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An August Anniversary

This post is written to link with Five Minute Friday, where we write spontaneously for five minutes on a one-word prompt.  The prompt this week is Anniversary.

As August 2018 begins, one of the most discussed topics in Houston, Texas is the upcoming first anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. On August 29th, 2017, after this devastating storm came in at the Texas coast, it moved northeast toward the huge metropolis of Houston. And Houston hasn’t been the same since.

The annual recurrence of the date marking a notable event – an anniversary – can be a time of rejoicing or a time of sorrow. In this case, my emotions concerning this upcoming anniversary are mixed. Hurricane Harvey caused devastation, but it also showed how loving and concerned the people of our city are for one another.

Our own church received major damage to it’s buildings during this memorable event, and yet the thing that stood out to me was the outreach to the surrounding community. Hundreds of people went around the neighborhood, cleaning out flooded homes, removing debris and delivering the hope that is found in Christ. And this same thing was happening in churches and ministries throughout the greater Houston area.

When disaster hits, we are faced with a choice. Will we sit around feeling sorry for ourselves, or will we show the love of Christ to our neighbors who are hurting? I’m grateful to be a part of a city and church that made the right choice in this, the choice that led to restoration and changed lives.

Houston isn’t the same today as it was after last August’s devastating flooding. Lives and property were lost, and some areas still need work before restoration is complete. Our own family was touched by the storm, as we faced damage to our home that to this point is still only partially repaired and as our special needs son David had a small illness that turned into a life-threatening battle with pneumonia because of delay in getting a prescription for an antibiotic filled in the midst of the storm.

But the thing that stands out to me as I look back is a clear lesson in what it means to truly love those around us in word and deed. We can look inward in the midst of a disaster such as this, or we can look at the opportunity before us to be “Living Proof of a Loving God to a Watching World.” This theme our pastor reminds us of frequently was lived out last August in practical ways. God used His people to bring good out of the disastrous storm. And for that, I’m thankful.

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A New Month, A New Topical Bible Reading Plan

For a couple years, I have been using the monthly topical Bible reading plans published by Rachel Wojo, and this month’s plan Perfect Peace: Planting My Eyes on Jesus is especially appropriate to where I’ve been walking in recent months. My desire is to do at least one blog post per week during June sharing some of the things I’m learning from this study. If anyone is interested in doing this study with me, here is Rachel’s June Bible reading plan.

In the midst of a time of trying to find answers to explain recent irregularities in my blood tests, walking in God’s peace has been a challenge. It’s been a daily battle not to give in to fear. Last July and again in February of this year, my alkaline phosphatase levels have been elevated. My doctor suspected this was due to a new bone problem, so she ordered a full body bone scan with contrast. The test revealed no new bone disease that would explain the lab results.

Then, she felt the next most probable problem was disease or obstruction in the liver or pancreas. So I had a barium and IV contrast CT-scan done of my liver and pancreas done last Friday. This was especially scary, because my doctor had mentioned the possibility of cancer. But again, I was given a clear report of health from this test. This was a huge relief, but at this point we still do not know what is behind the elevated levels.

Next Friday, I’ll be taking the next step in the diagnostic process, an appointment with my gastroenterologist to discuss the results of the CT-scan in more detail and to schedule a colonoscopy. And the following Friday, I’m scheduled for a bone density test, which my doctor said is due and should be done to rule out the one other possible area of trouble with my bones.

Unlike most of the health issues I’ve faced in the past, this new one isn’t causing any outward problems. But there has been a battle – a spiritual battle in my mind against fear. So this month’s topical study on the peace we find in God’s presence is especially fitting.

Day 1: Psalm 29:1-11 (I’m using ESV throughout this study unless otherwise noted)

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.” Psalms‬ ‭29:3-4

‭‭The voice of the Lord – and His very presence – is above the waters that threaten our lives. This reminds me of the first part of Isaiah 43:2.

“When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you…”

Psalm 29 ends with these words. They are a great reminder that God is still on His throne, that He has been and continues to be in charge.

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” Psalm ‭29:10-11‬ ‭

Father, today I remind myself that these latest health problems I’m facing haven’t taken You by surprise. You are above these choppy waters I’m going through, still reigning on Your throne of grace and love. Thank You for a doctor who won’t let this go until she rules out all of the major issues that could be causing this irregularity in my blood work. Thank You that the two most likely and most serious problems have now been ruled out. Continue to teach me how to take hold of Your peace and rest in You as I walk through this storm in my life. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

Thanking God in the Midst of Uncertainty

Last Friday, I had an unusually healthy day. I woke up feeling well rested and with very little pain. After spending some time reading my Bible, my husband and I left for what I expected to be a routine doctor’s appointment.

At my last appointment a month earlier, my doctor had stopped both of my high blood pressure meds, after losing a few pounds had put my blood pressure in the ideal range. Today’s appointment was to see how I was doing after a month off these meds and to go over the results of a full body bone scan she had ordered when recent blood work had shown some abnormalities which she thought were related to my bone health. I received a great report in both of these areas. My blood pressure was still in the ideal range and the bone scan ruled out the bone problems she was most concerned about.

After she went over the positive results, my doctor asked and I answered a long list of questions concerning my health. Yes, I had been purposely trying to lose weight. No, I wasn’t having any digestion problems. No, I wasn’t having a problem with bloating or abdominal pain. No unusual weakness or fatigue.

In essence, my doctor was trying to rule out all the things that could have caused the abnormality in my blood work, which she now told me was even worse with the last lab results. She ordered new blood work and talked about some possibilities of what might be going on. Basically, she had ruled out just about everything that would explain the worsening results except for major problems with my liver or pancreas, mentioning cancer as one of the very real possibilities.

I came home that day suddenly facing a future filled with unknowns. Now that I have the results of last Friday’s blood work, which didn’t show any improvement, I know the next steps, a CT-scan of my liver and pancreas and a bone density test, both scheduled for next Friday. I’m taking the steps medically that seem wise at this point. But I’m placing even greater attention on taking what I’m facing to God’s throne of grace, asking for His mercy and grace in my time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

This past week, I’ve been doing lots of praying, asking God to help me see this situation from His perspective. And God reminded me that this situation was out of my control – but it wasn’t beyond His control. Nothing could touch my life without His allowing it, and anything He allows is for my good and His glory. I heard, “Don’t be afraid. Trust Me.”

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Last week, my blog post was on giving God thanks in everything we face, and I’ve been trying to take my own advice this week. How do you give thanks for a new health crisis? For a season filled with unknowns? It all comes down to truly knowing the God we serve. As Kay Arthur said, “God is in control, and therefore in EVERYTHING I can give thanks – not because of the situation but because of the One who directs and rules over it.

One of my favorite ways to give thanks in the midst of uncertainty is by writing Scripture-based prayers of gratefulness to God for who He is. The following passage was in my scheduled Bible reading for Wednesday, May 16 (the day I was writing the first part of this article, for a Thankful Thursday post with God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness), and it was a perfect Scripture to turn into a prayer of gratefulness.

Thank You, Lord, that You are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you will answer me. (Psalms 86:5-7 ESV)

This morning, as I began my regular quiet time by reading today’s devotional in Praying God’s Word Day By Day, by Beth Moore, the two-fold message I’ve been reflecting on all week was again repeated: This situation is under God’s control, and my focus right now needs to be on God’s character, especially on His steadfast love for me.  Beth’s Scripture prayer based on Psalms 116:15 was,

“Lord, sometimes my only answer will be that You are sovereign… One day I will have all the answers. But until then, I must trust that You have power and dominion over all things and that You know best. Help me to believe this even when I don’t feel it.”

And the other half of her message, based on Psalms 119:76-77, 81 was,

“May Your unfailing love be my comfort, according to Your promise to Your servant. Let Your compassion come to me that I may live, for Your law is my delight. My soul faints with longing for Your salvation, but I have put my hope in Your Word.”

Reading this led me to a shift in my Bible study plan for the day, as I did a topical study on God’s steadfast love. Here are a few of the verses that encouraged me this morning (all verses in ESV):

  • Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.” 3‭‭Psalms‬ ‭6:4‬
  • But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭13:5‬ ‭
  • All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭25:10‬ ‭
  • Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭33:18‬ ‭
  • But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.” Psalms‬ ‭59:16-17‬ ‭‬‬

And as the last verse above encouraged me to do, I closed my quiet time by singing aloud of God’s steadfast love, using several songs including this one.

When We Face Circumstances Beyond Our Control

All of us know what it is to feel overwhelmed by things that are happening in our lives over which we have no control. I was there yesterday, from some relatively simple circumstances that caused me to feel out of control.

It was time to file the quarterly sales tax report for my husband’s video production and editing business, a task this month that simply involved paperwork since during this quarter all of our projects were for tax exempt organizations. No big thing. A simple matter of logging onto Quickbooks, running off the income report for the past three months, then filling in the report and sending it.

Simple, and not a problem to fit it in my already busy day. I thought. Not so. Thanks to Microsoft’s recent Windows 10 update on my computer that has a very annoying feature of running updates whenever it wants to do so.

I had logged into Quickbooks, loaded the needed report, and was about to print it so I could file the sales tax report when Windows locked up Quickbooks and started uploading updates. Over three hours later, I finished a project that should have taken fifteen or twenty minutes at the most.

Situations that cause us to feel out of control, whether a relatively minor one such as the one I faced yesterday or a major problem for which we have no solution without God’s help, can cause us to feel frustrated and overwhelmed and make unwise choices. Yesterday, I dealt with the frustration I was feeling by setting aside the diet boundaries I’ve been using to lose some weight and comforted myself with some cookies. Only a small detour from one of my goals for 2018, but not one I wanted to repeat.

So I took some time this morning to prepare my heart so I wouldn’t repeat the poor choices I made yesterday. I knew the proper response in such a situation was to turn to the One who is in control, to the Lord, and receive His help and strength. In the process, I came across the following list of Bible verses from one of my favorite bloggers, Rachel Wojo, which I found helpful to meditate on when we feel frustrated and overwhelmed with circumstances beyond our control. I invite you to join me in using these verses to help you respond with wisdom to the next overwhelming situation you face.

http://rachelwojo.com/10-bible-verses-for-when-you-feel-overwhelmed/

Learning to RALLY

Life with chronic illness – or any of a variety of the many trials we face as a part of life on this fallen earth – can be difficult. And poor choices that open a door to the enemy make it even harder.

I’m currently doing a study of Rally: A Personal Growth Bible Study, written by Barb Raveling, with a Facebook group I’m a part of. I highly recommend this book.

“Do you ever wish you could escape your problems? Just jump on a ship and sail across the ocean?” If your answer to this question is yes, this study may be just what you’re looking for.

From the back cover of the book:

“The Bible tells us to count it all joy when we encounter trials, but that’s hard to do. It’s easier when we remember that trials have the potential to help us grow. Unfortunately, we’re often so busy stressing and obsessing that we miss out on growing.”

The focus of this Scripture based study is on learning to “slow down, take a deep breath, and spend some time visiting with God about your current struggles.” Barb gives five steps God’s Word teaches us, which form the acronym RALLY.

R – Renew your mind.

A – Ask Him for help and accept what you need to accept.

L – Let go of your have-to-haves.

L – Let go of “if only” and make a plan.

Y – Yay God! Thank Him in all situations.

Everything Beautiful Bible Reading Plan: Introduction & Week One

When I first saw the subject of Rachel Wojo’s March Bible Reading Plan, I almost decided to look for another topical study for the month. Why? Because honestly my life doesn’t appear to be filled with beauty. But then I prayed and read Rachel’s introduction to this month’s study. And I strongly sensed this was a study I needed.

Sometimes it’s difficult to see beauty in this fallen world in which we live. As Rachel says, the ugliness of life can steal our ability to see beauty from day to day. “The world is full of evil and having the wisdom to recognize it and yet embrace the beauty of life seems to be more difficult than ever. The only truth that will help is God’s Word.”

Day 1: Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

This study begins with a familiar passage, Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, including the well known verses that teach us there is a time for everything: (Ecclesiastes 3:2-8)

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

God is not limited by time, but we are. Therefore, we need to use time wisely in order to accomplish the purposes God has for us. But today’s passage goes beyond the truth that there is a time for everything. Verses 9-11 continue:

“What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

When I read these verses, I am reminded that temporal life, life in this material world, is not all there is. Yes, time on this earth is filled with both good and bad, joy and sorrow, pleasure and toil, birth and death. But if we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, it is simply a prelude, a preparation time for eternity. Then we will understand why God allowed both times of planting and uprooting, of gathering and scattering, of tearing down and building up. Then it will all make more sense. Then everything will be made beautiful. In the meantime, look for the beauty God has already given, recognizing that this is just a foreshadowing of what awaits us for eternity.

Day 2: Psalm 16:1-11

One thing I do when I study Scripture is check the verses in different versions. I noticed this morning that the wording of verse 1 varies quite a bit according to the version, and this prompted me to do a Word study of the Hebrew word translated “take refuge” in some versions and “put trust” in others. I learned that the word in this verse refers specifically to taking refuge, not by changing my location, but by changing where I’m placing my trust and hope. When we face trouble or hardship, Scripture teaches us to flee to the Lord as our place of safety and protection, to put our trust and hope in Him. When we do that, the truths illustrated below are promises we can stand on.

Day 3: Isaiah 40:1-8

Are you walking through a wilderness season? These verses from Isaiah 40 refer to John the Baptist, who came to prepare the way for Jesus. But I believe they also indicate we can “prepare the way” for the Lord to come into our situation. That begins with repentance of any sin God reveals, and then it’s time to “build the highway” in our hearts that God can use.

In the natural, when a new highway is to be built, the first step is to assess the land and determine what needs to be done to provide a firm foundation for the road to be built upon. Long before concrete or asphalt can be laid, the surface needs to be leveled. God’s presence and His Word do this in our hearts, bringing comfort and direction in the midst of our wilderness. Psalm 119:50 says, “This is my comfort in my affliction, For Your word has given me life.” When we seek God with our whole heart instead of leaning on our own understanding, He promises to direct our path (Proverbs 3:5-6).

God has the power to raise up the valley so we don’t sink into despair and to lower the hills before us that look too high to climb. In His timing, He will make the rough ground level and the rugged places a plain. Our job is to trust Him and turn to His presence and His Word for comfort while we wait on Him to work on our behalf.

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And to close, a song to remind us of the Beautiful Things God is doing in our lives in the midst of the daily struggles we face.

 

 

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True Love Bible Reading Challenge: Week Three Summary

Day 15: 1 Peter 1:3-8

After walking with Jesus for over forty-five years, I can honestly say my life has been very much like what is described in this passage. “For a little while” in light of eternity (though it definitely doesn’t feel like “a little while” when we’re in the midst of such a time), I “have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (verse 6). These trials have proved my faith, refined it by fire (verse 7). But verse 8 is equally true. I can also honestly say each time I have come through a difficult season, as my knowledge of my Lord has grown, my love for Him has also grown.

Day 16: Ephesians 3:14-21

These words of the apostle Paul, originally his petition for the Ephesian church, make a beautiful prayer for us to pray for our loved ones – and even for ourselves. Lord, fill me will power through Your Spirit in my inner being. Help me to be rooted and grounded in Your love. And give me the power to grasp the vastness of Your love, Jesus, to know how wide and long, high and deep this love You have for me really is. Help me to know this unknowable love more each day.

Day 17: Galatians 5:1-6

How do freedom in Christ, faith and love fit together in the Christian life? Jesus Christ made a way for us to walk in freedom, but that requires that we not allow ourselves to come back under a list of laws we must keep in order to be justified, declared righteous. Freedom is the result of placing our faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross, in that alone with nothing added. The early Galatian believers were saying Jesus’ sacrifice plus circumcision was enough, but Paul’s message in this passage was faith is enough. And in verse 6 he added an observable evidence that we are truly walking in faith: love. Love is the expression of our faith, love for God and love for others.

Day 18: Galatians 5:22-26

Sometimes we read familiar Scriptures half-heartedly, thinking we already know those verses. But this morning as I read this well known passage, my eyes were opened to a new truth. The fruit of the Spirit doesn’t automatically grow in our lives because we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior. Spiritual fruit grows in those who have chosen to crucify the flesh with its passions and desires, those who have put off the things that belong to the flesh and are seeking to keep in step with the Spirit. It’s growth requires our cooperation.

Day 19: 1 Peter 4:1-8

Suffering is a part of life on this earth. As believers in Christ, we are not exempted from difficulty, but we are called to live differently in the midst of it. Instead of living to fulfill our own desires, we are called to live for the will of God, recognizing we will stand before Jesus’ throne and give account to Him for how we have lives. We are to be alert and of sober mind, devoting ourselves to prayer. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, our sins have been covered, and in response we are called to love those around us deeply, following Jesus example and covering their sins.

Day 20: 1 Peter 3:8-12

At some time in our lives, all of us will receive evil or insult from another person. When this happens, we are faced with a choice. Will we repay evil with evil, insult with insult, or will we repay evil with blessing? Peter encourages us in these verses to turn from evil and do good, even to those who have hurt us.

Day 21: Ephesians 4:10-16

God doesn’t want His children to stay immature and childish – yes, child-like in our faith, but not childish and easily swayed by the lies of the enemy. He has placed us in the body of Christ with other believers, so that we may be built up and grow to maturity. This happens as we learn the truth through the study of God’s Word, apply it in our own lives, and share it with others. But there is an important key in these verses about how we are to share truth with others. Well known Bible teacher and author Warren W. Wiersbe said, “Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.” Lord, teach us to share truth balanced with love with one another.