Tag Archives: Scripture

Life’s Perplexities (Guest Post)

Life’s Perplexities

by Steph Beth Nickel

I originally wrote this devotional for HopeStreamRadio, but it may encourage you as well. Be blessed!

Have you ever been disappointed by a brother or sister in Christ?

Have you ever prayed a prayer that God hasn’t answered—at least not as you wanted Him to?

Have you ever read a portion of His Word that left you shaking your head?

It’s fairly easy to understand why others disappoint us from time to time. After all, they are only human—just like we are. When a fellow Christian—or anyone really—lets us down, we must extend forgiveness. This isn’t always easy, but God will give us the desire and wherewithal to do so. We need only ask.

And that brings us to the matter of prayer.

We stand on promises like the following:

Matthew 7:7-11 says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (ESV)

Do I believe the promises in these verses? I do. Do I always see them come to pass exactly as I hope? Definitely not. Many, if not most, of you would say the same thing.

I know there are those who say God always answers. Sometimes He says, “Yes.” Sometimes He says, “No.” Sometimes He says, “Later.” I, however, think this is an oversimplification.

When He says, “Yes,” do we remember to thank Him? I do—sometimes.

When He says, “No” or “Later,” we must remain prayerful. Is there something He wants us to do or a spiritual lesson He wants to teach us? Is He increasing our ability to walk in faith despite disappointment and heartache? Is He working for our good and the good of others—even though we don’t see it at the time?

As I mentioned, I think wrestling with these questions and seeking answers that are true to His Word and His nature are sometimes part of the process.

But again, we must not question His goodness, His holiness, His righteousness. Although we can’t always understand what’s going on, it doesn’t mean the Lord’s character has changed. In fact, it never has and it never will.

We can count on Him to fulfill every one of His promises—but not necessarily as we expect or would like.

No matter what the outcome, we must remain prayerful.

And when it comes to portions of the Scriptures we simply can’t understand, portions that may cause us to bristle and squirm, we must learn to “rightly handle the word of truth,” as it says in 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV).

Here are a few things we can do:

In the face of life's perplexities... Pray. Study. Obey.

Pray

We can—and should—pray before we open the Word, asking the Lord to help us understand and apply what we read.

Study

When we come to a difficult portion, instead of skipping over it or deciding it must mean something other than what it seems to mean, we should commit to studying it further. Keeping a separate journal where we keep notes on these portions of the Scriptures could benefit not only us but also others who are struggling with the same passages. We must refuse to put our Bible on the shelf, deciding we’ll never truly understand it anyway.

Obey

We must seek, with God’s enabling, to apply the portions of His Word that are clear.

Philippians 3:12-16 is a wonderful and challenging passage:

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (ESV).

In the face of all these perplexities, we must continue to pray, confident that in His time and in His way, He will work all things out for our good, as He promises in Romans 8:28.

Tweetable: In the face of life’s perplexities… Pray. Study. Obey. [Click to tweet]

[English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.]

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Review: GraceLaced, by Ruth Chou Simons

GraceLaced, by Ruth Chou Simons | daily devotionals, artwork, gift bookGraceLaced, by Ruth Chou Simons (Harvest House Publishers, 2017)

We tend to experience life in seasons, not necessarily in order, and often repeating. Whether you find yourself in winter, spring, summer, or fall, this beautiful interactive devotional book will minister to your spirit.

The gentle artwork and photography quiets the soul and invites readers to slow down, drop their defenses, and be open to receive God’s Word. Many of the Scriptures are familiar, well-loved passages.

Some verses are printed in text, others are hand-lettered as art, and others are set out for readers to pursue in their own Bibles. Many verses are ones I’ve loved over the years, and others I’d like to go back and memorize to keep with me.

Each day’s devotional finishes with a prompt for reader response: to identify a person to encourage, a fear to release, blessings to give thanks for, etc. Readers may want to have a journal handy, because this book is too pretty to write in although the spaces are there.

I had the privilege of reviewing this hard-cover book (no ebook option, that I can see), and it’s beautiful, with thick, glossy pages, suitable for display on your coffee table (provided you’ve written your personal responses elsewhere!). The one thing it lacks is an attached satin ribbon bookmark.

I do confess being disappointed to see the book was printed in China, since the publisher is North American. It’s still very expensive, with $29.99 USD ($41.99 CAD) list price, but, that said, it would make a lovely gift for yourself or for a special loved one.

The book has just released (September 2017) and at the moment, Amazon has a significant discount: $14.99 USD / $27.41 CAD. As much as I prefer to advocate supporting local bookstores, this might be a time for online shopping. Check your prices first. (Canadians, I see Chapters-Indigo has it for a few cents more, but with free shipping…)

GraceLaced is the sort of book a person can revisit again and again, long after the first 30-day devotional journey is complete. Related products are a journal and 17-month planner.

As well as being a writer, Ruth Chou Simons is an artist, speaker, and entrepreneur. Her website is at gracelaced.com, where you can learn more about her, read her blog, and perhaps even find your favourite piece of artwork from the GraceLaced book available for sale.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Harvest House Publishers and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Harvest House.]

Trust. Rejoice. Sing.

I’ve been working to memorize these verses, and thought I’d share them with you. There’s something about affirming God’s goodness, and ending with “He is good to me,” that makes me feel good. If you’d like to print this for your personal use, go ahead. Just right-click on the photo and click “save as.”

Psalm 13:5-6, NLT

Photo credit: Janet Sketchley

Praying Scripture

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13, NLT*

I love eavesdropping on Paul’s heart-felt prayers for the congregations he’s writing to. Sure, parts of his letters are direct to the point of sounding harsh (although always with a motive of love), but in his prayers we see how deeply he cares.

We can borrow these prayers for those we love, or for ourselves. Take this one as an example. We can ask this for anyone who knows the Lord, no matter their circumstances.

We may not know how God plans to work out someone’s particular struggles, but we know this is the sort of prayer that’s always in line with His will.

To apply this verse for a non-believer, we could begin by asking God to reveal Himself as the Source of hope and to give the person faith to trust Him.

Take a second look at Paul’s words. Who might God want you to pray them for?

Holy God, we praise You that You alone are the Source of hope. Real hope, not wishing. You are the Source of joy and peace. And You are trustworthy. Forgive any doubts that taunt us. Help us to trust You fully. Open us to receive the joy and peace You give. Fill us with the Holy Spirit and the confident hope He brings. Fill us to overflowing, and flow through us to reveal Yourself to those who don’t yet know you, for their sakes and for the sake of Your Kingdom.

There are so many songs based on prayers from the Bible. Here’s Brian Doerksen‘s “I Lift My Eyes Up (Psalm 121).”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

We Must Remain Teachable

"If I remain teachable -- if you remain teachable -- we will have so much to share with those the Lord brings into our lives." -Steph Beth NickelWe Must Remain Teachable, by Steph Beth Nickel

I can’t remember not being a Christian. I believe I went from a childish faith right into a childlike faith. And by now, with the dawn of my 55th year on the horizon, you’d think I would have it all together—or at least be well on the way.

I wish!

I have been working through Larry and Kathy Miller’s most recently released book, Never Ever Be the Same. And wow! Do I have a lot to learn! (I hope to read through it every six months or so and see what new things God will show me.)

And as I was going to sleep one night last week, worried about a hasty decision I’d made, the Lord gently reminded me that I couldn’t serve two masters. I didn’t even know I’d been serving money. But since I was giving our financial situation much too much thought, worrying about it, and trying to figure out how I could fix it, I had been. Oh my!

This wasn’t the first such revelation over the years. One day, quite some time ago, I asked God why I wasn’t happier about a wonderful event that had happened in my sister’s life, the fulfilment of her heart’s desire.  When I realized the self-centred, humbling answer to my inquiry, the Lord reminded me He knew about my motives all along and loved me regardless. Wow! Talk about grace!

Years ago, I asked God to “tear off the Band-Aid™,” as it were. I didn’t want to become aware of my sin bit by bit. I knew I could trust Him to bring the healing even though the process would often leave me raw and vulnerable.

As I dig into God’s Word in order to prepare devotionals for HopeStreamRadio, I am constantly amazed by two things. One, there are details in Bible passages I’ve read dozens, if not hundreds, of times before that I’ve never noticed. They pop right off the page like someone jumping up and down waving their arms. And two, peace and joy often wash over me when I read familiar truths I haven’t thought of in some time.

The Scriptures are not some old, irrelevant writings. And though the pages are filled with rich theological truths that we must diligently study, they are also so much more. They are a love letter written by the Creator of the universe to His children. And they are applicable to our situation today, right where we are. It’s truly amazing!

Just today I re-read the passage in Matthew 7:1-5 that refers to dealing with the plank in my own eye before seeking to help others with the speck in theirs. When I look into God’s Word, I must first learn what He is teaching me before I can share with others what He may want to teach them.

If I remain teachable—if you remain teachable—we will have so much to share with those the Lord brings into our lives.

And we must always remember that no matter how old we get, there is still so much to learn.

Be vulnerable. Be honest. Be teachable. And the Lord will surely bless others through you—through your writing and through your every endeavour.

What has God been teaching you lately?
[Leave your thoughts below!]

Photo of Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Picture by Sarah Grace Photography)

Stephanie is a freelance writer and editor. She writes under the pen name Steph Beth Nickel. She co-authored Paralympian Deborah L. Willows’ memoir, Living Beyond My Circumstances. Among other places, it is available from Castle Quay Books and Amazon. Steph has been blogging since 2010 and is a regular guest on Kimberley Payne’s site (fitness tips) and Christian Editing Services (writing tips). She will also be writing and recording regularly for the newly-formed Hope Stream Radio. Stephanie is an active member of The Word Guild and InScribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship.


Steph invites you to pop by for a visit on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stephbethnickel or https://www.facebook.com/stephbnickel?ref=hl

You can also look her up on Twitter @StephBethNickel; her blog: http://stephseclecticinterests.wordpress.com; or her website (still a work in progress): http://stephbethnickel.com

Janet Sketchley

Why We Need to Know God

He will flatter and win over those who have violated the covenant. But the people who know their God will be strong and will resist him.
Daniel 11:32, NLT*

This is part of Daniel’s prophecy about a future king who will conquer and destroy many nations and intend great harm to God’s chosen people. It also has a lesson for Christians today, in our own circumstances.

We have an enemy too—the enemy of our souls. How do we stand against the opposition and persuasion he sows? (Daniel warned of the enemy king’s flattery and winning over.)

Daniel tells us how. We have to know our God.

  • Know His character. His ways. His commands.
  • Know His ultimate power. Events unfold according to God’s timing. (The phrase “the appointed time” occurs three times in Daniel 11.)
  • Know that He is bigger than our circumstances and thoughts. Focusing on this perspective keeps us from letting our problems loom larger than life.

How well do we know God? Biblical literacy is on the decline, and many people’s idea of God comes from a mix of Hollywood, hearsay, and maybe even heresy, depending on who they’ve been listening to.

To truly know God, we need to go to the source: the Bible. (tweet this) And we need to ask Him to reveal Himself in it.

God who is the Author and the Finisher of our faith, who knew the end from the beginning, and who reaches into our tangled lives to rescue and redeem us, help us to know You better. Help us live relying on Your character and following Your ways, so we can recognize and resist deception.

There are many classic hymns that declare the wonders of God, but this newer song is the one that came to mind when I wrote this post: Magnificent, by Matt Redman.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

This Weapon Changes Hearts

But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.
Romans 8:13b, NLT*

In our spiritual armour, the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God [see Ephesians 6:10-20]. The armour lets us stand our ground against attacks. The sword may even be for taking enemy territory if we’re doing battle for someone.

Today’s verse suggests we can use the sword to cut free of existing bonds or snares, not just to deflect new blows.

I’ve been wielding the sword when I use Bible verses to counter deep-set lies I’ve accepted, but somehow I hadn’t seen it in terms of battle. I just knew I had to use the light of God’s truth to burn away the deception.

God’s been nudging me lately about some attitudes that have to go—attitudes that date back to my early school years and that I thought were pretty well in hand. It turns out they’ve inserted themselves into deeper cover than I’d realized. Prayer and confession and surrender have made a start at eradicating them, but I see now that the truth of the Bible is the single-most effective tool or weapon I have.

Our God, You are holy and just, merciful and abounding in grace. You are so faithful in keeping Your promise to conform us to the image of Your Son, even when we’re slow and even when the stain runs deep. Thank You for the Holy Spirit within us and for the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Make us alert to the individual battles we face. Show us the precise verses to use in our defence. And help us stand firm in You.

Choosing a song for this one was hard! I found a good “change my attitude” song with the Newsboys’ “Breathe” and a good “don’t buy the lies” song with Jonny Diaz’ “More Beautiful You.” If you need one or both, have a listen. They speak to my heart.

But I think the heart of this message (pun intended) is “Change My Heart, Oh God.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

To Know God

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
John 14:9, NIV*

Have you heard the anecdote about three blind people encountering an elephant for the first time? The one, touching the trunk, said the creature was skinny, long and floppy. The one at the elephant’s side insisted it was huge, while the third one stood at the patient animal’s foreleg and thought maybe it was a tree.

God is so much bigger than we can comprehend, and the silly story illustrates the danger of insisting we know all about Him based on what we’ve personally encountered. We have the Bible to teach us about Him, but we need to be careful to read all of it  instead of focusing on what we “get” or on what makes us feel good.

And we have Jesus, who reveals the Father’s character. That makes the four Gospels extra valuable for study.

Majestic and holy God, the better we know You the more we can trust You. And the more our spirits will surrender to You in worship. You alone are holy, all-wise, our Redeemer and our Judge. You are more than we can comprehend, yet You reveal Yourself to us. Open the eyes of our hearts to the truth of who You, and help us to live lives of worship.

For a light touch on the subject, here’s Jonny Diaz‘ song “Figured Out.”

Here’s a link to the story behind the song.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

A Good Grip on the Truth

[A church leader must] have a good grip on himself, and have a good grip on the Message, knowing how to use the truth to either spur people on in knowledge or stop them in their tracks if they oppose it.
Titus 1:8-9, MSG*

The Spirit caught my attention with “have a good grip on the Message, knowing how to use the truth.” That expanded to include “have a good grip on yourself.”

For me, the reminder is to get and keep a good grip on myself—take troubling thoughts captive to Christ, use the armour of God, keep repeating the words He gives me about His shepherding and my freedom. Hold tightly to Scripture and use it wisely.

The challenge in the verse is to do this in cooperation with Him for my own healing and growth, and at the same time to keep alert to the wider picture to see where and how He wants to use me in others’ lives.

God my Shepherd, Healer and King, Your Word is the sword of truth. Help me use it wisely, in battle for myself and for others, as You equip and direct.  

Here’s a classic hymn that has blessed me a few times this week (most notably at the close of this year’s Write! Canada conference… over 200 voices, singing exuberantly): “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” sung here by Chris Rice.

*The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Handle With Care

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15, NIV*

Don’t you love it when God takes a verse you’ve known for years and shows you something new in it?

What does it mean to correctly handle the word of truth?

Well, if we prayerfully study the Bible, mindful of context and culture, looking for what God really says instead of for ways to justify our own opinions, we’re learning to handle it correctly. We can learn to live by its precepts and to trust God’s character. (And we need to learn how to share it appropriately as God leads, in a loving and non-aggressive manner, but that’s another blog post.)

This week I’ve seen another layer of meaning. Although it may be blindingly obvious to everyone else, my Wednesday posts are where I share what God is teaching me, so here goes:

To correctly handle the word of truth, we have to believe it.

Not just believe intellectually that it’s the inspired, inerrant Word of God, but believe the promises God whispers to our hearts and spirits.

Believe God instead of believing the lies.

If I’m feeling scared, am I going to believe the fear and its many whispered lies about inadequacy and failure, or believe the truth? God is with me. In Christ I can do all things. And if I fail, He can do something with the pieces and He will still love me.

Feeling down, will I believe what that insinuates about my worth or will I receive the truth that God delights in me?

Last week’s post was about not believing the lies. And I’ve posted before about not believing our feelings. I don’t think I’ve clearly seen until now that not only do the feelings often lie, but that we have a choice over which source we’ll believe.

Promise-keeping God, thank You for Your written Word. Help us recognize Your truth, and help us to use that truth in defence against the lies of the enemy, of the culture around us, and our own feelings and misunderstandings. Help us believe You, not just in our minds, but in our hearts and spirits. Help us act on the truth You give, so that others can see the difference You make.

 “You Shine” by Brian Doerksen asks why we should be afraid or discouraged when God is Who He is.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.