Pray First

I recently heard a speaker teach on what it is really like to tend a vineyard and how it relates to much of what we hear about in the Bible. When I came across this particular passage during my morning quiet time it popped right off of the page for me because of what I just learned. I love when that happens!

In Isaiah 5:1-2 it says…

“My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.”  

Let’s start at the beginning. First, the planter chose a fertile hillside, dug it up and cleared it of rocks. Sounds like the right thing to do, right? Nope. What I learned is that grape vines need really rocky soil so the roots are made to grow down to a rich water source. The planter did what he thought was right in his own eyes (or what a farmer would do in any other farm field) but it wasn’t right in this situation. He was trying to avoid problems or obstacles in his path. He didn’t consult the Lord.

Next up, he built a watchtower and a winepress as well. He was so sure that what he was doing was the right thing to do that he planned a future around his first decision! That turned out to be a mistake. Don’t we sometimes do this ourselves?

Lastly, he looked for his harvest but only found bad fruit. Why was that? When we don’t consult the Lord in the beginning stages of a decision and instead rely on ourselves, we won’t produce His fruit even though producing His fruit is all we really want in the end, right?

Later on in chapter 9 of Isaiah, verse 21 says “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” I’m not sure about you, but I want to be considered wise in God’s eyes – not my own.

My prayer is that each of us will consult the Lord before we begin so that in the end we produce only His fruit.

Jenn Texidor
loveSTRONG Ministries

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Faithful Love

At 2:00am everything becomes a prayer of deliverance, a challenge, and an excuse to get angry at God.

The dog won’t stop barking. You could stop it but you won’t.

The baby is crying again and you could give her peace so we can both get rest, but you won’t. 

I’m coming down with a cold you could heal me of but you won’t.

 I can’t sleep. I can’t stop worrying or crying. 

I find myself stuck somewhere between depressed and furious. You could make everything better, but you won’t. 

God is never more powerful than when we accuse him of being unwilling. Luckily Jesus doesn’t let us bully him into giving us our way. We beg God for a break, for rest, for sleep, for peace, for love, for money, for healing. We rage at him about our pain, all the while holding onto it desperately. We rationalize that we are only asking for what we have earned. We refuse to let our earthly demands go and lean on Him for all our needs.  If we actually accepted that God was there during a difficult time, we couldn’t blame Him. So, we start marking up a score card of our own creation, asking God, "Where were you here? Where were you there? Where were you when this happened?" whining about how we did our part, upheld our side of the bargain--a bargain that God didn’t ask for or agree to. We say, “I went to church, I helped, I tithed, I served, I listened, I, I, I. God, you promised but you didn’t come through.”

Our favorite time to go to God is when we think we are owed something, when we can’t see him working in our lives because we haven’t sat down and shut up long enough to notice. But like the most loving and patient parent, Jesus is waiting for our tantrum to end and for our complaining and bargaining to be over so the he can show us that our prayers have been answered.

We didn’t get exactly what we wanted but we got exactly what we needed.
The faithful love of the Lord never ends.

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 (NIV)

Huni McGee
Author

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A Step Above The One Below

Two years ago, I bought a Fitness Tracker that syncs to my phone and records my daily activity.  My tracker runs on a watch battery and is fully waterproof allowing me to wear it 24/7.  The only time I take it off is to move it to my ankle when I’m biking and treadmill walking. I want every step to count!  The difference it makes wearing it on my ankle versus my wrist during workouts is roughly15,000 steps.

A few weeks ago, after I’d completed a grueling two-hour workout, I realized I’d neglected to transfer my fitness band to my ankle. Checking my wrist, I was disappointed to see I’d only recorded slightly over 4,000 steps; a mere fraction of an average workout.  Feeling crushed, it felt as if the last two hours were a complete waste of time – like I’d done nothing at all.

I nursed my anger for a bit until it dawned on me that not having a high number on my tracker in no way negated the work I’d done. My effort was the same with or without an activity number validation. My body benefitted from the exercise just the same.

Not for the first time, I’d been duped by the enemy whose sole job is to negate everything positive in our daily lives.

The enemy likes to minimize the good we do in life while maximizing our faults and failures. He taunts us into believing that our volunteer time is too little; our tithing inefficient or sporadic; our Bible study or daily devotions are ineffective; our prayers too lame or our church attendance irregular. All of these negative signals can make us feel as if our salvation is sketchy at best.

Satan wants us to believe that whatever we are doing for the Lord is all for naught and we are wasting our time.  But I like to say that just because I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast three weeks ago doesn’t discount the fact that my meal provided nourishment for my physical body. In the same way, each time we give to the Lord – be it through Scripture reading, volunteering our time, the giving of our finances or encouraging someone who is struggling -- we are feeding our spiritual body, and God is pleased with us.

So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 NLT)

While we may have a powerful enemy, we have an even more powerful Savior who reminds us that “Greater is He that is in us, than He that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) If you hear the enemy whisper that you are wasting your time with spiritual pursuits, feel free to tell him, “Get behind me, Satan!”  Anything we do for the Lord is a good thing!

Kathy Kurlin
Author

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Wisemen Already Deployed

You are under a curse–your whole nation–because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the LORD Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. Malachi 3:10

Do we really think God would have any trouble filling His home with food?! I’m pretty sure the God who spoke the universe into existence never has to worry about running out of any resource. So, if we can’t rob God in that sense, I've come to think we can rob ourselves out of the blessings He longs to lavish on us.

In Leviticus 12 it says that a burnt offering of a lamb is to be brought to the Lord after childbirth. However, if a lamb cannot be afforded God allowed for two doves instead. Never think what is in your hand is too little to be of value when offered to the Lord.

Now jump forward to Joseph and Mary after the birth of Jesus in Luke 2. It seems they were too poor to bring a lamb and offered two doves. In faith Joseph offered the little that he had. He could easily have rationalized with God… “God I need to raise Your Son! I need all the money I can get and I really do not have much as it is! God You saw He was just born in a stable! I need these two doves to provide! You understand, right God!?!” But that is not what Joseph said. In faith Joseph offered all that he had.

Little did Joseph know that God had already deployed the wise men! How great is our God, right? Matthew 2:11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 

Who would have thought? Only God would/could throw open flood gates of blessing like that! But… it took Joseph stepping out in faith FIRST, trusting that somehow God knew all the details and would provide.

We cannot out-give God…not ever.

Independent Read: Psalm 91:1,4,14-16, Philippians 4:19, Matthew 6:25-34

Janette Keiffer
Author

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Speed Bumps? No Problem!

You come to me with sword, spear and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord Almighty. -1 Samuel 17:45

I wake up this morning with the greatest memory in my head--a memory including speed bumps. A few friends and I, away for a God-filled weekend, found ourselves in a parking lot, waiting, giggling and excited for the weekend. Excited to be together, and excited to spend the weekend with the Lord Almighty, we waited in that parking lot for a friend, driving in circles. It had speed bumps to slow or even stop cars. As we cruised around, we found ourselves flying over those speed bumps over and over, shouting silly things as we laughed for joy, shouting, “Again! AGAIN!”

Normally, I hate speed bumps. They slow me down and shake me up as I stumble over them. But we flew over those speed bumps. Our waiting for that long time seemed like minutes. Our waiting was so much fun! We flew over those speed bumps time and time again with joy and triumph!

In chapter 17 Goliath was a huge giant of a speed bump for the Israelites to have to cross over. He had stopped them in their tracks. The nine-foot giant in his fancy armor, with sword, spear, and javelin, seemed like too much for anyone. Then came David, the smallest and youngest, with no armor, no sword, and no real plan. Ah, but he had a defense, the Lord Almighty! He flew over that speed bump, in the Name of the Lord Almighty!

This seriously gives me goosebumps! You see, there are going to be speed bumps in life. Speed bumps of all sizes, sometimes just one, sometimes one after another after another. They can be exhausting, slow you down, or even stop you dead in your tracks. You may be so exhausted, unable to take another step or another bump. You are not alone. Go! In the name of and with the Lord Almighty! You will not only fly over that speed bump, You will have joy while doing so! The battle is not ours but the victory is, because we are children of the King!

Again, I find myself resting in Isaiah 40:31. Those who wait on the Lord will find NEW strength (strength they didn't even realize they had) They will fly high on wings like eagles. (Soaring over that speed bump or mountain or through that storm) They will run and not grow weary (even if they normally are not a runner) They will walk and not faint. -Isaiah 40:31 (emphasis by Lisa)

You are victorious! Not because you're 9 feet tall, or have the top-of-the-line armor or weapons. You are victorious as you go with the Lord Almighty! Go over that speed bump with joy shouting "Again, again!" For you are a child of the King!

Thank you Lord! Thank you Lord! Thank you Lord!

In the name of the Lord Almighty!

Lisa Foster
Author

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Afraid Yet Filled with Joy

Did you know that the saline crystal of a tear when viewed through a microscope is the shape of a cross? Learning that fact touched my heart because if there is anyone who understands the well of emotions behind tears it is Jesus, the One who took the cross in my place. I think He designed it that way to say "I understand and I love you".  Psalm 56:8 says -"You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book." He cares for the cause of each one, too. Tears come with many emotions..glad, sad, fear...

And speaking of fear, my daughter shared a verse from her morning devotional that got me thinking. Matthew 28: 8 says "So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell the disciples." - Wait, what?! When was the last time you were afraid yet filled with joy?! The women in Matthew 28:8 were afraid because they did not understand and didn't know what was going on but they had joy because the angels had said Jesus was ALIVE! It's like Philippians 4:7 says, you can't seek peace that comes FROM understanding, it is BEYOND understanding, it's only in the presence of the Prince of Peace in your life! Jacob said when he woke up from his dream... "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it." (Genesis 28:16) To be in God’s presence and not know!

Do we choose to have eyes and ears open to perceive Him all around us? If I cannot find the source of my joy in Jesus regardless of my situations and circumstances than I never will. My four-year-old finds pure joy in rubbing his entire face in his freshly washed, snuggly warm blanket. That's joy in the little things. God is longing for us to notice Him. He's all around us. Choose to let Him wrap you up tight like in a straight-out-of-the-dyer blanket.

***For independent read: Isaiah 61:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Philippians 4:8, Psalm 42:11, Psalm 144:15, Nehemiah 8:10, Joshua 1:9

Janette Kieffer
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Facepaint, Balloon, & Cotton Candy

On a spring afternoon, a group of young kids went to a local park for some fun with their adult chaperones. The kids didn’t get to play in a safe park often because they lived in a part of their city that has many dangerous challenges.  But those adult chaperones gave the kids opportunities so they can just be kids and not have to worry about all the ugly that surrounds them.

The youngsters were told to stay in a specific part of the park.  On the other side of a fence was a private party picnic and they couldn’t go beyond the fence.

As the time came to leave, one boy was missing.  Looking for him, he was found walking toward them with face paint, a balloon in one hand and cotton candy in the other.  Of course, by all the evidence, he had gone past the fence.

He was asked, “Did you go to the private party?”  “No,” he answered. “Are you sure you didn’t go past the fence?”  “Yes, I am,” was the boy’s reply. The adult summed up the conversation with, “Really?”

It made me think of how we go past a boundary and come back with the evidence all over us.

We think no one notices. Maybe we can fool people.  But God knows.  He never takes His eyes off us.  For the moment, it may have felt fun or tasted good but in the long run was it worth it?  I am sure God shakes His head and says, “Really?”

And if someone does notice the evidence and confronts us, we lie to hide the truth.  Making up an untrue story or ignoring the question only sinks us deeper into the feeling of deception which is an uncomfortable place to sit.  The desires that gave a quick fix blow away in the wind and we are left with a popped balloon, sticky fingers and faded paint on our face.

“So, let God work his will in you.  Yell a loud no to the devil and watch him scamper.  Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time.  Quit dabbling in sin.  Purify your inner life.  Quit playing the field.  Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out.  The fun and games are over.  Get serious, really serious.  Ged down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.” James 4:7-10 (The Message)

Sherree Fischer
loveSTRONG Ministries

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You’re Welcome

Alarm goes off, hit snooze, repeat. Alarm goes off, hit snooze, repeat.

Some of us wake up in the morning get a cup of coffee and dive into His word.

But probably most us stumble out of bed, hop in the shower and get ready for the rat race.

We go about the day, we rush around, sometimes we make that last minute stop at the grocery store on the way home to pick up a couple things for dinner.  And then it happens. You see the person at the end of the aisle that you like and care for but in that moment you do not want to engage in conversation. You turn around, you go down a different aisle and you run as fast as you can to the checkout so you do not have to engage.

But what if? What if that was God providing you an opportunity that day to share his word? What if that person needed to hear from you? What if you missed an opportunity that was right there in front of you but you avoided it? What if you could’ve made a difference in someone’s life? What if all they were looking for was a smile or a hug or a hello? What if?

In 1 John 3:18 (NLT) it states. “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”

Next time you are at the store and you see a familiar face as you are rushing around, take the time to say hello instead of running to the checkout. It may be the most rewarding part of your day.

Don’t worry…after writing this I thought, "Great. I must be held accountable, too!" You’re welcome!

Chrissy Shero
loveSTRONG Ministries

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Fuel Your Fear or Feed Your Faith

For nine long months, I was blessed to watch in amazement as my youngest daughter grew a tiny human in her belly.  After watching this precious little girl fight her way into the world, I find that I am already fiercely protective of my granddaughter – as I was with all my children. That “mother bear” protective instinct we women possess must surely begin with conception. It’s only natural since the odds of everything syncing up in perfect harmony in order to create life are nothing short of miraculous!

Even once conception takes place, there are about a bazillion things that can go wrong in utero and then again during the actual birth process … and the first few hours … weeks … months and years of life. There are in fact, so many disasters that can occur in this life, it’s a wonder ANY of us survive without being institutionalized from a constant state of panic.  Those Facebook horror stories about all the tragedies that can befall our babies, toddlers, teenagers, grown children, loved ones, etc.  designed to install chronic worry in us are doing their job. After all, the Internet -- the source of all wisdom and knowledge -- doesn’t lie! Or does it?

In truth, there ARE a bevy of things to worry about from the moment we know we’re going to become parents or grandparents. But worry and fear, are in fact, counterproductive to faith and serve no purpose other than robbing us of the peace that passes all understanding.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.(Hebrews 11:1 NIV)

Giving in to fear and worry is the complete opposite of faith – yet so many of us have a hard time relinquishing control of our children, our family, ourselves and our lives completely over to Jesus.

The illusion we harbor believing WE are in control of our lives is just that … an illusion. God was, is and always shall be the One in control of this life. Simply stated, when we choose to live driven by fear or worry, we are living in sin … and it’s a colossal waste of time.

Each time I’m tempted to worry or fret over my children or grandchildren, I focus on Scriptures that remind me that God knit my children together in my womb (Psalm 139:13); and that God has a good plan for my children to give them hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11); and God did not give us [ME] a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

Are YOU worrying overly much about your children or grandchildren?  Instead of worrying – give your worries to God and chew on the nourishment of Scripture that feeds your soul instead of fueling your fears.

 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”  (1 Corinthians 10:26 NIV)

Kathy Kurlin
Author

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Come Follow Me

Immediately they left their nets and followed him. -Matthew 4:20

Recently, I have been obsessed with this verse.  I constantly wonder where God is calling me.  Is it Africa?  Mexico? Is it adopting Asian babies?  Is it writing?  Is he calling me to be a missionary in marriage ministry, women’s ministry, to feed the homeless, Haiti?  Suddenly, God told me!  He is calling me to follow Him.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Peter and Andrew.  They were casting their net into the sea, as they were fishermen. “Come follow me…” Jesus said…At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-20)

He is calling me to follow Him. He will make my paths straight. He is leading me by still waters to simply follow Him!  “Duh!  Of course, He is calling me to follow Him.” Honestly, this is so profound for me. This was such an A-HA moment, as well as another moment of surrender. I want to drop my nets and follow Him.  I shared my A-HA/God moment with my sister.  Her insight was also profound and eye opening…I am like a dog.

This was her response, when I shared my story with her:

“I feel like you are Ralph (my nephew’s dog).” When my nephew says 'sit' and just leaves him, Ralph just stands at attention. Occasionally, he’ll lay down before my nephew even says lay down or he’ll start to do another trick thinking that’s what he wants him to do.  He whines a little, just eager and waiting. Sometimes my nephew makes him sit and stay extra-long because Ralph is behaving that way.  Then when my nephew says, “Come'” you can just see Ralph totally relax when he finally realizes what he is supposed to do and he is so happy to just walk with him.”

I am Ralph the dog.  Eager to please my Master, jumping ahead, sitting before He calls me to, chasing my tail in distraction, running when He says stay…and then somehow, He adjusts my focus and says, “Come.”

The amazing thing is, Christ loves me as I walk with Him.  He loves me despite my clumsy and distracted self.  He still calls me to Himself.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” –Psalm 23:1. I lack absolutely nothing. He loves me more than I could ever dream or imagine. I am not sure if you too are a dog (or clumsy, distracted, or a mess) like me.  Wherever you are, you are loved.  You are loved more than you could ever dream or imagine.

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. -Ephesians 3:18

Lisa Foster
Author

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