Monday, January 27, 2014

Short. Sweet.

So let's be real.  I am a horrible blogger.  I am going to blog when I can.  There are lots of things going on.  I am very much still in the Word, however, blogging about it is not so easy.  There are so many things I want to say and so many questions I want answered, but I can't write it all down in a short write up.  Please forgive me.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Peace. Grace.

Have you ever paid attention to the way Paul starts his letters to the different churches?  It's all about God's love and grace and peace.

"To [you then] all God's beloved ones in Rome, called to be saints and designated for a consecrated life:  Grace and spiritual blessing and peace be yours from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 1:7 AMP)

"To the church of God which is in Corinth, to those consecrated and purified and made holy in Christ Jesus, [who are] selected and called to be saints (God's people), together with all those who in any place call upon and give honor to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:  Grace (favor and spiritual blessing) be to you and [heart] peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 1:2-3 AMP)

"Grace and spiritual blessing be to you and [soul] peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah)." (Galatians 1:3 AMP)

"May grace (God's unmerited favor) and spiritual peace [which means peace with God and harmony, unity, and undisturbedness] be yours from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 1:2 AMP)

Those are just a few.  There's still 2 Corinthians, Colossians, Philippians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, etc.  As I was flipping through deciding where to begin today this thought really stuck out to me.  Paul's letters aren't always praising the actions of the groups he writes to.  In all reality, the majority of the time he is having to correct their ways.  BUT each and every time he is completely genuine and sincere with the intent of showing God's love and grace.  He isn't giving them rules to follow.  He isn't trying to maintain power and control over them. He is inspiring them and enlightening them to a fuller life.  A life with heart peace and soul peace.

{Side Note}Another reason I love the Amplified translation:  it doesn't generalize literal translations.  There are several different kinds of "peace".  The peace spoken in the Bible isn't that everything in your life is going smoothly.  It's the inner peace of soul and heart.

What if, what if, each of us began our ramblings or corrections how Paul began his.  What I imagine is words of love overflowing from our hearts, God's grace shining like a beacon from our lips, and inward peace as a breeze through the air.  If we begin our responses first by seeing each person as a child of God, as our brother or sister, will our encouragement and correction take a different form than if we are just thinking of some far off person we see only sin covering?

Going further, what if you started treating yourself and talking to yourself as Paul does his flock?

May the peace, love, and grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ fill your heart and soul.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Pray It and It Will Come.

I am a firm believer in prayer; not because I receive exactly what I ask for or because I get it right when I ask, but because He hears and answers every single one.  Sometimes it takes me a while to see where the prayers were answered; however, those are usually the greatest treasures of all.  He has so much more in store for us than our little brains can ever imagine.

The first few years of youth group we had a girl's retreat each spring.  It was your typical girly getaway complete with nail painting, mud masks, chick flicks, and chocolate.  The topic was always something to do with purity and boys which was always somewhat awkward and way too giddy.  I remember one of my friends telling me they weren't going to attend because girls of our age don't need to be focusing on such things so much.  I tried to agree with her back then.  Now I will freely say that I encourage each and every parent of teenagers to teach them to pray for their future spouses and focus on Christ's love.  It's not encouraging them to only focus on getting married and forgetting their own passions and gifts.  It's investing in their future.

At these retreats we were asked to make lists of the characteristics we wanted in a husband.  We wrote down prayers and prayed them aloud.  I never stopped after my teenage years.  At Oklahoma Christian I had a paper stuck to my apartment mirror with a list of things I wanted in a partner.  I prayed it every time I saw the paper.  I use to just sit and wonder where this man was and if I had already met him or seen him across the room.

I keep saying I am in awe of how God has worked in my life in the last year especially, but I really should have just expected it because I've been praying for it the majority of my life.  I have, by no means, been perfect, but I have stayed faithful and followed where God has lead me.  This man I am going to marry is my encourager.  He is a man of God.  I knew God had plans for us before we were officially dating.  I knew it because I was constantly in prayer.

He talks to us.  It may not be verbally, but listen and you will hear.  As in 1 Kings, sometimes His voice is in the unexpected.

"And he said, "Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord."  And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  And after the wind an earthquake.  And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.  And behold, there came a voice to him..." (1 Kings 19:11-13 ESV)

So go pray!  Talk to our King!  He will answer!  Stay faithful and see the vast replies you receive. Remember the Words of Matthew:

"Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you.  For everyone who keeps on asking receives; and he who keeps on seeking finds; and to him who keeps on knocking, [the door] will be opened." (Matthew 7:7-8)        

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Fire. Water.

I have been venturing into Song of Solomon quite a bit lately since beginning the planning process of our wedding.  Solomon was a brilliant lyricist.  I may end up doing a week or so on his verses.  Not only is this a story of a couple, but it is a description of our relationship with Christ as His bride.

When I was in high school we sang the words of Song of Solomon 8:6-7.  It was breathtaking.

"Set me like a seal upon your heart, like a seal upon your arm; for love is as strong as death, jealousy is as hard and cruel as Sheol (the place of the dead).  Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame [the very flame of the Lord]!  Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.  If a man would offer all the goods of his house for love, he would be utterly scorned and despised." (Song of Solomon 8:6-7 AMP)

Just sink in those Words of affirmation.  No, seriously.  Close your eyes and take it in.  God's love for us is powerful.  It is stronger than rushing water.  It is burning brighter and hotter than any flame we have experienced.  It is all encompassing.

We all have a desire to be wanted.  We all have a desire to be known.  I've never been married, but I have been in a "marriage" with my forever truest love, Jesus, for many years.  He knows me inside and out.  He knows my weaknesses and stayed with me even when I wasn't completely there with Him.  If I'm not mistaken, that's our example of how relationships should work.  It's not always lovey-dovey, romantic love.  It is a "vehement flame", an unquenchable desire for goodness.  It's putting God first and an intimate relationship with each other.  It's vulnerability that no one else may see.

God's love is here.  It is now.  We can never know love on earth without knowing His love first.  He is love!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Do. Believe.

I know, I know, I missed yesterday's post.  Saturday and Sunday were purposeful.  I am going to take a break on the weekends.  Yesterday; however, was not a planned break day.  I simply couldn't take a break to write all the things I was praying and pleading.  It was a stressful day to say the least.

Which brings me to where my thoughts are today.  Satan is real.  He is here to kill, steal, and destroy.  It's not an easy task to identify truth vs. the lies he tells you when you are right in the thicket.  I am so incredibly thankful for the relationship I have with my Creator, because He pulls me out of the briars.  Satan says, "You aren't worthy, you don't have the skill set, you are a failure."  God says,"I love you, try again, I created you to do many wonderful things."

I don't like messing up or making mistakes.  I want to do things right the first time and move on to the next thing.  I'd like to think that mistakes are unnecessary, but then I think of all the times in the Bible that mistakes are made and it paints a part of God's magnificent masterpiece.  There's Joseph's brothers, Moses, David, and so many others that played major roles in His kingdom who made mistake after mistake.

I am a priceless work of art.  You are a timeless masterpiece!  Believe it!      

Friday, January 10, 2014

Renewal. Refreshing.

There is a well-known verse that I have fallen in love with.  It came to my attention back in 2009 while I was living in Honduras.  I started reading Proverbs for the month and it wasn't necessarily the well-known part that stuck out to me, but the next two verses.  Most of us have heard to trust in the Lord our God with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding.  Sometimes that is easier said than done.  I'm easily persuaded by my own knowledge...meager as it may be.  Sometimes human logic is so enticing that I fall into the pit.

I'll give you two different versions of the four verses.  I personally love the Amplified bible because it gives you several different definitions of the translations to get a fuller meaning.  The English Standard Version is much simpler.

"Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding.  In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths.  Be not wise in your own eyes; reverently fear and worship the Lord and turn [entirely] away from evil.  It shall be health to your nerves and sinews, and marrow and moistening to your bones." (Proverbs 3:5-8 AMP)

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.  It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones." (Proverbs 3:5-8 ESV)

I am soothed just by repeating His words.  Having all trust in our Lord and Savior gives us relaxation.  It takes away all worry.  Be confident that His way is the way.  Give up human logic.  Sometimes things just don't make sense, but why strain our brains with an attempt to understand?  God is wholly good.  Give your mental, physical, and spiritual health a break and sink into the welcoming arms of Christ, of God our Father.  Acknowledge Him as the one and only and your whole being will be uplifted.  Sing praise to Him.  Shout to Him.  Love Him.

I kind of want to do a dance in my office right now.  He is wonderful.  He is exhilarating.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Strong. Content.

Have you ever been so discontented in your present circumstances that it wears on your whole mental status?  I certainly have and it was one of the largest growing experiences of my life.  I say that as if it's only happened once.  It's occurred several times.  It's amazing what God uses to strengthen us and draw us closer to Him.

Paul seems to have the greatest examples of these trying times, yet he learns to be fully content in each day.  He writes to the Philippians about being content in all circumstances saying:

"...for I have learned how to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am.  I know how to be abased and live humbly in straitened circumstances, and I know also how to enjoy plenty and live in abundance.  I have learned in any and all circumstances the secret of facing every situation, whether well-fed or going hungry, having sufficiency and being in want.  I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency]." (Philippians 4:11-13 AMP)

It's not that we won't face hardships or hit lows in our life and spiritual life.  It's that we have a hope in Christ for redemption.  This is where contentment is found.  If we lose that hope and joy we allow Satan to mangle our mental state.  When we look to Christ for our needs He will provide the strength to prevail.  

"I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency."  HELLO!!  We don't need anything but our Savior.  We've been given everything else as luxury.  Don't lose sight of His life for your own.  Live for Him; everything else is for the birds.  

That doesn't mean to give up on working and learning.  That's a part of living for Him.  Use your gifts and talents that God has so graciously created in you.  Do so for His glory so that all others can see His magnificence.  When tribulations occur look heavenward and He will provide the strength you need.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Play Nice. Love Unconditionally.

After I posted yesterday's thought I really wanted to expand.  Tall Cotton made a great point in his comment that love is doing what's for the good of the other person.  I think it's important to note that the other person may not agree at the time.  We are always told to play "nice" and be "nice".  I think there are times that you don't need to be nice.  Being loving and being nice are two different things.  Jesus wasn't always nice, but he always, always, showered his people with love.  Being nice has a connotation of saying the things the other person wants to hear or doing what they expect you to do.  Love is showing Christ to other people.  The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Think of Jesus in the temple turning the tables and clearing His Father's house of uncleanliness.  I'm thinking those people didn't think Jesus very nice.  I also don't think the Pharisees thought Him very nice to walk through the fields on Sabbath and eat the crops or contradicting almost every statement they made to Him.  Jesus was teaching the truth in love.  He was freeing them from sin; opening their lives up to be full.

There is an art to calling people out or challenging them to live more fully for Christ.  We must be humble and learn to take criticism ourselves.  We can't be rude or condescending.  Our words and actions must be full of grace and mercy.  We must love unconditionally.  Love is not accepting the sin in our lives, it's accepting each person as a precious child of God.

I may have over simplified, but I think I could write a book on love otherwise.  I would like to hear your thoughts and responses if you have any.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Frozen. Steaming.

It is on days like this that I am incredibly thankful I live in Midland, TX.  When I looked at the weather today I was in shock because my phone said -6!  Then I realized it was displaying the current temperature of Cookeville.  Sorry Mom and Dad!  It's still pretty cold here this morning (23), but warming up to a crisp 50 by the afternoon.  For those of you eastward--stay close to the fire!

If you haven't seen the movie Frozen, you are missing out.  Disney outdid themselves.  The music is great, the story is creative, and it makes you feel all warm and cozy inside.  The first lyrical song you hear warns against a frozen heart.  It's beautiful and very well done.  Go and listen to it.

So what does a frozen heart look like?  There are many reasons for one to become icy.  There are trials and hardships, unhappy experiences, and lack of love.  When it all boils down to it, a frozen heart is one without love.  I think it's easier sometimes just to cut someone off from your love once they've hurt you.  At a larger scale it's simpler to generalize a whole group of people to be cold towards after certain experiences.  It's our human logic to protect ourselves from things we don't understand or we are afraid of.  I think God calls us to be a bit more vulnerable than that.

1 John 4:8 tells us that if we don't love then we don't even know God.  What does that say about us?  The make up of God is love.  We have a need to love and be loved because we are made in the image of God.  When love is lacking there is an ever-present evil.  (Evil being the absence of good, good being God.)  So what do we strive for?  What is it that we must show to each person day in and day out?  I believe Paul made it pretty clear in 1 Corinthians:

"Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV)

At different points in my life I have struggled with pretty much each one of those descriptions of love.  I would like to say I have them mastered today, but I don't.  I strive each day to practice and they say practice makes perfect.

In this cold weather our hearts should be steaming.  I want to be on fire!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Plant. Rebuild.

Back several years ago, when I was in college, I was having a rough day and decided to open my Bible at random and read whatever was in front of me.  The following is what I read:

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
    for the Lord has anointed me
    to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
    and to proclaim that captives will be released
    and prisoners will be freed.
 He has sent me to tell those who mourn
    that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
    and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
 To all who mourn in Israel,
    he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
    festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
    that the Lord has planted for his own glory.
 They will rebuild the ancient ruins,
    repairing cities destroyed long ago.
They will revive them,
    though they have been deserted for many generations.
 Foreigners will be your servants.
    They will feed your flocks
and plow your fields
    and tend your vineyards.
 You will be called priests of the Lord,
    ministers of our God.
You will feed on the treasures of the nations
    and boast in their riches.
 Instead of shame and dishonor,
    you will enjoy a double share of honor.
You will possess a double portion of prosperity in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.
 “For I, the Lord, love justice.
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
I will faithfully reward my people for their suffering
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.
 Their descendants will be recognized
    and honored among the nations.
Everyone will realize that they are a people
    the Lord has blessed.”
 I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!
    For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation
    and draped me in a robe of righteousness.
I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit
    or a bride with her jewels.
 The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world.
    Everyone will praise him!
His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring,
    with plants springing up everywhere." (Isaiah 61:1-11 NLT)

This chapter is special to me.  It reminds me everyday who I am and why I was created.  I am an Oak of righteousness.  I am here to continue planting acorns, rebuild The Lord's temple, and revive the glory of God on this earth that He created. There is so much joy and praise in these verses.  It gives me hope and renewal.  It also challenges me to see beyond myself.  I am not my own.  I am here to serve others and help them to see the gift we have in Christ.  In order to share that good news I first have to understand His love for me.  He will destroy my enemies, He will reward me for my suffering, He will bless me as long as I look to Him, serve Him, and love Him.  I want to share what I know because it is such an incredible gift.  The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Ruth. Part 4.

I'm back in Texas! My best friend now has a new last name and the wedding was absolutely perfect. She was a most beautiful bride as well! 

We end our journey through Ruth with God's amazing gift to Ruth. Boaz meets with his brothers and ten of the elders in town. His brother says that he cannot take Ruth as his wife since she is a Moabitess. So he hands over his shoe to symbolize giving up his right as redeemer--great symbol, right? Then Boaz buys the land from Naomi and takes Ruth as his wife. And so continues the bloodline of Jesus. 

"Now these are the descendants of Perez: Perez was the father of Hezron, Hezron of Ram, Ram of Amminadab, Amminadab of Nahshon, Nahshon of Salmon, Salmon of Boaz, Boaz of Obed, Obed of Jesse, and Jesse of David [the ancestor of Jesus Christ]." (Ruth 4:18-22 AMP)

What an amazing history! It illustrates perfectly the way God has a plan and in every situation there is a map that leads to Christ and our salvation. In the words of Hannibal Smith, "I love it when a plan comes together!"

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Ruth. Part 3.

Wow! What a brave and strong woman Ruth is. Chapter three brings us to the threshing floor where Boaz and other men measure out barley. Naomi has asked Ruth to lay at the feet of Boaz after he has fallen asleep in order to seek his blessing. So Ruth does as she's asked and puts her reputation on the line. Boaz sees her in the middle of the night and makes a promise to protect her as a next of kin AND sends her home with six measures of barley for Naomi.

What an act of faith and love! A reputation can follow you for a lifetime and in some cases beyond the grave. Ruth put everything on the line to lay at the feet of Boaz. If the other men had seen her it could have turned bad quickly. Do I have enough trust and faith to do the same thing? What am I willing to do in order to fulfill God's will in my life?

PS--This is the view outside my cabin in Idaho.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Ruth. Part Two.

Ruth and Naomi are now settled and searching for ways to provide their needs of survival. Elimelech had a relative named Boaz who was considered a kinsman redeemer--see Leviticus 25:47-49. He was wealthy and had the ability to save Ruth and Naomi from their despair and poverty--not becoming slaves. Ruth tells Naomi she is going to glean from his fields and attempt to win his favor. So she goes and follows the harvesters and picks up the scraps that they either miss or don't deem worthy of reaping. Boaz takes notice of her and shares bread and oil with her as with his own maidens. He also tells his harvesters to leave her alone and to purposefully drop the grains and such so Ruth can pick them up!

Here's the part that sticks out to me. Ruth asks him why she has found favor in his sight. And he answers:  

"And Boaz said to her, I have been made fully aware of all you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and mother and the land of your birth and have come to a people unknown to you before. The Lord recompense you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under Whose wings you have come to take refuge!" (Ruth 2:11, 12 AMP)

He doesn't say, "I want to reward you for what you have so faithfully done." He says, "The Lord reward you for what you have done." It's not that he doesn't like her actions also, but he gives the glory and honor to God. His riches come from Him and Boaz uses it for His glory. 

There are so many aspects of this history that speak to me. Ruth is rewarded for her faith as I mentioned in the last post and will continue to be faithful as the history prevails.

Also there is the kinsman redeemer that is absolutely powerful because it illustrates a trait of Jesus the Christ. He is our redeemer. He is the one relative that can save us from slavery. We just have to go to Him and glean his fields. We just have to pick up his scraps...although He is presenting us with the best of His harvest. Am I picking up the little bits or am I feasting at His dinner table? 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Ruth. Part 1.

Good morning! Today started at a way-too-early 3:15AM. I am currently sitting in the airport at Minneapolis on the way to Jackson Hole for my best friend's wedding. It is a fiery -9 degrees outside and the ground has a nice white covering. Not that it was ever an option, but count me out for ever moving northward. 

While I was waiting for my flight out of Dallas I began reading the book of Ruth. I've always been fascinated with her story. It's a telling of loyalty, faith, and incredible love. She started out with nothing and ended with everything. Truly her reward for faith continues today as she is in the bloodline of Christ. 

Ruth's mother-in-law, Naomi, married a guy named Elimelech. He died and left her with two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. Let's start with the meaning of these names...Mahlon is invalid and Chilion is pining. So really we're not off to a good start. These boys marry, one to Orpah and the other to Ruth. Neither of the women are of Israelite descent. Then...the boys die. This leaves Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth without any close male relatives. 

We get to my favorite part of chapter one. Naomi decides to return to her people, and The Lord. She tells Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of their mothers and to their gods. Orpah decides to do the easy thing and go home, and I assume to worshipping other gods. BUT Ruth decides to take the narrow road to a place she is unfamiliar with where she has absolutely nothing but her mother-in-law. She knows of this one God and is willing to move even further away from what she knows because of her love for Naomi and even the littlest bit of faith in God. 

And it is here that chapter one leaves off. As the book continues we see how Ruth's little bit of faith is used to move mountains.

"And Ruth said, Urge me not to leave you or to turn back from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God my God." (Ruth 1:16 AMP)

--I also want to note the influence Naomi has on Ruth. There's something about her life that Ruth wants to follow. Even though Naomi is bitter, her faith must shine through because Ruth wants to follow this God of hers. Just a little bit of inspiration for how other people see followers of Christ from the outside. How are we showing God's love and faithfulness?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Thankful. Blessed.

Happy 2014 everyone!  I created this blog sometime in 2013 with every intention of having a devotional every morning and sharing my thoughts and questions.  So here I am the first day of the new year and I am challenging myself to actually make some posts.  I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, but the timing landed where it did.  I recently got engaged and debated having a wedding blog and remembered my old idea.  I figured my efforts would be better spent in God's Word than sharing the few details of planning our wedding to the very few people who may read it.

As 2013 drew to a close I kept pondering the different ways I saw God's hand in my life during the year.  The last couple of years God has been given me opportunity after opportunity to strengthen my faith and trust in Him.  I have been challenged to be thankful for all circumstances even when things weren't going my way.  I am thankful for years past and the challenges I faced beforehand because they prepared me for 2013.  This past year was full of major ups and major downs and I can genuinely say it has been one of the greatest years of my life.  I have been heartbroken, hospitalized, had surgery on both knees at the same time, and finances have never been more stressful.  However, I also am now healthier than I have been in a long time, loved by a man that I admire and adore, and am at a place in my job that I am advancing my knowledge frequently.  Don't get me wrong, I had my breakdowns and times with a bowl of ice cream and a good movie, but He got me through.  He gives me joy and freedom from Satan's attempts to destroy.

One of the greatest gifts God gives us is friendship and I have been praying for friends ever since I moved to lovely Midland, TX.  He knew exactly when to send them my way.  I now have the greatest group of brothers and sisters.  They are encouraging and inspiring.  They are my extended family.

This all being said...and yes, it was a very quick theme verse for last year has to be Jeremiah 29:11.  It's one that I repeated to myself during the not-so-fun times of 2013 and will continue to remind myself of.

"For I know the plans I have for LESLIE," declares the Lord,"plans to prosper her and not to harm her, plans to give her hope and a future."

I pray that each of you can catch even a glimpse of the big picture.  It's beautiful and ingenious.  We are loved and we are spoken for.