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Started by Pipsqueak, Jan 18, 2023, 11:55 AM

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Overwhelmed. Overcommitted. Overworked.
December 13, 2022
by Carey Nieuwhof

"Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

I was a trying-to-be-devoted husband and a dad of two young sons, and at the same time, I was leading one of the fastest-growing and largest churches in our denomination.  At first, everything seemed manageable.  When I arrived in our little community, the church was small. How can you be overwhelmed when you're leading a church with an average attendance of six?

But six became 60, which became 600, which became 1,000, and I couldn't keep up. In fact, I developed a deadly equation: more people + more responsibility = more hours.  Ever been there?

Life gets busy. Kids. Financial stress. Marriage struggles. Your friends, family, co-workers and everyone else in the universe have access to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  You never get a break.  And before you know it, you find yourself overwhelmed, overcommitted and overworked.  What I didn't see coming was that amid the relentless pace of trying to keep up, my heart was withering, dying, disappearing.  "Above all else," the Scriptures tell us, "guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it" (Proverbs 4:23). An older version of the NIV Bible once framed it this way: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."

My spring had dried up. As my heart went hard, everything else good dried up: my patience, my kindness, my compassion, my gentleness. Gone. And I was a pastor.  The price of busyness is your heart.  And yet it became easy to justify my busyness. Because all the activity that was numbing my soul was for Jesus. And people were being saved. How could this possibly be a bad thing?

About a decade into the rocket ride that was my church leadership, things ground to a dead halt. I burned out.  I didn't declare a finish line to my work, so my body did.  Since then, I've developed a little mission statement I remind myself of every day: Live in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow.  In this moment, if I'm not living in a way that will help me thrive tomorrow, I'm doing it wrong.  That means saying "no" a lot. It means closing the laptop at the end of the day. It means getting eight hours of sleep, carving out time to exercise, finding a hobby and eating healthier. It means focusing on what only I can do and ignoring, delegating and declining the rest. It means meaningful time with Christ and with my family. It means taking time off.  The strangest thing is that by doing less, I've served far more people. Our church grew a lot. As I got healthier, so did everyone I led.  Since I've handed off the church's leadership to the next generation, these days I'm able to minister to more leaders every day than I ever dreamed possible. Doing less has led to far more. Who knew?

And my heart?

It's alive again.  Ironically, guarding your heart isn't one more thing to do. It's the thing that leads to everything getting better.  What do you need to cut out of your life so your heart can come alive again?


When Crisis Brings Joy
December 14, 2022
by Ferial from Syria

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." Philippians 4:12 (NIV)

Editor's note: Although Syria isn't in the news anymore and cameras are focused on other parts of the world, the suffering of the Syrian people continues. Syria's decade-long civil war continues. For Ferial Jamil Labbad, a Christian wife and mother of two in Latakia, Syria, the horrors of war almost tore her family apart.  When war in Syria broke out in 2011, we were living in Aleppo in an area that was badly hit. We lived so close to the militia groups. My children were young then, and I lived in fear, afraid for them. When planes would fly over our house, my husband and I would take the children out of bed and hide in the bathroom.  Even simple tasks were risky. I remember one day when my husband, Ghandi, and the children went to the market. On their way back, there was a lot of shooting even shooting at them. They started running; my children were crying. It was only the protection of God that allowed them to return home safely.  Finally, my husband had to leave to find work so we could afford to live. He had friends living in the Latakia countryside about three hours from us. We left Aleppo crying, especially the children because they loved the house. We brought only some clothes with us, thinking we would be back soon.  That was eight years ago.  The first few months in Latakia were so hard and different. I fought with my husband and cried every night, thinking about everything we had left. Here, we have one small shared bedroom and a living room. We don't have much food and get by on rice and lentils. And we have electricity for only 30 minutes three times a day.  But my husband reminded me time after time that we had fled to protect our children from the war. For the first time in what seemed like years, I felt my kids were safe here. I started to thank God that we had taken the right step, as hard as it was, and I began to have more peace. Gratitude has become a daily practice.  We have grown in our love for Jesus here. I have realized the importance of being part of a local church body. The church we found has motivated me to love Jesus even more than I used to. And finding this community helped ease the pain of leaving our home. I'm not concerned with Aleppo or our financial situation anymore. Instead, I feel different closer to the pattern of Jesus. God is alive in us. He is with us, taking care of us, nurturing us.  I feel just as Paul did when he said, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want" (Philippians 4:12).

And I have grown through a discipleship group of women who study the Bible together and share about our lives with each other. Through this group, I have learned to open the Bible, read it and live it. Even as tiny as my house is, I love opening my home to this group to meet.  The situation in Syria is still very desperate, and we still have little. Prices continue to rise each day; no matter how much we work, we are not able to earn enough to buy the food we need. But I have learned that even if we have nothing, we can try to help those who are in worse conditions. Every morning I pray, Even if I have nothing, Jesus, I want to give something.  There is hope for our future. Even amid crises, I feel inner peace because I know that Jesus will never leave us.


The Significance of the Insignificant: A Christmas Story
December 23, 2022
by Meghan Mellinger

"But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.'" Luke 2:10 (NIV)

Imagine for a minute that you're a shepherd in the Middle East long ago. Others would say you're no one of any real significance, and you own very little. You don't sleep in a bed; you sleep on the grass next to your sheep.  Being a shepherd isn't a glamorous profession, but it's a necessary one. Especially in this ancient context where sheep are essential for God's people not for warm sweaters and blankets but for sacrifices. For every one of your mistakes, mess-ups and hang-ups, sheep (or certain other animals like cows, turtledoves or pigeons) pay the price.  Sheep are born to die.  And as a shepherd, you always have job security because there is always a demand.  But imagine for a minute that one night you awake to a total stranger hovering above you, glowing.  "... Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people." (Luke 2:10)

The angel tells you a baby has been born in the nearest village. But not just any baby the Messiah, the promised Savior you've been waiting for.  But why you?

Why didn't the angel tell someone more notable, more worthy, more prestigious, first?

Why a lowly shepherd like you?

You hurry to find a baby not born in a palace to the royal family, wrapped in the finest silks. No, you find a baby born to a young virgin mother and her carpenter fiance, wrapped in simple cloth in an animal trough.  You marvel at the scene before you. An unwed mother, who the law says should be stoned to death for conceiving a child outside of marriage. A humble carpenter, who believes his fiancee when she says she became pregnant via divine intervention, not traditional conception.  This isn't the picture-perfect-Christmas-card image everyone expected of our long-awaited Savior. There's no wealth or power or showy fanfare here at the birth of the promised almighty King just farm animals and social outcasts.  Why would such a significant baby be born in such an insignificant way?

Why would such significant news be told first to such insignificant people?

Look closely the symbolism here is rich like chocolate cake: shepherds beholding the birth of a new Lamb. The Lamb of God. The all-powerful Savior, born to die for them. Not just for the elite, the rich, the other half. The Lamb of God came for the lowly, for the weak, for the shepherds sleeping next to the sheep.  The sheep on the hillside were born to die for some, but the Lamb of God was born to die as the final sacrifice for all.  The most powerful One came in the humblest way so that all are invited to know Him.  This isn't just good news it's the best news we will ever receive.  The shepherds in Luke 2, like you and me today, may have imagined themselves as no one of any real significance. But because of one holy night, we now know the Significant One.


To Live, To Really Live: Vivir, Realmente Vivir
December 26, 2022
by Rachel Marie Kang

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10 (NIV)

Some months ago, I was on the beach in Mexico, watching the crashing waves of the Pacific, el océano Pacífico. Now, I am back home where laundry piles beckon back to where there is no sun in my hair, no sand in my toes, just stains and sticky floors and stress and strain.  Sometimes, I stop and stare off into the distance and think, Take me back. Take me back to Mexico, back to the view of el Pacífico right outside my window. Take me back to the beauty I touched and tasted. Take me back to the good views and good food, to life being everything I ever dreamed of and more.  For three days and three nights, I had awoken to the sound of the ocean thrashing and birds chirping. I relaxed in a cabana overlooking the place where the waves met the sand, and I sat under an umbrella by the pool. The trip, this gift all expenses covered through the generosity of others was a dream come true. It was everything I ever wanted, everything I ever dreamed of.  There's this song I love, "Luna y Marea" by Jesús Adrián Romero, one of my favorite singers. Entranced by the lyrics and el ritmo of the song, I let it play on repeat in the shower in the car in the kitchen while I cook.  There's a line in the song:  Tú eres el ritmo que sin falta me lleva a vivir, realmente a vivir.  In English, this translates to:  You (God) are the rhythm that, without fail, leads me to live, to really live.  It reminds me of the Bible passage where Jesus speaks of sheep and shepherds and of robbers and thieves who come to steal, kill and destroy. To the Pharisees, He said, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10).

The Greek word perissos, like its English translation "to the full," means "abundantly above, beyond measure, more, excessively." And it pierces my heart.  Living, really living, is so much more than a trip to the beach.  Living, really living, is so much more than just good views and good food so much more than getting what you want and having your wildest dreams come true.  Living, really living, is realizing that Jesus our Good Shepherd is the One keeping us safe from the enemy who comes to steal, kill and destroy, and all the while He is satisfying our souls.  In Him we are tended to and taken care of. Gently, He leads us, calling us out to find pastures, to find that He is our pastor and our paradise. To live is to be in Him. To really live is to be with Him.  We don't have to turn the whole world upside down to find security, salvation and satisfaction we can find it all in Jesus, the One who offers life through His life, death and resurrection.  He is our daily bread. (John 6:35) His Spirit is like the wind, (John 3:8) and the roaring waves of the water obey Him. (Mark 4:39-41) He is majestic and more magnificent than any view in Mexico, Morocco, Maine or Montana. Our God is el ritmo that, without fail, leads us to live, realmente vivir.


What Happens When We've Been With Jesus
January 2, 2023
by Karen Ehman

"When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus." Acts 4:13 (CSB)

When our oldest son, Mitchell, was a tiny tot, we purchased a plastic toy lawn mower for him at a local yard sale. Using that lawn mower became one of his favorite pastimes. But he didn't want to propel it just anywhere he wanted to follow along right behind his dad as he mowed the lawn.  Of course, this wasn't safe; the lawn mower blade might throw a rock or worse. So my husband disengaged the blade and pushed his lawn mower around our backyard just so my son could follow behind and imitate him.  Often in my spiritual life, I've thought it a worthy goal to try to be more like Jesus in this way: to imitate His behavior, to try to behave like He does. But the older I get, the more I have discovered it isn't enough just to try to be like Jesus. First, we should want to be with Jesus. Godliness can't just be imitated; it needs to be developed. And the best way to develop it is not by doing good deeds but by growing in our relationship with the Lord.  Acts 4:13 gives us a glimpse of this truth: "When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus."

A certain phrase pops out at me: They had been with Jesus.  How this verse both challenges and inspires us! Do others recognize from our behavior that we have been with Jesus?

Might they be amazed at qualities we possess because of Him, even though we aren't anybody special?

In our walk with the King, are we focusing on copying His behavior in a perfunctory way or on being in His presence, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict, change and embolden us, helping us trust God more and live out our faith?

My son Mitch did love mimicking his dad, but mostly he just constantly wanted to be where his father was, whether spending time outside in the yard, working on something in the garage or putting his feet up inside the house after finishing his chores. Similarly, we should stick close by the Lord's side, loving the time spent in His presence.  Spending deliberate time with Jesus in prayer and Bible study however that works into our schedule and season shows a seriousness about our faith and can strengthen our trust in Him. May the words of James 4:8a be our continual ambition: "Come close to God, and God will come close to you" (NLT).  Looking and sounding like Jesus will be the natural result from spending time with Him so often. Let's focus on that.


You Can Experience Peace Today
January 12, 2023
by Lysa TerKeurst

"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!'" John 20:19 (NIV)

When Jesus rose from the grave and appeared in the midst of His disciples meeting behind locked doors, I imagine they were stunned, shocked and overjoyed. With great intentionality, Jesus chose the words He used to greet them. Of all the themes He could have selected at that moment, He picked what they needed most. What was it?


While all of these certainly would have been appropriate, Jesus didn't touch on any of them. He simply said over and over again, "Peace be with you!" According to John 20:19, it is the first thing He said. He said it again before breathing on them to receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20:21-22) Then when addressing Thomas and his doubts, He said it yet again. (John 20:26)

Each time Jesus is recorded as saying this in John 20, the NIV translation ends the sentence with an exclamation point. Not only was Jesus intentional but He was also emphatic. His words were conveyed with great emphasis and urgency.  Why peace?

And why did Jesus use the particular phrase "Peace be with you!"?

I don't know for sure, but I have my theories.  This world is very good at conjuring up facades. Moments of worldly happiness can appear "joyful," but they're fleeting. The world takes "hope" and mistakes it for positive, wishful thinking. "Love" has become an everyday word used to describe a feeling that can change quickly. "Reassurance" is often what we strive for on our own because we want to be the one in control.  The world's offering of joy, hope, love and reassurance is fleeting, temporary and dangerously unstable.

"I got that promotion!" (Joy)
"I think we can afford this house!" (Hope)
"He likes spending time with me — I think he's the one!" (Love)
"I think this is all going to work out just as I planned!" (Reassurance)

There's nothing wrong with the moments of happiness or celebration we experience on this side of eternity; I do believe God gives us those as gifts. However, jobs can be lost in an instant, houses can be foreclosed on, relationships can end, and plans can change on a whim. The truth is: The world can't really offer us peace.  It may give us temporary peace but not true, soul-settling, steady peace. Real peace that can be ours despite circumstances can only be found through Jesus being with us. That's why Jesus phrased it the way He did: "Peace be with you!" (John 20:19).

In other words, "You can walk through anything if you realize I am peace and I am with you."

The kind of peace Jesus offers us is a peace that's with us in the absence of trouble and in the presence of it. That means, regardless of the hardship you're experiencing, you can experience peace right now.  Jesus knew what His disciples would continue to experience on this earth — persecution, suffering, disease, grief as He chose His words for them. And while He couldn't promise an ending to all the hard things, even after the resurrection, He did promise His peace would be with them. And He promises the same thing for you and me today.  Oh, friend, whatever you're facing, I pray you make the choice to process every hard thing by factoring in that the presence of Jesus means the presence of peace. As we invite Him into our hardest moments, we invite His peace. Beyond all natural reasoning, I pray "the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" today, tomorrow and forever (Philippians 4:7, NIV).


Exposing the Enemy's Plan Against You
February 9, 2023
by Lysa TerKeurst

"For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world." 1 John 2:16 (NIV)

Something I pray on a regular basis is that God will give me a keen awareness of the enemy's plans and schemes against me. I want to be able to recognize his traps and avoid them.  I believe part of His answer came one day as I studied the story of Satan tempting Eve (in Genesis 3) and our key verse: "For everything in the world the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world" (1 John 2:16).

As I compared these passages, I had a serious epiphany about how Satan goes after us. These verses outline Satan's three-pronged plan of attack on our hearts. And it's the same plan we see him using while tempting Jesus in the desert in Matthew 4:1-11! This fact tells me while the enemy may be powerful, he's also predictable.  Let's take a closer look at Satan's plan as revealed in Eve's story and Jesus' story:

1. Make them crave some sort of physical gratification to the point they become preoccupied with it.

Satan tempted Eve with fruit, which "was good for food" (Genesis 3:6a, NIV).

Satan tempted Jesus with bread while He was on a fast. (Matthew 4:3-4)

Satan tempts us with whatever physical sense we are too preoccupied by be it taste, smell, sound, touch or sight. God says that our senses are good. He gave them to us to enjoy within His boundaries. But venture outside God's intention for them, and they become an attempt to get our needs met outside the will of God.

2. Make them want to acquire things to the point they bow down to the god of materialism. Keep them distracted by making their eyes lust after more and more stuff.

Satan tempted Eve by drawing her attention to what was "pleasing to the eye" (Genesis 3:6a, NIV).

Satan showed Jesus the kingdoms of the world and told Him that He could have it all. (Matthew 4:8-10)

Satan flashes the newer, bigger and seemingly better things of this world in front of us, trying to lure us into thinking we must have them. He tempts us to think: This will make me fulfilled. This will make me happy. And then it wears out, breaks down, gets old and reveals just how temporary every material thing is. 

3. Make them boastful about what they have or do. Keep them distracted and obsessed with their status and significance. Choke the life out of them using the tentacles of their own pride.

Satan tempted Eve by promising an increased awareness that would make her become more like God. (Genesis 3:4-5)

Satan tempted Jesus by telling Him to throw Himself off the highest point of the temple and command the angels to save Him. (Matthew 4:5-7) This would have been very impressive and would have raised Jesus' status and significance in the eyes of the world.

Likewise, Satan tempts us to try and elevate ourselves over others. We wrongly think we have to become something the world calls worthy. This creates a need within our flesh to have people notice us, commend us, revere us and stroke our pride. We then dare to boast about all we are.  Oh, sweet sister, this is where we must stop and remind ourselves that we don't have to be held hostage by Satan. We are onto him and his schemes. And the enemy's power is nothing compared to the promises of God. The enemy's tactics are no match for God's Truth. God has a good plan for good things.  There was a huge difference between Eve's response to Satan and Jesus' response to Satan. Eve dialogued with Satan, and she allowed him to weave his tangled web of justifications. Jesus, on the other hand, quoted Deuteronomy with every temptation as He answered, "It is written ..." and He immediately shut Satan down with the Truth of God (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10).

What will our response be?

It's our choice.

Moment by moment, decision by decision, step by step will we operate in God's all-powerful Truth or allow Satan to entangle us in his lies?


Allow God's Purpose To Interrupt Your Plans
February 10, 2023
by Christina Patterson

"Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)

I knew my parents would be a little disappointed. After all, since my early childhood they had both wanted me to go to a specific college the same college they'd attended. After we toured campuses, the Lord gave me a desire to go to a different school.  This wasn't just any other school: It was one of my parents' rival schools.  My mind and heart were conflicted, but God ordered my steps, and my parents eventually gave me their blessing after much reservation. I still remember my dad calling me on the first day of classes to remind me it was not too late to transfer. The thought crossed my mind, but I knew it was God who had interrupted my plans.  After four amazing years, making the best friends a woman could ask for, and even meeting my husband, I look back on that time in college and see why God redirected my steps.  Years after my graduation, my father called me to say he was glad I chose a different path than he expected. I smiled. I could see that whenever God interrupts our plans, it's always for a greater purpose. The wisdom in Proverbs 19:21 explains it this way: "Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails."

I love that this scripture says we don't just have some plans we have many plans. I know I do. I have lists, notes and memos full of ideas of things I want to try, books I want to read, and goals I want to accomplish. At times, it can be frustrating knowing that I actually don't have enough time or energy to pursue every plan that comes to my heart.  There is no guarantee we'll see our plans come to pass perfectly. This often leaves us to face the sting of what feels like failure when our many plans remain lists in our planners, scribbles in our journals.  But what if we choose to look at our unaccomplished or interrupted plans not as failures but as opportunities? What if God is using what we call "failed plans" for His greater purpose?

Think of some of Jesus' disciples. Matthew planned to be a tax collector. (Matthew 9:9) Andrew, Peter, James and John planned to be fishermen, but an encounter with Jesus interrupted those plans for a purpose that would spread the gospel to all nations. (Matthew 4:18-22)  Unfulfilled plans are often pathways to God's greater purpose. When our focus is on God's purpose over our plans, we are freed from the pressure they create. We release the urge to do everything at once and the frustration when we realize we can't.  Plans are what we intend to do, but the effects of our purpose in Christ grow far beyond our intentions. No matter what plans come to pass or not this year, we can always have peace when we know that even if plans fail, God's purpose always prevails.


But What About Her?
February 20, 2023
by Stacy J. Lowe

"Peter asked Jesus, 'What about him, Lord?' Jesus replied, 'If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.'" John 21:21-22 (NLT)

Spectator coaching at baseball games has always amused me all the advice and critiques yelled out by well meaning fans who most likely can't even be heard on the field. Recently, though, one sideline comment stopped me in my tracks.  It was at a regional tournament, and my nephew's team was up to bat. After a spectacular hit from one of his teammates, a runner took off from second base. As he rounded third, he turned his head to see where the ball was.  That's when I heard it: "Don't watch the ball; watch the coach!"

This spectator knew what the runner seemed to have forgotten in the moment: It's the coach's job to know where the ball is and advise his players accordingly. It's the player's job to listen to the coach and simply trust his leading.  Which brings to mind this passage of Scripture from the book of John:  "Peter asked Jesus, 'What about him, Lord?' Jesus replied, 'If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me'" (John 21:21-22).

Not too long before this moment, the resurrected Jesus had shown up and performed a miracle for His disciples who were out fishing on the Sea of Galilee. The moment Peter realized it was Jesus standing on the shore, he cast aside his net and jumped in the water to get to Him. Peter knew then what mattered the most.  So what happened?

Later in that same chapter, John tells us "Peter turned around" (John 21:20, NLT).

Peter took his eyes off his Coach, Jesus, to gauge his own position in life compared to others'. Instantly he went from a faith-filled high to being caught in the "what about him?" trap.

How often do I fall victim to the same?

How many times do I take my eyes off Jesus to turn around and look at others?

How many times do I compare my life against someone else's and decide my own falls short?

How many times do I wonder if God's plan for me even matters?

More than I'd care to admit.

That's why I'm thankful for the grace shown to Peter in this moment of Scripture. Rather than condemning him for his doubts, Jesus lovingly reassured him, then issued him an invitation, the same invitation He still gives to you and me today: to simply follow Him.

But what about her, Lord? What are Your plans for her life?

Jesus says lovingly, "What is that to you?" (John 21:22).

But what if I don't measure up? What am I supposed to do?

Hear His voice: "As for you, follow me" (John 21:22).

Following Jesus may not be easy, and we may not understand everything that happens along the way, but we can choose today to trust Him that it's worth it. His plans for us may look different from His plans for others, but they are all good plans.


Two Unchangeable Things
February 21, 2023
by Sarah Freymuth

"God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged." Hebrews 6:18 (NIV)

The freshness of a new year strikes excitement, hope and anticipation for what is to come. A clean slate of 12 blank, unwritten months.  Like the pristine snow outside my window, newness abounds. But honestly, I'm still slogging through the sludge of last year's struggles waiting on healing from long COVID-19 and anxiety, which has left me physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.

Yes, a new year is here, but how do we move into it when we feel like there hasn't been a dividing mark between seasons, when the days and weeks have rolled into one another without much change?

How do we mark this new year as the potential for possibility when circumstances around us say "same old, same old"?

I'm reminded of Abraham's longing for a promised son who would start the Israelite lineage. (Genesis 17:16-17) Years passed, but no son came. As Abraham and Sarah aged, God's promise seemed to fade into the distance.  But Hebrews 6:13-20 tells of how God reinforced the certainty of His promise to Abraham with two unchangeable things: His purpose and His oath. We, too, can let this passage give us hope in God's faithfulness. "Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged." (Hebrews 6:17-18, NIV)

Since there was no one greater to covenant with, God took an oath upon Himself, promising that what He professed would come to be in the life of His servant Abraham.  The oaths or promises humans make are fickle and fallible, easily and often broken. However, God's oath is totally different trustworthy, true and unbreakable. God didn't need to take an oath because God is Truth Himself, but He did so to emphasize how unchangeable He is.  The oath was given for Abraham's benefit so that he would know with certainty that God would keep His promise to him.  And, friend, the oath was given for our sake too.  God doesn't necessarily promise us a child like He promised Abraham, but in His greatness and mercy, He has given us this passage to show how solid His purpose for our lives is.  We may be living in the middle of the story, still waiting to see improvement in our circumstances, but we can hitch our hearts to the heart of God, who gives us great hope because He gives us His Word.

If He says not to fear, for He is with us, then He is with us and will not leave. (Isaiah 41:10)

If He says He has plans not to harm us but to give us hope, we can rest because hope is here. (Jeremiah 29:11)

If He says Jesus came to give us life in full, then the fullness of every aspect of life is ours. (John 10:10)

As God promised, Abraham eventually received his son Isaac. While in the waiting, God is at work. We can hold on to hope as we're still walking through what seems like a never-ending wait and build our confidence that He is seeing us through.  If this new year has you navigating the same struggles and the ongoing fight to keep the faith, hold on to the hope of these two unchangeable things: God's purposes are good, and His oath is based on His character.  The view may look murky as we turn the first pages of a new calendar, but hope is here. Take heart, dear sister. The God of unchanging covenants has given promises to you. He remains steadfast, and our encouragement can revive as we wait for His promises to be fulfilled.


Flare Prayers
March 6, 2023
by Crystal Paine

"Don't worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7 (CSB)

Last night was a rough one. Our sweet little David who has Down syndrome and other medical complexities was up until 12:30 a.m. with really uncomfortable reflux. His crying woke up our other toddler, Kierstyn, who struggled to go back to sleep. And then our baby, Micah, was also up a few times to nurse.  My husband, Jesse, needed to be out the door at 5:50 a.m. to take Kaitlynn, one of our teens, to her ice skating lessons before school. Next thing I knew, both toddlers and our baby woke up and two of them were not in the most cheerful mood.  Kierstyn wanted breakfast.  Baby Micah wanted to nurse.  David needed his morning thyroid medicine and his morning feeding through his G-tube.  Our other two teens were now up and getting ready for school, and I wanted to check in and be available for them.  I had two choices: I could feel frustrated, or I could start my day by acknowledging that I couldn't do this in my own strength, asking the Lord for the supernatural strength I needed to get through the day.  I could focus on all my problems, or I could focus on God's promises.  With a weary heart and body, I prayed: God, please multiply the sleep I was able to get last night. I'm going to trust that You are going before me today. I'm trusting You to show up in powerful ways on my behalf because Your Word says when I am weak, then I am strong in You. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Instead of feeling exhausted, I actually went through the day excited that I was going to see God show up and be faithful. And guess what? It was a great day!  It's so easy to feel overwhelmed, discouraged or stressed as we go about our days. I challenge you to start seeing those feelings as little red flags to remind you to stop and send up what I call a quick "Flare Prayer" a short, in-the-moment, SOS prayer crying out to God for help, wisdom, direction, energy, strength or whatever you need in that moment.  You can pray with boldness, as Philippians 4:6-7 says: "in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

When you get that message that discourages you, stop and pray.
When your husband is having a rough day, stop and pray.
When your co-worker is frustrating you, stop and pray.
When you need to have a hard conversation, stop and pray.
When your toddler is getting on your very last nerve, stop and pray.
When your sleep is interrupted yet again, stop and pray.
When your friend is struggling and you don't know how to help, stop and pray.
When your teen is going through a difficult time, stop and pray.

Ask God to multiply your sleep on the nights when you are up every hour with a sick child. Ask God to multiply your time when you have five unexpected interruptions back to back and you already have a very full plate. Ask God to multiply your energy when you feel tired and worn down. Ask God to multiply your inspiration when you are feeling drained.  He knows. He cares. He is enough. And He is longing for you to stop striving and start resting. You don't have to do things in your own strength. You don't have to carry your burdens on your own.


This topic has been merged into Devotions.


God Wants You To Open the Gift
March 8, 2023
by Abby McDonald

"For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." 2 Timothy 1:6-7 (ESV)

For months, the box sat in our basement, unopened and collecting dust. At the time, it was just something else to organize.  Until my son discovered it.  "Mama, guess what I found?" he said.

He led me downstairs and showed me the numerous photos and pieces of memorabilia from my childhood which my parents had brought during their last visit to my house.  As I studied my son's smile, I realized that to him, this box was a treasure. Together, we combed through the contents, countless memories coming back to me in an instant.  At first, I had seen the box as an inconvenience. But the more time I spent looking through it, the more I realized this collection was a gift. I remembered moments I might have forgotten otherwise. The box's contents reminded me of the difficult seasons God strengthened me through and how He empowered me at times when I was afraid to respond to His prompting in faith.  It also reminded me of the way I treat some of the gifts God gives me. He gives me the gift of His Spirit, but do I really believe He can do what Scripture says?

Sometimes I read accounts of miracles the disciples performed and think, Yeah, but they had just seen Jesus. They had the benefit of firsthand interaction. And God gently reminds me, But you have the same Spirit in you.  In Paul's letter to Timothy, I sense the urgency in Paul's words as he told Timothy about the gift God gives each believer:  "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control" (2 Timothy 1:6-7).

The beauty of these words is that they're not simply for a believer who lived thousands of years ago; they're for each of us today. They're truth to help us get out of our own way.  In other words, wipe the dust off the box, and open the gift.  But what does opening this gift look like in everyday life?

For the mom who has young children or someone who works a nine-to-five job, how do we live like we believe this passage?

As I dig into God's Word, He is teaching me:

    When we receive prompting from God and it lines up with His Word, we can act in faith without repeated confirmation. (James 2:14)
    The power of the Spirit in me is activated when I step out in faith before I know what the outcome will be, not after. (Hebrews 11:1)
    God's power is displayed in me and through me even when my acts of faith bring different results than I envisioned. (Ephesians 3:20)

After I looked through the contents of the long-forgotten box, God prompted me to take a step of faith.  I made a doctor's appointment I'd been putting off for months, hoping the chronic pain I was experiencing would go away. Although I feared an unwelcome diagnosis, those fresh memories helped me recall all the struggles God had walked through with me in the past. God didn't abandon me then, and I knew He was with me as I scheduled the appointment. My friend, He is with you too.