Monday, January 25, 2010

Faith That’s Worth More than Gold

"In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an in expressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls."
1 Peter 1:6-9

Trials come in many different forms. They can be difficult circumstances, illnesses, injuries, financial set backs, broken families, painful relationships. A trial can even be the people we deal with on a regular basis that tend to make life more difficult than it has to be – a overly demanding boss, a overly ambitious co-worker, a highly critical teacher, a gossipy friend, or just a grumpy store clerk. Trials can also be temptations, losses, or persecution. Some trials may be of our own making when we wrestle with God's will or are disobedient and end up suffering the consequences for our choices. When I volunteered in the youth ministry girls often called or wrote and asked me to pray for them as they went through trials. Other girls I know were hurting a lot and going through tremendous trial, but never told anyone. These were the ones whose hearts I wanted God to etch the above verses on. Because of their silence they won't have any one hold them and whisper these verses into their hearts.

Notice that no matter how difficult the trial is God desires us to rejoice when we go through it. I know in my own life trials are seldom spread out so I can face them one at a time. They seem to come in clusters. Somebody once asked me what was going on in my life and when I told him everything, both good and bad, he let out a slow whistle and said, "That's unreal!" I can handle quite a bit, but there is always a point that I begin to question what God is doing and wondering if He truly has my best interest at heart and each time I wrestle with my questions, I gain a deeper faith in Him, but it is hard. With each batch of trials I find I am able to handle more than before. I don’t doubt God with the first trial now…it is probably when He allows either a really long trial or ten little ones all at once.

Peter says that our faith, when tried, is more precious than pure gold and that it will bring praise and honor and glory to Christ when He returns! I sometimes fail to rejoice and forget in the moment that faith purified by trials honors Him. It helps me when I remember Christ also suffered trials. Trials aren't easy – in Christ's suffering we don't see Him laughing. He hurt. He asked friends to pray with Him, and cried out to His Father. When our sin was laid on Him and He was suffering for our sake, He cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?" He endured painful suffering with hope for the future, while He was fully exposed in His humanity.

Sometimes when a trial begins I feel little twinges of expectation because I know it is an opportunity to walk closer with the Lord and that I will grow through it. At other times, when the trials come in droves I find myself looking to relieve the stress of the trial. After looking at these verses, I long to look at trials God's way…with renewed interest and trust in the One who suffered for me!

Are you in the middle of a long slow trial that feels like it will never end? Are your trials piling on top of one another? Maybe you have had really tough day – maybe you had a lot of tests at school, maybe you don’t’ feel good, maybe your parents are fighting, maybe your grandfather is sick, maybe your best friend took your boy friend, maybe a friend betrayed you, maybe your husband neglected you, or maybe your children are sick. Christ knows it all and He will walk you through it if you look to Him. Are you experiencing trials that come with being the only Christian in your home? Christ knows you long for your family to understand your hunger and thirst for God and to want Him that way, too. He wants you to know it is because He put you in the family that He did so you would crave HIM like you do. That longing hurts, but it draws you to Him and has the greatest potential for deep satisfying intimacy. If it were easy for you to enjoy Him, you wouldn't need Him so badly. Remember when there is a lot of pain, faith has the chance to shine bright. Jesus doesn't take what you are going through for granted, He delights in your trust. When He returns to earth and looks into your eyes and wipes away your tears He will remember every tear you shed, and every tear you needed to shed and couldn't. He knows you have trusted Him even when you couldn’t feel His presence. He knows you have trusted Him when it hurt to do so. He knows you trusted Him when you were lonely, stressed, or misunderstood. He promises not to give you more than you can handle with HIM…but handling is trusting...will you trust HIM?

Prayer: Father, I would never want to heap guilt on someone going through a trial for doubting You. For it is in the doubting that our faith is matured. It is my prayer that Your word and my thoughts would speak encouragement into each heart. Help each of us to see You in the middle of the trials that we face. Give us complete freedom to pour our hearts out to You and strengthen our faith to trust You even more. Please replace our anxious thoughts with Your joy and Your peace. You are our ROCK. Please help us to stand firmly in YOU! Amen.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Breaking Forth Like the Dawn

"Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here I am. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night well become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."
Isaiah 58:8-12

When I first wrote this devotional it had been a month of many changes for me. Our fourth child graduated high school, our first-born got married and our daughter got engaged. Our son who was at the Air Force Academy came home and visited for three weeks and left to go back the morning I wrote this. On top of all of that the very next Saturday our daughter left for a five-week mission trip. Seeing as she has never been gone from home for more than a week I was feeling a lot of “mommy feelings." Her mother-in-law prepared a portfolio full of letters of encouragement for her to take and read on the mission trip. The verses and thoughts today are what I put in her binder years ago. The verses are dear to my heart because they express the lifestyle and character I hope for myself and for each of my children.

“Kara, what an awesome privilege it is for us, as broken and sinful as we are, to be used by a Holy God. When we walk in obedience to His word and answer the calls He places on our lives, we will be bright lights in a very dark world. Like the early morning sunlight breaks through the darkness when the sun rises, so our righteousness will go before us and break through the spiritual darkness. God will take up the rear and be our protection. When we call on Him. His ears are tuned into us and He promises He will answer. As we turn the useless things that bind us over to Him and give from the depths of our souls to hungry and afflicted souls our lights will shine through the fuzziness of life and make God's plans very clear and sharp to us. When we are walking with Him, the darkest days that we will ever face will still be as bright as the noonday. When our hearts are turned toward God, we can trust Him to guide us. In the times of spiritual drought, in the times when nothing seems to make sense, during the times that we are weary, and during the times that we've nothing to give, He will be there guiding, teaching, training, loving us, and working through us. He will bless us with His goodness and with His righteousness. We will become like an oasis in a desert, where we will be a well watered garden, bearing much fruit that is beautiful to behold and fragrant to smell. We will also be like a fresh water spring that continuously gives water and that never runs dry! As believers our “water” is always fresh and sweet, never bitter and stale. In other words, God's energy and strength are continual and forever!

What is even more amazing is we are a part of God's plan in other people's lives! Without God, people's lives are deserts. They look at the things in the world to fill their thirst of love, acceptance, and healing and it is like trying to drink from a mirage! There is nothing in the world that will satisfy them. We are blessed to be able to be used to help people be restored to a right relationship with God and help them repair a wasted or destructive life. By simply obeying and loving people, we can have an impact on the lives of people not only in the here and now, but for generations to come! It’s like knocking dominoes over! It is awesome to hear testimonies of people and so often the way they describe their conversion is in terms like "being brought back to the right path," "reconciling to God," or of a "broken heart being healed."

How many blessings we miss and how often our faith grows weak because our eyes are on our circumstances rather than our Lord. How many blessing we miss because our lives are muddied with our own sins. He never promised life would be easy. No where in scripture can that be found, but He has promised to be there for us all the time. He will hear our cries and whisper, "Here I am!" Will you trust Him? Are you willing to give other people a chance to know your God through your testimony? Are you willing to purify your heart and your mind with God's word and let your righteousness shine ever so bright in this dark world? Remember, dear child, that God's glory will shine the brightest on a life that is totally submitted to His will."

I survived her mission trip though I missed her every day she was gone. God did some beautiful work in her life. She is now a wife and a mom to two precious little boys and a teacher and I am so very proud to be her mom. 

Prayer: Father, sometimes it scares me that you choose us to demonstrate your love, speak your truth, and use me to reach out to those who are separated from you by their sin! I let you down so often and I am sometimes so inadequate in finding words that will bring healing to the souls who are hurting. Please use us to love the hungry and afflicted. Let us be water and food to women who need You…let us be known as repairmen and mediators who help people be restored to You. Let us shines so bright that it is obvious that we belong to you even before we open our mouths. Thank you for using each of us, as imperfect. Amen.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Facing Fear With Him

"For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power,
and of love, and of a sound mind."
2 Timothy 1:7 -- Part 2

Sometimes a fearful life becomes a way for us to avoid dealing with the hurts we don’t want to face. It also can serve to help us to avoid more hurt. My family has been through a tremendous amount of hurt over the years in the various churches we attended. As a result, I fear the leadership, making it difficult to form new relationships with leaders. Sometimes I am afraid to love new people God brings into my life. Ironically, Yet I admit that God used a new group of people to bring His word to life for me. At the time I was struggling with fear and a lack of confidence when God led me to attend a retreat with a youth group. At the first meal the topic of the conversation was centered on the "Confidence Course." When asked if I were going to do it, it seemed to be the thing to do so I signed up for it.

The next day, I found myself face to face with a rock wall, a zip line, a tree with large staples in it, and a couple of ropes courses, all of which were way off the ground. Now I am a person who doesn't like to even stand on a chair and has anxiety attacks climbing ladders. Nevertheless, wanting to look like a "good" leader, I managed to put on the safety harness without hurting myself. I listened to instructions about spotting and encouraging each other and knew that I could do that. But when it was my turn I realized three things. First, to accomplish the tasks ahead I would have to face my fear of heights. Second, I had to submit to being the center of attention while others cheered me on, which is something with which I am uncomfortable. Third, I had to listen to advice called out and follow it carefully to accomplish each challenge.

Our first challenge was the “Leap of Faith,” which was climbing up a tree, first using a ladder and large metal staples. One of the other leaders, Tonya, had done the course the year before and remembered what it had felt like her first time. She came over and told me not to look down. She instructed me to keep reaching up and pushing with my legs, which thankfully is the strongest part of my body. I did as she said and all of the sudden I found myself high in a tree on a tiny platform. My knees were trembling, my heart racing, and I was getting more comfortable with the cheering. Then it occurred to me what goes up has to come down. So with a lot of coaxing and realizing the only way my legs would quit shaking was to get it over with I sat down on the platform and scooted off. The harness caught, I lived. It would have made more sense to just jump. But at least I got off the platform.

The next challenge was the rock wall. Tonya came up behind me again and pointed out that there were a couple of hard spots. I swallowed my pride and asked her to talk me through those places. At first it was easier than I thought it would be. I kept looking up and reaching until I reached the spots that were hard. When I hesitated the teens started cheering me on. That encouraged me, but the voice I listened for was Tonya's. As promised, she talked me through it. The next thing I knew, I was at the top and on another tiny platform being hooked to a zip line. The man working told me all I had to do was walk off the platform. Again my legs were trembling, but I did it! Flying through the air was one thrill I will never ever forget!

In reflecting on the "confidence course," I had learned some important lessons. One, when life has knocked me around and my confidence is down I don't have to do it alone. Two, being a leader includes being vulnerable and letting others lead me and cheer me on. Lastly, I can overcome those fears that often rise up and paralyze me. I didn't grab the bar on the "Leap of Faith, didn't scale quickly to the top of the rock wall, nor did I beat the fastest time on the rope courses. However, I did overcome the biggest optical there was -- my fear! I can do the same in ministry. To be successful I can let go of the past and "press towards the mark of the high calling of God" (Philippians 3:14) in the same way that I let go of one rock and reached for the next. Rather than focusing on the whole task ahead of me or my fear I can take one day at a time, one person at a time, and one obstacle at a time. I can keep looking up and reaching forward, and when it gets tough I can listen for God's voice just like I listened for Tonya's. It may come in the form of the Bible, the Holy Spirit, staff members, or even those I minister to. I now know fear doesn't make me a bad person, for without it I can't know courage. More importantly, I know as I face fears. God will fill me with His confidence, and I will know the thrill of soaring with Him to accomplish things I could never do on my own.

Prayer: Father, please help us always be willing to let go of the past and press towards the mark of the high callings you have placed on our lives. Help us face the fears that rise up inside of us and paralyze us and prevent us from doing your will. As we keep looking up and reaching forward, help us to listen for your voice and walk through the fear with you. We thank you for the circumstances that cause us to need you more and for the promise that you are always with us…we know fear does not make us bad, but gives us an opportunity to experience you and the kind of courage only you can instill in us. AMEN.

God Dwelt Among Us

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory. Glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John 1:1,14

The account of the baby in the manger evokes warm fuzzy feelings. I can picture in my mind the starry night, the angels singing, and the shepherds coming to worship the newborn king. Though they came by faith to worship Him, they found what appeared to be a very ordinary baby. He had no halo of light surrounding His tiny head as Christmas cards often portray. They came because they believed God’s promises and were expecting a King. At Christmas it is so easy to get wrapped up in traditions and enjoy the warm fuzzy manger story and lose sight of the significance of Jesus’ birth and all of its significance.

The above verses are about the significance of His birth. They talk of the incarnation of God, which means God came into the world and took on the flesh of a vulnerable human being. He was born to a woman not much different than us. He had to learn to walk, talk, sing, read, and write and worked as an apprentice in His step-father’s shop. He experienced hunger, thirst, exhaustion, concern, and ambivalence. He faced the uncertainties and struggles that characterize our lives as we live in a fallen world.

Jesus grew up with imperfect parents and had imperfect siblings who at times accused Him of being crazy. He suffered the sting of rejection. He knew what it felt like to be misunderstood. He dealt with the frustration of entrapment as people tried to manipulate Him to say things they wanted Him to say. He had people question the goodness of His character. He had imperfect friends who promised to stick to Him like glue until the end. Yet, they soon fell asleep when He needed their prayers the most. All but one scattered like scared sheep when He was arrested. The one who remained watched from afar and denied his relationship with the One who had called him friend, not just once but three times.

It’s hard to believe God, Himself, was victimized when He came to earth by prejudice, injustice, hatred, and rejection. Yet, He was. He suffered a horrible death on the cross. He felt deserted as the weight of my sin and yours was placed on Him. He understands what it feels like to have God the Father so near, and yet feel so far away. He came as a man to suffer for us. As a man, He even understood what it feels like to be limited, because He set aside His infinite glory to live on earth and rub shoulders with people like you and me. And the God-man’s pain had an early start as people sought to kill Him while He was still a baby. It lasted until the day that He died.

His incarnation tells us some important things.

It tells us God is not a distant God who set this world in motion and then stepped back to watch it from a far. That means a lot when we struggle with the painful events we do not understand.

It tells us He is not aloof from the ambivalence He experienced like we are when we are faced with temptation to do life our own way.

It tells us He understand the fear we feel in facing our struggle with pride and self-sufficiency to learn to depend on Him when we find the journey to which He has called us difficult.

His incarnation also tells us He has experienced every emotion we have felt, including the pain too deep for words expressed by silent screams and the joy so intense skin erupts in goose bumps and tears stream down cheeks.

He understands loneliness we feel during transitions in life as well as the need to get away and be alone.

He understands the fear we feel of letting go of crutches to which we cling as we wrestle with the truth that we are truly safe resting in His grip.

He understands the sorrow we feel as we grieve the losses of loved ones, of dreams, and of broken relationships as He carries the sorrow of the whole world on His back.

Most importantly the incarnation tells us that the painful things we experience are not just a bunch of random events, they are a part of a beautiful redemption story being penned by His own hand.

The incarnation tells us there was never a time He wasn’t present. There was never a time we weren't loved unconditionally, irrevocably, and passionately.

As we think about the night the Christ Child was born, let's not forget it was the night the Mighty God, the Wonderful Counselor, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace came down and clothed Himself in humanity that we might know Him, know His power, experience His love, and be filled with His everlasting peace.

Prayer: Father, I envy the shepherds who witnessed the angel choir and then bowed before the newborn King. Thank you so much for sending your Son to earth. To be honest, I have trouble wrapping my mind around the incarnation. How Christ could be both God and Man is incomprehensible, yet the significance of it is staggering. Thank you for telling us in your word that Christ is a faithful high priest and that we can come boldly to Him and He responds to us as a sympathetic priest who understands even the feelings of our infirmities. You are Sovereign and You are Holy. You are good in all your ways. Amen.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Living Letter of Recommendation

"You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
2 Corinthians 3:2-3

One night as we were having dinner with several friends, we discovered we had all chosen names for our children that had certain meanings or character qualities of people we each hoped our children would have. During that time a godly man, Mark G. Cambron, would come to our church and hold Bible conferences and we named our youngest son after him. Several years ago when we heard he had passed away I felt a mixture of emotions. I realized that I had never been able to think of Dr. Cambron without thinking of Christ also. He was a living example of a heart and a life changed by the Lord. He faithfully witnessed to the Jewish community in Florida and studied and read the entire Bible each year. Words of thanksgiving and praise were as much a natural part of his conversation as were the funny stories he told. He understood scripture and was a gifted teacher until the day he died. God blessed him with a sharp mind until the very end. Even though we seldom saw him, he always remembered us by name when we did. He always responded when we corresponded with him.

He loved to encourage people and to answer questions about the Bible. I had the privilege of asking Dr. Cambron several questions about his walk with the Lord. One of the questions I asked was, “What was the hardest thing he faced in his ministry?” In response, he shared that in one of his first churches he tried hard to get the church to go in a more Biblical direction. After several years of nothing changing and being unable to pinpoint the reason for it, he left feeling like a failure. Many years later he was in Los Angeles and one of the people from that church was living there. When he heard Mark was coming to California, he asked if he could meet him for lunch. The man told him he wanted to apologize to him because in that first church he had always supported him to his face, but behind his back he did everything he could to hinder his ministry. He asked for forgiveness and Mark forgave him even though it hurt to find out the man he thought had been a supporter was the one opposing him. He praised God that the man's heart had changed and he was given understanding as to why the ministry had been thwarted. He was thankful for the opportunity to show the man grace and forgiveness. There were other trials over the years, but his life remained Godly, his faith intact, and his spirit thankful. 

I loved to watch Mark Cambron teach and answer Bible questions because his face glowed and that was when he was the most alive. I loved how he praised God and I loved his grateful spirit. I loved how he related to both gentiles and Jews and how he related to the rich and the poor in the church. I loved how women as well as men sat at his feet to talk about the Bible. I loved how he loved the children in our church as much as he loved the adults. I loved how he loved to tell stories and entertain us and then move us to tears with the truth of God’s love. I loved how he had taken our pastor under his wings and became a spiritual father to him, encouraging and mentoring him in the ministry. I loved when he performed the Passover for us and there was not be a dry eye in the house and I still pray that my Mark, will grow to be like him because he was a reflection of his heavenly Father!

I was a little sad when we heard that he died. That was because I didn’t get to see him after we moved to California. He lived daily waiting for Jesus to appear and I had hoped he would live until the Lord’s return, never having to face death. Yet, at the same time I am excited because he is in the presence of the Lord he loved with all of his heart, mind, soul, and strength. 2 Timothy 4:8 says, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day, and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing!" That was Doctor Cambron. Lastly, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says, "For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day…for our light affliction which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." These verses describe Mark's life! He lived his life with hope firmly placed in the great God and Savior who had died for him. He spent hours in the word saturating his mind with God's truth and let the Holy Spirit guide him. What he put into his mind and heart flowed out and what we saw was Christ. I want so badly to live that type of life – a life that reminds others the Savior lives! He definitely did by being a letter of recommendation written on a human heart. Those who knew him wanted to know the Savior he loved. How do we do it? Like Mark Cambron did – spending time with the God He loved and allowing the Lord to transform him daily while always looking and living for His blessed return.

Prayer: Father, I thank you for the blessing of knowing Dr. Cambron. I thank you for his lifestyle and the gifts of teaching and exhorting that he had. I thank you for his love for people and His faithful service. I praise you for the many people he led to the Lord and helped grow. May we respond to the great commission with the same obedience and passion and compassion that he displayed. 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!