Friday, July 30, 2010

The One True God

Today’s Reading: 1 Kings 16-18; Acts 13:1-25

"At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again." (1 Kings 18:36-37 NIV).

It’s amazing what God will do to call His people back to Him. And it’s amazing how often we resist that calling. The Israelites turned so easy to other gods time and again. Yet, they had seen and heard all of the great things God had done for them.

On Mount Carmel, Elijah shows the people just how real God is and how false all the other gods are. It takes a physical sign for the people to believe.

I’m so thankful for the times God does show up and remind me of His love and faithfulness. This could be through a spectacular sign, but it could also just be through the hug of a friend, through the encouraging words of a sermon, or from an inner nudge from the Holy Spirit.

I pray that I will always remember everything He has done for me, in both big ways and small, and that I will stand firm in my faith.

How is God evident in your life, both in big ways and in small?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Angels Among Us

Yesterday’s Reading: 1 Kings 12-13; Acts 11

Today’s Reading: 1 Kings 14-15; Acts 12

"Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating" (Acts 12:11 NIV).

Sometimes I forget about the tremendous spiritual battle going on all around me. I forget that angels and demons are very real things. I get caught up in my reality, and forget the larger truth surrounding me. I forget that I live in a fallen world, a world in which Satan is having a heyday, and doing everything he can to keep people from knowing the one, true God. He especially loves to attack those who already belong to God. He preys on our weaknesses, demeans and belittles us, and makes us feel unworthy of the love of God. But even in those moments God provides. At times He provides through an encouraging word, a helpful friend, or, as in Peter’s case, an angel. God is always there, helping His people stay strong through all of the things the devil throws our way.

In Acts 12:11, Peter was about to be killed for his faith. But God gave him a way to freedom through the help of an angel. Can you imagine and angel coming to your rescue? How cool would that be?

Because angels exist to this day. They are God’s messengers and servants, always at his beck and call. While it may seem hard to grasp, we, too, are ministered too by angels. We are protected from things we don’t even see or comprehend. And perhaps, someday, we’ll even talk to an angel. What a spectacular thing that would be!

One of my favorite passages of scripture is Psalm 91. It’s a precious passage that many of my military friends and I hold close to our hearts, because it reminds us of how God keeps us, and our loved ones safe, even in the midst of battles and wars. The words ring true for all of us, and remind us of God’s protection of us each and every day. As I leave you with a portion of this psalm, consider how God has protected you through the years. How have you seen Him at work? How could you depend on Him even more?

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. ‘Because he loves me,’ says the LORD, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation’” (Psalm 91:11-16 NIV).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bold Faith

Today's Reading: Ecclesiastes 10-12; Acts 10:24-48

“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God” (Acts 10:44-46 NIV).

Today we read the rest of Peter & Cornelius’ story. In this section, Peter was called to act upon the lesson he just learned. He had just seen a vision that revealed God’s lack of favoritism, and now Peter was expected to show this same lack of favoritism. While he could have held back and stayed within his comfortable traditions, Peter broke out of his Jewish mold and preached to the Gentiles in Cornelius’ home. The result was that they, too, believed, and were given the gift of the Holy Spirit. How life changing that must have been for Peter & the other Jews in the room that day! And how humbling as well!
Sometimes God has important lessons for us to learn. Often we take the first step in listening and repenting, but things break down before we actually act in faith. We cower back, thinking God couldn’t possibly be asking us to do that here and now. And because of that, we lose out on some awesome experiences.
There have been many times when I’ve reached out enough to invite someone to a church event, but then didn’t follow through with actually witnessing to them. At those moments I cowered back into my comfort zone, ignoring the nudge of the Holy Spirit, and thinking that he couldn’t possibly be using me, when in fact, he wants to use me more than anything!
Looking back, I regret those times when I didn’t follow through with what was on my heart. I pray that, in the future, I’ll be more like Peter, who wasn’t afraid to change the way he’d always thought, in order to share the gospel with everyone who desired to know the truth about Jesus Christ.

Lord, help me to be bold in my faith, and not only take your message to heart, but to share it with others as well.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Clean Heart

Today’s Reading: Ecclesiastes 7-9; Acts 10:1-23

Many times I’ve looked at someone and assumed that they couldn’t be a Christian. I’ve looked at the words coming out of their mouth, their clothing choices, or their overall hygiene and assumed that they much not serve the same God I do. This was wrong of me, I know. I was casting my own judgment, associating that person with a stereotype, and not leaving room for the hand of God.

At times like this, my conscience has often been pricked with the words of 1 Samuel 16:7b: “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (NIV).

So often, as Christians, we forget this very important fact. We can’t see the heart of any man. This was what Peter was reminded of in today’s reading.

As a devout Jew, Peter followed strict dietary laws. God confronted Peter on those laws to point out that He, not traditions, has the ultimate say in what is clean and unclean. God warns Peter to not, “call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15 NIV).

This includes more than the animals Peter was eating, but people as well. God was opening the doors of Salvation to all people, including the “dirty” Gentiles. Peter was going to be called upon to witness to some of these Gentiles, so God was making His point clear. Peter couldn’t just look at the outward appearance or religious background of someone and determine if they were worthy of Christ’s love or not. No, that wasn’t up to him, that was up to God.

God didn’t cleanse someone based on their Jewish background, but on their heart. The Greek word for cleanse, kathariz┼Ź, means to “free from defilement of sin and from faults, to purify from wickedness, to free from guilt of sin, to consecrate, or to pronounce clean in a levitical sense.”

This is exactly what Christ does in each of our lives when we accept Him as our Savior. The dirty and defiled nature of our hearts is made clean and new. What a wonderful thing! And what a wonderful gift God offers to everyone who believes, without any sense of favoritism or judgment. No one is too dirty for God to get His hands on and make clean. All they have to do is ask.

Lord, thank you for this reminder that you alone know the heart of man. Thank you for creating a new, clean heart within me. Help me to share this love with everyone, no matter how they may look or act, so that they, too, can be clean.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Gift of Friendship

Today’s Reading: Ecclesiastes 4- 6; Acts 9:23-43

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:

If one falls down, his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NIV)

In high school I had a lot of acquaintances, but few close friends. There were a couple of people I enjoyed chatting with, and once in awhile even got together with outside of school, but I never had what you would call a “best friend.” It was only in college that I experienced such a friend for the first time. It was then that I discovered the true value of a friend. Before then I had always held my friends at a distance. I didn’t often let them see the true me deep inside. Perhaps I was afraid that they wouldn’t like what they saw. Perhaps I was afraid that they would no longer be my friend when they discovered who I was really was.

All I know is that, when I opened my heart to friendship, my whole life began to change. I was happier, more content, and drawing closer to God. I began to see the value in having someone I could share my hurts and fears with. I began to see how nice it was to have someone to help me up when I fell. God gave me a great gift when He gave me my college friends, not one I’ll soon forget.

Yet times change. Friends move on. Although I hold those dear friends in my heart, we’re now married, starting our own families, and spread out throughout world. Although we try to stay in touch, things are different then they used to me. I love these dear friends, but I also recognize the need to have friends close at hand whom I can confide in and share my daily life with.

And so the challenge to make friends begins once again. Once again I have to ask God for help as I push down the walls of insecurities that surround me. Once again I have to open up and reveal the true me, even if I get hurt once again. And once again, I stand amazed at how God has already placed new friends in my life for this time and place.

When I read words like those in the verses above, I’m reminded how wonderful friends truly are. They stand beside you through good times and bad. They pray for you, encourage you, and pick you up when you fall. Yes, it’s tough when you open yourself up to someone. And sometimes, you do get hurt. I, too, have lost some friendships along the way. Just the same, I’m so thankful for the friends God gives me for each season of my life. He seems to always know, better than me, what I need and from whom. What a wonderful gift friendship is!

What friends has God blessed you with? What is your favorite thing about those friendships? What has God taught you through these friendships?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Time for Everything

Today’s Reading: Ecclesiastes 1-3; Acts 9:1-22

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NIV).

I love Ecclesiastes 3. It’s such a great reminder of the orderliness of life, and how God is ultimately in charge of everything. As verse one says, “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Sometimes it’s so easy to rush ahead. Sometimes I want things to happen immediately in my own timing, instead of waiting on God’s. Other times I want the earth to stand still. I don’t want to face reality as it stares in me in the face.
Just the same, God is holy and just. He doesn’t abandon me, even during the hardest of times. He’s there when I cry, when I watch those I love leave the earth, and he’s there when I laugh as I experience something new and wonderful for the first time. He’s there when I uproot and leave the past and it’s memories behind, and he’s there as I create new friendships and new memories along life’s road.
It’s so comforting to know that God is there every step of the way. Deuteronomy 31:8 says, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (NIV).

What part of Ecclesiastes 3 are you experiencing today? How is God showing Himself to you through this process?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rules Rules Rules

Today’s Reading: 1 Kings 10-11; Acts 8:26-40

As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been” (1 Kings 4: 11).

Growing up, it was sometimes hard to obey. I didn’t understand why certain rules were in place. Only now do I see that they were often for my own safety.

A bedtime was to ensure that I had enough sleep and did well in school. A curfew was to keep me off the roads after a certain hour of the night, when the unsafe drivers started to come out. A speed limit was to help prevent reckless driving, and to keep pedestrians safe. Although some rules may have seemed ridiculous, they all had their purpose.

King Solomon must have chaffed under the “no foreign wives” rule that God had set in place. He must have thought that he was wealthy and wise enough to do whatever he wanted. His disobedience cost him his relationship with God. I wonder, in the end, if he thought it was really worth the cost.

You see, God had seen into the future. He understood that the heart of man could stray easily. He must have seen that men like Solomon would soon start worshiping the pagan god’s of their wives. It’s rather sad that a man that started off so well, building a beautiful temple for the Lord, and desiring wisdom over all else, would end his life on such a low note. It’s rather depressing in fact.

But just the same, it’s a good reminder that rules are there for a reason. The rules God sets down, our parents set down, and even our government sets down more than likely serve for our ultimate best interests and general well being.

There are purposes in rules, even if we don’t see it at the moment. King Solmon reminds us of this.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Where's Your Heart?

Today’s Readings: 1 Kings 8-9; Acts 8:1-25

"Praise be to the LORD, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses. May the LORD our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us. May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers. And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day's need, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other. But your hearts must be fully committed to the LORD our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time." (1 Kings 8:56-61 NIV).

After the temple is complete, Solomon prays over the temple, and over the people before him. It’s a beautiful prayer, reminding the Israelites how faithful God has been to all of them through good times and bad. He had seen them through trials and adversities of all kinds, so it was only fitting that they now stay true to Him, not only in their words in actions, but in their very heart as well. By staying true to God, the entire world will see the truth about Him.
What bold words, and how true they are even to this day. The best way to witness to the world around us is to have our hearts right with God. I firmly believe that when our hearts are focused on Christ, everything else will slowly fall into place. We may not know the answers to life’s questions, but we can certainly follow our Lord wholeheartedly, and let Him take care of the pieces.

Where is your heart today? Is it focused on God?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Of Temples and Palaces

Today’s Reading 1 Kings 5-7

Today we read the spectacular descriptions of Solomon’s Temple & Palace. It’s almost hard to picture these places. There was wood paneling from floor to ceiling, and more gold and bronze then you’ve probably ever seen in one place. The job was immaculate, perfect. Both places were works of art. There was no limit to the amount of money being spent. These were wonders of the ancient world to be sure.
Yet in the middle of reading about these descriptions, we come across an interesting fact: While it took Solomon seven years to build the temple, it took him thirteen years to build his palace (1 Kings 6:38, 7:1 NIV).
As I read this, my heart was smote with a personal application for today.
How often do we focus all of our attention on the wrong things? How often do we spend twice as much time being busy, as we do on the things of God?
For me, quite often my days revolve around lists. I eat my breakfast, read a pleasurable book, exercise, spend time talking to friends, work on crafts, and only get around to doing my devotions at the end of the day, right before my husband walks through the door. I felt a bit guilty today as I read those words above. Even if no one else sees the application, God spoke to me through these words. He asked me what was truly more important. Was it crafts and hobbies and friends, or was it Him? Easily I can answer Him. But then I have to ask myself, do my actions follow suit? If I truly love God most of all, why don’t I spend more time with Him? Why is He such an afterthought?
As Christians, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. God resides inside each of us. Yet often, we spend more time working on things in the outside world, then working on our hearts. We neglect the inside for the outside.
I certainly need to do some cleaning up in my own heart tonight.

Lord, you are so important to me. Please help me to show that in the way I live my daily life. Help me to make you my number one priority, each and every day.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Seal Over Your Heart

Today’s Reading: Song of Solomon 6-8

There’s something unique about the Song of Solomon. In the middle of the Old Testament, we suddenly find a book of the Bible far different then any other. This book gives us an insider view into a romance. Some say that it’s the romance of king Solomon and one of his wives, while others view the Song of Solomon as a more figurative look at God’s love for his people. I don’t know which view is the most accurate, but I do know that the words written are beautiful ones.
As a girl I longed for a romance like the one described within these verses. I longed for someone to look past my imperfections and see me as the most beautiful girl in the world. While some of the endearments didn’t quite make sense (hair like a flock of goats?) I found them beautiful just the same.
What often struck me when reading through these chapters was the warning by the beloved echoed three times throughout the book. Three times she warns other women to not “arose or waken love until it so desires” (8:4). For me, this meant a lot of patience, and waiting on God’s timing instead of my own. There were so many times I wanted to be in love so badly, but God knew that there were things that needed to be worked on in my heart5, before a relationship could come along. More then anything, I needed to learn to depend on the Lord for my ultimate happiness. I needed to learn that a human love relationship would never fulfill me as completely as God could. When I finally grasped this, He gave me the romance I’d been waiting for. One that was far different then anything I had ever imagined, but one that was far more perfect for me.
I’m so glad I waited on God’s timing, instead of rushing into love when I wasn’t yet ready.

“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned”
(Song of Solomon 8:6-7 NIV).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Strong Stephen

Today’s Reading: Song of Solomon 4-5; Acts 7

Stephen was an amazing man of God. When confronted about his faith, he was able to clearly lay out the story of salvation. He shows the people that he does indeed know his history, and has never spoken against Moses or the temple. Instead, he uses Moses and the temple to show the Israelite people how wrong they really are. He shows that all of history has pointed toward the coming Messiah, yet the people still don’t want to believe.

For his great faith, Stephen was stoned to death. I can’t imagine what being stoned was like. I’m sure it was a slow and excruciating way to die. But Acts 7 tells us that, even in those excruciating moments, God was looking out for Stephen. Stephen “falls asleep,” which was presumably God’s way of gently taking him out of this world and into the next.

I don’t know if I’ll ever face a trial as big as Stephen’s. If I’ll ever have to chose truth over life. If that moment ever does come, I hope that I’ll respond in a similar way. I pray that I’ll be able to stand by what I believe in, even if death is the result. Because God really is more important to me then anything in this world.

What do you think about Stephen’s story? What would you do if you were faced with a similar circumstance?

Lord, please help me to never be afraid to speak the truth about you and all that you have done for me.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Rose of Sharon

Today’s Reading: Song of Solomon 1-3; Acts 6

“I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys” (Song of Solomon 2:1 NIV).

How do you view yourself as a daughter of God? What do you see when you look in the mirror. Do you see a beautiful Rose of Sharon or Lilly of the Valley, or do you see all the little imperfections in your face? Can you see God’s perfect creation, or do you focus on all you are not?

Throughout myself I’ve struggled with my appearance. I know that Psalm 139 says that I’m wonderfully made, but it’s one thing to read a verse, and another to truly take it to heart.

These last few years have brought a drastic change to my life, as I’ve started to climb out of a pit of self-hate and start to fully embrace the woman God has created me to be. This hasn’t been an easy process. It’s one I still work on day by day.
Being pregnant has added a whole new challenge to the mix. Once again God is asking me if I’m truly ok with how I look. If I can once again get passed society’s image of the perfect woman, and accept who He has created me to be, curves and all.

Do you struggle with self-image? What verses do you turn to for help? How is God helping you through the process?

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Proverbs 31 Wife

Today’s Reading: Proverbs 30-31; Acts 5:22-42

I’ve always admired the Proverbs 31 wife. She seems to have it all so together. She’s smart, strong, dignified, handles the family finances, and weaves her own linens. But most of all, she makes her husband look good. Because of her good, hard working nature, he is “respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land” (vs. 23 NIV).
What an honor, for your husband to look good because of you! I long for the same thing to be said about me. So many of the women in Proverbs seem to put men to shame. They tempt them, ridicule them, and cause discord in their lives. Instead of doing this, the Proverbs 31 brings good into the lives of her family. Her children and husband call her “blessed” because of all her hard work (vs. 28). They value her upright character and giving spirit. Instead of thinking about herself, the Proverbs 31 wife seems to always be putting others first. She loves her family so much that she wants them to look good.
This is the same desire I have in my own life. I want my husband, and future children, to be respected because of me. I don’t want to drag them down, but instead what to encourage and lift them up. It’s a hard thing to master, but something I’m willing to improve on through the years.

What do you think about Proverbs 31 woman? In what way can you strive to be more like her?

Lord, thank you for this beautiful example of the kind of woman I can be. Help me to always love and serve those around me with a giving heart.