Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Guest List

“Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’”
Luke 14:12-14 (NIV)

My husband and I were on the “B List” for a particular wedding banquet.  Honestly, we were excited to be on the guest list at all, so being “B List” guests did not insult us. Someone we watched grow up was getting married. Their parents were prominent in the local community and several hundred people could have easily been on the guest list for their child’s wedding. We were honored by the invitation, even as "B List" guests.

Creating guest lists can be difficult. The above verse from Luke 14 teaches godly guest list etiquette. Jesus tells us that when we have a banquet to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” As a woman who enjoys hosting birthday parties for our children and gatherings for our family and friends, guest lists have become something sacred to me. They are an offering to the Lord. Jesus says to look beyond the obvious guests on your list, such as family and close friends, and reach out to the outcasts and downtrodden.

While there may not be those who are physically crippled, lame or blind in our lives, there are those who are hurting, who feel unwanted and unworthy of an invitation.

When my children and I make their party guest lists together, we prayerfully ask the Lord to put those on our hearts who would be blessed by receiving an invitation. Perhaps a friend who is not able to host birthday parties themselves. Or someone who is dealing with paralyzing emotional pain. Maybe someone whose parents are going through a divorce. Perhaps a friend who is shy and tends to be socially isolated. Or the one who has rough edges, is not easy to be around and doesn’t see God’s loving acceptance of them. The poor, the lame, the crippled and the blind.

Truth is, without Jesus and His redemptive love, we are all “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”

Even in Christian circles, we can feel like the outcast or the unwanted guest. We’ve all experienced that “I wasn’t invited” feeling. An invitation speaks of acceptance, inclusion, care, love, worth and friendship. God’s Word tells us to extend invitations to unassuming guests.

The Lord of Hosts lovingly beckons us to come to His wedding banquet. As we unfold and accept His invitation, we are seated at the table of the King. Just as we are chosen by God to be guests of honor at His eternal celebration, let’s invite unlikely guests and place them at the top of our own guest lists. You are honoring God by inviting the poor, lame, crippled and blind. “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Proverbs 14:31, NIV). And to add to the joy of honoring God, He has promised us that “you will be blessed…you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14, NIV).

 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.’”
Luke 14:23

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Hebrews 13:2

“So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table.”
Jeremiah 52:33
Your Devotional Journal
Saying grace ~ Bringing my heart to God in prayer.

My Portion ~ Where Has God met me in His Word today?

Nourishment ~ How does God want to mold and change my heart?

Second Helpings ~ Where does God want me to be a doer of the Word and take action?

Time for Dessert ~ What can I share with others from what God showed me today?

"You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the LORD your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you..."
Joel 2:26

Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Place Card With Your Name On It

"...[you] will always eat at my table"

Trying to find our place can bring out insecurities. Have you ever had that awkward feeling while attending a wedding reception or another social affair where there is reserved seating?  Entering the reception room and looking with other guests for your name on a place card is exciting and yet nerve wracking.  

Where is my name?  Where is my place card? What if they forgot me?

What a relief when you find your place card with a table number on it.  You are reassured there is a place set for you.

In 2 Samuel 9, we find King David purposely looking for members of Saul’s family that David could bless.  Saul had set himself up as David’s fierce enemy, even trying to literally pin David to the wall and kill him.  Though David had opportunity to retaliate and take Saul’s life, David did not.  David’s responses to Saul’s vicious attacks against him were mature, founded in grace and security.

David had a close friendship with Saul’s son, Jonathan, who had passed away.  For the sake of David’s friendship with Jonathan, David wanted to show kindness to someone in Saul’s family.  David asked, ‘Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’” (2 Samuel 9:1)  A servant named Ziba told David about Mephibosheth, one of Jonathan’s sons, who  happened to be crippled in both feet.  So David had Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth brought to him.

Mephibosheth must have been shocked when someone from the King’s staff showed up on his doorstep to take him to see King David.  Being crippled in both feet, his world was probably very small and I imagine social outings were not on his daily agenda.  Certainly he never imagined receiving an invitation from the king.  
Verse 8 gives us a painful glimpse into  how Mephibosheth felt about himself. Mephibosheth bowed down and said, ‘What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?’” 

Mephibosheth felt hopeless, downtrodden, like an outcast, like a dead dog.

And yet here was King David seemingly not even noticing Mephibosheth’s disheveled appearance, his crippled legs or his dead-dog stench.

 “Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, ‘I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.’ (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.)” (vv 9-10)

Because of the kindness of the king, this crippled dead dog suddenly one day was given everything that belonged to his father’s father.  And the servants were commanded to “farm the land for him and bring in the crops” for Mephibosheth’s provision. 

And did you catch that part in the parenthesis?  There were thirty-six people commanded to plant and harvest food for this hopeless, unsuspecting, dejected dead dog!!!  

Mephibosheth would never be hungry again.  He would now be served all of his meals at the king’s table.  He would never wonder where his next meal would come from or how he would try to prepare it with crippled legs.  Now he had all of those people taking care of all that for him!  Amazing!

“So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.” (verse 11)  What a memorable, life-changing day that was for Mephibosheth!!  A gracious, loving invitation from a king to crippled dead dog.  Mephibosheth’s life was changed forever.

Do you ever feel like a crippled dead dog?  Mistreated? Unnoticed? Unworthy? Unuseful? Forgotten? 

There is a King who invites us to dine at His table forever.  He invites us to sit and enjoy the bounty He has prepared for us.  He longs for us to accept that invitation, to open His Word daily and to fellowship with Him.  And He promises us “You shall be filled at My table…” Ezekiel 39:20

You have a place at the King's table.

Invited.  Remembered. Placed. Filled.

Photo Credit: Toni Valentini

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Annual Verse to Reshape My Heart

“I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on Your laws. I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.”  Psalm 119:30, 32

Fresh starts.  New beginnings.  Desire for change and growth.  As the calendar pages turn and each new year unfolds, I pray that God would show me a specific scripture He wants to use to reshape my heart during the new year.  Our responses to God come from our heart.  Apart from the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9).  Just as David prayed for God to cleanse him from his sin and purify his heart, (Psalm 51:10), inviting God through His Word to search and cleanse our hearts is the primary necessity for a renewal.  “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  Hebrews 4:12

As I seek Him through prayer and in His Word, He has been faithful to show me the scripture He wants me to meditate on for that year, for that season in my walk with Him.  “I meditate on Your precepts and consider Your ways.”  Psalm 119:15  God does not necessarily give me a verse on January 1st every year. Sometimes I am several weeks into the new year before He reveals my annual verse to me. 

My very first annual verse many years ago was Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”  Do nothing out of selfish ambition!  Many years later, this timeless truth from God’s Word reverberates in me daily, often moment by moment.   

In God’s orderly character, each annual verse has built upon the one before. Here are a few of mine:

“Those who honor Me, I will honor…”  1 Samuel 2:30

“For My own sake, for My own sake, I do this… I will not yield My glory to another.”  Isaiah 48:11

"Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to Your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness." Psalm 115:1

I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise Your name for Your love and Your faithfulness, for You have exalted above all things Your name and Your word.”  Psalm 138:2

“If You are pleased with me, teach me Your ways so I may know You and continue to find favor with You.”  Exodus 33:13

As the annual verses string together in harmonious succession year after year, I see clearly His theme for me:  “He must become greater; I must become less.”  John 3:30   As I pause to reflect on all my annual verses beginning with Philippians 2:3 through Exodus 33:13, I see His perfect design:  All because of Him, all for Him, and all to know Him.

Jesus told us in Matthew 5:8 that those with a pure heart are blessed and they will see God.  God wants to give us a new, moldable heart. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  Ezekiel 36:26  

He leads us through a process as He transforms us into the image of His son.  Godly character is not built in us immediately, but rather through consistent, gradual growth.

Our loving Heavenly Father received faithfully my prayer for an annual verse to reshape my heart all those years ago.  He has diligently been giving me an annual verse to cleanse my heart of myself and fill it completely with Himself.  The purging and filling process has been painful at times.  Yet as I yield my heart to Him in trust, desperately requiring His precepts, He beautifully reshapes my heart and fills me with His perfect truth and love.  “I will keep Your law continually, forever and ever [hearing, receiving, loving, and obeying it]. And I will walk at liberty and at ease, for I have sought and inquired for [and desperately required] Your precepts.  Psalm 119:44-45 (AMP)
Dawning on the horizon of our hearts is a fresh new year.  Let’s seek Him for a treasure from His truth and ask Him to transform and reshape our hearts.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  Psalm 139:23-24

© 2014 by Sharon Sloan. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ushered In By Thanksgiving

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise;
give thanks to Him and praise His name.”
Psalm 100:4
Happy Thanksgiving!

"Let us come before His presence with Thanksgiving..."
Psalm 95:2

A heart of genuine thanksgiving and praise to the Lord ushers us across His threshold as we dwell in the Lord’s presence throughout the day. As we seek to abide in Him, our thankful hearts prepare the way for us. With a grateful and reverent posture before the Lord, we expect to hear His still, small voice and sense His presence. “The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His unfailing love.” Psalm 33:18 (NIV

It is more about Whom we are thanking for the giving than what we are thanking Him for.  "Oh, give thanks to the LORD! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples!"  1 Chronicles 16:8

“In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:7 (KJV
) Genuine thankfulness flows from a humble and reverent heart before the Lord. As we go to Him with gratitude and acknowledging Him in all things, our hearts are postured to receive direction from Him. As we commune with Him from the depths of our hearts throughout the day, we can bring Him our petitions, our fears and our struggles. With the humility of thankfulness for and acknowledging Him as a canvas, our hearts are poised reverently before Him. He guides us and leads us. “I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God.” Ecc. 8:12

When my children approach me with a humble and thankful heart, it is much more meaningful and fruitful as I talk with them, rejoice with them, pray with them and guide them. Their hearts are ready. But when they are being selfish, stubborn, prideful and entitled, they don’t hear and are not ready for my instruction and help. The condition of their heart is key to our communication and our authentic, vibrant relationship as parent and child.

It is the same with us and our Heavenly Father, who loves His children perfectly. When our hearts are right before Him, He can minister His Truth to us. He encourages and equips us. He communes with us. “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors Me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” Psalm 50:23 (NIV
"A fuller revelation of His truth" as Spurgeon puts it.

I want to make it routine not just to count my blessings, but to continually give thanks to God for them. To acknowledge Him in all my ways. To bow before Him with sincerity, thankfulness and reverence. I want to dwell in His presence, commune with Him and receive His encouragement and love. The fruit of that is “sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” Col. 3:22 (NIV)

Gracious Father, You are the giver of all good things. By Your grace, keep my heart poised humbly before You in sincerity, reverence and thankfulness. I want to enter Your courts with praise in my heart. Usher me in with a thankful heart. Remind me to acknowledge You in all of my ways. Thank You for loving me perfectly and for Your redemption. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Your Devotional Journal

Saying Grace ~ Bring your heart to God in prayer.

Your Portion ~ Where has God met you in His Word today?

Nourishment ~ How does God want to mold and change my heart?

Second Helpings ~ How does God want me to be a doer of His Word today?

Time for Dessert ~ What can I go and share with others today?

"You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the LORD your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you..."
Joel 2:26

“I will praise God’s name in song and
glorify Him with thanksgiving.”
Psalm 69:30

Monday, October 6, 2014

I Am Not Taking My Toys And Going Home!

Proverbs 27:6

 "The wounds of a friend can be trusted..."  (NIV)

"Faithful are the wounds of a friend..." (KJV)

Leah, my oldest friend in the world (in tenure, not in age), and I would play jax for hours on end when we were young girls.  It was one of our favorite games to play.  We grew up next door to each other, and we spent long weekend and summer days playing Chinese jump rope, Barbies, kickball, hopscotch and cards. 
From time to time, Leah and I would have a spat and feelings would get hurt.  My childish reaction was to take my toys and go home.  This accomplished nothing and only contributed to a temporary division between us.  Eventually, whether 15 minutes or 15 hours later, one of us would go knock on the other's door and ask the other to come out and play.  Toys were happily shared again and the playing resumed.  Joy, conflict, temporary separation, softening hearts, restoration.  The cycle of healthy friendship.

Leah and I are still friends today. We endured the cycle of friendship and enjoy the blessing of calling each other "lifelong friends". While I don't get to see her as often as I would like, we keep in touch and she will always be extra special to me. Leah is the friend who invited me to attend her church's youth group, where I accepted Jesus and I still walk with Him today. Leah was God's vessel to bring me to Himself.  My life is changed eternally because of her. 

Friends hurt each other. When my heart aches because of the pain one of our children is experiencing from hurtful words or actions of a friend, it seems almost unbearable to me as a mom.  Yet I must yield my heart to the Holy Spirit and respond maturely in such a way that honors Him.  But the greatest gift I can give our children in that moment of pain is Truth.  "A friend loves at all times."  (Proverbs 17:17)  The truth is that usually the friend's hurt was not intentional.  The truth is that we are all sinners and we will hurt even those we love.  The truth is we need to show grace and grant forgiveness.  Surely, we need the grace and forgiveness, too. The truth is a friend loves at all times.  We are not to be fair-weather friends.  We need to give each other room to grow.  Determining not to react childishly, we will not take our toys and go home.

Adult girlfriends hurt each other, too.  Our bristly thorns rear their ugly heads and we wound each other.  Yet, as we anchor ourselves in His truth and love, we are able to weather storms of friendship and life together.  Praying.  Seeking His truth.  Asking for forgiveness.  Showing grace.  Trusting Him to nourish, heal, grow and restore friendships.  

Friendships truly are a precious gift from God.  I am blessed to have treasured friends who I believe love me with a pure heart and who pray for me sincerely.  With reverence for and thankfulness to Him, my heart is devoted to the friends He has given me.  One of the greatest privileges in friendship is seeing each other through the seasons of life ~ joy, pain, rejoicing, sorrow, laughter and tears.  We do this by being there, staying, being actively involved and not taking our toys, going home and isolating ourselves.

When I am wounded by a friend, I lay it at the Lord's feet and give Him my broken heart.  "What do You want me to learn from this?  Do You want to change something in me?  How can I love my friend at this time?"  The wounds of a friend can be trusted.  I trust God to use those wounds to bring life and healing.  I am not taking my toys and going home.  

When I wound a friend, I pray that I will always rush to them to ask for forgiveness.  My heart grieves during that temporary separation, but I am not taking my toys and going home.  I am standing firm, committed to loving that friend even as I bear the consequences of my hurtful actions.  I pray they know that the wounds can be trusted because He is using them.  How beautiful it is that God weaves friendships together and uses us as sanctification tools in each other's lives.  Faithful are the wounds of a friend.

Childhood friendships and adult friendships are quite the same.  Our choice is whether we respond to hurts in childish ways or in God-honoring, mature ways.  I am thankful that, when I hurt my friends, they do not gather their toys in their arms and leave me stranded.  They stay.  They pray.  They love.  They share their toys, their hearts, once again.  

When wounded, I don't want to put my hands on my hips and scuffle my way home with my toys to isolation.  Rather, I want to outstretch my arms to God, offer Him my heart and ask Him for grace to respond like a big girl.

So, let's play!  Toss the jax.  Here's the ball.  I'd like you to go first... 

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.   And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." 
1 Corinthians 13:11-13

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Unbound and Unharmed

 “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire,
unbound and unharmed,
and the fourth looks like the Son of God.”
Daniel 3:25

Only that which bound them was burned...and the smell of fire was not on them!

That is what moves me about the testimony of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah in Daniel chapter 3.  They went in the fire bound (verse 20) and came out of the fire in the presence of the Lord, unbound and loosed (verse 25).

That which binds us is burned in the presence of the Refiner.  We may feel the heat turned up more than usual, but as we abide in the Lord and dwell with Him, He allows the heat to loose us from that which binds us.  This leaves me in jaw-dropping silence.

"And [everyone] gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them."  (verse 27)

The fire itself has no power over us...we will be completely untouched by it....we won't even smell like smoke!  In the midst of the fire, our hair will not even be singed.  Only that which binds us will be burned.  

Unbound.  Unharmed.  Loosed.  Free.

We might even get a promotion!  (verse 30)

These truths move my heart in hushed humility before the Lord.  How about you?   

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!"
Daniel 3:28


Saying grace ~ Bringing my heart to God in prayer.

My Portion ~ Where Has God met me in His Word today?

Nourishment ~ How does God want to mold and change my heart?

Second Helpings ~ Where does God want me to be a doer of the Word and take action?

Time for Dessert ~ What can I share with others from what God showed me today?

"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!"
Psalm 34:8