No Valentine Left Behind Part 3

In part one, we talked about brightening Valentine’s Day for single moms.  In part two, the focus was on showing love to the elderly.  Now, with Valentine’s Day just over the horizon, I want to refocus again.

The fact is, everyone needs the reminder that Jesus loves them.  Valentine’s Day having the potential to be a lonely time, it can be a wonderful opportunity to express kindness to anyone.  When you are praying, ask the Lord to open your eyes to the places you might have overlooked where He might want to shine His loving light.

For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
~1 Peter 2:10

As you walk forward with Jesus, it can be so good to remember where you have been.  Where were you when He first called your name?  What was the first tear that He wiped away?  What walls did you have built up to protect yourself before His love broke through?  From where did His hand of mercy pull you free?

Remembering these things has been so important for me.  I’m not naturally social, so it can feel risky to start a conversation with someone or to offer an encouraging word.  Even when I was very good at hiding every kind of insecurity, others risked sharing their hearts with me.  They showed me Jesus when I was all alone, even though they didn’t know what I was going through.  Risky as it can feel, I don’t know what the story is behind the faces I see around me, sometimes not even the ones I interact with every day.  It can be so easy to go years without anyone discovering the ache in your heart, because they want to believe you when you say that you are fine and when you smile.  It reminds me that sometimes the “survivors,” the ones who seem the most fine, the ones to have it all together, are the ones that need the encouragement the most.  Even through their smiles, confidence, and self-reliance, they can be some of the Valentines that feel the most left behind.

What is such a blessing is that we do not know how small things can be used to plant seeds of joy in the lives of others.  Sometimes it can be discouraging to be unable to see whether taking a risk and caring for someone has done what we have hoped, but no seed Jesus has planted ever goes to waste.  Keep talking to Him as you take the small steps, and He will remind you of His purpose in what He is having you do.  Sometimes He will surprise you with the chance to learn just how much the things that you do might mean to another person.

So where will God lead you in reaching out to others?  Are there people at your church who could use the reminder that their work is appreciated?  Maybe a coworker needs to know that someone is there for them as they go throughout the day.  Perhaps cookies or a card would brighten the day for the mailman, your favorite librarians, or a neighbor that you have.  You could encourage a sibling or family member, or even strike up a conversation with the cashier at your favorite café or fast food hangout.  It can be a step out of the old comfort zone, but don’t be afraid of the vulnerability that comes with being sincere.  You don’t have to wow anyone with a bubbly personality or amazingly deep and wise thoughts.  It is so meaningful just to have someone give an honest compliment, or shyly give a gift from the heart.  Jesus has so much more sweetness to share with the world than all of the clearance chocolate put together.  Stay close to Him this year, and watch where He takes you as that love rubs off on others in your life.  And have a very happy Valentine’s Day.

by Stephanie H.

How has Jesus changed the way that you see Valentine’s Day?  If you have a story or a Bible verse that you would like to share, please let us know in the comments!  You can also start the conversation on Facebook.  I hope that your day is sweetly and richly blessed.

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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  5. The Lord shall reign forever and ever. Exodus 15:18
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  14. But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the Lord forever1 Kings 2:45
    ~
  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
    ~
  16. Thus I will afflict the descendants of David for this, but not always1 Kings 11:39
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  19. For the needy will not always be forgotten, Nor the hope of the afflicted perish foreverPsalm 9:18
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  22. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. Psalm 19:9
    ~
  23. He asked life of You, You gave it to him, Length of days forever and ever. Psalm 21:4
    ~
  24. For You make him most blessed forever; You make him joyful with gladness in Your presence. Psalm 21:6
    ~
  25. The afflicted will eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the Lord. Let your heart live foreverPsalm 22:26
    ~
  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
    ~
  27. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation. Psalm 33:11
    ~
  28. The Lord knows the days of the blameless, And their inheritance will be foreverPsalm 37:18
    ~
  29. As for me, You uphold me in my integrity, And You set me in Your presence foreverPsalm 41:12
    ~
  30. Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom. Psalm 45:6
    ~
  31. For such is God, Our God forever and ever; He will guide us until death. Psalm 48:14
    ~
  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
    ~
  33. Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. Psalm 55:22
    ~
  34. He rules by His might forever; His eyes keep watch on the nations; Let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah. Psalm 66:7
    ~
  35. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion foreverPsalm 73:26
    ~
  36. He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger foreverPsalm 103:9
    ~
  37. He has remembered His covenant forever, The word which He commanded to a thousand generations, Psalm 105:8
    ~
  38. He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; Holy and awesome is His name. Psalm 111:9
    ~
  39. For he will never be shaken; The righteous will be remembered foreverPsalm 112:6
    ~
  40. Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven. Psalm 119:89
    ~
  41. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and foreverPsalm 121:8
    ~
  42. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, So the Lord surrounds His people From this time forth and foreverPsalm 125:2
    ~
  43. My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, And all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever. Psalm 145:21
    ~
  44. Truthful lips will be established forever, But a lying tongue is only for a moment. Proverbs 12:19
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  49. “Trust in the Lord forever, For in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock. Isaiah 26:4
    ~
  50. And the work of righteousness will be peace, And the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence foreverIsaiah 32:17
    ~
  51. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands foreverIsaiah 40:8
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  59. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. Lamentations 3:22
    ~
  60. Daniel said, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. Daniel 2:20
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  71. and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end. Luke 1:33
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  76. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain foreverJohn 8:35
    ~
  77. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death. John 8:51
    ~
  78. Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.  John 9:32
    ~
  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
    ~
  80. and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this? John 11:26
    ~
  81. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever John 14:16
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  84. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:36
    ~
  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
    ~
  86. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Philippians 4:4
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  89. We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 1 Thessalonians 1:2
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  92. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:17
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  98. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and foreverHebrews 13:8
    ~
  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
    ~
  100. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever1 John 2:17
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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
    ~
  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.

Jesus is on the Way

They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.
~Mark 5:1-5

The Word of God meets everyone right where they are living, and maybe, today, this is where you live.  On a recent read-through of the Gospel of Mark, it stood out to me just how common this man’s circumstances are in this day and age.  The Bible can seem very disconnect from our modern way of living, but everything we could face in this world is right there in black and white.  In the case of this man, it was cutting.  His demonic bondage had him in such agony that all he could do was scream and cry out, day and night, and find ways to try to destroy himself.

I can remember feeling like that…

People had tried what they could to restrain him.  Maybe some of them were family who cared and wanted him back.  Others might just have wanted to give him under control so he would stop scaring people and making a scene.  Either way, they couldn’t control him.  He snapped the ropes and cords, even the chains broke off of him the longer he was under this power.  With no one who could help him, he lived his life in the wilderness and in tombs and graveyards.  If he had lucid moments, maybe he really believed that it was the only place for him to belong.  I don’t know how long he was there, with no one to love him, no one to help him, and a legion of demons for company, that tortured and tore him the way dogs would handle an old sock.

He was someone society had thrown away.  The Jews on the other side of the lake kept the laws so that they would keep from sin and stay close to God.  They never would have touched a human bone, let alone live in a graveyard.  The people of his region (called “the other side” by the Jews) had compromised their faith.  They lived for whatever made them happy, whatever made them great, and served any god or goddess who would get them there.  Maybe at one point this man had been happy.  Maybe he had been close to being great.  He surely must have tried.  Now, he was the last person anyone would want to be seen with.  He was the last person anyone would want to see.  Between the ten great cities in that region, everyone would have heard him coming through the wilderness and among the tombs, and they would have gone as quickly as they could in the other direction.

Everyone but Jesus.

And Jesus was on His way.

Jesus had been teaching the people earlier, and had been interrupted by a man with a demon.  I don’t know how long this man had be enslaved to this demon.  I don’t know if anyone else had known before the demon lashed out against the pain of hearing the Savior speak.  With a word, Jesus freed the man from his nightmare, and gave him peace and hope again.

The people were overjoyed.  His disciples must have been awestruck and trilled to see the goodness and power of their Rabbi.  Yet they were confused and afraid when He told them that they were going to “the other side.”  They could not imagine why anyone good should go there.  Jesus knew what He would find there.  I think that in His heart He must have been thinking of a dear son He had lost: a son that He was going to bring home.

The man didn’t know it, but Jesus was getting into a boat and coming for him.

The devil knew, and he was not pleased.

The storm that rose up caused the life-long fishermen to fear for their lives.  They knew that the other side of the sea was the devil’s domain.  Now the powers that could keep a man from being bound with any rope or strong chain were pounding them again and again and again with violent waves and gale-force winds.  Try as they might, they could not reach the other side, and they were giving up hope even on living to tell the tale.

Even as the demons fought to keep claim of their victims and slaves, the Prince of Peace was asleep in the front of the boat.  No fear touched Him when He awoke to the storm.  He had no thought of turning back.  Nothing, no power of Hell, no scheme of man, would stop Him from reaching His lost child.

He rose from His seat and, with a voice perhaps no louder than a decisive whisper of “Peace, be still” the rage of devils, that could tear chains and overpower a crowd, was as submissive as a sleeping child.

 

Imagine.

The wail of the wind still ringing in their ears.

Now the only sound is the sleepy lapping of the water against the boat, and the pounding of their own hearts.  I imagine they whisper more than they speak.

Who is this man?

I wonder if the sun and wind had dried their storm-swept clothes by the time they reached land.  Did they even have time to recover from the experience before the next storm came tearing down the hillside?

Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him;  and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!”  For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”  And He was asking him, “What is your name?”And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”  And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain.  The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.”  Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.
~Mark 5:6-13

The calm of the sea is broken as the boat crunches on the gravelly shore, and immediately this all but God-forsaken creature is before them, perhaps running down from the tombs, or appearing from behind a rock before throwing himself at Jesus’ feet and screaming.

I don’t know if he had very much of his own control over what he did.  The demons are the ones that answer.  I don’t know how many more demons he had than the man who was freed earlier, but it seems to have been very many.  Whether or not they or he had witnessed the storm, they knew that a power that could finally hold them had come.  Perhaps, deep down somewhere, it felt almost like hope, but the pain of being in the presence of Jesus must have been searing to every facet of his being that was controlled by such evil.  It always burns at first, when we are confronted by His presence.  Sometimes it is enough to want to hide or run away.

Now, after all of those endless hours of torment, his demonic captors are begging for mercy.  The blackness inside is replaced by a searing, burning pressure that builds and builds until suddenly it breaks, and all he can hear is the lap of the waves and the beating of his own heart as he catches his first shaky breaths, cries his first hopeful tears, as a free man.  And perhaps that first reassuring touch came from Jesus as the man received the first clothes, so warm after all of those nights in the cold, that anyone could remember him wearing.

Jesus showed others how it felt for this man to be free.  A storm of two thousand pigs, used as unclean sacrifices to false gods, unable to be contained by their herders and keeps, rushed into the sea and were drowned.  I don’t know how many of these temples this man had visited for worship, but I don’t believe he ever did again.

Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened.  Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine.  And they began to implore Him to leave their region.
~Mark 5:14-17

With His healings among the Jews, Jesus often tried to be discreet.  He told people not to tell anyone, and often silenced the demons before they could say anything about who He is.  In this case, He seemed to want everyone to know whom it was that He loved.  I don’t know if the swineherds knew that the man was set free before they lost all of their pigs.  Perhaps they would not have noticed Jesus coming if the demons had not been allowed to enter the pigs.  At hearing that the swine were lost, the people came out to see that the possessed man, the man no one in their culture was smart enough or strong enough, or wise enough, or loving enough, or godly enough to save or control, was resting contentedly at Jesus’ feet.

Who is this man?

Perhaps they felt some of that same pressure, that same burning.  We know we are unworthy.  We can’t believe He would care, so we beg Him to go away.

As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him.  And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”  And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
~Mark 5:18-20

Imagine.

A crowded city market.  Shouting from vendors from every corner.  Jostling from every direction as loads are carried in and out, some for selling, some having been bought.  Important people discussing everything from politics to poetry under the statues of Caesar and the other greats.  She doesn’t concern herself much with them as she make her way to a strong-smelling shop stand covered in all manner of herbs and incense.  Maybe, just maybe, they will have something to heal her son.

She squeezes her heart to be still and to hold back tears when there seems to be nothing that can be done.  She barely notices that the crowds begin to whisper and tentatively pull away.  A cheerful, almost strong, voice says “Hullo!”  She looks up to see whom she has almost run into, and pulls back with a start when she sees that his face and his hands are covered in scars.  She can’t bring herself to meet his eyes.  She knows who he must be, the dead one from among the graves, but his eyes are so cheerful that they make her feel afraid of what he might see in hers.  A part of the crowd keeps quiet as he tells an extraordinary story.  How can it be real? but there he is, right in front of them, sometimes laughing, sometimes with tears rolling down his scarred cheeks.  She listens, hardly daring to hope.  But maybe, just maybe.

And then Jesus is on the way again.

It was through another storm.  This time, He came walking on the water before calming the storm from the boat, because nothing would stop Him from healing His lost children.

When they had crossed over they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore.  When they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him,  and ran about that whole country and began to carry here and there on their pallets those who were sick, to the place they heard He was.  Wherever He entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places, and imploring Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured.
~Mark 6:53-56

If you are fighting a battle with self-harm, contemplating suicide, or hating yourself or your body so much that you want to destroy it or break, I want you to know that there is hope.  Not just happiness or distractions from what you’re going through.  All of those things are the work of a real enemy with real servants who want to see you hurt, and want to keep you in pain and in the dark.  There are so many ways you’ve tried to fix it, so many people who have tried to help, but none of it seems to hold up against that storm.

Jesus is on the way.

No storm can stand against even His slightest word.

Run to Him.  Shout to Him.  You know His name.

Jesus.

Son of the Most High God.

He will rescue you from everything that torments you.

Even if you can hide it on the outside, He knows that you were never fine.

Come into His presence.

Don’t hide.  Don’t run away.

Jesus is on the way.

by Stephanie H.

Hearing the Truth Through the Whispers

What has ever happened in your life that was actually good?

There are days when I can think back over my life and see so clearly what Jesus has done at my best and worst moments to give me every good thing that I have.  A light shines on every moment to show me the blessings of His care, and the joy that even the trials have brought to me.  Those are the days when it is hard to keep a smile from becoming a laugh, just to think of how the King of all things delights in brightening my day.

Then there are times that the light seems to turn off like a switch.  The days when the above question seems painfully real as I grope in the darkness for the things that I know have been blessings to me, but that I just cannot seem to find.  Whispers creep into my head and argue with me at every point, telling me that all of the things that I know on the warm days, full of light, are just my imagination.  Was it ever really so nice?

Boy, the devil has a lot of gall.

Thank God that we are given strength in Jesus to be unshakable more than just some of the time!  Here are a few things you can do to keep your footing on the days when the light seems dim and the whispers seem overwhelming.

Don’t Panic!

The first thing we often feel at these moments is that all is lost.  It must be that something didn’t quite click when we first trusted Jesus, and that this is what life is going to be like from now on.  It was so happy, following Jesus.  If we don’t feel that way, it must be something we did, right?  Our actions do affect our relationship with Jesus.  If we are sinning, or have not surrendered something to Him, we will struggle.  However, that is not always the cause of our distress.  Read the Psalms.  The are full of distress, and the reminder that the Lord is faithful in the midst of our adversities, even if He seems completely absent through them.  Reading Psalms twenty-two through twenty-four is an especially good reminder.  The first verse is what Jesus spoke on the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  If the Son of God can feel that way, then all is not lost for us when we struggle under the burden of a fallen world.  Those three psalms are actually believed to be all one before the chapter divisions came along.  I find reading them all at once deeply comforting.  Try not to dwell on feeling in the dark, but do remember that it’s okay to feel that way.  Overcoming that tendency to panic is usually half of the battle.

Know the Shepherd’s Voice

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
~John 10:1-5

The devil works overtime to deceive us.  In our moments of distress, he will do everything he can to convince us that it is God who is accusing us.  Our Father does discipline us, and so the devil finds ways to imitate the Shepherd’s voice while telling us a lie.  The best way to keep from being hoodwinked is to spend so much time with Jesus that we see the counterfeit instantly.  The devil will still whisper in countless and seemingly new ways, but if we are walking hand in hand with our beloved Christ, learning the depth and newness of all of His ways, it will be rare that we are taken in and led to greater distress.

Cite Your Sources

The best way to conquer distress is to take the offensive.  Don’t wait for the confusion to set in to decide to hide God’s Word in your heart.  Sometimes the distress is too much to take, and I can’t find any words of my own for how I am feeling and what I need in order to see the light again.  At those times, there is such a deep comfort in being able to quote Scripture.  I have a few of the Psalms committed to memory, and sometimes just the fact that I can speak them and have a solid piece of God’s Word available is enough to block out most of the pressure from the enemy.  Keep the references in your heart too.  Sometimes the exact words or the context can get lost, so don’t be afraid to pull out your Bible or your concordance, or do a quick web search when you can only remember a few snatches.  It’s a great reminder that the promises of God, and the concrete truth of His presence are defined by more than our own ability to hold onto Him.  It is such an encouragement to me that Paul, in 2 Timothy 1:12, wrote,

“for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”

Sometimes, that is all I need to hear.  This is a very productive habit to start in the New Year.  If you are at a time when it seems like more should be happening, use the time you have to hide God’s Word in your heart so that you will be ready when things get more active.

Bring a Friend

Isolation is a great way to overcome someone.  When we are alone, it is so much easier to believe that all of the feelings in our own heads are what is really true.  I tend to be the kind of person who doesn’t want to allow others to know my problems, since I know that they have their own lives to handle, so it isn’t uncommon for me to hold things inside for longer than I should.  When I do share something with one of my brothers or sisters, it is so deeply encouraging.  When I am distressed about the pressures of the enemy, or about a difficult thing the Lord wants me to do, just the honest “Yep, that sounds like what the devil would do,” or “Wow! He is calling you to something great!” is enough to remind me that I am trusting my life to the One with all of our best interests at heart.  It does often happen that I cannot reach anyone at the time of my distress, but Jesus is still there with me.  There have been numerous times that I have been so exhausted in my spirit that all I can do is ask the Lord to have someone else be praying for me at that time.  I can usually feel the burden eased almost instantly.

Remember too that distress will not always lift instantly.  It can be something that the Lord uses to remind us to be in prayer for someone, or as part of the process of really, truly understanding something about His character that we may have known on paper, but not experienced with Him before.  However, this does not mean that we have to be pulled back and forth by the whispers of doubt that come up, prompting “did God really say…?”

If you are struggling, and would like prayer or a chance to work through something with us, please leave a comment or an e-mail.  Also, if you would like to share a Scripture verse that has been a faithful friend to you in the midst of your distresses, please let us know in the comments below.  We love being able to connect with you.

by Stephanie H.

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.

The Darkness is Real

The devil is real.

We all “kind-of” know that… but, truth be told, we often aren’t really sure what that actually means… or how to deal with it.  Some of us may not really want to think about it all that much, because we’re afraid… or confused… or maybe you’re one of those who knows the devil is real, and has experienced his presence, but you don’t know what to do about it or how to get out of his grip (or help those who are).

Today I’m going to share with you an interview with a girl who is very dear to me.  A girl who has been through an incredible amount of pain, grief, and darkness in her short life.  But God has brought her out of it all safely, and she is now full of the joy of His presence.  My hope is that her testimony is both a help and an encouragement to those of you who are stuck in fear and bondage to the devil—that there IS a way out!

AND, for those of you who are still skeptical about the devil’s existence and the reality of his presence in our world and his work amongst the young people of our society today… I hope this testimony is eye-opening to you, and moves you to earnest prayer on their behalf… and I hope it stirs you to action to rescue any you can from the devil’s grip.  This is reality.  This is why there are so many suicides and kids filled with darkness and despair.  We cannot sit passively by while the devil deceives and destroys lives with impunity.  We MUST fight back.

Can you fill us in a bit on how you grew up, and what “normal life” looked like for you as a child?

I grew up without the guidance of either parent.  My dad left right away, and my mom was an alcoholic.  I was tossed between family members and my mother’s friends.  My mom dated a lot, only, she dated women, as she is a lesbian.  I saw her blaze through so many relationships, including those which sometimes involved other kids.  I saw the damage done by these relationships, and I often got the blame when they ended.  Normal life for me was never staying in one place; it was living with whoever my mom dated, and often getting left behind so she could go out drinking.  Sometimes I wouldn’t see her for months, and didn’t know if she was coming back.  I became depressed, suicidal, and got into self-harm.  I was medicated and anorexic and I began to look for comfort in all the wrong places.  Those wrong places led me to a cult and to demons.

 

When did you really start to get into dark, demonic things yourself?  What was it that drew you in?

I really started to get into dark, demonic things in my sophomore year of high school.  I liked the feeling of having the protection I thought I was being promised.  I was drawn in by the promise of never being alone and having a “spirit” to look after me; a “spirit” I could call my own and which would defend me.  I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself, and I figured I could do that if I were something more than human.  There was a “pack” of demon-bound students in my school, which I joined up with.  Each pack member got a demon which stayed with them, and was always supposedly in the form of a wolf.  These students would enter the bodies of their demons and command them to go about and to kill other demons.  I wanted to be a part of something like that because it was bigger than myself, it was adventure, and because I craved the closeness of a pack.

 

Can you summarize what it was (as far as the demonic activity) that you were drawn into?

When I got into the pack, I didn’t know it was a cult because they seemed like regular high school kids, and like they didn’t want to hurt anyone.  When I joined, I was bound to a demon that controlled fire, and was taught how to use this demonic power… BUT, by getting that close to demons, I attracted other demons to me that tried to kill me and control me.  I had voices in my head all the time.

 

How prevalent was all this in your school?  How connected through the rest of the country—or was this an isolated group?

There were at least a dozen students bound to demons in my school that I knew about, but they knew another pack in Nebraska (a state not at all close to where I lived).  This particular cult is spread all across the U.S. and Canada.  I cannot even fathom how many people are stuck in this mess.  It was definitely not an isolated incident; there are SO many kids involved in it.  There are even little kids “in training” that are relatives of those who are already bound to their demons.

When did you start to want to be free?  How easy was it to get free?  What kind of process did God have to take you through to get you free?

I was sitting behind my door one day, at home alone, and I was crying out to no one in particular.  I had been hurt, and the demons wouldn’t leave me alone.  I was so tired of cutting myself and feeling worthless.  I had grabbed a kitchen knife and wanted to slit my throat.  I had thought about overdosing so many times, but never went through with it.  I raised the knife to my throat but I hesitated, and in that moment, God called out to me.  He asked me where I was going—where I would go when I died?  Of course I knew I wouldn’t be going to Heaven—only good people went there, and I was into all things demonic.  But God told me He had plans for me.  He had found me in the darkest place and still He came for me.  God loved me so much that even with all I had done, He wanted me.  He didn’t look down on me and say I was too far gone.  He didn’t want anything from me—He wanted ME!  Even though I had nothing, even though I was bound to demons, even though I was broken and dead inside, He wanted me—even when I was so, so filthy.  THAT is when I wanted to be free.  I wanted God because He wanted me… just because He loves me.  It was a while after that that God began healing my heart and washing me clean, and He had me surrender anything related to the cult that I had.  Then, I prayed for the bonds to be broken… and… I was free!  There was a lot of healing to come, but I was free of demons, and I felt the weight of them fall off of me.

 

What would you most want to say to someone else who is stuck in a similar situation?

I want to tell the people stuck in a situation like this that it isn’t a game.  It isn’t “safe” to play around with… and there is a greater Love for you!  God won’t treat you like the demons do.  He won’t put that much pressure and weight on you.  There is no love in those kinds of cults.  God will not leave you alone, He won’t let you suffer, and He will stay with you all the days of your life and protect you for REAL.  Demons may promise protection, but they cannot deliver what they have promised.  They are liars, and their way is death.  But God is real!  He is more powerful, and He is good.  When you surrender your life to Him, He will guard you from their grip for real.

 

What do you think parents, grandparents, and church-goers who don’t know what to think of the devil or the current amount of demonic activity in the world need to know and do?

I want to tell those who don’t know what to think about the devil that he is VERY real.  Demons are very real, and they aren’t trying to help you, and they don’t actually give you power like they promise.  There is so much demonic activity in the world that Christians need to be on high alert.  It is far more common and widespread than anyone thinks it is.  Please pray for the Lord’s guidance, and be active Christians.  Remember: this is a battle.  Tell your children and grandchildren about the devil; tell them the dangers of these things while they are still growing up, and train them in battle.

 

What is the best way to help kids who are stuck in these things find their way out?

The best thing to do for kids who are in this is to pray for them, take every opportunity you can to talk about Christ with them, and show them His love.  Most of the time kids don’t even know what it is they have gotten into, and they don’t know how serious the devil is (he isn’t playing around, even if they are).  Tell these kids that the devil is real.  Take Proverbs 22:6 seriously when it says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

 

Is there a way to tell what kids are stuck in these things?

It is so hard to differentiate who is stuck in these demonic things and who isn’t.  There is no specific behavior or mark to identify them.  That is what makes this so scary; it is like a plague with no symptoms.  The devil has created a seemingly perfect trap.  There is no specific age, no specific gender or race.  However, kids stuck in this trap usually stay away from Christians and withdraw from family… but then, most teenagers do those things today anyway.

 

Now, looking back, what are the biggest differences you see between serving demons and serving God?

Serving God has brought me more joy than I ever knew I could have!  God does not endanger me.  He keeps me truly save, and promises me real and lasting love for all of my days.  Serving demons was being on edge everyday, not knowing when the next attack would come… but knowing it WOULD come.  Everything about me became different when I began serving God instead of demons.  I became happier, healthier, at peace, and I started seeing my family more often.  I became a real person again, instead of being controlled by the whims of the devil.  God doesn’t think of you as a slave like demons do.  He is a Father that only has His children’s best interests and well-being in mind.  There are no words to describe how loved you feel when you serve God.

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.

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.

Jesus Has Little Sisters

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to having as dear and sweet a friend as Jesus.  I don’t even know where to find the words for the love He has shown me.  The joy, the thrill, the sense of humor, all make me want to laugh and cry at the same time.  Hearing from Him and spending time with Him just makes my heart sing in a way I never knew was possible.  Even though I grew up in a Christian home, I never expected to have Jesus for an actual real best friend.

All of those thoughts made Matthew 13:55 and 56 stand out to me recently.

“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?  And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”

When the Son of God came to earth; the one who carved out the mountains, painted nebulae, and fed sea monsters; He came into a family where He would have little brothers and sisters.

It is still so easy for me to turn prayer into business meetings and memos, and time in the Word into browsing for what my next assignment is.  Like the Nazarenes in Matthew thirteen, I forget that the One who organized the functioning of the entire world and wrote all of the rules is also the Father who made petunias smell sweet, designed the family, and gave us the ability to know love.

I just imagine little girls coming to their big brother Jesus with their skinned knees, their fears, and their clumps of fresh-picked flowers.  I wonder how often they shared hugs and laughs, and how many of them He watched get married.  The One who said “let the little children come to Me” knows exactly what to do with them when they need Him.

I don’t have many memories of being a little girl.  I remember being very young, but the thoughts I remember having then were as analytical as I always seem to have been.  I don’t know if I was born an old soul, or if I just forgot those innocent joys, but Jesus doesn’t just have the little sisters He grew up with, He adopts all of the broken girls too.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
~John 14:18

I think one of the reasons I cannot find the words to explain what it is like to be loved by Jesus, is that I finally don’t have to.  I don’t have to think through a full ten minute oration on why I’m stressed or confused or why I need His comfort.  When I do try to explain, He often doesn’t let me.  He just sets aside the problems that I’ve handed Him, and holds me close instead.  He is gentle when I am most vulnerable, and He shows me how He loves me when I least believe it.  It’s love I’ve never known from anyone on earth, but it is never too late to be Jesus’ little girl.

And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said,“Behold My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
~Matthew 12:49, 50

When He adopts us, Jesus not only cares for the broken girls, but He heals us and teaches us how to become unshakable.  Arguments and situations that used to give me anxiety become places where I can feel His strength, and where He has taught me to love when I never could have on my own.  There are some struggles that return again in different ways as we work through them together, but they give me a chance to see a deeper part of His love I never knew before as He grows me into a sister and daughter He can be proud of.  It is a walk that so fills my heart, that I want to show everyone what it is like to have a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Jesus has little sisters, and you are one of them, precious girl.

by Stephanie H.

I’m SUPPOSED to Be Afraid? Part 2


Does it feel kind of like we’re back at square one?  Fear involves punishment, so we should not be afraid if we love God, but Jesus Himself said that we should fear God because of… punishment?

 

Sometimes it is so easy for us to take things apart and look at them piece by piece, and forget the big picture in the process.  Remember that fear does not exist in a vacuum.  The same God who is the God of love is also the God who judges every man according to his deeds.  He is just because He is merciful, and merciful because He is just.  So what other attributes of God do we need to remember as we consider how fearsome He is?

Omnipotence
God is all-powerful.  He created the world, and there is nothing He cannot do with it.  All throughout the Old Testament, we have pictures of the immeasurable power of God, from the creation, to the flood, to the plagues of Egypt.  The history of Israel, the Psalms, and the speeches in the book of Job all show that God is worthy to be feared.  When we think of someone wanting to be feared, it is usually a human being who wants to be in control of others, and wants everyone to know that they are in control.  They want fear to do all of the work for them so that staying in charge is easy.  God really is in control.  He doesn’t need to show off His power and use fear just to keep us in line.  Often, His shows of strength were to remind His people of how weak the enemies of God are (Exodus), and to remind those with a great deal of power that they were not to play God (Daniel).

Holiness
God is separated from all things that are evil (Psalm 5:4).  He is light, and in Him, there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).  Darkness and light cannot live in the same place.  If there is light in the room, there is no darkness.  If the light leaves the room, darkness can return.

And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.
~John 3:19

This is why we are so often afraid to enter the presence of God.  When we love evil, we can feel the darkness in us being burned away in the presence of the true light.  The devil is very good at convincing us that this means we can never be at peace with God.  We identify with darkness, but know that God is light.  We then fall into the trap of believing we are condemned to Hell whenever we discover a sin we had overlooked before.  Here is where there is hope:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
~Hebrews 4:12

Darkness cannot stand in God’s presence, but we can ask God to have our love of darkness surgically removed, and He is more than willing to do so!  He can take away anything in us that is at war with Him, so that we will be able to have joy in His presence rather than wanting to run and hide.  That is why there are two different responses to fearing God for the enemy of God and for the child of God.  An enemy refuses to leave his sin, and hates the thought of it being taken away.  A child fears the pain of the surgery and the unknown of the life afterward, but trusts his Father to do what is best for him.

Love
We often think of love and fear as opposites because we are used to fear and hate being so close together in our experiences.  There are so many things in this world that can cause destruction that it becomes easy to find numerous examples of evil and fallen things that we fear.  It is hard to think of things that we love as being fearsome at the same time.  Waterfalls, fire, dogs, and driving can all lose their loveliness if we personally experience the side of them that can be destructive.  Some of us like roller-coasters of skydiving because of the thrill of controlled fear, but it is very hard to find an earthly example that can do justice to fearing and loving the Lord.  The only example I can think of are the people of the Lord themselves.  There is not one godly person in the Bible who did not face great hardship.  Even Jesus’ own mother and step-father faced the most humiliating and difficult circumstances in bringing a child into the world.  Following Jesus is a terrifying thing because it mortifies our flesh.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
~Matthew 16:24

Those who follow Jesus do not face an easy life.  At times it seems that much of our lives are destroyed when we come to follow Him.  That is not only because God has enemies, but also because God allows the things He loves to be broken so that they can be glorified beyond what they ever could have been before they were broken.  Thing of how much more Job had after the Lord restored him.  Think of Jesus Himself after He became flesh and was broken before His enemies.  That refining process still scares me.  Just thinking about what the Lord might have me face next as I write this has made my stomach a little uncomfortable because I know that He always considers me ready for more than what I can handle on my own.  He’s always making me nervous!  But then He is always showing me more of Himself that I never would have seen if we were going at my pace, and He is making me more like Him the more He takes out of me.  As much as it scares me, I so much more desperately want to be with Him where He is working.

And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.”
And this expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;
for our God is a consuming
fire.
~Hebrews 12:26-29

 

Faithfulness
God is trustworthy to keep His promises, and He has not been shy in making them.  He is the God of all power, we have nothing to offer Him for a bribe, and He allows His people to meet with some of the most terrible trials imaginable.  Yet, in the midst of all of this, He has promised us joy, comfort, and peace.  That is not to say that God will give us pleasure and laughter in the midst of every circumstance.  We often expect this to be true, and that is why we so often hate fear.  Fear can be terribly unpleasant, but the Lord uses it to teach us trust.  There have been many times for me already when it seems as though everything is going the absolute opposite of the plan God has told me He will accomplish.  Those are times when I have to choose to believe what He says in His Word more than what the world around me is trying to convince me is true.  It is like a plant having all of it’s green chopped off until it is just the roots.  That pruning can ache for so long, but those roots will dig deeper while they are not focused on feeding the leaves, and deep roots are terribly difficult to pull up.  David speaks constantly in the Psalms of the painful circumstanced the Lord had him face, and yet he always fell back on the promise that God would not abandon him.  Job is a man famous for having faced more than most of us could imagine, yet he said,

Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.
~Job 13:15a

That is not to say that Job was more faithful to God than God was to him.  Quite the contrary.  But he knew God well enough to know that there must be a bigger picture that he could not yet understand.  The more time we spend with God, and the more we read of Him in His Word, the more we come to trust who He is, and believe that what He does really is best for us, and for countless others He will influence through us.

Humility
God is unbelievably humble.  I felt weak and inferior when I stood in front of that tiger in the museum, knowing that there would be no way for me to beat it at its own game if it had been living.  I cannot even imagine now insignificant I should feel in the unfiltered presence of El Elyon (God Most High).  And yet, He likes to make me laugh.  He feels my pain when I grieve, and He wants to teach me to do work that He could accomplish without so much as the snap of fingers.  When we keep in mind that God is fearsome and omnipotent, we often lose sight of just now much He wants to be involved in the lives of such insignificant people.  What scares me about tigers, landslides, and snapping turtles is that they don’t know me from anyone.  It isn’t personal, it’s just what those things do.  But the fearsome, omnipotent God is my Dad.  If I felt His presence wash over me while standing in front of a real tiger, it would be very hard for me not to grin or even laugh.  Why?  Because the powerful cat is just one of His playthings.  It may still be able to hurt me or even kill me, but only if He says so.  Moses was able to encourage the fleeing Israelites with these words:

But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Take your stand 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 forever.
The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.”
~Exodus 14:13,14

 

I cannot say that Moses was unafraid of the Egyptians when he spoke these words, but He feared the Lord, and there was no room for any other sort of fear to make decisions for him.  It is the same promise given in Joshua 1:9 and all throughout the Old Testament, in the Great Commission, and straight through to Revelation.

We have no reason to be afraid of fear itself.  Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the fountain of life, and keeps us untouched by evil.  In the darkest circumstances, it is like hearing the trumpet blast and the thundering hooves of a faithful king’s army.  Remember whom you have believed, and feel the thrill of His power and love.

I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Thy works,
And my soul know it very well.
~Psalm 139:14

 

by Stephanie H.