“What’s a painted bunting doing here?”

I would guess that question has been repeated dozens of times in the last few weeks. Sighted in a nearby town, the brilliant bird has been visiting a backyard feeder, drawing visitors from near and far who stand in the cold and snow, hoping for a glimpse, or even better—an amazing photo. Click on the photo below for amazing detail.

(Thanks to Kris Schmucker)

Who knows what has brought that bird to our area? It doesn’t belong here. This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime for local birders.

Maybe God simply thought these gray, frigid February days needed that splash of joy? (Seriously, I’ve often thought that this is the only reason for the amazing, intricate delicacy of design and color. God didn’t crank out birds on an assembly line. He hand-painted them strictly for our enjoyment.)

In one of Paul’s sermons, he says that joy filling the heart is one of God’s good gifts, “evidence of himself and his goodness,” given even to those who do not believe (Acts 14:16-17). Have you seen evidence of His presence today? How has He shown himself or spoken to you today?

The evidence is there in the natural world: the birds, the pine trees laced with snow, the sun behind the clouds. And even as we entered the deepest, coldest part of our winter, we had a long string of stunning sunsets and sunrises in the last two months.

There is no doubt that God wants people to know that He is here, and He is here now, in this day. He wants us to hear Him speaking to us.

He speaks in many ways and languages. For you, it may not be nature. It might be music, science, a personal interaction, some kindness, a miracle, His Word, the Spirit within.

Rebecca Hatch, one of the writers in the devotional I announced yesterday (Boundless: 40 Devotionals on Living the Gift), put it this way: “You and I were designed to soak up God’s presence in unique ways.”

Tell us in the comments: How have you seen Him, heard Him, and soaked in His presence today? You were designed for that!

“Boundless” – On living the full experience

God cares about your day. We might think of “salvation” as God saving our souls for a future life in heaven, but there’s so much more to the story: He cares about what is happening to our soul today.

When He saves us and moves us to His Kingdom, His “salvation package” includes boundless gifts of heaven for our lives today. Peter wrote that we should crave spiritual nourishment so we can live the “full experience” of our salvation (1 Peter 2:2).

I’ve had the privilege of working with a group of writers who created a 40-day devotional on some of those gifts of salvation. We know that the wonderful things God has for us are “too numerous to list (Ps. 40:5),” but these writers have made a start, sharing some of the ways His salvation changes their lives.

In the Scriptures, the number 40 has transformative significance. Rain for 40 days and nights changed the world.  Moses lived in the wilderness 40 years as God prepared him for a huge assignment. Jesus, after a 40-day testing in the wilderness returned to begin His ministry “filled with the Holy Spirit’s power.”

Our prayer is that 40 days of meditating on these gifts of salvation will change us, too, and help us all live more fully in the boundless blessings.

Boundless: 40 Devotionals on Living the Gift is available on Amazon. The paperback booklet includes additional Scriptures for further study and space to journal your own thoughts and prayers. An ebook is also available.   

(And the word Editor should follow my name, not Author. Twelve others dedicated themselves to do most of the writing!)

“You feed them.”

Has Jesus said this to you lately? Maybe not those exact words, but something like, “Here’s what I want you to do…”

My reading in Mark this morning was the loaves and fishes story in chapter 6, and it made me squirm a bit. This week, the Spirit has been probing my thinking, shining a light in some corners that need to be cleaned out and renovated. Yeah, He made this passage pretty personal today.

It had been a long day. Jesus had news of his cousin John’s death at the hands of Herod. A scandalous story. When he tried to take some personal time, the crowds followed him. Wouldn’t let him alone. He saw their need, and his compassion could not turn them away. He spent the entire day teaching them.

Everyone’s stomachs eventually started rumbling. The disciples looked around, and the facts of the situation were daunting. They were miles from a town. Thousands of people were hungry. No food trucks waited in the parking lot.

It’s time to send everyone home.

But Jesus said, “You feed them.”

Put yourself there as one of the disciples. Jesus has just told you to do the impossible. I’d be speechless. What do you say to instructions like that, instructions to do something that is so clearly impossible? My default setting is to look at all the reasons why not.

The disciples weren’t speechless; they voiced their bewilderment.

“How much bread do you have?” asked Jesus. “Go and find out.”

Ah. Get yourself in gear. Take inventory. Make the assessment: What CAN I do? When Jesus presents us with a challenge, aren’t we too often focused on making a long list of reasons why we CAN’T do anything and why this is surely impossible?

Gather what you do have. Then report back to Jesus and follow his next instructions.

And see what he does with what you do have.

Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. (Mark 6:41 NLT)

Rising Tide!

I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. Maybe it’s even gone on for a month. You too?

People who have been part of the landscape all the years of my life have been leaving this world. I allowed publishing and deadline frustrations to load me with stress. A few physical annoyances have been reminding me how many years I’ve put on this body. And quarantines and social distancing left me feeling a bit detached from everything and everybody. As my granddaughter so perceptively pointed out, we introverts have finally gotten what we always thought we wanted—but it’s been an overdose.

What have you been wrestling with?

I’ve listened to at least three times more sermons in the last few months than ever before in my life. I’ve had more time to spend in the Word. On Facebook, in blogs, and by other virtual connections, believers have been encouraging others with uplifting words throughout this pandemic and the toxic political and social atmosphere. I have even gone back to read some sections in my own Hope Knows books, reminding myself of what I say I believe and how I want to live that out.

In spite of all that, I was struggling to be who I want to be and to live the way I want to live.

As I started out this morning on a walk under cloudy skies, my jacket zipped up to my chin because it’s chilly today, all I was hoping for was a brisk waking up. But, out of the blue—oh, what a silly phrase that is. It wasn’t out of the blue; it was straight out of my Father’s hand.

From the breath of His Spirit came a rising tide of joy.

He brought to mind four specific things I’ve heard or read over the last few weeks. Understand, these are things I’ve known forever. I’ve even written some version of the same things myself. But they had not worked their way out into my living during the last month. This morning, these things came with sharp clarity. And simply brought joy.    

* His Word always holds true. His promises are for every time, every season, every situation in which we find ourselves. No restriction, quarantine, or shutdown suspends His truths. Living by His promises can be more powerful now than ever before.  

* I’m working with Paul Stutzman on his next book, The Miracle Journey. It’s about restoration after devastation in our lives. One chapter that I particularly like is about finding ourselves stripped of everything and held captive within prison walls of grief, loss, pain. Those walls, though, can be broken down, and from the rubble of prisons, we can build mansions.

This virus has stripped away so much of life as we knew it. We might feel like prisoners. But we don’t have to wait until it’s over to take down the walls of our prison and build anew. We do have to rebuild our lives, but we aren’t prisoners, and we can be building those mansions right now. Might as well get started.

* A small sign in Winesburg, Ohio, caught my eye this week: “Even the tiniest spark cannot be extinguished by the darkness.”

* A quote from Darren Whitehead, pastor at Church of the City, Franklin, TN: “We are the people God has chosen to carry His light in these times.”

Light your world today. And “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

News about the Hope Knows books

What hope is there in this world?

Those who belong to Christ have hope for every hour and every season of their lives, hope that affects our past, every minute of today, and all our tomorrows.

If you have been thinking about exploring the Hope Knows books, now is the time!

The publisher, JPV Press, will no longer be publishing these books. The books will be available in the future—in a second edition, from a different publisher.

But if you want the beautiful books JPV Press published as the first edition, they are currently running a special sale. If you order a single book, you’ll get 25% off the retail. Order the full set, and you’ll get 50% off.

As far as I know, these discounts are good through the end of this year. Once their inventory is gone, they will not be printing more. (If there are changes to that, I’ll post information here.)

A quick overview of the four books:

Getting Through Today was the first book to be released and continues to be the best seller. For many people, their greatest concern is simply “How am I going to get through this today?” The God of all hope has provided everything we need. These devotional readings look at those promises in depth.

Beyond the Past declares God’s reality: For those in Christ, the old is gone, the new is here! Thank God, He has taken care of our past. We need not be chained by it. A greater part of the book reminds us of and celebrates the new we have been given.

Facing the Future is not a book about prophecy. Instead, it’s a look at the clear promises of God, a reminder of what we can absolutely count on as we face tomorrow.

Can God be Trusted? addresses that key question. Because if we can’t trust God, then all this talk about hope is futile and foolish.

The books are available on Amazon and from Faith View Books (330-674-0684), but if you want the special discounts, call JPV Press directly at 844-260-4578 and ask for this special pricing.