Thursday, March 29, 2012

Keeping their Hearts in Focus

But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things human beings look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
1 Samuel 16:7

"Are you having a boy or a girl?" ~~~ "I am so thankful that the tests came back showing that our odds are in favor of not having a baby with Down Syndrome." ~~~ "What long eyelashes! He looks just as beautiful now as when he was born!" ~~~ "Watch out. That little boy is going to be a heart-breaker."

These are just a few comments I've heard from various people in the last month. None of these comments are sinful, but they do reflect a very common focus we place upon appearance. Our society doesn't wait until our kids are teens or even tweens to start subtly infecting them (and us as parents) with the lie that appearance is everything. In fact, the focus on appearance creeps up even among believers. Even godly men like the prophet Samuel needed a reminder.

Do we as Christian parents ever get caught up placing more emphasis on our children's appearance than their heart formation?

With today's technology, parents can see images of their babies while still in utero! These photos are priceless treasures, proudly displayed at the office, on the internet, or on our refrigerators. Even though the images are distorted and sometimes alien-like representations of the baby's future looks, we parade them around with pride because of the love we have for these precious ones God has entrusted to us. God moves our hearts to see beyond their appearance into what they can become. Healthy or not, boy or girl, head full of hair or full-on baldy, God has given us the opportunity to help form and shape the heart of another human being. What greater privilege could there be?

When as a new parent, I was thinking about my hopes and dreams for our firstborn, I felt God impressing upon my heart to pray for a heart of compassion and a spirit of Truth for him. To be honest, the implications of this ongoing prayer request scare me a bit! It is hard to think about the reality that my children are growing up in a world that will make it increasingly difficult for them to stand up for what is right while walking the line between loving the sinner, but hating the sin. When those fears arise, I am reassured of God's promise that the heart of the matter is, well, just that - the heart.
Ultimately, it is not about how eloquent a speaker or how talented an athlete our kids become. "The Lord does not look at the things human beings look at...the outward appearance..." What matters to God is what lies in the heart, and thankfully, that is where He does business. When by His grace, His Spirit lives in our hearts, we are able to experience transformation, to love, forgive, and share beyond human capacity.

Interestingly enough, later on down in 1 Samuel, it's revealed that David "
was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features" (v. 12). So never fear for those of you with good-looking, godly kids out there! God can choose to use the child with strength, fine appearance, or handsome features for His great purposes just as much as He can use the child with physical challenges or awkwardness. He makes a point of reminding us that it is the heart that He is interested in. No physical exam or beauty contest is needed for the task of representing the Most High God!

Dear God,
Thank you for providing us with the humbling position of being parents. We ask for Your power to influence our children in ways that reinforce your desires and plans for their lives. Please help us encourage their hearts, especially when the world is hurtful and challenging. Keep us focused in your Word and reliant upon Your Spirit for truth, strength, and daily transformation.
In Jesus' name,

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Promise of Peace

Psalm 29:11 The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.

Most eleven year old kids I know struggle with issues like being organized and not procrastinating about homework. And, in many ways my eleven year old is no different except that he is also having to face the realities of being insulin dependent for the rest of his life. He has been forced to face, to a degree, his own mortality at such an early age.

This week was especially tough when he cried out, "I just want my life to be easy!" Oh how these words resonated with me. I cannot recall all of the times when I have wanted to cry out to God those very same words. When moments like these creep into my life, I find myself searching out God's words for comfort. That night was no different. I sat there for a moment searching for the words that would hopefully comfort my son. I would have loved to promise him that life would be easy. But, that would have been an empty promise. I cannot promise that will be the case. In fact, I would say with assurance that life will be difficult and there will be challenges and frustrations.

I also know that the promise that God makes to us in Psalm 29:11 is just as true as the the fact that life will have challenges. While our challenges may not be of the same calliber of that as a diabetic, they are difficult for us all.

Resting in the assurance that the Lord will provide us with the strength to face the challenges of life as well as giving us peace is such an amazing gift. With those assurances, facing the challenges of life don't seem quite so daunting.

Lord, while at times life seems overwhelming and the challenges we face push us I thank you for your strength that carries me through. When things seem out of control, I thank you for the peace and comfort you provide. Amen.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spelling Bee

After school today, my daughter participated in a spelling bee hosted by our local high school. After listening to word after word spelled by these children for a couple of hours this evening, I am inspired to look at some very special spelling words in the Bible. Enjoy!

Spell CREATION – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1 “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Genesis 1:31

Spell SIN – “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Genesis 3:6-7 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

Spell PROMISE – “May your unfailing love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise.” Psalm 119:41

Spell LOVE – “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Spell GRACE –“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Spell HEAVEN –“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:20

Spell PEACE –“Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27

Prayer: Lord God, from the creation of the world to our eternal home in heaven, Your love is shown to us. Bless us daily with Your word that our faith may increase and Your peace may be in our hearts. Amen.

Friday, March 23, 2012

God Loves the Underdog

And Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over, he and the 300 men who were with him, exhausted yet pursuing. Judges 8:4

It has been madness in our house the past couple weeks. Watching the NCAA basketball tournament is always something I look forward to. For me it’s the first sign of spring.

Part of the joy of the first round especially is the chance to see an underdog beat one of the big boys. It doesn’t happen too often but when it does, everything in me wants to stand up and cheer. I love seeing the faces of a team who has surprised themselves by what they hoped they could do, but in all reality never really thought was possible. I love watching them run in circles around the court with arms raised and sometimes even tears streaming. I love the underdog.

God loves the underdog too. He whittled Gideon’s army down from 32,000 men all the way to 300. He armed them with trumpets and glass jars, and sent them into battles in which they would face over 100,000 men. It was more than a sixteen seed against a number one. It was impossible. Picking a winner seems like an easy choice in this bracket but (excuse my continued basketball analogies,) Gideon’s team had one amazing center. They were exhausted yet pursuing, and victory was theirs by the hand of God.

Our lies of omission to our spouse, our impatience with our children, our choice of time with our (you fill in this one) rather than time with the Savior, makes us absolute underdogs. Sin makes any victory on our own not only improbable, but impossible. It makes us the lowest seed in the land, and points us in the direction of the locker room marked, “Loser.”

That is what makes our God so great! The victory is even more impressive because in this sin filled world, we see every day what our opponent is capable of. In fact, much of the time it may feel like we are his star players. That Christ would come into this world to die for a sinner like me seems crazy, but he traded his life for mine, and he rose so that some day I too might rise. Our opponent was defeated long ago on a court known as Calvary. This means you can get up right this minute and run in circles around the room with arms raised and tears streaming. Do it. It’s time to celebrate! Our victory has been won!

Heavenly Father,

I praise you for winning the most important victory of my life for me. Help me keep you the center of my family’s life every moment and forgive me when I mess that up. Guide me exhausted yet pursuing to live with you eternally. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Birthday Cake

1 John 3:2—Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

I make our kids birthday cakes every year.  It has become a fun tradition to seek out the perfect combination of yumminess and their interests to create  a cake that that tells about them.  Last year the experience was not all it was cracked up to be yet I learned something form  it.   Savi and I poured through pictures of cakes and she decided she had her heart set on one that looked like Belle the princess, dress and all.  I stared at the picture and thought, no problem!  With the cakes made and set into their form, I began to ice the yellow ball gown.  Well, I didn't freeze the cake quite long enough and the frosting would not go on as smooth as I had hoped.  With tiredness setting in and my perfectionist form setting in, I was frustrated.  I wanted the perfect cake for her.  After completing it, I stared at it and thought " that was definitely not what I had envisioned" and I went to bed discouraged. Finishing it in the morning seemed the best plan of action.   The next morning I woke to squeals of glee as Savannah and her older sister found the cake in the kitchen!  They were hollering for everyone to come see the cake I had made - the cake I had gone to bed so dejected about.

I guess whether or not a cake is beautiful all depends on what you are looking for in a cake. If you’re looking at the cake as it is, it may or may not be beautiful at the moment. But if what you see is what your cake is on the way to being—in other words, the finished product—then it probably does look beautiful. Savannah saw her cake was beautiful because it was yellow and sparkly and looked like Belle, and because she knew it would turn out to be exactly what she wanted. That was enough for her.

Too bad it’s not enough for us sometimes when we look at ourselves. As women and as moms, it’s particularly easy for us to look at ourselves and see nothing but the imperfections. We know what we’d like ourselves to be, but we don’t trust the Maker that that’s possible.

What if we saw ourselves the way God sees us? What if we trusted Him to make perfect beauty from what looks imperfect now?

God knows that even though we’re not there yet, we’re at least on the way to being what He wants us to be. He sees the finished product He’s in the process of bringing to completion, not the imperfect intermediate one. He sees the beauty of the work He’s put into us, not the blemishes of the ways we’ve messed up. Sure, He knows we’re not perfect—but He also knows that one day, we will be, because of what He’s done in us.

One day we will be sinless. One day we will get things right—all the time. One day, we’ll be what we’ve always dreamed of being—glorified and beautiful, though physical beauty won’t hold the same importance for us anymore.

If only we could begin seeing ourselves differently right now—on the way to becoming, rather than messed up or imperfect. I wonder how we might treat ourselves differently as well as those around us. You see, they’re in the process of becoming, too. Maybe if we realized that we’re all still in process, we’d be able to give ourselves and others a little more grace. Maybe even a lot more. And maybe instead of reacting negatively to our imperfections, we could rejoice at God’s creative work in us as He gradually shapes us into the perfection He has is mind for us to be one day.

The crumby cake is not what we ultimately are. It’s not our final identity. It’s merely a stage on the way to becoming the beautiful cake God envisions—and it may even be beautiful at the moment. And just like God did for me that day, He may sometimes send us a little reminder—maybe even in the form of a delighted four-year-old excited about even the in-between stages.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New Life

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5: 17)

Yesterday was the first day of spring.  And--although we had a very mild winter in the Midwest-- the sounds, smells, and sights of spring are just as amazing as ever.  During this time of year, many find themselves basking in the simple joys--a blooming flower, a chirping bird, a warm sunny day.  There is so much "new life," and it makes us rejoice in our loving Creator! 

Springtime is a season of change, and a season of miracles.  The Scripture verse above describes it well: "The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."  At the beginning of Lent, we look at the brown grass and bare branches of the trees and quickly remember how we are dead in our sins.  Our flesh is weak and hopeless without Christ.  During our Lenten journey, we are humbled by the reality of our sin.  It separates us from God, and sentences us to death.  Yet, as we approach the events of Holy Week, we are reminded that Christ's death on the cross paid for our sins.  Christ's life, death, and resurrection not only redeems us, but also restores our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  Just as God gives renewal of life to the earth during springtime--daily our "old Adam passes away" and we are made "new in Christ."  God redeems and restores us into a new existence; we are re-created as a person of faith in Jesus Christ to live in and for Him alone.   

Springtime truly is a season of miracles.  May we both enjoy and thank our Creator for all of the beautiful, simple gifts He gives to us during this time of year.  But, most of all, may we praise Him for the most humbling and amazing gift He has given to us--the gift of His son, Jesus.  For it is in Him alone, that we have new life--life eternal!

Heavenly Father~ We thank You for your beautiful creation.  As we experience the joys of it during this special time of year, may we never forget to rejoice in the new life You have blessed us with.  We are humbled and grateful for the gift of Your Son, Jesus, which makes our new life possible.  In His name~Amen.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Perfection Problem

“As for God, His way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; He shields all who take refuge in Him.” Psalm 18:30

I am a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist can be a strength. If you want a job done well, ask a perfectionist. A perfectionist will put as much time, energy, and focus into the project as is possible. When my high school teachers assigned a group project, I was the person you wanted on your team. I usually took on the majority of the workload, and the assignment earned high marks for everyone in the group.

Being a perfectionist can also be a burden. Because I hold myself to certain standards, I often exhaust myself with the tasks I take on. I can have unrealistic expectations of my husband, children, friends, and co-workers. I am always thinking about how I might improve upon things. I live with anxiety and insecurity because I know that even my best is not enough. We live in a competitive world, and there is always going to be someone smarter, more talented, or better qualified.

Perfectionism can be a problem for those who believe it is possible to attain. The Portals of Prayer devotion from March 7th was entitled The Prison of Perfection. The devotion spoke of the early Jews, who were subject to the Law. The laws they were supposed to keep to be right with God were complex and detailed. It was impossible to keep them perfectly. The Law was enslaving. Under the Law, there was no peace.

Martin Luther knew this. He suffered great anguish knowing his failings, wondering if he could ever be good enough to earn God’s favor. He knew that a just and holy God could never look upon him with mercy. Luther knew that according to the Law, he was damned and without hope.
We are in the midst of the season of Lent. During Lent, we focus on our human inadequacy. We know that we cannot earn heaven. We are brought to repentance. We know that we need help if we are ever going to be “on God’s good side.”

Lent is also the time when we look forward to Easter. When Martin Luther studied scripture and understood the Gospel, he finally felt that the chains holding him were unlocked. He understood that Jesus Christ kept the Law perfectly for us. Christ kept the Law, and He suffered the punishment of the Law in our place. Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf is acceptable to God. Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning shows that He conquered sin and death and we have nothing to fear. We have been given the glorious gift of grace.

I constantly encounter people who do not want to hear about sin or the devil. It causes them discomfort. They give eternity very little thought because facing our mortality is also uncomfortable. They make their way through this life under the delusion that they are “good enough.”

I consider my perfectionistic nature to be a blessing from God. It is a “thorn in the flesh” that has caused me great distress at times. However, as I’ve matured, I’ve learned that there are times when circumstances dictate that I need to accept my imperfection. I need to let go of things out of my control and ask God to allow His grace cover the situation. These are times when I experience unspeakable relief. We cannot truly appreciate grace without experiencing the burden of perfection. I thank God for my weakness. For it is through my weakness that His strength is revealed.

Dear God, thank you for this season of reflection and awareness and for the joy of Easter which is to come. Thank you for covering our unworthiness with Christ’s perfection. Please allow the message of the Gospel to continue to touch those who are walking in darkness. In Jesus’ holy name we pray, Amen.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Speak, for Your Servant Hears

And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” 1 Samuel 3:10

Have you ever found yourself sitting in a Bible study, a worship service, or family devotion and had something said that jumps out to you instantly grabbing your attention and speaking directly to things that are going on in your life? I know I certainly have. I am repeatedly amazed by how the scripture readings, the hymns, the liturgy, the sermon seem to be speaking directly to me. If you consider all of these things, the one common thread is that they are all rooted in God’s Word.

In today’s Scripture reading God is speaking directly to His servant Samuel for the first time. Samuel can hear the Lord calling his name, but at first does not recognize that it is the Lord calling for him. Three times the Lord called out to Samuel and each time Samuel went to Eli, his teacher. Finally the third time Eli realizes that it is the Lord speaking to Samuel. He tells Samuel, “if He calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” When the Lord spoke to Samuel the fourth time, he did respond, “Speak, for your servant hears”, and the Lord continued to speak directly to Samuel.

Today, the Lord speaks to us through His Word. This is why it is so important for us to be active in worship and the study of God’s Word. As we involve ourselves in these things that are rooted in God’s Word, we are saying, “Speak, for your servant hears.” Just as Eli helped Samuel to recognize that God was speaking to him, we need to help our children to recognize that God speaks to them through His Word, just as He does to each and every one of us.

As parents we should all be diligent in not only our own active worship life and study of God’s Word, but also in leading our children to do the same. We lead them to where God’s Word can be found and teach them how to listen and hear what God is saying to them. We encourage them to open their hearts to God’s Word and say, “Speak, for your servant hears.”

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, we thank You for speaking to us through Your Holy Word. Help us to seek out those opportunities that You have blessed us with where we are able to hear Your Word. Help us to bring our children to You and guide our children to open their hearts to hear You as You speak to them through Your Word. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Powerful Prayer

I am a museum nut. I love heading to museums to take in the rich history of the past. I am not sure where this love for museums began. I don't recall visiting them often as a child but as an adult I have traveled to many. I have read through the historical backgrounds of Louisianna plantations, I have toured through the development and history of the great state of Texas, I have learned the history of Dr. Pepper through the Dr. Pepper museum. This past week, I visited a museum that I have passed by dozens of times over the last few years. The Texas Rangers Museum. And while I stopped by the various glass cases reading about fallen officers, looked at weaponry that they carried and seen the multitude of other cases solved I came across a prayer written by a Texas Ranger chaplin. It struck me that the thoughts and requests throughout this prayer echo many of the prayers that I lift up to God in my own life.

May these words provide you with a starting point in your own conversation with God.

A Texas Ranger Prayer

O God, whose end is justice,
whose strength is all our stay,
be near and bless my mission
as I go forth today.

Let wisdom guide my actions,
let courage fill my heart
and help me Lord, in every hour
to do a Ranger's part.

Protect when danger threatens,
sustain when trails are rough;
help me to keep my standard high
and smile at each rebuff.

When night comes down upon me,
I pray the Lord be nigh.
Whenever on lonely scout,
or camped, under the Texas sky.

Keep me, o God in line
and when my days shall end,
forgive my sins and take me in,
for Jesus sake, Amen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hallowed be His name

Today's post comes to us from Pastor Benjamin Meyer

The Second Commandment
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord of the Lord your God. 
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
The First Petition of the Lord's Prayer
Hallowed be Thy Name. 
What does this mean?  God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also.
How is God’s name kept holy?  God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it.  Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven!  But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us.  Protect us from this, heavenly Father!
The Second Commandment and the First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer go hand in hand.  Both, ultimately, are about using God’s name properly.   When we use God’s name properly, when we live according to it and seek to bring honor to God by our living, it is hallowed (honored, kept holy) amongst us.
What would it look like if you were truly most concerned, not with your own happiness, not with your own priorities, not with your own gratification, but with ensuring that God’s name is hallowed by how you live?
If we were truly concerned with hallowing God’s name, would we…
…change our television and movie viewing habits and re-evaluate the types of things that we watch and let our children watch?
…make changes to our Saturday evening routines in order to prepare our hearts and minds for the Divine Service on Sunday?
…be more concerned with how we can use our physical and monetary blessings to honor God?
…make changes to our devotional lives?
…see to it that we keep God’s name holy in our homes by having family devotions?
...teach our children to hallow God's name by making a Christian education more important than sports, band, farming, etc.?
…pray more often?
…pray more often for spiritual things than physical things?
…pray for our pastor and school teachers as they serve God?
These are just a few of the questions that you might ask yourself.  I encourage you, during the final weeks of lent, to consider how different your life would look if you organized your life around God and hallowing His name.  Take some time to consider what changes need to be made in your life and in the life of your family so that God’s name is hallowed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Comparison Problem

“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35

Comparing ourselves to others seems to be deeply woven into each of us. This “comparison problem” has been happening since the beginning of time. Adam and Eve were tempted into the first sin because they were comparing themselves to God (Genesis3:4-7). Cain murdered his brother Abel when he began comparing how God favored Abel’s offerings over his own (Genesis 4:1-8). Saul became jealous of David when he saw that others admired David more than they did himself (1 Samuel 18:6-9). In the text where today’s verse comes from, the twelve disciples have been arguing amongst themselves over who was the greatest (Mark 9:33-37).

As parents we are very familiar with this “comparison problem”. Repeatedly we see our children compare the amount of a special treat that they received compared to the amount their sibling or friend received. Our children compare whose punishment was worse or “how come they got away with it?” They compare who has the better clothes and toys. Sometimes they even compare who is more loved by parents, liked by teachers, or popular with friends.

We are not off the hook here either. If we are honest with ourselves, we are guilty of being a part of this “comparison problem” as well. From the time our children are born we begin comparing them to all the other children we know. We compare how big or small they are, how quickly or slowly they learn things, how good or bad their grades are in school, and how they shape up next to the other kids on the team.

It’s not just our kids we are guilty of comparing either. So many of us struggle with this “comparison problem” when we start comparing our parenting skills to those of other parents we know. Sometimes we look at others and think how much better they are than us and we make ourselves feel like failures. Other times we look at others and begin to boast, even if only in our thoughts, about how much better we are at parenting than they are.

No matter who we look at this “comparison problem” one thing is for sure. It always leads to sin. God does not compare us to one another and size up whom He will bless more or less, and God does not want for us to do that with others. In our verse today, Jesus tells His disciples, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus Himself demonstrated this for us repeatedly during His ministry here on earth by being a servant, not asking to be served.

This sin of comparison is a hard one for us to battle with. There is no easy cure and it is something that sinful humans have and always will have to do battle against. The best we can do as sinful humans is to work daily to put on a servant’s heart and look to God for help and guidance.

Most of all, we turn this “comparison problem” over to God, who through Jesus suffering, death, and resurrection takes these and all other sins upon Himself. Through Jesus blood, God forgives us of these sins and makes us free to receive His salvation.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father we pray that you help us with our “comparison problem”. Forgive us and lead us in all we do and say. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Monday, March 12, 2012

God is my guide

"We live by faith, not by sight."
2 Corinthians 5:7

I just finished reading the book Thunder Dog.  It is a true story about a blind man, Michael Hingson, who was on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower on September 11, 2001.  Michael was led by his guide dog, all the way down the stairs to safety below.  He and his guide dog, Roselle, survived that fateful day.

I can't even imagine walking down all those stairs on that terrifying day with all of my senses, let alone not being able to see, and depending on my dog to show me the way.  Michael had a terrific amount of trust in Roselle's guidance.  He could have given into his fears that day, he could have asked a fellow employee on his floor to guide him down.  But he didn't--he trusted in Roselle.

God has promised to lead us, just as Roselle led Michael.    Isn't there times, though, that we feel blind?  We can't see where he's leading us.  There are those days when we've got so much on our minds, so many failures we've felt, that we just can't see the cross where he took away those failures.  We grope along, left in the dark, searching for God's hand.  Sometimes we don't even trust that God can lead the way.

How wonderful, though, that God doesn't expect blind trust of us!  Instead, He reminds us how worthy of our trust He is.  Over and over, He shows his love in our salvation.  God loves us so much that He sent His Son to bear our punishment and die for our death.  Now THAT is a God we can trust to lead us to heaven, even when we don't understand His ways.  We know He's leading us to everlasting life.

Dear Heavenly Father, I don't always trust you as I should.  Sometimes I lose sight of you, and grope around in the darkness, full of fear.  Through Your Word, remind me of your love in Jesus, so I trust Your leading in my life.  In Your name I pray, Amen.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Nitty Gritty

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
-Psalm 51:7

I love to clean.  Yes, I am one of "those moms" who doesn't like a big mess, and who is somewhat overly concerned what her house looks like at all times.  (My mother-in-law likes to remind me that she was this way too and as she got older she grew out of this obsession).  This past weekend I was shampooing my carpets, and was shocked and somewhat horrified at the actual state of my carpets.  There were unsightly stains from our dogs, crusty milk stains courtesy of Olivia, a spilled soda courtesy of my husband and general dirt and grime that accumulates from a combination of people and animals over a period of time.  I knew that my carpets were dirty, but I had no idea they were that dirty.  Because I both leave and get home when it is dark, the carpet stains are often hidden by the shadows of night, and it is only in the true light of day that the dirt is noticeable.  (Note to self - invite guests over only late at night.)

Like the ugly stains on my carpet that were hidden, my sin too seeks the darkness looking for a place to hide. Under a mask of self-righteousness, I do not betray my sin and shame, but instead judge others for the same sin that I am guilty of committing.  

Jesus knows.  In the light of Christ's love and forgiveness, sin cannot hide itself.  We have been made clean again through the blood, death and resurrection of Easter spring cleaning if you will.

Dear Jesus,
Thank you for your continual forgiveness and grace.  Because of your ultimate sacrifice on the cross, our relationship with God has been restored.  We no longer hide in the shadows of sin, but are washed and made clean each day, able to stand in our Father's presence.  Continue to strengthen and preserve our families and keep us ever close to you. Amen

Thursday, March 8, 2012

I Don't Feel Forgiven

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30

My children don’t respond to yelling. I can get angry and raise my voice to them, but it just tends to roll off their backs. I have learned there is nothing like a quiet, calm voice to get their attention, and when appropriate move them to repentance. When forgiveness is asked for it is always granted, but most of the time the sobbing continues even after they hear the words, “I forgive you.” They cling to me with every bit of strength they have in them. I don’t know if it is because they are ashamed of their sin that they hide their face in my shirt and refuse to let go, or that they don’t believe me that they really are forgiven. My guess is it is probably the second of the two.

Do you ever feel that way? You hear your pastor, or your spouse, or your friend say the words, “I forgive you,” but you don’t believe them. How can I possibly be forgiven? I mean, do you know what I’ve done?

It was because God knew your sin that he sent your Savior.

*In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight Ephesians 1:7-8

*Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Acts 13:38-39

God’s forgiveness doesn’t just cover the “pretty” sins, it covers everything. We are free! Even in the times you may not feel forgiven, you are. The times you may not feel God’s presence, he’s there. The times you may not even begin to comprehend the kind of love that is obedient to the point of death, it exists and it is ours.

Listen to God say to you in his calm, quiet voice, “Take heart my son (daughter) your sins are forgiven.” Know that it was true yesterday, is today, and will be again tomorrow. Cling to him being confident in his promises and refuse to let go. He refuses to let you go.

When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he meant it. The sacrifice is complete, once, for all.

Forgiving Father,

I hear the words that tell me I am forgiven, but at times it is so hard to believe. Help me to know without a doubt that though I do not deserve your love and compassion, I have it in abundance through the death and resurrection of my Savior. Help me to say to my guilt and my doubt, "It is finished." In Jesus Name, Amen.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Shout for joy

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Psalm 100:1-2

One of my greatest joys is watching kids grow in understanding and participation in church life. Some Sundays though it is very hard to worship with my kids. They both love church - the members, Bible stories, songs, the liturgy - yet the way they express their joy over being there can be easily misinterpreted. There are times when their "joyful noise" sounds more like chaos than worship.

In Psalm 100 it says specifically to "Shout for joy to the LORD". It does not specify that those shouts should only happen while outdoors or come from people under the age of 2! Witnessing the joy of the younger worshipers can be a reminder, and a challenge, for us "older" worshipers.

The Psalm goes on to say "come before him with joyful songs". It does not say that those songs need to be in tune or in time. This verse came to mind last Sunday as my 4 yr. old was chanting the liturgy at his own pace and in his own key. We have a small church so of course everyone noticed. In those moments I strive to remember that the Lord welcomes us all, regardless of our abilities.

Lord, please help me as I parent in the pew. Grant me your wisdom, grace and understanding. Also, please surround our pew with understanding souls who will enjoy the extra joyful noises we tend to make. In Jesus name, Amen.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Live for Today

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Matthew 6:34

At the church where my family and I are members, we often have several options for Adult Sunday School. For the next 10 weeks, my husband and I are attending the class called “Fully Engaged.” Have you heard of this book? The tag line is “How to DO less and BE more.” This sounded like a great, practical class for a couple of parents of young children. Oh, friends. What an eye opener these first two chapters have been! Already I have had to take a pretty detailed look at my life and answer some very tough questions, and I have to be honest; I haven’t liked my answers.

In the first chapter, we had to determine if we are burned out, rusted out, or engaged in various aspects of our life. I hadn’t heard the term “rusted out” before, but that is exactly what I am. The author, John Busacker’s, definition of rusted out has to do with just marking time or punching a clock until we can get to the good stuff. “When the kids are older...” “Once I finish school...” “When I get that promotion...” Does any of this sound familiar? Here’s what hit me the hardest. Our pastor had us answer this question at our tables: “What makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning?” What would you say? I know what my answer should be, but...

We all go through various seasons of life where we might be looking forward to the next thing or the next phase, but I don’t want to miss out on the life God has blessed me with now because I’m too busy marking time until it gets “better.” I’m pretty sure that time will never come anyway because each season will have its own struggles. I don’t know exactly how to become fully engaged in my life, but being aware of where I am is a start.

God, Forgive me for not loving you with my whole heart. Forgive me for wishing my life away rather than seeing each breath as the blessing and gift from You that it is. Help me to be fully present with You and with my family every day. Amen.

Monday, March 5, 2012

He'll never know

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Luke 6:31

Friendship is so simple and yet so complex. It is a crucial ingredient in a fulfilling life and is always changing. I am currently in a production of “A Year with Frog and Toad” based on the books by Arnold Lobel. The musical portrays a beautiful friendship that spans the seasons. There are many adorable exchanges between these two characters. One of my favorites is when they each decide to rake each other’s leaves secretly. They get so much joy out of their anonymous act of service. The squirrels mess up the leaves before either of them get to see their own yards. The powerful thing for me is that although neither of them received the “gift” intended for them, their friendship is strengthened by their own efforts.

As you think about a friend in your life, I’d like to challenge you to think of a way to brighten their day anonymously. Now, what “gift” can you give to our friend Jesus today? The things we do as expressions of love for Him also change us and feed our relationship with God. Take joy in the small things you can do to in the name of friendship.

Dear Jesus, I am humbled to be called Your friend. I am eager to grow closer to You and want You to know how much I love You. Thank you for the people You have put in my life that encourage me and care for me. Help me to model healthy, strong friendships for my children. Surround them with good friends as they grow and shape them into the kind of person that loves to secretly “do unto others…”. Amen.

Friday, March 2, 2012

He knew us from our first moments

Psalm 22
9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

I always come back to the many and varied places God talks about pregnancy and babies when I am expecting. It's such a time of joy, but also one of apprehension. Is everything ok? Will everything be alright tomorrow, as well?

Our children are not in our hands. They are held tightly in the loving arms of their Heavenly Father, who knows them far more intimately then we can at any time. This is particularly evident while we wait patiently for them to grow and eventually come to rest in our arms.

What a comfort that even when times are tough that God reminds us that as he forms a baby In the womb He is with them.

Just as mysterious as a forming babe with faith is the tiny infant, brought to a second birth in baptism.

When reading about Psalm 22 it seems that David was in a time of great need. Things weren't going well. He opens the Psalm asking God why He has forsaken him. And yet, by the end, he proclaims again God's power and plan.

God has a plan for each of us, from the time we waited for birth to when we wait for our own children's births. The plan may not always be clear. It may not always be easy. Sometimes we stumble and fall and cry out, sure we are alone.

What a blessing that we aren't. No matter where we go or have gone, God is the God who knew us from our first moments and holds us safe in His hands.

Dear Lord, please help us remember that you are always with us and our families. Please help us live mindful of your love and forgiveness. In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Plan

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:11)

Do you ever think about how different life is, as an adult, from what you had pictured it to be when you were a child?  Often times I look at my sweet daughter, and remember being her age and thinking that I had it all planned out.  As girls, we tend to have a romantic view of what being a "grown-up" is all about--and we can't wait!  As we grow into adulthood and mature, we are grateful for the many ways God blesses our lives.  But, along with that, we are often humbled by the very real hardships we must endure.  As Christians, we are encouraged by the words of Jeremiah in the Bible verse above.  We can find comfort in knowing that we are not alone; we can find hope in the fact that God has a plan for our welfare; and we can find peace in knowing that, when we seek to do His will in our lives, He will not only bless us but also use us to be a blessing to others.
In the above-mentioned verse, Jeremiah is writing to a group of people who are in exile from their homeland.  He's writing to let them know that although they're not where they would have expected, nor where they would have asked God to put them--God is with them and has a plan.  In verse 7 of the same chapter, Jeremiah urges the people to "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."  God wants them to know that He is not removing them from their current situation, but is calling upon them to work and pray for their captors.  He is calling upon them to put their faith in Him--not only in the good times, but in the difficult ones as well.  They are reminded that He is faithful, and a God of justice and mercy.
Today, in whatever situation you find yourself, God wants you to know He has a plan.  As we look to His words in Jeremiah 29:11, we find hope.  Hope in the fact that, although our lives may not always work out the way "we" plan, God has a better plan and it will prevail.  So, may we focus on the Cross.  For it is there, upon the Cross, that our loving, faithful, and good God secured His plan for our future.
Dear Heavenly Father,   Thank-you for being  faithful and loving to us.  Forgive us when we doubt You.  May we, through the power of your Spirit,  continually trust in the plan you have for our lives and the lives of those we love.  In Your Son's name, Amen.