He Gave You More than Enough!

Matthew 15:32-38 – Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” And directing the crowd to sit on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.

 

Sunday mornings… My favorite time of the week. Roll out of bed, blare some worship music, keep Jesus at the forefront of my mind, enter a sanctuary designated for holiness, and spend a time of worship and Word with those who share my faith. There’s just nothing better. But, let’s be completely honest- we can’t hardly make it through a two hour service without our stomachs rumbling and our minds wandering trying to decide what we’re going to grab for lunch after church. Yet, this large crowd, sat there with Jesus for three days – three days – without a bite to eat. Mothers wrestled with cranky children; husbands comforted tired wives… or did they? Could it be that they were so enamored with the words and miracles of Jesus Christ that they couldn’t get themselves to leave His presence? Were they able to clear their minds of earthly desires to the point that hunger pangs went unnoticed?

Our lives today are filled with so much. I’m sure each one of us could find something to direct our attention to nearly every moment of every day. But, do we fall in love with the voice of Jesus when we hear Him speak? Do we make time to listen? If we did, we would see the same compassion and miracle working power he displayed in this passage. We would hear the instruction He daily gives us to go out into a world that’s hurting and hungry- and offer them the only Thing that will forever satisfy. He is concerned with our spiritual and physical well-being. He is ever mindful of us, and no discomfort we face is unseen by Him. And, He has every capability of meeting our every need.

Knowing that, puts us in the place His disciples were in this story. We witness and understand His compassion to those hungering for Him; we tell Him what we have to offer; He then blesses, provides, and asks us to share the experiences we’ve just been a part of. At that moment, it’s imperative that we turn and give back to the crowds that have been waiting to receive something from Him. We are His hands and feet. Although this quote may seem cliche, it’s entirely true- “You (or I) may be the only Jesus someone ever sees.” What are we showing them? How are we introducing Him to those around us? Even when we find ourselves in the most desolate of places, He can still bless what we have. That’s His specialty. Growing flowers in the desert, parting oceans, and using broken people. He does what people don’t expect… When you think you’re only putting limitations on yourself, you’re hindering Him from achieving something amazing through you!

He has more than enough to meet the needs of us all. In this passage, He chose to use what the disciples already had to feed the crowd. He could have rained manna from heaven or brought honey from a rock. But, I believe He wanted to show us that although what we have may seem insufficient, when He puts His blessing on it, it’ll be more than enough. (And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over.)

We humans have a real problem of noticing every fault we have. We cringe at our shortcomings and are ashamed of what we consider to be our inadequacies. Thank goodness the power doesn’t depend on us. It rests in Him! (Philippians 4:13- I can do all things THROUGH Him Who strengthens me.)

Just offer Him what You have! Then, be willing to be the vehicle He uses to deliver His goodness to those around you waiting. Just like He took a few loaves and fish and fed more than 4,000 people, He can use your few words and acts of obedience to fill the voids the multitudes we encounter daily are dealing with. He blessed you… now, turn around and bless the crowd.

 

Prayer: Lord, thank You for the many blessings You bestow on my life. Please, bless and multiply what little ability I have to help someone hungering for You. Help me hear You speak and give me the determination to always obey. In Your precious name I pray, amen.

“It’s Gonna Be Worth It All”

(James 1: 14-15, NLT) 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

I love to plant flowers and tend to them.  I always have.  I even love the satisfaction that comes from pulling weeds.  Each spring/summer, I almost always have a plan as to what flowers and greenery I am going to purchase, and how I’m going to get it all situated in my landscaping and various pots.  It is almost therapeutic to me, and I can’t wait to get my hands in the soil — bringing my imaginings to life!  However, this year, my heart just wasn’t in it.  I had a VERY stressful fall and winter, and by the time spring and summer came around, all I wanted to do was just be a little lazy before the busyness of my summer schedule began. 

So the plant sales came and went, and I bought nothing.  Planting time got away from me.  So I thought, “Well, I will just mulch, and weed, and water my perennials, and it will still be beautiful.”  However…I never bought the mulch…and though I pulled a few of the bigger weeds here and there, the usual glory of my summer flower beds was regrettably absent.  Each time I would walk past my empty pots and lackluster flower beds, I would feel this pang of what almost felt like guilt…and I would self-soothe with thoughts like, “It’s just one summer.  It’s not like it looks bad.”  And it didn’t…look bad, that is. 

Then…I got busy…as I always do in the summer.  So far I have spent a total of 4 weeks away from my home, only coming in for a few days here and there.  As you can imagine, things have become to look not-so-pretty.  Yesterday after church, I decided to take a little time for myself to lie out on my chair in the sun.  I went out, got myself situated and I settled in for some tanning.  As I sang along to John Mayer and sipped on my ice water, I began to look around…and there was that guilt again.  I looked to my left and I saw a rose bush entangled with some sort of vine-like weed that was curling its tendrils around many of the branches of my poor, bug-chomped roses.  Then I looked even further still at my hostas and my hydrangea, drooping from the summer heat and lack of daily waterings.  My hydrangea, which has always been a show-stopping shock of gorgeous, blueish-purple blossom bunches, had but one sad head that was droopy and pale.  My hostas were half the size they usually are at this point, and also had several of the same vines attempting to take them over.  I looked down to see that some large weed stalks (milkweed and dandelion) had also taken root among my day lilies.  In that moment, I was overcome with disappointment in myself.  I saw something that I had always loved deeply being overtaken by an army of unwelcome terrorists, simply because I had been lazy and selfish during the most important season for this little garden of mine.  So I got up, indignant, and I began to yank at weeds — bare feet and all — cursing them through my tears of frustration and anger at myself.  And I as I pulled and stepped on thorns, I began to receive revelation from God.  Isn’t it just like Him to use something as simple as a weed infested garden to gently teach a lesson? 

Our spiritual lives are much like my poor flower beds.  When we neglect them, even just for a season, things quickly get out of hand.  We can’t allow the enemy even one second of opportunity to sow seeds of doubt and sin into our lives.  Those weeds grow so fast.  We have only to turn our heads for one moment and they have sprung up out of the ground, grasping onto and choking out the nearest bit of beauty and life that they can find.  Sin, when left to grow and flourish, so quickly becomes an overwhelming force.  We may see one little thing that needs to be uprooted, yet in our laziness we think we will just take care of it later…but then later comes and that one little thing has reinforcements!  Friends, we have to uproot those weeds every single day.  It is an ongoing process that never ends, and as long as we stay on top of it — proactive and aware — it will never be too much for us to handle.  We just have to be vigilant.  And when we do go through lazy seasons…when it does get out of hand…we have to be willing to get up and fight. 

For the parents, we have to be just as vigilant with our children.  We can never let down our guards against the enemy.  He is seeking out our children, hungry for them, lurking at the ready to wrap his tendrils around their branches and squeeze the life and beauty from their blossoming souls.  We are parents, guardians, protectors…and we must never give up on our children — our future. 

When we are able to clear the ground of all of the junk that has been trying to take over, that is when we are able to confidently spread it with that protective layer of nourishing mulch — a covering of prayer — and plant those seeds of faith, hope, and love — the Word of God — drenching it all each day with fresh water — praise and thanksgiving — so that we can look upon our gardens — our lives and our families’ lives — with the pride and joy that comes with knowing we have fought…and won.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank You for the things that You teach me through the seemingly mundane parts of my life.  I am reminded, more and more, of just how important my life is to You…and of how much You truly do love us all.  Help me, Lord, to never give up the fight.  There is much beauty and joy to be found at the end of each battle.  It’s gonna be worth it all.  Amen.

God of All the Chances

2 Chronicles 33:1-7, 10-13-  “Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord drove out before… he rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had broken down, and he erected altars to the Baals… worshipped… and served them. … He used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger. And the carved image of the idol that he had made, he set in the house of God… … … The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. … When he (Manasseh) was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to Him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem unto his kingdom…”

We live in a world where second chances are few and thirds are non-existent. People don’t take well to being lied to, talked about, cheated on, or betrayed in any form or fashion. We don’t like feeling hurt or disrespected. We can’t stand treatment that leads to thoughts of unappreciation or our unimportance.

And, I’d say 80% of the time someone forgives a person who has wronged them, the relationship is never fully restored. There’s always a fear, lack of trust, or hurt that won’t ever completely go away. Human hearts are fragile/selfish things.

But look at the heart of God shown in this account of Manasseh. He rejected God. He ignored Him, betrayed Him, and mocked Him by setting up idols in His house. Years went by with him living and behaving in such ways – and not only that – he was leading a whole nation to live in this same manner. After all the goodness the Lord had shown his nation, his family… Wow. Could you imagine the pain we would feel if someone treated us in such a way? Can you picture the anger you would battle? Blood pressure rising, face flushing, nerves racing? It wouldn’t be something we could just sweep under the rug.

Then the day comes when the king of Assyria captured Manasseh and bound him with chains in a foreign city. In his distress, he knew Who he had to call on. He humbled himself and prayed to the God of his fathers. He didn’t just ask the Lord for forgiveness… but for some favor! Wouldn’t this be the moment we would want to say, “I told you so!” or “Serves you right!”? Of course it would. But, God is much more loving and faithful than we are. He wasn’t angered by this cry for help. He was moved by it!

God didn’t just offer His forgiveness to Manasseh. He didn’t just set him free and tell him to fend for himself. No. He completely restored Manasseh’s life. He took him back to Jerusalem, set him on his throne, and continued to bless him and his nation. No guilt held over his head… no shame, no “payback,” and no less love and mercy.

Understanding how difficult it is to let someone “get away with” something, my humblest gratitude goes to my God. He is the only One who has in every way been faithful and compassionate to me and yet deals with my shortcomings on a regular basis without any loss of love or favor towards me. Do you know any other love like that? What a Savior! The only perfect being extending the only unconditional mercy ever known… Irony? Nope. Just genuine love.

We struggle to give a second chance. Most entirely refuse a third. By the fourth, we’ve all written the wrongdoer out of our lives for good. But, here’s God… ever moved by our need and dependence on Him…  We serve a God of ALL the chances!

Prayer: God, thank You for Your unconditional love and kindness. Your mercies are new every morning and Your favor never leaves me. Keep me from falling, Lord, but in those times I do, help me remember You are there to help me back up. I love You. Amen.

“Withholding Nothing”

(2 Corinthians 9: 11-14)11 Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. 12 So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.  13 As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. 14 And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you.

Finances are a touchy subject for so many of us.  Some of us have been through some really hard times, and had nothing but our own hard work to pull us out of the ditch.  Some of us have had some help from loved ones along the way.  Some of us are still in the struggle, just trying to get through to the next pay period.  For so many of us, it’s been a fight.  I’ve felt that way a lot in my own life…like it’s just always a climb, and never that exhilarating coast downhill.  In fact, my husband and I were just recently talking about how even though we are making more money these days, we still seem to have those really hard weeks when things are just super tight.  The truth is, we aren’t always the best stewards that we can be with our money.  We are faithful with our tithe and offering, and we often go the extra mile in situations where we see need, but we just aren’t always very mindful, I guess you could say.  We can, and should, do better.  Why??  Because when we are good stewards with every penny, we are showing God that we can be trusted with more.  I have always said that I would like to be wealthy enough to be able to give to my heart’s content.  That truly is my desire, but how can I ever expect God to entrust me with abundance if I am too frivolous with what little I have now? 

When God blesses you financially, don’t raise your standard of living. Raise your standard of giving.

-Dr. Mark Batterson

Instead of going out and making unnecessary upgrades to our lives — just because — we must make it a habit to first pause and ask God what He would have us do with our increase.  Sometimes, it is that upgrade you’ve been longing for…just because.  But other times?  Other times — often much of the time — there is someone out there who needs it more than we need something shiny and fun.  We have to be sensitive to what God is doing around us, and let Him do some of it through us as well.  When you see a need, respond.  When you feel that internal push to give, don’t hesitate…just respond.  Folks, it’s just money.  It’s a tool — an avenue — that can change someone else’s life more than you would imagine. 

When we are able to let go of our finances, to release that control and allow God’s perfect will for our earnings to take place, that is when blessings will flow and create a ripple effect.  When we give, it doesn’t just allow God to bless our own lives with more, it allows someone else to experience the peace of provision.  What’s even more though, the love of God becomes evident in the lives of all who are blessed by this intricate, endless domino effect that you have begun.  It’s a beautiful thing. 

So let me encourage you today, to prayerfully consider what kind of steward you truly are with your money.  Look for opportunities to do whatever you can to make someone else’s life just a little bit easier. 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, you know my heart so well.  You see my inner desires, and you know that part of who I am and what makes me tick is my desire to be a blessing…to be helpful to others.  So I ask that would help me use wisdom to be a better steward of my finances, so that I can give as much money, love, and provision as I can, to people who need it more than I do.  As always, all of the glory goes to You, Lord.  Amen. 

Waiting For Harvest

(HOSEA 6:1-3, 11) 1 “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 3 Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”

11 For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed, when I restore the fortunes of my people.

Recently, Donna and I took a quick journey to Dover, Tennessee to visit her parents. Usually, we take the fastest route. However, on this occasion Donna suggested that we take the back roads through the countryside. I’m glad we did. We beheld some of the most beautiful scenery as we wound through the farmlands of western Kentucky. It’s probably because I was raised in a farm community in Southern Illinois, but there is something peaceful about seeing the miles of crops that are maturing toward harvest.

As we drove, I noticed the different crops planted, as well as the variety of farms. Some of the farms were huge. These large properties were home to thousands of acres that were cultivated by the same family. The tractors and other farm implements were parked and waiting for action at the farmers beck and call. Just around the corner from these large farms, we came upon a young Amish boy who was driving his team of four horses to the field. Although his farm was smaller, and looked a little more rugged, it was growing and maturing at the same rate as the large farms.

As different as they were, the farms were waiting for a similar result. They were ready for harvest. It dawned on me that we all are waiting for harvest. Although our lives may be very different, each of us are hoping and praying for a positive and fruitful outcome.

Harvest comes at a price. It takes much work to prepare the fields, and to plant the seed. It never happens without labor. Hosea mentions some of the hardships that may precede the harvest. He suggests that we may be torn and struck down; thankfully, the Lord has promised to heal and bind us up. He will revive, restore, and allow us to live in His presence. What a privilege!

If you are like most Christians, you have seed in the ground and you are waiting for an expected harvest. Hosea encourages, “let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” Be patient. Let the Lord do His complete work and harvest will come!

PRAYER: Lord, I’ve planted the seed. Now, I wait patiently upon You to bring about the harvest of Your blessings! Amen!

A Mile In Your Shoes

“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:17-18)

One of the most awkward things we do in life is meeting new people. When you first meet someone, you don’t have any knowledge about them beyond a cursory visual inspection. First conversations can be strained or stilted, and we will often fall into typical conversational rhythms about the weather, jobs, sports or even the news. There is no established rapport, so it is difficult to know how to steer the conversation.

Eventually, though, you find some sort of common ground, a shared interest or experience, and this thing that you have in common gives you some insight into who this person is and how they think. Some relationships never develop beyond that initial acquaintance, but when you share several things in common with someone there is a greater potential to have a meaningful relationship with that person. I’m sure we can all think of a friendship that is especially close because of how much you share in common.

That is one of the reasons that I am so grateful that God sent Jesus to come to Earth and live as one of us. When I think about trying to establish a relationship with God apart from the Incarnation, it just doesn’t work in my head. What does a finite, ignorant, weak creature like me have in common with an infinite, all-knowing, all-powerful God? I know the Bible teaches that I am in some way made in God’s image, but from my perspective it must be a very poor, distorted reflection. He and I are so unlike, despite all my efforts to be more like Him!

But that’s where the genius of God’s plan for salvation shows.  Jesus came to live as one of us.  He was “made like his brothers in every respect.”  He learned to walk & talk…just like we do. He had family and friends who supported him at one time and disagreed with him the next…just like we do.  He experienced joy and sorrow, peace and turmoil, love and disappointment…just like we do. It’s true that all the details of his life do not match the specifics of our own, but that does not mean that he can’t relate to us. When we cry out to the Lord, he knows what we are thinking and feeling not because he is God but because he has been there himself.  He has walked that road.

God went out of his way to reveal himself to us throughout the Old Testament. Jesus willingly gave up his position and authority in Heaven to clarify that revelation and intercede on our behalf. The Holy Spirit has come to empower us and serve as our advocate and helper.  It seems that God will stop at nothing to reach us. So while we may go through times when God does not feel near, that doesn’t mean that it is true. God is near. He is willing and able to help.  So when you are being tested, tempted, and pushed to your very limit, know that Jesus has been where you now stand and is ready to show the way beyond the current circumstance to a place of victory! 

Prayer: Father, thank you for sending your Son to walk a mile in our shoes. Thank you for being willing to meet us where we are and show us the way beyond the hurt and temptation. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen!

Proof Through the Night

Matthew 1:18-25- Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But, as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save (free) his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means God with us). When Joseph woke from his sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name, Jesus.

 

July 4, 1776. When we hear that date, what word enters our thoughts before any other? Freedom. Although fireworks have become a little more commonplace these days, I still catch myself getting a little teary-eyed at times when I see them light up the sky. For a moment, I’m overcome with gratitude for the sacrifices made, pride for the victory that was won, and a genuine contentment that overshadows any disappointment I feel because I understand how it feels to be free and live in a land of opportunity.

And yet, the freedom I’ve just described, doesn’t even begin to compare to the freedom I feel because of Jesus Christ. I was bound by depression, extremely low self-esteem, panic, shame, guilt, etc. until I encountered the One that could set me free from all of that. It is, after all, the very reason He came to live among us, right? She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save (free) his people from their sins…

So many people are quick to write Him off, because they can’t “see” Him. They aren’t sure that He “really works.” It all just seems too easy to be true. But- just as this fact is true for everything else- you have to experience something to know how effective it is; You have to take time to get to know someone before you can knowledgeably determine their character and abilities, right? I guarantee, if you open your heart up to Him and allow Him to reveal Himself to you, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

There have been several times throughout my life when my faith was tested. Severe sickness, losing a loved one unexpectedly, false accusations, loss, criticism, financial surprises, infertility, etc. etc. etc. knocked on my door a time or two, and led me into some extremely dark times. But, because my freedom did not lie in my circumstances, but in the One Who set me free, I knew I’d be okay. I’m not saying I didn’t shed a tear or deal with worry; I’m just saying that I was quickly reassured somehow by Him that all would work out in the end. I felt His peace. I saw His hand working in my life. I watched situations “mysteriously” turn themselves completely around “without explanation.”

Jesus Christ has been tried and proven to be alive and working on behalf of His children… on behalf of me.

If you read the words of our national anthem, you’ll understand this beautiful song was written in the midst of a chaotic battle… … …  but one sight… was enough to provide hope that in the end, the victory would belong to our great nation:

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

As I mentioned before, I’ve fought many battles during my Christian life. And I’ll jump on out there and guarantee you that the biggest majority of us have. But, just as bombs, cannons, and gunfire provided the light that made our flag visible in the midst of war- somehow – the situations that blow up in our faces during the darkest times of our lives are sometimes the very things that draw our attention back to Him. We look up and see Him standing there in the midst of chaos and raging battles, and that’s enough proof that we will be more than okay.

There is so much freedom offered through Jesus Christ. If you don’t know Him, today is a good day to let Him introduce Himself to you. You won’t regret it. No one ever regrets the gift of freedom…

 

Prayer: Lord, thank You for the freedom we have in this great country. But, I thank You even more for the freedom You provided us eternally by coming to this earth just to give Your life for us. Help me draw closer to You, fully live in this freedom, and share it with all those around me. In Your name, amen.

 

 

 

“To Love the Unlovable”

(Jude 1: 22-23, The Message) Go easy on those who hesitate in the faith. Go after those who take the wrong way. Be tender with sinners, but not soft on sin. The sin itself stinks to high heaven.

I have found that we like to put sin in boxes.  We categorize it all from what we deem understandable or acceptable, to what is most unforgivable and horrendous, and then all of the stuff between.  I’ve done it, and I know you have as well.  But really, isn’t it all just sin?  It’s all bad, it all separates us from God, and it all “stinks to high heaven.” 

Not many people who know me would consider me an optimist.  I tend to be more of a realist than anything.  However, I have a deeply compassionate heart, and I always seem to find a way to see the good in others.  In this way, I am hopeful.  I see the beauty that is the human soul, made and formed in the image of God, and I am often able to look past what people are doing or have done and love them anyway.

I wasn’t always so loving.  For many years of my life, I had a very distrustful, resentful and hard heart.  I had to ask the Lord to help me open my heart to others, and He has.  In my walk with Christ, I have learned that compassion and love are simply not optional…they are requirements!  We are not asked to love others…it is a commandment…in fact, it is the greatest of all commandments…that which must govern and influence every aspect of our lives, and will ultimately keep us from many of the sins that may tempt us.  Love and compassion must be evident and ever growing in our lives…

The most difficult part of love is extending that grace and compassion toward those who are the most difficult to understand and forgive.  Because of our “sin boxes” that we have created, there are just some things that we can’t seem to get past — the big, bad sins — the things that our worst fears and nightmares are made of — the things on the news that make our stomachs turn and boil our blood with anger and outrage.  But where does love fit into it?  We must remember that it has to…we have to make it fit.  If we are to “go after those who take the wrong way,” then we have an obligation to stretch ourselves — to love the unlovable, right?

So what do we do?  How are we to be tender with the sinner, yet hard on the sin?  The answer will always be the same:  just love.  Open your eyes and see a person, a soul created by God, imperfect, yet never too far gone for God to reach.  When you pray, ask the Lord to restore that person, and instead of rebuking them, rebuke the powers of hell that have been allowed to take hold of that life.  You see, we can hate sin all day long, but we have been commanded to love others. 

A few years ago, my husband and I were at big youth conference in Knoxville, TN.  We take teens from our church every spring.  That particular year, a singer named Matthew West was there.  He sang a song called “Forgiveness,” but before he sang it, he told a story that has stuck with me.  I want to share what he said about why he wrote that song:

“The song is about Renee, who lost her daughter Megan in a car accident at the hands of a drunk driver, a 24-year-old named Eric who was by all accounts a great young man, but made a tragic mistake. Renee’s been on a journey of hatred, and bitterness, and she’s learned how to forgive the young man who took her beloved daughter’s life.

In a miraculous way, after Megan’s death in 2001, Renee began giving presentations, and in time, God put it on her heart to forgive this man and reach out to him in prison. She learned that until she was set free of the anger and bitterness she held towards Eric, she was going to be the prisoner even though he was the one behind bars.

As a result, Eric found his own personal faith in Christ and they developed a unique friendship to the point where she feels like she gained a son, and she even went to the courts to cut Eric’s sentence in half. He made a terrible mistake taking the life of two young girls, and yet he’s been forgiven. Renee told him that she serves a God who commands her to forgive and she needed to be set free as much for herself as for him.”

It took a lot of love, that could only come from God, for this mother to not only forgive the young man who caused her daughter’s death, but also for her to reach out to him and show him compassion.  Because she was obedient to God in her own life, she was able to be used of God to change his life forever, bringing healing to both lives in a remarkable and miraculous way — God’s way — the only way that it could ever take place.  That’s what I call a beautiful exchange.  And this, friends, is the perfect example of being tender toward sinners — of going easy on those who waver in the faith.  It may seem impossible, but we are called to go beyond what we think we are capable of, and we are commanded to love.

Show me how to love the unlovable

Show me how to reach the unreachable

Help me now to do the impossible

Forgiveness

-“Forgiveness” by Matthew West

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, help me to see others through Your eyes. Give me Your heart, and help me to be brave enough to love those whom everyone else seems to reject.  Soften my heart, Lord, and help me to always let love win.  Amen. 

“Let the Ruins Come to Life”

(Amos 9:11, NLT) “In that day I will restore the fallen house of David.  I will repair its damaged walls.  From the ruins I will rebuild it and restore its former glory.”

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Ruins…crumbling stone, splintered wood, shattered glass, smoldering ash, scattered debris…they’re all images that come to mind when I think of ruins.  In my mind I see greatness that once was, now broken and defeated by time, defeat, and neglect. 

We all go through periods in our lives where we feel the weight of our choices and sins.  We have battles that we lose, and we take big hits in life that damage our walls and weaken our foundations.  Unfortunately for some of us, the foundations and walls eventually give way under the pressure we’ve created, and everything comes crashing down around us in great heaps of unrecognizable rubble.  With one wrong decision, everything we worked so hard to build is reduced to mere garbage — something to be cleared away and forgotten. 

If this is you right now, I want to tell you…don’t give up on your dreams just because you made a mess of things.  Maybe you feel like a pile of junk right now.  Sin tends to do that to us, doesn’t it?  Especially when we are so obviously broken.  There is no more hiding the cracks and smudges behind spackle and paint.  When you’ve gone so far, when things seem to be broken beyond repair, and it’s all just out there for all the world to see your ruins, there is nothing left to do except to either walk away…tail tucked, shoulders slumped…or stand tall and prepare to do some work.  Let me encourage you today, go for the latter.  Square those shoulders and lift your hands to heaven in surrender. 

We are all God’s children, loved and adored equally.  Just as He dotes on and blesses the righteous, He wants to pour out every bit of grace that it takes to restore the former glory of your life.    God the Father has promised to never leave your side…and He won’t.  As much as God adored King David, even when he had adultery and murder in his heart, don’t you know that God loves YOU just as much?  Whatever you have done, whatever you have said, no matter the magnitude of how any of it has affected your life, God’s grace is BIGGER…and He will bring you up out of the ashes…He will rebuild what you have lost.  You have simply to humble yourself at His feet, just as David did. 

(Psalm 51: 10-12, NLT) 

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.

    Renew a loyal spirit within me.

11 Do not banish me from your presence,

    and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

    and make me willing to obey you.

When we confess and humbly bow before the throne of grace, our God will restore…every time.  His grace never runs out, His love never fails, and His kindness is what will lead us into repentance each time that we fall.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank You for your endless love and grace.  I know that when I come to You with a broken and injured spirit, no matter the cause or sin, You will respond to my humility and regret with healing and restoration.  Because of Your love, I am whole.  Because of Your grace, I am made new.  Amen.

Fat Cows…

1 “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’ 2 The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks. 3 And you shall go out through the breaches, each one straight ahead; and you shall be cast out into Harmon,” declares the Lord.

Before you get offended with me over this post, let me remind you that I’m only quoting the words of the Prophet Amos! Amos wasn’t trained as a prophet, he was a simple herdsman and farmer. When he wanted to get the point across to the indulgent women of Israel, he called them fat cows. WOW… that’ll get your attention, won’t it? The livestock of Bashan in the northern part of Israel–the modern-day Golan Heights–was known for being fat and healthy. It wasn’t that these women were plump and affluent, it was that they gained their wealth and affluence by oppressing and crushing the less fortunate. God saw this and promised to hold them to account.

God uses Amos to tell unrepentant Israel of their coming agony when they are conquered and exiled by the Assyrians. When the Assyrians depopulated and exiled a conquered community, they led the captives away on journeys of hundreds of miles, with the captives naked and attached together with a system of strings and fishhooks pierced through their lower lip. God would make sure they were led in this humiliating manner through the broken walls of their conquered cities. This would thoroughly humble the fat cows of Israel. (Guzik)

This prophetic word was given for several reasons. First, God wanted Israel to know that prosperity should be divinely given–not dishonorably grabbed! God could provide abundance for them without their mean-spirited oppression. Second, God wanted Israel to be known for justice–not the greedy, oppressive, land-grabbing people they had become. Third, He wanted to be the reason for their rejoicing. Instead, they were focused entirely upon their gluttonous and drunken living. Nothing about their current lifestyle was bringing glory to God.

We realize that this passage of scripture was specifically meant for an intended audience during a definite historical season. With that said, it certainly provides an opportunity for us to do some soul searching. With the rise of the prosperity gospel that has overtaken the church, I sometimes feel the need to check my spirit for possible abuses. I do believe that God wants to bless us. Jesus provides abundant life! However, I must also be aware of the needs of others, and how my life may benefit them. I don’t believe that God blesses us so that we can hoard the resources, and keep them for ourselves. We are blessed to be a blessing! God is most pleased with His people when we are representing His goodness to the hurting people of this world.

PRAYER: Lord, please forgive my fat cow mentality. Help me to realize that You have called me to represent Your goodness to the hurting people in my circle of influence. When I rejoice, let it not be representative of worldly in fluences. Instead, may it flow from a heart that is focused upon You. Amen!