Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Breath of Life

Last night, as I was walking down to the group mailboxes located at the end of our cul de sac, I was stopped in my tracks. No, not by something I heard. And no, not by something I saw. Oddly enough, what caught my attention was something I smelled.

The day had been a long one, filled with demands, deadlines and defeat. As I made my way down the street, the events of the day played over and over in my mind like a broken record. My heart was heavy and my mind totally consumed with the stench this day had left behind. The soft, gentle breeze of the evening went unnoticed, as did the radiant beauty of the moon. Until...

As I reached my mailbox and inserted the key, my nose was met with the deliciously fragrant scent of honeysuckle. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm, it smelled SO good! I kept breathing it in, one deep breath after another. What a fragrance! What a whiff of fresh air! As I inhaled and exhaled, I felt the beauty of this aroma invade my heart. With each breath, my heart and mind released the foulness of this day, and embraced the sweetness of this moment. And, I smiled. Possibly, for the first time that day.

As the aroma of the honeysuckle enveloped me, my whole being was awakened to the beauty surrounding me. I felt the soft breeze as it gently caressed my face. I saw the splendor and majestic beauty of the moon as it spilled its light on the nearby mountains. I experienced the love of God flooding over me. The demands, deadlines and defeats of the day all fell lifeless as I was once again reminded of the love my Savior has for me.

But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. 2 Corinthians 2:14,15a NLT

Everyday, people are going through the motions of living, totally and completely void of His love and void of the beauty of life. They are merely existing, not truly living. Their hearts and minds are consumed with the cares, worries and struggles of this life. They are stumbling minute by minute, barely making it through each moment. How, they too, need the refreshing, life-giving, chain-loosening, victorious love of God! How they need to breath in the beauty of Jesus!

You and I are called to shower the world with the love of Jesus! As we seek His face and learn of His ways, He begins to permeate our life with His beauty. As we die to self, and allow His spirit to have victory over our flesh, our lives become sweetened by the aroma of Christ. It is Christ's love that attracts us. It will be His love released through us that will capture the hearts of those around us. As we offer our lives up to Christ as a living sacrifice, we will fill the air with the breathtaking, heart-capturing love of Jesus.


Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us[a] and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:1,2 NLT

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. Ephesians 5:1,2 The Message

As you go through your day, what will you bring into the life of those around you? Are you content to simply be stale air? I didn't think so, and neither am I. I want my life to be SO FILLED with the love of Christ, that everywhere I go, everything thing and everyone is stopped in their tracks by the love of God. I want to live my life so as to be a sweet-smelling aroma of God's love. I want to be a breath of fresh air....the kind that will breathe new life into "dead" souls and awaken them to new life in Christ.

"Life To the Living"

Allen Asbury

Words and music by Dave Clark, DonKoch, Allen Asbury

Verse 1:

There's a neighbor living down the street

That I haven't had the time to meet, cause I'm way too busy

There's a clerk down at the corner store

I wonder if he knows the Lord, but I'm in a hurry

There's a stranger down at Sylvan park

Strummin' on his old guitar but there's no time to listen

There's a friend I say I know him well

But some days it's really hard to tell just what he's feeling

It's easy to love from a distance

But when I take the time to make a difference


Chorus:

It's like breathing life into the living

Love can come and turn the world for the better

When we're showing Christ, to the dying

He can make a change that lasts forever

Lord teach me how to speak Your heart

Cause when I tell the world how great You are

It's like breathing life


Verse 2:

Every Sunday on the second row

Is a man with pain that doesn't show but he needs some healing

There's a man and wife with three young kids

She doesn't love him like she did but she just can't tell him

When the dying comes in little steps

From holding on to past regrets do we even see it

The preacher says God still forgives

But deep inside he wonders if we still believe it

It's easy to love from a distance

But when I take the time to make a difference


Chorus:

It's like breathing life into the living

Love can come and turn the world for the better

When we're showing Christ, to the dying

He can make a change that lasts forever

Lord teach me how to speak Your heart

Cause when I tell the world how great You are

It's like breathing life


Bridge:

When you speak of love, speak of mercy

Help to heal a wounded soul

When you speak of love, speak of mercy

Help to lead the broken home

So, speak of love, speak of mercy

Help to heal a wounded soul, lead the broken home


Chorus:

It's like breathing life into the living

Love can come and turn the world for the better

When we're showing Christ, to the dying

He can make a change that lasts forever

Lord teach me how to speak Your heart

Cause when I tell the world how great You are

It's like breathing life

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lord, What Would You Have ME to Do?

The words she spoke still ring in my ears; the pleas she made still echo in my heart. As I sat listening to this missionary tell of the places God had taken her and the experiences she had witnessed, her words opened my heart to a world in need. They awakened a yearning in my soul that has left me asking, "Lord, what would you have ME to do?"

As this women of faith spoke of God's call on her life, she smiled. She was, after all, an ambassador for Christ (Now then we are ambassadors for Christ - 2 Corinthians 5:20), a title she wore with both pride and utmost humility. Her call had taken her far from the comforts of her quaint little home and far beyond the borders of her homeland. It was not the plan she would have chosen for her life, and yet it was exactly the life she was meant to live. She had been obedient to follow God's leading and He had been faithful to accompany her every step of the way.

She told of numerous trips to various countries. She shared story after story of God's provision and His constant protection. She also shared testimony after testimony of souls being won for the Kingdom. It was exhilarating to listen to these firsthand accounts of God's power and His presence.

Toward the end of her talk, she told of her travels to a country I cannot pronounce, much less spell. The conditions were primitive, the villages, small and scattered, the people, in great need. One day, as they traveled the hot, dusty road from one village to the next, they stopped at a small, roadside stand. Here, they hoped to find some fresh water, along with fresh produce and some much needed refreshment. To their surprise, not only did this poor vendor have water and fresh produce, he also had cans of Coca Cola...COCA COLA!!!

As the ambassador of Christ relived this experience, her smile faded and tears filled her eyes. As she had traveled this country, she had not seen one church or one Bible. There was no visible evidence to indicate anyone had gone before her in this pursuit to share the good news of Christ. Obviously, the Coca Cola Corporation had made the effort to go to this country and introduce these people to their product, a beverage they have touted to the world as the "real thing". Christians, however, had yet to lead these precious people to the living water, and the one real God!!!! They had Coca Cola, but they didn't have Jesus. Her tears soon became mine.

If a corporation is willing to venture to far away places in hopes of increasing the value of their company, shouldn't we, as ambassadors of Christ, be willing to do whatever it takes to bring the people of the world the living hope? Shouldn't we be willing to share with them that which is of eternal value? They don't need coke. They need Christ. But how will they know unless someone is willing to tell them?

For Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” Romans 10:13-15

The words she spoke still ring in my ears; the pleas she made still echo in my heart. As I sit writing about this missionary and the places God has taken her and the experiences she has witnessed, I pray her words open your heart to a world in need. I pray they awaken a yearning in your soul that leaves you asking, "Lord, what would you have ME to do? "

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pitfalls, Potholes and a Heavenly Perspective

It's been one of those days! Actually, if I'm truthful, I would have to admit it's been one those weeks! You know the kind I'm talking about. The kind that leaves you exhausted, frustrated and ready to give up. Thankfully, nothing major has happened to me over the past few days. Surprisingly enough, it's been the little, dare I say, ordinary things of life that have somehow banded together to wreak havoc on my week and my emotions. Isn't it amazing how simple every day things like finding your car keys or balancing your checkbook can turn your whole day upside down and send you into a tail spin?


Oh sure. I realize it's not what's happening that's the problem. It's my reaction to it. The simple fact that I allow these seemingly small, insignificant things in my life to become bigger than life frustrates me beyond words. Before I know it, I am taking a detour paved with anger, anxiety and frustration. How I wish I could bypass this emotional trip altogether and simply deal with it and move on.


Which brings me to Driver's Ed. 101. When I was first learning to drive, I got some excellent advice from my father. One day, as we were cruising down a dirt road out in the country, I found myself struggling to keep the car moving in a straight, forward direction. I would wander to the left, then meander off to the right, only to drift left again. Driving straight turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. After several miles of crisscrossing back and forth across this road, Daddy gently spoke words of wisdom.


"Quit staring at the hood of the car and focusing all your attention on what's directly in front of you. Instead, look past it and concentrate on where you are going."


I told you my Daddy was wise. I took his advice (I am my father's daughter, after all) and soon, I was driving like a pro! No more careening back and forth across the road for this girl. Now, I was wheeling and dealing and finally getting somewhere!


Which brings me back to today and this week. Once again,I found myself veering of course. Instead of looking at the big picture, I allowed these minor inconveniences to become my focal point.Where are those keys hiding? Why aren't these numbers adding up? Why is life so tough? With each question, I found myself heading toward Misery Lane, and straight for Pity Party Parkway. Aaaaaaaaaaaaay yi yi! How quickly I forget the words of my father...and the words of Paul.


For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, NLT


Let's face it. As we journey through life, there are sure to be some potholes waiting around the bend. It's how we purposely choose to react to these potholes that makes all the difference. The choice is up to us. After all, we are the ones in the driver's seat, right?! We can allow these "light afflictions" to throw us off course, or worse yet, stop us in our tracks...or we can simply cruise right on around them and keep on keeping on.


I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back. Philippians 3:12-14, The Message

Monday, April 19, 2010

Stand Fast in Your Faith

(Over a year ago, I wrote a post entitled "Stand". Today, this post kept coming to my mind, so I went back and re-read the words I had written in February of 09. After a few revisions and a continual nudging in my heart, I felt compelled to re-post it today.) 

I have a question for you. What do you do when life doesn't make sense? When a loved one is tragically killed in a car accident? When your doctor says, "It's cancer". When you are suddenly laid off from work? When your dream dies? When you are left with a million questions and not one single answer? What do you do?


You stand. That's what you do. It's as simple and as critical as that.


For some reason, when we find our self experiencing a trial or hardship, our humanness demands to know why. At first, our questions are almost always me-centered. Why me? Why did this have to happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? Then, God gets thrown in to the questioning. Why would God allow this to happen? Why would a God of love let me suffer like this? Why didn't God step in and do something to stop this?


More times than not, our questioning only leads us to feelings of confusion, anger, or despondency, not the answer we are so desperately seeking. In our need to find answers, we often find our self overlooking or forgetting what we DO know, in search of that which we may never know, at least not on this side of Heaven. In times like these, we need to stop trying to understand, and to simply stand.



At a very low point in my life, I found myself playing the "why" game with God. Day in and day out I kept pleading with Him for an answer. I believed if I could just understand the "why" behind what was happening, I would be able to deal with it, accept it and move on. God remained silent. For months, I wrestled with my emotions and my God.



Finally, one day God did speak. "Stacy, if you keep trying to figure out the why, if you keep demanding to understand this, you are going to remain frustrated and distant from Me. Your need to UNDERstand is going to take you under! Simply stand on what you DO know. You know I am all love, all the time and you can trust Me with your very life. You know I want only the best for you and I am always working everything out for your good and My glory. Quit trying to understand this. Instead, stand on WHO I AM and the promises I have made to you." While this word from God wasn't the answer to my question, and certainly not the answer I was looking for, I found it to be the answer to my peace.



Today, is the need to know why tormenting your mind and stealing your peace?  Do you feel as though you are drowning in a sea of questions?  Are you tired of the struggle to keep your faith above water and your eyes on God, only to get pulled under by the current of confusion, doubt and anger time and time again? Why not choose instead to stand on the foundation of God's unfailing love for you? You may have to surrender your need to know why, but the peace you will discover in it's place will be more than worth it. More importantly, your continued trust and faith in God depends on it.



Today, right now, stand on what you DO know.




God loves me.








God is working ALL things for my good and for His glory.








God will never leave me nor forsake me.








God is all love, all the time.








God can be trusted with my very life.





If you allow these truths to be the foundation on which you place your faith, the questions of life will never be able to pull you under. Take your stand, and do it today!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tears of Joy

As I child, I never really liked playing Hide-n-Seek. Well, that's not entirely true. I thoroughly enjoyed hiding, but when it came my time to do the seeking, I would always suggest a game of Hopscotch. Don't get me wrong. I'm more than willing to hold up my end of a game. If I hide, I need to take my turn seeking. I get that. But for some odd reason, not knowing where to look, made me feel anxious and uneasy.

Sherlock Holmes, I am not, and I don't get the tiniest bit of pleasure out of a "good" mystery. If I am looking for something, or in this case, someone, I want to know exactly where to look. I want a map with a big, bright red "X" marking the spot. But, hide-n-seek doesn't work that way. It's all about the hunt; followed by the excitement you feel when you discover your friend hiding in the last place you would ever have thought to look.

Once I gave my heart to Christ and His precious Holy Spirit came to live inside me, I began to discover the fruit of the Spirit in my life. As I allowed the Spirit to take control, love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control became evident at different times and places in my Christian walk. Joy, however, seemed to be hiding from me.

But how could this be? Wasn't it supposed to be in my life, too? Although separate and unique, these characteristics of Christ are one. After all, they are known as the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruits of the spirit. So...where was my joy? Believe it or not, when I finally found it, it was in the last place I would ever have thought to look.

Following Christ, I soon discovered, is not an easy thing to do. This spiritual journey requires much from those who would choose to walk the walk, and not simply talk the talk. To be true followers of Christ, we must be willing to give Christ our all...and this requires sacrifice, and death. Yes, even death.

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. Luke 9:23 (King James Version)

In order for Christ to live fully in and through me, I must die. You must die, too. As children of the Most High God, we are called upon to take up our cross daily, denying self and surrendering all to God. This process of becoming a new creature in Christ is excruciatingly painful. Death never comes without tears of sorrow.

They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. Psalm 126:5 (King James Version)

Tears. What an unlikely place to discover my joy, and yet, that is exactly where I keep finding it. As I surrender my will to the will of my Father, I pass through a valley of tears. Yet, on the other side of this dark place, I discover true joy.

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory 1 Peter 1 6-8. (King James Version)

Unlike the game of Hide-n-Seek, God has been faithful to map out the way for us. The blood stained cross of Calvary clearly marks the spot where our joy is found.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross Hebrews 12:2 (New International Version)

Imagine the thrill of my discovery when I finally found God's precious gift of joy in my tears of surrender. Kneeling at the foot of the cross, I exchange my tears of sorrow for tears of joy. It is here,I find joy unspeakable.

(Note: If you would like to read more devotional thoughts on JOY, click here! Rachel Olsen is hosting a blog carnival today and her topic is JOY!)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Advice for a Hurting Heart

As I sit here writing this, I am sipping on a Dr. Pepper float. Yet as yummy and delicious as this creamy, refreshing drink is, I am still finding it hard to swallow the hurt I experienced earlier this morning. Hence, the reason for this mid-afternoon splurge. Silly as it sounds, I actually hoped this ice cream treat would sweeten the sour feeling I have been carrying around in my heart all day. WRONG!

Why is it when the world hits us and kicks us and bruises our very soul, we head straight back into the world in search of the healing we are so desperately in need of? It makes no sense to me and yet, here I sit with a straw in my mouth, sucking away at this frozen concoction as though my very heart depended on it. No wonder I feel deflated. And taken advantage of. After slurping my way to the bottom of my treat, I am still left with a hurting heart and a loaded question for God.

God, how can I pour out myself so as to be used by YOU without being used by the very one I am pouring myself out to?

I told you it was a loaded question. I wish I could say this is the first time I have sought God for an answer to this life-long dilemma, but it isn't. For most of my life, I have bent over backward to be God's hands and feet to a hurting world, often at my own expense. At times, the outpouring of my heart has been gently received and upheld with sincerest appreciation. Other times, however, my giving heart has been trampled on, greedily taken from, and squandered, with no regret and no shame. Such was the case today. And it hurts.

How can I be used by God without being used?

As a Christian, I suppose we could simply chalk up "being taken advantage of" as an "occupational hazard". It just comes with the title of Christian. After all, we are called to be partakers of Christ's suffering. No one was more used and abused than our precious Lord. And yet, does God really want or expect us to allow others to use our heart for their own selfish gain?

As odd as it may seem, I think God gave me a glimpse into His answer as my husband and I were finishing our lunch today. It was one of those rare days when our schedules coincided and we were able to meet together for a moment and a meal. As my husband reached for the check, he handed me a fortune cookie. While I don't believe in fortune cookies, I do believe, if we have ears to hear, our God can and will speak to us through the events of our day. As I read the words written on the tiny slip of paper hiding in this simple dessert, I tenderly heard the wisdom of my loving Heavenly Father.

It is a silly fish that is caught twice with the same bait.

God has called us to give...to give with our whole heart. However, if after we give, our eyes and our heart are opened to see the true intent of the recipient of our heart, and it is evil in nature, then God would have us learn from this and head in a new direction, away from this abuse. We don't need to fight back. We don't need to retaliate. Most of all, we don't need to go back for more. We simply need to learn from this experience and then, move on.

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. Matthew 10:16

As I toss my empty cup and straw into the trash, I delicately place my hurting heart into the nail scarred hands of Jesus. He knows how I feel. He has been there, too. As I release this hurt through the gift of forgiveness, He will bring the healing I need.

Tomorrow is a new day. A brand new day to go out and touch the world with the love of my Heavenly Father. May I never stop being His hands and His feet. May I never let my heart become so calloused it refuses to give. May I always run to my Father when I am hurting. May my heart always rejoice in service to my God.

Monday, April 5, 2010

An Answer to Prayer

Just the other day, God used me to answer a prayer. Me! Imagine that. Now, I know God uses each of us, in many ways, on any given day, to be an answer to prayer, but on this day, it was the last thing I would have ever expected God to do.


You see, on this particular day, my thoughts and actions had been anything but pleasing to God. From the moment my alarm had jolted me awake, my grumbling and complaining had started. Before my feet even had a chance to hit the floor, my mouth had started groaning to God about this, and whining to God about that. By the time I made it to the shower, my pity party was in full swing.


I wish I could say a nice hot shower did the trick, and before long I was rejoicing in this new day that the Lord had made, but unfortunately, that wasn't the case. It seemed the more I moaned, the more I found to moan about. By the time I left for work, I was singing the blues better than B.B. King!


And it didn't stop there. The events of the day kept giving me more to complain about. I couldn't believe what a horrible, rotten, no good day I was having. Then, to top it all off, I found myself sitting in traffic at a railroad crossing. With nothing to do but wait, I began to watch the activity in a store parking lot to my left.


That's when it happened. I spotted my 84 year old father-in-law attempting to change a flat tire on his truck. When the way was clear, I maneuvered my way over to where he was parked.


As soon as he saw me pull up, a look of relief flooded his face. "Oh, Stacy! I can't believe it's you. I just prayed God would send someone to help me and here you are. You are the answer to my prayer!"


God, how could you? How could you possibly have chosen ME to be the one to bless this dear man today? How could I be the answer to a prayer spoken in desperation, when my own lips were so desperately far from you today? How could you even think to use me when I have been acting in a way so undeserving of this honor?


In spite of my thoughts, my actions and my lousy, no good for nothing attitude, God used me. In spite of what I had done and what I had said, God used me. In spite of who I am, God used me. But why? Why would He choose to do that?


Because, it's not about me....it's about HIM.


If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable power with us. As it is, there's not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we're not much to look at. 2 Corinthians 4:7 The Message


The sad truth is, even on a "good day", when my words and my thoughts bring a smile to my Father's face, the only good in me, is still HIM. Who I am is simply a vessel that, amazingly, God chooses to work through to touch others with His love, and in this case, His provision.


I phoned my husband, and soon, my father-in-law and I were each back on the road again and headed back into the rest of our day. As I drove, I bowed my heart before the Lover of my soul. Through words of confession and repentance, mingled with tears of shame and regret, I felt God's unconditional love flood my heart.


I was chosen to be someone's answer to prayer, and yet I couldn't help believing that God has used this encounter to answer a prayer of my own. Just like my father-in-law, I needed my God to rescue me. Depression was sucking the life out of my day and out of my heart, yet before I had even sought the Lord for a way of escape from this cruel prison, He had answered.


God, how could you? How could you be so beautiful to me?


As I continued my day, I found myself humming a brand new tune. A melody of grace, forgiveness and joy! Why, I could hardly believe the beautiful day I was having!