Tuesday, November 23, 2010

BLESSED

Happy Thanksgiving!

I truly love this particular holiday. One reason I do (and maybe not the best reason) is because it is the cause of many funny “turkey disaster” stories! I can’t think of any other meal that has caused more distress than a Thanksgiving turkey dinner! Yet each one of these memories always brings at least a smile if not huge laughter when recalled. Family and friends during this festive holiday are a formula for fond memories…and I cherish each one.

Of course…at the time my “turkey disasters” were occurring I don’t recall always smiling… and for sure I was not laughing! Isn’t it “strange” how over time these things we once saw as so “horrible” are now part of our fondest memories and biggest laughs!

I think God does this same kind of transformation of our memories with other “disasters” in our lives as well. Now…I know I will be hard pressed to express exactly what I mean by this since there are some things we experience in life that I would not appreciate being compared to some light-hearted Thanksgiving Day meal disaster story. But, having experienced some very tragic moments in my life…I feel compelled to share how God has “changed” my way of thinking about some things that might only be considered as “tragic” into a remembrance of God’s abundant provisions and yes…even blessing.

Several years ago my dad died unexpectedly and suddenly as we were sitting and talking together three days after Christmas. At the time I thought, Christmas will never again hold good memories for me. I felt that along with my dad…the joy of celebrating Christmas had died too.

Earlier that year I had renewed my commitment to Christ and this tragedy left me feeling bewildered. I was expecting “blessings” as I turned my life over to Christ…certainly not “disasters”…that’s for sure! I thought God’s timing couldn’t have been worse.

The days and weeks that followed his death were filled with pain …but I can tell you as I look back I clearly see God’s hand was upon me every moment of those sorrowful days. I had my husband’s love for me along with his tears as he comforted me. I had a fabulous new church family that went above and beyond supporting me with their prayers and friendship…helping me to spiritually grow and to accept love from my new brothers and sisters in Christ that I hardly knew… as they reflected the heart, hands and feet of Christ to me.

And than in God’s perfect timing…a few short weeks as I returned to work…godly words of wisdom were poured over my wounds. In response to hearing my tearful reply to a question about “how my Christmas was”, a friend told me, “how blessed I was” to have been with my dad... and that I had been there for my mom too.

“Blessed? Are you kidding me? How in the world can you say I have been blessed I asked?”

So he explained…

I was blessed because it had been 5 years since my entire family had been together for Christmas and I had been given this Christmas to spend with my dad. I was blessed to have risen early that morning…especially that morning… along with my husband, as the three of us spent the morning laughing and talking together. I was blessed to know my dad did not suffer when he died. I was blessed to be there for my mom…she was not alone. I was blessed to be there to hold her.

After he said all of this to me…the picture I held in my mind concerning all that had happened that day changed drastically. Instead of seeing only “tragedy” I saw God’s mercy and grace in it. I also saw the unique way the Lord blesses those He loves.

Ok… so now perhaps you are wondering, “Kathy, really? Are you going to tell me you can honestly look back on that day and no longer see your dad’s death as ‘disastrous’ but instead as something God is able to reveal blessings in?” My answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Seeing the blessings does not remove my desire to have my dad with me still.
Seeing the blessings doesn’t remove my heartache and longing to see him again soon.
Seeing the blessings doesn’t mean I didn’t love my dad with all my heart.
Seeing the blessings allows me to fall fully into God’s Hands… allowing His strength to be mine…His comfort to calm my sorrow…His promises to be the place I put my trust in…and His faithfulness the only sure way to restore my hope and joy.

Now whenever I recall that Christmas many years ago and “that day” my dad died… my thoughts and memories do not lie “stuck” on my dad’s last moment. I am blessed instead to recall that morning with some pretty funny memories of being with my dad and Brad as we joked around and laughed so hard it brought tears to our eyes. When my memories do roll around to that “disastrous moment”…my thoughts by God’s grace… goes to how blessed I am to have been with my dad and the blessings of God’s unfailing love and faithfulness to me and my family.

So maybe now you can understand a bit better how I am able to say God is able to transform our “disasters” into memories that allow us to remember “the good stuff” and maybe even put a smile on our face as the Lord reveals the blessing.

God is our strength and shield. He'll either shield us from trouble, or strengthen us in it. Our futures belong to Him, and all our days have been ordained for us. The one who holds the future also holds us tightly in His hands. We can look forward with thankfulness.

Tomorrow is full of God's grace, so we can be thankful today!


Matthew 5
The Beatitudes

(Quoted from the NIV Life Application Bible) “Each beatitude tells how to be blessed. ‘Blessed’ means more than happiness, it implies the fortunate or enviable state of those who are in God’s kingdom. The Beatitudes don’t promise laughter, pleasure, or earthy prosperity. To Jesus, ‘blessed’ means the experience of hope and joy, independent of outward circumstances. To find hope and joy, the deepest form of happiness, follow Jesus no matter the cost.”

1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them saying:
3"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessedare those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

God Is Into The Small Stuff Too…

Luke 12:6 (Amplified Bible)
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And [yet] not one of them is forgotten or uncared for in the presence of God.

Sometimes I think God has better things to do than be concerned about my “small stuff”. You know… those things in life that don’t really matter to anyone else but you. For instance… I really like birds...well, most birds anyway. I especially like colorful birds like cardinals and blue jays but I also enjoy cute little finches and love to listen to a sparrow sing. Perhaps I came to loving birds as much as I do because the two men in my life loved them as well. Both my dad and my husband are with the Lord now…but when they were here on earth we could always be found in the “bird section” of parks and zoos. So, it’s not uncommon for me to have pleasant memories of my dad and Brad whenever I see or hear one of my favorite birds.

I can’t tell you the number of mornings these past two years when I have either stepped outside or looked out my window and been “given” a single brightly colored bird flying into view and pausing long enough for me to enjoy his arrival! God knows exactly what will bring my soul a touch of joy and give my heart a clear sign that He cares for me. These “morning birds” tell me clearly that God’s eyes are on me…that there is nothing too small…there are no details of my life… that my Father in Heaven is willing to overlook and consider insignificant. God know and understands why these “small and really only matters to me things” matter!

Matthew 7:9-11 (NIV)
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

It’s a small thing my liking birds… wouldn’t you agree? I sometimes feel so foolish asking God for “small stuff” when there is so much “big stuff” that needs His attention. (Trust me…I’ve also asked Him for some really big stuff!). But isn’t it nice to know that God doesn’t see our request as foolish? After all…He knows us better than we know ourselves! In fact, I bet God has often surprised and delighted you too through the “small things” you’ve asked for in life.

Can you remember a time when troubles may have been overwhelming you or the day was difficult…than you looked up at the evening sky. Your eyes take in one of the most spectacular sunsets you’ve ever seen! The sky is bright and painted with multi-colors. You just have to stop and look! Wow… you quickly get your cell phone out and call your loved ones telling them to “Quick! Go outside” asking them to look up and share this with you. And…for at least a moment in time… all your troubles are forgotten and God is remembered.

You know…I think that sunset we just saw…God allowed us to enjoy it because we needed it…but, we didn’t pray for it. No…“this one” was painted for just one child of God…someone who prayed a “small” prayer asking God for a beautiful sunset for her wedding night. A small request no doubt… a prayer we all might have counted as “matters only to me” kind of small prayer. Yet, God not only cared about her small stuff but in His abundance of love gave all of us who needed this gift the opportunity to enjoy it too!

Ahhhh…you know…others may actually be blessed by our “small stuff” prayers. Now wouldn’t that just be like our God to do something like that?

Something to consider the next time you feel you shouldn’t “bother” God with the small stuff!

Kathy

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lord…Where Are You?

Perception of God's Presence

Psalms 121: 8
the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Often when I am in a “study” of God’s Word I experience a greater closeness and sense of God’s presence in my life. I also experience God’s amazing presence not only during my times of prayer and worship... but during the most trying and desperate times of my life too. When I experience the presence of God, I am blessed to find great comfort and security…and these experiences have increased my desire to be with Him more and more. I have even grown to anticipate His presence whenever I turn to Him… in both good times and bad.

Unfortunately, many of us may perceive God’s presence as being near or distant based on our incorrect thinking that “we have control” over His presence in our life. Maybe like me you have gone through a time when you thought that how we behave or the things we say and do are what controls God’s presence in our lives. I have met many believers whose understanding of our Heavenly Father’s favor is linked to their understanding of an earthly father’s favor. When our understanding is like that…we actually expect God to reward us with His favor and presence when our behavior is “good” and to withhold His favor and presence when our behavior is “bad”.

Many are able to accept God’s silence when it is felt that we deserved it or are able to acetain a logical reason for it…but what do we expect when we have been obedient and trusting? If we think we have some level of “control” concerning how God should respond to us, doesn’t our obedience and trust create an expectation for a “reward” from God? The reward we seek may be a heartfelt desire for His presence to be apparent to us. Unconsciously perhaps, we conclude that if we are faithful in prayer and giving praise to God…shouldn’t God be faithful to us by providing us with His presence?

After all… it is by (our perception of) His presence that we are able to remain encouraged or be comforted and to find strength. Isn’t our faithfulness to Him deserving of our perceiving His presence with us? Because God loves us, His presence should always be ours…right?

Ok… maybe not…but the question still remains…why is it that God would choose to be silent and even “distant” during our faithful times of seeking, needing and even anticipating His Presence?

What happens to our faith, our trust and our hope in God, when God is silent and distant? How should we respond when we feel distance from God at a time when we expect to feel His presence...especially during the desperate times when we are in great need of sensing…of experiencing the closeness of God? Have you also had times like me when you need a Word from Him…you need His presence so as to feel His comfort? Why would God ever not make His presence known to His faithful child who is in need of Him? What is happening when God is silent…distant…when our perception of His presence is “void”? Is this even possible?

Of course,like you I have experienced His “silence” during times I understood to be God’s way of calling me to be still and to wait. Although it is difficult to do this as we seek God’s Will in a prayed for situation... especially the ones that seem pretty urgent to us…most of us can relate and even “accept” this kind of silence from God.

But what about the times when God’s silence leads to experiencing His discernable absentness? This happened to me a couple of years ago… when I needed most to feel Jesus’ presence. I had been faithful…relying on Him completely…yet, only silence was heard and His presence unfelt...and it lasted for several days. Where was God then…?

Praise God!I have His Word to answer my cry for understanding. The Bible has many accounts of God not being “perceived” as present or near to His faithful children. In fact the bible is full of examples of God’s perceived abandonment… some of the faithful servants of God who experienced God’s “distance” are;

Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Job… Martha and Mary, Lazarus…Paul…and yes…even Jesus on the cross.

All experienced God’s distance and silence…during times they needed God the most to be near, God’s presence was not known by them. It is from their experience we all will find what our response can be.

For me the Book of Psalms is one of the best books in the bible to describe the feelings of perceived closeness and also distance of God. It is perhaps the one book above all others that has lifted, comforted and carried me to a better understanding that God’s ways are way beyond my understanding.

The psalmist who wrote Psalms 44 is speaking of those who were devoted to God and yet experienced a perceived abandonment by God. The theme of this psalm is; a plea for victory by the battle-weary and defeated; and remembering God’s past deliverance and to be confident that he will restore you.

Psalm 44: 6-11, 17-26
6 I do not trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;
7 but you give us victory over our enemies;
you put our adversaries to shame.
8 In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever.
Selah
9 But now you have rejected and humbled us;
you no longer go out with our armies.
10 You made us retreat before the enemy,
and our adversaries have plundered us.
11 You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
and have scattered us among the nations.
17 All this happened to us,
though we had not forgotten you
or been false to your covenant.
18 Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.
19 But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals
and covered us over with deep darkness.
20 If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
21 would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?
22 Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
23 Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?
25 We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up and help us;
redeem us because of your unfailing love.

Israel had been defeated despite their faith (44:17) and obedience (44:18) to God. The psalmist could not understand why God had allowed this to happen, but he did not give up hope of discovering the answer (44:17-22). Although he felt his suffering was undeserved, he revealed the real reason for it: he suffered because he was committed to the Lord. Paul quoted the psalmist’s complaint (Romans 8:36) to show that we must always be ready to face death for the cause of Christ. Thus, our suffering may not be a punishment at all… but a battle scar that demonstrates our loyalty.

The same psalmist wrote Psalms 46. Although the perception of God’s abandonment was expressed earlier, he reveals the heart that still trust in God. The theme is; God is always there to help, provide refuge, security, and peace. God’s power is complete and his ultimate victory is certain. He will not fail to rescue those who love him.

Psalm 46:1-5, 10-11
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day. Selah
10 "Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Although our next Psalm is written by another author…it completes perfectly the results of our remaining steadfast in faith, regardless of what we perceive as God’s distance or abandonment. The theme is: God answers prayer. Individually and as a body of believers, we should praise and worship God.

Psalms 66: 8-12, 16-20
8 Praise our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
9 he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
10 For you, O God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
11 You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
12 You let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.
16 Come and listen, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
17 I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
18 If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
19 but God has surely listened
and heard my voice in prayer.
20 Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!

When you're asking God why…and asking “where are You LORD”? When you are surrounded by darkness and you cannot perceive the presence of God in your days of trouble or despair…ignore the lies you “perceive” of God having left you alone…We can always depend upon God for help. We will surely travel through lonely times in this life before reaching our heavenly destination.

Isaiah 42:16
"I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them."


So for me, I keep my hope in God, knowing that my questions may not ever be answered here on earth. Each day I make a point to look beyond my situation to the only all-knowing God of Truth, who will not leave me nor fail me. I continue to learn about His attributes and cling to them in hope. The path of life that I am now traveling is very different from what I expected or wanted, but Jesus guides me.

As I once again experience God’s daily presence, I no longer take it for granted…so perhaps His purpose was for this reason alone… God’s presence is not ours to conger up or dismiss as we need Him or desire Him. Wonderfully, God’s presence is not affected at all by what we perceive it to be either...…Our God…He is always with us.

Song: GOD of My Days by Zach Neese /
My Prayer is from lyrics of God of My Days

Dear Lord,

You are the God of my days, the King of my nights
Lord of my laughter, sovereign in sorrow
You are the Prince of my praise, the love of my life
You never leave me, You are faithful, God of my days.

You unveil my eyes, help me to see
The arms of my Father encircling me
You are a constant companion, I am never alone
Your love is the banner that is leading me home.
I trust that every moment’s in Your hands.

My eyes are on you, my hope is in you.
My faith is in you .You are the God of my days and King of my nights.

I love you Jesus,

Amen



Kathy

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sacrifice of Praise

Hebrews 13:15 (Amplified Bible)
Through Him, therefore, let us constantly and at all times offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of lips that thankfully acknowledge and confess and glorify His name.

Maybe you can relate… I have not always responded “well” in the past when experiencing the hard times this life brings. You know… times when everything seems to be going in the worse possible direction and can’t possible get worse…and than it does! Unfortunately, I too often became so consumed by my thoughts of not only what is “horribly” wrong right then…but I would also begin to imagine all the frightful possibilities of what the situation may lead to. I have literarily overwhelmed myself beyond my own ability to cope!

I can recall a few times (too many for me), my sweet husband would attempt to impart some great words of wisdom and encouragement…perhaps even try to hold me and comfort me…crazy guy…but I was too consumed with fear and unrelenting despair to receive it. When I got like this… honestly…I couldn’t even stand myself! I use to tell Brad that “at least you can leave the room…unfortunately; I follow me wherever I go!”

Yikes! I’m so thankful God gave me a husband that loved me when I wasn’t very lovable…and even more I’m thankful that Jesus loves me and promises that He will never leave or forsake me. Jesus is willing to go “wherever I go” and meet my needs in His perfect ways.

Difficulties may not disappear…but we have God’s assurance that He has everything under control. If fact in the midst of trials and difficulties I have learned something I want to share.

I use to pray asking God only for relief from my difficulties and for this relief to come in such a way that seems right to me. I would tell the Lord how I wanted Him to respond and even was willing to give Him some choices! You know…1st choice being the “best” and the last choice is “better than anything else”. If His answer was to be considered a “good one”, than His answer needed to fall within these choices I’d given.

Honestly…I think God was pleased that while I prayed, placing before Him my heartfelt petitions and request that I was seeking Him and His power… believing He is more than able to fulfill my request. But I’ve discovered something new about God’s wisdom and power during an especially difficult period in my life. It was during Brad’s finally months …God was answering my prayers in ways and amid circumstances that I never would have considered “acceptable”. My prayers began to change as I looked to Christ and found He was faithful to carry me on a path that I was too frightened and too weak to walk alone. As my trust increased so did my love and praises for Him grow…thus drawing me into a closer relationship with Jesus giving me the strength and courage to take my first baby steps towards desiring God’s Will above my own.

I discovered in the midst of these great troubles what I really wanted…what I really needed... was to receive all of God’s provisions, wisdom and strength to get me through the storms of this life. Finally…I’m learning that when God does not answer my prayers within the “provided choices”...the Lord will always give me His “best”…by placing in my heart the desire to ask for His deliverance through the storms.

I won’t always “like” God’s answer to my prayers…Brad’s death still seems so “unnecessary”. But I do not doubt that the Lord can be trusted to have a better plan even if I don’t understand it. What peace I have found in trusting God with everything. In the middle of the storms of my life I have found that when I turn my heart to Jesus and my soul speaks words of praise …there is a tremendous resource in these praises which brings healing. The Bible tells us again and again to praise God. Even when we do not feel like praising God, do it anyway and believe in the power of praise. Praise means to worship, exalt, and to honor. In Praising God we also thank Him.

According to Dr. Bill Bright, "Praise is a way of being liberated from the bondage of grief. God inhabits the praise of His people. Praise Him even with your tears, even if your heart is not in tune with what your lips are saying at first. It will not be long until your heart will catch up with praise. "Many, many times during heartache and sorrow, I have praised God with tears streaming down my cheeks because I know that God is a God of love."

"You offer God praise when it hurts," says Joni Erickson Tada, "and it costs you something. It costs your logic; it costs your pride. God then is so much more highly honored because He knows that you deem Him so, having offered such a sacrifice."

Hebrews 13:15 tells us to offer the "sacrifice of praise" to God with lips that thankfully acknowledge, confess, and proclaim the glory of His name.

The Bible says that God dwells in the praises of His people. He lives among praises and is continually surrounded by them. What an incredible way to abide with the Holy God.

Psalm 22:3 (NIV)
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises

“Holy, God, I praise Your name. You alone are worthy to be revered above all things. Thank you for Your daily mercy, love and goodness. I praise Your name! Amen.

Psalm 150:6 (NIV) Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD.


Kathy