Tag Archives: LOVE

Trusting God During Uncertain Times

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Trusting God During Uncertain Times

woman showing respect for the cross on a hill at sunset

 

With less than two months until graduation, I received an announcement email stating that my graduation from Divinity School would be transitioned to online and the physical ceremony was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. Though God prepared me for this announcement just two days earlier by placing in my heart that there would likely not be a physical graduation in May 2020, I was still torn between understanding the decision and disappointment. A day that I had looked forward to for years would be an online experience instead of in-person where I could celebrate with family, friends, classmates, and professors. After years of studying, writing papers, and missing out on family and friends’ events, I wanted to celebrate the conclusion of my Master of Divinity degree. I was sure that many of the other 2020 students felt a similar disappointment, so I was saddened for them as well.

Graduation was just the first event that I had to process the cancellation of. I also had a post-graduation trip out of the country, a family vacation, a mission trip, and several speaking engagements that were either canceled or postponed. I quickly decided that processing each disappointment was important to me so that I could be in an emotionally and spiritually healthy place, free from any bitterness or hard-heartedness.

Proverbs 16:9 (NASB) says, “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.”

In my walk with the Lord, I have aimed to make plans but to allow God to alter those plans as He sees fit. During the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, it seemed that my plans were rapidly changing, and my disappointment was growing. My heart was also breaking for my friends and other people around the world who were experiencing great losses of loved ones, income, and more.

Spending Time in Prayer

In the midst of my changed plans and my anxious thoughts, I received word that a distant relative passed away from COVID-19 related complications. Several friends of the family also passed away due to COVID-19. As I wrestled with the weight I felt from the worldwide grief and suffering, along with my own disappointment, anger, and anxiety, I decided to pray for people who were sick, lost a loved one, lost a job, or were simply afraid. I also decided to trust God in the midst of all of the changes I faced in what I thought would be a time of pure celebration.

Through this time of prayer, God began to heal my heart and give me peace. It may seem strange to those observing me from the outside that I would have so much peace. This is precisely what the peace of God tends to do, it surpasses all understanding.

Receiving the Peace of God

I was reminded of the scripture that says in Philippians 4:7 (NASB),

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The peace of God can be present in our lives even as we are facing uncertain times, grief, and pain. God’s peace is meant to surround us and guard our hearts and our minds.

May you know the peace of God no matter what difficulty you are facing today.

 

Stain on the Brain

by Fred Alberti, crosswalk.com

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.- Psalms 119:11

I watched Caleb as he sat there in deep concentration just staring at the book. Finally, I asked him what he was doing. His response was one I had never heard before. He said, “I’m staining it into my brain.”

He was memorizing Scripture verses for AWANA Club.

The thing is he knew what he was doing. He knew that he was trying to burn the words into his memory so he could pass on to the next challenge.

I like how today’s verse applies to Caleb’s staining power. The psalmist gives the reason why he is hiding God’s Word. What is it? So that he will not sin against God.

The reason for Bible memorization is to help us to abstain from sinning.

Oftentimes we resist Bible memorization. Instead we choose to stain our brain with TV shows depicting adultery, murder, and obscenity. Then we get ourselves into a moral bind and we wonder how we got into that place. We shouldn’t wonder. We should realize that what we choose to watch and/or memorize is what is going to stain into our brain.

“Oh, that sex scene isn’t so bad, at least they muted the sounds.”

“Why yes, the whole point of the show was that the husband didn’t get along with his wife and had an affair. But at least he was able to get a divorce and the mom was able to keep the kids.”

“Well, sure there was a lot of swearing but the story was great and the murder scenes were so realistic. Cinematography has really advanced these last few years.”

Folks, these are stains. They will stain your conscience and your heart and those of your family.

What are you staining your brain with these days?

 

Calm and Powerful

I am strong when I speak in a calm and powerful way.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. — Proverbs 15:1

Often I can remember the turning point of a conversation when it went from good to bad or from bad to good. At times, I could hear the Holy Spirit warn me: “Stay calm, lower your voice, answer gently. Don’t say what you want to say, but listen to My still, small voice and speak My words instead.” Sometimes I am obedient and listen… Other times I just try to sneak in one more comment before obeying and find out just how costly my foolishness is.

I have found the secret to being heard. It really is quite simple: If you want to be heard, say it the way you would want to hear it.

My children, my husband, my employees, my dog, everyone, in fact, listens more when I say things the way I want to hear them. I know I prefer to be spoken to in a gentle, respectful tone. I hear so much better when I am not being yelled at. It is not the volume level or the repetition of words that grabs the attention, respect, and commitment of others. It is the importance of what we speak and the tone in which it is delivered. No one takes a person seriously if they are throwing a fit. Oh, they may get their way for the moment, but it will cost them later. We throw fits and raise our voices for many reasons. Here are a few:

  1. We are afraid we are not being heard.
  2. Yelling has produced results (getting our way) in the past.
  3. We want to intimidate or control others.
  4. It is what we lived as a child.
  5. We are still angry over an unresolved issue.
  6. It’s a bad habit.

Most of these reasons are rooted in fear. God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). We will yell and throw fits when we feel powerless. We will seek to intimidate and control others when we are self-serving. We will revert to our past when perfected love has not yet cast out fear. We will overreact whenever we have carried the weight of yesterday’s issues into today.

As we renew our mind, bad habits are broken and the tyranny of fear is thwarted. I found out a long time ago that no matter how things appear, I am not in control of them. I can control myself, but God is ultimately in control of everything.

Accepting this truth puts us in the right state of mind to communicate in such a way that lets us be heard.

 

Saved by the Spirit

by Inspiration Ministries

“When the sons of Israel cried to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel to deliver them, Othniel … The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel.” – Judges 3:9-10 NASB

Israel had disobeyed God. They had served other gods and defied His Word. As a result, they fell under the control of a rival nation. It must have seemed like a hopeless situation. They seemed perpetually destined to be dominated by others. Then, finally, they cried out to God, and everything changed.

He responded by sending Othniel to lead them. We don’t know much about Othniel, but we know that his name means “the force of God,” and he led them to victory. Othniel rescued God’s people after “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.”

The Spirit gave him the wisdom to know what to do and the winning strategy. The Spirit gave him boldness and the gifts needed to be a good leader. The Spirit opened doors and enabled them to be victorious.

This pattern applies to us today. If we sin, God is ready to hear us repent. When we call, He is prepared to help us. He is ready to send His Spirit to give us the ability, strength, and wisdom we need. We must remember that we are saved not by our efforts, but by God’s force and by His Spirit. God will give us the boldness and the victory we need when we call on Him.

In your life, remember that God is ready to direct and empower you, to save you by the power of His Spirit. Call on Him right now!

Our Hope Is In God

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Great Expectations

 

“… You did awesome things that we did not expect …” (Isaiah 64:3 NIV)

To everything there is a season … and a Rubbermaid tote of decorations in the attic.

Yes. When it comes to the seasons of the year we know exactly what to expect. Halloween will welcome our light up pumpkins and our trusty leaf-filled scarecrow. Christmas will be invited by the angel tree topper that graced our Grandmother’s tree when we were small and spring will be greeted with the ancient egg decorating kit that our mom pawned off on us years ago.

When it comes to the seasons of life, however, we aren’t always as prepared. In fact, the only promises we are given in these changing seasons are “expect the unexpected.”

And I for one really don’t like the unexpected. Never have. I have a reminder on my calendar for every event under the sun. When I go to the doctor, I want to know exactly what they are going to do to me before they ever even pull out the needle. And I want to know if it’s going to hurt.

I remember being pregnant with our first son. I wasted no time rushing out to buy my copy of “What to Expect”. And when I experienced something unexpected – I totally lost it. I wanted to know what horribly rare disease I had that was so completely unheard of that it got left out of the index.

Life itself is a lot like pregnancy, isn’t it? We go into this journey totally unaware of what to expect. All throughout it, even when we think we know what’s headed our way, we find that we draw a complete blank. “God, I don’t know what I’m waiting on. I’m just waiting on something that I know hasn’t come.”

It can be frustrating when we don’t know exactly what we are waiting for. When we have no earthly idea what we need from God, we just expect that God does; and whatever that need turns out to be He’ll fulfill it. No worrying required.

Nothing gets slipped past our Father. He leaves no stone unturned, no need unfulfilled. And it’s when we learn this simple truth of our Father’s love that we let God out of our box. It’s here that we take the limits off His grace and here that He is given free rein to rock our world in ways we can yet to imagine.

When you don’t know what to expect, take comfort in these great expectations. If you are waiting on the Lord, whatever it is you are waiting for, it won’t be anything less than everything that you need.

 

Be Still

Be Still
by Sarah Jennings Phillips, crosswalk.com

 

Be still and know that I am God. (Ps. 46: 10)

The affairs of God are accomplished little by little and almost imperceptibly. The Spirit of God is neither violent nor hasty. — St Vincent de Paul

The past several weeks have been filled with jam-packed schedules, crowded airports, chattering children and blaring cell phone ring tones — a never ending stream of noises, technology, and motion. It seems the older I get, the more those lazy summer days of childhood feel like fairy tales from another life.

If you’re American, you’re probably just as busy if not busier than I am right now. We’re a country filled with activity. Studies show we’re some of the most sleep-deprived people in the world. We work long hours, come home to more work (completed with the television blathering on in the background) before collapsing into bed to repeat the process again the next day.

Why do we live such frantic, hyper stimulated lives? Sometimes it’s out of a sense of obligation – we feel it’s a sin to say “no” so we overextend ourselves trying to fill the roll of Savior for everyone around us. Sometimes our frenzied lives stem from a sense of inadequacy – “If I work hard and accomplish such-and-such, I will have value.” Sometimes it’s a mode of escape – burying ourselves in work or in a TV program keeps our minds off life’s disappointments. And sometimes we’ve just lost sight of our priorities, defaulting to the heightened pace of the culture around us, unaware that we’ve let our down time slip away little by little.

Regardless of why we’re living in the fast (and loud) lane, deep down we all know we need to get out of it. Our souls crave peace, stillness, and silence. And even if we can ignore the cries of our souls for awhile, our bodies demand it when they eventually wear out.

Why do we crave that stillness? It seems the “noise” of life is more often man-made than God-ordained. In Scripture we see that time and again, God calls us to find peace in Him, to lighten our burden with Him, to set aside our anxieties and meaningless business. We see God speak to the prophet Elijah through a “gentle whisper” and tell an anxious Martha that her sister Mary chose the “better” part when she abandoned household duties to sit at Jesus’ feet. (Luke 10: 41-42)

After a long day of running here and there, I find myself longing to be peaceful Mary whose only job is to be with Christ. So how can we become more like Mary when the vast majority of us more closely resemble worried Martha? I love the opening Scripture verse — it’s so simple, it cuts through all the junk clanking around in my brain. Be still.

In the midst of the activity surrounding her, Mary made a simple choice. To sit and be still. You and I can make that simple choice too, even when life seems to be pressing on all sides. It may be awkward at first – we may be tempted to grab for the remote or cut our time with God short. But by seeking stillness we are effectively saying, “Nothing else is as important to me as You at this moment, Lord.” When I’ve spent time at our local Adoration chapel – a place void of constant noise and movement – I find I am never sitting in an empty room doing “nothing” but a place filled with God’s presence and love, a place I can truly know God.

 

Streams in the Desert – October 21

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

 

For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Cor. 5:1).

The owner of the tenement which I have occupied for many years has given notice that he will furnish but little or nothing more for repairs. I am advised to be ready to move.

At first this was not a very welcome notice. The surroundings here are in many respects very pleasant, and were it not for the evidence of decay, I should consider the house good enough. But even a light wind causes it to tremble and totter, and all the braces are not sufficient to make it secure. So I am getting ready to move.

It is strange how quickly one’s interest is transferred to the prospective home. I have been consulting maps of the new country and reading descriptions of its inhabitants. One who visited it has returned, and from him I learn that it is beautiful beyond description; language breaks down in attempting to tell of what he heard while there. He says that, in order to make an investment there, he has suffered the loss of all things that he owned here, and even rejoices in what others would call making a sacrifice. Another, whose love to me has been proven by the greatest possible test, is now there. He has sent me several clusters of the most delicious fruits. After tasting them, all food here seems insipid.

Two or three times I have been down by the border of the river that forms the boundary, and have wished myself among the company of those who were singing praises to the King on the other side. Many of my friends have moved there. Before leaving they spoke of my coming later. I have seen the smile upon their faces as they passed out of sight. Often I am asked to make some new investments here, but my answer in every case is, “I am getting ready to move.”
–Selected

The words often on Jesus‘ lips in His last days express vividly the idea, “going to the Father.” We, too, who are Christ‘s people, have vision of something beyond the difficulties and disappointments of this life. We are journeying towards fulfillment, completion, expansion of life. We, too, are “going to the Father.” Much is dim concerning our home-country, but two things are clear. It is home, “the Father’s House.” It is the nearer presence of the Lord. We are all wayfarers, but the believer knows it and accepts it. He is a traveller, not a settler.
–R. C. Gillie

The little birds trust God, for they go singing
From northern woods where autumn winds have blown,
With joyous faith their trackless pathway winging
To summer-lands of song, afar, unknown.

Let us go singing, then, and not go sighing:
Since we are sure our times are in His hand,
Why should we weep, and fear, and call it dying?
‘Tis only flitting to a Summer-land.

 

Gaining Experience

by Inspiration Ministries

“I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations … These are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel … that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war.” – Judges 2:21; 3:1-2 NASB

Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, God promised to bless them abundantly. But they still needed to possess the land. Yet some did not experience the victory He promised or the fullness of those blessings. Why not?

Some may have been afraid or cautious. Others might have lacked leadership or resolve. Some did not have faith to believe God. And He knew they all needed to be tested to gain experience so that they would be prepared and taught how to be victorious.

How easily we can be like these Israelites – reluctant to face challenges, afraid, or lacking confidence. As He did with Israel, God might keep obstacles before us to see the true condition of our hearts.

In our flesh, we may want to avoid these challenges and stay where we feel comfortable. But God constantly wants to bring us into new levels of maturity and receive greater blessings to teach us new things. If we want His blessings, we must face these obstacles, not run away.

We also need experience. We need to be “taught war,” to be trained and ready. We need to possess the land.

What obstacles do you face? What giants stand before you? Are you confident or reluctant? Regardless of your particular challenges, remember that God is with you. Believe Him for victory. Trust in Him. Don’t be reluctant, but be bold and courageous. Move forward in faith.

God Loves and Watches Over You

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The Sparrow’s Rescue

little bird in a person

 

By: Mabel Ninan, cbn.com.

Dead or alive?

A little sparrow sat perfectly still on the deck of my patio. I tip-toed toward the bird. She made no attempt to fly away. I knelt down beside the poor creature and studied her delicate features and beautiful colors. Shades of grey and white crisscrossed the little bird’s body, forming patterns that could mesmerize an artist. A splatter of yellow on its belly added to its beauty.

I can’t leave her here, out in the open.

The sparrow shivered when I touched her, and opened her eyes slightly. I examined her thoroughly like an animal detective. No signs of injury.

I scooped the bird into my hands gently and took her inside the kitchen. On the counter I found an empty carton of granola bars. I ripped off the top and lined the carton with a kitchen towel. Perfect! I placed the bird in the makeshift nest. She was safe here, both from the wintery cold and my ever-hungry dog.

I grabbed my laptop and searched the Internet for advice to deal with abandoned or injured birds. One wise birder suggested that birds sometimes went into a temporary state of shock when they flew into a glass window. With time, he said, they recover from the accident and fly away.

Maybe the pretty bird flew into the French windows of my living room. Could she have been so scared that every muscle in her body froze?

I could relate to her.

We had recently moved from Los Angeles to San Jose. I missed the beach-y vibe of my former town which had been home for over six years. I had friends who had become family. My Bible study mates became community. I was settled and rooted.

When we moved, the rug was pulled out from under me. The change overwhelmed me. The unfamiliarity disoriented me. Paralyzed by loneliness, I did the bare minimum to get through the day. Daily chores became drudgery. No activity seemed enjoyable. Like the sparrow, I was incapacitated, stunned by the enormity of change that shook my world.

Until God intervened.

He did not leave me on my own to weather the elements …

“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry.” (Psalm 34:15 NIV)

God sent His people, strangers to me but friends with Him, to pick me up and provide shelter while I regained my perspective and renewed my faith. Old friends called and prayed with me, pointing me to God’s goodness. A parent from my son’s school befriended me and showed me around San Francisco. Within two months of moving, we found a church that felt like home the minute we walked in the sanctuary. We were invited to a Bible study by a family we met at church.

On my own, I was weak. But God provided community to pull me up and push me forward.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up …” (1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV)

They reminded me that I could trust God even more in the midst of unknown surroundings and an uncertain future.

And before I knew it, I began to fly again.

Back in the kitchen, after 10 minutes or so, the sparrow fluttered its wings. With eyes opened wide, it searched for a way out. I opened the door to my patio and watched in amazement as the bird soared into the sky with new-found vigor and vision.

 

The Context of Stillness

By Katherine Britton, crosswalk.com

“Be still, and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10

How many times have you heard this verse? A hundred? A thousand? This snippet of a psalm is a pet verse of mine. It constantly pops into my head when I start getting too busy or stressed out. Ironically, I hadn’t taken time to read the whole psalm in months until the other night, and I had no recollection of the verses surrounding my favorite one-liner. Here’s a sampling of the other verses in Psalm 46:

“Though the earth gives way…” (vs. 2)

“Though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea…” (vs. 2)

“The nations rage, the kingdoms totter…” (vs. 6)

Be still and know that I am God… I will be exalted in the earth!” (vs. 10)

“The God of Jacob is our fortress.” (vs. 11)

I had been picturing an idyllic, Psalm-23-ish passage as the setting for my pet verse, but the context is completely different. This psalm is actually the meditation of a man holding back fear with faith. In a setting of uncertainty, war, and all-around “trouble” (vs. 1), the psalmist focuses on the peace that comes from being the presence of God… even though the earth around him threatens to fall apart. The verse holds even more power in this context than in my imagined setting, doesn’t it?

I love the Psalms because of their deep meditations on humanity confronted with God’s holiness and faithfulness. I can see real men writing the lines, reminding themselves of the bigger context for their troubles. I see people who – like me – wondered what would happen next in this life. But every one of them comes to the realization that they serve a God who supersedes their worries and replaces them with worship. The psalmists heard the command to “be still and know” and found that God blew their imaginations.

I often look at looming elections and financial woes and start getting jittery, wondering about outcomes and impacts. In times like this, I slip into a mentality that thinks “being still” and listening to God can only happen in Psalm 23‘s green pastures. But the real context of Psalm 46 tells me otherwise. God’s amazing peace works most powerfully when the world’s craziness reaches a crescendo. Hope lives amid despair, not perfection. Like they say, context is everything.

 

Continually Seek God

by Inspiration Ministries

“Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause … from the deceitful and unjust man … you are the God in whom I take refuge … Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” – Psalm 43:1-2 ESV

The psalmist felt unfairly accused. What particularly bothered him was that many of his oppressors were “deceitful and unjust.” He turned to God, pleading for His defense. Although he was taking refuge in God, he still felt besieged. Instead of experiencing deliverance, he felt rejected.

Facing these kinds of troubles, others might have given up or stopped looking to God. Instead, the psalmist intensified his focus on Him. David cried out to God, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me” (v. 3).

Renewed in his confidence, the psalmist then imagined the day when his circumstances would change. He would be vindicated by God, who would reward him for his faithfulness. It would be a time of “exceeding joy” as he would be filled with praise (v. 4).

As we face life’s troubles, we, too, can be tempted to give up. If we don’t see immediate change, we can wonder when God will intervene and circumstances will turn around. We need to strengthen our relationship with Him while we wait. Let Him know that we still trust Him. Seek Him with renewed intensity. Be led by His light.

You might feel cast down and in turmoil. But the Bible promises that as you hope in God, you can be confident, sure that He will deliver you. You will praise Him again. You always should remember that He is your salvation.

 

Christ’s prayer for his people

By: Charles Spurgeon

“I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” John 17:15

Suggested Further Reading: Philippians 1:19-26

We never have any encouragement to ask God to let us die. Christians are always wanting to die when they have any trouble or trial. You ask them why? “Because we would be with the Lord.” O yes, they want to be with the Lord, when troubles and temptations come upon them. But it is not because they are yearning to be with the Lord, it is because they desire to get rid of their troubles. They want to get home, not so much for the Saviour’s company, as to get out of the little hard work. They did not wish to go away when they were in quiet and prosperity. Like lazy fellows, as most of us are, when we get into a little labour we beg to go home. It is quite right sometimes that you should desire to depart, because you would not prove yourself to be a true Israelite if you did not want to go to Jerusalem. You may pray to be taken home out of the world, but Christ will not take up the petition. When your prayers come to the Lord, this little one may try to get amongst them, but Christ will say, “I do not know anything about you, ‘I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world.’” You may wish it sincerely, and really desire it, but you will not at present get your Master to pray with you. Instead, then, of crying, or wishing to be away from the battle, brace yourself up in the name of the Lord. Every wish to escape the fight is but a desertion of your Master.

For meditation: Elijah prayed it while he was afraid for his life (1 Kings 19:3,4)! But God had a different departure planned for him (2 Kings 2:11). Jonah prayed it twice when he was angry (Jonah 4:3,9) soon after begging God to deliver him from drowning (Jonah 2:2,7). What a good thing God rejects our foolish requests when we or they are outside his will. Paul had the mind of Christ on this matter.

God Is Our Protector

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Our Protective Heavenly Father

woman driving and having a near accident

I recently attended a Bible study on Psalm 23. We are all probably familiar with the first verse of that psalm, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” For me, this has always conjured up images of a gentle leader providing perfect guidance. A shepherd certainly does that. But during this study, I learned that the shepherd will lie down at the gate to the field where the sheep are kept to protect them from all harm.

As I listened to the teacher, I was reminded of all the times the Lord has protected me, and I began writing them down. I thought of 10 right away, and the list is still growing. But one example has always stood out to me.

I was preparing to drive a group of teenagers to a church meeting. As I pumped gas into my car a powerful feeling came over me that got my full attention and I heard in my mind the words, “Pray for protection.”

My thoughts turned to the precious cargo I would be transporting that evening as I prayed.

That night, as we were getting close to our destination, I saw traffic cones all along the side of the road. It was pitch black as there were no streetlights on this road. Suddenly, a car came out from between the cones and passed in front of me, and I had no time to even touch my brakes. The car came so close in front of me that it seemed like metal went through metal.

This was in the days before airbags and I can’t imagine what would have happened that day if I had plowed into that car at full speed. To this day, it fills my heart with gratitude to the Lord.

I used to wonder why the Lord didn’t just protect us. Why did He ask me to pray? Now, I realize, had He just protected us, I would have thought, “Oh my gosh, that was close!” and went on my way. But because of the experience while pumping gas, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that this was God at work, watching over His precious children.

I remember my pastor once told a story about the day his daughter was in a car accident. He said at that moment he would have tried to run through a wall if he had to, in order to get to her.

As I heard my pastor say that I thought, “What a picture of our Heavenly Father.”

To be sure my pastor is a loving father, but it’s not possible for anyone to love us more than our Heavenly Father.

Isaiah 58:8 says,

“… the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind.“

That means He’s always got my back. He’s always looking out for me and, like my pastor, when one of his kids is in trouble, He will move heaven and earth to get to them.

 

Turn with Me to Your Next Prayer

By: John UpChurch, crosswalk.com

According to Hollywood, most funerals should include the pastor intoning the morbid notes of the twenty-third Psalm. All the black around the pastor makes it seem that much more depressing. Usually, there’s rain.

But there are two things about this that strike me as odd. First, Psalm 23 isn’t depressing. Yes, it mentions the “shadow of death,” but it’s chock full of hope and paths of righteousness … and oil pouring over heads. You can’t be depressed when oil’s dripping down your nose … at least in biblical terms.

Second, I don’t really hear people pray from the Bible. Sure, they toss in a verse or two about being “more than conquerors” or “God working all things for our good.” But I’ve never seen a pastor reach for Psalm 23 or any Psalm for that matter when praying in public.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve heard plenty of great prayers from pastors and other believers. Some of them have hit home hard. But it seems as if Evangelicals especially are averse to anything that isn’t somehow unique when it comes to praying. It’s as if we think that just praying from the Bible isn’t quite spiritual enough. We have to say something original.

Honestly, that’s too bad. Because the Bible is crammed with better prayers than I could ever come up with—ones that fit almost every situation. And, really, that makes sense. After all, God inspired Scripture. These are His prayers to us; they’re gifts of His grace.

In the Psalms alone, there are prayers for depression, loss, fear, moments when you just gotta praise … it’s like an encyclopedia of prayers. Just dial up a Psalm, and you’ve got a template for expressing what may have seemed inexpressible a few moments earlier.

Now, I’m not saying we should reject all original prayer-making. I’m just saying that there’s no reason to ignore the Bible as a source for some pretty great prayers. We don’t always have to come up with something original when God gave us His own Word to pray from. These prayers are creative for you creative types; passionate for those who like passion; and orderly for those of you who like things with three main points.

Just make sure that you aren’t praying the Psalms like those pastors in the movies. Put some heart behind it.

 

The Reason I Pray, Even When It’s a Struggle

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19 (NIV, 1984)

First, I have struggled with concentration. Why is it that as soon as I bow my head to pray, my thoughts start to scatter? Instead of truly communicating with God, I think about what I need to fix for supper, or what I’m going to wear to a special event, or when I can schedule coffee with a friend. Or I’m so tired that I simply doze in the quietness of the hour.Prayer has been one of the greatest challenges of my Christian life. While I know I’m commanded, encouraged, invited and often compelled to pray, I have still struggled with prayer. My struggle has centered primarily on three areas.

The second area I have struggled with is consistency — making time daily to meet with the Lord in prayer. How often I have been distracted by my chirping phone, or interrupted by my dog, or so busy I jump out of bed at the last minute and into my day without any real prayer at all?

And I have struggled with content — just knowing what to say and how to say it.

As I have sought victory in these three areas, I have asked God to give me solutions. And He has! Setting my alarm for an earlier time, allowing me to meet with the Lord before I begin my day, has helped with consistency. Writing down my prayers has helped not only with content but also with concentration. I find it helpful to include four elements in my written prayers: worship, confession, thanksgiving and intercession.

I begin my prayers by worshipping God for who He is, because as I focus on Him, it’s amazing how my own needs and problems are reduced in size compared with who He is. Then I look at myself and confess the sin that now seems obvious, revealed by the light of His holiness and glory.

I do not beat myself up over my sin, but instead, once I have named it for what it is, I move into thanksgiving to the One who has forgiven and cleansed me. At this point, I am ready to present my requests and intercede for others.

The Apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesian followers of Jesus, and I pray these words for us as we seek to draw closer to God:

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).

Remember, the purpose of prayer is not just to get answers. The purpose is to develop an intimate, personal relationship with the One who loves you, gave Himself for you and longs for you to live in the light of His presence. Achieving the purpose makes the struggle more than worthwhile.

 

Tiny but Powerful

by Inspiration Ministries

“It is like a tiny mustard seed that a man planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make nests in its branches.” – Luke 13:19 NLT

The world can seem so complicated. Each of the billions of people has their own opinions, their own personal stories, and experiences. Their own personality, interests, and genetic make-up. Each of the thousands of cultures has its own history and traditions.

We see the impact as these people interact daily. Sometimes there is harmony and compatibility, but often there are various kinds of conflicts, ranging from polite competitions to all-out wars.

We need to understand that the fundamental truths about the Gospel are exceedingly simple. And they apply to everything in life: business, government, education, relationships, thoughts, and emotions.

Jesus described God’s Kingdom as being “like a tiny mustard seed.” Miniscule. But also packed with meaning and power. Every life-changing principle and all the power and the truths of the Gospel are condensed into this small package.

These truths contain many applications and nuances. But the foundation is exceedingly simple and applies to all people in all cultures. This is why we need to learn the truth, focus on God, and start with Him – not to make things complicated but to trust in Him. Seek Him, just like little children. Place a higher priority on knowing Him than on developing our own opinions.

Ask God to give you insight into His truths. Trust Him. Believe Him. Build everything on the foundational principles of His Word and the truths of His Kingdom.

Have Faith In God

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When You Don’t Like God’s Plan

If God has a plan for your life, and you have a plan for your life, whose plan do you think is better?

During my senior year of college, I attended a conference called Senior Panic. The term aptly described me. Graduation loomed just months away, and I wasn’t sure which path to pursue. But I knew what I didn’t want — ministry.

So, when I sensed God’s call to join Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ), I resisted. Strongly. I was sure our perfect God had made His first mistake. He had the wrong gal.

Like Jacob, I wrestled all night with God. Like Moses, I offered up every excuse why He should pick someone else. Not only was I not qualified, but the idea of living in a hut in the jungle also didn’t appeal to me. And I was sure, if I completely surrendered to God, that is exactly where He’d send me.

But God wouldn’t relent, so worn out from resisting, I surrendered.

During my staff interview, a woman asked me how sure I was of my calling. “100%,” I said, “because this is not something would choose.”

Cru accepted me — on PROBATION — of course. Hadn’t I already told God about my limited Bible knowledge and lack of ministry experience?

Training and Transformation

At staff training in Fort Collins, Colorado, my heart softened. I realized I wanted to serve Christ wherever He decided to put me. On completion, they assigned me to a team in Boston — instead of a hut in the jungle.

Our team director modeled a close walk with the Lord. He taught us how to study the Bible in a simple format. He assigned us to spend two hours with God every morning before our staff meeting. The Scriptures began to speak to me like they never had before.

I learned to savor my time with God. His Word became fuel for my soul. It’s no exaggeration to say my life was transformed. As my love for God and His Word exploded, a passion to connect others to God’s heart was born.

I met my husband on staff and after 11 years in youth ministry, we sensed the call to pursue training in biblical counseling. That led us into different venues of ministry.

After serving God in vocational Christian ministry for many decades I can say, God didn’t make a mistake when He called me. I now realize He doesn’t call us for what we can do for Him, but for what He can do in and through us.

God’s plan is not always easy. Sometimes it includes setbacks and suffering. But we can be sure it’s always best.

Do you have a plan for your life that collides with God’s plan for you? Let’s go back to our opening question, whose plan do you think is better?

The only way to live a life without regret is to live a life of surrender and obedience.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

 

Let Me Take Care of That for You

by Debbie Holloway, crosswalk.com

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

I recently had a bit of a three-ring-circus to deal with trying to pay a toll. Our lovely Richmond, VA is indeed a beautiful city, but we sure do have some tolls. In fact, depending on where you’re going and from where you’re coming, you may have to pay 3 or 4 tolls in one trip. That happened to me a few weeks ago. As I left the office (right in the middle of the city) and headed southside to visit a friend, I realized too late that I didn’t have enough cash to pay the final toll. With a sigh, I asked for a receipt from the toll booth and went on my way.

I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say I talked to far too many people on the phone, hand-delivered my toll payment in some city office, and still got a “Toll Violation” notice in the mail. This resulted in mild deflation of my spirits. My family said, “Debbie, don’t worry. Just call them and explain.” I tried to, but was informed that not only was there no record of my payment, but that I would be forced to pay an extra $13 (on a 70 cent toll!) for a vague “Administration” fee.

Come on, I kept thinking. I’m just trying to live my life and pay my toll.

In one last valiant move to get some help, I walked back to the aforementioned office on my lunch break the next afternoon. As it so happened, a high ranking administrator happened to be there right when I was. As I explained the situation, he made a copy of my toll notice and immediately got someone on the phone.

“I can dismiss this for you,” he said.

“What do I need to do?” I asked, skeptical. “Who do I need to call and follow up with?”

“Nope. Nothing,” he said. “Here’s my card. If you get another notice, just call me.”

I left the office that day with a spring in my step and a burden off my shoulders. I was no longer going to be hounded by the toll agencies!

“See, we told you,” my family said. “You shouldn’t have worried.”

Isn’t our relationship with Christ a lot like that, sometimes? I feel like I have worried and fretted about so many things, only to realize in retrospect that God was trying to tell me, “Baby, let me take care of that for you.”

Jesus told his disciples,

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

 

Praying for Persecuted Christians

From: InTouch ministries

To get the most out of this devotion, set aside time to read the Scripture referenced throughout.

Each year more than 200 million believers around the world suffer for their faith—especially in many parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Where oppressive governments make Christianity illegal, churches are bombed and defaced, and followers of Jesus face imprisonment, torture, or even death for their beliefs. It’s not uncommon for the faithful to risk their life attempting to escape such regimes.

This oppression is devastating. But for us who can more freely express our faith, it presents an opportunity to support those who can’t safely proclaim Christ. Jesus tells us that we can ask for anything in His name (John 14:12-14). Let’s make time to pray that our brothers and sisters around the world will have courage and endurance—and that God will make a way for them to safely gather in worship.

Think About It

  • Peter encouraged the early church when it faced persecution (1 Peter 4:12-14). What are some ways we can uplift those suffering for their faith?
  • Are there tangible ways you can support the church around the world? Discuss ideas with your family, small group, or pastor.

Self-delusion

By: Charles Spurgeon

‘Many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.’ Luke 13:24

Suggested Further Reading: Luke 12:15–21

I marvel not that so many are deceived, when I see the careless way in which you deal with religion. When men have to do with their estates, they are very careful; they fee a lawyer to go back over the title-deeds perhaps for two or three hundred years. In trade they will hurry hither and thither to attend to their commercial engagements; they would not launch into speculations, nor would they run great risks; but the soul, the poor soul, how men play with it as a toy, and despise it as if it were worthless earth. Two or three minutes in the morning when they first roll out of bed, two or three odd minutes in the evening, when they are nearly asleep—the fag-ends of the day given to their souls, and all the best part given to the body! And then, the Sabbath! How carelessly spent by most people! With what indifference do you lend your ears too often to the preaching of the Word! It is an old song; you have heard it so many times; heaven has become a trifle to you, hell is almost a jest, eternity a notion, and death but a bugbear. Alas! it is a marvel that there are not more deceived. The wonder is that any find the gate, that any discover eternal life, when we are so, so mad, so foolish, so insane, as to trifle where we ought to be awfully in earnest, and to play and toy, where the whole heart is all too little to be given to a work of such dread, such everlasting importance. God help us, since it is so easy to be deceived, to search, and watch, and look, and test, and try, that we be not found castaways at the last!

For meditation: Satan does not need to deceive us, when we are doing his dirty work by deceiving ourselves. Beware of delusions of wisdom (1 Corinthians 3:18), self-satisfaction (Galatians 6:3), hearing God’s Word without applying it (James 1:22), a loose tongue (James 1:26) and claims to sinless perfection (1 John 1:8). These are all paths to self-deceit.

Come Near To God

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Returning Our Minds to God

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

I was always terrible at praying. For years, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t do it. I’d lock myself in my closet, but instead of savoring God’s goodness, I would end up reorganizing. I tried waking up with the sun. I would jump out of bed and kneel down on my bedroom floor. Thirty minutes later, I would wake up in a puddle of my own drool. I recited the Lord’s Prayer. I memorized the ACTS prayer acrostic. I tried. I really did. None of my prayer strategies worked. I was ready to give up on the idea that I would ever be able to establish anything resembling a consistent prayer life, when all of a sudden, it happened. It was an otherwise ordinary day when I finally learned how to pray.

I was two years out of college at the time, still working as an intern at the church in South Florida, and once more I had risen at dawn only to fall back asleep at the foot of my bed. Shaking myself free from slumber and spittle, I grabbed my Bible in frustration and walked out the door to the field behind the house I was living in. Marching resolutely around the field, I was committed to staying awake. That was really it. I wasn’t trying to commune with God as much I was just trying not to fall back asleep.

It worked.

I marched and ranted up to the heavens. In my 20-odd years of life, I had prayed aloud in public settings and worship events, but I had never done that in my personal prayer time. Something changed. I was still holding my Bible loosely in one hand, swinging it along beside me as I began to talk about my inability to stay awake. “God! What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I stay awake? Am I a fake Christian? Is this whole thing with You pretend or what?”

I’d shout a couple of questions and then read a few verses. All the while, I just kept marching. I felt foolish mumbling to myself. I was self-conscious, wondering if someone was watching. To anyone peering over the gate and into the field, I must have looked like a sweaty-toothed madman running into a spider web, grasping at the air and flailing about. It didn’t matter. I had to find my way. I didn’t care what I looked like if it meant I might actually achieve some sort of communion with the Lord. It was a foolishness I was ready to take on.

Outside, out loud, and moving, I prayed. I didn’t care who was watching or who was misunderstanding. If Jesus was totally fine with being misunderstood, I could be fine with it too. That muggy day in Florida, I found my spiritual footing by simply keeping my feet moving. I was storming around in the grass, muttering aloud, but I managed to pray for more than five minutes. It was exhilarating.

I don’t know what it will take for you, but for me, these three simple steps have helped my easily distracted brain stay on course:

  • Go outside.
  • Pray out loud.
  • Keep moving.

It is essential for each of us to find some method by which we can return our minds to communion with God because perpetual communion is what our God is after.

 

Seasons of Hope

by Sarah Phillips, crosswalk.com

 

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

It’s the time of year when nature inspires a sense of awe in us. As leaves die, they give forth one final burst of color brighter than the paint on an artist’s palette. The sky takes on an unusually crisp blueness and the sun’s low, golden rays cast whimsical shadows. We feel energized as autumn breezes stir up the color around us and chase away the dense summer air.

For me, autumn has always been a “second spring.” A playful time, promising us that life, although soon to be hidden in the dead of winter, will only be invisible for a short while. When the days are gray, cold, and hard, I remember that only a few short weeks ago, the world was light and lively and in only a few weeks more, color will return.

As the author of Ecclesiastes reminds us, God designed life to run in cycles or seasons. Yet how often do we approach this life with expectations of perpetual summer, only to struggle with anxiety and disappointment when winter inevitably interrupts? I know I am guilty of this.

I spent time with my twin sister over this beautiful Fall weekend, and in the course of conversation, she revealed to me how approaching life as a series of seasons gives her perspective as a young wife and mom. “I’ve seen couples apply much pressure to their family life, expecting every week to live to the standard of the last, just as happy or productive, just as evenly paced. I think it takes a lot of burden off when you accept that this week will not necessarily look like last week, and that some seasons of life will be better than others.”

Knowing there is a natural rhythm, a “time to weep and a time to laugh,” gives us permission to let go of perfectionist expectations of our lives. It lightens our burdens by giving us hope for the future in the midst of trial and prepares us for times of struggle – until the day comes when there will be no more winter and no more tears.

 

Streams in the Desert – October 17

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

“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).

They were living to themselves; self with its hopes, and promises and dreams, still had hold of them; but the Lord began to fulfill their prayers. They had asked for contrition, and had surrendered for it to be given them at any cost, and He sent them sorrow; they had asked for purity, and He sent them thrilling anguish; they had asked to be meek, and He had broken their hearts; they had asked to be dead to the world, and He slew all their living hopes; they had asked to be made like unto Him, and He placed them in the furnace, sitting by “as a refiner and purifier of silver,” until they should reflect His image; they had asked to lay hold of His cross, and when He had reached it to them it lacerated their hands.

They had asked they knew not what, nor how, but He had taken them at their word, and granted them all their petitions. They were hardly willing to follow Him so far, or to draw so nigh to Him. They had upon them an awe and fear, as Jacob at Bethel, or Eliphaz in the night visions, or as the apostles when they thought that they had seen a spirit, and knew not that it was Jesus. They could almost pray Him to depart from them, or to hide His awfulness. They found it easier to obey than to suffer, to do than to give up, to bear the cross than to hang upon it. But they cannot go back, for they have come too near the unseen cross, and its virtues have pierced too deeply within them. He is fulfilling to them His promise, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32).

But now at last their turn has come. Before, they had only heard of the mystery, but now they feel it. He has fastened on them His look of love, as He did on Mary and Peter, and they can but choose to follow.

Little by little, from time to time, by flitting gleams, the mystery of His cross shines out upon them. They behold Him lifted up, they gaze on the glory which rays from the wounds of His holy passion; and as they gaze they advance, and are changed into His likeness, and His name shines out through them, for He dwells in them. They live alone with Him above, in unspeakable fellowship; willing to lack what others own (and what they might have had), and to be unlike all, so that they are only like Him.

Such, are they in all ages, “who follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.”

Had they chosen for themselves, or their friends chosen for them, they would have chosen otherwise. They would have been brighter here, but less glorious in His Kingdom. They would have had Lot’s portion, not Abraham’s. If they had halted anywhere–if God had taken off His hand and let them stray back — what would they not have lost? What forfeits in the resurrection? But He stayed them up, even against themselves. Many a time their foot had well nigh slipped; but He in mercy held them up. Now, even in this life, they know that all He did was done well. It was good to suffer here, that they might reign hereafter; to bear the cross below, for they shall wear the crown above; and that not their will but His was done on them and in them.
–Anonymous

 

The true Christian’s blessedness

“We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Suggested Further Reading: Philemon 4-20

All things work together for the Christian’s eternal and spiritual good. And yet I must say here, that sometimes all things work together for the Christian’s temporal good. You know the story of old Jacob. “Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away; all these things are against me,” said the old patriarch. But if he could have read God’s secrets, he might have found that Simeon was not lost, for he was retained as a hostage—that Joseph was not lost, but gone before to smooth the passage of his grey hairs into the grave, and that even Benjamin was to be taken away by Joseph in love to his brother. So that what seemed to be against him, even in temporal matters, was for him. You may have heard also the story of that eminent martyr who was wont always to say, “All things work together for good.” When he was seized by the officers of Queen Mary, to be taken to the stake to be burned, he was treated so roughly on the road that he broke his leg; and they jeeringly said, “All things work together for good, do they? How will your broken leg work for your good?” “I don’t know,” he said, “but for my good I know it will work, and you shall see it so.” Strange to say, it proved true that it was for his good; for being delayed a day or so on the road through his lameness, he just arrived in London in time enough to hear that Elizabeth was proclaimed queen, and so he escaped the stake by his broken leg. He turned round upon the men who carried him, as they thought, to his death, and said to them, “Now will you believe that all things work together for good?”

For meditation: We are called upon to rejoice in our sufferings, not for their own sake, but because of the outcome (Romans 5:3,4James 1:2-4). If we, like God, knew the end from the beginning, we would laugh in the midst of our trials, as we shall later (Luke 6:21).

God Is Faithful and Good

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When You Feel Like Your Dreams Are on Hold

God is FAITHFUL to FINISH what He started. ~Shadia Hrichi

 

“Would I bring to the point of birth and not deliver?”

These are the words God pressed on my heart yesterday. I was in my living room during my morning quiet time. But my mind and spirit were anything but quiet. My journal was open as I furiously penned thoughts and frustrations, prayers and praises … dreams and disappointments. Page after page after page.

Hurricanes on the east coast, wildfires on the west, and COVID racing around the globe. So much chaos swirling all around us. Yet at the same time, here we are simultaneously trapped in our homes. Work from home. School at home. Church at home … What a paradox! Proverbs 27:1 warns us,

“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”

Isn’t that the truth? 

Truth be told, there are quite a number of Bible verses that remind us not to hold on too tightly to our plans. That can be hard when we live in a society where we are virtually tethered to our calendars.

But what if God gives us the vision? What if our plans are conceived by the Holy Spirit? What happens when we move forward in obedience only to feel like we just slammed into a brick wall?

God says in His Word that when we yield to Him, we will hear His voice saying,

“This is the way, walk in it …” and that He will lead us in the way we should go. (Isaiah 30:21, 48:17).

So we move forward. We step out in faith … then suddenly, wham!

A dear friend had just moved into a lovely home in the beautiful redwoods of Mount Hermon. She had been looking forward to having a quiet place where she could rest and God could give her son room to heal. Just weeks later, she was forced to evacuate because of approaching wildfires.

Another friend has a daughter who had been planning her wedding for over a year. Then COVID hit. They postponed the date. They postponed it again. Finally, she told her parents, “I just want to get married and move on with my life.” Others have lost their homes or had to say goodbye to loved ones from a distance.

As I was praying and journaling, I was struggling with my own disappointment over the LEGION Bible study video production dates being canceled at the last possible moment due to the fires. Add to that the enemy’s attempt to pile on guilt in knowing that my disappointment is trivial compared to what many others are dealing with.

The worse part of it is that no one knows when it will all end. In times like these, it is so easy to give in to despair, but that’s when we have to stop and say, “BUT GOD …”

BUT GOD knows. And God cares. In fact, long before He gave you the dream, He knew exactly how the path, timing, and outcome would look. This is when we need to remind ourselves that God is sovereign over all. In fact, this is one of the key themes in the teaching sessions I will be recording for the Legion Bible study. (Good grief, I need to heed my own words!) And so as I was praying yesterday morning, “casting my cares” on God about when or if the video production would happen, I heard God’s gentle voice, saying,

“Shall I bring to the point of birth and not deliver?”

In other words, if God has pressed a dream into my heart or yours, would He bring us to the edge of fulfillment only to abandon us there? NEVER. GOD IS FAITHFUL TO FINISH WHAT HE STARTED. The path may look different than what we imagined. The timing may not be what we had hoped. But if God gives us the vision, the OUTCOME is as sure as the tomb was empty on resurrection morning.

“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.” (Psalm 138:8)

What dream are you trusting God to fulfill in this season?

 

Fill ‘er Up

by John UpChurch, crosswalk.org

“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.” –  Colossians 1:24-26

Right after I got married, I gave up computer software updates and PC troubleshooting for something a bit more… down to earth, you could say. I needed work in my new hometown, and since employers weren’t tracking me down and forcing jobs on me, I gravitated toward the only available option: construction. With a booming housing market at the time, finding enough to do wasn’t a problem.

But finding motivation was a problem. Going from a specialized, higher-paying job in computers, where I mostly sat at my desk all day, to cleaning up cinder blocks, wrestling with insulation, and scrubbing windows—that was quite the humbling thing. Honestly, I’d never had to do any real manual labor in my life before that (yes, I was coddled). The heat and pain and bloodied hands were all new to me.

The first few weeks, after a particularly arduous day of gophering around the jobsites, I’d come home and crash on the living room floor. My muscles weren’t used to the beating they took, and they made sure I knew about it.

Slowly, however, with all the wood slinging and nail pounding and putty slapping, things changed. The nights of carpet collapses became less frequent, and my hands didn’t split open nearly as often (unless you count the numerous times I stabbed myself with a chisel). In fact, I came to enjoy the process of seeing something come together, seeing a house take shape.

My spiritual growth has come in a similar fashion—just without the splinters. At first, the failures dragged me down and beat me up. The rejections when I tried to share my newfound faith stung. The transformation cut deep. But as I grew and as God worked in me, something changed. The pain still stings and the transformation still cuts (that never stops), yet I began to see the pain as an important part of the overall process. Christ is building something in me—and in His Church.

As humans, we all suffer. But as Christians, we fill up on suffering. Sounds bad, but the point is that instead of us letting the suffering go to waste, God uses it for the good of other believers (and our own). He takes the pain and makes it passion, passion that spills out as love for our brothers and sisters.

 

Satan’s Strategy

From: intouch ministries

John 8:43-44

Deception is Satan’s trademark, and it’s nothing new. The very first book of the Bible tells of his trickery with Eve in the Garden of Eden: He planted seeds of doubt about God’s words by asking, “Indeed, has God said … ?” (Gen. 3:1). And this is still the devil’s primary tactic because deception blinds people to the truth.

If you’ve ever accepted a false belief or been intentionally deceived, you know how devastating it is to feel betrayed. Now imagine the utter ruination Satan causes by blinding people to the truth of the gospel. It’s hard to imagine the countless souls who will suffer eternally because of his trickery.

However, the devil doesn’t limit his efforts to preventing faith. He also works diligently to deceive believers by feeding us discouraging thoughts: he insinuates God doesn’t care when we’re going through difficulties and suggests He’s unjust for allowing our suffering. Our enemy also prompts us to dwell on the wrongs done to us or the things God hasn’t provided so we’ll hold grudges, complain, and find fault.

All this robs us of the joy, gratitude, and peace that are ours in Christ. Our first defense against deception is a mind filled with truth from God’s Word so we can discern the lies before they poison our emotions and contaminate our behavior.

 

Desperate

by Inspiration Ministries

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” – Psalm 42:1-2 ESV

The psalmist didn’t have a casual relationship with God. He was not just part of traditions, religious rituals, or history. God was central to his life, and that relationship was personal. He knew God and knew Him intimately. He looked to God for every need – protection, provisions, and purposes.

While he always needed God, there were times when his need was particularly crucial. He was writing at one of those times. He described this desire as being like a deer that “pants for flowing streams.” This was a picture of how deer get nourishment for survival. This suggests an even deeper, more urgent need for David.

The Hebrew word says he longed for God. He needed Him for the basics of life, for everything that makes life worthwhile. He panted for God. Similarly, his soul thirsted for God. This was a thirst “for the living God,” the God who is alive and present and can do anything.

Our relationship with God should be like this. We should need Him as much as a deer needs water. We should desperately seek Him, not just with casual prayers, but also with determined, serious prayers. We should be like Jesus in the garden when he “prayed more earnestly,” and “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

Spend time in prayer. Dig deeper into your heart and mind. Long for God’s presence.

Shadow and Light

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Shadow and Light

I’m not an artist, but I love to go to museums and look at paintings. Sometimes as I walk through the galleries, I see groups of schoolchildren with their sketchpads, trying to copy a great work. I glance over their shoulders and try to catch a glimpse of their pint-sized masterpieces. Usually, the shapes and sizes that the children have drawn are similar to those on the framed canvas, but somehow, they’re not the same. In fact, their inexperienced images remind me of my own.

Every Friday throughout elementary school, I had art class with Ms. Floyd. At the end of the week, when I presented my mother with my most recent creation, she taped it to our refrigerator door and lovingly asked, “What is it?” Eventually, it became apparent that although I enjoyed beauty, I wasn’t very good at creating it. Kind teachers used words like “interesting” to describe my work, but in reality, my paintings were flat and lifeless. Recently, I reconnected with a friend who is an amateur artist. I sat in her studio sipping tea while she crafted a simple still life of scarlet geraniums in a copper pot. As I watched her painting come to life, I noticed that she saw things differently than I did. Whereas I only saw lines and shapes, she saw shadows and light, and I noticed that, as she carefully dabbed darkness onto the image, the flat, unrealistic forms gained authenticity and depth.

Sometimes as Christians we’re afraid of what will happen if shadows temporarily surround us. We fear difficulties. And yet, because we live in a fallen world, at some point, we will find ourselves in darkness. It may be the result of a sinful choice, a spiritual discipline, a demonic attack, or a divine test. However, just like in a work of art, shadows add substance to our lives — by deepening our intimacy with God.

When we walk through seemingly impossible circumstances — a devastating illness, a personal loss, or challenging finances — we gain depth and authenticity in our relationship with God. Although we are not defined by the shadows, they do give us shape, and scripture promises,

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

God’s light is always there, but sometimes we can’t see it due to life’s circumstances.

Without challenges, our Christian walk can become flat and lifeless, just like immature art. Art does imitate life, and before the foundation of the world, God created each of our individual canvases with the perfect amount of shadow and light. Everything He has created for us is good. Isaiah 45:3 promises,

“I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness — secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.” Isaiah 45:3 (NLT)

God is creating a masterpiece in each of His children, and He wants the world to see His light as well as the depth of His relationship with His children — depth that is created in the shadows of life.

 

What Will Your Legacy Be?

By Debbie Holloway, crosswalk.com

 

One of the most spiritually provocative songs I’ve ever heard is called War Sweater by the band Wakey!Wakey!.

“New York is dangerous, littered with thieves
We’ve no morals here, we just do as we please…”

…sings the narrator in the opening lines. He continues:

“But I don’t want to go home where they all stare at me
‘Cause I’m tattooed and fired up and drunk and obscene.”

I’m sure many of us can picture a similar “wayward” family member or friend. But why exactly does this narrator feel so uncomfortable with this scrutiny? He explains in the following chorus:

“You wear your religion like a War Sweater
You ask for the truth, but you know you could do so much better
And you sat on your fences, and you’ve screamed “no retreat!”
…So what will your legacy be?”

Every time the singer repeats that phrase, “what will your legacy be?” I get knots in my stomach. Because I know my actions and my words will create whatever legacy I leave behind. Reputations are not created by beliefs – rather they come about by observed behavior. No one will remember me simply for getting all my doctrine right or wrong.

They will remember, though, if I wear my religion like a War Sweater. If I thrash my faith about like a flag and scream in the faces of unbelievers. Sadly, many Christians have created such legacies for themselves. Emperor Constantine created the legacy of Christianity’s ties to the government. The Crusaders connected Christianity with war. Even today there are self-professing Christians who stand on street corners and picket funerals, wearing their religion like a War Sweater.

But my faith, my religion, informs me of something better. My religion tells me to do what the Word says, not merely listen to it (James 1:22). My religion does not allow me to sit on a pedestal and judge; it says to to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13). My religion tells me (Psalms 149:4) that salvation cannot come through pride. My religion does not stand for violently demanding all people bow to my standards; rather, it tells me that, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

So take a look at the words you speak, at the people you mock, at the bumper stickers adorning your car.

Are you wearing your religion like a War Sweater?

What will your legacy be?

 

Concern for the Helpless

by Inspiration Ministries

“How blessed is he who considers the helpless; the Lord will deliver him in a day of trouble.” – Psalm 41:1 NASB

God delights to bless us. He wants to provide what we need and much more. The question is what we will do with these blessings.

He blesses us so that we might bless others. We are not to hoard our possessions or just use them for our own pleasures, but we are to look for opportunities to help others.

The Bible emphasizes helping those who are in need – the poor, elderly, sick, and vulnerable. We are to “defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). The Bible describes how visiting orphans and widows is central to “pure and undefiled religion” in God’s sight (James 1:27).

Jesus stressed that our actions toward the “least” is a direct reflection of our attitude toward Him (Matthew 25:45). How we respond to those in need is a good indication of our priorities and the condition of our hearts.

David realized that special blessings are promised for those who are concerned for the helpless: “The Lord will protect him and keep him alive, and he shall be called blessed upon the earth” (v.2). They will be sustained during times of sickness and restored to health.

Think about the ways God has blessed you with time, talents, and resources. Ask Him to show you how you can use these blessings to bless others. Be ready to share out of the abundance God has given you. God remembers when you are a good steward.

 

Perfectly Broken

Streams in the Desert

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

When it rises up, the mighty are terrified, at its thrashing about they withdraw. (Job 41:25)

 

God uses most for His glory those people and things which are most perfectly broken. The sacrifices He accepts are broken and contrite hearts. It was the breaking down of Jacob’s natural strength at Peniel that got him where God could clothe him with spiritual power. It was breaking the surface of the rock at Horeb, by the stroke of Moses’ rod that let out the cool waters to thirsty people.

 

It was when the 300 elect soldiers under Gideon broke their pitchers, a type of breaking themselves, that the hidden lights shone forth to the consternation of their adversaries. It was when the poor widow broke the seal of the little pot of oil, and poured it forth, that God multiplied it to pay her debts and supply means of support.

 

It was when Esther risked her life and broke through the rigid etiquette of a heathen court, that she obtained favor to rescue her people from death. It was when Jesus took the five loaves and broke them, that the bread was multiplied in the very act of breaking, sufficient to feed five thousand. It was when Mary broke her beautiful alabaster box, rendering it henceforth useless, that the pent-up perfume filled the house. It was when Jesus allowed His precious body to be broken to pieces by thorns and nails and spear, that His inner life was poured out, like a crystal ocean, for thirsty sinners to drink and live.

 

It is when a beautiful grain of corn is broken up in the earth by DEATH, that its inner heart sprouts forth and bears hundreds of other grains. And thus, on and on, through all history, and all biography, and all vegetation, and all spiritual life, God must have BROKEN THINGS.

 

Those who are broken in wealth, and broken in self-will, and broken in their ambitions, and broken in their beautiful ideals, and broken in worldly reputation, and broken in their affections, and broken ofttimes in health; those who are despised and seem utterly forlorn and helpless, the Holy Ghost is seizing upon, and using for God’s glory. “The lame take the prey,” Isaiah tells us.

 

O break my heart; but break it as a field 

Is by the plough up-broken for the corn;

O break it as the buds, by green leaf seated, 

Are, to unloose the golden blossom, torn;

Love would I offer unto Love’s great Master,

Set free the odor, break the alabaster.

 

O break my heart; break it victorious God, 

That life’s eternal well may flash abroad;

O let it break as when the captive trees, 

Breaking cold bonds, regain their liberties;

And as thought’s sacred grove to life is springing,

Be joys, like birds, their hope, Thy victory singing.
—Thomas Toke Bunch