Monday, June 18, 2012

What Do You Believe About You?

The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior." Judges 6:11-12

When we compare ourselves to a holy God, there is simply no comparison. Most of us would not even dare to compare ourselves to God. In fact, when we consider our humanness compared to His holiness, we fall far short. In an effort to remain humble before God, our human tendency is to berate ourselves until we see ourselves as no more than wretched worms, unworthy of His love and grace. Somehow, we have gotten this confused and consider this type of attitude towards our own humanness as some sort of righteous obligation so that we do not think of ourselves more highly than we should. In actuality, this type of thinking opens the door to the enemy to decive us with his lies rather than God's truth!

In Judges 6, Scripture records the story of the Israelites suffering oppression at the hands of the Midianites.The Midianites, along with the Amalekites, came against Israel after they had planted their crops in an effort to take away their source of sustenance. The oppression lasted for seven years and was so severe that the Israelites found themselves forced to hide in mountain caves. In response to the Israelites cry for for help, God sent an angel to visit Gideon.

The angel refers to Gideon as a "mighty warrior" and proceeds to instruct him to save Israel from the Midianites. Gideon immediately denies the possibility of having any ability to save Israel. Gideon looked at the facts, as he knew them. Not only was Gideon from the weakest clan in Manasseh, but he was also the least important member of his family. Because Gideon was only looking with his natural eyes, he could not see the attributes and abilities that God had placed in him.

Think about Gideon's claim that his tribe was the weakest in Manasseh and he was the least important member of his family. Where did Gideon get these ideas? Did the other families in the tribe consider Gideon's clan weak, and if so, why did they come to this conclusion? Had someone told Gideon that he was the least important member of his family, or was this his own conclusion based on his perception of reality? It really does not matter where any of Gideon's ideas came from; the most important thing to understand is that none of his ideas was true. Through the angel, God told Gideon face-to-face the truth and it directly contradicted what Gideon believed about himself! Gideon had chosen to believe a lie and he did not even know it. The angel of the Lord spoke God's truth to him. Yet, the lie was so entrenched in Gideon, he could not accept what the angel was saying about him. Gideon insisted that the angel give him a sign because he needed proof.

The world will attempt to define who we are through the lies of the enemy. If we believe the lies and accept them as our truth, then we cannot fully operate as God intended. When we accept negative beliefs about ourselves then we turn our backs on the very God who created us! We each have a choice to let the world define us or to believe what our Father and Creator has to say about us. Gideon discovered that God was right and he was wrong, and choosing to believe God's truth was life changing for him. I urge you to choose to believe God's truth about you and you will discover that without Him, you are nothing, but with Him, you are more than you could ever imagine!

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. Psalm 139:1

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

For the Love of Mercy

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

The message of the book of Micah vacillates between messages of destruction and messages of hope. The prophet Micah emphasized to the Israelites God's intolerance for idolatry, injustice, and religious ritualism and he prophesied of the impending judgment and ultimate destruction of Israel in light of their disobedience. Despite the message of doom, the message included hope for the Israelites through reconciliation and restoration. The message holds true for us today!

In the previous verses, Micah asks the question, "With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?" (Micah 6:6) After examining the possibilities of the right type of sacrifice in the verses following, Micah concludes that God has already shown His people what He requires, and that is to "act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

In our world today, there is much finger pointing and condemnation offered to those who do not live according to the truths and guidelines laid out in Scripture. Unfortunately, those who are so willing to condemn others are missing so many other valuable truths taught in Scripture, and a very important one is to love mercy. Jesus taught, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." (Matthew 5:7) This teaching is in line with another Scripture, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6:7) In other words, however we treat others, we can expect the same treatment in return. Since none of us has achieved perfection in our lives, and we are all in desperate need of God's mercy, then is seems the best way to receive mercy is to offer it freely to others. It sounds so simple, but unfortunately, Christians are notorious for "shooting the wounded" or condemning others for their lifestyles.

In Jesus' earthly ministry, there is not one example of Jesus speaking condemnation to those caught in sin and brought before Him. In the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus challenged her accusers, and once they had all left, He encouraged the woman to, "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:11) Jesus did not lecture her, point His finger at her, or condemn her in any way. If this is how Jesus treated sinners, then where in the world do we get the idea that we can condemn those who sin? Are we not all sinners? Scripture states, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)

The only folks we see Jesus reprimanding harshly are the religious people - the ones who thought they knew it all and were all too ready to condemn anyone they thought needed it, including Jesus. In the book of Matthew, Jesus speaks directly to the Pharisees and teachers of the law condemning them for their hypocritical ways. He confronts them for their treatment of non-believers, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." (Matthew 23:13) The Pharisees and the teachers of the law LOVED justice rather than mercy, and unfortunately that attitude is still prevalent today.

I am humbled each day by the love and mercy that God pours out on my life. What I cannot find in His love and mercy is any directive to condemn others. Yet, I find myself guilty of doing just that! Once again, I am reminded of just how ugly and destructive that type of attitude is especially when I see it played out so blatantly in the news media. I can only ask for forgiveness for myself, and pray for those who feel it is their duty and right to condemn others.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. I Corinthians 13:1-3

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Edisto Beach Retreat

This past weekend was our annual women's retreat to Edisto Beach. This is an event that I take great joy and pleasure in planning and preparing for each year. This year was no exception and I anxiously waited to see what God had planned for this group of His daughters that were gathering together this year. There was a total of seven women and one sweet little seven month old baby girl named Piper.

Sweet Piper on the beach
God blessed us abundantly with safe travel and good weather. The beach house met our needs perfectly with a large kitchen and plenty of room to relax, talk and play games. One of our favorite spots was the screened porch on the side of the house where we would often congregate to hang out together. A couple of the high points for me was spending time in worship on Sunday morning. The Lord's presence was sweet as He ministered to our hearts as we worshipped Him and shared in communion together. The second high point was Sunday afternoon playing the game Taboo. I didn't know that it was humanely possible to laugh that much for such an extended period of time, but that is exactly what we did!

Deena enjoying the sand and the sun

Peggy was distracted from her reading

My beautiful daughter Clara

Kathey, my long time friend

Piper with her lovely mom, Sloan

Stephanie & Deena just met this weekend, but a new friendship was formed
I was usually up before dawn to walk along the beach, watch the sunrise and spend time in prayer. For me, there is something so completely magnificent about watching the ocean and reflecting on God's amazing creation. I am often overwhelmed not only by the vastness and power of the ocean itself, but also the knowledge that the water right in front of me is teeming with all sorts of life. The variances and complexities of it all is a beautiful reminder of how great and awesome is the God that I serve.

Early on Saturday morning, as I was walking, I noticed a man with his dog walking along the edge of the water. The man had some sort of red stick that he would throw out into the water and as soon as it left the his hand, the dog went racing out to retrieve it. It did not matter where the stick landed, the dog would swim out to get it and bring it right back to his master's feet, tail wagging and ready to go again. I watched the two as this action was repeated over and over, and the dog and his owner seemed to be enjoying every part of the game. As I was about to continue my walk, I felt there was something more the Lord wanted me to see, so I asked Him what it was that He was showing me. He told me that he wanted me to go after whatever He put in front of me with the same energy and attitude that I saw exhibited in that dog, and whenever I am able to grab hold of whatever He is giving me, there will always be more. I pray that you too will "fetch" whatever God has for you, and move ahead with joy and excitement that not only did He choose you for this task, but He always, always has more!

Treasures found on my early morning walks at the beach

God worked in us and through us to form new friendships, strengthen old ones and bind us more closeley together as sisters. We laughed, we cried, we relaxed and ate way too much food. We soaked in His presence individually and collectively, and our time together is permanently stamped on our hearts. May His name be praised forever for all that He has done and continues to do!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bondage or Freedom?

Exodus 14:13-14
After the Pharaoh finally conceded to let the Children of Israel go as Moses had asked, he relented and went after them.  The Israelites were terrified when they saw the Egyptians marching towards them.  They turned to Moses in their fear and complained that he should have left them in Egypt.  We read in Exodus 14:13-14, Moses’ reply: Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
God then instructed Moses to stretch his staff out over the sea, and we know the story of the Red Sea parting so that the Israelites could cross on dry land.  Once they were across, the Egyptians who were hot in pursuit were all drowned as the waters of the Red Sea came back together again.  There was nothing the Children of Israel could have done to save themselves.  The Egyptians were after them, there was nowhere for them to run or hide and even the most brilliant minds in the world could not figure a way out of the situation.  And Moses’ only instruction to them as they saw the Egyptians headed straight towards them in all their fury was to be still because the Lord would fight for them.    
I have often wondered what it would have been like to be an Israelite at that time and witness such a miraculous event.  What kinds of thoughts would have run through my head, what kind of emotions would have coursed through my body as I saw first hand God saving me and everyone around me, not only from the bondage of slavery, but also from the angry Egyptians who were ready to take vengeance on a people who had defied them?  Not only had I been set free, but it happened in such a way that there would be no doubt who had been responsible for my release.  I like to think that I would have fallen on my face and committed my life to serving God forever.  After witnessing God’s supernatural power, I would never again doubt or question His immeasurable love for me.  And as I moved forward in my life and faced difficulties or challenges, I would always be able to look back on that moment in time and know that God would take care of me, rescue me in times of peril and provide for my every need.  But that is not what the Israelites did, and quite honestly, it is not what I do either.
It was not long after the supernatural escape from the Egyptians that the Israelites were complaining to Moses about not being able to find water, and when they did find water they couldn’t drink it because it was bitter, yet God took care of that problem too and made the water sweet. (Exodus 15:25)  Their next complaint was lack of food.  Their groaning and complaining was such that they were convinced they should have stayed in Egypt, because at least there they had food to eat. (Exodus 16:3)  All the complaining, all the whining, all the mistrusting of God continued on for the next 40 years as they wandered through the desert on their way to the land that God had promised to them.  It didn’t matter how much God provided for them, all the supernatural ways that He took care of them, every time they hit a bump in the road the whining and complaining would start again.  It makes you wonder why God didn’t just leave them in the desert and let them figure it out on their own.  God set them free, yet there were times when they preferred their bondage over trusting in God.
And how often do we do that today?  We hit a hard place in life and say, “Oh, God, why did you let this happen?  Why don’t you fix it?” And then we start looking for solutions ourselves.  We want to find the quick fix to make the pain go away, but the quick fix usually gets us nowhere.  Oh, it might leave us wandering around in the desert or even worse, right back in Egypt into the same old bondage we want so desperately to escape from, but we will never be released from bondage or set free from pain until we learn to sit still and let the Lord fight for us.  Until we fully know and understand that God loves us and we can trust in Him completely can we experience true freedom!
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Thursday, June 16, 2011

This Thing Called Grace

Romans 6
The world is moving at a rapid pace, and if you are like me, there are times when you may feel that things are spinning out of control.  There are so many things coming at us to occupy not only our time but also our minds that it can become challenging at times to discern those things that are good from those things that our not.  Even many our churches seem to be sending out mixed messages about right and wrong and how exactly grace fits into the whole equation.
According to Merriam Webster’s on-line dictionary, grace is defined as unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.  I really like that word regeneration; it suggests that through grace we can be made new again.  And isn’t that exactly what we want to know will happen by grace, that when we sin and repent for our sins, we can be made new again in the eyes of God?  Does God extend us grace so that we can do what ever we want to do knowing that His grace will cover all of our sin?  Paul writes the following in Romans 6:1-2: What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? And that is the question, once we know Jesus, how can we go on sinning?
We go on sinning because we are imperfect, flawed humans motivated by our own selfish desires to have our needs met.  Only Jesus Christ lived a life free from sin.  Jesus’ life was sinless for two reasons.  The first reason is that He always chose to do the will of His Father.  Even though Jesus is the Son of God, He still came to earth in the flesh, tempted in all things, yet He never put His will or His desires above those of Father God.  The second reason Jesus was sinless was because He understood what it truly meant to serve others. There was no ego or selfish desires to get in His way of serving others. Not only did He know and understand the concept, it is something that He made a choice to do each day, but this is a topic for another day.
But what does Paul mean when he says that “We are those who have died to sin?”  If we are so flawed and imperfect, how can we die to sin?  The change comes in the heart.  Bill Johnson wrote in his book, Face to Face with God, “And because of who He is, to behold Him and remain unchanged is impossible.”  As we seek God and draw closer to Him, His desires become our desires.  As we allow God’s love to permeate our lives, to infiltrate every fiber of our being, He draws our hearts to Him and the things that used to entice us begin to lose their effect.  Those things become dead to us as we find new life in Christ Jesus.
Will we continue to sin, make mistakes and totally mess things up?  The answer to that is absolutely, but the next question is: Does God’s grace give us permission to sin?  We already know that Paul instructed against it, but we also read in the book of Jude, verse 4 the following:  “For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”
Just as it was in those days, the perversion of the grace message continues today.  God has called us to come out of the world and draw close to Him, to choose His way over the ways of the world.  Only when we are seeking Him can we experience true freedom in this world and those times when we do fall, His grace is there to pick us up, clean us off and make us new again!
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Titus 2:11-13

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

From Lament to Praise

The Book of Psalms

How do you worship?  What does worship look like to you?  In your local church, what does your corporate worship look like?  Is it more somber, singing the hymns of old or is it more upbeat offering the style of the new catchword "contemporary worship" or the even newer phrase, "modern worship?"  Do the lights in the auditorium dim with stage lights focused only on the folks leading worship?  Maybe your worship team has gone even one step further and begun to include secular music to "make a point" that will line up with the topic of the day to drive home the focus of the sermon.  Even more importantly, what is going on in your heart when you enter into worship?  What does scripture say in regards to worship?
The book of Psalms served as the Hebrew "hymnal" to be used during worship in the temple and local synagogues, and provides the most in depth look at worship.  In examining this collection of hymns, there is a noticeable pattern that is seen.  Individually and collectively, there is a progression of verbiage and attitude that takes the reader from lament to praise.  In the third Psalm, David expresses his dismay at the number of his enemies, yet he turns his dismay into loving trust and praise as he declares to God, "But you are a shield around me O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my heard."  This is just one of many examples of an individual psalm progressing from lament to praise.
The collection of Psalms as a whole follows the same progression.  The last five psalms in the collection are filled with high praise of our God and King.  The first two verses in Psalm 145 bears no hint of lament: "I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name forever and ever.  Every day I will praise you and extol your name forever and ever."  The collection ends with a beautiful psalm of the highest praise.
Praise the Lord.  Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.  Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness.  Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.  Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.  Praise the Lord.  Psalm 150
So what does this mean to us as modern day Christians in our age of technology, streaming video and dazzling lights and sound?  Regardless of what is going on in the corporate worship setting, there is a call to us as His individual children to come before Him and lay everything down at His feet.  Anything that is plaguing our minds and distracting us from entering into communion with our Heavenly Father must be totally given to Him.  By letting go of the cares of this life that the enemy uses so diligently and effectively to keep us separated from our God, we allow God to clear out the "junk" therefore freeing us to enter into sweet fellowship with Him.  This is the fellowship that God longs to have with us as His children, and there is no sweeter existence for us as His people than when we worship in His presence free from the cares of the world. 
So, the next time you enter into personal and/or corporate worship, spend some time in prayer giving to God all your cares, worries, anxieties, and fears.  Prepare your heart and mind to enter into worshiping the Creator of the Universe, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.  Your experience with Him will amaze you!
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and burden is light.  Matthew 11:28-30

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Power of the Cross

Genesis 1-3; Matthew 26-28; Mark 14-16; Luke 22-24; John 13-21

The relatively short early ministry of Jesus Christ (three to three and a half years) culminated in the most beautiful act of undeniably selfless love that the world has ever known.  While reading scripture can give us knowledge of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection, it is still difficult for our human minds to fully comprehend all that Jesus accomplished during those few days that marked the end of His earthly ministry.

To gain a greater understanding of what Jesus did, we must go back to the Garden of Eden and take a look at what was lost so very long ago.  The very first words that we read in the book of Genesis explain that God created the heavens and the earth.  As we read from there, we see over the next six days that God created every living creature, every living plant and every other thing that exists to make the world complete.  At the end of each day, God looked at all He created and saw that it was good.  On the sixth day, God created man and woman, and His opinion on the sixth day was that it was very good.

Adam and Eve had it all!  The whole of creation was theirs to enjoy, but even more than that, we see in Genesis 3, that Adam and Eve could walk and talk in the Garden with God.  At the point in time when they both chose to mistrust their Creator and believe the lies of the serpent, they separated themselves from the close, intimate contact that had been theirs to enjoy with God.  I am sure if Adam and Eve had realized the full weight of their choice, not just for them, but for those that would come after them; they may have made a very different decision, but then again, maybe not, because just like you and me, they were human.

After the Israelites escaped Egypt, God instructed them to build a tabernacle (sanctuary), as a place for God to dwell.  "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.  Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you." (Exodus 25:8-9)  Within the tabernacle was the Holy of Holies, the place where God dwelled and the only furnishing was the Ark of the Covenant.  The Holy of Holies was separated by a veil or curtain and once a year the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement to make atonement not only for his own sins, but also the sins of the people.  The Holy of Holies was replicated in the Temple in Jerusalem.

On the day of Jesus' crucifixion, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record that at the moment of His death, the veil was torn. And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.  At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. (Matthew 27:50-51)  Not only did Jesus take our sin from us so that we can appear before God as righteous, He also removed the barrier that separated us from God.  No longer must we rely on a high priest to make atonement for us, Jesus did it once and for all.  From that moment on, we have been enabled to go to God on our own through Jesus ~ there is nothing separating us!  We can live in communion with God our Father.  We can experience His presence daily, see His hand in our lives and listen for His tender voice speaking to our hearts.  As Paul spoke to the Corinthians, he explained it this way: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)  That is very good news for all those who believe on the name of Jesus Christ!

Shortly before His death, the Gospel of John records Jesus praying, not only for His disciples but for all the people that would come after them and believe on Him.  In other words, right before His death, YOU were on His mind.  "My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one - I in them and you in me - so that they may be brought to complete unity.  Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:20-23)

Over the next few days the world will celebrate Easter.  Retail stores will sell mountains of candy and plastic eggs.  Children will hunt eggs and there will be appearances of the Easter Bunny.  All across America, churches will be filled to overflowing as folks make their way to visit one of the two most highly attended services of the year, Easter and Christmas.  But the real truth is this: Bunnies, eggs and candy have nothing at all to do with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Setting aside one day a year to celebrate seems cheap compared to His sacrifice.  As Christ followers, we have the joy and privilege to celebrate all He has done and continues to do each and every day until that glorious day when we shall see Him face to face!

May the Lord bless you as you seek Him!