The bright late-May sunshine fell on my face, luxuriously warm. I closed my eyes and let my skin soak up it's energy as the corners of my mouth automatically drew upward in delight. It's rays reinvigorated my weary soul. But it was only for a second. The sun kissed me for a literal second, then it was gone. Back again. Gone again. Back again. Gone again. Over and over.
The swing on the back deck of my house was in just the right spot for me to experience the sunshine on the way up, but the backswing put me in the shadow of the house. I wanted to enjoy the sun, but I was tired, and the obvious solution didn't seem worth the energy- MOVE THE SWING! It's light-weight and slides easily, but I didn't do it.
How often does this happen in my spiritual life? I go back and forth between experiencing THE LIGHT and slipping into the shadows. I love the benefits of spending time with God but I don't always make the effort.
To be clear, as a child of God, He's always with me. But, because of MY actions, I'm not always basking in the fullness of relationship with him. And the solution for that is as simple as moving the swing. I need to move myself to do the things that I KNOW promote fellowship with God- spending more time in prayer and reading the Word.
We should aim not to only experience His presence at church or when we need something from Him. It should be where we live! Psalm 140:13 says: "Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy name: the upright shall dwell in thy presence."
What are you waiting for? Take a step out of the shadows today. Let's move to where the Light is.
All day long, I talk to people. I share posts on social media, and I comment on other’s people’s posts. As a society, we’re accustomed to constant human interaction, and I enjoy the convenience and connection that technology allows. But sometimes I imagine what it would be like if it all went away—if social media ceased to exist, if phones were unavailable. I’d dearly miss my online companions, and it would take a long time to adjust, but I would still have my church, my family, and Jesus.
But, God forbid, what if my church family dissolved? What if that fellowship was no longer available to me? I would certainly grieve. But I’d still have my family and Jesus.
Though I can barely stand to consider it, what if family weren’t with me? What if I was taken to a far off place, away from everything and everyone I know and love. How horrible! But my soul rests in the fact that I’d still have Jesus.
But what if Jesus….? There are no more what ifs. Jesus is the only thing in my existence that can’t be removed from me, the only thing that is inextricable from my being. While the other situations are, thank God, improbable, losing Jesus is simply impossible. What an awesome thought—I have something that can never be taken away. As a believer, I have the Spirit of the Living God with me at all times, and He will always be a constant and abiding presence, regardless of any other circumstance in my life.
Psalm 139:7-10 says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
Imagine your surroundings as a silent void, an abyss of nothingness. Even in that place, God is there. And in nothingness, you have abundance as a child of God. There is no fission process that can separate Him from you. No matter where you are, He is there. He will always be there. And He is sufficient.
The woman’s pretentious words set my blood to boilin’, as the saying goes. In a closed Facebook group, related to Christian writing and publishing, this person’s responses on a particular thread were haughty and, by my interpretation, hateful. I stopped to examine my emotions. I’d been under a lot of stress. Maybe I was just overly sensitive. Everyone else dealt with her patiently, and with grace. They answered each arrogant retort with gentle, loving dialogue, while I wanted to (politely) call her out.
I stepped away from the thread and went on scrolling through Facebook, still fuming. Then I came across a meme posted by author Robin Lee Hatcher. It said, “Sometimes the best thing to say or do is nothing.” Well, there was my sign. I needed to stay quiet about the matter.
Still, it ate away at me. I went back and read the thread again. It had only gotten worse. This person tried to shut people down like her opinion was the only one in the world that mattered, and I wanted so badly to jump in and (with love) tell her she was being a jerk. Sometimes, it’s okay to do that. But in this case, I just didn’t feel that liberty. So I continued to fight the urge, and I jumped over to Twitter instead. I scrolled through GIFs and quotes, still seeing red. Then I saw a post from my writer friend, Rachel Schmoyer. She’s studying and teaching the book of Proverbs and had shared this: “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” (Proverbs 11:12, ESV) Remains silent. There it was again. I had no other choice but to let it go. I wouldn’t even revisit the thread, so I wouldn’t be tempted to speak out.
The next day, I had another irritating encounter online. I had my feelings hurt through a message with a friend. I’m still not sure if it's because I’ve been overly sensitive lately. Proverbs 15:18 says, “A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife.” I think I'm normally slow to anger, but in some seasons and situations, it’s harder to be that way.
I managed to keep calm with my friend, but my first instinct was to call someone else to vent. Before I dialed, I thought of Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Even if what I was going to say was true and honest, it surely wasn’t of “good report” or “virtue”. It wasn’t praiseworthy. So, I knew I needed to be quiet. Still, I wanted someone to validate my feelings of anger. I needed to tell someone that I had been wronged. But back to Facebook I went for a mindless distraction, and as I scrolled, I came across a post that was simply one word and two numbers. It read, “Philippians 4:8.” Wow. Needless to say, I didn't make that phone call.
Three times in two days, something on social media gave me pause. Three times, I received spiritual guidance from Facebook or Twitter. So does God really speak through social media? Does he really care that much for me, to guide me so lovingly in the right direction when I’m tempted? I believe so, but not just because I happened to find these posts. I spend way too much time on social media, so it’s probable, out of all the posts I read, that I’ll find ones that relate to my present situation. But I know God speaks to me on social media by the way those posts convicted me, the way they spoke to my spirit. John 10:27 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” I'm thankful to be one of His. I'm thankful that I have friends who share the truth of Scripture online. And I'm thankful that God speaks in many ways. What unexpected way has God spoken to you lately?
So many spiritual connections can be made while observing nature. This morning's thought came just from watching birds eat.
Over the past few years, I've developed a love and appreciation for birds. I think it's part of getting older- we start slowing down to really see things that have been right in front of us all along but were too busy to appreciate. I have a couple of feeders up, and I get a lot of joy just from watching the little birds come to eat. Today, I noticed how the different species feed differently from each other, and it made me think of the different ways believers consume spiritual food.
The sparrow hung out there, taking its time. It pecked and ate leisurely, perched in the same spot for a long while. Some people spend time with God this way, setting aside time to soak up His presence and be fed in no hurry.
The chickadees and nuthatches dart in and grab a bite, then quickly fly away. But they come back soon. Back and forth, they feed throughout the day. Spiritually, I find myself most like these birds. I spend time with God in short, frequent periods- a verse here and a prayer there, a song lifted up as I go about my day.
Some of the birds seem to prefer to eat alone, while others come with a friend. The cardinals and the house finches usually come as a pair. And while Christians are instructed to assemble together regularly, some believers get the best spiritual food in their quiet time alone with God. Others thrive on corporate worship.
No matter how you like to be fed, the most important thing is to eat. We may do it differently, but spending time with Jesus through worship, prayer, and reading the Bible is the spiritual food we all need.
"For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world." John 6:33
Is the remix ever as good as the original? What about new words set to the same music?
One of my favorite things about Christmas is the music reserved for Yuletide—the familiar melodies we play and sing for a few weeks each year before we pack them away with the lights and porcelain nativity to be brought out and enjoyed again the next. Some are sacred and some are just for fun, while others aren’t really about Christmas at all. (Jingle Bells? Sleigh Ride? Walking in a Winter Wonderland?) The ever-popular Carol of the Bells falls somewhere in between. The majesty of its symphonic arrangement points to the Divine and the joyful lyrics hint at the Real Reason for the season, but it stays clear of the category of church music. Such a beautiful song...but do you know about the “other” version?
Originally a Ukranian carol about the New Year, Carol of the Bells (the English Version) was copywritten in 1936. A variant called Ring, Christmas Bells, written by Minna Louise Hohman, was copywritten in 1947, and its main message isn’t about bells, but about Jesus. (Here’s a popular rendition, recorded in 1962 by the Ray Conniff Singers.)
I never realized there was another version until this year. Imagine my excitement when I was listening to what I thought was Carol of the Bells and heard the line “Jesus is King!” on a secular radio station!
Comparing the versions, we find that both are beautiful and jubilant. The wonderful music is the same. They both speak of bells. But only one gives credit where credit is due. Only one proclaims the truth of the Christmas season. And we see the same concept in the lives of people and in the culture around us. Many will celebrate Christmas as a happy holiday, a joyful time of year to be with loved ones. But only some will acknowledge Him. Only some will actually celebrate the life-altering truth of "Unto you is born this day a Saviour!"
It goes beyond Christmas. It’s the difference between someone asking you to send “good vibes” and asking you to petition Heaven on their behalf. It's the difference between being a "positive person" and having the joy of Lord. So, I ask- what version does the world see when they look at you? Do you proclaim that Jesus is the source of Joy in your life, or do you assume it’s somehow implied?
Let's make Him known this Christmas. We can still enjoy Carol of the Bells. It certainly has its place. But take time to sing the other version, too. Sing out "Jesus is King!" with your life and celebrate the gift of His coming, at Christmas and all year long.
You open the mailbox and there's a card addressed to you. Someone's throwing the party of the century, and you're invited to attend! Whether you can make it or not, an invitation has been extended, and the sender deserves a response.
Jesus has extended many different kinds of invitations. Some of them even believers ignore. What will you do with your invitations? Respond affirmatively; say no thank you; or, ignore them?
Let's look at just a few of the things He invites us to "come" and do, from the examples of Scripture:
Jesus invites us to come and be saved, rest and be satisfied in Him, fellowship with Him, and inherit eternal life. What is your response? Please be polite. Don't ignore the invitations.
This devotion was adapted from notes for "Come Unto Me", a sermon by my father, Bobby W. Norman. He preached this great sermon at Central Full Gospel Church in State Road, NC on 9/16/18. I have consolidated and condensed several points from the message.
What is the essence of a person?
The dictionary defines "essence" as "the properties or attributes by means of which something can be placed in its proper class or identified as being what it is" and "the most significant element, quality, or aspect of a thing or person".
In the book of Matthew, we find a familiar story that describes the essence of Jesus:
And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. Matthew 9:20-22
A significant part of Jesus' essence is His power. His miracles help us identify Him as God. Certainly, the healing virtue didn't come from the garment. Jesus didn't wear a magical cloak, neither do I believe that his power was actually transferred to the fabric. I believe if the woman had reached out and come up ten feet short of touching the hem of his garment, she still would have been made whole. Because what she grabbed wasn't just the hem of His garment, it was the "Him" of his garment. Her faith wasn’t in the clothes. It was in who Jesus’ was, His identity as God in flesh. And her faith resulted in a miracle.
This story displays not only Jesus' power, but two other traits that describe his essence: He is omniscient and compassionate. People pressed in from all sides, yet He knew who had reached out in faith. He picked her out of the mob. And He had compassion on her, encouraging her to "be of good comfort". He reassured her that her faith had worked.
We may be reaching for His garment, for something that we need from Him, but we first need to grab hold of who Jesus really is. Meditate on his essence. Trust in his power, rely on his omniscience, and rest in his compassion.
It's easy to understand, breathing is necessary for life. God's design for all creatures includes standard functions, including respiration.
As a child, I had mild asthma which first presented at age seven when I had my tonsils removed and required oxygen after the sedative gas triggered breathing difficulty. Throughout my youth, asthma episodes were minor nuisances, usually brought on by physical activity. I used an inhaler only during P.E., and was never really sure if my shortness of breath was from being out of shape or truly because of asthma.
Fast-forward to age twenty-six. I hadn't carried an inhaler in years. Never needed one. Asthma was something "I used to have as a kid". Until pregnancy. Hormonal changes during my first pregnancy brought the condition back into my life with a vengeance. With each baby, my asthma either worsened or got a little better, but never left. Now after three pregnancies, it's a pretty regular part of my daily life. I never go anywhere without an inhaler, and it is a necessity often. Colds can trigger a bad asthma flare that requires steroid injections and pills, as happened recently, just to return my breathing to normal.
There is nothing like the relief of taking a complete lung-filling, complication-free breath after an episode of breathing difficulty. It feels miraculous. It makes me feel so grateful, so in awe of life!
Just as we couldn't understand love if there were no evil, or appreciate the beauty of life without pain, I never appreciated and understood the awesomeness of one clear, deep breath until the first time as an adult when I struggled to breathe.
One of the scariest moments of my life was during Sarah's delivery. The spinal block went high, and I couldn't feel my chest for a few minutes. The anesthesiologist told me I was breathing, but my brain told me otherwise, and it was a terrifying feeling for a few minutes.
In a way, it's like the difference between being spiritually lost and being saved.
Genesis 2:7 says, "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."
Every living soul is born of the breath of God, but every soul does not automatically have the breath of eternal life.
John 20, verse 2 says that after Jesus' resurrection, when he visited the disciples, "he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost". This was a new kind of life-giving breath from God.
Before Christ, we may have been inhaling and exhaling, but after Christ, we breathe deeply and experience the fullness and completeness of life in Him.
I'm not a very patient person. I think I get it from my father. Or, at least, since he has the same character flaw, I can claim it's a learned behavior or some undiscovered genetic predisposition and give myself an out. But I guess it really doesn't work that way.
The older I get, the worse my impatience grows. I generally show grace, but often fail when it comes to customer service hold times and waiting for a table at restaurants.
Lately, I find myself waiting for a lot of things.
The writing-related things on my list are normal. Just part of the process. So, I'm not complaining. No one has dropped the ball or has been too lax about anything. They are working on multiple projects for different authors, not just me. I'm just impatient.
The last item on the list, simply by nature of the process, takes a long time, too, although it's frustrating.
But I had a revelation today: I need to be waiting on something even more important than the things on my list. The words of Jesus in John 14:30 reveal the thing I should anticipate most anxiously.
"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."
It's so easy to forget, or take for granted, or push to the back of our minds, the promise of Christ's return. But the expectation of His second-coming is fundamental to our faith. We are waiting. Not just waiting, but in a constant state of waiting, watching, and working, as we continue to live and enjoy the life He has given us.
I'm in a season of waiting now. But that's where I should live! Expectant!
When I stop and put things into perspective, the nearer-every-day reality of my blessed hope as a believer should make me more patient when it comes to all the other, lesser expectations in this life season. I'm thankful that, as with Jesus' return, God controls the times and the seasons. Everything works out for good, no matter my perceptions of "on time", "quickly", "slowly", or "delay". I need to trust God's timing every second of my life, even when I have to wait longer than I'd like for a book layout, a life-changing situation, or a pizza buffet. And may we all wait together anxiously for His coming.
We recently compounded the crazy in our house by adding a fourth furry friend to the family. The current dynamic is two parents, three kids, two cats, and two dogs, and the newest member has been an interesting life change.
My husband and I hadn’t dealt with the joys and trials of a puppy in a long time, since our good girl Maggie is far past that stage. Enter a sweet yellow lab mix we both couldn’t resist. His name is Rico, and since we brought him home, this now five-month-old, fifty-two pound puppy has taught me some things about who I am and who I want to be.
Rico is not 100% house-trained. He's learning quickly, but he's still a puppy, and he sometimes has "accidents" in the house. The most frustrating thing about potty training a dog is going a couple of days without any puddles or unpleasant surprises, getting excited about the break-through, then walking into the kitchen to find another mess. Three steps forward and two steps back in the process is discouraging.
While it might be the MOST UNUSUAL COMPARISON I've ever made, Rico's shortcomings remind me of myself. I've been a Christ-follower for a long time. I ought to know how this whole thing works, right? I know what sin is, and I should know how to avoid it. But do I always do the right thing? No, I make mistakes just like Rico. Maybe (definitely) not just like his mistakes, but I can easily find myself in a stinky situation when I'm not Christ-like in my words, thoughts, or actions, and this reality makes me want to be show Rico a little grace.
But there's at least one way in which I aspire to be like my lab. This dog is always by my side. If I'm on the couch, he's on the couch. If I'm working in the kitchen, he's in the kitchen. If I let him outside to potty in the fenced backyard, he won't go unless we come out and stand with him. He'll stay on the deck and bark to be let back in. He doesn't want to be left alone, or maybe he doesn't want me to be alone. Either way, he is loyal; a steadfast companion. He likes to be near me.
James 4:8 says, "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you..." When we just nudge in close to the Father, he tucks in close to us right back. May I strive to stay near Him, never leave His side. Drawing close to God through reading the Word, praying, and meditating on Him is how I learn to be more like Him and avoid those "messes" that my sin makes. May I be even more loyal to the Lord than my dog is to me.
Thanks, Rico, for the lesson.
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Thank you for visiting my blog. I share devotional articles and musings about life, parenting, and the writing journey, as well as important news about my books. I hope you find something of interest here!