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HOW TO GET UNSTUCK

Have you ever noticed in the Gospels that Jesus didn’t waste His time going around screaming at the Roman soldiers?

Just how did we drive the car over the parking curb?  The vehicle was wedged in so tightly that we could not clear the barrier. Yes, I confess I was the driver on that little side trip in Florida. We made a wrong turn. I chose to stop at a tiny parking lot next to the shore so we could get our bearings. Concentrating more on the map than parking the car, I pulled in too far and drove right over the curb. Stuck good and tight. Repeatedly, I tried alternately putting the car into drive and reverse, but made no headway. 

THE SEASONS OF NO HEADWAY

There are seasons of my life in which I have become stuck, unable to make headway. The fruits of the Spirit are meant to propel me forward: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. However, my fruit withers on the vine.  Because of my rotten judgment, I become stuck, wedged on a spiritual curb.

TOSS OUT THE TRASH

This is not God’s ideal plan for believers. There is an antidote for getting stuck: tossing in the trash the excess weight of sin.  For example, one can’t be faithful to God (a fruit of the Spirit) and also sexually immoral at the same time. It is impossible to continue in impurity and indecent behavior if self-control and goodness are the filters for our minds.  Idolatry and witchcraft go down the tubes if one first loves God above all else.  Hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, and selfish ambition are not even on the table if love, patience, kindness, and self-control are our first response to pain.  I can’t sustain a fit of rage if the Holy Spirit is controlling the words that come out of my mouth.

WHAT DOES THE SPIRIT LIFE LOOK LIKE

What does a Spirit controlled life look like? Have you ever noticed in the Gospels that Jesus didn’t waste His time going around screaming at the Roman soldiers?  Christ didn’t throw that first stone at the woman caught in adultery. Never did He move away from the dinner table when the tax collectors sat next to Him. He even loved His disciples when they were at odds with each other over who would be first in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus lived in an unlovable world.  The words that come out of His mouth and His behaviors are all fruits of the Spirit. Every single last one…

TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF THE WHEEL

Is it possible for believers to live this way? What exactly are the good fruits? Galatians 5:22-23:But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Amplified Version) How do we live such a way? By the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  Choosing to take our hands off our spiritual steering wheels. 

Has your spiritual life gotten stuck? Maybe you don’t know how you ended up there, but you desperately need the power of the Holy Spirit to lift you out of that pit of deed of the flesh.  What’s the solution? Confess it, turn away from it, and ask the Holy Spirit for directions on how to live.  Since I have a God who got a rental car eventually unstuck from a parking curb in Florida, I know that we have a God Who can steer us safely into living holy lives.

Click here to listen to the life transformation of Cortney Bruketta

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SILENCE UNDER THE BROOM TREE

Have you ever concluded that your ministry is fruitless and life just isn’t worth living?

The fireworks are done; the anticipated victory has arrived. The main character is beyond exhaustion. He witnessed at the altar what he envisioned as the big finale to his ministry career. Yet, in a moment, everything turns upside down. He is now a wanted man on the run for his life. The account of this is recorded in I Kings 18:20-46 & I Kings 19:1-18.

Alone, at his wits end, Elijah cries, “I have had enough Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” And with those words, Elijah falls asleep in the wilderness under a broom tree, a desert shrub.

God had not met Elijah’s expectations. Sure, there was the magnificent fire from heaven raining down on Elijah’s water drenched sacrifice. The crowd cheered: “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!” And then there was the post-game show of God breaking the drought which had plagued the nation of Israel for years. Surely, it was a win-win! What more could Elijah expect from God?

However, hearts can be rock hard. The warrant is issued by Queen Jezebel for Elijah’s death. Afterall, Elijah ordered the execution of hundreds of her false prophets. Elijah responds to Jezebel’s warrant by running and running and running. That brings him to the solitary broom tree.

Have you ever concluded that your ministry is fruitless and life just isn’t worth living? The NIV notes say that “Elijah lost his confidence in the triumph of the kingdom and was withdrawing from the area of conflict.” I don’t blame him. Did Elijah have any additional space so I might join him under the broom tree?

The magnificent revival Elijah expected from the huge miracles, did not happen. Elijah expected BIG. However, God planned for small…. God finally speaks to Elijah, but God doesn’t shout in the wind. Neither does He scream over the earthquake. There is no roaring over the fire. God chooses to speak to Elijah in a gentle whisper. It isn’t until that point of quiet that Elijah is ready to again hear God.

So how noisy is your life? Lots going on? Have you become so caught up in the results of both your plans and disappointments that you have begun to think that God is not Who He says He is? Have you effectively silenced God because He doesn’t produce the bells and whistles you expect from Him?

How about running to your broom tree. Turn off your phone, radio, TV, and your racing thoughts. STOP!!! Get ready for the whisper of God. Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).He is in the silence and He still is God.

Click here for more information on what it means to be still

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WHEN ALL YOU HAVE LEFT IS GOD

The encroaching darkness was frightening.  Her body had betrayed her

Over the years, Sandy ministered to many people.  She was a nurturer and she mothered people and pointed them to Christ.  An outgrowth of her job was helping to take care of the employees from Central America.  Sandy had a big heart.  One time she took on the local justice system when one of the workers wound up in jail.  If Sandy thought something was wrong, she would go to great lengths to make things right; she was a tigress. 

THE SHOCK

It was quite a shock when what Sandy was diagnosed with breast cancer.  The doctor at first thought it was just an infection, but after an unsuccessful course of meds further testing was done and she was given the diagnosis of cancer.  Sandy had a mastectomy and then started the dreaded chemotherapy.  She would have a course of chemo, get quite ill, start to feel better and then have to go for more chemo.  The chemo was followed by radiation. 

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ALL THERE IS LEFT, IS GOD?

During the course of these therapies, Sandy’s lovely red hair fell out and her skin developed nasty painful rashes.  She had always been strong physically and now found herself imprisoned in a sick and alien body. Through the relentless progress of the disease, Sandy endured.  That final summer of her illness we discussed the question: “What happens when all there is left, is God?”

JEREMIAH IN THE PIT

Have you ever thought about Jeremiah of the Bible?  The dumped him in a slimy stinking mud of a cistern.  It had not been a winner season for him.  A look at Jeremiah 38 bears witness to a most disheartening progression of events.  As a preacher, Jeremiah faced a audience that didn’t pay any attention to his message.  God turned up the heat on Israel with an invasion by the Babylonians. Falsely accused of being a turncoat, Jeremiah was beaten and imprisoned in a dungeon for a lengthy period. Then came the terrible cistern.  The narrative tells us that he was so mired in the mud. When finally released it took thirty men pulling on ropes to lift Jeremiah out of the mud’s suction.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ALL THE LIGHT IS GONE?

What did Jeremiah find in that dark cistern?  Stuck and in the dark, all he heard was the dripping of water. All light fades.  During her final weeks of life, Sandy found her sight deteriorating because the cancer had spread to her brain.  The encroaching darkness was frightening.  Her body had betrayed her and the only place of safety was in the arms of the Savior. 

WHO IS WITH US

Psalm 46 paints a picture of a world in which the mountains are quaking, the seas are surging, and the earth is giving way.  Everything depended on in the past falls away.  Yet, verse seven says, “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”  It is one thing to consider God as with us and quite another to consider God as actually being our fortress. 

GOD IS ENOUGH

In that dark cistern, what did Jeremiah find ?  What did Sandy discover when her eyes lost sight?  Stability has flown the coop.  All constants disappear. One thing remains: God. In that moment, God is enough.  Ask God to open your eyes to His fortress of love.

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WHAT IS YOUR JOY LEVEL?

He was a new convert. As a newbie to anything Christian, the handbook for him might as well have been written in Swahili.

Ahh, the delights of the Student Handbook. It was a freshman’s first required reading years ago when I began Bible College.  Contained within were all the rules which would ensure a “happy” college existence.  The list of prohibitions was long and infractions were harsh. Included in possible “crimes” were attending movie theaters, guys’ hair extending over their shirt collars and girls’ skirts to not touching the floor (if the girl was kneeling). For many of us (including me) it was a culture shock. 

I met Carmen, a new convert. As a newbie to anything Christian, the handbook for him might as well have been written in Swahili. Carmen was recovering from drug and alcohol addiction and clearly not prepared for the rulebook. What he desperately needed to learn was what fellowship with the Savior was all about. Carmen was unable to find the joy of the Lord.

TO LOSE JOY IS A GREAT LOSS

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “If any of you have lost the joy of the Lord, I pray you do not think it a small loss.” Spurgeon believed Jesus’ promises regarding joy. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:11) But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves (John 17:13) If joy is not found in a college rulebook, where can it be found?

JOY IS IN A PERSON

Joy is in a Person. In I John 1:1-4, the Apostle John makes sure every reader vividly knows exactly Who Jesus is. Jesus is not some vague historical figure, but Someone who John and hundreds of others heard, saw, touched, testified about, and knew. The believers formed a holy family circle with the Savior. Even 2,000 years later, this circle is open to all believers. The individuals in the circle do not have all the same skirt length, haircut, or even choice in entertainment.  What we gather around is the very Word of God, Jesus Christ.

WE LONG FOR CONNECTION

As believers, we long for connection. Jesus offers fellowship with God Himself. Christians tend to loosely throw around the word “fellowship”. God’s usage is not a church’s potluck. a high school lock-in, or a good old fashion hymn sing.  This is a deep connection with God which aims to flood our being to its very core.  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 

JESUS’ HAIRCUT WAS NEVER AN ISSUE

How does one gain fellowship with Jesus Christ? By agreeing with Him. Christ functioned on this earth always in deep fellowship with God, agreeing with the Father. They never disagreed.  Jesus’ haircut was never an issue; the will of the Father was.

HE LONGS FOR YOU

Agreeing with God and taking action on what He actually says in His Word brings joy. There is a place setting for you at God’s table and He longs for you to dine with Him.  Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

Sadly, Carmen was unable to follow the college handbook and was kicked out in the Spring of his first year.  He never learned that fellowship with God is not created via manmade rules. If only someone would have drawn him into the circle of fellowship with Christ and what His Word actually said.

THE LITMUS TEST

Maybe this week, take some time and begin making a list of what is keeping you from having deep fellowship with God.  The litmus test may be the questions: “What is your joy level? What is preventing your joy in the Father from being full?” God longs for you. Do you long for Him?

For further reading on vital fellowship, clickhttps://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/1-john/life-with-father

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MY REPAIR SHOP

God pulls me out of myself, my own worries and upheavals into the Universe where He rules.  God speaks to me the best when I shut up and listen.

I am addicted to a British TV show called “The Repair Shop”. The show’s premise is that everyday people bring in family heirlooms which are then repaired and resuscitated for their owners by experts with a broad range of specialties. No one is charged for the work and people are jubilant to see previous pieces which have been mangled over the years, restored to beauty. I love to see beauty brought out of brokenness.

MY SOUL’S REPAIR SHOP

In my living room exists my own unique repair shop. In a corner sits a recliner which is not a family heirloom. It was a Costco special. Next to it is an adjacent couch, also not an heirloom. What makes the recliner special is its daily use.  I sit there and picture Jesus on the adjacent couch. The regular conversations that take place at my recliner have been golden. Beauty is created from brokenness.

THE TOOLS

To the left of my recliner are the tools:

  • My journal
  • Prayer Point” (a Bible reading guide published by Samaritan’s Purse)
  • Open Doors World Watch List 2024 (the top 50 countries I need to be praying for regarding persecution)
  • Valley of Vision” – a collection of Puritan prayers that are a great jumpstart for the days when I feel my prayers are rather dusty.

THE MOST VALUABLE TOOL

But the most valuable tool is my battered and marked up Bible.  I’ve run a lot of miles with it; written notes upon notes in the margins regarding things God has pointed out to me when I’m reading it. 

THE QUIET OF THE SHOP

I’m one of those people who need to have relative quiet while I’m at the shop. Total concentration is necessary. It’s not all about me. God voice needs to be clearly heard. Some days it is difficult when I’m wandering through Leviticus – it may seem dry as dirt (often a match for my soul).

God pulls me out of myself, my own worries and upheavals into the Universe where He rules.  God speaks to me the best when I shut up and listen. 

THE PLACE WHERE YOU MEET GOD

If you are already a believer (you have trusted Jesus Christ alone to make your life new) then having a Soul Repair Shop is one of the best things you can do. Your shop may look different than mine – better furniture, location, or it may even take place in a parked car.  Wherever, this is the place you meet God and implore Him to do His work. 

VISITING THE SHOP CAN BE PAINFUL

Just a warning, work in the Repair Shop can be a little painful. There have been numerous times where God has told me in no uncertain terms to repent, to eat humble pie, and to let go of prized projects. I have to keep remembering that He is the restoration expert, not me.

For the word of God is living and active and full of power [making it operative, energizing, and effective]. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as the division of the soul and spirit [the completeness of a person], and of both joints and marrow [the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and judging the very thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And not a creature exists that is concealed from His sight, but all things are open and exposed, and revealed to the eyes of Him with whom we have to give account.(Hebrews 4:12-13)

KEEP THAT DAILY APPOINTMENT

Except for the Word of God, the tools God uses in your Repair Shop may be a little different, but the main thing is to consistently permit Him to do His work.  That’s why it is vital to keep that daily appointment.  Do you want your broken parts made beautiful? Is it possible for God to make you clean?  Perhaps you also need to get addicted to “The Repair Shop”, but not the BBC version – God’s version.

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EVERYTHING CHANGED!

In an instant, death had arrived

A young man filled with great promise.  Lots of friends. Star of his basketball team. I can still remember the anguished wailing of his girlfriend. At the prime of life, in a second his life ended in a car accident. Sam was now laid out in a casket.  Everything changed.

HER CRIES FILLED THE AIR

In John 20:1-18, everything changed for Mary Magdelene.  She witnessed the darkness of the last moments of the Savior hanging in agony. Humiliated, tortured, and executed, He breathed His last breath.  “It is finished.” Her anguished cries filled the air. Everything changed.

DEAD FOLKS DON’T DO ALOT FOR THEMSELVES

Now is the time to pay her respects and give her beloved Rabbi the funeral He deserves. Tom Lynch, writer and undertaker, wryly comments: “As a general rule, dead folks don’t do a lot for themselves.  They can only have things done TO them.” But she discovers the stone sealing the tomb is rolled away! One heartbreak after the other.  Will it never stop? Mary cries, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

An odd duo races to the scene. John, the disciple who Jesus entrusted to care for His mother Mary.  Then there is Peter, the coward who denied ever knowing Jesus.  At the tomb the guys see the strips of linens the body had been wrapped in. Someone must have stolen the body!

THEY DIDN’T GRASP THE RESURRECTION

Ray Stedman comments, “One of the striking phenomena of the Gospels is the deafness of the disciples to the consistent revelations of Jesus concerning his resurrection. He had great difficulty convincing them that He was going to die in the first place. It was only as they saw the opposition closing in on Him that they realized His words were true. But even then, none of them seemed to grasp that every time He mentioned His death He also added that He would rise again on the third day.”

Mary Magdelene, overwhelmed with grief, peers into the tomb. An angel asks her why she is crying. She sobs: “Because they have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have put him!” Resurrection has not entered her thinking, regardless of what Jesus taught.

Amidst her tears, Mary then hears the voice of the One Who she thought was the gardener.  He whispers her name, “Mary.” Everything changes.

NOTHING REMAINS THE SAME

Mary turns and cries, “Rabbi!”  She sees the risen Christ. The empty tomb is the monument which displays the victory over sin’s curse.  The final enemy has been conquered. Nothing remains the same.

ACTING AS IF GOD IS DEAD

So then, how do we choose to live? It’s easy to forget everything changed. “Martin Luther once spent three days in a black depression over something that had gone wrong. On the third day his wife came downstairs dressed in mourning clothes. ‘Who’s dead?’ he asked her. ‘God,’ she replied. Luther rebuked her, saying, ‘What do you mean, God is dead? God cannot die.’ ‘Well,’ she replied, ‘the way you’ve been acting I was sure He had!’(recounted by Ray Stedman)

ARE YOU STILL MOURNING AT THE TOMB?

“Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!”  Is this how you choose to live each day with the Savior Who has risen?  Or, do you choose to be the one mourning at the tomb, all your dreams dashed with no power to face another hour? The good news of Easter is: everything has changed! The victorious risen Christ offers to share His life with you.  Your wailing can be turned to joy.  Everything changes with the risen Christ.

Want additional inspiration? Click for the testimony of Jerry Dugan

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MY FROG EXPERIENCE

Life was a mess but I didn’t realize that gradually I was being robbed of my ability to cope.  I just wanted the pain to stop.

In the middle of one of the darkest time periods of my life I had absolutely no hope that resolution would come quickly, or that it would ever come.  My car was approaching a busy intersection.  My light was red.  The thought quickly entered my mind, “Why don’t you just press the gas instead of the brake? If you get lucky enough, you just might be able to end all your pain in one fatal accident.” I didn’t hit the gas, but it did finally enter my brain the deepness and seriousness of my depression. 

FROG COOKING 101

How had I gotten to that point? There is the old story of how to cook a live frog. You place it in a pot of cold water (if you suddenly turn up the heat and bring the water to a boil, the frog will jump out immediately to escape the danger). However, if you begin with lukewarm water and gradually increase the temperature, the frog won’t perceive the danger.  It will remain in the pot, unaware, and eventually be cooked to death.

THE SAD NEW NORM

That’s the way it can be with depression.  It enters one’s story, but gradually becomes such a normal part of one’s life that this becomes the new norm. That was me driving through that intersection.

DEPRESSION ROBS

Depression slowly makes gains day to day.  It commits the crimes of robbery of wonders such as joy, peace, sleep, or the ability to just cope with regular life.  I was that frog in the pot – life was a mess but I didn’t realize that gradually I was being robbed of my ability to cope.  I just wanted the pain to stop.

DEPRESSION ISOLATES

The problem for many people who are massively depressed is that they don’t have someone true and faithful they can confide in.  Someone who will not only listen, but can be trusted to be upfront when the truth needs to be told but loving at the same time.  The only person I knew who I could confide in was stuck in the same mess as myself.  Depressed people are lonely and the depression just intensifies the isolation.

CHALLENGE FOR THE WEEK

So what is the challenge for this week? Avoid traffic intersections!!!! (Just kidding) Ask God for a friend.  Not just any old friend, a friend who loves Jesus totally and will extend to you the same grace that Jesus extends.  To find this friend (or friends) may mean you will have to get out of your comfort zone.  You may have to volunteer somewhere, begin attending a church, engage your neighbors in more than the “Hi” “Bye” typical conversations, or maybe make a phone call to someone who you used to be able to connect with.  Possibly none of these will work out for you – but what have you lost by trying???  Begin every day with the prayer, “Lord, please help me to begin being open to people and also lead me to someone I can help.”

DON’T STAY IN THE POT!

Try it and please let me know what happens. Don’t just stay stuck in the pot.

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FREEFALL INTO PAIN

And then it happened. I bend over to pick up a pair of shoes from the floor and out goes my lower back.

How did I get myself here? An everyday work day, beginning with my ‘to do list’. Feeling the joy of accomplishing anything I wanted to. One of those goals was small: to have an afternoon winter nap, warm under a layer of heated covers, with my cats nestled up against my backside. Add a meal for a full tummy, a binge on YouTube of brainless scrolling and my checklist would be complete.

THE FALL

And then it happened. I bend over to pick up a pair of shoes from the floor and out goes my lower back. Holding on to the bathroom sink, I use all my strength trying to keep myself from falling. I try lowering myself down to my knees. My back muscles scream in pain. I let go of the sink. Fall to the bathroom floor. I have been in this fetal position before. With great reluctance, I attempt moving into a yoga position known as child pose to relax my muscles. My body is in a freefall of pain.

PLUMMETING BACKWARDS

On the floor, the spasms don’t allow movement of my legs or back. Yet, less than one foot from me is the young lady I came in to support. Did I mention that I am a caregiver? I find myself more helpless than her. My life is plummeting backwards over a cliff.

WHAT CAN I BE THANKFUL FOR?

Immediately I attempt switch to my gratitude list for my own sanity.  What can I be thankful for? Aha! There is another coworker within the area. Calling for help, I remind myself to just keep taking deep breaths. It takes everything not to shout at the top of my lungs: “Lord, take me to heaven now!” However, yelling out in pain could traumatize my client, so I suppress the cries welling up within me. My life is in freefall.

MY BODY IS STUCK

Medical treatments begin my very slow recovery. I get my winter nap, but not the nap of my dreams. From my seated vantage point, I longingly see my bed. I don’t dare get into the bed; I would not be able to get out of it. I sleep three weeks in a lazy chair with my legs elevated on a heating pad. I cannot bend over to touch my knees let alone my toes, and I cannot bend side to side at my waist. My body is stuck. I’m not falling, but I’m also not moving.

BEFORE….

Before all of this, I was doing so well with exercise class and keeping busy with church activities. Now, all progress has ceased. So many steps backward, from making headway in building a life that isn’t comprised only of my job.

1/2 STEP FORWARD?

Arthritis racks my lower spine and hips. I prepare myself for my first exercise class in a month. Maybe I can make 1/2 step forward? I am scared but this is my start. I will try, then I will rest. I will not push. I will not try to fix my body in one hour. I will continue to build the pieces back of the life I was slowly envisioning.  Maybe the results will be better than I imagined?

MY DECISION

Will I have another freefall? Maybe, but I also have a promise. ‘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) Even though I am afraid, I am deciding to trust.

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IS THE INEVITABLE ACTUALLY EVITABLE?

Hopelessness does have to be your deadend.

It’s no use.  I didn’t succeed before.  Nothing’s changed.  Why should I expect anything different? It’s inevitable. All of us have at one time or another had those thoughts run through our hearts.  It might have been for an hour, a day, a week, month, or even years.  There is nothing that Satan would like more than to convince believers that there is no hope. That is often a major component of depression.

HANNAH OVERTON’S STORY

Hannah Overton had given up hope. Her story is beyond “compelling” (a little nod to the podcast company).  Falsely accused of killing her 4-year-old foster son, Hannah was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.  This mother of six had to transition from being a homeschooling mother of six to being a resident of a maximum-security prison.  It became her new home address for seven years.  So many times, especially at the beginning, she was filled with resentment, depression. She became suicidal.  Most would think she was entitled to exiting this painful life. 

JOSEPH’S STORY

That’s probably exactly the same thought that tempted Joseph in the Book of Genesis when he was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, became a prison resident, and given a brief glimpse of hope (which was quickly shut down).  He spent thirteen years before the tide changed.

GOD NEVER FORGOT HIM

The most important thing about Joseph’s story is that even when he was in darkness, God never forgot Him.  That is the reason why day in and day out, even in the most challenging circumstances, Joseph behaved in a way that honored God.  He didn’t resign.  Joseph chose to make God the ruler of his life, rather than the slave owners and the prison warden.  He decided on hope.

GOOD OUT OF BAD?

The Joseph’s attitude is found in Genesis 50.  In a miraculous chain of circumstances, h rose to be the 2nd most powerful man in Egypt. Upon the death of their father, the brothers who had sold Joseph into slavery so many years ago were afraid that Joseph would seek revenge on them.  Joseph’s response to his brothers’ terror is, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”

ANTIDOTE FOR HOPELESSNESS

A life-preserver is only of use when a person grabs on to it and holds on for dear life.  The Savior can only save those who grab hold of Him and choose to keep holding on. The central attitude adopted by Joseph regarding the betrayals of his brothers was, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” (Gen. 50:15-20) He chose to cling to the best antidote to hopelessness: God’s truth. That is eventually the same decision that led to Hannah not taking her own life while in prison. She held on to God’s faithfulness, even in the midst of great darkness.

THIS WEEK’S CHALLENGE

Challenge for this week – start taking regular time to develop God’s viewpoint on your current circumstances. I have found planning spend a day without any electronic media – no Facebook, TV, movies, YouTube, no world news, etc. is extremely helpful. It’s a vacation day for your spirit. Take time to carefully read, listen and reflect on His Word and let it saturate your view of your personal circumstances.  Here are a few passages that might be helpful: Psalm 91, Psalm 31:3-5, Psalm 34:17-20. Write down those verses that speak to you and try to commit them to memory. Hopelessness does not have to be inevitably permanent.

Please let me know if your spirit’s vacation day helps bring some light. It might be the rest your soul needs right now. Both Hannah, Joseph, and I have found it extremely beneficial. Break the chain of thinking, “Why should I expect anything different? It’s inevitable.

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IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT ME

What have the recent crises in your life, your country, and your world, demonstrated about your love for other believers?

I was giving birth to our first son.  Labor was going into the 2nd day and I had enough.  At that time, Bill was working fulltime, going to college and also leading a ministry.  He normally was wiped out.  I remember screaming at him when he had the nerve around hour #20 of my labor to begin nodding off in exhaustion.  After all, it was all about me and not him.  Right?

HE TOOK CARE OF MOM

Then we come to John 19:17-27, the passage about Jesus’ last hours.  It should have been all about Him, not anyone else.  Right? Jesus is arrested, deserted, tortured, betrayed, listens to religious hypocrites lie through their teeth. Furthermore, he’s forced to drag through the streets the cross on which he will be murdered. He is hanging there with nails through His wrists and feet, the crowds jeering at Him, and the soldiers are deciding who will get His clothes. What does Jesus do? He takes care of Mom.  I think I would be thinking about everything that has just happened to me and the further agonies to come, yet, He takes care of Mom. It’s not all about His own pain.

THE BOND DEEPER THAN GENETICS

Does he entrust this task with his biological half-brothers? No, He totally entrusts this with His friend, John.  In Luke 8:19-21, Jesus makes clear that there is a bond deeper than genetics.  My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it. If there is anyone who will faithfully take care of His believing mom, it would be the disciple who showed up at the cross and did not look away – the Apostle John.

WILL HE PROVIDE MORE FOR US?

Why is this an important distinction? John Piper writes: “Those who hear and do the Word of God have an even greater claim on Jesus’ care than she (Mary). If he took care of her, will he not much more provide for all your needs? If Jesus could provide for the needs of his own in a moment of his deepest weakness and humiliation, how much more can he provide for your need in his present power and exaltation!”

THE FAMILY BEYOND FAMILY

This is both a huge responsibility and benefit for those who are part of the Body of Christ, the church. Our needs are met when we have left everything to follow Jesus. Paul said in Acts 20:28, Christ purchased the church of God with his own blood. Piper continues: “Therefore, one of the gifts Jesus gave to us from the cross was the church: a loving, caring, sustaining, encouraging family beyond family. And it is a great encouragement to our faith that he illustrates the meaning of the church the way he did in the relationship between John and Mary.”

TO CARE FOR THEIR OWN

A ground breaking prayer that Jesus prayed for both His disciples and believers in the future is recorded in John 17:20-23. He prays for complete unity among His followers, something that would shake the world.  Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. The product from such unity is the same type of care which Jesus on the cross entrusted John with regarding Mary.  This is what the church is supposed to do better than any other agency on earth – to care for their own.

CRISIS SHOWS WHAT WE HAVE BECOME

So, the question is, if you profess to be a believer, how are you caring for other believers? Bishop Wescott wrote, “Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards, they simply unveil them to the eyes of men. Silently and imperceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or we grow weak, and at last some crisis shows us what we have become.” What have the recent crises in your life, your country, and your world, demonstrated about your love for other believers? Is it sacrificial love, the kind that will run to the very end? It is not all about you. It is about Christ.

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OVERCOMING DEPRESSION #101

There is hope, even if you don’t feel like hope is a part of your experience anymore

Do you remember that those first holidays during COVID?  High hopes that COVID would be over by Thanksgiving and Christmas that year. But no, the holidays came and went. Isolation.  I vividly recall the shots of the vehicles outside the hospital in NYC.  Bodies were being stored there because there just wasn’t enough time or resources for funerals.  Merry Christmas.

THE RABBIT HOLE

Then came daily news briefings by our State’s Governor (just in case no one had noticed the State of Emergency).  News was never good.  Along with millions of others I was depressed. It wasn’t the first time I ever went through depression and it certainly has not been the last, but this was memorable. Many peoples’ mental and emotional states of health accompanied me down the rabbit hole. 

NOT THE OCCASIONAL DOWN DAY

Depression is not an occasional down day, a minor bump in the road.  Rather, depression is a visitor that overstays its welcome.  Eviction notices are necessary. There are many symptoms, but one may lose interest in doing what was formerly enjoyable, energy goes down the drain, a general sense of hopelessness pervades the atmosphere and life stinks. 

THE DARK HOLE

It is a dark and lonely place, especially for a believer in Jesus Christ.  The hole is so dark that all hope of rescue evaporates. This condition is especially a rude awakening if one has never previously experienced it. It may seem to come out of nowhere. One feels locked in. What does a person do if they feel like there are blindly trying to find their way out of a sealed room?

YOUR INVITATION

Depression has been an unwanted houseguest in my life since childhood.  Yes, COVID amplified it, but I was abundantly acquainted with depression way before any virus entered the picture.  Beloved friend, please walk with me these coming weeks as we explore possibilities in finding better healthier ways of coping with depression. We will be exploring possibilities for discovering hope in the next few weeks in the blogs I publish on Thursdays.

ABUNDANCE IS POSSIBLE

I want you to know that there is hope, even if you don’t feel like hope is a part of your experience anymore. My goal is that you would gradually discover your way toward the abundant life you had envisioned. Have to tell you that what God may define as abundant life and what you had planned as abundant life may be totally different scenarios, but I know from my own experience that God’s plans are extraordinarily good.

Assignment #1

Read “Martin Luther’s Shelter Amid the Flood of Depression”.  You may appreciate by beginning the paragraph headed “Plague, Sickness, Depression”. It spoke to me. Break out your songbook for this one. You are not alone in this.  Depression has haunted the ages but let’s begin to kick its butt.

Please write to me more questions, comments, and stories. We are in this together.

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THE PRICE

What merits being burned at the stake for simply translating the Bible into English?

And what merits being burned at the stake for simply translating the Bible into English? For William Tyndale’s “sin”, in 1535 he was convicted of heresy and executed by strangulation, after which his body was burnt at the stake. The Catholic Church had found him a dangerous threat to their existence.

WHAT WAS AT STAKE

In practice, the Catholic Church refused to allow the Scriptures to be available in any language other than Latin. Everyday parishioners could not question the priests’ teachings. Few people other than priests could read Latin. The Church could not get away with selling indulgences (the forgiveness of sins) or selling the release of loved ones from purgatory if people were able to read the Bible in their own tongue. Without these sources of income, the church’s power would crumble.

THE PRICE PAID FOR THE ENGLISH BIBLE

Furthermore, understanding the contradictions between what God’s Word said, and what the priests taught, would set people free from the grip of fear held by the institutional church. Salvation through faith, not works or donations, would be understood. For this “heresy”, Tyndale was martyred. He gave his life to help produce the English Bible, a version of what may be gathering dust on your bookshelf.

OBEDIENCE ALWAYS CARRIES A PRICE

Obedience to God always carries a price. Each time I read the tortuous account in John 19:1-16, I hear the agony which paid for my salvation.  Every tear, scream, and mockery of justice, propelled Jesus Christ toward the cross. Jesus chose to travel through a week of hell. The events in this passage are horrifying to read. Under Pilate’s authority, the soldiers are permitted to use Jesus for a punching bag, scream obscenities into His face and grind a crown of thorns on His head. All of this took place in the lower room of the home of the Chief Priest, the head of the “religious” Jews. They were out for blood.

Pilate, the head of the local Roman government, seems to be scratching his head when he responds to the demands of the Jewish officials, I find no reason to crucify Him. A paraphrase of his following response to them could be, “Do it on your own time. I can’t do it legally.”

Jesus of course, is of no help to Pilate in coming to His own defense. Jesus reminds Pilate, You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. 

THE AGENDA: TO MURDER JESUS

The Jews threatened Pilate. If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar. Pilate knows that kind of talk can lead to his personal demise.  He is only there by the appointment of the Roman government and if word gets to Rome that Pilate has allowed an insurrection in Israel, Pilate is toast. Pilate gives in to the pressure, sets up court, and ends up handing Jesus over to be crucified.  Understand that the Jewish religious leaders hated being under the rulership of Rome, except they made an exception when it was convenient to their own agenda, which was to murder Jesus.

Pilate again asks, Shall I crucify your king?

The chief priests answer, We have no king but Caesar. So, we have torture, lies, betrayals, a death sentence and a Messiah Who doesn’t call down fire from heaven. How does one process that?

THE PRICE OF OBEDIENCE

That week was a lesson in total obedience that led to the payment for our sins on the cross and Jesus’ resurrection.  Obedience is the unique mark of true followers of Christ through the centuries. Are you willing to pay the price? To sacrifice your comfort zones and let God plan the agenda? Tyndale paid the price for people to have the Bible in their own language. Jesus gave up His life willingly in the midst of chaos so we can be made new creatures in Christ. Take the challenge: begin to discover what real obedience is by carefully reading that Bible and learning the truth. Afterall, this is the book which so many gave up their lives for you to read.

For further information, strongly suggest listening to “Introduction to the Marian Martyrs” from the podcast, Men Who Rocked the World, by Steven J Lawson

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WHILE YOU ARE WAITING

He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and mire.

Image of woman waiting

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.

Image of person in mudpit

He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.

Image of Jesus walking alongside

He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. 

Image of music

He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.

Image of many worshipping

Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1-3)

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UNRAVELED

Strength is scarce. I don’t know what to do with this weakness I feel.

Having lost my beloved job and all that went with it, my life – and I – fell apart. I experienced a four-year dark night of the soul.  My persona, the identity that I’d built to compensate for the inner sense of brokenness, crumbled. I began to look more deeply, mostly because there was no other option. I had to face the pain of my difficult and sometimes traumatic childhood. Whilst often desperate for some relief or solution, it became clear that this was a process of unbecoming, of unravelling.”  (shared by Fiona Robertson)

CHANGE IS PAINFUL

Have you ever felt that you are also becoming unraveled?  Maybe you knew that an upheaval process might eventually prove for the good, but in the back of your heart have you doubted? Change is painful. Maybe the worst type of change is when the rug is pulled out from under you and you didn’t even realize the rug was loose. In the process, we may actually need to be unraveled; to be taken apart at the seams.

THE “FEAR OF SCARCITY

I wondered why I become unusually upset during seasons of change. I came up with a term which seems to fit: “fear of scarcity”. When something is scarce, there is a shortage, a famine, a drought. In my life there are times when I have asked for help, resources, or even love from believers and the supplies offered (or not offered) have been scarce. I adapt to such a life by trying hard not to ask for “too much”.  This fear of scarcity in asking help from people can color how I also view God.  I believe that God loves the world, but hey, couldn’t He be just too busy or short-staffed to personally have time for me? 

LOSING RESILIENCE

Then begins my unravelling.  With the tumult of circumstances, I come to the end of my own resources.  Maybe because of age, maybe because of yet another major change, I lose my resilience.  Strength is scarce. I don’t know what to do with this weakness I feel. I’m on the path to nowhere. I need God to unravel the knots I am in. Have I presumed that my God is too small?

GOD BREATHES TRUTH

Despite my fears of scarcity, God breathes truth into my soul. His perfect Word states: He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; His understanding has no limit. (Psalm 147:3-5) Regardless what my heart may feel, God sticks around for the hard work of reworking my life. He truly loves the unlovable and redeems the unredeemable. No matter what I think or how I feel, there is no scarcity with God. He has the strength, the love and the resources to unravel the largest knots which clutter my life.

HIS RESOURCES ARE ENDLESS

Do you also need to be unraveled? Are you tangled up in knots of fear? Please know that God has plans and knits together the most beautiful creations. You need not fear scarcity from the Father. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; His understanding has no limit. Call on Him; His resources are endless. Allow Him to unravel at will – He can be trusted. Fear no more.

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MY WAR STORY

The rubber was about to meet the road, so to speak. No more “weekend warriors”, as the National Guard were often referred to. This was the real thing. We were advised to get our financial and legal matters in order.

Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990. I was seven months pregnant with my first child. My husband was serving in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard at the time, so news such as that was more than just a front-page headline; it was cause to take notice. As the crisis unfolded, it became apparent that the question was not if my husband Mike would be activated to serve, but rather, when.

UNCERTAINTY LOOMING OVER US

The last months of my pregnancy were overshadowed by the uncertainty looming over us. The rubber was about to meet the road, so to speak. No more “weekend warriors”, as the National Guard were often referred to. This was the real thing. We were advised to get our financial and legal matters in order. I was barely holding it together. Praying that the situation would get resolved quickly; knowing that it was not as simple as that. I turned to God, knowing that I could not do this on my own. I did not have enough strength to get through it.

TURNING POINT IN MY LIFE

This was a turning point in my life, and in my faith in God and His provision. I leaned into God like never before, asking Him to give me the strength that I needed. With a great deal of hope and more than a little anxiety, I tried to keep my focus on managing one day at a time. As I did, I began to see God work.

I PRAYED

In the early months of the crisis, they called other military units. Mike’s unit didn’t receive the call. Home for the birth of our son in October, Mike was called to service late November. His preparation for deployment took place at Ft. Indiantown Gap, so he came home on the weekends leading up to his departure. We were blessed to be able to celebrate Christmas together. Shortly after New Year’s Day, Mike left for the Middle East. I prayed with confidence God would take care of him and all involved.

STRENGTH I DIDN’T KNOW WAS POSSIBLE

I knew that God had it all under control. God carried us through this, even though I couldn’t see the future. In ways I never experienced before, I saw God’s faithfulness and care for me. I developed a strength I didn’t believe was possible. God gifted me with visits, phone calls and offers of help from family, friends and neighbors. Admitted to the hospital for gall bladder surgery in April, God worked out everything for me and our newborn. My mom moved in and took care of the two of us. Through the times of loneliness and fear, I felt deeply loved and cared for.

HIS FAITHFULNESS IS A SHIELD

In the book of 2 Samuel, we read David’s story. Thought greatly blessed by God, David fell into grievous sin. Confessing those sins, David didn’t take God’s forgiveness lightly. Even as he experienced the consequences of his sin, David never lost his belief in God’s love and faithfulness. 2 Samuel 22, David writes, The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior…. And in Psalm 91:4, He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

YOU NEVER HAVE TO DEAL WITH LIFE ALONE

God is trustworthy. He is faithful. He is working on your behalf in every situation you face. You never have to deal with anything in this life alone. God will be with you, always. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

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HOW TO LOVE YOUR BETRAYER

“You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there. But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there,  Will you forgive me?”

How does one forgive a betrayer? In 1947, just two years after her liberation from a concentration camp, Corrie Ten Boom recounts that she came from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. “When we confess our sins,” I said, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.” And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward through the crowd. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück Concentration Camp where my sister and I were sent.

WILL YOU FORGIVE ME?

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!” And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course–how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? “You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there. But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Will you forgive me?”

FORGIVENESS IS NOT AN EMOTION

I stood there with coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion–I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.” And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. As I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. “I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!” For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”

THEY WERE ALL BETRAYERS

How does one love betrayer(s)? In John 13 we have more than the infamous and unrepentant betrayer (Judas). It is easy to forget the disciples who skedaddled off the Mount of Olives when the soldiers arrest Jesus. Then there is out-spoken Peter, who uses his oratorical skills this time to announce to everyone in earshot that he was not one of Jesus’ followers. All betrayers.

THE MOST DIFFICULT LAW

Jesus knew what was to come in the next few hours before the betrayals. After Judas leaves the room, Jesus gives His remaining disciples one of the most difficult laws in all Christianity: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

FAMILY TALK

This is family talk, a command from the Heavenly Father to His beloved children on how they are to relate to other believers.  How does one forgive their betrayer? Corrie recounted, “I forgive you, brother! With all my heart!” This type of love is the mark of the true believer that shouts louder to the world than any bumper stickers, t-shirts or emojis.

SINCE I HAVE LOVED YOU…

How do we love one another? Ray Stedman writes: “In this passage, the Greek, literally, says, ‘As I have loved you in order that you might love one another.’ One is the cause and the other is the effect. As in many places in Scripture, the word ‘as’ here can better be translated ‘since’: ‘Since I have loved you in order that you might love one another.’ Here our Lord is saying that his love for us will stimulate and awaken within us the ability to love other people.”

ONLY THROUGH CHRIST

This love was the cause and the identifying mark of Corrie Ten Boom’s love for Christ. Only through Christ could she stretch out her hand to her former enemy. Has Christ’s love stimulated and awakened within you the ability to love other believers, even your betrayer(s)?

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AN INCONVENIENT MEETING

The Savior Who could be anywhere else in the world, sought to be with the broken.

Jesus meets the serial adulteress in John 4:1-42. If there was TikTok in His time, this would be trending news. Jesus was exhausted and sitting on the edge of the village well. The sun was beating down. Often Jesus had dined with tax collectors and sinners, but here He extended Himself beyond the religious, social and economic barriers of the time. He befriended a woman, an outcast who repeatedly made wrong choices and had born the price.  Despite the opinions of His disciples, Jesus loved outcasts.

THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER

One commentator calls this event the Gospel of John’s version of the prodigal son, but this is with the prodigal daughter. Everything valued in this culture she had lost – her good name, reputation, stable home and loving family.  She received a flood of contempt from those who knew her.

NOT IN THE “GOOD PEOPLE” SECTION

I remember years ago traveling to the Deep South and saw 2 different signs over the water fountains at a garage.  One said “White” and the other said “Colored”. I had no clue what the 2nd sign meant, except that I did wonder what color the water was. In John 4, we could group the individuals into the “Good People” and “People Who Can Only Obtain Their Water In the Middle of the Day So That They Won’t Contaminate the Good People”. This woman was not in the “Good People” section. In fact, because she was a woman, she was on a rung further down the social scale.

DROWNING WAS IMMINENT

Yet, Jesus specifically sought her out.  He went out of His way to have a conversation, just with her.  Why? Because the God of the Universe loved this woman deeply.  God wanted to have a relationship, despite all the barriers blocking such a possibility. It was no surprise to Jesus that this woman was unclean, impure and heretical. The Jews considered the Samaritans as half-breeds. Years previously, the Jews in this region had intermarried with the heathens and produced a religion which was a curious mix of paganism and Judaism.  Yet, God still sought out this Samaritan woman. She was “everyman” (her name is never mentioned).  She stands for each of us who have succeeded in getting deeply lost under the oceans of life; drowning is imminent. Jesus sought her.

HE SOUGHT TO BE WITH THE BROKEN

She was the most unlikely person for Jesus to seek out in a village of people who were all hated by the Jews. All her confusion about the encounter, all her attempts to divert the conversation elsewhere, all her sin, Jesus met head on.  He engaged in friendship with her. The Savior Who could be anywhere else in the world, sought to be with the broken. As a result, Many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One truly is the Savior of the world.”

GOD WANTS TO TALK TO YOU

Jesus calls us to minister to the broken, the most hated, the unlikeliest people to receive the message.  So, whether you are a man, a woman, or a “half-breed”, the God of the Universe wants to talk to you. Sit down…this may take awhile.

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THROWING DOWN MY FEAR

When fear is taking a holiday in your life

I remember climbing the Zion National Park’s Angels Landing Trail (pictured above). The entire hike, I was terrified that my foot would slide on some gravel and take me over the edge. Possibly a wind gust would come and blow me over. During the climb, I hugged the wall and looked up. But, coming down, hugging the wall was of little comfort, as the whole panoply of cliff & valley almost sucked me over the edge. I’m sure I was feverishly praying the whole time but the fear was so great that I don’t remember what I was thinking. To this day, I have never fallen off a cliff (or even a ladder), but the fear of heights can immobilize me.

IMMOBILIZED BY FEAR

The Israelites were immobilized when they were caught between the Red Sea and Pharoah’s Army. Moses wrote, “They were terrified and cried out to the Lord” (Exodus 14:10 NIV).  They imagined the worst and assumed that God could not take care of them. They wanted to take the first bus back to slavery in Egypt. No way did they want to move forward, as God had planned. Their imaginations were in overdrive.  Fear (along with Satan) was having a holiday.

THINGS WE CAN BE AFRAID OF

What does God say about fear? The Bible certainly does not deny the existence of many things we can or will be afraid of. Jesus began his conversation with the disciples (as recorded in John 16:1-33), “I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith. For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God… Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning. I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer. Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows.

FEARS APPROACHING

In this important last conversation with his students, Jesus had given them a litany of things that were approaching which would directly impact them. And then He comes to the grand conclusion: But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone… But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

IMAGINING THE WORST

When I was climbing Angels Landing Trail, I imagined the worst. I would fall to my death, my children would be fatherless, and my wife would be left a widow. None of those things had yet to happen as I began the climb, but I considered them as vivid possibilities. Maybe the wisdom of climbing the trail was debatable.

GOD IS WITH ME

However, no matter where I am, the Word of God commands: Cast all your cares upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will not let the righteous be shaken. (Psalm 55:22) God was there on the Angels Trail, in the midst of my worst nightmare. I still can’t believe I challenged that fear. Thank you, God that with every step into the unknown, You are with me.

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AN ABUNDANCE OF LOVE

It’s hard for me to believe that I don’t have to consider God as lacking anything in His toolbox of love and care.

I was blessed to grow up with food, clothing, education and housing.  Both my parents were exceptionally hard workers (I learned my work ethic from them).  However, over the years I have tried to make sense of the emotional silence which permeated our home. Love was hard to come by in our emotional desert.

LOSING A MOTHER

Recently I read John Eldredge’s book: Resilient: Restoring Your Weary Soul in These Turbulent Times.  A paragraph brought light on spot in my heart which I have always failed to understand: “Losing a mother, never having a mother, or living with a mother who in many ways could not offer the mothering we needed is simply devastating.” My mother fit that last category.  Emotionally damaged in many ways, it was not possible for her to offer the kind of love we children needed.  She didn’t purposely choose to be that way; it just was.

MOTHER DESOLATION

Thinking this through, I have begun to understand that as an adult very often my reactions to life has demonstrated I lacked the “assurance of abundance” as a child. Eldredge writes: “Are my actions and emotions proving that I received utter assurance that my needs matter, and that they will be met, and met joyfully? You could call this the category of “mother wounds,” but I think a far more accurate description is mother desolation. The soul is meant to receive profound nourishment from our mother—physically and emotionally, nourishment in absolute abundance. When it doesn’t, the soul experiences a famine of the most serious kind.”

THE FAMINE EXPERIENCE

That famine experience has carried over to my relationship with my heavenly Father. I ask Him: “Do my needs matter? Will You meet them joyfully?” I find that God’s love is far different than my famine experience. 

NEVER FORGOTTEN!

What does His love look like? God is unable to forget us. “Even if mothers were to forget, I could never forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15) Burn these words into your heart: “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close” (Psalm 27:10). Contrary to all those childhood experiences, God is NEVER going to forget me.  God will never push me away. 

GOD’S TOOLBOX

“Mother desolation” is part of my bio.  My mother died years ago and it took years for me to forgive her for lacking the qualities that were never in her toolbox as a parent.  It’s hard for me to believe that I don’t have to consider God as lacking anything in His toolbox of love and care. God WANTS to carry me in His arms, to hold me, to converse with me, to attach with me. 

A NEW ATTACHMENT

I don’t understand such attachment and have trouble trusting it.  God is working on that. He offers to mother us — to come and heal our souls here, in this essential place. Eldredge writes, “God yearns to bring us the assurance of abundance.” God wants to deeply attach to us. “Salvation is a new attachment, the soul’s loving bond to our loving God.”

ALWAYS ROOM FOR YOU

Maybe as you walk through 2024, you may want to rethink the quality of your attachment to God. Try attaching to God in 2024. He always has room for you. There is an abundance of love.

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GOD IS IN THE HOUSE!

This new inhabitant would send shock waves across the world that would exist for centuries.

At the end of our block is a sign which says, “Apartment for Rent”, advertising the unit below us.  The tenant moved away Thanksgiving weekend. In the entire year she lived under us, we never heard a peep.  She moved in a complete stranger and stayed a stranger.  One day I asked her name but she only told me her first name.  Our lives were not rocked by her entrance or exit.

What if instead she had been a co-tenant with us? Lived in our apartment, shared our furniture, our utilities, our conversations, our life.  Her arrival and departure would have affected our lives.  We may have either wept or rejoiced, but our lives would have shifted. 

THE NEW NEIGHBOR

John 1:1-14 describes someone whose entrance into the world rocked the existence of mankind. This new neighbor is referred to as The Word. If The Word had to fill out an application to live with us, John would write “The Word’s previous address was the universe, from eternity.” As for previous housemates, John would write, “The Word was with God.” He might also have written in parenthesis: (by the way, The Word was God).  This new neighbor, announced by John, was not going to be someone unseen, who would silently go about his business. This new inhabitant would send shock waves across the world that would exist for centuries. In other words, The Word is Immanuel, “God with us”.

HE’S NOT A LONG WAY OFF

The Old Testament tells us about another situation where God lived in the midst of people. The Tabernacle and Solomon’s temple both contained the “Holy of Holies” – the Glory of God. This was called by Jewish rabbis the “Shekhinah Glory”; “the visible presence of God among men”. God decided to room among a people who rarely loved Him or fully devoted themselves to Him.  In the Book of John, God is announced as again pitching His tent, but this time the Tent was in human form, “Immanuel”; God with us. Spurgeon warns us about our attitude about the new neighbor, Immanuel, “Do not let us live as if God were a long way off.” 

LIVED WITH US IN ORDER TO DIE

Immanuel did not come as judge and executioner. All of us already were guilty before Him and were doomed to everlasting punishment. John Piper writes: “The Word, the Son, who is God, became flesh to reveal a divine glory that is “full of grace and truth.” The Word of God became flesh to be gracious to us.” “Grace” is “God’s favor toward the unworthy”. In His grace, God is willing to forgive us and bless us abundantly, in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve to be treated so well or dealt with so generously. Piper continues, “The Word became flesh so that this graciousness to us would come in accord with God’s truthfulness. This is a righteous, God-exalting, costly grace. It led straight to Jesus’ death on the cross. In fact, this is why he became flesh. He had to have flesh in order to die.”

HE WILL LIVE WITH YOU

God has come close to you in Jesus Christ. He is Immanuel. You don’t have to struggle to make a connection with this new Neighbor, just invite Him in. He will come to you. God is in the House! This Neighbor has rocked my world.  I will never be the same.  He lives in my apartment, my heart, my soul.  He has promised to never leave me or forsake me.  I don’t have to go searching for someone else. That sign announcing room for rent has gone down, because God has made His Home with me for eternity.   

In case you want to read further about this New Neighbor, click Revelation 19:11-16

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GIVING GOD YOUR DREAMS

It took a long time for me to be able to look at anything to do with babies without my heart going to a dark place.  How could I trust God? 

It was my first miscarriage.  We had been helping out at a summer camp and were hours away from home.  I ended up losing our baby in a strange hospital without any friends or family (other than Bill). The wounds were raw.  It took a long time for me to be able to look at anything to do with babies without my heart going to a dark place.  How could I trust God?  We were faithful followers of Jesus. How could this be part of God’s plan? It was not my dream.

THEY WERE BOTH VERY OLD

Maybe this is also what Zechariah and Elizabeth wondered: how could they trust God?  When we are introduced to them in Luke 1:5-25: they were both very old. In other words, one foot in the grave.  Over the years how many births of friends and neighbors had they repeatedly participated in celebrating? Zech and Elizabeth would then return to their own home where their cradle just gathered dust, season after season. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive. When was the day they finally gave their unused cradle to another family? Or did they chop it up for firewood?  I think I may have done the latter.  It is hard to let go of dreams.

GOD WAS HEARING EVERYONE ELSE’S PRAYERS

It may have seemed God was hearing everyone else’s prayers except the prayers of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Yet they chose to trust God and maintain a spiritual life that was: righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.  They were not only outwardly good, but decided to continue to follow God with all their hearts. In spiritual terms, this is the season where the battle is either won or lost.  The victory is when genuine faith becomes a conscious decision to continue to cling to God, regardless of the circumstances. Zech and Elizabeth still clung to the goodness of God, whether or not their cradle was filled.

It is understandable that Zechariah had a problem comprehending the message from the angel. At his age, it’s a wonder he didn’t have a heart attack when the angel appeared to him with the message: God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. At the back of Zech’s mind, maybe he was saying, “Yeah, sure, it’s about time…”

THE TWILIGHT OF THEIR LIVES

In the twilight of their lives, Zechariah and Elizabeth were going to experience great joy and gladness.  This long-awaited baby would be everything they had ever prayed for: filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.  Their son John’s mission would be the ultimate answer to the prayer that any believing parents ask for their children. John would not only give them great joy and gladness, but he would also be a godly man, great in the eyes of God, and he would prepare the hearts of his fellow countrymen for the coming of the Messiah.  What more could a parent ask for?

GOD HAD NEVER FORGOTTEN

God had never forgotten the prayer of Zechariah and Elizabeth. He felt their grief all those years, especially when the prayers of others were answered. He heard their laments. Psalm 5:1-3: Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament. Hear my cry for help,  my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;   in the morning I lay my requests before you    and wait expectantly. It may have seemed that God’s timing was off regarding Zech and Elizabeth, but it fit perfectly into God’s perfect calendar for humanity.  God was with them even during the darkest times.  Our Father understands all about empty cradles. Are you waiting for the God Who can be trusted? He may not answer in the way you are expecting, but He is the God Who is good. How about giving Him your dreams?

For further encouragement, listen to the story of Loryn Smith

PRAYERS THAT MOVE THE WORLD

Pastor Mike called out: “North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Eritrea, Yemen, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, Iran, & Afghanistan.” He asked the significance of these names. Maybe you know they are the names of the top ten offenders of the 50 countries that make up the World Watch List 2024. Believers in these countries pay the cost of following Jesus. Extremists exploit instability in Africa, foreign influence bolsters autocratic regimes, and there are unprecedented attacks on churches. Over 365 million Christians around the world face discrimination for their faith. My mind boggles with the sheer numbers. Yet, despite this, the Christian Church grows.

THE PRACTICE OF PRAYER

Every morning, I read and pray for one of the countries on the World Watch List. In my Global Prayer Guide I follow an additional different country. My geography skills have proven very inadequate as countries change names and shapes. God knows the locations. My heart breaks as I follow the testimonies of Voice of the Martyrs.

I DON’T PERSONALLY KNOW THESE PEOPLE

I do not personally know these people I pray for. Their situations are unimaginable to me. Yet I pray and then pray some more. Why? Because of this passage: “This is the [remarkable degree of] confidence which we [as believers are entitled to] have before Him: that if we ask anything according to His will, [that is, consistent with His plan and purpose] He hears us. And if we know [for a fact, as indeed we do] that He hears and listens to us in whatever we ask, we [also] know [with settled and absolute knowledge] that we have [granted to us] the requests which we have asked from Him.” (I John 5:13-14)

OUR SAVIOR HEARS

God understands each situation and every individual on this earth. He knows about the believers who spend years in solitary confinement in metal shipping containers in the heat of Eritrea. The Holy Spirit groans for those in Korea, imprisoned in concentration camps because they possessed a Bible. Our Savior hears the cries of refugees from Sudan whose homes are destroyed by militants.

NOT WISHFUL THINKING

It is easy to get discouraged and think that our little prayers do not matter. Did you ever wonder why James 5:17-18 points out that Elijah had “a nature like ours”? Matt Bradson writes that we are to pray for huge movements of the Holy Spirit: “Even Elijah was only human. God can answer our big, rain-stopping, holiness-pleading prayers just like his.” If as a righteous person you pray according to God’s will, expect God to answer the prayer. He will grant what you ask. That is based on God’s promise, not wishful thinking.

WHAT TO PRAY FOR

How can you know exactly what and how to pray? Check out the resources I have already mentioned. Even more, learn to plunder Scripture as you pray, interceding for people using the words of the Apostle Paul or the Psalms. “Plunder” means “take goods violently from a place, especially during a war.” Do you open your Bible with force and realize that this is your sword for global warfare?

SPEAK INTO GOD’S EAR

Notice the Apostle Paul didn’t mess around only tiny requests. He drives right to the heart of what people really need. At the beginning of Philippians, he writes, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Why not begin today using this as your prayer for believers in North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Eritrea, Yemen, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, Iran, & Afghanistan? God has offered His ear. Speak powerfully into it!

Click here for the miraculous testimony entitled “A Die-hard Shia Muslim Becomes a Believer”

MY LIFE AS A PRISONER

God sent us into the wilderness to get to know Him better.

Are you a multi-tasker? I ended up multi-tasking to the extreme. At one point, work included: being a music teacher grades K-12; privately coaching vocal students; directing a 30 voice children’s choir at church; directing a 70-voice regional choir; leading the musical programs at Christian camps; teaching a weekly women’s Sunday School Class. I even ran a class so that women could better manage their health (what a joke!). On the side, I was making and selling jewelry at craft shows and teaching others how to make jewelry. If it could be done, I did it. What a prison I was living in.

OVERWORKED AND UNHAPPY

Did I mention I also loved burning leaves? Maybe burning leaves was significant because I felt my life was going up in smoke. I was overworked and unhappy. When oh when would the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow come into sight?

In the background was my family: husband and two sons. My husband was a pastor; dedicated to his calling. My sons were excellent kids, but did I really know any of them? Had I taken a second to breathe?

THE YEARS OF DISSEMBLING

Then came the years of dissembling. Signs of an approaching storm already appeared on the horizon, but I ignored it. Surely, nothing that bad could ever come about for someone who loved Jesus. Right? Wrong! God ripped all of those commitments and ministries right out of our hands. In a twinkling of an eye, we were without a church home, a regular schedule, and a stable home base. Savings quickly evaporated. I obsessed about finding my husband a new job. He had sunk into deep depression, so I spent hours searching job boards and writing resumes and sending letters to countless churches on his behalf. Nothing worked.

WALLS BEGINNING TO FALL

Workaholic Jacqui was at the end of her rope. The bottom had arrived. Suddenly, there were hours, days and weeks to think….Were the prison walls beginning to fall?

Not until the end has been reached does one realize that maybe they are on the wrong path. Not until I gave up my puny efforts could God rebuild new lives. Only He could make the huge internal change in not only how we see Him, but how we see ourselves and our relationship to ministry.

THE BEST PRISON CHAPLAIN

Instead of viewing God as a job, a commitment, and a career, God became Father and Provider. He pried our hands off of possessions, aspirations for ministry, and plans for the future. God no longer was Someone researched in order to prepare a lesson. He is that Friend Who takes His time for visits that can be quite lengthy. He is the best prison chaplain!

MINISTRY TODAY

What is our relationship to church and ministry today? Church is a community of believers that deeply care about each other. Technically we belong to a large local church, but in our hearts, real church plays out in small pockets: the women’s “Tribe” I am part of, the men Bill mentors, the writing friends God has blessed me with, and the assortment of Christian friends we call family.

TOOLS, NOT “PROJECT MANAGERS”

We no longer consider “ministry” something we possess. Ministry is something God can steer us into for a season and then steer us out of another season. We don’t have a strangle hold on to what is God’s and not ours. He does with ministry and programs what He wants and He prospers what He wants to prosper. We are His tools, not His project managers.

Today, both Bill and I are investors. We invest in the lives of other believers or individuals on the cusp of believing.  We take seriously the prayer, time and effort needed to pour into the lives of God’s children. Sometimes this is well received. Other times, it can be painful. However, this is the passion God has led us to. It just took that long painful journey into the wilderness to get us here.

PRISONERS CAN BE SET FREE

Are you going through a similar long painful journey? From firsthand experience, I can tell you that the pain is worth it if you let God do the rebuilding. God never wants His children to be their own “project managers”. God sent us into the wilderness to get to know Him better. Into the barrens the we went. The prisoners can be set free!

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Click here to hear Jeff Parker’s testimony of being set free

LOVE THAT NEVER RUNS

I would rather have a root canal than knowingly sit next to the brother/sister who has hurt me.

And there we sat side by side at the picnic. It was difficult. My sister in Christ hated my guts at that moment. I just wanted to exit stage left as fast as possible.

BEING A “RUNNER”

I am a “runner”. There, I said it. I am that person who will separate as quickly as possible when there is conflict with another brother or sister in Christ. Give me the person who has deeply wounded me and 100% of the time I emotionally jump out the window when I pass by them again. Frankly, I would rather have a root canal than knowingly sit next to the brother/sister who has hurt me.

WE HAVE ALL BEEN DEEPLY HURT

The sad fact is that no one in this world hasn’t been deeply injured in his/her relationships to others. This is especially true in the church. That’s why I John 4:7-21 is so challenging:  “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates (works against) his [Christian] brother he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should also [unselfishly] love his brother and seek the best for him.

THE MERE ABSENCE OF LOVE IS DEADLY

How does a habit of withdrawal effect one’s spiritual life? Dallas Willard comments in “Renovation of the Heart”: Failure to love others as Jesus loves us chokes off the flow of the eternal kind of life that our whole human system cries out for. The old apostle minced no words: “He who does not love abides in death” (verse 14). Notice that he did not say, “He who hates,” but simply, “He who does not love.” The mere absence of love is deadly. It is withdrawal.”

COURAGEOUS LOVE

Is it possible to have this type of courageous love – the type is determined by the grace of God to stick around, rather than flee? Non-courageous love means that I do not extend love toward that difficult brother/sister because of my past issues. I am not letting issues control my feelings. On the contrary, I make a choice to extend love because I allow Jesus to revolutionize my character, my inner being.

JESUS NEVER RAN

This is a change by submission: allowing God to change me from the inside out through my relationship with God. Instead of putting on my running shoes when conflict arises, I allow the character of Christ enter my life. Jesus never ran.

Are you also a “runner”? I remember a congregation where one family was in conflict with another. They always attended the same service, but made sure they sat on opposite sides of the sanctuary. Their spiritual running shoes were always in service. “The mere absence of love is deadly. It is withdrawal.” Jesus love never runs.

Click for more information on how to love well.

LOVE ALWAYS SHOWS UP

Maybe Thomas thought he was righting the world, but I can’t see Jesus bellowing across the Temple because he was not on the “A-List” of singers.

It’s a small church known for in-fighting. On the Elder Board is Thomas, a man knowledgeable in the Scriptures and a self-proclaimed evangelist. Everyone knows him for his beautiful singing voice. Did I mention Thomas makes sure everyone knows what the church policy handbook states? If the church has a rule breaker, Thomas is quickly on the hunt. Also, if you don’t know Thomas, then he makes sure you quickly know all about his latest accomplishments.  

And then there is Delores, an elderly woman who knows her basic Bible, but you could never catch her in a debate among scholars. Delores has a challenging life – multiple health problems, widowed early, and finances are scarce. Despites circumstances, Delores always shows up for church. She made a decision to love her fellow believers well, regardless of how inconvenient the situation is for her. Delores is love personified.

Unfortunately, everyone remembers the last congregational meeting: Thomas’ infamous melt down. He publicly let the congregation know how he was slighted by not being scheduled more frequently as a soloist. As his angry voice bellowed across the sanctuary, the humiliated music director sank lower and lower into the pew. Maybe Thomas thought he was righting the world, but I can’t see Jesus bellowing across the Temple because he was not on the “A-List” of singers.

In contrast to Thomas, Delores loves well. She works hard building relationships with her brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of the cost to her personally. She takes to heart the teachings of the Apostle John in I John 4:7-21: Beloved, let us [unselfishly] love and seek the best for one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves [others] is born of God and knows God [through personal experience]. (God loved unselfishly, that is the same type of love we are to display one to another).” Thomas seems to fall into John’s description of “non-lovers”: “The one who does not love has not become acquainted with God [does not and never did know Him], for God is love.

God’s love always shows up. It shows up when believers attend a worship service and stay to have significant conversations with other believers. Church is not a chore to check off on their to-do list. This same love shows up when Christians volunteer in ministries and grow in relationships with other fellow servants. They encourage each other. The identical love shows up when believers get involved in a small group of believers for the purpose of community, even if a small group doesn’t easily fit in their schedule. “Show-up love” comes with a price. It can be very inconvenient.

If you do not have a “show-up” kind of love for your fellow believers, then maybe it is time for a heart check. Thomas thought a heart check consisted of public performance and rules. Jesus’ heart check goes far deeper.  Delores might not have all the answers, but Delores considers it a great privilege to love her brothers and sisters in Christ. Delores’ love always shows up. Are you a Thomas or a Delores? Is it heart check time?

Click to listen to a story of this kind of love

Click for further information on loving one another

PEACE BE STILL

Life can be uncertain, scary and confusing. Drowning in the heaviness of circumstances, we have the choice to reach out and cry, “Lord, save me!”

A great distance from land, the boat appears as a mere speck in the horizon. The wind whips the waves higher and higher. Accounts in Matthew 24 and Mark 4 describe the terror of the disciples in the midst of two different storms.  In the Gospel of Matthew, they see in the distance a figure. Is that actually a person walking across the water? The men cry out in fear. Then they hear the voice. It belongs to the One they love: Jesus. “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Amidst the surf, Jesus calls across to Peter, “Come!” Slowly Peter raises one foot over the side of the boat. Suddenly he finds himself actually standing on water. Despite being soaking wet, Peter makes his way toward the Savior.

Then comes that monster wave. It almost knocks Peter over. Startled, Peter wonders what in the world he is doing, attempting to walk across the Sea of Galilee. Fear fills his soul. Peter stops looking at Jesus and takes in the reality of his circumstances. Doubts flood his heart. The seas grab his attention. Peter begins to sink. Before he totally goes under, in terror he screams, “Lord save me!” Jesus reaches out and pulls Peter up from the waters.

Sadly, shaking His head, Jesus cries, “Oh, you of little faith, why did you doubt?” From Peter’s very first step, Jesus knew what a difficult test this would be. It pushed self-confident Peter beyond all his human abilities.

God does His best work when we come to the same realization as Peter: we cannot save ourselves. Notice the progression. Peter had to make that first step of faith out of the boat before his faith, or lack thereof, could be revealed.

Life can be uncertain, scary and confusing. Drowning in the heaviness of circumstances, we have the choice to reach out and cry, “Lord, save me!” Not until we invite the Savior does Jesus enter and make our twisted ways straight. Jesus does not tell us to hide away from the storms in the bottom of a boat. He tells us to get out of the boat and walk toward Him, regardless of our crisis. Only after that initial step does our Savior then whisper, “Peace be still.”

Click for further info on what Jesus means by “Peace be still”

REMEDY FOR A BROKEN HEART

I assumed that my mess was my own and not till everything was straightened out could I feel close to God again.

I was underwater and drowning fast due to circumstances mostly out of my control.  Torn and shredded, my heart didn’t know if there was a way back. 

A specific passage helped me to begin to breathe again.  Psalm 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. 19 The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; 20 he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. These few verses literally saved my life

In my brokenness, I pushed God further and further away.  Afterall, God doesn’t want to be around rubbish, does He?  That’s what I felt like: trash; something good for nothing. I assumed that my mess was my own and not till everything was straightened out could I feel close to God again.

But that’s not what this passage says.  When we are broken, that’s the time which magnetizes God to us.  I thought He was the One stepping away, but in fact, it was me who was running away from Him.

I didn’t think there could be healing and wholeness. Little did I know that even though healing would take time, I could be made stronger than ever before.  The good thing was that the new stronger was way better than my previous vision of strength. 

Maybe it’s time to start letting these couple of verses soak and marinate into your soul, your heart, your mind and your life.  Please don’t put God on pause.  When I tried that, it just made restoration take so much longer. I lost so much time forgetting: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Click for what the Bible says about mental health

HOW TO HAVE A GRATEFUL HEART

Don’t allow Satan to enter in and fill you with ungratefulness. What can we do to have a grateful heart?

The last day of school; a bittersweet time as some anxiously await summer vacation and others yearn for more time with friends and the stability of a school routine.  I sit in my rocking chair surrounded by sweet eight-year-old faces, opening the cards and gifts they bring me. The best gifts I receive are not the gift cards, flowers, or candy, but the words written in homemade cards or letters from parents. They state how grateful they are for loving and teaching their child. Hearts filled with gratefulness.

But not everyone. This year proved to be a challenging one.  The energy required for a few left me feeling exhausted at the end of each day.  These are the students and parents that I yearn to receive a thank-you from. A small note or email with a sincere thank-you or recognition of appreciation.

Is this how God feels when we are ungrateful or don’t take the time to express our gratitude for the blessings He has showered on us?  Luke 17:12-19 tells the story of ten lepers that asked Jesus to cleanse and heal them. Out of the ten, only one turned back and glorified and thanked God for his healing.  Only one. How many times have we been like the nine lepers? 

Ungratefulness is a sin, and it comes from Satan. 2 Timothy 3:1-4 states, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”  Don’t allow Satan to enter in and fill you with ungratefulness.

What can we do to have a grateful heart? Remember to thank God daily.  Psalm 92:1 reminds us that, “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord and sing praises.” Remember to say please and thank-you often to others. The mental health benefits of showing gratitude are encouraging.  Symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression can be decreased when we show gratitude. Finally, don’t lose sight of God’s goodness. The Israelites were brought into the Promised Land after 40 years of bondage and they still questioned God’s provision. They even expressed a desire to go back to Egypt into slavery. In times of tribulation, look to see how God got you to where you are in life and give Him praise.  

The love I have given every student over the last 25 years is deep, but it doesn’t begin to compare to the love that God has for His children. He longs for us to recognize our ingratitude and repent. Henry Adams stated, “A teacher affects eternity; they can never tell where their influence stops.” My influence on the lives of the most challenging students may not be noticed yet, but God is in control.  He has the power to change anyone’s ungrateful heart, even mine.

Click for podcast: “What does the Bible say about thankfulness and gratitude?”

PEACE BE STILL

God does His best work when we come to the same realization as Peter: we cannot save ourselves.

A great distance from land, the boat is merely be a speck in the horizon. The wind whips the waves higher and higher. The disciples are terrified when they see in the distance a figure. Is that actually a person walking across the water? The men cry out in fear. Then they hear the voice. It belongs to the One they love: Jesus. “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Amidst the surf, Jesus calls across to Peter, “Come!” Slowly Peter raises one foot over the side of the boat. Suddenly he finds himself actually standing on water. Despite being soaking wet, Peter makes his way toward the Savior.

Then comes that monster wave. It almost knocks Peter over. Startled Peter wonders what in the world he is doing, attempting to walk across the Sea of Galilee. Fear fills his soul. Peter stops looking at Jesus and takes in the reality of his circumstances. Doubts flood his heart. The seas grab his attention. Peter begins to sink. Before he totally goes under, in terror he cries, “Lord save me!” Jesus reaches out and pulls Peter up from the waters.

Sadly, shaking His head, Jesus cries, “Oh, you of little faith, why did you doubt?

From Peter’s very first step, Jesus knew what a difficult test this would be. It pushed self-confident Peter beyond all human skills. Peter had to realize he could not save himself. God does His best work when we come to the same realization as Peter: we cannot save ourselves.

When we are pushed beyond our abilities and understand we have no power of our own to save ourselves. Drowning in the heaviness of life, we reach out and cry, “Lord, save me!” It’s not until we invite the Savior, does Jesus enter and make our twisted ways straight. The Savior then whispers, “Peace be still.”

Click for further info on what Jesus means by “Peace be still”