Sunday, June 30, 2013

Embrace Grace Study - Week 1

Welcome! I’m excited to begin our study today on Embrace Grace by Liz Curtis Higgs. We have 24 women, from 15 states and 2 countries, signed up to study God’s word together. {big smile!}

Below is the suggested reading schedule for this week. Each Wednesday, there will be a link to the Embrace Grace study Liz Curtis Higgs hosted on her own blog earlier this year. This is a way to go a little deeper into the study, but if you would rather just read the book, that’s good too. Everything is flexible so this study can fit your needs.

If you are considering participating in the study, it’s not too late. Just click on the “2013 Summer Study” tab at the top of the screen for more information.

I pray this study will be a blessing to you!

In Christ,
Laura 

We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.
Romans 5:2 (Msg)

Week 1 – June 30-July 6

Monday/Tuesday – Read Chapter 1 “An Open Door…I don’t feel like I belong anywhere.” and consider the 3 study questions.

Wednesday – Visit Liz’s blog for her study on this chapter.

Thursday – Visit Laura Rath ~ Journey in Faith for my post on this chapter. Would you leave a comment with your thoughts?

Friday – Reflect (and journal) on the rading. Spend time in prayer.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Story – Moses

Thank you for joining me here today! This is the fourth of six posts written for a series on The Story, and first posted on the Gloria Dei blog.

Have you ever wished for a burning-bush-moment like God gave Moses? I have.

A burning bush is hard to miss and would clearly tell me what God wants me to do. But…is it really that easy? After the clear instructions comes obedience, often without knowing what’s to come, or how things will work out. And with obedience comes waiting faithfully (and patiently) for God’s plan to unfold…in God’s time.

Waiting patiently is something I’ll always be working on…how about you?

To read the first three posts:



God Will Amaze Us
(First posted at Gloria Dei on October 3, 2012)

Are you familiar with the saying “It’s going to get worse before it gets better?” It’s usually said as a way to make us feel better…“This seems to be worse than it was before, but then it has to get better.”

Although they didn’t know it at the time, this certainly seemed to be the case for the Israelites in Egypt.

The Lord told Moses to go talk to Pharaoh. Moses was obedient and went with Aaron to see Pharaoh. But later that day, life only got worse for the Israelites.

Pharaoh changed the rules. Instead of straw for the bricks being supplied, Pharaoh ordered the Israelite slaves to find the straw themselves and still make the same number of bricks as before. In other words, they had more work to do, with the same quota of bricks to be completed, in the same amount of time. And the slave drivers appointed by Pharaoh didn’t take kindly to the work not being completed on time.
Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” Exodus 5:22-23 NIV
Moses was discouraged. The Israelites were discouraged. But where this lower story did not make any sense on its own, the upper story tells of God’s plan for His people.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.
“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.’” Exodus 6:1, 6-7 NIV
I wonder if the Israelites were thinking, too little, too late. Just as they didn’t understand God’s timing, I don’t either. But I’m not called to understand. I’m called to trust Him and be obedient.

God promised the Israelites deliverance, but it would be in a way that was humanly impossible. God wanted there to be no mistake that it was His work for His people.

What does that mean for us today?

Often life gets worse through no wrongdoing of our own. But what about the times when life gets worse because we think we can do it on our own?

How often do we forget to take an issue to God before trying to solve it on our own?

Or when we do take it to God, but then take it back? Thanks for your help, God. I’ll take it from here.

It seems God will let us exhaust our efforts until we’re out of ideas and energy. Then when we see no way and think it’s impossible, we go back to Him. Whether it’s how we want or in a way we never dreamed of, God will amaze us. And He wants us to know it was of Him, not our own efforts.

The Israelites were understandably frustrated and discouraged. But what if they had chosen not to follow Moses?

Not only would they have missed the amazing miracle of walking through the Red Sea, but also receiving the Ten Commandments, and ultimately entering the Promised Land.

What will we miss if we don’t wait for God?

In Christ,
Laura

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Story – Joseph

Welcome! This is the third of six posts written for a series on The Story, and first posted on the Gloria Dei blog.

Joseph, of the Old Testament, goes from having it all, to having nothing. Life goes like that sometimes, doesn’t it? Everything seems to be going well, and then…we feel as if the rug has been pulled out from under us.

How do you react when this happens—do you lean in closer to God, or do you turn away?

To read the first two posts:


But The Lord is With Us
(First posted at Gloria Dei on September 26, 2012)

Coat of many colors Joseph.

That’s how I grew up knowing him. Scripture introduces us to Joseph when he is 17 years old, and he is clearly his father’s favorite child…as evidenced by the beautiful robe given to him.

To set the scene of this family dynamic, think about this for a moment.

Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel. Of these two sisters, (yes, sisters!) Jacob loved Rachel, but wasn’t interested in Leah. However, Jacob was tricked (by the girls’ father!) into marrying Leah before he could marry Rachel. If there wasn’t already some tension between Leah and Rachel, there was now. (Genesis 29-30)

The relationship between the two goes from bad to worse as Leah has four sons and Rachel is unable to have children. Jealousy is never a good thing, and there is plenty of it in this family.

At long last, Rachel gives birth to a son, Joseph. Jacob is now advanced in years and finally has a son with Rachel—his favorite son—Joseph.

After years of living with the rivalry between Leah and Rachel, and Joseph obviously being daddy’s favorite, it’s not surprising that Jacob’s other sons don’t care for Joseph.

Joseph’s not doing too bad though…he’s got Jacob’s approval, a beautiful ornate robe, and he’s sharing dreams of others bowing down to him with his family.

And then the rug gets pulled out from under him.

I wonder if he ever saw it coming.

Do we?  

When life takes a turn we didn’t anticipate, what do we do?

In times of trials, we can choose to turn one of two ways…toward God, where we grow closer to Him and learn to trust, depend, and rely on God and His promises. Or, away from God, often blaming Him for our circumstances.

Joseph certainly could have turned away from God in this lousy turn of events, but it appears that he grew closer to God.

It’s not until after Joseph has been sold into slavery in Egypt that Scripture says…
The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. Potiphar noticed this and realized that the Lord was with Joseph, giving him success in everything he did.” Genesis 39:2-3
“But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did. Genesis 39:20b-23
During trial after trial, Joseph turned to God and trusted Him, and God prepared Joseph for the future.

What if our stories read like Joseph’s?

She struggled through another miscarriage, but the Lord was with her. He comforted her and walked beside her.

He lost all that he had worked for, but the Lord was with him; He lifted him up and showed the man a new beginning.

The unwanted divorce papers arrived and crushed what was left of her spirit, but the Lord was with her. He walked with her through the valley, giving her the strength she needed to move on.

In our lower stories, all we can see is what’s going on around us. Often times, it’s impossible to see how good can come from what we’re going through. But it’s in the trials when God gets our attention. When we’re broken is when He can do the greatest work in us, preparing us for what He has planned.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
The Lord sees it all. Just as He knew how Joseph’s lower story fit into His upper story, the Lord knows the same about us.

In Christ,
Laura

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Story – Abraham

Welcome! For the next few weeks, I’m sharing six posts, written for a series on The Story, and first posted on the Gloria Dei blog.

As I reread these posts, I’m reminded of the struggles the men and women of the Old Testament went through, and what I can learn about their faith and trust in God.

This is the second post—about Abraham. To read the first, click here: My Lower Story in God’s Upper Story.


Faith, Trust, and Hope
(First posted at Gloria Dei on September 19, 2012)

It seems God’s timing rarely matches the time frame we would prefer. We’re an instant gratification society. From fast food to drive-thru everything, we don’t like to wait. Does anyone besides me get impatient if the internet is a few seconds too slow?

So, reading about Abraham and Sarah reminds me that the patience to wait on God’s timing comes through faith, trust, and hope. But better still is God’s grace for them as they struggled with impatience and took matters into their own hands.

Abraham (known as Abram at that time) was 75 years old when God told him to leave his country, his people, and father’s household, and go to a new land, where God would bless him and make him into a great nation.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. Hebrews 11:8 NIV
Faith, as defined in The Story, is complete trust. True faith is much deeper than mere intellectual agreement with certain facts—it affects the desires of one’s heart. (The Story pg. 14)

In Abraham’s lower story, he didn’t know where God was taking him. He didn’t know how his obedience fit into God’s upper story, but he didn’t need to know. Abraham trusted God and wanted to be faithful, so he packed up and went.

Trust is the assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. (NLT Study Bible, Tyndale)

Trusting God is knowing that what He says will happen. We might not know when or how, but we can be sure that God will always keep His promises.

Abraham trusted God, but the waiting and longing for a child had to be awful. What did Abraham think every time he saw the pain in Sarah’s eyes? How did Sarah respond when surrounded by the children of family and friends, knowing that a family was not in her future?

Years later, God told Abraham again that he would be the father of many. But Abraham still didn’t know when or how that could happen, only that he had God’s word.

At some point during the wait, I would have wavered between faith and hopelessness. I would have wanted to ask God, “How long God? I can’t do this anymore—it’s too hard. Why did you tell me I’d have descendants when it seems impossible? Why did you give me hope for a son when it’s not to be?”

Abraham said it more eloquently when the Lord came to him in a vision…
But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Genesis 15:2-5 NIV
I can hear the compassion in God’s voice as He answers Abraham. God knew his pain and lovingly confirms that Abraham will have a son and be the father of many. And then God goes a step further and makes a covenant with Abraham—a promise that only God can keep.

When it all seemed impossible, Abraham had faith in God. He trusted God. And His hope was in God.

Abraham hoped for a son. He desperately wanted a son. Just like many of us desperately hope for or want something—a child, a spouse, maybe a change in circumstances.

But I like this definition of hope…

Hope is the confident trust with the expectation of fulfillment. (NLT Study Bible, Tyndale)

Hope in God is knowing He will be there, no matter what.

Hope is knowing He will act in our best interest, according to His grand upper story.

Hope is knowing that when life hurts, we’re not alone—God will never leave us.

God kept His promise to Abraham. 25 years after God first told Abraham he would be a father, Sarah had a baby boy named Issac. Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90.

Abraham and Sarah couldn’t see past their lower story, just like you and I can’t see past ours. There are times when the story eventually turns out the way we want it to, as it did for Abraham and Sarah. But sometimes God has something different in mind. Through faith, trust, and hope, we have the assurance that our lower story is part of God’s upper story…fulfilled His Way and in His time.

In Christ,
Laura   

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Story – My Lower Story in God’s Upper Story

Last fall, my church congregation began reading through The Story, a chronological abridged version of the Bible. During the series, I had the privilege of guest posting on Gloria Dei’s blog for six weeks, writing about a few of the Old Testament heroes.

I often need to reread my own words, and I’ve been reminded of the lessons I can learn from these men and women in the Old Testament. For the next few weeks, you’ll find these posts here, in their entirety, as first posted on the Gloria Dei blog. My prayer is that they will bless another reader, as well.


My Lower Story in God’s Upper Story
(First posted at Gloria Dei on September 6, 2012)

“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.”
Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

This is one of my favorite verses in Scripture, but sometimes I want to ask, “God, my life doesn’t seem to be going all that well right now. Is this what you have planned for me?

Everyday life often doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand why things happen, why people act the way they do, or why something doesn’t work out when I did my very best. I don’t know why some days are so difficult.

But here’s the thing…my life isn’t the complete story. It’s only a piece of God’s story.

Author and pastor Randy Frazee says to understand the Bible, we need to view it with a dual lens, one that allows us to see the Upper Story and the Lower Story. The Upper Story is God’s grand story of something larger—His eternal plans.

The Lower Story is our individual stories of everyday life—the struggles, the joys, the getting through the day-to-day. God’s Upper Story encompasses our Lower Stories.

Since the very beginning, God has wanted to be with us. That’s why He created Adam, and then Eve. He wanted to be with them every day, to share His love and joy with them, and to live with them in a perfect place—the Garden of Eden.

However, God does not force Himself on us. He wants a personal relationship with each of us, not out of obligation, but because we want to be with Him.

Enter free will.

I used to wonder why God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden to begin with. Maybe you have too. In order to want to be in a relationship with God, we have to have the freedom to choose. God gave us that freedom in the form of a tree. And when Adam and Eve ate from it, we lost the perfect relationship God created us to have with Him. Forever.

From that time on, God’s plan has been to have that relationship with us again. And He has given us that hope through His Son, Jesus Christ.

The only way we could ever be with Him again was for Jesus to pay the price of our sins. Through His death and resurrection, He conquered the hold sin has over us. No longer are we slaves to our sinful nature, but through Him we have the ability to align our lives with God’s Will. And when we do, we can know without a doubt that no matter what happens in our Lower Stories, God will work it out for the good of those who love Him. 

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 
Romans 8:28 NLT

Throughout the Bible, God used the Lower Stories of sometimes the most unlikely people as part of His master plan. And He continues to do this today as He uses our Lower Stories, for good in His Upper Story.

In Christ,
Laura

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

$20, a Prayer, and a Bible

“Mom, I’d like to go to the Christian bookstore today.”

I asked if she was looking for something specific.

“I still want to buy a Bible.”

Ooops. I didn’t want to tell her I’d forgotten. I thought back a couple of weeks to when she first informed me that she wanted to buy herself a new Bible.

“What kind of Bible are you looking for?” I’d asked her.

“One like yours,” she said.

I happen to have four Bibles at home, two NIV, one NLT, and one in The Message translation. “One like mine” didn’t help. So, on the spur of the moment, I tried to explain the difference between translations and study Bibles.

It was a lot to think about, and as I thought was the case that day, she had money to burn, (which happened to be at home) and she wanted a new Bible that day. So, while she kept pulling ones she liked off the shelf, I suggested she wait and look at mine first. Then we could come back another day.

She was not happy with me. But, I’m a mom—I’m used to that.

So, here we were a few weeks later going Bible shopping. She had looked at my Bibles and wanted the NLT translation. So, we were one step ahead. I really thought she’d like a study Bible, but I knew cost would be an issue.

We went back to the Christian bookstore, both armed with patience, common sense, and cool heads. How long they would last, I was unsure. But there we were. She had $20 to spend, and I had a 40% off coupon I’d found at home.

Within minutes she had chosen a small pocket-sized Bible in her price range with a blue leather cover with Scripture written on it.

I agreed, it was really cool. But not willing to settle so soon, I suggested she hold on to it while we looked at the study Bibles. She humored me and followed me to that aisle.

We found the kind I have, but the hard covers were so heavy. And the leather covers were expensive…and unattractive.

I knew she was getting frustrated…too expensive, too heavy, too ugly, not the right translation, no study section. I could see her deflating.

I began silently praying…God, please show us the Bible you want her to have. She seriously wants this and I don’t want to disappoint her or burst her bubble. But I also don’t want to watch her spend all of her money on one she won’t use or be really happy with.

People walked around where we sat on the floor in the study Bible aisle. We’d been there for a while. And then…we saw one we hadn’t looked at yet. It was different, but just right.

On the soft, brown leather cover was the Lord’s Prayer, and she loved it. The price point was more than she could afford, but I ignored that for the moment. This was the one.

We looked to make sure we weren’t missing anything and then she started to do the math.

“I don’t have enough money,” she said quietly. “I’ll go put it back.”

“Wait,” I told her. I knew she wanted to pay for it herself, but I looked at the t-shirt I’d agreed to buy her when we first got to the store. “What if we put this back, and I’ll give you the rest of the money you need for the Bible.”

She looked up at me, “Really? You would do that?”

I nodded. “Yeah, that’s the Bible for you.”

And silently, I prayed…Thank you, God, thank you!

In Christ,
Laura  


Sunday, June 9, 2013

God’s Gift of Grace

I’m pleased to be posting at 5 Minutes for Faith today, where I’m talking about grace.


God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT
Imagine giving a gift and having it refused.
Maybe it’s happened to you like it’s happened to me.
It was a small gift—nothing major, but something I thought would be enjoyed. The response I received was No thank you; I don’t have anything for you.
My gift was refused because it couldn’t be earned or reciprocated. And it hurt.
I wonder if that’s how God feels when we refuse His gift of grace.
Grace…God’s free and unmerited favor toward sinful humanity (NLT Study Bible, Tyndale)

Please join me at 5 Minutes for Faith to read the rest of my post..

Has there been a time when a gift you tried to give was refused?

In Christ,
Laura 

Linking up with The Weekend Brew


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Give-away Winner

Thank you to everyone who left a comment on my post, My Dream Journey and a Give-away. After my daughter and I wrote each name on a slip of paper, she blindly chose one from the bowl.

Congratulations to Angie (@GodsWordisTruth) for winning the copy of You’re Made for a God-Sized Dream by Holley Gerth!

In Christ,
Laura 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Just Enough Light for This Moment

I’m pleased to be posting today at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, as part of the series, “When His Story Becomes My Story.”

Last week, I looked at the testing and temptations we go through in this life and how God will use those times to strengthen us and draw us closer to Him in I Am Tested, Yet Unbreakable.

Today, I’m talking about the Light in the darkness. No matter how lost I may feel, I always have a Guide because the light God gave us through His Son, Jesus, can never be extinguished by the darkness.

I have a few strategically placed nightlights in my house. Not because I have small children, but so I don’t have to turn on the bright overhead lights if I get up in the middle of the night. While I usually prefer bright light to dim, it’s too much in the dark night. My eyes can’t adjust from darkness to bright light quickly enough. I blink and squint and shade my eyes. It’s too much light all at once, but the soft glow from the nightlight is just enough light for that moment.
God has always given light to His people. At creation…
…God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. Genesis 1:3-4 NIV
He led the Israelites…
Please join me at Gloria Dei to read the rest of my post…Just Enough Light for This Moment.

In Christ,
Laura

Linking up with The Weekend Brew and Sharing His Beauty.