Grief and hardship come to us all.

The heartache you and I face helps put comparatively minor circumstances into perspective. I have friends and relatives who are suffering, those who now have an empty place in their lives due to the loss of a spouse or loved one. There are others who are waiting—waiting for a job, waiting for news concerning their health, or waiting for a son, daughter, spouse, or sibling to return safely to them.

Grief is something all of us will face at some point or another. While nobody in my family has passed on this year, I have experienced some losses and have been reminded of the shortness of life. A few months ago, I lost a dear friend to cancer. She used to tell people that I was her special friend. Not only did we attend church together, we seemed to understand each other. We laughed at many of the same things, enjoyed coffee together, and her sweet spirit helped sustain me through some rough spots. But now she is in the arms of Jesus. I imagine she is happy in the extreme to be with the One she loves so dearly. Three more friends have also left this earth since then, all of them Christ-followers, all of them showing evidence of that fact. I am happy for them, but I grieve also—mainly for their spouses, children, and other family they left behind.

Two other friends face serious health issues. One has had a stroke and at a rather young age (I consider late fifties “young”). She made it to church after 8 months of absence. Another was awaiting a lung transplant when I originally wrote this. Just a few days ago, he got the call, and has successfully received a lung. He is doing well, but has a long road of recovery ahead.

Yet another friend surprised me when I saw him at church one Sunday morning, and he told me he had resigned his pastorate. He has no prospects right now, but made this decision because “it was time to leave.” He must be hurting even though he knows he is following God’s direction.

Hardships and struggle come to us all. This is an imperfect world, and we will face tragedy, loss of jobs, health issues, and a myriad of other disappointments.

Does this mean we have done something to displease God? Does it mean He is punishing us or is mad at us? Perhaps we even question if He still loves us.

I do not believe God is mad at you or that you have displeased Him. Yes, we can be disobedient but as a Christian, Christ has done all that is needed to please the Father and He is not punishing you. Realize that Christ suffered the punishment for our sins. Disciplining? Perhaps. Remember that discipline can be Him redirecting us, giving us a different perspective, or leading us to repentance. But realize that He continues to love you.

If you are suffering or grieving or struggling or fighting an impossible battle, realize you may be doing just as God wants. Don’t believe me? Allow me to point to Job who God said  was a righteous man (Job 1:1). As a result of his righteousness, he suffered terrible losses. God also told Job’s friends they were wrong in their criticism of him. He told them to ask Job to pray for them and He would accept Job’s prayer (Job 42:8).

While I cannot answer your big questions in time of heartache or tragedy, I will suggest what God may want from you. He may just want to draw you close as He invites you to sit with Him. (He has a HUGE lap.)He may want to take your worries, exhaustion, and nightmarish circumstances upon Himself. Perhaps He just wants to love on and comfort you. The Bible says that He is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1) who comforts us in all our sorrows so that we in turn can comfort others.

Take a moment today to ask God for His comfort, for His direction in whatever situation you face. And do not isolate yourself from others who want to comfort you or just be with you.

When God comforts you, try to find someone who needs comfort, and pass what God has give you onto them. It may take time to be able to do this, but eventually, through your own sorrow, through your own tears, you will be able to see the needs of another.

Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4).

Sorrow

God Loves You in Your Sorrow

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Christ's compassion

Jesus Heals a Woman on the Sabbath

Read Luke 13:10-16

I daresay that most of us have been around people with serious physical deformities or perhaps you yourself suffer from a particular physical challenge. I grew up with a brother who had a form of muscular dystrophy. He died at the age of twenty-eight, and actually that is a rather long life for someone with this disease. Even though there were a lot of things he could not do, his disability did not keep him from studying God’s word and attending church. One thing that caused him problems was—believe it or not—he did not look like he had any kind of physical defect. He could walk without crutches or braces, get around without a wheel chair, and other than always being rather thin, he looked “normal.”

I remember when children figured out that something was not quite right they might say something like “what’s wrong with him?” So I grew up being rather sensitive to the problems of those with physical challenges, and today I cringe when people treat them as less than a person or I see the “normal” people staring. While it is our human nature to be curious, a look can always be accompanied by a nod or smile. (Sorry if it sounds like I’m being a little “preachy.”)

So now I try to imagine how the woman in our story today struggles to make it to the synagogue. Does she have any idea of what is to come? Bent over, unable to even look up to the sky, she is most likely in pain—both physical and emotional—but has learned to cope. Just as many people today learn to cope with pain that we perhaps cannot imagine. She walks to the synagogue, probably alone as people stare and children point and giggle at this oddly shaped woman—that is, unless people have changed a lot since Jesus’ day.

When Jesus sees her, he apparently stops in the middle of his teaching and calls her forward. Let’s take a moment to consider this. He calls her forward in front of everyone—the very people who have stared, ignored her as a fixture of sorts, minimized her existence, and maybe thought of her as being punished by God. Keep in mind that she may have been a young woman whose beauty and potential for finding a husband have been robbed from her. We don’t know her age, only that she has been bent over for eighteen years. So when Jesus calls her forward, what is she thinking? Has she seen Jesus heal before? Is she excited anticipating what the Savior might do or is she embarrassed at having this attention placed on her? I imagine her struggling to come forward, her feet shuffling, trying to lift her head to this teacher. But we know none of these things except that from our perspective the miracle that is about to happen.

And Jesus reveals his plans to her in a brief moment. First He lays his hands on her. We may not think of that as significant especially since it is a common practice for Him to do so. But this woman has probably not received much affection so this touch is significant. And when He does touch her, she is freed from her infirmity. Immediately she straightens up and praises God. Immediately. I love that Jesus can work in such a way, and the Bible indicates nothing of pain from this transaction, but perhaps we can hear the cracking of bones, as joints and vertebrae straighten, as muscles strained by the years of deformity relax, and those meant to hold her up are now free to do so.

Now we glance over at the synagogue leader who whoops and dances with joy!

Well, not quite. Instead he becomes indignant, and notice that he addresses the people (not Jesus), basically telling them that if someone wants healing they can come to the synagogue and be healed on any day of the week besides Saturday.

As quickly as Jesus has healed the woman, He cries out “hypocrites!” addressing the leader as well as the people who back him. He points out that if it’s important to take care of your animals on the Sabbath why can’t this “daughter of Abraham” be healed from an affliction on the Sabbath? That argument makes so much sense that notice what happens. The official and his backers are humiliated while others—the regular folk with little or no religious training—are amazed. All this takes place while the woman as I imagine tests out her new perspective, looks people in the eye for the first time in eighteen years, jumps for joy and runs to tell everyone that she is healed. She experiences joy in God while Christ’s opponents sit sour and humiliated. By the way, Jesus did humiliate his opponents on more than one occasion, and people were often won to Him because of this.

Praying you find joy in Christ, no matter your suffering.

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Christ's compassion, Christ's Love, Uncategorized

Washing the Feet of Jesus

Scripture: Luke 7:36-50

Have you ever done something for the Lord that seemed a little strange to others, but you were so passionate about it that what others thought didn’t matter? The woman in our story today is one such person. She has a passion to worship Jesus. It seems there is something about Him that draws her—something that makes her heart ache to be in his presence.

One thing I want to mention before we go any further is that the other gospels record a story of a woman anointing Jesus. (See Matthew 26:6, John 12:3-7 and Mark 14:3-6). ) That may seem a little confusing, but for now just realize that some Bible scholars have had questions about these passages too. “Whether these accounts represent one event or two, or possibly even three, has been the subject of speculation for centuries.” (http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/women-of-the-passion-anoint-oil)

Identified only as “a sinful woman,” we see that she has a passion for Jesus and as a result, worships Him in a way that seems a little, well…extreme or “over the top” and definitely improper. She has, more than likely, seen Jesus heal, teach, raise the dead, and forgive. When she follows Him to Simon’s home perhaps she wonders if He could forgive her. Maybe she is desperate for the peace that His forgiveness might bring her.

However there are some social barriers in her way. Here she is—a known sinner (probably a prostitute or adulterer), inviting herself into the home of a Pharisee, a religious leader. She also plans to perform an act involving two things that were huge faux pas—touching a man in a society where men and women did not even address each other in public and letting her hair down for someone other than her husband.

But none of this seems to matter to her. Proper or not, she will show Jesus her love. So she anoints Jesus with oil and as she does, her eyes fill with tears, and she kneels at his feet without a word. I can hear the room grow silent. Her tears brim over, and unashamed, she uses them to wash His feet. I imagine she weeps a good bit moved by the fact that she is in His presence, before gently drying his feet with her hair. Think of it, here she is before at least fourteen men (probably more), touching Him and allowing her hair to fall freely over His feet.

At this point Simon begins to think. Perhaps he should not have for Jesus knows his thoughts–thoughts very logical to Simon–that she is a sinner, and if Jesus were a true prophet, He would not allow her to touch Him. First, Jesus tells Simon he wants to say something to him. Almost as if He’s asking for permission. But Simon’s okay with that and tells Jesus to say what’s on His mind.

So Jesus begins his reprimand by telling Simon a story about two debtors, one who owes a great deal and one who owes little. The generous moneylender forgives both debts. “Which one will love him more?” Jesus asks. Simon says that he supposed the one with the larger debt. (I think it’s cool the way Jesus let Simon figure that one out for himself.)

But He is not done.

Jesus points out Simon’s areas of negligence in performing the simple courtesies extended to visitors in that culture. Simon has not even called a servant to wash his guest’s feet. He did not greet Him with a kiss. And look at the “sinner”—she kisses, anoints, washes, and dries His feet. Not only that, but as Jesus says here, she offers these things with her own body—her tears, her hair—and performs the lowliest of services.

He then turns his attention to the woman, and I wish I could have seen the look on Simon’s face as Jesus said these words, comparing him, a religious leader to this “sinner.” We hope he begins to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words. Maybe he is angry at the rebuke, or perhaps he has a revelation about his own character. I like to think that he becomes less judgmental after this visit with Jesus and begins to show mercy to other “sinners,” realizing he is one also.

So what can we learn from this passage?

  • As Simon perhaps figured out, we seldom understand what is in a person’s heart. Maybe on the surface, their sin is more obvious than ours, but that does not make it worse. And Jesus accepts an offering made with a worshipful heart.
  • Jesus is not at all interested in convention. He not only allows the woman’s touch, He compliments her unusual behavior.
  • Jesus forgives sin. He has such a deep well of love he does not worry about who comes to Him; He doesn’t worry about being influenced or tainted by our sin. As a matter of fact, He appreciates the openness and sincerity of the woman in our story.
  • No matter what, Jesus longs to demonstrate His love to us. Some of us may have committed the very sins that this woman was guilty of or worse. He still desires that we come to Him and lay all that “junk” on Him. He can bear the weight of our sins and the shame we may feel because of it—and I may add, the shame we may feel from what others have done to us.
  • Perhaps like me, you become emotional in public worship. Other people may think you’re a little odd for making such a big deal over Him, but I don’t think Jesus minds that at all.

And by the way, the things we have done wrong and the wrongs that have been done to us are not who we are; they do not define us. Jesus sees His followers as righteous and redeemed, and you are of great value to Him.

I invite you to listen to the words of a beautiful song by Mercy Me:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXI0B4iMLuU

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Christ's compassion

The Woman with the Bleed

Scripture: Mark 5:25-34

Jesus ministered to all kinds of people with a wide variety of illnesses and struggles. The one I want to look at today really touches my heart because it shows His concern for a condition that is almost uniquely that of a woman. And one that most of us would probably want to just keep quiet about. But since it is such a sweet story of Christ’s love for us, I want to take a close look at it.

Jesus has just crossed the Sea of Galilee with His disciples when we meet this woman with the bleed (or hemorrhage). Before she reaches him a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, kneels at Jesus’ feet and pleads with Him to come heal his daughter. So while Jesus (and apparently the crowd) takes off in that direction, this woman whose name is never given approaches Him thinking “if I can only touch the hem of his garment then I will be healed.” I imagine her hand as it reaches through the tangle of sweaty legs and dusty feet. And she does it. She touches His garment.

Before we move on, we should realize a few things about this woman:

  • She has not only suffered physically and financially (going to one physician after another, spending all her money and growing worse instead of better), she is also suffering spiritually and socially as this affliction marks her as unclean and therefore not fit to go to the temple or synagogue. (Leviticus 15:25-27)
  • If she is married there is a huge problem with her uncleanness. Her husband would not be able to have relations with her. For twelve years.
  • We don’t know how old she is so we don’t know if she has children and at this point in time she would be unable to have them.
  • She is basically an interruption to an important mission—that of a desperate synagogue leader whose daughter is dying.
  • She goes to Jesus in what she hopes is a private way. (No one else need know of this—she can touch Him, disappear into the crowd, and head home.)

Now it would seem Jesus had a choice to make. At the woman’s touch, He knows something has happened. Should He ignore it and continue with the synagogue leader? Wouldn’t that have been easier? Wouldn’t it have been better to hurry to the dying daughter? Or should He stop and acknowledge what has just happened?

Jesus chooses to do the hard thing.

He embraces this “interruption” and asks who touched Him. I can imagine the look on the disciples’ faces as they say, “well, ya know, you’re in this huge crowd pressing up against you like you’re a rock star or something and you want to know who touched you. Lord, are you…all right?” Yes, I am taking a slight liberty with Scripture but the point is the disciples often have a tough time understanding what Jesus is doing, and maybe they’re a little embarrassed by his behavior. Perhaps they’re thinking “all right, Lord, we’re here for You, but perhaps You need to get out of the sun for a bit.” At any rate, Jesus keeps looking around, pretty much ignores the disciples, and keeps asking. He knows that someone has touched Him and received healing.

Now I’m sure Jesus already knows who touched Him, after all He has the ability (even with His human limitations) to perceive what is in people’s minds and hearts. So…if He does know, why would he ask who touched Him?

Maybe He wants the woman to come to Him by choice, not because He points her out saying “I know it was you.” But isn’t Jesus still trying to embarrass her? Surely she does not wish to be brought to everyone’s attention. She didn’t want to get up in front of all those people and ask healing for this delicate matter. No, she wanted just to touch Him secretly with no one else knowing, and be done with it. But Jesus has other ideas, and I don’t think it is to shame her any further, but rather in His tender way, He wants to tell her something in front of the whole crowd.

Since he is so insistent, the woman comes forward and falls at his feet “in fear and trembling.” Was she afraid she was about to be rebuked for touching Him? After all, she was unclean and had no business touching anyone. And surely she couldn’t help but touch some in the huge crowd. We can’t be sure but we do know she tells Him the “whole truth”, apparently not mincing her words. And I’m wondering now, does this crowd already know about her situation? Do they know this woman has not been to the synagogue for twelve years? Does this synagogue leader who is standing next to Jesus know these things? And are they appalled at her words?

Well, it seems that Jesus knows exactly what to say to her. Jesus does not shame her because of all this. Instead of saying “oh, now look what you’ve done. Now I’m unclean too” He chose compassion. He chose to praise her faith. He chose to tell her she was whole, to go in peace, to be freed from suffering.

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But first he calls her “daughter” which probably meant “daughter of Abraham.” I hope you see the significance in that. She had been cut off from worship of the God of Abraham, from so much of what made her Jewish, and now Jesus is calling her “daughter.” He plays a part in re-establishing her place in the community and in the synagogue. If He, as God in the flesh calls her daughter, then He apparently establishes a personal relationship with her. He could have said “dear woman” as He did His mother but He chose the term daughter for significant reasons.

In just a breath or two Jesus establishes a relationship with her, compliments her faith, wishes her peace, and frees her from a terrible affliction.

Jesus may not always free us immediately from our affliction or our suffering, but He does make a way for us to go in peace. And perhaps a more important thing to consider is how we can help others “go in peace.” So here’s some homework: Ask God to give you an opportunity to speak peace into someone’s life outside your regular circle of family, friends, and co-workers. Be honest if this is new or difficult for you. You may find that you have helped someone with a smile or a kind word. Voicing your appreciation to a waitress or a nurse or cashier can make their day and perhaps help lift a burden that you are not even aware of. And don’t be surprised at the peace you find in ministering to another.

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What does the Bible really say?

Patience and Trials

Those of you who follow my blog know that I love stories of Jesus and the women he interacted with, and I try to stick with that theme. But this month I’m going to take a break and speak to a subject that I’ve had on my mind for some time.

Have you ever had someone tell you “don’t pray for patience”? Even if the phrase is said tongue in cheek there’s a good reason for giving this advice, right? After all, we “know” that God will start teaching us patience by allowing us to experience all sorts of trials. This concept could be considered biblical as Romans 5:3 states that tribulation brings patience. Well, of course we don’t want to go through tribulation! So asking for patience is like asking for trouble.

Well, here’s where I have a problem. Telling ourselves and others not to pray for patience reflects something very wrong with our thinking about God and His wisdom. Of course, our human nature does not wish to go through trials. However if you read the first half of the above verse (Romans 5:3) it tells us we should glory in tribulation.

Wait. Are you crazy? We should be excited about trials? Maybe even invite them into our lives?

I know, I know that seems kind of scary. But don’t we realize that God is a giver of good things? So should we really be afraid of the lessons He might try to teach us? Or worry because of what we pray? We will all face trials and frustrations no matter how we pray. So wouldn’t it be better to go through them with patience rather than without it? And do we really think that we can tell God when and how much tribulation to allow in our lives by not praying for patience?

There is another huge problem with this thinking.. In 1 Corinthians 13 starting in verse 6 the Bible describes the characteristics of love and right off we see “love is (oh my, there it is)…patient. While we’re thinking on that, we might want to take a look at the fruit of the Spirit. In Galatians 5:22 we read this: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” When we see this we think “oh, yeah! Give me love, joy, and peace, Lord. I want me some of that.” But…following those three wonderful traits is our friend…patience!

This really makes me wonder if we can ever exhibit the love, joy, and peace Jesus intends for us without at least a dab of patience? And are we really going to skip over that portion of the fruit of the Spirit because it might bring us difficulties or temptations or even heartache? If God does allow those trials, He will accompany us. What a wonderful way to get to know him better! No, I’m not excited about facing trials but Jesus sure faced them while He was on this earth and think about this: is the servant better than his or her master? (See Matthew 10:24 for the answer.)

Perhaps you’ve already realized that if we want others to treat us with patience, we should we be willing to do treat them in like manner. And of course, the most important Person we desire patience from is God. So…patience is something God wants for us, and if we desire to be more like Him well, maybe we should think of it as something to pray for.

Here are some things I hope you include in your “take away” today:

  1. We shouldn’t be afraid to pray for the things that will enable us to be better followers of Christ. Including patience.
  2. Realize that God is with us in every difficulty, and that makes it all worthwhile (and by the way, I believe God will allow trials that are more than we can bear, but that is a subject for another time).
  3. God does not stand ready to load you up with trials just because you ask for something good.

“Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
http://biblehub.com/isaiah/41-10.htm Accessed on January 29, 2016

Praying that you will have all the love, joy, and peace Christ intends for you. (I’ll let you pray for the patience.)

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In case you don’t realize it, Christmas and the holidays that surround it can be a busy season! In all the rush we may feel a little lost and wonder what happened to the “true meaning” of Christmas. Many have found ways to keep Christ in Christmas such as celebrating advent, attending a Christmas Eve service, reading the Christmas story with family or friends, and I’m sure many of you have your own traditions.

Jesus baby

Well, guess what. I want to help you out too. Because I believe this is of utmost importance to our joy: remembering what God has done for us and becoming a thankful person. We can always, anytime, no matter what is going on, thank and praise God. Take time during this season to sit down and read a psalm aloud to Him (yes read to Him) such as Psalm 30, Psalm 27, or Psalm 100. Spend time just being with your Lord.

I know this can also be a sorrowful time for many. While it is a popular misconception that suicide rates go up around Christmastime, a significant number of people do face the “holiday blues.” So as we get our preparations underway, let’s be aware that the people around us may be lonely or have horrible memories of Christmases past or may have experienced a tragedy in recent days.  Perhaps we can reach out to someone who seems a little down and of course, we can do the most powerful thing possible and pray for them.

I am praying that you, my reader, will experience the joy this season can bring, along with the excitement and the wonder of it. Because no matter what we have been through in the past, what we are facing right now, or how lonely we may feel, we can still experience joy—a deep-rooted joy that can remain with us all year.

I’m sure some of you have already seen this video (link below), but in case you haven’t, I hope you will watch and remember all that Christ has done for you. He loves you so very much.

Peace in Him.

Christ's birth

Remembering

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Christ's Love, Jesus and His Mother

Jesus, His Mother, and a Party!

A few months ago, I was listening to a Christian radio station when one of the DJ’s asked a hypothetical question. If Jesus were on this earth today, living in our culture, would he be on social media?

I wasn’t sure about that one, but one of the other DJ’s said yes! Jesus absolutely would use social media as a way to connect with people. You may argue that  Facebook, Google+ Instagram, etc are not the best places to really connect with folks, and I would agree. It disturbs me when people say they are closer to their Facebook friends than they are their “real” friends. Nevertheless I have found it does have some real value. Through social media I have reconnected with friends I no longer see for one reason or another and have been able to find out what is going on in their lives. Being able to pray with them in their times of need has been wonderful.

So would Jesus participate in social media? I’m not sure, but what the DJ said certainly rings true. Jesus loved being around people and loved connecting with them in all manner of ways. He went to the temple to teach people, ministered to individuals, at least once invited himself to dinner, and went to parties

Parties in Jesus day were different than ours. Hospitality was exceedingly important to them. Did you know that in Jesus’ time the party after a wedding could last a week? A week! No honeymoon for the bride and groom, but rather, they entertained for several days after the ceremony.

In John 2 Jesus, His disciples and His mother have received invitations to a wedding in Cana. And now the celebration is on. The host is prepared with plenty of food and wine. Or at least he was supposed to be. At some point during the days of the celebration, the wine runs out. This was a huge problem. It was not like running out of pretzels or drinks nowadays, and oh, well, will someone run up to the 7-11 and buy some more? Oh, no, this was a reflection on the host’s reputation. His lack of hospitality would be a gigantic faux pas. So Jesus’ mother Mary goes to her son and tells Him about the situation.

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Why would Mary do this? Why would she bother the Lord with such a problem?

Perhaps she thinks that her son will listen to his mom and come up with a solution. But Jesus does not do as she had hoped or maybe expected. (If you study His life much at all, you will see Jesus often did the unexpected.)

Instead of saying something like “Sure mom, I’ll be glad to help,” He tells her “Woman, what have I to with thee? My time is not yet come.”  (KJV)

Take a deep breath, everyone. If you have never read this story, you may wonder why He was talking to Mary like that. His mother! I know His words have raised a lot of questions. So let’s try to answer one or two at least.

As you may know, “woman” was a term of endearment and respect. Okay, that’s better, isn’t it? BUT look at his next words. “What have I to do with thee?”  What? He really said that to her?

Not long ago, I was very direct with God and made this statement to Him: “I know you were being respectful when you called Mary ‘woman’, but I still think what you said afterwards…well, it seems rude.”  The Lord did not keep silent, and these are the words I heard him speak to my heart: “Now Eileen, don’t you think I knew how to talk to my mama?”

Well, that shut me up.

And I love it when He speaks in my vernacular. Both my children call me “mama,” and so for me the term is particularly endearing.

But the Lord had another assurance for me. “Look at how she reacted. She knew what I was saying. She was not offended.”

Oh.

I am totally looking at this Scripture in a new light now. Perhaps Mary is a little more spiritual than I because she doesn’t drop her jaw, make a sigh of disgust or demand that He talk to her with more respect, but simply turns to the servants and bids them do as her Son wishes. Is she recognizing His authority here? Is He somehow getting it across to her that He wishes her to relate to Him as Lord in addition to the mother-son relationship? Some scholars have said this is the case. His words probably meant far more than the English can convey. But apparently she understood his intent, and had confidence that He would let the servants know what to do.

And this passage ends in the first recorded miracle of Christ when He turns the water into wine. (By the way, it was good wine too according to the words of the host.)

There is always more that can be said about a particular passage of Scripture, and this one is no exception. So what would I like you to take away from this? First of all, Jesus acted in a loving way to His mother; He knew how to talk to her. Secondly, you and I are not the same as Mary, and He knows that. He knows how to treat each of us and how to speak to us as individuals.

Let me add one huge caution here. If you are not reading your Bible and searching for God’s instruction in His Word, it may be very difficult to hear His voice. Sometimes God may speak to us in a thought, an idea, or through the voice of a friend. But first search for His face in Scripture and through prayer. For that is where we find Him.

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