Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Vivit! Vivit! (He Lives! He Lives!)

Martin Luther was once found at a moment of peril and fear, when he had need to grasp unseen strength, sitting in an abstracted mood tracing on the table with his finger the words, “Vivit! Vivit!” (He Lives! He Lives!) It is our hope for ourselves and for His truth and for mankind. Men come and go; leaders, teachers, thinkers speak and work for a season, and then fall silent. He abides. They die, but He lives. They are lights kindled, and, therefore sooner or later quenched; but He is the true light from which they draw all their brightness, and He shines for evermore.–Alexander Maclaren, Streams in the Desert devotional
Two simple Latin words proclaim the Truth of the Gospel that changes everything about our everyday lives and our eternity--Because He Lives, we too, shall live...Pass It On!

As  a senior in high school, our youth group performed the 1970’s folk musical Tell It Like It Is.It was such a spiritual milestone in my life, standing up for my faith before secular audiences.
It only takes a spark to get a fire going
And soon all those around, can warm up in glowing
That’s how it is with God’s love
Once you’ve experienced it, you spread His love to everyone
You want to pass it on
What a wondrous time is spring, when all the trees are budding
The birds begin to sing, the flowers start their blooming
That’s how it is with God’s love
Once you’ve experienced it, you want to sing
“It’s fresh like spring”; you want to pass it on
I wish for you my friend, this happiness that I’ve found
You can depend on Him, it matters not where you’re bound
I’ll shout it from the mountain top
I want the world to know; the Lord of love has come to me
I want to pass it on
The providence of God is like Hebrew words—it can be read only backwards, wrote Puritan John Flavel, referring to the fact that the Hebrew language is read backwards from our perspective–that is, right to left instead of left to right. A component of the Beth Moore Bible Study, “Believing God,” was to complete a timeline of our life in 10 year segments, asking God to reveal to us all the spiritual mile markers in our lives--broken places, hurts, disappointments, accomplishments, and joyful times--to help us see that God had been there all along. His grace is sufficient. To accomplish this task, I discovered a very helpful tool for a Timeline Templatethrough Microsoft. It’s free, and it’s very easy to use, the text boxes expand to whatever size you need, and the arrows on the boxes can be moved to any location on the timeline. It really helped my memories come to the surface, and God has used it to encourage me in so many ways.

Looking back at spiritual milestones in my life encourages me. How about you? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments box below, I’d love to hear from you!

Linking up with Holley Gerth’s Coffee for Your Heart as an encourager!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

location, location, location...

Ask any real estate agent to list the three most important things to consider when buying a home, and you’ll likely hear: “location, location, location.” That phrase has been in use at least since 1926, according to The New York Times.

However, I had a different experience with the phrase, “location, location, location.” The year was 1996. My husband, Jack, our daughter, Tracy, and I had just participated in a low-impact family ropes course. It included a series of challenges that we had to solve together as a team.
There were several times that I personally didn’t see how we would solve the problem. But we worked together and we tried out different ideas until we completed the task. One of us always had an idea that worked. We learned we could relax and trust that we could figure it out together.

As the challenges came to a close, the facilitator had us gather in a circle, and asked if we wanted the final debriefing questions to be spiritual. We said, “Yes!” That’s when he asked the location, location, location question...
On a scale of one to five, with five being as close to God as you could be, where are you?
I don’t remember what anyone else in my family said, but I will never forget what I said, “I’m a one.” It was an epiphany for me, which Webster’s defines as, “a sudden realization, a sudden intuitive leap of understanding, especially through an ordinary but striking occurrence.”

I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior as a ten-year old child during a revival. My fingers formed a heart as I sat on the front pew after filling out the decision card. I had been enrolled in our church’s cradle roll nursery at two months of age after my parents adopted me from the Salvation Army hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. I grew in my knowledge of Jesus through Sunday School and missions organizations, memorizing many of His wonderful words of life. And yet, here I was, a busy wife and working mother at age 43 feeling like a “one.” How did I get here? Jesus had not moved, but I felt far away from Him. Later that week, I heard this heart-felt song by Larnelle Harris, “I Miss My Time with You,” as the lyrics say,
I miss My time with you, those moments together, I need to be with you each day and it hurts Me when you say you're too busy 

I knew in my heart that prayer, time in God’s Word, and worship with my fellow believers were the choices I needed to make to move from a “one” to a “five.” I began to pray this prayer as part of my quiet time each day...
Lord Jesus, give me a heart which yearns for Your Presence, a yearning for You that draws me over and over into Your Presence, a yearning that makes only a few days without time in prayer and Your Word seem like an eternity. Give me a heart which is motivated first and foremost by a desire for You, not for what You can do for me, but a yearning for Your Presence. Give me a heart that wants You more than anything else You could give, to love You and know You more than anything in life. Give me a heart that takes what You have made known to me and makes You re-known to everyone else, a heart that makes Your name and renown the desire of my heart. Give me a heart to feel Your Holy Spirit woo me once again to the place where I meet You. In the simplicity of my prayer time, give me a heart to be suddenly confronted by the majesty of my Redeemer—the One Who is responsible for any good in me. Lord, each morning, give me a heart that seeks Your forgiveness for past sins, and welcomes Your fresh mercies which fall like manna from Heaven, and once again move my heart. I surrender all. Morning after morning.  

For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.—Philippians 2:12-14

How about you? How would you answer the location, location, location question, “On a scale of one to five, with five being as close to God as you could be, where are you?”

Please feel free to leave your comments in the space below, I’d love to hear from you!

Linking up today with Holley Gerth’s Coffee for Your Heart as an encourager!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

connecting the dots to a blessing...

Have you ever had the experience of saying, “Yes!” to something our Lord Jesus Christ has placed on your heart, and then having the veil lifted just a little to see how God used your willingness to say, “Yes!” to connect-the-dots to a blessing?

Just wanted to link up with Holley Gerth’s Coffee for Your Heart Encouragement Challenge to share one of my very encouraging connect-the-dots experiences…

The missionary from Burkina Faso, West Africa, Jay Shafto, had a table display set up at a small mission fair in my hometown. After speaking with him for a few minutes about his family’s need for a teacher for their three young children, I agreed to leave my name and contact information and take their photo prayer card and lift them up in prayer every day. Beginning in November, 1999, I faithfully began to pray for them daily. One day in January, 2000, I received a phone call from Jay’s wife, Kathy Shafto. The minute she identified herself, I shrieked, “I prayed for you and your family this morning!” She thanked me for praying for their family, and she asked if I would be willing to make copies and distribute a flyer that she had created with a job description for the teacher they needed and their contact information. I was more than willing to do such a small thing. I made 50 copies of the flyer and distributed them at my local church and continued to pray for them every day.

A few months later, I received another phone call from Kathy Shafto, in which she excitedly told me that God had used me as “His willing vessel” to connect them with Elsie McCall, a dear 64 year-old single woman who attended my church. Elsie had picked up one of the flyers I had copied and distributed at our church. She generously responded to the call to Burkina Faso, West Africa, as one of the first people to serve with the International Mission Board’s Masters Program which gives people who are 50 years and above the opportunity to work alongside career missionaries for a two-to-three year term.

During her time over eight years on the field, Elsie generously homeschooled the Shafto’s three children, Madelyn, Robby, and James. Through her teaching, Elsie was able to free up Kathy Shafto to minister along with her husband, Jay, through women’s and literacy ministries among the Bissa people of Burkina Faso. The Shaftos refer to Elsie as an answer to prayer, and so do I. “The neat thing is that it was a whole God thing,” Kathy Shafto said. “I felt God was calling me to be involved in full-time ministry. So, the only way I was going to do that was if I had a teacher. Without Elsie, I would not be able to do that."

I am still in awe at how God answered my prayers for a teacher for the Shafto family.

It gives me hope in my prayer life today,
even when something seems impossible or very unlikely, I’ll say to myself, “Nothing is impossible for our God—remember how He used your prayers and willingness to copy and distribute the flyers, to connect a sweet missionary family to the teacher for whom they were praying.” The generosity of these missionaries and memory of the effective power of prayer has strengthened my faith and my belief that trusting God means looking beyond what I can see to what God sees. God already saw Elsie as the answer to the Shafto’s prayer, and He used my prayers and willingness to copy and distribute the flyers as His way to connect-the-dots to get Elsie to Burkina Faso. What an awesome God we serve!

How about you? Have you ever had the experience of saying, “Yes!” to something our Lord Jesus Christ has placed on your heart, and then having the veil lifted just a little to see how God used your willingness to say, “Yes!” to connect-the-dots to a blessing?

Please feel free to share your comments below, I’d love to hear from you!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed

Holley Gerth’s Coffee for Your Heart Encouragement Challenge for this week is simply, “Pour out a little love with your words…simply write an encouraging blog post and then link it up here with us.”

My Daddy, Eston Willis, was a wonderful Bible teacher. One year he led a small Bible study in our home. Each week, we would gather, open in prayer, open our Bibles, and he would begin by quoting the same Scripture, Romans 8:1, at least seven times before we began...

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Something about the repetition of those God-breathed words moved God’s Truth from my head to my heart.

The 1996 Steven Curtis Chapman song, “Free,” puts lyrics and music to this Truth…
“God’s grace has broken every chain and given us these wings...If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed!” (John 8:36)

From the first chapter of Ephesians, we know that we know that we know that in Christ, we are...

 with every spiritual blessing,
         ACCEPTED in the Beloved Son of God,
                 ADOPTED as a child of the King,
                         CHOSEN before the foundation of the world,
                                 REDEEMED by His Blood, 
                                          FORGIVEN by His Grace,
                                                   LOVED with an everlasting Love.

Are these words encouraging to you? Please feel free to leave your comments in the box below. I’d love to hear from you!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

all feelings are neutral

It is a joy for me to link up each week with Holley Gerth’s Coffee for Your Heart Encouragement Challenge. This week she asked us to share whatever is on our heart that could help someone else.

One of the most encouraging experiences for me was learning to allow my “blind spots,” those pockets of pain we stuff in our hearts, to come to the surface. A Christian counselor once helped me see that, "all feelings are neutral." She would have me draw a pie chart in my journal, writing a different feeling in each slice of pie, and then journaling about the circumstances surrounding the feeling listed in each pie piece that day. This helped me to visualize all my feelings on level ground, enabling them to come to the surface for healing from my Heavenly Father.

I learned that as adults, when we have been hurt, our imagination is wounded. As a result, alienation and belief in bad news replace belief in good news.
We may have a feeling response that can become frozen into resentment. 
We may have an anger response that can become frozen into negative reactions of rage or passivity. 
We might have an interpretation response that can become frozen in negative attitudes, perceptions, biases, and beliefs.

As a result, our imagination becomes paralyzed. Attending to our wounded imagination is a path through forgiveness.

Forgiveness expands our horizons, invites us to retrieve the positive, and work through the negative. Is the glass of water half-full or half-empty? The answer depends entirely on how you see it. “How you see it” is called “perception.” There is the story about the blind men and the elephant. Each man named and described the animal according to his experience of touching only one part of the elephant’s body. The man who held the trunk “perceived” the elephant to be a large snake; the man who held the leg “perceived” the elephant to be a sturdy tree. In the same way, we “perceive” life—depending on what our experience is. Our experiences generate our expectations and our perceptions. We interpret life experiences, and we form expectations and perceptions, attitudes and assumptions. All of this activity is the work of the imagination. It is likewise the work of the imagination to reinterpret and reform repeated assumptions and expectations.

Here are a couple of optical illusions that can help us to experience “blind spots”...  
vase or faces?
old woman or young girl?
Forgiveness demands that we take another look, so that our imagination can reframe our narrow interpretations. Forgiveness includes the decision to refocus or enlarge the context. Native Americans speak of walking a mile in another’s moccasins. When we enlarge the context, we refocus, or we see it through a wider lens. Imagination is the work of seeing through a wider lens. If we stick to a negative interpretation of an old offense, we will experience resentment whenever we think about it, or about the offender. We will never be able to grieve and let go; we will seesaw between rage and resignation; we will never allow anger to surface and put us back on the journey of forgiveness. If we insist on telling and retelling our bad news stories of the past, we simply recycle the bad news and pass it on to the next generation. We pollute the emotional environment; we remain stuck in lifeless memories instead of looking for a more positive side of things long past.

Our imagination is a powerful entity. It can cause the hair on the back of our neck to stand up, our spirit to soar, or our face to blush. Imagination is the power that holds our beliefs together; we believe with our imagination. The imagination is the wellspring of faith and hope. Our biggest and best dreams for ourselves and others rise from the imagination.

When you enlarge your perceptions, using your God-given imagination, you at least allow for the possibility of healing. You give yourself the opportunity to turn from the negative aspects of your past, to get rid of the excess baggage, and to face the journey into the future with hope.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.--Ephesians 3:20
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.—I Corinthians 13:12

Has this post been encouraging to you? Feel free to leave your comments in the box below, I’d love to hear from you!

Monday, March 10, 2014

you already have an "A"

Each week, I’ve enjoyed linking up my posts with Holley Gerth’s Coffee For Your Heart Encouragement Challenge. She’s had a specific writing prompt each week, but this week she said, “Simply write an encouraging post…just share whatever is on your heart that could encourage someone else.”

The most encouraging Scripture promise in God’s Word for me is John 3:16…”For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

I heard the most powerful illustration of this Truth one day while I was listening to radio host, Steve Brown, on Moody Radio. He shared a story about a time his daughter Robin found herself in a very difficult English Literature course that she desperately wanted to get out of. The story, You Already Have an A, is recounted here in an article by Tullian Tchividjian, Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A Florida native, Tullian is also the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham.

To know that I know that I know that because I have placed my trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ, I am redeemed by His precious blood…as this song says, I am a greatly blessed, highly favored, and deeply loved child of God. The threat of failure, judgment, and condemnation has been removed (Romans 8:1).

Knowing that God’s love for me and approval of me will never be determined by my performance is the most encouraging promise I cling to…I already have an A…and in Christ, so do you!

Is this encouraging to you? Please leave your comments in the box below…I’d love to hear from you!

Monday, March 3, 2014

a small thing that makes a big difference

I look forward to and am so energized by Holley Gerth’s weekly Coffee for Your Heart Encouragement Challenge. The prompt for this week is: “A small thing that makes a big difference is…”

After I read this week's prompt, I prayed and asked God to reveal to me times when He had used “a small thing to make a big difference” in my life. I was immediately reminded of a timeline template that God used to reveal to me that He had been with me all along. Over and over again, I could see throughout my life, as I would go through a crisis, the "small thing that made a big difference" in my life was the Twenty-third Psalm. It is small when compared to other Psalms, it only has six verses, and yet God has used it to make a big difference in my life, helping me experience His Peace and enjoy His Presence in the midst of every crisis.

When I wake up at 2:00am, I meditate on the Twenty-third Psalm, and gently drift back off to sleep praying...
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over with blessings.
Surely goodness and mercy
 shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

When I am praying for others, I picture Jesus, my Shepherd, in the green pasture of the 23rd Psalm. As I pray, I take whatever concern I have, or the person for whom I am interceding by the hand, I walk out to the meadow, the green pasture, and I place my concern, or the hand of the person for whom I am interceding, in Jesus’ hand…knowing that He is sovereign, He loves me, and He loves the person for whom I am interceding more than I do. He has a plan, a hope, and a future for each of us…and I walk away, thanking God for how He is working in my life and in the lives of those for whom I am interceding. I experience a feeling of peace…as Catherine Marshall prayed, “Lord, I trust You…You know what You’re doing…I relinquish my will to Yours.”

When a brokenhearted friend calls with news of the sudden homegoing of a loved one, we pray the 23rd Psalm…
O Heavenly Father, we ask you to wrap Your Loving Arms around us today. You are close to the brokenhearted and You save those who are crushed in spirit. You are our Shepherd, we lack nothing. You make us lie down in green pastures, You lead us beside the still waters. You restore our souls. You lead us in the path of righteousness for Your name’s sake. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, for You are with us. You are Emmanuel, God with us, we are absolutely certain, You are with us at this time. Your rod and Your staff, Your Holy Spirit and Your Word, they comfort us. You prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies. You anoint our heads with oil, our cup overflows with blessings. Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

The 23rd Psalm begins with David talking to someone, probably himself, as he says, “The Lord is…He restores me…He leads me. All of a sudden, when he faces a crisis, the valley of the shadow of death, he immediately begins to speak directly to the Lord, “For You are with me”…When we go through a crisis, it is a matter of talking to the Lord yourself, for He is with you, underneath (green pastures), beside you, in front of you (table), surrounding you, chasing after you (goodness and mercy), and ahead of you (house of the Lord). 

For every need presented in this Psalm, God has a name to meet that need. For every circumstance, God has a name to overcome that circumstance. David knew the Great Shepherd. The LORD comes from the name Jehovah. He is the Great "I AM." He depends upon no one. There are seven names of God paired with each verse in the 23rd Psalm:

JEHOVAH-RA’AH—The Lord is my shepherd;

JEHOVAH-JIREH—The Lord, my provider—I shall not want.

JEHOVAH-SHALOM—The Lord, our peace—He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters.

JEHOVAH-RAPHA—The Lord, my healer—He restores my soul:

JEHOVAH-TSIDKENU—The Lord, our righteousness—He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

JEHOVAH-SHAMAH—The Lord, ever-present—Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

JEHOVAH-NISSI—The Lord, our banner—You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies:

JEHOVAH-RAPHA—The Lord, my healer—You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows with blessings.

JEHOVAH-JIREH—The Lord, my provider—Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Ask people which scripture they love the most and which has meant most to them, and many would point to the Twenty-third Psalm. The Lord has used it to dry many tears and lift many out of the pit of despair and discouragement. This small Psalm deals with almost every adverse circumstance in life and how to win over it…truly, a small thing that makes a big difference, amen?

In what ways has the Lord used the 23rd Psalm to minister to your needs?

Feel free to leave your comments in the box below, I’d love to hear from you!


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