Overwhelmed

Most days I feel good – positive, happy, etc.  But then there are days that I feel overwhelmed.  My children don’t obey me.  My husband hurts my feelings. I yell at all of them . . . and then feel guilty and like a failure as a mom and wife.

I feel tired and distracted when I read the Bible.

I feel uninspired when I write my blog and muddled when I pray.

But then I read about Job and Peter.  These men were facing horrible experiences – the death of children, health issues, prison, murder of friends and more.  These aren’t just stories.  These were real men.  Men who ate, slept, laughed and probably cried.  Men who experienced  ups and downs in their walks with God.  From Job crying out for death and Peter denying Jesus . . . to God restoring Job’s fortunes and Peter being freed from prison by angels.

God had wonderful things in store for these men and plan for their lives beyond what they could have ever imagined.  But their lives were far from “happy” and they experienced deeper lows then I have ever experienced.  But they persevered.  They kept their eyes focused on God.  They fought the good fight, even when it was hard.

This is what I am loving about reading through the Bible – meeting these mentors through their words and experiences.  Learning from them.  Seeing the big picture.  And being encouraged to keep up the walk and the faith, even on days when I feel like my head will explode and I can’t do anything right.  Just keep walking.  Day by day.  Step by step.

SCRIPTURE

  • Job 6-8
  • Acts 2
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Fasting

October 6, 2016 Reading

SCRIPTURE

  • Ezra 7-8
  • Luke 20

He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. Ezra 7:9-10 NIV

There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.  Ezra 8:21 NIV

So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer. Ezra 8:23 NIV

OBSERVATION

  • Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord and to teaching its decrees . . . and the gracious hand of God was with him.
  • Ezra petitioned God with prayer
  • Ezra called for the Israelites to humble themselves before God
  • Ezra and the Israelites fasted
  • God answered their prayers

ACTION

I am fasting (and praying) today for my oldest daughter’s heart procedure  tomorrow (on October 11)  and the salvation of a loved one.

PRAYER

Lord, please give me the strength and discipline to fast and to bring my prayers throughout the day.  Please listen to my prayers.  Hear my cries for my daughter and loved one.  Please help us to cast our fears on you and give my girl strength.  Please guide the doctors and nurses and may the surgery be successful.

Pray without Ceasing

October 4, 2016 Reading

SCRIPTURE

  • Esther 3-8
  • Luke 18

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  Luke 18:1 NIV


OBSERVATION

Always pray – Don’t give up

Jesus told a parable of a widow who kept coming to judge asking for justice on an issue.  Over and over she came.  This judge didn’t care about her or her issue, but after enough times of her showing up he got tired of her bothering him.  And he was a little scared of her.  So he relented and did as she asked.

I, on the other hand, have a Judge who loves me.  A judge who sent his son to die for me. I should keep asking.  Keep bringing my concerns to God, even when I don’t seem to be getting an answer.  Even when I don’t get the answer I want.

One of my regular prayers is for the salvation of a loved one, and this is a prayer I’ve been praying for a long time.  There are times I feel like giving up.

But maybe in this parable it isn’t just about getting my request heard and answered.  Maybe it is also about my faith.  And the more time I spend talking to God, the stronger my faith and walk will become.  And my ability to witness to this person will become stronger as they see me living my faith.

ACTION

Prayer.

I keep a prayer journal.  Kind of.  Some days I’m really on, some days I’m off.  Basically I have three people I pray for every day:

Then my goal is to rotate through praying for other people, organizations, causes, etc.

This parable is a reminder to not give up, even when I feel frustrated or like my prayer is futile.

PRAYER

Jesus, thank you for this reminder to always pray and to never give up.  Please give me discipline and consistency in my prayer life.  Help me to pray without ceasing.  Thank you that we are able to lift our petitions directly to you and that you listen.

Forgiving Part 2

October 3, 2106 Reading

SCRIPTURE

So watch yourselves.   “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.  Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” Luke 17:3-4 NIV

 

OBSERVATION

Rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.

Wow.  In all the times I’ve read this, somehow I’ve never noticed what this verse says about forgiveness.

  1. If your brother or sister sins against you
  2. Rebuke them
  3. If they repent
  4. Forgive them
  5. Repeat

What are these verses not saying?

  • It doesn’t say that this applies to non-Christians who have sinned against me.
  • It says “sins” against me. Not accidentally hurt me.  Not unintentionally hurt my feelings.  It says this is how to deal with a brother or sister in Christ who has sinned against me.
  • This is about a sin against me. Not me forgiving a sin someone did against someone else.  For example, someone says something mean to my child, it is between my child and that person.  Not me.
  • “Rebuke them.” Whoa, hold on.  It doesn’t say to gossip about them.  It doesn’t say to be passive aggressive.  It doesn’t say to return evil for evil.  It doesn’t say to be a martyr and let people walk over me.  Jesus says, if a brother or sister sins against me, I am to have a conversation with them about it.  I am to call them on it.
  • If they repent.” Forgiveness is conditional, based on the action of the offending party.  Based on their willingness to repent.  Which isn’t just saying “sorry” to placate me.  Or just admitting to doing something wrong, but not having any remorse.  But to repent.  To have deep sorrow for an action and to turn away from that sin.  I like Merriam-Webster’s full definition – Repent:  to feel or show that you are sorry for something bad or wrong that you did and that you want to do what is right.  To turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life.
    • a:  to feel regret or contrition
    • b:  to change one’s mind
  • At that point, I am to Forgive

I’ve read these verses many times before, but somehow I never noticed these steps leading up to forgiveness.  I’ve always thought I need to “forgive” everyone, regardless of them repenting.  Regardless of whether they even sinned against me personally.  And the whole instruction about me rebuking them . . . that somehow went right over my head.

Yes, I need to forgive, and the process of forgiving is something I sometimes struggle with, as I mentioned in Forgiving.  But this puts the process into a different perspective.

And really, isn’t this the process that God uses with us?  He convicts us of our sins, but it is up to us to confess and repent of our sins, and then he forgives them.

P.S. Regardless of the forgiveness status, God commands us to love.  To be patient, kind and keep no record of wrong.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

ACTION

Study more on forgiveness and pray about any sins I need to repent of or people I need to rebuke.

PRAYER

Jesus, thank you for giving us this straight-forward, simple explanation on the importance of forgiveness and the process.  Please show me if there are sins I’ve committed that I need to repent.  Please show me if there are people who have repented sins to me, but I still need to forgive.  Please show me if there are people I need to rebuke, and give me the strength and words to confront them about a sin they committed against me.  Thank you for dying for me and help me to forgive others in the way God has forgiven me.

Money

October 2 ,2016 Reading

SCRIPTURE

  • Ezra 5-6
  • Psalm 138
  • Luke 16

“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.    Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?    No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Luke 16:9-13 NIV


OBSERVATION

I am the oldest of five kids with a 14-year age span.  Growing up we didn’t have a lot of money, but I was always interested in money management.  When I was about nine years old I developed a little program called “Money Management”.   Looking back, I have no idea what it was about, other than I remember I had an idea we should all pool our money and save for a trip to Hawaii.  After we got about $11 saved we shut down that plan.  Instead we bought my mom some clearance clothes from JCPennys.

Fast-forward to college I wasn’t so interested in the concept of managing money or being a good steward, I wanted to make money.  I wanted to make lots of money to be able to buy nice things.  I never wanted to worry about making ends meet.  I saw money as an escape and if I just had enough income, I wouldn’t have any problems.  I’d have the life I wanted.

But the more I’ve lived – with money and without – I’ve seen the truth of this passage in so many ways.  If my faith is in money, not God, I’ll never have enough.

  • “Use worldly wealth to gain friends” – this is a very interested verse to me. What is Jesus saying?  In the passage before he was talking about a shrewd (but dishonest) business manager who manipulated people with money.  Knowing the character of God, I know Jesus isn’t telling us to be dishonest, but I think the point is that worldly wealth is just that – money on earth.  We can’t take it with us when we die, but if we are good stewards it can have eternal benefits.
  • I cannot serve both God and money. My faith and security needs to be in God, not money.

Going back to the little “Money Management” program I designed as a kid, I still have a love for systems, especially systems for stewardship of money.  I’m a big Dave Ramsey fan and love his baby step program.  But ultimately I know that this isn’t MY money.  And its purpose isn’t just to provide for my family . . . but also as a tool to help me to demonstrate and build faith in God.

ACTION

Our household income has changed quite a bit in the last six months.  As we are adjusting to the change my husband and I are needing to have quite a few more “budgeting” discussion.  Which can be stressful.  Things we could easily afford before are now items that require discussion and decisions.  Ultimately I think will be a good thing, but I need to enter those discussions with prayer.  Also, I need to enter discussions with my daughters – about things we can’t afford – with some thought and preparation.  I don’t want them to become stressed about money or to think that money is the most important thing.  I need to demonstrate that I’m trusting in God and that we need to be asking God how we should be spending money.

 PRAYER

Jesus, thank you for the parables and stories you gave us about handling money.  Thank you for clearly telling us that we can’t serve both God and money.  Money is probably – at least for me – the easiest idol to create.  Please help me to trust in you with my finances.  Help me to be respectful and loving with my husband, even during disagreements about money.  Please help me to set a good example for my girls when it comes to finances– both in my actions and what I say.  And please show me how you want me to steward the resources you have given me.  And give me the strength to follow wherever you lead.  In your name, Amen.

Loving the Poor

September 29 Reading

SCRIPTURE

  • Zechariah 10-12
  • Psalm 126
  • Luke 14

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:13-14 NIV

OBSERVATION

When Jesus was on earth he wasn’t hanging out with the top 1%.  He was spending time with the poor, the sick, the criminals, and outcasts.  These are the people he came to reach and to serve.

And how about me?  Who do I hang out with?  99% of the time I am spending time with people in my socioeconomic group.  Our houses are similar.  We might differ on politics, religion and background, but for the most part we are pretty similar.

Do I hang out with the poor?  No.  And the occasional “service project” at the food pantry or homeless shelter doesn’t count.  Have I ever sat down with someone who is truly poor with my intention being to make a friend?  No.  Do I put myself in situations to go deep with someone who is really down and out, with my sole purpose being to love them?  No again.  Do I view the homeless man sitting on the park bench as my equal?  Sadly, no.  I might feel compelled to give him a few dollars or buy him lunch, but I’ve never had the desire to really get to know him.  To learn from him.  To love him as a brother.

Jesus did.

Jesus considers me and that homeless man equals.

Jesus has asked me to love that man.  To reach out to him.  To invite him to a banquet.

ACTION

This is a hard one to pick an action for, though the opportunities are great.  Honestly it is a little scary for me.  When I see a homeless person on the street my first reaction is to move away, mainly out of fear.  Or to serve behind the scenes, without really getting to know the people I’m serving.

But from this verse, I think Jesus is asking for more than just surface level service.  He is telling me to treat the poor as a peer and to include them.

One action we are taking this evening is to attend the Compassion Experience with my children, to open our eyes and start a dialog about how people live around the world.

PRAYER

Lord, please open my eyes to the sick and poor around me.  Show me who you want me to connect with and how.  Please take away any fear that stands in my way.  Fill me with your love for the sick, poor and hurting and help me to connect with them in a real way.

Hard Hearted

September 28 Reading

SCRIPTURE

  • Zechariah 7-9
  • Luke 13

And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other’ Zechariah 7:8-10 NIV

“But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry. Zechariah 7:11-12 NIV

“‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty. Zechariah 7:13 NIV

These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; do not plot evil against each other, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,” declares the Lord. Zechariah 8:16-17 NIV

OBSERVATION

I’ve read parts of the Old Testament previously, but this year is the first time I’ve been reading through the entire Old Testament.  Over and over I’ve learned about the character of God.  He is merciful.  He is good.  He is patient.  He wants me to do the same.

God’s character doesn’t change – from the Old Testament to the New.  He wants me to listen to him; soften my heart toward him.  Obey him by loving others.

Right now I am still struggling to soften my heart.  I am struggling with a grudge against someone, and I know that by holding that grudge against that person I am hardening my heart toward God.

I can remember a shift in my childhood when I no longer guarded my heart and mind, and at that point I started turning away from God.  I gave myself opportunity to think unkind thoughts, which soon led to gossiping.  And I liked it because it met some need inside me to feel superior.

I came to a crossroads – to start pursuing God again I had to quit pursuing thoughts that didn’t line up with what God wanted. I had to close the door of my mind to impure thoughts, which I didn’t want to do.  When I came to that crossroads – sometime in my early teen years  – I closed my mind and heart to God, just like Israel did in the Old Testament.

And I walked farther and farther away from God.

Around 2012, I started an active walk back toward following God, which meant guarding my heart and mind and spending time with God.  It meant actively trying to shut down thoughts that don’t align with what God wants.  And the main thing he wants is for me to love him and love others.  To be patient, kind, unselfish, forgiving, humble, not envious, not easily angered, not holding grudges or bitterness.

These are all things I struggle with and as I mentioned in Forgiving, right now I am struggling with Unforgiveness.

  • Does holding a grudge against this person and thinking about how they hurt me fill some need in me: Yes
  • Do I feel like holding this grudge is equaling the playing field of the hurt they caused me: Yes, but it isn’t
  • Is holding this grudge really helping anyone: No
  • Is holding this grudge hurting my walk with God: Yes. Not because God won’t forgive me, but because I can’t give myself fully to praising God, praying to him and reading the Bible when I am holding onto this sin

ACTION

I need to repent of this grudge and give this person to God.  Mentally take them off of my hook and put them on God’s.  I need to forgive and show mercy.  I need to show love.  This weekend I will purposely do something kind for this person and, with God’s help, guard my mind against unkind thoughts, selfishness and unforgiveness.

PRAYER

Lord, please fill me with your love.  Help me to see “______” through your eyes, Jesus.  Show me how I can love them and show them mercy.  Please take away this grudge and my anger.  Please help me to forgive.