Intelligent and Christian by James R. Coggins 

Last November, John G. Stackhouse, Jr. posted a blog titled “Why Mere Christianity Should Have Bombed.” 

The title is deliberately provocative. Mere Christianity by British scholar C.S. Lewis was published over 60 years ago and has been one of the most successful apologetics books ever written. Yet, in his blog, Stackhouse outlined several reasons why the book should have failed miserably. 

Stackhouse then went on to explain why the book did succeed. Central to his argument is the idea that “Mere Christianity gives you permission to be both intelligent and Christian.” Stackhouse pointed out that Lewis was a skilled communicator who could proclaim and explain Christianity in clear terms that communicated to both intellectuals and average people. Sadly, “intelligent” and “Christian” are not words that are often put together in our culture. 

Stackhouse knows what he is talking about. He is a respected Canadian scholar and an evangelical theologian. “Intelligent Christian” are words that could be applied Stackhouse as well as Lewis. I have found his writing to be clear and thoughtful. His most recent book, Evangelicalism: A Short Introduction, is a case in point. It should be widely read, not only by Canadians, but especially by Americans, who would benefit from being able to look at evangelicalism from a perspective broader than the American one. 

Two statements in Stackhouse’s blog stood out for me: 

“The market is now flooded with books by Ph.D.s who cannot write an interesting and intelligible paragraph, and by wannabe pop apologists who just aren’t very smart.” 

“I hope that reflection on Mere Christianity…will inspire some of us to write blogs, op-eds, and books, and perhaps also create podcasts and videos that communicate with publics outside Christian subcultures.” 

The words resonated with me partly because they reminded me of some other words spoken to me over forty years ago. Those words inspired me to study at Regent College, an excellent theological college in Vancouver where Stackhouse later taught for a time. Unemployed, I had been sent to a vocational counselor in an experimental program I was later told did not exist. After giving me a battery of aptitude and interest tests, the counselor concluded that I should return to school and become a theologian because “the world needs people who can explain Christianity to intellectuals.” The counselor was a well-educated and intelligent man who was puzzled by his wife’s recent conversion to Christianity. After studying at Regent College and then earning a degree in church history, I embarked on a career of writing, editing, and occasionally teaching.  

Some years later, when I had become established as a writer and editor with a Christian magazine, I used to regularly take a transit bus to work. Over time, I got to know some of the drivers, and we would occasionally talk as the bus rolled along. One of the drivers, who was not a Christian, discovered that I was a writer, and she asked if she could read something I had written. I realized I had nothing to offer her. All of my writings were written for Christians and probably only understandable by Christians. I later wrote my first murder mystery and dedicated it to her. The book does not contain an explicit presentation of the Christian gospel, but perhaps a subtle one. Its hero is a Christian. My intent was to give readers the experience of living next door to a Christian, whose life would cause them to become curious and wonder about something greater than they knew.  

I do not consider that I have perfectly or even adequately done what was asked of me. But Lewis’s words and Stackhouse’s have continued to haunt and call and challenge me. I pray that they will also call others—to do in our generation what Lewis did in his. 

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The Beauty of Flawed

We I was just a little girl, I thought the birthmark I had on my throat was a stain and I did my best to get rid of it, until my mother explained what it was and that my beauty mark was part of me. No amount of wiping would make it disappear.

Through the years, I made peace with “my flaw”, as I thought of it. Now, I rarely ever think about it. Sometimes, I’ll catch someone staring and I’ll wonder what they’re looking at until I remember.

Ecclesiastes 7:20, says Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.

Since sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, we are all flawed beings. We live in a flawed world that is slowly fading away.

1 John 2: 17, says, And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.

Thankfully, God knows all about our flaws and He loves us anyway. He knew that we could never be “good enough” to save ourselves, and so He created the perfect plan of salvation. One so simple that all we have to do is accept His gift of salvation, believe Jesus died for our sins, and we will be saved. Our flaws are wiped away in God’s site.

Psalm 103: 12 says, As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.   

Isn’t that amazing. No matter how flawed we are, we are washed clean by the precious blood of Jesus!

Hallelujah! He turns our flaws into something beautiful.

Romans 8:28 – 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.

All the best…

Mary Alford

www.maryalford.net

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A Good Week by Nancy J. Farrier

Do you ever have one of those days/weeks/months where everything seems to go wrong? You look at the calendar wrong and miss an appointment? Or you miss a birthday or other important date? You simply forget something you meant to remember?

Last week that happened to me. I checked my calendar and thought I was supposed to post on August 1st for my Christians Read post. Imagine my embarrassment when, after my post was published, I realized my real date to post was today, August 8th. That was my week.

I decided to post something today that went right in a week that had some discouragements. For the first time ever, I became a great-grandmother. My great-grandson was born on Thursday, August 4th. No matter what else went awry during the week, his birth made up for those mishaps.

He’s so sweet. A reminder of new life. A gift from God to show my how perfectly God knits us together and cares for us.

On Friday, I had the privilege of holding him and praying for him. Praying that he would grow to be a man of God. That he would always seek God and live a life according to God’s principles. It doesn’t get much better than that.

So if your having one of those days/weeks/months when minor or major disasters seem to pop up everywhere, take a minute and look for the bit of hope God has sent you way. Look for His encouragement. Be blessed.

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Remind Yourself of Truth by Bridget A. Thomas

These past couple of years our world has given us a lot to fret about. Just turn on the news for five minutes and discouragement will come knocking. It can be so difficult to put one foot in front of the other some days. We can easily find ourselves living in fear.

But we don’t have to stay there and we don’t have to allow anxiety to take over. We can choose to cling tightly to God and find comfort in Him. Here are some truths about the Lord that bring me comfort when I am tempted to worry.

God is near. What comfort it brings to know that God is near! We are not alone. He is always with us.

  • But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds. – Psalm 73:28 NIV
  • Come near to God and he will come near to you. – James 4:8a NIV
  • The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. – Psalm 145:18 NIV
  • The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18 NIV

God is faithful. God is steadfast and true. Always. This brings us peace, when we know how trustworthy our Father is.

  • Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. – Psalm 36:5 NIV
  • But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. – Psalm 86:15 NIV
  • If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. – 2 Timothy 2:13 ESV

God is love. When we remember how much our Savior loves us, our hearts overflow. And we know that His love also means that He is always looking out for us and has our best interest in mind.

  • We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. – 1 John 4:16 NLT
  • Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. – Psalm 136:1 NLT
  • And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love… 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 NLT

These facts might be things we already know. And these Bible verses might be ones we are familiar with. But sometimes we forget and we have to remind ourselves of the truth. Sometimes it can be so easy to fall into despair. But might I remind you of something else – despair, discouragement, worry, anxiety, and fear are the places where the devil wants us to be. So that is all the more reason why we need to fight against it, by clinging to the truth found in the Word.

Let’s take time this week to pick a comforting Bible verse and memorize it. We can tuck the truth into our hearts to help fight off despair. And if you want an extra boost of positivity, read through the Psalms and underline every word that speaks to you. That is something I did in 2020 when we were in the midst of the pandemic. I read five Psalms a day and it truly changed everything for me. I now continue to go back to the Psalms for comfort. If you have any tips on how you battle the negativity in our world, please share in the comments. Or if you have a special Bible verse that brings you comfort, please share that as well.

Thank you for reading!

Photo by Timothy Eberly on unsplash.com

© 2022 Bridget A. Thomas

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Wedding Reflections by Julie Arduini

Well, our last big event of the summer is behind us. Our son Brian married Brianna over the weekend. As I watched him on the platform, smiling as they were announced Mr. and Mrs., greeting everyone, I thought about the many nights I cried myself to sleep not understanding my infertility.

I learned I had PCOS when I had met Tom and was pretty sure he was the one. Kids really weren’t on my radar until I learned I would most likely not be able to conceive. I had a doctor full of faith who told me not to listen to his diagnosis. He encouraged me to pray and ask others to do the same.

Not only did I pray that I could have children, I prayed for their spouses. I prayed they would be in a life-long, active relationship with Jesus where the Bible was read and prayer was everyday. That they would be good stewards and take care of each other. It was pretty amazing to watch Brianna say her vows and realize I was watching a 27 year old prayer unfold before me.

I also thought about both sets of Brian’s grandparents as the photographer captured a picture of the Arduini family and my sister and nephew. They would be so excited to see their children doing well and still meeting as often as possible. Tom comes from a family of six, and it is me and my sister now. They would be so proud of the grandchildren and absolutely dote on the great-grandkids.

Then my mind drifted to my Bible reading. Last post I shared how I’m teaching on Hosea. I’m also reading on Ezekiel and Revelation. Sheryl Pellatiro’s The Bride of Christ shows the Israelite wedding traditions and how God wants us to be ready as Revelation reveals Christ’s return. Those weddings included an engagement where the two are separated and the bride doesn’t know when the groom will return. They are to keep pure. She is to remain ready. That the bride is a beautiful symbol of the Church.

As Brianna made her way down the aisle she was in a gorgeous white dress. Her hair was professionally done and her make-up was amazing. That’s what brides are expected to do. How disappointed would we all be if we watched a bride show up disheveled and looking more like PigPen from Peanuts?

Yet as I considered my recent studies, I realized that’s what globally we seem to be offering our groom, Jesus. As a whole, we are tainted by scandal, corruption, and flat-out sin. We’re dirty, smelly, and reek of yesterday’s choices. We’re not focused on our groom nor prepared for his arrival. We’re visiting places we shouldn’t be, doing things that if we knew our groom was coming, we’d stop everything and turn our mess around.

But we don’t.

I realize this post is probably preaching to the choir. Like I shared above, this is the Body of Christ as a whole. There are church leaders blatantly taking followers on an ungodly path where the Bible is used to please the congregation, not grow the Kingdom. I read a survey awhile back that if I remember correctly, those who identity as evangelical Christians—only 1% tithe regularly. What a sullied bride we are.

What I love about my studying is there is a beautiful rhythm to what I read. In Hosea, there is heartbreaking sin and promises that God will not be a part of Israel (and our) rebellion any longer. Yet, as chapters conclude, God offers hope and restoration.

If you know you aren’t looking like a bride waiting for her groom, know restoration is available to you. Find a pastor who daily lives out the Bible and ask for counsel. Turn from sin, and confess it.

Our Groom is worth it!

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No Other Gods by James R. Coggins

First in a series

In the modern world, we laugh at primitive peoples who worship idols, who bow down to images of bulls and crocodiles and serpents, who revere the stars and the sun, who seek guidance through tea leaves and the entrails of animals. But this does not mean that we are not guilty of idolatry.

In the Ten Commandments, God (who identified Himself as Yahweh or “I am”) commanded the Israelites not to make images of any created thing (idols) because such images limit God the Creator to one small aspect of creation: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (Exodus 20:3-5 NIV).

In Jeremiah 10:1-16, the prophet pointed out how ridiculous idol worship is: A craftsman cuts down a tree, shapes it with a chisel, covers it with silver or gold, and then bows down to worship what he has made. The idol cannot walk or talk but is as inanimate as a scarecrow. It can in no way be compared to the reality of the living God, who created the heavens and the earth.

Ancient peoples did not worship idols so much as what the idols represented. In some cases, the idols represented a demon or evil spirit that had influenced the makers of the idols. In 1 Corinthians 10:19, the apostle Paul suggested that idols are nothing and they have no power, but he went on in the next verse to say that “the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons.” In other cases, idols represented an idea of what God was like, a false idea.

We need to step back and think what worship is. We worship what we think of as our highest value or good. We worship what gives us refuge and good things and hope and purpose. We worship what brings us into contact with someone greater than ourselves. We can engage in all kinds of false worship without making a physical idol. We can take refuge in alcohol or drugs or video games. We can value pleasure or sex or money or fast cars or success or our own image of ourselves above all else. We can seek guidance through astrology or luck or coincidences. We can fulfill our urge to connect with greatness by becoming fans of sports stars or rock singers or actors. Idolatry is a constant temptation for all human beings.

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Delighting in His Commands by Nancy J. Farrier

Photo by guy stevens on Unsplash

When we first bought our house there was a staircase leading up to the roof. The stairs were dangerous for kids so my husband blocked it off to keep them from getting hurt. Our six-year-old son obeyed that rule, but our little daughter was a different story. From the time she could walk, she went wherever she wanted and she loved going up those stairs.

One evening I was out front talking with a neighbor, my back to the house. The neighbor glanced up and gasped. I turned around to see our eighteen-month-old daughter racing full tilt down the slope of the roof toward a drop off that would seriously injure her, if not worse. A terrifying sight. Once again, she had not listened to her parents admonitions that were in place for her safety.

Following commands is something we all struggle with at times. From the earliest days, mankind has made excuses for disobeying what God asks us to do. Eve ate of the fruit and Adam did likewise. Aaron made a golden calf for the Israelites to worship. The Israelites worshipped the gods of other people. And the list goes on.

What about us today? Do we still chafe at the commands of God? 

“Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, Who delights greatly in His commandments.” Psalm 112:1 (NKJV)

I’ve been pondering this verse. Do I delight in God’s commandments? Obey, maybe. Most of the time. But delight? 

Then I consider our social atmosphere and how easy it is to get caught up in self. To demand my rights, sometimes at the cost of others. I hear this all the time from all quarters. My rights. Abusing my rights. I know my rights. Deserve my rights. You’re infringing on my rights.

But what about God? What about His commandments? Are we able to demand our rights and still align with His commandments? Or are we putting self ahead of everything and everyone.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many horrible practices that need changed. There are people being treated unfairly or overlooked. That is never right. Never. God says we are to put one another ahead of ourselves and to love others as we love ourselves.

Maybe we need to veer back to where we can delight in God’s commands. Where we seek Him out first and ask His direction. 

To delight: something that gives great pleasure. Extreme satisfaction.

Are we getting great pleasure and satisfaction from thinking on and acting on God’s commands? Or have they become a drudgery or something we follow because we must.

Remember, God doesn’t give empty commands. He gives them for a purpose—for our safety and protection. Because He loves us as our Father and care about our well-being. 

When I looked up to see my tiny daughter racing toward the edge of the roof, my heart thudded and I pictured her tumbling off and me unable to help because I was too far away. I managed to get her to stop but she was right at the edge. I had her sit down while her dad hurried to the roof to get her. A disaster was averted but her disobedience could have easily led to severe injury. 

When we act without seeking God and considering His commands, we are like that little girl racing toward a drop off. Toward injury or death. God is urging us to seek Him. To follow His commands. To be safe in His care. Because He cares for us. 

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” I Peter 5:6-7 (NKJV)

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” I John 5: 2-3 (ESV)

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A Sign of the Times by James R. Coggins

A few days ago, I went to the store to buy some envelopes. Nothing special. Just four and an eighth-inch by nine and a quarter-inch, white envelopes. The kind we used to use to send bill payments and official and semi-official letters and documents. And junk mail we wanted to look like official and semi-official letters and documents. Not the smaller envelopes we used to use to send letters to friends.

Actually, I went to three stores. The first two didn’t have any envelopes. Just an empty shelf where the envelopes should have been. There was a sign indicating the price of envelopes. But no envelopes. Another Covid-related supply chain issue? Or perhaps another casualty of the worldwide scarcity of computer chips.

The third store I went to had envelopes, so I picked up a box and headed to the check-out.

The envelopes, including tax, came to $2.55. I don’t use cash much anymore, and the result is that I rarely receive coins in change. A few days earlier, I had needed some and didn’t have any, so I though this would be a good opportunity to obtain some coins. I gave the check-out attendant a five-dollar bill.

I never suspected that my desire for change could create a problem for someone else.

As part of the grade one math curriculum at a Christian elementary school, my grandson is learning how to make change. But the check-out attendant was not in grade one. She was apparently a recent high school graduate. She was not used to customers giving her cash either. She also apparently relied on the cash register to do the calculations. The cash register told her that I was due $2.45 in change. But not exactly how to do that.

She stood staring at the cash drawer for a few seconds.

After a while, she decided it was best to start with the two dollars. She reached into the twoonie bin. (The twoonie is the Canadian two-dollar coin.) Because I needed two dollars, she pulled out two coins.

Now for the forty-five cents. She took out a quarter. Twenty-five cents. Then she took out a nickel. Thirty cents. Then she took out a dime. Forty cents. Then another nickel. Forty-five cents. Then she took out another coin. She stared at the coins in her hand for a moment, made a decision, and put the last coin back into the drawer.

Then she handed me my receipt and the change. $4.45. I smiled, thanked her, handed back one of the twoonies, and left.

Is it just me, or is the world not operating as smoothly as it once did?      

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He Knows My Name!

There’s a Christian song entitled He Knows My Name. It was written by Tommy Walker and the lyrics of this song are so powerful.

I have a Maker

He formed my heart

Before even time began

My life was in His hands

He knows my name

He knows my every thought

He sees each tear that falls

And hears me when I call

Have you ever thought about that?

The same God who created everything knows you personally. In fact, before you were born, He formed you. Whether you’re a Christian now or not, doesn’t matter, because He knows you.

That’s an amazing thing to consider.

Psalm 139: 13 says,

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

He knows our thoughts and He loves us anyway.

Psalm 139: 1-6 says,

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

The same God who created the stars, the sun, and the moon, numbered each hair on your head. He created us in His image He wants to have a relationship with us.

The bible not only tells us that He knows us, but God has plans for each of us.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, 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.

What an amazing God we have, and He loves us so much. So, the next time you are feeling down on yourself, remember, He knows your name!

All the best…

Mary Alford

www.maryalford.net

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Sleuthfest by Tara Randel

At the beginning of July, a writer friend and I went to Sleuthfest, an annual conference put on by the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. After the past few years of Zoom meetings, it was so nice to be with people who were excited to be together and also passionate about writing.

Writing is mostly a solitary job. So many hours spent at the computer feels productive, but there are times when you need to be with other writers. There is an energy that come from attending conferences. We are with our people, folks who understand living in your head and the great stories that come from an active imagination.  Talking about the craft is always a joy and since this was the first conference since shut-downs and being cautious, the writers present were ready to have a good time.

I’ve always attended conferences that focus on romance, so this was quite a change. Instead of workshops featuring romantic tension and the conflict that comes with it, I sat in workshops about cold cases, crime scene investigations and how to write action scenes.  It was like stepping into a new world, informative and lots of fun.

The guest speakers were very generous and there were lots of laughs and inspiration. I came away refreshed and eager to get back to my keyboard. Story ideas pop into my head when I’m with other creative people and I can’t wait to get home and read over my notes. Some ideas are gold, others…well, some have to go back to the drawing board.

I even came home with some reading to do.

I hope you are having a wonderful summer and you’ve been able to escape somewhere special for a few days. In my next post, I’ll tell you about the side trip my friend and I made after the mystery conference, so stay tuned.

Also, this time of year is made for beach-read summer days, so if you have a good book, spend a few hours away from the daily grind and get lost in a good story. I plan to do just that.

Tara Randel is an award-winning, USA Today bestselling author. Family values, a bit of mystery and of course, love and romance, are her favorite themes, because she believes love is the greatest gift of all. Look for her next Harlequin Heartwarming romance, HIS SMALL TOWN DREAM, available AUGUST 2022. For more information about her books, visit Tara at www.tararandel.com. Like her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/TaraRandelBooks. Sign up for Tara’s Newsletter

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Listening to the Lord by Bridget A. Thomas

Years ago when I was driving home from work, I was on the interstate (highway, expressway, freeway, or whatever you call it in your neck of the woods!). There was a box truck near me that I had a bad feeling about. It seemed to be top heavy because it was skinny and short length wise. Yet it was also tall in height. For some reason I felt the need to get away from it, so I passed it. Not long after, we were coming up on an exit that was backed up. Vehicles that were attempting to get off were stopped on the highway. So we all had to hit our brakes. I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw the box truck swerve to the right and then topple over on its side. I knew then that the Lord had given me that gut feeling about that truck.

As Christians we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, and He helps us to discern things that we might not normally discern on our own.

Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you…. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:16-17, 26 NIV)

We can actively listen to the Lord and seek His wisdom in our lives. When we are facing a decision or difficulty, He is there. We can pray and obtain wisdom about the situation. But there are also times when He will nudge us without our asking, such as with the box truck. It’s important to keep our spiritual ears open to the Lord’s promptings. The world around us is very noisy and we might miss something the Lord wanted to tell us because of the distractions we face.

Just as we can tune a radio into a certain channel, we can also tune our hearts to hear from the Lord. It begins by having a relationship with Him. Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Picturing Jesus as our Good Shepherd will remind us of how our Lord lovingly guides us, step by step.

Sometimes we might think that God doesn’t speak to us. We might believe that He speaks to some, but we are not part of that special group. But I assure, if you are His child, He will speak to you. We just have to learn to listen to His voice. Perhaps you could start with a small decision. Ask God which path to take. Picture both options in your mind. Do you feel a pull towards one option over the other? He will give you a sense of peace when He guides you in a certain direction.

One thing to keep in mind is that the way He wants you to go might not always make sense. But He knows best. He can see the big picture, and we can only see a small portion. Let me give you an example. Last year I had two different friends who worked at two different companies trying to get me to apply for positions at their organizations. In both cases, I would have been able to work from home. I prayed about these opportunities, but I just didn’t feel right about them. I told my friends that it wasn’t a good time, and maybe down the road I would be able to pursue it. On the outside, it might have seemed bazar. Why wouldn’t I want the opportunity to work from home? One friend even felt I might potentially get a pay raise. Fast forward about six months. The company I am with had a change of policy and I am now allowed to work from home. I was able to stay with the company that I have been with for years, I didn’t lose my benefits, and I also have the advantage that my friends’ organizations offered. Looking back I knew the Lord had helped to me hold off from jumping too quickly.

I fear at times we might jump too quickly when an opportunity seems too good to pass up. But God can see it all and He truly knows what will be best. And I also fear that sometimes God might try to speak to us, but we don’t hear Him because we are too busy or distracted. But we can pray and ask God to open our spiritual ears to His voice. When we are intentional about seeking the Lord and listening to Him, we will be amazed at how much He shows up in our lives.

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” – Jeremiah 33:3

Thank you for reading!

Image by Nathan Dunlao on unsplash.com

© 2022 Bridget A. Thomas

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Gomer Girl by Julie Arduini

One of my favorite things to do is teach Bible studies. I’ve done so online, and currently I’m teaching a class for women at church. Throughout 2022 my teaching partner has been sharing through Heroes of the Old Testament. It’s a study that takes a snippet of a previously released Bible study and makes it one of the heroes of the Old Testament.

She asked if I would take the segment on Hosea, and I jumped at the opportunity. The actual study was written by Jennifer Rothschild, but I have combined her study with a deep dive of my own. I’ve come up for air with Biblical treasure.

And a lot of conviction.

When I started, I was certain that the readers were Hosea, the obedient faithful, and Gomer had to be the people we have been praying for who don’t respond or return to their ways time and time again. What a shocker to learn that God used Hosea to not only convict Israel for their wicked ways—-but it is also a message for us.

Me. You. Readers.

Jennifer Rothschild even repeatedly in the book refers to the readers as “Gomer Girl.” Let that sink in.

Gomer, who grew up with a father whose name meant raisin cakes, an aphrodisiac. From my studying, her dad was the guy hitting on every lady at the bar kind of guy. And what her dad started, Gomer took and ran that theme to the fullest.

There is debate on whether she was a prostitute or “just” an adulteress. The point is, she was broken, and sullying herself all over town.

That’s the visual God has in Hosea for Israel and us. We have wandered from our first love. We have strayed. And that visual is raw and graphic. But we’d be fools to ignore it.

—Julie Arduini

Hosea points out that Israel has been freed from captivity, lavished with provision by God, only to take all the blessings and give them to Baal. Are we that far off? Do we receive a blessing and forget to thank God? Do we turn and run to other idols that could include work, toxic relationships, social media, sports, TV, family, and yes, even ministry?

Hosea even goes to the house where he knows Gomer is cheating, and brings them food and money. I’m sure that wasn’t a fast obedience, but he was obedient. Can you imagine? Visiting the one who is sleeping with your spouse and providing for them, even when you know as soon as you leave they will make fun of you AND return to their activities?

But that’s what God does.

He sets us free. We wander. We sin. He provides. He gives grace. He forgives. And the cycle repeats. Look at Israel. How many times did they beg for His help and He gave it, only for them to forget

What I love about my Christian journey and the Bible is that there is always an exchange. Sinner to saved. Shame to grace. Dark to light. Bondage to freedom. Hosea, as tough as it is to read, offers restoration. How this Gomer girl clings to that!

I first asked Christ into my life when I was 22. I am 52. I remember that first Christmas. Everything was alive and a marvel. His word came alive for me as I sang O Holy Night. Tears moistened my cheeks. There was a lump in my throat. Now? I confess my mind wanders. Did I remember this food. Is that present wrapped under the tree?

I’m a Gomer girl, one who has strayed and forgotten her first love.

I’m also a Gomer girl who can receive God’s restoration.

And so can you.

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One Father by James R. Coggins

In Mark 3:20-35, when Jesus’ “mother and brothers” came to see Him, Jesus apparently refused to see them. In speaking to the crowd in Mark 3:34, Jesus said that His mother and brothers are those who do God’s will. In Mark 3:35, Jesus also mentioned “sisters.”

Jesus did not use words carelessly. It is interesting that Jesus mentioned mothers, sisters, and brothers but not fathers. One supposes that this may have been because Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, had apparently already died and was no longer around. But sisters were not there either, and yet Jesus mentioned them.

Jesus did not mention fathers because fathers have authority. By grace, we may be Jesus’ brothers and sisters, but we cannot be His father. He has authority over us. We do not have authority over Him. Jesus said, “Do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9)

Jesus seems to have used Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee as His home base (Mark 1:21; 2:1). Interestingly, that is where Peter and Andrew lived (Mark 1:29-30). Jesus had just called the fisherman James and John and Peter and Andrew to follow Him, so they may all have been from the same town. John 1:44 suggests that Philip was from Bethsaida, the same town that Peter and Andrew were from. Bethsaida (which means “house of fishing”) was a few miles farther east along the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is possible that Peter and Andrew grew up in Bethsaida and then moved to the larger city of Capernaum (or, less likely, vice versa).  

Of the women who followed Jesus, Mark 15:40 and 16:1 name two Marys and Salome. Matthew 27:56 names two Marys and “the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” John 19:25 names two Marys, Mary the mother of Jesus, and His mother’s sister. If we assume that Salome is the mother of Zebedee’s sons and also Jesus’ mother’s sister, that could make James and John first cousins of Jesus. It might explain why they were so ready to follow Him and why they thought they were entitled to sit at His right and left hands (be second and third in power in Jesus’ Kingdom, Mark 10:35-45). This might explain why Jesus settled in Capernaum, the home of His cousins. This is not impossible. After all, John the Baptist was also a relative. But there were many women who followed Jesus, and the identification mentioned above is not certain.

The bottom line is that bloodlines do not bring anyone into God’s Kingdom, but they do not keep anyone out either.

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Who Do I Work For? by Nancy J. Farrier

Photo by Xan Griffin on Unsplash

Last week a sweet friend asked me to do a favor for her. Her husband died of cancer and she asked me to play the piano and lead the singing for the hymn during his funeral service. I didn’t hesitate to agree, but after agreeing doubts crept in.

Although I play on the worship team, that’s much different than being the sole person on the stage. When I’m by myself, my hands shake and I lose focus. My voice hasn’t been very reliable lately, and it’s been a while since I’ve led any worship. 

I thought about asking someone to play and sing with me, but I wanted to honor my friend’s wishes. On this most difficult of days, I wanted her to be comforted by the song as she’d requested it done.

As I practiced, I prayed but my voice didn’t always cooperate. By the day of the service, I was more than a little nervous. I asked people to pray for me. When we did the sound check, my voice forgot to show up and quavered pitifully. Of course, that didn’t help the nerves at all. 

I went to the back of the room by the sound booth, and prayed. Prayed hard. I wanted to glorify God. This wasn’t about me, or even about my friend, but about lifting up God for people to see.

“Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established.” Proverbs 16:3 (NKJV)

A few weeks ago, when I read this verse, I remember thinking it applied to my writing and to many areas. But while I waited for that service to start, I realized committing my work of leading this song to the Lord applied right now, as it did in every area of my life. 

And it applies to all of us every day.

Everything we do must be committed to God. We shouldn’t be doing a task for our glory or even just for our pleasure. Whatever we do should be for the glory of God.

That is sometimes a hard concept. We tend to say, “But, what about me?” However, I’ve found that when I do even the smallest things for God, I derive great pleasure from that act. Much greater satisfaction than if I did it for myself alone. 

Serving God every day in all we do is the best way to live. And He blesses us beyond measure when we put Him first.

When I walked up on the stage and prepared to play and sing that song, God stepped up in a big way. I remember playing the first chords and singing the first note, but don’t remember much more. My voice was there. My fingers played the notes. But it was God getting the glory and ministering to my friend and all the people. 

Each day we need to determine to commit our work to God, even if that work seems inconsequential or trivial—something we can handle. Let Him establish our thoughts and our works.

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:17 (NKJV)

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Who, What and How? by James R. Coggins

Who are Frank Epperson and Harry Burt, what did they each invent, and how did it have a direct impact on my life?

In 1905 in Oakland, California, an 11-year-old boy named Frank Epperson was on his front porch stirring a powdered drink. He was called away and left the drink outside. When he returned the next morning, he discovered the drink had frozen solid, with the stir stick still in it. He had inadvertently created a now well-known frozen treat. When Frank grew up, he made the treats for his children. He called them Epp-icicles or Epsicles, after his last name. However, his children preferred to call them after the name by which they knew their father, their “Pop.” In the 1920s, Frank quit his job and set up a company to manufacture and sell his frozen treats.

Around the same time, in Youngstown, Ohio, Harry Burt was trying to make ice cream treats. He discovered that if he dipped ice cream bars in chocolate, they would hold their shape better, they would melt more slowly, and they would be protected from contamination and be less likely to spoil. However, his children complained that they were very messy to eat. Since his background was in candy, Harry inserted a lollipop stick into the ice cream. He began selling his ice cream on a stick. He then invented the ice cream truck, the first food truck. Because people were cautious about eating food from a truck, he painted the trucks white and dressed the drivers in white uniforms. He said that eating these treats would put people in a “Good Humor.” He even painted that on the side of his trucks.

Harry Burt acquired a US patent for the design of his frozen treats. He would sue anyone who tried to copy the technology but then make a deal with them to become franchisees, continuing to make the treats but paying a royalty to him.

Frank Epperson also had a patent for his frozen treat technology, and the two companies sued each other in court. In order to avoid legal costs, Epperson’s partners made a deal with Burt to become Good Humor franchisees, pulling the company out from under Epperson. Epperson sold his patent and went on to invent other things. Eventually, Good Humor gained control of Popsicle.

In the summer of 1968, my sister Mary (in whose steps I often followed) went to work for a company called J.B. Jackson Ltd. In Simcoe, Ontario. The next summer, I joined her there. Under licence, J.B. Jackson manufactured Good Humor ice cream products and popsicles. We worked there for several summers, wearing white uniforms. The money we earned paid for a large part of our university education. Without that education, I would not have been able to do many of the things I have done or written many of the things I have written.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV).

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