A Reflection of Thanks

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV

Most of the calendar year, I have found that overall as a society…and even as Christians…we tend to focus on what we don’t have rather than on what we do have. Yes…I too am guilty of this!

We may focus on the husband we don’t have….the children we don’t have…the friends we don’t have…the good physical health we don’t have…the money we don’t have…the job we don’t have…the education we don’t have…the house or car we don’t have…and the list goes on!

When we tend to focus on what we don’t have, we can miss what we actually do have and take for granted the blessings that God has given us.

I always find this happening when my children get sick. I take for granted when they are healthy and running around all crazy as I focus on their high activity level and on disciplining them…instead of being thankful for the fact they are running around and being crazy little boys!

Now don’t get me wrong…not having certain things can be very challenging…like good health, financial income, or even a roof over your head! …but if ….I am just saying “if” you don’t have those things…and “if” you never did have those things…can you still be thankful?

The book of Job is a great lesson on Thanksgiving. The Bible tells us that Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” Job 1:1 ESV

Job was a man who loved God, feared God, and behaved as God would want him to behave. And therefore, God richly blessed him. Job had vast wealth, a good family, and devoutly worshiped God. (Job 1:2-5)

If you have never read the story of Job, I highly recommend reading this book in the bible. It truly puts life and its challenges in perspective.

To briefly summarize, Satan convinced God to let him afflict Job and God agreed. So Satan afflicted Job…and Job lost his family, his wealth, his health, his friends. Everything was taken away from him! …Can you even imagine? I know I can’t!

But in this truly tragic story of Job, we find that Job still remained faithful and patient…even in times when things were very tough…even at times when he questioned God and truly didn’t understand. And what is so amazing about Job is…well check this out!

Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God. Job 1:22 NASB

Job remained faithful…and thankful…despite all the suffering and pain and tragedy he went through…and in the end God blessed him because of his actions, faith, and thankfulness!

So the LORD blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. Job 42:12a NLT

Life is about perspective. Sure it’s easy to focus on what we don’t have versus on what we do have…we all have done this…but it’s important to realize and remind ourselves that everything…EVERYTHING… we have here on this earth can be taken away.

Job understood this and continued to praise God when he said…

I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord! Job 1:21 NLT

I am quite doubtful that any of us reading this story has had it nearly as bad as Job…But through it all, my question is…Can we remain thankful?

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4 NIV

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

I love that the Thanksgiving holiday gives us a time to reflect and be thankful…but thankfulness should be a regular and daily attitude in our lives…365 days a year. Our thankfulness cannot be based upon what we have…or don’t have…because what we have can be taken away in an instant… and what we don’t have we may never receive.

And the only thing that we actually do have that can never be taken from us is our relationship with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior! No person and no thing can take away our relationship with Jesus!

Developing an attitude of daily thankfulness will also help us through life’s challenges as it brings our focus upon your Savior instead of our situation.

This is a great reminder for us to not wait for the Thanksgiving holiday to express our gratitude to God…everyday should be a day of Thanksgiving! (yea …minus the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc even though it’s so yummy!)

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! And a thank you all for supporting Sweeter Than Honey Blog!

Reflection Points:

1)      Do you find yourself focusing on what you don’t have versus what you do have?

2)      Does it take something being taken away from you to make you realize the need to be thankful more often?

3)      How can you develop an attitude of thankfulness on a daily basis…especially if you tend to focus on the things you don’t have in life?

Action Points:

1)      Don’t wait for a holiday like Thanksgiving to express your gratitude to God. Begin a habit of thanking him in your prayers each day!

2)      Developing an attitude of thankfulness will also help you though life’s challenges as it brings your focus upon Jesus your Savior instead of your situation.

 

 

Advertisements

You’re Invited!

Have you ever attended an event or a social gathering without technically being invited? Even when it may have been Invitation Only? Maybe you just went along with a friend or spouse and you thought, “No big deal… I can just blend in.”  I know I have! …and maybe it was just me but all I can say is…awkward!

After the initial awkwardness and maybe even some questioning stares upon your entrance, you finally get a little more comfortable…or maybe not… as you engage in the event. But it certainly isn’t as comfortable and warm as it is when you have actually been invited, right?

Well I am here to tell you that…you have been invited! Invited to what you may ask?…You have been invited by God to intimacy with Him. Did you know that?

God desires to be intimate with you so much that He actually invites you! And He encourages this intimacy through prayer which gives us the open door to communicate with Him. Communication is an integral part of intimacy in any relationship…even in our relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

One of my favorite scriptures found in Jeremiah is…

Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know. Jeremiah 33:3 NASB

Wow! Did you catch that? That not only is God asking you to call upon Him and that He will answer you…but that He “will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know!”

One commentary explains that the “great and mighty things are “fortified ones” meaning they are like fortified cities, that cannot easily be come at, unless the gates are opened to enter into; and designs such as are difficult of understanding, which exceed human belief, and which reason cannot comprehend and take in; and such are the great things of the Gospel. Gill’s Exposition

And another commentary states that “mighty things” are rather, secret things (literally, inaccessible.) Pulpit Commentary

When God invites us to pray to Him so that He can answer us and tell us…things that are not easy to come by…things that are difficult to understand and exceed human belief…things that are secret or inaccessible…He clearly demonstrates His desire to be intimate with us!

Don’t you share intimate, private, “secret” things with those you are very close in relationship with?

And doesn’t it make it less awkward and more comfortable knowing that God actually invites you to intimacy through prayer? …Like when you know you have been invited while walking into a social event.

In my personal experiences, I have come across many women who tell me they have a difficult time praying. And for those of us who don’t really struggle with this…we can easily take prayer for granted and think everyone is comfortable doing it.

For those who aren’t comfortable praying…Praying to God is just talking to God! You don’t need to try and impress Him…or anyone else for that matter…with eloquent and lavished words. Just talk to Him as you would a friend!

When we pray, we allow Jesus into our hearts. It isn’t our prayer that moves Him…it is Jesus who moves us to pray. He’s the one who invites us! He’s the one who knocks!

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. Revelation 3:20 NIV

And did you know that our prayers please Him?

Many times my prayers to God are for my needs, the needs of others, or to show me how I can please Him. But God receives pleasure from our wanting to communicate with Him and be with Him.

We look upon prayer as a means of getting things for ourselves; the Bible’s idea of prayer is that we may get to know God Himself. Oswald Chambers from “My Utmost for His Highest”

And what’s so cool to me is that our prayers are actually a sweet-swelling aroma to his ears! In the Bible, the Book of Revelation describes “gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.” Revelation 5:8 NIV

4The smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of God’s holy people, ascended up to God from the altar where the angel had poured them out.  Revelation 8:4 NLT

An incense burner filled with live coals was used in temple worship. Incense was poured on the coals, and the sweet smelling smoke drifted upwards, symbolizing believers’ prayers ascending to God.

The following description really paints an interesting picture of the resemblance between incense and our prayers.

That in general by incense, prayer is signified, the Scripture expressly testifieth. And there is a fourfold resemblance between them:

  1. In that it was beaten and pounded before it was used. So doth acceptable prayer proceed from a broken and contrite heart: Psalms 51:17      .
  2. It was of no use until fire was put under it, and that taken from the altar. Nor is that prayer of any virtue or efficacy which is no kindled by the fire from above, the Holy Spirit of God, which we have from our altar, Christ Jesus.
  3. It naturally ascended upwards towards heaven, as all offerings in the Hebrew are called “ascensions”, uprisings. And this is the design of prayer, to ascend unto the throne of God: “I will direct unto thee, and will look up”; that is, pray: Psalms 5:3.
  4. It yielded a sweet savour; which was one end of it in temple services, wherein there was so much burning of flesh and blood. So doth prayer yield a sweet savour unto God; a savour of rest, wherein he is well pleased. –John Owen.

Has your attitude toward prayer changed as you reflect upon God’s invitation and His desire to be intimate with you? And the fact that your prayers are a sweet smelling aroma that truly please Him?

Knowing that God is committed to answering when I call with great and mighty things…unsearchable revelations…truly fills me with awe and humility.

Understanding that I have been invited and that I don’t need to pray with eloquent words really encourages me to just talk to God…and not feel awkward.

Choosing to answer his request for intimacy with me helps me to view my prayers as an opportunity to receive from Him and to “yield a sweet savour unto God.”

Reflection Points:

1)      Do you feel intimidated or uncomfortable praying to God?

2)      Did you know that God invites you to pray to Him and desires intimacy with you?

3)      Does knowing you have been invited by God make you feel less awkward to pray to Him?

4)      Have you accepted this opportunity to intimacy with God through your prayers?

5)      Do you realize that your prayers truly please him and that they are a sweet smelling aroma to His ears?

Action Points:

1)      Realize that God wants an intimate relationship with you and that is why He invites you to pray.

2)      Understand that praying to God is just talking to Him. The more you pray the more comfortable you will be. I always suggest begin praying out loud when you are alone so you can hear yourself. The more you pray out loud the more comfortable you will be. That way if you have an opportunity to pray with someone you will feel more confident in praying with them.

3)      Praying to God pleases Him! God receives pleasure from our wanting to communicate with Him and be with Him. Your prayers are a sweet smelling aroma to His ears!

Seek Me Wholeheartedly

Recently, my 3 year old son Bryce lost a little piece for one of his toys. After he looked around and in the toy box, he came to me with his request that I find this little toy piece.

Now if you knew our family room and knew the overwhelming number of toys that have somehow, over time, engulfed and overtaken this small area, you would know that finding this little toy piece would certainly be no easy task!

Of course Bryce was very persistent because his heart was set on finding this lost toy piece. Now… please note…I didn’t say his heart was set on searching…which was the necessary action that needed to be implemented to find this lost toy piece.

No, searching takes time…his heart was set on the final outcome which was finding this piece at that very instant and having it in his possession right away. He knew what he wanted and he wanted it yesterday if you know what I mean! …and so searching was not really in his vocabulary.

Well, I was not too thrilled in taking on this task…did I mention the ridiculous amount of toys that occupied this space? …but I was determined and focused to seek and find my son’s lost toy piece.

After what seemed like…let’s just say a long time…and after listening to Bryce’s anxious  repeated requests of wanting this toy piece…because you know how kids like to repeat themselves just in case you didn’t hear them the first time! …I found the little toy piece! Yes a thank you Jesus moment!

Have you ever found yourself searching and seeking for something…but unlike the recovery of Bryce’s little toy piece…you have come up empty handed, abandoned your search, and pretty much given up?

What about when you search and seek God when you are going through a difficult circumstance?

What about when you search and seek God for answers and all you get is silence? Do you abandon your search and give up?

Can you imagine Bryce’s reaction if I searched for his little toy piece for a short time and gave up? Well, God doesn’t want us to give up…

God wants us to seek Him wholeheartedly…with all our heart! And check this out! It says that if we look for Him wholeheartedly, we will find Him!

If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. Jeremiah 29:13NLT

You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13NASB

If you notice, this scripture comes after the encouraging scripture of hope…Jeremiah 29:11…which I absolutely love!

11For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV

To give you a little more info…this scripture passage in Jeremiah is referring to God’s people who were captive in Babylon. God is showing us here that He did not forget His people and was continuing to prepare His people…with Him at the center. Although the exiles were in a difficult place and time, they need not despair! Why? …Because they had God’s presence, the privilege of prayer, and God’s grace. God can be sought and found when we seek him wholeheartedly.

What does it mean to seek God wholeheartedly? One commentary says…

“when ye shall search for me with all your heart; which, as Calvin rightly observes, does not design perfection, but integrity and sincerity; when they draw nigh with a true heart, and call upon him in truth, and search for him with eagerness, with a hearty desire to find him, as men search for gold, and silver, and hid treasure.”  Gill’s Exposition

I believe there are 3 steps in seeking God wholeheartedly.

1) Faith

2) Focus

3) Follow-Through

7Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Sometimes the seeking time is a silent time…where we may have no indication that God is really there or that he hears us. Sound familiar? But we must still believe and have faith that He is with us…because He is! …and He hears us…because He does!

For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” Hebrews 13:5b NLT

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. Jeremiah 29:12 NIV

Faith

Seeking God wholeheartedly takes faith.

It is in God’s silence that your faith is very much needed and necessary!

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 NIV

Bryce and I had confidence…assurance…faith…that what we were seeking and searching for…his lost toy piece…was somewhere in the toy mess.

And so we too must have the confidence…assurance…faith…that when we seek God that He is with us and He hears us and is found by us!

Focus

Seeking God wholeheartedly takes focus.

We can so easily be distracted if we focus on our situation instead of on our Savior. We can so easily be distracted…and overwhelmed…if we focus on the magnitude of our situation instead of the magnificence of our Master!

Bryce and I had to focus on seeking his lost toy piece…because we could have been so easily distracted by the overwhelming mess of toys we had to sift through!

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3 NIV

Follow-Through

Seeking God wholeheartedly takes follow-through.

Follow-through is Bryce and I taking action and the necessary steps to find the lost toy piece. Follow-through is us searching and seeking for the lost toy piece…not giving up!

Follow-through requires us to continue seeking God through persistent prayer and through reading His word…even when He silent…even when we don’t get answers right away…even when we don’t receive relief from our difficult circumstance…and even when we don’t necessarily see the light at the end of the tunnel!

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6 NIV

Seeking God wholeheartedly takes faith …focus…and follow-through. Don’t give up or abandon your search for God…Seek Him with all your heart… because it is in the search and it is in the seeking that God will strengthen your faith, develop your character, and do something truly amazing in you and through you!

Just as Bryce and I found his little toy piece in our persistent and wholehearted search…so too will you find God when you seek Him wholeheartedly!

Reflection Points:

1)      Have you ever found yourself searching and seeking for something and have come up empty handed, abandoned your search, and pretty much given up?

2)      What about when you search and seek God when you are going through a difficult circumstance?

3)      What about when you search and seek God for answers and all you get is silence? Do you abandon your search and give up?

Action Points:

1)      God tells us that we can find Him when we seek Him wholeheartedly. God does not want us giving up or abandoning our search…especially when He is silent. God sees you and hears you!

2)      Review the scriptures and the 3 steps in seeking God wholeheartedly…Faith, Focus, and Follow-through.  Because when we seek Him with all our heart, He can be found!

Four Ordinary Women…One Extraordinary Purpose

A number of years ago, I met an amazingly beautiful woman named Miss Lillian. I worked at a physical therapy clinic at the time and Miss Lillian would come in occasionally to exercise and walk on the treadmill.

Meeting her for the first time, I could see by her outer appearance that she had suffered through something very great. Looking into her eyes, I could see behind her pain… and beyond…to something so very special and really remarkable about her.

What I saw was her great love and passion for the Lord…You see Miss Lillian was burned very badly in a car fire. She was hit from behind by a hit and run car and her car ignited with her 2 young boys in the back seat. Her boys did not make it. Not only did she suffer 90% of her body being burned and many other internal injuries, the fact that she is even alive today is truly a miracle by the hand of God.

As our friendship grew in this time, Miss Lillian and I had many encouraging conversations with one another…more like her encouraging me… and one instance I remember her sharing with me her thoughts while she laid in the hospital bed after this horrible tragedy.

She said she couldn’t help but wonder why the Lord didn’t just take her with her children. I mean why would the Lord allow her to live and suffer physically like this…not to mention the heartbreaking pain of losing her children!

Why? Because God had an extraordinary purpose for Miss Lillian…a purpose beyond Miss Lillian…

To be a light to the lost…an encouragement to the discouraged… a prayer warrior to the hurting…always standing in the gap and crying out to the Lord on their behalf.

Yes…Miss Lillian is truly a remarkable woman. Yes…God had and still has an extraordinary purpose… a purpose that goes beyond her pain…a purpose that goes beyond her suffering…a purpose that goes beyond her questions and doubts…a purpose that goes beyond her appearance…a purpose that goes beyond herself.

Oh, how truly awesome is our God!  He never ceases to amaze me!

A God who takes ordinary people with all their flaws, failures, and pain…like Miss Lillian…and fulfills His extraordinary purposes through them.

A God who takes ordinary people with all their flaws, failures, and pain…like you and like me…and fulfills His extraordinary purposes through them.

A God who took 4 ordinary women in the Bible with all their flaws, failures, and pain and fulfilled one extraordinary purpose through them…the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Ordinary is defined in the dictionary as “of no special quality or interest; commonplace; unexceptional; plain or undistinguished; somewhat inferior or below average; mediocre.

In Matthew 1, we can see the genealogy of Jesus, which for many of us, is a chapter we might just skip…because really it’s just a long list of names!  But if we skip it or move too quickly though it, we may just miss something that I believe is so important and truly extraordinary…that there are 4 women besides Jesus’ mother Mary mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy! You might say…so what? Why is this significant?

Well, this is so significant because first of all, it is very unusual for women’s names to be found in Jewish genealogy. The Jewish blood line always dealt with the father, son, the grandson, etc. No records were kept concerning the mother. And furthermore, these four women were not even Jewish! …They were Gentiles!

To top it off…these women mentioned were not highly esteemed women…they were ordinary women who each experienced something that marred them in some way…they were ordinary women who had flaws, failures, and pain…yet the Lord chose them to be in the genealogy of His Son.

These four women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus are…

Tamar(with Judah)

Rahab (with Salmon)

Ruth (with Boaz)

Bathsheba (with David)

The ancestry of Jesus Christ which includes these four women…all Gentiles…makes it clear that God must have some definite purpose in the inclusion of their names. An examination of these four women will make that purpose apparent.

Please read the accounts of these 4 women in the Bible for greater detail as I summarize them here.

Tamar

The story of Tamar is found in Genesis 38.  Tamar married Er…one of the first born sons of Judah and his Canaanite wife Shua. Tamar’s husband Er was very wicked so God put him to death before they had any children.

Following ancient Middle Eastern custom, Er’s brother Onan was supposed to marry the now widowed Tamar and give her a son as an heir for his dead brother. But Onan refused and God put him to death too for his wickedness. Pretty crazy…I know!

This can get a bit confusing…but stay with me here! As time passed, Tamar saw that Judah’s third son was not going to marry her so what did Tamar do? She pretended to be a prostitute and had sex with Judah…her father-in-law! Yes, this would be considered incest!

Tamar becomes pregnant with twin boys, Perez and Zerah, and amazingly Perez is in the ancestral line of the Savior of our world, Jesus.

Tamar sinned and yet through her sin and moral downfall, God chose to mention her in connection with the lineage of Jesus Christ!

Rahab

The story of Rahab is found in Joshua 2. When the Israelites were about to conquer the land of Cannaan, they sent spies into Jericho, who stayed at “the house of a prostitute named Rahab.” (Joshua 2:1) We see here that Rahab was a prostitute!

The king of Jericho wanted to kill the spies, but Rahab helped them escape. When Jericho was destroyed, Rahab and her family were spared.

What is interesting here is that the Old Testament doesn’t tell us what happened to Rahab, but Matthew tells us that she was an ancestor of King David. God again chose to mention her in connection with the lineage of Jesus Christ!

Ruth

The story of Ruth is found in the Old Testament book Ruth.  Ruth was a Moabitess. To give you a little background…The Moabite religion worshiped a god called Chemosh and their religion was actually quite awful…worship rites sometimes included child sacrifice! Can you even imagine!

And furthermore, as a Moabitess, Ruth was under a curse. Deuteronomy 23:3 tells us that because of a certain sin the Moabites had committed no Moabite or any descendants “may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the 10th generation.”

Really? Then we see that in fewer than 10 generations, God anointed one of those descendants as Israel’s king…King David! Isn’t it interesting that the very woman that God’s law shut out is found in the ancestry of Jesus Christ? That God again chose to mention her in connection with the lineage of Jesus Christ?!

There is so much more to the story of Ruth that you have got to check out on your own!

Bathsheba, “The Wife of Uriah”

The story of Bathsheba is found in 2 Samuel 11. Interestingly, depending on the version, Matthew does not always mention her name Bathsheba but sometimes only as “the wife of Uriah.”

Bathsheba’s husband Uriah was out fighting battles for David, when David noticed Bathsheba bathing from the palace rooftop.  He entertained the temptation and thus committed adultery with her. Not only did Bathsheba become pregnant but then David arranged for Uriah’s death while he was in battle. Although this child died, David’s 2nd child with Bathsheba was Solomon, the next king.

Bathsheba, “the wife of Uriah” is included in the royal line from David to Jesus Christ! God again chose to mention her in connection with the lineage of Jesus Christ!

When we examine these women, we see that they all were quite ordinary and even more importantly, they all experienced something that scarred their lives, yet God in His grace chose to use them not only in the life of Israel but ultimately in the genealogy of Jesus.

Despite their pain, despite their failures, despite their insecurities, despite even their sin, God chose them…ordinary women with all their flaws and imperfections and mistakes…to accomplish one extraordinary purpose…the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ! We can truly see the hand of God overseeing their lives and overruling their liabilities.

Do you feel ordinary…or as the definition states…somewhat inferior, mediocre, unexceptional?

Do you feel that you have made too many mistakes…have too many flaws…experienced too many failures…suffered too much pain… for God to use you and fulfill His extraordinary purposes through you?

Think again my sweet friend…God uses very ordinary people to fulfill His extraordinary purposes. And yes, He will use you…just as He used these 4 ordinary women…just as He continues to use Miss Lillian…just as He continues to use me.

Reflection Points:

1)      Do you feel ordinary…or as the definition states…somewhat inferior, mediocre, unexceptional?

2)      Do you feel that you have made too many mistakes…have too many flaws…experienced too many failures…suffered too much pain… for God to use you and fulfill His extraordinary purposes through you?

Action Points:

1)      God has plan and purpose for you and your life…an extraordinary purpose…a purpose far greater than you…and beyond you. Trust Him today that despite your flaws, failures, and pain, He will use you to fulfill His purposes.

2)      Be willing to be used by God and don’t resist His plan for your life. His plans for you are “to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV