Days of Winter

I enjoy all the seasons, but something about winter I could do without, is the shorter days. When we begin closing the curtains at 4:00pm I feel like I need to go to bed soon. However, on a positive note, because the days are shorter, I find myself doing all I can in the daylight before night falls. Perhaps we all work a little harder and faster as we see the light being replaced by darkness. We want to accomplish as much as possible.

Is it any different in our spiritual worlds? The Light of God’s truth is being ignored. Therefore, we want to do all we can to share the Good News while there is still some light. Overall, people all over the world don’t want it anymore. Darkness has set in. The days of Light have grown short. The darkness of sin abounds and is even applauded while the Light of Jesus is slandered and hated. As days of the acknowledgment of God’s love diminishes, as we grow older in our physical years, we sense desire to work harder and faster. We want everyone to know the joy and peace that can only be found in a personal relationship with the living Christ.

We turn on the news at any time of day and it isn’t good. More murders, more abuse, more immorality, more robberies. Darkness abounds. The world shouts, “we need more education, we need more tolerance for each other’s differences, we need to take away the knives, take away the guns.” The world, whose eyesight has grown accustomed the the darkness, refuses to consider the Light. The Light of God’s truth blinds them and offends them because it makes them see themselves as they really are — naked in futile attempts to be their own gods, when only God’s righteousness is available to clothe us in righteousness for eternity.

The answer to the world’s darkness is not the absence of a weapon in the hand; it’s the presence of God in the heart. Jesus Himself said in Luke 5:31-32, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do. I have come to call, not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” Jesus is the Light of this world, to guide us through the darkness, to give us hope in times of despair, to show us the way when paths seems dangerous, to be our lasting joy in a sea of humanity seeking happiness in temporal pleasures. The delights of this world pale in the Light of what Jesus has to offer.

Eternal bliss, forgiveness of everything wrong we have ever done, joy and peace immeasurable, are all ours for the taking. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13) If you haven’t called out to Him, I hope today may be the first best day of the rest of your eternal life. We may now be in the winter of our discontent as the writer, John Steinbeck wrote, but eternal seasons of satisfaction and joy is fast on the way. The days of darkness will soon be over. The Light of the World is coming to sit on His throne.

When God Sits With Us

Although my mother and I live in England, we celebrated Thanksgiving Day with great joy. It was such fun being in the kitchen together preparing our special meal. For me, I love this holiday better than Christmas. It’s a time set aside to remember blessings and people for whom we are truly thankful. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of the year.

The fun of the day deepened as we contacted friends in America and many of them contacted us, too. Although an ocean separates us, the sound of their familiar voices, or receiving texts and messages brought us together. In our hearts the miles no longer kept us apart. We were with them in that moment, celebrating and sharing in that spirit of thankfulness.

This morning, for breakfast, I had leftover potato salad and cornbread dressing. Yes, for breakfast. I’ve done that since childhood. To me, cold potato salad and cornbread dressing is even more tasty when it’s been in the fridge over night. (I confess my breakfast plate was full!) Talking with friends on the day and eating those delicious leftovers the next makes Thanksgiving Day live on and on.

As I was reveling in these thoughts, Psalm 22:3 came to mind, “But You are holy, You who inhabit the praises of Israel.” The Hebrew word for inhabit is yashab which means to sit with, rest with, dwell with. Thinking of this on Thanksgiving Day was extra warm in my heart. Friends and family cannot always physically be with us, but God Himself is. As thoughts go toward my Heavenly Father, toward Jesus, toward the Holy Spirit, He is right there with me. He sits with me, rests with me, dwells with me. He is with each of His children who talk with Him, listen to him, and rest in His presence. Isn’t that a comforting reality.

God is with us always. His very presence indwells us. That is why His own peace is readily available to us at all times. His guidance is right there along with His courage. He never leaves us. I smile with the image of Him sitting with me, resting with me, dwelling with me. That reality makes everyday a day of Thanksgiving.

Misunderstood

I doubt there is a person who ever lived who has not been misunderstood. It is a tragic flaw of our humanity. We misunderstand others and they misunderstand us, too. We may respond in several ways. We may sulk, grow angry, isolate ourselves away, or counter-attack with our words; or we may see the other person as someone like us, who is imperfect and makes mistakes just as we do. We may refuse to sulk, and especially we may refuse to counter-attack. Name calling is never wise. It is ungodly and never makes us feel any better. Counter attack is a punishment to the other person that bounces back stabbing us in our own hearts.

When we look into God’s Word, the place where we find help and direction, we also see that others were misunderstood. Jesus was misunderstood. The crowds were praising Him one moment and calling for His death the next. The same thing happened with Paul. We read in Acts 14 that he and Barnabas were misunderstood, praised to be gods in human form, but when they explained there were followers of Christ, Paul was stoned nearly to death.

The greatest leaders on earth have been misunderstood throughout the centuries: Jesus, Paul, Noah, Moses, Job, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Socrates…the list goes on. Being misunderstood is nothing we can avoid, but it is something we can let God use to strengthen our faith. Throughout the Bible, when we read of its characters being misunderstood, we also read of their first responses. They found comfort through calling to their Heavenly Father. They found peace and even great joy in the most harrowing of moments, when they focused on their Heavenly Father, rather than on the one causing them to suffer.

When David was misunderstood, falsely accused, and even hunted to be killed, he wrote in Psalm 56:3-4, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. I praise God for what He has promised. I trust in God so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?” King Saul wanted to kill David, such was his misunderstanding of him, but amazingly, David refused to be thwarted in his thoughts. He would not let his mind be captive to negativity. He did not succumb to a defeatist attitude; rather, he kept his focus on the One who could be his help and courage. He took those depressing thoughts and he looked up. In Psalm 121:1-2, David asks and answers his own question, “I look to the mountains, does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

When you and I are misunderstood, the tendency is to retaliate or explain. Sometimes no explanation will satisfy the one who is misunderstanding you. Even the words of Jesus to the religious leaders of the day fell on deaf ears. Jesus often went to a quiet place to pray. What a powerful example to us. When we are misunderstood, let us first look up. Let us glean strength from our Father’s presence and from the truth of His words to us.

When we are misunderstood and look out, we only see negativity. When we look up, we see all things possible — we see Jesus — our everything to get us through anything.

On Purpose

I read a familiar verse this week, the truth of its words striking a fresh note of understanding. Most of you will know 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.” It was the phrase, “His purpose,” that grabbed my attention. Exactly what are His purposes for us?

First of all, His purposes are grounded in love. That is why we know of God the Father in John 3:16 that He “so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son.” Love drove His purpose to provide forgiveness for all our sins and to guarantee eternal life with Him where there are no more tears or grief. That salvation is ours for the asking.

Second, His purposes are infused with compassion. There are many verses that describe His compassion for us. I like the one in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” He knows every hurt of our hearts and He seeks to comfort.

Third, His purposes seek to guide. Jesus assures us of that in John 14:16-17, “I will ask the Father and He will give you an Advocate who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit who leads into all truth.”

Fourth, His purposes are to fill us with His own courage in the face of our enemies. Deuteronomy 31:6 encourages us to, “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them, for the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you or abandon you.”

Fifth, His purposes aid us in bringing glory to His Son, Jesus, who died to save us. We know that from I corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

It amazes me to think that, no matter what difficulty, unfairness, misunderstanding, grief, and all pain that befalls us, His purpose is to take it all and arrange it for our own good. Only God who is ultimate love can design such a purpose — on purpose.

Anchor of Hope

I recently read the story of a young man who left Europe for America. He spoke several languages and possessed business skills. Desiring a new adventure he set out to bring his dream to fruition. Right from the beginning he found work. In just a short time he ventured out to start his own business and gained immediate success. He was happy with his work, and that happiness grew even more when he met a woman who captured his heart.

They married and worked the business together. He couldn’t imagine being any happier, but one day, with no warning, that happiness was shattered. Going for her physical, his wife was diagnosed with cancer. It was stage 4 and aggressive. She died before the year was over.

Her husband was inconsolable. He tried to continue work but all interest had gone. The business came to ruin. He filed for bankruptcy. Having no zeal for anything he lost his home. He ignored offers of help from his friends, cutting off all contact with them. One day the local news reported that early in the morning a man’s body was pulled from a river. This man had filled his pockets with stones and jumped from the bridge. He had found no reason to keep living. He had lost all hope.

What a sad, but not unfamiliar story. Suicide takes place in every country and from every element of society. Suicide has claimed the lives of poor people, rich people, lonely people, and popular people. Why? Like a boat without an anchor, they are tossed wildly in life’s storms with nothing solid to hold them in place, to give them hope.

Life is filled with disappointments and sorrow. No one is immune. We need an anchor. Something to give us hope of surviving, of living again in joy and peace, of pressing forward with meaning in our lives. I love that verse in Hebrews 6:18-19. These words are amazing! “So God has given both His promise and His oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to Him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us; This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.”

Accepting Jesus into our lives doesn’t make us immune to problems and grief, but it gives us an unfailing anchor that provides a knowing hope. When we are anchored to Jesus, we know He stays with us in the pain, bringing us through to peace. He comforts us and strengthens us. He guides us onto fresh paths. He renews our hope because — He is our anchor in every storm.

When You Are — Mad As A Hornet!

Have you ever heard someone utter those words in anger? I’ve also heard the expression, “I’m so mad I could spit!” Everyone gets angry; sometimes it’s justified anger, like witnessing a wrong done to someone, but at other times, it’s just plain old anger that explodes within us for any number of frustrating reasons.

The Apostle Paul gave an important instruction concerning anger in Ephesians 4:26-27, “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” No doubt, we all agree with that, but how do we achieve it when someone does something that really makes our blood boil? This is where I tell you — I had a dream.

It was a literal dream in my sleep and it came to me this week. When I awoke and lay in bed the following morning, I thought about the dream and asked the Lord what it meant and why was it so vivid? The phrase — the world’s anger — came to me.

The world is indeed angry these days. Political parties are at war with each other. Crime rates of shootings, knifings, and other assaults are on the rise. Work colleagues climb all over each other to get to the top. Ethics is out the window; it’s everyone for themselves. Distrust is rampant. Differences of opinion spur on verbal attacks. There is a definite fading of mutual respect to those who are dissimilar. Nations make promises among themselves and then engage in trickery and lies to get the upper hand. Reverence toward God has faded, and His followers are falsely accused as unfairly judging and unloving, just because they love Jesus and His teachings. Kindness to a large degree has gone out the window as anger grows and tensions mount.

In my dream I saw someone who was angry with another person. Suddenly that angry person was standing next to the cross where Jesus was hanging in misery as He paid for the world’s sin. In front of the cross was the very one, with whom the person standing next to Jesus, was angry. Suddenly the angry person was overcome with a sense of love that surpassed anger because he saw the other person as someone Jesus loved very much.

As I lay contemplating the dream further, I knew this was a key to relieving anger in our lives. The next time you are angry with someone (people you may personally know, or people you will never meet – like politicians who make you angry) picture them standing at the foot of the cross. Picture Jesus loving that person. Picture Jesus dying in that person’s place. Picture the heart of God longing for that person to choose Jesus and His eternal Kingdom. Then pray for that person, asking the Holy Spirit to fill you with holy compassion toward even the most hateful and unlovely.

When we learn to see and react to one another in the love of Jesus, our anger fades. We can still acknowledge the wrong done and we can take appropriate action, but our hearts need not be controlled by anger. When we pray for someone to know and consider the love of Jesus, that anger is replaced with a longing for that person to be in heaven forever and ever, where there is no more death, sorrow, tears — or anger.

Stop The World-I Want To Get Off!

In 1961 a West End musical premiered in London called, Stop The World – I Want To Get Off. Since then it’s been a familiar catchphrase that one exclaims when situations in life become tough. Perhaps that saying comes to the mind of many as eyes are watching global events. The world seems to have gone crazy. Crime rates are staggering. Covid infection is on the rise again. Economies are weakening. Governments are becoming dictatorial; democracy redefined into governments seeking to enforce its will upon the people, rather than the people choosing what is best for them. Weather patterns are unpredictable. Families continue to break apart; in fact, families as God designed them, are now considered archaic in structure. One may understandably shout — Stop the world! I want to get off!

When Jesus’ disciples walked the earth, their situations were also less than desirable. Rome caused havoc upon those declaring allegiance to Christ. Public worship of idols was commonplace. Demonic offerings of human sacrifice was not unusual. Christians were arrested, beaten, jailed, and often put to death. The Apostle John was arrested and exiled to the deserted island of Patmos. Peter was crucified upside down. Paul was arrested and beheaded. Their crime? Proclaiming the Good News of Jesus.

Even so, each one of them had the attitude of Paul when he said in Philippians 1:21, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” They displayed no attitude of, Stop the world, I want to get off. Instead, with fervor and great joy, they wanted to be lights shining in the world’s darkness around them. You and I can easily become disillusioned to the point our joy fades when our focus remains on world events. No matter what calamities goes on around us, we must be steadfast to keep our concentration on Jesus. Of course, that doesn’t mean we stick our heads in the sand, ignoring what’s going on around us; neither do we run around shouting in anger. Instead, we acknowledge there is darkness abounding, while proclaiming that Jesus is the answer to all the world’s unrest.

Satan is on a roll as he seeks to steal our joy, kill our peace, and destroy our hope. Let’s not despair with that as our focus. Let’s remember and remind each other that the purpose of Jesus is to give each of us a rich and satisfying life. He said that very thing in John 10:10, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they my have it more abundantly.” The life of Jesus and all He has provided for us is our joy, our peace, our hope. That is our personal focus and our personal goal to share with others. Personal relationship with Jesus provides all we need in this world and in eternity with Him.

No matter the growing darkness upon the earth, the Light of the world always shines brighter. Let’s not despair. Let’s press on. Let’s encourage each other. See the darkness that is out there and then look up — Jesus is our strength and help in the midst of all trouble. Nothing is too hard for Him. He is able to keep our hearts filled with sweet peace that passes all understanding.

Training for the Olympics

Many of you, like me, enjoyed watching the recent summer olympics. I’m now looking forward to February when the winter olympics take place. I love the competition of each event, but I enjoy the stories of the various athletes, too. While they all come from different backgrounds and journeys to reach the olympics, one thing they have in common is training. For years they exercise, eat, and rest according to a regime that keeps them at their physical best.

It’s no different in our spiritual worlds. Just as an olympian has choices to make — a diet of burgers and fries or balanced nutrition of fruits and vegetables, every follower of Christ has a diet that is best for them, too. Have you wondered why at times you feel weary and discontent? Perhaps despondency comes easily. You admit to yourself that you even feel dry in your devotion to God and in your walk with Him. Joy has slipped away. Peace is a thing of the past. Hope has flown right out the window of lost dreams. Why has this happened?

Let’s take a look on your spiritual cupboard shelves. What are you keeping in your pantry to eat? Are there boxes of bitterness ready to toss in a pot to boil more discontent and anger? Are there jars of restlessness to spread all over dry bread of mildewed hope? Are there cans of weariness replacing refreshment from God’s Word? Have you gone to the world’s market place to shop; something to make you feel better? Be careful what you buy. All the ingredients of this world cannot begin to compare with the spiritual food God has to offer.

Look at what is written in Isaiah 55:2, “Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to Me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.” What an amazing and joyful promise from God! His instruction is plain and simple to follow — listen to His ways and you will be eating healthy.

When we meditate upon God’s advice, refusing the suggestions of the world around us, we immediately sense peace growing. That leads to joy bubbling. That leads to hope that provides us strength to press on even in times of great difficulty. When we follow God’s diet we have His very own strength to face all the perils this world may throw at us. When we listen to God, choosing to trust that His ways are actually better than ours, then we are ready for the spiritual olympics, a race that promises a gold medal to all who run it with diligence.

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