Saturday, April 29, 2017

Hope in the Face of Grief

…We do not want you
 to be ignorant
about those who fall asleep,
 or to grieve
 like the rest of men,
 who have no hope.

1 Thessalonians 4:13


Three years ago, my baby sister closed her eyes to the pain of earth and woke up to see the glories of heaven. The cares of this world fell like shackles unlocked and released from a prisoner’s leg. The momentary sting of death delivered her into the arms of Jesus. Since then I have faced the loss of a nephew, my brother, an aunt, a cousin and a precious sister-in-law. Some losses were sudden and unexpected; others came after long battles with poor health.


I have learned well many lessons taught by loss. In the days following the death of my sister, grief dragged me into a pit of depression; giving me no opportunity to breathe without pain as unexpected tears marked a path from swollen eyes to my chin. Darkness hung over my heart trying to convince me I would never again see light. But slowly, shafts of light permeated the darkness and bad days gave way to okay days and finally good days.

You probably have your own such story to tell. Times of unbearable loss. Times when the darkness of grief swallowed you in its pit. Times when well-meaning words of comfort from friends rang hollow like an iron bell in an empty room. You may right now be grieving; wondering if the pain will ever end. Struggling to get out of bed. Laboring to place one foot in front of the other. There is hope.

There are many kinds of loss that can bring about grief, and while death is the focus of the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians, the pain and grief caused by other losses can prove to be as debilitating as the grief of death. Loss of a friendship, financial security, physical ability, good health, a relationship breakup, etc. may cause symptoms of fear, anxiety, depression, or sleeplessness. There is hope.

I can tell you from personal experience that hope is in the Name of Jesus. During the darkest hours of my depression, I did not read the Bible; I did not pray and ask God to deliver me. I could not. You may now find yourself or a loved one in that place. But God caused His Holy Spirit to well up inside me like a spring of living water, and I began to whisper the Name of Jesus. Step one, whisper Jesus. Step two, whisper Jesus. Step three, whisper Jesus; until finally God’s undeserved, unmerited, unearned, favor—grace—became a ladder of freedom from the bottom of the pit.

The Apostle Paul tells us we should not grieve like those who have no hope; those without Christ. Why? Because the resurrection of Christ brings hope. How do we have hope in times of distress? Romans 15:13 explains, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Unlike our English word for hope which allows for some uncertainty, the Biblical hope as found in Ephesians 1:18 allows us to know that in Christ we have complete assurance of indisputable, unequivocal, certain victory through God. “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…”

So, whatever your circumstance today, whatever has caused your grief, your pain, depression, anxiety, or hopelessness, remember that you do not need to grieve as those who have no hope. If you are overwhelmed and without the energy needed to pick up your Bible, whisper Jesus. If you find it impossible to voice a prayer, whisper Jesus. If you are struggling to put one foot in front of the other, whisper Jesus. He will come. See God in His Glory, His Majesty, His Power, His Love, and His Grace.


Trust Christ, and do not grieve as those who have no hope.

© Joyce Powell

Monday, April 24, 2017

Hope When I Want to Give up!



“I am the LORD,
the God of all mankind.
 Is anything
too hard for me?”

Jeremiah 32:27 

Today, the Lord planted the words “Don’t Give Up” in my heart. I found a Scripture appropriate to the title and waited for inspiration. Nothing! I tried to write about areas in life where giving up may seem the best option. Nothing! I prayed and asked God to inspire me. Nothing!

I went to the laundry room to take clothes out of the dryer and throw them on the dining room table; my mind in deep contemplation as my body went through the necessary motions. I began to think about changing topics, but once again God spoke softly in my spirit, “Don’t Give Up.”

Finally, I got it! God was inspiring me by pushing me to the brink of giving up in order to get the message. “Don’t Give Up.” I wondered how many lost opportunities in life happened because I gave up right before success. How often did I see a situation as hopeless when God had a breakthrough waiting right around the corner? How many times did I assume the answer was no while God’s yes waited for my faithful perseverance?

I began to think about the characteristics of God, trying to remember if He had ever given up on me. He has not! He reminded me-

He is Able…..
He is Faithful…..
He is Merciful…..
He is God Who Sees…..
He is God Who Forgives…..
He is God My Exceeding Joy…..
He is God My Righteousness…..
He is The Lord My Redeemer…..
He is The Lord My Defense…..
He is The Lord Mighty in Battle…..

And He is the God Who NEVER GIVES UP! So, when like me you are tempted to throw in the towel, hang it up, or weasel out, remember the One who gave all for you, and Don’t Give Up!

Do you wish you could give up on something or someone? Explain.

Read Jeremiah 17:7-10. Ask God to search your heart and give you clarity concerning difficult areas in your life and/or relationships.
  
Read Philippians 1:20-21, and write it down. 

What area of your life are you willing to commit to God through prayer before you make a final decision to give up?  Commit to pray about it. Write down your prayer.

 Heavenly Father, I know that You are able, faithful, and merciful. I know that You see me, and You are my defense in battle. Today, I trust You with the difficult circumstances of my life. I believe You are my Righteous Redeemer and my Exceeding Great Joy. Help me, Lord, to hear and obey Your voice. In the precious Name of Jesus. Amen and Amen.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

He Is Risen

He was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace
was upon him, and by his wounds we
are healed.
                             Isaiah 53:5 NIV 

…Why do you look for the living among the
dead? He is not here; He has risen!...
                             Luke 24:5-6 NIV


Jesus Christ humbled himself as a man and became obedient to death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8) He was betrayed by a friend, arrested by armed soldiers, denied by his disciples, and condemned by the religious leaders. He stood trial before the government, was beaten, spat upon, led away to be crucified and hung between two thieves.  


His forehead was pressed by a crown of thorns, His side was pierced with a sword while His Name hung above Him for all who would recognize the truth; King of the Jews.  
  
He was buried in a tomb hewn out of a rock, locked in by a stone which, by most historical accounts, weighed at least a ton, and guarded by Roman soldiers whose failure to achieve their mission could have cost them their lives. Yet Jesus could not be contained in His man-made grave. Matthew 28:1-4 explains the tomb’s opening.
“There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.”


 Lest we forget, Jesus did not need the angel to open the grave so He could get out but so others could look in and see the empty tomb; a reminder of the awesome power of our God.    


He came from heaven to fulfill God's plan for the redemption of mankind. He returned to heaven where he sits at the right hand of His Father interceding for those who have put their faith and trust in Him. 
   
So today, I am encouraged! You see, I know the man who has the power to work all these things together for good. He walks on water! He raises the dead! He makes blind eyes see! He gives hearing to deaf ears! He gives a voice to those who cannot speak! He lights the sky with His glory, and the earth shakes at His command.

He cares for me. He cares for you. I trust Him. I know that whatever I am going through at this moment, it could not happen without His knowledge or approval. Often I do not understand. Still, I trust Him. Often I plead with Him for change. Still, I trust Him. Often I am tempted to give up, but still, I trust Him.

Be encouraged! He cares for you. He understands your sorrow and your pain. He suffered. He died. Trust Him, for He is risen!

© Joyce Powell

Monday, April 10, 2017

Satisfaction

Satisfy us in the morning with your
unfailing love, that we may sing for
joy and be glad all our days.
Psalm 90:14 NIV

Satisfaction. Is it real or just an illusion that the mortals of this world seek like the fountain of youth; a mirage that looks lush and green but quickly fades when one arrives at the edge of its shore?

Satisfaction. Is it something that can ever be attained in this life? I know money can’t buy it, for I have traveled the halls of the malls across this land and watched as unhappy faces rush to and fro from store to store with arms full of packages as shoppers seek fulfillment…. but fulfillment does not come. I realize that as I hear mothers screaming at their children and husbands yelling at their wives, and all of them wanting to buy just one more thing because they have found no satisfaction in what they have.

Satisfaction. I know friends can’t provide it for I have watched as friends who have walked hand in hand for twenty years break the bond of that friendship over a meaningless argument—neither willing to surrender their will or their pride.

Satisfaction. I know beauty can’t deliver it. For I have seen the most beautiful of women checking their appearance as they walk by a mirror or a window and watched as their smile turned to a frown as they appeared to recognize some imperfection.

I do remember seeing true satisfaction once. I recognized it in a little granny who walked with a cane. She had nothing of material value. She did not own an automobile. Therefore, unless someone picked her up, she walked to church every Sunday. She was always there, always smiling and always happy. Her old Bible was falling apart. I used to think, “Poor granny, she needs a new Bible.” I now understand that ragged old Bible was the source of her strength, her life, her satisfaction.

Is satisfaction attainable in this life? I believe it is. Absolutely! You can’t buy it, which is wonderful news for those of us who are not wealthy. No person can give it to you, which is wonderful news because it means no person can take it away. Beauty doesn’t matter, which is wonderful news because most of us are just average looking people.

Satisfaction only comes from allowing Jesus Christ to live in and through us, totally, completely…in control of our lives. The price of this satisfaction….well that’s the best part; it is free because our Father gave it…a gift. But, it cost Him the greatest price anyone could pay; His only child.

So, I suppose the next time I begin to grumble, complain, or become dissatisfied, I’ll stop and look up. I’ll “Be still and Know that I Am God” is speaking. I’ll listen and hopefully, obey and be satisfied to know that the God of the Universe has my life in the palm of His hand. He cares for me. Nothing can touch me without His permission. And, when adversity comes, and it will, I’ll be satisfied to know that the God who holds me, leads me, and teaches me through His Word, will keep me.

When I think about it like that, I am… well, I am… satisfied!

©JP

Monday, April 3, 2017

Hope When You Do It God’s Way


The Word of the LORD
 came to Jonah…Go
To the great city of Nineveh
 and preach against it…
But Jonah ran away
 from the LORD
 and headed for Tarshish.

Jonah 1:1-3


When I was eight years old, my mother and I bounced around in the top last row of a Greyhound double-decker bus from Michigan to Tennessee. Sliding left and right and jolting up and down for several hundred miles left a lasting impression on my stomach.

However, by day two at my grandparent’s house, my stomach returned to normal, and I was stepping on grandpa’s heels as he went about the business of working the farm. I kept noticing him tearing a piece of a dark substance off a block of something he pocketed in his bib overalls. He would put it in his mouth, chew, spit, and wipe his lips with the back of his hand. It looked good, so I kept asking, “Can I have some?” He continued to reply, “No,” until he became weary of my asking.

Finally, he tore off a small piece and handed it to me with careful instructions to not swallow either the juice or the plug of tobacco. I promised! Unfortunately, without thinking, I swallowed. I turned green. I gagged. I vomited. Grandpa smiled. He knew I would never again ask for a “chaw” of his tobacco. Lesson learned!

Jonah also learned a lesson. God called him to preach to the city of Nineveh “because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2) Apparently, Jonah did not like what the LORD had to say and chose to run rather than obey. He went to the port of Joppa, paid his fare, and boarded a ship bound for Tarshish; according to maps of the then-known world, that was as far as he could go in the opposite direction.

God sent a storm, the crew threw Jonah overboard, a great fish swallowed Jonah, the seas calmed, and after three days in the belly of that great fish and a powerful prayer, Jonah was vomited onto dry ground. Again, the word of the LORD came to Jonah “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” This time Jonah obeyed! The city repented, God showed compassion, and destruction was averted.


Sometimes we get what we ask for only to find out it is not good for us. Sometimes we run from God. Sometimes our disobedience impacts others. And like my grandfather's "yes" to my request for tobacco, God sometimes allows us to learn the hard way. But God is the God of second chances. There is always hope when you run to Him rather than from Him. What is He asking of you?  There is hope when you do it God's way.

© Joyce Powell

Friday, March 10, 2017

Give Yourself A Break


For in six days the LORD made heaven
and earth, the sea, and all that is in them,
and rested on the seventh day.
                              Exodus 20:11

     Rest—essential to a healthy life! Relaxation, inactivity, break, ease, respite, recess, time-out, downtime all are words we use to indicate that we are taking a break from the hopping, popping, bustling schedule of life.

     I am not talking about a vacation—a trade of one form of busyness for another. Be honest! How many times have you returned home totally rested after a vacation? I am talking about taking a day off to do nothing. I can hear you gasping for air. I feel your pulse racing and sense the rise of your blood pressure.  

     Jesus recommended rest to His disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31) After much “doing” and “teaching,” they needed to rest not only their bodies but their spirits.

     For most of us, it seems difficult to find a desolate place to draw away from the world. With cell phones, iPods, computers, and GPS we are never hidden from those who want to interrupt our rest to meet their needs. But without rest, we often become wide-eyed brain-dead zombies just trying to get through another day before we collapse for the evening.

     Rest often brings renewed energy and excitement needed to complete the tasks ahead. Jesus and His disciples had to get on a boat, leave the shoreline and head to a desolate place to rest. Even then others saw them and made their way ahead of the boat to the intended place of rest. But I have to believe that the time spent with Jesus on the boat was a time of refreshing and rest from their daily work.

     Why not give it a try—that day of rest. Turn off the cell phone, find a desolate place, grab your fishing pole or a good book and kick back away from the stresses of your daily responsibilities. Feel your muscles relax as your breathing slows and before long you may even find yourself enjoying the quiet.

     Follow the plan of the One who created heaven and earth. He took a break. Follow the advice of the Son of God who ministered to a needy world. He took a break. Follow your heart and listen to your body speak and give yourself a break!

© Joyce Powell
Repost from 2013

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Hope For the Battle


Put on the full armor
of God
so that you can take your stand
against the
devil’s schemes.

Ephesians 6:11

Roman soldiers, when marching into battle, carried a shield approximately four and one-half feet long by two and one-half feet wide. Usually made of three sheets of wood glued together and covered with canvas and leather, the shield protected the soldier from his chin to his knees. During times of siege, the soldiers would gather in a “tortoise” formation shaping a rectangle with shields raised around the perimeter.

The soldiers in the center would lift their shields, resting them on the Roman helmets and overlapping in order to prevent arrows from penetrating their tortoise-like shell. In this manner, the entire formation stood strong and protected from the enemy.

When writing to the church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul explained how, in the Christian life, we battle against spiritual forces. He used the wardrobe of the Roman soldier, something with which the people of Ephesus would have been familiar, to explain how to use the armor of God.

Paul not only listed the shield but told the church to “put on the full armor of God…” then proceeded to list the necessary items:

The belt of truth
The breastplate of righteousness
Feet fitted with the gospel of peace
The shield of faith
The helmet of salvation
The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God

And in verse eighteen he added:

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Here, Paul outlined what I like to call the Spiritual Tortoise Shell. After putting on all the armor, pray—in the Spirit—on all occasions—with all kinds of prayers and requests. And, do not forget to be alert, watchful, and attentive. Watch out for the snares or attacks of the enemy. And always keep on praying for all the saints.”

While this letter was written to the church at Ephesus, it was also intended for circulation among other churches. In this manner, the Apostle Paul emphasized the need for both individual submission to Christ as well as love, mercy, charity, and kindness toward all the saints—fellow believers and followers of Christ—through constant prayer.

Although written nearly two thousand years ago, these instructions remain valid and necessary. What would happen in our world today if every person who has surrendered to Christ as Lord would follow the instructions to keep on praying, in the Spirit, for all the saints? I hope the next time the enemy sets his sights on me, my fellow Christians will have me covered with a spiritual tortoise shell because of their constant prayers. God’s armor is our hope for the battle.

 
Hope for Daily Living

Which piece of God’s armor do you daily depend on? Explain. 
Which piece of armor might you need to polish a bit? How do you know? 
Read Ephesians 6:13. Write it down. 

Today’s political climate is becoming increasingly antagonistic towards Christians. Are you willing to stand, if necessary, against the assault of the enemy?  Explain.



Heavenly Father, I know that You have spoken to me through the words of the Apostle Paul who at first fearlessly fought against You but later intimately and faithfully served you—even unto death. Lord, teach me to pray for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Remind me that you do not see the color of our skin or the landscape of our residence but rather you see lives covered by the blood of Jesus; hearts forgiven of sin and a life in right standing with You. Thank You for the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Help me to pray always for the saints and to be a part of Your “Spiritual Tortoise Shell” of protection.  In the most precious Name of Jesus, Amen.

© Joyce Powell-2017