What You’ll Find In a Stronghold

“The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble,

And He knows those who take refuge in Him.”

Nahum 1:7

A refuge, by itself, is a place that offers sanctuary and safety. It is a figurative expression in Scripture describing God as our security. He offers us a place that we can retreat to for peace, quiet, and renewal.

Further, He is our stronghold.

A form of a refuge, a stronghold is a fortress. When we retreat to our stronghold, we go to this one true God:

He Is Battle-Ready

In David’s war days, He and His enemies had strongholds. These fortresses were the places they would all run to when the battle became thick. There, weapons and rations were stashed. Strongholds are battle-ready. When enemies attack, regardless of how ruthlessly, a stronghold is a safe place to go and continue the battle.

Our stronghold, our God, is just as battle-ready. And He is the victory.

He Has the Provisions for a Seige

Holding out in a fortress during battle does not work out so well if the stronghold is empty. We need provisions as we wait out the siege. Sustenance, nourishment, company…hope.

The Lord provides all that we need- even when we’re preserving through a ruthless attack. Even when we’re waiting out hardship.

He Is Our Defense

More than a place, a stronghold was a strategy: a defense. Strong and made with solid material like rock, fortresses are designed to keep trouble out. The strongholds we read about in the Bible, especially those that guarded David, were no exception.

Our stronghold is big enough and strong enough to be a living shield. Though at times oppressed and attacked, those who take refuge in the stronghold their God will be delivered.

He is our strong-hold: the strong one holding us in times of trouble and battle.

“He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.”

Psalm 144:2

This post is being shared on: #Thought-Provoking Thursday, #DanceWithJesus and #LifeGivingLinkup.
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What in Your Life is Ruthless?

The headache that comes back again and again. A chronic illness that knocks you off your feet without regard for where you’re headed or how much pain you’re already in.

The thought in your head that you are not good enough, no matter how hard you’ve tried. A lie, on repeat, that you can’t ever measure up or be worthy of love. Guilt that won’t subside.

The boss that never respects your time or how much has already been put on your plate on a tight deadline. A person who continues to abuse, even when ties have been cut.

What in your life is ruthless?

Some of these are mine. Some belong to my loved ones. Some are yours. There are others, too.

We all face the ruthless, that which is “without pity or compassion; cruel; merciless.”

Whose synonyms are “unrelenting, adamant, cruel.”

Isaiah 25:4 describes how it feels:

“the breath of the ruthless
is like a storm driving against a wall
and like the heat of the desert.”

Isn’t that the truth? That which is ruthlessly disrespectful, uncompassionate, and cruel in our lives feels like a tremendous force against us that we can’t flee from. It bears down on us like heat that cannot be escaped, draining us of our energy and our strength.

In Isaiah’s praise to the Lord, He describes how the Lord is our refuge. He goes on to say, in reference to the ruthless:

“You silence the uproar of foreigners;
as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud,
so the song of the ruthless is stilled
.”

With just a moment of time and a compassionate thought in mind, our Lord makes cloud cover turn down the heat. He silences the storm thrashing us against the wall. He stills the ruthless.

After describing how the ruthless flourish, only to pass away and be found no more, the Lord reiterates in Psalm 37:39-40:

“The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;

he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

The Lord helps them and delivers them;

he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,

because they take refuge in him.”

What a refuge we have in Him! Never needing to hide or to fight a losing battle alone until we are left as empty heaps of nothingness. Endure, endure. Stay fast in the Lord because the wicked will not ultimately win.

The Lord is stronger, safer, and more steadfastly unchanging than any ruthless thing we face in this world.

Such sweet relief we find in the shadow of those unmovable, unshakable wings.

Remember the Gospel. The ruthlessness of sin, even now as it persists. Christ wins.

This post is being shared on: #TestimonyTuesday, #RaRaLinkup, #Intentionally Pursuing, #WomenWithIntention, and #TellHiStory

Is It Worth It?

In Sunday School we’re learning about Gentiles in a Jewish Timeline –like, what God’s been doing in Gentiles throughout history. One of the first points made was one that I’m always glad to be reminded of.

God’s work in the Israelites displayed His power to the rest of the world. God always wanted the whole world to know Him and to come to Him. He still does.

I don’t think that necessarily made the Israelites happy while the seven plagues were tearing apart the world they knew. Imagine their response to some challenges being drawn out so that the Egyptians would witness God’s glory: “the Egyptians?? But this is about our story, our freedom!”

We know Jonah wasn’t all that thrilled with God’s love and concern for others. He especially wasn’t pleased with his own role in sharing God’s love (i.e. Ninevah). Were his trials worth it to share the Gospel with those undeserving people? Frankly, Jonah didn’t really think so. He wished he was dead. He was angry. His story wasn’t just about him.

That’s a natural part of our sin nature.

Like Jonah, we know that God is a:

gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love.”

-Jonah 4:2

When His grace and compassion on others (especially those we don’t value) is played out through us, our struggles hardly seem so worthwhile.

Our selfishness tells us that everything that happens in our own lives, good or bad, is to be about us in some way. When we take on trials of faith, the question we ask is “Lord, what are you doing?” What we mean is “Lord, what are you doing for me in this?”

We’re so egoistic that even in our humility, accepting difficulties with faith, the “purposes” we look for in the challenges must in some way be about God improving our own stories.

Poor health is acceptable if it teaches us dependency. Challenging job situations are from the Lord, we suppose, so that He can grow us in certain ways.

None of this is necessarily incorrect. God does use our trials to grow us and teach us about Him. The trouble is simply how “me-focused” we are even in our value judgments about the life of faith.

The truth is that our trials aren’t just about our own spiritual growth- they are about God’s power being displayed to others, too. Our situations might not be resolved in the way we’d prefer (see the Israelites again) because God is instead going to:

“show (His) power that (His) name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

 –Exodus 9:16

The Gospel isn’t just for you or I. Our stories, as a part of God’s story, aren’t written just for us.

The Bible characters we look to as examples knew this: their stories, messy and neat, were lived out for the glory of God –the glory of God that God wants everyone to witness.

Our challenges and our joys are gifts the Lord gives to us. But they are also gifts He uses to give others an opportunity to be drawn to Him. That –that eternal investment- is always worth it.

This post is being shared on: #TestimonyTuesday, #RaRaLinkup, #Intentionally Pursuing, #WomenWithIntention, and #TellHiStory
This post is being shared on: #Thought-Provoking Thursday, #DanceWithJesus and #LifeGivingLinkup.

Peace With Who I Am Not

When Lisa Murray asked me to be a part of her book launch team for Peace For a Lifetime, I didn’t know what to expect. It didn’t seem like fiction –but was it a textbook? A self-help guide? A lengthy theological statement?

Peace for a Lifetime is written by a counselor. A friend. A believer. A woman who knows what unpeace is like- and who is well-acquainted with the many dimensions of peace as God created it. This book is a gift that exhorts and encourages. It knows too much about me…and it set out to prove that today.

I’m working in autistic support as a compliment to my freelance writing. I love it! And I heard for the umpteenth times five time today that I ought to get certified as a Special Ed teacher. While the suggestion is truly encouraging to me, I also have a problem with it.

When I wrote papers for everyday college courses, I was told I ought to conduct research professionally and was invited on trips and into internships. When I excelled in biology in high school, I was told to become a doctor or at least a veterinarian. I’ve heard that if I tried, it wouldn’t take much for me to get certified in…this. And that. And the other thing.

The fact of the matter for not just me, but for all of us is that we’re capable of a lot. We are capable of more than we can actually do in one lifetime.  

We have one life to operate from: one budget, one pair of hands, one cycle of twenty four hours per day. We only get one set of however many years the Lord blesses us with.

These capabilities He gives each of us are gifts, not to be wasted. But they aren’t all to be invested in, honed in on, and exploited until there’s nothing left to do. That we’re capable of something doesn’t mean that we’re also called to it.

But isn’t it tempting? Isn’t it tempting to get prideful? Or overwhelmed? Or bitter about what we could be doing but aren’t?

It’s hard to hear that you could run something…while someone else does. While you know that if you obey the Lord, you won’t. Because He’s got you somewhere else and His plans aren’t the same as other people think they ought to be. And if we’re honest, His plans aren’t the same as we think they ought to be.

We find ourselves telling God how to use us best. Telling God who we are and what we’re good for. Defending our causes and running the “busy” mill to prove our worth…ironically, to the only one in whom we can actually find our worth.

I came home frustrated because of the compliments and the turmoil they stir up as I feel that maybe I am wasted or wasting, though I’m assured I’m exactly where He wants me. In the course of the evening, I picked up Peace for a Lifetime.

Guess which chapter lay before me? Fostering Authenticity. An entire chapter about our counterfeit selves, the lies that tell us we ought to be someone other than ourselves, and the truth:

Nothing fake will ever satisfy our souls like a true connection with a friend, a genuine encounter with God, or an authentic understanding of ourselves.

The whole book is worth a read, but this chapter met me today right where I was. Only the Lord can do that.

“Somehow, in our efforts to be what everyone else thought we should be, we miss out on discovering ourselves, whom God has created us to be.”

What words! Thanking the Lord today for this lesson and this book. Praising Him that just as I start to question who I am in the face of who others want me to be, He reminds me that He has created me. And you. Just as we are. For the good, good purposes He has called us into.

What peace we find when we accept the purposes He gives us as gratefully and humbly as we accept the capabilities He gives us to fulfill them.

This post is being shared on: #LifeGivingLinkup 

Bringing the Old Into the New

 

Living anew amongst old things is tough. Young people working in offices filled with pre-dominantly middle-aged adults know all about that. It’s hard to “be” the change when it seems nothing is changing around you.

But it’s also hard to have a set way and to adapt when newness comes along.

Middle-aged adults in offices struggle to work alongside young folks just starting out. It’s hard to feel like old news. It’s difficult to be set aside for the younger, fresher, and more exciting.

As the old adage goes, though: make new friends, but keep the old. Some are silver and the others gold.

All throughout Scripture God demonstrated the importance of unifying what has been with what is current –and even future.

Jesus referenced the Old Testament with respect and as if it had authority, even as He brought a new covenant into being.

We are charged with the care of the elderly and the widowed.

Jesus explained the important of bringing the old up to the new in Matthew 5:17:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Something the Lord understands (as the creator of time itself) is that time builds on itself. History makes way for the future. The elderly must have existed for there to be the young.

Though newness in Christ, and in much of what He provides, is a blessing, we’re never to stop being grateful for all the long-past, well-loved gifts He’s given. We’re never to be fooled into thinking that the old, ill-fitted is worthless simply because it’s done it’s time.

About much more than just utilitarian value, our Lord places worth in fulfillment. That’s the Word He uses in reference to the melding of the new and the old covenants. It’s the word used to describe His relationship to the old prophecies.

Fulfilling is about bringing to completion that which was begun previously.

Young people in offices aren’t to destroy the foundation laid by older workers. Older workers aren’t to despise the youth.

As we set out in a new year, in new jobs, on new projects, with new friends and in new opportunities, the past isn’t to be forgotten. New good habits shouldn’t replace old good habits. New discoveries about the Lord shouldn’t push old truths aside.

That’s hard, too, isn’t it? We’re an all-or-nothing sort of people. In our pride, we place more value on things when they’ve come at the expense of something (or someone) else. My plan is only as good as how much better it is than his.

Humility. It takes humility to bring together the old and the new. Whether in the law, in relationship, at work, or in our faith, we can humble ourselves to give thanks for both.

Watch as He fulfills, step by passing step, making all the old new and all the new old until eternity is met.

This post is being shared on: #Thought-Provoking Thursday, #DanceWithJesus and #LifeGivingLinkup.


 

New Amongst the Old

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment,

for the patch will pull away from the garment,

making the tear worse.”

–Matthew 9:16

With the New Year, new resolutions are made. New outlooks are had, and, if nothing else, a sense of hope and possibility is renewed. Within weeks, it all tends to fall apart though.

It’s difficult to live anew amongst the old. We go back to the same jobs and the same co-workers. Day after day, the routine is much the same. Our needs have hardly changed. So as we try to maintain a better perspective and uphold our resolve to do or be better people, it soon seems our everyday lives are even harder than before.

What we experience in the New Year is much like this passage describes: the new making the old seem worse. The old does not adjust to the new easily, making the new feel ill-fitted.

Do you have that sense in your days? As if it isn’t really feasible to improve because nothing around you is?

We aren’t the whole issue. It isn’t just you and I that need improving. Our circumstances, relationships, and lives (though outside of our control!) all need to be renewed.

Fortunately for us, the bridegroom has come.

The “old has passed away; behold, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17.)

His renewal in our lives affects everything and make all things new for us. His mercies are new every day. He causes the sun to rise new every day. There are new opportunities each day. And moment by moment, He renews in our hearts a right Spirit.

What an encouragement to us!

Though we sometimes feel like new patches stuck on an old, worn-out dress, the Lord assures us that He has clothed us anew. When we wait on His timing and trust in His continuing-creation, the old becomes new, and we do too.

This post is being shared on: #TestimonyTuesday, #RaRaLinkup, #Intentionally Pursuing, #WomenWithIntention, and #TellHiStory

I Do! But How Did I Do It?

 

Confessions of a Bride on a Budget

Guest Posted by the lovely Maggie Miller

A newlywed, Maggie has been blessed by the Lord with a wonderful man- and a wedding to fit their story. Though she faced discouragement, she can testify to the Lord's provision for their wedding and the beginning of their marriage. Enjoy!

When I first got engaged I was thrilled – the man of my dreams (hilarious, hard-working, soft-hearted, God fearing, wonderful all-around) wanted to spend his entire life with ME!

We had been dating for 2 years at that point and I was so ready to say, “I Do!” I immediately got into planning mode and began taking my Pinterest wedding board ideas into full swing (yes, I had a wedding board long before I got engaged…) However, I quickly realized two things:

1. Weddings are incredibly expensive

2. I have a very limited budget.

Every venue I found cost as much as my entire wedding budget – or more! Just to use the venue!

maggie1

My parents and fiance’s parents were very generous in helping us out with what they could, but even with their help I knew pulling off my “dream” wedding was going to be tricky.

Now, 8 months later, I can officially say my wedding was everything I could have wanted it to be and moreand I was able to make it happen even with very tight finances. I know so many brides-to-be are in similar positions (we’re at that age where it’s more shocking if we don’t see a “newly engaged” social media post each week), and I want to encourage all those ladies that if you’re a bride on a budget, don’t fret! I did it, and so can you!

The venue was probably the most difficult thing to find – I knew I wanted something that had an outdoor ceremony and indoor reception, and I wanted it all in one location (picky, I know). However, I knew I could make it work. Instead of googling “wedding venues in Phoenix” I decided to research “unique event sites in Phoenix,” simply because tacking on the word “wedding venue” is instantly going to increase the price of the rental place.

Even though they were beautiful, my budget couldn’t afford any traditional venue. I had to think outside the box. We ended up renting out a small nature center that was extremely affordable (less than ¼ of the price of traditional venues) and absolutely beautiful. Parks and churches are also great options that can sometimes be rented free of charge.

After the venue was chosen, there was so much more on the to-do list: flowers, catering, decorations, photographer, a DJ, the dress, invitations, rehearsal dinner…the list (and costs!) never seemed to end! There were so many things I wanted for my dream wedding, but I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to have it all, and that made me feel so discouraged.

With current pop-culture and reality television, it is so easy to get wrapped up in shows like Four Weddings and Say Yes to the Dress, where the brides have unlimited budgets and a wedding coordinator to plan their entire lavish $50,000 day. However, the truth of the matter was that that bride wasn’t me, and I had to realize that that was okay.

You’re not any less of a bride because you can’t afford peonies in your bouquet or floor length tablecloths for your décor.

Some of the best advice I received was to sit down with your fiancé and prioritize the things that are of utmost importance to each of you. Are you dead set on having an incredible professional photographer but couldn’t care less about the “dream dress”? Do you want to cut back on flowers and décor so that you can be inclusive and invite more of those extended family members?

Choose what works for you – every wedding is unique and fit to that specific couple. Make it your own! Even though you will have to compromise in some areas, you will be sure to have the most important things done the way you want them.

After that discussion, I expressed that my priority was the venue, but that I also cared a lot about my dress. Don’t limit yourself to chain bridal retail stores for a gown – I knew I had a tiny budget but still marched right into a Scottsdale high-end bridal boutique convinced I could find something on sale, was honest about my tiny budget (I’m talking $500 people!), and walked out an hour later having found a dress that surpassed my wildest dreams hugely discounted because another bride had purchased it and changed her mind (P.T.L.) Yes, I recognize this doesn’t always happen, but sample sales and last season gowns are fairly easy to find!

maggie5

For everything else, I once again thought out-of-the-box. I signed my mom and her friend up for a free DIY flower arranging class at a local wholesale florist so that they could create handmade bouquets for me, rather than paying a professional to do them. We also enlisted sweet and talented friends as our photographer, videographer, and DJ to cut back on those huge costs. Instead of a wedding coordinator, I had a girlfriend (who has an incredible eye for design) help create centerpieces and put the venue together the morning of the big day.

My mom’s friend is a graphic artist and she handmade (and printed!) our invitations as a gift to us. Multiple of my girlfriends who had recently gotten married let me borrow hundreds of dollars worth of décor for centerpieces and tables. The point is, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Your friends and family want to be a blessing to you during this time, and allowing them to help makes them feel like a part of the big day. 

Piecing everything together wasn’t easy, and I frequently got discouraged. I prayed daily for trust and peace, as our expenses seemed never-ending.

Jesus knew financial insecurity was one of the biggest areas in which I needed growth, and he truly used my engagement season to remind me of his consistent faithfulness and provision. Does this mean he will always provide a hugely discounted wedding gown, or help you get a bonus at work to pay for the day? Absolutely not! But I am convinced that he will provide the resources to help you feel special no matter what – so be on the lookout. 🙂

Lastly, remember, your day is going to be beautiful, and not because you are wearing your dream dress or because you are saying your vows in your ideal location.

Your day is beautiful because you are starting eternity with your best friend in front of all your family, your friends, and most importantly our sweet creator – and nothing is more beautiful than that.

If you would like to connect with Maggie, you can find her on Facebook here.

maggie2

This post is being shared on: #Thought-Provoking Thursday, #DanceWithJesus and #LifeGivingLinkup.

Out of Excuses

“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.” John 15:22

Many religions offer gods to admire and follow: Christianity alone offers a Savior. And with our Savior, the truth that we need to be saved.

Regardless of our efforts, we cannot be good. Not only can we not live up to the perfect standard of the Lord, but we can’t even live up to what we intend for ourselves. And we have no excuse because we know…

“Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” –Romans 1:20

We’re out of excuses for our sinful rejection of the Lord. He has been revealed to us. We act on our fleshly desires anyway, even, as Paul says, when we don’t want to. Our guilt is certain. We’re convicted.

However, we are not condemned. Christ, without making any excuses for us, has justified us before God.

Still…we make excuses, don’t we?

When our sins are obvious to others, we point to our good intentions. If we slip into sin, we minimize it, calling it a mistake. We all take opportunities to explain away the wrong we’ve outright chosen –it’s because of my past that I was psychologically inclined to this sin, I might say.

Living without excuse is not something we tend to readily embrace. To admit sin without any excuse seems embarrassing and even self-effacing.

There is no justification, no sufficient excuse, for our sinfulness and our continuing in sin. That is, again, no justification apart from Christ.

To live without excuses is to take hold of the sin in our lives. Taking our sin into our own hands has to come before we can hand it over in surrender to Him. Repentance means nothing is we refuse to admit that we have anything to repent of.

We often say that we’ve surrendered things to the Lord…and then that perhaps we didn’t give it all up. Sometimes, I think that’s because we point God in the direction of the stuff “weighing us down” instead of actually handing it over.

If it’s not yours, you can’t really give it up. Own your sin. Make no excuse. And breathe in full relief and joy when He gladly takes it –your very burden of sin- from you.

This post is being shared on: #TestimonyTuesday, #RaRaLinkup, #Intentionally Pursuing, #WomenWithIntention, and #TellHiStory