Trust God…and Hold On! By Mary Southerland

Trust God … and Hold On! Mary Southerland

Today’s Truth

Lord, you are my strength and my protection, my safe place in times of trouble (Jeremiah 16:19, NIV).

Friend to Friend

I enjoy movies that have a happy ending. My family constantly teases me about my surreal perspective of movie entertainment, but honestly, life holds enough reality. Why would I want to pay good money to see even more reality made bigger and more frightening on a gigantic movie screen?

When the movie, “The Perfect Storm” was first released, the previews suggested it had a happy ending. I should have known better. But we love the water. Seriously, how bad could it be?

We bought tickets, popcorn, and drinks, found the best seats in the theatre, and prepared to be entertained. Wrong!

Every scene showed tiny boats caught in the grip of frightening waves and fierce winds. I kept waiting for the storm to die down so everyone could go home with a boat full of fish to their anxious families who were confidently waiting for them on dry land.

Crash! Another monstrous wave belted the boat and crew. By the end of the movie, I never wanted to set foot on a boat again. I was exhausted from trying to get everyone home where they would live happily ever after. I was tempted to demand a refund because of false advertising. Believe me, there was definitely no happy ending, but I did come away with a new fascination and deep respect for the sea.

I have a friend who loves to sail. When I asked him if he had ever been caught in a bad storm, he responded, “Many times!” I shook my head in disbelief, concluding that he was obviously a glutton for punishment. Of course, I had to ask, “Then why on earth do you keep sailing?” His answer was profound. “Mary, every sailor knows they will face storms. You just learn what to do when the storm hits. In a severe storm, there is only one thing to do and only one way to survive. You have to put the ship in a certain position – and keep her there.”

The same is true in our lives. When the fierce storms of life overwhelm us, there is only one thing to do if we want to survive. We must position ourselves in the right place – in the hands of God – and He will keep us there until the storm has passed. The comfort of God is faithful and strong – even during the fiercest storms of life.

The words of the psalmist are filled with confidence and hope when he writes, “He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed” (Psalm 107:29). We really can trust God to bring peace and to reduce the worst storm to a mere whisper.

Here’s the deal. The faithful provision and sustaining comfort of God at work in our life depends on the character and heart of God and on our willingness to trust Him.

I love my children with all of my heart. Naturally, there are times when they make me very angry. They make wrong choices and sometimes even disappoint me. But if they are hurt, sick, or in trouble, you can bet I will be there! The anger, disappointment, and even disobedience are overruled by my love for them. I have a driving need to comfort them. If my imperfect heart responds to my imperfect children that way, think about how the perfect heart of our heavenly Father responds to us.

Richard Fuller writes: “This, Christian, is what you must do. Sometimes, like Paul, you can see neither sun nor stars, and no small tempest lies on you. Reason cannot help you. Past experiences give you no light. Only a single course is left. You must stay upon the Lord; and come what may — winds, waves, cross seas, thunder, lightening, frowning rocks, roaring breakers — no matter what, you must lash yourself to the helm and hold fast to your confidence in God’s faithfulness and his everlasting love in Christ Jesus.”

We can face every storm with confidence, knowing that God will redeem it for good. We can trust few things in this life, but God’s faithfulness is one of them. When the hard times come, and the storms roll in, trust God, and hold on. He is with you.

Let’s Pray

Father, I am blown away by Your faithfulness in my life! Forgive me when I let fear and doubt take over my heart and mind instead of choosing to trust You. Give me eyes to see the treasure buried at the heart of every storm, and help me choose to trust You – even when I don’t understand what You are doing! Teach me, Lord. Let my life be an illustration of Your strength perfected in my weakness.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

What Is Generosity & Why Does No One Get It????

Generosity

What is generosity? What exactly is it you might ask? Well the dictionary defines it as “readiness or liberality in giving” or “freedom from meanness or smallness of mind or character”. One might expect the first part of the definition, being ready to give and taking the liberty to do so. The second part of the definition might have come as more of a surprise to people. While the first part clearly is a choice, an act you take on, the second part really describes what it means to actually be generous and it uses the word “freedom”. Now that’s an interesting word to me because when you are free from something you are no longer bound to it so in other words; being generous is really at it’s core taking on the choice of goodness because you are not bound to a state of being mean spirited. That might have been the most in-depth breakdown of the word so if I was a parent teaching my child what generosity really is I would say plain and simple: generosity is an expression of love. When you give from your heart out of pure love that’s generosity and that’s what God represents. God is hands down the most generous being to date. Yes I understand this is my personal opinion and that the answer you get when asking this question depends on who you talk to but let me explain why I believe this.

First off God is a generous and loving God. I know I just briefly mentioned the generosity part but I will get into how God not only teaches and speaks of generosity but his actions speak for themselves as an example for us to follow. All throughout scripture it speaks words of generosity that come from God. Anywhere from God’s laws that he gives people straight through to God’s own personal gifts and actions as I’ve mentioned. Some might say laws, how is that generous? Sounds like someone just trying to be bossy and tell us what to do. Well yes, God tells us what to do for good reason, because he knows we need direction and a moral compass to follow. An example of one of God’s laws is this: Lv 19:9,10 “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God”. Now that right there is an example that not only does God want us to prosper yes, but also he wants us to be righteous and generous with the fruit of our labor in which he provided us. He mentions not cleaning out house on the crops and to leave some available for the poor and foreigners who don’t have much. God takes care of our needs and that’s not limited to the rich or privileged that includes everyone no matter who you are because God loves all his children. God provides us with everything and that in itself is generosity. Everything you see in nature and what this world is made of is indeed not only a creation of God but it’s a creation from him to us. He provides for us in all the ways that we need because he knows what we need better than we know what we need. An example of how God provided for us in this world is in Ps 65:9-11, “You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows and level it’s ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.” That verse from Psalms explains how the very way we survive with water and food to the way we are able to grow crops and feed ourselves is truly a gift from God. God created this earth and created it with us in mind to take care of our needs and help us survive and that’s generosity just on a basic needs level. God gives us the tools to survive.

I first explained how God’s laws teach us about how we should be generous and then how he on just even a basic survival level is generous and vital to our very existence. He teaches us by example. Yes he tells us to provide for others, when in reality he provides for us as I just mentioned in the last two examples. In a way it’s a domino effect. He provides for us and gives and he wants us to provide for others and give as well. He wants us to follow his example. Again I tend to get a little too detailed so if I were teaching my child again about generosity and provided and example, I might say plain and simple: sharing is caring! If you really think about it and the first example from Lv 19:9,10, that’s in child’s terms what it means! God wants us to share in all that we have and not be selfish. Just the same, God himself shared with us his creation of this earth and the fruit of his labor, such as the grains and water I mentioned in Ps 65 so bottom line live by example of God!

Okay so I’m going to touch upon generosity in the character of God and Jesus Christ his son. Jesus Christ, God’s only son is probably the best example of generosity that God could show us in his image. The very essence and being of who Jesus is, is generosity. When you look up the word “Generous” in the dictionary, it should just be a picture of Jesus. Let me explain why. Every single thing that Jesus did was to serve others. His very reason on this earth was for us, God’s children. It is written, Co 8:9 “You know the grace that has come to us through our Lord Jesus the Anointed. He set aside His infinite riches and was born into the lowest circumstance so that you may gain great riches through his humble poverty” Oh man! Jesus chose to come as a servant for the people. He was a people’s king. He didn’t come bearing gold and jewels; he came as a humble servant for us. He lowered his very self to get on our level to help us. Now I could name numerous examples from the bible where it is written about the miracles he did, miracles of pure generosity. Jesus healed people of Leprosy, blindness, physical ailments of cripples, demon possession, womanly bleeding, and so much more. Jesus demonstrates generosity on not only a physical and survival level but on a spiritual and eternal level. He came for sinners. He physically healed the sick, would associate with sinners and criminals, and genuinely cared for them. He was humble. He didn’t act like he was above anyone else; he would go where others claimed would be unclean or unholy. He would go against the grain and set an example of what it’s truly like to be generous. He showed unity not separation. He came to heal people and give them eternal life. That’s generosity. I could go all day about Jesus’s generosity but let me close this out with probably the most concrete example of generosity that I can come up with that’s from the bible. It’s probably the most famous verse too. Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” Whoa, what! I mean God sacrificed his son for us. He sent him here to earth to offer us eternal life and had a separation from Jesus (which must have been extremely painful on an emotional level) for him to die, defeat death and give us eternal life. If that’s not generosity then I don’t know what is! God and Jesus sacrificed it all for us. Jesus died for us! Not to mention he was completely innocent. He sacrificed himself for sinners, people who have gone against God in order to give them another chance at redemption, another chance to be with God for all eternity. That’s hands down thee most generous thing. Bottom line God is generosity. He created, he is it and he wants us to use it, become it, show it, and share it. Generosity is God and to be generous is to be like Jesus.

Value Is in the Eye of the Beholder by Tracie Miles

OCTOBER 10, 2014

Value Is in the Eye of the Beholder TRACIE MILES

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7 (NIV)

All they saw was a piece of useless junk. But I saw a precious treasure.

Years ago on a cold winter morning, my young children and I were sitting around the kitchen table chatting about the gifts they wanted for Christmas. When my daughter expressed a desire for a new baby doll, memories from long ago came to mind.

I remembered running excitedly down the stairs on Christmas morning to see my new doll sitting in front of the tree. She had big chocolate brown eyes, silky hair and a long ponytail that cascaded down her little pink ruffled dress. But her greatest feature was the cord in her back. When pulled, it wound all the strands of hair back into her head, transforming her long locks into a short bob.

As I shared how beautiful and special this doll was to me, Kaitlyn said, “Awww. I wish we could have seen her.” My eyes lit up with excitement as I shared with them that I still had her! I scurried to the closet, dug out the box and held up the doll with pride, thrilled to share a piece of my childhood with my children.

After a few seconds of awkward silence, Morgan spoke up with child-like honesty: “Mom, she is ugly!”

Then Kaitlyn said sheepishly, “Yeah Mommy. She kind of looks scary.” Little Michael was too stunned for words.

We all shared a laugh, but as I gently tucked my doll back into her box, I caught a glimpse of what they really saw.

They saw an outdated toy covered in scuffmarks with missing eyelashes and oversized bulging eyes. They saw tangled, fuzzy red hair that had been pressed against the side of a box for 30 years and a faded dress that was stained and ripped.

Yet because she was valuable to me, I saw beyond her imperfections. My love alone gave her value, and no one else’s opinions would change that.

As I stood in the aftermath of my kids shunning my doll, my thoughts wandered back to the years I spent questioning my own value — years wondering if the sins of my past or the failures of my present had stolen my value in God’s eyes. Years not realizing how precious I was to Jesus.

Apparently the disciples wondered about these things, too.

In Luke Chapter 12, Jesus knew He and His disciples would soon be judged and persecuted. To calm their fears, He offered encouragement of their worth with the story about sparrows.

In biblical times, sparrows had little value, other than being cheap food for the poor.

Jesus shared with His disciples how God loved the little sparrows, even though they were worthless in the eyes of the world. He assured them God’s love for them was immeasurably more.

Jesus wanted them to understand He saw beyond their imperfections, sins and fears, and beheld them as valuable, no matter what anyone else thought. He loved them simply because they were His. He alone gave them great value.

Like the disciples, Jesus values each of us, no matter what. Nothing we have ever done or endured has lessened our value in Christ.

You see, real value is in the eye of the beholder, and Christ is the Beholder of us all. Our value not only makes us precious to God, but it also makes us usable for amazing purposes in His kingdom that we would have never imagined.

Might you see yourself through His eyes today and embrace who you are because of Whose you are?

Lord, I struggle with low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness due to the hardships I have endured and the mistakes I’ve made. Help me see myself through Your eyes and accept how valuable I am in You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY: Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (NIV)

Just Call Me Pauline By Mary Southerland

Just Call Me Pauline Mary Southerland

Today’s Truth

I waited patiently for the LORD; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand (Psalm 40:1-2, NIV).

Friend to Friend

I hate depression. It is an all-too-familiar foe in my life. I know. I am a grounded Christian and have walked with God for many years. I am a pastor’s wife … a Christian author and speaker. According to many people, I shouldn’t struggle with depression, but I do. It keeps me on my face before God. It keeps me broken and desperate for Him.

Thousands – seriously – thousands of people have prayed for me to be delivered and set free from this battle.

I continually search my heart, mind, and soul for some un-confessed sin.

I have sifted through my past and dealt with every painful memory God has brought to mind.

I have tried dozens of nutritional “cures.”

Exercise? Do it. It helps … but the darkness never quite goes away.

I have had two sleep studies, been given a light box, taken I don’t know how many different anti-depressants, and seen countless psychiatrists and counselors, searching for an answer. They don’t seem to have one that I like – you know, the one that takes away the darkness altogether.

I have come to the conclusion that my real name is Pauline.

No, I am nowhere close to the faith level of the apostle Paul, but we do have one thing in common. A pit. I’m not sure what Paul’s personal pit was. It doesn’t matter. When Paul begged God to take away his pain, the answer was a resounding “no.” God then proceeded to use Paul in amazing ways – because of and through the broken places in Paul’s life.

I want to be like Paul. I want to be okay with just being okay some days. It’s funny. On those days when I want to give up … I invariably receive an email, a phone call, a Facebook message, or a text telling me how God has used something I wrote or taught to change a life. I am just flat out amazed to think God can use me in such a way! That’s when I truly thank Him for the pit, knowing that He is working through my brokenness to encourage other broken people.

We are all broken in some way. We all have pits.

A pit is slimy. It is impossible to get a grip on anything because of the slime. You can’t climb out. I tried. But I kept sliding back down to the bottom. Evidently, God thought I needed to learn how to sit, be still, and know that He really is God.

And the bottom of my pit was just lovely – covered in mud. As I dredged through that mud, I came to a startling realization. I was a pig. I evidently loved wallowing in the mud of my messy past. I discovered that I had spent a lot of years burying a lot of junk in that mud.

Emotional junk that was just too painful to face.

Physical junk that I simply didn’t have the strength to master.

Mental junk that forged faulty thought patterns and nasty habits in my life.

Spiritual junk I desperately tried to hide as I attempted to find my worth in performance, human approval and effort.

I wish I had known then what I know now – that God loves me simply because He is love and He just can’t help Himself. I wish I had known that nothing I do or don’t do will ever change His love for me, and that no one – absolutely no one can take my place in His heart.

But it took the pit of clinical depression for me to learn those truths.

So today, I embrace the pain. I celebrate the fact that even in the darkness, I know He is there. God is with me. He is faithful. Jesus loves me, and He is for me.

Yes, the pit of depression is never far away and keeps me on my face before God. And that is a good thing.

Anything or anyone that makes me desperate for God can be counted as a blessing. Honestly, I hate that truth – but I also love it. God has used it to make my life a living illustration of the wonderful horrible certainty that His power shines best through the broken places. He is drawn to broken people. Broken people are why He came.

Did you know that my given name, Mary, literally means: “bitter, but when broken, sweet?” I guess I will keep it. After all, it is the perfect picture of who I really am.

Let’s Pray

Father, thank You that You are my strength and my joy. I turn to You in faith and seek Your forgiveness for the pride that blinds me to the hope I find in You. Please help me see Your hand at work in my life, and even when I can’t, give me the power to walk by faith and not by sight. Right now, I lay the broken pieces of my life at Your feet and am counting on You to come through for me.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Now It’s Your Turn

Read and memorize Psalm 40:1-3.

Record these verses in your journal.

When the darkness comes, remember each promise and count on God’s grace

Investing Time By Mary Southerland

Investing Time

Mary Southerland

Today’s Truth

Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom (Psalm 90:12, NLT).

Friend to Friend

I once read an African proverb, “Lord Jesus, make my heart sit down.” The first time I read those words, I immediately thought of my husband who often says, “Honey, it really is okay for you to sit down and rest.” I tend to work myself into what my mama called a “tizzy.”

I have back problems … but sometimes pride myself on how much pain I can handle … instead of doing what I need to do. Rest.

I struggle with clinical depression every single day … but have been known to ignore the warning signs that it is time for me to stop, be still, and rest.

I have to admit that I struggle with the idea of rest. For years, I measured my worth by how much I did and how well I did those things. Then I crashed and burned. God simply shut the door, turned out the light, and said, “Enough!” For two years, I sat at the bottom of a deep dark pit of clinical depression. I learned many important lessons during that time, and discovered countless valuable truths – one of which was my innate need for solitude and rest.

Solitude is deliberately and diligently setting aside time to “sit down” at the feet of Jesus. It is in those still, quiet moments of solitude at His feet that we can more clearly hear God speak. There we find strength and direction for the journey ahead. I also learned that in order to practice solitude, I needed a new perspective on time. In short, I needed to learn how to budget my time and invest it wisely – instead of carelessly spending it.

We are all responsible for how we spend the time God has given us. Time is a precious gift. Every morning we are credited with 86,400 seconds. No balance is carried into the next day, and every night erases what we fail to use. If we use it in the wrong way, that time is lost forever and cannot be reclaimed. Un-budgeted time gravitates to our weaknesses, is stolen by others, or wasted on the unimportant. We must budget time, just as Jesus did.

Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:52, NIV).

At the age of 12, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem with His parents for the annual Passover Celebration. When His parents began the long trip home, they did not miss their son. When they realized Jesus was not with them, they assumed He was traveling with friends. He wasn’t. Jesus was teaching in the temple. My first reaction would probably have been pride in the fact that religious scholars and teachers were actually listening to my young son. I would most likely have encouraged Jesus to continue, basking in the looming recognition and acclaim. Instead, Jesus returned home where – for 18 to 20 years – He simply grew and matured mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially. Then He began His ministry, the most powerful ministry ever known. In other words, Jesus Christ budgeted His time wisely, resulting in a balanced life of fulfilled purpose. We can live the same kind of life – if our priorities are right.

We need to set priorities and make sure they line up with God’s plan and purpose for our lives. Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us that “there is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven.” If we don’t set life priorities, other people will.

We need to schedule priorities – setting aside chunks of time for the important things in life. Ecclesiastes 8:5-6 warns, “For a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight.” Solitude – time alone with God does not just happen. We have to make it happen.

We must also stick to our priorities. The apostle Paul teaches us to “make the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:16). Every challenge will either wreck our priorities or affirm them. Right priorities stand firm in the face of change.

One day, we will all stand before the Father and give an account of how we invested our time. Today, examine your time management habits in light of eternity. Initiate schedule changes that honor God. Make a new commitment to invest your time wisely.

Let’s Pray

Father, I recognize my need for time alone with You. I lay down my schedule, my agenda, and anything else in my life that would keep me from that time. Please forgive me for the way I often squander away the minutes, hours, and days of my life. Give me the power to invest time wisely.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough By Renee Swope

OCTOBER 1, 2014

When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough RENEE SWOPE

“Keep your mind clear, and be alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion as he looks for someone to devour. Be firm in the faith and resist him …” 1 Peter 5:8-9 (GW)

Have you ever gotten that awful pit-in-your-stomach feeling after finding out you let someone down? It felt like the wind had been knocked out of me as I read through an email from a client, sent to my manager and forwarded to me, describing how I had let some details fall through the cracks on a project.

A horrible sense of discouragement and embarrassment moved in for the kill.

In the past, I would have welcomed my uninvited critical thoughts to stay a while, resigned to the fact that I must be unable to do anything right!

But not this time; too many hurtful experiences had taught me to recognize failure as an opportune time for my opponent, the devil, to devour me with feelings of inadequacy and shame. This enemy is bent on making me believe that when my best isn’t good enough, I’m not good enough.

Fortunately, times of pain have also included hours of poring over God’s promises, gathering wisdom to deal with this unwelcome intruder. I have learned to be alert to the devil’s schemes and ready to stand against them. In today’s key verses, Peter tells us how:

“Keep your mind clear, and be alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion as he looks for someone to devour. Be firm in the faith and resist him, knowing that other believers throughout the world are going through the same kind of suffering” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

After reading the email and letting my thoughts run wild for a few minutes, I knew I had to clear my mind. I asked the Holy Spirit to help me unclutter my thoughts with the clarity of truth from logistical, circumstantial and spiritual points of view.

1) I jotted down a list of logistical truths: facts about what happened, what I did right, wrong or forgot to do at all.

2) I also wrote a list of circumstantial truths: factors of my “reality” during the project.

In six months time, a close friend died of cancer, our family adopted a baby from Ethiopia, my mom was hospitalized with blood clots in her lungs and moved in with us, and my father underwent emergency quadruple bypass surgery. Although I cut back on some things, I tried to push through on a few commitments I made before the bottom fell out. Exhausted and completely overwhelmed, I couldn’t keep up. But I hadn’t admitted or communicated my limitations to our client.

3) Finally, and most importantly, I made a list of spiritual truths. Turning through my Bible, I found and wrote down promises to remind me of these facts:

  • “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26, NIV).
  • “The LORD will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting; Do not forsake the works of Your hands” (Psalm 138:8, NASB).

Listing logistical, circumstantial and spiritual truths helped me quiet my mind to see all that was going on. Suddenly, I was aware of what God wanted me to do versus what my opponent was trying to do — devour me with discouragement.

God wanted me to humble myself before Him, be honest with my limitations and make more cut backs in my schedule. After apologizing to our client and explaining what happened, she understood and things eventually worked out.

Although I had done the best I could, my best wasn’t good enough. But it didn’t mean I wasn’t good enough. It just meant I needed to make some truth-filled assessments and wisdom-based adjustments!

Lord, some days my best isn’t good enough, but it’s all I have to give. Help me remember that my best is all You expect. Guide me with Your grace as I make truth-filled assessments of my life and wisdom-based adjustments as needed. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY: Psalm 90:17, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands.” (NIV)