“so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
There is a story out there that always makes me laugh. I will tell it here to make a point, and please know that I don’t mean to offend anyone.
A new Sunday School Teacher walked into a classroom of older adults. Filled with enthusiasm and a love for God’s Word, the 30-something man begins to read from His Bible. Just a couple of sentences into his reading, a classroom participant stops him and says,
“Son, what is it that you are reading?”
“Well, sir,” he replied, “I am reading from the Book of Isaiah.”
“That doesn’t sound like my Bible.” the man returned.
“I am reading from the New International Version. It might be different from yours.”
“Well, I don’t know about where you come from, but around here we only read the Lord’s Bible – The King James.”
“I understand that sir. But I prefer the NIV. It is much easier to read and understand.”
“Well, we may not be able to always understand the King James, but if it was good enough for Jesus – then it’s good enough for me!”
I always laugh at that story because the offended man obviously has no clue about God’s intent for His word. I sincerely hope none of you have been offended by my use of this story. But it does point out the silliness of our ways in the church sometimes.
I was reading the Bible with my daughter tonight. She loves to right down her favorite scriptures of the day in a little notebook. I marveled at her Bible. It is purple with flowers on it. It has sidebars next to the scriptures adding some relevancy to the topic at hand by comparing them to situations that she, as a 9-year old, would be familiar with. It has discussion questions about her life, and how she thinks God’s word fits into her daily activities. It is absolutely and wonderfully accessible to her. And she looks forward to reading it each night and writing down those scriptures so that she can keep them close at hand. Did I mention it is an NIV??
As we sat there reading, I recounted this story in my mind. And it makes me wonder. “What would the old man think of this glittery, flower-covered NIV that talks about things like soccer practice and manicures?”
I am thankful that God doesn’t allow His word or His work to be limited by our smallness. I am glad that He doesn’t allow our prejudice or fears to dictate the spreading of the gospel message. How many times would someone be left in need because I want my church, my Bible, my music, my JESUS, to remain solely within my comfort zone?
I am ashamed to say that, in many cases, my comfort is the only thing that matters when it comes to kingdom matters. And I hate change. Much like the old man, I fear that I show my ignorance by being obstinate about things that would make the way so much smoother for those that don’t know Christ.
My friends, the facts are this. God loves:
I am thankful that God is moving on in this world and continuing to do new things to reach those that don’t know Him yet. I pray that He will continue to work in my heart, that I may, as Paul, “become all things to all people.” So that I don’t allow any personal choices to become a barrier to my witness. Because how wonderful it is to see the light of our Savior in someone’s eyes for the first time – whether it be a leather-clad biker on a Harley; a young rapper from the inner city, or a little girl who sees herself as God’s princess.
The fact is: He is reaching for us all.
“the Lord your God will be with you. He will never fail you nor forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6
Have you ever been in a place in which you feel your life is just falling apart? Maybe you feel loss of the control that you normally have? I think that most of us, at one time, have felt that way. Our circumstances vary: the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, the death or illness of a loved one… There are many things that can happen to us that can send us into a tailspin and disrupt our carefully scheduled and planned ahead lives.
What are we to do when life comes crashing down around us? Some of us lie down and succumb to the pressures of the world, drowning our sorrows in some form escapism. Some of us run, trying to pretend that everything is just as it should be. However, I think many people just revert to what I perceive as “Survival Mode.”
Survival Mode assumes that we will only be concerned about those things that must get done today. Survival Mode says “This is my highest priority, and other things need to fall by the wayside.”
My family has been living in survival mode for almost a year, due to a family illness. And in that time, our mentality has been to assess our true needs each day, and operate accordingly. Because we had no idea what our needs would be each day, we cut everything out of our lives that were not absolutely necessary. No volunteerism, no extra projects, no extra social or curricular activities. Our main goals for each day look something like this:
In times like these, it becomes pretty clear as what is essential and what we can do without. Being able to say “Sorry, I can’t help,” or “No, we won’t be there,” becomes pretty easy. And I believe we can all agree that activities such as cleaning out closets and planning dinner parties can wait. But do we also mistake some of the most important parts of our lives as non-essentials just because they aren’t urgently calling our name?
Believers, can you notice something that is missing from our essentials list? In times such as these, what is the ONE thing we should all hold onto? Our connection to God, yet sadly, that is the first thing normally to go.
Now, to be honest, we pray – a lot. You know the ones, “God help us.” “Lord, show us what to do.” “Father, fill me with your grace.” But I have found over the year that my prayers have devolved from intimate conversation with my Father in heaven to weary pleas for help. And for this season in our lives, I think God is ok with that. Sometimes that is all we can say.
However, my time in the Word had become non-existent. I just didn’t have the energy or desire to pick up my Bible and to seek the wisdom God had to offer. When I had a spare minute, sitting in peace was about the only thing I wanted to do. And, let’s face it, reading my Bible just wasn’t a priority – except for work-related needs.
So you can imagine my hesitation this summer when I realized that I needed one more teacher for our DISCIPLE program to begin in the fall. DISCIPLE is a year-long study of the Bible. It is a rich encounter with the Word from Genesis to Revelation, and God had blessed our church with enough people to fill 5 classes! Any director’s dream come true. But when I realized that I was one leader short, my soul just sank.
I honestly just didn’t want to think about committing the time or the energy to the project. It was exhausting to think about. However, it is in my job description. So, after much unanswered prayers for a solution, I picked up my Bible and began preparing.
AND AN INCREDIBLE THING HAPPENED!
My gracious Father began leaping off the pages. The grace and mercy of His presence began to flow around me as I read those familiar stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. My soul began to be renewed as I moved through Joshua. I was reminded of God’s faithfulness in Deuteronomy. I found myself looking forward each day to the time in which I could soak up the Spirit of God through those pages and remember that He was with me. I found peace.
Why is it friends, that we cut out those things that renew and sustain us in times of distress? It saddens me to think of all God wanted to give me in the past year, that I left on the table because I didn’t take time to receive it.
It is my prayer for you, if you are in a season of struggle, that you will take the time to be uplifted and sustained by our Father who loves you and wills the best for you.
Peace brothers and sisters.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17
For the past couple of weeks, I have been having these ‘echoes’ from God. It seems everywhere I turn, I keep seeing one message: Redemption.
Not quite knowing what to make of it, I just kept praying and asking what I am supposed to take away from this one word.
Amazingly, this realization has taken root in my heart over these days: One word can change your life.
Don’t believe me? Let me ask you this. Do you have any regrets? I know we all have some things, (maybe very minor) that we wish we hadn’t done. But many of us, I believe, carry burdens of regret and shame for actions or attitudes in our past. Some times these burdens are so big that they imprison us, and we are unable to move forward in life because we are chained to our past mistakes.
There are so many things that the enemy of our souls uses against us: broken relationships, bad decisions, addictions, failures…
See, as redeemed children of the living God, we are targets of this enemy. If we actually live into His promises of grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation – then, friends, we are truly a threat to the plans of the one who comes to steal, kill and destroy, don’t you think?
So we continue to hear the voices in our heads (and maybe our environment):
“You don’t deserve to be happy after what you have done.”
“Everyone knows what you are. You will never be trusted again.”
or my personal favorite:
“God can’t be in the presence of sin, therefore He could never love you.”
Now, I am not superficially saying that Jesus forgives us so all is well. Some of us have to deal with the real consequences of our bad decisions – sometimes for the rest of our lives.
However, what I am saying, is that the guilt and feelings of worthlessness that so often consume us are NOT OF GOD! The fears created by these emotions can paralyze us and keep us from the lives and relationships that God has for us. They rob us of peace. They steal our joy. And they can also kill any hope we have of a better future.
If we come, in a state of repentance, truly asking for the Lord’s forgiveness and a new start – He will give it to us. He said so. His grace covers everything we have ever done or will ever do. And His heart is to restore us in a loving relationship with Himself.
We can’t change our past. However, we can allow Christ to change our present and our future by letting Him change the way we think. It is not His will that we live in bondage to the memory of our mistakes. And this is the meaning of REDEMPTION.
Hallelujah! My Redeemer lives!
How I praise You. Your thoughts toward me are more than I can imagine. After all the bad and regretful things I have done in my life, the things I wish desperately I could take back – You stand in front of me with your nail-scarred hands and say, “Come, you are forgiven.”
How can this be? I cannot understand it, but Lord, help me to accept it. Help me to live into this life and to be the disciple that You want me to be. Fill my heart with, not only gratitude, but also peace. Help me to understand that I already live in freedom through You, and that I am no longer a slave to my past.
You are a good a gracious King. My Savior. My Redeemer.
In Your holy name I pray,
Maybe it takes you, as me, a while to process these magnificent promises of God. I share this song with you because, as I focus on God, sometimes it helps me to quiet my mind of all outside distractions. I love this song by Chris Tomlin because it helps my soul to assimilate this wonderful truth – that I can stand blameless and redeemed because of what He has done for me.
“Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” – John 13:7
Have you ever looked back at a situation in your life and realized how perfect God’s timing was? Maybe it was a time or season of wonderful success. Maybe it was a time of agonizing waiting and stress. Or, maybe you didn’t see God’s presence then, but in retrospect, can see His hand at work very clearly.
I find myself in that situation quite a lot. It seems that when I am neck deep in the activities of life (good or challenging,) I rarely see God in them. It is only when I take time to reflect on the situations and their outcomes do I see the Master at work.
Why is that? I don’t know about you, but for me, I am so ruled by my emotions in some cases that I can’t see clearly. Especially in the distressing instances, I am unable to see all that is going on around me because I am so focused on what is going on inside me. And I lose sight of God very quickly.
I also find it very difficult to see God at work if He isn’t doing what I want Him to. It’s true! So often I find myself seeking and praying for God to perform a mighty act or even a miracle for my circumstances – and He doesn’t. But I become so focused on what He isn’t doing that I am blinded to what He is doing. And it isn’t until months (or sometimes years,) later that I can see that His plan was so much better than mine.
Whenever I am in bad places, I am always looking forward to the future, when things will get better. I am never looking for God in the bad. After all, if God were there, it would not continue to be bad would it?? Surely if He was engaged in my troubles, He would fix them wouldn’t He? So I choose to look ahead and be hopeful for what is to come.
God spoke to me last night and showed me how wrong I am to think this way. I had an amazing dream, that I believe to be from Him. And I awoke with the resounding message in my head:
“Don’t rush what I am doing. You may not understand it. But trust me and live in this moment. I am here and will bless you in it.”
Seriously, that is what I heard. Can it be that God wants to bless me in all situations and not just “the good ones?” How much have I missed in this life rushing through the uncomfortableness just to get to the “good times?” Wow! That is a revelation to me. And I hope it helps you too. We serve an awesome God don’t we?
The fact is, life is full of good and bad. And we have very little control over it. But Our Father in heaven is impressing upon me that I will miss so much by only living for the good. Difficulties are never easy. But I believe there are still places to be thankful in those seasons. And there are still places to experience the wondrous provision of God in those places. We just have to calm our hearts and look for them. We have to stop being so inwardly focused and look for what is going on around us to see Him at work.
Be blessed my friends, no matter what circumstance you find yourself in today. Our Lord and Savior is with you.
Oh Holy One,
Thank You for never leaving nor forsaking us. We are your people, the sheep of your pasture. Forgive us for those times that we cannot see You; for worries cloud our vision. Be generous and merciful to us. Allow us to see You in all circumstances and to experience Your grace at all times. For these things we give You all the honor, all the praise, and all the glory this world can offer.
In the name of our Rock and our Fortress we pray,
“Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” – Matthew 12:48-50
Each year at this time, United Methodist Pastors and Lay Representatives gather for an event called Annual Conference. This happens all over the world, wherever there is a Methodist Church, you can be sure the leaders are gathering. The conference normally lasts for 3 days and contains all sorts of activities from worship to missions to the commissioning of the next generation of pastors.
It has been this way for 300 years or so. It is a way for the leaders of our churches to stay on the same page, to encourage each other, and make decisions about how to be a better, more God-glorifying church. There is a long tradition and heritage there for those of us who call ourselves United Methodists.
See, the unique thing about our church is that it is a global entity. There are UMC’s all over the world, yet we are all connected in a deep way through our structure and traditions. We help each other with our needs, our resources, our prayers and our experiences. We stay in contact with each other, so that when we all come together, we know each other by name – we are family.
I attended the North Alabama Annual Conference yesterday and I was deeply blessed by my time there. See, like any global organization, we have our challenges. And we don’t all see things the same way. I will admit, in the past few months, I have been wondering if there is even a place for me in this denomination. It has seemed to me that as our church has been living into and wrestling with new challenges – that I might not fit here anymore (or be welcomed.)
But the grace of God was showered upon me as I strolled up the sidewalk yesterday morning to the gathering place. I saw a dear friend that wanted to pray for me. I saw, on the community altar, a prayer request for my family – the faithful author unknown.
As in years past, I had my children with me. But instead of leaving them in the children’s camp, I brought them with me to lunch. And for a couple of hours my young ones were blessed with the presence of people that have loved and cared for them all their lives (most of whom they did not even know.)
“Come Hope, meet the pastor that visited the hospital the day you were born and pronounced a blessing over you.”
“Come Daniel, meet the man that built your swing set for you when you were two.”
“Look children, come and meet the woman that rocked you as babies in the church nursery and sang you to sleep with “Jesus Loves Me.”
And on and on. So many people. So different from each other, and yet – all family. And all reminding me that I do belong here. And my children belong here and are valued.
Many people lament that the Methodist Church as we know it may not survive into the next generation.
But after this wonderful gift of God in the shape of faces and open arms, I am renewed in my spirit and my resolve to faithfully serve this church and to share it with the next generation. There is too much at stake to lose. I want my kids to understand the value of being a part of this wonderful body of Christ. More importantly, I want them to learn that the very heart of being a Christian can be found here – no matter where in the world they end up.
I pray today for my church, and United Methodists all over the world. We come from every nation and culture. We seek to worship and serve You in ways more numerous to count. We don’t even all speak the same language – and yet we are family.
Lord, our church has challenges. Let Your Spirit rage like a river through our congregations. Let Your fire rekindle in the hearts of our people. Give us, every one, a vision of what You want us to be for the next generation and those to come. And teach us to be the witnesses this world needs.
Thank You, my King, for the deep and daily blessings that flow over me through your people.
In Your Sweet Name I pray,
“The Lord is close to all who call on him,
yes, to all who call on him in truth.”
Have you ever felt empty? Devoid of any emotion, strength, or will? Have you ever felt as if you have nothing left? Nothing physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually? Just empty?
It really is a struggle, isn’t friends, to make it through each day in such a state. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t stop for us either, does it? There are still jobs to do, families to care for, – even when all we want to do is lie down and just stop.
And I believe it could be worse for those of us that call ourselves followers of Christ. After all, we are supposed to be filled with joy each day. We are supposed to be strengthened by the Lord in all circumstances. We are the beloved ones, with callings, and grace, and the supernatural on our side. Sure, we might get down sometimes, but if we call on the Lord, He is supposed to lift us back up again and we are to keep going.
However, if we are really honest, maybe we can all admit that when we encounter times of struggle and hopelessness – that the last thing we want to do is pray. It’s true (for me anyway.)
When I find myself on empty, and I have nothing left, I don’t care about praying either. It just seems too…hard. So I don’t and I continue to flounder around doing my best under my own downward spiraling power.
I found myself in such a place in these last few weeks. A place in which I was so tired, that I just didn’t care about anything any more.
But, in the beginning, I fought the valiant fight. I spent a couple of weeks on the outset (when I could see what was coming at me,) spending more and more time in prayer. I kept asking God to restore my joy, to cover me in peace, to relieve my anxiety. But nothing worked. I just kept tumbling toward the abyss.
Then, two weeks ago, my pastor gave an invitation at the end of our Sunday service. He said that anyone that needed something from God should come and pray. So I did. And something amazing happened.
As I approached the altar, God whispered in my ear, “All you need is me.” And that was such a profound word for me. For months I had been praying for all the things I needed for Him to GIVE me: peace, joy, relief, etc. But I on this day, the only thing I asked for was His presence. I finally got it. All I needed was Him, and not what He could give me.
Every day since then I have been praying for God to just be with me through the day. Nothing more. And, strangely enough, I have been feeling so much better. I have more energy. I have a better outlook. I have some of my joy back. And I believe it is because I am focused on the One walking with me rather than what He can do for me.
We all come to periods of distress and brokeness sometimes in our lives. And the need to rush through them is intrinsic in all of us. We ask our faithful Father to take our problems away. But, maybe if we, for just a moment, considered His presence as the gift we need the most – maybe we would experience something so much greater than a temporary relief of an earth-bound problem. Maybe if we just sought Him more often, we would get a true glimpse of the Divine. That is a piece of heaven that we can treasure and be transformed by. His presence is the only thing that can restore our souls. And sometimes, it takes a long time in the valley for Him to complete His work in us. So be patient. Commit every day good or bad to His plan. And be assured that He is with you and for you every step of the way.
Funeral Arrangements for:
Kevin O’Kelley – Son of Mike and Sandy O’Kelley. Today at Huffman United Methodist Church 11:00 a.m.
Dorothy Russell – Rhonda Hardwicks Mother – Tomorrow at Liberty Crossings. Visitation beginning at 11:00 a.m. and service to begin at 12:00.
May our Lord, Jesus Christ, grant you peace in the days ahead.
Please keep these members of our church family in your prayers:
Mike and Sandy O’Kelley – in the death of his son, Kevin. Funeral arrangements announced later this week.
Virginia Hawsey – Hip replacement surgery on May 5th
Collier Estes – 6 months old. Recovering from intestinal surgery.
Jessica Hall – impending birth.
Dr. Lisa Miller – opening of new practice
Dr. Jackie Holmes – opening of new practice
Please feel free to share your own prayer requests, if you would appreciate the prayers of others.
“I am with you always….” – Matthew 28:20
Have you ever prayed for God to do something and then was surprised when He actually did it? I hate to admit it (from a lack of faith standpoint,) but that happened to me last Friday and it has continued over the weekend, and I am still seeing it today. I serve an awesome God!
So I was praying early Friday morning and happened across this scripture. And I began to think about the reality that Jesus is with me all the time. Not just in theory, but really in my presence every minute of the day. It is a hard concept to wrap my head around. But I prayed and asked Him to be gracious to me and to let me see Him when He was near so I could begin to understand better.
And then I went in to work. I had a few things to do there, but was planning an errand for later in the day that I was really looking forward to. The longer I worked, the stronger I had the sense that I needed to stay there, and forego my errand. Now, I will be honest, I was really looking forward to leaving that day. And being a beautiful spring Friday, I didn’t even really want to be there in the first place. (I know none of you have ever felt this way. So please don’t judge me for my weakness.)
Long story short, I stayed. I wandered around and did a few things that seemed inconsequential to me. But then it happened. Jesus showed up!
He showed up in the form of a person that I never expected. I turned a corner and literally almost ran over the person who said, “I am so glad you are here. Do you have a minute to talk?” 40 minutes and a wonderful conversation later, I could see the presence of Him so clearly, because I heard some things that I definitely needed to hear that day. Boy am I glad I stayed! I cannot describe the sacred tone of that conversation, but it was as if He was right there in the room with me. It was awe-inspiring.
But it didn’t end there. I have been praying for discernment and wisdom and guidance for my ministry for so long, years in fact. And God has shown up in the most miraculous way every day this past week. Through people, readings, prayer, – in so many forms but all pointing me in the same direction. The messages I have been asking for are coming in abundance. I serve an incredible God!
So what has changed this week? Why am I finally getting answers to the questions I have been asking for so long? I honestly don’t know. God’s timing is His own business. However, I do believe this: when I began asking Jesus (not for answers, not to fix my issues) but to simply help me to experience His presence – I began to see more clearly. It was like a veil had been lifted from my eyes, and suddenly I could not only see but sense Him all around me; in almost all situations. I wish I could describe it more accurately, but I really don’t have the words.
Upon reflection, I feel that before my prayers were sort of me focused (help me, show me, etc…) But these most recent prayers have more Jesus focused (just let me see You…) I think that has made all the difference.
What do you think friends? I would love to hear your opinions.