Wednesday, December 30, 2009

R.E.A.L. Women's Devotional - Resolution

New Year's resolutions are always well intended, but seriously, do we really ever keep them? I don't even remember what my resolution for last year was. Most likely it was to lose weight. That probably ranks as the number one resolution for most people. I'd like to propose a new resolution and the following is what prompted me to write this.

The past two weeks as I have been closing in on the last books of the Old and New Testament. There were few verses that caught my attention. The first was in Habakkuk and the second was in Haggai. The passage in Haggai was a bit disturbing to me, yet I feel like this is what happens. It says this, "'This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: The people are saying, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.’”(We get distracted on our own desires) 3 Then the Lord sent this message through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? 5 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! 6 You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes! 7 “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! 8 Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house. Then I will take pleasure in it and be honored, says the Lord. 9 You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses. 10 It’s because of you that the heavens withhold the dew and the earth produces no crops. 11 I have called for a drought on your fields and hills—a drought to wither the grain and grapes and olive trees and all your other crops, a drought to starve you and your livestock and to ruin everything you have worked so hard to get.” (Haggai 1:1-11 NLT) More times than not, it seems like my pockets have holes or at least our bank account has one.

Then a few books back, I recalled reading Habakkuk 2 and it was the last line in verse 4 that the Lord reminded me of. Verse 4 says, "'Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.'" (Habakkuk 2:4 NLT) That word "will" was a huge eye opener to me.

You see in Haggai, the Lord showed me that they had neglected to seek the Him first. God's people were so consumed with taking care of themselves and providing their own desires and trusting in their labor. It was the "I will take care of myself" syndrome rather than trust God and keep him first. When the Lord told Habakkuk that the righteous will live by faith that means it is a done deal. As a follower of Jesus who is "in right standing with God" (righteousness) then we have no other option than to trust the Lord with everything. God said we will, and this is not negotiable. Hebrews 11:6 says it, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." (NIV) See it is our faith that brings the reward of our labor, not our physical labor. We kind of get that verse from James that says "faith without works is dead" a little misinterpreted. (James 2:26) No, we can't just sit around and expect to be waited on, but I think works is about trusting and believing in the Lord. That is working faith. When He does open the windows of Heaven, it's being thankful and then asking Him what He wants us to do with those blessings rather than what we want to do with it. I believe God gave us luxuries in life, but when they get priority over Him, they are no longer blessings, but curses.

As we move into a new year, this is an opportunity to make a new New Year's resolution. The new resolution being, that this year I will be challenged to live by a new level of faith. The kind of faith that is pleasing to the Lord. A faith that I will not worry or be fearful of "not having enough", even if it looks impossible. Remember Jesus said in Matthew 19:26 "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." We need to live beyond the natural man of understanding and live in the spiritual man of understanding. We've experienced God's faithfulness to our church over these past few months. Here is where the "you" comes in with living by faith. You have to believe that God wants to see you prosper, physically as well as financially. Let's commit to being obedient this next year to doing what the Lord commands, that we will live by faith. As it says in Malachi 3. If we are obedient to bring the whole tithe, not a portion, into the storehouse, He will open the windows of Heaven and pour out so much blessing that we will not have enough room to store it. This is the only time the Lord tells us to test him. When God says He'll pour it out, it's not like standing in one of those glass boxes where money is flying and you have one minute to grab as many dollars as you can. No, it's God's promise to give us more than we need, if we choose to make him first and trust him first and not in our own works. Let's resolve to live walking in a higher level of faith in this new year. I can't wait to see what 2010 holds for each one of us. He will reward those who seek Him with all, not a portion, of their heart. That's not a one year guarantee, but a life time guarantee.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Assignment and Alignment

Have you ever had your back or neck out of alignment? For the past few weeks, I have been putting off going to the chiropractor because I just couldn't seem to fit it into my daily schedule. It began with my lower back and like a ripple effect, made its way up to my neck. Finally, after weeks of suffering sleepless nights do to my discomfort and headaches I made time to get an adjustment. I felt better immediately. It only took a few minutes and I was on my way back to normal.

This was a good picture for me as I was reading the book of Jonah this week. Most of us are familiar with Jonah and the whale. As I was reading it, I was thinking about my recent back adjustment. Pastor Jeff is often talking about living by assignment and when we do, we are living in alignment with God. Jonah had an assignment from God. The first two verses of this book tell us that. Jonah 1:1 & 2 says, "The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 'Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.'" God was pretty specific with the assignment that He had for Jonah. But, Jonah disobeyed the Lord and got out of alignment. Verse 3 says, "But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for the port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord." He went in the exact opposite direction of where God had told him to go.

We know what happened next, in verse 4 it says that God sent a great wind on the sea and a violent storm arose that threatened the ship to break apart. In the meantime, Jonah was a sleep down inside the boat while everyone else was scrambling around afraid. So much so, the sailors threw their cargo into the sea hoping it would help. Finally they got Jonah up out of his deep sleep. The sailors cast lots to find out who was responsible for this calamity. It fell to Jonah. Jonah had previously told them why he was running away. He told them that it was his fault that God brought this storm on. They asked him what he had done against the Lord that would cause all of this. (The storm was the consequence of being out of alignment.) The sailors tried to row back to land, but the storm only grew worse. These sailors, who had previously never worshipped God, cried out to Him and asked the Lord to spare their lives and not to hold them accountable for killing Jonah, but they decided they needed to throw him overboard. Out of God's mercy he spared Jonah's life by preserving him in the belly of a big fish for three days. Eventually Jonah followed through on his assignment and was realigned with the purpose God had for him. (Jonah 1-4)

This is such an example of what happens when we are out of alignment with what God is doing. Just like my back being out of alignment, when we are out of alignment with God's plan, often life seems uncomfortable and unbearable. There is a cost to us when we live out of alignment with God's assignment. Notice there was a cost not only to Jonah, but the people that he had endangered due to his disobedience. Jonah's cost was that he paid to get on the boat. Probably hard earned money and he didn't even make it to his destination, Tarshish. A waste of funds. Then the sailors threw their cargo overboard. Most likely this was how they earned their income and it was all gone because of someone else's disobedience.

When we are out of alignment with God's plan, we experience unnecessary circumstances that can be avoided. I probably wouldn't have suffered my back trouble if I would just stay off Space Mountain at Disneyland. But many times, we would rather live in discomfort and whine about the situation than take care of business and do what we need to do, which is get back on track with God's plan. Most of the time it's because we don't like the assignment the Lord has given to us and like Jonah, we run from it.

Eventually Jonah fulfilled his assignment to Nineveh. He sure could have avoided all that if he had just been obedient in the first place. On the other hand, it's just like God turn our mistakes into something good. Not only did the Ninevites change their ways, but those sailors lives were changed as well. That experience caused them to turn to the Lord and fear him. So much so they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. (Jonah 1:14-16) God will take our disobedience and turn it around for His good.

In chapter 4 Jonah is angry because God had so much compassion for the people of Nineveh. He was probably mad that God would interrupt his life to go tell a foreign people, who weren't very smart, to turn to God. (Jonah 4:11) Yet, God spared him from death by protecting him in the belly of a fish to fulfill His purpose. Jonah was all about his own comfort. God sent him a vine to eat and over night the vine died. (Jonah 4:6-7) Then God sent a scorching wind and sun on Jonah. Jonah's true colors came out. These tests always show us who we really are. Jonah told the Lord to just let him die rather than endure any discomfort. (Jonah 4:8) If you think about it, Jonah was a pretty selfish guy. I hate to admit it, but I have these same tendencies. I don't always like having to change my plans for God's. How many times have I told Jesus it was time for the rapture just because I was frustrated with my life. Yet God is patient because He knows there are lost souls who need to know Him first.

The book of Jonah is the only book in the Bible that concludes with a question. The question is in verses 10 and 11. It says, "But the Lord said, 'You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city? Not only does God see the big picture, He's drawing it!

Unfortunately, there are consequences for our disobedience to God's assignments. Again, there is not only discomfort and a cost to us, but to others as well. But in God's great mercy and grace, He gives us the chance, like Jonah to get back in alignment with what He is doing. I ask you this question, what assignment has God given you that you are running from? Do you sometimes tell Him you would rather die than to live in alignment with His plan? I know I am guilty. Let us learn some hard lessons from this man Jonah. Let's get in alignment with God's assignment.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Peace on Earth

Recently, while I was out running my usual errands, I noticed banners hanging form the light posts. They each have a word written on it and the words read, Love, Joy, and Peace. It seems that this one month out of twelve, it is time to lay all differences aside and include those three words into our lives.

The word peace seemed to be on my radar. There is such a focus on peace around the world, yet to see it in action is very rare. Rather than people actually living in peace with one another, they are tolerating one another. People will protest a cause with signs that scream "PEACE". This would seem like an oxymoron. The symbol used for peace is another thing that puzzles me. Years ago it was brought to my attention that it is a symbol of an upside down, broken cross. The thought behind it is if there wasn't religion then we'd have peace. It's interesting that the symbol for religion was the cross, not any other religions symbol. Yet, Jesus was sent by God with one of his titles being the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6). The peace sign should be the symbol of the cross!

This past week in my daily devotions, the New Testament reading was from First, Second and Third John. They are small books, yet they have a big message. The general idea in these three books is love. As I was reading it, the Lord brought to my mind those banners hanging throughout my city. People want peace throughout the world. Jesus is the peace that man is looking for but refuses to accept him. We all know that John 3:16 tells us that God loved us so much that He sent us love in the flesh, his Son Jesus.

But as I was reading 1 John, a particular verse jumped out at me that made me realize true peace only comes from true love. First John 4:11 says, "Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." True peace can only exist if love is the root of it. If we truly think there can be peace in the world with out love being the source of which it thrives, then we are just fooling ourselves and the peace we are looking for is a cheap imitation. Jesus paid a high price for us to receive the gift of genuine peace.

As I mentioned in beginning, we only get one month out of twelve with the theme "Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men". It is the only time of the year, that everyone gets to hear the Good News of Peace through the Christmas carols that play as the back ground music in stores and shops. Even a local secular radio station is playing Christmas music all month long, is playing songs that proclaim Jesus has come to bring life, joy and peace to the earth.

This Christmas, I pray the world would receive the peace it so desperately wants. The kind of peace that can only be received through Jesus Christ, God's one and only Son. There is a hymn called "Let There Be Peace on Earth" that is sometimes sung during this season. The lyrics say this:

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me,
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father, brothers all are we,
Let me walk with my brother, in perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now,
With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow,
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me!

May you receive the gift of peace this season through the act of love. May you be love to those without peace!

(Drawing by Justin Hamilton)