Practice: Submission

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Lk 22:42)

Before Jesus’s crucifixion, his ultimate suffering that he did not deserve, Jesus asked for his suffering to be removed.  However, he ended with surrender to God and submission to God’s will for Him.

Starting in 2017, we entered some hard times.  We went through the grueling process of adopting our sweet baby boy, Yohan from Korea. Shortly after that Hurricane Harvey hit us covering half of our home outside with water.

We lived in four different homes with our 3 boys. One of my close friends suddenly passed away. Another was raped.  Both were bridesmaids in my wedding.

We poured a lot of money into house renovations related to Hurricane Harvey.  We could not sell our home that flooded.  One week after all of our Harvey related renovations were completed, my husband’s company merged with another company and as a result, he lost his job.

When my husband lost his job, we looked at each other and knew we only had one choice: to radically trust God as we submitted to His will for our lives. And so started a journey of God refining our faith under fire teaching us rest is not dependent on our circumstances but on submitting to God’s will for our lives.

God has lovingly taken our hearts and moved them to a position of worship. We are discovering a new way of living in the midst of hardship. We are experiencing great joy and peace that comes with submission to our loving and gracious Heavenly Father.

We cannot even begin to tell you the amazing things we have discovered about God during these times.  He is true to His Word and He is true to His character.  He does indeed go above and beyond all that we ask according to the power that works in us.  (Eph. 3:20)

There are many things we cannot control in our lives. However, we can submit to God’s will for our lives knowing faith delights Him. He will take care of you and He loves you.

~Edna Lee

Practice: Simplicity

 “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”  2 Corinthians 11:3  (NASB)

We live complicated lives in a complex world where overcrowded schedules rule our days.  The temptation exists daily to focus on urgent temporary matters over and above what will matter for all eternity – a relationship with our heavenly Father.  Jesus told His disciples not to obsess and worry over what they were to eat or drink because “your Father knows that you need them.”  He instructed them to simply “seek His kingdom first” and God would supply the rest.  (Luke 12:29-31)

Simplicity according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “the state of being simple, uncomplicated, and uncompounded.” Last week Laura focused on God being just and that we are blessed as we wait on Him to faithfully execute justice. We complicate things when we try to execute justice on our own. We are called to simply wait patiently before the Lord.

Martha was busy preparing dinner for Jesus and some of His followers. She was distracted with all the preparations, while Mary, her sister, devoted her time to sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to his every word.  Martha tried to step in and seek some justice of her own by demanding Jesus instruct Mary to come and help her.  But Jesus quickly gave her a lesson in simplicity.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:41-42 (NIV)

Mary practiced the simple act of devotion.  She wasn’t stressing out over what she was going to wear or that special dish she was to prepare. Instead she seized the moment to simply be with Jesus – a moment that she would treasure for eternity.

I can make things complicated in a hurry!  Once I knew I was to write about the practice of simplicity I was excited because I have read books, taught lessons and even memorized verses on the subject.  However, I am now experiencing information overload and having difficulty simplifying my simplicity message!  In this moment I am reminded of this treasured truth: “This is all that I have learned:  God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves very complicated.”  Ecclesiastes 7:29  (GNT) So I have decided to do the next right thing and share with you how I practice simplicity.

The one thing I consistently do to bring order and simplicity into my life is to start my day with a cup of coffee and God’s Word.  I guard this time like a momma bear guards her baby cub. I put my phone in my robe pocket so as not to be distracted and I have a special place set aside for my morning with the Lord. I sit in my comfortable overstuffed chair where my Bible, journal, pens, and others supplies are close. I spend time praying, reading and writing down my insights and prayers. The time with the Father is never wasted, as He is faithful to provide a word of encouragement, instruction, or even conviction. When I arise I know I have chosen the better and it will not be taken from me.

Have you made your life more complicated than God intends?  He made you to be plain and simple and gives you one responsibility and that is to seek Him first above all else.  He will work out the rest! Read Catherine’s story Hope in the Storm to seek how simple faith brings hope when life gets overwhelmingly complicated.

Keeping First Things First,

Nancy Taylor

 

Praise: God is Just

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! Isaiah 30:18

It’s important to reflect on living in light of God’s greater story around the world when we think of living our personal stories. As Christ followers, we are not designed to live in isolation but in connection to God, people, and His mission. The accounts of men, women, and children finding faith in Jesus and growing in the knowledge of Him provide evidence that the Great Commission is being fulfilled (Matthew 28:18-20). We will worship around the throne of God with people from every tribe, people, and nation.

The middle east is an area of the world God placed in my heart a number of years ago. The scattering of people due to war, persecution, and hardship creates space for those from Muslim backgrounds with little or no access to the Gospel to hear about the Risen One. I travel each year to Athens, Greece to reach out to refugees and recently returned. I visited for a weekend with Ashlee a dear sister in Christ who labors in this part of the world; to hear her amazing story of how she followed the Lord, listen to our conversation on the Sacred Story podcast.

I can’t wrap my mind around the injustice accompanying the stories of refugees.

*Forced to decide which child to bring on the journey and which to leave in the care of others when fleeing

*Forced to flee because terrorists are demanding skills and expertise to be employed on their behalf

*Forced to entrust an 11-year-old son to a stranger so he can make it to a stable country in hopes of allowing the remainder of the family to join in the future

*A former lawyer, college student, doctor, having little prospect of employment, much less the ability to use or continue their training

*Forced from Iraq and unable to return because there’s nothing but rubble

*Unable to obtain medical care in Athens for a 12-year old daughter who suffers from a nerve condition which hinders her from walking correctly

*Untimely losses: a young man who lost his wife and 3-month old daughter in the war, a family whose father was murdered by the Taliban

*Forced to leave Iran because having an opinion about the lyrics of music threatens the government

*A woman who finds herself divorced in Iran and without the ability to see her children because women have no legal rights in such matters

Iran is one of the places where the underground church is growing the fastest; as history and the Bible describe, the injustice of persecution speeds the spread of the Gospel.

In the confusion of overwhelming heart break, where is the justice of God? How do we think about God being just? Merriam Webster defines just as “acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good.” God’s character remains just: He is acting and abiding by what is good and correct. He cannot do otherwise. When we live in a world of sin, decay, and evil, it feels like justice is not served. Yet God’s Word declares a long view of justice is needed. Isaiah 30:18 printed at the top says those who wait for God are blessed.

God set in motion His justice from the beginning of time. He could not allow people’s rebellion against Him known as sin and His perfection known as His holiness to coexist. His plan to take away mankind’s sin through the sacrifice of His Son manifested over centuries. The cross proved God’s commitment to being just. Jesus hung on the cross as punishment for our sin; as His blood poured out, the wrath of God was satisfied. He dealt justly with our sin by conforming to His perfect standard in judging sin and extending forgiveness through belief in Jesus. He invites you and me into a personal relationship through faith where there is no condemnation for sin. Hallelujah! We will celebrate His victory in the resurrection at Easter. If you have questions about faith and forgiveness, contact me.

Believing our God is a God of justice means the Greatest Story Ever Told isn’t over. We wait for ultimate justice to be carried out when evil is done away with and every tear is wiped away (Revelation 21-22). God’s greater story around the world reminds us that we live in the midst of a grand epic. Let’s call out to Him for justice, trusting He is answering.

People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Isaiah 30:19

~Laura

Praise: Faithfulness

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”     Hebrews 10:23

Anyone else feeling encouraged and convicted with me after reading Brandi’s incredible post on practicing service? I for one am still not over how accurately she articulated the lies of independence in the modern world and the encouragement to press on in service to the Lord because we have what it takes through grace!

This week let’s marvel together in the wonder of God’s faithfulness.

One of the resounding hymns of the twentieth century church is Great is Thy Faithfulness, written by Thomas Chisholm in the 1920s. Thomas Chisholm was a very ordinary man who lived an ordinary life. He did not receive a prestigious education, he did not accumulate substantial wealth or accolades, and he worked very normal, ordinary jobs. However, he clearly deeply understood the beauty of the daily presence of the Lord and his promises in our lives. He faithfully worshiped God by writing thousands of poems in his free time. He knew God is faithful in the ordinary day to day.

I can hardly think of God’s faithfulness without humming some of the beautifully simple lines of the refrain:

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy Faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see;

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

It is God’s faithfulness that allows us to trust he is who he says he is, and will do what he says he will do. It is his faithfulness that will not allow him to ever go back on his Word. It is in faithfulness that we see the eternal longevity of God’s goodness.

Hebrews 6:18-19 describes it this way: “God did this [in making a promise to Abraham] so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

This spring we covered how God is unchanging. God’s faithfulness flows from his unchanging character. What he says he will do, he must do, and cannot not do. Incredible, isn’t it? And incredibly different and set apart than you and me!

God’s words are the final standard of truth. They are the standard from which truth is created and endure the weight of eternity. Hebrews 6:18 is telling us it is impossible for God to lie, so his promises must hold true. We can trust God will always do what he says he will do!

With this in mind, we can hold unswervingly to the hope we have throughout all circumstances. True faith is trusting our reward is coming, that Christ is coming, the resurrection is coming, and one day this world will be set right in the light of God’s love and glory. We can live day in and day out steadfast and grounded that Christ will return and all will be well again in this broken world.

We live by faith in the light of God’s faithfulness when we rest in the promises of God, “looking forward to the city with foundations, who architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10)

The lives we live we live by faith, rejoicing in all circumstances, “for now we see through a glass dimly, but then we shall see face to face: Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)  The time is coming when we will no longer need to live by faith. This life is our one chance to walk by faith and not by sight! We can do this by trusting in the faithfulness of God and by reflecting on ways we have seen him be faithful.

This week join me in asking God to reveal his faithfulness to you and to me. Think about how April’s story called  Releasing My Daughter points to our faithful God. Let’s worship him out of the delight in our souls!

Drenched in His Love,

Emma

Practice: Service

“For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”                         I Corinthians 3:9

The practice of service is an outflow, a giving to others, but there’s more. When you serve from the great supply of God’s love shed abroad in our hearts, you are part of something much bigger than you. You are a co-laborer in furthering the cause of Christ, one whom God employs as an assistant. You are employed, engaged, entrusted, engrafted into the body of Christ. There is a belonging and a sense of purpose that meets our deepest human needs. God created you and called you to be part of his body, his hands, his feet to advance the kingdom of heaven during a brief window of time called, your life. Without you, there would be something missing, a part of the plan that was allocated just for you to carry forward.

But the world says, be free, be independent, Christianity is a crutch for the weak and naïve. Why would you give without receiving, pour out your life to the undeserving, get up early to be a warm smile, give away your gifts without pay? You don’t belong to anyone but yourself. Live your life. It’s your life. Sound familiar?

Independence invites you to go it alone, but don’t be deceived. It leaves you there, alone. You were made to be part of the great adventure where dependence on God is required.

To serve is more authentically translated from the primitive root to serve, till, enslave, keep in bondage, be bondmen, bond-service, compel, etc. Why does this definition bother us? It treads on my free will, my freedom…my life. Can you feel that?

Do you believe your plans for your life are better than God’s plans for your life? It’s a decision. He won’t force you to choose His best for your life. If you don’t, at some point you will run out of you and deeply long to be part of something greater.

What does it mean to be a co-worker in God’s service? Paul was explaining to the Corinthians that each person plays a part in advancing the kingdom. One may plant and the other may water but God gives the increase. Paul had some extraordinary gifts and so do you. When I compare myself to Paul, I’m paralyzed with inferiority. How could God use me?

“God expects us to get our own hands dirty just as he dirtied his own. God doesn’t save us so we can soak in religion but so that we can go out and spread his love to the masses.” Dirty God p. 172

Let’s refuse to let negative self talk keep us from being part of God’s field, building, and the great adventure He designed for our lives. Are you ready to get your hands dirty?  Start by taking this free survey to identify your gifts.

Once you’ve identified your gifts, “You’ve got to give your gifts or they may become your idols, your identify, and you become the walking dead. If your living is not about giving, then you’re already dying. You’ve got to use the life you’ve given to give others life.” The Broken Way, p. 197

Do I have what it takes to serve?  Here’s a great message regarding God’s supply.

How will you get your hands dirty for God today?

What fears stand between you and the great adventure He planned for your life? Read Erika’s story about how she overcame her fears of partnering with God in her business.

Who provides the strength you need to get started?

In His Unfailing Love,

brandi

Praise: God is Sovereign

“The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.” Ps. 103:19

Many people believe in fate, chance and karma. What goes around, comes around. Do enough good and good will come back to you. The good things that happen in life are merely coincidence or the stars aligning.

Christians look at life through a very different lens because we believe in a sovereign God. God’s sovereignty is one of the most comforting aspects of His character because it reflects His complete, perfect rule over all things at all times.

Because of His sovereignty, He rules supremely over all His creation. He is called the King of kings and Lord of lords. He “determines the course of world events; He removes kings and sets others on the throne” (Dan. 2:21). While earthly kings are given authority by other people, God’s reign is completely unique. Bill Bright says, “God does not derive His right to rule from anyone or anything. No title was bestowed on Him by another, and there is no higher authority anywhere than His. His reign is so magnificent that we cannot comprehend any part of it.” We serve a perfect King.

We find comfort in God’s sovereignty by trusting in His purposes and perfect will for our lives even when–especially when–we do not understand His ways. Scripture tells us His will is “good, perfect and pleasing” (Rom. 12:2). We must also remember His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9). Charles Spurgeon says, “There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them.”

His will is always to make us more like Christ and for us to gain a deeper understanding of His love for us. So even when we do not understand His ways, we can trust His heart.

God has demonstrated His sovereignty clearly in my life, often in the midst of very difficult circumstances. God brought about our desire to adopt through the heartbreak of infertility. Anyone who has experienced deep, unmet longings can relate to the struggle and confusion that comes with a dream not fulfilled.

We often want to figure out the reason God allows pain in our life. Sometimes He reveals His reasons– He had something much better for us, He wanted us to grow in our dependence on Him, or maybe He allowed consequences from a sinful decision.  I do not know why the Lord allowed us to struggle with infertility, but I do know it would be unlikely we would have Camp in our lives had we not faced the struggle. He brought about something so very good in spite of the hurt. He is a God of redemption after all.

What situation are you facing right now where you are tempted to doubt God’s sovereignty? You may not know now how the Lord is going to work things for your good. Recognize this chapter of your life is not over. The Lord has not forgotten about you, even if you feel He has. Cry out to the Lord and ask Him for renewed hope. Trust in His goodness and rest in His sovereignty. Your story is still being written.

~Courtney

Practice: Confession

Search me, O God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.   Psalm 139:23-24

Last week Becky directed our thoughts toward the all-knowing God. Lifting our hands in praise to the God who knows all brings us to our knees in confession that He is God and we are not!

In Psalm 139, the psalmist expounds on God’s full knowledge of his every move and word, his location whether in darkness or in light, and his entire being from birth to each day following. After he praises God for His knowledge he turns to confess his hatred of those who are against his Lord. After which he asks God to search thoroughly his heart, mind and actions for any offensive attitude, thought or behavior. Frederick Buechner said, “To confess your sins to God is not to tell [God] anything [God] doesn’t already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the bridge.” If we never take the time to ask God to show us where we have fallen short in our relationship with Him and others, our hearts will never experience true brokenness and the close connection to Him that confession brings.

Confession is to agree with God that sin has been committed. Suzanna Wesley defined sin as “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish for spiritual things then it is sin for you, however, innocent it may be in itself.” As I practice meditating on God’s Word He is faithful to reveal and convict me of sin in my life. The author of Hebrews says God’s Word is able to penetrate our hearts as it judges our thoughts and attitudes and all things are visible to God to whom we must give an account. Once convicted by His Word, I make it my practice to do as pastor and evangelist F.B. Meyer taught, “Confess sin instantly.” If we remain silent about our sin and put off our confession, David writes in Psalm 32 that our strength fails, physically and spiritually. If we confess our sins to God who is just and faithful, He forgives us, cleans us up and draws us ever closer to His side. (1 John 1:9)

This past December I hosted our family Christmas party. I had planned activities, food, and even a service project for our party and as the day approached my mind was overwhelmed with all the details. A few days prior to the party my daughter-in-law’s grandpa passed away and I reached out to her father and step-mother, but failed to spend time ministering to my daughter-in-law as I was wrapped up in Christmas party planning. The day of the party arrived and in the midst of all the activity I noticed my daughter-in-law was uncharacteristically quiet. It wasn’t until the party was over that I realized the obvious – she was grieving the loss of her grandpa. I had really messed up! I confessed to the Lord that I had been self-focused and driven rather than looking out for the needs of my precious daughter-in-law.

I woke very early the next morning and couldn’t go back to sleep as my mind filled with remorse over my lack of compassion and care. A couple of days prior to the party, I had made note of a verse in my journal, “He sends his word and melts them, he stirs up his breezes and the water flows” (Psalm 147:18) and wrote out my prayer: “Oh Lord continue to send your Word to speak to me. Melt any icy layers within my heart and may the living water flow.” The Lord had sent His Word, and melted my heart. I immediately contacted my daughter-in-law confessing to her I failed to acknowledge her grief over the loss of her grandpa whom she loved so dearly. She quickly responded by saying my words meant a lot to her. Suddenly the Living Water flowed, washing over my heart with His forgiveness, refreshment and rest.

I pray you will begin the practice of asking God to search your heart and mind as you read His Word. Let it bring conviction to your heart, confession to your lips and refreshment to your soul.

Are you practicing confession?

Read Christel’s story of how she found “Mercy in Messiness” through God’s Word and forgiveness.

Nancy Taylor

 

 

 

 

Praise: God is All-Knowing

A few years ago, I vacationed at a remote cottage, three miles from the nearest home, surrounded only by vineyards and rolling hills. It was a true place of rest – no cell service, no distractions from the outside world. In the stillness, I sat on the back porch of the cottage, the only sound breaking the silence was the hum of the birds, the crackle of the leaves brushing in the wind. I heard a squirrel scurrying about. The brush concealed the culprit, but the constant rustling revealed someone hard at work.The contrast between these two characters suddenly became very apparent.

Squirrels. I rarely see them “sitting”. They are constantly going, preparing, scurrying, storing up for the future. They are industrious, productive, focused— but sometimes their busyness leads to a future they do not experience (think how many squirrels you have seen smashed in the middle of the road).

In contrast, consider birds. Most often they go unseen, yet their sweet song is a reminder that they are close by. Birds strike me as such content creatures. They sit and hum their song, while on the alert to provide for their young. Their nest is always looked after and cared for. They are purposeful in their pursuit, deliberate in their movements. The fact that they “stop and sit” allows for them to see what is necessary to provide for their family and add to the security of the nest. A lock of hair, piece of gum, leaves, brush… they are meticulous and cunning, yet playful and free, bursting with a song in their heart.

I look at squirrels and I wonder why they toil, why they strive so fiercely, why they don’t stop like the birds. I wonder why they cross the street, only to turn around on the other side and run back. Then I look at my own life and I see that oftentimes I resemble the life of the squirrel much more than the bird. I’m busy. I’m productive… but at the end of the day, what do I have to show for it? A tired, distracted mind… longing for the peace and quiet that I threw away in the name of maximization.

This memory came to mind as I was reflecting this past week on the all-knowing nature of God. Jesus specifically calls the image of the bird to mind in Matthew 6:25-26

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more than they?”

What a beautiful picture of God’s provision. Psalm 33:15 says the Lord fashions the hearts of all men and understands all of their works. Psalm 139 reveals how completely God knows every aspect of my life – my sitting down, my rising up, my thoughts, my path, all of my ways. Verse 17 even talks about the thoughts God has toward me. What a tremendous thought – the Creator of the Universe is not only acquainted with all my ways, but thinks about me! He provides for all of my needs. May I stop and rest today in the knowledge of God’s care and provision for me. May I seek to know God, the One who knows all of me!

Becky Hand works in Commercial Real Estate as a land broker and is the Spiritual Development Chair for 4Word in Houston. She co-leads 4Word’s weekly Bible study that meets in the Spring Branch area. Becky is married to her husband, Peter, and they are expecting their first child in April 2019.  She loves running, hiking and reading.

Practice: Worship

Psalm 84:10, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”

As my husband and I were walking in downtown Houston we were admiring some of the beautiful new hotels. Looking inside, we could see beautiful marble floors, crystal chandeliers, beautiful architecture and expensive interior design. It was so beautiful I could almost feel velvet between my fingers. The inviting hotel made us internally salivate for rest, enjoyment and status.

As we peeled our faces away from the window and came to stark reality that rain was starting to pour down on our uncovered heads, we hurriedly walked past the hotel and waved to the proud, smiling guardsman by the front door. As I looked back at the beautiful hotel sighing at the stark contrast it was from my exhausting, black and white life as a mother to 3 boys, my husband Kevin said, “See that guardsman? See how proud he is to be in the presence of that hotel? That is what it’s like to be a guardsman at the house of God.”

Then he quoted Psalm 84:10, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” As I looked at Kevin I could see how proud and fulfilled he was though he was just as exhausted as I was if not more because he was jobless.

I will never forget that picture. I will never forget that moment when my longing for rest, enjoyment and significance were satisfied because I was invited into the house of God. I will never forget my husband’s face glowing with worship despite his unemployment because he knew his status in Christ.

God’s house will be a million times more glorious than the most beautiful hotel in the world. In Revelation 21, it says the city will be made of pure gold, clear as crystal and the walls will be built with jasper and other precious stones. The gates will be made with solid pearl. The city will not need sun or the moon because the glory of God will shine on it.

It will be glorious and you and I will be invited to enter into rest, peace and enjoyment for all eternity! Though we have not entered the city yet, God has spiritually invited us into His home through a relationship with Him. It is through this relationship that we can experience joy and peace which leads to worship regardless of our circumstances.

Have you accepted His divine invitation?
Edna Lee

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