Peace and Joy in Difficult Circumstances

Peace and Joy in Difficult Circumstances

Do you ever have times when a particular theme keeps reoccurring? Maybe you just read about a topic and then you see a sign about it or hear a song on the radio that reminds you again. God has been whispering in my ear… “Child, pay attention”.

I just finished a month long study on the book of Philippians. One of the main themes is Joy and another is Peace. Joy is not a fleeting or a superficial and soon forgotten feeling but a deep inner emotion that lasts and is remembered. Russell M Nelson stated, “The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”

In this pandemic crisis and world of social distancing it is hard to feel joyful. Instead,we are afraid, depressed, sad, overwhelmed and over worked. Our brains are tired from adjusting and trying to live with new restrictions, changing rules and new expectations. Remember, the apostle Paul was writing from prison when he challenged the early Church.

                    Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice        Phil 4:4

We are to make the Lord our focus and not our circumstances. He is the source of our strength in each new day.  Our relationship with Him needs to take higher priority over anything else. It’s easy in times like this to reverse that order but we will only feel more exhausted. When I am “too busy” to read my Bible and pray I end up with a bad attitude and more stress.

Contrary to popular opinion, Christians do not have to have it all together. It’s okay to feel burnt out, confused or frazzled….or whatever emotion you may be feeling. And it is okay to have good days and bad ones. That is the only thing normal right now. Most Moms weren’t planning to run their own one room schoolhouse. Most service people weren’t expecting to be facing a health risk on the job. We were created for community not isolation. Every day we are facing a lot of uncertainty and it is stressful but we can choose our focus and adjust our attitude.

Anxiety is a joy robber. It’s been said that “worry is like sitting in a rocking chair – you think you are moving but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”

 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.      Phil 4:5-7

Remember “the Lord is near” : we need to live with an awareness of God’s presence (read Psalm 139:1-12 and Joshua 1:8,9)  Other translations for “reasonableness” are; be considerate, gentleness, forbearance, work together. God gave us our emotions so it’s okay to talk to Him about how you are feeling. Get it off your chest – He already knows anyway. When we leave our fear and doubt at His feet we exchange those negative feelings for inner peace. He will guard our hearts and minds – our attitudes, emotions and thoughts.

Our problems are real and won’t go away instantly but our hearts can change. Faith is exercised when things cannot be seen. We can have peace and joy in difficult circumstances when we remind ourselves that God is Sovereign and in control. We choose to trust in His faithfulness and promises for each day – one at a time.

 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you       2 Cor 13:11

 

joy-quotes-

Hope is Alive

Hope is Alive

We call today “Good Friday” but over 2000 years ago it was anything but good.  The disciples of Jesus’ whole world had been turned upside down in one day. Confusion, womenatcrossDisbelief, Fear, Heartbreak and Shock were just a few of the emotions they were feeling. Rabbi, healer, miracle worker, they believed Jesus was The Messiah! The band of friends had just celebrated Passover together. It couldn’t possibly be real – it didn’t make sense – but they watched with their own eyes as the soldiers nailed Him to a cross like a vile criminal!

Some of the men and women, faithful followers of Jesus, gathered together trying to grasp the situation and others were in hiding. It was now the Sabbath and there was nothing they could do. How could everything go wrong in such a short time? He hadn’t done anything to deserve what happened. The disciples had put all their hope in Him and now it seemed gone.

While  Jesus hung on the cross He forgave the repentant thief, showing us that it is never to late to ask for forgiveness until our last breath.  On Passover HE provided the one and only perfect, holy and final sacrifice. His last cry  “It is finished” was not a cry of defeat but of victory.  The Temple curtain kept everyone and everything away from the holiness of God.  When the massive curtain tore in half it showed the access we now have to come before a Holy God through Jesus’s own blood sacrifice.

Jesus’ body had been quickly laid in a borrowed tomb just before Sabbath began. Early the next morning a few women gathered to go to the tomb and properly prepare His body for burial as was tradition.  They wondered how they would move the stone sealing the grave and if the soldiers would give them grief.  jesustombBut as they approached the burial site they were shocked to see the stone had already been rolled away….

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead…..                                          Matt 28:5-7

Jesus is alive! He soon after met with them, ate with them and explained the Scriptures about Himself. Christians around the world celebrate Easter because our hope is not based on earthly wishful thinking but assurance from God. Jesus’ sacrifice provides forgiveness and restoration in our relationship with The Father. His resurrection offers us power and victory for everyday.

Jesushands

Tragedy can strike quickly and indiscriminately and it may seem hopeless. We are left reeling to try and make sense of the circumstances and figure out the next steps. That’s how the disciples felt on Good Friday.  Right now our daily lives are disrupted, loved ones are distanced and many people have died.  But Our Hope is Alive!

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.        John 3:16

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.         Heb 4:15-16

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,      Heb 6:19

 

                           We are loved.  We have help. We have hope. We can have peace.

 

Because He Lives

God sent His Son, they called Him Jesus,

He came to love, heal and forgive

He lived and died to buy my pardon

An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.

Because He lives I can face tomorrow

Because He lives  all fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living just because He lives!

Covid-19 and the Plagues of Egypt

Covid-19 and the Plagues of Egypt

During this Lenten season the much beloved movie, “The Ten Commandments”, staring Charlton Heston and Yul Brenner will be on television at least once.  I could not help but compare our current situation to the plagues that infected Egypt and our responses today.

Pharoah430 yrs. after Jacob and his family came to Egypt in good standing, a Pharaoh rose to power that did not know of Joseph or His God. God saw the oppression and cruelty the people faced and commissioned Moses to face off with Pharaoh. There was no way Pharaoh would let his slave labor force just walk away. So God sent a succession of plagues to annoy and exasperate all the Egyptians into letting the people go. The first two plagues affected everyone in the land. Can you imagine having frogs in your bed or to open your cereal cupboard and have frogs jump out?

The next seven plagues were sent to make a distinction between the Israelites and the Egyptian people. The last plague – the death of the first born – showed God’s ultimate Sovereignty over all life. Passover is a remembrance of His power, presence and the protection of His people.

The Egyptian gods were silent. They could not help, heal or protect from any of the plagues.  Pharaohs’ heart just became harder as he refused to believe and bow to the true God of Heaven and Earth. Out of grief, anger and frustration he finally ordered the Israelites to leave the country.moses part red sea But he later recanted and sent his army to chase the people to the edge of the Red Sea. (My favorite part in the movie)

 

 

The succession of plagues may have lasted up to a year. As soon as one plague got better God sent another. God’s people survived all of the plagues, took riches with them and walked through the Sea on dry land. But after all these incredible miracles we read that it didn’t take very long for them to start complaining.

I do not believe God sent Covid-19 as a punishment but does He have your attention? During this National crisis the gods of this world have been silenced. Our celebrity sports precautions hospitalare closed down, mega star musicians silenced, meeting places emptied and we are left with a lot of unknowns. Our God is not silent! His Word has a lot to say about trusting Him for today and the future. We are facing an unprecedented worldwide crisis. This virus and its global spread was a huge surprise to physicians and governments but is not a surprise to Him.

One of my favorite scripture passages tells us to be reasonable, focus our minds on the good and not negative media. We will experience true peace when we pray about our concerns and leave them with Him.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.    Phil 4:4-7 

 

Our friends and family are watching to see how we face this crisis.We can share that we are not alone and God is in control. Let us share the hope we have because of Easter- the ultimate love of God.

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.                                                                                                                                                     Isaiah 43:1-3 

No matter what restrictions may be put in place and the uncertainty of the future economy, our God is in control. Especially during Lent, let us thank God as we remember His faithfulness  recorded in The Bible for us. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.                                                                                                                                        Isaiah 26:3 

 

handstoGod

 

 

 

An Imperfect Love Story

An Imperfect Love Story

He saw her across the gymnasium – a petite girl with long golden brown hair.  His Science Fair project was on Bridges and hers was on the Human Body.  He finally got up the nerve to speak with her and bought her a Coke.  A couple years later they attended their Junior and Senior proms together but were heading to different states for college.

Over those years many hours were spent on dorm hallway phones and almost daily letters sent back and forth. Summers and holidays they happily reunited and by their senior year they began planning a future together. He was going to be a Civil Engineer and she was studying Nursing – funny how their early interests would become their careers.

Senior year of college, something wasn’t right – she became very ill. Graduation was followed by a trip to the hospital for tests and later major surgery.  He sat by her bedside praying while she recovered in the ICU – what was God doing?  They postponed the wedding even though she wrestled with God over that. She realized her fiancee had proven his faithfulness “in sickness and health”! Their bond only strengthened as they thanked God for healing and chose to keep Him in the middle of every day – good days and bad.  Their wedding verse;

bride-1837148_1920This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.        Psalms 118:24 (ESV)

 After the wedding they started their happily ever after and saved to buy a house. Three children came along one right after the other – a girl and two boys.  Their lives took a different path when child #2 was born with cognitive and physical disabilities. Those early years included open heart surgery for that little one and casts on club feet.  Doctor visits and seeing therapists became the new normal.  The now mother of three also continued to have medical issues and the daughter had learning disabilities. Challenging? Yes.  But nothing is impossible with God so they clung to His promises.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.     Jer 29:11 (ESV)

 Life was good just different because there are added concerns and some limitations when a family member has a disability. But days were filled with school, sports, church activities, celebrations and vacations just like everyone else. Most importantly they made life-long friendships.

Love and a solid faith in God along with a lot of family and friend support helped them overcome and in turn reach out.  They became involved with Family and Marriage ministry to help others. Communication and commitment is necessary while quitting is NOT an option. The couple also became involved with Disability ministries like Special Olympics and served in their local church.

They learned that every day is an opportunity for grace with communication being the key -especially when an apology is necessary. Often they would laugh or make a joke about something else going wrong. Laughter does help make the burdens lighter!

After 36+ years this couple still celebrates with gratitude for all God has provided. They have met some amazing people and traveled to beautiful places they never dreamed possible. Their story is far from over as now in mid-life they plan for the future and retirement. Their parents are gone and the children are grown with their own careers. The son with disabilities is doing well. There were many more difficulties as well as great stories through those years because life is an imperfect balance. They still have arguments and misunderstandings but at the end of every day find security and comfort in each others’ arms.

Life is not perfect but good.

What advice would they give you this Valentine’s Day?

Set priorities: God first, Spouse (before self) then Family and everything else

Laugh – A little bit (or a lot) of humor  helps along the way!

 Listening well helps avoid misunderstanding

Trust God is in control even when life seems out of control.

During the hardest times of life – PRAY MORE – God will give you the peace and strength to not only endure but to excel when you trust in Him.

Loving one another requires patience, over-looking faults and compassion.

Teach your children well.

Always kiss good night.

 

Review your own imperfect love story and have a blessed Valentine’s Day.

watercolour-4791614_1920

Weary Travelers

Weary Travelers

According to AAA, an estimated 115.6 million Americans were expected to travel this holiday season. That was a 3.9% increase from last year and includes plane, train, automobile, bus and cruise travel. AAA expected that more than 853,000 would call for some type of help. On an average there is a one out of five chance of a delay but on December 26th you can expect a 66% chance of delayed service. And for the 21st year in a row, Atlanta, GA is the world’s busiest airport! That is a lot of travelers for one season.

Throughout the Advent season, without realizing it, we have heard a lot about travel.

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.5 He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.              Luke 2:1-5

jesus-birth travel

The Bible is not written like a novel so we don’t have a detailed play by play of the actual travel but we know that every Jewish household had to register in their tribal capital. That equals a lot of people traveling by foot, donkey, camel and wagon caravan. The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem would be a grueling 90 miles up and down some treacherous mountain roads.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”              Matt 2:1-2

TheJourneyOfTheMagi_tkfxdy

These wisemen from the East were astrologers that had obviously studied the Hebrew scripture possibly left by Daniel.  They may have come from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Southern Turkey. The distance from Persia to Bethlehem (maybe up to 9000 miles) traveling over varied rugged terrain for months would be so long and tiring. Yet they journeyed on in their quest to seek the Christ Child.

Friend, in the past year did you become weary in your journey?  Did life take unexpected twists and turns that made you feel weak and vulnerable? Do you feel like you have lost your way or that somehow your dream is just too far off to ever reach? God never promised an easy carefree life but He did tell us that we are never alone.  He does promise to give us a renewed vision and the strength to reach our goals step by step when they are in line with His word.

Here are just a few scriptures to hold onto as we begin the New Year:

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  Josh 1:9

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.6 Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.     Prov 3:5-6

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.     Jer 29:11-12

It is my prayer that we all start off the New Year on the right foot and step by step journey into 2020 with confidence and strength in God’s power, protection, and provision for the way.

hope

 

All Scripture quotes in this blog are taken from the New Living Translation

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Innkeeper and the Rest of the Story

Every Christmas pageant that I have seen includes an Innkeeper that gruffly says; “Sorryno room but there is no room in the Inn. Go away,” and he slams the door.  Poor little Billy’s heart wasn’t in it. After perfectly saying his lines he whispered, “you can stay in my room.”    I hate to burst your bubble but the Bible doesn’t mention an Innkeeper and there were no Hilton hotels in first century Palestine.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.            Luke 2:4-7 (ESV)  or because there was no lodging available for them. Luke 2:7 (NLT)

Mary and Joseph were inconveniently ordered to go to Bethlehem in Judea – his ancestral home for a census.  It would be customary to find a relative to lodge with but we can safely assume that other family members beat them there.  The Greek word used here for “Inn” is “kataluma” meaning guest room.  This is the same word used for “the Upper Room” Jesus shared His last meal in.  The word used for “Inn” in the story of the Good Samaritan was “pandocheion” where a fee was paid.

The stable we like to envision was actually in a cave or more likely an extra room below the family home where animals were brought for warmth and safety at night. The manger would have been a stone chiseled feeding trough not a wooden crib.  However the truth is it would still have been warm and far more private to give birth there than in the hallway or middle of a room surrounded by people.  We don’t know if a mid-wife was on hand to help or any other small details.

imagesholyfamily

So what do we know?   The Shepherds were told to find the baby in a manger as a sign and they did.  God shifted from the Divine to human when He sent His Son to be born to humble, outcast parents. A small baby is not intimidating but instead people draw near.  Jesus was not born in a palace but in the middle of a busy, crowded, small town to ordinary people.  Joseph and Mary were ordinary people chosen for a very unique and sacred task; to care for, teach and love the Son of God. We know that they trusted God and faithfully obeyed His Word.

Innkeeper or not, the same questions remain.  Will you make room in your heart and home for Jesus ? He doesn’t care about the busy, messy, crowded life you live. He wants to have a relationship with ordinary, everyday people, just like you. The Christmas season calls us to draw near, make room and worship Him.

 

Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne –  a hymn

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,

When Thou came-est to earth for me,

But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room

For Thy holy nativity:

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus; There is room in my heart for Thee

 

 

 

Tagbah – To Walk Where Jesus Walked -part 6

Tagbah – To Walk Where Jesus Walked -part 6

Our trip to Israel was so amazing that I am still processing all we saw, learned and did.  A place called Tagbah is still the most meaningful for me.

Tagbah sits on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee at the foot of the Mount of the Beatitudes.  This was a favorite fishing spot for the men from nearby Capernaum.  There are several warm springs that enter the Lake here that attract numerous fish especially in winter.

Togbah

There were two churches built at Tagbah; one that comemmorates Jesus feeding the 5000 – The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. This is built over a 4th century church where Byzantine tile work can still been on the floor under the altar. The second church  – The Church of Peter’s Primacy – is where Jesus made His third post-resurection appearance to the disciples.  Jesus had been crucified. All of the disciples hopes and dreams seemed gone so the men went back to what they knew best – fishing.

3 Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” “We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out IMG_2092in the boat, but they caught nothing all night.4 At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was.5 He called out, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?” “No,” they replied.6 Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.7 Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore…….8  When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread. ….15 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? ” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.16 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.          John 21:1-17 (NLT)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This church sits by the shore and the rock incorporated into its floor is believed to be the place Jesus served breakfast.  A communion table is set in a small garden nearby.  We stood on the shore listening to these scriptures and we were challenged to think of Peter’s restoration and what God may be saying to our own hearts. Three times Peter denied Jesus and three times he was asked, “Do you love ME?” – with the command to “feed MY sheep”.

Peter, the first called, the one to always speak up, the one to jump ahead, one of the three closest friends of Jesus, had really blown it. In fear he had denied our Lord not once but three times.  Jesus lovingly confronts and forgives him then restores and renews Peter’s mission. Friend, it does not matter where you come from or what you have done in the past. Jesus will confront us with our failures or selfishness so we can repent. There is nothing too big or bad that He cannot forgive. He loves you and has an incredible plan for your life. Search your heart and see if there is anything in the way of your relationship with Christ.  He’s still asking “do you love ME”?  then come follow Me……

IMG_2106