Christ, we know that we are NOT crazy, but are a new creation!

2 Corinthians 6 confuses me a little bit, because it says we are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers and that we are to be separate from them. I think many interpret this to mean we are not to associate with unbelievers...BUT...if that is true, how are we to let our light shine to them? I think I understand Paul to mean that we are not to participate in the activities of the nonbelievers. In order to "make disciples of all nations," we NEED to be IN the world...just not OF the world.

The Message Translation of 2 Corinthians 6:17 - So leave the corruption and compromise; leave it for good. Don't link up with those who will pollute you. Run to your Heavenly Father, be His daughter or son.

I have a friend who has a biker ministry. He looks like a biker and rides a Harley, and has a long beard and tattoos and hangs out in bars with other bikers. He gets to know unbelievers in THEIR environment...where they are comfortable. He is kind and loving to all...and when they know and trust him...THEN he shares the good news with them. He even has a Biker Church now! His clay jar is full of cracks and Christ's light is shining BRIGHTLY through it!!! I want to be just like him, because....he is acting just like Christ!

How can you prepare the way for the Lord in this world and let your light shine so others can see today???

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

NTC Day 23 - It's all a matter of the heart...

My memory verse this week:
"Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart." 2 Corinthians 4:1

NTC Day 23
Luke 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 1-3

Our hearts are miraculous things. In the body, the heart is the pump that keeps everything running. Without it, nothing in the body would be able to work. While the brain sends signals to our muscles and nerves and enables us to speak, move and live, without the heart, the brain wouldn't get the blood and oxygen it needs to work. It is also in the heart that seems to house our spirit...or someplace deep inside us. My heart goes out to heart is filled with love, my heart is broken...

The heart is mentioned several times in both the Luke and 2 Corinthians readings for today. 

* "And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." - Luke 1:17 (Zechariah speaking of his son John the Baptist)
* "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." -- Luke 2:19 (After the birth of Jesus and the visit from the shepherds.)
* "The he (Jesus) went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart." -- Luke 2:51 (After Jesus had been missing and was found in "his Father's house")
* "...set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."--2 Corinthians 1:22 (Speaking of Jesus)
* "For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you." --2 Corinthians 2:4 (Paul, speaking to the people of Corinth)
* "You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. -- 2 Corinthians 3:3 

From all of these verses we see that it is in our hearts that we feel joy, anguish, memories, but more importantly, it is where the Spirit comes to live.

Like Mary, there are many things I treasure up and ponder in my heart. I want my heart to be open to allow Christ to write on the tablet of my heart so I can pass those lovely words on to those I meet.

I don't always feel like my heart is full of love...lately, I have felt a little anguish, worry and hurt in my heart, and that can stand in the way of what God wants to do in my heart and through my heart. Today, I pray that my spirit is lifted and my heart is opened to the love and power of the Holy Spirit within me! I pray the same for you, my friends!

Monday, October 3, 2011

NTC Day 22 - Take heart and keep going...

My memory verse this week:
"Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart." 2 Corinthians 4:1

NTC Day 22
Mark 15-16 and 1 Corinthians 14-16

Have you ever woken up in a foul mood and you don't really know why? That is the way my day began, and I have growled at my daughter, my dog, my cat, my car, and myself. Everything I have touched so far this morning has not turned out right. I am tired and have so much to do this week...I am having one of those overwhelmed moods that make me sad for no good reason.

I read my NTC chapters earlier this morning, but I didn't take time to write on my blog. I thought maybe if I went back to God's word and started my day would be better. I was searching through this week's readings for a memory verse, God sent me a little message through the verse I chose. 

God gave me my blog ministry, and the Children's and music ministries I take part in at church. Through the spiritual gifts and talents he gave me, I have the great opportunity to share my faith with others. But, writing every day, getting lessons and songs ready for each Sunday, on top of my full time job and taking care of my family...I can come to times when I feel it's all too much and I can't do it. But 2 Corinthians 4:1 reassures me because I remember that it's God I am doing things for and it's God's mercy from which i can draw my strength. At moments like these when I am tired and think I can't continue...I can take a moment to pause and let God recharge my spiritual batteries.

Today's readings in Mark and 1 Corinthians remind us what Jesus did for us. Mark 15 replays the sad and brutal crucifixion and death of Jesus. Mark 16 tells us of the hope that comes from his resurrection. We learn that Jesus went through that horrible experience FOR us. 

While in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul continues to teach the people in the church of Corinth how to maintain order and worship within their church, (I have a few issues with a couple of things...) he goes on to explain the importance of believing in the resurrection of Christ. Through his death, Jesus paid our debt for our sins, but through his resurrection we have God's victory over sin and death. When we believe this, we do not serve Christ in vain in our various ministries.

That takes me back to gaining strength and heart from Jesus as I serve him in the works God prepared me to do. Sitting here in prayer this morning, I feel as if I CAN keep going with taking care of my family, doing my best at work, keeping up on my blog postings,  preparing for my KidsPraise lessons and practicing my songs for choir and Hearts for Worship. Written down in a list, it looks like a lot...but it's the work God prepared ahead of time for me to do and I will not lose heart and I will do my best to continue.

Are you feeling overwhelmed with the many tasks you have to do? Take a moment to stop and think about the things you are doing and why you are doing them. If you give him a chance, God will breathe his breath into you and recharge your batteries too so you can take heart and keep going!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

NTC day 21 - Sunday blessings

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 21
Mark 13-14 and 1 Corinthians 11-13 (I read the wrong verses yesterday...those verses were supposed to be 1 Corinthians 8-10)

I will be brief this, really, I will! I did read the chapters for today, but have run out of time before getting ready for church. 

I am finding much enjoyment and challenge in this New Testament Challenge. It is both reassuring and convicting me at the same time. 

This morning, as I dragged my tired body out of bed and sat down in my chilly house to read, I am reminded how blessed I really am. 

I thank God for my busy life. I have so much to be thankful for...I hope I can BE thankful! When my back is aching, my bank account is low, when my eyes are drooping and I feel fatigue set in, Lord help me remember my blessings and be thankful I am alive to experience the trials along with the blessings.

As I read through the NTC and am challenged by what I am reading, (Today in Mark 13-14 Jesus talks about the difficult times ahead and his second coming and then we read the sad story of the beginning of the end of Jesus' life.) I am thankful for a way to reach out to others through this blog. Thank you, dear friends for reading and connecting and sharing with me. Blessings to you all today!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

NTC Day 20 - Love is the greatest!

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 20
Mark 11-12 and 1 Corinthians 11-13

Love...In Mark 12:29-31 Jesus once again answers the question about what is the greatest's all about love, loving God and loving your neighbor. And later in 1Corinthians 13, known as the "love chapter," we learn about what love is. With so much time spent on teaching us about love, why is it that we spend so little time REALLY loving anybody?

When Jesus is talking with one of the teachers of the law about the greatest command, he first uses the words of one of the most sacred Jewish passages, called the Shema, (meaning "hear".) The Jews to this day use this passage to begin each synagogue service.

"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' (Mark 12:29, 30 NIV)

And, as we have read, Jesus goes on to say that we are also to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Do you think that if we are really loving God with all we have...heart, soul, mind and strength...wouldn't we have no other choice but to love others even more than ourselves? It is easy to SAY we love God, but it is not so easy to say AND act as if we love God or others MORE than ourselves. God knows this and this is why loving and knowing God is a process and takes time and training.

1 Corinthians so far has been hard for me. It seems to be a lot about HOW we should act and behave and things we should and shouldn't do. Some of it makes perfect sense, even in today's culture, but some things just don't seem to make sense. And, as I mentioned yesterday, it seems we as humans, we as the church...or we as whatever denomination we choose to be, seem to "cherry-pick" which of Paul's teachings we believe to be important enough to follow.

For example, 1 Corinthians 11 deals with the roles of men and women. There are some denominations that follow this particular section strictly...the man is the head and the woman is to submit to the man. In some churches, men and women are strictly separated and women hold no leadership positions within the church at all. Paul goes on to discuss hair and head coverings. Some denominations follow this practice and the women don't cut their hair. Some cover their heads at all times, some do not. This is the part that confuses me...these parts of Paul's words seem like religious PRACTICES to me. Are we, as Christ followers to follow ALL the practices Paul discusses?

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul discusses spiritual gifts. God has arranged in the body (church as a whole and in each individual church) to have members with different spiritual gifts. In this way, God employs diversity to produce unity. It takes all of us and all our talents and gifts to keep the body strong!

But, chapter 13 goes on to explain, no matter the gift, they are all worthless without LOVE! This is the famous "love chapter" that is recited at many weddings. It explains exactly what love is. I think we should all read those words every day, or better yet, commit them to memory and recite them every day.

Whatever denomination you belong to, whatever gifts and talents you have, you are expected to treat your neighbor (EVERYONE YOU MEET) with love. 

Yesterday, we talked about disciplining those members of the church who are living immoral lives. If God wants the church to do that, there are those within the church who have the gift of teaching, wisdom and discipline. It is THEIR job to deal with that issue and to deal with it in LOVE. Since love is kind, that issue should be treated with kindness as well. The rest of is in the church should NOT be involved in that delicate issue...we should act in LOVE to that brother or sister in Christ and treat them with patience...not dishonoring them...not reacting in anger and not keeping record of their wrongs...we should not delight in their evil ways, but show them the truth and we should protect them, give them hope and help them to persevere through their difficult time and through their sins.  THAT is real love!

All that is HARD for us because it doesn't come comes from God because God IS love! We need to rely on him to help us to show that kind of love to the people in our lives and in our church.