Will you accept my challenge this year?

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I have been feeling a need to do this, so here it is:

I am issuing a challenge to each and every one of you – EVERYONE that reads this blog!

The challenge is this:

Read through your Bible in one year with us!

Now, if you have done it before, GREAT!  Do it again!  And if you haven’t, PERFECT!  Do it now!

Here’s how it will work:

I will post a reading schedule at the beginning of each week.  It will list the daily readings for the week, and be the catalyst for comments during the week on the readings we are doing.  I plan to have some free goodies for those of you who participate (by participate, I mean, leave at least one comment per week on that week’s readings!).  And, there is a distinct possibility of having a drawing mid-way through and at the end of the year….if not quarterly!

So, join with us today….we begin on January 1st!

Leave a comment on this posting if you will be taking up the challenge to Sharpen Your Sword all year long!

Preparing for Battle,

Toni

Love letters

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Imagine this scenario:

You pick up your mail, like usual. As you sift through the endless amount of bills, credit card offers, sales flyers and more junk mail, you see a long white envelope with an actual stamp on it. You pull it from the stack and realize it is a letter from a dear friend you haven’t heard from in years! You pull into the driveway and read the letter before you even put the car in park!

Or, how about this one:

Ladies, you’re being courted (or dating as is said now, though the two are not interchangeable), and your betrothed presents you with a handwritten letter. The letter tells you about the way his life was before you met. It tells you about how great of a love he has for you and talks of future plans and dreams. And deep within, in the middle of the letter, is a wonderful surprise – a marriage proposal. This is definitely a letter you will read again just before you walk down the aisle. In short, it is a letter you will read over and over again, breathing in each and every word as if your very life depended on it.

Try this one:

You receive a poetic love letter from your spouse. The letter is very long, and handwritten, with all types of prose. It begins with the story of your lives together. It tells of the good times, and the bad. There are pages that talk of nothing but hardship, and other pages that are full of blessed memories. There are poems and beautiful language. You read this letter everyday, especially since your spouse is now deceased. You treasure every single word, and you can almost say the entire thing by heart. It is, by far, your most valued possession.

Now, imagine this one:

Imagine getting any of those letters, and only taking it out once a week to read one or two sentences. Imagine only reading the parts that are happy, and not ever bothering with the parts that are hard to understand.

Instead of reading it all, you pick out little bits of information here and there, but you miss the big picture since you never read the whole thing. But, after all, you don’t have time to sit and read the whole thing. Dishes must be washed, laundry folded, errands run, and emails to check. So you miss out on the wonderful words and sweet poetry your friend or loved one put together, specifically for you.

Are you wondering where I’m going with this? It’s been said that the Bible is God’s love letter to us. And it struck me tonight that if it is indeed a love letter – or a letter at all – we have ignored it unopened on the desk corner for far too long. Unlike the long-lost friend’s letter, or the letter from our beloved husband or wife, we open it and read only a verse or two once a week. And we wonder in the meantime why there are days when we just don’t understand what’s going on. There are days when nothing makes sense, and when we ask God to explain it, we wonder why He doesn’t speak to us.

The truth is, He does speak to us still, and has given us something that the early church would have gladly died for – a book that contains His words and thoughts. We have in our hands something of such great value that people die for it everyday. And we leave ours all too often on a shelf or coffee table to gather dust.

Why don’t we give our Bible the same attention and care we give those love letters? After reading those love letters, we can quote so much of it word-for-word, and yet we have a hard time remembering much more than a few scriptures, and then may only know the jist of it. Knowing its address (the book: chapter and verse) is another thing.

So my challenge is this: treat your Bible and the word of God as 1000 times more important than any other love letter you could ever receive. Read it every single day. Read it all the way through (not all at once, of course!) – and then do it again. Carry it with you when you travel. When you feel worried, scared, happy, sad, or blessed, read it. Memorize it – hide its words in your heart.

Do that, and its guaranteed, when the hard times come, you’ll have a direct line to God – His written word. And you’ll have a much easier time of knowing how to handle everything that comes your way.

Spend time in His word today – and be blessed.

When you look back

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It’s not plagiarism if I give credit:

Last night at Bible study, a wonderful lady in our class said this:

“I can’t see what God is doing while He’s doing it.  It’s when I look back that I can see what He did.”

How true that is.  How often do we pray and pray, thinking that nothing is happening, when all of a sudden it becomes apparent that God has indeed been very busy?

There are so many times that I get myself all worked up over something, something that may not have even happened yet, and when I look back, I can see that God was there all along.

Or what about the times when you are really struggling?  You know, the storms of life when every ounce of faith you have is being tested and tried and stretched.  Personally, its often just after one of those times that I can look back, and see beyond the shadow of a doubt, what God was doing.

And He always does it bigger and better, and more thoroughly  than I could have imagined.  And often, its at the end of those storms when I learn the greatest lessons.  The ones that bring me closer to my Savior than ever before.

The truth is, we humans need a rest – once every 24 hours.  God, however, doesn’t sleep.  In our finite minds we cannot really comprehend that fact.  He never stops working;  He never forwards incoming prayers to an answering service.  His office hours are Beginning – End, Eternity – Eternity.  No holidays, no vacations, and certainly no retirement! 

So, whatever storm you’re passing through – whether its a little sprinkle or a downpour, remember to keep looking up.  Even if you can’t see Him, He’s there and He’s working.  And when the storm is over, the clouds part and the sun is shining again, you’ll be able to look back at where you’ve been, and see the wonderful things He has done.

Sharpen Your Sword (wk of 12/7/08)

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My mother said something last night I thought was awesome.  And, of course, I personally think my mom is a very wise, intelligent, brilliant, wonderful person (especially since I am just like her…ha ha ha!).  But, seriously, she made a statement in a conversation we were having that was very profound, yet very simple:

“The closer you get to God, the bigger your sins appear.”

Isn’t that true?  I know it is for me.  Recently, I have been reading and rereading Psalm 51 – a prayer for remission of sins.  If you’ve never read it, I encourage you to do so, prayerfully, as it is a Psalm that will allow God to reveal hidden sins in your life, and remind you that ALL sin is against Him.

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to they lovingkindness:  according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I acknowledge my transgressions:  and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in they sight:  that thous mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts:  and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean:  wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God;  and renew a right spirit within me.

11 Cast me not away from they presence;  and take not thy holy spirit from me.

12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation;  and uphold me with thy free spirit.

13  Then will I teach transgressors thy ways;  and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

14  Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation:  and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

15 O Lord, open thou my lips;  and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

16 For thou desirest not sacrifice:  else I would give it:  thou delightest not in burnt offering.

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit:  and broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

18 Do good in thine good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering:  then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

 

Awesome words from an awesome God….

Tell us about your devotion times

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In an effort to jump-start devotions for those who haven’t yet begun them, or to reignite the fire for others, I’d like to talk about devotions.

Of course, I mean:  devotion times, quiet times, Bible reading, morning devotions, etc.

Would you be willing to share some of what you do?

Do you get up early or have your devotions late? 

Is it the first thing you do, or do you fix your coffee, etc., first?

How do you choose where you read in your Bible? 

Do you use a prepared study for this time, or is your time strictly Spirit-led?

Do you sing hymns, take walks, light candles, etc.?

Do you have a set length of time for your devotion or end when you feel God is “done for the moment?”

Do you take notes, and if so, do you do this by subject, or book?

How much of your quiet time do you devote to prayer, and what part of that prayer is speaking vs. listening?

Do you have additional family devotions?  If so, apply the above questions to those also, if you will.

If there is anything else you’d like to add, feel free!  Looking forward to yet another discussion!

The Wicker Basket

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I received this in an email and wanted to share it…timeless.

The story is told of an old man who lived on a farm in the mountains of eastern Kentucky with his young grandson.  Each morning, Grandpa was up early sitting at the kitchen table reading from his old worn-out Bible.  His grandson, who wanted to be just like him, tried to imitate him in anyway he could.

One day, the grandson asked, “Papa, I try to read the Bible just like you but I don’t understand it, and what I do understand, I forget as soon as I close the book.  What good does reading the Bible do?”

The Grandfather quietly turned from putting coal in the stove in the stove and said, “Take this old wicker coal basket down to the river and bring back a basket of water.”

The boy did as he was told, even though all the water leaked out before he could get back to the house.  The grandfather laughed and said, “You will have to move faster next time,” and send him back to the river with the basket to try again.

This time the boy ran faster, but again the old wicker basket was empty before he returned home.  Out of breath, he told his grandfather that it was “impossible to carry water in a basket,” and he went to get a bucket instead.

The old man said, “I don’t want a bucket of water, I want a basket of water.  You can do this.  You’re just not trying hard enough,” and he went out the door to watch the boy try again.

At this point, the boy knew it was impossible, but he wanted to show his grandfather that even if he ran as fast as he could, the water would leak out before he got far at all.  The boy scooped the water and ran hard, but when he reached his grandfather, the basket was again empty.

Out of breath, he said, “See Papa, it’s useless!”

“So you think it is useless?” The old man said, “Look at the basket.”

The boy looked at the basket and realized for the first time that the basket looked different.  Instead of a dirty old wicker coal basket, it was clean.

“Son, that’s what happens when you read the Bible.  You might not understand or remember everything, but when you read it, it will change you from the inside out.”

The Lord said in Isaiah 55:11

So shall my Word be that goeth forth out of My mouth:  it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

I know many people, and I have been there myself, who struggle with reading their Bibles daily because they “just don’t get it.”  I am a firm believer in the KJV only approach (with much to back up my opinion), and therefore, some of the writing is a little more difficult to understand.  What’s more, sometimes the Word itself is challenging.  I think God is very VERY clear in His Word about everything, but I think our understanding requires obedience and a sincere desire to understand, thereby showing our love for Jesus.

About four and a half years ago, the person I charge with being my spiritual mentor (you know who you are JG!) gave me this sage advice:  “Pray and ask God to show you what He wants you to understand before you even open the Bible.”  Ask God to bless your reading at that time so that your spiritual eyes may be opened, paving the way for God to give you the understanding of whatever passage you are reading.

Sometimes, it takes reading, and rereading, and rereading again, before you “get it.”  Other times, it happens instantly.  But, one truth remains:  God can’t speak to you and show you His thoughts if you don’t read His word.  He speaks to us first through His written Word, and if we refuse to stay away from it – even out of fear of not understanding – we are shutting down a supply of blessings that would span our entire lifetime. 

New Year’s is coming up, and with it, New Year’s Resolutions.  Now, while I won’t make a “resolution,” I will have goals for the upcoming year.  How about you?  Will you make it a goal for the new year to read your Bible daily, and spend some time each morning with your Savior?  You will be blessed.  And that’s a promise from the King.

Written in Anger…

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I just finished listening to Adventures in Odyssey with my two girls. We listen every night, and it is a time that our whole family looks forward to. We watch the clock, and just before 6:30pm every weeknight, we turn on the radio (if it happens to be off!) and tune in to the show.

Odyssey is a radio program geared to kids, yet has lessons for all ages. Tonight’s episode was no different.

It was about a little girl and her family struggling to make friends, find jobs, and discover happiness in the Christmas season. The little girl’s father was in prison, and her mother was barely, if that, able to make ends meet. Connie, Whit, and Tom Riley pitched in using the Angel Tree and presented the family with gifts for each, plus something special from their father. Their father had been studying in Tom’s Bible Study group at the prison, and had become a believer. He wrote a stirring, heart-wrenching letter to his wife and children asking their forgiveness, and I must admit, I was in tears at the end of this “kids’ show.”

Now, I’m not writing about Adventures in Odyssey to offer a plug for the show (although, if you haven’t, I HIGHLY recommend you check it out), but rather to use as an introduction to this post. It deals with Christian generosity.

Bear with me for a minute or two, as it will seem as though I am getting off topic – I promise to come full circle.

How much money should a church keep? Enough to create a “cushion” for use in rough times? Or just enough to cover necessary expenses, then trust God to provide when rough times hit? Should there be 20 different funds within the church’s account to use for different things? Or should the money be available to use for those in need without concern over which fund it comes from? (And I’m not suggesting spending frivolously, either.) 

Now, I am ALL for budgets! I think if the companies we are spending billions on were running on a budget like mine (thanks, Lois!), we wouldn’t be spending billions…but that’s another topic. I think that churches should have a budget – something that tells what their monthly and yearly expenses are, and should plan accordingly. But, and here’s where most of your comments will come, I’m sure, I think the money received over and above that should be used to care for the needy in the church and in the community. I think the church’s job is ministry, and that if we sit on hundreds or thousands of dollars in the name of “creating a cushion” that we can’t do that.  I think that when a church is sitting on a “cushion” of thousands of dollars and a single mom calls asking for help with her electric bill, the answer should be a resounding, “YES!”  The answer should NOT be, “Well, I think we only have $50 in that fund.”

Now, what do I mean by caring for the needy? I mean, when there is a widow in need, we provide food, or pay her bills for a month, or help get her to a doctor appointment, buy her medication, help repair her car, help with medical bills, etc. For the children, we provide them with clothes, a Christmas or birthday gift, RELATIONSHIPS, school supplies, needed medical/dental work, etc. We take the man of the house on a job search and help him find and purchase a bicycle or car, if feasible, to get back and forth to that job. We make a monthly habit (or more) of holding a church soup kitchen – providing food, warmth, and a friendly face to the homeless and downtrodden of society.  (Remember, there but for the grace of God, go I.)

Guess what? In every one of these instances, we have the chance to show the love of Christ and present the gospel to them! Jesus said in Matthew 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. The least of these!!  And instead, we have become the church that turns its nose up when a beggar walks into our pristine chapel.

So, why then is it so hard for some people, who call themselves Christians, to give the money that is in God’s house anyway? Why is it so hard for us to give of our time, our services, ourselves? Aren’t we supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves? Do we despise ourselves so much that we would ask others to treat us as we do them? And, why on earth, when we behave so badly, do we wonder why so many claim they stay away from church, and many times Christianity completely, because the church is full of hypocrites? Are they really so wrong? All too often the answer is no. They’re entirely too right.

I apologize for sounding so angry….no, actually, I don’t apologize.  I’m not sorry for being angry, and I think its justified in this case. It makes me furious (not to mention shamed and embarrassed) when we preach generosity and love to all, then refuse to back it up with action and actual giving of our time, resources, and ourselves.

I’m going to close this post with this: I am not advocating that churches (or individuals) refuse responsibility for their financial obligations. But churches are not there to make a profit or have the biggest plasma TV money can buy or brand new hymnals because the ones we have are a little old and have yellowing pages. Make improvements where needed, keeping in mind that God has not blessed churches with that money to be able to buy a gold-plated collection plate to collect more money to hoard. And I think that if there is a choice between helping someone in need and buying new pew cushions, the choice should be obvious.

Still seething yet trying to give it up to God,

Toni