Rising from Ashes

#DailyBibleReading #BibleReadingPlan

David, son of Jesse: anointed, but yet to be crowned king. An outlaw without reason. A wanderer with a pedigree from Judah a blessing from Samuel and a price on his head. Following God and being hunted by man.

Several years ago I read The Divine Mentor by Wayne Cordeiro, and it was life-changing in teaching me how to focus my Bible reading and to be disciplined in my walk with Jesus. I love how he describes the scene in 1 Samuel 30 from the perspective of one of David’s men:

The Divine Mentor
By Wayne Cordeiro

Prologue
Smoke billowed on the horizon. Smoke where there should be no smoke at least, not a towering column like this one.

It couldn’t be good.

Terrorists. What else could it be?

As we approached we could see a few flames licking at piles of rubble. Yet where there had been homes, streets, playgrounds, gardens . . . there was nothing at all. Smoke, ruin, ashes. Nothing more. Shocked into immobility, we could do nothing but gape. Where were the homes? Where were the women and children? 

We poured over the edge of the embankment some sliding, some jumping, some running headlong, falling, getting up, and falling again. Each man ran to the area where his home had been, hoping against hope to see someone moving in the wreckage: a beloved face, a form staggering out of the devastation. But there was no one. And no sound but the dry crackle of flames, fanned by a lonely desert wind.

Where were the bodies? We saw none. The terrorists must have kidnapped every woman and child in the village!

We wept without shame. Some cursed; some called out names in their anguish. Muttering among themselves, clusters began to gather, glancing at one another, nodding, fingering their weapons. It was like the moment before a violent thunderstorm, when the air becomes taut and stifling.

That’s when he collapsed on his knees and convulsed in agony. It’s not as though his loved ones had been spared.

We couldn’t help but watch. And as he poured out his sorrow, pleading for help and hope and direction, his body language began to change. Tension seemed to drain away from his shoulders. His hands unclenched, and he lifted his head as he prayed. Finally rising again to his feet, he wiped away his tears, squared his shoulders, and spoke with a steady voice.

Say what you will, something happened by that rock on the edge of total devastation. In those few moments, he had found strength, confidence, and fresh resolve. God must have given him a plan too, because it wasn’t long before we set off like the wind on the trail of the invaders.

In that moment, we could believe again. And rising among us was the confidence that we would recover from the ashes of Ziklag all we had lost . . . and maybe even more.

I love reading the Bible and seeing how God worked in the lives of Abraham, Judah & Tamar, Boaz & Ruth, Hannah & Samuel, and King David . . . All leading to Jesus. All pointing us to the Savior. Redemption. Forgiveness. We see God using broken people to weave His story. God giving strength to the weak.

We get a glimpse of God working all things together for good for those who love Him.

 

 

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Who am I to the World?

I’ve just started a Bible study by A Fruitful Woman (check out her blog – she’s an awesome writer with a beautiful heart for Jesus), and assignment #1 is to journal my story. So I figured I’ll make a blog out of it and accomplish my blogging goal (which I am way behind on. Don’t read my post where I said I was going to post twice a week. I might need to change that to twice a month!)

So . . . here is my story.

I grew up in a conservative, “Christian” home in middle America. I fluctuated between being homeschooled and attending Christian schools, we didn’t have a TV, we listened to Christian music. We went to a very legalistic church. I had prayed the “salvation prayer” a million times out of fear of hell, and I considered myself a Christian, but did I really trust God? No. Was I following Him? No. Did I love Him with all my heart, soul, and mind? No.

In high school, we moved to another town and I started public school. We also changed churches to a more Jesus-centered church. It was a good move. I made great friends and I stayed out of trouble. But when it came to Jesus, my heart was confused. I still believed being a Christian meant how modest I dressed (or didn’t), what music I listened to, what shows I watched. Was I out drinking or smoking pot, or was I at youth group?

I’d read my Bible or devotional books occasionally, but I wasn’t seeking God.

Like most teens, I was insecure. I felt out-of-place because of my home school roots. I had acne. Money was tight. And things were starting to crumble at home. I knew my parents were heading to a divorce.

It wasn’t all bad. My mom was my rock. My siblings were wonderful humans (not that I would have admitted it at the time). I had good friends. I had a job. I was doing well at school.

But, I was hurting and empty inside, trying to follow all the rules to be a “Christian”. I  still wasn’t seeking God.

And then I found what I thought would be my escape: a guy. I got married young, just a few years out of high school. I won’t go into all the details, but it was a hot mess. I was a terrible wife. He wasn’t a great husband. We fought. A lot. And still, in the middle of the chaos, I wasn’t seeking God.

My personal life was messy. My spiritual life was non-existent, even though I went to church every Sunday, taught Sunday school, etc. But there was one area I excelled – work. I wanted more than anything to be successful in my career. I wanted to be financially secure. I was juggling work, college, and a crumbling marriage. Since I sucked at marriage, I focused all my energy on school and career. By age 23, I graduated Summa Cum Laude while working full-time at a job in my field. I had a 401(k), a house, a dog, and a new car. I was set.

By 25 I was divorced.

But I still didn’t seek God.

By 28 I was remarried. My priorities were 80% career, 10% marriage, 8% other, 2% God. We went to church and I went to occasional Bible studies. I prayed. But I wasn’t seeking God.

By 29, I was a Mom, but my priorities still didn’t really shift that much. My focus was still on my career and building a nest egg. If anything my career was still 80% of my focus, 15% kids, 4% husband and whatever was left-over went to God and other “priorities.” Thankfully, my second marriage was much better than my first. My kids were easy. Life was good. But God wasn’t my top priority. Not even close.

By 36, this life I was trying desperately to build came tumbling down. My career was extremely successful, but I was working from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m., 6 days a week. I was never home. My husband was raising our kids by himself while struggling with his own inner demons. He couldn’t take it anymore. Things went from bad to worse. We ended up separating. My daughter was having panic attacks. I was a mess.

And I finally started to seek God. 

I pulled out my Bible and didn’t just read it to check something off my Christian to-do list. I opened it for answers. I opened it to find my savior.

There wasn’t some life-altering, noticeable change in me, but slowly God started to work in my life. He started to re-arrange my priorities. I started to see my husband and children with different eyes. I  started to really work at my marriage. I started to see Jesus, not just as a destination after death, but a daily companion.

At age 37, I attended a Bible study about finding God’s mission for my life. I went into the study thinking God was going to call me to some huge mission or massive undertaking. But God had a different message for me. He showed me my mission field: my husband and children.

At age 40, I “fired” all my clients, let all my employees go, and shut down my office. I read the entire Bible. I started my blog, “Becoming Mary”. I started making my time with Jesus my #1 priority. And He, in turn, has been changing me.

I’ll be 42 years old this year. I’m still a work in progress. If I go a day or two without reading the Bible my husband and kids can tell as I fall back into my old patterns. I still have to remind myself regularly to focus on the mission field God gave me, rather than chasing shiny career goals. I need reminders that I am not defined by my career, or lack of it. I am not defined by marriage or divorce. I am not defined by motherhood or the successes or failures of my children. I am not defined by the church I attend or my good works.

I am defined by my savior.

And when I go to bed at night and mull over my day, the question isn’t what I accomplished or failed to accomplish. But, was I faithful?

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ Matthew 6:33

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. Luke 10:39-42 

 

 

 

What is Faith?

Yesterday at church our pastor said, “Faith is thinking highly enough of God to trust Him with your life.” 

For example, God told Abraham that even though he was a very old man, he would have a son and his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. This was a seemingly impossible promise. But Abraham believed God. He trusted Him. He understood God’s power and His character.

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.  Genesis 15:6

Faith isn’t just believing that God exists – even the demons intellectually believe that God exists (James 2:19), but they haven’t put their faith in God. The demons don’t trust God with their lives. Faith means trusting in God.

The English word “Faith” in the Bible is translated from the Greek word “pistis” or πίστις. It means “firm persuasion, assurance, firm conviction, guarantee.”

Faith in Jesus is what God wants from us; a firm conviction that Jesus is God – that he died for our sins and that everything he says is true – and that we trust in Him.  If we have this Faith, we will be saved.

So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham’s. For Abraham is the father of all who believe. That is what the Scriptures mean when God told him, “I have made you the father of many nations.” This happened because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing. Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, “That’s how many descendants you will have!” And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb.

Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous. And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.

Romans 4:16-25

Abraham believed. And that belief was credited to him as righteousness. And because of his belief and trust in God, he obeyed God. Obedience follows belief. Because we believe that God knows what He is talking about and we trust Him with our lives, we want to follow the path he has shown us.

Here is an analogy: A hiker got lost in Yosemite National Park. It was snowy, freezing, and getting dark. The hiker was out of water and food, didn’t have a tent, and wasn’t dressed for cold weather. The hiker didn’t have a map, GPS, or even a compass. It was his first visit to Yosemite and he wasn’t an experienced climber or hiker. He had climbed up a steep hill an hour before, but in the dark, he had no idea where the ledge was or how to get down to the path.

Then a park ranger showed up.

The park ranger had 20 years of experience as a ranger in Yosemite. He had a degree in Wildlife and Forestry and was an expert mountain climber. He was the most respected ranger in the park. He hiked in Yosemite every day and had walked that very area of the park numerous times that week already. He also had a map, a GPS rescue radio, flashlight, trekking poles, water, ropes, and a rifle in case of bears. He said, “follow me, I’ll take you to safety”.

Now the hiker had a decision to make. He could stay where he was and hope he didn’t freeze to death. Or he could try to find his way on his own and hope he didn’t fall off a cliff. Or he could follow the park ranger and trust the ranger knew the way to safety.

The hiker doesn’t need to pay the ranger. He doesn’t need to prove he is a good person before the ranger will guide him to safety. He doesn’t need perfect hiking gear or mountain climbing skills before the ranger will agree to help him.

He just needs to make a decision to trust the ranger and follow him.

Faith in Jesus is that simple. It is trusting Jesus. And following Him.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” John 3:16-21

 

 

Transformation by Time Spent with Jesus

Everyone has sins they struggle with. On any given day, the main areas I struggle with are being patient, being respectful of my husband, not losing my temper, and controlling my tongue. And occasionally lust depending on the time of the month and if I happen upon a movie starring Channing Tatum, Idris Elba, or Zac Efron.

For years I thought, “I’m a Christian, so I shouldn’t struggle with sin so much. Why doesn’t God just take my sin and temptation away?” If God washes our sin away when we become saved then why do I end up gossiping on a regular basis? Why am I not overcoming sin?  Why am I still yelling at my kids? Why do I get so frustrated? Why am I not more like Jesus?

Then one Sunday in church I heard a word I’d heard a million times before, but for the first time, the concept stuck: Sanctification. Sanctification is the process of becoming more like Jesus . . . moving from a life of sin to a life that is holy. For the majority of people this isn’t an overnight thing, but a gradual daily transformation. Little by little. We become more like Jesus.

How does Sanctification happen? It doesn’t happen by saying a quick prayer or even going to church on Sunday. It happens by spending time with Jesus every day. Reading the Bible. Praying. Worshiping God. Memorize Bible verses and meditating on them. Fasting. That is all I need to do – keep my mind focused on Jesus and spend time with him every day. He’ll do the rest.

I’ve experienced this in my own life. I’m changing . . . ever so gradually. I still get mad. I still gossip. I still sin. But not as much. And the temptation isn’t as great as it used to be. And I can guarantee you I can’t take any credit for the changes in my attitude and behavior because I’ve tried to make changes myself and nothing worked long-term. I’ve gone to counseling, read self-help books, even joined support groups. Sure, I learned some helpful tools and had some accountability, but never experienced any deep heart transformation.

Until I started having coffee with Jesus every morning.

Then everything changed. Not overnight. Not anything noticeable to anyone but me (at first). But the old me has started dying. I leave a little piece of the old me behind every morning when I meet with Jesus. And I leave my daily time with Jesus with a little more of Him in me.

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  John 17:17 

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2 

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,  1 Peter 2:2

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, Deuteronomy 11:18-20 

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.  1 Timothy 4:7-10

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

Proverbs 31: A Virtuous and Capable Wife

#DailyBibleReading #BibleReadingPlan

Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is more precious than rubies. Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life.

She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She finds wool and flax and busily spins it. She is like a merchant’s ship, bringing her food from afar. She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plan the day’s work for her servant girls.

She goes to inspect a field and buys it; with her earnings she plants a vineyard. She is energetic and strong, a hard worker. She makes sure her dealings are profitable; her lamp burns late into the night.

Her hands are busy spinning thread, her fingers twisting fiber. She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy. She has no fear of winter for her household, for everyone has warm clothes.

She makes her own bedspreads. She dresses in fine linen and purple gowns. Her husband is well known at the city gates, where he sits with the other civic leaders. She makes belted linen garments and sashes to sell to the merchants.

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness.

Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!”

Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.
Proverbs 31:10-31 NLT

Using S.O.A.P. to Study the Bible

I’ve always known that reading the Bible is a good thing, but over the years I’ve struggled with finding a good devotional book or reading plan. When I was in Bible study groups I’d usually read a week worth of homework the night before and still couldn’t get in a good reading/study routine.

Then I read the book The Divine Mentor, which really changed the way I viewed Bible reading. Instead of looking for authors to explain the Bible for me or devotional books that included some verses of the day, The Divine Mentor’s premises is that the #1 book I should be reading is the Bible. I don’t really need any other commentaries, though sometimes they are nice. The Bible is God’s gift to me. For spiritual growth – or sanctification – the basic tools are the Bible and prayer.

For me, the S.O.A.P. method has been helpful in keeping me focused and digging deeper into the Bible. All you need is a pen, journal, and Bible.

#1. Scripture: Consistently read the Bible. I like using an annual “read through the Bible” plan, like this or this, on Bible.com or YouVersion app. With the YouVersion app, you can read the Bible or listen to it.

#2. Observation: What did I learn in the day’s reading? Some questions to ask:

  • What verses stood out?
  • What did I learn about God?
  • Is there an example I should follow?
  • What does God expect of me?
  • What does the reading say about human nature?
  • Is there a command I need to obey?
  • Is there a promise for me?

#3. Application or Action: How can I apply what I learned to my life in a real way? Is there something I need to do . . . or not do? Is there something I need to pray about? I try to make the action something I can actually do that day, if possible.

#4. Pray: Praise, Repent, Ask, Yield.

This is a very simple concept, but for me, has made a HUGE difference in my daily walk with God. It has given me direction and focus. It has taught me more than any Bible study I’ve done.

If you are intersted in being part of a Facebook group reading through the Bible in 2018, please visit here. I’d love to hear what techniques or disciplines have been the most helpful to you in growing closer to God.

Happy reading!