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.

No Valentine Left Behind Part 2

Last week’s post introduced ways Jesus’ love can overflow our hearts and be used to bless others.  The focus was on loving single moms.  This week, I wanted to highlight another demographic that would love any extra smiles you have to offer.

Valentine’s Day can feel like a day gone by to shut-ins and the elderly.  At the same time that a young single girl might be sitting at home and wondering why her day isn’t pink and roses, other hearts are sitting indoors, maybe recalling the days of dances and holding hands that are now only memories.  Jesus wants to hold these hearts too.  He wants them to know that they are dearly loved, and never forgotten.

It can be easy to try to bring warmth into someone’s life through an upbeat smile and a chipper attitude, but it is not always easy to start a meaningful conversation with someone when you might not even know their story.

Perhaps you already know of older people to visit who would love the company, or you may be venturing into new territory.  Every person will be different, so be sensitive in interacting with those to whom God leads you.  Valentine’s Day often feels like a time to make a big show of affection through gifts and attention, but it may also be a point of sorrow for someone who is grieving a loved one.  If you aren’t sure what the best approach would be, just bring yourself and be a friend.  Remember that sometimes the best thing you can do is just listen.

Some people don’t need much encouragement to start a conversation, with others, it may be helpful to ask questions.  What sorts of music do they like?  Maybe you could even listen together of your phone.  Do they have a favorite season, flower, or sport?  If they have been in church for a large part of their lives, they may have favorite Bible verses or hymns.  You may even find common ground that you didn’t expect.  I once had a very amusing conversation with my grandmother about how we didn’t understand the trends and fads of “our generation” (hers and mine respectively), and how they all had to be up on the latest things like Elvis or rap music.

Be sensitive, but don’t be afraid to reach out.  It can be common in nursing homes for a person to have physical touch from those who care for them, but not very often from friends who have time to sit and hold their hand or give a reassuring touch.  Jesus also reached out into places and to people that needed the warmth of His reassuring hand.  Spend time with Him and learn His same compassion for people who are in situations we might not understand.  Even if they seem not to understand everything that is going on around them, ask Jesus to give you His eyes to look past it, and His hear to speak to them as a friend would.  In the midst of a life that rushes by, stop and have a chat with someone who needs a friend.  He may share a blessing with you that you did not expect as you reach out to share His love.

Ask if you can pray with them before you leave.  Even if a person’s mind is not what it used to be, their spirits often remember the touch of their Savior.  It is such a sweet thing to hear a heart that has long belonged to Jesus when it prays.  If you think that you may not be able to visit again for a while, make sure to tell them what the time meant to you.  Don’t be afraid to speak from the heart and let them know what has touched you.  For someone who cannot get out much anymore, it can mean the world to know that they can still reach others too.

by Stephanie H.

If you have any stories you would like to share or ideas for reaching out to others, please let us know in the comments.  We would love to get to know you or answer any questions you might have.  Thank you so much for spending time here with us.

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.

Freely Give

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Stephanie H.

Train Yourself — Winning Takes Persistence!

“…train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
1 Timothy 4:7b-8

*buzz* *buzz* *buzz*

I lay still for a moment, eyes closed, hoping that everything would just…sort of…disappear, and I could drift peacefully back to sleep.

*buzz* *buzz*

Auughhh.

Seriously? I don’t want to get up.

I cracked open one eye, to see if I could get a general feel of the weather outside. Grey. Cloudy. Windy. Probably 40 degrees.

I hate running. And if there’s one thing that could make me hate it even more…it’s wind and cold. I can’t do this. My bed is so warm and comfy.

In spite of my brain protesting every move I made, I rolled out of bed, and began donning my layers…all the while, grumbling, I can’t do this. I just…I can’t do this. I don’t want to.

I finished tying my sneakers, and cracked open the door. A blast of icy wind hit me in the face.

Oh great. It’s colder than I thought. Just perfect. I am not going to survive this run even if I DO make it outside. I shouldn’t even bother. I should just stay inside today. I won’t even be able to move out there.

And STILL, in spite my grumbling and resisting inside, a minute later I found myself jogging down the road.

Why am I doing this? I don’t like running. I just don’t. I wasn’t made to be a runner. Why do I keep doing this to myself.

*thump, thump, thump*

hmmm. I have more energy than I thought I would though. In fact…I think I have more energy than I’ve ever had for running. Weird.

*thump, thump, thump*

Maybe this whole running thing is actually paying off! Maybe…I mean…it’s unlikely…but, just maybe my body is getting stronger! Maybe I can actually do this!

[dtbaker_line type=”leaf”][/dtbaker_line]

Ok, has this ever happened to you? I hope I’m not the only one who has these kind of conversations going on in my head. Yes…yes…this is a true story. I really do hate running this much. Yes, it is slightly pathetic. But, this post isn’t actually about running (thank goodness!!).

However, I share this story because I thought it highlighted very well the internal struggles we can go through when we are trying to do *anything* worthwhile. *Especially* when it is going to keep us rooted and flourishing in godliness! Yeah. Like getting up early or staying up late to spend time reading your Bible and seeking the Lord. Like, instead of surfing the internet when you have a free moment, pulling out the Bible.

When these good intentions manage to even just sneak into our thoughts, we immediately react, just like I react when my alarm goes off, and I know it is a lousy day outside, but I still need to go running.

What?? I won’t be able to function properly if I don’t get the rest I need. I can’t get up early! I’m already sacrificing so much to spend my day working/serving my family’s needs. I *deserve* my sleep time. I certainly won’t be able to focus on the Lord if I’m groggy. Yeah. I’ll just try to fit Him in some other time that’s a little more convenient. There we go. That makes much more sense. I don’t know what I was even thinking there. Get up early? Nah. That’s ridiculous. Plus. I mean, aside from all my GOOD reasons…I just really…don’t want to.

Now, running is of some value, as it strengthens our bodies to work properly, so that we can live with more energy to do what needs to be done each day. But if we do it once, and then never do it again…the benefits won’t carry over. If we keep it up for a few weeks, and then just kind of…take a break for a week or two after we get to a point where we feel like we’ve gotten a lot better at it, we will lose all the muscle and energy we had gained from our training, and when we go back to do it again, we will find that we can barely limp through what was an easy exercise…you know…just like a month ago! BUT, if we continue to practice, day after day, week after week, month after month, we WILL get stronger, and have more energy, and we will actually get to reap the benefits of our sacrifice!

Our walk with the Lord is very similar to this, in many ways, which is why it is so often compared to running a race, or being an athlete in training. It takes the same self-denial, the same endurance, the same reckless determination to keep going no matter what “cold winds” may try to blow us off course, or cause our resolve to tremble. We can’t just spend time with the Lord on Sunday and expect it to carry us through the rest of our week. If we want to walk in the power of the Lord each day, we need to be practicing our obedience to seek the Lord each day. Whether we feel like it or not. Whether we are excited about it or not. Whether we feel “good” or “encouraged” by it one day or not.

Like the virgins in Jesus’ parable, we must be careful to keep our lamps lit, day after day, not knowing when Jesus will return, but knowing it WILL be soon…and WE want to be ready, and found prepared to meet Him when He returns. Because we MUST endure to the end; just making it most of the way through our lives and then becoming careless isn’t an option. It is the same as running for any prize — if you want to endure to the end, you have to persevere through all the training, all the practice, AND to the finish line. Otherwise, all the training and practice means nothing. You’re disqualified, even if you practiced every day for your whole life, but then give up in the last 500 feet before the finish line. And…if we can’t even make it to the practices…how can we expect to make it through the race, to the finish line?? It’s like taking a couch potato and setting them in the middle of the woods somewhere, and telling them to go run a marathon.

Each day that we seek the Lord matters. And each day that we don’t seek the Lord makes a difference…because we are not moving forward, and are in fact *losing* spiritual muscles.

Like 1 Timothy 4:15a says, we must Practice these things, immerse yourself in them…”.

When you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? I don’t even like this. Is there any point?” Just remember, yes. There is. And as you strengthen your spiritual muscles more and more, and remain faithful in seeking the Lord daily, whether you “feel” any more spiritual or not…you WILL find there is a difference in your day to day life. A difference in your actions, your words, your thoughts. And others will probably begin to notice the difference even before you do! I can’t overstate the importance of seeking the Lord each and every day.

I’m talking to myself here too. It has been an intense struggle lately to get my time with the Lord each day. But we must continually be reminding ourselves that our Bridegroom is coming soon! And we want to be alert, and made ready for His coming! 

What about you? Have you come up with a good way to get time with the Lord daily? Or is this still something you struggle with? What are you going to do TODAY, before you go to bed tonight, to get time with the Lord??

Drop us a comment below, because we’d love to connect with you!

How Much Do You Love Me?

I was praying in the morning a few weeks ago when the Lord interrupted me to tell me something.

“I love you.”

What shocked me was that my first thought in reply was “You do?”

I know that Jesus loves me.  Not just because I have heard it, but because I have experienced it to be true over and over and over again.  And yet, after a hard and anxious week, here I was hearing it and feeling it as a broken girl again, almost as though it were the first time I had heard it from anyone.

It can be the easiest thing in the world for me to make my faith and my service to God a job.  It is still a job I love, but I can throw myself so hard into the work that I forget that Jesus wants to spend that time with me more than anything.  I get to thinking that He’ll be closer to me if I’m working for Him, and the more I get lost in the work, the more I get to thinking that God is just doing His job too.

“Of course You love me.  You’re God; it’s your job.”
And yet partly believing that He wouldn’t want to love me if He didn’t have to do it.

It is such a relief to know that our relationship is on His terms and not mine.  During the same week, I was reading through the book of John, and went through Jesus’ wonderful prayer in chapter seventeen.  It is such a beautiful look into the depth of the heart of God.  In this read through, verse twenty-four stood out to me in particular.

Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.
~John 17:24

The Father loved the Son from the foundation of the world.  This was not just the idea of love.  It wasn’t even in the way that He loved us from the foundation of the world, because none of us were born then.  This was love between the Father and the Son that they both experienced actively from before the world was even created.  God was not forced to start loving us when we were finally created.  He is Love, and He has been loving since before time began.  What Jesus is asking in this passage is that we would be with Him so that we would be able to see how glorious it is to be loved by our Father.

We were created because God overflows with love.  He created us just so He could love even more.  My sin makes it so easy for me to believe the lie that God would leave me if He had the option.  That could not be further from the truth.  His love is never satisfied to be small.  It is infinite.

For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.
~2 Chronicles 16:9

He is on the active lookout for another child to hold, to cherish, and to call His own.  All we have to do is receive it.  All we have to do is spend time with Jesus and give Him our hearts so that we can see what it is to be loved by the Father.  Broken hearts heal in layers.  There are times when I seem to be learning the same basic lesson that I did from the beginning, but God is patient, and His mercy is new every morning.  Every time I receive this lesson, it sinks a little deeper into my heart and heals another corner I didn’t know was broken.  No matter how deep He goes, He will never been scared away by a broken heart.

He just loves to love.

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.

Contentment in Serving God…His Way.

 

 

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I struggle with lots of things. Shocking, I know. 😛

But one of my biggest ongoing struggles has been wanting to be more fruitful than I am…and, in spite of being on tour half of the year specifically to go around sharing the gospel with people all over North America, with my family, I often feel so useless….and have a list of TONS of things that *I* want to do for the Lord that would be *way* more fruitful than what I’m doing….at least, in my mind, that’s the way it seems.

But, the other day, a thought suddenly came to me…that  my struggles are just like this scenario:

What if my husband came and asked me to go out to dinner with him…and I responded with, “Well…that’s nice, BUT…I already have a list of things that I’m going to do for you that will make you REALLY happy. I’m going to clean the house, vacuum, scrub the floor, and mow the lawn – because I know all that will make you really happy!”

But…what my husband actually wanted was just for me to go to dinner with him. And, while all of those other things might actually *be* a blessing to him at a different time, at that moment, if I was refusing to go out with him so that I could do all those other things instead, OR if I went out, but I was continually talking about how I should actually be doing all of those other things instead because they would have been more useful or more of a blessing to him…..that would NOT be actually blessing his heart. AND it would probably both take away from the sweetness of the time that could have been had, and also it would ruin his plans for blessing me and just having a sweet night.

Well, it’s the same with God. There have been times that I know He has asked me to do some “projects” (like my magazine, books, etc.), and when He has asked it of me, He has made it to be in the perfect timing and has blessed it, and caused it to be completed, making my small windows of time to be very efficient.

BUT…if I am continually wishing I could do all these “fruitful” things that I feel would bless Him *more* than what He has set before me right now (like being on tour, being a mommy to two kiddos, etc.), that is really not a blessing to His heart, and in fact, it takes away from the sweetness of being with Him and being faithful in what He has set before me, and fills my heart with discontentment and endless struggles.

I’m praying that God shows me how to be JOYFULLY content in His will, as well as fruitful in being faithful with what He has set before me.

What about you?

 

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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?

Part 2: How Can YOU Be God’s Sanctuary?

PART2
by Stephanie H.

Spare no Expense.

Exodus chapter twenty-six describes the construction of the tabernacle.  The first instruction is to make ten curtains of fine linen, in blue, purple, and red (the most expensive colors to make in those days), with designs of cherubim on them, all made by skilled craftsman.  These curtains were to be about forty-two feet long, by six feet wide each.  That means each curtain was nearly three times longer than a two story house!  Each beam that supported the tabernacle was covered in gold.  Only some of the sockets and clasps for holding the curtains and beams together were made of more humble things, like silver and bronze.  There was nothing synthetic here!  Keep in mind that all of this was built while the nation of Israel was wandering in the desert.  All of that material could have been used on their own tents, the gold could have been used to trade for food, and the craftsman could have used their time working for themselves rather than building a sanctuary.  This luxurious building was all created at a time when over a million people were out in the desert where there wasn’t even reliable food and water!  Your relationship with Jesus is meant to be luxurious.  Did you know that the one who created all the billions of atoms in a single pine needle wants to be your best friend?  Make Him your priority.  Make time to spend with Him on a regular basis.  If He wants to spend time with you when you already have plans, be willing to change them.  Give Him your talents, your money, and your possessions, and be willing to use them as He tells you.  Don’t be afraid to put all of your eggs in one basket, and give it to Jesus.  To others, it may seem like you are choosing to live in a desert, but your relationship with Jesus will be luxurious when you give Him everything.  Don’t be afraid either.  While the Israelites wandered, the Lord brought water out of a rock, and sent bread down from Heaven to feed every one of the people.

 

Maintain the Sanctuary.

“And the king and Jehoiada gave it to those who did the work of the service of the house of the LORD; and they hired masons and carpenters to restore the house of the LORD, and also workers in iron and bronze to repair the house of the LORD.” ~2 Chronicles 24:12

When the Lord gave the instructions to build the ark of the covenant, He commanded the people to build it with poles, so that it could be carried as they moved about through the desert.  When Israel was settled in the Promised Land, they did finally built a temple on a permanent foundation, but the tabernacle was designed to be taken apart, and to go with them wherever they went.  We don’t interact with gold much nowadays, but it is a very soft metal (that’s why people would bite gold coins.  If their teeth left a mark, it proved that the coin was really gold, and not a fake), and fabric wears easily.  Imagine having to pack up this enormous, luxurious tent, and having to carry all of the curtains and beams through the desert.  The sanctuary was designed to be luxurious, but it was also meant for constant use.  That means repairs will have to be made to keep it in tip top shape.  Even the temple needed to be maintained.  The people of Israel did not always take the time to maintain and nurture their relationship with the Lord.  In the days of King Manasseh, the temple fell into great disrepair, and little use.  When his son Josiah became king, he ordered the temple to be repaired.  A priest found a book of the Law in the rubble, and the king was surprised to hear what was written in it, because so few of the people (even the priests) knew anything about who the Lord really is, and that He wanted to dwell with them!  Your relationship with Jesus needs to be maintained.  It is meant for constant use, and that means wear and tear.  When you first believe the promises of God, you are laying the foundation for your temple, but more needs to be built up.  Even when you have a close relationship with the Lord, you can still grow distant, and the temple can fall into disrepair.  Even after I have had some of the sweetest time in prayer with the Lord, I can have the greatest struggle to find any kind of time to spend with Him the next day.  Even though you love Jesus, that doesn’t mean it will always be easy to find time with Him, or to face the parts of yourself that don’t want to submit.  In fact, there are times when it absolutely won’t be easy.  That is when you have to press in and make a deliberate effort to seek Him anyway.  Sometimes we grow distant with Jesus, and don’t even notice until we wonder how it happened that we don’t read our Bibles anymore.  That is when our temples have fallen into disrepair.  The only way back to Jesus from there, is to start maintaining the relationship again.  It will mean more renovation than just daily upkeep to get the gold really shining again, so don’t be discouraged if one hour of prayer and worship doesn’t see you in the places of deepest joy and peace that you used to know.  Repent, and believe His promises again, then follow the plan from the mountain, and keep seeking Him with all your heart.  Even when you feel that everything is right between you and the Lord, don’t be afraid to ask Him what you need to maintain.  Seek out the cobwebs and the single frayed thread, and you’ll never have to wonder where your relationship with the Lord lost its luster, because it will glisten in front of you every day.

 

Protect the Sanctuary

“And you shall make a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering of porpoise skins above.” ~Exodus 26:14

Some translations don’t read “porpoise skins”.  Some say badger skin, some say tanned goat skins, and some say tanned leather.  The main thing is, it’s waterproof!  The tabernacle was subject to daily wear and tear, but it was still designed to be protected from the elements.  Imagine how quickly the linen curtains would fade if they were not protected from the desert sun!  What about rain, or sandstorms?  Then the tabernacle would need such constant attention for repair, that it would hardly be usable!  Your relationship with Jesus needs to be protected.  We live in a very fallen and corrupt world, and we need to share the light of Jesus with those who are in darkness, but we can do the work of Christ and still keep a protective layer of porpoise skin between our precious temple, and the rough elements of the world.  Our hearts are the place where we are vulnerable.  What we allow into our hearts is what we allow into our temple.  In the days of Nehemiah, one of the priests allowed an enemy of the remnant of Israel to live right inside the temple.  A room set aside for the storage of holy items, incense, and tithes, was cleared out so that Tobiah could keep all of his personal stuff right inside the house of God!  Our hearts are meant to be set apart entirely for the Lord, but sometimes, we let the enemy live there.  We will always live in a world full of enemies of God, but where do we intentionally spend our time, especially our time alone?  If you listen to music, or read novels, or watch movies and shows that point away from Jesus, or even just distract you from remembering Him, it is like pulling off the protective coverings of the sanctuary, and throwing open the doors and letting all elements, and moths, and enemies come into your temple to do whatever they like.  Sometimes we tell ourselves that these don’t matter so much, because we know it’s not real, or we’re just doing it to relax, but that is when we are most vulnerable.  Music and stories speak right to our souls.  If we learn to love the darkness that so much of the media gives us, it is like worshiping idols right in the place where God dwells with us.

“Then He brought me into the inner court of the LORD’s house.  And behold, at the entrance to the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men with their backs to the temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east; and they were prostrating themselves [worshiping on their faces] eastward toward the sun.” ~Ezekiel 8:16

God has done everything He can throughout history to dwell with His people who are too lowly to reach up to Him, but very often, this is how He is treated.  Dear sister, when you construct your sanctuary, protect it from the darkness of the world.  Put to death the things of the flesh, and give your whole devotion to Jesus.  The people with whom you choose to spend time can also draw your focus away from the Lord.  Sometimes, we don’t have the choice of what people are around us.  Coworkers, and even family members may be people who are not seeking the Lord, but the covering of porpoise skin can protect from that.  The covering did not mean that it never rained, the sun was never too bright, or that there were never sandstorms or linen-eating locusts about, but it was a wall between the sanctuary, and those things that would harm it.  When we seek out and enjoy the company of friends who pursue the things of the world, we are letting them inside our sanctuary, where they can hinder our closeness with Jesus.  If we even spend time being bitter with someone, or complaining, and are not willing to surrender it to the Lord, we are bringing that bitterness and complaint into the sanctuary, where it can harm our relationship with Jesus.

The beauty of the protection of the sanctuary is that if we are faithful in having a heart devoted to Jesus, the porpoise skin covering is very thick and durable.  It is what allows God’s people to walk right into the darkest places in the world, and speak right to the hearts of prostitutes, Satanists, and drug addicts.  Because they have not allowed their hearts to pursue and love evil, or to be distracted from the promises of the Lord, they are the members of His royal priesthood who are able to walk straight into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and be used to steal back broken souls, straight from the jaws of the enemy.  It is not always easy, but it is certainly always worth the trouble to be devoted to the Lord.

Dear sister, never forget that God desires to dwell with you.  I hope my words have been helpful to you as you prepare for an eternity of discovering the deep mysteries of the Lord.  If you are studying in the books of the Law, and have discovered any other parallels between the old covenant, and your walk with the Lord, please, don’t hesitate to share them!