Friday, March 31, 2017

Day 106: The Truth Matters

Day 106
Deuteronomy 19-21; Mark 11

The truth always makes a difference. If it didn't, people wouldn't lie so much. Even in Old Testament times, it was work to try and figure out the truth, and there was a process and ritual if the truth couldn't be solved. Today, we'll see why the ultimate Truth matters, as well as the effects of telling the truth in Biblical times when it came to all sorts of situations.

When someone was murdered, there was opportunity for the guilty party to prove it was accidental. There were cities of refuge set up for people to flee too in the event of an accidental murder. God provides a way to give time for the truth to come out and set the accused free. He also provides a boundary for witnesses to be sure there is more than one testifying to prevent any false accusations due to grudges or hatred of the innocent person. God, however, makes it very clear how He felt about murdering and lying in the Old Testament, as He commanded Israel to purge the evil from their community through stoning. Luckily, not all the laws of this time apply anymore, as Jesus' coming changed the rules of how the Old Testament did things, and more grace is provided in lying. It still is a sinful thing in God's eyes and will be judged accordingly, however.

There is powerful truth in God fighting for us if we are on His side. As we read through the regulations for the people going to war, it is stated right off the bat that God is with them. If you are facing a battle in your life now, the same truth holds strongly for you if you are truly a Christ-seeker. The men who went to war also had to be honest with their lives and their selves as they faced a battle they may not have returned from. There is a list of things the officers of the army were to address with the troops, but the one that most stood out to me was the question: "Is anyone afraid or worried?" If the answer was yes, they were to go home so as not to frighten others. The men had to be very truthful as they probably faced taunting and teasing if they answered yes to that question. How often do we try to pass off how we truly feel to avoid judgments from others around us? The truth matters in your heart and in God's eyes.

Chapter 21 is filled with many instances of being truthful and the best practices of being truthful, starting with what to do when the truth can't be found. There are so many things in this life that we'll never know. The ritual laid out at the beginning of this chapter was how closure was made in Old Testament times. God gets pretty specific when it comes to the rights of the firstborn as well. I can imagine many favored kids over others because of the multiple wives, but God makes it clear that they must be fair to the firstborn and to grant them their rights to the inheritance. Don't lie out of favoritism, as this isn't only hurtful, but arrogant.

I think we try to lie to ourselves about Who Jesus is as well. As we read about His triumphant entry into Bethany during the Passover, the different reactions of the people say it all. While it's hard to pick it out in this text, we read about the "Christ-followers" of the time praising Him and laying garments and palms before Him as He rode in. Turning back to the reading of this particular event in Matthew, chapter 21, we read that others asked "who is this?" You may think you know Jesus and what He is really about, but do you? Or have you formed this ideal Jesus in your mind? People in that time saw kings riding into the city on horses, while Jesus rode in on a donkey colt. They were king of war, and Jesus was of peace. Jesus was not the king they were expecting. You may be looking for a Jesus who will provide, and heal, and give you a spouse, and a pretty life that you are picturing. While Jesus is very capable of that, He is ultimately the Jesus Who saves us. That is the truth. Are you disappointed in this truth? Renew your mind and see Jesus for Who He is.

He is one who curses the fruitless, as He did with the fig tree. The disciples were impressed He had actually cursed it, and Jesus told them that they needed more faith to believe in what the Lord could deliver.  Are you living a life that is fruitful and faithful? Or one that is self-serving and complacent, like the money changers who took advantage in the temple? The hard truth is that God wants you to believe that He can move anything with no doubt in your heart. Forgive others fully before making your request to God. If you do, God will forgive you. A scary truth is if you don't, He won't forgive you. The religious leaders couldn't handle Christ's truth. They wanted Him gone, as He made them look bad. Are you too stubborn to accept God's ultimate truth?

Take inventory of your life and think about the truths that are throughout your Bible. Many of these truths are very encouraging and meant to help you through the toughest situations. Others are to protect you from false accusations and hurt. Others, however, will hurt if you truly grasp them and apply them to your life. See Jesus for Who is truly is, and not the ideal Jesus you have made up in your mind. Are you disappointed in Who truth says He is? Remember He is a humble King and a saving King. The truth matters. Learn it, embrace it, apply it.  

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Day 105: He's Still on the Throne

Day 105
Deuteronomy 16-18; Mark 10:32-52

We have every reason to celebrate a Christ-followers no matter what this world is doing or where we think it's going. Even though the future seems bleak to many, there is something bigger to be looking to rather than what this world is doing. We are reminded today in our readings what Christ has done for us and Who we look to ultimately when we worry about the future.

When we worry, we tend to worship other things or ideas. Are you clinging to the news you hear around you right now? Stop. I'm not saying be ignorant about what is going on in this world, but stop dwelling on the things going on in this world. We are not of it as Christ's followers, even though we are to help. When every conversation starts out "we're doomed, because of the thing I heard on the news..." however, something in that heart is refusing to trust God and His work to come. Faith is and will be essential as you hear about all the crap in the world. Rather than looking negatively at it, remember Who is still on the throne. This was reiterated over and over and over again to the Israelites as Moses stated his parting address to them. They faced struggles and thought their world was ending too. They continually saw how God worked, yet failed to trust Him when the next bit of hardship came. They were tempted to look to other things and other gods to find security. As the song goes " the good times and bad, You are on Your throne, You are God alone."

An interesting thing the people are told at the end of chapter 17 is that when a king is to be selected, the Lord must be the One to choose who that is. I think we forget to consult the Lord in many decisions in our lives. We like our freedom, but the greater freedom comes when God has a hand in our lives because He knows exactly what we need and when. Even if we make poor decisions though, we can rest assured that He has us still. We may not acknowledge we've screwed up at first, or even not for years down the road, but God will still use those screw ups to make something beautiful. Praise Him for His grace and sovereignty, no matter what our poor decisions are.

Another thing we are warned about when it comes to worry about our future is not to use fortune-tellers, sorcery, tarot cards, etc. This may not be an issue for you, and you may take it lightly, but it's pretty laid out here. The same goes with false prophets. Only God knows the future, and He knows the true power that Satan and gain against us. Rely on God to lay out the plans for you here in this world and take it day by day. Allow Him to lay out the plans eternally as well, and simply stay close to Him and His Word to know your way throughout.

Jesus lays out His death sentence in Mark, and as you can probably imagine, the disciples probably didn't like it. They didn't understand the grand plan or the bigger picture to come. In fact, even Jesus says the God is the ultimate decider on things of heaven, as James and John ask to sit in the prime spots in heaven. Jesus tries to explain to them the suffering that would come with those seats, but doesn't see them quite fully understanding it, as they eagerly state they are willing to suffer. Humility is the key to being first. To be at the top of the ladder, you need to place yourself at the bottom. Rather than being served, you need to serve. Rather than always thinking about what others should be doing for you, you need to be thinking about what you should do for others. It's so backwards of what this world states brings true greatness.

Finally, we read of Bartimaeus, a blind man who longed to be healed by Christ. Without caring about what the people around him think, he hollers and shouts for Christ to come to him. Jesus displays mercy and Bartimaeus is healed because of his own faith. Are you always looking around at who is watching you, rather than looking up at what truly matters to God? Do you get ashamed of your faith when we are called to be bold? Don't allow this world and it's judgments of Christians to get you down. The only opinion you need is from the One Who sits on the throne and sees your heart.

It's easy to forget in such a fallen world Who is still sitting on the throne with the grand plan. We can get so discouraged by the news, the opinions of others, that we turn to things that aren't healthy for us spiritually. Don't give in to the temptation of finding instant gratification and worrying about what you think you deserve. Remember Who truly knows what you deserve. Praise Him for grace and continue to look up, rather than around for your acceptance. Remember that He's still on the throne and that is all that matters.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Day 104: Worldly Yearnings

Day 104
Deuteronomy 13-15; Mark 10:1-31

One of the biggest struggles for us as a culture is the need for stuff. We always want more or the next best thing we can get. Savvy electronics, fun toys, a bigger camper, a bigger house, nicer car, etc. It's hard to walk in this world and not get bombarded by the media and it telling us what we need. Because everyone falls into the trap, you too, may find yourself in the trap with them. None of these things are bad. I like my toys and smart electronics as much as the next person. However, we can't allow those things to take the place of our zeal for Christ in our hearts. Check your heart this morning and make sure that you not only know your need for Christ, but you know your level of want for Him.

The Israelites are warned over and over again throughout Moses' final words to be careful of not allowing other gods to rule in their hearts. This may sound like something of the "older times" to you, but other gods can be more than a spirit or sculpture. They can be the way we long for certain things more than we long for God. A video game. The newest iPhone. An achievement you're working towards. A Pinterest-beautiful house. A person. The idea of your future and daydreaming constantly about it. If you aren't careful, these things can completely take over your mind and cause you to not even acknowledge Christ in the center of your life. We read about these gods of that time that God warned the people about. He wanted them to have nothing to do with them. In fact, they were to burn that land to the ground. How serious are you about getting rid of something that comes before God in your life?

The flip side of this, is to give to God. Rather than obsessing about your Pinterest-beautiful home, obsess about how God would want you to open your home. Rather than obsessing about that achievement you so desperately want to earn, give God your morning, then go work on it, pray over it, and give God the glory no matter the outcome. Rather than always being on your iPhone, use your iPhone to study scripture and connect with someone that needs to know Christ through it's ridiculous features. God tells the people to bring their tithes to Him before anything else. Do you give your money to yourself, or do you give God the FIRST of it? Trust Him. Allow Him to use those desires of your heart or to get rid of them if they don't align with His plan for you.

One thing mentioned in Deuteronomy 15 is that there should be no poor among the people. Could you imagine if there were no poor in your community? If we all give a little and take care of one another regardless of what we believe about poor people, the world would be a better place. We tend to jump to conclusions about the poor - like they got themselves there, or they don't deserve what you have earned, etc. We aren't called to judge though; we are called to love. Don't bother asking questions if you have the opportunity to be a light to those in need instead. Your grace towards them will be a beautiful picture of God's grace. We need to let go of this world's perception of "you deserve it all", and the entitlement of keeping what is ours. Give and give freely, to God and to others.

Jesus states something a little scary in Mark 10. "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God." Talk about a statement. What Jesus is getting at here however, is that you can't love money more than Him. The rich ruler loved his stuff. He had a lot of it and he didn't want to part with it or his money. If you look at all you have, including your material possessions, your money, even your family, your friends, etc., would you still love God if those things went away? This is the foundation of your heart. If you can't picture life without something or someone and still love God and trust in Him, you have a heart issue. It is a tough pill to swallow and even one that you may believe is a cruel one, but it is where your loyalties truly lie. It's hard to lose someone, or a lose a huge sum of money, but ultimately our hearts belong to God. Those things and those people He has given us also belong to Him.

What does your heart long for? Are you in a struggle between what you want and what God wants for you? Do you trust Him enough to be able to look at all of your stuff and the people in your life and truly say "yes, Lord. Those things, those people are Yours." If you were to lose everything, would you still love God? The world says we need more and greater. God says we need Him and less. You may tell God you need Him, but He wants to know that you actually want Him too. Consider this concept today and take inventory of your heart's desires, longings, and spiritual health.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Day 103: How We Love Christ

Day 103
Deuteronomy 10-12; Mark 9:30-50

As parents, we feel most loved when our kids listen and obey us. Good parents want what is best for their kids, even if our kids can't see why they need to follow the rules immediately. Truth is, the rules are made so that they will be safe and grow into a life that has good foundation. We read today how God is like a parent for us. In fact, God is the ultimate parent to us, not because of the rules He makes, but because of the care He has for us. He knows us better than even our own parents know us. When we choose to commit ourselves to Him, the rules come naturally as we strive to please Him and do right by Him.

We read that the Lord requires us to to do some simple things to show our allegiance to Him: To respect Him and His authority in our lives. To live according to His will for us. To love Him. To worship Him. To obey Him. It's so easy to complicate faith with the man-made legalism. We never have to jump through hoops to meet God. He is open to us 24/7, no matter how messed up we are, or how ashamed we are. He has already taken care of us through the sacrifice on the cross. We only need to acknowledge and accept it.

When we are most tempted to to disobey God, it is because we don't trust that He has the best plan for us. Trust that God will still provide for you if you give to Him. Trust that He will bring you exactly what you need in this moment. I think we get fearful to defend the outcasts and love those who are on the outside, yet God calls us to love them, specifically the outsiders, the orphans, and the widows. Learn to trust Him as you strive to serve Him. Start small. You aren't called to go big, but to simply love, even if it's one life.

There is great blessing in obedience. We may feel restricted at times by obeying, but in the bigger picture, you will see the blessing that comes from obedience. We are called to teach our children these commands, and permeate our lives with them. When we follow the commands that God gives us, we save ourselves a world of hurt and cleaning up in the end. We end up weighed down by our guilt and shame. However, in obedience, we are told in verse 8 of chapter 11 that we will experience strength.

As we read into Mark chapter 9 today, we learn about some of the characteristics it takes to be holy as we strive to obey God's commands and show our love for Him. One of the things Jesus teaches His disciples is when they were arguing who was the greatest. Jesus explains that to be first, you must be last. In other words, a heart of humility is a huge part of having a heart purified for Christ. When we make humility priority, we stop thinking about our situations, what we want, what we think is best, what we deserve, etc, and we begin to put Christ and others ahead in our minds. Because of humility, we'll stop asking ourselves the question "if I help that person, what can I get back from them?" Jesus shows this by placing a child in His arms and says how welcomed they are. Our love for those who are lesser will also purify our hearts.

The disciples also told Jesus that they had told someone to stop trying to cast out demons because he wasn't apart of "their group". Does this sound familiar somewhere in your life? Jesus says however, that if someone isn't against them, they are for them. Don't stop people from trying to find their faith and trust in Jesus. Obey Christ and allow others to as well.

Finally, in Mark 9, we read about cutting things out of our lives that drag us down. Jesus uses our body parts, like hands, eyes, feet as pictures of getting rid of the toxic things in our lives. We may have people in our lives that continually cause us to sin or question who we are as a child of the King. Those people need to be cut out. We may continually turn to something that we know is keep us from growing in our Savior. Those things also must go. Jesus doesn't want you to actually cut off a body part, but He is displaying how serious of a matter it is to cut those things out that cause you to stumble. Make sure that you are not one to cause others to stumble as well.

Showing our love for Christ comes with obedience to Him. We will fall many times and stumble over things, but we must continually strive to follow His commands and humble ourselves to be open to His leading in our lives. What is something in your life that needs to go? What is causing you to stumble and question who you are in Christ? Get rid of it. Show you trust that God's plan is better than yours by trusting Him with whatever He brings you. He truly knows what you need most and will equip you to face what is coming. Love Him by showing your trust and obedience to Him.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Day 102: Know Him

Day 102
Psalms 44-46

There is much reason to be on the go all the time in our culture. We have places to be, people to meet, errands to run, kids to pick up, drop off, pick up again, jobs to work, meetings to attend, chores that always seem to pile up to do...the list is never ending and overwhelming at times. But when we actually take a piece of our day to "be still" and listen for God, there is a whole new dynamic and attitude in facing the day.

There are so many benefits to making Christ the center of your day and learning more and more of Who He is. We are told to "be still, and KNOW that (He) is God" in Psalm 46. You have probably heard this verse over and over, but to actually apply it is another matter. The more you spend time with someone though, the more you get to know them, the more you trust them, and the more you reflect on the times you've had together. The same goes for getting to know God.

Know His Victory - As we read in Psalm 44, we read as the writer(s) reflect on the words of their ancestors, and how they spoke of the victories that God provided them. Upon reflection, we can take a look at today's issues and remember the victories God provided for us in the past, and know He is faithful for our future. Being still and knowing His heart and His longing for good in our lives will give us a heart that trusts Him more deeply each day and through each storm we face.

Know His Attributes - The writer(s) of Psalm 45 write poetry about the attributes and character of God. We can only truly know His character when we take the time to know Him through reflection, His word, and listening for His guidance. Take some time today to write about an attribute of God and why it is amazing to you.

Be Still and Know Him
There are so many things we get by simply being still day to day and learning Who God is. We gain so much from that time and realize so many things about the realities of Who God is in our lives. We learn to rely on Him as our true security in times of the unknown.
We learn that there is truly joy in being close to God because He has given us every reason to be joyful in this life.
We learn that He is our complete protection, as we face the storms, the people who taunt us, the questions we ask ourselves in lack of confidence.
We also learn that He is a peace that passes all understanding, especially in times where being at peace is not a "natural response".

Be still and know that He is God. Your day will be faced with reassurance of Whose you are, and direction on Who to follow in times of the unknown. Open your Word. Open your heart. Open your ears. Be still and know Who your God is in a world of chaos and busyness.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Day 101: Humble Pie

Day 101
Deuteronomy 7-9; Mark 9:1-29
It's not hard to think that you are all that and a bag of chips (hopefully you've heard this expression) at times, when really what we need is a piece of humble pie to keep us in line. (Sorry, apparently I'm hungry, and slightly corny today.) It's easy to give yourself glory for the achievements you earn, or claim the things you have as yours because you've earned them. In fact, it is very easy to get caught up in our material possessions and the amazing things we've done, and forget what really matters and Who all of those things, including yourself, belong to. Today, as you read the passages, keep that in mind.

It is reiterated over and over that the Lord will hand over the land to the people from other nations, even though they are greater and bigger than they are. God says He'll hand the land over bit by bit, as the people scatter away the other nations and take over their land. However, God also states that it is not because they have been good or obedient that they'll be handed the land, but because He is good and will be faithful to what He promised them. How many times in life do you stop and thank God for His faithfulness to you? We never deserve what we get. In fact, what we deserve is eternal separation, yet God grants us goodness in this life, and if we choose it, eternity of even better and greater goodness with Him.

The Lord tells the people over and over to remember and obey His commands. Another way we rise above what we deserve is when we think we can call all the shots and fail to listen to what God tells us to do. We think He's bossing us around, when really, He knows the consequences of going against the things He suggest. We can throw a fit and call God unfair, yet when we disobey, we will reap the consequences. God tells the people to destroy the people who are against Him and all of their idols. He doesn't even want the people to hesitate and mess around with this because He knows the weakness of human will-power. Do you push the limits and mess around with things that God wouldn't approve of? What may you need to cut out of your life to keep yourself in line with God? We can think we have it all under control, but really, one slip can send us downhill quickly.

Hardships are another way we are humbled. Any moment, your life can change course south and leave you absolutely at a loss of what to do. I've certainly been there, and know how much that can make you question. However, if you focus on what God is providing you in those hard moments, you will see past the hardship and see the growth He gives. It's amazing how humbling it is to be left with nothing and no options. God tells the people that this is a way He made them humble and provided them manna, making them realize that they need Him more than food itself.

We can view the greatest people on this earth with such awe and admire all they have achieved or what they are good at. But the world's way of success and achievement aren't that of heaven's. The transfiguration of Christ shows Him alongside of the greatest in the Biblical times - Moses and Elijah. While our idea of a celebrity isn't usually someone who comes to be rejected and suffer, that is heaven's idea of one. Jesus came and was rejected by the greatest religious leaders. He still is. The Name Jesus tends to set some people off. Without Him, we are nowhere, though. Realize your need for Him daily and how invaluable He is in your life.

We rely on our own selves to solve everything, when we have God's power right at hand. The disciples were unable to heal the boy because of their unbelief. We tend to want to see things in order to believe, yet we are told that faith is the evidence of what we can't see. Jesus would tell folks to believe, then to see. We can think we know it all, have it all, and have it all together, but without Christ and faith in Him, we have absolutely nothing.

Think highly of who you are, but don't think too highly and often of yourself. We are not intended to live for ourselves. When you can see your weaknesses and admit them, you give God the room to move in and change you and strengthen you in ways only He can. Know what can push you over the edge of temptation and cut those things from your life. Remember what Christ has done and the ability you needed from Him, and not of yourself. Thank Him today and everyday for all He has done in your life.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Day 100: Giving Our All

Day 100
Deuteronomy 4-6; Mark 8

We have motivation to go all out for God. Simply remember how good He has been to us should be more than enough to make Him the center of our thoughts, lives, actions, words, etc. Moses wants to be very clear to the people never to forget what God has done for them. In fact, he tells them to treasure it so much, that they pass it down for generations. Have you considered giving your stories of what God has done in your life to your children and friends? Think of the impact you could have if you simply gave all of your glory to Him and shared it with all around you. Smile, and let people know why you smile so much. He is enough for you, and that is every reason to be joyful despite this world and this life.

There are so many things we can put between our hearts and God. Creating idols is more than just making statues and moldings, as you've read about throughout the Bible already. It can be anything from social media to a person you admire. Creating idols happens when you put something ahead of God and you seek it more fervently than Him. We all fall to this often. It is easy to get so wrapped up into other things like sports, family, careers, a mission to find someone, be someone, etc. that we forget to put God first in line. We get too tired to give Him even a percentage of our time. We get too worried to give Him a percentage of our finances. We get too busy to remember to ask His advice. None of the things I listed above are bad within themselves, but when we give to those things, we can't give our all to Christ. Fortunately, God tells us that if we search for Him with all our heart and soul, we will find Him. He will never abandon us, because we are the ones that have grown distant from Him, not the other way around. Give Him your all.

The way you live your life now will make a lasting impact on the family you leave behind. Giving Christ our all will set a standard for the generations to come. This isn't to say that they will for sure live by Christ, but the foundation will be there for them to decide how they will build on it. It's interesting if you look at the 10 Commandments, and see how they are sorted out. 4 of them, the first 4, are dedicated to how we should love God, and 6 of them on how we are to love others. If you have a heart that follows God, the rest on loving others will fall into place. If you live your life honoring anything but God, that is what your children will learn and notice about you. What legacy do you want to leave? One that gives it all to God and in turn pours out to others, such as your family, those in need, neighbors, friends, etc? Or one that gives your all to success, achievements, destructive things, etc, and teaches your kids that without those things they are nothing? God will show them how much they are worth more than anything else in this world can.

Bring Christ everything you have - including your concerns, big or small. We read that Jesus was concerned for the people who hadn't eaten in the crowd of 4,000. I know I get concerned with my feelings of inadequacy and clumsiness in this life. I feel dumb bringing them up so often. Yet God cares even about my smallest doubts, worries, and fears. We see as He takes the things that seem so small, such as the seven loaves and couple of fish in a crowd of 4,000 hungry people, and turns it into something miraculous. I have to chuckle when the Pharisees ask Jesus to perform a miraculous sign for them right after this. How many times do we begin to doubt Christ's ability in us after He has done something so great for us? The trouble is we try to see God's miracles as these HUGE things, yet He works miraculously in the tedious details of how things fall into place. How has realizing this and recognizing this in your own life made all the difference in trusting God with everything you have? Jesus warns His disciples that a little bit of evil can corrupt a whole person's heart, as He states with the yeast commit that the disciples didn't understand. Give your little struggles to God so He can protect you from them becoming large ones that take you over.

Jesus didn't come to receive glory and status, but to serve and to give. He tells us to lose our lives for Him, so that we may have life fully. This may seem counter-intuitive, but when you can honestly let go of everything this world offers you, including family, trusting Him to take care of it all, there is quite a freedom released within you. When you realize that all you need is Jesus in this world, it takes so much pressure off. However, if you try to hang onto things in this world, only giving Jesus half of your time and energy, you will get neither of them. Peter tries to cling to the life he has with Jesus on earth, without fully grasping the bigger picture of why Jesus came and what His mission is. When we fail to see the bigger picture and the ability of God, we lose out on His power. Give Him your all, so that you may experience Him fully and openly!

The essential part of today's reading come out of Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
Listen to ONLY God and value ONLY His opinion.
Love Him with all of your heart - a heart is what we use to think and feel with. It is an emotional symbol of us.
Love Him with all of your soul - the very breath you breathe - honor Him with it.
Love Him with all of your strength - Glory be to Him when you achieve anything. Give Him your all when the load is too much.
Commit yourselves wholeheartedly to His Word and His ways. - What you do will leave ripples behind, for good or for bad.
Repeat them, teach them, talk about them, write them everywhere - His Word, His ways, Christ in general should be what you center everything you are around.

Love God fully. Give Him everything. Experience Him completely in losing yourself in Him. There are so many other options in this world that can hoard what is His - our time, our finances, our agendas, our goals, our missions to be happy, etc. None of these are bad, but all must be put in the faithful hands of your Heavenly Father. Love Him with all of your heart, soul & strength. Lose it all for Him, and you will find everything you have ever needed.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Day 99: Leadership Qualities

Day 99
Deuteronomy 1-3; Mark 7

As we dive into Moses' final words and the book of Deuteronomy, we can see the qualities that made him a great leader. The words Moses shares shows who he is and how he valued God's direction in his life and in leading the people. Jesus also has some things to say and show about what a good leader has and values.

Moses opens his sermon with a reflection on where the people had been, remembering the hardships and the victories God gave them. While reliving hardships and battles we have faced can be a hard thing to do, it can also give us hope for conquering what is up ahead and remembering the God can take care of things there too. A good leader remembers what God has done for them and they know God will provide ahead, as well as empower people to feel that confidence in God as well, encouraging them to remember there is hope.

Moses continues on, remembering the heavy load he had in managing the people. It was then he learned that a good leader delegates and finds other good leaders to help them. A good leader can pick out great traits in others that make up a good, honest leader. In doing so, more is accomplished with less struggle. A good leader communicates clearly what needs to be done and allows other leaders to grab the reigns without feeling like the need to micromanage. When there is lack of communication, that is when micromanaging tends to happen.

Other traits of a leader are listed off as Moses explains. Well-respected. Wise. Understanding. Those who lead well can understand where a person is coming from, or at least strive to understand. They take the time to listen and know the struggles and needs. Some of the leaders that were appointed were judges and had to have good discernment and fairness. They needed thick skin, as Moses mentions, "don't be afraid of anyone's anger, for the decision you make is God's decision." (1:17) Leaders also know when things are over their heads and need a little extra guidance, as Moses had told them to bring difficult cases to him.

Good, Godly leaders know that their secret weapon is the Lord. They rely on His wisdom and guidance through every hard and easy thing. Moses recalls the victories they had over what seemed impossible. Leaders seem fearless because they know that God will fight for them if it is His will. Their strength comes from God, not of themselves. Managing people and hard things seems impossible, but we have a God Who can accomplish the impossible. Leaders remember this and handle the hard stuff through Christ.

Jesus displays what a good leader is all throughout His ministry. Though His way isn't the world's way, it is the best way. One of the key things Jesus displays here is having a pure heart. A heart that puts God's Word and ways ahead of traditions and what the world tells you to do. We see that there were religious leaders who ultimately crucified Christ because His ways didn't match theirs. Don't be that leader - who is so focused on what you want and what is convenient for you, that you fail to see what God's mission is for you.

A good leader also sees the needs people have, no matter who they are. Jesus helps a Gentile woman, even though He says it is right to help His own people first, the Jews. The woman replies humbly, knowing that Jesus has even enough for her to heal her daughter. Jesus sees the need and replies her daughter is healed. We can also get so caught up in our passions and what is immediately near us, that we forget there is need outside of our circles. Jesus proves this is important here. This woman pursues what she knows to be true whole-heartedly and Jesus respects that.

A good, Godly leader first and foremost, follows God. They realize their need for Him, and they strive to lead in such a way that honors Him. The entire Word of God is filled with leadership qualities and ways you can pursue Christ in leading others. Leaders get their strength from Him and can delegate tasks to others without micromanaging the scene. Clear communication and vision make up a great leader as well, and can keep you from micromanaging. We can learn from the best in the Bible, such as Moses, and the greatest yet in Jesus. Strive to be a leader that puts Christ first and that gives Him the glory in all of your accomplishments. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Day 98: Seeking His Heart

Day 98
Numbers 35-36; Mark 6:30-56

When we strive to love like Christ loved, we need to have Him in the center of our hearts. The Bible is filled with insight to God's heart and His ways. There is much to be learned about Him and how He works. Today, we'll look at just a few of God's characteristics and what is important to Him.

We can learn from the final couple chapters of Numbers as to some of the things God values. We have a God of justice and a God Who values life, and the sanctity of it. Laws were made to give people fair trials and judgements if someone was murdered. God wanted a chance for those who mistakenly killed someone to have a chance at living before others jumped to conclusions and avenged in the murderer's murder. God wants justice, but He does not want us to seek revenge. Refuges were set aside for those who unintentionally killed someone.

On the flip side of this, God wanted justice for those who purposely killed someone. God cares about lives, and it is very evident throughout His entire Word. He molded us. He planned for us. He cares for us. Even before we were born. When is life is taken, God wants justice to be served. While culture continues to change, God's heart does not. All lives must be justified and protected. This does not mean we as humans are to seek revenge. That is justice are two different things.

Jesus showed the disciples the importance of seeking quiet time with His Father. Jesus set an example and led them off to be by themselves. Seeking a quiet time is most definitely a necessity of growing in Christ. We can learn so much by being in tune with God on a daily basis and following His ways throughout this life will show us much about Him. Seek that time fervently each and every day, as it is a time to be treasured.

We can see the compassion that Jesus pours out on the hungry crowd of 5,000, yet Jesus empowers His disciples to feed them. While Jesus worked the miracle in bringing enough food for the crowds, He allowed the disciples to ponder it and work to gather what there was. The people contributed what they had. God wants to empower us and use what we have to share His love and feed people around us - physically and spiritually. We are valuable assets to sharing Him and His Good News and He values us enough to entrust us with His mission.

When we spend that time getting to know Christ and what His heart is about, we can face all sorts of waves and uphill battles. As the disciples battled the waves and the wind, they saw Jesus walking on the water and thought He was a ghost. Yet as soon as Jesus hopped in the boat, the wind settled and the waves died down. If we can truly learn God's voice and way, we can easily recognize His place in our lives and allow Him to settle our waves and achieve those uphill battles. We just need to realize Who He is and know that He is for us.

It is so essential to know God's heart and the value He places on you. Spending time in His Word, in prayer, in listening for Him throughout our everyday lives, and knowing His ways is what we need to strive for. Knowing Him and His passions will guide you in this world as you try and navigate through its ever-changing culture and values. Remember that He is a never-changing God. Seek His heart and fill yours with Him.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Day 97: Community

Day 97
Numbers 32-34; Mark 6:1-29

There is something about community that draws people in. When you find a group of people or a person that you can put faith and trust in, that is a blessing indeed. We were created to be in community with others and with God.

As we continue to read about the community of people that worked and worked their way towards the Promised Land, we can sense the community that God had formed in giving them duties and tasks to carry out in service to each other and to Him. We read how the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh wanted to claim land on the other side of the Jordan river (opposite of the Promised Land). While Moses was skeptical and wondered if they were trying to get out of the work of fighting for the Promised Land, the people assured him that they simply wanted to settle and get situated in safety. There is something very important about having safety within a community. When you are vulnerable, whether it is physically, emotionally, or spiritually vulnerable, having that safety and reassurance that you won't be judged is huge. It is hard to really open up and grow withing a trusted community if you are always under attack or worried what you say will come back to haunt you. If you are in a small group, encourage safety as priority. Make sure you have a group you can trust and keep you safe.

Set boundaries for yourself as well, as we read that the land was broken up in Numbers 34. This was a job for Moses, but he delegated much of the work that was laid out to him. A group of people that doesn't let you work alone is to be treasured. They help you and take direction well, not feeling bossed, but empowered to be apart of something big. Give yourself clear boundaries so you are not over-worked or stressed by the list of things you have to do. However, say "no" when you need to. A good community will help you see those flaws in your boundaries and help you improve. 

We also read as the writings of Numbers reflects back to all the places the people had been. Each of these places carried memories, whether good or bad, that created a lesson and growth for them as a people and community. While there are new generations in the time we are reading of this community, the lessons are still there. This is why it is important to reflect back and see what the Lord has done for you, especially if you are a family or community. I rely heavily on one of the groups I'm apart of in my church, an outreach team that visits the Dominican Republic each year. While we have been an intact group, that forms differently over the year, we still laugh at memories we've shared and remember what we have learned from experiences. We learn each other's temperaments and weaknesses and encourage one another based on what we know. Looking back is important. Though we aren't to dwell there, we can continually take lessons from there and remember how powerful our God is.

When Jesus sent out His disciples, He told them to bring nothing. Nothing except someone to go with. He sent them off two by two to do ministry and service. When we can face things with another person, we can encourage each other. There is a reason Jesus sent them out together, and wants us to work together. So rather than going it alone and facing challenges by yourself, find someone you can rely on to encourage you, and someone you can encourage. You will face rejection, like Jesus did in Nazareth. People will underestimate you and tear you down. Find a person that can appreciate you for who you are and see the gifts you have to offer. Allow them to encourage you to keep going.

King Herod actually respected John the Baptist, even though he told him to leave his adulterous relationship with Herodias. While this advice was valid, Herod still respected him, as Herodias wanted John dead, and Herod wouldn't let her. But because of a bad vow and a reputation to be upheld, King Herod allowed John to be beheaded. We need to be careful to listen to the advice of those we trust, so we are not caught in a trap that separates us from what God intends. Not only listen to advice, but heed it, if it is Godly advice. Allow the people you respect to have a say in what you do.

Community is a huge part of your Christian walk. Surround yourself with trust-worthy people who strive to serve and grow in Christ. It is important to know you are not alone in  your worries and your frustrations as you walk through this life. Reflect back on how God has used people to grow you and be sure to be poured into and pour into others as well.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Day 96: Fear to Faith

Day 96
Numbers 29-31; Mark 5:21-43

"You don't want to relive it, but you can't live without it." This was a quote (slightly paraphrased, I bet) that summed up my feelings exactly from a speaker named Melissa Wall, whom I had heard on a retreat. We face terrifying circumstances, yet when we look back at the power that those times placed in our lives to the picture of God, we couldn't imagine how our faith would be without those times. I've been there and I know the faith that those times build, though they are traumatizing. Today, we'll have the opportunity to read about the fears turned to faith from Biblical times.

The festivals were a form of worship for the people to God. They brought sacrifices, like animals and harvests to the Lord, to display their worship to Him. Today, when we give something of value to God, we too display worship to Him. Most ideally, we would give our complete loyalty and faith to Him, allowing Him to provide in our lives more powerfully than we could ever imagine. It is sure hard to let go, however. We fear God won't provide or that He won't give us what we want. However, the truth is if we truly give Him our full lives, He will provide far beyond our expectations. God always knows what we need and when. We just get in the way a lot.

I can't even imagine the thoughts and questions that went through Moses' head every step of the way of his journey. This time, God tells him that before he dies, he must rally the troops to go into battle against the Midianites. I don't know about you, but I would have asked God some questions. "Is this how I will die?" "Are you sure we'll win?" Etc... But Moses, being around the block a few times with God on his side now, obeys and they go to war and win huge. After the war, they divide up their bounty, giving God His share. It is one thing to earn bragging rights in a competition, but to actually give God the glory for all you have earned and that has been given to you is another thing.

What has God given you victory over in terms of your fears that you need to thank Him for? Do you give Him the glory when you tell others about your accomplishments and victories?

The scene that plays out with Jesus in this Mark reading is quite beautiful. Picture the noise and the crowds that invaded as Jesus got off the boat. In the midst of this crowd, comes a man, who is a synagogue leader, named Jairus, who fervently pleads with Jesus to come and heal his very sick daughter. Now, a synagogue leader was much like that of a religious leader - the ones who were trying to nail Jesus to the cross. The humility this man had to find to come to Jesus must have been something great. His fear was set aside, so he could go and ask Jesus to heal his little girl.

If this wasn't enough, a woman strived to make it to touch Jesus' robe. This woman had many things against her. She was a woman, which in this day didn't earn a ton of respect. She was considered unclean as she had been bleeding for twelve years, as it was law for the unclean to be apart from the community in the allotted time to get clean. Yet this woman thought, "if only I can touch His robes." As she did, Jesus knew it. He turned around, asking who had touched Him as the crowds continued to push up against Him. He knew this was an intentional, faith-filled touch, however. I also truly believe that Jesus knew who touched Him, but wanted the faith and the story to come alive not only in the midst of the crowd, but in the heart of that woman, who fearfully makes herself known. But Jesus, reassures her of her faith, and tells her she is well. Her fear turns to faith, and a wonderful testimony of what Christ has done for her.

Meanwhile, message is sent from Jairus' home that his daughter had passed, yet Jesus still wants to go, saying some very important words to Jairus: "Don't be afraid. Just have faith." How many times a day do you need to hear those words? When Jesus arrives, He tells the little girl to get up. How relevant is this statement - "Little girl, get up." I think we fear too much to move. We fear too much to have faith. We error on the side of "impossible" rather than "possible", even when we are told that with Christ all things are possible. I'm not saying He will raise your loved one from the dead here on earth, but He sure can raise them up in a much greater place that this earth.

What fears do you need to lay at the feet of Jesus? How can you be reassured by His amazing power to lead your fear into great faith? Come to Jesus with faith that He will move in your life in mighty ways, even if it isn't in a way you want. Have faith that He will use you in your inabilities. Have faith to serve Him in singleness. Have faith to allow Him to give and take away. Have faith to keep on looking to Him despite the fears you have. Have faith that even if you don't get something from Him, what He does give you is enough. Have faith that He is enough. Turn your fears to faith with Jesus, and give Him the glory for the victories you celebrate. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Day 95: Satisfied in Him

Day 95
Psalms 41-43

There are so many places you can end up if the bottom falls out of your life. David (and perhaps his descendants) write so beautifully about the longing and emotions of his heart as he experiences such a crazy time of his life. It is hard to deal with this world at times when depression and hopelessness hit. As you read today's passages and think about those bad times in your life, recall how God comforted you. Maybe you're in the midst of that depression, that loneliness, that hopelessness of life right now. Be encouraged by David's writings and remember where to lay your heart.

The place we will be most satisfied in this world is in the hands of our Savior. He is most glorified when we find that satisfaction in Him as well. How many times have you felt judged because of your satisfaction in Christ?
 We read here:
"Their taunts break my bones. They scoff, 'Where is this God of yours?" (Ps. 42:10)
From there, we read that the writer says they put their hope in the Lord. Nothing can discourage them. When we praise Him for what He has done in our life, we will be encouraged and find our satisfaction in Him.

When I fall to the taunting of the world around me, the one that judges, or casts blame, or makes me feel less than, I remember this portion of Psalm, and remind myself the only thirst for Him. The lyrics to this song is directly from those of these Psalms. I encourage you to listen to it, and reiterate the words you read today, keeping yourself in the arms of your God. 

"Let my sighs bring songs that sing about Your faithfulness.
Let my pain reveal Your glory as my only real rest.
Let my loses show that all I truly have is You.
'Cause all I truly have is You.

I am satisfied in You."

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Day 94: Take Initiative

Day 94
Numbers 26-28; Mark 5:1-20

There are times we like to just sit back and watch God's work happen around us. While there are times for this, there are also times for taking the initiative and following what God leads us to do. As we dive in today and read about different times initiative was taken throughout the Bible.

Moses was a leader who truly took initiative. If you recall from the beginning of Moses' story, not only in leadership, but in life, you read how his life was spared because his mother took a risk and put him in a basket, and then Pharaoh's daughter took initiative and picked him up. Even in Moses' leadership, it was small steps of initiative and risks that led him to one of the greatest leaders under God's direction. Now, as Moses continues to deal with the people's complaints, and land distributions, and the census, and complex requests, we can see how much he has grown since the burning bush left him shaken and questioning God's decision in his leadership to lead the people out of Egypt.

Again, we see how well Moses follows up and follows God's guidance when the fatherless daughters step out and take their own initiative to claim land for their family. Moses uses great wisdom in bringing the request before God and following through with the request. The women take great initiative in simply asking, and it pays off. Not taking the initiative to simply ask can cause you to lose out on things or opportunities at times. Take initiative as a good follower and a good leader.

As Moses nears the end of his life and reign as the leader of the people, he passes his title onto another initiative-taker in Joshua, as God tells him to do. Rather than Moses being bitter about God not allowing him to enter the Promised Land, He asks God to choose the leader who will lead the people well. This is a sign of true maturity. Could you be a leader who looks after the interest of your people rather than being bitter about not getting what you think you're entitled to?

Jesus takes huge initiative when he enters the land of Gerasenes, where a demon-possessed man roamed the caves and couldn't be restrained. Talk about a creepy scene. I think I would have been in the boat with the rest of the disciples, staring with my mouth wide open, wondering what in the world Jesus was doing. Yet we see Jesus take initiative and care for this man. He got out of the boat and healed the man, casting his thousands of demons into a herd of pigs. Taking this initiative caused a huge witness for Jesus and His ministry throughout this area. When you step out and take a risk, it can send ripples.

Are you more apt to play it safe rather than take initiative at times? It is hard to step out and take a risk, but when you do, it can change a life and cause a great witness for Who Christ is in your life and Who He can be for others. Be mature enough to step up to the plate and allow God's glory to shine through, rather than yours. Do what is best for those you lead, rather than trying to accomplish your own agenda. Take initiative for Christ. Step out and step up.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Day 93: Baffling Faith

Day 93
Numbers 23-25; Mark 4:26-41

It is hard to have faith when the situation seems impossible. But we learn from our readings today, that God not only works in huge things, but in the smallest things as well.

Balaam's faith journey is very interesting to me. I never quite realized how much it was shared in Numbers here. I grew up hearing the story of the talking donkey, but never quite followed up with Balaam. However, he took what seemed to be a 180 from his initial motives for going with Balak to the leaders to curse the people. Rather than cursing the Israelites so he could gain wealth, he blessed them, and told Balak that only what God put in his mouth for words are what he could say. In this case, it's hard to fathom the way God worked in Balaam's life. He seemed pretty stubborn as he tried to ride his donkey to meet his agenda. So stubborn, in fact, that we read yesterday how he wouldn't listen to God until He spoke through his donkey.

Sometimes, faith doesn't seem to make sense in the moment. Balaam continued to bless Israel and turn down the wealth offered him that would only be granted if he cursed Israel. Balak continued to lead him to different views of the people, trying to convince him, but as we have an unchanging God, who wouldn't allow Balaam to curse them, Balaam continue to obey God's message and share it with Balak. While I'm sure Balaam didn't want to lose out on the wealth he could have easily earned, he followed what the Lord had told him. What desires of your heart do you have in front of you or in your mind that you want so badly, but know your faith in God is more important and worthy of greater reward later? How can you rely on your faith, even if it's not as instantly gratifying as the thing you desire?

As we continue to read on in Number, we discover how instant gratification caused the people to sin. To this day, we still fall to sexual immorality, things that give us answers we want to hear, and we still give our allegiance to other gods (people, entertainment, etc.) rather than following what our true God tells us. We search high and low for things that feel good, or make us happy, or give us the feel good answers we want. Yet these things are all you'll get. If you rather live a life that gives YOU happiness that lasts for a brief moment, rather than live this life for the glory of an indescribable and unfailing God that will grant you eternal rewards, that is exactly what you will get. Only this earth. The people of Israel had forgotten Who they belong to. Defend yourself from the things of this world that try to take you from God's righteousness. Don't seek instant gratification when you can have eternal happiness.

In Mark, we read how the farmers sow their seeds and without fully understanding how the crop comes. Maybe you have been trying to plant a seed and feel like the person will never understand or they won't budge in their faith. This passage is encouraging to me because that is something we don't do. God does it. We won't understand how He brings someone's heart along, but if we plant the seed, He works the conversion. Even as a person is blossoming, it may take some time for them to "bear fruit". Continue to have faith that God will move.

I find it ironic that Jesus tells the story of the mustard seed following this overview of not fully understanding the faith that goes into planting a seed. The mustard seed, being one of the smaller ones in this world, is one that produces a strong, full plant. Our faith is much the same way. It takes a small interaction or ounce of faith to believe that God will move and flourish in mighty ways. The disciples face this test of faith when they cross the lake and face a fierce storm. Jesus, sleeping through it until the disciples wake him out of fear, convinced they will drown in the storm. Jesus simply tells the wind and the waves to be still. While the disciples are in disbelief at His power over them, He asks them where their faith is.

Are you facing something that just needs a little faith? Do you truly believe that Jesus can deliver you out of the storm? Balaam had to be communicated with in a way that didn't make sense. Sometimes that's how God communicates and that's how faith plays out. Even when we want to give into the instant gratifications of this world, rely on the faith that is unseen and know that God has something better waiting for you. Have patience in the times that are baffling. Remember that God can take something so small and make it something so grand for His glory. Have faith, as baffling as it is.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Day 92: Give and Take

Day 92
Numbers 20-22, Mark 4:1-25

Life as a Christ-follower comes with a lot of ups and downs, as we've talked about. But it also comes with a lot of give and take, as we'll read about today. We need to give of ourselves so we can know God and His voice, but we also need to work on the entitlement and when we believe is ours. God gives us things and people in this life so we may grow and learn, but He also takes sometimes so we can thrive with Him and learn to rely on Him.

The Israelites continue to complain about needing water, showing a great distrust in God. While God yet again provides for them and brings water out of a rock, yet because of Moses and Aaron's failure to allow God to demonstrate His power to the people, they will not be permitted to enter the Promised Land. Rather than speaking to the rock, Moses struck it out of anger, which is not what the Lord had told him to do.Worse yet, Aaron and Moses took credit for bringing water out of the rock. "Must we bring you water from this rock?' Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff." (Numbers 20:10-11) Moses gave the people water, but he took the glory for it. Sometimes we may think we're doing good, which we probably are, but we fail to lift our hands and eyes to the One above and claim it was all because of Him. Give freely, but don't take the glory.

We see other instances of giving and taking throughout our Numbers reading today. The king of Edom refusing to allow the people to go through the land. Aaron's death. Victory over the Canaanites. When the people face poisonous snakes, God once again provides a way to their healing. The bronze snake on the staff was a symbol of looking to Christ when we need help. The people knew they had sinned and that they needed God's redemption, so God provides a way. We are in the same boat daily. We know we do wrong by God and we need His redemption to make it right. So like God provided the bronze snake to save the people from dying on this earth, He provides us His Son to die for us so we may live eternally.

Balaam was most definitely a taker. He focused on gaining wealth and reputation. Our desires can blind us into thinking we deserve things like wealth and prestige, yet we need Christ. We can give Him devotion like it's no problem, but desires are another story. Balaam, ignoring the leadings of the Holy Spirit, made his own call to continue down the road with Balak. Rather than doing the work God had for him, we wanted to pursue his own riches and desires. God was so adamant to get Balaam's attention, He even made the donkey talk. Even though God permitted Balaam to continue down the road, there were conditions. Balaam only could speak to the people the words God gave him, not his own. Sometimes, God will give us an opportunity to share, but we take it and twist it to our own beliefs and misspeak God's intent. Be open and aware of the message God is giving you, then share it.

Jesus shares about the types of hearts that receive the message of Christ. The message can be given, but unless follow-up and growth happen, it can wither like a seed in bad ground. There are many things in this world that can wither our faith. If we are grounded in the wrong things and allow the weeds (or circumstances) of this world to smother us, we will lose heart. Be grounded in Christ and rely on Him. On the other side of that, when you take the message to others, follow up with them. Don't just share Christ and tell them they are good to go. Invite them to things that keep them grounded, or show them ways you stay grounded in your own faith.

We are told to share our light and give it to the world around us. We can't keep it to ourselves, but we need to answer for the hope we have. Give it freely. Also, we need to receive the words God gives us and gain understanding. Those who have listen, will understand more and more. Those who fail to listen will lose whatever understanding they have. It is important to always be open to teachings in the Word so you can continue to grow and thrive on good soil.

God will give and take away. He knows best what we need when, and His plans are always good. We also need to learn to give and be open to what God is doing in our lives. Give light of your hope to others who so desperately need it. Don't be a taker in this life and in this world, but give and give and give. Because of your giving and God's giving to you, you can grow and be rooted more deeply in Him, while helping others as well. Don't only focus on what you think you are entitled to (which is nothing), but remember that God is trying to lead you places so you can give His message to others. Give Him the credit and take nothing but Him with you.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Sticks and Stones

As I stare at the bruises on my arms from the 6 IV sticks I received, I notice they are healing. One week later, but they are on the track to clearing me of looking like an abuse case. I can't help but think of that phrase, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." While bruises hurt and can't be touched for a few days without a little wincing, words do hurt for a very long time.

I've always been the kid to stick her foot in her mouth, then regret it for days, weeks, months after. I'm not even exaggerating. I still think about the time I said something stupid to someone while working 10 years ago at camp and I still call myself an idiot over it because apparently my joke became someone's reality. I didn't know the history there nor did I know what their life was dealing with in that moment, because 1: I didn't bother to find out. 2: I didn't think outside of my own shoes. Words last. Bruises fade.

We are in a time right now where everyone is throwing around hateful words. They don't realize it - that is the sad thing, or maybe they realize it and not care. Either way, it needs to end. These words are destroying lives, hurting families, and breaking up friendships. If I sound dramatic, then you must be one of the ones flaunting the words, unknowingly expressing rights for the sake of your own agenda, and you fail to notice how your blanket statements and pointedness towards your "friends" can actually do harm right in front of you.

Luckily, in 1 Corinthians 13, we read this: "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing."

Because of this passage, I can feel a little release. The people who speak harshly to me and have never taken the time of day to understand my life, my history, my family, my struggles, my heart, my daily hardships...don't deserve rental space in my head. The last few months have been hard. I'm going to be brutally honest here: I've had things go through my mind that have been unhealthy, unloving, and have caused me to question who I am as a daughter of the King. Those words have made me depressed for months and it has affected my family. But do the ones who throw words at it, in hopes of solving world problems even care to know the problems of the people around them before casting "their opinion"? Obviously not. 

So from now on, if you're like me and are affected by peoples' words, start over today.
Remember they don't have credibility in your life because:
1) They don't love you
2) They don't care about anything but their words and their "rights". Thus, they don't care about yours, unless you jump on board with theirs.
3) They will never assume the best out of you. 
4) They have not earned your respect. 
5) They will go public and never actually sit down with you to know your life. 
6) They will probably hate you no matter what you say. 
7) They should be ignored for all the reasons listed above. 

I've set a standard for myself when receiving "criticism". If someone is going to cast criticism at me, and I'm going to actually listen to it and consider it, they must:
1) Love Jesus
2) Love the Church (in general)
3) Love me
It doesn't work otherwise. 

You are loved. Just make sure you find those people who love you and meet your criteria and listen to them, not because you are fearful or hateful, but because you are important too. Don't ever allow toxic people to make you go to dark places over political or personal agendas. Those things don't last anyways. Jesus does and His love endures forever.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Day 91: Relationship, Not Rituals

Day 91
Numbers 18-19; Mark 3

The motives of what we do can be either rooted in relationships and genuine love for someone, or because we feel guilt and shame and it's just what you have to do or because it's what you've always done. I can't tell you how many times that phrase comes up in the church. "It's what we've always done." While doing what has been tradition and ritual isn't a bad thing, if we aren't careful, we lose sight of the people who so desperately need a relationship with Jesus, or with you, and the ritual becomes a blinder to how it feels for that person to walk in. Consider our reading today as we take a closer look at what the Bible says.

There was much duty and task-oriented activity among the Israelites. It was a way for them to serve God in their work and give them ownership of their faith. The same is true today. When we actually serve in some capacity in the church or community, we feel like we're a piece of it. How much more do you appreciate your church when you are actually taking part in serving on a Sunday or during the week? There comes a whole new light as to why the church does what it does. You are more likely to give to a church out of seeing the vision and the why of it, rather than being guilted and shamed into giving because giving "is what you're supposed to do". That means nothing to someone new to the faith. When someone can see the impact, however, they can buy into that.

The purpose of what we do is to share the love and redemption we have in Christ. The heart is the motive of for why you serve, never the duty or the task of it. If you truly believe that Christ is enough for you and that He deserves the forefront of your life, serving isn't an issue. I believe Aaron and his sons were chosen because of what God saw in their hearts. While the Old Testament is full of the rules and duties to be carried out, we have been redeemed by an all-powerful, all-loving God in Jesus by the time the New Testament rolls around. If you truly understand the price of sin from what you read in the Old Testament, then what Jesus did for you to create that relationship and close that gap between us and our Heavenly Father is the most important thing that should matter to us. In turn, we give back and are free of our guilt and our shame. Keep in mind that you are to share that freedom and how you have it to those who don't know anything about the Bible, traditions, rituals, old hymns, pews...They need to know it's more than ritual and "it's just something we've always done".

We can see Jesus throwing the rituals and traditions and the rules right out the window when He heals the crippled man on the Sabbath. He asks the crowd which was more important - the law or saving a life. Jesus is saddened by the hard hearts and the priority, and He heals the man anyways, knowing His accusers will use it against Him. Jesus cared more about people and winning a soul and life. Does your heart match up with this priority?

I can't help but look at Jesus' disciples and know that they were misfits, like I feel like at times. Jesus worked His ministry by healing multitudes and teaching to multitudes, but He truly poured into the twelve. A relationship was built up in the little group, and He sent them out to do the same. Spreading the Good News doesn't have to be HUGE, but Jesus did it by leading small. He had His few and He did life with them and taught them. I think many times we get caught up in the program and the numbers and we forget that it only takes a cup of coffee with one to start something powerful and win a heart for Christ.

Stop and think about the things you value about your church. The traditions? The rituals? The energy in the numbers? The programs that draw in the crowds? While these things are all great and have absolutely nothing wrong with them, we need to consider how Jesus did ministry. While He shared with crowds, He poured into a few. Get the "we've always done it this way" mentality out of your head and consider the ultimate WHY of what the church does, or is supposed to do. If the traditions and rituals are getting in the way of truly allowing in those who have no clue Who Jesus is or what the church is about, it's time to reassess. Get out of your habits, and look around you. There may just be a young soul in need of a cup of coffee and an ear. That is ministry. That is evangelism. Pouring quality into a few lives, rather than focusing on getting hundreds to an program and not spending a single quality word with them.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Day 90: Judgment: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Day 90
Numbers 16-17; Mark 2

It seems that in the world we currently live in at the moment, people feel very much at liberty to judge others and decide who they are based on surface evaluation. When you take the time to think about God's judgement and how Jesus handled judgements as we read about today, our petty gossips and calls can be put to shame. Our God is One of jealousy and wrath if we continually complain against Him. Jesus looked beyond the sin of a person, as we read about today as well. Let's learn from these instances today.

We can all think pretty highly of ourselves at times. We think we are the best, the most holy, the most worthy... Yet if you are a Christ-follower, you should know that the foot of the cross is a level playing field. It doesn't matter how the sin the person next to you committed and and few sins you've committed line up in comparison. You're both sinners and need redemption. We read about some jealousy in Numbers as the leaders fight to go up against Moses and Aaron, claiming that a new leader needed to be in charge. Moses tells him to be ready for the Lord to choose (as this is what a great leader would do - leave it in the Lord's hands). As you read, you see it didn't quite work out for Korah and his cohorts. The Lord's wrath spilled out upon them and their families, as well as the people offering incense. The judgement was put in God's hands, rather than that of Moses or Aaron.

Rather than trying to constantly throw guilt and judgement around to people you believe deserve it, allow God to handle it. The people who tried to overthrow Moses knew better, but allowed their arrogance to get in the way, thus the Lord took radical action upon them. As the people continue to grumble the very next day, we again, see the Lord's anger stir up. As you sit and read about their complaining, I bet like me, you just shook your head and wondered how the people could be so dumb. Yet look at your own life and what you have. Consider all the Lord has done for you and then put it up against the times you weren't happy or you complained. We fall guilty as well. Remember to thank the Lord for what He has given you, rather than being discontent with it. We don't deserve any of it, yet we act like we deserve the kingdom at times.

As Jesus carried out His own ministry, He too was surrounded by judgement-casters. The religious leaders obviously didn't support what He was doing and not only judged Him, but the people He hung around with. How often do we stand on the sidelines and talk about "those people" or share about who so n' so is hanging out with. Before you judge, consider who Jesus hung out with and what He came here for. He states as he was eating with Matthew's friends that the healthy don't need a doctor, but the sick do. The perfect people don't need Jesus, but the imperfect do. Here's a hint: NONE of us is perfect.

Not only did the religious leaders cast judgement about the people Jesus hung out with, but in turn, cast judgement on Who He was. We do this all the time. We need to decide each and every day Who Jesus is to us. The leaders doubted. We may doubt too. So many thought He was crazy, evil, or that He was indeed the living God among us Who died so we may live. The choice is yours. No one can make it for you. Decide today and everyday Who Jesus is to you. He doesn't need our approval, but we most definitely need His. The good news is, when you run to Him, you are approved.

Judgement is good, as it helps us grow when it comes from the Lord. Judgement is bad, when we try to do it ourselves to others. Judgement can be ugly, as we read today in Numbers. One thing is for sure, however: Judgement is to be done by God. Stop casting it yourself and deciding who is worthy around you. Simply exist in the light of Jesus, loving others, and allowing Him to do the rest. Why make more work for yourself?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Day 89: Ups and Downs

Day 89
Numbers 14-15; Mark 1

Whenever we face a high point in life and in our spiritual walks, we can usually be certain that a downward spiral isn't far behind. While this sounds scary or disheartening, we can rest assured that if we truly place it in the hands of our Father, that upward swing will come back. Today we read about instances in the lives of the Israelites and in Jesus' life of highs and lows. We also discover how important it is to keep Christ at the center and forefront of our lives to keep us in check during those swings.

As we continue to read of the Israelites' dismay at the land that is seemingly impossible to occupy. However, we need to keep in mind all of the miracles and hardships God has already pulled them through to get them there. It is incredibly generous of God to bring them to this land filled with blessing despite the grumblings and complaints of the people all along. Now, as the people continue to grumble and flat out reject the gift from God, the wrath of God pours out on them and is revoked from their generation, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua who had faith. Even after God had taken it away, the people realized they did want the land and tried to occupy it, but were chased far away.

Remember to look at what God has given you and what He has already done for you before complaining about what He is handing you. If you has pulled you out of the muck before, He sure will do it again if it is His will and direction for you. Don't look at the highs as lows in your life. Be thankful for all He has provided and don't wish for more or better. What He has given you is the best for you.

We need to make sure God is a priority in our lives each and every day. When we face those times in our lives that are high, it is easy to forget our dependence on Him and His strength, because it's not a high demand at the time. When we face those low times in life, it is easier to face when we have the relationship with Christ at our right hand, guiding us and showing us how to make it through. The Israelites had standards for coming before the Lord in their sacrifices and how they respected the Sabbath. While those standards aren't held to us and we have the freedom to come before God whenever and wherever we are, it is still important to make it a habit. Because we may not be stoned for dishonoring the Sabbath Day, life may be a little more tricky to navigate without spending time getting to know God and His voice.

Jesus experienced these highs and lows throughout His ministry. As we read about His story through the Gospel of Mark, we can see how Jesus seemed to live from a high to a low and back again. Jesus was baptized, then tempted, and his friend, John the Baptist was arrested. Then He called His disciples and began His ministry, healing many and carrying out the will of His Father.Notice, however that Jesus prays in an isolated place. Even He needed to take time to reconnect with His Father and know the direction He was going in. If Jesus set this example for us, we need to do this more than ever with each day.

One thing I'm intrigued by is the interaction that comes between Jesus and the man with leprosy. This man, who was probably feeling lower than low at the time, tells Jesus "If You are willing, You can heal me and make me clean." How often do you face something so low in life and say to Jesus "if You are willing...?" But do you know what the man did here? He gave the power to Jesus and made it His choice. He would have been fine either way, because he trusted what God was making out of his life that much. Jesus heals him, and tells him not to tell anyone else about it. However, the excitement this man had about being healed was something he couldn't keep to himself, and as a result Jesus was surrounded and followed everywhere He went. This man's low, his fear, became such a huge high and full of faith. Because he shared of his hope and his redemption, the Good News was shared.

You can be on a mountain top right now, or in the lowest pit possible in life, but know that in a blink of an eye, that can all change. How you handle your highs and your lows shares a story about Who Jesus is to you. Is His will enough for you? Don't underestimate a God Who has pulled you through before and complain about what He hands you. Don't neglect your time with Him and forget His voice when life is going well, because when you fall into that pit, you need to remember what His voice sounds like. Share the hope you have and remember to leave the choice in His hands for your life. He is creating something beautiful out of those highs and lows.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Day 88: A Process of Hardship

Day 88
Psalms 38-40

I honestly can relate to some of what David goes through in our reading today. It is actually astounding to me to read and see how closely the hardship David endures in this section matches that of what I have experienced before, and it all makes sense when you view the process from the outside.

As we begin reading of David's struggles with health and sickness, on top of the oppression from his enemies, there is a convicting prayer that is said by David from the bottom of his figurative pit.  David feels the sickness of his body in the physical form and in the spiritual, as he confesses and begs forgiveness for his sin. David seeks full healing and reliance on Christ not only in the aspect of the hardship he's faced up to this point, but now he is finding reliance in the lack of health in his body.

David gives us a model to live by as we read of his suffering and redemption. As he cries out to God, he asks for help, confesses his wrong-doing, and then puts full trust in Him. I think there is something so humbling about confessing ourselves to Christ, because it places us in a humble spot and forces us to set aside the pride that can eat our hearts and souls. Ask Christ for help and place yourself at His feet, giving over everything you've placed ahead of Him.

David also realizes how short life is. When I faced major health issues, that was an eye-opener and even a game-changer for me, as I realized that I have no time to waste in getting Christ out there. After something that causes you to realize how much you need Christ in your life, you also realize how fragile this life becomes and how significant time is. In fact, after facing near-death, I realized that we have no time for fear, just as David did, as he set his fears at God's feet, asking for reminders of how short life is. Nothing else matters. Not wealth or fame. Those are things that don't come with us when it is all over. Only the lasting legacy you leave for Christ will last an eternity.

We need to remember that even though deliverance from our hardships can be a waiting game, there is hope. Recall how God has pulled you through before this time, and how He taught you to rely on Him. Think about how He will use you this time around and be give thanks for His growth in you through it. It's never easy waiting for the relief that is coming, but remember He will deliver you. Follow Him closely through those times and He will carry you. The world asks us to turn to so many different things to deal with hardships and struggles in this life, but God says to follow Him.

Finally, be the proof of Christ through your life. Truth and love are to be put together, just as justice and mercy are. David asks God to not withhold His love and mercy from him. We have a God Who loves us deeply and knows where we need to grow. He wants the best for us and to learn to lean on Him in times of these hardships. Since we have found this love and grace in our lives, we need to allow it to shine through to others all around us. Your story of hardship and redemption can move the mountain of someone else. Share it and glorify Christ in it.

I don't think anyone can honestly look at hardships and say they "enjoyed it". But when Christ brings us through hardships, we can see how mighty His power is in our lives and know that He is faithful to us as we look ahead to the next one. Remember that life is short and we need to share our stories of hope so that others around us can experience freedom in the midst of hardship as well. Be a light and rely on the Light.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Day 87: Comparison Trap

Day 87
Numbers 12-13; 2 Thessalonians 3

Comparison can be the root of many problems in our lives. It brings on pride, gossip, jealousy, misguidance, laziness, distraction, and other various issues. We can choose to put our eyes on what everyone around us has, or how God uses everyone around us and be jealous, or we can remember what He has done for us and thank Him for all He has given us.

I think we all believe to an extent that God has spoken through us. But do you sense the tension of pride in that statement? We may get a little jealous when God has used others in great ways. When we start comparing ourselves and the work we have done to others around us, we set aside Christ and His work. We actually hinder Him from working through us because of our pride. As I read of the situation with Miriam and Aaron play out, I can't help but cringe because I have been that person. The one who looked around me, rather than up and started comparing, then getting jealous, then getting eaten from the inside out with it. The unhealthy place comparing and jealousy puts you is a hard return to what God had intended, and time is lost on your comparison trap. When you can finally let that go, however, and allow your eyes to rest only on Christ, there is something freeing about it.

The pride of ourselves stems from this. When we are prideful, we think way too much of ourselves. This is the opposite of humility, which is something God looks highly upon as a character trait, as we can see from the interaction with Moses, Miriam, and Aaron. Moses' humility stemmed from an ongoing, growing relationship with God. How are you aligning yourself to be a more humble person? That being thinking of yourself less?

Comparison also leads to thinking we're not good enough. As the people scouted out the land they were to receive, they saw the giants there, and figured they couldn't defeat them. The only four that had faith were Moses, Aaron, Caleb, and Joshua. If you can recall, however, God has pulled these people out of some sticky situations before. It was obvious the people weren't looking up at God, but ahead at their problems. Rather than always looking directly at the giants in front of you, comparing them to your capabilities and knowledge, look up and remember where God has brought you. Remember the big problems He worked you through before, and remember that faith doesn't make sense.

When we compare our lives to the lives in this world around us, we can easily set our focus to our world, rather than to Christ. Paul lays out some specific instructions to the people of Thessalonica, that may contradict the people around them and their actions and values. This is tough. In a world of freedom and its own definition of it, it is hard to remember the true freedom that comes from Christ alone. We need to work on comparing what we have to those around us in this world. What the world values isn't what we as Christ-followers are to value. Even what some believers value aren't what we are to value. Paul warns us to avoid lazy believers, or those who refuse to work for their keep. Don't fall into the ideals of life, but run with the path God put you on.

What life are you comparing yours to? Whose face do you think of when you begin to doubt who you are and what Christ is capable of in your life? Turn that face into that of Christ and His power in your life. He has been so faithful to you so far- don't forget that as you look at other places to compare. Allow Him to become your center, in being thankful to Him for everything you have and are. He is our standard to live by. No one and nothing else deserves that spot.