Hope in Troubling Times

Hope in Troubling Times

Today as I started to write my heart felt so heavy. Our world is in a mess largely of our own making. Climate change has brought uncontrollable fires and floods, draughts and increased tornadoes with loss of habitat and life . Where I live in New England we had a beautiful 65 degree day on Wednesday and today (Friday) we have snow with six plus inches. Worldwide the economy is struggling and the pandemic caused so much death as well as controversary over wearing masks and vaccine mandates. It seems that injustice and violence are ever increasing. Until yesterday the world powers hoped, watched and waited for Russia to de-escalate but instead they have started an unprovoked war with Ukraine. Where is God while all this is going on? The events on our timeline are no secret to Him but are part of a plan started long ago and that gives me hope.

Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. Psalms 121:4 (NLT)

O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. Isaiah 25:1 (ESV)

Jesus himself warned: And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately.7 Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.8 But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. Matt 24:6-8 (NLT)

Faith is trusting God even when you don’t understand. Faith accepts that God has a better plan, even if the results are never seen. Faith is having the courage to let God have control. When we relinquish “our right” to control – actually it is our right to worry about what we have no control over – then He will give us peace. Faith is obeying His word when life doesn’t make sense. By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command. (Heb 11:3)

Just recently I was reminded of how easy it is to take the order of creation for granted. There are four seasons in every year. Each 24 hour period has night time and daylight with sun, stars and moon weather we see them or not. The ocean tide rises and falls and in spring we see signs of new life in flora and fauna. We see Him at work through creation. Psalm 139 extols our all powerful Creator Who sees and knows everything, is always present and searches our hearts. Our God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow – He never changes and that is why we can trust Him and find hope in all of our trouble.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you 1 Peter 1:3-4 (ESV)

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NLT)

The Bible clearly states that we are saved (from eternal death and separation from God) through faith in Christ’s death on our behalf or for our sins (mistakes, faults, failures) , that He died a cruel death but rose again having power over the grave and He is coming back again. What we are experiencing in our world today are signs of the end times but I am not an expert on prophecy. I do know that we need to be ready. Are you?

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace

“Amazing Grace” is a Christian hymn published in 1779, with words written by the English poet and Anglican clergyman John Newton (1725-1807). It is an immensely popular hymn, particularly in the US, where it is used for both religious and secular purposes. It has been estimated that the song is performed about ten million times annually in various forms.

The story behind the author and his words is fascinating and has been produced as a movie and Broadway play. John’s mother died before he turned seven and he joined his father on a merchant ship as an apprentice at age eleven.  He was well known for his headstrong disobedience and incredible profanity. After being flogged for desertion from the Royal navy he joined the Atlantic slave trade. In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel so severely that he called out to God for mercy. That moment marked his conversion but he continued slave trading, considered a respectable vocation at the time, for several more trips until he left the sea for good at age 30. Newton began studying Christian theology and began preaching about the grace of the cross which saved him and later he became an abolitionist. Shortly before his death at age 82 he preached, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior!”

An amazing story of a changed life but what does grace mean?  In Christian belief it means “God’s free gift of unmerited favor manifested in salvation and bestowing of blessings”. I was always taught the simple acrostic; God’s Riches At Christs’ Expense. 

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.      Eph 2:8-10 (NLT)

John Piper wrote; “Well, it  appears that the word grace in Paul’s use not only refers to God’s character trait or disposition or inclination to treat people better than we deserve, but the word grace also refers to the action or the power or the influence or the force of this disposition, which produces real, practical outcomes in people’s lives, like being sufficient for good deeds or enduring the thorn in the flesh or working harder than everybody else, which Paul says about his own apostolic work.”  

Throughout the pages of the Bible we see story after story of men and women, rich and poor, powerful and unnamed, failing God by disobeying His law and turning to temporary gain or satisfaction. By God’s grace these people saw God at work in their circumstances and the power of changed lives. Their stories are much like ours. God’s love never fails. He faithfully waits for us to turn back (repent) so we can enjoy a living and growing relationship with Him.

If you fear you’ve written too many checks on God’s kindness account, drag regrets around like a broken bumper, huff and puff more than you delight and rest, and, most of all, if you wonder whether God can do something with the mess of your life, then grace is what you need.      Max Lucado

I may not have a history like John Newton but I need God’s grace just as much. I want Him to work on my heart and through His enabling power to live in grace. Grace extends forgiveness and kindness by overlooking others faults. Grace carries on when people misjudge you. By God’s grace our lives are put into order with purpose and meaning. God’s amazing grace never runs out.

 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.      Heb 4:16 (NLT)

The Need For Resilience

The Need For Resilience

Today I am reposting my blog from last January (something I don’t usually do) because encouragement and resilience are still desperately needed. I wish for you to have courage and peacefor today and hope for tomorrow.

We survived 2021 with all of its’ bumps, bruises and losses. From political unrest, natural disasters and a world wide pandemic, life is not going to be back to “normal” anytime soon enough. Although we have great hope in beating this virus with vaccines, we are still struggling. So how should we respond in 2022? We cannot give up hope but instead to continue building resilience.

Resilience is the ability to cope with adversity and to use challenges to forge strength and prosperity. Having resilience does not mean that you don’t struggle, make mistakes, or need to ask for help. Resilient people keep plugging along even when the situation becomes ugly or exhausting.

There are many characters in the Bible who developed resilience through tough challenges. A favorite of mine is Joseph found in Genesis 37-47. If you have never read the whole story – please do ! Joseph was the youngest and favorite son of Jacob the Patriarch of Israel. From a young age God spoke to him in dreams which made his brothers even more jealous. The angry brothers sold Joseph into slavery and told their Dad he was dead. Joseph was bought as a household slave in Egypt and did well until the Masters’ wife lied about an assault putting him into prison. Joseph kept the faith and his dreams got him out of jail and placed him serving the Pharaoh himself. A life of extreme ups and downs yet Joseph never stopped believing and trusting in God because he understood that God has a purpose even in our suffering.

God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. 8 So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor over Egypt. Gen 45:7-8 (NLT)

“A helpful way to exercise spiritual resilience is by cultivating gratitude and counting your blessings. Be thankful for what you do have rather than focusing on what you are missing. Build optimism and be positive. Accept the past and focus on the future.” American Psychological Assoc.

How we respond to our circumstances or developing good coping skills will help us maintain balance. We need to take care of our bodies and avoid negative outlets. Masking our pain with alcohol, drugs and even food is tempting but it’s like putting a bandaid on a deep wound. Find resources to manage stress, not avoid it. Don’t dwell on the news and Facebook but instead find uplifting music, scripture and supportive friends. We can be proactive in finding purpose by making goals, problem solving and helping others. We need to keep things in perspective and be realistic about change. Not all change is bad. Finally, resilience should give us a hopeful outlook because we have learned from our past. Resilient people have a survivor mentality.

Our situations may vary widely but the answer is the same – call on God, the Almighty Creator, Our Sustainer, Redeemer, Healer and Friend.

 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Gal 6:9-10 (ESV)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (resilience) 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 (ESV)

Behold Immanuel

Behold Immanuel

This advent season I have heard a lot about two terms; Behold and Immanuel. The word “Behold” is used 1298 times in the whole Bible. It means to look intensely not just a glance but to gaze upon, regard, pay attention to something special.

 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. [8]   Isaiah 7:14

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.      Isaiah 9:6

Immanuel means God with us. It is a title (among others given) and not another name for Jesus.  Immanuel is spelled with an I in Hebrew (old testament) and an E in Greek (new testament). In Hebrew the title expresses the wonder of the incarnation, that God became flesh and made His dwelling with man. (John 1:14)

Ward Cushman, in an article on To Every Nation, gives four reasons why Jesus’ title Immanuel is important to us.

  • Immanuel means the Father showed Himself to us.
  • Immanuel means Jesus identified Himself with us
  • Immanuel means Jesus gave Himself for us.
  • Immanuel means the Father, Son and Spirit have stayed with us. 

He promises to be with us Matthew 18:20. One way that is fulfilled is by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives John 14:16-18. This means we can rely upon Him. Immanuel is a practical truth that can change your life.   The shepherds were given the glorious message of good news and told to go, see, examine, and investigate for themselves.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ (Messiah) the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  Luke 2:10-11

Behold -have you examined this good news for yourself? Prophecy was and will be fulfilled because God keeps all of His promises.  The Messiah, our Savior was born as a baby in very humble circumstances and not in a palace so all people could draw near.  And because He was confined to time and space Jesus understands all of our problems. Remember this Christmas that God loves us so much He gave His only Son to be the ultimate sacrifice for sin.  The question remains, is there room in your busy life for him? He promises internal and eternal peace and joy despite our current difficulties. We don’t have to be afraid of the future because Immanuel has come.

***Come and behold Him, born the King of angels . Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord. ***

Gratitude in a Forgetful Nation

Gratitude in a Forgetful Nation

Americans celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving each November with a huge feast and a gathering of friends and family but are we truly thankful?  The marketing campaigns started pushing our need to buy holiday gifts asap back in September. That is all about greed not gratitude. We have forgotten our humble and crude beginnings. We forget how blessed we already are and what matters most.

Last year marked the 400th anniversary of the original Pilgrims landing in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Stepping aboard the fully refurbished replica of the Mayflower this summer was a shocking reminder of how cramped and horrible it really had been. The merchant ship was built to carry cargo not people, but 102 passengers and 30 crew members climbed aboard with great hope for a new home in a new world.

The Mayflower ll in Plymouth harbor

It took 66 days to cross the ocean. They ate the same thing every day while onboard and some of it became hard and moldy. The living conditions became intolerably smelly and they ran out of clean water. Each family could only bring one chest for clothes, weapons, and tools to cook, build and garden with. Now imagine that the crew you are trusting to get you there safely doesn’t like you, nor you them. Arriving in September didn’t give enough time to build adequate shelter and 45 people died that first harsh winter. I would not have signed on for this.

These men (including only four women) were resolved to make it work. Some had left family behind to send for once they were established. There was no turning back. The first Pilgrims had risked their lives for the freedom to worship God independently of the Church of England and government control. They had very little and absolutely nothing was given to them but they were grateful.

From dictionary.com : Gratitude means thanks and appreciation. … Gratitude, which rhymes with “attitude,” comes from the Latin word gratus, which means “thankful, pleasing.” When you feel gratitude, you’re pleased by what someone did for you and also pleased by the results. Unlike indebtedness, you’re not anxious about having to pay it back.

That first thanksgiving was actually a three day harvest celebration that was not repeated. Documents describe a feast of deer, assorted wildfowl, a bounty of fish and flint, a native variety of corn harvested by Native Americans, which was eaten as corn bread and porridge. They also ate native fruits, vegetables and lobster. Lobster was very plentiful but they didn’t like it! And there wasn’t any pie because they didn’t have any ovens to bake in.

Recreation of Pilgrim village dated several years later

Many more ships would come in the years to follow because of these first brave souls. It is good to remember the past. We should not erase or change it. Gratitude should spring up in our hearts when we remember the sacrifices of others. Our greatest example is Christ who sacrificed His own life to give us peace with God, a hope and a future. He paid a debt that He didn’t owe and we can never repay. Christians in America need to realize that we enjoy the freedom to worship which is something that many others in this world are denied.

In a society that has forgotten where we came from and only cares about personal agendas you can make this Thanksgiving special. It’s cute to dress up the children with paper hats as “Indians” and “Pilgrims” while eating popcorn but also tell them the real story. It was a hard life!  Talk about some of the losses of the past year but also the fun times you shared. Throughout the holiday season resolve to stay focused on the many blessings you already enjoy. Choose to remember and be grateful.

Keep Your Tools Sharpened

Keep Your Tools Sharpened

I recently bought a new set of steak knives and a vegetable peeler. I really can’t remember how old the ones we were using were. Not a big deal, right? But oh what a difference they made! Cutting through steak was easy and not like sawing through rubber and oh how quickly the carrots were peeled! Over time and with use the wear and tear affects their sharpness and effectiveness. It’s a gradual decline in the cutting edge that isn’t noticeable until simple tasks become difficult. All chefs, carpenters and gardeners know how important it is to keep their tools clean and sharpened to avoid injury and get the best results.

Many of us have not been careful to guard our minds from the constant barrage of adds telling us what we need and what to believe. The immoral and often untrue drone of the media feeds into our subconsciouses. We believe the lies and fall into the trap of mediocrity as our souls become dull to the decline in the very fabric of our society. There aren’t many ways to God – Jesus said ,”I AM the way”. There can’t be a “my truth” and “your truth”, there is only THE TRUTH. We shouldn’t be tied up and confused by all the jargon being spit out by the world. God’s word tells us that it doesn’t need to be this way. It’s NOT supposed to be this way for His children. Jesus was quick to answer Satan with Scripture. The value of memorization is incalculable as the Spirit will bring verses to mind in our need.

 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. Eph 6:13-18 (ESV)

 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.9 Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are. 1 Peter 5:8-9 (NLT)

We keep our focus sharp by reading His word, prayer and being in fellowship with other believers. How can we encourage each other if we don’t know what is going on each other’s lives? God has always called His people to corporate prayer and worship. We sharpen each other by discussing God’s word and how to apply it to our daily situations. The blessing of having services online during our national shutdown has caused some to stop the habit of coming together at all.

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 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25  not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Heb 10:24-25 (ESV)

 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Prov 27:17 (ESV)

I believe we are in the beginning of the End Times. Keep looking up and your tools sharp!