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Archive for the ‘God’s Goodness’ Category

Where Is God When Things Keep Getting Worse?

SOURCE:  Vaneetha Rendall Risner

Life can be achingly difficult.

It has been for me. Many times, I’ve thought life was finally getting better, only to find out I was wrong. It was just the calm before the next devastating storm. Nothing was better. In fact, life became even harder.

I grew afraid to even hope again. Because hoping just brought more pain. I wondered where God was when things kept getting worse.

I buried my precious son when he was two months old because the doctors made a mistake. Six years later, I was diagnosed with postpolio syndrome, a debilitating condition that will eventually require that I have full-time care, unable to do the simplest things for myself. And then six years after my horrifying diagnosis, my husband left our family, moved away, and later filed for divorce.

Those years are still a blur to me. Just as I was coming to terms with one calamity, the next one came raging through. I wondered how I could handle yet another blow.

Afraid and Alone

That’s why I’m drawn to the story of Joseph. He knew what crushing disappointment felt like. He grew up as the favorite son of his father, but was later betrayed by his brothers and sold as a slave in Egypt. Soon he rose to a position of trust in Potiphar’s house until his master’s wife falsely accused him of attempted rape because he refused to sleep with her. Joseph was thrown into prison where he remained for years, waiting and wondering if he would ever be delivered.

Joseph must have felt afraid and alone, uncertain of what the future might hold. I definitely did. So, how did Joseph make it through those years and emerge with a stronger faith? Why did he not give up, determined never to hope again?

Joseph suffered well amidst staggering disappointment because he knew God was for him and with him in the darkest places.

God with Us

Four times in Genesis 39, both in Potiphar’s house and in prison, we read that the Lord was with Joseph (Genesis 39:2–32123). While God later delivered Joseph in an astonishing way, the beauty of Joseph’s story to me is not in the miraculous deliverance, but in God’s constant and faithful care of Joseph when his life was bleak.

God never left Joseph’s side. Joseph knew that God was with him, and he was consistently blessed with God’s presence and favor, even when his prayers for deliverance went unanswered for years.

I remember years of crying out to God, thinking my faith would get back on track when life got back to normal. But as the pain grew more intense, I realized I needed to find God in the present, and not wait for my circumstances to improve. God wanted me to find him sufficient in the midst of trouble rather than just demanding that he deliver me from it.

And I found God more than sufficient as I met with him daily in Scripture and in prayer. His word became exceedingly precious to me. It brought light to my darkness. It became life to me.

How Does My Story End?

It was in his word that I learned to trust that he loved me (1 John 4:10). That he would give me what I needed every day (Lamentations 3:22–23). Just like Joseph, I learned that God is always for me (Psalm 56:9), and always with me (Hebrews 13:5), and that nothing can separate me from his love (Romans 8:39). Through his word, God gave me an undeniable sense of his presence, just as he did with Joseph.

But my story seems to diverge from Joseph’s. Suddenly and miraculously, Joseph was completely delivered. He was freed from prison, his brothers were humbled and repentant, and he was awarded unprecedented power. He could say to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). While he went through great pain and disappointment, in the end Joseph’s story is tied with a bow — a beautiful, inspiring, faith-building bow.

But will all our disappointments get tied up with a bow? Does God mean everything for my good? Some of my losses cannot or will not be reversed in this life, and I have seen faithful friends die without being rescued. How do I reconcile that?

God Is Preparing You

As I return to the Bible, I see that because of heaven, my future is indeed guaranteed. Just as with Joseph, nothing can keep me from God’s best. Every one of Joseph’s disappointments was essential in bringing about God’s magnificent plan — a plan for Joseph’s good, the good of his people, and for the glory of God.

Each of my disappointments has been necessary. If they were not, God would not have brought them. From Joseph, I have learned to trust that every time I suffer loss, God is preparing me for something greater.

For some of us, God may be preparing for us earthly blessings and influence, like Joseph. But for every follower of Christ, God is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory that is “beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). I am convinced that the losses that appear unrestored and unredeemed on earth will yield the greatest reward in heaven.

Where is God when things keep getting worse? He is with us. And he is always for us. And one day we will see how he has used our pain and losses to accomplish far more than we could ask or imagine.

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The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering

Would a Loving God Wound Me?

SOURCE:  Greg Morse/Desiring God

Of the few things I recall from my short season attending the church, the message covering the wall remains the strongest: “Prepare to meet your God.”

It was the big “E” on the eye chart; to not notice it confirmed blindness. Even when one did not wish to see it, the command stared at you.

With every distraction from the sermon it spoke — Prepare to meet your God. When attention began to drift in prayer, it found me — Prepare to meet your God. I prayed harder, sang louder, and listened better because of that inescapable command ever surveying as a watchman from his tower.

Agonizing Invitations

I also remember the day I gathered the nerve to look up the ominous words. Amos 4:12, the wall told me. I began in verse 6, where the Lord spoke these words to his people:

“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest . . . yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” (Amos 4:6–12)

Prepare to meet your God. This was not a call to worship for a Sunday service. It was a terrifying summons for an adulterous people to brace themselves to meet their jealous Husband in judgment. Yet this alone did not trouble me. All that God did before the severe warning also shook me.

“God will not leave us to perish. When we wander toward cliffs, he corrals us with his rod back toward heaven.”

Did you catch them?

God desired for Israel to return to him, so what did he do? He gave them cleanness of teeth (meaning he starved them); he withheld rain from them, tanking their food supply and economy; he destroyed their vineyards; he spread diseases among them; he killed young soldiers, repossessed their warhorses, and decimated their forces; he ordained for flames to overtake cities. God afflicted them in order that they should turn and seek him.

They refused. And since none of these trials brought the people to him, he would go to the people. “Prepare to meet your God.”

Fiercer Than We Expect

Is this picture incompatible with the God you worship? The God who, out of love for you, will harm you in order to save you? A love that will cut, break, and cause you to bleed — like an expert surgeon — in order to heal you? How many pews, I wondered, would have emptied if the verse crawled from the wall into the pulpit?

Many are content with God’s love consisting in only tender kindness and unbroken gentleness. They wish for his love to be wholly devoted to their immediate happiness — however they choose to seek it. Tenderness seems to be the unimpeachable disposition some imagine of God. Tender toward our dreams. Tender toward our desires. Tender toward our bank accounts and sins. This “god of love” takes no miracle of grace to adore; the atheist doesn’t mind this God.

Yet God’s love, as found in the Bible, is a fire that consumes dross, a chisel that molds into his own perfection, an eternal embrace that chokes out all rivals, a sharp scalpel intended to give real life and strong happiness far beyond the grave. This love has greater aims than our comfort, our health, or our safety — in this life. This love is fiercer and deeper than we often assume, better and stronger than we often want. This love can harm us, and this love can kill us.

He Scourges Those He Loves

God’s love does not orbit around our felt needs. He has our best, not our easiest, in mind. His love — dangerous, jealous, possessive — is the love that will consistently wound us to save us.

Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:5–6)

“Chastises” here can be translated “scourges” or “whips.” It is something to endure. Something unpleasant and rather painful. Something we wouldn’t sign up for. Something we’re tempted to despise. Something that doesn’t feel tender, gentle, or loving in the moment. But his whippings are just that. Look at the text.

He strikes those he loves and harms every son whom he receives. He doesn’t discipline Satan’s children, only his own (Hebrews 12:8). These undesirable corrections, these marks of adoption, bring us to “share his holiness” and enjoy that “peaceful fruit of righteousness” leading to eternal life (Hebrews 12:10–11).

His love has sharp edges — not to destroy us, but to sever us from all that threatens to. Instead of what we often perceive to be the stormings of our angry God, proof of his disgust with us, these corrections are, in fact, the unlikely evidences of his love. As Calvin put it,

It is an inestimable consolation — that the punishments by which our sins are chastened are evidences, not of God’s anger for our destruction, but rather of his paternal love, and are at the same time of assistance towards our salvation, for God is angry with us as his sons, whom he will not leave to perish.

He will not leave us to perish. When we wander toward cliffs, he corrals us with his rod back toward heaven. What feels to be the glory of the “god of love” — being left to our own way — is, in reality, his wrath, which bears the refrain: “God gave them up . . . gave them up . . . gave them up” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28).

Even Death Can Be Love?

That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. . . . But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:30, 32)

God’s love does not sit by quietly, contentedly, while we wander off into destruction. It does not stand by and watch his bride play the whore. It finds us. Redeems us. Washes us. Transforms us. Disciplines us. And sometimes it kills us.

Such love came unrequested to some Corinthians. They began to eat the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. They did not examine themselves. They ate and drank judgment. How did God respond? “That is why,” the apostle explains, “many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” Some were sick due to God’s discipline. Some were weak. Others died. Funerals were held because of God’s discipling his church.

Why would we be disciplined, even unto death? “So that we may not be condemned along with the world.” There is something worse even than death. God’s love sometimes stops our breath to save our souls. This love, unlike our puddle-deep assumptions, is an ocean, raging and beautiful. If God loved us like we love us, we would be lost.

To Be Loved by God

Oh, the fearsome, wonderful love of God. This God is so serious about having his own that he will starve them now to feed them forever, kill them now to keep them forever. His enemies may call him a monster, but his saints sing, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you” (Psalm 63:3).

To be loved by God is to be made holy, to be dressed for heaven, fitted for eternity, brought through the howling wilderness of this world, across the raging river Jordan, and secured within the Promised Land of a new creation. This love will not spare us the bumps, bruises, and bleedings to ready us for his presence.

To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because he is what he is, his love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because he already loves us he must labor to make us lovable. (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 41)

“God’s love does not orbit around our felt needs. He has our best, not our easiest, in mind.”

And he does just that. Having forgiven us, he makes us beautiful. He bends all circumstance, works all things for good — every wound and every joy — for our everlasting glory of being conformed to this Son’s image (Romans 8:28–29).

God’s love embraces his children where they presently sit (he died for us while we were yet ungodly) — we do not make ourselves worthy of his love; we cannot. But his love, when it finds us, will not leave us where we are — we are destined to be holy and spotless before him in love.

With All His Heart and Soul

Yet this does not imply that he blesses and bruises equally, nor that he stands indifferent to our cries or our pain. Just the contrary. In the middle of a heart-wrenching lamentation over the Lord’s chastisement of Israel, Jeremiah reminds us,

The Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. (Lamentations 3:31–33)

“He does not afflict from his heart.” His delight is not to wound us. He is not like the boy at recess burning worms with a microscope. Even when he lays the heaviest afflictions upon us, it is not his joy to do so. Rather, Jeremiah records his heart toward the church this way:

I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:40–41)

This love — the only love strong enough to spare us from hell, to make us pleasing in his sight, to delight us for eternity — does not leave us alone to our pet sins and damnable devices. His love puts fear in us that we may not turn from him. He wants us where he is, with all his heart and all his soul.

He proved the imponderable depths of his heart for his people once and for all when Jesus Christ came to bear the wrath of God for our sins. It should not surprise us that God would crush us for our sins; it should surprise us that his love would crush the Son for us. No matter how God chooses to afflict us for our good, the heaviest blows are never what our sins deserve. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.

God’s Love Won’t Let Me Go — Regardless

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Ruth Myers

The Love That Won’t Let Go

God’s passion for His children is unlike any other love we’ll ever experience.

When I was a teenager, God began to deepen my appreciation for His love through “The Love of God,” a song made famous by George Beverly Shea. This song describes God’s love as “greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.” If the skies were a scroll and the oceans filled with ink, the song goes on to say, and if every stalk on earth were a writing quill, we still could never write in full this love God has for us. The skies could not contain it. The oceans would run dry.

Through the years since then, the Lord has been weaving into my life a richer awareness of how lavishly He loves me (and all of us) and how deeply He longs for each of us to experience His love. My heart has been opened again and again to delightful discoveries that have made me feel more satisfied and at rest in Him, more alive in His love, more liberated, more secure.

In God we find the kind of love we most deeply need. If we want real love, ideal love, perfect love, God’s heart is where to find it. It’s the only love big enough to meet the God-sized needs of your life and mine.

Just Because

Because you are a special treasure to God, He is working to draw you into a deeper love for Him—away from any idols in your life, away from rival interests, away from giving first place to His good gifts instead of to Him.

In Jer. 31:3, the Lord tells His people, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (NKJV). Every hour since you first met Him, He has been pursuing you, seeking to draw you closer as a mother draws her child, as a bridegroom his bride. He wants you near.

God loves us “just because.”

His love defies human logic. It doesn’t make sense. And yet there are reasons. I think of at least two:

First, God loves us because He is love. It’s His nature to love.

Second, He loves us because He made us.

Sin has destroyed some of the beauty of His design that He must now work to restore; but He made each of us with great skill, and we have unique value to Him. Because He made us for Himself, in His image, we have the potential of intimate relationship with Him. He prizes us and wants us for Himself. He loves us for what a love relationship with Him can mean to us—and to Him—now, in this life. He also loves us for what He knows we’ll become for all eternity. He eagerly awaits the delights in store for Him and us when we will dwell with Him forever in joyful, unbroken fellowship.

We read in Dt. 7:7 and 10:15 that God set His love upon His people—He “fastened” it upon them, as The Berkeley Version says. I like that. There’s a gentle but unyielding persistence about the love of God, a tenacious tenderness toward each person who has responded to Him. He loves us and holds on and won’t let us go.

From Everlasting to Everlasting

What is God’s love like? The tenacious love of God is both eternal and changeless. These two concepts are wonderfully linked.

“The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him” (Ps. 103:17,RSV). From everlasting to everlasting. Let’s look at this phrase more closely.

From everlasting, before I ever existed, God loved me. Long before I was born, He looked ahead and fastened His affection upon me. His love for me began in His foreknowledge of me. When He decided to love me, I did not yet even exist. His love is not mine because I merit it, for He fastened His love upon me before I ever did one thing, good or bad.

Before we were born, He already knew the worst about us, and nothing that happens now can surprise or disillusion Him. He has never had any illusions about anyone or anything. He doesn’t suddenly discover some truth about one of us and think, Oh, why did I ever choose to love him or her? I like what J. I. Packer says in Knowing God: “God’s love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on the prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.”

Therefore, in the midst of my failures and struggles when I feel so undeserving, I never have to think, Oh dear, does He still love me? His love for each of us is never rooted in our worthiness, but rather in His own nature.

God says to us, “It’s not because you earned it or worked so hard for it that I have loved you. And I don’t continue loving you because you manage to maintain a high enough standard in My eyes. No, I simply made a permanent choice to love you.”

That choice will never change. He loved me from everlasting and will love me to everlasting. His love for me—and for you—will never end. It’s a lifelong, eternity-long relationship, now and forever available to meet our every need as we seek to know Him better.

Even When We Rebel

We see God’s unchanging love in an especially beautiful way in the book of Hosea. There God declared that He still loved His people “though they turn to other gods” (Hos. 3:1). Hosea’s message shows God’s constant love for His people, even when they spurned Him and persisted in rebelling against Him.

God speaks these words to His people in Hos. 11:8: “How can I give you up, Israel? . . . My heart will not let me do it! My love for you is too strong” (Good News Bible). And the New Living Translation puts it this way, “Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? . . . My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows.”

This was His attitude toward them even though they had persistently rebelled against Him. God had patiently sent them warnings over the centuries, but so often they refused to listen. Finally, He had to send severe chastening. They needed it, and He gave it. But even that chastening was evidence of His love, just as it is in our lives. Throughout it all His attitude was still, “How can I let you go?” He cannot give us up. He cannot abandon us. His love for us is too strong.

How that relieves my heart!

Even when I’m letting something else be more important to me than God, God is still loving me. Even when He must discipline me, He says, “I won’t go one bit further than I have to for your good, and I would never cut you off from My love. My heart would never allow it.” He recoils at the very thought of ever withdrawing His love for us.

Psalm 73:26 begins, “My flesh and my heart may fail”—yes, this will happen to us in different ways all through life. Our bodies and souls may grow weak and waste away. And worse than that, we may inwardly and outwardly fail to trust and obey the Lord. But we can come right back to Him, confess how we have failed, and let the Lord love us. Then we can go on to personalize the last part of this verse, saying with the psalmist, “Lord, You are the strength of my heart, the source of my stability; and You are my chosen portion forever.”

Love without Limits

God’s love is incalculably great. His love is abounding, vast, infinite. His love has no limitations, no boundaries. In both duration and extent it is limitless. We’ll never be able to get out of it or away from it or beyond it.

Notice the description of God’s love in Eph. 3:16–19. Paul speaks of how the Spirit within us strengthens us so that we can, in fuller measure, have Christ dwelling within us. He says, “I pray . . . that your life will be strong in love and be built on love” (Eph 3:17, NCV). He goes on to pray that we will know in actual experience the greatness of Christ’s love—that we will understand more fully its boundless dimensions, how long and wide and high and deep it is, though it is far greater than anyone can ever know.

God’s love is limitless. This means there are no bounds to the encouragement and hope and strength it can give us. Once I found myself under unusual pressure while my husband, Warren, was gone for almost a month. Situations arose that were difficult for me to cope with. In those stressful weeks the Lord deeply ministered to me through 2 Thess. 2:16–17: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us unending encouragement and unfailing hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word” (paraphrase based on NASB and Phillips).

Here is His personal, loving touch: encouragement and hope that never fail because they are by grace, not based on my deserving. My heart—and yours—may often fail and our resources prove to be inadequate. But the Lord Himself, who loves us, is always ready to inspire us with courage and confidence, as J. B. Phillips puts it.

The Lord does not parcel out little dabs of love—”Well, you’ve been good children today, so I’ll love you a little bit.” No, His love flows freely. It overflows, coming to us in an abounding way. We read in Ro. 5:5 that God’s love has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. “It floods our hearts,” as James Moffatt translates it. It’s a tremendous outpouring of love—not in skimpy measure, but rather in a flood, an inundation.

And He has put right within us the source of this abounding love—the Holy Spirit—so His love can be poured out abundantly throughout our whole being. We don’t have to settle for trivial little insights into His love. We can experience vastly more of it than we do at present, if we truly want to—if we open ourselves to Him and His Word, seeking and yielding and trusting.

The Grace behind His Love

God’s love is linked inseparably with His grace, His attitude of unmerited favor toward us. Grace is the basis on which He first chose us in His love, and His overflowing grace is the basis on which He continues to lavish His love upon us.

We read in Ro. 5:20 in the Wuest translation that where sin abounded, “grace superabounded with more added to that.” There are no words to adequately convey the abundance of God’s grace. So we can just say that it “superabounds—with more added to that”!

God’s love is so great that no sin is too great for Him to forgive. We can always approach His throne of grace and receive forgiveness, whether for a large, even scandalous sin, or for any of the mass of little failures that get us down so that we think, Oh, do I have to confess that again?

The flow of God’s love never stops; it always shines forth undimmed. But our response determines whether it gets through to us. We can pull the blinds—or we can open them. We choose what we’ll let ourselves be filled with, and God respects our choice. He does not force His love on us. But at all times His love flows and shines—perfect, unwavering, available to meet our needs.

We see this unchanging flow of God’s love portrayed in the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. The father was waiting for the son to turn his back on his rebellion and return home. And when he saw him coming, he didn’t have to think twice about responding with fervent love. The flow of his love had never lessened, though the son had strayed to a far country and into terrible sin.

All of us need this grace. To the person with desperate needs who is willing to admit them, God shows His love. Do you qualify? I know I do. I qualify because I have needs—desperate needs. And He has made me willing to admit them and let Him meet them. When I fail to recognize how needy I am, He graciously works to remind me (at times in painful ways). And He renews my willingness to say, “Lord, I’m so messed up, so needy, so unable to obey You and to handle life in my own strength. So I bring my deep needs to You.”

As we mature through the years, we see shortcomings and areas of neglect in our lives that we didn’t know were there. So often, when we feel we’re doing well (if we’ve been victorious and had our quiet time every day and learned Bible verses and been nice to our family and our neighbors), then we think, God surely loves me today. Then we drop into those low times—we’re sure there’s no way He could love us now. So at the very point where we need His love most, we don’t even dare come before Him to seek and experience it. We forget that He has always loved us, even when we had absolutely no use for Him at all. And He will always love us—just because.

Sacrificial Love

When it comes to human love, we like to see action as well as words, don’t we?

Words, of course, are important. A wife never tires of hearing her husband tell her again, “I love you.” God gives us plenty of words to tell us He loves us, but He also acts upon that love. His greatest action was sending His Son to suffer humiliation and anguish for us when we still had no use for Him. He was willing to pay the highest price possible so that we could belong to Him, so that He could have a loving relationship with us.

His love for you and me is a costly love. In the Wuest translation of 1 Jn. 4:7 we read that God’s love is “divine and self-sacrificial.” This, again, points us to the cross—the ultimate sacrifice. Such love is foreign to our nature. Humans love like this only when their love comes from God.

In Ro. 5:6–8 we read:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And because of this sacrifice, “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Ro. 5:11).

Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). A human love will conceivably die for a friend—though only the greatest of human loves would ever dare to do it. Jesus, however, died for His enemies, so that He could make us His friends, bringing us into intimate relationship with Himself. That’s how much He desires to have us near Him.

Only God is the source of such love. His is truly the greatest love of all.

The Favor of the King

In this, as in all that God gives us, He is immeasurably generous. His love gives and gives and is never depleted, because His power and resources are unlimited. He never has need to give in a grudging way. As Eph. 3:20 says, He’s able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think—beyond our fondest dreams. He’s a total giver who loves to give, who delights to do good for us, so that we can live truly abundant lives.

Romans 5:17 speaks of what Christ has done for believers and how “by their acceptance of his more than sufficient grace and righteousness” people can now “live their lives victoriously” (Phillips). We have this possibility of living royally because of the abundance of God’s grace. As we have seen, grace means “unmerited favor,” favor that we don’t have to earn, favor that we don’t deserve. In fact, we deserve just the opposite!

And whose favor is it? The favor of the King of kings. Favor that flows out from Him toward us. And as we receive it, realizing we are highly favored by the only truly important person who exists, it does something in our hearts. If we belong to the King of kings, we can be sure of His favor whenever we approach Him.

God loves to honor our requests and bestow His favors upon us. God delights to do the things that delight us, and so He gives to us lavishly. He is not a stingy God. When Jesus came to this earth, His purpose was to share with us His true and eternal treasures. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

These riches include everything we need here on earth for a full spiritual life and a satisfying emotional life. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Pet. 1:3).

This is all ours to enjoy as we seek to know Him better.

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 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.

You’ll Get Through This

SOURCE:  Max Lucado

She had a tremble to her, the inner tremble you could feel with just a hand on her shoulder. I saw her in a grocery store. Had not seen her in some months. I asked about her kids and husband, and when I did, her eyes watered, her chin quivered, and the story spilled out. He’d left her. After twenty years of marriage, three kids, and a dozen moves, gone. Traded her in for a younger model. She did her best to maintain her composure but couldn’t. The grocery store produce section became a sanctuary of sorts.

Right there between the tomatoes and the heads of lettuce, she wept. We prayed. Then I said, “You’ll get through this. It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick. But God will use this mess for good. In the meantime don’t be foolish or naive. But don’t despair either. With God’s help you will get through this.”

Audacious of me, right? How dare I say such words? Where did I get the nerve to speak such a promise into tragedy? In a pit, actually. A deep, dark pit. So steep, the boy could not climb out. Had he been able to, his brothers would have shoved him back down. They were the ones who had thrown him in.
So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it. And they sat down to eat a meal. — Genesis 37:23-25

Twenty-two years later, when a famine had tamed their swagger and guilt had dampened their pride, they would confess,
We saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear. — Genesis 42:21

These are the great-grandsons of Abraham. The sons of Jacob. Couriers of God’s covenant to a galaxy of people. Tribes will bear their banners. The name of Jesus Christ will appear on their family tree. They are the Scriptures’ equivalent of royalty. Yet on this day they were the Bronze Age version of a dysfunctional family. They could have had their own reality TV show. In the shadow of a sycamore, in earshot of Joseph’s appeals, they chewed on venison and passed the wineskin. Cruel and oafish. Hearts as hard as the Canaanite desert. Lunch mattered more than their brother. They despised the boy.
They hated him and could not speak peaceably to him… they hated him even more… they hated him… his brothers envied him. — Genesis 37:4-5, Genesis 37:8, Genesis 37:11

Here’s why. Their father pampered Joseph like a prized calf. Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel, but one love, Rachel. When Rachel died, Jacob kept her memory alive by fawning over their first son. The brothers worked all day. Joseph played all day. They wore clothes from a secondhand store. Jacob gave Joseph a hand-stitched, multi-colored cloak with embroidered sleeves. They slept in the bunkhouse. He had a queen-sized bed in his own room. While they ran the family herd, Joseph, Daddy’s little darling, stayed home. Jacob treated the eleventh-born like a firstborn. The brothers spat at the sight of Joseph.

To say the family was in crisis would be like saying a grass hut might be unstable in a hurricane.

The brothers caught Joseph far from home, sixty miles away from Daddy’s protection, and went nuclear on him.
They stripped Joseph of his tunic… they took him and cast him into a pit. — Genesis 37:23–24 (emphasis mine)

Defiant verbs. They wanted not only to kill Joseph but also hide his body. This was a murderous cover-up from the get-go.
We shall say, ‘Some wild beast has devoured him’. — Genesis 37:20

Joseph didn’t see this assault coming. The attack caught him off guard.

So did yours. Joseph’s pit came in the form of a cistern. Maybe yours came in the form of a diagnosis, a foster home, or a traumatic injury. Joseph was thrown in a hole and despised. And you? Thrown in an unemployment line and forgotten. Thrown into a divorce and abandoned, into a bed and abused. The pit. A kind of death, waterless and austere. Some people never recover. Life is reduced to one quest: get out and never be hurt again. Not simply done. Pits have no easy exits.

Joseph’s story got worse before it got better. Abandonment led to enslavement, then entrapment, and finally imprisonment. He was sucker punched. Sold out. Mistreated. People made promises only to break them, offered gifts only to take them back. If hurt were a swampland, then Joseph was sentenced to a life of hard labor in the Everglades.

Yet he never gave up. Bitterness never staked its claim. Anger never metastasized into hatred. His heart never hardened; his resolve never vanished. He not only survived; he thrived. He ascended like a helium balloon. An Egyptian official promoted him to chief servant. The prison warden placed him over the inmates. And Pharaoh, the highest ruler on the planet, shoulder-tapped Joseph to serve as his prime minister. By the end of his life, Joseph was the second most powerful man of his generation. It is not hyperbole to state that he saved the world from starvation.

How? How did he flourish in the midst of tragedy? We don’t have to speculate. Some twenty years later the roles were reversed, Joseph as the strong one and his brothers the weak ones. They came to him in dread. They feared he would settle the score and throw them into a pit of his own making. But Joseph didn’t. And in his explanation we find his inspiration.
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.— Genesis 50:20

In God’s hands, intended evil becomes eventual good.

Joseph tied himself to the pillar of this promise and held on for dear life. Nothing in his story glosses over the presence of evil. Quite the contrary. Bloodstains, tearstains are everywhere. Joseph’s heart was rubbed raw against the rocks of disloyalty and miscarried justice. Yet time and time again God redeemed the pain. The torn robe became a royal one. The pit became a palace. The broken family grew old together. The very acts intended to destroy God’s servant turned out to strengthen him.

“You meant evil against me,” Joseph told his brothers, using a Hebrew verb that traces its meaning to “weave” or “plait.”

“You wove evil,” he was saying, “but God rewove it together for good.”

God, the Master Weaver. He stretches the yarn and intertwines the colors, the ragged twine with the velvet strings, the pains with the pleasures. Nothing escapes his reach. Every king, despot, weather pattern, and molecule are at his command. He passes the shuttle back and forth across the generations, and as he does, a design emerges. Satan weaves; God reweaves.

He redeemed the story of Joseph. Can’t He redeem your story as well?

You’ll get through this. You fear you won’t. We all do. We fear that the depression will never lift, the yelling will never stop, the pain will never leave. Here in the pits, surrounded by steep walls and angry brothers, we wonder, Will this gray sky ever brighten? This load ever lighten? We feel stuck, trapped, locked in. Predestined for failure. Will we ever exit this pit?

Yes!

Out of the lions’ den for Daniel, the prison for Peter, the whale’s belly for Jonah, Goliath’s shadow for David, the storm for the disciples, disease for the lepers, doubt for Thomas, the grave for Lazarus, and the shackles for Paul. God gets us through stuff. Through the Red Sea onto dry ground (Exodus 14:22), through the wilderness (Deuteronomy 29:5), through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4), and through the deep sea (Psalm 77:19).

Through is a favorite word of God’s:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. — Isaiah 43:2 (emphasis mine)

It won’t be painless. Have you wept your final tear or received your last round of chemotherapy? Not necessarily. Will your unhappy marriage become happy in a heartbeat? Not likely. Are you exempt from any trip to the cemetery? Does God guarantee the absence of struggle and the abundance of strength? Not in this life. But He does pledge to reweave your pain for a higher purpose.

It won’t be quick. Joseph was seventeen years old when his brothers abandoned him. He was at least thirty-seven when he saw them again. Another couple of years passed before he saw his father. Sometimes God takes His time: One hundred twenty years to prepare Noah for the flood, eighty years to prepare Moses for his work. God called young David to be king but returned him to the sheep pasture. He called Paul to be an apostle and then isolated him in Arabia for perhaps three years. Jesus was on the earth for three decades before He built anything more than a kitchen table. How long will God take with you? He may take His time. His history is redeemed not in minutes but in lifetimes.

But God will use your mess for good. We see a perfect mess; God sees a perfect chance to train, test, and teach the future prime minister. We see a prison; God sees a kiln. We see famine; God sees the relocation of His chosen lineage. We call it Egypt; God calls it protective custody, where the sons of Jacob can escape barbaric Canaan and multiply abundantly in peace. We see Satan’s tricks and ploys. God sees Satan tripped and foiled.

Let me be clear. You are a version of Joseph in your generation. You represent a challenge to Satan’s plan. You carry something of God within you, something noble and holy, something the world needs — wisdom, kindness, mercy, skill. If Satan can neutralize you, he can mute your influence.

The story of Joseph is in the Bible for this reason: to teach you to trust God to trump evil. What Satan intends for evil, God, the Master Weaver and Master Builder, redeems for good.

Joseph would be the first to tell you that life in the pit stinks. Yet for all its rottenness doesn’t the pit do this much? It forces you to look upward. Someone from up there must come down here and give you a hand. God did for Joseph. At the right time, in the right way, He will do the same for you.

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Excerpted from You’ll Get Through This by Max Lucado, copyright Max Lucado.

SUFFERING: WHY THIS?? WHY NOW?? WHY ME??

SOURCE:  Dr. Bill Bellican — taken from various personal notes, NIV Study Bible notes, and other commentaries

At times of unparalleled stress and suffering in our lives, these are questions we shout to God desiring, even demanding answers. And, these lead to other questions such as: Is God in control of what’s happening to and around me? Is God really all good? Am I really all that bad to deserve this? Is God just paying me back for what I have done? In addition to these seemingly unanswered questions, Satan complicates the situation seeking to alienate us from God and have it seem that God is alienated from us.

It is important for us to ask these questions of God and seek an understanding based on His Word. The story of Job deals with these very things. One can begin to see into this struggle in the heavens between God and the Enemy from God’s point of view and how His Divine purpose involves us is in the balance. We start to understand in our struggle that God works in these times to:

  1. strengthen our faith;
  2. teach us a lesson/truth we need to know;
  3. allow us to experience the consequences of our sin and the (loving) discipline He brings;
  4. work His testing and refinement in our lives;
  5. reveal His comfort/grace;
  6. accomplish His own sovereign/mysterious purposes. Finally, we must come to the place of accepting that God does not allow us to suffer for no reason. And even though the reason may be hidden in the mystery of his Divine purpose-never for us to know in this lifetime-we must trust in Him as the God who does only what is right.

Prayerfully consider the following selections in Job. Meditate on them and dialogue with God about them as you grapple with your issues.

Chapter 1 – 2:10; Chapter 3; Chapter 6:4, 24; Chapter 7:7,11; Chapter 9:14-10:22; Chapter 12:13-25; Chapter 13:15-24; Chapter 16:6-9, 12, 16-21; Chapter 17:1, 7, 11; Chapter 19:6-20; Chapter 21:4-9, 13-16, 22-26; Chapter 23:1-17; Chapter 24:1, 12, 22-24; Chapter 28:12-15, 23-24, 28; Chapter 29:1-6; Chapter 30:15-31; Chapter 31:5-6; Chapters 38-42.

Some conclusions we can draw from God’s Word in Job include:

  1. There are matters going on in heaven with God that we know nothing about that affect our lives.
  2. Even the best effort at explaining the issues of life can be useless.
  3. God’s people do suffer. Bad things happen all the time to good people – so one cannot judge a person’s spirituality by his painful circumstances or successes.
  4. Even though God seems far away, perseverance in faith is a most noble virtue since God is Good and one can safely leave his life in His Hands.
  5. In the midst of suffering, we must not abandon God, but draw near to Him so out of the fellowship can come the comfort – without the explanation.
  6. Suffering may be intense, but it will ultimately end for the righteous, and God will bless abundantly.
  7. Job finally rested in nothing but faith in God’s Goodness and the hope of His redemption. God vindicated Job’s trust.
  8. When there are no rational, or even theological, explanations for disaster and pain, trust God.
  9. Suffering is directed by perfect Divine Wisdom.

Rejection: When the Unexpected Betrays

SOURCE:  Christine Caine, from Unexpected

Forgiving Freely

Loss is the uninvited door that extends us an unexpected invitation to unimaginable possibilities. —
 

Craig D. Jonesborough

I once had a dear friend whom I loved wholeheartedly and with whom I shared so many fun times. We had endless heart-to-heart talks about God, ministry, life, family, fashion, movies, books, food, and of course, coffee. We shared an incredibly strong bond. We could talk about the most serious issues on earth one moment and then be laughing hysterically the next. She was one of those people with whom I didn’t have to second-guess my words or filter my responses. There was simply an ease between us. And we had just enough differences to keep our friendship interesting, engaging, and evolving. She was one of the people I could call for anything, a true BFF.

Until the day she just wasn’t.

She cut me off. No warning. No conversation. No explanation.

I felt… Bewildered. Confused. Shocked. I tried to make sense of it all, but no matter how many memories and conversations I relived, it still didn’t make sense. I had let her into my inner world, into my heart. I had let her into the space where she had the power to wreck my heart, and she did. I had trusted her, bared my soul, risked being seen by her, and she had rejected me. Perhaps there is no greater pain between friends than the pain of being seen and then unexpectedly rejected.

When she cut me off, I felt so lost about what to do, what to say, and how to respond — just like a middle school girl. I felt as though I had been knocked off my feet, dumped on the floor, and left gasping for air, and I needed God to help me catch my next breath. I needed him to help me process the hurt and wrap my mind around what seemed incomprehensible. How could she do this? She was my friend. I loved her and had shared so much of my life with her. We both loved Jesus and wanted to see His Kingdom flourish. How was this possible?

Rejection was the last thing I expected from someone I had trusted the most. I felt like King David when he penned gut-wrenching words about his own dear friend:

If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it;

if a foe were rising against me, I could hide.

But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend,

with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God,

as we walked about among the worshipers.

— Psalm 55:12-14

Like David, I felt gutted to be on the receiving end of a severed relationship when I wasn’t even sure why it ended. And all of it triggered the rejection of my past. That was the Achilles’ heel of my soul — all the rejection and abandonment I had experienced as a child, all the shame. My knee-jerk response was to shut down and pull back. To draw a line in the sand and never let anyone cross it again. To erect a wall around my heart and never again let anyone in.

But I knew better and I wanted to do better. I knew the consequences of hardening my heart, and I didn’t want to grow bitter and resentful, judgmental and critical. I didn’t want to get stuck in emotional quicksand.

I knew I needed to start with forgiving. After all, that is what I spend my life teaching others to do. But it is never as easy as it sounds, especially when our heart is broken. I knew I couldn’t let what happened to me become what I believed about myself. Just because someone hurt me didn’t mean I was unworthy, unlovable, or unkind. It didn’t mean I was worth less or worthless. It didn’t mean I was not a good friend or capable of being a good friend. But that’s how I felt — no matter how many times I tried to refute all the lies bombarding my mind. If I were a good friend to her, she wouldn’t have cut me off without an explanation. If I were a good friend to her, she would hear me out and make time for me. If I were a good friend to her…

But I had been a good friend to her. I had done the best I knew. And regardless of what I might have done wrong, I truly loved her and wanted the best for her. I wanted our friendship to last. I never imagined it ending — especially not like this.

If I were going to move beyond this pain and not get stuck in this one dark moment of my life, I knew I had to quit obsessing over past events and fall into the arms of God, letting him help me sort through all my emotions — and get control of my runaway-train thoughts.1

When I reached out to my friend to talk and find a resolve, it was to no avail. She didn’t want to talk it through with me. She had simply shut down, and shut me out.

Invite Jesus In

None of us starts out in life planning to be hurt — or to hurt others — but it happens. People fail us — and we fail people — repeatedly. It happens in our childhood and continues all the way through our adulthood. Our lives are intertwined with everyone around us — just as God designed — but we are all a part of a flawed humanity. None of us ever arrives, so it stands to reason that every time we open our hearts to one another, every time we’re thrown together into each other’s worlds, we will, quite possibly, hurt one another.

Whether it occurs in our dating, marriage, work, or friendships, it is going to happen. I’ve heard so many stories from women who started out their careers full of enthusiasm and talent only to be devastated by life-altering criticism that postponed or derailed their success. They didn’t know how not to believe everything someone in a position of authority said and how not to let it define who they were. So they minimized their talent and settled for a less fulfilling position. They believed the lies that they were not smart enough, not gifted enough, not savvy enough.

I’ve listened to stories from women who married the love of their life only to have the marriage eventually crumble. Because of all the hurtful words thrown at them, they believed they were a failure and that they were unworthy of a loving relationship.

Just because we experience failure, it doesn’t make us a failure — but that’s hard to process when we don’t know how.

My own aunt was married for twenty-five years when she learned her best friend had been having an affair with her husband for eighteen of those years. She was devastated, and it was so hard watching her internalize lies about herself because of their deceitful actions. She agonized over not understanding how she never knew. She questioned everything she’d ever done or said that might have made both of them betray her. She obsessed over what she could have done differently, believing she was the one who had failed.

We have all been through deeply painful situations where words or actions significantly wounded us and threatened to derail us — whether it was from a friend, a spouse, a colleague, or a mentor. When we were…

  • Blindsided by a divorce
  • Upstaged by a coworker
  • Shamed publicly by a leader
  • Financially ruined by a business partner
  • Judged by a family member
  • Rejected by a lifelong friend
  • Betrayed by a ministry partner

We’ve never forgotten those times when we lost our peace, joy, and hope and sometimes our vision, passion, and purpose.

Unexpected emotional wounding is so deeply painful because it is… unexpected. It hits when our defenses are down and our trust levels are up. How critical then to understand that even when people leave us and hurt us, God never leaves us nor forsakes us.2 He understands what it feels like to be kicked in the gut, to have the wind knocked out of us — and He cares. He promises to be there for us and to help us.

If your heart is broken,” writes the psalmist, “you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath. — Psalm 34:18 MSG

Even when people are unfaithful, God is always faithful.

Every time we’re deeply hurt, we’re faced with the opportunity to let that wound define us — for a season or for the rest of our lives. Maybe we’ve altered our course, scaled back our dreams, or given up on them all together. Maybe we’ve believed something about ourselves — consciously or subconsciously — that may not be true.

Reframe Your Question

I remember when the initial shock of my friend hurting me began to subside, and I slowly realized that I had to work through all my hurt without her. It was a defining moment in my healing, a moment of reckoning, of turning my attention from how deeply hurt I felt to how I could get better. But I really wasn’t sure I could do it alone — and be as healthy as I wanted to be — and so I decided to get help.

When we get a hit out of nowhere that threatens to knock us out, we need wise Christian counsel.

I’m a big believer in going to Jesus and to safe people who can help us process unexpected wounds. Because of my past wounds — like those from my childhood — I knew I was vulnerable in this area, so I reached out to a Christian counselor who could help me. I knew that ultimately Jesus is the only one who can truly heal our deepest hurts, but I also knew the value of having someone help me sort out my perspectives and my heart.

Unexpected hurts often reveal unexpected pain, and, as strange as it may sound, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to be healed of anything lurking under the surface of which I might not have been aware. I’ve been on this journey long enough now to know that when I feel a certain type of heart pain, it is an invitation from God for a deeper healing He wants to do in me. I have been so broken, wounded, and fragmented that I am a constant work in progress. I’ve learned to lean into this kind of pain when it happens — even though I know that doing so will hurt — because I so desperately desire the healing I know is on the other side.

I know that God sometimes uses relational fractures to show us where we are out of alignment with Him; maybe our affections are misplaced. It’s so easy to have unrealistic expectations of others — to inadvertently want them to love us as only God can — and to set our friendships up for failure.

We can’t expect people to be Jesus to us. It’s too unfair.

Jesus is the only true friend who can love us unconditionally and really stick closer than a brother.3

So, it was then, with a counselor’s help, that I slowly quit asking, Why, God, why? — because honestly, sometimes we may never know, and because that question usually just spirals us into a dark hole that leads nowhere. Instead, I started asking, Jesus, where are You in this? What can You show me through this? What can I learn from this?

It wasn’t the first time I’d been unexpectedly hurt, so I knew there was always something God wanted to do in me. He didn’t cause the hurt — my friend did — but God is always eager to use our circumstances to bring more wholeness into our lives, if we will let Him. God is good; God does good; and God uses all things for my good.4 These are truths I believe with all my heart. So, as I invited Him in, I knew He would use this for my good somehow.

Reframing my questions changed my perspective. It turned my focus back toward Jesus — where real answers come from. It reconnected me to hope — which meant I was looking forward now and not backward at all the emotional wreckage in my wake. It also set my heart in a direction of letting Jesus mold me further into being the kind of friend I had always wanted.

Only Jesus could heal me completely, so I took the time to tell Jesus of the loss I felt — like part of my life was missing — and He walked me through the sorrow of how much all of this had hurt me. I grieved the loss of someone I had come to love dearly. I grieved the loss of not having to second-guess my words or filter my responses. I grieved the loss of having a friend who understood me implicitly and let me be myself. I missed all the time and space she filled in my life. I missed all the laughter we shared. I missed all the deep conversations we used to have. I missed the random texts and jokes and prayer requests. And I told Him all of this. I allowed myself to be in touch with how I truly felt by being honest with God and myself.

And as I did my part, God began to do what only He could do — heal my heart.

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1. Unashamed by Christine Caine, chapter 8, “He Healed My Mind,” pp. 133–47.
2. Deuteronomy 31:16; Hebrews 13:5.
3. Proverbs 18:24.
4. Romans 8:28.

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Excerpted from Unexpected by Christine Caine, copyright Christine Caine.

When God Does the Miracle We Didn’t Ask For

SOURCE:  Vaneetha Rendall Risner/Desiring God

Countless childhood surgeries. Yearlong stints in the hospital. Verbal and physical bullying from classmates. Multiple miscarriages as a young wife. The unexpected death of a child. A debilitating progressive disease. Riveting pain. Betrayal. A husband who leaves.

If it were up to me, I would have written my story differently. Not one of those phrases would be included. Each line represents something hard. Gut wrenching. Life changing.

But now, in retrospect, I wouldn’t erase a single line.

Honestly, it is only in hindsight that I can make such a bold statement. Through all of those devastating events, I begged God to deliver me. To save my baby, to reverse my disease, to bring my husband back. Each time God said no.

Instead of Deliverance

“It’s not about getting what I want. It’s about God giving me what I desperately need: himself.”

“No” was not the answer I wanted. I was looking for miraculous answers to prayer, a return to normalcy, relief from the pain. I wanted the kind of grace that would deliver me from my circumstances.

God, in his mercy, offered his sustaining grace.

At first, I rejected it as insufficient. I wanted deliverance. Not sustenance. I wanted the pain to stop, not to be held up through the pain. I was just like the children of Israel who rejoiced at God’s delivering grace in the parting of the Red Sea, but complained bitterly at his sustaining grace in the provision of manna.

With every heartache I wanted a Red Sea miracle. A miracle that would astonish the world, reward me for my faithfulness, make my life glorious. I didn’t want manna.

But God knew better. Each day he continued to put manna before me. At first, I grumbled. It seemed like second best. It wasn’t the feast I envisioned. It was bland and monotonous. But after a while, I began to taste the manna, embrace it, and savor its sweetness.

A Far Deeper Work

This manna, this sustaining grace, is what upheld me. It revived me when I was weak. It drove me to my knees. And unlike delivering grace which, once received, inadvertently moved me to greater independence from God, sustaining grace kept me tethered to him. I needed it every day. Like manna, it was new every morning.

“I have inexplicable joy not in my circumstances, but in the God who cares so fiercely for me.”

God has delivered me and answered some prayers with a resounding “yes” in jaw-dropping, supernatural ways. I look back at them with gratitude and awe. Yet after those prayers were answered, I went back to my everyday life, often less dependent on God. But the answers of “no” or “wait,” and those answered by imperceptible degrees over time, have done a far deeper work in my soul. They have kept me connected to the Giver and not his gifts. They have forced me to seek him. And in seeking him, I have discovered the intimacy of his fellowship.

In the midst of my deepest pain, in the darkness, God’s presence has been unmistakable. Through excruciating struggles, he speaks to me. He comforts me through his word. He whispers to me in the dark, as I lie awake on my tear-stained pillow. He sings beautiful songs over me of his love.

The Joy of His Manna

At first, I just want the agony to go away. I don’t rejoice in the moment. I don’t rejoice at all. But as I cling to God and his promises, he sustains me. Joy is at first elusive. I have glimpses of delight, but it is mostly slow and incremental.

Yet over time, I realize I have an inexplicable joy — not in my circumstances, but in the God who cares so fiercely for me. Eating the everyday, bland, sometimes unwelcome manna produces a joy beyond my wildest imaginings.

“In the midst of my deepest pain, in the darkness, God’s presence has been unmistakable.”

I have found that this joy, which is often birthed out of suffering, can never be taken away; it only gets richer over time. My circumstances cannot diminish it. It produces lasting fruit like endurance, character, and hope. It draws me to God in breathtaking ways. It achieves a weight of glory that is beyond all comparison.

I still pray earnestly for deliverance, for the many things I long to see changed, both in my life and in the world. That is right. It’s biblical. We need to bring our requests to God.

But as much as I long for deliverance, for delivering grace, I see the exquisite blessing in sustaining grace. It’s not about getting what I want; it’s about God giving me what I desperately need: himself.

God’s Ministry of Disappointment

SOURCE:  Amena Brown/Christianity Today

In pain and confusion, I’m finding that God is, indeed, close to the brokenhearted.

I thought I’d be pregnant by now.

Full stop. Hard return.

I will sit a few minutes after writing that sentence. I want to highlight and delete. I want to press backspace, as if a button on my laptop can keep that sentence from being true. I imagined my mid-30s differently. I thought my guest room would be a baby room. I thought I would have smiled at my baby shower by now, gentle hand on a round belly. I thought by this time, I’d have a calendar full of playdates and plenty of funny kid stories to tell.

Instead, it’s just my husband and me. This isn’t a bad thing. This is in fact enough. My husband and I are a family. Having a child doesn’t start our family. These are the things I tell myself when people whose manners exist somewhere between well-meaning and none of your business search the torso of my shirts with their eyes, trying to discern if I am hiding a pregnant belly from them. These are the things I remind myself of when enduring conversations that start off as small talk and turn to the dangerous territory of statements that stab you right between your heart and your unanswered prayers.

“Are you pregnant yet? Are you trying?” they ask, followed by intrusive suggestions and weird home remedies. “Don’t wait too long,” they say, as if we are waiting this long because we want to. “Have you thought about adopting?” they say, followed by a story of a random couple who adopted a child and then surprisingly had a biological child. As if we haven’t walked beside our friends as they journey in the honor of adoption, as if adoption is a consolation prize or busy work while we wait for the “real thing,” as if adoption should only be plan B.

Mostly we smile. Nod. Change the subject. Sometimes we get angry and frustrated and not so polite. We don’t tell anyone how these conversations make us cry when we are alone. How we hold our breath until the awkward conversation is over, until the dinner has finished and the plates have been wiped clean. We say less and less. We don’t even make comments about the future children we dream to have. We realize we are too fragile for the pointed questions and the oversimplifications.

A journey through heartbreak

I ask myself all sorts of things. Does true womanhood really hinge on a woman’s ability to become a mother? Why do I hold myself to this ticking biological clock and some ridiculous social media standard that says I should have children by now? Is my identity wrapped in checking off some arbitrary list of achievements? Does my life not matter if I am not married with kids, with a certain income bracket, with a house in a certain neighborhood, with a list of ways to describe my cool life to people I meet at parties?

Our journey to one day having children has not been blissful, innocent, joyous, or as easy as I expected it to be. It has been a journey of loss, heartbreak, delay, doctor appointments, test results, delays, stress, frustration, more appointments, more delays. Hope seems to be a liability too expensive to carry in the face of so much disappointment.

My relationship to God and my feelings about prayer became tumultuous. I found myself wincing in my faith, praying cautiously because I don’t want to deal with asking God for something when I think he will disappoint me. How do I keep going to God and asking when it seems like his consistent answer is no or wait? How do I keep believing the God who says no or wait when he knows how much that no or wait hurts me? How do I believe that God actually has my best interests at heart?

I spent the first year of this journey saying things like, “We are not these people. We are not the people who watch all of our friends around us get pregnant and have babies while we have no idea when it will happen for us.” I learned there is no such thing as “these people.” We don’t get to choose. Everyone carries a load; we don’t get to say what load, how we’ll carry it, when we’ll get it, or how long it will last.

The painful truth

I grew up as a church teen in the 1990s. In my church context, it was an age of believing the gospel could be connected to prosperity, that in the name of Jesus we could not only find love and peace, but also Benzes, McMansions, future husbands (also known as Boaz), future wives (also known as Proverbs 31 women), land, larger paychecks, and awesome shoes. Whether you named it and claimed it or marched around it six times in silence and the seventh time while blasting your loud trumpet, believing these things would bring you the answers to miraculous prayers became a way of life.

Sometimes I watched those prayers work. I watched people of faith pray for the sick, and the sick were healed. I watched church members move into houses the lender had nearly laughed them out the door for attempting to buy. I watched Boazes and Proverbs 31 women find each other, marry, and have pretty babies. So for years, I assumed this was the walk of faith. You see something you want, you pray and ask God, and you quote God’s Word that applies to said request. You focus your positive thinking on the fact that God is powerful enough to answer and that he will do all in his power and with his unlimited resources to fulfill your request.

Then I grew up. I am learning the painful truth that even when you pray and ask God, even when you quote back to God the applicable Scriptures, even when you walk around the object you are praying for six times and play your trumpet on the seventh, God doesn’t always answer the way you want him to.

What do you assume about a God who does this? He must be mean, cold, distant, unloving, inconsiderate. He must be more human and less holy, right? He must care about other people more than he cares about you. He must not see how hard you’ve tried to be good/honest/righteous.

Sometimes God is the great leader in the ministry of your disappointment. Sometimes you don’t get the job you prayed for. Sometimes the Boaz/Proverbs 31 woman you thought you were supposed to marry doesn’t even want a second date. Sometimes you want a Benz and you can only afford a hoopty. Sometimes God allows you to be disappointed. Sometimes you learn through tears, heartache, anger, and frustration that God is not a yes person.

God is near

I didn’t want to write my story this way. I wanted to have a happy sitcom ending. I wanted to be able to tell you this story from the lofty place of prayers answered. I wanted to spend a short time telling you this hard time we had and spend most of the time telling you the amazing story of how that all changed. But I’m not there yet. I don’t know when I will be. I don’t know if I will be.

Some people said this would be a season, and maybe it is, but it hasn’t ended yet. It’s gone on longer than I thought I had the strength to walk. Sometimes I get so weary all I can muster in prayer is “God, help me.” And sometimes no words come, and I trust he hears the things my soul wants to say when it hurts too much to gather the words to express.

I’m learning to accept this mystery of God. There are many things about God I will come to know or understand, and there is plenty I will never know, never understand, never be able to put words to. I’m learning the truth of Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” This means that when my pain hurts me deeply, God understands, God listens, God is near.

I wish I had answers. I wish I could predict the future. One of the limits of humanity is knowing only exactly what we know right now, right where we are. One thing I want my soul to remember is that life isn’t always good, humans aren’t always good, but God is good. Always.

I don’t say that because it’s convenient. I don’t say it to silence the frustrations, doubts, and questions. I say it because our tears and frustrations and doubts and hurt feelings and anger matter to God. I say it because I know how scary hope can be when you’ve lived with disappointment so long. I say it because I’m living every day trying to hold the tension of fully trusting in a God my humanity will never completely understand. As I sit in that tension, my heart still wants to believe in the God whose love is found in prosperity and poverty, in answers and in questions, in disappointment and in miracles.


Taken from How to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships, and Learning to Be Myself by Amena Brown.

 

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.

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.

(Should I Pray) Whatever It Takes, Lord?

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

Whatever It Takes, Lord

We want to be people who love Jesus with all our heart, who trust him fully, follow him faithfully, and bear maximum fruit for his name. We want to be filled with as much God as we can possibly hold (Ephesians 3:19). We don’t want to be lukewarm (Revelation 3:16), or waste our brief life here on earth (Ephesians 5:16).

So let’s lace our prayers with whatever it takes requests.

The Safest Prayer

Over the years, many people have told me they fear praying “whatever it takes” because God just might actually answer. And if he does, he might make them do hard things or go to hard places where they might suffer. He might take away people and things they love. He might make them miserable.

Praying whatever it takes feels dangerous.

I understand this fear. I used to feel it, too. We look at what some saints endured and we think, “No thanks.” But if we read Hebrews 11, we find that saints who seemed to pay a significant cost to fully follow God were not holy stoics who chose obedience over joy, but holy hedonists who, like Jesus, chose costly obedience for the sake of their joy (Hebrews 12:2). They considered any hardship they endured worth the cost because the joy of their reward was so great (Hebrews 11:26).

After years of praying whatever it takes, I can tell you my former fears were misplaced. I used to fear the wrong thing. It isn’t dangerous to pray this way; it’s dangerous not to pray this way.

Whatever it takes praying is a means to experiencing inexpressible joy (1 Peter 1:8), not misery. I’ve learned that choosing not to ask God to do whatever it takes out of fear I might lose something is like declining Thanksgiving dinner because I fear giving up my bag of Cheetos.

We are never safer than when we are in Jesus’s hands (John 10:28). And the safest way we can pray is to ask God to do whatever it takes for Jesus’s joy to be in us and for our joy to be full (John 15:11).

God Only Wants to Give You Good Gifts

I don’t want to mislead you. God’s answers to my prayers have resulted in some of the most difficult experiences of my life. But hear me: I would not trade any of those experiences for the world. They’ve only encouraged me to pray all the more because of the joy-infused hope I’ve tasted through them (Romans 5:2).

It is true that God frequently answers our prayers in ways we don’t expect. But he only does this for our joy. God is always pursuing us with goodness and mercy (Psalm 23:6). Listen to how Jesus describes the Father’s disposition toward us when he encourages us to pray:

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7)

The Father has no desire at all to give us misery when we ask for joy (Matthew 7:9–10).

Don’t Be Afraid to Pray, “Whatever It Takes, Lord”

So don’t be afraid to pray, “Whatever it takes, Lord.”

All we are doing is asking our Father for what will make us and others most happy (Luke 11:13;Matthew 13:44; Ephesians 1:17–18; Ephesians 3:19; Colossians 4:3). This will not endanger our joy, but result in more of it (John 15:11; Psalm 16:11).

Any suspicion we have that God will make us miserable in answer to our earnest prayers for more of him is a demonic deception. Satan is casting a lying light on Scripture and our experience, playing on our fears, so that he can cheat us out of the joy God wants to give us. We must not let our unbelieving fears determine the nature of our prayers.

That’s why it’s actually more dangerous not to pray such prayers. We live in a cosmic war zone, opposed by spiritual forces of evil far beyond our strength (Ephesians 6:12). We really need God to do whatever it takes to defeat them. And he chooses to do so often through our prayers (Romans 15:18;Philippians 1:19).

So let’s boldly approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), and ask for as much of it as we can get, whatever it takes. For it is asking the One we love most to give us what we need most that will make us most happy. We should not fear, for there is no safer prayer.

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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.”

God’s Appointed Hardships To Us = God’s Love For Us

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

How God Gives Assurance

Am I truly a Christian?

Few questions cause more fearful trembling in believers, and few soul-shepherds are as helpful as John Newton in explaining to trembling saints how God cultivates assurance in the Christian life.

God loves to give his children the gift of “the full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22). It is a precious thing, a source of deep peace and consolation, and he wants us to have it.

But like most things in the Christian life, assurance is something that is cultivated and grows deeper and stronger over time. It is a gift that God gives to us, according Newton (1725–1807), gradually through frequent testing.

Assurance grows by repeated conflict, by our repeated experimental proof of the Lord’s power and goodness to save; when we have been brought very low and helped, sorely wounded and healed, cast down and raised again, have given up all hope, and been suddenly snatched from danger, and placed in safety; and when these things have been repeated to us and in us a thousand times over, we begin to learn to trust simply to the word and power of God, beyond and against appearances: and this trust, when habitual and strong, bears the name of assurance; for even assurance has degrees. (Newton on the Christian Life, 220)

In other words, God’s way of growing the sweet gift of assurance in us is by putting us through numerous and varied hardships. The process is designed to be hard. Trials are the way that faith is proven, refined, and strengthened. This is why James writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3).

Assurance Grows through Spiritual Conflict

It’s why Paul writes, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance [same word translated as “steadfastness” in James], and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3–4).

And it’s why the author of Hebrews reminds us,

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:7–8)

The discipline of enduring trials and sufferings ends up proving that we are God’s children. And though “for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant . . . later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

One of the peaceful, consoling fruits of the “righteousness of God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9) is assurance. And it’s a fruit that is realized “later” and in increasing amounts.

Why God Grows Assurance this Way

Why has God designed the process of giving us a growing assurance of faith through enduring trials? Newton answers this way:

We cannot be safely trusted with assurance till we have that knowledge of the evil and deceitfulness of our hearts, which can be acquired only by painful, repeated experience. (222)

Like Peter who confidently promised Jesus that he would never deny him only hours before he did, we do not realize as younger believers how powerful our sin nature is and how weak our faith is. We don’t know how proud and self-reliant we are. It is the fiery trials that apply heat to our faith and cause the dross of unbelief in the form of doubt, fear, anxiety, anger, jealousy, bitterness, selfish ambition, fear of man, and more to rise to the surface. And when we see the dross, we can fear that our faith may not be real.

And that’s what God wants. For when we see the horrible sin in us and feel our helplessness to get rid of it on our own, it pushes us in desperation to trust Christ’s work on the cross alone. When we see our numerous weaknesses and feel our helplessness to be strong on our own, it pushes us to search out and trust Christ’s promises to us alone.

We can have no security from gifts, labors, services, or past experiences; but that from first to last our only safety is in the power, compassion, and faithfulness of our great Redeemer. (234)

It is the various kinds of pressing, painful, exposing trials that teach us to trust in Christ for everything — to really “live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20).

And so God grows the full assurance of faith in us, and causes the joyful, peaceful fruit of righteousness to grow in us through trials. He wants our faith to rest fully on the Rock of Christ, so that we “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). Because, as Newton said,

“We are never more safe, never have more reason to expect the Lord’s help, than when we are most sensible that we can do nothing without him.” This is the paradox of assurance. (234)

Through Many Dangers, Toils, and Snares

Newton spoke of assurance from experience. He said,

In mercy [God] has frequently stirred up my nest, shaken me in it, and forced me to fly to him, when I should otherwise have dropped into sleep and [false] security. (221)

For Pastor Newton, the sweet God-given gift of assurance looked much like verse three of his famous hymn, “Amazing Grace”:

     Through many dangers, toils, and snares
          I have already come;
     His grace has brought me safe thus far,
          And grace will lead me home.

 

Our assurance of salvation does not come from a confidence in some subjectively measured inner witness, nor how warm our affections for God are at any given moment. Rather, our assurance comes from a growing confidence in Christ’s saving work that purchased the fulfillment of all his great promises to us (2 Peter 1:4) and his power to keep them.

Greater assurance comes through stronger faith. And faith only grows stronger through the vigorous exercise of testing.

Your Stress Is Harming Your Spiritual Life

SOURCE:  ANDREA LUCADO/Relevant Magazine

Overworking yourself takes a much deeper toll than you might realize.

I’ve noticed a theme since entering adulthood: it’s stressful.

Becoming a grown up means grown-up responsibilities. You go to work, where maybe you have a difficult boss, or strict deadlines, budgets to make and presentations to give. After work, you go home, where you’re trying to keep up with things like grocery shopping, bills and cleaning. And on top of keeping your work and home life in order, you are trying to maintain a decent social life, stay up-to-date on pop culture and follow the news.

It’s a lot. It’s stressful. And, pretty quickly, we grow accustomed to the stress.

We talk about being stressed out with our friends. We learn to go about our day with a constant weight on our shoulders, with neck pain and tension, with shortness of breath, or however it is your body manifests stress.

At some point, we just learn to live with it, get the occasional massage, and move on. But I wonder if we’re growing too comfortable with the amount of stress we have in our lives. I wonder if we realize what it is actually doing to us, not just physically, but spiritually.

I think stress, at its core, is feeling worried about things that aren’t going your way presently, didn’t go your way in the past, or might not go your way in the future. I went through an intensely stressful time recently in which I was worried about all three of these things at once. I felt myself spiraling. I got anxious and just held onto the anxiety. In the stress, I began to doubt God’s power, and I began to doubt His goodness. If God is good and cares about me, why do I feel this way? If He is all-powerful and all-knowing, why isn’t He improving my situation?

Simply put, I was not trusting God.

When we’re stressed, our reaction is to search for peace. But after this recent bout of anxiety, I wonder if what we should be looking for instead is trust. Consider Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” According to this verse, trusting God is the key to perfect peace. And how do we trust God, especially in the midst of a stressful time? By keeping our minds “stayed” on Him.

John MacArthur says, “Perfect peace comes when our focus is off the problem, off the trouble, and constantly on Christ.” Let’s be honest, keeping our minds constantly on Christ is a bit of a daunting task, but I think we can take steps in that direction by remembering who God is and what He has done for us. For it is when we forget these things that we begin to distrust, and it is when we distrust that we begin to stress.

Remembering Who God Is

Oswald Chambers says in order to find peace, “remember who you are and whose you are.” When we forget who God is, it becomes very easy to freak out. If God is not in control, then who is? If God is not good, will the bad things never stop happening? If God is not loving, then will I never get the things I so deeply desire?

When we forget the character of God, the troubles in our minds escalate quickly. But when we remind ourselves of who God is—He is good (Exodus 34:6), He is just (Nehemiah 9:32), He is merciful (Hebrews 4:16)—the pressure to solve our own issues and take care of own stress is off. It’s not up to us, and the person it is up to is good, just and merciful.

Remembering What He Has Done for Us

There is no shortage of scholarly evidence that gratitude leads to a less stressful and more “happy life,” as the experts call it. But gratitude for the Christian takes things to a deeper level. We’re not only thankful for what we have; we are able to thank the one who gave it to us.

 Paul tells the Philippians, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 4:6-7). Thanksgiving is on the path toward peace.

I set a challenge for myself this year that you may want to consider if your stress level is high. I’m starting every day by writing down five things I am thankful for and five things I know to be true about God’s character. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now, and though I can’t say my stress is completely gone and everything is roses, I have felt more aware of how good my life is and more aware of God’s presence in it. Reminding myself of these things has allowed me to be less skeptical of God and more trusting of Him. And in that trust, there has been peace.

A 100 percent stress-free life isn’t realistic, but I think we can, realistically, set a goal to stress less, fear less, and experience anxiety less often, one piece of gratitude and one piece of truth at a time.

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.

God is a Fun God: He Created Sex for Enjoyment in Marriage

SOURCE:  Jimmy Evans/MarriageToday

Sex brings more pleasure and satisfaction to marriage than anything else. And sex causes more disagreements and frustration in marriage than anything else.

Sex is one of the main reasons we get married…and sexual problems are one of the main reasons people get divorced.

When I talk about sex to married couples, I like to refer to it as both a thermostat and a thermometer. In your home, you control the temperature by turning the thermostat up or down. Sex heats up a marriage. It makes it better.

Sex can also be a marriage thermometer: it tells the temperature. If the sex is bad or infrequent, then a married couple probably isn’t communicating well. You may have stress, or unresolved anger, or a host of other issues. Poor sex is a symptom of these problems.

I believe there are three truths that we need to understand about sex.

The first is that God created sex for pleasure and lifelong enjoyment. Our God is a fun God! He wants us to enjoy sex in marriage. So a married couple’s sex life not only can make their marriage better, but can also reveal whether or not they have problems. What kind of sex life do you and your spouse have? What does it reveal about your marriage?

The second is that God gave us sexual boundaries to protect us. Just like vehicles come with an owner’s manual that tells us what not to do, God gave us sex but set parameters for it. Things like adultery, fornication, incest, and lust—the Bible says these things are wrong.

No one gets mad because their owner’s manual says to put oil in their Fords every few thousand miles. No one says, “Ford Motor Company doesn’t want me to have any fun!” Ford wants us to treat the car right so we can enjoy it.

God is the same with sex. His rules aren’t to keep us from having fun, but from getting hurt. He wants our bodies to be places of pleasure and delight for our spouses…but for no one else.

The third truth I believe about sex is that God created our sexual differences to make marriage more fulfilling and dynamic. Men and women are very different sexually. For men, sex stimulates our emotions. For women, emotions stimulate sex. We’re two halves of a whole.

A woman becomes more sexual as her husband becomes more romantic and emotional. At the same time, men tend to open up more emotionally when their wives become more sexual. It all works together.

Because sex is so important, I tell couples that there are five basic ingredients of a healthy sex life. Husbands and wives should:

  1. Commit to meeting their spouse’s sexual needs.
  2. Communicate their sexual needs to their spouse.
  3. Commit to sexual purity (thoughts and actions) to protect the integrity of their marriage.
  4. Be honest and accountable about temptations that can hurt a marriage.
  5. Refuse to be close friends with those who violate the marriage covenant.

Those ingredients will keep a couple’s sex life active, fulfilling, and healthy.

God created sex in marriage to be an Eden of pleasure and delight. Embrace it. Talk about it. Pursue it within the safe boundaries of your marriage. And most of all, enjoy it together.

Understanding The Bitter Heart

SOURCE:  Julie Ganschow/Biblical Counseling Coalition

Bitterness is unresolved, unforgiven anger and resentment. It is the result of anger changing from an experience to a belief. Bitterness is seething and constant. Bitter people carry the same burdens as angry people, but to a greater extent.

Watch out that no bitter root of unbelief rises up among you, for whenever it springs up, many are corrupted by its poison.  Hebrews 12:15 (NLT)

Bitterness does not affect only you, dear counselee; it affects everyone with whom you come into contact.

In the book of Ruth we read about Naomi (which means pleasant), the wife of Elimelech. Elimelech took his wife and two sons down from Bethlehem to the country of Moab because there was a famine in the land. While living in Moab, the sons took wives named Ruth and Orpah from among the native people. Elimelech and his two sons died in Moab and left Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah to fend for themselves.

When news came that the famine in the land of Judah had lifted, Naomi decided to return home to her own people. The three women set out together, but on the way, Naomi gave the young women the freedom to return home to their own people.

“No,” they said. “We want to go with you to your people.” But Naomi replied, “Why should you go on with me? Can I still give birth to other sons who could grow up to be your husbands? No, my daughters, return to your parents’ homes, for I am too old to marry again. And even if it were possible, and I were to get married tonight and bear sons, then what? Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry someone else? No, of course not, my daughters! Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD himself has caused me to suffer.”  Ruth 1:10-14 (NLT)

Orpah did turn back, but Ruth was committed to Naomi and to her God.

So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was stirred by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Instead, call me Mara, [meaning bitter] for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why should you call me Naomi when the  LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy?”  Ruth 1:19-21 (NLT) 

What do you suppose it was that caused the whole town to stir? Could it have been Naomi’s appearance? Do you wonder if they could see the changes that had taken place inside her heart or on her face? Note the things Naomi says in verses 19-21:

“Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD himself has caused me to suffer.” And “. . . call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why should you call me Naomi when the LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy?”

Naomi blamed God for making her life bitter and empty. All she could see was that she no longer had what she loved. Her bitterness reflected a heart of unbelief in the justice and sovereignty of God. She held on to the anger for what had been done to her and stood in judgment over God. In the entire text, we see nothing of Naomi’s quest to understand the purpose of God in her suffering. We only read that she was angry and bitter for what she had lost.

Perhaps you struggle with the same type of bitterness. Sometimes women and men who have lost children to illness or accident blame God for their loss. “God, how could you take my beloved child  from me? Don’t You know how much I loved him? How could You do this to  me?” An abandoned spouse may become bitter as they wonder: “God, don’t You see how much I am struggling to raise these kids while he is out living the high life?How can you let him get away with this? I am the one who was faithful, and now I am  he one who is miserable while he has it made! Don’t you care about me? Why aren’t you punishing him?”

The honest businessman sees a crooked businessman prospering while he flounders. “God, how can You stand by and let this happen? I am an honest businessman, and  my business is failing! How can You let him get way with such thievery? I have a wife and kids to feed, God; why are you doing this to me?”

The childless couple is bitter when they see families with several children and they cannot seem to have even one. “God, why don’t You let us have even one child when these other people have so many! It isn’t fair that we can’t have even one child to love while so many are being aborted and abandoned! God, why are You doing this to us?”

You become bitter out of a belief that God will not punish the people who hurt you, that God does not hear your plea, or that He does not care about your plight. Since God is apparently not going to intervene in your circumstances,  you stand in as judge, jury, and executioner in the lives of other people.

It becomes a circular pattern. The more you dwell on what has been done to you, the injustice you have suffered, or the loss you have incurred, the deeper goes the root of bitterness. You already know that carrying around a load of bitterness is exhausting.

Bitterness hardens your heart on the inside and your features on the outside. It also defiles those around you because it is contagious.

Curing The Bitter Heart

Do you want the cure for bitterness? You must understand that the only cure for bitterness and anger is forgiveness.

Bitterness is focused on what has been done to you. To break up bitterness, you must also be willing to look at what you have done to others. Your task is to admit what your responsibility is in the matter and go to those you have hurt, confess your sin, and first seek their forgiveness. You must be willing to get the log out of your own eye prior to examining your neighbor’s eye.

And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eye; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.  Matthew 7:3-5 (NLT) 

The examination process begins right here at home. Start with yourself and seek God’s help in revealing the contents of your heart in relation to how you have sinned against others.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.  Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT) 

There needs to be a willingness on your part to forsake your sin of bitterness.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another,  even as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT) 

Confession of your own sin and repentance for that sin must take place in your heart first. Then you must seek for other relationships to be healed and restored. You may want to pray a prayer similar to this one:

Gracious Heavenly Father, I realize now that I have a root of bitterness in my heart. Thank You that You have chosen this time in my life to reveal it to me. I ask for Your help, dear Lord, to see the areas of my heart and life where bitterness has grown. I trust the Holy Spirit will reveal to me my sin and I confess to you the sin of bitterness regarding the following circumstances in my life : __________

Thank You, dear Lord, for revealing to me the areas of my life over which I am bitter. Please help me to overcome this sin that defiles many and begin to put on the fruit of forgiveness in my life. Please help me to restore and repair the relationships that I have wounded and destroyed by my bitterness. Thank You for Your great gift of grace to me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Forgiving others is not an option for the Christian; it’s required, and it is step number one in removing bitterness.

Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Colossians 3:12-13 (NLT)

In forgiving others, it is important to remember a few important rules: When I forgive, I resolve never to bring this circumstance or situation up again to the one I forgave, to anyone else, or even to myself. It is a closed book. If you are going to pattern your forgiveness after that of the Lord, then you will choose to remember no more the sin committed against you.

But what if you are bitter toward God? What if it is God who has hurt you and caused you pain? My dear friend, please take hold of this truth: God is the sovereign God of the entire universe. It is His, and He does with it what He wishes, and it is always good. In fact, it is always very good!

To believe you must forgive God for what you perceive He has done against you insinuates that God has sinned, and this cannot be. God is a loving, holy, and perfect, sinless God who does not make mistakes.

Naomi, as recorded in the book of Ruth, may have believed for a time that God somehow made a mistake in taking her husband and sons from her, for she said He “brought me back empty.” It was no mistake, however. God was purposely unfolding His divine plan for humanity in Naomi’s life and in the death of her loved ones. Take note, dear one, that if Naomi’s son would have lived, Ruth would have remained his wife. Without the death of her husband, Ruth would not have been free to meet and marry Boaz, who became her kinsman redeemer. Ruth would not have given birth to their son, Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who is the father of David, from whose lineage comes the Christ.

Acceptance of hard things at the hand of a loving God is not easy. I encourage you to seek God in your circumstances and to trust that He is unfolding a divine plan that you cannot see right now, just as He did in the case of Naomi and Ruth. God’s sovereignty is always balanced by His love, and He promises to bring good out of every tragedy and heartache.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn, with many brothers and sisters.  Romans 8:28-29 (NLT) 

Depression: The Good News

SOURCE:  Living Free

“God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'” Hebrews 13:5-6 NIV

Millions of people suffer from clinical depression.

Most people suffering from chronic depression feel so utterly unlovable that they cannot bear the pain of even trying to experience love in a relationship with either God or man. They feel like a failure and that anyone who disagrees with that assessment just doesn’t know them very well. Even if you are not suffering from chronic depression, you may experience feelings like this from time to time—most people do.

If you are feeling this way, think about this good news:

  • God knows you better than you know yourself, and he loves you. He knows you are not perfect, but he loves you unconditionally.
  • He loves you so much that Jesus died on the cross for your sins because he wanted to provide a way that you could be with him for eternity.
  • God loves you so much that he has promised never to leave you.

The Bible tells us that:

  • He is full of compassion for you (Psalm 145:8).
  • He takes pleasure in you (Psalm 149:4).
  • He loves you and gives you honor (Isaiah 43:4).
  • You are precious in his sight (Isaiah 43:7).
  • He promises that he will love you forever (Jeremiah 31:3).

The Bible says Jesus loves you so much that he seeks after you. You are never alone. Right this very moment you may feel alone, but you are not. Jesus is there with you. Seeking to help you.

Say yesYes to his love.  Yes to his help.  Yes to Jesus.

Lord, thank you for loving me no matter what. Thank you for promising to be with me … always. When I start to feel alone, please remind me that you are there. In Jesus’ name …

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————


These thoughts were drawn from …

  Understanding Depression: Overcoming Despair through Christ by Donald G. Miles, Ed.D. 

Rejoice When Suffering? Really? Really!!

SOURCE:  Living Free

“We can rejoice too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Romans 5:3-5 NLT

It is usually easy to rejoice when things are going well in our lives. But how about when we are having problems … and suffering? The Bible says even then we are to rejoice!

None of us likes to suffer, but experiencing problems does not have to be destructive to our relationship with God. We need to trust God and see the good that can come through our experiences of suffering. Suffering teaches us to endure patiently . It also teaches us that our comfort is not the most important thing in life. Suffering builds character. It strengthens our hope because when we have to face another tribulation, we can look back on how God helped us in the past.

Although we would all prefer to be exempt from tribulations, God uses them to deepen our relationship with him. They are still painful, but we can be comforted with the knowledge that our sufferings do not mean God is displeased with us. And we can rejoice because God will bring good even from the most difficult times … if we will continue to trust in him and his great love.

Father, teach me to rejoice even when I am suffering … to see the good that can come from these struggles … and to remember your great love for me. In Jesus’ name …

Developing the Quality of Being CHILDLIKE

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Just Be a Kid!

The most rewarding memories I have as a father are of my daughters coming to me with a problem. To this day, a call from one of my children for help or guidance evokes a fulfilling sense of urgency and purpose in me. Protecting, guiding, helping them then seeing them turn the corner from being stressed or scared to hopeful and confident becomes my highest priority. Being able to be a catalyst of their safety and joy is such a blessing from God.

Their requests and the opportunity to help them generate a sense of wellbeing in me for a number of reasons. For example: it shows they know I love them, that they love me, they trust me, and they think I am capable. As young children, we all believe that our fathers have super-human power to tackle and solve any problem. We believe that our mothers can soothe and comfort any pain or suffering. Kiss any boo-boo and make it better than ever. Unfortunately, as we grow up, that reality gets shattered. Sometimes in dreadful ways.

Magical thinking and the willingness to suspend reality allow us to believe the impossible is possible. We think limitations don’t apply to our parents … we think our parents can read our minds … parents can make our dreams come true … parents can protect us from any villain or catastrophe. Parents can get us out of any problem, but up every bully, comfort us through any storm, and be a sanctuary for every nightmare.

This is the same mindset we need when we prepare to view and take in God … that of a young child … a mind not yet fully contaminated by the world’s hurts, failures, and letdowns. Maybe this is the reason scripture tells us over and again that being “childlike” is such a very important quality. Well, it’s more than important. Jesus even states it is a requirement to enter the kingdom of God.

God, as our supreme Father, loves us beyond our human comprehension. And doesn’t a loving father want only the best for his children? Satan uses our parents and the world’s failures to douse this awesome child-like supernatural expectation, understanding, and belief that God instilled and wants to see in us. God’s ways are mysterious to an adult, but to a child they make perfect sense.

Today, begin receiving the kingdom of God like a little child. Take a confusing or frustrating situation, and suspend your cynicism and distrust. Don’t put God in a box with walls determined by your past hurts, letdowns, and imperfect authority figures. Turn to your Father and ask for His help. Show Him that you love and trust Him. Acknowledge that He loves you. Show child-like adoration, trust, and belief in His superhuman, actually Divine, and omnipotent Strength. Come to Him with expectation … Then see results happen! Whether you enjoy life with Childlike trust or struggle using adult-like cynicism is your decision, so choose well!

Dear Father, You are such a loving and generous Father. Thank You, Lord. All glory to You, Father. Just as a child turns to his earthly father, I turn to You for love, wisdom, guidance … and especially protection from all things that may bring me harm. I place my trust in You, Father. I trust You completely. With You, I feel safe. Help me today, and everyday, to keep Your truths before me … to keep You before me always. Fill me with Your Spirit so that I may grasp the magnitude of Your love for me. I pray that all grasp the enormity of Your love for them, Your children. I pray to You in the sacred name of my Lord and brother, Your Son, Jesus Christ; – AMEN!

“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:17

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:32

“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:4

Give Thanks… for CONFLICT?

SOURCE:  Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 84-85.   

As usual, Paul [in Philippians 4:2-9] urges us to be God-centered in our approach to conflict.

Moreover, he wants us to be joyfully God-centered.

Realizing we may skip over this point, Paul repeats it: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” What on earth is there to rejoice about when you are involved in a dispute?

If you open your eyes and think about God’s lavish goodness to you, here is the kind of worship you could offer to him, even in the midst of the worst conflict!

O Lord, you are so amazingly good to me! You sent your only Son to die for my sins, including those I have committed in this conflict. Because of Jesus I am forgiven, and my name is written in the Book of Life! You do not treat me as I deserve, but you are patient, kind, gentle, and forgiving with me. Please help me to do the same to others.

In your great mercy, you are also kind to my opponent. Although he has wronged me repeatedly, you hold out your forgiveness to him as you do to me. Even if he and I never reconcile in this life, which I still hope we will, you have already done the work to reconcile us forever in heaven. This conflict is so insignificant compared to the wonderful hope we have in you!

This conflict is so small compared to the many other things you are watching over at this moment, yet you still want to walk beside me as I seek to resolve it. Why would you stoop down to pay such attention to me? It is too wonderful for me to understand. You are extravagant in your gifts to me. You offer me the comfort of your Spirit, the wisdom of your Word, and the support of your church. Forgive me for neglecting these powerful treasures until now, and help me to use them to please and honor you.

I rejoice that these same resources are available to my opponent. Please enable us to draw on them together so that we see our own sins, remember the gospel, find common ground in the light of your truth, come to one mind with you and each other, and restore peace and unity between us.

Finally, Lord, I rejoice that this conflict has not happened by accident. You are sovereign and good, so I know that you are working through this situation for your glory and my good. No matter what my opponent does, you are working to conform me to the likeness of your Son. Please help me cooperate with you in every possible way and give you glory for what you have done and are doing.

 

Seven Things the Bible Says About Evil

SOURCE:  Johnathon Bowers/Desiring God

How can we reconcile God’s sweeping control over creation with the existence of such horrors as cancer, famine, genocide, sexual abuse, tsunamis, and terrorism? Voltaire sums up the issue nicely in his “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster,” written after the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755:

Ill could not from a perfect being spring,
Nor from another, since God’s sovereign king.

His point is that since God is good, he can’t properly be the source of evil. Likewise, if God is all-powerful, no one else can thwart his intentions. So we’re stuck, it seems. Who’s to blame for the suffering we experience? Though we lack the space here for an extended discussion, let’s consider seven biblical affirmations.

1. Evil is real.

That is to say, we distort the Bible and do ourselves a profound disservice by minimizing the existence of suffering. God invites us to acknowledge our pain. The Psalmist wrote, “I believed, even when I spoke, ‘I am greatly afflicted'” (Psalm 116:10).

2. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

In some ways, talking about a “problem of evil” is a false start. A better quandary to start with would be the problem of sin. How quickly we rush to raise a self-righteous fist while our other hand digs in the cookie jar. “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?” (Ezekiel 18:25).

3. God is good.

Whatever we say about God’s sovereignty over evil (and say we will; see below), we must never imply that God is corrupt, that he somehow nurses a dark side. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).

4. God ordains all things that come to pass, including evil.

God does whatever he pleases (Psalm 135:6). To be sure, this means he clothes lilies and feeds birds (Matthew 6:26, 28). But he also makes lightning (Psalm 135:7). He strikes down firstborn children and kills mighty kings (Psalm 135:8). Our God holds sway over the good, the bad, and the ugly. “I form light and create darkness,” he says. “I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

5. Man is responsible for his actions.

Lest we fall into fatalism, we should remember that God’s sovereignty never excuses wrongdoing. When a man commits murder, the blood is on his hands. “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” (Luke 22:22).

6. God did not spare his own Son.

The cross speaks to our theology of suffering in at least two ways. First, it shows us that God can will something to happen that he opposes. Proverbs 6:16-17 tells us that God hates “hands that shed innocent blood.” And yet he sent his Son to suffer precisely that fate. Is this a mystery? Absolutely. But it is not nonsense. We can look at evil and with no contradiction say, “This is wrong, and God has willed that it take place.” Listen to how Peter describes the crucifixion: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23, emphasis mine).

Second, the cross demonstrates that God regards our affliction not as something strange to the palette, but as a cup he has drunk to the dregs. By giving up his own Son, God entered into our pain. He knows what it’s like to suffer loss. But he also did more. By putting his Son to grief, God turned grief on its head. “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). This brings us to the final point.

7. Heaven works backwards.

C. S. Lewis writes in The Great Divorce, “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”

Lewis is not being novel here. He is simply restating what Christians have hoped in for centuries, the promise that gives all our suffering purpose: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Johnathon Bowers is Instructor of Theology and Christian Worldview atBethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, MN.

Do I Need Something MORE than GOD?

SOURCE:  Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

[Envy is] wanting and sometimes craving what others have, instead of getting our joy from God and what He has given us. Envy is one of the traps Satan sets for us, using our pride, flesh, and satisfy-me-now mentality against us. Satan deceives us constantly. He actually distorts our lenses, so we believe that our fulfillment and joy in this life come from emotional, psychological, physical, or material answers. His goal is getting us to close down our spiritual radar, turn off our spiritual antennae, and ignore divine answers for our needs

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had a fantastic set up, a direct relationship with the perfect God in the perfect setting and no adversity. But they weren’t omniscient and they were gullible (like us). Satan tricked them into believing they needed something more. They thought or feared that something was missing from their life. He duped them into thinking they needed more power and more knowledge, and could get all that through a piece of fruit. I like to think I would have held out for a steak. Instead of staying in relationship with God and relying on Him, they were swindled by Satan, tricked into trading eternal life with God for separation from God and life on their own. Thankfully, God wasn’t vengeful against them and provided a way back into relationship with Him.

Here’s the trap.

If you believe your happiness and contentment depend on your external circumstances, or some place or someone else other than God, you will always be lost, unhappy, and discontent. Those things weren’t meant to bring you what you desire, nor can they.

God designed us specifically to be immune to those external things. So regardless of our circumstances, or more importantly, the mistakes we make that damage our circumstances, we still have access to a peace, comfort, and joy that is independent of who or what is around us.

Look inside and identify some of your traps … fruit/apples … you have been tricked into believing. How were you tricked into believing they could deliver what you really desire, in the deepest places of your heart. It seems silly when we put it that way, but that shows the cunning of our Adversary in the war we are fighting.

Don’t mistake momentary relief for true fulfillment. That’s Satan’s trap! Whether you choose God to meet your needs or settle for the substitutes of this world is your decision, so choose well.

Dear God, You and only You are the source of my joy, peace, and comfort. I confess that my need to control life is the apple I frequently grab. Help me grow trust in Your control in my life instead of my inadequate abilities. Please grow in me eyes that see and ears that hear the traps Satan places in my path. Lord, help me choose the Stepping Stone You have for my movement forward to Christ-likeness. Strengthen me through Your Spirit to resist the temptations and impulses of my flesh so I don’t get trapped and have to ask for Your forgiveness yet again. Thanks for Your endless grace and forgiveness. In Jesus’ all providing death and resurrection I pray;  – AMEN!

The Truth
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Genesis 3:4-7

A Lesson from Hezekiah: 7 Steps to More Effective Prayers

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

Hezekiah ruled over Judah and was a good and faithful king.

Hezekiah often became the target of warring nations. The king of Assyria, which was a much more powerful nation, decided to attempt a take over of Hezekiah’s kingdom. Throughout the stressful time in leadership, Hezekiah consistently used the same battle plan. He went before the Lord in prayer and followed the Lord’s commands. Hezekiah relied on prayer to rule his life. This king knew how to pray and he prayed in a way that got results.

At one point, the Assyrian king launched a huge smear campaign against Hezekiah with his own people. It scared all Hezekiah’s people to death.

Hezekiah heard about it and went before the Lord. God assured Hezekiah everything would be ok, but the Assyrians wouldn’t let up. They kept taunting and taunting, throwing threats towards Hezekiah. They sent a letter by messenger to Hezekiah, basically which, said, “The Assyrians are tough and they are coming for you next.”

What do you do when you are backed into a corner about to face something bigger than your ability to handle? Well, Hezekiah received the letter with all the threats and began to pray.

We find this account in  2 Kings 19:14-19

What can we learn from listening in as Hezekiah prayed?

Hezekiah got alone with God. There is corporate prayer like we do at church, and there is prayer where a few are gathered, but probably some of the most effective prayer time of your life will be the time you invest alone with God.

Hezekiah’s prayer was Immediate. It wasn’t an afterthought. It was prior to making his plans. We are so geared to react that it’s hard for us to go first to God. He may be second or third or when we are backed into a corner and have no choice, but as a habit we need to make God the first place we turn in our lives.

Hezekiah’s prayer was Open and honest. Hezekiah was transparent before the Lord.  I love the imagery here in this prayer story of Hezekiah. He took the letter, went to the house of the Lord, and spread it out before Him. I get this visual image of Hezekiah, and this letter…laying it there on the table, and saying, “Okay, God, what now? What do I do next?”

Are you in a tough spot right now? You may just need to get you some note cards right down all the things you are struggling with….lay them out on a table…then say, “Okay God, here are my struggles…I can’t do anything about them. What now?”

Writing your prayer requests before God is a great idea for 2 reasons.

a. It helps you remember to pray for them.

b. It helps you to watch as God answers. We get more answers than we realize if we only ask.

Hezekiah’s prayer was Honoring, humble and respectful of who God is.  Hezekiah knew his place as king…and he knew God’s place in the Kingdom. Hezekiah was king of a nation and that is an important job, yet Hezekiah willingly humbled himself in prayer, because he knew his place before the King of kings.

Hezekiah’s prayer was Bold. He said, “Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD…” Hezekiah had the kind of relationship with God where it wasn’t a surprise when Hezekiah showed up to pray. They talked frequently; probably throughout the day. Because of that relationship, Hezekiah didn’t wonder if God would be there when he came before Him. He knew he could ask God to act on his behalf.

The more you grow in your relationship with God, the bolder your prayers can become, because the more your heart will begin to line up with God’s heart.

Hezekiah’s prayer was Dependent. In verses 17-18 he prays, “It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands.” Hezekiah knew he was out of his league facing the Assyrians. From the way I see that Hezekiah responded to life, however, I don’t think it mattered the size of the battle Hezekiah was going to depend on God.

Hezekiah’s prayer was certain…Because it was based on his personal faith and trust in God.  In verse 19, Hezekiah prayed, “Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.”

Hezekiah had a faith in God that allowed him to pray with confidence. You need to understand that faith is always based on the promises of God. Some things God has promised to do…some He hasn’t. God has promised to always get glory for Himself and always work things for an ultimate good. He hasn’t promised to rid everyone of cancer or to heal every bad relationship.

(That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray for everything. We don’t know His will, but we can’t guarantee God to do that which He hasn’t promised to do.) Sometimes we get upset because God doesn’t do something we asked or wanted Him to do but the fact is He had never promised to do it.

Hezekiah knew God had promised to save His people. He knew God had placed him in the position of authority over them. He had confidence that God would do what He had promised to do. Hezekiah trusted God to be faithful to His word so he was willing to act in faith.

What situations are you dealing with today that you know you are helpless to do on your own and you desperately desire God’s answer?

Get alone with God, spread your problems out before Him honestly, humbly, and boldly; then, allow His will to be done, as you wait for His response.

40 Sweet Memories Mothers Long to Relive

SOURCE:  Tracey Eyster/Family Life

If you are a mom of little children, I know you are weary. But I wonder if you might, for just a moment, imagine what it will be like when your littles are big.

Oh, I know you long for that day and the freedom you imagine it will afford. And yes, there are new-found freedoms when our children are older, but you will also find that you yearn for the special moments of their early years.

For some strange reason, as I sit here, I have been swept up in a wave of longing … for the old familiar, for the sweet memories of days gone by.  Uncomplicated, sweet, daily, seemingly inconsequential and un-magnificent little wisps of wonder with little ones that can easily go unappreciated.

Memories like:

1. Sweet sleeping noises over an intercom.

2. Nightly baths and the “get ready for bed” togetherness routine.

3. Creating masterpieces with sidewalk chalk.

4. Reading the same book over and over and over and over and over.

5. That wee little face that lights up when I walk into a room.

6. “Can I have a glass of water?” (Really, I miss it!)

7. Waking up to someone crawling in bed with us.

8. Matchbox cars being driven up my legs and parked on my belly.

9. Having dozens of hair bows lovingly placed in my hair.

10. Joining in on a pots and pans band!

11. Making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

12. Washing their hair.

13. Blowing bubbles … lots and lots of bubbles.

14. Frequently-lavished butterfly kisses, accompanied by a very close up, soft, ear tickling whisper: “I love you so so much, Mama!”

15. Going on long walks while dodging a big wheel and a small bike.

16. Washing tiny dishes.

17. Having little forks and spoons in the cutlery drawer.

18. Sippy cups.

19. Working puzzles … lots of puzzles.

20. Coloring.

21. Playing hide and go seek.

22. Bringing home stacks of books from the library.

23. Being told how “adorable” my children are.

24. Washing and folding tiny little socks, shorts, shirts, blankies – all of it, really.

25. Hearing nightly “Now I lay me down to sleep…”

26. Cuddling on the couch and watching Tom and Jerry cartoons.

27. Building towers tall.

28. Little hands trying hard to tie little shoes.

29. Shrieks when Daddy pulls into the driveway.

30. Messy beds that can’t quite be made up just right.

31. “Mom, can we snuggle?”

32. Playing peek a boo, repeatedly!

33. Messy linen closets.

34. Arts and crafts.

35. After doing our errands, going to the toy store – just for fun!

36. Kissing boo boos.

37. Hearing, “I did it by my big self!”

38. Little hands folded in prayer.

39. Cherub lips that freely give kisses.

40. Belly laughs and endless giggles.

Heavy sigh.

Moms … enjoy every moment and be filled with gratitude for the gift of mom life.

We really do have the best ever fringe benefits!

 

The Reasons for My Suffering

SOURCE:  R.C. Sproul

Suffering and the Glory of God

I once visited with a woman who was dying from uterine cancer. She was greatly distressed, but not only from her physical ailment. She explained to me that she had had an abortion when she was a young woman, and she was convinced that her disease was a direct consequence of that. In short, she believed cancer was the judgment of God on her.

The usual pastoral response to such an agonizing question from someone in the throes of death is to say the affliction is not a judgment of God for sin. But I had to be honest, so I told her that I did not know. Perhaps it was God’s judgment, but perhaps it was not. I cannot fathom the secret counsel of God or read the invisible hand of His providence, so I did not know why she was suffering. I did know, however, that whatever the reason for it, there was an answer for her guilt. We talked about the mercy of Christ and of the cross, and she died in faith.

The question that woman raised is asked every day by people who are suffering affliction. It is addressed in one of the more difficult passages in the New Testament. In John 9, we read: “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (vv. 1–3).

Why did Jesus’ disciples suppose that the root cause of this man’s blindness was his sin or his parents’ sin? They certainly had some basis for this assumption, for the Scriptures, from the account of the fall onward, make it clear that the reason suffering, disease, and death exist in this world is sin. The disciples were correct that somehow sin was involved in this man’s affliction. Also, there are examples in the Bible of God causing affliction because of specific sins. In ancient Israel, God afflicted Moses’ sister, Miriam, with leprosy because she questioned Moses’ role as God’s spokesman (Num. 12:1–10). Likewise, God took the life of the child born to Bathsheba as a result of David’s sin (2 Sam. 12:14–18). The child was punished, not because of anything the child did, but as a direct result of God’s judgment on David.

However, the disciples made the mistake of particularizing the general relationship between sin and suffering. They assumed there was a direct correspondence between the blind man’s sin and his affliction. Had they not read the book of Job, which deals with a man who was innocent and yet was severely afflicted by God? The disciples erred in reducing the options to two when there was another alternative. They posed their question to Jesus in an either/or fashion, committing the logical fallacy of the false dilemma, assuming that the sin of the man or the sin of the man’s parents was the cause of his blindness.

The disciples also seem to have assumed that anyone who has an affliction suffers in direct proportion to the sin that has been committed. Again, the book of Job dashes that conclusion, for the degree of suffering Job was called to bear was astronomical compared with the suffering and afflictions of others far more guilty than he was.

We must never jump to the conclusion that a particular incidence of suffering is a direct response or in direct correspondence to a person’s particular sin. The story of the man born blind makes this point.

Our Lord answered the disciples’ question by correcting their false assumption that the man’s blindness was a direct consequence of his or his parents’ sin. He assured them that the man was born blind not because God was punishing the man or the man’s parents. There was another reason. And because there was another reason in this case, there might always be another reason for the afflictions God calls us to endure.

Jesus answered His disciples by saying, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (v. 3). What did He mean? Simply put, Jesus said that the man was born blind so that Jesus might heal him at the appointed time, as a testimony to Jesus’ power and divinity. Our Lord displayed His identity as the Savior and the Son of God in this healing.

When we suffer, we must trust that God knows what He is doing, and that He works in and through the pain and afflictions of His people for His glory and for their sanctification. It is hard to endure lengthy suffering, but the difficulty is greatly alleviated when we hear our Lord explaining the mystery in the case of the man born blind, whom God called to many years of pain for Jesus’ glory.

Why does God allow tornadoes, tragedy and suffering?

SOURCE:  Fox News

The agnostic philosopher David Hume claimed that tragedies in the world such as the tornadoes in Moore, Oklahoma last week constitute prima facie evidence that God is either evil, impotent, or non-existent.

Admittedly, reconciling the reality of suffering with faith in a loving, all-powerful God is difficult.

The late rector John Stott claimed that the existence of suffering in the world posed the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.

If there is a God, why would He allow this unwanted divorce, undeserved termination from a job, or unexpected illness?

When Lee Strobel was preparing to write his best-selling book “The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity,” he conducted a nationwide survey asking, “If you could ask God anything what would you ask?”

The top response was, “Why is the suffering and evil in the world?”

As a pastor for more than 30 years, I realize that when people pose that question they are not as concerned with suffering in the world in general as they are with the reality of suffering in their own lives.  If there is a God, why would He allow this unwanted divorce, undeserved termination from a job, or unexpected illness?

One night my wife and I were traveling on an interstate highway in the middle of West Texas in a driving rainstorm when our headlights went out due to an electrical malfunction in our car.

We could not see two inches in front of us, but we were hesitant to pull over to the shoulder of the road for fear of being hit by another car.

Thankfully, we spotted an eighteen-wheeler in our rear-view mirror.  We allowed it to pass us, and then we simply zeroed in on its tail lights and followed it safely into the city limits of our town.

Although there is no pat answer to the question, “Why does God allow suffering in the world?” the Bible does offer three truths (or “lights”) we can depend on to lead us safely through the storms of adversity that unexpectedly blow into our lives.

God is loving. The psalmist declared, “The earth is full of your loving-kindness, O Lord” (Psalm 119:64).  Even apart from the Bible, the world is filled with the evidence of a benevolent Creator.

Yes, occasionally floods and tornadoes bring indescribable heartache and even death.  But such disasters are the exception rather than the rule.  Most of the time rivers stay within their banks and winds are held in check.

The outpouring of help by first responders and the financial support for those whose lives are destroyed by the occasional disaster are a reflection of the goodness of God in whose image we are made.

God is all-powerful. Again, the psalmist claims that God is in control of all His creation (Psalm 103:19).  Some people find this truth troubling.  If God has the ability to prevent natural disasters and human tragedy, why doesn’t He?

In an attempt to acquit God of responsibility for evil in the world,  a growing number of  people think of God as a loving but impotent old man who would like to help us, but is incapable of doing so.

But do you find any comfort in the belief that you are simply a victim of random events and people?  Fortunately, the Bible assures us that there is a God who is in control of everything that happens in our lives.

God’s ways are beyond our understanding.  One of the most famous analogies about God’s purpose in suffering is that of a bear caught in a trap in the woods.  The hunter, wanting to help the bear, approaches him, but the bear won’t allow it.

The hunter, determined to help, shoots a dart full of drugs into the bear.  The bear is now convinced that the hunter wants to hurt him.

The drugged animal, now semi-conscious, watches as the hunter actually pushes the bear’s paw further into the jaws of the trap in order  to release the tension.

The bear has all the evidence it needs to conclude the hunter is evil.  But the bear has made its judgment too soon, before the hunter frees him from the trap.

At some point God will seem unfair to those of us trapped in time, but we make our judgment too soon.

One day, perhaps not until heaven, we will understand what the Hunter was up to in our lives.  Until that time, God says “Trust me.  I have a plan I’m working out in your life, even though in the darkness of the storm you cannot see what that plan is.”

————————————————————————————–

Dr. Robert Jeffress is pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.  His daily radio program “Pathway to Victory” is heard on 760 stations nationwide. He is the author of 20 books including, “How Can I Know: Answers to Life’s 7 Most Important Questions.”

[Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/05/26/why-does-god-allow-tornadoes-tragedy-and-suffering/?intcmp=features#ixzz2UPIzKO57]

Failure: God Loves Losers

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Ed Welch/CCEF

Being a Loser and the Freedom to Fail

Two kinds of failure

Our failures are not all of the same type.

“I failed the test. I studied but ended up with an F.”

“I failed the test. I was alone on a business trip and assumed I could resist temptation, but the first thing I did was turn on the porn channel.”

These are two very different failures.

One reveals that we are fallible humans who make mistakes; the other violates the clear commands of the Lord. Ironically, given a choice, many of us would prefer a small moral failure to one in which our blunders are exposed. I’ll leave the more serious matter of failure involving sin for another time, and consider the one that is less serious but feels more pressing.

The category of failure-because-we-are-human is one all of us face. This is the failure you experience when you don’t make the cut for the varsity team and all your friends do, or you don’t get the job, or you lose the church vote for deacon, or a date never calls back.

“Stupid!” “Loser!”

At times like these, we assume that everybody sees that we are losers, and we are persuaded that we are losers.

Bring failures to the Lord

One of the telltale signs of this kind of human failure is that we are slow to bring it before God. Moral failure is different; we know we must do business with the Father. But human failure has independent instincts, or, at least, we assume it is about our reputation before other people rather than our relationship with the Lord.

But the Lord does have something to say about it.

Start by telling him what is going on.

What is it? What failure are you upset about? (“My whole life” doesn’t count. Be more specific).

What are you really saying? Is it something like this: “People think I’m a jerk!” “I have made life more difficult for my family.” “I expected more of myself.”

Anything you need to confess? There is probably no obvious sin if the matter is not a moral failure, but we can always confess our over-interest in personal reputation.

Then listen to Scripture. You’ll find a number of divine responses. Here are just two.

The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. (James 1:9-10)

Consider how you, as a brother in humble circumstances, have been singled out from the beginning of time to belong to God and, as you throw your lot in with Jesus, you have all of Christ’s inheritance. Your stature, indeed, is quite high.

I appreciate those words, and sometimes they are helpful, but I find more comfort— and some humor—in these:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor.1:26-29)

God loves losers

In other words, God loves losers. He is the one who chooses us to be part of his team. This way we can’t boast that our stellar reputation is a result of our fine work and amazing talents.

The freedom we have in Christ has a few different facets. One is that we are not judged by the world’s standards of success and failure. Instead, we have the freedom to be human, which means that when we fail, and we will every day, we know that Jesus is the head of this new world order, not us, and we hope to one day realize that there are more important matters, such as boasting in what Jesus has done.

Lord, Please Do NOT Bless Me If…………….

SOURCE: Taken from an article by Barbara Rainey/Family Life Ministry

Beware of Blessings?

Then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God.

                                           Deuteronomy 8:14

I remember driving home alone in my car years ago and contemplating this question: How did I get to this place where I (and everyone else I know) feel out of breath from the daily race?

I found myself imagining how much simpler life must have been in Little House on the Prairie days.

If I were living on a farm in the 1800s, I wouldn’t worry about having my hair cut and frosted (which is where I’d been for the past two hours). We’d be living miles from our nearest neighbors, so I wouldn’t have a whole town full of people to compare my house with. Running errands would be a simple event with only one store in town that would have everything we needed.

But is living in the twenty-first century the only reason why our lives are so cluttered with lessons, parties, activities, trips, classes, events and meetings?

No.

We live this way because we can — and because we choose to. Because we’re prosperous enough to do so. That’s the only explanation for why we work countless hours earning money to spend on countless things we don’t really need.

Prosperity is a blessing from God; His Word makes that clear. But He also makes it clear that prosperity can kill us, because abundance brings with it the very real danger that we will forget God, the true source of it all.

Thomas Carlyle said, “For every one hundred people who can handle adversity, I can only show you one who can handle prosperity.” Adversity reduces our choices and many times crystallizes our priorities. Prosperity, however, increases our options and activity. Stress soon follows!

Always be wary of prosperity and what it’s capable of doing in you.

What is more important to you than success? And how much of your average week is spent on those priorities?

Commit to the daily exercise of remembering who you belong to and why you have anything.

Raw Praying: A Prayer for the Spiritually Disconnected and Distressed

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

 O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. (Jer. 20:7) Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow and spend my days in shame? (Jer. 20:18)

Gracious Father, this is some pretty raw praying by one of your called and beloved prophets. Jeremiah’s lament makes me thankful today for the freedom you give us to bring our unfiltered and unfettered feelings to you. If we don’t bring our painful emotions to you, we will take them somewhere. Somebody besides ourselves will feel the brunt of our anguish and anger, disconnect and disillusionment.

Father, only you have the big enough heart and broad enough shoulders to walk with us through our seasons of chaos and confusion. I praise you for your constant, compassionate welcome. If you’re not put off by Jeremiah’s struggle, surely you will take on ours.

It’s comforting to know that the same prophet who assured others of your gracious promise and good plan—a plan for prosperity, not harm (Jer. 29:11); the same prophet who gave us a vision of the glory and the grace of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34); this same prophet, like us, experienced seasons in which he felt deceived, betrayed, and abandoned—even regretting the day he was born. We’re all weak and broken. We all need the gospel of your grace, every single day.

This gives me courage as I seek to steward my own feelings. But today it gives me compassion as I pray for a few friends who are feeling exactly what Jeremiah felt. For the friend I sat with yesterday who’s feeling set up, chewed up, and spit out by you, bring the gospel to bear. She loves you, but she feels abandoned by you. She knows better, but she feels bitter. My instinct is to “fix her,” but the way of the gospel is to listen and love before launching. Give me patience and kindness as I trust you to restore her to gospel sanity.

For my friend whose spiritual melancholia is heading to an even darker place, Father, give me wisdom. What part of his struggle is purely physical? What’s, to some degree, demonic? What’s just plane ole’ pity party? I can’t tell, but I trust you to love him through me and to give me the grace I need to walk with him. Help me, Father, and heal my friends. Meet them as you met Jeremiah. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ strong and loving name.

When Jesus Makes You Wait in Pain

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

The reason there was a “Palm Sunday” was because Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 12:17–18). It was perhaps the most powerful, hope-giving miracle Jesus ever performed during his pre-cross ministry; the capstone sign of who he was (John 5:21–25).

That’s why the Apostle John wrote, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:5–6).

The word “so” connecting those two sentences is stunning. The most loving thing Jesus could do at that moment was to let Lazarus die. But it didn’t look or feel like love to Martha.


“Martha, the Teacher has come. He’s near the village.”

Martha’s emotions collided. Just hearing that Jesus was near resuscitated hope in her soul — the same hope she had felt the day she sent word for him to come.

But it was quickly smothered with grief and disappointment. Lazarus had died four days earlier. She had prayed desperately that Jesus would come in time. God had not answered her prayers. What could Jesus do now?

And yet… if anyone could do something, Jesus could. He had the words of eternal life (John 6:68). Martha hurried out.

When she saw Jesus, she could not restrain her grief and love. She collapsed at his feet and sobbed, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Jesus laid his hand on her head.

He had come to Bethany to destroy the devil’s works (1 John 3:8) in Lazarus. He had come to give death a taste of its coming final defeat (1 Corinthians 15:26). He had come to show that now was the time when the dead would hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who heard would live (John 5:25).

Martha did not know all this. Neither did she know that what was about to happen would hasten Jesus’ own death—a death that would purchase her resurrection and both of Lazarus’s. She didn’t know how this weighed on him, how great was his distress until it was accomplished (Luke 12:50).

But Jesus’ wordless kindness soothed her.

When Martha’s sorrowful convulsion had passed she said, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

Jesus gently lifted Martha’s eyes and looked at her with affectionate intensity. “Your brother will rise again.”

His living words revived her hope. Could he mean…? No. She dared not let herself hope in that way. Not after four days.

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Yes. Lazarus would rise again on the last day. Martha had no idea how deeply Jesus longed for that day. But Jesus meant more than that.

He replied, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

The power with which Jesus spoke caused faith to swell in Martha’s soul. She wasn’t sure what this all meant, but as he spoke it was as if death itself was being swallowed up (1 Corinthians 15:54). No one ever spoke like this man (John 7:46).

She answered, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”


We know how this story from John chapter eleven ends. But in the horrible days of Lazarus’s agonizing illness and in the dark misery of the days following his death, Martha did not know what God was doing. He seemed silent and unresponsive. Jesus didn’t come. It’s likely that she knew word had reached him. She was confused, disappointed, and overwhelmed with grief.

And yet, Jesus delayed precisely because he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. He knew that Lazarus’s death and resurrection would give maximum glory to God and his friends would all experience maximum joy in that glory. It would make all their suffering seem light and momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17).

When Jesus makes a trusting saint wait in pain, his reasons are only love. God only ordains his child’s deep disappointment and profound suffering in order to give him or her far greater joy in the glory he is preparing to reveal (Romans 8:18).

Before we know what Jesus is doing, circumstances can look all wrong. And we are tempted to interpret God’s apparent inaction as unloving, when in fact God is loving us in the most profound way he possibly can.

So in your anguish of soul, hear Jesus ask with strong affection, “Do you believe this?”


Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of the forthcoming book Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith (April 30, 2013)

God did not do this for friends, but for enemies…[You & Me]

SOURCE:  Jonathan Edwards/Reformed Quotes

It was come to this: either we must die eternally, or the Son of God must spill his blood; either we, or God’s own Son must suffer God’s wrath, one of the two; either miserable worms of the dust that had deserved it, or the glorious, amiable, beautiful, and innocent Son of God.

The fall of man brought it to this; it must be determined one way or t’other and it was determined, by the strangely free and boundless grace of God, that this his own Son should die that the offending worms might be freed, and set at liberty from their punishment, and that justice might make them happy. Here is grace indeed; well may we shout, “Grace, grace!” at this.

And beside, God did not do this for friends, but for enemies and haters of him. He did not do it for loyal subjects, but for rebels; he did not do it for those that were his children, but for the children of the devil; he did not do it for those that were excellent, but for those that were more hateful than toads or vipers; he did not do it for those that could be any way profitable or advantageous to him, but for those that were so weak, that instead of profiting God, they were not able in the least to help themselves.

God has given even fallen man such a gift, that He has left nothing for man to do that he may be happy, but only to receive what is given him. Though he has sinned, yet God requires no amends to be made by him; He requires of him no restoration; if they will receive His Son of Him, He requires neither money nor price; he is to do no penance in order to be forgiven. God offers to save him for nothing, only if he will receive salvation as it is offered; that is, freely through Christ, by faith in Him.

~ Jonathan Edwards,  Works of Jonathan Edwards

Five (5) Ways to Stop Discouragement from Getting the Best of You

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Discouragement and disappointment are normal emotions we all experience, even as Christians.

Peter felt discouraged with himself when he realized that he wasn’t as courageous as he thought he was, even though Jesus had warned him that he would deny him before the rooster crowed (Matthew 26:31 and 74,75). We too can feel discouraged and even depressed when we fail to live up to our own or other’s expectations.

Job felt discouraged and frustrated with his wife and friends. They didn’t get it. Trying to be helpful, they only heaped more shame and blame on Job for his afflictions. We also can feel let down by our friends and family. They don’t understand what we’re going through or don’t offer to help as we wish they would. (Read through the biblical book of Job for the story.)

We can get discouraged with life’s circumstances. Things don’t always turn out the way we’d hoped despite our persistent prayers. Elijah hoped that, after all the miracles the Israelites saw performed on Mount Carmel, they would finally repent and put God first, but they did not. King Ahab and Jezebel were as stubborn and hard hearted as always and Elijah felt discouraged, exhausted and believed his entire ministry was a waste (1 Kings 19).

Jeremiah felt angry and discouraged with God, when he believed God was against him, and temporarily lost hope in God (Lamentations 3). The disciples too felt discouraged after Jesus was crucified, before he rose from the dead. They said “We were hoping that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21) They couldn’t see the bigger picture and felt that their life’s work was a waste.

Discouragement happens, even to the strongest and best of people. Here are five (5) things you can do when you start to feel the black cloud of discouragement swallow you up.

1.  Be honest.  It does you no good to pretend you don’t feel what you feel. You can’t take action against a negative feeling until you first admit you have it. A strong Christian is not someone who never experiences negative feelings. It’s someone who has learned what to do with them when he or she has them and how to process them biblically.

2.  Take care of your body.  If your body isn’t working, your mind, emotions and will are also weakened. I love how God tended to Elijah’s body first, before addressing anything else, and provided ravens to feed him. Sometimes the circumstances of life drain us dry and we need to press pause, stop doing, and simply rest and refresh.

3.  Pay attention to your thought life.  Maturing as believers means we learn to think truthfully (Philippians 4:8) and to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5)

All of us attempt to make sense of the things that happen in our lives. We try to figure out why they happen and what it all means. It’s crucial that we pay attention to what stories we are telling ourselves about ourselves, about others, about God, or about a particular situation and whether or not those stories are actually true. For example, if you look at what Elijah was telling himself after he became discouraged, much of it was not true. Yet, because he thought it, it added to his misery (read 1 Kings 19).

Jeremiah was also telling himself things about God that were not true, but because his mind believed his version of reality instead of God’s, he lost his hope. Read through Lamentations 3. Notice in verse 21 that Jeremiah begins to have a change of mind and heart. He says, “This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope.” When his thoughts changed, his negative emotions also lifted even though his circumstances stayed the same.

4.  Train yourself to “see” life out of two lenses at the same time.  When the apostle Paul counsels us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2), he is telling us that our mind needs to be trained to think differently than we have in the past. Part of this training is to learn to see both the temporal (life is hard) and the eternal (God has a purpose here) at the same time.

Paul speaks honestly of his temporal pain when he says he is hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. Yet, he did not become crushed, despairing, abandoned or destroyed. Why not? Because he learned to firmly fix the eternal perspective on his spiritual eyes. He says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:8-18).

Paul never minimized the pain of the temporal, yet discouragement didn’t win because he knew that God’s purposes were at work. (See Philippians 1:12-14 for another example.)

5.  Press close into God.  The truth is life is hard, people do disappoint and hurt us and we don’t always understand God or his ways. The prophet Naham talks about a day of trouble and reminds us “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, he knows those who trust in him” (Naham 1:7). If we’re not in close trusting relationship with God, life’s troubles can become unbearable. The psalmist cried out, “I would have despaired unless I had believed I would see God in the land of the living” (Psalm 27).

One final tip:  The best way to chase out a negative feeling is with another feeling. The Bible teaches us “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Gratitude is a powerful antidote for discouragement. We may not be able to give God thanks for the difficult situation that we find ourselves in, but we can learn to look for things we can be thankful for in the midst of it.

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