2015 Verse of the Week #39: Psalm 90:1-2

My verses this week can be heard in the song, “God is Everlasting,” track 8 on the Seeds Family Worship album The Character of God. There are a couple of ideas in the passage that I think will be very helpful to me this week! So here it is:

Psalm 90:1-2

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

First of all I want to point out that Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses. Just if you wanted to know. 🙂 After thoroughly studying the story of Moses and the Exodus last year in Bible Study Fellowship it is helpful context for me to have as I read these words. Last year I learned a lot of things about Moses I hadn’t considered before. Most notable to me is the humility God displayed in his life. It was great timing for me to study Moses while realizing I was in need of humility in order to more closely follow the Lord.

Anyway, the first idea that stands out to me is in verse 1: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place….” The thought of God as my dwelling place is nice, but what does it actually mean? Lately I have received help from the Spirit in trusting God more actively. This looks like praying a whole lot more, specifically in the midst of going over and over a worry in my mind.

As a behavior analyst I know that when trying to eliminate an unwanted behavior it doesn’t work to simply stop it, because behavior doesn’t disappear into a vacuum– we are always doing something. No, it is much more beneficial to replace the unwanted behavior with a more desirable, appropriate, or beneficial one. Lately I have been working on replacing worry with prayer. When I read Psalm 90:1 my mind goes back to the feeling I get when I interrupt a worrying thought and begin to have prayerful thoughts. There is surrender, trust, and peace. That, to me, is the Lord being my dwelling place. I’m sure there is more to that idea of dwelling, but that’s what it means to me right now.

The second idea that sticks out to me is at the end of verse 2: “…from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” The song emphasizes this phrase, which makes it comforting to listen to. I know I have heard this phrase many times over the years, but I never really thought about it as anything more than flowery, Psalm-y language. Now I’m seeing that it is so much more. It tells us about God’s nature and character. God is not God from beginning to end, but from always-has-been to always-will-be. He was not created, for he always was. He made us similar to him (made in his image), but he is not like us; he had no beginning and he will not pass away. “From everlasting to everlasting” does sound poetic, but it is also informative. I’m glad I finally paid attention to this phrase.

If I believe the Bible to be true and that God reveals his character to us through its words, if I believe the other aspects of his character that I’ve focused on in previous weeks– creator, holy, love, light, Spirit, truth, wise, faithful– then it is foolishness not to trust in him. Why would I spin my wheels in the mud of worry when I can bring my concerns to the God who existed before the world began?

I mean, I still do spin my wheels that way sometimes; I’m pretty sure it’s human nature. But I hope in time I can replace that old, ineffective behavior with the more beneficial route of prayer. And when I say prayer I also mean trust and humility- acknowledging that I need God because I don’t know the future and worrying can’t change it anyway.

I need these words this week and beyond. Dear everlasting God, please be my dwelling place.

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2015 Verse of the Week #38: 1 Corinthians 1:9

This week’s verse finds me on track 7 of Seeds Family Worship’s album The Character of God. The song is called “God is Faithful.” The song uses 1 Corinthians 1:8 and 9, but the fact that verse 8 is the end of a very long sentence and the song puts it after verse 9 was kind of driving me batty (why yes, I did major in English- how did you guess?) and left me in a pickle. Don’t get me wrong; I love the song! I’m going to focus more on verse 9, but I don’t want to overlook the ideas in verse 8 (which actually begin in verse 4). So for fun, here is the entire passage:

1 Corinthians 1:4-9

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Verses 4-8 tell us some basics. Paul is about to address some division among the Corinthians, but he gives them some encouraging reminders first. These reminders can be helpful to us, too, as we focus on the faithfulness of God.

Real quick, Paul is saying these things: God gives grace to his people through Christ, which in turn strengthens us in speech and knowledge and gives us spiritual gifts, and in all of this work God is doing in us he enables us to live a life of hope and expectation of Christ’s return. Oh, and he takes away our sins– I don’t want to forget that!

Verse 9 tells us why God does this (or one reason): he is faithful.

As I focus on this verse a couple of things stick out to me. The first one is how God shows his faithfulness, or how we know he is faithful. With Paul’s sentence structure being what it is, I find it helpful to read each of his sentences multiple times, rearranging the parts so they make sense to me. Otherwise I get a little lost, and sometimes I miss the most important ideas. I don’t think I’m alone in this! On my first reading of verse 9 I’m inclined to see “God is faithful” as the point, remember it, and skim everything else as just words as I move along to find the next point. But when I do my rereading and rearranging I find even more depth to the idea: God, who called us into the fellowship of Jesus Christ, is faithful.

God is faithful to do the work in us that Paul describes in verses 4-8: giving us grace, enriching us in speech and knowledge and spiritual gifts so that we can give testimony to who Jesus Christ is, helping us to wait in hope for the day of Christ, and sustaining us until the end when we will appear guiltless before our Lord when he comes in judgment. Whew, that is a lot!

But there’s more: God’s faithfulness is also displayed in his bringing us into the fellowship of Jesus Christ. This is huge. I often think of fellowship as being around other believers and having conversations together, maybe over coffee or food, talking about the Bible, giving encouragement, and/or praying. But I don’t think that’s the kind of fellowship Paul means here. Our fellowship with Christ is more than having some coffee and talking about our day; this kind of fellowship is a connection. This is the kind of fellowship that comes from being made children of God, and therefore co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). This is a huge, gracious gift from our God, who we know is faithful if we will look back over his history. From the Garden of Eden to the Ark, from the burning bush to the Exodus, from the entrance into the Promised Land to the judges and kings and prophets, from the life and sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, to the disciples and the spread of the Gospel, to us right now… God is faithful. We can look back and know that God will be faithful to the end. It is his nature and character.

The second thing that sticks out to me is more of where this verse causes my mind to go, which is a little outside the direct context of the verse. If God is faithful, he must be trustworthy. If he has given fellowship with Christ and is sustaining me until the end, then it must be worth my while to let him do his work. I can look back at God’s history in the Bible and see his faithfulness, but I can also look back at my own life to see it. Since God’s character is consistent, then he can be trusted. So the lesson that sticks out to me from this verse today is that I can look at the uncertainty in my life now and remember that someday I will look back at this time in my life and be able to point to what God was doing. And if that is the case, I should not worry about what may or may not happen. I will know eventually, but I can’t know right now. I only know what I know- no more.

So with the information I have, not striving for what cannot be found, will I choose to strive for what I already know is mine– fellowship with Christ Jesus my Lord? I want to. My own thoughts, plans, and worries get in the way, but when I put God’s Word into my mind and heart it helps me remember what is true and what matters most. It’s my prayer that this Word in my heart will bring me into deeper fellowship with the One who changes me and sustains me to the end, who enriches my life to give testimony to his grace and, of course, his faithfulness.

What are your thoughts on this passage and God’s faithfulness?

Bonus: I also thought of this beautiful song by Matt Redman, especially the part that says, “You are faithful/God, you are faithful.” It is already competing with “God is Faithful” for space in my brain. 😉 They’re both welcome, of course. Listen to “Never Once” here.

Annnnnnd, I found a really nice graphic to go along with my verse. Enjoy!

image from year27.com

When Everything Goes Wrong “For Some Reason”

Last week I experienced one of those confusing, harrowing times during which everything around me and within me seemed to turn on a dime and de-escalate into utter chaos. Because of the circumstances I knew I was dealing with spiritual warfare. I had people to see and things to hear and say, and “for some reason,” it became difficult to get where I needed to be. But light still prevailed over darkness– praise God! I was recounting the story to a dear friend recently who told me, “We need to be sharing these things with each other so we know we’re not alone!”

Well, this is me sharing my story so fellow Christ-followers can know they are not alone and remember to be alert. God’s Word says in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” This is real, and we need to recognize when we are being stalked as prey so we can fight back with prayer and Truth.

via battosai72 on deviantart.net

So, my story: In a sweet, caring, and creative gesture the women’s ministry team at our church  planned for their Fall kickoff event to include getting to know the pastors’ wives. Of which I am one! 🙂 It was kind of an “awe shucks” moment– a very special idea that I hadn’t heard of before! The event was also for the purpose of announcing new opportunities for women to connect and learn together. I was excited and honored to share with the ladies of our church and have some time to mingle, too. We have some amazing women at the helm of this ministry, and they were so on the ball, distributing instructions and requests to us wives over the summer. They gave us plenty of time to submit photos and fun facts, as well as consider how we might answer a few “interview” questions. Right away I felt a burden to share from deep in my heart in response to a question about what we have learned from our marriages. The question was on the back burner of my mind for a month or so, simmering away.

The afternoon/evening of the event was when the wheels fell off. My husband came home and “for some reason” everything he did irritated me. I completely lost focus as I was trying to finish writing my responses to the interview questions. I deleted a lot of it and started over. My throat, which is prone to feel scratchy and sore anyway, began getting up to its old tricks. I started to feel a tension headache and aches in my neck and back. When I looked at the recipe I had chosen for dinner that night I realized that while I had ensured I had all the ingredients, I hadn’t noticed that this recipe takes a full HOUR to cook– time I didn’t plan for and didn’t have. Mike was as sweet as could be, keeping quiet to let me gather my thoughts, assuring me that I would feel better once I got to church, and offering to make dinner once I came up with a “plan B” of grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. As I was frantically changing clothes and getting my things together I realized what was going on (although I didn’t really put the pieces together until later that night). We took a minute to pray, and then I did all I could do: “just keep swimming,” aka just get to church. Even when my darling husband accidentally used the wrong kind of cheese in my sandwich (I need to have non-dairy, especially if my throat already feels yucky) I kept my cool, ate a handful of chips, and prayed that my stomach wouldn’t grumble all evening.

Once at church, everything was great. I had already practiced a few songs with our senior pastor’s wife and we were ready to lead the women in worship. The lights, sound, and slides all worked. There was a modest crowd of women of a variety of ages, and I delighted in hearing their voices singing together in praise to God. The sharing time was blessed, as well; I enjoyed hearing stories from my fellow pastors’ wives– some familiar, and some new and surprising (such as one couple’s brush with law enforcement!). When the time came to share my response to what I have learned from my marriage I felt the Spirit leading me through my prepared words, skipping some parts and adding other ideas in. Once all the official business ended I was able to enjoy some relaxed chatting with several women and hear about their lives. It was a joyful, encouraging, affirming evening, and my stomach didn’t grumble once!

As the night was winding down and only a handful of us remained at church, talk turned to how well everything had gone, and that’s when I heard that I was not alone in my pre-event chaos. It turned out that several of us were under attack that evening, and it was good to acknowledge the victory God gave us. It was truly his hand that brought each of us there to do our part that night. I had such a strong feeling that the enemy of my soul did not want me to share what I shared, but the Redeemer of my soul helped me carry on in his perfect power. Wow!

So I want to share my thoughts from that night in case it might encourage just one more person. Maybe it’s a woman from my own church family who wanted to attend the event but couldn’t make it, or someone I know who lives far away, or a stranger. I just feel convicted to share these words, so I’m going to obey that conviction and post them.

The question: What have you learned from marriage?

My answer:

I have learned that God made me– and you– to need him most.

I think people can see that in our marriage of 10 years Mike and I have a lot of fun and like to spend a lot of time together. We enjoy many of the same things and can be patient enough with our differences to live pretty peacefully.

On a deeper level we both share a desire to become more like Christ, to be more humble, to become more committed to one another and the people around us. We both want to grow and be obedient to God.

But those things are not enough.

When it comes to head-butting (which refers to difference of opinion OR one or both of us being a butthead), we each have let the other person down at different points. For me there have been many moments of unmet expectations in my marriage, and God is teaching me that those moments are not failures on Mike’s part, but opportunities for me to surrender those expectations and trust God with my life.

Expectations are a control and trust issue, a refusal to accept anything I didn’t think of myself, but I will miss out on God’s best for me if I don’t let go. Striving to live as “one flesh” with another person has held the most opportunities to learn this lesson, and I am not done yet.

God is teaching me forgiveness and humility, patience, tolerance, and reliance upon him. He is teaching me to give up control in a variety of areas, but specifically in my marriage. (He is also showing me some areas in which I need to gain self-control, and equipping me to do that through the help of his Spirit. But for me it’s mostly about relinquishing control.) All of this points to my need of God.

We are given companions in this life, thankfully– family, friends, spouses. But these people cannot and do not save or completely fulfill us. My husband is wonderful and a great match for me. I don’t even mind that the first and unanimous feedback from my family when they met Mike was, “He’s so patient with her!” I don’t LOVE what that implied about me, but it’s true that he is patient and that I require patience. 😉 What a gift! My husband helps to make me a better person, and I hope to return the favor, but if I keep to my own thoughts and plans and put my trust in my husband making my wishes come true or living up to my expectations, I will be let down. I will miss the point of life.

If I will pour out my heart to God, surrender my expectations to him, and allow him to change my heart to be more like him, I know my temporary time on earth will contain more glimpses of my Heavenly Father than I could have imagined, and than I would ever see if I followed my own way.

My marriage is an iron sharpening iron kind of situation, and while I sometimes feel frustrated by that– that we need the sharpening at all, or that it couldn’t just be easier– ultimately it is the greatest gift. And I am not saying that marriage is the only place this gift comes from; family and friends can bring about these changes in our hearts, too. By the grace of God, our marriage shows off God’s power through our weaknesses as the Spirit helps us along on our journey closer to one another, but more importantly closer to the Lord.

There you have it. Those are the words God put on my heart to share. I pray that with every passing year I will learn more so I can share and encourage others, especially my husband.

I also pray that I will become better at recognizing when I am under attack and responding in reliance upon God. I wish I had responded better and sooner last week. I didn’t pray as soon or as much as I should have. I reacted from emotion first. I hate to admit it, but the “powers of darkness” as the Bible calls them have kept me from doing many things over the years whether it is attending events, serving, speaking up for truth, or singing.

I’m learning that when everything is going wrong “for some reason,” I need to be alert. I don’t want to live in fear of my enemy, ascribing every chipped fingernail to the devil’s schemes, but on the other hand I don’t want to be so naive as to think I am immune to attack or that these attacks are not real.

I encourage you with the truth I need in my own life: When times are good, pray that God will help you recognize your need of him so when times are hard you can respond in prayer before emotion. When you are feeling weak, reach for the help you need from God and from others (whether you ask them to pray or for something more tangible). By the same token, share the victories you experience in Christ! The enemy of our souls does not want us to share the good news of Jesus. He does not want us to live in step with God’s Spirit. He does not want us to help one another or spur others on to good works. He wants us trapped in sin, believing his lies, isolated, suspicious, and defeated. But if we believe God’s Word is true, then his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). You may start out weak like I did last Thursday, but God will make you strong. We need to share about these things!

If you’re anything like me, you will have times when you have important Kingdom things to do but you look in the mirror and see a hot mess who has no business leaving her house. Maybe you feel like everyone there has it more together than you do (they don’t) or will judge you (they probably won’t, but if they do that is sin for God to judge), or you won’t know anyone (time to make some new connections), or you don’t have anything to offer (you do), or you don’t need what is being offered there (you do). I want to encourage you, because I need the encouragement myself, to step out in faith and show the enemy that his “for some reason” tricks to derail us are no match for the victory that has already been won for us by Christ Jesus.

I would love to hear your thoughts or stories on this subject!

2015 Verse of the Week #37: Romans 11:33-36

This passage from Romans is featured in the song “God is Wise” by Seeds Family Worship on their album The Character of God. Click through and look for track 6. Here is the passage:

Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

These verses are some of my favorites! As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, learning all we can about God’s character is so important to understanding the Bible and its impact on our lives. If we are seeking God first and are dedicated to knowing him, we will become equipped to discern whatever is not of God. Of course, as I’m typing this I can clearly see the verses in italics: “For who has known the mind of the Lord…” There are many things we can know about God, many ways in which he reveals himself to us, but there are still parts of him that remain mysterious to us or are beyond our understanding. To me that is just another reminder of God’s holiness and power.

Last week was my first week as the classroom assistant at our church’s preschool in the 3- and 4-year-old class. We meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I just love that bunch of babies already. Oh, sure, I tell them they are “big kids,” but when you boil it down, their age can still be measured in months and they hardly know anything about life– most of them only learned to use the toilet this summer– so they are babies! They are precious and tiny, but also growing and learning at exponential rates. Praise the Lord. It is an amazing privilege to be a part of this time in their lives.

Anyway, the first week was devoted to learning the rules and routines of the classroom: sitting criss-cross applesauce, keeping one’s hands to oneself, staying together as a group, listening for your name to be called, what does your name even look like….. and on and on. They have a lot to learn!

And this week we start in on letters and craft projects and Bible stories. The way our teacher/director has set up the class is for her assistant to teach the Bible portion of the morning, and that’s what made this job a perfect fit for me because teaching the Bible to preschoolers is pretty much my favorite! Tomorrow I will open our little Beginner’s Bible and talk about the creation of the world with the kids. I will tell them how God didn’t need help or tools or materials to create the world, he just thought of it, spoke, and it came into existence.

And I’m so glad this passage will be fresh in my mind as I teach that lesson! I think it’s a perfect tie-in to creation because it reminds me of God’s power and majesty and, of course, wisdom. I love to look at the world around me and just revel in the details that God designed– from cloud formations and the colors of the sky down to how a butterfly “drinks” from a flower or ants communicate with one another as they go about their work.

If I believe that God created this world with such beauty and intricacy and cares about its welfare, then I have to believe that he cares for me. This is no revelation, but… the world is pretty big. And I have always found it easy to trust God with the world. I try to do my part in caring for the earth, but ultimately I trust that God knows what he’s doing and will sustain it for as long as he sees fit before sending Jesus back. If it’s so easy for me to trust my wise creator with the world, why is it so difficult for me to trust him with my life sometimes? I don’t have a neat little answer for that, but I think the tension in that question can help me as I seek to trust God more.

I think acknowledging God’s wisdom and power as creator can serve as a readily available reminder to me that God is trustworthy. God designed me and knows me, and not only that: he is with me. He is for me. He is aware of every aspect of my life, every cell in my body, every feeling I have– even the ones I can’t make sense of yet. But he doesn’t just watch, silently judging me for my shortcomings or mistakes. He sent the Son as a redeeming sacrifice and the Spirit as a constant companion and guide because he loves me and wants me to be connected to him. Christ intercedes on my behalf and the Spirit helps me to pray even when my troubles escape my understanding.

Based on what God reveals to us in his Word and through his Spirit, we can trust that in the depth of his wisdom and knowledge (beyond our understanding) there is righteousness. He is Creator. He is Love. He is Holy. He is Light. He is Spirit. He is Truth. Therefore, he is trustworthy, and it only makes sense for me to trust him with my life if I believe all those things about him. That’s what I want to work on this week. I have unanswered questions and messes that have yet to be cleaned up, but rather than turn to the anxiety my mind creates, I want to turn to the peace God offers when I trust in his wisdom.

I’m running out of time today, but aside from the Creator connection in this passage, I also want to mention verse 35: “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” This is just more evidence of God’s power, grace, and trustworthiness to me. I need to be reminded that it’s God’s world and I’m just living in it. 😉 That he doesn’t need my help, but he lets me help for my own benefit and the benefit of the Kingdom.

Being involved in helping professions through my husband’s vocational ministry, my work with preschoolers, and my work with autism as a behavior analyst, I can fall into the trap of having a too-lofty opinion of myself. This isn’t an active “I’m the best” attitude, but presents itself in a sneakier way when I feel like I am the only one who can do this job, help this person, etc. and the world will fall off its axis if I ever stop. My work, while important, is a humble and meager offering compared to God’s goodness, power, wisdom, and care for people. It is God who gave me the gifts I’m using in my work in the first place, so it only makes sense that if I ever stopped doing it… he will make sure the work gets done! I have learned this lesson in the past when I’ve had to leave different jobs or ministry responsibilities behind, but I also want to remember the lesson while I’m in the midst of the work. My prayer is that I will remember to leave my work in God’s hands even while I’m doing it.

So much for time! 😉 Thanks for reading, and please share your thoughts in the comments section if you feel led.

File Sep 14, 11 11 07 AM

2015 Verse of the Week #36: John 4:23-24

This week’s verses can be heard in the song “God is Spirit” on the Seeds Family Worship album The Character of God. Here is the passage:

John 4:23-24

23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

I’ve been enjoying Labor Day weekend, so I hope I can keep this post short in order to enjoy a little more rest before preschool and youth ministry kick off this week. I also hope I can keep it short because I chopped my hand up while slicing some carrots Sunday night. Boo! I mandolin-sliced chunks off of the edge of my hand and the tip of one of my fingers. This is all on my right hand, so writing, typing, self-care, and pretty much all routine tasks are challenging at the moment. And probably for the next several days.

Anyway, after Sunday’s church service I am ready for this passage! I was given the privilege of leading worship, and because the message was focused on the Spirit (Galatians 5) I chose songs that I prayed would tune our minds and hearts in that direction. And, as always, God came through. I got to see and hear evidence of his faithful presence in the praises of his people. By the grace of God we were worshiping together in spirit and truth: celebrating who God is, his love for us, the sacrifice of Jesus, the presence of the Spirit with the redeemed, and recognizing corporately our humble position before God’s righteousness. I love hearing the sound of hundreds of voices praising the Lord, and our congregation was really going for it! I am so encouraged by that sound and feeling.

So with that image, sound, and feeling in mind I will be meditating on John 4:23-24. These words of Jesus were spoken to the woman at the well in Samaria, and the entire story can be found in the first 45 verses of John chapter 4. It’s an amazing story! In the verses of interest, Jesus is telling the Samaritan woman that soon “true worship” of God will not be about going to the correct temple but about the heart of each worshipper. Jesus’ sacrifice as part of God’s great plan to reconcile creation to himself would– and did– change everything.

It is the same now. Worshipping God is not about going to the right church, singing the right songs, or doing a specific set of religious actions. Church services and music and religiosity are actually only a very small part of our worship. We are to serve God with our entire lives, following his Spirit and allowing him to cultivate his fruit in our hearts.

My prayer for myself this week is that God will use the powerful memory of the voices of my church family and the feeling of unity in worship to remind me to seek him in everything I do. And to remember what matters most to him: the heart of the worshipper… my heart. All I need to do is surrender it to him and he will work, as he always does.

I’m also praying for my slices to heal. 🙂

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