Category Archive: God’s Promises

The Story I Write, Part I

Janae, my niece, was three years old when she spent that night with us. During dinner I asked my husband about his day and how he fixed the toilet. As I put my precious girl to bed, I asked her to tell me a story. Words like “wrench”, “it was really tough”, and “we finally got ahold of it” were prominent in her story–all things she’d heard over dinner.

Pastor Rene Schlaepher recently said we are all writing, living, and telling a story–not by our words, but by the way we live. And we have a choice as to what story we tell.

two babies wearing red mickey mouse shirts
Photo by Edwin Ariel Valladares on Pexels.com

Most of us have seen adorable pictures of infant twins babbling to each other. They laugh, giggle, and use “words” that to adults are meaningless. But if judged by their reactions, the twins understand each other well! I remember one in which one twin babbled something and the other almost fell over laughing. The one in the photo on the left looks unhappy that his twin is chewing his fingers!

Stories have been told throughout history in oral tradition. And those stories are still going on today.

Don and I cry at love stories. Those emotions are fanned by the storyline. Other stories about calamities like the volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga this week, or about troubles we all face, can lead to fear, panic and distress.

We can’t always control the events of our lives. An accident, critical illness, death, terrorist attack…they appear on our screens as blips, or dots. But we can control the narrative we put around them. Do we look at a sequence of negative events–the pandemic, cultural and political division, loss, illness–and put those into a negative story? Or do we look at those events in light of God’s promise to bring justice and righteousness to this earth, his promise of a plan for our lives?

“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

Contamination or Redemption?

People in despair tell contamination stories. “I got a great job but the travel destroyed my marriage.” “Yeah, I got a raise but I hate my boss.” “My wife’s feeling better, thanks, but I’m sure she’s gonna crash again soon.”

Chemo #3, Bob and Sheila

People in hope tell redemption stories. My sister-in-law, Sheila, is one of these. When diagnosed with uterine cancer, she began to realize that without those symptoms that led to her diagnosis, doctors would also not have found the precancerous cells that wandered throughout her lymphatic system and, if latched on, were extremely aggressive.

After successful surgery, she is still fighting the remaining pre-cancerous cells with chemo and radiation. But, knowing how God has led them this far, she is confident and at peace, trusting that he will continue guiding them. While there have been times of fear, God showed her this smaller issue was to prevent a larger one happening. And, as she has shared her journey openly, people with whom she had a casual relationship have re-entered her life with deeper communication, often sharing their own battles with her. Sheila has looked deeper than the scars, the fatigue, and the temporary hair loss to what God is doing as she and Bob walk this journey.

My brother Arnold, whose wife suffered a life-altering stroke years ago, has built a narrative of love and care and hope around her limitations. Following her stroke In August 2012, my sister-in-law struggled with her identity. She was a capable, intelligent and caring businesswoman; now significant changes resulted in her feeling she wasn’t the same. Arn tells of a day she wept, feeling stupid (her word) because she couldn’t communicate the way she used to. He wrote, “The challenge to her identity was significant, and it reminded me of the Exodus story of Moses receiving instructions from God to lead the people out of bondage. When Moses asks whom he should say sent him to lead the people, God said, ‘I am who I am.’ There it is–the solid unmovable identity.” Arn and Carol’s love and faith is carrying them through a major life change.

We all have “stuff”. But how we handle that stuff shows where our hope lies. And only our God is that solid, unmovable source of hope.

crop black businesswoman reading newspaper near modern building
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In II Cor 10:5 the apostle Paul challenges us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” So where are we focusing our thoughts, what input do we welcome into our minds and hearts that impact the stories we live? Like Janae, we often fill our stories with what we have heard and allowed into our minds. Frankly, I’ve stopped reading a lot of news because it distresses me too much and is usually a contamination story.

I confess that much of last year, after my mother’s death, I told myself (and others) contamination stories. “I don’t understand why her death seemed so hard to me.” Overwhelmed with negative input, I complained. “I hate this political turmoil, protests, brutality, increased crime, this pandemic.”

My parents’ wedding 1944

With time and help, I’ve been able to change some of that narrative. My sweet mother was so ready to meet Jesus first, and her beloved husband of 58 years (my Dad) in heaven, to worship and glorify the name of the Almighty. Whatever difficulty I experienced in her passing was momentary in light of eternity and I am eager to see her, Dad, Jerry, and others again. And why in the world would I want her to return from the very presence of God?

As to the rest? My God has not lost control. Life is good, but often hard. I don’t understand all my Father is doing through these difficult challenges, but I know he wants us to rest in his promise that he will never leave us or forsake us. I heard David Jeremiah talk about a young woman who had walked her cancer battle with God. He said, “Recently she won her battle and went home to be with Jesus.” What a different story–yes, loss aches. It can be agonizing. But she won. Her death was not the end, and that provides hope.

The redemptive story is that, because of what Jesus did for us at Calvary, Don and I and a host of you will see our loved ones again in heaven. Not only that, we will delight with them in a face to face reality of worship and praising our God, right there with us. THAT is hope!

… we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

Yes? No? Wait?

Most of us have seen the news: seventeen missionaries, serving Christ in Haiti, abducted. Among them are two teenagers and children aged eight months, three and six years. The missionaries had been brought back to the US and Canada after the assassination of Haiti’s President, but were recently sent back to the country.

In a letter, the families of those abducted said “God has given our loved ones the unique opportunity to live out our Lord’s command to love your enemies.”

The group invited people to join them in prayer for the kidnappers as well as those kidnapped. They expressed gratitude for help from “people that are knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with” such situations.

I grieve for these men and women, for mothers trying to care for an infant and two small children in captivity. These missionaries are from Amish, Mennonite, and other Anabaptist groups, while Don’s and my roots are of Mennonite origin. And I pray for their protection, for grace in their captivity, for their release.

And God cares!

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

I Peter 5:6-8

He also brings hope.

Hope when discouragement seems to reign over the world and our hearts.

Hope when we feel lost inside, fearful.

Hope that comes from his Word, which is still so very relevant today; and from his Spirit within us that speaks truth to us.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17, ESV

In spite of abduction, war, death, fire, flood, as well as personal challenges, God promises us hope which comes from faith if we will spend time listening to, and reading or hearing his message to us. Faith that what we see is not all there is.

The Bible is God’s love letter to you and me. Who else sent His Son, the eternal Son of God and part of the Triune God, to live among us, to show us the character of God. No other religious leader has died a horrific death, rising three days later to conquer death and offer us eternal life through His sacrifice for us.

Some think God is punishing, vengeful, that he could not possibly forgive what they have done. But look at the promise in John 3:16-17, verses familiar to many of us:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:16-17

His desire is not vengeance, but reconciliation, relationship.

And God’s answers to prayer are not always what we think is best. His answer may be “Wait”, as it was when I longed for my first husband to pop the question! It may be “No,” as it was when people around the world prayed for the release of missionaries Jim Elliott, Nate Saint and three others at the hands of the Auca Indians in 1956. No, God didn’t spare the lives of these five men who were trying to reach a tribe in Ecuador with the Good News about Jesus. But through that murder, and through the continuing faithfulness of Jim Elliott’s widow, Elizabeth and Nate Saint’s sister Rachel, that entire tribe came to faith in Christ. His is a long view, if you will. This earth is but one step in our life’s journey. Eternity will be, well, eternal!

lightning unk on green grass field
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And his answer may be “Yes.” The daughter of friends was to be married at two o’clock this afternoon, outdoors in the Santa Cruz mountains. As many of you know, we have a storm today–heavier rains in northern California and in the mountains, with evacuation orders in place for parts of Santa Cruz because of debris and the threat of falling trees.

Don and I have prayed much this week for this wedding. We’ve prayed for rain, and didn’t want to ask God to shut the windows of heaven. We also wanted this family to have a wonderful day of celebration. Impossible to have both? When they planned the wedding the weather was projected to be clear; now there were no canopies available for rent in the area, for either the outdoor wedding or reception.

brown trees under blue sky
Photo by Jelena Juhnevica on Pexels.com

Our pastor told us this morning that another wedding at the outdoor venue cancelled yesterday (Saturday), and our friends moved their wedding up by a day. Photographer, caterers, pastor, all were available a day early and the couple had a wonderful wedding day without rain. I expect many were praying for this, and give glory to God for making a way in a situation that seemed impossible.

I don’t know what God will do with these abducted missionaries. My mind is not his. But I know this. God is good, and he loves each of those seventeen adults and children. And he will work through the resolution of this horrendous situation, whatever it may be. AND, he wants us to ask! Please join me in prayer for them.

Father, good God, please grant your peace to these servants of yours as they wait in captivity. Convict the gang members and show them your love through this group. Provide the grace that's needed for each person, and especially for the parents of the small children as they help their little ones navigate captivity. I pray the group will be able to stay together so they can encourage and uplift each other. Keep your word alive in their hearts. And in your mercy, I ask for their release. Be with their families; and in whatever comes, may your name be lifted up! In Jesus' name.

Amen!

Enjoying the 2021 Ride

Grace Fox is an author, speaker, coach, and global worker. She taught a meaningful class on writing devotionals at a recent Christian Writers’ Conference I attended. As this one resonated with me at the start of this new year I asked, and received, her permission to share it with my readers. May it encourage your heart. Thank you Grace!

Last year at this time, my 2020 schedule was nicely planned. Everything changed within a few weeks. Spring and fall women’s retreats—gone. Ministry trips to Poland and Romania—gone. Easter, Christmas, and visits in-between with the kids and grandkids—gone. 
 
Life shifted for the whole wide world. Travel stopped. Salons, gyms, restaurants, and schools closed. Church and medical appointments went virtual. People lost jobs, homes, and loved ones. Who could have imagined?
 
Now we stand at the start of 2021. Any guesses on what this ride might look like? In the midst of the uncertainty, I’m confident that God is still, and always will be, in control. I don’t need to understand the circumstances He allows, but I do need to trust His wisdom and sovereignty in the details.
 
Patsy Clairmont says, “Relinquishment says above all paths, plans, and people, I will deliberately rest in God’s superintending of my life. I will chart my course to the best of my ability and watch as God fills my sails and compassionately involves himself in the direction my life ultimately takes. This assurance gives me the hope that allows me to lean in and enjoy the ride.”
 
Two thoughts come to mind as I consider Patsy’s words about enjoying the ride: First, we need to hold our plans loosely. As she said, let’s chart our course as best we can, but let’s allow God to direct us in the way He knows is best. 
 
Second, let’s hold tightly onto God’s promises. They give us stability when everything around us shakes. Here’s one that seems appropriate for the time in which we’re living:
 
And I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, in paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them and rugged places into plains. These are the things I will do, and I will not leave them undone. (Isaiah 42:16) 
 
Choosing to rest in God’s superintending of our schedules results in the ability to experience contentment even in the face of disappointment. It reduces stress, and it increases flexibility and peace.
 
Here’s a practical action I’ve found helpful: At the outset of every new year, I ask God to organize my schedule for His glory. Last year, He removed the things I mentioned earlier. He replaced them with time with my mother before she passed away, time to babysit my toddler granddaughter, and time to write a new book. His ways leave me in awe.
 
So go ahead—ask God to superintend your schedule in 2021. Hang onto the hope that His purposes are good. Then lean in and enjoy the ride.
 
 
Know you are loved,
Grace

(c) Grace Fox. Used with permission. www.gracefox.com

The Week that Was

And what a week it was! Two weeks ago we learned our wonderful neighbors on both sides of us are dealing with significant health challenges. We’re watching for ways to love, encourage, pray for, and help them with practical needs where we can.

Wednesday a younger friend called, panicked because she’d been scammed. Fortunately she had not given social security or bank information before she started to question the offer. We’ve tried to help her mitigate possible ongoing implications of this scam.

Thursday morning Paigey was herself, eating, drinking, then going to her bed in our closet when I left to pick up some groceries and get a lab test.

When I returned home I greeted Don with a hug and kiss, then walked into the bedroom to tell Paige I was home. It took her awhile to rouse, then look up to see me. She got out of her bed and stumbled into the family room, looking like a drunken sailor. Her legs splayed beneath her, she was very lethargic, and had trouble keeping her head up, eyes open.

We called the Vet and were directed to their ER. Four hours later and a bit poorer, we left with no diagnosis. All Paigey’s tests returned negative, for which we are very thankful. She is herself again. So what could have caused this significant incident? Did she ingest something poisonous to her? Nothing showed on blood work or ultrasound, so we’re just grateful she’s improved.

Then I learned that an old friend died of Covid very suddenly.

In all this it’s sometimes hard to remember that God is with us, that He has promised never to leave nor forsake us.

But He has been.

And He is.

And He will be!

As we enter 2021 few of us will regret saying goodbye to 2020. But we don’t know what will come in 2021. We have hopes for a helpful vaccine to be distributed quickly and safely (although a few have had significant negative reactions to the injection). We hope to be able to move about more freely, to meet with church, family, friends again. (For those of you in other states, California is pretty locked down.)

So our hope can’t be in 2021, the year. It can’t be fully in a vaccine that gives hope but doesn’t yet have a long test record. It can’t be in politics. It can be in Immanuel, “God is with us”, the hope of all the earth!

“You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.”

Psalm 65:5-8 NIV

I have been reminded over and over again these past months that my hope must be in my God, that I need to focus on Him rather than on the chaos of life around me, and allow Him to guide me through each step of the journey He has for me. And while sometimes the way seems dark, when I truly rely on Immanuel, He does call forth songs of joy in my spirit.

How are you dealing with the challenges you face?

The Judge

We sat on our couch, watching courtroom proceedings on zoom for seven hours.

It was sentencing day. The jury had already declared the defendant guilty. But both sides’ attorneys, as well as the perpetrator and the victims of his fraud were allowed to raise objections or make statements of his impact on our lives.

The Judge was consistently patient, listening to all sides. He treated each of us, including the defendant, with courtesy and respect. We were never felt rushed or like we were wasting the Court’s time. The Judge carefully expressed the rationale behind his decision to overrule or uphold each objection.

The trial has dragged on for four long years and four months. Along with quite a few others, Don and I were victims of the defendant’s fraud. We were all eager to put this behind us and move on. Some victims lost their life savings, pensions, and went into debt because they believed in the cause this man represented. Due to the stress of the fraud and trial, several probably died earlier than they would have otherwise.

We were blessed not to have fallen for “F’s” schemes longer than we did.

Even when handing down his sentence, the Judge spoke to the defendant with compassion. “You’re an intelligent man, and have done some positive things. I don’t know where it went wrong for you that made you choose to do what you did.”

BUT … the law was clear. He chose to go another way and has to pay the consequences for his crime.

We were very touched by one victim’s testimony. An articulate young man, he spoke of God’s forgiveness and desire for “F” to repent and seek forgiveness. He forgave “F,” but encouraged the Judge to give the maximum sentence in light of the loss, pain, illness, and suffering “F” put on so many.

It reminded me that one day we will each stand before the King of Kings, the fair and just Judge of all mankind. He has already provided forgiveness … but He gives us the choice of whether or not to receive it.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.”

John 3:16-17

God won’t ask how much we gave to this charity or that, or what good deeds we did. In love and grace, God has provided the way through Jesus’ death, resurrection, and offer of forgiveness and new life to each of us. Our choice is whether or not to receive it.

And our eternity will be based on that answer.

And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.

I John 5:11-12

My only answer to the King of Kings is “I’m here with Jesus, who died and rose again that I might have life eternal.”

Questions? I’d love to talk with you.