Wednesday, December 29, 2010

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Reflections

We are two days away from the beginning of a new year. One of my New Year's resolutions is to read through the Bible. It seems to be the only resolution I manage to keep.

I also spend time looking back at my prayer journal that I have kept for the past 12 months. It is very interesting to see the adventure that unfolds just living life from day to day. If one were to draw it out in graph form, it would look like some engineers layout for a theme park roller coaster. Lots of ups and downs and loops as well as moments of smooth sailing.

One of our traditions at the beginning of the year, is to choose a scripture from a "Promise Card" holder. Some years, the scripture I pull is exciting and comforting and some years, a mystery. This year was one of those mystery cards. My scripture was Psalm 16:8, "I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken." The prayer that was prayed over me was "Resist the devil and he will flee. Find my 'security' in Christ". I did not really understand what this meant until we hit the beginning of March when the rug was pulled out from under my feet. Literally!

In the middle of the night on March 6th, I was awaken by the Lord. I heard as clear as I've ever heard His voice say, "You have to go through this, but don't worry, I am going to be with you all the way." For the next two days I questioned the Lord asking Him what it was I was having to go through. On March 8th we were told that the owner of the home that we were living in was having to sell it. At first, this seemed to be fine as we felt this was the Lord giving us the opportunity to buy our own home. I jumped in with a heart full of faith believing that by the time Easter arrived, we'd likely be moving into our own place. There were hundreds of houses listed so this shouldn't be a very difficult process. Our rental home sold within one month after being listed.

As we began the process, we did find we had limitations, but it didn't seem too difficult until we actually put in our first offer. That was when we realized this process was not going to be that easy. This wide open door for opportunity began to shut, little by little. By the time we hit July we had put in 17 offers that had all been rejected. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I sat in my closet, crying and asking the Lord, what was going on. How could it be so hard for us to find a home?

The summer thermometer began to rise along with challenges we were facing. By the time we hit the end of July, we had to move so that our kids would have time to register for school, not to mention the new owner of the home we were in, was ready to move into his new house. It seemed as though every day was faced with a cement wall, that we had to knock down before we could take the next step. I know this might seem dramatic, but I can truly say that is what it felt like.

As I read through the chronological Bible this year and Jeff taught through the Bible this year, it seemed every week we experienced what we read. There were moments we prepared ourselves for what was coming because of how it lined up with God's Word. My daily devotions became my life preserver for the storms that we were facing. I truly believe, as my scripture says that He is at my right hand, was my commitment to read His Word every day. His Word is the anchor that keeps me from getting lost and tossed when the winds and waves come.

Reflecting back on 2010, I can honestly say this year has been the year my faith has been challenged and stretched. More than any other in my life. If anything, I sit here at this computer writing this entry, feeling much like Peter must have felt when Jesus called him out of the boat (Matthew 14:28-30). Peter even asked Jesus to call him out of the boat. Right there shows that Peter started out with great faith. Just like I did as I took my first steps into 2010. But once his feet crossed over the security of the wooden structure he was in, into the unstable, liquid, that scientifically says is impossible to stand on, not to mention the darkness out there on the lake, fear crept in. He probably couldn't see Jesus either due to the darkness. This picture sounds so familiar to where I am standing today. It was so important for Peter to have recognized Jesus' voice when he was blinded by the darkness of night. This is why I would encourage you, if you have never committed to reading through the Bible, why you should. This is how you hear and recognize His voice when you have to step into the dark sea of faith.

The conclusion to these two verses says that Peter began to sink because he was afraid. I can't tell you how many times this year, I have sunk into my fear, but Jesus has been there to pull me up at each sinking. I can't go back to the boat now and we still have a ways to go before we reach the shore. Hopefully, it won't be much longer before we find a home. I feel more like Jesus is leading me step by step on the sea of faith to show me how important is is for me to hold on to His hand. He is leading my family and me on a path that only He knows the way. As long as I choose to follow him there will always be water underneath my feet and it will always be dark before me. That is why I listen closely to His voice leading me. And I can only do that by reading His Word. But as long as I keep walking with Him, I can always look back and catch the reflection in the water of the boat from where I started. I can see how far I've walked since the day I stepped in.

I hope you will take some time over the next few days to reflect on 2010 and see how far Jesus has taken you since you stepped onto the path of faith. If you find that you are still inside the security of the boat, let me encourage you to climb over the side. You won't be alone because there are several of us out here. Make this your 2011 resolution, to read through His Word. His desire is for you to recognize His voice and hold His hand, especially when it's dark.

Happy 2011!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - A Revelation

In most one year Bible reading plans, the last few weeks of December we read in Revelation about the "second" coming of Jesus while we celebrate His "first" coming. This just proves how God does everything intentionally. There are so many clues pointing to Jesus as the Messiah.

As I was reading Revelation I had my own revelation about the "first" and "second" coming of Jesus. In Revelation Jesus is called the Lamb of God. "
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth." Revelation 5:6. In Revelation 5:12 the heavenly creatures sang in a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"

This sounds so familiar to what the shepherds heard that night in their fields in Bethlehem (Fields pictured above). Bethlehem was the place where the sheep for the Passover sacrifice were raised. Think about this, the sacrificial lambs were bred there in Bethlehem. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He was the Lamb of God (John 1:29, John 1:36). They could only use a lamb without blemish or defect for the Passover sacrifice. 1 Peter 1:19 says "the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." 1 Corinthians 5:7 says Jesus is the Passover lamb that was sacrificed.

When the Angels appeared to the shepherds this is what they said, "
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."(Luke 2:11-14) The key word for me here is sign. There are many signs pointing now to Jesus as the Messiah and who He is in this picture of the nativity.

First, Jesus being the Lamb of God, and being born in a stable and lying in a manger. When we were in Israel, our tour guide showed us what a typical manger would have looked like when we were in Meggido. It's not made out of wood like we see in nativity pictures today. It was carved out of stone. (See the photo above) This would have held the grain or hay the animals would have eaten as well as holding the water they would have drunk. Now, think about this, here's the Lamb of God born in the stable, but he was lying in a food/drink trough. What did Jesus say he was? Bread of Life and Living Water. And what is bread made from? Grain. Jesus said we'd never go hungry or thirsty again in John 4. But, Revelation 7:14-17 says, "
I answered, "Sir, you know."And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore,"they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
16Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat. 17For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Another revelation to me was who came to visit him. We often talk about the shepherds being the lowliest of the people. His "first" group of visitors were shepherds. What else is Jesus referred to? He's the Good Shepherd. (John 10:11,) His first introduction to mankind is that he came as a shepherd. The "first" coming.

The "second" set of visitors were kings. What is Jesus coming back as the "second" time he appears to mankind? As the King of kings and Lord of lords. Revelation 19:11-16:says,
"I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter."He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. " If this isn't another sign pointing to Jesus as the Messiah.

We see the picture of the Heavenly Hosts in the field greeting the shepherds with the glad tidings of great joy. Only a selected few had the opportunity of experiencing that. But the "second" time around the whole world will experience the glad tidings of great joy. The kind of joy where there will be no more tears. The Bible says that shepherds and kings bowed and worshiped the child lying in a manger. When Jesus appears to us for the second time, we will all have the opportunity to bow and worship him and this time he will take his rightful place on the throne in the temple. The very temple that as a Lamb of God he was sacrificed.

The book of Revelation has several references to stars. All of them being a symbol. The other morning, I believe the Lord gave me my own revelation to the Star of Bethlehem.

When God called Abraham, He promised him that his offspring would be as many as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5). I'm sure, just like the Passover story is told each year at Passover, this was one of those family tree story's that was passed down from generation to generation. This was another sign for the Hebrew people to keep their eyes open for the Messiah. In Numbers 24:17 the scripture says, "
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the people of Sheth." God used a star to direct the Magi to the baby (Matthew 2). I truly believe this was the sign to His people that their Messiah had come. Like every family, why after all this time would he show up now. Instead, it was the foreigners to went looking for him.

There is no doubt in my mind that all of these are signs pointing to Jesus as the Messiah. God is pretty creative and I would not put it passed the Creator of Life to have had some fun including these clues for us. Especially for those who are skeptical and have to have proof that Jesus is who God says he is. Watch for the signs. It won't be long before he makes his grand entrance for the second time, but this time, it won't be a select few who will see him. We all will get to see him come to earth this time. Revelation 22:20 says, "
Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

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

During the month of December, many cities post banners on light posts that have the words written 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.

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!

First, Second and Third John are small books, yet they have a big message. The general idea in these three books is love. The Lord brought to my mind those banners. People want peace throughout the world. Jesus is the peace that people are looking for but refuse 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.

In first 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 that 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 song 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!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Beauty Does Comes From Within

Television shows, product advertisements and magazines remind us regularly that we as average women do not measure up to the world's standard of beauty. Women can spend up to $3,000 dollars a year on creams, make up, hair products, not to mention what it costs for a cut and color these days, and manicures.* With all of the world's influence on our outward appearance and never being beautiful enough, what is real beauty? 

This past week we read through 1 Peter. I personally love the chapter 3, verses 3-6. It is God's idea of a beautiful woman. Its says, "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear." It is completely the opposite of what the advertisements tell us. The world tells us we have to fight for our place, because it's a man's world.

What caught my attention is where it says "gentle and quiet spirit." How often do you find yourself restless inside your soul? When I read this a few years ago, I was dealing with some inner conflict with who I was. I admit, I still often wrestle in my soul, but those four words went deep to my spirit. It's not about how beautiful we are on the outside, it's that proverbial saying, "beauty comes from within." We hear that, but I don't think we really know what that means. Peter explains it to us. Most women don't realize that when they are angry and discontent on the inside, it leaks into the way they talk and act, which can result in bad attitudes, negativity and just plain mean.

I actually don't think we women are trying to beautify ourselves for the men in our lives. If we are really truthful about it, we are in competition with other women. Afraid that our husband or boyfriend will leave us for some woman more beautiful than we are. Or maybe we just think everyone out there is prettier than we are. I have to laugh, one day my son and I were at the grocery store. He was glancing at all the of magazine covers. Out of the blue he says to me, "Mom, I don't want to date or marry a girl who looks like a doll." That's exactly what these airbrushed models look like, porcelain dolls. Something fragile. Paul describes us as jars of clay that hold the treasure of Christ inside (2 Corinthians 4:7).

I mentioned the word just a moment ago, afraid. We read about this in verse 6. If we put our hope in the Lord, then we have no reason to give way to fear. A few years ago, I did a study on this passage. I took a survey from 50 of my friends and found that 30 replied saying rejection was their greatest fear. What else I discovered was how often we use the words, afraid and scared in our conversations. It was truly amazing to me when I began to take notice of it. "Fear not" is mentioned 365 times. That means one "fear not" for each day.
What else I find interesting about this verse is that Peter referred to Sarah. We are her daughters if we don't give way to fear. It is amazing to me how Sarah is now known by her incredible faith. But it wasn't always that way because if we remember back when Sarai offered her servant Hagar to Abram (Genesis 16), she did not seem like a woman with much faith. It was about 10 years from the time Ishmael was born to Hagar until the time Isaac was born to Sarah. I am sure she had much turmoil in her spirit wondering if she would ever see her promise. I wonder if God changed her name from Sarai to Sarah after she surrendered her spirit to Him (Genesis 17:15&16). Her new identity was now based on an act of faith. Much like salvation is for us. After all, her name does mean princess and you can't reign if you don't have people to reign over.

Fear is paralyzing, isolating and deadly. It hold us captive to our circumstance. I have told this story many times of how the Lord explained circumstance to me. He told me to take the word and break it in to two. Then He had me look them up. The word circum means "to go around" and the word stance means "position while standing." We need to realize that our circumstances are going to keep going around and it's our stance of "faith" that will get us through. There are two definitions for fear. One is to be afraid and the other is reverential awe. The question here is, are you so afraid of what you fear that you revere it? What I mean by that is do you worship what you fear? It is said what you think about the most is what you worship. Our reverential awe should be for God. Do you put your fears above God?

Job sums it all up for us in chapter 3, verses 25 and 26. It says "What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. 26 I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” That is exactly what happens to us. The fear we live with causes us so much turmoil and restlessness. It goes back to keeping a gentle and quiet spirit.
Whatever the world thinks is beautiful, is contradictory to what God says is beautiful. Jesus is beautiful and if we believe in him and have the Holy Spirit within us, there is no doubt that we are beautiful because He is beautiful.

This portion of scripture is near and dear to my heart. I am without a doubt guilty of struggling with fear and wrestling with my self worth on the inside. I wish I could be writing this from the perspective of someone who has overcome, but I write as someone who fights this every day of my life. If you too struggle at all with insecurity and/or fear, I want to encourage you not to give up the fight. Don't let fear hold you captive. Don't let that restless spirit from within keep you uptight. Instead, let the peace of Christ rule in your heart (Colossians 3:15), because beauty really does come from within.