Mirror Madness

 

Alice portal
Don’t look so hard into the glass that you shatter your self-image!

 

“Who am I? What am I supposed to be? Where do I fit in the world?”

These three questions are commonly asked by every single person in the world at some point in their lives, often becoming recurring questions. Our society has a severe case of missing identity, which is ironic considering how prevalent selfishness and narcissism are in our culture today. In the process of elevating himself to the level of worship that God deserves, man has sadly lost sight of his true identity that can only be seen through the Creator he tries so desperately to ignore.

Man has stared at his reflection in the mirror so intently, that he has shattered the glass from the impact of his efforts. Staring at the looking glass for too long is not a good thing whatsoever, and vanity concerning our outward appearance can blind us to the inward reflection that really matters. After finding nothing but emptiness behind the shards of glass, man is constantly grasping for anything he can use as a substitute for God’s presence and purpose in his life.

The issue of having a personal identity crisis is more pressing now than ever before, and Christians are no exception. If we do not solidify our identity in Christ in our minds early on, then Satan will surely try to snatch it away from us. In order to prevent that from happening, we must assess some fundamental truths that are grounded in God’s Word, thereby finding the answers to these perpetually vexing questions. Once we are assured of God’s truth concerning who we are, we can permanently protect ourselves from Satan’s attempt at identity theft.

 

Let’s take a look at these three questions one by one, and see if we can make sense of them in this nonsensical world of ours, shall we?

 

1. “Who are you?”

 

Alice and the Caterpillar.jpg
“Alice Meets the Caterpillar” from ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, by Lewis Carroll, with illustrations by John Tenniel. Macmillan and Co, London, 1898.

 

In Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, the titular character Alice is a little girl who tumbles down a rabbit hole, only to find herself in a strange world full of talking animals and various other forms of nonsense. After going through several frustrations at the beginning of her adventure, Alice meets a caterpillar who acts rather sophisticated and stuffy, much like a grown-up. He asks her to recite a few poems from memory, just like her schoolteachers always expected of her back home. The caterpillar also asks Alice a simple question, about her identity. Due to the strange experiences she had up to that point, Alice replies to him that she’s not at all sure who she is anymore. In fact, she explains that she had changed several times already since that morning, referring to how she mysteriously grew and shrank in size earlier in the story. This was an intentional metaphor that Lewis Carroll was using to illustrate the challenges of growing up. When we grow older, our physical appearance changes, as do our personal interests to some extent. Some of these changes are under our control, while many of them are not.

Perhaps the greatest change we undergo throughout life is the transformation of our minds – we all start out as happy, innocent children, but are soon exposed to the harsh realities of our sinful, fallen world. The negative circumstances we experience in life have the potential to either make us or break us, and the first outcome is only achievable with God’s help. Just like Alice in her dreamworld of Wonderland, we are often confused by our ever-changing surroundings, feeling lost and helpless in the upsetting events going on around us. However, when we seek God’s face in the midst of troubling circumstances, He can guide us onto the right path in spite of all the utter nonsense.

God has a special plan for each and every one of us; He makes that very clear in His Word. He created us to be unique individuals that are totally different from anyone else He made. You are a work of art from God’s own hands, and if you know Him as your personal Savior, you are also His adopted child. It’s so easy for us to look at other people and compare ourselves to them, whether its’ our personalities, advantages, or abilities, that we often forget that God made us special all on our own. We don’t need validation from any other person on the planet to confirm our worth; we just need to remind ourselves of what we already know to be true. Before we were saved, our former identity was that of a hopeless sinner lost in darkness, but after salvation, we took on a new identity of a redeemed child of God who has been returned to the light. It’s not for us to look at others and wish that we were just like them; God wants us to be content with exactly who He made us.

2.  “What are you supposed to be?”

 

Cards Attacking Alice
“Alice defends herself against the Queen of Hearts’ army of cards” from ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, by Lewis Carroll, with illustrations by John Tenniel. Macmillan and Co, London, 1898.

 

Throughout Alice’s entire journey, she is constantly judged, criticized, and questioned by the curious and madcap residents of Wonderland. The White Rabbit, having poor eyesight, confuses Alice with his housemaid, Mary Ann, and begins to obnoxiously order her around with his list of demands. Alice is also wrongly called a “stupid girl” by other middle-aged, female characters such as the Duchess. The Mad Hatter and March Hare accuse her of being rude for accidentally barging in on their private tea party, even though she had no way of knowing what was going on. The Cheshire Cat suggests that Alice is just as crazy as he is, for the mere fact that she found her way into Wonderland. Last but not least, the Queen of Hearts claims that Alice is a criminal for painting her white roses red, and repeatedly orders the removal of Alice’s head every time she is slightly offended by her. Sadly, even though this book is about a fantasy world, Lewis Carroll accurately portrayed the cold reality of how many adults think it’s okay to emotionally abuse and ridicule children, often for no valid reason. Thankfully, by the end of the story, Alice finds the courage to stand up for herself and silence her insufferable attackers. If there is any character that perfectly fits this modern phrase, “I came out here to have a good time, and I’m honestly feeling so attacked right now,” it’s Alice.

In our real-world lives, we often encounter many different people who think they can tell us who we are or what they think we should be. The most common scenario for this to occur is with our relatives, who sometimes make the mistake of thinking they know exactly what’s best for us just because they share our same blood. We can all think of at least one person, whether it’s a relative or not, who constantly oversteps their authority in our lives by assuming they know all the details about our future. There are also plenty of other times when we have been misunderstood by other people for pointless reasons, causing unnecessary conflict due to their closed mindset. Well, other people need to take a step down from the judge’s seat, because that position is reserved for God alone. While helpful guidance and wisdom are beneficial when they come from a loving heart, unwanted orders and prejudice are destructive when other people are just being nosy or critical. Just like Alice was on a literal trial in the book, she also had her patience tried past the point of no return. We need to ask God for the grace and patience we need to deal with other people who think they can take His place in our lives.

What you are supposed to be is a matter that is strictly between you and God Himself. As I stated before, He designed you for a very special purpose in His mind. He has promised that He is going to fulfill that purpose for your life until the second coming of His Son, Jesus. God always finishes the projects He starts, which is far more than I can say for myself as both a writer and artist. He’s not going to leave you hanging as an incomplete draft or a half-empty canvas! He’s going to sculpt you and mold you persistently throughout your entire life until He decides that you’re done. When other people fail to understand what He is doing with your life at the present moment, that’s not God’s fault, nor is it yours. In fact, it’s not meant to be for other people to understand, because God’s ways are much higher than our ways! God is supposed to get the glory for everything He creates, and your life story is no exception. Along the way though, it’s our job to stay close to Him always so He can guide us on this journey of divine transformation.

3. Where do you fit in the world?

 

Alice being left alone
“Alice watches the White Rabbit walk past her in the low, dark hallway” from ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, by Lewis Carroll, with illustrations by John Tenniel. Macmillan and Co, London, 1898.

 

Several times during Alice’s adventure, she falls into some distressing situations that cause her to (understandably) ask for help from the citizens of Wonderland. In this picture, Alice has just experienced the strange phenomenon of growing to be nine feet high inside a closed, narrow corridor, unable to escape or return to her normal size. Feeling rather frightened like any regular child would in this situation, Alice begins to cry until she floods the entire room with her enormous tears. Eventually, she notices the White Rabbit casually passing by, who appears to take absolutely zero notice of her in this awful predicament. He just strolls by quietly as if he were the only one in the room, going on about his day as if Alice doesn’t even exist. Poor Alice had just grown into the size of a giant, and yet it was as if she were invisible! Later on in the story, she stumbles across the tea party hosted by the Mad Hatter and March Hare, where there were plenty of chairs to sit in, but they adamantly claimed there was no room for her. Lewis Carroll was portraying how adults often tend to ignore children and treat them as nobodies, or otherwise make them feel like an afterthought. Everyone in Wonderland was going about their business and doing their own thing, but nobody cared enough to help Alice find her way home. She was just a lost little girl who felt like she didn’t belong in their world, but that actually turned out to be a good thing. In the end, it was Alice’s sanity prevailing over all the nonsense that saved her life and provided her escape!

In our lives, all too often we feel like absolutely no one cares about us, or at least cares enough to truly help us with our problems. Even if they do care, they might be too preoccupied with their own problems to take time out of their busy schedules for us. We could be going through an extremely difficult time, but nobody seems to notice us struggling. Everybody has their own issues, so why would they want to help us, right? Many times it feels like we might as well be invisible as far as other people noticing us is concerned. Aside from people not noticing our struggles, it also can feel like we just don’t belong in society, at least not in the same way everyone else seems to. From childhood on through adulthood, our lives will be filled with other people who shun us or reject us altogether, simply because their preconceived notions about us preclude them from getting to know us and accept us. Here’s some good news, however – it’s okay if we don’t fit in with everyone else or the world around us in general, because we’re not supposed to. Individuals we come across in our lives and society as a whole will always expect us to conform to their perfect, artificial mold, built from their own shallow standards and limited perspective. Don’t despair of being stuck in this impossible situation, though, because Jesus Christ Himself was not immune to the shallow judgments of people in this world. Jesus, being the Son of God, was completely PERFECT, and yet He STILL wasn’t good enough for some people! Just like Alice in her story, Jesus was the only truly sane Person when it was really everyone else who had the problem!

If there is any comfort to be found in the rejection or dismissal of man, it’s knowing that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered the very same things. When other people ignore us and make us feel like we’re invisible, Jesus is there to put His arm around us, providing unconditional love and support. When we’re struggling with difficult situations, and no one seems to notice or care about our predicament, Jesus is there to help and comfort us in our distress and sorrow. In addition, God is the One Who guides us along our life’s journey, showing us exactly where we need to be to fulfill His purpose for us. Even if other people don’t give us the time of day, we’re still important to God, and our lives will always matter to Him. We are wonderfully accepted in the love of Christ, and He is our sympathetic High Priest Who cares deeply about each and every one of our troubles. While other individuals may underestimate us, our abilities, and our potential, God is fully aware of what we are capable of accomplishing through Him with His help. We don’t need to belong in the world of other people’s approval, because we already belong to the One Whose approval matters most!

 

Here are some verses to help us confirm our identity in Christ, as daily affirmations when we look in the mirror each day:

 

Reflection

2 Corinthians 5:17 ~ “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Ephesians 1:5-7 ~ “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;”

Proverbs 3:5 ~ “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”

Isaiah 54:5 ~ “For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.”

Romans 8:38-39 ~ “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 9:20 ~ “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?”

Romans 14:8 ~ “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.”

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ~ “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

2 Corinthians 11:2 ~ “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

John 10:28 ~ “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”

John 14:1-3 ~ “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

John 15:15-17 ~ “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another.

Philippians 1:6 ~ “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

Jeremiah 20:11-13 ~ “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.

Galatians 3:26-29 ~ “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

 

There is only one way to cure mirror madness – by acknowledging Whose reflection we should be cultivating.

Forest mirror

I think we can all strongly identify with little Alice wanting to escape the perplexing world of Wonderland, full of “whos,” “whats,” “wheres,” “whens,” “whys,” and “hows.” With so many tricky questions flying around our heads at such a rapid speed, we’re bound to question our sanity at some point or other. However, this happens when we try to find our own way in the flesh, rather than consulting God and His ways. If we try to contemplate the above three questions by ourselves apart from God, we will most surely be driven to madness by our inability to find the answers. It is first of all our responsibility to remember that we are the creations of God, the Creator, and after that acknowledgment, everything else should fall into place. Discovering our true identity is a life-long journey, and at times it can be very difficult, but that should never discourage us from giving up on it. God Himself has placed these three questions in our hearts so that we will be compelled to rely upon Him, having no choice but to seek Him for the right answers. When we turn to the world’s tactics of defining our identity, we will find nothing but confusion sent by the Devil himself. Fortunately, we know that God is not the Author of confusion, and He wants us to be informed of the divine plan that He has laid out for us. For every single person who has ever lived, God has designed a grand Master plan for their lives that they can potentially follow if they choose to seek His will. Each unique individual will have a unique life story all his own, but regardless of the many different designs, God desires all of us to conform to the image of His Son, Jesus. “What would Jesus do?” has been a popular catchphrase among Christians for years, and it applies to all areas of our lives. When it comes to determining the purpose and direction of our lives, we can do no better than do exactly what Jesus did while He was on Earth, and will always do – trust God, and seek His Father’s will. Rather than saying “All ways are MY ways!” like the Queen of Hearts, we should say “All ways are THY ways!”

– Gloria D. Hopkins

Remember Your First Love?

 

Lonely Heart
Before your heart was ever broken, there was always Someone Who loved you long before you were even born.

 

Do you remember what it was like the first time you fell in love?

Falling Petals

Before I begin, allow me to express that I do not wish to bring up any unpleasant memories unnecessarily; I ask this question first of all so I can lead up to the point I will make later on. There is a first time for everything, and as humans, when we experience something for the very first time, it tends to be all or nothing – that is to say, we choose to invest our energy into that particular thing either one hundred percent or not at all. For many of us, the first time we fell in love was during adolescence, perhaps even much sooner than that. When you become enthralled in the throes of infatuation at such a young age, it is quite easy to put the other person up on a pedestal by seeing them as absolutely perfect. If you were like most teenagers at this stage, you probably thought that you were going to marry that person without a doubt, swearing your loyalty to him or her by promising them that you would be willing to die for them. Yes, that is indeed exactly how intense the emotions of young people in love can get, which is what makes it such a beautiful thing, and yet also a deadly one.

Sadly, this initial stage of romantic attraction is usually short-lived, and for one reason or another, adverse circumstances inevitably led to the relationship falling apart. Because you were most likely entirely invested in the relationship, chances are that you might have lost your identity in the other person, whether intentionally or not. Since it is a perfectly natural, God-given desire to become completely united with another person you love, it’s no great mystery as to why you felt like a piece of your heart went missing as soon as the other person disappeared. You probably spent a long time swearing that you would never fall in love again during your entire life, either because you felt incapable or unwilling to do so. However, no matter how much pain you felt because of that person who broke your heart, deep down, if you’re truly honest with yourself, there will always be a part of you that loves them, or at least the person you thought they were.

Heart in a clock

For you see, no matter how much time passes by after a person breaks our heart, we will always remember the feelings we had when we first fell in love with that person, and hold onto the memories of how we became involved with them in the first place.

 

“Why do we do this?” you may ask. Does the human brain delight in torturing itself?

While the quick, simple answer would be “yes,” that is not the complete, correct answer. My most reasonable explanation for the brain’s illogical behavior in this matter is this – the human heart is impossibly stubborn, and refuses to let go of its own understanding of events. In an effort to hold onto what little happiness we may have known in the past, we harm ourselves emotionally by also holding onto the inevitable pain that followed. This torturous process can go on for many months, even long years before we are willing to finally accept the truth and move on. However, it is highly important to understand that sometimes this is actually part of the healing process, and should never be rushed under any circumstances, lest you risk undoing all your progress as a result of your hurry. True healing can NEVER be hurried; pain must always be processed by the brain in all of its natural grieving stages.

<3

Don’t stop reading just yet, because I have something to share that might help you.

After the loss of your first love, and possibly many other loves after that, you might feel like your heart is long gone with them, with no chance of it ever being returned to you. You might feel utterly empty inside, like a shadow of your former self, unable to recall what it was like before your heart was broken. I know exactly what all this feels like, for I have endured this same pain myself for great lengths of time in my past. However, I eventually discovered a powerful secret that held the key to my emotional freedom –

Did you know that no matter how many times you gave your heart away to someone, or had it taken away by someone, that it is still held in the hands of Someone Who loves you?

That’s right – before you ever fell in love with someone, you had a First Love long before you even met the person who broke your heart.

Heart on the Ground

This mysterious First Love is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself. Keep in mind that when I say “God” or the “Son of God,” I am referring to the same divine Entity, one Person in three parts. Before you were even born, your entire existence was planned out in God’s mind as an important part of His universe. God created your unique personality and fashioned your form in your mother’s womb with His own hands. The minute of your conception, God breathed the breath of life into your body from His very own nostrils. Even though you had no control over being born into the sinful human race of Adam, that didn’t stop God from loving His wonderful creation that is you. Because your eternal soul means so much to Him, God was willing to sacrifice the life of His own perfect Son Jesus, just so you could have the chance to live with Him in Heaven forever.

There are two essential truths that are inherent to God’s love for you –

 

1. God’s love is unconditional.

Mightier than waves

2. God’s love is everlasting.

Everlasting love

 

It’s important to remember these two truths at all times, for there will be many instances where Satan, the Father of Lies, will go out of his way to convince you that God does NOT love you, usually as a result of your sins. Once you arm yourself with these two essential truths, you will always be protected by the knowledge of God’s undeniable love for you. If you can always remember how much God loves you, then all the pain from the so-called love of people will fade into the background. Let’s explore the reasons why these two truths are so important for us to remember.

God’s love is unconditional, which means that no matter what we do (or don’t do) in this life, His love will always remain constant and unchanging.

Divine Image

From the very beginning of Creation, God has unconditionally loved ALL the souls that He has ever made. Although we are all born with a sinful nature, God still chooses to love us because we were created in His Divine Image. That perfect Image was tainted by the very first sin that Adam and Eve committed in the Garden of Eden, but it didn’t change the fact that they were still made to be a reflection of God’s nature. Since God imbued man with three parts, body, soul, and spirit, he became a direct replica of the Holy Trinity, which consists of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Because of this significant resemblance, God couldn’t find it in His heart to hate the man that He created, although He did hate the sin he committed.

The same thing is true for us to this very day. There is absolutely NOTHING we can do that will ever make God love us any less than He already does, or make Him stop loving us altogether. No matter how far we run away from Him, or try to keep Him out of our lives, His love for us will always remain the same. This truth applies to all people, both Christians, and non-Christians.

Seek and Save

Those of us who are Christians are merely sinners saved by grace, and we, unfortunately, are still prone to giving in to our sinful tendencies. God will try to get our attention back to Him in many ways and knows which ways will work best for us individually – through gentle reminders, or stern chastisement. Even though we have the privilege of knowing God’s unconditional love, we should be extremely careful that we don’t fall into the trap of taking it for granted. God’s grace and mercy do NOT give us a license to sin at will; they are there for the purpose of freeing us from it. Those who choose to ignore or reject God’s love in this life are putting their souls in eternal danger, a future where they will be forever separated from God in darkness and torment. While they live on this earth, they have every opportunity to put their faith and trust in the salvation of Jesus Christ, thus becoming a believer in Him. The time they have to live is God’s grace and mercy manifested, by giving them a chance to accept Him before it’s too late. No matter what decision they make about their eternal fate, God will still love them regardless of their choice, since they were made in His Divine Image.

 

God’s love is everlasting, which means that He will NEVER stop loving us. It also means that He loved us before we existed and will continue to love us through all eternity.

Infinity symbol

As I already stated earlier, God loved us before we were even born. Since God is infinite, having no beginning and no end, He alone is capable of such a love. It’s impossible for our finite minds to fathom the meaning of this, since we can only understand from a limited perspective while on earth. However, this is the beautiful thing about it – we don’t HAVE to understand God’s love for us; we only have to accept it. God loves us from everlasting to everlasting, because He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. God calls Himself this in His Word, because He literally was there before the beginning of the world, and will also be the One Who ends the world when He decides it is time. This is a statement which shows us but a glimpse of just how powerful He is – He is Almighty God, and NOTHING is impossible for Him. With that knowledge, we should be perfectly capable of believing that God loved us before Creation, and will continue to love us long into eternity.

God keeps proises

We never have to worry about God’s love ending, because He is never-ending, neither do we have to worry about God’s love changing, because He never changes. We may have experienced tremendous amounts of heartbreak on this earth at the hands of people who couldn’t care less, but God will never break our hearts by going back on His Word or leaving us. He promises these things to us many times in His Word, to give us assurance and comfort. While people are untrustworthy, God is MORE than worthy of our trust, because He is without sin. God is SO perfect, that He literally CANNOT sin. He is simply incapable of it. This, in turn, means that He CANNOT lie, so we can be sure of His promises to us with absolute certainty.

All of this might sound too good to be true, but our souls can rejoice in the fact that it IS true. God is the only Absolute that we can ever depend on, and the same thing goes for His love for us. When man disappoints us, God is there to exceed our expectations. When man lies to us, God embodies absolute truth. When man forsakes us, God is always there by our side no matter what. NOTHING can separate us from this glorious love of His, not people, not demons, not even the Devil himself. For you see, God’s love is just as powerful as He is, being that it comes from Him. God IS love.

His love gives life

 

Now that we know the truths about God’s love, we can understand why He is our REAL First Love.

God alone is the One Who is truly deserving of our hearts, and their full capacity for love. This is His divine right because He made them. As if that reason were not enough, God has divine rights to our hearts because He PAID for them with the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. We are forever indebted to our Creator to give Him the maximum depths of our heart’s devotion, loyalty, and love. We would be remiss if we ever forgot Him. We should love God because He first loved us, and He knew that we had a choice to love Him back. God sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins to prove His love for us, knowing full well that our free will gave us the potential option to reject Him. That is just how powerful God’s love is, because He was brave enough to allow it to be rejected, and even scorned. God’s true love is fearless for that very reason, and we should fearlessly return His love.

Trapped heart

I will readily admit that I still remember my first earthly love, and I will always remember him, no matter how much time has passed since he’s been out of my life. I was so devastated by his repeated betrayals of me, and could never forget every word he said to me, both good and bad. I completely lost my identity in how much I loved him, and felt unspeakable anguish once I finally realized that he never really loved me. I was a hopeless prisoner of all the pain he caused me, and remained trapped emotionally for years, until the day God revealed to me that I was totally missing a crucial point. It was one day that I was riding in a van while working at a summer camp, exactly one year after my first love betrayed me for the last time. I was sitting in the back seat while gazing out the window, watching the trees and fields fly by rapidly, and my thoughts were utterly consumed with all the good and bad memories of the previous year. Then I turned my gaze up towards the sky and the sun, which always reminded me of God’s presence. It was at that moment that God silently got my attention through the whispers of His Holy Spirit – He asked me, “Why are you focusing so much on how much he didn’t love you, when instead you could be focusing on how much I DO love you?”

Chained hearts

I felt totally shocked at this revelation, feeling like I was completely oblivious to that point. When God whispered that question to me, the voice of His Holy Spirit sounded slightly offended that I didn’t recognize it sooner, as if to imply that I was being foolish and ignorant in my stubborn heart. However, that question was a turning point for me emotionally, and it was only then after I realized its logic that I truly started to heal. All of my former attempts to ignore my pain by distracting myself with my busy schedule at summer camp were in vain, but not after God asked me that question. I even shared this moment with a good friend of mine who also worked there that summer, and she told me that it also helped her in healing from her own heartbreak. That was the year that God set me free from the chains that were holding my heart hostage, and I’ll never forget what He taught me that summer. I found the key to my emotional freedom when I listened to God’s voice in His quiet question to my heart. So now that I have shared this story with you, I hope that it will potentially help you in the same way if you too have been hurt in the past by your first love.

 

Here are some heartfelt messages from your real First Love to remind you of His passion for you:

 

1 Chronicles 16:34 ~ “O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.”

Psalm 86:15 ~ “But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, long suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.

Psalm 103:17 ~ “But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children;”

Psalm 107:8-9 ~ “Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.

Psalm 139:13-18 ~ “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.”

Jeremiah 31:3 ~ “The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.”

Zephaniah 3:17 ~ “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.

Matthew 22:37-39 ~ “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

John 3:16 ~ “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

John 13:34-35 ~ “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

John 15:13 ~ “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Romans 5:8 ~ “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 8:38-39 ~ “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Galatians 5:13-14 ~ “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Ephesians 5:2 ~ “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.

1 Peter 4:8 ~ “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.

1 John 3:1 ~ “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.”

1 John 3:16-18 ~ “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

1 John 4:7-8 ~ “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”

1 John 4:9-11 ~ “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

1 John 4:18-19 ~ “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us.

Hebrews 13:5 ~ “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

Revelation 1:8 ~ “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.”

Revelation 2:4 ~ “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
The pain of your past is powerless to control you when you remember your real First Love.
My Healer
Everyone says that time heals all wounds, but I disagree with that saying. The passing of time only distances your memory from whatever happened that hurt you. Deep in the recesses of your mind, you’ll always remember what happened, and your heart never forgets the feelings it once had. However, GOD heals all wounds. Once you discover that His love is greater than all others, you will achieve a powerful victory. For me personally, it actually hurts to think of how long it’s been since I was hurt by my first love, since it makes me feel like there was no justice, as he was never truly sorry. It’s been almost ten years since my heart was first broken, and yet I still remember everything as if it happened yesterday. That is how I realize that time is simply a human construct to help us measure the days and years. I know that my earthly first love has long since forgotten me, but I have never forgotten him. It feels like it’s been a thousand years since I first fell in love with him. I’m sure that if you’ve been reading this, you most likely know what I’m talking about from your own experiences. God exists outside of time – one day to Him is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day. Don’t worry, for God has promised to avenge our past sorrows on this earth; revenge only belongs to Him. He still remembers our pain just as well as we do, and yet He also helps us to overcome it. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been forgotten by your first love, because God has never forgotten you. When we ask Him to help us remember every day just how much He loves us, then Satan is powerless to use our past pain to defeat us. We must always remember our real First Love, because He is the only One Whose love is actually worth remembering.
– Gloria D. Hopkins

Looking Over the Summit

Triumph.jpg
So you’ve reached the peak of personal success – now, what comes next?

As we recently welcomed a brand new year, it’s also time to welcome an all-new adventure!

So, it’s now 2018. We have officially turned the page from yesterday to reveal a new beginning for the present and the future. Whether we’re ready or not, time is going to just keep flying on by, regardless of us noticing it. The new year is a time of celebration, in two different contexts – leaving behind the past and all its negative memories, while also embracing the present and future with all their positive possibilities!

Perhaps this past year was more than a little bit rough for you, as I know it was for me. You know what? Don’t let it keep you down, for there is still a whole new world out there for you to explore! Maybe you just accomplished a HUGE personal goal over this past year that has been gnawing at you relentlessly for years. If so, I wish you a whole-hearted congratulations for that important triumph! You’ve definitely earned it! If this past year prevented you from achieving all that you hoped you would, don’t let that discourage you – this year is another brand new chance for you to make it happen!

After wishing you a heartfelt congratulations over your achievements or ongoing goals, I just have three helpful tips of advice to give you:

1. Don’t get stuck on the summit!

Snowy mountain

You’ve spent a long time trying to climb this mountain, and it took you a whole lot of effort just to get this far, so I understand the desire and need to stop and take a rest. However, don’t let this temporary resting period become your final destination! You don’t want the achievement of your goals to be a trap, where you stay stuck on the very top and have no idea how to get down again! Remember, life on this earth is a journey, and if you know Christ as your personal Savior, then Heaven is your final destination! In the meantime, we are supposed to be advancing the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father as much as we can with the precious time He has allowed us. There is a time for everything, just as the Scriptures say, for celebration and resting – but don’t let that be the only phase of your life just yet! God seldom calls His people to do just one thing for Him throughout the course of their lives, and if there is one specific calling, it usually has several components that go along with it. After you’ve finished recognizing your hard work and reaping the rewards of your labor, ask God to help you seek the next path on your way down, which leads us to my next tip…

2. Don’t be discouraged by the valley that lies before you.

Mountain Trail

As you prepare to descend the steep slope leading away from the previous summit in your life, you’ll surely discover a brand new, challenging obstacle course standing in your way. We have to remember that there are as many lows in life as there are highs, and accept them all with equal courage and humility. I understand the fear that comes from stepping out of secure, familiar territory very well. During this past year, my family had to move away from the place I called home for the last twenty-two years of my life. The location we moved to was more familiar to my parents, but I was too young to remember living there when I was just a baby. I only mention this to tell you that you’re not alone when it comes to facing daunting obstacles in life, for the purpose of helping you and providing comfort. Try your best to not view these winding valleys in a negative way – instead, view them as exciting opportunities for endless discoveries! Sure, it can be a little bit unsettling, but that’s the exciting part. When descending a mountain into the valley below, you don’t always know what you’re going to find: it could be a beautiful river full of crisp, refreshing spring water, a dense forest with lots of dark shadows, or a barren landscape with little more than sharp rocks and dead shrubbery. Whatever you might find at the bottom, just know that God has a purpose for it, and holds your best interest deep within His heart. After all, without exploring the valleys, we wouldn’t be able to proceed further on our journey, which leads us to my next tip…

3. Boldly explore the chain of mountains that the Lord has laid out for your life!

Sitting on the peak

Once you finish accomplishing one goal or dream in your life, don’t be afraid to pursue another! You’ll find that your life is full of more possibilities than you realize, if you give it some careful consideration. We only have one life on this earth, so in that sense, we really do only live once, but that’s all the more reason to live it wisely! What we do with the time God has given to us makes all the difference in our quality of life. It’s up to us to form the proper priorities that please our Creator, by learning which ones fulfill His purpose for us, and which ones don’t. Rather than being sad or feeling apathetic after completing our achievements, we should be reinspired to conquer whatever new worlds God has called us to! The ending slope of one mountain is usually connected to another, and that’s just what we need to keep our lives interesting! As we take the necessary courage to look out beyond the horizon of our surroundings, we should not be filled with fear over what lies before us, but full of awe and hope. How boring would it be if God chose to only give us one quest in our lives? Be inspired to do all you can, while you can before the Lord escorts us up to Heaven someday!

 

The Lord is our travel Guide in this grand expedition we call life, so let’s take a look at His Special Map for directions to our ultimate destination:

Mountain path

Deuteronomy 5:33 ~ “ Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess.

Deuteronomy 13:4 ~ “Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him.

Deuteronomy 31:8 ~ “And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.”

Joshua 14:8-9 ~ “Nevertheless my brethren that went up with me made the heart of the people melt: but I wholly followed the Lord my God. So Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden will be an inheritance to you and to your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God fully.’

Sunwashed Mountain

Psalm 23 ~ “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

Psalm 27:33 ~ “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.”

Psalm 40:2 ~ “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.

Psalm 119:133 ~ “Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.”

Proverbs 3:5-6 ~ “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

Isaiah 48:17 ~ “Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.

Jeremiah 2:2 ~ “Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.”

Jeremiah 3:19 ~ “”Then I said, ‘How I would set you among My sons And give you a pleasant land, The most beautiful inheritance of the nations!’ And I said, ‘You shall call Me, My Father, And not turn away from following Me.'”

Jeremiah 29:11 ~ “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”

John 8:12 ~ “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

John 12:26 ~ “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.”

Philippians 3:13 ~ “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

Hebrews 13:5-6 ~ “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”

 

Now that I’ve shared these tips of advice with you, take them with you as you enjoy scaling the slopes of success and exploring the peaks of prosperity!

I'm ready

Our life is meant to be one grand adventure, with many winding roads and twisting turns. The journey we travel cannot be lived in one place, otherwise it simply isn’t a journey. We can’t allow ourselves to be satisfied while staying in one spot – it is our divine privilege and duty to keep on exploring the paths God has for us, while staying connected to Him through the spiritual ground of His Word and the special power of prayer. With God’s help, we can set our sights on any mountain He wants us to climb, so long as we have faith the size of a tiny little mustard seed. Just like the nun sings to Maria in the classic movie, The Sound of Music, we truly can “climb every mountain” we face in our lives, by keeping our faith in God and overcoming our fears. After succeeding in the dreams and goals God has given to us, we still have so much to look forward to as long as we live, both in this life and the next. It’s our job to just be brave enough to look over the summit, and see the beautiful view for ourselves.

– Gloria D. Hopkins

Appreciating Your Present

 

golden gift
“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”

 

This Christmas, did you feel satisfied with your gifts?

Now, I know you think I expect you to say “yes,” as if that were the only right answer, but let’s just be honest here for a minute – do you truly feel satisfied with what you received for Christmas this year?

There are many different types of gifts, whether they be material or intangible. Today, we’re going to talk about both of these categories that encompass a wide spectrum of things.

I can already imagine what you might be thinking at this point – “Oh great; this is another cliched post about being thankful for what you already have and not being greedy or materialistic, right?”

Well, get ready, because the answer to that cynical question is a big, fat

NOPE.

So, let’s get started as we delve into today’s complex topic, shall we?

First of all, we all know that Christmas is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year.”

blue gift

I apologize in advance if that previous sentence got the song stuck in your head, but I don’t apologize for using it in this context. Granted, there are countless wonderful things about this season that are capable of making people happy. I won’t waste time by listing all the things we’re already MORE than familiar with, but I’m sure you understand what I’m talking about. Yes, the season itself holds an abundance of positive elements that are allegedly supposed to bring joy to people, yet does the so-called “magic of the season” always do the trick?

Unfortunately, the sad but true answer is no.

No amount of Christmas cookies, rich food, decorations, or fun activities can truly fill the void people feel that exists within them throughout the rest of the entire year. For every person who might identify as a “Who” from Whoville or a Bob Crachett from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” there is always going to be another person who, whether intentionally or not, identifies as a Grinch or a Scrooge to be their perfect foil.

Regardless of where you fall into these two categories, there are going to be some years where you just won’t be feeling as much of the Christmas spirit as you think you should, or at least what you think society expects you to feel.

There is a variety of circumstances that can contribute to people feeling more “ho-hum” rather than “ho ho ho” during this time of year – the annual stress of preparation, financial complications, family strife, hectic work schedules, contagious illnesses, and many other things.

In addition, there is one other possible circumstance that can make people say “Bah, humbug!” during the holidays – being single.

Yes, with all the sappy love songs about keeping each other warm, wanting no other gifts than their “presence” or heart, and how Christmas isn’t the same without the other person around, the radio and other media shoves these romantic cliches into single people’s ears whether they like it or not. Add onto the sappy Christmas music the effects of social media, where people shamelessly flaunt their relationship statuses of “dating,” “engaged”, or “married” more than ever, and you have single people wanting to throw a rock solid loaf of fruitcake at their computer screen or sleep in their beds until after New Year’s is over.

Is it wrong to feel unhappy when we experience these things at Christmastime? No, but it is very normal, especially when people are suffering from all these circumstances combined.

So, the question is, how can we be truly happy when we don’t have all (or any) of the things we want before, during, or after Christmastime?

gift of joy

The first thing we need to remember is that personal happiness is based on changing circumstances, while true joy is based on knowledge of and a relationship with God. We might not be anywhere near where we want to be in life, nor may we have all the material possessions we desire, but the most important aspect of our circumstances must always be where we stand with God. Just as it’s so incredibly easy to take our material things for granted while coveting more stuff, it’s also dangerously easy to take our Creator for granted, even during the very holiday that is meant to celebrate Him.

We can become so focused on the circumstances in our lives that we wish we could change, that we might be oblivious to the possibility that God is trying to change us through those very circumstances.

Even though the frustration or sorrow of our difficult circumstances may seem inescapable, there is one solution that actually works, if you’re willing to try it. When your thoughts are overwhelming you, and you feel stressed or helpless about your current situation, that is precisely when you should turn to the One Who sees all and understands all. Seeking God’s face in His Word or through prayer is the absolute best way to dispel all these various emotional problems we have amidst life’s turmoil.

When you find it hard to celebrate the seasonal festivities with everyone else around you because of the pain or worries in your heart, God wants you to draw close to Him and cling to Him for comfort. Every circumstance we go through that is capable of making us cry is meant to help us cry out to our Heavenly Father. Once we acknowledge that the situation (whatever it might be) is out of our control, we then allow ourselves to have the courage we need to fully trust God with it, just like we’re supposed to. After we succeed in this crucial step, we unlock the key to true, fulfilling joy in our lives that lasts all throughout the year, not just Christmas, which is…

Being perfectly content with our present circumstances, regardless of our limited understanding.

Screen Shot 2017-12-30 at 8.25.05 PM

Just like how Christmas presents are supposed to be a surprise to their recipients, God’s plan for our lives is meant to be an exciting journey, a thrilling mystery that we uncover one step at a time, each and every day. When it comes to Christmas gifts, we usually make lists when we’re children of all the many things we want; as adults, we drop a few not-so-subtle hints here and there to the people that care about us. Although we hope to receive the things we wanted, that is not exactly always the case. There are certainly contributing factors to not receiving specific things we wanted, such as financial strain, item availability, or mail delivery arrival issues. More often than not, these factors are out of people’s control, and should not be mistaken as a lack of love or consideration for our desires. Therefore, whenever we are disappointed by the things we receive (or don’t receive) for Christmas, we should try our best to be understanding of the efforts of those who gave them to us.

The same exact thing applies to God in how He handles the circumstances of our lives. We don’t always get exactly what we want, but sometimes that is for the best in God’s eyes, since He knows everything.

Other times, it’s simply a matter of not getting what we want exactly when we want it. It’s our responsibility to acknowledge God as our Heavenly Father, Who owes us NOTHING, but chooses to bless us far more than we deserve anyway. We, however, are merely His children who can only understand things from our limited perspective. If we can have enough faith in His goodness to trust Him, then we should be satisfied with whatever outcome He chooses to give us. After all, our personal happiness is nothing in comparison to the importance of God’s glory in our lives. Are we living this life to please ourselves, or giving it as a sacrifice to the One Who sacrificed His own life for us?

When we are brave enough to ask ourselves the hard-hitting question above, it is then that we discover the real, honest truth about our hearts. We as Christians are supposed to be thankful and satisfied with what God has given us no matter what, but are we really? If not, then it’s high time that we reassess our spiritual priorities. Sometimes we can be guilty of greed, pride, and selfishness in its ugliest forms, but other times, personal discontent can be the result of unintentional ignorance and a misunderstanding of God’s plans for us. Either way, we must confess these feelings to God in prayer and ask Him to forgive us. He is always faithful to do so, and He gives us more grace to persevere in the life He’s called us to in spite of all the difficulties. We must always remember that God still loves us and that the trials we go through should not be mistaken for Him punishing us out of cruelty like Satan wants us to believe.

 

Here are some special verses from God’s Word to help you learn how to appreciate your present:

 

Psalm 16:8 ~ “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Psalm 27:14 ~ “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.”

Psalm 38:15 ~ “For in thee, O Lord, do I hope: thou wilt hear, O Lord my God.”

Psalm 39:7 ~ “And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee.”

Psalm 42:11 ~ “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”

Psalm 120:1 ~ “In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me.

Psalm 139:5 ~ “Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.

Psalm 142:1,2, & 5 ~ “I cried unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication. I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble.

I cried unto thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.”

Jeremiah 29:11 ~ “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”

Matthew 6:25,33 ~ “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Luke 22:42 ~ “ Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”

John 16:22 ~ “And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.

Romans 14:17 ~ “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.

Romans 15:13 ~ “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.

1 Corinthians 10:13 ~ “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

Philippians 4:11 ~ “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

Hebrews 4:15 ~ “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 12:2 ~ “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 13:5-6 ~ “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.

James 1:2-3 ~ “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”

1 Peter 5:7 ~ “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

 

Once you learn how to fully appreciate the gift of your present, true Christian joy will always be within your grasp.

Paper present

I realize that this subject is one I’ve thoroughly exhausted on this blog already, but it is such an important lesson for Christians to learn, since it is reoccurring for all of us. Trusting God no matter what and keeping your joy in all circumstances is a lifelong challenge that we have to face while on this earth. With these words, I’m not just speaking to you, but to myself. This is the very topic that has been on my heart lately, which is why I chose to write about it to help others like myself. So this post actually was about contentment, but not for material things – spiritual ones instead. While God doesn’t expect us to like whatever trials we face, He does expect us to trust Him and learn more about His unconditional love for us. The more we get to know our Heavenly Father, the closer we will be to Him, and understand His ways. For that reason alone, difficult circumstances should be a source of true joy for us, acting as a stimulant for bonding with the Lover of our souls. Even if we don’t have what we want in our lives right now, we can be satisfied by our Savior’s love for us. In this manner, we can sincerely appreciate our present, given to us by the Giver of all things. Your present is waiting for you right now… all you have to do is accept it.

– Gloria D. Hopkins

Getting Cozy In Christ

Girl with cozy sweater
Wrap yourself up in the warmth of Jesus’ love for you!

It’s officially sweater season!

During this time of year, the current popular fashion trend of wearing oversized sweaters couldn’t be more fitting. When the fall weather brings harsh winds and gusts of cold air, we need all the protection we can get so we don’t risk getting frostbite or hypothermia. Aside from the practical reasons to wear sweaters, people like me just can’t wait to unveil their fall wardrobe that’s jam-packed with sweaters, hoodies, jackets, and anything else that will keep them looking stylish and feeling warm. Sweaters are super comfortable, and they can be even more fun to wear than normal shirts because of how stretchy they usually are. Without a doubt, sweaters are my favorite part my closet! Whenever I put one on, it feels like someone is giving me a warm, loving hug throughout the entire day!

You know what else is very comforting that will keep you feeling warm everywhere you go? Jesus’ love for you.

cozy sweater

That’s right, the affectionate reassurance of Jesus’ daily presence with you is something that you can take great pleasure in every single day. No matter how cold and harsh people might be in the outside, unsaved world, Jesus’ love for you is something that is always there for you. When you wake up in the morning and see His beautiful sunrise, let it remind you of the brightness of His glory and the light of His holiness. Every time I see sunlight during any time of day, it always reminds me of God’s presence with me and of Jesus’ wonderful love for me. Although I realize the sun is not the Creator Himself, it is a strong visual symbol of His identity for me. When I’m driving by myself in the morning, and I see the soft rays of light stretching through the sky, God gently brings my attention to His constant presence with me.

Jesus’ faithful, loving presence is a soft place of solace for you, even on your hardest days.

tired sweater girl

At the end of the day, no matter how rough my time was at work or how rude people might have been to me, Jesus’ love is a soothing embrace that I can look forward to snuggling into the minute I’m alone. I try my best to please Him every day, even though I know I’m FAR from perfect, and I can feel Him smiling on me because He knows my heart was in the right place. I hope and trust that you who are reading this have shared similar experiences to mine with God also. When people mistreat you through their careless actions and unkind words, just remember Who it is that loves you unconditionally. He is the only One that you should truly care about pleasing in your life, and the thoughts and opinions of other people are actually irrelevant in comparison.

In order to feel the warmth of Jesus’ love for you every day, you must first remember to put Him on.

sad sweater girl

The only way to experience lasting comfort in your daily life is by making good use of the glorious Gift that was given to you at salvation. Just as a sweater can’t keep you warm from the cold if you never wear it or forget to put it on, you’ll have a hard time remembering Jesus’ love for you if you neglect to acknowledge Him every day. This does not mean that His love isn’t there for you if you forget about Him, it just means you won’t consciously feel it or be aware of it as much than if you had remembered Him. Why settle for feeling sad, unwanted, or unloved the whole day when you can feel joyful, accepted, and loved unconditionally because of Jesus? Jesus cares about you, and God is your Heavenly Father if you are already saved. Whether you live all by yourself, have very few friends, or simply don’t get to spend much time with the people you love, God’s presence with you is the one constant that will NEVER go away. If you’re single, you never have to be lonely because God is always there for you. If you feel like you have no one to talk to, God is always ready and willing to listen. If you wish you had pleasant company, God is the best Source of it that you could possibly turn to.

Here are some verses to help you remember the cozy comfort of Jesus’ love for you at all times:

Deuteronomy 31:6 ~ “ Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

Joshua 1:9 ~ “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”

Psalm 16:8 ~ “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Psalm 25:5 ~ “Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.

Psalm 34:18 ~ “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.”

 

Psalm 139:7-12 ~ “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;

Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.”

Isaiah 6:3 ~ “And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

Isaiah 43:2 ~ “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”

Jeremiah 23:23-24 ~ “Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.”

 

John 14:16 ~ “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;

John 14:26 ~ “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

John 16:7 ~ “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.

Acts 17:27-28 ~ “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

Hebrews 13:5 ~ “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

 

Are you ready to face the cold, outside world with the protection of Jesus’ warm, loving presence?

Irish sweater girl

While you are busy collecting all the sweaters you can for the coming winter months, make sure you are equipped with the benefits of the most important sweater of all – the sweater of eternal salvation. Your sweaters won’t do you any good locked in the closet while you go outside, and neither will you be prepared to face the world without acknowledging God’s presence and Jesus’ love for you. God is the perfect Parent of all time, and He cares about you far more than your earthly parents ever could, so take time to appreciate Him as you’re on your way out the door each morning. Whether you’re still living with your parents like I am, or if you’re already out on your own, you will ALWAYS need God in your life. He is the only One Whom you must truly depend on for everything. Wrap yourself up in His warm love for you by praying to Him, which doesn’t have to be fancy, but just a simple, pleasant conversation with Him. When you take the time to get cozy in Christ, the cold, harsh wind of this fallen world will never shake you.

– Gloria D. Hopkins

Speak Up, Don’t Give Up!

 

Alone At Sea
Please don’t choose to end it all, when you don’t know the end of it all.

 

I realize that September is nearly over already, but I feel compelled to write about this subject before it passes: National Suicide Awareness Month. While I am happy that there is a specific month dedicated to making people more mindful of this issue, I wish that our society would realize just how serious it is throughout the entire year, as this problem will never completely go away while this dark, fallen world exists.

There are countless people in this world who suffer from depression, which as a condition itself comes in many different forms. It is far more than just a negative emotional state; it is medically proven to be a mental illness that strongly affects one’s emotions and sense of rationality. However, I’m not writing this post to elaborate on the complex definition of depression – I’m writing this to help those who might be struggling with it, and also people who have loved ones in their lives that are also struggling with it.

Before I continue, let me clarify that the entire reason I started this blog was for the purpose of encouraging people to keep their joy in spite of dark circumstances. Satan’s primary goal when attacking Christians is to steal their joy. He achieves this by causing them to focus far too much on all the many negative things in their lives instead of God and His goodness. You see, because Satan hates God so much, he goes out of his way to convince people, including Christians, that God is not the good, loving Creator that He says He is. Satan even tells himself this lie to justify his rebellion against God when he still lived in Heaven. Satan reasons that if he can’t win against God, then he wants to pull as many people into the darkness with him as he possibly can.

Now, Christians have already been saved from the darkness of Hell, but they are still not immune to emotional and spiritual darkness.

God has already won the victory over Satan, death, and Hell, and Christians who have accepted Him are granted eternal security. Satan knows this, and he HATES that there is absolutely NOTHING he can do about it. God’s power will ALWAYS be superior to his, and Satan can never change that fact. However, Satan is certainly not above being petty against God, because he is the biggest sore loser in the entire universe. Even though Satan cannot counteract what Christ did for us at Calvary, he resorts to an alternative strategy to try to destroy Christians’ lives – he wants to render them completely useless for God’s service in this world.

“Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:” ~ Colossians 1:12-14

 

Painful Reflection
Artist credit: Geoffrey Jones

 

Satan knows that a Christian who is filled with God’s power will be victorious over him, so he makes it his primary goal to convince Christians that they are powerless over their lives. He relentlessly attacks people by taunting them with the difficult life circumstances they face and drives them into despair and agony by reminding them that they are helpless to do anything to change their miserable condition. Satan wants to emphasize how Christians don’t possess God’s power over their circumstances themselves and wants to keep them ignorant of the fact that they are capable of spiritually and emotionally rising above the circumstances that he (Satan) is using to harm them.

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” ~ 1 Corinthians 10:13

Once a Christian makes the heartbreaking decision to end his or her own life, Satan rejoices at winning a trophy against God.

Now, please don’t misinterpret the above statement. After receiving salvation, a person belongs to God for all eternity, and Satan can never possess custody of his or her soul again. However, if a Christian chooses to kill himself, Satan sees his death as one less warrior in God’s army to be used in the ongoing spiritual battle against him. The more Christians that Satan can take out of the fight, the less opposition he’ll have to face in this world, meaning that the billions of other lost souls that exist will have a much stronger chance of remaining lost forever, doomed to Hell.

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” ~ Ephesians 6:12

Therefore, committing suicide as a Christian is not only a sin, but it is also STEALING a valuable servant and potential warrior from God Himself.

When Jesus died on the cross for your sins, He gave everything He had just so you could be freed from Satan’s evil clutches and join Him in Heaven forever someday. Jesus gave you this opportunity through His glorious act of unconditional love on the cross, even though you had the option of never loving Him back. Jesus gave up His own life because He loved you enough to rescue you from the punishment of sin; He didn’t make His ultimate sacrifice just so you could throw your life away and all of your limitless potential you had to serve Him. Through the blood of Jesus Christ, God literally bought you back from Satan himself, since he is the god of this present world. After you accept salvation, Satan and the love of self are no longer your true masters – God alone is. Without trying to sound harsh or judgmental, my friend who is reading this, what right do you have to rob God of the service of your life that He rightfully purchased with the blood of His precious Son?

“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” ~ 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Now that I have explained the tragic loss of suicide from God’s perspective, allow me to just talk to you as a friend.

First of all, let me just say that I know exactly what it feels like to struggle with suicidal thoughts. In my life, I have been through several dark experiences that Satan has tried to use to destroy me to the very best of his ability. These include being bullied severely during my entire childhood at school – in elementary, middle, and high school; being involved in an extremely emotionally abusive romantic relationship; being betrayed by people whom I thought were my real friends, and the list goes on and on. I fully realize that I am not the only one who has suffered these things, but that in no way detracts from the great deal of pain I have been through because of them all. In fact, to this very day I still have to ask God to help me deal with the emotional scars that I’ve gained from my difficult past. There are certain negative things that will trigger my memory, which just so happens to be photographic, and my brain doesn’t need help remembering what it already holds onto so vividly whether I like it or not.

Mood Ring Finger
I’ve worn this mood ring on my right middle finger since the summer of 2013, the last time I was really struggling. Half of it changes color, and the other half glows in the dark. My mom bought it for me at the beach when she was trying to help distract me from my pain. I have worn it every day ever since to remind me of my mom’s love for me, and also to remind me to keep glowing in the dark.

The way that people have treated me throughout the course of my relatively brief lifetime has taken an immense toll on my personal self esteem. Because of this, I am not ashamed to admit that I still struggle with issues such as my self worth, since many people made me feel like I was never good enough for them, and that nothing I did could ever please them. Satan loves it when I feel this way, because he wants me to forget about how God sees me in His eyes – which is a valuable soul that He created, and sent His Son to rescue from Hell by dying on the cross for me. Whenever I’m tempted with suicidal thoughts, I remind myself of how I belong to God in both body and soul, and I have no right to steal from Him what He has already rightfully bought.

 

So I say all that to say this –

 

I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed with the rainstorm of your own emotions.

 

Alone In the Rain

I have endured many sleepless nights where I was drowning in my own tears, helplessly engulfed in the sea of personal sorrow. My mind has the potential to be my own greatest enemy, if I allow it to be. When I don’t give God full control over my thoughts, I can very easily be dragged down into the depths of despair if I’m not careful. My negative emotions, if left unchecked, can numb me to the outside world around me to the point where I don’t even notice all the other many people who are suffering from their own pain. That’s the thing about Satan’s strategy of self-pity – he wants us to be so wrapped up in our own problems that we won’t have any time left to care about those around us. Who knows how different things would be if we took the time to ask other people how they’re doing, and discovered that they’re struggling with the same problems that we are? Not only would we be helping other people to see that they’re not alone, but we’d also be helping ourselves to find out that WE’RE not alone after all like we thought!

If you feel like you just can’t take it anymore, please, by all means, TELL SOMEBODY. Speak up, just don’t give up! Don’t feel ashamed to be honest about how you’re feeling with someone you trust. Believe me, that person would much rather have you tell them NOW about your problems than feel guilty for the rest of their life after you’re gone because they didn’t know you were struggling. You are NOT a bother by telling someone whom you trust about the issues you deal with, even if you might feel like it sometimes. You might have had other people treat you like a bother in the past, which is what probably led to these negative feelings you’re having now. However, if you can find someone that you believe is willing to listen to you, they will assure you that your feelings are perfectly valid and worthy of consideration. Be aware that Satan will whisper lies in your mind that everyone else doesn’t have time for you or your problems, because he wants to keep you from the help you need.

Furthermore, Satan seeks to isolate you physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

 

Alone In The Mist

When you’re feeling depressed to the point of having suicidal thoughts, your natural instinct is to shut yourself off from other people, simply because you assume that nobody else understands what you’re going through. However, this is the worst possible thing you can do, since Satan loves to attack us when we’re most vulnerable, just like the roaring lion the Bible describes him as. He attacks when you’re locked away in your bedroom, silently crying in anguish as you play the same sad songs you relate to on repeat. He attacks when you’re out in public and you see other people around you who appear to be perfectly happy, enjoying all the different things you wish you had. He attacks when you go through your daily routine at work or school, through the comments or actions of other people that may or may not be intended to hurt you. I know exactly how Satan approaches his prey, because I myself have been his targeted victim in all of these scenarios.

Instead of hiding out in your room or anywhere else you go to avoid other people, try seeking out those who you feel you can trust, even if you don’t think they’ll ever understand how you feel. Chances are, you’ll wind up surprised at just how understanding other people can be in spite of your pre-existing judgments. Even if there is no one in your everyday life that you truly feel you can trust, you can seek out the help of professional counselors, as their whole career is about providing the listening ear you need and desire. If you cannot afford professional counseling, another option is seeking out someone involved in a ministry who has a godly testimony that has been proven over a long period of time. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you spend sufficient time in prayer about it first. Don’t neglect the resources that are available and designed to help you. Remember, your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being as a whole is the most important thing you can invest in for your life.

 

You life HAS MEANING, and the unique touch that you give to this world would forever be sincerely missed.

 

Handprint

Whether you realize it or not, your life is important and special, because God created it ON PURPOSE. You do not exist for no reason! Every single person who has ever lived was made by the hands of an Almighty Creator because He wanted them to be a part of His living Masterpiece. There are countless other lives that you touch every day which you are unaware of, and will most likely remain unaware of until you get to Heaven. Once there, God will reveal to you all the many other people who were affected by your life in a positive way, regardless of how significant you felt your words or actions were. That is the true definition of eternal riches – affecting and influencing other people’s lives so their souls can have hope and happiness forever.

Refuse to believe Satan’s lie that “everyone else would be better off without you.” The only thing he can do is tempt you with his evil influence; YOU are the one who has the free will to make a decision. If you need help resisting Satan’s attacks, pray to God to give you the strength, courage, and determination you need to fend him off. Satan is persistent, so don’t expect to see the last of him if you succeed in pushing him away the first time. Become resolute in your heart that you will turn to God for help every single time you need Him when it comes to this deadly temptation. If you feel that you lack the ability to achieve victory in this area on your own, ask God to send you someone who can be your human guardian angel. Just remember, the amount of emotional pain that you’re feeling right now will NEVER outweigh the pain of everyone around you once you’re gone.

 

If you know someone who is severely depressed and struggling with suicidal thoughts, please try to be sensitive to their feelings and HELP them.

 

Depression

Whether it’s a friend, family member, or just a casual acquaintance, anyone you know could be secretly struggling with suicidal thoughts on the inside. Because these feelings are symptoms of severe depression, they also make the person feel too ashamed to talk about it voluntarily. Society has placed a negative stigma on this issue for years, but recently it seems to be getting progressively better about being sensitive to it. We should always be concerned and care about the well-being of others, but if we ever have good, solid reason to suspect that someone is sincerely struggling emotionally, we ought to go out of our way to reach out to them. Suicidal feelings are a result of the notion that nobody cares about the person, and that no one would care enough to ask how they’re doing. You never know how much of a difference you could make in someone’s life if you decide to step up and show that you care about them. In fact, the difference just might be that you helped save their life.

The correct way to approach the issue is by just being a friend to that person. DON’T treat them like a freak who has something wrong with them. DON’T come across as patronizing or condescending. Just talk to them, ask open-ended, non-threatening questions, and BE THERE to listen. You don’t have to be a licensed therapist to listen to someone else’s problems – being a friend to someone includes being their personal confidant, with whom they can share their deepest thoughts, feelings, and secrets. Do little things for them to help them out, such as chores or errands that they might lack the emotional or physical energy to do. Surprise them with little things you know they like. Write them an encouraging note or letter to express just how important they are to you. Or, if writing by hand isn’t your thing, just a simple text message or email to let them know you’re thinking and praying about them would suffice. No matter what you choose to do, make sure that person knows that you have love for them in your heart, as God’s unconditional love is what makes ALL the difference.

Here is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, if you or someone else you know is struggling and needs help RIGHT AWAY:

Call 1-800-273-8255

You are NOT alone.

– Gloria D. Hopkins

 

Save

Going Over The Edge

Sailing Over the Edge
Fear not the future’s abyss, for God’s strong hands will never miss!

Do you remember from history class how people used to believe that the earth was flat?

During the medieval/renaissance period, it was commonly accepted by everyone that our world was completely flat. Scientists, astronomers, and cartographers from that time did not fully understand the true shape of our beautiful planet. This was due to a universal ignorance of facts, but they simply didn’t realize it at the time. Whenever maps were made for sailors who went to explore the New World, the artists would depict the ocean with its usual horizontal surface, but also portrayed the very edge of it as falling straight down as if it were a waterfall. Many times, these same mapmakers would draw pictures of giant sea monsters waiting at the bottom, ready to devour approaching ships in the jaws of death as soon as they sailed over the edge.

Flat Earth
A great dragon from beneath the earth and sea waits eagerly to swallow explorers whole.

Other medieval maps were designed similarly, showing the waters surrounding the New World infested with all sorts of aquatic monstrosities. From giant krakens to sea serpents, cartographers from the Middle Ages let their imaginations run wild when it came to portraying uncharted territory. While it’s logical to say that the ocean has its fair share of dangers, it’s most likely that half the creatures the mapmakers came up with were nothing more than purely mythological. However, we DO know that tales of dragons and other colossal beasts were commonplace back then, so seeing them included in the artwork of maps from that time period is not surprising.

You may ask, “What was the purpose of all this? Were the sea monsters just included merely for the sake of decoration on the maps?”

That might indeed be the case, given that medieval artwork in all its forms tended to be highly elaborate. However, such a hypothesis is only derived from simple speculation. I believe the reason sea monsters were included on medieval maps was much more meaningful. When you think about all the many tales and legends about dragons and other monsters from back then, they were usually describing fearsome beasts that had to be reckoned with, representing the age-old struggle between good and evil. Note: the key word here is “fearsome.” When cartographers from the medieval and renaissance period drew their maps of the New World, they were trying to illustrate the great unknown that they had never seen before. Since they didn’t have any idea what sort of things lay ahead of them in the lands across the waves, in their minds it made perfect sense to associate that dangerous uncertainty with dragons and other types of sea monsters. As you can see in the picture below, they would write on their maps the ominous warning, “Here be dragons.”

Here Be Dragons

With all of these frightening images, you can imagine how terrified the New World explorers probably were.

Just think of how they might have been extremely excited to go out and discover the New World, only to grow increasingly full of dread at the possibility of being eaten alive by a vicious sea monster! They truly feared that the moment they sailed out into the great unknown and passed over the edge of the earth, the head of a gigantic beast would pop up out of the abyss and swallow them whole! Any voyage at sea back then was already full of great peril as it was; certainly the people’s ignorant yet imaginative mindset didn’t do anything to help calm the sailors’ nerves! There are two famous phrases that say “We have met the enemy, and he is us,” and “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” When your most formidable fear is created by your own mind, then you’re really in for some trouble!

However, what would our world be like today had they not found the courage to venture out into the Great Unknown?

For starters, there would be no advanced western hemisphere. Many different countries that are part of our modern society simply would not exist if the New World explorers had chosen to stay home because of their fear and anxiety. Yes, there were many different cultures of people living in those lands for thousands of years before the explorers arrived, but our world history would be very different if the explorers let their fears get the best of them. All of the European settlers would have remained in the Old World, where they would continue to be oppressed by their countries’ respective monarchies. They would not only be oppressed by the government of absolute monarchy, but also by the rule of the Church which claimed to hold total power and control over the kings themselves. Any religious system that believes man should be worshiped and honored on the same level of God Himself is critically fallible in its thinking. Without religious freedom or a fair system of government, it is highly unlikely that European civilization would have survived much longer than the Renaissance.

In other words, our world would have remained stuck in the Dark Ages.

With religious and political freedom at stake, it’s a blessing that God enabled the New World explorers to embark upon their dangerous quests. Each sea voyage required the sailors to face the treacherous waves, violent thunderstorms, and of course, whatever mysterious perils awaited them in the new lands ahead. Even though the original explorers were not Christians, as far as we know, it was still the divine providence of God that they were brave enough to risk their lives on the high seas. A whole new world of adventure was ready and waiting to be explored, a gateway to golden opportunities for freedom of all kinds.

ships_of_christopher_columbus.jpg
Columbus’s Ship At Sea (Artist unknown)

In some regards, we Christians can strongly relate to the olden explorers. Whether or not we learn from their achievements all depends on how much we are willing to trust God. Even though the New World explorers lived centuries before us, they still have much in common with us since they were humans just like we are.

 

There are three ways that we as Christians are like the New World explorers before they left the Old World:

 

  1. Just like the medieval mindset believed that the Earth was flat, we Christians have a very limited perspective of God’s divine, ultimate plan.

    In our everyday lives, we are only able to see the present circumstances that God allows us to see. At first, this might seem rather unfair from our point of view, however, we must also remember that God is omniscient, and knows exactly what He’s doing in our lives. With our finite minds, we would be simply incapable of handling the sheer weight and amount of information that God is aware of constantly. From our perspective here on Earth, we can only see the physical flat horizon of our planet, and also the flat horizon of our circumstances. The only way we can discover what lies ahead of us is by stepping forward in faith, trusting in God’s inherent goodness. The terrain that lies immediately before us may be rough, but God knows that smooth meadows and valleys are just up ahead in the distance. We may be asked to climb high mountains, yet they are not insurmountable with the help of our omnipotent Creator.

    Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 12.07.48 AM
    God is our Captain, and His Word our Compass.

    Even though we cannot see what’s in the distance, we can choose to trust God as He guides us every step of the way. He is our Lord, we are His servants. He is our Leader, we are his followers. He is our King, we are His subjects. He made this world and our lives with His very own hands, so we can safely rest as He navigates our charted course.

  2. Just as the explorers possessed a fear of the “Great Unknown,” we also fear the “Great Unknown” of our future.

    When we go through periods of trial and testing, sometimes it’s easy to forget that God is in complete control. Whatever situation befalls us, whether it’s the death of a loved one, financial difficulty, losing a job, moving to a new place, or experiencing frequent disappointment in relationships or friendships, we must remember that God is always GOOD, no matter what. Even when life proves itself to be “unfair” in our eyes, we should assess exactly WHY we were put on this Earth in the first place – for the purpose of bringing God pleasure and His rightful glory. We might have a hard time understanding why bad or disappointing things happen to us, but as Christians it is our responsibility to keep trusting God’s hand. Our immediate future may be uncertain or “unknown,” but we DO have assurance of our eternal future. If we are willing to trust God with the keeping of our souls at salvation, why are we so unwilling to trust Him with the minor details of our daily lives? There is absolutely NOTHING in this entire universe that can separate us from His unconditional love; God expresses that fact explicitly several times throughout His Word.
    SEA SERPENT
    A sea serpent emerges from the depths. (Artist credit: Robert [Bob] Eggleton)

    When we face “fearsome beasts” of uncertain circumstances in our lives, we should ask God to give us the courage to confront them, because He doesn’t ask or expect us to do it alone. Rather, God desires the opposite: He wants us to fully rely on Him for everything in our lives, acknowledging His strength instead of our weakness, since without Him, we can do nothing.
  3. Just like the historic explorers, we are capable of great discoveries in our own lives.When we decide to completely trust God with our future, He will fully reveal His plan for us one day at a time. It is our duty, however, to make sure that we stay close to Him through prayer and reading His Word. Consulting with our Creator daily reinforces the fact that our will is subject to His. If we are obedient and faithful, we will find that God’s goodness is far greater than we could ever imagine. His divine design is carefully unfolded each day with the utmost care, and we are but small players that are part of His grand Masterpiece. Through this process, we will discover the true nature of God, and become more acquainted with His character. At the same time, we’ll also discover for ourselves just exactly what our true nature is, and hopefully prove to become what God desires us to be – the image of His Only Son, Jesus Christ.
    The_arrival_of_Christopher_Colombus_to_America,_1492
    “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus” (Artist unknown)

    Just as the discovery of the New World was essential for the growth of modern civilization, the discoveries we make about God and ourselves during trials and testing are essential for our growth as Christians. If we do not venture outside the “Old World” of our personal comfort zones, then we forfeit the chance to receive the “New World” promises that God has given us.

    Here are several passages from God’s Holy Word to comfort us whenever we must go over the edge:

    Genesis 13:15 ~ “For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.

    Exodus 6:8 ~ “And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord.

    Leviticus 20:24 ~ “But I have said unto you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey: I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people.

    Deuteronomy 9:1 ~ “Hear, O Israel: Thou art to pass over Jordan this day, to go in to possess nations greater and mightier than thyself, cities great and fenced up to heaven,

    Joshua 5:6 ~ “For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord: unto whom the Lord sware that he would not shew them the land, which the Lord sware unto their fathers that he would give us, a land that floweth with milk and honey.

    Joshua 23:14 ~ “And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.

    Judges 2:1 ~ “And an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you.

    Psalm 34:4 ~ “I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.

    Psalm 91:4-6 ~ “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.”

    Isaiah 26:3 ~ “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.

    Isaiah 27:1 ~ “In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.”

    Isaiah 41:10 ~ “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

    Jeremiah 29:11 ~ “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

    Micah 7:19 ~ “He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”

    John 14:27 ~ “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

    Romans 8:32 ~ “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?

    Romans 8:37-39 ~ “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    1 Corinthians 1:20 ~ “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.

    1 Corinthians 10:13 ~ “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

    2 Corinthians 12:9 ~ “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

    Phillippians 3:13 ~ “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,”

    Phillippians 4:19 ~ “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

    2 Peter 1:4 ~ “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

    1 John 2:25 ~ “And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.

    1 John 4:4 ~ “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.”

    Revelation 4:11 ~ “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”

    So, are you ready to go over the edge into uncharted territory?

    sea-ocean-horizon-clouds-gray

    Perhaps God has sent you on a personal voyage of exploration in your life. If so, what fears are holding you back from it? Christopher Columbus and other explorers like him either requested permission from or received direct orders from kings to go forth into the New World, hoping to bring back news of lands filled with material wealth. The explorers mainly sought a “Northwest Passage”, which they thought would lead them straight from Europe to Asia. Little did they know at the time that an entire continent lay between them and the Orient! The “Northwest Passage” they desired to find did not exist after all, but they still reached a new land full of opportunities. Because of this unexpected surprise, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella rewarded Columbus and his men with great riches.

    If we are obedient to God’s call in our lives, God will reward us for being faithful to Him, in both eternal riches and sometimes earthly riches also. However, we will forfeit these rewards if we lack faith in Him. Had Columbus listened to his crew men when they wanted to turn back, he never would have discovered America, thus failing the quest appointed to him by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. We do not want to fail our Heavenly King when He has already invested so much in us and our future! We might not always get exactly what we want out of life or what we were looking for, but it will always turn out for the best if we keep God on His throne in our hearts.

    There are plenty of biblical examples where God asked one of His servants to leave behind something familiar in order to gain something better in return, such as Abraham, for instance. In fact, the entire meaning of Christianity itself is all about forsaking sin in favor of receiving eternal life from God. We can only receive new blessings from God if we are obedient to Him and trust His goodness. Don’t let Satan, the dragon in the sea, cause you to forfeit your future just because he strikes fear into your heart! Remember that God is far more powerful than he is, and He has already won the victory against him!

    – Gloria D. Hopkins

Prevailing Over Plot Twists

Open book
God will help lift up our heads through chapters we have not yet read.

Do you ever feel like the pages of your life have unexpected chapters?

When you’re in the middle of reading a really good book, you tend to feel like you have a decent understanding of what’s going on. Unless the genre is mystery, of course, most authors generally like to give you a good idea of what’s going to happen next in their stories. However, have you ever thought about the first person perspective of the main characters in a story? Even if the book is a work of fiction, from the characters’ point of view, their story will play out to them like reality. So when something bad happens to a character in a story, they have no way of knowing the future or seeing what awaits them in the next chapter. All the character knows is their circumstances in the present state of their current chapter. Since a good character is written to be relatable to the reader, the story’s plot will often have plenty of adversity for the character to react to and eventually overcome.

“Why are you emphasizing this?” you may ask. “This isn’t English class.”

In a previous post I wrote last fall titled “Acknowledging the Author,” I compared our lives on earth to stories written by human authors. Of course, our stories are written by God, the almighty, divine Author. Because God gave us our lives, He has the ultimate authority and control over what happens in them. We naturally have a choice with our free will, but God is the One Who orchestrates our circumstances. Therefore, instead of fighting against God by trying to tell Him what we think is best for our lives, we would all do much better to acknowledge His rightful place as the Author in our individual stories.

In this post, we’ll discuss what to do when the divine Author writes us a plot twist.

Screen Shot 2017-06-03 at 4.52.49 PM

Life is an unpredictable journey, and no matter how many times the world’s selfish mantras try to convince us otherwise, we are most definitely NOT in control. Things will be a lot less complicated once we realize and accept that as fact. As Christians however, we have something incredibly special that the rest of this dark world does not – hope. Not just any hope, but a blessed hope that promises us eternal life completely separate from the suffering of this earth. We only obtain this blessed hope by putting our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and accepting His grace to be our Savior. After asking the Lord to forgive us of our sins, His Holy Spirit comes to reside within our hearts forever.

You’d think this would make life a lot easier, right?

Wrong.

Too many people have the misconception that becoming a Christian means getting an instant happy ending with a blissful, carefree life on earth. Oh, how very far from the truth that mistaken assumption is! This belief comes from simple ignorance, or blatant lies told by those who use bribery as a method to convert people to the gospel. What these people forget is that the Lord Jesus Himself led a life here on earth that was absolutely filled with suffering. The very reason He came to this world was so He could die for our sins to pay the price of our redemption.

If Jesus, the very Son of God, was not exempt from earthly suffering, then why in the world should we as Christians expect to have it better than He did? John 15:20 says, “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.” If the King of Kings and Lord of Lords was willing to humble Himself for our sake, then we should be more than willing to endure trials in our lives for His sake.

With that much being said, God has promised to help us through whatever we might face on this earth.

Beach footprints

Even though God desires us to be strong, faithful warriors for Him, He is also extremely merciful and compassionate. Therefore, He does not neglect to aid us whenever we need His help during tribulation. All we need to do is come before Him in humility of mind and heart, as we ask Him in prayer for His guidance and understanding. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “There hath no temptation taken hold of you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful; He will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that which ye are able to bear, but with the temptation will also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Right there we have solid confirmation in God’s Word that He wants to help us in our troubles, and provide us with a way to get through them.

When we don’t understand our circumstances, it’s all too easy to question God and His goodness to us. When we’re tempted to do that, the best thing we can do is look to that verse and remember what He’s said to us. A loving God wouldn’t allow us to suffer in life without helping us. There are many various ways that He helps us, too: He helps us by giving us understanding, by growing our faith in Him, by teaching us His truth, and by transforming us spiritually through the course of the whole process. Essentially, God wants to accomplish the same thing through our trials as he does through His Word.

Now, to be perfectly honest, we Christians don’t always read God’s Word as often as we should, therefore giving us a need to learn valuable lessons. God knows all our needs inside and out, and as He understands our imperfect nature, He sometimes uses trials to teach us lessons that we might be deficient in from neglecting His Word. It’s our responsibility to find out what God is trying to teach us, even if at the time we can’t figure out why. Usually the “whys” are answered through the 20/20 vision of hindsight, or retrospect. The good news about this is, by the time we reflect back on our trials and the lessons they taught us, we have hopefully learned everything God wanted us to get from them, resulting in an understanding, thankful attitude of peace within our hearts.

Let’s take a look at three different strategies we can use when confronted with plot twists in our life:

1. Ask questions.

Question maze.jpeg

As I already stated above, God is usually trying to teach us something when we experience trials in our lives. It is important to remember that the biblical context of the word “trial” is not the same thing as a judicial court session; in its proper context, a trial means proving what you’re made of. Whether it be a trial of your faith, obedience, or love for God, all such trials fulfill the divine purpose of showing God what’s in your heart. More importantly though, they are designed to show YOU what lies in your heart, as God already knows everything, since He’s omniscient. Think about it – if God is trying to show you what you’re made of in your heart, that usually means that there is significant room for improvement. In other words, God is seeking to use this experience in your life to change you for the better.

Instead of complaining and asking God “Why are You making me go through this?”, try asking Him “Lord, please show me – what are you trying to teach me through this experience?” You’ll find that having a humble attitude in the midst of testing is far more effective than a demanding one. Remember the story of Job in the Old Testament? God allowed Satan to put him through every earthly sorrow imaginable, with the only exception being that his life was spared. The Bible explicitly states that Job was a righteous man who loved God with all his heart, and yet God still allowed him to experience a multitude of suffering.

Of course, we know the reason why – God was testing his loyalty to Him by letting Satan take away his earthly blessings. This was only because Satan arrogantly made the claim that Job was only serving God for what he could get from Him. Satan challenged God by saying, “If You take away all the good things he has in his life, then he will curse You to Your face!” Little did Satan realize that God already knew what was in Job’s heart, and He was fully aware that Job loved Him unconditionally. However, God still allowed Satan to afflict Job for the sake of proving Satan wrong, not because He wanted to punish Job for no reason.

So throughout the entire book of Job, we read how Job’s friends and family questioned both him and God, how Job eventually questioned God’s motives directly, and finally how God answered Job by questioning him about his power compared to His own. God was not trying to patronize Job by making him feel small through His questioning; rather, He was trying to show Job that this world will always feel impossible to understand, as He is the One Who made it. Therefore, because there was so much that Job didn’t understand about God’s ways and His power, God explained that the best thing He could do was just to trust Him.

What we can learn from Job’s story to apply to our own lives is this – It is perfectly okay to ask God questions, as long as we do so with the right attitude. God wants us to turn to Him for help, as that shows Him we are acknowledging our need for Him. The only way we can obtain any kind of understanding from our life situations is by seeking God and asking for His wisdom. God wants to help us, but we need to show Him that we are humble enough to seek His guidance and direction. Through time, prayer, and patience, we will receive God’s answer, which leads us to our next strategy.

2. Listen to God’s answer.

Girl listening to ocean

After calling upon God with a humble heart, He will answer us in due time; we just need to sharpen our skills in observation to notice when He does. Often, we can find God’s answer for us within the pages of Scripture. Even though it may seem impossible to consciously search for the answer in a specific passage by yourself, sometimes God will make a particular verse or chapter stand out to you as you glance through the pages of His Word. Another way God might do this is by causing the Holy Spirit to lay a desire in your heart to read a specific section of Scripture. Other ways that God can answer us are from our outside circumstances. Depending on the situation, God can use the actions and words of other people to give you a clear direction regarding the questions you asked Him. The reason God answers us in such subtle ways is because He wants to see if we are really willing to listen to Him.

Instead of getting impatient with God, saying “Why won’t you answer me?!”, ask Him “Lord, what are the ways that you are trying to speak to me? I’m earnestly waiting for your guidance.” Being open minded towards God’s methods of communication will get you further than a limited perspective of your own invention. Remember the story of Cain and Abel in the Old Testament? Both of them were brothers who were offering up sacrifices to God, yet only one of them did it the right way. Abel listened to God and his parents’ instruction by offering up a lamb for his sacrifice, while Cain disobeyed by offering his fruits and vegetables from his garden. Not only was this the wrong decision, but Cain also had the wrong attitude by assuming God would be pleased with it. Of course, God was NOT pleased with Cain’s disobedience, nor his proud, presumptuous attitude, so He refused to take Cain’s offering and accepted Abel’s offering instead.

Cain became very angry with God, so much so that his countenance fell, and God addressed him about it. When Cain asked God why He wouldn’t accept his sacrifice, God simply explained His rules and requirements for a living animal to be given up, as it symbolized the future death of His Son Jesus for our sins. God told Cain how he didn’t follow what he was supposed to do, and that was why He refused to acknowledge his sacrifice. However, God also mercifully told Cain that he could still have a second chance by doing it over again the way He asked, but that was not good enough for Cain, who had a stubborn, proud heart. Instead of asking God to forgive his disobedience and repent from his mistake, Cain chose to take his anger out on his brother Abel by killing him in the fields with his own hands, thus committing the very first murder in human history.

In this story, we see two specific ways that God answered Cain – through His actions and by speaking to him directly. Even though Cain was not actively seeking God’s will in a season of testing, we can still observe how God communicated with him during the course of his story. When Cain disobeyed God’s wishes for giving a sacrifice to Him, God sent a very clear, strong message by simply ignoring it. Sin separates us from fellowship with God, so if God’s presence appears to suddenly be quiet or hidden in your life, it might be a good idea to examine your own heart for any unconfessed sin. God can use His quietness to get our attention when we’ve done something wrong, but He’ll also in His grace be the One to occasionally seek us out.

What we can learn from Cain’s story to apply to our own lives is this – We might be the very reason why we aren’t getting an answer from God. Just as we need to ask God questions with the right attitude, we also need to listen with the right attitude. We can show God that we are willing to listen to Him by obeying His Word, and by making sure that our hearts are right with Him before we expect to hear an answer from Him. Cain’s problem was that he didn’t really listen to God when He answered; instead He chose to get angry with God for what He said and took it out on his innocent brother by killing him. It is extremely important for us to listen to what God has to say by responding correctly, which leads us to our next strategy.

3. Follow where God leads.

Sign post

Once we have received clear direction from God about our situation, it is up to us to do what He wants us to by obeying Him. God might call us to take a specific course of action, or He might want us to simply keep waiting as we watch Him work things out. What everything ultimately comes down to is how much faith and trust we have in Him. Are we willing to do whatever is necessary to accomplish God’s will in our lives? Or are we going to hide behind the artificial excuse of not knowing what He wants us to do when He has clearly already told us what it is? If we pretend that we don’t understand what God is doing in our lives when deep down, we know that He has already shown us, that is nothing more than procrastination, plain and simple. Granted, it will take much time and patience before we know for certain what God’s will is in our personal circumstances, but once we do finally know His will, there is no excuse for us to turn back. And believe me, God has heard every single excuse in the book!  We need to show God that we are up the challenge He has called us to face.

Rather than telling God “Give me more convenient circumstances!”, we should say “Lord, give me the strength I need to grow through this experience.” God wouldn’t put us in a challenging situation if He didn’t want us to change for the better. He certainly won’t make the period of testing easier; if anything, it will get a lot harder than we want or expect it to! God wants us to recognize our own weakness so that we will be compelled to rely on His strength. Remember the story of Moses in the Old Testament? He knew exactly what God wanted him to do – he was commanded to lead the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt. God didn’t sugarcoat his assignment; He told Moses exactly how everything would transpire once he dared to confront Pharaoh. As a result, Moses was scared silly! He knew the difficulty he was getting himself into, therefore he made up every reason he could think of for God to send someone else instead.

Moses told God that he couldn’t accomplish His will because he was “slow of speech,” or stammered when he talked. God became frustrated with his excuse and reminded Moses that He created the human tongue, meaning that He could help him in spite of his weakness. When that didn’t work, Moses asked God what he should do if the Jewish people didn’t want to listen to his authority. God responded by telling him to give them a sign by saying, “I AM hath sent me.” By doing so, the Jewish people would recognize that Moses was indeed sent by the one, true God Whom they worshiped. These are just a couple examples, but every single excuse that Moses gave in an attempt to get out of his calling, God shot down without any hesitation.

Realizing that he was in a losing argument with God, Moses finally gave up and gave in to the command that God gave him. When he decided to make God his Source of strength, Moses was able to accomplish everything in Egypt that God asked him to, and glorified His Name in the process. Even though he was unsuccessful in getting the Pharaoh to believe in God and His power, Moses did achieve what God sent him to do – deliver the Jewish people from their captivity as slaves. It didn’t matter what the Egyptians or the Hebrews thought of Moses and his abilities; it only mattered that Moses was willing to obey God no matter how tough his calling turned out to be. All Moses needed to do was step back from focusing on himself and his weaknesses, so that God could display His tremendous power through him as his servant.

What we can learn from Moses’ story to apply to our own lives is this – God has already done His part, and He expects us to do ours too. It’s not fair for us to ask God questions about our situation, demand answers from Him, and then just sit back passively when He wants us to do something. I know what you’re probably thinking – “How am I expected to do something when I might not have control over my situation? Isn’t it a bit inconsistent for you to tell me to take action when you’ve already said that God is the One in charge of my life?” Well, the thing is, what God might ask us to do in the midst of trying circumstances isn’t always a physical action. He might be simply asking us to have more faith in Him and prove our trust to Him. Most likely, He’s probably testing us to see whether or not we’re willing to obey His calling for us. We must look deep inside our hearts and ask ourselves, “Am I really willing to follow wherever God leads me, no matter what the cost?”

 

Here are verses to help you implement these strategies so you can prevail over plot twists in your life:

 

Isaiah 33:2 ~ “O Lord, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee: be thou their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 ~ “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”

Psalm 22:19 ~ “But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.

Psalm 43:5 ~ “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”

Psalm 46:1 ~ “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Psalm 56:8 ~ “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”

Psalm 61:2 ~ “From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

Psalm 119:28 ~ “My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word.

Psalm 120:1 ~ “In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me.

Psalm 130:1 ~ “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.

1 Corinthians 1:27 ~ “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;”

1 Corinthians 10:13 ~ ““There hath no temptation taken hold of you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful; He will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that which ye are able to bear, but with the temptation will also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ~ “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

1 Thessalonians 5:24 ~ “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.

Romans 8:26 ~ “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

Ephesians 6:10 ~ “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.

Philippians 4:13 ~ “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

 

The best way to prevail over plot twists in our lives is by trusting and obeying God.

To summarize the three strategies I’ve shared with you, I’ll reference the chorus of the classic old hymn titled Trust and Obey:

“Trust and obey,

for there’s no other way

to be happy in Jesus

but to trust and obey.”

handwriting

When we don’t understand where exactly our life story is headed, we should look to the One Who is still busy writing it – the Divine Author, God Himself. Even when everything seems hopeless and dark in the present, all things are still under His control. The future is bright, since we have a blessed eternity to look forward to after accepting salvation. If we make a little bit of effort, we’ll notice that there are plenty of happy blessings to enjoy in this present world, in spite of all our trials and troubles. Making an attempt to be thankful to God for little things each day will add to our Christian joy, helping it to be strong regardless of difficult circumstances. In fact, we should also thank God for the trials in our lives, since they should be viewed as an opportunity for spiritual growth. No matter how many different plot twists are written into our life chapters, we have no valid reason to worry, since He already has it all planned out. Instead of trying to grab the pen away from His loving hand, we should loosen our grip completely and realize that He knows what He’s doing.

-Gloria D. Hopkins

Shear Joy: Living Life As God’s Sheep

Sheep
The Lord cares dearly for His not-so-innocent lambs.

Are you sheepish?

Whether you realize it or not, you are a part of a universal flock that wanders through the many vast fields of this world. There is only one Shepherd that we all truly belong to, yet so many of us are gone astray, roaming far from the safety of God’s pastures. Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who sacrificed everything just to rescue His lost flock of sheep. His little lambs are very precious to Him, even though they are guilty of running away from home. The Bible says that “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) This means that every person in the world is a stubborn sheep who only wants his or her own way. Jesus gave up His life by dying on the cross for our sins, just so that we could all have the chance to be redeemed, reunited, and reconciled with Him.

Irish shepherd

If you have already made the decision to accept Jesus into your heart as your personal Savior, then you know Him as your loving Shepherd Who protects, cares for, and watches over you. If you have not made that decision yet, then you are still wandering far from home, lost in the wilderness of sin. Jesus is searching for you far and wide, calling out your name so He can find you and bring you to safety. You might be thinking, “Why would I want to listen to Him, when right now I can do whatever I want and go wherever I please? What’s the use of being stuck behind a boring fence? It’s so much more wild and exciting out here!” My friend, while I fully understand this type of reasoning, I must lovingly inform you that it is faulty and foolish. You may have the freedom to do whatever and go wherever you want in the wilderness of sin, but it will only be a matter of time before you find yourself in grave danger. A lost sheep might enjoy exploring a rocky mountainside alone for a while, but who will help save him once he falls off the edge of a cliff?

There is only one place of prosperity, and that is within the peace of God’s pasture.

Sheep thirsty

The sheep who have been returned home to God’s pastures are far better off than the ones who are still choosing to wander in the wilderness of sin. Although they are guided and corrected by their Good Shepherd, the rescued sheep are the real ones who know what true freedom is like. Jesus leads His redeemed lambs through lush meadows, and shows them where all the cool, refreshing springs are to quench their thirst. These places of comfort are readily available to the sheep that follow the Good Shepherd, since He knows exactly where they are, and therefore they can enjoy them with little to no effort of their own. The lost, wandering sheep are not so lucky – they have to search through treacherous landscapes just to find a minimal amount of shelter. The lost sheep do not know anything about the blessings the rescued sheep enjoy, because they do not have the Good Shepherd leading them under His protection. They are forced instead to survive from their own natural instincts, facing the perils of this world without any comfort or hope.

Let’s explore four reasons why life is so much better as one of God’s rescued sheep:

 

1. You never have to worry about getting lost with the Good Shepherd.

Sheep on a path.jpeg

While traversing the fields and plains of this life, you can rest assured that Jesus always knows exactly where He is taking you. As the Good Shepherd, He is wise and experienced about the many paths He travels, so He knows which ones are just right for leading His beloved sheep. Among the many twists and turns of the paths of life, Jesus already knows the safest route to take. Even though there are times when He takes you through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, you have nothing to fear, as long as you carefully follow His every step. The lost sheep might feel like they are free wandering out in the wilderness of sin, but in reality they have no idea where they’re going or what they’re doing, hence the reason they are called “lost.” They do not know the security of having a loving Shepherd guiding them through rough, unstable terrain. The lost sheep just keep wandering aimlessly, hoping to find the elusive happiness they’re searching for; but their efforts are all in vain as long as they keep running from the Good Shepherd.

2. The Good Shepherd takes great care of His sheep.

feeding sheep

A flock of sheep doesn’t need to worry about where or when they’ll obtain their next meal, as long as they have a responsible shepherd looking after them. Likewise, the Good Shepherd never neglects to nurture His beloved flock, always giving them the freshest grass to eat and the cleanest water to drink. The rescued sheep have a calm assurance that all of their needs will be provided for them every day by the Good Shepherd, and this gives them a sincere desire to submit to Him. The lost, wandering sheep, however, depend on themselves to find nourishment. Sure, they might find a few patches of grass and puddles of water here and there, but only after a long time searching for it. Even after finding it, the taste simply cannot compare to the food and drink the Good Shepherd provides for His rescued flock. What’s more, the lost, wandering sheep do not know the blessed privilege of having someone love them enough to give them the things they need. In their attempts to be independent and self-sufficient, they’re missing out on the greatest things life has to offer –  grace and compassion.

3. The Good Shepherd shears His sheep whenever necessary.

Sheep shearing

Sometimes, even the sheep living among the rescued flock can tend to get their wool dirty, or just so overgrown that they simply can’t see anymore. Metaphorically, this means that Christians too can still be stained by sin, or so focused on themselves and their personal circumstances that they can’t see their Savior anymore, which is where their focus should be. In a state of temporary blindness, they might even stray off the pathway that their loving Shepherd is guiding them on. As a result, they may return with some prickly thorns, sticks, or burrs stuck in their wool. However, they need not become discouraged by this, as the Good Shepherd is more than happy and willing to remove whatever objects they got stuck to them. Occasionally, their wool might become so entangled with foreign objects that the only available option is to shear them completely. When this happens, the Savior lovingly holds them with His firm but gentle hands until their transformation is finished. Afterwards, they look so clean with their freshly shorn skin! Unfortunately, the lost sheep do not have this luxury. When they fall into briars and other natural snares, they have no one to clean up their soiled wool. They have no choice but to carry it around with them until it becomes too heavy to bear anymore. The lost sheep do not know what it feels like to be relieved of the burden of wool pulled over their eyes.

4. The Good Shepherd knows every one of His sheep by name, including the “black” ones.

Mixed crowd

In God’s rescued flock, it doesn’t matter what kind of life you led before you were saved; God loves you equally just as much as He loves all the other lost sheep He saved. You are special and important to Him, so much so that He knows you by name, even though the numbers He’s rescued are countless. There is no such thing as a “black sheep” in God’s flock, where one is set apart as lesser than all the rest. No matter who you are, what you look like, or what you’ve done in the past, God loves you unconditionally. You can rejoice in knowing that nothing in this world or the next will ever change that fact. Sadly, the lost, wandering sheep are unaware of just how much they are loved. Some of them even believe that they are not worth rescuing, because the distance they’ve strayed from the Good Shepherd is so great. If only they knew that they are just as priceless and valuable to the Good Shepherd as the flock He’s already rescued! They only need to hear His kind, gentle voice calling out their name, beckoning them to return to the safety of His fold.

 

Here are some verses to help you remember why the grass is always greener within God’s pasture:

 

Psalm 23:1-6 ~ “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

John 10:1-18 ~ “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.”

Isaiah 40:11 ~ “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”

Hebrews 13:20 ~ “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,”

Psalm 79:13 ~ “So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever: we will shew forth thy praise to all generations.”

Psalm 95:7 ~ “For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice,

Psalm 100:3 ~ “Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

Psalm 119:176 ~ “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.”

Ezekiel 34:31 ~ “And ye my flock, the flock of my pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord GOD.

Luke 12:32 ~ “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

No matter how far we might wander away, the Good Shepherd loves us though we often stray.

Irish sheep

We never have to worry about Jesus rejecting us just because we have a natural tendency to sin frequently. Those of us who are rescued sheep still like to occasionally run off and do our own thing, whether we admit to it or not. Fortunately for us, we are blessed to have a Good Shepherd Who loves us enough to come looking for us every time we go off the path. Since we are inherently stubborn, He may have to grab us with His hook around our neck, but this is only because He wants to keep us from danger. As ignorant sheep, we do not always know better; we like to have our way at all times. We don’t always know what’s good or best for us, but praise God that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, does! He is fully aware of all our strengths and weaknesses, and is determined to help us grow in those important areas. Thankfully, God never gives up on us, even though we are notoriously strong-willed! As partakers of the blessings of God’s peaceful pasture, we should be joyful and thankful every single day that we get to live under His watchful care. We should go out of our way to share the good news with other fellow sheep who are lost, so they too can know what it’s like to follow the Good Shepherd and experience true freedom and sheer joy.

– Gloria D. Hopkins

 

Five Reasons You’re Always Special To God

heart-jewels
We must always try to understand that our worth is found in His hands.

Did you know that you are special?

On Valentine’s Day, our society promotes romantic relationships with a special someone. However, this day is not always favorable in the eyes of those who lack a relationship with someone special. In fact, many people downright despise or despair of this holiday, simply because they feel unhappy about the fact that they are lonely. It is a sad truth indeed that our culture has become so oblivious to the real meaning of love, and often ignores that love is not limited to romantic relationships. The result of this faulty mindset causes many people everywhere to believe that if they aren’t in a romantic relationship with someone at any given moment of time, that there is something wrong with them. Of course, this belief inevitably leads to even more heartbreak for those who act on it, as they will never be satisfied with another person who is just as empty and broken as they are.

But I’m not writing this to present the dreary facts that we already know of in this world. I’m here to tell you that regardless of your relationship status during this past Valentine’s Day, you are incredibly special to Someone Who loves you more than you could possibly imagine. Your worth is found in God alone, not a person. Any time you doubt that, ask yourself this question – Who made me, God, or a person? The answer is obviously God. Although He created humans with the physical ability to give birth to other humans, God is the One Who fashioned and formed every detail of your physical and spiritual existence inside your mother’s womb. Your very essence, called a soul, is a gift from God when He breathed life into you. Because you were made by such a powerful, talented Creator, He thought you were valuable enough to save from an eternal death as punishment for sin in a horrible place called Hell. That’s why He sent His Son Jesus to take your punishment so you would never have to go to such a terrible place. God wanted you to not just live forever, but to live forever with Him in Heaven.

You may ask, “Why would God bother taking the time to help someone like me?”

The answer is simple – He loves you.

God’s love is so unconditional towards us, that it’s nearly impossible for us to understand why He would care so much about us when we’re so sinful, and He is perfect. The good news is, we don’t have to understand. We merely need to accept the fact that we are loved by Him. Even though accepting that we are loved doesn’t require understanding, it does help to remember the reasons why we’re special to Him, so we can be joyful every day.

Here are five reasons why you are ALWAYS special to God:

1. You are His own creation.

paints

 

As a person formed by God’s own hands, you are an original, unrepeatable work of art. No amount of similarities between you and other people will ever change that. Because you are God’s work of art, you are valuable, precious, and special to Him. The color of your hair, eyes, and skin was handpicked by Him. Your personality, emotions, and heart were all carefully selected with His specific purpose in mind. The voice you have is certifiable proof that you are an irreplaceable copy, as it will always be different from the sounds of other voices around you. The combination of all these elements is what makes you unique, and therefore special to God. Just as an artist would never throw away his masterpiece, God never wants to lose you, the Masterpiece that He made.

2. He put you on this earth for a specific purpose.

pencil-on-paper

The very fact that God made you means He has a special plan in store for your life. He didn’t create you for no reason. God is a God of meaning and fulfillment, not randomness and chaos. God made you because He knew that people you encounter throughout your life would need someone like you, to affect them for their benefit. Although there are many people in the world, the lives you touch of those where God has placed you are equally important as those who live far away. You were specially designed by your Creator to be an instrument of blessing to others around you. The talents and abilities you possess are gifts from Him to use in His service. It is up to you to realize what gifts you have, and to develop them into becoming their full potential that God wants them to be. While there are many people in this world with similar talents, God has placed each person exactly where they are needed, regardless of who has the greater skills in those particular talents. So the next time you feel discouraged about feeling inferior to someone else’s supposedly superior skills, just remember that God designed you to have the unique capacity of abilities He gave you in order to fulfill the specific need or calling for your life.

3. You were made in His own image.

mirror-reflection

When God made you, He poured a likeness of Himself into the very core of your being. You, as a person, possess the abilities to think, feel, and speak, unlike animals that function from their God-given instincts. The reason you are able to mentally process your thoughts and emotions and communicate them through your words is because God desired to have a special creation with whom He could share a personal relationship. God gave every human being a soul, a spirit, and a body, which are a direct reflection of the Holy Trinity that is comprised of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Your soul is the essence of your identity, the manifestation of who you are as a person. Your spirit is your divine life source that allows you to worship God and communicate with Him directly. Your body is but a temporary vessel that encases these two intangible, yet very real things that are your existence. Because God made man so much like Himself in this incredibly special way, He couldn’t bear to see His divine image shattered by sin. In a sense, God was a part of man, and man was a part of Him, since God breathed the breath of life into man’s very nostrils.

4. He literally moved Heaven and Earth just so you could be with Him again.

side-earth

 

It’s no exaggeration to say that God used all of His power necessary to restore man’s lost relationship with Him. Because of the reasons listed above, you are SO special to God, that He was willing to give up the very best thing He had – His only Son, Jesus Christ. For thousands of years, while the history of mankind was unfolding on Earth, God was devising a Master plan to redeem His favorite creation that was formed in His likeness. Instead of despairing over man’s choice to sin over obedience to Him, God mercifully gave him an alternative option that would save man from eternal punishment in Hell. God decided to send His absolutely perfect and holy Son Jesus from the shining realm of Heaven into this dark, wicked world, full of the depravity of man’s sinful heart. In order to do this, God orchestrated events throughout Earth’s history that would eventually bring about the promised coming of the Messiah, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God’s hand was behind everything from the very beginning. Man’s foolish mistake did nothing to change how much God loved him in spite of his sin. God not only sent His Son to die for the sins of the whole world, but He also did it for you personally. The beauty of the gospel message is this: No matter how many people have ever lived in this world, Jesus died to save each and every one of them, including you.

5. If you know Him personally, You are His beloved child.

gods-child

 

Once you have decided to receive salvation by accepting Jesus as your personal Savior, you are officially adopted into God’s family. As a member of God’s family, you are blessed with the riches of His grace, love, and mercy. You have access to the privilege of prayer, which is the gift of constant communication with God at any time you desire. God is no longer an estranged Being Who is separated from you by your sin; He is your kind, caring, compassionate Father, Who is more than willing to meet your every need. Any time you want to talk to Him, He’s there to listen with all ears, provided that you are right with Him in your heart by confessing any sin that might be there. God already knows every single thing about you, yet He is always eager to hear about your day and whatever it is that’s on your mind. You are precious to Him, and He has promised to make you an eternal heir to His heavenly Kingdom once you are redeemed. God understands that as His child, you are inclined to fail Him often; but that does not stop Him from loving you. Nothing can ever separate you from His love after salvation, not even the Devil himself. You never have to worry about being disowned by God if you mess up from time to time. You will always have a place in His eternal, righteous family, because as His child, you belong to Him.

 

Here are some verses to further confirm why you are always special to God:

 

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ~ “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Matthew 10:29-31 ~ “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.”

Matthew 13:45-46 ~ “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”

Genesis 1:26-27 ~ “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Genesis 2:7 ~ “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

Jeremiah 1:4-5 ~ “Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.

Jeremiah 29:11 ~ “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”

Jeremiah 31:3 ~ “The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.”

Ephesians 2:10 ~ “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

Psalm 119:73-74 ~ “Thy hands have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments. They that fear thee will be glad when they see me; because I have hoped in thy word.”

Psalm 139:13-14 ~ “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”

Psalm 139:16 ~ “Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

 Isaiah 64:8 ~ “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.


Romans 8:32 ~ “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?

 

Your identity is not found in a special someone, but in Someone Who KNOWS you’re special.

pearl-of-great-price

 

Instead of focusing on people who fail you with their artificial, changing “love,” focus on God, Who will NEVER fail you with His real, unchanging love. Don’t let Satan deceive you into thinking that your worth is dependent on other people’s treatment of you. No matter what any person says to you or about you, nothing will ever change how special you truly are in God’s eyes. However, it’s not enough just to be told that you are valuable to God; you need to make a conscious decision to believe it for yourself. It’s one thing to know something inside of your head, but it’s a different thing entirely to sincerely believe it within your heart. The next time you hear a subtle voice in your head silently whispering that you’re not special, recognize it as the voice of Satan, and tell the Devil to go straight back to Hell where he belongs. Don’t choose to dwell on painful memories of your past, when instead you can revel in the joy of God’s love for you in the present! Ask God daily to help you remember how much He loves you, and He will be sure to remind you in His unique, affectionate way. Never forget that you ARE valuable to Him, and your life is of infinite worth.

– Gloria D. Hopkins