Inevitable: Temptation

I’m still hanging out in James, the first chapter. If by chance you’ve read it, you know by now I skirted around a certain passage. It told myself it was for continuity and I’d return to dig deeper into it. Here I go, James 1:13-14:

“No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God,” since God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.”

James 1:13-15 CSB

I find this passage both practical and quite daunting. First, we aren’t to accuse God of tempting us, it is not in His character. Simply stated, He can not be tempted and He does not tempt us. That’s pretty straight forward and something I have accepted by faith and it has proven true in my life. So where does temptation come from? According to James, our own evil desire entices us; draws us away from God’s way or will. Could this really be true? Could we really be our own worst enemy when it comes to temptation?

As I’ve pondered this over the last several days, three examples have come to mind.

  • The fall of man in The Garden of Eden
  • Satan’s temptation of Jesus
  • Jesus time in the Garden of Gethsemane

How was it Eve found herself tempted? What did the serpent say? How did that bring temptation? Genesis 3, enter the serpent and he spoke to Eve:  “Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?”” CSB

He followed up with an answer: “ “No! You will not die,” the serpent said to the woman. “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will bell opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” Genesis 3:4-5 CSB

  1. He questioned Eve’s understanding of what God had actually said.
  2. The serpent worded his answer deceptively; he implies that God purposefully is keeping them from the fruit so they will not be like Him (God).
  3. The serpent implies God is holding out on them and keeping knowledge from them that they need to know.

Is it possible, in the quest to please God and a desire to be like God, Eve’s own desire(s) are what tempted her to do exactly what God had instructed the not to do. We were told, and perhaps even Adam and Eve, though it is not specifically said; they were created in the image of God. Both were already like Him, created in His image. Perhaps, because God is sovereign and His ways are higher than ours, He was protecting them by keeping them from this tree of “Knowledge of Good and Evil”. Keeping them innocent of the evils that were possible in this new world. Was their sin allowing their desire to be like God to tempt them to disobedience? Were they placing their will above God’s will? Were they snared by the serpents deception or were they really trapped by their own desire to be like God? Maybe it really was because of there own selfish desire for more.

Temptation of Jesus

“Then Jesus left the Jordan, full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” But Jesus answered him, “It is written: Man must not live on bread alone. ” So he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. The devil said to him, “I will give you their splendor and all this authority, because it has been given over to me, and I can give it to anyone I want. If you, then, will worship me, all will be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only. ” So he took him to Jerusalem, had him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. For it is written: He will give his angels orders concerning you, to protect you, and they will support you with their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. ” And Jesus answered him, “It is said: Do not test the Lord your God. ” After the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.”

Luke 4:1-13 CSB

The Bible tells us Jesus was tempted in every way we have been, yet was sinless. This is a great example. How was Jesus so strong and resistant to sin? Possibly because He was in constant communication with His Father and He was determined only to do what His Father said! He focused on His purpose and His goal not His own selfish desires or His hunger. He realized something higher was at stake. This is pretty good proof that though outside forces can bring on the means of temptation, they are not responsible for us falling into the snare that was set before us.  Rather it is our own selfish desires that over come us and cause us to fall into the trap.  

Lastly, Jesus in the Garden, a mind anguished but firmly set on the prize set before Him!  

““He went out and made his way as usual to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he told them, “Pray that you may not fall into temptation.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and began to pray, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me — nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Being in anguish, he prayed more fervently, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he got up from prayer and came to the disciples, he found them sleeping, exhausted from their grief. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you won’t fall into temptation.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a mob came, and one of the Twelve named Judas was leading them. He came near Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?””

Luke 22:39-42, 44-48 CSB

We find Jesus example here exemplary. Anguished to the point of sweating drops of blood, He remained true to the course set before Him until the very end when He was arrested, mocked and beaten, judged wrongly and executed.  We also find a different example in the disciples. Jesus asked them to watch and pray for an hour so they would not fall into temptation. They failed, though they may have tried; their tired flesh had it way. Though Jesus awakened them to remind them; they fell into the temptation of sleep each time.

I’ll be the first to say though I’d rather not admit it; “it’s not the devil made me do it” (a throw back to Flip Wilson comedy); and it certainly is not God tempting us. It might be considered a test but ultimately bottom line we make a decision and we are responsible for our actions. Even in not deciding, we have made the decision to let what happens happen. 

Tough saying this is:  “But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.”

May God give us grace and strength to decide wisely and set aside temptation and choose life; keeping our focus firmly set on the prize set before us. When we fall, may His beautiful forgiveness, grace and mercy surround us!

May His grace and peace be with you and keep you.

Inevitable: Are Trials Unavoidable?

Interesting how life ebbs and flow! Writing is something I have enjoyed for quite a while, whether personal journaling or blogging. Lately, it seems I have been in a season of distractions when it comes to the inspiration it takes to get me writing in either area. Maybe that’s a thing of the past…perhaps I’ve just been letting those distraction have too much power in my life.

Today, I began my day earlier than usual. It is still very quiet and peaceful, my favorite condition to find myself in; especially for pondering important stuff and for writing. In our modern, fast paced lifestyle, it is often illusive and hard to find. Determined to do just that, I got up early, settled in my reading chair and opened a new Bible-fresh, unmarked, clean slate. Because a passage in James has come up several times since late September, I began my reading there. First, I ran across a devotional about James. It intrigued me and pulled me in. At the end, it asked three great questions. Basically the paraphrased version would be:

How can you see God’s hand of blessing in your life today?

Have you seen God go above and beyond your expectations? How?

In this season, how is God asking you to be a blessing to someone?

Wow! Answering those questions challenged me to think, to answer, to pray, and to get busy reading.

Blessings: A loving and faithful God who knows everything about me and call me worthy because of Jesus; a terrific family; answered prayers for resolution of a couple health issues; just to get started.

Exceeded expectations: Going through a recent surgery with only a few hours down time and very little pain. Which because of the other circumstances happening, was a blessing way above and beyond anything I could have asked or imagined!!

Season to be a blessing: Approximately 36 hours after surgery, a very close family member in my husband’s family graduated to heaven. Together we are being called to a season of more responsibility and caregiving; hopefully to be a blessing and not a stumbling block.

Back to James! Verse 2 is a show stopper! This gets me every time. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”. James1:2 Most everyone who has heard a sermon on this portion of James has heard a pastor say, “notice that it does not say IF you face trials.” In every version or translation I have ever read, it clearly states that we are to consider it all joy or pure joy when or whenever trials come. Stated this way, it becomes clear that in every one of our lives it is inevitable (certain and un-avoidable) we will encounter trials. Yet when one comes our way, it seems to surprise us or even shock us. Human nature I suppose.

Familiar with this passage since early adulthood, it still strikes me fresh and anew every single time I read it! Perhaps that says as much about me as it does the actual verse, however I think it really shows us how counter-intuitive it is to our human nature. God sees the end of the situation even before it begins. We humans do not. It is a stretch for us to look beyond the initial aggravation of whatever trial presents itself to us and search for a lesson to be learned as we go through that trial that will bring us out on the other side better than we were before we went through it.

When the trial or struggle comes, what will we do with it. We may not be able to keep it from coming. We may not be able to avoid it. So, what next? I personally think it comes down to what we do with it. Do we just wrestle and struggle with it; do we fight against it; ignore it; give in to it; become overwhelmed by it; or go into problem solving mode to fix or solve it? Some would say we should ask what we are supposed to learn from it.

Responses vary probably as much as people. Scripture seems to be saying it is an opportunity to be joyful or choose joy; not because we have the trial or the problem. Because God is faithful and if we turn to Him in the circumstance and trust Him to see us through. When we take our struggle to Him, it tests our faith; producing endurance in the trial. Can we get through this situation? Will God answer our prayers about it? Will He answer them the way we want Him to answer? Is there a reason for Him to answer differently that we can not see/understand? Do we trust when the Word says that Gods’ ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts?

” because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:3-4

Trials, bring about the testing of faith according to James. Testing of faith leads too endurance. Endurance when fully acting or in full effect brings about a maturity; completeness. Is it possible that faith could be compared to a muscle and the more exercise it gets, the stronger it gets. Could it be the stronger your faith gets, the less we panic or worry when another problem hits and the sooner we take it to our Heavenly Father in prayer?

Please know in these questions and ramblings, I am not trying to oversimplify. Life can be difficult and overwhelming at times. Sometimes it seems problems come in waves as often and as rhythmic as the waves hit the shoreline. I do find comfort that the very next section assures us that when we need wisdom all we have to do is ask God. It assures us that He gives wisdom freely, generously. James also warns us. Ask in faith. Don’t doubt. Be single minded, sure that He will answer. Find yourself doubting? I do, and find myself praying… “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

I also find a great deal of comfort that the endurance of trials come with a promise or a reward if you will. James 1: 12 says, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” I hope that you find this as encouraging and helpful as I did this morning. I certainly needed this reminder and though I didn’t make it through a whole chapter these words breathed fresh life into my heart. Finally, I would like to encourage you with the following words that James penned many years ago:

“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all he created.” James 1:16-18

Grace and Peace to you!

Joy Comes in the Mourning

Today October 26, my parents anniversary. I’m headed to my husband’s parents home to help care for his Dad because he is not doing well. I began my journey with a stop to fill up the gas tank and realized today’s date. I decided to make a quick trip to the local store to pick up some flowers to take to my parent’s graveside to honor them on this special day- it’s only a few minutes out of the way…alas, they have both graduated to Heaven. Today would’ve been their 60th wedding anniversary! I know, it’s more form me than for them, but it just felt like the right thing to do. As I thought about it I realized it’s also another kind of a coming-of-age season; it will be 21 years since my mom passed and graduated to heaven this November 7th. She was followed by my dad seven years later.

Twenty-one years! How fast it’s gone. Sometimes it feels like an eternity! Every day I realize more and more how grateful I am for the lessons they taught me and for the things that I learned through the experiences in my family of origin. Not just during the good times; in fact, in hindsight, some of the most valuable ones came in the difficult times. So many of my relatives have already gone before me; only cousins left and of course my wonderful adult children, children in love(spouses), and eight amazing grandchildren. There has been a great deal of loss in my life, BUT there have been many glorious blessings! One of the things I have learned is God is good even in the hard times when we are tempted to doubt His goodness.
God knows our every struggle and His timing is perfect even when we can’t understand it or believe that it’s true! Sometimes that’s a hard lesson to learn when everything seems to be caving in all around.

So why is this perhaps the second coming of age? We think when we turn 21 or 18 for some of us that we are all grown up, but that’s not necessarily true. We become adults, and we become more responsible for things. We do what today is termed ‘adulting.’ Honestly though, many of us still value the wisdom of our elders and seek out advice on some of the tougher things in life, and sometimes we just want to share the joys of life with them. We may not depend on them anymore, but it’s still nice to know there is someone to turn to at times of great joy, sorrow or trouble; until they aren’t there. Trust me; there’s been more than a few times early on that I’ve picked up the phone ready to dial and realized…I can’t call you. I can’t share that joyful news or ask that question. Honestly, I remember feeling like an orphan. That truly sounds kind of silly or ridiculous; I was 34 and 41 respectively when they went home. For a season, I felt like an adult orphan. It was comforting to find later out that I wasn’t the only one who felt this.

I usually don’t share things this personal. However, death and loss are things that hit everyone at one time or another. We may feel in invincible and think those we love are as well, but the truth is life can be fragile; it flies by in the blink of an eye. We will all experience loss, and we must deal with it at our own pace and in our way. It’s hard, and it is painful; excruciating at times, to be honest. Those who have elder parents still living as my husband does know the only thing as hard as losing them in their prime is watching them grow weaker and lose the ability to do the things that once brought them great joy. Cherish the moments, learn to find joy and humor in the good times and if at all possible in the difficult ones also; it helps take some of the bite out of the hard stuff!

Last Friday, my father-in-love got quite ill and on top of that had a fall and ended up in the E.R. By Saturday evening he was improving except for pain from the fall. After seeking x-rays and additional care to ensure no missed broken bones, he was given something for pain on Tuesday. The adverse effects took a toll on him and knocked him out for about 36 hours. Thankfully, today, his color is back, and he is eating and drinking well but is still weak and sleeping a lot. He is blessed to be 87, but it takes longer to bounce back, and we are hoping he returns to his self.

Sometimes in our life, the important just must take precedence over those things always declaring themselves urgent. In those times we must slow down and slow the crazy race that has become our life and remember what is truly important. It has been said to seize the day, but sometimes we just need to capture the moment. Linger a minute, find a moment to make a quick call; share a hug and say I love you. When we do, we leave our self less open to doubt and living with regrets later in life. Often remembering the little things like this help make it more bearable when loss and grief come your way.

It may seem a bit silly to celebrate my parents 60th anniversary by taking a bouquet to the place where their bodies rest; but for me, it brought great joy in remembering them today. I learned a lot about life and marriage from them, both what to do and what not to do. They instilled many good traits and habits in me and maybe a few patterns that needed to be broken. I still miss them and many times merely long to talk with them, share a home-cooked meal, or just sit in front of the fire and be together. I’m deeply grateful for their influence and that we did these things often. I am even more thankful for the faith they instilled in me, and that the Lord has grown in me. It gives me a blessed hope and the ability to say with assurance; we will be reunited once again and share in our Heavenly Father’s glory for eternity. I hope that sharing a piece of my journey will be a comfort and blessing for those dealing with struggles and loss.

Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord, Jesus!

 

What’s In a Story

What if a parable of Jesus is more than it appears? What if it’s more than just a story with a lesson for the hearers? Could it be that what we often see as a lesson taught through story goes much deeper and perhaps has layers of meaning beyond what we may initially see? Can we connect the dots and find deeper richer meanings; a back story, if you will?

My husband and I heard a missionary speak recently on the parable Jesus tells in Matthew 21:33-44. Here a landowner planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it. He then built a winepress in it and built a tower. Finally, he rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. As the parable continues, the landowner sends representatives when harvest time arrives to retrieve his produce from those he entrusted his land to in his absence.

First, the owner sent three of his servants to retrieve the fruit; one was beaten, one killed and the third stoned. Again he sent his servants, but this time, he sent a larger group; the results were the same. Finally, he decided to send his son, thinking that surely they will be respectful of him! No, the growers also killed him because if he was out of the picture; his inheritance would be theirs for the taking! The parable ends with the question: What will the owner do with the vine-growers?

Those who were listening purposed that the landlord would have a terrible end for those greedy, wicked people and find new growers who would be responsible for that which was entrusted to them.

Can we consider who and what these each of these might represent?

The Vinedresser – God

The wall he built – His protection set in place, perhaps.

A dug-in winepress – tools needed for success.

A watchtower – again, protection and a tool required for success;
Also, providing a means of watching and communicating issues and threats
outside the wall.

Vine growers – those whom He entrusted with the work of His
land or kingdom.

God provided, protected and gave every tool needed for those He entrusted to be successful. Everything necessary for success was in place at their fingertips and handed over to their care. They were entrusted with all that He had as He set out on a journey.

What are some of the unanswered questions? Were the men the owner hired unreliable from the start? Were they reliable at first, growing weary as time passed? Did the success go to their head and they become greedy for more than He promised to provide for their service? Perhaps, they became deceived; thinking they somehow were owed ownership of the land or His absence (the perception: out of sight, out of mind) made Him no longer a responsible an owner and perhaps an undeserving one. Whatever their reason, when the time came to fulfill their agreement and settle up with the proprietor, these vine-growers renigged on their contract. They had no respect for Him, His ownership and authority, nor for the authority which He had delegated first to His representatives and then to His Son and heir.

Jesus’ reply to those whom He was teaching was this:

“Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures,
‘The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the chief corner stone;
This came about from the Lord,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet.” Matthew 21:42-46

This was a direct message to the Pharisees of Jesus time. There also seems to be such a richness to this parable; I can help to wonder if there is so much more… Could there also be layers of meaning that go deeper and reach farther than we may have ever considered? Is it possible that it also refers to the institution of the new covenant of grace (the “church” age) that would soon be ushered in by Jesus sacrificial death, His burial, and resurrection and His command to make disciples of ALL nations? Or of the prophecies to be fulfilled in the future before Christ return? Could there be something for us in our very day lives that Jesus is trying to express? Are we greedy, wicked vine-growers? Are we beating, stoning, and killing figuratively; or are we loving and faithful like Jesus? Are we producing fruit?

Honestly, you may or may not agree; but the more I read this parable, the more questions it provokes. I am convinced that there truly are layers and meanings beyond the surface of what we read in this parable and perhaps in all of Jesus parables. I think I’ll be sitting on this one for a while.

Heavenly Father, Your Word promises if any lack wisdom to ask and it will be given lavishly without finding fault. James 1:5 Help us, Your sons and daughters seek You and Your wisdom so that we can have the understanding and rightly divide Your Word. You have gone before us, prepared the way, set protection in place, made provision for our needs, given us the tools so we may be successful, and entrusted us with Your kingdom. In fact, You have given us the incredible gift of Your Spirit dwelling inside of us to teach, comfort, guide and help us! May we accept the gifts, bring forth fruit and gratefully, willingly and gracefully offer it right back to You where it belongs! To You be the honor and glory forever! In the powerful and amazing name of Jesus Christ, Amen

Grace and Peace to you this day!

Secret to a Well-Watered Garden

If our lives were a garden, what kind of garden would we be? Interesting how our day can shift in just a moment in time! That is if we can be flexible. This morning an interesting topic came up, and I began to research it. It was one simple word– dry. My plan: to thoroughly examine this concept throughout Scripture.

The first suggested reference was Isaiah 58:11: “And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones, and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” (NASB)

I was totally hooked and fully submitted to where God would lead this particular thought because WHO wouldn’t like to find themselves guided in all the day-in and day-out decisions which are required of them? Who would not love to have every desire satisfied; especially in the dry and scorched places!! How often do we find ourselves in desperate need of strength? A well-watered garden is a perfect example of a beautiful and quiet place; usually with songbirds singing and just an all around quiet peacefulness-a delight to the senses! Can you just picture such a place? A person who personifies this description?

If you’ve been around awhile, you know it is a must for me to go back further into the text to make sure I have a grasp of as much context of the passage as I can for correct understanding; so I dialed back to Isaiah 57:14 for greater understanding.

The later part of Isaiah 57 is all about God’s forgiveness for those who are repentant. Interestingly, it is more about God’s actions and responses to His people. Verse 13 clearly states that whoever trusts in God will inherit the land and possess His holy mountain. God instructs Isaiah to rebuild the road; moving all rocks and stones. It’s to be a smooth road without rocks and stones so that His people can return from captivity to the safety, protection, and freedom in His presence. They had been led away captive by greediness and the desire to go their stubborn ways. Now, it is His desire for them to return to live with Him in the high and holy place; His requirement– a contrite (remorseful) and humble spirit.

Many will think this is a steep price to pay; others fail to see any need for remorse or humility. For those who find it within themselves to return to Him, He promises restoration and courage. In fact, He also has a promise for those who had remained in their stubbornness. Though He was angry, punished the greedy and withdrew from those who kept to their stubborn ways; He declares that He will heal them.
He pledges comfort for the mourners; also, abundant peace. But for the wicked, there is no peace. They will be like a churning ocean; without rest.

In Isaiah 58, we come across the contrast of real and false worship. False worship is described distinctly as worship that is self-seeking, self-pleasing and done with the expectation of recognition or reward. Some would call this form or worship religion rather than relationship; which is God’s heart for His people. Finally, we get to what the Lord, our God describes as His fast. The fast that God finds pleasing:

1. Bring freedom to those wrongly imprisoned.
2. Lighten the burden of those in your charge.
3. Free the oppressed; those subject to harsh treatment or treated as subservient. (remove chains of bondage)
4. Feed those who are hungry.
5. Shelter the homeless.
6. Clothe those who need clothing.
7. Do not hide from relatives that could use your help.

I find it very intriguing that there are exactly seven things that God lists in this passage. Isaiah is part of the Old Testament and is written originally in the Hebrew language. Hebrew tradition gives a numerical meaning to numbers. Seven is defined as the Divine number of completion; a covenant promise; and some say the number of perfection. So is there a promise or a covenant promise attached to the above behavior? Let’s explore…

Let’s pick up in verse 8 of Isaiah 58: ““Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind. 9 Then when you call, the LORD will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! 10 Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
11 The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. 12 Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes.” (NLT)

Five Promises or Results of the Lord’s Fast:

1. Your salvation will come like dawn.
2. Your wounds will heal quickly.
3. Your godliness will lead you forward.
4. The glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
5. You will call, and God will answer; He will quickly reply.

You might be interested to know if you don’t know already; the meaning of the Hebrew number five is God’s grace. God’s grace is abundant in our lives when we find ourselves submitted to His plan and purpose for us. As you can see in the above passages of scripture; our repentant and submitted life to the things which are of greatest importance to the heart of God causes His abundant grace to flow in our lives and allows us to abide in a place of peace, beauty, and fruitfulness!

May His grace abound to you in all you do!

Releasing the Old; Embracing the New

It’s now December 31st, and for the most part, the hustle and bustle of the Christmas celebration are winding down. Our Savior’s birth celebrated, presents given, presents received and opened, the glitz and wrappings of another year have found their way to their respective places whether that is in a drawer, a closet, returned, or in storage for next year, the recycle bin or for curbside pick up. For many it has been a time of sadness, remembering those no longer with us or losses that we have struggled with this year. Others felt alone and far from their loved ones whether because of their career; or serving their country across the world; or because they did not have resources to travel to their family or loved ones. Some have had the best year ever. Others celebrate a new birth or new life in their homes. Many experienced the angst of wanting to bless their loved ones with just the right gift, and some the pressure of not having the means to do it or do it in the manner they would like.

It is my hope and prayer that even amongst the myriad of feelings we often find ourselves experiencing; the pressures that we experience during this time of year that you have been able to find glimpses of joy. My wish is that glimmers of unconditional love have shown themselves; moments of grace have peeked out around the corner and taken your breath away! Christmas and life, in general, is much more than quick photo ops and sound bites! We often miss out when we get caught up in the rush and the pressures.

Except for leftover expenses, bills, and a few leftovers, the rich and tasty treats that we only allow ourselves this time of year, have been consumed. Now we move onto thinking about a brand new year with all the potential it may hold. Lord God help us to frame 2017 just that way! Give us the courage to look realistically at 2016; the good and the bad; the victories and the regrets. Help us to have the proper perspective about how our year as gone. Show us how to have the grace to celebrate every victory; gracefully repair what needs fixing and let go of what we can not change. May we have the boldness to look back realistically at the year, see it as it was, evaluate the changes we need to make and with great courage step into the adventure the New Year will bring. Help us have the wisdom to take time, to slow down and enjoy some simple small pleasures; such as a walk in nature, watching children play; making that phone call we have talked about but neglected; praying a moment for that person that just keep popping into our mind; maybe even sending a note to them. Teach us to simplify our life so we can enjoy it more; enjoy others more. Perhaps it just really boils down to perspective. Help us to develop proper perspective in our lives. Help us to see the things that are the most important; the things that at the end of the day or the end of our days will matter the most. Our relationship to You; our loved ones and those we come in contact with. May love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness be gifts that we often give, for they are far more valuable that anything we can purchase and the truth is that withholding them tends to hurt us far more than anyone else.

Father God, is it possible that there is a focus You have for this new season? Perhaps a word or a scripture verse that we need to ponder or focus on for the upcoming year? Suppose You are saying to us as in Isaiah 43:19, “Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of (perceive) it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert…”. May we be wise and alert enough to sense what You want to do in and through our lives in these days to come. Whether it is focusing on You at a new and deeper level, establishing deeper relationships, reaching out to those who are hurting, changing career or ministry paths… whatever You have for us, may we be willing to embrace it with open and willing hearts in the upcoming year! May we seek wisdom and understanding in all we do and allow You to establish our footsteps as we enter boldly into everything You have for us in 2017.

Election Angst?

     Seven days have passed since the historic election of 2016. One would think that by now things would be beginning to settle, yet emotions for many are still running high. From fear to elation, the sentiments range the gamut! Tears, riots, all the way to shouts of joy have been present. Never have I witnessed a political season like the one we have seen this time! For the most part, it is my personality, to keep quiet about such things; research the candidates, their records, and their character and quietly make my decision. I seldom if ever weigh in over social media but today I feel compelled to comment hoping to bring some peace and reassurance to those who are uncomfortable, fearful, worried or downright angry.

     This may not mean anything to you if your aren’t a person who believes in the God of creation and the Lord Jesus Christ, but Scripture tells us in Daniel:

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Based on this scripture alone, God is NOT surprised by the outcome of this election! He is not wringing His hands with concern about what the future holds. God already knows, and there is a purpose and plan for our country and for those He has allowed to come into positions of authority. He is perfectly aware that many of us have been shaking our heads for months over the political circus and were surprised at those chosen for the final leg of this journey. Many people found it hard to choose because they had issues with both of the candidates. The good news is that comfort can be found in Scripture. The Bible is full of hope for us, we just have to search it out.

One such story that comes to mind is found in the book of Esther. The King’s right-hand man plots and schemes until a directive was signed to rid the kingdom of all Jewish subjects; which by the way would include the Queen, unbeknownst to the King. Though God’s name is not mentioned once within the book; it’s obvious He is active throughout the events.

Then there’s the mighty victory of Gideon whose army was whittled down from 22,000 to 300 men. These were impossible odds for success, but with God on their side, nothing was impossible! The key is for us to stir up our faith and trust God; remind our self that He is Sovereign and in control; He not only has a plan but it is a purposeful plan for a good outcome for His people.

We like David must encourage ourselves in the Lord. 1 Samuel 30:6 “And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”

God is mighty and does mighty exploits. We must remind ourselves that God is faithful and He is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) Below are some verses that you may find helpful:

    I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 ESV

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine. Isaiah 43:1b ESV

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened,                                                        and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 ESV

                         

Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Isaiah 35:3-4 ESV

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life,  what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.  Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Luke 12:22-27 ESV

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom should I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom should I be afraid?
 When evildoers came against me to devour my flesh,
my foes and my enemies stumbled and fell.
 Though an army deploys against me,
my heart is not afraid;
though a war breaks out against me,
still I am confident. Psalm 27:1-3 HCSB

“Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

There are 365 fear not scriptures. Many scriptures can be found about hope, peace, trust, comfort, etc. When I find myself in need of encouragement, I find key words and Google to be particularly helpful (key word + scripture).

May His grace and peace abound to you!

BitterSweet

It’s good to sit down to write again. Life has been quite busy and full of surprises both good and challenging. This year has been lightening fast, and it is hard to believe November is here. November is a bittersweet month around our house. We love Thanksgiving and all the traditions, celebrations, and family times. At the same time, it is a time we remember some dear family members who graduated to their heavenly home; many whose home-going was during the month of November. November is also the month my husband and I have the pleasure of celebrating our anniversary.

I remember as a little tot; it was November when I attended the funeral of my Grand-daddy and my Great-grandmother. I’m not sure why the time of year stands out in my memory. Many years later, we also buried my husband’s beloved brother in November 1985; followed by my Mom and Dad in 1996 and 2003 respectively.

Today it has been twenty years to date since my Mom took her heavenly voyage way to young! (Just a few years older than me) As you might imagine, I have been reminiscing a bit as the day has approached. I have remembered special times and fond memories, thinking how much she would have enjoyed her seven great-grandchildren and looked forward to the new little one soon to be born.

Today also marks another special day in November; another reason to be thankful for all the Lord has done in our lives. It marks the end of a season, a labor of love that has resulted in the birth of a dream. Conceived in childhood, implanted in 2014; finally a reality today.

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Now available at Amazon.com or  https://www.createspace.com/6544403. I can’t help but wonder just what my Mom and Dad would think…

By God’s unfathomable grace, I am able to hold tight to Him and His grace to face all that November brings into my life; both good and challenging! Every single month for that matter. Life is full of wonderful and wonder-filled moments and it is important to remember each one! It is also filled with many challenging times when we must hold on to our faith, His grace and all that is good in our lives just to take our next breath! His grace is sufficient for every situation!

Be Blessed and may His grace and peace fill your days!

Crazy Times

 

Just wondering: Do your struggle with a wondering mind? I sure do! Always asking questions, seeking to understand. I find myself feeling like that small child always asking their parents or siblings, why? The last several months I have found my mind wandering down all sorts of bunny trails and finding I have many more questions than I do answers. Time seems to be passing at an accelerated pace and if I can be so bold as to say this; honestly, I find myself wondering quite often, ‘has our world just gone totally crazy?’

Just over ten years ago, my sweet grandmother went to heaven; she was four months shy of one hundred years old and a wonderful role model. I remember thinking about all of the changes that she must have witnessed and experienced during her life. I just cannot imagine how many wonders and the many struggles she faced through both World Wars, not to mention the Great Depression, other wars, all the changes, and innovations. In the ten short years since her passing, it seems that life has changed at warp speed. This morning, I found myself thinking about the courage it must have taken for her throughout her lifetime. Almost half of her adult life she lived alone after her parents and husband had died. Of course, there were other relatives, her grown children, and grandchildren. In my late teens, I watched her as she had to bury her son, her oldest, who was taken by a tragic accident. Just fifteen short years, I sat beside her as her baby girl (my Mom) was buried. She was a simple woman, but a woman of great strength, courage, and grace who totally depended on her faith and her God to get her through!

The memory made me think of a call sent forth in Deuteronomy 31:6.
“Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” I can imagine this was one of the reasons for her strength through the tough times in her life. So what does this courage look like?

According to Strong’s, this Hebrew word means strong, alert, courageous, brave, stout, bold, solid, hard. It also implies to strengthen, to secure for oneself, to make firm, to assure, to be determined, to make oneself alert, to confirm oneself, to persist in, to exhibit courage, to be strong, to feel strong. The definition applies to both physical courage and mental courage as in a steadfast mind.

Courage is certainly needed today. Just a few minutes listening to the news can set off all kinds of alarm, worry, and fear. The economy, crime, abuse, neglect, injustice, political mud slinging and concerns of where our country is going are just a few of the things that are weighing heavily in our day to day lives. It is no wonder many are struggling with fear, depression or despondency. Fear can be crippling for some, causing avoidance and loss of quality of life. For others, it can cause us to take up arms and fight against some of the very ones who would stand with us. Many fight daily battles with fears.

Thankfully, in 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul tells us, “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” (NASB) Prayer and faith are the perfect answer to fear. Faith is what got my sweet grandmother through her ninety-nine plus years, and she set a quiet example for all those she came into contact. Her complete trust in God, her Heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ saw her through times of lack, sickness, loss, pain, struggle, and need. It strengthened her to walk in peace despite the world around her, and to trust no matter what came; Her God was faithful. Her example has been invaluable in my life.

Do you battle fear? Are you finding you could use a little more peace in your days? Do the day’s headlines leave you wondering or feeling uncertain? I assure you that you are not the only one!! How do we build our faith and find the courage to face the times in which we live? Our struggles? Again, Prayer and faith are the perfect answer to fear! God is faithful to His Word and in His Word we can find strength, courage, and peace. Jesus, His Son, suffered, died and was raised on the third day for more than just our salvation and a ticket to heaven.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has
anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to
bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives
and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the
Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who
mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland
instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the
mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting; so they will be
called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may
be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1-3 (NASB)

Notice Jesus came to proclaim liberty to the captives. Nothing holds us mentally captive more than fear! It can be paralyzing! The good news is that we do not have to let it paralyze us!! We do not have to be a prisoner to our fear.

“So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the
door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and
robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if
anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out
and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and
destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it
abundantly. John 10:7-10 (NASB)

Abundant life and fear do not coexist! Through His life and the sacrifice Jesus made, we have everything we need for this life:

“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and
of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us
everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true
knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent
promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the
divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world
by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in
your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence,
knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-
control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in
your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly
kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing,
they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true
knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these
qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his
purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the
more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you;
for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;
for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord
and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.”
2 Peter 1:2-11 (NASB)

We can walk both in peace and courage all throughout our lives because Jesus has provided everything we need for life and godliness. When we follow His ways, we are promised that we will never stumble.

 Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.” Joshua 1:7 (NASB)

The key as I see it is to spend time in the Word of God, in prayer, building faith and encouraging myself in the Lord. Even the mighty King David spent time doing this!

“Then David and the people who were with him lifted their voices
and wept until there was no strength in them to weep. Now
David’s two wives had been taken captive, Ahinoam the
Jezreelitess and Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite.
Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of
stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because
of his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in
the Lord his God.” 1 Samuel 30:4-6

Grace, Peace and Courage to you in the name of Jesus!

How to Gain Your Sight?

 

Can I just say that I love Wednesday nights! I look forward each week to meeting with this group of individuals who love God and love to get into His Word and study together and challenge each other. “As iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens [and influences] another [through discussion].” Proverbs 27:17 (NASB) We begin with a pre-assigned topic, portion of the Word or portion of a book about God’s Word. Several days in advance, thanks to some very dedicated individuals, we are emailed some great thought provoking questions about the assigned topic. On Wednesdays, we all come together in one large group for a few minutes for an overview. Then we break out into smaller groups based on personality tendencies where we have exciting and challenging discussions about the proposed questions. Finally, we come back together as a large group and share the insights that stood out inside the small group discussions.

Did I mention the degree of depth of the questions presented for our consideration? It is so interesting to interact with a small group over the proposed questions and even more so to hear the variety and depth of each person’s response! one of our questions last night was about the story found in 2 Kings 6: 15-20. The king of Aram (Syria) was plotting war against Israel, the prophet Elisha warned Israel, which made the Syrian king angry. Realizing that someone was helping Israel, this king became enraged and determined to have retribution. How did this man Elisha reveal to his enemy the things he’d spoken in private in his bedroom? Determined, the king of Aram sent out a mighty army with horses and chariots against Elisha.

“The servant of the man of God got up early and went out, and behold, there was an army with horses and chariots encircling the city. Elisha’s servant said to him, “Oh no, my master! What are we to do?” Elisha answered, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “Lord, please, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servants eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha. When the Arameans came down to him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Please strike this people (nation) with blindness.” And God struck them with blindness, in accordance with Elisha’s request. Then Elisha said to the Arameans, “This is not the way, nor is this the city. Follow me and I will lead you to the man whom you are seeking.” And he led them to Samaria. When they had come into Samaria, Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of these men, so that they may see.” And the Lord opened their eyes and they saw. Behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. When the king of Israel (Jehoram) saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” Elisha answered, “You shall not kill them. Would you kill those you have taken captive with your sword and bow? Serve them bread and water, so that they may eat and drink, and go back to their master [King Ben-hadad].” So the king prepared a great feast for them; and when they had eaten and drunk he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the marauding bands of Aram did not come into the land of Israel again.” (2 Kings 6:15-23 AMP)

Our question was: We often are guilty of having the “Gehazi Syndrome”. Why is this sometimes intentional? How do you gain your sight? As I considered Gehazi’s observation about their situation and Elisha’s response, I first noticed Gehazi’s exclamation. “Oh no, master!” He was apparently taken aback by the encampment of the enemy on every side. Appearances clearly show that they are both outnumbered and under-equipped for the potential events that seemed destined to unfold. This is not an uncommon reaction when our circumstances overwhelm us as many in our group attested to last night. So how do we gain our sight in such situations? How do we make sure we do not panic and become overwhelmed when our circumstances seem ready to crash over us and drown us in their wake. As the room quieted and we pondered our responses, this rose up in my heart and spirit:

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthian 5:7 NKJV)

When we are focused solely on our circumstances, we are walking by sight, and it is easy to be overwhelmed and defeated. Faith is also absent when we are focused on our circumstances alone and for those of us who are believers, this is not okay. Appearances do not have the final say. However, since we are not entirely using this scripture in it actual context, the resurrection of the body; we need other scripture also to agree with the principle to take a stand.

“Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. For our ancestors won God’s approval by it. By faith, we understand that the universe was created by God’s command, so that what is seen has been made from things that are not visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-3 HSCB)

“Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6 HSCB)

Elisha’s response to his servant’s observation was a foreshadowing of these very scriptures that were later taught in the New Testament. Elisha, being a prophet, a man of prayer, and one with whom God shared mysteries to come; he did not walk by sight and was not deterred by what he saw. He prayed first for Gehazi to be able to see that God had provided help of which he was not aware, and secondly to blind their enemies so they could be led away and taken captive. Lastly, Elisha did not harm them but prayed once again and did as the Lord told him. God told Elisha to feed them and let them return to their master. It is a clear and excellent example of walking by faith. Elisha wasn’t a stranger to the many times God had acted in impossible situations on behalf of His people. He had been handed down generations of stories of God’s character, provision, and protection. We can also experience this kind of faith. Each time we exercise our faith based on what God has done for us in the past, our faith grows stronger. Each time we open His Word and read the examples found there we find the strength to exercise our faith a bit more. Hebrews 11, known as the hall of faith gives some excellent snippets of the faith of the patriarchs in the Old Testaments.

One of the greatest gifts we can ever give ourselves is exercising our faith rather that letting our fear overcome us. One of the most memorable gifts we can give our children, grandchildren and friends is to share our experiences of God’s faithfulness when they struggle; helping to bring comfort build their faith.

“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 HSCB)

Lord, please give us the grace to share our stories!