You've Got Mail

I was going through my email recently and stopped to marvel at this invention.  What once used to take weeks now takes place in seconds.  With the click of a few buttons I can write a letter to a friend in another city, another state, or another country and share what is going on in my life.  Almost instantly it is there for them to view.  I can open my inbox in the morning and be updated by friends and family, read my devotional, and get updates from various organizations I am a part of.  It's an amazing invention!
Our ability to communicate with God isn't much different.  We have a direct line to contact Him, a dedicated email address if you will.  Many of us tend to use it as a one way form of communication-sending prayers out but never checking our inbox to see what He has to say.  This tends to leave a person lost and confused.  Imagine reading a long stream of email messages in which one party never reads the responses of the other:
~Dear God, my friend is really hurting right now, can you please remove them from the situation they are in?  Thanks!

      ~Beloved Child, I hurt with your friend too, but there is a lesson in this situation for her that she must learn to be able to grow closer to Me. (James 1:2-4)  This lesson will enable her to be such a blessing to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) and when she looks back she will be thankful for it. (James 1:12)

~Dear God, I don't get it! She is such a good person and she loves You so much! Why would you do this to her?!?!

  ~Beloved Child, did you not get my previous message?  I love your friend even more than you. (John 15:13) I wish there was another way she could learn this lesson that did not cause her pain, but this is what is best.  Trust me, I know that in the end it will be good for her (Jeremiah 29:11) and so many others that will be touched as a result.  

~God!  Aren't You even listening!  Don't you even care!

I'll be honest.  I've had several conversations with God that went a lot like this.  I'm praying, but not taking the time to look in His word for the answer, or to be still and allow Him to speak to my heart, or worse yet - simply not trusting Him.

The truth of the matter is, a relationship with Jesus must be a two way conversation.  He initiated it, He sent the first message on the cross.  Have you responded?  If the answer is "Yes" then you have an open line of communication available to you.  Are you listening?

Listening involves taking the time to search His word for everything that pertains to your situation.  In today's day that is as simple as typing in "Bible Verse about ____________" in your search engine.  The Bible is God's first line of communication with you.  Many of the issues you might be facing have already been addressed there.  If you take the time to look and allow God to speak to your heart while you read you will often see His side of the conversation.

Listening may also mean being open to the words of friends.  Keep in mind that even the best, most God-fearing friends can give advice that goes against God's will for you in a situation.  So how do you know if what they are saying is a nudge from Him?  Their words will speak to your situation and will confirm what God has already placed in your heart.  Their words will line up with God's word, it won't go against scripture.

If you are still feeling unsettled after that, look for what we like to call "God Winks", those little moments or things that may seem insignificant to the world, but have special meaning for you.  That one thing that speaks to your heart.. It reassures you that God has heard you or that you are on His path.

Don't miss out on the richness of a two sided conversation with God.  Take the time to listen.

The God who is near....

Have you ever had a day where you feel like all the odds are stacked against you?  You know the ones, you wake up and the coffee filter has fallen over and your coffee is full of grounds, the car won't start, you realize you have double booked some doctor appointments, or you get the phone call with the worst news.  Whether it is a first world problem, a real world problem, or a personal problem, on those days it is hard to feel hope.

But God promises that we aren't alone when we choose to follow Him. (Deuteronomy 31:6)  We have the knowledge that this world, and the troubles in it, are temporary and that we have an eternity to look forward to where we will feel no sadness or pain.  That rescues has already been accomplished through His death and resurrection.  I realize, though, that knowing that truth doesn't always help us to feel that truth.

This is when we need to turn to His word even more than usual.  I love that God has included accounts of people who went through just about every hardship I can imagine.  Their stories include more than just the happy ending, but all of the dirty, depressing details.  Hannah begged for a child to love and endured quit some time before her request was fulfilled.  Esther was elevated from a peasant life to being queen of her people and yet she discovered no more joy there than previously.  In fact she learned that doing the right thing may require her very life.  We see liars become father's of nations.  Joseph is abandoned, enslaved, and imprisoned.  Paul is beaten and imprisoned multiple times.  If a person can experience it, God has shared it in His word.

He does this for a purpose.  Sometimes we need to see that we aren't alone in this; that even if we can't see God with our eyes, He is near to us-just as He was for all of those in the Bible.  Our hope is not in that God will remove us from the situation, that He will make our day better or our situation go away.  Our hope is in the knowledge that we are not alone on this journey.  God is with us in the battle, shielding us and in the end we will be rescued.  That may mean a rescue like Joseph's in which all of the bad is put behind us and we move on to great things here on earth, or it may mean a rescue like Stephen's in which the troubles on this earth are put away as we enter eternity with Jesus.  Either way, in the words of Natalie Grant, "we win in the end".

As a side note, do you know that there is a special name for God in which He is called "the God who is near"?  It is Elohei Mikkarov and it literally means the God who is near.  No matter how bad your day or your situation is, find hope in the knowledge that He is always near.

A Call to Action

If you’ve been a follower of Christ for any significant amount of time, then you’ve felt your calling tug on your heart. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ve deliberately spent time ignoring and fighting it, delaying the inevitable, hoping it goes away.

The thing is, each one of us has our own calling; our own purpose and ‘job’ in furthering Christ’s Kingdom. The sooner we acknowledge and accept that- the better for all involved. (2 Peter 1:10-11) I fought mine (or maybe one of) for months, which may not seem like much, but I’m paying for it years later. I truly believe that had I just obeyed when God first told me what He wanted me to do, it wouldn’t have been nearly the project it’s become now. And the things I ‘let’ get in the way, wouldn’t still be stumbling blocks now. (Proverbs 1:24-26) Hindsight…

Jesus ‘called’ His disciples (Matthew 10:1; Mark 6:7) – He didn’t force them, or invite them, or ask them to volunteer—He called (chose) them. Thankfully, they each accepted His choice. They each had their own special service for Him. As do each of us. The beauty is, we, as the disciples did, have free will to decide whether we join Him or ignore Him. (Matthew 20:16; Philippians 3:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:14)

And notice, that none of them were anyone special before Jesus. They were as insignificant as we are. Yet, He trusted them to go out in the world and spread His Good News, cast out evil spirits and heal all illnesses and diseases. If He trusted them with such things, surely He trusts us with smaller things. God can and will use anyone, regardless of your experience, background or status. He will give us the authority and means to do what He’s calling us for. (Matthew 10:1; Mark 6:7; Luke 9:1) (1 Corinthians 1:27-28; James 2:5)

We must accept our calling immediately, not weigh the good vs. bad options in order to decide. We don’t need to take extra time to ‘prepare’, or have all the details pre-arranged before commencing our calling. We must trust Him to provide whatever we may need to fulfill this calling. His resources are unlimited. (Matthew 10:9-10; Mark 6:8-9; Luke 9:3; Luke 10:4) (Philippians 4:19; Matthew 6:31-32) We are finite, He is infinite. (Psalm 147:5; Romans 1:8)

Have you listened to Him speaking to you—tugging your heart with your calling? What’s your next step? Are you going to follow Him without question? Or delay Him with excuses? Join Him or ignore Him?

Being His Hands and Feet

We were cleaning the kitchen this week, my daughter and I, when she began a conversation with, "Why do we even have money?  It would be so much better if we didn't.  Then everyone could share everything."  At 14 she already sees the evil that money can bring.  Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating for you to do what some of the first century Christians did in Acts and sell all of your belongings to give the proceeds to the church and allow the church to provide all your needs.  (Although there are days I can see merit to that kind of society!)

We had been talking about the living conditions in the area that the little girl we sponsor lives, and the conditions where our church missionary is serving.  Children growing up drinking contaminated water to live while we have access to more than enough.  The leftovers in our fridge would probably be at least several days food for a family in a third world country.  The average income per person in the world is about $3,000 per YEAR according to a recent Gallup report.  Think about that....what many of us in this country make in a month is what most of the rest of the world lives on in a year....   Wouldn't it be nice if we could share everything?

I don't write this to shock or guilt you into finding an organization to donate to.  After all, Jesus said that the poor would always be among us. (Matthew 26:11, John 12:8, Mark 14:7)  This is a fallen, broken world.  I write this to illustrate a truth that we often forget, that my 14 year old brought forth in our discussion.  God will provide.

It is that simple.  God promises to take care of our needs. (Philippians 4:19)  He is Jehovah Jireh.  For my 14 year old it was obvious. God makes all things grow, He provides the food we eat so we shouldn't need money to buy it.  It sounds simplistic, but it is what He tells us in Matthew 6:26-32.  God provides everything for the animals and plants in nature and He values us much more than them, He will provide for us as well.  But there is a clause in this.  Read verse 33:

The thing you should want most is God's kingdom and doing what God wants. Then all these other things you need will be given to you.
 It comes back to our hearts.  What do you want most?  God's kingdom?  To do what God wants you to?  Or the comforts of this world?  Don't misinterpret my point here.  I am not saying that if your basic needs aren't being met it must be because your heart is wrong.  There are a lot of illustrations of people doing God's work and suffering through unmet needs as a result. (1 Kings 24 gives a few examples)  What I am saying, is that if you are focusing on God's kingdom and doing what God wants, you will be looking for opportunities to share what you have, to be God's hands and feet in providing for others.

For my 14 year old that meant making a bracelet and writing a letter to the child we sponsor letting her know how much God loves her.  For me it means donating food to the local community cupboard every time I go grocery shopping for my family, and saying a prayer for each person who will receive it to know just how much God loves them.  God calls each of us to help in a different way, but together, as His workers on this earth, we can assist in sharing His love and providing for others.

Along comes the Farmer

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!"
“Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds: The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” ~Matthew 13:3-8, 18-23

 Jesus used parable a lot in his teaching, and many of them had to do with nature.  Our environment has always pointed the way to God, Jesus was just trying to help us see that.  (Psalm 19:1)  Today I'm not so much focusing on which type of soil you are, if you have been in a church for any length of time you have probably heard a sermon preached on that.  What I do want to point out is that where you are right now is not where you need to stay, not if you don't want to.

I believe there is a reason that Jesus chose a farmer for this parable.  A farmer spends his life preparing soil for crops.  When he starts a new field it is rare that it is ready for planting.  Work must be done to remove unwanted paths, vines, rocks etc.  It's a process.  We are too, and God knows it.  That's why He keeps sowing in the same field.

Think about the first time you heard about God and His Kingdom.  Did you immediately say you were done with your current life and you were ready to surrender all?  Probably not.  The seed was sown along the path.  Along comes the farmer, though, who does a little work in the field.

Now that path is gone, and you hear the Word again.  This time you do decide to accept His gift....but you don't take the time to study His Word, to talk with Him and after time you drift away.  The seed was sown in rocky soil.  Along comes the farmer, though, who does a little work in the field.

The rocks have been removed and you hear the Message of God again.  Again you give your life to Jesus and you do study.  You take time to get to know our Father, His will, His desires, His expectations, His sacrifice.  You grow close to Him....until you have to start making the hard choices.  You have to choose between keeping friendships or your relationship with God.  You loose your job and have to choose between trusting God to provide or taking things in your own hands.  Your loved one becomes seriously ill and you have to choose between trusting God to do what is best, or turning your back on Him.  Things get hard and you walk away.  The seed was sown in thorny soil.  Along comes the farmer, though, who does a little work in the field.

I don't personally know anyone who got it all right the first time.  Fortunately we serve a God who doesn't give up on us, He keeps coming along and preparing the soil for the seed. (Deuteronomy 7:9, 2 Timothy 2:13)  He continues to do a little work in us, preparing us for the seed to be planted, removing the rocks and thorns until we truly understand and then we begin producing fruit and in that fruit are more seeds.  We begin assisting the Farmer in sowing the seed.  How awesome is that!

But God is such that He gives us free choice.  He allows us to cling to our path, or rocks, or thorn bushes if we so choose.  Clearing the field isn't easy work.  It is hard, toilsome and often results in minor pains.  The end result, however, - the harvest - is so much more bountiful in a field that has been properly cleared.  I don't know about you, but I want that bountiful harvest!  So every time a rock is discovered, or a thorn bush pops it's ugly head up in the field, I work to remove it.

Do you have some rocks or thorn bushes that need removed from your life?  What is keeping you from growing deep roots or trusting God in the hard times?  I encourage you to spend some time with God and ask Him to reveal them to you.  Then begin the labor of removing them.  I promise that the harvest will be worth the effort!

Being John the Baptist

To start off, I’m not saying you should be out baptizing people in the river while preaching the Gospel. BUT… Like John, we are to spread the Word of God, of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior so that all may hear and know Him. (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15)

A brief background on John: he was different from the people of his time. He dressed differently, ate odd foods (Matthew 3:4, Mark 1:6) and preached a unique message to the people of his time. (Matthew 3:2, Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3) He wasn’t royalty, and wasn’t anyone special in the eyes of anyone of the time, yet he was special to God. God called him for a direct purpose. (Luke 1:11-17, Luke 1:76-77)

John came to prepare the hearts of the people for the coming of Jesus. (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:7-8, Luke 3:16, John 1:26-27) He taught that repenting of your sins. He urged people to confess their sins, changing the way they lived for themselves and begin living for God. He prepared the way for Jesus by teaching others how to accept and welcome Him. He taught the need for forgiveness of sin. This was a big deal, because back then, people thought that through their lineage, being an Israelite was a safety net; a free pass. Therefore, many fell away from whole-heartedly worshipping and more importantly, loving God. They believed that no matter how they lived their lives, they were exempt from judgment because of their ‘religion’. (Matthew 3:9, Luke 3:8) [Huh; sound familiar? It sure does seem like many ‘Christians’ think they’re safe because of their ‘belief’. (It’s interesting to note that the devil also believes in Christ- and I think we can all agree that he’s not ‘safe’)] That’s where John came in: he was the messenger to proclaim the coming of the Savior (Matthew 3:3; Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2-3; Luke 1:76-77; Luke 3:4; Luke 7:27) John preached that the people needed to confess their sins and start following God’s way.

John confidently told everyone of Jesus’ coming; and humbly followed Jesus. He had the privilege of baptizing Jesus—an honor he felt unqualified for (Matthew 3:14). [Does that sound familiar to you? (Remember, God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called)]. (Philippians 4:13)

 That’s where we come in. We, like John, are messengers for Jesus, to tell others of His love and to teach them to repent of their sins. (Isaiah 43:10) We must teach (and live by example) that turning to God means turning from sin. (Matthew 3:2, Mark 1:4, Luke 3:8, Acts 3:19) [Not to be confused or mistaken that one must be fully rid of sin to be accepted by God; when one accepts Christ as His Savior, He will release you from your sin (that He’s already forgiven you of)]. (Isaiah 53:5, John 3:16,  John 8:36, Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 2:8-10, 1 John 1:9…) Most of us aren’t anyone special, and we don't have any power or prestige over anyone, yet we each have an important role, a ministry or a calling, for God.

Have you accepted your calling? Are you telling others about Jesus, His Word, His Love and His Grace and Mercy? John the Baptist lived a devoted life to God. He lived his life and died by following God’s will and being obedient. So be like John the Baptist: give your life to God, preach His Word, teach His people, humble yourself before and for Jesus; and let God work through you.