Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lacking Nothing?

"The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing." (Psalm 23:1)

I've this verse hundreds, possibly thousands of times. Psalm 23 is one of the first Scripture passages I memorized. I love the psalm.

But when I read it a week ago, I couldn't get past the last three words of the first verse, "I lack nothing." They wouldn't sit nicely for me.

Is that really true? Can I declare those words in my own life? What about the many Christians around the world whose lives are filled with persecution, poverty, violence, fear? Can any of us really say we lack nothing?

If we look at this psalm and this verse specifically from a physical perspective, I don't know if we could ever really say and completely mean the words. It seems to be the reality of life on this earth after the fall that we lack something at least some of the time. For many, it's the basics of life - safety, food, shelter, clean water. But, even for those of who have those things, there are times where we do lack.

But, maybe, David wasn't speaking of physical or earthly needs when he wrote this psalm. My Bible doesn't give details about when David penned the psalm, but David's life was not one of ease. He spent years on the run form Saul - knowing nothing of safety or comfort or regular food during that time.

Yet David chooses to begin this psalm with the words, "The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing." I don't think David was speaking specifically of physical needs when he said this. Even in the midst of his running from Saul, David knew of God's provision and care; after all, David was still alive because of it.

And David had a relationship with God where He knew that God could and would meet his spiritual needs. God was always there and caring for David's needs.

When I begin to look beyond just earthly needs, the way I read this verse changes. If I start to think of it as God looking after my spiritual, relational, emotional needs it changes how I say those words. I'm not just looking at whether my earthly life is good. I'm looking at far more than that. It's about seeing God as enough in life, no matter what.

My walk with God has proved this to be true over and over again. God does look after me and He doesn't leave me wanting for anything when I'm allowing Him to care for me.

I get into trouble when I try to go it alone, but as long as I'm living as if the first part of Psalm 23:1 is true, the second part is true as well. If I'm allowing God to be my shepherd - the One who provides for me, protects me, cares for me - then I really do lack nothing.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing." (Psalm 23:1)

How are you doing at allowing God to be your shepherd? At allowing Him to care for you, so oyu can declare that you lack nothing in your life?

Monday, July 28, 2014

He Delights in Us

    "He brought me out into a spacious place;
         He rescued me because He delighted in me."
                                                              (Psalm 18:19)

God delights in me and He delights in you!

Have you ever stopped and thought about that truth?

Have you ever allowed it to really sink in?

God delights in you! That is why He rescued you from your sin. That is why He listens to your prayers and answers you calls for help. He delights in you!

David wrote Psalm 18 when he was recued from his enemies by God. He was praising God for delivering him - for hearing his cries for help and rescuing him.

David had been running from his enemies. Hiding in caves. And now God has stepped in and brought an end to all of that. David's response is to turn to God in praise for all He has done. In the middle of that praise, David declares this incredible truth:

         "He brought me out into a spacious place;
                   He rescued me because He delighted in me."

Scripture is full of references to God's love for us. We are often reminded that God loves us the way a parents loves a child. 1 John 3:1 says,

          "See what great love the Father has lavished on us,
          that we should be called children of God. And that
          is what we are."

When I read that verse, I can't help but think about the response of parents to their children - of my sister and brother-in-law to their new daughter. As a parents watches a child they love do something and spends time with their child, they delight in them.

This is the picture that comes to mind as I read David's word in Psalm 18 about God rescuing him because God delighted in him.

And we follow the same God. The same God Who loves His children lavishly. The same God Who rescues us because He delights in us.

God delights in you!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Finish

It's a phrase I've heard often. A statement made. A wish declared.

Finish well.

We talk about finishing well. On a project. With a job. In a ministry we've been serving in.

We use it to describe someone who lived life well right to the end.

Finish well.

We use the phrase often, but do we really mean the same thing every time? Does each person who uses it mean the same thing every time?

What does it mean to finish well?

I'm brought back to the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Paul wrote the letter near the end of his life, and these were the words he had to say. Paul knew that he has finished well.

When Paul spoke of finishing well, he was talking about faithfully serving God to the end. Paul knew that he had followed God and served God the best he knew how to do.

When I think of finishing well, that's what I think of. Serving God. Living my life for Him completely. Following God the best I can.

Joining in with Five Minute Friday again this week. The word for this week is "finish."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Looking at the Heart

"But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart'." (1 Samuel 16:7)

This is an often quoted and spoken of verse. At least the part about God looking at the heart rather than the outward appearances is quoted.

We often use this verse when we talk about not basing our assessments of a person's character based on how they look when we first meet them. We use it to remind ourselves of the importance of not judging people based on appearances.

But, when I look at the context of this verse, I wonder if there's more to it than that. Samuel had been sent to anoint one of the sons of Jesse to be the next king of Israel. The words in 1 Samuel 16:7 are God's response to Samuel when he sees the oldest son and thinks he is the person to be the next king based on his appearance. God makes it clear that He is using very different criteria to choose the next king than Samuel was using.

I wonder if this verse also speaks to our judging of people based on what we see when they are asked to do something by God. Or maybe if we use it to judge ourselves when God asks us to do something.

When God looks at us, He sees His child and He sees us as people capable of doing what He asks us to when we are depending on Him.

We look at ourselves or others and see all the reasons why we can't or shouldn't do it. We judge ourselves based on our outward appearance. Or we judge others as being able to do it based on their appearances.

But, we would do well to remember that God isn't looking at our outward appearance when He asks us to do something. He is looking at our heart, and if we have a heart that is soft and available for Him, then He sees us as the one to do what He is asking us to do.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Impact of our Friends

In the last couple of weeks I've been reflecting on the people God brings into our lives. Sometimes He brings people into our lives for a season and sometimes He brings them into our lives for the long term.

Whatever the situation and length of time they are a part of our lives, they play a role in making us into the person we are. We may not notice at the time, but God uses the people in our lives to encourage us, challenge us. Sometimes God uses them in our lives to carry us to Him when we don't feel like we can keep going because we've been hurt.

The truth is, I prefer it when God brings someone into my life for the long term. It's easier to always have the same people around. They know you and you know them. There's less risk in what you share because of the length of time you've been sharing.

When God brings someone into your life just for a season, it can be hard to let go. When you've invested yourself in getting to know them and allowed them to get to know you, it's not always easy to let them go. It may not be that they're gone from your life completely, just that the way they're part of your life changes.

Sometimes we don't realize the difference a friendship with someone for a season made in our lives until something happens that means that person won't ever be able to be a part of our lives again.

That happened for me this past week. A person who came into my life in a time when I needed what they brought to a friendship passed away at what we would consider too young. Changes in the circumstances of our lives meant we weren't as close any more as we had been at one point, but her passing still hit me harder than I expected.

When I look back, I see how God arranged the friendship we had for the time we had it, because He used it in my life in a big way. A way I hadn't realized until this past week.

The more I reflect on this, the more I realize just how God uses people in my life and me in other peoples' lives. I don't often think about that. It's easy to go through life without doing so. But, I've been reminded of the importance of paying attention to who these people are in my life.

Who are the people in your life that God has used to impact your life?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Each Day a Gift from God

I've been reminded the last couple of days that each day God gives us to live is a gift from Him. The things that happen in those days might not always be things that bring us joy - in fact, life can be hard - but each of those days is still a gift.

Some people seem to live that way easier than others. It seems like they have an ability to see the gift in each day. And that way of living in infectious to those around them. It's not that they deny there's hard stuff that happens or that they take joy in pain, they just see each day that they wake up as a gift from God to be used to serve others in His Name. They live with an honesty about them regarding the good and the bad times of life.

Those are the people who we interact with in life who leave a mark on us for the rest of our lives - and a mark for the good. They're the people who encourage us to live life to the full - like Jesus said He came to bring (John 10:10).

And they're the people we don't forget - whether they were in our lives for a few days, weeks, months, or years. Something about them was different and it made us take notice.

I've known a number of people like that over the years. And I'm blessed to have many people like that in my life today.

Today, I'm reminded to pay attention and notice them while they're still in my life. To appreciate those people God has placed in my life who point me and encourage me towards the life God intended for each of us to live. To notice that before they're gone forever from my life - instead of waiting until it's too late to tell them.

Monday, July 14, 2014

What's Your Legacy?

Legacy . . .

It's a loaded word . . .

It speaks of significance . . .

And it's a word I've been thinking about a lot in the last week.

It started when my Mom asked if she could borrow my Raggedy Ann doll to use as a reference in making one for me niece. The worn and well-loved doll sits on a shelf now. When I picked her up off the shelf memories came flooding back.

My Grandma made the doll. And the day I picked it up off that shelf to take it to my Mom was two years to the day since she passed away.

In the week since, I've been reflecting on the legacy my Grandma left. I had times when I wished I would have known her better, when I wished I could have done more things with her. But distance and differences in the kinds of lives we lived made it difficult to relate sometimes.

One thing I always knew I could count on though, was that she prayed for me regularly. She did for all of her grandchildren. I knew when she told me she was praying for me, it was true.

The truth is that I've been incredibly blessed to have great-grandparents and grandparents who have prayed for and still are praying for me each day. I haven't always realized that as the privilege it is, but it's something I wouldn't trade for anything now.

As my great-grandparents and my Grandma have passed, I have grown in my understanding of the legacy of being people of prayer that have left and are continuing to leave with their lives. A legacy that lasts and is significant.

All of this has made me start to wonder about the legacy my life will leave. Not in a morbid way, but with a sense of wanting to make a difference for the Kingdom of God in how I live my life. I don't want my legacy to be one of making a name for myself, but on of pointing people to Jesus everyday in all I say and do.

And that makes a difference in the things I do and say now. It humbles me before God because I can't do any of it on my own then. It all has to be Him.

That's what it was for my great-grandparents and my Grandma. I watched them do what they did for God even if no one else noticed. And it's something I still watch my grandparents do today.

That's the kind of legacy I want to have - whether it is one day for my own kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids or for the people God calls me to serve in my work and my church ministry.

Scripture talks about this kind of living.

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time." (1 Peter 5:6)

"Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up." (James 4:10)

The more I reflect on this, the more I feel that these verses speak clearly to the kind of godly legacy we should want to leave behind. It starts with humbling ourselves before God so that He can do His work in and through us. It's not about us trying to do something significant; it's about being willing to be used by God the way He chooses.

What kind of a legacy do you want to leave?

Are you willing to begin by humbling yourself before God so He can use you in His ways?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Belong

It was always one of my favourite places to go. I loved the place. And even though the people there were different every time, it was a place where I felt like I belonged. Summer camp was always the place where I could be who I was and be accepted for it. I didn't have to try to fit in anywhere. It was a place where I belonged.

We all want somewhere to bong. We search for it. We long for it.

When we find it, we feel safe. When we feel like we belong somewhere we're able to be ourselves - able to be who God created us to be.

When we can't find a place to belong, we might try to change ourselves to fit in somewhere. We hide who we really are and try to make ourselves something we aren't just to belong and fit in.

Those places where we belong. The people who we feel like we belong with. They are important to our well-being.

Unfortunately, it's not as easy as it should be to find those places. But, maybe we can change that. What would happen if we stopped being exclusive and started welcoming people - started giving them a place to belong with us? That could change the world.

Joining in with Five Minute Friday again this week. This week's word is "Belong."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Why we Need to Learn to Wait

     "In the morning, Lord, Your hear my voice;
               in the morning I lay my requests before You
               and wait expectantly."
                                       (Psalm 5:3)

We're good at bringing our requests to God. We're good at asking God for what we need or want. But we're not usually very good at waiting. Unlike the psalmist in Psalm 5:3, we want God to answer our prayers right away.

We don't wait well.

We look for the shortest line in the grocery store or at the gas pump because we don't want to wait anymore than we have to. We weave in and out of traffic because we don't want to wait to get to our destination. We put the phone on speaker and frantically try to get other things done while we're on hold because we don't want to wait and fee unproductive.

When we pray and have to wait for God's answer or wait to do something because He said to, we don't do that very well either. We get impatient with the wait.. We try to find some way to make it happen according to our timetable.

In all our impatience with waiting, I think we miss something important. When God tells us to wait, it's because He something in mind for us that we might not be able to see or understand yet.

The psalmist in Psalm 5:3 talks about waiting expectantly for God's answer to his requests. Waiting expectantly has a ring of being something active. It doesn't speak to the passivity we usually associate with waiting.

Waiting expectantly for God's answer speaks of looking for His answer. Our eyes are open. We're watching for what is going on - to see when God is at work and what He is doing.

It's not sitting back, doing nothing. It's actively looking for where God already is and doing what we already know we should be doing. Then, when the answer we've been waiting for from God comes, we're ready to do whatever the answer requires us to do.

That changes things for me. It's doesn't make me look forward to waiting, but it does make me dread the wait a bit less.

What are you currently waiting for God to answer?

How can you begin to wait expectantly?

Where do you already see God at work - even while you're waiting?

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Problem with our Message about Modesty

"You have to cover up so you don't cause your bothers in Christ to stumble when they see you."

"Men are visual; they can't help what happens when they see a female wearing flattering clothing; so you always have to dress with that in mind."

I can't tell you how many times I heard those messages growing up in the church. Always from well-meaning people whose heart was in the right place, even if the way went about it wasn't the best choice.

I'm sure there's many people who grew up in the church who would agree they heard the same message. And as a teenager and woman in my early twenties, I bought this completely. It influenced my choice in clothing and my appearance in every way.

When I look back on that now, I'm struck by something I didn't notice at the time . . . how insulting that message actually is to both men and women. I know it wasn't the intent behind the message, but it reduces guys to being incapable of thinking about anything but sex, and women to nothing more than sex objects to anyone of the opposite sex around them. That's not exactly an accurate portrayal.

Yes, there are many who struggle in this area. Yes, there are those who make poor choices in this area. But, I fear we've strayed too far in the opposite direction in the message we preach on this topic. We may have the best of intentions, but I wonder if we're actually doing more harm than good.

Before you jump all over me - I'm all for modesty in how we dress. I'm not trying to take away all responsibility from women in how they dress. But, I don't think they should be the ones to carry the weight of what everyone they may have contact with during the day thinks either.

Scripture makes it clear that each of us is responsible for ourselves alone before God - not others. Yes, we should love and care for our brothers and sisters in Christ enough to not knowingly do things that will cause them to stumble in their own walk with God. But, that doesn't mean we should live our lives spending all our time worrying about whether or not we're causing a fellow believer to stumble. They are ultimately responsible for their own sin before God, just as we are for ours.

I believe that in the message we have been preaching about modesty, we have been unintentionally making women responsible for someone else's sin - in this case their brothers in Christ. And that is wrong. They aren't responsible for it and they shouldn't be made to feel like they are.

Should we be teaching the importance of appropriateness in how we dress? Absolutely.

Our culture crosses the line on what is appropriate and modest all the time. We, the church, have a responsibility to teach it as part of living a life of integrity as a follower of Christ.

We also need to be teaching all to take responsibility for their own sin and to go to God with it, rather than blame it on someone else and the way they dress. That's also part of living a life of integrity before God, as His child.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Exhale

Exhale. It's something we do all the time. Every time we inhale, we exhale. Most of the time it happens without us even thinking about it.

We exhale physically, but we can also exhale spiritually. That moment when we give up something we've been carrying for far too long that we were never meant to carry in the first place.

We let it go - leave it at the cross. And when we get up to walk away something feels lighter. Like we've left something heavy there and walked away without it. We exhale, as the weight is lifted. And then we walk a little bit easier when we walk away.

We meet with God. We hear His truth. We confess our sin. We exhale spiritually as we leave behind the burdens we were never meant to carry. And we move forward in our walk with God - allowing Him into more places to lift more burdens we can no longer carry.

After a few months of not joining in, I decided it was time to jump back in with Five Minute Friday - joining the group over at Lisa-Jo Baker's blog, for five minutes of writing on a given word and then sharing it, no editing or overthinking.
This week's word is "exhale."

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

How to Keep Your Spiritual Journey on Track in Summer

Summer . . . the warm weather comes and much of what we count as a typical schedule the rest of the year gets put to the side until fall comes. It's the time of vacations and fun in the sun.

It's also a time that many of us struggle to maintain our walk with God. Without the regular Bible studies and prayer times with other Christians, it becomes easy to just let things slide.

But, the hits that we sometimes take in life don't stop in summer. And when they come, we need to be spending regular time with God. It's when those times come that we realize  how far we've drifted and what we may need to do to get back.

The good news is, it doesn't have to be like this. It can be much different, but we have to decide ahead of time it will be different. We have to have a plan in place. Just as regularly scheduled activities the rest of the year keep on track, we need to put things in place for the summer that will help us do the same thing.

So, what can we do? How do we keep ourselves intentionally connecting with God over the summer?

1) Schedule it

Yes, the dreaded word . . . schedule. Like most things in life, it's not going to happen if you don't schedule it. Set aside a time to spend with God every day. The time doesn't matter - what matters is that you schedule it.

2) Guard it

Once you schedule it, guard that time. Don't let other things get in the way. Tell those you need to that you're unavailable during that time.

3) Share it

One of the most important parts of continuing to grow in your walk with God is sharing it with others. For me, when I share it, it gets deeper into my heart and mind when I tell others what God is showing me.

Find a friend or two that you can share it with. It doesn't have to be in a formal setting, but find a way to make it happen. It could be at the beach or on a camping trip. Or over iced tea in the backyard. Whatever it looks like, share it with others. It will keep you digging and help what you have seen to deeper.

Summer doesn't have to mean that you go backwards in your walk with God. You can continue to go deeper even when all the things you regularly do have stopped.

These guidelines apply to more than just summer. They apply to all of life. If we want our relationship with God to grow, we have to be intentional about it. It won't just happen.