Rivers of Living Water – A Devotional Journey to Intimacy with God

cropped-rivers-of-living-water-cover.jpgSeveral years ago, I began spending regular time meditating in the Word of God. I started with favorite verses, then expanded into beloved passages, and then grew into entire books. Meditation led to greater hunger to know the One who both wrote, and was revealed, in His Book. It has been said that the Scriptures were meant to lead us into an encounter with God. I can say with certainty this was indeed my experience.

About three to four years ago, I felt a desire rise up deep within me; something that had been long buried in the dirt of childhood dreams. I remember developing a love of writing as far back as elementary school, and my senior year English teacher telling me I had the potential to be a writer. These memories began to visit me, beckoning me to step out in faith and see what God would do. With much fear and trepidation, and the encouragement of some dear friends, I began the arduous task of turning my private journals of sweet moments with my Lord, into what would become the fulfillment of a life-long dream – my first book.

Just over two years ago, I finally held the finished product – the culmination of hours, days, weeks, and months of writing, editing, reading, editing, reading, and editing some more, until I thought I would never get done. But I did. And now, I am so very proud of myself, and grateful to those sweet friends for their relentless encouragement and prayers. You can purchase copies at any online book retailer, or get a signed, discounted copy directly from me.

To purchase a signed copy directly from me, fill out the following Google form and I will contact you via email.  https://goo.gl/forms/RJ2ccMPs3VmroIaA2

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The Door That Leads to the Heart of God

shutterstock_370535978My husband and I recently got to spend a couple of days with our oldest daughter who lives in the northeast and whom we haven’t seen since last Christmas. She’s been living far from home for several years now, so seeing her only a couple of times a year has been normal, yet it never gets any easier for this momma’s heart. We all laughed together, watching old home movies which always brings up memories from the past, and leaves me in a reflective state of mind for several days.

Since becoming a mom just over 30 years ago, I have found that no other experience in my life has helped me to understand the heart of God like being a parent. I’m not sure it’s possible to really feel true unconditional love until you hold your own child in your arms for the first time (and every time after that). Realizing for the first time that the tiny human you helped to create is totally helpless and dependent upon you to live, is a sobering weight of responsibility, yet full of joy and excitement at the same time. In that moment, you know that if it ever came down to it, you would lay down your life for this child. You feel the same way for every one of them.

As they grow into teenagers, you feel the pain they feel as they experience rejection from friends, heartbreak from broken relationships, fear about fitting in, stress from making important decisions. You not only feel their emotions, but you also feel the fear of letting them make choices that could alter the course of their lives. Of course, you offer counsel and advice, but often in their quest for independence, your wisdom isn’t heeded. Still, you love and pray for God to watch over and guide them. You want to protect them, but realize they have to learn from their mistakes just like you have.

When they become adults and begin their own lives apart from you, your deepest desire is that they would be healthy, happy, emotionally stable, and ready, as much as is possible, to face a vast, unknown future. Having done your best, with God’s help, to get them to this stage in life, you hope they will remember what you’ve taught them, and one day teach it to their children as well.

Through this process, God is continually allowing us to feel His heart for us, as His children. He truly loves us unconditionally, no matter what we do or don’t do, and whether we reciprocate His love or not. He laid down His life for us when we were totally helpless to save ourselves and He continues to take care of us, no matter our age. He knows, far better than we do, how totally dependent we are upon Him for everything.

He feels every pain that we experience in this life, and He weeps with, and comforts us in our sorrows. Even when we make poor choices, He allows us to learn from our mistakes rather than always protecting us from the consequences, though they be painful. He also laughs and rejoices with us in our victories. He wants us to grow to maturity, though we never reach a point where we don’t need Him anymore. He desires that we also teach our children about Him, generation after generation, that He might truly have a family, which was His desire from before creation. Truly, the ability to create life and raise our children is one of the greatest, if not the greatest privileges He has given to us as His children. It is a door that leads us straight into His heart.

Guarding Your Heart Against the Danger of Offense

Charlene S Hughes

heart_0These days, in our politically correct society, everyone is offended at something or someone, it seems. You hear it on TV; read it on social media; see it in the workplace; even in the Church. Offense has become an epidemic. According to the dictionary, offense means, “something that offends or displeases; the feeling of resentful displeasure caused; the act of attacking; attack or assault.” Everyone has an opinion, and the slightest disagreement often leads to offense. This violation can escalate to anger, hate, even violence. At times it appears that some people are looking for something to be offended about.

The biblical definition of offense means, “to cause one to stumble or fall away; to see in another what I disapprove of and what hinders me from acknowledging his authority; to cause one to judge unfavorably or unjustly of another; to make indignant.” In Matthew 13 as Jesus taught in the…

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Are Excuses Keeping You From Your Potential?

I-cantWe humans are creatures of comfort and ease. When given a choice, we will usually take the short cut, the easy road, the comfortable way. We tend to complain when life is difficult, things don’t turn out as we planned, or we encounter setbacks. Rather than becoming more determined to accomplish what we desire, resolving to do whatever it takes, we begin to make excuses for why we can’t do it. It has been said that if something is important to you, you will absolutely find a way. If not, you will find an excuse. This is so true. Those who are desperate are willing to do what it takes, no matter how hard it may be, how long it may take, or how much it will cost. As the old adage goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

The best illustration I can think of is someone who is physically impaired in some way, yet trains for years, taxing their strength, draining their emotions, and pushing beyond their limits to achieve what most would have deemed impossible. Yet they refused to accept that because somewhere deep inside them they believed it could be done, and that they could somehow accomplish it. Why is it that some have that kind of determination, while others seem content to just give up and accept defeat? I don’t know about you, but I have often pondered that question.

I’m sure there are many reasons, but I believe the core difference is that some people seem to have an innate sense of destiny, purpose, and greatness. Not necessarily that they will be famous one day, or publicly applauded for some great achievement, but that they are capable of so much more than they have yet to attain. Trials, difficulties, and setbacks only seem to spur them on even more. The thought of quitting or settling for less is reprehensible to them. We often call such people overachievers, driven, overcomers, as if their behavior is abnormal; they tend to overdo too much, are too extreme, or don’t know when to quit. Those kinds of people make the rest of us look bad, because if they can do it, that means it can be done. Which leaves the rest of us without a real excuse. We then have to face the truth – why am I not reaching my full potential?

The truth, I believe, is that most of us don’t see ourselves as worthy of achieving great things. After all, we’re all just ordinary, run of the mill folks just trying to get through each day and pay our bills, raise our families, do our jobs…right? We are content to live mediocre lives, believing that’s the best we can hope for, and to do that is better than most peoples’ lives. Besides, if we get our hopes up too much, we may be disappointed. Then we would know that we are nobody special. And therein lies the root of our excuses.

You were created for greatness by the all-powerful, all-loving Creator of the universe. You have been given destiny and purpose far beyond surviving each day. If you are a believer in Jesus, He lives within you, enabling you to do ALL things. He is with you, for you, and in you, therefore nothing and no one that matters can be against you. I encourage you to dare to believe Him. Dare to believe that what is impossible for you is possible for Him, working in and through you. When you live a life without excuses, you glorify the One who does all things well.

The Knowledge that Leads to Mature Faith

summer_landscape_with_forest_lane_path_pathway_way_going_cg1p52762453c_thA favorite passage of mine is found in John 6. To give a little background, the chapter begins with Jesus feeding 5,000 people with fish and bread. Afterwards, His disciples are crossing the lake, a storm comes and Jesus comes to them walking on the water. Later, He discusses with the crowd who He is as the Bread of Heaven, and the Bread of Life. Many doubt and question Him, and He then speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Many of His listeners became offended and because of that, many turned away from following Him. At this point, Jesus turns to the twelve. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that You are the Holy One of God.” (verses 67-69)

Peter and the others undoubtedly did not understand what Jesus meant in speaking about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Yet they did not become offended like the others. Why is that? He answers this question by saying, “We have come to believe and to know…”  The Greek word translated “believe” literally means, “to think to be true; to be persuaded of; to credit; to place confidence in.” It can also mean “mere acknowledgement of some fact or event; intellectual faith.”

The word translated “know” means “get a knowledge of, perceive; feel; to know, understand; to become acquainted with.” “It is a Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.” In other words, it speaks of experiential knowledge. Peter is, in essence, saying, “We have thought you are truly who You say You are; we have even been confident in what we believe, but more than that, we have come to know You personally. We have been in relationship with You, and we now know without a doubt, that You are the Messiah.”  

Many say they believe in God, in Jesus, yet they get offended with Him when He doesn’t do things the way they think He should, or the way they would like Him to. Deep down, they still believe they know what is right, they are capable of determining what is best in their situations. Rather than searching their own hearts, they decide to turn away from following Him. At some point in our lives, we’ve all done this. Some people will turn back while others will not.

If we are going to grow into a place of mature faith, however, we must truly come to know Him, just as we would get to know someone face to face. Spending time with Him, in worship, prayer, meditating on His Word and entering into His presence enable us to really know His heart. Then, like Peter and the other disciples, we may encounter situations that we do not understand, but knowing His heart will enable us to remain steadfast. Others will doubt and question Him, but we will say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? There is no one besides You. You alone are life, abundant, eternal life.” 

 

Learning to Love Yourself

love-yourselfThose who have been believers in Jesus for very long are quite familiar with the first Two of the Ten Commandments, which Jesus said were the two greatest. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments,” is what He said. (Matt. 22:37-40) We hear a lot about loving our neighbor, doing good for others, helping the poor, etc. But we hear little to nothing about loving ourselves. Yet, if you break down what Jesus said in terms of priority, it would be:

  1. Love God with all your being
  2. Love yourself
  3. Love your neighbor

He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In other words, we can’t love our neighbors the way He would have us to until we first learn to love ourselves. Most believers would claim that is selfish and even against what Jesus taught. But is it really? Do we ever stop and think about what it actually means to love ourselves the way God wants us to? If we think that the love He is speaking of is selfish, greedy, or self-indulgent, we are wrong. That’s not biblical love. Biblical love is desiring and doing what is best for the beloved, no matter what the cost.

So what does that kind of love look like when we refer to loving ourselves? I believe it means many, many things, but for the sake of space, I will list some of the most important ones. Loving oneself, I believe, means (not necessarily in this order):

  1. Taking care of your body – getting proper sleep, exercise, eating healthy, avoiding toxins as much as possible.
  2. Setting healthy boundaries – taking time for yourself, for leisure, hobbies, personal space, quiet time, rest. Saying “no” whenever necessary in order to have that time.
  3. Taking care of yourself emotionally – learning healthy ways to release negative emotions, receiving inner healing, forgiving those who have hurt you, be a human “being,” not a human “doing.”
  4. Taking responsibility for your spiritual health – spending time with God each day, in His Word, prayer, worship, fasting, journaling, your own personal expressions. Also just resting in His presence, letting Him love and minister to you is so crucial. Seek to see yourself as God sees you, this is key to loving yourself the way that He does.

These are just a few ways you can begin to love yourself. Each one could include a list of things you can do, and some things you need to avoid as well. I see and hear believers nearly every day say the worst things about themselves. Many go so far as to even hate themselves. When we do that, we grieve the heart of our Father who created us in His image and loves us infinitely! If we struggle to love ourselves, we are really struggling to love God. When we receive the revelation of God’s great love and passion for us, in spite of our sins, flaws, weaknesses, imperfections, failures, etc., it is easy to love ourselves the way that He does. Then we can truly begin to love our neighbors, because He loves all of them just as much.

Are Your Choices Taking You Where You Want to Go?

choices-1We hear a lot these days about fulfilling our destiny. It seems to be a topic that resonates with many, and for good reason. God created us, and as with everything He created, He did so with a purpose in mind. Nothing and no one is here by chance or accident. God is extremely intentional in all that He does. If we have a purpose, and we do, that means we have a destiny. Our purpose is to fulfill our destiny, and our destiny is reached by achieving our purpose; the two are pretty much one and the same. At least that’s the way I see it.

I’ve written on this topic before, but am doing so again because of something the Lord impressed upon me a week or so ago. As I was meditating upon His Word and journaling, I sensed Him saying, “A destiny is never decided by just one choice, rather, it is a series of choices that leads one in a direction they may, or may not, have ever intended to go.”  Well, that made me stop and think for a few minutes. Just because our lives have purpose and destiny doesn’t mean they will automatically be realized, at least not to the fullest extent God intended.

God has given us free choice, and because of that, our choices really matter. Every single one of them. There are countless numbers of people, I’m sure, whose choices led them in directions they never intended to go. Too often, we make choices without thinking about the consequences, whether short or long-term. If we want to fulfill our purpose and destiny, we too, must be intentional. In an earlier article, I talked about how to discover your purpose. If you didn’t see it, you can read it here. Once we have an idea what our purpose is, we can come up with goals and plans to help us achieve it. Then we can decide what steps need to be taken to reach those goals and begin working toward them. For example, if we feel called into vocational ministry, there may be credentials we need to have in order to qualify. We would look at the education and training we must complete in order to achieve those credentials, which will help us fulfill our purpose and destiny. We would then begin taking steps toward gaining those credentials by taking specific classes, internships, etc.

If you have discovered your purpose and destiny, what goals do you need to have to achieve it? What steps do you need to take in order to reach those goals? What are you doing each day to take the necessary steps? Every choice matters. What may seem unattainable right now is possible if you just break it down into small steps that you can take each day.  Focusing on the finish line can seem overwhelming, but no runner ever won a race without the necessary training needed to get their body in shape by slowly increasing their runs and speed, stretching their muscles properly, eating right, getting proper rest, etc.

Fulfilling your purpose and destiny takes a lifetime, a lifetime of making the right choices to get you where you want to go. It doesn’t mean mistakes aren’t allowed; we all make them. They too, serve a purpose in teaching you how not to do things. If you don’t have a plan to reach your goals, don’t wait another day. Time is passing quickly, and your time is your life. You can do whatever you set your mind to do by God’s enabling grace. He is our Helper; we cannot do it without Him. He is glorified and we are most fulfilled when we choose to achieve the purpose and destiny for which He made us.

 

3 Keys to Finding Contentment

Peaceful-WomanIt seems to me that finding contentment is one of the greatest challenges of the human race. I know it often is a huge challenge for me, and I see the effects of discontentment all around me every day. Some days I feel more content than others; what about you? On those days when everything seems to be going well; I’m not struggling with some major crisis; I have what I need, and even many things that I want – those are the times I feel the most content. But is that true contentment? I’m not sure if I can honestly say that it is.

According to the dictionary, the word means, the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind.” One synonym that comes to mind is peace. To be at peace is to be content, and to be content is to be at peace. A familiar passage of Scripture that speaks of this is Philippians 4:11-13, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”  Paul had learned that being content had nothing to do with his external circumstances. 

For me, finding contentment when circumstances are not in my favor does not come naturally. I would guess that most of us are the same way. After all, we are human and we still have a body of flesh to contend with. Flesh wants what it wants, when it wants it, much like a small child. It is self, therefore it is selfish and greedy. Our flesh is never satisfied, never content, never at peace. And it never will be. Paul had learned this after facing many trials and troubles along his journey. In the verses above the ones quoted here, we see how he arrived at this place of contentment no matter what. Beginning in verse 4, he outlines it for us.

First, we must rejoice in the Lord – always. This means to be glad, to take delight, and make joyful. We do this as we focus upon Him and His goodness and nature, which leads us to worship, thank, and praise Him for who He is.

Second, we must display gentleness, or patience, and be fair and mild tempered with everyone. This is not something you can fake, at least not for long. This is the nature of Christ who was meek and humble. His nature must be displayed in and through us. We are to be peacemakers, just as He was.

Third, instead of worrying and being anxious, we are to pray, give our cares to God and thank Him for answering and taking care of us and our needs.

The result of these three activities will be that God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds. We will have peace that doesn’t make sense to the world, or even to us at times. Paul then goes on to say that we must think about, or meditate upon, those things that are good. Focus on the positive, not the negative. Train your mind to look for the good in everything and everyone. I have been learning this for the past year or so, and it has made a huge difference in my attitude! You can do it too, just try it and see!

This was Paul’s secret to finding contentment no matter what. He also acknowledged that it was God’s grace that enabled him to do this. Elsewhere, he spoke of crucifying his flesh daily. This is something we all have to do if we want to be at peace. Our flesh and spirit are constantly at war, but the spirit, in union with God’s Spirit, must rule and subdue the flesh. Everyone wants to be content and at peace in the depths of their being. God created us that way, and His all-sufficient grace that enabled Paul to do this, can, and will, enable us as well!