Tag Archive | Testing

Finding The Stability of Our Times

Are you feeling weary as we move into our fourth month of a life unlike anything we’ve experienced before? I sure am! The COVID-19 crisis still isn’t behind us. Some businesses have been able to open, others are delaying because of continued risk, and we hear every week of more businesses that will not be reopening over again.

On top of this, our nation is dealing with increased racial tension. Amid this is a push to defund police, and we hear of “autonomous zones” in major cities, where a section of the city is under the control of domestic terrorist groups. We can’t help but wonder what lies ahead? Life feels like a unending ride on a roller coaster, with highs and lows that never seem to end.

During times like this, we need to be alert to what is going on around us. But we also need to find something – or Someone – unshakable that we can depend on. We need something fixed and constant that we can depend upon. We need an immovable faith in the One the prophet Isaiah described as“… the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is his treasure.” (Isaiah 33:6)

This verse was written in a time of impending distress and judgment. Assyria was advancing from the north, conquering kingdom after kingdom, including the northern kingdom of Israel. Now, the armies were drawing near to Jerusalem, and the people of Judah (the southern kingdom) didn’t know where to turn. Isaiah was warning the people against making an alliance with Egypt and reminding them that the Lord was the key to their salvation. He was the only One Who would provide the stability they yearned for.

Are you feeling the need for stability in this tumultuous time? The “stability of (our) times” will only be found in the One Who is our source of salvation and wisdom and knowledge. This a time for putting our trust fully in the Lord, and allowing Him to direct our paths. Nothing we are facing is a surprise to Him!

“My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.” Isaiah 32:18 ESV

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV

‭‭“Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” Psalm 55:22 NASB

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Walking in Faith During Seasons of Uncertainty

I was reading an article this week, written by Jay Lowder, an evangelist who has spoken several times in our church. The subject of his article was overcoming fear so that we can walk in faith during this uncertain time. He wrote:

“The past few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic have been a time of fear for many, even me. I’m a full-time evangelist whose work has come to a halt, and I have a daughter with an incurable disease that is highly susceptible to illness. Even as a person of faith, it’s hard not to have fear about these things which are completely out of my control.”

It’s easy to see that the circumstances we are living through are beyond our control. The good news is they are not beyond God’s control. We may not understand all of God’s purposes in this season, but we can choose to walk in faith in the God who wasn’t surprised by this pandemic.

In her book Praying God’s Word, Beth Moore wrote, “Faith is not believing in my own unshakable belief. Faith is believing an unshakable God when everything in me trembles and quakes.

To walk in faith during seasons when everything in us is trembling and quaking requires something or someone unshakable that we can hold onto. Faith isn’t positive thinking. It is rooted in knowing and trusting the One who cannot be shaken. Faith is believing that God will do what He has promised to do and then acting on that belief.

Hannah Whitall Smith, a Quaker speaker and writer during the late 19th century, said of walking in faith,

“Sight is not faith, and hearing is not faith, neither is feeling faith; but believing when we neither see, hear, nor feel is faith; and everywhere the Bible tells us our salvation is to be by faith. Therefore we must believe before we feel, and often against our feelings, if we would honor faith... Faith, like sight is nothing apart from God. You might as well shut your eyes and look inside, and see whether you have sight as to look inside to discover whether you have faith.

In her book, The God of All Comfort, Hannah Whitall Smith said the biggest obstacle to walking in faith is a life filled with supposes.

As we move forward in this season of uncertainty, let’s remember that the Lord Himself is our strong tower. Let’s make this cry of David our prayer when we feel our faith being shaken.

“Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” Psalm 61:1-3

Those who trust in the Lord are as unshakeable, as unmovable as mighty Mount Zion!” Psalms‬ ‭125:1‬ ‭The Passion Translation

Instead of living in the supposes, let’s run to our place of safety and rest. Let’s run to the Lord, our dwelling place. When we do, we will be held up by His everlasting arms.

“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. ” Deuteronomy‬ ‭33:27a‬‬‬

Jesus Is With Us in the Storm

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” Mark‬ ‭4:35-41‬ ‭ESV‬‬

On Tuesday, a Facebook group I’m in began a new study entitled “Jesus Calms the Storm,” based on the above Scripture. It’s a familiar story to those of us who have been Christians for very long, and when passages from the Bible are well-known it’s easy to just skim over the verses. But this morning, I saw these verses in a different way – from the viewpoint of the ones who were there with Jesus, His disciples.

After a busy day of ministry, it was around sundown and they were physically weary. So when Jesus said, “Let us go across to the other side,” they were ready to follow. They weren’t anxious about the trip, it was just one of many they had taken across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was still with them and they were at peace.

A pleasant trip on the Sea of Galilee

This was a routine trip, a short eight miles across to the other side. Mark 5:1 tells us they were headed to the country of the Gerasenes, and there were other boats in sight. Among the disciples were several men who had fished these waters for many years, before they left their nets and responded to Jesus’ call to follow Him. They were skilled at handling the boat, so when Jesus said He wanted to lie down and rest awhile, they weren’t concerned.

Unfortunately, this didn’t turn out to be the routine trip the disciples were expecting. Storms were not unusual on this area. The Sea of Galilee is 680 feet below sea level, and is surrounded by hills. When the winds from the Mediterranean come across the hills, the air is cool and dry. When this air comes in contact with the warm, moist air around the sea, it causes large temperature changes and strong winds dropping to the sea. The disciples were familiar with this, but what they saw this evening was frightening even to these experienced fishermen.

Suddenly, they found themselves in a very dangerous situation, when the high winds and huge waves began breaking over the boat one after another. The boat was quickly filling with water, and the experienced fishermen aboard knew they were in a life-threatening situation.

A storm at sea

So where was Jesus in the midst of this? He was in the stern of the boat, asleep on a cushion. But His nap didn’t last very long. The frightened disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus awoke from his sleep and rebuked the wind, speaking to it “Peace, be still.” And just that quick the storm was over and the water was calm.

Didn’t Jesus care about these men who were handpicked by Him and closest to Him? Weren’t they obeying Jesus who told them to “go over to the other side”? Why, then, were they going through such a turbulent time?

How sad the disciples must have felt when Jesus looked at them and said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” After this experience, they were amazed and said, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

No one is exempt from the storms of life. Remember, the boat Jesus and the disciples were on wasn’t the only one around. Mark told us that other boats were around them, so the men on these boats who may have been unbeliever’s also faced the storm. The Gospel does not tell us anymore about them, but they faced the frightening situation without Jesus. When we go through storms, we have an advantage over those who do not know the Lord. We are never alone in the storm; the One Who has power over the wind and the sea is with us.

Peter, one of the disciples who went through this storm with Jesus, later wrote of us experiencing storms in life that cause us great grief. When they come, he encouraged us to rejoice, because trials test the genuineness of our faith, which is more precious than gold. As we go through the storms, we can know we are being guarded by God’s power as we place our faith in Him.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter‬ ‭1:3-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Another thing we know is that the disciples had a promise that they were going across the Sea of Galilee to the other side. When we face a storm in our lives, one thing that I’ve found helpful is spending time in God’s Word, asking Him to give me a promise to hold onto.

In a recent article, Pastor Greg Laurie compared the Coronavirus pandemic we have been going through this year to one of the powerful storms on the Sea of Galilee.

“This terrible COVID-19 pandemic is like a massive storm. We are afraid and worried about our futures.

“Although we might feel forsaken, we are not. I am comforted by this beautiful story, as it reminds me that I can trust God in the storms of my life. Jesus watches us in our storms.”

The Mark account of Jesus calming the sea ends with the disciples asking each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.” As we trust Jesus during the storms we face, the storm may not stop immediately. God is sovereign, and His will will prevail. But we can be assured that we will come out of our storms with more understanding of the greatness of our God.

Resting in the Strong Arms of God

Have you been feeling restless because of the current circumstances we are walking through? Are you longing for the lifestyle changes due to the coronavirus outbreak to be behind us so we can get back to life as usual? These thoughts have definitely crossed my mind several times recently.

Unfortunately, it looks like the “new normal” we’ve been living with the past few weeks will not be going away anytime soon. So how do we overcome the feelings of restlessness that only steal our peace and joy and live a God-pleasing life during the coming weeks or months? How do we walk in peace and contentment as we move forward in this season?

This is what was on my mind as I sat down to spend some time this morning being quiet before the Lord. I was asking God to show me His purposes during this time unlike anything any of us have faced before. His answer was not one I was expecting.

The following words came to my mind, “You are loved with an everlasting love. And underneath are the everlasting arms.” I recognized this as the signature line for Elisabeth Elliot’s daily radio program, something I hadn’t heard since she passed away in 2015.

EVERLASTING LOVE
In Jeremiah 31:3, we learn that the Lord loved Israel with an everlasting love, a love that was constant and unconditional. That love was seen in His continued faithfulness to His rebellious and idolatrous people. God used the imagery of a green and fruitful olive tree as a symbol of the covenant relationship He has with Israel. (Jeremiah 11:16)

God’s heart toward His chosen people hasn’t changed. But one thing has changed. God’s chosen people still includes the offspring of Abraham, the Jewish people, but as Christians we also are included among His chosen, in those upon whom He pours out His everlasting love. Galatians 3:29 says, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” We have been grafted in and we “now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree.” (Romans 11:17)

HELD IN HIS EVERLASTING ARMS
‭Deuteronomy 33:27 says, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms…”

The Bible in Basic English says it this way, “The God of your fathers is your safe resting-place, and under you are his eternal arms…”

The message I heard from the Lord this morning is simple. Though we are in a season of “social distancing” we are not alone. God is holding us in His everlasting arms, which have the strength to hold us safely even in the strongest storm.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote,‭‭‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ “Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands.”

Today, I want to encourage you to draw close to the Prince of Peace, to our Savior Jesus Christ.  Rest quietly in the presence and everlasting love of the Lord, and to wait trustfully in the truth that we are safe in His hands. He truly is our resting place in this storm.

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The True Vine and the Branches

For the first-century Jewish men who walked with Jesus during His earthly ministry, the idea of comparing people to vines and vineyards would have been familiar. Grapevines were a familiar sight in Palestine, and the disciples would have read the words of the Hebrew prophets who likened Israel to a vine or vineyard.

They would have recalled the words of Hosea saying, “Israel was a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit” (Hosea 10:1a). The prophet Isaiah’s words were equally familiar, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting” (Isaiah 5:7a).

Unfortunately, when Jehovah looked for healthy grapes in His vineyard, all He found was worthless fruit (Isaiah 5:2). When He looked for justice and righteousness, He found idolatry and bloodshed. Israel failed to be the healthy vineyard of God (Isaiah 5:7).

I’ve been doing a 7-day YouVersion Bible reading plan by Lysa TerKeurst based on her book Finding I Am, in which she explores the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus found in the Gospel of John. The final “I Am” statement is found in John 15:1, where Jesus says, “I am the true vine…”

Lysa says,“In essence, what Jesus is saying in this I AM passage is—I am doing what you could not do. I am the true Vine. Israel, you were supposed to be the vine, but you couldn’t do it. So, I AM is coming and saying that He is about to step in and fulfill what you could not do.”

She continues, “We are in that same boat, my friend. We cannot do what God has called us to do without Him. We are unable to be faithful to His commands. We have failed over and over just like the Israelites failed time and time again. The Jewish people hearing Jesus that day needed Him to step in as the True Vine. And we need Him to do that for us as well.

Last week, we began a study of John 15:1-11, looking at our heavenly Father as the vinedresser. Today, we are exploring what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the True Vine” and how to be branches that glorify our heavenly Father.

THE SETTING
First, let’s look at the setting in which these words were spoken. Jesus had gathered with His disciples in the Upper Room to celebrate their final Passover together. These words are part of what Bible scholars call Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. Judas had already left to do his infamous deed (John 13:30), so these words were to the eleven who had been with Him from the start.

John 14 concludes, “Rise, let us go from here.” So it seems likely to me that these words about the vine were spoken as they left the Upper Room and walked through the vineyards between there and the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was going to pray.

Jesus was preparing these men for His soon departure for heaven. The suffering of the cross was ahead of Jesus, but He wanted these beloved friends to know He was not going to desert them, even though they would no longer enjoy His physical presence. He would continue to nourish and sustain them, through His Spirit which was with them and would be in them. As the Vine, Jesus is our source of life. He is the source of all real strength and grace to His disciples.

I AM
Jesus begins with “I am.” These words were clearly received by those who heard Jesus teach as a claim that He is God. Earlier in the book of John we read, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” (John‬ ‭8:58-59‬) Why this extreme reaction to two small words. To the Jews, it was the name of God revealed by Abraham in Exodus 3.‬‬‬‬‬

“Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, ” I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘ I am has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (Exodus‬ ‭3:13-15‬)‬‬‬‬‬

THE TRUE VINE
Jesus was saying He is “the True Vine”- the real thing, the genuine vine in contrast to Israel, a nation which had degenerated and become a wild vine. “Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jeremiah‬ ‭2:21‬)‬ ‬‬‬‬‬

THE VITAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES
The vine is the source of life for the branches. It provides the water and nutrients by which the grapes are produced. Without the vine, no fruit could ever result. Branches are utterly dependent upon the vine.

But this is a mutual relationship. The branches abide or maintain an unbroken connection with the vine. Without this, they are unable to bear fruit… in fact, without the vine they will shrivel up and die.

But John 15:4-5 says that not only do the branches abide in Jesus, the Vine, but He also abides in them. The branches need the vine, but the vine also needs the branches. Without them there would be no fruit.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John‬ ‭15:4-5‬)‬‬‬‬‬‬

THE PROMISES OF ABIDING
For those who abide, Jesus gives two promises. The first is that of bearing much fruit. What kind of fruit does this refer to? I think there two possible types of fruit produced.

First, we should experience a growth in the fruit of the Spirit, as listed in Galatians 5. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians‬ ‭5:22-23‬)‬

But when we look at this parable of the vine in light of the Old Testament passages above, I believe there is another possible “fruit” – the same fruit God was looking for when Isaiah wrote these words. “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isaiah‬ ‭5:7‬) The fruit of justice and righteousness were what God was hopeful to see from Israel as a nation. Malachi 3:6 says the Lord does not change, so I believe He is still looking for justice and righteousness.‬

The second promise is found in John 15:7-8, the promise of answered prayer. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John‬ ‭15:7-8‬)‬

In addition to these promises of a fruitful life and answered prayer, a life of abiding is a life filled with joy. Jesus brings this lesson to an end with these words. “

THE TRUE VINE AND BRANCHES
For the first-century Jewish men who walked with Jesus during His earthly ministry, the idea of comparing people to vines and vineyards would have been familiar. Grapevines were a familiar sight in Palestine, and the disciples would have read the words of the Hebrew prophets who likened Israel to a vine or vineyard.

They would have recalled the words of Hosea saying, “Israel was a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit” (Hosea 10:1a). The prophet Isaiah’s words were equally familiar, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting” (Isaiah 5:7a).

Unfortunately, when Jehovah looked for healthy grapes in His vineyard, all He found was worthless fruit (Isaiah 5:2). When He looked for justice and righteousness, He found idolatry and bloodshed. Israel failed to be the healthy vineyard of God (Isaiah 5:7).

I’ve been doing a 7-day YouVersion Bible reading plan by Lysa TerKeurst based on her book Finding I Am, in which she explores the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus found in the Gospel of John. The final “I Am” statement is found in John 15:1, where Jesus says, “I am the true vine…”

Lysa says,“In essence, what Jesus is saying in this I AM passage is—I am doing what you could not do. I am the true Vine. Israel, you were supposed to be the vine, but you couldn’t do it. So, I AM is coming and saying that He is about to step in and fulfill what you could not do.”

She continues, “We are in that same boat, my friend. We cannot do what God has called us to do without Him. We are unable to be faithful to His commands. We have failed over and over just like the Israelites failed time and time again. The Jewish people hearing Jesus that day needed Him to step in as the True Vine. And we need Him to do that for us as well.

Last week, we began a study of John 15:1-11, looking at our heavenly Father as the vinedresser. Today, we are exploring what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the True Vine” and how to be branches that glorify our heavenly Father.

THE SETTING
First, let’s look at the setting in which these words were spoken. Jesus had gathered with His disciples in the Upper Room to celebrate their final Passover together. These words are part of what Bible scholars call Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. Judas had already left to do his infamous deed (John 13:30), so these words were to the eleven who had been with Him from the start.

John 14 concludes, “Rise, let us go from here.” So it seems likely to me that these words about the vine were spoken as they left the Upper Room and walked through the vineyards between there and the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was going to pray.

Jesus was preparing these men for His soon departure for heaven. The suffering of the cross was ahead of Jesus, but He wanted these beloved friends to know He was not going to desert them, even though they would no longer enjoy His physical presence. He would continue to nourish and sustain them, through His Spirit which was with them and would be in them. As the Vine, Jesus is our source of life. He is the source of all real strength and grace to His disciples.

I AM
Jesus begins with “I am.” These words were clearly received by those who heard Jesus teach as a claim that He is God. Earlier in the book of John we read, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” (John‬ ‭8:58-59‬) Why this extreme reaction to two small words. To the Jews, it was the name of God revealed by Abraham in Exodus 3.‬‬‬‬‬

“Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, ” I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘ I am has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (Exodus‬ ‭3:13-15‬)‬‬‬‬‬

THE TRUE VINE
Jesus was saying He is “the True Vine”- the real thing, the genuine vine in contrast to Israel, a nation which had degenerated and become a wild vine. “Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jeremiah‬ ‭2:21‬)‬ ‬‬‬‬‬

THE VITAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES
The vine is the source of life for the branches. It provides the water and nutrients by which the grapes are produced. Without the vine, no fruit could ever result. Branches are utterly dependent upon the vine.

But this is a mutual relationship. The branches abide or maintain an unbroken connection with the vine. Without this, they are unable to bear fruit… in fact, without the vine they will shrivel up and die.

But John 15:4-5 says that not only do the branches abide in Jesus, the Vine, but He also abides in them. The branches need the vine, but the vine also needs the branches. Without them there would be no fruit.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
‭‭(John‬ ‭15:4-5‬)‬‬‬‬‬‬

THE PROMISES OF ABIDING
For those who abide, Jesus gives two promises. The first is that of bearing much fruit. What kind of fruit does this refer to? I think there two possible types of fruit produced.

First, we should experience a growth in the fruit of the Spirit, as listed in Galatians 5. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians‬ ‭5:22-23‬)‬

But when we look at this parable of the vine in light of the Old Testament passages above, I believe there is another possible “fruit” – the same fruit God was looking for when Isaiah wrote these words. “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isaiah‬ ‭5:7‬) The fruit of justice and righteousness were what God was hopeful to see from Israel as a nation. Malachi 3:6 says the Lord does not change, so I believe He is still looking for justice and righteousness.‬

The second promise is found in John 15:7-8, the promise of answered prayer. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John‬ ‭15:7-8‬)‬

In addition to these promises of a fruitful life and answered prayer, a life of abiding is a life filled with joy. Jesus brings this lesson to an end with these words. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”(John‬ ‭15:11) ‬Let’s aim for unbroken connection with the True Vine, Jesus Christ, so we can bear fruit that glorifies our heavenly Father.

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Reclaiming Our Lives: Embracing the Life We’ve Been Given

Can you imagine what it would be like to live on a submarine? According to an article I recently read, some civilian submarines have windows – technically called “viewports” – but when the submarine is deep underwater, all you see when you look out is blackness. Without artificial light, the crew on a submarine would be unable to function.

Trying to live with chronic illness solely on human perspective can be compared to living on a submerged submarine without any artificial light. To make sense of our lives when we are struggling with the pain and limitations of chronic illness, we need the light of God’s Word to push out the darkness. Having God’s perspective is like having a periscope that allows us to see beyond the darkness and obstacles in our path and navigate safely toward our destination.

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As we continue with this year’s focus on reclaiming our lives after a chronic illness diagnosis, today I wanted to focus on the truth that sometimes we need to let go of our life plan and embrace the life we have been given. The first steps to reclaiming our lives when chronic illness and the limitations it causes don’t go away are acceptance of what is and trust that God really does love us and knows what is best for us.

As a young child, my dream was to be a teacher. After finishing high school, I enrolled in a state college in my home state of Maryland and graduated with a degree in early childhood education. During this time, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and I was confident I was right where the Lord wanted me. My plan was to teach kindergarten, which I did for two years before I heard the Lord calling me to attend Bible college, where I met my husband Mitch.

My life plan was to get married, find another teaching job in Texas where I was now living, and continue living out my dream of being a teacher. But it wasn’t long before we faced a major obstacle.

My husband and I, with our toddler Teresa, were on a trip to see some friends in Fort Worth and pick up some construction supplies for Mitch’s boss, when a drunk driver ran into our vehicle and forever changed our lives. My husband came out with a cracked rib and knee, and lacerations on his face and knees, but Teresa and I weren’t quite so lucky. Teresa did not survive the accident, and my doctor told Mitch that, if I survived, I might never walk again. Though we mourned the loss of our precious daughter, God was gracious and I did survive. Though the injuries I received in this accident were the beginning of a battle with degenerative arthritis and neuropathy, I was able to walk without assistance for many years.

In 1977, our daughter Amy was born, and when she was four years old I was able to return to teaching, this time in a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten program our church started. The following summer our son David was added to the family. We quickly noticed David had an unusual sensitivity to light, but we weren’t worried about his health.

When David was around three months old, we decided to move to Houston where Mitch’s family lived. A couple weeks later, we took him in to see a new pediatrician. She was extremely concerned that something was wrong, and before the day was over David was admitted to Texas Children’s Hospital for neurological testing.

To cut the story short, David was diagnosed with Massive Infantile Spasms, a seizure disorder that basically stopped his mental development and left him unable to do anything for himself. Now we were facing an obstacle that was so big we had no idea how we would navigate it. It truly felt like we were in a submarine, deep underwater, and unable to see beyond the darkness and obstacles ahead.

I could go on and tell you about the next thirty-four years, which ended with the Lord taking David home to be with Him last November, but this is enough of my story to help you understand that my life definitely has not turned out the way I planned.

To continue functioning, my husband and I had to release the life we had pictured when we first married and to embrace the life we had been given. So how is this possible? Here are some steps to take, along with a few Scriptures that have helped me navigate this path that was so far from what we had planned. (All verses are in ESV)

• We must choose to let go of the past and turn our focus on the future.

“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭3:13b-14‬ ‭‬‬‬‬‬‬

• Remember God more highly values inward renewal above what is going on outwardly.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:16-18‬ ‬‬‬‬‬

• Do you feel like outwardly your body seems to be “wasting away”? Is chronic illness the “thorn in the flesh” that you’ve begged God to take away? For me, God’s answer, for now at least, has been similar to His answer to the apostle Paul.

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

• Scripture makes it clear that life on earth involves warfare and suffering.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:8-10

• Finally, while Jesus has already defeated the enemy, we won’t experience the full effect of His victory until we go to be with Him in the new heaven and the new earth. Until that time, let’s hold on to the promise that it won’t always be like this.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” Revelation‬ ‭21:3-4‬ ‭‬‬‬‬‬‬

Are you still mourning what you’ve lost from chronic illness? Are you struggling to embrace the life you’ve been given and begin moving forward? If so I hope you will join me in the following prayer.

Father, I am choosing to embrace the life You have given me. You know this is not what I had in mind for my life. But for now at least, it is reality. I will not lose heart, even though it feels like my body is wasting away. I believe Your grace is sufficient for me, even in this situation. I will be content with weakness and hardships, because when I bring You my weakness You replace it with Your strength.

Father, I recognize life on this fallen earth is a battle. I have an enemy, the devil, who wants to devour me. Help me to be sober-minded and watchful, to recognize his attacks and resist him as I stand firm in my faith.

Lord, thank You that Jesus has already defeated the devil by His suffering and death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. This time of suffering will come to an end when Jesus returns to set up His Kingdom. Then there will be no death or mourning, no crying or pain. These will have passed away never to be again. Until that time, help me to seek Your will daily, and to walk in the fulness of what You have for me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Jesus: His Example of Surrender

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” John‬ ‭6:38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We all look for ways to bypass suffering. I know I surely do. This morning, I’m in the middle of a flare in the eczema I was diagnosed with earlier this year. Eczema, also known as Atopic Dermatitis, is a chronic condition that causes an extremely itchy and painful rash. Yesterday afternoon and evening, and throughout the night as the painful rash kept waking me up, I was definitely looking for relief. But any help from the lotion and prescription meds only brought short term relief.

Looking for a way to avoid suffering is a characteristic common to all humans. Jesus Christ was God in human flesh, and His experience in the Garden of Gethsemane is one of the clearest pictures of His humanity. He wanted to bypass the suffering of the Cross if there was any other way to save us. But the Father’s answer was “No” and Jesus willingly surrendered to the will of the Father.

To get a clearer picture of the struggle Jesus went through, please read the account in Luke 22:39-46.

Jesus understood what it was to let go of His will when it did not line up with the will of the Father. In doing so, He gave us a pattern to follow.

  1. Jesus told His Father what He longed for – to avoid the suffering of the Cross was His desire.
  2. He listened for God’s answer – His “No” in this case. The suffering of the Cross was the only way to fulfill the purpose for which the Son of God came to earth.
  3. Finally, Jesus surrendered to the will of His Father, choosing it and embracing it fully.

As I read in Luke, some verses in Philippians 2 came to mind.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians‬ ‭2:5-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We are called to “have this mind” that Christ Jesus demonstrated in the Garden of Gethsemane. We are free to bring our desires to God, to tell Him what we would like to happen in our current circumstances, but then we need to wait until He reveals His will. The battle is in the wait, in the time between sharing our desires and hearing God’s answer, and then if God’s answer to us is “No” in embracing God’s will with our whole hearts.

When we come to God with a willingness to let go of our right to be in charge and surrender to His revealed will in our situation, we can be assured of God’s presence with us no matter what lies ahead. When we let go, we can be assured that God will never let go of us.

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Giving Thanks As We Wait

Waiting isn’t optional, but waiting well is! I hope you learned some keys on how to wait well from Tuesday’s post. We learned that to wait well is to wait prayerfully, patiently, joyfully and expectantly. It is to wait with trust, believing what God says in His Word about His nature and His ways. It is to wait with strength and courage. It is to wait with worship. But I purposely left out one truth about waiting well. To wait well is to wait with thankfulness.

Psalm 13 is a short passage of Scripture, only six verses long, so take the time to read it. As you do, notice the question David repeatedly asks.

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

In these six brief verses, we see the words “how long” four times. Have you ever cried out to God with those same words during a time of waiting that seemed to drag on and on and on? I sure have. We don’t know the exact circumstances that David was facing when he wrote these words. But we do know he was sorrowful, even despairing of life. His enemies were prevailing and he was feeling shaken.

During extended times of waiting, we may feel forgotten or even forsaken. But instead of allowing our feelings to determine our attitude and actions, we can choose to remember what we know about God. We can choose to believe the truths He reveals in His Word. I believe that’s what David did, and it provides a clear pattern for us to follow.

Instead of fixing his eyes on his circumstances, instead of acting on his emotions, David turned his eyes on the Lord. He acknowledges his adversaries, but he also gives thanks to his God.

“And my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken. But I have trusted and relied on and been confident in Your lovingkindness and faithfulness; My heart shall rejoice and delight in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.” PSALM‬ ‭13:4-6‬ ‭AMP‬‬

Are you currently in a prolonged time of waiting? If so, are you willing to stop using your feelings as a guide? Are you willing to turn your focus off of your circumstances and onto the God who is bigger than your circumstances? Are you willing to look for what you can thank God for in the midst of your situation that still shows no signs of resolution?

On this Thankful Thursday, let’s learn from the psalmist David and reflect on the nature of our God. Where do you see His goodness? His faithfulness? His lovingkindness? Look at your situation and see where there is evidence that God is at work, even during this time of waiting. Then, let’s offer up to Him a sacrifice of thanksgiving for who He is and what He is doing.

“I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.” Psalm‬ ‭116:17‬ ‭

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” Psalm‬ ‭50:23‬ ‭

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Learning to Wait Well

I am in a time of waiting. I have been in a time of waiting since shortly after I heard a call from the Lord last spring to write a Bible study for our small Bible study group at church and made a commitment to do so. I was preparing to get started on this project, even got an outline down on paper, when suddenly my health took a deep dive from which I still haven’t recovered.

Suddenly, my life was filled with one appointment after another, trying to figure out what was going on and come up with a treatment plan for hopefully getting back to where I was before things changed overnight. Unfortunately, since that negative overnight change, there have been no positive overnight changes. Instead, there have been a series of small and gradual steps forward, each including extended times of waiting.

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Waiting isn’t optional. It’s a part of life, some times moreso than others. But choosing how we will wait is up to us. Will we wait with complaining and discontentment? Or will we wait with trust in the One Who rules in our lives, remembering He is not only in control of our circumstances but also in control of the timing? Waiting well means continuing to look forward to the future we’re moving toward while living faithfully where God has us right now.

How do we wait well? God’s Word gives us several answers to this question. Let’s look at a few from the book of Psalms (all verses in ESV)

  • To wait well is to wait prayerfully.Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” Psalms‬ ‭25:4-5‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait with strength and courage.Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭31:24‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait with joyful trust in the Lord and in His steadfast love.Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” Psalms‬ ‭33:20-22‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait patiently. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭40:1‬ ‭‬
  • To wait well is to wait with hope and expectancy.Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us.” Psalms‬ ‭123:2‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait believing God will do what He has said in His Word. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭130:5‬ ‭

One of the best ways to wait well is to turn a time of waiting into a time of worship. Worship causes us to shift our focus off of our limiting circumstances and onto our limitless God. Let’s choose to wait well, and let’s back up that choice by turning our hearts toward the Lord in worship.

 

Are You Weary in Doing Good?

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians‬ ‭6:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Sometimes life is filled with emotional ups and downs. This has been such a week in my life. On Tuesday, after over six weeks of waiting, I finally got a call from the home health agency my doctor’s office uses to schedule my physical therapy assessment. Then on Wednesday, this long-awaited appointment finally happened. I was encouraged and ready to get started as I waited for the therapist to arrive.

The therapy supervisor started by going over my medical history to get a clear picture of what was going on. He did the routine exam, then we started talking about what to expect as a result of therapy. I totally agreed with what he shared – I’ve had many sessions of physical therapy over the years, so I already knew this would not make major changes in my condition. The goal was to gain some strength in my leg muscles and help in setting up a daily exercise plan that would be safe to continue on my own. Yet by the time he left, I was feeling discouraged, thinking “what’s the use of going through the pain of doing PT when it’s not really going to make much difference anyhow.”

The temptation to grow weary and give up in the midst of my recent health challenges has been one of my biggest struggles. It’s also a struggle Joni Eareckson Tada has experienced and wrote about in her devotional book Holiness in Hidden Places, which I grabbed off my bookshelf this morning to encourage myself in the Lord.

“It happens whenever we find ourselves on an interminable, straight stretch in the same direction… it’s hard not to become weary. Someone once said the challenge of living is to develop a long obedience in the same direction. When it’s demanded, we can rise on occasion and be patient . . . as long as there are limits. But we bulk when patience is required over the long haul. We don’t much like endurance.”

So how do we keep going when we become weary? The key is a change of perspective. Stop focusing on what we’re walking through and turn our eyes onto the Lord and onto the fruit He is developing in our lives during this season. See your circumstances from an eternal perspective. Joni concluded her devotional on Galatians 6:9 with the following words.

”Your life is not a boring stretch of highway. It’s a straight line to heaven. And just look at the fields ripening along the way. Look at the tenacity and endurance. Look at the grains of righteousness. You’ll have quite a harvest . . . so don’t give up!”

On this Thankful Thursday, let’s turn our focus off the trials and onto the fruit that is growing in our lives as a result of them. As I shared on Tuesday, we are to “count it all joy” and to “let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James‬ ‭1:2-4‬) Let’s look at the daily struggles of life with an eternal perspective, remembering that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

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