Searching for a Sign

May 13, 2020 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

By Jennifer Slattery –

I’m a planner, a plotter, a long-term thinker. Give me a to-do list and a game plan and I’m content to trudge forward indefinitely. Send me on a detour and I’m likely to hit panic mode—especially if the end of the road is shrouded from view. So, when God first called me into writing—asking me to venture off my well-thought out, meticulously outlined, twenty-year plan—I spent a fair amount of time arguing.

Only I never openly admitted to this. Oh, no. I cloaked my arguments in “prayers for guidance and discernment.”

And God’s response? “I’ve already told you how to please Me.”

Bam!

In John chapter six, the crowds listening to Jesus raised the same smoke screen. They asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6:30-31).

A harmless question, right? On first glance, it appears no different than the one Thomas asked after Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:25).

And yet, Jesus offered night and day responses to the two demands. With Thomas, He provided exactly what Thomas needed—proof(John 6:26-28).

Why the difference? Did Jesus love Thomas more than the crowd?

In order to fully understand the event, we need to read the whole story. You see, the crowds weren’t looking for a sign, but instead, an excuse. They wanted a loophole, a reason to justify lack of faith.

John chapter six tells us this crowd followed Jesus wherever He went because “they saw His miraculous signs as He healed the sick.” A few verses down, Jesus offered them yet another sign and fed 5,000 hungry people by multiplying five barley loaves and two fish.

The next day, after a rather stormy night, the crowd returned, probably looking for more food—more answers to their physical problems in the here and now. At this point, Jesus directed them toward a bigger picture—an eternal picture, and initially, the people responded with enthusiasm.

“Then they asked him, ‘We want to perform God’s work, too.’” {Translation: How can we multiply loaves and fish?} ‘What should we do?’” (John 6:28).

Ah, how we like to work for things, to feel important, to see progress, and know we’re taking steps toward a logical end. But then God flips things; reminding us it’s not about us at all, but about trusting in Him.

“Jesus told them, ‘This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent’” (John 6:29 NLT).

Uh-oh. This is no longer about bread and fish. Now Jesus told them to put action to their claims. To take a leap of faith.

And it was here that they demanded a sign: “So they asked him, ‘What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6:30-31 NIV).

And up went the smoke screen. “Give me one more sign, one more confirmation, a bit more clarity. Show me this is a foolproof plan, a well-marked trail. Give me a guarantee.”

To which God replied, “I’ve given you all the signs, all the evidence, all the clarity you need. Now it’s time to follow Me.”

Has God Forgotten?

April 4, 2020 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

By Jennifer Slattery –

About six years ago, our family went through a period of unemployment. Trying to stay out of debt, we sold our house, loaded our belongings into storage, and moved into a five-hundred-square-foot, rent-by-the-month apartment. In that moment, it would have been easy to allow our circumstances to swallow us in despair, to show the watching world our faith centered on life-events and not on an unchanging, ever-loving, sovereign God. And yet, praise God, His all-powerful Spirit penetrated past our fears, doubts, and sadness to our core, drawing us to His side. Reminding us of His bigger plan—a plan He promises to work out despite, perhaps even in the midst of, our dark hours. In fact, it can be those very events that nearly break us that ultimately prepare us for or lead us to God’s plan for our lives.

Think of Joseph and imagine what must have gone though his mind after his brothers sold him into slavery. How could they? Why him? It wasn’t fair!

Then there’s David, anointed by Samuel to be the king of Israel, later hiding out in caves in fear for his life.

Was God still in that, or had He lifted His Sovereign hand?

And what about Paul as Roman officers bound him in Acts 27? Was his ministry done? Thwarted? Delayed?

If you read these Scripture accounts carefully, you’ll realize God was in control all along, working out His divine plan, placing His children where He needed them to be, when they were ready to be there.

Let’s look at Joseph:

He was sold into slavery, falsely accused of attempted rape, and thrown into prison. Place yourself in his position. You’ve been stripped of your family, your possessions, your very dignity and quite frankly, the situation appears hopeless. There’s no constitutional right to a trial by jury, or a trial at all, for that matter. In fact, quite likely the one who threw you into prison has forgotten about you completely. Human logic tells you it’s all over. Hope is gone. You will spend the rest of your life, forgotten, in a damp prison cell.

But truth tells you a different story. God, the author of all truth says He will never leave you nor forsake you. He says even now, cowering in a damp cell with each day merging with the next, He sees you, and thinks of you. Not only does He think of you, but His thoughts toward you outnumber the very sands on the shore—which means He thinks of you constantly. He’s not leaving you to rot. Quite the opposite. He’s lovingly, carefully, attentively molding you into His masterpiece, making you into the person He already sees you to be.

What about David? Had the sinful behavior of others—those who sought his life—hindered God’s plan? Or does God’s sovereignty and very good plan continue, despite the failings of sinful man? Could each step, each hardship, each hurdle, actually be part of His very good plan—a plan that will one day place us in positions of authority (Joseph) and honor (David), speaking to powerful rulers (Paul)?

Meditate on the following verse today and hold tight to it the next time trials and temptations come your way. This is God’s promise to you.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Father, Unveil Our Hearts

February 26, 2020 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

By Jennifer Slattery –

“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split” (Matthew 25:41 NIV).

Most of us have heard that verse countless times. It occupies the chorus of songs and the the thrust of countless prose. Most likely we could quote it without much thought. In fact, I wonder if we’ve heard it so many times, the reality of what happened on the cross loses impact. We’ve grown so accustomed to the idea of “communing” with God, we forget what a privilege—no, miracle, it is.

To the first century Jew, the tearing of the temple curtain would have  been a knee-knocking, mind-blowing, heart-stirring, worship-inducing event.

For centuries, they’d known God as the Holy One, Almighty, El Sheddai, the Creator of the heavens and the earth who, upon occasion, met with a few select men. Like Adam before the fall, or Noah, or Abraham and Moses. They remembered the Ark of the Covenant, which signified God’s presence, and the great care the priests had to take in transporting it. God wasn’t Someone they took lightly, nor someone they expected to commune with. Perhaps they dreamt of one day hearing God’s voice like the young boy Samuel did as he lay upon his mat, but that’s where their hopes remained—in their dreams.

Until one day a plain looking man claiming to be God hung upon a cross, and cried out to heaven with his dying breath. Those who gathered around Him—some mocking, some gawking, some crying—felt the earth beneath them tremble. Darkness fell over the land and then, with a mighty rip, the curtain barring sinful man from the Holy of Holies—the place where God Himself dwelled—ripped apart from top to bottom. The barrier erected centuries past severed before their very eyes.

Can you imagine what that would have felt like? The joy, fear, confusion that must have welled up inside them as they looked upon the curtain, now flayed open before them? After centuries of waiting, of praying, of dreaming, the God of their fathers said, “Come. I have removed the barrier. I want to commune with you like I did with Adam. I want to share my heart with you like I did with Abraham.”

God says the same thing to us today. He invites us to catch a glimmer of His glory, experiencing the awe those ancient Jews must have felt on that victorious day.

Let us not become so accustomed to the Christian phrases and hymnals that we lose sight of the miracle. The Creator of the Universe, the Holy One, asks us to come and sit at His feet. He’s taken away everything that would keep us from Him. If you’re a redeemed child of God, the only thing standing in the way of unhindered fellowship with your Creator are those things you allow. Today think upon the veil when it first tore and worship Christ afresh. Don’t let apathy or business rob you of the divine romance. Pause and ask God to unveil your heart, drawing you into His.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Psalm 51:10-12 NIV).

When Desperation Takes Over

January 13, 2020 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

By Jennifer Slattery –

If you’ve ever been to Southern California late-summer, you understand the meaning of hot. We lived on the edge of the Mojave Desert where rain evaded us and temperatures often hovered in the 110’s or higher. Being young and stupid, one day I decided to go for a long run—without water. About halfway through and perhaps six miles in, my body started to get chills and my dehydrated tongue clogged my mouth. Dried sweat caked salt around my lips. I needed water. Nearing a very long hill, my survival instinct kicked in, over-powering fatigue. Suddenly, I pumped my arms and legs—I couldn’t get to water fast enough.

In that moment, I understood Psalm 42 in an entirely new way.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

David doesn’t say these words casually, but instead, cries out in desperation. If you read the rest of the passage, you’ll feel the intensity of his emotions. Discouraged and alone, abandoned and betrayed by those he loves, he calls out to God, “Help me! Hold me! Be near me because I can’t go on without You!”

Have you been there? Maybe you lost someone you love, or perhaps the stress of life weighs heavy on your shoulders, bowing your back and making it difficult to see the road ahead.

In those moments, our survival instinct takes over, driving us to the only One who can save us. And when we, like David, cry out from the deepest recesses of our heart, “I need You, God!” God replies:

But now, this is what the LORD says—
He who created you, Jacob,
He who formed you, Israel:
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cushand Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made’” (Isaiah 43:1-5a NIV).

God says:

I made you.

I see you.

I love you.

You are precious in My sight.

I will help you, so take courage and be not afraid. My arm is mighty to save and I will carry you through the most tumultuous of storms, because you are Mine and I will never, ever let you go.

Are You Ready to Fly?

November 13, 2019 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

By Jennifer Slattery –

When my daughter was young she and I spent hours at the park, running through the grass in search of “blow flowers.” At first, she was drawn to the dandelions, but after picking a few, she tired of their stately petals. Seeded dandelions, on the other hand, offered hours of entertainment.  Smiling at me, she’d bring the soft tufts to her lips, laughing as they tickled her nose, before letting loose with a chest-caving blow. Then, she’d hurl the stem behind her and chase after the seeds with squeals and giggles.

Often as I sit in God’s presence, I’m reminded of those days and those carefree seeds drifting on the wind. How I long to be like those weightless tufts, so in-tune to my Heavenly Father that I drift effortlessly on His will. Many times I’ve repeated the words Jesus spoke in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

But all too often I resemble the bright, cheery dandelion that stands tall on its stalk, roots clinging to the soil. “Look at me!” it calls, as it sways in the breeze. It’s proud of its beauty and strength, but the dandelion must die in order for its seeds to take flight. The petals, which once clung securely to the stalk need to let go, allowing the steady flow of the wind to carry them where so ever it will.

The same is true of us. In order to fly, we must first die. To our dreams, our ambitions, our will. But like that carefree seedling drifting on the wind; that is where we find abundant life.

We know this intellectually, so why do we cling so tightly to the stalk, begging God to do things our way and in our timing?

Perhaps because we don’t truly understand the love of God. He who emptied Himself for us, He who allowed men to stretch His arms upon the cross, He who created our inmost being and numbers the hairs on our head says, “Let go. Let me carry you like that weightless seed drifting on the wind.”

But He won’t rip us from the soil. To be carried, we must first let go.

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8 NIV).

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