Walk by Faith . . . with Jesus in Sight!

MEME - Matthew 14 v 27 - Feb 14, 2018

(Suggested Reading: 14:22-33)

As a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, I appreciate that God has blessed me with a vivid imagination. When writing flash fiction or novels, I enjoy creating intriguing story-worlds and relatable characters.

I orchestrate plots that push my characters toward life-altering decisions. I nudge them closer to the edge of desperation, causing them suffering and loss before allowing them to slip into a hope-filled final scene.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize I often use fiction to process my real-life feelings. Still, the stories aren’t true. The high stakes that each character faces aren’t real. My wild imagination creates circumstances that test and threaten my characters, but they have nothing to lose . . . no skin in the game. Being blessed with an endless imagination works for creating fiction, but can cause real-life problems.

The habit of imagining the worst that can happen can tempt us into excessive worry or fear.

Fretting over things-that-could-be can raise stress levels and sink hope into the depths of an imaginary world that has no business meddling with real emotions or relationships.

When my eyes are zeroed-in on the what-ifs that cloud my vision and interfere with real-life, it’s hard to focus on God‒the Creator and Sustainer of true life.

A creative mind can lead to a worry-burdened heart.

So, His Spirit empowers us to understand His Word, through which He reveals His unchanging character. As we rely on the Lord, He helps us avoid the pitfalls that can make our faith falter at the most inconvenient times.

In His goodness, He gives us opportunities to pump up our spiritual muscles, usually after He’s proven His trustworthiness and generous provision.

When Jesus fed the five-thousand-plus group (Matthew 14:13-21), the disciples witnessed a miracle. The Lord used what little they had to accomplish more than they could have dreamed possible.

Still, they fretted over things they couldn’t even control. They allowed fear and doubt to sway them from trusting God and doing what He’d already proven possible with them.

Oh, how many times have I done the same thing, Lord?

Scripture says that after Jesus fed the five-thousand-plus group, He “immediately” nudged the disciples into a faith-stretching situation (v. 22). Then, He made Himself scarce. While Jesus prayed on a lonely mountain (v. 23), the disciples rode a boat with the current . . . into a brutal storm (v. 24).

Beaten by the waves and discouraged by the force of the gales against them, the disciples trembled instead of rejoicing at the sight of the Lord’s power in action (vv. 25-26). Jesus comforted them (v. 27).

While Peter’s response could be interpreted as testing Jesus, I often wonder if the disciple was making sure that he, Peter, was in his right mind as he sought clarity and direction (v. 28).

Is that You, Lord? What do You want me to do? I’m too scared to step out in faith. I need You. Command me. Make me brave. Help me hear You, see You . . . trust You. (Paraphrase totally mine.)

Peter hopped out of that boat, “walked on the water and came to Jesus” (v. 29).

Peter walked on water.

After he had already made it to Jesus, he realized what he’d done. As the disciple stood within reach of the Lord, his eyes flicked to the left . . . and probably to the right. The reality of the impossibility of his circumstances hit him.

Scripture says Peter “saw the wind,” (v. 30) but wind can’t be seen. What he actually saw was the power of that wind, the effect that wind had on the waves.

What Peter failed to consider was the power of the One who created and controlled both the wind and the waves, the very One who had empowered Peter to walk on water (v. 30).

In that instant, Peter’s faith wilted at the realization of his own inabilities. I can’t possibly walk on water! What was I thinking?

In that instant, he began to sink into doubt . . . and into the raging waters (v. 30).

Once again, I stand in awe and am comforted by the compassion and love of Jesus’s immediate response (v. 31).

How many times have we persevered in the power of Christ and flicked our eyes to the right . . . and probably to the left?

How many times have we lifted our gaze off our Lord’s promises and proven power and toward the impossibility of our circumstances?

How many times has God proven His faithfulness, nudged us lovingly into faith-stretching situations, and gently affirmed He is always right on time and right where we need Him?

As disciples of Christ, we know we can do nothing without our Lord.

 We know He hears us and will lift us out of deep waters and shower us with unlimited grace.

 We know we have no need to worry or fear the things we can’t control or those horrible what-ifs our overactive imagination can whip up.

And God knows we forget sometimes. God knows we need Him to patiently extend mercy and compassion, as He strengthens and refines us.

He will continue nudging us on, pulling us up.

God will keep on cupping our face in His mighty and merciful hands, as He reminds us to believe Him, to trust Him, and to keep our eyes on Him and His abilities . . . no matter how high the waves rise or how strong the winds blow around us.

Then, and only then, can we truly walk by faith . . . and only with Jesus in sight.

Lord, thanks for affirming Your faithfulness and power does not depend on our abilities. Though we may be tempted to focus on our troubles and lean toward anxious thoughts, please help us remember we can rely on You‒the Maker and Sustainer of the wind, the water, and everything else in this world You’ve created. Help us look to You and cry out to You, embracing our powerlessness without You, and thankful that crying out to You is considered a powerful act of faith . . . because we know You will answer according to Your perfect timing and perfect will. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Honoring God When Loving Family Ain’t Easy

MEME - Genesis 45 v 8 - Jan 22, 2018 Blog Post - Honoring God When Loving Family Ain't Easy

Note to Reader: My heart aches for those of us who have been wounded by the sins of abusive family members. Please note I’m not referring to abuse when referencing conflicts or wounds caused by family members in this article. If you or someone you love is suffering abuse of any kind, please contact a professional and seek help immediately. I am praying for you as I write this note. You are not alone.

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Honoring God When Loving Family Ain’t Easy

While some folks enjoy healthy and holy communication within godly familial relationships, some of us endure more than our fair share of seemingly endless family drama.

Too many of us are grieving over estranged relatives or heartbroken watching loved ones reject family as they battle addictions.

A few are tired of those who blame others instead of taking responsibility for their poor life choices. Some struggle with family members who instigate arguments, shame or belittle, hold grudges, judge harshly, or gossip.

Family members mock or persecute us because of our faith. Some have lied to us or about us, stolen from us, cheated us, and some have even verbally, emotionally, or physically abused us. (Please see Reader’s Note at the beginning of this article.)

How are we supposed to respond to folks who exaggerate or deceive to prevent others from knowing who they really are or what they’ve really done to us or others we love?

But wait . . . what if some of us are the people I’ve just described . . . or have been that person in the past?

What if we’re the ones who need to seek forgiveness and ask God to change us and help us make amends and work toward restoring or renewing relationships with those we’ve hurt in the past?

The fact is, it just ain’t easy honoring God when we realize we’re all imperfect people who have a tough time loving our kin or being lovable ourselves.

Over the last couple of years, the Lord brought me through some heartbreaking relational conflicts. I wrote a six-part series entitled “Radical Forgiveness” as I prayed over broken or barely surviving relationships with family members. As of today, I have continued praying over several of those still-broken relationships.

Family strife is a fact of life that we don’t have to allow to steal our joy or destroy the genuinely loving relationships we can experience with God and others.

It’s tempting to get stuck on the merry-go-round-of-complaints, get caught up in being angry, get even, or get as far from the drama as humanly possible. Instead, we can take a closer look at how God worked in and through familial discord in Scripture to help His faithful servants thrive despite family strife.

In Genesis, we see how Jacob favoring Joseph caused his other sons to hate their younger brother (Genesis 37:3-4), so much that they sold him into slavery (v. 28). They even lied to their father for years (vv. 34-36).

God remained with Joseph and blessed his life (Genesis 39:2-6). Though he wasn’t exempt from more painful trials or injustice (vv. 9, 11-20), the “LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love” (v. 21). Whatever Joseph did, “the LORD made it succeed” (v. 23).

Instead of allowing his experiences to taint his attitude or shake his faith, Joseph honored God by living with integrity and treating others with love, compassion, and kindness (vv. 6-7).

Two years of being wrongly imprisoned didn’t stop Joseph from glorifying God (Genesis 41:14, 16). Rejoicing over the family the Lord gave him through marriage, Joseph proclaimed, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house” (v. 51).

Joseph was happy. What could possibly go wrong?

Well . . . those scoundrels who sold him into slavery showed up. For the first time in years, Joseph stood face-to-face with the strangers he recognized as the brothers who betrayed him and his father. Though Joseph wasn’t upfront with his siblings when they came begging for help, he didn’t fake forgiveness either.

God gave him time to process his emotions (Genesis 42-44). Even though Joseph had plenty of reasons to be mad, he didn’t cast blame, hold a grudge, run to Pharaoh and gossip about his brothers, or demand punishment.

Joseph accepted how God had caused him to thrive despite his suffering. He didn’t waste time trying to prove to the world that his brothers were wrong for what they’d done.

Instead, Joseph trusted that the Lord had remained in control and stayed with him through everything that had happened in his life (Genesis 45:5-9). He knew from experience God could bring good out of painful circumstances (Genesis 50:20). So, Joseph didn’t fear extending grace, or being generous in love and kindness (v. 21).

As we deal with challenging familial relationships, God can empower us to surrender to His mercy, live in the freedom of forgiveness, and love others as selflessly as He loves us.

God will stay with us, protect our reputations, guide our steps according to His perfect will, and enable us to experience peace and joy as we choose to honor Him . . . even when others do not.

Unfortunately, since we’re all imperfect people who live in a fallen world, family members will hurt us and we’ll hurt those we love. But we can protect our mental, emotional, and spiritual health by placing our trust in the Lord.

We can ask Him to help us make time to process our feelings, remain calm, and be courageously and respectfully honest with Him and others.

We can ask God to help us create and respect healthy and holy boundaries, as we honor Him with our words, attitudes, thoughts, and actions.

We can trust the Lord to give us all we need to keep on praying for and working toward building stronger familial relationships.

And we can thrive as we honor Him . . . even if our closest family relationships end up being connected through Christ’s blood (The Church) instead of our genealogy.

Father God, thanks for helping us honor You in the ways we love others in healthy and holy ways. Though sometimes it’s unsafe, unhealthy, or unwise to restore a broken familial relationship, please help us trust we’re all in Your hands as we choose to forgive and pray we will all be forever changed by Your love and grace. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

How can we benefit from extending forgiveness to someone who doesn’t apologize?

How does it help to know forgiveness doesn’t mean excusing, ignoring, justifying, or minimizing sin?

How does it help to know reconciliation doesn’t require us to pretend things are fine or the same as before (restoration), or better than ever (renewal)?

How can we honor God when we can only show love from afar, because a familial relationship is reconciled through forgiveness on our part, but not physically or emotionally restored?

How can we honor God and love family members who do not want a relationship with us?

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Radical Forgiveness Series

Part 1: Radical Forgiveness Begins with a Prayer (July 7, 2017)

Part 2: Radical Forgiveness is Loving Obedience to God (July 15, 2017)

Part 3: Radical Forgiveness Frees Innocent Victims (July 24, 2017)

Part 4: Radical Forgiveness is Possible (August 5, 2017)

Part 5: Radical Forgiveness Diminishes the Power of Hate (August 14, 2017)

Part 6: Radical Forgiveness Requires Us to Accept God’s Forgiveness First (August 23, 2017)

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Don’t Worry! God Knows We’re Weak!

MEME - Matthew 6 vv 33-34

Over the years, people have asked for prayer and apologized as they admitted struggling with worry, which usually stems from doubt and fear. Scripture affirms we have no reason to feel guilty or be ashamed in our weak moments.

We’re only in week two of the Our Daily Bread Bible in a Year reading schedule and we’ve watched quiet a few worry-warts processing their feelings and then persevering under God’s care.

Eve worried the Lord was holding back on her, while Adam feared taking responsibility for his actions (Genesis 3).

Abram worried God wouldn’t protect him if the Egyptians found his wife attractive (Genesis 12:10-20), and later, she doubted the Lord would keep His promises (Genesis 16:1-6).

The name changes didn’t stop them from wrestling with worry. Abraham claimed Sarah was his sister . . . again . . . when he had a run-in with Abimelech (Genesis 20:1-3). Their son, Isaac, followed their fearful footsteps and lied about his wife being his sister when he settled in Gerar (Genesis 26:9-11).

The line of worriers didn’t end there. Isaac’s son, Jacob, feared he wouldn’t have enough and deceived his father while stealing from his brother . . . with his mom’s help (Genesis 27).

We could claim these folks straddled the line between faith and fear-based worry because they hadn’t met Jesus face-to-face. But the disciples wrestled with a fair share of worrying, too.

They walked and talked with Him every day. Yet, Jesus still found it necessary to teach about the anxious, fearful worries that often stemmed from unbelief.

Why? Because our Lord and Savior knew we’d need assurance of His sovereign goodness and loving care.

Though Jesus warned about placing prosperity on the tippity-top of our priorities list (Matthew 6:19-26), His red-flag led to a comforting promise of His ongoing provision and protection.

When my husband lost his job a few years ago, these verses took on a whole new meaning. Sure, it’s easier to proclaim our trust when we’ve got a safety net in a savings account and a steady income. But when we can’t save ourselves, when we can’t fix a situation, God is still able to do above and beyond all we can imagine. Hallelujah!

While God provides for our needs and affirms His power as Creator and Sustainer of all, He also assures us that life isn’t centered around what we can consume or wear (v. 26).

He invites us to consider the futility of anxiety, the wastefulness of allowing worry to dominate our thoughts.

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Matthew 6:27, NLT)

In my experience, the answer is nope-not-a-chance-and-in-your-dreams.

Obsessive worry can actually steal our peace, smother our joy, and even cause health and relational problems.

When we experience hard times, when situations work out in ways that seem unfair and sad in this world, worry has a way of sneaking up on us.

It’s tempting to fret, especially when we or the people we love seem to be buried under the growing burden of financial strife, physical suffering, or emotional trials.

What about the homeless and those who suffer in other countries?

If we start listing all the things beyond our control, of course we’ll be whacked over the head with worry.

Focusing on our endless limitations and inability to fix everything, may lead us to a form of idolatry when we shove God into the margins of our lives and become obsessed with excessive worry, anxious thoughts, and fear.

This is much different from being concerned and planning to be a good steward of our finances and health, as a responsible adult.

Don’t worry! God knows we’re weak and has planned accordingly.

He knows we’ll worry, fear, doubt Him, and have anxious thoughts. But in our weakness, our loving Lord and Savior remains strong.

He invites us to seek Him first when we’re in need (v. 33), living in this moment as we walk by faith and hear His voice assuring us, guiding us, and eventually washing our worries away.

When we come to the Lord honestly, He can bring us peace, even when we don’t get relief.

Lord, thanks for the empowering us to trust You’ll carry us through every moment in our lives, as we remember You ordained our days before one of them came to be. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

“Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously and He will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:33-34, NLT)

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To receive daily encouragement devotions from Our Daily Bread and join me in reading the Bible in a year, using ODB’s reading schedule, please click here.

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God’s Persevering Promises

MEME - Psalm 119 v 140

At the end of November, my physical and emotional endurance waned.

I praised God for some exciting ministry opportunities He’d brought my way. I thanked Him for helping me through some tough but necessary relational changes in 2017. He’d empowered me to support some friends through heartbreaking situations and provided in surprising ways as He helped our family process unexpected health setbacks. Though I continued trusting the Lord, my prayers began to sound repetitive.

Feeling like I needed a drastic change and spiritual refreshment, I asked God to wrap me in peace as I sat in His presence.

Day after day, He affirmed that I didn’t need a change. I needed continual reminders of His unchanging character and the consistency of His persevering promises.

My husband and I committed to connect with God daily by using the Our Daily Bread Ministries Bible in a Year Reading Schedule. I chose to read an unfamiliar translation, to help me prevent skimming through familiar chapters. Even though we’ve read through the Bible yearly since 2005, I had a hard time waiting for the start date.

If I wanted to thrive, instead of hoping to just survive in 2018, I needed more of God!

Over the last week, I’ve inhaled peace and highlighted verse after verse that affirmed the trustworthiness of God’s persevering promises.

The Holy Spirit tugged my heart toward repentance, as I realized I’d been worrying through the wait when I was weary from battling chronic pain.

How are You going to provide, Lord?

 What am I going to do now, Lord?

 How much longer? How much harder?

Before I realized it, I was wah-wah-whining.

At this point, I thanked the Lord for my husband. When one of us is weak, the other is strong. When he wants to jump in and fix things, I encourage him to rest in God’s presence. When I want to rush God along for fear of Him not coming through like He has every time in the past, my hubby reminds me to be still and trust.

Praying for an increase of faith during a rougher-than-normal week, I reflected on Abram’s responses to God at different times during his waiting journey.

When Abram first received God’s call, he didn’t even hesitate to follow Him into the unknown (Genesis 12:1-6). Abram accepted God’s promise (vv. 7-9), though he often struggled with fear (vv. 10-16). The Lord remained faithful (vv. 17-20) and reassured Abram of His persevering promises (Genesis 13:14-16; 15:4-6).

Unfortunately, Abram chose passive complacency instead of reminding his wife of God’s trustworthiness. Sarai refused to sit still on the sidelines. She hopped up and took the reins away from her husband and God, worrying her way through the wait.

When the Lord didn’t meet Sarai’s standards, or work according to her preferred timeline, she forced her own way and opened the door to generations of conflict (Genesis 16).

The Lord stayed true to His Word, affirming the now-99-year-old Abram wasn’t forgotten (Genesis 17:1-2). He transformed Abram and Sarai, beginning with their names (Genesis 17:5, 15), though it seemed He knew His servants still weren’t ready to receive the fulfillment of His promises.

They wanted instant gratification and quick relief. I’ve been there!

The Lord must have known they needed time to grow as His plan played out. He waited another year for Sarai, now Sarah, to give birth to Isaac (Genesis 17:21).

Though we can learn so much from how Abraham and Sarah responded to God, we can also find wisdom in Hagar’s prayer:

“You are a God of seeing . . . truly here I have seen Him who looks after me.” (Genesis 16:13)

Oh, how many time I’ve compared my timetable to God’s, as if I could see the future or control my circumstances.

I’ve begged for relief, to be whisked out of the wait, without even realizing I’d be missing out on the rewards God was carving out for me.

As we remember the Lord’s consistent character, we can rely on His persevering promises.

He will comfort our hurting hearts, strengthen our resolve, prepare us for the path He’s paved for us, and help us to stop worrying through the wait . . . if only we take time to listen to His words and remember He stays true to His Word.

“My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on Your promises.” (Psalm 119:148)

Lord, thanks for blessing us with the privilege of communing with You through the Bible in a Year reading schedule. Please help us trust Your plan and pace are perfect. Help us secure our hope in Your sovereign goodness, unfailing love, infallible Word, and persevering promises. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Are you more like Abram, Sarai, or a mixture of both when trusting God through the wait?

 How has God helped you wait without worrying or wah-wah-whining when you were weary, tempted to rush past the Lord, or determined to force God’s hand by demanding your own way?

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To receive Our Daily Bread devotions with the Bible reading schedule, please visit our website and subscribe today. I look forward to growing with you!

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I Want to Know You More, Lord!

MEME - BLOG - 2 Timothy 3 v 16 - EDITED Jan 2018

The first time I read the Bible, I acted like a giddy schoolgirl. I couldn’t believe God’s story, His actual history, was available for me to read. The more I read, the more I realized the Bible was more than just another book. I can’t get enough of God’s Word and I can’t stop sharing His truth and love with others!

When I share that my husband and I have read through the Bible in a year since 2005, people have asked me several questions.

How can you finish that huge book in one year?

When following most Bible-in-a-Year schedules, the daily readings only take 15-30 minutes per day. We can break up the readings or savor the day’s planned chapters at one time, depending on our personal preference, our reading speed, and our available time. The important thing is remembering we’re not just reading. When we open up our Bibles, we get to spend time listening to God’s voice. Hallelujah!

Why are you so excited about reading a book that’s so boring and no longer relevant?

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

Talk about an amazing start for the greatest story in history! The Beginning and the End, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, the Maker of time itself . . . God . . . created every single thing in the heavens and on the earth.

As if that’s not enough, the God-breathed words of Scripture records God’s story and ends in the most thrilling cliff-hanger . . . Jesus will come again. Hallelujah!

While we wait, we’re invited to know Him, love Him, serve Him, and be known, loved, and forever changed by Him.

If you’ve read the Bible once, why bother reading it again?

Every year, I learn something new, love the Lord more, and accept the fullness of His love for me more. Whether God has changed my heart, my perspective, or my situation, His infallible truth remains the same. Through the power of His Holy Spirit, He reveals His immutable character and His unchanging plan and promises through His Word and equips me for what He has prepared for me each day. I need to connect with my Maker, my Sustainer, my loving and good Father every single moment of every single day.

What do you do when you don’t understand what you’re reading?

Faith isn’t about me being able to completely comprehend my eternal and sovereign God. We can ask Him to help us understand and trust Him. In His goodness, He provides resources to study Scripture, with the help of His Holy Spirit.

Why don’t you read smaller chunks so you can study deeper?

I do! I read through the Bible in a year for familiarity, to learn how His whole story connects from the Old to the New Testaments and into my life. For deeper study, I use resources, like concordances, commentaries, and word studies. Most importantly, I begin with prayer and invite the Holy Spirit to change me and make me more like Jesus.

How do you keep your reading from feeling like something you’re just checking off a list?

When we’re reading the Bible, we’re spending time with God. While we read Scripture, we’re experiencing God’s presence and hearing His heart beating with every syllable. We can commune with the Lord, talking to Him through prayer and listening to Him by reading the words He inspired and preserved in the Bible. What a wonderful gift!

How do you keep from giving up, especially if you fall behind?

When we’re focused on nurturing our relationship with God, we don’t have to worry about our performance. Perfection is not possible or expected. If we miss a few days, there’s no reason to feel pressured to catch up or to succumb to discouragement and give up. We can just brush off those guilty feelings and enjoy God’s abundant and all-sufficient grace.

Our time with God is as personal as our relationship with Him. As we spend quiet moments with Him, we can come as we are and ask Him to increase our desire to spend time with Him every day.

Why should we bother reading Scripture with a reading schedule?

While schedules are not necessary, they can help us develop consistency and accountability. Whether we choose to read the Bible in a year, use another schedule, or commit to a certain number of minutes per day, our main goal is to enter God’s presence daily and say, “I want to know you more, Lord!”

Lord, thanks for the privilege of hearing Your voice, placing our prayers in Your hands, and growing closer to You and others as we bask in Your endless love and saturate our hearts with Your truth every single day. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Have you read through the Bible?

What have you enjoyed about daily Bible reading? about reading the Bible in a year?

What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced and joys you’ve experienced while following a Bible reading schedule?

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To join Alan and me in reading the Bible in a year with the Our Daily Bread schedule, please click here.

If you’re going to choose another daily Bible reading schedule, please let me know. I’d love for us to pray for one another, as we seek the Lord through His Word and love Him with all we’ve got!

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Living in the Hope of Christ-Centered Faith: The Voice of Hope Series

MEME - Hebrews 11 v 1

As I prepare to celebrate the end of 2017, I have mixed feelings. Though our family endured a few harsh treks through the valleys of adversity this year, we also witnessed God working in our lives and in the lives of other in wonderous and unexpected ways.

Part of me couldn’t wait to ring in the new year and leave 2017 behind me. But another part of me needed to reflect on those difficult times, to acknowledge God’s loving grace in the midst of suffering. I wanted to rejoice in the Lord’s faithfulness through the good and the bad, the energy-sapping and the easy-peasy.

After a few hard hits tossed us into the waves of uncertainty right before Thanksgiving, my husband and I cried out to God. We had no idea how we were going to swim through the raging waters that surrounded us this time . . . but we knew our loving Father remained in control.

The Lord had navigated us through storms before. He’d lifted our eyes to the horizon and helped us see His consistent Light piercing through the dark clouds that seemed to be closing in on us.

I thanked Him in advance for raining down the joy, peace, and heart-deep hope we’d need to trust Him through the day-to-day trust walk. He’d done it before. He’ll do it again. Wouldn’t He?

With my pinch of doubt rooted in the rocky and dry foundation of self-centered faith, I asked the Lord for forgiveness.

The dictionary defines hope as “a feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.” According to the flesh, hope is also “a person or thing in which expectations are centered.” The verb means “to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence” (Dictionary.com).

With that self-centered definition of hope, it’s no wonder that inkling of doubt began to stain the foundation of my faith.

The writer of Hebrews offers the eternal perspective on Christ-centered faith, which is interdependent with hope.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1, emphasis mine)

Uncertainty and reasonable confidence are as fickle as our everchanging feelings, which are centered on self and usually reliant on our current circumstances. Biblical hope, however, grounds us in the immutability of our sovereign God and His infallible Word.

That’s what I needed . . . the biblical faith of the believers in the Hall of Fame who abided in the Lord’s enduring hope.

“They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted they were aliens and strangers on earth.” (Hebrews 11:13)

These faithful ones weren’t obsessed with worldly riches, security, or comfort. They didn’t enjoy suffering, but they realized God didn’t waste one moment of their experiences.

As they praised and trusted Him, He used them to encourage and inspire others.

“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised” (v. 39).

By faith, Abraham refused to hold back from God in fear. By faith, Jacob didn’t cling to unforgiveness or dwell on the years he missed out on with Joseph. And with bold assurance, Joseph trusted God’s sovereignty, embraced His purpose wherever God placed him, and proclaimed God’s faithfulness as he faced his mortality.

Rather than being hindered by his past adversities, Moses stood firm on God’s promises and “looked ahead to his reward” (v. 26). Moses persevered because he saw [God] who was invisible” (v. 27).

Their hope surpassed their temporal needs because their faith relied on the Maker and Sustainer of all.

“God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (v. 40).

In our fleshly weakness, we may still struggle with moments of doubt, fear, insecurity, and even hopelessness. Still, we will be able to walk with confidence when our hope flows from the surety of the immutability of God and the interdependent fellowship of believers.

We don’t have to try to fear the unknown, succumb to weariness in the wait, or keep our balance on the weak legs of our everchanging desires, expectation, experiences, or feelings. We can face anything when we’re living in the hope of Christ-centered faith. Hallelujah!

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Weeping Worship: The Voice of Hope Series

MEME - Psalm 40 v 5 EDITED

Suggested Reading: Psalm 40

Sometimes trials feel like aggressive adversaries. Problems can seem like uppercuts to the chin and right hooks below the belt. Troubles come in the form of extra-long waiting periods, rejections, losses, unexpected life changes, relentless pain, or well-earned weariness.

How long, O LORD?

What next, all-knowing God?

Can I get a little help here . . . will you, please send assistance to my family, my friends . . . soon, Lord?

We want to believe, to wait on God expectantly, bravely, and joyfully. But sometimes the wait of suffering presses into our hearts until we fall onto our knees in weeping worship. It’s easy to consider this a moment of weakness. But these tears are soul-deep prayers through which our spoken or unspoken needs drop into the gentle, open palm of our sovereign Savior.

Like the psalmist David, we can cry out to the Lord without worrying about the volume of our groans. Our hope remains secure in the hands of our dependable, personal, and merciful Master (Psalm 40:1) who has given us a history of His faithfulness.

God has lifted us out of the “slimy pit, out of the mud and mire,” setting our “feet on a rock” and giving us “a firm place to stand” more times than we can count (v. 2).

When sorrows smothered our joy and we couldn’t see hope piercing through the dark clouds of affliction, the Lord put a “new song” in our mouths (v. 3). He plucked the refreshing lyrics from His infallible Word‒the Bible‒the unchanging truth revealed by the Holy Spirit.

The chorus affirmed the power God the Son’s sacrifice on the cross, His resurrection, and promise of eternal life in heaven to all who come to the God the Father through repentance and forgiveness of sin to devoted obedience to Christ as Lord . . . life empowered by God the Spirit.

This new song evoked great praise (vv. 3-4).

So, when the fog on the horizon dims our hope, we can look back and rejoice over the many wonders God has done, the mundane moments of grace-filled love and the miracles we still can’t explain away (v. 5).

Yes, we can rely on the Lord’s all-knowing goodness no matter how heavy our burdens, how hard our paths, how long our wait, because He assures us that every step is ordained and ordered according to His perfect will and flawless timing (v. 5).

The King of Kings helps us obey Him, trust Him, surrender to Him with heart-deep devotion. He helps us proclaim His majesty, as we hold strong to our Redeemer’s immutable truth and irrevocable love (vv. 6-10).

We can wail or sob softly, while approaching the Lord with confidence in His compassionate and capable hands.

“Do not withhold your mercy from me, O LORD; may your love and your truth always protect me” (Psalm 40:11).

Though troubles will come, God’s matchless grace prevails. Though our sinful nature will sometimes tempt us to dip our toes into the mud and mire that the enemy uses to distract us from living in the wake of our inheritance, God remains reliable and invites repentance that leads to restoration (v. 12). We need not fear hardships or people who try to hurt us, intentionally or accidently (vv. 14-15).

We can weep as we worship, exalting the name of the Lord Almighty (v. 16). He knows we’re “poor and needy,” desperate for His deliverance, and anxious for Him to come without delay (v. 17).

There’s no need to hold back tears for fear of looking faithless.

As we accept our weaknesses, we can believe our weeping reaches God’s ears as confident and courageous war cries of unshakeable faith.

Faithful Father, thanks for reminding us that weeping can be a strong show of faith in Your soul-stirring and enduring love‒the solid foundation of our eternal hope. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

“Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.” (Psalm 40:5)

—–

 

 

 

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From Hopeless to Hopeful: The Voice of Hope Series

MEME - Psalm 77 v 11

(Suggested Reading – Psalm 77)

During a flare-up a few weeks ago, I suffered severe muscle spasms and nerve pain that triggered a debilitating headache. As the hours ticked by with no relief and the pain increased, hopelessness closed in on me.

Help me, Lord! Have mercy on me! I can’t take it anymore!

I couldn’t think of the Bible verses that had lifted my heart so many times before. I couldn’t remember the attributes of God that had anchored my faith in the One who promises to never change, never leave me, and never let me down.

Curled up in a wah-baby-melt-down, I could barely whimper prayers for mercy so I thanked God for the prayer warriors who, though struggling with their own trials, stood in the gap to pray for me when I had nothing left to give.

Eventually, God relaxed my muscles and wrapped me in a deep sleep. But for the next few weeks I had limited energy. The Lord refreshed my spirit, as I rested in His presence, listened to worship music, and savored His Word in small bites.

Today, I’m still struggling with fatigue and trusting the Lord with my daily battle with chronic pain. I’m reflecting on the overwhelming sense of despair that had smothered me, that feels as if it’s closing in on me during the harder days.

How did I get in the deep, dark pit of hopelessness when I know God is and always will be faithful and trustworthy?

These feelings can tempt me to slink into shame for being faithless, but the Lord reminds me that the valley moments He’s brought me through are behind me. The faith He has authored and is perfecting in my life is still intact. He promises to remain true to His character and true to His Word whenever I face trials.

Was it a hard road? Of course.

Did I feel like giving up? More than once.

Did I truly believe I couldn’t take one more second of suffering? Absolutely!

But even though I felt helpless, I was still praying . . . though some of those prayers were silent tears slipping down my cheeks.

And even though I felt hopeless . . . somehow . . . I still knew my hope was secured in these truths:

God is listening. God is with me. God is the same trustworthy and loving God He’s been and always will be.

So why didn’t I feel like I knew those facts when I was focused on my circumstances and feeling overwhelmed by my suffering?

Because faith has nothing to do with feelings.

Faith doesn’t depend on the way I’m feeling when I’m suffering, the measure of my strength or weakness, or my ability to remember the right verses when I can’t even think straight.

When we’re drowning in despair, the Lord patiently allows us to process without leaving our side, without changing His character, without losing control of the situation.

As I continue to recover from the flare-up, I’m thanking God for being constant and true, loving and faithful and abounding in grace . . . especially when I can’t feel Him, when I can’t see His hand, or recall His words, or even attempt to say I believe.

We’ll all have times when we feel as if our faith is faltering.

Like the writer of Psalm 77, most of us have “cried out to God for help” (v. 1).

“When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted” (v. 2).

As the psalmist struggled through weariness, doubt, discouragement, and hopelessness, he rested in the unchangeable, secure foundation of faith‒God . . . simply God.

When he questioned the Lord (vv. 7-9), he opened his heart and reached toward God’s consistency (v. 10).

“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds” (vv. 11-12).

The psalmist turns to praising what he knows to be true, the surety of who God is and what He’s done (vv. 13-15). 

He affirms God’s majesty as Creator and Sustainer of the Universe (vv. 16-19). He remembers that the strong people of faith never relied on their own strength (v. 20).

The psalter is filled with examples of God’s people coming before Him with raw emotions, struggling with suffering, doubting and dipping into despair.

As we read through these verses, we can see where the writer switches from being self-focused to being focused on God and how He’s worked in and through the lives of others who’ve come before him. But we can’t tell how long this process takes.

We don’t have to beat ourselves up or be ashamed of our times of weakness. We don’t have to hide our hurts or shy away from our moments of hopelessness.

During those inevitable difficult times, instead of sinking into isolation, we can reach out to others and ask for prayer. We can pray for others, remembering all God has done and reminding ourselves that the truths we’re proclaiming apply to us, too.

And we can experience the Lord’s power intimately, to feel His grace carrying us through because we cannot possibly imagine taking one more step on our own.

Every breath is a testimony of God’s sustaining grace. Every tear is a prayer caught in His loving hand. Every sob is a song of proclamation that affirms God hears, God cares, God is with us.

Every time a prayer warrior intercedes on our behalf, every time we pray on behalf of others, God proves He remains the same yesterday and today and forever.

When hopelessness overwhelms us, we can inhale a sense of peace.

We can trust God to anchor us to the unfailing hope of knowing Him and knowing He will stay true to His Word and His character no matter how we feel or how long these valley moments may seem.

Lord, thanks for affirming that we’re never too far for You to cradle us in Your everlasting hope. Please give us all we need to trust You one step at a time. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

—–

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Relying on God, Not Self: Living Brave Series

MEME - Relying on God Not Self - Blog

(Suggested Reading – Judges 7:1-25)

In 2014 my mom was diagnosed with Leukemia, which required a bone marrow transplant. I was recovering from my first of two shoulder surgeries and working with doctors to manage the constant high-level pain caused by my upper thoracic back injury.

Still, I immediately agreed when my mom asked me to serve as her caregiver. It wasn’t until I hung up the phone that reality hit.

How was I going to care for her when I was right in the middle of my own healing journey?

My husband comforted and encouraged me, as I sobbed and prayed. What were You thinking, Lord?

A few months after my second shoulder surgery, an injection in my back, and a new medicinal plan that would hopefully help me manage my pain while I cared for my mom, I flew to Seattle.

I suffered constant pain every day. And every single day, the Lord showed up and carried me through.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any harder, I tore muscles in my hip and pelvis.

The injuries in my shoulders and upper back flared up as I hobbled on crutches for weeks, cooking, cleaning our small living space, and monitoring my mom’s meds (and mine).

I learned how to depend on God the most on those days when I had no strength of my own.

My faith deepened as I watched my mom trusting God through her healing journey, too. She would read daily devotions from Jesus Calling, pray for others, and rely on the Lord daily.

During our time in Seattle, my mom and I were like our own little army against the world.

We took every step by faith, depending on God completely, surrendering to Him totally, and trusting Him implicitly.

To this day, I’m in awe at how the Lord brought us through the ordeal, how He blessed us with joy, peace, and strength we couldn’t have mustered up on our own.

I think back on those difficult months often, with my mom now at peace with Jesus and me heading into the sixth year of my healing journey.

I consider how Gideon must have felt when the Lord asked him to face an army with a whittled down troop of soldiers.

God had already guaranteed Gideon the victory and proved He would be with him through the battle. He remained patient when Gideon struggled with fear and doubt. He reminded Gideon that his own strength was irrelevant.

With pared down troops, Gideon would have no choice but to put his trust in God’s power, not his own abilities or the strength of his support system (Judges 7:1-6).

“The LORD said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred men that lapped [the water] I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.’” (v. 7, emphasis mine)

God didn’t snatch the soldiers away.

Gideon had to choose to embrace his weakness, to let go of his safety net, before he could experience the power of God.

 In compassion, the Lord still offered Gideon comforting reassurance (v. 10-11).

God knew his servant would experience moments when doubt or fear muscled out every ounce of courage he had managed to muster up.

So, He allowed Gideon to hear testimonies of what others saw in him as the Lord worked in and through his life (vv. 13-14). Though Gideon couldn’t see past his own weaknesses, those around him witnessed God’s power surging through his obedience.

The “mighty warrior” God had called forth rose up to the challenge before him, using the simple tools he had been given (vv. 15-16). There was no doubt the Lord alone defeated the enemy Gideon had once feared (vv. 17-22).

Gideon’s courageous faith, made stronger through his moments of doubt and discouragement, emboldened those who witnessed the small army’s victory against the Midianites (vv. 23-25).

We’ll all face obstacles, enemies, or battles that seem impossible to overcome and make us feel inadequate.

When we feel too weak, too unprepared, too afraid to walk the path the Lord has paved for us, we can guarantee victory by lifting our arms in complete surrender to God.

We’re strongest when we let go of the false sense of security wrapped in self-reliance and embrace our weaknesses, admit our absolute need for God, and rely on Him for everything.

Like Gideon, we may have a few set-backs that will require God’s patient and loving pep-talks.

Because Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of our faith, there’s no way our skirmishes with fear and doubt can determine the measure of our faith.

The Lord knows when we’re weary, insecure, and in desperate need of His affirming love.

His sufficient grace is more than enough to help us when we’re tempted to give God our own brand of fleece-tests (Judges 6:36-40) to determine His proven faithfulness.

As we rely on God, not self, we can embrace our weakness and experience the peace of His constant presence as we walk in the power of His Spirit.

Lord, thanks for being patient when we waver and for being our strength when we’re weak. Please help us show that we accept the power You’ve placed in us by relying on You in all circumstances. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

—–

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Carrying Shields of Faith, Not Fear: Living Brave Series

MEME - Judges 6 v 23

(Suggested Reading – Judges: 33-40)

For years after receiving Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, I functioned with fearful instead of fearless faith. I prayed for protection and provision with inklings of doubts that raised my levels of anxiety instead of peace. Rather than proclaiming who God is with confidence, I pleaded for affirmation and begged God to give me favor and grant my wishes.

Once I stopped treating God like my personal vending machine of pleasure, I began to understand the interdependence of believers and the trustworthiness of God’s sovereignty.

I’m so glad the Lord’s answers to my prayers aren’t dependent on my limited vision or fear-filled desperation for personal comfort.

In His sovereignty, God knows what I’m going through. He also knows what’s around the corner and what I’ll need to get through an upcoming crisis or over an unsavory obstacle. I don’t.

In His goodness, God cares about my needs . . . more than my list of wants. He grieves when I suffer and desires what’s best for me, even when what’s best requires a personal cost physically, emotionally, or mentally. I, on the other hand, usually don’t mind settling for the more feel-good roads of least resistance.

It took a while, and I sometimes still forget, that what’s best for me doesn’t always mean what I want or what will make my current situation easier.

Even though God is all good, my journey in this world on this side of eternity will often include too much heartache, too much waiting, too much struggling. But the Lord always remains in the know and in control.

When God nudges me forward or beckons me to follow, I can trust Him as Promise-Keeper and walk with courageous faith . . . even when I’m fearful.

As believers, we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us. He is with us, empowering us, guiding, encouraging, comforting us. He speaks the truth of His Holy Word, assuring us of His proven faithfulness.

So, why do we sometimes hesitate when the Lord leads us to do something we’ve always dreamed of doing or something that requires us to depend on His strength because we know we can’t do anything in our own strength?

When we know God fights our battles and provides our strength, promising to be with us wherever He leads us, why do we sometimes shy away from risking failure or facing fierce opposition?

Because, sadly, our vision is often blurred by our human frailty and we act as if the measure of our faith depends on us.

Fear demands absolute proof of provision and protection. Spirit-empowered faith moves forward on the promised assurance of who God is and what He’s declared to be true‒the Bible.

Yet, in His goodness, the Lord knows we’re feeble. He’s persistently patient with us.

With awe-inspiring kindness, God respects our need to process our emotions and work through the layers of fear, insecurity, and self-sufficiency that prevent us from walking in the power of the Spirit.

Scripture affirms “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon” (Judges 6:34). This “mighty warrior” had all he needed to follow God with bold confidence.

Still, doused in unbelief, Gideon tested God’s honor by questioning His abilities: “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised . . .” (v. 36).

If? Gideon’s two-lettered badge of faithlessness basically implied God was a liar.

The Lord had promised, but Gideon didn’t trust His integrity.

In love, God tolerated Gideon’s self-focused insecurities and his vain attempts to surpass faith with fleece-filled litmus tests (v. 37-40).

While it may be tempting to judge Gideon and criticize his limp faith-muscles, it’s more than likely that we struggle with the same desires for God to give us confirmation before we step out in faith.

Unfortunately, it often feels safer to stand in reluctance, waiting in the pit of disobedience, unwilling to walk in the power we’ve been given through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Why? Because, like Gideon, we settle for a perspective distorted by our own imperfections and limitations.

God has given us all we need to live brave.

As we shift our thoughts to God’s reliability, we can risk rejection and face the possibility of failure.

 By embracing the power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in all believers who have surrendered our lives to Jesus, we can abolish fruitless fears and carry a shield of faith molded with the surety of God’s inerrant truth and unchanging character.

Mighty King of Kings and loving Father, please help us accept the power You’ve given us to trust You, rely on You, and follow You with fearless faith. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

——

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