Monday, September 10, 2012

That Our Joy Might be Full

"These things have I spoken unto you that my joy might remain in you, 
and that your joy might be full. "
John 15:12

As a young adult, I was so afraid of God's sovereignty that I literally robbed myself of the joy that I now believe He wanted me to experience. I remember wondering things like: “What if He wants me to be single?” “What if He wants me to be a missionary to Africa?” “What if He wants me to marry someone who liked to move a lot?” “What if He wants me to have two children when I want six?” I came across the above verse a few years ago and I have been intrigued by it ever since.

Christ told the parable of the Vine and the Branches to His disciples and in that parable He says He wanted them to stay plugged into the vine so His joy would fill His disciples until it overflowed. It was a shock for me to realize Christ wanted His joy to fill us! That means that no matter what we go through in life, He wants His joy to remain in us and for that joy to sustain us through the difficult things we experience. I don’t know about you, but for me, “joy being full” doesn’t sound like a thread of joy to barely hang on to.

As a young adult, I had the perspective that if I was faced with something hard I must be doing something wrong or that maybe God was angry with me. Sometimes I think I even bordered on believing God did not love me as much as He did others. That faulty belief system meant whenever I experienced emotional pain I had to do something to become a better person to get the pain to stop. That mindset left me pretty worn out. Verse two of Chapter 15 says it is when God sees fruit in our lives that He begins to prune us so we can produce even more fruit. That means when He sees us begin producing godly characteristics like love, peace, self-control, righteousness or sharing Christ that He will begin to refine us even more so we might produce even more fruit.Could it be that the trials and temptations we face that are not of our own choosing are not a punishment, but a pruning? They are a loving and intentional method God uses to transform us. God continues to prune us of the things that hinder our potential to produce the quantity and quality of the fruit He desires us to produce.

It is His desire for us to love with His love not a worldly love. That means He may bring a series of people into our lives that challenge us and that we will have to work at loving them as He does. If He wants to produce the peace that passes understanding in us, He may have to put us in situations that require facing fears so we can experience His peace in circumstances that don't warrant peace. If He wants to produce kindness in us, He will more than likely bring people to whom we will have to work hard at showing His kindness so it becomes more natural for us to do so.

He also points out in the parable that the way we have joy is to remain in Him. This means we are to be dependent on Him. Just as sap flows freely from the vine into the branches feeding and making the branch healthy and productive, the Holy Spirit fills us, enabling us to produce godly character. Apart from Him, we cannot live the Christian life and produce godly fruit He desires us to produce. Apart from Him, we cannot forgive from the heart, we cannot love the unlovable, or overcome the weaknesses of our flesh. To live for Christ requires supernatural power that can only come from being in a right relationship with Him. It also requires we do what we can to have our minds filled with His thoughts and surrendering our will so that it will conformed to His will. As He works in our hearts and lives through us, it will be reflected in the way we act, think, react, and talk and it will impact our relationship with Him and with everyone with whom we come in contact.

In closing, Christ's goal for us is to glorify our Heavenly Father by bearing much fruit. When we fulfill that goal the outcome is always joy! As God prunes and as we become more like Him, we will experience joy to the fullest. When vines are being pruned, they cut off all the little tiny twigs that sap all the nutrients away from the fruit, not the big branches needed to bear fruit. The question each of us should ask ourselves is, “What are the fruitless twigs in our lives?” Could they be our business? Could they be the misconceptions we have of God? Could they be unhealed hurts? Could they be unbelief, fear, bitterness, unhealthy friendships, enemies, stress, addictions, worldly desires or worldly viewpoints? If none of these touched a vein in us, we can ask ourselves what stands between us and God or what takes our energy and our focus away from Him. If we can relate to things on the list, we don't need to "beat ourselves" up. It is more beneficial to be curious and to accept our humanity. That we can see them and identify them is proof God is at working in us. We will spend the rest of our lives trying to balance jobs, family, and friends. We will spend the rest of our lives learning about God and still not have internalized it all. We will spend the rest of our lives learning how much the Lord loves us and delights in us and the rest of our lives laying our hurts, our doubts, our concerns, and our fears at His feet. We will spend the rest of our lives learning to love friends and enemies. If we have a weakness in the flesh or an addiction we will spend a lifetime walking closely to Christ to have victory. We will spend a lifetime studying His word and letting it give us discernment about the world. The question that needs to be asked is, are we willing to persevere that we might be more fruitful in order to find our joy?

Prayer: Father, thank you for providing a way out of our sin. Thank you that Christ's desire was for us to experience His joy to its fullest. Help us to trust the pruning process and help us to grow in obedience so that we might produce more fruit and be filled with Your joy. We praise you for You are good, You are Holy, and You are perfect in all of Your ways! Help each one of us to abide fully in you. Amen.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Be Careful Little Eyes

"I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl."
Job 31:1

When I read this verse, I automatically thought of the children's song, “Be careful little eyes what you see." In our sexually charged culture it is really important we do just as the children's song suggest. I probably would change the words to something like, “Be careful grandma eyes what you see!” Too often we tend to think of lust as being only a "guy thing." But in all honesty over the twenty years I spent been in volunteering in youth work and the last eight years of ministering to adult women I have come to realize many women have a major struggle in this area. Some of them have been molested and unfortunately that woke up their sexuality very early in life and in very distorted ways. Others have simply been exposed to pornographic material and the exposure left them struggling. I have a friend that said she only saw it once and it continued to plague her for a very long time. In light of our sexually driven culture, I think it is important to be careful about what we put in front of us, because what we see with our eyes will have a huge impact upon our souls in ways we can't even imagine.  
Pornography can strip us of a sense of modesty. We may begin to dress in tighter dresses, shorter shorts, and lower cut blouses because our modesty has been distorted by all the "skin" we see on the screen, in magazines, and in books. This can also be impacted by the style of clothes that we find available in stores. When we dress and carry ourselves in less modest ways, we experience guys looking at us in sexual ways and interpret that to mean that they like us when they are simply lusting. Oh how I long for us to be women who find our worth in being God’s creation, rather than in turning heads. I long for us to find our worth in Christ's pure sacrificial love and not be seeking acceptance in worldly ways. Hopefully, our Christian brothers and the men in our lives are making covenants like the one found in Job 31:1. But we can show godly love by modest dress that doesn't emphasize our bodies and by modest behavior that invites them to know our inner heart. If the men in our lives blow it, I hope we don't get a thrill out of it, but speak the truth to them in love. 
One study I read says that the number of women struggling with pornography is growing rampantly. It is available 24 hours a day via the Internet which offers anonymity and affordability and instantaneously. It allows people to go to greater areas of perversions because there is no accountability or other people around. The study says more women are struggling with it as their children are growing and husbands are working long hours. In addition, lust is associated with the romance novels women read. The relational interaction depicted in those and in soap operas can be stimulating and provocative because they include immoral sexual content. In addition, just as pictorial pornography is deceptive because it is often airbrushed and shot from all sorts of angles that belie the normal human body of a woman, romance novels does the same thing with the relationships of the characters. They are always perfect, not human. Both tend to leave us with the desire for more than any human can give.
Pornography, both pictorial and relational are on the rise. There are several reasons for this. First, we have many broken homes and needs are not being met so people go to wrong places to have those needs met. Secondly, it is a sick, but lucrative industry that targets vulnerable people in an attempt to entice them so that they can make money. Third, because believers are to be the reflections of God’s love to an unloving world, Satan will do all he can do to distort love and marriage. Fourth, sexual addictions and strongholds are hard to break and unless they are broken it will take more perversion to satisfy those entrapped. Lastly, even though we live in a culture that is busy I feel that people are becoming more and more isolated and losing the ability to relate to others in healthy and satisfying ways. It is important we as Christian women foster godly relationships with our spouses, boyfriends, or friends that are guys. It is also important we foster healthy relationships with other Christian women. In our culture deep relationships have become difficult to foster, but they are necessary because they offer rich connection, sanctifying accountability and encouragement that helps us grow in our relationship with God and others. 
What kinds of images do you see that lead you into temptation? Why do you suppose those images affect you? Have you set boundaries that protect your eyes and your soul? Has what you seen affected your modesty and your struggle with maintaining godly relationships or a pure marriage? We want to make sure we are guarding ourselves the most when we are alone and in the privacy of our homes. If we are struggling, it is wise to seek accountability with a trusted friend. I have seen God do wonderful things when people are humble and bring the struggle to the light. 

Prayer: Father, our world is saturated with sexual things and even other things that distract us from spending time with You. Please help us to guard our eyes and to seek healthy relationships that will enhance our relationship with you. Please break strongholds and encourage those who are struggling. Thank you that your power is stronger than our weaknesses and our humanity. Help us to honor You by living in the safety of your boundaries and walking in your strength for victory over temptation. Amen. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Am I Being Wise or Foolish?

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them,
may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 
Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them,
will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand."
Matthew 7:24-26 (NAS)

What would have happened to mankind if Noah had not chosen to obey God by building the ark? What affect would it have had on history if Abraham had chosen not to leave his home and go to the land to which God called him? What would have happened to the Jewish nation in Egypt if no one had believed God and chose not to brush blood from a lamb on the posts of their doors when the Lord passed judgment on Egypt? What would have happened to Rahab when the walls of Jericho came tumbling down had she not chosen to hang the scarlet thread from her window? Probably a more important question is how would it impact my world if I hear God's Word and then choose not to act upon it? How will it impact my family, my church, and my friends? How would that impact future generations?
The passage above tells me that the only difference between a wise person and a foolish person is that the wise person believes God's word and then chooses to act upon what He believes and a foolish one either choose not to hear or chooses not to act upon it. What that seems to be saying to me is that knowledge itself does not make us wise. However, it is the choosing to act upon it that does. If I am really going to be honest I have to admit that there are teachings that I definitely am obeying pretty consistent. But there are also times that I might be tempted to be content to hear and not act up on what I hear. There are times I hear people even say that there are portions of scripture that they dismiss as irrelevant or outdated or that they just think they can get away with it because of grace. However, God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and His eternal truth and principles don’t become outdated. A lie is still a lie today. Hate is still hate.  Murder is still murder. Adultery is still adultery. Fornication is still fornication. The Great Commission, the command to love each other sacrificially, and the instructions to serve each other with our spiritual gifts are still valid. They did not go away simply because time has passed. 
When God called me into relationship with Him, He did so in love. It was such a deep and compassionate love that it demanded a response from me. Amazingly according to His word, to love Him is to obey Him, to not just read His word but to live it out.  I have come to realize that obeying God's word sometimes takes great courage. Moses had it when he confronted Pharaoh and asked him to let his people go. Joshua had it when he went into the Promised Land in the face of the giants that lived there. The Israelites had it when they defeated Jericho by marching around the city and blowing horns. That still amazes me that men who were trained to fight battles obeyed God and simply marched! Young David had it when he killed the giant, Goliath. Daniel had it when he obeyed God and was delivered from the lion's den. His friends had it when they obeyed and were delivered from the furnace. Peter and Paul had it when they preached sermons that caused thousands of people to be saved in the face of persecution. Christ had it when He chose to go to the cross for you and for me. Why then am I so tempted to disobey when God’s will clashes with mine or when it is uncomfortable or scary to obey?     
I know that sometimes I think obedience to God doesn't require as much courage for me as it did for the saints mentioned in the Bible, especially in Hebrews Chapter 11. But it really does. If I commit to loving God with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength I will be so different in the way I think, the way I speak, the way I act and react, and the way that I relate, because I will be governed solely by love. Because I live in a God-rejecting, often unbelieving and hate-filled world, when I live a life fully devoted to God I will stand out and be a blessing pointing many to Christ, but I will also be persecuted by those who hate God and the holy standard that He represents to them. Many don’t want to be reminded by my words and my lifestyle that they are disobedient to the one who created them and loves them with such a passionate love that demands a response from them too. A life devoted to God will condemn them even when I am acting in love and treat others with kindness.    
It takes lots of courage to live out one’s faith. It takes an inner strength to reject the pleasures that we often confuse with love and the appealing temptations this world offers for the eternal things God gives. It takes greater strength to stand up to gossip than it does to join in it, to offer forgiveness rather than retribution, to say no to sexual temptations than to give in to the desires of my body and its chemistry, to push down the sinful urges I was born with rather than to give in to them. It takes greater strength to treat others with love and respect than it does to push my own agenda, greater strength to push down my self-centeredness to put another's needs first, to honestly and respectfully work through conflict to become unified in Christ than to win an argument at the other person's expense, and to edify others when I am filled with human feelings of insecurities and jealousy. Lastly, it takes great strength and courage to confront in love and invite other’s to live in His light rather than silently suffer for fear of abandonment.  
Hmmm….I am wondering if you are a wise person or a foolish person? What will you do with God's word this week? Will you be courageous enough to live it out? It is ok if you are afraid, because without fear courage can't exist. It is okay if you feel ambivalent about it, just be honest with God, and then choose to do the next right thing. Most importantly, will you demonstrate that love Him through your obedience, He who made you and who died for you through His own obedience? May we grow wiser day by day as we renew our minds and choose to act on what He teaches us. May we have the same impact on our world as the Saints of old did!

Prayer: Father, we thank you for Your word and Your instructions. Help us realize that the world has a distorted view of wisdom and strength. Help us to choose to live in such a way that we are wise in Your eyes and strong in your might. Help us to apply your word daily to our lives. Help us to be transformed in our minds and help us to conform our will to Yours. Amen.          

Fragrance for Dark Days

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ 

and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him."
2 Corinthians 2:14

Have you ever faced a situation or watched the news on TV and wondered why God does not intervene? We may find ourselves asking that question because we live in a world where we receive news instantly and are bombarded with stories of abuse, terrorism, poverty, hunger, disease, murders, kidnappings, and other painful things. Some of us even have firsthand knowledge of these terrible things. For me, the questions often surface when I see the face of a starving child on TV, listen to a news report about a baby whose parents shook him to death, or hear of a man who has brutally molested, sodomized or raped a child. They also surface when I hear that a student killed another student or hear hateful words people use to kill the spirit of others. I wonder shy God didn't do something. The more I study the Scripture, the more I believe this is an inappropriate question, because God did do something! He sent His Son so He could redeem us and when He redeemed us He put a new heart within us. He gave us His Spirit to renew our hearts day by day. He instructed us to let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking, to be put away from us along with all malice. He told us to be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving just as Christ forgave us. In the gospels He went so far as instructing us to love our enemies. He wants us to make a difference. We are to spread knowledge of Him to the world. We are not to just do that by teaching the Scripture but by living it out through our actions and our words. 
So what does that mean for us at a personal practical level? When we are around those who are slandering and gossiping and biting each other, God wants us to use words that affirm and build others up. If we are in the mist of people who are in a hurtful conflict, God asks us to be the first one to use kind words, the first one to seek forgiveness, or the first to offer forgiveness another. If we find ourselves in a strained relationship, God is asking us to make a difference by not accusing or blaming, but speaking the truth in a loving way that invites reconciliation and healing. If we encounter others who foster hatred, God desires is to overcome it with loving acts He does through us. If we know someone who is hurting, God desires to comfort her through us. If we know someone who is lonely, God desires to offer fellowship through us. If we know someone who is hungry or needs clothing, God wants to provide needs through us. If we feel we need a more spiritual atmosphere, we called to create it.
Even when we think back on something as tragic as the terrorist's attack on September 11th we realize in the face of something as hateful as that was. the Spirit of God rose up in people to counter the hatred with loving kindness. Look at the money that poured in. Look at the number of Christian counselors that gave of their time to help people deal with shock, trauma, and grief. Look at the endless hours firemen and policemen put into looking for survivors and bodies of those who died. One of the reasons God may have chosen not to remove evil from our world is so that His goodness would shine all the more brightly in the face of it. I said at the beginning that I thought the question, "Why doesn't God do something?" was inappropriate. God indwells in believers and gives us the capacity to love as He loves, forgive as He forgives and to overcome evil with good. The more appropriate question when hard times come might be "What is God is calling me to do?” God has chosen to indwell believers and if each one of us rises to the occasion and asks what He would have us do, He will be visible through us. As His people, we don't have to ask why He doesn't do something, but instead we must be willing to do what He asks. As His people, we don't need to be overwhelmed by the dark, evil times–it is merely a backdrop for His glory to shine brightly through us. Am I shining bright enough for you to see?     

Prayer:  Father, thank you for saving us. You have called each of us to put on the new nature that reflects Your nature to the world the same way that Christ bore your image to us.  Help us to love boldly in the face of hatred.  Help us to forgive in the face of bitterness.  Help us to feed in the face of starvation.  Help us to be gracious in our speech in the face of backbiting.  Help us be humble in the face of pride.  Help us to be gentle and kind in the face of accusation.  Help us to shine in the face of darkness.  Amen.  


Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!