Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Thankful Heart


When I was growing up, my parents drilled into me the importance of saying, “Thank you” and  I turned around and did the same thing with my children.

As I sit and reflect on this Thanksgiving week, I am reminded that saying thank you and having a heart of thankfulness can be and often are so vastly different from one another.  

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, it is a shipwrecked-whipped-stoned-imprisoned Paul who reminds us to, Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”  This isn’t a suggestion, it’s a command.  

It’s the way of life . . . for someone who follows Jesus. 

In the very same breath, Paul instructs us to, “ALWAYS be joyful.  NEVER stop praying. 

Did Paul really expect a person who’s just been devastated by the loss of a spouse and then discovers the money's gone, to be joyful and thankful in the circumstances they've been dealt? 

How do you give thanks when the refrigerator blows, you can’t find your car keys and you’ve just been told that an outstanding hospital bill is being sent to the collectors? 

Where do you find joy and thankfulness in the catastrophic and the mundane? 
 
Jesus said, "For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.  A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. " (Matthew 12.34-35) 

So what are you treasuring?   

What have you been caching away?  Trust or doubt? 
  
Joy and thankfulness come from a heart that trusts!  Trusts that God is good.  Trusts that He is for you.  Trusts that when He says, “ALL things work together for good” . . . , He means it.  You can’t expect to have joy and thankfulness, if you haven’t forged a life of trust. 
 
It’s a choice, not a feeling!  

What do you get from a heart that has stockpiled doubt?  Discouragement.  Hopelessness.   Despair.  There’s no room for joy and no room for thankfulness where doubt reigns. 


Trusting in a God we can’t see doesn’t come naturally.  Our propensity is to control, to carry the burden and say we trust God when we really don’t.  Then we wonder why we struggle to find joy.  We question how it is possible to be thankful in ALL circumstances.   

What does the treasury of your heart look like?  Do you have a storehouse of trust or a cache of doubt?  Choose to trust!  And joy and thankfulness will follow. 
 
 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Love Stalker

Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime.  Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” John 4.5-7 (NLT)

She brushed the windblown hair out of her eyes, to get a better look.  Did she see right?  Was there someone sitting there at the well?  She had deliberately chosen this time of day to come – she wanted to be alone.  She was so weary of the gossip, the innuendos, and the unguarded looks when they thought she wasn’t looking. 
This emptiness inside her was a dark whirling vortex, sucking everything she ever was or hoped to be into its depths.  She had tried to fill the emptiness five time over but it just never seemed to work out.  Why didn’t anyone want her? 
She’d given in to the worthlessness, knowing that any hope she had ever had was long gone.
She didn’t know the man sitting at the well but He knew her.
She was why He was there.  He’d come for her . . . to use her like all the others?  Never!
He’d come to save her.  Rescue her.  Give her worth.
Jesus was stalking her . . .
http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1430843
He was on the hunt for her.  He went out of his way to meet with, what many in that day perceived to be, the scum of the scum.  She didn’t just have one strike against her, she had three.  She was a Samaritan. (Jews wanted nothing to do with them and would go out of their way to walk around Samaria rather than go through it.)  She was a woman. (Women were not held in high regard in any society.)  And she was a woman sleeping around.  In the eyes of the world she was a nothing but Jesus loved her.  He came to give her worth.  He came to give her value.  He came to rescue her.
 
Why?  Why would the God of the Universe, the Messiah, the Holy One go out of his way to meet with this lonely, desperate, used up woman? 
For that matter, why would this God desire us?
In a word . . . L-O-V-E
Undeserved, unrequited, unexplainable LOVE.
This is how much God loved the world:  He gave his Son, His ONE and ONLY Son.  And this is why: so that no one need to be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. John 3.16 (MSG)
Unlike a lion seeking it prey to devour, the Lion of Judah stalks not to take life but to GIVE life!

What will you do in the face of this incredible love?  Will you fall to your knees and let it overwhelm you or will you turn tail and run?
He is on the hunt for you . . .

                       Not to take life from you . . .  but to give YOU life. 

 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Plugging In


I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him.  This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.  Now He is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else – not only in this world but also in the world to come.  Ephesians 1.19-21

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1088641

My neighbor got up one morning, only to discover that the light in his refrigerator had burned out.  He jumped in his car drove twenty minutes to Lowes to get a replacement bulb.  He returned home after being gone more than an hour and replaced the light bulb.  But this bulb didn’t work either!  That’s when he noticed that the power was out in his entire house.  He’d spent more than an hour trying to replace a bulb that wasn’t broken!  It wouldn’t have mattered how many bulbs he changed in the house none of them would’ve worked because the power was missing.  It’s easy for us to get this concept with electricity but do we understand this in our spiritual lives?
In Ephesians 1, Paul reminds us of the power source we have living inside of us.  This isn’t a gimpy sort of power, this is the power that RAISED JESUS FROM THE DEAD! 
But how many of us live our lives, replacing bulbs and forgetting to plug into the power source?
We try to fix ourselves by reading self-help books and checking boxes.  We Try. Try. Try. And wonder why it never really sticks.  We end up ensnared.  Trapped. Broken.  We wonder why we’re stuck, why we’re so desperate and never experience change. 
We’ve been changing the light bulbs and forgetting the Power Source.
We’ve got to plug into the Power. 
“Okay, I get that,” you say, “But what does that really look like?”
In a word . . . SURRENDER.
Climb off your throne and let God take control.  Go to God.  Spend time with Him.  Quit trying. Quit fixing.  Quit doing.   
Does this seem impossible?  Is your stronghold too strong, too powerful for you to let go of?  Have you struggled with it for too long?
Remember what God says about His own power . . . God’s Power is Mighty. (There is no power like His in all the earth.) God’s Power is Faithful. (It isn’t fickle, it’s dependable, ready and waiting for you to tap into.)  God’s Power accomplishes the impossible! (It raised Jesus from the dead!). 
This power resides in all those who are His children.  You’ve got the power, you just have to use it! 
Will you continue to change your own bulbs or plug into the Power Source?
  

Monday, October 20, 2014

God's Mark


Do I have the mark of God on my heart?
In the Old Testament of the Bible God asked the children of Israel to be circumcised as a way to identify them as His covenant people.   “All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. (Exodus 17.9-13 NLT)  But frequently throughout the Bible, God constantly had to remind them that it wasn’t enough to just have this outward sign, their hearts needed to reflect this covenant relationship as well.
In Romans we see Paul admonishing the Jewish Christians for taking pride in their position and in their knowledge and yet having hearts that were far from God.  (Romans 2.17-24)  We would say they were self-righteous.  In other words, they were in the business of making themselves right in the eyes of God.  Ouch!
What had happened to move them in this direction?  These were followers of Jesus.  Jews, who at one point had acknowledged that the only way to eternal life was through Jesus Christ, not the law they had grown up with.  But they fell back into their list of rules and superiority and neglected their own hearts.  Their place of safety became their knowledge and their rules.
It’s easy to point the finger at these Jewish believers and wonder how they could be so blind.  And yet . . . we do the same thing.  We find safety in rules and regulations.  And we embrace the visible, material and superficial. 
John Ortberg in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted says this, The great danger that arises when we don’t experience authentic transformation is that we will settle for what might be called pseudo-transformation.  We know that as Christians we are called to “come out and be separate,” that our faith and spiritual commitment should make us different somehow.  But if we are not marked by greater and greater amounts of love and joy, we will inevitably look for substitute ways of distinguishing ourselves from those who are not Christians.  This deep pattern is almost inescapable for religious people:  If we do not become changed from the inside-out we will be tempted to find external methods to satisfy our need to feel that we’re different from those outside the faith.  If we cannot be transformed, we will settle for being informed or conformed.”
Paul says in Romans 2.29, “A true Jew is one whose heart is right with God.  And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit.  And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not people.

I love how The Messsage says this, “It’s the mark of God on your heart, not of a knife on your skin, which makes a Jew.
Do we have God’s mark on our hearts or are we settling for outward conformity to appease our guilt and help us fit into the religious community?
Is our life marked by more and more love, more and more patience,  and more and more joy or do we gravitate to the list of things we can check off to feel okay about ourselves?  Are we trying to make ourselves right or allowing God to do it?
Self-producing righteousness causes us to become infatuated with what other people think.  Consumed with desire for people’s praise.  Obsessed with how we are being perceived.
Are you settling for outside conformity or inside transformation? 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Rabbit Hole

In the book Alice in Wonderland, we watch as Alice follows a rabbit down his hole into a make believe world. 

This fairy tale isn’t just for kids . . . we adults often chase "bunnies" down their hole into an imaginary world.  Let me explain . . .
http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1353834


This winter I was standing in the middle of the Atrium at our church and glimpsed my husband sitting on a couch over in the corner.  As I looked more closely, I noticed his ear pressed to his phone and the look on his face told me it wasn’t good. 

I felt my heart rise into my throat and my thoughts raced to a very dark place . . . MY SON IS DEAD!  He’s been killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.  In the space of seconds, I went from wondering what we were going to eat that night to planning a funeral right there in the middle of the atrium. 



As I started to charge over to where my husband sat, I felt the Lord say, “STOP!  Don’t go down that rabbit hole.  You have no idea what the call is about, why are you going to the worst place possible?  Why are you panicking over something you don’t even know has happened?”
In a blink, I dived down the hole into an imaginary world of my own making.
As I stood there, rooted to the floor, a verse came rushing into my mind,  “. . . we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10.5 (NIV)   

The challenge:  to refuse to go down into the abyss, to reject the inherent desire to get sucked into the whirling vortex of dark thoughts. 
We always have a choice regarding our thoughts . . . 
Will we take them captive or will they take us captive?
But HOW do we take them captive when they feel like a force of nature we can’t control?  Seriously, how do we keep our fears from taking us captive when they are overwhelming and all-consuming?
By camping out on TRUTH. 
Philippians 4.8 in the Message says it like this . . . Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things TRUE, NOBLE, REPUTABLE, AUTHENTIC, COMPELLING GRACIOUS – The BEST, not the worst; the BEAUTIFUL, not the ugly; things to PRAISE, not things to curse. 
We take our thoughts captive by turning to Truth and filling our minds with what is good and right. 
2 Corinthians 10.4-6 (MSG)  says, We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.  Our tools are at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity. 
Are we fitting our loose thoughts and emotions into the structure of a life shaped by Christ or are we allowing them to run rampant in our lives? 
It’s our choice, to take them captive or allow them to take us captive.  We will never experience true, victorious freedom in Christ until we learn to imprison in our thoughts and surrender them to Him.

Oh Lord, we need your help!  We cannot stop the thoughts from coming but we can take them captive.  Give us Your power and strength to refuse to journey down the hole into our make believe world.  Teach us to follow You, the Author of Truth. Amen.