Friday, October 22, 2021

Be Still

 With all the advice being given from so many sources today, rarely do we hear this wise counsel:


Does the command to be still, intrigue you? It does me. So, I looked it up in other translations. The Contemporary English Version (CEV) says, “Calm down, and learn that I am God.” The Passion Translation (TPT) says, “Surrender your anxiety. Be still and realize I am God.”


How do we do that? Find a quiet place to read God’s Word and talk with Him. Commit to obeying whatever He says—even if it goes against whatever we might prefer or whatever advice others have given. Follow the example of Jesus, who said to His Father, “Not what I want, but what You want.”


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

I Need Thee

 Note: I hope you enjoy this fiction story I wrote. I based it on the personal experience column I submitted for the Oct. 2021 issue of Chapel Hill News and Views magazine.

As Sharon swiped the perspiration from her face, she said, “I feel sad about all the stuff that’s going on in our world. I wonder when—or if—life will return to normal again, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do! Elaine replied.

After the two friends topped the hill on their walk around their neighborhood, Elaine recovered enough breath to continue the conversation.


“Early this morning, the words in an old hymn came to mind...the one that says, “I need Thee every hour…stay Thou nearby.”

Sharon smiled. “I love that song! I wish more people, including myself, realized that human strength and human wisdom are not adequate to deal with life’s challenges.”

      “Life is hard, isn’t it? It was hard even for the saints of old.”

Sharon stopped. Making eye contact with Elaine, she said, “Funny you should mention that. I've been thinking about Psalm 18 that my pastor read last Sunday morning. I read it again this morning in the Contemporary English Version. Just listen.”

Sharon opened up the YouVersion app on her cell phone and read verse 4: “Death had wrapped its ropes around me, and I was almost swallowed by its flooding waters.”

“Wow!” Elaine said. “As bad as things are today, I wouldn’t want to swap situations with him, would you? But…don’t keep me in suspense. What did David do?”

      “He cried out to the Lord for help! And the Lord heard David’s cries and rescued him.”

      “I imagine David was one happy man!” Elaine said, grinning at her friend.

      “Yep! But he didn’t just say, ‘Thank You very much.’ He took time to praise God. Listen to what David said in verses 30b-32: ‘You are a shield for those who run to you for help…You give me strength and guide me right.’” 

    As they started up the next hill, Elaine said, “I love stories about real people with real problems, don’t you? I learn so much from them.”

They walked on in silence for a bit. Then Elaine said, “While doing my daily Bible reading this morning, I read the 3rd chapter of Lamentations. I can sooo relate to what the writer said.”

This time Elaine was the one who opened up YouVersion on her phone. “Listen to what he says in verses 19-24:

Just thinking of my troubles and my lonely wanderings makes me miserable. That’s all I ever think about, and I am depressed. Then I remember something that fills me with hope. The LORD’s kindness never fails! If he had not been merciful, we would have been destroyed. The LORD can always be trusted to show mercy each morning. Deep in my heart I say, “The LORD is all I need. I can depend on him!”

Sharon said, “He’s so right about that. Since we can’t stop thinking about all the stuff that’s going on, and neither could he, maybe we should do what he did. Take time out to focus on what we KNOW to be true about God and to remember how He has always helped us through our difficulties—little ones and big ones.”

When they reached Elaine’s driveway, they paused to chat a bit more, as was their custom. Sharon said, “Let’s take a minute and pray together.”

Elaine nodded. “O Father, since problems ranging from mere annoyances to major upheavals continue to plague the human race, we often feel powerless and hopeless and full of despair. But today we cry out to You as countless other people of faith have done. We say, ‘O Father, we don’t understand why certain things happen, particularly to good people and innocent children. We don’t know what to do or say to reduce suffering. We don’t know when relief may come. But we know that You know.”

Elaine paused in order to give Sharon an opportunity to pray. “O, Father, we do look to You. We cry out to You regarding the needs of others as well as our own. While we wait for You to intervene, help us to remember, with thanksgiving, the countless times when You came to our aid when we felt scared and hopeless.”

When Sharon’s voice broke, Elaine prayed while Sharon regained her composure. “Help us to quiet our anxious thoughts by recalling the promises You’ve made, including this one: ‘I am the LORD your God. I am holding your hand, so don’t be afraid. I am here to help you’ (Isaiah 41:13, CEV).

“So, Father, we will cry out to You again and again. We will believe You love us and want to help us even more than we want to help our children.

“O Father, help us to live in faith, fully assured of this truth expressed in Ephesians 3:20-21: You are indeed able to do far more than anyone can ever ask for or even imagine. Thank You, Father.”

Sharon and Elaine both said, “Amen” and hugged each other. “See you tomorrow!

As they walked toward their homes, each hummed the old song, I Need Thee Every Hour, for indeed they did need Him. Don’t we all?  

 

©2021 by Johnnie Ann Gaskill




Thursday, October 14, 2021

Not Alone (poem)

Note: The poem I mentioned in my previous post inspired me to try my hand at writing a poem that describes experiences I've had on beautiful beaches, especially those on the Gulf of Mexico. Please feel free to comment.

Not Alone

 My feet made prints in the wet sand
As I strolled near the ocean's foam.
I marveled at all God had made 
On that island far from my home.

The shorebirds fascinated me,
As did pelicans plunging down
To fill their large, empty pouches
With fish swimming in their playground.

As the breeze restyled my grey hair,
And the sun's rays reddened my face,
I continued on, praising God
For His handiwork in that place.

Sea oats swayed in the gentle breeze, 
And puffy white clouds drifted by.
Seagulls swooped and strutted and shrieked,
While some swimmers toweled themselves dry.

Concerns and fears I’d brought with me
Vanished quicker than morning dew,
As I pondered this awesome truth:
God made me and sustains me, too!

I saw no footprints beside mine,
Yet, I sensed I was not alone.
Awed by His presence near to me,
I praised Him as we journeyed on.
 --Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill, (c) 2021
 
[Jesus said to His disciples:]
"I am with you always,
even to the end of the age."
--Matthew 28:20, NLT
 
Photo courtesy of Upsplash


Thursday, October 7, 2021

Sensing His Presence

As I read Patience Allison Hartbauer’s poem entitled Footprints, which I recently found in a pocket-sized booklet I’d had for years, I recalled many experiences similar to the one she describes.


I, too, have walked along the beach and marveled at all the things God has created. I, too, have felt a renewed sense of peace and hope. I, too, have worshipped God as I walked on sandy shores. I, too, have concluded that, although I did not see His footprints in the sand, I knew He was walking with me. 

(c)2017, Sanibel Island, Florida

I pray you have had a similar experience. You may have sensed God with you at places other than the beach. The place we experience Him could be anywhere. According to the Bible, Paul and Silas felt His presence while in a prison cell. David knew God was with him even while David was hiding out in a cave. Moses experienced God out in the desert. I’ve felt His presence in a hospital room. On a mountaintop. In the grocery store... 


He is everywhere! How extra blessed we are when we sense Him--wherever we are. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Seen and Unseen

 

When I stepped outside to photograph the sunrise, I couldn’t see the sun, as I do most mornings here on Sanibel Island, Florida. Even though clouds obstructed my view of it, I knew God had caused it to rise again this morning as He has done every morning since He created it eons ago. How did I know? I saw evidence of it. Everything in my view was being bathed in brighter and brighter light. If the sun had not risen, there would have been no light to drive away the darkness that had reigned during the night. God was still on His throne, still running the world, still causing ALL things to work according to His purposes and His plans. 

I think of that often, especially when a crisis arises. I need not panic. God is in charge. He is ever faithful, ever wise, ever powerful. I can trust Him…and I do. Even though I can’t see HIM, I can see evidence that He is working. I can feel the peace He provides. I can praise Him for who He is and thank Him for ALL He does—seen and unseen.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Five Minute Friday: Love Lifts

I wrote these words in five minutes in response to a writing prompt (lift) provided by Kate Motaung at www.FiveMinuteFriday.com.

Since childhood, I’ve known the words to the old hymn, Love Lifted Me. But the older I get, the more those words mean to me. The Lord’s love lifts my spirits when I’m feeling down. It encourages me when I’m tempted to give up. It causes me to pause throughout the day and just thank HIm and praise Him.

Love from other people lifts me, too, as does the love I feel for others. Love for the work I do lifts me.

How does love lift you?

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Five Minute Friday: Disagree

 I wrote this post (in approximately five minutes) in response to a one-word prompt (disagree) from Kate Motaung. For more information and to read other posts, visit www.fiveminutefriday.com

Disagreements are unavoidable, aren’t they? When they arise, I remind myself of these four bits of wise counsel:


(1) “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity [love]” (circa 1627).


(2) “Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t be mean when you say it.” (I don’t know the source, but a fellow member of the Toastmasters club I attend shares that advice when it’s time to evaluate speeches made during the meeting.)


(3) “A soft answer turns away wrath, / But a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1, NKJV).


(4) "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people” (Romans 12:18, CSB).



Saturday, June 5, 2021

Five Minute Friday: SLOW

NOTE: Below is my response to the June 4, 2021, writing prompt (slow) provided by Kate Motaung on her website, http://fiveminutefriday.com/ This first (and short) attempt at getting words on a page is “nothing to brag about.” However, I plan to include, in a longer piece, these thoughts—and others I could not type in only five minutes. By participating each week in Five Minute Friday, I’m learning that writing even a few words matters! Those words, however, lackluster, can be turned into a thoughtful, polished, piece!


Slow. Interesting word, isn’t it?


A friend says sadly, “I’m as slow as pond water.”


Years ago, when my youngest daughter was reluctant to climb out of her cozy bed, especially on school mornings, but would finally drag herself to the breakfast table, I’d teasingly say, “Honey, you’re as slow as molasses on a cold winter morning.”


Once, when talking with a friend, we agreed we were like “two ol’ turtles living in the fast lane.”


So, I wonder, can being slow be a good thing? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.


For example, the Bible says God is slow to become angry. But He is not slow regarding His promises. Being slow to obey is not good. But being slow (sure/careful/methodical) is.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Why?

Do you get weary of trying to figure out what’s going on in this crazy, mixed-up world? I do! 


But like the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes, I’ve concluded that we won’t ever be able to make sense of what’s going on. For example: why bad things happen to good people. Why people we trust to do the right thing don’t. Why things don’t work out even though we are doing the best we can.

Like the writer of Ecclesiastes, I’ve concluded it’s pointless to even try to figure out all this stuff that makes no sense, from the human perspective. God’s in charge. He understands it all. Ultimately, He will right every wrong. And, as one of the old hymns* says, “Farther along, we’ll know all about it. Farther along, we’ll understand why.”


In the meantime, let’s love and trust our God and gratefully receive the blessings He gives us here in this world and anticipate those in the life that awaits us. Once we are with Him in Heaven, all the “stuff” of this life will seem as nothing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W44URlOwYWw

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Recover

Recover. Such a hope-filled word—in all its various tenses—in all its synonyms. For example, I was thrilled when the surgeon assured me (in September 2020) that I’d fully recover from a tendon repair surgery. And my recovery was much shorter than even he expected. I’m not fully to the point I was before the tendon partially ruptured from my right hip months ago, but I’m almost there. I thank God for His helping me to regain the flexibility I once enjoyed in that hip and leg. 


I thank Him, too, for His many promises to restore His people in various ways. Why, He even promises to enable His people to recover from the devastation that resulted from years of locust invasions.


What an awesome God! 



Note: I wrote the above using the "Five Minute Friday" word for May 28, 2021: Recover. For an explanation of what that is, click here: https://johnniegaskill.blogspot.com/

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Five Minute Friday: Excuses! Excuses! Excuses!

Every Friday, writer and author Kate Motaung emails a one-word prompt to those who’ve subscribed to receive it. We are to write about that word for five minutes (and only five) and then post our unedited draft on our blog or in the Facebook group. I’ve been receiving the prompts for several months now, but am just now (5-23-2021) committing to writing and posting each Friday.

This is a HUGE step for me. It takes a lot of courage to post an unedited version since I am prone to edit, edit, edit--and then often decide my work still isn't good enough to post. Also, I make excuses for not posting regularly. But I pray that committing to do this small, very doable assignment EVERY Friday, will help me learn to write “on command,” to write freely, and to write (and post!) faithfully. If you’d like to learn alongside me, visit Kate’s site (www.fiveminutefriday.comand sign up! 

(I'm aware that I should have posted this on Friday instead of Sunday. But I'm refusing to let technical issues keep me from fulfilling my commitment, even though I'm embarrassed about being late.)


If I’d written (on a Post-it note) every excuse I’ve ever made, I could have wallpapered houses, even castles, by now. Perhaps I should start doing that right now. Maybe seeing them written all over the place would show me the extent of this terrible habit I have. Since I don’t write them down, I don’t realize how often I make excuses—regarding little things, as well as BIG things. For example, I say I don’t have time to participate in Five Minute Fridays. Really????? I don’t have five minutes? I can’t think of anything to say about the common word that is the prompt for the day? I don’t have time to post it? Really? What kind of excuses (uh, lies) am I using to cover more serious problems, like fear and procrastination?

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Hope

 I love benedictions and blessings, especially those in the Bible, don’t you? Recently, I read the one Paul penned to the Christians living in Rome centuries ago and realized it’s one we need. Many people lack hope these days. Some feel so hopeless that they take their own lives, or at least wish they could die and be done with all the struggles and sufferings. Others are not that depressed, yet still long for brighter days.

I’m asking God to confer upon you that blessing of hope, with its accompanying joy and peace. Whether you like the words recorded in older translations of the Bible or those in newer versions, may you allow the ancient yet relevant words to remind you that trusting in God will give you hope in the midst of the darkest of days.




Sunday, March 21, 2021

A Demonstrated Love

Through the years, I’ve happily taken hundreds (perhaps thousands) of photos of birds of all sizes and species in their natural habitats. Even so, I’m not as “smitten” with birds as birders are. For example, avid bird watchers have extensive knowledge of birds and can identify them by sight and/or by sound—and can even mimic their vocalizations.

Bluebird in my neighbor's yard

But Mr. Al Larson, whom I’d very much like to meet, takes his love of birds, particularly bluebirds, a giant step beyond that of avid birders and photographers. He DOES something to help the birds survive and thrive! In the video* I watched on YouTube, Mr. Larson, age 97, was still building nesting houses for the bluebirds. At the time the video was made, he’d built and placed over 350 nest boxes, many of which he continues to monitor. He estimates he's helped over 40,000 nestlings. Thus, he’s affectionately and widely known as “The Birdman of Idaho.”

As I watched the video again and again, I realized that many of us who profess to “love” birds actually do very little to help them. Mr. Larson, on the other hand, demonstrates his love for them by quietly and faithfully taking actions to benefit them. 

As I thought about that, I remembered that the Bible says that when we love someone, we are to do more than just talk about how much we love them. Like Mr. Larson, we are to do something that demonstrates our love. That's what God did when He sent His Son to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. You see, we’re all sinners, even the best of us, and no matter how good we try to be, we can never, by our own efforts, be good enough to be invited into the presence of the Holy God. Thankfully, God saw our plight and then demonstrated His great love for us by making a way for us to live in His presence for all eternity. God sent Jesus, His Beloved Son, to earth to die in our place, to undergo the punishment (death) we deserved. Once we accept God’s gracious gift (Jesus’ payment of our sin debt), then God not only forgives our sins but He also adopts us into His family! As His holy and deeply-loved children, we get to love Him and enjoy Him—now and throughout all eternity.

Amazingly, God did all this for us even when we weren’t seeking for Him any more than the bluebirds are seeking for Mr. Larson. But God, like Mr. Larson, looked through the lens of love and found a way to save us. Oh, how grateful we should be!

Sadly, not everyone accepts God’s gracious gift. I can’t understand why they wouldn’t, can you? Why, even the bluebirds are wise enough to accept Mr. Larson’s gift. They just happily settle into the safe home he lovingly provides for them. Shouldn’t we receive God’s gift to us?

*Click here to watch the video about Mr. Larson: https://vimeo.com/350127646

Scriptures referred to in this post:
John 3:16
Romans 3:10
Romans 5:8
Romans 6:23
Romans 10:9, 20
Ephesians 1:4
Ephesians 2:8-10
1 John 1:9
1 John 3:18
1 John 4:19


Sunday, March 7, 2021

A Blessing and a Response

A sweet friend writes this Scripture reference* on every card she sends to me: Numbers 6:24-26.

I'm thankful that that blessing, originally spoken centuries ago, has been preserved and remains one we can use to let our loved ones know that we are asking the LORD to bless them with His protection, His light, His favor, and His peace. 

This is the kind of prayer the LORD loves to answer. Verses abound that say, "The LORD longs to be gracious to you." Since He is eager to be gracious to us, shouldn't we be even more eager to receive the blessings He wants to bestow on those of us who love Him?  

Perhaps we should respond with words similar to these:

O LORD, I thank You that You bless me and keep me. I gratefully acknowledge that every good gift I've received has come from You. I thank You for keeping careful watch over me, guarding me, sustaining me, even while I sleep, even when I wander away from You, even when I need to mend my ways…

Like a child seeking to please a parent, I'm overjoyed when I sense that You, in essence, are smiling upon me even though You and I know I’m far from perfect. As You cast Your light upon me, it illumines my mind and heart and brightens my world.

So, yes, LORD, continue to bless me and keep me.

*To hear a contemporary song based on those ancient words, click here.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

What Is Your Answer?


Here's how others have answered that important question:

David:
"I delight to do Your will, O my God" (Psalm 40:8).

Jesus:
"...I do not seek or consult My own will [I have no desire to do what is pleasing to Myself, My own aim, My own purpose] but only the will and pleasure of the Father who sent Me" (John 5:30. AMPC).

Paul:
"But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus--the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God" (Acts 20:24, NLT).

What is your answer?


Friday, February 19, 2021

Get In the Race!

While listening to an interview with Dean Graziosi, I heard him say,  "You have inside of you what it takes to accomplish your dreams." 

I argued silently with him. Maybe you do, but I don't.

When he said, "You have more resources and talents inside you than you can possibly imagine," I wanted to yell, You don't know me. If you did, you'd see how limited I am, when compared to others.

Even though he couldn't hear me disagreeing with him, he challenged my stinkin' thinking with these words: "You have more to give the world than you realize. Self-doubt stops you from taking steps toward your goals."

I shut up and listened to more of his wise counsel: "I’d rather come to the end of my life knowing I’d tried and failed than to have spent my life waiting on the sidelines for that perfect moment. Take action! Go for it! Now! Don’t wait to start!"

As I reflected on his words, I recalled having taken photos at a harness racing track. As I looked at hundreds of photos of beautiful horses giving their best as they sped around the track, I realized that failing to win a race doesn't mean a horse isn’t strong and capable. It just means another horse did a bit better in that particular race than he did. 

But if his owner enters him in another race and gives him another opportunity to do his best, he just might win! But he definitely won't win if he refuses to train and to try again and again..... 

Each time he races, he becomes a better and stronger competitor--even if he doesn't officially win.   

Horses have been given the strength and the desire to run well. So have I. So have you. Let's stop watching others run. Let's get in the race and do whatever we're gifted to do!





Tuesday, January 26, 2021

GodStops




Part of each day’s homework assignment in an online Bible study I took years ago involved writing what Beth Moore calls “God
Stops.” As instructed, I reflected on the day that was ending and listed the ways I sensed the observable presence of God that day.

Writing the GodStops was a real eye-opener! Although I know God is always near, as He has promised to be, I don't always sense His presence. But as I reflected on each day, I saw He was intimately involved in my life, and I felt the nearness of the One who loves me most. That delighted me and made me yearn to experience more of His nearness every day.

To further remind me of God's nearness, I often listen to one of my favorite songs: He Is Near, Hallelujah! I encourage you to click this link and then sing along:


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Don't Worry!

Some days are relatively carefree, but many are filled with uncertainties or fears or traumas or heavy loads of responsibilities—and sometimes a combination of them or other difficulties. (I’m speaking from personal experience!)

That’s why I’ve searched the Scriptures for answers as to how to deal with those things. Again and again, I have read the command, “Do not worry.” Yet, I continue to worry. Well, I say that I don’t, that I'm only “concerned” about the circumstances. But the truth is, “I’m worrying.” I often ask questions like these: “How will we manage? What will they do? What if...? When will...? Who will help me? Why doesn’t God...? How much longer?”

Why do I ask such questions? After all, I do believe that Jesus spoke the truth when He said, “The Father knows what you need.” I also believe that God loves me (and those I’m concerned about) and will supply the need in His time and in His way. Yet, I worry--some days more than others. Because I do, I need to memorize the words on this graphic I created and repeat them every time I'm tempted to worry. Perhaps you could benefit from doing that, too?