Joy in the dark.

Dark Autumn mornings beg me to smack the snooze button. At my dimly lit desk, coffee steaming into the quiet, I felt a pang of jealousy of as I read Acts 8: “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:39 NIV) I would like the Holy Spirit to physically relocate me, I thought to myself, which is exactly what happened to Phillip. (Zondervan)

There are many pandemic days burned into the permanent section of my memory. Days full of shock, tears, heartache and loss. Normalcy has fallen by the wayside, and it’s been hard to cope. We miss hugs from friends, seeing smiles in person, and sharing live laughter. 2020 has been a very hard year.

The generation currently navigating junior high has a skyrocketing suicide rate, and they now pile on the anxiety of quarantine. My daughters are in 7th and 5th grade.

The patch of sunflowers I planted in late September had a slim chance of surviving long enough to bloom. Yet today, I cut the first batch and brought them into the warm house. Miracles do happen, and life can bloom despite of the odds stacked against it. In the midst of heartbreak over what they haven’t been able to do this year, my daughters have chosen to remember where their strength comes from. My oldest will clunk up the stairs from the basement in her pointe shoes to show me what she has been working on. Her grades, even though she had been zoomed in for much of the first quarter, were straight A’s. Today, a photo gift she made for a friend arrived in the mail, and she wore a new outfit she bought with her allowance to zoom into school. As I write, I hear her laughing with friends on a group chat.

When I told my husband the buns were on the stove next to the crock pot this morning, my youngest daughter laughed at no less than ten of her own “bun” jokes. Everyday, she has us rolling in laughter, despite of these dark times. This girl, who tends not to communicate with the same word count her older sister does, shared with me on our ride to school today about her nightly conversations with God.

God could physically pick me up and move me. He could change our circumstances …make it easier …ease the pain of isolation… Jesus wept and prayed for God to change His circumstances, too. He was isolated and deserted as He was crucified, unjustly. He endured all of the pain of this world voluntarily because He trusted God’s will. So in moments of isolation …I choose to remember the source of my strength.

Jesus gives me the perspective to see my situation through the filter of hope, and the blessings He’s sweetly and faithfully embraced us with in 2020. The laughter, long boating days in the warm sun, lunch dates during the school day, late night talks, and time with my girls who will disappear back into their busy lives as soon as they resume. I’m not glad its happening, but I know where my strength comes from. Acknowledging personal hardship is important. Tears are healing and some anger is righteous! But I know beyond what I can see, feel, and plan for …God is always on the move …and He is always good.

Remember the verse at the top of this post, and the man who went away, rejoicing? Phillip shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him, and he was baptized! His joy was a sign of new life, and evidence of the Holy Spirit. (Zondervan) 2020 has taught us not to hang our hope on our plans, routines, and goals. All of those things are good, but His plans are more than we can ask for or imagine. It may get worse before it gets better. We were never promised life would be easy. But, if we unplug from the manic media and choose to tap into our real source of strength, we can live joyfully even in crazy hard times. Dark times. Jesus links arms with us through it all.

(Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the New Testament. Copyright 2002.)

Picture Day

The windshield wipers squeaked and scraped across the windshield. Misting gray skies muted brilliant colors of the changing season. Wet blacktop swished in traffic, and dreariness attempted frame the day before it had barely begun. Slumped over, choppy breaths evidence of watery eyes, my passenger clutched a cuddly elephant. School picture day meant we would eventually frame 2020 and place it on the fireplace mantel. 

“What’s the matter?” I asked her. She simply shrugged and could not say. The cumulative effect of this year’s anxieties have worn her to the core. She feels beyond my reach, at times, a helpless feeling for a mom. This has been a year full of infinitely more things I cannot explain to her, definitively. Her eyes waver back and forth to me and we both wonder what tomorrow will bring and how we can possibly brace for what it will be like. I want so badly to tell her when this will all be over, that tomorrow won’t be worse, and we’ll all get through it …together. 

Under normal circumstances, parenthood illustrates our daily need for God. The author of Hebrews wrote, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he said down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”(Hebrews 1:3 NIV) The Greek Word for exact defines the instrument used for engraving or carving. 

Numbers, facts, and circumstances change daily in our lives. The author of Hebrews assures us exactly where Jesus is. Our Savior sits at the right hand of the Father. 

Unchanging truth comes from God alone. He knows the number of our days. Nothing changes it. God is the only One who can peer beyond what we see and experience in the present moment. His Truth, alone, is trustworthy and dependable. He is good, and makes good of all things. 

God is personal. Reframe the truth as such. His greatest expression of love for me was Jesus, who came to earth and died on the cross to save me from my sins …and through salvation in the Him the Holy Spirit lives in me and my soul lives eternally with Him. When our lives are built upon this Rock of truth and our faith is rooted in God’s love, we wade through the really hard things with Him.  

Why, then, is it still so hard for God’s Truth to make it past the lump in my throat today? I know Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, fighting for me. Why do I feel so powerless, my prayers seemingly ignored? Because the truth about the world we live in can be pretty grim.

The world’s unfairness isn’t just a fleeting feeling, it’s a magnified fact of life on this sin-soaked earth. There is real evil in the world, intended upon stealing, killing, and destroying us. Our enemy lies. When we feel we are surrounded by unfairness and evil, lies and manipulation …it’s because we are! It’s really hard, and it can make us feel hopeless and helpless to stop it or make things right. Especially when our kids are hurting and there’s nothing we can do to fix or ease the pain. 

Perspective is our rescue. Knowing what is true allows us to see through a different perspective. One of wisdom, peace, hope and love. Jesus is the way we keep moving …because when we can stand anymore …He carries us. 

Letting go is the hardest task in parenting. We ache to see our kids go through pain we wish we could prevent and steer them around. Imagine how God feels about us, when we are in pain, mistreated, hurt, manipulated, and taken advantage of? We have limited power on this earth to set things right, but He is limitless. God, though we don’t understand His purposes or His timing, is in control. We may be manipulated by media, but God is in control. We may be taken advantage of by corrupt leaders, but God is in control. We may not get answers to our prayers in the way and timing we want …but He does hear us …and He will answer. 

The reality of my 2020 is- I don’t know what time I’ll pick my daughter up from school today. But, no matter if it’s normal pick up time and I have her favorite snack and cuddly source of comfort waiting for her in the passenger seat, or a hug and spirit that will share in her heartache and tears, we will turn on the wipers …drive through the cold misty rain …and go home together. And I’m thankful for that …for together.

What Does it Mean to “Confess Your Sins to One Another’ in James 5?

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16 ESV

The miracle of salvation is that God involves us in His eternal plan. The only way we become righteous people is through Christ Jesus. We lay down the pursuits of the world and instead follow Him home to eternity. The life-long path of discipleship isn’t easy, as many biblical people recorded in their pursuit of holiness on this earth. Every day we face our humanity, which exists under the curse of sin. We cannot fully shake it this side of heaven, and so Jesus made a way for us, through Him, to confess our sins and stand in the presence of our Holy God. Confessing our sins leads to healing and restoration, both attributes are worth seeking.

What Does James Mean by ‘Confess Your Sins to One Another’?

And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before me, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before angels of God” Luke 12:8-9 (ESV).

Confession, according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, is defined as “an acknowledgment of sins to God, and to a neighbor whom we have wronged.” Confession is an everyday process. We are adopted into the family of God when we freely receive the gift of salvation. God has purposefully placed us in families and communities because He knows it is not good for us to be alone. There are sins we will only take straight to the Father, but when we sin against each other, we must also confess to one another. Forgiveness is important to God! We have been forgiven, and so we must lend that same forgiveness to each other.

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60 Remarkable Bible Verses about Joy

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9)

Joy lives in every Christ follower. It is a supernatural product God’s love. He sent His one and only Son to earth to save us from sin. The night Christ was born, angels sang and Joy entered the atmosphere. He lived a human life, died sacrificially, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. Joy was always God’s plan. And it is joy we embrace to endure our purposed steps on earth and will enjoy for eternity.

The common English dictionary definition of joy is the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying. Biblical joy, though it may evoke the same feelings, surpasses fleeting happiness. Joy remains in us eternally, from the minute we embrace Christ as our Savior. The original Greek word Peter penned means joy and gladness, but the root word further defines the depth of joy as to be thriving and well. God’s blessings, the New Bible Commentary explains, “are so great that we can pass joyfully through times of testing holding by faith to a Christ we have not seen.” The joy of the Lord causes us to rejoice!

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Praying Psalm 91 for Protection and Refuge

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” – Psalm 91:1

God is sovereign and omnipotent, meaning He is all-knowing and everywhere simultaneously. These are comforting truths in a world full of pain, calamity and injustice. “Like a bird protecting its young,” the VOICE paraphrase of verse 4 reads, “God will cover you with His feathers, will protect you under His great wings; His faithfulness will form a shield around you, a rock-solid wall to protect you.” When we turn to God, we find the peaceful and powerful arm of His protection. The NIV Study Bible Notes proclaim Psalm 91 as “a glowing testimony to the security of those who trust in God.”

Prayer is powerful, and our Father in heaven hears, and answers, us. The words of Psalm 91 guide us in prayer for God’s protection and refuge from all of the things life throws at us.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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What Does Jesus Mean by “My Sheep Know My Voice”?

“The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” (Psalm 23:1-2)

God’s design for humanity was never to exist and suffer under the curse of sin, separated from Him. We are made in His image, and He desires a relationship with us, His children. His plan was always to rescue and redeem us through His Son, who was there with Him at the beginning. Christ came to earth to seek and to save the lost. He conquered death by carrying out the will of His Father. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. We come to the Father through Christ, by the sound of His Voice.

What Did Jesus Mean in John 10:27?

“Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.” (John 10:22-23)

Jesus taught about his status as the Good Shepherd during the Festival of Dedication, known today as Hanukkah, typically celebrated in November and December (NIV Study Bible). The festival was a commemoration of Jewish deliverance. Many surrounded Jesus at this time looking for Him to definitively claim his Messiahship, ready to claim blasphemy. Jesus turned their attention to his sheep, and the Good Shepherd who protects them. Matthew Henryexplained in his commentary of the Bible, “He described the gracious disposition and happy state of his sheep; they heard and believed his word, followed him as his faithful disciples, and non of them should parish; for the Son and the Father were one.” Jesus came to earth, fully God and fully man, to achieve the will of the Father in heaven. All things and everyone lie under the sovereign reign of God.

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4 Compassionate Ways to Be Kind to Yourself

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Life is hard enough on us without us being hard on ourselves. Continually criticizing your performance and worth will wear you down, and the kindness you withhold from yourself, you will eventually withhold from others. It’s time to put down your weapons and learn to practice being kind to yourself.

Christ has set us free to flourish in the fruits of the Spirit Paul listed in his letter to the Galatians. We cannot live out kindness in its true form apart from Christ. But within His love, we can learn to let kindness flow in and through our lives, fully, and expectantly. The wise King Solomon wrote, “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor”(Proverbs 21:21). To pursue kindness, we must pursue Christ. Kindness develops in us as our hearts are sanctified in Him.

Here are four habits every follower of Christ must practice in themselves to allow this fruit of the Spirit to flow outward to those around them.

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