Mothers for Prodigals

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Strength of JOY


“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart. I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.” (written by George Willis Cooke)
Have you heard that song? If you ever attended Sunday School or Vacation Bible School, you have sung that song. Joy radiates when that song is sung. Sing that song right now; does joy spring forth? Do you truly believe the words that you’re singing?
Last week’s post included a quote from Oswald Chambers stating that happiness depends on what happens; joy does not. Happiness is fleeting as our circumstances usually dictate how we feel. Our moods, whether good or bad, generally depend on the situation. But joy depends on nothing but God. If we are fully focused on Jesus, joy exudes from deep within us, no matter what besieges us. The power that comes from joy gives us strength to persevere through anything life throws at us. As it says in Nehemiah 8:10b (NKJV), “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
So how do we persist in keeping our thoughts on Christ? We pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), communing with Jesus all day long and worshipping Him whenever we can. We put our trust in God, knowing that what He ordains is much better than what we think we can maintain. And no matter how much pain is inflicted upon us, we keep our faith in Jesus Christ who sustains us. Thank you, Heavenly Father!
Hear the Word of the Lord and be filled with joy!
The Lord is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
He is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.
Ex. 15:2 (NKJV)

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped;
Therefore my heart greatly rejoices,
And with my song I will praise Him.
Psalm 28:7 (NKJV)

Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4 (NKJV)

But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
He is their strength in the time of trouble.
Psalm 37:39 (NKJV)

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Psalm 46:1 (NKJV)

O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation,
You have covered my head in the day of battle.
Psalm 140:7 (NKJV)

He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Isaiah 40:29 (NKJV)

I read a devotional this morning written by Michael Youssef (for information on him, go to myjournal@leadingtheway.org). He talked about three words, using Psalm 27. Those words are: worship (verses 1-3), walk (verse 8), and wait (verses 13-14). If we literally engage in those words with our Savior, He will supply all our needs. Then there will only be room in our souls for joy. And if we truly ascribe to the acronym for JOY (below), God will daily strengthen us!

J - Jesus
O - others
Y - you

Are you singing yet? Do you have joy down in your heart? Turn your eyes upon Jesus and the joy you receive will give you strength.

(As I’m writing this post, I’m struggling to stay joyful as I continue to grapple with blocked ears. So know that we are in this together and the only way through all of our pain is to worship Jesus, walk with Him daily, and wait on His perfect timing. We give you praise and thanksgiving, Lord Jesus!)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Obedience of Joy


Are you abiding in the Lord? Does He abide in you? To answer those questions, we need to totally understand the word abide. To abide in the Lord means we are in compliance with Him, obeying and following His commands. The opposite would be to disobey. If Jesus abides within you, He and His commands remain. He stays with you; His life continues to bless others through you. Below is my experience from an “abiding” moment.

I have been struggling with a nasty sinus infection and ear infections for about a month. My right ear has been so blocked that it feels as if I’m underwater; sounds are very muted. It’s quite creepy when I sleep on my left ear because I become almost deaf. Nightime has been extremely hard as I usually wake up around 2:00 AM and almost go into a panic. My thoughts race to the “what ifs” and I freak out. That’s what I did this past Tuesday night and my husband said, “Debbie, why don’t you practice what you preach?” That piece of humble pie almost choked me! So I went downstairs, turned on the light, and practiced. I began reading Psalm 4.

Answer me when I call to you,
O my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
be merciful to me and hear my prayer.
How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame?
How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?

Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;
the LORD will hear when I call to him.
In your anger do not sin;
when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent.

Offer right sacrifices
and trust in the LORD.
Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?”
Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD.
You have filled my heart with greater joy
than when their grain and new wine abound.
I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD,
make me dwell in safety.
(NIV)
Wow, did I need to HEAR that. Thank you, Jesus! Spiritually I felt better, but physically I still felt bad, so I went online and requested a substitute for work, grew sleepy, and fell asleep in my chair. My husband woke me up at 6:30 AM. Generally I begin my devotions first thing in the morning, but I turned on the TV and began watching a movie. Within half an hour, the cable went out. I knew what was happening and I said, “OK, God, I understand. I need to open my Bible.” My devotions for that day were from Philippians 4:4-7 (NKJV).

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
“OK, God, I hear you loud and clear!” I said and proceeded to pick up my unopened March devotional journal. The first words I read were “Do not be anxious.”
“OK, I get it, God,” I said with a smile and pursued more of the Word. I opened to John 14-16, reading the words that Jesus shared with His disciples the night that He was betrayed. Chapter 15 is about the Vinedresser and I wanted to see what Jesus had to say before and after the teaching on the vineyard. I discovered some wonderful truths from our Lord and Savior. He reassured me again of His abiding love. Look at the first passage I read in these chapters: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. John 14:1 (NKJV) God’s assurance to my doubting heart overwhelmed me! He loves me so much that He repeated Himself in various ways. It reminded me of Peter’s experience with Jesus after His resurrection.
In John 21:15-17, the resurrected Jesus is speaking to Simon Peter. He’s asking Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” And Simon answers, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love you.” But Jesus asked him a second and third time. Why? Because Peter had denied Him three times and three times Jesus reconciled with Peter the importance of loving Him and tending His sheep. Have you denied Christ with your doubt and worry? If you have, it’s like saying you don’t believe in His power to fulfill His Word. Do you truly love Him? How many times has He spoken to you about the truth of His promises?

God spoke to me four different times Wednesday morning, but He said the same thing. “Debbie, stop worrying. Focus on Me and nothing else. I’m taking care of you as I always have. Trust Me and believe in Me.” I realized the depths of God’s love and dove deeper into His Word. Oh, how He blessed me that morning as I abided in His love. I pray His words will bless you with sweet abiding moments of truth.

Jesus, knowing that He would be leaving them very soon, encouraged His disciples with the words written in John 14-16. Throughout those chapters, He repeated Himself in various ways. He wanted to make sure that His disciples understood His love for them. Written below are Jesus’ words that He shared with His disciples. How they soothed my own worrying heart!

On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. John 14:20 (NIV) Jesus said, “...but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. John 14:31 (NASB)

What does He command us to do? To love one another. “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. John 15:12 (NASB) ...and He says to abide in His love. John 15:9-10 ....and we will abide in His love if we keep His commandments. He tells us that if anyone loves Him, he will keep His word. John 14:23 Keeping His commandments means obeying His Word and His Word says, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.” John 14:1 (NASB)

Worry is a constant temptation in this world and Jesus tells us not to do it! He asked His disciples and us, “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” Matthew 6:27 (NASB) Worry is disobedient to the Word and when we disobey, we fall into temptation and sin. Jesus gave us a prayer where we can pray, “And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.” Matthew 6:13 (NKJV) Pray it with faith!

We who believe in Christ know Him, the Spirit of Truth, and He abides in us. John 14:17 When we doubt and worry, we are saying we don’t trust our faithful God. We become disobedient and sin against our God who loves us. Father, forgive us!

His gift to us is peace, a peace that comes only from the Father. Hear Him say so: Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” John 14:27 (NASB) Jesus was speaking to His disciples with all these encouraging words on the night that He was betrayed. He told them that the ruler of the world is coming. Satan is the ruler of this world and He would love nothing more than to get us off the path of righteousness. But Jesus says that Satan has nothing in Him and He also says, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 1 John 4:4 (NKJV) And again He says, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NASB)

Jesus knew what His disciples needed in order to stay focused. He knows what we need in order to stay focused. Did they listen? Eventually. Will we listen? I hope so. He said all these things so that we would be full of joy. Hear Him speak, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” John 15:11 (NASB) Joy comes from rejoicing always. Philippians 4:4-7 Joy comes from God. Oswald Chambers said, “Happiness depends on what happens; joy does not.”

We are overcomers because of Christ and we have the gift of peace. We need to rejoice and exhibit joy, for “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

Let’s make the following words our creed of faith:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,
“FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG;
WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.”
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39 (NASB)
Praise God and AMEN! It all comes back to love; God’s abiding love, Christ’s love for us and our love for Him! Don’t disobey Him with your weaknesses; love Him enough to obey His commands with joy!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Seeking the Vinedresser



The flowering limbs of a crepe myrtle beautifully drape our Southern landscape in spring. Shades of pink and red, white, and purple adorn these trees and beautify the earth. Their beauty is stunning in certain seasons, but have you ever noticed crepe myrtles in the winter time, the ones that have been taken care of properly?

A crepe myrtle that has been properly pruned doesn’t “catch our eye.” It looks like a stump with blunt forked limbs growing up in the shape of a Y; it doesn’t grab our attention. But wow, when spring rolls around, the tree blossoms and bears the fruit of spectacular flowers. It’s a beauty for all eyes to behold!

Isaiah prophesied about a man whose appearance had no majesty that would attract people to him. He was despised by men. He was pierced through and crushed for our sins; he received our punishment, yet we are healed by his stripes. We can receive a fruitful life because of his dying. Read about what Jesus did for you in Isaiah 53; it’s a chapter about The Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ.

If we believe in this Suffering Servant, accepting His forgiveness of sins and receiving His righteousness, we are called to the same kind of life that He led. We may not have to go through a physical crucifixion, but we are to die to ourselves and our own wishes every day. And that is not easy to do. So if we are called to a life of sacrifice, how do we succeed in dying to ourselves?

Jesus answers that question by telling us how we are to live in Matthew 6:25-34.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

We are to seek God’s kingdom first. We’re not to worry about ourselves; we are to be concerned only with the righteousness of God. If we make Him our priority, He will take care of everything else in our lives. He wants our lives to blossom with the fruit of righteousness so that others can behold His beauty. At times we may have to be like the winter crepe myrtle, bluntly pruned. If we allow God to strip away everything in our lives that interferes with the work of Christ, then eventually our experience of sacrifice will flourish in the lives around us.

Consider Paul who endured all sorts of persecution because he was a “sold out” follower of Christ. Once he became a believer, he sought after God’s righteousness with gusto. He ministered to individuals and churches. He kept his branch attached to Jesus, allowing God to prune his life so that only Christ was seen in his life. It must have been difficult, yet he still sought the kingdom of God first.

Now consider all the fruit that Paul’s life bore many years ago and stills bears today. We can read his story in the Bible and be encouraged to stand with him, seeking God’s kingdom first. If we stay attached to the Vine (Christ Jesus), even if the Vinedresser needs to prune away our excesses, our right to ourselves, our worries, and our desires, His energy will abundantly flow through us causing us to flourish with His fruit of righteousness. Then other eyes will behold our beauty, people will be drawn to Christ, and God will receive the glory and majesty that He is due. Praise God!

Sacrifice your life to God today, permitting Him to prune away your lifeless branches. Stay attached to the branch of Christ and, in the right season, you will be abundantly blessed with fruit that will bless others. Begin now with a thanksgiving of praise from Psalm 66.

Shout with joy to God, all the earth!
Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power
that your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down to you;
they sing praise to you,
they sing praise to your name.”
Selah
Come and see what God has done,
how awesome his works in man’s behalf!
He turned the sea into dry land,
they passed through the waters on foot—
come, let us rejoice in him.
He rules forever by his power,
his eyes watch the nations—
let not the rebellious rise up against him.
Selah
Praise our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
For you, O God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.
I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you—
vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
when I was in trouble.
I will sacrifice fat animals to you
and an offering of rams;
I will offer bulls and goats.
Selah
Come and listen, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
but God has surely listened
and heard my voice in prayer.
Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!
Thank you, God, for sending us your Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us and save us from ourselves. Help us to seek You first, knowing that we thrive because of You. Thank you in advance for the abundance that You will produce with our lives. To You be the glory!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Our Vinedresser


Napa Valley in northern California is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Hillsides filled with rows of grapes are scattered throughout small towns such as Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, and St. Helena. Various wineries situated on either side of the main road occupy each town and inside each winery resides a vinedresser.



A vinedresser or grower of grapes cultivates and prunes grapevines. As I learned from Bruce Wilkinson’s Secrets of The Vine, the life of a grower includes long hours of walking through the vineyards and tending to the branches that bear the grapes. The vinedresser watches over the vineyard, protecting and guarding it from the elements. He patiently waits for the perfect day of fruitful harvest. He cherishes his vineyard and prides himself on a good crop. He gains respect when his harvest produces a fabulous glass of wine.

Sound familiar? Yes, God is the Vinedresser who loves and cherishes His people, a vineyard made up of many branches. He sent His son, Jesus, who is the Vine on which we grow. He desires a harvest of good fruit from His vineyard so that the Name above all names, Jesus Christ, is glorified among men. He lovingly and tenderly attends to His vineyard, keeping an eye on the elements that surround them.

Read John 15 slowly and aloud, reflecting on our Vinedresser and His longing for the production of good fruit in our lives. Jesus spoke these words to His disciples on that long ago Passover night that would change the world. He knew He was leaving the earth to return to His Heavenly Father, so He intended to encourage His followers with a teaching about bearing good fruit. After addressing who the Vine and Vinedresser is, He begins explaining the life of the branches that live in Him. Those branches are sinners who have been saved by believing in the Savior of the world, Jesus. Why then in verse 2 does He say the branch in Him that doesn’t bear fruit, He takes away?

Hear the words of John the Baptist as Jesus approaches him to be baptized: .....he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 (NASB) “Takes away” are the key words in each of these passages and they relate to “cleanness,” as it states in John 15:3: “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”

Jesus takes away our sins by the blood poured out on the cross. The blood cleanses the sins of generations of believers in the past, present, and future. We are cleaned up the moment we believe in the Word, Jesus Christ. Read the words of God in the following passages.

She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 (NASB)
And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 (NASB)
...and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses. Acts 13:39 (NASB)
You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. 1 John 3:5 (NASB)

He is the Lamb who cleans up the sins of the world! The question we should ask ourselves once we’re cleaned is: are we bearing fruit and if not, what does Christ do to help us bear fruit?

The answer lies in the life of the grape grower. As he walks among his vineyards, the vinedresser may find new branches that have begun trailing along the ground. They can’t bear fruit if they’re growing along the ground. If the air is dry, the leaves will become very dusty. If it rains, they will be covered in mud. If either of these things happen, the branches are useless and fruitless. Does the grape grower then just cut off the branches and throw them away? No, he gently lifts them up and washes them off with a bucket of water. Then he either ties them up or wraps them around a trellis. Soon they are growing and flourishing, producing a fruitful crop.

The grape grower is a great illustration of how our Heavenly Father, the Vinedresser, lifts up and cleans off believers in Christ when they’ve muddied themselves with sin. He cleans us by the blood of the Lamb as He ties us to the cross of Christ. Then as we abide in the Word (Jesus) of God, we flourish and bear fruit which glorifies God.

Know that you have a Vinedresser who watches over you, tending to you daily. He loves you dearly. If you are attached to His Vine, Jesus Christ, He will attend to your needs, cleaning you up when necessary. He desires fruit from your life. He’s blessed you with the life you live; now glorify Him with it. Let’s raise our “glasses of fine wine” to our Savior, Jesus Christ, giving Him the honor that is due to His Name.