Friday, March 27, 2015

God's Steadfast Love

Your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me! (Psalm 40:11b ESV)

God's Steadfast Love
Throughout various events we experience we don't always comprehend what is happening in our lives. Life changes. Situations change. People come and people go but God remains God. It seems our lives are always changing and we are always having to adjust to the situation at hand be it job changes, new beginnings, births or someone going home to be with the Lord. 

Unbelievers experience frustration and set backs just as believers do. Everybody has challenge and struggles to deal with. Recent reports indicate that persons who pray regularly appear to have a different security than those who do not. They seem to have a hope and a confidence with peace of mind when they are struggling with problems. Why is that?

It would seem to me first and foremost that Christians seek God's hope and security in good times and bad. And, hopefully, a Christian will realize that whatever befalls them God already knows how to show us how to live by faith knowing God has a plan for us in this situation. For the Christian who practices dependence upon the Lord there are certainties in their approach to life:

  • God is in control
  • He does not waiver
  • He is faithful
  • He loves us
  • He gives us refuge and hope in times of trouble and despair
  • He will never leave us or forsake us

Struggling in life allows us to draw on God's strength and peace. It shows us that our situation, no matter how it appears to us, will provide us more opportunity to know our Lord's caring touch is upon us. Throughout our struggle, whatever it is, we can know God is our refuge and our beloved Father. And, as a father watches over his children, our Lord watches over us with every breath we take and every step we make. God truly and genuinely cares for each of us and He is faithful to keep us as we turn our faces towards Him and seek His guidance. 

Oh, that I would strive to be as faithful to the Lord as He has been to me. Oh, that I would not doubt or fear but that I would completely trust Him in whatever comes my way. Oh, that my faith would expand and enlarge until I would not fear when I am shaken by life's trials and hardships. 

But the Lord is faithful and He has mercy on me and you Christian friend. Even when we fear, there is no reason to fear. Even when we feel alone, we are not alone; for He is our steadfast hope, our reason to rejoice, our peace, our love, and our Redeemer no matter what comes into our lives. Frances Loftiss Carroll

Thank you Lord. I give thanks to you in all things and praise your holy name. Thank you Lord for the gift of salvation through your grace. Amen.

Friday, March 20, 2015

God is Limitless

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV)

God is Limitless
Anytime I come across this passage, whether it be for a personal devotional reading, preparing for a sermon or teaching in a small group study, I am always reminded how often I limit God. I certainly teach and encourage others that God can work in amazing and mysterious ways, but often I fail to believe that myself. Sometimes, it’s much easier encouraging others than actually living it out myself. I’m reminded that I need to also believe that God can and will do things in life that are beyond our comprehension.

Don’t we so often limit what God can do? We often say, “Oh, that will never happen.” God is never bound by limitations. He is so far beyond us and far greater than anything we could ever think of. Look at the words, “immeasurably more”. Our God is an awesome God who is capable of so much more than we could ever possibly understand. He works in mysterious ways that we most often never see and didn’t think would happen. 

I’m encouraged by Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus about how God works in amazing ways and beyond our understanding. I hope you are encouraged by his words as well. Not only can God do amazing things beyond our imagination, but He also works amazing ways within us. He does great things all around us as well as working through our lives and changing us in ways we never thought possible. 

I have to admit that I’m ashamed sometimes at how I limit what God can do in my life. I often doubt and see things only from a certain perspective and forget that God is above my thoughts and ideas. I have to constantly remember that God is not bound by limitations that we sometimes want to put on Him. He is beyond us and is greater than we could ever imagine. I hope we are all thankful to serve a Heavenly Father Who is so great, awesome and beyond our understanding! Zach Wood

Friday, March 13, 2015

God in a Box

My thoughts are completely different from yours … And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. (Isaiah 55:8 NLT)

God in a Box
Amos wasn’t happy but my daughter was. I guess I wouldn’t be happy either if someone boxed me up and took me from my familiar surroundings. But such is the life of a pet hamster.

Amos made his disgust known as soon as we got in the car. As my daughter held the box, a hole appeared and then teeth. Amos was on a mission to escape. He was so intentional I had to stop the car, put his cage together and insert him in it.

Amos wasn’t a fan of boxes. God isn’t either. God states his thoughts and ways are far beyond our imagination. To paraphrase, Don’t try and figure me out. The only certainty is that God will act according to his nature of love and holiness. Beyond that, we can’t hem him in. He will escape every time.

Amos and God remind me of the vintage child’s toy, Jack In The Box. Jack was in a metal box waiting for a handle to be cranked. Turning the handle made Jack pop out. Just when I thought I had him pegged, he would pop out unexpectedly.

God does the same. We build up philosophies of how we think God should or will act and he surprises us by doing something totally different. He answers a prayer unlike we want or think he should. I pray for instant healing. He lets the illness hang on a few days. I pray for extra money and expect help momentarily. God gives me time to consider decisions I’ve made and to let my faith increase.

God is a God of surprises who will not be boxed in. He will, however, always act in our best interest whether his answer makes sense to us or not. Martin Wiles

God, enable me to let You be God. Help me be still and know that You love me and will care for my needs in ways that will amaze me and others.

Friday, March 6, 2015

God has a Better Way

Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials. But Daniel said to the overseer, please test your servants for ten days and let us be given vegetables and water to drink, then let our appearance be observed in your presence. So he listened to them in this manner and tested them for ten days. (Daniel 1: 9, 11-13 NAS)

God has a Better Way
The rules in Nebuchadnezzar’s court are unchangeable. He has a certain way of achieving his goals, some of which involve breaking God’s laws; written on the hearts of Daniel and his friends.

What do you do when those over you try to force you to violate your conscience in order to achieve their goals? This may not be a common occurrence but it does happen especially in countries ruled by tyranny.

Daniel gives us an example of what to do in such a situation. First he prayed for wisdom. Second God gave him favor with the man in charge. (This speaks of the importance of gaining respect by behaving properly). Third Daniel offered an alternative solution that would accomplish the same goals without disobeying God.

God in his mercy took charge and brought about these results:

  • Healthier bodies
  • Greater wisdom and understanding
  • A personal audience with the king
  • Promotion in the court (resulting in a longer occupation)

God’s way is always the best way, and while we may not experience the same results as Daniel, God will bring about one tailored for you. Henry Jaegers

Friday, February 27, 2015

Getting Spiritually Fit

Spiritually Fit
The fitness principle in exercise it that you have to put your body through a bit of discomfort, to work it hard, and then after you have recovered, your fitness level is higher than before. The discomfort you placed upon your body during exercise has made it grow. This is the only way it works. Sitting around in comfort will never get you fit.

This physical principle also works in the spiritual realm too as God uses it to help us grow spiritually as well.

God places, or allows discomfort/suffering upon us because He knows that through this, we will grow.

We will never grow spiritually if all we do is live in comfort all the time. It is during testing times that we have to depend on God. This strengthens our faith, allows us to trust Him more, helping us to grow.

In fact James 1:2-5 (NIV) says: 

'Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything'.

James is not saying the trials themselves are a joy, but to consider them a joy because of the spiritual benefits. To persevere means to be firm and strong in faith. This is what God wants us to be like.

Paul says in Romans 5:3-4 (NIV):

'Rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope'.

Suffering is not easy! We are to rejoice in suffering and hardship, because we know that this is ultimately for our own good. We know it is not meaningless. 

Paul says to rejoice in them, not in spite of them, as part of God's purpose is to produce character in us.

Let us begin to re-shape our thinking about suffering. To know that a little discomfort is for our own good. God turns these difficult times upside down, turning a negative into a positive - so that it will bring Him glory; shape us and mold us so that we may become more like Him. Phil Russ

Father, we thank You that no matter what difficulties we face, we are never alone as You are always in the middle of them; that suffering is never meaningless as You use these times to build us up and strengthen us; to give us character and hope. Amen.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Give Me Your Heart, Lord

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 NLT)

Give Me Your Heart, Lord
Do you ever feel unloving? Like everything starts to annoy you and you find yourself not even trying to be kind to others? Your younger sibling or your child asks you a question (or maybe a zillion questions in a row) that you really just don’t feel like answering, so you snap at them? Or everything in you wants to ignore a certain person because they seem like a pest and you don’t want them “wasting your time” with their incessant chatter about virtually nothing?

I’m ashamed to say that I sometimes don’t love the way that I should. 

A few days ago, I felt myself slumped into one of my gloomy moods that usually results from not studying the Word as much as I should. Even one day without intimate prayer and Bible study with my Lord leaves me powerless to act as He desires me to act. My human nature is so terribly unkind, uncaring, and unspeakably selfish.

So there I sat on my bed, Bible open to 1 Peter where I had currently been reading through. But I couldn’t get into it right then. My brain wouldn’t allow me to concentrate on everything I was reading so I decided to skip over to I Corinthians chapter 13, which is always a great reminder of what love is and how to practice it. And I knew that my heart needed a good dose of teaching on love.

But ya know what one of the great things about the Bible is? The entire book is all about love. The whole plot, the whole point is God’s unending love for mankind since the beginning of creation. And that day, although I never made it to Corinthians, God had a few things to show me about His favorite subject.

In my page flipping back from 1 Peter to 1 Corinthians, I found myself hooked in to Ephesians chapter four. Something about the chapter heading must have caught my eye and I began reading. I marveled at how closely it paralleled where I had been reading in 1 Peter 3:8-12.

Both speak of humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, peace, unity, and love. Both refer to these qualities as the “calling” of believers. Ephesians says that these are the manner “worthy of our calling” in which we are to walk. I Peter says that we are to bless others in order to inherit a blessing for which reason we are called. 

We are called to these things.

It’s no secret that God has called us to love, to show kindness and gentleness, and to genuinely care for others. But how often do we overlook the absence of these qualities in our lives? How often do we allow any fruit of the Spirit in our lives to whither, turning us into rotten individuals?

If we are walking daily with the Lord, it shouldn’t happen at all, at least not to the extent that I described in the beginning of this article. But the problem is, we sometimes forget that we do not have the capacity to exhibit these characteristics. On our own, we don’t know how to love … we don’t know how to look at any random person and see them through the eyes of Christ. 

As I was considering this, the words to Brandon Heath’s song “Give Me Your Eyes” flooded my mind with all new meaning. And with head bowed on folded hands I made the chorus to that song my prayer:

“Give me Your eyes for just one second, give me Your eyes so I can see, everything that I keep missing. Give me Your love for humanity. Give me Your arms for the brokenhearted, the ones that are far beyond my reach. Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten. Give me Your eyes so I can see.”

In order to care when I only feel like worrying about myself, I must see others through Jesus’ eyes. He doesn’t see anyone as a nuisance or a pest … He sees them as His beloved children. When you look at others through a Heavenly pair of eyes, even people who are unlovable or people who annoy you will be seen through the light of God’s love.

I discovered first hand what happens when you plead for God to fill your heart with His love. Suddenly you have a compassion that wasn’t there before. The next time you encounter a situation that would have annoyed you, instead of getting upset you see the people involved in a different way. You care about their feelings. You desire to help them, to teach them, and to love them with a Godly love. 

I’ve prayed this prayer before, and I’m certain that I’ll pray it many times in the future when I find my heart in a place where it shouldn’t be. And the next time you don’t think you have what it takes to love, just remember what God’s Word calls you to.

And through His miraculous power, God will give you His eyes to see people anew and His heart to love them like you couldn’t before. Amanda Brogan

“To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” —1 Peter 3:8-9 (NAS)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Inaction

The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, For his hands refuse to work; (Proverbs 21:25 NAS)

Inaction
Amid discussing the options how to react to crises or situations, we may have been advised that inaction is the best course of action. The risk of such inaction, unfortunately, often bears consequences of potentially greater dangers because of its unpredictability. Consider the consequences of doing nothing about the climate change, health care, fiscal cliff or crises in the regions, just to name a few.

Inaction or being lazy at times is not something many of us would ever admit preferring, because for most of us, we are more often too busy to even find time to rest. Perhaps, some of us may feel unrest or even guilty having a well-deserved rest. To such people, there is only a fine line between rest and sloth. Rest is essential and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Amid our busyness, we must make time to get sufficient rest. 

In contrast, unwillingness to put much effort in whatever we are doing is pure laziness. Staying idle, doing little, or disliking work, yet expecting a return for our ‘effort’ is like a sluggard who does not plow and expects a harvest, but found nothing (Proverbs 20:4).

The Bible warns us that he who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys. The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the soul of the diligent is made fat. The way of the lazy is as a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway. Laziness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle man will suffer hunger. The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, for his hands refuse to work. Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through indolence the house leaks (Proverbs 13:4; 15:19; 18:9; 19:15; 21:25; Ecclesiastes 10:18).

Not doing what we should be doing is as much the same as indolence, laziness and sloth. If anyone is unwilling to work, let him also not eat. But for the working man, his sleep is pleasant whether he eats little or much. When he lies down, he will not be afraid, but his sleep will be sweet (2 Thessalonians 3:10; Ecclesiastes 5:12; Proverbs 3:24).

Are we staying away from what we know we must do? Is our inaction hurting others? Are we slacking in our work?

In whatever we do, let us do our work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, for it is our Lord Christ whom we serve (Colossians 3:23-24).

Dear Lord, grant us rest amid unrest to keep focused on You. Help us not stay away from doing what is right or what we ought to do. Whenever we are half-hearted doing what we are doing, remind us that it is You whom we serve. Renew in us a heart and spirit that is diligent and not lazy or insolent but is upright that when we lie down, we might not be afraid, but our sleep will be pleasant and sweet.  

Friday, February 6, 2015

Storing Up Treasures

The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the LORD will prosper. (Proverbs 28:25 NIV)

Storing Up Treasures
“We are in a time where CEOs over the years have given themselves raises to the point where they are making billions of dollars a year for being the head of a company, while their employees are just barely making ends meet,” wrote Matthew Gates at the website currently run by him, ConfessionsOfTheProfessions.com. “We are in a time where it is okay for the government to help out greedy banks, but the banks help no one in return. … where interest rates and the cost of education are extremely expensive and profitable, yet not everyone can afford it, or spends almost a decade paying it back.”

“Anyone and everyone can begin to become less greedy, become more charitable, and help each other, not for the purpose of self-gain, but for the purpose of realizing that we are all connected as souls living inside of human bodies,” Gates continued. “If we wait for the people we elect to do anything, we will never progress forward. We must do it ourselves and only then, once we realize we have that power, we will advance beyond our imaginations.”

In a sense, there is much truth in what Gates talked about. Greed knows no bound, but if those who have plenty are willing to become more charitable, the society would probably be better off at succeeding its goals.

The Bible warns us of the greedy who exploits people with false words, whose judgment from long ago has been determined. The righteous will receive deliverance, but the treacherous will be caught by their greed. Those who are greedy will bring ruin to their households, but those who hate bribes will live. Greed stirs up conflict, but those who trust in the LORD will prosper (2 Peter 2:3; Proverbs 11:6; 15:27; 28:25).

Are we feeling a strong desire within us to want to have lots of money and possessions to keep for ourselves? Does our heart contain any insatiable greed for riches to want to hoard wealth?

Jesus shared in a parable of a certain rich man whose land yielded an abundant harvest. This man thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God (Luke 12:16-21 NIV).

What good, therefore, will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for his soul? Rather than store up for ourselves treasures on earth, let us store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal (Matthew 16:26; 6:19-20).

Forgive us, dear Lord, for the times when in our weakness we give in to our carnal selves to covet worldly gains and possessions. Grant us in our plenty to desire to help those in need and not to hoard our wealth. Help us take earthly wealth lightly and with love give generously to aid the poor. Do not let greed overtake us, but put in our hearts contentment and the desire to bless others with what You have given us. All good things come from You, and we are grateful to You for prospering us in all we do. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Conditioning Our Appetite

whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. (Philippians 3:19 NAS)

Conditioning Our Appetite
“I am 47 years old and have struggled with overeating and obesity since puberty,” Rena Barker wrote, sharing her testimony at SettingCaptivesFree.com. “I can remember gorging until I hurt and crying out to God to help me as I unwrapped my next candy bar. Several years ago, He did convict me that my overeating was sin but that knowledge really only compounded my rebellion and closet eating. The more I ate and gave into my flesh, the less I wanted to pray or fellowship with other Christians or read my Bible.”

Thankfully for Rena, God led her to an online Christian weight loss program that helped her kick start living a healthier lifestyle.

“There are many ways people may let their appetites get out of control,” wrote the author of an article at BiblicalCounselingInsights.com. “People have a type of hunger, real or perceived, and then try to feed it in a way that is inappropriate. Maybe they are greedy for sensation. Or maybe they have an emotional hurt and are trying to mask it with a high or the yumminess of a dessert or a ‘fun fix.’ Either way, they need to understand their real problem and address it in a healthy way. Overindulgence will only make matters worse.”

In a sense, gluttony is not just about overeating or about how we eat. It is also about overindulgence—the pursuit of something we desire so much that we give it far greater importance than everything else. Of those who relentlessly pursue after earthly gains, the Bible says of them that their god is their appetite, whose glory is in their shame. Their minds think only about this life here on earth. But we are not those who are yet unsaved, for our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:19-20).

Why should we, therefore, spend money on what cannot nourish us or labor for what does not satisfy? Shouldn’t we listen to God and eat what is good, and delight in the abundance He has blessed us with? If we have been given great wealth and honor, and everything we could ever want, but lack health because of overeating or overindulgence, how would it benefit us? Do we not know that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and we are not our own? For we have been bought with a price, so honor God in our body (Isaiah 55:2; Ecclesiastes 6:2; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Are we struggling from the bondage of bad eating habits? If like Rena, we need help to get started on the road to freedom from obesity or gluttony, the first step we need to take is to come to God and acknowledge our condition and addiction. Seek help from Christian care and counseling therapists who understand addiction or begin by taking up a course like The Lord’s Table by SettingCaptivesFree.com. Follow the cue given in the Bible that when given a box of candy, do not gulp it all down; eating too much chocolate will make ourselves sick (Proverbs 25:16 MSG).

Dear Lord, forgive us for the times we choose to follow our own pursuits in seeking to feed our own appetites instead of doing Your will. See us through and set us free from our addiction as we take the steps to walk closer with You and distance ourselves from obsession, obesity, and overindulgence. Create in us a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within us.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Lustful Nature

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5 NIV)

Lustful Nature
“I was brought up in a wonderful Christian home … and nurtured in the faith by an excellent Bible-believing church,” wrote the author of an article at SafeFamilies.org. “I came to know and love Jesus in a very authentic relationship in early childhood.”

“I didn’t struggle with most of the temptations urban teenagers encounter: drugs, alcohol, cheating at school, fighting, stealing,” he continued. “But in college, that changed. I was living with non-Christian roommates and in an environment where pornography was pervasive, I found myself drawn to it, at first when no one was looking so as not to ruin my witness. By senior year, I gave up pretending and convinced myself that looking at porn was not sinful.”

“I got married two years after I graduated. … I was sure that marriage would solve this problem (by now, it was a full-fledged addiction). It didn’t. … It made things worse. Things deteriorated over the years. As technology changed and my resistance diminished, I found that behaviors I’d previously deemed unthinkable became normalized.”

Like the writer of the article who shared about his struggles with lust at SafeFamilies.org, Katy also shared about similar challenges in her life.   

“I grew up in a Christian home where my folks knew of the Lord and tried with what they had to incorporate faith into my life,” wrote Katy in her testimony at SettingCaptivesFree.com. “I, however, didn't grow up knowing the Lord myself and in junior high questioned if He was really there.”

“From the age of 13, I was exposed to pornography and the misuse of sex,” Katy continued. “I walked out the life of pleasing my flesh and using my body to manipulate men. It wasn't until 6 years into my marriage that God was able to really get ahold of my heart and He caused me to fall in love with Him.” 

The Bible had forewarned us that those who choose to live their lives according to the deeds of the flesh to practice sexual immorality, impurity, or lustful pleasures will not inherit the kingdom of God. As followers of Christ Jesus, therefore, we ought to live our lives by the Spirit and walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:19, 21, 24-25).

Thankfully for Katy and the writer of the article at SafeFamilies.org, both of them love the Lord deeply to find help, and their lives are now back to a closer walk with God.  Although they did not realize at first how deeply embedded their addiction was to their soul, they have since by the grace of God been involved in a journey of recovery, transformation, and restoration.

Are we struggling and attempting to overcome our lustful nature by ourselves or are we trying to hide our lustful acts from our loved ones and the people around us? Are we finding ourselves failing to do the good we want to do, and instead doing the very evil we hate?

If we are, we need help, if we hope to be set free from pornography, sexual immorality, habitual sin or the like. Begin by pouring our heart out to the Lord and telling Him our desire and love to want to change. Share and confess the matter with our spouse and those whom we can trust. Seek help from our pastor in charge, Christian care and counseling by therapists who understand addiction, or begin by taking up a course that helps overcome habitual sin, such as The Way of Purity course by SettingCaptivesFree.com. Put to death our earthly nature and inclination to sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, for such is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

Dear Lord, You know our struggles and You know by our own strength we are unable to overcome our lustful nature. Help us as we seek help in our road toward recovery, transformation, and restoration. Grant us the support from our loved ones, church family, and others. By Your Holy Spirit, open our eyes to the roots of our lust and teach us what real love is. Extend Your grace to us, for we know Your hand is not shortened that we cannot be saved, neither is Your ear heavy that our prayers are not heard. For great is Your love toward us and You have delivered us from the depths and the realm of the dead.

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