EVERY One…

Hard – that’s all there is to it. Our world is in such turmoil. Here in America we’re (once again) tearing ourselves apart. The headlines revolve around a man who died – his family and friends despondent – and the lives of the policemen will never be the same and have ruined their families and many other lives as well. Sin has such a ripple effect – going on to even untold thousands affected.

Read this just this morning: “…the hard work of turning our affections from self to Savior.” (Ruth Chou Simons) That is our hard work – and if we would work on it then maybe there would be less pain, less loss – more love. Ruth went on to say: “The running TO Christ keeps us running FROM sin…” Because only sin holds our knee on the neck of one created in God’s image.

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: …hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy…and the like.” (Galatians 5:19a, 5:20b, 5:21b NIV)

This is what the enemy of men’s souls relishes. He loves us hating – he loves us hurting – he loves us destroying. ALL men are created in God’s image: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NIV)

All the skin colors that have come from bearing children to fill this wonderful earth, are not meant to divide. They are meant to show that God creates a world of many colors – from blue skies and green grass, to flamingo feathers and cheetah spots – and yes, from fair white skin to dark brown skin.

A missionary to Brazil in the Amazon penned these new words to a favorite kids’ song: Jesus loves the little children, ALL the children of the world, shades of brown from dark to light, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world. YES!

We must never forget how Jesus ends the story of mankind on earth: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from EVERY nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to OUR God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10 NIV uppercase mine)

EVERY – cried out in ONE voice – and acknowledged OUR God. Time for us to love like the Holy Spirit has been working so hard to prompt us to do for so long.

 

 

Ready, Set…

Do you find yourself saying ‘wow, it’s Friday again’ – or Monday or whatever day? Seems like time moves at warp speed. I can barely remember three days ago, so much happens.

Maybe it’s because our world is ‘bigger’ now. Used to be we heard the local news and some of our country’s news. Now we know when a flood happens on a far away continent and are face to face with all the fearful and hard stuff experienced around the world. No time to catch our breath before the next story – good or bad – is made known to us.

Some thoughts have slowly been taking shape. But the Source of all knowledge helps with perspective. Jesus spoke eight words about how it would be before He returns, and we overlook them, but they carry great weight: “See, I have told you ahead of time.” (Matthew 24:25 NIV)

He made clear all about the days that would precede His second coming. Leaving out one thing: w-h-e-n He would return. Knowing us as thoroughly as He does, it’s no wonder God didn’t have Him share that. We are so inclined to live for self, always thinking we have tomorrow. Then we find ourselves in a pickle and call out for help.

Perhaps His intent was that we live in expectation. Over and over He said things like (paraphrase): as you see the Day approaching, be ready, keep watch, always be prepared. In the final words shared with us in the last book of the Bible, in the last chapter is the why: “Listen!” says Jesus. “I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:12a GNT)

Times have been hard since Adam and Eve first left Eden. I’m sure all generations have wondered if this was the time of Christ’s return. And so it is with those alive now. The evil of man doesn’t seem like it can get worse – and now it’s flaunted. These days we see evil called good and good called evil.

And we cry out ‘Come, Lord Jesus, only You can help us now’.

Yet, so great is God’s faithfulness that we still take our next breath, see the sun rise, rejoice over a toddler’s wobbly steps, and still have hope. “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1Corinthians 13:13 NLT) Faith is His gift to us, hope is the anchor for our soul, and His love for us, in us, and through us never fails. Ready?

Rise Up…

Worship day is different lately. No more dressing nice to head out and be with those who believe in the One True God. I would love to have a video of my hubby and I singing along with the  worship songs during the online service. Each Sunday finding more freedom to sing out and move to the music, to praise with our heart and soul.

Still, the body of believers is a sweet place to be. A building is nice, but hearts moved by the Holy Spirit – soul to soul – lovers of Jesus, have a special connection. So now I’m thinking it will be even more precious once we start meeting again – whatever that may look like. We often don’t realize how precious something is, until we lose it.

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25 NIV)

That sums it up – to encourage one another. Oh yes, churches are not beyond problems – a gathering full of imperfect people. The only perfect person being the One they call on the Name of. The church – it’s great place to learn the lessons Jesus lived out for us: forgiveness, grace, patience, not judging, l-o-v-e.

And all the more as we see “the Day” approaching – the day God sends our Savior back to earth. The day those who know Him rise up with Him to our forever home – and those left behind face an earth no longer inhabited by His Holy Spirit. Hard not to ache for those who won’t surrender, for great will be their sorrow. “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.” (Hebrews 10:35 NIV)

Do you believe we could be seconds from Jesus’ return? Then again we could be centuries. It’s not for us to know when. It is for us to live in expectation. The more I lean towards expectant living – realizing I want to be found faithful, want to be known not for anything I have or can do, but for what He has done – the more exciting life is.

Let’s do this: lift up eyes to the heavens where our Help comes from. Lift up hands singing God’s praises. Surrender our hearts desiring to have more of selfish self disappear and be replaced with more of the Holy Spirit. “For ‘in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. And my righteous ones will live by faith. But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.’ But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved.”(Hebrews 10:37-39 NLT)

Don’t give up – rise up!

He Really Will…

Things don’t always work out the way we think they should. Sometimes the thing you thought for sure would be nothing, is something.

Here’s where I am, can you identify? I don’t like walking through hard things, unsure circumstances, relationship confrontations, financial upsets, health issues, fill in your ‘don’t like’ here _______________. We’re not alone – no one likes these things. But sometimes when we’re the ones facing the unasked for circumstance, alone is how we feel.

Must remember: “Yet I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand.You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:23-26 NIV)

Loved ones try to reassure us. Those who’ve walked a similar road share their experience. But I’ve learned it truly is a party of two when our turn comes. Just me and God. It’s best that way. That’s what leads to trust. That’s what strengthens us for all of life’s hurdles. And I’m okay – as long as I don’t lose sight of God. “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.” (Psalm 23:6 NLT)

But in those moments (sometimes hours and sometimes much longer) when I turn inward and look to me and what I know and what I find on the internet  – loneliness does set in. I question, doubt, cry, run. And God calls out and says listen, but I don’t want to. I want the hard to just go away.

If this is you right now, whatever it is you’re facing – all I can say is: I know. And this too: God knows. He gets us. And He – trite as it may sound – really does use all things for the good of those who love Him.

In the big picture, what’s happening with me right now, is actually pretty small. I have a place on my cheek that has basal cell cancer. I have to have surgery to remove it and then plastic surgery to try and hide it. This is hard for me to say because I’ve been part of the healthy club pretty much my whole life.

Through this I’m realizing how very hard it is to face our own frailty. It makes my heart ache – not for myself – but for a hurting world with so much more pain.

Here’s the deal: this is not how it’s supposed to be. And it won’t always be. Someday skin will not have cancers, bodies will not get Covid 19, immune systems will not fail, minds won’t deteriorate. But right now, while we wait, consider this my way of holding your hand. Yes, Jesus really will make all things new. And in the wait, He really will be right by our side. “He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5 NIV)

I’m With Him…

Here’s a word for today: Grace. Don’t think the world gets it. Do we?

There’s a three year old in my life. His world, today’s world, moves so fast. Expected to know so much only three years into this craziness called life. And I think the stress of it gets to three-year-olds just like it does to grammy-year-olds. Sometimes we just want to be loved – no expectations – and a whole lot of g-r-a-c-e when we just want things our way.

We also want to pout, question, and say we don’t like it. We don’t like worrying about pandemics – pout. We wonder where God is in all the loss – question. We want to be honest when we don’t want to stay home, wear a mask, wash hands one more time – don’t like it! “Be gracious to me, Lord, for I call to you all day long.” (Psalm 86:3 CSB)

In times like this we sometimes don’t act like the faith we say we have. We mess up. My grandson loves coming to my house but a few times lately he has been hard to get along with, emotional, unreasonable. I want to get in his face and say ‘listen, what’s the matter, you have all you need’ – instead I just hug him and wait for it to pass.

Same with God and us. I feel Him trying to find my eyes, ask what’s the matter, tell me you have ALL you need. Instead He just loves me. Knowing that whatever I experience in any trial – past, present, or future – His grace covers it all and it leads to a someday of no more of this.

As a group of friends recently discussed how often we don’t act/think/speak like children of God, one of them said the most profound thing. She said when that happens she just wants to say: “I’m with Him.” Jesus, the one who helps us as we muddle through our days. “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.” (John 6:68b GNT)

So today, when you yell, cuss, think bad thoughts, cheat, lie, are jealous, and the list goes on – just lift your eyes so He can get in your face. No condemnation will be found. Gently He will look you in the heart and remind you, He’s covered it all – and all this ‘stuff’, He’s got that too.

This God, He’s no dictator and He’s not a pushover either. But He is the One who allows us to blow it and come running to His lap, again. And forgiveness flows. I’m with Him.

As You Go…

Not going many places these days. A world that used to zoom from here to there has slowed waaayyyy down.

So welcome in so many ways. Love that being late isn’t really a thing right now (pretty much anyway). Love that money is being spent on things that matter and new perspective has come. Not really loving not being able to plan a vacation and not getting to see my children who aren’t here in town.

Remembering lately though, that wherever we are, in our four walls or hiking a trail, we’re never alone. “You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.” (Psalm 139:5 NLT) Can’t turn and not find God right there.

May not always seem like that’s true. Wondering if a business that’s closed will make a come back – that seems all alone. Waiting to see a loved one who is ill but no visitors allowed – that seems all alone. Shopping with a mask on, all going the same direction, six feet apart  – that seems all alone.

And it’s hard. Hard because burden sharing almost seems inappropriate these days. Everyone has their own set of ‘what ifs’, ‘now whats’, and anxious thoughts. There is One whose ready to listen…“Where could I go to escape from your Spirit or from your sight?” (Psalm 139:7 CEV)

The answer – no place. Never left you before, isn’t going to now. Every moment of you has been surrounded by Jesus. From the creation of your spirit long before you were formed to the very last exhale on earth – ever present. (Read Psalm 139, notice all the places the writer thought of – still not one of them was absent of God.)

“I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20b CEV)

And then after the end of the world too – as long as you know Him as Savior. Do you? As you go – throughout your day, the walk around the neighborhood for the hundredth time, and all those places you might wish you could avoid – still never alone. As you go, this life is not lived alone or unknown. You are cherished. Where you go, He is there.

These Times…

I really just want a quick fix. Snap of the fingers back to normal. You know…how it was just a month or so ago.

We Americans can now see just how dear freedom is. For this small taste of restraint, of lack, of uncertainty is working its way through communities and across our land. And different hearts and souls are having to face the what ifs? What if things don’t go back to the way they were – soon, in a few months, ever?

Truly questioning can I rest in that – can you? Here’s what we need to cling to: “Jesus Christ never changes! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 CEV)

But how to embrace these times? One day at a time.

About 2,000 years ago a man named Paul wrote some good advice: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” (1Corinthians 16:13 NIV) 

Why on guard? Because now when we’re anxious or unsure, the enemy will tempt and mislead. Stand firm in the faith? Call on Him hour by hour, don’t doubt just cling. Be courageous? In the face of the unknown, of the hard, of the what if – only the courage of Jesus in our hearts. Be strong? Unmovable in our faith, unshakable in our hope. All this is possible only in light of eternity.

Paul finishes his thought in verse 14 “Do everything in love.” Hard times or uncertainties can turn us inward, make us deaf and blind to others. Everything in this verse means: everything.

Whatever the day holds, whether it looks a whole lot like normal or has no semblance of it at all; whatever we find ourselves in the midst of, let His love for us – and in us – be the approach we take. A whole lot more love is needed right now. God never runs out of that precious commodity. And because He doesn’t, we don’t have to either. These times – they call us to how we needed to be living all along – more grace, more mercy, more love. There is freedom in these – freedom that knows no quarantine.

Happy Ending…

Don’t you love a good book? Fiction or non-fiction – written well, I can’t get enough. Especially the happy ending ones.

The book of John ends this way: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25 NIV)

John wrote his first hand account of Jesus’ ministry on earth. He wrote down the things the Holy Spirit instructed him to write. But as he reflected on his finished work, there were so many things left unwritten. Enough to fill volumes. Because every single thing Jesus did while here, was a story in itself. A life story.

On this side of the timeline of John’s gospel I can confidently say, that the whole universe would not have room for all the books that could be written – because what Jesus did, did not end.

He’s still working. Still writing the story of you, of me. Countless souls whose lives He has impacted, each with a unique story of the Jesus who saves. John also wrote the last book of the Bible: Revelation. Towards the end of the last chapter Jesus says: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22:12-13 NIV)

Though the books we read here on earth end, Jesus’ story never does. And if you have Him as Lord & Savior, yours doesn’t either. What we have is not a happy ending – we have a glorious beginning that does not reach an end. Because forever, eternity, can’t end.

Time to let Jesus write our stories – let Him add our volume to the countless others. This story may have heartaches, adventures, pitfalls, failures, joys, excitement – but threaded through the story of every Jesus follower is this: HOPE. Because this life is just a beginning and its conclusion here on earth is not the end.

“The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (1John 2:17 NIV)

 

Written…

Easter is a few short days away. It will be the first one (since becoming a Christian) that I have not been in church celebrating all that this remembrance means.

I’m hoping there’s a lot less bunnies and colored eggs this year – and a lot more Bibles open and crosses displayed.

Open Bible…in it is the answer to every question. Many will scoff at that statement. I assure you that without Jesus as Savior you will not find answers. With Jesus, whatever burdens your heart, the promises and the power contained in this Book heal each one. It covers the beginning of earth’s time to the end of its days. “In the beginning God created” to “what must soon take place” (Genesis 1:1a, Revelation 1:1b NIV)

Do you know that each and every day of your life was written by God before you ever took your first breath? “All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16 NIV)

Whether you are mourning the loss of a loved one to Covid 19 or fearing for your own life in the face of it, know this truth: there is purpose in each of our days. We can’t waste one. A life lived seeking out and fulfilling God’s purpose on earth is a life that is never cut short. For whether it lasted a few short years or reached the century mark, it is precious.

Decide today who you will live for. Will it be for self – or for Jesus? The answer does indeed have an impact – not just for you but for all who cross your path. To decide there is no God, deny the very one who makes your next breath possible – makes celebrating Easter (Christmas) meaningless. Might as well take a nap. To decide every day is one the Lord has made, I will rejoice in them – makes Easter all the more meaning-full.

There is no celebration like it. For this celebration says: God did make me. God does have plan. I do have a purpose. This world, a mere handful of years, isn’t all there is.  The answer to all questions: Jesus came to earth, lived a sinless life, died on a cross, rose from the dead – and now we can live forever.

That answer is all we need, no matter what we are facing. It is written so that we may know true love. Love that gives such freedom that we can blow it and still find room in forever. Will you accept such a great love today?

Living Now…

Day to day life is a bit different lately. A lot more thought given to running a quick errand, and here in Florida, no more beach trips for the time being – or any fun places for that matter.

But the living is a bit sweeter. Family takes on a whole new meaning. Playing games, doing puzzles, a lot more walks. Bittersweet too – those we love who aren’t right here, we can’t go to (for now).

That’s just it – it’s all for now. For now we weather the Covid19 crisis. Incomes go down or disappear – for now. Travel halts – for now. No more eating out – for now. No more friends over – for now. For now, we wait. Kinda like the waiting for Jesus: “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for Him to return as our Savior.” (Philippians 3:20 NLT)

Sometimes the results of the wait seem so far away. I have a grandson I can’t see right now. I may miss another grandson’s graduation because large gatherings may not return for quite some time. I want to see them – and their parents – and the wait is hard.

It’s the trusting that leads to the joy. The trusting that leads to the forever. Where our soul no longer waits in anticipation of what will be. Where we no longer fret over what could have been. “Though you do not see Him now, you trust Him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting Him will be the salvation of your souls.” (1Peter 1:8b-9 NLT)

So here’s a new focus for us: Instead of focusing on what isn’t on the store shelves or where we can’t go, what about a Jesus focus? Do we think He doesn’t see this, is powerless to change it? No, but our world of instant everything would love for us to doubt. ‘Where is your Jesus now?’ it may ask.

Right where He’s always been. Dwelling in the hearts of those who surrender their ‘now’ to Him so they can have His forever. “In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1Peter 1:3-6 NIV)

HAPPY TODDLER PLAYTIME

PLaY CReaTivEly WitH YoUr LiTtLe OnE

Mandy Hughes

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