Let us begin

Lately, there are a number of songs that talk about going back in time to tell yourself what you know now. A chance to tell yourself to walk away from a toxic relationship or to take the job you turned down. While this perspective seems appealing, I am not sure I would take it if given the opportunity.

Yes, there are decisions I made in my past that I regret. People I hurt because of my selfishness or insecurity. I made some pretty foolish decisions when I was eighteen, some that continue to impact me thirty years later. It has become part of who I am and who I am not.

I know as a believer, that God has had a plan for my life since before I was born. I know there were times in my life that the very prayers of someone kept me from danger. I also know that there were times when I chose to do something that was not God-honoring, sometimes I chose to do that deliberately. While I cannot go back and fix it, I know that I can learn from it.

Psalm 18:30-32 says, As for God, his way is perfect; The LORD’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure (NIV).

Of the regrets that I can name, the ones that cause the most sadness to me are the ones I knew better than to do, but I did it anyway. In a way, I think that is the definition of regret, I knew better that to do it, but I did it anyway. My poor decisions, my failures, even the losses I experienced, were part of the path that led me to Christ.

When I came to see that all these choices I had made were never going to bring me the happiness, the contentment, the grace, mercy, or forgiveness I needed– that is when I cried out to God. And that is when He answered me. Not with fire, thunder, or lightning but with tenderness. With the very grace and love I needed.

Child, I have been waiting for you to call my name. I have wanted to pick you up, dust you off, mend your brokenness, and wipe your tears. But you never called out to me until now.

God is not a belligerent dictator, He is a gentleman. He will not come where He is not invited. But oh, Best Beloved, when God is invited into your life and heart. Wow. I learned that day, that He has the power to take my regrets and turn them into blessings. He did that day, He still does today.

Mother Teresa once said, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We only have today. Let us begin.” That was the lesson I learned from God the day He came into my life. I would not be able to go back and change the life I had lived before that day. I would not be able to tell the future, to know fully what would happen tomorrow. But while it was still called today, I could experience His grace. His mercy and learn the lesson that the past is in the past for a reason.

Now, the enemy is going to try and attack any way and any chance he can, to stop me from growing in Christ, to keep my story from being used to encourage others. It is what he does. He wants to bring up the regrets and the failures and tell me that I cannot possibly be used by God for God’s purposes and glory. But that is a lie.

God is in the business of taking people’s messes and turning them into messages. Scripture is full of story after story that show His redemptive power. Some of my favorite stories include the woman at the well in John 4 and the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Each time Jesus met the woman, their story was anything but a fairytale. But instead of taking them to task and in one case stoning her for her sins, Jesus turned the story on its head. He told the woman at the well that there was a way to get Living Water, to never thirst again. She had made a mess of thirsting for love from men who would never satisfy her thirst for eternal healing,

The woman in John 8 was seeking love in the wrong places and had made a complete mess of things. Jesus, who by all authority had the right to cast the first stone, as the only person there who was without sin, did nothing. He gave the woman another chance. A chance to change her mess into a message of grace. Of mercy and forgiveness.

Best Beloved, let us leave the past where it belongs- behind us. The future is somewhere on the horizon. Today is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:4).

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Wet ears

My big Uncle J has a knack for being both rotten and wonderful. As the first grandchild in the family, I received all the attention from my uncles. He loved and doted on me when he saw me and I returned it right back. As more nephews came into the family, his approach changed and he would joke and tease. A favorite pastime was to give wet willies to the nephews. It was a great triumph the first time a nephew returned the favor.

My dear hubby has continued this tradition of wet willies, much to my chagrin. It is one of the things about him that keeps me on my toes. I never know when a wet finger is going to touch my ear. It is sudden. It is often without warning and yes, not very welcome.

When I am on cruise control in my faith, the reality of my heart’s true status can be missed. I will think I am doing just fine, when I am actually far from the trail I was walking. The Holy Spirit will get my attention quickly with a “spiritual wet willie.”

It could be I am suddenly jolted to attention and hear the language I just used or the snarky tone of voice as I describe someone who is not making the choices I think they should make. I am suddenly uncomfortable and a bit aggravated with myself. The prompt is not harmful, dangerous, or permanent. It is just enough to get me back on course.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God a may be thoroughly equipped for every good work, (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Best Beloved, when was the last time you felt the corrective action of the Holy Spirit? Are you tuned in or have you turned Him out? Join me in praying for our hearts to be open to the love and correction that only of Heavenly Father gives.

If we are to grow in our faith and become more like Christ, then we will need more correction and redirection. If I am claiming that I want to be more like Jesus, I will need to back it up with my life. So, I guess that means the occasional wet ear.

Sending lots of love,

oxoxox

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Doing the math

I have been watching people begin to stress and fret, as the holiday season is coming into full swing. It’s the usual soundtrack of, “What will I get (so and so) for Christmas?” Or the question of, “How will we be able to see all the family in three days?” Or even, “How will we pay for it all?”

It seems silly to stress, but when the goal is to have that perfect-Pin-Insta-Face- Christmas the stress is real. I know December 25th has become a lot more than just a simple day people gather with friends and family for a meal and gift exchange. Now it is cookie exchanges, gift exchanges, white elephant parties, Christmas pageants, concerts, and the like. It can feel like a good idea to run away and live like the Grinch, alone with your dog.

Before I decide to evacuate and run for the hills, I choose to breathe.

I do not have to do all the thing that people want or think I should this holiday season. In fact, I can actually pray about it. Asking God where He wants me to step up and where He would encourage me to step away. I realized early in life that all the parties in the world do not matter if what I have to offer is not my best. If I am running on fumes then I know I did not listen when I was prompted to slow down.

When we remember Who is in change and who is not in charge, we will find that we can subtract the busyness and replace it with silence, with peace, even with a nap. My house is still not put together after all the renovations and restoration we have done. I don’t own a fake tree and we haven’t had any kind of tree since Christmas 2013. I decided that it is okay. I put a wreath on our door and that’s all I am doing for decorations this year.

The simple math is that my only focus is to do a few traditions that matter the most to me and my family. The rest has been subtracted. Next year, after we’ve moved the furniture around again, the boxes have finally been unpacked, then I will think about getting a tree.

Until then, Best Beloved, I will be focusing on the One who hung on a tree for me – and for you.

Blessings to you and yours,

oxoxoxo

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Salty words

While eating my lunch today, I overheard a conversation that broke my heart. A group of friends were discussing youth groups and church attendance, when one of them said, “I quit going to church in ninth grade, when my youth leader told me I was going to Hell.” Another friend said, “Yeah, I went all my life, but in high school I realized the people I sat near were a bunch of hypocrites.” The third friend nodded in agreement, as if her experiences had been very similar.

Ugh. Heaven help us all.

How many times have lives been impacted by those who were “helping God” and instead were causing others to fall away from their young faith?

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:6).

I thought back to that youth group leader, where were the words full of grace? Where were the words that would help preserve and heal the human heart? How many young men and women have been impacted by more religious rules and never came to see the relationship with Jesus was not a life of rules, but a life of grace?

I have watched the hearts of young children embrace the amazing love and mercies of God. They have sought Christ and His words like a hungry baby seeks his mother’s milk. I have also watched as young men walked away from the faith they claimed when they were younger, believing it is not important anymore.

What causes that change? That lukewarm feeling that slowly turns cold? It’s the words spoken in anger, the words spoken carelessly at a time when tender words were needed. We are all responsible for the things we say and for the things we don’t say. Scripture tells us we will have to give an account on the last day for our words and actions. I do not want to stand before the Heavenly Father I say I am following, only to have to confess to a bitterness in my own heart that led me to speak bitter words.

Best Beloved, I do not know what your house was like as you grew up. I know what mine was like, as well as the houses of a few dear friends. I know that words screamed or even whispered in anger were the hardest ones to forget. That the gentleness and tenderness given at a moment they were desperately needed made a lifetime of difference to the receiver. I know for some friends being told they mattered by someone who was not their mom or dad made the scales tip toward life instead of suicide.

We are to speak words that heal and preserve, just like salt does, words seasoned with a full measure of grace to those who need to hear them. Words that speak life, words that bind up brokenness, words that will encourage another, words that will bring love into a place where love has all but dried up.

Dear Ones, my heart has been broken again and again by cruel words meant to damage, to cut, to wound, and to destroy my joy. I have had my heart grow a hundred times over because of kindness spoken to me when justice would have been deserved. I have felt the burdens lifted off my shoulders because someone came along side of me and asked how I was doing.

When we speak, may our speech be full of Christ and empty of ourselves. The love which comes from Heaven itself sings loud and strong when we tune our ears and hearts to hear it. May it be the same for the songs and words we sing and speak to others in our lives, today and always.

Much love and many blessings,

oxoxox

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The separate ones

A precious friend messaged me today to share a story about some advice I had given years ago. I chuckled that something I had mentioned and over time had forgotten would have stuck with her.

What I had said was, “Never argue with a Pharisee.”

The more I have reflected on this today, the more I found truth in my statement, even years later. During the time of Jesus and His ministry, there were many who would ridicule His actions, many who would embrace His teachings, and many who focused on how it impacted them personally. The Pharisees were in this last group.

The Pharisees were religious leaders, yes. They knew the Law as handed down by Moses, but they also liked being upheld as the righteous ones. Problem was, they were often self-righteous. Not at all the same as the righteousness taught in Scripture.

The Greek word for Pharisees is Phariaios, which means “separate ones.” Paul, the Apostle, even described it as being the strictest sect of his religion (Acts 26:5). In their desire to be faithful to their beliefs, the Pharisees lost sight of Who they said they believed in and why they were choosing to be separate. The desire to be right should never be confused with the desire to be righteous before a Holy God.

Arguing with a Pharisee just makes your tongue sore and your brain tired; something Jesus never did. He spoke the truth and left it there to defend itself. He did not have to point out facts, appeal to the emotional side of the listeners. He spoke the truth because He was the Truth (John 14:6). The Pharisees wanted the attention away from Jesus, so they appealed to the emotions of their first century audience.

It isn’t that they were terrible, it is that they missed the point. Jesus’ ministry was to complete the Law of Moses, not tear it apart. When we miss the message in front of us, we miss the opportunity beside us.

Which is exactly what the Pharisees did. They missed the opportunity to join Jesus in His ministry and share how His presence on Earth completed the Laws of the Old Testament. What kind of impact would have been made during the first century if they had joined instead of argued?

Best Beloved, I do not pretend to know what your life is like, I do know Jesus does. Don’t allow those who want to argue for argument sake get in the way of the Truth being spoken. Let our lives be an anthem of the Truth of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (see Philippians 3:1-11).

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GRIT

The idea of grit used to bring to mind John Wayne and his no-nonsense-take-no-prisoners attitude. Lately, the word grit has been used to describe tenacity in students and their ability to keep working even when it’s difficult.

For me, grit comes from inteGRITy. The decision to stick with what is right, even when it is not easy. Scripture gives us encouragement to do exactly this. Ephesians 6 commands us to stand strong and to continue standing until the end (Ephesians 6:13).

Years ago, a dear friend had just accepted Christ and was trying to understand how to embrace this new life. I explained letting go of what she may have chosen before Christ would be gritty at times. But that was what integrity was about; allowing the grit to slowly smooth out the rough spots. The difficult places where we need Jesus more than ever.

D.C. Talk had a song on their Jesus Freak album called “So Help Me God,” the lyrics are what a new believer (and an older one) might pray as they intentionally chose to follow Christ.

Won’t You take my heart, won’t You take my soul

Won’t You come and make me whole again

You, You’ve got what I need and You never retreat

Unto You I will concede

If our desire is to allow “Holy Sandpaper” in our lives, then we have to expect the grit that comes with it. Jesus will work in our lives and He can remove the struggles and pain of our past. We only have to ask Him to come into our brokenness.

Then, like a true Carpenter, He will use the right tools, the right amount of grit, to smooth the roughest places. All we need to do is seek Him and then allow Him to do the work (Jeremiah 29:13, Psalm 27:8, Deuteronomy 4:29, 1 Chronicles 16:10-11).

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And…yet

Thanksgiving is a gateway holiday for me. It marks the beginning of a season of hope, wonder, joy, celebrating with family, rich foods, sweet moments, and new memories. I love November and December with their changing weather, slower paces, and the sense of anticipation that seems to grow with each day that passes until December 25th.

It is not the presents under the tree that get my attention, it is the Presence of the King who would die on a tree, which pulls my focus. Throughout the millennia of the Bible, from the moment Adam and Eve ate the fruit until the Angels announced the birth to the shepherds, mankind has waited for deliverance.

In verse after verse of the Old Testament, from the mouths and quills of the prophets, people heard of the coming of the Messiah, the Savior of the World. We were told He would be born of a virgin, that He would be the sacrificial lamb for the entire world, that He would come from Bethlehem in the nation of Judah (Micah 5:2). We were told that He would be despised and rejected, that He would take our stripes (our beatings, our sufferings) and He would bear it on our behalf (Isaiah 53:5).

So many different ways we were told to prepare and be ready for His arrival. Until then, priests and holy men were put in place to uphold the practice of devotion to God. The giving of offerings, the payment for sins, the traditions, the disciplines, the rituals were followed. God gave wisdom and insight to the prophets. Through them, we were told Jesus would be the High Priest, the King of Righteousness, and that He was the King of Peace (Isaiah 9:6, Hebrews 7:1, 2).

And when the day arrived, when the Savior of the World was born, people decided He was not what they had expected. He was not kingly enough, handsome enough, powerful or rich enough. So they went back to the traditions, the rituals, the disciplines. They returned to the religion of rituals and turned away from the opportunity to interact and experience being face to face with the Son of God.

They and we, chose to ignore Jesus [who] has also become the guarantee of a better covenant. Therefore, He is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7: 22, 24, 25). Again and again, we chose to stick to the rituals and not the real life, interaction with the God of the Universe.

Yet, Jesus calls to us. In the whispers in the songs on the radio, the wind blowing though the fields, the sound of a baby’s cooing; He calls to us. Come, come home, come to Me and find healing. Find rest. Find hope. Find grace. Find mercy. Find forgiveness. Find Me.

Every year, every November and December, Jesus whispers to our hearts, to let all of the rituals and the empty religious traditions fall away. Instead of the busyness, we can embrace the beauty and blessing of turning to Jesus and answering, Yes. Yes, I will I follow You. Yes, I will honor You. It is our decision.

We may think it is too late and…yet Jesus continues to call our names. Seeking us, looking for us, wanting to bring us home. To restore us, to draw us into His family, if only we would allow it.

Best Beloved, what about you? Are you going to keep dusting off the old traditions each year? Are you going to embrace the calling of Jesus? Are you going to enter into the better covenant He offers?

What will you chose?

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Slip Covers

Growing up in the 1970’s meant a lot of household items were harvest gold and avocado green. From the appliances in our kitchen to the colors in our furniture upholstery. As the 1970’s gave way to the 1980’s color schemes changed, but bank account balances didn’t. Enter the slip cover.

Don’t like the color of your couch or chairs anymore? Cover them. Did your cat or dog scratch or tear the fabric? Did little Jimmy spill his grape juice on the seat? Just cover it. Slip covers were the inexpensive way to give furniture a new look and to give the illusion that you had something new. As long as the slip cover was on, no one had to face what was underneath.

Later, people started to realize their furniture might have “good bones,” but just needed an update. So people began to reupholster their couches and chairs. Pulling out and pulling off the old torn, worn fabrics and stained cushions and replacing them with new stuffing and pillows, as well as a new fabric. The old piece becoming a new piece.

Sure, not everyone could reupholster furniture. A Restoration Expert will come in to do the work. The time, money, and occasional discomfort of watching someone take the couch apart to its very base structure is worth the end result.

Faith is like that.

There are those who would rather cover their issues with the illusion of having changed, instead of dealing with what is underneath. Covering the stain, instead of removing it. But, like anyone who has had a slip cover on their furniture knows- a lot of time is spent retucking the cover, readjusting it so it looks straight. It seems as if a person is fidgeting all the time, afraid someone will see what he or she is hiding. Eventually, the slip cover no longer is able to cover all that is underneath and the truth comes through. The illusion falls apart.

However, we can invite Jesus, the Restoration Expert, to come in and take out all of the stains, tears, and worn spots. Replacing them with new stuffing, new batting, and new fabric. When the restored piece is seen now by others, the common response is that the piece is unrecognizable as the old piece.

Behold, the old has gone, the new has come, (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Neither do people put new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved. (Matthew 9:17).

O, Best Beloved. Will we try to keep our brokenness hidden, fidgeting and tucking all the time? Will we call out to the Restorer of our souls and ask for new to be placed where the broken has been? It is a decision that needs to be made.

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV).

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Inside, outside, all around

As the weather turns colder, I start drinking hot tea more frequently. When I steep the bag in my cup I can smell the aroma of the cinnamon or star anise, my favorite flavors. The longer the bag stays in the water, the stronger the tea becomes. I have found the same to be true with my relationship with Jesus.

As a believer, even when I do not practice consistent quiet time, He is still with me; but just like tea that has been watered down, I do not get the potency of prolonged time with Him. My prayer time has been sporadic for a while now. I start praying and then something distracts me or I am interrupted by someone who needs something. Suddenly, I realize it has been hours since I was talking with Jesus.

Last night I woke up and could not fall asleep again. After two hours of tossing, I got up and decided to do some housework. I washed dishes, made coffee, washed four loads of laundry, swept the floor, emptied the dishwasher, and read a new book. As I was reading I remembered a conversation I had with my mom years ago.

She said, “Reading the Bible is important, but the most important work is prayer. Instead of reading about God’s relationship with man, I need to grow in God’s relationship with me.”

I closed my book and went into another room and closed the door. Quietly I began to talk with God about what I had been saying I would pray about on behalf of friends and family. I let my heart recall the requests of those who experienced a loss in their family or an injury that needed healing. The more I lifted up those who were dear to me, I was reminded they are dear to God too. I could feel the steeping of the Holy Spirit within me again.

When I am intentional with my prayer time and study time, even if it is just fifteen minutes, then my spirit grows stronger. I start recalling verses and promises from Scripture that help me inside, which will help me outside. As my heart is stronger, my walk is stronger. Others will smell the aroma of the Holy Spirit living and moving inside of me like Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 2:15-17.

Another part of “steeping” in the Holy Spirit is that others are attracted to the difference. It makes them wonder what caused a change, which often makes them ask. Asking about the difference gives me an opportunity to share how God is working in me. I get to share the sweet taste of Jesus with someone who may be thirsty for it, like the woman at the well in John 4.

Jesus inside me means He will eventually be seen by others on the outside, and I will be able to live out Matthew 28:16-20, sharing the Gospel all around.

Best Beloved, I have no idea how strong your faith is, where you are on your journey. But I do know that if you don’t like where you are now, it will require you to change something. Allow the Holy Spirit to steep inside your heart. Seek Christ and grow in His presence. Only then can you make a difference for His glory and purpose.

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He who dwells

Dwell: to live in or at a specified place (origin -in Middle English-to tarry or remain in one place) –Oxford English Dictionary

Psalm 91 is one of the richest passages of Scripture, full of insight into the relationship between man and God and abounding in imagery.

I struggle with interrupted sleep and will often lay in bed waiting to close my eyes again. I already avoid caffeine after a certain time of day, but it is still difficult to get through the night without waking up. I was up late last night, my mind wandering, so I began to recite Scripture silently to help me settle down again and sleep.

Psalm 91 is one of the passages I will go to for this comfort.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty (verse 1).

If I live in the place of God I can exhale and restore myself in His shadow. To be in His shadow would mean I would have to be close to His very being.

I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in Whom I trust (verse 2).

When I come to Him I have safety and protection because I know He is worth believing.

Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence (verse 3).

When I am feeling anxious and I want to run away, He will protect me from being caught in the enemy’s net of fear.

Pestilence means a deadly plague; especially bubonic plague. Its origin in Middle English can denote something morally corrupting.*

So not only will He keep me safe from the net of fear, He can keep me from falling into moral corruption.

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart,” (verse 4).

‭‭Having ducks and geese on our farm, I have watched how a mother gathers her offspring under her wings for protection. There is nothing to fear when you are protected.

If you make the Most High your dwelling- even the LORD, who is my refuge, then no harm will befall you no disaster will come near your tent (verses 9, 10).

Again and again in life, I have watched God cover my family and protect us from disaster, danger, and harm. He is not a magician, but God cares about us as His children, He will act on our behalf and keep us safe.

We are not immune to danger but much like the verses below, He hears our cries for help, our prayers for wisdom, and our pleadings for healing.

Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my Name. He will call upon me and I will answer him, I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him, with long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation,” (verses 14-16).

As I recited Psalm 91 to myself, I found the comfort I knew was there in the truth of the words and soon drifted to sleep again. Best Beloved, I do not know how well you sleep at night. I do know Scripture is clear that God does not sleep or slumber (Psalm 121:3-4). May you entrust to Him what you have in your hands so that you can find the rest needed for your soul.

Blessings,

oxoxoxo

*from the Oxford English Dictionary

**all Bible references taken from NIV, 1984 edition

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arms up

“Arms up,” I would tell my boys when they still needed help to get dressed. They would reach up and I would put the shirt on in the morning or take it off at night when it was time for pjs. We would make a game of it, seeing how high they could reach, how long they could hold them up if I snuck in a tickle or two.

If they were tired, hurt, or just needed quick reassurance, they would put their arms up in the air and my hubby and I would pick them up and hold them tight. Sometimes we might dance around once they were secure in our arms. Our sons knew instinctively that nothing could touch them once they were in our arms.

One of my former students is a full time missionary in South America reaching out to those who live in the jungle regions. When I picture him, I still see the gregarious boy in my language arts class. Now, I read his posts and even though he is just eighteen, in many ways I see a wiser, older man. I am proud of his decision to move away and embrace what God was calling him to do. He is precious to me, much like an adopted son, and I imagine there are times when he wants to hold his arms up and be wrapped by his parents’ arms.

It is times like these when I find myself holding my student up to our Heavenly Father. Praying for his protection, for his courage, and praying for his spirit to be held up by the Holy Spirit.

I am in the season of life when the young men and women who once played with my sons in my backyard are now in college and quite a few of them are in the military. I celebrate their accomplishments, I also pray for them when I see their faces in my newsfeed.

The beloved of the LORD dwells in safety. The High God surrounds him all day long, and dwells between his shoulders.

The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:12, 27).

This verses above were memorized by another missionary I admired, Elisabeth Elliot. She, along with nine others, went into the jungles of Ecuador and reached out to those who had never heard the Gospel. Her faith is held up as a banner for those who faced difficulty and loss, yet still sought the face of God.

Best Beloved, do you find your arms weighed down by the strain and struggle of the world today? Are you feeling like you cannot go forward on your faith journey? Join me in crying out. Cry out to God. Seek His face, lean on Him, hold out your arms to Him and let Him pick you up and hold you.

Be brave, strong, and courageous, do not afraid or discouraged: for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9).

Sending love to you today and always,

oxoxoxo

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