Friday, December 30, 2016

Finding Beauty

It was a weird Christmas for me and my family. Grandma was (still is, actually- keep her in prayer, if you would) in the hospital, it was our first Christmas without Grandpa, our usual festivities involving extended family got cancelled due to weather, I was sick to my stomach half the weekend, and my parents, bro, and I ended up split between two apartments at Grandma's retirement community due to us being given a key for a smaller apartment than intended. It seemed a rather woebegone weekend.

As I was getting ready for bed, feeling a little down, I glanced out my window and saw fresh snow being lit by the gazebo below. There it was- a little spark of hope and beauty. The reminder I needed: that God puts good things into our lives, even when times aren't what we'd like them to be. We just have to be looking for them.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. - James 1:17

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Friend Loves at All Times

At least three times this week I sat down to work on writing up my next blog post. Each time, I glanced over to my message notifications and found that a friend was wanting my attention. Sometimes it's tempting to think "Oh, whatever. These people can wait! I'm trying to keep my weekly posts going over here"; then that thought in the back of my mind hits me: "What if they really need you? What if they have nobody else who can help?"  And guess what? That was pretty much the case- with every one of those friends who spoke to me this week.

Looking back over the past several days, I could be kicking myself that I didn't accomplish more of my goals. But that's what they were: just goals. Just things that I wanted to do for myself. Sure, they have their place, but why should they be so much more important than the person who is struggling and needs someone to help them sort things out?

As Romans 12:10 states, "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor." This doesn't mean to drop everything every time someone wants you to do something, but consider each situation. Are you showing that person brotherly affection and honor in the way you plan to respond? How important are their needs?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Ranting of Weather

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: ... "Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war? What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth? "Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no man is, on the desert in which there is no man, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground sprout with grass? Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew? From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?"

- Job 38:1, 22-29

The weather can be a great instant jumping point for conversation when one doesn't know what else to say, especially if it has been unusual. Lately at work I have heard a lot of comments about the shockingly high volume of snowfall where I live. Who knew the weather could become such a controversial matter! Half the people are grumbling that they cannot wait for it to go, and others (like myself) are next thing to bouncing with excitement over how white our wold has turned.

The one thing we often lose sight of is that the weather is more than just the result of a bunch of atmospheric pressure. Stop and think: what causes the conditions that cause the weather? It all goes back to God. Many of us find ourselves praying that the weather will be favorable to our whims, but in the moments of actually experiencing it, are we still thinking of God? Do we thank Him when we experience weather we enjoy? What about when we hate the current weather conditions?

Whatever it is doing out there, remember Who is causing it all, and let that drive your response. If you love the weather, give credit to God for His great blessing! If you despise the conditions, remember that it is still God who brought them on, and pray that He will help you be content no matter what comes at you from the sky.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Where Does The Time Go?

We've had a rather extended autumn where I live this year! Just the other day, I walked outside and still saw trees with orange leaves all over them- yeah, in December! It's crazy. Usually the trees are bare early in November. We've been blessed with many t-shirt and light jacket sort of days, and I've thoroughly enjoyed every single one of them. 

Along the way, I began to really grow accustomed to our 50-60 degree days, almost forgetting that winter weather was a possibility. This morning, I was reminded that though it had been so warm, winter was drawing near all along- and suddenly, here it was. Our first snow day of the season! According to the forecast, we are to be in the 20's-30's for an entire week. What on earth happened? Where did my October go?

It felt like I had no warning for winter; it felt like it would never arrive, and I could keep living in this temperate bliss forever. This, of course, is entirely wrong: I'd seen the forecast (and admittedly, kind of laughed it off). People often do the same thing in regards to the coming of Christ- even His followers. We hear about it, we are aware that it will come, but it just always feels like something for later. Plus, really, why even think about it? We're so comfortable where we are at, so there's no sense thinking about future changes just yet. 

We ought not to treat our Lord's coming in such a fashion. Unlike our sudden snow day, there will not be an option to haphazardly prepare ourselves the moment we discover He has come. What would you be doing differently if you knew you would be facing God in 24 hours?

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. - 2 Peter 3:10

Friday, December 2, 2016

Our Blurred Vision of a "Silent" Night

We all tend to take the story of Christ's birth for granted, and on top of that, our cultural depictions of the nativity have caused us to have an askew perception of what it all actually would have looked like. Due to this, many of us have lost (or perhaps never fully gained) an appreciation for the night of Jesus' birth and the hardship of those involved. Hardship, You wonder? But what about a "Silent Night"? 

Imagine it. You're required by your governing authorities to travel roughly 89 miles - without the use of modern vehicles. According to Google Maps, this would take around 30 hours under normal circumstances, but your wife is so pregnant she could pop at any time and likely has to travel slower. Once you get into town, all the boarding houses (which at the time would generally be large shared rooms without actual beds) are stuffed to the gills - you have nowhere else to turn, so you are forced to take up the innkeeper's offer to stay with the animals. 

If you've ever been in a barn, you know they are full of dirt, flies, manure, noise, and a general stench. That's a modern barn, with running water available to hose it out every now and then. The stables of that day would have been smaller, lacking any running water, and most in that day were small caves or cut-outs in stone. Top it all off by helping your young wife give birth to her first child in there- on the ground, with no anesthetic or sanitary precautions. Oh, and that cute wooden manger artists depict? Try a stone trough, full of old animal food, drool, possibly flies, and who-knows-what-all-else, to lay your newborn infant in. 

A lot to take in, is it not? Miraculous? Absolutely. Wonderful? Entirely. Silent and peaceful? Probably not. Nothing in scripture seems to warrant such an assumption, and really, why should it? Despite being the Son of God, Jesus Christ faced hardship at every turn throughout His life and death as a human on earth. Why would His birth be any different?

All this, however, is not to detract from the glory of it all. It IS a glorious occasion, and it shows the incredible humility of our Lord, to forego a dramatic kingly entrance (of which He absolutely deserves and could command!) and instead be born in this fashion. Remember these things as you celebrate throughout the Christmas season this year. Glorify Him, and don't get too caught up in the pageantry.

"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed [that is, his fiancĂ©e], who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn."  - Luke 2:1-7

Friday, November 25, 2016

Back on the Rock

"He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!" - Psalm 40:2-4

Being a hiker, this passage really stands out to me. When you're out in the wilderness, it is very possible that you could fall to your death if you slipped into a large pit; you have to avoid stepping in miry bogs, and you feel the stability of rocks under your feet. Even those who are not outdoorsy can still feel this imagery; sometimes we feel as if we've slipped into a mental bog that we cannot escape on our own, and at some point in time, we have all been dead in a pit of spiritual destruction.

Let us be thankful and continually praising God each day that He has saved us from that destruction and set us upon His firm foundation. Know that He is equally capable of pulling us from the miry bogs of sin and despair. Believe it. Hang onto it. Don't be afraid to share it so that others can know. Trust God, and never allow yourself to pridefully believe that you are the only one who can rescue yourself.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Sin and Temptation (is there a difference?)

"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." - James 1:12-15

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" - Romans 3:23

Two facts: 1.) We all have temptations which draw us towards particular sins. 2.) All of us at some point have sinned by giving into those temptations.

Those temptations can manifest themselves in a myriad of ways; we can be prone to a bad temper, discontentment, or gossip; we could be lustful towards other people, whether they be the opposite gender or the same as us; we can even have strong urges towards theft, manipulation, or murder. The list can go on and on! It isn't a sin for us to have such temptations plaguing us in our lives- it is, in fact, unfortunately normal, due to humanity having a sinful fallen nature. It does, however, become sin when we act upon those urges that pop into our minds and cause us to break God's law.

A frequent problem I notice among Christians (and have even had myself!) is to take note of the more obvious types of sin and temptation we see in others' lives and decide in our heads (and sometimes even out loud) that, "Nobody who does that could be a child of God." But what right have we to do that? We may be tempted and sin in different ways than other people, but remember, James 2:10 states that "Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." What's that mean? You and whoever you're looking at are in the same place. Stop trying to hold a moral high ground and pray for both them and yourself. Treat them how you wish to be treated, no matter what kind of person you observe them to be, remembering that you're both people made in the image of God. Be a genuine example of true Christlike love. Encourage positive change in them, and even more importantly, be changed more and more to the likeness of Jesus yourself.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Post-Election Post

Once again, it is the United States’ election season. At the time of my writing this, we are four days away from the day that the votes will be tallied and we will learn who gets to be the new head of the USA. As always, people are freaking out, and many of them are my fellow Christians. My question is, why? 

Yes, things will be different, and no, we may not always see eye to eye with the things that the candidates want to put into action. But why should we fret about it? History states that God takes care of His people, and that He knows when they need Him.

“God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” (Exodus 2:24-25) 

Yes, God knew. And while He did let them remain in unfavorable conditions for a considerable period, still, he came to their aid when the time was right. He always takes care of His people- we can see it all throughout the Bible. 

Now, you may be thinking, “Well, that was just talking about the children of Israel. We aren't born of them.” If so, let me remind you that those of us who are saved in Christ count as much as they do:

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:11-13)

Remember, friends, it's all going down just how God intends, no matter who you just found out is going to be in charge of the country. Whatever happens, no matter how much you dislike things, God is still there for us and working it all to His glory.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Be Thankful For Everything?

It’s November, and as Thanksgiving draws nearer, I’ve begun to notice people online trying to be more aware of the blessings they have experienced over the past year and focus on the good in their lives. But what if we have had a hard year? Do we just try to tune out most of the events of the past months and go into a tunnel-vision focus on particular things that we enjoyed? Or is there something deeper we ought to consider as we wander through these dimly lit portions of life?

Recently, I encountered this verse in Thessalonians; “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). That's tough. In ALL circumstances? Really? Yep, really. It's not any easier for me than it is for you, believe me. But it's the truth, and on top of that it is a command from God. But how can we do this? Certainly not by our own power.

We must pray that God would help increase in our trust in Him, and remember what the Bible says of His character:

"The LORD is righteous in all His ways And kind in all His deeds." (Psalm 145:17), 

"The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all." (Psalm 103:19). 

While we may not be thankful for the specific undesirable circumstances we end up in, we can still give thanks to God that He is using those events as part of His plan, and that whatever it is, in following with his character, it will end well and allow us to in some way glorify Him.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Donation That Had To Stop

"Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the LordWhoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord's contribution..."    "...And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the Lord had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more." - Exodus 35:1-5a & Exodus 36:2-7

It really stood out to me here how excited everyone must have been to contribute to God's work in the camp. They gave so much that they were told to quit because there was more than was needed! How amazing. How eager are we to give our time, talent, and resources to aid the local church and ministry? Why or why not?  

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Gift of Ability

"The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you." - Exodus 31:1-6

I have been reading Exodus lately and recently got to the part about making the tabernacle and ceremonial attire/accessories. At first glance, those chapters looks like just a lot of instructions, but there are even lessons to be noted within passages such as this if you look for them. 

Notice that the people God called to be the official artists of the endeavor were not noted as being brilliantly creative. Rather, God called them and then He gave them the ability to do this great service for Him and their fellow people. While folks such as ourselves may not be in charge of creating a grand place of worship, this tidbit can still be greatly encouraging: God gives His people the ability to follow His commands. 

Whether we are called into something big like traveling missions work or simply just to live the layman's life and gain a more Christlike state of existence, He gives us the ability- we just need to consciously strive to do it, and do it for His glory.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A New Hope

My brother and I were on a road trip. I had doubts about the single lane farm road that my GPS wanted us to turn on, but we had all afternoon to get home, so I allowed my sense of adventure to take over and made the move. After nearly an hour of winding scenic roads (half of which were gravel!), we were coming down a large hill, finally nearing what appeared to be civilization, we saw this road sign. We laughed and cheered, partly because of the Star Wars reference and partly because the timing was so appropriate for us to see a "new hope".

Then I did a double-take: Loop. New Hope Loop. Loops lead in a circle and spit you back out right where you started. That's not hopeful! But how often is this exactly what many of our hopes do for us? We hold an event, item, or person  (maybe even ourselves!) up in our minds, putting our hope in them to make us feel happy or fulfilled. Eventually, things happen, and those hopes fall flat. Or, if our hope is fulfilled, the happiness only lasts for so long before we start in on another low and have to find something new to hope to find our fulfillment in. Thus, the loop repeats.

While there is nothing wrong with excitedly awaiting events, loving people, and even being satisfied with yourself, we should be careful not to elevate those things above God. He is the author of hope; let us keep our hope in His plan and purposes! 

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." - Romans 15:13

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything

There is a Veggie Tales silly-song that is well known among Christians who either had or were children in the early 2000's:

"We are the pirates who don't do anything
We just stay at home and lay around
And if you ask us to do anything...
We'll just tell you...
We don't do anything!"

Considering the fact that pirates are known to pillage and plunder and be an all-out horrible bunch, the idea of a band of pirates who sit around being lazy all day every day is a rather comical thought. It left me wondering something: could one really be a pirate without doing anything? Isn't piracy action-based? It is centered around robbing people, after all. It then occurred to me, "...A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven." (John 3:27). This includes our time. 

Now, granted, every minute we have here on earth is given to us by God. We can't exactly steal what is given as a gift. We can, however, waste it, which is nearly as bad. We are told that, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ." (Colossians 3:23-24). If we are expected to use the time given to us to serve and glorify God, would it be fair to assume that it is near-piracy to steal away precious minutes from our true calling and waste them on useless endeavors?

Friday, September 30, 2016

Describing God

I was thinking about adjectives the other day. What words do we use to describe things? Then I flipped to the back of my Bible and started searching out which adjectives were used to describe God. I ended up with a much larger list than I anticipated- but should that really be a surprise? Probably not, because God will always be far more amazing than we will ever be able to comprehend or describe.

All of the verses referenced here are in the ESV translation - if you're using something different, the adjectives could vary. I encourage you to consider what each of these words mean, both in definition and how they relate to God and in turn what that means for your relationship with Him. When you stop and think about the way God describes Himself to us through His word, He continues to become even greater to contemplate.

Almighty (Job 40:2)
Alpha  & Omega (Rev. 1:8)
Awesome (Psalm 111:9)
Blessed (Psalm 89:52)
Builder (Heb 11:10)
Compassionate (James 5:11)
Creator (1 Peter 4:19)
Crucified (1 Cor. 1:23)
Deliverer (Romans 11:26)
Everlasting (Is. 9:6)
Exalted (Psalm 108:5)
Faithful (Psalm 145:13)
Father (Is. 9:6)
Forgiving (Psalm 86:5)
God of Glory (Acts 7:2)
Good (Nahum 1:7)
Gracious (Psalm 116:5)
Great (Psalm 145:3)
Helper (Heb. 13:6)
Immortal (1 Tim. 1:17)
Jealous (Ex. 20:5)
Judge (Psalm 7:11)
Just (Psalm 111:7)
Kind (Psalm 145:13)
King (Psalm 29:10)
Lamb (John 1:29)
Light (Psalm 27:1)
Lord (Lev. 19:2)
Love (1 John 4:16)
Majesty (Job 37:22)
Maker (Psalm 95:6)
Merciful (Neh. 9:31)
Powerful (Psalm 29:4)
Propitiation (1 John 2:2)
Pure (Psalm 12:6)
Redeemer (Job 19:25)
Refuge (Psalm 46:1)
Resurrection (John 11:25)
Righteous (Psalm 11:7)
Rock (Psalm 18:2)
Salvation (Psalm 27:1)
Savior (Titus 2:13)
Shines (Psalm 50:2)
Slow to anger (Nahum 1:3)
Sovereign (Rev. 6:10)
Spirit (John 4:24)
Splendor (Psalm 104:1)
Steadfast (Psalm 86:13)
Strong (Proverbs 18:10)
Stronghold (Psalm 9:9)
Teacher (John 13:14)
Trustworthy (Psalm 111:7)
Truth (John 14:6)
Unchangeable (Job 23:13)
Unsearchable (Eph 3:8)
Upright (Psalm 33:4)
[the] Way (John 14:6)
Wonderful (Is. 9:6)
[the] Word (John 1:1)
Worthy [of praise] (Psalm 18:3)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Those Trying Times

"Welcome to solitary confinement,"  are words which undoubtedly once echoed through this room as a prisoner would get shoved through the open door into the small dark room. While none of us have likely been imprisoned in a solitary cell, we may have gone through times where we mentally felt like it. Even King David went through a period like that, and in the process he penned this Psalm:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,

lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

(Psalm 13)

There are several things that can be noticed about David's stance in this psalm:

1.) His sorrow coexisted with his joy.

2.) He was considered a "man after God's own heart", yet he still experienced very difficult times and felt distant from God.

3.) He was praying to God, despite feeling distant and abandoned.

4.) He recognized that counseling himself during times of hardship leads to more sorrow- he needs God's counsel.

5.) He trusts, rejoices in, and praises God amidst the hard times.

How can you be more like David as you tackle life's challenges?

Friday, September 16, 2016

How a Cookie Showed Me Patience

I found a still-wrapped fortune cookie sitting out at work the other day. I love those things, so I nabbed it. Upon breaking it open, it took a considerable effort to yank the paper out of the center; it seemed to have gotten baked into a corner. Popping half the cookie in my mouth (and discovering it to be the most hard, stale cookie I'd ever bitten into), I read the fortune inside: "HAVE PATIENCE - IT WILL BENEFIT YOU". 

I had to chuckle at just how appropriate the fortune in that cookie was. The fact, however, is this: we as Christians will have many 'stale' circumstances in life that we would rather not have to take in, and unlike that cookie, we can't just throw them away (whoops. I did that. Guess I didn't have enough patience!). It will be easy to take things on with a sour attitude, to run from them entirely, or handle the situation in other unhealthy ways. This shouldn't be us.  "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23 tells us.

If we have the Holy Spirit in us, God will give us the strength and ability to have patience, even in the most trying times- but this doesn't mean it will take no effort on our part. Be willing to let things go, and be willing to endure what is before you, knowing that keeping your heart and mind aimed at God over the tough process will ultimately allow you to be closer to Him than you thought previously possible.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Slipping to the Spiderwebs.

Tip: If your hands are shaky or you are in a place of precarious balance, shoot using low aperture numbers (f/4 or below) and a high shutter speed to help compensate for camera shake.

Earlier this week I was taking a walk through the park and noticed the gorgeous fall colors beginning to show up a tad early along the river. My lens could zoom a little, but not quite as far as I wanted for the shot I was trying to get, so I strayed from the walking path and began to venture down toward the water. The entire time, I was shifting my gaze between my camera's view finder and the island I was trying to photograph. As would happen in such a circumstance, I started to lose my footing on the incline- fortunately, I caught myself. Looking up, it came to my attention that I would have ended up in the web of this massive spider, and on top of that, fallen into a blackberry bush, had I kept going!

Just as it is important to keep an eye on our physical footing, we ought to remember to be constantly aware of our spiritual footing as well. Stray too far in that regard and you will be far worse off than being covered in berries, scrapes, and having a large spider on your head! As 1 Corinthians says, "examine yourself!" Where are you headed? My high school youth group leader had this saying: "If it isn't bringing you closer to God, it is leading you away from Him." It may be nearly impossible to see  at the start, but every move you make (or even don't make!) takes you somewhere. Consider where you are heading.

"Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? - Unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" - 1 Corinthians 13:5

"Does not he see my ways and number all my steps? If I have walked with falsehood and my foot has hastened to deceit, let me be weighed in a just balance, and let God know my integrity!" - Job 31:4-6

Friday, September 2, 2016

Walking Without Light

It had been a hot day with temperatures soaring into the 100's, but I'd been dying to go for a hike, if even just a small one. Come evening, I grabbed my brother and headed out to meet up with some friends at the nearby state park. We enjoyed the cool of the late portion of the day and a lovely orange and blue sunset over the river. Eventually it became too dark to see much of the trail, so we flipped on our flashlight. All was great, until we reached the paved trail in the lower portion of the state park. Our light suddenly grew dim, then died completely. There were no street lights, and we were left in total darkness, except for the last bit of blueish sunset glinting up from the river. We would need to rely on the feel of the pavement beneath our feet to lead us to our goal... Wherever it was.

We can have moments like that in our spiritual lives too; things can be fine, then gradually your relationship with God starts to fade, then seemingly vanishes completely, leaving you in the dark. But just like you can revitalize a flashlight by throwing in some new batteries, your relationship with God can grow back into a spotlight in the foreground of your life when you begin to get back into His word regularly. It's not always easy, and often it starts off slow, but little by little, if you make time with Him habitual, you'll eventually find that God is the light you can't do without.

 "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." (Psalm 119:105)

Friday, August 26, 2016

First Impressions

“The man, the lord of the land, spoke roughly to us and took us to be spies of the land." - Genesis 42:30

Partway through the account of Joseph in Genesis, Joseph has been promoted to second in command in Egypt. During the massive famine that ravaged the land, Joseph's brothers came to Egypt to purchase food. By this point, it had been a considerable number of years ago that they had sold Joseph into slavery and they assumed he had likely died or been killed. They would have never guessed that the harsh Egyptian lord who stood before them could possibly be their long lost younger brother, and they certainly didn't think that this encounter could end up leading to one of the greatest blessings their family could have (an invitation to come set up residence on a nice parcel of land in that region!).

The fact is this: things aren't always what they seem- we can't take everything at face value or first impressions. When my friend and I were walking through Seattle, we didn't think terribly much of that iPhone billboard at the time. It was just another advertisement among many. Well, guess what? Later that day, it turned out to be the one landmark that enabled us to find our car after nearly two hours of searching! You just never know what God could use to ultimately bring about His blessings.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Cup Bearer

"Then Joseph said to him, “This is its [the dream's] interpretation: the three branches are three days. In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh's cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cup bearer. Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house... 

...On the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, he made a feast for all his servants and lifted up the head of the chief cup bearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. He restored the chief cup bearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand. But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief cup bearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him." 
- Genesis 40:12-23

How often are we like the cup bearer in this situation in regards to God's blessings in our lives? How many times in our lives has God provided for us, but ended up going without the proper thanks or even a second thought from us? So often it can feel like where we are is our own doing- we worked hard for this, we made the choices that brought us to this position; while yes, we have been making choices, it is God who directed our steps and provided the opportunities and the impactful people we've met along the way.

Even if we are not currently in a high point in life, it is worth remembering that things could always get worse, were it not for God and His mercy holding back some of life's trials from us. Whether you are at a high point or a low point in life, take a step back and consider the blessings He has given you, whether in the form of the amazing things that have happened or in the form of the terrible things that could have yet did not.

Give thanks to God today, and every day. To Him be all glory.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Navigating the Path of Life

Tip: Pay attention to your light spots, especially if you are shooting near or under trees. You may need to move your subject into a light patch (or alternately, a shade patch, if you so choose) to keep the colors even.

Many of us are familiar with Proverbs 3:5-6, where we are told to acknowledge the Lord in all our ways and He will make our paths straight. As I was scrolling through some photos I've taken over the past 12 months, I saw the one above and it reminded me of that passage. Upon looking it up, I noticed there is so much more to it that is important to take to heart. All of Proverbs 3 is full of wonderful truths, but verses 3-8 especially struck me:

"Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
    bind them around your neck;
    write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
    in the sight of God and man.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
    and refreshment to your bones."

Not that I am some health & wealth gospel sort of person, but I believe the verses that state the healthful benefits of following the Lord's ways can absolutely be taken in the literal sense. I must confess that as of late, I've had a very difficult time displaying steadfast love to those around me, my faithfulness in constant Bible study has been failing, I've had doubts of God's direction for my life, and in many areas I've not acknowledged Him and consequently leaned upon my own understanding. 

Guess what? I had the most miserable month of my life as a result. Stress levels increased, I slept less, energy and appetite decreased, my general attitude wasn't great and over all I just felt sick and unhappy. Have you been struggling? Know you aren't alone, but also know this: it's time to redirect. It's time to be faithful again, it's time to be loving again, it's time to put your trust back in God instead of yourself, and it's time to turn away from evil. Not simply for your sake, but for the glory of your Creator. It won't be easy. We might even fail a number of times, but let's do this.