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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