Humbly Saved

Have you ever been condemned for telling the truth?

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin.” Hebrews 4:15

In Mark 14:62 and Mark 15:31-32, we see Jesus telling the truth. He admitted who He is. The problem? No one believed Him.

He was honest. He also understood that no sinful human would understand His actions, that day, or, today.

Recall, Jesus was not really fighting against His human captors. The human voices shouted Satan’s accusations. They would hurl insult and heap mental and physical injury upon an innocent Jesus.

While even today, centuries after the fact, it’s amazing, even miraculous, that Jesus didn’t defend Himself.

He knew He was in the right.

Even if no one else knew or understood.

Even when the people questioned His authority and authenticity.

He also knew after Satan had done his absolute worst to beat down Jesus in every way, the fulfillment of the most important miracle to mankind would materialize. The barrier between God and humanity would be burned; our Jesus bridge built.

And Jesus Himself saved, raised from the dead and reunited with His father.

Sometimes, doing the right “God-ordained” action might cause others to see us as weak or simple. I do not pen that lightly, knowing the agony and pain sometimes perpetuated by such choices.

Yet, I want to follow Jesus’ example. I want to joyfully greet God one day in heaven, knowing I was willing to do whatever He requested.

Oh Lord, on this Good Friday, as we recall Your intense, personal sacrifice, we humbly Thank You.

We thank You for constructing a concrete way to reach our heavenly Father.

We thank You for showing us how to live this life on earth and how to learn to fix our gaze on God.

Please help us to recall it, to live it, and to treasure it. In Your Son’s precious name, Amen.

A Heart Longing

Marcy finally pulled her car into her parents’ country driveway. She heard the soft crunch of the gravel under the tires as she slowed further. The huge white snowflakes floated lazily onto the mountainous drifts, bestowing a perfect peace upon her.

Her childhood home was an illuminated beacon in the darkened fields. Her heart stirred as she spied her childhood pet, a cream-colored calico cat, slowly saunter off her perch on the front porch. Taffy was curious who was here.

Parking in the driveway her dad was out to greet her before she could exit the car.

“Dad,” she exclaimed as she clamored out into his embrace, “It’s so good to be home!”

“So good to see you, sweetie,” he said as he released her in search of her luggage. She smiled as she glanced down to her feet. Taffy purred loudly as she rubbed against her calves.

It was so good to be home.

By two evenings later, on Christmas Eve, good food and good laughter had lightened her heart and soothed her spirit. She had temporarily forgotten her new station in life and its’ accompanying concerns. She reveled in the familiar comforts of home.

Greatly anticipating visiting the small white church of her childhood and her dearly loved grandparents, and dressed quickly and climbed into the car with her parents.

She enjoyed the conversation through the countryside, making the minutes fly. As she ascended the church stairs she recalled attending Sunday school as a small girl.  She remembered her teacher gazing into each face surrounding the kindergarten table and proclaiming, “Yes Stacy, Jesus loves you.  Yes Marcy, Jesus loves you.”

How easy it was to believe her declaration when she was still in her single digits.

She smiled. What better night than tonight to meet Jesus again.

After several hugs to her grandparents and longtime friends, she settled into the pew between her parents. The old organ joyously proclaimed “Joy to the World” as Marcy watched the aged preacher slowly work his way to the pulpit, patting several members of his flock along the way.

“Who came tonight hoping to greet the King of kings, the Prince of peace?” He paused, his kind eyes glancing around the room. “God sent his Son to earth in the least intimidating form possible: a baby. He did that so we wouldn’t be afraid to come to Him.”

That resonated with Marcy. Facing all the harsh realities she witnessed these last months, she had learned to fear much.

But, she didn’t need to fear Jesus. And, Jesus was King. She didn’t need to fear He couldn’t make things right.

As the preacher stepped from the pulpit and the choir reminded them of the angels’ response to the birth of Jesus, Marcy closed her eyes.

She soaked in the peace of that moment. She basked in the candlelit glow which highlighted the cross, proclaiming Jesus as royalty over the earth.

Marcy’s eyes opened as she realized: “I must decide if I will allow Him to be King of my heart too.”

 

 

Author note: This is Part II in a three-part series. Part I is in the preceding post. Next week, Part III.

A Heart Searching

Slamming the trunk closed, Marcy sighed as she walked over to the driver’s door. She was ready to go home for the holidays.

Home.

More than a structure from her childhood. A place filled with people who loved her.

Shaking her head to clear the threatening tears, she slid behind the wheel and buckled up. For the first time in days, she looked at her face in the rearview mirror.

Her eyes looked old. They told a tale of far more life experience than her twenty-two years would suggest.

College was hard. Not so much the academic side, although she’d had to work plenty late hours with the books. No, doing and processing life on her own was not as freeing as she’d once envisioned.

Her declared major threw her into people’s hospital rooms and into their heart-wrenching situations.

She reflected on all the sad scenes she’d not only witnessed but was given a role in which to play. One night she was assigned a young teen in for a simple appendectomy, but was later diagnosed with leukemia.

Another night she cared for a gentleman whose lungs were slowly filling up with fluid. “We’ll keep him comfortable,” the charge nurse had promised his family. Marcy knew her job was to help keep him comfortable until he passed on.

Driving hours to reach home she thought about her childhood.  Why did it seem so easy back then? As a little girl, she’d played among the trees in the afternoons and attended the little white church on Sundays.

She sighed again. Between school and work, she’d dropped her church attendance to maybe once a month.

Yet her heart searched for answers. Answers she thought she once knew. Maybe I need to get back to church. Maybe God has the answers.

She flipped on the radio contemplating if God could help dissolve her disillusionment over life and what she’d thought would be her life’s work.

A bible verse from long ago popped into her mind, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,’” she thought there was more but couldn’t remember it.

“Lord, I truly hope you have plans for me,” she thought as she peered through the snowflakes falling on the windshield, “because I just don’t know anything anymore.”

She settled back into her seat as she sped toward home.

Reflections:

 

Have you ever felt like Marcy? How did you find your way out?

 

This is Part I in a series of three. Return here next Friday (December 15) to learn what Marcy discovers at home.

 

 

Surprised But Blessed

I never would have dreamt this, I reflected. I found myself in a completely unexpected position.  Yet God’s fingerprints were clearly evident all over it.

As that situation unfolded, I had continuously prayed, asking God to close that door if I should not walk through it.

Yet, the door swung wide open.

God, close the door if I shouldn’t go there.

Yet, if remained open, refusing to budge.

I felt truly ambivalent about this unplanned opportunity. On one hand it was perfect for me and my family. But… it wasn’t wrapped up in the package I envisioned.

I don’t get to see the whole picture just yet… but God can.

He knows the plans he has for me, plans for my future, plans to give me hope.

After a while in that new opportunity, I knew it was right for me. I can’t imagine I would ever have authored it, but I’ve already been blessed by it.

As I reflect on my surprise, I ask myself, what do I truly know about my future? I can’t see all, know all, or imagine all. But I know the One who does and I trust Him completely.

Even with the unexpected.

 

Reflections:

How can I willingly relinquish my ideas when God points a different direction?

How can I surrender my plan before God, and accept what He does?

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, how often do I get caught up in what my wishes demand?  Remind me to simply trust in You, that Your ways are above my ways.  You know the plans You have for me, plans to give me a future with hope, plans to prosper me and not to harm me. I can trust in You. Thank You. In Jesus’ name, Amen

The Power Of A Woman, Part II

Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.” I Sam 25:17 (NIV)

Abigail lived in a time when a woman wasn’t formally educated and was never superior to a man, especially a husband.  She lived with her husband, “a mean and surly man,” as he was known.  Her opinion wasn’t considered. Her words weren’t counted. How easy it would have been for her to hear her servant’s report and to wring her hands in despair!  Her Nabal had done it again! Now he’d offended this David, the King’s trusted leader of the army. Nabal had refused David’s request for supplies while his troops were hungry (and after David had honored him), and now David was coming to kill all their men.

Abigail lost no time. (verse 18) This beautiful woman was also intelligent, decisive, and confident. She quickly loaded up food and set out to alleviate both the men’s hunger and their wrath at injustice.  As David spied the arrival of animals laden with food, he also glimpsed Abigail for the first time, a determined woman bowing at his feet, offering all Nabal had refused. She delivered food, honor, and humility to this anointed future-king.

He listened to her astute assessment and opinion of his character and his calling. He also heard words of wisdom from a woman who feared God.

Her words and actions assuaged his anger and even prompted him to praise God for saving him through Abigail’s initiative.

“May you be blessed for your good judgement and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.” I Samuel 25: 33-34 (NIV)

Women of integrity are confident in who they serve and quick at observation,

Women of integrity are decisive and won’t waste time on fruitless conversation.

Women of integrity are quick to hold men to their calling,

Women of integrity help keep God’s chosen from falling.

 

Abigail made atonement for her husband’s mistakes while only speaking the truth about her husband. She honored the anointed future king with his requested food to preserve the physical strength of his troops and words of wisdom and honor to preserve the integrity of David’s calling. She was wise enough to understand the position to which God called her, and humble enough to realize when God called her to a different role as her days progressed. She not only thought it over, as the servant suggested, she quickly devised a plan that honored God and saved both men’s lives and the integrity of the future king’s reputation. A powerful woman indeed.

 

Reflections:

Make a mental timeline of the various roles Abigail played: wife to a “mean and surly man”, a woman of faith saving her people, and a woman marrying a future king.

Now overlay that timeline with a graph measuring her humility. Once people taste power, many often refuse to relinquish it.  Is this how Abigail apparently responded?

What motivated her to respond as she did?

What motivates you?

 

Please feel free to share your thoughts on Abigail’s motivations.  Hearing a different point of view helps us each to learn to better think outside the box.

Thanks for reading! Please return by Monday, May 2, for the next post.

 

Unmasked

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16: 7b NIV

He walked into church, a trained smile upon his lips; one that never seemed to reach his eyes. No one wants to truly know what I think, he thought to himself.  People, even “good” people in church, truly prefer the mask.

Sometimes people endure struggles they think they must keep to themselves. Maybe they have confided before, and had that confidence shattered. Maybe they have bought into the lie that their unique struggle is truly theirs alone.  That no one would understand.

That no one wants to understand.

When our hearts or spirits are in a pile of shattered pieces, what should we do? Should we embrace the mask?

As we witness others in painful circumstances should we encourage, or at least allow them, to find anonymity behind the mask?

Whatever secret struggle you might be fighting today, and however firmly your mask is fastened, there is One who always sees behind the mask.  As our key verse for today reminds us, He not only sees behind the mask, but also sees directly into the heart.

And, He loves unconditionally.

Even the heart that has been reduced to a pile of jagged, painful pieces.

He sees.

He still loves.

And, He wants to help.

Will you allow yourself to be honest with Him?

Reflections:

How can I become more transparent, to dispel the wrong perception that I have it all together?

How can I become more approachable, and sensitive to help others who are hiding behind a mask?

Prayer:

 Thank You God that You are indeed the God who sees me, who knows me, and still loves me unconditionally.  Please help me to be honest with You and with myself about my struggles in this life. Thank You for always loving me, Amen.

Thanks for reading! Please return by Monday, May 11, for the next devotion.

Lean On Me

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

“How are you?”

“Fine.”

That conversation kept repeating itself by various people.  Although I knew no one, I suspected those answering the question were all lying.

Why?

I was sitting in an urgent care waiting room.  Those asking the question were nurses escorting patients back to the physician.

Why would you visit urgent care if you were ‘fine?’

Yet, how many of us automatically answer we’re “fine” when asked, when in reality we’re anything but?

On Sunday mornings we paste a light-hearted smile on our faces, chit-chat with other members at church and return home.  Maybe we truly worshipped from the soul.  Maybe our spirits were stirred by the sermon.

But how often have we left church having shared our hearts?

How often do we allow ourselves to be vulnerable?

I’m not necessarily advocating revealing your heart to the weary soul ahead of you in the check-out line; but the ability to be honest and transparent with your brothers and sisters in Christ is not only a gift, but an expectation.

I recall speaking years ago with an exchange student who had come to the U.S.  She couldn’t believe people would greet her in the hallway, ask how she was, and keep on going not even waiting for a reply!

When I lived in Germany years later, I was astonished the answer I received when I asked people how they were: “Thank you!” There, that question showed genuine interest and concern for others.

As Christians we are called to sincerely love.  We are called to be able to share of ourselves, and our souls.

Let’s be sincere in our greeting of each other, and in how we answer one another.

Reflections:

Monday:  Read Ecclesiastes 4:9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.

Read 1Peter 5:8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Is it a smart idea to go swimming alone?

How about swimming in shark invested waters?

When we believe “I can do this alone,” we are as safe spiritually as if we blindly dove into the ocean and started swimming straight out, alone.

Do I believe the lie, ‘I should handle life on my own.’ Do my actions follow my stance? (If you see a personal discrepancy, you are not alone! Let’s pray for all Christians to look for a confidante.)

Tuesday: Read Ecclesiastes 4: 10. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

Read Philippians 4:19  And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

Christ promises to supply all our needs. Sometimes, that supply is something tangible like a blanket to cover a cold baby, sometimes it’s something spiritual, like a burning fervor for truth, and sometimes it’s emotional, like a warm human heart to hold you through life’s storms.

Am I fiercely independent, ignoring how God wants to supply my needs?

Wednesday: Read Ecclesiastes 4:11  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?

The practical implications of this verse are straight forward.  (Especially to those of us in a record-setting winter right now!)

What are the spiritual implications of resting on a luke-warm or even cold faith? How have others warmed you spiritually?

Thursday: Read Ecclesiastes 4:12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

We are blessed to have the companionship of other believers.  But that third strand, a personal faith in God held by both people, is what further strengthens us as individuals.  Without that third strand, our cord will eventually fray.  Do I have Christian confidants sharing my faith and, my life? How can I find one if I don’t?

Friday: Once there was a little boy who was afraid of the dark.  His parents repeatedly told him he was safe in his room.  His parents were in the house, all the doors were locked, and even Jesus was right at the boy’s bedside. The little boy agreed all that was great but, as he told his parents, “I need someone with skin on!” He needed human comfort.

Read Matthew 26:36-38 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Even Jesus, the Son of God, needed someone with skin on.  Do I really think I’m any different?

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father,  Thank you for Your constant provision in my life.  Thank you for the friends who keep me accountable, who provide that human touch.  Please help me to be the friend, and the person You are calling me to be.  Amen.

Thank you for reading!  Please return by Monday, March (Spring is coming!) 3 for the next post.

It’s Not About The Numbers

What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish. Matthew 18:12-14

I’ve been thinking about numbers a lot lately.  For the second school year, I’m organizing a Mom’s Bible study.  Last year we had twice as many Moms as this year.  And I can’t tell you how many people ask me, how many moms I have coming.

I have felt inadequate because the numbers are down this year.  Not that I had much control over that.  The main draw of moms is from a group who are not members of our church, and most have only one year in our preschool, so every year we have a  different group. But I still feel a bit shy about admitting we have a smaller group.

But with smaller numbers comes many blessings. We bonded almost immediately and have had many incredible discussions.  They have each inspired me, challenged me, and I so look forward to each week with the greatest of anticipation.

Recently I was talking to a youth pastor who was facing the same challenge: many seniors from his youth group have graduated and his group is significantly smaller thanks to a much younger group, and fewer kids.  No one quit.  It was nothing in his control.  Kids simply got older.  I pointed out to him that he was probably having a greater impact as he had more time with each.  And, this could be a future blessing.  If he had time to train these youngsters now, he might just have a stellar group of leaders in the future.  And that is what we need: young people who can become tomorrow’s church leaders.

As I prayed about this common theme I saw repeated in my life, I thought about Jesus and His declaration: He would leave 99 for just one lost sheep.

For us, we should focus on whoever God puts in our path.  Whether it be 100 or just 1.  Because God can use each of us to make a difference to just 1.  And before you know it, we can each get a ripple effect going.

And, should we not be more concerned with the one God calls us to, instead of the hundreds He has planned for others?

Reflections:

Monday: How do you measure your success?  Is it about numbers? Numbers of what?  How else could you measure it?

Tuesday: Have you ever felt inadequate in your personal ministry, because you felt you were having little impact? Did you give up, or persevere, confident God was using you?

Wednesday: Have you ever been the “1”, the “1” person who needed God and felt alone, yet someone made time for you?  Thank that person today.

Thursday:  Is there an area you have been avoiding, not because you are unskilled, but because the small numbers keep you from feeling “called to” this ministry?  Pray about that situation, and see where you are led.

Friday: Let’s thank Jesus for setting the precedent that one is more than enough! Thank you Lord, for demonstrating that one is sometimes all we are called to, and one is more than enough.  Please help my heart be open to whatever You have for me, and for my mind to never underestimate what Your power can do.  Thank you for Your love, Amen.

Service With A Smile, Part II

“Serve one another in love.” Galatians 5:13

Last week we focused on serving one another.  This week, let’s focus on how  we can continue serving, with a smile!

Does service ever become mundane, or even, gasp, drudgery?  do you continue to serve because, well, you feel you have to? To continue to pour yourself out into service with a servant’s heart, you need to be refilled.

Refilled.

Refilled with what?

Refilled by whom?

Ask any pastor, Christian counselor, or anyone who takes his faith seriously, service can drain an enthusiastic spirit. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the serving, that our servant hearts are depleted. There is always work to do, someone who needs us, an encouraging word to say or write.  Yet, we need to stop and allow ourselves time out.

None of us can go it alone.  We need our hearts held be the best servant.  Have our minds, energy, and souls rejuvenated by Jesus Himself. We must be proactive.  We often  allow ourselves to get distracted by urgent things, instead of focusing on the important, truly important things.

First and foremost, we must spend time refueling with the Lord.

Not for the right words,

Not for inspiration,

Not for direction.

Spend time with Him, in His presence, to draw closer to, and build your personal relationship with Him.

Enter into a regular devotion time just to know God better.  Learn more of His word.  Just be in His presence.

No matter what else is happening  in your life, don’t hijack your devotional time to use it as research time, as work time, or even as problem solving time.

Once refueled and on the right track, although it may surprise you, the other stuff will come:  the right words, the inspiration, and the right direction.

But none of it will come consistently if God is eclipsed from the equation.

He did create each of us to do His work, but of even more importance, He created each of us to worship Him, to love Him, and to know Him.

Prioritize time with Him, and not solely on doing His service. You’ll be amazed how energetic you’ll become!

Reflections:

Monday: When life gets busy, how often do I keep my devotional time with the Lord? If it drops from the agenda, how could I reinstate it?

Tuesday: Evaluate your commitments.  Is there something you are doing, because others have projected that onto you, or you feel you would let someone else down; yet you are not necessarily feeling God is calling you to it? The difficulty here, is sometimes we are called to decline good things, for something which is even better.

Wednesday: Is there something you should delete from you commitment list? Determine how to gracefully, without discouraging others, exit that commitment.

Thursday: Spend some time with God.  Sometimes it can take a while to settle all those other thoughts of to-do lists, conversations with others playing in your head, a sports game later in the day, etc!  Find a quiet spot, where you can’t see or hear any distractions. (Closets with the lights out work well, if you don’t fall asleep!)  (Also, if necessary to keep your focus, set a timer to alert you of the time, should you have a limited quantity.)

Really focus on God.  Think about His characteristics.  Humble yourself before Him.  Ask Him to clear your mind.  Listen to what He plants there.

Friday: Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, You have plans for me, things You have authored for me to do.  But before You authored those plans, You created me just to know, love, and serve You.  Please show me how to balance the responsibilities of completing the tasks You have assigned me, with spending time with You and Your word, learning even more about You. Thank you for always holding me in the palm of Your hand. I  can trust You will guide me to the right balance because of Your great love for me.  Thank you!  Amen.

Thank you for reading!  The next post should be up by Monday, October 21.  Have a very blessed week!

Looking Good At The Last Minute

 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives. II Peter 3:10

A few years ago, we had a female parakeet, Clover.  She was rather nippy, and earned herself the nickname, “Bulldog.”  In the first six months we had her, we never saw her preen her feathers or heard her sing.  Our daughters tried to teach her how to talk and tried to train her to rest on them, but to no avail.

Then, our youngest daughter brought home a male parakeet.  “Star” was his name.  He was a beautiful yellow color and seemed rather personable, allowing the girls to hold him and train him.

When we added Star to the cage something amazing happened.  Clover began preening herself. An hour later she was still preening herself.  Two hours later she was still going at it and I was concerned when we noted three large feathers on the floor of the cage, amidst enough small feathers to stuff a Baby Pillow.

My husband jokingly said, “Clover must be so stressed, I’ve let myself go, and now there’s a boy bird here.”

How often do we act grumpy, getting through the day, nipping at whatever annoys us?  We might have great intentions to “someday” pull ourselves together and act as Christ would want us to, but that day isn’t today.  Because, well, I just don’t feel like it.

But Scripture tells us, Jesus will return “Like a thief in the night.”  We don’t know when He’s returning.  We only know He will.  That promise should be enough to spur us each into action.

Like Clover, we need to use the gifts God gave us, today. Clover possessed a beautiful singing voice, but we never heard it until Star arrived.  Clover is now friendlier, allowing some family members to hold her, even riding around on my husband’s shoulders.  And who can call Star back into his cage after he’s been exercising?  Clover.

All in all, she is really a nice bird.  But she hid it before.

Are we waiting for Jesus to arrive for us to act and speak and use our gifts for Him?  We need to choose our words and actions carefully.  We need to act on His calling using the gifts He gave us, today.

Because, like Clover experienced, you may not know when Someone really important is coming.  And, we need to be prepared.

Reflections:

1) Have I asked Jesus to rule my heart?

2) Do I allow Him to filter my words, actions and attitude?

3) What gifts has God given me?

4) What do I discern as His plan for me?  If unsure, or even if you think you know, please spend some time praying about this.  Ask someone who knows you well what he would possibly identify for you.

5) Discern how you are being led to use that gift, and pray about it and act today.  Record your thoughts in a journal or in your Bible.

Thanks for reading!  Please return by Monday, Oct 6 for the next post.