The news was not surprising, yet it was still hard to hear. Hospice was being brought in because it looked like the end was near for my wife’s stepmom. In the last few months she had told me not to visit because she was not feeling well. I suspected her cancer was getting worse and she did not want me to see her.

As I thought about the inevitable, I reflected on how this feisty woman in her 80s had been such a blessing to me. She could be offensive at times, full of insults, swear words and anger toward people, particularly religious people. Yet she taught me so much about God’s love; taught me that God’s love and grace is even for the so-called unlovable.

Because of her temperament, my wife’s stepmom did not have a good relationship with the family. Over the years, her sharp tongue didn’t help bridge that gap. As it turned out, by God’s design, my wife and I were the only ones with her when her husband died six years ago. Afterwards I felt compelled to visit her at her home more than just around holidays. She lived a few hours away so I would visit her maybe 6-8 times a year. Usually when I was in town on business.

Eventually her health declined to the point where she had to move to an assisted living facility. With each visit I saw my heart transformed from being a bit scared of her to a genuine love for her. When I first started to visit her, I thought maybe I could change her to becoming a follower of Christ. Instead I was the one changed by her.

During each visit she would share stories about her life over the last 80 some years. As her tough exterior veneer began to peel back, I learned about the pain and abuse she had suffered at the hands of others. I began to understand why she was so bitter and angry, I started to empathize with her. I learned that God knows people from the inside out. He sees through our exterior veneer and knows our true self and our pain. He wants to heal us if we’re willing to let him. God is the one who equips us to offer his love and grace to people who desperately need it.

I’d like to say she eventually came to Christ, but I do not know for sure. She never expressed it to me, that is between her and God. Occasionally we would talk about God and religion, but she never showed an interest in going deeper. But at the end of each visit I would give her a hug and tell her, “love you.” It was sincere and from the heart. Ultimately I felt she was the one teaching me about God’s love, teaching me how to love the so-called unloveable. Showing me that he is the one that gives us the strength to do what we often see as impossible. Demonstrating that sometimes all an unsaved person needs is to feel God’s embrace and the words, “love you.”

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

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There’s a phrase “putting down roots” that describes someone settling down in a place. I have heard this phrase used to describe people I know who have finally settled in one place after jumping from job to job and one town to another. But do we think of this phrase in the spiritual sense as settling down with God?

To settle down with God is to focus on building a relationship with him. It means putting down roots deep into his scripture; spending focused time in prayer with God; drawing deeply from solid relationships with other believers. The challenge is to not get distracted by customs and beliefs in this world that can uproot our faith in Jesus. This is what happened repeatedly to the Israelites in the Old Testament. Psalm 106:34-35 tells us how the Israelites repeatedly disobeyed God by mingling with other nations and adopting their customs.

When we put down roots with God we secure ourselves to his eternal grace and love. The deeper our faith in him, the more we can draw on God’s strength and not our own; the better prepared we’ll be for the storms of life. Jeremiah 17:7-8 tells us, “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit (NIV).”

After Jesus died on the cross and was buried, before Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples were hiding out of fear they might meet the same fate. All they knew was that Jesus was gone. They had yet to experience his resurrection. This was a period of fear and doubt, the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

To live without salvation through Christ is to be caught between Good Friday and Easter morning. It is an eternal darkness without the hope offered by the resurrection of Christ. It is a place of constant night with only the fading light of a man-made lamp to illuminate the way. It is a state of hopelessness without any chance of salvation from sin. Yet because of God’s love for us we do not have to remain trapped between Good Friday and Easter.

Salvation is ours through faith in Christ. This Easter embrace the hope of the resurrection. Leave behind doubt and disbelief and run with Peter to see the strips of linen lying in the empty tomb (Luke 24:12). Share the joy of the women who saw the risen Lord and ran to tell the disciples (Matt. 28:8). 1 Peter 1:8-9 tells us, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls (NIV).”

My prayer is that the dawn of this Easter morning will dissipate the darkness of night with the radiant light of the risen Lord. May we express the joy of our salvation with the proclamation, “He has risen!”

What would you have done that day if you were standing in the crowd when Pilate offered to release either Jesus or Barabbas (Matt. 27)? Would you have shouted “Barabbas” like the rest of the crowd or would you have shouted “Jesus”? Would you have been persuaded to choose a rebel and murderer, instead of the Son of God, the Messiah?

Mark 15:7 tells us that Barabbas was “in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.” While Jesus chose the will of God, Barabbas chose to join others who decided to take matters into their own hands with a violent uprising. Pilate asked the crowd that day, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews (Mark 15:9)?” The crowd was swayed to choose the insurrectionist Barabbas over Jesus. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8)!”

What’s amazing about that day is that even though the people in the crowd chose to reject Jesus, God still offered redemption to them with the death and resurrection of his Son. Like Barabbas, we are rebels condemned to die for our sinful, selfish desires. Yet in God’s infinite mercy and love, he offers us freedom and eternal life through his son Jesus Christ who paid the price for our rebellion so that we could forever live in the Kingdom of God.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9

This past week I was once again shown how much I take for granted the little things in life. A week ago I had surgery on my right hand — the hand I use to write and type. Subsequently I was unable to use my right hand for several days for even the simplest of tasks such buttoning a shirt or opening a jar. I quickly discovered how much I depend on my right hand for many tasks throughout the day. Blogging had to wait until I could get enough movement back in my hand to cradle my phone and type on the touchpad with my thumbs.

It gave me pause as I contemplated the many things in my life that I take for granted each day — the many things I owe to God. Even the simplest movement of my hand is because God gave me that ability. The fact that a surgeon had the ability to operate and fix my hand — the fact that it is now healing — I owe to my Creator God. He knows every fiber of my being because he “knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).”

God is evident in the smallest of details in my life. Yet too often I get distracted by struggles and suffering instead of being in awe of God’s miraculous work, his love and grace. Today I only need to look at my hand and see my fingers moving to remind me of his marvelous deeds; to remind me of the healing I have experienced in the past week. I should “declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all people (Psalm 96:3).”

The very breath that gives us life should call us to vocalize our gratefulness to God. The movement of my fingers should remind me type praises to our Lord.

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being (Rev. 4:11).”

On congested streets filled with chaos

I listen for you

On sidewalks swarming with people and turmoil

I look for you

In a crowded building filled with screens and distractions

I seek you

In a packed train humanity closes in on me

I reach for you

But you are not there

Yet in the solitude of the wilderness, I heard your voice.

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)

In the quiet of the upper room we saw you.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19)

In the crowded building we found you.

Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. (Mark 2:4)

In the midst of the crowd pressing in, I touched you.

She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. (Luke 8:44)

In my deep desire to hear you, to see you, to seek you, to touch you, I came to know you.

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Duet. 4:29)

I had a friend who had a knack for fixing most anything, particularly electronics. At one point he looked at buying a desktop computer and decided he could make one that better suited his purposes. So he bought all the components and built a computer that was faster and more powerful than any you could buy at that time. He knew that machine inside and out because he created it. In fact no one knew that machine better than him so he was always the go-to person when it didn’t work right. He was also the one to talk to when you didn’t understand its purpose.

I thought of this friend today when I read Psalm 139, particularly verse 13-14: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Like my friend knew that computer inside and out, our creator God knows us inside and out. We are not a generic machine pulled off the shelf, but each one of us is handcrafted by God. We are wonderfully made by the master craftsman.

God knows you inside and out because he handcrafted you. No one knows you better. When things don’t seem to be working out right in your life, he is the go-to person. He understands your inner most being. As 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” When you don’t understand why something isn’t working, seek God. If you’re confused about your purpose, seek your creator and let the Spirit of God reveal his plan for your life.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6

There are times in my life when I want to hide in a deep dark cave; times when discouragement causes me to retreat from the front lines of God’s work; times when the attacks from my enemies cause me to respond in fear instead of faith. It seems one moment I am fearless for the Lord and the next minute I am fearful of those who attempt to thwart God’s plans. It is in that moment of fear, that moment of vulnerability, that the evil one sows seeds of doubt that suddenly take root. It reminds me of Elijah.

In 1 Kings 18 Elijah has a show down with the prophets of Baal. In verse 37, Elijah calls on God to “answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” Instantly, the fire of the Lord consumed the burnt offering, wood, stones, dust and water in the trench. Then Elijah slayed the prophets of Baal and a few verses later he outruns Ahab to Jezreel. Elijah has declared his allegiance to God and it appeared he was unstoppable until he realized he was a major target of the evil one.

Fear, doubt, loss of confidence, these are all tools that Satan uses to attempt to stop us from doing our work for the Lord. Elijah was unstoppable until Jezebel stated her intent to kill him in 1 Kings 19:2. The next verse tells us, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.” He had a target on his back because he took a public stand for God. The seeds of doubt sprouted into fear in Elijah’s life which thwarted his work for God. By verse 4 he is discouraged and cries to God, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Yet God does not give up on Elijah. He pursued him, nourishing him and encouraging him ( 1 Kings 19:6-7). Yet he still hides in a cave, with the seeds of doubt now fully grown to the point that Elijah is paralyzed with fear (verse 9). What I find interesting in the next verses is that the Lord isn’t in the powerful wind, earthquake or fire, but in the gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13). This is what draws Elijah out of the cave to get him back on track. In this moment of solitude, in the gentle whisper, God said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah (verse 13)?” God tells Elijah he is not alone and instructs him to go back the way he came. He reassures him that there are thousands who remain loyal to God.

How God treats Elijah’s fear is so comforting to me. It is like a loving father bending down to encourage a scared child hiding in a dark corner. He doesn’t yell at our disobedience, but encourages us with a whisper. His gentle voice tells us, “There’s nothing to fear. I am with you as are thousands of other believers.” He whispers truth that is not always evident to us. It reminds me to stop in the midst of my fear, to pause and listen for the whisper of God in the midst of the storm.

As I read through the hundred-plus verses of Psalm 119 in sections over several days, one verse in particular stood out for me. Verse 164 reads, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.” I immediately wondered if that was possible. It sounds simple, but to take time out my hectic day to praise God and his law seven times each day suddenly sounded difficult to accomplish. As it was, i could barely manage a set devotion time each day.

So the question remained in my head. Could I actually make it work? That’s when I came up with a strategy. I divided the roughly 18 hours I’m awake each day by seven and came up with about two and a half-hour intervals between the seven praises in a day. Then I created seven alarm settings on my phone with that interval between them. The goal was to praise God and his “righteous laws” each time I heard and/or felt my phone vibrate.

I started this approach on a Monday morning. I programmed the alarm on my phone for 6 am, 8:30, 11, 1:30 pm, 4, 6:30 and 9 pm. I used a praise song as the alarm sound to set the mood. This was an intentional way to move toward daily giving praise to God. An effort to, as Hebrews 13:15 tells us, “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise, to “openly profess his name.” I would like to say this approach worked, but I soon found it became more forced with each passing day. While the interruption reminded how distracted from God I would get during the day, it tended to become just another routine — another “to-do” to check off the list.

What I learned from this experiment is that our worship and praise of God and his laws needs to come from an outflowing of our heart. Our love for God should overwhelm us to the point that it is a natural outpouring into our lives each day — a frequent praise of God as we experience him in the moments of each day. Disciplining our lives to align with God and his laws is good, but we must be careful not to force it to the point where it loses its meaning and purpose. 1 John 5:2-3 reminds us that God’s commands should not be a burden: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.”

The silence is overwhelming, it pierces my ears

I hear a light wind rustle through the evergreen trees

The snow gently swirls downward in the cold air

In this temple of God’s creation, I feel his gentle hand upon me

I feel his gentle grace, his love surrounding me

It is a moment of solitude away from a turbulent world

A world where a storm rages within humanity

A world where people deny your existence, yet secretly hope you truly exist

Outside the noise and confusion of that worldly place

I find this escape into your creation

It fills me with your spirit of hope, love and truth

Against the cold chill of this world

I see your light piercing the darkness; it warms my soul

Your light gently touches my face, it tells me to trust you and your way

The trampled snow ahead seems the way to go

But God you tell me this is not so

“The path I’ve put you on is full of troubles and struggles.”

He points toward the deep snow, pure white

I do not know where this unmarked path goes

But I do know its ultimate destination

There we will bask in the presence of God’s glory

But for now I must press on, clinging to his hope, trusting him

Letting my faith in God guide me along this uncharted path

“He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth — the Lord God Almighty is his name.”

— Amos 4:13

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