From Uncertainty To Eternal Hope . . . .

Months have passed since the pandemic began; the loss of life, of dreams and of fellowship has taken a toll on all of us. In addition to the threat of a virus, tensions have mounted between people ensnared by a willingness to hate.

  • How ARE we, as servants of Christ, to respond to the uncertainties of our time?  
  • What would He have us learn along the way? 

I believe the first thing we need to recognize is that uncertainty in this world is nothing new, Jesus was born into a dark time such as our own, with truth-seekers and truth-haters in need of a Savior. As we approach the celebration of the birth of God’s Son, at the end of this most challenging year, I invite you to join me in savoring the wisdom and encouragement of the Apostle Paul:

Now we have this treasure in jars of clay
to show that this surpassingly great power is from God and not from us.
We are hard pressed on all sides, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair,
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed”

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 
For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us
an eternal glory that is far beyond comparison.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

II Corinthians 4:7-8, 16-18

How are we to respond to adversity in uncertain times?  Paul reminds his friends (and us) of our human vulnerability in a fallen world: fragile . . .earthen . . . clay pots. Because of this, we are to rely on God’s Spirit and the Scriptures to provide the wisdom and strength we need each and every day. In such times, when we feel crushed and broken beyond repair, I have found it helpful to distance myself to from whatever has happened and then ask God to give me His eyes to see two things:

  1. The blessing of His protection and provision–that He is with me always.
  2. To learn (and remember!) whatever lesson He wants to teach me.. 

The blessing is that Paul doesn’t leave is in our vulnerable uncertainty,  but encourages us to embrace the certainty of our hope in spending eternity with Christ Jesus! I especially love that Paul calls us to fix our (spiritual) eyes, not on what is seen, but on what is unseen–God Himself

I invite you to join me in asking God to help us look at the past year through His eyes– to see how He watched over and/or provided for you and I. (For me it was this past August when I was hospitalized. It was a place I greatly feared, and yet through it I received the greatest blessing when He removed my fear and drew me to Himself.)* Also, is there a particular lesson you learned, or insight gained about God, that you want to hold onto as we prepare to enter the coming year? (For me, I will never take hugs for granted again!!!)  If so, then please share how God watched over you to encourage others in the comments below!

All to His Glory!

*To read about my journey you’ll find it HERE. . . . ❤️

A Season To Remember . . . .

What comes to your mind when you think of Thanksgiving? My thoughts go immediately to familyfood and giving thanks to God–not just for the “stuff” in my life but for His Divine Presence.

 I remember one Thanksgiving traveling to Grandma and Grandpa Hutcherson’s house from our home in the Los Angeles area. The three-and-a-half hour journey, North from LA to Bakersfield and beyond to Pixley (a small farming community where my dad grew up) was never boring.  As we (Mom, Dad, my brother Norm, and I) made our way out of the busyness of the suburbs, we watched the sunrise in the east. We followed the old Highway 99 Grapevine–tmountainous yet devoid of trees (except for the occasional cluster of black oaks scattered across the dry, grassy landscape– it offered a unique beauty. As we followed 99 down to the wide expanse of the Central Valley, where oil fields and farmland commingled, our excitement grew–we were more than halfway to Grandma and Grandpa’s house!

When we finally reached Pixley we were grateful to stretch our legs as we got out of our car and exchanged hugs all around. Throughout the day, as more family arrived, there were always more hugs and lots of conversation, often spiced with gentle teasing and an abundance of laughter. Grandma Grace, a farmer’s wife and the mother of 6 children, always had things well in hand by the time everyone arrived.The fragrance of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy wafting out of her kitchen had us all salivating as we eagerly listened for the magic words, “Time to eat! Once everything was laid out and the call made, we filled our plates high with Grandma’s fixings and the numerous side-dishes other family brought for our Thanksgiving Feast. Reflecting back, with my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and several cousins now gone, it remains a little slice of heaven in my bank of memories . . .💝💝💝

This year . . . the year of COVID–Thanksgiving (and Christmas) will be very different from years past. The warm exchange of hugs will largely be missing and the sharing of food will likely be different too. In fact this holiday season will be one of mourning the loss of loved ones and facing uncertainty.  I don’t know about you, but with so much loss and the “restrictions” placed on many, the idea of any sort of traditional “celebration” seems almost impossible,

So how can we bring good (and perhaps discover blessing) during this tough, unexpected circumstance we find ourselves in? The wisdom of the Apostle Paul provides a timeless framework when it comes to living out God’s will in every season::

“Rejoice always, pray continually,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

  • Rejoice that when life seems out of control, God is still in control.
  • Pray for your concerns with the confidence that you are heard!.
  • Give thanks to God for watching over you, especially in the tough times.
  • Remember that God sees a larger picture than we do, as He works out His good and perfect will, for our good and His Glory.

How can we work this out practically? How can we bring more light (and with it hope) into this holiday season as we celebrate God’s Sovereign Goodness? Here are some thoughts  to help make this years celebration, is a season to remember:

  1. To be more intentional in “unwrapping” God’s gift of each new day–confessing fears/sin while asking Him to help us see His blessing throughout each day.
  2. Use whatever means available to stay connected with people–especially people you can laugh with to keep your spirits up. (I participate in three different Zoom groups each week that help me take my focus off myself as I connect with others.)
  3. Start a special Thanksgiving Journal –covering the holiday season through Epiphany. Fill it with a log of daily praises (add to it a list of the blessings you have received or witnessed during the past year.) Also include concerns and insights gained that day through people as well as in Scripture,.
  4. Watch for ways to help the needy. (It’s a fact that when we help others we are also encouraged.)
  5. I still plan on decorating my home this Season–focused on the Birth of Jesus–in the hope of encouraging hurting neighbors and friends. (No schlock this year!)

This morning I found comfort in Lamentations that lend a helpful perspective on why thanksgiving to God is so very important this year:

“I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for Him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him,
to the one who seeks Him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.”
Lamentations 3:19-26

Yes, because of the Lord’s great love we have much to give thanks for. Please join me in giving thanks to Him for the hope that is ours in His Son.

What are some of your thoughts about celebrating the coming Season? Please share with the rest of us in the comments below!

All to His Glory!

When Evil Appears To Have The Upper-Hand . . . .

Several years ago I listened to the testimony of a man who had escaped the atrocities being committed against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.  The man went into grim detail about what he had witnessed–entire families being buried alive, young and old suffering torturous deaths–because they refused to abandon their faith.  The man was obviously dismayed by the retelling, yet it was as he described the perpetrators of such evil as “animals” devoid of their humanity, that he sobbed uncontrollably.

As I watched I realized that he was crying out to God–not only for the people who were killed or for those who are still trapped or have been displaced from their loved ones and homes–the man wept as he begged God to save the perpetrators of evil from themselves. As I watched I remembered Jesus crying out on the Cross:

“Father forgive them . . .
for they know not
what they are doing.”

Luke 23:34

When evil appears to have the upper-hand, how are Christians to respond?  It is tempting to react in kind-–“an eye for an eye”—that’s biblicalright?  Here is what Jesus had to say about that:

“You have heard that it was said,
‘eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. 
If someone strikes you
on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic,
let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile,
go with him two miles.  Give to the one who asks you,
and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” 

Matthew 5:38-42

With regard to dealing with our enemies, Jesus went on to say:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” 

(Verses 43-45a)

To turn the other cheek, to offer one’s cloak or go the extra mile are not passive acts–they are examples of an intentional Christ-centered love that is not of this world.  Such love and prayer should always go hand-in-hand when it comes to dealing with evil.  The man in the interview saw the deadness in the eyes of his perpetrators and wept for them–and so should we.  We should weep and pray as we remember that it is from such deadness that we have been saved.

When evil appears to have the upper hand, Christian love reaches out intentionally and sacrificially to help those in need.  The entire chapter of Romans 12 gives instruction on how we are to respond when evil threatens.  It says in part:

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
Practice hospitality.

(verses 9-13)

The Apostle Paul also warns against repaying evil for evil, but encourages the faithful to trust God to bring about ultimate justice:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right . . .
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath . . .
If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

(Verses 17:19-20)

As I reflect on all of this I am struck by how much courage it takes to love as Christ loves us. I wrote this post six years ago and decided I needed the reminder it contains today.  How about you? Living in the world we live in, does it at times come easier to hate than to love?

I invite you to join me in praying for the courage needed to love as He directs our steps.  Rather than giving way to hatred, pray for wisdom and a deepened faith as we resist the temptation to repay evil with evil–God IS in control and is worthy of our trust!

All to His Glory!

Never Felt More Alive . . . .

It has been over six weeks since I knew I was closer to death than I had ever been before, and yet . . . I had never felt more alive. After being hospitalized with a badly infected perforated ulcer and then having problems with my heart, I was finally released from the hospital and wrote the following to a friend:

Thank you for your prayers! They carried me through many a cliff-hanger as doctors and nurses did everything they could to save my life.. Once the surgery was done, that took the back burner as two nurses worked through two nights to restore the natural rhythm of my heart. It was tough in many, many ways. But God blessed me with His presence and peace, which many non-believers who watched the drama unfold could not deny. It took 3 days and switching around countless medications to finally get the rhythm of my heart restored.

“Your ways, God, are holy.
What god is as great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles;
You display Your power among the peoples.
With Your mighty arm You redeemed Your people . . . .”
Psalm 77:13-17

I never realized how awkward it is to write about something that you know happened, but there is no other explanation for it except to say, it was a miracle.

Miracle defined: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.*

As I write about some of the “extraordinary events” that happened after being unexpectedly hospitalized, I do so in the hope of enlarging the vision of those of you who are facing challenges you would never have chosen for yourselves.  I invite all to draw your own conclusion as to whether it was God “intervening in human affairs” or if it was something else. (I would love to hear your thoughts.)

In the first of this three post series** I wrote about“sheltering in place” for months because of COVID-19, and how the thought of going to the hospital and picking up the virus terrified me. Then the night came when, finding myself in unbearable abdominal pain, I had no other choice than to face my greatest fear. As the ambulance siren wailed I found myself praying this simple prayer:

Thank you God that You love me and that I am not alone,
Thank You that You have a plan and purpose for my life..
Help me Lord to see those You put on my path with Your eyes
as I trust You no matter what!

Such was the beginning of an adventure that would transform my faith in remarkable ways. It was that first night and into the next day that I came to understand this simple truth:

 God often uses the very things we are most afraid of
to draw us closer to Himself.

In my second post I wrote how God has faithfully worked in the lives of people since the beginning of time. I pointed to the prophet Elijah, who ran away when Jezebel threatened to kill him. The passage talks about how God ministered to Elijah and how eventually Elijah “pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave” when he heard God speak in “a gentle whisper.”  (1 Kings 19:11-13) In that post I wrote about  learning to listen for His gentle whisper when fearful, discouraged or feeling utterly alone.  The night I was wheeled through the Emergency Room doors I heard that gentle whisper in my mind asking, “Kathie, will you trust Me in this?” 

Looking back all these weeks later, I can now see that when I responded to God’s question (at first tentatively and then fully) with, “Yes Lord, I will trust in You!” –it was then that the Holy Spirit stepped in. During the entire time He helped me take my eyes off myself/my fears and to choose to trust in God’s sovereign goodness.

Only now, as I reflect back on the night of my surgery, can I better appreciate what happened. Scheduled for exploratory surgery at five that evening I was remarkably at ease. In fact, as I was wheeled into the surgical room I suddenly remembered having seen the same setting of lights, people and a surgical table waiting when I had my tonsils removed when I was about six years old. For me, it was a pleasant memory as I remembered seeing stars after they put the mask over my face. That is my last memory until I was taken back to my room three hours later. I was told the surgery was a success, but I paid little attention to it as I watched two nurses diligently work through the night trying to get my heart rate under control. As they worked together the lights were low, and it felt like being in a cathedral.  Surrounded by a scattering of vaulted light and soft, shimmering colors, the nurses ran lines of various combinations of medications to finally stabilize me. I watched and prayed but experienced no fear and no pain. Finally the male nurse (Shawn) spoke to me: “Mrs. Siler, your hair is shining!” Moments later he exclaimed, “Mrs. Siler, your skin is beautiful!” and then asked, “Mrs Siler, what are you doing?” All I could think to say was, “I’m cheering you on!”

It wasn’t until weeks later that I thought about Shawn’s question: What WAS I doing?!! I thought about how they couldn’t understand how I was able to stay with them as I teetered on the edge of life and death!

  • Humanly speaking I should have been exhausted. I’d had major surgery to address a life threatening issue just hours before. (Imagine my surprise when, days later, I saw the seven inch incision down my middle being held together by fourteen staples!).
  • Yet I was clear-headed, not a bit fearful and felt no pain. (My only concern for the nurses.)
  • In fact, I felt exhilarated to the point where I cannot remember ever feeling more alive!

The only reasonable answer was the working of the Holy Spirit in me. It was indeed, “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs” .

So what can we learn from this?

  1. God often uses the very things we are most afraid of to draw us closer to Himself.
  2. To enjoy our God-given life to the fullest requires that we be fully invested in Him–not our fears or the things of this world.

But how can we avoid giving way to our fears/emotions and the stress that is so much a part of this world? The Apostle Paul put it well: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:18) To fight the onslaught of emotions that can so easily overtake us, I have found it most helpful to simply bring Christ into the center of my thinking:

Thank you, God, for loving me and
for sending your Son to save me for Yourself.
Thank You that You have a plan and purpose for my life.
Help me Lord to live for, love and serve You with a glad heart.

The words of Jesus that flew like a banner in my mind when I first entered the hospital, continue to be true for all who choose to trust in Him:

“I have come that they (YOU!) may have life,
and have it to the full.”

John 10:10b

All to His Glory!

*Merriam-Webster Dictionary
**To access the first and second posts of this series press here >>Not Afraid << for the first post and here >> The Fullness Of Life << for the second.

 

Not Afraid . . . .

“My heart falters,
fear makes me tremble;
the twilight I longed for
has become a horror to me.”
Isaiah 21:4

I do not think of myself as a fearful person. I have followed Christ for more than forty years, faced many a trial, and time and again He has proved Himself faithful. For twenty-five of those years, I have sought to strengthen every Client I have counseled, by helping them gain confidence in going to the Scriptures for the wisdom and perspective they need.

“I came that they may have life and have it to the full.” John 10:10

Yet, I must confess that giving way to fear is the area in my life where I remain most vulnerable. Indeed, there are times when my heart falters and fear makes me tremble as my mind follows the ever winding downward path of, the“What if’s?”  I have prayed about it, confessing my weaknesses while fearing that I would fail to be faithful when/if truly tough times came. My one comfort that has provided hope for me at the prospect of facing hard times is the counsel Jesus gave His disciples before His arrest:

“Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial,
do not worry beforehand about what to say.
Just say whatever is given you at the time,
for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 13:11

Being mindful of how the Holy Spirit watched over and protected the early church, how he has radically changed lives through the centuries (including my own) I knew that relying on God’s Spirit was my only hope.

Then hard times came in the form of COVID-19.  After months of “sheltering in place” and facing my own vulnerability–I’m over 70 years of age with heart and lung issues–I found myself mentally in an ever deepening hole of fear despite my determination to face my fears. During that time I had two extended episodes of heart palpitations that I normally would have gone to the hospital for, but did not. Why? Because the thought of going to the hospital and picking up the virus terrified me most of all.

During that time, as fear continued to rule my heart, I struggled with guilt. I prayed, confessing my fears and asking Him to somehow help me to have victory over them. His answer to my prayer began on the evening of August 4 when I learned that:

 God often uses the very things we are most afraid of
to draw us closer to Himself.

The day had been crazy after a tornado hit our town-an extremely rare occurance. Our son and daughter-in-law were spending the night with us because their electric was off and they had a lot of debris from the tornado blocking their driveway.   I hadn’t felt well that day, but that was no different from  most days.  We shared a celebration dinner that no one was seriously hurt or killed in our area. I remember thinking as I sipped a glass of wine that maybe it would help settle my stomach that had been touchy all day.  Nothing could have been further from the truth . . . .

At about ten that evening I started feeling sick, and as the pain in my abdominal area increased, I knew I was in trouble.  I screamed for my husband to call an ambulance and suddenly all my fears of going to the hospital vanished as I began to pray:

Thank you, Lord, that you love me and that You are worthy of my trust. Thank you for sending your Son to free me from my sins
and that my days are in Your most capable hands.
Help me Lord to not give way to fear
but to see those trying to help me with Your eyes.”

It was a prayer that I had come to say in my battle against fear. That night, and in the days that followed, it took over my perceptions as God’s Spirit worked double duty in my heart.

As the ambulance neared the hospital the words of Jesus waved like a banner across my mind:

“I have come that they (you!) may have life, and have it to the full.”
John 10:10b

As I entered the Emergency Room that night I realized that whatever happened was part of the “fullness” God had planned for me all along. It was in that moment that hope and a quiet confidence in knowing that whatever happened would be according to God’s good, pleasing and perfect will . . .❤️*

I will write more about God’s faithfulness in my next post. For now, I ask you this one question: In this season of uncertainty, do you find yourself giving way to fear as I did?

There is nothing wrong with being afraid in uncertain times. However, there is definitely something wrong when, as Christ-followers, we allow our faith to be overrun by fear. Reflecting now on how God took over, providing the courage I could never have mustered in and of myself, I am grateful for this truth:

God often uses the very things we are most afraid of
to draw us closer to Himself.

Whatever you are facing, God is bigger than your fears and is worthy of your trust. I urge you to give thanks with me to a God who is faithful as we trust in His faithfulness:

“My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Psalm 73:26

All to His Glory!

*Romans 12:2

 

 

 

 

Let Us Run With Perseverance . . . .

Happy New Year!

I woke up this first day of 2020 with a verse from Hebrews pulsing through my mind. I think of the passage as, the great ‘Ta da!” moment in history, when God’s ultimate plan was revealed to all mankind. I offer it to encourage you as we enter into this new year together:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders
and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance
the race marked out for us . . . .”
Hebrews 12:1

 To maximize the impact of what the writer is pronouncing in his letter, it is needful to consider its context–what it was placed there for: 

In what is referred to as,“the by faith chapter” (Hebrews 11)–the lineup of those who proved themselves faithful to God begins with the Bible’s first martyr, Abel: “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” (Verse 4)

The passage continues with a grand, hall-of-fame lineup of people who proved themselves faithful to God. Hebrews 11 concludes with these words:

“They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two;
they were killed by the sword.
They went about in sheepskins and goatskins,
destitute, persecuted and mistreated—
the world was not worthy of them.
They wandered in deserts and mountains,
living in caves and in holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith,
yet none of them received what had been promised,
since God had planned something better for us
so that only together with us would they be made perfect.*

Living in a world today where Christians are suffering persecution, unimaginable hardship, torture and even death because of their faith**, I am humbled, challenged and yet encouraged by their steadfast courage as I reflect on what follows Hebrews 12:1,

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus . . . .”

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,
scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand
of the throne of God.
Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

(Verses 2-3)

To be sure, we miss the point of Hebrews when we focus on those who have gone before us or on those who suffer today. Instead, we find direction and courage when we see Jesus looking beyond the cross to His Father.

Where was His focus?

  • First and foremost, He sought to honor His Father.
  • Secondarily, to redeem all who look to, follow and trust in Him for the salvation of their souls.

No matter what you may be facing in this new year:

  • Be it the loss of a loved one,
  • Disappointment,
  • Health issues,
  • Or perhaps just mustering the courage to keep up with the daily news,

be encouraged by your identity that is established in Christ:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,
gentleness and patience.

Bear with each other and forgive one another . . . .
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Colossians 3:12-14

As we enter this new year together:

  1. Be encouraged as you remember that you were chosen by God and are holy and dearly loved by Him.
  2. Be strengthen each day as you look to Him for the courage you lack to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient as He helps you to forgive in the same way He has forgiven you.
  3. Be intentional in loving those He places on your path as your means of honoring and glorifying Him.

All to His Glory!

*Hebrews 11:5-40
**I consider Open Doors, USA a viable resource to keep up what is happening to fellow Christians around the world. .