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 Did Jesus Mean When He Said “I Am the Bread of Life”?

“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’” (John 6:35).

God is our Provider, and Jesus is the Bread of Life. John recorded Jesus’ promise that all who freely accept this bread will no longer hunger. The first of the “I am” statements of Jesus, which solidify His nature as fully God and fully man is “I am the bread of life,” which describes the way we find full satisfaction in and through Christ alone.

“God is the supplier of divine bread,” explains the NIV Commentary, “and whoever eats of it will live forever.” Every word Jesus spoke on earth carried precise weight and meaning. This important note of Scripture defines our need to trust the Living Word to satisfy our physical bodies, heart and soul. 

The Meaning of “I am the Bread of Life” in John 6:35 

John begins his gospel account with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Manna was the miraculous bread given to the Israelites as they traveled through the desert. Enough was given to them to satisfy their hunger for the day. If they kept any for the next day, it would spoil with worms. Jesus overturned traditional Jewish beliefs by referring to Himself as the bread of life. 

Jewish leaders also referred to bread, or manna, as spiritual food. In this text, John records Jesus explaining He is the Bread of Life, the very Word of God made flesh. “As the people yearned for the heavenly bread and as the rabbis reinterpreted this bread to mean the wisdom or life-sustaining presence of God,” the NIV Application Commentaryexplains, “so now Jesus is that precious gift.”

“The day before Jesus said these things, he had fed a crowd of 5,000 people with loaves and fish,” explained Jon Bloom for desiring God. “Not since the days of manna had a prophet provided miracle bread like that.” Jesus was now proclaiming to be Manna Himself, writes Trevin Wax. Not only is God Provider for our physical needs, but His Word made flesh satisfies the needs of our souls. 

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3 Promises for Those FAcing Long Suffering

Long-suffering challenges us to rally patient endurance to get through one day at a time. Our faith is tested when we journey through extended seasons of pain, and our character development is contingent upon our reaction to hard seasons. God’s love is long-suffering towards us. We repetitively make the same mistakes, tripping as we grow into the pattern of following Christ. Yet, our faithful Father in heaven doesn’t waver in love, compassion, forgiveness or mercy. God’s word is faithful to guide us through long-suffering.

What Does the Bible Say about Long-Suffering?

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17

God’s Word lends a clear picture of how to endure, patiently. Abraham and his wife Sarah were elderly when God promised to make him the father of all nations! “Abraham’s experience reminded me that it’s not unlike God to allow his children to face situations that are hopeless from our perspective,” Sarah Walton wrote for desiringGod, “It’s precisely through these impossible situations that God expands our view of him, exercises our trust in him, and most powerfully displays his glory.”

Believing God for who He is fights our propensity to doubt, worry and despair during times of trial and suffering. Job’s Old Testament account is a well-known example of how to endure trials. His suffering was unfair, immense, and long, yet he never lost faith in God. Job modeled how to come to God with every emotion and depend on the Lord’s strength for survival. David, who underwent many bouts of suffering, wrote, “the righteous person may have troubles, but the LORD delivers them from them all.”

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A Prayer for Those Who Lost a Loved One to COVID-19

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

I walked hesitantly, unable to see where the pier ended and the river began. The lighthouse was assuredly in the distance, but its presence remained covered by thick fog laying down on the surface. The details of the brightening horizon muddled, and each step became increasingly uneasy. The fog cleared at the end of the pier to reveal the orange sun, making its way up into the sky. The temporary clarity faded as I turned to walk back through the mist.

It’s natural to hesitate when we can’t see. Life during the pandemic has felt like walking though fog. The sun comes up, the days move forward, but everything is unclear, and every step unsteady. When we lose someone we love, the solid standing of our circumstances is shaken.

The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted plans and closed down many daily routines, while others race to relieve front-line workers. It’s been an unprecedented time for many of us. One that will undoubtably mark generations to come. A time saturated with so much uncertainty has the potential to shake the strongest faith. In order to keep our hearts beating in tune with God’s will, we must learn to praise Him through sorrow and pain. Through the unfairness, He is close to the brokenhearted. In our weakness, He is strong. He fights for us. It’s unnatural to rely on anything other than ourselves, but necessary to survive the hurricane-force winds of change that have overturned families, communities, countries, and individual lives. The only way we are able to illuminate dark times is to give all glory up.

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8 Warning signs of a Double-Minded Christian

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” (James 1:6-8 NIV)

James was straightforward about living our faith. It’s paramount to believe and accept Christ as our Savior, and part of our purpose to proclaim the Gospel; but if the motions of our daily lives don’t reflect the Truth we believe in, James warned of hypocrisy. Double-mindedness is one of the first things he addresses. “James is not saying our prayers will only be answered if we have perfect faith that never entertains any kind of doubt,” the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible explains,” He condemns the believer who is trying to serve two masters at the same time.” Jesus warned that we cannot serve both God and man (Matthew 6:24). 

Let’s take a look at what it means to be a double-minded believer and the warning signs of this type of Christian.

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A HEARTFELT PRAYER FOR JUSTICE

“The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.” (Psalm 33:5 NIV)

Prejudice, discrimination, human trafficking, corruption, and more run rampant in the world. Media and modern-day conversations overflow with just causes, but heartfelt justice requires a deep look into our sin-soaked souls. To fight with courage and boldness, without judgement, and in love. Christ followers know the mercy we’ve been shown, and the freedom Jesus died to accomplish. His love compels us to live our faith, and heartily pursue justice.

What is Justice (According to God’s Word?)

“Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:14)

Both characteristics of God, righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne (Psalm 97:2). He is always fair, always good. Christians are purposed for the pursuit of righteousness. Injustice may seem explainable and fair by worldly standards. But Christ followers are not to sit idly by. God is in charge of all judgement and punishment for sin on this earth (1 Thessalonians 4:6), but we can love others in the name of the gospel by defending godly principles.

The apostle John wrote, “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1-3). Through Christ’s death, we receive forgiveness for our sins. Rayshawn Graves wrote, “justice was an important part of the early ministry of Jesus. From the Golden Rule to the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus was not afraid for his teaching to have clear implications for social justice.” (“Nothing Less than Justice”)

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