Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dare to Dream

"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to His power that is at work within us." - Ephesians 3:20 (NIV)

We all have dreams...big dreams, small dreams. A big home, a new car, being debt-free, a great job, perfect children, wonderful friends, no worries....on and on. I'm no different. I have dreams, too. Things I long for, hope for, yearn for. I can talk about them at length with my friends. But, when it comes to talking about them with I dare to ask God to fulfill my dreams? This is something I struggle with a lot.

What are some of my dreams? For the longest time I've wanted to travel to Australia. No time constraints, no money constraints. Just to go and enjoy the country with my husband and our best friends...a once in a lifetime trip! I also want to take my children and grandchildren on a Disney Cruise and spend additional time at Walt Disney World with them....making memories. I'd like a new doesn't have to be huge. A place with enough room for people to come and feel welcome. A big enough place so my friends and family would never have to worry about where they'd live if hard times hit. I dream about being completely out of debt and having plenty of money in the bank. No bills except for the monthly grocery and utility bills. Then I could contribute more to worthwhile charities, to the needs at church, to friends down on their luck. I could do more than just pray for them, although prayer is vital. I could spoil my grandchildren more! I would love to be a size 8! I haven't been that size in 20 years!! I dream of having a yard that could be in Better Homes and Gardens. With green grass and a nice, safe play area for the grandkids. Most of all, though, I dream about all of my friends and family knowing Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Now, I believe some of my dreams are pretty selfish and that's the part I struggle with. I have no problem asking God to open the hearts and eyes of my unsaved friends and family to the salvation that Jesus offers. I have learned to be satisfied with the wonderful blessing of the home he has provided and I know He will make room for as many people as necessary under my roof. But asking for more money than I really need to live on, asking for Him to provide fancy trips, asking to be thinner, asking for the things I think of as selfish....whole other story. Do I think He can't fulfill my dreams and wishes? No, I know He can. I just don't feel like I have the right to ask God for things for myself.

But, you know, whether or not I ask God for them, He knows my dreams. He knows my desires. He knows my heart. Jesus tells me to ask: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!" (Matthew 7:7-11 NIV). He makes it very clear in this passage that I should ask. I should also put my trust in Him to answer my prayers. In Mark 11:24 (NIV), Jesus gives me what I believe is the key to everything I pray for: "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." I don't know God's plan for me but I know it's bigger than anything I can think of. My dreams are actually small compared to what God can do and will do in my life. And that leaves me free to trust Him and dare to dream!!

"Allow your dreams a place in your prayers and plans. God-given dreams can help you move into the future He is preparing for you." - Barbara Johnson

Dear God, You know my heart. You know my dreams. I want my first desire to be to serve You with my life. I dream that all those I love will come to know Your Son as their Savior. Give me the courage to dream and to trust in Your plan for me. Remind me of Your love and that it's okay to ask for things for myself. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

New in Christ

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" - 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

I don't know about you, but I think there are some things that are better old. An old pair of jeans that fit just right. Old friends who know you inside and out. An old pair of shoes that are so comfortable it's like being barefoot. Then again, new is nice. I love the smell of a new car! It's wonderful to make new friends. Moving into a new home is exciting. And, being made new in Christ is the best "new" of all!!

How are we made "new" in Christ? By accepting Him as our personal Lord and Savior. You can't help but be changed when that happens. It's like being given freedom after a long prison sentence. It's like coming into the daylight after a long time in the dark. It's like craving chocolate and getting Godiva instead of Hershey's. It's like taking a shower after a long, sweaty, stinky day at work. If we have truly accepted Jesus into our hearts, we can't help but be changed. And the difference in us should not only be noticeable to ourselves but to those around us, too.

What does being made "new" look like? The Bible gives us plenty of examples of what it is to be new in Christ. However, I think the best example is found in Colossians 3:5-10 (NIV): "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge in the image of its Creator." I think these verses make it very clear as to how we are to be changed when we accept Jesus into our hearts.

Is all this going to happen immediately, as soon as we become a follower of Christ? No, but, as we study God's Word, associate with other believers, learn what it means to follow Jesus, we become more aware of these things and begin to make the effort to get them out of our lives. When I rededicated my life to the Lord a few years ago, I began to clean out some of the "old" stuff I'd been allowing into my life. And, as I study my Bible, I am throwing off more of the "old" me. I'm more careful of my language - not only what I say, but how I say it. I'm more aware of my actions and how they affect those around me. I pray more often. I look for ways to serve Him. I rarely miss a church service or small group meeting. I ask others for forgiveness more often. And, I pray that others notice the difference!

Now, don't get me wrong. I am so far from perfect I'm amazed God hasn't given up on me!! I still have problems with my temper and being impatient. I have a hard time giving God control of my finances and my plans. I find myself making decisions without consulting Him first. I forget to pray before my meals. I still lack faith. I still don't feel worthy to ask Him for help for myself. I cannot completely fathom how much He loves me. I still fear sharing my faith with others because of what they might think of me. I am a work in progress, with progress being the operative word. I am moving forward in my Christian walk, slowly but surely. Only with God's help can I continue to become "new" in His Son.

"Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion - it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ." - Billy Graham

Dear Precious Jesus, when I accepted You into my heart, You changed me forever. You made me whole and transformed me. May I continually become "new" in You. Show me how my life is to look now that I am Your follower. Give me the desire to share You with others - Your love, Your suffering, Your sacrifice on our behalf. May Your light shine so brightly through me that those around me can't help but see You in me. I ask this in Your name, Amen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

God is Watching Me!

"The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity." - Proverbs 11:3 (NIV)

What is character? gives several meanings: moral or ethical qualities; qualities of honesty, courage  or the like; reputation. There are six pillars of character: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, Citizenship. I think the following anonymous quote explains it best: "Character is doing what's right when no body's looking." I want to break down the six pillars of character and see if I do these even when nobody is looking. Although, there's never a time when someone isn't looking. God is always watching me.

Trustworthiness - deserving of trust or confidence; dependable; reliable. Am I trustworthy? I'd like to think I am but I know there are times when I'm not. I've made promises in the past that I haven't kept. I made commitments that I've backed out on. Oh sure, when it's something I really want to do, I'm there! But, what about the times I've committed to do something I really didn't want to do in the first place? I can think of something right now. I promised my mom I'd study to take the manager's test for her care home. I don't really want to do that. It's not something that appeals to me. So, I've been putting it off, finding other things to do instead. Nothing important, mind you. Just stuff so I don't have to pick up the booklet, study it and take the test. I'm not worried about the test. I'm a good test taker. I'm just resistant to the whole idea of managing her home. But, I promised, and, in this instance, I haven't been trustworthy at all. "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." (Luke 16:10 NIV). God is watching me!

Respect - esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered a manifestation of a personal quality or ability. Am I a respecter of persons, myself included? I'm not just talking about adults, either. Children deserve to be respected. I can't say I'm always respectful of others, especially children or those who I disagree with. I know I'm not always respectful of myself. My sense of self-worth isn't the best sometimes. If it was, I would know how much God loves me, no matter what, and that He will forgive me everything if I am truly repentant. I would watch what I eat, exercise and take better care of myself. I would be able to see others the way that Jesus sees them - as worthy of love and kindness. If I want to earn the respect of those I have contact with, then I must show also show respect to them. No matter who they are or what their circumstances may be. I desire to show my respect for God by living in order to please Him. "So that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." (1 Thessalonians 4:12 NIV). God is watching me!

Responsibility - involving accountability, reliability and dependability. This goes right along with trustworthiness. I must take responsibility for my actions, my thoughts and my words. If I hurt someone, intentionally or unintentionally, it's my responsibility to ask for forgiveness. If I make a decision to eat a doughnut instead of a salad, it's my responsibility to do a little more exercise that day. If I make a promise or commitment, it's my responsibility to see it through. I AM NOT A VICTIM! Everything that happens in my life, I am responsible for. It's because of choices I have made or will make that the things in my life happen. Think about that. "Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load." (Galatians 6:4-5 NIV). God is watching me!

Fairness - free from bias or injustice; evenhandedness. Whoa...tough one here. I've always told my isn't fair. And, it's true. However, that doesn't give me the right to treat anyone else unfairly. It doesn't give me the right to be judgemental or hateful or angry. It doesn't give me the right to be partial or show favoritism to those I like over those I don't. It doesn't give me the right to wish revenge on anyone who has wronged me. Being fair - nonjudgmental, loving, kind, evenhanded - is something God does for me on a daily basis. How can I do any less toward others? "Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly." (Leviticus 19:15 NIV). God is watching me!

Caring - to be concerned or solicitous; have thought or regard. My compassion and empathy meter is set on low. I know this about myself and I pray about it every day. When I say it's low, I mean that, unlike other people I know, I don't always see the need to be caring until it's pointed out to me. For example - do I think to pray for others who are affected by war, famine, starvation, floods, drought, etc.? Not until someone says we should pray for these people! I'm not proud of it, believe me. If it's in my face, someone I know or a friend or family member knows, who is hurting, in need, grieving...I'm on it. I have compassion and empathy. I care. I'm praying and lifting them up to God. But, I don't think outside of my small little circle of life and that's what bothers me. This is an area of my character that I really need to pray about and be aware of. I want to care for others as I care for myself. "After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church." (Ephesians 5:29 NIV). God is watching me!

Citizenship - an individual viewed as a member of society; behavior in terms of the duties, obligations and functions of a citizen. I have duties as a citizen - to vote, to serve on jury duty, to get involved in my community plus many others. Do I do all that....yes, I can say I do. Being a citizen means I belong and I should be proud of the country I am a citizen of. I am proud to be American. I know around the world we are hated, looked down on, made fun of, hunted, persecuted.....but so was Jesus. I am even prouder to be a citizen of God's house, a person saved by the grace of Jesus. God desires is that everyone becomes a citizen of His house and, as such, it is my responsibility to tell others about His Son and the salvation that is so freely given and offers us citizenship into Heaven. That's a better citizenship than any we could ever find here on earth. "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household." (Ephesians 2:19 NIV). God is watching me.

God sees our true character, even if we can fool everyone else. He knows our darkest thoughts and deepest secrets. My intention is to become more aware of His presence in my life so that I will have the kind of character that is pleasing to Him. God is watching me!

"Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent. Most talents are, to some extent, a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us. We have to build it piece by thought, choice, courage and determination." - John Luther

Amazing God, You know me inside and out. You know my deepest feelings. Help me live with integrity; to have character that pleases You. I want to be Your worthy servant and live according to Your instructions. Remind me continually that You are always near and watching me, Lord. May my words and actions be a testimony to You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Bible

"Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." - Matthew 4:4 (NIV)

Until about a year ago, I had no desire to read the Bible on a daily basis. It was too hard to understand on my own. I was raised on the King James version of the Bible and, unless the pastor explained it in church, it was Greek to me. So, I trusted that what the pastor told me in church was what the Bible said. I never bothered to research it on my own to make sure what I was being told was true. I didn't care to find out what God wanted from me and expected from me and commanded me to do. I didn't live on His Word. At all.

It's very easy to turn our backs on God when we're not spending time in the Bible. It's very simple for Satan to convince us that going to church every Sunday and trying to do good things are enough. The Bible's too boring, it's too hard to understand, it's too old fashioned, I don't have the time, my home is too noisy....we can come up with every excuse possible to not study God's Word. And God leaves that decision up to us. He doesn't force us to open our Bible during the week. Sometimes you may even end up at church without it. I know I used to do that a lot. Then I was introduced to the version of the Bible I use today - the New International Version.

I love this version! It's easy for me to understand and to study. I know there are other versions out there that are just as easy to read and understand, but this is the version I feel I've been led to. This is the version I have the desire to study and learn from. This is the version I use to follow up each sermon with my own research and devotions. God has given me the desire to open His Word each and every day. Some days, like today, it's late in the evening, other days it's first thing in the morning, but I study it every single day. Yes, Satan does his best to persuade me that skipping one day won't make a difference. But one day leads to another, then another, then another and pretty soon it's very easy to leave God's Word on the bookshelf or bed stand or coffee table. Then to stray from living according to His commandments. Then to missing church every once in a while. Then to living according to the world's idea of what is good and acceptable. It's like a snowball rolling downhill. However, being in God's Word every day gives me the strength to resist Satan. It gives me the courage to face whatever the day may bring. It gives me comfort and peace when I'm worried or anxious. It guides my thoughts, my actions and my words. It is transforming my life. I feel so much closer to God and Jesus than I ever have before. I'm learning how to let go of anger. I'm learning how to stop judging others. I'm learning what God expects of me in my life. I'm learning to accept and be thankful for both my blessings and my trials. I'm learning how to pray. I know there's so much more God has for me to learn and I wake up excited to find out what that may be. 

The Bible is one of the most important tools God had given me to guide my steps and impact my life. Just like any other tool, I get to choose whether to use it or not. I am choosing to use it and build my life upon it. To memorize it and share it with others. I pray that He will fill you with the desire to do the same.

"Sin will keep you from the Bible but the Bible can keep you from sin." - Anonymous

Dear God, I want to thank You for the gift of Your Word. Please continue to fill me with the desire to read it, study it, apply it to my life and share it with others. I want to live according to the principles You've made known to me. May I never stop learning from Your Word and growing closer to You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Never Compromise with Evil

"Therefore, rid yourself of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind." - 1 Peter 2:1 (NIV)

Wow...tough verse! Especially for me as malice (anger) is my evil of choice. I can do this, though...with God's help and using Jesus as my example. There are many examples in the Gospels of Jesus confronting evil and His response to it. He NEVER compromised with Satan's handiwork and neither should I.

Jesus actually shows me what righteous indignation looks like. Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-16 and Luke 19:45 (NIV) all tell me how Jesus drove out the buyers and sellers that were in the temple area. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of the dove sellers. He was righteously angry that these people had defiled God's house because they professed to be priests and teachers of God's Word. In 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 (NIV), I am given instructions as to how to handle evil found in those who profess to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. If they are not willing to profess their sins, ask for forgiveness and rid themselves of their sins, then I'm not to associate with them. I'm not supposed to even eat with them!! It says so right there in verse 11. That is another example of righteous indignation.

What about non-believers? What about the evil in them? Jesus wants all non-believers to come to a saving knowledge of Him. He doesn't want anyone to die without knowing Him personally. He knows what awaits those in eternity who haven't accepted Him as Lord and Savior and He doesn't want anyone to face that. But, I'm not to judge the evil in non-Christians. That judgement is up to God. Matthew 7:1 (NIV) says, "Do not judge or you too will be judged." In 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 (NIV), Paul tells me this: "I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people -- not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world." Then in verses 12-13 Paul tells me why: "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside." 

There are many instances where Jesus could have harshly judged non-believers but instead He showed them love and compassion. The woman at the well (John 4 NIV), the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11 NIV), eating with "sinners" and tax collectors (Mark 2:15-17 NIV), the criminal on the cross (Luke 23:40-43 NIV), even those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34). Jesus loved them because they, as non-believers, didn't realize what they were doing was evil. This is the example I want to and am commanded to follow. It is not compromising with evil. It is showing God's love to those who don't know it.

We are all evil. We're born that way. We're sinners from the time we take our first breath until we take our last. However, for those of us who have accepted Jesus and who proclaim Him as Lord, we are NOT to compromise with Satan. We are made new in Him and are no longer supposed to conform to the world (Colossians 3:10, Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23 NIV). We must make every effort to rid ourselves of the evil that Satan wants to fill us with. My prayer is that, with God's help, we can follow Jesus' example of how to never compromise with evil.

"On of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised." - Chinua Achebe

Heavenly Father, I want to follow Jesus' example of  how to deal with evil. I don't want to compromise with it, Lord. I desire to be courageous in the face of it, to have righteous anger when necessary, to show love and compassion towards those who don't know Your Son as their Savior. Make me aware when I am opening the door to Satan to invade my thoughts and emotions with anger, envy, hypocrisy. Give me Your strength in those times, to rid myself of those things which will make the devil happy. I can only do these things through You. In Jesus' precious name I ask, Amen.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Without Reservation

"He replied, 'You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?' In all this, Job did not sin in what he said." - Job 2:10 (NIV)

Job was a man who accepted God's will without reservation. He was a man who lost everything: his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his servants, his camels, his sons & daughters. He was cursed with painful sores all over his body. Even when his wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" (vs 9), Job didn't turn against God. He didn't complain. His reply is the verse above.

Job's question to his wife is just as relevant to me today. Why am I so ready to rejoice and accept the good that God gives me but so ready to whine and complain when things aren't so good? I can never fully understand the plans God has for me. But, as a believer, I must trust Him. Without reservation. Fully. Completely. What does that look like? It looks like Job. He didn't understand why God allowed all of this to happen to him. But he didn't curse God. He didn't blame God. He didn't argue against God. Even when his three friends questioned why he would have faith and trust in a God that would allow all of this to happen, he remained true and loyal to his Lord.

Even Jesus knew God's will had to be done. In Luke 22:42-44 (NIV), He prayed fervently to His Father to take the cup from Him because He knew what He was going to have to endure. But He said, "yet not my will, but yours be done". He followed God's will to the cross, without complaint or reservation.

Both Job and Jesus accepted trouble from God. Why should I expect anything different in my life? God desires that I learn to accept His will without reservation, to face the troubles that come my way without complaining. Complaining about my problems opens me up to feeling sorry for myself, to becoming angry, to allowing Satan to have control. But, praising God, even in the midst of pain and suffering, while not easy, will bring me  peace and will, in the end, be rewarded. Job is the prime example of that. After all was said and done, because Job hadn't turned his back on God, hadn't complained but accepted God's will, God blessed "the latter part of Job's life more than the first" (Job 42:12 NIV). He was blessed with more oxen, sheep, camels and donkeys than he had before. He was also blessed with more sons and daughters and lived to see his grandchildren "to the fourth generation" (Job 42:16 NIV). What an awesome example of God's blessing waiting for those of us who accept His will, whatever that may bring, without reservation.

"Part of waiting upon the Lord is telling God that you want only what He wants - whatever it is." - Kay Arthur

Dear Lord, give me the wisdom to accept Your will without reservation. When I feel the need to complain, Lord, may I turn my complaints into praise. When I'm afraid, please give me Your courage. When I am worried, please give me Your perspective. When I weak, please give me Your strength. I CAN do ALL things through You, dear Lord. Help me to remember Job's question anytime I wonder why trouble has entered my life. In Jesus' name, Amen.