Friday, October 28, 2011

God's Wisdom, Not My Own

"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." - James 1:5 (NIV)

I believe I'm a fairly smart person. I have common sense. I'm good with numbers (I better be, I'm an accountant and tax preparer!). I love to read and learn. I follow directions well. Given time, I can figure out a solution to most problems. I have knowledge but I lack wisdom. I lack God's wisdom.

It's not because God doesn't want me to have His wisdom; He says here in James that I should ask Him for His wisdom. The problem is I don't ask for it. Well, that's not exactly true. I do ask for God's wisdom but it's usually when I'm in the middle of a crisis or after I've made a bad decision. Maybe I've said or done something I shouldn't have and hurt someone because of it. Maybe I gave into temptation and had that second (or third!) doughnut. Maybe I bought something I didn't really need and now I can't pay one of my bills. Could be any number of things! That's when I usually think to myself, "Why did I do that? What was I thinking?", realize that I wasn't thinking at the time and then ask God to give me His wisdom in how to repair the damage, if possible, and guide me back to His will.

What I should do is ask God for His wisdom and guidance BEFORE I make any decisions and get myself into trouble. I need his help, his wisdom and guidance in every aspect of my life. I need His wisdom to remind me to ask for His wisdom!! How crazy is that!? Praise God for the words in this verse "who gives generously to all without finding fault"! He doesn't find fault with me in my craziness, how comforting is that phrase!!

All I have to do is ask God for his help. "But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord." (James 1:6-7 NIV). When I ask, in faith, believing, God will answer. He will give generously of His wisdom, so that I don't have to rely on my own.

"God does not guide those who want to run their own life. He only guides those who admit their need of His direction and rely on His wisdom." - Winkie Pratney

Dear Lord, I am asking for Your wisdom and guidance today. May I turn to You first in all aspects of my life. Give me Your wisdom in my thoughts, my words and my actions.  Lead me in Your ways, Lord. May everything I do today be pleasing and glorifying to You. In faith and Jesus' name I ask this, Amen.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Who Do I Think I Am?

"You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgement on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement do the same things." - Romans 2:1 (NIV)

I believe I've said this in past blogs, but I've been making a concentrated effort to be less critical and judgemental. My effort is not always successful, though. There are times I'll see someone and, immediately, criticism will pop into my thoughts: "I can't believe they left the house wearing that!" or "Doesn't she realize how heavy that makes her look?" or "What were they thinking when they had their hair done like that?" or....any number of judgements. Or, someone will say something and I'll immediately think, "They're just making excuses." or "That's a lie." or "I can't believe they just said that!". I don't always catch myself when I judge someone, but when I do, I immediately ask God to forgive me and allow me to see the other person as someone He loves. God is the only righteous judge (Romans 5:2 NIV) so who do I think I am to make judgements against others?

One of the verses I quote to myself quite often is Matthew 7:1 (NIV): "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." This is Jesus saying this. He goes on to say, "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (vs 2). Ouch!! I can be pretty harsh in my judgements but I sure don't want to be judged harshly. Yet, that's exactly what's going to happen. When I stand before God on Judgement Day, He's going to judge me in the exact same way I stood in judgement of my fellow man. And, I find it funny, that when I look at the judgments I have against others, it's because they are doing, saying, thinking, or acting in the same way I do or have done in the past. Reminds me of the saying, "When you're pointing your finger at someone, remember that you have four other fingers pointing back at yourself." Jesus reinforces this saying in John 8:7 (NIV) when He says this about the woman caught in adultery, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."

I believe the Bible and it says I WILL be judged by God and by the same token that I judge others. I have to remind myself of this daily. I'm not perfect so who am I to expect everyone else to be? It's God's will that I love those I come into contact with each day. Jesus said it's the second greatest commandment: "Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12: 30-31 NIV).  This commandment applies to everyone: my husband, my kids, my grandkids, my family, my friends, my enemies, complete strangers....EVERYONE! No matter what they say or how they act or what they do, there's no good reason, NONE!, EVER!, that I should judge them. Who do I think I am? God?

Some things I'd like to point out that we may not think of as judging others. The guy on the corner begging for money - do you say to yourself, "I'm not giving him any money. He's probably just going to buy booze with it." JUDGEMENT!! A teenager with a baby - do you think, "Well, that's what happens when parents don't control their children." JUDGEMENT!! The stranger who says something hateful to you - do you complain to everyone you know about what was said? JUDGEMENT!! Here's a good one - Casey Anthony! When she was acquitted, did you rant and rave about the unfairness and that she would get what was coming to her eventually? Did you wonder what in the world the jury could have been thinking? JUDGEMENT!!

We are sinners; I AM a sinner. It's very, very difficult to love everyone and not sit in judgement of their actions. Sometimes it makes us feel better about ourselves, but God says it's wrong. That's why I have to keep reminding myself: Who do I think I am?

"The habit of judging is so nearly incurable, and its cure is such an almost interminable process, that we must concentrate ourselves for a long while on keeping it in check. We must grow to something higher, and something truer, than a quickness in detecting evil." - Frederick W. Faber

Dear Heavenly Father, I am sometimes very quick to judge others. Keep me mindful that I, too, am a sinner, saved by grace, and You have commanded me not to judge. Please make me aware of when judgement comes into my heart so that I can ask for Your forgiveness and Your help in changing my attitude to love the person I had judgement for. Teach me to love and help others without judgement. It's in Jesus' name I ask, Amen. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Living In Hope

"To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." - Colossians 1:27 (NIV)

This is a fabulous verse!! Christ - the hope of glory - is in me! Alive, willing and able to see me through whatever disappointments life throws at me.

I have no reason not to expect problems in my life. God did not promise me an easy life as a Christian. I will have just as much, if not more, troubles than a non-believer. In John 16:33 (NIV) Jesus tells me, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" Jesus has overcome the world and all the problems that are in it. He came so that I'll have peace when my problems seem overwhelming, so that I can live in hope of an eternity spent praising and worshiping Him. No more adversities, no more fears, no more worries and no more tears.

Satan wants me to live without hope. He wants me defeated and deflated. He wants me to look at all of the problems in my life, in the lives of my friends and family, in this country and around the world and just throw my hands up in the air and say, "Lord, why? Everything is hopeless. There's nothing I can do to make this better. I give up." I know people who think like this. They complain and say our world is getting worse all the time. They've lost hope for this and future generations.

But there is hope and His name is Jesus! He offers us security in an unsecure world.  He has overcome the despair, the trials and tribulations, the poverty, the suffering and the pain of this world. When we accept Him as our Lord and Savior, He brings a peace and joy into our hearts and souls that has no explanation or understanding. He allows us to live in hope, knowing we always have someone on our side that will walk beside us and see us through to the other side of our troubles. Someone who took on a human form and knows the temptations and pain we face on a daily basis. Jesus, Jesus, Friend, my Hope. Satan doesn't stand a chance against Him!!

"Jesus gives us hope because He keeps us company, has a vision and knows the way we should go." - Max Lucado

Precious Jesus, I will live in the hope You provided when You took my place on the cross. If I become discouraged or fearful, I will turn to You and lean on You for strength and comfort. I know You walk beside me through this life and, at times, You carry me when I'm too weak to move on my own. I thank You for the peace that passes all understanding that fills my heart and soul. Because of You, I know the day is coming when there will be no more despair or pain. Thank You, Lord! In Your name, Amen.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Bondage of Unforgiveness

"Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness." - 1 John 2:9 (NIV)

Hate - that's a strong word. It goes right along with anger and resentment. These three feelings can do more to stunt my spiritual growth than anything else. When my heart is filled with them, there's no room for love. There's also no room for light. When I'm angry or filled with resentment, it's not only my soul but my whole life that feels dark. The only way to get rid of the darkness is to forgive.

Forgiving someone when they hurt me or make me angry isn't an option. It's a requirement to become closer in my walk with Jesus. He was a sinless, perfect, innocent man who was beaten and hung on a cross...for MY sins. Yet He forgave me and continues to forgive me daily because I continue to sin daily. There is nothing anyone has ever done or can ever do to me that is worse than what I did to my Savior, yet he forgave me. I am required to do no less. 

Unforgiveness binds me to the person who I feel has wronged me. Thoughts of them and what I could do for revenge consume me. Wishes of harm to them fly through my mind throughout the day. My heart becomes hardened against them. I want to constantly talk about and revisit the harm they've done to me so that I can hold onto my anger. They are in control, not me. The bondage of unforgiveness keeps me imprisoned and in darkness. Jesus is the farthest thing from my thoughts.

Forgiveness frees me! When I forgive, Jesus brings light back into my world. I'm no longer held hostage by the feelings of anger, hurt, resentment or hatred. My heart is free to be filled with God's love and kindness. It allows me to grow in my spiritual walk instead of becoming stagnant. It allows Jesus' love to shine through me. I'm able to let the words and actions of others against me just roll off my back. What a wonderful way to live!!

How do I know when I've truly forgiven someone? I don't think about them in terms of what they've done to me anymore. I pray for them instead of getting angry about what they did or didn't do. They aren't constantly in my thoughts and my actions aren't defined by them. I don't talk and complain about them every chance I get. When I do think about them, I don't feel anger or hatred toward them. It's amazing what being free from the bondage of unforgiveness can be like.

If there's anyone you haven't forgiven....a parent, a child, a spouse, a sibling, the stranger who ran you off the road or stole your parking spot at the store....then I pray you learn to forgive. Colossians 3:13 (NIV) tells us this: "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." And, in Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV), Jesus tells us why we need to forgive: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." Let's not be in bondage to unforgiveness but be free by forgiving as God forgives us.

"I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive. Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note - torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one." - Henry Ward Beecher

Heavenly Father, I don't want to be in bondage to unforgiveness. Teach me to forgive, just as You forgive me. Let me keep my heart free from anger, hatred and resentment by keeping it full of Jesus' love, mercy and grace. If there is someone I am holding resentment or anger towards, please make me aware of it and allow me to forgive them. I ask this in Jesus' name, Amen. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Band of Believers

"My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ." - Colossians 2:2 (NIV)

We were not meant to live our lives as believers by ourselves. We are meant to be in fellowship, not only with Jesus, but also with fellow believers. Now, hear me clearly...I'm not saying we cannot and should not have friends who are not Christians. The Bible doesn't say that, either. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 (NIV), Paul tells me that I could not live in this world if I didn't have friends who were non-believers. My best friend isn't a believer. However, in order to grow and become more Christ-like in my spiritual walk, I need to surround myself with fellow Christians.

Until 3 or 4 years ago, my instant reaction to my last statement would have been, "No way!" Why? Because of the type of Christians I grew up around and met in my early adult life. I always felt they were looking for a reason to judge me and tell me that what I was doing, the things I was saying, the clothes I was wearing or the places I was going were not Christ-like and God would punish me for them. Maybe that was true and maybe I needed to be told these things, but it was the way I was told that really pushed me away. I never felt I was told these things out of love or encouragement, in order that I might become closer to God, but more out of the need to exude control and also so that the person telling me would feel superior and more God-like in their own life. At least that's the way it felt to me.

But, within the last few years, I have become surrounded by Christians who are real. They aren't ashamed to talk about their own imperfections. They aren't afraid to admit they're still learning what this walk with Jesus looks like. Just like me. At church yesterday, the pastor spoke about discipleship and the "exercises" needed to be a disciple of Jesus. One of them was fellowship. Fellowship means to share experiences and companionship with a group of like-minded persons. It means being active in, not just attending, church. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV) says, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching." In my church, because it is so large, this means serving and being part of a Life Group.

A Life Group is a small group of believers who get together at least once a week to discuss the message, pray for each other, encourage each other through life's rough spots, hold each other accountable for our spiritual walk and just love each other. It is an essential part of my life that I rarely miss. I require the company of these fellow Christians just as much as I require food and water. They hold me accountable in my daily walk with Jesus. I absolutely adore each and everyone in my Life Group. They are my band of believers. And that is a statement I never thought would come out of my mouth much less that I would write about!!

My relationship with Jesus is personal but it's not private. It's meant to be shared with others. With believers, so that I may continue to grow in my daily walk with Jesus. With non-believers, so that they may come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ and become one of the band of believers I so look forward to spending eternity with.

I was unable to decide on just one quote today, because all of these spoke to me!
"Our love to God is measured by our everyday fellowship with others and the love it displays." - Andrew Murray
"Fellowship means among other things that we are ready to receive of Christ from others. Other believers minister Christ to me, and I am ready to receive." - Watchman Nee
"Aloneness can lead to loneliness. God's preventative for loneliness is intimacy - meaningful, open, sharing relationships with one another. In Christ we have the capacity for the fulfilling sense of belonging which comes from intimate fellowship with God and with other believers." - Neil T. Anderson
"He (God) usually prefers to work through people rather than perform miracles, so that we will depend on each other for fellowship." - Rick Warren
"There is a brotherhood within the body of believers, and the Lord Jesus Christ is the common denominator. Friendship and fellowship are the legal tender among believers." - J. Vernon McGee
"Some Christians try to go to heaven alone, in solitude. But believers are not compared to bears or lions or other animals that wander alone. Those who belong to Christ are sheep in this respect, that they love to get together. Sheep go in flocks, and so do God's people." - Charles Spurgeon
Awesome God, I lift up praise to You for the wonderful companionship I have with Jesus through fellowship with other believers. Thank You for the encouragement we give each other and the accountability we hold each other to. May we continue to grow closer in our relationship with Jesus as we study, learn and walk this walk together. May we be vulnerable, open and honest with each other. May Jesus always be at the center of everything we say and do. In His precious name I pray, Amen.

In Times of Tragedy

"For I am the Lord, who heals you." - Exodus 15:26b (NIV)

Tragedy hits when we least expect it. And, as we age, we are faced with more and more of it. Illness, divorce, natural disasters, lost jobs, death....each and every one of us has been or will be faced with tragedy at some time in our lives. I don't know about you, but I struggle with finding the right words to say to someone whose heart has been broken. "I'm so sorry." projects my feelings, but beyond that, I don't want to compound the pain by saying or doing the wrong thing.

Thankfully, God is available and present. In Psalm 34:18 (NIV) He tells us this: "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." And in Psalm 147:3 (NIV) He says, "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." Lastly, God promises never to give us more than we can bear: "And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV). God is the Great Healer and Comforter. He is the one to turn to in times of pain and tragedy. Through Him comes strength to face each day. When we think we can't take the next step, He will carry us until we're able to stand on our own again.

So, it's not up to me to know what to say and do. I don't need to spew platitudes that aren't welcome or aren't needed. What I need to do is pray, turn to God during these times and trust in Him to bring the comfort and healing that is necessary. He will show me what I need to do or say at the right time. Maybe it's just being with that person, loving on them and letting them grieve. To give them support and show them God's love through listening and crying with them. Maybe it's running their errands for them or cleaning their home or feeding them. Maybe, when they're ready, it's praying with them. Whatever the need may be, God knows what it is. He is available and able to bring healing, even to the most broken heart.

"No matter what you're going through, there's no pit so deep that God can't reach in and get you out." - Joyce Meyer

Dear God, Your Word promises me that You will heal the brokenhearted. I pray for those who are hurting today, Lord. Whether it be from an illness, from a job loss, from financial difficulties, from the loss of a loved one...whatever is causing the pain, God, I lift them up to You for comfort and healing. May they feel Your Presence and love surrounding them during these difficult times. And, Lord, I ask that You use me as You see fit to help in the healing process. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

An Opportunity to Grow

"Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your word." - Psalm 119:67 (NIV)

I don't like difficulties or setbacks. I hate to make mistakes. Failure is not an option for me. Yet I know I'm an imperfect human and a sinner. I can forgive others pretty much anything, but I tend to beat myself up when I screw up. However, I know this one thing - every difficulty I encounter, every mistake I make, is an opportunity to learn something.

I recently posted the following on Facebook: "When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you or you can let it strengthen you.". The choice is ours. I can honestly say that I don't run from my mistakes. I own up to them; I take responsibility for them. But, many times, I play them over and over and over in my head afterwards - what I could have/should have done or said or thought differently. I ask myself, "Why did you do/say that? What were you thinking?!" Then, believe me, I do my best to make sure I NEVER do or say that thing again! Yet, at no time have I ever said to myself, "It was a mistake, forgive yourself." And now I have to ask myself, "Why haven't I?".

Mark 11:25 (NIV)  Jesus tells me this, "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." Against ANYONE! Including myself!! I have to really think on this one. Maybe that's why I lose weight only to gain it back...I have to forgive myself! Maybe that's why I get irritated and angry with other people when I see things in them that I don't like in me...I have to forgive myself! If I'm not forgiving myself, I'm not obeying God's Word and if I'm not obeying God's Word, then I'm sinning, and if I'm sinning I'm not forgiving myself.....vicious cycle!!

It's my choice: do I forgive myself and look at my mistakes and difficulties as opportunities to grow or do I continue the vicious cycle? I'd say the choice is obvious, isn't it? What about you? Do you look at life's difficulties as opportunities to grow and learn? Jesus forgives us of our sins whenever we ask Him to. We should do no less for ourselves.

"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." - Lewis B. Smedes

Dear Lord, I know I'm imperfect and I make mistakes on a daily basis. I am so grateful for Your unconditional love and forgiveness of my sins. Teach me how to forgive myself. Let me use each mistake and setback as an opportunity to learn and grow in You. May I grow each day in Your wisdom, and in faith and love. In Jesus' name, Amen.