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.

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.

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.

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.

I’m SUPPOSED to Be Afraid? Part 1

 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
~Proverbs 9:10

 

If you have grown up in the church, perhaps you have heard this verse often enough to be thinking already, “It’s not really fear though.  We’re supposed to have a healthy respect for God, but we’re not supposed to run away screaming at the thought of Him.”

Well, there is a bit more to it than that.

True, we aren’t meant to dash out of the room when we start praying because we felt the presence of God (though I have been in the place of feeling that way, as well I should have at the time), but we cannot simply treat God the same way we would a tame fire in the fireplace.  We know not to touch the fire because of its power, but having that casual respect is not the relationship God wants with us either.

Here is an example that may help to shed some light on the topic.  I love animals, and am often very good with them.  I have never been afraid of dogs because, since I was a kid, even the big hyper ones listened to me when I told them what to do.  None of the local wildlife scares me, because I know enough about them to know how to react to them to make the most of the situation.  Deer won’t hurt you unless they’re cornered, coyotes get timid if you make loud noises and wave a stick, black bear will charge you if they’re really scared, but if you hold your ground, they lose their nerve.  All of these creatures have their own comfort zones, and I respect that and don’t go out of my way to bother them, but none of them have ever really scared me.

However, I was at a museum recently, and met a creature that made me feel rather differently from my relationship with the locals.  It was a tiger with paws the size of my head and a head four times bigger.  The fact that it was stuffed did not keep my stomach from dropping.  As I stood in front of a hunter that was all muscle in life, and as long as a small car, I knew I had no tricks that could save me.  I just stood there a moment and thought that if I had met this tiger in life, there would be nothing I could do to be in charge of the situation.  I like knowing that I have a way to be in control of things, but I wouldn’t have in that case.  If I were to survive, it would have to be his choice, not mine.

The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom,
And before honor comes humility.
~Proverbs 15:33

That tiger gave me a very small hint of what it is like to fear the Lord.  Still, admitting that we are not in control is only scratching the surface.

I was curious to see if there were different words used in the Greek and Hebrew for fearing God than there were for fearing other things.  Often the original languages add so many helpful visuals because of how specific words can be in their original context.  There are dozens of words for fear in the Bible.  Here are a few that I found most interesting: (If you’re a nerd like me, I hope you enjoy these, but if things like this overwhelm you, just meet me at the bottom of the list.)

‘arats: fear, oppression, to break (Joshua 1:9)

Charadah: take care of, dread, extreme anxiety, trembling (Proverbs 29:25)

Chuwl: dance, writhe, wait anxiously, suffer torture, pain of childbirth

Dechal (Aramaic): fear, make afraid, awesome, dreadful (used only in the book of Daniel [which was Aramaic in part] to refer to the greatness of the king, the statue, terrible dreams, and fear of God)

Giyl: rejoice, be glad, tremble with fear (Psalm 2:11; Psalm 51:8)

Guwr: be a stranger, sojourn, dwell, stir up trouble, dread, stand in awe

Zachal: to shrink, crawl away (sometimes used as a word for reptiles [called crawling things])

Did any of those give you a picture of different kinds of fear?  It was hard for me to keep the list short…  Now, I’m not a Hebrew scholar (yet), but every word I found but one was used to refer to fearing God as well as to fearing other things. ‘arats is used in a positive way when fearing the Lord, even though it is a horrible thing when fearing man.  The words that mean “reverence” are also used to mean being utterly terrified, even in the Greek, where we get words like Phobeo.  Yare’ is a form of the most common word for fearing the Lord.  It literally translates as a feeling in the pit of your stomach.  It is the word used in Proverbs 31:30.

Charm is deceitful, and beauty if vain,
But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.

 

The only word that I found which did not refer to fearing the Lord was chath.  It is only used twice in Scripture.  Once in Genesis 9:2, speaking of how all creatures will be afraid of mankind, and in Job 41:33, to refer to fear that God does not have.  Every other word seems to be used to refer to being afraid of God Himself.  Now, sometimes that is the difference between enemies being afraid of God, and God’s people being afraid of Him.  The creeping away describe in zachal is not used in the same way as the fearful joy of giyl.  Neither is deilia, the Greek word used in 2 Timothy 1:7 used in a positive light.  We are not meant to flee the presence of God, but if we are pursuing sin, we will want to hide when He is in the room.  Even that fear is a gift to remind us that we must become right with Him again.

One last thought before we leave the linguistic discussion.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
~1 John 4:18

This is a verse where we love to take comfort, but it can also be tricky.  To help understand how it fits in with fearing the Lord, remember that it uses the same words as this next passage, phobos and phobeo.

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
~Matthew 10:28

 

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?

by Stephanie H.

Lord, Will I Be Remembered?

 

I’m off like a shot again as soon as I get the inkling that there is something more I can do for the Lord.  Whenever I get antsy, I want to do all of the things that have brought me close to Him before.  I hate to waste a moment, so let me read one of the thickest books in the Bible all in one sitting, or let me fast for a day or two, or pray for someone for a few hours so that they can know the peace and joy of the Lord.  And that does not even cover active ministry.  Let me give everything I have to offer to care for others.  Let me spend all of my free time sharing with everyone the truth of the gospel.

And I get to the end, and I fall apart.

There are so many people around me that need Jesus.  There are so many which He has entrusted to me.  My heart has ached to see how much suffering there is in my small corner of the world.  And yet I can see no fruit…  I have done what I know the Lord has asked of me.  What have I missed?  I know that I get more busy than I should when the Lord would have me be still; He has to remind me so often to be patient and to wait on Him.  He also has my failures and shortcomings with which to work.  I know that I have so much to learn, and that He is used to working through the most broken of people.  It hurts to accept that I have failed, but I know that my God is bigger than that.

I know that I am young.  I do have so much to learn.  The Lord will grow me into the roles and ministries He has prepared for me, and open them to me when His time comes, but for now, I have none of it figured out.  I don’t regret anything I’ve given to the Lord, but I know that He fed over five thousand with a boy’s five loaves and two fish.  Sometimes I wonder if what I have given Him has even fed five.

Retrospect can make it so difficult to relate to the stories in the Bible.  I can quickly read through to see how they end if I do not know already.  The outcome of my own actions lacks that handy feature, so it is easy to forget or simply not understand what it was for patriarchs and disciples to have faith in the moment, because from my side of history, they are all great historic figures and heroes already.  I can hope to be remembered the same way, but how can I know how to live so that I will be when so much that I do seems to come to nothing?

“Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall also be spoken of in memory of her.”
~Matthew 26:13

Can you imagine how this woman must have felt, to hear Jesus say this of her?  My heart yearns to know that what I do for the Lord can have that lasting impact.  So how did this woman do to gain this priceless recognition from the Son of God?

If we start back at verse seven, we read the story of a woman who comes to Jesus and anoints Him with perfume.  The book of Mark adds that this perfume could easily have been sold for three hundred day’s wages.  This perfume, worth almost a year’s labor, was her life savings.

It makes me ashamed to admit that when I give as generously to the Lord as she did, and do not see the results I expect, a large part of me comes to Jesus with His other indignant disciples and wants to demand “Why this waste?”  Nearly a year’s labor, and no one is fed, no one is clothed, and no one seems to love You any more than the day I started!  I don’t mean to blame Jesus for what I perceive as failures, but that is what I often end up doing.

How we measure success is everything.  This woman’s main goal was to show Jesus how much she loved Him.  Is it any surprise that John chapter twelve identifies her as Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha?  I still have so much to learn from her example.  When all is said and done, I want to know that I did what I did to show Jesus how much I love Him.  It is a struggle, but I want to give to Him unreservedly, regardless of what I or the world see because of it.  He sees, and He understands that same struggle.  When there were five thousand people following Him, He fed them with abundance.  They followed Him after that so that they could see more miracles and eat more food.  Instead, He began to feed them with the truth of salvation, and many of them left because it would cost them too much.

That success I have desired is not as valuable or long term as I would have thought.  The Lord has promised that His people will be fruitful, but I’m not always sure what that fruit is.  When I think I know, I often end up chasing the results rather than my Jesus.  I still have much to learn, but I want to spend my time sitting at His feet, giving Him all that I have, and seeking no more than seeing the love in His eyes, whatever may come.

by Stephanie H.

Is Giving Better than Receiving?

 

by Stephanie H.

 

Is giving better than receiving?

 

The obvious answer is, yes, of course it is.  And that is very true.  Focusing on what we have and what we get immediately puts a wall between us and God.  The last of the Ten Commandments tells us that coveting what belongs to others, wishing we could have it as good as we think everyone else has it, turns our eyes away from Jesus, and leads to a whole host of other sins.

 

So it does seem like a silly question.

Let me continue.

 

I grew up wanting to be very independent, and learned to be very good at it.  My grandparents were raised to be hard workers who took care of themselves, and considered it a matter of honor not to “take charity”.  You do what it takes to provide for your family, and for your neighbors in need, but there are always others who will need the help more than you do.  They never wanted to be a burden to anyone else by not being useful, or being unprepared for whatever life had to throw at them.  That work ethic trickled down into me as well.

 

Determination not to be idle, and to do one’s part are very valuable traits to have, but they can also be used to focus us on ourselves and to distract us from Jesus’ work in and through us.  For years, my determination to be independent and to be useful to others led me to bottling up every problem I had so that I would never have to be a burden to anyone.  Even now, being blessed to bring my every fear and concern to my Savior, it is easy for me to use that as an excuse never to rely on others for prayer, especially when I am stressed or feeling inadequate.

 

Jesus knows me so well though.  There are times that He draws me away from others so that I can spend time alone in the quiet with Him.  Then there are times when I can hardly pray a word or read a verse without Him pressing me to seek others out, share my weaknesses, and pray with them.  When I obey those promptings, it is such a blessing.  There are so many intricate ways He has to urge me to overcome my proud independence.

 

I had to confront all of this rather recently at work.  The Lord has blessed me with coworkers who truly love Him, and they have been a wonderful blessing to me.  The path on which Jesus is leading me had me living on very little, and they provided help for me in that time.  It made my independence squirm.  I hadn’t realized I had so much pride left!  At first I wanted a reason not to accept their gift, then I wanted to find someone who needed that help more than I did, and give it away as soon as possible so that I could go back to having only a little again!  Do you ever feel that it is easier to accept reluctant help than it is to accept help eagerly given out of love, without even having to ask for it?

 

Receiving sincere gifts, with no obligations and no flattery attached, really forces us to be vulnerable.  It forces us to admit a need.  How often do we want to do that?  In those times, it can be so easy to hide behind Jesus as an excuse for not needing help from His people.  Sometimes He does have us accept less from others than they are willing to provide.  Think of Paul, working as a tent-maker so that the churches he was helping would not have to pay for his needs.  Other times, we stubbornly choose to live in the wilderness out of habit, rather than allowing Him to show us the joy and glory of relying on our brothers and sisters, even as He has them rely on us.  That relationship, and the vulnerability that comes with it, strengthens us together as the body of Christ, and teaches us so much about Him that we never could have known on our own while resisting the call to depend on each other.

 

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. ~James 1:17

 

When the Lord calls us to give of ourselves, He is allowing us to be involved with Him in what He loves most.  Yet He shows us something so magnificent when we sit and watch with Him as others have the opportunity to experience that same joy of giving.  It is also a strong and comforting reminder that we are not the ones who cause good things to happen.  He loves to have us involved, but it is such a humble blessing to be taught to close our eyes and hold out our hands for the blessings He has prepared through others.  Be willing to receive, and see what love He will shower upon you.

“Please Weep.”

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As I was half asleep today, my mind began racing, filling with heart-wrenching scenes of utter depravity and hopelessness which I have observed as we have traversed the continent.

Hollow eyes, desperate faces, bodies marred by sin.

Many kids see the idols of music and film living lives of sin, and yet, with their perfect bodies, glistening hair, designer clothes…and everything their hearts could ever desire handed to them on a silver platter. And they think, “I wouldn’t mind being like that. I’d like to have that level of comfort and the ability to live in those appealing sins, without people criticizing me. And of course, being adored by everyone would be an awesome bonus too!”

But…that is not reality. Those stars are the “pets” of the corrupt men and women who are really at the top, making money off of the kids who have become America’s idols. Of course they will be pampered, and groomed, and doted upon…and the devil is all too glad to give them every earthly pleasure, as long as they lead the Nation’s children down the path to destruction with them. They are tools of the devil. Tools to get impressionable souls to turn from what is pure and good, and to set their feet instead upon the ways of sin. This is the way of the devil: he makes sin to seem attractive. He puts up a sparkling front to lure in the naive. But when the lure is swallowed, the pit of darkness opens below to engulf its victim.

The reality is, the sunken eyes and matted hair of the homeless girl we met, sleeping under a sun-frayed tarp on the sidewalk.

Reality is the man – skin and bones, and face aged by sin, who made his way to the “recreational marijuana shop” because he had nothing more to live for. The scruffy beard, and bag strapped to his bike bespoke of a man, most likely homeless, who was now in bondage to his vice, giving every last bit of money he could beg, borrow, or steal, to keep the unquenchable fire fed.

Reality is the natives, some so very young, who know little more than that liquor numbs the pain. Many of whom wander their dirty, destitute streets, with no hope for the future – in bondage to sin, and to the native spirits that are welcome there…which have no mercy upon their victims.

Sin does not beautify. It does not satisfy. It does not fulfill. It numbs, hardens, causes fear, and strips away all that was sweet, lovely, or innocent. It destroys. It cripples. It enslaves.

And as I thought of these things, there came a voice, “It is right to weep for these desolate ones. Please weep. It is fitting.”

If we are not weeping for these souls, we do not have our eyes open. We need to wake up, look around at the desolation, and cry out to God to rescue these who have been ensnared by sin’s deceitful call, and seek for ways to give them hope, and to hold them back from death.

If you think there’s nothing you can do, just look around you. Even the smallest town is filled with desolate, hopeless ones.

Ask God what He would have you do.

 

(P.S. It is not me trying to get you to cry that is the point of these thoughts. The point is, when we care enough about those around us, and when God fills us with His love and concern for them, crying over their desolation simply shows that we can see clearly, and our hearts are not hardened to the reality of what sin does to us. It shows that we have not gotten “used to” the pain around us. It shows that we are ready to be used by God to reach out to them.)

 

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A Prodigal Constraint

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by Stephanie H

My dearest, most beloved son whom I have forgiven,

Please do me the kindness of reading this letter through to its end.  Do not be afraid of the words I have written in it.  Do not be afraid of what I will think of you for having read them.  I love you, my son.  It is a fact that will never change.  You are as dear to me as a son now as you were when you were born, when you left home, and when you returned.  I welcomed you with all that I have.  Do you still not believe it?

The first days after your return, there was joy and peace over your entire face like sunshine.  What crept into you after that?  You grew quiet when I would enter the room.  I would hear you as you told your brother of the time we had spent together, but you held your tongue whenever I joined you, and refused to meet my eyes.  When I ask, you tell me everything is fine.  You made excuses then, now you only mumble.  I am not blaming you.  My dear son, you have not failed me.  I see your fear at what I might say, but how can I comfort you if you will not let me in?

You know that I found your ring back in the chest where I used to keep it.  I wish that you would keep it.  I gave it to you as a reminder of my love.  Have you forgotten?  I love you, my son.  Yes, you are my son.  That will never change.  You could not hide it when you stopped wearing the robes that I gave you.  Do you mean to prove that I have not loved you after all?  You cannot convince me that you are too much a failure that I cannot love you.  I will always love you.  If scrubbing the floor instead of eating at my table, mucking the stall instead of riding your donkey, and sleeping on the floor instead of your bed are not enough to prove your humility, will you run away from home again?  I cannot help you if you force me away.

How could I not see your earring?  Would you declare your loyalty to me as a slave when I have offered to you my heart and everything that I own?  Oh, how it grieves me!  You know as well as your brother the number of servants in my pay.  Shall I lose a son that I would gain a stable boy?  The work I taught you when you were young was so that we could be father and son together.  Every task I desire is done at the snap of my fingers, if that were what I desired.  I desire your love infinitely more than your gestures of humiliation.  My son, I love you.  Why will you not spend time with me?

What will it cost to prove to yourself that you have repaid me?  Do you count the hours you have worked as wages with which you could replace what you lost in your days of sin?  Do the tears that you hide come when you weigh yourself against a vanished fortune and find yourself wanting?  It is true, the loss was great.  Beloved son, I forgave you that debt.  Even if it were small enough to be repaid, would I choose to gain back a few tarnished coins rather than receive the son of my own blood?  I have made the way for you to return to me.  Do not weep to think that your hard labors are your only hope for salvation.  You would see it if only you would come into the light.

There are so many things that I have wanted to share with you these past years.  The joyful hours we were meant to spend together while you were lost, now again waiting for you while you work yourself to exhaustion.  If you will come with me, they are still waiting for us.  It is not too late.  I have asked your brother and sisters to tell you the same.  You still speak to them, but they have yet to convince you.  Have you not seen how I have forgiven them their faults?  Why should you be any less precious to me, my beloved son?  I received you with open arms when you returned to my house.  Will you forever shy away from my heart?  Please, come home to me.

I love you eternally,

~Abba

The Day I Gave Up.

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by Anna Faith

When you are a single twenty something, you do a lot of thinking. And watching. You watch your friends settle happily into their “marital bliss”. You think. You watch their children be born and make those mile-marker memories. You think. You watch friends graduate. You think and rethink your purpose in life. Too often, I have found, there is that temptation to doubt the Lord’s GOOD plans for our life. Sure, He’s got a plan. But GOOD? Hm. That sneaky Enemy (whose main goal is to steal, kill and destroy, mind you) often waves the whole “I drew the short straw” notion under my nose like a sock with that never recovered partner. Kind of unfortunate, a little awkward and always alone. “You’re always going to be alone, and one step behind”. 

Jeepers. That devil sure is mean.

As I waded through some deep, stormy waters in my “newly twenty” years, I was faced with wave after wave doubting God’s good plan. I had my network of people that I knew loved me, but I felt alone as I faced “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). Most of my friends were over eight hours away, which was an additional blow. I was brought to my knees with intense relationship conflicts, illness, deaths, and emotions I’ve never had to deal with before (Hey, I’m an INTJ. We don’t feel emotions quite the same way *wink*). There were times where I would lay curled up in my bed, so emotionally weary and tired. Thoughts of “if only I had a shoulder to cry on. If only I had that privileged of a strong arm around my shoulders…if only” popped up at unsuspecting times. I saw people around me, going through similar things, but they seemed to have that support I craved. My friends could go home to their husbands. I went home to my quiet little room.

“Lord, what are you up to? Why does it seem like you have placed me in a quiet place–alone? What is your purpose in this?”

I will never, ever forget His response. It was forever branded onto my heart about a year ago.

He told me it was because He was giving me a gift. A gift of friendship. He wanted to not just be called my best friend–He wanted to BE my best friend. He told me HE wanted to be the One to hold my hand, the one to gently lead me. He wanted to be my heart-holder. He wanted to be my strength. He wanted to be my “husband”. [FYI, I burst into tears every time I stop to think about it (which is a big deal for us INTJ’s)]

I have walked with the Lord since I was 13, but grew up “knowing” about the Lord since I was born. My dad was a minister for almost 20 years. I knew about the Lord’s character. Yet, we can know ABOUT the Lord’s character….but fail to KNOW HIM. I have known Him as my dearest friend, but that day He took our friendship to such a deeper level of my heart. A level I didn’t even know I could have.

 

So, I gave up. I gave up that comparison game. I gave up dreading quietness. I gave up that “score keeping”. Sure, I do want to get married. That is a deep, strong desire within my heart. There are days where I question if I’m just…not worth loving. Days where I feel ugly and awkward. But when you give your heart–your entire heart–to Someone who you can trust, He fills that “space”. He fills your days with joy, He fills your HEART with laughter. It’s the devil which feeds us lies of insecurity, DOUBT, and fear. That’s not God. It is not God’s desire for us to be afraid that “we are missing out”. In fact, my BEST adventures are the ones which God has planned…and He’s always gone with me.

Singleness is NOT “that awkward time in between stages of life”. Singleness doesn’t mean you “have it wrong”, or that you failed. Singleness means God is giving you the sweetest, most beautiful opportunity to know HIM–and I mean really know Him–in a way you could never imagine. It means you get the Creator of a heartbeat as a confidant. You get the one who hung up the stars as your best friend. He sings over you. He gave the only Son He ever had to humbly bear your sins, just so you could be saved FROM your sins.

I am my Beloved’s, and He IS mine. Trust Him. Remember Him. KNOW Him. He is that hand to hold, that under-girding strength, that Joy, and that calming peaceful presence to quiet anxiety.

He wants to be your Best friend. Will you let Him?