VLOG: Christian Apologetics in light of Islam (part 3 of 5)

The Holy Spirit has laid it upon my heart to share of conversations over the past near decade with dear friends from the Islamic faith regarding Christian doctrine. In this five part series, we will explore why Jesus had to die, if there is really only one God, which apostles should we follow, what the Christian church believes regarding other creeds and how does one decide what is right and what is ultimately wrong. May the Lord Jesus Christ be glorified and draw hearts to Himself for He alone is worthy.

 

Mass Shootings In America

“Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. “So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”

Matthew 10: 26-31 (NASB)

 

In the wake of yet another mass shooting that has claimed the lives of various ages, America finds itself soul searching. The nation is left to wonder, what would drive someone to kill; again. And some have questioned as to the goodness and very essence of God, as a result of allowing such evil within a place of worship. Yet, as Christians, may our minds not be filled with confusion, but rather reassurance from the Word of God.

 

“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 15:50-58 (NASB)

 

Ladies, may we take an honest assessment of the world in which we live; the devil is very much on the move. He is influencing the hearts and minds of willing individuals to steal, kill and destroy property, values and even the very lives of others. Yet, this sinister plan to devastate humanity is nothing new for the devil. In fact, the devil has prodded willing individuals and groups to carry out his dastardly deeds against the plans of God. We see this first hand in the account of Adam and Eve within the book of Genesis chapter 3. God had specifically called one tree off limits for Adam and Eve, yet the devil was able to plant seeds of doubt and discontentment which gave way to rebellion and ultimate death (Genesis 3:1-24).

 

Jesus Christ put it this way, “”The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

John 10:10 (NASB)

 

Amidst yet another time of great grieving, and sincere loss, as a follower of Jesus Christ, may we not lose our eternal perspective of the sheer sovereignty of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ (John 16:33)! May we pray to the God over all to provide the essential comfort and healing for each and every individual affected by the loss of life (Psalm 34:18, Psalm 147:3 & Isaiah 57:15).

 

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 34:18 (NASB)

 

May we claim the truths of the Holy Bible that nothing can pluck us out of the hand of Almighty God once we have entrusted our lives to Jesus Christ (John 3:16, John 17:6, John 17:12, John 18:8-9, Galatians 3:28-29, 1 John 1:9-10, 1 John 4:9-10) . The families who are grieving are indeed needing comfort from the Holy Spirit, but praise God Almighty that as believers in Jesus Christ, they do grieve without hope.

 

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NASB)

 

Contrary to the popular preaching of “prosperity gospel”—which twists passages from the Holy Bible to imply that a true follower of Jesus Christ should never endure hardship, health problems or suffering of any kind—simply stated, this is not taught anywhere in the Bible. In fact, within the Holy Bible, in the book of Hebrews 11:1-40 (also known as the “Hall of Faith”) heroes of the faith are listed long with the great difficulties they endured before achieving greatness for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yet, the final verses of chapter 11 also speak of the mistreatment for the same God.

 

35Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; 36and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38(men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.”

Hebrews 11:35-38 (NASB)

 

 

Ladies, may we see the full picture of those who follow Jesus Christ. We are given eternal security and peace with God Almighty through Jesus Christ; yes, this is ironclad truth. Thank you, Jesus! BUT this does not mean that we may not suffer extreme hardship within our lives that may include persecution, torture or even death. Why? Because this is a fallen world since humanity rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden. But praise God for our Risen Savior Jesus Christ who came to seek and save all who call upon His eternal name (Luke 19:10, John 3:17 & 1 Timothy 1:15).

 

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you. Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him and be firm in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world. Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little.”

1 Peter 5:6-10 (HCSB)

 

Suffering is not a topic that anyone enjoys, but within a fallen world with many forms of evil, as followers of Jesus Christ, may we RUN TO A WORLD THAT IS DYING with the secure hope of eternity through the perfect life, innocent death and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ the reigning and eternal King. 

 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;”

1 Peter 1:3-7 (NASB)

 

Ladies, if you find yourself reading this today and wondering, “then what the heck is the point?!” The point is that various trials on this earth are used like refining fire is used to purify and burn out impurities of both gold and silver (Psalm 66:10, Proverbs 17:3 & Daniel 12:10).

When we experience hard times or witness mass injustice, our souls cry out for justice. When we see heinous acts committed against innocent lives, we want to see someone pay for the violation. And on a much broader scale, this is exactly what Jesus Christ did when He came to earth for each and every breathing soul (Isaiah 53:5-6). Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18, Luke 1:35), lived a perfect life as God in the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15), and died a criminal’s death as an innocent man (1 John 3:5). Who did He die for? He died for me…and you…and the rest of humanity from every language, tribe and people group. Why? Because the Holy Bible states that each of us have fallen short of the perfect standard that is expected by a truly righteous and just God (Romans 3:23). And as a result of our rebellion to meeting the standard of God, justice needed to be paid. And that is exactly what Jesus fulfilled in His coming! Praise the Lord! He paid the price that not one of us could (1 Peter 1:18-19). And in return, gave us a reward that not one of us could earn (Luke, 23:42-43, Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:23-27, 1 John 4:9-10).

If you have never accepted the Lord Jesus into your own heart, I encourage you to do so this very day. This world is only a blink of the eye in relation to eternity. Secure where you stand with Almighty God, now, I beg you. Receive the cleansing from all wrong doing and shameful acts that mar each of our hearts before receiving the washing of Jesus Christ of our souls.

 

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:8-9 (NASB)

 

You can pray with me now. If you mean these words before God, you can be assured that Jesus Christ has come into your heart.

 

Dear Jesus, I have made mistakes and missed the mark of perfection. I ask for You to forgive me and to come into my heart as the leader and Lord of my life forever. I believe that You are the Son of God. Thank you for taking my screw ups upon Yourself and taking the penalty for me. Thank You for then giving me eternal life for believing in You. Help me to honor You with how I live. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

 

If you have just prayed that prayer, please reach out to a local pastor or even this blog post so we can encourage you and celebrate with you! Praise the Lord for new life through Jesus Christ!

 

“He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His faithful love toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:10-12 (HCSB)

 

 

 

 

As The Wind Blows

A while back, in the midst of cleaning the house and preparing meals, our toddler son brought in a beautiful bouquet of little yellow flowers from our backyard. He proudly walked up and held them out to me with a broad smile and his chest puffed out. He had picked these just for me and he was overflowing with anticipation for me to take his gift. I had been so busy and tired that day… as had pretty much been the case for every day previous that year as my husband was traveling much for business. But, something about the way he approached me caused me to pause. I knelt down and smiled warmly as my heart was reminded of a dream the Lord had given me years prior.

 

In this dream, I saw streetlights at night along a beautiful park. These stately lights then turned into burnt matchsticks that were bent over and smoldering. And from there, I could see dandelion seeds taking flight from the smoldering matchstick as the wind blew. At the time of the dream, I was preparing for the missions field and a foreign culture. Yet all the while, I had a strong sense that this dream would apply to a later time, but had no idea what it could mean. Then, after marrying my husband and moving to the Middle East with our precious ten-month-old son and our precious toddler daughter in toe, something struck a cord within my soul.

 

I was burnt out, feeling overwhelmed and utterly out of ideas of what to do with our littles in the day. I needed a break—so I thought. I needed to just get away and recharge—so I kept telling myself. Yet, as I would meet with a wise, older Christian woman about once a month, I was blessed to glean from her insights on life. And among them, she kept pointing out how much the Lord uses us mothers to forward the kingdom of God here on earth. And it is not simply on our “refreshed days”, but often times through our heartache and times of great need for intervention of His divine nature, that we are able to see and experience His presence all the more profoundly.

 

After another wonderful time with this precious older woman of the faith while still in the Middle East, I headed back to our home to my husband and our now sleeping children. I could not shake the feeling that I was missing out on something. That somehow I was focusing on the wrong things during our time abroad. And then, the dream of the dandelion seeds in the wind came back to mind as I thought of our children.

 

Because of Your adversaries, You have established a stronghold from the mouths of children and nursing infants to silence the enemy and the avenger.” Psalm 8:2 (HCSB)

 

It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was that burnt out instrument and complaining rather than seeking the Lord’s guidance and continual renewal. I was that smoldering match. But, what encouraged my heart—and what was affirmed through prayer in that moment—was the reality that raising Christ loving and Christ following children is vital in combatting the enemies of God. Stay with me here….It is in such seasons of prolonged fatigue and sleepless nights that God was able to show Himself all the more glorious in my own story. It was when I was willing to cry out with my need for Him and claim the truths of His Living Word, contained within the Holy Bible, that I would find a renewed sense of focus, meaning and willful hope. Perhaps you too can relate. It is when I have been willing to say, “this one is so far beyond me, Lord…I just cannot go another step. Please take the lead. I just want to honor You”

It is there, in that very moment that the Lord intervenes in truly miraculous ways that astound the mind and baffle the senses.

 

“He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.” Psalm 40:2 (NLT)

 

All these memories came rushing back to me as I hugged my son and thanked him for his flowers before he ran back outside to play with our daughter who was already on the rope swing. And as I walked into my husband and I’s master bathroom to place my new bouquet next to the very same type of flower bouquet my daughter had given me just the day previous, my eyes saw something that affirmed it all. Where the delicate little flowers had rested the day previous, now white little puffballs were bloomed in their place.

 

It was such a profound and meaningful encouragement to my heart from the Lord. Although I was indeed exhausted and trying to take care of two extremely active children, the fact remained—these children are my seeds.

 

As mothers, and women in general, we have the awesome privilege to not only physically, but also spiritually invest into the lives of our children. And whether it’s a “good day” or “bad day”, they watch us to see how we choose to respond to the circumstances the Lord allows into our day.

 

He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights.” Psalm 18:33 (NLT)

 

Ladies, I encourage you this every moment, to ask the Lord above to breathe afresh upon you. He can take any situation and breathe life, hope and direction into it (Ezekiel 37). Acknowledge your need for His guidance, favor and continual mercy amidst the chaos (Psalm 71:20). Ask the Lord to breathe anew upon your soul to refresh you in this time of need—right where you are—so that you may glorify Him even in your fatigue and responsibility (Psalm 138:7). Ladies, please take this to heart, the care and guardianship of the next generation is of highest importance to the Lord (Genesis 1:28, Psalm 113:9, Psalm 127:3, Mark 10:14).

 

Thus, may we not only be in prayer for this next generation daily, but may we pray for the Lord to equip us to minister, mold and model lives that are sold out to the cause of Jesus Christ. May we be willing to follow the Lord in obedience and speak of His eternal glories to the little ones of this upcoming generation.

 

In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall.” Psalm 18:29 (NLT)

Through the power of His holy name, we have been given not only the victory over hell, but over all forms of confusion, fatigue, inferiority, comparing and all other forms of evil that the devil would love to use to discourage us as mamas, and women in general. Take back what is yours, as a daughter of the Most High; take back the victory that was handed to you personally as Jesus Christ victoriously defeated evil and it’s many forms as He bore our sins upon the cross and gave us His healing (Isaiah 53:3).

 

“For Your faithful love is higher than the heavens, and Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. God, be exalted above the heavens, and let Your glory be over the whole earth.” Psalm 108:4-5 (HCSB)

 

Walk in it. Own it. Ask the Lord to blow upon the current situations in your own life and take His message of hope, restoration, peace and healing to all people groups who are in critical need of encouragement (Ezekiel 19:10).

 

May the LORD cause you to flourish, both you and your children.” Psalm 115:14 (NIV)

Easter: Victory for the Soul (Part III)

The detachment of soldiers with its commander, along with the Jewish officials, arrested Jesus and bound Him (John 18:12). All of the remaining eleven faithful disciples then scattered and left Jesus to be taken by Judas and those who desired to bring Him to death; just as Jesus had prophesied (John 16:32).

Peter followed at a distance with John, as Jesus was then taken to Annas, the father-in-law of the High Priest that year, who was Caiaphas. Time had become a blur for the disciples as each soul-wrenching step of Jesus’ sorry excuse for a trial unfolded. He was beaten, slapped in the face, mocked and spit on (Isaiah 53:5, Matthew 20:28, Matthew 26:28 & Mark 10:45). Jesus was humiliated as He was dressed up with a military robe, made to wear a horrible crown made from twisted thorns and had a reed placed within his hand—as soldiers mocked him while laughing and bowing to their idea of a false king. They struck Him in the head repeatedly (Matthew 27:29-30 Mark 15:17 & John 19:2-3).

Within this depraved display of the rebellion of the human heart against the One whom in fact created all things, Jesus had been sent to Caiaphas, then before the entire assembly of the Jewish leadership, known as the Sanhedrin, where they met at daybreak and brought Jesus before them. The mighty Sanhedrin questioned Jesus as to whether or not He was in fact the Son of God (Luke 22:66-71). The Sanhedrin, as powerful as it was, did not have authority under Roman rule to crucify. Thus, Jesus was sent to Pilate to officially protest for the crucifixion of Jesus the Christ. Yet, Pilate found no such cause for death of this “King of the Jews” (Luke 23:4). Pilate, after learning that Jesus was a Galilean, sent Him to be seen by Herod Antipas, seeing as he held jurisdiction there and resided in Jerusalem (Luke 23:6-7). As a result of the cruel treatment Jesus suffered under Herod, Pilate and Herod (whom had been hostile towards one another up until that point) became friends that day (Luke 23:11-12). The badly beaten Jesus was then sent back to Pilate where three times Pilate appealed to the people that he found no grounds by which to kill Jesus—even stating that Herod found no cause to kill Him, hence Jesus had been sent back to Pilate (Matthew 27:21-26, Mark 15:7-15 & Luke 23:13-17).

The Jewish leadership and outcry of the people for Jesus’ death had won out over facts. A terrorist of the day and known murdered, Barabas, had been released to the people—as they chanted and shouted for the death of Jesus and affirmed their desire to have Barabas back within their society in order to ensure the death of Jesus (Luke 23:18-25). Jesus had been led out of the city of Jerusalem to the Place of Skull to be crucified with a criminal on either side of Him (Luke 23:32-33). On the way there, the brutally beaten, whipped and bleeding humanity of Jesus was unable to carry His own death instrument. Thus, a man by the name of Simon, a Cyrenian, was made to carry the cross on which Jesus would momentarily be nailed and killed upon—until the final destination was reached (Luke 23:26).

Once at the Place of the Skull, large nails were then driven Jesus’ hands and feet. This was the most brutal and barbaric killing instrument of that day. And it was reserved for only the worst of criminals. Yet, here was Jesus the Christ, proven to be innocent by even Pilate and Herod, and he was experiencing a criminal’s death. It could not have even been carried out upon a Roman citizen. Thus Jesus, as an innocent substitute for each and every one of the human race, bore the brutal punishment of death upon a cross (Romans 8:28). To speed up the process, at the urging of the Jews, the Roman soldiers were instructed by Pilate to break the legs of those upon the cross to cause the arms to stretch higher above the head, ushering the arrival of death quicker—seeing as the following day was the Sabbath (John 19:31-32). Yet, this was not done to the Lord Jesus Christ as He was not a victim of His circumstances, but rather He had willfully determined to go through the brutal death of humanity in order to ransom His creations (Isaiah 53:9-11, Romans 5:18, Philippians 2:8 & 1 Peter 2:24).

 

“This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father.” John 10:17-18 (HCSB)

 

While enduring the cross and continued atmosphere of satanic celebration, the soldiers divided Jesus’ clothing by casting lots (Psalm 22:18 & Matthew 5:44). Jesus had publicly cried out to His Father in heaven to “forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He had also assured the penitent thief on the cross next to Him that “today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43). When all had been accomplished to fulfill the prophesies of the Old Testament of the Lord Jesus, He cried out in a loud voice “It is finished!” and gave up His spirit (John 19:30).

The crowd gathered below was a mixture of demonic taunting and agonizing screams of horror and pain. When it came time to break the legs of Jesus, He had in fact already died (John 19:33). This fulfilled the prophesy of the Psalms and the prophets (Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12 & Psalm 34:20). The rocks split and the veil within the Holy of Holies of the Temple split from top to bottom as a result of Jesus giving up His spirit (Matthew 27:51). The punishment for the depravity of all humanity had in fact been paid in full (Matthew 27:45-53, Mark 15:33-38, John 3:16, Galatians 3:13-14 & Titus 2:14).

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  1 John 4:9-10 (HCSB)

It was still dark out on the morning of the third day since Jesus’ death. Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Salome were heading to the tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, where the body of Jesus had been laid three days prior (John 19:38). It was now the third day since His brutal death on the cross. The women, with heads covered and ash covered faces, walked towards the borrowed tomb. It was daybreak and they were coming to place the customary spices upon the body of Jesus (Mark 16:1). They began to ask one another whom would open the tomb for them to complete their task; seeing as a large stone had been rolled across the entrance and Roman soldiers had been stationed in front of it to ensure it stay closed (Mark 16:3). Yet, as the women approached the mountain from which the tomb had been carved, there was a violent earthquake! The large stone—which had been secured by the Roman soldiers to avoid potential body snatchers (Matthew 27:64-66)—was no longer in front of the opening of the tomb at all! No, in this hour of daybreak, still from a distance, it appeared to the women as if the massive stone door had been rolled away (Matthew 28:2, Mark 16:4, Luke 24:2 & John 20:1)! The women hurried to the tomb, not sure as to what had taken place. But as they entered the tomb, not one of them could locate the body of their crucified Lord Jesus Christ. Rather, two men in glowing clothes appear next to them and the women fall to the ground in utter fear.

Why are you looking for the living among the dead? ” asked the men6He is not herebut He has been resurrected!  Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee7saying‘The Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful menbe crucifiedand rise on the third day’? ” 8And they remembered His words.” Luke 24:5-8 (HCSB)

Mary of Magdala, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women ran back to alert Simon Peter and John of this terrifying and exciting news.

“So she ran to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him!” John 20:2 (HCSB)

Simon Peter and John simply could not believe what was being shared and they set out for the tomb themselves. John outran Peter and looked inside, seeing the burial clothes and no body. Peter finally arrived and also saw the burial clothes and noted that the cloth used to cover the face of Jesus had been folded up and placed separately (John 20:3-7). At seeing this for themselves, both Simon Peter and John returned home (John 20:10). Mary of Magdala remained facing the tomb of her missing Lord. As she wept, she stooped down to see into the tomb and she was amazed at what her eyes beheld! In the place of the missing body of her Lord Jesus, there sat two angels; one where His head was and another angel where His feet were! The angels asked her why she was crying. Mary of Magdala explained that her Lord Jesus’ body was missing and that she didn’t know where to find Him (John 20:11-13).

14Having said thisshe turned around and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not know it was Jesus.

15“Woman,” Jesus said to her“why are you cryingWho is it you are looking for? ”

Supposing He was the gardenershe replied, “Sirif you’ve removed Himtell me where you’ve put Himand I will take Him away.”

16Jesus said“Mary.”

Turning aroundshe said to Him in Hebrew“Rabbouni!”  — which means “Teacher.”

17“Don’t cling to Me,” Jesus told her“for I have not yet ascended to the Father.  But go to My brothers and tell them that I am ascending to My Father and your Father — to My God and your God.”

18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord! ” And she told them what He had said to her.”

John 20:14-18 (HCSB)

Jesus Christ’s resurrection over death and the grave is essential to the heart and soul of every individual to ever tread this vast planet. It is the most passionate expression of unconditional love, unyielding loyalty and determined redemption in all of human history. The Creator of all things, was willing to ransom humanity out of the place of depravity and eternal condemnation by taking upon Himself the shame, guilt and suffering due for each foolish, manipulative and sinful thing each and every person on this spinning rock have ever done. And in return—what’s in it for us? A new identity—complete reset. Forgiveness and pardon from every twisted and even unspeakable things we have said, thought or did. It’s all covered by the brutal price He was willing to pay—to show you, and each person alive—that your life has eternal meaning, your days have infinite value, a you are deeply loved by the God who made you.

As Jesus ascends into heaven, the baton had been passed in a sense. Jesus had charged His disciples to now GO into all the world and tell everyone about Him and the NEW LIFE that is available to ALL PEOPLE from EVERY NATION by calling upon the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior for cleansing and redemption (Joel 2:28-32, Mark 16:16, Luke 24:45-47, Acts 2:21, Acts 16:31, Romans 10:13). And the beautiful thing—this message of radical redemption is still available for one and all for all time. If you have never made a decision to follow the Risen Savior, Jesus Christ, I encourage you to do so this very day and get cleaned, forgiven and eternally set right with Almighty God. You are worth it…Jesus Christ proved it (Revelation 5:12).

Happy Easter, one and all. He is risen! Jesus Christ is risen, indeed!

Tangible Gifts of Thanks for Family, Friends and Mentors This Holiday Season

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:15-17 (NASB)

 

As Thanksgiving is upon us in only a matter of hours away, take a moment to assess your true feelings of giving thanks. Are they determined by a situation or by the unchanging status of our Lord, Jesus Christ? As I have reflected within my own life, I have come to the conclusion that the world only champions certain blessings. And for other types of godly blessings (e.g. heartache, difficulty and trials), the world looks on. What’s my point? If we aren’t focused on the Word of God and living thankful lives, as referenced in the Scriptures, it is easy to grow complacent.

 

The Bible speaks of many gifts the Lord has given to us through Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:3-11). Ladies, bottom line, we have everything we need to live a life that is pleasing to God and a blessing to others. I love that even in times of not knowing what to say or even what to pray, the Lord encourages us to come to Him for wisdom (James 1:5)! Thus, if you find yourself feeling a tad bit overwhelmed by the social pressures around you as the holiday season revs up—silence all devices and sit at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:39 & Luke 10:42). After a time of serious refreshment, check out these five gift ideas to express thanks to those who have made an impact on your life.
As you consider who you would like to bless this Thanksgiving season with an encouragement, the biggest thing is to pray for the person by name. Ask the Lord to bless and direct the steps of the individual.

 

Idea #1. A Ray of Sunshine Bottle: This is a fun way to create a memorable gift that will be treasured for years to come! Take fifteen to twenty paper strips and write out an encouraging verse or personal encouragement for the recipient. Fold the notes, or “rays of sunshine”, in half and place into a small mason jar or other glass container. Now add a little glitter to the jar, close it up and shake. Tie a ribbon around the lid, and deliver!

 

Idea #2. Shadow Box of Memories: Gather some little items that represent the times you have shared together. For example, little pebbles or leaves from a path you walk together. Arrange them within the shadow box and write a short card sharing something you have learned from the recipient on such a walk together.

 

Idea #3. A Steaming Basket: This is a great gift for those who enjoy a hot cup of something to warm up as the weather continues to cool off. Gather an assortment of individually sealed tea, coffee, hot cider and/or hot cocoa and display them in a small wicker basket, atop a pretty seasonal napkin or decorative straw. Wrap some burlap and ribbon around the basket and add a little verse to complete the gift (e.g. Psalm 18:46, Psalm 46:10, 2 Peter 1:3 & Matthew 6:10)

 

Idea #4. Bouquet of Thorns: This one may sound a bit unconventional, but it really is a blessed reminder of God’s faithfulness in the midst of difficulty. Inspired by a Revive Our Hearts podcast this past Thanksgiving. Go to the florist and ask for a bouquet of roses…without the rose heads. Ask for a beautiful bow to be tied around the rose stems. The bouquet of thorns signifies that there is beauty that comes out of seasons of discomfort, longing and even great heartache. Include a card to accompany the bouquet. Encourage the recipient that you are praying for them in their season of great difficulty for the Lord to provide His strength, steadfast love and ability to praise God in the midst of it all (Psalm 34:18, Psalm 145:18, Isaiah 57:15).

 

Idea #5. Three Ingredient Cupcakes: Ok, ladies, this is a total favorite in our home! Three ingredients…no eggs…super easy! Mix 1 cake mix (chocolate, vanilla, yellow or white) with one 15 oz. can of Libby’s Pumpkin…add 2 cups chocolate or butterscotch chips. Mix and put into oven. Cook for 20-25 minutes at 350F. Done. Delicious…instant win!

 

No matter how you choose to bless someone in this season, remember that you are a blessing in their lives—not simply the gift you bring.

Jesus Feeds the 5,000-As Told By Those Present

Jesus feeds the 5,000

(based on Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17 & John 6:1-15)

 

“Calev! Over here! You came just in time.” The excitement within the voice of the young man could not be contained as he slapped his friend on the shoulder of his tunic.

 

“I came as quickly as I could.” Calev answered, still a bit winded from running to the sea’s edge to meet up with the others. “My master said that I had finished my tasks at the dock for the day and could leave to follow Baruch at once.”

 

Baruch, whom had also just sat down, quickly accepted the basket of bread and fish for those seated around them from Jesus’ disciple, Philip. As the disciple of Jesus walked to yet another group of one hundred people gathered within the grass near the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the young men began to talk of the recent news.

 

“Did you hear what happened to the man called John the Baptist?” Calev asked quietly. “The whole city is buzzing with questions of what Jesus will do. That was His cousin, you know.”

 

“If you ask me,” Seth began with a mouth full of bread and a piece hanging from his beard, “there is something very unique about this Jesus.”

 

Seth’s wife, Eliana, agreed as she tucked her hair back under her head covering before continuing, “This Jesus of Nazareth has amazed and astonished those from every social and economic circle. He truly seems like a god in nature.”

 

The large crowd continued to grab bread out of the baskets from the middle of their arranged groups as they reclined on the ground. In this time, the sun began to set behind the mountains.

 

Baruch looked at Jesus in the distance, who was healing the sick along the shore. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I would not have seen it with my own eyes.”

 

“What do you mean, Baruch?” His brother Calev seemed puzzled.

 

“When aunt Miriam told us about the wedding she had attended a few summers back—you remember—the one that she had us work her shift in order for her to attend the event—well, she spoke of the wine running out! Aunt Miriam then told us that a woman, she said that the woman was the mother of this Jesus, went to those running the party and had them do as Jesus then instructed. What Aunt Miriam said next sounded so crazy, I just blew it off as one of her embellished stories. But, seeing this Jesus of Nazareth healing people on the shore, right now before my eyes, makes me think that perhaps Jesus really did do what Aunt Miriam said took place at that wedding. Maybe He really did turn water into wine—and it taste so good that others wondered why the good wine had been saved until that point in the wedding festivities—you know—seeing as most can’t tell the difference by that point of drinking anyway.”

 

“Yeah,” Calev recalled, “I too remember Aunt Miriam speaking adamantly about the water being changed into wine. No way! Guys, look at that!” All of the young men looked down to the water’s edge where Calev was frantically pointing. “That man, do you recognize him?!” The friends’ countenance each turned to shock as they saw the man not only standing, but jumping around. “That is old man Gamliel, the one who has sat crippled outside our city gates for the past decade after his accident! Look! He is no longer being carried by his friends! See, there are his closest friends Aharon, Gidon, Meshulam and mighty Hillel! After being touched by Jesus, he and his friends are jumping for joy and shouting in laughter!” The young men were amazed and laughed in sheer wonderment of the day’s events that continued to unfold before them.

 

“This is truly amazing.” Seth took a deep breath as he tried to make his brain accept all of the healings taking place by Jesus right before his eyes. Seth was a very logical man and nothing that they had experienced since following Jesus earlier in the day had been logical. As he ran his fingers through his dark curls, Seth noted the food that remained in the basket before them. “Guys, I am completely stuffed. I cannot finish the food in the basket. How about you?” All agreed that they could not take another single bite. Soon another of Jesus’ disciples, Luke, came around to collect any left over pieces of bread or remaining fish. When all was said and accounted for, twelve baskets were full to the brim, after the masses had grown completely satisfied.

 

Yigal, whom had been silently eating until this point finally spoke. “To think, each one of us have been fed by the tiny amount of food that was blessed by Jesus after He looked up to heaven to pray. Why, there must be about five thousand men; not to mention all the women and children bustling around as well.”

 

Eliana’s married older sister, Talia, agreed. “Yes, at least five thousand men alone to be sure! This is remarkable!”

 

“Yeah,” Seth added. “How incredible that the very meaning of our town, Bethsaida, means ‘house of fish’—and like you said, Yigal, bread and fish were miraculously provided for this entire mass of people! To be honest, I will never be the same after this encounter with Jesus of Nazareth!”

 

“Wait a minute, guys.” Yigal noted to his older friends. “Jesus is having His disciples get into the boat along the shore. They are leaving! Should we follow them again?!” Yigal himself was just fifteen years old.

 

“Look, Jesus is speaking! Quiet down everyone. I want to hear!” Baruch shouted as he pushed his palms to the ground. He was the noted leader of their group of friends. All stood up to hear what Jesus had to say. Jesus dismissed the masses for the evening and withdrew to the mountainside by Himself to pray. The day had seemed like something out of a dream for the group of young friends. Food for a population greater than a town from only five tiny loaves and two small fish, healings of men, women and children at the hands of Jesus and now, realizations that previous accounts of this Jesus of Nazareth were indeed verified and trustworthy. It was obvious that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, was not merely the son of a carpenter. No, this Jesus was connected to God Himself. And after today, many were added to the number of those who trusted their lives and hearts to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth; the true Messiah.

 

Hurdles, Mountains and the Valley of Achor

“On the day I called, You answered me;

You made me bold with strength in my soul.”

Psalm 138:3 (NASB)

 

Have you ever felt as though one challenging situation kept following another within your life? Perhaps you even wondered if there was something you could do to make the difficulties stop. Allow this to be refreshment to your heart and soul as you head to class, work or the great outdoors.

 

When hard times enter our lives, our tendency can be to isolate ourselves or fake our way through with a smile. Yet, once we are alone, the reality of the weight of the hardship remains and battles with depression or even doubting God’s goodness may ensue. Girlfriend, at that very moment, drop what you are doing and grab your Bible. Get alone with the Lord and pour your heart out to Him. He is ready to comfort you and sustain you in the midst of it all.

 

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

 

Regardless of zip codes, time zone or even make-up of our family, each life will experience hurdles, mountain tops as well as the valleys below. If you are in one of life’s valleys now, may I encourage you from the literal desert of the Middle East (Qatar to be specific) from God’s Word.

 

“Therefore, I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the days she came up out of Egypt.”

Hosea 2:14-15 (NIV)

 

Ladies, much like God rescued Israel from the hands of Pharaoh in Egypt (Deuteronomy 6:21), He rescues us in our individual stories as well! He will turn our Valley of Achor (which means “trouble”) into hope for His name’s sake. Whether the trouble, hurdle or heart ache you are experiencing is self induced or cause dby another source, hide your face in the Lord. Ask Him to provide you with the boldness and stoutheartedness needed to get to the other side of the valley. He will do it. He loves you and deeply values your heart and life (1 John 4:9).

 

As one who has walked through many valleys in life myself, I testify to you this day, with God you will truly overcome every heartache and difficulty of life. And girlfriend, He will bring you through your hard time too. He is in the business of turning troubled times into places of hope (Hosea 2:15). Claim it. Declare it. And hold fast to the reality of God’s Word.

 

“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)

 

Ask the Lord what He may be calling you to do. Is there something that scares you that perhaps God would like to address? Is there an unresolved matter that simply needs reconciliation? Are you concerned about your relationships or your loved ones? Take it to the Lord. He will direct you by His written Word, the Holy Bible and by speaking directly to your heart. You are precious and the situations that you are facing within your life are neither “too little” nor “too big” for God’s mighty care. Take them to Him today and allow His peace, that which surpasses the logic and understanding of this world, to penetrate and overtake the fears within your heart. Why? Because He is God and you are precious to Him.

 

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

1 Peter 5:6-7 (NASB)

 

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Hurdles, Mountains, and the Valley of Achor