Friday, August 26, 2011

GRACE Required

Did you ever notice how God likes to use your own words to challenge you?
This month I’ve been teaching lessons to my Sunday School class about GRACE – “getting something great that you don’t deserve.”  The lessons are not my own.  They are from a curriculum called 252basics.  Anyway, this word, “grace,” was spoken to me by a good friend today.  My friend had no idea that we were studying grace, or that the word, alone, would impact me as it did. 

People are complicated.  Relationships are complicated.  Living in this world, and brushing up against people on a regular basis causes conflict.  And today I found myself in the midst of one.  Did I handle it well?  I can only say, “I tried.”   But this conflict has driven me to my knees in prayer.  How do I show grace to someone who seems to constantly try to hurt me?  How do I love them when I don’t feel that they deserve it?  Maybe they don’t even want my love. 

Christ loved the people who nailed Him to the cross.  He showed grace even as he healed the ear of the soldier who came to arrest him.  God showed me grace by offering me a salvation that I do not deserve.  He loved me before I loved Him, and even layed down His life for me.  This is the truest picture of grace.

Do I believe that I could ever accomplish a love like that, or a grace that is so amazing?

Only by God’s grace!

The ability to give love is a gift in itself.  It is a gift from the Holy Spirit whose power resides in me.  That’s how I know that it can be done!

Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

If I could alter an old adage, I would say, “Relationships are fragile.  Handle with prayer.”  That is what I am doing today, praying for God’s grace and love to flow through me in this relationship.  I would love it if you would join with me in this prayer.  I can use all the help I can get.

My friend, Shelley Gallamore, has been blogging about conflict management all this month.  If you find yourself in a conflict, you may want to check it out at:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

So How Can It Be Done?

Yesterday I asked this question:
How can we “mingle with (the) godless” and NOT “pick up their evil ways?” 

Here's what Hosea chapter seven taught me.

First, cry out to God for help! 
It sounds basic, but God, Himself, pointed out the Israelites' failure to do this.  Perhaps if they had called out to God, the punishment could have been avoided altogether. 

Second, know God’s standards and keep them.  
I know, it's easier said than done.  Bear with me.  God’s law is clearly spelled out for us in Scripture.  If we know God’s standards, then we will recognize when they are being broken.   As a result, we will have to make a conscious choice as to whether or not we will keep those standards ourselves.

Maybe you are thinking that most of the Israelites knew God’s laws .  You are absolutely right, but they forgot them.  Just like little children who run through the halls at school or talk out loud in the library, we are forgetful too.  This is why teachers post a list of rules prominently in their classrooms and remind the students of them on a regular basis.  This brings us to action step number 3.

Third, remind yourself regularly of God’s expectations and check yourself against His ultimate standard, Christ. 

How are you doing?  What ways have you seen yourself adopt the ways of the godless? Are you laughing at inappropriate jokes?  Or telling little white lies?  Or wearing your shorts a little tighter than you used to?  Or flirting with someone who is not your spouse?  Beware those baby steps that can eventually lead us down a path to destruction.  It didn’t happen overnight with the Israelites.  Remember that God warned them constantly.  They just didn’t listen.

Are you listening?  Check yourself as David did.

Search me, 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.”  Ps.139:23-24

If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.”  Exodus 33:13

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Worthless as a Half-baked Cake

Reading through the prophetic books of the Old Testament can be very eye opening.  How many times have we heard the saying, “The past always repeats itself,” and shook our heads in agreement, but not learned from it?  The Bible provides the perfect opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past.  The book of Hosea is no exception.  In this book, God speaks through His prophet, Hosea, to warn Israel of their coming punishment.  Hosea describes how the Israelites abandoned God’s ways and worshiped other gods despite Jehovah’s constant attempts to rebuke them.  Today I am struck by these words: 

“Its people (Israel) don’t realize I am watching them.  Their sinful deeds are all around them.  I see them all!  The people make the king glad with their wickedness.  The princes laugh about the people’s many lies.  They are all adulterers, … and no one cries out for help.  My people of Israel mingle with godless foreigners, picking up their evil ways.  Now they have become as worthless as a half-baked cake!” (Hosea 7:2-3,7-8, NLT)

There is a lesson to be learned here.  America has become a godless nation.  I don’t think that statement is going to shock anyone.  God and prayer have been banned from our schools.  Adultery, deception and lawlessness is so rampant that you cannot watch the evening news without seeing evidence of it.  Even many of our leaders are being found guilty of improper behavior; yet, we all shrug our shoulders saying, “who doesn’t do that now a days?”  We must not forget that God sees everything.  More importantly, we must be careful of how we respond to our cultural surroundings. 

I want to take a lesson from the book of Hosea.  I want to be sure that I am not “mingling” with those who do evil so as to “pick up their evil ways.”  I don’t want to be “as worthless as a half-baked cake!”  Does that mean that I am supposed to go and live in a commune somewhere away from all of civilization?  No.  That is not what God called anyone to do!  Christ commissioned us in Matthew 28 to go and make disciples.  You cannot do that if you are not in the world. 

So how can we “mingle with (the) godless” and NOT “pick up their evil ways?” 

Leave a comment.  I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dumb Sheep! Yes, That's Me.

If you’ve ever taught Sunday School to children, then you probably know that the teacher often gets more out of the lesson than the students do.  I taught a lesson this week on Luke chapter 15.  This passage contains the parables of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the prodigal child.  The lost sheep is my favorite because I love the analogy of Christ being my good shepherd.  I’m not so sure that I like being called a sheep however.  Do you know how dumb sheep are?  Sheep will wander off a cliff if no one is looking.  They don’t have any clue that there are wolves and other animals around that want to devour them.  And worst of all, they don’t realize that they NEED a shepherd.  If you could interview a sheep, I would imagine it to say about its shepherd, “He’s a great guy, but I’m not sure why he hangs around us.  He needs to get a life and let us do our thing.”  The same sheep’s story may change drastically if he ever had to be rescued just once.

The “bottom line” in the lesson last week was “Everyone needs to be rescued… even me.”  That is so true.  I am absolutely like those dumb sheep in more ways than I care to admit. 

-         I need a shepherd. 
I was headed straight for a cliff called “Hell” and I needed to be told that only Christ could save me.  For the longest time I thought I could be good enough to get to Heaven all on my own.  The Bible calls that foolishness.  How could I really believe that I could be good enough to impress God anyway?

-         I need protection, DAILY. 
There is a ravenous wolf out there wanting to devour me and my family.   Satan is very real and he delights in leading God's children astray. 

John 10:10-11 
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

I Peter 5:8
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

-         I am prone to wander.  This world has so many wonderful distractions that I tend too often to take my eyes off my shepherd.  This is when I need a reminder of the previous point!  Even the good things in life can lead to ruin if I let them take me away from my Protector who wants what is best for me.

A friend challenged me just this morning of the importance of prayer in all of life’s issues.  Too often I try to take control of my life.  I charge into my day with a plan in mind and sometimes fret over whether or not I’ve made the best choices for my family.  Do I send my 4-year-old to preschool?  If so, where?  Is it wise use of our finances?  Do I need to go get that root canal, or do I need a second opinion?  Is my teenage child’s schedule too busy?  Do I need to make a change?  Do I join a Bible study group at church this Fall?  If so, which one?  What do I cook for dinner?  When do I go to the grocery store?

There are hundreds of decisions I make in each day and I wonder how many of them I am trying to make without consulting my Shepherd.  Even more, how many are actually taking my eyes off of God and leading me down a wrong path… a path that leads only to worry, possible pain, or a false security which leaves me open to attack? 

Lord, for today, let my eyes remain on you.  Lead me in the way YOU want me to go.  Let my ears be stretching to hear your voice.  And, help this dumb sheep stay on the right path.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

… no one will ever know!

      I’ve been on one diet after another since I was about 12 years old, and not a single one of those diets would  permit me to indulge in  my favorite candy bar.  Imagine that!  I’m sure you can also imagine the number of times that I cheated on those diets.  After all, what woman can live a week without chocolate?  Sometimes I would sneak a SKOR bar into the middle of my pile of groceries and then tuck it in my purse while the bagger was doing his thing.  No one at home would be the wiser.  Of course, I would then have to consume said SKOR bar in the bathroom or behind another closed door.  I’m sure no one else has ever done this.

     What is ironic about my little escapades is that I was the one who would ultimately suffer the consequences whether I was seen or not.  I might notice a gain on the scale, but far worse than that, I would feel the guilt that inevitably follows.  I feared being caught and letting someone down, but I was really letting myself down.

     I’ve experienced the same type of guilt when watching a show on television that I know is not God honoring.  (I'm not even talking about SOAPS, although they would definitely fall into this catagory.  My bend is toward the medical drama shows.)  I would watch those shows during the day when I was home alone with little ones who didn’t know any better and wouldn’t tell if they did.  I won’t deny the attraction to some of these shows.  After all, who doesn’t like a good drama?  The problem was that people were always falling into bed with others -not their spouse - or lying to one another and cheating on each other.  Certainly not God-honoring activities to fill up my mind and my days!  Have you ever been there?  You probably wouldn’t tattle on yourself if you had!

     Why is it that we always try to hide our "little" transgressions?  Adam and Eve hid from God after eating the forbidden fruit.  (I wonder if they hid while they were eating it, too.)  Likewise, Judas when he sought to betray Jesus waited until the opportune time when very few people would be around to see him do it.  How did that work for him?  Not well at all.  Almost two thousand years have passed and yet anyone who has heard the story of Easter knows exactly what he did.  Let’s pretend for a moment that Judas' sin was not recorded in Scripture and that no one witnessed it save himself and those who paid him.  Would God still hold him accountable for his actions?  Did God see Adam and Eve behind the bushes?  Did He hold them accountable for what they had done?  Of course!  

     Our God sees everything that is done in secret.  He knows the little white lies we tell even if no one else is privy to them.  He is disappointed with our poor choices of what to watch, what to eat, what to wear or what to do with the resources He entrusts to us.   I could go on and on.  Our sins grieve Him.  My prayer is that I will feel that same grief, beg His forgiveness, and follow through with making the right choice the next time.   It's time to stop pretending that I can hide from Him and that my "little" sins don't matter.

Psalm 90:8 (NIV)
You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.