Finding the Best during the Worst of Times

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”—Isaiah 41:10 (NIV).

 

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

So begins “A Tale of Two Cities,” written by Charles Dickens, a prolific British author. Published in 1859, this historical novel takes place during the French Revolution. If you reread Dickens’ opening paragraph, you might think he was describing today’s world.

In a sermon by Pastor John Piper, he said, “The same is true today: It is the best of times and the worst of times. Perhaps this is true at every point in the history of a God-ruled, sin-pervaded world. It was true in 1859, and it is true today.”

He will not leave you or forsake you.

Since the beginning of creation and the fall of Adam and Eve, our world has been defined by the best of times and the worst of times. As the author of Ecclesiastes wrote in the first chapter, verse nine, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Recently, a 14-year-old Owasso, Okla., student, J.J. Willis, made the news with a poem he wrote and recorded inside his mother’s minivan where it was quiet. The poem was inspired by the current political atmosphere stirring up hateful arguments—even among Christians—across social media.

In his video, Willis said “We’re all proud and arrogant, and we believe we’re always right. Things should be different.”

Finding Beauty in the Ashes of Life

The sin debt was stamped “paid in full.”

“To all who mourn in Israel he will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness. For God has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory”—Isaiah 61:3(TLB).

Photo by Carol Round

Bright yellow daffodils began to appear in late February in northeastern Oklahoma. Because of the mild winter weather, trees are budding, snakes are slithering and mosquitoes are buzzing.

While I don’t welcome the snakes or the bugs, I love the sight of flowers and trees announcing the upcoming spring weather. Even without a harsh winter, these sights bring renewed hope, especially for those, like me, who are struggling.

Out for a walk recently, I spotted a cluster of sunny daffodils sprouting from a tomb of rocks around a large oak tree in a neighbor’s yard. The contrast between the yellow flowers and the gray and brown mottled surface of the rocks drew my attention. The flowers, pushing their way through the harshness of the stone, reminded me of God’s promises.

In Isaiah 61:3, God promises the Israelites that He will give them beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning and praise instead of heaviness. They faced challenges, but God offered hope.

In the midst of our trials—the fear, the uncertainty, the weariness, the suffering, the mourning—we can take heart in God’s promise to give us beauty for the ashes of life. We can find the beauty in these hardships if we seek Him. In 1 Chronicles 16:11 we read, “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.”

When Things Go Wrong, God Still has a Plan

“A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way?”— Proverbs 20:24(NIV).

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For nine months, I argued with God. I didn’t want to move from the area where I’d lived for 35 years. I’d taught school there for 30 years. Planning my retirement, I wanted to write newspaper and magazine feature stories for local, state and national publications. I’d also planned to grow my professional photography business of 20 years. Substitute teaching was also on my to-do list.

A broken relationship a month before retirement left me questioning my future plans. When God revealed He had a better plan for my life, I sold my house and moved almost 75 miles to a community where I knew very few people. God had a better plan for me.

As an idealist, I often daydream about the perfect day and life without interruptions. However, that’s not reality. We can’t plan for life’s intrusions. We can’t control what others do. We can’t choose the things popping up to delay our plans.

What does the Bible say about planning?

If you’ve ever had a day when nothing goes as planned, you can relate. Sometimes, it’s a minor upset that cause the greatest problems. It’s easy to get angry, to feel as if the world is against you or to give up.

When I was younger, I had a daily and weekly to-do list. My self-worth was tied to checking off each item of my plan. When life interrupted, I wasn’t too happy. My attitude reeked of self-importance. I thought I had to prove, through my accomplishments, that I was a worthy human. Then, Jesus got ahold of me—and I’m so glad He did.

Now, when nothing goes as planned, I don’t panic. I don’t get upset by the delays, and I don’t worry about the things on my list left undone until later. As a reformed control freak and people pleaser, I’ve learned to patiently wait on God, trusting He has a better plan for my life.

Do You Need a Spiritual Check-up?

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life”–Psalm 139:23-24 (TLB).

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From the posts I’ve read on social media and remarks from friends, I’m certain most of us are glad 2016 is behind us.

Although 2016 was a challenge, I held out hope for a promising ending. However, I was confronted with disappointing news several days before the end of the year. It wasn’t just one piece of news—it came in a bundle of three—all on the same day.

I turned to trusted friends, asking for prayer. The next morning while writing in my prayer journal, God’s Holy Spirit revealed an answer to my “Why?” The reply came, “We each have free will.”

Have I fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit?

We can choose to follow God’s leading or we can select our own path. I trust the path others have chosen is the path God has prepared for them. I must walk forward, faithfully, on the path God has prepared for me.

While each day offers an opportunity to examine our spiritual lives, a new year is especially conducive to searching our hearts and our lives to see if they line up with God’s plans. Ask yourself the following questions:

Are you ready to start a prayer revolution in the New Year?

We need a battle play for prayer!

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” – I Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV).

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Unless you have no access to media, you know that the word “divisive” would best describe 2016. Lines were drawn. Anger increased and hate-filled words filled the airwaves and appeared on Internet sites. Christians were not exempt.

I don’t want to dwell on the ugliness, but we, as Christians, need to seek unity, stand firm in our faith, show grace to those who do not and hold our leaders—at all levels—accountable. But even more important, there’s one more thing we must do. We must pray for the wisdom and well-being of our elected leaders.

We can learn from the words found in Ezekiel 22:30. “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”

Prayer creates a revolutionary spin on the natural tendency

to resist or resent authority.

We are the ones who must stand in the gap for our leaders. We must lift up our nation with all its faults before the throne of God and pray that He continues to work in our midst.

 In “The Battle Plan for Prayer” by Stephen and Alex Kendrick, the authors write: “Since the influence of people in these positions can cause such a ripple effect, and because their various roles are fraught with hard choices and difficulty, the Bible commands us to pray for all those in leadership over us. (See 1 Timothy 2:1-2 above)

Have You Been Adopted into His Family?

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”—John 1:12-13(NIV).

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It’s a wonderful time of the year for some of us. Christmas lights and décor, yuletide songs and greetings and the smells associated with this holiday invite us to care, share and rejoice in the coming of the Christ child.

For others, this season can be difficult, a reminder of loved ones lost—both physically and spiritually. It’s a reminder of need and want, doing without and praying for help. Sometimes those prayers are answered through the benevolent hearts of those who have much.

Recently, I checked out our church’s Angel Tree. On its branches were paper angels representing children whose parents are in prison or who are in foster care. On each cut-out angel shape is information about a child in need: the gender, age and child’s request are included.

Before I wrapped the clothing for this unknown child,

I prayed over each outfit.

Browsing through the angels, my first thought was “What could I afford?” One child requested an electronic tablet. Not on my budget. Another wanted a pair of Nikes. Also, not on my budget. Yet another child wanted a bicycle. Not something I could afford.

Are you the hands and feet of Jesus?

“When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality”—Romans 12:13 (NLT).

Young Woman helping Older Women walk in woods

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“Roll it, Carol!”

It was yet another reminder from a friend to follow instructions. The metal walker I have to use after knee replacement surgery is outfitted with wheels for a reason. Rolling instead of lifting the contraption is actually easier and safer. I couldn’t figure out why I was having trouble with this simple task.

Discharge instructions from the hospital required I have someone with me at home 24/7 for at least the first four to five days. Living alone for the past 15 years has led to a very independent lifestyle. Even before then, I lived under the burden of feeling indispensable. I thought I could handle everything that life threw at me. I also felt empowered, thinking others couldn’t make it without me.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

However, since Jesus got ahold of me in 2001, I’ve learned some important lessons.

First, I’m not in charge of the universe. I don’t have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. Second, I must allow others the pleasure of helping me when I’m in need. I don’t have to pretend I can do it “all by myself,” like a stubborn two-year-old seeking independence from her parents. I’ve learned it is okay, at times, to “roll” instead of lift.