Promised Acceptance

Sandra sank to the floor near her bed in exhausted desperation.

The irony of the spot hit her full on. Years ago, as a child, she would kneel here before bed, conversing with God, just as Mama taught her.

But Mama died. Sandra hadn’t spoken to God since. After years of silence, she cried out to Him but heard no reply.

She was seventeen.

She was pregnant.

She was utterly alone.

God, where did it all go wrong?

All her plans for the future were futile.

Her life would never be the same.

She would never be the same.

Mama would be so disappointed in her. “Don’t let your mistakes define you,” Mama’s words ran through her mind, “instead let the fulfillment of God’s promises define your life.”

As a child she couldn’t comprehend what Mama meant. But now, she pondered…

God, do You still have plans for me, even now? Do You still love me?”

Of course, my child.

“Lord, I’m so sorry for my disobedience, my sin. I want to turn things around, Oh Lord, help me turn things around.”

Six years later, that single mom was waving good-bye to a , blue-eyed, blond haired, excited kindergartener at the bus stop.

As that big yellow bus pulled away with her precious daughter she thought again of her mama’s wise words.

She had not’ let her mistakes define her. She had graduated high school, than beauty school. She had found her way back to God, into His word. She had allowed her heart to soften and grow her childhood faith.

She loved her little girl fiercely. She prayed with her, read the Children’s Bible with her, and took her to church. Her own faith grew as she shared God’s word with her daughter.

It had certainly not been easy, but she had not allowed her mistakes to define her or to rule what she did with her life.

Instead, broken-hearted, soul shattered, she’d held those tattered pieces of her presence in an open hand before the Lord, trusted Him, and relied on Him to carry her back to the good path He had for her.

And He had.

He had redeemed her. He didn’t look at her with contempt or resurrect her sin-stained past when she talked to Him. He saw her heart, a heart cleansed by Jesus and beating for her Heavenly Father.

Each of us has something, or maybe a few somethings, we are ashamed of.

But hiding it, not talking to God about it, pretending it’s not there isn’t the answer.

You see, those negative things we bury deep inside refuse to remain hidden.

Those fragments form a growing shape.

That shape festers until one day it can’t be contained any more, and like lit fireworks, those emotions come bursting forth in an explosion few are likely to forget, least of all the one who lived through the shameful exclamation demanding an explanation.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. No matter what we have done, we can approach God. Like Sandra, we can come before Him broken-hearted, soul shattered, and honestly admit, ‘I have no business being here, but here I am, in a huge mess and I don’t know how to get out. Please change me.’

He can, and if we ask, He will.

He certainly can move heaven and earth!

Dear Heavenly Father, You search me and know me. Please reveal to me anything I’m bottling up or pushing down. Please give me the courage I need to come to You and to find any help necessary. Thank You for the promise of Your faithful love, in Jesus’s name, Amen.

 

 

Lost Love

Do you get nervous meeting new people?

What will he think?

What if I inadvertently offend her?

First impressions matter, we’re told. Some claim employers have a good idea just 7 seconds into an interview if a candidate is a good fit.

In our feeble attempt to get the job, keep the job, give a great impression, or keep someone’s attention, we often attempt to show only a part of ourselves.

The best part.

The pretty part.

The pleasing part.

We hide who we are because we’re afraid we won’t measure up.

Maybe who I am won’t be enough.

Yet Psalm 139 reassures us, relieves us, reasons with us that One does exist who truly knows us. Truly knows our hopes and fears. Knows our bad habits and bad attitudes. Knows our not-so-nice qualities and the percolating questions we are too afraid to ask.

And, He loves us. All of us: the Good, the Bad, and yes, even the Ugly. He even loves the people who hide parts they think should never be seen.

The part which would banish us from the world if the world only knew…

He knows every thought, especially the runaways we fail to take captive.

He knows every word which escaped from an angry tongue.

He knows a hurting heart, hidden from a world we fear might mock, or much worse, not even care.

He knows how desperate we are for love, true love, because HE placed that desire inside each and every one of us.

HE knows us. Every part of us. Guess what? He loves us still!

HE doesn’t break up with us. HE doesn’t fire us. HE doesn’t gossip about us.

He imply, yet profoundly loves us.

You see, He understands.

For we do not have a high priest who doesn’t know our suffering.

Read Psalm 139. Let His words wash your wounds. Let them soak into your soul. Then allow yourself to feel love. Unconditional love. Love that never ends.

Don’t let the enemy try to tell you all the reasons you aren’t worthy. Don’t let him list your faults or indiscretions, or mistakes.

You see, God already knows. HE’s asking you to ask forgiveness, and then He is asking you to forgive yourself.

HE wants to embrace you, yes you! HE wants to whisper “you are forgiven.”

We just need to be honest with Him.

Allow yourself to be loved, truly loved.

 

 

Heart Guard

I am so blessed, I get to go to work today! Sierra thought as she jumped from bed minutes before the alarm sounded.

Humming happily, she buzzed through her workout and breezed into the shower. Smiling as she shampooed, she thought of how she might create today.

Her first commissioned work was foremost on her mind.  She needed to do her ultimate best to boost her work, promote the studio, and hopefully someday earn a comfortable living.

How blessed am I to use my gifts, my passion, to glorify God. Stepping out onto the fluffy, white towel, she suddenly stopped; realizing something which halted her heart.

All week I’ve been thinking of and planning for work each morning, breaking my routine of focusing my thoughts on the Lord. I’m so anxious to use the gifts He gave me, to see what I might accomplish in a career, and so excited to finally see the end product; I’m more focused on what I might create than the Creator who gave me the gift.

Sierra slowly toweled off, her heart deeply troubled. “Lord I didn’t mean for my love of my art to overtake my love for You.”

Proverbs 4:23 quickly came to mind, “Above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Her heart had hung all week on her artwork, her masterpiece-in-the-making. It was filling her final thoughts as she drifted off to sleep and consuming her conscience as she awoke each day. It was forever on her mind, always the top priority.

Not today, she thought, shaking her head. She turned on the Christian radio station, streams of Scripture flowing through the lyrics, soothing her longing soul.

After completing her grooming, she carried her Bible to the breakfast table, vowing to start her day with Jesus. She began a conversation that she would revisit throughout the day.

Can you relate to Sierra? I know I have. I can get so excited about an assignment, especially when ministry related, sometimes I forget the true purpose in pointing life toward God.

In the work He gives us, He wants us serving Him, loving Him. What a blessing to enjoy the assignment! But we need to be on guard that the assignment we get to do does not overtake the position of the One who assigned it to us.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to remember our hearts are to be first and foremost overflowing for God, not for our God-given assignments.

 

He Never Forgets…

She stared down into her steaming mug, the implications of her revelation hitting her dead on.

I got out of the habit. I was consumed by other things. Important things.

But still, how had she abandoned the habit of praying for her girl?

Her mind rewound the years.

She prayed for her baby girl as she rocked her to sleep, staring down into those trusting, innocent eyes, “Lord, may she always love You and serve You all the days of her life.”

As her little girl gathered her lunchbox and left for school, that mom prayed every day, “Lord, please protect her and thank You for going with her. May she always love You and serve You all the days of her life.”

As the thirteen-year-old young lady boarded a bus for a teen youth conference, her heart heavy with the burden of navigating friendships and learning who she was, her mom prayed. “God, please protect her always in all ways. You love her more than I. May she always love you and serve you in all her days.”

As her newly licensed driver took her first solo drive down the street, that mom prayed. “Lord please protect her, bring her home safely. May she always love you and serve you each and every day.”

Then life came down hard on that mom. That season she forgot to pray for her girl. That mom was talking to God about many, many other things. Her girl was grown and doing great things to make any mom proud. Months went by and that mom shockingly discovered her misdeed: she had prayed plenty but not so much for her girl.

Then, she looked around at her girl’s life: her daughter was a lovely lady of faith and loved and served the Lord with her life.

That’s when the words of Lamentations 3:22-23 hit her. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness!”

While her prayers remained consistent for many, many years and had lost regularity only recently; God had honored her prayers, her heart, and had faithfully protected her girl.

The realization left her speechless with tears rolling down her cheeks.

He is so faithful; even when I’m not.

He has great compassion.

His mercy never, ever fails…

 

 

Unconditional

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20b (NIV)

8:00 Monday night. Sighing, I slowly pulled into the garage and turned off my ignition. There was a circus happening inside my house. Upon hearing my car pull in, Tipper, our 85 pound Rottweiler puppy, ran to the garage door. Waiting for anyone to open the door, she’d impatiently glance around, her whole black back-end wagging.

Easing out of my car, I reached into the backseat, withdrawing my computer bag.

A door squeaked.

A flash of black fur hurled at me. Before I could turn around, Tipper was “kissing’ my hand and dragging me by my sleeve into the house.

This dog dearly loves her people! As a work from home mom, I was generally home. Once a week, I would leave for ninety minutes. Once a week.

The other 166 hours I was generally there.

No matter.

Every Monday night I receive the same homecoming. She was ecstatic to see me! She needs to love on me and quickly corralled me into our home, where, once I removed my coat, she seemed satisfied I planned to stay.

Tipper’s forever ecstatic to see me. I can always anticipate receiving an enthusiastic welcome home.

God’s like that.

Even if we’re “there” most of the time. Even if we only left momentarily. He’s ecstatic for our return. He loves to reconnect with us after a separation, no matter how ‘short’ it may seem. He loves us, no matter where we’ve been, what we’ve been doing, and regardless in what state we return.

The important thing is we return.

There are very few places in this world where we can count on unconditional love from someone.

But a dog named Tipper and God are two guarantees!

 

Reflections:

Where have I found unconditional love?

Where am I guaranteed to find it?

 

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, sometimes when I return to You I am weary and burdened. Thank You for welcoming me home with a loving embrace. Thank You for never closing the door on me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Thank you for reading! Please return by Friday, July 29, for the next post!

 

The Power Of A Woman, Part III

“As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, ‘I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you they will say, “This is his wife.”  Then they will kill me but let you live.’” Genesis 12:11-12 NIV

Sarai faced a difficult decision: fulfill her husband’s request and lie – a sin which would separate her from her God, or, obey her God and watch her husband live in fear.

Sarai’s power was not in what she did, or what she said, it was in how she looked. Scripture tells us she was a beautiful woman. Apparently just about everyone thought so. Pharaoh’s officers “praised her to Pharaoh.” Her beauty drew her attention from the ruler of the land.

Her beauty was a gift from God. What did she do with that gift? Did she use it to God’s glory? Did she harness the attention it commanded and seize the opportunity to witness for God?

No.

Sarai chose to follow her husband’s wishes and lie to potentially save his hide.

Her protector asked for her protection.

The end result could have been not only Sarai prostituting her body, but also her very soul.

By allowing this lie to linger on her husband’s lips, she was denying her marriage to Abram. Pharaoh thought she was fair game. Very fair indeed. He really liked the idea of this new prized addition to his harem and was anxious to exult his authority by claiming her as his wife.

Oh, what to do? Should she speak up now? Surely they would kill Abram for his deception. But, must she go through with what was expected?

Oh, if only to escape!

With no identifiable way out, Sarai sat, surrounded by other women who probably regarded her as beautiful, powerful, and enviable.

Yet I would bet, Sarai never once thought of herself in any of these terms.

But God did.

And, He came to her rescue.

He halted Pharaoh’s one-track mind by plaguing not only Pharaoh but all the men in his service with a skin disease. Pharaoh’s lustful appetite was lost, as were the appetites of all the other affected men.

The phenomenon was of so great a scale that Pharaoh questioned Abram and then learned the truth. An angry Pharaoh did not take Abram’s life or his wife. But he did evict him from his country and commanded Abram to carry his accumulated wealth off with him.

God saved Sarai from herself. He loved her as He loves us. He kept her from sin when she found herself between the proverbial rock and hard place.

I don’t know her heart but God did. And maybe, just maybe, God knew she didn’t yet know how to use the power she was given. Maybe she let others try to harness it for her. Maybe, she was afraid of it. Maybe, she just wanted to walk away from it.

Finding herself in a perilous quandary of her own making, she was forced to rely on the power of God.  And God did not disappoint.

He loved her.

He had plans for her.

And He knew those plans.

He intervened and saved her. He also taught Sarai just how powerful He is and that she could fully trust in Him.

 

Reflections:

 

What God-given gifts do I have that I don’t know how to use?

How can I train myself to rely on God’s power?

 

Thanks for reading! Please return by Monday, May 9 for the next post.

 

He Is With HIM, Part IX

“He is not here, He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay.” Matthew 28:6 (NIV)

After a quiet yet distressing Sabbath, Mary and Mary rushed to Jesus’ tomb with heavy hearts.

Their beloved teacher, the One who knew them, the One who loved them, had died.

It was still too much to comprehend.

The day literally began with a bang. On the way to the tomb, there was a violent earthquake. The shaking of the ground could not begin to compare with the quaking of their hearts. How to process the death of their dear Jesus?

At the tomb, what did the ladies find? The expected guard detail was all unconscious and the tomb was not sealed, as it should be. In fact, the stone had been rolled away.

Atop said stone sat yet another surprise: an angel, glowing white.

Heaping shock and surprise on their already fragile minds, Mary and Mary listened to his words, “He is not here, He has risen just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay.”

Peering into the tomb, it appeared the angel knew something; Jesus was not there!

Too much had happened. It was too hard to know what to think! Shaken and fearful from recent events the ladies hurried to find the disciples.

As their feet fairly flew down the path, an indescribable, unmistakable joy welled up inside each one. What if the angel were right?  Jesus had said He would rise up again. No one gave it much thought, after all it had never happened before.

The tomb was empty.

The tomb was empty.

The angel reported Jesus had risen.  If Jesus walked out of that tomb, that changes everything!

Though it may have taken ages to process they would find the truth.  Jesus really was the Son of God. Why did He die? He chose to follow the Father’s bidding and offer Himself as a perfect sacrifice to obliterate the deadly eternal consequences of sin on humanity. Through His death and resurrection He created a bridge between God and us.

That empty tomb changed how Mary and Mary mourned Jesus’ death.

The empty tomb changed how the disciples counted their time with Jesus.

The empty tomb should change how we do life.

Jesus truly is God’s son. He was perfect, without sin. He willingly obeyed His Father when He was sent to bear the burden of humanity’s (yours and my) sin.

We no longer need to shed innocent blood like a sacrificial lamb, (See Leviticus) to approach God. We only need to believe in Jesus and ask for forgiveness in His name.

Yes, the empty tomb changed everything. It changed everything for those alive 2000 years ago and for every person who lived since.

How has it impacted you?

 

Prayer: Dear Father God, I pray that as I repeatedly hear Your love story of my salvation, I don’t allow familiarity to dull my senses.  Your love is the greatest love the world has ever known.  May I know that love personally and reciprocate it to You. May Your love shine through me and my interactions with others. Amen.

He Is With HIM, Part VIII

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)

 

A new day dawned. Silence prevailed. Jesus was gone, He had died by the will of the people. He had died a criminal’s death. The disciples had scattered and it was over. The region was rid of one more religious teacher.

“He healed, but couldn’t save Himself,” was muttered with scorn.

The Bible is silent about what went on inside the tomb.  It’s silent about what each disciple thought and in what condition was his heart.

But, as humans, we can imagine.  The agony, the disbelief, that this is how things ended.  “I must have been wrong about Him,” many might have repeatedly thought.

Maybe, it seemed, God was silent.

It was back to life as usual on this Sabbath day. A day set aside for worship and rest. A day filled with empty minutes perfect for pondering just what had transpired.

We can imagine those quiet moments when we wish something else, anything else, could captivate and consume our thoughts, our attention, our hearts.

It was time to worship God.  God that was now seen in a different light. How could this have happened? Did I somehow misinterpret? What’s to come?

God was there.

He was with His people. He was in the tomb. Just as He refused to leave Jesus in the tomb, He refuses to leave us alone, afraid, and in the dark.

Oh, we might spend some time in silent solitude, but He will break that silence at our request, in His timing.

This day was not the day for revelation.  People’s hearts needed more time to prepare for what would come. Although no one understood, God was there.  True to His promise in Deuteronomy, He had not left them.

 

Reflections:

How do I mistake silence for abandonment?

After Jesus was placed in the tomb, the Sabbath dictated everyone worship and rest. The people had been through the most horrible day emotionally, and now, they needed to bring their broken hearts, confused minds, and exhausted bodies to worship.

When God is silent what should I do? WORSHIP and REST.

Worship reminds us of the character and truths of God. That He is God. That He loves us. And, He is ultimately in control.

When we focus on God, we can stop worrying about the problem, because we are focused on the problem-solver.  We can forget fear, because we are focused on the One who casts out all fear.  We can feel our blood pressures return to normal as we realize it is God who controls the future not me, not some madman across the globe.

And after the worship?

After worship comes rest. Because we have shifted our focus, we are less stressed, and can find peace to rest spiritually, and also physically and emotionally.

The timing of Jesus’ death was no coincidence.  Directly after His body was placed in the tomb, people needed to make final preparations for the Sabbath and then follow the rules for the Sabbath.  While many thought God was silent that day, God had already given His people instruction on what they were to do that day: worship and rest. This is how He intended for them to get through that awful, confusing day.

When they followed His command, they were sure to make it through the day with the greatest amount of peace possible.

This lesson applies to us today. When I don’t know what to do, I should worship God and then rest.  I must shift my focus from stress-filled life events and all-consuming burdens of the heart to God. He will take care of it. I can trust in His timing and His protection.

Prayer: Dear God, How often I, like the people who were terrified and disheartened about Jesus’ death, feel overwhelmed by events and underwhelmed by Your presence. Direct me to look to obedience to You, which is where I will find peace, and trust in You. Thank You for recording this example to instruct me on how I should do life. Amen.

 

Thanks for reading! Please return tomorrow, for the next post.

He Is With HIM, Part VII

About three in the afternoon, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.’” Matthew 27:47 (NIV)

Excruciating pain pulsated with each weakened beat of His heart. His back ached against the coarse cross.  Splinters dug into His skin with every move.

His hands, sides and feet burned with searing throbs as sweat and blood raced down His body. There was no diluting this pain as Christ’s tears could not outrun God’s desire to reunite His children to Himself.

How could Jesus endure the cross? With such suffering for a thankless people, why didn’t He call down the angels to deliver Him?

To bear the burden of our sin, He had to take on sin, something He never knew, and carry it on His shoulders to steal its’ deadly power.

Before He drew His final breath, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?

In Psalm 22, we find the psalmist begins the psalm with the exact words of Jesus, words penned hundreds of years before Jesus spoke them.  The anguish of the psalmist echoes in verses one and two. “Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.”

How Jesus had the strength, the courage, and the stamina to continue the crucifixion is found in Psalm 22.

“You are my strength, come quickly to help me.” Psalm 22:19b (NIV)

“I will declare your name to my people, in the assembly I will praise you.” Psalm 22:22 (NIV)

“They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it.” Psalm 22:31 (NIV)

Jesus had completely submitted to His Father’s will. He loved God more than Himself. He wanted to do whatever God asked.

He knew the cross would be both emotionally and physically excruciating.  He also knew His time on it, and that anguish, would be temporary.  He knew death’s grasp from sin’s foothold would be permanently obliterated. He knew He would be reunited with God in heaven and it would all be over.

Finished.

With a glorious outcome.

So, because God asked, He did it.

God gave Jesus what He needed to endure the cross, endure the ignorant ridicule and lashing out of a people who just simply had no idea.

God gave Jesus: the faith He needed to trust God, the desire to obey God, and the courage to completely submit to God.

God supplied Jesus with exactly what He needed, to do the unarguably most difficult task of His life, of any life. Jesus trusted God’s sovereignty, and God met both those needs and expectations.

Reflections:

How do I grow a faith like Jesus demonstrated, to trust God, no matter what?

How do I foster a desire to obey God, even when I don’t love His assignment?

He promises that if, “You abide in me and my words abide in you, you can ask for anything you want, and you’ll receive it.” John 15:7 (NIV) Display that verse in a prominent location to remind that He will meet all needs.

We can ask Him for the faith we need, the desire to obey God, and the courage to completely submit to Him.

 

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank You for the cross.  Thank You for Your son who completed that sacrifice for me. Please help me to remember the faith and love Jesus demonstrated on that cross. Please help me choose to be obedient to You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thank you for reading! Please return tomorrow for the next post.

He Is With HIM, Part II

Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” John 12:15 NIV

Six days until His reunion with His Father. It’s time to enter Jerusalem, a place where Jesus is a marked man. Religious rulers didn’t like how this man riled the people and called the religious leaders out of their spiritual boxes.

Jesus was unlike any religious authority they would have expected. He made them uncomfortable. He made them flustered. He made them angry.

They planned with a vengeance how they might rid themselves of Him.

Six days until the old covenant is washed away and then new covenant goes into effect; It’s time for Jesus’ identity to be revealed.

Although He had every right to proclaim His authority, He didn’t proclaim it from the mountain tops. He discreetly showed it instead.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, His actions communicated three truths:

  1. He truly was a King.
  2. He truly was the Messiah.
  3. He came in peaceful humility.

God gave Him a great amount of self-control, courage and love. Self-control for Jesus to show not tell who He was. Courage for walking directly into the spotlight, as far as the religious leaders were concerned, and drawing their attention to the point they would plot His death.

Yet Jesus knew.

He knew He could rightfully call down legions of angels from heaven who would defend Him. He knew He could refuse His role in reuniting us to God.

But, love won out.

His love won out.

So God granted Him the self-control, the courage, and the love Jesus would need to complete His assignment on what we now call Palm Sunday.

And, God rewarded Jesus’ obedience.

God supplied every need. He supplied the donkey, which carried the symbolism of it’s rider being a King, quite possibly the Messiah, and that the rider came humbly, in peace.

God also supplied confirmation to Jesus of who He was. Jesus was a King. In this moment, when the people praised Him and His Father, when they spread their cloaks down before Him, He received honor fit for a King.

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38, NIV)

Jesus received the confirmation His humanity needed to continue with His assignment. He received the courage, self-control, and great love He needed in order to do His Father’s will. Yes, God gave Him a most difficult calling, yet God supplied every need.

 

Reflections:

When’s the last time I asked God for self-control to not proclaim who I am and how I should be treated?

Have I ever asked for courage to complete an impossible-looking assignment, knowing God alone is in charge of the outcome?

Do I need to ask God to give me love for someone whose actions don’t merit love from me?

 

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your great love.  You supplied Your son with all He needed to show who He was without His hurling words of any sort. You supplied Him both courage and the greatest of love. Please remind me that I too am an heir with Christ, (Romans 8:17) and that You will supply all my needs, if only I would ask. Thank You for Your great love, Amen.

 

Thank you for reading! Please return by Monday, February 22, for the next post.