What Amazing Grace!

I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Isaiah 43: 25

Sin. Such a little word that is seldom talked about, and one we definitely don’t like to think about. Perhaps we would like transgression better – until we hear the definition. Both mean the same: “a violation of a law, command, or duty; a wrongdoing; an offense against God” – one of those many things that we all do that fails to meet His requirements for us.

Some individuals have so much assurance of God’s love and grace that it becomes easy for them to put their sins aside – not even thinking of them – and just accepting that God will always forgive and always love us. Then there are others who think that they have sinned so deeply and are so unworthy of His forgiveness that they don’t ask at all. They can’t forgive themselves and they feel that their transgressions are beyond what God could ever forgive or forget. Yet, we all sin whether we acknowledge them or not, and we all fall short of being who God would have us be.

This verse is a reminder that sin is a serious matter, that God sees our failures, but that He will “blot them out and remember them no more.” God is not indifferent to our offenses. He is the One we have sinned against and the One to whom we have been unfaithful. Our God is just and holy. We know how He feels about unrighteousness and sin, but He also understands our human nature. Our God has a love and a grace so much bigger than our own. We may not always be able to forgive and forget, but He can. May we pray as the Lord’s prayer teaches us: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And God does.

What a gracious God who makes it possible for us to be forgiven so completely. Can we even begin to understand the depth of His love and mercy to us? He sent His Son to die on a cross to redeem us, and we have His loving promise that when He forgives our sins, He forgets them. He blots out the memory of each one, wipes them out completely, and keeps no record against us.

Our Father does so because of who He is. He is a loving and gracious God who understands our frailties and wants to freely give us His grace – not because we deserve it, but because of His infinite, unconditional love for us. He wants us to have a 2nd chance, and another, and another. His desire is that we live with an unburdened heart filled with His peace and hope, knowing that we are always loved and always forgiven!

“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake,” as if He is saying “I, and I alone am able to do this.”

We can’t do it – we recognize our failed attempts at redeeming and forgiving ourselves – and neither can anyone else do it for us. Only God can, and He does so because He desires that we see His glory and give Him praise. What amazing grace is ours!

Prayer 

Our heavenly Father, forgive us when we fail to come to you with our sins and to ask for your forgiveness. We are so humbled by your love and grace for us, and we give you the honor, glory, and praise for all of your many blessings. Amen 

When We Think We Can’t

“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” Jeremiah 1: 6

We’ve all become pretty skillful at making excuses for not doing things we think we can’t, or that we don’t want to do, haven’t we? We say such things as, “I don’t know how. I’m too busy. I’m too tired. I’m not good at that!” Most of the time it’s fairly easy to come up with one, and we can usually get out of it without feeling too guilty! But imagine giving an excuse to God Himself!

Jeremiah did just that when God called him to be a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah. God made it clear to Jeremiah that He had chosen him before His birth. Even with such spoken confidence in him by the Creator Himself, Jeremiah felt inexperienced and intimidated. His reply was, “I can’t, Lord. I don’t know how. I’m only a child.”  We know how that has gone over with us parents when our kids have said it. You can imagine how it did with God.

Yet, even though He rebuked Jeremiah a bit by saying, “Don’t say, I’m only a child!” God was direct and patient. He replied, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid, for I am with you and I will rescue you.”

Then the Lord reached out his hand, touched Jeremiah’s lips, and said, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.”

How many times have we wished God would do just that when we have been asked to speak and felt ill at ease! Just like Jeremiah, we too often feel inadequate to do a task we are asked to do, or even one we feel as if God is calling us to do. How reassuring it is to think that if He is calling us to do something, then He will give us the means to do it! We can trust Him to help us carry it through!

But what a task God was asking Jeremiah to do. It is believed that he was a young man of around 17, when God told him to deliver a message of judgment to His people. He wanted Jeremiah to tell them that it was because of their sins of idolatry and rebellion that the destruction of their land and their captivity was coming soon by force of the Babylonian army. We can imagine how the people must have felt hearing this message from him!

Yet, God had warned them for many years that if they continued to be unfaithful, He would punish them once again. It had been 800 years since He had brought them out of Egyptian bondage, and now He would return them to such a fate once again. Just like us today – we never seem to heed His warnings in Scripture, or take God seriously, but one thing we can be sure of is that He will keep His promises.

Jeremiah fulfilled God’s purpose for his life and did what was asked of him. Even though he was in grave danger from political and religious leaders who didn’t like his message, God protected him so he could continue to comfort those who trusted in Him. The Babylonian assault came and the people, along with Jeremiah, were taken into captivity for many years.

God will help us overcome our weaknesses and our feelings of inadequacy, just as He did Jeremiah, if we will rely on Him. When we are asked to do a difficult or seemingly impossible task, may we always remember that with God’s help, there is nothing we can’t accomplish!

Prayer

Dear God, thank you for your presence in our lives and the power of your Spirit to enable us to do impossible things. Help us to have the faith to trust in you and obey faithfully, fully accepting your love and grace. Amen

His Unfailing Love and Compassion

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10

What a beautiful and lasting promise for those of us who call upon His most holy name! How can our hearts even begin to understand such an unconditional, infinite, and everlasting love that our God has for us? With what tenderness and compassion He holds us close to Him.

The prophet Isaiah uses the image of mountains and hills which we usually associate with strength and permanence to tell us that even if they were ever shaken to the core or were to disappear, God would remain. Even if all else were to crumble, change, or pass away around us, in His great love for us, He would gently bend down and bring us to Him.

What comfort that thought brings. Scripture tells us that God does have a plan for our world, and we can rest assured that it includes us, His believers, for all eternity. But God in His infinite love, wants more. His plan also includes bringing others to Him, for He desires that none be lost, and that all will come to know Him for the gracious God He is.

Not only does Isaiah give us the good news of God’s never changing love, but He also reminds us of the covenant of peace we have with Him that has been sealed with the blood of Christ. The peace that we can have in this life which surpasses all understanding. But how often we fail to accept this gift in its fullness – the peace of knowing we are His.

No matter what happens in our lives, God will continue to love us, to be gracious to us, to pour His blessings upon us, to have compassion on us, and to give us hope and peace in our hearts. Nothing can change His love or His grace upon us. May we continue to seek Him, love Him, and know Him more.

Prayer

Our most gracious God, we thank you for your unfailing love, compassion, peace, and promise of eternal life. We pray that we will always exalt the name of your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and that we can bring others to Him as we share your love and grace. Amen

Let Us Remember

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. Psalm 77: 11 – 12

Do you ever think back to your youth and remember how you thought your life would be? Do you remember all the hopes and dreams you had? It’s good to reflect back on our lives and see how they have unfolded from the beginning. And when we do, I think we would be pleasantly surprised to find out just how much God has been a part of them!

Many of us did just that a few years ago in a Bible Study called Believing God by Beth Moore. During one of the weekly sessions we were asked to write down answers to questions in a Faith Journal about different stages in our lives from birth until present. We answered questions about the people in our lives and the ways God worked through them to make us into who we are today. We did much soul searching and reflecting on ways that God has been present in our lives during each stage and what He was teaching us along the way. (One question I had never thought about and I wonder if you have: As you look back on your life from a Godstop perspective, do you believe that God placed you among your family members for your sake or for theirs or both? Explain. That makes us pause and think, doesn’t it?)

It was amazing to think about all the plans I had, how God often changed the course and directed my path, and how He exceeded all my expectations for my life. There were times of overwhelming joy, unexpected surprises I could never have imagined, much love, and many challenges that taught me important life lessons. There were difficult, sad, and painful times, as well, but in reflecting back, I can see how God revealed Himself to me in so many ways and how my faith grew. Through this journaling experience, I could see how life and those He has placed in it have been such a gift. But I came to realize even more, that the greatest and most unexpected gift of all has been Him and His presence with me.

As it unfolded before me, I realized what a story we all have. You have a story, as well, and hopefully in thinking back, your “God memories” will show you, just like it did me, just how much our loving God never took His eyes off of us. Even when we were unfaithful in our devotion to Him, He was always faithful to us. What strength and confidence He gave us to overcome the challenges in our paths, and what wonders He showed us.

God’s Word is filled with many wonderful stories about His love for us. We can read of His great promises of a Savior, the birth of His Son, His life on earth, and the many miracles He performed. We can find hope in the heartbreak of the cross, and joy in His resurrection and saving grace. In its pages are also amazing stories about men and women of faith who teach us about perseverance and trust in God.

As this verse reminds us, we should read Scripture and “meditate on all His works and consider all His mighty deeds”. But we should also remember our own stories and consider all the ways He has done great wonders in us, as well. And when we do, we will realize even more all the reasons we have to believe and trust in Him.

We have a story to tell and it might be worth sharing!

Prayer

Dear Lord, we thank you for the blessing of Scripture and your Word to us. We also thank you for the wonders you have done in our own lives and for revealing your goodness and love to us. Thank you for keeping your eyes on us, even when we take ours off of you. Amen

Hold On to the Hope We Have

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10: 23

One of the greatest gifts God has to give is His gift of hope. Can you imagine life without it? For those who don’t believe in Him and all He can bring to our lives, I often wonder how they wake each morning and put one foot in front of the other. Who or what do they have to believe in and hold on to? Who gives them the strength and assurance to go on when everything around them seems hopeless?

Even for many who do believe in God, sadly there seems to be a growing sense of hopelessness. There are so many hurting – so many personal and family problems, illnesses, financial issues, loss of jobs, so much dissension in our nation, chaos and hatred in our world, threats of terrorist attacks, and evil all around us. So many feel alone, helpless, and forgotten.

Yet, we know there is hope. We may not be able to see or feel evidence of it in our darkest times, but it’s there – it’s the hope we have in Christ. He is the only One who can provide the hope for us to face the future when our lives seem so uncertain, and we are filled with fear and anxiety. And with His saving grace, He gives us the hope of life eternal with Him.

The biblical definition of hope is “a belief grounded in faith and based upon the promises of a God who always keeps His Word.” God is faithful. We can trust in His promises. He knows about our lives, about our nation, and about our world. He holds our future in His hands and He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. Even when the circumstances around us don’t seem to be changing, we can still continue to believe and trust in Him. We can know He will give us the strength, the assurance, and the grace we need.

He is the only one who can fill the emptiness in our hearts, and the only place where we won’t feel forsaken or forgotten. We can trust In Him.

Prayer

Our most gracious and loving God, in these uncertain times, we hold on to you with the hope that you will keep us in your abiding care. We rest in your faithfulness and love and have the assurance that our futures are secure in you. May we give others the hope we find in you. Amen

O You of Little Faith

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grasses of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Matthew 6: 25 – 30

This is one of the most well-known passages in Scripture, and it presents one of the most vivid images of God’s love and provisional care for us.

Haven’t we found it to be so true that when we have needed Him most, He has always come through for us? And if you haven’t experienced it for yourself, I am sure you have heard many stories of individuals who have felt desperate, hopeless, and so alone, and then when they least expected it, help came with the assistance, encouragement, and hope they needed. Our God provides. He understands that there will be times when we will need to depend on His love and grace, and He wants us to trust that He will always carry us through.

These words were spoken by Jesus Himself in His Sermon on the Mount to His disciples, as He taught them about the life He desired for them to have as His faithful followers and about the message He wanted them to share with the world. And it is a message for us, as well. It is a loving reminder that we have no need to worry. If God takes care of the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, and the grasses of the field, He will surely take care of us. His grace and His love will always be sufficient.

What comfort, strength and peace it brings to know that no one understands our concerns more than God, but He doesn’t want them to consume our lives and take away our time and energy. When we do so, it shows our lack of faith in His love, wisdom, and power to give us what we need. He wants us to look to Him, to trust Him, and to believe that He will provide in whatever way is needed.

God wants us to find joy in today and not worry about tomorrow – to live one day at a time. He will always give us what we need for today, and then He will give us the grace for what we need tomorrow. “O ye of little faith”, says it all. We speak of faith. We must trust Him – and live as if we do.

Prayer

Dear God, we thank you for the confidence and assurance that we can have in you for today, for tomorrow, and for our future. May we trust in you and help each other grow in the knowledge of your presence and love. Amen

He Deserves Our Full Devotion

The Lord says, “These people come near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” Isaiah 29: 13

Have you ever had to pretend you were enjoying something you were doing, but you really weren’t, such as volunteering for a community event or serving on a committee? I think we’ve all had those times when we have gone through the motions, but our hearts just weren’t in it! We were probably even able to fool those around us, and they didn’t have a hint of our true feelings!

But one thing we can be sure of – we can never fool God! He can see right to our hearts and He knows what we are thinking and feeling. He especially knows of our deception when we just go through the motions of worshiping Him, and we don’t really have those deep, sincere feelings of love, gratitude, and praise He longs for us to have.

This verse was written about the relationship that Israel had with God during the prophet Isaiah’s day. Isaiah is warning them of coming judgment because of their so called devotion, which was in reality hollow and empty. They came near to Him in worship and honored Him with their words, but this didn’t please God. He knew their hearts were not aligned with their words or their deeds. They had rejected His truths, and were worshipping Him with rules taught by men” – just going through the rituals – with no true love or desire to honor Him. God is never pleased with individuals who come near to Him with indifference or the desire to impress others with their spirituality.

Neither is God impressed with our praise when it doesn’t come from a sincere heart or from a life lived for Him. We may speak of Him, go to church regularly, and even pray eloquently, but if our hearts aren’t in the right place, He knows. He sees our lack of obedience, faithfulness, and true devotion to Him.

Isn’t it sad to think that there are so many among us who are just like the people of Israel and are doing the same? Even when they are worshiping God, their hearts and minds are elsewhere. They may go through the motions during worship services and then not think of Him again until they attend the next one. In truth, their hearts just aren’t in it. How we dishonor God when we don’t recognize His glory, His goodness, and His grace.

Our God deserves so much more for all His blessings to us. He deserves our time, love, respect, and praise. May we worship Him always with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds.

Prayer

Dear Lord, how we dishonor your name and your love for us when we don’t come before you with all our hearts in gratitude and praise. May we seek you and allow your Spirit to work in our hearts to fill us with devotion and faithfulness to you. Amen

When Our Spirits Need Refreshing

I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint. Jeremiah 31: 25

Do you ever have mornings when you feel as if you just can’t get going? I had one of those today! I felt a little “out of sorts” for some reason, and later when I did go walking, it was more of an effort than it is on most days. But it was the most beautiful fall day, and I thought, “How could anyone not enjoy such a glorious day and I was determined that I would too!

As I walked, I kept thinking of the devotion I wanted to write for today. I didn’t have a verse or topic in mind, but I decided it needed to be something upbeat, uplifting, and positive – definitely something worthy of this beautiful day.

But then I received a phone call from a friend who shared some devastating and sad news about some other friends of ours. We talked for the longest time, shared many thoughts and memories, and even shed a few tears together. I got off the phone and felt absolutely drained. I realized that my body, my mind, and my spirit were just weary and tired, and I needed to spend some time with God in quiet rest and prayer. And I needed to pray for those who were so much on my heart.

These times come – for all of us – when we feel overwhelmed by our own circumstances, or by those of others we care about, and our souls become heavy and burdened. Life is just plain difficult sometimes, isn’t it? We want to question God, but we know from experience that this is life. God fills our lives with so many blessings and such joy, but sometimes uncertainty, fear, and pain come along with the goodness. He knows our sadness and how our hearts ache for those who are going through such times of despair and He hears our prayers for them.

These times will come – no matter how good life is, how much we have to be grateful for, or how much faith and trust we have in God. He understands how our bodies and spirits get weary and worn down from the cares of life, and He is always ready to lift us up with His love and grace. His promises are true and His love is comforting and reassuring.

I needed to be refreshed by His grace today, and although this post is not as upbeat as I had earlier hoped it would be, I hope it will remind you of the love and strength, we, and those we care about, can find in our merciful God when we rest in Him.

 Prayer

Dear God, thank you that you understand our weariness and despair. We are so grateful that you can calm our spirits and give us rest. You know the concerns on our hearts and we pray you will be a source of hope, comfort, and strength to those individuals and their families in the days to come. Amen

Our Hiding Place

You will be my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. Psalm 32: 7

Did you or your children ever watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood? If so, I am sure you still remember his song, “It’s a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood”  as he asked, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” He was always so gentle and comforting, and what a safe place he made the world seem!

I had not thought of him in ages – until Kelly sent a text saying that Drue had taped an old episode of the show for the boys to watch, and all 3 of them were sitting enamored in front of the TV. Drue loved the show as a child, so he thought the boys might enjoy seeing something he had watched. Cole really liked it and wants his dad to tape more of them, but Miles said he thought that Mr. Rogers overdid the singing, and he asked if he ever left his house and went out into the real world!

Funny and pretty perceptive! Guess it was indeed unrealistic, but for those few minutes while we all watched, didn’t we feel happy and secure?

I began to think about how simple and safe Mr. Rogers did make our world seem. I remembered watching it with Kelly and Scott when they were young, and I began to wonder when the show first aired. I looked it up and found it was 1963 (and on PBS from 1968 – 2001). I had forgotten he was a minister, and I thought it was pretty sweet that he wanted to honor his mom by wearing all the sweaters on the show that she had made for him. I also read that he wrote the over 200 songs he sang on the show which taught so many lessons about life.

But the most interesting thing I learned was that when he was a young boy and would watch scary things on the news, his mom would always tell him to look for the helpers, and then he would know there was hope. She told him that we will always find people helping and caring about what we are going through. What a wonderful lesson for all of us!

Mr. Rogers once said that this was one of the reasons he wanted to do the show. He wanted to make young kids smile, to show them that they are special and unique, that the world is not always a kind place, but that God will always send them neighbors and helpers to make it seem less scary.

The world doesn’t seem quite as simple and safe today, does it? I think we all need to know from time to time that there is a safe refuge, a hiding place, for us in times of need. This verse is a good reminder that we do have that place, and that is with our God. Sometimes we just need the stillness of His presence and the strength and assurance He can give.

Yet, as we have grown in age and wisdom, we have learned that trusting in God doesn’t always keep us away from trouble in our lives, from evil that occurs around us, or from harm or even death. But as hard as it is to understand why these things happen with a loving God who has promised never to leave us, we have His assurance that He will always be with us – no matter what we are going through. He can lift us up with His loving arms into safety, or be with us through the pain and fear, or if it is His will, He will even be there to carry us lovingly into our eternal home. That is His promise and we know it to be true.

He will be “my hiding place”, and He will be yours. We can rest in His comfort and care. God too wants us to know that we are special and unique in His eyes, and that we can always trust in Him. He surrounds us with His mercy and with His songs, reminding us of His love and grace to lift our spirits and to give us hope. With Him, we can always rest, feeling safe and secure in His arms.

 Prayer

Our heavenly Father, we thank you for being our refuge, our place of peace and rest in times of need. May we always trust in your mercy, your grace, and your love for us. Amen

God’s Word Will Endure Forever

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned, in keeping them there is great reward. Psalm 19: 7 – 11

In all the ways we honor and glorify God on this day for His goodness to us, may we remember to give Him praise for the gift of His Word – our Holy Bible.

In a day and age when there seems to be little certainty about anything, God gives us the assurance in the pages of Scripture that we can always count on Him. We can read His promises that He will love us unconditionally, He will always be with us, and He will always give us what is best for us. And we are given the confidence of knowing that we can place our trust and hope in Him for all eternity – for our God is constant and never changing – and His Word will endure forever.

We recognize that our Sovereign God reveals truths about Himself in the world around us, through His faithfulness and goodness to us, but even more, He reveals Himself in His Word. In His divinely inspired message, we learn everything we need to know about who our God is, what He desires for our lives, and how we can receive His saving gracethrough belief in His Son, Jesus Christ.

David reminds us in these beautiful verses from Psalm 19 that in giving us this gift, God has given us the most precious one there is – “more precious than pure gold and sweeter than honey”.

How grateful we can be to know that God’s love will sustain us, give us encouragement and hope, and will carry us through the uncertainties of  life. He reveals His truths and His promises for us, and in return there is great reward for our faith as we look ahead to an eternal life with Him.

Prayer

Dear Lord, we thank you for the revelation of your truths and the assurances that we can find within its pages that you love us, will care for us, and never forsake us. We trust in your promises and know they are more precious than anything this life has to offer. We give you all honor and praise. Amen

May Our Words Give Life and Love to Others

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4: 29

I am sure all of us can remember hurtful words that were said to us when we were young. They are embedded deep in our hearts. They may have been comments made by our parents, teachers, coaches, friends, or others around us, but we can’t deny the effect that they had on our lives – especially if we remember them all these years later! If we could only remember what an impact our own words can have!

So many times in the last few weeks, I have overheard parents speaking to their children in the most demeaning, harsh way. It’s not as if they are disciplining them or trying to teach them an important lesson. The child may have asked a simple question and the parent replied in the most unkind way. Many times I saw the sadness and confusion in a child’s eyes, and it made me want to stop the parent and say, “If you only knew how you sound and how it hurts your child. Take a deep breath and do it again – this time with a little more kindness!”

I did it with my own kids, but how I wish I could take those words back. How I wish I could have used a little more restraint, humor, and love in my conversations with them. They deserved better, and we don’t get the chance to do it over again!

We all “snap” at each other from time to time as we take out our frustrations on those around us. We do it with our spouses, with other family members, with our co-workers, and with individuals we don’t even know. Yet, no matter how busy or burdened we are, we need to remember the effect our words can have.    

I recently saw a bumper sticker that read “Free speech is not an option with God.” How true those words are! We don’t have the right to speak freely to others and abuse them with our words. Sarcasm, harshness, ridicule, and blame are not ways God desires us to speak to each other. As this verse so aptly reminds us, “Our words should benefit those who hear them.” 

Our hearts and our words can be such a wellspring of love, encouragement, and a sense of worth for others. Our words should reflect God’s grace to each other and bring encouragement and healing, not pain or embarrassment. We need to be deliberate in what we say, think before we speak, and concentrate on the tone in which we use. And if we can’t control our words, we need to ask God to help us – to give us words to lift others up – not to tear them down.

In Proverbs once again, we find much wisdom with this verse: “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” May we give life and love to those around us.

Prayer

Dear God, we often forget the power our words can have on others. Help us to speak with restraint, kindness, and love as we try to lift others up and may we be a blessing in their lives. Amen

Anchored In His Care

Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.” Acts 27: 24

Recently while visiting our boys, Bob and I took them to lunch and we were asking them lots of questions about school, their teachers, and what they did each day! We could tell that they weren’t very interested, and Cole finally said, “Could we talk about something else? We have to tell mom and dad about it every day!” And Miles said, “I know! We need a break!”

We laughed and then all agreed that even though they were back in school, they had had a great summer! I asked them what had been their favorite part. Both said immediately that it had been their adventure on a sailboat! We had seen pictures, and we asked if it was a little scary, since it was their first time. Cole said, “No way!  It was fun! But it would have made you nervous, Granddad!” And Miles agreed, saying, “But we had mom, dad, and the boat captain with us, and they kept us safe!” 

A few days ago I thought about this conversation while I was reading the Scripture passages about Paul sailing to Rome to stand trial before Caesar and how the ship had been involved in a violent storm. Paul was trying to encourage the other prisoners and sailors on board, and he told them of His encounter with an angel the night before and the angel’s words to him, in the above verse. I have always loved these words: “God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.”

I thought about how blessed we are to have the people that God has placed in our lives to help “anchor” us along the way. How they encourage us, help us, teach us, comfort and love us. And then I thought about our captain and our guide – our loving God who keeps us in His care as we navigate through the storms of life and how grateful we are for His presence.

What an example of strength and faith we find in Paul as he faced this life-threatening situation. He had been brought before the Roman officials because of His teachings about Christ – in the hope that he would be silenced – imprisoned or put to death. But Paul asked to appeal to the emperor, Caesar, and he was put on a ship to sail to Rome.

For 14 days, the ship was in a raging storm of hurricane force and the ship was destroyed, but amazingly, all the men either swam or held on to broken pieces of the ship until all 276 made it safely to shore. Paul never lost faith in God. He urged the others on board not to give up, to keep their courage, and to trust that what he had been promised would come true.

Paul knew that God would carry him to Rome for he believed that he was being obedient and walking in God’s plan for his life. He trusted that he was anchored in His care. He indeed arrived safely, was soon released to live in his own home (with a guard), and was able to tell many in Rome about Jesus and His kingdom to come.

What a journey of faith Paul traveled for the remainder of His life. We, too, must travel this uncertain course with faith. But how grateful we can be for those God has placed in our lives to help us along the way and for His loving reminder to not be afraid and to have courage – for we too will always be anchored in His care.

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for your abiding love and presence with us and for those “you have graciously given us to sail along the way with us.” Thank you for the stories from your Word to assure us of your strength, comfort, and mercy. Amen

A Virtue Above All the Rest

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. 1 Peter 5: 5

If you were asked to list your top 5 virtues – your attributes or best qualities, what would they be? That’s not so easy for most of us to do, is it? I have been sitting here for 5 minutes trying to decide what I would write and I’m struggling.

I wonder if any of us would even consider writing “humility” on our list. I admit that I would not. Yet, I found a quote that says: “Humility is the rarest and most honored of all virtues.”  In fact, it is mentioned over 100 times in Scripture, and our standard or example for being humble is the perfect life of Jesus Christ Himself. Isn’t it God’s greatest desire for our lives that we be more like Him?

Being more humble is a trait we all should strive to have. This verse beautifully expresses it as “clothing ourselves with humility toward one another,” and an even more beautiful expression is “God gives grace to the humble.” Oh, to have more of His grace! He gives it to us in such abundance, but couldn’t we all use more of it!

One of the most remarkable things about the life of our Savior is that He came to us as a helpless, vulnerable, powerless being, a child in a manger, and not as a conquering angel or a mighty emperor. He was born into a family of little financial means, and wealth, fame, or success were never goals He wished to attain. He came into the world simply to serve, to teach others about the love of God, and to give us His saving grace. And to be a child of God, we, too, must stand in complete humility – trusting not in our own abilities, but looking to Him – to receive what He desires to give us.

To God, our lives aren’t about how important we are or how we appear to the world. Being humble means that we see ourselves in an unassuming way, expecting and receiving less – when we might be worthy of more. Humility means not trying to impress others or seeking glory for ourselves. It is not about being self-centered, or seeing ourselves as better than others. True humility sees great value in others and balances their needs with our own.

Humility is the lack of arrogance or pride. It doesn’t mean we become less than we are or less than what God intended us to be. It means we let Him mold us into being the best we can be and giving Him all the honor and glory for all we are. May we live humble lives with our eyes centered on God and His goodness to us.

Prayer

Our most loving and gracious God, we humbly come before you with honor and praise for your goodness to us, for your love and grace, and for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ. May we be ever mindful that it is you, our loving Father, who created us, sustains us, and keeps us in His care. Amen

Returning to Bethel

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” Genesis 28: 16 

Do you remember the first time that God truly revealed Himself to you? The first time you felt as if you really felt His presence and His love for you, and you made the decision to put your trust completely in Him? Do you remember the pure and genuine devotion you felt and how you knew you would never be the same?

Many refer to such a time as our “Bethel” moment – that defining moment when we knew God was with us and we vowed to be His. The title came about because of the story of Jacob and his encounter with God.

Just like Jacob, much has happened in our lives in between those first memories of such love and commitment for God and the place we are today. Like Jacob, we may have drifted away from our loving Father from time to time and needed to return to  our “Bethel” to remember the vow we made to be faithful to Him. What places He may sometimes take us to get us where He wants us to be.

You remember the story of Jacob with all its twists and turns. He is probably remembered most for deceitfully cheating his brother Esau out of his birthright from his father, Isaac, fleeing his home because his mother told him Esau was plotting to kill him, and going to the land of his mother’s brother, Laban, to take a wife.

But on the way, he stopped for the night and slept on a stone under the stars. He had a dream in which he saw a ladder stretching up to heaven with angels ascending and descending. God appeared before Him and confirmed that He had chosen Jacob before his birth to continue the covenant He had made with His grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac, to give him the land He had promised and to bless him and his offspring.

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it. . . This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven’. . . and He called that place Bethel,” which means “the house of God.”

Jacob had more than a personal encounter with God at Bethel. He became transformed. It was here that he made an altar to God, and vowed to be faithful to Him. He understood that regardless of His circumstances, God would always care for him, guide him, and keep His promises.

But just as we often fail to keep near to God, Jacob drifted away, as well. As the years went by, he became pre-occupied with prosperity and security and forgot his vow to be faithful to God. He allowed things in his life that kept him from being the person God wanted Him to be.

After 30 years had passed, he returned home. He and his brother, Esau, spoke and Esau forgave him. But Jacob was not at peace for his sins were still on his heart. It was then that God called him to return to Bethel, to the place where he first made his promises to God, and where he first felt God reveal His presence to him. He renewed his promises to Him, and from that day forward, he lived a life of faithful service to God.

How many times are we so like Jacob – we have been to the place where we felt God’s nearness to us in time of need, and we made a vow to Him that by helping us with a certain situation we would live for Him forever. Then our circumstances changed and we forgot our promise to Him. We may have even drifted away as Jacob did. But God wants us to know that no matter how far we may wander from Him, we can always return to those “Bethel” moments and be reminded of the peace, comfort and love we can find in Him.

How grateful I am that I can always return to that time, that memory – to that place where I found I could trust God with anything and everything, and I knew He would give me the strength and assurance I needed. And when I do return, I always find Him ready and willing to accept me back into His loving presence.

 Prayer

Our most gracious God, forgive us for those times when we stray from you and become so occupied with life. But how grateful we are for your faithfulness to accept us back into your loving presence with your mercy and grace. Amen

He Knows

Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. Isaiah 65: 24

Isn’t it amazing that we know those closest to us so well that we can often tell exactly how they are feeling by the sound of their voices on the phone, or by the expression on their faces when we see them? And when we recognize despair, we immediately want to know and we listen intently as they pour out their hearts to us. We try to comfort and encourage them through the situation, but we often feel so helpless. But wouldn’t it be amazing if we could know these problems beforehand, could take care of them, and spare them the anxiety and pain we know they will go through?

Have you ever thought about how many times God must do this for us? We don’t always see what God sees or what He does. We may be too busy, too pre-occupied, or simply unaware of all the ways God keeps us in His care and provides for us daily. What we often see as just a normal day, coincidence, or good fortune, may actually be God’s providence or His blessing upon us. How much we take His love, His protection, and His mercy for granted!

Scripture tells us that God is all-knowing. He knows our past, our present, and our future. He already knows what we need before our prayers are even spoken, and He may have already provided, but He will listen as a loving Father would to His child. He is able to do anything we ask, but His love and will for us goes beyond our limited understanding. He knows better what we need than we do ourselves. It’s impossible for us to understand, but our God in His love, wisdom, and foreknowledge gives us not what we ask for, but something far better – what we need and what is best for us.

Sometimes His best for us is what we were praying for, and sometimes it isn’t. When God answers in the way we desire, our faith may be strengthened and we may give Him much praise. But when He doesn’t, and we suffer pain and loss, we may question His love for us. Yet, if we believe, trust in His love, and remember His promise that nothing – “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height not depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 38 – 39), we will get through the difficult times. We will know He is carrying us and we can give Him praise for the strength and comfort He gives.

We can go through these difficult times alone or we can go through them with Him, trusting in His love and grace to get us through. He knows what we need and He will provide for us. His grace is sufficient. We must never forget that He loves us with a tender, compassionate, unconditional, and all-consuming love. How grateful we can be that He knows our every need before we even ask.

Prayer

Our heavenly Father, we are so grateful that you know us so well, you hear us, you know our needs, and you respond with love and care. Give us strength to trust in you in the uncertain times and have faith that you will always carry us through. Amen

He Revealed His Glory

This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. John 2: 11

This past weekend we attended the beautiful outdoor wedding of my great-nephew and his lovely bride. The clouds had threatened rain all day, but it never came, and the sun even peeked out before their 6:00 ceremony. It was a wonderful celebration of love and marriage with family and friends. A wedding is always such a special event as we watch two people join their lives together in love and commitment!  And what a joyous occasion it is!

It was in Jesus’s day, as well! In fact, Jewish weddings were full of tradition and ritual, including celebrations that often lasted for three days! Now that’s a reception! And just as we serve food and drink to celebrate the happy occasion, it was the custom in their day to offer an extravagant feast for the guests.

It’s interesting that Jesus chose to perform His first miracle at such a wedding feast in the early days of His ministry in the village of Cana. He had gone with His mother, Mary, and the few disciples He had chosen at the time. Mary must have known the family well because she became very concerned when all the wine was gone, she spoke to their servants, and she even went to Jesus for His help.

In John 2, we aren’t offered any details about how much Mary knew about what Jesus was able to do, and it’s interesing to note that he replied to her, “Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not come.”  Yet, she must have had some intuition because she instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do.

He then told them to fill the 6 very large stone jars that were used for ceremonial washing with water (each holding 20 to 30 gallons) and to draw some out for the master of the banquet who was in charge of the food and drink. The master was unaware that Jesus had turned the water into wine and when he tasted it, he was astounded. He took the groom aside and complimented him on bringing out their best wine at the end of the celebration. It was the usual custom for the cheap wine to be given at the end when the guests had already had too much to drink and would be less likely to notice. Jesus had done the impossible.

His disciples were amazed by this miraculous sign of the power that their Master had shown. They had heard John refer to Him as “the Lamb of God”, and now they “put their faith in Him” as the promised Messiah even more.

While this miracle may seem insignificant – turning water into wine – it clearly shows Christ’s deep concern for every aspect of our lives. What matters to us, matters to Him, for He knew that if they ran out of wine, it would have brought much humiliation and grief upon the bride and groom. Like all His other miracles to come, it benefitted people in need. By performing this transformation, “Jesus revealed His glory as the Son of God” to those who would choose to believe.

Just as our weddings have much symbolism with the ring and the vows, there is much symbolism found in this story. Not only did Jesus provide a large quantity of wine, but He also provided the best there was to offer. Jesus does the same for us as He abundantly pours His Spirit and love into us, giving us God’s very best.

The water in the jars that were used for ceremonial cleaning symbolizes the importance of purification and the need for a Savior. The water He changed into pure wine represents His blood that would cleanse us and wash away our sins.

Through this miracle, Jesus manifested His glory – He showed His power to change water into wine just as He can take our lives and transform them with His love and grace. What beautiful symbolism. What a beautiful story of His miraculous power and glory.

 Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for loving us and caring so much about the details of our lives. Thank you for the lessons you give us in Scripture to show us your power and your glory. How grateful we can be that you can transform our lives with your love and grace. Amen

Worship the Lord With Gladness

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Psalm 100: 1 – 3

Today is a day set aside for worship. Some prefer their time to be quiet and reverent. Others prefer to be in fellowship with others with beautiful instruments and joyful songs. But however we worship, may we do it with all our hearts – with enthusiasm and gratitude for God’s goodness to us.

I love the story of David dancing through the streets of Jerusalem in worship to His Almighty God. In 2 Samuel 6: 14, we read, “David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.” 

The anointed King of Israel was overjoyed that the ark of God’s presence was being returned to His people and he wanted to honor and worship Him for all His goodness with total abandon. He danced before the Lord and His people “with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals.” – not as their King, but as a man grateful for the blessings he had been given.

He became so totally lost in worship and so oblivious to those around him that he embarrassed his wife, Michal. When she told him later how she felt about Him taking off his royal robe and dancing through the streets among his servants, he reminded her that “It was before the Lord.”  In other words, he was dancing for Him, not for her, or for anyone else. ” His heart was focused on praising Him and nothing more.

David loved God and he recognized that He is our Creator, He sustains us, and He gives us His loving care, comfort, peace, and grace. “We are His people, the sheep of His pasture,” and He will never forsake or leave us. May we too remember His many blessings and  worship Him “with all our might” with gladness, with joy, and with gratitude.

 Prayer

Our most gracious God, we so often just go through the motions of worship and don’t give you the honor and praise that you so deserve for the blessings of life. May we come before your presence with hearts filled with joy and gratitude, and honor your most holy name. Amen

You Are The Light

You are the light of the world. A light on a hill cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:14

This morning when I went out to walk, the sky was completely overcast with gray clouds. Soon, I noticed it was getting lighter, and I looked up and saw the clouds literally parting and moving away right before my eyes. The most beautiful blue sky appeared with rays of sunlight shining through. Everything around me suddenly seemed different, and I smiled, thinking of how the light made all the difference in the world!

Light is beautiful and mysterious. It promotes growth and life. It warms and comforts, and it shows us the way. Is it any wonder that Jesus Christ is often referred to as “the Light of the World” as He radiates the glory of God into the darkness of our world?

As followers of Christ, we, too, have become His light. He has called us to live in such a way that others can see His love and grace in us. He wants us to show others what a life with Him can be – one filled with love, compassion, peace, and hope.

As I walked, I was reminded of an incident that occurred a couple of years ago when I had to visit the emergency room with a virus shortly after having open heart surgery. I remembered the conversation I had with the attending physician that night, and it seems just as amazing today as it did then.

This young doctor came into the room, checked me out, asked me questions, told me I would be staying for a few days, and then just paused and stood beside my bed. I was not expecting his next question. He asked, “You are a Christian, aren’t you?” It was obvious that he was of Middle Eastern descent, his accent was heavy, and I looked at Bob as if to say, “Did I hear him correctly?”, but I replied simply, “Yes. I am.” 

He responded, “I could tell. You have that light, that glow. You both do. Most Christians do, as I have recently begun to notice.”

I was emotional anyway from thinking I had another hospital stay, but this comment really filled my eyes with tears. I can’t even describe my feelings at that moment. I had said nothing or done nothing for him to have had any indication of my faith. I certainly didn’t deserve being told that I had “the glow of Christ”.  I have never felt so humbled, so undeserving, and so honored to be called a child of God. All I could do was say, “Thank you. I have never had a greater compliment.” 

Then we passed beyond being merely patient and doctor. We were believers talking about our faith. He told us briefly about how he had recently become a Christian himself. He explained that he and his wife had been born into the Muslim faith, and after being in our country for a few years, they were so grateful to have found Christ. He talked about what a difference it had made in their lives and what joy they had found in His love and saving grace. We talked a bit longer about our love for God and His Word, and the gift of eternal life. Then before he left, he gently placed his hand on mine and promised to pray for me.

What a conversation. What a gift. And what a realization to come to – that you, me, all of us, shine with God’s light without even knowing it, without even trying to express our faith, or showing our good deeds, or pointing others to Christ. How uncomfortable we sometimes feel trying to do just those things. And then to know, to be told, that others may see that light emanating from us. We never know what an impact our lives can have on others. I would like to think that God used me that night to encourage that young believer in his faith. Or perhaps He used him to encourage me.

We are the “light on a hill that can’t be hidden.” We have that glow that Christ lives in us. We have the light to show the world His love and His saving grace. May we use it for His glory always!

Prayer

Dear Lord, our God of Light, we thank you for the gift of life and for the gift of your presence, love, and grace. We humbly pray that others will see your light in us and come to know you for the eternal, loving God you are. Amen

Search Within

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? James 4: 1

Quarreling and “fighting mad” with words. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Being a Christian doesn’t keep us immune from doing undesirable and ungodly things!

But the question becomes, do we find ourselves engaging in such activity often? And when we do, are we always finding a reason to blame others for it? Or could we possibly be the cause ourselves?

Ah, the truths we find in Scripture! In this verse, James reminds us that we should search humbly within ourselves to discover the real cause for our anger or frustrations when we seem to be constantly bickering and quarreling with others. He makes the assertion that we “fight” because of the warring passions inside of us and our desire to have things our own way.

We should ask ourselves, “What is this fighting really about?  What is it that I want or need, or what am I trying to protect or gain? Am I trying to manipulate to get my way?” We need to search our hearts and recognize the areas in our lives where our own selfishness and pride interfere, and then work to correct them.

Close, loving relationships take commitment and effort. Sometimes we feel as if we give more than we get, and it causes dissension between us. Yet, Scripture tells us that quarreling is never productive or helpful. Words may be spoken that are hurtful and they can’t be taken back. They can create misunderstandings that can damage relationships. Instead of quarreling and fighting, we need to have conversations in which we look for ways to compromise and work through the issues between us with kindness and respect.

It seems in our culture today, it is admirable to “fight” for what we think is true and just, and we think it protects our dignity to respond to every perceived slight, no matter how small. There are those in our lives who seem to think that they are always right, and they arrogantly feel it is their responsibility to help us see their way of thinking. Some seek confrontation and like to offend. Others use arguments to make themselves appear smarter, or they may want to get even with someone by using hurtful words. Whatever the reason, it all comes down to a matter of selfish desires. We can’t always avoid opposition or differences in opinion, but we can deal with these individuals in a respectful manner.

How many times have we seen love overcome differences and conflict? If we could only stop focusing so much on our own desires and needs and love each other as true disciples of Christ. May He show us the way!

Prayer

Dear God, help us search our hearts for selfish motives and desires in our relationships with others. May we treat them with the same dignity and respect that we would like to be treated. May others see your love and grace in us. Amen 

Rest in the Shadow of the Almighty

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” . . .  He will cover you with His feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and your rampart. Psalm 91: 1 – 2; 4

September 11, 2001. Remembering this day 13 years ago still brings such painful memories. The images that flashed before us on our TV screens have been forever imprinted on our minds and hearts. We each have our stories of that sad day as we recall exactly where we were when the attacks occurred, what we were doing, and even what emotions we felt.

I was in the classroom with my 8th grade students, just getting our day started with a Language Arts lesson. As the news traveled throughout the school that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, we all immediately turned on our TV’s. I can still hear the silence in our room as we watched in disbelief. I can still see the looks on those young faces and the fear in their eyes. For these 13 and 14 year olds, it was a harsh lesson in reality that life can be so uncertain – that any day can bring disaster or unexpected events into our lives. But even harder for them to grasp was the realization that such evil could exist in the minds and hearts of others.

After the 2nd tower was hit, we turned off the TV’s so as not to upset the students anymore than they already were. We feared what would happen next, and our administrators thought it best that we return to our assignments and go on with our day as normally as possible. I don’t know which was more difficult for all of us – watching in horror, or not knowing what was going on.

I remember thinking, “How can anything ever be normal again? Our country has just experienced a terrorist attack on our homeland and none of us will ever feel safe again.” I wanted so badly to reassure these kids that everything would be ok and that they were safe. I spoke the words to them over and over, but I knew they were having the same thoughts I was: “How could this be happening and what will be next? And what about all those people in the towers?”

We went through the motions, but I knew they too, like me, just wanted to know our family members were safe, we wanted to be with them, and to hold them close. I remember thinking how fragile life is and how much we take our normal days and loved ones for granted. And I prayed. I kept asking God to be with those in harm’s way, with their families, with those who were assisting, and I prayed for our country. That gave me the sense of calmness I needed, and we all somehow made it through the day.

I am sure none of us thought at the time that life could ever be normal again. But our amazing God gave us the grace to move forward with confidence and hope. Yes, there have been other dark days in our nation and in our lives which have caused much anxiety and sadness. But those of us who trust in His care know that He will always carry us through the deepest valleys of despair. He is our refuge, and we can “rest in the shadow of our Almighty God.” He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us, we have experienced His faithfulness, and we can trust in His Word.

We don’t know what the future will bring. It, too, often seems scary and uncertain, but one thing we can be sure of, is that His strength, presence, and comfort will always be with us. Our God understands our fears and concerns. We have His promise that no matter what happens around us, we can find refuge in Him.

Prayer

Our most loving Heavenly Father, we thank you for the hope and assurance we can find in you. We pray for those who don’t know your love and saving grace, for those who are consumed with hatred for others, and for our nation and our world during these uncertain times. Amen

The New Has Come!

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

I think I need a makeover. I’m tired of the same old haircut, same old clothes, and same old face and make-up I have had for years and years. I want to see the new me with all the changes for the better! At my age, that might not be so easy!

But often it seems a lot easier to change the outside than it does the inside, doesn’t it? How many times we let past mistakes and emotional pain consume our lives. We hold on to the memories and emotions and just can’t let them go, whether they are ones of past relationships, guilt, regret, grief, or anger. Our hearts are sometimes almost filled to the brim with thoughts of what was and what could have been.

But God desires more for our lives than to live in the past. He is a God of blessings for today and tomorrow. He wants us to put our painful memories away and move forward with the plans He has for us on this day and for the future. By doing so, we are able to enjoy the moments that are now and focus on the joy, peace, and contentment that He longs to give us.

When we become a child of God and accept Christ into our lives, we become a new creation. We are promised that“the old has gone and the new has come!” Every day we have the opportunity to be made new in Christ. We don’t have to carry around all those old negative and painful memories anymore. We are forgiven and we can lay aside those things that are holding us back from being the individuals God made us to be and the life He wants us to have.

Today is a new day. It’s time to forget the past and concentrate on all the new possibilities before us – new challenges, opportunities, experiences, new and better relationships, new hopes and dreams, and a new focus on our loving God and what lies ahead for us. The future always holds the hope for something better when we trust in Him.

May we always remember this beautiful verse and its promise: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is His faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3: 22 – 23. 

How grateful we can be that when we brought Christ into our hearts, we had a new inner makeover. And because of His love and mercy, every day we are made anew! “The old has gone, the new has come! Great is His faithfulness!”

Prayer

Our most gracious God, you created us and you sustain us with your love, but even more, you give us the opportunity through your Son, Jesus Christ, to live each day as if we have a new beginning, a new opportunity to be the individual you made us to be. We give you all honor, praise and glory. Amen

All Things Come From Him

Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracking out . . . For from him and through him and to him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Romans 11: 33, 36

This past weekend, Kel, Miles, Cole, and I flew to Nashville and spent a great weekend with Scott and Emily for Scott’s birthday. Flying is not something I do very often, nor do I particularly enjoy it. It’s more of a hassle than a fear of flying. In fact, I am always in total awe that a plane weighing thousands of pounds can lift off, stay in the air, and land with hundreds of passengers on board!

Miles gave me the full, scientific explanation about the thrust of the engines and the force behind the plane to lift it off, keep it in the air, and land with ease, but we still agreed that it was pretty amazing how it works. We also talked about many of the other mysteries around us as we took turns naming them, such as the rise and fall of the ocean waves, how the sun, moon, and stars appear as they do, the swiftness with which emails and messages can be sent around the world, the electricity that powers our homes, the way our bodies work in all its intricate detail, how bridges are built over deep waterways, and how we have just the right amount of oxygen to breathe. We talked about how God created this amazing world and He has given us much knowledge to understand, but we realize we will never truly understand it all!

Such a realization can bring much humility as we begin to grasp how little we do know and how little we can accomplish on our own. The infinite wisdom, knowledge, power, and glory of God is simply unfathomable. How much we try to take credit for so many accomplishments on this earth, but this verse reminds us that the source and the means for all things come from God. How much we try to limit His power and wisdom to our own understanding and fail to acknowledge His greatness.

Life is simply a mystery in itself. We don’t understand God’s wisdom and how and why certain things occur. But we know we can trust Him, and believe in His promises to us. We may not be able to even begin to understand what He is doing in our lives at this very moment, but we can trust that He is our sovereign God and He has a plan for us. May we never take His goodness for granted and always give Him the glory for the mysteries of life and all they bring.

Prayer   

Our most gracious and loving God, so many times our prayers and our faith are limited by our own inability to believe in the miraculous things you can do. May we grasp the riches of your wisdom and knowledge, trust in your love for us, and give you honor and glory for all things. Amen 

Our Hearts Are Glad

My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad; my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right . . . Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline, and understanding. The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him. May your father and mother be glad; may she who gave you birth rejoice!  Proverbs 23: 15, 23 – 25

Is there anything we desire more for our own sons and daughters and those other young men and women we care about than to know they have hearts that are wise – wise in the sense that they know God and are walking in His truths?

This verse is an appropriate one for today because it gives me the opportunity to wish my son, Scott, a Happy Birthday, and tell him how proud and grateful I am for the young man he is. But it is also a good reminder to all of us that we have a responsibility to encourage those young people around us to be who God would have them be.

Just as many of the Proverbs were, this one was written by wise Solomon either to his own son, or to one of the young men who were coming to him for godly instruction. He felt it was his duty to instruct them in the ways of God.

We, like him, want the best life possible for our own children and for those young adults we care about. We, too, know that in order for them to have a good life, we may need to encourage them to seek God, to become wise in the knowledge of His Word, and to apply His truths to their lives.

Notice the instruction Solomon gives – “be wise, speak what is right, honor the truth, get wisdom, discipline, and understanding, and be a righteous man.” 

Could he have given any better counsel?  He writes that he or any parent would respond to a son who has these qualities “with a glad, rejoicing heart”.

As a parent, I understand his joy in knowing the young man he is speaking to belongs to God. As Christians we care deeply about the hearts and souls of the young people around us, and it brings great comfort and delight to know that they have a loving heart for God.

Happy Birthday, Scott! What a blessing you have always been to us. We are so proud of the young man and husband you are! We are so proud of the life you live and for always remembering to give God an important place in your heart. You are indeed “wise” as you live by His truths found in His Word. You make the hearts of this “father and mother glad” as you honor Him, and I can assure you, that this mother will always “rejoice” and be so grateful that you are my beloved son!

Prayer

Dear God, I thank you for the gift of a loving son and for all the young people in our lives who are so special to us. We pray that they will grow in wisdom, knowledge, and faith and share your love with others. Amen

Let Us Dwell in His Presence

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Psalm 27: 4 – 5

Many pray this beautiful prayer, but perhaps not with the deep longing that David had in his heart. The one thing he asks of His Lord and God is that he would be able to dwell in His house all the days of His life. And while dwelling there, he longs to see the Lord’s beauty, refresh his own spirit with His goodness, and have the security of knowing that he will always be in His care.

Perhaps in our weakest moments, this might be our desire as well. If we had one request, ours might have the same meaning, but we would probably express it in a different way, such as, “Where can we go for refuge, Lord, to escape and be free from the storms of life that rage around us? Where can we be rid of the anxieties and cares of this world and feel completely at rest with peace and contentment?”  

David knew the answer and is simply asking God, “Give me yourself and I will ask no more, let me gaze upon your beauty and seek you and know you.” He is asking to be able to live in God’s presence and to know that he will forever be in His safe, loving arms. He wants to become lost in wonder, love, and praise for His Almighty God. He wants to delight himself and worship Him in His glorious majesty, His infinite wisdom, divine holiness, His justice, truth, grace, and mercy. It is the only thing He asks of His Lord. It is the prayer of his heart.

Do we have a heart like David’s that is filled with so much love for God that we want to “dwell” with Him and know Him more? Do we desire to worship Him in the beauty of His holiness with praise and gratitude?

May we have the longing of David and ask, “Give us yourself God, let us dwell in your presence all the days of our lives.”   

Prayer

Our most almighty and gracious God, may we worship you today and every day with a loving and grateful heart. May we be in awe of your glory and power, trust in your grace, and rest in your care. Amen

The Angel of God Called

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”  Genesis 21: 17 – 18

Don’t we all sometimes wonder if God knows or cares what we are going through? There is no better example of just how much He does, than in this story from Genesis 21. One of the most amazing things about the Bible is that God is not reluctant to let us see the best and worst in the most honored men and women of faith.

We all remember the story of Abraham, “the Father of God’s people”, whom God made a covenant with, to make his descendants into a mighty nation. But in this story, his role as a loving father is put into question as he sends his son, Ismael, away with his mother, Hagar, into the desert. Yet, within the story we can find the assurance that God is always aware of our circumstances and our needs, and He is always with us.

We learn early on in Scripture, in Genesis 12: 2 – 3, that God tells Abraham to leave His people and that He will bless Him with a great nation, and that all people on earth will be blessed through Him. He does so, taking his wife, Sarah, his nephew, Lot, all his possessions and servants, and they set out for Cana.

After many years, Sarah had failed to bear a child, so she gives her maid servant, Hagar, to her husband to be his wife. Through this union, Hagar conceived a child, whom she named Ismael.

But God still reminded Abraham and Sarah of His promise to give them a son, which he did years later. They named this child Isaac. The boy grew, and on the day he was weaned (around 3), Abraham held a great feast. During  the celebration, Sarah saw that Ismael (around 13 or so) was mocking Isaac, and she told her husband that he must get rid of the slave woman, Hagar, and her son, for she was determined that this child would never share in the inheritance of her own son, Isaac.

Abraham was deeply distressed, for he loved this son who was being sent away. God, however, told Abraham to do as Sarah had asked, for it was through Isaac that his offspring would flourish into a great nation. And He also assured Abraham that He would also make Ismael into a nation (many believe his descendants were Arabs)

Early the next morning with a saddened heart, Abraham gave some food and a skin of water to Hagar and sent her and her son off into the desert of Beersheba. Hagar must have felt so frightened, torn away from everything familiar and her family. She must have felt such rejection, humiliation, and even betrayal.

She had no doubt heard Abraham on many occasions through the years affirming to her his love and hope for Ismael. Perhaps she could understand how Sarah might have felt about her, but Abraham, she had trusted. Not only did she suffer the emotional pain, but she and her son were exposed to the elements of weather and the threat of wild animals. She had no way to protect her child or give him the provisions that he would need to survive. Nor could she even find the strength or faith to pray to God for help. She gave in to her condition and waited for the worst.

With their water supply gone, she placed her weakened son under a bush and went a little farther away from him, sobbing, knowing she could not watch her son die. She had no resources left, nowhere to turn, and her spirit was broken.

When she needed it most, God heard her and sent His angel to minister to her. He opened her eyes and she saw a well of water that God had provided before she had even told Him of their needs. He asks her, ”What is the matter, Hagar?”

With this one simple question, Hagar knew that God had known of her circumstances, had not lost sight of her, and most of all, He cared. God had His eye on her the entire time. He knew her sorrow and He wanted to know about all her pain, all the broken promises made to her, and about all her unfulfilled dreams for herself and her son. God reminds her that she is never forgotten. She is always present before Him, just as we are, and she was given the GRACE at the time it was needed, just as He will provide for us.

Imagine the God of the Universe asking us “What is the matter, my child? Tell me all about it. What can I do for you?” And yet, even before we answer, He already knows, and has placed before us exactly what we need. His eyes are always on us. His grace is sufficient for all our needs. What a sovereign and loving God He is!

 Prayer

Dear God, thank you for such stories from Scripture to show us of your love and sovereignty over our lives.  We thank you for the grace, provisions, and care you always give. Amen

Godless Chatter

Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 2 Timothy 2: 15 – 16

“Avoid godless chatter” . . .  Isn’t that the most interesting phrase? Let your mind wonder on what it might mean. The ESV (English Standard Bible)  interprets the Greek to mean “irreverent babble”, and the NKJ (New King James) version writes it this way, “shun profane and idle babblings”. 

We could interpret it to mean “gossip, inappropriate language or jokes, hurtful or mean comments about others, lies, abusive words, false knowledge passed on as truths such as from Scripture, and anything that tears down instead of building up”.

How are you feeling about your conversations with others about now? It is a very humbling thought, isn’t it? And it can certainly fill us with shame. Think about the postings we see on social media sites – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Apps, even the news sites. Do you think God would be pleased with what we are reading, writing, and passing on to others?

“Those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.”  I recently read this statement, “Animosity towards another person and intimacy with God can’t coexist in the same heart.” Doesn’t that put it all into perspective!

We don’t mean to act ungodly, we truly want to have good hearts and good motives, but it seems as if it has become the norm in today’s world, doesn’t it?

Have you ever finished a conversation with someone and thought, “Now why did I say those things? That was mean!” If we are going to be chatting with someone, the conversation is probably going to turn to someone else as we pass comments back and forth. And then we often speak unkindly of that person, and even if it isn’t true, it may be retold, and the damage is done. We may have unknowingly passed on false knowledge which could truly hurt another.

We may be the one to start “the gossip game” by tossing out a name and making a comment, or we may be the one “to pick up the baton and run with it” and make a worse remark. But God’s desire would be that we would be the one who ends it and who extends grace instead of having a critical spirit. We really do have a choice whether or not to indulge in such “godless chatter”.  If we are around inappropriate language, jokes, stories, or abusive words, we can turn the conversation in another direction, or we can walk away.

How often we fail to think about what we say and what impact it has on others. May we pray that we let our minds dwell on things that are good, pleasant, and godly, and our spoken words reflect such feelings. Holding our tongues can be a challenge – easier for some and much more difficult for others. But may we be mindful that the idle babblings” we speak – in whatever form – not only hurt others, but they eventually hurt us.

Prayer

Our most holy and gracious God, help us to recognize and avoid participating in “godless chatter” and saying unkind remarks about others. Help us to focus on words that build up those around us instead of tearing them down. Help us to always be the best we can be so others can see you in us. Amen

True Contentment

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. I Timothy 6:  6 – 8

We all probably have that list in our heads of the things we think we need and of all the things we would like to have! Why is having so much “stuff” so important to us? We may even envy or covet what others have and feel that what we have doesn’t “line” up with everyone else. We always want more. It seems to be the American way, but we know from Scripture that it isn’t God’s way!

I once read that one of the most difficult Christian virtues to obtain is true contentment. I believe it! For most of us, we can honestly say that our satisfaction depends on the circumstances in our lives. When things are going well and we have what we need and want, we are happy and content, but when they aren’t, we are dissatisfied and just waiting for the day when life can be good again.

If only we could think differently and have an inward attitude of gratitude, peace with life, and rest in God’s sovereignty no matter what is going on around us. True contentment doesn’t come naturally or easily for us. It requires effort, and we often forget that we really do have a choice. We can choose to find joy in life or we can choose to be dissatisfied and miserable. And sometimes we may just need to ask God to give us the strength and grace to accept what we cannot change.

If only we could focus more on what is truly important, such as our families, our friends, and our relationship with God instead of trying to acquire possessions, wealth, and status, we could enjoy our time on this earth so much more. As this verse so wisely reminds us, these things are of little importance when our lives come to an end.

True contentment begins in the heart – recognizing all the many blessings God has given us and trusting Him to provide all we will ever need.

Prayer

Our most gracious and loving Father, we thank you for the gift of life and for all your goodness to us. Give us a heart filled with contentment and peace, relying on your strength and grace. Amen

Blessed Are Those Who Believe

Then Jesus told him,”Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20: 29

Cole called early this morning to tell me about a design he had made. He said, “Nan, you have to see this! You won’t believe it!”

I replied, “I know you can build the best designs, Cole. I know it must be great! Do you want to send me a picture?”

But he said, “NO, Nan! You have to wait until you REALLY see it for yourself! You won’t believe it until you do!“  

I do love that child’s enthusiasm and joy in the simplest of things! I love that he wants to show me what he can do! He wants me to experience it for myself!

Sometimes seeing is believing, isn’t it? We just have to see it, experience it, be a part of it before we can ever truly believe it and accept it! I think of the story of “Doubting Thomas”, one of Jesus’s faithful disciples. He was given this nickname after Jesus’ resurrection because he could not accept that Jesus had arisen and appeared before the other disciples. He tells the others that he can and will not believe until he sees Jesus standing before him with proof: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (John 20: 25)

As we continue to read in the Gospel of John, we see how a week after this conversation, Jesus appeared standing before His disciples, even though the doors had been locked in fear of the Jews coming to look for His body.

Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Jesus did not question Thomas’s loyalty or faith in Him. He gave Thomas the proof he needed. He was not offended or angered by his request. In fact, he knew what Thomas wanted and needed, and He responded with love and kindness. Thomas saw for himself, and he had no doubt. He fell before Him and proclaimed that Jesus was indeed Lord and God.

So many of us can identify with Thomas because we too probably have our doubts about this Savior during our weakest moments when we need Him most. We want Jesus to show us that He is who He says He is. We want proof that He loves us, cares about us, and will be with us during the difficult times.

Yet, He has shown Himself in glorious and powerful ways, we have His promises from Scripture, and in reality, no more proof should be needed. But often we want more.

Jesus knew it would be this way. He understood that sometimes our faith will falter, and we will doubt and question His presence and authority in our lives. As He was patient and understanding with Thomas and gave Him what He needed, He will do the same for us. Through His faithfulness to us, our faith in Him will grow. We will learn to trust and depend on Him more and more.

Others will continue to doubt. As much as God wants us to come to Him, He will never force Himself on those who choose not to see or believe in Him. He asks that we come to Him by faith alone. He wants us to believe in His power and goodness without physically seeing Him and to trust in His presence with us. If we seek Him and call out to Him, He will reveal Himself and give us the strength and assurance we need. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 Prayer

Dear Lord, help us to see you for the Savior you are. Increase our faith, take away our doubts and fears that you are not really present in our lives. May our hearts be filled with love for you and may we share that faith with others. Amen

Teach Me Your Path

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25: 4 – 5

This morning, I went to put something in Scott’s closet and saw all his old Charlie Brown books on the shelf. I smiled as I thought about how much he loved reading those comic strips through the years!

One of the particular strips came to mind as I thought about how tired I have become the last few days trying to make up my mind about a decision I have to make. And I thought to myself that I wished I could just do what Charlie Brown once did – go to Lucy’s booth, pay for the answer, and move on!

Scott soon called, and I told him how I was trying to remember the comic strip about Lucy’s booth, and how I had decided that would be a pretty good way to make my decision. After we got off the phone, he sent me the cartoon I was referring to. There was Lucy sitting in her booth with the sign “Psychiatric Help 5 cents” and underneath, “The Doctor is in”.

She was just waiting for Charlie Brown or anyone else who needed her expertise and advice to come by, and what a deal she offered for only a nickel! Beneath the picture, Scott jokingly reminded me that I would probably be better off finding the answer another way since Lucy was known for not always giving the best advice. Most of the time Charlie Brown left feeling worse than he did before!

Isn’t that the way it is when we sometimes depend on others to give us the answers we are seeking? They have the best of intentions, they think they know what is best for us, but they truly don’t. And we certainly can’t always rely on our own minds and hearts to help make the right choices.

Sometimes these important decisions are like paths going in different directions, and as we struggle to take the right one, we may feel as if we need help with the answer. We may ask others, weigh all our options, think of the pros and cons, go back and forth, and try to figure it out on our own; but then after a time with no clear answer, we may finally turn it over to God.

I know that God is the only One who can truly guide us, but I often get much too impatient having to wait on Him. Perhaps I am afraid of what He will try to teach me as I wait, or that I won’t like the answer He is going to give. I have even found myself trying to figure it out while I was waiting on His guidance and direction!

I love how David says in this verse, “Show me your ways, O God”.  In other words, “Show me how I should approach this, God. What would you have me to do? Teach me the right path.” We know we can place our trust and hope in Him and all things will turn out as they should. And as we wait on Him, we will draw closer to Him and learn to depend on His wisdom and guidance. We know in our hearts that He is the only one who truly knows what is best for us. But isn’t it the hardest thing to do?

This beautiful verse is a comforting reminder for all of us as we wait: “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

I have finally realized I need to give it completely to God and rest in confidence that He will show me the way.  I will rely on His strength and wait patiently for His answer.

 Prayer

Dear God, teach us your paths, your ways, and help us to always look patiently to you for guidance and direction. We thank you for your presence, love, and grace. Amen

They Will Wither Away

Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong, for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants, they will soon die away. Psalm 37: 1 -2

September marks the beginning of fall and I do love this season! As I walked the last couple of days, there already seemed to be the mark of change in the air. The sun was warm, there was the slightest cool breeze, and the air just felt differently. There were signs of summer coming to an end, with the flowers starting to lose their color and the trees and grass, while hinting at the brown to come, were turning a duller shade of green. A new season is arriving, bringing in change – around us in nature and in our minds and hearts, as God continues to work in our lives.

As I walked, I thought about some of the people we know, or have heard about, who are going through hardships. These are good people who are struggling to find jobs, to keep their homes, to raise their families, to be productive, and to feel valued. We can’t help but wonder why these things happen to such good people. But as much as they are hurting, they are looking to God and trusting in His grace to carry them through.

It is not a new or strange thing for us to think about, for David, himself, asked many questions along these same lines in the psalms he wrote. When we look around us and see people becoming powerful, prosperous, successful, and happy who have seemed to do such evil things and who don’t seem to know Christ at all, we can’t help but wonder and “fret” about why God would allow this to happen to those who seem so underserving. Some might even go so far as to envy the life they have.

Yet, envy them, we should not, for Scripture records that these accomplishments and feelings will be short-lived, and these individuals “will wither and die away, just as the flowers and greenery do” in fall. They may seem to have prosperity and happiness, but in truth, their lives are filled with emptiness and things of little significance.

Sadly, they have no concept of “having wealth” in terms of knowing the presence of a loving God and the assurance, peace, and comfort He can provide. Their wealth or status has no meaning beyond this life, and they have no hope of eternal life to come – unless they turn their hearts to Him.

Envy them, I don’t, but I do feel sadness for them. What blessings of life they are missing without a loving relationship with our God. And as for the why question, we may never fully understand on this earth. But we know that our God is the Justice Maker and He will bring judgment on those who are undeserving of His love and grace, and He will bless those who follow His truths.

Prayer

Dear God, there is so much about life and faith in you that we don’t understand, but we ask that you be with those who are hurting and struggling with the cares of this world. Provide them with your comfort and peace and give them hope for the future. We pray for those who don’t know you, dear Lord, and ask that their eyes and hearts will be opened to you. Amen.