This Is Only A Test

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This Is Only a Test

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The scene is a jubilant one. The entire Israelite community had been miraculously delivered from the heavy bondage of slavery. Their jaws dropped as they watched God part the Red Sea so they could walk triumphantly into freedom. The book of Exodus gives us the account.

Miriam, Moses’ big sister, led the procession with clashing tambourines in what must have been the biggest “Praise Celebration” of all time. They had witnessed first hand how their mighty Jehovah had brought them out from under the cruel demands of Pharaoh and his chariot officers.

You would have surely thought that they would be riding this “wave of faith” for quite some time to come. But only three days later, they were complaining to Moses, “Why did you take us from Egypt and drag us out here only to have us die from thirst?”

Moses himself even got out of sorts. He complained to God, “What am I to do with these people”?

God calmly answered Moses (as if He was not surprised at all by their behavior),

“Walk on ahead of the people. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink. So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because they quarreled and they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:5-7).

They tested God… but in reality, God was testing them.

As we continue to journey with them in the hot desert sand through the Old Testament, we begin to realize that the picture only becomes more dismal. What the Israelites failed to see was that God was continually bringing them into a “wilderness of testing” for one purpose: to see what was truly in their hearts, to see if they would trust and obey Him without a grand display of miracles.

Even in our own lives, we travel through different places of testing. God has historically used this story of the Israelites as an example of how not to respond when faced with trials. (See Hebrews 4:11.)

The bottom line is that God is after something in each one of us. This thing called life is simply our own desert of testing. Why not allow God to part the “red seas” of your life? He has a “promised land” that He wants to bring you into so He can show Himself mighty and strong on your behalf.

With boldness and courage let us learn from our predecessors the valuable lessons of faith and let us remind ourselves, “This is only a test.”

 

Through The Bible Devotions

January 27

Genesis 50:19-20 (NIV) 19But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Once Joseph’s father had died, his brothers thought Joseph might now get even with them. They pretended that their father’s last words were, “Please forgive your brothers.” The Scripture today is Joseph’s response. Joseph knew that only God could judge and reward men for their actions. He left all judgment to God and assured his brothers that he would not take any action himself.

Then he went on to tell us a wonderful truth. God can take what man intends for evil and use it to save lives. The brothers had malice, envy and greed in their hearts, but God used the action they took to get Joseph into Egypt. He used a lustful wife to get him into prison. He used an ungrateful butler to tell Pharaoh about a man who could interpret dreams. God does not author the evil, or condone it, but He uses the consequences of the actions to serve His purposes. All things do work together for good to those that love God and are called according to his purposes (Romans 8:28).

In this story we see the omnipotence and sovereignty of God. He can use even the evil in the world to serve His purposes. What an amazing God! We do not need to fear that evil is out of control. God is on the throne of heaven. Though man sins against God and against us, our God can use it to bless our lives and the lives of others. Don’t be discouraged. Our God is over all and will use all things to bring glory to Himself. His glory fills the earth. Trust His all-powerful hand to bring about good in whatever situation you are facing.

Meditation: God is never caught off guard by the evil of man. He causes all things to glorify Him.

Our Source of Hope When Life Hurts

By: GRACE FOX, crosswalk.com

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13 (ESV)

I knew something was seriously wrong the moment I answered my phone. My sister-in-law choked back tears as she told me a doctor had just diagnosed my 88-year-old mother with a life-threatening condition. “She has 20 minutes to talk with each of her kids and decide whether or not to have surgery,” my sister-in-law said. Twenty minutes to choose between life or death. The clock was ticking.

When I woke early that morning, I had no reason to suspect crisis would strike my family before noon. I would never have guessed that within hours, I’d leave home to sit vigil at Mom’s bedside until she took her last breath on earth a week later.

Life is unpredictable. Last year at this time, my mother was an active senior who drove and lived independently. And none of us suspected a mystery virus was about to strike and bring division, disappointment and loss. Who could have guessed a pandemic would force us into isolation, upend our plans, throw us into turmoil and leave us longing for hope?

Life changes in a nanosecond, and it deals blows we don’t expect. It’s so easy to find ourselves in a place of despair, longing for some type of comfort. I’ve struggled too, as I’ve grieved for my mom and for the losses suffered by so many around the world.

Thankfully, in my time of grief, I’ve found Romans 15:13 to be especially meaningful: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Hope is mentioned not once, but twice in this verse. One Bible dictionary defines it as “trustful expectation, particularly with reference to the fulfillment of God’s promises. Biblical hope is the anticipation of a favorable outcome under God’s guidance.” This contrasts to a dictionary definition of hope as “a feeling that what we want to happen will happen.”

The first mention of hope in today’s verse refers to God as the origin of hope. We anticipate a favorable outcome not based on circumstances, but on His person. We will face disappointments or life-altering detours. We will experience the death of a dream or the loss of a loved one. But no matter how difficult our circumstances, we can have hope because of who God is: powerful, wise, sovereign and good.

God is our guide, our comforter, our rock that remains steadfast when everything around us crumbles. He’s our constant companion who has promised never to leave us, not even for a moment.

The second mention of hope refers to us as the recipients. God pours hope into us when we choose to believe He is who He says He is and that He always keeps His promises. When we do this, He gifts us not with a flimsy optimism that everything will somehow work out OK, but with a rock-solid anticipation of a favorable outcome under His guidance.

And because we live among humanity desperately seeking hope, He wants our supply to spill over and splash those around us, creating in them a curiosity to know our secret. We can’t concoct this hope in our own strength; God makes hope possible by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. Imagine — this is the same power that raised Christ from the dead! (Romans 8:11Ephesians 1:19, 20)

The more I meditate on Romans 15:13, the more God heals my hurting heart. He wants to do the same for you, my friend. We can hang on to hope knowing that someday, Jesus will return and set everything right. Someday, He will wipe every tear from our eyes. (Revelation 21:4) In the meantime, we can live in hope because the source of hope lives in us.

Safe and Secure

by Inspiration Ministries

“O God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer! … you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me. Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings.” – Psalm 61:1-4 NLT

Based on a lifetime of study, military historian John Keegan defined a refuge as “a place of short-term safety.” While refuges have been important throughout history, strongholds have been even more important.

Strongholds are “not merely for safety from attack but also active defense.” These are centers “where the defenders are secure from surprise or superior numbers.” Because of their design, they can more easily “withstand sieges from attackers.”

The Bible makes it clear that God provides shelter for us. This is not merely a defensive refuge to escape danger; it’s more. He can lead us to a “towering rock of safety.” This means that God provides the strength we need and sure protection against any danger.

He also is our fortress, shielding us from assaults. He gives us the kind of safety provided by a strong tower. We may feel weak and vulnerable, but God can fill us with His strength. When our hearts are overwhelmed, we can cry to Him, confident that He will hear us and protect us.

Think about your problems and the adversaries you face. You do not have to cringe in fear or feel overwhelmed, hopeless, or vulnerable. Instead, cry to God. Commit your problems to Him. Be confident that He will shield you and provide a place of strength and safety where you can live in victory. That is His promise to you.

God Watches Over Us

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Useless Against an Assailant

15 Verses of Protection to Pray for Your Family ~ Debbie McDaniel

A loud crash awakened their petite daughter from a deep sleep. As a single mom, her first instinct was to protect her small children. She sprang from bed and grabbed the bat that was close by. With heart pounding and bat clutched to strike, she rushed out her door.

She checked the children’s rooms. They were in their beds and sleeping soundly. White knuckles held her weapon close and ready as she cautiously checked the rest of the house.

Ahhh! A shower curtain had crashed to the floor, causing the disturbance. All was secure. She sighed with relief—especially when she saw the weapon in her hands. She was clutching the hollow plastic bat of her two-year-old. It was useless against an assailant.

However, the story gives us cause to think. No matter what difficulty we face, our weapons are never adequate. They are as plastic bats.

How often have we grabbed from our arsenal only to find our weapons grossly inadequate, even useless against the intruders of our lives? Consequently, when we have to use them, we become overwhelmed because of our inability to cope. We might even question where God is in the midst of our problem. Are we lacking because God has given us inadequate, or useless, weapons? Or is it simply that we are depending on our own weapons — or strength — rather than on our God?

As Moses led the Israelites to freedom, they were trapped between the Red Sea, mountains, and a fierce army chasing after them. As slaves, they knew the Egyptians’ cruelty. Now they didn’t even have plastic bats to fight with. They were doomed and were terrified.

In desperation, they cried out to the Lord for help. However, in the same breath, they hurled accusations at Moses for their predicament.

Then they said to Moses,

“Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Exodus 14:11-12 (NASB)

When we depend on our own strength, we easily become afraid. Then, are we like the Israelites? Do we feel like we have to take care of the problem? Are we terrified because we don’t expect God to answer? If the problem is bigger than we can handle, helplessness and fear easily lead to anger and blame — all because we are trusting in ourselves.

In contrast, Moses’ faith was not misplaced. He did not need a weapon. He was confident God would handle the problem.

Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever.” Exodus 14:13 (NASB)

The Lord parted the Red Sea and His children walked across to freedom. The Egyptian army followed and the sea closed over them. The whole army was destroyed without the Israelites raising a hand. (Well, Moses did hold his rod up and stretched his hand over the sea to part it!)

God sometimes chooses to let us participate in the fight — but we always need Him to fight our battles for us, whether we take part or not. Conversely, He doesn’t need us in order to win. When He fights for us, victory is sure.

God never intended for us to be our sole defense. If we find that our resources inadequate in life’s battles, it’s because we’re not fully depending on God. He is our shield, defense, bulwark, and strong tower. If we trust in the Lord rather than our plastic bats, we will find that He is never useless against an assailant.

For though we walk inkier than learning boldness because we can easily tip the scales too far and become passive. It’s a difficult balance, but a necessary one if we want to reflect Christ to a hurting world.

 

Blessed Are the Meek

 by Sarah Phillips, crosswalk.com

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Mt 5: 5 (NIV)

I used to have a strong dislike for the word “meek.” It brings me back more than a decade to a defining moment during my sophomore year of high school.

I was a shy teenager who had stepped outside of her comfort zone by enrolling in several theater classes, including a class on “behind the scenes” theater productions. This should have been the easiest of all the courses for my sensitive nature. But my instructor, while delegating roles for the Spring production of Peter Pan, proved me wrong when she voiced her choice of stage manager like this:

“I’ve chosen Melissa because I need someone with a strong personality – someone who isn’t meek, like Sarah.”

Of course, I only drove her point home when I didn’t stick up for myself. I spent years after that scene developing assertiveness, determined to prove that Sarah was not meek. Like this teacher, I associated meekness with weakness andboth were traits that needed to be eradicated if I was going to get anywhere in life.

At least that’s what I thought until I found that dreaded word jumping off the pages of scripture at me in the Gospel of Matthew. There it was, one of the first things Jesus says in his famous Sermon on the Mount.

Our deacon offered some thoughts on this verse that helped put things in perspective for me. He shared that it’s in the Sermon on the Mount where we see Jesus begin to expand on His true purpose – and to the disappointment of many, He was not going to be an earthly king bestowing power and prestige on His people, not just yet. Instead, God’s plan for mankind included an interior transformation of souls for the sake of an eternal kingdom. To properly prepare us for this kingdom, God rejected earthly methods of acquiring power in favor of the healing that comes with merciful love.

It is God’s mercy that changes our hearts from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. It’s Christ’s humility, His lowliness, that beckons us into a relationship with Him. And ultimately, it was Christ’s willingness to give up earthly glory that opened the door for us to share in His eternal glory.

Now, as much as I would like earthly power, He asks us to “learn from him.” As our souls find rest in God, He can continue His redemptive work through us as we display these same “weaker” virtues to the world.

This isn’t to say God lacks power or that Christians should throw out virtues like courage. I think sometimes cultivating traits like meekness and humility are trickier than learning boldness because we can easily tip the scales too far and become passive. It’s a difficult balance, but a necessary one if we want to reflect Christ to a hurting world.

Streams in the Desert – January 26

Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t

I have begun to give;…begin to possess (Deuteronomy 2:31).

A great deal is said in the Bible about waiting for God. The lesson cannot be too strongly enforced. We easily grow impatient of God’s delays. Much of our trouble in life comes out of our restless, sometimes reckless, haste. We cannot wait for the fruit to ripen, but insist on plucking it while it is green. We cannot wait for the answers to our prayers, although the things we ask for may require long years in their preparation for us. We are exhorted to walk with God; but ofttimes God walks very slowly. But there is another phase of the lesson. God often waits for us.

We fail many times to receive the blessing He has ready for us, because we do not go forward with Him. While we miss much good through not waiting for God, we also miss much through over-waiting. There are times when our strength is to sit still, but there are also times when we are to go forward with a firm step.

There are many Divine promises which are conditioned upon the beginning of some action on our part. When we begin to obey, God will begin to bless us. Great things were promised to Abraham, but not one of them could have been obtained by waiting in Chaldea. He must leave home, friends, and country, and go out into unknown paths and press on in unfaltering obedience in order to receive the promises. The ten lepers were told to show themselves to the priest, and “as they went they were cleansed.” If they had waited to see the cleansing come in their flesh before they would start, they would never have seen it. God was waiting to cleanse them; and the moment their faith began to work, the blessing came.

When the Israelites were shut in by a pursuing army at the Red Sea, they were commanded to “Go forward.” Their duty was no longer one of waiting, but of rising up from bended knees and going forward in the way of heroic faith. They were commanded to show their faith at another time by beginning their march over the Jordan while the river ran to its widest banks. The key to unlock the gate into the Land of Promise they held in their own hands, and the gate would not turn on its hinges until they had approached it and unlocked it. That key was faith.

We are set to fight certain battles. We say we can never be victorious; that we never can conquer these enemies; but, as we enter the conflict, One comes and fights by our side, and through Him we are more than conquerors. If we had waited, trembling and fearing, for our Helper to come before  we would join the battle, we should have waited in vain. This would have been the over-waiting of unbelief. God is waiting to pour richest blessings upon you. Press forward with bold confidence and take what is yours. “I have begun to give, begin to possess.”
–J. R. Miller

Perfect Peace

by Inspiration Ministries

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” – Isaiah 26:3 NKJV

Edward Bickersteth spent his life in ministry. Born in London in 1825, he became an influential church leader, serving as editor of the hymnal companion to the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer.

While on vacation in August 1875, Bickersteth heard a sermon based on Isaiah 26. The minister stressed that the Hebrew text repeated the word we translate as “peace” (shalom shalom). The implication was that the world may promise peace, but God could provide something more: absolute perfection and absolute peace.

Bickersteth remembered these words when visiting a relative. Reading from Isaiah, he was impressed with the importance of peace and wrote a poem he called “Peace, Perfect Peace.” Later this became the text for a beloved hymn.

Bickersteth wondered if peace was possible “in this dark world of sin.” But he knew that because of Jesus’ blood, we really could have peace. We may face difficulties, but we find rest when we do His will. Sorrows may surge around us, but we can find calmness in Him. If we feel alone, we can be safe in His keeping.

We may not know the future, but Jesus “is on the throne.” He “has vanquished death and all its powers … Earth’s struggles soon shall cease,” and we will spend eternity experiencing Heaven’s perfect peace.

Is there any turmoil in your heart? The Bible promises that God can give you perfect peace right now. Jesus is on the throne. Trust Him!

Walk In God’s Guiding Light

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Guiding Light

moon-snow-farmhouse_SI.jpg

 

“Lord God,” Earle cried, “help me to find my ewe. She’s been lost in this blizzard since mornin’ an’ she’s pregnant.”

Earle brushed a tear from his eye, leaned forward in the saddle, and gave his horse, Cooper, his full rein.

“Find ‘er!”

Cooper sensed Earle’s urgency and broke into a lope.

He spotted the ewe only because Cooper dodged her, prancing with high steps.

“Come ‘ere, lady!” Earle said, gliding out of the saddle. He brushed snow from the ewe’s woolen curls.

The ewe lifted her head but otherwise remained motionless.

Earle reached into Cooper’s saddlebag and grasped an alfalfa cube and a handful of molasses-strapped oats. “I got yer favorite treat ‘ere.” Earle pressed the alfalfa cube to the ewe’s nose.

She refused it.

“How ‘bout some oats?”

The ewe roused and nibbled on a few grains.

“Let’s go home,” Earle said.

The ewe placed her muzzle in Earle’s hand, and they inched forward.

Soon, she toppled.

Earle fell to his knees, “Father God, what’s my next step?” He fought panic and listened for the still small voice of the Lord within his conscience.

An idea came to him.  Earle loosened Cooper’s girth, removed the saddle-pad, and placed the ewe on this makeshift sleigh. He fashioned an improvised harness from Cooper’s bridle and some rope. He attached this ensemble to the girth and reattached it.

Earle clucked to Cooper. It was then he realized he was lost. He couldn’t see the outcroppings to center him; all he could see of the blurred landscape was snow! He tried to track their direction, but their footprints were erased. He couldn’t even see the horizon.

Earle pulled the ewe into his bosom. “I’ll get ya home somehow, love. You’ll bed down in my own cabin tonight.” He motioned for his horse to go forward.

Cooper hesitated.

“Go on, boy. Find home.”

Cooper zig-zagged across the landscape, confused.

Earle tugged on the sled; Cooper halted.

“Lord, we need Your help! You led Your people in all circumstances and at all times. Lead me.”

“And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and by night. He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, or the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.” Exodus 13:21-22 (KJV)

Earle took his gloves off and slipped them onto the ewe’s hooves. “It ain’t much, lil’ lady, but ye need spoilin’ more than myself.” He felt her abdomen. “Hold off there, love! I’ll get you home.”

Earle searched the landscape. Suddenly, he realized he had an unexpected clue he could use to determine which direction to travel. He could smell the wood burning in his fireplace. “Thank You, Lord!” Earle said. He followed the scent, and step by step led the convoy forward.

At last, Earle spotted embers rising from the chimney. “Thank You, Lord! For You, ‘the true Light,’ (John 1:9 KJV) have guided me home.”

Earle opened the cabin door and led Cooper inside. He stoked the fireplace and laughed at the sight of his horse and ewe residing inside his home. Tears streamed freely, for as he bedded the ewe, still upon the saddle-pad, she gave birth to a perfect lamb.

Earle knew that as Moses relied on the Guiding Light, so must he.

And so must we.

Streams in the Desert – January 25

Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t

Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me (Psalms 23:4).

At my father’s house in the country there is a little closet in the chimney corner where are kept the canes and walking-sticks of several generations of our family. In my visits to the old house, when my father and I are going out for a walk, we often go to the cane closet, and pick out our sticks to suit the fancy of the occasion. In this I have frequently been reminded that the, Word of God is a staff.

During the war, when the season of discouragement and impending danger was upon us, the verse, “He shall not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord,” was a staff to walk with many dark days.

When death took away our child and left us almost heartbroken, I found another staff in the promise that “weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

When in impaired health, I was exiled for a year, not knowing whether I should be permitted to return to my home and work again, I took with me this staff which never failed, “He knoweth the thoughts that he thinketh toward me, thoughts of peace and not of evil.”

In times of special danger or doubt, when human judgment has seemed to be set at naught, I have found it easy to go forward with this staff, “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” And in emergencies, when there has seemed to be no adequate time for deliberation or for action, I have never found that this staff has failed me, “He that believeth shall not make haste.”
Benjamin Vaughan Abbott, in The Outlook

“I had never known,” said Martin Luther‘s wife, “what such and such things meant, in such and such psalms, such complaints and workings of spirit; I had never understood the practice of Christian duties, had not God brought me under some affliction.” It is very true that God’s rod is as the schoolmaster’s pointer to the child, pointing out the letter, that he may the better take notice of it; thus He pointeth out to us many good lessons which we should never otherwise have learned.
Selected

“God always sends His staff with His rod.”

“Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be” (Deut.33:25).

Each of us may be sure that if God sends us on stony paths He will provide us with strong shoes, and He will not send us out on any journey for which He does not equip us well.
Mclaren

Through The Bible Devotions

Morning

January 25

Genesis 32:27-28 (NIV) 27The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

After Jacob recognized his dependence on God, he was met by an “angel” that he later called “God”. He wrestled with this angel all night. He had really been “wrestling” all his life, wrestling with his own will and ways against God’s will and ways. That wrestling had not produced a winner. God continued to bless him but not like Jacob could have been blessed if he would have let God win. Still, Jacob had never walked away or quit wrestling. This is what the conversation in this passage is about.

In that age, a name implied the person’s character. It was almost as if it was your destiny to fulfill its meaning. Since Jacob had come to this turning point in his life, God changed his name, implying that he was a new person. Jacob meant ‘laughter’ or could also mean ‘deceiver’. His new name implied that he was enduring with God. In other words, he had not given up but continued to allow God to be a source of conflict and change in his life.

When you come to Jesus and allow Him to be your Savior and Lord, he changes your destiny too. As you wrestle with Him through life, you become an overcomer also. As He wins more and more of the battles over your will, you become dependent upon Him. You learn that God’s will and ways are really better for you than you could desire for yourself.

God calls us to see what we are and where we are headed, “What is your name?” Then He changes our name and destiny. God crippled Jacob’s hip to cause an additional dependency and reinforce the lesson.

Encouragement: Has God blessed you with a crippling of some kind? Keep enduring with God, overcomer. He has good things planned for you. Learn to depend on Him alone.

Water from a Rock

by Inspiration Ministries

“They asked, and he brought quail, and gave them bread from heaven in abundance. He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river.” – Psalm 105:40-41 ESV

From our perspective, Israel’s exodus from Egypt seems inevitable and even easy. But we know it was anything but easy. Everything about the journey was perilous. With overwhelming needs, they faced a constant stream of dangers and unknowns.

They must have had constant questions that needed answers. Moses might have given them promises from God, but they still had doubts. How would they escape the mighty Egyptian army? With no clear signposts, how would they know where to go? How would they find food and water in a barren wilderness?

Each of us has our versions of experiences like these – problems that seem impossible to solve, difficulties that seem too great, uncertainties, and questions. These are moments to remember all that God did for the Israelites.

Over and over, He did what seemed impossible. To people with no resources, He provided silver and gold. When there seemed to be no food, He fed them with quail. He didn’t just give them some bread, but an abundance. In a place without water, He provided water that gushed out of a rock, flowing “like a river.”

Why did God do these things? He was keeping His promises and the covenant He had established with Abraham.

Remember, nothing is impossible with God. You can trust Him. Stand on His Word. Believe that He will make a way for you even when there doesn’t seem to be a way.

Jesus Gives Us Peace And Quietness

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When Jesus Is Silent

 

“But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. ‘Tell her to go away,’ they said. ‘She is bothering us with all her begging.'” Matthew 15:23 (NLT)

Have you ever felt like the Canaanite woman who cried out to Jesus on behalf of her daughter?

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is possessed by a demon who torments her severely!” Matthew 15:22 (NLT)

She cried. She pleaded. She was frightened and desperate to find help for her daughter. Making it worse, those around her tried to silence and dismiss her.

The Bible says, “But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word.”

How many times have we prayed and asked, even beseeched God for something we want or need, and like the Gentile woman of Canaan, Jesus is silent? Have there been times when friends or family members have caused you to doubt that God is listening or cares?

I remember a time I cried out to Jesus, and He was silent. My husband and I agreed that I needed to return to the workforce after a brief break situating our four young children in school. Before my break, I had enjoyed a successful career in medical sales. Armed with confidence and a packed resume, I set out to return to the field I knew and loved.

You can imagine my surprise when interview after interview produced zero offers. Two or three times I was in the final round but lost the job to another qualified person. Weeks turned into months and still no job.

I cried out to Jesus. I repented. I humbled myself. I asked God if I was being punished. I began to panic because I knew my husband was counting on me to help with our household expenses. In the past, my medical jobs provided our family’s health insurance.

Jesus “gave me no reply, not even a word.”

Finally, I surrendered. I acknowledged that while I did not understand what or why this was happening, I would trust Him. I thanked Him. He knew our situation, and if I was not getting a job, there was a reason. I thanked Him for taking care of our family as He always had.

A short time later, I received a call from my sister in Florida announcing the news that our father was in the hospital. I left for Florida later that day. As it turns out, he was diagnosed with cancer, and the prognosis was not good. For the next eight months, I traveled back and forth between Virginia and Florida so I could spend time with my father and help my mother.

I understood the reason I could not find a job. If I had accepted a new position, I could not have taken so much time off. I was and am eternally grateful that I was unemployed at the time and available to spend so much time with my father. It was an amazing gift, and while those were some of the most difficult eight months, they were also some of the most fulfilling. Our family comforted and supported each other as we said goodbye to a most wonderful man. Jesus was working the entire time. I just did not realize.

When the Canaanite woman did not get a response from Jesus, she did not give up. She had faith. The Bible says she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

He not only healed her daughter, but He praised her for faith,

“O woman, great is your faith!” Matthew 15:28 (NKJV)

God hears our prayers. He loves us, and while His ways are not our ways, He is to be worshiped and trusted. We must keep the faith even when He is silent.

 

Working Forgotten Muscles

by Katherine Britton, crosswalk.com

“Rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” – 1 Timothy 4:7b-8

Well, it’s that time of year again – the time when I shake out the running shoes and hobble through training for a 10k after bumming through the winter. My hearty congratulations to those of you whose diligence makes that distance seem puny, but I suspect many of you empathize more than you’d prefer. My inner athlete is an uncoordinated middle school kid perpetually stuck in gym class, so it’s taken some coaxing to begin workouts again.

After last year’s run, I knew that I’d regret letting my body relax into semi-hibernation this winter. So why didn’t I persevere with crunches, stair steps, or walks on sunny days? I could give you a load of excuses, but you’ve heard them all before. The bottom line is that power walking a 5k feels like a workout right now. I’m barely thinking about running twice that distance. My husband’s prodding has goaded me in walk-jog mode, but I hit the wall more often than I experience a runner’s high.

There are no shortcuts available to me in the next month. The only thing that will keep me from making a fool of myself or passing out are consistent training sessions and workouts. Right now, I could sprint a half-mile if I had to, but the distance requires enduring strength, not a short burst of energy. A 20-minute power walk every couple days won’t really help me get ready. Real training requires setting the bar a little higher every time, forcing myself to stretch a little farther than the time before, and keeping my appointments on the training schedule.

Strength. Consistency. Goals.

The discipline of running a race means waking up muscles I forgot I had and teaching them a little more every day. Without those practices, I’ll be hobbling across the finish line with the last of the stragglers.

It’s too easy to kid ourselves that taking the stairs here, walking a little further there, doing a few crunches or pushups one day a month is real exercise. Sure, it’s better than nothing, but where’s the discipline? Short answer: nonexistent. We wake up our muscles just long enough for them to grumble at us and go back to sleep.

Likewise, I can deceive myself about spiritual disciplines. They require every bit as much training, consistency, and sense of purpose. What good does it do me to pray for five minutes before bed, really? If I want to learn to better speak with God, then I need to do some more praying, more training, trying out the deep prayers of the Bible. Then, maybe I would better understand what a habit of prayer looks like. Do I want to be more generous? More loving? More patient? We’ve got to do more than let our spiritual muscles wake up and fall asleep again.

Trusting God – Streams in the Desert – January 24

Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t

But the dove found no rest for or the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him… And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf (Genesis 8:9-11).

God knows just when to withhold from us any visible sign of encouragement, and when to grant us such a sign. How good it is that we may trust Him anyway! When all visible evidences that He is remembering us are withheld, that is best; He wants us to realize that His Word, His promise of remembrance, is more substantial and dependable than any evidence of our senses. When He sends the visible evidence, that is well also; we appreciate it all the more after we have trusted Him without it. Those who are readiest to trust God without other evidence than His Word always receive the greatest number of visible evidences of His love.
–C. G. Trumbull

Believing Him; if storm-clouds gather darkly ’round,
And even if the heaven seem brass, without a sound?
He hears each prayer and even notes the sparrow’s fall.
And praising Him; when sorrow, grief, and pain are near,
And even when we lose the thing that seems most dear?
Our loss is gain. Praise Him; in Him we have our All.
Our hand in His; e’en though the path seems long and drear
We scarcely see a step ahead, and almost fear?
He guides aright. He has it thus to keep us near.
And satisfied; when every path is blocked and bare,
And worldly things are gone and dead which were so fair?
Believe and rest and trust in Him, He comes to stay.

Delays are not refusals; many a prayer is registered, and underneath it the words: “My time is not yet come.” God has a set time as well as a set purpose, and He who orders the bounds of our habitation orders also the time of our deliverance.
–Selected

The Right Priorities

by Inspiration Ministries

“Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded … and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?” – 1 Samuel 2:29 NKJV

Eli had been a dedicated priest, faithfully serving God and His people. Then, something changed. Something so serious that God removed his family from the line of priests. What happened? As people chosen to be His priests, Eli and his family had been given specific responsibilities. They were called to represent God, speak His words, and enforce His standards.

But the Bible says that Eli’s sons had become “corrupt” (v. 12). They took advantage of their role as priests for personal gain, committed “very great” sins, and “abhorred the offering of the Lord” (v. 17). The sad conclusion? “They did not know the Lord” (v. 12).

This was unacceptable for men chosen to be God’s representatives. Yet Eli continued to tolerate their behavior and “honor” his sons more than God Himself (v. 29).

The Bible declares that God wants us concerned about our families. He certainly wanted Eli to care about his sons. The problem was that he had the wrong priorities. He had failed in his responsibility to be “a faithful priest” who would do what was in God’s heart and mind (v. 35).

Any of us can be guilty of mistakes like these. This is why we need to be sensitive to the Spirit, careful to obey God’s Word. Let’s be people of prayer, seeking to please God. Seek first His kingdom. Be committed to being His representatives, always serving Him.

Jesus Heals And Unifies The Nations

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A Unifying Christ

by Katherine Britton, crosswalk.com

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. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God – Romans 15:6,7

A couple years ago, I spent two weeks with missionary friends in France. Over the course of those days, I learned a bit about buying baguettes, European clothing sales and measurements, and where to watch for pickpockets. I picked up a couple helpful phrases, (often falling back on the always-applicable “pardon” and “bonjour”), took the RER train system, and frequented the French version of Walmart (it’s called Auchan). I got used to hearing a language that made little sense to me in the streets. But two weeks did not instill a sense of belonging. I loved the experience, but the language barrier was too great to tempt me into staying.

The most nerve-wracking moments – for us unilingual Americans – came the day our hosts had other commitments. We were left to attempt a trip into Paris on our own, without our erstwhile friend/guide/translator. In reality, the abundance of English-speaking Frenchmen should have made us easy, but we still felt painfully and distinctly not French. It was intimidating to jump on the RER with its quiet passengers, who knew the route better than we did and would immediately identify us if we opened our mouths. We stuck with “pardon” for the train ride, though we later chickened out and ask the restaurant’s waiter if he spoke English. He said, “Yeah, sure.”

Perhaps the most rewarding evening of the trip was a birthday celebration at our hosts’ home, when several of their French friends came for dinner. The language barrier still existed, but its unease lifted during that evening. We all made linguistic blunders – some of which were funnier than others. But for all of us, we were united in our mutual friendship of the hosts, and our implicit trust that, well, if he’s friends with them, they must be wonderful people. The unspoken bond carried even further in some cases, when we knew we shared a common faith as well as friend.

Our Parisian adventure eventually ended back in Dulles International airport—not the most exciting or warm place in the U.S. But did we ever fell at home! We felt so welcomed and at home. Everything was written in our own language! We could understand the passing comments of strangers! We could joke in line at Starbucks! We could speak without translating in our heads! We could revel in our Americanness because we were home. Our language unified us with total strangers after the immersion of two weeks in France.

Being back in our home culture with our native language made me feel like old friends with total strangers, who probably gave me an odd look at the time. But the unity of our common understanding was wildly apparent to me, and I couldn’t help feeling joyful at the strangeness of hearing my own language again.

Compare this to the miracle of Pentecost, when a chaotic world market suddenly burst with understanding. Those standing the cosmopolitan heard a unifying call where they least expected it. They said,

“How is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs–we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:8-11)

After Peter’s presentation of the Gospel, three thousand people were convinced of the truth of Christ and believed in Jesus. How does something like that happen?

Through The Bible Devotions

January 23

Genesis 25:23 (NIV) 23The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

The unnamed servant of Abraham went to Haran and sought out a wife for Isaac. If we follow the analogy of Isaac being a foreshadow of Christ, then this servant is like the Holy Spirit seeking the bride of Christ. He found Rebecca and took her from her father’s house without delay. When Rebecca was joined with her husband, she found a war within her. Is that not true of us, the bride of Christ. The flesh is warring against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh (Galatians 5:17).

The custom of that day was for the firstborn to receive twice as much as any other heir along with the responsibility and authority of the father. That has carried down to this day in many Eastern countries, but God reversed the order with Abraham’s sons and Isaac’s sons, and others. The picture is that the firstborn, the flesh, must serve the second born, the spirit. There must be a separation as God predicted to Rebecca. We have to set the flesh aside, crucify it with Christ, and refuse to serve it. Even more than that, we must master it.

Which one is the stronger? If we look physically, by sight, we would say Esau. Notice the prophecy says ‘one people will be stronger’. If we look at the people descended from them, the Jewish people have been stronger spiritually and in persistence. These two are at war, even as I write, through the nations they have become. There is a war within you, Christian brother or sister. You must set the flesh aside. The Spirit is stronger. Don’t for a moment believe the flesh is. The older will serve the younger. See that it is so by yielding to the life of Jesus in you every day.

Meditation: “For sin shall not be your master.” Romans 6:14a (NIV)

The fainting warrior

By: Charles Spurgeon

“O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 7:24,25

Suggested Further Reading: Galatians 2:1-13

It is Paul the apostle, who was not less than the very greatest of the apostles—it is Paul, the mighty servant of God, a very prince in Israel, one of the King’s mighty men—it is Paul, the saint and the apostle, who here exclaims, “O wretched man that I am!” Now, humble Christians are often the dupes of a very foolish error. They look up to certain advanced saints and able ministers, and they say, “Surely, such men as these do not suffer as I do; they do not contend with the same evil passions as those which vex and trouble me.” Ah! if they knew the hearts of those men, if they could read their inward conflicts, they would soon discover that the nearer a man lives to God, the more intensely has he to mourn over his own evil heart, and the more his Master honours him in his service, the more also does the evil of the flesh vex and tease him day by day. Perhaps, this error is more natural, as it is certainly more common, with regard to apostolic saints. We have been in the habit of saying, Saint Paul, and Saint John, as if they were more saints than any other of the children of God. They are all saints whom God has called by his grace, and sanctified by his Spirit; but somehow we very foolishly put the apostles and the early saints into another list, and do not venture to look on them as common mortals. We look upon them as some extraordinary beings, who could not be men of like passions with ourselves. We are told in Scripture that our Saviour was “tempted in all points like as we are;” and yet we fall into the serious error of imagining that the apostles, who were far inferior to the Lord Jesus, escaped these temptations, and were ignorant of these conflicts.

For meditation: Are there Christians—missionaries perhaps—to whom you look up in the wrong way? These deserve your respect, but they need your prayers, not your pedestals. They surely feel their own weakness and very probably look up to their own Christian heroes! The apostles knew their own and one another’s weaknesses and pointed away from themselves to their God (Acts 14:15).

 

Be a Comforter

by Inspiration Ministries

“Miserable comforters are you all! … I also could speak as you do, if your soul were in my soul’s place … but I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the comfort of my lips would relieve your grief.” – Job 16:2-5

To Job’s friends, the source of his problems seemed clear. Having listened and observed, they were critical, identifying mistakes and recommending changes. Job understood their point of view but was frustrated. They missed the point. Having endured great difficulties, he urgently needed to be encouraged and comforted. Instead, he felt attacked.

Job’s plight should make us conscious of a common problem. Most of us have opinions about world events and how others react. It can be easy to criticize and judge. We observe mistakes we think others are making and develop ideas about how they should change and react instead.

But the Bible warns us against being dominated by a critical spirit. We need to remember Jesus’ words that we should be careful before being judgmental. We will be judged based on the standard we use to judge others (Matthew 7:1-2).

One of the primary roles of each believer is to provide comfort. In fact, Jesus promised that He would send the Spirit to be our Helper, our Comforter (John 14:16). We need to remember that, like Job, people need comfort and encouragement. And we need to be led by the Spirit and on guard against being critical.

Ask God to give you a spirit of discernment and compassion. Be sensitive to the needs of the people around you. Be ready to be an instrument of His Spirit and encourage others.

God Can Shake The Nations

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Anything and Everything

painting of a ship on stormy seas

 

A very troubled Elijah went into a cave, and the word of the Lord came to him saying, “What are you doing here Elijah?” Elijah then began to explain to the Lord how difficult his life was.

This is how the Lord responded, He sent a great and strong wind which tore into the mountain, breaking the rocks into pieces. Then He sent an earthquake. Then He sent a fire.

Nowhere in the text do we see or hear that any of it frightened Elijah. Elijah never expresses any surprise or excitement about what God just did. He does not become unsettled. He is not moved. He does not run away or respond to these displays of God’s power with any outward expressions.

Afterward, the Lord speaks again in a still small voice and says, “What are you doing here Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:8-13)

Can the tearing of rocks from a mountain be done without a great clamor? Can an earthquake occur without a great shaking taking place? Can a sudden fire burn from nothing nearby without causing a stir? Yet Elijah is unmoved.

I have been through several shakings in my life from God and I have never managed it well. Sometimes my anxieties go through the roof. Sometimes I react with anger or an increasingly smaller faith.

Often when I am going to go to work somewhere, I will pick up my work shoes and turn them over and shake them roughly. I am getting ready to go to work in them and I don’t want anything to be in them that will distract me from my purpose, so I shake them, often more than once.

God is shaking our world today. We are learning to do without. Perhaps our anxieties are flaring up and our minds are burdened with many fears, like the disciples on the sea rowing their little boat and terrified that at any moment they are going to drown; but Jesus is just walking. He is just walking!

He does not rush to their rescue; He does not make a big fuss over them or their hapless situation. He just walks into their lives and tells them not to be afraid (Matthew 14:22-27); and to the world around them He says, “Peace, be still.”

God must shake things, and we will see Him do so increasingly in the days ahead. The only thing that will not shake, when God shakes things, is His presence within us. And for that reason, we can focus more quickly and more precisely upon it.

At that point, we become shoes worth wearing as He takes us to do His will, whether it is in the mountains or on the sea.

 

Through The Bible Devotions

Genesis 22:7-8,14 (NIV) 7Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

14So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

And God did provide Himself as the lamb, the lamb of atonement that took away the sins of the world. For almost two millenniums the Jewish people asked the same question. Where is the lamb? Where is the One who will satisfy God? Shepherds could not provide the lamb; He had to come from the Great Shepherd. And in the fullness of time, God did provide the Lamb. God the Father and God the Son went together, the two of them, to Mount Moriah.

Abraham looked forward through time and saw the LORD providing the Lamb of God in that same spot. “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

On that mountain, atonement for you and me was provided. In father Abraham’s case, the knife was stopped mid-air, but Father God allowed the knife to fall on the Son He so greatly loved, to bring many sons to glory. God knew the grave could not hold the One who is Life, but that did not lessen the pain of the Son or the Father in that torturous death on the cross. It did not lessen the separation that took place when the sins of the world were placed upon Jesus and the forces of hell were unleashed upon Him. Child of God, God has provided for you a lamb.

Consider: Am I living a life of thankfulness for that provision?

 

The treasure of grace

By: Charles Spurgeon

“The forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” Ephesians 1:7

Suggested Further Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:5-11

Paul proclaimed the grace of God—free, full, sovereign, eternal grace—beyond all the glorious company of the apostles. Sometimes he soared to such amazing heights, or dived into unsearchable depths, that even Peter could not follow him. He was ready to confess that “our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given unto him,” had written “some things hard to be understood.” Jude could write of the judgments of God, and reprove with terrible words, “ungodly men, who turned the grace of God into lasciviousness.” But he could not tell out the purpose of grace as it was planned in the eternal mind, or the experience of grace as it is felt and realized in the human heart, like Paul. There is James again: he, as a faithful minister, could deal very closely with the practical evidences of Christian character. And yet he seems to keep very much on the surface; he does not bore down deep into the substratum on which must rest the visible soil of all spiritual graces. Even John, most favoured of all those apostles who were companions of our Lord on earth—sweetly as the beloved disciple writes of fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ—even John does not speak of grace so richly as Paul, in whom God first showed forth “all long-suffering as a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” Not, indeed, that we are at liberty to prefer one apostle above another. We may not divide the Church, saying, I am of Paul, I of Peter, I of Apollos; but we may acknowledge the instrument which God was pleased to use; we may admire the way in which the Holy Ghost fitted him for his work; we may, with the churches of Judea, glorify God in Paul.

For meditation: Paul always looked back with amazement when he recalled God’s grace to him, the chief of sinners, who so persecuted the Church (1 Corinthians 15:9-10Galatians 1:13,15Ephesians 3:7,81 Timothy 1:13-15). Our gratitude and love to God can sadly be limited by our failure to realise how sinful we really are and how much he has forgiven us (Luke 7:41-47).

 

The Landmine of Unforgiveness

From: InTouch ministries

Ephesians 4:25-32

It can be difficult to let go of resentment towards those who have hurt us. But that is exactly what God asks us to do—not only for their good but also for our own. Unforgiveness causes stress and unhappiness that can creep into our relationships with co-workers, friends, and family. But when we choose to forgive, we will find freedom. Here are things to do if you have noticed bitterness in your heart:

• Assume full responsibility for your unforgiving spirit. The other person may be responsible for wrongful actions toward us, but we are nonetheless responsible for the sin of harboring bitterness.

• Confess honestly. It’s appropriate to admit to God when we harbor resentment or wish for someone’s punishment. But since an unforgiving spirit will return unless we can permanently lay down our anger, this is a choice many people must make repeatedly.

• Pray for your wrongdoer. We may not feel like talking to God on behalf of someone who’s hurt us, but doing so is the way to break the hold bitterness has on us.

Even after we have done these things, resentment may still crop up in our hearts. When that happens, we can thank God that we have, in fact, forgiven. We can also refuse Satan’s invitation to rehash the past.

God Has Given Us Good Things

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Anything and Everything

by Shawn McEvoy, crosswalk.com

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?Romans 8:32

When my children were but ages five and three, they already knew my weakness.

They recognized that it’s not ice cream, baseball, or their mom’s chili… or even a hug or puppy-dog eyes from them.

See, none of the above make me cry (although the chili almost did once). Yes, my children have seen their father cry. It’s not something I wanted, or intended. I’m a man, after all. I go to work, show my strength. I coach, help, show, point, and guide. I communicate, discipline, and lead. I pray. I do not cry.

…Except when I read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, that is.

And like I said, my children, who are older now, have known this from early on. And oh, have they twisted that knife. We must own a couple hundred children’s books, but if it’s a night where Daddy is doing the bedtime reading rather than Mommy, what have they invariangly picked through the years? The Giving Tree of course!

I’ve been reading this book, first published in 1964, since I myself was a child, and no matter how many times I do, I am unable to de-sensitize. I mean, when I watch the movie Field of Dreams and Ray has a catch with his ghost-dad, that gets me. But if I see the scene over and over within a certain time frame? Nah. No sweat, no tears. But this blasted children’s book… well… what’s going on here?

First of all, you’re probably wondering that very thing if you aren’t familiar with the story. A tree and a boy are the best of friends during an idyllic childhood for the young man where he eats apples from the tree, climbs her trunk, swings from her branches, and rests in her shade. Then things change, as things do, and we see the boy approach the tree at all the various stages of his life, caught up – understandably, even – more in wanting and needing than in just being. Every time he has a “need,” the tree obliges… and is happy for having done so. She doesn’t have much, but gives all she has until eventually, she is nothing but a stump. At the end of all things, however, it turns out a stump is just what the old man needs – a quiet place to sit down and rest and reflect. “And the tree was happy. The end.”

And I am undone… again.

Is it because I am reading the story to my children, and I know our stories will be very much like that of the tree and the boy, where they are my delight but eventually I must simply become provider as they go out into the world? Yes and no.

Is it because our family copy of the book – the one I read to the kids – carries an inscription from my wife on our first Christmas that says, “With God’s help, may I love you like this”? Yes and no.

Is it because as my father lay dying I told him of the story (he wasn’t familiar with it), and how he had been that tree for me? That’s definitely part of it. My mother, I remember, commented that she didn’t recall it being a “Christian” book. I didn’t really have an answer to that, only to what I saw in it. Which is…

Complete love to the point of emptying. Unquestioning sacrifice, even for someone who isn’t appreciating or understanding what they’ve been given. A desire only to have communion. An entering into final rest. In other words, a perfect example of the immensity of what Jesus did for me, desired from me, provides for me, and will carry me to.

That is why I always cry.

So every time I finish the story, eyes full of tears, my kids look at me wondering if I’m okay. My youngest used to ask, “Why you cry, Dad?” And every time I’ve explained, I think she has understood just the tiniest bit more. These are tears of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the Giver and the immensity of a gift to a person consumed with self-interest who has forgotten innocence. A short time ago these children opened their hearts to receive that gift. Now I pray that they won’t miss the other lesson from the book: all our Giver really wants in return is our time, for us to come to Him as we did as children.

Choosing Honor When I Feel Dishonored 

By: LYSA TERKEURST, crosswalk.com

“Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.” Hosea 10:12 (NIV) 

I remember one day when I got an email that started, “Shame on you.”

Lovely.

And of course, it came on the same day I had some technical issues messing with my workday along with a little attitude situation involving a family member.

But instead of firing off the initial email response my flesh wanted to send, I stopped and lifted up a simple and honest prayerWhat is the deal, Jesus? Why do I always seem to have little pieces of brokenness in my life every day? It’s so frustrating. I need Your perspective on the brokenness, or I need a break from it. There was no answer. No instant verse. Nothing.

Until the next morning. With a tired heart, I sat once again at my farm table and opened up my tattered and worn Truth Book. And there, in the book of Hosea, God had wisdom my heart desperately needed. Wisdom I want us to break down together today:

“Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you” (Hosea 10:12).

Sow righteousness for yourselves …

In other words, we must sow righteousness into our lives — right choices that honor God. We must make these choices. Choose to honor Him in the midst of it all. Even when we are dishonored, honor Him still.

Reap the fruit of unfailing love …

There will be fruit in the midst of every choice that honors God. It will be the fruit of God’s unfailing love. Remember, Romans 8 teaches us that nothing shall separate us from the love of God. Yet, that is Satan’s great tactic — to get us entangled in things that make us forget or doubt God’s unfailing love.

We resist the enemy’s distracting entanglements by honoring God with the choices we face right now.

Break up your unplowed ground …

Pain and heartbreak are hard. But I’m learning we must not resist the blessing of brokenness that tills the ground of our hearts. Breaking up the unplowed ground of our hearts makes them ready for new life, new growth and new maturity that can’t be found any other way.

For it is time to seek the Lord …

We must seek God like never before. And part of seeking Him is allowing for grace space in our lives — granting God’s grace a space in our minds, our hearts, our lives. When circumstances of life leak us dry, we can see this emptiness as an opportunity. Instead of reacting out of emptiness, we can choose to see that this emptiness is the perfect spot for a space of grace in life.

And as we give grace to those who don’t deserve it, the mercy jars of heaven will lavish it back on us.

The showers …

I love this part. This is where we see growth. We begin making more right choices that honor Him. We start looking at life, people and annoying circumstances differently. And we even dare to whisper, “Thank You,” when the need for grace spaces comes again and again.

I don’t know what kind of frustrations or heartbreak you face today, sweet friend. But let’s decide right now we’ll give our hearts permission to grow in fertile soil by making right choices that honor God. Let’s make space for grace. And then let’s watch God work in our hearts and lives in ways we never would have dared to ask.

Father God, help me trust Your love for me enough to choose to act contrary to my feelings and simply walk in Your Truth. I know living according to Your ways yields a harvest of blessings. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Streams in the Desert – January 21

Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t

None of these things move me (Acts 20:24).

We read in the book of Samuel that the moment that David was crowned at Hebron, “All the Philistines came up to seek David.” And the moment we get anything from the Lord worth contending for, then the devil comes to seek us.

When the enemy meets us at the threshold of any great work for God, let us accept it as “a token of salvation,” and claim double blessing, victory, and power. Power is developed by resistance. The cannon carries twice as far because the exploding power has to find its way through resistance. The way electricity is produced in the powerhouse yonder is by the sharp friction of the revolving wheels. And so we shall find some day that even Satan has been one of God’s agencies of blessing.
–Days of Heaven upon Earth

A hero is not fed on sweets,
Daily his own heart he eats;
Chambers of the great are jails,
And head winds right for royal sails.

–Emerson

Tribulation is the way to triumph. The valley-way opens into the highway. Tribulation’s imprint is on all great things. Crowns are cast in crucibles. Chains of character that wind about the feet of God are forged in earthly flames. No man is greatest victor till he has trodden the winepress of woe. With seams of anguish deep in His brow, the “Man of Sorrows” said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation”–but after this sob comes the psalm of promise, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

The footprints are traceable everywhere. Bloodmarks stain the steps that lead to thrones. Sears are the price of scepters. Our crowns will be wrested from the giants we conquer. Grief has always been the lot of greatness. It is an open secret.

The mark of rank in nature.
Is capacity for pain;
And the anguish of the singer
Makes the sweetest of the strain.

Tribulation has always marked the trail of the true reformer. It is the story of Paul, Luther, Savonarola, Knox, Wesley, and all the rest of the mighty army. They came through great tribulation to their place of power.

Every great book has been written with the author’s blood. “These are they that have come out of great tribulation.” Who was the peerless poet of the Greeks? Homer. But that illustrious singer was blind. Who wrote the fadeless dream of “Pilgrim’s Progress”? A prince in royal purple upon a couch of ease? Nay! The trailing splendor of that vision gilded the dingy walls of old Bedford jail while John Bunyan, a princely prisoner, a glorious genius, made a faithful transcript of the scene.

Great is the facile conqueror;
Yet haply, he, who, wounded sore,
Breathless, all covered o’er with blood and sweat,
Sinks fainting, but fighting evermore
Is greater yet.

–Selected

Thank God Your His Goodness

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A Little Bunny and a Big Peach

We have a baby bunny that can fit in the palm of my hand. She’s a great pet. She costs nothing, requires little care, and gives us joy every day – she lives in our back yard!

The other day Kristi put out a peach from our tree for the bunny. The bunny was munching away on our green grass, as usual, until she caught a whiff of the fresh peach! She made her way over to the peach, which was just in front of our sliding glass door where we were watching. She put her nose on the peach and smiled. She looked all around her to make sure there were no crows or cats. And then she took a bite!

Oh! How tasty! Much better than grass! With obvious delight, the bunny ate up the peach until all that was left was the pit. And she licked her hands to get the last bits of juice. Then with her stomach totally full of sweetness she stretched out on our sun-warmed concrete patio and smiled, “Ahhhh!”

As I was thinking about the baby bunny eating the peach I remembered the prayer of the Psalmist:

“Taste and see that the Lord is good!” Psalm 34:8 (NIV)

I realized that the Lord had given me a parable and I sensed him whisper to my heart … Will you delight in me like the bunny delighted in the peach? When you savor the sweetness of my Word to you and my Spirit in you, like the bunny thrilled over the peach, then you will be filled with my love, joy, and peace.

But sometimes you’re so busy grazing on grass that you don’t even see the peach of my presence in your midst. Other times you’re so worried about crows and cats that you miss out on eating the peach that I put out before you.

Relax! I’m watching over you. And I give myself to you. Hop over to me. Taste and see that I am good.

Yes, Lord, I want to be as the little bunny – trusting your protective care, free to play and explore, observant to discover the gift of your grace, delighting in your deliciousness. As the bunny was captivated by the peach, may I be captivated by you, O Christ! Fill my thoughts. Be my one desire.

Oh, that I’d be as the man you talked about Jesus …

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Matthew 13:44 (NIV)

Jesus, knowing you as my King is the treasure of life! And the field that you are buried in is my heart – what joy it is to discover you alive in my heart! I give up everything for the treasure that you are to me! I give up doing things for myself. I give up doing things in my own strength. I seek your kingdom first and only.

In all that I do today – as I type these words, as I eat lunch with my son in a few minutes, as I clean the kitchen, as I do my work for today, as I greet Kristi and our girls when they return from Marci’s baby shower, as I take pictures of David and his date before prom, as I enjoy dinner and the evening with Kristi, as I pray from the Psalms – may I delight in you with me. Jesus, you are the peach that pleases me!

May Jesus be the peach that pleases you today and every day!

 

Looking Through the Right Lens anuary 20, 2021

By: SHARON JAYNES, crosswalk.com

 

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NIV)

I sat in the dimly lit room with soft music wafting through the air and began to relax. No, this was not the prelude to a romantic evening with my husband. It was the aftermath of my yearly eye exam!

If you’ve ever had an eye exam, you’re familiar with the refraction test the doctor uses to determine if you need glasses, and if so, what prescription is right for you. You place your face up to a tool called a phoropter, and then the doctor flips down the first lens, then another, while you say which of the two helps you see the letters on the eye chart more clearly. Lens one or two? Lens three or four? Which one is better?

The eye doctor’s vision test made me wonder if I was looking at my life through the correct lens. Was it possible to flip down a different lens and see a better story?

The Apostle Paul was a man whose physical eyesight waned with the passing years, but his spiritual eyesight remained exceptionally clear. During his time preaching the gospel, he was flogged, whipped and stoned many times. He had been shipwrecked, bitten by a snake, outcast and ridiculed. Several times, he was in lockdown in one place or another. Some of his life was spent under house arrest in Rome, as well as chained to a guard in a dirty dungeon — all for preaching the gospel. And yet, it was during one of those stints in prison that Paul wrote the most joyful book in the New Testament: Philippians.

“I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14, NIV)

Lens one or two? Paul didn’t see himself as stuck in prison because of Jesus; he saw himself as stationed in prison for Jesus. He didn’t see himself as chained to a Roman guard; he saw the Roman guard as chained to him. The guards had to listen to Paul talk about Jesus day in and day out. Paul had time to write letters to all the churches, something he might not have done had he been free to travel.

Paul also wrote, “I am put here for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:16, NIV, emphasis added). Who put him there? From the outside looking in, it appeared the Roman rulers put him there. But from the inside looking out, Paul knew God had positioned him there. He didn’t see himself as stuck at all. He considered himself stationed. And because he was looking through the right lens, he had joy even in a difficult situation.

I wish this was my perspective all the time, but it’s not. It’s a struggle. I pout, get huffy and become downright discouraged when my plans fall apart or people don’t respond the way I’d hoped. But after settling down, I try to remember to flip the lens and look at my circumstances through the sovereignty of God rather than the selfishness of Sharon. And that gives me a better story. Not because the storyline changes, but because my perspective does.

 

Let not your hearts be troubled

‘Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.’ John 14:1

Suggested Further Reading: John 16:1–15

Let me say it ought to be a great deal easier for you and me to live above heart trouble than it was to the apostles; I mean easier than it was to the apostles at the time when the Saviour spoke to them and for forty days afterwards. You say, ‘How was that?’ Because you have three things which they had not. You have experience of many past troubles out of which you have been delivered. They had only been converted at the outside three years; they had not known much trouble, for Jesus in the flesh had dwelt among them to screen off troubles from them. Some of you have been converted thirty—forty—what if I say sixty years, and you have had abundance of trouble—you have not been screened from it. Now all this experience ought to make it easier for you to say, ‘My heart shall not be troubled.’ Again, you have received the Holy Spirit, and they had not. The Holy Spirit was not given, as you remember, until the day of Pentecost. His direct government in the church was not required while Christ was here. You have the Spirit, the Comforter, to abide with you for ever; surely you ought to be less distracted than they were. Thirdly, you have the whole of Scripture, they had but a part. They certainly had not the richest Scriptures of all, for they had not the evangelists nor any of the New Testament, and having, as we have, all that store of promise and comfort, we ought surely to find it no hard work to obey the sweet precept, ‘Let not your heart be troubled.’

For meditation: Have you ever wished you had been a contemporary of the Lord Jesus Christ and an eyewitness of his life on earth? That would have been an experience to be valued and never to be forgotten (John 1:142 Peter 1:16–181 John 1:1–3). However, he pronounced a particular blessing upon those of us who have trusted in him without having seen him (John 20:29). We too are able to love him and experience great joy in the midst of trials and temptations (1 Peter 1:6–8).

Covenant Prayers

by Inspiration Ministries

“Gather to me this consecrated people, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice … call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” – Psalm 50:5, 15 NIV

God reminded His people, “the world is mine, and all that is in it” (v. 12). They needed to realize the vastness of His resources and to understand that He didn’t need their offerings. His concern was their attitude, their heart. He called them to fulfill their vows and show gratitude by sacrificing thank offerings.

He had a different perspective on the wicked. Through their lives, they demonstrated hatred for His instructions. They were filled with deceit. They thought they could get away with impure actions or hide behind religious acts. But God knew everything they did and said.

To understand God’s perspective, we need to grasp His holiness and understand the importance of His covenants. He was calling out to the “consecrated people, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” He also called on them to pray with boldness and to be so confident that they would “call on [Him] in the day of trouble,” sure that He would deliver them.

Bold prayers were not an imposition but a demonstration of their faith and confidence. They could be bold when they realized that He keeps His promises and honors those who understand His covenant relationship.

When we enter into a covenant relationship with Him, we take His Word seriously. Standing on His promises, we can be bold in prayer and confident that He hears us and will answer.