Devotional Thoughts: Fatherless and Widows

God fills in the deep gap for the orphan and the widow, the segment of society who has no advocate. I’ve had teens tell me God is their Father because there’s no presence of a father in their lives. Scripture is full of commands for us to speak up for the weak and to be an advocate for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Orphans and widows certainly fit this category.

Widows today in the U.S.A. aren’t in the same situation they were in when these words were written. Women were so oppressed they were close to nothing without the help of a man. Sadly, this is still true today in many other countries. Gender equality is at the heart of the widow not being able to care for herself. Women are paid less than men to do the same job for example, even right here in the United States. In another countries there’s many jobs women wouldn’t even be considered for.

Still today there are numerous orphans in need of care all over the world. While this verse says fatherless and doesn’t use the word orphan, orphans are certainly included. Fatherless also embraces those growing up with single mothers. This is so common in our culture. The single mother might have the most difficult place in our culture today. She works hard, gets paid less than a man would and goes home to care for her children all alone. She is tired. She is weary. She is afraid of missing work because of a sick child. Who is her advocate?

If we are following the narrow way that leads to eternal life we should be advocates as well. Here’s a verse that speaks even more deeply on this topic:

James 1:27

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Every single one of us should have a widow and an orphan we advocate for, at least one of each! I don’t even want to hear any more selfish excuses of how that would break your heart to get involved and that your own self comfort reigns supreme in your life! I’m tired of listening to weak reasons and excuses.

Stand up Church! Step up to the plate Body of Christ! You are lacking in your faith if you’re not caring for the orphan, fatherless and the widow! I don’t know how, you say? Here’s a few ideas: become a guardian ad litem, foster, adopt, get involved in your local group home, support a single mom and her children, help widows fix things in their homes, spend time with them and there’s so many more ways! Call me!! I will connect you! Do not neglect the weak. It’s the weak in faith who do this. The strong set aside excuses and fear and engage in the lives of the struggling. What will you choose today?

Devotional Thoughts: Love and Sin

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

What a beautiful thing. Our love for one another can cover our sins that divide us . I believe this verse is referring to the relationships we have with one another. The verse that comes before this one, verse seven, says, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” Verse nine then says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

I’ve learned that I cannot genuinely love some people without God’s help. Some people have hurt me, offended me and it doesn’t come naturally to love them. I cannot do this without God. Only God can change my heart. Yes, sometimes we need to pray and ask God to help us love someone. Love is doing what’s best for that person, not what’s best for me. Love apologizes. Love sacrifices and eventually love heals.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that verse seven, the verse that preceded this one tells us to be self-controlled. Self control will keep us from sin. It also commands us to be sober-minded. There’s a lot of terrible things that can happen when I’m not sober. I can neglect my children and something bad can happen to them. I can hurt myself and someone else when I’m not sober-minded. Clear mindedness is the best place to be where I’m well-aware of my words and my actions towards others. The sober-minded sin less.

I think the point of this verse today is that we have all hurt someone and we’ve all been hurt as well. Love heals what our sins have done to one another. If I choose to love I choose to do the hard thing that sometimes feels very unnatural. Our minds tell us to place ourselves above others but this isn’t the way of our Lord. We are to love, even when it’s hard. Verse nine tells us we are not to even grumble about loving or showing hospitality to others.

Love, the kind that comes from God can stay the course, finish the race and even bring others into the Kingdom. What sins are we aware of today in our relationships with our fellow believers? Choose to love them today. If we don’t know what to do we need to give that to God and ask for guidance, commit to obey and keep walking.

Devotional Thoughts: Fear of God

Once we understand who God is we develop a healthy fear of God. Healthy in that through wisdom we respect God. This verse isn’t talking about the kind of fear that cripples is or causes us to act in haste. This kind of fear is gained through our relationship with God. It’s like the fear we have if we have loving parents. We seek to obey our parents and we fear hurting them if we go against their wishes. This kept me out of a lot of trouble in my younger years. I follow my parent’s ways because I know them and love them. My fear has evolved from fear of consequences to a respectful fear that is love. As we learn what great love God has for us we respect God and wish to please Him.

Awhile back my pastor mistakenly said, “Perfect fear casts out love.” We laughed as he corrected himself. We knew he meant to say that perfect love casts out fear. As I thought about what he said I realized there is truth in his first statement. Fear can cause us to be unloving. It can keep us from experiencing all God has for us. Fears hit us where we are vulnerable. We fear what we don’t know. There so much we don’t know about God but as we walk courageously towards God our fear changes. It’s no longer a fear that I’ll be zapped out but the deepest kind of respect, the kind that only God deserves.

C.S. Lewis depicts God as a Lion in his fictional works The Chronicles of Narnia. This Lion, Aslan, is the one that will make right all that is wrong. He is fierce but kind. He can be trusted. He is powerful but only uses his power for good. I’d approach him with my head bowed acknowledging my shortcomings. This is respect. This is fear.

So many in our world today have never heard God loves them. What Good News this is!! When we learn God has provided a way of forgiveness and redemption we are humbled and grateful. We want to serve God out of our gratitude. No matter what I do for God I can never fully repay what He has done for me. I’m grateful. I’m humbled and I seek to obey.

The one who fears God has been given a holy understanding and this is the beginning of wisdom, the kind that only comes from God. Can you approach God today and experience the kind of fear you have for God?

Devotional Thoughts: Leadership

Previously in Matthew 18 Jesus was asked who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus’ answer is the one who is like a child. His response shifts to include this warning. We should not cause anyone, especially a child or a new believer to stumble, to fall in their faith.

Leadership is a great responsibility. I remember a young man in multi-housing ministry who was behaving but I noticed that other kids would try to impress him by misbehaving around him. I sensed this young man may have been involved in gang activity. I pulled him aside to make him aware of his leadership qualities and also to explain that as a leader we are accountable for where we lead people: towards God or away from God. We implemented a strategy to isolate him from the other students and everyone behaved better. Within the next few years this young man totally changed his social circle and received an award at school for making great improvements!

Jesus said some harsh, brave things. I take this warning seriously and should live my life in such a way that I’m leading others towards God. For example, it’s not a sin to have a drink. Drunkenness is a sin. I don’t even know who around me might struggle with this right now or who’s had a problem with this in the past, so I choose not to drink alcohol. As a leader I do not wish for someone to look at my life and say, “well, Jeni does it , so it must be ok.” I’m not perfect and I certainly have my shortcomings, but I must try my best to lead others towards good and not into sin.

As a foster parent I heard stories of parents leading their kids down dangerous, traumatic roads. Many of these children will be scarred for life. It will take them years to heal from being ravaged by the sins of their parents. Even if justice doesn’t come in this life, it will roll down like waters one day. Revenge is of the Lord. I do not have to worry about taking matters into my own hands.

I want to lead people towards God, towards good, towards freedom and love. The only way to do this is to follow God with all I am.

Devotional Thoughts: Beauty, Eternity, Our Inner Soul

I’m reminded today that my body is the part of me that will fade away. It’s my soul, my spirit, my inner self that will last forever. That’s the real me, the part that really matters.

Our society places such emphasis on the outer image of a person. This is so sad. Even young boys feel insecure about how they look nowadays. Just Tuesday an eighth grade boy wore a hoodie in the heat because he feels better covering up his body. He voiced this to me when I saw him sweating and suggested he remove his sweatshirt.

Our bodies are flawed. They are wasting away a little more each day. Some are on a quest to find the fountain of youth. They seek eternity in earthly things. They will come up short, empty handed and disappointed because exhausting our resources on something that’s fading is pointless.

We wouldn’t invest our money in a dying company, so why invest so much time, money and energy in the way we look outwardly?

Our outer self is decaying. In ministry I see men especially struggle when they are no longer able to physically do certain things. Some feel worthless because they cannot lift 50 pounds any longer. I’m thinking this way of thinking probably stems from self worth being tied to their physical abilities. Maybe they have looked at someone else and devalued them for their disability? As a citizen of God’s Kingdom I cannot value people for their bodies but for their souls!

This is a rich chapter of scripture, 2 Corinthians 4. Verse 14 says that he who raised Jesus will also raise us. Here’s verse 17-18: ”17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.“

Wow! What encouragement! This life of suffering is called light affliction and pales in comparison to eternity. We must place our efforts on our souls, not our bodies. We especially should value others for who they really are, not what they look like or what their physical capabilities are.

Do not lose heart! Aging bodies are normal! Do not miss out on this renewal of the inner self. This can only happen through our relationship with God, the renewer of all things. Give God your sin. Seek inner beauty, purity and cleanliness today. This is true beauty, true worth!

Devotional Thoughts: Rebirth

Nicodemus has asked Jesus a question: How can someone be born again? How can someone have new life? I too felt a need for a rebirth in my life, I became weary of living my own way. My heart was unsettled. I felt like I was tossed back and forth by the wind. I had no steady ground. I had fears. I had great insecurities. I changed myself depending on who I was around.

Then I believed. I knelt down and prayed. I expressed I was tired of living my way and I wanted to live God’s way. I confessed my sin and asked for forgiveness. I gave God my life that day and told Him I’d do what He asked of me. I felt as if my soul had been hit by lightning!

My insecurities were gone! Nothing mattered except what God thought. I felt so free. I felt forgiven, released. I had newness of life, rebirth. Others noticed this.

In this verse Jesus is speaking. This is part of his answer to the question Nicodemus asked. Because of sin I think we know somehow deep down sense that we are all condemned. To come out from underneath this burden that weighs us down, suppresses us, and stunts us all we have to do is believe. What does it mean to believe? I explained my experience above.

Believing is releasing, trusting and committing. It’s joining a family. It’s forever. Everyone has this opportunity. All are welcomed in. God loves you. Believe Jesus is God’s son. Come into the Kingdom. Be forgiven. Have your burdens lifted. You are loved.

Devotional Thoughts: How to Have Peace

God’s Peace, incomprehensible Peace, Peace that doesn’t even make sense is available to us. This verse says it guards my heart and mind.

The verse right before this one tells us to be anxious about nothing. How do we do that? It says to give our requests to God in every situation with thanksgiving. By giving God my anxiety and worry, I release it. I trust God will handle it. Many circumstances that arise in life I know I cannot handle but after expressing these to God my burden is lifted. I can press on.

This doesn’t mean that everything will be ok. It does mean that ultimately I know whatever happens, even if I die I know I am with God. I am His and that’s what matters most.

Years ago a professor taught me that it’s a healthy exercise to give things, and even people back to God. We humans try to take control in situations where we need to let God work. I am guilty of this! Some days we need to say, “God, I don’t even know what’s best to do. I give this person to You, I give my feelings to You, I give this circumstance to You. I cannot handle it anymore.” This exercise is then followed by naming my gratitude, making a list of what I’m grateful for. I find when I do this I have a greater peace in my life. I can withstand much more than I thought I could.

When I do this my thoughts settle, my anxiousness fades, my worry is defeated and I can focus and not make things worse in my thought life. This protects me from bitterness and anger that can fester and create more sin and division.

Saying one should have peace about everything isn’t healthy. It’s normal to grieve. It’s normal to be angry, and it’s normal to get upset and disagree. It’s what we do with these things that determine whether or not we have peace.

Devotional Thoughts: The Devil

A first grade boy in multi-housing ministry told us at night he feels evil come to him and he is afraid. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard something like this. I explained to him as followers of Jesus we do not have to be afraid. I taught him demons shudder at the name of Jesus and are subject to God. I hope this sweet little boy is saying, “Go away in Jesus name!” This isn’t something we talk about much in the North American church. I believe it’s real.

I’ve heard many stories throughout the years I’ve been in ministry about demonic activities. Some are wild hair raising stories but I think here in our culture the enemy mostly chooses to act in different ways.

Division, lies, temptation, thoughts, and many other ways are more likely to turn us away from God’s plan. The job of the enemy is to tear us away from the God who loves us, to convince us God isn’t real, to prevent us from living a life that will draw others to God.

Christians, we forget we are warriors in battle. The warrior who has laid down his sword isn’t a challenge to the enemy and you’re likely to be left alone. This is a safe faith here on earth, the kind that’s impotent, producing nothing. It’s when we begin to step out and truly live out our faith that the darts come. The enemy doesn’t concern himself much with the one who is already ineffective.

To those of us striving to walk in God’s ways, we have promises to stand on. Those who aren’t engaged in battle in the here and now seem to have it easy, but we know it’s just easy for now. To the one sharing their faith and living out the instructions of scripture, you’re dangerous! You’re the one the enemy is after! There’s a crowd of people watching you just anticipating your fall. Stand firm in God’s ways and resist the devil and he will flee.

How do we resist the devil? You can shout commands in Jesus name and he will obey, however most of our issues with the enemy don’t look like this. Attacks are subtle, they creep in slowly and divert our attention elsewhere. If I stare at a media screen for hours I’m ineffective during that time period and am not advancing in my mission. If I give in to sin I damage my relationship with God and have to clean up my mess. This could have been time spent using my efforts doing God’s work.

As a warrior God gives me all I need to not just survive but to even make headway so that others can see God. I can choose today to resist. Jesus resisted by quoting scripture. We can do this too. If I do not know God’s word I cannot do this in moments of of difficult temptation.

Our world glorifies the sinner. I tell you the strongest one is he/she who resists and stays on track. There’s no bed of roses here. We all seek comfort for ourselves and in this process and we miss the things God has laid out for us.

Warrior, cross over the comfort zone and fight! Love the unlovable! Encourage the discouraged! Do crazy things for our Kingdom with your money! Live in the lane and land you’re called to. Here is where the greatest fulfillment lies! It’s not in your next spa treatment or latte for yourself. Resist the temptation to worship yourselves by putting your needs of personal comfort first. It’s not about you anyhow. This might even be our greatest temptation: to put ourselves first.

Please remember the enemy is never a person. Yes the enemy can use people to flesh out a plan but that person isn’t the enemy. This is how the devil works. Don’t be caught off guard today. My mentor used to say, “When God is about to do something amazing the devil tries to stop it.” We shouldn’t be shocked. This is normal here. The more I resist the stronger I become. God is good and gives me a way out. I can do this! Will you pursue God with me?

The first grader experiencing evil has grown in faith this year. He’s had lots of questions and sincere statements like, “My mom says God isn’t real.” Of course the enemy wants to scare him away. He might be the warrior to lead crowds to Christ.

Devotional Thoughts: When I’m Crushed

Psalms 34 is absolutely beautiful. God brings beauty from pain. In times of sadness, suffering and sorrow. God is near. When my child dies what’s my response? When my spouse leaves, how do I survive? When someone I love commits a heinous crime, what do I do?

I’ve seen two replies when these overwhelming circumstances arise. Some become angry at God thinking If God is real certainly He wouldn’t allow this to happen to me. I prayed one way and the opposite happened. God didn’t do what I wanted Him to so I’ll walk away. This response comes from a deeper level that at it’s core believes I, a simple human am the master of God. God should obey me and if He doesn’t that means He isn’t right, just or loving.

One of my foster daughters came from a home without love. She thought a parent who loves her would give her everything she asked. She would get terribly upset when I said no and especially when I needed to ground her. Just like all parents say no, God isn’t unloving because He didn’t do what I wanted.

The other response is to draw near to God, ask those hard questions, and continue in the faith trusting. This road is hard but I’ve seen such great blessings arise out of such dark times.

I’ve seen God birth entire ministries out of pain. Those who run away never experience God’s sustaining power, God’s closeness, salvation, comfort and closeness. Pain generally is a process to tread through. Some pain is so big it changes us forever. we never get over it. we can only find our new normal. God is present in these times. God is near. God never falters. It’s we humans who try to restrain God by defining God in our minds. We think God can only be what we think about Him.

God is so much greater than what we can wrap our minds around. His existence does not depend on our acknowledgment. God doesn’t need our definition. God desires to love us, heal us and hike with us in our pain. Sometimes the only reason something happened is because of sin. God hurts with us. God doesn’t take people away from us. Please! Don’t ever tell anyone the Lord giveth and taketh away! When people sin sometimes death is the consequence. We should not blame God for the actions of sinful people who do not live in God’s ways.

No matter who we are pain and suffering will come. The Lord is near. I have only to open the door and let God in. Life presents such difficulties. I can press on because God is here with me. I’ve experienced times of dry and times of life giving, sustaining water. I press on through it all to arrive where I belong. I belong where there’s no more pain. Will you come with me? Take that step and reach out to God. He loves like no other.

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