Though You Trip and Fall

The other night, my husband and I were talking about the state of our marriage, and we’ve noticed a surprising trend. SteveandIWhen times get tough, we grow closer. Now, I know, according to the oft spoken clichés, that’s the way it’s supposed to happen, right? But I suspect it doesn’t always. During times of trial, families either grow closer or farther apart. In my opinion, the deciding factor is whether or not they have God’s holy, wise guidance and ever-present hand. Well, that and whether we honestly give Him an obedient ear. Because God is about unity. Peace. Love. Intimacy. And when you have God-given intimacy with those around you, an amazing thing happens. Though you fall, though you trip seven or seventy-seven times, you will get up again. Though it feels as if the world is spinning ruthlessly around you, you can and do endure.

I’ve shared, and will share again, this has been a rough year for our family, perhaps the most difficult we’ve faced instorm some time. For a while, it felt like the storm clouds pressing around us would never lift. But they did, and we’ve stepped out of our storm shelter stronger, closer to one another and to God, wiser, with one more wound healed and one more emotional layer peeled back.

The other day, as I was walking through our neighborhood, the sun bathing my face in warmth, the temperatures a pleasant fifty degrees despite the fact that we are in the middle of winter, I realized I was joyful. At peace. It’d been a while since I’d truly felt joy. And in that moment, I realized my storm had lifted, and reminded myself that storms don’t last forever. While we’re in them, they feel as if they will never let up, or as if they will tear us to shreds. But they won’t, because God won’t let them. And one day, they will lift and we will again feel the soothing warmth of the sun on our face.

Because though we trip, though we stumble, though we slide backward, we will get up again.

This morning I was reading in Psalm 18 and was reminded afresh of my heavenly Father’s ever-guiding, training hand.

Psalm 18:32-36

praiseGod arms me with strength, and He makes my way perfect. He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights. He trains my hands for battle; He strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow. You (God) have given me Your shield of victory. Your right hand supports me; Your help has made me great. You have made a wide path for my feet to keep them from slipping (NLT).

Scholars believe King David may have written this psalm toward the end of his life, during a time of peace. If you are familiar with David’s life, you will remember, much of it was anything but peaceful. In fact, he spent a fair amount of time in caves, hiding from King Saul who tried to kill him. And during his times of hiding, David cried out to God in despair. I imagine it felt as if his storm cloud would never lift.

But it did, and upon looking back, David was able to see God’s hand in every hurdle, storm cloud, and heartache.

If you are standing on the mountain top, rejoicing in God’s faithfulness, pause to remember some of the more difficult times in your life. How did you feel during those times? Did it seem like your struggle and pain would never end? But it did, right? Because God brought you through. Look at that/those experience/s through a God-lens. What did He show you about yourself? About Himself? Who did He bring alongside you during that tough time?

If you are still sheltering a storm, look up and look around. God is hovering over you, watching you, loving you. He friendswill bring you through. And, I would almost guarantee, He’s brought you someone to come along beside you. Are you accepting their aid and support, or are you building barriers around your heart, barriers that may seem protective–safe–but in essence, are blocking the very love and care you long for?

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Fleeing Sin Part 2

Today’s reading: Proverbs 5

Today’s focal verse: Proverbs 5:8 Stay away from her!
Don’t go near the door of her house!

Today’s Focus: Guarding against sin

This week’s memory verse: 

Proverbs 3:9-10

Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the best of everything you produce. Then He will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine.

 

Susan'sheadshotToday’s devotion, focusing on Proverbs 5, comes from one of my sweet friends and a Yahoo Proverbs study member, Susan Aken. When you think of God’s commands, do you feel slighted? Deprived? In the following devotion, Susan challenges us to think differently, realizing God’s loving and faithful and always has our best in mind.

God’s Plan for sex by Susan Aken

The wisdom shared in this chapter concerns immorality. Various translations refer to the woman in v. 3 as adulteress, immoral woman, strange woman, forbidden or loose woman. Obviously it is about being tempted to have a casual sexual relationship, and I think the principle would apply also to a woman being tempted by a forbidden man. Her lips “drip honey” and her (or his) speech is “smoother than oil”.

These verses apply so well in today’s world. Our society is so saturated with sex. We are not even surprised or shocked by casual sexuality anymore. But wisdom warns here that though he or she looks so appealing, “in the end she is…sharp as a double-edged sword”. Regret will come. (v.12) God’s wisdom is spurned in our society. “Drink water from your own cistern” v. 15 sounds archaic to most, it seems. The truth is that God’s ideal for us, one man and one woman committed to each other, is the best for us.

Jesus took it further when he said that even looking at a woman lustfully is like committing adultery. The abundance of pornography, graphic TV shows and movies, books that promote depravity, all these are like the woman whose lips drip honey. They promise a thrill that sounds so good. Keeping pure in heart sexually is a challenge for everyone in today’s world. Our flesh faces the sweet lies of sexual immorality everywhere we turn. But, in the end, we will regret that we did not listen to wisdom. God is not trying to steal our joy by calling us to purity; he wants to give us true joy that is free of regrets.

***

Susan Aken and her husband, Russ, will celebrate their 30th anniversary in May. They have one son who just turned 20. She was a school media specialist for 17 years. She quit when their son was 2 to be at home with him. She returned to work as a substitute teacher when he was in 5th grade and is still working as a sub. She has two books she self-published some years ago and has a blog she neglected in 2012 but wants to do better with it this year. She grew up knowing about Jesus and personally acknowledged him as Lord when she was 13. She’s had many ups and downs but He has been her solid rock. She used to think that by the time she was this age she would be this spiritual giant who would have figured things out. Instead she’s learned that we are all on a journey. Sometimes we move forward and sometimes we slide back, but we won’t reach full maturity until we see Jesus face to face.

Visit Susan online at: http://aken53.wordpress.com

***

So how do you guard your heart from sin? Not to sound cliche, but I suggest to you the best defense is a good offense. 😉 Or, in other words, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions” (Galatians 5:16-17 NLT).

Let’s talk about this.

What are some ways to guard our minds and hearts against sexual immorality?

We all know the physical dangers of sexual immorality–unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. But how does sexual immorality affect us at our core?

How might memorizing and meditating on Scripture help insulate you against temptation? (And yes, that was sly nagging that translates as: You are working on memorizing this week’s verse, right? How’s that going? Because tomorrow begins a new week with a new verse. 🙂 And yet another opportunity for us to set our hearts and minds on the things of God.)

I’d love to know your thoughts! You can share them in the comments below, at Facebook, or through our online Bible study. If you’re looking for a cyber-study to join, it’s not to late, and we’d love to have you!


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You are Beloved

God's lovePlease note: Gina Conroy is giving away a copy of Digging Up Death (see the book description below) to one of you, randomly chosen from the comments left on this post.

Today’s reading: Proverbs 3:31-35; John 15:5-7

Today’s focal verse: Proverbs 3:32

For the devious are an abomination to the LORD; But He is intimate with the upright.

Today’s focus: Intimacy with God

This week’s memory verse: 

Proverbs 3:9-10

Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the best of everything you produce. Then He will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine.

Throughout the Bible, we read accounts of people who “walked with God.” In fact, I think we read about this so often, it’s easy to take this truth for granted. As easy as it is to take Immanuel–God with us–for granted in our daily lives. And yet, if we were honest with ourselves, if we could truly catch a glimpse of the deepest recesses of our heart, I suspect what we long for most is not that next promotion, that next gadget, or that next opportunity. No, what we want, what we need, is to feel loved. Cherished. Heard. To know, no matter what we face or who may turn against us, there is someone who remains, who walks beside us, and looks upon us with a love so deep, if we let it, it will penetrate to our very depths, bringing with it freedom and wholeness and peace.
eIMG_0969 4x6 cropToday, author Gina Conroy reminds us of who we are to God.

You are Dulcinea, God’s Beloved
By Gina Conroy

I remember the time I say Broadway’s Man of La Mancha. Though I vaguely knew the story of the crazed man who fought windmills, I didn’t know God would use this story to speak to my heart. Filled with interesting and wretched characters (which completely contrast Don Quixote’s virtues of honor, love and faithfulness,) the story took me to a place I didn’t expect to go.

The harsh character of Aldonza, a self-proclaimed whore, touched my heart. She wore her pain and self-hate on her sleeve, her heart hardened to everyone including herself. At first she made fun of Don Quixote, like the others. His vision of her as Dulcinea, the virtuous virgin, perplexed her, but also intrigued her. She couldn’t stay away from him. Why couldn’t Don Quixote see her for who she really was, a wretched whore born on a dung heap and would die on a dung heap?

Yet, he insisted she was Dulcinea, the most beautiful and virtuous woman he’d ever met. His lady, the one he’d fight for on his quests.That’s when it hit me. I’m Aldonza, a wretched sinner in the eyes of everyone except my Don Quixote. My God.

Aldonza couldn’t accept Don Quixote’s vision of her. But when things got bad enough, when she had enough of Aldonza, she sought out Don Quixote and wanted to be his Dulcinea. She needed to be his Dulcinea.

We’re all Dulcinea’s in the eyes of God, but like Aldonza we can’t see it and those around us can’t see it also. Yet, someone saw past her sin to the person she was really meant to be. Dulcinea.

Do you wish someone would see the Dulcinea in you instead of Aldonza? Someone does.

You are Dulcinea.

God’s beloved. He will fight for you to the end!

Gina Conroy used to think she knew where her life was headed; now she’s leaning on the Lord to show her the way. After seven years of dream pursuit, she held her first novella, Buried Deception in the Cherry Blossom Capers Collection, in her hands and recently released her first full length mystery, Digging Up Death. Gina founded Writer…Interrupted  to encourage busy writers and chronicles her triumphs and trials as she pursues her dreams while encouraging her family and others to chase after their own passions. Gina loves to connect with readers, and when she isn’t writing, teaching, or driving kids around, you can find her on Facebook and Twitter, or pursuing her new passion — ballroom and swing dancing!

“Dig into a fun story with Digging Up Death. It’s got all the dirt you want–a tangled mystery, a quirky heroine, hints of romance, and page-turning action. Conroy keeps the story real and delves into the clean and the not so clean parts of life. Highly recommended.” Christy Barritt, author of the Squeaky Clean Mysteries series

DigginUpDeath_GinaConroy_EbookDigging Up Death:

Archaeology Professor Mari Duggins is adjusting to life as a single mom and trying to balance a television career, but gets caught between the pull of her former flame, a field archaeologist, and her ex-husband who is wanted by the FBI on an antiquities crime. Then her colleague is murdered, and she gets in over her head as she searches for truth in a desert of lies. Mari Duggins’ life caves in as she tries to excavate the truth, but realizes only God can dig her out of the hole she’s created. Will Mari sort through her muddled feelings and put her trust in someone else before her world caves in? Or will the truth bury her alive?

Buy Digging Up Death here

Cherry Blossom Capers JPEGHer Novella: Buried Deception in the Cherry Blossom Capers Collection

Mount Vernon archaeology intern and widow Samantha Steele wants to provide for her children without assistance from anyone. Security guard and ex-cop Nick Porter is haunted by his past and keeps his heart guarded. But when they discover an artifact at Mount Vernon is a fake, Nick and Samantha need to work together, set aside their stubbornness, and rely on each other or the results could be deadly. Will Samantha relinquish her control to a man she hardly knows? Can Nick learn to trust again? And will they both allow God to excavate their hearts so they can find new love?

 ***

Pause for a moment to recall a time when you felt especially close to God. If you’re like me, although I have moments of being close with God, I also spent way too much time falling into routine and taking Him for granted. Every once in a while I need a divine date night. 😉 I suggest you do the same.

Here are some possible ways to do that:

Make your Bible reading time special. I like to curl into the corner of the couch with a nice cup of warm, fragrant tea, with some soft music playing and my pen and notebook handy. There are some mornings where my time is short, but on Saturdays, I like to slow things down, giving myself ample time to connect with God.

So here are some things to discuss and/or ponder:

1) How can you make your Bible reading time more intimate? Perhaps light a sweet-smelling candle? Is there a drink or snack you’d enjoy? Find something special to add to really help you get in an intimate, relaxed mood.

2) Go on a mini-retreat. When we lived in Kansas City, there was a park I enjoyed going to. I’d bring my Bible, my Pandora radio (on my phone), and a notebook. Being out in God’s creation with the warm sun on my face and the sweet smell of flowers and grass all around me, really helped me slow my mind down and connect with God.

Determine to do both of these actions this week. Set a day and time for your mini-retreat. It doesn’t have to be long, but make a point to actually go somewhere, with the mindset of really connecting with God. Then come back and tell us where you went, what you did, and how it helped you experience God.

Let’s talk about this! Join the discussion in the comments below, Living by Grace, or join our Yahoo Bible Study group by clicking the link below.
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Click to join ProverbsStudy

I’d love to hear from you. How and when will you create a divine “date night” this week? I’d also love to hear about any special times with God you’ve had in the past. Where did you go and how did you encounter God?

Intentional Intimacy

There’s a video circulating cyber-space. I’m sure you’ve seen it. It talks about the difference between having a heart-felt relationship with God vs. following rules and traditions. Although I don’t agree with everything presented in the video, I find the basic premise valid. Christianity is more than a club to belong to. It’s more than going to church on Sundays and saying X number of prayers. It’s about total surrender. It’s about authenticity, intimacy. Christ didn’t die so we could put a bumper sticker on our car. He died to remove the barrier–sin–that kept us from fellowship with a holy God. But you can’t be intimate with someone you don’t know.

Today, Ava Pennington, author of One Year Alone With God, encourages us to draw near to God. To allow Him to reveal Himself as He truly is, not who we think He is or should be.

Intentional Intimacy by Ava Pennington

How intimate is your relationship with God? How intimate do you want it to be?

I’ve always heard that if we want to be close to God, we must be intentional about spending time with Him – have a regular time of prayer, read the Bible, obey His Word, and fellowship with His people.

Is that all there is to it? Is intimacy with God simply a matter of checking off items on a to-do list? That can’t be true, because too many Christians do these things, and still lack intimacy with the Lord.

It may be because all these activities – prayer, Bible-reading, living a moral life – while good, can become rituals. We can go through the motions with our hands, but not our hearts. So while these should be part of our daily lives, we should not stop there.

There is another possible reason for our lack of intimacy with God. Think about how we move people from acquaintances to personal friends. We get to know them by spending time with them. We learn what they say about themselves. We also want to know if there is a disconnect between their words and their actions.

However, when it comes to learning who God is, we often depend on what other people say about Him. We learn from our parents, from religious traditions, even from our culture. But that’s not necessarily who God says He is.

Even if we grew up attending Sunday School every week, we still might have trouble understanding what God has said about Himself. It doesn’t help that the names and attributes of God which brought comfort to countless generations are now often misunderstood in our culture.

For example, what does God mean when He calls Himself Jealous or a Consuming Fire? A famous celebrity talk show host once said she could never trust a god who was jealous. After all, jealousy can be a petty, controlling, and self-centered attribute. And most people would not be eager to pursue intimacy with a God who calls Himself a Consuming Fire!

More familiar names and attributes may still yield misconceptions. The Bible tells us God is love (I John 4:8). But how do we define love? Hearts & flowers? Terms of endearment?

If we want a more personal – a more intimate – relationship with God, it’s not only important to learn what God says about Himself, we must also understand these names and attributes in the context of what God intended, rather than what our culture now dictates.

One characteristic of intimacy is trust. It’s difficult to trust a stranger. But when we are intentional about learning what God says about Himself, and we see that how He relates to us is consistent with what He says, our faith is affirmed. The more we learn about who God is and how He works, the easier it is for us to trust Him.

The foundation of that trust is a complete picture of God. All the names and attributes of God combine to reveal His nature and His glory. We misunderstand who God is – and are therefore not as intimate with Him – when we focus on one name or attribute of God to the exclusion of all others. For example, those who focus only on God’s characteristic of love often end up with an anything-goes god who tolerates sin. Others who focus on God’s holiness to the exclusion of all other characteristics create a fire-and-brimstone god who is unloving, unmerciful, & uncompassionate.

God is love and He is holy. He is merciful and He is just. He is all these things and more. To truly know Him – to be intimate with Him – we must be intentional about learning all that He is – not just one or two characteristics that appeal to who we want Him to be.

Ask God’s Holy Spirit to show you who He is. Then mine treasures from His Word as He reveals His nature and His ways through His names and attributes. The result will be intentional intimacy.

One Year Alone With God:

Perfect. Almighty. The One Who Sees. Jealous. Forgiver. 

Every name of God revealed in the Bible shows us something about his character and his ways. As the facets of a diamond combine to reflect its brilliance, the names and attributes of God combine to reveal the transcendence of his nature and the glory of his ways. One Year Alone with God offers readers a wonderful opportunity to spend time each day getting to know God more intimately. At the end of a year, they’ll be able to say they know him better than they did a year ago.

This insightful guide to the names of God provides 366 life-changing, personal devotions for new Christians and longtime believers. As readers explore 122 names and attributes of God, they will discover something special about who God is, who they are, and how they relate to others. Includes a Scripture and name index for easy navigation to favorite verses.

Ava Pennington is a writer, Bible teacher, and speaker. She is the author of One Year Alone with God: 366 Devotions on the Names of God (Revell), endorsed by well-known author and teacher Kay Arthur. Additionally, Ava is the co-author of Do You Love Me More? and Will I See You Today? (Standard Publishing).

Ava has also published stories in twenty anthologies, including fifteen books in the inspirational Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Her articles have been published in Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse, The  LOOKOUT, Evangel, Light & Life, and other magazines.

Ava is a passionate speaker and teacher, and delights in challenging audiences with the truth of God’s word in relevant, enjoyable presentations.

For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com

Love Stories, compiled by Shannon Taylor Vanatter

Thanks Shannon, for highlighting one of my favorite marriage stories of all time–the Day My Husband Knocked Me off My Feet. Reading it again today brought back such sweet memories! Considering where my husband and I were twelve (or thirteen, not sure) years ago, the love and intimacy we share today is nothing short of miraculous.

I can’t wait to read your soon to be released, White Roses!