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September 30, 2016, 12:00 PM

In the Eye of the Storm

By Greg Higgins

 

Last week my wife told me about a new song she had been hearing on the radio. She asked if I had heard it before and I acknowledged that I had not. I decided to look it up and I have not been able to stop singing it since. The title is Eye of the Storm by Ryan Stevenson. The chorus simply says:

 

In the eye of the storm, You remain in control.

In the middle of the war, You guard my soul.

You alone are the anchor when my sails are torn.

Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm.

 

I can’t help but think of this song when I watch the news on a daily basis. Police officers killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Terrorist attacks in France. Everywhere we turn, it seems to be doom and gloom. It kind of reminds me of the story in Matthew 8 when Jesus was taking a nap on a boat. There was a huge storm that arose and the disciples were afraid for their lives. They thought they were going to die. This is evident with how they woke Jesus up from the nap. They said, “Lord, save us! We are perishing.” (vs. 25)

He got up and rebuked the wind and the sea and there was a great calm the Bible says. Then the disciples said something in verse 27 that we need to grasp a hold of. They said, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”

That’s a powerful question. Think about it. When you have storms rise up in your life or the winds begin to blow things around and make situations look scarier than they are, you know the Person who commands those storms. That’s the most reassuring thing you can hold on to.

 

- Greg 




September 23, 2016, 12:00 PM

Mine

-by Haley MaKenna Hardman

 

           Within the crisp, onion-skinned pages of the Bible, there lies several Books- 66 to be exact. One particular Book, however, is called, “Exodus.” Exodus tells the story of freedom granted to slaves, dreams quite literally coming to life, and four hundred year old promises being kept despite dishonesty and unfaithfulness. Exodus also tells the story of a God chasing after a people, the ups and downs of a commoner turned leader who steps up to the plate when it seems all hope is lost, and that same (very real) God that pursues coming down to meet His people right where they are. Exodus is an incredible Book that marks a turning point in our history that I believe is extremely important. I see it as a time where God reaches down to a people that definitely do not deserve Him and gives them glimpses of Eden; glimpses of a perfect union with Him- the very thing that all of us long for whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. One particular moment that I find absolutely astonishing is in Exodus 19..

 

Exodus 19:1-9, 12-13 (NLT)

Exactly two months after the Israelites left Egypt, they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai. After breaking camp at Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and set up camp there at the base of Mount Sinai. Then Moses climbed up the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” So Moses returned from the mountain and called together the elders of the people and told them everything the Lord had commanded him. And all the people responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” So Moses brought the people’s answer back to the Lord. Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will come to you in a thick cloud, Moses, so the people themselves can hear me when I speak with you… Mark off a boundary all around the mountain. Warn the people, ‘Be careful! Do not go up on the mountain or even touch its boundaries. Anyone who touches the mountain will certainly be put to death. No hand may touch the person or animal that crosses the boundary; instead, stone them or shoot them with arrows. They must be put to death.’ However, when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, then the people may go up on the mountain.” (emphasis added)

 

            From the fall of Adam and Eve up until this very moment in scripture, God had only spoke to the Israelites through certain people...and even that didn’t happen very often. Think about it: the people of Israel hadn’t directly heard from God in more than four hundred years before Moses came along! But God says something  to Moses about the people that completely flips the game board over and tears it into pieces. He says, “…you will be my own special treasure…my kingdom of priests, my holy nation…I will come to you…so the people themselves can hear me…” God uses a possessive word: “Mine.” He wants all of the people of Israel to hear directly from Him, because He wants them to be His. He wants them to know Him instead of hearing about Him from a middle man. Exodus 19 goes on and tells us that God does in fact come down in a thick cloud to talk with His people, and Exodus 20 tells us about God laying down the Ten Commandments and how when God is done explaining the Law, He takes a step closer to His people…

 

Exodus 20:18-20 (NLT)

When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear. And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!”

“Don’t be afraid,” Moses answered them, “for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning!”

 

            We know from earlier in scripture that the sound of the ram’s horn was an invitation for the people of Israel to climb higher into God’s presence, yet they stood there trembling in fear. God was basically inviting them into heaven on earth, but they were too afraid to die so they, not so politely, declined His offer. You would think that Moses’ words of encouragement would have sent them forth in full force, but they didn’t. Actually, in verse 21 we’re told that as the people stood in the distance, one man approached the dark cloud where God was. That man was Moses. In verse 22, God says to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel…” Because the people wouldn’t climb higher into His presence, God couldn’t speak directly to them anymore and He, instead, had to go back to the middle man.

            Here is what I do not understand: the people of Israel knew that God didn’t want them dead. I mean, He had brought them through the Red Sea on dry ground, fed them cookie foods from heaven, sent them quail to eat, took them across lands by leading them with a cloud and a pillar of fire, granted them victory over the Amalekites, gave them water out of a rock when they were thirsty, and told them that He wanted them to be His very own people! Why in the world would they be afraid of Him inviting them to come closer?! After every situation they had been through where God didn’t let them die, why would they be afraid of death now? In my opinion, the answer to that question is found in the Ten Commandments. You see, right before God blew the ram’s horn, He went over a few “rules” as some might think. Some might call them structure and some might call them common sense. Whatever you want to call the Ten Commandments, I don’t think God meant for them to be a list of do’s and don’ts. You see, God had just set them free from slavery and I do not believe that He set them free just to demand that they be in bondage to Him. No, I think that the Ten Commandments were meant to test the people like Moses said. God wanted to know if they would still want Him if He asked them to surrender their fleshly desires. I don’t necessarily think that the people of Israel were afraid to physically die in God’s presence, but to fleshly die (in other words, deny themselves).

 

Matthew 16:24-25 (NKJV)

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

 

            And that’s exactly what they did not want to do. They failed to understand that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. All the Israelites could hear was, “You can’t do this and you can’t do that…” In fact, in Exodus 32, we read about the Israelites turning around and spitefully breaking the first three commandments that God had given. While they were being petty, Moses sat in God’s tangible presence and talked with Him just as God had wanted with all of the people. Moses sat in complete freedom receiving the Law while the Israelites tried to mock the one true God by “filling the void in their souls” with a golden calf they made themselves. You see, God had explained to them that He was jealous for them and when they pledged themselves to an idol, He ached and longed for their affection like no other. They knew that by worshipping that calf, they were causing God grief, but it seems that they didn’t care. God wanted to call them, “Mine,” but in that moment, they refused to accept Him.

            I can’t help but be reminded of us (“us” being anyone that has breath today) as I read this. I cannot speak for you, but God has led me through some tough times, yet I’m still alive. He has led me beside still waters and He’s also led me through the valley of death. In both places, I should fear no evil, but if I’m one hundred percent honest, I’ve feared evil and I’ve also embraced it. I’ve been the one to spitefully reject God’s commands and I’ve been the one run into His arms with no one following behind. The fact is, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty of our sins (Romans 3:24).

            I don’t know where you are in life. I don’t know if you are a slave or if you’ve been set free. I don’t know if you’re in a valley, on a mountain, in a wilderness, or just plain lost. I don’t know if you are hurting or if life could not be better for you. But, I do know one thing: God is calling out to you personally to climb higher into His presence. He wouldn’t have had me write this if He wasn’t. He wants to call you, “Mine.” Just like a proud dad would say, “She’s mine,” or “He’s mine,” God wants to brag on you like that. He wants to whisper lovely things in your ear like only a significant other could do. He wants to pull you close in His arms and just hold you there. He wants to fight for you. I imagine him like the birds in Finding Nemo, “Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.” Don’t be afraid to climb up the mountain. You’re still alive after everything you’ve been through already, right? What have you got to lose?

 

-Haley 




September 15, 2016, 12:00 PM

Hope

by Haley MaKenna Hardman

 

In light of recent events, I'm reminded of several passages in the Bible where the person we're reading about loses hope. I'm reminded of Elijah after he called down the fire (and rain) from heaven and then ran away in fear (1 Kings 18-19). I'm reminded of Jeremiah when he called out to the Lord to complain (Jeremiah 20:7-18). I'm reminded of David as he begged God not to abandon him (Psalm 38). I'm reminded of Job as he expressed his anguish (Job 7).  I'm reminded of Moses when he cried out to God in aggravation (Numbers 11:10-15). And I'm reminded of Jesus praying for the cup of suffering to be taken away from him as his friends slept (Matthew 26:36-44). I say all of that to explain that even the saints and the prophets got discouraged, angry and scared.

As we go through life, I believe that we have certain moments where we realize the kind of world we live in. When our country aches over loss of human life, it's really hard not to notice that our world is imperfect. It would be extremely easy to crawl up in a cave and starting whining to God about how awful it is down here like Elijah did. It would be simple to ask God to just kill us now, or to come quickly do that we can be out of here before the really bad stuff happens. But as God reminded Jonah in Jonah chapter 4:

 

Jonah 4:11 (NLT)

But Ninevah has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn't I feel sorry for such a city?

 

As the Christ followers of this age, we have a hope as an anchor for the souls (Hebrews 6:19). We have a peace which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). We have a glorious, inexpressible joy (1 Peter 1:8). We experience perfect love which casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). We posses true freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17). We find all of this when we deepen our relationship with Jesus as we walk hand-in-hand with Him through this dark and broken world. So, shouldn't we feel sorry for such a great world that doesn't truly experience these things, but instead has to settle for dietary substitutes that taste nasty and leave them even more damaged than before?

 

"He works on us in all sorts of ways: not only through what we think our 'religious life.' He works through nature, through our own bodies, through books, sometimes through experience which seem (at the time) antiChristian. But above all, He works on us through each other." -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

 

I am not convinced that God has abandoned us as a nation; I am not even convinced that God has abandoned this world. I know that God's ways and thoughts are much higher than mine (Isaiah 55:9). Even though it may seem like all hope is lost, I know that God is working. I see Him every day in the sunset and sunrise. I see Him in the smile of my family members. I feel His love wrap around me when my heart is aching. Even in the eye of the storm, I know that He remains in control.

I feel sorry for the person that doesn't know that there is safety here in the Father's arms. I grieve with the family that has no hope for a better tomorrow. My heart breaks for the people out there who are consumed with fear and anxiety and can find no reliefs is there not a cause? If you're reading this and you have a personal relationship with God, and you know there is some hope left, don't you dare lose heart. Share what you know, what you have experienced, and how you have ended up where you are, with those that don't know Him. If no one had told you, where would you be? As 1 Peter 3:15 says, "...always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is in you..." And that is my challenge to you: be the light in the dark and share the hope that you have. If not you, then who?

 

- Haley




September 6, 2016, 12:00 PM

THE MAGNIFICENCE OF THE NAMES OF GOD – Part 2

By Brenda Farmer

July 17, 2016

 

In our Sunday School Class, we have been studying about some of the scriptural Names of God.  The study is from The Battle Plan for Prayer*.  We were encouraged to learn and use in prayer as many of His Names as we can as we seek to know and worship the Lord more deeply.

Three more Names of God that I want to share with you today are:

Elohim (God, Mighty Creator) – Elohim is the Hebrew word for God that appears in the first sentence of the Bible.  When we pray to Elohim, we remember that He is the One who began it all, creating the heavens and the earth and separating light from darkness, water from dry land, night from day.  This ancient name for God contains the idea of God’s creative power as well as His authority and sovereignty. **

Gen 1:1-2 (KJV) -1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Jehovah-M’kaddesh  (The Lord our sanctifier)

Ex 31:13 (NLT) 13 “Tell the people of Israel:   ‘Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.

Jehovah-Jireh;  Yahweh Yireh  (The Lord will provide)

Gen 22:8-14 (NLT) –

 8 “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

9 When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood.

10 And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice.

11 At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”

12 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”

13 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son.

14 Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.

 

May you become more acquainted with God, our Most Heavenly Father, to know more about His Character.  I believe there is benefit for us when we pray His Most Holy Names and pray His Holy Scripture as we speak our needs to Him.  One of my favorite sayings is:  Prayer infuses God’s boundless abilities into our circumstances.    If it empowers our prayers, I want to benefit from it.  How about you?

 

* The Battle Plan For Prayer by Stephen and Alex Kendrick

**Praying the Names of God Journal by Ann  Spangler

 

- Brenda




August 30, 2016, 12:00 PM

Plot Twist

by Haley MaKenna Hardman

 

            Recently, I’ve been reading through the Book of Genesis again. While reading I have Sunday School flashbacks and I ponder on some of the very same questions that I have always wondered about. From creation, to the flood, to Abraham, to Sodom and Gomorrah, and then to Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son. I think we’re all taught in our Sunday School classes about the boy who was thrown into a well and sold into slavery by his own brothers. We’re then taught that God brought him from a prison where he didn’t belong and made him second in command over Egypt. I have even recently mentioned him in another blog, “The Best You.” However, with this post, I have something totally different to point out. Deep in the folds of Genesis, there are several major plot twists. I have learned throughout the years, from observation and experience, that God works in the strangest of ways. So, when Jacob (Israel) left his home- the land that God had promised his ancestors and descendants- it may not seem so strange to us watching from the outside. We all know that Moses takes the nation of Israel back to the same land 300 years later and they increase and enjoy life for a few years before another twist in the story, but for Jacob and his family, they were taking a huge leap of faith. Now let’s back up for a minute…

            In Genesis 12, we read about God promising Abraham the land that was then inhabited by the Canaanites. To understand the significance of this, we need to know that Abraham was Joseph’s great grandfather. So, for four generations this family had been holding onto a promise for the land that the Canaanites inhabited. Jacob had put his stake in the ground and raised an entire family waiting on God to lead them to conquer the land. So, when the seven year famine came along and Joseph asked his family to join him in Egypt so that they would be provided food, Jacob and the rest of his family must have felt that they might be leaving behind the promise that God had so graciously given them.

            I can imagine myself in this moment telling God that He was crazy. “You’ve got to be kidding me, God. You promised! I don’t want to leave. You will surely provide the food and water that I need to survive because You promised me that this land would be mine.” Have you ever tried to tell God what He was going to do? But, can you imagine leaving behind the very promise that God had given you before it was completely yours? Yet, that is exactly what they did because they had faith that God would complete the work that He started…even if it wasn’t in their lifetime. In fact, when Jacob was about to die, he pulled Joseph aside and said,

 

Genesis 48:21 (NLT)

Then Jacob said to Joseph, “Look, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will take you back to Canaan, the land of your ancestors.

 

            Jacob had faith that God was taking care of them even though they had to step away from the “promised land.” You see, Jacob wasn’t focused on the gifts of God, but the face of God. Jacob had wrestled God for a blessing all night once before and he knew that if he fought God for this, he would probably walk away with another scar (Genesis 32:22-32). What would happen if we had faith like that? If God brought you right up to your “promised land” and then told you to leave it, could you do it? Jacob might have even felt that God was dangling the promise in his face and then yanking it away when Jacob got just within reach. He could’ve given up his faith and abandoned all hope…but he didn’t. With his dying breath, he breathed hope into his son to continue out the dream that God had planted inside of them.

            So, could you do it? Could you walk away from the hands of God and instead focus on His face? Now, don’t get me wrong, God’s blessings are great and we should enjoy them- He wants us to enjoy them- but when we focus on those blessings instead of Him, it defeats the purpose of Him giving us life. For example, if your dad only ever gave you gifts from his business trips, but never spent quality time with you, would you have a relationship with him? The answer to that is no. And God didn’t create us for us to ignore the quality time that He spends with us, He created us to have a personal, intimate relationship with Him for the rest of eternity. My challenge to you is to focus on the face of God this week. Instead of constantly asking Him for gifts, or asking for guidance to the promises He gives, focus on the personal and intimate times that He wants to spend with you and embrace the plot twists in life. I’ve learned that that’s where He does His best work.

 

-Haley 


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