Make Me a Vessel

In Daniel chapter 5, the powerful King of Babylon, Belshazzar is having a huge party for his friends.  Everyone enjoys a good party or a get-together.  In todays day and age, I see many people gathering for “wine and charcuterie” or special dinner parties.  God has put an innate desire in each of us for community.  There is laughing and joy when relationships are deepening and hearts are being shared.  This is a true gift from God when we can share these times with family and friends.

In this instance from the book of Daniel, the people did not recognize God’s gift of community and were actually insulting God with their words and actions.  During the party king Belshazzar instructs his servants to bring in the gold and silver vessels that had been stolen from God’s temple in Jerusalem.

Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them.  (v2)                        They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.(v4)

The party had taken a turn from community to dishonoring God.  God stepped in and judged Belshazzar and his court in a dramatic fashion.  Through mysterious and miraculous “handwriting on the wall,”  God judged their arrogance.  As the people were enjoying themselves fingers of a human had appeared and wrote on the wall.  Such a powerful event left the most powerful earthly king at this point in history with a pale face and legs that became weak.

Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him;  his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.  (v6)

God used Daniel, who was filled with His spirit to interpret the writing and tell Belshazzar exactly what the hand had written.  God made it clear that the king’s reign was coming to an end and his kingdom would be divided.  That very night, this king was killed and someone else took over his kingdom.  

King Balshazzar blatantly defied the Lord in word and deed.  He was puffed up with arrogance and turned to other gods.  He did not listen to Daniel’s interpretation of the writing and acknowledge that God was his only God.  

Within all of our lives, there are times that we need to recognize and acknowledge God’s “handwriting on the wall.”  As we know God better, we gain a greater understanding of how we have used “His vessel” (our bodies, minds, spirits, and people around us) in ways that are unpleasing to Him.

Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.  (2 Timothy 2:21)

We need to daily acknowledge the handwriting on the wall in our lives.  If we want our lives to be refined and grow in our faith, we must give the Holy Spirit permission to do His most important work of conviction.  We need to see and have a willingness to see the areas in our lives that need changing and respond accordingly.  

The gift we have received because of Jesus is more than we can ever deserve.  Because He died on the cross for each of our sins, there is no judgment.  We do not have to face the outcome that Belshazzar had to face.  We have the grace and mercy of Jesus on us.  We can start new every morning and follow Him.  We can ask Him to make us a new vessel every minute of every day.  

“Make me a vessel, make me an offering, make me whatever you want me to be….”  (New Wine, Hillsong Worship)

 

 

Disappointment

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word lament means: 1)Express passionate grief about. 2) Express regret or disappointment about something.

Jeremiah 15 is a prayer for the disappointed, a lament. This passage gives us insight into what we should do when we are disappointed. Especially, when we are disappointed with God.

Have you ever been disappointed with God? It is easy to admit when we are disappointed with other people, but how about when it is God? Have you ever been following God and doing exactly what you feel He has called you to do and yet God doesn’t seem to be providing what you need?

When we face disappointment with God, what do we do? We can put on a happy face and pretend everything is ok. (I know many people who do this.) We can live in denial or even lower our expectations of God. This means that we really stop trusting God. Or, we can deal with our disappointments. Today we read Jeremiahs prayer of lament, that is a prayer for the disappointed. It is a kind of prayer that can help us deal with our disappointment with God.

Jeremiah was set apart at birth by God to be a prophet. This was his calling. Jeremiah had to proclaim the message to the people that God was bringing severe judgment because they had forsaken Him. The people did not want to hear this message. There were many false prophets at this time speaking words that the people would rather listen to. Jeremiah was the lonely voice speaking truth. He was faithful to proclaim God’s message, but he didn’t see any results. All he saw was opposition and persecution. Thus being why he was disappointed with God.

Jeremiah did not put on a happy face nor did he lower his expectations of God. Instead, he prayed through his disappointment with God.

Jeremiah 15:10, 15-18 are the verses that he prays to God. Read through these verses. They are honest, gut-wrenching feelings that Jeremiah does not hold back from God.

Woe to me, my mother, that you have given birth to me. To be a man of strife and a man of contention to all the earth! I have not loaned, nor have men lent money to me, yet everyone curses me.
Jeremiah 15:10

After Jeremiah’s prayer of lament, God responds. But, notice that God does not start by speaking words of comfort.

Therefore this is what the Lord says; “if you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them. Jeremiah 15:19

When we lament and when we get honest about how we feel, we need to be ready to receive God’s reply. God’s response might not be comfort, it might be rebuke. God tells Jeremiah he needs to repent. Sometimes, when we are upset we say things we don’t actually mean. We might accuse God of things that aren’t true or we may have a sinful attitude.
Jeremiah needed to return to his trust in god.

And if Jeremiah will return, God promises strength and endurance.

I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you,” declares the Lord. “I will save you from the hands of the wicked and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel.” Jeremiah 15:20-21

Jeremiah had felt overwhelmed by the persecution that he faced, but God promised that if he will return to Him, his enemies will not prevail over him. These words strengthen him. Jeremiah gets to a better place not by denying his feelings, but by expressing them to God.

Do you feel free to express your disappointed feelings to God? To be totally honest with Him? He knows our every thought anyway, why not be honest and tell Him what you really feel just as Jeremiah did? Bring your disappointments to God through the prayer of lament.

Wounded Love

Being a parent is hard. I remember the many sleepless nights when my three were babies. I remember the days when I never thought I would get any time alone. And, I remember thinking that the day would never come when I was done raising littles. Now that my kids are all over the age of 15, I realize that I will never be done raising my children.  The struggles just become different.

As we watch our kids grow, we hold our breath, and are constantly questioning ourself. Is he ok? Is she happy? Are they safe? Will they make the right decisions? Can I protect them? We all know what it is like to be the parent and let your child have to face the consequences of a behavior. We know that it is best, but we would do anything to take their place and remove them from a hard situation.

Today we are reading in the book of Hosea, chapter 11. The prophet Hosea spends much time in his writings trying to persuade the people of Israel to turn from their ways. He wants them to turn back to God. Here in the 11th chapter, Hosea uses the language of a mother’s love for her children.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Hosea 11:1

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them up by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. Hosea 11:3-4

Both of the above verses are what we would call good parenting. Loving a child, teaching them to walk, helping them when they are sick, and feeding them are all things we do as a parent to the child we love.

But, the content of the chapter abruptly changes. The people will not turn back to God. Violence is devouring the cities. Because the people will not turn back to God, they will receive the natural consequences. These include either going back to Egypt, back into slavery or falling into the hands of Assyria.

Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? A sword will flash in their cities; it will devour their false prophets and put an end to their plans. My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them.
Hosea 11:6-7

But, keep reading, the text changes again! God can’t bear the thought of destroying His children. God says, My heart won’t let me do it. My compassion won’t let me do it.

“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man— the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities.” Hosea 11:8-9

Though Israel had not been obedient in turning back to God, God still loved them and longed for them to come back. His love for them was wounded, but never ending.  How often in our own lives have we not been completely faithful to God? How often have we not been obedient? We may struggle with putting God first and even turn away for a time, but God’s love for us remains the same. He will always be faithful, even though we may not.

…if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. 2 Timothy 2:13

God is always longing for us to come back to Him, even when we have wounded him.   Let Him draw you up into His arms. He longs to have a relationship with you. He loves you with an everlasting love.

Home Sweet Home

The reading for today is Psalm 84
As I read the title for todays reading, Home Sweet Home, I immediately started to sing…“Sweet Home Alabama” (take a few seconds to finish that in your mind:)
Now keep reading and see if any other songs come to mind…
Verse 1-“How lovely is your dwelling place” any song?
Verse 10-“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere” any song?
The words above bring to mind a very familiar song and I have been singing it all week as I have reread Psalm 84.

In Psalm 84 we read about the yearning of the pilgrim Israelites and their journey to Jerusalem to be with God in His temple. This is the temple that Solomon built as a dwelling place for God on earth. No expense was spared in building this structure, 1 Kings chapter 6 gives all the glorious details of the ornate carvings and beautiful work that was done. This was a place like no other. The temple was the literal home on earth of the presence of God.

Is there a place that you long to be? As a child I remember in the summer we would spend a week at our Aunt’s house. I would look forward to that week with my cousins on their farm, until I actually had to go to bed. As we would put on our pajamas and get ready to slide under the covers, it would hit me, “I am not at home”. Then the longing for home (and my mother) would become intense. Unfortunately, it would get so bad that I would make myself sick. Now we can look back and laugh at that, but even now at 50 years old, I can remember that yearning of wanting to be “home”.

Psalm 84 gives us a powerful sense of being “home”.
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”
Psalm 84:1&2
The psalmist describes the anguish that comes from being separated from the temple courts. The temple is where the psalmist feels utterly at home. The Israelites longed to be home where they had a sense of complete belonging.

Is your heart yearning and even fainting to be in this place of complete belonging? We search for this belonging our whole life. Our immediate family is the first place we want to completely belong. We try to “fit-in” and belong at school when we are in our school years. Sometimes a sports team can give us the feeling of belonging. We want to find complete belonging in a significant other. Then we want to find the perfect career that makes us feel needed and at home. We continuously search for this longing. In all these ways we are yearning to be “home”. But do we realize this yearning is actually a yearning for the presence of God?

We no longer have a temple that we must pilgrim to and find the presence of God. The temple is now in us. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own”
I Corinthians 6:19

Our bodies are the temple of God’s presence. Are we living like this? Are we yearning to be close to God daily? Every hour? Do we yearn to tell others of his dwelling in our hearts? Do we see the beauty of Christ in our life? Is Christ at home in us? We will not find our complete belonging in anything on this earth. We have to daily/hourly find our belonging only in Jesus, then we will truly be “home”.

Outdoor Lessons


“The red cardinal bird holds special spiritual meaning for Christians as they symbolize everlasting vitality (the faith in the blood of Christ as the birds are red in color), Christmas (the birth of christ) and are also considered a creative force (the red color equals vitality and creativity).” This quote was found at reference.com.

Psalm 19:1 says, “The Heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

How often do you take time to be amazed at the creation around us? My youngest daughter gets annoyed with me as I point out every detail of nature when we are in the car together. I think as I age I realize the power in a sunset, an amazing cloud, glistening snow, changing trees, and budding flowers. The response I get is, “I know Mom, I see it!” But, do we take the time to REALLY see it???

If you look out a window right now and up into the sky, do you SEE what God spoke into existence? God created such an awesome universe that surrounds us. Nature captures the glory of God.

As I have reflected on this verse the past few days, I have taken some extra time and been more aware of what is around me. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit in my car and just stare out the window at the Illinois River and its surroundings. It was a grey, dreary day, nothing spectacular. As I stared down into the river I saw a few birds flitting from tree to tree and in the grasses. Before I realized it, I looked just beyond my car and a vibrant red cardinal was perched at the top of a long willowy grass. I was breath-taken at the color and stillness of that bird. I became more intent at watching for birds and my eyes were opened. There were cardinals, blue jays, robins, and a few other unidentified birds flying all around. At one point, three cardinals were pecking the ground 5 feet from my car. It is amazing what we see when we are still and really looking.

God created such an awesome universe that surrounds us. May we be inspired to live a life that shines with God’s glory and grace. Take the time today to notice His creation and worship Him for the incredible inspiration that surrounds us.

Never Forget


Deuteronomy 4:9-14
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it bled with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. And the Lord directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.

Moses was very intentional in making sure the people of Israel did not forget all of the amazing things they had seen God do. That is why he urged parents to teach their children about God’s great miracles.

This principle is still so important today! We have to share with our children our “God” stories. What have you seen God do in your life? We must never forget what God has done in our lives. Sharing these stories builds faith and keeps our eyes on God. Do not forget all of the amazing things that you have seen God do in your life!

God has given each of us a unique story. His plan for our lives is individualized. Do others know what you believe and why? Do your children and others around you know the story of how you came to faith and how God has worked in your life to strengthen your faith? Do they know how God has shown Himself faithful and has helped you through doubts and disappointment? The faithfulness of God is a story that we have the privilege to pass on. Never forget what God has done for you and share it!

Jacob’s Ladder


So, how did you sleep last night? Did you sleep in a bed? Do you have a favorite pillow? And, did you have any dreams? If you did, do you even remember what you dreamt?

Yesterday in our Bible reading, Ross did an amazing job of describing how Jacob schemed his own plan to steal the birthright from his brother Esau. Of course, Esau was furious with Jacob, so Jacob fled from his home and family. Jacob had to be exhausted from all that he had just experienced. His mind had to be swirling with many thoughts of what his future held. He was traveling to a place he had never been. Would he ever be able to return home?

Today, we will look at Genesis 28 and the story of Jacob’s dream.

“Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. As he slept, he dreamed…” Genesis 28:10-12

As Jacob slept, the Lord revealed Himself to Jacob in a dream. This vision opened up heaven for Jacob to see angels ascending and descending on a ladder from the throne of God. The Lord promised that Jacob’s descendants would return to the land, would multiply in population, and would bless all people on the earth. In addition, the Lord promised to be with Jacob for the rest of his life.

After all of the fear and anxiety that Jacob had felt, God gives Jacob this dream to say, “I will be with you.” There is no more guilt, fear or anxiety. Jacob is shown that there is no place he can go where God is not already there. “I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” Genesis 28:15

In Jacob’s dream, God was at the top of the ladder and Jacob was at the bottom. The angels were going up and down the ladder to the throne of God. We still have the ladder from Heaven, but now Jesus is our ladder to Heaven. In John 1 Jesus the Son of God is at the bottom of the ladder. Jesus Christ has come down the ladder to join us here on earth.

Jesus Christ is himself the stairway that leads back to heaven. If you want to go to heaven, Jesus is the way. He is the ladder that will take you from here to there. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6) “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51)

We all can see ourselves in the life of Jacob. Trying to scheme our own plans, running, anxious and fearful. We are not promised an easy life here on earth without struggles and pain. But God promises us that He is with us and will protect us wherever we go. God is waiting for us just as He was waiting for Jacob.

Share the Good News


Twelve years ago our family began to travel to a beach town in Northern Mexico on the Sea of Cortez. At the time we lived in Southern Arizona so the town of Puerto Penasco was an easy drive. It was on these vacations that we began the search for Sand Dollars and it was always a race to be the first to find one. Now we have a large collection at home. Three years ago I learned that there is actually a legend about the sand dollar. Now that I know what the sand dollar actually represents I have an even deeper appreciation for them. And, and even bigger desire to find more. We are on vacation right now and the beach is abundant with sand dollars. Our first morning out, we found 12 of them!

The sand dollar is a visible way to see God through His creation. The sand dollar is a flat looking burrowing sea urchin. It lives on the floor of shallow sandy waters along the coasts of the ocean. The urchin is washed up on the beach and bleached by the sun.

On the top part of the shell you can see the center is a star. This star represents the Star of Bethlehem that led the Wise Men to the manger when Jesus was born. Around the star is the outline of the Easter lily, which is a sign of Our Lord’s Resurrection.

At the edges of the star are four holes and in the center another hole. These holes remind us of the wounds the Lord suffered on His hands and feet while on the Cross.

On the back side of the sand dollar you will find an outline of the Poinsettia, the Christmas flower.

Finally, when you break open the sand dollar, five “doves” appear. These doves represent the Peace and Joy of Christmas. There are always five doves inside the sand dollar.

Here is a poem by an unknown author about the legend of the Sand Dollar:

The legend of the Sand dollar
That I would like to tell
Of the birth and death of Jesus Christ
Found in this lowly shell.

If you will examine closely,
You’ll see that you find here
Four nail holes and a fifth one
Made by a Roman’s spear.

On one side the Easter Lily,
It’s center is the star
That appeared unto the shepherds
And led them from afar.

The Christmas Poinsettia
Etched on the other side
Reminds us of His Birthday,
Our joyous Christmas tide.

Now break the center open
And here you will release
The five white doves awaiting
To spread good will and peace.

This simple little symbol,
Christ left for you and me.
To help to spread His Message
Through all eternity.

I love the act of finding Sand Dollars even more now that I can attach a meaning of the Love of God to them. I love that God gives us physical reminders of His presence and practical ways we can share Him and His story with others.

Acts 20:24
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Remembrance

The picture above is what I see as I lie in bed at night waiting for my eyes to close.  It is a blue hue of the lights reflecting from our outside bushes in the top of our bedroom window.  What peace these lights give me.  They remind me of a day when Jesus held me close and took all of my daily challenges and worries and brought me through to the other side.  

Psalm 105:5 – Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced…

Do you remember what God has done for you?  Do you have any physical reminders?  When Joshua led God’s people towards their new home, they had to cross the Jordan River.  God parted the waters, and His people walked through on dry land.  To create a memorial of this miracle, they took twelve stones from the middle of the riverbed and stacked them on the other side.  When others asked what the stones meant, God’s people would tell the story of what God had done that day.

Joshua 4:5-7  

“And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you.  When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tel them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord.  When it passes over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.  So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

Do you have a story to tell?  Especially during this Christmas season when we think of baby Jesus being born for us?  Physical reminders of God’s faithfulness in the past can remind us to trust Him in the present and with our future.

Our family has had a  Christmas tradition for the past 16 years.  Every Christmas we decorate the outside of our house with blue Christmas lights.  This tradition began just after Thanksgiving in 2001.  I had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor and then found out I was pregnant.  After being at the hospital all evening for some diagnostic testing, my husband and I came home to our tree in the backyard being covered with blue lights.  My parents had been at our house all day with our 2 and 4 year old and decided to put the lights on the tree.  That tree brought me joy.  It was such an unknown time in my life. I had to have total dependence on Jesus and His plan for my life and the baby I now carried.  Each night I remember the light that would glow into our kitchen and family room.  If you want to go back and read a bit about our brain tumor adventure you can go back and read about it in the Bible Journal post I wrote on December 10, 2017: Tested to Tears

The blue lights that hang on our bushes today are a remembrance for me and my family.  They remind us of the season of life we faced 16 years ago and what God did for our family!  He healed me of the tumor and brought a precious life into this world.  Every year somebody comments on our blue lights and it allows me the opportunity to tell of what Jesus has done for me!  To share the Hope that He gives. 

What reminders do you physically have around you that remind you of what God has done and brought you through?  This Christmas Season start with one thing to remind you of a promise that has come true in your life.  In the stress and weariness of the days leading up to Christmas, the reminders of what God has done bring us back to reality.  The reality that Christ was born for you and me.  That He is real and His promises are true.  We need these reminders daily, sometimes hourly!!

Joshua 4:24      “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your GOD forever.”

Share the Good News!

In the past 6 months we have shown our house to 3 prospective families who are relocating to our town.  Our house is not officially on the market, but a few realtors know that we have a desire to downsize now that 2 of our 3 kids are off to college, so they reach out to us.  Each time after the showing we have gotten a phone call from the showing agent saying, “Your house showed great!  They really liked it!  It is one of their top 2 choices.  We will get back to you soon!”  With this news our minds start reeling with thoughts!  Where will we move?  How much time will we have to find a new house?  The excitement grows quickly.  But, low and behold, 3 times now, we have gotten the same phone call, “They really loved your house, but they chose the other one.”  So many questions go through our minds at this point!  What is wrong with our house?  God, don’t you want us to downsize and save money?  Will we ever get out of this house?  God what is your plan???

Today we read the first chapter of the Book of Acts.  Jesus has spent the past 40 days with His disciples.  They saw and touched his nail pierced hands.  They ate together.  They talked about the Kingdom of God.  They enjoyed being together.  The disciples were asking Jesus exactly this question.  God what is your plan?  If you are leaving us, what are we to do?  

Acts 1:6-8 (ESV) So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

The Father alone sets the dates and times of our future’s events.  And as much as we want to know what’s next, the answers are not for us to know.  

Jesus had to leave so that we could be armed with the presence of and power of the Holy Spirit.  We are given one mission as Jesus states in the verse above, to be His witness to ALL people.  Everywhere we go, we need to tell people about Jesus.

As we face our day and the unknown days ahead of us, we are not without purpose.  Even though we may not know our next steps.  Or, we may receive answers that we don’t think are right, we are not without direction.  The Holy Spirit is with us and longs to be part of all our interactions each and every moment.  

May we not miss a moment today when: 

talking with our neighbor, the grocery store check out person, the Starbuck’s drive through person, our child’s teacher, our child’s coach, our co-worker, our boss, our parents, and even our own children…

to know that THEY are our purpose! We need to share the love of Jesus with each and every person we encounter!

The Holy Spirit is with us and He will empower us as we tell them about Jesus and who Jesus is to us.  

Share the good news!

Love God, Love People!