Friday, August 1, 2014

Taking Notes

Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You. (Psalm 119:11 NAS)

Taking Notes
Note taking is a habit I have acquired over time. When I was a student, I took notes during class, and I still do the same today. I jot down on paper my thoughts and the things I read during morning devotion every day. It helps me better internalize what I have learned from the word of God.

Over the years, note taking has seen a dramatic shift from the use of pen and paper to the use of keyboard, keypad or the stylus pen on e-paper via applications for electronic devices. While for many people, taking notes on a laptop is faster and more legible than writing with a pen, U.S. psychological researchers have found that electronic note taking methods could be harmful to academic performance as it encourages ‘mindless transcription.’ Students putting pen to paper, on the other hand, displayed a better grasp of concepts they had just learned and retained more understanding in the long run, according to an article of February 5, 2014 by Sarah Griffiths at DailyMail.co.uk.

The researchers, Dr. Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Dr. Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA, observed that students using laptops were more likely to take more notes than those using a pen. Students using the old fashioned way took fewer notes with less verbatim recording, but remembered more facts and understood more concepts from the lecture. Findings from the study suggest that taking notes with a pen rather than a laptop leads to higher quality learning and is a better strategy for storing and internalizing ideas in the long-term.

Using electronic devices or a laptop to take notes is of course absolutely nothing wrong. In fact, in many cases, doing so might be helpful because of its portability and availability wherever we go. Mindless transcription or taking notes without understanding, however, is a different story. If we fail to pay attention to what the Holy Spirit, the speaker, our pastor, or lecturer is saying at a particular point of time, no amount of note taking will help us when we attempt to understand it later. 

Are we too busy transcribing notes on our electronic devices that we fail to pay attention to what we have heard or read? Are we finding ourselves helpless without our digital gadgets to remind us what we need to learn or understand? Are we writing down our thoughts and what we have read from God’s word every day?

The Bible exhorts us to treasure God’s word in our hearts that we might not sin. A good way to do that is to begin reading God’s word daily. Start today, if we have not already done so, and write down on paper our thoughts the things we read during our quiet time with God. Doing this will help us better grasp God’s word and retain greater understanding in the long run as we internalize what we have learned.  

Dear Lord, thank You for giving us the tools to write down our thoughts and what we have learned from Your word, so we might better retain our understanding. Help us internalize Your precepts and teachings in our daily living to pay closer attention to the guidance of Your Holy Spirit and not carelessly let any learning or opportunity pass us by. Your word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, and we delight to meditate and dwell in the understanding of Your word.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Waiting

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:8 NIV)

Waiting
Sometimes it is so difficult to keep the faith, especially when our prayers are seemingly not getting answered. We have sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, but all the things we and our dependents need are not added. Day and night we have asked, sought, and knocked, but the doors are not opening. We have believed we would receive, but we have not. We have cast our cares on our Lord, but the cares remained unresolved and have snowballed. Out of desperation, we cried out to the Lord and looked up in expectation, but have received only silence. We have waited, perhaps for an extended period spanning years, and have now reached the end of the rope with no knot to tie or hang on. In earnest, we pray for God to answer our prayers and seek His grace and sufficiency to grant us the means to keep ourselves and our loved ones alive. 

Such a sense of helplessness and despair are probably not uncommon to some of us. The sons of Korah, like us, were also facing stressful times when they wrote in a maskil that their tears have been their food day and night. Their souls were in despair and they cried out to God, “Why have You forgotten me?” (Psalm 42:3, 5, 9).

Do we sometimes feel we have been forgotten or wonder why God takes such a long time to answer our prayers in spite of our earnest asking, seeking, and knocking day and night? Did not our Lord immediately reached out His hand and took hold of Peter when he cried out, “Lord, save me!”? Is it possible God’s silence means His answer is “No” when we ask Him to meet our basic needs and the needs of our dependents? Would a father give his son a stone when he asks for bread, or a snake for a fish, or a scorpion for an egg? (Matthew 7:7-11; 14:30-31; Luke 11:11-12).

During times of helplessness and despair, our response should be like that of the psalmist to long and thirst for God as the deer pants for streams of water. Believe the LORD to direct His unfailing love in the day and His song with us in the night. Hope in God for we will yet praise Him, our Savior and our God (Psalm 42:1-2, 8, 11).

Dear Lord, we are in desperate need of You to keep us and our loved ones living. We have waited for a long time, and we are now at our wits’ end as to how to go on from here. Give us this day our daily bread and supply to us all our needs. Grant us Your bountiful blessings that we might not have only tears for food day and night. Do not let our souls be downcast within us, but remind us of Your unfailing love. Direct us in the path we are to walk and place Your song within us, for we will yet praise You, our Savior and our God. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

From the Belly of a Fish

Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. (Jonah 1:1-3 KJV)

From the Belly of a Fish
One of my favorite meals is fried catfish. But in the case of Jonah, he was not the one eating the fish but the fish ate him or at least swallowed him. We all know the story how God told Jonah to go preach to the citizens of Nineveh. And how Jonah disobeyed Him and boarded a boat headed toward Tarshish instead. 

Then God sent a big wind; the people on the boat were afraid, and Jonah admits he is running from the Lord and insists that the men throw him overboard. To give them their due, they did not throw him over immediately but tried to make it to shore. When the winds got worse, they gave in and threw Jonah into the water and the winds calmed. 

That is when it happened. A large fish swallowed Jonah and there he remained for three days and night. It was during this time that Jonah repented from his sin of disobedience, and was redeemed by the grace of the Lord.

There is more to the story of Jonah but for today let’s look at God’s saving grace. God could have wrecked the boat Jonah was on. He could have let Jonah drown in the sea or He could have let the fish truly consume Jonah. But He didn’t. He gave Jonah the opportunity to repent. God was not happy with Jonah when he disobeyed, but He still loved, protected, and offered redemption to him. The same as He does for us when we are disobedient. Isn’t God good? Karen B. White

Dear Lord, thank You for always protecting us and for Your willingness to forgive us of our sins when we ask. Please help me to be obedient to You in all that I do. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Eye Healing

For nothing is impossible with God. (Luke 1:37 NIV)

Eye Healing
"You have an incurable eye defect. You will never be able to drive a car!"

When the eye specialist said these words, they meant very little to me, as I was only a child. But once I reached my mid teens and watched my brothers and friends passing their tests and driving cars, I felt robbed. I ached so much inside and dreamed of driving my own car.

A few months after becoming a Christian I prayed so much for God to heal me. Many times at church I went forward for healing. But after having those same words repeated to me again by an optician when I was 21, and realizing I still had the eye defect, cut me to the bone. It broke me.

After a while I came to the conclusion that it wasn't part of God's plan to heal me, so I got on with my life serving God. Many years later however when I was married, I felt the Father whisper to me, "Get your eyes tested." I did, this time I was told a different story. "You should have no problem passing the eye test." Sure enough I took lessons and passed my driving test.

All those years ago, God didn't say no to my healing, He said WAIT.

Firstly God healed me. We have a relationship with a living God, who is in full control. He has the final say. Even when the world says No! God can say Yes! He makes the impossible, possible. What an awesome God we have. There is nothing he can't do.

Secondly, I had to wait for that healing in God's time, not mine. His timing is perfect and He wants the best for us. We have a habit of racing ahead of God, but sometimes we need to learn to be patient and keep in step with Him. God has His own agenda, He knows best.

In the day of my trouble, I will call to you, For you will answer me. (Psalm 86:7 NIV)

And finally God always answers our prayers. We may not get the answer we want, but remember God knows our needs. Sometimes it's a YES, Sometimes it's a NO, but also remember He might be saying WAIT. Phil Russ

Father, what a wonderful, powerful God You are. We thank You that You are so much bigger than anything. You are still a God of miracles today. Help us to be patient and learn that sometimes we need to wait, and keep in step with You, and even if You do say No sometimes, we know you have our best interests at heart. Amen.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Flattery

Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the Israelites, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.” (Joshua 9:6 NIV)

Flattery
Not too long ago my 4 year old grandson came up to me and with the most angelic face he could muster up he said, "Grandpa, you are the best Grandpa in the whole wide world." However, my first thought was "what does he want, or what did he do?" Did he break something or does he want something from me? I was convinced that he was buttering me up for some reason so I prepared myself for the worst.

Ok little guy, hit me with your best shot, I can take it! Then do you know what he did? He just gave me a hug and walked away! He didn't want anything. No candy, and nothing was broken. He simply came and told me that because he loves me. I was floored! That just doesn't happen very often. It seems that people most often have some ulterior motive behind such praise. This time it was just honest, open, no strings attached praise.

Then I read Joshua 9:3-16 and took notice of how slick the people of Gibeon were. They took flattery to a whole new level! They were praising the Israelites and God left and right, telling them how wonderful and powerful they were. But all the time they were flattering them, their real motive was to trick them into a covenant. Hmmmm ... empty praise with a personal agenda ... startling! And the Israelites were gullible enough to believe them.

It started me thinking that certainly I, as well as many other followers of Christ, tend to offer up empty praise in hopes of having our wants and desires met. I believe that God's heart is saddened a little by the praises that come to him for all the wrong reasons. If I had found that my grandson's praise for me was due to the fact that I was the only one who could reach the cookie jar, I would have been very disappointed. But my heart leapt when I found out that the praise was born out of love. No tricks and no treats. Just love.

God must love that kind of praise. Maybe that should be a challenge for all of us Christians. Take time each day to just praise God with no conditions, questions or petitions. Just praise born out of our love for him. Garry Bouwman

Friday, June 27, 2014

Flawless by Design

You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you. (Song of Songs 4:7 NIV)

Flawless by Design
Have you been watching much reality television lately? The shows range from ugly ducklings to homely houses to unruly families. And if you dare sport an unsightly blemish or a glaring flaw, you had better believe you will soon be considered as a prime candidate for a makeover.

Goodness, it’s enough to give you the impression that God must be sitting up in Heaven, a larger-than-life 'Max Factor,' looking down at His creation with His head tilted and one eyebrow raised thinking, “You know, maybe they just need a little more blush to highlight those cheekbones or perhaps just a little tuck here and there. Better yet, let’s send them all to the day spa for the latest cellophane wrap and some sliced cucumbers for those puffy eyes.”

As a young woman, I used to work for a well-known cosmetic company, and one of the many perks of my job was performing makeovers on women. I especially enjoyed observing how ladies would transform Cinderella-like into glowing beauties, and how even their very demeanors would change once they caught their new image reflecting back in the mirror.

My dear old Aunt Alice, who lived in the country on a work farm and specialized in fried green tomatoes, used to always say, “A little fresh paint on the old barn never hurt anybody!”

I no longer work for the cosmetic industry, but I still perform makeovers every day—not necessarily the 'Revlon' kind, but rather the 'Beauty for Ashes' kind. God has privileged me to be an encourager of souls to those who may have lost their self-worth and somehow feel less then attractive because of a misplaced identity. God has by-passed our need for plastic surgery or the newest age-defying skin care products because when we become born-again, we are instantly transformed into a completely new creation! We are no longer in need of being 'made over' or polished up from a tarnished image.

To Him we are made complete and absolutely perfect, lacking nothing. In His eyes we are exquisite just as we are. Isn’t that reassuring in what can sometimes be a very superficial world? I am so thankful for His unconditional love and that He is head over heels in love with us … just as we are!

The famous hymn says it so well:

    Just as I am, without one plea,
    But that Thy blood was shed for me,
    And that Thou bidst me come to Thee …
    I come, I come.

    —Charlotte Elliott, 'Just as I Am, Without One Plea'

Come to Him today and let Him give you a “makeover”. He longs to whisper in your ear, “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you” (Song of Solomon 4:7). Missey Butler

Friday, June 20, 2014

Bouncing Back

And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. (Jeremiah 18:4 NKJ)

Bouncing Back
At the age of 22, Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first television job as co-anchor for weekday news on one of Baltimore’s stations because she was deemed “unfit for TV” after the show received low ratings. Winfrey called it the “first and worst failure of her TV career.” But she rebounded and became the undisputed queen of television talk shows before amassing a media empire, according to articles at BusinessInsider.com. 

Stories of failures to success fascinate many people, and we sometimes wish we are like the heroes of such stories. At the core of these stories, however, is the question all of us must answer, “Do we get back up stronger after we encounter setbacks?”

Not all of us are quick to recover from a setback. Some of us might find it too difficult to continue or call it quits. Of the many attributes rebounders are expected to have are the ability to accept failure, desire to take action, open mind for new ideas, ability to be comfortable with discomfort, and motivating passion, according to an article at USAToday.com.

The apostle Peter is a good example of someone who grew stronger after a setback. He was not perfect, but he did fairly well as a follower of Christ and fisher of men. After he denied Jesus three times, he was heartbroken and for a little while went back to be a fisherman. With the Lord’s forgiveness, he rebounded and turned his love for Jesus into a driving passion that got him all fired up for action. He found comfort in the Lord amid discomfort of trials and persecution, and was opened to receiving new ideas from the Lord, guided by the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:16-18; Luke 22:55-62; John 21:3, 15-19; Acts 10:13-20).

Are we like Peter or like those who find it difficult to get back on our feet after a failure? Are we fearful of more setbacks awaiting us? Do we easily give up or do we shine taking up new challenges? Are we growing stronger and wiser learning from our past mistakes?

As disciples of the Lord, we need to buildup and grow our bouncebackability, so we might not give up easily. We ought not to be surprised with failures or setbacks in life, for they are lessons we learn and accept along our journey moving forward. Like clay in the potter’s hands, let us allow God to mold us to become useful vessels for His purpose as we find comfort and joy amid discomfort during trials and difficult times. With fervent passion, let our minds open up to new ideas for action and pay close attention to the Holy Spirit who guides us, so as not to confine God to man’s ways or thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9; 64:8; Jeremiah 18:3-4; James 1:2-3; 1 Peter 1:6-7).

Dear Lord, thank You for helping us grow our resilience to accepting setbacks and failures in life as part and parcel of lessons we need to learn in order to become stronger and move forward. Grant us the motivating passion to carry on amid discomfort or facing new challenges. Continue to mold us to become useful vessels for Your purpose as we open up to accept new ideas and changes.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Voted Off

Each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. (Jonah 1:7 NAS)

Voted Off
When the corporation I worked for failed to reach its targeted revenue for the year, it was announced the CEO would be leaving because of personal reasons, although everyone knew he was voted off the island.

As employees, many of us are also vulnerable to be voted off whenever a business or corporation restructures or fails to perform well. Sometimes we might be selected for layoff because of ‘personal reasons’ like our lack of exceptional performance, and at times because we outperformed our superiors or specially valued peers.

When the sailors cast their lots to find out on whose account the storm struck them, the lot fell on Jonah. Jonah was eventually thrown overboard because he was endangering their lives by his disobedience to God (Jonah 1:7, 15).

Unlike Jonah, Jesus was voted off by the council to die for the whole nation because He outperformed the chief priests and the Pharisees by the many signs He did. Jesus eventually died on the cross to save us all because of His love for us and obedience to God (John 11:47-50; 19:30).

Are we like Jonah or like Jesus? Are we upset or unhappy because we have been voted off the island? Are we feeling bitter or unjustified because of layoffs for the wrong reasons, such as outperforming or unwittingly crossing someone? Is our disobedience endangering the lives of others?

While on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Jesus did not for a moment feel bitter or unjustified for the wrong done to Him. He knew what was coming and willingly submitted Himself in obedience to God. Similarly, as disciples of our Lord, we should not be surprised by the ordeals we are going through. If we suffer because we are Christians, do not be ashamed, but praise God we bear His name. So the next time we encounter a door that is closed, rest assured another door will be opened. We need only to pray and wait (1 Peter 4:12, 16; Matthew 7:7; 1 John 5:14).

Dear Lord, help us to forgive those who insult or shame us. Keep us calm in spirit and give us Your peace amid the storm. Teach us to accept whatever comes our way, even when we are handpicked to leave what we have come to love. Move our hearts to obey You in all we do. We place our trust in You that when a door is closed, another will be opened. Grant us patience as we wait and pray.

Friday, June 6, 2014

No Greater Bestie

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 NAS)

No Greater Bestie
When Lisa received the tragic news of her husband’s death in Iraq from his fellow military officers, her friend Diana was with her. The next morning, Diana took over to call Lisa's friends and family to tell them what happened. She shielded Lisa from media phone calls, drove to Dallas to pick up Lisa’s mother-in-law at the airport, babysat Lisa’s daughter, cooked, and cleaned Lisa's house. 

“I absolutely could not have functioned without Diana,” says Lisa. “I can't even fathom what that night would have been like without her. After George died, a lot of people treated me differently. I guess they didn't know how to act. But nothing changed between me and Diana.”

That was a true story shared at RedBookMag.com about the friendship and bond between Lisa Morrissey and Diana Stefaniak.

In the Gospel of John, a story was recorded of a similar friendship and bond. Jesus loved the siblings, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. So when He saw Mary weeping for her brother, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled. Jesus wept (John 11:5, 33, 35).

On another occasion, Jesus said to His disciples, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

By this, the Lord declared His friendship with us—one that has no greater love than to lay down His life for His friends (John 15:15, 13). 

In a sense, this means Jesus is our bestie, our best of friends, because He gave up His all to save us, and we are friends of God because we abide in Him and He in us (1 John 4:13-14).

How should we then respond to such a friend as He? Do we spend time with our Lord to grow our friendship studying His word and praying regularly? Do we share our worries, sorrows, cares, sadness, happiness and joy with Him? Do we stand by our Friend no matter what happens? 

As friends of Jesus and of God, let us be found faithful to stand by our faith regardless the sorrows we face or the pains we endure following Him. Even if the world forsakes us or treats us differently because of our failures or misfortune, the Lord will not abandon us, for He does not change. If we have cares or worries, let us bring them to Him because He cares for us.

Who are we, dear Lord, that You count us worthy to be Your friend? You see our hearts and heal us where we need Your touch. You understand us deep down and never let us down. You love and care for us more than any best friend we know or have. You are always near to comfort us in our times of sadness and despair. Our worries and cares You have carried, and our sorrows You have turned into gladness. Mourning and sighing flee from us for You have turned them into joy and thanksgiving. Draw us close to You as we study Your word and pray, for we long to grow our friendship with You.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Letting Go of Grief

The king covered his face and cried out with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 19:4 NAS)

Letting Go of Grief
She covered her face with her hands and cried, “Oh God, why must this happen? We just got back together and now he is gone!”

That was a scene from a script written for a drama television series. Not all of us might have experienced what it means to be grief-stricken to the point of having to do a facepalm, but surely many of us know what it feels like to grieve.

When Absalom died, his father King David covered his face and cried out, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Joab, the commander of David’s army, heard about the king’s weeping and mourning, and he went to see the king. Joab reproved the king for loving those who hate him and hating those who love him. For Absalom was far from being a model son and he had tried to kill his father, yet David loved him and grieved for him. By so doing, the victory that day was turned into mourning because the troops heard it said the king was grieved for his son. Joab told David that if he would not arise and speak kindly to those who delivered up the men who lifted their hands against the king, not a man will pass the night with him (2 Samuel 19:1-7).

Sometimes, weeping, mourning, and crying aloud are unavoidable, especially when we are grieving. Yet, amid it all, we need to think about those who love us and mourn with us, for they are concerned about our wellbeing too, and our grief might extend their pain. Loving those who hate us is absolutely nothing wrong, for our Lord has taught us to love our enemies and pray for them who curse, mistreat, hate or persecute us (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-28). Beyond that, however, we should care for the living and for those who love and care for us.

Are we grieving excessively to the point of affecting the emotions of other people? Are we covering our face in our sorrow and turning away those who care for us? Do we love those who hate us while they are still living? Do we love those who love and care for us?

Grieving is understandable when we lost someone we loved. We need to after that rise from our sadness and do whatever is necessary to put to a close our sorrow and the sad chapter in our lives. Rather than dwell in sadness, continue to live our lives for Christ and walk faithful in God. If grief persists for an extended period of time, seek help and continue to pray. Wait in silence for God, forget what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead (Psalm 62:1; Philippians 3:13-14).

Dear Lord, help us not dwell in our sorrow and despair for too long but to quickly arise and look beyond to bless others and those who love and care for us. Comfort us in our grief and renew our minds to love those who hate us and pray for them who persecute us. Do not allow our grief affect the emotions of other people, but bless them for their love and care as we lay to rest the sad chapters in our lives and reach forward to what awaits.

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