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Everything Beautiful Bible Reading Plan, Week 5

Spring is now here, with the natural beauty that is a part of this season beginning to brighten our world. As March comes to an end, and we bring this Everything Beautiful Bible Reading Plan to a close, let’s focus on preparing our hearts for the most important celebration of the Christian year, Easter.

Day 25: 1 Samuel 16:1-7

The same year I was born, the movie Easter Parade, starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire, came to the big screen. As a child, I recall, my focus at Easter had nothing to do with the true reason we celebrate this holiday. My focus was on outward appearance – usually on the frilly new dress and shiny dress shoes my mother bought for me to wear to church on Easter Sunday.

Today’s Scripture opens our eyes to the truth that people look at the outward appearance. As this was my focus on Easter as a child, it is a trait common to mankind. But our God is different. He looks at the heart. As we prepare for this week’s Easter celebration, let’s turn our focus onto what God is looking at, our hearts. Take time today to ask yourself, “What does God see when He looks at my heart?”

Day 26: Matthew 23:27-39

Am I more concerned with how I appear to people than I am with how I appear to God? People are easy to deceive. They believe what they see outwardly is a reflection of what is within the heart. Our good deeds look great on the outside. But God can see through our outward veneer into our hearts. And He is the One we are called to please.

Romans 2:13 tells us, “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Okay, we are to obey God’s law. There’s only one problem with that. As men and women with a sin nature, perfect obedience to God’s law is beyond our ability. Isaiah 64:6 says of our best attempts as living righteously: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”

‭‭But our loving and gracious God provided a way for this requirement to be met. He did so by sending His perfect Son to earth, to live as a man and to pay the penalty for our sin. Through Jesus’ life and death, He fulfilled God’s law. When we come to Him as our sin-bearer, accepting His sacrifice as our own and surrendering our lives to Him, He clothes us with the robe of righteousness – His own righteousness, which is now counted as ours. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”‭‭

Day 27: Psalm 72:12-18

As we prepare our hearts for the celebration of the resurrected Lord this Easter, let’s also remember Jesus will one day soon return for His own. Then He will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. And all nations will be blessed through Him.

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Day 28: Job 12:7-13

On Good Friday, we remember the day Jesus became our Passover Lamb. He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. He is the One Who by taking the punishment for our sin brought us peace (‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭53:5‬ ‭NIV). He is Immanuel, God with us, and we are safe in His hands.

Day 29: Psalm 145:1-9

One of my favorite ways to start my daily quiet time is to focus on some of the character qualities of the great God we serve. It’s helps me to shift my focus off of the circumstances I’m walking through and enables me to see them from a new perspective.

Psalm 145 reveals that the Lord is great, that His greatness is beyond what our limited minds can comprehend. He is our majestic King. And perhaps my favorite, He is filled with unwavering love and compassion toward His people.

Day 30: Psalm 119:12-18

Lord, Your Word is my delight. Neglecting Your Word is like neglecting to eat, because it is the spiritual food that sustains me. My prayer each morning is that You will show me truth as I open my Bible my eyes will be opened to the exact things I need for this day. And I know of no thing more beautiful than God’s Holy Word. As our pastor said in a recent sermon, “Scripture is beautiful – and it is true.”

Day 31: Isaiah 60:1-9

Light – one of the themes of my blog and what our Lord Jesus Christ came to bring – is a beautiful way to close this month’s focus on beauty. Darkness hides beauty, while light exposes it. Let’s learn to walk in the light, as He is in the light.

And this brings this month’s study of Everything Beautiful to a close. On this Easter Sunday, I want to end with a song about our beautiful God, who gave His life for us and is now our resurrected Lord! Because He lives, we can live also.

 

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Everything Beautiful Bible Reading Plan, Week 4

Day 18: Psalm 96:1-6

Sing…bless…tell…declare…these verses are filled with action. The Christian life, lived the way God desires us to live it is not passive. Yes, Jesus has already made a way for us to be a part of the family of God. There is nothing we can do to earn His salvation. But once we have come to Him in faith and received salvation, He calls us to actively serve Him.

  • Sing to the Lord – repeated three times in these six verses. Even if you aren’t a skilled musician, God still delights in your songs of praise.
  • Bless His name. To bless the Lord is praise Him, to bend the knee in an act of adoration, to honor Him as holy, and to glorify Him through our words and actions.
  • Tell of His salvation. Remember the words of Romans 10:14, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” You may not think of yourself as a preacher, but you can tell of His salvation by sharing what Jesus has done in your life.
  • Declare His glory. Declaring God’s glory is simply declaring His character, all He is, to others or even to yourself when circumstances cause doubt to creep in.
  • Declare His marvelous works. To declare is to proclaim and affirm something. Has the Lord done anything in your life? Tell others about it. Is there a promise of His Word that you’ve seen fulfilled? Share the promise and what God did to demonstrate His faithfulness to you.

Day 19: 1 Peter 2:1-9

What happens when you take a small taste of your favorite food? Do you simple say “that was good” and turn to something else? Or do you take another bite and slowly savor it’s flavor or smoothness or spiciness or whatever word best describes it’s appeal?

If you’ve had a taste of the Lord’s goodness, your response will be similar. You will want to know Him better. You will have a hunger that only the growing knowledge of God will satisfy.

I still recall the early days after I came to know Jesus Christ personally as my Lord and Savior. I was a kindergarten teacher at the time, needing to leave for school early in the morning, but it was no burden for me to wake up early to spend time with the Lord at the start of my day. I was hungry to know Him better.

I am no longer a spiritual babe, having walked with God for over forty-five years. But the desire to grow in my knowledge of Him is still a daily part of my life. I still set aside the first part of my day to spend time reading my Bible, praying, and often journaling. I crave this time in His presence more than I crave another bite of my favorite food, because the more I’ve come to know Him the more I’ve realized I’ve just cracked the surface into the fullness of all He desires to be in my life.

Day 20: isaiah 29:13-16

Father, help me to draw near to You with my heart, not just with my words. May my worship of You spring out of a heart fully committed to You. And above all, help me to remember You are the potter, I am the clay, not the other way around. I humble myself under Your mighty hand. To argue with what You are doing in my life is the height of foolishness.

Day 21: Isaiah 25:1-9

God is today and every day worthy of our praise. We sure to set aside some time today to praise Him for His faithfulness, His goodness, His steadfast love, His compassion, His righteousness, and whatever other characteristics come to mind. And give Him thanks for the wonderful things He has done and is still doing in your life.

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Day 22: Psalm 1:1-6

Being blessed sounds like something most of us would desire, and this passage gives clear instructions on how to be blessed, three negative “do not’s” and two positive commands:

  • Do not walk in step with the wicked.
  • Do not stand in the way that sinners take.
  • Do not sit in the company of mockers.
  • Delight in the law of the Lord.
  • Meditate on His law day and night.

Then it goes on to describe the one who follows these instructions, using the metaphor of a flourishing tree, planted by flowing streams of water.

Day 23: Ephesians 2:4-10

Our God is great in love, rich in mercy, and abundant in grace. This is seen clearly in the story of the Gospel. And those who belong to Him through faith in the finished work of Christ Jesus are God’s handiwork, His masterpiece.

We live in a world that applauds self-made men and women. But as Christians, we understand that we are God-made men and women. We belong to Him. We live for Him. We were created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He planned in advance for us to do.

Day 24: Psalm 27:1-6

No beauty on this earth surpasses the beauty of the Lord. Seek Him with an undivided heart. Sing to Him. Bless His name. Declare His glory. Praise Him with your whole heart.

During this week leading up to Easter, as we focus on His sacrifice as the Lamb of God who took away our sin and on His victory as Risen Lord, take time daily to gaze on His beauty as you open His Word and get to know Him better.

“Walking and Leaping and Praising God”

For the last couple months, I’ve been using Rachel Wojo’s monthly Bible Reading Challenges to put together a weekly blog post, daily adding a brief reflection and graphic on that day’s passage. I still plan to continue doing this, but as I was reading today’s passage from the Everything Beautiful Bible Reading Challenge, God opened my eyes to some encouraging truths and I felt compelled to go beyond my short entry for the weekly post and do a separate blog post.

Today’s Everything Beautiful passage is found in Acts 3:1-10 and tells of one of the miracles during the early years of the church. It took place at the gate of the temple that was called the Beautiful Gate, probably so named because of it’s ornate decorations, but commentators are divided about the actual location of the gate. It was apparently one of the gates or doors through which the Jewish men who came to worship entered, but it’s exact identity is of little importance. The emphasis in this passage is on what happened here.

It was the hour of prayer, and Peter and John were on their way into the temple when they saw a man who was lame from birth being carried to the entrance where he habitually spent his days asking alms of those who were entering the holy place.

Doubtless, Peter and John had seen him many times before, but this day was different. At the man’s request for alms, Peter stopped and spoke with him. The man was hoping for silver or gold to meet his material needs, and he probably had a sense of disappointment at Peter’s first words, “I have no silver and gold.” But Peter’s next words changed his life. “But what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

If you’ve been a Christian for many years, this is probably a familiar passage. But the Holy Spirit loves to give us new insights as we spend time daily in God’s Word. This morning, the words following the actual miracle stood out to me, “and (he) entered the temple with them (Peter and John).”

As I read these words, I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart that this was of great significance to this newly-healed lame man. So I did some research to confirm what I was sensing. If the lame man had never before been allowed to enter the temple, was this somehow a case of looking down on those who had less than perfect bodies? As a woman with a long list of chronic illnesses and disability as a result of an automobile accident and actively involved in ministry to others with chronic illness, this definitely had my attention.

Were the blind and lame restricted by God from entering the temple, forced to stay outside the temple gates because of their infirmities? Scripture does tell us (in Leviticus 21:16-23) that the blind and lame were excluded from serving as altar priests, presenting sacrifices and food offerings to God. But there are no specific verses that teach the physically disabled were to be banned from the tabernacle or temple. So we know this was not God’s plan.

Yet there are extra-biblical sources that seem to indicate this was common practice by the time of Jesus. The fact that the man was at the gate, which Peter and John were about to enter, and not inside the temple, seems to confirm this. If so, it came about either through Jewish tradition or the misreading of Scriptures such as Leviticus 21 and 2 Samuel 5:8, where David is quoted as saying on the day he was anointed as king, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the house.” But this could not refer to the temple, since it had not been built at that time, and in context doesn’t even appear to refer to the physically blind and lame.

We do know, according to Matthew 21:14 and other passages, that Jesus healed the lame and blind in the temple. This shows they were at least able to go into the court of the Gentiles, and it along with the many healings during His earthly ministry show us Jesus’ heart was to include those who were afflicted or disabled.

If the lame and otherwise afflicted were actually banned from the temple, as many believe, when the previously lame man who had been healed entered the temple with Peter and John he was probably as excited about this as he was about being able to walk. No wonder he was “walking and leaping and praising God!

Today, regardless of what was true at the time this miracle took place, we can be confident that chronic illness neither separates us from God’s presence not makes us unqualified for ministry. Jesus’ death and resurrection instituted a new way of life, a life described in Hebrews 10:19-20 as “the new and living way.”

“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,”

We are no longer under the law. We now live by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Romans 6:14 clearly states that we are not under the law but under grace. Why is this true? Because one of the things Jesus came to do was to fulfill the law (see Matthew 5:17).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” (Ephesians‬ ‭2:8‬ ESV)‬‬

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians‬ ‭5:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

And that’s such good news that we, like the once-lame man of Acts 3, should be “walking and leaping and praising God!”

Fixing Our Eyes on Jesus During the Holiday Season



Keeping our eyes on Jesus is a discipline many of us fail in daily. Yet Scripture teaches this is an important, even essential part of running with perseverance the  race God has marked out for us.

If  you live with the daily challenges of chronic illness, loss, physical or emotional pain, financial struggles or a variety of other issues that are a part of daily life on this earth corrupted by sin, keeping a godward focus becomes even more difficult during the holiday season with its added pressures.

Even though I’ve been doing daily posts this month on the meaning of twenty-five of the names of Jesus, I’ve had some days that it was very difficult just to keep going. Earlier this week, I had a day where brain fog made it really difficult for me to write. By the end of the day my post for the next morning was done, but little else. I was exhausted and on the verge of depression. I knew I needed to do something to stop this downward spiral before it got worse.

The first thing I tried was to relax by playing a couple games on my iPad. In my current frame of mind, that just made me feel worse. So I decided to go in my bedroom, get ready for bed, and read for a few minutes before going to sleep (something I do most nights). This also didn’t help.

Then I remembered what usually helps when I’m feeling discouraged or anxious about something, using worship music to turn on focus off the problems I’m dealing with and onto the One who loves me and is working in my circumstances for my good and for His glory. So I turned on my iPad and listened to some Christmas worship music. This helped me relax and prepare mentally for sleep. And when I woke up the next morning, it was with a completely different frame of mind, one that enabled me to have a much more positive day.

The holiday season with all its extra activities and pressures is naturally stressful. For those who are living with the daily limitations of chronic illness and the often associated financial pressure and emotional pain, it can feel overwhelming. Here is a YouTube link to some Christmas worship music that I’ve found helpful this Christmas season in turning my eyes off the problems of life and back on the One who is our refuge in the hard places of life.

Have you found something that helps you cope with the added pressures of the season and keep your focus on the One whose birthday we are celebrating? If so,  please share what has helped you in the comments below.

I Am the Light of the World

Lights are one of my favorite Christmas decorations, from the lights on the Christmas tree to the lighted star on the top of the tree to the festive candles sitting around our living room. One tradition our family has as part of our Christmas Eve celebration is to attend the Candlelight service at our church, then come home, light the tree and candles, and sit around and eat snacks and open gifts while we listen to Christmas carols. A very appropriate way to remember the birthday of the Light of the world!

When Jesus said He is the Light of the world, He was identifying Himself as the fulfillment of the promise in Isaiah 9:2,  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” As with the last two “I am” statements, Jesus was claiming to be the promised Messiah of the Old Testament Scriptures.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭2:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Thank You, Jesus for calling me out of darkness and into Your marvelous light when I was a young adult. Until then, I knew about You but I didn’t know You personally. Now my desire is to proclaim Your excellencies to all who will listen.

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The Benefits of Brokenness

In February 2017, when I was asked to be a team leader for God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness first Virtual Retreat Weekend, I had no idea how fitting the focus of these three days was for what laid ahead for our family during the rest of this year. We were doing a study of the recently released book and video series by Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way:A Daring Path into the Abundant Life.

The retreat was encouraging, but what our family has faced in the months since then has been difficult. Legal issues concerning the property we inherited from my husband’s mother, high monthly property tax payments that strain our budget to the point of collapse, the loss of our only vehicle due to mechanical problems, damage to our home from Hurricane Harvey, and our special-needs, medically fragile son’s life-threatening illness made worse by lack of available medication during the hurricane – all of these have made for a year where brokenness is no longer a theory I read about in a book.

To continue, please click on the following link:

https://lifeinthespaciousplace.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/the-benefits-of-brokenness/

 

Dealing With Vocal Cord Paralysis

I love being able to go to church and sing praises to the Lord. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a trained musician and my singing is little more than making “a joyful noise” to the Lord, but singing has always been a real joy in my life. Until this past Sunday.

Easter Sunday, I was grateful to finally be able to attend one of the worship services at our church. This was my first time actually being in a worship service since having extensive neck surgery last July. My husband and I have been going to our Sunday School class, but he was concerned that going to both that and the worship service would be too tiring for me. Then on Easter, Sunday School classes were cancelled and we decided to go to one of the worship services. I was doing fine until I tried to sing.

During my neck surgery, the nerve in my right vocal cord was damaged, and as a result my right vocal cord is now paralyzed. This has caused numerous problems with coughing, projecting my voice and even swallowing, but it seems to be gradually getting better so I was surprised at what happened when I tried to join in the singing. I could get out a few words and then my voice would crack and I couldn’t continue. It quickly became obvious that I would not be doing much singing. So my worship became silent, in my heart.

WHAT IS VOCAL CORD PARALYSIS AND WHAT CAUSES IT? 

Vocal cords are flexible bands of muscle tissue that sit at the entrance to your trachea. You have two vocal cords, which come together and vibrate to make sound when you speak (or sing!). According to Mayo Clinic, vocal cord paralysis occurs when something happens to disrupt the nerve impulses from reaching your voice box (larynx).

One of the main risks factors for vocal cord paralysis is undergoing throat or chest surgery, either from the surgery itself or from prolonged use of a breathing tube during the surgery. I knew of this risk prior to my neck surgery, but my neck was in such bad condition that the pain was debilitating and not doing the surgery came with an even bigger risk, complete paralysis from the neck down. So after much prayer, we made the decision to go ahead with the surgery. In spite of the complications I’ve experienced, I don’t regret this decision. 

Other causes of vocal cord paralysis include certain neurological diseases including Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, viral infections involving the larynx, tumors of the neck, chest or skull, and blunt neck or chest trauma.

SYMPTOMS OF VOCAL CORD PARALYSIS

Shortly after my surgery, I suspected one of my vocal cords had been damaged, because of a chronic cough and hoarseness when I tried to talk. Since then, I’ve learned that several other symptoms I had – and a few I didn’t have – are characteristic of vocal cord paralysis. They fall into three main groups:

  1. Voice changes, including a breathy quality to the voice, prolonged hoarseness, loss of vocal pitch (especially difficulty with high notes when singing), and loss of volume.
  2. Airway problems, such as shortness of breath with exertion, noisy breathing, and ineffective cough.
  3. Swallowing problems, causing choking or coughing when swallowing food, drink, or even saliva, and food sticking in throat.

DIAGNOSIS OF VOCAL CORD PARALYSIS 

My paralyzed vocal cord was diagnosed by my otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor), using a test called a videostrobolaryngoscopy. This uses a special scope that contains a tiny camera at its end, which the doctor inserted through one of my nostrils. By observing the lack of movement on the connected monitor, he was able to determine that my right vocal cord was totally paralyzed. Another test frequently used to diagnose this problem is a laryngoscopy, which uses a mirror or a thin, flexible tube (known as a laryngoscope or endoscope) to observe the vocal cords. Other tests include electromyography of the larynx, and if the cause is not known, sometimes blood work,  X-rays, MRI or CT scans.

TREATMENT AND PROGNOSIS FOR VOCAL CORD PARALYSIS

According to the doctor who diagnosed my vocal cord paralysis, this is a condition that sometimes corrects itself. Nerve damage, the underlying cause, often is reversed with time. Therefore, most doctors wait for a year or more before considering any treatment. My ENT said even if the damaged vocal cord doesn’t heal, sometimes the healthy one will move over and result in a reduction of symptoms. If this doesn’t happen, voice therapy is often prescribed. If your vocal cord paralysis symptoms don’t fully or at least partially recover on their own, there are also several surgical options available.

It has now been nine months since my neck surgery and four and a half months since my diagnosis with a paralyzed right vocal cord. Overall, the symptoms are mangeable and seem to be gradually improving. So I’m coping fairly well with this problem. I’m still hopeful that the damaged nerve will eventually heal and my voice, airway, and swallowing problems will be past. But right now they require using caution and being sure I’m sitting upright when eating or drinking and being careful to not strain my voice. And, as I learned last Sunday, singing may be on my DO NOT ATTEMPT list for a while still. But something positive came out of this Easter Sunday exeperience. 

I’ve loved Ephesians 5: 18-19 for many years, but suddenly these verses took on new meaning. I was reminded that true worship is more than singing. It takes place in the heart, and I had a delightful time of worshiping the Lord on Easter Sunday, even if I couldn’t sing.