So many spiritual connections can be made while observing nature. This morning's thought came just from watching birds eat.
Over the past few years, I've developed a love and appreciation for birds. I think it's part of getting older- we start slowing down to really see things that have been right in front of us all along but were too busy to appreciate. I have a couple of feeders up, and I get a lot of joy just from watching the little birds come to eat. Today, I noticed how the different species feed differently from each other, and it made me think of the different ways believers consume spiritual food.
The sparrow hung out there, taking its time. It pecked and ate leisurely, perched in the same spot for a long while. Some people spend time with God this way, setting aside time to soak up His presence and be fed in no hurry.
The chickadees and nuthatches dart in and grab a bite, then quickly fly away. But they come back soon. Back and forth, they feed throughout the day. Spiritually, I find myself most like these birds. I spend time with God in short, frequent periods- a verse here and a prayer there, a song lifted up as I go about my day.
Some of the birds seem to prefer to eat alone, while others come with a friend. The cardinals and the house finches usually come as a pair. And while Christians are instructed to assemble together regularly, some believers get the best spiritual food in their quiet time alone with God. Others thrive on corporate worship.
No matter how you like to be fed, the most important thing is to eat. We may do it differently, but spending time with Jesus through worship, prayer, and reading the Bible is the spiritual food we all need.
"For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world." John 6:33
There's a helpful book about writing novels that discusses widely-accepting industry rules, the author's opinions and experience with these rules, and how to get past the industry gatekeepers when it comes to deviating from them. The gatekeepers that Jeff Gerke describes in his book are the acquisition editors who have the power to decide if a writer will be represented by an agency or publisher. They keep unwanted things out.
The term "gatekeeper" resonated in my spirit. While there are plenty of things that should be kept out of the church, we need a different kind of gatekeeper. We need watchmen at the doors, not of the physical building, but of the body of Christ, for two specific reasons.
1.) To hold the door open to invite people in.
I know some of these gatekeepers. They bring new people to church often. They say, "Hey! Come inside! Jesus is for you, too! He wants you here!"
We need gatekeepers to make sure people feel welcomed within the church and to hold the doors open for all who would seek to enter with a desire to encounter God.
I imagine this kind of gatekeeper swinging back and forth on the gates, calling to those in the street, "It's open! It's open! It's open!"
2. To make it harder for people to slip away.
This is where the term really struck me. Too many people, especially young people, slip out of the church's gates unnoticed. We don't realize they're gone until it's too late. They have no desire to come back. And I worry it's simply because nobody tried to stop them from leaving. There was no one guarding the gate, saying, "We'll miss you if you're gone. There's nothing out there for you. You're safer in here. Please stay."
Obviously, we have free will. If someone is determined to leave the safety of the church, they are ultimately accountable to God for their choice. But what if we had more gatekeepers to guard the doors of the fold? With kids, it should be the parents that guard the gate. But if that doesn't happen, who will be standing there to keep our young people from going astray? While a pastor guards the flock, laypeople can be gatekeepers, too. Reach out to your church's young people. Keep them involved so they understand they have a place. Don't let them slip out unnoticed.
Oh, Lord, make us gatekeepers. Teach us how to swing the doors open to everyone that may pass by, and help us stand guard for the ones that need encouragement to stay within the gates.
We are bombarded by information, all the time, from every direction. Much of it is useful and valuable, but much of it can be harmful to us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Let’s take some time to talk about how we can sort out all the information and guide our thoughts toward the positive.
Philippians 4:8 is a verse that I need constantly. If I were going to tattoo scripture on my arm, I think this would be a helpful one to have. (Since I’m not going to do that, I need to tattoo it on my heart, with the help of the Holy Spirit.) “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
I love that we have a checklist of sorts, for the kinds of things we should be thinking about! Here’s another way to break it down.
We should spend our mental energy on things that are:
I have to admit, many things that I spend my focus on during the day don’t fit into one of these categories. So often, I find myself reading “news” stories that do nothing but leave me sad or angry. There are few things in the news that are “of good report”, and certainly not much on television or in movies is "virtuous". I'm guilty of spending half an hour reading arguments on Facebook, which are certainly not "praiseworthy", between people I don't even know. It's a disgusting waste of my time!
And it's often difficult to discern if much of the information we are getting from all the various sources is even "true" and "honest".
When we fill our brains with things that are the opposite of what this verse says we should think about (dishonest, sinful, condemnable things), it has an effect on the way we act and think. So, here’s what I want you (and me) to remember: It’s OKAY to just shut out the negative influences. Take a break from Facebook, turn off the news, and politely tell trash-talking people that you have other things to do. Then seek out something "pure", or "lovely", or "praiseworthy" to think on. GUARD YOUR MIND!
Another takeaway from Philippians 4:8 is a lesson on how we should think about people. Instead of focusing on people's faults (and yes, I'm talking to myself as a spouse) let's practice "thinking on" the things that are lovely in people. We need to make a conscious effort to NOT think on the gossipy things we hear, and focus on all the good things that we know to be true about them.
Use this verse as a checklist for what you should allow into your mind. Ask yourself, "Is it true?", "Is it pure?", "Is it praiseworthy?", etc.. It's not an easy thing, but I'm trying to put this into practice. And I hope you will, too.
I'm tired of listening to people's problems.
It may seem harsh, but I'm tired of just listening to the constant noise about the number of things wrong in our communities, and you should be tired of it, too. The time has come for the body of Christ to do more than listen. We need to stand up and actually be the solution for our broken world, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the book of Nehemiah, one hundred and sixty years after the start of Israel's captivity by the Babylonians, God stoked the heart of Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, the capital city of his ancestors. Nehemiah heard the news that "the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire (Nehemiah 1:3)", then he wept and mourned over the situation. He also prayed and sought direction from the Lord, and God paved the way for Nehemiah to carry out a plan of action to fix the problem.
We've been weeping over the brokenness of society for a long time. Now it's time to get our hands dirty and rebuild.
When Nehemiah organized the rebuilding of the wall and its gates, there were different groups that stepped up to take a section. Over forty individuals, families, and groups are specifically named in Nehemiah 3. The Word tells us in what order they worked along the wall, and in many cases, the specific job they had. Here's what stands out to me about the process:
1.) They worked alongside each other.
The rebuilding didn't start in random sections all around the city. The groups came together and worked side-by-side.
2.) Everyone had a specific assignment.
Each group was assigned a task to get the whole thing completed, so that the city could be fortified again as soon as possible.
I see the different groups in Nehemiah 3, not as different members of a church, but as individual churches in a community. And I see each section of the wall as a ministry opportunity that can help rebuild those communities.
One church, no matter how motivated the members are, or how many resources the church has, cannot be the answer to all the problems in a community. But with planning and communication, imagine what can be accomplished when churches in a community work together! I've never tried to organize a coalition of churches, and it sounds like a grandiose, and slightly crazy task. But it all starts with a vision! Here are some ideas a group of churches might consider to start being problem-solvers in their communities.
Now, I believe the most important mission within every church is to preach the "power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). The solution to all the problems isn't really "Christians", it's Christ. But we can show the love of Christ by meeting the lost where they are, and by encouraging other believers beyond the walls of the church.
So, what are some ministry opportunities on which a church might focus? Here are a few:
Collectively, we need to be organized. If every church in a community visits the nursing home once a month, that's wonderful! But if no churches in a community are working to help the homeless, then there's a gap in the wall. If we coordinate our efforts, we can close the gap. At the same time, if a church has ten different outreaches, their resources may be stretched too thin to be effective. That's a gap that could be filled by another congregation.
We can't fix it all. Until the return of Christ, there will be sin in the world, which leads to all the problems we see around us. But we've been acting defeated for too long. It's time to work hard and let the world know we have the answer- his name is Jesus.
Have you ever been praying and realized your words were actually from His Word? We know God speaks to us through the scripture, but we can use the scripture in our communication to Him as well.
We are given the model prayer by Our Lord in Matthew 6 and in Luke 11, and there is power in reciting this prayer (sincerely and not out of vain repetition) every day. Indeed, all our prayers should center around four words from the Lord's Prayer: "Thy will be done."
But I'd like to present you with some other verses that can be used in prayer. From the Old Testament, I like to use the words from the heart of King David in the book of Psalms as my own plea to God. There are so many we can reference, but for today, these are the verses I've connected together as my personal prayer. This is what is on my heart:
"Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. (Psalms 19:14) Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalms 51:10) Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness. (Psalms 143:10) From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. (Psalms 61:2)"
The words from Psalms need no editing, because they are already directed to God. From the New Testament, I've taken the prayer of the Apostle Paul for the church at Phillipi and personalized it.
This prayer is based on Philippians 1:9-11:
"May my love abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment,that I may approve the things that are excellent, that I may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
What more can we ask for in life than to grow in love, for the glory of God? This is my sincere prayer.
The Word is full of examples of righteous requests we can make. Thankfully, we also have the Holy Spirit to guide us in our communication with God, we have Jesus as our intercessor with the Father, and there is no required formula or specific liturgy needed.
1 John 5:14,15 says:
And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
Whatever format you use, take time to talk to God today.
What scriptures do you pray? Do you have specific verses for praying for others, for our leaders, or for certain situations? Please share them with me in the Comments!
There are many verses in scripture that warn us NOT to look back. Jesus said in Luke 9:62, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." This reference to looking back means longing for an old lifestyle or a turning away from the calling of God. But looking back in the right way is a good thing!
If you need a dose of joy in your day, spend some time taking inventory of the blessings God has poured out. Look back over the course of your life and see where he has brought you from. We sometimes take for granted the way he keeps us from day to day, but if we look back over the span of several years it is mind-blowing and obvious what the Lord has worked.
I recently found myself reflecting on a conversation I had with my husband 13 or 14 years ago, before he and I started dating. We were just "work friends" then, and he was admittedly a non-believer. In conversation, I asked him if he was concerned about what would happen to him after death, to which he replied, "Not really."
This memory almost made me shout! Why? Because now this "work friend" is my husband who has been a believer for years, and he's now a minister telling other people about Jesus. Wow! Who but God can do that?
We need to remember where we came from, not lamenting for the "good old days" but praising God for leading us toward His purpose!
Read the words of Moses from Deuteronomy 6:10-12: "And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage."
He was saying: Don't forget where God brought you from! None of what you have is by your own hand! God did it!
I encourage you to take time to reflect today. What has God done that amazes you when you take a look back?
One of my favorite places is a particular spot on the bank of a canal that connects the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic. Recently at this special place, I enjoyed watching a school of little fish right next to the bank. As many times as I have witnessed a similar sight, I was still amazed by their cohesiveness. It was fun to watch them glide and dart as a unit, then to watch them scatter in every direction when a water bug disturbed the surface nearby and immediately come back together. It made me think about relationships among believers and what the body of Christ can learn from a school of fish.
My study began with finding out why fish swim in schools. There are three main reasons for the schooling behavior of fish:
1.) To help keep them safe
2.) To find food
3.) To find a mate
I realized these are some of the same reasons we as believers should join together with other believers in a collective body. We need each other. We need to be unified- within our local assembly and within the Church as a whole. Let's look to the scriptures to find out how the instinctive motivations of fish align with the spiritual benefits of being unified with other Jesus-Followers.
- "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." Galatians 6:1-2
- "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." James 5:19-20
The body of Christ should operate as a cohesive unit to help protect individual believers from spiritual danger.
To Find Food
Again, we are not speaking of physical things (although I have enjoyed many wonderful meals at church). We join together with other believers to receive spiritual food; that is, sustenance that helps us grow in the faith.
- "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." Hebrews 10:25
- "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." Colossians 3:16
We come together- teaching, preaching, and singing- to be fed spiritually.
To Find a Mate
While perhaps not the most important reason, the third point still fits into our illustration. The body of Christ is the only place a believer should look to find a spouse.
- "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" 2 Corinthians 6:14
In order for a marriage to be optimally successful, a man and woman must be aligned spiritually; in other words, part of the same "school".
The unity of believers is a common subject in the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 1:10 says, "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." Think about how much we can accomplish when believers are in sync with one another, like that little school of fish!
In John 17:11, Jesus prayed: "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are." Very simply, He wants us to be unified.
Believers- join together and keep swimming!
This summer, my children and I have been working on scripture memorization. For us, that means taking a verse per week and saying it together every day so by the end of the week we have it memorized. We've been focusing on the book of Psalms, and I'd like to share with you the verses I've selected for us to learn.
I think Psalms is especially great for verse memorization. The psalms are passionate and inspiring. They teach us about worship and about the character of God, and the lyrical nature of Psalms makes many verses relatively easy to memorize.
Some verses may take more than one week for kids to memorize. That's okay! Sometimes you may want to learn two in the same week. Just be consistent with reciting the verse daily- maybe at the dinner table- but, learn them at whatever pace is best for everyone in your family.
The Smith kids reciting Psalms 19:14.
Something I've found interesting is that verses I thought were difficult were memorized easily by my kids, while some of the shorter verses were a little more challenging for them. Also, it has been easier for us all to remember the verse based on the week we learned it, rather than the actual verse number. So, I plan to go back and work on making sure the chapter and verse are memorized as well.
Challenge one another to come up with a melody for some of the verses. Many of the verses have already been set to music and are well-known songs (links to a couple are included below). You may choose to offer a small incentive for memorization or use a wall chart to show kids their progress.
Obviously, you could search Psalms and pick out many, many wonderful verses for your family to learn together, but perhaps this list will make it easy for you to get started. (The verses below are KJV except two which are noted.) After our verses from Psalms are learned, I hope to choose another book of the bible from which to memorize. How do you encourage scripture memorization in your family? Please share your ideas in the Comments section!
7 Verses from Psalms to Memorize with Your Children
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My heart is bursting right now. I just talked to my ten-year-old daughter for the first time in four days, and she's finally on her way home from camp! I am so excited to see her, and hug her, and hold on tightly for the rest of the weekend!
This post is a little more personal in nature than other recent articles I've written. I want to share that this has been one of the most challenging weeks I can remember. As a full-time working mother who has always wished she could be a stay-at-home mother, I have been reveling in the opportunity I have this summer to take several weeks off just to spend with my kids. It has been glorious! We have laughed, and played (and fought and cried), and have been so busy seeing and doing fun things for most of the month- then one of my three left me for almost a whole week!
My family is involved in a group called American Heritage Girls (I tell people it's like Girl Scouts, but Christ-focused). It is a remarkable organization. I serve as the troop Shepherd (kind of like a chaplain), Elizabeth is in the "Explorer" unit, and Sarah is a "Tenderheart". We've gone on family camp-outs with the group, and Alex has taken the girls on many of troop outings during the last two years of our involvement. We love American Heritage Girls. But when Elizabeth wanted to go to an AHG summer camp five hours away, my faith was tested in a big way!
You have to understand, I have not gone without seeing this child for more than a day in ten years! Other than a few one-night stays with grandparents, the only times I've not slept under the same roof as her was when I was in the hospital having her sister and brother. But I knew this experience would be good for her, and she was so excited to go. To be honest, the only reason I could let her go was because her dad took a week off from work to go volunteer at camp. (Thank you, Lord, for a wonderful daddy for my children.) He took four girls from our troop (including our girl) and drove from Lewisville, NC to Crawfordville, GA on Monday, and they are returning on a Saturday.
Campers are not supposed to call home, I suppose for a few reasons. Logistically, it would be impossible for that many girls to have access to phones. I think they also feel it makes homesickness worse instead of better. Plus, camp is supposed to be a place to escape the hold technology has on us. Still, I balked at the restriction. It doesn't feel natural for a mother not to speak to her ten-year-old child for that long! (We bent the rules a little, and I did get to speak to her for about 60 seconds on Tuesday. And, of course, my husband sent me text message updates and pictures every day, plus I could talk to him on the phone in the evening.)
But, what a lesson God had for me this week! There were a few lessons actually. I could talk all day about learning to have faith that He will take care of my children. But the biggest lesson was something I thought I already knew: Thou shalt have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3).
Another one of the moms from our troop and I got together this week and discussed it. We are guilty of worshipping our children. It is a difficult thing for me to distinguish between the love and devotion of a mother and idol worship, but I have to admit that I probably cross that line sometimes.
Deuteronomy 4:24 says, "For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God." God's rightful place is at the center of our lives. He belongs at the top of our priority list. The thought of being without my daughter for a week almost made it hard to breath! But do I feel that kind of devotion for the Lord? I definitely believe He created a mother's heart to long for her children, but I need to be very careful that I am not placing them above Him in my life.
I can't say that I've learned any special secrets for avoiding elevating my children to idol status, but I think just recognizing I do it is an important step. As with any sin, all we have to do is ask forgiveness and ask Him to help us overcome it.
I am so thankful that when we walk with the Lord, He helps us to grow and puts circumstances in our life that draw us closer to Him. There were times while Elizabeth was gone that I thought, "Why on earth did I let her go?" and "Why did I agree to this?" The answer is simple. It was a God thing. He helps us grow. He teaches us the lessons we need to learn when we seek Him. This week was so beneficial for my child. And as much as it hurt, it was beneficial for me, too. I pray I will succeed in not having any other gods before Him, including my children.
Some days I step outside my front door and feel the warm sunshine on my face and the gentle breeze brush across my skin, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Just the ability to experience a particularly beautiful day is an amazing gift, and it makes me grateful to exist in this world. This past weekend I spent a couple hours floating down a peaceful river, surrounded by majestic scenery, under a sunny sky, in the company of kind friends and two of my children. It was wonderful!
At night, I lay my head down on a soft pillow, in a comfortable bed, where I feel safe. Again, I count these things as remarkable gifts.
But I have to ask myself, "Would I be so grateful if my circumstances were much different? Would I still be in awe of the handiwork of the Creator if the view outside my front door was different?" I can't answer those questions with certainty, but I'd like to think that I would. Sure, I have fears and worries and doubts, and there are days where I allow my perspective to be skewed. There are days when I find myself grumbling and complaining about things that have no real consequence. But, even on those days, I have an abiding joy.
Joy is a hallmark, but not the source of, an abundant life. So, what does it mean to live abundantly and how do we do it? One of the definitions for the word 'abundant' is, "Richly supplied, as with resources". When I think about that definition, it occurs to me that abundant living is not measured by tangible resources. Living abundantly means having a completeness and fullness in life that does not depend on circumstances. Abundant living is being richly supplied in resources that transcend our natural understanding. The key to abundant living is recognizing the source.
In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Jesus does not merely supply us with abundance. He IS our abundance. Jesus doesn’t simply give us joy. He IS our joy. As children of God, we must recognize that even the ability to feel the emotions we associate with the idea of abundance comes from Him.
Abundant living comes from fellowship with the God of the universe, through Christ. Ephesians 3:19 says, "And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." I can experience joy and have gratitude for of all the blessings of life around me- the natural world, the love of my family, my earthly pleasures- but the true source of abundance is the fullness of God.
Did my experience on the river this weekend qualify as living abundantly? Sure- but only by extension. It is the relationship I have with God, which reveals the truth of His goodness, that allows me to truly enjoy this life and appreciate the beauty He has provided. Having a relationship with God, in itself, is living abundantly.
Sometimes I get a thought about which I want to write, and I search the scriptures for help with that topic. Sometimes I search out the scriptures for help finding something to write about. This devotion was born of the latter method.
In my searching of the scriptures today, I “found” 1 Thessalonians, Chapters 4 and 5, and in these chapters, practical instruction for sanctified Christian living. I was struck by how plainly many of the exhortations are outlined.
While we are only saved through faith in Christ, and not by our works, we are compelled by the Holy Spirit to strive to be more like Christ in our actions. The word “sanctified” means “set apart”, which is to say, markedly different from the non-believer in thought and practice.
Please note, the title of this devotion is not "21 Steps to Sanctified Christian Living". I am not trying to present a comprehensive list here. I'm sure there are additional ways in which we should conduct ourselves to demonstrate sanctification. Please also note, this list is not my own invention! The ideas are taken directly from scripture, but I have paraphrased them in a list format.
So, let's look at 1 Thessalonians. In Chapter 4, verse 3, it says: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification:" Well, that seems pretty clear! It could be interpreted that the idea of sanctification here pertains mainly to the exhortation immediately following (which is number one on the list below). But, I read that statement as an introduction to all the contents of Chapters 4 and 5, as the end of Chapter 5 seems to be a summary of the instructions in Paul's letter.
21 Steps Toward Sanctified Christian Living
Yes, this a list of "Dos" and "Dont's". But as with all biblical instruction, the purpose is not to restrict or burden, but is to improve the spiritual health of the believer. This list contains actions and practices that set us apart from those outside of the faith.
At the end of Chapter 5 we are left with some great encouragement! "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." (5:23-24) Commit to serving Him and He will take care of the sanctification process.
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I've always admired people who are "prayer warriors", but I have to admit, I've never felt like I fall into that category. Don't get me wrong- I enjoy talking to God, and prayer is certainly a daily practice for me, but I am so easily distracted that I often don't spend enough quality time in prayer. While my intention is not to absolve myself, I had a revelation recently that made me feel better about my prayer life, but most importantly, it filled me with awe about God's grace.
I often find myself whispering the words, "Your will be done, Lord"- when I'm driving, when I'm walking into my office, when I'm cleaning the house. My mind might be in a million different places, but those words will squeeze their way into my thoughts and I'll direct them to Him. It was while listening to a radio sermon about the Lord's Prayer a few days ago that God spoke to my spirit about this. I felt Him say that every time I had whispered those words, He had received them as a prayer and had acted on my behalf. He honored my five-word prayer. I suddenly felt like He has been ordering my steps, in part, because of my feeble little prayer for His will to be done. And then it made so much sense- little prayers are heard by a big God! I've known this for a long time, but it seemed God was making it a special point to remind me.
Let's take a look at three "little" prayers in the bible that had great impact.
In all three of these examples, the petitions were granted, even though the words spoken were few. It didn't take great orations or lengthy invocations to move the heart of God. It seems when it comes to prayer, quality is more important than quantity, and what qualifies a prayer as effective is the faith behind it.
To be sure, the more we can pray, with faith, the better! I know I should still strive daily to spend more time in prayer. There are so many things about which to pray- our families; our nation and leaders; our churches; our spiritual growth; non-believing loved ones. And those are just requests! We could spend 24/7 offering prayers of thanksgiving and praise! But, my point is that we shouldn't discount those quick prayers we utter throughout the day. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, "Pray without ceasing." I think that can look like this:
"Lord, help me on this test."
"Please bless my children."
"Make me more like You."
"Give us opportunities to show Your love."
I'm so glad God hears and responds to "little" prayers, as well as the "big" ones.
My head has been swirling with questions for the last two days, and the Lord has been helping me work through some faith issues. I have peace now, if not concrete answers, about all my recent questions, but not the liberty or leading to write about what I’ve learned except for my conclusions on one specific situation. I have five half-written articles to prove it! Now, on to our topic…
I’ve been very troubled lately by the dogmatic nature in which a preacher I know addresses a non-doctrinal issue. For the sake of being discreet, I’m not even going to name the issue. Let’s pretend the issue is "traditional versus casual dress" in worship services. That’s not what it is, but it’s a similar type of non-doctrinal debate. Let’s say that on social media this pastor is constantly commenting about how sinful it is for people to show up to worship service in casual attire, and he regularly decries any church that condones such. I feel this pastor’s arguments are “profane and vain babblings” (2 Timothy 2:16) and the manner in which his opinions are delivered, regardless of whether he’s right or wrong, is contrary to the command of 2 Timothy 2:24 (“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient.”) However, that’s not even the point of this article. The point of this article is to answer the questions, “Can I trust a preacher with whom I strongly disagree about one topic?” and “Is the anointed of God perfect in his understanding?”
I feel like God answered these questions for me through a recent real-life incident. My husband and I have been trying to give our oldest child more responsibilities, little tests of maturity to gauge how she handles certain situations. Recently, he let her go into a gas station to make a purchase on her own (he was parked where he could watch her through the window). He told her to buy two Slushees- one for her and one for her sister. She came back with three Slushees and a pack of gummy bears. My husband wasn’t angry with her, especially since she had brought him a treat too, but he encouraged her to only buy what she was told the next time.
In this situation, my daughter was sent to do a job, which she did, but she overstepped the instructions she was given. In the same way, I think a minister can be truly called and anointed of God, yet at times be erroneous in their teaching or delivery. Sometimes God picks a messenger, God gives them clear instructions, the messenger delivers the message, but because the messenger is human, they add unnecessarily to the original communication. It doesn't mean that person wasn't sent of God. It doesn't mean they are a false teacher. It means they are human.
In the scripture we find where Peter, upon whom the Lord declared He would build the church, was called out by Paul because he was wrong in separating himself from the Gentile believers (Galatians 2:11). Even the early church leaders made mistakes! I don’t believe the mistake of the Apostle Peter nullified his ministry. Believers need to be discerning enough themselves to not “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, as the idiom goes. In truth, there’s probably no preacher or teacher with whom I agree on every single point of scripture or practice.
I’m thankful God has allowed me to come to a personal resolution on this matter. Obviously, I will not sit under any teaching that is contrary to the primary tenets of my faith, but in this situation, I will try to maintain respect for this pastor with whom I disagree. I will on occasion listen to his messages. I will pray for God to deal with him about his handling of non-doctrinal issues. And, I will rest in the fact that God’s ministers are human, “nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure” (2 Timothy 2:19).
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My husband recently incorporated Star Wars into a sermon and was quite proud of himself for it. Today, I’m going to try to match him by using one of my favorite movies as the basis for this devotional.
I don’t have a great analogy to connect “The Princess Bride” (which is also a great book) to a spiritual concept. Rather, I want to borrow a key phrase from this beloved fairy tale film. Do you remember the farm boy, Wesley, at the beginning of the movie and his response to Buttercup’s every whim? Remember when he came back to her as the Dread Pirate Roberts and the moment she realized it was really Wesley as he went tumbling down the giant hill yelling those cherished words: “As you wish.” What an awesome scene! If somehow you’ve managed to not see the movie, don’t worry; this message is still for you.
Maybe you can already see where I’m going with this. Those three little words, “As you wish” should be the believer's response to every command of God. Let’s look at five people from the bible who essentially said “as you wish” to God.
In the movie I’ve referenced, the male leading character answers every request of his love interest with the phrase “as you wish.” His humble obedience was a direct response to his unfailing love for her. Likewise, we should consistently affirm our love for God by blindly, completely, enthusiastically, reverently, and selflessly obeying his direction. Our obedience to God must be driven by our love for Him, with no thought for what we will gain.
Sometimes I have a feeling of anticipation, as if I am waiting on God to give a command to which I can respond, “As you wish.” I’ve said to Him, “Show me what you want me to do, Lord! I’ll do it!” But, I need to stop and look at the instructions He has already given to all of us and evaluate how I am responding to those. I need to make sure I am saying “as you wish” in regards to what the Word says to do. Am I saying, "As you wish, Lord" to the commands to love God with all my heart, to love my neighbor, to forgive, and to not worry? I fall short often, but I pray that whether the task seems big or small, whether it comes directly from scripture or from the prompting of the Holy Spirit, that I will continually learn to obey.
I leave you with a challenge! Read Romans 12:9-18, and after every sentence that contains a command whisper, “As you wish, Lord. As you wish.” Then go live out that promise.
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The pictures flood my Pinterest and Facebook feeds. From simple doodles to elaborate works of art, women everywhere are coloring in their bibles and sharing the pictures on social media. "Bible journaling" is a trend I never could have imagined a few years ago. At first, I had the slightest feeling that bible journaling was just a trendy idea, and even a gimmick to sell different types of bibles. I even had the fleeting thought that it might be disrespectful to draw all over the words of scripture. I’m writing this article because I’m confident that those little thoughts were wrong, and I want to explore the idea of our creative nature.
While I still haven’t tried bible journaling for myself (I hope to soon!), it occurred to me that anything that encourages people to spend time in the Word is A GOOD THING! I also realize that we revere the words of scripture and the author, God, but we don’t worship the physical pages of the book. Taking the Word and incorporating it into a beautiful image only serves to exalt the truth of scripture. When someone takes time to think about how to translate an idea from scripture into a visual representation, they are really meditating on the Word and its meaning.
I also realized that bible journaling may accomplish the same thing for some people as writing does for me. Sometimes I’m drawn deeper into studying the Word because I want to write about a certain topic. My desire to write pushes me to study scripture. I imagine that the enjoyment one gets from creating an artistic journal entry in their bible is a catalyst for more frequent study.
From his book “About You”, author Dick Staub writes, “Every human has the capacity to make things, to create, because we are all made in the image of a creative God.” Genesis 1:26 says, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:”. The desire to create has been made in us.
I found another beautiful quote from the book “Heart Steps” by Julia Cameron. She writes, “We are ourselves creations. We are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves. This is the God-force extending itself through us. Creativity is God's gift to us. Using creativity is our gift back to God.”
I have some friends who seem to have found great enjoyment from creating artwork in their bibles. And, I’m excited to share some of their creations here with you. I am so inspired by these ladies! Be sure to click through or play both slideshows.
Renee told me, "Bible journaling has been an amazing experience that allows me to completely concentrate and experience the Word of God in a way I never imagined." You can find the bible she uses here.
Do you enjoy bible journaling? What does it mean to you? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
Bible journaling seems to be an activity mostly women enjoy. Are there any men out there that do it?
Please also share any advice you might have for someone, like me, who wants to start bible journaling. Thanks!
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I am very excited about this topic! This is a simple and to-the-point article, but I believe it will be meaningful for someone. There’s a lot of scripture contained here, so please stick with me. There’s an important message at the end!
Have you ever heard of a “life verse”? The term refers to a verse that holds special meaning for a person or a verse they rely on regularly to guide their life. While not directly a scriptural concept, it makes sense that believers claim specific verses in such a way, as scripture is the most direct method God uses to speak to His people. One danger of the “life verse” concept, is that it can become a cliché, almost akin to a person’s birthstone or astrological sign. But, for true believers, having a life verse, and especially being able to communicate “why” it is meaningful, is a good way to share their faith. (Read more ideas about how to use scripture in my article "Rightly Divided".)
In truth, the whole of scripture is “life” verses, in that it leads us on the path of eternal life. In John 6:68, Simon Peter said to Jesus, “to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”
While there are many more that I love, I claim these four as “mine”:
In the book of Deuteronomy, God gave instruction for how the eventual kings of Israel should handle the Words of God. (Israel was not supposed to have a king other than God, but God knew the people would insist on having one “like as all the nations” that were around them- Deuteronomy 17:15.)
Deuteronomy 17:18-20 says, "And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.”
While we have certain verses to help carry us through this life, the Word itself is the very essence of life, and our reliance on it, and faith in it, can dictate the outcome of every situation.
Going beyond the idea of a “life verse”, I want to share with you the portion of scripture that is quite literally my “life chapter”. In my teenage years and early twenties, I suffered with severe depression and anxiety. (I’ve been free from it for so long it is almost hard to remember- praise God!). There were days when, overcome with a constant, unexplainable grief, thoughts of suicide invaded in my brain. While He didn’t heal me right away, one day the Lord practically handed me Psalm 116, to sustain me until the time He would heal me. I claim this as my life chapter, because I believe God used it to spare my life. If you find yourself in a dark place, please let the words of Psalm 116 help put you on a different course, so you too can “walk before the LORD in the land of the living” (Psalm 116:9).
I'd love to hear your life verse (or chapter)! Please leave a comment below, and if you enjoyed this article, please share it. Thanks!
It happens often. I will be driving, folding laundry, trying to sleep, or any other normal task, when I start “randomly” singing a song I haven’t heard in a relatively long time, without any conscious thought. I’m usually half-way through the chorus when I stop and think, “Now where did that come from?” The truth is, I know where it comes from. The question is really “Why?” instead of “Where?”
While the Holy Scriptures are the only sovereign texts we possess, I believe God has inspired people throughout the ages to write songs to be used for His glory, and I believe He uses these to speak to His people. Today He put a song in my heart from one of His greatest poets, Fanny Crosby. I was on my way to Starbucks for a mid-day treat when I recognized the words of “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” on my lips (listen to the audio clip above). It has a beautiful melody (the music was composed by William Doane in 1870) and a pleading tone. For the first time I actually thought about the petition of this song. I started to examine if there might be some error in singing a refrain that expresses doubt that God will be available to us when we call.
Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
I wondered if knowing the origin of the hymn might help resolve the thought, and I found some help for my questions on the Discipleship Ministries website of the United Methodist Church. There, I read an article titled “History of Hymns: “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior””, written by professor of sacred music at Southern Methodist University, C. Michael Hawn.
Mr. Hawn wrote, “The late hymnologist William J. Reynolds discovered that the inspiration for this hymn was the result of a visit to a prison by the poet during spring 1868. He notes: “After she had spoken and some of her hymns had been sung, she heard one of the prisoners cry out in a pleading voice, ‘Good Lord, do not pass me by’;””
The account described above sounds like the plea of a man who had enough faith to understand that he needed God, but was not yet acquainted with God enough to understand he could trust Him. This reminds of the father in Mark Chapter 9 who, wanting Jesus to heal his son, proclaimed, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." That story has always given me hope. Although the man admitted to having a measure of unbelief, Jesus healed his son based on the measure of faith he did have. (The last line of the second verse of "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior" is "Help my unbelief".)
The tone of the song also reminds me of King David and how he pleaded with God in despair, yet he ended his petition with a praise acknowledging God's faithfulness. In Psalm 13:1 he said, “How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?” But, just five versus later he says, “I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.” Even a man well-acquainted with the provision of God, who is described as a man after God's own heart, struggled with whether or not God would be present in his situation, but because of His knowledge of the nature of God could ultimately be at peace.
After a bit of reflection, I am reassured that when I sing the great hymn that has been our topic, I am not alluding to any personal concern that Jesus could in some way pass me by. The words "do not pass me by" are an expression of every sincere heart that has longed to be close to the Almighty, yet in human frailty can hardly comprehend that the God of the universe lends His availability and concern to sinners such as us. The song has a tone of humility that serves to amplify the truth of God's holiness.
Why the Lord gave me this particular song today I may not know. Maybe I will need its message in the coming days. Maybe I should lead it as our "Invitation" song during Sunday morning worship. Maybe I was just supposed to think on it and write this blog post to share with you. Whatever the reason, I am thankful that He speaks to me through the classic hymns He inspired so long ago.
Read the full lyrics for "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior".
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A couple years ago I discovered a radio program called “Stories of Great Christians”. It's an audio drama that airs (in my area) on the Bible Broadcasting Network every day from 5:15 pm to 5:30 pm. Each series tells the life-story of a well-known person in Christian history, over a period of weeks, usually based on a published biography. I try to listen every day to keep up with the episodes. I find the art form of radio drama very refreshing. I am forced to use my imagination to envision the story, I have to wait in anticipation for the next episode, and I love the melodramatic organ interludes between scenes. (The series was produced in the 1940s!)
Not only entertaining, “Stories of Great Christians” has been a great inspiration to me! I have learned so much from the lives of people such as the great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, missionary to India, Amy Carmichael, and founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth. It is simply amazing how God worked through these people to accomplish His purposes!
As I think about what I have learned from these faithful men and women of God, I am reminded of Hebrews 13:7. The English Standard Version renders it this way: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
Secular culture has no shortage of individuals whom people idolize and seek to imitate. As a Christian parent, I hope to encourage my children to imitate people of integrity and faith. Of course, our ultimate example is Jesus. We must seek always to be like Him. But in 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ." (NKJV) God has given us role models to help point us to Him.
I am thankful for examples of Christian faith we can imitate. Throughout my life I have had wonderful mentors in the faith- my parents, special friends, and so many in my church family. And, of course, we have the examples of the Apostle Paul and other leaders in church history.
As we learn from the faith of our spiritual heroes, we must grow into the position of being a similar example for others. These are three virtues I believe are the foundation to a life worth imitating:
That may sound like a simple list, but I think it's a good guide for the traits we should seek in a mentor and strive for in our own lives. My hope is that I will ever be more like Jesus, walking in the footsteps of those who have followed Him without wavering; but also, that someone will see in me a faith worth imitating.
"Stories of Great Christians" belongs to Moody Radio Archive. Some day, I think I will purchase MP3 files of all the available stories, found here: http://moodyaudio.com/store/archive/stories-great-christians.
To learn about other great programs on BBN, to find a station in your area, or to stream live broadcasts, visit http://www.bbnradio.org.
As I tried to go to sleep the other night, somewhere amid the rambling, disjointed thoughts flooding my sleepy brain, I recognized the words of one of my favorite verses of scripture. I didn't consciously think about Romans 8:28, but it was suddenly just there in my mind: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose."
The familiar words had barely finished processing in my mind when they were followed with a simple question- "Do you know?"
I can't tell you if it was me asking the question or if it was the Holy Spirit, but I pray He will help me to seek out the answer and define it in the next few lines.
Let me start by working backwards through the verse. I know that I am "called according to His purpose" because I'm saved. If you are saved, you have been purposefully called by God. I know that I am of "them that love God". Although not always put into action the way it should be, I have no doubts about my love for Him. That brings me to the first part of the verse, and I have to ask myself again, "Do I really know that all things work together for good?"
I feel confident in saying the answer to my question is "yes". I do know that all things work together for good, meaning I believe it with certainty. The real question is, "Am I living like I know it?"
The phrase "all things" in this verse could mean literally everything- from my walk to the mailbox to a serious illness. While I believe the verse is true for "all" circumstances, Paul was writing specifically about persecution. With that context in mind, I felt the need to examine how I view difficulties in my life.
Knowing that all things work together for good doesn't mean we never hurt or have concern about the difficult times in life. Our state of salvation doesn't preclude us from the effects of living in a fallen world. Bad things will happen (although I believe we are guarded by His sovereign grace from many bad circumstances). The beauty of knowing "all things work together for good" is summed up in one word: hope. We have hope that beauty will be born of brokenness, that silver linings will surface through stress. And we can learn to even be excited when something bad happens, anticipating the good that will come from it. Sometimes, we may not see the good, but by faith we know it is there, because God's promises are true.
Thankfully, I haven't experienced very many situations in my life that have tested my faith or challenged my belief that something good would be the result. But I think the lesson for me in my reflections on Romans 8:28 is to be more mindful of opportunities to praise God in all situations. It's not about learning to see the glass as half full instead of half empty. I'm sure there are plenty of atheist optimists. It's about knowing that God is intentionally acting and working things out in all situations, and about being able to praise Him whether we see the good or not.
Let me leave you with a real-life example of Romans 8:28. A small, country church, where my husband has ministered several times, was recently vandalized. On Easter Sunday morning, our friends there, Terry and Ellen, found a swastika spray-painted on the front door. Now, of course, that was not a good thing. How could it be? However, the deputy that responded to the call did a wonderful thing- he painted over the vandalism for them. Our friends were deeply moved by the kind act of the deputy, and Ellen took to Facebook to publicly praise the officer. More than one news station saw the post, and subsequently did interviews with Ellen and the officer, which were aired on multiple stations. Because Ellen knew God was in control of the situation, she was able to focus on the deputy's good deed, instead of focusing on the wrong done to them. God even worked it out so the uplifting story would be shared on the news to be an encouragement to many, many people. The fun part is, God may not be finished working the events "together for good". Perhaps the best is yet to come from this story.
Have you been going through a trial? Are you facing adversity now? Perhaps the best is yet to come from your story, too.
Click the following link to see one of the news stories about the church vandalism and the officer's kind deed.
A few months ago I started a scripture notebook. It's just a little book I carry around in my purse and in which I occasionally write verses when they come to mind. There are no rules to it, except for I try not to write the same verse in the book twice. This forces me to flip back through to check before I write a new verse, which refreshes me as I skim and remember all the scriptures I have written previously. My notebook contains the type of verses we sometimes call "memory verses". They stand on their own, without explanation, additional context, or historical reference. I like to call them "nuggets", like little treasures you can easily carry.
"Let your light so shine before men..."
"A merry heart doeth good...."
"For God so loved the world..."
"Greater love hath no man than this..."
"In the beginning God created..."
"What time I am afraid..."
"In all thy ways acknowledge Him..."
Can you finish all those verses? My guess is, yes! These are wonderful, important truths to cherish. And I encourage you to practice memorization of verses like these. That's one of my goals- to start committing these to memory. While these "nuggets" of scripture are important, we most also appreciate the importance of the Word as a whole. In the second book of Timothy, chapter 3, verse 16, Paul says, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:" We may not go around quoting genealogies or Mosaic law, but each line of scripture is included in the Bible for a specific purpose.
Learning how to handle and correctly apply the Word is the subject of 2 Timothy 2:15: "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." We have to learn to sort and apply the nuggets and the genealogies, the parables and the historical events- to appreciate and, use for our benefit, the entirety of the Word He has provided.
When we rightly divide the Word we understand that scripture will never contradict itself. Some ideas may appear contradictory, but a proper study, use of appropriate resources, and most importantly discernment from the Holy Spirit, can and will negate any of those doubts.
Rightly dividing the Word means we are careful not to piece together scripture to suit our own agenda, and we can also recognize when that is being done by others. It's an outrageous example, but if someone quoted from Matthew where it says Judas "went and hanged himself" (27:5) and merged that with our Savior's exhortation "go, and do thou likewise" (Luke 10:37, speaking of showing mercy like the Good Samaritan), that would be an egregious and profane misuse of scripture! We are likely to encounter a much more subtle example, but if we know how to rightly divide the Word, by knowing the Word, we won't get tripped up by these tactics.
The Bible refers to the Word of God as a "sword": "And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Ephesians 6:17 (Also, see Hebrews 4:12)
A sword is a powerful weapon, to be handled with care. Our study of God's word is swordsmanship training, and the application of the Word in our lives, in a manner of speaking, is swordplay. While I may never be a master swordsman, I pray that God will help me grow in my ability to rightly divide the Word, and that He will do the same for you.
It seems most mainstream web articles are written in list format these days. Here are a few real headlines I found on the MSN homepage on the same day (3/14/17): “10 Secrets to Perfect Homemade Pizza”; “7 Reasons Your Pee Smells Weird”; “43 Truly Extraordinary Uses for Household Staples You Already Own”. Y’all, I didn’t make these up. And, there were several more like these on the page.
People like lists. So, I’m going to give you the best list you will read today: Five Reasons YOU Are Awesome! Are you ready?
1.) YOU were created in the image of God.
Genesis 1:26 and 1:27 says, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
You are awesome because you are modeled after the likeness of the Creator of the universe. Not only did God make us in His image, he gave us authority over and responsibility for the earth.
2.) YOU are a work of art!
When God was finished sculpting the earth and everything in it, including humankind, we know what He thought of His creation. Genesis 1:31 says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” It was very good. People are inherently good creations. YOU are very good.
Psalm 139:14 says, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” Marvelous are His works!
There’s a saying, attributed to the late singer Ethel Waters, “I am somebody ‘cause God don’t make no junk!” While not grammatically correct, the statement is profoundly wise. We can be assured of our awesomeness, because our Creator is perfect.
3.) YOU were born for a purpose!
The scriptures indicate in multiple places that God gives people specific missions in life. There’s a reason you are here, even if you never fully figure out what it is.
God told the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5) Likewise, the apostle Paul says in Galatians 1:15, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace….” Paul had a job to do for the Lord, long before he knew about it.
Rest in the fact that He did not place you on earth “just because”. You have a purpose.
4.) Jesus Died For YOU.
If you ever doubt your value, just remember that Christ paid the highest price to save you. You are so valuable, He gave His own life for you.
Romans 5:8 says, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Perhaps the most famous verse in scripture also speaks of God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
5.) IF you have accepted Jesus as your savior, YOU have the Spirit of God living in you.
This one is of course conditional, but if you are part of the family of God, you have the gift of His Spirit. The Holy Spirit lives in all believers, and as Galatians 5:22 and 5:23 teaches, He produces fruit such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control in our lives. In today’s world especially, those are super powers! And they really are super, because they come from a supernatural source.
The Holy Spirit also teaches you (John 14:26) and helps you witness to others (Matthew 10:20).
I'm sure there are many, many more reasons that you are awesome, but these are the five I wanted to talk about in this blog post.
Now that we are feeling really good about ourselves, let’s put this into perspective. You are awesome. But, you are nothing without Him. John (the Baptizer) said “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30). Hold your head high today, and know how valuable you are in Him, but remember to give Him glory for your awesomeness.
The book of Acts in the New Testament chronicles the actions of some of Christ's apostles, carried out through the power of the Holy Spirit, during a time immediately following Christ's ascension. This book essentially outlines the birth of the church, but in some places, it reads more like an adventure novel than historical reference.
God used the eighth chapter of this book to speak to me recently, and I’ve spent several days trying to understand exactly how to share and explain what I felt the Lord say to me through this passage.
First, let me outline some of the events that take place in Acts Chapter 8. We see Saul making “havock of the church" and believers fleeing from persecution. God used their persecution for good because the scattering of Christians meant the spread of the gospel. This by itself was a blessing to read, because I am awed by the courage of the early believers. They certainly experienced something real to make them flee one place for preaching, only to continue preaching somewhere else. They could have gone into hiding- kept quiet, kept safe. But the Holy Spirit urged them on and they obeyed.
One of those brave believers was a deacon named Philip. He traveled to Samaria and preached there (even a sorcerer was converted under his ministry!), until he received a new assignment directly from the Lord. Verse 27 says, “And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.”
So, Philip obeyed, and when he reached the road to Gaza he saw a man from Ethiopia sitting in a chariot, and he heard the man reading aloud from the book of Isaiah. This man was a eunuch, and he was a man of great authority who served as treasurer for the Queen of Ethiopia. Philip asked the man if he understood what he was reading and then proceeded to reveal Christ to the man through the Old Testament scriptures. The man believed Philip's words and was saved.
One remarkable thing about this story is how much God loved this man from Ethiopia, that he sent the good news of Jesus directly to him. The man already knew of God, but he had not experienced the gift of redemption. And so it is with all believers, because the Holy Spirit has called to us specifically, personally.
It is also exciting to think how this one encounter helped to spread the gospel into other parts of the world, as the Ethiopian man most certainly went home and told everyone what had happened to him. God’s plan was not only to save the man that Philip met on the road to Gaza, but the generations of people after him that would choose to believe.
The Bible indicates that Philip was traveling in the man’s chariot with him when they came to a body of water. They stopped and Philip baptized the man. And this is the part that really jumped out at me. Verses 39 and 40 say, “And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.”
Azotus is the modern-day city of Ashdod, which is probably about an hour-long walk away from where Philip had been. The text describes that the Holy Spirit supernaturally transported Philip to another city! Philip teleported! That might not be the right terminology from a spiritual standpoint, but I think that’s the best word in our natural vocabulary to describe it.
The scripture doesn’t tell us the reason Philip was caught away, but it does tell me this: God can move me where He wants me to be, when He wants me to be there, by any means He chooses- when I seek to follow HIS will.
I’ve had a few dreams in my life; one of the biggest was to become a mother. Before I was married, I was concerned that the dream of a family wouldn’t happen “soon enough” and I would “run out of time”. As it turns out, my husband and I were married only six months after he proposed, and seven months after the wedding we found out our first child was on the way. In a relatively brief span of time I had gone from being single, to being married and expecting a child. Now I have three wonderful children! Some days I’m amazed by where I am on life’s journey.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the future and what new dreams may come to fruition. Reading the story of how Philip was “caught away” gave me these three ideas:
How exciting it is to serve a God that can do what many say is impossible! He loves us and will accomplish His will through those that allow themselves to be used.
You never know when you might find yourself saying, “How did I wind up here?”, and thanking the Lord for His help along the journey.
What does it mean to bless someone? When you bless someone, it means you are speaking good things into existence in their lives. Did you realize you have that kind of power? The bible says in Proverbs 18:21 that “life and death are in the power of the tongue”. We bless people by claiming a promise from the Bible for them, and God works through that.
In the Old Testament, God gave the priests of Israel a specific blessing He wanted them to use to bless the people:
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”’ “So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:23-27
Even though this blessing was for Israel, the Bible teaches us that through Jesus, we are adopted into the family of God and all the promises that God gave to Israel are for us, too. So we can use this same blessing for others.
Most weekdays, before we head out to face the world, I try to speak something like this for each of my three kids: “The Lord bless you and keep you and give you a good day, in Jesus’ name.” (My nine-year-old says, “It helps!”)
Speaking blessing is a lot like praying. But, instead of asking God for something, we are claiming something He already promised us. A blessing has to line up with the Bible. We know God is not a magic genie that grants wishes, so I wouldn’t say to someone, “May the Lord give you a million dollars.” The Bible doesn’t promise us a million dollars! But it does promise good things like “peace” when we need it. So, I could say, “May the Lord give you peace” and that is a blessing that God will honor and work through, because He’s already promised it.
At the close of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he wrote: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” He was blessing them with that statement.
Some blessings are very simple. We often say “God bless you”, especially at church. Sometimes it can even become habit, and we say it without actually thinking about what it means. But, any time we use the name of God, we should use it purposefully, with intention. Think about what you’re saying next time, and really mean it! “God bless you!!” I think when we have faith that God will actually bless someone, meaning He will help them and give them what they need, those three words can be very powerful!
Practice speaking blessings to someone in your life today.
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Thank you for visiting my blog. I share devotional articles and musings about life, parenting, and the writing journey, as well as important news about my books. I hope you find something of interest here!