Friday, November 20, 2015

8 Ways to Bloom in the Winter

" prepared in season and out of season..." 
2 Timothy 4:2 (NIV)
In west Texas, the plants and trees are kind of confused. Fall's late in coming. October was warmer than usual; cool days were spotty. The roses have bloomed like crazy, the tree's leaves didn't quite know what to do, and the dandelions popped up, ready to scatter their seeds.

The last few days have been cool. All the plants and trees are suddenly jumping on the Fall bandwagon - except the poor dandelions. They refuse to give up. As I looked at them scattered around the park, the words of 2 Timothy 4:2 came to mind, in season and out of season.

Talking about Jesus and living for Him is easier in the spring and summer. During the sunny times of our lives, we reflect Jesus' love and joy and compassion. Our hearts overflow with happiness. We talk about God's blessings.

It get's harder when winter hits. When times are hard, we might let fear or sorrow take over our lives.

We don't smile as much as we used to. We don't say, "Have a good day!" to people we meet. We might not reflect Jesus during difficult times.

How do we express Jesus' love when our hearts are broken? How can we be like the dandelions and keep our chins up, no matter the weather? Here are a few suggestions that might lighten your heart.

1. Smile. Smile when others are around. Smile when you're alone. You might feel silly, but look at yourself in the mirror and smile - even a fake one. There's something about a smile that lifts your spirits. Just a tiny bit at first but more and more as you practice it.

 2. Play silly music or watch a funny TV show. This time of year, play Christmas music. Grab a child's silly-song CD and listen to it. Watch cartoons. Before long you will be chuckling and humming along.

3. Do something you enjoy. A walk in the park. Go to a craft store (Hobby Lobby's my favorite), a computer store, or a plant nursery. See an animated movie at a time when the theater will be packed with kid's. The possibilities are as wide as your imagination.

4. Reach out to a friend or loved one. Talk about your feelings and pray together; a shared burden is always lighter. When you can, put aside the problems and have fun together. Have lunch. Get a mani-pedi. Go to a museum, a movie, or to the zoo. Or have a quiet cup of coffee at your home. 

5. Count your blessings. I hate to even mention this because it seems trite and trivial. But it works. If you dread each new day, the sunrise might not be a blessing.  Cherish these: a baby's laugh in the store, your pet's cuddles, ice cream with a friend, a good book. Simple things are the best blessings.

6. Read your Bible. There have been times I didn't want to do this, but it lifted my spirits when I did. Choose wisely - Leviticus and Lamentations might not be the best ones unless you're a little strange. There are Psalms that lift your heart. You might have a list or you can go on line and Google "uplifting Bible verses." 

7. My favorite: Listen to God sing. I know, weird, huh? Listen to Zephaniah 3:17. He [the Lord] will rejoice over you with singing." Go ahead, listen to His words. You are precious to Him. He will never leave you. You bring Him joy. Let His songs bathe your heart. 

8. Sing back to Him. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. Psalm 33:3
Sing praise songs. Dance around in your den. Don't be embarrassed; who cares?

The winter days won't fade away but you might find it easier to walk through them.

How do you lift your spirits when times are difficult? 

Friday, November 13, 2015

1 + 1 = Eternal Salvation

Note: Usually, my posts reflect my passion: to bring God's Word off of the page and into our daily lives. To discover how to live it, to be encouraged by it, and how to make it real and alive. But, every once in a while, I want to share something deeper. A new understanding. This is just such a post: 

To explore the depth of God's Mercy and Grace.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:4-5, 8 (NIV) (Emphasis mine)

Mercy and grace. So often we use these words interchangeably. But they are not interchangeable and to understand that is to bring a deeper richness to our salvation.

I know, you probably think I'm splitting hairs here, but bear with me.

Let's begin with mercy because that is where God begins.

In Ephesians 2:4, and in most New Testament verses about God's mercy, the Greek word is

éleos: to pass over deserved punishment. To extend forgiveness instead of punishment. Mercy rescues us from the penalty of sin.

Mercy is proclaimed on the cross. Because of Jesus' death on the cross, we are passed over and we do not experience the death we deserve because of our sins.

God's mercy is expressed in our redemption and forgiveness.

But what if we stopped there? What if God's mercy is all that was offered?

Hear me out...this might seem a bit crazy.

God's mercy is great, to be sure, but, without grace, it is finite.

Christ's death on the cross mirrors the sacrifices of the Old Testament. This sacrifice pardons the sins in the past but not in the future.

How does this forgiveness - this mercy - come forward through time to all men who have ever lived and to all who have yet to live?

Enter grace.

In Ephesians 2:4, and in most New Testament verses about God's grace, the Greek word is

chráis: an absolutely free expression of God’s loving-kindness; His unearned and unmerited favor toward men. A gift with no return expected.

God's loving-kindness toward us is absolutely free. We can't earn it and we can't be worthy of it. It is given, out of the depths of His heart. 

God bathes His mercy in His grace. 

Because of His grace, His mercy is eternal. 

Because of His grace, the mercy of the cross is gifted forward to all men who have ever lived or who have yet to live. 

Because of His grace, the mercy you and I received at the cross reaches through all time to forgive all our sin: yesterday's, today's and tomorrow's.

Because of His grace, we are forgiven and saved for eternity.

His Mercy, His compassion on and forgiveness of our sin through Christ’s death on the cross, is completed by His Grace, the unmerited gift of eternal salvation. 

Mercy + Grace = Eternal Salvation

God's mercy and grace are both centered in God. We can do nothing to gain or to lose them. Saved by God's grace alone, through our faith alone.

Once we are cleansed by His mercy and saved by His grace, it is for eternity. 

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. 1 Peter 3:18a (NIV)

Christ died for our sins (mercy) once for all (grace).

Once - for all men, for all time. 

God's mercy grace-gifted to all men for, all time. 

The key to grace is found in the word gift. A gift unaccepted is an expression of love missed. A gift unopened is a joy missed.

Jesus died for your sins - that's a fact!

The gift offered is eternal salvation. 

Have you accepted and opened God's gift?

Perhaps this post will start a discussion about mercy and grace. Please do! I have much to learn!!

Friday, November 6, 2015

4 Stories of Grace

Grace, Grace
God's Grace
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within
Grace, Grace
God's Grace
Grace that is greater than all my sin
Julia H. Johnston, 1910, Public Domain

Grace. Almost indescribable.  God's grace began with eternal life, given to us with Jesus' resurrection, and He showers grace on us each day through the Holy Spirit who lives within us.

In recent years, I experienced God's grace, even though I was filled with anger and frustration. When we moved from the Houston area to west Texas, I was so angry. I stubbornly refused to be happy. Instead of leaving me in my misery, the Lord used a fantastic retreat, Walk to Eamaus, to restore my joy and to show me the many grace gifts He'd given me in my new home.

God's grace is written all throughout Scripture. We can learn much through the lives of these four men:

  • Moses
  • Elijah
  • Peter
  • Paul

Moses   Moses' story is told in Exodus. He was the deliverer of God's people from slavery, the Lawgiver on Mount Sinai. God protected his life from the very beginning: As an infant, Moses was set adrift in a basket, rescued by Pharaoh's daughter, and raised to be next on the throne. Then hot-headed Moses killed an Egyptian guard and fled into the desert to live his life as a shepherd.

One day, while out on a mountainside with a herd of sheep, Moses saw a strange, burning bush.

God called Moses to deliver His people from Egypt but Moses didn't seem too eager to go:
Look at me! I can't go to Pharaoh!
What if the people ask me your name? What will I tell them?
What if they don't believe me?
But I've got a speech problem! Send someone else.

God could have left Moses with his sheep and found someone else more willing. But He chose to shower Moses with grace. He patiently answered Moses' questions and used him to deliver His people from slavery in Egypt.

Talk about stubborn! Sounds just like me. After I was laid off as an engineer at Johnson Space Center, God began to whisper to me about writing a Bible study. I had a list of excuses as long as my arm. When I did begin to write, I still resisted the idea. In His grace, God allowed my writing to win two key awards at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. My study, Storms of Life, is a testimony to God's grace.

Even in our stubbornness, God doesn't quit. We can't out-stubborn Him! He knew us before we were born and assigned the works we are to do in His name (Ephesians 2:10). He will deal with us in love and grace, waiting until we come to Him and surrender our lives to His purposes.

Grace that is greater than all our stubbornness!

Elijah   Even today, Elijah is one of Israel's most revered prophets. He was strong in his faith and stood up before the most evil Israeli kings, like Ahab and his wife, Jezebel. In 1Kings 18-19, the Lord used Elijah to embarrass 450 pagan priests and to prove that there was only one true Lord. As you can imagine, Ahab and Jezebel were furious and vowed to kill him.

Even after the Lord's show of power, Elijah was overcome with fear. He ran into the desert and begged God to kill him. He climbed Mount Horeb and hid in a cave.

God could have left Elijah to tremble in the cave. But He chose to shower him with grace. He revealed Himself to Elijah by passing in front of the cave and He restored Elijah's courage.

I have certainly cowered in fear. Many years ago, my family endured a horrible crisis. I prayed for deliverance continuously and I was terrified as things seemed to spiral downward. Even though God didn't choose to deliver us, He revealed Himself to us through His Word and through believers around us.

Fear, anger, or loneliness are crippling emotions. The enemy tries to defeat us and to cause us to cower in hiding. But God never leaves us there. As our loving Father, He comes to bring us back to our feet. We are never alone. We never have to fear. He assures us of His presence and His power.

Grace that is greater than all our fears!

Peter  Peter, the impetuous disciple, the one who often said or did something he shouldn't have. But he was the first to recognize that Jesus was the source of eternal life (John 6:68).

The night of Jesus' arrest, Peter followed the soldiers and hunkered down by a fire outside where they interrogated Jesus. A few of the people around the fire recognized him as one of the disciples but he denied that he knew Jesus - three times.

Jesus could have expelled him from His circle of disciples but, instead, He chose to shower Peter with grace.

After His resurrection, Jesus met Peter and some other disciples on the shore at the Sea of Tiberius. There He gave Peter three opportunities to declare his love for Him. All three times, Peter said, "You know that I love you." (John 21). Jesus cleared Peter's conscience and strengthened him. A few weeks later, Peter proclaimed the gospel with such power that 4000 people believed in Jesus.

That is always a result of disobedience: it denies Jesus. Sometimes, our actions deny our faith. Even though we might fail Him, He never turns away. He restores us and gives us opportunities to serve Him and to show our love for Him.

Grace that is greater than all our disobedience!

Paul   Paul was the Lord's missionary to the Gentiles - those who were not Jewish. He brought the gospel of Jesus to all of Asia and into Europe. Before this, though, he was a member of the Jewish elite, educated in Jewish beliefs by the best tutors in Jerusalem. He knew all of the prophesies about the Messiah, but He chose to rebel against the truth. He made it his mission to capture and imprison or execute as many Christians as possible. He rejected Jesus, even though he heard and saw the faith of the hundreds he persecuted.

God could have ensured that Paul was killed. He could have judged Paul and found him guilty. But He chose to shower Paul with grace.

On a trip to Damascus, Jesus met Paul on the road and transformed him from a murderer to a powerful witness for Christ (Acts 9).

Like Paul, we were in rebellion. Perhaps we'd heard of God's mercy and grace, but we refused to believe the truth. God pursued us and drew us into His love. Now we are His children, showered with His grace gifts.

Grace that is greater than all our rebellion!

Even as believers, we are in need of God's grace. We aren't always obedient but we are always loved. We aren't always strong but we are always filled with God's strength. We don't always listen but He never ceases to speak to us. We can never overwhelm God's Grace.

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (Emphasis mine)

How has God shown His grace to you?

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