Monthly Archives: October 2020

God’s Word Is Sweeter than Honey

Unwrapping a Sweet Lesson

Halloween candy

 

I opened the front door. “Yikes! You scared me,” I screamed feigning fright. “Who’s that?” I peered down at the three-foot little person.

He wore a mask framed with wild hair, black and purple. A huge lumpy nose, droopy eyes, and a mouth revealing jagged teeth gave a new meaning to the word ‘ugly’.

A muffled, “Trick or treat” wafted from behind the mask.

“Goodness, you really scared me.” I chuckled as I dropped hard candy into the orange plastic pumpkin.

Those are memories of times my little boys also dressed in strange costumes and dashed from house to house with their daddy trailing behind. I stayed home greeting the neighborhood trick-or-treaters.

But now, years later, Halloween masks resemble those I try to slip on. They come in handy to cover the real me.

When people ask me how I lost my sight, I give the routine answer: “A retinal disease deteriorated my retina and took my sight.”

A simple answer to a simple question.

When asked about how I dealt with the unexpected tragedy, that’s a different story. I’m tempted to pull down the mask over my heart and give a bland answer.

“It was tough at first, but in time, I adjusted.”

But underneath that mask is a whole different script with the real answers: “I wanted to die, I hated my life, I wanted to give up, and wondered if my little boys would survive with a mommy who couldn’t see.”

Then God’s Word nudged me to remove that mask and allow the glow of truth to shine through.

The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth. Proverbs 12:22 NLT

In obedience, I resolved that when asked a question, I would give information reflecting what truly stirred in my heart.

Here are the results:

  • When my words are strung with honesty without omissions, deletions, or embellishments, I can breathe easier.
  • When the mask is off, the air is fresher and the view is clearer.

When it comes to sharing my feelings or relating events in my life, I’ve developed a motto: Don’t omit the negative nor squelch the positive.

Not long ago, a good friend called and asked about my writing. I started to blurt out that it was great, moving along fabulously, and my agent is working on my behalf.

Gulp. Masks are stuffy, binding, and often ugly. Instead, I decided to slip the mask off. And with conviction, the truth shines—although my agent is working for me, I’m furiously laboring on the first edit. Writing a novel is grueling. It’s demanding. And at times, the work is so hard it makes me wonder if I’m really supposed to be doing this.

Ah! The feeling of telling the real scenario with honesty is like opening the window to a stuffy room; letting the fresh Spring breeze come in and caress your face.

While our little ones dip into that candy, the sweetest thing we can unwrap for them is the lesson to speak the truth. The trick is to obey God’s Word and the treat is the image reflected in the mirror that sparkles with honesty.

 

Why Paul Wasn’t a Zombie

by John UpChurch, crosswalk.com

“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Colossians 1:28-29

Worn out. Exhausted. Please oh please oh please be Friday. Those words probably describe many of our weeks—often by Monday afternoon. The surge of the weekday tide sucks us under and spins us around and strips away our energy by making us swim to the surface over and over again. Gasp. Bills. Gasp. Long meeting. Gasp. Kids biting each other.

What more can we give than that? What else can God expect from us than just trying to keep from drowning in the mess of life?

Paul says everything and more. Yep, you read that right. We’re supposed to slap down every last ounce of ourselves to the cause of Christ. We’re supposed to surrender every modicum of ourselves to the purpose of “proclaiming Him” with our joy-filled words and our peace-in-the-midst-of-this-hurricane-called-life actions.

Everything. Every single bit. For Him.

Feeling tired yet? I hope you don’t. You see, there’s something in here that we too often overlook. It does take energy—loads of it—to live a life of surrender. We wouldn’t expect anything less from being a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). That means using all that we are to make all that He is known to all. But even with all those alls, you won’t be using up your energy.

Look again at what Paul says here: “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” He doesn’t say, “I did it all myself until I burned out and crashed into the dirt and hated my life and decided it was just too hard to do anything and wanted to move to Alaska forever and hide in a cave.” Instead, he tells us that the source of his oomph is Christ.

Christ didn’t save us so that we could barely keep going, dragging our way like zombies down the road of life. Instead, we’re operating with power—His. He jump started our lives with a spirit of power (2 Timothy 1:7), cranking up the juice through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). After all, like Paul, we’re wrestling with the tasks God’s called us to do. We aren’t supposed to do this by tapping into our own reserves. God takes these fragile clay pots that we are and supplies His power so that He gets the glory (2 Corinthians 4:7). He adds the zing, and His zing is potent.

 

Ouija Boards, Warfare, Exorcism, and the Bible’s Undeniable Stance on Playing with Fire

Let's live our lives daily for Jesus.

 

Ouija boards. Psychics. Tarot card readings. Necromancy (attempts to communicate with the dead). The list of spiritual antics and so-called parlor games share a common thread: encouraging people to place hope and find solace in people, spirits, and sources other than God.

Most people traditionally dive into these activities for entertainment’s sake. But while many assume these actions are benign or comical, a brief look at Scripture offers a convicting and stirring reality: these practices are anything but games and can actually put us in profound spiritual danger.

Many Christians don’t realize that the Bible explicitly prohibits believers from engaging in necromancy, divination (seeking the future), psychic readings, and other related activities. We are advised not to “practice divination or seek omens” (Leviticus 19:26), not to “turn to mediums or seek out spiritists” (Leviticus 19:31), and not to consult the dead.

And those cautionary verses are overtly stern, warning that humans will be defiled by such practices. Despite these biblical claims, culture encourages, facilitates, and praises these attempts to communicate with the dead, using the Ouija board — a “game” people often play at slumber parties and other gatherings. The Ouija board is a pop culture staple.

For many, the idea of a legitimate psychic reading might seem ridiculous or impractical, a grand scheme to sucker people out of their money — and that’s understandable. Surely, some of those who purport to have these powers are swindling and tricking the masses, though a thorough look at Scripture delivers some important realities and warnings worth considering.

The Bible affirms that these individuals exist, as the text explicitly implores people not to practice or seek out psychics’ services. The Old Testament does anything but shy away from these topics, with Leviticus 19:31 offering the strong admonition:

Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.

The verses cited, along with other content in Leviticus, were written by Moses specifically for the Israelites, but there seem to be some timeless elements worth noting. Not only do these scriptures indicate that there were people who practiced divination (seeking supernatural information about the future), but the Israelites were also urged to steer clear of anyone who sought out communication with the dead.

And then there’s Deuteronomy 18:9-13 (NIV), which takes an even heavier-handed approach:

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices, the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God.

When one continues to read through Scripture (I detail these stories in Playing with Fire), these elements emerge again and again, with Isaiah questioning why a person would consult mediums and spiritualists. In discussing this issue, the prophet pondered why people wouldn’t simply turn to God: “Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?”

And to showcase just how seriously this was all taken, Leviticus 20:27 prescribed a serious penalty for such activities: “A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.”

These issues are also presented to us in a variety of forms in the New Testament. For instance, we meet a slave woman in Acts 16 who is described as having “a spirit by which she predicted the future.” This particular woman followed Paul around for days until he finally turned around and proclaimed, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’”

We’re told that the spirit complied, and the woman no longer held her ability to foretell the future. Again, it’s clear this fortune-telling ability isn’t something to be heralded.

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez was among those who addressed these issues in Playing with Fire, warning people against “provoking darkness” and to embrace Jesus. He said, “If you don’t have a firewall of righteousness, if you’re not covered by the vicarious atoning work of Jesus, then possession is really a possibility, especially those that dabble with darkness and dabble into satanic witchcraft, convocations, calling upon spirits and so forth, engage in activity that is really outside the norms of what we would call appropriate, literally provoking darkness to invade their lives.”

So, in addition to steering clear of the aforementioned activities, how do we protect ourselves against the flames of spiritual fires? Paul provided the answer when he reminded believers to “put on the full armor of God” so that each person can “stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:10-12 NIV).

But what does this mean exactly? It involves our approach to the world around us and our response to some core questions:

  • In a relativistic culture that tells us we need no such armor and that anything goes, are we truly able to steadily stand?
  • If we’re told that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” are we taking that warning seriously if we apathetically sit idle?

Paul affirmed that

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. — 2 Corinthians 4:4 NIV

If our culture is blind, perhaps theologians and pastors are right to conclude that there is a slippery cultural slope that has helped catapult our society into confusion. But we have the power to fight back on an individual level with the armor of God, and that translates into some simple, yet powerful, steps:

  • Make a commitment to read Scripture daily
  • Pray
  • Live out our faith in a relational way, embracing Jesus’ call to love God and love others

Let’s avoid the occult but, most importantly, let’s live our lives daily for Jesus and take up the shield that only faith can provide.

 

Cherish and Believe God’s Word

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The Blessings of Loving God’s Word

“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Joshua 1:8 (NIV)

During the pandemic, I have been watching a show from time to time. Daytime, nighttime, lunchtime, anytime! You might say I have become obsessed with catching up on all the seasons I have missed — and there are several.

I’m reading episode synopses and finding fresh things to talk about with my friends who have been die-hard fans for years. When I wake up in the morning, I am often thinking about the last episode I saw and wondering how it will resolve. It used to be that shows were only available once a week, and you had to wait to have your fill of your favorite sitcom or drama. But now, with streaming services, you can watch an entire season if you’re willing to stay awake.

Isn’t it crazy how something I’m watching, that has nothing to do with my life, can take so much of my time and mental energy? It’s like I’m meditating on the show. Thinking about the characters. Relishing the beginning of romance. Pondering the mysteries of the storyline.

We can get stuck on streaming, meditating on storylines that have little to do with real life. It’s so easy to get distracted with what our devices offer so easily. We gravitate toward entertainment, just like kids do. But the Bible directs us to a different path than modern media does. As today’s key verse says, we are to:

“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8).

Ideally, what is supposed to be filling our minds and the topics of our conversations? What should be influencing our behavior? The Word of God. Not Netflix, Hulu or YouTube. Although you can find the Word of God in these places, you’re more likely to find something else.

The words in the key verse were spoken to Joshua as he was about to assume leadership from Israel’s man of God, Moses. Joshua was about to become the CEO of Israel, Incorporated. He was going to have more work than he had hours in the day, yet he was told to meditate. He was supposed to take time to understand the Book of the Law — and we are too.

The Word of God is to shape what comes out of our mouths. The orders and judgments from Joshua’s leadership had to be consistent with the Book of the Law. We may not be heading up a nation, but we are influencing people around us. We are told to meditate on the Word of God.

Let’s get real. This takes more effort than kicking back and streaming our favorite shows. Streaming services offer us endless choices that captivate our imaginations. It’s all about us and our preferences.

The Bible, however, is about God and His preferences. When we choose to love God’s law and delight in what He delights in, we unlock a “prosperous and successful” life. Psalm 37:4 says it this way, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (NIV).

One thing that has helped me meditate on God’s Word during this pandemic is reading through Psalms and Proverbs with my daughter. It’s amazing how relevant these books are today. More than ever, with so many channels screaming and streaming to capture our attention, we’ve got to focus on the Word of God. Inside the pages of the Bible, there’s not only romance, drama, war and comedy — there is the path to everlasting life. That’s something that binge-watching can never deliver!

 

More Than Dust and Bone

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” Genesis 1:31 (ESV)

Remember who you are.

These are words I spoke to my children countless times when they were younger. I wanted them to remember they are children of the Almighty God. I knew if they remembered this truth, they would be better able to live this truth.

Genesis 1 and 2 read like this kind of reminder to me. A reminder I needed when my heart was broken and I could feel everything good slipping away from me. I felt so insignificant. I was trying to move forward after the deep pain of betrayal. I kept asking, “Is it even possible to heal from something like this?” As we navigate a world full of hurt and hearts so often full of shame, these first two chapters of the Bible feel like God whispering to us: “Remember who you are. Remember how I designed you. Remember all I’ve called you to be.”

When God formed, shaped and painted this world and its creatures into being, His goodness seeped in with every thought and touch. And when He was done, Genesis 1:31a says, God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”

I love that God declared Adam and Eve to be exceedingly and abundantly good, even though the actual ingredients He used to make them were seemingly so very humble and basic. Dust and broken-off bone don’t seem like the most promising of beginnings.

Left on their own, these ingredients would amount to nothing. Insignificant. Unacceptable.

But chosen by God and then breathed on and touched by God, they became the only part of creation made in the image of God. They were “nothing,” turned into the most glorious “something.” They were made to be a reflection of the image of God. These image bearers made an invisible God’s image, visible.

And I don’t want us to miss the significance of Genesis 2:18 when God says He will make a helper suitable for Adam.

The Hebrew word for suitable is נֶגֶד neged, meaning “what is in front of you, in your sight, before your face in your view.” So, this word “suitable” gives meaning to the kind of help Adam needed. Beyond just needing help to work the garden or someone uniquely designed to be able to carry children so they could bring forth life, Adam needed a visual — something in front of him to view.

This seems to me to be a reflection. Not like a mirror reflecting only what you place in front of it. No, this is more like a reminder that what is standing in front of him is a reflection of God’s image.

It seems Eve, in being a helper suitable for him, was to be a reminder of who Adam was — a human made in God’s image. A reflection of the glory and goodness of God. It’s a reminder Eve would have needed as well. And together, they were to fill the earth with the glory of God. Not to just be fruitful and multiply it with children. But to multiply evidence of God Himself. (Genesis 1:28)

Their design in the image of God declared to the world, “God is worthy of praise!”

And their design declared to each other, “Remember who you are. You are of God. From God. Made in His image. Loved from the depth of God’s unfathomable Father’s heart. Treasured beyond imagination.”

This is the Divine Echo. This is what Adam and Eve were called to, and it’s what we’re called to as well. Not just married people, but every person with a beating heart. And the more we remind each other of who we really are, the more God’s goodness and glory will echo throughout the earth.

We aren’t just dust and bone.
We aren’t what we’ve done or what’s been done to us.
We aren’t the worst of what others have said about us.

We are the very breath and touch of God. Designed and loved by God. A reflection of the glory and goodness of God.

These are the truths I needed to remember about who I am. I am so much more than the sum total of my hurt and pain and insecurities. Maybe it’s what you need as well … so let me whisper to your soul, “Remember who you are.”

 

What We Value

by Inspiration Ministries

“How dark the gold has become, how the pure gold has changed … The precious sons of Zion, weighed against fine gold, how they are regarded as earthen jars, the work of a potter’s hands!” – Lamentations 4:1-2 NASB

Sometime around 1663, Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer finished a painting now known as Woman Holding a Balance, one of only thirty-six paintings he completed.

A Vermeer specialist recently described how this painting provides glimpses into seventeenth-century life. The only person pictured is a woman thought to be Vermeer’s wife. Holding a balance, she prepares to weigh gold and silver coins. Weighing coins was common at that time, the only way to learn their real value.

To understand Vermeer’s symbolism, we must consider a painting about the Last Judgment seen behind the woman. While the woman and her balance might seem dominant, the painting within the painting reminds us that God is weighing our lives. Counting gold also was important in Bible times. Gold could be used to honor God but also to form idols. And it symbolized worldly riches and wrong pursuits.

In the time of Jeremiah, many people focused on gold and forgot about God. In imagery similar to Vermeer’s symbolism, they once were “worth their weight in fine gold” but had become mere clay (v. 2 NLT). All their value had faded away.

God continues to weigh people and nations in His balance, to evaluate what we value and what is important to us. He measures where we invest our time and resources.

Make sure that you seek first the Kingdom that will never fade. Invest in the riches that cannot tarnish. Focus on God and His Kingdom.

There Is One God and One Savior

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Halloween Bride

little girl dressed up as a bride

 

I was six years old and my mother had worked for weeks sewing the Halloween costume I asked for. Finally, the long-awaited day arrived. My mother dressed me in my full-length black witch costume, painted my face green, and topped it all off with a big, black pointy hat. I was so excited! I could hardly wait to see how I looked. After she finished the final touches and was satisfied everything was perfect, she let me lose to run to the bathroom where I took one look in the mirror and burst into tears.

Bewildered, my mother rushed to my side, “Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”

Sobbing uncontrollably, I stammered, “Mommy, I’m ugly!”

She didn’t remind me I asked to be a witch. She didn’t try to talk me into liking the costume she had worked so hard to create. She didn’t even scold me for the likelihood this would make us all late. I only remember her tenderly bending down to ask me one question. “Honey, what do you want to be?”

“A princess,” I sniveled as she wiped away my tears.

Performing a mental inventory of all her sewing and craft supplies, she looked back down into my tear-swept face, “How about I make you into a beautiful bride?”

To this day, I still don’t know how she transformed her black caped, green-streaked, sad little witch into a white-laced, blushing, flower-laden bride. But what puzzles me, even more, is why do we, as adults, still suffer with the same kinds of struggles? We spend our days trying to conform to the image society tells us is acceptable, and then we’re all miserable, each trying to live a life we were never designed for.

Deep, deep down, if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we all grew up with a dream of being a prince or princess, hero or heroine: men who fight for justice and protect the innocent, and women who long to be cherished and loved.

But somewhere down the road, we put on the masks, trying desperately to fit into a world that no longer resembles the one God intended for us. When sin poisoned the human race and the world and all that was in it, everything turned upside down. Right became wrong, and wrong became right, and only through the eyes of a six-year-old could we see that a little girl is just not meant to be an ugly witch, but rather a beautiful princess-bride.

When we look in the mirror and no longer know who we are, it is because we have forgotten in whose image we were created,

“So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27 NLT).

It Is only when the mask is removed, that we can we finally see clearly,

” … whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away … [and] … there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Corinthians 3:16-18 NLT)

So take off your mask and embrace the person God has called you to be: His own beloved child. And if you are a child of the King, you truly have become His prince, you truly have become His princess … and that, my friend, is no fairytale.

 

Honoring All Souls

by Sarah Phillips, crosswalk.com

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” John 11: 17 – 27

Most of us who’ve been around for more than a couple decades have experienced the death of a loved one. I remember when a close family friend died while I was in high school.

“Uncle” Ed was only in his 40’s, a tough-looking, bearded guy with a jolly sense of humor. I remember the day he called my mom, a seasoned ICU nurse, with some unusual symptoms. My stomach felt uneasy as I overheard my mother tell Ed he needed medical attention as soon as possible.

My sisters and I would only see Ed a couple more times after that call. Once, just before he was admitted for a bone marrow transplant to treat the rare disease attacking his body. He was wearing his regular clothes and looked like the Ed we always knew.

The second time was in the hospital after his transplant. He looked weak and bald, and that scared me a bit. It was the day before prom, and mom urged me and my twin sister to tell him about the prom dresses we designed. Ed listened to our descriptions as if our dresses were the most important topic in the world. A few weeks later, I got a phone call from my mom telling me Ed passed away.

One of the saddest aspects of Ed’s untimely death was that he never fulfilled his long-held dream to marry and have children of his own. That stuck with me. But another thing that stuck with me was Ed’s memorial service. I was not a Christian, and to my surprise, Ed’s Lutheran funeral was filled with one story after another describing his devotion to Christ and his lengthy trips into the mission fields. Ed’s death played an instrumental role in bringing me to faith in Christ a few years later.

I know many of you have similar stories. Life was going along swimmingly, and suddenly the phone rang and nothing was ever the same. I also know many of you have encouraging stories of how God worked through the death of someone in a special way.

Some of the most encouraging reflections on death and eternity I’ve read can be found in a book published by former hospice nurse, Trudy Harris, titled Glimpses of Heaven (Revell, 2008). Harris collected stories of her dying patients to offer comfort to those who have experienced loss, and also to share the profound spiritual insights she has gleaned from those getting ready to pass into heaven. Having observed God’s tender care for her patients time and again, Harris says, “Those who have allowed themselves the luxury of being present with patients as they are dying come away realizing in a whole new way that there is only one Divine Physician, and it is He alone who sets the timetables of our lives.”

While death is always a tragedy, Harris confirms what Christianity teaches – that even death has merit when doused with God’s grace. Harris writes that many of her patients could sense – even see — God’s presence in ways most of us can’t right now. She notes her patients, who endured painful illness, were anxious to give hope, comfort, and wisdom to the living before they passed on. Some even died with so much grace, they wore a gentle smile.

Of course, we can look to our Savior, who did not avoid death even when He could have, to see two truths: God works through the dying process to draw each of us closer to Him, and death – no matter how horrible – does not have the final word.

While it can be difficult for those of us here to bear the weight of losing a loved one, like Martha we can find peace in knowing God does not abandon us or our loved ones even in the darkest moments of death. And while we don’t yet have the privilege of seeing God in all His glory, we can faithfully entrust our futures and the futures of our loved ones’ to the merciful love of Christ.

 

More Than Dust and Bone

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” Genesis 1:31 (ESV)

Remember who you are.

These are words I spoke to my children countless times when they were younger. I wanted them to remember they are children of the Almighty God. I knew if they remembered this truth, they would be better able to live this truth.

Genesis 1 and 2 read like this kind of reminder to me. A reminder I needed when my heart was broken and I could feel everything good slipping away from me. I felt so insignificant. I was trying to move forward after the deep pain of betrayal. I kept asking, “Is it even possible to heal from something like this?” As we navigate a world full of hurt and hearts so often full of shame, these first two chapters of the Bible feel like God whispering to us: “Remember who you are. Remember how I designed you. Remember all I’ve called you to be.”

When God formed, shaped and painted this world and its creatures into being, His goodness seeped in with every thought and touch. And when He was done, Genesis 1:31a says, God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”

I love that God declared Adam and Eve to be exceedingly and abundantly good, even though the actual ingredients He used to make them were seemingly so very humble and basic. Dust and broken-off bone don’t seem like the most promising of beginnings.

Left on their own, these ingredients would amount to nothing. Insignificant. Unacceptable.

But chosen by God and then breathed on and touched by God, they became the only part of creation made in the image of God. They were “nothing,” turned into the most glorious “something.” They were made to be a reflection of the image of God. These image bearers made an invisible God’s image, visible.

And I don’t want us to miss the significance of Genesis 2:18 when God says He will make a helper suitable for Adam.

The Hebrew word for suitable is נֶגֶד neged, meaning “what is in front of you, in your sight, before your face in your view.” So, this word “suitable” gives meaning to the kind of help Adam needed. Beyond just needing help to work the garden or someone uniquely designed to be able to carry children so they could bring forth life, Adam needed a visual — something in front of him to view.

This seems to me to be a reflection. Not like a mirror reflecting only what you place in front of it. No, this is more like a reminder that what is standing in front of him is a reflection of God’s image.

It seems Eve, in being a helper suitable for him, was to be a reminder of who Adam was — a human made in God’s image. A reflection of the glory and goodness of God. It’s a reminder Eve would have needed as well. And together, they were to fill the earth with the glory of God. Not to just be fruitful and multiply it with children. But to multiply evidence of God Himself. (Genesis 1:28)

Their design in the image of God declared to the world, “God is worthy of praise!”

And their design declared to each other, “Remember who you are. You are of God. From God. Made in His image. Loved from the depth of God’s unfathomable Father’s heart. Treasured beyond imagination.”

This is the Divine Echo. This is what Adam and Eve were called to, and it’s what we’re called to as well. Not just married people, but every person with a beating heart. And the more we remind each other of who we really are, the more God’s goodness and glory will echo throughout the earth.

We aren’t just dust and bone.
We aren’t what we’ve done or what’s been done to us.
We aren’t the worst of what others have said about us.

We are the very breath and touch of God. Designed and loved by God. A reflection of the glory and goodness of God.

These are the truths I needed to remember about who I am. I am so much more than the sum total of my hurt and pain and insecurities. Maybe it’s what you need as well … so let me whisper to your soul, “Remember who you are.”

Victory Is Through Christ

1 Corinthians 15:57

57    But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Winning

Happy Young Female Runner On Finish Winning Race Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty Free Image. Image 130804610.

It was the beginning of eighth grade. It was a time full of promise and anticipation of a new school year in a new school. A classmate in gym class invited me to try out for the community league basketball team. I agreed and went to practice. Throughout the season I worked hard at having fun and learning the fine points of the game.

Our team performed well enough through the season to earn a place in the final playoff game for the city championship. We faced a team that was known to be bigger, stronger, and faster than all the others. We played our hearts out and scored toe-to-toe with our opponents. In the final seconds of the game, I stood center court as my teammate, Al, threw the ball overhand all the way down court, over my head, to swish the basket. The buzzer sounded as the ball went through the net. The place went wild as we won the city championship with an exciting Hollywood movie ending.

Next, I joined the high school football team in the midst of a long losing streak. I found that whether you win or lose the big game, playing the game, doing your best, and finishing the season is what real winning is all about.

We read in the Bible where the Apostle Paul wrote,

“… anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:5 NIV)

Playing the game well, as a well-lived life, brings a winning reward in itself. There is a saying, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” In today’s culture, that sentiment has seemingly become “old school,” as winning at any cost (including the cost of one’s integrity) has become everything.

Again, let’s look at the Apostle Paul, whom we respect as one of the greatest Apostles and writers in the New Testament. We know that his was a life of “purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, and sufferings.” (2 Timothy 3:10-11)

Yet when he was facing execution he wrote,

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day…” (2 Timothy 4:7-8 NKJV)

Most of us would consider a man facing execution a loser. But because of the life he led, fulfilling his calling from God, he was actually a winner! As we live our lives we may also experience hardships, trials, persecution, and loss. But if we will keep our hand in the hand of God and do our best to live according to His will, then we too are winners.

If we will take a moment each day, and just look around, we will see the glorious winning in everyday life. The winning is in the journey. The glory of everyday life holds for you the mystery of happiness and the victory of winning. As a believer of Jesus Christ, a crown of righteousness is laid up for you in heaven. Now that’s winning!

 

Trust His Heart

By Meghan Kleppinger, crosswalk.com

“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.'” Psalms 31:14

Whether it be financial, relational, spiritual, or physical troubles (and don’t they all seem to come at the same time?), it’s easy to find ourselves questioning God and His plan for our lives.

Christian singer Babbie Mason’s song, Trust His Heart, addresses these times of hardship. I heard this song for the first time when I was a preteen, and its moving lyrics continue to encourage me now in my adult years. I sing the chorus whenever I’m going through one of life’s rough patches.

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don’t understand
When you don’t see His plan
When you can’t trace His hand
Trust His heart

These aren’t just lyrics of a song, they’re descriptions of God’s character and reminders of His promises as told through scripture.

1. God is too wise to be mistaken
“To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his.” (Job 12:13) (NIV)

“But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. (Jeremiah 10:12) (NIV)

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33) (NIV)

2. God is too good to be unkind
“O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalms 34:8) (NAS)

“Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me.” (Psalm 69:16) (NIV)

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2, 3) (NAS)

3. So when you don’t understand, When you don’t see His plan, When you can’t trace His hand, Trust His heart

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) (NAS)

“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) (NAS)

Isn’t good to know that we when we are afraid or in the middle of circumstance we don’t understand, that we can trust the ways of our wise and wonderful God!

 

A basket of summer fruit

By: Charles Spurgeon

 

“Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me: and behold a basket of summer fruit. And he said, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A basket of summer fruit. Then said the Lord unto me, The end is come upon my people of Israel; I will not again pass by them any more.” Amos 8:1,2

Suggested Further Reading: 2 Peter 3:1-10

For thousands of years the Lord came not, although sin was rampant and the darkness dense, nothing could excite the Lord to an unwise haste. Nor on the other hand did he stay beyond the proper hour; for when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, made under the law. In heaven we shall probably discover that Christ came to die for our sins precisely at the only fitting moment, that in fact redemption’s work could not have been so wisely accomplished at the gates of the garden of Eden as on Calvary; and that the reign of Herod and the Roman Caesar afforded the most fitting era for the sacrifice of the Cross. And so shall it be with regard to the second advent of our blessed Lord and Master. We are apt to say, “Why are his chariots so long in coming? Do not the virgins sleep because the bridegroom tarries, the wise as well as the foolish, have they not all slumbered and slept?” And many are the servants who say in their heart, “My Lord delayeth his coming,” and are ready therefore to beat their fellow-servants, to drink and to be drunken; but cheer your hearts, you who look for his appearing. He will not come too hastily, for why should the sun arise until darkness has had its hour? Nor will he delay his appearing one moment beyond the proper time, for should not the sun beam forth in the morning? We know and are persuaded that when he shall stand a second time upon the earth, it shall be as much the fulness of time for him to come, as it was the fulness of time when he came at first.

For meditation: We know that Christ was born at the right time (Galatians 4:4) and that he died for us at the right time (Romans 5:6). We cannot tell when he will come again, but it will be at the right time (Acts 17:31). The right time to trust in him is now (2 Corinthians 6:2).

 

Strength in Weakness

by Inspiration Ministries

“Then 3,000 men of Judah … said to Samson, ‘Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then is this that you have done to us?’” – Judges 15:11 NASB

Although uniquely called by God, Samson appears undisciplined and dominated by carnal desires. We see this after he married a Philistine woman. During the wedding ceremony, he posed a riddle, but the Philistines could not find a solution. Then, they coaxed Samson’s new bride into drawing the answer from him.

Later he learned that her father had given his wife to one of Samson’s friends. Angered, Samson caught three hundred foxes, set them on fire, and released them, burning the Philistine fields.

Determined to avenge these actions, the Philistines marched on Judah, demanding that Samson be turned over to them. Afraid, 3,000 of these men of Judah went to find Samson. They reminded him, “the Philistines are rulers over us.” They convinced him to cooperate and to let them bind him with ropes to appease their rulers.

When he arrived in the presence of the Philistines, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily” (v. 14). He broke the ropes and attacked the Philistines. He stood up to Israel’s oppressors and brought victory when everyone else was prepared to accept defeat.

Samson was flawed, but, unlike others of that time, he was willing to fight, no matter what the odds. He was a man of boldness when all around him were weak.

Ask God to give you boldness, to deliver you from fear and worry. Don’t be intimidated, but stand strongly for His kingdom.

Endure The Race To Win The Prize

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Don’t Stop Short

marathon runner crossing the finish line

 

Have you ever been ambushed by an unpleasant surprise? Vanderlei de Lima, a Brazilian marathon runner, had an unpleasant surprise in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. He had already run over twenty-two miles, with just four more left in the race, when “a crazed man rushed into his path and shoved him off the course into a crowd of spectators.”1 The crowd wrestled the man away from de Lima, who was able to regain his composure and continue the race.

But de Lima was not able to regain the lead. Although the incident happened in a matter of seconds, he could not recover the time lost, and finished in third place.

In an interview, de Lima said, “If you stop in a marathon, you struggle the next three or four kilometers. It’s hard to get your rhythm back.”2 Surprises in life can throw us off course or stop our forward movement. Attacks on our faith, courage, and joy can easily ambush us, and hinder our forward progress in life. Rejection and abandonment could have taken the apostle Paul out of the race, but he kept running.

This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. (2 Timothy 1:15 NKJV)

How easily does the fear of rejection stop you? Sometimes we might be afraid when we join a group or start a friendship. We may think, “What will they think of me? Will I fit in?” When we feel God wants us to say an encouraging word to someone or promise to pray for them, we may wonder, “Will they accept it well?”

The kind of rejection Paul faced wasn’t a disapproving look or being excluded from the group. It far surpassed that. All in Asia had turned away from him. The people he had spent two years teaching (Acts 19:10), did not stand with him when he was persecuted for Christ’s sake. At least a few of Paul’s friends or fellow workers in the kingdom still cared about him, like Onesiphorus mentioned in the same chapter. But those in Asia—the region of modern-day Turkey—turned away from him. Could we stand such rejection?

Paul didn’t let rejection ambush his courage and determination, and neither did Jesus. He is our greatest example of faithfulness under fire. We can find no greater courage and love than the courage and love of Christ. All forsook Him and abandoned Him, yet Jesus said yes to God. Yes to do the hard thing—to be separated from the Father to pay for our sins and to bear the weight and burden of the cross.

Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done. (Luke 22:42 NKJV)

Our sins may have put Jesus on the cross, but His love kept Him there. For love’s sake, He gave His life.

When someone stops loving us, or treats us in a way contrary to love, what will our reaction be? Will we let someone else’s negativity hinder all the good that God wants to do through us?

Jesus is with us in the race. Nothing escapes His attention. He knows what happens to us and how to counteract the discouragement or opposition we face. He has faced rejection and won. All the suffering that Jesus endured wasn’t strong enough to keep Him from fulfilling the mission God had given Him. When something threatens to push us off course, Jesus is our support; He is with us every step of the way. Keep going.

 

Give a Little Grace

by Debbie Holloway, crosswalk.com

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters (Romans 14:1).

Winter weather is pretty bipolar in the great Commonwealth of Virginia. One day it can be warm and sunny, and the next day you curse your bad luck for not wearing earmuffs and gloves when you walk out the door. However, when bad weather is forecast, local reactions are solidly predictable, specifically when it comes to “preparation” and driving in abnormal road conditions.

“Snow? SNOW? IT’S GOING TO SNOW?!”

People around here freak out and buy a lot of bread and milk when storms are predicted. If your significant other suggests, “Hey, we’re out of ____, can you stop by Wal-Mart?” on the evening a snowstorm is predicted to hit: forget about it; society is on crazy pills. Additionally, nobody around here can drive in the snow either. Obviously greater caution is called for with icy and slippery road conditions, but people see white stuff and generally throw out every rule they ever learned about How to Be a Good Driver.

Such reactions generate a lot of scorn from imported northerners. After all, children in Michigan attend school daily in the wintery months in upwards of a foot of snow. Why do Richmond kids get classes canceled at the forecast of snow? There is definitely impatience and indignation – and no doubt it is well-deserved!

After doing a fair amount of grumbling during our recent snows, I thought, Hmm, this seems familiar… spiritually…

Isn’t it easy to find ourselves being “northerners” when we find ourselves around those at different points in their spiritual walks? We find it easy to look down upon, mock, or judge people who have difficulty living with restraint, modesty, chastity, gentleness, or a host of other spiritual virtues. We roll our eyes at people unfamiliar with the Bible, who can’t rattle off verses by memory as quickly as their ABCs.

Essentially, we are impatient with those who have less (or different) theological, spiritual, or biblical exposure and knowledge. But how is that fair? In reality, many people are ill-prepared simply because of their upbringing. Many come to Christ as adults, out of nonbelieving families. Many people don’t have much time (or the inclination!) to devote to in-depth biblical or theological study. Many people grew up in a church where only the most basic of Gospel truths were touched on, and become paralyzed when more complex life situations rear their ugly heads.

Should all Christians have an intense drive to make themselves as knowledgeable and as spiritually “prepared” as possible? Well, yes. But we live in a busy, imperfect world full of busy, imperfect people. Everyone’s experience is different; everyone is part of a unique story.

So when the “snowstorms” of life come, don’t mock the “southerners” in your midst who freak out. Instead, be there for them. Extend grace, love, and friendship. Not everyone can be prepared for what seems like No Big Deal to you. Everyone’s hard place deserves validation in a Kingdom of God marked by compassion, equality, forgiveness, and love.

 

Growing Strong

Is your faith like a seedling, a sprout, or a mature tree?

 

His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us. — 2 Peter 1:3

How can we develop a faith strong enough to see us throughout our lives?

The key is this: God wants us to be spiritually strong and has provided us with every resource we need.

We need God’s strength to face life’s challenges — and He wants to give it to us.

Tragically, many Christians never discover this. They have committed their lives to Christ… they may be active in their churches… they pray and read their Bibles on occasion — but they remain spiritually immature and weak in the face of life’s temptations and setbacks.

We may be old in years, but if our faith is immature, we will be fearful and unprepared. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Just as a baby needs food and exercise in order to grow, so we need the spiritual food and exercise God has provided for us. Without them our faith is weak, but with them spiritual strength increases, and we are better prepared for whatever life has in store for us.

What are you doing now that will make you spiritually mature when you’re older?

 

From Seedling to Tree

He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season. — Psalm 1:3

It is no accident that the Bible compares us to trees, urging us to grow spiritual roots that are deep and strong. But a tree wasn’t always a tree. It began as a small seed. Spiritual life also begins with a seed — the seed of God’s Word planted in the soil of our souls that eventually sprouts and becomes a new seedling as we are born again. But though we’re saved, we aren’t meant to remain spiritual seedlings, weak and vulnerable to every temptation or doubt or falsehood or fear. God’s will is for us to grow strong in our faith and become mature, grounded in the truth of His Word and firmly committed to doing His will (1 Peter 2:2).

Giving your life to Christ is an essential first step — but it is only the first step. God’s will is for you to become spiritually mature, growing stronger in your relationship to Christ and your service for Him. Conversion is the work of an instant; spiritual maturity is the work of a lifetime.

Is your faith like a seedling, a sprout, or a mature tree?

 

Mature Fruit

Be mature and complete, not lacking anything. — James 1:4 NIV

We cannot pretend to be something we are not; a Christlike character cannot be faked. If Christ is not real to us or if we haven’t learned to walk with Him and submit our lives to Him every day, then our spiritual impact will be far less than it might have been. People are very sensitive to hypocrisy; if they sense it in us, they will dismiss our pretenses and pay no attention to our advice. On the other hand, if they can sense our faith is sincere and our love is authentic, then they will respect us and take us seriously (even when they know we are not perfect).

This is why it is important to begin building our lives on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ now, instead of waiting until it is too late and the problems of old age overwhelm us. Every gardener knows that mature fruit does not appear overnight. It takes time to grow — and so does the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Start tending your garden today, so you may be “mature and complete.”

In what place in your life do you most need spiritual growth?

Godliness With Contentment Is Great Gain

sheep#lamb#john 10:27#Bible Quotes#bible verse#christian quote#Scripture#inspiration#hea…  | Christian quotes scriptures, Inspirational scripture, The good shepherd21 Bible Verses About the Sheep and the Shepherd – Heather C. King – Room  to Breathe
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Pin on Christian Designs25 Important Bible Verses About Sheep

 

 

A Crash Course in Shepherding

sheep-shepherd-closeup_si.jpg

 

I’ve been reading A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller. Even though my friend gave it to me a few years ago, it hasn’t been on my radar until recently.

Because within the span of four weeks, six lambs have been born on our farm.

Unexpectedly.

Don’t judge.

When we purchased the first two ewes, the seller suggested they might be pregnant, but they weren’t. A few months later, we purchased two young females and a male. Six months old, the owner said.

Less than five months later, I received a call from my husband. I hopped up and down on our church stage at the shocking news.

“What’s wrong?” The music director looked alarmed as we practiced for Sunday morning.

“The youngest ewe we have is giving birth!” I shouted, clapping my hands.

What we didn’t expect, was five more to follow born almost exactly one week apart.

“Just call it ‘lambing Thursday,’” Tom added.

Let’s just say Tom and I have been taking a crash course in shepherding.

Thus, Keller’s book. It relates his sheep ranch and his care of them to our spiritual lives.

Sheep have no natural defenses except to flee from predators. They need protection. That is where Molly comes in. She is our Livestock Guardian Dog. Big, fluffy and friendly, besides guarding the chickens, instinctively, she raced toward the new-born lambs.

As our one-hundred-pound canine made a bee-line toward the baby to welcome it into the world,  the ewe stood erect, eyed our canine, and stomped her hoof.

That was her defense.

Pitiful.

When I take over protecting my stuff or my reputation or my future, it’s kind of like a lousy stamp of my foot. In the end, there is nothing I can do to protect myself.

But I have a Good Shepherd. And He protects His sheep. Not from all harm—often this dumb sheep needs a good lesson and it can only be learned from failing. And I fail often.

But when I do, He always comes through. I am thankful for The Good Shepherd’s protection.

Sheep need provision, too. Our 8-acre pasture is green and hilly — full of sweet grass with fresh water available to them at all times. They have everything they need. Often, when I arrive home from work, I’ll see our small, contented flock grazing, or laying down. They have everything they need.

I have everything that I need too, sometimes I just don’t know it. Sometimes I want when I should be content.

1 Timothy 6:6 states,

“But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (NIV)

Recently, I have been thanking the Lord for not giving me what I want. As I look back, what I wanted was the exact opposite of what I needed. Only time and eternity will show how Our Good Shepherd provided for us — in spite of us.

Before the seat belt laws, as a youngster, when riding in the car with my bigger-than-life father, I’d lean against him and we’d sing. Our favorite was “There were Ninety-and-Nine.” The song talks about Our Shepherd-King. He leaves his flock and travels a great distance to rescue a wandering sheep and rejoices when the foolish sheep is found.

That is me.

And He is my Good Shepherd.

 

Are You My Leader?

by Meghan Kleppinger, crosswalk.com

 

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. – John 10:27

For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you – John 13:15

In the classic children’s story Are You My Mother, a baby bird falls from his nest and spends the remainder of the book approaching various animals, from dogs to cows, asking if any of them are his mother.

When asking the cow, her response is: “How could I be your mother? I am a cow.”

Yes, this story about birds, cows, dogs, and so forth reminds me of human nature. By design, we humans desire someone who will step up and tell us what to do. We want someone to say “Don’t worry, I have things under control.” We crave leadership!

Children often look to athletes…
Teens look to celebrities…
Adults look to political and spiritual leaders.

Unfortunately, and only too often, there is news about an athlete abusing and killing animals, a celebrity heavily involved in alcohol and illegal drugs, or a political leader using power for unscrupulous gain. Even more unfortunate, our Christian leaders aren’t immune from earthly temptations and failings.

It’s enough for us to cry out like that little birdie, “I want my mother!”

In a fallen world, humans will make mistakes, and leaders will fall. We all fall. It’s not wrong to have role models and people to look to for leadership. I’m sure that bird learned a lot of interesting things in his travels, but he was not going to learn how to be bird from a cow, a dog, or a cat.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be the first to admit that much of my spiritual growth has come under the mentorship of godly leaders, and that’s a good thing. Paul was used as an example of Christ-likeness throughout scripture (2 Thessalonians 3:7Philippians 3:17) to). We, too, are called to be examples (Titus 2:71 Timothy 2:12).

God uses leaders to point to Him, but we must never forget that they are not Him. He sent a Perfect Example to earth, not only to die for us, but to show us how to live for Him. We learn best to be like Christ from Christ himself.

“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

 

His Light Shines in Your Darkness

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5 (NIV)

I spent most of my childhood doing my homework in the dark under a burning gas lamp. As war erupted in my Middle Eastern country, we had electricity only eight hours a day, and then it was dark.

Not only was my country physically dark, it was also spiritually dark. My family experienced the effects of this darkness, as we were the only Christians in our village. When we shared the gospel with our neighbors, we received heavy persecution and death threats urging us to stop, or my father would be killed. I experienced darkness at my school as well, where I was bullied for my faith. Often, my heart sank deep within me as I felt the rejection from those around me.

Persecution was affecting my family from the outside, but from the inside, poverty was taking over.

We often lacked food and sometimes only had raw onion and bread for dinner. We lived in a small apartment with no furniture, couches or beds. I desired to have new clothes, dolls and toys, but we could not afford them, and I didn’t receive gifts on Christmas or my birthday.

Yet, my parents continuously encouraged me to be content and to keep my eyes on Jesus. Mom recited Psalm 23 to me every night before going to bed, and she taught me to pray and bring all my needs to God.

During this season of darkness, Christian resources were limited. Aside from finding other Christians to meet, a Christian radio station broadcasted two hours a day. My family desired to have access to the station, but we could not afford a radio. Being a family of prayer, we brought this need to God.

Then God pierced through our darkness.

Amid the war, poverty and persecution, I was given the gift of a beautifully wrapped shoebox packed by someone halfway across the world who wanted to show me God’s love.

My family gathered to open the shoebox. As I opened it, my heart was filled with joy! I found many things that were an answer to my prayers and reflected my innermost self so well. There were hygiene items, school supplies and many beautiful toys such as a slinky and a Beanie Baby.

As we rejoiced over each item inside the box, there was another surprise awaiting us. Inside the shoebox was a smaller box, and inside that box we found a mini radio!

Out of millions of boxes, God orchestrated that box to come specifically to my family with what we needed and had prayed for. That day, as I sat in our room holding my box, the darkness did not go away, but it was overcome by God’s light. Just as the Bible says in John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

From that day forward, every time I turned on the radio, I was reminded that God is the God of details. In a unique yet ordinary way, He pierced through the surrounding darkness and showed me that I am seen and loved by Him, even when rejected by many.

There are times when darkness seems too overwhelming and blinds us from seeing God’s presence in our lives. The enemy uses many forms of attack to blur or even blind our vision of the One True Light.

But God is not deterred by the darkness around us.

Continue to seek God even when everything is dark. God is actively working behind the scenes. He is still the God of love, the God of peace and the God of answered prayers.

Fear Not God Is Near

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A Good Scare

woman-watching-horror-movie

 

Let’s face it, whether you “celebrate” Halloween or not, this time of year everyone’s attention tends towards the spooky, creepy, and downright scary. I’ve heard some people say they like a good scare every now and then. Not so with me. I can do just fine without having the stuffing scared out of me, thank you very much.

I love the fact that the Bible tells us that the “joy of the Lord is our strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 (NASB) Jesus is called the “Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 (NASB) 1 John 4:8 says, “… for God is love.” In fact, John went on to write, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” If we have given our lives to God, if we have found reconciliation with Him through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then we have nothing to fear from God. We have no fear of punishment, but the great expectation of living in the love of God which will drive fear from us.

Yet, with this in mind, I see an interesting story in Genesis 15. This is a powerful chapter telling a key part of the story of Abram/Abraham. The chapter begins with the Lord telling Abram “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.” Again, we see the Lord’s encouragement to not fear. In his heartbreak, Abram pours out his soul reminding the Lord of the promise to give Abram an heir. A promise as yet unfulfilled as Abram and his wife, Sarah, continue to grow old.

God renews His promise to Abram, telling him that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Genesis 15:6 says, “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Abram’s simple faith and belief in the Lord is the kind of thing John was talking about: the wonderful loving relationship with the Lord that drives out fear.

The Lord goes on to instruct Abram to prepare a sacrifice. The offering on Abram’s part and acceptance of the offering on God’s part would be the ratifying moment of a great covenant between Abram and God. The Lord would forever be the God of Abram and his descendants, and Abram and his descendants would forever be God’s people. In this powerful moment, this ratifying and recognizing of this great covenant of friendship, grace, and love, an interesting thing happens; “Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him.” Gen 15:12 (NASB)

God Himself showed up to validate the covenant, and with Him came … terror? It reminds me of the scene where Isaiah received his call (Isaiah 6). The wonderful, glorious, loving, living God shows up and the first thing out of Isaiah’s mouth is, “Woe is me, for I am ruined.” Isaiah 6:5 (NASB) When John, yes the “There is no fear in love …” John, sees Jesus in Revelation 1, he confesses, as he writes, that he fell at Jesus’ feet “like a dead man.” Revelation 1:17 (NASB). What does Jesus do? He reaches out to the one who was known as the “one who Jesus loved,” touches him on the shoulder and says, “Do not be afraid.” Revelation 1:17 (NASB)

So what can we make of all this? Certainly, God does not want us to be “afraid” of Him. He does not want us to cower as if any moment He could squash us into jelly. However, we should never take for granted His Godhood. He is powerful. He is mighty. Stars fall from His fingertips. He creates worlds with the words from His mouth. He alone holds all of life in His hands. Should we not respect that? Should we not expect that if He shows up, we will react the same way these three wonderful men of God did? It makes me reflect on the phrase “a good scare.” I think I would like to have one after all. A Good Scare, and all that it implies.

 

Stop the Sun

Stop the Sun
by John UpChurch, crosswalk.com

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26).

When I got married, the friend my wife and I roped into making the wedding video for us added a few surprises to the tape before he gave it to us. During our rehearsal dinner (which didn’t actually follow a rehearsal), he’d grabbed guests, whisked them outside, poked the camera in their faces, and asked them for their best tips on keeping a marriage strong.

The advice is decidedly mixed. It ranges from the serious (“Make time for your relationship”) to the Scriptural (“Love is kind”) to the funny (“Just let her win, John”) to the ludicrous (“Beat him when you need to”). It’s the stuff you’d expect from those who are on the spot with only moments to think up something that would be forever stamped on our video.

But one piece of advice has always stuck out to me, and even as I write this, I see it and wince. One of our friends told us that we should just “forget about that whole sun-not-going-down-on-your-anger thing. You will go to bed mad.”

It’s just really bad advice.

Now, admittedly, when Paul wrote Ephesians 4:26, he wasn’t talking to married couples directly. He meant it for the believers at Ephesus in general. But he slips that passage in among his admonitions about how our lives should be different now that we follow Christ. He says those who don’t know Christ live one way, but when they start to follow Him, their lives show it. Before, we let our anger seethe, but now, we fix the problem. Before, we didn’t seek forgiveness and restitution, but now we do.

In marriage, the status quo is always safer. We get into routines, and we like how comfortable the ordinary feels. When something disrupts the normal flow, guys especially want to just move it out of the way and get back to flowing again. Meanwhile, our wives are still upset, and nothing has been dealt with.

You see, there’s another part to that going-to-bed-angry thing that our well-wisher left out. When we do that, the Bible says we give the devil a foothold, a place to cling on. The anger burns deeper and deeper. One angry night becomes dozens. That’s the place where relationships stop growing—and even die.

But there’s no need for any angry sleeping, not when we’ve got something as crazy-good as the gospel. As Paul says, the good news is that we’ve chucked off our old selves and gotten brand-spanking-new selves. This new-self sets us apart in the world as children of light. In other words, when we don’t do what people expect, we suddenly blaze into the darkness. When we don’t let the sun go down on our anger, but forgive as we’re forgiven, it’s like setting off a flare. You’re saying, “Look. This is God’s love made manifest through us. Dig it.”

 

Boastful Ambitions

by Inspiration Ministries

“Be not forward (self-assertive and boastfully ambitious) in the presence of the king.” – Proverbs 25:6 AMPC

The word is full of ambitious people, committed to advancing their careers, no matter what it takes. They are eager to get attention and credit for successful ventures but let others get the blame for failures.

This attitude is the way to become successful and stand out from the crowd. The Bible encourages a different attitude. God promises to bless the humble (Psalm 25:9). Instead of boasting about ourselves, we are to boast in the Lord (Psalm 34:2). We are reminded that God hates pride (Proverbs 8:13).

The right way to approach life is having the attitude of a servant. Remember the words of Jesus, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). We always should seek to serve others and God. Always be ready to give Him the glory. Always seek first His kingdom.

This does not mean being passive. In fact, the Bible tells us that God looks for people who invest the resources they have been given, who are diligent and hardworking, who seek to be good stewards, and who are not afraid to present new ideas.

These principles ultimately apply to our relationship with God. We are to approach Him with reverence and humility, never pride or arrogance. But we also are to be confident in our relationship with Him. Develop the gifts He has given us. Make the most out of our time.

 

One More Journey

By: Joel Vande Werken, reframemedia.com

Scripture Reading — Genesis 46:1-728-30

“Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there.” — Genesis 46:3

In his old age Jacob now begins one more journey. Many years earlier, Jacob had fled his homeland in fear; now he leaves in the hope of a joyful reunion with a son he had thought was dead. But this journey also requires him to leave the land God has promised to him (Genesis 35:12). This journey will take him to Egypt, a place of danger for his father and grandfather (Genesis 12:10-2026:2). Can God be involved in this unexpected change of plans?

It is to Jacob’s credit that he begins this journey with worship—for even if a plan seems appealing to us, it will not succeed if it does not honor God. Though his own son had invited him to come and stay in Egypt, Jacob also surely knew of God’s warning that his descendants would be mistreated in a foreign land (Genesis 15:13). For this reason, God’s assurance is vital to his journey.

Perhaps it seems that God has placed you on a journey you did not expect: a new career, a new home, a challenging situation that stretches your faith. Hear today the great assurance that Jacob heard: “Do not be afraid. . . . I will go . . . with you.” God, who lived among us and journeyed with us in the flesh of his Son (John 1:14), will redeem and bless even the unexpected journeys of all who trust in him.

Prayer

Lord, sometimes you send us to unexpected places in life. Give us wisdom to discern your leading in our journeys, and give us courage in knowing you are always with us, through Jesus, our Savior. Amen.

Be God’s Instrument Of Encouragement

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2020 Encouragement

finger family wearing face masks

 

“Now, friends, read these next words carefully. Slow down and don’t go jumping to conclusions regarding the day when our Master, Jesus Christ, will come back and we assemble to welcome him” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, MSG).

These words could’ve been written in 2020, but they are actually from about AD 51 or 52. After Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica, he felt the need to write again and address their concerns, lest they be led astray in their faith.

Again, sounds much like 2020 — we still need encouragement and teaching.

There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t need to be inspired with courage for dark days, or boosted in confidence that God is still for us (and not against us). To encourage actually means to stimulate spiritually. It also means to boost, reassure, strengthen, comfort, fortify, gladden, and embolden (my personal favorite).

Someone once said: “A word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success” (author unknown). If we tweak that a bit for today, we might say: “A word of encouragement during 2020 is worth more than an hour of praise in times past.”

But not just any encouragement… the best reassurance is found in God’s Word. The news can’t give us what we need. Books of great literature or binge-worthy movies may sweep us momentarily into another world, but when we resurface, imaginary worlds from man’s imagination won’t suffice.

God’s Word establishes us in hope, keeps us stable in unstable times, and repeatedly reminds us of truth— God’s Word is God’s truth. In fact, Jesus prayed this very thing for us:

“[Father] Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17 NKJV).

And this is why we also need teaching. Each of Paul’s letters encouraged believers in their struggles, but the majority of what he wrote was instructional. By inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he imparted knowledge to help believers navigate their lives. They needed advisement, coaching, explanations, and truth to prepare them for the unforeseen.

I have always held to this adage, that scripture always interprets scripture. In other words, instead of trying to figure things out on my own (the meaning and context of scripture), I believe God’s Word helps interpret His Word. God isn’t confused and as the author of time and space, He knows what is past, what is, and what is yet to come. God, and His Word, can be trusted.

And what an encouragement trust can be!

Even if we knew the exact day of Jesus’ return, we’d still have to remain focused and purposed. Our confidence is that He is coming again and we can trust Him to help us in the meantime.

2020 will not be soon forgotten. But in the midst of all the oddities of this year, you can be confident without jumping to conclusions. Stay anchored in God’s Word and you’ll find all the encouragement you need as well.

 

Give No Quarter

Give No Quarter
by Ryan Duncan, crosswalk.com

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” – Ephesians 6:10-11

This week my small group started a new series on minor characters in the Old Testament. I have to say it’s been pretty interesting. There are so many characters in the Old Testament whose stories often get overlooked, liked Jephthah, one of Israel’s judges, or Rizpah, who defended the bodies of her slain family. The person I ended up researching though was Josiah, who ruled Jerusalem as King for thirty-one years. 2 Kings opens by saying Josiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, a rare feat for most of Israel’s Kings, but then it shifts gears and talks about how Josiah discovered the long lost Book of Law in God’s temple.

After deciphering the book and realizing his people have turned away from God, Josiah went on a complete rampage. Just read the passage below,

“He did away with the pagan priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places of the towns of Judah and on those around Jerusalem–those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts. He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the LORD to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there. He ground it to powder and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people. He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes, which were in the temple of the LORD and where women did weaving for Asherah. Josiah brought all the priests from the towns of Judah and desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense. He broke down the shrines at the gates–at the entrance to the Gate of Joshua, the city governor, which is on the left of the city gate.” –  2 Kings 23:5-9

My first impression on reading these passages was that Josiah over-reacted. It was great that he wanted to return his people to God, but burning everything in a ten mile radius seemed a little extreme. Then it hit me; that was the point. To God, Sin is a cancerous tumor that must be cut out of your lives completely. Maybe you’re a guy who’s fallen into the grip of pornography, or a girl who can’t stop putting others down through gossip.

We tell ourselves these things are just human weakness and they don’t mean anything, but God will never approve of our “guilty pleasures”. Christ’s grace has given us a way to battle Sin, and in this unseen war the winner takes all. So, if you’re ready to fight, remember to put on the Armor of God, and give the Devil no quarter.

Light at evening time

By: Charles Spurgeon

“It shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.” Zechariah 14:7

Suggested Further Reading: Luke 24:13-2128-35

God very frequently acts in grace in such a manner that we can find a parallel in nature. For instance, God says, “… as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, … so shall my word be, …it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” We find him speaking concerning the coming of Christ, “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.” We find him likening the covenant of grace to the covenant which he made with Noah concerning the seasons, and with man concerning the different revolutions of the year—“Seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” We find that the works of creation are very frequently the mirror of the works of grace, and that we can draw figures from the world of nature to illustrate the great acts of God in the world of his grace towards his people. But sometimes God oversteps nature. In nature after evening comes night. The sun has had its hours of journeying; the fiery steeds are weary; they must rest. Lo, they descend the azure steeps and plunge their burning fetlocks in the western sea, while night in her dark chariot follows at their heels. God, however, oversteps the rule of nature. He is pleased to send to his people times when the eye of reason expects to see no more day, but fears that the glorious landscape of God’s mercies will be shrouded in the darkness of his forgetfulness. But instead, God overleaps nature, and declares that at evening time, instead of darkness there shall be light.

For meditation: The text has only ever been true on one occasion in a physical sense (Joshua 10:12-14), but God, to whom even the darkness is light (Psalm 139:12), is always repeating the event spiritually in the lives of his people.

Delight To Do God’s Will

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You Never Do Anything You Don’t Want to Do

by Shawn McEvoy, crosswalk.com

Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. – Galatians 6:5The Message

If I try, I can remember my friends from 10th-grade Sunday School. In fact, I’m still tight with two of them. I remember our church, our youth group, and our youth minister. What I don’t remember so well are the individual lessons we learned from the Bible each week. As I realize that, I give myself another kick for not having gotten into note-taking and journaling. I’d like to have those things to review now.

What I do recall from one particular class session, however, has always stuck with me. And it wasn’t even a quote from the Bible. To show how much I’ve forgotten, I don’t even remember the name of the teacher who said it! He was tall, well-accomplished in business, but still wanting to give of his time to young men. And one day he looked at us and said the following:

“Today’s lesson is going to be very short. Look at me, because whatever you remember from today, remember this. Whatever you remember from your time in this youth group, remember this: You never do anything you don’t want to do.”

That was it. Obviously I still remember it. Why?

I also remember challenging the teacher on that day, most of us scoffing and saying things like, “Yeah, right… I can honestly tell you I do not want to do my homework tonight.”

“Yes you do.”

“No, I really don’t.”

“What will happen if you don’t?”

“Well, I guess I’d be embarrassed when it was time to turn it in, I’d probably have to lie to my parents when they asked if I’d done it yet, and I wouldn’t be prepared for the upcoming quiz.”

“So I guess the reason you’re going to do your homework is because for the motives you just stated, you DO want to do it.”

Snap.

I wanna do my homework? … Wow, I want to do my homework! What a relief to not have to dread it, but to face it gladly because I recognize my want.

A dozen high school boys just got handed a logic lesson in responsibility, desire, and motivation. All around the room you could see eyes and minds opening to new possibilities.

This is what we’d been hearing about free will. But now contextualized and personalized.

This is what our parents and teachers had been getting at as they spoke to us about becoming responsible young men.

This would make me own all my actions and reactions, decisions and indecisions. And, surprising myself, that was a concept I could handle.

The applications were everywhere.

I’m still not even sure his statement was absolutely true, or necessarily biblical. But to be honest, it doesn’t matter anymore, because it informed and continues to inform many things in my life that are true and biblical.

Do I want to lay in bed or do I want to get to work? Why or why not?

Do I really “want” that sportscar, or can I put it out of my mind to burden me no more since it conflicts with several of my primary wants?

Why am I overweight? In my case, I don’t have to be. My bad. Guess I wanted that, too, when you get down to the nub of it. Certainly didn’t do the things I knew would prevent it.

One of the doors that opened to me was in realizing that once I got past “my will be done,” I could begin to pray as Jesus did, “Your will be done.”

Another was in being able to recognize motivation. Why am I going to conquer this lust or pursue this knowledge or accomplish this hard task for God’s Kingdom? Because ultimately, what I want to do is to have my heart’s desires be the same as God’s. That’s where he tells us delight is, and that’s the only place where we know what we want is right.

 

When Everything Overwhelms, How Do We Overcome?

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV)

“Hey, that’s where great-grandpa and grandma live!” My kids excitedly point to the senior housing community as we drive by, and instead of correcting them, I nod in agreement and choke back tears. My husband’s grandfather passed away a couple of months ago, but it still feels as though he’d be standing at the door, eager to welcome us in if we were to visit.

Death is such a strange thing. It is at once final and yet … not. And grief after death lingers with no end.

I’m surprised by my sadness, and I chide myself for not being over it yet. After all, do I have a right to be so sad when I had only known him for the last 10 years of his 90 years of life? Should I still be crying when I was just his granddaughter-in-law? I wrestle with these questions, but in a moment of grace toward myself, I push away the critic’s voice in my head and let the tears run down my cheeks.

These days, loss is compounded by more loss. I attend a funeral and watch a mother weep as she buries her daughter. I notice the weariness in people’s eyes — in my own eyes — as we try to figure out how to make it through another day. I hear the fear and anxiety that uncertainty brews. I lament in anger for Black mothers and fathers and children who are not safe sleeping in their beds, going for a run, making mistakes and being human.

Each death, each act of violence, each oppressed silencing and each loss feels like waves crashing over me, and I am overwhelmed. I don’t know if I can swim to the surface to catch a breath or find a way to the shore. I long for solid ground, to lie still and rest, and I cry out to God — How much longer, Lord?

My strength is made weak by the constant barrage of what this year keeps throwing at us, and in my helplessness, I remember Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I repeat the verse over and over, and in His words, I hear truth and hope. The truth is that we will have trouble in this world. We will face abandonment, loneliness, hatred and death. Out of love and kindness, Jesus wants us to be aware rather than surprised when these things happen; they are to be expected.

Then, He gives this two-fold promise of hope: First, when everything is chaos, we can have peace in Him. Second, we can be encouraged because Christ has already overcome the world.

We can get through hard things because we follow a God who has gone through every hard thing and has come out of it victoriously. When we are weary and we feel like we can’t take another hit, we can be encouraged. We can overcome. Christ has gone before us, and in Him, our weaknesses are the platforms from which His power shines.

Take heart, friend. We have a God who understands, who has endured and who helps us to do the same.

 

Faith Is…

By: Zondervan

Faith takes God at His word.

 

Knowing God Is Able

God is able to do whatever He promises. — Romans 4:21 NLT

Faith means knowing God is able to do all that He has promised. You may not understand how. You may not know where or when. It may seem utterly, completely impossible. But for all the things you do not know — for all the odds stacked against you — in faith, there is one thing you do know:

God is able, and He will deliver that which He has promised to you.

Begin a list of all that God has promised you — and add to it with each new promise you discover in His Word. Begin with Psalm 121.

Which of God’s promises is most important to you and your faith right now? Write out a prayer of praise declaring that you know He is able to keep that promise in your life.

*

Love

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. — Galatians 5:6

God is love… and so faith in God must have love. It’s loving God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:30). And it is accepting that God’s love for you is both endless and unconditional (Romans 8:38-39). Because God’s love for you gives you every reason to have faith, and your faith gives you every reason to show the world how much you love Him.

Why does God’s love for you give you every reason to put your faith in Him?

Does your faith express itself in love? Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. Why do you believe the expression of love is so important to faith — your own and others’?

 

Taking God at His Word

For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, “Go,” and he goes; and that one, “Come,” and he comes. I say to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it. — Luke 7:8

“Say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Luke 7:7). Such was the faith of a humble Roman centurion, and his faith amazed even Jesus (Luke 7:9). That man knew — what all those who put their faith in God know — that He is able to do all He has said He will do. So when God says He will forgive and save, help and guide, love and protect…

faith takes God at His word.

Compare the faith of this centurion to the faith of Thomas in John 20:24-29. Which one more resembles you and your faith?

Is there any area of your faith where you most struggle to take God at His word? Write out a prayer asking God to show you His faithfulness.

Excerpted with permission from The Weekly Faith Project copyright Zondervan.