Picture Perfect

I love taking pictures.  I’m not the greatest photographer, but every once in a while I do get a great shot.  I must literally have thousands of pictures saved from over the years. I probably drive everyone around me crazy because I’m always wanting to take pictures.  My kids have learned to smile the “first” time so we don’t have to pose for an hour trying to get a good shot.  And now in the digital age, it is even easier to snap away until you get the “perfect shot,” which leads to a whole “load” of digital pictures.

Besides being fun to look at, one of the reasons I think I love pictures so much is because they preserve moments in time.  Often times we can be transported back in time through memories captured in a photo.  We can tell old stories of what was happening that day or at the moment a photo was taken.  Pictures often times remind us of certain periods or people in our lives.  Sometimes good times with good memories and sometimes not so good times with unpleasant memories.

I find it so humorous that most of us when looking at pictures of ourselves often times become hyper-critical of ourselves by saying things like . . . look at my hair, how ridiculous . . . or boy was I overweight in that picture . . . or look what I was wearing, what was I thinking?  Sometimes we get a distorted view of what we are “supposed” to look like.   I’m so glad God’s portrait of us is so different from how we sometimes see ourselves.  We see all of our imperfections and the things that we don’t like about ourselves, but I am reminded what God’s word says in 1 Samuel 16:7 . . . man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.

God’s picture of me says of who I am in Christ.  The bible gives many scriptures that tell us our identity in Christ.  Here are a few . . . He says that I have been forgiven, and that I have been redeemed (Col. 1:14) .  He has removed my sins as far as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12).  God says that I am a child of God (John 1:12) and that I am a new creation and that old things have passed away and that all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17).  He says that I am chosen, holy and dearly loved (Col. 3:12).  And here’s one of my favorites, that I belong to Him (1 Cor. 6:20).  Now that’s a blessed assurance.  I so prefer God’s version of who He says I am verses my own distorted version and I choose to believe the truth in God’s word over the lies the enemy.

Most of us are familiar with “school portraits.”  Those lovely annual or bi-annual pictures taken of us and/or our children throughout the schooling years.  The school photographer guarantees that if you don’t like how the pictures turn out,  they will have a re-take day and you get a another shot at hopefully getting a picture you like.  Don’t we all just love those “school” portraits of ourselves from the past?

I’m sure we have all had times in our lives that we wish we could “do- over,” or have a re-take.  But we need to understand that with God, all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).  I’ve witnessed time and time again how if we repent and turn from our sin, that God uses that ugliness of sin and rebellion for his purposes and that he can be given the glory even through seemingly unattractive circumstances.  He makes all things beautiful in His time (Ecc. 3:11).  God is constantly trying to teach us something and to mold us into His image so that we can become all that He wants us to be (2 Cor. 3:18).

We have an amazing Savior that has a purpose and a plan for each of us.  He wants to create His picture perfect story in each of our lives.  That “picture perfect” story is how He loves us so much that he sent his son to the earth to die for our sins and to reconcile us to himself through His death on the cross (John 3:16).  His story then becomes our story when we except His free gift of salvation and we choose to turn from our life of sin and turn to him to guide and direct our lives and we then are given eternal life (1 John 1:9).  We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, that he prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10).  In Him we become His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21), and that is what I call God’s “picture perfect” story.

Ocean of Love

I LOVE living near the ocean.  Whenever the weather is permissible, my family and I LOVE going to beach.  It just amazes me how many people live in our area and yet never take advantage of its beauty and availability.  Something about staring out into the glorious expanse of the ocean, reminds me of our powerful Savior and his great LOVE for us.  In my mind, the ocean paints a vivid portrait of our God who seeks to satisfy our deepest longings and provide for us as our living water.

As the ocean is deep and wide, so is the LOVE of our father towards us in that while we were yet sinners, he died for us (Romans 5:8).  Trying to fathom that kind of selfless LOVE makes me so grateful and makes me want to strive to LOVE with Christ’s kind of LOVE which is so unlike our human nature.  It’s a crazy kind of love.  We want an eye for an eye, but God tells us to turn the other cheek.  God wants us to give not expecting anything in return.  He wants us to LOVE the unlovely and we can only do these things through the power of his Holy Spirit living in us.  God gives us the ability to see with his eyes, and his eyes are the eyes of LOVE.

On some days the ocean is in an uproar.  The waves are pounding hard, crashing against the shoreline.  To watch its power and it’s strength is truly mesmerizing.  This reminds me of our Almighty God.  He is a just God and he hates sin, he does not leave us to our own devices. For the wages of sin brings death but he offers us a free gift which is eternal life in him (Romans 6:23). God wants us to turn from sin to be cleansed and to be made whole and complete in him.  He has lovingly provided the way through his death, burial and resurrection for us to have new life in and through him. Now that is the power of LOVE!

The fresh but salty ocean spray reminds of me the cleansing blood our Savior.  Water representing cleansing from the stain of our sin and salt as a cleansing agent and a disinfectant.  Because of his great LOVE for us, while we were dead in our trespasses and sin he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead, and by his grace he saves us (Ephesians 2:5). Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf forever washed away the sin we placed upon him.  He cleanses us and makes us new and whole so that we can fully live for him and live eternally with him.

As I look out across the surface of the ocean I am reminded that it is beaming with unseen life living within it.  So it is as a child of God.  We look on the outward appearance and see but a man, but God sees within, He knows our hearts.  Our inmost thoughts and feelings, nothing is hidden from his sight.  As a child of God, we have the power of his constant companion the Holy Spirit living within.  O, to dwell on that thought is most comforting.  We are never alone in this world, we are not left to our own devices. With him, all things are possible (Mark 9:23)  through the power of the Holy Spirit living and working within us.  We can do all things through him who LOVES us and in him, we are more than conquerors.

On other days the ocean is tranquil and as smooth as glass.  This reminds me of the peace that we find in Christ.  Amidst the storms and trials we face in this life, God can give us the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7).  This kind of peace can only come from God because sometimes all our outward circumstances seem hopeless, but the inner peace God provides calms our fears.  It is an abiding peace that tells us like a soft whisper in our ear, “it will be alright, trust in me, I LOVE you.”

And like the waves cannot be separated from the ocean so it is with God’s LOVE for us.  Nothing can separate us from the LOVE of Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39). This is such a great consolation to me.  We can sometimes be like a ship in the ocean, tossed to and fro by the waves of our emotions and circumstances that drift into lives.  But here in Romans it tells us that nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from his LOVE.  He paid the price for us once and for all and we are his.

The ever flowing waves rolling into the sand is like a kiss from our Savior.  He is continually coming after us, pulling us unto himself.  He provides for our needs, correcting, teaching and wooing us with his LOVE.  He draws us unto himself (Jeremiah 31:3) because we are his, his dearly beloved, his own precious creation.  What an amazing LOVE he has lavished on us that we can be called “children of God,” (1 John 3:1). We are his very own, created in his image.

Thank you Father God for the ultimate example of LOVE you have shown to us! You are LOVE!  Thank you for the enjoyment we can have by looking at your creation and for the powerful images you have placed all around us that remind us of your great LOVE for us.  Thank you for being a God who LOVES us so completely and so faithfully.  Help us to feel your LOVE today.  As we are reminded of the great LOVE that you have towards us, help us in turn to LOVE others with your kind of LOVE and to continually seek your face above all else! All glory and honor to you, our powerful Savior and King! AMEN

Following the Plan

For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.  Jeremiah 29:11

I remember that day vividly, it had been something I had earnestly been praying about for some time.  For some young people, the chance to finally leave home is something they dream about.  Some choose to leave the first opportunity they get, and even do so prematurely.  In my case, it was not so.  I was quite the home-body.  Growing up, I always loved being at home, it was my safe-zone, a place I felt loved and secure.  But as time moved on, all of that changed and even more big changes were in my future.  My time had finally arrived, my hand was being forced, and I had a choice to make.  My parents had recently finalized their divorce after a long separation.  My mom had decided to move back to her birth-state of Wisconsin to be close to her aging parents.  My dad and my brothers were continuing to stay in the Chicago area where I had grown up.  This was a season of change in my life, I did not like change, but I needed to trust God and seek his will for my life.

I had been praying and had carefully analyzed all my options.  I could stay there in Chicago, get my own place and continue working for the publishing company I had been at for the past five years.  I could follow my mom to Wisconsin, continue to live with her, and look for employment there.  Or I could go for some really big (somewhat frightening) change by moving to Northern California.

I had some friends who had become like family to me.  They mentored me when I was a new Christian and they opened up their home and lives to me.  God used this couple during a difficult period in my life, they were real life savers.  They had moved to California a few years prior, to be youth pastors of a small church there.  I had gone to visit them during the summertime for the past two years and had loved the beautiful area.  Knowing I was in a time of transition, they had eagerly offered me the opportunity to move to California and in with them as an additional option.  Let me add that I did have a bit of a love-interest in the California option.  On my last visit to California, I had been corresponding with a man I had met there at their church and to make a long story short, he is now my husband.

But getting back to my original point, I had been praying that God would help direct me into what he wanted for me.  I began to feel at peace with the California option.  This was a big decision for me and I know without God in my life, it wouldn’t have happened.   God began to give me that peace that surpasses all understanding and the doors were opening.  In October of 1993, I boxed up all my personal belongings, boarded a plane and moved to Northern California.  A month after I moved to California, I became engaged to Bob, and he and I were married the following April of 1994.

When I now look back on the situation, I know God was in control.  He helped me to do something that without him I would have been totally unable to do.  He had a plan and was working it out in my life from the very beginning.  The decision was not an easy one and I decided to take that step in faith at trust God with the outcome.  We all come to this point in our lives.  We can choose to stay in what is comfortable for us, or we can step out in faith and do what God has planned for us.  I am so thankful that we have a God who when we trust him, he is with us every step of the way.  He carries us during those difficult seasons of our life when we are unable to see but a few feet in front of us.  We come to him through faith and to continue to grow in our relationship with him by faith. By constantly looking to him and seeking his will, he will guide us and give us insight into what he wants for us.  His plan is not always evident to us, but as we walk in faith and obedience he is there to help guide us.

As believers, we really only have two options.  We can either follow God’s plan for our lives or we can follow our own plan.  One brings blessing and prosperity and the other harm and destruction.  Hm, tough choice huh?  Think about it. . . The bible says in Proverbs 14:12 . . . There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end it leads to death.  This is the “broad” road it speaks about in Matthew 7:13-14 but we are told to enter through the narrow gate.  Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only few find it.  We don’t need to live by what “seems” right to us because we have the word of God which is our light, our compass.  By Reading Gods word, praying and listening to the Holy Spirit, this will help us to know God and to know his plan for us.  I know I want to follow God’s plan for me and honor him with my life.  How about you?

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.  Psalm 119:105

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Matthew 6:33

Choosing Your Part

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”           Luke 10:38-42

I am reminded this morning that we live in a harried world, full of activity and distractions. Our “to do” lists are a mile long.  Our days are full of so many things that vie for our time and attention. I was starting to feel anxious and concerned with all the things I had yet to do for this weekend, and of all the things others were expecting of me.  Then the Lord brought the above passage to my mind. In this text, I am reminded that I am occasionally choosing the part of Martha verses choosing the most important part of Mary. I am not saying that I am neglecting the reading of God’s word or prayer, but just that I am letting the distractions of the world and the thoughts of everything that needs to be done, distract me from my proper focus “Jesus.”

We are to sit at the feet of Jesus. And how are we to do this in a day and age when we are in constant movement? We like Mary, are to choose the better part.  We need to withdraw ourselves from the worries and cares of the world and let Jesus bear our burdens. God wants us to live in constant communion with him. In order to do that we must give Him first place in our mind and then, in all of our activities. In doing so, we are told in Isaiah 26:3 “That He will keep us in perfect peace when we keep our mind fixed on Him, because we trust in him.” Meaning we place our confidence in God, not letting the trials and circumstances in our lives be a distraction to our focus on our Savior. This is not always easy to do, but if we are to have the “peace of God,” this is what we must do.

Some ways in which we do this is to begin our day with reading God’s word and prayer. This is a must. To give God first place in our lives requires giving him the first of our thoughts and attention for the day. Then we are told that we are to do everything we do to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). However important or mundane the task is, if we do it to God’s Glory, then He will be in it.  And if we can’t do it to his glory, then we probably shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

Listening to uplifting music when you work is another great way to keep “God focused.” I’m so thankful that we always have prayer. Prayer should not be a last resort, the bible actually says we are to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), continually letting our requests be made known to God. God stands always ready to hear and answer but he wants us to turn from our self-centeredness and re-focus on him and then he is there to help us meet our needs. When we give God his rightful place in our lives and keep our attention on Him, all things become do-able, because his strength is there to sustain us and to pull us through.  He is so amazing and I’m am so thankful for his perfect plan for our lives.  Let us then choose the part of Mary, to sit at our Savior’s feet, for this is the better part.

Father God, I’m so thankful that you always meet me right where I and am. I’m thankful that you continually offer hope and reassurance that you are always with me. Thank you for feeling my frustrations and knowing my needs.  Thank you for the prompting of the Holy Spirit and his presence in my life. Help me always to remember that you are continually “with me.“ I’m thankful for the promise in your word that declares, “Nothing can pluck me from your hand”(John 10:29).  You are an awesome Father and I love you. Thank you for your goodness to me. All Glory and Honor to you my sweet Jesus! AMEN