Dr. Beverly Smallwood

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New Morning Devotionals promotes deeper spiritual understanding, meaningful living, and practical Christianity at work and home

"This Wasn't Supposed to Happen to Me" Group Video Series

IT’S NOT JUST WHAT YOU DO; IT’S WHY YOU DO IT

guard_your_heart

People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives.  ((Proverbs 16: 12 NLT)

Love must be sincere.  (Proverbs 26: 2, NLT)

Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.  (Lamentations 3: 40)

Have you ever been around a person who seemed quick to pitch in with the call for volunteers on a project?  However, when you were working with her side by side, something just seemed “off?” Though she had freely volunteered, she constantly muttered complaints under her breath about how there were not enough people to help.. It was almost as if she felt victimized by the assignment.

Or what about the man who was generous in his giving to good causes, but he also wanted to be sure that he got the publicity for it? (The scripture says that if you do your good deeds to be seen before me, you’d better enjoy it because that’s your reward.  You won’t be receiving any heavenly kudos for your work.)

OK, now I’m about to start meddling. What about you? Are you still “faithfully” honoring a certain commitment, but inside you’ve resigned, and your resentments are growing?

No matter what your outside behavior looks like, the thing that matters even more significantly to God  is what’s really going on inside you.  What is happening in your mind and heart?

Allow me to qualify that by saying that it’s good to faithfully honor your commitments, and you won’t always feel like doing them.  That’s not the problem we’re discussing.  Here are a few examples, which may not apply exactly to you, but they may stimulate your thinking about your own motives.

  1.  You’re nice to someone just because of what you want to get from them.  If it were not for that desire, you probably would hardly give them the time of day.
  2.  You go out and volunteer “coincidentally” when you find out the TV cameras will be there for the human interest story.
  3. You speak up a great deal in your study group because it’s important to you for people to understand how knowledgeable you are.  (Or you don’t speak up with insights that could help others because you’re afraid you’ll sound stupid.)

The list could go on, but the essence of each of these is, something’s happening in outside behavior that is not reflected in inward thoughts and attitudes.  Motives are not pure. Further, what’s in there eventually comes out in your words and in the inconsistency between your attitudes and your actions.

Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12: 34)

A couple of cautions.  One, I’m not asking you to get obsessed with the focus on, “Am I doing this for exactly the right reasons?”  In case my clients with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder are reading this, it’s not an invitation to give in to the kind of constant self-questioning that leads to paralysis. Two, I am not inviting you to be the judge of others’ motives.  That’s not your place; their hearts’ conditions are between them and God. God will sort all that out. If your goal is to secretly put someone else down, you have a heart problem!

No, this is simply a clarion call to keep yourself in the Presence of God, to listen for His divine assignments, and to say yes to them with a heart whose genuine desire is to please and glorify God while helping others. 

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. ( I Samuel 16:7)

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My Lord, I pray this morning with David – asking You to create in me a clean heart and to renew a right spirit within me.  As I go today, shine a light on any pride or other hidden motives that have the power to rob me of effectiveness and steal the rewards You want to give.  I am not focusing on being impressive in my behavior.  I want to be “pure in spirit,” honoring You in all I do.

 

 

 

 

GOD, HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO WAIT?

waiting_bench

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.  (Romans 4:18-21)

“God, how long do I have to wait?”

(And how many times has He heard that one from me?)

I’ll bet He even heard it from Abraham a few times in the long years through which Abraham and Sarah were awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promise to give them a son and to make Abraham the father of many nations.  If Abraham was going to have a bunch of kids, it was loooong past time for him to get busy.  He was 100, and his wife was a very few years younger – long past normal child-bearing years.  With their natural eyes, their hope in the promise was definitely “hoping against hope.”  When they looked in the mirror and at the calendar, they were not encouraged.

But God (my heart flutters every time I see those two words intervene) had made a promise, and Abraham believed God – no matter what it looked like.  Now notice that Abraham did not lie to himself about his current circumstances.  He knew that his mortal body was “as good as dead.”  He didn’t try to tell himself that it wasn’t.  He was not trusting in his vigilance about some change in his situation.  He was trusting in God’s Word.

With the natural eyes, Abraham experienced the fulfillment of the promise when God’s clock said, “Time!” and not a minute before.  However, his spiritual eyes had seen it years before.  It was real, long before it became “real.” He held onto God’s Word to him while the clock ticked.  He did not give up.  He refused to believe his lying eyes.  God’s Truth was Abraham’s truth.  And indeed, the promise came to pass.

How good are you at waiting?  Me, not so much.  I waste a lot of time “saving time” in drive-throughs.  I become irritated when I have a 2:00 o’clock appointment with the doctor and see him at 4:17.  And, I really want God to move quickly to solve my problems.

I’ve been praying a long, long time for certain issues in my life and the lives of those I love most.  I know that the prayers are not “amiss” because they are aligned with what God’s Word says that He wants for each of us.  I have not yet see their fulfillment, but I keep receiving His reassurance that He is at work behind the scenes, and that in His due time…

When your faith is challenged to stretch out over a long period of time, that’s a spiritual workout.  Workouts develop muscles that can be put to work with any number of tasks in the Kingdom. However, “workouts are so easy” was not said by any person serious about fitness, ever.

Are you in a season of praying and waiting and hoping against hope? May I just administer a shot of encouragement this morning? Sometimes God is not on our timetable, but His timing is perfect.  Don’t give up trusting.  Don’t stop believing.  Do hold on to His Loving Hand as you just keep walking.

God is definitely a Promise-Keeper!

O Lord, You know my heart.  You understand how deeply I yearn to see with my eyes the fulfillment of Your Word in my life and the lives of those I love.  I believe You, and I know that You are at work in ways I cannot yet see.  Strengthen my faith, my God.

GREAT CATCH, JESUS!

jesus-pulls-peter-from-water1

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s You,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to You on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” 

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14: 21-31)

Yesterday in part 1 of this two-part series, we applauded Peter and wished for his courage because he was the only ONE of the disciples who stepped out of the boat.  Peter’s struggle in our message today does not negate that!  I actually love the fact that the Biblical models we are given are very human.  That gives me hope!

So Peter had made that irreversible decision to step out onto raging waves.  He had moved into the point of no return.  Been there?  It’s exhilarating and scary at the same time.

Daring to go out there was not the problem – far from it! The problem was, Peter started paying too much attention to those waves.  He began to zero in on his tumultuous circumstances, and he took his eyes off the One Who had called him to “come!”

Obsessing about your troublesome situations or the obstacles to your dreams never solved a single problem.  Worrying just doesn’t work, and furthermore, it destroys your peace and eats away at your faith.  Like Peter, you can find yourself sinking into the rough waters.  Without divine intervention and a change of focus, you’ll go under.

But Jesus says, “NO,” and He reaches out His gentle Hand to help you back up.  At that point, Peter had a choice.  He could continue to doubt Christ’s power and keep flailing about in and under the water.  Alternatively, Peter could do what he did.  He put his eyes back on Jesus, reached up and took Christ’s extended hand, and got back up on top of the waves.

Jesus Christ is the same – yesterday, today, and forever!  What He did for Peter, He will surely do for you!

Don’t berate yourself for stepping out or doubt that God called you to dare.  Don’t second-guess and question your divinely-inspired actions that were begun in faith.  Human struggles are inevitable.  Quitting and sinking are optional.

I love Philippians 1: 6:

He Who began a good work in you will complete it (emphasis mine) until the day of Jesus Christ!

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Lord, I believe.  Help Thou my unbelief.  When I feel that I am sinking, when I’m doubting myself or even doubting You, when I feel I can’t take another step in the storm – I turn my eyes upon You.  I know that Your Loving Hand is right there, ready to support me and draw me up out of my troubles.  Give me the courage, Lord, to keep walking on the waters onto which You have called me!

 

 

STEP ON OUT

Crashing_waves_1

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s You,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to You on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” 

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14: 21-31)

I never tire of this account.  Peter.  I so relate to Peter.  He was a long way from perfect (and boy, do I identify with that!).  Sometimes his mouth got in gear before his brain did. Often his focus on the experience of now interfered with his understanding of the big picture.  And who could forget the time when Jesus humanly needed His closest friends most, but Peter not only wasn’t there as he promised, he then adamantly denied he even knew The Man.

But Peter….

But God…

Jesus saw Peter’s potential, and He steadily called it forth.  Eventually, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter grew into it, and he was a powerhouse for Christ in the world. But first, Peter had a few starts and stops.  Like me.  Like us all.

The events of this particular night in Peter’s life are instructive for the fledgling ventures you and I experience in our own walks of developing faith.  Much has been made of Peter’s problem with beginning to sink, and we’ll talk about that tomorrow.

However, this morning, I want to focus on Peter’s choice to get out of that boat when the circumstances areound him did NOT support that decision! The winds were howling, the waves were crashing, and the little boat was rocking. To round out the tumult, a “ghost” was coming toward them.  Sounds eerily familiar to the circumstances you and I face at times.  Everything is all chaotic.  The unknown looms out there, and we have no idea what to do next or how to survive.

But one big factor tipped the scales for Peter.   He listened to the Master’s Voice!  He recognized Jesus, despite his fear.  Jesus’ invitation to “COME” overrode the roar of the wind and waves, and Peter said, “YES!” with bold action.

The scripture says that he “got down out of the boat.”  Picture it, as I did afresh before writing this.  I think I’ve alway imagined Peter just taking a step into the water, as if from a flat platform.  If you’ve ever climbed out of a boat, you know that that’s an awkward task.

It’s not recorded, but think of how the others may have reacted to Peter’s behavior while he was “getting down.” Can you hear it?

“What are you doing?”

“Have you lost your mind, Peter?”

“Get back up here before you drown!”

When you step out into a dream or a new and different assignment to which God is calling you, the naysayers will warn you, too.  But if, like Peter, you know that you’re hearing the Voice of the Lord, don’t let that deter you.

So Peter got out, and He walked toward the Lord.  He walked ON TOP of the circumstances.  We’ll talk about the little problem Peter had in the middle of this amazing walk tomorrow, and it’s one we experience, too. Yet, his story has a happy ending, and so can ours.  For today, let’s just focus on Peter’s courage to step out in faith.

He was the one who got to experience the miracle.  The others watched it from afar. Peter was the one whose faith in action was made stronger that day.  After the fact, then the other disciples verbalized that they were dealing with the Son of God.  But Peter KNEW it in a way that they couldn’t.  As it’s been said, a person with an argument is always at the mercy of a person with an experience.

I don’t know about you, but I have a hunger to KNOW God.  I want to see miracles and to be the channel of miraculous acts of God for others.  I suspect that some of you possess that same hunger.

When the Voice of Jesus calls, the circumstances are never perfect and often chaotic. However, the experiential knowing of Who God is will never happen until you and I are willing to get out of the boat.

Lord Jesus, I want to recognize Your Voice when Your Spirit within me says, “Come!” or “Go!” My soul is stirred! Give me courage, O God, to step out on the waves and to walk in Your miraculous power.

 

 

GOD’S A RECYCLER

recycle

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50: 20)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. (Romans 8: 28)

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lordlike streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.  (Psalm 126)

 

The dictionary defines recycling as, “to treat or process used or waste materials so as to make suitable for reuse.”  Recently, it struck me that God is a recycler! He takes every experience of the believer’s life, every single one of them, and He miraculously recycles them for an even better use.  Though the experience may have been painful or even could have resulted from a dumb or willful mistake, God turns it around and miraculously manages to bring good from it.  Such an astounding transformation is one of the many big blessings of being God’s kid.

Satan can bring nothing against you that God cannot upside. People are not able to do anything to you that your Father can’t use to mature you as you trust in Him.  The tragedies of this world don’t have the power for final victory.  Rather, as He heals you from such deep hurts, He equips you and fills you with His Love to minister to other people in pain.  At the same time, He envelopes you in His blessed hope in knowing that this is not the end, that you’ll be reunited with believing loved ones for eternity, and that the purpose He implanted in you is not complete as long as you have breath in your body.

God demonstrates over and over His wonderful process of recycling.  He treats and processes parts of your life that looks like nothing but waste.  He runs them through the crucible of His Love, His grace, and His ultimate purpose for you.  Almost imperceptibly at first, the parts that you want nothing more than to forget are transformed into “new resources.”   They become treasured raw materials for your divinely-empowered use in fulfilling God’s assignments for you on this earth.

None of us would choose to go through heartache, to struggle with negative habits and addictions, or to suffer relationship difficulties.  However, there are some blessings you simply do not enjoy if you haven’t experienced God’s amazing recycling process. When you love Him and are called in His purpose, He promises to work together all things for good.

Can you think of examples of this in your own past?  Is it possible that God is up to recycling in your life, even as we speak?

Lord, You astound me with Your goodness and Your grace! How can it be that my most painful experiences are now some of my greatest assets as I work with people? Only You, God.  Only You.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHO DO YOU TRUST?

Trust

I waited patiently and expectantly for the Lord;
And He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of a horrible pit [of tumult and of destruction], out of the miry clay,
And He set my feet upon a rock, steadying my footsteps and establishing my path.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God;
Many will see and fear [with great reverence]
And will trust confidently in the Lord.

Blessed [fortunate, prosperous, and favored by God] is the man who makes the Lord his trust,
And does not regard the proud nor those who lapse into lies. (Psalm 40: 1-4, The Amplified Bible)

I admit to you, when I watch the news, I get nervous, very nervous.  Rhetoric about nuclear attacks, threats of devastation, and brash saber-rattling make my heart beat a little faster.  Actually, a lot faster.  I pray.  I just pray.

It doesn’t look like the craziness in this world is going away any time soon.  This constant tension appears to be our new normal.  Trust in our government and its leaders is at an all-time low.  So how do you learn to live with it?  In this contentious and dangerous environment, how can you be at peace and continue to thrive as you fulfill your own purpose here on this earth, no matter what others choose to do?

The secret is found in Psalm 40.

No matter what human beings prove themselves not to be honest and trustworthy, God is. When the whole world goes nuts, God doesn’t.  Though others may desert you, God’s ever-present..

You may feel that not only is the world at large in chaos, your life is, too.  You may not have a clue about your next step.  You look in front of you at those potential next options, and you don’t at all see solid ground.  But God promises to steady your feet and secure your path.  As we affirmed recently, He will make a way where there seems to be no way.

God will not only help you survive in troubled times, He will prosper His people.  Just when you think you’re done, God’s not.  His faithfulness is everlasting.  He’ll give you a fresh wind, a new idea, and resources to work with that you did not have before.

Our God is faithful and true.  No matter what else happens, you can trust Him!

I know that this basic message is one I’ve been sharing a lot lately, but I just can’t help it.

 

Lord, I return over and over to Your faithfulness and trustworthiness – in the frightening world situation and in the scary parts of my life.  I trust You, my God.

WHAT LOOKS BIG TO YOU?

 magnifying-glass-29398_960_720
magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together. (Psalm 34: 3)
I will praise the name of God with song and magnify Him with thanksgiving.  (Psalm 69:30)
Anyone who believes in total objectivity in perception is dreaming.  In most situations, we see through the the lens of our current beliefs, our hurts of the past, and our fears for the future. We systematically and unconsciously screen out evidence that does not support what we hold as true, even when we are mistaken.  We overreact when a new experience is in any way reminiscent of a past pain, “seeing” and feeling it happening all over again – even when it isn’t.  We perceive in the direction of our fears, hyperalert for danger and thus reflexively zeroing in on the worst-case interpretations.  No, the human mind is not exactly wired for objective accuracy.
And my goodness, what we do when a big problem presents itself!  It’s all we can think about.  We turn it over this way and that, mentally doing and undoing and trying to find something that will fix it.  It’s hard to focus on anything else. This creates a problem on top of a problem.
One day I was pondering those familiar scriptures in Psalms, and the word MAGNIFY was magnified! When you put a magnifying glass over something and look through it, it looks bigger, and the objects around it look smaller.  Yes, even this is humanly distorted perception, but the magnifying glass allows you to see things you could not have seen with the naked eye.  This view is accurate spiritual reality.
“MAGNIFY” the LORD!”  “MAGNIFY HIM with thanksgiving!”
Choose to place your spiritual eyes on GOD! He is in reality so much bigger than any problem you are facing. His strength is so much greater than your own. His ability far supersedes your abilities.  He can always be where you cannot.  Spiritual facts!
So focus on those facts!
Take your eyes off your frustrated attempts to resolve situations that are way beyond your pay grade.  Instead, magnify the Lord in your vision.  Seek to know HIM and to be intimate with HIM instead of being married to your problems.  Give thanks to Him for Who He is and all He has done and will do.
An old hymn is playing in my head right now.
     Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
     Look full in His wonderful Face,
     And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
     In the light of His glory and grace.
God, thank You for this critical reminder this morning about my focus.  I choose to focus on You, O Lord.  I choose to believe You, no matter what my circumstances look like. I magnify YOU, my God!

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