I surrender

“Onward Christian Soldiers” “Soldiers of Christ Arise” and other hymns of the faith dealing with spiritual warfare made a strong impression on me, inspiring my commitment to joining the battle. This seemed ever more important in light of the increasing moral decay in our culture.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 

Ephesians 6:10 (NIV)

I’m no quitter. I take my responsibilities very seriously, but I have given up.

I have given up striving in my own strength. While endeavoring to take my stand against the devil’s schemes, I have payed too little attention to the preceding words in the text, “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” I had shifted my focus from the unseen spiritual realm and God’s power onto my physical world and its rulers. I was hoping to change material events to suit my own will with the power of my prayers.

Leaning upon our own understanding is almost always guaranteed to lead to discouragement. While in the depths of despair at my failures, wondering what I could do, I turned again to Ephesians 6 and read on to verses five through eight and my eyes fell upon this phrase, “doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.”

In my efforts to serve God, I was attempting to usurp his authority and second-guessing his judgments. Scripture tells us that it is God who establishes rulers and governments for his purposes. My responsibility is to trust and obey.

… obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

Ephesians 6:5-8 (NIV)

The spiritual battle is real. I haven’t gone AWOL. I will continue to study the Bible, serve him wherever he leads, pray for his will to be done, and surrender my all to his wisdom and power.

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How spoiled are we?

This past year (yes, it has been a whole year since the pandemic hit) has been a test of faith for just about everyone, no matter where they placed their faith. It seemed that formerly reliable norms no longer applied in this new pandemic-panic world.

Perhaps the Christian community has been tested more than any other group as we saw our prayers seemingly go unheeded while we lost family and friends to illness and were prevented from gathering together for worship and the support we so desperately sought.

It’s much easier to trust in our Holy Father’s perfect love for us when all is well and the answer to our prayers is a resounding, “Yes!” How much harder it is to accept, “No,” or even, “Not yet.”

Like children begging for treats, we may recognize that not all of our wants would be good for us, but when the things we ask for seem to our minds to be so obviously beneficial and right, it is hard not to resent God for withholding them.

When speaking to Christian groups, I would often make the bold claim that I was God’s favorite child. That usually caused a few raised eyebrows until I explained that each one of us is also His favorite. Incredibly, miraculously, God loves each of us as though there were only one of us.

I believe that is true, even during my darkest days, but especially when I’m in the midst of blessings. I have been so blessed in my life that I might be just a bit spoiled by the abundance of God’s grace, mercy, and love. Like an overindulged child, I’ve come to expect…and feel I DESERVE… only good things, only the benevolent, “Yes,” in response to my prayers. And like that spoiled child, when my pleas are denied I can become confused, angry, and frightened. Can I still trust that God loves me? Am I still His favorite when He says no?

Confusion, anger and fear have held sway this past year in too many hearts and minds. It is time to exercise trust in our Creator who has only our best interests at heart. Perhaps if I was an all-knowing, all-powerful, eternal God, I would understand everything He allows into my life. As it is, I can only trust Him. Trust is the antidote to confusion and fear.

While policy makers and the media chant, “Be afraid. Be very afraid,” our loving Father whispers, “Fear not.”

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

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Perfectly imperfect

After feeling I’d conquered the step aerobics on my basic Wii Fit system, I decided to add the balance board riser attachment to get a better workout. 

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I hadn’t taken into account that the Wii Fit program is calibrated to work with the balance board alone and the riser’s extra height would change my timing. I, also, hadn’t realized just how much I was relying on the feedback from the game system. When my timing is just right, I am rewarded with PERFECT flashing on the screen and a higher score for each step. If I’m slightly off, I get a disappointing OK. If my rhythm is completely off, I get nothing.

After adding the higher step to my routine, I struggled to achieve all those perfect marks and it frustrated me.  I was discouraged until it dawned on me that I was getting the same aerobic exercise whether I got any score, at all. I laughed to think of all the pressure I had been putting on myself just to see the word perfect. My goal was to get exercise for my health and I was achieving that, whether I was perfect or not. I had gotten caught up in the need to be perfect and lost sight of my goal. I needed to remember that perfection is not a realistic standard.

Every one of the millions of people on earth is unique, each one is a miracle, and not one is perfect.

When we set unreasonable demands on ourselves, they tend to carry over onto our demands of others. It makes us less compassionate, less forgiving, less loving.

We should all strive to make the most of our gifts, talents, and opportunities; to do the best we can without the fear of failing to reach perfection.  When we abandon the quest for perfect, we become free to find joy in our best efforts.

Perfection exits only in God’s love, freely given.   Let go of perfect in your own life and trust in God’s perfect love. 

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:18

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Be a deer

As the deer pants for streams of water,

    so my soul pants for you, my God.

Psalm 42:1 (NIV)

This familiar verse has been the inspiration for some of my favorite hymns and praise songs, but only recently did I pause to think about how desperately a deer needs to find those streams. The Holy Land is largely arid, rather like California in many respects. Finding flowing water can be difficult, especially after a long, dry summer.

I picture the deer, frantic for a drink, its sides heaving as in pants in the heat of the day, and its relief at finding a bubbling brook to slake its thirst.

Most of us have never known this kind of thirst. When we want a drink, our biggest challenge is deciding whether to settle for tap water or opt for a more refreshing beverage. We don’t pant for water.

Near my home in Northern California fruit and nut trees are in many neighborhood yards. It is common to see over-ripe apples, citrus fruits, and even pomegranates clinging to the branches or rotting beneath the trees. Sidewalks beneath overhanging limbs are sometimes covered with the shells and meats of ripe walnuts, pecans, or almonds which have been crushed underfoot.

The same people who pay high prices for these fruits and nuts in the grocery stores cannot be bothered to gather them. We take our bounty for granted.

It occurs to me that while I’m totally dependent upon the grace of God and yearn for a closer relationship with Him, I can’t honestly claim that “my soul pants for…my God,” not in the way the deer gasps for life-giving water.

How odd, when I consider that the deer is merely concerned with daily survival while my relationship with God determines my eternity.

I’m afraid I’ve been taking God’s abundant love and grace for granted, expecting it to be on tap whenever I need Him.

In my childhood when my grandmother wanted a favor she would preface her request with, “Be a dear.” As in, “Jonna, be a dear and bring me my sweater.”

I always tried to please her, of course, but now I think it may be time for me to be a deer, instead, as I recognize how desperately I need God’s presence every day.

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Time out!

Along with the promise of eternal paradise after we die, Christians enjoy rich blessings in this life.

As is so often the case, there is a catch; these blessings come with responsibilities. God’s people are expected to make a difference while on this earth. In order to do that, we must be aware of what is going on around us.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

Matthew 5:13 (NIV)

This awareness comes with a price, however. It is all too easy to be pulled so deeply into the cares of our world that we grow distant from God. We can lose touch with His spiritual perspective. Anxiety and fear are sure warning signs that we are moving in that direction.

When this happens, we need to call a time out.

It isn’t enough to simply tune out the news and social media, or drop out of our worldly activities and retreat to the wilderness. We must use our Time Out to renew and restore our focus on God.

We must make a purposeful plan of action and replace the time we’ve been spending in keeping up with the latest cultural events with time spent in God’s Word. The Bible has many examples of God’s people withdrawing in order to prepare to be used of God.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 (NIV)

You can use the Internet to find one of the many excellent Bible study guides available. Some are completely free. Or open that Study Bible collecting dust on your bookshelf. Sound Christian resources abound for little or no cost. You might ask your pastor to suggest one.

I recommend spending 30 minutes a day in the Book of Romans.

Whatever you choose, set aside a definite time each day, begin by praying for the Lord to open your mind and heart, then read the passage, pray for understanding, read it again, and then consider how it applies to your life.

After a few days, weeks, or even months, you will be refreshed, recharged, and ready to let your life shine.

You are the light of the world.

Matthew 5:14 (NIV)

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Why should we be surprised?

Facing the unexpected is almost always a challenge. Even happy surprises can sometimes throw us off balance, so it is no wonder the past year has us feeling shaken and insecure. No one expected a virus to knock the world cockeyed for an entire year, or for many people to respond by trying to take advantage of the situation.

HOWEVER, should we have been surprised? Really? Weren’t we warned?

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible [people], who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

2 Timothy 3:1-7 (NIV)

When people behave badly, we often cry, “How could they do that?” We are dismayed when those we have trusted fail to behave as we’d hoped. It is easy to become discouraged and hopeless.

The Apostle Paul’s dire warning to Timothy is only part of the message to God’s people. We can take heart in the terrible times when people behave as Paul describes, because we have Christ’s own words to reassure us.

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:32-33 (NIV)

Brothers and sisters, if we are to persevere, it is important to become grounded in the full Scriptures. God provided His Word for just such a time as this.

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en COURAGE ment

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 (NIV)

Although the Bible reminds us that we shall all live through troubles in this world, many Christians feel that we should be immune to frightening and painful experiences. In our heads we accept that bad things happen to good people; in our hearts we feel exempt until we come face to face with terror or heartache.

Times such as these test our faith and call for courage.

While we may think of courage as fearlessness or daring, more fitting synonyms might be determination and endurance.

In the quote above Jesus urges his followers to “take heart.” When I looked up this phrase in a thesaurus, one of the optional phrases was, “Look up!”

How appropriate!

When discouraged by circumstances, we can look up to our God and Savior and have peace despite our troubles.

Perhaps the Amplified Bible says it best:

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control].

2 Timothy 1:7 (Amplified Bible)

As the family of God we must cling to His Word.

19 Encourage each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord. 20 Always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:19-20 (ERV)

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Details, details!

Throughout history when God’s people have had to endure injustice and hardships, we have clung to the promise that whatever happens is part of God’s plan for our good and His glory. The Bible reminds us that God, who has an eternal perspective, is refining us for His purpose.

However, when we are in the midst of disappointment and confusion, how can we trust that what is happening is really part of God’s plan, and not the result of random events? The big picture result may be God’s will, but what if He isn’t paying much attention to the nitty gritty details of my life?

The Bible is pretty clear about how much our Creator cares about the minutia in the lives of His creations.

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Matthew 10:29-31 (ESV)

It seems that God isn’t the sort of creative artist who is content to splash color on a canvas in hopes of a pleasing result. He’s more like the engineer who selects and combines his materials with great care for a specific purpose.

12-13 Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.

1 Peter 4:11-13 (MSG)

Accepting that the ordeals of the moment are part of His refining process, I must ask myself what I am being honed and prepared for. How am I going to be used?

The possibilities fill me with a combination of hope and trepidation.

It’s hard to believe that our great Creator wants to use an ordinary person like me. However, if He cares about the very hairs on my head, strands which are constantly shed and renewed, and about the humblest of His creatures, then He might have plans for me, too.

Looked at from this perspective, our troubling times don’t seem quite so overwhelming. I can stop resisting and complaining and try to perceive how I’m being shaped and refined.

The grinding process of being honed may be unpleasant, but how exciting to contemplate becoming sharper and more useful to God.

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Trusting when it makes no sense

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

    and do not lean on your own understanding.

Proverbs 3:5

“What’s going on?”

“Why isn’t God answering my prayers?”

“How can a loving God let this happen?”

Even mature Christians, those with strong faith, ask those questions from time to time. We may believe with all our hearts that God has a loving plan for each of His children, but when deceit, destruction, and death come into our lives, we can’t see how they fit into such a pattern.

How can we accept that painful experiences are merely the dark threads in a beautiful tapestry woven for our benefit?

We can try to make sense of it by comparing ourselves to little children who are incapable of understanding why loving parents would make them take evil-tasting medicine or endure painful medical treatments.

They are usually reassured that their fathers and mothers are acting for their good and that they will understand and thank them, one day.

We hope and pray that understanding and thanksgiving will be true for us, as well. And the sooner, the better.

In some situations we may be more like beloved pets who fight against necessary visits to the vet. Even those who require life-saving treatments will sometimes struggle to bite the doctor’s healing hands. The pet may be restored to health and never have the slightest inkling of why it went through painful procedures.

We may never understand the chaos of this past year, not until we see our Savior face to face and hear His words of love and life.

It isn’t necessary for a suffering child or a wounded pet to understand the science behind their treatments, or how the healing process works. However, to get the best results from the process, it is necessary for them to stop resisting and trust.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
    and refreshment to your bones.

Proverbs 3:5-8

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A Hopeful New Year

With all the turmoil, how many took notice that 2020 was a leap year?

In less eventful times, leap years are usually more frequently commented upon. As this particularly painful leap year comes to a close, most of us are ready to leap off of it and into the New Year, shaking off the dust of this past 366 days as quickly as possible.

Although many fear the unknown future, just about everyone hopes that 2021 will be better.

If we have hope, we can face uncertainties. Without hope we fall into despair.

Today as we step into our new year, we must cling to the promises of God.

 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10:23 (KJV)

Putting our faith, our trust, in people or institutions, or even in our own abilities, is a recipe for disappointment.

For every Christian, this year’s resolution should be to strengthen our trust God, through prayer, fellowship with other believers, and by studying His Word.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

Romans 12:12 (ESV)

Best wishes for a Happy, Hopeful New Year!

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