Posted by Lisa Lewis Koster - - 11 comments


Here it is almost March and I still haven't told you about My One Word for the year. (Thankfully it's not "punctuality," though by the looks of things it would be a good candidate for next year!) This isn't the first time I've chosen a word to focus on, but it is the first time I've let God choose the word for me. (There's a hint...)

I've had an awakening recently - though I wish I could say it was long ago - and finally realized why I so often fall short when it comes to obeying God despite my best efforts. It's precisely because they're my best efforts! My best efforts will never get me where I need to be in my spiritual life. Never.

Do you find yourself falling into this performance trap?

I read God's Word; I hear the Holy Spirit speak; I know what He wants me to do, and yet I don't do it. Or I try, but I don't succeed.

Why is that? 

It's not because I'm not determined. On the contrary I try, I labor, I strain and I strive. Do you see the problem here? I-I-I-I-I (Aye yi yi yi yi!)

If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. ~ John 15:5


I can't tell you how many times I've read this verse and came away thinking, "Ok, I get it. Stay connected to Jesus." And through prayer and reading His Word I have stayed connected. As a result I became more aware of God's commands, but I still wasn't any better at keeping them. Then, finally, I was hit by the weight of those last words: apart from me you can do nothing.

Did you notice how the words in this verse start out as general (a man) and then get very specific very quickly? It's as if God's saying, "I'll produce fruit through anyone who stays connected to me, but I want you, (yes, YOU, the one reading this right now) I want you to understand that without my help you won't be accomplishing anything."

Nothing.

Nada.

Zero.

Zilch.

At last, I've come to the realization that it's possible to stay closely connected to God, hear what it is He wants me to do and still go off and try to do it all.by.my.self. How crazy is that?

I don't know about you, but I've had enough!

I'm setting aside a lifetime of trying to figure things out for myself, making my own plans and trying to make things happen. Instead, I'm consciously choosing to keep my focus on following the Lord and following His plan (which is always soooo much better than anything I could ever come up with.)

Which is why my one word for this year is "follow."

Who's with me?


I don't want to run ahead, 

I don't want to lag behind,

I don't want to wander off,

I don't want to try to figure it out,

and I definitely don't want to try to do it alone!


I just want to enlist His help and FOLLOW His lead. 

Lord, I shudder to think of how many times I've left your side to go carry out your command, forgetting that I'm completely incapable of accomplishing anything without you! I've wasted so much time trying to handle things on my own while you were right there all the while, just waiting for me to turn to you and ask for what I needed. If I start doing something on my own, please remind me that without you I won't be accomplishing anything of value.


Lisa


I've been known to link up with: Inspire Me Monday,  Living Proverbs 31, The Beauty in His Grip, Playdates With God, Unite, M,M and M, Monday Musings, Whole-Hearted Home, Soli Deo GloriaTitus 2sdaysTell Me a StoryGrowing Homemakers, Wise Woman, Women Helping Women, Tutorials and Tips,Tell His Story, Winsome Wednesday, Doing You Well Wednesday, Hope in Every Season,  A Little R&R Wednesdays, Wholehearted Wednesdays, Inspire Me Please, Think Tank Thursdays, Thrive at Home, Thriving Thursday, The HomeAcre Hop, Faith Filled Friday, The Weekend Brew, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet, Spiritual Sundays,  Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday, Sunday StillnessHeart-Filled Fridays #Fellowship FridaysEssential Things, Wednesdays Prayer Girls
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Posted by Lisa Lewis Koster - - 11 comments

I heard a knock at the door, which wouldn't have been unusual except that the door was an interior one, Bob and I were the only ones home and he knew I was in there. As soon as I opened said door, there was Bob clutching a box from the florist and singing:

     Happy Valentine's Day to you.
     Happy Valentine's Day to you.
     Happy Valentine's Day to you - oo.
     Happy Valentine's Day to you!


Which was curious for several reasons, not the least of which is that today is February 24!

And the flowers looked like this:




I guess traveling around in a snow storm for two weeks will do that.

Let me start over:

A funny thing happened to me this Valentine's Day...

As I looked at Facebook it seemed like EVERYONE had posted a picture of their Valentine's bouquet. (Just as when I was in the first grade and EVERYONE wore "fashion boots".) 

Everyone but me, that is. 

Now this isn't unusual. Bob and I have long since passed the days when flowers and candy were mandatory on Valentine's Day. Not that they wouldn't be welcomed, but why pay full price for chocolate when a few days after the holiday it will be 70% off?

After my casual remark about all the flowers on Facebook, Bob revealed that I should have had flowers - complete with a ruby red vase and chocolates - but due to a storm on the East Coast, shipping had been disrupted. (Just the fact that there was a storm that missed us was gift enough - it's been a long winter here in Michigan...) They were even supposed to arrive on the 13th, but on Valentines Day there was still nothing: zero, zilch, nada. 

Show mercy and compassion to one another. ~ Zechariah 7:9

Sometimes I wonder if at times we're put in situations just so we can see the progress (or lack thereof) we've made in our character. I have to admit that if this would've happened fifteen years ago I would not have been a happy camper, but now I have to say I'm pretty impressed that Bob not only arranged to send me flowers (and chocolate!) but thought to send them a day early so our grandsons would be here to see the big delivery truck. That's a pretty considerate guy, wouldn't you say? 

So obviously, I can't blame Bob. He did place his order in a timely manner. (And thought to place an order in the first place!)

The floral company is off the hook too. After all, they did ship them on time.

I can't even fault the delivery company. If you're snowed in, you're snowed in.

I even think it's funny that evidently the delivery company's policy in this type is situation is to say, "Let's just start over with the new packages, and get to this backlog in our spare time."**

It sure is nice to be able to laugh at things rather than be all uptight and stressed out over something that's out of everyone's control.

Where do you need to cut someone some slack?

**Lest you feel too bad for me, I can make this assumption about the company's policy because the floral company contacted us last week about a replacement delivery which came almost a week ago, on the date they told us to expect it. They look like this today:


Not to mention the fact that chocolates are not at all bothered by two weeks in the cold and now I have two boxes! (Okay, okay, three boxes for those of you who read my previous post and are counting!)

And yes, I'm still trying to fit into my jeans. In the words of Winnie-the-Pooh, (can you tell who I've been hanging out with lately?) "I'm not going to eat them, I'm just going to taste them a little."  (Really, I'm kind of a chocolate hoarder. Just ask my kids. As long as I don't open it, I'm fine.)

Father, thank you for showing me that I am making progress after all. Thank you for replacing tension with laughter and a proper perspective, and thank you for molding me more into the image of your Son. I'm well aware of the fact that I didn't get this way on my own!

Lisa


I've been known to link up with: Inspire Me Monday,  Living Proverbs 31, The Beauty in His Grip, Playdates With God, Unite, M,M and M, Monday Musings, Whole-Hearted Home, Soli Deo GloriaTitus 2sdaysTell Me a StoryGrowing Homemakers, Wise Woman, Women Helping Women, Tutorials and Tips,Tell His Story, Winsome Wednesday, Doing You Well Wednesday, Hope in Every Season,  A Little R&R Wednesdays, Wholehearted Wednesdays, Inspire Me Please, Think Tank Thursdays, Thrive at Home, Thriving Thursday, The HomeAcre Hop, Faith Filled Friday, The Weekend Brew, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet, Spiritual Sundays,  Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday, Sunday Stillness, Heart-Filled Fridays, #Fellowship Fridays, Essential Things 
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Posted by Lisa Lewis Koster - - 5 comments

Recently I wrote a post about how a book of the Bible was patterned after the Olympic games, and another post focused on striving for strong finish. Today we'll look at what lies inbetween - running the race - as described in the center section of Hebrews 12:1.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. ~ Hebrews 12:1


Photo courtesy of RGBStock.com and Jazza

In one of my all-time favorite books, Sparkling Gems from the Greek by Rick Renner", I discovered the phrase everything that hinders is derived from the Greek word ogkos – "a word that describes a burden or something so heavy or cumbersome that it impedes a runner from running a race as he should. This word was particularly used in the athletic world to signify the actions of an athlete who would deliberately strip himself of excess weight before participating in a competition."

The athlete not only dieted and exercised to lose body weight, but at the time of the competition he would also strip off nearly all his clothes. All of his focus was on the finish line and he wanted to ensure nothing would slow him down as he ran the race. 

What slows us down when it comes to running the Christian race? 

This verse tells us that it is sin, and that it's easy for us to get tangled up in it. We don't have to go looking for sin; it has no trouble finding us. But if we want to succeed, if we want to do something that matters, if we want to live a life pleasing to God, we need to rid ourselves of whatever sin may be weighing us down or tripping us up.

If you've ever tried to get physically fit, you know it doesn't happen by accident. I wasted months with half-hearted, painless attempts to fit back into my jeans, but to no avail. What I finally realized is something I knew deep-down all along - it takes deliberate effort and sacrifice to build muscle and lose weight. 

Likewise, putting forth a half-hearted effort in our Christian walk will get us nowhere fast. There is no coasting; we have an enemy, satan, who sees to that. We're either moving closer to God by making a concentrated effort to live a life pleasing to Him, or we're drifting away from God on the raft of sin satan constructs for us. There is no middle ground.

Unfortunately, "we all tolerate things in our lives that make it difficult for us to please God. And when we know we’re not pleasing God, we typically aren’t happy with ourselves either. This is one reason why this verse tells us to “throw off everything that hinders.” The words "throw off" are taken from the Greek apotithimi. It gives a picture of someone who is laying something down while at the same time he is pushing it far away and beyond reach." 

Unfortunately that's not what I did today. 

I've been faithfully counting calories and going to the gym, and the number on the scale has been creeping downward ever so slowly. As a result, I can put my jeans on! I can't move, but I can put them on! And yet, knowing I still have more work ahead of me, I went to the store today fully aware that the Valentine's Day merchandise would be marked down...



I'd like to say I blacked out and suddenly found myself in the car with a heart-shaped box of chocolates in my bag (did I mention they were on clearance?) but that's not what happened. I deliberately went to the store JUST to look at the holiday clearance (and did get a couple super-cute T-shirts for my grandsons super cheap!), which is exactly the opposite of pushing the temptation far away and beyond reach. Just walking into that store was setting myself up for failure. 

And no, I'm not very pleased with myself.

How often do we do this with our sin? We say we want to be rid of it, yet we place ourselves in situations where the odds are against us. Thankfully, God has a remedy. What we can't do in our own strength is possible when we submit ourselves to Him!

Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ~ Lamentations 3:22-23

What sin are you keeping at hand rather than pushing it far away?

Go to God, whether it's for the first time or the hundredth time, give it to Him and leave it there. Take your focus off your sin and place it on Him. As Him to help you conquer this obstacle hindering you rather than attempting to do it in your own strength.

Father, I thank you that you never grow weary of your children coming to you for help. Help us to remember that working in our own strength is an exercise in futility, for apart from you we can do nothing! Draw us in close to you every day and give us victory over this entangling sin by the power of your Holy Spirit.


Lisa


 
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Posted by Lisa Lewis Koster - - 8 comments

When my children were little we used to get up early every day so we could spend time with the Lord together before school. (and no, I am NOT one of those people gifted in "early". All I can say is, with God all things are possible!) Our devotional of choice back then was "Keys for Kids". It must have referenced Psalm 119 quite often because I remember when that chapter came up and the kids asked which verses to read I would always reply to them by saying, "the whole thing" just to tease them, because I knew that they knew it was the longest chapter in the Bible.

That's why I avoided reading it.

For a very long time.

But when I finally did read it, I loved it! 

And it took me all of twelve minutes.

12 minutes!!!

I am kicking myself for putting it off for so long, because I have been missing out! This Psalm is all about a love of Scripture and the benefits that come from it. In fact, only 3 of its 176 verses don’t mention the Bible.

After my initial twelve minutes of reading, I went back and began to list all the benefits of Scripture I found in this Psalm:

Living according to God's instructions:

- brings happiness (:1-2), delight (:35)
- drives out shame (:6)
- leads you to praise God (:7)
- results in a clean, pure life (:9), a full life (:17,144)
- keeps you on the right path (:10,33,165)
- keeps you from sin (:11)
- leads you to desire Him rather than worthless things (:14,36,72,131,162)
- steadies us (:173) 
- gives freedom (:32,45), great peace (:165)
- develops in you a heart broken for the disobedient (:136)



God's Word:

- opens our eyes (:18), gives insight (:34,169), understanding (:104,125,130)
- gives direction (:19,105,133), knowledge and good judgment (:66,98)
- brings delight (:24,111,174) despite difficulties (:143)
- is what your soul craves (:20,81)
- picks you up when you are down (:25,28,107,175)
- gives us clear revelation (:29)
- keeps us from dead ends (:29,102,110), shame (:80), sin (:101)
- gives us something to cling to (:31), consistent (:90)
- reveals His promises, which He will fulfill (:38)
- gives us hope (:49,74,81,116)
- brings comfort (:50, 107)
- allows us to understand the purpose of trials (:75)
- exposes the arrogant and deceitful (:78)
- equips us (:79), enables us to recognize His voice (:176)
- is trustworthy (:91,138), right (:137,172), true (:142,144,151,160), tested (:140)
- revives and refreshes (:88,175), sustains (:93), satisfies (:103)
- gives life to the fullest (:144), gives the desire to obey (:167-168)
- is lasting (:89,142,152,160), limitless (:96), stays with us (:141)
- takes our minds off our problems (:95)


God:

- responds when we speak to Him (:26)
- will help us understand what He says (:27,73)
- gives us a desire for His word (:40)
- satisfies us (:57)
- promises comfort (:76) and compassion (:77)
- is our refuge and protection (:114)
- sustains us (:116)
- rescues us (:134)

I WANT THAT!!!

How about you?

I'm embarking on a journey reading through the Bible and it begins TODAY by reading Psalm 119. I'd love to have you join me! Now, I have to confess that while I have read through the Bible before, I've never actually completed a plan on schedule. So, I offer no guarantees that I won't trip up along the way, but with God all things are possible! Who knows, maybe doing this with you is just what I need to keep me on track.


This Bible reading plan is called "From Garden to City" and comes from National Community Church where Mark Batterson is the pastor. I've found I'm much more consistent reading the Bible when I'm following a plan, maybe you will be too!

This plan follows the church calendar, so if you are experienced in reading through the Bible you may find this plan to be a refreshing change. Also, the plan spans 13 months rather than the one-year plans you usually find. While it's easy to get overwhelmed thinking about committing to anything for that long, I choose to think maybe I'll be more successful with a little less to read each day. 

There are even sermons online that go along with each week's readings for those who'd like a little more in-depth teaching. The message on Psalm 119 can be found here.

I have a Facebook group set up so we can "chat" about what we're reading, and if you live around Grand Rapids I'm hoping to have some opportunities to meet and discuss it in person as well. If you're interested in joining me, please let me know so we can support one another. 

If you've never consistently spent time in God's Word before, you can find tips for getting started here.

Can you spare twelve minutes?


Father, I thank you for blessing us with Your Word, for giving us, through it, everything we would ever need. Forgive me for taking so long to recognize just how valuable this gift is. Forgive me for all the times I ignored it, because I know now that what I was really doing was ignoring You. Thank you for new beginnings as we take the first step in this journey toward You, with You.

Lisa


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Posted by Lisa Lewis Koster - - 7 comments

TLA 

(True Love Always)


I remember writing this when I was a kid because it was like a "secret" code, and because I liked the way the letters overlapped.  I probably even signed it on a love letter or two, but since I have no idea who those letters were written to it's obvious none of those words - True - Love - Always - actually applied.

There is only One who always truly loves us, and that is God.  I'm sure you've probably heard this before, but have you really received it and taken it to heart?  Scripture is full of God's declarations of love for us!  Take a moment to soak in the extent of the love God has for you...

God LOVES you with a great and everlasting love:

"For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear him;" ~ Psalm 103:11

"I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” ~ Jeremiah 31:3

NOTHING can ever separate you from God's love:

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." ~ Romans 8:38-39

God LOVES you as His child:

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" 1 John 3:1

"The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children." ~ Romans 8:16

God DELIGHTS in you:

"He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. ~ Psalm 18:19

"The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” ~ Zephaniah 3:17

"But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." ~ Romans 5:8

God CHOSE you:

"For He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will." ~ Ephesians 1:4-5

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” ~ 1 Peter 2:9

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." ~ John 15:19

“They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with Him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” ~ Revelation 17:14

God will NEVER leave you:

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” ~ Deuteronomy 31:8

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." ~ Isaiah 43:1-2

No matter what happens, never forget that you are truly loved, always!


Father, I know we can't begin to comprehend the magnitude of your love for us, but we thank you just the same.  I love the fact that you delight in me and rejoice over me, that you quiet me with your love.  Lord, I pray that each one reading this will experience your great love for them.

Lisa


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Posted by Lisa Lewis Koster - - 3 comments

Photo courtesy of http://classprice.edublogs.org/
When you think of Advent, you're probably like me and think of the time that comes before Christmas. But there's another Advent that you may not have heard about. In ancient days, Advent was the time when the Roman Caesar claimed deity. They truly believed they were the son of a god in human form. Many Roman statues portray the emperor wearing a sash straight across their chest as a symbol of his deity.  

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.org
Domitian was one such emperor claiming to be god.  He ruled in the 80’s and 90’s A.D., about the time the books of John and Revelation were written.  The coins of the day, the denarius, bore the image of the current Caesar.  The denarius that bore the image of Domitian was inscribed on one side “Lord of heaven and earth” and on the other side “The first and the last.”  Other denarii bearing his image contained the phrases “Lord of lords” and “Savior of the world.”  John, author of the Book of Revelation, counters these claims in Revelation 17:14, "They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings."

Throughout Scripture, things were presented in a way that the people of that time would understand. When we learn about the customs of that day, the words of Scripture can take on a whole new meaning. Years ago, I had the privilege of attending a series of lectures given by Ray VanderLaan. With all the hype surrounding the upcoming Olympic games, my mind immediately went back to his message on the subject. I furiously took notes at the time, and was able to locate them to share here with you.

The Olympics had been in existence long before the book of Revelation was written, and it appears John may have penned the book of Revelation as a parody or parallel to these Olympic games, which were often held at the Advent to accompany the emperor's announcement that he was god. 

There were 7 specific events that took place at the opening of the Roman games at Advent:

1. The divine emperor was presented.  There were 24 elders, one from each of the 24 religions, a massive choir, and more, all marching into the stadium.   

In Revelation 1:13 the Divine Emperor is presented "among the lampstands was One like the Son of Man, dressed in a long robe  and with a gold sash wrapped around His chest...(:16)He had seven stars in His right hand;


2. The emperor makes his declarations.

In Revelation chapters 2-3, the Divine Emperor makes His declarations to the seven churches.


3. The official acclamation, where the choir would stand and sing “Holy, holy, holy is the lord god almighty.”

In Revelation 4:4 we see the official acclamation, “Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. . .(:6) In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures . . . (:8) they never stop saying: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”


4. A scroll was opened and read, officially declaring the games to begin.

In Revelation chapters 5-6, the scroll was opened and read, "Then I saw in the right hand of the One seated on the throne a scroll with writing on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals." (Revelation 5:1)


5. The games begin!  Unlike our tradition of having the main event last, they had their main event, the chariot race, first. There were four chariots in the race, one was white, one red, and one black. It was hard to translate the word for the fourth color, but it was thought to be a pale tan or greenish color. 

Revelation 6 reveals the four horsemen “(:2) a white horse...(:4) a fiery red one...(:5) a black horse…(:8) a pale horse.” The same word describing the color of the Roman’s fourth chariot is used by John in Revelation to describe the fourth horse.


6. Participants in the games parade into the stadium, waving palm branches.  They gather before Caesar and acclaim him.

Revelation 7:9 “there before me was a great multitude...standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb...They were wearing white robes  and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”


7. Incense and trumpets announce each event.
Revelation 8:4 “the smoke of incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God...(:6) Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.” 

Lord, it amazes me that Your Word transcends time and was just as easily understood by a Galilean peasant as it is by today's scholar. Thank you for always revealing Yourself to us in new ways. Time with You in Your Word is never just routine! Please continue to reveal the ways in which this world is just a parody of Your reality!

You can find fun, family-friendly ways to celebrate the Olympics at my friend Cindy's blog. And be sure to come back for my next post to hear the rest of this lesson!

Lisa



I've been known to link up with: Inspire Me Monday,  Living Proverbs 31, The Beauty in His Grip, Playdates With God, Unite, Soli Deo GloriaTitus 2sdaysTell Me a StoryTeach Me Tuesdays, Tutorials and Tips,Tell His Story, Winsome Wednesday, Doing You Well Wednesday, Hope in Every Season,  A Little R&R Wednesdays, Inspire Me Please, Think Tank Thursdays, Thrive at Home, Thriving Thursday, The HomeAcre Hop, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet, Spiritual Sundays,  Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday, Women Helping Women
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