Losing the Forest for the Tree?…

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.” Psalm 31:24

What do you do when all of your strength seems to fail you?
What do you do when it seems to be sucked from your body through trying or exhausting tasks?   Have you been discouraged recently or perhaps even right now?
problems
Perhaps it is time to take a step back from your troubles and those things that sap your energies.

The other day I was looking for my keys and I couldn’t find them.
I had searched high and low, even looking underneath the cushions on the couch.
I was getting frustrated and anxious, because I had to be somewhere and my vehicle key is rather important.  So finally I sit down, trying not to allow the momentary panic of potentially missing a meeting bother me.  I took a couple of deep breaths and then thought about where I had last seen or placed my keys.  Finally, after stepping back from the problem at hand, I was able to see the solution, and I recalled where they were…sure enough I found my keys.

worryIn the midst of the frustration and worry, I had to take a step back.  I had gotten so close to the problem that I couldn’t see the broader perspective or possible solutions.   I think we’re all like that – we stand too closely to the problem, when problems arise.  We try to micromanage situations and problem-solve and trouble-shoot and sometimes we are successful, but other times we become overwhelmed by the insurmountable tasks ahead of us.  So we put our heads down, we plod on through trying to take on the world and address all of our problems and stressors, all the while we are so close to the problem(s) that we have lost the forest for the bark of one tree.  be still

God has come to me many times when I get like this to remind me to “Be still and know that I am God…” (Ps. 46:10) It is only when I pause and take a step back do I finally understand this.  God longs to lead us out of the forest of our worries.  He desires for us to seek the long-term perspective: that we are Kingdom people called by Him, and we are called Sons and Daughters!  Although these current problems and sufferings might still continue, isn’t it helpful to know that these are all temporary?  Yes, we will probably continue to feel suffering, pain, sadness (all of the above), but this will not last, it never does.  Stepping back from the tree, we will have a broader perspective and a longer range vision on our future as Kingdom people.

Be encouraged today, joy comes in the morning!  Put your whole trust in the Lord, he will give you strength and endurance for the problems at hand, also know that this is all temporary!

Something more to ponder today!

Drowning In The Waters?

I have this memory.
Do you know the kind?  It’s the kind that embeds those moments in your life, those moments of great fear or panic, and they etch themselves so deeply into the recesses of your brain that you will never forget?

Do you have memories like this?
I’m sure you do.

My memory?
I am a small boy, in a swimming pool at Gene Epply camp.
I don’t remember hardly anything from that time…but I remember that pool.
I remember how I stepped off of the edge and into reflective waters.  Perhaps it was a hot day, I do not recall, but I do recall my little legs straining to touch the bottom and just finding more water.  Panic set in.  The sounds of the laughing and playing children around me faded in and out as I struggled to stay afloat while my vision and my ears were precariously between the two plains – Water and air.

I can only imagine what my face looked like in those brief but terrifying moments.  Others might have seen a small toe-headed boy with wild panicked eyes flailing around in aqua blue waters.  I knew, without help, I would drown.  I hadn’t learned to swim yet, and I was going under.

All of this probably lasted only mere seconds, but to a drowning boy who was taking water into his lungs like it was air, this moment seemed to take an eternity!  Finally, large hands grabbed me with great strength, and I was hoisted out of the depths of those waters and into safety once again.

It’s funny what you remember when you are young.  Those odd things that stand the test of time and come calling into our recollection from time to time.  Memories are a funny thing.  They flutter about, and come to life when certain scents waft in the air, or through certain songs…or in this instance, when I visit a swimming pool.

That moment still lingers in me even after all of these years.
I believe it was my father that pulled me out of those waters – me, a little terrified boy who had yet to learn to swim.

I think there is a very real spiritual parallel here to grasp.
Many people in our communities are struggling to stay afloat in life.
Some have waded out too far from the safety of the shores.
Some have terrified looks in their eyes as they suddenly realize their predicaments.
Others have simply given up trying to stay afloat and are about to go under for the last time.

My son became a lifeguard last summer.
His time as a lifeguard taught him to remain vigilant during his shift at the waters edge.
Every now and then he and the rest of the lifeguards had to come to someone’s rescue and pull them back to safety.  The job of a lifeguard seems glamorous with awesome opportunities for tanning, but in reality it is a job of ever watchfulness.

In the same way, a follower of Christ ought to be a lifeguard who is deeply committed to watchfulness.  The water’s edge, the place of safety is the Church…where firm ground and restored hope surrounds all that are rescued.  The problem I see in the Church today is that there are far too few lifeguards willing to risk it all and venture into the depths of the waters when they see hapless people drowning in its depths.  There are far too many comfortable lifeguards who are more preoccupied with casting judgments like “it serves them right” or “they are just getting what they deserve!”

I am glad Jesus didn’t say that about us!
We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…it doesn’t say all (except for ________(insert our names here), no ALL…everyone of us have fallen short.  (Romans 3:23)  Instead it says, “for while we were sinners (while we were drowning in the depths…while we were going under for the last time) Jesus died for us.  (Romans 5:8)

I still have that memory forever etched in my mind.
The day I almost drowned, was also the day I was rescued.

Perhaps, dear Church, we should get back to lifeguarding, because there are still so many falling below those dangerous waters…and who will help them?  Who will come to their rescue?  We are called out

Devotional Pondering: The Lifter of your head.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head.” Psalm 3:3

Have you been to the place of darkness?
The moment when you have felt hopeless, alone and perhaps afraid?
It is a lonely place…sometimes even when you are surrounded by people.
There are seasons of restlessness, unhappiness and perhaps hopelessness too.
But allow me to reassure you today with a word of encouragement – No matter the difficulty you might be facing, or the circumstances that seem to loom in on you, you are not alone.  You are being strengthened by the Most High even if you do not immediately feel this way.  He is the lifter of our heads when we are downcast.  He provides shelter to us when we are standing in the heart of the storm.

I have felt the winds of these storms recently.
I too have encountered the weight of a heavy heart.
Sometimes seasons come and the darkness threatens us…but the sliver of light that does remain gives me hope.  I know that He is with me even in the heart of the storm.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for lifting my head when all I want to do is hang it in discouragement.  Be with me today, thank you for your joy which shines even when the storms of life swirl around me.  Help me to be content in you, no matter the circumstances of life around me.  “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge”   (Psalm 31:1) Thank you for being there for me and lifting my head when I was downtrodden.  Shine in me today so others might see your glory.  -Amen.

Devotional: A Love That Never Fails

Have you ever heard the old phrase: ‘Nothing lasts forever‘.
It’s usually said to bring comfort to those who have lost a loved ones, a relationship, a treasured item like a cell phone or car…but I know at least one instance in which this phrase is flat out wrong.

God’s love is not temporal and does not have an expiration date on it.
He wants to lavish us with His provisions and love and the only thing that stands in the way of that at times is…us, and our old sinful nature.  Sin has a way of convincing us that the temporal, fleeting things are most important, and yet they pass away, they expire and are no more.  Yet, there God stands from everlasting to everlasting with something far beyond sometime finite – because He is infinite as is His love for you and for me.

Psalm 136:1,2 says:  “Praise the Lord! He is good.  God’s love never fails…”
So why do we put our trust in the things that are fading and passing away instead in putting them in the Eternal, Infinite love of God?  It seems like such a wasted investment, doesn’t it?  I don’t know about you, but I do not want to come to the end of my life and realize that I have squandered by time, talent and treasures on things that didn’t last.  Instead, I want to deeply invest in the Eternal and never ending love of God.  How about you?

Prayer:  Dear Lord, help me to know you more fully.  Help me to see your beauty in the world around me and to know that you love and desire my love in return.  Thank you for the many blessings that you have given to me today.  Help me to not take these blessings for granted.  Help me to love others as you have loved me.  Be with me today.  In your name I pray all of these things.  -Amen.

 

Day 60 – Be Done With Sin!

“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, army yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin…”  1 Peter 4:1

The joys of life can often be overshadowed by the hidden sins we think we are hiding from God.  We think that if we act a certain way, or talk with just the right words, that we will fool everybody.  That may be true of people, but it isn’t true of God.  He sees it all, the good and the bad.  He knows us, and in that knowing He sees.  I used to be afraid of that “seeing”.  I used to think that this meant God was always spying on me and being intrusive…but that’s not how God works at all.  sin

Like a loving parent, His desire is for us to be rid of all kinds of sickness, and sickness of sin is the worst of it.  He despises sin to the point that nothing with sin can ever stand in His presence.  This Fatherly love, that is perfect and completely devoid of malice, desires the best for us.  He sees the potential in us even when we do not see that potential ourselves.  We might consider ourselves worthless or lacking gifts or talents, where God sees us in a whole different light – His perfect light which is true, pure and full of love for us.  He sent His one and only Son into this world so that sin and death would finally be vanquished forever – so that through Christ, we might experience true life!

redeemWhatever temptations you are facing today – God’s providence can sustain you!
Whatever sins you have been wallowing in for far too long, Christ can forgive and redeem you.
Whatever struggle you might see as impossible to overcome – The Holy Spirit will empower you and strengthen you to overcome and see victory!

Allow this to take place in your life.
Say yes to true living and turn from the trap of sin that leads to loneliness, sorrow and pain.  Hope awaits us all – let’s embrace God’s Light in our lives today more fully than we ever thought possible, with the power of the Holy Spirit within us!

Prayer:  Lord deliver me from ____________________(name it) today.
You know these struggles and these temptations.  Help me to fully embrace your will for my life.  Lead me in this day, deliver me from the snares of the evil one.  Thank you for seeing the potential in me and for guiding me on this path of holiness.  -Amen.

Day 59 -Finding Contentment

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

Much of our struggles in life come from stuff and being discontent in life.
We long for that new cell phone that just came out and so we sacrifice to get it and when we do it’s nice for a time, but then it losing its shine.  We envy people who have “made it” professionally and so we covet what they have while we lose sight of the blessings we already possess.  We grumble and complain about situations and completely miss the little blessings God provides to us every day…or we take them for granted.

grumbleThis happened to me yesterday and it brought a humbling sense of God’s presence to me.  I was having a bad morning.  It seemed nothing I could do was good enough and so my wife and I went to get coffee at a local coffee shop.  While waiting in the drive-thru for what seemed like ages, I began to complain about that.  (Have you ever noticed that negativity breeds more negativity?)  I was criticizing the car in front of us for their choice of sports teams…and just being very discontent with the way life was going that morning.  But then it happened.  It was our turn to grab our coffees at the drive-thru window and pay.  I had my wallet out and I was ready.  When I finally got up to the window, still in a huff because of my day, the drive-thru employee informed me that the car in front of me had already paid for our drinks.  Wow…that was kind of like a slap in the face to me, as if God was trying to get my attention and remind me that my contentment doesn’t come from circumstances around me.  In that moment it had nothing to do with coffee or getting something free (although that was cool), it had everything to do with my attitude and response to the things around me.

Have you been there?  
grumpyHave you allowed negativity to rule your thoughts and actions?
I know from experience I am not fun to be around when this has happened to me…and I’m sure it’s the same with you.  No one wants to hang out with angry, sullen, sour people all the time.  If we are to be men and women of faith, who are fit to be called and Sons and Daughters of the Most High, we have to change this stinkin’ thinkin’ kind of attitude!

Where does our contentment come from?  It comes from the One who gives us strength to make it through whatever circumstance and situation – good or bad.  Through it all, He content1remains faithful and steadfast.  He is above any problem we might be facing or will face.  He stands outside of the troubles of life and He gives to us what we need in order to see the bigger picture – WE ARE KINGDOM PEOPLE – Not of this present world but the next!  We can live out His Kingdom now and live in holy contentment because of who He is.

Prayer:  Lord, help me to keep my attitude in check today.  Help me to see the bigger picture than the temporal problems that I am facing right now.  Give me your strength so that I might reside within Your holiness.  Lead me Lord and thank you for reminding me that You are there and You will provide!  -Amen.
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Day 58 – What’s Your Inspiration?

Read this passage:  Psalm 37:3-7

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.

All other paths will not provide you the resources or inspiration to continue in hope and peace.  When we commit our way to God’s, he, as verse 6 says, “will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn…”

Have you been searching for a sense of purpose or fulfillment in your life?
How has that been going?
As that old country song once said, we are looking for love in all the wrong places…the same can be said of our search for purpose and meaning in life.  We can fill it with degrees, awards, professions, relationships…but at the end of all those things we might still find ourselves feeling unfulfilled and aimlessly searching for a deeper meaning to it all.

everestIf we commit our ways to the Lord, he will realign us and set us on the most meaningful journey we could have ever hoped for.  I am not saying it will get any easier, but the outcomes of such a journey brings a refinement of character, a honed purpose and spiritual discipline that aids us when difficult days come…and they will.  It is in those difficult days that we find strength and hope in the Lord.  Perhaps you are facing some of those days right now.  If you are, place all of your trust in the Lord and he will direct your path.  This is where inspiration even in the face of adversity comes from.

Prayer:  Lord I ask you today to give me a sense of your purpose in my life.  I have become discouraged and out of sync with you.  Set me on your path once again.  Be the lifter of my head and help me to see the beauty even in the thorns of life.  You have placed me on this path, help me to walk faithfully with you no matter what comes my way.  In your name I pray these things.  -Amen.   

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Day 57 – Discouraged

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Psalm 34:17-19

I must admit that recently I have felt discouraged and drained.
This doesn’t happen often, but every now and then I feel my spirit become distracted, discontent and a little burdened.  It happens to all of us.  Perhaps it is at these moments that we require God’s presence the most and that of the fellowship of other believers to surround us.  We need to be reminded in those moments that, like Elijah, we aren’t alone…there are others who can understand what we are going through.
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Have you been here before?
Are you in need of encouragement today?
Let me reassure you that God’s presence is with us and that we can go to this well of Life for renewal and refreshment.  Going to God and seeking out these moments is not an indication of weakness, but rather a sign of great strength.

Do not be discouraged today.
The Lord is willing to remove those heavy burdens, and He longs to journey beside you today.  Be encouraged – You are not alone.

Prayer:  Lord hear my cry today.   Please see these heavy burdens in my life right now and I ask that you help me carry then.  Lord I need your light in my life today.  Shine into my darkness and remove that which is not honoring to you.  In your name I pray these things.  -Amen.

Day 56, What’s Your Name?

“Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”
John 1:42

There are many people in the bible who were given new names.
-Abram and Sarai became Abraham and Sarah.
-Simon became Peter (the rock).
-Saul became Paul the Apostle.

Numerous people given different names in order to do God’s will on earth.
I wonder what if we require a new name in order to do God’s amazing will in our lives today.  Did those ‘new’ names give them more confidence?  Did they provide a title or commission by God?  How does that translate in our context and existence today?  What is your name and what does it mean?  I don’t mean the definition of you name in some genealogy or baby name book, I mean how do you see yourself in the mainframe of God’s kingdom?  Who are you?  What are you here for?  What is your purpose?

Each person mentioned above from the bible were given new names and they had a purpose.  Do you know what your purpose is?   It’s okay if you are still searching.  It is okay if you aren’t sure yet.  (does that help you to hear this?)  Sometimes I think we are so concerned with no finding our purpose that we become frustrated and want to give up even seeking it out.  Finding purpose in God is both simple and very complicated.  He wants to fellowship with us on a daily basis, but when we grow with the Holy Spirit’s help, we also are given more of a burden for others as well.

So how about it…who are you?  What’s your name?  What is your purpose?
Here is a reassurance:  You are a child of the Most High.  You have are fit to be called Son and Daughter.  He wants YOU to be the very image of Christ to the world around you.  This seems like a tall order, but let me encourage you that we have the strength and the power of the Holy Spirit within you!

Prayer:  Dear Lord, thank you for giving me your identity and calling me your child!  I pray that today I might understand what that means.  Guide me on this path today.  I pray that you might strengthen me when I am weak and encourage me when I am downcast.  Be with me on today dear Lord.  -Amen.

Day 55 -Encouragement Required…

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11

I was reminded by a Pastor friend of mine recently that I could be a source of encouragement to others.  His response caught me off guard because I had been complaining and feeling discouraged myself.  At that moment when I had felt defeated, he spoke words to me that was not only what I needed to hear, but it also took me out of the funk that I was feeling within my little pity-party.  This Pastor friend told me to look around and find people who needed encouragement, and to be that encouragement I was looking for in others towards them.  It got me thinking, how much different the world would be if we all were looking out for each other and going out of our way to encourage.

youWe might not know what THAT person is facing or going through, but just by being an encourager can make all of the difference!  A few kind words might be all that is needed.  Perhaps praying with them or for them will be your way of encouraging them.  Whatever it might be, do it…step out there and go out of your way to reassure someone that God loves them and you do too.  A little bit of love goes a long way.

Homework assignment today:  Look up.  Look out, and go to someone you may or may not know and encourage them in some way, shape or form.

Prayer:  Lord grant me your eyes to see the needs of those around me today and this weekend.  Help me to share your love with those I come in contact with.  Thank you for encouraging me, now help me to encourage others.  In your name I pray these things.
-Amen.

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