Category Archives: Developing Faith

Expressions of Beauty

We have been in the pandemic for 6 -7 months now. Our spirits tend to be weary and our perspective may need readjusting more frequently.  During this pandemic we have seen the sad reality of sickness, suffering and death, and we are receiving a clear view of the pain and ugliness of racism.

Each morning as I start my day, I sit on my back porch and look for beauty. I am never disappointed. The trees, sky and river express beauty. When I see the deep green of the trees; the architecture of their branches and leaves; the delicate wings of the birds; and the soft blended colors of pink, orange, blue, and purple in the sunrise I feel hopeful  because I see the beauty of God in the midst of the painful reality of these times.

I have always been intrigued by the concept of the beauty of the Lord. I imagine the beauty radiating from Him as a brilliant light, a sparkling and flickering of different colors.  Somehow I always come up short, expecting some type of ethereal, mystical encounter, but perhaps God’s beauty is less ethereal and more readily understandable.

The Beauty of the LORD
My heart and imagination are captivated at the thought of God’s beauty as prayed for by David in Psalm 27:4.  David writes of his heart’s longing.

  • “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and inquire in his temple.”

I am drawn in by the fact that David asks God to grant him the ability/opportunity to gaze on the beauty of God all the days of his life. Another fact stands out and that David believes it is attainable, we know this because the verse goes on to say that David seeks after this.

Start with the Word
I have to start somewhere in this quest so I start with the word “beauty” as used in Psalm 27:4.

There are several words for beauty in the Hebrew language, but the Spirit selected the Hebrew word transliterated “noam,” to be used in verse 4 of Psalm 27 perhaps because it refers to more than just the beauty of appearance.

 “Noam”  literally means delightfulness, but has an expanded definition of splendor, grace, beauty, kindness and pleasantness.

In Psalm 90:17 the word “noam” is defined as: beauty, favor, kindness or delightfulness.
The NIV, NASB, ESV, and HSCB translations of the Bible use the definition favor for “noam,” thus yielding another facet of the beauty of the LORD – His favor or grace.

“Let the favor (noam) of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” Psalm 90:17

The Beauty of the LORD – Jesus
The more I think of the different facets of the word “noam.” The more I begin to see Jesus, beautiful in grace, kindness, tenderness, and full of splendor.

I see the beauty of the LORD in:

  • Jesus reaching out and touching the leper (Mark 1:40-42);
  • Jesus looking around with grief in his heart at the religious leaders who want to withhold healing from a man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6);
  • Jesus as he shows mercy to the woman caught in adultery by silently sending away those who would stone her (John 8:1-11);
  • Jesus calling his friend Peter to come walk on the water with him and then lifting Peter up when he fell (Matthew 14:22-33);
  • Jesus as he lifts up the “bleeding woman” and calls her daughter (Mark 5:25-34);
  • Jesus compassionately raising the only son of a widow from the dead so he can for his mother ( Luke 7:11-17);
  • Jesus hanging on the cross breathing his last and asking the Father to forgive his accusers and killers, (and us) (Luke 23:33-34);
  • Jesus letting a doubting man touch the nail holes in his hands in order to strengthen the man’s faith (John 20:26-28).

Reflections on His Beauty
So when I mentally “gaze upon the beauty of the LORD,” I see Jesus!

Surely Jesus is the beauty of the LORD.  Jesus exemplifies all that is delightful about God; all the grace of God; all the kindness of God; all the splendor and power of God – all His beauty.

Hebrews 1:3 expresses this thought of Jesus being the beauty of the LORD in slightly different terms.

  • “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his beingsustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

When I gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and see Jesus it renews my hope in this dark time. Remembering the beauty of the heart and character of God brings a sense of peace and inner calm.

I can become preoccupied with the fear of the pandemic; the hatred and pride in political controversy; and the grievous injustice of racism. Focusing on the truths of the beauty of the LORD in Jesus produces faith and courage in me to move forward and not be enslaved by fear, depression and hatred. I can move forward with hope and faith to become a part of His beauty as I build into others and into my spirit.

Take some time and reflect on the beauty of the Lord that you see in Jesus, let it refresh your heart, faith and way of living.

Fragmented or Focused

We are six months into living with the corona virus. Over the summer, with bright sun and access to open air, we felt a little more secure to get out and about, and more hopeful about life.

We are at the end of August moving forward into autumn and the beginning of the school year. Concerns, anxieties and full blown fears about the virus are beginning to surface This is understandable because, even after 6 months, we know very little about the nature and long term workings of this virus. So anxieties rise in our minds and hearts concerning the safety of our loved ones and ourselves.

Jesus Speaks About and To Anxiety
Many people define anxiety as worry; fear; or a preoccupation with the difficulties and problems of life. Such a definition has truth to it, but when we look at the definition of anxiety we can get a deeper understanding of the term and the process.

Jesus understood the process of anxiety and addressed it. In Matthew 6:25 to 33, Jesus uses the term anxious 4 times.

Here are the statements about anxiety that Jesus made.

  • 25 – Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious (merimnate) about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
  • 27And which of you by being anxious (merimnon) can add a single hour to his span of life?
  • 28 – And why are you anxious (merimnate) 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.
  • 31 – Therefore do not be anxious (merimnesete), saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

What is Anxiety?
“Merimnao” is the Greek word used in these passages. It is translated anxious or worried.

There is a deeper understanding associated with the term “merimnao. It comes from a root that means: to be fractured or fragmented; to be divided into parts; to be drawn into opposite directions at the same time; to be distracted.

Anxiety fragments our thinking and distracts us from a more clear focus. It impacts the way we think, reason, perceive and interact with our situation, people and God.

In the spiritual realm, anxiety pulls us between faith and distrust. It distorts and distracts us from trusting God and focusing our thoughts and activity on what God would have us do and be.

I believe Jesus was emphasizing the word “merimnao” and its meaning to conclude with a play on words to provide a solution. Jesus re-directs the anxious fragmenting thoughts by directing our focus on kingdom truths. Jesus uses a word that pulls fragmented thoughts together, he says, “Seek” (v. 33).

Seeking requires determined, continual focus and looking for. Seeking” pulls our thoughts and actions together and unites them to one focus, rather than for them to be pulling in opposite directions or scattered and fragmented into many ways.

Anxiety Close Up
An example of anxiety is seen in a follower of Jesus named Martha. We read this in Luke 10.

Jesus is visiting with his friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. He is teaching and speaking with them and others, sort of like a neighborhood Bible study, without the Bible but with the “living Word of God.” Martha is anxious about her hospitality mainly meal preparations.

Her mind is fragmented, distracted and pulled in different directions that she misses the main focus of her hospitality which is to relate with Jesus. Her anxiety affects her thinking about her sister, her words, and her time with Jesus.

We don’t know the back story of Martha’s thinking, but my guess is that she wanted to hear and learn from Jesus too, but she became overly focused on serving a meal. She became focused on the details of the work of the meal rather than the joy of being with Jesus.

Her anxiety arose from the conflict of the seemingly opposing goals. She gave into the one and allowed it to fragment her thinking, distract her focus and pour out of her heart.

A Choice
Jesus helps Martha to refocus.  In verse 41 Jesus says, ““Martha, Martha,” the Lord replied, “you are worried (merimnao) and upset about many things. But only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion”

Jesus tells Martha, “Mary has chosen the better portion.” We can choose to be fragmented by anxiety by allowing the anxious thoughts free reign.

Martha could have chosen what would bring her closer to our Lord. Giving free reign to thoughts of resentment, anger, and jealousy did not bring her closer to God or to her sister.

Getting It Together
I cannot give you 5 steps to prevent anxiety in your life at this time. I do believe Jesus’ words point us in the direction of controlling our scattered thoughts of fear and “what ifs” and focusing on truths about God.

Throughout this time of uncertainty and upheaval, I have tried to focus on God’s faithfulness, his goodness, his sovereignty, and his proven love.

Pulling together my thoughts of fear and doubt by focusing on truths about God has helped me move forward in my relationship with God and others during this time.

In Psalm 86, the psalmist understands that a key to his relationship with God is pulling together his fragmented thoughts, emotions, and desires. I believe the psalmist understands he is unable to do this without the help of God, hence his prayer in verse 11.

  • “Teach me Your way, O LORD, that I may walk in Your truth;
    unite my heart to fear Your Name.”

In the Hebrew word “unite” we come full circle to what Jesus said about anxiety.
Anxiety fragments, distracts and scatters us. “Unite” means to join, to bring together all our parts and scattered pieces to be focused on God.

So when all else fails and anxiety pulls our emotions, thoughts and actions in all different ways, we can pray: “God, unite my heart to fear Your Name.”

Hugging God

The idea of “hugging God,” may seem a little odd or even irreverent. Yet, God actually commanded Israel to do just that. This is exactly what God tells them to do in Deuteronomy 13:20: “You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.”

You may read this and think, “I don’t see the word hug in this verse.” But it is. The word translated “cling” comes from the Hebrew word dabaq/dä·vak’.” It means: hug, cling, cleave, hold fast, adhere, or joined together. (Note:  “dä·vak’” is the spelling to help us with the pronunciation).

Our God desires an intimate relationship with us, and I believe God meant this word in all the intimacy a hug implies. Dä·vak is a word of connection and of relationship. It denotes a more personal, intimate aspect of that relationship. It implies need, devotion, respect, love and a desire for closeness.

Embracing God
In Jeremiah 13:11 God uses the image of a waistband that is closely fitted and tied around a waist to describe how closely God desired the children of Israel to hold onto Him.

  • “For as the waistband clings (dabaq/ dä·vak’) to the waist of a man, so I made the whole household of Israel and the whole household of Judah cling to Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘that they might be for Me a people, for renown, for praise and for glory; but they did not listen.’” (NASB)

In this passage, we see the term dä·vak’ bringing out the close connection that God desires with His people, as close as a waistband or belt around the waist. God wants us to be so close in relationship with Him that we are like children putting our arms around our Father’s waist and hugging.

When I was a child, I used to hug my dad in this way. I would put my arms around his waist in a clinging hug and stand on his feet. He would begin to walk around the room with me holding on and being carried along.

A Soul Hug
The above memory from my childhood of putting my arms around my dad’s waist and being carried along is a physical picture of a spiritual reality as noted in Psalm 63:7-8.

  • “For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings (dä·vak’)  to you; your right hand upholds me.”

This scripture speaks of our soul embracing God and clinging to Him. God is reciprocal in this relationship, as we put our arms around him, He holds on to us as noted in verse 8.

Joined Together
The Modern Hebrew word for glue isdevek which comes from the same root as “dä·vak’ .”
This word highlights the idea of adhering to God, joining to God much like glue causes two things to adhere, stick together or be joined together.

When we believe and are baptized into Christ, we are joined to him. Paul, the apostle expresses this truth in 1 Corinthians 6. Paul is speaking to the disciples about purity. He warns them against being “joined” to a prostitute, and reminds them that such behavior does not sync with the fact that they are joined to Christ, so much so that we are one with Jesus.

  • “But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.”1 Cor. 6:17 NASB

The New Testament Greek word for join in this passage is “κολλώμενος” from κολλάω
which  literally means I glue;” but is translated to join; to adhere; to cleave, and to keep company with.

So the concept in the word “κολλάω” is very similar to that of the Hebrew term “dä·vak’.” Both terms imply a full embracing of God in a continual relationship.

Like Flesh to Bone
To emphasize the closeness that God desires let’s look at Job 19:20. Job is describing his physical state; he is in terrible condition from his affliction that he barely escaped death.

Job uses a form of the word “dä·vak’ ” when he says: “My skin and flesh cling (da be gah) to my bones; I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.” Job 19:20 BSB

So this verse gives us another description of closeness to God, that we should “adhere/cling/cleave” to God as our flesh clings to our bones and our skin!

The Ultimate Embrace
God’s desire, His will, His intention is for us to live so close in relationship to Him that it is like living a hug. We are to cling to Him as we walk with Him.

Jesus expresses this desire in His prayer. I know this passage is traditionally interpreted as referring to “unity;” which it is, but I believe Jesus is referring to an absolute closeness with God to the point of being “one” with Him. It is being joined in such a way that we, as individuals and as His body, the church) are taken into Him. We might look at it as the ultimate embrace that melds us into him.

 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (ESV)

Thinking about Hugging God
This concept has a deeper and truer significance than is noted at first thought. I give this study to you for meditation. As I studied this word “dä·vak’ ” and looked at God’s desire for me to be “huggingly” close to Him, I began asking myself questions. I will share these with you maybe they will help you in considering your relationship with God.

  • Do I “hug” God during my times with Him of reading His Word and praying, but release my embrace as I walk through the day? Am I like the picture of the child hugging her/his father around the waist while standing on his feet as we walk, a sort of dance of holding on and supporting?
  • Do I “cling” to God all the time or only during times of trouble and affliction?
  • In times of trouble, affliction and weariness with life, do I cling to God and trust Him? Or do I seek comfort or diversion in entertainment, social media, food, people, or ____________? (Fill in the blank).Or do I lash out at others and God in frustration?
  • Do I see myself as being “joined” to God so much so that I am willing to give up my will for His will, even if it means letting go of a relationship, a career, an addiction, a title or position?
  • If I were to give myself over to this concept, what would “clinging and adhering” to God look like in my life? What would my prayers sound like? How would this change my relationships; my view of difficulties and affliction; my view of other people?
  • What am I joined to; what am I cleaving” to if not God?

“Faith Spurs”

“Continue to pray and do not lose heart,” are words of encouragement that Jesus gives to his followers.

There are many situations and events in our world, our country and in each of our personal lives these days that can cause us to lose heart.  Jesus’ words give a sense of comfort and peace.

? Are you growing weary of:

  • social distancing
  • return spikes in the COVID virus
  • working at home
  • not working
  • limiting activities outside your home
  • issues in our society such as justice and equity that do not really change
  • concerns about marriage; being single; parenting ?

Are you weary of praying about these concerns and other problems and not seeing definitive answers?

Jesus Speaks to Weariness
Jesus “gets it,” and he addressed this weariness regarding prayer. In fact he addressed it using a parable concerning a social injustice.

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus tells his followers a parable to reinforce the truth that they should continue to pray and not lose heart. To emphasize his point, Jesus tells the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. (See Luke 18:1-8)

The widow had been unjustly treated, cheated out of what was rightfully hers (Luke 18: 3-4).

She went to the “source of justice” for help, but found more corruption there (Luke 18: 4).

The widow did not shrink back, she continued to speak out and seek justice from the “corrupt, uncaring” judge.  In the end her perseverance was rewarded, not because of the “good heart” of the judge towards her, but because he did not want to continue to be “annoyed” by her (Luke 18:5).

Jesus then assures his followers that God is the righteous judge who sees and will answer (Luke 18:7-8).

Know These Truths
Jesus teaches several truths here:
1. God is good and just unlike the unrighteous judge.

  • “He (God) loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” Psalm 33:5
  • “For the LORD is righteous; He loves justice. The upright will see His face.” Psalm 11:7

 2. God is the sovereign righteous Judge; he will see to it that justice and righteousness are brought about. 

  • God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow;he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.” Psalm 7:11-13

 3. Do not lose heart, keep praying. Prayer is to evidence true faith.

  • “… praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints… ”  Ephesians 6:18

“Do Not Lose Heart
In Luke 18:1, Jesus states the purpose of this parable; “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray at all times and not lose heart…”

What does it mean to lose heart? In the Greek New Testament the word is ykakein meaning: “to be fainthearted; to have inner weariness; to be exhausted; to be utterly spiritless; to lose enthusiasm and to become fearful.” Have you been feeling this way?

When we lose heart, we lose faith in the sense that we stop trusting in the goodness and faithfulness of God. When we become fainthearted and weary, we lose the ability to envision God answering our prayer.

When we persevere in prayer we continue to trust God. As Jesus walked and talked with his disciples he knew that keeping faith over time in difficult circumstances would be a challenge for his followers.

Jesus Increases Faith
Jesus understands how difficult it can be for us to believe what we cannot see; to trust that God will help when a situation seems beyond help; or to wait over extended periods of time to see God working.  Jesus understands that trusting God has its difficulties, so he provides truths and promises to help build up and increase our faith.

In Luke 17:5, a few paragraphs before Luke 18:1, we read that after Jesus taught on forgiving others, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. They realized how challenging forgiving others can be.

Jesus responds with this encouragement: “He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6)

Jesus helps the disciples out.  He reduces faith to the size of a mustard seed. Mustard seeds are 1 to 2 millimeters or 0.039 to 0.079 inches in diameter.  Jesus uses this small measure to reassure us that we can have faith in seemingly impossible situations.

When I am faced with a difficult situation that overwhelms me, I remember the measure that Jesus gave. In my mind’s eye I see a tiny mustard seed, the tiniest one in the pack maybe the size of a pin prick, and I think, “OK, Jesus, I can have this little measure of faith to trust you.”

Another encouragement that Jesus provides regarding faith is in Matthew 7:7-11.

  • Keep asking and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

Here, as in the parable in Luke 18:1-8, Jesus emphasizes the idea of “keeping on” asking; continuing to ask, persevering in prayer.

I believe Jesus spoke truths like this at varying parts of his life to provide “faith spurs,”or faith encouragements for us along the journey.

Find Faith Spurs
I am weary. Sometimes I feel weighed down by everything that is happening, even though I see good in these things. Maybe you are feeling the heaviness of life right now. Look for the “faith spurs” that Jesus provided in the Word. Read them, pray them, and allow the words of Jesus and the Spirit to quicken your spirit. Then share them with your fellow travelers.

Grace Ticket

A grace ticket is: a ticket to stand firm; a ticket of help in time of need, a ticket to overcome; a ticket to endure, and at times it is a ticket of deliverance.

A grace ticket is when God “extends himself forward” on our behalf. This extending of God forward towards us is not something we deserve or earn.

The height of God’s extension of blessing to us is in the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus.  Grace is founded in God. Grace reaches its pinnacle in the redemptive act of Jesus. Grace is an ever present facet of the essence of God. God extends his grace to us, over us and around us as we walk with him. God’s grace does not end at cross, it continually flows.

  • “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16

Moses’ Grace Ticket
Moses received grace in time of need! When receiving his ministry from God in Exodus 3:1- 4:17, Moses is seeing himself as “not enough.” Moses believed he was incapable, and was sure of his eminent failure before he even began.

God, our encouraging and faithful Father, came alongside Moses and gave him a grace ticket, so to speak. God was frustrated with Moses (Ex. 4:13-16), but gave him a grace ticket, in that God did not condemn, ridicule, belittle, or withdraw from Moses. Instead God supplied what Moses needed. God gave Moses credentials that were the signs of God’s support. God revealed his name to Moses for the people to believe. God provided Aaron as a partner, an assistant for Moses. Finally God said he himself would go with Moses. (Exodus 3:12)

There have been and are times I feel not smart enough; not skilled enough; not talented enough; not reputable or respected enough; not a member of the right group; not faithful enough and so on. When I think this way, I pray God will help me remember the story of Moses and the truth that God encourages me and gives me grace in time of need.

Hannah’s Grace Ticket
We read about Hannah in 1 Samuel 1. We see a woman sorely troubled, embroiled in a conflict with a woman with whom she shares a husband and a life. Hannah is “bullied and harassed” by this woman who feels superior to Hannah (I Samuel 1: 6-7,8-16).

Hannah felt judged and taunted because she did not have a child by her beloved husband, while the other woman did. Hannah sought her value in having a child and thought her worth to her husband and her standing with him was dependent upon that. Her adversary believed that her own worth was in having children, so she used her status to harass and humiliate Hannah. No a picture of sisterly love but it is the reality Hannah knew.

In the course of the story we see Hannah turns to God in faith, crying out for help. God’s response is to encourage her, to come alongside Hannah. God showed Hannah that he knew and understood how she felt. God gave Hannah a grace ticket.

God could have said: “I am enough, you don’t need a child.” God could have ridiculed or chided Hannah telling her she is looking for her value in the wrong thing. He could have told her to “buck up” and move forward in her situation. But he did not!

A Ticket Backed by Compassion
God understood Hannah’s need, her desire. He understood how frustrating and hurtful the situation was. Amidst all the sufferings in the world, God stopped and came alongside Hannah and encouraged Hannah. God’s grace ticket for Hannah was her son Samuel.

Have you ever felt bullied; harassed; intimidated; pushed out by someone who seemingly is more powerful, more reputable, somehow more accepted than you? Maybe you feel this on your job; within your extended family; within your community, school or church. Or, perhaps you are in a sense “bullied” by a task or event occurring in your life that you feel incapable of doing or getting through.

God’s heart is to encourage, to extend himself to us, to walk alongside of us and to give us the grace we need as he did with Hannah. Also, God uses our pain and his grace to work his purposes. In this case, Hannah’s son, Samuel, who was given by God to her, was  used by God to lead and strengthen his people.

Paul’s Grace Ticket
Paul, the apostle, is one of the most prominent disciples in the New Testament. He is highly qualified in handling the Word of God. Paul had a powerful ministry to the Gentiles and he was a diligent shepherd to the first century church.

Yet, Paul struggled to overcome something that was painful, frustrating and discouraging to him. We do not know what that was, though many scholars speculate about it.

We do know, it was painful to Paul, so much so that he beseeched God to remove it. God chose not to remove it, but God did give Paul a “grace ticket” to help him through it. That grace ticket was God’s grace.

  • “Even if I wanted to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. So to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me.”2 Cor . 12:6-9

Grace Tickets and You
Grace tickets are costly, they are backed by the suffering and blood of Jesus, the Son of God who transfers all believers into the realm of grace.

  • “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” Romans 5:2-5

Grace tickets do not mean that God will instantly remove you from difficulty and suffering or give you everything you want. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3 are examples of God giving them a grace ticket that was not a pass out of the fiery furnace, but rather an escort, God himself, into and through the fire.

Grace tickets are a pass to walk with God through all types of difficulties. God will be with us in trials and produce good with us and for us through them.

What are the difficulties and struggles you are experiencing now? Reach out to God for a grace ticket, he will give it to you in your time of need.

Alert forThanksgiving!

ANXIOUS! UNEASE! VIGILANT! ON STANDBY! TRUSTING! ADAPTING!. These are all terms that might express your status as we end week six of sheltering in place.  Perhaps you are a mixture of these or you fluctuate from one state to the next. Some days we may experience a sense of adaptation and making the most of the situation, while other days we may be struggling to think straight.

In week 5 I had some ups and downs as I tried moving forward. I found myself on edge asking my husband questions like, “Well, what did you mean by that?” Or “Why are you doing that?”  I am not sure what I felt, maybe at best I felt a pervasive unease which seemed to have no source. A spirit of restlessness and unease began to slowly and subtly wear away at peace and joy.

As a believer in God, when I am off center, I know I need to take time out and refocus through reading the word of God and prayer. Being still with God not only renews my spirit but it also resets my mind. (Ps. 46:10 – Be still! and know that I am God…)

So I began my time of “stillness” with reading about prayer and communicating to God about this sense of unease or generic discontent that I was feeling. As I read, an interesting pattern emerged, that is: prayer was often mentioned in association with thanksgiving.

The Bond of Thanksgiving and Prayer
Let’s look at a few of these passages.

  • Philippians 4:6
    Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
  • 1 Timothy 2:1
    First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered on behalf of all men
  • Colossians 4:2
    Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
    Rejoice always;pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
  • Ephesians 1:15-16
    For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
  • Psalm 100:4
    Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and bless His name.
    (The expression “enter his gates” and “enter his courts” refers to the Israelites coming into the temple which was the central place where they met with God, where they communed with God in songs and in prayer. The expressions “enter His gates and come into His courts” are in a sense, signifying coming into the presence of God. We commune with God through prayer and meditation. According to this verse then, we should always enter our time with God; enter His presence in prayer with thanksgiving.).

The more I read the clearer the bond between prayer and thanksgiving became. I conclude: thanksgiving is an essential element in my relationship with God. It is the defining characteristic demonstrating trust in my Father and dependence on him.

A Key to Entering the Presence of God
In the Old Testament scriptures, we read that giving thanks and praise to God was akin to offering a sacrifice to God. The giving of thanks to God was an integral part of worshiping God, honoring God and being in relationship with God.

  • Psalm 116:17
    I will offer to You a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD.
  • Psalm 107:22
    Let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and declare His works with rejoicing.
  • Psalm 54:6
    Freely I will sacrifice to You; I will praise Your name, O LORD, for it is good.

As I read these passages my heart felt lighter. God redirected my mind. I focused on the things of light and goodness in my life. I had been looking at what I couldn’t do; at how I felt restricted; at the difficulty of being still, and perhaps the reality of what God was showing me about myself.

TRANSFORMATIONS of THANKSGIVING
I began deliberately choosing to thank God for everything. That is when I noticed a change, a light-heartedness, a more genuine faith and joy.

When I express thanks to God regularly throughout my day it changes my focus from “me” to God and others.

Thanksgiving and Perspective
Giving thanks to God transforms my perspective. Instead of looking at restrictions, I see abundance and new space.

In Psalm 18:19, David proclaims the blessing of God broadening his view after God delivers him from his enemy.

  • “He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. Ps. 18:19.”

Like David, if we focus on thanking God and seeing his blessing we will feel we are in a safe, spacious place.

Thanksgiving and Mood
Focusing on giving thanks to God changes my perspective which results in changing my  mood. The act of thanking and praising God lifts up my spirit and fills me with joy because I am focusing on the wonderful deeds of God.

David expresses this process and truth. Focusing on God and trusting in Him yields joy.

  • “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.” Ps. 28:7-8

Thanksgiving and Relationships
Another blessing from giving thanks to God is realized in our relationships. When I began choosing to thank God, it was like I had a new way of seeing. I began seeing characteristics of God in my interactions with and thoughts of people.

In Colossians 3:12-13, we are reminded that because of the great salvation worked for us by God, we, out of thanks and awe to God, turn and bless others by deliberately putting on compassion, and forgiveness.

  • “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Col. 3:12-13

Feel It or Not – Give Thanks!
Giving thanks to God is an act of the will. Yes, there are times of great emotional response, an out pouring of thanks to God. Yet remember, “thanksgiving” requires loving God with our mind as well as heart and soul. It means I deliberately think of God and His goodness; His wondrous deeds; and His faithful love. Choose to thank God every day! Thank God for 7 things every day and record the transformations you see in your perspective, mood and relationships.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught,
and overflowing with thankfulness.
Col. 2:6-7

Awe Inspired Faith – 1

What are you looking at?

In this time of fear and anxiety about the threat of well-being to you and your loved ones we need to make sure we are looking at the right things.

In Psalm 40:5, David says: You have multiplied O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and thoughts towards us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.”

It is believed that David wrote this Psalm upon being delivered from some pressing trouble which was overwhelming him. I would say the current pandemic is a pressing and at times overwhelming trouble.

After reading Psalm 40, I have had to ask myself, “Am I seeing the many wondrous deeds and hearing the wondrous thoughts of God?”  Or is what I am seeing and what I am hearing blocking out the truths about God?

Truths of Wonder
Reading about the wonders of God always lifts up my faith. The mighty deeds of God remind me of the power, the supreme authority and the steadfast love of God.

Remembering who God is directs my focus on him and takes it off of me or my circumstances.

In these troublesome times think back on the wondrous deeds of God and let these remembrances cause you to bow in praise to God and fill your heart with faith in our Father’s love and care for you.

Presented below are some of the “mighty deeds” of God. I encourage you to take time to read the references, meditate on them and turn your focus on God.

God Divides the Sea
In Exodus 14:10-31, the Israelites had been freed from Egypt but now being pursued by Pharaoh and his army. Their backs were up against the Red Sea with nowhere to flee. They are full of fear, panic and thoughts of impending doom. They resort to fear, regret and blame.

Wow, does their reaction sound familiar to you? In deeply troublesome times I have said, “Where are you God? I trusted you. Why are you letting this happen?”

What about now as you and your families face the pandemic. Do you feel an inner tug of war between trusting God and blaming him? With each new report of more cases or even friends having the virus do you ride a wave of faith and fear, up and down, in and out ?

In Exodus 14:13-14, Moses advised the people to be still, to hush their fears, to stand back and watch the deliverance of the Lord. Moses did not panic and scream, “Run for your lives.” He did not even direct the fighting men among them to take up shield and sword. He turned their eyes and hearts to trust God.

  • “Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:13-14

The truth is that no matter how bleak the circumstances, God is fighting for us. In seen and unseen ways God delivers us. During the pandemic, each of us is fighting to gain a sense of stability in our faith.

What God did as recorded in Exodus 14 is true. Look at the God of that truth and be encouraged. Take time to share with another person how the truth of God in Exodus 14 encourages you.

The Walls Fall Down
In Joshua 6, we read of the account of how God brought down the protective walls of Jericho for Joshua and Israel.

In Joshua 6:1, we read that the gates of Jericho were securely barred, no one went out and no one went in. We do not always see how God is going to deliver us.

Anyone looking on might consider it an insurmountable task to take this city. It was not immediately evident as to how this would occur.

Perhaps some of the Israelites were saying, “This is impossible, we don’t have the resources or equipment needed to get through this wall and take the city.” Others, may have been sitting around the camp fire making plans of how to do it.

But God, gave a plan to Joshua. God’s plan had nothing to do with resources or the strategy and strength of man.

  • “Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men…” Joshua 6:2

The Israelites followed the plan of God. They marched around the city, as prescribed, carrying the ark of the covenant with them which signified God’s presence with them.

  • “When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord’s covenant followed them… When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city.” Joshua 6:8, 20

In Hebrews 11:30, we read: “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.” So it was not the men, or the resources that brought down the wall, but God’s power and their faith in God.

In the same way today as we face the seemingly impenetrable wall of this pandemic, it is the presence of God and faith that will bring it down.

Our trust in God will bring down our wall of fear, of anxiety, of questioning the goodness of God, of frustration and sorrow. Our trust in God healing and taking down the walls of the corona virus.

This account of God bringing down the walls of Jericho reminds me of:

  • the wisdom of God;
  • of his strength in my weakness;
  • and in God bringing about good and teaching good in all things.

As I reflect on the account of the walls of Jericho, I am making a choice to trust that God has a plan, and that He is working on our behalf in ways I do not understand or readily see.

Can you imagine the conversations of the Israelites after the battle; “Did you see that? What just happened here? Did you feel the earth shake?”

Let’s open our eyes of faith and see God helping us, strengthening us, reviving us drawing us, restoring us and holding us close as we walk through this with Him.

Imagine the conversations we will have of the many mighty ways God has worked during this time!

Truths for Troublesome Times -3

God Eyes Us with Value
Deuteronomy 32:10 describes God as keeping Jacob (Israel) as the “apple of His eye.”

  • “He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness;
    He encircled him, He cared for him, He kept him as the apple of His eye.”

When looking at the context of this expression “apple of His eye”, we see in the previous verse (v. 9 ), the writer is referring to Jacob or the people of Israel.

  • “But the Lord‘s portion is his people, Jacob His allotted heritage.”

So what does this have to do with us today? Putting aside the context and the people to whom this was spoken of in time, it reveals a truth about the heart of God –which remains the same.

The expression in verse 10 is set among words of love and nurturing such as: God’s finding; encircling, protecting, caring, and maybe even wrapping His arms around them.

All these words have to do with care and nurturing. It implies God’s watchful care and does not imply judgment, as in an all seeing eye watching you. It indicates that God values His people and centers His attention on them much like a doting parent.

A Truth to Hold Onto
The expression “apple of His eye” refers to the pupil of the eye, the center of the eye, and implies God keeps us at the center of His focus.

This expression is not just a poetic description, it is a truth about God. He holds us at the center of where He can see us, and focuses on us because He values us. He looks upon us with eyes and a heart to care for us.

This expression indicates a permanent truth about God’s character, so it applies to us today as God’s people. We see this idea presented in 1 Peter 3:12a:

  •  “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are inclined to their prayer…”

There are days when I do not feel especially valued. Sometimes I feel forgotten or overlooked, even hurt. There are times when I feel overlooked by God, especially when I feel alone, or confused, or afflicted.

Maybe you have had those times too? Struggles in life, disappointments in relationships, and weaknesses in our own character can discourage our spirit and blur our thinking about ourselves and God. I know I can get my thoughts and emotions in a tangle of untrue thoughts about myself; about other people, and about God.

Times of crisis in our life cause fear, doubt and inward turning.  Tosay we are in a worldwide crisis, that affects all of us and each one of us. Our lives and security are threatened by a virus. We may wonder, “Where is God? Does God care?”

I believe God cares. God knows and God is working in ways that are not apparent to us at this time.

Truths like the one stated in Deuteronomy 32:10 reveal God’s character and heart towards us. In “down” times we need to recall this truth and let it renew our thinking, untangle our thoughts and encourage our spirit.

We are God’s beloved; we are God’s people (1 Peter 2:9). God has this heightened sense of value towards you and me. He is watching and standing ready to defend  us; to help us; to teach us, and to refine us.

A Prayer
In closing this entry let’s consider this thought: in Psalm 17:8, David prays and asks God to “keep him as the apple of His eye.”

I wonder how our outlook and relationship with God would change if we prayed: “Lord, keep me as the apple of your eye. Open my eyes and help me to see your love, Father God.” Perhaps, also, we could add to it, “Teach me how to treat others as if they were the “apple of Your eye.”

Truths for Troublesome Times – 2

When life gets difficult or painful, I can turn aside from God instead of leaning into Him. In trying times I begin to ask, “Where are you God?”  I can even blame God and say, “This is your fault God.”  When things hurt or become confusing, secretly, I may even think, “God does not love me.”

All these thoughts are very far from the truth. Emotions like anger and fear can block our minds to considering truth or lead us into shallow thinking.

We do not have to be academically gifted to understand the truth of God’s love. We only need to think with a grain of faith of what we know about God and we will see His love.

I love Romans 5:10 and 8:32. Think deeply about what these verses are really saying about God and His love for us.

  • “We were God’s enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son. Now that we are God’s friends, how much more will we be saved by Christ’s life!” NLT
  • “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, freely give us all things?” Romans 8:32 (BSB)

In these passages, I hear God reminding us that He has already given His highest and best. He suffered His Son, Jesus to put on flesh and blood to become the sacrifice that atones for our wrongs, so that we can have a relationship with God. He will provide everything we need within that relationship.

The truth is that God gave His Son, Jesus to die for us. Since He did this we then are assured of the second truth that He will provide for us and be faithful to care for us in all things. It does not mean everything will be easy and comfortable the way we think, but it does mean that He will be with us at all times and provide us with what we need.

Presented in this blog are truths about God’s love and presence in our life. Take these into your heart and let them encourage your faith at all times, but most especially in these insecure times.

God Is Personally Involved in Our Lives
It is true, there are times that I wonder what is happening. I may feel so fearful or discouraged that I wonder, “Where is God?” If I take time to read God’s word I can know He is here with me even when I don’t see evidence of it.

  • Psalm 56:8– You keep track of all my sorrows.You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.
  • Psalm 139:16-You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
  • Psalm 34:17– When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit
  • Romans 8:28 – 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.
  • Matthew 10:29-31– Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
  • John 10:3 -To him (Jesus) the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
  • John 10:14, 15 – I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.
  • Psalm 139:1-5 – O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up;you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
  • John 17:20-23 – I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,  I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Making His Presence Real in Your Life
My view of life is so far from God’s. That may be because my focus can too often be on my “self.” Read these truths about God and his involvement in your life. Consider each one carefully. Meditate on each passage.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the “personal” action(s), attitude(s) or thought(s) of God in each one of these scriptures?
  • Then, ask yourself, how do I see God doing this, being this in my life?
  • Examine your heart, your faith, events/relationships in your life. What are the weak points? Where do you need to pray for strengthening?
  • Pick one of these areas of your faith and write down ways that these truths about God’s heart for you and his presence in your life can strengthen that area.

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Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Ps. 23:4

 

Truths for Troublesome Times -1

The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call out to Him in truth.
Psalm 145:18

During this time of concern over the dangers of the coronavirus there has been much said about the virus, and about what we should do.

The purpose of this blog is not to discuss the coronavirus but to turn our focus, our hearts, our minds and our souls to God, Yahweh, the great I AM,  the creator and sustainer of all life.

Presented here are words of truth, words of wisdom, words of life and power, presented ages ago through the inspiration of the Spirit of God.

As we review these truths let us remember that they were spoken within a certain context to a specific group of people, yet they reveal absolute truths about the character of God and His love for us both of which remain the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and can be depended upon in today.

  • Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8
  • “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain. . .  like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same,  and your years will never end.” Hebrews 1:10-12

Read these truths slowly and with much thought. Meditate on them. Think about how these truths bring peace and hope to you at this time. Share these truths to encourage the faith and hope of others. But above all, meditate and believe on these truths that you may know God more deeply, and praise Him.

Our Help Comes from the LORD
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. Psalm 46:1

The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Psalm 9:9

But I will sing of Your strength and proclaim Your loving devotion in the morning. For You are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. Psalm 59:16

God Is Faithful
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me. The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.  Do not forsake the work of your hands. Psalm 138:7-8

For the LORD is good, and His loving devotion endures forever; His faithfulness continues to all generations. Psalm 100:5

He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. Psalm 91:4

For the Word of the Lord is upright, And all His work is done in faithfulness. Psalm 33:4

If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. 2 Timothy 2:13 

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. He remains faithful forever, Psalm 146:5-6

Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord. Psalm 117:1-2

God’s Proven Faithfulness and Love
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Romans 5:8-10

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-7

But because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood. Therefore He is able to save completely those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them. Hebrews 7:24-25

Food for Thought. Food for Life
There are many truths about God that we can draw strength and life from during this time. We will review more in the days to come. But take your time with these few and let their power work in your mind and heart.

The media of this world will provide much content for you to read, listen to and think about. Do not allow that communication to wash over you and be your focus.

Instead let these truths from God fill you. Let these truths live in you and be your sustenance during these days.

 “Send out Your light and Your truth; let them lead me. Let them bring me to Your holy mountain, and to the place where You dwell.” Psalm 43:3