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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Knowing God From A to Z

My God is . . .


Friday, September 24, 2010

More Unwanted Guests

Wednesday night, after the church service, a couple of girls and I were gathered around the piano practicing a song we intend to sing Sunday morning. It went something like this: "Stand still, and let God move, standing still is AAAUUUUGGGHHHH!" One by one we noticed a furry little creature who had scampered up the aisle and was staring at us from his perch beside the front pew. I don't do mice! From the girls' reaction, I don't think they do either. Let's just say, none of us were standing still (but the men were getting a good laugh).

As I think back on the situation, I have to chuckle (although I'm seriously considering resigning as the church's pianist because, if you recall, that's where they found the last mouse). Still, the event was comical. However, as I look back at some of the other unwanted guests from the week, I feel compelled to hang my head in shame.

On Sunday morning, I began a series of lessons in the ladies' Sunday School class. The series is entitled, "It's Not About Me." By Monday morning, unwanted guests were swarming in my life. Guests like selfishness, pride, and inconsiderate behavior. As requests were made of my time or talents, I found myself griping and complaining and in essence thinking, "But what about me? What about my jobs? What about the things I need to do? What about my feelings? What about me?" Evidently I learned a lot from my lesson on Sunday, huh?

Actually, I did, and that's where the unwanted guests come in. You see, this happens every time I teach a lesson or write a devotion. Satan's not stupid. He knows where I'm weak, and therefore, he knows where to tempt me, and it's usually with the object of the lesson I'm currently engrossed in. In this case, stepping away from myself and my own problems and focusing on the Lord.

This has not been a good week for me. I'm disappointed in myself for my failures. However, I will not give Satan the victory, and this is my first step in saying, "Lord, I love you! Forgive me when I fail you, and please give me the strength to overcome. You are worthy. You are holy. You are my all in all. Thank you for your patience with me!"

What about you? Are you entertaining unwanted guests this week? Is worry sapping you of strength? Is discouragement weighing you down? Is bitterness stealing your joy? If so, then join me in saying, "It's not about me! It's all about Him." Then take your burden, whatever it may be, and lay it at His feet. It's not yours to carry.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How Many Burdens Should We Bear?

Ever have trouble setting boundaries as to how many burdens you take on? Do you have difficulty saying that little word, "No." I do, which is why I was so blessed by what I read recently in a book entitled Boundaries. I'd like to share a small part of the second chapter with you. It was a real eye-opener for me!

We are responsible to others and for ourselves. "Carry each other's burdens," says Galatians 6:2, "and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." This verse shows our responsibility to one another.

Many times others have "burdens" that are too big to bear. They do not have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need help. Denying ourselves to do for others what they cannot do for themselves is showing the sacrificial love of Christ. . .

On the other hand, verse 5 says that "each one should carry his own load." Everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry. These things are our own particular "load" that we need to take daily responsibility for and work out. . .

The Greek words for "burden" and "load" give us insight into the meaning of these texts. The Greek word for "burden" means "excess burdens," or burdens that are so heavy that they weigh us down. These burdens are like boulders. They can crush us. We shouldn't be expected to carry a boulder by ourselves. . . We need help with the boulders. . .

In contrast, the Greek word for "load" means "cargo," or "the burden of daily toil." This word describes the everyday things we all need to do. These loads are like knapsacks. Knapsacks are possible to carry. We are expected to carry our own. . .

Problems arise when people act as if their "boulders" are daily loads, and refuse help, or as if their "daily loads" are boulders they shouldn't have to carry. The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.

-Excerpt from Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend

Monday, September 20, 2010

What God Sees

And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour. - Judges 6:11-12

Imagine this scene with me if you will. Gideon is hiding out, going about his business of threshing wheat and hoping that he will be able to keep it from the Midianites. From reading previous chapters, it seems this was a typical day. Each time the crop of the children of Israel was ready for reaping, the Midianites would swarm down upon them and take the crop and all their animals. The Israelites lived in constant fear, hiding in caves and tents in the mountains. Gideon (the hero of our story) was no exception.

As he sits there in fear, God appears before him in the form of an angel. If that didn't get Gideon's attention, the words spoken surely did. "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour." Gideon turns around to see to whom the angel is speaking. No one is there. He looks over his other shoulder but still sees no one. Confused, he turns back to the angel who is staring straight at him. "Me?" he questions, pointing his finger to his chest. The angel nods, "Yes, you!"

What a strange scene! What an odd proclamation! Mighty? Gideon? Valour? The guy who's hiding by the winepress? That's not what I see when I read about Gideon, but thankfully, it's what God saw. To tie in with today's Song of the Day, when God looks at us, He doesn't see what we are but what we will become. When God looked at Gideon, he didn't see fear. He saw the man who was going to bring about a revival by leading the army of Israel in a suicide mission and coming out the victors. God saw a lump of clay and said, "I can do something with that." And that, my friend, is what He says each time He looks at you!

Friday, September 17, 2010

When I Am Weak

Something has happened to me. I used to be a very disciplined person. If I set my mind to it, I could say "No" to any food and "Yes" to any exercise. But somewhere along the way, I've lost that discipline. Sometimes I'll find myself forsaking my work in favor of sitting on the couch and reading a good book. Other times I'll neglect my housework because I'm too busy chatting on Facebook. But the worst problem is when it comes to my fitness plan. . .or lack thereof.

I've threatened myself. I've motivated myself. I've even bribed myself, but I just can't seem to find the discipline to stick with my fitness plan. It's not hard. It's not demanding. It's not time-consuming. I just don't want to do it.

Yesterday as I was standing in the grocery store line, I actually had a fight with myself over a candy bar. One side of me was saying, "You need this. You want this. You deserve this. Think how yummy it will taste and how good it will make you feel." The reply from my sensible side was, "No you don't need it. No, you don't want it. No, you don't deserve it. It may taste good, but you'll feel guilty as soon as you eat it, and you'll have to work that much harder to lose the weight you want to lose." The problem with this was that I was actually speaking out loud. I only realized this when people started looking at me.

So what did I do? I caved in. I bought the candy bar. I am happy to say, though, that I later talked myself out of it and gave the candy bar to my husband. He enjoyed it (after all, he's not trying to lose weight). My conclusion: I'M WEAK!!!!!!! I have no will-power left. This is not a good thing. However, I was encouraged when I did my Bible reading this morning.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. - I Cor. 1:25

This verse reminds me that even on His worst day (if He has bad days), God is wiser and stronger than I could ever be. When I don't have the strength to stand, He will hold me up. When I don't have the courage to face the obstacles ahead, He will give me the courage I need. When I don't have the will-power to say "No" to caffeine and sweets, He will strengthen me. I can do this if I will remember that I have to answer to Him. If I will let Him be my strength and discipline, I can't fail.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go make some brownies. Calm down, they're not for me! (Even if they were, I have those calories I saved up from not eating the candy bar yesterday. Remember?)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Outlive Your Life by Max Lucado

We live in difficult times. Many people are poor, tired, and hungry. The world, as a whole, is suffering. As for us? We stand in the midst wondering if it's possible to make a difference. Can we fix the problems of the world? Can we offer help in the midst of crisis? Can we reach out with a caring heart and an offer of hope? If we follow the many examples laid out for us in the Bible, we can.

In Outlive Your Life, Max Lucado explores the lives of some of the Bible's greatest characters. Not great because of their lifestyle or livelihood, but because of the impact they had on the world. These were fisherman, tax collectors, and harlots. Important, not in and of themselves, but with a mission to reach out to a hurting world and to challenge us to do the same. As Lucado says, "None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something."

In reading this book, I was definitely challenged to reach out more to those in need. So often, it seems so hard just to meet my own needs, but Lucado opened my eyes to a world that is truly suffering. In light of his stories, my flat tires and dead cell phone batteries don't seem so important anymore. Lucado spurred a desire within me to want to do my part to make a difference in the world.

As all of Lucado's books, Outlive Your Life is well-written, containing verses, stories, and challenges to the reader. I found it not only easy to read, but also compelling. This book is needed today in our land of self-centered goals and self-gratification. It is truly a reminder of how blessed I am. I highly recommend this book to teen readers and up.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mistakes Regarding Pruning

Since pruning if often a painful process, there are many false assumptions equated with it. One of the most popular mistakes regarding pruning is that it is a punishment. Hebrews 12:4-11 tells us that this is not so. It states clearly that God chastens us because He loves us and that the pruning process is for our benefit.

Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected, and we gave reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. - Hebrews 12:4-11

Our sins and mistakes were paid for on the cross. God does not administer pruning as a means of punishing us for wrongdoing. On the contrary, He uses the chastening to make us into something better by trimming away the "dead branches."

Another common mistake is that pruning is permanent. Through the process, we think that the branches will never grow again and that our loss is permanent. Not so. The purpose of pruning is to enable to plant to produce more fruit. This means getting rid of the dead to make room for the living. Out with the old and in with the new. A gardener knows how much pruning a plant can endure before he causes destruction. The Lord knows the same. He knows what we need and what we can endure. It is not His intention to destroy us, but to better us.

Lastly, pruning is often mistaken as a passive process. After all, God is the one doing the pruning, so our only job is to try to endure it, right? Afraid not. We have a responsibility to accept the pruning and not to just endure it, but to find the best ways to use it to make our lives more productive. Why is God doing this? The answer may spur a new direction in our lives. We've all heard the saying, "Don't just stand there. Do something." God's directions are the same. Take advantage of the pruning. See what new doors are open to you. Evaluate the areas in which you have improved and which areas still need work. Be active in the process, and it will seem far less painful.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Boy Who Changed the World by Andy Andrews

The Boy Who Changed the World by Andy Andrews is a wonderful children's story based on the "butterfly effect." The focus of the book is to help children understand that each action, whether good or bad, affects someone else. Andrews, in his own unique way, takes you through the life of not just one boy, but four boys who changed the world through a ripple effect. Each one's actions affected the actions of the next, and in the end, the world was changed.

I found this book to be well-written, interesting, and educational. In fact, it is one of the best children's books I've seen come out in a while. Through it, children learn about some important people in history and are given the challenge to go out and change the world through their own actions. The story and lesson are intriguing. The illustrations are fantastic and really make the story come alive to the reader. I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Purpose of Pruning

While it can be painful, pruning is a positive process. God has a purpose for everything He allows to come our way. Nothing comes by accident or "happenstance." And even though we may not understand the reasons behind our suffering, we can trust that God knows what's best.

Pruning can also be a very powerful process. You see, God always achieves His purposes in this world. We are given the choice whether or not we will cooperate in His work. The more we accept His working, the more it accomplishes, and the quicker it is over.

Lastly, pruning is productive. It is a necessary process in the production of the fruit of the Spirit. Pruning also contributes to the productivity of our lives and ministry. Generally, the more pruning we receive, the stronger our lives and ministries become. Don't believe me? See for yourself:

Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. . . Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. - John 15:2,8

God isn't satisfied with our simply bearing fruit. He wants to see "more fruit" and "much fruit." The only way for that to happen is through pruning. Painful? Sometimes. Needful? Always.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Process of Pruning

As I was searching and praying about what to post this morning, the Lord brought me to an outline entitled "Cooperate in the Pruning." It seems I've heard and read a lot about pruning lately, so I believe the Lord would have me to dwell on this subject a little more. For the next few posts, we'll discuss "pruning" in more detail. Today, let's talk about the process.

What is pruning? Webster's Dictionary describes it best as "to cut off or cut back parts of for better shape or more fruitful growth; to cut away what is unwanted." To do this, God uses three main things: people, problems, and pressures.

God uses people to prune us. Often these are people who themselves have not developed the fruit of the Spirit. These people can say and do some of the meanest things, and a lot of times, we have to make a choice whether we will allow those things to cause us to grow bitter or to grow better.

God also uses problems to prune us, and I'm sure many of us could give long lists of some of the experiences we've faced in our Christian walk. Many times the problems are things that are beyond are control, but sometimes they are problems that we bring on ourselves. I'm thinking, even now, of a major battle Jason and I have been fighting for years, and sadly, it's a problem of our own making. Again, will we allow ourselves to be pruned, or will we refuse to be changed and improved?

Lastly, God uses pressures to prune us. The pressure I'm referring to here is in the way we respond to our problems. Anxiety. Stress. Worry. Bring on the chocolate! Yes, there is much to be learned in how we approach our problems. I've heard it said that the key to dealing with difficult circumstances is to respond instead of react. Response is a voluntary action. It is approaching the problem from the standpoint of "Let's see what we have here and what we can do with it?" Reaction is an involuntary action. It says, "Oh no, What are we going to do now? I can't handle this!"

Whatever the means, we know it is necessary to go through the pruning process. Thankfully, the Lord is much better at gardening than I am. He will only cut what needs to be cut to bring about a better person in the end.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Painful Pruning

As a writer, I deal a lot with editing. Some writers truly enjoy the editing process. I am not one of them! It's hard to take my "work of art" and prune it down. Deciding what to cut and what change is a difficult process for me.

I recently entered a writing contest that required a 1,000-word story based on a writing prompt. I was 1,000 words into my story before I made it past the writing prompt. What does that mean? It means that I either had to stop my story in the middle, or I had to finish it and then do some major editing. Man, it hurts to press the delete key on some of my well-crafted sentences and paragraphs. Difficult, but needful. Every writer knows that the first draft is not good enough. Editing is required.

I am reminded of the editing (or pruning) that God must do in my life. Cutting out what isn't good for me. Changing me where I need to be changed. Molding me into what He wants me to be. It makes me wonder if He, too, dislikes the editing process. I know He doesn't enjoy making me suffer through trials, but I also know that He is only doing what is necessary to lead me to the place that I need to be. Trials help me to grow, but boy, do they hurt! Does He hurt as well?

I guess parents would be the best people to answer this question. Parents, doesn't it hurt you to discipline your child? I'm sure you don't enjoy spanking or punishing, but it's necessary, right? I think it's the same way with us and the Lord. We are His children. He is our Heavenly Father. And while pruning may be painful, He loves us enough to do it instead of allowing us to grow wild and become something we were never meant to be.