In the Beginning…

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Scripture: Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God…”

Reflection: The first four words of the creation story should be the first four words to any story in our lives. “In the beginning God…” I can’t say I have always honored this truth; however, as I attempt to be more like Christ and less like the world, I sometimes need the reminder.

In the beginning (of marriage) God…

In the beginning (of being a parent) God…

In the beginning (of my day) God…

In the beginning (of prayer) God…

In the beginning (of rest) God…

In the beginning (of obedience) God…

There should never be a time in our lives when we don’t put God first. Proverbs 16:3 tells us to commit our works to the Lord, and our plans will be established. Put God first and our plans become God’s plans; and God’s plans become our plans.

I admit, I can sometimes get this backwards. I like to make my plans and then consult with God about them. I get lost in my plans and then I search out God for rescue. If we admit it, we can all be like the children of Israel – doing what is right in our own eyes.

I am challenging myself, and I challenge you as well, this week, to seek the Lord first. When life throws you a curve ball, seek God. When you are tired and weary, seek God. When you wake in the morning, seek God. Even when the world is revolving as it should, and everything is in its perfect place, seek God.

That’s easy enough.

Prayer: My God, my Savior – I invite You to be first in my life. I invite You to lead me in the way I need to go. This week Lord, I ask that You send gentle reminders when I’m moving forward without putting You in Your rightful place; Your rightful place as the Head of my life. I give everything over to You – wherever You lead, I will follow. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

Find Rest

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Scripture: Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 

Reflection: This year, 2019, I decided my focus would be rest. I would structure my life and my ministry around rest. Letting go of the heavy burdens – and resting in Christ.

I can imagine this rest being like laying in your mother’s bosom – listening to her heartbeat. Trusting the rest. Knowing that as long as you are there, everything is right with the world.

Do me a favor – close your eyes for a moment and consider what that feels like…

Now, multiply that feeling to eternity.

This is exactly what Christ wants for us. He is asking for us to let go of those things that are keeping us from living purposefully. He says come to Me – all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens – I will give you rest. I will take your mind off of the struggle, if you only come to Me. I will remove the fear, if you only come to Me. I will provide you peace of mind – oh, if you only come to Me.

He says, I know life is hard, I know you are afraid to face tomorrow, but come to Me my child and I will give you rest. I know things look scary right now, and you don’t know which way to go, but I promise if you are willing to come to Me, I will take it unto my bosom, so you can rest.

When we rest in Christ, we become better stewards of His calling on our lives. We don’t spend so much time worrying about things that take us away from our divine assignment. When we rest in Christ, we are better equipped to take on His mission of spreading the gospel to the world.

God is asking you today to release your burdens. Let them go, walk away, and rest. Promise me you will try – and I promise you won’t regret it.

Prayer: Burden Bearer, my Redeemer, give me rest. I’m not longer interested in the kind of rest that comes and goes – I’m looking for the deep, fulfilling, rest that only comes from You. I release all of my heaviness on to you. I release those things that are keeping me downtrodden, keeping me indifferent about the future, making me live in circles – I’m releasing those things to You. Lord, I trust You to lighten my load – and give me rest. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

The Cross

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Scripture: 1 Peter 2:24 – “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the Cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

Reflection: What does the Cross mean to you? I mean do some deep soul searching, not the superficial look we do when someone asks us why we go to church, or why we believe. Do some true introspection into your heart (Proverbs 4:23); focus on your thoughts, your desires and your plans. 

Now, think of the Cross.

Think of the moment He was beaten. Think of the seconds before He was mocked and accused by the chief priests and elders. Think of His silence. Think of the crown of thorns being placed on His head. Think of the nails being driven into His hands. Think of Him taking His last breath.

Now, imagine the moment He thought of you.

When we understand why Jesus didn’t fight the fate of the Cross, we understand that the Cross was essential to our redemption today. Instead of each of us having to atone for our own individual sins, Jesus accepted the fate of the Cross for all of our sins. Even then, He had us on His mind – before we were ever formed (Jeremiah 1:5). He understood the Cross was the only way to save us from ourselves.

This week I implore you to consider what the Cross represents to you. If the Cross represents unselfish love, show someone what unselfish love looks like. If the Cross represents faith, grow your faith life this week by believing God to answer your deepest prayer. If the Cross represents life, give an uplifting breath of life to everyone you encounter.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the Cross. Thank You for Your Son, who was without sin, who died for my sins. Help me to focus my thoughts on what the Cross means to me, and for me. Christ lived His life knowing He would die for my sins, and for this I want to live my life beholden to the Cross, in everything I say and everything I do. Allow me to grow forward from this day, as a new person, with renewed perspective and renewed faith, knowing that because Jesus conquered death, I too am a conqueror. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

Thank You God

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Scripture: Psalm 9:1 – I will give thanks to You, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonderful deeds.

Reflection: There is something I ask my boys, very often. When we are snuggling, and just enjoying our time together, I always ask them “Do you know how I know God loves me?” Of course they indulge me by saying “how mommy”; even though I’ve asked them this same question many times and, for them, my answer never changes. I say, “I know God loves me because He gave me you.”

This started me thinking, and asking myself, Toby, how thankful are you really for the things God has given you – the things God has done for you – and how often do you thank and give God praise for the healing, the people, the moments, the purpose, the opened doors, and the closed doors alike – and everything in between?

Well, a few weeks ago, that’s what I wanted to do. I got up before the sun did – because I wanted to be intentional about drawing close to God and letting Him know how thankful I was. I left my husband asleep, and the kids were gone, so I felt I could find a moment to have a conversation, and write, without any interruptions.

This was not long after celebrating Thanksgiving and here I am wanting to be intentional about thanking Him for all He has done for me. I know that’s such a cliché, but Thanksgiving has this way of reminding us of the need to be thankful, however short lived it can be. Thankful for the patience He has shown me; the promises He has fulfilled in my life; the love He gives freely; for His grace and mercy; for the holiday season that means everything, and something different for those of us who believe; and for ordinary days that don’t mean anything in particular. I just wanted to say “thank You.”

I remember hearing something recently, although I can’t remember where, and the statement was “If you woke up today and only had the things you thanked God for yesterday, would you be alright?”

This is not an assumed question.

Would you be alright?

Would you be alright, if that job you despise was not yours tomorrow? Would you be alright if that family member you argued with during the holidays was gone tomorrow? Would you be alright tomorrow if your health started to fail? If your friends were gone? If your mind was fading?

I know this sounds a little drastic, but drastic times call for drastic measures. What are you thankful for? Let God know, with all of your heart, how grateful you are for the things you have received by grace! Take the time and count your blessings, one by one. Tell Him of His wonderful deeds. When you do, you will have a new appreciation for the things you have been blessed with.

Prayer: Father God, Lover of my Soul, Blessing Bearer – thank You! Thank You for everything, great and small, that You have blessed me with. Thank You for knowing what I need even when I don’t know. God, please forgive me for those times I forgot, or just neglected, to say Thank You. Help me to always be aware of when I’m ungrateful for Your gifts to me, and the people in my life. Also, please help me to remember that when I don’t receive those things I have prayed for, this is also Your way of blessing me – by protecting me from myself. Thank You for loving me and blessing me with Your Son, Jesus, most of all. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

Are You the One

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I am happy to celebrate one week as a blogger!! I know this is a little different than the first week of devotionals, but God placed this on my heart – and I want to share it with you!

Are you the one? Are you the one who will remain faithful and steadfast in adversity? Are you the one who will trust God to bless you where you are? Are you the one who will try one more time? Are you the one who will take the risk to trust God even when it seems hopeless? The only prerequisite you need, to be the one, is faith! Do you have the necessary faith to follow God? To trust God? If your answer is yes, you are in good company. I know a few people who trusted God in spite of what it looked like on the outside. Let me (re)introduce them to you:

Eve – We all know Eve as the one who was fooled by the enemy, and in many of the sermons I have heard over the years, Eve took a bad rap. But I would like to argue that she knew she had a purpose more important than her circumstances. She had to realize there was something else that needed to be done. I say this because it would have been easy for Eve to give up. It would have been easy for Eve to throw in the towel, after her son was murdered by his brother, or after the enemy came in and tempted her. The Garden of Eden was her home for goodness sake and she was evicted from it. She had every good thing at her finger tips, and in the blink of an eye it was gone. I’m not sure about you but I don’t know if I would have been able to hold it together. I can imagine Eve saying the old wise adage “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me!” The enemy never got a second chance to fool her. But even after all of this, she did not waiver. She did not stop moving forward. Through the lineage of her third born son, Seth, we are introduced to Noah; who God chose to repopulate the earth after the flood. We have been told over the years that she was the one who was tempted by the enemy. I implore you to remember her, from now on, as the One who didn’t let the wiles of the enemy keep her down. The one who kept moving forward, in spite of her circumstances. Let us be as resilient as Eve – and be the one who didn’t give up.

Sarah – Was the one who didn’t believe God could bless her where she was. Almost one hundred years old, and barren, and here God is telling Abraham He was going to bless him with more offspring than he could count. Sarah couldn’t see that happening. She laughed at the thought of it! Sometimes the thing that God wants us to trust Him for is too much for our human minds to comprehend. How am I going to have a baby at 99 years old? How am I going to get out of this cycle of abuse in my home? How am I going to support my family on this salary? How am I going to fight this battle with addiction, cancer, depression, how is my marriage going to survive all that is coming at us right now? And it doesn’t have to be something big we are trusting God for…it can be as small as believing He can help us through a tough week – believing He can bring understanding to an ongoing situation. You must believe that God’s sovereignty is real. He can, and He will, bless you right where you are. He doesn’t care that no one else has ever been blessed in the way you are seeking after Him. He doesn’t care that everyone says it can’t be done! He doesn’t care that you have yielded to this same thing repeatedly – God is able! Stop where you are and invite Him into your situation – and see how He can move on your behalf. Be the one who believes God can meet you where you are!

Simon (The fisherman) – Was the one who gave it one more try! After finding himself fishing all night, to no avail, he finally gives up. Simon was at it all night and didn’t catch one thing! I can imagine how tired and defeated he felt rowing to the shore the next morning. Questioning himself, wondering what he did wrong. Then, here comes Jesus telling him to try again. Do you have the wherewithal to try again? I know this sounds crazy, because you have tried with all your might – but do me a favor and try again! Round-up your net and cast it again. When we find ourselves fresh out of willpower, we should say what Simon said when Jesus told him to try again, Simon responded “Yet if You say so.” Don’t say “but Jesus I know more about this than you and it’s not going to work.” When you find yourself at the point of giving up – and Jesus speaks to your situation, asking you to try again, all you need to say is “Yet if You say so!” Simon didn’t know he was on the edge of his breakthrough. He tried once more and took in more fish than his net could carry. Are you ready for this kind of miracle in your life? Well, if you are, you need to be the one who will look to Jesus and say, “Yet if you say so!”

The Woman with the Issue of Blood – Is the one who had faith greater than I could ever imagine! Here she is suffering – for twelve years; possibly living a life of seclusion because of the uncleanliness of her illness. She takes a chance and mixes among the droves of people following after Jesus. I wonder if she felt this was her last chance to be made whole? What if she touched the hem of His garment – and nothing happened? Obviously, it was a chance she was willing to take. This unnamed woman has given me more courage to take risks that I ever thought. What risks are you willing to take? Are you willing to be the one who steps outside of your comfort zone and take a chance at building your ministry? Are you the one who is willing to start that business you are so passionate about? Are you the one who is willing to go back to school, almost thirty-years later, to prove to yourself that you can do it? It’s risky, but It’s worth it. Reach for the hem and He will provide a way. What is also amazing about this story is that even with the multitude of people around Him, Jesus knew when someone touched Him with intention. No, it wasn’t just a brush up against the arm, or someone stepping on the heels of his feet – He KNEW His power had been released. Let’s all take a lesson from our risk taker – be intentional, God will notice. Reach for Him, even if it’s with bated breath, reach!

Are you the one, that despite it ALL, you are still able to see the forest for the trees? You are still able to row back out and try one more time – even though you failed repeatedly? Are you the one who will take the risk and keep moving towards God? If this describes you, press on! Be the one that God is looking for in these days – even when you’re the only one.

My Father – thank You. Thank You for being the most important one in my life! Thank You for allowing me to have access to You and Your promises. Thank You for loving me enough to see me through situations that seem hopeless, only to come out with a testimony of hope and faith – loved, blessed and whole. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

Different Sin

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Scripture: John 8:7 – When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Reflection: It’s just easier to see what’s wrong with someone else – right? I must admit that it is easier to notice when someone else needs a lesson in civility; not as easy when that person is me, or you. When we make up in our minds that someone has sinned, we immediately forget the sin we carry daily: gossip, judging, pride, lust, envy, serving man made idols….

One thing I find interesting about John 8:7 is that Jesus didn’t chastise the woman for being an adulterer, but he did admonish those who were accusing her. By their accusations, they were considering themselves better; because she was the adulterer, she was the sinner. They had become her judge, jury and executioner. They wanted to stone her for her sins…sins that were different form theirs.

Why is it that Jesus had to remind her accusers that they too were sinful? Why do we have to be reminded that we all fall short (Romans 3:23)? Why do we feel the need to point out the speck of sawdust in our brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in our own eyes (Matthew 7:3)?

Always remember that it’s impossible to truly help someone when we are busy judging their sin. When we are focused on someone’s perceived flaw we lose sight of their purpose in our lives and our purpose in theirs.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the many times You protected me from the judgement of my sins. Now, please give me the understanding to extend this grace to others, while realizing that we all fall short of Your Glory. It’s never my place to throw stones, knowing I have sins of my own to correct. Help me to always clear the plank in my own eye so I can be better prepared to attend to the needs of others. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

Remember the Benefits

Scripture: Psalm 103:2-4 – Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all His benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crown you with love and compassion.

Reflection: I know this is going to sound crazy, or just a little weird, but I love the time of year at work when we have open enrollment for our next year’s benefits. When open enrollment comes around the corner I love to see what’s new. It’s interesting to see how the health care options have changed and how the benefits will…well…benefit me and my family. 

However, there are a few things that frustrate me just a little. I can’t understand how the premiums and deductibles change from year to year, even when the base level benefit stays the same. I’m not getting anything new, just paying more for the same ole’ thing. And sometimes the fine print will leave you with questions, such as “are pre-existing conditions covered?”.

The benefits I’m more excited about are the ones provided to us for free. The ones we receive because of His unending love. If we had open enrollment for our benefit of mercy – the response would be “you’re covered”; grace – “you’re covered”; forgiveness – “you’re covered”. The benefits we receive for being children of the one TRUE God does not require an open enrollment period, and we never have to worry about pre-existing conditions, or an increase in the deductible, because it’s covered – by the blood of Jesus Christ!

Once we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we never have to worry about our benefits changing. We never have to worry about the costs going up or the benefit going down. God offered the same benefits to my grandparents, and my parents, that He offers me! And we don’t have to wait until open enrollment to get on board. Open enrollment is whenever we are ready to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Are you ready today?

Prayer: Thank You Lord for dying on the Cross for my sins. Forgive me for failing to fully embrace the life-giving benefits You offer to those who love and follow You. Crown me with Your love and compassion. Come into my life and cover me with Your grace, Your mercy and Your forgiveness. Then, Lord, use me to bring the world back to You. In Your name I pray, Amen.

Fit for Duty

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Scripture: Romans 8:30 – …and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

Reflection: When an eligible employee is granted Family Medical Leave to care for themselves or an immediate family member, during a medical emergency, it can be a time of happiness or trepidation. Happiness is when it’s for the birth of a child; trepidation can find its way into the equation when the leave of absence is for a surgery or an unexpected illness. Whatever the reason may be, when the employee plans to return to work, there must be a fitness for duty test completed. This fitness for duty test removes any liability for the organization and is to ensure the employee has fully recovered and can perform the duties of the job.

Today, I’m glad that God didn’t make me complete a fitness for duty test when I returned to His work. Truth is, by my standards, I would have failed. When we say “yes”, God doesn’t test our ability to speak eloquently, He only expects us to speak. God doesn’t test our ability to find the right words; He gives us the words we need. God doesn’t test us, because we have already been justified, and we were predestined for this moment! He defended our calling through the Cross. God doesn’t take back our gifts when we spiritually take a leave of absence from His work. God doesn’t turn His back on us when the ails of the world consume us. He doesn’t change his mind, because we know from Romans 11:29…for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. His calling on our lives is BINDING, UNCHANGEABLE, FOREVER OURS, to use for HIS GLORY!

WE are fit for the duty placed before us, no test and no regrets.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I’m grateful today for my calling and the gifts I have been given, to advance Your Kingdom. Help me to strengthen my anointing and reach the masses, in Your name. Help me to draw nearer to the Cross as I continue to navigate through this world, releasing my gifts to others. Thank You for choosing me to represent You, without a test. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Hope and a Future

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Scripture: Jeremiah 29:11 – 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 hope and a future.

Reflection: Can we consider, for a moment, what was going on when these words were spoken by Jeremiah, a prophet of God. When Jeremiah communicated the plans of the Lord, in v. 29:11, he did so to people who had been taken from their homeland and were being held captive in Babylonia. What’s interesting about this captivity is that Jeremiah had previously told them, in v. 29:5-10, to build houses and settle down. Jeremiah instructed the captives to plant gardens and eat what they grow, marry and have children and allow their children to marry so that they may continue to increase and not decrease. He told them to seek the peace and prosperity of the land in which they had been exiled, and Pray to God for the place they had been deported to, because when prosperity comes to this land they will prosper as well.

My goodness! What a hard pill to swallow. If this were me, I could see myself wailing why isn’t God coming to my rescue right now? Why do I have to become familiar with a place I’m being forced into? Jeremiah told them – don’t look at what you see, the Lord has declared He has other plans for you. Don’t look at your children and become discouraged, the Lord has plans. Don’t be discouraged about your job – be encouraged that something more is in your future. Don’t look at your marriage and wonder if you need to give up or keep trying, the Lord is working on something greater for your future. Don’t look at this new day – new year – and feel trepidation, the Lord has plans for your life! And His plans are never to harm you, but to give you hope and a future. Be intentional about what you focus on in the coming days. The Lord wants you to keep moving forward.

It’s when we focus on the struggle, the hurt, the disappointment, the broken places, that we become those things. In this brand-new year I challenge you to take your focus off of 2018. It may have been hard, you may have been stuck somewhere you didn’t want to be, and you may still be there, but don’t let it keep you from flourishing in 2019. God has a plan for each of us, and although we may not know what it is, we know, for certain, that God has already worked it out in our favor.

Prayer: All-Knowing and All-Powerful God…thank You! Thank You for Your word that still applies to my life today. Thank You for giving me hope and a future – even when I can’t see it. I pray that You will give me the patience to see past my current situation and the faith to know that You have everything under control. As we start this New Year I will continue to look to Your word for guidance and be unwavering in my trust of You. Through the good times, and the not so good, I will continue to trust in You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Fight Like a Woman

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Scripture: Ephesians 6:10-18 – Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.

Reflection: I’m going to admit, when I first thought about writing this message, I titled it “Fight like a girl” …. but when I started to think about it, I pictured in my mind how girls fight; very chaotically. Can you picture a girl swinging her arms, even sometimes with her eyes closed? She may get a lot of licks in, but they wouldn’t be focused licks, they wouldn’t be intentional. And this fight we are in is filled with intention. This fight we are in is filled with purpose. I don’t know about you, but I am fighting for the lives of those I love, for the health of the church, cures for disease, for love to abound in every circumstance, for healing, for saved souls, for marriages to become loosed, and the prodigal children to return to what they know to be true.

We need to be fighting with calculated intent to disarm the enemy and we cannot continue to do that with accidental hope. We cannot continue to swing and hope to harm the enemy – or hope to restore life.

The message from Paul, in Ephesians 6:10-18, makes it clear for us. Girls (this is my interpretation) fight against flesh and blood…. women understand that this battle is against the rulers, the authorities and powers of this dark world – and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenlies. Women understand that this fight requires us to intentionally put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace; and in addition, take up the shield of faith to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one – and take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. If that isn’t already a lot; if you are not already tired from preparing for battle – once you have all these protections in place, then you need to pray in the Spirit.

Does this sound accidental to you?

In 2019, let’s be intentional with our prayers, with suiting up for whatever comes our way! Let’s be intentional in sharing God’s word. Let’s be intentional in our fight for fairness! Let’s be intentional in loving ourselves and others! We know things will happen, so let us proclaim now that we will lift our eyes to the hills instead of swinging uncontrollably at our perceived enemy. Give God space, in 2019, to help you to prepare for your battles. Give God permission to love your rough edges, He wants to, I promise. And then, give yourself permission to let go of bitterness, anger, rage, malice, slander, and unhealthy language towards ourselves and others. I cannot promise you that 2019 will be the year that you live your “best life”, but I can promise you that if you are purposeful in seeking God, He is there to be found.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for being my strength. Thank You for being my guiding star through 2018. I’m ready now, to prepare for battle. I’m ready to enter this new year equipped with Your armor – to bring this world back to You. When the fight becomes too much Lord, I promise to look to You instead of bowing out. Because I know You never meant for this to be a fight of one – I will be waiting in great expectation for those You will send into my life to bring and share blessings and lessons. This year I will no longer feel like I can only come to You when I’ve gotten myself together – I’m coming to You  now Lord, this last day of the year, broken, bruised, forgotten, tossed aside, grieving, uncertain and lost – to be found and loved by You. I’m opening myself up to be used, only by You! This year God use me to fulfill Your will on earth, which leads to the plan You have for my life. I’m ready – and I’m willing. Let’s Go, together!

All my best, Toby