April 09, 2020

Unchanging by Steph Beth Nickel

An earlier version of this post first appeared on Janet Sketchley's blog, Tenacity.

Livestreaming church services. Economic upheaval. Social distancing. Self-isolation. Pandemic.

It’s what we talk about. It’s what we think about. It’s what we pray about—when we can muster the energy to pray.

It seemed like a very good time to focus on some of those things that never change.

Here are 11 things to consider:

We are called to be outwardly focused.
As Christians, we’ve known this all along. But true confession time … Until recently, I didn’t realize just how self-focused I was. Do I really do what I do to 1) honour God and 2) bless others? I want these goals to be my motivation, but too often they haven’t been. These days provide the perfect opportunity to ask God to refine our motives. (All the while, we must extend grace to ourselves and remember that self-care isn’t necessarily selfish or self-centred. See below for further encouragement in these areas.)

There are always opportunities to minister to others.
Even now, there is so much we can do to bless others: post something encouraging on social media; pick up the phone and check on a senior who doesn’t have access to the Internet; offer to drop off groceries to someone who is apprehensive about venturing out. Even with social distancing, there is much we can do for one another.

Turns out our parents and Kindergarten teachers were right; it is nice to share.
This truth needs no explanation except to say there will be people who need financial assistance, a kind word, and/or a smile today. If we have the opportunity, let’s be generous with what we have and trust the Lord to provide for our needs.

We need one another.
Of course, this is another truth we’ve known all along, but it’s crystal clear with the current situation. Kindness and acts of service are crucial. There may be restrictions as to how we can help, but we certainly need one another.

Our healthcare workers need our prayers—as do our government leaders.
There has never been a more important time to add our government leaders and healthcare workers to our prayer list. With the everchanging information about this virus that is circulating—even among the professionals—it’s difficult for them to know what the right thing to do is. They need the Lord’s wisdom and protection. (If you're either a healthcare professional or a government worker, thank you so much for your service!)

During difficult, uncertain times, we have Someone to turn to.
We’ve all gone through difficulty in our life: illness, loss, economic hardships … God was faithful then, and He’s faithful now. When we’re confused, overwhelmed, and struggling to make sense of it all, God invites us to draw near to Him, promising that He will draw near to us (James 4:8).

God loves us.
Don’t you love the fact that the Bible teaches not only that God is loving but also that He is love (1 John 4:7)? We can rest assured of His love when things are going well—and when a worldwide pandemic has changed so much.

God was not taken by surprise.
When the world changes overnight—and sometimes, hour by hour—we don’t feel equipped to keep up. Could any of us have seen ourselves in this situation two months ago? I know I couldn’t. Still, God wasn’t taken by surprise. And whether or not we feel prepared to face the days ahead, He’ll see us through.

No matter what happens in our world, we can rest assured that God never changes.
This is, perhaps, the singular truth that sees me through each day. While my life hasn’t changed all that much, I still sense the heaviness of this new reality. I can vegetate on the couch and watch Netflix and sleep more than usual—or I can trust in our unchanging heavenly Father and seek to accomplish the tasks He has set before me.

We are called to extend grace—to others and to ourselves.
The word should can cause big problems. Of course, the Bible lays out hundreds of clear Shoulds and Should Nots. However, when it comes to facing our current, unprecedented situation, we must be careful how we seek to impose our convictions—even God’s—on others. Even as believers, there are many times we’d be in big trouble if it weren’t for the Lord’s grace and Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf. We must remember that many of the people we interact with do not know Jesus as Saviour, which I believe provides the opportunity for us to show them we are Christians by our love—not our judgment.

There is a balance between self-sacrifice and self-care.
We can find several examples in the Scriptures that indicate that we are to put others’ needs ahead of our own. At the same time, we must remember that, unless we care for our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, we will soon have virtually nothing to offer those the Lord has brought into our life.

May we prayerfully seek God’s perspective in this uncertain times, as in all others.

Steph Beth Nickel is a freelance writer and editor (among other things). Steph is a regular contributor to HopeStreamRadio. She and Paralympian Deb Willows are working on a follow-up to Deb's memoir, Living Beyond My Circumstances. During these uncertain times, Steph is thankful for the new opportunities the Lord is bringing her way. You can connect with her on Facebook, where she spends far too much time: https://www.facebook.com/stephbethnickel

April 08, 2020

A Time of Rest By Vickie Stam

I can build a relationship with fear faster than a plane can take flight or I can let it develop slowly and more methodical. Either way, God doesn't want me to fear.

God knows how vulnerable people are in the midst of a crisis. He wants us to lean on Him.   

Psalm 56:3 "When I am afraid, I put my trust                                                       in you." NIV  

This past winter, my husband and I were snow-birding in Florida. Life down south was moving along at a busy pace when the coronavirus broke. Conflict and confusion arrived right behind it. People everywhere were talking about it including Tony and I. It's an automatic response to a crisis.

Do we go home right now? Are we safer here? Do we drive? Do we fly? What do we do? The questions mounted. Our friends opinions were divided. Some were adamant that they were staying while others were planning to leave ASAP and after days of listening to the news I felt my level of fear building. Suddenly, I too wanted to go home.          

A few days later we packed up the truck and drove our usual route on the I-75 north. The highway was quieter than normal. The rest areas were less than sociable. People seldom made eye contact. Whispers among people traveling together were barely audible. No one touched the doors of the facilities and everyone kept their distance as advised. There was a blanket of truth in the air - an undeniable fear of catching Covid-19. The tendency during any crisis is to become all consumed by it and this was pretty obvious. 

As I am writing this we are now on day eleven of our isolation period back home in Ontario. I must admit that I feel more at peace, less fearful now that we are back in our native land. Seeing the world being dominated by this crisis has many of us on edge. In a time when we are forced to slow down, stay home and refrain from socializing we're finding life difficult. Many of us have devoted our lives to busyness. 

There are blessings in the storm, maybe not ones that we can see as of yet but we will. For some of us it leaves emotional scars that will need time heal while others might be enjoying a much needed time to re-establish our family life.

Psalm 90:12 "Teach us to realize the brevity of life so that we may grow in wisdom."

The world feels different right now but God is still the same. God will take care of us. He will provide for us. We can use this time to draw closer to him and rest in him. Use this time for what is good. Notice what you have been missing in life. God wants us to depend on him. 

When I feel my circumstances spinning out of control I need to lean on God and trust that he will provide enough for today and tomorrow - trust that he has all my fears in the palm of his hands. 

April 07, 2020

Bread Brings us Home by Pamela Mytroen


It’s amusing to discover what humanity holds dear when the sand shifts beneath our feet and we scramble, searching for solid ground on which to stand. Certainly the charade of ‘Charmin’ hoarders comes to mind, but have you also noticed that flour and yeast are in short supply? We turn to the basics, the things that speak comfort and security, and what could be more universally comforting than bread? Whether rye or sourdough, Nann bread or challah, flatbread or bannock, tortilla, or pretzels, hardtack, lavash, bagel, or taboon, gluten-free or traditional, we find our rhythm as we mix and stir. During this season we are folding and rolling, gathering and kneading, around and around. The yeasty aroma swirls about the kitchen and out the door, beckoning all who hunger. Bread brings us home. And when we gather to eat, we long to be filled and satisfied. Do we realize how broken we are? Do we see ourselves collapse at the table? Do we get a glimpse of how we cannot even crawl through another day without nourishment to heal and strengthen us?  
I remember walking home from school and the yeasty aroma of fresh bread invited me, enticed me, up the driveway and into our home. The poorest of peasants is the richest of kings sitting at a table before a slice of my mom’s bread, slathered with butter and raspberry jam. Or thick cream, spooned from a quart sealer, dolloped on a steaming slice and topped with a spoonful of brown sugar. 
It is simple fare, easy to make, with a few ingredients, and satisfies the most basic nutritional need. Every culture depends on some type of grain that at the very least keeps them alive and provides a daily rhythm of feeding their souls and finding sustenance, and at the very most is styled into an elegant glazed and breaded design fit for a queen on her wedding day. 
But at its beginning, bread was never intended to be fancy, but food, just food for the famished and for the family. How like Jesus. Jesus never came to be admired, but to be broken. He is for the body and the soul. He said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty” John 6:35 NLT. 
Jesus, like bread, claims to be foundational and essential for every culture and every people group. He is not fancy, but simple; not costly, but free. “You who have no money, come buy and eat! . . . Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?” Isaiah 55:1 NIV.  He is not gourmet but oh so satisfying. 
My mom always wanted the crust of the bread. I don’t know if she was being thoughtful and allowing us to have the softer more pillowy slices, or if she really liked the crumbly crust, but Jesus is like that, as humble and unassuming when He calls Himself the Bread of Life. He could have called Himself Chicken Parmigiana or White Fish Provencal, but instead he compares himself to what would have been like the little boy’s offering of five small loaves – almost overlooked. In his listener’s minds he was a portable lunch you tossed your child as he ran out the door. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich after school. Fare to strengthen an army, durable for every road travelled, and tough enough to last the winter. An everyday constant taken for granted. Oh how humble is our gentle Jesus, and yet what a delight He is. We feast on His loving kindness. We survive only by His lavish grace. “How great is the goodness you have stored up for those who fear you. You lavish it on those who come to you for protection, blessing them before the watching world” Psalm 31:19 NLT. 
“In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavishedon us” Ephesians 1:7 NIV. 
Unadorned is the loaf that sits central on a table scarred by the trials and tragedies of its people. They come desperate, and the bread will see them through. There is no other way to take that which saves us from certain death; we must come starving if we want to be filled.  We live and breathe by grace alone, through the gut-cleansing fibre of forgiveness, which washes from us the cancers of our soul. 
This Easter I remember my Lord, broken for me. My sin crushed Him. There was no other way that I could be made whole. I stumble Home now, to that scarred table, and I take Jesus. I come desperate for forgiveness, starving for grace, and I stay for the Feast. I never want to leave, for He, the Bread, brings me back to Life.  
“He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me,’ ” Luke 22:19 NLT. 
by Pamela Mytroen

April 06, 2020

What Have You Learned In A Pandemic by Bob Jones

This whole COVID crisis is sad, senseless, and at times, traumatic. When psychologists work with trauma, a key feature to helping someone work through trauma is to help them find the potential positive outcomes they can effect. What can you learn, in big and small ways, from this crisis?

I'm learning how often I touch my face. Now that I can't touch my face it's all I want to do - rub my eyes or scratch an itch or rest my chin on the back of my fist. Ugh. I’d like to know what you are learning. At the end of the post there is a way for you to join the conversation.

Look and Listen
Seeing the resiliency, tenacity and ability to pivot quickly in the leaders around me is inspiring. Bob Jones

Our comfort zone is not a growth zone. Les Paulsen

I’ve made an observation more so than learned anything. In places where you encounter other people I’ve noticed more eye contact, incredible respect for each other and distancing, and way more hellos from a safe social distance. Daniel O'Neill

How amazing people are. When we have had a need it has been met. And how great technology and internet is! Rebecca Pearse

I am learning that ‘waiting for it to be over’ translates into a lot of time wasted now that could be intentionally productive. Now that we are headed into Week 3, I’m starting to listen to what God is calling me to in this time, in this place rather than planning for a future activity He may not care about quite yet. Lori Masse Bourgeois

Aha Moments
I realized that we as Canadians say "how are you" in our greeting. But now I hear people actually asking each other how they are doing. Sounds very different. Charity Mongrain

Besides all the good points already made, I've noticed many family members of our residents who are, perhaps for the first time, gaining insight into what their parents went through, were traumatized by, and with God's help survived and thrived. Towards a greater understanding - for some their folks are already with the Lord, but there are 'aha' moments! Karin Laser Ristau

I appreciate the people on the front lines of this battle. Nurses, doctors, police, fire fighters, people who work in grocery stores. We need to lift these people up in prayer. That God would continue to give them strength, protection, and provision for supplies. I say thank you. Angela Woods

I’m currently reading Chasing Vines by Beth Moore & it has been so timely because she’s writing about abiding in the vine. How the Bible uses the vine in so many scriptures. We are the branches grafted into the vine through Christ’s death & because of this, as we Abide in Him we can be assured that our lives can be fruitful. In all of this , let us “the church” be fruitful! Kathy Miller

I have learned how much I NEED a place of fellowship and worship. C.J. Godkin

I like to think that the old normal has passed away and He's doing a new thing - transformed normal. Moving us from normal to a new season, a new normal for the church and Canada to a transformed nation. New transformed normal not "back to normal" but drawing us to being transformed again by Him with a new zeal!! Lerena Greig

Grace is amazing!! Grace for one another - not only as a “global” concept but it the nitty gritty at home. It really helps!! Anita Pearse

APPLICATION: What are you learning? Please leave a comment below.

April 05, 2020

Adorning the Dark (Book Recommendation) by Brenda Leyland

Adorning the Dark
Thoughts on Community, Calling, and
the Mystery of Making


Author: Andrew Peterson
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, 2019
Length: 200 pages
Paperback: $22.95Cdn | Kindle: $9.34Cdn
Subject: creative writing | creation (literary, artistic, etc.) | spiritual gifts

"Making something beautiful in a broken world
can be harrowing work. And it can't be done alone."

From the first glance, I knew it was going to be a treat to read Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson. That quote above, found on the back cover, resonated and pulled me in. The author, also a singer-songwriter, was new to me but the book promised a rich spiritual and literary experience. And that’s how it turned out to be upon reading it.

Part memoir and part handbook, the author delved into his own personal experiences and struggles starting out as a songwriter. In exploring the process and mystery of creativity, he assured readers the book was not just for musicians, but for people everywhere who have that inward calling, the deep desire to create beauty in a broken world. He also believes for that to happen, artists need a community that will help to 'nourish good and lasting work'. He talked about artists needing ‘resonators’, an idea Andrew gleaned from Diana Pavlac Glyer in her book Bandersnatch—a resonator being that person "who gets what you’re trying to do, who is moved by your work and will encourage you to keep fighting when the battle is long".

One area that artists often struggle with is the feeling of being unqualified to follow their deep desire to create. Andrew dedicated a chapter to the lesson he learned from J.S. Bach. When Bach began a new musical work, he would write ‘Jesu Juva’ at the top of his manuscripts. In Latin the words mean ‘Jesus, help!’ Peterson reminded his readers they’d be fools not to ask for aid. He considered there’s no better prayer for an artist to pray than "Jesus, you're the source of beauty, help us make something beautiful."

Andrew tells the story of how he used to hope one day to nail down the 'secret formula' to writing a great song, to make his future writing easier, less painful. One day after coming through a hard session with success, he thought he had it. But, according to his tale, the supposed formula so clear one minute faded away the next. Amnesia set in. As Andrew discovered, the next time he picked up his guitar or opened the notebook, he did so with fear and trembling, unsure how to proceed. He was starting from zero. He mused, ‘It’s a wonder anything ever gets done.’ Ha, as a writer, I’m relieved I'm not the only one. Apparently, it seems to be part of the mystery of creating.

Adorning the Dark is a joy to read. His writing flows like music—sometimes words sing off the page. I do like how Andrew shares what he’s learned from other well-known creatives, some who also resonate with me—not only J.S. Bach, but Dorothy Sayers, Madeleine L'Engle, Seamus Heaney, Rich Mullins, Mary Oliver, Frederick Buechner, to name a few. Andrew makes it clear that no one can make something beautiful for this broken world, alone. Artists need the community of others.

Not only is Andrew Peterson a successful Nashville singer/songwriter and fantasy novelist, he is the founder of The Rabbit Room, a ministry that ‘fosters Christ-centered community and spiritual formation through music, story, and art’. You’ll learn more on his website here: andrew-peterson.com/rabbit-room.

A long-time InScribe member, Brenda Leyland writes from her home in Alberta, Canada. Inspired by beauty, she connects with readers at It's A Beautiful Life and on Facebook.