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More Than the Trappings

downloadThe Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God to both the Israelite people and their enemies. In I Samuel chapters 4 and 5, we read of a time when the Philistines captured the Ark, probably figuring having it would give them special powers to defeat their foes. After all, they had heard how the God of Israel had wrecked Egypt and many other nations. What the Philistines did not know was that it takes more than possession of the Ark to experience the protective presence of the God of the Ark. The presence of the Ark in that unholy place brought on God’s wrath and troubles to the Philistines.

We may own Bibles, wear cross jewelry, fly Easter and Christmas manners on our homes, and have our names on the church role, but all of that exhibits merely the trappings of Christianity. Without a relationship with God, one that makes a difference in our lives, sooner of later the trappings will trap us and show us up to be fakes. Troubles, not images-1blessings, will come our way if we insist upon trying to represent God through unholy vessels. The trappings don’t make us related to Him.

 

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©2019 Dr. Sharon Norris Elliott. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including this copyright line. Leave comments, ask questions, read past devotions, or subscribe to receive these devotions daily in your e-mail at www.sanewriter.wordpress.com. Also, periodically check in at www.LifeThatMatters.net to see what’s going on in the ministry.

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No Wonder We Have Joy!

One of my favorite old hymns is “Count Your Blessings.” The song was written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. and was published way back in 1897. The first two verses and the chorus say:

Verse One: When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Verse Two: Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

Chorus: Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your blessings, see what God hath done!

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

This hymn prompts us to encourage ourselves by looking back to remember God’s blessings. “Buck up!” it’s saying, “God’s been there for you and you have much for which to be thankful!”

Today’s verse extends the encouragement into the present and the future. Psalm 16:11 says, “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (NKJ). Not only has God blessed in the past, He blesses today (the path of life is fullness of joy in God’s presence), will continue to bless tomorrow (You will show me the path), and will bless forevermore.

An investment company’s television commercial pictures a green line on the sidewalk indicating the plan the man has made for his future. When he leaves his broker’s office and detours a bit to look at a luxury car he doesn’t need, his advisor calls from the office and says, “Stay on the path.”

That’s God’s admonition for us today: stay on the path. He instructs us so that we know for sure the path of life. It is the well-trodden road laid before us in the example of Jesus Christ and of the saints that have preceded us. That path is fullness of joy, satisfaction characterized by a merry heart that puts running and skipping in our steps. On that path we find ourselves in His presence where there are pleasures – things delightful, pleasant, and sweet – offered to us by His powerful right hand forevermore.

No wonder we have joy!

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©2021 Sharon Norris Elliott. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including this copyright line. Leave comments, ask questions, read past devotions, or subscribe to receive these devotions daily in your e-mail, and periodically check in at www.LifeThatMatters.net to see what’s going on in the ministry.

God Really Does Guard our Hearts

I couldn’t hear God as I read my Bible one morning because there was turmoil in my life. I tried and tried to concentrate on what I was reading, but kept finding my mind drifting to my troubles. I begged God for a word from Him. Thankfully, He spoke, but not from the passages I was reading. He brought to my mind a familiar passage, perfectly fitted for my present situation.

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (NKJ).

I know these verses by heart. At first, it seemed not too comforting for God to be telling me, “Just stop trippin’.” How am I supposed to stop being upset when upsetting stuff is going on? Then God pulled my attention to the last phrase. That’s it. I need my heart and my mind guarded. Confusion and troubles are designed by our great enemy to turn our minds and hearts from God. When we are troubled, our thoughts dwell on ourselves and not on God. We wonder what we should do; we justify our feelings and our actions; and we worry about how things are going to turn out. I wasn’t trying to operate this way; in fact, I have been in constant communication with God, but I still found my mind overwhelmed and my heart breaking and in pain.

I’ve figured out that it comes down to whether or not I really trust God’s word. I know I do, so no matter what I’m feeling, I must put my foot down on the fact that God’s Word is true – the spiritual is in control of the physical – and that’s that. God’s Word says that God’s peace will station a guard around my feelings (my heart) and my thoughts (my mind). I didn’t get what I needed from the particular passage I wanted to read in my morning Bible-reading routine, but God’s Word still had a word for me – a word for where I was on my journey with Him. He then graciously led me to other words of encouragement from his heart to mine.

  • Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. Psalm 37:5 (KJV)
  • But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. Psalm 37:11 (NKJ)
  • Cast your burden on the LORD, and He shall sustain you; he shall never permit the righteous to be moved. Psalm 55:22 (NKJ)
  • Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble. Psalm 119:165 (NKJ)
  • I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare before Him my trouble. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then You knew my path. Psalm 142:2-3 (NKJ)
  • But glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good… Romans 2:10 (NKJ)
  • Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; Romans 12:12 (NKJ)
  • Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 (NKJ)

Sometimes, we just have to be determined to believe God’s word even when everything around us – and even everything within us – shouts the opposite.

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©2021 Sharon Norris Elliott. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including this copyright line. Leave comments, ask questions, read past devotions, or subscribe to receive these devotions daily in your e-mail by periodically checking in at www.LifeThatMatters.net and also see what’s going on in the ministry.

Christian Community

I delivered a message for the Women’s Christian Fellowship group of the International Council of Community Churches. These women had come together from all over the country for their annual denominational convention. I joked with them, knowing they must be an august, serious group with lots of faith in me to figure I had something worthwhile to say about their complex topic – the role of women in the modern church – at 7:00AM – for 20 minutes.

Well, the gist of my message was that since God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, His intention for a woman’s role, no matter where she is, has not changed since God created woman in the first place. If we look at all of Scripture, at all the many roles women have played in Biblical history, and at how God the Son dealt with women, we can see clearly that God is in the business of including women in His work and using them to bring Him glory.

Of course, I went into more detail – 20 minutes’ worth – in the actual message, and afterward the ladies were generous with their praise and encouraged at being reminded of their usefulness to the Kingdom. But I was struck not so much by the adulation, but by the oneness I felt in the room. Here we were, Christians from many different cities and states, together because of a common cause, mainly our love for our Lord. Even at an early hour, here we were, together to hear one more time from the Scriptures, trusting that we’d hear something that would change us, inspire us, motivate us, or challenge us. I didn’t need to know them and they didn’t need to know me. All we needed to know is that we all knew the Savior. This is a community – the community of the saints – of which I’m ecstatic to be a part.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Rom 15:5-6 (NIV)

©2009/2021 Sharon Norris Elliott. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including the copyright line. For all devotions, comments, and questions, log onto Sharon’s blog at http://www.LifeThatMatters.net.

Ask First

Throughout the books of first and second Samuel, David usually asked God first before he made a particular move. If enemies reared their ugly heads against him, he would pray something like, “God, should I go up against these people?” and God would give him a yea or nay.

Well, in II Samuel 7, David thought about the fact that he was living in a gorgeous home, but the ark of God dwelt in a tent. He discussed with Nathan the prophet the idea of building a house for God. At first, Nathan thought it was a great idea too. Then God stepped in. God told Nathan to tell David not to start that building project. David’s son would do that. David was to just keep on doing what God had called him to do, namely, to conquer lands and subdue Israel’s enemies.

There was nothing inherently wrong with David’s idea to build God a house. The problem was that it was not what God wanted him to do, so God checked him through Nathan the prophet. It’s interesting that after this, David goes to war and makes decisions and it’s not recorded as much to see David stopping to ask God first before he proceeds. Just three chapters later, David commits the sin with Bathsheba which essentially toppled his influence from then on. Could it be that although David went on doing what God wanted him to do, he was sulking over the fact that God nixed his building plans? Perhaps David avoided close contact with God because what God called him to do was not what he really wanted to be doing. And then that separation from God led David in the only direction he could have gone–down the wrong path, the path that indulged his own desires over God’s.

 Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps” (NKJ). May the Lord keep us heading in the right direction as we remain open to allowing Him to check our every idea and give us clear direction as to exactly what He wants us to do.

Listen: Read Proverbs 16:9

Reflect: What are your plans? Have you checked with God to see that your plans align with His plans for your life?

Pray: Ask God to clearly show you how to align your plans with His, even if that means throwing your plans out and starting all over by managing the job He wants you to do.

(C)2021 Life That Matters Ministries

God’s Word is Enough

In I Samuel chapter one, Hannah prays to have a son. She is so distraught over her distress that she is not even able to eat, so she goes to God with a very specific prayer. She is so serious about it that she adds a vow to her request. She says first, look on my affliction; then, remember me; then, give me a male child. Finally she vows to give him back to the Lord and that no razor would come upon his head. (I Sam. 1:11)

Eli the priest saw Hannah praying and when he recognized her sincerity, he blessed her and prophesied that God would grand her petition. Right then, Hannah stopped crying, changed her whole attitude, and acted as if her prayer had been answered.

That’s what has caught my eye today. Hannah didn’t have her baby; in fact, she wasn’t even pregnant yet, but look at her attitude. Once she received the word from God, her faith in His word took over and she moved as if the manifestation was already there. May we learn to live in faith in God’s word even before we see results.  “For we walk by faith, not by sight” II Corinthians 5:7 ((KJV).

(C) 2021 Life That Matters Ministries

Hold Your Head Up (4/9/20)

photo of woman in white dress posing with her head up and her hands raised
Photo by Rômulo Carolino on Pexels.com

As­sem­blies of God pas­tor, sing­er, and Gos­pel song­writ­er Ira Stanphill composed the words and music to the beautiful hymn “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow.” Enjoy the first verse and refrain here:

I don’t know about tomorrow,
I just live from day to day.
I don’t borrow from it’s sunshine,
For its skies may turn to gray.
I don’t worry o’er the future,
For I know what Jesus said,
And today I’ll walk beside Him,
For He knows what is ahead.

Refrain
Many things about tomorrow,
I don’t seem to understand;
But I know Who holds tomorrow,
And I know Who holds my hand.

We don’t know what all Pastor Stanphill was going through, but just before he penned those words, it is possible he had been reading Luke chapter 12 in which Jesus teaches about focus and priorities to a crowd who must have been worried and bothered about a lot of stuff. The takeaway message of this chapter is, “Hold your head up.” But, you may be thinking, how am I supposed to accomplish that when so much is troubling me? This Coronavirus quarantine business is stretching out and has gotten real. I hear your heart. Here are some takeaways from the Lord.

First of all, focus on your value. Start by realizing you are of value to God. Luke 12:7 (NKJ) says, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” And Luke 12:24 (NKJ) reads, “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds?” God is paying attention to you and supplying for your needs moment by moment. You woke up again this morning, didn’t you?

Second, prioritize what you seek. Jesus tells us in Luke 12:29-31 (NKJ), “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.” Here, Jesus basically tells us to stop trippin’. The fact that God is aware of our needs

woman wearing red hat and sunglasses
Photo by Nashua Volquez on Pexels.com

presupposes that He can and will do something about them. He’s not just up there in Heaven, forlornly shaking His head and wringing His hands saying, “My, my, my, look at all the trouble my child is going through. Sure hope she makes it.” No, be it bottled water, paper towels, toilet paper, masks, hand sanitizer, or anything else you need during this pandemic or at any other time, God’s got your situation under total control.

So, if you feel out of control, let go of the wheel. Simply stop trying to have your hand in everything and be guided by God’s hand. Heads up; seek Him. He will take care of all of the rest.

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(c) 2020 Life That Matters Ministries, Dr. Sharon Norris Elliott, founder/CEO

1/18/20: Blinders and Muzzles

Here in America, we don’t often hear stories about demon possession or oppression unless we’re watching a Hollywood production. We have relegated demons to the silver screen. Actually, we somewhat enjoy being spooked for an hour and a half as the actors think it’s a good idea to spend the night in a deserted house in the middle of a forest on a moonless night. We allow the shadowy images to invade our psyches and are relieved when at least one hero or heroine emerges unscathed in the end. We exit the theaters leaving both our popcorn boxes and our fear of demons behind.

The demons might not care so much about the popcorn box, but they are certainly glad we left our attention to them behind. The principalities and powers of darkness want nothing more than for us to think they are no danger, and better yet, that they don’t really exist. They know that we neither fear nor respect that which we deem nonexistent; we are not on our guard against it either.

Jesus did not wonder about the existence of the demonic and neither did the people of his day. When demon-possessed people were brought to Him, Jesus didn’t say, “Oh my friend, you are misguided in your diagnosis. This man is merely troubled.” No, Jesus cast the demons out. In order to cast demons out, He had to recognize they were real.

Christians cannot be possessed by demons because the Holy Spirit has taken up residence within us. However, demons do their best to oppress believers. They will counterfeit within us some of the same troubles they bring upon the possessed. I believe two of their main weapons are blinders and muzzles.

Matthew 12:22 reads, Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw” (NKJ). Just as this man was blind and mute because of demon-possession, some of us Christians don’t see what we should see or say what we should say because we’re allowing the forces from hell to cover our eyes and shut our mouths. We refuse to recognize sin as sin and speak out about it.

It is our job to bring light, to be light, and to sound forth as the voice of deliverance in our world. Stop letting demons oppress you. Remove the blinders and muzzles. “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” Matthew 5:14 (NKJ).

Receive your sight. Receive your voice.

In Matthew chapter 8, we read two accounts that show a stark contrast in how Jesus can be approached. Right after witnessing Jesus heal a leper, the centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and many other demon-possessed and sick people, the disciples boarded a boat with Him and found themselves in a severe, unexpected storm. Even Peter, Andrew, James, and John – the skilled fishermen of the group – couldn’t control the boat and they judged that the waves were about to kill them. Meanwhile, Jesus was down in the boat taking a nap. They all woke Him up, frantically pleading, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (Matthew 8:25 KJV)

Jesus’ response and corresponding actions took them totally by surprise. “‘Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?’ Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, ‘Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’ Matthew 8:26-27 (NKJ).

Immediately following this incident, they arrived to the other side of the sea and met two demon-possessed men who, upon seeing Jesus, suddenly cried out, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?… If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine” Matthew 8:29 and 31 (NKJ).

The disciples – those who walked with Jesus regularly and witnessed His power consistently – panicked in their crisis. Instead of approaching Him by virtue of the power they had seen Him display, they questioned what kind of man He was to be able to command even the wind and waves. By contrast, the demons immediately recognized who He was and responded, knowing what He was capable of doing and what He would tolerate.

Colossians 1:16-17 says, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (NIV)

What will it take for us to recognize Jesus’ power? Do we know Him for who He really is? Do we trust Him for all He can do? We should be ashamed of ourselves for letting the demons exhibit more faith in Jesus than we do.

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(C) 2020 Sharon Norris Elliott

January 2, 2020 – About Mistakes

We may not like to admit it, but we will make mistakes. Being wrong sometimes is part of the human condition. Being new creatures in Christ does not free us from making mistakes, but it should give us a new way to approach them when they are made.

The first man in Scripture to make a mistake was Cain, and it happened before he murdered his brother. (Adam and Eve’s misstep was blatant, intentional disobedience; that’s different from a mistake.) Cain and Abel decided to give God offerings. Since Cain was a farmer, his offering was of the fruit of the ground. Abel was a shepherd, so he brought “of the firstborn of his flock.” When God saw the two offerings, we’re told, “…The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast” Genesis 4:4-5 (NIV).

Cain’s first response to his mistake was anger and dejection. I imagine he could have been feeling that he worked just as hard at farming as Abel did at shepherding, so his offering should have been accepted too. Perhaps he felt jealous at being outdone by his younger brother. Whatever he was thinking, God immediately gave him some instruction concerning how to handle his mistake. “Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it’” Genesis 4:6-7 (NIV).

Notice several things about God’s response. First, there is no indication that God is angry at Cain. Mistakes are unintentional, yet they are still mistakes and need to be corrected so they won’t be repeated. Second, God points out that only doing right equals acceptance. There are no brownie points for good intentions. Third, allowing a mistake to stand uncorrected leaves an open door for sin to invade our lives and take us down. The mistake is not the problem; our response to correction could be. If we respond by correcting the mistake – doing right – we master the sin that is lurking (crouching) in the shadows ready to devour us. That sin will not win. If we refuse correction, the sin that “desires to have” us will take over and our corresponding actions will bear that out.

Cain refused to correct his mistake. Before God could give him any further instruction about why his offering was not accepted, he allowed sin to fly through the open door flung so by his anger and he murdered Abel.

The next time we make a mistake, let’s refuse to make excuses, heed God’s correction, adjust our attitude, and make the necessary changes. In so doing, we will overpower the sin that desires to overtake us.

Life That Matters Ministries, LifeThatMatters.net (c)2020

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Remember to read through your Bible this year: OneYearBibleOnline.com

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Dr. Sharon Norris Elliott

Teacher, Preacher, Author, Editor, Writing Coach, Literary Agent

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January 1, 2020 – Freely Eat

Lots of people begin a new year with a determination to lose weight. That’s a good idea, even a healthy one that many of us should probably adopt. However, I’d like us also think about a time when God said to “freely eat.”

In Genesis, chapter 2, we read:

  • The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil… And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” Genesis 2:8-9, 6-17 (NKJ).

God planted a garden in Eden and put every beautiful and beneficial tree imaginable in it for man’s enjoyment and nourishment. Two special trees were there as well: the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God said man could eat from every tree except the one that would hurt him. Just as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil supplied death and all negative moral and physical consequences, the tree of life supplied abundant life and all positive moral and physical consequences. There were many more good trees than bad trees in the garden. God gave His one prohibition and then said, “Freely eat.”

Adam and Eve could have enjoyed all the wonderful fruits and herbs for their physical bodies from the food sources, and eternal blessedness in relationship with God from the tree of life. Instead, they elected to combine the food for their physical bodies with the curse of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Bad choice.

Nothing has changed. Second Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (NIV). God has given us everything we need in our situation. We can choose to freely eat of His blessedness in a relationship of obedience to God, or “eat” what we think is best and suffer the consequences of discipline by Him.

First Timothy 6:17 tells us that “…the living God… gives us richly all things to enjoy” (NKJ). There’s still only one prohibition, avoid sin. Choose life and freely eat.

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For those of you taking up the challenge to read through your Bible this year, in case you haven’t obtained your one-year Bible yet, here are the first 5 days’ readings:

  1. January 1 – Genesis 1:1 – 2:25, Psalm 1:1-6, Proverbs 1:1-7, Matthew 1:1-25
  2. January 2 – Genesis 3:1 – 4:26, Psalm 2:1-6, Proverbs 1:8-9, Matthew 2:1-23
  3. January 3 – Genesis 5:1 – 6:22, Psalm 2:7-12, Proverbs 1:10-19, Matthew 3:1-17
  4. January 4 – Genesis 7:1 – 8:22, Psalm 3:1-4, Proverbs 1:20-22, Matthew 4:1-25
  5. January 5 – Genesis 9:1 – 1:32, Psalm 3:3-8, Proverbs 1:23-27, Matthew 5:1-26

Now get to a bookstore and purchase your one-year Bible, or use OneYearBibleOnline.com

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LifeThatMatters.net (C) 2020