I’m still here!

For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us;
nor do we know what to do but our eyes are upon You.
—2 Chronicles 20:12

Wow, I can’t believe that I am still on the blog break I started at the end of June. So much has happened since then that actually began months before. The image above has been my desktop wallpaper and this Scripture passage is what has carried me through. I often find myself praying “I don’t know what to do but my eyes are upon You.”

Rick is thankfully doing better but he still has a ways to go. So many people have been praying for both of us, and we are utterly grateful for those intercessions. God has been so faithful to carry us through this scary time, and we give Him loads of praise and glory.

I am still in super low energy mode but the Lord has gifted me daily with sufficient energy and joy to be able to take care of what needs to be done that day. This often makes my eyes leak as I contemplate His grace and mercy. Since early January, Rick and I have been living what we know to be true: that our God is always with us, no matter what is going on. 

Even though I want to get back to blogging, I am not able to spend the amount of time on my blog that is needed. As I said in my last post, I’m not sure when I’ll be back to my blog because that depends on so many things right now, but I will be back! In the meantime, please remember:

God is good ALL the time! And all the time God is good!

Blog Break

Life does have its ups, downs, and turns, doesn’t it? Rick and I have once again seen that happen as our life has taken a sudden turn to the ultra-busy. We are in the midst of lots of doctor visits to address some serious health issues that Rick has been going through, so I feel the need to take a blog break for a few weeks. As I’m sure you all know, trekking to this doctor and that specialist—not to mention the inevitable lab work—takes a lot of time, and it is often hard to decompress afterward. I am finding that I need more rest and nap time, which helps me recoup the necessary energy to really be there for Rick.

I’m not sure when I’ll be back to my blog because that depends on so many things right now, but I will be back!

Life in Exile

Photo credit by Tammi Rhoney

When you pass through the waters I will be with you.
─Psalm 43:2

Life in Exile 

By Tammi Rhoney

Many of us with chronic illnesses and pain feel like we live life in exile, separated from the rest of the world because of the isolation caused by our illnesses. With the Coronavirus causing havoc around the globe and forcing businesses, schools, churches and restaurants to close, others are going to feel the isolation and loneliness that we live with on a daily basis. I have suffered with Myalgic Encephalomyletis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), a severely debilitating complex chronic illness that has kept me mostly housebound for twenty-seven years, almost half my life. One friend accurately named M.E. “the leprosy of the twentieth century.” It’s easy to become discouraged because we feel so disconnected, but God has a reason for our captivity.

In the book of Daniel, when Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were held in captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar, they sought to glorify God and refused to eat the king’s food and bow down to his golden image (Daniel 1:8, 3:18). They knew the Lord and wanted to obey, worship and glorify Him, even in very difficult circumstances, and they chose to trust God no matter what the outcome. God had a reason for their captivity and that was to bring glory to Himself.

The same is true for us. We worship the same God as in Daniel’s time.  While in captivity with our illnesses, we can find new ways to glorify God and worship Him. I enjoy listening to the dramatized Bible via audio on the Bible.is app because it takes less brain energy than reading and brings God’s Word alive with music, sounds and voices.  We can listen to on-line sermons, memorize and meditate on short Scripture verses, send cards to others and call someone who is lonely when we feel up to it. The more afflicted we feel, the more important it is to spend time in prayer, praise and worship to God each day and keep our focus on Him and not on our circumstances. Psalm 16:8 says, “I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”  

There are some similarities and differences between Daniel and his friends’ life in exile and our daily exile caused by poor health. One main difference is that we know God sent Israel into exile as punishment for their sin, while today’s chronic illnesses often are not God’s punishment for specific sins, but part of living in a fallen world. Both are from God’s Hand (Job 2:10, Isaiah 45:7). Scripture says that God is completely Sovereign and free to do as He wills for His own glory (Psalm 15:3; 103:19). His Sovereignty determines the length, duration and severity of our illnesses, just as He determined the duration of captivity for Daniel and his three friends. If it is God’s will, He chooses when and where to deliver us, how and when only He knows (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Daniel and his friends didn’t know that they would be delivered from the fiery furnace and lion’s den, but even if they were killed, they still intended to remain true to God (Daniel 3:16-18).

They also didn’t know that a theophany of Christ would appear with them in the furnace that was heated seven times hotter than normal (Daniel 3:19, 25). God chose to reveal His awesome power in and through them as their clothes were not even singed and there was no smell of smoke on their garments (Daniel 3:27). Dr. Bill Barcley, our senior pastor, said, “God reveals His power and glory in and through us, especially in times of trial and through our perseverance.”

We’re never alone; God promises to be with us because we are His very precious, redeemed people (1 Peter 2:9). Remember that God says, “I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1-3, ESV). Yet God doesn’t always save His saints from death or disease. Our calling is to trust and obey Him and leave the rest in His Hands.  As Paul proclaimed, weakness is one of the ways God displays His strength and power through us (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Life in exile is fruitful because:

Even as believers, we are a very sinful, idolatrous people, but thankfully our sins are covered by Christ’s precious blood (1 John 1:9).

Sometimes God chooses to remove all distractions from our lives so that He becomes our most important and treasured possession.

While life in exile is not fun, it’s sometimes necessary in God’s plan. We should ask Him to help us give thanks to Him for this time of refining in our lives and for how He’s going to use these fiery trials for our good, the benefit of others and His glory (Romans 8:28).

Strength for the Journey

Strength for the Journey

By Pat Knight

 Snowflakes or samples of DNA illustrate exceptional individuality. There are no repetitions with either. God created each person with specific physical attributes, personalities, emotions, and the desire to seek Him. Our Lord endows us with free wills, allowing us to make exclusive decisions. We are not puppets on a string merely doing the Lord’s bidding. Though it must break His heart, God permits us to ignore or resist Him, bumbling through life without His guidance.

During our struggles and trials, God offers His superior strength and power, without which we must depend solely on our temporary resources. God’s strength moves mountains of trouble and maintains the universe in perfect order. Extraordinary fortitude is available to each of us when we appropriate God’s immense strength. It is not bullish or intimidating, but comprised of quiet gentleness merged with power. God always uses His strength appropriately, combined with love and compassion to help us overcome obstacles.

Teaming our uniqueness with His strength, we possess the ability to accomplish great feats in God’s name. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians12:9). The Apostle Paul witnessed God supplanting his human frailty with almighty strength. Paul had a physical problem for which he sought God’s cure. Rather than heal him, God eclipsed Paul’s weakness with the promise of His sufficient strength. Paul admitted, “‘for when I am weak, then I am strong’” (v. 10). Paul knew the secret of dealing with his infirmity was to supplement with God’s endless supply of strength.

Humans are exceedingly shortsighted. Though God is acquainted with the future plans for our individual lives, we cannot see beyond this very minute. Our Lord knows whether we will benefit more from healing our physical disorders, or by lavishing us with His abundant strength to triumph beyond our afflictions. Paul placed his priorities and his full faith in God. Then he followed His Lord into a victorious life full of spiritual accomplishments, traveling over the known world as a missionary, preaching the Gospel until the end of his life.

“Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

God is immutable—incapable of compromise or change, no less powerful or loving than when Paul lived on earth. Our physical or emotional weakness may be for the purpose of encouraging others who hurt as we do, the individual work which God has chosen for us.  “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). The Apostle Paul demonstrates that contentment is learned behavior, a choice we make to depend on God’s guidance and the riches of Christ. We are surrounded with people willing to throw cold water on enthusiastic ideas. If those whom God chooses to endure illness or hardships were to transform into encouragers with heavenly strength, God’s love would be exponentially transported throughout the world in a contagious manner.

Each unique, spirit-filled Christian is enabled by God to develop and perpetuate a distinctive style of encouragement in order to disseminate God’s love. Those empowered by God and permeated with His strength, have the capacity to distribute joy and peace to a hurting world. We are challenged to exercise our gift of free will to project encouragement, enthusiasm, and ebullience. Only by experiencing the strength He provides, are we able to reach out to others in a way that is honoring to God, who created us as in His image to represent the holy and righteous characteristics of Jesus. 

“I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13, KJV).  God and believers working together have the ability to affect change in this world, as we elevate God’s name and purpose. With such awesome, privileged life goals, our troubles pale. The more we perform God’s will for our lives, the less we concentrate on self and our temporary troubles.

Paul provides an example of how to focus less on our physical problems and gain victory by accessing God’s strength. God desires to demonstrate the fine art of victorious living. With great expectancy, request to be instilled with God’s strength and steadfastness. He will then intervene to provide “exceeding, abundantly beyond all we ask or think according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20, KJV). Jesus patiently awaits your trust and obedience. He delights to work in you and through you to shine the light of His splendor and supremacy into a dark world.

No Plague Near Your Tent: Reading Psalm 91 During a Global Pandemic

Today I’m sharing from Core Christianity.

No Plague Near Your Tent: Reading Psalm 91 During a Global Pandemic

By William R. Osborne 

It is not often in human history that words like plague and pestilence become household terminology, but here we are. As strange as these words feel on our tongues, they are not as uncommon in the Bible. For example, Psalm 91 speaks directly to the notion of plague or pestilence three times, boldly claiming, “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence” (v. 3), “You will not fear . . . the pestilence that stalks in darkness” (v. 6), and finally, “No evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent” (v. 10). While we as Christians glory in the declarations of the psalm, we can’t help but notice the current “plague” creeping ever closer to our neighborhoods and homes. Does Psalm 91 make promises that are not being fulfilled? How do we read Psalm 91 during a global pandemic?

Images of Comfort

While the original setting that gave rise to this psalm eludes us, the first-person statement in v. 2 reveals that the author speaks these words of hope and comfort as one who has personally experienced refuge and security by trusting in God in the midst of fearful circumstances. Indeed, Psalm 91 opens with a beautiful picture of God’s people dwelling in the shelter and shadow of the Lord. We are thrust into a metaphorical world where God is a refuge, God is a fortress, God’s faithfulness is a shield, and God even has wings that provide security.

The important thing to remember here is that the psalmist is creating figurative relationships between God and the created world that forge a new reality for the fearful. These creative images draw us out of our fear-entrenched perceptions into a new world that redefines our source of protection and peace. Verse 3 plays into this figurative imagery by likening us to a bird that will escape the net of the “fowler,” a term used to describe a bird-catcher in ancient times. In a parallel line, we are told “he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence.” Just as the first line of this verse should be understood as figurative language communicating a general picture of deliverance, so should the second.

The mention of pestilence in v. 6 is also imbedded in a poetic structure that leads us away from forcing the language into a straightforward reading. Verses 5 and 6 are in a parallel structure that looks like this:

A – You will not fear the terror of the night,

B – nor the arrow that flies by day

A’ – nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,

B’ – nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

The intentional parallel between night and day in v. 5 is picked up and developed in v. 6 with the ideas of darkness and noonday. Poetically, phrases like “night and day” or “dark and light” are called merisms. A merism is when an author poetically uses opposite terms to figuratively communicate a total or complete concept. Consequently, like the reference in v. 3, the language of v. 6 should not be stripped of its poetic and figurative quality.

Read the rest here.

Do We Really Want To Be Better Comforters?

Sharing today from Penetrating the Darkness.

Do We Really Want To Be Better Comforters?

What factors deepen and expand our ministry to hurting people?

Valid answers include a sound grasp of Bible knowledge, identification and exercise of our spiritual gift(s), and a willingness to sacrifice our convenience and time precisely when others most need help. But there’s one answer I’d put first: our own suffering.

Whether our affliction comes in the form of physical maladies, adverse circumstances outside of our control, or emotional anguish (such as major depression), our pain brims with the potential to serve others more effectively. The late pastor and author Ron Dunn went so far as to say, “Your greatest area of usefulness may stem from your greatest area of pain.”

Why is that the case?  Suffering that does not make us bitter makes us better. It breaks our hearts, increasing our empathy with others who hurt. We’re more likely to show compassion when we’ve “been there, done that.”

Allow me to illustrate.

Examples of Pain’s Potential to Expand Our Ministry

While strolling alone on a beach near his home, the forlorn pastor considered suicide. He thought to himself, “I can’t take any more hard knocks. I can’t imagine how things will get any better.”

A worried friend of the pastor showed up at the beach, knowing that’s where the pastor went when he needed to sort things out. The friend didn’t condemn his depressed companion for lack of faith, or dish out superficial solutions. Instead, he walked alongside him for a long time, listened as the pastor vented, told him he loved him and prayed for him.

The friend’s presence incarnated God’s love and instilled hope within the distraught pastor. Here’s how the pastor described the effect: “Within minutes, my life started coming together again. I started thinking clearly for a change. A ray of hope burst through the dark clouds that had been hovering over me. I began seeing solutions to some of the things harassing me, and believed again that God would help me.”

What prompted the compassionate response of the pastor’s friend?

His own past experience with pain.

The comforter had gone through a rough patch in his life a couple of years before. He knew firsthand how downcast a person of faith could feel, and had experienced the sustaining power of God’s Spirit. He remembered how God had mobilized people in the body of Christ to reach out to him when his own future seemed hopeless. The comforter’s own brokenness had kept him from a self-righteous, judgmental attitude toward his hurting friend. Instead of offering glib, snap-out-of-it advice, his listening posture and heartfelt prayer lifted the rocks off his friend’s chest.

*******

Joni Eareckson Tada has been a quadriplegic since a diving accident in her teens. God chose not to heal her body. Yet over the decades, she has written best selling books offering a sound theology of suffering, interspersed with stories from her life of God’s sustenance. She has shared the gospel of Christ in speaking engagements all over the globe. She founded Joni and Friends, an organization that provides support and resources for disabled persons and their caregivers. Her organization also trains local church leaders on ways to care for the disabled within their own community. Her ministry to needy people isn’t huge in spite of her disability, but because of it. In her case, God has received more glory by redeeming her pain, rather than by eradicating it.

Read the rest here.

When God Calls You to Stay

Today I’m sharing from Set Apart.

When God Calls You to Stay

By Linda Green [Guest Contributor]

God’s Word is full of commands for His people to go. These divine calls, while varied in nature, require both trust and obedience that are not only costly, but utterly impossible apart from God.

God called Abraham to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you; and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” Genesis 12:1-3.

Going for Abraham meant leaving his very comfortable life to go to an unknown place and face countless trials and tests. “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him…”

God called Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand he let His people go.

Moses had settled into a comfortable and secure life in the wilderness where he had fled for his life 40 years earlier, but that is not what caused him to push back at God’s call to return to Egypt. Moses simply felt unqualified and unable to do the seemingly impossible job God was asking of him. Yet Scripture records: “Moses took his wife and his sons…and wentback to the land of Egypt,” Exodus 3-4.

God called Jonah to “go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before Me.”

The Ninevites were Israel’s fierce and cruel enemies and Jonah had zero interest in sacrificing his own life for the sake of utterly undeserving people! And so he ran away from God, (or at least tried to). But God caused Jonah, along with all of his fears and rebellion, to be swallowed by a giant fish before being spit out on the ground.  Three long days later, this God ordained trial resulted in a significantly humbled man who was ready to obey Almighty God. “So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD” Jonah 3:1-2.

Jesus called his disciples (and us) to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-20). There are countless examples of those who have obeyed this call to make disciples of all nations. Though it cost many their lives or the lives of those they loved, they went out of love and obedience to Christ.

  • Abraham walked by faith and came to know God Almighty who keeps His promises.  God made him the father of many nations, teaching him (and us) that we can take God at His Word. 
  • Moses returned to Pharaoh in Egypt by faith and came to know God as LORD, being witness to His powerful display of authority, power, provision, and deliveranceGod taught his servant Moses (and us) to trust that nothing is impossible with God, even when everything looks completely hopeless.
  • Jonah went in obedience and faith and witnessed a revival in Ninevah! God’s lessons to Jonah (and us) reveal a God who is patient, merciful, and slow to anger, but also disciplines those He loves.
  • Throughout the centuries, God’s people have gone to dark places to proclaim the gospel; from cities to jungles, from college campuses to dark countries oppressed by communism. As grateful recipients of redemption, they have gone out in obedience and faith to proclaim God’s saving power through the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. God taught them (and us) that apart from Him we can do nothing.

Like those who have gone before us, God’s call to go is costly, requiring utter dependence on Christ’s power, presence, and provision. Going always requires laying down selfish ambitions, plans, and worldly expectations in order to receive the higher call of Christ. But they also go expectantly, as participants in God’s story for their eternal joy and His glory.

But sometimes God calls us to stay.

As a women’s ministry director in a large church, I have met more than a few women who, in their darkest moments, dream of a call to go, because the call to stay feels impossibly hard and costly. Consider these women who have obeyed the call to stay in the midst of painful and often, unfathomable, circumstances. For example;

I think of a wife, married to an unloving, self-absorbed man who spends his time and money in grievous ungodly pursuits. She imagines her life would be happier if she left him, but knows God has called her to stay that she might display the power of the gospel through the persevering love of Christ. 

I think of a woman in the workplace who is a victim of hurtful and damaging gossip, unjustly treated because of her faith. She yearns to tell her boss she quits, but for now she believes God has called her to stay so that she might display the gospel’s power through grace-filled humility. 

I think of a woman who lives next door to an angry and revengeful neighbor. She and her husband have considered moving, but remember how God led them to this neighborhood. For now, they know they are to stay, that they might display the gospel’s power through forgiveness.

I know a single woman who feels isolated and lonely in her seemingly family-oriented church, but believes God has called her to stay and reach out to others, that she might display the unity of Christ.

Finally, I think of my own daughter who battles chronic Lyme’s disease along with her four young children who suffer with it as well. This insidious disease has wreaked havoc in their family through chronic pain, explosive behaviors, excessive crying and whining, night terrors, and skewed emotions. Her husband’s job loss has only exacerbated financial pressures, delayed medical treatment, and the normal stresses of marriage and parenting young children. This young mom, who never feels well herself, imagines a quieter less stressful life. Yet, God has called her to stay to display the power of God through the sufficiency of Christ.

Read the rest here.

The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ

One of my favorite blogs is Got Questions? Their site has a wealth of good Biblical information, and under the “Ask a Question” tab, you can write out your question for them to answer.

Recently I came across this post that answered the question: “What were the seven last words of Jesus Christ on the cross and what do they mean?

Answer: The seven statements that Jesus Christ made on the cross were (not in any particular order):

(1) Matthew 27:46 tells us that about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Here, Jesus was expressing His feelings of abandonment as God placed the sins of the world on Him – and because of that, God had to “turn away” from Jesus. As Jesus was feeling that weight of sin, He was experiencing a separation from God for the only time in all of eternity. This was also a fulfillment of the prophetic statement in Psalm 22:1.

(2) “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Those who crucified Jesus were not aware of the full scope of what they were doing because they did not recognize Him as the Messiah. While their ignorance of divine truth did not mean they deserved forgiveness, Christ’s prayer in the midst of their mocking Him is an expression of the limitless compassion of divine grace.

(3) “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). In this passage, Jesus is assuring one of the criminals on the cross that when he died, he would be with Jesus in heaven. This was granted because even at the hour of his death, the criminal had expressed his faith in Jesus, recognizing Him for who He was (Luke 23:42).

Read the rest here

Faith Over Fear, Trust in the Lord

Today I’m sharing from Decision Magazine. In light of our current Coronavirus situation, this timely article by Franklin Graham has some excellent suggestions to help us cope not only with COVID-19 but with any stressful situation in our lives.

Faith Over Fear,
Trust in the Lord

By Franklin Graham

The only thing that has spread faster than the coronavirus itself is the fear raging around it. Since the first outbreak was reported in China several months ago, it has now reached around the world, causing widespread panic and alarm like I have seldom seen before—if ever. 

Here at home, businesses and industries have been severely affected. Schools and universities have suspended classes. Many airports have become ghost towns, as transportation has been sharply curtailed. Some stores have seen their shelves emptied by frightened shoppers. Professional and collegiate sporting events have been called off. Stock markets have swung wildly, plunging in declines not seen since 1987.

Despite all of our good attempts at reducing the spread of the virus, we can’t stop it completely. It only took a few months to travel the entire globe. However, in the midst of all this growing hysteria, here are a few things we can know.

We can know that whatever we are facing—including a formidable virus—we have a God who has promised to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus said that He would be with us always (Matthew 28:20). So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear” (Hebrews 13:6). 

He is the Good Shepherd who loves us. In the 23rd Psalm He promises to lead us into green pastures and beside still waters. He is the One who restores our soul. Even though we may go through the valley of the shadow of death, we do not have to fear any evil. Our Lord is with us and is able. He has a rod to guide and direct us, and He has a staff to correct us. We can take great comfort in knowing that He has prepared a table for us. He anoints our head with oil.

Right now, America’s soul needs to be restored, and that is something only the Good Shepherd can do. 

None of us knows when this global pandemic will end, but we can choose to live in faith, not fear; faith in a God who cares for us, loves us, is in control of every detail, and who will never leave us or forsake us.

Not only can we know that God is with us, we also can take comfort and find hope that our God rules over all. He is sovereign over every detail of our lives. Not a single sparrow, a single atom or a single germ lies outside of His control. He rules over nations, over kings, over history, over evil, over pandemics. There is nothing outside of His command, and He will use everything for His glory and our good. 

We can also know that no circumstance can come into our lives that will in any way affect His loving care for us. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing [including a virus], shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 38-39). 

Read the rest here.

I’m Back!

I completely forgot to make this announcement with yesterday’s blog post, so sorry about that! During this hiatus I wanted to rest more than I actually did but that changed a lot considering COVID19. Because I normally do not get out much, I typically order non-perishable foods and supplies online. Rick and I both have compromised immune systems (for different reasons), so even before the shelter in place mandate was enacted here in Arizona, we chose to go out only when absolutely necessary to buy cold and frozen food items from the grocery store closest to us. So what happened is that I spent a lot of time looking for non-perishable foods and supplies online every day, because the availability of certain items changes day-by-day. 

Psalm 103 (above) is one of my favorite Bible passages because it never fails to soothe and comfort me during times of trial. What does it mean to bless the Lord? It means that we are to praise Him, exalt Him and worship Him.¹ It is a wonderful way to glorify and honor Him. So by praying this psalm when I am feeling very low, my focus turns from myself to the Lord and praising Him in this way lifts my spirits like nothing else can.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You are great and greatly to be praised and glorified! As our world is in chaos and going through tough times right now, we ask that You show us how to remain calm and at peace in our current situations. We also ask You to fill us with hope, joy, and endurance throughout the coming days. Help us to help and bless others who are anxious about so much right now. We love You so much and thank You for all of the blessings You lavish on us daily. We pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.


¹ From GotQuestions