Pivotal Circumstances in India?

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It was 5:35am when the wheels of the Boeing 787-9 British Airways aircraft met the grounds of Chennai, India. I had been awaiting this adventure since October of 2016 and here I was over a year later finally achieving the dream of studying abroad in India. The first few days went by rather fast. It was total immersion into the Indian culture: the food, the heat, the clothing, etc. However, by the third day, everything caught up to me and I got sick in the middle of the night. I could not participate in the next day’s event and was left alone to get well in our hostel. After about 24 hours, I was better.

It was such a honeymoon phase to finally be in India. Everything amazed me and I wanted to try everything. However, the honeymoon phase “phased” out when we went on our first long excursion. We took a train for 7 hours, then a bus for 3 hours, and then walked for another hour to reach an NGO (Non-Government Organization) that worked with scheduled tribes in India. We would be visiting a few of them for a few days. When they showed us where we would be staying, I was okay with it at first, but eventually, as the days went on, my patience was running thin. We slept on paper thin mats on cold concrete floor. The bathroom was nearly always flooded from the bucket showers, and there was a giant spider in it. When we returned from the trip, however, I felt so much stronger having made it through that experience.

We continued to learn more about the culture and eventually started our field placements. Slowly, but surely, I began to find the things that conflicted me the most about the culture. People here eat with their hands (or just their right hand to be exact). There is never any toilet paper, so you must remember to carry your own. I won’t even talk about the traffic (just YouTube “Traffic in India”). And then, of course, the food itself. I just wanted to enjoy it, but it was always too hot and spicy for me. Fortunately, another student from my home university came with me and we were able to vent and eventually embrace these cultural differences.

About a month in, I got sick again. This time, I was fighting a fever for four days and could barely even walk to the bathroom because my head was spinning so bad. By this time, the other student had already started her field placement, so I was again left alone where I was  bored and sick in our hostel. In the moments of lying there sick, I had two thoughts on my mind: Do I have some form of malaria that my pills aren’t effective in fighting off  and therefore I’m  going to die here? And: God, why did you bring me here? Yes, I thought I was going to die (but don’t worry, it honestly wasn’t that bad, I was just a wimp).

I began to question what my purpose was in this foreign land if all I was going to do was just lay in bed half the time. Why did God bring me to a culture so much more diverse than my own? Living in India has become the hardest thing I have ever done in my  entire life. At one point, I even looked up plane tickets to come home.

That was when the conviction came. God said to me, you are not going home, you need to stay the course. It was like a lightbulb went off in my head because, it was then, that I finally understood. God wanted me to be here to go through all this “suffering” and chaos for His glory. I then proceeded to pick up my faith again, believing that God would either heal me miraculously from this sickness, or walk through it with me. I decided to no longer allow this experience to negatively impact my experience in India.

I am happy to say that I am still in India, a week after being sick for the second time, and still recovering. 🙂

Friends, have you ever felt like things were just so wrong and out of control that surely, they can’t be from God? That is how this experience has felt at times. But it’s in the moments where I realize that, even in my minute suffering, God is with me and desiring that I lean on Him more. This is how God uses pivotal circumstances in our lives to grow our faith. Check out Pastor Aaron’s message this week to hear more examples, Biblical context, and a message of encouragement about going through life’s difficult circumstances: http://www.painesvilleag.com/painesville-ag-messages/?enmse=1&enmse_sid=21

Don’t give up when the going gets tough, friends, stay the course! I know that God is going to use the pivotal circumstances I have in India to grow my faith and force me to rely on His strength instead of my own.

Make it a great week!
Jenny Bushnell

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Who’s Plan Has Your Allegiance?

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Do you want to hear something really exciting?

“You are God’s masterpiece. He has created you anew in Christ Jesus, so you can do the good things he planned for you long ago.”  (Ephesians 2:10 NLT)

If you have trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior from sin, then Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth, calls YOU and equips YOU to partner with Him in the advancement of His Kingdom on earth! YOU are the hands and feet of Jesus as YOU walk in step with His Spirit, who lives within YOU!

How amazing is that!? God has spoken destiny into each of our lives! He has created us with an amazing plan and purpose!

But, so often, we get caught up in our day-to-day lives, become near-sighted, and forget the bigger picture. We live for the here and now rather than for eternity. We forget about that amazing plan God has for us, and we pledge allegiance to our own plan and agenda. Ouch!

It’s important to remember that God has given each of us natural gifts and talents, spiritual gifts, personal experiences, material resources, different educations and jobs… etc. He’s given us each a story, and Jesus is the Author of our stories and the Perfecter of our faith! Yes…

He wants to use you!

He’s not looking for perfect people, but those who are available, teachable and authentic. He’s not looking at our pasts, our failures, or our weaknesses like we do.

Want to hear some more exciting news?

Our pasts do not disqualify us from being used by God! And for that matter, neither does our age, our personality type, gender, education, ethnicity, health condition, socioeconomic status… you get the point.

The pages of history they tell me it’s true
That it’s never the perfect; it’s always the ones with the scars that You use
It’s the rebels and the prodigals; it’s the humble and the weak
The misfit heroes You chose
Tell me there’s hope for sinners like me.

~ Matthew West “Broken Things”

Consider Moses, whom God chose to return to Egypt, confront Pharaoh, and lead the Israelites out. God clearly got Moses’ attention when He called him from his wilderness wandering. (I suppose hearing a voice coming from a burning bush would stop me in my tracks, too!) After God announced that He had chosen Moses to carry out His rescue mission, Moses responded with excuse after excuse as to why He was not qualified to do what God was asking of him.

How about you? Do you yearn to hear God’s voice? Have you asked Him what His plan is for your life? Perhaps you’ve already heard Him speaking to you, but you are too afraid to step out in faith. We can waste so much time making up excuses, ignoring His voice, which is disobedience, and miss out on the opportunities He’s giving us. Oh Lord, let it not be so!

“Obey God in the thing He shows you, and instantly the next thing is opened up… God will never reveal more truth about himself until you have obeyed what you already know” ~ Oswald Chambers

God has used me in various ministries throughout the different seasons of my life. Each new ministry opportunity has not only strengthened my faith in God, but has helped me to learn a little bit more about myself and the passions God has placed within me.

God spoke so clearly to my heart last May, and He used the passage in Exodus 4 to do so. Like Moses, I was in a season of wandering, overwhelmed by what I perceived as failures, and unsure how God could use me at that point.

But God, as He so often does, met me in the middle of that wilderness, and opened the door for me to do what I’m doing right now… blogging for Painesville Assembly. I have to admit, I wasn’t quite sure what blogging was, and like Moses, I started rambling off my excuses as to why I would not be able to say “yes” to this ministry.

Like Moses, I felt inadequate and a bit fearful.

But God said, “I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:12)

Like Moses, I knew I didn’t have all the answers and people may not believe me or listen to me.

But God said, “I AM…” the answer. (Exodus 3:14)

Like Moses, I did not feel gifted to do what He was asking me to do.

But God
said, “Who gave man his mouth? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:11a, 12)

And that was the scripture God gave me last May to confirm that He would continue to equip me for His service!

Yes, like Moses, we can have plenty of objections to God’s call to personal ministry, but who knew Moses better than Moses? And who knows you better than you? The Great I AM does! He desires to grow your faith. Personal ministry can be scary and exciting at the same time; stretching and rewarding. Remember, God created you for Kingdom purpose! God’s power accompanies what we already have in our hands if we use it according to His direction, and God gives us the same promise he gave Moses,

“I will be with you.”

Jenny Gallion

Consider listening to the powerful message from The Miracle of Mercy series (5/21/17). It’s entitled “God Can Use Anybody”. (http://www.painesvilleag.com/painesville-ag-messages/?enmse=1&enmse_sid=6&enmse_mid=9&enmse_av=1)

The “D” Word: DISCIPLINE

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Chemistry: A subject that was required for me to take, yet I was not a fan of.  Especially the memorization (sort of) of the Periodic Table of Elements.  Do any of you remember this wonderful tabular arrangement?  For those of you who do not know what the Periodic Table is, I have included a definition from Wikipedia.

“The periodic table is a tabular arrangement of the chemical elements, ordered by their atomic number, electron configuration, and recurring chemical properties.”

 Impressed?  Not really.  All chemical elements have atomic numbers ranging from 1 (hydrogen) to 118 (organesson).  I was tasked with memorizing the periodic table of elements by element name, alpha abbreviation, and atomic number.  The periodic table provides a useful framework for analyzing chemical behavior, and is widely used in chemistry and other sciences.  I was pretty sure that my life long job assignment was not going to be a chemical engineer.  Yeah. Pretty sure.  So, I memorized the table to pass exams but not to retain any future knowledge.  Memorizing the Periodic Table was a discipline.  It was not something that I wanted to do, but it was something I needed to do in order to receive a passing grade.  By the way, I got a “B” at the end of the semester.

Our lives are filled with disciplines.  In order to accomplish what we want to do in life, there has to be certain disciplines.  If someone is interested in growing in their work environment by means of a promotion, then discipline may require additional study or training.  If someone is interested in speaking and feeling led to do that, then maybe the Dale Carnegie course would be a good idea.  Disciplines can be enjoyable and not so enjoyable.  Chemistry disciplines were not very enjoyable for me, however, when I was 9 years old, I began to take guitar lessons.  Now that, was enjoyable.  I had a great teacher and my dad bought me my first guitar.  I played in a band during my high school years and still own a guitar to this day. The more I practiced, the more I enjoyed that discipline.  And the result was, I got pretty good.  But now because I don’t have the same discipline, I can’t play at the skill level I once had.  For a time in my life, I can say that playing my guitar was an enjoyable and pleasant hobby.

God uses certain Private Disciplines to grow our faith.  I remember the day that I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior, the man who led me to the Lord asked (well more like instructed) me to complete some disciplines.  First and foremost, he told me I needed to pray.  Pray every day.  Talk to God and listen for His response.  Then I was instructed to read my Bible every day.  I was told that getting the Word of God into my heart would protect me against the schemes of the devil.  And the more I studied God’s Word, I found that to be true.  I found out that the more I sowed into praying and reading God’s Word, the more I was able to reap the blessings from it.  I memorized scripture verses that became very relevant to me.  One of the scriptures that impacted me was Jeremiah 29:11 NKJV, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  At the time I memorized this, I was needing to be encouraged.  There are so many others.  Lastly, my friend told me to trash every record, cassette, magazine or book that I had that dishonored God in any way.  He even told me, “That means to get rid of the Barry Manilow music.”  Really, I thought? Yep. The most important was that, the discipline of memorizing scripture resulted in my faith increasing.  I still memorize scripture to this day.

What then is a Spiritual Discipline?  Spiritual disciplines are the practical ways whereby we obey the command found in 1 Timothy 4:7: “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.”  Spiritual Disciplines are right doing that leads to right being.  There are many disciplines that we see throughout God’s Word, but Jesus shares 3 disciplines in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew Chapter 6) that I believe are very important:

  • The Spiritual Discipline of Giving [found in Matthew 6:19-21].
  • The Spiritual Discipline of Prayer [found in Matthew 6:5-6].
  • The Spiritual Discipline of Fasting [found in Matthew 6:16-18].

Friend, disciplines are never easy and we often find them to be tedious and sometimes downright painful.  (And I’m so glad I’m not a chemical engineer!)  We keep asking ourselves, “Is this doing me any good?”  But when we have faith, we soon see the results of the discipline.  It’s the fruit of the seed that was planted in the ground.  It puts us where God can work within us and transform us.  By themselves, Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing.  They are God’s means of grace.  Just as I became a better guitar player, our faith grows as we practice these disciplines.  Faith is a muscle that needs to be worked out through practical disciplines. Trust me! See what God will do and the fruit that will come from it.

If you would like to hear a life-changing and powerful message and further explanation of Private Disciplines from Pastor Aaron Taylor entitled: “5 Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith – Private Disciplines” click the podcast link: http://www.painesvilleag.com/painesville-ag-messages/?enmse=1&enmse_sid=21

My prayer for you this week is that you look at the disciplines in your life, especially the Spiritual Disciplines, and ask God to help you see what you should be doing as well as asking Him to help you in the process.

May God bless your week!
George

Star Thrower

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In 1978, author Loren Eiseley published an essay called “The Star Thrower.” I was not familiar with it until May 2014 when I read it for the first time. The following excerpt from the essay blessed me to my core.

A man walking along an otherwise deserted beach came upon another man throwing into the sea a starfish that had been deposited on the sand by the tide. When the man asked the star thrower his purpose, the thrower explained that the starfish, left untended, would be dried by the sun and eventually die. But how, wondered the first man, could the starfish thrower ever hope to make a difference given that there were thousands of starfish scattered for miles along the beach. The thrower bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the ocean with all his might. He smiled as he said, “It makes a difference for this one.”

This tale, which has been told in many different versions over the years, may be familiar to you, but I feel like it goes perfectly with the truth we heard during Sunday’s sermon about “Providential Relationships”.

Who is that person in your life? Someone who believed in you, encouraged you with a word or smile, reminded you that God loves you and pursues you passionately and has a plan and purpose for your life.

My mind immediately goes back to 1995 when I was a college student studying nursing in Cincinnati. My life was a mess. I certainly had not heeded the advice of Proverbs 13:20, “Become wise by walking with the wise; hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces.” My life was falling to pieces… spiraling out of control. I was 22.

But God, in his great love for me, brought a woman of faith into my life by the name of Nadyne. She needed a home health aide to come to her home to help her with the excruciatingly painful process of putting on her compression suit to aid in the healing of the severe burns that covered her body. Nadyne is a beautiful follower of Jesus Christ, and she, in the midst of her own pain and suffering, spoke truth into my life at just the right time. Her short investment in my life was life changing. She accepted me for who I was, and ministered the love of Jesus to me right there.

Right around the same time, I traveled home to Northeast, Ohio for a visit. There was always something comforting to me about coming home. I was invited by my aunt to attend a church picnic. Reluctantly, I accepted her invitation, and I am so glad I did! I met a wonderful man that weekend. Kenneth is a beautiful follower of Jesus Christ, and he spoke truth into my life at just the right time. He accepted me for who I was, and ministered the love of Jesus to me right there.

I can’t imagine where I would be today if God had not provided these providential relationships that led me to a deeper faith in Christ, confronted the sin in my life, and helped guide me to the path God had for me.

NEVER devalue ministering to “the one” God puts in your path. It could change the entire direction of their life. Jesus always had time for “the one”. Consider a normal day in the life of Jesus.

After a long, exhausting day of teaching the masses, Jesus took the time to deliver a demon possessed man from his personal hell; restoring him to wholeness. Soon after, a synagogue leader named Jarius approached Jesus and pleaded with him to come and lay hands on his dying daughter. On his way to Jarius’ house, a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, and suffering under the care of many doctors, was determined to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, believing by faith that she would be healed. Jesus, knowing that someone had touched him, had time to seek this woman out and listen to her tell “him the whole truth”. In the meantime, Jarius’ daughter had died, but not for long. Jesus arrived, took the girl by the hand, and she got up healed and whole. (Mark 5)

Jesus was never too busy for “the one”. And he is never too busy for you!

If you desire to grow in your faith, keep your eyes open for the “Star Throwers” God has placed in your life. If you have been blessed and encouraged in your faith by someone, look for opportunities to become a “Star Thrower” in someone else’s life.

The circumstances of our lives are not random or coincidental. They are ALL providential! God’s hand is in it all! We can often miss out on what God is doing if we’re too busy and self-focused or if we let fear creep in. But remember… EVERY situation in life carries an opportunity for us to share God’s love. Ask him to open your eyes to see the needs around you. Who is “the one” that he wants you to invest in?

Jenny Gallion

Humility or Anger?        

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I’m not going to detail for you the last couple of years as I walked with Christ.  There were enormous blessings, over and over again.  It’s Jesus’ everlasting love.  But there were also times when things were rough.  I mean really rough.  And more than I would like to confess, there were times when the rough became fits of anger.  Am I saying that sometimes Christian’s let the circumstances of the world, and day to day living, affect them?  The answer is a resounding YES.

I did not grow up in the church.  Only by the grace of God I serve Him and love God with all of my heart.  God is my core.  I have an eternal and intimate relationship with Him.  It’s only by His grace and the mercy He poured out on me that I even exist.  The Prophet Isaiah said it this way, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6 NIV) We are but filthy rags when we think about the wondrous, gracious, and merciful God that we serve.  Though circumstances are rough, and the outcome may be long and painful, I still believe.  I remain.  God sustains me.

My faith is very important to me.  I desire, and often pray that my life would reflect “Jesus Christ Alive”.  Yes, Jesus alive in me and working through me by the power of His Holy Spirit.  But because I am human, I fail from time to time.  What does God think about my faith when I fail?  It was once said that our faith fails, or is fallible, because our view of God is too small. That failed faith refuses to accept a sovereign God who is able. The good news? When our faith fails, God does not. God’s faithfulness in the face of our failure is one that applies to us today: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). 

Have you ever wondered, what is faith?  Faith to me is the unwavering belief in the power of God to equip me to serve Him and glorify Him no matter what.  The Bible says “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV) The confidence that I have rests with a faithful God even when I don’t see or feel that anything has happened.  Does faith squelch my fits of anger when the rough times get devastatingly rough?  Sometimes.  I’ll be honest… sometimes the light that I desire to shine is not so bright.  Faith is truly taking God at His word and trusting Him.  This is where humility plays a part; at least for me.

The times that I spend in humble conversation with God everyday are the best times because, in His presence is hope, love, healing, deliverance, recovery and the unending sense that my Father will care for me. In both the Old and New Testaments, it is evident that God is trying to re-establish a relationship with us.  Why?  Because trust had been broken. And trust and confidence in Him are very important.  What kind of relationship could we have if there is no trust?  Stop and think about that for a moment.  At the very heart of faith is trust and confidence in God and His Word.  God will do what He says He will do. Will we trust Him?

Let me go back to the fits of anger.  I find that during my angry outbursts with those around me, and even God, I can’t think straight.  I’m not open to listening.  I just want to take charge and change things.  How is it that I can re-establish my relationship with God if anger is in the way?  If anger is a barrier to me listening and receiving? This is how…  1 John 1:9 says this, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confession and forgiveness is the pathway to a clearer understanding and a willingness to now listen.

So how do we grow in faith and believe what God says in His Word?  First, by hearing the Word of God.  Romans 10:7 ESV says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” This is foundational.  Secondly, faith grows by applying God’s Word.  We must take what we are taught and put it into action in our lives.  Are we going to be perfect in doing so?  No.  But if we don’t apply anything and just put on the “Mask” of a true believer who walks in faith, we are kidding ourselves.  Our circumstances won’t change and we will find ourselves suffering over and over again.  And you know what else?  You can’t hide from God. The Bible says this in Hebrews 4:13 NIV, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Friends, the question is Humility or Anger?  We will experience both responses.  When struggles come, when times get rough, most of us don’t build on the foundation of Christ’s Word.  Anger causes us to be deaf and blind and act in ways that may not honor God.  God’s Word in James 4:10 NIV says this about humility, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”  And “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” Psalm 34:18 NKJV and Psalm 51:17 NKJV “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.”  Humility is the gateway to strong faith.

If you would like to listen to a powerful message by Pastor Aaron Taylor on the “5 Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith”, click on this podcast link: http://www.painesvilleag.com/painesville-ag-messages/?enmse=1&enmse_sid=21

I am always thankful to be able to share my thoughts with you.  I will be praying that you have an incredible week as God’s Word touches you.  God bless you.

George Leonhardt

Faith Builders

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And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

We all want to be people described as having great faith, right? Yet so often the rollercoasters of life have a way of taking us head-on into circumstances that rock our faith. I, like the disciples, after Jesus calmed the storm, have heard Him whisper to me more than once in my life, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

That incredible moment on the Sea of Galilee beautifully displays the great faith Jesus had in the Father’s care, and it is an invitation for us to see Him as the calm eye in the midst of any storm we may face.

What I love about Mark’s gospel account of this particular story is that it highlights the 5 Things God Uses to Grow Our Faith, which is the name of the new sermon series that just started at PAG. Over the next five weeks Pastor Aaron will unpack these five faith builders:

*Practical Teaching
*Providential Relationships
*Private Disciplines
*Personal Ministry
* Pivotal Circumstances

Mark 4:35-41

“That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”  Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Practical Teaching: Jesus had just spent the entire day teaching a great multitude of people. He encouraged his audience by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  (Mark 4:9, 23) Jesus, the Word made flesh, had just revealed mysteries about the Kingdom of God to the masses. We also need to spend time in His presence, listening to the preaching of His Living Word and asking the Holy Spirit to sensitize us to hear His voice. Do you have ears to hear?

Providential Relationships: By his side were his chosen disciples. This community of new believers had become very close as they followed Jesus. They had witnessed Him heal the sick, cast out demons, and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. He invited them… and He invites us… to partner with Him to do the same! After their long day, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” (verse 35) He wanted to be with them. And He wants to be with us! It is vitally important to be involved in community. We need each other!

Private Disciplines: Jesus was tired and planned to rest in the boat. By “leaving the crowds behind” (verse 36a), Jesus was emphasizing the value of entering into a time of solitude and rest. Remember His invitation to “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  This private discipline, along with reading the Bible, hiding His word in our hearts, praying… talking and especially listening for His still, small voice, fasting, journaling, personal worship or however your private time with Jesus looks, must be a priority in order for your faith to grow.

Personal Ministry: Jesus was about His Father’s business… Kingdom ministry… Bringing Heaven to earth. As He lives His life out in and through us, we ought to be about the same things! “There were also other boats with him.”  (verse 36b) We don’t know any details about the other boats that only Mark mentions were on the sea that dreadful night, but we have to believe that Jesus was just as willing to minister to them as He was His disciples. And if the pending storm was not enough to stretch the faith of the experienced fisherman, the ministry Jesus had next for them certainly would. They were heading to the region of Gerasenes, and would immediately be approached by a demon possessed man who lived amongst the tombs! I can only imagine being one of Jesus’ disciples watching that encounter unfold! Yes, personal ministry, whether to the masses or to “the one”, can lead us straight out of our comfort zone and stretch us, but Jesus always goes before us and uses ministry opportunities to grow our faith.

Pivotal Circumstances: A furious squall came up…” (verse 37). And so often that’s how it happens… suddenly, unexpectedly, and without warning, a peaceful circumstance can turn into a catastrophe. We’ve all experienced storms and more often than not… a sudden storm equals sudden fear. The enemy would love nothing more than for the faithful to lose their faith in those times, to question the very character of Jesus (…don’t you care if we drown?), and let fear consume, but let me remind you that the Master of the Wind and the Waves is near!

Lord, open our eyes to see you in the midst of our storms. With a word you can quiet the tempest in our souls. You desire to grow our faith and strengthen us by your Spirit – not shipwreck us. The one statement you said more than any other was, “Don’t be afraid”, so deliver us from our fears and remind us that you accompany us every step of the way. Let faith arise in us, in Jesus name!

~Jenny Gallion

Looking Back…

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I find myself looking back at this time of year to past life events because with each New Year there is the unknown.  I don’t know about you, but the unknown is sometimes frightening to me.  I am someone who likes to be on top of everything, so the unknown is a place that I am not comfortable in.  But this year, my looking back drew my focus to my 1st wedding anniversary.  It’s kind of funny.  Why not my wedding day?  That’s a logical question. But my focus is a year later.

Nancy and I just completed a year of being together as husband and wife.  Did our first year of marriage turn out to be exactly how we thought it would be?  No, it didn’t.  It turned out so much better.  We learned to loved each other more.  We trusted each other more.  We laughed more.  Yes, we laughed more.  Every day we would witness something that the other would do and it would crack us up.  We still crack each other up.  We became so close that even to this day, 15 years later, we have not wavered in that closeness.

Why do you suppose that first year was so foundational to our marriage?  I came from a very troubled past. I struggled with so many things. I never thought in a million years that I would be happy again.  The reason this particular year was so foundational is found in God’s Word.  Matthew 1:21-23 (NIV) says, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). God is with us.  It might sound too simple to some folks, but looking back that’s all that it is.  You see, since the beginning of time, God is with us.  John 1:1 (NIV) says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Now, the story goes a little deeper in proving God’s presence in our lives.  Nancy and I met as a result of me attending our church.  We grew in friendship and eventually in love because of our time together in Christ.  We both love the Lord and became increasingly aware that God had brought us together.  We nurtured our relationship to the point where I asked Nancy to marry me.  And she said, Yes!  I believe God was present when I proposed.

God was also in my past.  God was in Nancy’s past.  God was putting together our story.  He was with us.  We both can see God’s hand in our lives that eventually brought us together.  Nancy prayed for a very long time for God to send her the man of His choosing.  She prayed intently and specifically as she waited.  I, on the other hand, led a very shady life filled with self-gratification and self-preservation.  Then one day, I met a man named Jesus and surrendered my life to Him.  Nancy had given her life to the Lord at a very young age.  It took me longer to come to the point where I submitted my life.  So all along the way, we saw God’s hand on our lives.  God was guiding our lives from different directions.

We rejoice today because God’s hand is on our lives, was on our lives, and will continue to be on our lives.  Will we have trouble?  Will we have struggles?  Will our faith be tested?  Yes. Yes. And yes. We also know that no matter what we face, God will be with us.  Jesus doesn’t change.  The Bible says in Hebrews 13:8 (NIV) that: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  We are so thankful for that.  We are certain that God is working His divine plan and purpose through us.

Friend, what do you think your new year will be like?  Does the uncertainty of the future frighten you?  My prayer for you is that you will walk confidently forward in 2018 knowing that God will be with you.

His Name is Emmanuel, God with us!  He was, He is, and He is to comeThe Bible says in Hebrews 13:5 (NIV): God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” 

Happy New Year, friend.  May the Lord continue to bless you.  Have a great week and a blessed year in the Lord!

George Leonhardt