Trusting God in the Hard Places
"The God said, 'Take your son, your only son, whom you love -- Isaac -- and go to the region of Moriah. sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you." Genesis 22:2
In today's verse, God gave Abraham a clear command. God's next words to Abraham must have shaken him to the core: "Sacrifice him...as a burnt offering." God asked Abraham to sacrifice the one God had promised him. We find this covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3.
Considering what God was asking of him, Abraham's response is unimaginable. Abraham didn't ask God for an explanation or remind Him of His promises or try to negotiate a deal. Abraham went immediately with unquestioning obedience.
How did Abraham choose obedience so quickly? Faith!
Our level of faith determines our response to God, especially in the hard places. Abraham chose to trust God to honor His word. God had made a covenant with Abraham that He would make him into a great nation. Abraham needed a son for that promise to be fulfilled and knew Isaac was the fulfillment of that covenant. Because of God's faithfulness to Abraham in the past, Abraham trusted God with his future. In verse 14, Abraham looked up and saw a ram in a thicket. Gad had provided a ram to die in Isaac's place.
Because of Abraham's years of walking with God and experiencing His faithfulness, he knew God would honor His word and God's way is always good. Having these truths rooted in our hearts helps us trust God in the hard places.
The Place to Start to End Bad Habits
So get rid of every filthy habit and all wicked conduct. Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you. James 1:21 GN
Do you like the direction your habits are taking you? I think all of us would say that we have some habits that are not only not healthy, they’re hurtful. Play those habits forward. Take that bad habit, that little or big secret--the thing you don’t tell anybody, or that thing that is just annoying, and play it forward 5, 10 or 15 years. Most of us would say looking back, “I had no idea how much this was going to cost me. I never knew I would lose so much. I’d give anything if I could go back in time and do things differently. I never expected to lose my ____________ .” (family, health, house, name . . . )
Much of the pain and frustration of bad habits is lived in isolation and darkness. And so there’s this terrible cloud of shame formed by loads of accusation and guilt. The voice inside you each time you fail says, “You did it again. You always mess up. You’ll never get better. What’s wrong with you.” So you hide the bad and the cycle of shame and guilt spirals deeper.
James 5:22 says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed . . .“ James is talking here about healing not just for the mind, but for the body. And by confession, he doesn’t mean for the forgiveness of sin--that comes from God through Christ. (I John 1:9) What he’s talking about is acknowledging an unhealthy habit to a trusted fellow believer who wants the best for you and who will pray with you for freedom over this stronghold in your life.
Acknowledging our bad habits to God and others is the first step to gaining freedom over that habit that is working against you. Would you tell God what He already knows about you? Would you thank Him for loving you unconditionally--for giving you a fresh start and new beginning each time we ask--never holding the past over us? No more excuses, no blaming others, no minimizing the problem. Just agree with God that it’s a problem and ask Him for help. That’s the place to start.
To hear the entire sermon on “How to Break Bad Habits” from this past Sunday, click here. You can download the notes here.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
There are three things for which the Christian needs a regular time alone during the day: meditation on the Scripture, prayer, and intercession…
In our meditation we read the text given to us on the strength of the promise that it has something quite personal to say to us for this day and for our standing as Christians․ It is not only God’s Word for the community of faith, but also God’s Word for me personally. We are reading the Word of God as God’s Word for us. Therefore, we do not ask what this text has to say to other people. For those of us who are preachers that means we will not ask how we would preach or teach on this text, but what it has to say to us personally.
Pray for encouragement and wisdom for you, your family, and spiritual friends in reading God’s Word. Pray for discernment in understanding and praying for the needs of others.
Prayer: Lord, draw me to your living Word and let it be for me food for the journey.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed." Mark 1:35, NIV
One of the habits I have struggled with in my walk with Christ is slowing down. I felt like I had to catch up for all the time I had lost not knowing Jesus so I threw myself into every part of the church that I could. I would study every day, read every commentary I could get my hands on, and join every group I could squeeze in to my schedule. Bible college was more of the same writing essays and assignments about Jesus, and reading book after book trying to gain something I thought all of the other Christians had. I wanted to know Jesus more.
During this time God did great things in my life; He called me to the ministry, put great mentors in my life, and used me in ways I never could have imagined. But I was still missing something. I didn’t know what it was until I finally was forced to slow down and do the things those great mentors had been telling me for years to do: be still. Anyone who knows me or has even met me knows that this is not easy for me, but it is critical. When I finally stopped and was still I found what I was looking for. I began to know Jesus more. Not through books or sermons (which are useful and great), but through time spent in relationship with Him. I began to take my quiet time seriously and it made all the difference. When I start my day as Jesus did, by myself in prayer, my entire day is transformed. To listen to what God has to say in my life in a proactive way rather than a reactive way, has saved me heartache and pain. Let me encourage you this week to start your day alone with God. Take time to be in relationship with Him and start your day in the peace only He can provide. There will be distractions and things that try to get in the way. Don’t let them.
Love you guys!
Make good decisions,
Puzzled About Gods’ Works?
And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose. Romans 8:28 Amplified Bible
I am not a puzzle person. I am talking about the puzzles that have one thousand pieces or more. But Pam is a puzzle person. We have a number of Springbok puzzles that she has done through the years. When she is doing a puzzle my suggestion every time is “trim the edges of the pieces and make them fit.” I love the phrase from the Amplified Bible which says “God [who is deeply concerned about us].” All of us need to repeat that phrase often until it is one of our first thoughts about God no matter what life throws at us. That phrase needs to be one of the spiritual anchors in our heart. Many times we want to grab the “puzzling pieces of our life” and tell God how all those pieces/circumstances need to fit according to our will. In such times we must breathe deep and recognize that God has called us. God has His plan and God has His purpose. And He works all things together for good.
God is deeply concerned about you right now!
"At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked a came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised." Job 1:20-21
Why do godly people suffer? Why does God allow underserved suffering? I have asked myself these questions so many times. Especially as I watched my Mimi, my best friend, slowly and painfully suffer from cancer. She was the godliest woman I knew and truly trusted The Lord with her life. I wrestled with wondering why God would allow her to suffer so much, for so long. But I have come to a place of trusting God's sovereignty in loss and suffering.
In the story of Job, it's interesting how it all begins so picture-perfect. Scripture describes to us how Job was blameless and upright. He was blessed in many ways. He had a large family, a thriving livelihood, and feared God. God was pleased with Job.
However, disaster struck in Job's life. God allowed Satan to test him. The test was to prove Satan wrong that Job's faithfulness was dependent on his riches and possessions. In the end, God was glorified. Through it all Job still worshiped the Lord despite his suffering. Job acknowledged that he came into this world with nothing and would take nothing with him. He knew that all he had belonged to God and he trusted the Lord with every aspect of his life.
I don't know what you're facing today or what suffering you have experienced, but I do know this: although suffering is a part of life and this broken world, God can and will use yours and my suffering for HIS greater good. God has purpose in all things. He is with us in the suffering. A day will come when there is no more sorrow, pain, heartache, or tears. Our joy will be made complete through Christ.
Moving Past Your Past
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19
Just as we celebrate each day as a gift from God, with new mercies and opportunities, we also need to develop the discipline of putting our past behind us. The discipline of starting over requires a constant breaking with the part of our past that holds us in bondage.
I said Sunday in my sermon, “I don’t believe in haunted houses. But I do believe in ‘haunted people.’ These people are not haunted by ghosts, but by guilt, bitterness, and fear.”
Here’s what guilt, bitterness, and fear shouts, “YOU CAN’T START OVER, YOU WON’T EVER CHANGE.” They whisper to us, “ We’re here and we’re not leaving and you can’t change.”
God’s grace is greater than our sin, our bitterness, or our fear. When we confess our sin and forgive our enemies and pray for power over fear, we are freed from the bondage of our own making. We grow more like Christ and we give more of ourselves to others. We experience the joy of our salvation.
This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end… Lamentations 3:21–22
One of the great enemies of hope is forgetting God’s promises. Reminding is a great ministry. Peter and Paul wrote for this reason (2 Peter 1:13; Romans 15:15).
The main reminder is the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). But don’t be passive. You are responsible only for your own ministry of reminding. And the first one in need of reminding by you is you.
The mind has this great power: It can talk to itself by way of reminder. The mind can “call to mind.” For example, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases” (Lamentations 3:21–22).
If we don’t “call to mind” what God has said about himself and about us, we languish. O how I know this from painful experience! Don’t wallow in the mire of godless messages. I mean the messages in your own head. “I can’t . . .” “She won’t . . .” “They never . . .” “It has never worked . . .”
The point is not that these are true or false. Your mind will always find a way to make them true, unless you “call to mind” something greater. God is the God of the impossible. Reasoning your way out of an impossible situation is not as effective as reminding your way out of it.
Without reminding ourselves of the greatness and grace and power and wisdom of God, we sink into brutish pessimism. “I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you” (Psalms 73:22).
The great turn from despair to hope in Psalm 77 comes with these words: “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds” (Psalms 77:11–12).
This is the great battle of my life. I assume yours too. The battle to remind! Myself. Then others.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13
Every time I drift away from God and His word things fall apart, but every time I draw near to Him and His word things never fail to fall into place. The more I get to know Him and experience, Him the more I want to honor Him. I am so grateful for all that He has done and the hope that He provides when I am stepping into or about to step into what is next.
I remember being in a scary car accident with a friend last year. I was extremely frustrated with the whole situation and questioned how God could use something that was completely out of our control and scary for good. I knew we had done all the right things, yet we were experiencing the consequences of somebody else’s bad decisions and it felt unfair. I was also frustrated with friends and family because some over reacted while others did not seem to care. Long story short I realized two things; God is the only one that can meet us where we are and bring us to where we need to be. When we draw near to Him he reveals how He can use anything and everything for our good and His glory.
I cannot imagine walking through life alone. There is so much going on in our world today and there are many changes and struggles we are facing daily that only God can meet. We do not know what tomorrow holds, but we know who holds it. The Creator of the universe created us and He knows exactly what we need when we need it.
Draw near to Him today,
Who Am I Listening To?
"The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.” Psalm 29:4
“Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 11:15
Roofers make lots of noise. We are having our roof replaced because of hail damage from last April 2020. Yes, I know we procrastinated the process of replacing the roof. Since April 2020 I bet we have had two dozen or more contractors/roofers talk to us or leave their business card at our door. Back to my first statement, roofers make lots of noise. I’m glad it’s only for one day or so as they walk, talk, shovel off the old shingles and hammer away putting on the new shingles. But think about the constant chaotic noise from our world which many times keeps us from hearing God’s powerful and majestic voice and distracts us from responding to His voice.
Why doesn’t God just get louder than the world? Well, according to His Word He is louder than the world. Isn’t it interesting that many times we are “slow” to listen. At times maybe we have drifted from His presence allowing the chaotic noise of the world to dominate us. But there is also the possibility that we have unconfessed sin which has broken our fellowship with Him. So what steps will you take to listen to His voice over listening to all the chaotic noise of our world?
Let me suggest some ideas:
- Read your Bible out loud and soak/meditate/chew on His words.
- As you read…look, listen and apply one truth and treasure it in your heart.
- Expect to hear His voice in your heart, mind, and soul.
- As He speaks to you, enjoy His Word’s for you throughout the day.
The chaotic noise of the world will never let up. But hearing the Father of all eternity loudly proclaim His power, His presence, and His daily provision is truly glorious for every follower of Jesus Christ. So read God’s Word knowing that He will speak to you!
What is God saying to you today?
God is especially close to us when we are lying on a sickbed. God will make the bed soft and will freshen it with His presence and with His tender care. He makes the bed comfortable and wipes away our tears. He ministers to us with special tenderness at such a time and reveals His great love for us. Tell me why the gardener trims and prunes his rosebushes, sometimes cutting away productive branches, and I will tell you why God’s people are afflicted. God’s hand never slips. He never makes a mistake. His every move is for our own good and for our ultimate good. Oftentimes He must deform us and mutilate our own image. Deformity sometimes precedes conformity.
When times of tribulation come, help me, dear Lord, to glory in them for Your sake.
Living for an Audience of One
“ . . . I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Galatians1:10 NLT
One of the habits that leads to getting stuck spiritually is people pleasing. People pleasing is exhausting. I’m not talking about being kind to others or living as a servant for Christ. I’m referring to the habit of trying to get everyone to like you. This is a never ending task where you can never do enough. When a people pleaser enters a room full of people, their mind begins to race asking all kinds of questions:
“What is everyone thinking about me? Do they like me? Am I pretty/handsome enough, clever enough, successful enough to measure up? What do I have to say or do to fit in?”
At some point you just have say ENOUGH! If you are a people pleaser maybe this year is the year you break free from trying to meet everyone else’s expectation and focus on becoming the person God in Jesus has made you to become. This is the year to focus on pleasing Jesus - to learn to live for an audience of One!
The Bible says that God knew who you could and would become before you were. He created you with purpose, identity, and value. Psalm 139:16, "Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." What a powerful statement.
All we ever have to be is the person God made us to be. We don’t have to be like anyone else. Our significance doesn’t come from what others say about us or how we perform but from our Creator who made us and our Savior who died for us.
I hope you join me this Sunday as we being the new sermon series HABITS: It’s the Little Things. This could make 2021 a so much better year!
- Pastor Jim
To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light... Acts 26:18
The blind man, Bartimaeus, threw off his cloak and ran trembling to Jesus. And Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” In that moment as he said, “Lord,” his spiritual eyes were opened. And Jesus said, “Your faith has made you whole.” Notice—not your intellectual understanding, not your money, not your works—but your faith. Faith! That’s all it takes! Immediately Bartimaeus, who had been blind all of his life, began to open his eyes, and the first thing he saw was the face of Jesus. What an experience—to open one’s eyes and look straight into the strong, tender face of Jesus! Bartimaeus met Jesus and the record says he “followed Jesus in the way.” When you go back to your business, or your home, or your neighborhood, or your friends, or your school, you don’t go alone. Christ goes with you.
Prayer for the day: Thank You, Lord Jesus, for healing me from my spiritual blindness!
12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish. Matthew 18:12
As we start 2021 I am encouraged by God’s pursuit of my heart. From Adam and Eve until now God has pursued His creation in spite of our constant straying. I think many times we focus on what we can do in our walk with Christ, and forget that the real work is done by Him.
This week as you spend time with God I encourage you to do something that I am not very good at. Be still. “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14 ). We have a God that can overcome any issue or struggle if we allow Him to. He is coming after your heart when it is hurting and you just need to be still and allow Him to fight for you. As a country, I wish we could all be still and let the LORD fight for us. What peace that would bring! That may not be possible, but we as a community of believers at Oak View can show our community what it looks like. Let us be a calm in the storm; a people who trust in the words of our Creator to be still.
Have a great week! Love you guys!
Make Good Decisions,
This Present Age
Titus 2:11-12 says, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,”
Isn’t it amazing that God “…offers salvation to all people.” That is the gospel. That is the good news because Christ’s death and resurrection was for all mankind no matter a person’s good behavior or evil behavior. It is recognizing that every person we cross paths with is either a believer or an empty soul that needs salvation. Salvation is telling God you are a sinner and accepting Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.
Titus 2:11-12 tells us about the activity of God’s grace every day of our life for all our life. It is God’s grace that “teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness and worldly passions.” It is God’s grace that teaches us “to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives.”
“In this present age…” we have the opportunity each day to be grace-bearers to the empty souls we encounter. Today, let your walk and talk express God’s grace and mercy to every person who crosses your path.
Grace Abounds because of Jesus Christ!
"The Lord was with him; He showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden." Genesis 39:21
Joseph's life was hard. He was sold in into slavery in Egypt. There he faced many ups & downs, trials, and triumphs. We discover that God was with him through it all. Throughout Joseph's time in Egypt as a slave and as a prisoner we are constantly reminded that The Lord was with Joseph. The verse above affirms God's presence when Joseph was thrown into prison.
If we really think about it, we might come to the conclusion that Joseph would have become a very bitter person. He could have filled his heart with anger, anxiety, and revenge. But he didn't. He chose not to. He made a choice to honor God with his actions and his attitude. God didn't immediately remove Joseph from his situation, but He eventually delivered him from it. Joseph honored God right where he was.
I often ask God to take away unpleasant circumstances. When He doesn't, I have to choose to not let bitterness and anxiety into my heart, but to honor God instead. He may not remove us from certain circumstances, but can we see the blessings He is sending to us in that place? God is with us.
He now showed them the full extent of His love. John 13:1
Imagine you have been invited to a meal at a table, but not just any table. You are a guest at the table where Jesus and His friends gathered for the Passover Feast. You anxiously wait for the festivities to begin when you notice Jesus stand, get a towel and water, and begin washing everyone’s feet. Traditionally, this was a job done by a servant, not the master. At the very least, it should be your job. He shouldn’t be washing your feet! But with this simple act, Jesus taught His disciples, as well as you and me, that being a disciple means getting into the foot-washing business. Christ gives us a new way to live by showing us a new way to love.
One interesting thing to note is the timing of Jesus’ act of service. Jesus knew His death was quickly approaching. He knew the pain, torture, mockery, and betrayal He would endure. Nevertheless, He used this opportunity to teach His disciples to love one another through selfless service.
John uses verse one as a catalyst for the remainder of his book. The washing of the disciples’ feet was the first of many ways Jesus would display the full extent of His love (v. 1) in his waning hours. His selfless act of serving others, in particular those who had nothing to give back in return, gives us an example to live by (v. 15). He demonstrates a new way to love: selflessly, serving those in our circle of influence. It is impossible to say what you or I would do if we had sat at that table many years ago, but today we are called to show others the kind of love that Jesus showed His friends.
You and I are called to show a new kind of love. Who is at your "table" that you can serve with love today? How can you show Christ's love to someone else?
Father, help us emulate your son's humility as we reach out to the people you have placed in our lives. Teach us to show others by our actions the love you have for them.
This prayer from Billy Graham, written for The Saturday Evening Post in 2008, is just as relevant in 2021.
Our Father and our God, as we stand at the beginning of this new year we confess our need of Your presence and Your guidance as we face the future.
We each have our hopes and expectations for the year that is ahead of us—but You alone know what it holds for us, and only You can give us the strength and the wisdom we will need to meet its challenges. So help us to humbly put our hands into Your hand, and to trust You and to seek Your will for our lives during this coming year.
In the midst of life’s uncertainties in the days ahead, assure us of the certainty of Your unchanging love.
In the midst of life’s inevitable disappointments and heartaches, help us to turn to You for the stability and comfort we will need.
In the midst of life’s temptations and the pull of our stubborn self-will, help us not to lose our way but to have the courage to do what is right in Your sight, regardless of the cost.
And in the midst of our daily preoccupations and pursuits, open our eyes to the sorrows and injustices of our hurting world, and help us to respond with compassion and sacrifice to those who are friendless and in need. May our constant prayer be that of the ancient Psalmist: “Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end” (Psalm 119:33).
We pray for our nation and its leaders during these difficult times, and for all those who are seeking to bring peace and justice to our dangerous and troubled world. We pray especially for Your protection on all those who serve in our armed forces, and we thank You for their commitment to defend our freedoms, even at the cost of their own lives. Be with their families also, and assure them of Your love and concern for them.
Bring our divided nation together, and give us a greater vision of what You would have us to be. Your Word reminds us that “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).
As we look back over this past year we thank You for Your goodness to us—far beyond what we have deserved. May we never presume on Your past goodness or forget all Your mercies to us, but may they instead lead us to repentance, and to a new commitment to make You the foundation and center of our lives this year.
And so, our Father, we thank You for the promise and hope of this new year, and we look forward to it with expectancy and faith. This I ask in the name of our Lord and Savior, who by His death and resurrection has given us hope both for this world and the world to come.
© 2008 Saturday Evening Post Society.
Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you. Psalms 9:10
I remember a time in my life where every day I felt like I was drowning. I remember turning to people and things that I thought would lift me towards the surface, unknowingly allowing them to pull me deeper into the unknown. I remember touching rock bottom and reaching out for help in desperation, turning to God as a last resort. I’ll never forget the day He brought me back to shore, wishing I had turned to Him sooner.
I want to remind you that God loves you. He created you uniquely with a purpose and He is a Father that pursues. Through complete and sincere surrender there is freedom and hope. He is with us every step of the way and I promise He will provide abundantly more than we could possibly expect.
As we are about to enter 2021 I want to encourage you to seek the Father above all else and surrender your life completely to Him no matter how hard. I want to encourage you to live a life that will have an eternal impact on those around you because of the impact Christ has had on you. Walk closely with Him as we walk into the unknown.
Stand firm in your Faith,
He Shall Be Called Wonderful Counselor
Seneca Lake Baptist Encampment is located outside of Senecaville, Ohio in the beautiful rolling hills of Northeast Ohio. It was the summer of 1969 and I was chosen to be a summer worker at Seneca Lake along with 6 other teens. We didn’t teach and lead the campers each week but we got to cook, clean the bunkhouses, mow the lawns, etc. We were the summer work force. I had already surrendered my life to full time ministry but that summer I was spiritually wrestling. I wanted to know exactly what God wanted me to do. I wanted a spiritual roadmap. Our camp manager was Arlie Carter, a seasoned pastor with great wisdom. We had many conversations over the summer and Arlie’s experience and insight provided me great counsel in regards to God’s direction upon my life.
Psalm 32:8 says, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you."
All of us have individuals who God uses to “speak into our lives” at times when we truly need a word from the Lord. Arlie Carter is one of my spiritual friends…a wonderful counselor. Who can you think of that has spoken spiritual wisdom into your life? Let them know their impact on your spiritual life either personally or through a personal note.
During 2021 how will you yield to your heavenly Father more and more, drawing closer to Him? Let Him “instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.” Why? Because He loves you!
Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them." Mark 6:47-48a
Before Gabriel spoke his prophetic words over Mary announcing that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and she would be the mother of Jesus, Mary was well on her way to setting up a household and a life with Joseph. But Gabriel's news changed everything. Her life had not turned out like she thought it would.
With Gabriel's words, Mary's life was turned upside down. She knew there was a good chance that she would be disgraced in her community, disowned by her parents, and her engagement broken off with Joseph. However, through all of this she remembered God's character and His ways. She remembered God's faithful promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. She believed that the same would now be for her. She understood that her life was a part of God's big plan.
She sang a song of praise to God.
What a beautiful example of how knowing and believing God's Word and His promises gives us the faith to praise Him when life doesn't go as planned.
“A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” Proverbs 18:14
Which pain is worse, emotional or physical? Like you, I’ve faced both kinds: crushing physical pain with no position in which I can get comfortable; crushing heartache in which my head spins with grief and I can’t stop the tears.
Physical pain is curious. You can almost distract yourself from it. Sometimes you can push physical pain right out of your thoughts by crowding your time and attention with other things. Even in a wheelchair, I’ve devised clever ways to forget about my paralysis.
Ah, but inside suffering, that’s another matter. You can’t put mental anguish or heartache behind you. Those hurts create an emptiness that refuses to be pushed or crowded out of your thoughts. It bites. Gnaws. Grinds away at your sanity.
You’ve felt that way. Your heart has been stomped on; your feelings have been trampled. A slandered reputation…a love relationship spurned…painful memories of abuse. Yes, I’m convinced emotional pain is much worse than physical pain. But I’m also convinced it does something to our heart that physical pain often can’t. Inner anguish melts the heart, making our souls pliable and bendable. Because we can’t drive it from our thoughts, it forces us to embrace God out of desperate, urgent need.
Think about the ways in which God says He will take care of inner anguish. He proclaims that He holds you in the palm of His hand, that He hides you in the cleft of his rock, that He carries you in his bosom. He sustains you with His grace; He sets your feet on a high place; He shelters you underneath His wings. God is never closer than when your heart is aching. Read the psalms until you find one that reminds you of God’s presence in your anguish.
Praise be to you, the Father of all compassion and the God of all comfort. You heal our hearts; you are the prescription for pain. I come to you today with my urgent need. Thank you that you’ve promised you will be there to catch me.
But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2:19, ESV
There is no season of the year more festive, significant, and memorable than Christmas. The colors, the sounds, the family gatherings, the special meals, and the excitement of children and grandchildren make for happy memories. (In our house we have a special December calendar.) Secrets abound, touched by affection, only to be unwrapped on Christmas morning. For us, there are other memories as well that fill our minds—the things we unwrap, the gifts we give, and the joy we experience in giving are symbols of the greatest of all gifts, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The mystery of deity-in-flesh-among-us is as incomparable as it is incomprehensibly true. It is something that has captured our imagination, filling us with delight and appreciation. Mary is a great illustration, and model, in this regard for us. She was likely aroused from sleep by a group of shepherds who, somewhat perplexed, came to see her newborn. They came declaring that the heavens had been rent with an angelic announcement of a child. It was not an ordinary child. They said the angels told them the one they had come to see was the Promised One, the Messiah, the Christ, the one who would redeem His people, the Lord, the Master. They called the message “good news,” and surely it was—and still is and far more!
Mary’s reaction in Luke 2:19 is worthy of reflection. The word “treasured” means keeping something of value within herself, while the word “pondering” conveys the idea of comparing things one with another, contemplating. The words together suggest that Mary thought often on the words that the shepherds brought to her—such words as “Savior,” “the Christ,” “Lord,” “good news,” and “for all the people”—all the while clinging affectionately to the child in her arms.
My challenge to all at this season is that we would pause often to follow the example of Mary!
Merry Christmas Oak View!
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Matthew 2:16, NIV
Have you ever noticed that the only children in the Christmas story—other than the newborn King—are the males whom Herod slaughtered? Imagine the stress as Mary and Joseph fled more than one hundred miles to hide the Prince of Peace in Egypt.
But wait—didn’t the angels say they had good news for all people?
Yes. But that rose of good news had—and has— not fully bloomed. And until it blossoms, we feel the disconnect between tidings of joy and actual shalom on earth. Christmas might whisper to us of the world to come—through time with family, beloved carols, ham and wassail, a long-awaited hug, and/or Christmas morning with eyes all aglow—but we also mourn the depressed bank accounts, the family dysfunction, and the empty space at the table. Is it any wonder that so many grieve in December?
The children of Christmas remind us that this world is still badly broken. Indeed, the arrival of those who came to worship the Child set in motion horrific events, even as faith in Christ still divides households. But the First Advent is only the beginning. So we acknowledge the brokenness as we wait in lonely exile for the story’s dénouement. But we do not wait as those without hope. A new cry will one day rise up from Ramah. So, we sing these words of Edmund Sears:
For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.
When Christmas Just Isn’t Christmas
“But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand.” Psalm 10:14a
Our plans were to get up early on Christmas morning, open presents, then pack up the car and travel to my grandparents farm outside of Wilmore, Kentucky. I was 11 years of age and my brother, John, was 16 years of age. Nothing big was planned for Christmas eve since we were leaving early the next morning for the farm. Then we got a phone call from our grandparents. It was our granddad on the phone and the news was not good. Our grandmother was sitting and watching television and suddenly collapsed in her chair and passed away. Our granddad was grieving deeply and was asking my parents for help. Of course, here we were three hours away.
Our parents quickly decided to pack up and travel to the farm on Christmas Eve. They told John and I to stay at home till the next morning then drive down on Christmas day to the farm. So John and I spent Christmas eve night at home by ourselves. Christmas morning we got up to open presents but our hearts were broken and there was no desire to open the gifts. So John and I packed our bags and headed for the farm. Again, it was a three hour trip and my brother John was the only driver. We were on Interstate 75 south of Cincinnati and it began to drizzle then the drizzle began to get heavier. The interstate was packed with travelers. At one point the cars in front of us began to break because the black ice began to cover the road. My brother pumped the brakes and we began to slide forward and we smashed the back end of a Cadillac from Michigan. As we coasted onto the side of the highway the Cadillac was still operational but our car would not run.
We exchanged information and the Cadillac headed on to Florida. With our car out of commission, we needed to get to a phone and get help. John caught a ride with a person who stopped to check on us and they took him to the next town down the road. I stayed with the car. Now remember, I was 11 years old, sitting on the side of an interstate alone. A state trooper stopped to make sure we were okay but he could not stay with me because there were more serious accidents down the road. The car would not run and it got colder and colder. I waited with the car for three hours then my brother and my dad showed up. The car got towed to a local garage and was left there. Our dad took us on to the farm to be with the rest of the family.
It was a Christmas that just wasn’t Christmas for me as an 11 year old, but through the years it’s been good to reflect upon God’s watchful care over us on a day that was full of grief and difficulties.
Merry Christmas because our Father loves us and knows our every need!