Sunday, October 30, 2011

Worship Song Sunday -- Nothing Without You, by Bebo Norman

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. ~ Romans 12:1, NIV

With all my heart
With all my soul
With all my mind
With all the strength that I can find

Take my time here on this earth
And let it glorify all that You are worth
For I am nothing,
I am nothing without You

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Be Not Afraid

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. For I am the LORD, your God, Who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, 'Do not fear; I will help you.' " ~ Isaiah 41:10-13, NIV

I think it's safe to say that I've spent almost my entire life living in fear. That's a pretty sad and embarrassing confession to make.  Below is a list of some of the things that I've allowed a spirit of fear to infuse into my heart over the years:

Fear of the dark
Fear of flying
Fear of drowning
Fear of public speaking
Fear of change
Fear of pain
Fear of cancer
Fear of failure
Fear of being rejected and abandoned
Fear of being unloved
Fear of letting go
Fear of dying

Pretty hefty little list I've been lugging around all this time, don't you think?

Fear -- it's the roadblock to recovery and redemption, to hope and healing.
Fear -- it's the stumbling block to salvation and serenity.

As followers of Christ, the spirit of fear should have no rule or reign over our lives. But as flawed and fallible human beings, it can. If we let it. And oh....sadly, how I have let it!

The spirit of fear can rise up in one area of your life, and much like cancer, if not recognized and treated aggressively, will metastasize quickly to all other areas, paralyzing you and choking the very breath right out of you.

God's Word has so much to say about not allowing ourselves to be held captive by fear.  We are told again and again to 'fear not,' 'be not afraid,' and 'do not be terrified.'  In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses encourages the people of Israel, who are about to cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land, with this message of truth from the LORD God: "So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, NLT).  And then to Joshua, who would be leading them there, Moses said: “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; He will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:8, NLT).  The prophet Isaiah tells us that the LORD says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine" (Isaiah 43:1, NIV).   And Jeremiah, the youthful prophet, was fearful of speaking to the nations, as God had appointed him to do, and began to make excuses, but God said to him, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:7-8, NASB).  

In the book of Romans, Paul reminds the church then, as well as us today, that we "did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption" (Romans 8:15, NIV).  Paul also points out to his protégé, Timothy, that  "God did not give us a spirit of timidity and fear, but of power, love and self-discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT).  And the apostle John tells us that "God is love", and that His "perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced His perfect love" (1 John 4:16b;18, NLT).   A notation in my study Bible states that love and fear are opposites.  Never looked at it that way, but now that I have, I'd tend to agree.  How can you truly love Someone (God) of whom you're deathly afraid?   How can you be afraid of Someone you truly, dearly love? 

In Psalm 27:1, David poses these two statements and accompanying questions: THE LORD is my Light and my Salvation--whom shall I fear or dread? The LORD is the Refuge and Stronghold of my life--of whom shall I be afraid?  If these statements are true in my own life, then whom am I fearing and dreading?  Of  whom am I afraid?  Those are questions I've had to ask myself and contemplate recently.  Yesterday, in response to an email prayer request of mine for two of my family members, a friend called me.  She wasted no time, minced no words and refused to sugarcoat her message that I was being held captive to a spirit of fear, and that I needed to be serious and relentless about removing it from my life and my home.  This was NOT what I was looking to hear and acknowledge from my friend...or from anyone for that matter.  It was a hard, awkward and extremely painful message to receive.  It made me physically cringe, but it was a necessary message --a warning, if you will.  And it was the truth.  The truth, spoken in love: I am a prisoner to the spirit of fear.  

The spirit of fear is a weapon that Satan, our adversary, wields easily and skillfully in battle.  Make no mistake, dear ones -- satantic attacks and spiritual warfare are FOR REAL. We are delusional if we do not believe that we are fully engaged in a daily battle for our souls and for the souls of our precious loved ones, most especially for our children (young and adult children alike). 

When this spirit of fear take over, it blinds and deafens me to the truths that God is in control, that He is faithful, that I can trust Him with everything and that He is mighty to save.  I've allowed the spirit of fear to give growth to the problematic circumstances and people in my life until they tower over me like hideous, monstrous giants.  I've allowed the spirit of fear to wipe out my memory of what God has done for me in the past.  In Samuel 17, a young David stood up to fight against the Philistine giant, Goliath.  King Saul tried to disuade him, telling David he was just a boy.  But David told Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:34-35;37, NIV).  David was fearless, not caving into a spirit of fear, because he remembered what God had done for him in the past.

Like the ten of the twelve spies that whom Moses sent to survey the Promised Land, I've allowed a spirit of fear to distort my view of my circumstances and to focus only on the negative and on those things that seem to be larger than life.  And like the apostle Peter, after stepping out of the boat to walk on water towards his Savior, I've taken my eyes off Jesus and allowed a spirit of fear to engulf me and try to drown me.

Notice each time, I've said that I've 'allowed it.'  Because I have.  But my friend's words cut me to the heart, and I can no longer allow a spirit of fear to remain in my life and hold me captive.  It must be removed. I must break free.

But how?  What am I to do when I find myself in fear's vise grip?  

Look to God's Word.  Listen for His Voice of truth within the Scriptures; cling tightly to Him and to them, and stand firmly on His promises. Remember what He has done in the past and KNOW that He will deliver me from present and future trials and difficulties.  Have faith and trust God, taking Him at His word, because He is worthy of my trust.  I mentioned David's fearlessness against Goliath.  Later on in the book of Psalms, it's apparent that David struggled with a spirit of fear:  "My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me.  Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest—  I would flee far away and stay in the desert; Selah. I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” (Psalm 55:4-8, NIV).   What removed that spirit of fear from David?  In the very next psalm, David states exactly what he did and what I need to do in order to vanquish this spirit of fear that has haunted me for years and break free from this prison that I've allowed it to cast me into:

 When I am afraid, I will trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?" (Psalm 56:3-4, NIV). 

But the voice of truth tells me a different story
And the voice of truth says "Do not be afraid!"~ Voice of Truth, by Casting Crowns

(I've included the beautiful song and video below)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Worship Song Sunday -- Presence (Hearts Desire) by Newsboys and Jesus Calling Devotional

I'm amazed over and over at how our Lord God speaks a message to us that we need to hear, when we need to hear it.

Just as the weekend was about to begin, I was presented with some information, via a phone call and some emails, that sent family life here into a tailspin. I cannot go into details, but suffice it to say that it has been a rough couple of days, and unfortunately, circumstances may get worse before they get better. I need to stay positive for the sake of someone else, but it's been a moment by moment struggle. 

I chose this particular worship song early on in the week, having no idea just how it, today's devotional message  from the 'Jesus Calling' devotional book and the message from today's sermon at my church would seem to mesh, and how the Lord would speak to me in my particular circumstance through all three of them. Below is the devotional:

"As you turn your attention to Me, feel the Light of My Presence shining upon you.  Open your mind and heart to receive My heavenly smile of approval.  Let My gold-tinged Love wash over you and soak into the depths of your being.  As you are increasingly filled with My Being, you experience joyous union with Me: I in you, and you in Me.  Your Joy-in-Me and My Joy-in-you become intertwined and inseparable.  I suffuse your soul with Joy in My Presence; at My right hand there are pleasures forevermore. "

My pastor preached from the Book of Philippians today, all about having joy despite our circumstances.  Joy is NOT happiness; it's a deep-seated contentment regardless of my circumstances, knowing the Lord God is in control.  My circumstances do not determine my joy, because my joy comes from having the light of Christ's presence inside of me.   

This was a much needed reminder for me today, and it became a soothing balm to my aching heart and soul.   Maybe someone else needs to be reminded of this today as well, or perhaps hear it for the very first time.  Worship and praise the Lord, regardless of your circumstances.  Allow the Light of His Presence to bring you joy.

Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presence, LORD. - Psalm 89:15

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How Many?

Ok, show of many of you out there know that October is Domestic Violence Awareness month?

Hmmm, I thought so. Not many.  But hey...don't feel so bad,  I didn't either.  Alright, many of you out there know of someone who is/was a victim of domestic violence and abuse?  Sadly, maybe a lot more hands were raised.  Maybe you yourself have been or still are that victim.

Many years ago, in my much younger days, I was a victim of domestic abuse.  I admit that the majority of my close friends (and even my family, save for my husband) do not know this about me (but obviously the cat's out of the bag now).  It's not a topic  I often bring up over bagels and coffee during fellowship hour at church;  I've actually only shared the details with a few chosen people in my life whom I felt would benefit from knowing, to let them know that there is a way out, there is hope and that they aren't alone.  

No, this isn't going to be a 'tell all' blog post.  I actually just felt moved to step out and declare this as a way of introducing to you an extremely beautiful, yet scathingly haunting poem.  It's written by a new friend named Shanyn Silinksi, whom I've had the pleasure of 'meeting' here in the blogosphere.   Her blog is entitled "Sunflower Poetry," and can be found here:

Shanyn knows all too well the pain, heartache, anguish, fear and shame that comes with being a victim in an abusive relationship.  But thanks be to God, she now also knows the confidence, strength, security and freedom that comes with being a survivor. Shanyn is a beautiful soul and it's my honor to share her poem with all of you.  Please do share this with someone else, and feel free to stop by Shanyn's blog and leave her an encouraging comment or two:

How Many Stand Silent?

How many stand silent,
Watching as you quietly die?

How many stand silent,
Watching as you are abused?

One, a dozen, the whole world.
What if no one spoke for any of us?

Would you speak if the hand raised,
was raised against you and yours?

How many stand silent,
Knowing who deals death
Just beyond their door?

How many stand silent,
Knowing cruelty lives and thrives
Just beyond their door?

One, a dozen, the whole world.
What if no one looked at any of us?

Would you cry out or would you cower away,
if the cruelty was coming through your door?

How many stand silent,
Waiting for someone to speak?

How many stand silent,
Believing the lies, “I’ve changed”?

One, a dozen, the whole world.
What if we stopped believing them?

How many stand silent…
How many stand silent waiting for…
Just one person to say, “Stop! Enough!”?

How many stand silent…
How many stand silent waiting for…
Someone else to make the world change?

copyright Shanyn Silinski 2010

Monday, October 17, 2011

You're My Only Hope

Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro:
He bustles about, but only in vain;
he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.

But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in You. ~ Psalm 39:6-7

You can watch the news on TV, listen to it on the radio, read it in the newspaper or have it pop up as a feed to view from your computer, iPhone or iPad, thereby becoming privy to way too many stories of people all over the planet who find themselves suffering in hopeless situations. But really, you don't even have to go that far....just look around you in your own little world. Those in need of help, healing and hope are right under your nose -- people in your neighborhood, at your school or office, sitting next to you at church (church?? Does this shock you? It shouldn't)....maybe even in your own family. People who perhaps have no relationship with Jesus whatsoever, who think He's merely a figment of someone's overactive imagination or a character in a child's fairy tale.  Or people who've had a relationship with Jesus, but over the years, for whatever reason, have let that relationship fall by the wayside.  Maybe, the one in need of help, healing and you.
Doctors hand you a frightening health diagnosis...but they just can't seem to find the proper treatment for it.  You've lost your job due to downsizing and day after day, you fill out online applications and send out your resume to everyone under the sun....and everyday, you're met with silence.  A lifelong dream is shattered....and there doesn't seem to be enough glue in the world to piece it back together.  You watch as people in your life seem to have blessing upon blessing rain down upon them....yet you feel continually bombarded by storm after storm, and the light at the end of the tunnel has become just a lame cliché for you.  You feel....hopeless.

You hate your life and you feel like packing it in and giving up.  Maybe you already have.  In your anger and doubt and fear and despair, you've turned your back on your First Love and walked away from Him for a time.  Perhaps for a very long time. But you've found that life without Him isn't what you thought it would be. You're confused and ashamed and guilt-ridden.  Like a runaway, prodigal child, you feel you can't ever come home.  Yet you couldn't be further from the truth.

While scrolling through my emails on Sunday afternoon, I came across one from DaySpring, the Christian greeting card company.  In the email were two very short devotional thoughts, each with a Scripture verse from DaySpring's cofounder and writer, Roy Lessin.  Below is the one I was immediately drawn to and would like to share with you here:

There is hope...
You can turn back to God,
because He has not turned His back on you.
You can hold on to God,
because He has not released His hold on you.
You can love God again,
because He has never stopped loving you.
I have formed you, you are My servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me! I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, And like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you. Isaiah 44:21-22
What an encouragement!  Yes, there is hope. No matter what we've done or said, no matter how far we've strayed or where it is we've come from, the Lord's love for us is available, unconditional and unfailing.  He is an endless fountain of mercy, grace and forgiveness.  And though you may not think so or feel it, you are firmly in His grip. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, our Lord waits for us, searching the road for a glimpse of us, His beloved children, ready to welcome us into His arms. We are NOT beyond redemption. He is our Rock and our Refuge.  He is our strong tower and our firm foundation.  He is our Anchor.   All hope is found in Christ alone.  

In the movie, Star Wars, there's a scene in which Princess Leia is in dire need and reaches out to  Obi-Wan for help.  She tells him, "This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope!"  In our most desperate hour, in our most desperate moments, Jesus is our ONLY Hope.  In church on Sunday, our worship leader told us this:  "With Christ in our life, there is endless hope. Without Him in our life, it's a hopeless end."
Don't give up. Come to Jesus.  There IS hope in Him. Believe it. 

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
He is my mighty rock, my refuge. ~ Psalm 62:5-7

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand ~ In Christ Alone, by Natalie Grant

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Worship Song Sunday -- Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, by Selah

There are so many things to distract us in life -- some good, some not so good.  We can allow ourselves to become overinvolved in service to the Lord God or we can allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by difficult people and our painful circumstances. 

God's Word tells us to turn our eyes away from worthless things (Psalm 119:37).  And a few psalms later, the psalmist says, "I lift up my eyes to the hills -- where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth." ~ Psalm 121:1-2)

Dear ones, WHATEVER is going on in your life today, whatever distractions you have in your life right now, let me encourage you to lay them aside for a few moments and give all your attention and worship to our Savior and King.  Turn your eyes upon the only One Who is worth looking to: Jesus.

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." ~ Hebrews 12:2-3

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cry Out To Jesus

We all have our good days and bad days.  Sometimes, even as Christ's followers, it seems that the bad days can outweigh the good.  Things go wrong -- your kids miss the bus for the third time in a row and you're running late again for work. Your car's making 'that noise' and the Check Engine light boldly refuses to go out. Gossipy, catty coworkers have decided to put YOU in the rumor mill hot seat today.  For the second time this month, an envelope arrives in the mail from you bank, containing the thin slip of paper with the dreaded words 'Insufficient Funds' emblazoned across the top, and you realize your rent is due in two days.  Your kitty heaves up a ginormous hairball on your newly cleaned carpet AND your best shoes.  And one of your answering machine messages reminds you that you promised to bring your yummy homemade brownies to tonight's 7:00 Bible study -- but it's 6:00 and you haven't even made dinner, let alone brownies.

Then there are the other, bigger things in life that go wrong, coming along like tsunamis to knock us down: a spouse up and leaves us for someone else; a parent dies; a friend betrays us; a lover rejects us; our children disappoint us with their foolish choices and destructive behaviors; a promotion is given to someone else or we lose our job entirely; our health concerns continue to spiral out-of-control, no matter what we or the doctors do.

Some days, we're better at putting on our happy face masks and going through the motions, chirping "I'm fine!" to anyone who asks.  But then there are other days when even as our eyelids begin to flutter open and before our feet can touch base with the bedroom carpet, those heavy burdens we carry seem to come crashing through the roof for an unwelcome early morning 'meet and greet,' pressing us down before we can even rise up, shattering us.  Anguish, hopelessness and depression become our captors.  We are overwhelmed and broken before our morning coffee has a chance to brew.

These are the days when we can do nothing else but cry out to Jesus.  These are the days when we NEED to remember that He is everything to us:

He is our King and our Friend
He is the Lover of our soul
He is our Wonderful Counselor
He is our Savior and Redeemer Who lives
He is our Helper
He is our Prince of Peace
He is our Rock and our Refuge
He is our beloved Good Shepherd

In my times of despair and feeling overwhelmed (whether caused by others or by my own hand), I've learned that the best place for me to find comfort, strength, encouragement, joy, peace and hope is in God's Word...and more specifically, in the Book of Psalms.  While many of the 150 psalms are happy ones, centering on praise to, worship of and thanksgiving for our Lord, there are also others that address the discouragement, anguish, fears, hopelessness, sorrow and trials we all struggle  with during our lives.  Over the years, the Book of Psalms has become my book of hope.

Throughout Psalms, in each trying circumstance, in every moment of pain, sorrow, brokenness and oppression, the various psalm writers know exactly what to do and to whom they should run.   They don't look to their families, friends, physicians or their government for help or comfort or strength --they call on and cry out to the Lord.  

'Evening, morning and noon, I cry out in distress and He hears my voice.' (Psalm 55:17)

'Out of the depths I cry to You, O LORD; O Lord, hear my voice. Let Your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.' (Psalm 130:1-2)

'For He will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.' (Psalm 72:12)

They pull no punches in telling Him just how they feel (because after all, He knows His children inside and out; He knows the hearts of the ones He loves, so why try to hide those feelings from Him?), as the Sons of Korah do in Psalm 88:

'You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.  Your wrath lies heavily upon me; You have overwhelmed me with all Your waves.  (Selah) You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. Do You show Your wonders to the dead? Do those who are dead raise up and praise You? Why, O LORD, do You reject me and hide Your face from me?' (Psalm 88:6-8;10;14)  

They present all their complaints to Him:

'I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy.  I pour out my complaint before Him; before Him, I tell my trouble (Psalm 142:1-2) and 'Hear me, O God, as I voice my complaint.' (Psalm 64:1)

and encourage others (like us) to do the same:

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

'Cast your cares on the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall.' (Psalm 55:22)

I gain comfort in the knowledge that the Lord's anointed people weren't always perfect 'shiny, happy people'; they hurt and were depressed and felt angry and despondent as I often do.  I'm not alone.

Because in our suffering, people can't always be there for us.  They have their own lives to lead, their own families to care for, their own jobs to go to, their own health problems to contend with, their own issues and pain to deal with.  Although they may long to help and comfort and counsel us, they can't always be available to us.

But there is a Friend, One Who sticks closer than a brother: Jesus.  He is our faithful, loving Friend Who is always available to us, 24/7, 365 days a year.  He is not overwhelmed or overbooked.  We'll never hear, "I'm sorry, I'm unavailable to speak with you at the moment, but if you leave a message, I'll be sure to get back to you as soon as possible."

He is Immanuel -- God with us.  He is El Roi -- The God Who Sees.  He is not blind to your hurts and grief, or your fear and anxiety.  He is Jehovah -Shammah -- God is there.  Yes, He is right there wherever you your emptiness and loneliness;  in your hopelessness and brokenness.

'The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.'  (Psalm 34:18)

Are you brokenhearted and unloved; anxious and exhausted; poor and needy, in distress and in despair?  Look to the One Who knows and understands what it's like to be lonely and rejected; to be hurt and cast aside; to be in anguish and feel forsaken.  He's been there.  He's Jesus.  Cry out to Him.

There is hope for the helpless, rest for the weary,
And love for the broken hearts;
There is grace and forgiveness, mercy and healing,
He'll meet you wherever you are....
Cry out to Jesus,
Cry out to Jesus. ~ Cry Out To Jesus, by Third Day

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wrestling With God (Part Two - The Lesson)

Yesterday, I posted here about a family feud and, as a result of that feud and my not so lovely part in it, my experience of wrestling with God. But unlike Jacob, who wrestled into the night with God for a blessing, I was wrestling for something else.

After standing outside for a time in the brisk evening beneath the moon and stars, I went back upstairs to bed.  Sleep remained elusive. I bounced back and forth between really wanting to open myself up to the Lord and let go of my anger and just wanting Him to let me get some peace-filled sleep and then we'd chat in the morning. I can be such a stubborn and indecisive woman!

As the delicate light of dawn began to peek through the bedroom window, I lay there, completely spent but still wide awake and my soul cried out to the Lord, "Okay...I know I said some mean, ugly and hurtful things to my family.  Things I can't take back. I'm so sorry and I'm tired of being angry. But Lord...they make me CRAZY! You KNOW they do! This is not the family I dreamed of having when I was a kid.  It's not supposed to be like this. What am I supposed to do with them? They make it SO hard to love them, Lord.  What do You WANT from me??!!!"  Yes, not only was I crying out to Him, but I was whining, too.

And His gracious, loving response to me came oh-so-quickly and clearly from His Word in Micah 6:8:

'He has showed you, O man,
What is good.
And what does the LORD require
of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with
your God.'

I knew this verse all too well, and I actually groaned and thought, "oh no...not this."

"Ah, yes, My child...this."

I've heard many times over in Bible studies, sermons and books to be careful not to take God's Word out of context, pulling out some verse from Scripture and saying, 'THIS is what it really means.'  Or pinning it randomly to some scenario in our own lives or someone else's life because it sounds like a good fit, but really has nothing to do with it (Isaiah 11:6 'and a little child will lead them' immediately comes to mind as an example of this kind of thing).  I agree, you do have to look closely at when it was written, by whom and to whom it was written and why it was written.  But I also believe that through careful examination AND the Holy Spirit's guidance, you will see how a particular Scripture can be applied to particular situations and circumstances going on in your life.

While this verse was a part of God's message through Micah to the leaders and people of Jerusalem and Samaria, admonishing them for their pride, greed, false piety and oppression of the poor among them, it was obvious that God had a lesson in it for me to learn and apply to my life, right where I was.   So, the answer to my whining question, 'what does the Lord God want from me?' is this:

**To act justly -- I've read other translations which say 'to do what is right,' or 'to act with fairness.'  In this case, the right and fair thing for me to do was to stop being so angry; to stop whining about my circumstances and my family; to quit holding a grudge and being bitter and resentful; and to show forgiveness towards them, even when it's not asked for, not accepted or ignored altogether.

**To love mercy -- when you really love someone or something (and I'm not talking here about the way you feel about Triple Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream or about your new iPhone), you become all about that someone or that something; you dedicate and devote you life to them or to it.  For example, you love animals, so perhaps you dedicate and devote your life to becoming a veterinarian, or an advocate for abandoned and abused animals.  When you love Jesus with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength, you dedicate and devote your life to living for and serving Him in whatever ways you can.  Your life becomes all about Him as you show yourself to the world as a man or woman of God.   Again, in this case, I see the Lord leading me to be a woman who is all about mercy, dedicating and devoting my life to showing it to others.  But most especially in this instance, showing that mercy to my family by not giving them what I think and believe they deserve.

**And to walk humbly with your God -- May I come clean and be totally transparent here?  I am NOT a humble person.  In fact, I've struggled with humility for years.  Pride has been one of my main stumbling blocks in life.  I've some pretty good ideas on why that is, but that's not relevant right now.  The point here is, humility is most definitely not my strong suit. Yet the Lord has called me to be humble as I walk along with Him.  And as I was writing this, I realized that perhaps the key to overcoming my struggle with humility has everything to do with one word in this phrase: 'with.'  With God.  Not running ahead of Him or dilly-dallying behind Him, but walking right along with Him. As long as I'm walking in tandem with the Lord, with my focus totally on Him, I'm thinking there's less likelihood of my tripping over and entangling myself in those nets of pride that the enemy enjoys throwing across my path.

I have to say, being obedient and applying this lesson to my life later that morning wasn't easy for me. Things like this never are.  And indeed, it was a painful lesson (and one I'm hopeful I won't have to relearn anytime soon).  I must admit I'm extremely thankful that the Lord didn't see fit to pull my hip out of its socket, as He did with Jacob.

Have you been wrestling with God over a situation or a person lately?  Let me encourage you to waste no time in turning it or them over to Him and instead, do the very thing He requires of you:  To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with Him.

What good is there that I can do?
How can I please you?
How can I please you?

He has called you a man
What is good
And what does the Lord require of you?
But to do justice, to love kindness
And to walk humbly with your God~ Micah 6:8, by Phil Keaggy

Monday, October 10, 2011

Wrestling With God (Part One - The Setup)

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. ~ Genesis 32:24

There was an explosion at our house last night.  No, it wasn't our hot water heater or our microwave and sadly, it wasn't our TV either, so no one was physically injured.  It was an explosion of family dynamics and to be sure, there was some emotional damage inflicted. Once again, my Rock 'Em-Sock 'Em Teenbots pulled out their boxing gloves and commenced to fighting over who was going to watch what on television (hence, my disappointment that the TV hadn't exploded, which would have stopped this battle before it even began).  Naturally, I was called into the room to referee and to play the role of King Solomon, choosing which offspring would be in control of the remote control. Things got ugly rather quickly and my husband, who was watching TV in our bedroom, came downstairs and stepped out into the ring, too.  Everybody was throwing verbal punches by then (with the hardest hitter being yours truly) and finally, we all stormed off to our respective corners, angrily licking our wounds. There were no winners in that round.

I admit to having an extremely short fuse, as well as an inability to let go of things easily, and I'm neither proud nor happy to report that I spent the remainder of the evening slamming doors and cabinets, banging pots, pans and dishes, and muttering indistinguishable words and phrases (a la` the dad in 'A Christmas Story') as I stomped around the kitchen.  I even threw a few small items around the table in the hopes it would make me feel better (it didn't).  Again, I'm not proud nor happy to reveal this.  Not painting a very Christ-like image of myself here, am I?

After tersely bidding my son and daughter good night, with a harsh reminder that they HAD BETTER fold ALL of their laundry that was piled on the love seat before they went to bed, I pounded up the stairs and flopped onto the bed.  I put my earbuds in and turned the music way up on my iPod,  hoping my husband would be able to tell that I was NOT a happy camper as he watched some James Bond movie.  And no, dear ones -- I'm ashamed to admit that no 'I'm sorrys' were exchanged, and I brushed away the verse from Ephesians 4 that, like some pesky mosquito, kept buzzing around my head. You know the one - about not letting the sun go down on your anger?  Yeah, THAT one. And boy, was I angry.

First, I chose some of the louder, edgier, non-secular tunes I've downloaded over the years (rest assured, there's nothing awful that should come with warning labels), as I lay with my arms folded across my chest, like some bratty, spoiled child.  But then, for some reason, as I scrolled through my playlists, I decided to listen to some music from Owl City.  For those who may not know, Owl City is not a band, but actually one extremely talented young man, Adam Young, and his music is very infectious, bouncy, fun technopop(Wikipedia describes it as 'synthpop' or 'dreampop'), yet strangely comforting and encouraging.  But maybe not so strangely, because Adam Young, as I learned last year, is a follower of Christ, although his music isn't be labeled as 'Christian.'  Adam's lyrics are sweet, simple and sincere, with some finely honed humor and irony interspersed throughout. He's a true wordsmith, weaving beautiful tapestries about the daily adventures of life and love (mostly of the romantic kind) through his use of metaphors and allegories. But -- if you listen closely, you'll hear his heart for the Lord woven into many of his song's lyrics.

The lyrics to one song in particular last night stopped me dead in my still angry tracks.  It's called 'Meteor Shower:'

'I can finally see
That you're right there beside me;
I am not my own,
For I have been made new;
Please don't let me go
I desperately need you.'

That's the whole entire song. Simple, sweet and sincere.  I swear I don't remember hearing these words before in this song, but believe me, I caught them last night.  And I started to cry.

Because from the moment I flew up my stairs, I knew darn right well that the Lord was waving all kinds of red flags in front of me, trying to pull me out of my angry, childish state and get my focus back on Him, to calm me down and to learn a much needed lesson.  But I kept telling myself that I didn't want to hear it or to deal with Him or my stupid self, so I foolishly tried to plug up my ears and drown out His still, small voice with some loud music.  But as the Lord God told the young prophet, Jeremiah, "I am the LORD, the God of all mankind.  Is anything too hard for Me?" (Jeremiah 32:27)  No matter what I do, no matter how far I run or how hard I try to hide from Him, He will always find me and find a way to get through to me.  

And so, through a simple song, the Lord had my attention once again.  And He kept it -- all night long.  Not surprisingly, I could not sleep at all. Not a wink. I tossed and turned -- angry, broken, convicted, remorseful, uncomfortable, desperate for peace. I even went downstairs and outside for a time, gazing up at the moon and the star-filled sky. Like Jacob, I was up all night, wrestling with God.

More about the lesson in my next post. I hope you'll stop by to read it.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Worship Song Sunday -- Like Incense (Sometimes By Step) by Hillsong

May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.  ~ Psalm 141:2 (NIV)

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water ~ Psalm 63:1

Worship the Lord and experience a fresh encounter with Him each time!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Morning Glory

Have you ever commanded the morning to appear
and caused the dawn to rise in the east?
Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth,
to bring an end to the night’s wickedness?
As the light approaches,
the earth takes shape like clay pressed beneath a seal;
it is robed in brilliant colors ~ Job 38:12-14, NLT

Have you ever watched the sky change color? No, I mean REALLY watched it, giving it your complete and undivided attention, not just glancing out the window from time to time as you go about your duties. Have you ever made it a point to be a captive audience for the display of beauty that the Lord God puts on for you each and every day?

Early this morning, I was sitting down at my kitchen table and had just opened my ‘Jesus Calling’ devotional book. Normally, I take it, my Bible, my journal, a cup of coffee and myself down into my basement into the little area I’ve set up for myself for my alone time with the Lord. But this morning, my schedule was thrown off a bit, due to some testing that’s going on at my daughter’s school, so for the short time I had before I had to start getting things ready for breakfast, I decided to sit at the kitchen table instead. Before I began reading, I glanced out the storm door and saw the dark blue and grey sky beginning to change color. As I turned back to the book, it almost felt like Jesus took my face in His hands and turned it back towards the sky, whispering “No, not yet, dear one. Come look at what I have for you this morning.” I rose to my feet and, still in my pajamas, stepped out onto my back porch.

I felt the crisp coolness of the air hit my skin, took in the scent of the rain we’d had overnight and listened to the soundtrack of singing birds, water dripping off my neighbor’s rainspout and then suddenly, magically, as if on cue, the ringing of bells from the church across the street as I watched the Lord God peel back the darker shades of blue and grey to reveal a lighter, beautiful dusty mauve sky. I was spellbound. The sky wasn’t overly bright with color -- it was more like a muted pastel -- and I continued watching as more and more of the morning sky became filled with that mauve tint. At one point, out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed the leaves at the top of this huge, majestic tree in my neighbor’s yard become awash by this pastel light, making them turn from green to orange and gold. And then, after a few minutes, I watched the mauve sky melt into crystal blue as the sun began to peek up over the houses. 

Truly, I felt like applauding! What a show! What a way to start the morning!  I’m so grateful to God, really, for all the times He has provided me with a front row seat to such performances. Some have been so simple, like the time a beautifully colored butterfly actually landed on my hand for a brief moment, or another time when a peregrine falcon swooped down and soared right past my face and across the length of the almost empty community pool I was relaxing in. And some have been so over-the-top awesome, like the blazing, glorious sunrises and sunsets, double rainbows, meteor showers and falling stars I’ve been privileged to observe.

God puts on displays like these (and many more), not only to reveal to us His mighty power, majesty and sovereignty, but I believe He also does this to bring us the gift of joy in our often broken and mundane lives. He does so because He delights in us. He does so because He loves us, His precious and beloved children.

In my role as a parent, I’m called and required to provide the basics for my son and daughter: food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education, etc. But because I love them and take great delight in them, I thoroughly enjoy surprising them with gifts here and there that I know will light up their faces and bring them joy. The anticipation can often be too much….I just CAN’T WAIT for them to see what I have for them! And sometimes, I think I’ve received more joy than they have when I see their reactions to whatever it is I’ve given them. Do you believe that God, as our Father, our Abba, does this same thing and feels the same way towards us? I do! And I agree with James 1:17 (CEV) -- Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father who created all the lights in the heavens.’
I've been retired from my job as a secretary for a busy State government office since July 1st of this year, and people often ask me if I'm enjoying retired life. I can honestly say that I am! The most significant thing I’ve found in being retired is this: I have more time.  Time to do lots of things….and time to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AT ALL.  Because of this, I’ve found I'm more aware of the symphony of sounds, sights, scents, etc., in my life mainly because I am less rushed. I’ve found that I now have time to stop and smell the roses or the coffee (and to drink it while it’s actually still hot!), to enjoy the treasure trove of wonder that God has in store for me during the course of my day.  I realize that not everyone has been afforded this gift. The majority of my friends work outside the home, many having to leave before the birds wake up and returning home by the light of the moon.

Yet, may I encourage you today, wherever you are in life, whatever you’re in the midst of doing, whomever you're surrounded by, whether you’ve got it all together or you’re broken in pieces -- to make time and take time in your day to seek out those good and perfect gifts that our Father God is just waiting with joyful anticipation to give to you.  Because He delights in you.  Because He loves you, His precious, beloved child.

So much wonder
Carved in Your coral seas,
So much wonder
Shaded by ancient trees;
I consider all that Your hands have made
Every newborn's eyes, every new sunrise;
No power can tame your presence,
No light can match your radiance!

Let all creation sing in wonder
Every sea, every creature, every star;
You opened up my eyes to wonder
What a vision,what a wonder You are! ~ In Wonder, by newsboys

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Worship Song Sunday -- From The Inside Out, by Seventh Day Slumber

Recently, I found myself let down and greatly disappointed by someone whom I looked up to and admired greatly. In the blink of an eye, this person fell long and hard off the pedestal that I’d built and placed them on. It was a sad and sorry moment for me. I was so hurt. But really, what did I expect…perfection? We are all flawed human beings, and I can say with great certainty that I know I’ve disappointed people in my life. Can I be honest here? I’m really good at stepping forward for things and saying, ‘Here I am…pick me. I’ll do it!’ but I’m horrible in the following up department, and because of this, I'm aware that I've been a great disappointment to others.

Yes, people will always let us down and disappoint us in one way or another, but thankfully, there is One Who will NEVER disappoint us….and that is Jesus. There will be times in our lives when we may not agree with or believe this statement, especially when it seems our lives just continue to unravel and fall to pieces, even after we’ve prayed and prayed; even after we’ve enlisted other prayer warriors to join us on life’s battlefield. We may wonder what's going on. Is He even listening? When life doesn't seem to be working out the way WE'VE planned, disappointment with our Savior begins looming on the horizon.

But please know that He DOES hear the cries of our hearts, and He will respond by giving us what He knows we need, rather than with what we want. He is so very worthy to be praised.
I listened to this song, ‘From The Inside Out,‘ yesterday over and over. I allowed the words to just seep into me. The opening lyrics say this:

A thousand times I've failed
Still your mercy remains
Should I stumble again
Still I'm caught in your grace...

How thankful I am that even when I've failed and disappointed others (and myself) a thousand times (or more), still the Lord's mercy remains. If I stumble again, STILL...I'm caught in His grace. When everything and everyone else fades away, the Light of Jesus remains shining.   Sing out and cry out to Him today from the depths of your heart.  Allow Jesus to consume you, from the inside out.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Restless Child

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.' ~ Jesus

I cannot sleep,
My mind and heart are racing;
My body cannot rest.

The accusing voice asks -
"When did you become who you are today...

Someone other than who you were meant to be?"

I cover my ears,
And close my eyes;
But there is no peace for me...

A mocking voice shouts -
"You are worthless!
You are nothing!
You are rejected!
You do not matter!
You are invisible!"

Out of the room I run,
Down the stairs and
Out the door,
Into the cool, night air;
And under the moon and stars
I cry.....

But the still, small voice whispers -
"You are precious and honored in My sight.
You are Mine.
You are loved.
You are the apple of My eye.
NO ONE can take you from My hand,
On which your name is engraved."

My Father's voice comforts,
And resonates in my soul;
It is His lullaby
To His weary, burdened,
Restless child.

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