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?

Is There Anything That Doesn’t Run Out?

Is There Anything That Doesn’t Run Out?

We have been blessed – spoiled! I never experienced empty shelves in the grocery store in my whole life until recently. America, the land of plenty, is feeling the crunch as much as the rest of the world. First we had the hoarding due to the unknown repercussions of the Coronavirus. Next came the shutdowns, backlog of ordered products and supply chain breakdown. I am flabbergasted as I stare at the empty rows . We have lived in a dispensable society and when something ran out we just went to buy more without a thought.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner everyone runs out to buy cards, candy and flowers. There are Hallmark movies galore and mushy sentiment oozes out for a few days. At least people will try to be kind. But human love is a fragile and fickle thing. True love isn’t based on emotions and material goods or well being. In the Bible we read story after story of Gods mercy, which is compassion in action and grace, all the blessings we receive and are undeserved.

The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. 9 This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. 10 This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. 1 John 4:8-10 (MSG)

We can understand the love of a mother for her newborn or the starry eyed love of a bride and groom. But our love isn’t perfect because we can become impatient, short tempered and selfish. Everything we know on earth will eventually get used up, run out or die. So it can be difficult to understand God’s sacrificial love that is offered freely, eternally and unconditionally. His love never fails, never gives up and never runs out on us.

 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35,37-39 (NLT)

The old hymn The Love of God was written by F.M. Lehman in 1917 when he was working in a citrus packing plant. But the third verse actually came from from the pen of and eleventh century Jewish poet in Germany named Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai. The words beautifully describe the immeasurable love of God.

Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made,

Were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry,

Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.

Many people do not feel loved or worthy of love but the fact is that God does love you no matter where you live, where you have gone or what you have done. He wants a relationship with each and everyone of us and He is patiently waiting for us to run into His arms. Accept the free gift of salvation through Jesus and celebrate real love this Valentine’s day.

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. ***

The Message of the Angels

The Message of the Angels

Angels play a big part in the Christmas narrative. They appeared first to Zechariah, then Mary, Joseph and lastly a group of shepherds.  But the initial reactions to these supernatural beings was not joy but; dismay, being gripped with fear, perplexed and terribly frightened. I would have been too. Angels in Scripture are formidable and shine brilliantly they are not fluffy little child like creatures. The message for each person was individual but they all heard the comforting words: “do not be afraid, we have good news”.     

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 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 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 2:8-12 (ESV)

 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”   Luke 2:14 (NKJV)

Even though the birth of Messiah had been prophesied long before by Isaiah, Micah and other prophets it seems very few were actually looking for him like the wisemen and not everyone was happy. Zechariah was a priest and he had trouble believing the angels’ message. King Herod was afraid of competition for his illegal position on the throne. People respond the same way today to God’s message.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (which means God with us)    Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)       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 (ESV)

Whatever our journey has been or the circumstances we find ourselves in today, God doesn’t want us to be afraid but instead to come to Him.  “A child was given” – He came as a baby so people would approach him. Jesus grew into a man and experienced everything that we do so he really understands our feelings and problems. The good news is for everyone.

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.17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.         John 3:16-17 (NLT)

The Jewish word Shalom is more than just simply peace; it is a complete peace.  It is a feeling of contentment, completeness, wholeness, well-being, and harmony. The peace Jesus offers is not like what the world offers. He is Immanuel. God is with us, watching over us and walks beside us. The angels’ message of good news is for everyone. Can you hear them?

From Casting Crowns- I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on Earth, good will to men  *** Chorus

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on Earth, ” I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing (peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (peace on Earth)
Does anybody hear them? (Peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
(Peace on Earth)
(Peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, good will to men  ****

Do you hear the bells, they’re ringing? (Peace on Earth)
The light, the angels singing (peace on Earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men