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Posted on Jun 12, 2012 in Devotional | 4 comments

Strength

Strength

The last several weeks have been difficult for me.  According to the doctor, the way I’m feeling is typical of pregnancy for about half of women.

I’ve felt extremely weak and lethargic.  I have to eat every 2-3 hours or I get sick, but what I eat often gives me a sour stomach so I don’t want to eat.  Very little sounds good to me.  When I do eat, there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll keep it down.  If I get sick, I have to eat again or the sickness will start all over.  My body will only tolerate small amounts of food at one time.

On top of that, my sense of smell is extremely sensitive.  Things that I never smelled before, or that didn’t smell bad to me, now gag me.  I’m taking a prescription medication for nausea, which helps me keep down most of my food, but it doesn’t stop the sickness over things that gross me out.  I’ve broken out in unexplained hives, developed a painful ganglion cyst on my right wrist that restricts the use of my right hand, and have extreme motion sickness.  When I get up and walk around, I get motion sick.  Seriously?!

I’ve spent most of the last six weeks lying on the couch with a trash can right beside me.  I haven’t been able to cook meals.  Not only do I have little energy to do so, but many foods turn my stomach so I can’t even look at them.  Rick has been surviving off of cereal, take-out leftovers, frozen pizza, and sandwiches.  Every once in a while I get a burst of energy and load or unload the dishwasher, but he’s been doing most of the dishes.  He is also the designated trash-can emptier.

Yesterday I had a little pity-party for myself.  Rick heated up some perfectly good food that smelled so bad to me that I went outside to sit on the front porch for some fresh air.  It was a really nice evening and I was glad for the change of scenery.  But I sat there and cried, feeling like a failure as a wife, wondering if my strength and energy will ever return, wondering how I can ever get pregnant again, and begging God to make it all stop!  Not the pregnancy, of course, but just the sickness.  Please, God, please – make it stop.  I can’t take any more.

God didn’t answer me this time.  He was quiet.  But I recognized the pity-party for what it was.  I sometimes struggle with self-pity and the loss of my pride.  I know how to handle this demon.  I didn’t want to, but I begrudgingly began to sing a song of praise and thanks to God.  It wasn’t very pretty, and I cried through much of it, but I sang anyway.  I thanked Him for His many blessings.  I thanked Him for the dang sickness that is making me nuts because it means I will soon be a mother.  It means my sweet husband will finally have his own child.  I thanked Him that my 36-year old body is still capable of pregnancy.

And then He spoke to me, very quietly and gently.  He reminded me that when I look at the waves around me, I’ve taken my eyes off Him.  He encouraged me to stop watching TV all day and to take some time to get my eyes back on Him.  I promised Him I would, got up and walked back in the house, then promptly lost the sandwich Rick had just made me because the smell in the house was still so strong.

I didn’t go to church this morning because I woke up dry heaving with terrible heartburn.  Instead, I returned to the practice that has gotten me through so many difficult times in my life.  I read the Scriptures for the day from The Book of Common Prayer Daily Office.  I took notes.  And from them I discovered exactly what I needed to hear today.

I noticed a theme as I read the various verses from different parts of the Bible.  What stood out for me today was that God gives His people strength.  As I read Psalm 29, I noticed that it doesn’t say God will make everything easy for us.  “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood…  May God give strength to His people.”  Bad things (like The Flood) will happen, but God gives us His strength.  I’ve been praying for relief when I should have been praying for STRENGTH.

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”  Isaiah 40:31 KJV

So this morning I changed my prayer.  Lord, give me Your strength to handle the difficulties of pregnancy.  Help me to remember that this is temporary and that a miracle is happening inside me.  Thank You for this precious miracle baby that You have given us.  We waited for Your timing, Lord, so please help us to have the strength we need to be parents, to have more children, and to do so without growing weary.  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

I decided to share this difficulty with you today because I figure there are probably others out there who are going through their own trials and pain.  What do you do when you ask for it to be taken away and God allows the struggle to continue?  The best answer I have for today is to pray for God’s strength to make it through. 

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Posted on Dec 31, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 0 comments

The Power of The Word

The Power of The Word

This is the text for the sermon I preached on Sunday, December 27th, at North Greenville Christian Fellowship in Greenville, SC.  I would love to hear your feedback on the thoughts presented here.  Happy New Year!

John 1 (Contemporary English Version)

 1In the beginning was the one who is called THE WORD.  THE WORD was with God and was truly God.  2From the very beginning THE WORD was with God.  3And with this Word, God created all things.  Nothing was made without THE WORD.  Everything that was created 4received its life from him, and his life gave light to everyone.  5The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out…  9The true light that shines on everyone was coming into the world.  10THE WORD was in the world, but no one knew him, though God had made the world with his WORD.  11He came into his own world, but his own nation did not welcome him.  12Yet some people accepted him and put their faith in him.  So he gave them the right to be the children of God.  13They were not God’s children by nature or because of any human desires.  God himself was the one who made them his children.  14THE WORD became a human being (the Christmas story – the birth of Jesus is when THE WORD became a human being, flesh and blood) and lived here with us. We saw his true glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father.  From him all the kindness and all the truth of God have come down to us. 

We just celebrated Christmas – the birthday of Jesus – the one whom John calls THE WORD.  God Himself came into the world and became a human being.  He did this incredible thing so that we could know Him and recognize how well He knows us. 

One of the main reasons all the world stops to celebrate the miraculous birth of Jesus is because the Creator of the universe left His throne in heaven and came to earth to live with us and show Himself to us clearly.  He wanted us to know Him.  He wanted us to understand Him.  He wanted us to be able to trust Him fully.  And He came to redeem us from the curse of sin and death and give us abundant life.  What a gift!

I’ve been thinking about what it means that Jesus is called THE WORD in John. 

Genesis 1:3 is the first time we read in Scripture about anything related to THE WORD.  “And God SAID, ‘Let there be light; and there was light.’”  The entire first chapter of the first book in the Bible is full of “God said”s – 10 of them actually.  God didn’t create our world through sweat and labor.  He used THE WORD to speak it into existence. 

Throughout the Old Testament we read that God spoke to His servants.  So if THE WORD of God is Jesus, then we were introduced to Jesus in the first chapter of the Bible. 

All of God’s WORDS since the creation of the earth were Jesus.  When Jesus was born to Mary as a newborn baby, He was the physical manifestation of all THE WORDs God had spoken to us.  His physical body, His soul, His mind – they were all a reflection of THE WORD of God. 

Jesus was perfect because He was the law of God, He was the 10 commandments, He was the prophecies, He was the warnings, and He was incapable of contradicting Himself.  What we celebrate at Christmas each year is the beauty of that concept; the amazing, supernatural, mind-boggling joy of the day God became human and allowed two other human beings to take care of Him.  What a concept! 

We give gifts to one another to remind ourselves that gifts were given to Jesus by the wise men.  We give gifts to one another to remind ourselves that Jesus was the ultimate gift of God.  We give gifts to one another to remind ourselves that life is more than just achieving, getting, grasping, and receiving things from others.  One of the most important things we can do in life is give to one another:  to put others first the way that God put our needs above His own.  We give gifts to one another to show our appreciation that they are in our lives.  And we receive gifts as a symbolic act of receiving the gift of God in the form of baby Jesus.  It is a very spiritual, symbolic thing, this giving and receiving of gifts. 

It’s possible that the greatest gift we can give to one another are our own words – expressing the things we are thankful for in one another, showering each other with blessings, and saying prayers for each other for the coming year.  Our words can also be a symbolic, spiritual gift that reflects Christ to others. 

The New Testament is full of the actual words that Jesus spoke when He was on earth.  His words are quoted, His words are explained, His words used as a basis for providing direction and correction to the new churches formed in worship of Him.  The words of Jesus – and the records that we have of those words, are vitally important.  What a gift and a blessing we have to have written words that express who Jesus was, what He said, and what He did!  Because of His word, Scripture, we are capable of knowing Jesus Christ personally and intimately. 

The Bible is more than just words on a page, stories, thoughts, and so forth.  The Bible is full of wisdom and truth that we can interact with and that can speak to us personally on a daily basis in the middle of whatever situation we’re facing.  THE WORD is Jesus Christ and He is alive, so His spirit speaks to us through the words on these pages. 

The New Testament is full of the words spoken by Jesus when He became a human being and lived on the earth.  But the Old Testament is THE WORD of God as well.  The Old Testament is just as important to us as the New Testament because it reveals the character of God. 

Hebrews 4:12 says,
For THE WORD of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

What that means is that our motives, our thoughts, even when they might not be clear to us ourselves, are known to God.  And His word, Scripture, is living and powerful enough to cut us to the quick when we’re out of line.  THE WORD of God keeps us on the right path and shows us when our motives or thoughts are impure.  It gets right to the point and challenges us to become more like Christ.

I know that may not sound very exciting.  I mean, who wants to be cut to the quick?  Who wants to be pierced by a two-edged sword?  Um, no thank you! 

However, I think there is a time when all of us actually do want that piercing.  A time when we’re actually willing to endure pain in order to achieve the results we desperately need.

Think about it for a minute.  Is there anything in your life now, or in your past, that you wish you could be free from?  It might have been with you for as long as you can remember, like someone who has always battled depression.  It might be something that started off fairly innocently, a fun little thing you decided to try because it seemed pretty harmless, but somehow it took over your life and changed from a minor indiscretion into a monster trying to eat you alive.  Maybe it’s not a monster, but it still controls a part of your life and scares you a little sometimes and you wonder how to get free.  These things can be as simple as debt or credit problems, as frustrating as an addiction to prescription pain pills that you take for legitimate pain, or as potentially life-shattering as an extramarital affair or an addiction to alcohol.

According to Scripture, THE WORD of God is the thing that can set us free.  It works like the scalpel of a surgeon, cutting out the diseased parts and helping us to heal. 

Last year around this time, my church asked me to write some small group curriculum that would be used to prepare the hearts of the people for the day of Pentecost.  I work in a Pentecostal church, so this seemed like a reasonable request.  To my embarrassment, I had to look up Pentecost to see what it was.  I had never really heard the story that I knew so well referred to as “the day of Pentecost.”  Or if I had, it hadn’t registered with me.  The Day of Pentecost is the day that the disciples received the promise of the Holy Spirit that Jesus, right before He ascended into heaven, had told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for.  It’s the day that the tongues like fire appeared on their heads and they began to speak in other languages.  Our church was having a special speaker come and wanted everyone’s hearts to be prepared to hear the special message.

I believe the task of writing that curriculum was a gift from God to me.  As I studied and wrote, I was reminded of the power of the Holy Spirit to heal, to cast out demons, to know things that we humanly have no way of knowing, and more.  I got excited about it.  One of the assignments I gave the participants who went through the study was to ask God for a new or a fresh anointing from the Holy Spirit.  I did the same myself.  Even though I’m a minister, I found myself really struggling to read the Bible on a regular basis.  I prayed a lot but I was only reading the Bible for my own personal devotional time sporadically.  Dad had taught me to read the Bible daily and write in a journal about what I had learned, and I had done that a lot over the years, but much of the time it had seemed like a chore and I felt extremely guilty if I didn’t do it.  During the course of that study, I repeatedly prayed and asked God to give me a love for His Word, a love for reading the Bible and studying Scripture.  Honestly, I really didn’t have much hope that it would happen.  Reading the Bible to me was a little like exercising – I liked the results, but it was what I did because I knew it was good for me rather than because I enjoyed it. 

Then an amazing thing happened.  I heard a friend talking about a reading schedule for the Bible that included a lot of daily reading – and OT reading, a NT reading, a Psalm, and a Gospel reading:  every day.  He loved it and was getting a lot out of it.  I decided to give it a try.  It took me a few weeks to really get into it, but soon I found myself waking up in the morning with the thought that I didn’t want to over sleep and miss my time of reading Scripture.  I began to love it and to feel like reading in the morning wasn’t enough.  I needed to read the Bible before I went to bed at night too.  This was not like me at all.  God had answered my prayer and I became someone who actually enjoys reading the Bible on a daily basis.  I didn’t think it was possible, but God did it. 

I found that reading that much Scripture every day changed a lot for me.  Instead of focusing on my problems, my short-comings and fears, I was focused on God and had hope that He would take care of my problems.  I had a new hope that if I asked Him, He would help me handle my short-comings and fears.  I realized it would take major effort to be worried about how my life would turn out when I was reading 2-4 psalms every day.  David could get down on his enemies, but he was completely sure that God would rescue him from his problems and writes that often.  To read the psalms daily is to infuse your life with praise of God and hope that He will work everything out in His timing and it will be for the best. 

I have found a new sense of hope for my future.  I’ve found a new trust in God to take care of me.  I’ve been set free from problems I thought would never go away.  God hasn’t snapped His fingers and made all my dreams come true, but He’s helping me as I do some hard work to set things right that I let get way out of hand.  Reading God’s word daily has forced me to repent and confess sins I did not want to talk to anyone about.  Reading God’s word daily has given me strength and hope.  It has changed me in ways that I can’t even explain, but I hope will eventually become obvious to all who know me. 

All this has happened in my life because I asked God to help me love HIS WORD.  Basically, I asked Him to help me love Jesus more.  I’d been a Christian all my life, I was working as a minister in a church, but I didn’t understand how much deeper my relationship with God could be.  I just didn’t understand it, even though others had told me.  I thought my relationship with God was fine, even good.  But now I know what good is and I’m so thankful.

At Christmas we celebrate Christ’s birth.  We celebrate the fact that God loved us so much that He was willing to limit Himself and become a human being.  He became a human being so we could know Him. 

I hope that you’ll consider taking this opportunity to know Christ, to really know God and understand who He is and love Him for it.  God is more than a heavenly being who wants to be sure we don’t break the 10 commandments and expects us to live a good life.  He wants to talk to us, to share Himself with us.  He wants to be our friend, to be the one who sets us free.  Yes, He is God and God is our Savior, our Judge, our Creator, and all of those big things that tend to cause us to observe Him from a distance.  But if you can imagine the best friend possible, the one person who can totally and completely accept you and love you, that person, that friend, can be God. 

He came to earth to show us that friendship, that relationship.  He was a friend to each of the 12 disciples.  He was a brother, a son, an employee, a public speaker, a teacher. He can be those things to us. 

It’s my prayer this morning that you will consider allowing the Christ who came to this earth as a baby and who grew up here, lived, laughed, and made friends before He died, to become your friend.  If you have not asked Him to forgive you for your sins and take over your life, I hope that you’ll do that today.  If you’re already a Christian but you don’t feel like God is your friend, then I hope you’ll consider starting off 2010 with this prayer or one like it. 

Lord, help me to love Your word.  Help me to get to know You through it and to understand who You are and how to be more like You.  Set me free from the things that are weighing me down, the things that I feel stuck in.  I want to know You more.  Please show me how to be Your friend.  Give me the strength to do the things I need to do.  Help me, God.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Posted on Nov 13, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 5 comments

All You Can Do to Stand

All You Can Do to Stand

Coffee-and-BibleThis morning I read my devotional from The Book of Common Prayer Daily Office, a collection of readings for each day of the year that includes a Psalm, an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, and a Gospel reading.  There were FIVE Psalms this morning and I was running short on time, so I skimmed through a few of them.  I guess I was kind of looking for something I liked or wanted to really focus on this morning.  (Don’t judge me…)

Many of the Psalm readings are horrible diatribes against David’s enemies, asking God to kill them, smash them in pieces, and cut out their children’s tongues.  At least that’s the basic theme of them.  I typically skim through these chapters or sections because as good as it may feel to reign down curses on my enemies (or the person who’s particularly bugging me at that time), Jesus expressly forbids us to do it. 

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (NKJV)

How do I reconcile that with David’s requests that God bash in the heads of his opponents?  And so I typically skim through these passages and deal with the nagging question of why these sentiments ever got published to begin with. 

MaskWell recently I’ve been having a battle with my mind – trying to correct firmly ingrained ways of thinking that are wrong and detrimental.  Although it’s very uncomfortable, I’ve been speaking out loud the truth (yes, talking to myself) and praying for God to remove the lies.  I tend to lean more toward figuring things out than seeing demons behind every door – but Jesus does spend a significant amount of time in Scripture casting them out.  Reading through the Gospels might actually cause one to think there really were demons behind every door.  So just in case there might be any evil spirits plaguing me, keeping me from moving forward and believing the truth, I even went so far as to speak to them and do the whole thing I grew up hearing – binding them, casting them out, and telling them never to return.  I figured if it is an evil spirit, rationalizing it away won’t exactly work, so I gave it a shot. 

So what in the world does that have to do with David cursing his enemies in the Psalms?  I do have a point, I promise!  As I was reading through the curses this morning, another Scripture popped into my head.

Ephesians 6:11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (NKJV)

Hmmmm…  David did have human, flesh-and-blood enemies trying to kill him and take the kingdom from him.  I don’t.  I’m pretty sure no human being has ever tried to kill me.  However, Ephesians says that as Christians we have to stand against the wiles of the devil.  There is such a thing as “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  Creepy!  And real.  It goes on to say that we can stand against them if we put on the full armor of God: 

ArmorEphesians 6:14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints. 

The war metaphor basically means we are to speak truth, live righteously, be peacemakers, have faith, accept the gift of salvation, read and study Scripture, pray, and be alert. 

Remembering that my enemy is actually Satan, I stopped skimming and picked up the Psalm again from the beginning.  I read out loud and when I got to the part about David cursing his enemies, I applied those words to principalities, powers, and spiritual wickedness.  I let them know that they are not going to bother me any longer.  And I smiled, knowing that God has given me authority to curse the devil and command him to leave.  It felt pretty good to ask God to totally destroy and banish them forever. 

I don’t believe that every single issue we face as Christians has a demon lurking behind it.  I’m not even sure the one I’m facing has any evil attached to it at all.  But I’m willing to do what Ephesians 6:13 says – all I can do to stand.  And from now on when I see a Psalm about cursing our enemies, I’ll remember exactly who my enemy is and pray that Psalm out loud, cursing him with gusto.

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Posted on Jul 21, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 6 comments

Am I Special?

A young mother recently asked me a question that has been bothering her:  “Am I special?”  She qualified her question by letting me know that she has heard that everyone is special, but if everyone is special then is anyone really special? 

I understood her question well because it is one I have battled with myself over the years.  If I am special in some way, then the things that happen to everyone else shouldn’t happen to me.  My destiny should be greater than that of those around me.  Even being a Christian can be used as an excuse to think that we are somehow special and excused from the things that “regular” people go through.  Don’t the Psalms state repeatedly that God gives rewards to those who walk in His ways?  If I walk in God’s ways, then I am special and should expect to be treated as such.

But the truth is that even Christians, sometimes especially Christians, struggle and have difficulties in life.  We are not always spared from injury, illness, poverty, and slander.  All Christians don’t live in mansions, dress in the finest clothes, and sing hymns all day long while we read the Bible and pray together.  We are regular people who understand that our source is God and anything good that happens in life is a gift from God. 

I looked up the word “special” in the dictionary and found this definition – distinguished from what is ordinary or usual.  What distinguishes me from the ordinary or usual?  I am a human being just like everyone else.  I was born, I am living my life, and I will die – just like everyone else.  In that case, the only truly “special” people in the world are those who somehow defy those circumstances: Enoch, who did not die but was taken up into heaven by God, also Elijah; and Jesus, who was born to a virgin and raised from the dead.  So unless I can find a way to get taken up to heaven by God through a means other than death, I’m regular, not special. 

So what should I strive for in life?  I thought I was special, the handiwork of God, created for a unique purpose and called by Him to make a difference in the world.  The answer to all of that is – yes, I am the handiwork of God (just like everyone else), I am created for a unique purpose (just like everyone else), and I am called by Him to make a difference in the world (just like everyone else). 

Every single person has something about them that is unique (existing as the only one or sole example) and if they embrace it, will make them stand out in the crowd and cause the awe of God to fall on those around them who see the glory of what God has made.  The thing is, we don’t embrace our uniqueness very often.  We try to hide it because we don’t want to be different from the crowd.  We want to fit in!  We’re afraid others won’t like our uniqueness or might reject us.  Yet we admire those who try new things and effectively harness their creativity into things that we cannot imagine. 

 The second piece to that puzzle is that we all have a calling from God to make a difference in the world.  Once we discover what makes us unique, we have to ask God how that thing should be used for His glory. 

I used to be afraid to fully surrender myself to God and be made into His image because I thought I’d lose my own identity.  I was afraid I’d become some sort of Christian robot.  What I have found in my surrender (more fully every day) is that instead of making me like everyone else, God calls me to do things that are totally unique.  God knows better than me what talents are hidden in me and He calls them forward and puts them to use for His glory.  Then I begin to see myself through His eyes and the work that I do becomes fulfilling and effective.  The closer I draw to God, the more He pulls forward those unique talents, and the more fulfilled and blessed I become.  I begin to sparkle and people notice.  I find such joy in realizing that the more I fully surrender myself to God, the more He makes me into His image, and the more unique I become. 

So I told the woman that she isn’t special.  She is a regular human being with flaws and problems, working to get closer to God.  However, the more fully we know God, the more we become like Him and the more our uniqueness shines through.  She and I are working together to grow in our relationship with the Lord. As we grow closer to Him, the fears and cares of this life become less and less important and pleasing God grows in our estimation of success.  And pleasing God is what allows Him to take our unique talents, gifts, personality, and experience to make us into a unique and beautiful instrument for His glory.

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