Saturday, September 3, 2011

What...Me Worry?

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own." - Matthew 6:33-34 (NIV)

I've never been much of a worrier. As I've said before, I'm much more an optimist than a pessimist. However, as God continues to prune me and teach me discipline in the area of my finances and my spending, I find that there are times when worries about bills coming due and "what ifs" start bouncing around my brain. They bring a weight to my shoulders, fear into my heart and what feels like a rock to the pit of my stomach. I don't like feeling that way. Well, guess what? God says I don't have to feel that way....ever!!

When those feelings of worry begin to steal over me, all I have to do is take them to God. I love how I feel when God takes over. The worries and fears leave me; the weight on my shoulders and the rock in my stomach are removed. I feel light and unburdened. Does that mean the things I was worried about have been taken care of? Maybe...maybe not. It doesn't matter because I have given God control over them and am trusting in His promises that He never breaks. 1 Corinthians 14:33 tells me: "For God is not a God of disorder but of peace." I love it!! In Luke 10:39-42 Jesus disciplines Martha for "worrying about many things" instead of focusing on "what is better" - JESUS! There are so many places in the Bible where God instructs us to stop worrying. He tells us He WILL take care of us, He WILL meet our needs and He WILL provide. When we truly believe that, the peace He gives is unmatched.

As this verse in Matthew points out, I must first seek God. Not rely on myself or this world to take care of my worries and problems. That never works out. But I can testify to the fact that, when I allow God to take over, He provides. Even though work has been very slow for us for the last few months and income has been sporadic....our house payment has never been late, our utilities haven't been shut off, our car hasn't been repossessed, we haven't gone hungry, we still have gas to get to the places we need to go, I haven't had to go to the doctor, and we've been able to enjoy outings with friends and family....all because I choose to give God control and leave my worries about money in His hands.

You may not be worried about your finances. God may have blessed you in that area of your life. But I'll bet there are other things you're worried about - a health problem, a broken relationship, an addiction, work, your marriage, your children, friends, family, the economy, war, problems in other many things. God tells us to "cast all our anxiety on Him" (Luke 5:7) and to "not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present our requests" to Him (Philippians 4:6). When we do as God commands, and give over all of our worries and fears to Him, then we can look around us and say, " worry?! No way!!"

"No one can pray and worry at the same time." - Max Lucado

Almighty God, when I find myself giving in to worry and fear, help me to trust You and place them in Your hands. I want to seek You first in all things. I want to cast my anxieties on You. Teach me to lean on You and seek the peace only You can provide. Let me live hopefully, peacefully, prayerfully and faithfully every day. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Trust Without Reservation

"Trust Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge." - Psalm 62:8 (NIV)

We Christians are funny creatures. When life is rolling along smoothly, our future looks bright and we are excited about the circumstances we are in, we can trust God completely. We thank Him and praise Him for His goodness and we are confident He hears our prayers and trust that life will just be wonderful. BUT, when we hit bumps in the road, the future is a bit murky and uncertain and we can't see any way out, our faith falters and our trust becomes shaky. Just at the point in time when we should be trusting Him without reservation, we lose hope. Why is that? Hmmm.

Well, I can't speak for you but I can tell you, for myself, it's usually been a worthiness issue. When trials and troubles are happening to me, I tend to ask myself, "What have I done that I'm being punished for? Whatever it is, I don't have the right to ask God to fix it. Why should He? Oh, it's an impossible situation anyway. Who do I think I am to believe that God will take care of this?" or something along those lines. Total and complete malarkey, that's what that type of thinking is!! God is waiting for me to believe, He is waiting for me to ask. This verse tells me exactly what I need to do in this situation...TRUST HIM!! In my heart, I know God can do the impossible. In my heart, I know God answers prayers. In my heart, I know He keeps His promises. But, in my head, I doubt, I fear, I falter. I allow Satan to wreak havoc with my faith. There's that little voice telling me that there's no way God is going to answer me, I'm asking too much or, if He does answer, it's not going to be the answer I want because I don't deserve it. And, unfortunately, there are times I listen to my head instead of my heart. Shame on me! I have a choice as to whether to stay stuck in head and allow my disbelief and unworthiness to steal my faith or to allow my heart to take over and trust God and His promises without reservation, totally and completely. To take refuge in Him and know that He is in complete control of my life, no matter what is happening. As I've been studying His Word more and more, and am beginning to understand His promises and His commandments (and there are both in this verse!), I am learning to choose to follow my heart more often than my head. I still find myself on shaky ground sometimes, my trust wavering a bit, but God, through His Word, puts me back on a firm foundation of faith. THANK YOU, LORD!!

If you're going through trials right now, I hope you"re placing your life in God's hands. I hope you are praying and reading your Bible. I hope you're choosing to trust the plan He has for your life. Take refuge in Him; there's no safer place to be during life's storms.

"The Lord will either calm your storm....or allow it to rage while He calms you." - Anonymous
Dear Lord, when I trust in You, I am at peace. Let me have unfaltering faith in Your Word and Your promises. As I walk through the trials of this life, may I always look to You and know that You have a plan for me. Remind me, Lord, of Your love for me and that I am worthy to ask of You anything and everything. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Praise and Worship

"Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess His name." - Hebrews 13:15 (NIV)

"Let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise" - wow, really?! Continually?! Does God realize what's going on in our lives? Doesn't He realize that the economy's in the tank, that people are out of work, that children are suffering , that the divorce rate is rising, that people are going hungry, that this world is a MESS!! And, He's allowing it all to happen!! He's not asking for much, is He? I mean, come on, be realistic here!!

It's so much easier to complain about our lives than to find the "silver lining", isn't it? And, yes, there's a "silver lining" to everything....sometimes we just have to look really hard to find it. Maybe you're asking yourself, "Where's the "silver lining" in today's world?" Let's see: we might be learning to manage our money better, we might be learning to be self-sufficient and entrepreneurial, we might be learning to be more compassionate & charitable, we might be learning to be less materialistic, we might be learning to lean on God instead of ourselves. There's ALWAYS a "silver lining".

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 instructs us to "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." How many of us actually do this? I know I am not always joyful or thankful for my circumstances. And that is being disobedient to God's Word! I find it easy to praise and worship in church; the music and the message combine to lift me up and fill me with hope, peace and joy. I also find it easy to give praise and worship during my morning and evening prayers. But, during the day, not so much. There are times when something good happens and I immediately say, "Thank You, Lord!". However, I'm to be offering praise and thanks no matter what - the Bible says so!!

I have a God who loves me more than I can fathom! Jesus loves me so much that He took on my sins and suffered a horrible, painful death for me! The sun is shining! I can see, hear, feel, taste and smell! I can walk, talk, laugh and love! I have a roof over my head, food in my cupboards, clothes on my back! I woke up breathing this morning! Whenever I'm lacking joy, peace, hope, courage, strength or faith, I can open up my Bible - freely, without fear - and find them again! I have NOTHING to complain about!!

I am going to make a conscious effort to find the "silver lining" in all circumstances and lift them up to God in praise and worship. I may not be able to find it immediately, but I know there is one and it will be revealed to me in God's time. I hope you take the time today, and every day, to look for the blessings - obvious or hidden - in all your circumstances, and praise and worship God for them. HE IS GOOD TO US!!

"A good memory is one that can remember the day's blessings and forget the day's troubles." - Unknown

Dear Heavenly Father, I don't always see the blessings in all my circumstances. Open my eyes to Your blessings, Lord. I want to complain less and praise You and Your Son more, as Your Word has commanded. Let my life, my thoughts, my words and my actions reflect Your greatness and praise and worship You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Perspective and Wisdom

"Teach me Your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth." - Psalm 86:11a (NIV)

I was saved when I was a child. I attended church every Sunday morning, Sunday evening and most Wednesday evenings. I was bombarded by adults telling me that the Bible says do this and don't do that, God likes this and not that. But they were sinners, as am I. They weren't the best role models for me but I never bothered to open my Bible away from church and study the best role model - Jesus! - until recently. My perspective was that the Sunday School teachers, the youth group leaders and the pastor knew what they were talking about. I mean, some of them had gone to Bible college, some of them had been teachers and leaders for years - surely they knew exactly what God wanted for and from me. Right??? Wrong!!!

Each of us is living our own story. God is the writer and director of each of our stories, like it or not. He tells us so in Hebrews 12:2. None of our stories, our lives, are or ever will be the same. We may experience similar events - graduation, marriage, jobs, children, grandchildren, death, etc. - but my triumphs and tragedies are my own. The choices I've made or will make to deal with each event may be completely different from yours. What does this have to do with perspective and wisdom? Everything!!

After I became an adult, I strayed from the church and from God. I made decisions based on my own perspective, my own wisdom. I thought I knew how God wanted me to live, after all, I grew up in church! But I was wrong...I made bad choices. I was unhappy, angry, unsettled, disconnected. I started going back to a small church (no big church for me, I said, because you get lost in the crowd - I was wrong about that, too!!), was even the church treasurer for a few years, but nothing changed, I still didn't feel connected. So I stopped going to church again. Then my marriage started to flounder. At one point, my husband walked out. Then God stepped in. Maybe he'd had enough of my bad choices, I don't know. But he used a friend, someone who wasn't a Christian, to help put my marriage back together and start me back down the road to serving Him. It didn't happen overnight. It took a few years and several  personal growth seminars to make me realize that I was leaving God out of everything. So, after one of the seminars, my husband and I decided it was time to get back into church, to get back into God's service. We hadn't attended church in years, but we knew the small one we had attended before wasn't right for us. We decided to go to the grand opening of the new campus of one of the "mega" churches in our area....and we found our home! The connection was immediate; I couldn't believe it!! And we jumped right in - attending every Sunday, serving in the nursery and joining a small group. But I was still relying on the pastor and my small group leader to tell me what God wanted in my life. I was too busy to study His Word on my own. That is, until about 6 months ago. God placed it on the heart of one of the ladies in small group to have herself held accountable to do Bible study by texting her study to us every morning for two weeks. And then He laid it on my heart to do the same. Me!! The person who had never opened her Bible except in church and small group!! And, so it began, and was it ever eye-opening! God began to work in me, to convict me and to show me how He wants me to live my life. He began to give me His perspective and His wisdom. He began to replace my unhappiness with His joy, my anger with His peace. He filled me with the desire and excitement to open His Word each morning and seek His guidance for my day. HIS perspective, HIS wisdom, HIS guidance, HIS plans, HIS joy, HIS peace - everything I need to live my story according to HIS direction. What a difference He has made in how I deal with the triumphs and tragedies that life sends my way.  I can't speak for or make your choices for you - you have your own story to live - but my story, going forward, will be guided by God, through my study of His Word, using His perspective and His wisdom because my own is terribly insufficient. I pray that you will choose to do the same.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for the story You've written for me, both triumphs and tragedies. Thank You for the guidance You provide for me through Your Word. When I am weak, You give me strength. When I am fearful, You give me courage. When I am worried, You fill me with peace. May I always lean on Your perspective and Your wisdom to guide me through my day. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Taking Up My Cross Daily

"The He said to them all, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." - Luke 9:23-24 (NIV)

Take up my cross daily -- what does that mean? This passage, specifically verse 23, is the purpose statement of my church, but I have struggled with how to apply it to my life. How do I take up my cross? What is my cross? But, after reading my devotional this morning and studying what Jesus is saying, I think I understand more clearly what it means.

Jesus was forced to carry His cross to Calvary, as all prisoner's in His day had to do. Dying on the cross was the worst punishment there was. So, not only did He have to bear that burden but He was also bearing the burden of our sins. He was on His way to lose His life so that we, you and I, could be saved. And He did so with His eyes on the joy awaiting Him when He sat down at the the right hand of God (Hebrews 12:2). No matter what I'm facing in my life, no matter what burdens weigh me down, they're nothing compared to the burden Jesus carried for me. All He asks in return is that I trust Him and follow Him.  Denying myself is to let go and trust Him completelyTaking up my cross is to take up the things that are pressing in on me, that are worrying and troubling me, and bear them with thanksgiving and joy, knowing that Heaven is the prize that awaits me. Following Jesus is to become His disciple, to let go of myself - my problems, my control, my desires, my will - and let Him lead me. He will NEVER lead me wrong. As verse 24 reminds me, in order to save my life, I must lose it to Jesus. He must ALWAYS be first, in all things.

No matter who we are, Christian or non-Christian, we are not promised a life free from affliction or suffering. We have no choice as to whether or not we want trials in our lives. But we do have a choice as to how we will bear them. Jesus did not complain about bearing His burden - our sin. He prayed and asked God to take the burden from Him, but God's will be done, not Jesus' (Luke 22:42). God's will was for His Son to die on the cross and Jesus' bore that burden and brought glory to His Father by doing so (John 17:1-5). So, who am I to complain about the burdens I bear? When I take up my cross, my burdens, and follow Jesus, do God's will, that's when God's glory shines through me. I choose to take up my cross today and follow Him, with joy and God be the glory!!

"Life is a grindstone, and whether it grinds you down or polishes you up is for you and you alone to decide." (Cavett Robert)

Dear Jesus, thank You for taking on the burden of my sins and dying on the cross so that I could be saved. Lead me today, Lord. I take up my cross gladly, and follow You. May God's glory shine in me. Your will, not mine. In Your name, Amen. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Celebrate the Christian Life

"Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs." - Psalm 100:1-2 (NIV)

Our lives as Christians should be a daily celebration, filled with thanksgiving and praise! WHAT?!! Doesn't God realize that it's Monday and I have to go back to work? Doesn't He know I'm struggling to pay my bills? Doesn't He realize how unhappy my marriage is? Doesn't He see the trouble I'm going through? Doesn't He know I'm worried about my health? Can't He see I'm in pain? I'm sure there's a laundry list of things we could complain about this morning. However, instead of complaining, why aren't we praising Him for the jobs we have when so many are unemployed? Why aren't we thankful that the bills are getting paid? Why are we worrying about our marriages, troubles, health, etc. when God is available for us to pray to and give it all to Him? What's not to celebrate?!

I love this verse! "Shout for joy", "worship" with "gladness", "come with joyful songs"!! My pathway to feeling connected with God is through worship - through music and through prayer. That's when I feel God speaking to me, when I am brought to tears of joy because I feel His presence, when I just want to dance for the sheer joy of knowing Jesus. That's when I want to celebrate the life He has given to me. Then, reality hits. I walk out of church or I turn off the radio or I finish my morning prayers and life smacks me upside the head. At that point in time, I have a choice to make. Do I continue to celebrate, to count my blessings, to be thankful, to praise God or do I allow Satan to have the victory by complaining, by getting angry, by becoming a victim to my circumstances? Do I walk in light or in darkness? Do I do as this verse instructs me to or do I ignore it? Do I show others what it means to be a believer or do I lead them astray by my actions? I would hope I choose to celebrate, to walk in the light but I can honestly say I don't always make that choice. However, I can also say that my intention from here forward is to more consciously recognize when I am making the wrong choice and ask God to direct me back into worship with Him. There's nothing sweeter than celebrating and worshiping the Lord!! As the Chris Tomlin song goes:

"Shout to the Lord, all the earth
Let us sing
Power and majesty, praise to the King;
Mountains bow down and the seas will roar
At the sound of Your name.
I sing for joy at the work of Your hands,
Forever I'll love You, forever I'll stand,
Nothing compares to the promise I have in You."

Awesome God, teach me to celebrate this life You've given to me. Let me see each circumstance as a way to bring glory to You and Your Son. Fill me with thanksgiving and praise for my salvation, for Your promises, for the blessings and miracles you bestow on me each and every day. Help me to live in Jesus' light and not in Satan's darkness. Let me shout Your praises every day. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Seven Times Seventy

"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." - Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV)

Forgiveness - I seek it from God on a daily basis. And, on a daily basis, I receive it from Him. Jesus' suffering and dying on the cross was the greatest act of forgiveness ever shown. I am forgiven of my sins and have a home waiting for me in Heaven, and I did nothing and have done nothing, ever, to deserve it. 

That's how I'm supposed to forgive. Really. Even if the person who I perceive to have hurt me, wronged me or injured me never apologizes, never asks for forgiveness, I am to forgive them. Wow....easier said than done! I have taken the Monvee assessment ( and my pitfall, the thing that can hold me back from a closer relationship with God, is anger. Now, I knew that before I took the assessment. But to see it in print, in black and white, made me see it clearly. I hold on to resentment, I hold grudges, I get frustrated by others when don't live up to MY expectations. It is the one thing I have to ask God for forgiveness for - all the time!! I am aware of it now, I am actively seeking God's help for it. It is the one thing that Satan can use to take away my joy and peace....IF I allow him to. I am refusing to allow him to anymore. We tend to look at forgiving someone as telling them that what they've done is okay, that their actions didn't matter. But that's not what forgiveness is. Forgiving someone is freedom, to our hearts, our souls, our minds and our lives. It takes away the control they have over us. SAY WHAT!! They don't control me!! Oh, yes they do. When you are holding a grudge, when you have anger or hatred for someone (alive or dead!!), when resentment, bitterness or regret have taken hold in you, that's all you can think about, that's all you concentrate on. It colors how you think, the decisions you make are based on it, it takes away any joy, peace or happiness you may find - it controls you! You have to let it go. Again and again and again. Just as God forgives us, He commands us to forgive others (Colossians 3:13).

Is there someone you need to forgive? Yourself? A friend or family member, or even a stranger, that has hurt you recently or in the past? Let it go. Forgive them. Seven times seventy times if you must.

"We can always choose to perceive things differently.
You can focus on what's wrong in your life,
or you can focus on what's right."
(Marianne Williamson)

Heavenly Father, teach me to forgive others the way you forgive me. Let me enjoy the freedom that forgiveness brings; freedom from anger, bitterness, resentment and regret. Fill me with Jesus' love; let me see others with His eyes and His heart. I ask for Your peace and joy to fill me and take the place of the hurt. In Jesus' name, Amen.