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A Planting of the Lord (from 31 Days of Encouragement – Laura)

“THEY WILL BE CALLED OAKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, A PLANTING OF THE LORD FOR THE DISPLAY OF HIS SPLENDOR.” Isaiah 61:3

An acorn contains everything that is needed to become an oak tree. When planted, this tiny seed will take root and eventually grow into a large tree. At one time, the largest oak tree on record was in Maryland. It stood 105 feet tall, measured 32 feet in circumference and was believed to be more than 400 years old. God’s Word says that believers are a planting of the LORD. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green; and it will not be anxious in a year of drought, nor cease to yield fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

The Lord plants us for His glory. Like the acorn, we have everything we need to grow and become oaks of righteousness for the display of His splendor. Our growth is indeed a process. In our culture of the immediate, we find it difficult to be in the process. Anything that grows is engaged in a series of changes. This can be painful, delightful, slow, fast, beautiful and ugly all at the same time. When I think about my life growing up, I am reminded of a wide range of experiences all of which make up “my story” for the display of His splendor.

“And we grow only as we get our nourishment and strength from God” (Colossians 2:19). Spiritual growth is such a …

rompting of your heart by the Holy Spirit
R eceiving the free gift of eternal life
O beying the voice of the Lord
C onfessing sin immediately
E xercising the fruit of the Spirit
S eeking first the Kingdom of God
S urrendering daily to the Holy Spirit’s control

Matthew talks about four different types of soil in chapter 13. The Holy Spirit works in the soil of the heart preparing it to receive the seed of God’s Word. The good soil hears and understands the Word that is sown thus beginning the process toward bearing fruit.

Pray through each of the letters in the acrostic for a time of personal evaluation asking the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth. Ask for a listening, willing heart to receive God’s seed. Let the Master Gardener tend to you. He supplies the rain, sunshine, nutrients and conditions for you to be rooted and grounded in His marvelous love. Don’t resist His process in your life.

Submit to Him in every stage, looking for new growth and trust in the LORD. Are you thriving as a planting of the LORD?

Are You Stuck in the Mud? (from 31 Days of Encouragement – Miriam)

“I WAITED PATIENTLY FOR THE LORD TO HELP ME, AND HE TURNED TO ME AND HEARD MY CRY. HE LIFTED ME OUT OF THE PIT OF DESPAIR; OUT OF THE MUD AND THE MIRE. HE SET MY FEET ON SOLID GROUND AND STEADIED ME AS I WALKED ALONG.” Psalm 40:1-2

In March of 2008 I was struggling with some difficult financial issues in my family’s life. I shared this with my friend, Dawn Smith Jordan, during a meeting at our church. She shared the above verses with me, and as she did, I sat there and cried as I realized I felt like I was up to my neck in “the mud and the mire.” Although my struggles at that time were financial, yours may be in a different area. Whatever they are, the Lord is the one who will lift you up out of the mud and mire of your circumstances.

Dawn said she heard someone say once that the mud and mire are still there, but He lifts you above it. I was really struggling that day when she shared this with me. I could not even sit through the worship service because I kept crying, and since I sit in the choir loft, I did not want to sit there and look like a blubbering idiot. The Lord used Dawn and His Word to remind me that day that He is waiting for me to cry out to Him. I was reminded that He turns to me and not away from me when I come to Him with my cares and concerns. Not only does He want to lift me above them, but He wants to place me on steady ground.

That very week the Lord provided exactly what we needed financially through two individuals — the exact amount! The individuals who gave the money did not know our need, but God did. You have no idea what a blessing and encouragement that was to us that day! Understand this: God may not always “rescue” you from your problems, but He will always lift you above them and help you stand on solid ground.

Later, I got a wonderful picture of what that mud and mire are literally like. My husband and I went as counselors with our church’s youth to summer camp. We were staying on houseboats on a lake. Whenever I stepped out into the lake I immediately began to sink into very thick and yucky mud. I remember thinking, “This is the mud and the mire God’s Word talks about.” The interesting thing is that whenever I went out in the lake on a float, I didn’t mind being in the water. I was above the mud and the mire. That is what it is like with the tough times in our lives. If we keep our focus on the Lord, He can and will lift us above the “mud and mire” of our troubles. The troubles are still there, but He helps us look past them and even walk through them.

I have no idea what you may be going through right now, but I know the One who longs to lift you out of the mud and mire. Will you let Him pick you up? Will you cry out to Him and let Him run to you with open arms?

Choose Life (from 31 Days of Encouragement – Beth)

“I HAVE CHOSEN THE WAY OF TRUTH; I HAVE OBEYED YOUR LAW.” Psalm 119:30

Choices! I sometimes like to have a choice. Especially when it comes to what I eat, how I wear my hair, and what my nails look like. Okay, stay with me. Although these might seem like trivial things, they are some of the choices that we make every day. There are other choices that we make in our lives that are not so trivial. What church will I attend? To which school will I send my children? What bank do I trust enough to take care of my money? Where will I be buried? Where will I spend eternity? These are questions that require us to make a choice.

There are many areas in our lives where we do not have a choice. You did not choose your place of birth. You did not choose your gender or your race. These are things God chose for you.

God honors us with the freedom to choose where we spend eternity. You can choose where you want to live, and where you will send your children to school. In his book He Chose the Nails, author

Max Lucado describes it best:

“We can choose:
A narrow gate or a wide gate,
A narrow road or a wide road,
The big crowd or the small crowd (Matthew 7:13-14)

We can choose to:
Build on rock or sand (Matthew 7:24-27)
Serve God or riches (Matthew 6:24)
Be numbered among the sheep or the goats (Matthew 25:32-33)

God gives us eternal choices and these choices have eternal consequences. One of God’s gifts is the gift of choice.”

The Lord gives us the same choice He gave the Israelites many years ago. “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live…so choose life in order that you may live ….” (Deuteronomy 30:15-16, 19). Have you chosen life or death? “And the witness is this that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12).

Have you chosen life in Christ? Out of all the choices God has given you, have you made the most important choice of all – life in His Son Jesus?

Are You Listening? (from 31 Days of Encouragement – Laura)

“HEAR, O HEAVENS! LISTEN, O EARTH! FOR THE LORD HAS SPOKEN.” Isaiah 1:2

The Lord is always speaking! Are we listening? Reading the Old Testament prophets reveals the often repeated phrase, “Listen to what the LORD says.” Sometimes they write, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says.” Isaiah writes, “The LORD has spoken this word” (24:3). God used these special servants to speak His message to His people. Today, we are most blessed to have the written Word of God.

Jesus says many times in the gospels, “Truly I say to you,” or, “These things I have spoken to you.” The book of Revelation is filled with Jesus’ warnings, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” As He compares His children to sheep in John 10:27, Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice and I know them and they follow Me.”

I often hear people pray and have even prayed this way myself: “Lord, speak to me.” God seems to say to me, “Laura, are you listening? I have never stopped speaking.” The Psalmist urges us to listen. “O that you would listen to His voice today” (Psalm 95:7b). What a wonderful truth to rest in! God speaks to my heart.

Evidently my heart has the capacity to hear and receive because God’s Word admonishes me to write things on the “tablet” of my heart. “Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.” This line from the hymn Come, Thou Fount of Ev’ry Blessing has always been a heartfelt expression of worship for me – a prayer.

There are many voices vying for our attention; each one claims to be the ultimate answer to all of our questions. God is creative in the ways He speaks to us. He calls, declares, sings, whistles and thunders. “The voice of the LORD is powerful. The voice of the LORD is majestic” (Psalm 29:4). Why do we not hear His voice? We are not listening. Maintaining our “busyness,” we rush along to the next “thing” with deaf ears to the only voice that can direct us. Only as we pull away for quiet will we be able to hear.

How do we recognize God’s voice? These characteristics may help you discern as you listen.

  • God always leads you – He will never push or drive you. He is the Good Shepherd!
  • His voice always confirms scripture; it will never contradict scripture. He is the Living Word!
  • His conviction will be specific to your sin, never condemning to your self. He is the Spirit of Truth!
  • His voice compels us to walk in faith, not wallow in fear. He is the Faithful Creator!

Have you been listening to Your Father? When my girls were small, I would take their little faces in my hands and look them straight in the eyes and say, “Listen to me.” I can also remember a time when they would do the same to me so I would listen to them. Is Jesus longing for a “face to face” with you? Listen to Him.

Dirty Feet (from 31 Days of Encouragement – Beth)

“THEN HE POURED WATER INTO THE BASIN, AND BEGAN TO WASH THE DISCIPLES’ FEET, AND TO WIPE THEM WITH THE TOWEL WITH WHICH HE WAS GIRDED.” John 13:5

It was springtime, just before the Passover Feast. The disciples were making preparations for the Passover meal. The air was balmy and muggy. The dust and the mud of country roads would have easily penetrated the open sandals of those walking on it. The disciples’ feet were no exception as they made their way to the upstairs room the night of the Passover celebration.

It was customary to be greeted on arrival by a servant waiting with a basin and a towel, ready to wash the feet of those entering a place where food would be served. As was the culture of the time, everyone sat or reclined on the floor when they ate a meal. Heads and shoulders leaned in towards the table, with legs and feet stretching out to the side.

Since everyone was on the floor level, it was possible for another person’s feet to be very close to the face of the person sitting beside him. On this particular day, however there was no servant at the door with a wash basin and towel. The disciples entered the room with dirty feet. Then Jesus arrived.

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God, and was going back to God, rose from supper, and laid aside His garments, and taking a towel, He girded Himself about” (John 13:3-4).

At a time when His own needs were overwhelming, and in an act of lowly service, Jesus began to wash the smelly, dirty feet of each of his disciples. John 13:5-20 chronicles the humble and submissive act of Christ, as He served his disciples. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, he protested, and refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet. Jesus gently explained to Peter that if He did not wash his feet, Peter would have no part in Him. Then Peter, realizing the seriousness of the moment replied, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” It was only after Christ death on the cross that Peter understood what Jesus meant by the spiritual symbolism of the words spoken and deeds performed during his final hours with His disciples.

When Jesus came to earth, He willing stripped off His heavenly robe of righteousness, and took the form of a man in order to be able to, by the shedding of His own blood on the cross, wash away our sins. In His final hours with his disciples, Christ explained that once you have been to the cross for forgiveness, you are completely clean (John 13:9). All sins are totally and completely forgiven. However, in our flesh, we still sin and our “feet get dirty.” We must come back to the cross each day to confess our sins and allow Jesus to wash the dirt off our spiritual feet. This act of honesty and submission keeps us in a right fellowship with our Father. Understand my friend once we are saved, we cannot loose our salvation. Sin can hinder fellowship but cannot breach your relationship with Jesus.

Have you been washed in the blood of the Lamb? If so, are you walking around with “dirty feet?” Perhaps unconfessed sin has taken over your heart. Take a few moments and confess before the Lord anything that might be hindering your relationship with Him. Let Him wash the dirt of sin from your feet today.

The Glorious Birth Announcement (from 31 Days of Encouragement – Laura)

“TODAY IN THE TOWN OF DAVID A SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU; HE IS CHRIST THE LORD.” Luke 2:11

The Shepherds were the first to receive this glorious birth announcement. These common men were watching over their flocks, scripture says, “…and an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them” (Luke 2:9). They were terrified at the appearance of the angel, but he reassured them. “Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David” (Luke 2:11). What a birth announcement! God has come to earth. The Messiah is finally here. Then he tells them what the sign will be and how they will recognize Him. “You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth” (Luke 2:12). The invisible hand of God left a visible print in the form of a baby.

Beth Moore describes baby Jesus like this: “God clothed in seven pounds of peeling, pink infant flesh. Perfection wrapped in innocence.”

Jesus left the riches of His heavenly home to be born into a meager earthly home. He limited Himself by putting on flesh when He was accustomed to using His supernatural power. He humbled Himself to the position of a slave and did not cling to His rights as God. He would obediently sacrifice Himself by dying a criminal’s death on a cross.

After this announcement, the angel was joined by a vast host of others – the armies of heaven – praising God:                  “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors” (Luke 2:14).

The angels returned to Heaven. The shepherds ran to the village and found Mary, Joseph and the baby. The shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherd’s story were astonished, BUT MARY quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them or pondered them often. “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20).

There are different responses to the birth of Christ. All who heard the shepherd’s story were astonished, amazed and wondered at what they had heard. They didn’t understand. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). I’ve always loved that verse. There’s such faith and confidence in Mary’s response. The word pondered describes taking many things, putting them together and considering them as one. As this new mother held her precious child, she let her mind go back over the events of the past year. Gabriel’s announcement, her visit to Elizabeth’s, the rumors, Joseph’s reaction, the difficult journey to Bethlehem, the first pains of labor, the joy of giving birth, each experience making up the whole. God’s faithfulness was evident as she looked back over her life causing her to understand and respond with a quiet, trusting heart.

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20). God is always faithful! He does exactly what He says He will do. The shepherds experienced this truth. They responded by glorifying and praising God.

How would you have responded to the birth announcement? What is your response to Jesus today? Are you filled with a confident faith in God? Think back over your life and the events God has woven together to bring you to this point in your spiritual journey. To appreciate God’s work in our lives through pleasure and pain, we need His perspective to understand that He looks at each experience as part of the whole. Meditate on your life experiences, treasuring and pondering them in your heart like Mary. Then go out to live a life of worship bringing glory to God with the humble heart of a shepherd.

His Presence Before His Provision (from 31 Days of Encouragement – Miriam)

“YOU WILL SHOW ME THE WAY OF LIFE, GRANTING ME THE JOY OF YOUR PRESENCE AND THE PLEASURE OF LIVING WITH YOU FOREVER.” Psalm 16:11

One evening my husband Jim and I were sitting at our kitchen table visiting with a friend when she said, “I’d rather have His presence before His provision.” God used those words to speak truth to my heart that night. We had been experiencing some really difficult days that month as we trusted the Lord in the area of provision. Wasn’t it neat of God to use this “unplanned” visit from our friend to remind me that His presence in my life is more important than His provision? I sometimes get so overwhelmed by what I don’t have in the way of material things that I forget what I do have – my Heavenly Father’s presence with me moment by moment. Don’t get me wrong – I would love both at the same time; however, it is my desire that I would choose His presence first.

Interestingly enough, during this difficult time when we struggled more than ever before to make ends meet, I also felt God’s presence more than ever before. Though I cried harder than I have cried in a long time over our financial situation, I also felt unspeakable joy which could only come from the presence of the Lord in my life. He spoke to my heart as I spent time in His Word. One morning as I read from Psalm 62, I was encouraged by these words in verses 7 and 8:

My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. O my people trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.

What a precious thought! I can pour out my heart to the Lord. He is my Refuge and my Rock. He won’t let me down. God not only let me experience His presence through His Word but also through family and friends, words of encouragement, notes and gifts. I experienced His presence through divine appointments He brought our way like the friend who shared that statement at our kitchen table or the time we “bumped” into a friend when we stopped at the “wrong” gas station and that friend not only encouraged Jim verbally, but also slipped him a monetary gift.

Most importantly, I have experienced God’s presence as Jim and I have shared these difficult times with our children and reminded them of God’s faithfulness to our family. We have been able to help them see God’s goodness and faithfulness to our family through some awesome, teachable moments. We have prayed together as a family and then seen God answer those prayers. Sometimes the answers are not what we had hoped, but they are answers nonetheless.

How about you? Would you rather experience His presence before His provision? Do you know what it means to truly know God as your refuge and your rock? In a world where much of life seems uncertain and shaky, I encourage you to put your trust in the Lord, who is our Rock and can be trusted. Spend time in His Word daily so you can come to know Him as your refuge just as I have.

He Knows Your Name (from 31 Days of Encouragement – Beth)

“BEHOLD, I HAVE INSCRIBED YOU ON THE PALM OF MY HANDS.” Isaiah 49:16

Sometimes I struggle to remember people’s names. The funny thing is that I will call someone by the wrong name in a skinny minute and not even realize it! I’ve tried to overcome this problem. I even took one of the Dale Carnegie memory booster courses that teach people how to readily recall information, such as names. I got an A in the class AND  had perfect attendance. Still I cannot remember people’s names.

Did you know that God, the Creator of the universe, knows you by name? Unlike imperfect human beings, He never forgets our name.

“You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance.” Psalm 139:5, 14-16

Max Lucado writes in Grace for the Moment, “Quite a thought, isn’t it? Your name on God’s hand. Your name on God’s lips. Maybe you’ve seen your name in some special places, on an award or a diploma. But to think that your name is on God’s hand and on God’s lips…could it be?”

It is your name, my friend, which is written on God’s hand. Your name is spoken by his mouth and whispered by his lips. “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands” (Isaiah 49:16).

When you experience loneliness or perhaps you feel abandoned, let me remind you of God’s promise in Isaiah 45:2-3.

“I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze, and cut through their iron bars. And I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden wealth of secret places, in order that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by name.”

Yes beloved, He knows your name.

Let me encourage you to take a few minutes and thank the Lord for this promise. Write your name below and picture your name in the very palms of your Creator God.

Contentment (from 31 Days of Encouragement – Laura)

“NOT THAT I SPEAK FROM WANT; FOR I HAVE LEARNED TO BE CONTENT IN WHATEVER CIRCUMSTANCES I AM. I KNOW HOW TO GET ALONG WITH HUMBLE MEANS, AND I ALSO KNOW HOW TO LIVE IN PROSPERITY; IN ANY AND EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE I HAVE LEARNED THE SECRET OF BEING FILLED AND GOING HUNGRY, BOTH OF HAVING ABUNDANCE AND SUFFERING NEED. I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH HIM WHO STRENGTHENS ME.” Philippians 4:11-13

The women came into the room for Bible study and took their places at their assigned seats. They all wore identical prison issue jumpsuits. As I sang, they worshiped God with me. I can still see their radiant faces. We had a common bond – Jesus Christ. Despite the grim circumstances, these sisters showed great contentment, especially in some of their prayers. One woman prayed, “Please join me and stand with me, giving thanks to God for allowing me to obtain mercy. Now I can find grace in time of all my needs.” Contentment is determined by perspective. These prisoners were looking to Christ and finding contentment despite their circumstances.

Paul was in prison when he wrote a letter to the church at Philippi. It becomes very clear as you read this letter that Paul maintained an eternal perspective even while in the worst of conditions. He begins his letter with the salutation, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:2). Grace and peace are words of deep contentment, revealing an understanding of God’s sovereignty. Paul is content because of his eternal perspective.

When I lose this eternal focus I can easily become discontent. My daily life is the place where I struggle; all those mundane chores that have to be done again and again. You can name yours, I’m sure. Looking at my work, I lose perspective. When I see the precious faces that benefit from my work, I am given a perspective that brings contentment. Another quick way to lose your focus is pride. Most of us have an excessively high opinion of what we deserve. I have heard it said that we should all remember three words: I deserve hell! The Exemplary Husband by Stuart Scott lists some manifestations of pride: anger, outbursts, a critical spirit, listening poorly, blame shifting, self focused, haughty look, complaining and passing judgment on God. I find this list quite convicting.

God uses this daily classroom of life to teach me the secret of being content. Am I willing to adjust my focus and find contentment no matter the circumstances? How about you? Next time you sense a lack of contentment because you think you deserve better, check your perspective. Think about the prisoner, Paul, and his words to the Philippians.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

How Is Your Faith Under Pressure (from 31 Days of Encouragement – Miriam)

“YOU KNOW THAT UNDER PRESSURE, YOUR FAITH-LIFE IS FORCED INTO THE OPEN AND SHOWS ITS TRUE COLORS.” James 1:3

When things are going well it is easy to trust God. However, when life heats up and the pressure is on, do you still trust Him? Over the years as my husband Jim and I have been on the staff of a faith-based ministry and have had to raise our support, there have been many times when our faith has been under pressure. In the midst of these difficult times we can choose to “let it be an opportunity for joy” (James 1:2), or we can let the pressure overcome us. It is a choice to be joyful in the midst of difficult circumstances. Don’t get being joyful confused with being happy. Happiness depends on your circumstances, but joyfulness endures in spite of your circumstances.

In September, 2007, we had a week that was full of pressure for our family. Our finances were very strained, our youngest son, Mark, got a mild concussion during football practice, and our daughter, Rachel, was in a car accident. I could have chosen to have a meltdown that week, but instead I chose to be joyful. Please understand that I made this choice based on years of trusting the Lord and His faithfulness. It also came from spending time in His word on a daily basis. That is what gives me the ability to trust Him under pressure. The Israelites had a habit of looking back at what the Lord had done so they could go forward. The psalmist said, “I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about them” (Psalm 77:11-12). You and I can do the same. When life heats up and you feel the pressure, look back and remember how God has helped you and sustained you in the past.

When I look back, I remember when Mark was born and he wasn’t breathing. As I lay there in my bed and the doctor was working on him, I remember praying, “Lord, he’s in your hands. We committed him to you from the moment we knew about him. Jim can’t help. Even the doctor can only do what you allow. Please be with my baby.” Mark was in special care for four days and grew better each day until he was released. He has no lasting effects from his difficult entry into the world. As I write this, he is almost 16 years old and is six feet, one inch tall. I have so many moments like that which I can look back to when my faith is tested or under pressure.

How about you? When difficult times come, will your true colors show that you trust God? Will you be able to look back and see the hand of God in your life?