John 16: Peace in Jesus

ALLISON VAN EGMOND | GUEST The world news blares updates about recent warfare. An email alert chimes with bad news from a doctor. A mom yells in frustration. A pastor is persecuted for speaking the truth. A teen is plagued with suicidal thoughts. A kid screams for attention. A couple quarrels regularly. A woman struggles with falling into the same sin. There are many daily concerns that threaten to steal our peace. Longing for Peace Our chaotic lives can cause us to feel overwhelmed and unsettled. We are surrounded by various forms of suffering. Sometimes in the midst of the turmoil in my own life, I dream about lounging on the beach with a book in my hand, a salty snack to nibble on, and the soothing sounds of the ocean around me. Perhaps you’ve had a similar daydream. When life seems to swirl in chaos around us, we tend to want to escape the noise. We dream about another world, another place where there are no demands on our attention, no noises filling our ears, no fears or sorrows filling our minds. We long for a break. A pause button. Peace and quiet.

John 16: Peace in Jesus2022-05-04T00:23:38+00:00

John 15: Abide, Wholly Dependent Yet Secure

MELISSA OSTERLOO | GUEST Relationships are powerfully influential; we begin our lives completely reliant on the love and care given to us by our parents. Secure attachment— trust built over time through consistent encounters of dependent needs being fulfilled— informed us that we were seen, safe, and valuable. Children naturally feel at home in their parents’ arms, no matter what circumstances surround them. They grow and thrive, confident that their longings will not go unnoticed. We can learn a lot from children. In John 15:1-2, Jesus describes himself as the true vine, and his Father as the vinedresser. "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." Over the past four years, I have been living through a tough season of pruning. My husband, Adam, and I moved to northern Alabama in March 2018 for what seemed to be a great opportunity. He had built a solid reputation in the commercial truck industry and was recruited to open a new sales territory that had great potential. However, within just 8 months, instead of reaping the rewards of hard-earned commissions, we found ourselves endorsing the back of a severance check. Just enough to get by for a couple of months, and mere weeks before Christmas. Our harvest had not been fruitful.

John 15: Abide, Wholly Dependent Yet Secure2022-05-04T00:27:40+00:00

The Presence of Joy, Even in the Midst of Tears

KATIE POLSKI | CONTRIBUTOR I lost my dad to cancer when I was twenty-three years old. We were close, and my dad was, in many ways, an anchor in my life, so I struggled immensely in the months following his death. One of the cards we received during this time had Nehemiah 8:10 printed on it: “The Joy of the Lord is my strength.” I remember staring at the words longing to understand what it meant to have joy in the midst of my pain. A few years later I sat in my sister’s living room while she battled the side effects of treatment for breast cancer. The world felt weighty. I pushed back tears as I looked through her music, hoping to find something uplifting, joyful. I saw a song entitled, “Joy,” so I played the music anticipating a fun and light tune. What filled the room were the words of the familiar childhood song: I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart… But the singer sounded…sad. It was almost as if she was crying as she sang the heartfelt words. I dropped to my knees and prayed. Is this what it means to have joy in you, Lord? Can I cry while remaining joyful?

The Presence of Joy, Even in the Midst of Tears2022-05-04T00:30:38+00:00

The Provisions of God in the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Days

KATIE POLSKI | CONTRIBUTOR One of my favorite childhood books is, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” The brilliant little story depicts the daily frustrations that create a terrible, horrible day for a child: gum in the hair, dropping a sweater in the sink, tripping over a skateboard, and all the no good, very bad things in between. My freshman year in college I had a knee injury that required me to travel home for surgery. The day I returned to campus, I hobbled around on crutches sporting a massive brace on my leg. I also returned to campus the day after an ice storm, so hobbling outside became more like sliding. On crutches. With a knee brace. Super fun. I also returned to campus to find that the elevator in my dorm building was broken. I then discovered that not only would I be required to limp down four flights of stairs to get out of my dorm, but I’d need to stumble down two additional flights to get to my music classes. Because those elevators were not working either. That day I returned to campus was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

The Provisions of God in the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Days2022-05-04T00:43:42+00:00

In the Darkest Night: Draw Near, Hold Fast, Consider Others

LEAH FARISH|GUEST In the darkest season of my life, I was lifted decisively out of the pit by a passage in the book of Hebrews. The three simple commands embedded in it made all the difference. Like many crises, mine was a wreck of multiple trains. My legal work on a case had provoked opposition that descended to the level of criminal threats against me and my client. Physically, I was dangerously fatigued and in pain. Travel upheavals had left me on a different continent from my husband and children. It was almost Christmas, and a snowstorm made even church attendance unlikely. I opened my Bible to Hebrews 10, and this is what I read: Therefore, brothers,] since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,  by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (vv. 19-25) Three phrases stood out to me, leading me like flashing beacons in an icy night: Draw near With these two short words I was summoned into God’s presence. The fire in those words of Hebrews warmed me. I had been asking for so many things, and now I could see I was being welcomed not just to speak to the Lord, but to climb up in his lap and feel his embrace. My heart was broken and fearful, but I remembered, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted” (Ps. 34:18), and that if I draw near to him, he will draw near to me (James 4:8)...

In the Darkest Night: Draw Near, Hold Fast, Consider Others2022-05-04T23:29:47+00:00

When the Holidays are Hard

ALICE KIM|GUEST It’s been several years now, but there was a time when I stared at the bright red poinsettias that adorned the stage and the luminescent lights that outlined an oak stained cross and asked, “What difference does the gospel make?” I had neither anticipated nor was prepared for the unraveling of trust in my marriage. It felt like someone had, without warning, yanked the rug from under my feet. I fell hard. I was angry, hurt, confused, grieved, and struggled to hope. I was desperate to know that Jesus invaded the not only the cosmos with the hope of the gospel, but also my life and my home. When the Holidays are Hard We often equate this holiday season with time spent with family. But some of us feel pressured to shelve somber feelings related to our families like grief, disappointment, anxiety, and fear for joy, excitement, and gratitude. Just as a department store wastes no time the day after a holiday to move outdated merchandise to the clearance aisle in the back corner, the expectation is that we need to move on and exhibit only emotions that fit the occasion. But strained relationships marked by resentment, hurt, blame, contempt, silence, and unforgiveness are only magnified against the backdrop of picturesque captions of smiling family portraits in coordinated outfits, highlighting proud moments and notable achievements from the past year. If this is our experience, how can we reimagine the hope, joy, and awe of the Christmas story without dismissing the tension of living in the already-not-yet with ruptured and failed relationships? How can we invite the gospel to break through and transform our lives?...

When the Holidays are Hard2022-05-04T23:29:56+00:00

The Backwards Baby Announcement

SUSAN TYNER|CONTRIBUTOR Interruptions are not my finest moments. Whether a flat tire or a sick child, I get frustrated when I can’t walk through the day as it’s set on my calendar. Imagine how Mary felt. According to Luke 1, Mary was minding her own business when Gabriel knocked on the door. There she was, flipping through a stack of wedding magazines when an angel gave her a backwards baby announcement. Instead of a pregnant mother announcing that she’s expecting, Mary was told to expect a baby. The Baby. This was more than a flat tire kind of interruption. Not only did Gabriel’s announcement change the trajectory of her life, this pregnancy threw a serious kink in her plans to settle down with Joseph. Gabriel’s words made any white picket fence dreams go up in smoke. And besides the obvious shock of an angel dropping by, his words did not make sense. Mary knew enough about the birds and the bees to ask how? If she were a virgin, how could she become a mother? Gabriel explained a bit more, but I wonder if that just made Mary more confused (after all, what does “overshadow” even look like?). How did Mary respond to getting her world turned upside down? Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38) First, she believed. Mary did not understand all the nuts and bolts of how she would get pregnant, but she accepted the extraordinary explanation that God would be the Father of this holy child even as she, a sinful woman, carried Him. While the old priest Zacharias (read the previous passage) pushed back on Gabriel during that angelic interruption, Mary, a mere teen, accepted the mystery of immaculate conception...

The Backwards Baby Announcement2022-05-04T23:30:05+00:00

The Life of Naomi and How Adversity Disguises God at Work

DEBORAH MCQUILKIN|GUEST My life as a Christian is not what I expected. In fact, at one point I said to God, “Is this worth it? Thirty years I have followed you as closely as possible, and this is how it turns out? Should I just leave you now? What is the point?” Shock and disappointment filled my heart and I wondered what my life meant. Then ever so gently Peter’s words in John 6:68 settled in my mind, “Where would I go? You have the words of life.” I knew God’s word is steadfast, timeless, and relevant, and the decision was made. In fact, that decision was made when I committed my life to Christ. I would not leave my Saviour, for God would never let go of me. However, I would need to work through my resentment toward God about my unmet expectations, for they created a barrier in my relationship with Him. Perhaps not unlike Naomi’s experience in the book of Ruth. On Expectations and the Life of Naomi When I reviewed the story of Naomi from Naomi’s perspective rather than Ruth’s in my study Naomi: Reason to Hope, it was a revelation in God’s truth for me. Don’t call me Naomi (pleasant), call me Mara (bitter) she says in Ruth 1. Her expectations were dashed, and she was bitter. She expected, as one of God’s covenant people, to experience personal peace and affluence. She wanted to be a wife and mother, with resources and an abundant life. Within ten years, all those expectations were crushed, she was left responsible for two daughters-in-law, and she felt she had no assets. “I went out full and I came back empty” she says. Had Naomi really come back empty? Had God abandoned her? Was God insufficient? Naomi’s perspective was not God’s perspective. Naomi looked at her immediate circumstances; God planned eternity and the salvation of all generations. Naomi was concerned with how she felt and what she wanted; God was concerned with the birth of the Saviour. Who would facilitate a godly line? Would Naomi cooperate with God in assuring the descendants of Salmon, Elimelech, and Boaz?  These men are ancestors to King David and in the lineage of the Lord Jesus! A study of Naomi in the book of Ruth demonstrated that life brings financial insecurity, loss, death, transitions, conflict, and drama. These are a part of life we don’t want to expect. We feel surprise or even shock when devastating events come. But there is hope: God is present, and He is good. May I repeat, God is good. In His love and sovereign control, God never fails to do good to and for us...

The Life of Naomi and How Adversity Disguises God at Work2022-05-04T23:30:43+00:00

Stewarding the Struggle

KAREN GRANT|GUEST The rough concrete scratched my toes as I focused on keeping my nose above water at the Fun in the Sun Club pool in Arlington, Texas. My goal that day was to touch the bottom. Water pooled in my ears and my hair swayed like seaweed in my eyes as I learned to hold and release my breath while flipping upside down to touch the bottom. Then I could swim toward the light. My parents applauded as I ventured into deeper and deeper water, opening my eyes to churning legs and feet, and watching my breath in measured bubbles. Discovering that less and less effort was required to break the surface, I began to trust air and water to do what they do. Where were you in the murky pool called the pandemic—that time of uncertainty, fear, and crisis? Were you upside down, attempting to avoid the churning chaos, swimming for the light before you ran out of breath, looking for cheer from someone, anyone out there? To gain perspective, we must somehow step outside of our own view. I believe the only healthy way to do that is to open God’s word to a relevant passage, engage with it, wring it out, cry into it, and ask questions until we get to the bottom. We submerge ourselves and trust Christ to do what He does when we engage with the living and active breath of God. We burst through the surface into His world, His thoughts, His reality, and it does what He does: it reveals areas where we must repent, restrains us from wrong, and sheds enough light for at least the next step. Stewarding Our Sorrows I remember the image of my pastor many years ago as he related the death of over ten friends or family within the span of a year. He and his wife were left empty; they could only be still and listen. They realized that stewardship is not only for money, gifts, and time, but also includes stewarding our sorrows. He held his hands out in the shape of a bowl before the congregation and told us that all he had to offer the Lord was ashes. This image continues to guide me as I’ve come to Jesus with my own offerings of ashes due to losses, severed relationships, and broken dreams, laying them at His feet and trusting Him to make them beautiful in His time. My question to Jesus in 2020-21 then became, “How can I steward this unto Your glory? Would you use me, and re-form me to bring comfort and encouragement to others?” He took me to Isaiah 12, and I was stunned. The truths in this chapter are clear for both its original and prophetic audiences, the covenant people of God. Gratitude, Opportunity, and Joy This is what I found: Our stewardship comes through gratitude, opportunity, and joy. Look at verses 1 and 2...

Stewarding the Struggle2022-05-04T23:27:23+00:00

There’s No Easy Way to Learn Patience

MEGAN HILL|GUEST “Don’t pray for patience,” you’ve probably heard someone say. “God just might take you up on it!” Behind our wry smiles and awkward chuckles is an uncomfortable truth: there is no easy way to learn patience. James also affirms that, for believers, trials are the school of patience. “Count it all joy, my brothers,” he writes, “when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3). Under God’s sovereign hand, the testing of our faith is a carefully-chosen curriculum, designed by him to produce steadfastness in our hearts. Although we might endure difficulties hoping our circumstances will change, James reveals that the greatest change happens in us, even while we wait. Various Kinds of Testing The Lord produces this steadfastness through trials of “various kinds,” with each person’s circumstances uniquely intended for her good. A recurring battle with sin is often his means of training us to renounce ungodliness (cf. Titus 2:11–13). Affliction allows us to learn his power made perfect in weakness (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9). Unmet desires may be his way of redirecting our desires toward himself (cf. Ps. 73:25–26)...

There’s No Easy Way to Learn Patience2022-05-04T23:28:02+00:00
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