Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Birthday!

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:16-17, 26)

Not only did we celebrate Memorial Day this weekend, but we also celebrated a very important birthday – the Church’s birthday otherwise known as Pentecost. We are told in Acts that after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Holy Spirit came and settled on the disciples in the upper room. They immediately went out to preach in many different languages, previously unknown to them before the Spirit's empowerment, to the multitudes gathered in the city from all over the known world to celebrate a Jewish festival. Three thousand people believed and were baptized and Jesus’ Church was born. This got me to thinking about a devotion I wrote many years ago when doing a word study on the Holy Spirit which I share here with you. Enjoy!

My family will often gather over a meal to celebrate special occasions or sometimes just because it’s been too long since the last time we’ve gotten together. At most of these family gatherings we share a simple meal of spaghetti while we talk and laugh. I come from a proud Italian heritage and the recipe for the spaghetti sauce shared in those meals has been handed down through the generations of my family. I learned to make the family recipe as a young girl at my mother’s side, while others in my family have learned by first experiencing the meal and then later following the step-by-step instruction given to them by my mother. We each have added our own spices over the years, but the basic recipe has never changed and will be passed down to the generations to come.

In much the same way, the Holy Spirit is a gift passed down from the Father to the Son to God’s children. When God’s children gather, it is his Spirit that feeds us. He is our common heritage. Many of my brothers and sisters in Christ were brought up with God being an intricate part of their lives. Others have experienced God through example first, seen his miracles, heard his voice calling them, and then, having asked for God’s forgiveness and giving their lives to Jesus, have received the Holy Spirit. We each come with our own individual history and personality and while the Holy Spirit reflects through the filter of our lives uniquely, he is the same Person for all time and will never change as he is imparted to each new generation of God’s family.

About the pictures:
Phipps Conservatory (April 2009)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Faith Is Knowing God Will

Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will. —Ben Stein

There had been a severe drought, and the members of a rural congregation were deeply concerned that their crops would be ruined. With the pastor’s encouragement, they all decided to meet back at the church that afternoon to hold a special prayer service asking God to bring rain for their dying crops. Later that day after they had all gathered together, the minister stood up and announced in disappointment that they were cancelling the prayer service. When asked why, he told them because they didn’t believe it would bring the rain. “Why do you say that,” they asked. “Because not one of you brought an umbrella,” he replied.

I’m sure you’ve all heard this story at one time or another and isn’t it so true. How often do we beg and plead with God, knowing he can, but unconvinced that he will provide, sustain, and whatever else we’ve prayed about. Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about a desire of mine which is, for me, humanly impossible. I would have completely abandoned the idea altogether except my friend reminded me that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1) We know that God can do the “impossible” – “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26) Granted, Jesus was speaking specifically about entering the kingdom of God and how it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then for a person we believe to be perfect and who seems to have all the right stuff to earn a halo by his own merit. What I’m hoping for is so much smaller than that. If God can bridge the gap between our sinfulness and his holiness, then he wouldn’t have any problem at all making my heart’s desire a reality. I know he can. What I can't answer is - why would he? I have to turn back to Jesus' words for my answer: "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)

Many people would say to me at this point – “Well if it’s God’s will, it will happen. And it isn’t, it’s better it doesn’t anyway.” Why do we say silly things like that. Usually, it’s to make others feel better if things don’t turn out the way they want. Let me tell you right now – It’s not going to make me feel better! That never makes anyone feel less disappointed or devastated depending on the situation.

Sometimes we pray for something and then sit there like a couch potato, sending a reminder to God from time to time… “I’m still waiting!” And when we don’t see any movement toward what we want the outcome to be, we say our prayer wasn’t answered or that the answer was no. Seriously! Do we really think that? God is our heavenly Father. He’s not going to sit by and not say or do anything when we come to him with our needs and desires. He’s going to scoop us up into his arms and talk with us, not like the department store Santa at Christmas time going over a wish list, but like a loving, doting father who is drawn to the care and nurture of his precious little ones. We just need to stop listening for what we want to hear and looking for what we want to see and actually pay attention to what he says and does to know how much he loves and cares for us.

One more thought about God’s answers:  When I was a teenager, my mother took me shopping for school clothes. She’d tell me the total amount she was planning to spend and if I wanted something that cost more, then I had to pay for it myself. I could have what I wanted as long as I worked for it. I learned so many good lessons from that and it made our time together more fun because it took most of the usual teen/parent arguments out of the process. Maybe that’s what God does with us for some of things we pray about. Yes, we can have it, but we have to work for it – and in the process, we learn some important lessons and get to spend valuable time with him.

So what about this secret desire I’m praying about? I don’t know yet and won’t for a while – This is one of those long-term situations. What I do know is that God will answer and when I know and take hold of his answer, I will be happy. How do I know that? Because God told me so:  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

About the pictures:
Blackwater Falls State Park (May 2010)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Your Word Reveals

Your Word Reveals
You’ve told me I am loved
and cherished
Your bride, Your child
Your very own
ransomed and redeemed
by Your hand alone.
I’m restored and renewed
by Your bloody cross –
So says Your Word
for my sin,
You paid the cost.
I’ve heard Your voice calling me
“This is the way!

Walk and be free.
I’ll be your strength
When you have nothing left to give
I’ll pull you from the pit.
I’ll hold your hand.
I’ll carry you.
My love for you runs deep – 

I will not let you quit.”
You Lord have heard my cry
and eased my heart’s dismay.
You are my hope,
the light that shines
to guide me on my way.
You see into my heart and mind.
You know, in sin I’ve turned away.
My regrets, my crimes
I cannot hide.
We both know I’ve disobeyed.
Yet I won’t give into fear,
but shall rejoice and pray.
For your compassion never fails.
Your love and mercy
are new each day.
You’ve given to me life anew,
healed my brokenness.
You bound my wounds,
eased my pain
and made them into gifts.
Gifts of compassion, love and grace
of empathy for all.
And chosen me to love the lost
the hurt, the wounded,
those who fall.
This is Your gift to me,
to them,
to share as You command.
How wonderful it is
to be a part of Your master plan.
Someday, You tell me in Your Word,
You’ll be coming on a cloud.
Your power and glory shining
with trumpets blasting loud.
And on that day it will be said
that Almighty God fulfilled
all that He had vowed.

Response to Psalm 119:97-104
About the pictures: Pittsburgh, PA (June 2010)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

Three years ago this week, I wrote my first blog. As I look back over the years, I give glory to God for giving me the insights I’ve shared and the courage to share with you some of the most vulnerable places of my life. I began this blog because I’d hit a rough spot in my relationship with the Lord. At that time, I’d been a believer for ten years and for me – the honeymoon was over.

There comes a time in every relationship when the newness wears off, when the daily grind of life with this other person can become monotonous. You’ve heard each other’s stories more times than you can count and you end up sitting on the couch watching mindless TV never saying a word because, really, what is there to say? You may have to renew your commitment – make the choice again and again to work really hard to appreciate each other and dedicate uninterrupted time to each other. That’s when the love between two people really takes root and begins to flourish.

I had hit that point in my relationship with God. I’d read the Bible just enough to have a general idea of what it said. I’d become a regular attender at my church and volunteered in ministry which I used as an excuse for not taking time to study the Word, where I had met with God so frequently in the past. Communication between me and the Lord had become too ordinary and predictable. Like a couple who have the same dialog every morning at breakfast without really being invested in the conversation – my prayer life was almost a half-hearted litany.

I knew I had to do something. I tried using different Bible studies – none of which brought me closer to God, and even made me feel further apart from him. When I looked back over the previous ten years, I discovered that the Lord had often used people and events in my life to teach me about who he is and what he wants for me. He drew me to himself, not just through Bible study, but in the ordinary moments of my life. That’s why I started the blog – it was my way to renew my commitment, to make the choice every week to look for God in my life and spend a few hours in his presence writing about it. Posting it online was for the sake of accountability.
What I’ve learned these past three years is that everyone has good days and bad. Everyone has insecurities and pain they’d rather no one know about. At some time in their lives, everyone feels left out, insignificant, or rejected. We all give into temptation and regret it later and we all make mistakes that too often others have to pay for. By sharing what I’ve learned in my journey and being open about my shortcomings and troubles, I am reaching out to you – sometimes with an answer, mostly to let you know you’re not alone in your dark places and that God has always and will always love you just as you are. Jesus died to remove your sin as far as the east is from the west and his Spirit is alive in you. In my life, God has given me a great hope which I am compelled to share. That’s why I will continue to write this blog.

Unitl next week:  May the Lord bless and keep you.

About the pictures:
Pittsburgh Zoo (April 2012)