Everyone Has a Story

So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” —Ruth 1:19-21 NLT

Naomi was bitter. It’s easy to understand why when we read her story in the book of Ruth. During a famine, when all seemed hopeless at home, she left Israel with her husband and two sons, and they tried to eke out a living in a new country. Within ten years, her husband and her sons had died. Although both sons had married, neither left any grandchildren. Naomi had fled her own country with a family and high hopes and now found herself alone with no one and very little hope—if any. She was bitter. The name Naomi means “pleasant,” but the irony of that in these circumstances caused her to change her name to Mara, which means “bitter.”

It was a hard time for Naomi-turned-Mara, and she felt it to the marrow of her bones. When one is depressed, she doesn’t really want people around her much. She can’t be bothered. It’s hard enough to drag one weary foot in front of the other. Naomi knew she had nothing to offer her daughters-in-law, and so she did her best to send them back to their own parents. One of them did return, but her daughter-in-law, Ruth, refused to leave and made the long trek with Naomi back to Israel.

What if someone in the village did not know her story? Would they be put off by her brusqueness and her new name? Would her downcast face and her lack of means to support herself make some of the people in the village back away from her? Perhaps. It’s uncomfortable to be with someone in misery. You don’t know what to say. You aren’t sure how to help. It’s clear she’d like to be left alone. And so alone you leave her.

We all know why Naomi was so sad. Probably most of the people in her village did too. However, we meet people every day who are bitter and broken. Oftentimes, we don’t know their story. We just know they are abrupt and not very gracious; they don’t seem to care much about us. We might just back away and leave them to their miserable selves. And that just might be the wrong thing to do.

Everyone has a story. What has happened to us in the past shapes the way we perceive life in the present. If we’ve been betrayed or traumatized, trust comes very slowly. What if, instead of rushing to judgment about a person who seems annoying or odd or downright rude, we learn their story? What if we extend the same kind of love toward them that God has extended to us? Offer that undeserving kind of love just because they are made and loved by Him? Perhaps their opinions that jar us and their responses that annoy us would make more sense. Perhaps if we stopped long enough to listen and learn where they’re coming from, we’d be better equipped to help them go to new places of grace and hope in the days ahead.

Naomi was deeply blessed by Ruth, the daughter-in-law who refused to leave her alone in her grief and despair. Ruth walked the weary miles of sadness with her, and Ruth worked hard to provide food for their table. Ruth stayed. Ruth loved. Ruth chose to be a part of Naomi’s story. And one sweet day, after Ruth married and life became easier, she offered her firstborn baby to Naomi to love and care for, a grandson named after Naomi’s son to carry on the family name. Ruth’s sacrificial love turned a bitter woman back to a pleasant one by God’s great grace.

Oh, how I want to love the despondent, the unlovely, the difficult ones better than I do! Ruth is such a great example for me when God places a bitter person in my path. What changes might happen if—with God’s help—I truly listened to their story, introduced them to the gospel story that is the best news ever, and watched God grow their future to one of joy as they began to live out the glorious purpose He has for them!

But it all begins with listening and learning their story. Let’s judge less and listen more.

Father, help us to be full of grace for those whose lives have been harder than we can imagine. Give us Your kind of love in our dealings with difficult people in our lives. Help us to listen and learn about them and then listen and learn from You as we seek to tell them the glorious story of Your rescue for all who come to You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

You are loved,
Sharon

 

 

Sweet Selah Ministries

Vision
To inspire a movement away from the belief that “busy is better”
and toward the truth of God’s Word that stillness and knowing
Him matter most—and will be reflected in more effective work and service

 Mission
To offer biblical resources and retreats that help women pause (Selah)
and love God more deeply as they know Him more intimately (Sweet)

Donate
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Click over to our Donation page … and thanks.

 

 

 

 

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Reject Future Fears

After Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it, he went up to the LORD’s Temple and spread it out before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed this prayer before the LORD: “O LORD, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. Bend down, O LORD, and listen! Open your eyes, O LORD, and see! Listen to Sennacherib’s words of defiance against the living God. —2 Kings 19:14-16 NLT

Sometimes when I think I have it bad in my own life, I go back to stories in the Bible and am reminded of what bad can really look like. And I am not there yet. Hopefully, neither are you. Let’s take King Hezekiah and his people who lived in Jerusalem, for example, back in ancient history. They were being attacked by the Assyrians, who were a cruel and bloodthirsty people, who had already defeated countless other cities and nations. Now they surrounded Jerusalem and promised to stay until the people were broken and starving. The Assyrian army had a reputation for keeping their word in situations like this. They mocked God and shouted to the people of Jerusalem to surrender before it was too late and they died of hunger and thirst. That army of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers appeared to be pretty much undefeatable, and their offer of life to those who surrendered was looking mighty attractive. Extreme fear tactics of what the future would surely hold were terrifying and could have led to a full out surrender. Quite frankly, from a human perspective, that sounded like the wisest course of action.

However, King Hezekiah did not listen to the terror threats and he did not give in to the very real and large army just waiting to conquer his land. He rejected the temptation to give in to “future fears.” What he did is a blueprint for all of us whenever our future looks frightening. And let’s be real here. If we want to let our minds go there, our future as a country could look pretty scary in this particular moment in history. Instead, let’s follow King Hezekiah’s lead.

  1. Take that terrifying future prediction directly to God and lay it out before Him. I am astounded by the very apolitical and nonmilitary actions that Hezekiah took. Right outside his city walls is an attacking army restless for battle and ready to kill, and what does he do? He takes the letter that demands surrender and literally smoothes it out flat and lays it before the Lord. He gives it to God through prayer. What a sensible approach. Hezekiah cannot defeat this enemy—and listening to their grotesque descriptions of what a siege will do to the people of Jerusalem is not making anything better. So why listen? Oh, to be wise like Hezekiah! The next time we hear a dire prediction, instead of endlessly listening to further renditions of our horrific fate, how about we take that prediction and go to prayer, laying it out before the Lord? How about that? We spend too much time listening to people and too little time listening to God. This must change or we will live in a state of fear and terror that God never intended for us.
  2. Remind yourself who God is and why you are safe with Him. Hezekiah’s prayer does not start with himself and his predicament at all. He begins with worship, praising God for who He is. We can actually just “worry pray” if we aren’t careful, endlessly cycling around all the awful things that could happen and never really speaking to God at all! But if we begin with worship like Hezekiah did, if we remember how powerful God truly is, if we acknowledge how small we truly are, then we can pray in faith believing that God is able to help us. And God is quite able to help us no matter what happens. Whether we live out our days in our nice little homes or in a cardboard shelter under a bridge, He will never leave or forsake His own. He will always love us, always whisper hope to us, always come through on His promise that one day we will realize that this life is very short and eternity with Him is very long and so brilliantly glorious that our troubles here will seem minuscule in light of the glory to come.

Oh, friends, hold on to the sure hope that is our birthright as children of God! Don’t spend endless hours listening to the news or other commentators and only sporadic minutes with your Lord. We have it backwards if the majority of our learning and listening times are to sources that are not from the only wise God. Let’s commit to spending more time listening to Him and rejoicing in all we have because we are His!

Oh. And just in case you were curious, those 185,000 soldiers did not last long. In one night, they all were stricken with a deadly plague and died. Just like that. You can read about it in 2 Kings 19. You can also read in secular histories that, although the Assyrians camped outside of Jerusalem with the intent to conquer … they failed. God is able to save us from a threatening future. And He just might, as He did long ago in Hezekiah’s day. Let’s trust Him and not give way to fear. After all, our future as coheirs with Christ of a heavenly kingdom looks very bright indeed!

Father God, we echo Hezekiah’s prayer today. “O LORD, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. Bend down, O LORD, and listen!” Please help us in our time of need. Give us hearts that trust and words that proclaim Your great love for the world as we have opportunity to call others into a sweet relationship with You, their Savior. Keep us close to You, Lord, in these troubled days and in all the days of our lives to come. We yearn for the day when all will be well forever, and You will physically dwell among us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

You are loved,
Sharon

 

 

Sweet Selah Ministries

Vision
To inspire a movement away from the belief that “busy is better”
and toward the truth of God’s Word that stillness and knowing
Him matter most—and will be reflected in more effective work and service

 Mission
To offer biblical resources and retreats that help women pause (Selah)
and love God more deeply as they know Him more intimately (Sweet)

Donate
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Helping Others to Stand

But that does not mean we want to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. We want to work together with you so you will be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm. —2 Corinthians 1:24 NLT

I was a young wife living far from home when I met her. She had multiple problems far beyond anything I had ever seen in my sheltered life. Her poverty, her lack of cleanliness, and her inability to reciprocate made it a challenging friendship right from the start. I tried so hard to help her. I bought her things. I cleaned up after her. I gave and I gave and I gave. And she took. Sometimes with a thank you, but often with none. She always seemed to need more of me. I wore myself out trying to make her life better and to help her feel loved. I often felt drained and inadequate around her. I never felt like I was enough. And, of course, I wasn’t.

When we moved from the area and I said goodbye, she clung to me. I worried about who would take care of her next, even though she did have resources available to her. As we drove away, I spoke to my husband about all my concerns. He was quiet as I talked, and then he asked me a simple question: “Sharon, is she better off and more able to cope with life than she was when you met her?” It was an honest question, and it shook me. Because the answer was an emphatic no. I had not in any way helped her do for herself. I cooked for her. Babysat her kids. Cleaned. But I did not teach. I had not come alongside her nor helped her learn to manage her own life. It was a classic case of enabling before I’d ever heard of such a word. I had shared my faith and tried to show it by my actions, but she had no visible faith of her own when I left her.

The next time a very needy person came into my life, I was more prepared. I recruited assistance from my Bible study group. My friends and I helped this dear down-and-out woman learn how to balance a budget and live on her welfare check without going through it all the first week. We didn’t cook for her or buy her food when she ran out. We helped her live on what she had. When she visited me and told me how unkind all the churches were to her—she had even left our church because she felt we weren’t giving her enough—I was blunt. I told her she needed to give as well as take. It was not an easy conversation, but it was said in love and with a genuine desire to help her see how to stand on her own. I lost track of her for about a year, but when I next met up with her, she had found a church where she was serving and helping, and she was enrolled in a class to be an aide at a nursing home. I was shocked and relieved and so, so glad! Asked the same question about this second woman and my answer would be yes! I physically did less for her, but I came alongside her with others and helped her do for herself and stand back up again. She was more eager to hear the gospel at this point because she was contributing to her church and not just demanding of it. Amazing difference!

Paul understood this type of mentoring very well. In our passage above, he writes, “But that does not mean we want to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. We want to work together with you so you will be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm.” What do we learn from this? First of all, we can’t force others to walk out their faith. When we dominate and try to control people by our own good deeds, managing their lives for them, we actually weaken them. Instead, just as Paul desired to work together with the Corinthian church, we need to come alongside and not work for others, but work together with them as they learn ways to cope and as they learn to put faith into practice.

Do you know what will fill you with joy? Working together for a common goal in Christ. That’s what! Not sitting back and asking someone to do it all for you, feeling victimized and pitiful. Much truth can be found in the fact that it is by your own faith that you stand firm. The best gift we can give another is to lead them to Christ so they know Him themselves. Then they have the Holy Spirit within them, and God enables them to stand. They aren’t being propped up by our secondary faith. God calls each of us to a personal walk with Him. No one can “save” another soul by his own faith. God alone saves. God alone enables a struggling person to see Him and find Him and cling to Him and discover that He is, indeed, enough. We can work together with them, but they stand firm only when they claim faith in Christ themselves.

Let’s always be kind. Let’s always be willing to serve and help. At the same time, let’s always remember that the most important gift we give another is not our service to them, but introducing them to the only One who can save and enable them to stand. That’s what we really want after all, isn’t it? Just like with our children, the end goal is to see these dear ones we have helped and mentored now stand on their own with Christ alone as their primary support. How I thank God for Jesus and His love for all—from the most broken ones among us to the ones who look like they have it all together but don’t!

Lord, show me how to help others find You so they can stand with Your power and Your love as their foundation. They don’t need me to be their prop. They need a Savior, and there is only One. You. Thank You for Your saving grace and Your power to change lives! Show us how to love well each person You bring into our lives. We can’t do it without You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

You are loved,
Sharon

 

 

Sweet Selah Ministries

Vision
To inspire a movement away from the belief that “busy is better”
and toward the truth of God’s Word that stillness and knowing
Him matter most—and will be reflected in more effective work and service

 Mission
To offer biblical resources and retreats that help women pause (Selah)
and love God more deeply as they know Him more intimately (Sweet)

Donate
If you’ve been blessed, keep the blessing going!
Click over to our Donation page … and thanks.

 

 

 

 

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I Receive This

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. —Job 2:10 ESV

I was not a happy camper. I had the flu and felt miserable. Also, I felt way too important to be in bed sick, when so many things “depended on me.” Oh, I was a stubborn, angry, prideful mess. I prayed for healing. I asked others to pray for healing. I practically demanded healing. I stayed sick. When I finally came to the end of myself … my ranting and anger and frustration abated … I bowed my rebellious, silly head and whispered, “I receive this.” And those three words changed everything.

Job, who had a ton more to complain about than I did, “received” what God allowed without murmur or anger. Unlike me, he did not “sin with his lips.” He accepted that God was in charge, and he was not. Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, pleaded with God, asking if there could be another way. When the answer was no, there is no other way, He received it and said, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42b ESV). Paul asked three times for his “thorn” to be removed. Then he not only received God’s no, but gloried in his weakness.

It all comes down to this. If God is in charge (and He is), and if God is good (and He is), then even when He allows bad things to happen (and He does), they come with purpose. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV). We are never promised easy. We are not even promised that we will completely understand. What we are told is this: that the love of God will never leave us. Even when hard times come.

When we stop our fist shaking and indignant cries of “unfair!” and simply receive what comes from the hand of the One who loves us, we finally find peace. Is it easy? No. Is it okay to ask for God to fix it/heal it/remove it? Yes. Jesus asked. Paul asked. We can ask. However, after we’ve asked, we need to rest in what is, confident that if God has allowed it, He has a reason.

Right after that assurance in Romans 8 that all things work for good for those who love Him are some of the most reassuring words in all of Scripture. Stop for a moment and read these wonderful words out loud. Seriously. Read them slowly with awe. Hold them close to your heart. Believe them. And then receive what He allows with a child-like trust. That receiving will change everything.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:35; 37-39 ESV

Dear Lord, today I bring You this situation: ___________. My desire is: ___________. Nevertheless, as Jesus prayed, I also pray. Not my will, but Your will be done. Help me to rest sure of Your love and receive what comes even when it’s hard. Thank You, Lord Jesus, that absolutely nothing can ever separate me from Your love! Amen.

Note: This Musing was originally posted in April 2018 and is worth repeating in a time when many of us are struggling with hard-to-comprehend trials that are not ones we would have chosen.

You are loved,
Sharon

 

 

Sweet Selah Ministries

Vision
To inspire a movement away from the belief that “busy is better”
and toward the truth of God’s Word that stillness and knowing
Him matter most—and will be reflected in more effective work and service

 Mission
To offer biblical resources and retreats that help women pause (Selah)
and love God more deeply as they know Him more intimately (Sweet)

Donate
If you’ve been blessed, keep the blessing going!
Click over to our Donation page … and thanks.

 

 

 

 

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Repeat After Me

When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel. —Deuteronomy 17:18-20 NLT

How are you at memorizing information? I used to be pretty good at it. Back when memorizing phone numbers was a thing, I had an impressive arsenal of friends’ home phone numbers tucked away in my head and at the ready for chatty phone calls. Part of what cemented them in my brain, though, was repetition. The more I dialed a number (I know … we don’t dial numbers anymore but we used to!) the more it stuck in my head. The same was true with popular songs. I didn’t even try to memorize them. It just sort of happened because they were repeated enough times on my radio for me to remember. It’s actually a proven fact … repetition helps you remember.

I’ve been studying the book of Deuteronomy and was quite stunned to realize that Moses included in his farewell address to Israel instructions for future kings that were heavy on the repetition thing. As a prophet of God, Moses had foreseen that one day kings would rule the people. I find these instructions fascinating. Each king in turn was required to copy for himself on a scroll the instructions Moses was leaving for the people—while the priests looked over his shoulder. Check out the size of Deuteronomy. That’s a whole lot of copying. And he couldn’t cheat with the priests watching. I’m not sure many of the kings actually followed these directions, but here they are.

As if writing it all out was not enough, the king was asked to read it daily. As long as he lived. Wow. Why was this so important to God? I think the answer lies in the importance of repetition for lifelong obedience. This is also important for us. We forget over time if we don’t repeat what we know. I can recall only a smattering of French words, because I never practice speaking French. I can no longer impress you with the recall of my high school friends’ phone numbers for the same reason. It has been decades since I used those numbers. We may think we have read God’s Word and therefore we’re done, but that would be false. Without repetition, we will not have His words clearly in the forefront of our minds. We will lose those words, and when we need them, they won’t be readily on our lips or in our minds to help us.

So, based on this passage from Deuteronomy, here’s my advice on reading and knowing the Bible. Ready?

  1. Remember His truth by writing verses out. I choose just one verse a day to copy out of whatever passage I’m reading. That verse “sticks” with me much more because I wrote it out and thought about it. It is repeated as I write it—and that cements its truths deeper into my brain and makes it easier for me to recall them.
  2. Grow in Him by reading the Bible daily. No, I don’t advocate reading the whole 66 books of the Bible each and every day, but read a portion. Daily. Keep it fresh in your mind. Just the act of reading God’s words helps to solidify in your heart and in your life that this Book above all others matters and is worthy of our time.
  3. Learn who God is by studying what He says. The more we know who He is, the more easily we will follow and obey Him. The more we will absolutely trust Him and be at peace knowing He is with us. That peace and that trust are two of the keys to living a blessed life.
  4. Realize our humble place by knowing His Word. God is God, and we are not. We are His children and His beloveds, but we have no reason to be prideful. All we have and all we do come from Him. It is actually quite restful to know we that are not in charge nor responsible for running the world.
  5. Stay close to Him by listening to Him. The daily reading and repetition protect us from veering off course. The last thing I want to do is turn away from the One who made me, saved me, and loves me most. Reading every day keeps me connected to Him. After all, I’m reading His words to me. It’s the way we communicate. I want to be sure I am walking in the way He wants me to walk.
  6. Guide your family by modeling His words. Daily reading will help the generations that follow. As we model His teaching to our children and our grandchildren, we are giving them the perspective of what matters most. And that is the best way to help them follow God as well. The ripple effect goes far beyond us.

No, I am not a king of Israel. But I am daughter of the King of kings! And if you have committed yourself to Him, so are you! All Scripture is useful to us, and I believe these verses are no exception.

Now. Repeat after me:

Daily reading and recording of the Bible will help us live life to its fullest in Christ.

Let’s do it.

Oh, Father God, over and over in Scripture it is obvious that You want us to study Your Word and learn it and obey it. Forgive us when we put aside what is of great importance to You. Help us to approach the Bible with awe—Your very living words to us! Give us a greater thirst, Lord, for You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

You are loved,
Sharon

 

 

Sweet Selah Ministries

Vision
To inspire a movement away from the belief that “busy is better”
and toward the truth of God’s Word that stillness and knowing
Him matter most—and will be reflected in more effective work and service

 Mission
To offer biblical resources and retreats that help women pause (Selah)
and love God more deeply as they know Him more intimately (Sweet)

Donate
If you’ve been blessed, keep the blessing going!
Click over to our Donation page … and thanks.

 

 

 

 

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Please Be Good

Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever! —Deuteronomy 5:29 NIV

Do you know any parents who hold their newborn baby in their arms for the first time and determine right on the spot to hurt and wound and damage that baby? Neither do I. When we hold a fragile, helpless infant in our arms, we might worry about our ability to keep them alive, but we certainly want them to do well. As they grow, we teach them as best we can how to thrive in this world. We insist on car seats, strapped in and secure. We teach them to look both ways before they cross a street. We warn them of the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse. We help them in a thousand ways to live a good life. We want this for them! And that very “wanting” makes us insist on their obedience in order to help them achieve a safe and healthy life.

As I read Deuteronomy 5:29, I am struck by how very much God wants His people to be good: “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always.” And I love His reason: “so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” Just like a parent insists that a squirming toddler buckle into the car seat for his own protection in case of an accident, God insists on us being obedient for our own protection. I hear a longing in these words of God’s. Do you? “Oh, if only they would behave … they would be happier. If only they would do what I say … they would enjoy life fully.”

Why on earth don’t we listen to Him? Unlike our parents, who had moods and crabby days and the occasional unreasonable demands, God is the perfect parent. He made us. He wired us. He can see our future. He knows what will bring us happiness and what will not. And amazingly, God wants things to go well with us and with our children after us. Forever. His deep love for us is personal and real to the degree that He feels grief when we walk away in angry disobedience, and He rejoices at our return.

God’s first longing stated in our verse is that our hearts would be inclined to fear Him. Now “fear” is an interesting word when used in conjunction with God. It’s not the terrified fear of a helpless individual in the face of a monster. No, it’s the wholehearted respect and acknowledgement we feel when we get our heads wrapped around the truth of Who God Is. He is the only One who never “wasn’t.” He has always existed, and every single piece of matter was created by the words He spoke. Stars. Galaxies. Ants. Cells. Elephants. Rhubarb. Oxygen. Water. You name it, and He made it. The Bible puts it this way: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3 NLT). Also, God is powerful beyond imagination. He could squash us like a bug in a nanosecond. So … yes, He is to be feared. At the same time, God is merciful, loving, and full of grace toward His creatures. How amazing is that in light of His power and creative might! So we fear Him in the sense that we know how Big He is. We worship Him because He is worthy of our worship, and we bow our knees in respect and awe. He is surely no monster, but the good parent, the best parent, who longs for us to do well in our lives.

God’s second longing is that we “keep all the commands always.” Why? Because they are good for us. When we put other gods before Him, for example, we leave the sheltering protection of His love and care. When we steal, we live in fear and shame of being found out and there is no peace. When we covet, we live with bitter hearts instead of thankful ones. Each one of His commands is for our good. I’ve discovered through sad disobedience how much better obedience is. How about you? When I am tempted to stray off the good path marked out for me by the One who sees that path all the way to the end and beyond, I remember Who He is and how much He cares for me. I remember how it just never goes well for me when I wander off in bitterness or anger or selfishness.

Not one of us is able to keep all the commands always. We are willful, stubborn folk who often have to learn the hard way. But even here, our God is so good to us. He has provided a way of forgiveness and cleansing when we stumble back to Him all dirty and muddy from walking away, and He has given us the incalculably great gift of His indwelling Spirit. His Spirit within us reminds us of the right path and helps us fight temptations as they come. The sweet thing is … we can always get back to the path if we ask for His help. We can always be forgiven no matter how far away we’ve wandered or how often.

Yet, how much better for us and those we love if we would just be good, right? I love this verse! Our God wants our obedience so that it will go well with us. Let’s be good!

Heavenly Father, I’m so thankful for Your loving Father-heart for Your people. I’m humbled by Your longing for us to obey Your commands and live well and prosper. I love that You desire that for my children and grandchildren as well. All Your thoughts are good, dear Lord! All Your ways are right. Help me, please, to obey. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

You are loved,
Sharon

 

 

Sweet Selah Ministries

Vision
To inspire a movement away from the belief that “busy is better”
and toward the truth of God’s Word that stillness and knowing
Him matter most—and will be reflected in more effective work and service

 Mission
To offer biblical resources and retreats that help women pause (Selah)
and love God more deeply as they know Him more intimately (Sweet)

Donate
If you’ve been blessed, keep the blessing going!
Click over to our Donation page … and thanks.

 

 

 

 

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The Problem with Expectations

 

But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! —2 Kings 5:11 NLT

 

I was tired of being home. (I expect you may be feeling that way, too. We have all basically been home since March, haven’t we?) I decided we could risk a short vacation in Vermont, a state next to ours; both states blessedly low in Covid cases. We usually book very inexpensive accommodations because our jobs, though rich in heavenly rewards, are not rich in monetary rewards. [Ha!] However, to be sure we would be safe, I booked a resort with a couple more stars than our usual. I was all excited about what a marvelous place it would be! My expectations were high. The pictures of the resort looked stunning. We were going to Live It Up for a few days. Wahooo!

The drive to Vermont was gorgeous and so was the first view of the resort. In fact, the grounds lived up to their pictures and the mountains that surrounded us. Stunning. The problem was the room itself. It was ... dreary. To put it mildly. The carpet was worn. The back deck still had unswept leaves from last fall. The doors were creaky and the bathtub was old. As we entered that room, my heart plummeted. This was not at all what I expected. And it made me sad—and mad. I had brought my Clorox wipes along and grimly proceeded to wipe down everything in sight, just in case the cleaning job on the room was on a par with the quality of said room. I was not happy.

In our verse above, Naaman also had his expectations dashed. He was a man of importance from the country of Aram, and he had leprosy. After traveling a great distance to visit the prophet Elisha in Israel, Naaman expected a great reception in his honor and a swift and uncomplicated healing of his leprosy. Like me—but with way more at stake—Naaman had high hopes and expectations for his visit to Elisha. Then, his hopes and expectations were dashed. There was no fine reception; in fact, Elisha did not even meet with him, sending his servant instead. Here was the message to Naaman: go to the local river and dip your body in it seven times. What?! This was not Naaman’s idea of a dignified healing at all. And yet, here he was in Israel. Would he go home angry … with leprosy still eating away at his wasted body? Or would Naaman receive the command and wash himself seven times in a foreign river?

How about you? Have you ever had an expectation go flat? Unmet expectations have been a reality for humans everywhere since Naaman’s day and even before that. We get our hopes all up. We anticipate. We yearn and long for something big and then Crash. It all falls down. And when it does, we have a choice. We can fuss and fume and stay in an unhealthily crabby state, or we can look at where we actually are and ask God to help us right there. Sometimes, we just need to let go of those expectations and embrace the good in the reality set before us.

I confess it took me a little bit of time, but I decided to embrace the good in Vermont instead of whining about the bad. And let me tell you. When I let go of my picture of what the resort room should have looked like and instead enjoyed the tremendous beauty of mountains and rushing rivers and covered bridges, life was very, very good. The resort was not crowded at all. Every evening, I swam alone in a beautiful pool while the sun set over the mountains and the colorful, landscaped flower gardens nodded at me poolside. Ray would sit and read his book and keep me company as I reveled in my very own pool. Every day, Ray and I walked a new trail and admired birds and trees and brooks. Even a young deer in the woods, stopped and stilled, was unafraid as we watched without hardly breathing for a long, beautiful while.

I could have missed my vacation. Truly. If I had stayed in a funk about the room, I would have missed the great and beautiful outdoors all around me. And Naaman? Well, if he had gone back to Aram without even trying the strange “cure” offered him by Elisha, he would have died a disfigured and miserable man. But Naaman chose the river. He dipped and he washed seven times, humbling himself and doing as God told him. Naaman went home healed … with great rejoicing!

In this time of seemingly endless pandemic, let’s not let our unmet expectations sideline us. Instead, let’s look at where we are and find the good Right There. Let’s be thankful for houses with roofs on them. Let’s notice the hot water that comes from our showerheads as we wash, not in a river, but in a clean and sterile bathroom of our very own. Let’s get outdoors and really hear the birds sing and the leaves rustle in the trees. Let’s remind ourselves with certainty that someday, our expectations will be met if we know Jesus. A new heaven and a new earth are coming with a true and righteous King, and one day, we will see more than we could ever expect or imagine when we cross from death to eternal life with Him. You know what? Heaven will exceed all expectations. I can hardly wait!

Heavenly Father, forgive me when I get bogged down in all I don’t have instead of seeing how much I do have. In Your graciousness You have blessed me with so much. Lord, give me eyes to see the good even in hard times. Help me to start each day expecting that You will be with me in all the ups and downs. Help me to live in trust, knowing that all You allow into my life has purpose. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Note: Photo credits go to Peter Poole Photography. Thank you, Peter, for this wonderful photo
that better represents the beauty of Vermont than my own poor pictures could ever do!

You are loved,
Sharon

 

 

Sweet Selah Ministries

Vision
To inspire a movement away from the belief that “busy is better”
and toward the truth of God’s Word that stillness and knowing
Him matter most—and will be reflected in more effective work and service

 Mission
To offer biblical resources and retreats that help women pause (Selah)
and love God more deeply as they know Him more intimately (Sweet)

Donate
If you’ve been blessed, keep the blessing going!
Click over to our Donation page … and thanks.

 

 

 

 

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The Day Shaundra Spoke Up

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” —Isaiah 58:9b-10 NIV

I can’t remember her name. It was something soft and beautiful … like Shaundra. She was gentle and beautiful, too, soft like her name. Always a smile on her face, she did her work in my Christian middle school English classroom with intelligence and wit. I enjoyed her, and after class whenever time allowed, I loved to chat with her. I simply assumed she was as happy as she seemed, and it never occurred to me to look deeper. As a second-year teacher, young and very naïve, I had no idea this bright, young girl was being mocked, bullied, and harassed.

In the late fall that school year, Shaundra asked me about an upcoming oral report. She wanted to do her report on prejudice, even though it wasn’t on my list of suggestions. “Sure,” I said, knowing that whatever she presented would be thoughtful and good. I looked forward to hearing it. Oral reports were always a nice break from teaching, sitting in the back of the classroom, listening for a change, and evaluating students in their public speaking skills.

I was pretty relaxed when Shaundra’s name was called and took out my sheet to start taking notes. Almost immediately, I realized this oral presentation was not like the others. She stood straight and tall, spoke clearly with great determination, and she directed her words to one certain young man. Although I never saw his face, his neck soon became bright, mottled red, and his head was down on his desk. He never once looked up despite the fact that Shaundra’s eyes were focused on him, and only him, the entire time she spoke.

I can’t recall her exact words after so many years, but she said something close to this: “My father is black and my mother is white. They met in college, fell in love, and they have the happiest marriage I have ever seen. I’m their only child, and they love me. We are a close family, and we enjoy vacations together and laughing and watching movies. We pray together and go to church together and my parents show the love of Jesus to me and to others. I am tired of being mocked and bullied because of the color of my skin. My parents are the finest people I know, and I am so proud I belong to them and so proud that I look like both of them. For those of you who can’t understand that, I feel sorry for you. You don’t know the kind of love I’ve grown up with.”

There was more, but you get the idea. I could still weep with pride and awe that this 14-year-old girl had the poise and the confidence to speak truth to her classmates. She spoke as she always did with her beautiful, soft voice—and the classroom was stiller than still. Her voice was clearly heard as everyone froze and listened, knowing this was Shaundra’s stand against her tormentor. The applause at the end was as loud as the room had been quiet. We clapped and clapped our hands raw. The young man who had been cruel kept his head down.

Afterwards, I talked with Shaundra and learned the ways he had tormented her. I spoke to him and his parents, and our class seemed to go back to normal again. But as I look back, from the perspective of age and sad experience, I realize that I did not do enough. I should have checked in with her often to make sure all was well. I should have watched and listened more intently. Because I was not a target, I was not as aware as I should have been that someone else was.

Shaundra, if you read these words one day, please forgive me for not following up and doing more. I sincerely hope you have found a good man like your dad and that you are living a full and loving life with him. You are loved, dear girl, and I still feel weepy even today remembering your bravery in that classroom long, long ago. Well done, dear one, well done.

Father, forgive me when I insulate myself from the hard things. I confess that sometimes I’d much rather not know than deal with prejudice and oppressors. Help me to speak up when I see unkindness and worse. Lord, help me to call evil … evil. Help me to help those who mock to see the harm they cause and the foolishness of their mocking. Help me to stand beside those who endure mocking and feel it with them. Teach me, Lord, to love as You love. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Note: This Musing is one we felt needed repeating in light of the sad situation in our country surrounding race issues. Originally posted in September 2017, you can also find this devotional in Sharon’s book, Sweet Selah Moments, on page 112.

You are loved,
Sharon

 

 

Sweet Selah Ministries

Vision
To inspire a movement away from the belief that “busy is better”
and toward the truth of God’s Word that stillness and knowing
Him matter most—and will be reflected in more effective work and service

 Mission
To offer biblical resources and retreats that help women pause (Selah)
and love God more deeply as they know Him more intimately (Sweet)

Donate
If you’ve been blessed, keep the blessing going!
Click over to our Donation page … and thanks.

 

 

 

 

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How Long, Lord?

We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be. —Psalm 74:9 NIV

Sometimes life is hard. Well, actually, life is often hard. It seems 2020 has brought one crisis after another—and the future can look bleak. In my personal life, several dear ones are going through really hard times: cancer, infertility, divorce, broken relationships. My heart aches for each individual, and I remember times when my own heart felt like a frozen tundra with no sign of warmth or life or hope. It seemed like winter would last forever.

You know one of the hardest things about a hard time? Not knowing how long it will last. Yeah. Asaph, the writer of Psalm 74, says it very well. “We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be” (v.9).

We often say to God, “If only You could tell me how long I have to endure this and how it will end, I could go on with courage. I don’t know whether this crisis will last another week or ten years or … forever. I hate this uncertainty, and I long for better days.”

Reflecting on these times, here are a few ways Asaph teaches us to cope as he wrote a heart-rending song, inspired by God, that became Bible: Psalm 74.

  • Be honest with God. “O God, why have you rejected us forever? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?” Asaph laments in verse 1. You can feel his despondency, and, as is often the case with depression, the heaviness feels like it will never end. We have a tendency to walk away and sulk when God seems silent. How hard it is to open His Word when we expect disappointment. Again. And yet, this is exactly what we must do. Talk with God through prayer and the Word. Tell Him how we feel. Putting it into words clarifies it in our minds, and starts the conversation with God in honesty. Asaph was great at being honestly unhappy with God!
  • Acknowledge that God is not doing what you want. “Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!” writes a frustrated Asaph in verse 11. He knows God is big enough, strong enough, mighty enough to defeat those destroying Israel, and yet he pictures God keeping His hands in His pockets. Sometimes God does not move, even when we beg Him. This is the reality. Mary and Martha begged Jesus to come and heal their sick brother, and He delayed. David asked God to spare his son’s life, and God did not. Let’s not mince words. God does not always act the way we wish. He’s not a genie in a bottle that we can rub and get our way. We need to acknowledge that, and still talk to Him about it.
  • Remember who God is and praise Him. “But God is my King from long ago; he brings salvation on the earth,” Asaph admits in the very next verse. Regardless of what is going on in Asaph’s world, God is still King. God is still Asaph’s King. God is still the One who brings salvation to the earth. Asaph turns his eyes from the problem to the One he still trusts, despite the bleakness of his situation. If you continue reading Psalm 74, you will see how he reminds himself of God’s goodness and greatness. We need to do this especially during those times when we don’t see God moving. Our present difficulties do not change the innate nature of a good and loving God. Period. Faith is restored when we remember this.
  • Continue coming to God no matter how long it takes. “Rise up, O God, and defend your cause,” pleads Asaph at the end of his lament (v.22a). He still asks. He still seeks. He still trusts. He goes to the only One who can fix it. Even though the fixing is taking a very long time and the wait seems interminable.

The God who created seasons will not allow a “winter” to last forever. Really. No matter how horrible your season is, dear one, it will end. One day, the temperature will shift just a bit and the ice will begin to thaw. To your amazement, green sprouts and leaves and buds of flowers will return again to the barrenness of your heart. Don’t turn away from the God of all comfort. Run to Him with every thought and every feeling. Remember He is good and He loves you deeply. Keep asking and keep seeking. It won’t be in vain. I think Asaph would agree.

Dear God, there are times when, like Asaph, I feel lost and alone and unmoored. I feel hurt and abandoned by You, God, even though I know that cannot be true—You are everywhere all the time. Help me in those dark times to always run to You. To trust You even when I don’t feel You. To cling to You with all that’s in me. And, more importantly, Lord, please cling to me. Don’t let go of my hand, dear God. Walk with me each day, every day, in the good times and the bad. I need You and I want You close. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Note: This Musing was originally titled “And None of Us Knows” and is a repeat from August 2017. We feel that it is worth presenting again, updated for us as we walk through hard times in 2020. What a year. May these words be an encouragement to you. You can also find this devotional in Sharon’s book, Sweet Selah Moments, on page 65.

You are loved,
Sharon

 

 

Sweet Selah Ministries

Vision
To inspire a movement away from the belief that “busy is better”
and toward the truth of God’s Word that stillness and knowing
Him matter most—and will be reflected in more effective work and service

 Mission
To offer biblical resources and retreats that help women pause (Selah)
and love God more deeply as they know Him more intimately (Sweet)

Donate
If you’ve been blessed, keep the blessing going!
Click over to our Donation page … and thanks.

 

 

 

 

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June 30 - Our Last Day

June 30. 2 Peter 3

GRACE LESSONS: We have a clear summary of Peter’s letter in this passage. Let’s look at verses 17 and 18: “You already know these things, dear friends. 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. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.” There it is. Be reminded often of what you already know. Be on guard so you don’t get tripped up. Be ever so careful to not be led astray and lose your way. The way to do this is to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. All glory to Him! We are to grow in grace, friends! As we end this study on Peter, just about the last words we read, and perhaps the last words he penned have to do with grace and with knowing Jesus more and more. Let’s not stop growing. Let’s continue to seek and serve and listen and grow!

OUR PASSAGE: Peter also talks about the future with his weary Christian friends in Asia Minor. He reminds them that God, when He is ready to do something, does it. In Genesis 1, we learn that creation went from chaos to completion in six days by the words that God spoke. Whoa. That’s fast. Noah’s neighbors just went on doing their thing while Noah spend decades building a boat and then BAM. The rains came and they didn’t stop until the world was flooded. In the same way, we need to be ready. We’ll be just going along, coping with whatever the current crisis is and then there HE will be!!  Riding on the clouds and declaring the beginning of the new heaven and earth!  Truly, let’s be ready. 2 Peter 3:14:  “And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.”

My verse: 2 Peter 3:9  “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.”

My response: Thank You, Lord, for Your great patience in waiting for people to respond to You! Thank You that each soul is that important that You would wait, despite the suffering in this world, just to bring them to repentance. Oh Lord Jesus! You know when the last one will believe. I trust Your timing. Even so, Come Lord Jesus, Come!

 

Last words: Well dear ones. I don’t know about you, but I am glad we read about Peter in small chunks. There was So Much in these two letters he wrote. I am glad we had his background in mind as we read them. I am glad we took small bites each day, adding to our knowledge of Jesus and of His grace. I’m thankful so many of you stuck with me on this journey. It was a JOY learning with you. Keep studying, friends. Find a book of the Bible or a Bible character and keep going with the 4 R Method, seeking His wisdom at every turn. Until next time … May God bless you BIG with His grace and peace!  Love,  Sharon

PS - I'd love to hear from you. Did you enjoy the study? What did God teach you through it? Any suggestions on how to make the experience easier or more fruitful? Write me, wouldja?  sharon@sweetselah.org. Thanks.