No one could miss the dark script boldly emblazoned on the nurse’s forearm: Strength Through Pain. It didn’t escape her notice that my eyes were fixated on her tattoo as my mind whirled, wondering what could have caused this young woman’s anguish.
“I’ve been through a lot in life,” Ava* smiled sweetly as she broke the silence, “but I have also grown stronger because of it.” She went on to tell me about the birthday party she was planning for her three-year-old, and the upcoming visit to church on Sunday with her family and the barbeque they’d have together afterward. She never divulged any specifics about the reason for her tattoo. She didn’t really need to because, like her, I can relate to painful experiences that have indelibly marked my soul too.
Shorty after this experience, I read an email sent by a friend about a woman named Suzy* who is battling brain cancer. Despite the tremendous trial she’s enduring, Suzy penned a positive message about her fight against the disease—connecting it to a struggle she’d had years ago while trying to break a horse named Storm. Here’s part of her poignant note: “I think God has to break us to make us useful. If God has broken you, it is because He loves you. You are more beautiful because you have been broken.”
Whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, all of us carry painful scars that are a result of living in this world. In other words, we’re all marked by something, but what would a tattoo artist inscribe as a result of your distress? Would your tattoo read Strength Through Pain, or might it be something more like this:
Bitterness Through Pain
Sadness Through Pain
Defeat Through Pain
Anger Through Pain
I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to have an attitude like Suzy and Ava. They’ve taken their suffering and transformed it into something far more powerful and productive, no doubt due to their willingness to look to God for strength and support.
There are many individuals, including some Christians, who struggle with the existence of pain in our world. After all, doesn’t God want people to experience “abundant life” (John 10:10)? Of course! But the reality is that our lives must be lived in an imperfect world—one far different from the ideal creation God had originally designed. Sin changed things, as Jesus reminded us about when He said “here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b, New Living Translation).
I love the ending of that verse. Take heart! In other words, don’t get discouraged. Don’t be sad, bitter, or angry. Because of the Lord’s gift of salvation, we can rely on His assistance in the here and now as we await our perfect, eternal home. Indeed, Jesus summed up our circumstances this way: “ So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy” (John 16:22).
There’s a day coming when we’ll finally be with our Heavenly Father and live the way He had initially intended. And that environment will never be tainted by the problems we contend with now. Actually, Scripture tells us “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:4). Until that day, may each of us seek the Lord’s assistance as we walk through life. Let’s strive to “rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation” (Romans 5:3-4).
Please know all of us at Sonkist Ministries ae praying that, even during those tattooing seasons of life, you will “keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for He will never fail you” (I Peter 4:19b).
*The names have been changed to provide anonymity.
Thought of the Summer
For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for Him.
Does Jesus Still Love Me?
The three-year-old was quite serious when she asked her mother this age-old question: “Does Jesus still love me?” Harper had disobeyed and knew her mom wasn’t happy, but most importantly, she wondered what Jesus thought. Could He possibly love her even though she’d “blown it” again?
Little Harper’s question is poignant because, if we’re honest, many of us have asked this very question. You may be pondering this question right now. Or you may know someone who is wondering whether or not God can ever forgive them.
Amazingly, the answer to that question is simple. Yes, the Lord loves us. Indeed, we discover time and time again in Scripture that God loves everyone (“For this is how God loved the world, He gave His one and only Son…” is how the New Living Translation’s John 3:16 explains this fact). Most of all, He is “not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9, New American Standard Bible).
Repentance is key to a secure relationship with God, just as it is critical to restore any relationship. Harper’s mother still loved her despite the willful disobedience, but in order to make things right, Harper had to ask her mom for forgiveness. When she did so, they moved on because there wasn’t anything to interfere with their healthy, harmonious relationship.
Merriam-Webster explains that repentance basically means “to feel or show that you are sorry for something bad or wrong ….and that you want to do what is right.” In other words, attaining forgiveness involves these components:
Feeling sorrow or regret.
Expressing that regret specifically.
Seeking forgiveness to make the relationship right again.
These three steps heal broken relationships, including the one we have with God. Whether it’s the first time (as we find in Romans 10:9, NLT, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”) or the many times over a life-long journey that we need to ask God for forgiveness, the process is very straightforward. This is how the Apostle John described it:
“If we admit our sins—simply come clean about them—He won’t let us down. He’ll be true to Himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.”
(I John 1:9, The Message Bible)
So, if you feel you’ve blown it with God, ask for His forgiveness. While God loves you, He is going to wait for you to “want to do what is right.”
If you know people who feel unsure about the Lord’s love for them, encourage them today with the truths we’ve just covered. Remind them of the simple steps to either begin a relationship with Jesus or to reconnect with Him.
And if you want to stay reassured of the Lord’s love for you, read His Word in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Why? Well, Harper would probably explain it this way: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”
Thought of the Season
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39, New Living Translation
Here’s the story I’ll tell my friends when they come to worship,
and punctuate it with Hallelujahs:
Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers;
give glory, you sons of Jacob;
adore Him, you daughters of Israel.
He has never let you down,
never looked the other way
when you were being kicked around.
He has never wandered off to do His own thing;
He has been right there, listening.
Psalm 22:22-24, The Message Bible
Never before in human history have we been besieged by so many words. Like the blast of a winter storm, words whirl in and out of our lives via airwaves or the Internet. Some people inundate us with incessant conversation; others simply send a surplus of texts, tweets, and email messages. Most of the time we process those words promptly, then prepare ourselves for the next round of communication coming our way.
It is for these reasons, particularly during this busy season, I felt it important to keep this Sonkist message short and, hopefully, sweet. In fact, I’d simply like to have you focus on one single word: Adore.
Now, as often happens, one word can lead to another—but hold on for a few more paragraphs for that second, far more important “word”. Right now, let me briefly explain what I mean by the term adore.
Like the famous song Adeste Fideles, adore finds its origin in Latin. The root meaning, ad + ōrāre, literally translates “to pray or to beseech.” In ancient times, anyone who used this word would have understood it meant “to plead with, appeal to, or approach (a god) as a suppliant or worshipper,” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/adore). No one centuries ago would ever have thrown around the term loosely as it often is today, for instance, “I just adore that outfit” or “We found a new restaurant we adore.” Instead, adore would have involved the greatest respect and reverence as the “oration” (prayer) was offered up.
The passage of time doesn’t mean the significance of the word need change for those of us who worship the One True God. Indeed, as the psalmist encourages in the passage above, we can and should adore Him, especially during this most holy of seasons. Why? Because, unlike others in our lives, He doesn’t let us down, look away, or stop listening. He is worthy of our praise, so let’s be sure to “punctuate it with Hallelujahs.”
This time of year, that praise might come in the form of Christmas songs like O Come All Ye Faithful, which when translated from the original Latin leads us to that second, most important Word we should know:
Yes Lord, we greet Thee
Born this happy morning
Jesus to Thee be all glory giv’n
Word of the Father
Now in flesh appearing
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
Christ the Lord!
Why should we adore Jesus? Because He is literally “the Word” (John 1:1-4). He is not only with God, but He also is God. He is “the Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—” (Luke 2:11a). If we are going to adore anyone, it must be Him—and there’s no better time to do so than right now.
Can you take a few minutes today to adore your Lord and Savior? To do so, simply put everything else out of your mind and just focus on Jesus. What has He done for you? Thank Him for that. If you have a little extra time, read a favorite passage of Scripture, or listen to some music that inspires you to worship Him. Make this adoring process a priority each day of this holy season—and in all the seasons He gives you along life’s journey.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us at Sonkist Ministries!
Thought of the Season
In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through Him,
and nothing was created except through Him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and His life brought light to everyone.
John 1:1-4, New Living Translation
Each fall for countless generations, Cornish gleaners would hear a familiar euphoric cry from the master of the harvest: “Yma genef! Yma genef! Yma genef!” This jubilant shout signified that the last crop had been cut, so field laborers would gather to lift up their own joyous reply because their season of toil had ended, and a great time of celebration was about to commence.
Most of us can understand the reason behind such enthusiasm, although we may never have experienced an agrarian lifestyle. Indeed, people around the world appreciate the benefits that an ample harvest brings to their individual homes. Yet even with such autumnal blessings, many in 2021 may not feel like celebrating anything. The fallout from a global pandemic is still creating a plethora of problems. There’s also an unbearable amount of worldwide atrocities delivered to us daily in the news. More locally, some in leadership have failed us while a few families we know are floundering.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by life’s circumstances right now, you are not alone. Actually, centuries ago the Apostle Paul shared how the difficulties of this world are particularly challenging for Christians:
And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as His adopted children, including the new bodies He has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)
Romans 8:23-25, New Living Translation
Like those early believers, today’s Christ followers know a better season is on the horizon. Once you and I accept Jesus as our Savior, we are given the promise of eternal life (John 3:16; I John 5:11-12). And although pain, grief, and even groaning are normal reactions to living in a fallen world, we’re encouraged to do more than mourn our losses. Instead, in these verses we are urged to “wait with eager hope” for God’s perfect plan to unfold which includes an amazing future we can’t even imagine (Jeremiah 29:11; I Thessalonians 5:9).
Why would God have us wait for the joys of Heaven, which include new healthy bodies that will never again experience the pain brought on by sin? The answer to this query involves the most important harvest season the Lord has sanctioned, as the Apostle Peter explains:
The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed but wants everyone to repent . . . and remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved. This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him— speaking of these things in all of his letters . . .
II Peter 3:9, 15-16a
What are we waiting for? God’s timing—not only for our futures but also for the many souls yet to be saved. The seeds of salvation are still being planted, and the Lord is patiently gathering all who wish to join His forever family. Jesus made this mission clear when He shared a farming analogy with the disciples:
You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest.The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike!
Since the Lord’s mission is focused on gathering souls, those of us who follow Him can take up this mantle while we await our “full rights as His adopted children.” In other words, while we “wait with eager hope,” we can be involved in His harvest process. And notice what is bestowed upon those who choose to work alongside Him: Joy! Joy in 2021? Joy in the midst of problems, even a pandemic? Yes, most definitely yes! The Lord is the purveyor of joy, and He wants to share this jubilant feeling with His co-laborers.
As we slowly shift into this fall season, remember another much-anticipated shout is coming soon. When He deems the timing is right, “the Lord Himself will come down from Heaven with a commanding shout.” This will signal the end of His harvest season for “the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever” (I Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Can you participate more in the Lord’s mission? Despite what you are going through, could you help plant seeds that may lead to someone’s salvation? Would you join in the efforts of fellow believers and assist in the gathering of souls, decreasing the number of those who might cry “the harvest is finished, and the summer is gone . . . yet we are not saved” (Jeremiah 8:20)?
May you experience great joy this Harvest season as you await the Lord’s return with eager anticipation!
Thought of the Season
The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So, pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask Him to send more workers into His fields.
But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
For many people, summer is typically a season for rest and relaxation. Sunshine is plentiful, and the outdoors beckon. Even if a vacation isn’t in the plans, trips to the beach, lake, or river are definitely on the docket. It’s the time of year when we give ourselves a pass to unwind and reboot, literally kicking off our shoes as we relish the warmth that long summer days send our way.
There’s also another delightful aspect to Summer 2021: HOPE is in the air! Despite residual problems from a global pandemic, people not only seem hopeful about the future, but they are also talking more and more hopefully.
For believers, a hopeful outlook is always possible because we have access to God, the Creator of hope. Indeed, the Bible is full of stories about how the Lord has offered hope to individuals just like us. Whether in good times, bad times, or even uneventful, between times, God can give a peace about the present and confidence regarding the future that no one or nothing else can provide. A prayer by the Apostle Paul gives us some insight about what this kind of hope entails:
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Notice that joy and peace are certainties when you and I choose to put our trust in God. In other words, we are part of the Lord’s hopeful equation. After we take this initial step of belief, the Holy Spirit can powerfully impact our lives, even allowing us to “overflow” with a confidence we never imagined possible. Jesus explained exactly how the Holy Spirit can assist us:
“When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own but will tell you what He has heard…” (John 16:13).
Believers have a connection with a powerful triumvirate—God the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit who look after and provide for us at all times and in every season. This alone should give us renewed hope, even helping us to change our perspective about the negative circumstances we sometimes face while living in a far-from-perfect world:
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.
These verses explain the most important reason why you and I can have hope: God loves us! Because of this reality, we should be able to trust Him to assist us with our burdens and also help us relish all of His blessings. And no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, we can rest in the knowledge that the Lord is using everything to develop our character, strengthening us in the here and now while preparing us for all the seasons of life yet to come.
At Sonkist Ministries, our prayer is that your summer will be full of hope. We encourage you to dive deeply into the Word, and soak in all the wisdom the Son has to offer. Rest in the joy of your salvation—and be sure to share God’s love with others around you since Harvest season is on the horizon!
Thought of the Month
We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name. Let Your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in You alone.
So, God has given both His promise and His oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to Him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.
Hebrews 6:18 (New Living Translation)
Promise-breaking starts way too early in life. In fact, if you consider your own history, you may have interacted with a child who promised to be your friend one day but changed her mind the next. Or maybe you recall with trepidation the scene from middle school when a buddy promised to save a seat for you but then decided to give it to someone else. Or perhaps you can relate to so many who have had their feelings from a first “love” dashed within days of the budding romance. These are just some of the painful experiences that have marred our developmental years and, sadly, seem to multiply as we move through adulthood.
Of course, as adults we realize that broken promises are just part of living in a far-from-perfect world. Maybe what’s most disappointing to those of us who are believers is that we struggle with the same promise-keeping problem as everyone else. Like the Apostle Paul, we recognize that “nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway” (Romans 7:18-19).
Thankfully, as the author of Hebrews points out in the Scripture above, God’s children have access to the one and only Promise Keeper. And because the Lord doesn’t lie, we can have confidence in everything He promised—most importantly His assurance of eternal life, that “hope that lies before us.” So, when God says that everyone who believes in Jesus “will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), we can trust that truth. When Jesus reminds us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), we don’t have to worry about some missing step needed to earn our place in Heaven someday.
What more do we need in life than this? Nothing—but, as our amazing God always does, He offers His forever family so much more. See how The Message Bible explains the “additional benefits” our Promise Keeper provides:
What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have Him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.
(I Peter 1:3-5)
These verses make it perfectly clear that God is at work for us in the here and now, giving us “a brand-new life” and “everything to live for.” We find these assurances over and over again in Scripture, for instance, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (II Corinthians 5:17). Part of this new way of living involves the Lord developing us into keepers of His promises too: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him” (Philippians 2:13).
I don’t know about you, but I need to focus on the Promise Keeper much more in the days ahead. After all, we can’t change the past or avoid every promise-breaker, but we absolutely can connect with the One keeping an eye on us today, tomorrow, and forever.
Many blessings to you during this season of rebirth and renewal from all of us at Sonkist Ministries!
Thought of the Spring
God’s way is perfect.
All the Lord’s promises prove true.
He is a shield for all who look to Him for protection.
And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped Him snugly in strips of cloth and laid Him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.Luke
This year has brought unprecedented challenges to our lives, particularly the terrifying experience of a global pandemic. For months we have feared for our wellbeing and for the health of our family and friends. Finances were hit hard, kids had to be homeschooled, and facemasks became part of everyday fashion. So, after all of the ups and downs of 2020, it’s probably not surprising that many of us are hoping and searching for more stability during the upcoming Christmas season.
Unfortunately, Christmastime rarely seems to be all that stable. No matter how much effort we put into preparing for our holiday celebrations, problems invariably arise. For instance, someone gets sick. Grandpa is cranky. The cat goes missing. That special gift you ordered never arrives. The gravy is lumpy. A pipe upstairs breaks, sending water into the kitchen. The list of challenges could go on and on.
Far too often our plans for a holiday filled with peace and calm have fallen short of our expectations. Many of us also have sad experiences that occurred at Christmastime—like in 1992 when my dad died on December 22nd. That kind of loss and any other trauma hits us hard, especially when it happens during a celebratory season.
Maybe we shouldn’t be so astonished that the holidays aren’t the most stable of times since the first Christmas was rather chaotic too. The verses in Luke above remind us that Joseph and a very-pregnant Mary had to journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. No doubt because other travelers impacted local lodging, the couple couldn’t find a single room available after their long trip. Instead, they were offered a stable—a place where animals were sheltered and fed. This messy, noisy, and fetid environment would become the delivery room for God’s Son, Jesus. A manger, or feeding trough, became Jesus’ crib after Mary had wrapped Him in some simple strips of cloth.
As if these unstable circumstances weren’t challenging enough, some unexpected guests decided to stop by. Angels had appeared nearby to tell a group of shepherds about Jesus’ birth. Then “when the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’” They did just that: “They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger” (Luke 2:15-16). Whatever private moments the new parents had together were suddenly interrupted by visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the precious gift they’d just received. Although Scripture doesn’t record the details, it’s possible other people may have popped by too since “after seeing Him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child” (verses 17).
That first Christmas was far from a calm, peaceful experience—and it probably didn’t live up to either of the parents’ expectations. Whatever vision Mary might have had for labor and delivery, we can assume it didn’t include a dingy, dirty environment that would soon be invaded by total strangers. If Joseph had planned for a safe, secure setting to temporarily house his new family, that idea went right out the stable door. But this wasn’t about them, was it? God had a plan for His Son—one that would be real and raw and inclusive of people who needed His presence. To God, that chaotic scene was the perfect place to showcase Jesus. Actually, this “stable” Christmas served as the commencement of Jesus’ mission, as Philippians 2:6-7 aptly points out:
Though He was God, He did not
think of equality with God
something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine
took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being when He appeared in human form.
This is the message of Christmas: Jesus came to serve and sacrifice. There’s no clearer picture of that than His leaving the wonders of Heaven in order to take on human form. Perfection decided to live among imperfection, starting with that first night spent in a stable.
Like Jesus, we are called to serve and sacrifice too. This isn’t always easy, but as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “since we are His children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share His glory, we must also share His suffering” (Romans 8:17). As members of God’s forever family, we have the privilege to live and work among the very people Jesus came to save. And there is no better time than Christmas to “tell others about Christ . . . (because) we want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ” (Colossians 1:28).
As you prepare for the upcoming holy days, would you consider what your version of a “stable” Christmas could look like in 2020? It might be quite different than what you initially envisioned, but this is a year of different, so why not go with that theme? Whatever your plans, make sure Jesus is in the midst of the mess and mayhem. That way you can stay focused on the Savior who provides stability during every season of life.
Everyone at Sonkist Ministries wishes you and your loved ones a wonderful
Christmas season—and many blessings in the New Year! If you’d like to connect
with us, please visit www.sonkist.com.
Thought for the Season
“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today…” Luke 2:10-11
When the cashier finished sharing her story, I immediately recalled Dickens’ famous words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” What had just transpired was literally the tale of two completely different pumpkins. Let me back up a bit and provide you with a full picture of this painfully human moment.
Last autumn, I entered a local Target with a short list of items my family needed. As is often the case, I found a few additional “treats” to take home. One of those treats was a large box of pumpkin-flavored cereal. Everyone in my family enjoys pumpkin, so I was elated to discover a new product for them. ‘They’ll be so excited to try this,’ I thought to myself as I cheerfully headed to the checkout area.
While loading groceries and other goodies I’d gathered onto the conveyor belt, the cashier asked how my day was going. I promptly replied, “Great! I’m really excited that I found this cereal. My family members love pumpkin, especially during the fall season. They like everything from pumpkin-spiced lattes to pumpkin pie. I can’t wait for them to taste this cereal!”
As the cashier continued to scan items, she replied matter-of-factly, “My family doesn’t eat pumpkin—ever. You see, my dad’s brother died when he was young because he ate a batch of tainted pumpkin-pie filling. No one in my family has eaten pumpkin since then.”
My jaw didn’t drop, but it might as well have. I stared at the woman, who had finished ringing up my items. “I’m so sorry,” were the only words I managed to blurt out. She smiled warmly and said, “Oh, you don’t have to be sorry. It’s just part of my family history.” I felt like I should say something more, but I wasn’t sure what else to add. As she handed me the receipt, I finally said, “I’m very sorry to hear about your uncle. Thank you for your help today.”
On my way out of the store, it seemed like the wind had been knocked out of me. Yet that “tale of two pumpkins” moment would change my perspective about people from that day forward. In fact, even as I walked to my car I watched a weary mother with three kids climbing on and off of her overflowing basket and thought about other concerns she might be carrying. Then I spotted an older man, cane in hand, crossing the parking lot. I wondered, ‘What’s life been like for him?’ Even once I had loaded the bags in my car, I sat and thought more about that store employee. What other difficulties might she be dealing with today? And while I considered these thoughts, I prayed for all of those people, particularly that the Lord would meet their needs in some special way.
This is exactly the type of perspective that Christians are called to have: empathizing with others the way the Lord does. In Romans 12:15, the Apostle Paul puts it this way: “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” It’s not that being happy, even about pumpkin-flavored cereal, is wrong—quite the opposite. Believers should have lots of reasons to be joyful! But we are also encouraged to be sensitive to others and mindful of the sufferings of those around us.
As a fervent follower of Jesus, Peter transformed his perspective over time and began to focus his passion toward other people in his life. Look at some of the wisdom he shared with early Christians that applies to us in 2020:
Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and He will grant you His blessing. (I Peter 3:8-9)
I like the way the Apostle Peter reminds us that good deeds like empathizing, being kindhearted, and loving others are important components of our calling as members of God’s forever family. These characteristics set His followers apart in a world where natural instincts trend toward self-focus and selfish behavior. Indeed, our world isn’t much different than the one Dickens described over 160 years ago:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
The season in which you and I find ourselves requires a renewed resolve if we really want to live up to God’s calling. People around us are carrying countless burdens. Many probably can’t even imagine that something better could happen to them in the here and now—let alone for all eternity. But we know the Truth and can share that wisdom. We should joyfully live out our faith while sensitively interacting with family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. And we can certainly be light in a time of darkness, offering hope to replace despair.
My “tale of two pumpkins” moment helped me gain fresh insight about the needs of others, and I want to keep that perspective in the upcoming seasons of life. May the same be true for you. As autumn leaves change color and cool, crisp breezes great you in the days ahead, enjoy the blessings the Lord has bestowed on you while looking for opportunities to reach out to others who desperately need your compassion, kindness, and love.
Many blessings to you and your family this Fall from all of us at Sonkist Ministries.
Thought of the Season
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
Watching the famous Rose Parade on New Year’s Day of 2020, I remember being inspired by its theme, The Power of Hope. After the ups and downs of 2019, it felt like all of us could use more hope in our lives.
Little did I know how true that thought would turn out to be.
In February and early March, news sources began featuring stories about an illness that was spreading at an alarming rate. Soon reports about the increasing number of deaths from this new disease not only escalated anxiety but also expanded health recommendations. Before long, rarely used terms became part of everyday vocabulary: social distancing, coronavirus, and pandemic.
Most of us remember those days in late winter, praying for others stranded on cruise ships and in countries far away. By the time spring arrived, we had added family members and friends to our prayer list. Time for such petitions became much more prevalent as we found ourselves at home under “shelter in place” mandates.
Over the past few months, I have had lots of time to ponder the theme of hope I’d been so excited about on January 1st. In fact, during this COVID-19 crisis, hope could have seemed nothing more than an elusive fantasy—but because of my faith, I knew hope had not gone anywhere. You see, hope doesn’t march down the boulevard on a bright sunny day, and it does not need throngs of people welcoming its presence. Hope doesn’t’ come and go. Hope is here and now, forever and for always. How do I know? Because hope begins and ends with the Creator of all things, just as the Apostle Paul so beautifully explained to Christians centuries ago: “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 8:13).
Notice that Paul’s prayer for believers confirms who God truly is—our source of hope. This verse also provides those of us living in 2020 with a simple formula for finding more and more of it, no matter what may be going on in our lives or in the world around us:
Trust in God + the Holy Spirit’s power = Joy, Peace, and Confident Hope
I don’t know about you, but I certainly could use more joy, peace, and confident hope in my life right now. But in order for any of us to receive these amazing blessings, we must analyze our level of trust God. This type of trust is really what faith is all about, as Hebrews 11:1 reminds us, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” In other words, our faith is intricately connected to what we hope for and experiencing a “confident hope” depends upon our complete trust in the Lord.
It is crucial to understand that faith requires action on our part, and faith must also be maintained over time. The Apostle Peter explained why this is important: “So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:17-18). Bad experiences and unscrupulous people are a reality of life on Earth, but our efforts to grow and develop our faith can counteract such negative forces. Indeed, it is during difficult times that I find it necessary to dig deeply into the Word and be encouraged by truths found in songs like this one:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand.
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
As you look over these few stanzas, you will note that once again we are called into action in order to develop our faith. We are asked to choose the source of our hope. We must decide if Jesus is the foundation of our faith—or not.
This faith-based, hopeful approach to life is of paramount importance in witnessing to others too. Here’s the way Peter explained it: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (I Peter 3:15-16, NASB). This “hope that is in you” refers to faith: our trust in God, His promise of eternal life because of what Jesus did on the cross, and the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.
Maintaining this hopeful spirit isn’t easy, especially in the midst of a crisis like we’ve been experiencing. Yet it is in unsettling times that our faith can increase exponentially. Striving to expand our trust in God is essential work, and so is reaching out into our world to offer others a glimpse of the “Source of Hope.” Here are some ways people have put this kind of hopeful spirit into practice during the past few months:
- “Pass it on” movements in drive-thru restaurants: I’m not sure who starts these each day, but at a local Starbucks, the employees have shared how customers pay for others’ orders for almost two hours at a time. Similar acts of kindness have popped up everywhere as individuals strive to encourage people around them.
- Virtual visits: With social distancing, people have become increasingly creative in how they connect with others, especially the elderly. One inspiring story occurred outside a nursing home in Kentucky where handlers brought horses to “visit” residents at their windows just to brighten their day.
- Church on wheels: A body of believers in southern California decided to rally church members to collect non-perishable goods for a local food bank and do a “drive-by drop off” at various sites.This food drive ended up becoming the largest ever in the food bank’s history, and church members spread God’s love while remaining safely inside their vehicles.
- Adopt a child: Despite the increasing number of unemployed and underemployed, Compassion International experienced an amazing Mother’s Day weekend. Almost 1000 children from Ecuador were sponsored through one church alone. These kids will receive monthly support that includes materials to help encourage their walk with Jesus.
These examples of people reaching out to others are encouraging, spreading hope in a world that needs much more of it. They are also signs that the Source of Hope is alive and well, at work around us while we await eternity. And while we wait, let’s continue to place complete confidence in the Lord—He truly is our only hope.
All of us at Sonkist Ministries hope you and your family have a peaceful, joy-filled summer season.
Thought of the Summer
Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.
As parents, we struggled with the same dilemma most moms and dads do—dealing with the tears our little ones shed when we leave them. It’s heart-wrenching, even if you are dropping your children off to spend time with grandma and grandpa or with that great Sunday School teacher at church. Recently, I watched tears stream down our granddaughter’s face as she clutched her mom who uttered those oft-recited words, “I’ll come back.”
Babies and toddlers ultimately get over separation anxiety and soon learn that parents do indeed return for them. Harper experienced the fulfillment of her mother’s promise just a few hours later, and the smile that spread across her face when her mom came back was priceless. This leaving and returning process is a crucial life lesson because, eventually, those kids will grow up and have to offer similar reassurances to their children one day.
But imagine the uncertainty of that initial experience when no relational equity has been established in the “return policy.” This is a challenge faced at some point by all kids, and it has become a reality for each of God’s children. How so? Because long ago when the disciples were gathered for the last time, Jesus made a pledge to return for His followers. Just like a loving parent, He not only promised to return but also explained the reason for His departure:
Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.
(John 14:1-3, New Living Translation)
Like children, the disciples had lots of questions about this strange statement. Acting as the group spokesman, Thomas said: “No, we don’t know, Lord … we have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (verse 5).That’s when Jesus provided them with more details, including reminders about all the experiences the disciples had been part of during His ministry. Finally, as any caring parent does, Jesus reiterated His promise: “Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again . . . I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe” (verses 28a, 29).
Yet, it has been a long wait—and in these troubling times, believers seem more eager than ever to have this particular promise fulfilled. Christians in the early church felt a similar longing. In fact, the apostle Peter wrote this reminder about the lengthy delay:
Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”
(II Peter 3:3-5)
Christians in Peter’s day probably had people in their lives sneering and jeering at their hope in Christ’s return, not unlike the experiences many of us have today—and our kids will no doubt have in the future. So, why the prolonged wait? Why hasn’t Jesus come back yet? A few verses later, Peter explained the situation this way:
Don’t overlook the obvious here, friends. With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day. God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change.
(II Peter 3:8-9, The Message Bible)
God’s patience regarding this promise is for those yet-to-be-saved individuals around the world and in all our lives. He’s giving everyone—loved ones, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.—time to understand this amazing promise:
“For this is how God loved the world: He gaveHis one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life”
While the wait for Jesus’ return may seem like an eternity, it’s because of the significance of eternal life that He patiently awaits. God doesn’t want anyone to lose the opportunity to join His forever family—and, with His help, believers can be part of that salvation process. That’s why we need to keep sharing—and keep caring. And may we cling to all His promises, trusting that “Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever” (I Thessalonians 5:10).
Many blessings to you this Spring from all of us at Sonkist Ministries.
Thought of the Season
No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live.