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.

He Hears, Always

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:12 NIV

“No one is listening to me,” shouted the petite teenage-girl, turning and dashing out the door, abandoning both the conversation and the home she dearly loved. The past few months had seemed like eternity, and well, she had had it.

As she ran down the sidewalk to an unknown destination, Jeremiah 29:12 burned in her mind.  It caused her pause mid-flight.

She knew that verse was a promise. She also knew she had not been spending time with her heavenly father, so why would He listen now?

Because I love you more than you’ll ever comprehend.

Sighing, she seated herself on a nearby park bench.  Her dusty sneakers kicking at the smudged sidewalk, all those years of Bible class, family devotions, and personal Bible reading reminding her of some truths.

She knew her heart needed to be right with God before He would hear her call.

She knew, no matter what she had or hadn’t done, forgiveness was her’s for the asking.

She knew from years of conversation, that she couldn’t do all the speaking, that she needed God to listen and she herself needed to listen to Him.

After pouring her heart out, punctuated by a few tears, she finally spoke her heart’s burdens.  She settled back on the bench, feeling the warm sunshine bathe her face and dry her tears.

Now it was her turn to listen to Him.

Reflections:

Silent and listen are spelled with the same letters. To listen, we must be silent.  To listen, we must rearrange the letters of ‘listen’ and be silent.  Similarly, when we listen, sometimes we must rearrange our thoughts, our attitude, and our hearts.

When we listen, we must practice active listening.  Allow ourselves to become fully engaged, even if we don’t like everything we hear.

Practicing active listening requires we abandon selective listening. (Which children in particular are professionals at!)

How can I be a better listener?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You that You are always ready to forgive me, and to listen to me.  Even when it might feel that no one else is listening, or caring, You are.  And You will never abandon me.  Please help me not only to recall these promises, but to also model Your love through my words and my actions, Amen.

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

Grace Of A Father

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will you Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11 NIV

 

Today is a day we in Western culture set aside to honor and celebrate fathers.  Many good fathers have a multitude of traits worth celebrating. Today I would like to focus on the trait of grace.

Grace defined by thefreedictionary.com is “A disposition to be generous or helpful, goodwill. Or a favor rendered by one who need not do so; indulgence; a temporary immunity or exemption; a reprieve.”

How often you extend grace? How often do you receive grace from others?

The story of the prodigal son reminds us of how deep grace can run, when extended from a loved one.

The prodigal son was a selfish, thoughtless child who wanted his independence, and wanted it now.  No waiting for his inheritance. He had the audacity to request it now, and amazingly, his father granted his wish.

After his son ran off and squandered everything he’d been given, he found himself friendless, homeless, and hungry.  He realized his father’s servants were better off than he was.  He experienced a change in heart.  He decided to humbly head home, asking for a position among the servants.

While he was still outside earshot, his father caught sight of his long-lost son returning.  Immediately he went, calling out preparations and excitement to all surrounding him.  He was happy to have his son back, period.  He did not know the current state of his heart.  He did not know the plans in his mind.  He knew that the son he loved had finally returned.

He was extending grace.

How many fathers in the same situation might have turned their backs, saying, “you got your chance, and you lost it.  Live with your choices.”

But this dad didn’t. This dad showed the grace of God by welcoming his son back with open arms.

Parenting isn’t easy.  Most dads shoulder the financial responsibility of raising a family.  They work jobs they hate.  They hear complaints from their bosses, complaints from their wives, and complaints from their kids.  And for the really involved dad who attends the Parent/Teacher conference or sports practice, they often hear negative things there too.

Yet, there are a few good men who continually model the grace of Jesus. They refuse to see everything in a negative light.  While it is prudent to allow our children to experience the consequences of their actions, it is also godly to extend grace.

The prodigal son returned home with a changed heart.  All that his father offered him upon his return, he knew he did not deserve. He saw how his dad loved him.  And in turn, he glimpsed just how greatly his heavenly Father loved him.

To the fathers out there doing their best to provide for a family, and teach their kids about the grace of God, a roaring THANK YOU!

Today’s families need your example.

The world, who is always watching, also needs your example.

And you need to hear that your actions are seen.

Your words are heard.

And your heartbeat for Jesus is felt.

Thank you, fathers of grace, for extending not only the grace of God, but His love to a hurting world.

Reflections:

How has extended grace impacted me?

How has the grace I have extended impacted others?

Prayer:

Dear Lord, Thank You so much for the grace You have extended to me.  May I recall it as I plow through my days, with the hurts and complaints vying for my attention.  May my words and actions honor You and my heart mimic Yours. Amen.

Thanks for reading! Please return by Monday, June 29 for the next post.