Never

 

I can have such a short term view of things.  God shows me time and again how constant and faithful He is in every situation: how everything He does in my life is carefully and patiently hand-tailored to bring me closer to His heart.

And yet I pause.  I look around and think “this has been wonderful, but can it really last?”  I stop and think that maybe it is time to “be sensible” and not live so much in hope for the future when the world now can seem so gray.

But then I start to imagine Heaven.  One day, there will be no more room for second-guessing, doubts, and timid sorrows.  Everything, everything, will finally be pure and good and joyful when it is reconciled to Jesus.

I really cannot even imagine things like never, forever, always, and eternity.  I trust in the Lord Who has never failed me, but I sit and stare into space, blinking and wondering how things could be only good all of the time, forever.  Only God could do that, but we know that He will.  His plan has been the same from the beginning.

It is lengthy, but here is a list of one hundred and ten of God’s nevers, forevers, and always. It is a sort of outline of His plan for us from the beginning, to remind us of the faithfulness and goodness of the One Who does not change as He draws us closer to our ultimate home with Him.

 

  1. The Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done. Genesis 8:21
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  2. I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” Genesis 9:11
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  3. God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons 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 this is My memorial-name to all generations. Exodus 3:15
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  4. But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again foreverExodus 14:13
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  5. The Lord shall reign forever and ever. Exodus 15:18
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  6. So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.  It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed. Exodus 31:16-17
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  7. Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons foreverDeuteronomy 5:29
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  8. The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law. Deuteronomy 29:29
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  9.  For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the Lord your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God foreverJoshua 4:24
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  10. Now the angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you,'” Judges 2:1
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  11. But I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed always1 Samuel 2:35
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  12. For You have established for Yourself Your people Israel as Your own people forever, and You, O Lord, have become their God. 2 Samuel 7:24
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  13. He is a tower of deliverance to His king, And shows lovingkindness to His anointed, To David and his descendants forever2 Samuel 22:51
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  14. But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the Lord forever1 Kings 2:45
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  15. But to his son I will give one tribe, that My servant David may have a lamp always before Me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen for Myself to put My name. 1 Kings 11:36
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  16. Thus I will afflict the descendants of David for this, but not always1 Kings 11:39
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  17. So David blessed the Lord in the sight of all the assembly; and David said, “Blessed are You, O Lord God of Israel our father, forever and ever.” 1 Chronicles 29:10
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  18. They sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lordsaying, “For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. Ezra 3:9
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  19. For the needy will not always be forgotten, Nor the hope of the afflicted perish foreverPsalm 9:18
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  20. He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken. Psalm 15:5
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  21. You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures foreverPsalm 16:11
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  22. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. Psalm 19:9
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  23. He asked life of You, You gave it to him, Length of days forever and ever. Psalm 21:4
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  24. For You make him most blessed forever; You make him joyful with gladness in Your presence. Psalm 21:6
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  25. The afflicted will eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the Lord. Let your heart live foreverPsalm 22:26
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  26. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord foreverPsalm 23:6
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  27. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation. Psalm 33:11
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  28. The Lord knows the days of the blameless, And their inheritance will be foreverPsalm 37:18
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  29. As for me, You uphold me in my integrity, And You set me in Your presence foreverPsalm 41:12
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  30. Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom. Psalm 45:6
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  31. For such is God, Our God forever and ever; He will guide us until death. Psalm 48:14
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  32. I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it, And I will wait on Your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones. Psalm 52:9
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  33. Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. Psalm 55:22
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  34. He rules by His might forever; His eyes keep watch on the nations; Let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah. Psalm 66:7
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  35. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion foreverPsalm 73:26
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  36. He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger foreverPsalm 103:9
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  37. He has remembered His covenant forever, The word which He commanded to a thousand generations, Psalm 105:8
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  38. He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; Holy and awesome is His name. Psalm 111:9
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  39. For he will never be shaken; The righteous will be remembered foreverPsalm 112:6
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  40. Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven. Psalm 119:89
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  41. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and foreverPsalm 121:8
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  42. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, So the Lord surrounds His people From this time forth and foreverPsalm 125:2
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  43. My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, And all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever. Psalm 145:21
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  44. Truthful lips will be established forever, But a lying tongue is only for a moment. Proverbs 12:19
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  45. I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him. Ecclesiastes 3:14
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  46. And He will judge between the nations, And will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war. Isaiah 2:4
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  47. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:7
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  48. Now in that day the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 10:20
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  49. “Trust in the Lord forever, For in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock. Isaiah 26:4
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  50. And the work of righteousness will be peace, And the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence foreverIsaiah 32:17
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  51. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands foreverIsaiah 40:8
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  52. “Lift up your eyes to the sky, Then look to the earth beneath; For the sky will vanish like smoke, And the earth will wear out like a garment And its inhabitants will die in like manner; But My salvation will be forever, And My righteousness will not wane. Isaiah 51:6
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  53. Thus says your Lord, the Lord, even your God Who contends for His people, “Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of reeling, The chalice of My anger; You will never drink it again. Isaiah 51:22
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  54. For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57:15
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  55. For I will not contend forever, Nor will I always be angry; For the spirit would grow faint before Me, And the breath of those whom I have made. Isaiah 57:16
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  56. “Then all your people will be righteous; They will possess the land forever, The branch of My planting, The work of My hands, That I may be glorified. Isaiah 60:21
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  57. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing And her people for gladness. Isaiah 65:18
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  58. They will come and shout for joy on the height of Zion, And they will be radiant over the bounty of the Lord— Over the grain and the new wine and the oil, And over the young of the flock and the herd; And their life will be like a watered garden, And they will never languish again. Jeremiah 31:12
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  59. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. Lamentations 3:22
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  60. Daniel said, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. Daniel 2:20
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  61. But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. Daniel 4:34
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  62. But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come. Daniel 7:18
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  63. Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:3
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  64. I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, In lovingkindness and in compassion, Hosea 2:19
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  65. The Lord will answer and say to His people, “Behold, I am going to send you grain, new wine and oil, And you will be satisfied in full with them; And I will never again make you a reproach among the nations. Joel 2:19
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  66. Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, And that I am the Lord your God, And there is no other; And My people will never be put to shame. Joel 2:27
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  67. And He will judge between many peoples And render decisions for mighty, distant nations. Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they train for war. Micah 4:3
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  68. Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace! Celebrate your feasts, O Judah; Pay your vows. For never again will the wicked one pass through you; He is cut off completely. Nahum 1:15
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  69. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying,“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
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  70. And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.” Mark 2:12
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  71. and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end. Luke 1:33
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  72. but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life. John 4:14
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  73. Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” John 6:35
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  74. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh. John 6:51
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  75. And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him. John 8:29
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  76. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain foreverJohn 8:35
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  77. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death. John 8:51
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  78. Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.  John 9:32
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  79. and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. John 10:28
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  80. and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this? John 11:26
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  81. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever John 14:16
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  82. For David says of Him, “I saw the Lord always in my presence; For He is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken.” Acts 2:25
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  83. knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. Romans 6:9
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  84. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:36
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  85. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 1 Corinthians 13:8
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  86. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Philippians 4:4
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  87. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. Colossians 4:6
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  88. Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. Colossians 4:12
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  89. We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 1 Thessalonians 1:2
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  90. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:17
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  91. But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 2 Thessalonians 2:13
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  92. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:17
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  93. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 2 Timothy 4:18
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  94. For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. Philemon 1:15-16
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  95. But of the Son He says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.” Hebrews 1:8
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  96. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25
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  97. Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” Hebrews 13:5
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  98. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and foreverHebrews 13:8
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  99. For, All flesh is like grassAnd all its glory like the flower of grassThe grass withersAnd the flower falls off But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:24-25
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  100. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever1 John 2:17
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  101. to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 1:25
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  102. and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. Revelation 1:6
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  103. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last,  and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. Revelation 1:17-18
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  104. And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever,  the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” Revelation 4:9-11
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  105. And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” Revelation 5:13
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  106. After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands;  and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”  And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,  saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” Revelation 7:9-12
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  107. Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 11:15
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  108. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Revelation 20:10
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  109. I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.  In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed;  and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it;  and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Revelation 21:22-27
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  110. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:3-5

Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.
~Revelation 2:25

~by Stephanie H.

A Single Purpose

It hasn’t always been easy being single.  Even in learning to rely on Jesus, and truly seeing Him as my beloved, there are some times of loneliness that still come up.  I am at the point in my life where I can really resonate with what Katie Davis Majors wrote about singleness, and just really being happy (maybe a bit stubbornly so) with the thought of life being just me and Jesus, together forever.

But what is a single person supposed to do?  Each of us has an individual calling from the Lord, but it can seem like married couples have a clearer map to follow than single people.  There is so much to learn about caring for and considering another person even before children come along, and then life is a whirlwind of keeping them fed, loved, and in one piece through terrible twos and teens years, and then teaching them to be adults and parents for themselves.

That’s certainly an oversimplification of the process, but to a single person, it can be hard to figure out where to focus your energy if not on finding a way to get married and start a family.

Culture tells us that this is this is the season for self-love and self-discovery, but, as Tai and Anna have written before, that way of thinking never gets us very far. We can do all “twenty things to do while you’re in your twenties” and still come out more confused than before we started.  What is easy to overlook is that all of culture leans this way.  A focus on “me time” is more noticeable in the lives of singles because they seem to have less of an obligation to take care of others.  God’s people were not meant to live this way.

In Matthew chapter twelve, Jesus said that “whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (verse fifty)  And in the book of Acts, “not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” (Acts 4:32) 

God’s people were made to be a family: a family that extends beyond our blood relatives.  As Tai wrote, that does not mean that we have to be stay-at-home daughters until are married.  But it also doesn’t mean that our lives must be mainly focused on our own interests or on our work lives.

One profound way I have been learning to be a part of God’s family is by using the time I have to support my brothers and sisters who do have greater family commitments.  I am still at a stage of life where there are not many variables that would make it hard to change up my schedule if I need to do something.  I cannot imagine how great a responsibility it is to support a family at work, go home and make sure they are fed, loved, and doing well in school, maybe staying up with them at night when they are sick, then getting them up for school in the morning and doing it all over again.  Some of my colleagues do this sort of thing every day, and it is a huge blessing to me to know that I can help them in it by picking up odd tasks (turns our I love doing certain kinds of paperwork), or filling in if a sick family member needs care that day.  An added bonus is that I have also been learning many things that will be a huge benefit when I have a family of my own.  And that is just my own experience.  There are so many people who could use a little more family support.  The elderly might need a chat or a hand with the heavy lifting.  Maybe a single mom could use a friend stopping by for some girl time, a grocery shopping buddy, or a babysitter for the evening so she can wear jewelry again.  A dear pastor or leader might appreciate the lawn mowed so he can spend time with his family or take care of some of God’s other family members.

As a single person, I also have fewer complications if the Lord calls me to the mission field.  It might not be your call, but it is a reason to be in prayer.

If you’re not yet called to sell everything and move into the jungle, think about how you do use your resources.  If you have a good job and a family support network, you might have the opportunity to splurge on hobbies and hanging out with friends more often than others people who are supporting families. In what ways could you be supporting God’s family?  What are some of the dreams, needs, or wishes among your friends, church family, or community?  Is there a woman at church who could use some flowers today?  Is there a younger person who might need a big sister to take them for ice cream?  Has an emergency come up for a friend, making it harder to make ends meet?  Would it really make a friend’s day if someone caught the check at lunch?  This can be a tricky subject, since some people find it embarrassing when when another person meets their financial needs.  There are also cases where giving money might encourage a harmful lifestyle.  Always been in prayer about how the Lord can best use what you have, but don’t be afraid to overcome your inhibitions when He shows you how to bless His family.

Be especially generous with your prayers.  Just knowing that someone else is willing to take a few minutes out of their day to intercede for them really touches so many people’s hearts.  So many of these things can be great random acts of kindness, but take it a step forward and get to know and love the hearts of your family in Christ.   Don’t be afraid to adopt someone!  Take the love Jesus has given you and show His family how He cares for them.  He’ll use His family to take care of you too.

by Stephanie H.

Freely Give

Sometimes, Christmas still has that sparkle.  The snow fell pretty heavily yesterday morning, leaving us to the warmth of lamps, blankets, and instrumental carols to complete the picture.  By noon, the pajama-clad children are all napping on the couch, one on top of another like puppies, surrounded by empty boxes, stray wrapping paper, and all of the newly discovered treasures.   There is just something magical, even surreal, about the Christmas festivities.

I was thinking about all of the gifts exchanged and received, and how much there seems to be in the moment.  One gift right after another with barely time to look at them before they are scattered amidst the boxes, bags, bows, and packaging that hid them: between gifts of clothing, tools, toys, books, snacks, gadgets, and novelties, it suddenly feels like everything in your life is new, as though this is the first day of a life defined by different things than the last year.  The thought made me stop and count what exactly my gifts had been this Christmas.  I don’t mean to reduce how thoughtful they are, or how much I will enjoy them, but realistically, a few sweaters and scarves, a tote bag of snacks, and a novelty lamp will change very little about my day to day life once the glimmer of this charming Christmas day has worn off.  I will enjoy them, but I will still have to come back to the firm reality of the world and admit that these things are just amusements.  I had some very significant time with Jesus this Christmas, but I also came to realize how whimsical so many of my expectations of a “good” Christmas day are.

Another thing that stood out to me this year was in giving gifts to my friends at work.  With the month of December being so busy, I only put together small gifts this year, but the response I got surprised me.  Nearly everyone to whom I gave a gift hesitated at first and asked “Is this for me?”  I teased some for being surprised (“No, I just wanted you to hold it” *wink*), but their voices really did sound affected.  A stranger might ask such a thing if given a gift, but there were friends and co-laborers with whom I work day in and day out.  Did it actually surprise them that someone was thinking of them?

The roads we walk are often hard.  Jesus is always there with us, to pick us up when we fall, and to refresh us when we are weary, but I underestimate how often He does this through His family.   The whimsical gifts fade, but anything with a hint of Jesus in it lasts, in as much as He is in it.  I have known things even as small as a smile that touches the eyes or a good-night hug to have a realness, a solidness, to them that all of the “real” material things seem to lack.  Those glimpses of Jesus are the things that keep me anchored during the difficult times.  From the moment that they are given, they may be as small as seeds, but they can quickly become the roots that keep us stable in the midst of the harshest storms.

It can be a struggle to keep scattering seeds when we often cannot see the results, but it is something that is starting to spur me on to love more actively and directly.  It may seem silly to invest time and resources in people who don’t seem to need the attention, or who don’t seem to want it, but the seeds God gives us were meant to be scattered.  Whether they will face heat, thorns, or be eaten by birds, so that we never see where those seeds come up, is for Him to decide.  He may move us on to other fields before we even know which patches were the good soil.

Is that not to our benefit?  We would be so quick to decided what “good soil” looked like if the Lord always let us see at face value the results of our devotion to Him.  His words to us were “freely ye have received, freely give.”  What if we could move past our fears, and love and serve others as often as we feel the need to be loved?  The thought that “This is for me?” could mean that I have given someone a seed in the midst of a hard time makes me long to give away everything I own to bless others.  What might I be keeping that could be used to bring hope to others?  When might my timidity be keeping me from reaching out to someone in public who may need a friendly smile or a kind word?  Christmastime has its whimsical charms, but I want to see Jesus Himself.  I pray that I will love more freely in the New Year.

by Stephanie H.

Waiting for the Letdown

 

“At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
    and I will punish the men
who are complacent,
    those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good,
    nor will he do ill.’
 Their goods shall be plundered,
    and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
    they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
    they shall not drink wine from them.”

Zephaniah 1:12-13

 

“God…I trust you. I know you don’t want to harm us…I just…don’t really see how this could possibly work out well in the end. But, I WILL hold onto you no matter what happens, even if it is a disaster, and things don’t go the way I’m hoping.”

So often my thoughts have gone something like this, as I try to have faith for something that seems….well….just crazy. Maybe I struggle to believe that God can actually DO something that big…or maybe I struggle to understand why or how He would do something like that…….for ME. I don’t deserve a blessing like that…so…why should He see it through? I mean, I can believe for the same thing for someone else. But me? I brace myself for the disappointment. The letdown. The failure of my faith.

Faith?

What faith? Is THAT faith??

It is so easy to fall into this attitude that Zephaniah so poignantly describes in chapter 1 of his book. It is so easy to know deep in our hearts that God won’t do evil toward us…but…not letting — or MAKING — ourselves believe that He can and WILL also do good! We must guard ourselves very carefully from this attitude, for, as Zephaniah points out, this attitude breeds complacency; NOT the bold faith that sets out to conquer in the name of the Lord! We must push aside every doubt that tries to crowd into our minds and hearts when we set forth to pray in faith, and we must BELIEVE the Lord for good! For us! Today! He will not fail us, and our hope is NOT in vain. Unless we press the victory, and break through the hoards of doubts that try to stand in our way, to keep us from receiving that which we pray for, we will fall short of what God desires for us! It is like the story of Joash in 2 Kings, when Elisha told him to take a bow and shoot arrows out his window. And Joash took it, and shot 3 arrows and then stopped. Then Elisha was angry with him, because, he said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.” When we lose heart after praying only for a little while, we do not gain the victory we might have had if we pressed on! And unless we press forward in our trust in the Lord, we will be like those Zephaniah describes who never see the fruit of their labors. So too, if we do not believe the Lord for the answer to our prayers, and hold fast, waiting expectantly for His blessing, we will not get to see the fruit of the wrestling faith, and we will not have the reward of our faith. For, simply thinking, “God will not do evil….but neither will he do good,” is not enough.

Ask God to show you how you may have been doing this in your own life…and ask Him to teach you REAL faith and trust in His goodness and faithfulness!

 

 

The Arrow of Thanksgiving

Your fingers hurt as you pull back the string, keeping your eye on the fletching.  Your arm wants to shake as it pulls against the tightness of the string.  You move your focus down the shaft, linger on the arrow head, then center on the yellow circle in the distance.  Breathe, and-

Thwi-!

Holidays can be difficult times for me.  I love the comfort and quiet they can bring, the moments of warm, soft reflection in the midst of all that goes on day to day. Sometimes, however, that peace can be far more elusive on the special days than it is in the midst of the deadlines and the daily grind.  If left unprotected, it is peace easily lost and disappointment readily gained.

How often does Thanksgiving cross the calendar this way?  Expectations run high, and when we come to the familiar “What are we thankful for?” it can be so much easier to think, Well, I would be thankful, if…

The Bible shows us holidays in a way that is different than we are used to thinking.  Instead of days off to do what we want in the hopes that we will feel better at work after, Biblical holidays were days of training.  When the Lord established the Sabbath day, the foundation of all holidays for His people, in Deuteronomy chapter five, this is what He said:

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.
~Deuteronomy 5:15

When life gets busy, we have to make a conscious effort to keep from drifting off with our moods, stresses, and fears.  That effort can be something that seems to add to the burden of our to-do list rather than lightening it.  Because we are used to the hope of resting recharging our emotions on holidays, training sounds exhausting and intimidating, but God designed holidays to be training in joy.  Joy is not a spontaneous feeling like happiness.  Even at our lowest points of fear and sorrow, joy can be ours if we are used to exercising the right muscles.

This is where I come to thinking of thanksgiving as a weapon.  It can be so hard to be thankful.  It really isn’t something that comes to us naturally.  When we first feel the weapon in our hands, it is so alien that we hardly know how to handle it.  We know how it is supposed to work, but surely it is meant for other people to use.  People who are “talented” in the realm of thankfulness.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Yes, we can feel our fingers scream when we first pull back that tight string.  Our muscles tremble within us as we struggle to keep the bow steady and pulled back tight.  We miss the target, then again, then again.  It is a struggle to hit the bull’s-eye of joy, but we must learn to think like Leah.  Leah could have been tossed about mercilessly by her circumstances.  Her husband loved her sister more than he loved her.  God blessed her with three sons, but even still, she was lonely amidst her blessings.  Finally, she made a choice: “This time, I will praise the Lord.”  And her fourth son Judah became the forefather of our precious Jesus Christ.

This time—whatever the time may be—will you praise the Lord?  Think of the bow as His faithfulness.  It is solid and true, but sometimes hard to grasp at first.  We know its strength, but how could we ever be able to approach it?  If we try on our own, we will never be able to get the arrows on the string, but Holy Spirit helps us the draw the strength of the unfamiliar string.  Devote time to training.  Set aside pieces of the day, especially the holidays, to learn of His faithfulness, and to practice putting your trust in Him.  Remember that in the same chapter as the command to keep a Sabbath, Moses shared with the people:

The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today.
~Deuteronomy 5:3

The Lord’s faithfulness is something He gives to you.  It is not loaned to you by permission from someone else.  It is what God Himself has given directly to you.  Don’t be afraid to interact with His faithfulness in your own life, no matter the situation.

I think of the arrows as truth.  Circumstances and emotions can toss us back and forth; in the midst of that, there are solid truths to which we can still cling.  Maybe they don’t seem very significant at the time, often they won’t be enough to rocket us from the doldrums straight to cloud nine, but sometimes just a little piece of something that is really, honestly true is enough to give us a hint of joy.  Again, we know these truths better the more time we spend in the Word and in prayer.  If we devote time to memorizing the Word, it is like we get used to reaching for the quiver without even having to think of where to find it.

God is faithful.  Here are the truths.  Draw the string, aim for the center of His presence: joy lives there.  Hold steady.  Remember, thanksgiving is a choice.

Rejoice always;  pray without ceasing;  in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

In everything.  It sounds an awful lot like training, doesn’t it?  We still have some time before Thanksgiving Day comes.  Take the time to learn the tools.  It is a hard thing for the enemy to stand against a truly thankful heart.

Deep breath.

This time I will praise the Lord.

And…

Release.

by Stephanie H.

Abandoning Your Ungodly Hobbies

“Not now, sweetie, I’m busy.”

“Go ask mom.”

“I can’t.  I’m going to the mall with Julia tomorrow.”

“I’d rather go to the movies.”

“What did you say?  I wasn’t listening.”

It hurts when those we love are too busy for us.  It doesn’t just hurt; it breaks our hearts.  It is also a pain Jesus understands more deeply than we can imagine, not just because He knows your pain—and He does, so deeply—but because this is how the ones He loves treat Him all of the time.  The number of things that we choose instead of Jesus is nearly endless.  It is something we all do far more often than we care to admit.

What are the things that get between us and our loving Savior?  Some of them just get a hold of our short attention spans; others we pursue feverishly because we’ve forgotten how to live without them.  In the same way that we have adjusted to television as background noise to every room and exploring absolutely anything through the screen of a phone, we have grown so used to sinful activities that we don’t even realize how unnatural they are to the heart of God.  In fact, our hearts are full of things that devastate His.

I was sitting in my room, praying hard, in anguish over the Scripture that had stood out to me.  I had been hurt by someone close, not just once or twice, but for years.  Now the Lord was confronting me in the the words that echoed in my head:

But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. ~Matthew 6:15

I had read these words so many times before, but this time they broke me.  In my pain, I was hurting the only One who could heal me, and I was putting of barriers of anger to keep Him away.  Still, that pain and bitterness had become so much a part of me, that I knew I couldn’t stop.

For days, it was all I could pray about.  I needed to be free.  I wanted to be with Jesus again.  Finally, He showed me what the true nature of my bitterness.  Anger frequently filled me thoughts, but not constantly.  The fact is, when I had nothing else to think about, I would go looking for bitterness without even realizing that was what I was doing.  My bitterness was a hobby.  It was a pastime that let me focus on myself.  It didn’t make me feel happy, but it made me feel justified.  It was enough to fill my mind to keep me from thinking about how hurt and vulnerable I was.

How many of these sorts of hobbies do we have?  Bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, hatred?  What about cruel humor, mocking, gossip, and backbiting?  Maybe self-harm, substance abuse, or sexual addiction.  It can even start small with a taste for violent films, novels, and video games.  Maybe we don’t notice because things can still make us smile or laugh, but when we hurt, we so often bury ourselves in hatred to keep from being hurt again.  The littlest thoughts and complaints become a part of our daily rhythm; something we can’t live without because it keeps us from thinking about being weak.

The saying goes that “hurt people hurt people.”  The truth is, hurt people hurt Jesus.  What we use to push others away who might hurt us ends up hurting Him more than it hurts the ones we fear.  Knowing that should make us feel awful, but feeling awful about it doesn’t mean we’ll ever be able to stop.  What we need to understand is that Jesus hurts more than any of us can imagine, because He is more innocent than any of us can ever know.  He hurts more than children who cannot understand what they did that they should be left alone, but in that depth of pain, He forgives.  In our pain, our thoughts and our actions break His heart, and He forgives.  He knows we cannot ever stop unless we fight to release these hobbies of brokenness to Him.  So He forgives, and He gives us His Spirit to restore to bruised and bleeding pieces of our weak and vulnerable hearts.

Whether they mean to or not, people will not stop hurting us, but we can still be vulnerable and be safe in His arms if we are willing.  He can hush our aching hearts as easily as He does the stormy seas.  He teaches us the beauty of the silence we fear so much, the silence we fill with hours of mindless rhythms and distractions that keep us from thinking.  Rest can become not falling apart, but falling into His arms.  We can leave all of our hobbies behind for a life, a real, full life.  A life of peace and joy eternal.

by Stephanie H.

Aesthetic the Idol

 

Emptiness abounds.  A click of a button can become a painful reminder of the parched souls and aching hearts that may be hiding behind the faces of our closest family, neighbors, and friends.  Sometimes, we see the pain; other times, we don’t find out until it is too late.

The church sees and often feels that same yearning for hope.  Christians know that their faith should hold the key to broken hearts feeling love again, to trials turning to gold.  They have a longing to see their brothers and sisters in Christ and those who are lost find a home where they can be loved, cared for, and feel the sunshine and warmth of peace again.  Those who know brokenness want to see the pain in others healed.  The Lord gave us hearts that long to see every tear wiped away.

And so the church set out to build homes: places for people to be reminded what it is like to feel, to see art and hear music that wakens a piece of their broken hearts, and to know that they are not alone.  We know that the Lord loves a sincere heart.  Giving Him our best to help others must surely be a blessing to Him, even if we’re not quite sure how to do it.

This is true.  The world will see Christ in the church because of something we have that is different from the world.  Unfortunately, with so much brokenness still in the hearts of many believers, much of the church has gotten swept up in the appearance of fulfillment in order to reach out to others.  It is widely circulated today that the way to reach people and show them that the church is different is to have stylish places to meet, sell quality coffee, and create music and media content that shows real talent and skill.  Some follow this idea because they believe the world will need something familiar to draw them to church.  Others think that the world is so busy pushing their way of thinking that they can’t make anything of quality anymore, so that if people see Christians making good quality things, they will have to admit that God exists, because quality must be something eternal, something meaningful.

This adoration of quality is something that has distracted many Christians from following Jesus.  We begin to try chasing away the darkness by embracing comedy and humor of all kinds.  We want to show the world we understand “real” problems by making art and music that captures the spirit of anger, terror, and hopelessness.  We want to us these things to show them that there is still hope, but because we have been focusing on refining skills and talents as a way to do the most for God, we have lost the key to salvation in all of the busyness.  The beauty, the art, the music, all have a note of hollowness to them.  We like to keep busy because we can often feel an ache in our hearts that tells us if we pause too long to listen to that hollow sound, we will see that all of our churches, our youth centers, our coffee shops, our hopeful homes, have become pieces of a ghost town.

Friend…

Sister.

You do not have the strength to heal anyone.  We cannot even heal ourselves.  Our words, actions, and creations can bless others, but the only way that they can be healed, can find a home, can know love and joy and laughter again, is not to have shadows of Jesus in your actions, it is to have the actual, real, full person of Jesus with them.  That can be very hard to hear, because we try so hard, but living fully in our hearts and in our actions is exactly where Jesus wants to be.

The weeds and whispers of the world can be very distracting, so it is very easy for us to become separated from our Father in a culture that is basically a shiny, colorful department store to our child-like minds.  Christians know in their hearts that Jesus is somewhere, but it can often feel like God is the watch-winder, and our job is just to keep ticking along until the right time comes.

As creatures made in God’s image, we have an innate desire to create.  We also have a strong connection to what we create, and what things awaken that creative nature.  These tendencies are wired into us so that spending time with our Father will bring us closer to Him.  However, when we start thinking that our talents are their for us to use—even to use for God—we often end up creating and interacting things that draw our affections away from the heart of our Father.

Remember that it is Jesus’ goal to bring all people to Himself (John 12:32).  Things that we create in and of ourselves will reflect our beliefs, but if we submit ourselves to Christ, and to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the things He builds through us will actually introduce others of our precious Savior Himself!  In essence, we view our talents as our tools to serve Him, but in our surrender to His will, His complete will, we become the brush, and He becomes the painter.  We become the strings, and He becomes the sweet hands that give us music.  He has complete freedom to love others through us, to come alongside them personally, and to wipe their tear-stained faces with His nail-scarred hands, holding them close until they are made utterly whole again.

Kneel before Him and give Him all of your heart.  Trust Him with everything like Mary did in pouring out what she had for Him.  Whatever others may say, they will see Him at His work on the pages of your life.  Will you sing a more hopeful song without Him?

 

by Stephanie H.

Joy Overflowing

Where does joy come from?

Something that gets whole groups of Christians spinning in circles is the question of happiness.  I have friends who get weird looks and comments from strangers in public because they’re just “too happy.”  It often comes up in many churches that Christians should be the happiest people around because of Jesus.  At the same time other Christians are finally starting to admit that they struggle with depression and anxiety in spite of living with a pasted on smile because they’ve always been told they should be happy.  It often happens that both sides get angry with each other.  Outside of the church, some believe that happy Christians really are just a facade, trying to sell their “perfect” lifestyle, while others even think that happiness can never be as real as other emotions, because real life is never that kind.

But what about joy?  Joy and happiness are often synonymous, but Noah Webster also says that joy is excitement and pleasure that comes from a confidence in something, while happiness is more a pleasure by chance.  In short, joy is often seen as being more long-lasting than happiness.

So if we often find happiness to be unattainable, how can we possibly get joy?  Joy isn’t just for happy people, or for times when things seem to be going right.  Joy isn’t just something you can force across your face, straight into your heart because you want it there.  Joy is for the depressed, the mourning, the troubled, and the broken.  If you have a concordance (or access to the internet), try reading the verses that have to do with joy.  Many of them are promises.  Here are just a few.

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

Joy is a result of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and confidence in God.  If the Holy Spirit is in us, we will grow in joy, and in the rest of these.

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of joy above Your fellows.
~Psalm 45:7

The closer we grow to the Lord, the more we will see things as He sees them.  The more wickedness will break our hearts, and the more we will delight in the beauty and virtue He has created.  Joy will become like a mark of royalty, showing everyone whose child you are!

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
~James 1:2-4

We could never force it, but the presence of the Holy Spirit gives us such confidence in the love and power of God, that we can view every hardship and setback as a joy the more we abide in Him.

Perhaps you haven’t known this joy, or perhaps it all seems to be in the past.  It’s easy to write about all of these things, but how do you actually get joy?  Maybe you’ve tried doing everything everyone has told you, but the darkness always calls louder.  Jesus knows.  This is what the Lord said of the Israelites in a similar situation:

For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.
~Jeremiah 2:13

He speaks harshly because it absolutely breaks His heart to see us hurting ourselves by leaving Him.  “Living water” refers to water that flows naturally, down from the mountains or out of the ground like a spring.  The Lord is that mountain spring to our hearts.  Everything we need to be filled is always flowing from His presence.  Every thirst we have is quenched, the needs of all of the desert animals are met, trees spring up, fruit comes forth; in the midst of exhaustion, we can cool off, and it’s hard to resist splashing that refreshing joy on every tired heart we meet!

A cistern is a kind of dry well that can be dug in dry climates.  No water comes into it naturally, but buckets can be used to fill it so you might have water for later.  In this case, the cistern has a leak in it.  We can be so desperate for a drop of happiness.  We take our buckets out and try to fill our dry well with friends, adventures, food, music, clothes, television, toys, relationships, and novels.  But the water all leaks away, and we’re left again with nothing.  Sometimes we go so far as to try to fill it with drugs, bullying, violence, sex, or self-harm.  It may seem impossible to come to the fountain of joy from there, but Jesus is always listening.  Maybe you did know His joy in the past, and you think He won’t come back for you again, but nothing could be further from the truth!  The fountain has not run dry, and His mercies are new every morning!

When King David finally repented after living for months in sin, this is what he wrote:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
~Psalm 51:10-12

The first joys of salvation can be restored.  You heart can be cleansed of every sin, and healed of every wound.  In spite of every single pain and abuse you have faced, your mourning can be turned to dancing!  It may not be something your heart knows how to want, but Jesus will come to you.  Just be willing to ask, trust Him when He tells you what to do, and flee to Him when you feel the darkness pressing in.  If you ask and believe, your confidence and joy in the Lord will be your strength!

But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.
~John 4:14

by Stephanie H.

Martha, Martha

I had a conversation with a friend a while back about spending time with Jesus, and one of the things she said got me to thinking.

“You’re more of a Mary, and I’m a Martha.”

We very much like to categorize ourselves in this day and age.  From ISFP, extrovert, type A, phlegmatic, wall flower, all of the way to “What ice cream are you?” or “Which Bible character are you?” we are encouraged to establish a solid identity, our own little niche of belonging in a chaotic world.  Those boxes often make us second guess any actions or decisions that would take us outside of our own identities.  When it comes to our relationships with the Lord, that cookie cutter identity can be crippling.

When my friend told me that I was a Mary, I had to laugh on the inside.  She is very outspoken, while I could sit for an hour looking at a piece of grass.  She manages to juggle a dozen different tasks at the same time as nurturing half a dozen different people through their fears, joys, and anxieties, all within the span of ten minutes.  I work best with one thing at a time, and can get so focused that I will sometimes not even hear what people are saying around me until my job is done.  From the outside, that might seem like the perfect recipe for sitting at Jesus feet, but being still and listening are not things that come naturally to me.

My mind runs a mile a minute, so it isn’t uncommon for my prayers to become chatter sessions, telling the Lord everything I have planned, and when I think things are taking too long to happen.  I have to laugh at myself when He reminds me to listen, and instead I go down a list and ask Him about all of the things I think He might have to say.  In short, I am very much a Martha.

Realistically, we all face the same struggle Martha did.  When Luke begins this story (Luke 10:38), he says that Martha was the one who welcomed Jesus and His disciples into her home.  Martha had a brother named Lazarus as well as her sister Mary, but it seems that she was the one who took the initiative to invite Jesus into their home.  That is is where we all know to start, and it is certainly nothing to sneeze at!  Martha knew that there would be nothing more important in her life than having Jesus come into her house.  Hospitality was (and still is) vitally important in their culture, and she was ready to give all of the resources, strength, and time she had to make sure that the Teacher and His friends would remember the welcome she had given them.

Now, Martha was no Pharisee or Sadducee.  Her focus wasn’t on whether or not she would look impressive enough.  Her focus was on hospitality and doing good for others.  Along with Jesus and the twelve primary disciples, who knows how much of a crowd was following Jesus that day?  She wasn’t about to let any of them go hungry.  So where did she get distracted?

The story of Mary and Martha takes place in Luke chapter ten.  If we go back just one chapter, Luke nine gives us the account of Jesus feeding five thousand men, in addition to women and children.  Now He is back in Bethany, and here is Martha, stretching herself thin trying to feed one household when the Bread of Life is there sitting in the next room.

Martha does seem like a go-getter in this passage, but fears apply to all of us at one point or another.  She feels the pressure of wanting to do her job well.  She wants to bring comfort and rest to the lives of others.  She hates to think of anyone slipping through the cracks on her watch.  She gets so lonely in all of her cares and responsibilities, that she gets upset with the Lord for not easing her burden by having her sister help.

It’s not that Mary was more into feeling and Martha was more into doing.  All of Martha’s worries are addressed at the feet of Jesus.  It can be so easy for us to imagine that He has overlooked us with His help, and to say “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone?”  Not one person was overlooked when Jesus fed the people in the wilderness, even though the disciples had no money to feed them.  When we place the burden of success on our own shoulders, that is when our stress levels skyrocket, and things start falling apart, whether we’re juggling caring for a family and coordinating a dinner, or just trying to get through our paperwork.  Meanwhile, Jesus is patiently waiting, calling each of us by name.  It is hard to give up control to the Lord, “but only one thing is necessary.”  And when we seek first that one thing, all of our needs will be met, and we will find that Jesus provides more fruitfulness to His ministries than we could ever hope to do on our own.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
~1 Peter 5:6,7

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
~Matthew 11:28-30

 

Martha, Martha.  Won’t you taste and see that He is good?

by Stephanie H.

Trendy Grace

 

Grace.

Yes. That word.

It is trendy, it’s hip, it’s just the right blend of a pinch of reformed and dash of hipster, and when you drop it into conversations, everyone thinks you’re totally relevant and totally accepting of all those things that more “prudish” Christians look at as sinful and ungodly.

Thank goodness you know “grace”.

Or…do you?

I was sitting out in one of my favorite prayer spots not long ago, reading through Titus, when the scripture below jumped out at me. I’ve read it MANY times, and actually know it by heart just from reading it so many times. But…this time was different. This time, it was like I actually understood it…and I realize that what I was reading was such a clear contrast to the way we so commonly perceive “GRACE”. Read it yourself:

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” Titus 2:11-12

Um. What? Wait, wait, wait. Paul obviously missed the memo. Like…doesn’t he realize that grace means that God saved us so He overlooks our sinfulness now? Like…we’re covered by the blood of Jesus, dude. Grace.

Let’s take a step back here, and look at some important details. Why did Jesus come? “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

Jesus came to save His people from their sins [read: He didn’t come to help us to feel better about ourselves, or to make us comfortable in our sinful passions, or to pat us on the head when we live selfishly]. In light of that, what IS the “Grace of God”?? The grace of God is that Jesus has rescued us from the power of sin and death (Romans 8:2), meaning that we no longer HAVE to sin! We have been set free from the shackles of sin so that we CAN walk in godliness, and say “NO” to sin. God has given us the power to overcome our sinful passions, and given us the freedom to live righteously!!

The first few verses of Romans 6 also reiterate these things in a very straight-forward way:  We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. ….So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. ….For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

Wait. “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace”? But…but…grace means we don’t even have to worry about sin, right? 

Ok, back to the Titus 2 verses. Go ahead, read them again all the way up there. Ok, now lets unpack the verses:

“bringing salvation for all people”

This means that God desires to see people saved. There is a common misconception that if we speak to people plainly about God’s commands, and His plan of salvation, that we are being judgmental and not having grace. So, many people feel like they have to tiptoe around those who are living in sin, fearing to speak up on the Lord’s behalf, because they don’t want to be “judgmental”, and they hope that just by “loving on” these people, they somehow will turn to the Lord on their own. Maybe they will. Maybe some have. BUT, if we are unwilling to stand up for righteousness, and live set-apart lives, and boldly proclaim the gospel ourselves…..why should they become Christians? Because, in their eyes, how are we any different from themselves, or from any other “non-Christian”. We must be willing to boldly show those who don’t know Jesus the reason our lives are different, and to give an answer for the hope that is within us! God wants people to be saved, and what kind of friends are we if we let them go on living in their sins, which we KNOW are going to lead them to destruction and ultimately eternal death and separation from God?? [1 Corinthians 15:56a, “The sting of death is sin….”]

Jude 2:23a says, “Save others by snatching them out of the fire…” — not by waving and smiling at them as they careen over the edge of the cliff.

“training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions”

“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. ….We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning…” 1 John 5:4a,18a

Renounce. That’s a kind of intense word. We might keep the definition fuzzy in our minds as we read over it because, as long as it stays fuzzy, we don’t REALLY have to worry about doing it. If you don’t want to act on this verse, don’t read any further…because I’m about to give you the definition…and it’s not fuzzy or a vague concept.

Still reading?

Well…I warned you:

re·nounce

rəˈnouns/

verb

  • formally declare one’s abandonment of
  • refuse to recognize or abide by any longer
  • declare that one will no longer engage in or support

Now you wished you had stopped reading when I warned you, don’t you? But, unfortunately (or fortunately) for you, now you have the responsibility that comes with knowledge. God’s grace trains us how to abandon, no longer engage in, and refuse to abide by ungodliness and worldly passions.

Hebrews 10:26-27 says, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgement, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

Which brings us to:

and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age

Living according to God’s commands takes work. You don’t just stumble into a righteous life. You must fight for it daily — hourly! You must learn to recognize ungodliness and unrighteousness in your own heart and life, and come up with a plan to combat those desires and tendencies with godliness, and self-control. We will get to the place of a deeper understanding of God’s heart, and a greater discernment of those things that are commonly embraced by the world, but which are unhelpful for a Christian to engage in, or worse — those things which break God’s heart and cause Him much sorrow — when we SPEND TIME WITH JESUS each day. Just like any friendship, this is really the way we get to know God’s heart, and the way we are able to receive His power to live an overcoming life. And, even though it takes much work, it WILL bear fruit in your life, because we aren’t trying to do it on our own, and we aren’t going after the devil’s strongholds in our own strength……..and THIS, friends, is the grace of God. We CAN have victory, we CAN live new lives, we CAN receive new hearts, we CAN overcome our sinful tendencies — BECAUSE OF THE GRACE OF GOD. Because He has given us the very authority of Jesus, His Son, over the devil, and over the devil’s schemes, and all sinful temptations.

Let us take hold of this gift of grace TODAY, in the fullness of it’s power. Let us take hold of this amazing power and authority that God Himself has gifted us with as His children, and heirs with Jesus! Let us not treat so lightly this gift of grace. May we overcome by the blood of the Lamb TODAY!!!