The Comparison Trap

Corinthians 12:18-20

I think we all do it or have done it at one point or another, we compare ourselves to someone else. In some ways this is not always a negative thing… We might use others’ reactions or behaviors as a guide to handle similar situation in our own life. It is a type of social learning that can be positive; however, comparing ourselves to others can move into other areas where we start to feel discontent with things beyond our control. We begin to be critical of ourselves or others. We forget to appreciate our personal differences as well contextual differences that play out. I love the quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” That is so true! We need to remember those differences (especially in how we were created) were placed there for a purpose.

Corinthians 12:18-20 says, “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”

Constantly comparing ourselves to others can trap us in discouragement, discontent, bitterness, etc. That is not where God wants us to dwell.

Renee Snope, a Christian writer also shared, “The only way we’ll break free from the comparison trap is by embracing who we are instead of trying to be who we are not. So how do we start? First, trust that God made you just as He wanted you to be, and then be the best YOU. Discover and offer the unique personality traits, abilities and gifts God gave you to impact those around you.

For instance, your personality is your natural way of doing things and relating to others. You have strengths and relational challenges God intentionally wove together when He was making you. God made some of us people-oriented and sensitive to others’ feelings, while some of us are more task-oriented and lower on empathy. He created those who love to talk and live life on the fly, while others love to listen and schedule plans in advance.

All of us are different and bring something valuable to our circumstances and relationships. We also have natural abilities, but often self-doubt shapes our excuses: “I don’t have any talent. I have nothing special to offer.” Well, do you like to cook? Prepare meals for shut-ins. Good with crafts? Serve at a community center. Have accounting abilities? You could assist a neighbor having problems balancing her checkbook.”

Remember that no matter how big or small your abilities, skills, talents, etc. seem, they’re God-given! And how you were created, God intends to use you in a mighty way!

Reflect: What areas do women compare themselves to others? How can we in our friendships and working relationships encourage an appreciation for everyone’s different gifts, abilities, and situations?

Faith is a Miracle

Matthew 13:31-32

31 Jesus put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32

Have you ever held a mustard seed? They’re little! Did you know from the mustard seed a tree grows? Not just any tree, a tree that can reach between 20 to 30 feet in height! And the limbs grow to reach out wide with a spread of 20 feet. The trunk is very thick and sturdy.  Such a big tree from a tiny seed!

Jesus used this parable to teach his disciples and those that were listening. Jesus said that we may always come to Him with our little faith. Even when our faith seems to fall short, Jesus can grow us in ways we can’t imagine. He can turn our little bitty faith into something wonderful and mighty! Like that big mustard tree, we can weather storms and reach out to share God’s love with others in incredible ways!

One thing to know about the mustard seed (thanks to google!), a mustard seed needs moist soil and it takes time to germinate before that first sprout occurs. Our faith needs the moist soil of God’s Word! What does that mean for us? We have to be open to hear God’s Word and obedient to keep it. God can still work in us, but the more “cooperative” we are helps makes our growing experience become richer in the Lord. 

I really believe our faith is a miracle. It is a gift from God. Once we have come to call Jesus our Lord and Savior. God sends us His Holy Spirit. That is a miracle and gift! Especially in the ways the Holy Spirit fills us and works through us. I think about the miracle of creation and out of all He created, He thought to create each one of us. There are many simple miracles that are seen and unseen each day. So much to be thankful for!

Reflect: What simple miracles can you identify? If you are not sure, take a walk – look at nature. Many things that we take for granted that just occur – are really amazing when you really think about it! How can recognizing those simple miracles encourage and grow you in your faith walk?

Walk In The Light

1 John 1:1-7

When we first moved into our current house, our kids were little.  So, you can imagine what cleaning was like.  When we would have people over, I’d spend hours cleaning – dusting, floors, etc.  My house would look great – well.. the first floor would with the exception for the office.  The unfinished office became a place to stick things.  If we didn’t know what to do with an item – large or small,  we would just stick it in the office and close the door.  LOL!  We once had friends over, and my husband forgot “the rule” – keep the office door closed at all times.  We were outside on the deck with our friends. I went in the house to get something and I was aghast that my husband had left the office door was wide open revealing the disheveled chaos within.  How long had that door been open? I was horrified to have friends see that actually my house wasn’t in order after all.  

I love hearing and studying God’s Word that gives me strength and encouragement.  Being reminded of God’s love for me is so important.  I’ll confess though, sometimes I struggle with the parts of scripture that challenge me by showing me where I fall short in my walk with God.  It can be an uncomfortable feeling when we get into the word and feel the Holy Spirit convict us in a certain way.  When we walk in God’s light, it isn’t just about God guiding us, it is also about allowing God to show us what areas in our life can we do better or work removing any sinful attitudes or actions.  This can be tough to face personally.  I’m with you on this!  It is like confronting that messy office we had with things shoved in it that we either didn’t know what to do with.  When we walk in the light of God, He opens the door of our hearts – but not to point and judge.  But He says, “I love you even when your life is messy and chaotic. Let me show you doesn’t need to be here. Let me help you remove those items.”   

Dig Deeper:

John, like other disciples and apostles during the early church days, worked hard to correct false teachings that would often infiltrate the church.  1 John 1:5-7 addresses this plainly:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”  

Sin and God cannot exist in the same place.  That is why God wants to help us with our own sinful attitudes and actions.  He loves us and He wants this close, intimate relationship with us.  It is why He sent Jesus.  We should never be embarrassed or try to hide where we struggle with sin, but always give it to God.  Daily, too!  I know I need to.  That is walking in light.  We identify where we struggle with sin, confess, accept our forgiveness, and trust in God’s love, mercy, and grace.  When we do that, we remove that obstacle that keeps us from drawing close to God.  It actually is a freeing feeling! 

Reflect:  What areas of your heart can you open the door so God can help you draw closer to Him? What “items” are there that can be cleared away that might affect your attitude and actions in a negative and sinful way? Pray and ask God to help you walk in His light, confident in His love and grace!

Great Expectations

1 Peter 1:3-12

Great Expectations = Great Disappointment. Many struggle with disappointment. I know I don’t like feeling disappointed. I imagine you don’t either. When you go through great disappointments in your life, it is understandable that you might take precautions to avoid any more at all costs. There is nothing like having hopes dashed against the rocks and plans fall apart. Disappointment really is another form of grief and it’s important to work through all of it in a healthy way.

I think the past couple of months during our COVID crisis, many of us have been working through various levels disappointment. Family and friends unable to connect with each other in person. Missed hugs that are often shared between grandparents and grandchildren. I think of the high school and college seniors who had big expectations this past spring feel the disappointment of the end of the school year fizzle out. Men and women who have been furloughed or unemployed have experienced interruptions of income and an uncertain future. Our essential workers who have needed to isolate themselves from their families to keep them from the virus. For those who are already struggling with personal disappointments, the COVID crisis/social distancing can feel like everything has compounded together.

In a broken world, we will never escape disappointment. Well placed and realistic expectations can even be derailed. One hope and expectation that will never fail or disappoint is Christ.

1 Peter 1:3-9 says: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuinenessof your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Peter makes some very encouraging points about our hope in Christ:

  • Through Christ, we can receive healing and renewal
  • Because of Christ, the promise of eternal life can never be taken away
  • From Christ, we receive peace and joy in the storm
  • In Christ, we find strength and victory over our trials

Reflect:

Make a list of things that have disappointed you. It may take you some time to create this list. Acknowledging our hurts is the first step towards dealing with disappointments. Pray over your list. Talk to God about how those disappointments have affected you. Use 1 Peter 1:3-9 to help you pray for: healing and renewal; peace and joy; strength and victory. Realize that placing your hope in Christ is an expectation that will never disappoint.

Where Do You Dwell?

Psalm 91

The opening words of Psalm 91:1-2 are offer beautiful assurance: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  He will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”  I am struck by these words as I read them… for weeks I have “sheltered-in-place” with my family.  We all might feel restless as we try to understand and anticipate events. But when I think about the time I am given to dwell in the shelter of the Most High and to abide with Him there – those words give me comfort, peace, encouragement, and strength!  I encourage you to read the whole passage of Psalm 91 and let those words minister to you.  What a timely passage to read for us!

A pastor once asked his congregation where do you dwell? He had just shared the words of Psalm 91 and was sharing what it means to abide in God. To abide with God, we must dwell in His presence. We must seek God out through His Word and prayer. When we are faced with trouble and difficulties, we forget to seek God and we find ourselves dwelling in fear and anxiety. God calls us and invites us to come to Him. Come find refuge. Come find shelter. We need not remain in those places of worry.

The concept of abiding has significant meaning for us. God’s invitation is for us to dwell or remain with Him. We are not merely being invited to be aware of His presence, but God desires to draw us into a deep relationship with Him. It is a personal and interactive relationship. We observe, follow, obey, accept, trust, and receive. Our focus is on Him. We are filled and sustained by His power and love. He is our all and all.

Reflect: As you find yourself in concerning situations, where does your heart dwell? Pray and ask God to give you assurance and peace that He is watching over you and covering you with His love and protection. Choose to dwell in His presence through prayer and reading His word.

God’s Peace

Proverbs 3:1-17

The studies that I have done on God’s peace are always enlightening because they serve to help adjust my understanding of what God’s peace is.  For example, it is easy for me to think that in order to experience God’s peace I must have no problems, no challenges, everything is working perfectly, and I don’t have a worry in my heart.  However, I have experienced God’s peace in the midst of difficult times when things were not going right, and my heart was crying out to Him.  And so, from a personal experience… I would say God’s peace is almost like a feeling that you are held by God, He is lifting you up and carrying you despite anything that is going on.  It is almost like this confidence that is not mustered up by your own ability, but the Holy Spirit dwelling in you.  And the feeling can give you energy and joy in the midst of anything.  I can experience God’s peace while having the calmest day or the most gut-wrenching difficult day.  

Dig Deeper: When I think about the difficult days where I experienced God’s peace, I know my focus had a major shift. Instead of looking at the the looming clouds, the churning waves, and the ominous rocks ahead, I shifted my focus to God. Proverbs 3 has wonderful wisdom for us on where we need to shift our focus… even when we feel like we don’t have it in us. When we keep God’s word and promises tucked away in our hearts, in times of trouble they serve as life vests. Verse 3 says: “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck and write them on the tablets of your heart.” What a beautiful” reminder on where our focus needs to be!

Verse 13-17 give us wonderful reminders of the blessings we have in putting our trust and focus in God. In the midst of our storms, we can experience His perfect peace: “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” Proverbs 3:17

Reflect: Spend time meditating on Proverbs 3. Think about the trust you place in God. Is it easy? If you struggle, why do you think it is? Pray the words of this passage to help you understand and ask God to help you to lean on His understanding. Believe in His grace for times we doubt and need reassurance. Focus on Him and allow the Holy Spirit to fill you with peace.

Because of Who He Is

2 Kings 19 & 20

Maybe you can relate to this…  Sometimes when I go to the Lord in prayer about something big and significant regarding myself, I start to worry that maybe I am too undeserving for that request to be even considered by God.  Perhaps because I have not lived a certain way or have sin in my life, God would not answer my prayer?  Even long time Christ followers struggle with these thoughts.  And if you do, you are not alone.  Some of us enter into a bit of negotiating in our prayers…  “God, I know I did this…  please forgive me…  I promise not to… ever again…  If you could please answer my prayers…”  And in these moments, those words seem artificial for we know that we are flawed and prone to sin again.  When we experience this type of thinking, we may also feel vulnerable that we have lost our chance for God to answer our prayers to Him.  We feel unworthy.  

A couple of thoughts… First, it is good that you have these thoughts tugging at your heart but important to not remain in that place of feeling that way.  Let me explain.  The Holy Spirit is always prompting us and nudging us to remove the sin in our lives that might serve as a barrier or obstacle in growing our relationship with God.  The only way to remove that barrier is to confess where we fall short and ask forgiveness.  This is a daily thing!  When our prayer life diminishes and we do not come to Him often in this way, we can feel that anxiety of negotiating forgiveness and asking for God’s help.  So, don’t let those feeling keep you from reaching out to God in prayer.  Ask forgiveness and know that you are forgiven.  Lay your burdens at the foot of Christ and know that because He loves you, He will help you.

Second, is a point that Wendy makes about the character of God.  The character of God is love, mercy, grace, holiness, etc.  It is not because of who we are, but because of who God is.  We can come to God and ask Him to forgive us, help us, to heal us, etc. because God is love.  You are loved by God!  We give a lot “talk” to the gift of God’s Son and the resurrection.  But rarely to we let it truly sink in on a personal level.  If God thought of you, before you were born, knowing how your life would play out – the good steps and missteps, your short comings… and yet, He still sent Christ to pay a debt you could not pay.  God still said I will fight for her – she is my child.  I think that we can come in confidence when we pray and know because of Who He I and not who we are – He will listen to us and answer our prayers.  

Dig Deeper:  Today, we will be reading about Hezekiah, one of the better kings of Judah.  He was one of the better ones because Hezekiah truly tried to do what was right in the eyes of the Lord.  He got rid of false god worship in the high places.  He trusted God and held fast in following Him.  If you have time (we all do at the moment) read through the lineage of kings is 2 Kings 15:32-16:20. You will see where goodness often skipped generations.  However, Hezekiah’s great-grandfather and grandfather were influential for him.  Scripture shares that both kings as wise and did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. 

As you read 2 Kings 19 & 20, take note of how Hezekiah prayed and how God answered his prayer (19:14-20).  God promised Hezekiah that He would defend Judah in order to preserve it.  God showed His character time and time to Hezekiah. Take a look at 2 Kings 20:1-11.  Just after the Lord saved King Hezekiah and his people from the enemy, Hezekiah fell ill.  Even though Hezekiah was told he only had days to live, he prayed to God.  It’s important to know that Hezekiah was not praying for healing because he thought his actions and works were good.  Instead, he knew God. He had come to know the character of God. And because of who God is, we like Hezekiah can come to Him with our prayer requests.

Discuss:  Think of a time in your own life when you desperately need god to intervene.  How did you approach God in prayer?  What can we learn about our prayer life by knowing and understanding the character of God?

The Heavens Declare

Psalm 19

Psalm 19 starts in such a beautiful way… The heavens declare the glory of God.   In the spring, I love walking at sunset because of the beauty of the sky.  The path I take leads me out of my neighborhood to a very large park.  There are mostly soccer fields in this park and so not many trees, but it’s such an open area that I love it.  I am able to really gaze at the fullness of a sunset or the different cloud formation. 

There is just something about getting out and looking at the sky.  For the past couple of weeks, we have all been at home during this shelter in place.  I have to admit, it is easy to feel a little anxiousness at current events.  And on the first warm day, I went for a walk on my normal route through the park.  Just being out and looking up at the sky makes it so very easy to relate to the psalmist.  My thoughts of worry and concern turned to encouragement and peace. It was like I heard God’s words speaking to my heart. The psalmist goes on to mention more observations where the earth proclaims the glory of God.  God’s handiwork reveals His character.  God communicates His word through His creation. 

Dig Deeper:  As read Psalm 19, focus on how the psalmist describes the value of God’s word.  What does the psalmist say about how we should value God’s word?  How does obedience factor in?

Reflect:  What about creation reminds you of God’s Word?  How can you show value of God’s Word in your daily life?

The Perfect Banner

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Song of Solomon 2:1-4; Psalm 20:1-5; Psalm 60:4-5

I was walking the aisles of the nearest party supply store looking for just the perfect “Happy Birthday” banner.  It was my daughter’s first birthday.  I wanted it to be big and cute!  I laugh at myself sometimes because I can get hung up on the details of things.  She probably would have liked just any banner because after all she was only one and probably wouldn’t even pay attention to the banner.  But I wanted it to be there for her and everyone else to see.  A simple banner that made all the decorations and the party look perfect cause after all nothing says, “I love you!” like a perfect banner.

God sets the perfect banner over us – His banner of perfect love.  This banner identifies us as His.  Under this banner we are protected.  This banner goes before us to lead us.  And it waves to show God’s victory over sin and death and that we are set free!  

I think it’s easy to forget about this banner of love that God sets over us.  We are too distracted or perhaps our spiritual immaturity prevents us from true understanding of what this banner means for us.  

Dig Deeper:  Spend some time meditating on these scripture verse.  What does each verse say about this banner of love that is set over us:

“He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.”  Song of Solomon 2:4

“May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners!  May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!” Psalm 20:5

“You have set up a banner for those who fear you, that they may flee to it from the bow.” Psalm 60:4

Reflect:  God’s banner of love is set over you!  How does this realization change how you view your worth and value?  

The Lord is My Banner

Monday, April 6, 2020

Read Numbers 1 & 2

This week, I want to talk about how God has His banner over us.  This banner has significance for us in a couple of ways.  First, let’s look at how God’s banner identifies us as His people.

I am reminded of this past summer I attended a national youth event with our church.  22,000 youth and leaders were all together in Minneapolis.  I loved looking out at the stadium where we worshiped seeing all these groups sitting together with their leaders.  With so many people, it would be understandable to be lost in a crowd.  But leaders were prepared for this potential scenario!  On poles, each group made some type of banner to wave high above the crowd.  Some had fun colorful flags. Others made shapes of the states they were from.  A taco, funny hats, a blowup pig, etc. were used to hold up high so no one would get lost.  Fun memories!

The use of banners was common in the Old Testament.  Banners were used to identify the twelve tribes of Israelites when Moses led them out of Egypt.  If you read Numbers 1 and 2, God instructed His people to camp together according to their tribe and to use banners as a way to identify which tribe they belonged to.  It helped them stay together when they traveled so no one would be separated from their group.

As God led the Israelites in the wilderness, he set a cloud before them to lead them so that no one would be lost or separated.  This cloud ensured the Israelites of His presence.  In many ways His presence was a banner over His people. This cloud spontaneously appeared and lifted, and at night it had the appearance of fire.  It also reminded them that they were His people and His covenant with them that He would never abandon them as He continued to guide them.

Reflect:  How does God’s Word guide you and give you hope?  How does His Word remind you of His promises?