Fear Not!

Fear. A knot forms in my stomach, I clench my jaw, and I feel the world closing in around me. I want to run and hide, but where? Then, I remember the safest place to be, so I go there and find peace and comfort. Where is that, you might ask? It is the presence of God through prayer, Bible study, and worship.

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.

1 John 4:18

The enemy’s two biggest weapons are fear and anger. When we listen to the world, all we hear is a good dose of both of these. When we are under spiritual attack and sometimes verbal assault, we have a defense: the sword of the spirit, the Word of God. It is a source of comfort and the only effective means of routing the enemy. We need to remember that is not people we fight against but a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:12). Spiritual battles require spiritual weapons, so use the Word of God as a source of comfort and a means of taking down our spiritual enemy, Satan, and sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

My readings for #MyHopeNotebook this week emphasized that we don’t have to fear because we have hope in God:

Day 9: The Lord is everywhere.

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 11:9

Day 10: I will not be afraid because God can defend no matter how great the size of the enemy.

Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah. But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah. I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.

Psalms 3:2-6

Day 11: When we desire the things of God, we will be full of life and firmly planted like a tree.

Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:12

Day 12: With God all things are possible if we believe.

Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.

Mark 9:23

Day 13: We don’t have to fear because we have hope in his mercy.

18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; 19 To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. 20 Our soul waiteth for the Lord: he is our help and our shield. 21 For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name. 22 Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.

Psalms 33:18-22

Day 14: We don’t have to fear because no matter what happens God will take us through.

But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. 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.

Isaiah 43:1-2

Trials will come. That is a given; however, we don’t have to fear because God is with us. When you feel the fear or anger creeping up on you, turn off the news and social media and open the Word of God. It is a refuge of comfort, peace, and power over the enemy. While you are at it, don’t forget to grab the shield of faith because the Sword will do you no good if you are wounded by the enemy’s darts. Put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6), and let perfect love cast out fear. Then let the peace of God fill you so that it overflows into an angry world.

Fear not!

Our Only Hope

Near the beginning of the original Star Wars movie, Luke Skywalker finds a message from Princess Leia in which she states their dire situation and begs for Obi Wan Kenobi’s help. She ends it by saying, “You’re our only hope.” Ironically, it is actually Luke Skywalker who becomes the hero along with a motley crew and not Ben who saves the day. Today we face our own situations and are looking for a hero to save us. Unfortunately, we too are looking to the wrong hero.

I started a project I call 40 Days of Hope (#MyHopeNotebook) in which I searched out 40 scriptures on Hope. Each day I draw one, hand write the scriptures, journal and post a picture. I think what the world needs right now is hope; however, they keep looking for it in all the wrong places. The following are the scriptures I drew for the first 8 days:

Day 1

To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:

Colossians 1:27

Day 2

10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: 11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:10-11

Day 3

In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;

Titus 1:2

Day 4

Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.

Psalms 16:9

Day 5

For surely there is an end; and thine expectation shall not be cut off.

Proverbs 23:18

Day 6

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 29:11

Day 7

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)

Hebrews 10:23

Day 8

I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.

Psalms 130:5-8

If you notice, not one time did God say trust in political leaders, political parties, or vaccines although He may use them at times. He says trust in Him, hope in Him, have faith in Him. He has a plan for you that no one can change. We just have to wait for Him to work. It is often easier to say than to do, so maybe you should take a moment and write some of these verses out yourself and post them around the house or make your own notebook. Each time you feel stressed or hopeless take it out and meditate on the verses. When we shift our focus in the right direction, everything else will fall into place in His time.

In the meantime, just remember: Our hope does not come from masks or vaccines; it does not come from political leaders or political parties. Our hope comes from God and God alone.

Don’t Give Up!

Christmas Eve I was driving home from a family get together when I saw a sign in a yard. It jumped out at me in that weird way that sometimes happens, like God highlighted it for me. There were just three words: Don’t Give Up. It felt like God was speaking to me, but then I shrugged it off and continued on. Since then, that phrase has jumped out at me from a variety of sources including a random movie line, a random song lyric on the radio, and a book I was reading. I decided that God was trying to tell me something, so my word for 2021 is Hope because hope is the reason we don’t give up.

I wanted to start the New Year out with a special 40-day study/project of some kind, and after throwing ideas around, it occurred to me that I could combine a couple of my goals for the coming year into one project: Hope Notes. Every day for 40 days I will draw from a list of scriptures on hope, write out the scripture, meditate on it, journal it, and then post a picture from the notebook on Instagram. This will cover my goals for Bible study, practicing journaling, writing more, stretching artistically, trying something new, and working on growing my Instagram account. Besides, I just think after 2020 we could all use a little hope. So, let’s focus on the good things and start the New Year off right.

To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.   

Colossians 1:27

My first scripture was Colossians 1:27 which couldn’t be more perfect because hope originates in Christ. The reason we have hope is because Christ lives in our heart. Our relationship with Him results in a right relationship with God, so we have hope not only for a future in Heaven but also in our everyday lives.

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.

1 John 4:18

One of the movie lines that related to the topic said perfect love casts out fear because it brings hope. Perfect love only comes from God because He is the only one who is perfect, so when we are in His presence, there is no fear. The trick is to remember that we are always in His Presence if Christ lives in our hearts.

So, we can have hope everyday and not just because it’s a New Year. In order to reinforce this idea, I am posting from my notebook to Instagram for the next 40 days with the #HopeNotes. I want to cast out the fear that has been hanging over our heads and replace it with the hope we have in Christ. The only way to do that is to focus on God and not what is going on in the news or on social media. If we want the world to change, we have to start with ourselves. Be a force for change and a beacon of hope in a dark world which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The Little Things

It’s the little things in life that make life enjoyable. It’s the little victories or the little surprises that bring us the most joy. A couple of weekends ago my sister and I finally stained the mantle of my electric fireplace. The mantle was a little stained and faded, and I had purchased the supplies for the project over a year ago, but it just never got done. Since I was cleaning it off in preparation for holiday decorating, she offered to help me stain it. It took less than an hour, but the effect was stunning. Every time I looked up at it that weekend I couldn’t help but smile. It was a small thing that brought great joy.

For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth.

Zechariah 4:10

The scriptures tell us not to despise the small things, the small starts, because they are the beginning of something greater. Every project has to start somewhere even if it is a baby step. It is one more step than we have ever done before, so it is progress in the right direction. Like a father watching his child take it’s first steps, God Our Father takes joy in even the smallest of victories.

Joy – Shepherd’s Candle

God has always been pleased to work among the least of men, or the least in the eyes of the world. When Christ was born in Bethlehem, God didn’t announce it to the leaders. He announced it to the shepherds at work in the field.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:8-11

Why the shepherds? Maybe it was because God knew they would find joy in the arrival of the babe. They were men who spent their lives in nature and among the animals and had learned to appreciate the simple things in life. They also were representative of the common man, and the Messiah had come to earth to save all who would believe, no matter what their station in life.

Little Victories

God is a God of details. Creation is full of tiny reminders of His Glory, from the stars above to the ground below. He is interested in even the smallest details of our lives. He does not despise the little victories. He celebrates with us. So, this season take a moment to enjoy the small things like a peppermint mocha, finding the right present for someone, hearing your favorite carol on the radio, or a purring cat on a cold winter night. Give thanks for the small things and spread the joy.

A Little Light

Sometimes all it takes is a little light to help us find our bearings. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night disoriented, especially in a strange place? We awaken from a dream into a strange world that used to be our bedroom. Heart pounding, we search the dark for something familiar but all the shadows seem threatening. Gradually our eyes adjust as a tiny bit of light from the computer screen in the next room sheds light on the doorway and you relax as the room becomes familiar again.

Faith – Bethlehem’s Candle

For the nation of Israel, the world had been dark for a while, spiritually speaking. There had not been a word from God as far as prophets go for roughly 400 years. Possibly they had gotten used to the dark, but there were still some who were looking for a light. They had faith that God’s Word would be fulfilled, starting with the little town of Bethlehem.

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

Micah 5:2

So, in Bethlehem that night the Messiah was born in fulfillment of this prophecy. Even though the town was small and insignificant to most people, it became the birthplace of the light of the world. However, not many people recognized it. Most were overwhelmed by the details of daily living, like the decree from Caesar for the census forcing everyone to return to their hometowns. It wasn’t hard to get distracted and miss the gift in the manger. After all, what good could come out of Bethlehem?

In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

John 1:4-5

Jesus came to bring light back to the world, but the world couldn’t see it. They were used to the darkness and the light hurt their eyes, but once a light is turned on it chases away the darkness. When Jesus died and was resurrected, he left little traces of that light in the heart of each believer so that they could be a light in the darkness (Matthew 5:14). In order to shine our light, we have to keep our wicks ready and our lamps filled with oil, but how do we do that?

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

We do it through faith. This sounds simple until you are knee-deep in a struggle surrounded by more what if’s than you can comprehend. It is easy to lose faith and hope in those moments, just like when you wake in the middle of the night and try to make sense of the darkness. First, you have to focus on the light from within to get your bearings. The best way to do that is to follow the example of David.

But I have trusted in your faithful love; my heart will rejoice in your deliverance.

Psalms 13:5 (CSB)

David found his bearings by reflecting and remembering what God had already done. When we feel lost in the struggle, we can follow David’s example. Just the other day I came home fighting the sneezing and sniffling that is common for this time of year and found myself wondering what if it was something else. Then, I went down the rabbit hole of all the issues that could cause and was slipping toward a downward spiral when I finally stopped to pray. I decided to take my temperature, just in case, praying the whole time. It was a normal 97.6 (normal for me anyway), and I felt God using that to reassure me. Worrying about all the potential hazards only sapped my joy and kept me busy spinning in a circle. Like the blue circle on my computer, it kept me from doing what needed to be done. The enemy does his best work by keeping us distracted so that not only can we not see the light, but we no longer are a light. In a world that has grown used to the darkness that is not a luxury we can afford.

That little town of Bethlehem gave birth to a great light and shared it with us. The least we can do is to share it with others. Fill your lamps with oil by taking a moment to reflect on who God is by reading the Word and reflecting on what God has done for you in the past. Then, you can direct the light outward to someone else who is struggling and help them find their bearings. A candle doesn’t lose any light by sharing the flame with another candle; it just increases the amount of light. So, light your lamp or candle and then share the flame so that we can chase away the darkness.

Just remember, in the middle of a bunch of what if’s it is best to focus on the what is. From there we can move forward on solid ground knowing that the light of Bethlehem still shines brightly.

Expectation

As the Advent season begins, the first candle lit symbolizes either hope or expectation and sometimes is called the Prophet’s Candle. To me, hope and expectation are tied together. Generally when we have expectations, we are hoping for good. Biblical hope is the confident expectation of God’s promises. Given the state of the world, we could all use some hope and expectation for good.

Pathway to Hope

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

Romans 5:3-5

The pathway to hope is more of a hike, so think of it as an adventure. Romans chapter five tells us that tribulation creates patience as we learn to deal with the troubles of this world. Patience grows with experience because when we follow Christ, we witness His faithfulness to us. The more experience we have, the more we have hope that God will do what He says. As a matter of fact, we expect Him to do what He says.

Expectations of Hope

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 29:11

What can we expect from God? Jeremiah tells us that God has plans for us, plans on an eternal scale. The things that happen on earth are just preparations for what is to come in eternity. But, it’s not just expectations for the hereafter; it is also expectations for a life of peace here.  How can we have peace in this world? We can have the peace God gives that is not tied to what is going on around us, but is an expression of His presence in our lives.

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31

Because of His presence and his peace, we can expect to be renewed daily. When you team up with God, He does the heavy lifting. You don’t have to do it alone or in your own strength. You can expect help and never be disappointed.

Results of Hope

I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.

Psalms 130:5

When we hope in God, we are never disappointed. Hope by definition usually requires a waiting period. The world had to wait a long time in earth years for the coming of the Messiah, but in eternal time it was just a drop in the bucket. Now we patiently hope for Christ’s return. In the meantime, we have the promise of God, and in the season of Advent we are reminded that God fulfilled the words of the prophets regarding the coming of the Messiah.

Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:12

So, light the Prophet’s Candle and have hope for a brighter tomorrow because Emmanuel has come.

To Everything a Season

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

This fall everything seems to have come early, including Christmas. Since I work part-time in retail, we have to start ahead of the season. We started talking about Halloween decorations in September and planning for Christmas. Then I got an idea. People who know me well get a little nervous when they hear that phrase coming from me, but I should have been the one who was nervous.

My idea was for a collection of Christmas novellas about four women who had lost their love for the season. I came up with the basic concept in the middle of hot Alabama summer at the Southern Christian Writer’s Conference several years ago but never quite got around to working on it. On a whim, I sent an email to Cheryl Wray asking if she had any Christmas ideas for her new publishing company Southern Story Books. She liked the idea but there was one catch: In order to publish by Black Friday, she needed the finished manuscript by November 1.

That was near the end of September, so I had roughly five weeks to write four novellas. Luckily for me, Hallmark starts early too, so I had some inspiration to get me in the Christmas spirit while the world was setting up for Halloween. You may have heard about Novel in November, well I was early for that, too. I did it in October…barely.

But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19

In the midst of pandemic panic and election mania, God provided everything I needed. He opened up time and space for me to work when I thought there was none. He gave me inspiration and ideas when I thought there was none. He gave me strength and energy when I thought there was none. God has a way of making the impossible possible and something out of nothing.

Now, Black Friday has arrived and so has my new book, something I was beginning to think would never happen again. My Christmas present came early this year, but I am willing to share. So, Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas and may my words spread a little joy and laughter in the midst of this crazy year.

Now I have and idea…

Redefine

Everybody likes makeovers and shows about makeovers. There is just something satisfying about seeing a before and after photo, whether it’s a person or a house renovation. We just like to see something spruced up and revitalized. Given 2020, most of us would like a makeover for the year. There’s just one catch: In order to have a makeover we have to be willing to let go of the old.

18 Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. 19 Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 43:18-19

Personally, I reject the phrase “new normal” as most people apply it these days. I prefer the word redefine. My world has changed in recent years but not because of the pandemic. There are different seasons in our lives due to changes in age, job situations, relationships, and health. There are mountains and valleys. When a new season comes, we have to let go of the old so that we can enjoy the new. If we want to enjoy the colors of fall, we have to put away the shorts and flip flops of summer.

The same is true spiritually speaking. Growth can be a painful process sometimes but the blessings far outweigh the negatives. We can sit around and whine about what we don’t have, or we can be grateful for what we do have. Look around and I’m sure we can find reasons to thank God. We shouldn’t let what isn’t steal the joy of what is.

When we are tempted to complain about how different things are at the moment, we need to take a moment to grieve what has passed, whether it’s a loved one, a job, or even a dream. Then, we should take stock of what we have and where we are, and dream a new dream. Give it all to God and let Him make something new out of it.

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 29:11

God only wants the best for us, but sometimes that means giving up something we think is good in order to have what is best. The key is learning the fine art of letting go so that we can hold on. Let go of whatever is not of God, and hold onto our faith.

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.

Philippians 3:13

So, as we move into a time of giving thanks, let’s be mindful of what we have and open to the new things that God will do. Let God redefine us so that we are more like Him tomorrow than we were today.

Flowers out of Season

When Tropical Storm Zeta descended on my house in the wee hours of a Thursday morning, I was awakened by sudden silence. I realized the power had gone out, shutting off my diffuser, fan, and nightlight. It was dark and very quiet in the house, but outside was a different story. The wind howled and yanked at the plastic covering some of my windows. Every time I would start to relax it would start again. After several hours, the storm abated enough that I drifted back off to sleep. I woke up the next morning still without power, but the house was intact, so I was grateful and got ready for work by flashlight. When I went out to the car, I saw these lilies and was reminded of God’s goodness.

Earlier in the summer some friends and I were trying to get my yard under control. Weeds had overtaken my flower bed. In the process of cutting down tall weeds with a Weed Eater, some of my lilies were mown down, too. I was sad but hopeful they would return in the spring. That morning not only had the lilies miraculously returned, they were also blooming in all their splendor totally out of season. God was kind enough not to make me wait; He sent me flowers as a reminder that He was listening to my prayers and was able to answer.

So, as the season for thanksgiving approaches, let us remember that it is always the season for thanksgiving. No matter what the situation, no matter what the problem, God is always the answer and no one else.

21 Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! 22 And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing. 23 They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; 24 These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. 25 For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. 26 They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. 27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end. 28 Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. 29 He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. 30 Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.

Psalms 107:21-30

No matter what kind of storm we are facing outside, we can have a haven of rest inside when we trust in the goodness of God. When we cry unto the Lord in our trouble, He will bring us out of our distresses and into our desired haven. Above all that, sometimes He sends us flowers out of season just to show us:

 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

Matthew 19:26

When the Bucket Meets the Road

October was a long month in some ways and way too short in others. I wrote 4 novellas, so every day I went to my first job, and then my second job, and then I came home to write a couple thousand words. I was happy to see November and was down to correcting the last two novellas to send to the publisher.

Driving home in the dark, suddenly there appeared a bucket in the road. Not your average bucket, but a heavy duty one. I couldn’t swerve or stop because of traffic; I had to hit it straight on. I figured it would hit and bounce, maybe ding my already dinged car, but no. It had staying power. It scraped and screamed on the asphalt and refused to break loose or break up, so I finally pulled over. I couldn’t see it and the side of that particular highway was not safe due to high traffic. Since all of my tires seemed fine, I waited for all the traffic to pass and then eased onto the road and drove to the parking lot of an empty building down the hill.

I finally found the offending bucket wedged under the front of my car and managed to pull it loose and toss it to the side. Saying a quick prayer, I got back in the car and headed home, thankful not to see any warning lights on the dash. I made it home without any further ado and went inside to finish what I had started.

It occurred to me that the incident is a lot like life. We are rolling along taking care of business when suddenly life throws a bucket at us. Whether it is a unexpected bill, an illness, a death, or just a bad day, it throws a kink in our plan and slows us down. We want to pull off the road and quit, but we still have to get home, so we have to deal with the problem and carry on.

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:

1 Peter 5:7-8

First, the Bible says to cast our cares on God. We weren’t meant to carry them around. God wants us to trust Him with our problems. The devil is trying to trip us up and throws whatever he can at us, even a bucket in the road, but God is on the throne and better equipped to deal with the obstacles at hand. God allows the obstacles and uses them to help us grow in faith and in character.

But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

Genesis 5:20

The enemy and even people will make plans against us, but they cannot over throw the will of God. He has a plan even when it seems like nothing is going right. Joseph had to be sold into slavery in order for him to end up in the right place to save his people from starvation. We may not always know the purpose of the bucket in the road, but we do know God.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

God can use even a bucket in the road to teach us something, or even protect us from something that we can’t see. There might have been a potential wreck further down the road, or it might have just been a warning to slow down. Regardless, God can use it for our good if we let him.

So, when the bucket meets the road and you can’t avoid it, know that God will be there by your side. You need only to ask for His help and carry on. It’ll work itself out eventually. Stop stress eating because of poll results and getting angry over social media posts, God will work the bucket out however He sees fit. It’s out of our hands and that’s probably a good thing because we would have tried to save Joseph from being sold into slavery and look where that would have led.