Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What now?

Today's Truth
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28 NIV)

Friend to Friend
Have you ever had a shattered dream? If so, you're not alone.

If ever there was a group of people who lost their dream, it was Jesus' disciples and the women who ministered to and with them. They had such high expectations that Jesus would be the next political leader of Israel (Luke 24:20). They had witnessed his power in feeding 5,000 men plus women and children with two loaves and five fishes; they felt the waves beneath their tiny boat subside at his command; they had watched him breathe life into a lifeless child, open the eyes of a man blind from birth, create new skin from rotting flesh on the limbs of lepers, and command a lame man to take up his pallet and walk. They had seen him walk on water, outwit the Pharisees, and win the lost.

In their narrow scope of hopes for a political leader to save the Jews, they missed the bigger picture of God's plan for a Savior to free mankind from the bondage of sin. While Peter realized Jesus' identity ("You are the Christ."), he did not understand His destiny. Peter was shocked when Jesus explained that He had to go to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed, and on the third day rise from the dead. He even took Jesus aside and said, "Never, Lord. This shall never happen to you!" (Mark 8:33). This was not part of Peter's dream. Suffering did not fit into his plan.

"Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

Call me stupid, but don't call me Satan. Yet, that is how Jesus sees it when we try to block God's plans. He sees us as an instrument of darkness, an offense, a hindrance and a snare. It is amazing that one minute Peter could be a building block and the next a stumbling block but that's the trap we all fall into when we have our minds set on the world instead of on the things of God.

Jesus told His disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life, will lose it, but whoever lose his life for me will find it." (Matthew 16:24)

Even though Jesus forewarned the disciples of his death and resurrection, they fled when the soldiers came to arrest him, and they hid when he was hung on a cross to die. When Jesus was sealed in the tomb, their hopes and dreams were sealed in the darkness with him.

Every day, I receive emails from women who have had their dreams shattered. A husband has an affair, becomes addicted to pornography, abuses the children, or deserts the family. A child gets caught with drugs, gets pregnant or dies in a car accident. Parents divorce, friends betray, careers come to an abrupt halt. The list is endless. So what do we do when our dreams are seemingly destroyed? The answer to that question will shape the rest of our lives.

Does that mean we give up our dreams? I can promise you this, whatever dreams you have for your life, God's dreams are greater. The power of the Holy Spirit the disciples received after Jesus' resurrection, and the impact they made on the world thereafter, was beyond their wildest dreams. That's what God does with a heart wholly yielded to Him. That's what He does when we give our shattered dreams to Him. I have learned to stop saying "Why me?" but instead start saying "What now?"

Let's Pray
Dear Lord, there are things about my life that I don't understand, but I do know this. You are good and You are kind. I thank You that nothing happens in my life that is a surprise to You. You have a greater plan than my small vision can imagine. I pray that You will reveal that larger plan for my life to me. Help me to pay attention to Your promptings and obey Your bidding.

In Jesus' name, Amen.

Now It's Your Turn
Think back over your life and list two or three dreams that did not turn out like you thought they would.

Is there a prayer request or dream in your life that, in retrospect, you are glad God did respond to affirmatively?

Write down any areas of your life where you have said, "Why me?" and are now willing to say,"What now?"

Place yourself in the disciples' sandals for just a moment. How do you think you would have felt the night Jesus died on the cross?

How do you think you would have felt the day you saw Him walk into the room ... resurrected from the dead?

How would that experience have affected the way you viewed trials in your life from that time forward?

Now, how should that affect the way you see trials today?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

He Calls you by Name

Today's Truth
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine" (Isaiah 43:1 NASB).

Friend to Friend
Over the years, several people in my life never seem to remember my name. A few of my more popular aliases are Sarah James, Susan James, Shannon James, and Jane Jaynes. Then there are the people who just can't remember me altogether and don't even try to fish a name from their memory pool. To tell you the truth, I'm not very good with names either.

However, names are very important to God. In the Bible, a person's name revealed a unique quality of their character. Moses meant "drawn out of water." Ruth meant "woman friend." Naomi meant "pleasant," and she changed it to "Mara" which meant "bitter." Her two sons' names meant "Puny" and Piney." Evidently, these two fellows weren't exactly strapping young he-men, and both died at an early age. If a person had an encounter with the living God, many times He changed their name to fit the experiences He had planned for their futures. Abram was changed to Abraham. Sarai was changed to Sarah. Saul was changed to Paul.

Yes, names are very important. That's why when someone very dear to me forgot mine, it broke my heart.

My father accepted Jesus as his Savior when I was 21 years old. The transformation I saw in him was nothing short of miraculous. One of the benefits that I received was that he learned how to love me. In my father's later years, we had a very tender and dear relationship. But it was short lived.

A few years after dad committed his life to Christ, I noticed him becoming very forgetful. At first, it was small idiosyncrasies: forgetting an order at work, misplacing his shoes or keys, not remembering what day it was, drawing a blank on a close friend's name. Then it progressed to more serious absent-minded behavior: forgetting where he parked in a parking deck (and even which parking deck), coming home to take my mother to the market forgetting he had already taken her an hour before, and becoming confused when taking measurements for cabinets which he had been doing for over forty years. In 1987, our greatest fears were confirmed. Dad had Alzheimer's disease. He was fifty-six-years-old.

My dad had been a tough cookie as a young man. From the time he was fifty-six to sixty-six, I watched a competent, quick witted entrepreneur reduced to a man who could not remember how to speak, button his shirt or move a spoon from his plate to his mouth. But what pained me the most was the day he forgot my name.

I still remember holding his face in my hands and saying, "Daddy, it's me. Do you know who I am?" But I was only met by a childish grin and eyes that seemed to look straight through me.

Names. They are important. In Isaiah 43:1, God says, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine" (NASB). In Isaiah 49:1, the prophet announces, "Before I was born, the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name" (NIV).

As God's child, He has called you by name and the Bible promises He will never forget it. Your name is engraved on the palm of His hand (Isaiah 49:16).

On a Friday morning in May of 1996, the Lord graciously came and took my earthly father to his new home in glory. He's probably up there right now measuring for cabinets and working on all those mansions we've read so much about. His memory has been restored and I look forward to the day when my earthly father and my heavenly Father welcome me with open arms and say, "Welcome, Sharon, my daughter, my child."

Let's Pray
Dear Father, sometimes when I think of you calling my name, I am moved to tears. You know my name! You have it engraved in the palm of your hand. Thank you Lord that you will never forget me. In Jesus' precious name, Amen

Now It's Your Turn
As we have seen, names are important. The most important name in the universe is God's name. Do you ever say His name flippantly or without reverence? ("Oh my God," for example.)

How do you think God feels about His name being used as an explicative? (Exodus 20:7) Make a commitment today to speak God's name in reverence and holiness.

What does it mean to you that God knows you by name?

Write a prayer of thanksgiving to God expressing the joy of knowing that your name is engraved on the palm of His hand.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Freedom is a....

.... funny thing. I mean, there are so many different ways to think of freedom in this world, in this day and age. There's the freedom to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion. But freedom is not everywhere, nor is it free. The freedoms we have in America were fought for, blood was shed over each and every one of them. Other places are still fighting for their freedom, still struggling to define it. No, freedom is not free. And it is finite. You can only vote so many times before there's no one to vote for anymore, and you can only speak so much until you have said all there is to say. And just because you have spoken does not necessarily mean you have said anything. Freedom is a funny thing.

But there is a freedom that is infinite, limitless, without boundaries, and from a source of never-ending power and knowledge: God. Regardless of our past, He freed us. From what? From anything and everything that hinders our communication with Him. Our sin, our past disappointments, our failures (see Romans 6-8). There is nothing that can separate the Christian from God! The price for this freedom was paid long ago by Jesus who died for us. One sacrifice, one man's blood shed for all, future and past.

Impossible you say? Fantastical? Want proof? Look at the people who follow Him for the thousands of years people have followed Him. Would so many people follow a god who wasn't real for this long? Would people risk there lives for thousands of years for a god who didn't exist? Look at this universe and see His power radiating from every corner of it!

Would people try so hard to disprove this God unless they were afraid that He actually exists?

I'm not going to try to prove that God exists, He has already done that through nature, through this universe, and through His own power manifested in these things. No, He exists.

Here are just a few places that the Bible talks about freedom. Find a verse that means something to you and claim it! Claim His freedom as His child and know that Satan has no hold on you and sin cannot touch you! You are free!! Claim your freedom!!

Psalm 118:5
In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free.

Psalm 119:32
I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.

Psalm 119:45
I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.

Luke 4:18-19
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

John 8:32
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

John 8:36
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

2 Corinthians 3:17
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Galatians 5:1
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Ephesians 3:12
In him [Christ] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.