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Archive for the ‘God’s Faithfulness’ Category

Pressing Through the Pain

SOURCE:  Lysa TerKeurst   Faithgateway

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. — James 4:8 NKJV

Does it ever feel like the heartbreak in your life is trying to break you?

I understand. I really, really do. I’ve been in that place where the pain of heartbreak hits with such sudden and sharp force that it feels like it cuts through skin and bone. It’s the kind of pain that leaves us wondering if we’ll ever be able to function like a normal person again.

But God has been tenderly reminding me that pain itself is not the enemy.

Pain is the indicator that brokenness exists.

Pain is the reminder that the real Enemy is trying to take us out and bring us down by keeping us stuck in broken places. Pain is the gift that motivates us to fight with brave tenacity and fierce determination, knowing there’s healing on the other side.

And in the in-between? In that desperate place where we aren’t quite on the other side of it all yet, and our heart still feels quite raw? Pain is the invitation for God to move in and replace our faltering strength with His. I’m not writing that to throw out spiritual platitudes that sound good; I write it from the depth of a heart that knows it’s the only way. We must invite God into our pain to help us survive the desperate in-between.

The only other choice is to run from the pain by using some method of numbing. But numbing the pain never goes to the source of the real issue to make us healthier. It only silences our screaming need for help.

We think we are freeing ourselves from the pain when, in reality, what numbs us imprisons us.

If we avoid the hurt, the hurt creates a void in us.

It slowly kills the potential for our hearts to fully feel, fully connect, fully love again. It even steals the best in our relationship with God.

Pain is the sensation that indicates a transformation is needed. There is a weakness where new strength needs to enter in. And we must choose to pursue long-term strength rather than temporary relief.

So how do we get this new strength? How do we stop ourselves from chasing what will numb us when the deepest parts of us scream for some relief? How do we stop the piercing pain of this minute, this hour?

We invite God’s closeness.

For me, this means praying. No matter how vast our pit, prayer is big enough to fill us with the realization of His presence like nothing else. Our key verse (James 4:8) reminds us that when we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. When we invite Him close, He always accepts our invitation.

And on the days when my heart feels hurt and my words feel quite flat, I let Scripture guide my prayers — recording His Word in my journal, and then adding my own personal thoughts.

One of my favorites to turn to is Psalm 91. I would love to share this verse with you today, as an example for when you prayerfully invite God into your own pain.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. — Psalm 91:1

Prayer:

Lord, draw me close. Your Word promises when I draw close to You, You are there.

I want my drawing close to be a permanent dwelling place. At any moment when I feel weak and empty and alone, I pray that I won’t let those feelings drag me down into a pit of insecurity. But rather, I want those feelings to be triggers for me to immediately lift those burdensome feelings to You and trade them for the assurance of Your security.

I am not alone, because You are with me. I am not weak, because Your strength is infused in me. I am not empty, because I’m drinking daily from Your fullness. You are my dwelling place. And in You I have shelter from every stormy circumstance and harsh reality. I’m not pretending the hard things don’t exist, but I am rejoicing in the fact that Your covering protects me and prevents those hard things from affecting me like they used to.

You, the Most High, have the final say over me. You know me and love me intimately. And today I declare that I will trust You in the midst of my pain. You are my everyday dwelling place, my saving grace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

And with that I close my prayer journal, feeling a lot less desperate and a lot more whole. I breathe the atmosphere of life His words bring. I picture Him standing at the door of my future, knocking. If I will let Him enter into the darkness of my hurt today, He will open wide the door to a much brighter tomorrow.

Dear Lord, in this moment I draw near to You and I invite Your closeness. Help me to experience Your presence today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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Excerpted from Embraced by Lysa TerKeurst, copyright Lysa TerKeurst.

MY EASTER TESTIMONY

SOURCE:  DR. BILL BELLICAN

In my home growing up (the early 1950s), there was not much talk about religion.  My father was building a career in the burgeoning hospitality/hotel industry. He had a Presbyterian background but not any church connection to speak of.  My mom had a Baptist upbringing and would periodically take me to a small Baptist church. Dad’s job kept him busy 24/7. Mom helped Dad a lot.  My young life was spent growing up in the hotels my Dad managed as was the business practice of that time.

Around age 13, Mom and I went to church one Sunday.  The pastor’s message caught my attention and grabbed my heart.  It was the message of salvation.  As God would have it, my mind and heart were quickened, and I went forward to accept Christ as my personal Lord and Savior later being baptized.  But, there was not much conversation at home about this important event I had experienced.

Sadly, my Dad died unexpectedly very soon thereafter of a massive heart attack, and my Mom became very emotionally needy and concerned about making a living. There were no other adults in my life at that time to model this new life in Christ for me or even to talk to about it.  Church attendance became much more sporadic as my grandmother (with dementia) came to live with us and needed much care.

As the years passed and I finished high school and went to college, my faith was still muted for the most part.  However, when I met the one who was to become my wife (Susan), things changed.  Susan grew up in Central Church-Memphis, TN and that’s where she was attending.  So, I started going to Central, too.  Upon my first visit, the Word preached penetrated my heart and mind in such a way that my faith came alive within me.  My dormant faith and life in Christ began to flourish.  In 1975, Susan and I married, and I began my career in the hospitality/hotel industry which was growing very rapidly.

Similar to my Dad, this career grew and demanded such time that it overtook the attention necessary for my faith to continue to grow. I was progressing up the “corporate ladder” quickly. My worldly life was working very well.  In essence, my spiritual life could be characterized as the “seed that fell among the thorns” (Luke 8:14).  The cares, worries, and successes of life overtook my focus on Christ.  I think my attitude became something like, “Thank you, Lord, for your blessings. I will call you if I need you.”

However, a life-change was coming.

In 1989, I was presented with the annual “Leadership Award.”  The corporation I worked for conveyed to me that I was one of their most valuable employees. By 1991, this same corporation was bought out by an international company, downsized, and relocated meaning I was out of a job.  God was beginning a loving, transformative process in my life, but I wasn’t aware of it, yet.

I expected that God would allow me to take advantage of my numerous business contacts and years of experience so I could simply step into another corporate job. However, God loved me too much to allow me to continue in my spiritual dysfunction with my eyes fixed on anything else but Him (Heb 12:2).  Nothing seemed to work out about another position.  Doors seemed to be closed for one reason or another.  Life began to get more desperate.  Benefits were running out.  My golden parachute developed holes.  Stresses in the home were mounting.  Savings were depleted.  Retirement funds were used to survive.  We were on the verge of losing everything.  I had entered into what St. John of the Cross referred to in his writings as “The Dark Night of the Soul.”  God was going to use this “dark night” to wisely and lovingly strip away everything that I had wrongly grown to put my faith in and depend upon.

As I was trying to understand what was happening, I turned to God helplessly and without any hope in anything else.  Strangely, my heart was drawn to the Word, to prayer in a most intimate way.  My relationship with Christ, my hunger for Him, my experience of His presence deepened like never before.  I didn’t have solutions to my problems, but I had the fullness of Christ with me.  Christ was disciplining me for my good, like a son, painfully, so I might desire and seek His holiness and righteousness for my life (Heb 12: 4-13).

With more clarity and counsel from others, in time I started to graduate school to finish my counseling education for licensure and worked as an independent business consultant to provide for my family. God kept enlarging my faith and trust in Him during this time. Later, I began working part-time for Central Church in the Counseling Ministry.  As I completed my graduate degree, I was allowed to direct the Counseling Ministry.  The Lord used all of these life events to get me where He wanted me to be that I might love Him and serve Him in a spiritually healthy way.

Like the author of Psalm 119, I found comfort in what God was doing in my life:

“Before I was afflicted I went astray but now I obey your word.

You are good and what you do is good.

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

I know, O Lord, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness, you have afflicted me.”

[Psalm 119: 67-68, 71, 75]

When Fear Seizes You

SOURCE:  Stacey Reaoch/Desiring God

This past fall my husband had the privilege of going to Turkey to speak at a conference for Christian workers. Although I was excited for his opportunity, I was also feeling somewhat hesitant with the terrorist activity in nearby Syria. Thanks to modern technology, we planned to FaceTime every day to keep in close touch with each other.

One day during that week, our appointed time to connect went by with no contact from my husband. Maybe he’s just running late, I reasoned. I looked for text messages . . . negative. I checked to make sure my ringer was turned up loud enough . . . affirmative. Maybe he’s deep in conversation with someone. . . . But as the minutes turned into hours, fear began to seize me. Unfortunately, I learned of terrorists near the Turkey border as I began watching world news reports.

As fear began to consume me, every worst possible situation played out in my head. Had terrorists overcome the conference and taken captives? What would I do? My mind went through multiple scenarios: explaining to our children what had happened, looking for a job to support our family, and wondering whether to sell the house. By the time my husband was finally able to call, I had already decided where to move and how much to sell the house for. Come to find out, he was just fine.

Fear Feeds Irrationality

“During our moments of fear and panic, God is whispering promises to us.”

When fear seizes you, all your ability to think rationally evaporates. Life becomes overwhelming, and the promises of God are thrown out the window. When Moses sent the spies into Canaan to gather information for the people of Israel, fear of the looming giants became much more visible than any of the blessings Canaan had to offer. Although they obediently gathered fruit from the land, their report focused on all the seemingly impossible obstacles they faced.

“We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there” (Numbers 13:27–28). As the spies exaggerated and gave the worst report possible, they compared themselves to grasshoppers and claimed the land would devour them (Numbers 13:32–33).

This fearful exaggeration infected the Israelites who succumbed to crying and grumbling against Moses and Aaron, and it even led them to claim they wish they’d died in the wilderness (Numbers 14:2–3)!

It seems Israel forgot God’s promise to give them the land of Canaan, despite the obstacles that looked so intimidating. “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel” (Numbers 13:2). If the Israelites had truly trusted God’s promise, even their enemies in Canaan shouldn’t have been a threat to them. God was going to give Israel the Promised Land, just as he’d said to Abraham hundreds of years before. And during our moments of fear and panic, God is whispering promises to us too.

Fighting Off Fear

When fear begins to creep in and all the “what-if” situations begin to consume your mind, here are seven things to remember:

1. God’s truth. Is what I’m thinking about really happening? Or is it just my imagination running wild? Paul reminds us to dwell on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).

“We can trust God has a hidden smile behind the dark cloud.”

2. God’s presence. We can be comforted remembering that we are not alone. God is with us. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

3. God’s grace. God promises to provide us with his all-sufficient grace for every trial that comes our way. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” Jesus told Paul. And therefore, with Paul, we can “boast all the more gladly of [our] weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon [us]” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

4. God’s sovereignty. God is in control over every situation in our lives. “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35).

5. God’s listening ear. Pour out your heart to God in prayer. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).

6. God’s trustworthiness. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:3–4).

7. God’s big picture plan. No matter how awful this trial may seem, God promises to use everything together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We may not see the good in our situation at the time, but we can trust God has a hidden smile behind the dark cloud.

So, when your child is diagnosed with cancer, or you just learned of a loved one in a car accident, or your husband comes home with news that he was let go from his job, prepare yourself for battle. Don’t let the Enemy use fear to seize you and take you captive. Fight him off with the promises of God’s word and his unchanging character.

Q&A: Why would God put us in hard situations?

SOURCE:  Billy Graham

Question:

Our pastor said the other day that we ought to be glad when problems come, because we’ll become better persons as a result. I’m not sure I agree with him. Why would God put us into hard situations?

Answer:

Your pastor was only echoing what the Bible tells us about troubles, namely, that God can use them to make our faith stronger and draw us closer to Himself. The Bible says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…. so that you may be mature and complete” (James 1:2, 4).

Think of it this way: Suppose you never got any physical exercise; all you did was sit in your chair or lie in bed all day. What would happen to your muscles? You know the answer: They’d grow weaker and weaker, and eventually, you might not even be able to get out of bed. Our muscles only become strong if we exercise them and challenge them to do more. The more resistance they face, the stronger they’ll get.

The same is true spiritually. If our faith is never challenged… if we never have to put it to work… then our spiritual “muscles” will grow weaker and weaker. But when hardships and trials come into our lives, we’ll be forced to exercise those spiritual “muscles” — and when we do, our faith will grow stronger. We’ll discover that God still loves us and is with us, and He can be trusted to lead us through life’s storms. The Bible says, “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).

Thank God that He will never abandon you, no matter what comes your way. And when hard times do come, turn to Him and ask Him to use them to help you grow in your faith.

When one asks, Jesus always receives — always!

SOURCE:  Tolle Lege/J.C.Ryle

“At the time when He Himself was dying, He conferred on a sinner eternal life” by J.C. Ryle

I ask you if any man’s case could look more hopeless and desperate, than that of this penitent thief once did?
“First of all you are meant to learn from these verses Christ’s power and willingness to save sinners. This is the main doctrine to be gathered from the history of the penitent thief. It teaches you that which ought to be music in the ears of all who hear it,—it teaches you that Jesus Christ is mighty to save.

He was a wicked man—a malefactor,—a thief, if not a murderer. We know this, for such only were crucified. He was suffering a just punishment for breaking the laws. And as he had lived wicked, so he seemed determined to die wicked,—for when he first was crucified he railed on our Lord.

And he was a dying man. He hung there, nailed to a cross, from which he was never to come down alive. He had no longer power to stir hand or foot. His hours were numbered. The grave was ready for him. There was but a step between him and death.

If ever there was a soul hovering on the brink of hell, it was the soul of this thief. If ever there was a case that seemed lost, gone, and past recovery, it was his. If ever there was a child of Adam whom the devil made sure of as his own, it was this man.

But see now what happened. He ceased to rail and blaspheme, as he had done at the first. He began to speak in another manner altogether. He turned to our blessed Lord in prayer. He prayed Jesus to ‘remember him when He came into His kingdom.’ He asked that his soul might be cared for, his sins pardoned, and himself thought of in another world. Truly this was a wonderful change.

And then mark what kind of answer he received. Some would have said he was too wicked a man to be saved. But it was not so. Some would have fancied it was too late, the door was shut, and there was no room for mercy. But it proved not too late at all.

The Lord Jesus returned him an immediate answer,—spoke kindly to him,—assured him he should be with Him that day in paradise,—pardoned him completely—cleansed him thoroughly from his sins—received him graciously—justified him freely—raised him from the gates of hell,—gave him a title to glory.

Of all the multitude of saved souls, none ever received so glorious an assurance of his own salvation, as did this penitent thief. Go over the whole list from Genesis to Revelation, and you will find none who had such words spoken to them as these, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

Reader, the Lord Jesus never gave so complete a proof of His power and will to save, as He did upon this occasion. In the day when He seemed most weak, He showed that he was a strong deliverer. In the hour when his body was racked with pain, He showed that He could feel tenderly for others. At the time when He Himself was dying, he conferred on a sinner eternal life.

Now have I not a right to say, “Jesus is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God through Him?” Behold the proof of it. If ever sinner was too far gone to be saved, it was this thief. Yet he was plucked as a brand from the fire.

Have I not a right to say. “Christ will receive any poor sinner who comes to Him with the prayer of faith, and cast out none?” Behold the proof of it. If ever there was one that seemed too bad to be received, this was the man. Yet the door of mercy was wide open even for him.

Have I not a right to say, “By grace ye may be saved through faith, not of works,—fear not, only believe?” Behold the proof of it. This thief was never baptized. He belonged to no visible church. He never received the Lord’s Supper. He never did any work for Christ. He never gave money to Christ’s cause,—But he had faith, and so he was saved.

Have I not a right to say, “The youngest faith will save a man’s soul, if it only be true?” Behold the proof of it. This man’s faith was only one day old, but it led him to Christ, and preserved him from hell.

Why then should any man or woman despair with such a passage as this in the Bible? Jesus is a physician who can cure hopeless cases. He can quicken dead souls, and call the things which be not as though they were.

Never should any man or woman despair! Jesus is still the same now that He was eighteen hundred years ago. The keys of death and hell are in His hand. When He opens none can shut.*

What though your sins be more in number than the hairs of your head? What though your evil habits have grown with your growth, and strengthened with your strength? What though you have hitherto hated good, and loved evil, all the days of your life?

These things are sad indeed; but there is hope even for you. Christ can heal you. Christ can cleanse you. Christ can raise you from your low estate. Heaven is not shut against you. Christ is able to admit you, if you will humbly commit your soul into His hands.

Reader, are your sins forgiven? If not, I set before you this day a full and free salvation. I invite you to follow the steps of the penitent thief,—come to Christ, and live. I tell you that Jesus is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. I tell you He can do everything that your soul requires. Though your sins be as scarlet, He can make them white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Why should you not be saved as well as another? Come unto Christ by faith, and live.

Reader, are you a true believer? If you are, you ought to glory in Christ. Glory not in your own faith, your own feelings, your own knowledge, your own prayers, your own amendment, your own diligence. Glory in nothing but Christ. Alas! the best of us knows but little of that merciful and mighty Saviour. We do not exalt Him and glory in Him enough. Let us pray that we may see more of the fulness there is in Him.

Reader, do you ever try to do good to others? If you do, remember to tell them about Christ. Tell the young, tell the poor, tell the aged, tell the ignorant, tell the sick, tell the dying,—tell them all about Christ. Tell them of His power, and tell them of His love. Tell them of His doings, and tell them of His feelings. Tell them of what He has done for the chief of sinners. Tell them what He is willing to do to the last day of time. Tell it them over and over again.

Never be tired of speaking of Christ. Say to them broadly and fully, freely and unconditionally, unreservedly and undoubtingly, ‘Come unto Christ as the penitent thief did,—come unto Christ, and you shall be saved.'”

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–J.C. Ryle, Living or Dead? A Series of Home Truths (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851), 258–265.

Nothing Helps! Here I Am Again! What Now?

SOURCE:  Dan Strickland/Living Free

“But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

“It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

“I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

“The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.” Romans 7:17-25 MSG


Perhaps you have an attitude problem: pride, jealousy, impatience. Or maybe you are struggling with a behavior that you know is wrong: gossip, anger, broken promises. Or perhaps an addiction has taken control: drinking, drugs, pornography.

Habits like these have several things in common: They hurt you. They hurt others. And you cannot overcome them by yourself.

Perhaps you have determined to change. For a while things were better and then you found yourself right back where you started. The above Scripture describes the struggle so well—even the apostle Paul fought the battle. But he also learned the answer: Jesus. Only through Jesus can we find complete freedom from life-destructive habits.

You might wonder why Jesus would be willing to help you after you’ve messed up again and again. The answer is that he loves you. Unconditionally.

Recovery is a process. Developing the habit took time, and overcoming it will too. But with Jesus’ help, you can do it.

Father, I was so determined not to fall into this sin again. But here I am. I know I can’t do this alone and thank you for being here. Help me to remember that recovery is a process and to keep my eyes on Jesus. In His name …

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These thoughts were drawn from …


Completely Free! A Group Study of Romans 1-8
by Dan Strickland.

God’s Broken Family

SOURCE:  Elisa Morgan

It’s tempting to freak out over the fact that our families are broken — to think that if we fix the issues of marriage, money, and faith, we’ll fix the future of our families, and voila! — all will be well. But in reality, broken families are not new. We all come from a broken family because God’s family is broken. The thing is, this isn’t the tragedy we assume. Broken is right where God wants us — and right where He can powerfully reassemble us.

In the beginning, God created man and woman. Adam and Eve were a family, a man and a woman evidencing the image of God in their beings and in their union. But before they even got around to making children, they fell and broke. The original family was a broken family — separated from the very heart of God.

The very first child was born into this broken, messy family.

In the space of the first five chapters of the Bible, man and woman became one, disobeyed God’s only prohibition, and gave birth to two sons, one of whom murdered the other. The result is that by Genesis 6, the inhabitants of the planet were those whose hearts were turned so wholly toward evil that God decided to start over again.

God’s heart broke over His broken family.

The second time around, the results were no better. God started again with one family — this time Noah’s. For forty days and forty nights they did okay together. But once the Flood ended, Noah and his sons lost their footing — and the downfall of the family continued.

  • At the request of his wife, who was impatient for a child, Father Abraham took their slave, Hagar, as his mistress and had an illegitimate heir.
    Jacob married one sister but actually loved — and also married — another.
  • David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband.
  • The prophet Hosea was betrayed by his unfaithful wife, Gomer, yet took her back.

In Scripture, we find families built with love and chastity and families formed from rape and sin. Children born from one father to mothers who were sisters. Children born out of adultery, through prostitution, and into polygamous marriages. Children born to people of humble means and then relinquished through adoption to rulers and royals. And because respect didn’t come naturally to His people, God had to tell them to honor their parents.

That’s just in the Old Testament. The New Testament begins with an unwed — though betrothed — pregnant teenager…

We all come from a broken family and then create another broken family, because all families are broken. Even God’s. In our brokenness, we are just where we need to be. Fractured. Messed up. Sinful. Needy. Redeemable.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Pain makes theologians of us all… Pain is one of the fastest routes to a no-frills encounter with the Holy.”1

There is beauty in the broken.

Our Creator God pants to bring His children into being, and then his heart tears in pain as we run, hide, and reject His love. Our Father God christens us sons and daughters and then releases us to our own stubborn ways but stands in the road, watching and waiting for us to return to Him. Our hereafter God dreams of redemption, when we are restored to His original purposes and put in pleasant places in relationship to Him and to each other.

Humankind is a broken, messy family. And we all come from this broken family. The family broke before it was even completely made. Just as my efforts fell short of fixing the breakage of my first and second families, our efforts will also miss the mark in making families whole and healthy in our broken world.

Think of it this way: If God’s family was and is broken, why do we think ours will be any different?

Isaiah 53 prophesies that healing for the broken will arrive through an unexpected channel: a broken Messiah. In Isaiah 53:2, the coming king is seen as less than lovely. Seemingly no “beauty in the broken” there.

He had no special beauty or form to make us notice Him; there was nothing in His appearance to make us desire Him.

My pastor, Robert Gelinas, compared the beauty of Jesus to that of Fiona in Shrek. There was beauty in the princess, but it wasn’t revealed until she became an ogre, revealing to Shrek and others her beauty from within.2

The beautification of brokenness appears as God’s despised man of sorrows takes our infirmities upon himself. Isaiah 53:5 underlines God’s provision for the broken heart, the broken soul, the broken human, and yes, the broken family.

But He was wounded for the wrong we did; He was crushed for the evil we did. The punishment, which made us well, was given to Him, and we are healed because of His wounds.

The word “wounded” in this verse actually refers to bruises — black and blue marks created by broken blood vessels.And the word “healed” comes from a root meaning “mended, repaired, thoroughly made whole — spiritually forgiven.”4 By His broken blood vessels that resulted in black and blue blotches we are made thoroughly whole.

Somewhere along my journey from my first broken family to my second broken family, I began to understand that the brokenness in my first family wasn’t my fault. God led me through the layers of shame and fear to convince me: I had no control over my parents’ choices. I didn’t run my father off. I didn’t force my mother to overdrink. Gently, God led me to the words of 1 John 4:18:

Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear. It is punishment that makes a person fear, so love is not made perfect in the person who fears.

I realized that I did not need to fear because Jesus had already endured any punishment I might face. We are healed because of His wounds.

Hear me well: the brokenness inflicted on you in your first family is not your fault.

The years passed and I mothered my second family. In spite of my imperfect, broken places, gradually I faced the reality that God did not evaluate my mothering by how perfectly or imperfectly my children developed. Rather, He expected me to address how I influenced my children by how yielded to His love for me and then acted it out in life. Period. He did not ask me to control their responses, their choices, or their consequences. I could throw my body over the potholes in their path, and they might or might not heed my warnings. I could not fix my family — my first family or my second — any more than I could fix myself. I was broken. They were broken. I was to offer myself to God and to allow Him to use my best, but still flawed, mothering to shape their development.

By His wounds we are healed.

While the brokenness you experienced in your first family is not your fault — remember that — there may be elements of brokenness in your first or second family that you are responsible for. If so, say so. It is up to you to take responsibility to right the wrongs and move toward healing. I’ve had to go to each of my children and my husband and confess my overparenting, my fear, my judgment, my inadequacy. At times the list of my failings has been so long that there was no gathering it up in my arms. I dragged it about behind me like a length of toilet paper stuck to my shoe. Humiliating, but necessary to notice and shake away.

Jesus alone has the power to heal the broken. Jesus alone has the power to save the lost. It’s by His wounds that we find healing. Broken families find healing as the broken people within them admit their brokenness and yield personally to God’s healing power. Rather than praying, “Make my family whole,” we pray, “Make me whole.”

When we are broken, we are exactly where God wants us.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. — Matthew 5:3 NIV

When we are broken we are bankrupt. When we are bankrupt we are dependent. When we are dependent we are done with ourselves and open to God.

Crazy thing here: we tend to view our fallings as grounds for disqualification from meaningful ministry, from lasting relationships, from worthy contributions to our world — when exactly the opposite is true. When we fall and then turn to God for the hope and help he alone offers us, we can actually become more qualified for fuller living. Our brokenness makes us more able to invest in the lives of those around us as we bring God’s healing of us to our relating to them.

Make your way through the pages of Scripture and you’ll see human after human used more mightily after a fall than before. Abraham. Moses. Rahab. David. Ruth. Jonah. Peter. Mark. Paul.

There’s no such thing as a perfect family. Yet hope emerges through understanding that the broken family is anything but an unredeemable reality. Compassion comes as we understand that all of us — every one of us — is birthed forth from God’s broken family. As we embrace our own need for mercy, we can extend grace to others. While vibrant and full of life, the healthy family of today is also gritty and real, a place where assembly and even reassembly is required. When we are broken, we are right where we need to be before God. And where we need to stay.

There is beauty in the broken.
————————————————————————————————
Excerpted from The Beauty of Broken by Elisa Morgan

Adultery: Will You Cleave and Leave Your Man?

SOURCE:  Noël Piper/Desiring God

Dear Wife,

Cleave is a strange word. It’s a contranym — a word that can have opposite meanings.

In an upper story of a concrete apartment block in a small Chinese city, I watched Rene wield her cleaver like a top chef, preparing vegetables for her family’s dinner. I was impressed how she positioned her fingers so they didn’t get chopped with the carrots. “Wow! I want some of those knives to take home as gifts,” I said. Rene pointed out the window toward a shop across the busy street. “You should be able to find them there.”

The name of one brand was Family Cleaver. It was easy to see how the difficulty of grasping a double meaning in English must have tripped up a Chinese translator. I was glad to discover a different brand with a happier name (that wouldn’t have implications of splitting a family apart).

On the opposite side of the word, there’s the other meaning of cleave, as it’s used in a time-honored wedding text: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24 KJV). Or as the ESV translates the same word, the husband shall “hold fast” to his wife.

Johnny Picked Me

At a small country church in middle Georgia, on a mild Saturday afternoon in December almost 49 years ago, we were married. We had waited two and a half years for this day. I still could hardly believe that Johnny Piper had chosen me, and that he wanted to spend his life with me just as much as I wanted to be with him.

I understood — as well as a person can at the beginning of the rest of her life — the happy, solemn weight of promising to be faithful to him until death parted us, no matter what challenges God might bring into our lives. It didn’t seem possible I would ever want anything else.

“Noël, do you take John to be your wedded husband to live together in holy matrimony? Do you promise to love him . . . and forsaking all others, be faithful only to him so long as you both shall live?” There was not a doubt in my mind or heart when I declared, “I do!”

How could I have known that the worse of “better or worse” would lead to a season of sleepless nights when I wondered how I could keep on? I felt desperate for something different. That’s the time in our marriage when I would have been most likely to turn to someone else. But thank God, it didn’t happen. He held us together. There were a few habits that helped.

Faithfulness to Johnny, through the years, from boyfriend to husband, meant:

  • Not flirting with other men.
  • Avoiding men who seemed too interested.
  • Not meeting alone with any other man.
  • Having regular devotions together with Johnny.

Faithfulness required more than four habits, but these four have been central and essential.

Hardest Habit

The last is the hardest, but most important. My appreciation for it began, as with many things, with my parents. It is amazing my parents stayed together. About twenty years into their marriage, their rampaging differences seemed about to rip them apart.

Through even the most difficult months — years, really — Daddy and Mother took us all to church every Sunday. And every evening of the week, one of us kids was sent to the front porch to holler down toward the pasture and out toward the woods, “Sto-o-ory and pra-a-yers ti-i-ime!”

After all nine of us kids (later we were ten) had tumbled into the living room from the barn and creek and kitchen, Daddy read the next passage in our years-long path through the whole Bible. Then we kneeled at our chairs and took turns praying.

I realize now how difficult that must have been for my parents. Often they must have felt like hypocrites, going through motions when they didn’t feel like worshiping or praying together.

Of course, it would have been ideal if they had come before God with whole and happy hearts. But it was better to come somehow than not at all. And God held them together until he brought their marriage through the tempest into peace, using his glue of faithfulness — his faithfulness to them, and their faithfulness to each other and to those family devotional traditions.

What Kind of Cleaver?

What did it boil down to during my darkest nights? I was saved from wandering by some form of this question: What kind of a cleaver am I? Am I the deadly implement who will split my family — with a husband and five children — into shreds? Because, with or without divorce, that is what unfaithfulness will do to us.

Or will I cleave to the husband God has given me? Will I cling to my marriage and pray desperately for something different? I chose to cling, and God is still proving his faithfulness. He will do the same for you.

How to Cope with Unexpected Change

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

When we are insecure, our first reaction to change is almost always negative. We resist change. This can be particularly true of veterans with a military past who have moved away, moved around, seen hard and difficult things, and then returned home again.

Resisting change seldom works because change is inevitable. It’s going to happen whether we like it or not. You can’t stop growth. You can’t stop change. Sometimes we resent it. And sometimes we just ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist and we resent it.

The older we get, the more we want security and anything that shakes our comfortable nest threatens us. We don’t like that. We don’t like things to be unpredictable. We don’t like things to change. We want to know exactly where it’s going. We want everything to be programmed, right in place. If anything comes up that is a surprise, we resent it, because it gives us that feeling of uncertainty. So we complain and criticize and we gripe and we grumble.

Change always produces stress. Even positive changes. Negative things like an illness or death, divorce, getting fired from your job, or uprooting your family to move to a new location cause stress. But even positive change causes stress: a wedding, a baby, a graduation, a promotion, a personal achievement. Any kind of change — positive or negative — can cause stress in your life.

We might begin to wonder, is there anything permanent in life? Yes, there is. Hebrews 13:8 says, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

While everything else is changing, he remains changeless. All that Jesus Christ was yesterday that we read about in the Bible, he is today. And all that he is today, he will be tomorrow. And Jesus Christ is already in your future. God is not limited by time. He’s past, present, and future. When you get in the future, he’s going to already be there. That’s comforting because I know whatever change I go through, he’s going to be there ahead of me.

You will never fear the future if you’ll remember and focus on three unchangeable facts about Christ, about God. If you’ll build your life on these three things, you’ll have no problem coping with change. You’ll have no problem dealing with the fear of the future. These things are unchanging. They never change. They’re immovable. They cannot be shaken.

1. God’s love for you will never change.

Jeremiah 31:3 says, I have loved you with an everlasting love. It is permanent, so you can build your life on it. God’s love for you will never change. When the winds of change are blowing everything away and everything’s being uprooted, we need little rocks that we can hold onto. The love of God is the first rock you hold onto when change comes.

2. God’s Word will never change.

God’s Word is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So you build your life on God’s Word. Psalm 1:19 says, For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.

The fact of the matter is, the Bible, God’s Word, has stood the test of time. It has managed to stay, in spite of all the cultural changes and all the differences for thousands of years. And it’s still relevant. It has been attacked by dictators, ridiculed by critics, burned, and outlawed. But it’s outlasted all those people. It is permanent.

3. God’s ultimate purpose will never, never change.

He has a plan. He is working it out. The fact of the matter is that God is at work in human history. He has an ultimate plan for the history of man. Success is discovering what God made me for — God’s plan for my life — and getting right in the center of it — living in harmony with God’s plan which never changes and God’s Word which never changes and God’s plan which never changes.

You cannot control your future, but you can put your trust in the things that are certain.

No Surprises

SOURCE:  Charles Swindoll

For more than three decades, Saul controlled his own life. His record in Judaism ranked second to none. On his way to make an even greater name for himself, the laser of God’s presence stopped him in his tracks, striking him blind. Like that group of shepherds faithfully watching their sheep years earlier on another significant night outside Jerusalem, Saul and his companions fell to the ground, stunned.

That’s what still happens today when calamity strikes.

You get the news in the middle of the night on the telephone, and you can’t move. As the policeman describes the head-on collision, you stand frozen in disbelief. After hearing the word “cancer,” you’re so shocked you can hardly walk out the doctor’s office doors. A friend once admitted to me that, after hearing his dreaded diagnosis, he stumbled to the men’s room, vomited, dropped to his knees, and sobbed uncontrollably.

Life’s unexpected jolts grip us with such fear we can scarcely go on.

For the first time in his proud, self-sustained life, Saul found himself a desperate dependent. Not only was he pinned to the ground, he was blind. His other senses were on alert and, to his amazement, he heard a voice from heaven say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul was convinced he had been persecuting people—cultic followers of a false Messiah. Instead, he discovered that the true object of his vile brutality was Christ Himself.

We live in a culture that regularly confuses humanity with deity. The lines get blurred. It’s the kind of sloppy theology that suggests God sits on the edge of heaven thinking, Wonder what they’ll do next. How absurd! God is omniscient—all-knowing. This implies, clearly, that God never learns anything, our sinful decisions and evil deeds notwithstanding. Nothing ever surprises Him. From the moment we’re conceived to the moment we die, we remain safely within the frame of His watchful gaze and His sovereign plan for us.

God never learns anything new He didn’t know about us. Nothing surprises Him.

— Charles R. Swindoll

You Don’t Have to Forget

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”

(Romans 8:28 NIV).

You’ve heard this phrase over and over: “Forgive and forget.”

There’s only one problem with it: You can’t do it. It’s impossible!

You really can’t forget a hurt in your life. In fact, you can’t even try to forget it. Because when you’re trying to forget, you are actually focusing on the very thing you want to forget.

Forgetting is not what God wants you to do. Instead, he wants you to trust him and see how he can bring good out of it. That’s more important than forgetting, because then you can thank God for the good that he brought out of it. You can’t thank God for things you forget.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

It doesn’t say that all things are good, because all things are not good. Cancer is not good. Disease is not good. Death is not good. Divorce is not good. War is not good. Rape and abuse are not good. There are a lot of things in life that are evil. Not everything that happens in this world is God’s will.

But God says he will work good out of the bad things in life if you will trust him. When you come to him and say, “God, I give you all the pieces of my life,” he will return peace for your pieces. He gives you peace in your heart that comes from knowing that even if you don’t understand the hurt in your life, you can still forgive, knowing that God will use that pain for good.

You don’t have to forget the wrong thing that someone did to you. You can’t do it even if you tried! But God says you don’t have to forget it. You just have to forgive and then see how he will bring good out of it.

Do Not Fear in the Face of Change

SOURCE:  Christina Fox/Desiring God

When you first have children, you quickly learn the importance of establishing a routine and some structure in their lives. Meal times and nap times are sacred. It’s always three stories before bed and Mr. Bear must lie next to the pillow, or life just isn’t right. Children thrive in a routine. And when things change, when anything changes, they are quick to let you know that they don’t like it.

The same is often true for us, as adults. We don’t like change either. We like things to be familiar and predictable. We like to know what to expect when we wake up each morning. But life is constantly changing.

Our kids seem to grow inches in a day. New gray hairs emerge every time we look in the mirror. The clothes we wore a year ago just don’t fit the way they used to. We lose jobs, relationships end, and churches transition or split. All while our society changes its values and mores as often as a preschooler changes into dress up clothes.

When such changes enter our life, it’s overwhelming, confusing, even terrifying. We can go to bed at night to one reality and wake up to a completely different life. Change can make us feel lost and abandoned, like we’ve been tossed overboard in the midst of a storm. We’re left reeling, trying to grab ahold of anything we can find that’s strong and stable. We’re tempted to run from change, as though we could ever escape it.

The God Who Never Changes

As we all encounter major changes in our individual lives, and as the world around us continues to change, we need a place to find hope. We need somewhere to stand when we wake up to news that a loved one has passed away, or our job is in jeopardy, or the last candidate we would want was elected into office. The truth is, there is one thing that never changes, the one thing that stays the same: our unchanging God.

The Bible tells us that God never changes. “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6). There is no transition, inconsistency, or change in this God. The same God who spun this massive blue marble into space is the same one who met Moses on Mount Sinai. The same God who forgave David for his adultery is the one who crushed his own Son when Christ became sin at the cross for us.

Yesterday, today, and forever he is the God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made” (Psalm 145:8–9).

The Truth That Never Changes

Because God never changes, his word never changes. All that he has said about himself remains true forever. Everything he has told us about why and how the world came to be, about what’s wrong with the world, and about what he has done to save the world will never change. No matter what anyone may say, no matter who denies or defies God’s word, it remains firmly fixed. “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

And because his word never changes, his promises for us remain true:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39)

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

Our Rock and Anchor

The unchanging nature of God and his unchangeable word are real things on which we can stake our life. It is a rock big enough and strong enough for us to build a house on it, and an anchor big enough and strong enough to hold our souls in the midst of life’s waves and storms.

Because of these truths, when everything in life seems flipped upside down, we can say with the psalmist, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Psalm 46:1–3).

Things will continue to change — in the world around us and in our lives. Some of those changes will feel like a tiny ripple, and others feel like a ten-foot wave. But no matter what changes we face, we need not fear. We need not hide. We need not despair. Our rock and anchor is our unchanging God, whose character and promises remain fixed forever.

7 Truths to Remember in Troubled Times

SOURCE:  Family Life/Dennis – Barbara Rainey

Concerned about economic, political, racial, and moral instability in our culture?  Disheartened by struggles in your personal life?  Here’s what to focus on when the ground shakes beneath your feet.

Years ago our family of eight and some dear friends of ours with their two kids vacationed in a small condo on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. It was a beautiful setting and a wonderful time for our families, but one night we were introduced to an experience that Southern Californians face regularly.

At 2 a.m. we awoke to a boom that made us think a truck had hit the building. Then we noticed that everything was shaking. We jumped out of bed and hurried to the living room where all our children were sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags. The chandelier over the dining room table was swinging.

It was an earthquake—not very large, but very unsettling. We felt disoriented and confused. We wondered how long it would last and what we should do. The earth is supposed to be steady and solid, and now it wasn’t. When it finally stopped we couldn’t go back to sleep for hours because our fears had been awakened and our security threatened.

Unsettling times

Does our experience describe how you have felt recently? Many Americans have felt shaken by economic instability, racial conflict, mass shootings, and terrorist threats in recent years. Even the current political races have left us feeling anxious, troubled, disoriented. We wonder what to do. We feel afraid as the ground shakes beneath our feet.

Many followers of Christ feel just as unsettled over the unprecedented transformation in the moral climate of our culture. The world’s views on human sexuality, especially, have changed so quickly that Christians are now labeled as bigots for holding to biblical standards. We don’t know how to act, what to say or not say.

And inside our individual homes, many may be feeling disoriented and disheartened because of illness, hardships, failed relationships, or recent deaths of friends or family. Like a friend of ours who just received a cancer diagnosis—her world has just been shaken. Perhaps your world has been shaken, too.

Our stability

A couple of years ago I (Barbara) was reading through the book of Isaiah, and I came across a passage I had never noticed before. Isaiah 33:5-6 says, “The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.”

I was struck by that phrase in the middle: “and he will be the stability of your times…” At the time our country was experiencing an economic downturn. Everyone in America was feeling the impact.

When life feels insecure and unstable—not just in the world outside but also inside your family—remember that God is ultimately in control. No matter what is happening around you or how unsteady the world feels, He is our sure and stable foundation.

In many ways, America has been a pretty stable country for the last few decades. But it may not continue to be. When you feel the ground shift beneath your feet, it’s good to remember that Jesus is your Rock and your Fortress. He will be the stability of your times.

Dealing with the hardships of life

Life will never be easy. We will always face problems and hardship. That would be true even if our culture felt more stable than it does today, for the Scriptures promise us, “In the world you shall have tribulation.”

So how will we deal with loss, with grief, with fear, with suffering? How do we respond when things don’t go our way? And how do we teach our children to face the hardships of life?

Christians today need to know more about God, more about ourselves, and more about the mission God has given us. Here are seven things to remember:

1. God is alive. He has not disappeared. He is eternal, all-powerful, and all-knowing, just as He has been from the beginning of time. As Isaiah 40:28 tells us, “… The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”

2. God never changes. Psalm 90 (KJV) begins, “Lord, Thou has been our dwelling place in all generations … even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” Inspired by these words, Isaac Watts wrote the following verses in the enduring hymn, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” They remind us that our fears, though circumstantially different than his in ages past, are still the same:

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

We all fear the loss of life, health, freedom, and peace. We fear the unknown future. But do you know who will be with us? Jesus, the One who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

3. God offers eternal life. If you have received Christ as your Lord and Savior, your sins have been forgiven because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. You are a child of God, and as Romans 8:38-39 tells us, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is encouraging.

4. God has won the battle. He has defeated death. History will culminate in Christ’s return. No matter what we experience in the world, we can find peace in Him. In John 16:33 Jesus tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

5. God is still in control. He is not surprised by anything going on in the world, or in your life. He is the sovereign, omnipotent King of kings. Even in times of uncertainty and chaos, Romans 8:28 (NASB) is still in force: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” So is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB), which tells us, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

6. God will provide for your needs. Especially in times of economic uncertainty it’s easy to grow anxious about the most basic things, like whether we will keep our jobs, or whether our families will have enough to eat. But in Matthew 6:26-33, Jesus tells us we should not be worried about what we eat, or what we will wear:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

7. God has given us good works to do. Jesus’ words also remind us that there is more to life than meeting our daily material needs. When we seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, we operate according to His priorities—we’re concerned about building our family relationships, and connecting the hearts of our children to God’s heart, and impacting future generations by proclaiming Christ. We’re concerned about God using us to reach and influence others with the gospel. That’s what life is really about.

Second Corinthians 5:20 tells us that we are ambassadors for Christ. Have you considered that your best opportunities to fulfill this role—to represent Christ and His Kingdom—may come in times like these when so many need help and encouragement?

Consider this: If you are feeling troubled by the instability in our world, then many of the people you encounter each day are concerned and fearful as well. What makes you different is that you have a firm foundation in Christ. This is an opportunity for you to shine. If you have built your home on the Rock (Matthew 7:24-27), you will remain unshaken. That in itself is a witness to the watching world that there is something different about Christians. And if you then reach out to help others who struggle without that foundation, that makes you rare indeed.

When life feels insecure and unstable, focus on these timeless truths. Read the never-changing Word of God with your spouse and to your children. No matter what troubles we are experiencing in our world and in our families, He is in control. He will not abandon us. He will provide for us. This may look different than you expect, but His promises have not expired in the 21st century.

GOD WILL STILL BE IN CHARGE (Tomorrow)

The Counseling Moment editor’s Note:  In the following article, author Max Lucado brings a solid and needed perspective concerning God’s perspective about and His sovereignty over the affairs of humankind — specifically the presidential election in November 2016.  At the same time, we can apply this understanding toward any aspect of life we face (or will face) that has any measure of uncertainty, confusion, and is troublesome to us.

SOURCE:  Max Lucado

Max Lucado: My Prediction for the Presidential Election

I have a prediction. I know exactly what November 9 will bring. Another day of God’s perfect sovereignty. He will still be in charge. His throne will still be occupied. He will still manage the affairs of the world. Never before has His providence depended on a king, president, or ruler. And it won’t on November 9, 2016. “The LORD can control a king’s mind as he controls a river; he can direct it as he pleases” (Proverbs 21:1 NCV).

On one occasion the Lord turned the heart of the King of Assyria so that he aided them in the construction of the Temple. On another occasion, he stirred the heart of Cyrus to release the Jews to return to Jerusalem.

Nebuchadnezzar was considered to be the mightiest king of his generation. But God humbled and put him in “detention” for seven years. “The kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations” (Psalms 22:28).

Understanding God’s sovereignty over the nations opens the door to peace. When we realize that God influences the hearts of all rulers, we can then choose to pray for them rather than fret about them. Rather than wring our hands we bend our knees, we select prayer over despair.

Jeremiah did this. He was the prophet to Israel during one of her darkest periods of rebellion. He was called “the weeping prophet” because he was one. He wept at the condition of the people and the depravity of their faith. He was so distraught that one of his books was entitled Lamentations. But then he considered the work of God. Note the intentionality of his words:

“This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:21-23)

Imitate Jeremiah. Lift up your eyes. Dare to believe that good things will happen. Dare to believe that God was speaking to us when he said: “In everything God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Many years ago, I spent a week visiting the interior of Brazil with a long-time missionary pilot. He flew a circuit of remote towns in a small plane that threatened to come undone at the slightest gust of wind. Wilbur and Orville had a sturdier aircraft.

I could not get comfortable. I kept thinking that the plane was going to crash in some Brazilian jungle and I’d be gobbled up by piranhas or swallowed by an anaconda.

I kept shifting around, looking down, and gripping my seat. (As if that would help.) Finally, the pilot had had enough of my squirming. He looked at me and shouted over the airplane noise. “We won’t face anything I can’t handle. You might as well trust me to fly the plane.”

Is God saying the same to you? If so, make this your prayer:

Dear Lord,

You are perfect. You could not be better than you are.

You are self-created. You exist because you choose to exist.

You are self-sustaining. No one helps you. No one gives you strength.

You are self-governing. Who can question your deeds? Who dares advise you?

You are correct. In every way. In every choice. You regret no decision.

You have never failed. Never! You cannot fail! You are God! You will accomplish
your plan.

You are happy. Eternally joyful. Endlessly content.

You are the king, supreme ruler, absolute monarch, overlord, and rajah of all history.

An arch of your eyebrow and a million angels will pivot and salute. Every throne is a footstool to yours. Every crown is papier–mâché to yours. No limitations, hesitations, questions, second thoughts, or backward glances. You consult no clock. You keep no calendar. You report to no one. You are in charge.

And I trust you.

Seven Things to Do After You Look at Pornography

SOURCE:  Paul Maxwell/Desiring God

A lot of Christian advice about porn addicts is unhelpful — meaning, it doesn’t contribute to real progress in repentance, healing, restoration, and recovery. Most of all, it fails to address the issues that underlie porn use. Often, Christian advice either has its head in the clouds of theology and biblical references, or is a list of superficial how-tos, and gets knocked beneath the sand of real life — of failure, and the struggle to hope.

How is the gospel relevant to failing and trying again? And failing and trying again? And failing and trying again?

We too often allow unattainable ideals to dictate what we allow ourselves to say — the issues we allow ourselves to address with the congregation, with the struggler, with the mirror. Are we allowed to talk about what Christ can do (and what we can do) right after pornographic indulgence? Or do we look to the clouds and hope for the best? “Why think about how God meets you in the midst of failure? You shouldn’t even be in an ‘after pornography’ situation.” But often many are and because God can and does act in the moment of regret.

It is often in the moment after the closed door, the darkness, the screen-light, the hidden act — after pornography indulgence — that Satan spins his most eloquent web: menacing patterns of thinking; bargaining with a disapproving and distant God; twisting us in on ourselves in self-hatred. It is in the moment after pornography indulgence that Satan does his finest work. It is in this moment that we need God to do his finest saving.

Here are some specific ways to search for grace the moment after the dark act of pornography indulgence:

1. Know your Enemy.

As soon as you indulge, you either plunge into self-hatred, or into self-avoidance.

Satan is satisfied either way.  Both paths believe his accusations (Matthew 16:23;2 Corinthians 7:10).

Recognize that you have a powerful personal agent who is singularly focused on your destruction (Job 1:7; Ephesians 2:2; Jude 1:19). Every experience you have — your thoughts, your hatreds, your impulses, your emotions, your plans, your ideas — must take into account that Satan is at work. The sooner you forget that, the easier it is to believe hidden, subversive, subtle, destructive lies. When Jesus tells the Pharisees that their father is the devil — the great liar — it is of course no surprise that they don’t know that. Satan wants them to forget that he is their father, because evil gains power when it is forgotten (John 8:44).

Don’t forget: After you indulge, you are still mid-battle with a tenacious, evil person bent on stealing your life, and he has not yet gotten it.

2. Fight self-hatred.

There is no question: Pornography is the twisted manipulation of innocence for the raw crave of erotic appetite. To have a grieved conscience is a good thing. But when Judas realized “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” it is not surprising that “he departed, and he went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:4–5).

It’s a common feeling: to want to punish ourselves for betraying the innocent. In twisting innocence, we twist ourselves. It is not a surprise that suicide rates are high among pornography users. “I’m not as good as Christian preachers and bloggers want me to be.” To warp human dignity, in the end, only warps the user more — psychologically deforming to self-hating; contorting into self-disgust. We abhor, criticize, despise, and detest ourselves. Wallowing in self-deprecation and feeling like paying penance to God for sin is a sad and ironclad torture. It is false, and it is a wicked oppression. But grace does have a word on this.

It is no wonder David uses such deeply physical metaphors when he pleads with God for grace over sexual sin: “blot out my transgressions,” “wash me,” “cleanse me,” “in sin did my mother conceive me,” “purge me,” “wash me” (again), “blot out my iniquities,” “create in me a clean heart.” (Psalm 51:1, 2, 5, 7, 9, 10). It’s a simple, roaring plea: “It’s in me. Get it OUT!” “Stop me.” “I hate it.” “I hate me.” “Bleach me.” God gives us a liturgy of sorrow and hope stretched out in the same howl. Fight, with David. Scream that, with David. Replace the groan of human self-hatred with an unbroken war cry of divine love.

If you are tempted to wallow, don’t let your (good) intuitive hatred of sin lead you to hate yourself. Be patient with yourself, because God is patient. He is fighting for your life (Genesis 32:24; John 10:10). He has not forgotten you. He has not left you. Keep fighting with him. Keep gasping for the air of divine life — the Life-Giving Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45).

3. Fight the haze.

Right after indulgence, a haze kicks in.  Jesus knows.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Purity is a feast on luminescent virtue. What is impurity? It is feasting that becomes self-isolated, avoiding of God and man and self, numbed, dazed, deadened, desensitized. Sexual impurity induces a spiritual cataract. Again, the feeling is common — browser history cleared, slogging through the rest of the day, lumbering from task to task, from person to person — meaningless, personless, passionless. This experience is integrated into the fabric of pornography indulgence.

There’s usually nothing to be done, if we’re honest, except ride the wave — the muddle, the daze. Keep praying (Ephesians 6:18). Keep gasping for air. Stay awake. Keep breathing. Morning mercies can be the emotional reset button we need when we spend our daily emotional cache on pornography (Lamentations 3:22–24). The lamenter is gasping. He prays what he cannot do. “The Lord is my portion . . . therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:24). Really? Will you hope in him? Prayer is an act of hope. The prayer is the lamenter’s portion of the Lord’s work. Keep taking a step forward. Keep taking a breath. Without repeated indulgence, the haze will eventually wear off.

4. Guard others.

Pornography is a training session in the skill of using others for personal pleasure. Just be aware that you are now inclined to use people in close relationship the same way you use those in pornography — with selfish motive, with neglectful attitude, unrepentantly.

Pornography puts relational blinders on us — it deeply impedes our ability to love others well. So, the best course of action is to walk as if we have physical blinders on: Tread slowly, and assume that we are currently very vulnerable and prone to treat those around us as subhuman. After indulgence, it is vital to keep in mind that those not on the screen deserve the respect and dignity that we just failed to show those on the screen.

Pornography soothes its users into a drama, a character, a story with a script and lines and actions: one person for pleasing, one person for being pleased; one person making sacrifices, another receiving sacrifices; one subhuman, one god. It takes self-control to remember that pornography is a false story — to fight the false drama which pornography gives to us, we must actively think less of ourselves and more of others: to remember human dignity, the love of Christ for those around us, our not-God-ness. The Spirit works in us to keep the flesh from ruling us (Galatians 5:17) — the Keeper protects others from the consequences of our thinking that we are God.

5. Confess to a friend.

Confess sin to a friend who will not excuse you, but equally as important, who will not crush you. Sometimes, when looking for help to get up after pornography indulgence (Proverbs 24:16), others only push back down. Find the friend that gives hope that heals when they hear confession. The purpose of confession is “that you may be healed” and “pray for one another” (James 5:16). Of course, the value of “the prayer of a righteous person” is that it “has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). Power to do what? To “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Confession to a friend (most appropriately, a same-gender friend) is not a barrier between the sinner and Christ, but a means of fixing brokenness. The wise sinner confesses to those who will not “crush the afflicted at the gate” (Proverbs 22:22) nor “call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Consider attending a regular Samson Society meeting in your area.

6. Use your clarity for good.

Yes, there might be a haze after indulgence. But there can also be a flood of clarity — the hindsight of regret.

“When Judas . . . saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind” (Matthew 27:3). Judas’s clarity took him down a wrong path. But you can use your clarity to get back on the right one. Likewise, Paul writes about Israel’s rebellion, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6). Sometimes, we desire evil anyway. And in that case, we serve as an example to ourselves.

As Piper might say, “Don’t waste your regret.” Use it for God’s glory and your joy. Set up boundaries. Use the clarity that will surely fade before the next moment of temptation to build structures that will prevent this again. Go back and forth all you’d like on what structures are dumb and ineffective, and which are sustainable preventative measures — the basic truth is this: If you don’t have any formal structures set up to prevent you from looking at pornography in the future, it will absolutely, with 100% certainty, happen again. If you have no structures, you have no place to be picky — choose something.

Here are some actions to choose from:

  • Get Covenant Eyes or X3Watch for all your devices.
  • Don’t let a single unaccountable browser app remain on your iPhone.
  • Delete in-browser apps that allow backdoor access to unaccountable internet use.
  • Get a friend to lock the app download function on your phone so that your native browser is not an option, and you can’t download Google Chrome (the Covenant Eyes/X3 app will function as the browser).
  • Delete pictures you have saved.
  • Tell a friend about the backdoors and cheat-codes you have in your back pocket. If you don’t plan at all, you’re planning to fail. Nowhere is this truer than in the practical fight against pornography indulgence.

7. Know your God.

Remember this: God loves you so, so much. He is unsettled by us (Genesis 6:6), and brokenhearted with us, and powerfully for you (Psalm 34:17–19).

The haze can block us from God: “The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand” (Psalm 92:6). But even when we cannot see him, even when we fail to obey him, let us pray: God, frustrate our plans to disobey (Nehemiah 4:15), and “no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). More than anything: “God, help us to cast all our anxieties on you, because you care for us” (1 Peter 5:6–7).

He does not abandon the sinner. He does not depart from the indulger. Wait in his love. “Build yourselves up . . . in the Holy Spirit”: “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 1:20–21). Know the difference between the God-mask Satan would wear to deceive you: disgusted, distant, unavailable, disinterested, and remember the face of your real God: loving, patient, working, unsurprised, unrelenting, unwavering in his grasp on you.

He won’t let you go.

Will I Be Single Forever?

SOURCE:  Stephen Witmer/Desiring God

I was single all through my twenties, and I enjoyed it a lot of the time. When I wanted a particular food for dinner, I ate it. When I wanted to take a week to hike a one-hundred-mile section of the Appalachian Trail, I hiked it. When I felt called to pursue graduate work in another country, I went. And there were other, less selfish benefits, including more time and energy for building deep friendships and fruitful ministry.

But, all in all, I found singleness pretty tough. There were seasons of terrible loneliness when I wondered if God would ever give me a lifelong companion. At times I was like a severed powerline, the voltage of unfulfilled longing causing me to thrash about in ways that hurt others. I was sometimes jealous of married friends. I did not always navigate singleness with grace, poise, deep faith, and steadfast joy. Instead, I blundered between enjoyment and regret, happiness and longing, purity and sin.

I wish someone had helped me understand, and then live, my singleness in the light of eternity. I think it would have helped me to enjoy a godlier, more productive, more contented life during those years.

A Stable Ground for Soaring Hope

Eternity changes everything, including our singleness. By “eternity” I mean the future new creation God describes in the Bible. This is a future beyond our wildest imaginings and most fervent hopes. It’s this present world renewed, restored, and remade into a perfect place with no more sin, suffering, brokenness, tears, pain, or death.

The new creation will be far better even than the original Eden, because 1) Jesus will be physically present there (Revelation 22:1) and 2) it will last forever, with its inhabitants never falling into sin — unlike Adam and Eve. In other words, the world’s perfect future will be better than its perfect past. Eden was lovely fragility. The new creation will be gorgeous stability. Eden was like an exquisite china bowl — beautiful but breakable. The new creation will be like the Alps — breathtaking and immovable.

We’re imperfect people living in an imperfect world, but this perfect future becomes our future when we’re united to a perfect Savior through faith. We can then be completely assured that this future is ours. In the Bible, that firm assurance is called “hope.”

Christian hope is the confidence that an amazingly good future is securely ours, and this hope changes the way we view our present. It strengthens and equips us in every life situation, including singleness. It heightens our restlessness for the new creation, and that restlessness makes us more content.

To Grow More Content, Get More Restless

One of the feelings I often experienced as a single person was lack of contentment. Even some of my most enjoyable adventures and sweetest experiences were shot through with a longing to share them with someone else.

A robust longing for eternity helps us with our discontentment by increasing our restlessness. That sounds like a contradiction, but it’s not. The apostle Paul was a tremendously restless person, one who said he strained forward and yearned for God’s final future (Philippians 3:13–14). And yet he also said that he had learned the secret of contentment in any circumstance (Philippians 4:12). The two are intimately related after all.

The reason we grow discontent in our singleness (or our job, or marriage, or car, or children, or anything else) is because that person or thing (whatever it is) looks so big and eternity looks so small. If you hold a coin close enough to your face, it will obscure an entire city skyline.

When our present circumstances look bigger than eternity, we have lost perspective. When we lose perspective, we tend to load too much of our contentment onto something never designed to bear the weight. We look to a spouse, a friend, a vacation, or an accomplishment to give us the happiness they never can.

Your Marital Status in Heaven

The problem with this way of living is that it leads to perpetual discontentment. If God gives us a better job but we’re still seeing our job as bigger, more important, and more meaningful than the new creation, we’ll either sacrifice everything to excel at it, or be destroyed if we lose it.

If we’re single and all we can see is our longing for a spouse rather than eternity with Christ, we’ll load down a God-sent spouse with the crushing weight of needy expectation, or become a resentful or cynical or broken-hearted single. A discontented single person will become a discontented spouse and then a discontented parent . . . until eternity breaks in and moves to the center.

God is more concerned with a change in our perspective than a change in our marital status. If eternity is at the center, and a husband or wife or child fails us — or if we don’t have the husband, wife, or children we’re longing for — it will be painful but we’ll be okay, because we know a perfect eternity is still ours. There’s ballast in our boat, and it will hold us steady through the disappointments, missed opportunities, and tragedies of this life.

The more restless we are for the new creation — the more our thoughts and emotions are captivated by it — the less we’ll be shaken by disappointment in this life and the more we’ll see every present blessing not as a final destination but as a signpost pointing toward eternity. The more restless we become, the more contented we are.

Perhaps if you’re a single person, your identity as a “single” has moved to the center of how you think about yourself. But it appears from Jesus’s teaching that in eternity we’ll all be single. There won’t be marriage in the new creation. What will define us forever will not be our marital status, but our enjoyment of the perfect presence of Christ.

That means a single person who loves Jesus is much more like a married person who loves Jesus than like a single person who doesn’t know him. We’ll know Jesus forever and be loved by him for eternity. This is way more central to our identity than our marital status. Don’t think of yourself as unwanted by any prospective spouses. Know yourself as loved forever by Jesus.

It’s likely that for many (not all) singles, there will be moments and seasons of loneliness and longing — times when it feels awkward to be the only single person at the table or the party. That was certainly my experience. But knowing our God and his final future for us plus knowing ourselves in light of that future can produce a profound contentment in our present.

Praying for a Breakthrough

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

A breakthrough is a military concept. When one army is able to weaken its enemy’s forces to the point of collapse, a breakthrough occurs allowing that army to invade and take its enemy’s territory.

But in war a breakthrough only really matters if it occurs at a strategic location. And the evidence that a location is strategic is almost always revealed by the amount of enemy forces amassed to protect it. An enemy led by skilled generals plans to ferociously protect what it prizes highly.

This means that an invading army can expect its attempt to achieve a breakthrough to be met by a barrier of fierce enemy opposition. Increasingly intense fighting always precedes strategic breakthroughs. Strategic ground is not yielded easily.

Our Breakthroughs Are Opposed by Powerful Forces

This is as true for spiritual warfare as it is for terrestrial warfare. In the spiritual realm, as opposed to the terrestrial, the church is an invading force. Though we can easily slip into a defensive, circle-the-wagons mindset, Jesus clearly intends for us to be aggressors, not merely defenders. The Great Commission is to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). In a world that “lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), that’s militant language. Our mission: to liberate those the devil has taken captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26).

But we must keep in mind that strategic ground is not yielded easily. Whether we’re battling for breakthroughs against our own stubborn sin or the unbelief of a loved one or breakthroughs in the missional advance of our local church, reaching unreached peoples, rescuing persecuted believers, orphans, sex slaves, or the unborn, we are up against “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We don’t know exactly what that means except that these forces are very strong.

Daniel’s Example

Daniel 10:12–14 gives us a brief glimpse of what’s happening. Daniel had been praying and partially fasting for 21 days to gain greater insight into the revelations he had received (Daniel 10:3) when an angelic being finally showed up with an answer to his prayers. This messenger said that he had been trying to get to Daniel for those 21 days, but had been detained by “the prince of the kingdom of Persia.” The chief angel Michael had to come and free him.

This experience of Daniel is an example to us. It’s not a formula that can simply be boiled down to pray and fast for 21 days and Michael will come help you overcome cosmic forces. But it is an example of what is taking place outside of our sight. God does not want us to know more about the angelic realm than what he has revealed in Scripture, otherwise Scripture would have revealed more. But he clearly wants us to know that there is more going on than we see so that we will pray to him and fast until he gives us an answer.

When God Moves, Satan Responds

The consistent pattern throughout the Bible is that every significant move of God is preceded by a season of increasingly difficult, discouraging opposition. And if we take Ephesians 6, Daniel 10, and other warfare texts seriously, we can understand why: God is invading what Satan considers his territory. God’s kingdom is breaking through the lines of the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13).

If we are not encountering opposition, it’s likely we are not attacking a strategic location. But if we are, we are on to something. Where the enemy is fortifying his forces is where we must focus our assault.

And where the enemy is fortified, there is going to be a fierce fight if we are going to achieve a breakthrough. We are going to receive volleys of flaming darts (Ephesians 6:16). We are going to be attacked on the rear. There will be spies in the camp. There will be jeering and intimidation and accusations. There will be efforts to destroy our morale and determination.

A Call for Breakthrough Determination

So this is a call for holy determination. Keep praying and don’t lose heart (Luke 18:1). Just like in any large-scale war, there are many battles. Some breakthroughs are achieved relatively quickly; others require long, persevering endurance. But either way, breakthroughs require a determination to keep up the assault.

Usually breakthroughs are not achieved by prayer alone — there are works to be done and courage to be exercised. But real spiritual breakthroughs are not achieved at all without prayer. Concentrated, specific, persistent, prevailing prayer, often engaged in by two or more (Matthew 18:19), is needed to weaken our spiritual opposition. And fasting is a wonderful help. “Fasting tests where the heart is. And when it reveals that the heart is with God and not the world, a mighty blow is struck against Satan” (A Hunger for God).

So if you’re praying for a breakthrough and not seeing it, and in fact experiencing more temptations to discouragement, frustration, weariness, doubt, and cynicism than before, do not give up. Increasingly intense fighting always precedes strategic breakthroughs. Strategic ground is not yielded easily. You’re up against more than you know. But “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). He has overcome the world (John 16:33) and he will give you justice (Luke 18:8).

Don’t lose heart. Grow determined. There’s a breakthrough ahead.

7 Values I’ve Discovered in Brokenness

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

During times of trials and difficulty we often forget – or we never even understand- the value of brokenness.

Yes, I just wrote the previous sentence. And, I stand behind it.

Not many people would choose to be burdened with heartache or disappointment, but the way God uses suffering for good is rarely realized until after the trial has passed – often years later.

This doesn’t mean the loss from suffering doesn’t still hurt. It often does. And, some pain – such as the loss of a loved one – never disappears completely. I’m not necessarily writing about this kind of brokenness. I’ve written about those type losses in other posts – although God works in those times for good also.

I’m talking in this post about brokenness from things like the loss of a job, personal failure, the breakup of a significant relationship. The kind of brokenness, where we often played a part or someone else made decisions or choices which hurt us deeply. The kind we try to run from, forget, or hide from other people. The kind of which we might be embarrassed and people pray for us more than we list them as a “prayer request” at church.

Upon reflection, we can see how God worked even through these darkest days of life.

I was reflecting recently on some of my own times of brokenness.

I discovered 7 values to brokenness:

Brokenness keeps one humble. Humility is highly honored by God and is an attractive quality to others. We would never ask for humility. There are no steps to rid our life of pride. Humble people have been humbled.

It teaches valuable life principles. Honestly, I have learned more from the hard times in my life than from the good. Again, these are not lessons we seek on our own, but experience – even and perhaps especially the hard experiences of life.

It brings repentance. I often forget how much I need forgiveness. Brokenness, especially when caused by my own actions, reminds me I am hopeless apart from His grace.

It encourages a fresh start.  Starting over is not always as bad as it seems. It could even be a blessing we may not have sought on our own, but looking back we are so glad it came.

It invites God’s grace. Brokenness brings me to my knees. As sin increases, grace increases all the more. I long more for God’s favor and His protection. It’s never a bad thing when my heart longs heavenward.

It illustrates humanity. Brokenness reminds me frail people share the commonality of life struggles. We are in this together – all in need of God’s mercy and grace. We live in a fallen world. The only hope is Jesus.

It welcomes the heart of God. Psalm 34:18 says, “God is close to the broken-hearted.” I’m so thankful for this truth!

Has your story been shaped by brokenness?

Allow the molding energies of God’s hand to craft His masterpiece in you as you yield to His ultimate plan for your life.

There is value in brokenness.

In Times of Suffering

SOURCE:  intouch.org/Charles F. Stanley

What do we do when the unthinkable happens? We have an innate desire that drives us to seek meaning and purpose in our circumstances. But how should we respond to suffering and pain when we don’t understand why God allowed it?

  1. Remember that you are a child of God and He’s watching over you.You may not understand His plan, but He knows exactly where you are and what He’s accomplishing in your life.
  2. Recall that the Lord is always with you. Even if you cannot feel His presence, the Lord will never leave or forsake you (Heb. 13:5).
  3. Acknowledge that God has allowed the situation for His divine purpose. Whatever has happened isn’t an accident, but a vital part of His plan for your life.
  4. Thank the Lord in the midst of the situation. Gratitude in everything is God’s will for you according to 1 Thessalonians 5:18. When your heart is receptive, the Lord will show you blessings for which you can be thankful even in times of trouble or pain.
  5. Remember Romans 8:28. “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
  6. Recall the Lord’s promises in 1 Peter 5:10. “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” This is the good work He’s purposed to do in your life through the trials you experience.

God is the only One who can help us come to terms with the unexpected difficulties we encounter. When faced with trials and troubles, His Word will guide us and provide the peace we need to adjust to our ever-changing circumstances.

What verses do you need to hide in your heart? Commit them to memory so you will be ready for the challenges ahead.

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This article is adapted from the Sermon Notes for Dr. Stanley’s message “When We Don’t Understand Why.”

The LORD, The LORD — OR — The Problem, The Problem?

SOURCE:  Max Lucado/Family Life

Your Best Thoughts Are God-Thoughts

When troubles come our way, we can be stressed and upset, or we can trust God.

You’ll never have a problem-free life. Ever.

You’ll never drift off to sleep on the wings of this thought: My, today came and went with no problems in the world. This headline will never appear in the paper: “We have only good news to report.”

You might be elected as president of Russia. You might discover a way to e-mail pizza and become a billionaire. You might be called out of the stands to pinch-hit when your team is down to its final out of the World Series, hit a home run, and have your face appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Pigs might fly.

A kangaroo might swim.

Men might surrender the remote control.

Women might quit buying purses.

It’s not likely. But it’s possible.

But a problem-free, no hassle, blue-sky existence of smooth sailing?

Don’t hold your breath.

Problems happen. They happen to rich people, sexy people, educated people, and sophisticated people. They happen to retired people, single people, spiritual people, and secular people.

All people have problems.

But not all people see problems the same way. Some people are overcome by problems. Others overcome problems. Some people are left bitter. Others are left better. Some people face their challenges with fear. Others with faith.

Caleb did.

In the wilderness
His story from the Old Testament stands out because his faith did. Forty five years earlier when Moses sent the 12 spies into Canaan, Caleb was among them. He and Joshua believed the land could be taken. But since the other 10 spies disagreed, the children of Israel ended up in the wilderness.

God, however, took note of Caleb’s courage. The man’s convictions were so striking that God paid him a compliment that would make a saint blush. “My servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly” (Numbers 14:24 NIV).  How would you like to have those words on your resume? What type of spirit catches the eye of God? What qualifies as a “different spirit?

Answers begin to emerge during the distribution of the lands west of the Jordan.

Then the children of Judah came to Joshua in Gilgal (Joshua 14:6). Every Hebrew tribe was represented. All the priests, soldiers, and people gathered near the tabernacle. Eleazar, the priest, had two urns, one containing the tribal names, the other with lists of land parcels. Yet before the people received their inheritance, a promise needed to be fulfilled.

I’m seeing a sturdy man with sinewy muscle. Caleb, gray headed and great hearted, steps forward. He has a spring in his step, a sparkle in his eye, and a promise to collect. “Joshua, remember what Moses told you and me at Kadesh Barnea?

Kadesh Barnea. The name stirred a 45-five-year-old memory in Joshua. It was from this camp that Moses heard two distinct reports.

All 12 men agreed on the value of the land. It flowed with milk and honey. All 12 agreed on the description of the people and the cities. Large and fortified. But only Joshua and Caleb believed the land could be overtaken.

Read carefully the words that Caleb spoke to Joshua at the end of the military campaign (Joshua 14:6-12). See if you can spot what was different about Caleb’s spirit.

Caleb … said to [Joshua]: “You know the word which the LORD said to Moses the man of God concerning you and me in Kadesh Barnea. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as it was in my heart. Nevertheless my brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt, but I wholly followed the LORD my God. So Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land where your foot has trodden shall be your inheritance and your children’s forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.’ And now, behold the LORD has kept me alive, as He said, these forty-five years, ever since the LORD spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, eighty-five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in. Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the LORD will be with me; and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said.

What name appears and reappears in Caleb’s words? The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. Nine references to the Lord! Who was on Caleb’s mind? Who was in Caleb’s heart? What caused him to have a different spirit? He centered his mind on the Lord.

What about you? What emphasis would a transcript of your thoughts reveal? The Lord? Or the problem, the problem, the problem, the problem? The economy, the economy? The jerk, the jerk?

Promised Land people do not deny the presence of problems. Canaan is fraught with giants and Jerichos. It does no good to pretend it is not. Servants like Caleb aren’t naïve, but they immerse their minds in God-thoughts.

Good water and battery acid
Imagine two cooking bowls. One contains fresh, clean water. The second contains battery acid. Take an apple and cut it in half. Place one half of the apple in the bowl of clean water. Place the other half in the bowl of battery acid. Leave each in its respective bowl for five minutes, and then pull out the two halves. Which one will you want to eat?

Your mind is the apple. God is good water. Problems are battery acid. If you marinate your mind in your problems, they will eventually corrode and corrupt your thoughts. But thoughts of God will preserve and refresh your attitudes. Caleb was different because he soaked his mind in God.

The psalmist showed us how to do this. He asked, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? (Psalm 42:5). He was sad and discouraged. The struggles of life threatened to pull him under and take another victim. But at just the right time, the writer made this decision: “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him … I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, and from the heights of Hermon, from the Hill Mizar (verses 5-6).

There is a resolve in those words. “I shall yet … I will remember You. The writer made a deliberate decision to treat his downcast soul with thoughts of God. Everywhere I go, I will remember you—from Jordan to Hermon to Mizar.

In your case the verse would read, “From the ICU to the cemetery, to the unemployment line, to the courtroom, I will remember you.

There is nothing easy about this. Troubles pounce on us like rain in a thunderstorm. Finding God amid the billows will demand every bit of discipline you can muster. But the result is worth the strain. Besides, do you really want to meditate on your misery? Will reciting your problems turn you into a better person? No. But changing your mind-set will.

Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed (John 14:27, AMP).  Instead, immerse your mind in God-thoughts.

When troubles come our way, we can be stressed and upset, or we can trust God. Caleb could have cursed God. He didn’t deserve the wilderness. He had to put his dreams on hold for four decades. Still he didn’t complain or grow sour. When the time came for him to inherit his property, he stepped forward with a God-drenched mind to receive it.

Set your minds and keep them set on what is above (the higher things) (Col.  3:2 AMP). When giants are in the land, when doubts swarm your mind, turn your thoughts to God. Your best thoughts are God-thoughts.

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Taken from Glory Days by Max Lucado, copyright © 2015 by Max Lucado.

 

Your Shattered Dreams and Shaken Faith

SOURCE:  Vaneetha Rendall/Desiring God

Sometimes my faith is shaken when my dreams are shattered.

I wonder where God is in the midst of my suffering. I cannot sense his presence. I feel alone and afraid. My faith wavers.

I question what I have long believed. I wonder what is real, especially when my experience doesn’t match my expectations.

This wavering deeply troubles me. I have tasted God’s goodness, enjoyed close fellowship with him, rested in his tender care. I have known both his power and his love. Yet in the midst of profound struggle, I have no answers. Just questions.

John the Baptist understood this struggle as he waited in prison. He, above all men, knew who Jesus was. Even in the womb, he leapt for joy in the presence of the unborn Savior. At the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, before any of his miracles, John declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He baptized Jesus and saw God’s Spirit descend on him, testifying that he indeed was the Son of God.

And yet, at the height of Jesus’s ministry, John sent word to him from prison, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2–3).

At one point, John was sure that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus further confirmed his divinity by performing miracles, yet now John was wondering what was true.

Why?

Unfulfilled Expectations

John knew from Scripture that he who gave the blind sight, made the lame walk, and preached good news to the poor could surely “open the prison of those who were bound” as prophesied in Isaiah 61:1. But Jesus didn’t do that for John.

So perhaps at this point, John doubted what he knew. If Jesus was indeed the Messiah, John probably expected to have a role in his earthly kingdom. He wouldn’t have expected to start with such a high calling, preparing the way of the Lord in the wilderness, only to end his life and his ministry in a small prison cell. Besides, John preached that the Messiah would come with an unquenchable fire. With judgment. With power. He likely expected that to be in his lifetime.

None of those expectations coincided with reality. And that may have caused John to doubt. Unfulfilled expectations often elicit that response in me. Especially when I’ve been faithful.

Jesus doesn’t condemn John for his doubts. He even says that no one greater than John has ever lived. He understands why John is asking the question. And Jesus’s response to him reinforces what John already knows: that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

At the same time, Jesus knows that John’s public ministry is over. Just like the saints in Hebrews 11, John wouldn’t receive all God’s promises but could only greet them from afar. He would not serve with Jesus or see the fulfillment of God’s kingdom. But one day he would. One day he would see his glorious part in God’s magnificent plan. He, the last of the old covenant prophets, would see how God used him to prepare the world to receive Jesus.

And John would rejoice.

But for now, John has to accept the Messiah’s plans for his life. Plans that are different than what he envisioned. He has to dwell on what he knows to be true rather than fixate on his circumstances. He has to remember who God is and trust him from a dark prison.

And so it is with me.

When Your Plans Crumble

When my plans crumble and God takes me away from my dreams, I must trust in God’s infinite wisdom. When my cup of suffering seems too much to bear, I need to rest in his immeasurable love. When my life spins out of control, I need to remember God’s absolute sovereignty.

I may not understand what is happening. But I cannot stop talking to him. Or turn away in fear. I must simply go to Jesus and tell him my doubts. Ask him to help me see.

John’s doubts are the same as mine. I wonder if God is who he says he is. And if everything is under his control. And if he truly loves me.

And when I doubt, God calls me, as he did John, to trust what I know to be true. To trust the bedrock principles that I know from Scripture and from experience. That God is completely sovereign. And loving. And wise. Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from his will.

In this life, I may never see how God is using my trials. But one day I will be grateful for them. All I can do now is trust that he who made the lame walk and the blind see, who died on a cross so I could spend eternity with him, is going to do the very best thing for me.

It all comes down to trust. Will I trust my circumstances that constantly change? Or will I trust God who is unchanging?

On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.

5 Things NOT to do in Times of Crisis

SOURCE: Taken from an article by  Ron Edmondson

Here are 5 things NOT to do in times of crisis:

Panic. The word panic means “a sudden overwhelming fear, with or without cause, that produces hysterical or irrational behavior” (Dictionary.com) If you panic when crisis occurs you’ll almost always make bad decisions and cause yourself more pain. Calm down, come to your senses, and
think and pray so you can make wise decisions.

Quit. When I was in a business that was struggling the worst reaction to my situation, which was the one I chose most often, was to run from the problem. I would disappear for hours. Looking back, it never solved anything. Reflecting on those days I wish I had stayed the course, because when I gave up, so did those I was supposed to be leading.

Blame. This includes kicking yourself for being in the crisis. Figuring out who is at fault when you are in crisis-mode is probably not as important as figuring out what to do next. There will be time to analyze later — and that should happen — but don’t become paralyzed with it now.

Refuse Help. I have learned by experience — sometimes when God is allowing a crisis to occur He is also stirring people to intercede on behalf of the suffering. It’s amazing how it happens. He may have prepared someone else, through their own season of crisis, intentionally so they can help others — people like you. Don’t deny someone their opportunity to be obedient to what God calls them to do, even if it means swallowing your pride, raising the white flag of surrender and letting them help.

Deny God. People (including pastors and leaders) either run towards God or away from God in times of crisis. You can probably figure out which option works best. This is a time to pray like never before and learn to fully rely on God. He’s never taken off guard or by surprise. He always has a plan. It’s always good. Lean into Him.

When It Appears God Isn’t At Work

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by N.T. Wright/Relevant Magazine

What God’s work in our lives actually looks like.

It seems like we don’t see God moving today as clearly as we see in the Bible. Why do you think that is?

I think part of our problem here is that when we read the Bible, we read it with long hindsight. We look and we say, “Oh yeah, there’s God rescuing His people from Egypt.” Well, yes, that is dramatic and that happened, but then, in the Psalms, the poets are saying, “Has God forgotten us? Has He forgotten to be gracious? Has He abandoned us? It’s been a long time now.”

The great book of Isaiah, promised a great new moment when God would come in person and would become king. And yet, it was 500 years before Jesus came. During those 500 years, many wise Jews pondered and prayed and struggled. Other people said, “Oh, it’s just a load of old mythology. It’s never going to happen.” But they kept on praying and waiting and finally, this explosive thing happened, which we call Jesus.

It seems to me that’s often the way for us, too. We wait and pray and it looks as though nothing’s going on, and then to our surprise, something suddenly happens and we think, “Oh my goodness! That is what I was praying for, but I didn’t know it was going to look like this!” That is the characteristic experience, both in the Jewish world we see in the Psalms and the prophets, and in the Christian world.

In my pastoral experience, working with many people in many different contexts, the idea of “Well, that happened then, but it doesn’t seem to be working for us,” that is a characteristic sense. Then quite suddenly, out of the blue, so it seems, God will do a new thing, and people say “Oh my goodness, that’s extraordinary. How did that happen?” The answer is: that’s what we’ve been waiting for and praying for, only we didn’t know it was going to look like that.

So what do you say to people who are in a rough period and they’re waiting for something to happen and it just isn’t coming?

In that period of waiting, it’s like when you sow a seed in the ground in the fall, in the autumn, and you want to be impatient. You want to say, “I planted the seed, I want something to grow straight away, please.” But you have to wait through the winter.

During the winter, it isn’t that nothing is happening, it’s that the seed is germinating out of sight underground. It needs to be there. In the spring, when the new shoots happen, it looks sudden to us, because we haven’t seen anything going on until then, but actually, stuff has been going on underground.

Again and again, God works underground in our lives, in our imaginations, in our personal circumstances and in the wider world, and then suddenly something new happens, a new project, a new moment in our lives, and we’re astonished at it. T.S. Elliot had that wonderful poem that’s part of his four quartets where he says, “Wait without thought, for you are not yet ready for thought.” In other words, don’t even try to figure out what’s going on. If God has kept you in the dark at the moment, it may be because you have to go through a winter season in order that the spring, when it comes, will find those new plants well rooted and well bedded in.

That’s very difficult, because the darkness looks just dark. But that’s where we cling onto the teaching and promise of Jesus. Jesus taught those parables about seeds growing secretly and so on precisely in order that people could latch onto the promise that even when it looks dark, looks as though nothing is happening, God is at work and the seeds will indeed produce fruit at the right time.

What do you think about praying for healing? Some people pray directly for healing while others just pray for God’s will to be done. Is there a best way to pray in those situations?

One of the things the New Testament talks about in terms of the work of the Holy Spirit is the gift of discernment, of knowing what to pray for. Because sometimes, if somebody is dying and is clearly sick, sometimes it’s actually cruel to say, “I believe God is going to heal this person right now.” Because actually, this may be their time to go.

Sometimes, then, you pray for a good death, rather than to be saved this minute from death. We are all going to die, and it would be silly if we all tried to imagine that even when somebody is a good old age, etc, that God still wants to bring them back from death one more time.

However, at the same time, there are many occasions when somebody has been given up by the medical profession—the doctors just say “There is no hope, this person will be dead within two or three days”—and sometimes through prayer, that situation can be radically turned around.

We have a case in my own family: a niece of mine, my sister’s daughter, who, when she was 6 years old, was given up for dead with double kidney failure. They reckoned she would be dead within a day or two. That girl is now in her mid 30s, she has been a missionary teacher in India, she’s a lovely Christian girl, because there were people around the world praying for her. Astonishingly, the doctors to this day don’t know how her kidneys got better, but they did.

If you’re in ministry, you will constantly meet people who have stories like that to tell. Equally, I know plenty of people for whom similar prayers have been made and who haven’t been healed. That remains a mystery. We do not have a clue to that mystery. That’s why, in Romans 8, one of the crucial, most important chapters in the Bible, St. Paul says we don’t know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit groans within us with inarticulate groanings, and God listens to what the Spirit is saying.

In other words, when we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then somehow, God is praying within us for the pain around us. Even though we don’t know what we should pray for, if we are waiting upon God and being patient and learning to pray, then somehow, that prayer will bring about new creation even if it isn’t in the form we instantly want.

It’s important that we wrestle with that question, rather than just pushing it one way and saying, “We must always pray and God will always do what we want.” Or saying, “Well, it’s probably not going to happen, so let’s just pray ‘Thy will be done.’” We can collapse into one of those two directions, and it seems to me that the path of wisdom is to hold on in the middle even though that’s uncomfortable. It teaches us patience and humility—and the Gospel is really all about learning patience and humility in the presence of God.

Enslaved to Porn: Why I Returned Again and Again to Pornography

SOURCE:  Biblical Counseling Coalition/Luke Gilkerson

During a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973, robbers held several hostages for six long days. During this time a curious thing began to happen: the hostages began to show signs of sympathy for their captors. Even after the ordeal was over, one of the hostages later became good friends with one of the robbers.

The criminologist assigned to help police with the case coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome.” While there is considerable discussion surrounding the exact nature of this phenomenon, there have been several reported cases of the syndrome; some hostages seem to form powerful emotional attachments to their victimizers as an internal defense mechanism.

Israel Longs for Egypt

By way of analogy, we can see Stockholm-like symptoms in the attitudes of the Israelites during their wilderness years. Only weeks after they watched God open the Red Sea, they were murmuring against God when they ran out of provisions. They thought about their life back in Egypt—the bread, the pots of meat (Exodus 16:1-3)—nothing like the scorching wilderness. Even after the revelation of God at Sinai, they said, “Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:1-4).

Wasn’t this the same group of people who groaned because of their slavery (Exodus 2:23)? Why, instead of remembering the cruelty of Egypt—the task masters, the heavy burdens, the centuries of toil making bricks under the hot sun, the ruthless slaughter of their children—did they remember pots of meat?

My Longing for Porn

I have been just as guilty of the same lunacy when it comes to my own habitual sins—like my love affair with pornography. Yes, in my sober moments I could see the ugliness of porn for what it was. But there were many times I rushed back to porn like a dog to its vomit. In the moment of indulgence, I was blind to the shame and oppressiveness of my addiction—or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I saw the shame of it, but it somehow seemed less ugly to me.

Something in me wanted to be addicted, wanted the slavery. Over the years, I’ve pondered why this is, and here are my observations…

Who Do You Trust?

God made Israel many promises of deliverance. If they trusted God, He would bring them out of slavery into a land of blessing. But “the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Hebrews 4:2).

That generation died in the wilderness because they did not trust in God.

It wasn’t that Egypt was better than the wilderness; rather, trusting the Egyptian slave masters was somehow easier than trusting God. Sure, Egypt was a cruel place, but at least it was a predictable place.

For me, it wasn’t that slavery to porn was all that desirable, but it was easier for me than trusting God. Sure, I knew the cruelty of the slave master’s rod, but at least in front of my computer screen he delivered predictable rations. In the wilderness of trust, however, I would be asked to die to my selfish demands and enter the unpredictability of following God’s Spirit.

In order to finally overcome my addiction to porn, I needed to confess my sin of unbelief.

Trusting God on My Way to the Promised Land

When I felt totally inadequate and rejected in life, it was easy to long for the “pots of meat” offered by pornography. There, in that fantasy world, I was never rejected. But God was calling me to repent of needing the approval of others, pursue His glory above all (1 Corinthians 10:31), and anticipate the glory He promises to those who trust Him (John 5:44). His approval is far better than the approval of women made of pixels on a screen.

When I was felt pathetically lonely, sitting at home while all my friends were out on dates with their beautiful wives, I longed for the rations porn would deliver, the temporary illusion of intimacy. But God was calling me to the trust Him as I entered the risk of godly intimacy with a real person. God can and will take all my relationships—even my failed ones—and use them to conform me to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).

There were nights I felt genuinely angry at God for not giving me the spouse I so clearly “deserved” and the life I so desperately wanted. I would run back to the slavery of Egypt as my way of throwing a tantrum at God for not catering to my desires. “Fine, God, you won’t give me what I want. I’ll take it however I can get it.” But like a loving Father, God called me to stop acting like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:29-31), acting like God “owed” me something. In the wilderness, God taught me that He does not relate to His children this way. As a Father, He knows me better than I know myself. He knows exactly what blessings are best for me in His perfect timing. And like a loving Father, He spoke tenderly into my spirit, saying, “Everything I have is yours.”

Longing for the Promised Land

The only thing that cures a longing for Egypt is a longing for the Promised Land. I need to begin believing that what God offers me, even in the unpredictability of following Him, was far better than the false promises of porn.

I know until I get to that land, Egypt will still be in my blood. I still bear the scars of my former slave master’s whips. In my foggiest moment I will naturally be drawn to the memory of the pots of meat. But God feeds me with the heavenly manna of Christ’s broken body. He has given me a taste for milk and honey. And He has given me traveling companions that constantly remind me that we are on our way home.

A PRAYER FOR BROKEN HEARTS, CRUSHED SPIRITS, AND WEARY FRIENDS

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

Ps. 34:18

     Dear Lord Jesus, there’s no Savior like you—none so merciful and kind, present and loving. The brokenhearted don’t need to “buck up” and be brave when they see you coming. The crushed in spirit don’t need to pull themselves together, as though you would be greatly disappointed to find us less than conquerors.

     We praise you that the gospel frees us from posing and pretending, spinning and hyping. Jesus, you have no need for us to be anything other than we actually are. You are nearer than the next breath to those who are in need of fresh grace. That’s why we bring a wide array of weary friends, including ourselves, to you today.

     Jesus, we pray for friends struggling with dashed hopes and unfulfilled longings. Whether the dream was for a loving marriage, emotionally healthy kids, the “good-health gene,” or a longer career, you meet us right where we are, no matter what the disappointment is. Show us how to encourage our friends, without minimizing their pain. May your grace prove to be sufficient, and our friendship helpful, over the long haul.

     Jesus, we pray for weary friends serving on church staffs or in vocational ministry. Many of them wake up today disillusioned, depleted, and despondent. Though all of us are targets of spiritual warfare, those who labor in the gospel bear unique challenges. Show us how to wrestle in prayer for our friends, and to encourage them in practical ways.

     Jesus, keep our betrayed friends from bitterness, our wayward friends from disaster, and our depressed friends from harmful non-solutions.

     Jesus, for those of us who don’t feel crushed in spirit but rather feel disconnected in spirit, help us sort through the issues. Show us what is repent-able and what is repairable; and bring quiet to our noisy hearts so we can hear you speak. Convince us, yet again, that we need your presence much, much more than we need circumstances and people to change.

     Jesus, today and every day, we declare that our hope is built on nothing else, nothing less, and nothing more, than you and your finished work on our behalf. So very Amen we pray, in your near and compassionate name.

Temptation: Don’t Believe The LIE!

SOURCE:  Living Free/David E. Longacre

“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT

Once in the proximity of sexual temptation, the will to resist is low. The Borg on the science fiction Star Trek TV series claim that “resistance is futile.” When we are in certain situations, we might feel that resistance to temptation really is futile.

But it isn’t.

For Christians, resistance to temptation is NEVER futile.

In the above scripture, we are promised that others have had the same temptations … that God won’t allow more than we can stand … and that he always provides a way out.

  • Don’t believe the lie that you are the only one who has ever had this temptation.
  • Don’t believe the lie that it is more than you can bear.
  • Don’t believe the lie that there is no way out.

God’s promise tells us that resistance is NOT futile!

We can escape temptation, but we cannot fight the battle alone. We need to first turn to Jesus—appeal to his mercy and grace—before we can resist even the urge to fulfill sinful desires.

It all circles back to Jesus. He is calling us to obedience, and he promises to give us the strength to do what he is telling us to do. If we will trust him and put him first in our lives, he will always give us the desire and power to do what pleases him.

Lord, thank you for your assurance that my situation is not hopeless. I know that with your help I can overcome—and I really do want to overcome. Show me the way out. Help me to walk in obedience. In Jesus’ name …

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These thoughts were drawn from Crossroads: Choosing the Road to Sexual Purity by David E. Longacre.

“He lives to heal the broken-hearted”

SOURCE:  J.C. Ryle/Tolle Lege

“Our Lord Jesus Christ never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His heart is still as compassionate as when He was upon earth.

His sympathy with sufferers is still as strong. Let us bear this in mind, and take comfort in it. There is no friend or comforter who can be compared to Christ.

In all our days of darkness, which must needs be many, let us first turn for consolation to Jesus the Son of God. He will never fail us, never disappoint us, never refuse to take interest in our sorrows.

He lives, who made the widow’s heart sing for joy in the gate of Nain.

He lives, to receive all laboring and heavy-laden ones, if they will only come to Him by faith.

He lives, to heal the broken-hearted, and be a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.

And He lives to do greater things than these one day.

He lives to come again to His people, that they may weep no more at all, and that all tears may be wiped from their eyes.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1879), 1: 209-210. Ryle is commenting on Luke 7:11-17.

Hanging on to Faith When the Miracle Doesn’t Come

SOURCE:  Karen Woodall/InTouch Ministry

Sundown

The sun sank low on the horizon beyond the hill out behind our house. As the blazing orange orb melted into the distance, red, pink, and purple clouds seemed to ascend into a deepening blue sky. As I paused to behold the glorious display, a story that I’d recently read in the book of Joshua came to mind.

A lesser-known miracle recorded in chapter 10 (vv. 1-14) occurs during Israel’s battle with the Amorites. The writer of Joshua tells us that five kings of the surrounding area planned to attack the Gibeonites because they had signed a treaty with Israel. Coming to the defense of their new ally, Joshua and the Israelite army executed a surprise attack on the camp of their common enemies.

In verse 8, God assured Joshua of the outcome, saying, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands; not one of them shall stand before you.” Not surprisingly, Israel beat the Amorites and drove them from the city. But, as the Israelite army pursued the Amorites to seal their victory, the sun began to set. Seeing this, Joshua prayed a bold prayer, “O Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and O moon, in the Valley of Aijalon” (v. 12). And the amazing thing is, the sun actually stood still in the sky!

I love that story because it’s a dramatic picture of our miracle-working God responding to bold prayers of faith that are centered on His promises.

But as I stood there in the overgrown grass surrounding our house observing that evening’s sunset, it occurred to me that sometimes—maybe a lot of times—believers trust, pray, and believe as best as they know how, and the sun doesn’t stop in the sky. Even while clinging to the last scrap of faith, daylight disappears and is soon replaced by the long shadows of night.

It’s difficult to find answers that satisfy during times when our desires go unfulfilled, our prayers appear to be unanswered, and hope and confidence seem hard to find. I won’t attempt to gloss over real pain and frustration with fluffy platitudes and easy fix-all solutions that do little to repair dreams dashed into pieces on the ground.

What I will say is this: You can still trust God.

That doesn’t mean that if you hang on long enough, you’ll always get what you are hoping for, because the reality of our fallen world is that sometimes miracles don’t come according to our timetable. Or they don’t look like we thought they would when they finally arrive. But no matter what happens, our trust should never be placed in external circumstances. We must anchor our hope in God who, by His very nature, is trustworthy.

Beyond any doubt, the Lord has already proven His love and care for you in a tangible and concrete way. Romans 5:8 says it like this: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” You don’t have to lean on warm feelings, or on skewed assessments of what, in our view, seems to be the best outcome. The cross is an objective and enduring exhibition of the love of God. On that, you can place your full trust without question.

I do not know why some miracles come in such grand fashion, nor do I understand why so many times the sun silently sinks away.

What I do know is that even when the light retreats and night falls, with its all-encompassing blackness, you can still believe in the unending love and compassion of our God. When the sun sets, and disappointment settles over you like an evening mist, you can still choose to hang on to your trust in Him. And when, in the face of sorrow and heartbreak, you do remain faithful, perhaps it’s then the Lord will set ablaze His greatest miracle deep within your heart to ultimately shine brighter than the sun.

“Your sun will no longer set nor will your moon wane;

for you will have the Lord for an everlasting light,

and the days of your mourning will be over.”

Isaiah 60:20

 

Ever Accuse God of Being ABSENT or UNLOVING?

SOURCE:  Adapted from Paul Tripp Ministries

Have you ever accused God of being absent?

Have you ever criticized the Lord for being unloving?

I would like to think that I’ve always trusted in God’s omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, and eternal, unshakeable love. After all, these are things I’ve been taught since my earliest days Sunday School!

But I’m deeply persuaded that many “theologically sound” Christians actually doubt the presence and love of God. Why do I think that? Because God says we do! Take Isaiah 59:1, for example:“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear.”

Let me give you the quick context of this verse. Israel is suffering big time, and whether they say it audibly with their mouths or grumble silently in their hearts, they have accused God of two things: first, being powerless in their time of need, and second, being unmoved by their cries for help.

You and I are much like the Israelites. When life isn’t working out according to our plan, or when we’re suffering in some way, it’s very tempting for us to bring God into the court of our judgement and question his faithfulness, wisdom and love. That’s what Israel was doing – they were questioning the character of God.

I wish I could write to you today and say that at all times, I trust in the sovereignty of God and the nature of his love. While I have experienced his power and love on many occasions, I have to be honest with you: when the comfort and ease of life is interrupted, I wrestle with who God actually claims to be. I know I’m not alone in my struggle.

There’s a deep danger with this type of doubt: you no longer pursue someone you no longer trust. Think about it. Would you continue to invest in a company if you knew the CEO was corrupt and stealing from the investors? Would you continue to visit a fraudulent “doctor” who had faked his licenses? Would you continue to hire a babysitter convicted of repeated crimes?

You see, when you allow your heart to begin to question God’s goodness, even in subtle ways, you’ll quit pursuing him. That’s exactly what happened with Israel – they thought that God wasn’t strong enough to intervene (his hand is too short) and that he didn’t love his children enough (his ear is dull to their cries) to rescue them from the difficulty.

What Israel didn’t understand, however, was that the grace of God will visit in uncomfortable forms. Difficulty in your life is not a sign that God’s hand is too short, nor is it a sign that his ears are too dull. Rather, it’s a sign of his love. God will wrap his arms around you and bring you through difficulty to increase your faith and increase your love for him.

7 Things to Remember About Healing From Past Pain and Tragedy

SOURCE:  Teryn O’Brien/Relevant Magazine

Healing after tragedy strikes is a long, hard process. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re going through it.

At the beginning of this year, I was still grieving the alleged murder of one of my dearest friends, and I was feeling hopeless that I could ever find peace and healing again in life. My creativity and passion for life had shriveled up, and my heart was completely numb.

At some point, all of us will feel the impact of tragedy—whether it’s pain from our past that gets brought back up, the death of a loved one, or even just the onslaught of horrific events around the world that we hear about on a daily basis.

Over the summer—after a month-long illness, meaningful counseling sessions, and many intense times with God—He worked healing in my heart in some incredible ways. Here are some things I learned about healing from past pain and tragedy:

1. It’s OK to Stop Doing Something That’s Hindering Healing, Even if People Expect You to Do It.

This summer, I took a break from blogging because I was only feeling obligated to do it. There was no real passion or joy left. I felt guilty about that, but when I stopped, I felt so much relief. As soon as I gave myself some space, I was able to really focus in on some important things—like healing and writing a book. Over the summer, my joy has come back. I even started missing blogging a little.

2. Slowing Down and Resting is Really Important.

God really spoke to me during my month plus of illness, and it’s because I had ample time to listen.

This summer, I got sick for over a month, which ruined nearly all my summer plans. While it makes me sad that I didn’t get to go on some of my expected adventures, the illness forced me to slow down. I couldn’t even concentrate, my head hurt so badly some days. So I did nothing. I read (when my head didn’t hurt). I wrote (when my head didn’t hurt). I processed. I healed emotionally, physically and spiritually. God really spoke to me during my month plus of illness, and it’s because I had ample time to listen.

3. Sometimes, You Just Have to Let Yourself Feel All the Emotions.

At the beginning of the year, I was trying really hard not to feel anything. My heart was numb. Well, the dam broke this summer, and I was feeling things so intensely for a while that I thought I might be going crazy. Every day was up or down. I’d be so angry one day and then so full of joy the next.

But through all that, I was able to process some very buried emotions that needed to come out. I detoxed from past wounds that had poisoned me for years. My heart cleared and cleansed, and I settled down, and I found peace. But it only came by being completely emotionally honest, which is always scary, because it feels so out of control.

4. You Never Realize You’re Healing Until You Look Back and See How Far You’ve Come.

Needless to say, when I started the summer, I was in a really bad place. I didn’t think I could ever heal. Gradually, a change has come. I can feel it in the beat of the rain and the whispers of the wind. Something changed this summer. I softened. My hardened heart softened.

Healing takes time. It’s easy to look at myself and see all my faults and how imperfect I still am. But then I think back to a year ago, and I realize that I have grown. It’s been up and down and backwards and forwards and sideways, but yes, the growth is there.

5. Forgiveness is Vital to the Survival of Any Pain or Tragedy.

Through my healing process, I learned to choose forgiveness over bitterness, cynicism and hatred. I forgave. It’s been a hard, hard battle in my heart, but now that I’ve made the choice, I feel so much lighter.

Forgiveness helps you release the stifling control of the past; it drops away from you like a stifling cloak so you can move and breath and dance once more. Forgiveness doesn’t make you forget the past, but it changes the way you relate to the past. It’s a process, and it will probably never stop. Now that I know it’s truly important, I’m willing to choose it again and again, over and over, for the rest of my life.

Forgiveness doesn’t make you forget the past, but it changes the way you relate to the past.

6. Love Never Fails.

I’ve realized that love is worth it—even if you’re hurt in the process, even if the world thinks you’re strange to love, even if you lose those you love.

It’s not violence that frees us. It’s not war or vengeance or hatred. It’s not being more clever or cruel or calculating than the people around you. It’s love. I want to be a loving person. I want to give, even if the world takes and never says thank you. Love heals our broken hearts.

7. There is Always Beauty, Even in the Darkness.

This world is often so dark and painful. It seems like so much unrest and war and hatred is spilling all over. But there’s so much beauty, too. It comes in the smallest ways—when the sunset strikes clouds blossoming with red, when you share laughter with friends over a silly inside joke, when you take a small step toward reaching out to love another. It’s all beautiful. Let’s fight for that beauty in the way we live our lives.

The road to healing is never easy, and I will assure you that these lessons are very difficult to learn. I’m not sugarcoating the painful agony of love, forgiveness and healing. Learning these lessons is the hardest thing anyone will ever do, and it will take a lifetime of practice.

But I’m here to tell you—it’s worth it.

—————————————————————————————————————

Teryn O’Brien works in marketing at Penguin Random House, LLC, and has written for ChurchLeaders.com and various other online magazines. She blogs about brokenness redeemed in the light of God’s greater story at terynobrien.com and is writing a fantasy fiction trilogy. Follow her on Twitter at@TerynOBrien.

What If the Worst Happens?

SOURCE: Vaneetha Rendall/Desiring God

I found myself growing fearful. Not a heart-stopping, all-encompassing fear, but the kind of constant gnawing that occurs when you look at the discouraging trends of the present and assume things will never change. When you think about the future and wonder, “What if the worst happens?”

What if.

I’ve spent a lifetime considering the “what ifs.” Those questions have a way of unsettling me, destroying my peace, leaving me insecure.

People in the Bible were uneasy about “what if” questions, too. When told to lead the Israelites, Moses asked God, “What if they don’t believe me?” Abraham’s servant asked about Isaac’s future wife, “What if the young woman refuses to come with me?” Joseph’s brothers asked, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us?” All of them wondered what would happen if circumstances went awry. Just like we do.

We all face a staggering array of “what ifs.” Some are minor issues while others have life-altering repercussions. What if my child dies? What if I get cancer? What if my spouse leaves me?

The uncomfortable truth is, any of those things could happen. No one is free from tragedy or pain. There are no guarantees of an easy life. For any of us. Ever.

I was considering this sobering reality a few months ago. Over the course of several days, I had brought numerous longings and requests before the Lord. I wanted them fulfilled. But the unthinkable question haunted me: What if my inmost longings are never met and my nightmares come true?

As I sat poring over my Bible, I was reminded of the questions I had wrestled with for decades. “Is God enough? If my deepest fears are realized, will he still be sufficient?” Each time those questions had come up in the past, I’d pushed them out of my mind. But this time, I knew I needed to face them.

I wondered: If my health spirals downward and I end up in an institution, will God be enough? If my children rebel and never walk closely with the Lord, will God be enough? If I never remarry and never feel loved by a man again, will God be enough? If my ministry doesn’t flourish and I never see fruit from it, will God be enough? If my suffering continues and I never see the purpose in it, will God be enough? I wish I could have automatically said, “Yes, of course God will be sufficient.” But I struggled. I didn’t want to give up my dreams, surrender those things that were dear to me, relinquish what I felt entitled to.

I reflected on my unilateral unwritten contract with God, where I promise to do my part if he fulfills my longings. I reluctantly admitted that part of my desire to be faithful was rooted in my expectation of a payback. Didn’t God owe me something?

Reluctantly, I opened my hands, filled with my dreams, and surrendered them to him. I didn’t want to love God for what he could do for me. I wanted to love God for who he is. To worship him because he is worthy.

God’s presence overwhelmed me as I relinquished my expectations. He reminded me that I have something far better than a reassurance that my dreaded “what ifs” won’t happen. I have the assurance that even if they do happen, he will be there in the midst of them. He will carry me. He will comfort me. He will tenderly care for me. God doesn’t promise us a trouble-free life. But he does promise that he will be there in the midst of our sorrows.

“God doesn’t promise us a trouble-free life.”

In the Bible, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not guaranteed deliverance. Just before Nebuchadnezzar delivered them to the fire, they offered some of the most courageous words ever spoken. “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it . . . But even if he does not, we want you to know that we will not serve your gods . . . ” (Daniel 3:17–18).

Even if.

Even if the worst happens, God’s grace is sufficient. Those three young men faced the fire without fear because they knew that whatever the outcome, it would ultimately be for their good and for God’s glory. They did not ask “what if” the worst happened. They were satisfied knowing that “even if” the worst happened, God would take care of them.

Even if.

Those two simple words have taken the fear out of life. Replacing “what if” with “even if” is one of the most liberating exchanges we can ever make. We trade our irrational fears of an uncertain future for the loving assurance of an unchanging God.We see that even if the worst happens, God will carry us. He will still be good. And he will never leave us.

“Even if the worst happens, God will carry us.”

Habakkuk models this exchange beautifully. Though he had pleaded with God to save his people, he closes his book with this exquisite “even if” . . .

Even if the fig tree does not bloom and the vines have no grapes,
even if the olive tree fails to produce
and the fields yield no food,
even if the sheep pen is empty
and the stalls have no cattle—

Even then,

I will be happy with the Lord.
I will truly find joy in God, who saves me. (Habakkuk 3:17–18)

Amen.

HE is God on the Mountain AND in the Valley

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors [AACC]

On The Mountain, and In The Valley

As you walk through the valley of the unknown, you will find the footprints of Jesus both in front of you and beside you. -Charles Stanley

The man who gazes upon and contemplates day by day the face of the Lord Jesus Christ, and who has caught the glow of the reality that the Lord is not a theory but an indwelling power and force in his life, is as a mirror reflecting the glory of the Lord. -Alan Redpath

Moses knew what it meant to be on the mountain top.

Exodus 24 records that “Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days… Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights” (Exodus 24:15-18 ESV) experiencing the presence and glory of God.

Moses also knew the anguish of the valley.

He came down off of the mountain carrying the two tablets that God had given him – “The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.” (Exodus 32:16), only to find that the children of Israel had “made for themselves a golden calf, worshipped it… and sacrificed to it” (Exodus 32:8 ESV)

Moses was so distraught and enraged that he “threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.” (Exodus 32:19 ESV)

“Mountain tops” and “valleys.” Have you experienced the glory and presence of the Lord in one instant, only to turn the page and battle sin and brokenness? Anger…lust… fear… pain of loss… worry… anxiety. And you find yourself questioning the validity of the work that God had begun to write in your life, and on your heart.

What I love though about the story, is how God not only spoke to Moses on the mountain top, but He also spoke to him in the valley, telling him how to deal with the pain and problems he had encountered (Exodus 32:33, 33:1&5).

He is God… on the mountain. And He is God, in the valley.

Notice what Moses does next. He first dealt with the issues of sin and idolatry (rather harshly I might add – 3000 men died) (Exodus 32:28).

He then “rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone.” On the top of the mountain, “the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there.” (Exodus 34:4-5 ESV)

God then proclaims His glorious nature to Moses;

The Lord, the Lord…

A God merciful and gracious…

Slow to anger…

Abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…

Forgiving iniquity… and transgression, and sin…

“And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshipped.” (Exodus 34:8 ESV)

What’s interesting is that after experiencing the presence of the Lord, and worshipping, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai… he did not know that his face shone because he had been talking with God.” (Exodus 34:29 ESV)

This reminds me of the passage in Acts 4 where the religious leaders “saw the boldness of Peter and John and, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13 ESV)

If you haven’t noticed, the connection here is the presence of God.

Because of Christ, the Hebrews writer encourages us to “then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 ESV)

Practice being in the presence of God every day. It brings cleansing… and healing… and it will draw you to worship. His presence brings light to your darkness… hope to your anguish, glory to your valley.

That will turn your life around.

No Matter What: God “IS”

Source:  tollelege

“Let this sink in” by John Piper

“Does not our heart burn when we hear God say, ‘My name is, I AM WHO I AM?’

The absoluteness of God’s existence enthralls the mind: God’s never beginning, never-ending, never becoming, never improving, simply and absolutely there—to be dealt with on His terms or not at all.

Let this sink in: God—the God who holds you in being this very moment—never had a beginning. Ponder it. Do you remember the first time you thought about this as a child or young teenager? Let that speechless wonder rise.

God never had a beginning! ‘I AM’ has sent me to you. And one who never had a beginning, but always was and is and will be, defines all things. Whether we want Him to be there or not, He is there. We do not negotiate what we want for reality.

God defines reality. When we come into existence, we stand before a God who made us and owns us. We have absolutely no choice in this matter. We do not choose to be. And when we are, we do not choose that God be.

No ranting and raving, no sophisticated doubt or skepticism, has any effect on the existence of God. He simply and absolutely is. ‘Tell them I AM has sent you.’ If we don’t like it, we can change, to our joy, or we can resist, to our destruction.

But one thing remains absolutely unassailed: God is. He was there before we came. He will be there after we are gone. And therefore what matters in life above all things is this God. We cannot escape the simple and obvious truth that God must be the main thing in life.

Life has to do with God because all the universe has to do with God, and the universe has to do with God because every atom and every emotion and every soul of every angelic, demonic, and human being belongs to God, who absolutely is.

He created all that is, He sustains everything in being, He directs the course of all events, because ‘from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever’ (Rom. 11:36). May God inflame in you a passion for His centrality and supremacy in your life.

May it be so that when you are dead and gone the people you love and serve will say, ‘This one knew God. This one loved God and lived for the glory of God and showed us God day after day. This one, as the apostle said, was filled with all the fullness of God’ (Eph. 3:19).”

–John Piper, Calvin and His Passion For The Majesty of God, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009), 12-13.

Lord, Thank Heavens, “You’re Not”

SOURCE:  Paul Tripp Ministries

 

You’re Not

When I’m
Weary and exhausted
You’re not.

When I’m
Confused and discouraged
You’re not.

When I’m
Fickle and unfaithful
You’re not.

When I’m
Doubtful and disheartened
You’re not.

When I’m
Fearful and anxious
You’re not.

When I’m
Short-sighted and fearful
You’re not.

When I’m
Tired and about to quit
You’re not.

When I’m
Lacking in hope and love
You’re not.

When I’m
Shocked and surprised
You’re not.

When I’m
Angrily withholding grace
You’re not.

When I’m
Unfaithful to what I’ve promised
You’re not.

When I’m
Selfish and disloyal
You’re not.

Oh, Lord of
Faithfulness and grace
I am so thankful
That
In those moments
When I’m
Losing my way
You’re not.

Prayer: St. Patrick’s Breastplate — A Shield for Divine Protection

SOURCE:  Encyclopaedia Britannica/OurCatholicPrayers.com

[Taken from the prayer of St. Patrick:  St. Patrick’s Breastplate — A Shield for Divine Protection]

The first of the Prayers of St. Patrick

As I arise today,
may the strength of God pilot me,
the power of God uphold me,
the wisdom of God guide me.
May the eye of God look before me,
the ear of God hear me,
the word of God speak for me.
May the hand of God protect me,
the way of God lie before me,
the shield of God defend me,
the host of God save me.

The second of the Prayers of St. Patrick

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger

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