Free on Kindle February 10-14!
Twenty-eight year old waitress Megan Carter dreams of a different life, far away from Zach Allen, who’s wanted to date her since high school.
Zach truly loves Megan, but he can’t let go of his party boy persona long enough to show her he’s serious. As soon as she graduates beauty school, she plans to walk away and leave him behind for good.
When Zach’s stepsister Larissa drops her teenage daughter, Kelsey, on Megan’s doorstep and disappears, Megan begrudgingly enlists Zach’s help to find her. They discover Warren, Kelsey’s dad, is their biggest threat, and he hopes to lure Kelsey into a life of sex trafficking and degradation.
Megan starts to trust Zach and opens her heart, but he’s still struggling for sobriety and clinging to his past mistakes. How can she forgive him when he refuses to change?
Will Warren find Kelsey and entrap her, or can Megan and Zach overcome their differences to find Larissa and save them both?
You may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything for about four days. I’ve done my journals, but I haven’t managed to get them online. Well, part of the problem is that I’ve been asleep during the time I usually write blog posts. I can’t seem to sit down without drifting off these last few days.I had surgery a few weeks ago–not a big deal–and I’ve recovered well. However, last week was my first full week back to work, and it zapped me. Completely zapped me. Sheer and total exhaustion.
I have this terrible habit of going until I crash. Drives my husband crazy. He’s always asking me why I don’t rest.
God must be wondering the same thing.
Not only does He offer rest, He modeled it, by resting on the seventh day of creation. I like to joke sometimes that God didn’t stop to rest until the job was finished, so neither should I, but the point is that rest was important to God. He established the Sabbath, and later the Lord’s Day as days of rest, but how many of us honor that time?
In fact, a lot of people skip church on Sundays so they can get extra work done before the work week starts. What a concept! No wonder we’re all beat-down tired all the time.
The end of Matthew 11 is often the go-to verse about rest, but the whole chapter is an interesting read. First, John sends Jesus a message from prison asking if He’s the Coming One or if they needed to wait for another. Jesus answers:
Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.
In other words, YES! He was the Coming One.
Jesus goes on to compare and contrast himself to John the Baptist, explaining how John was the messenger and He was the real deal. Then comes the rebuke of the cities–Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum. I used to wonder why He brought that up before his inspirational words at the end of the chapter. It felt like something was missing. Had Matthew left something out? There’s even an unspoken question there. Verse 25 starts out that Jesus “answered and said” but verse 24 is a harsh judgment on those cities.
Realizing that this passage is a snapshot of where Jesus was teaching the multitudes who were looking for the coming Messiah, the remainder of the chapter makes sense. Jesus is simply asking them to accept and follow Him. Find rest in Him.
Suddenly, this passage is not about the rest itself or our need for it, which is a more selfish angle.
When Jesus was on this earth, He spent his time preaching and providing rest and hope. A blind man who could look forward to nothing more than begging could suddenly find a vocation and take care of himself. A group of men who’d been exiled from their families and forced to live on the edge of their town because of their leprosy could suddenly return home.
After establishing that, Jesus gave us the ultimate offer of rest–for our souls. Note that this is not rest from a handicap or illness. It’s not rest from a trying situation at work or a difficult neighbor. For the disciples, it wasn’t rest from prison or persecution. It was the rest and assurance that comes from not having to worry about where we’ll spend eternity.
Being weary and heavy-laden is often our own making. We get ourselves in over our heads. The thing is, when Christ is our focus, we’re so busy following Him that we don’t get caught up in a lot of the stresses that wreck lives and lead to those burdens that we cannot possibly bear. We have a different approach to managing tragedy or illness. We have a peace about us that does not make sense to the rest of the world.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30
For the journaling:
- I wanted to keep my focus on rest in Him. So, I sketched Golgotha over the chapter, the hill with three crosses, to remind me of His sacrifice that allows me access to the rest for my soul. To emphasize this further, I shaded yellow behind the cross
- I wrote in the margin: Burdens are lifted at Calvary
- I highlighted verse 5 in pink, because pink often means healing, which was a big part of His ministry when Jesus walked the earth.
- Over verses 28-30, I drew a yoke, and in the side margin, I wrote His yoke is easy, to remind me that a lot of the things I put on myself are what get me stressed. If I keep my focus on Him, it’s not ever that bad.
Since I was a little girl, I’ve always kept in the back of my mind the thought that when it rains, Jesus is shedding tears over our sin. Though my understanding has deepened, the sentiment remains–we have a God who expresses sorrow and compassion for the lost as well as for His hurting children. I’ve often wondered if every raindrop were a tear, would it be enough to cover every sin and devastation?
A simple thought on this insanely busy day, but fitting for the chosen verse, John 11:35. Often referenced by its status as the shortest verse in the Bible, it carries a much deeper impact than some of the longer passages.
Jesus wept. He poured out his deep, heartfelt compassion for his friends and sorrow for their departed brother.
And then, He demonstrated His majesty with an act that elicits more hope than perhaps any other act in Scripture save for his own death and resurrection. He abandons His sorrow and speaks His friend back to life.
The great hope in this moment is that God cares deeply for us. He even knows the number of hairs on our head. Jesus exercising divine intervention for Lazarus, whose death moved him to tears, is noble. To see it happen is evidence of His power.
Death has no victory for those who are in Christ Jesus. (I Cor 15:55) And thankfully He has the compassion to offer the promise–he will intervene for us as well. Not a second chance on this earth the way he gave Lazarus, but rather a permanent home in heaven where we will not have to face illness and death.
For the journaling: (No picture because I’m going to have to go back and do the drawing later)
- I’m going to draw a closed eye with a tear building at the corner of the lashes in the margins beside John 11:35
- I’m going to write a link to Psalm 139–a great read for anyone ever doubting that God cares for his people.
- I’ll caption it: “He cares for me!”
One of my favorite hymns is “We Have an Anchor,” written by Priscilla Owens who lived in the 1800’s. I love the serious questions she asks at the beginning of the song.
Will your anchor hold in the storms of life, when the clouds unfold their wings of strife? When the storm clouds lift and the cable strains, will your anchor drift or firm remain?
Ms. Owens wrote a number of hymns. I can’t imagine the events that might have inspired her to write such words as wings of strife, but I think I’ve read before that she was a Sunday school teacher and wrote them for her children.
It’s hard to imagine life without modern conveniences. And it’s hard to consider the things Ms. Owens would have called conveniences as such. And the storms of life? Sometimes I fear the things we define as “storms” might seem trivial to someone who had to heat their home with no electricity or travel by foot or horse to get where they needed.
And yet, the passage that likely inspired this song, Hebrews 6:13-20, is timeless. First, in verse 13, it references the promise God made to Abraham to bless and multiply him. With patience, he endured the promise. So therefore, we can know if we endure like Abraham, we can access the promise that has been made for us. And then, verse 17, it says God confirmed this promise more abundantly by an oath that we would have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. What an incredible thought. Essentially that if we endure to keep ourselves spotless from sin, we have this hope.
I think Ms. Owens probably knew the difficulties her students would have in remaining steadfast and enduring to remain sinless. And as Scripture abundantly teaches, we cannot do this without Christ. Being in Christ–a true, Biblical Christian–assures us that His blood covers our sin and allows us access to the hope of eternal life.
Verses 19 and 20 of Hebrews 6 compare this hope to an anchor, which keeps us held down, or anchored in our resolve to follow God’s will. That Jesus is behind the veil (a reference to the holiest of places, in God’s presence like the priests of the Old Testament were), our ultimate High Priest, who intervenes on our behalf if we are obedient, faithful Christians. He was the forerunner, entering before us and carrying the shame of our sin.
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
I love how this verse reads “High Priest forever.” Jesus has always been our mediator and He always will be. Back in the 1800’s when Ms. Owens penned these words, and today, January 10, 2017. If we keep our focus on Him, then we can be sure that our path is steadfast in God’s plan for our salvation.
Journaling for today:
- I underlined: “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul” and “Jesus, having become High Priest forever”
- I circled and highlighted: “sure and steadfast”
- I drew an anchor in the margin and wrote “We have an Anchor!”
Out of the Ashes is the first book in a series of stories about characters who survived the Great Chicago fire.
Its two main characters, Nathaniel and Amelia have a chance meeting in their youth, when he is destitute and she gives him money for new clothes. We find them having swapped roles later in life. Amelia has been left behind with no money by her louse of a father and Nathaniel has the means to care for her.
Not only that, he’s never forgotten the girl who gave him her purse full of money and blew him a kiss. He found her name stitched inside the bag and has been searching for her with the intent to marry her.
The book begins with their shotgun wedding and then immediately takes readers back to learn how they came to be married. Ms. Rog tugs on the heartstrings as we learn of an Amelia who believes this man would be disappointed in being forced to marry her and a Nathaniel who’s scared to tell her that he was the boy from long ago.
It’s a sweet, clean romance that reinforces the belief that kindness is always rewarded in the end. The ending is left open for the stories of Nathaniel’s siblings who have been lost to him since youth.
It’s available on Amazon, with a rating of 4.4 stars if you’d like to check it out.
John 21 is one of those passages that most kids learn at a very early age. We sing the song, we make the sailboat motions, we cast our nets on the other side. Unfortunately, when we grow up, a lot of Christians forget the main point of that passage. We’re supposed to be out fishing.
It’s hard to be a fisher of men. These days, if you approach someone about the gospel, they’re half-likely to throw your Bible back in your face. People get indignant and obnoxious, and what started off as a conversation with good intention becomes the disappointment of rejection.
And yet, one simple phrase in that passage gives us great hope.
Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.
Is there a possible implication that if the people we’re evangelizing aren’t responding, we should look elsewhere to spread the message? Somewhere out there, we’ll find a netful of people who are ready and willing to respond to the gospel.
Matthew 10:14 emphasizes this point:
And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.
In other words, move on and let it go. Focus on the next opportunity.
Most fishermen know that you might have to cast your net several times before you finally catch that perfect fish. And a Christian trying to accomplish God’s will for them to evangelize might receive several discouraging rejections prior to converting a single lost soul. But we must press on and keep trying.
For the journal entry today:
- In John 21:6, underline “Cast your net on the right side of the boat.”
- In the margins, draw a boat in the distance. (I’m doing this so my people don’t look like a third grader drew them, ha ha!)
- Write the link to Matthew 10:14 on the boat.
- In Matthew 10:14, underline “shake off the dust from your feet.”
- In the margins, draw dust around a pair of feet.
It often amazes me with all the technology and online resources we have available these days how some people, even those who attend church, have difficulty finding Jesus. In some ways, it’s easier than ever to pull up the Bible app on your phone and go to a verse that describes his majesty or promise. At the same time, the Internet is flooded with articles and commentary from men and women of different faith. How can a seeker possibly know they’re finding their way to real truth?
The answer, of course, is to seek within Scripture. If you look there, you’ll always find Jesus, even in Old Testament passages that point to his coming and describe his glory.
Psalm 72 is a great reference for this. It talks of the promise of justice Christ will bring to the poor, and judgment with righteousness. It speaks of his dominion–of his glory and respect, and how kings would bring presents and gifts and fall down before him.
I love the first part of verse seventeen, where it says:
His name shall endure forever; His name shall continue as long as the sun.
There are many references to stars in the Bible, one in particular that relates to Jesus receiving such gifts as mentioned in Psalm 72.
Matthew chapter two starts out with the wise men, or magi, coming from the East to Jerusalem. There has been much debate over these men throughout history. Scripture doesn’t say how many there were, nor give us a clear picture of their nationality or origin. Some have called them astrologers, others princes, sorcerers or kings. But I’ve seen no debate on how they found their way to Christ. That incredible, divinely-provided star.
In verses 9-11 of Matthew 2, after Herod had met with these men in secret, the star led them straight to Jesus.
When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
One of the key things to remember here is that God guided these men–these seekers–straight to Jesus. Just as He guides us today with His word.
Hebrews 11:6 promises that God is a rewarder of those who in true faith diligently seek Him. What a great promise–that if we earnestly try to find our way to salvation, God will guide us there.
For the journaling:
First, I am grateful to my good friend Melanie Rebro for suggesting this topic, and offering her ideas for the journal entry. She knew yesterday was a tough day and took care of me!
- In Matthew 2:9-11, highlight “the star which they had seen in the East went before them”, and circle “when they saw the star, they rejoiced”, and “they presented gifts to Him of gold, Frankincense and myrrh.”
- Draw a star in the top corner of the page, a small house below it with light radiating from within, and the silhouettes of the three wise men.
- Add a reference to Psalm 72:10-11, with a caption of “Guide us to thy perfect Light”.
I’ll add to that the reference to Hebrews 11:6 and write “Diligently seek Him.”
I’ve been focusing on hope in all these journaling entries, but the greatest hope by far is that when we access the blood of Christ, we receive a true cleansing and the promise of salvation (I John 1:7–the blood of His son purifies us from sin). The ultimate sacrificial lamb.
When I was young, I always wondered why God chose to depict Jesus as a lamb and why lambs were used for sacrifice. There are many other animals with helpless young. But in later years, I came to understand that it’s an animal with great humility who willingly goes to be slaughtered (like the reference in Isaiah 53:7 says).
The author of John 1:29 gives John the Baptist’s declaration about Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” A little confusing, because the author Remember these words were uttered while John the Baptist was out baptizing to prepare men and women for the coming of Christ. They’ve been waiting for this savior, this lamb of God, which was foreshadowed with the sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22. The men and women received John’s baptism with water, but would soon be able to take part in baptism in the name of Jesus like what’s given in Acts 2:38:
Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
With this baptism, they could access the blood of Jesus, and have their sins washed away. Salvation because of his sacrifice. (1 Peter 3:21).
There have been many vivid visuals of Christ’s sacrifice over the last several years, most notably The Passion of the Christ, which did stir deep emotion, but also scarred my brain with a series of gory images. I do feel it’s important to reflect on the pain and suffering that Christ endured on our behalf, but I also think Scripture emphasizes the humility Christ expressed when he went to the cross. It’s not a gory, gruesome, disgusting bloody battle that’s described in Scripture. It’s a flowing blood that continually covers our sin.
John 1:29 does not depict Christ as a great spiritual warrior or champion. He’s not described as a roaring lion or fierce panther. No, he is given the persona of a gentle, innocent lamb. The Lamb of God. The savior who willingly took the weight of the world’s sin on his shoulders and accepted the punishment and shame on our behalf. And if you can’t find hope in that, what can you find hope in?
For my journal today:
- In John 1:29, underline the phrase: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
- Sketch a lamb in the margins near this verse.
- Write: Hope for eternal life through His blood
- Write a reference link to Isaiah 53:7 and Acts 2:38
Jesus has been our light from the very beginning of the world.
This was so noteworthy that John mentions it in his Gospel account. In fact, John starts “in the beginning” and explains that all things were made through Jesus (the Word)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
So many important ideas here. First, Jesus was God from the beginning. He wasn’t created in the form of a baby and sent to earth–he was God the Son, part of the trinity, who stepped down from his majesty to become helpless and completely submissive the way a baby has to be. I wonder sometimes at what point Jesus had the full mind of God in that process. The whole time, or did his human form grow into it? Did he reflect on his future sacrifice as Mary rocked him to sleep? Did he know prior to the creation that he’d need to be the light to lead us out of the slavery of sin?
Colossians 1:13-17 is mirror evidence for the presence of Christ at the creation. The passage talks about Christ having the preeminence, or superiority in all things. But it also mentions our delivery from the power of darkness. Jesus is the light, so we don’t have to succumb to the consequences of our sin. His light will show us the way out. And we knew that, but to think of this in the context that he made us and made this world for us to live in, it just makes his love for us feel so much deeper, don’t you think? And it intensifies the hope and security we can feel in his presence.
He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. Col 1:13-17
Sometimes when I teach the toddlers at church, we use a flashlight to illustrate this. I imagine that just as the flashlight can be pointed into a dark corner and all the little dust bunnies and bugs are revealed, Christ’s light reveals to us our sin. Then, we can purify ourselves and live guilt free, in Him.
For journaling today:
- Start in Genesis 1:1, and write the reference to John 1:1. If you have extra time, you might draw pictures over the creation verses like this one: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/364299057336768989/ I did it in a different journaling session.
- In the margins of John 1, draw a sunburst in a clear blue sky.
- Circle the phrases: He was in the beginning with God, and the light shines in the darkness.
- Write the references to Colossians 1:13-17 and Genesis 1:1
- In Colossians 1:13-17, circle the phrases: He has delivered us from the power of darkness, and for by him all things are created (I didn’t do anything else in Colossians because I have an idea for a future drawing that might go there).
What do you hope for? During the month of January, many teachers and students hope for a snow day. In February, singles might hope to find a date for Valentine’s day, or a widow might hope for comfort from the pain of losing her spouse. Brides-to-be might hope for a June wedding, or in November, a community might hope their candidate wins an important election.
Many of these hopes are fleeting. That snow day comes and goes and you might have to make it up in June. The wedding is a one-time event that turns into faded memories. Candidates serve their term then make way for the next one.
God, however, is a constant. That means that when we put our hope in Him, we are putting our hope in something that does not fade away or decay. Something that remains steady and unmovable.
I could have chosen so many verses to support this thought, but one that I particularly love is Isaiah 40:8:
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever (ESV).
One of my favorite songs is “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. I love that line where it says,
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?
How many times have I had that very thought? Too many to count, for sure. And I’m sure you have, too. But we can rest assured knowing that God is our constant throughout these changing seasons. His promises are new every morning–I know, I quote that one a lot, but honestly, I survive on that hope. You can, too.
For the journaling thought today, I did a light sketch of the flower from the meme and simply underlined the verse. I wrote “God is our constant hope!” I thought about adding a fallen petal, but that seemed too much like Beauty and the Beast. I like to think of it as more like God keeps our petals from falling. We wither, and through His powerful word, He gives us strength.