Thursday, March 21, 2019

Mark of Testing

[God...made a lasting mark through the sacrifice of Jesus. Hebrews 13:20 MSG During this season of reflection and renewal, join me, and let's explore the visible evidence, the Marks of Life Everlasting - that identifies us as faithful followers of Jesus. Can others see Jesus in our lives? ~ Donna Oswalt]

At once the Spirit sent [Jesus] out into the desert, and He was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended Him. Mark 1:12-13

‘Forty days’ is a recurring period of time in Scripture. Many Bible scholars point out that “40” is a familiar number and measures days or years. A few examples include “it rained for 40 days and nights” with Noah’s family inside the ark, twice Moses spent “40 days and 40 nights” on the mountain with God receiving the Ten Commandments, and the Israelites spent “40 years in the wilderness” for their unfaithfulness before they could enter the Promised Land. In our Scripture, after Jesus’ baptism and before His ministry begins, Jesus is led into the wilderness for forty days during which time He is tested by Satan. There are others, but scholars suggest these all represent times of need or struggle or testing; some convey the time is spent in preparation for something important. These examples certainly confirm this with a renewed earth after the flood, God’s covenant is renewed after Moses intervenes, the Israelites enter the Promised Land, and Jesus begins His public ministry. In all these times, God is working a transformation in the lives of the people.

Another phrase that recurs in my reading is the “wilderness experience”. Through this wilderness experience, the lessons of God’s Provision and Power are clear. Like Jesus in the desert, we too face extreme circumstances where our faith is tested. The world always tries to challenge us to a different set of values than God chooses. Jesus must reject Satan’s offerings of power and glory. We, too, must reject these temptations when tested. In my times in the wilderness, I want it to end sooner than it usually does. Sometimes, I will find the world’s choices look very appealing. When testing comes, the experiences reveal our hearts. During Lent, we can examine our values and renew our covenant with God, learning from our failures and being strengthened by grace.
  •  How is my wilderness experience preparing my heart?
  • Am I transformed in the wilderness? Can anyone tell?
God of Mercy and Grace, I want to be found faithful when testing comes, knowing patience and truth. When the idols of life and selfish choices scream for attention, take me to the wilderness and teach me, heal me, prepare me. Lord, transform me to be more like You. ~ dho

All rights reserved ~ used with permission of the author
Copyright 2013 by Donna Oswalt/Co-Founder of Mangrove Ministries/Christian blogger and author Breathing Room For My Soul (blog) Follow on Twitter @soulchat

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Mark of Reverance

[God...made a lasting mark through the sacrifice of Jesus. Hebrews 13:20 MSG During this season of reflection and renewal, join me, and let's explore the visible evidence, the Marks of Life Everlasting - that identifies us as faithful followers of Jesus. Can others see Jesus in our lives? ~ Donna Oswalt]

. . . The LORD merely spoke, and the heavens were created. He breathed the word, and all the stars were born. He gave the sea its boundaries and locked the oceans in vast reservoirs . . . let everyone stand in awe of Him. . . The LORD looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race. From His throne He observes all who live on the earth. He made their hearts, so He understands everything they do. . . the LORD watches over those who fear Him, those who rely on His unfailing love. . . We depend on the LORD alone to save us. Only He can help us, protecting us like a shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we are trusting in His holy name. . . our hope is in You alone. Psalm 33 NLT

I invite you to read all of Psalm 33 as it describes the characteristics of our Sovereign God, the LORD of all creation. In these verses we are reminded of Genesis chapter 1 as it reflects the beginnings of the world. God is referred to in Genesis 1:1-3 as Elohimthe All-powerful One, the Creator. The LORD in Psalm 33 is the Hebrew Yahweh, I AM, the One Who Is. God never changes, and His promises never fail. He is always faithful, even when we are not.

I don’t know about you, but my imagination cannot begin to understand this kind of holy power. Just thinking about the minute details of every living thing brings a sense of awe to my mind. This reverent awe, this overwhelming wonder brings me to my knees in worship and praise of God. This kind of fear transforms the heart, mind and soul; this is the mark of reverence.
  •  Why do I forget to fear God like this?
  •  Does being in awe of our Sovereign God truly transform my life?
LORD, Yahweh ~ You are the beginning and the end of all things, of all time. Your whisper can change the wind, calm the storm, light the night sky, and water the earth. Your Protection covers me, but I do not notice. You are the Source of life, yet I forget. Forgive me as You fill me with holy wonder. Transform me as You teach me unfailing love. May my life reveal a mark of reverence for the Creator of all! ~dho

All rights reserved ~ used with permission of the author
Copyright 2013 by Donna Oswalt/Co-Founder of Mangrove Ministries/Christian blogger and author Breathing Room For My Soul (blog) Follow on Twitter @soulchat

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Mark of God's Faithfulness

[God...made a lasting mark through the sacrifice of Jesus. Hebrews 13:20 MSG
During this season of reflection and renewal, join me, and let's explore the visible evidence, the Marks of Life Everlasting - that identifies us as faithful followers of Jesus. Can others see Jesus in our lives? ~ 
Donna Oswalt]

. . . and the LORD said to Joshua, “. . .Take twelve stones from here out of the Jordan”. . . And those twelve stones, which they took up out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know. . . For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over. . . so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” Joshua 4 ESV


This account in Joshua describes the scenes as the Israelites finally enter the Promised Land. Their unfaithfulness had kept them in the desert for 40 years after being freed from Egypt. Despite their lack of faith, God’s promise to them remains. Now Joshua leads as they enter the land promised to them through Abraham. God tells Joshua to take twelve stones, one for each of the twelve tribes, and make a memorial. This is the first of seven stone memorials described in Joshua. What does it represent? Israel safely crosses the Jordan River into the long awaited Promised Land; God’s faithfulness prevails, and this memorial is to become a reminder to them and all the generations to come that God is always faithful. It is the mark of God’s faithfulness.
  •  What stories do you tell family and friends about Gods faithfulness in your life?
  • Will the generations to come pass along these stories?

LORD, my God, Your faithfulness to me comes from before time began and will continue after time ends. In the middle of my circumstances, sometimes I forget to tell my stories of how You never leave me, always go before me, protect and provide for me. I take Your strength but do not share it. Let me tell Your stories of faithfulness to me – tell them now and pass them to the future. ~dho


All rights reserved ~ used with permission of the author
Copyright 2013 by Donna Oswalt/Co-Founder of Mangrove Ministries/Christian blogger and author


Breathing Room For My Soul (blog) Follow on Twitter @soulchat

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Ash Wednesday - Mark of Ashes

[God...made a lasting mark through the sacrifice of Jesus. Hebrews 13:20 MSG During this season of reflection and renewal, join me, and let's explore the visible evidence, the Marks of Life Everlasting - that identifies us as faithful followers of Jesus. Can others see Jesus in our lives? ~ Donna Oswalt]


"For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6

[Jesus said] "Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13

Jesus came for sinners, those who need His mercy. All of fallen humanity meets the requirements of ‘sinner.’ Only through Jesus can we be made holy, only through His Grace can we be made righteous. It is only our soul’s sincere repentance that invites Grace to enter. On this Ash Wednesday, Christians around the world gather together and receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads. These ashes remind us of our need for Grace, remind us that without Jesus we are only sinners. With Jesus, however, we are sinners who find forgiveness and redemption. We can trade our ashes for a robe of righteousness with Jesus! 

- How will I praise God for such unconditional love?

- Will others see only my ashes or will they see the Grace of Jesus?

Jesus, I kneel at Your altar wearing the mark of a sinner. With humble awareness I examine my need for grace, my desire to serve You more. Let my love and service always be mindful of Your mercy. - dho

All rights reserved ~ used with permission of the author
Copyright 2013 by Donna Oswalt/Co-Founder of Mangrove Ministries/Christian blogger and author
Breathing Room For My Soul (blog) Follow on Twitter @soulchat

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Listening to the Broken Places - Part 2

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him.  When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.
Job 2:11-13



Listening to those who are suffering can be difficult because we often do not know what to say. Frequently, the best thing we can give is not words but simply our presence. Like Job’s three friends, they come and sit with him “with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.” Sometimes, just listening in silence is good.


Listening is a very active awareness of the coming together of two lives. Henri Nouwen

Sharing with another who is suffering is a privilege. Nouwen reminds us that listening is an “active awareness” and a “coming together” of two people. Healing can occur when shared stories merge. He goes on to describe this active listening as “weaving a new pattern” with “two different life stories stretched on the same loom.” This joining of hearts and stories enriches both lives. Knowing you are not suffering alone and finding others who have had common experiences can alter perspective. Sometimes, listening to each other’s shared experiences proves necessary. - dho


                                                        

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Listening to the Broken Places - Part 1

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-5




Henri Nouwen writes, “A wounded healer is someone who can listen to a person in pain without having to speak about his or her own wounds.” As we look at the word ‘comfort’ in this Scripture, we find the Greek word parakaleo which means “to call to one’s side” or “to summon help” or “to encourage”. Clearly, believers in Christ who receive comfort are called to come alongside others with comfort. Often, simply listening can be the comforter’s greatest resource. 


God’s comfort includes His presence which comes through Grace. The God of all Comfort comforts us, and we comfort others. This comfort also speaks to eternal comfort for our future lives. God’s comfort is abundant and full of hope. God listens to us.

Blackaby writes, “Just as God has come alongside our lives to comfort so we do likewise to other believers.” While struggling with disappointments and difficulties, God comforts us, encourages us, and gives us hope. When we struggle, Scripture tells us we enter into the sufferings of Christ. Having found comfort in our suffering, we are then to come alongside side others, to offer comfort. Listening to the broken places becomes part of being a ‘wounded healer’. Nouwen explains, “We have to trust that our own bandaged wounds will allow us to listen to others with our whole beings. That is healing.” -dho






Thursday, February 14, 2019

Your Servant is Listening!

 “Then the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel, Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:10






In the Scripture today, ‘listening’ comes from the Hebrew word shama which means not only ‘to hear’ but ‘to hear with the intention of obedience’. Warren Wiersbe says that Samuel “became a great man of prayer.” Here we see Samuel, in the infancy of his faith, responding to God. We know that he is obedient in telling Eli what God says. This is shama, listening with intention to obey.

Henri Nouwen writes, “Prayer is the first of all listening to God. It’s openness. God is always speaking; He’s always doing something. Prayer is to enter into that activity.” To enter in to prayer requires a mutual communication, that we speak AND listen. Listening to God’s voice is more than just taking notes of what we understand God to be saying; instead, true listening must include an obedient response. It is actively participating.

Eugene Peterson says, “Listening is an act of personal attentiveness that develops into answering.” We see that Samuel answers God, which would imply a prayerful reply. Peterson suggests this provides us with “a model on how to listen to God’s word and respond to him in prayer.” Let us practice shama, the art of spiritual listening, to hear and to answer in obedience to God. -dho


Thursday, February 07, 2019

Silence

“But oh! God is in his holy Temple!
    Quiet everyone—a holy silence. Listen!” Habakkuh 2:20


It is good to simply be quiet, sit in the quiet and listen for God. Too often we busy ourselves with living life, too busy to listen, too busy doing, even too busy talking to God. Noise and activity drown us, suffocate us. Listening must be intentional. 

Silence takes many forms. Find a place of silence that fits your life. Then recognize God, be His holy Temple, res in the holy silence. Listen! Recently I saw this thought, “The word ‘listen’ has the same letters as the word ‘silent’.” Our souls crave silence, are starving for quiet. Spend some time today - in silence - and listen! -dho


Thursday, January 31, 2019

Listening in Prison - Part 2

Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God. Acts 16:26-34

As Paul and Silas are praying and singing hymns to God, the other prisoners - and probably the guard - are listening. Suddenly there is a “massive earthquake”; the prison doors open and the chains fall off all the prisoners. The Philippian guard panics as he is in charge of Paul and Silas. Facing certain death if they escape, he draws his sword to kill himself. Just then Paul calls to him, reassuring the guard they are still in the prison. The guard falls to the ground asking, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Now, the fact that Paul did not escape is in the guard’s favor, as he is accountable, but more has softened his heart. Listening to the Gospel message in the prayers and hymns of Paul and Silas has been preparing the guard. Possibly he had been wondering why would they be so joyful in these desperate and dire circumstances. Paul shares the word of the Lord with him and his household. Everyone is immediately baptized. “They all believed in God.”
Halley’s Bible Handbook says, “The Word is called the instrument of the soul’s birth.” The guard and his entire family experiences spiritual birth because the Word is shared with them. Listening to spiritual truth opens our heart and mind to God. What “prison” is holding you hostage? Are you praying and singing hymns of praise to God while in that prison? Who is listening to how we deal with difficulty? Someone, somewhere IS listening. -dho





Thursday, January 24, 2019

Listening in Prison - Part 1

...Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening... Acts 16:22-28



During his second missionary journey, Paul and Silas are in Philippi, a Roman colony, and are arrested for teaching “customs that are illegal” for Romans to practice. They are stripped and beaten then put in the “inner dungeon” in shackles for teaching about Christ. The prison guards are warned to make certain they do not escape.
Spiritual listening invites the Spirit of God within us. - Henri Nouwen
We read in verse 25 that “Paul and Silas are praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners are listening”. I suspect the guards are also listening. Perhaps they all wonder how these men, beaten and chained inside a prison, could be singing? Or, perhaps they wonder who is this ‘God’ they worship? Certainly the grim surroundings is not stopping Paul and Silas.

Blackaby sums up this perfectly: External circumstances do not determine our joy; joy comes from within, from a relationship with Christ. A Spirit-filled life is characterized by unwavering joy. Joy comes in knowing we have been forgiven of sin, born into the family of God, and we have a personal relationship with the Heavenly Father. Irrespective of circumstances, salvation alone is cause for great rejoicing.

For Paul and Silas, their spiritual listening to God most certainly invites the Holy Spirit into their experiences creating a sense of joy even within grave circumstances. However, their testimony becomes a opportunity for God to work in the lives of those who are listening to them. A couple of questions come to mind: Am I spiritually listening to God and finding the Holy Spirit? Who might be listening to my daily testimony and does it reflect Christ? - dho



Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Listening Obedience

“...You must all be quick to listen...  But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says...” James 1: 19-26 NLT

Listening is harder for people, usually because we often have something we want to convey or tell. Taking self out of the conversation opens the door for better listening. Henri Nouwen writes, “Listening is giving our full attention - which requires welcoming [others] into our very beings.” Laying down self is essential to being a good listener.

However, we are not only called to listen but to respond. God’s word gives us direction and discernment in all the matters of life. Sometimes, we need to sharpen our listening skills with others, but more importantly with God. Wiersbe says, “It is not reading the Bible that makes a person happy; it is obeying what it says.” In listening with intention, we develop a listening obedience. Let our heart’s desire for genuine obedience be seen in outward actions. dho

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Listening Requires Discipline

 A spiritual life requires discipline because we need to learn to listen to God, who constantly speaks but whom we seldom hear. When, however, we learn to listen, our lives become obedient lives.  Henri Nouwen 



We struggle with listening. Either we do not hear what God is saying to us, or we choose not to respond to what He asks. If we do not listen for God, we have little hope of developing our obedience. Matthew 6:6 ~ Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense His grace. 


I believe faith is the foundation for our listening hearts. Without faith, can there be obedience to God? The word obedient comes from the Latin word audire, which means "listening"It would seem that Henri Nouwen would go one step further and say that without listening, obedience is absent. He concludes, "The core of all prayer is indeed listening, obediently standing in the presence of God." ~dho


Thursday, January 03, 2019

New Year is Here!

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like Me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.
Isaiah 46:9-10 NIV

This new year of 2019 is underway, and we are settling into daily routines again, the holiday decorations put away. With each new year, new opportunities come. What will you choose new this year? A new devotional time or style, a new reading list? A new hobby or the revitalization of a dormant hobby? A new form of exercise? A new vacation destination? A new way to celebrate? A new way of living? 


Whatever your new is for 2019, remember God. His presence will go with you ~ encourage you, enable you, energize you! Spend some time seeking His purpose for you this new year! The Good News is that no matter what your path has been, God still desires to be with you. He is always faithful and will not leave you. God's mercies are new everyday! He was and is and shall be! Remember the lessons of Advent, He is coming! ~ dho