Merry Christmas!


The holiday, meant to be a reflection and celebration of the birth of our Savior, has become such a clustered, crazy busy time of year, with everyone rushing around shopping, cooking, baking, cleaning, decorating, etc., that we often lose such reflection amidst our celebrations. Please take some time this week to remember Who is behind the reason we do all of this. Enjoy your time with your friends and families; enjoy the food and laughter; but enjoy the Purpose of it all: Jesus. Without Him, we would have nothing.

We want to wish you a very Merry Christmas, safe travels and His Peace this season as you celebrate His day.

"Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased." (Luke 2:14)

Ginny & Stacie

Greatest Gift of All



It’s almost Christmas! We are just over a week away from the glorious holiday… and if you’re anything like me- you still have presents to buy (not to mention wrap)… (And I am clueless on some very dear people…)

I will admit, I used to go all out on buying for friends and family. But as the years pass, and I reflect on the actual meaning of the season, I have scaled back drastically. I used to stress over finding the perfect gift, getting the best deal and not overspending (too much). In the chaos of the shopping, I lost the purpose of the holiday: love. The purpose behind each gift was to show an appreciation for the person; to let them know that I care and that they are in my heart. (But I found that the more aggravated I got at shopping, the less I carried them, or any love, in my heart.)

Christmas is the season for giving; to let others know that you care. It’s the season where generosity and love spread farther than any other time of the year. I absolutely love this month. No matter religious (or nonreligious) beliefs, it seems that almost everyone gives of themselves during this holiday; and typically in ways that they don’t throughout the other eleven months. And that is what it’s about. What better way to show our Christ to people than to give; time, gifts, love? But let us not forget that He is the reason we do any of this.

He gave up His throne, to be born a man, to give His entire life to serve others, to die sacrificially for us. There is no greater love. (John 3:16; John 15:13) So, may I suggest that you add one more Person to your shopping list? It won’t cost you anything financially; though the sacrifice will be greater than anything else you’ve ever done or given… Add Jesus. He purchased your soul for you. (1 Corinthians 6:20) Give Him something in gratitude; in love.

…Give your time to someone that needs help; whether it’s volunteering for a charity, or a widowed neighbor, or picking up a shift at work for a coworker to have more time with their family. Or you can give a little more of your money for a name on the angel tree at the mall, or the food pantry in your town, or a family in need at your church. (Matthew 25:35) Take time each day to reflect on the many blessings God has given you. Thank Him for everything He’s done. Reflect in your heart, what might be keeping you from growing closer to God. Is there something in your life/style that has hardened your heart somewhat? Give that to God. (Matthew 6:19-21) It may sound like a junk gift, but that’s the one He wants the most. It’s not regifting to Him; it’s not a white elephant present; it’s not trash…It’s the greatest form of love we can offer. When we finally let go of our fears, anxieties, dependence on things, (Philippians 4:6-7) and rely fully on Him, we both receive the best Gift of all: Love. By giving Him our pride (and that’s what all of our inadequacies boil down to: pride), we are showing Him our deepest love for Him; and we are opening ourselves to His deepest Love. That truly is a gift that keeps on giving; the greatest Gift of all. (Romans 6:23)

Holiday Greetings!?!?



Another reason to know what you believe and why… Tis the season, the season of giving (and getting). The season to be jolly (and grumpy)… And as Christians, we know what it’s like to ‘get’ the ‘grumpiness’ about our ‘Christ’ and Christmas…

“Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings…”

Is this really something to fuss over? Are we taking our Christ too far, and losing sight of Him in the process? Honestly, I don’t see the problem if someone wishes me something other than “Merry Christmas”. Firstly, the point of this whole holiday season is about love, right? So, I for one feel blessed that people want to wish me some form of love. Secondly, what if they don’t celebrate Christmas? They don’t know what my beliefs are, nor do I know theirs. Personally, I won’t be offended if someone wishes me a “Happy Hanukkah”, because that (my assumption) is their religion. My response could be the same back to them, followed by a “Merry Christmas”, acknowledging my own religious belief. How is this offensive? I don’t see how I am being very loving by throwing a fit over what greeting they spoke to me. And if I’m crying about offensive political correctness, I’m not being very Christian.

Jesus Christ is Love. (John 3:16) He was/is the ultimate embodiment of Love. (John 15:13) And I’m supposed to be representing Him to others. So- how am I being loving by getting offended by others offering me a different holiday greeting?

I absolutely believe we should keep Christ in Christmas. But I mean the ‘we’ to be Christians. Why should we force our Christ on unbelievers? That to me is not very Christ-like; and no wonder unbelievers get so angry. If I don’t want them shoving their (un)beliefs down my throat, why should they be okay with me shoving my beliefs down theirs?

Proclaiming and promoting my Christianity isn’t the way to win someone over; loving them is (I shouldn’t have to tell you I’m a Christian, you should be able to tell it by the way that I live…). When someone meets me, whether it’s at Christmastime or some other time of the year, how I carry myself and the words that I say (or don’t say), and the actions that I do (or don’t do) are the ways that people will see something different about me, and should make them want to know more; to be more ‘like me’. (Ephesians 4:29-32, Romans 12:2) And when they ask me how or what or why I am so Joyful, Loving, at Peace, then I can introduce them to Jesus (and they’ll see that He’s who I am trying to be like). (Romans 8:2) My wishing them a “Merry Christmas” most likely isn’t going to initiate a conversation; and pitching a fit that they wished me the wrong holiday greeting certainly isn’t going to make them want to be ‘more like me’ (aka- like Christ).

I think its things like this that make us Christians look bad. I think its things like this that makes the world hate our religion, our hypocrisy and our Christ. Ghandi stated it well: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Isn’t that the sad and painful truth? We Christians are not very like our Christ. When Jesus was ridiculed and accused during His trial before His crucifixion, He kept His mouth shut. He knew He wasn’t going to win them over by arguing with them. (Isaiah 53:5, 7; Mark 15:4-5, Luke 23:9) And neither will we. No unbeliever is going to want to be like us (Christ) when we’re constantly instigating disagreements about our beliefs and our Christ. The only way to sway them is to love them.

(For the record, I am not suggesting that we not stand up for Jesus and our faith, I think we need to have perspective over how to show His love verses forcing Him upon others. God gave us all free will: if He doesn’t force Himself on others, why should we?)

And just a reminder that December 25, our Christmas, is not when Jesus was actually born. Christians (Roman Catholics) picked that date to offset the Pagan holiday ‘Yule Day’, during the winter solstice festivals, with hopes to bring awareness to Christ and take it away from secular and Pagan celebrations. So, maybe we should think twice before we accuse the unbelievers of trampling on and ruining ‘our’ holiday… Also, no one celebrated birthdays back then, only proud sinners are mentioned in Scripture as celebrating their birthdays (Pharoah: Genesis 40:20-22, and Herod: Mark 6:21-27). And we’re celebrating Jesus’ birth as a man, not as God… The Bible is clear about idolatry: don’t worship or idolize any other god; but also don’t make idols to worship as our God. (Deuteronomy 4:15-19; Deuteronomy 12:4, 32). And aren’t we idolizing the Christmas trees, the lights, the holly, the wreaths, Advent, presents, the greeting, the holiday itself when we put it before the whole purpose behind it: Jesus Christ (Love).

(For the record, I am not suggesting you have to get rid of your tree, decorations and presents because they are not ‘Christ’-like. It comes down to what’s in your heart. Are you decorating and buying and cooking, etc. to celebrate Jesus’ birth in His honor? To show love to others? Or are you doing it as a show because you’re a Christian and it’s Christmas?) If the emphasis is put more on the ‘stuff’ and not on Jesus, then you might want to rethink more than just your holiday greeting.)

So before we get our berries in a bunch over what holiday greeting we’re going to say and to accept; let’s remember what this season is about: Love. Yes, we need to keep Christ in Christmas: keep the love in the holiday. Celebrate Christmas by loving God and by loving others. (Matthew 22:37-39) Spread that cheer.

He will make it beautiful

I was frantic!  The maroon wise man robe had gotten soaked when my church had performed a live nativity in the park and it had been thrown in a bag with several white costumes.  Now all of the white costumes had red streaks every where they had touched the robe.  In addition, due to the weather the bottoms of every costume was caked in clay mud.  I wasn't sure I could get them all cleaned before our next performance and there definitely wasn't time to remake any of the white costumes if I couldn't.

I offered up a prayer as I sorted everything and began washing.  Fortunately, due to some a wonderful laundry additive, all of the white costumes returned to their pristine state.  Unfortunately, the clay stains did not come out of all of the remaining costumes.  I was so heart broken that the nights presentation would have to include stained tunics and robes.  I just knew it would detract from the presentation.  But then I felt God begin to whisper...

Did you do your best?
Yes, but they are still stained!
Do you trust me?
Yes, but-
then let me take it from here...
So I packed them up and took them to the nativity.  It was again a rainy, muddy night.  Every costume ended up caked in clay mud again.  But, no one noticed.  And once the first presentation began, neither did I.  It wasn't about how pretty things looked.  God's message is for those of us who are dirty, imperfect, stained.

He came to be born not in the house of a wealthy man, but in a stable, among the animals.  He lived his life with those who got their hands dirty.  His ministry served the untouchable (Matthew 8:2-3), the disliked (Mark 2:15), the outcasts (Mark 5:1-20, John 8:1-11, John 4:5-32).  It wasn't a clean life, but it was beautiful.  Not because of how it looked, but because of what it was - love.

And that is what He asks from us in return.  No extravagant, expensive, perfect gifts.  He simply desires that we love Him, and that we share His love with others.  (Mark 12:30-31) He isn't asking for perfection from you, He only asks that you serve Him in love, which means your best effort all the time. (Colossians 3:23)  If you do, He will make it beautiful.  He will use it to accomplish His perfect will.

As for the Nativity, despite the pouring rain, many showed up to hear the story - and no one noticed a single stain.
Photo courtesy of One Eyed Jack's Photography

What really matters?



What is it that you believe? Most likely if you’re reading this blog, you believe in God. Good for you- but so does the devil (James 2:19)… So why do you believe? What is it about God that made you accept Him? And then what made/makes you stay with Him?

I had an enthralling conversation with my ‘baby’ sister the other night during a holiday family visit. The rest of our family had gone to bed, and I’ve found this is when we’re truly honest. We discussed many Biblical topics, including our upbringing, our testimonies, our learnings and our life experiences. It was awesome. While we’re both from the same family, I’m sixteen years older than she, therefore we’ve had very different experiences growing up. I was the first born; the 'experiment'. She was the last one; the ‘third times a charm’… She was raised in church continually; went to a Bible college; and married a Christian… I was not and did not. She took numerous theological courses that tested her beliefs on controversial topics from the Bible. Her viewpoint was refreshing and enlightening. (And I will admit up front that she is more scholarly than I am in many topics.) I won’t go into our beliefs, opinions or thoughts, but what we determined was that Christians don’t agree on much. We have God’s Word, and we distort Scripture to back up what we want it to say. We take it out of context and use it to condemn others (including ‘our own kind’). It’s sad that we use His love letter to use against Him and His children. Our many denominations (over 34000 world-wide and more than 1200 in America) disagree on some major ideals; and some minor as well. We will argue with each other, talk down to each other, and shame each other because we can’t agree on even the tiniest detail. What is wrong with us? We are missing the whole point of Christianity: Love. What kind of love are we showing each other with these demeaning arguments? What kind of love are we showing Christ by picking apart everything He said? And does much of it even matter?

Why waste time arguing over whether women can preach? Is baptism required to get into Heaven? Can you lose your Salvation?  Are alcoholic beverages ‘allowed’? What date was Jesus born? Do all children go to Heaven when they die (and if so- what’s the ‘cut-off’ age)? Does God still ‘speak’ to people? Is the Rapture before or after the Tribulation? Are musical instruments or dancing allowed in Worship? Is divorce and remarriage allowed? Does hell really exist? What about the laying of hands and use of anointing oils; speaking in tongues… and the list goes on and on. I’m not saying these aren’t valid, important topics of discussion. What I’m saying is, at the end of the day, at the end of this life… how much of it will matter? Do you really think that our Loving God is going to condemn you to hell because you danced during a worship song? Or had a margarita with some friends? Or you weren’t dunked in water for a baptism? God knows our hearts. He knows the reason we do or don’t do things. He knows if we really believe and accept His sacrifice. He knows. He’s a God of second, third and so on chances… so why do we think these issues matter? Does the legalism really matter?

If we, as Christians, can’t agree to love, regardless, despite, and in spite of our failures, sins, and disagreements, then we have nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-4) If we can’t agree to disagree on legalities, and work together to spread the Gospel, then we are going nowhere. What are even doing? If we can’t get along, then why would or should unbelievers even give us the time of day to hear us out? Let’s be honest, for the most part, these issues just don’t matter. All that matters is Jesus.

God’s Book tells us everything we need to know. Does it still leave unanswered questions? Yes. Why? We’ll find out one day. (John 8:32) But possibly it’s so we can interpret some of it differently. Maybe the lack of directness is so no one is alienated; to be all-encompassing… There are so many commandments and directives given to us in the Bible. And don’t so many naysayers complain about the ‘do this, don’t do that’ mentality of the ‘judgmental’ God? Maybe these uncertainties are left open so it’s not more added to the ‘checklist’ of things God ‘requires’ from us ‘in order’ to love us. Because He is a just God, yes; but He’s also a forgiving and loving God. He is a God of mercy and grace. (Hebrews 4:16, 2 John 1:3) So, again, at the end of this life—how much of these issues really matter? Isn’t all that matters what’s in our hearts? (Galatians 5:5-6) Do we love Jesus?

His Love Never Fails (even when we do)...



I can’t even begin to explain my evening the other night. (And this is another post where you’re going to see how irrational my mind can be (and typically is))…

Let me set the scene: It was Sunday; I’d skipped Sunday school (not typical for me) (however I did watch two shows on Biblical teaching programs on TV in lieu). I went home after church and did some work (and was feeling pretty good about myself getting ahead of the week on work). I made/ate dinner, and went to a Sunday evening service (which I never do- my church doesn’t do Sunday evening service) with friends to hear my friend speak. Fast forward to twenty minutes after the service: I got stuck in traffic on the interstate for four hours due to a large accident involving multiple tractor trailer trucks and vehicles.

The interstate sign flashed a warning of 'be prepared to stop', but that's nothing new (think of ‘boy who cried wolf’). And by the time I came upon it there was nowhere to detour. So there I sat. At first, I thought nothing of it. I figured I was detained for 20 or 30 minutes, so I chilled out. It was one of those moments that I knew there was nothing I could do about it, so I might as well make the most of it. I checked email, Facebook, made phone calls- anything and everything I could think of on my phone. I turned my car off after 10 minutes. Twenty minutes after that, frustration began to present itself. I saw the ambulance fly by me almost immediately after I was stopped. The wrecker truck came whizzing by twenty minutes after that. My (lack of) patience was wearing extremely thin, and I assumed that one lane would open shortly. (wrong)

After 45 minutes, it became very apparent I was going to be there for a while (when the big trucks around you shut down- you know you’re in for a wait). And I can testify that on an old smartphone, an hour goes quickly. But the ancient technology only exhausted me. Once again, my (lack of) patience just couldn’t withstand constant uploading, and shutting down. My phone case has been chewed by my dog, so certain letters don’t register well when I try to type. Apps don’t load quickly, if at all. And the battery drains extremely too quickly. (And side note, the charger in my car works when it wants, and can’t be touched or it quits). Typically I would have had my iPad with me for church- but I didn't know if the church I was visiting would be accepting of it, so I left it home. If I had it, I could’ve done a lot more (I had a long-running (mental) list of things I could’ve been doing if I’d had it).

Well after the hour mark, and still no sight of any relief, my mind went into overdrive. I began talking to God. (I’d like to acknowledge that upon first stopping in the traffic I did say a prayer for those involved in the accident, as well as those responding to it; and thanked Him for allowing me to miss it). But at this point, I was all over the board. I kept thanking Him for His grace in me missing the accident; I prayed for those involved once again. I thanked Him for the warm weather (though it undoubtedly was the rain that contributed to this mess), it was almost 60 degrees, making sitting in a turned off, unheated car very bearable. As well as the fact that I had almost a full tank of gas ‘just in case’. I thanked Him for the fact that I didn’t have to potty. (Go ahead and laugh- but I typically can’t go an hour without a bathroom break- so this was a grand relief) (I’ve already gone 3 times during this blog post- but I have had a pot of coffee… (it is Coffee With Christ, you know))). I was grateful that I have a smartphone to help pass the time, slow and old as it is. Then once my ‘gratitude’ was out, my ‘attitude’ came out. I began questioning why He put me there in the first place, particularly after I had such a productive day (I was a ‘good’ girl that day- not being lazy…). I questioned why He didn’t insist that I bring my iPad- allowing me to work on other things and be more productive while stuck. I questioned why this had to happen at night, when I didn’t have a flashlight that I could at least read my Bible (even though I didn’t have my highlighter- which irritated me as well, since it’s usually in my Bible bag- but I’d just removed it the week prior, and hadn’t replaced it). I didn’t have any notepaper so I could write my blog, or at least take notes for it. The list went on and on. I knew I should be grateful (and I was- to a degree) that my situation wasn’t as bad as those in the accident, or as bad as it could’ve been. But, I was beginning to get irritated that I was even in this situation at all, and finding faults all along the way that kept picking at my growing frustration.

Exasperation was really setting in at this point. Just what were the responders doing? Why didn’t they have a lane open yet? (As if I know anything about how cleanup from a bad accident should be or how long it should take). It was approaching my bedtime (yes, I have a bedtime), and I was increasingly growing cranky. And just when I thought I might snap- I saw a bunch of cars coming towards me. People ahead of me in traffic had turned around and come back (in the wrong direction) on the berm to the exit behind us. I’m not going to lie: my first thought was that they were idiots; they were going to cause another accident. But then I began contemplating how maybe that’s what I should do. If I could cross the traffic, I could turn around and head home. Others were doing it, how could it hurt, right? (I mean, I still had to stop at the grocery store to pick up stuff for my husband to make a sandwich to take with him hunting in the morning- which was just another added annoyance). But I couldn’t safely cross traffic to make my get-away.

By now, I’m aggravated at this extreme waste of time. There were so many things I could’ve and should’ve been doing at home (laundry, my Bible study, the store…) but there I was, stuck in this traffic, with nothing that I could do in my car (stupid phone and unpreparedness)… But the longer I sat there, the more I reflected on how, instead of doing those things I thought of- I'd have probably just put on my pajamas and sat on the couch watching Christmas movies on TV; ones I've seen numerous times before; accomplishing nothing anyway. And that would've been as big of a waste, if not a bigger one than sitting in traffic. At least sitting there had me thinking...

I thought about the sermon messages I'd heard that day. One was about understanding why we believe what we believe- specifically about the Bible's accuracy and integrity. The other message-the most recent one and what my friend preached on was love (1 Corinthians 13), specifically about what it means. I thought about my life- things I’ve wrestled with in my heart and my mind concerning these two messages. They are both so different. It wasn’t an immediate conclusion to see where they were similar. And it wasn’t an immediate correlation of where I needed to concentrate. But as I thought about the two separate messages, they began to comingle. The Bible, with all of its commandments, historical, scientific, medical facts, and its stories, is a giant book of love to us from God. Referencing my first sermon, in order to be able to be a true Disciple of Christ, we must understand why we believe what we believe—which means we need to understand the Bible; and to understand the Bible we must study it; to learn what it is meant to teach us. Believers have something special; we have Christ’s love, mercy and grace. Unbelievers have nothing. (No wonder they’re miserable) Our Bible is God’s written Word (John 1:1-18); it is God’s written love letter to us. The personification of love is Christ; there is no greater example than Him (John 3:16). There’s no greater love than laying down one’s life for a friend. (John 15:13) And we are all friends of Jesus (more than friends, actually). (Song of Solomon 2:16, 6:3) And I was reminded of the two greatest commandments: Love God, love others. (Matthew 22:37-39) Love. How loving was I being aggravated at God for this situation? How loving was I as I mocked the people standing in the middle of the interstate talking with each other? (Why wasn’t I out there showing God’s love to them- maybe one of them needed it)? How loving was I being as the anger, bitterness, and selfishness settled in thinking about how uncomfortable, how tired, and how bored I was? (I’d like to say that I had a turning point here, got out of my car and spread the Gospel… but, no; I was still too stubborn to acknowledge a radical heart change.)

An anxiety attack was upon me after hour three had come and gone. I was really tired, finally had to go to the bathroom, and was beginning to feel nauseated. I noticed how dark it was with all of the vehicles’ lights shut off, and few stars in the sky. The darkness began to envelop me and fear settled into my already queasy stomach. Where was God right now? Why were any and all of us in this particular situation? I started pleading with Him to make this end. I realized how badly I just wanted to go home; to just be at home. And it started sinking in- I waste too much time doing ‘stuff’ and not enough time enjoying this life; God’s love letter to me personally. (And I certainly don’t spend enough time telling or showing others Christ’s love for them). I began praying fervently, aloud. I felt the anxiety release and a peace settle in. I felt a renewed ‘second wind’ stir within me, assuring me that I wouldn’t go insane sitting in this car for another hour or more. And, I admit this sounds fabricated, but this time, when I prayed for His mercy in this situation, a star twinkled brightly (when the sky was so dark previously), and suddenly the vehicles around me started their engines; we were about to be released from this turmoil! (And yet, part of me was still apprehensive that it was really over).

And that’s how life goes, doesn’t it? We get comfortable in our lives, doing our stuff, and ignore warning signs coming up. We then get stuck in mayhem and chaos, looking for a shortcut to get us out of the mess. We question God’s motives; immediately blaming Him for not seeing how ‘good’ we’ve been, having the audacity to think that He owes us something. Even accusing Him of not loving us enough. We easily forget the good He has given us, (as if Salvation isn’t good enough) but we all have many blessings to be thankful for in our lives. God is Love. God’s Word is His love letter to us. God loves us. Why is it we’re so slow and too closed-minded to love others? Or even accept His love; and sometimes that means it’s uncomfortable, and at times, painful? But boy when we do accept Him—look out! (John 5:24) He shines through the darkness (Psalm 27:1, John 8:12, 1 John 1:5). He gives us His Peace, His Joy, and His Eternal Love (Galatians 5:22). So, in the end, when the temporary turmoil is over, was all the grumbling (aggravation, frustration, irritation…) really worth it? The greatness of our pain cannot compare to the greatness of His Love. Sometimes He just has to bring us to a complete stop for a point to be driven home. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: “If I…, If I…, If I… but don’t have love, I am and gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: Love is patient, kind, not envious, not proud, not dishonorable or selfish, forgiving, rejoices in truth, protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres…never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Challenge Ahead


I have the privilege of coordinating the collection of shoe boxes for Samaritan's Purse at my church.  This is a bittersweet thing for me.  On the one hand, seeing the congregation join together in the mission of providing children they have never met with toys, coloring books, and hygiene supplies that will open the door and allow those children to hear and experience the truth that Jesus loves them is amazing.  In five years the number of shoe boxes we collect has almost doubled.

But the flip side of this coin is the knowledge that there are children in this world that have never been shown this love, children who are devoid of hope, children that don't know or understand that what they experience in this world is not all there is, nor is it what it was supposed to be.  Each year as I go through videos and testimonials of how these simple shoe boxes impact children and communities my heart breaks and I hug my own children a little tighter.

As Stacie reminded us earlier this week, our calling doesn't have to be some "great" thing that everyone sees and recognizes as important.  Our great thing can be as simple as packing a shoebox for a child in another country, recognizing that our neighbor with the new baby is feeling overwhelmed and cook a meal for her family one night.  Maybe your calling is to notice the cashier that is scanning your items for your holiday meal isn't smiling and then really talking to him or her.  There are so many in this world that don't feel hope, especially at this time of the year.

I want to challenge you to make a conscious effort for the next month or so to really SEE the people around you.  Ask God to show you those who are hurting, who need to know they aren't alone, and then be His hands and feet.  This is going to take some preparation on your part.  Pray and ask God to show you how you should respond.  I have a blogging friend that carries candy canes around with her at this time of year with a little note attached to them thanking the recipient for their service.  She gives them to cashiers, buggy boys, nurses etc.  Others have made "blessing bags".  A ziplock bag full of items a homeless person might need such as hygiene items, restaurant gift cards etc.  I don't know how God would like to use you, but I do know He DOES want to use you.  All you have to do is open yourself up to that possibility, and allow God to move.

We would love it if you shared some of your ideas and experiences in the comment section!


How far will you go?



In today’s times, it’s so easy to sit back and watch; to be comfortable with our lives and reap the rewards of those around us. Most of us are consumedly busy with work, families, our homes, etc. that we can’t seem to fit in any ‘extras’; like discipleship. We often think attending church once or possibly twice a week, occasionally opening our Bible to read a passage or two in the mornings, praying before a meal during the day is ‘good enough’. And if we encounter someone who needs Jesus? Giving them a smile and uttering something about ‘God loves you’ as an encouragement is going above and beyond…

But is it really? How often we take for granted that we have our Bibles; that we have family that supports our lifestyle; and that we live in a nation (though it may be flawed) that allows us, even encourages us to practice our ‘freedom of religion’… And what do we do with these honors? For most of us, nothing. We continue with our daily lives, watching others around us teach, preach and pray. How much longer do you really think you can continue on this path without losing sight of His direction for you? We stumble in the dark, fighting with our lack of time, energy, money, patience [insert your own deficiencies], forgetting that Jesus is the only Light we need to finish our journey; His journey with us? (John 8:12)

Remember the times that Christ told His disciples that the day was approaching that He was going to die, but be resurrected on the third day? (Matthew 16:21, Mark 9:31-322, Luke 18:31-34) It was even foretold by numerous prophecies in Scripture before Jesus was born. (Psalm 22, Isaiah 43) The disciples had no reason to not know what was coming. Yet, they were shocked, grief stricken, broken…consumed with themselves, and the effect that Jesus’ suffering would have on them. How selfish could they be? How selfish are we? How often do you hear, see, know the plan to follow, yet instead of concentrating on, expecting, and rejoicing in the outcome—do you focus on the pain you must go through to get there? We wallow in our struggles, inflicted with self-doubt and lack of trust in God. We refuse to see Him working, right alongside of us to accomplish the plan. (John 20:11-18, Luke 24:13-34) We, too, ignore what Jesus’ death and resurrection mean. Jesus was tortured, took on our sins (every last despicable, ridiculous one we’ve ever thought and done), separated Himself from our Heavenly Father, and died for our forgiveness. He then arose on the third day to prove to us that He overcame death and sin, and we will too one day. (Can we fully comprehend what that truly means?) (And if so—how do we continue on with our daily routines?)

God has a will and a plan for you. (Jeremiah 29:11) It may not be a great ministry to teach or preach. It may not even be hosting a Bible study. It may just be to support your spouse or friend that is being called to do one of these ‘great things’… (1 Samuel 14:7: ‘Jonathan’s armor bearer’) The point is: God has called you to action, in some shape, some form. He only asks that you relinquish control of your ‘life’ to Him. (Romans 12:1) All you have to do is all you can do. He never intended for you to be too busy, too tired, too overwhelmed to enjoy His fellowship and His love. (Our whole lives are because and about His Love.) He only intended for you to love Him, and give your life to Him. Are you willing to give Him all you have?

Snowflakes

Image courtesy Pen Waggener, used under CC by 2.0

It snowed here today.  First time of the season.  There wasn't any accumulation, but seeing those fluffy, fat snowflakes falling from the sky was a beautiful sight.  You see, snowflakes always remind me of God.  They amaze me.

Did you know that although every snowflake crystal is unique, some say that there are not ever two snowflakes alike, each has six-fold radial symmetry?  This means that from the center out you can conceivably fold a snowflake 6 ways and it will be identical on opposite sides.  Rather amazing that God can create something so small, so alike others of its kind and yet so unique and different.  And yet, he not only did so with the snowflake, but with us as well.

We are all created in his image.  Most of the human race share similar lines of symmetry: 2 eyes, legs, ears, arms etc.  You get the picture.  And yet we are each unique.  Not just in what we see; eye color, hair color, weight, height.  but in our talents, our gifts.  God has hand crafted each and every detail of what makes us "us" with a plan in mind.  He knew whom we would come into contact with, how that would affect us on this journey; the scars we would form, the bonds we would make with others.  God knew what form we would need to be molded into in order to best show His workmanship and that is the form He gave us.  Then He breathed life into us and began our journey.

While an individual snowflake is beautiful in and of itself, alone it travels to the ground and leaves very little evidence, if any, of it's existence.  It is when snowflakes join together that we see their impact.  This is why God calls us to not stop meeting with other believers (Hebrews 10:25), why He reminds us that we are a part of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12), and why each of us has a unique purpose within the body (Romans 12:4-5).

God has gifted you with a special talent, something that sets you apart and yet allows you to fit into a custom niche in His body, perfectly designed for this time, this place.  Do you know what yours is?  Are you ready to join with others and blanket the world with His love?
 

Let go, and let God.



If you can't see the video above, click here to view it

Oh my, it’s easy to hold on to our grievances, isn’t it? It’s easy to hang onto that bitterness of a friend or who wronged you; to worry over your finances and wonder how you’re going to afford groceries after all the bills get paid; to stress about the anxiety at your job; to fear the future for your children in this fallen world; to just wallow in your sadness, even depression. We hold onto all the misery in our lives…but why? God doesn’t promise that as a Christian we will have an easy go; but He doesn’t want us to be miserable in this life either. Why does God let bad things happen? (That’s a whole other message)- But possibly it’s in part to show us the glory of the good; to make us much more appreciative of all the good in our lives (and we all have tons to be thankful for). Possibly it’s to teach us a lesson; to bring us closer to Him; to use us to bring someone else to Him… the possibilities are endless. The fact is- God is God. He’s the only One that knows how our story will go, and eventually end. He is King over everything, including your problems; and as hard as it is to believe and understand at times, He truly does care about your problems, no matter how minute they may seem (in retrospect). If it concerns you, you concerns God. (That in itself should be humbling). But He tells us time and time again in His Word not to be consumed with worry in this world. (Psalm 46:10, Psalm 55:22, Matthew 11:28-30, 1 Peter 5:7) It’s not that He doesn’t care about you or your problems, it’s because He wants you to trust Him to take care of them. His shoulders are bigger than ours; allow Him to take the burdens from you. Release the tension to Him.

We have got to learn to let go of control. There is nothing we can do better than God. He knows better; He has a clearer view of everything than we could ever imagine. (Isaiah 55:8-9) He knows all of the facts, and has the best outcome. We only see a tiny glimpse in our self-deluded world. (And are we really that arrogant to think that we know better than Him and/or that we are more favored, loved, and important than anyone else that we should always get what we want or be relinquished of the anguish? Does it occur to us that maybe He allows the roughness into our lives for the Glory He will get when we overcome it? (and we will: John 16:33) Or maybe He uses it to bring us closer to Him? (What a blessing that is!)) But the point of all of this is to just trust God. Trust that He has your best intentions in mind. Trust that His Will for you far surpasses your own will. (How many of us even know what we really want?) (And if we don’t really know what we want, how in the world do we think we know how to get it?)

Our true problem isn’t the problem itself. Our true problem is acknowledging that we can’t control it. It’s not that we don’t want to surrender the situation/issue to God to handle; it’s that we don’t want to surrender ourselves to God. (Luke 22:41-42) We don’t want to let go, and let God. Perhaps we’re afraid of the outcome. Perhaps we’re afraid of the effort. Perhaps we’re afraid of ourselves. It’s much easier to blame God for our problems and for not taking care of them when we don’t really give them to Him to deal with in the first place. Sure we may pray that He intercedes. But then we continue to stress, worry, and be consumed by the issue that we supposedly laid at His feet. It’s like we dropped it off for His care for a few hours, but stopped back by to pick it up and hold it for a bit; as if telling Him He’s not taking good enough care of it. Or we lay it down, but keep a finger on it, not truly letting go. (And yes, it sounds so much easier to say than to do. But if we can learn to do… there’s so much more we can do.) Give it to God, and see what He has to give you in return. He promises to take it, if you let Him. So let go, and let God.

Hindsight

 
It’s human nature to second guess yourself, your words and your actions. Hindsight really is 20/20. And as a Christian, I feel like every decision I make hinders on the reason behind it. Will this bring honor or dishonor to God? Am I doing this for Him, or for me? Sometimes, even the most insignificant choice leaves me feeling restless and wondering what my motivation behind it really was. (Beware- you’re about to see how irrational my mind can be) For instance, do I wear my regular mascara or my waterproof for church? I frequently am brought to tears during worship or a sermon, so I want to plan ahead. But, if I wear my waterproof, does that mean I am planning on crying, and wanting everyone to see how ‘Spiritual’ I am? Or, if I wear my regular, does that mean I am guarding my heart, so nothing truly affects me and brings any attention to myself? (Or vice versa- if I wear waterproof- am I ‘hiding’ my emotions, and if I wear regular am I putting them out there for all to see?) (I told you, it’s ridiculous the things that go through my mind). At the end of the day (or at least the end of the church service), it doesn’t matter if I have ‘raccoon eyes’, or ‘long, extended lashes’- what matters is where my heart is. If I wear regular mascara and am brought to tears, then who really cares if my makeup is smeared down my cheeks at the end of service? And who cares if I look like I wasn’t affected at all during the service thanks to my waterproof brand? God knows where I stand in my heart (better than I do most days). As long as we bring Him the Glory, it just doesn’t matter. And my mascara isn’t going to make or break my eternity or my ability to affect anyone else’s eternity either. But…
The bigger decisions really keep me up at night. (No, my mascara ‘issues’ don’t contribute to my sleeplessness, just my anxiety before Sunday school) It’s those big ‘life altering’ decisions that cause my insomnia. There’s been something, a task really, I’ve been doing for a couple of years now; the way it got started was in undoubtedly only by and through God. And He’s continued to guide me along the way, opening some doors, and closing others. It’s been a process that has been exhausting, yet rewarding. (Sounds like a no-brainer: continue with it- it’s ‘obviously’ God, but…) I’m to the point where it seems to be stalling out. Do I continue? What if the purpose of this was strictly to grow me closer to Him (which it has undeniably done) and for nothing else? Was all the time and effort, exhaustion and sleeplessness, anxiety and arguments just because I needed it? I won’t deny that it was worth it—but I also can’t help but feel a little bitter that it was an awful lot of sacrifice on my end to just benefit me. Shouldn’t others reap reward from it? And I’ll admit, there was a time, not too long ago, that I lost the purpose of this task from Him. I was pursuing it more for my gain, than His. Thankfully, He showed me my selfishness, and I stepped back from it for a bit. But I’ve felt the burden to continue on with it again recently, and I have. Why? Other than being prodded back by God, I don’t know. It hasn’t changed; it hasn’t profited anyone else yet; and has only left me more anxious, defeated and unsure than before. Is this truly from God? Is this truly what He wants from it? Am I really just being beaten up again for my own self-growth? I struggle with that. This is a lot of time and work for just me. And I want it to help others. But here’s where my mind starts (ir)rationalizing… After all this work, surely God will use this for more than just me. Surely He will use this for His Glory, and as a result, use me. (I will inevitably benefit from this). And the second-guessing begins… Maybe this wasn’t God at all. Maybe this was just my selfish wants, stemmed from my career desire. Maybe this was the devil getting in my head, trying to make me lose sight of Jesus… Maybe…
It doesn’t stop there. I can go back and forth all day on this issue. And unfortunately, I don’t have a definitive answer. I don’t know where this will lead. I don’t know the purpose behind the inception of this task. But, so long as my heart stays in check with God, I know He’s with me (Deuteronomy 31:6; Psalm 73:23; Psalm 139; Zephaniah 3:17; Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5) and He’ll use it somehow. (Romans 8:28).
Hindsight really is 20/20. I’ve seen the good that has come from this task so far. And later, I will see it in the current struggle with it. I just have to have patience (Psalm 37:7-9; Romans 2:6-7; Romans 8:24-25; Colossians 3:12), and faith that His will be done; not mine (Matthew 6:10; Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). My advice (for what it’s worth) is to never stop praying about it. Continue to check yourself (Acts 20:30); your motives. Is what you’re doing or saying honoring to Him? Who really stands to gain from the outcome? Continue to seek His guidance, and ask for Him to enlighten you with the path you are to take. And above all else, just trust Him. (Psalm 18:2; Psalm 91:2; John 13:15; 1 Timothy 4:10) He created this world (Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 42:5; Jeremiah 10:12; Nehemiah 9:6; Acts 17:24; Hebrews 1:10), and you (Genesis 1:27; Psalm 139:13; Psalm 139:16; Job 33:4; Jeremiah 1:5), and He’s not going to let anything happen that won’t benefit you some way, somehow. (Deuteronomy 16:15; Deuteronomy 28:12; Numbers 6:24; Psalm 10:22; Psalm 29:11) The biggest benefit being eternity. Praise God!


Pray without ceasing

Image source: http://bit.ly/1paLJR1
Prayer is one of those things I struggle with.  I didn't grow up in a home that loved God, I didn't come to have a relationship with Him until I was an adult.  I don't have a problem talking with Him about things: "watch over us and keep us safe while we travel to_________," "guide me today to make the decisions that will honor You," "help me to control my words today so that they are a blessing to others and not a tool for the devil," etc.  I have the day to day conversations and I love that I can approach Him intimately like this. (Ephesians 3:12, Hebrews 4:16)

Recently my small group Bible study began a prolonged group prayer.  God laid it on our hearts to join together and set aside a day every week to intentionally pray for our family and friends who don't have a relationship with Jesus.  That isn't to say that we haven't been praying for our own family members often, but we are trusting God when he says that when two or more of us agree on something it will be done by our Father. (Matthew 18:19)  While we realize that God will not take away the free will of those we are praying for and force them to surrender to Him, we also realize that our prayers can open doors, protect them from the devil's deceit, and soften their hearts to accept God's gift of salvation...but this can sometimes be a long process.  This is where I struggle.

Intellectually I realize that God hears and answers prayer. (Psalm 65:2, Proverbs 15:29, Psalm 66:19-20, Mark 11:24, Matthew 21:22) But emotionally there are times that I question and doubt.  I love my family members, and I want them to feel the overwhelming love that God has for them; I want them to understand the acceptance and comfort and joy that comes from a relationship with Him - and I want it NOW.  We have been praying for months.  I wish I had a dramatic story for you about how one of the people we prayed for had a revelation and heart change, I don't.  That disheartens me sometimes.  But God is good and I know that He hears and is doing His part.

We have seen some of our loved ones step closer to God.  We have seen Him reveal Himself in miraculous ways, especially AFTER being challenged ("The only way this will work is if God does it!").  We have seen His hand of protection.  I know that He is orchestrating things in such a way that the hearts of those we love are being touched by His loving kindness.  So, while I may struggle with His timing, I continue to pray without ceasing.  After all, Augustine's mother prayed for him to know God for 32 years before he finally accepted Jesus' gift.  And Augustine went on to spend the next 44 years of his life in service, becoming one of the most influential writers concerning God since the apostles.  Who knows what God has in store for those we are praying for now!

got works?



To love God is to put His Will above your own selfish desires. You realize that this life and everything it has to offer is nothing compared to the life Jesus died for to give you. And in return you want to  tell everyone about Him and His sacrifices. You want to be like Christ.

And in order to do so, you have to step out of your comfort zone. You're going to have to go to places and do things you don't want to. (He never claimed it would be easy to follow Him) (Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23) you're going to have to teach; you're going to have to serve; you're going to have to love. You're going to have to be a leader to all of those around you- lead by example. They've seen enough hypocrisy in Christianity. You can't tell them how Great Jesus Was/Is, without showing them. Hands down, Jesus Is our High Leader. Yet, He was an outcast; homeless and poor. To even His friends, who knew He was the Messiah, He was a servant. (Mark 10:42-45; John 13:3-17) [And considering He also knew they would all betray, deny and dessert Him, He still served them.] We, too, will have to 'lower' ourselves to serve. [Matthew 23:12; Mark 9:35; Luke 14:11; Philippians 2:3-11; 1 Peter 5:6] but when we really think about it, teaching and leading is serving. We're teaching others for their benefit. We're showing them God's love to help them. [service: work that is done for others; the performance of work or duties for a superior…]

This is God's Will for you; for all of us. We're His servants. (John 12:26; 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Timothy 2:15) We each have our own individual work to do for Him; a calling so to speak. (Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 12:4; 1 Corinthians 1:26-27; Ephesians 4:1-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; 2 Peter 1:10) Have you figured out what yours is yet? Maybe it's to join an overseas mission; or assist at a homeless shelter; or teach a Bible study; or write a blog; or take dinner to your neighbors; or maybe it's just to honor your spouse so they see God through you. Nothing is too great or too small to be done for Him. (Luke 1:37) It may seem overwhelming to think He's trusting you with His children; telling His story. But don't worry, he's got your back. (Hebrews 13:5) He's not going to call you to do anything He won't equip you with tools to help you with. (Philippians 4:19) (And don't fret too much over the possibilities, because the chances of Him sending you on an overseas mission without 'training' you first at home isn't likely.) The only prerequisite He asks of you is to be willing, with an obedient heart. (Isaiah 1:19) We have to be open for the grand possibilities of His Own mission: to save the world (again); at whatever the cost be to us.

Are you seeking His will for you? Are you asking Him to show you? There’s a whole world out there that needs you; that needs Him… What are you waiting for?

Consider Your Ways


Ever had one of those days where every thing just seems to go wrong?  Your alarm doesn't go off, the coffee filter falls over and you end up with a carafe full of grounds (gasp!), can't find the car keys and when you finally do you realize that you are out of gas.  And that is just the beginning of the day!  I admit, I have had a few days like this this past week, and on those days it isn't easy staying true to Ephesians 4:29.  In my personal study time this week, God showed me something that made me step back and reevaluate.

I was reading Haggai, and I also must admit that I had to look up who this prophet was.  Apparently he was prophesying during a time in Jewish history that should have been wonderful for them.  They had been given a decree from the king, Cyrus, allowing them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.  All of the things that had been stolen from the temple had be promised to them upon its completion and the king agreed to finance the rebuilding.  What a sweet deal, right?

Only it came with some issues.  The retuning Jews were excited to be home again.  They set about building their homes, clearing their fields, building storehouses, etc.  They were going about their lives and taking care of their earthly business.  Haggai comes along and points out some truths that people had been overlooking.  God had opened the door for their return so they could rebuild the temple.  The temple is special, this is where God dwelt, where He could be close with His people.  Only His people were more concerned with doing their own thing than what they should have been doing.  Haggai tells them, "You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes." (Haggai 1:6) And it hit me....

We aren't much different.  Oh, it is easy to read these stories in the Bible and shake our head in disbelief about how they are again not doing what they are supposed to.  To wonder how they seem to miss what seems so obvious to us as the reader.  But if you had to step back and read your own life story, don't you think you might have the same thoughts?  Now I'm not going to say that every time you don't get that raise at work, or your coffee gets some grounds in it that it is because you aren't following through on God's will, but I will say, perhaps you should stop and take a moment to consider the possibility.

You, yes YOU, have a purpose in God's plan.  Just as the Jews were called back to Jerusalem to build a place for God to dwell, you have a mission to create an inviting place for God to dwell - your heart.  As you work on cleaning out the debris, laying a good foundation, and building according to God's plans He will reveal more and more to you about what He is calling you to do.  And when you veer away, when you become more consumed with building earthly things rather than spiritual, you are in effect walking away from His blessings.  When you walk away, things start to fall apart...

So when things start to fall apart, consider your ways.... are you spending time in His word?  Are you spending time talking with Him?  Are you listening for Him?  Are you about His business?  If you can answer yes to these, then keep on the path you are on.  Push through the obstacles and know that they can only make you stronger.  But if you answered no, perhaps He is trying to reach you and help you to see the truth.

"Be strong ... declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts."  ~Haggai 2:3

Faith In Action



To say that you have faith is good. To show that you have faith is better. The truth is, believing in God doesn’t necessarily make you a good Christian. Even the devil believes in God! (James 2:19). It’s a little humbling (and terrifying) to think that believing in God makes you no better than the devil. But that’s the reality. Granted, the devil may be acting against God intentionally, but your inactions for God is in essences an action against Him. No action is an action. Not speaking is speaking.

“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” (James 2:14) James continues with asking how that (no actions) can save anyone… And isn’t that one of our true callings as Christians? To teach/show/love others? (Commandment number two- right after commandment number one: love God). (Matthew 22:38-39, Mark 12:30-31) If we really believe that God is Who He says He Is, then shouldn’t we want to shout it from the roof tops? Shouldn’t we want to show others? What it boils down to is- if you truly have faith, (if you truly love God with all of your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength) you will want to do

There are too many people in the Bible to mention that acted on their faith (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Paul…) (There’s even an entire chapter of Hebrews (Hebrews 11) devoted to ‘great examples of faith’, and they all acted…- read it- they all start out with ‘It was by faith that (insert name) that [verb] (verb: word indicating action or state)… Abraham: you know the story. He left his home without knowing where he was going, and then lived there like a foreigner- all by faith. (Genesis 15:6) James shows that Abraham was shown to be ‘right with God’ for what he did. Paul shows that Abraham was shown to be ‘right with God’ because of his faith. Did you catch that? The verses don’t contradict each other- they complement each other: Abraham was counted ‘righteous’ for what he did because he believed. (It’s probably good to note that our actions will not determine our salvation- but our faith will (this is an entirely separate message): (Romans 3:28)).

It’s also important to reiterate that not taking action, is in itself, taking action. By not helping God (aka not doing for Him), you are hurting Him (aka doing for the devil) (John 8:44). Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees because they followed the law (they tithed) BUT they didn’t follow the ‘important aspects of the law’: justice, mercy and faith. (Okay, so you don’t think you’re as ‘important’ as a Pharisee was back then… do you think you’re more important than a fig tree?) (Matthew 21:19, Mark 11:13-14) The fig tree looked good; it had promise to be fruitful, but upon closer inspection, it was inactive (hadn’t produced fruit). WE are the symbolic fig tree. We choose to produce fruit, or be dormant. Jesus cursed the fig tree for not producing fruit. And we’re more important than the actual fig tree…(if we’re more valuable to Him than birds (Matthew 6:26), we’re more valuable to Him than a fig tree).

Ephesians 2:8-10: summation: God saved you (by His Grace) because you believed; you are saved—not because of anything you did—but because He loves us and created us (we are His masterpiece)—therefore we can do the ‘good things He planned for us’. We believe, therefore we act. Faith without deeds is useless (James 2:17, James 2:20) “Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.” (James 2:26). That’s a bit pungent… or is it? This life is for God; not us. When we truly have faith and love God (commandment #1), then [verb] we will love [verb] others. And that is action. (Galatians 5:6)

 

The inmost places


We eat a lot of apples in my house.  They are a quick treat, portable, and yummy.  My youngest daughter particularly enjoys Golden Delicious apples thanks to her discovery that they were originally discovered in our home state.  As for me, as long as they are crispy, crunchy and juicy - I'm good.  

Because we eat so many of them I am very particular about picking them out at the store.  I look for apples that are well shaped.  I check for signs of bruising, I squeeze to ensure they are firm and not mushy.  And then I bring home what appears to be the perfect selection of apples.  But sometimes, I cut into one and discover this:
image from www.reddit.com

What I had thought was going to be a sweet treat was actually rotting from the inside out.  I'll be honest, I don't really know what causes this in fruit.  But I do know that fruit isn't the only thing that can appear beautiful on the outside and yet be full of decay on the inside.  Mark 7:21-23 tells us that the things that are evil - pride, foolishness, covetousness, deceit etc - come from within us.  More often than not we don't wear a big sign that announces these things about ourselves.  Instead we bury those things deep within us and try to look beautiful and pure on the outside.  Sometimes we hide the decay in ourselves so well that even we don't even realize it is there.

But God isn't looking at the outside, rather He is searching our heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)  And sometimes He has to cut open the apple to reveal the decay inside.  It isn't a pleasant process.  We often call them trials or hard times.  Now don't think I am saying ALL trials are a result of decay in our lives, but I am saying that we need to examine ourselves to see if that might be the cause.  Just because you cut an apple doesn't mean it is rotting inside. :)  

So the next time things get rough, and if you are following Jesus they WILL get rough, (read our post earlier this week for that lesson!) take a few moments in prayer and ask God if perhaps this is an attempt to reveal an aspect of yourself that isn't pleasing to God, a part of yourself that you may not have even realized was there.  Trials have a habit of bringing out the worst in us, actions that we may never have taken or thought otherwise.  Then, if God has revealed this is the case, start working to excise those decayed parts.  But you can't stop with that.  An empty spot begs to be filled.

Fill those parts of yourself with God.  I'll leave you with the same advice Paul gave the Philippians, "brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)  For when we fill ourselves with these things, we crowd out the decay.

Trials & Tribulations



Firstly, if you think that because you’re a Christian you’re not going to face any trial, then you need to reread your Bible and reinform yourself, and possibly/probably rethink being a Christian. Because the Bible makes it clear that because you are a Christian- you will be persecuted—meaning- you will have problems (ie: trials and tribulations). (John 16:33) So we must accept that we will have problems, BUT with Christ, we will overcome them. (1 John 5:4-5)
Now, that being said- we’ve all had trials we’ve had to face. Some horrific, some just tedious; ranging from losing a child, to losing your car keys. Why does God allow these things to happen; or even give them to you? There are multiple reasons He puts these into our lives. One of the biggest, realest reasons is to grow His relationship with you, and in essence grow you in Him. Think about it- when you hit rock bottom, what do you do? You lean on Him. You look to the only place you can—up. You pray; you seek Him; you end up relying on Him, because quite frankly, you have nothing else to lose. And when you finally reach out to Him in your trial, He grasps for your right hand. (Isaiah 41:13) When you have nothing but God, you finally realize that God is all you need. And that’s when things finally start looking up.

Not only should you expect trials, but you should ‘ask’ for them (Luke 9:23-24) and be grateful when they come. (Ephesians 5:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, James 1:2) Seems pretty ridiculous doesn’t it? Almost masochistic. Except, when you recall that Jesus died a horrific death; took the blame for our sins as an innocent man; then it seems honorable and heroic. As a Christian, we should hope to be faced with such persecution to honor our God and Savior. I am absolutely not saying that we should hope to be killed for our religion; I am saying that how we handle our persecution is the hope we have to honor Him. God doesn’t want us to suffer; but He draws us closer when we do. (Psalm 34:18) And isn’t that worth the pain? He’s not saying that He wants you to be grateful and enjoy the pain—He’s saying you should thank Him for whatever this trial is about to show you; because it will show you something. It will show you a sin you’re fighting, but accepting. It will show you where you’re failing at His service. But above all, it will show you His love. The love He has for you that sent His Son to die on a tree. The love He wants from you in return. When thinking of Jesus on the cross, is it really so hard to accept that your ‘mini’ trial is nothing in comparison?

a sign


I admit it, when it comes to messages from God, I'm a billboard kind of gal.  I want God to throw up a BIG ol' sign with step by step directions and a map that shows the final destination as well as all the roads to avoid.  I want rays of light to shine on that billboard as the rest of the world fades to black so that I can't miss it... even if I tried.  Problem is, God seldom works that way.

That isn't to say that He isn't delivering messages to me (or you for that matter), He just doesn't tend to be that showy.  He's been there done that and wrote a book about it.  Sure, He parted the Red Sea, spoke through a burning bush, and even walked around in a superheated furnace and kept 3 guys from being incinerated at the same time and many other BIG displays of His power and might.  And He could definitely do it today if it suited His needs.  But God's plan doesn't include show, it is all about the heart.

God is looking for followers that take the time to get to know Him.  It's kind of like dating (hang with me for a minute).  In a new relationship you get to the person.  You go out of your way to discover what they like and don't like, what makes them happy, and what doesn't.  You pay attention to the little details and make adjustments in your own life to accommodate them.  The relationship deepens and becomes more intimate as you spend more time with them.  You seek them out, think about them when you are apart, you miss them and can't wait to be reunited.  You begin to understand who they really are.  You don't have to ask what they want to do with you for the most part-you already know.  THAT is what God is after with you!

He has already given you all the clues.  What other relationship can you begin where you are given a book that gives you the inside scoop?  But how many of us pick up our Bible on a daily basis and take the time to really learn His character?  That is the first way God sends us messages.  It's a big ol' love note that we let sit on the coffee table and gather dust.  Is it any wonder we don't often get the billboard?

I want to challenge you to get a notebook and a pen before you sit down with your Bible.  Pray and ask God to reveal a part of Himself to you in your reading.  If you ask, He'll show you - I promise! (Deuteronomy 4:29)  And when He does, write it down.  It's your special journal between the two of you. The more you look to discover who He is and what pleases Him, the less time you will spend looking for billboards.  Why? Because you will recognize that He is all around you leaving love notes.  He is in the beautiful sunrise, the lone wildflower poking up from the sidewalk on your path, the perfectly timed word of comfort from a friend that didn't even know you needed it.  He has always been there, leaving these signs for you, you just didn't notice.

Where are You, God?


Wrong question. The fact is- God is in the same place as He always is: with you. If you feel like He’s vanished- you’re the one who left. He promised never to leave you nor forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5) If you feel alone—you better start asking yourself where you wandered off to…and why.

God doesn’t leave us (Deuteronomy 31:8) - not even for a quick milli-second. He takes no rest stops on our journey. We do, though. Sometimes, they’re not just rest stops; sometimes we set up camp and move on in. We tend to veer off the path, or stop short when it’s not quite the destination we thought we were heading… But what if instead of asking where God is… we asked Him “Where do you want me?” or “Why do you have me here?” or even “What am I supposed to do here?” You see, God isn’t a god of silence; He just wants you to ask the right questions. When you’re in the middle of ‘nowhere’ and can’t seem to find Him, look around for His existence. Seek Him, and He will show Himself to you. (Jeremiah 29:13)

Everything little thing God does to and for you is for a reason. (Jeremiah 29:11) There’s a purpose to His will. There’s meaning to His Words. (2 Timothy 3:16) He speaks to you because… He loves you. Instead of trying so hard to refute or refuse His offering, make the easy choice to be excited about His gift to you. Because every little thing He gives you is a gift. (Philippians 4:19) Are you willing to take the time to acknowledge, accept and act on that gift? (Philippians 2:13) Or are you going to ignore His presence and continue to wonder where He is?

Focus

 
Are you hearing from God? I can promise you that He’s speaking…if you’re seeking Him…actually listening… So if you’re not hearing from Him…why not? What is standing between you and Him? What of this world have you refused to let go of? Is it that TV program that’s all the talk at the office? (I mean, who cares if it has ‘adult situations and language’, right?) Or maybe it’s the hours you spend on the phone gossiping with friends or even family? (You need someone to vent to, right?) Or your constant social media links and ‘likes’? (It’s the only way you can stay in touch with people so ‘far away’, right?) Or maybe it’s something as ‘harmless’ as being a great ‘soccer mom’, or ‘June Cleaver’, or ‘employee of the month’… Let’s get real for a moment: ANYTHING that takes your focus and your time off of God is a wedge between the two of you. Yes, God wants you to have entertainment (Psalms 68:3), socialize (Ephesians 4:9-12), be a good mom (Proverbs 31:28), wife (Proverbs 31:10) and employee (Ephesians 6:5-9)…but if you’re doing these things for yourself (and even for others) and not for God, then you’re not doing it for the right reasons. (The right reason being growing an intimate relationship with Him) First and foremost, God wants a relationship with us. (John 14:23) It’s because of His love for us that He gives us entertainment, friends, family, etc. They’re blessings from Him. (James 1:17) (Though I will admit that some days I would hardly call my job a blessing, or my husband… but I digress) (John 10:10-11) (Colossians 3:23)
So I ask you again: Why aren’t you hearing from God? What are you allowing to stand between the two of you? If you sit still for a few minutes, and ask God to show you just some of the things that are keeping you apart, He will tell you. (And then you can say you’ve heard from God!) (1 Corinthians 2:1-16)
That’s really the next part of it, too. Not only do you have to clear your heart and mind of the world’s stuff, you have to be still (Psalm 46:10) long enough to hear Him; and you have to be ready to hear Him. Expect Him to speak to you. (Jeremiah 29:13) (Chances are, it won’t be a blatantly obvious neon-flashing billboard screaming to you, but when you do hear Him, it will be evident it is Him, as if He’s yelling from the Heavens…yes, it will be that blatantly obvious)
And the next cool thing? (Because let’s face it, we serve an Awesome God) (Deuteronomy 10:17) Once you get your heart and mind settled off this world, and focused on God, and you begin hearing Him when you seek (like when you call a friend and they answer), but He’ll begin communicating with you when you’re least expecting it; when you’re not seeking something (like when a friend calls you). (John 16:13-15) It’s because when you put your focus where it belongs- on Him- He reciprocates that focus- on you. You are His child. (1 John 3:1) You are His beloved. (Song of Solomon 6:3) He doesn’t just want to be there for you when you need Him. He wants to just be there for you. To love you. He wants to have an intimate relationship with you. (Leviticus 26:12)
WOW!

Direction


 
As a Christian, we acknowledge Christ as our Savior; and it is for Him we want to live and love.

We often think we need to have everything right in order for Him to accept us. And we think that when we mess up, He’s shaking His head, or turning His back on us in disappointment. If we only truly understood what His love entails. He loves us, regardless of our sins, despite our failures, maybe even because of our imperfections, period. You see, He knows we’re not perfect. He knew that before we were born, and yet He made us. (Psalm 139:16, Jeremiah 1:5) He knows we will fail (Romans 3:10); but it’s because we try that keeps Him with us. He knows our sins are great; but it is His love that is greater. And it is because of that love that He continues down our path with us. The path He designed for us, each valley and peak; each clear paved and rocky road... The path He chooses for us, to go with Him, yet He goes before us, and He is always beside us, holding our right hand (Deuteronomy 31:8, Psalm 139:10, Isaiah 41:13). And sometimes He carries us (Deuteronomy 1:31, Isaiah 46:4) because we just can’t seem to take another step (whether out of exhaustion, fear, illness, doubt…)—He’s there; always.

And if we knew that, truly understood that partnership, then we wouldn’t ever doubt His way; His will for us. We wouldn’t question Him when He tells us to go left instead of right. We wouldn’t question when He tells us to walk instead of swim. We wouldn’t question when He tells us to let go instead of holding on tight. He knows what His plan is for us (Jeremiah 29:11). Why do we insist on thinking we know better? Or, that He should share any part of it with us? It’s a trust that we must learn to accept. As a child trusts his parents to provide and care for him, we must trust our Father to provide and care for us. The only difference is our Father is perfect (Psalm 18:30) (and let’s face, while all parents strive for perfection, none ever succeed), so we can trust that He’s never going to steer us wrong.

So again, why can’t we trust Him? Why do we think that to do what His will is for us, we need to know what it is first? Obviously, we need some instructions; we can’t fly by the seat of our pants the whole time (though, sometimes, that flying is pure trusting). God does tell us His plan; in increments. He whispers a direction in the wind. He shows us confirmation in a song, or a verse, or through a friend. He leaves us hints to follow—only we’re too oblivious to notice them most of the time. He drops bread crumbs, but we’re too busy looking around. He writes it in the sky, yet we never look up. He puts it on paper, but we never open the Book. He places it in our hearts, but we won’t tear down the wall.

He speaks so clearly to us at times, but we can’t hear over the noise of the world. We ask Him for direction, but don’t stop long enough to wait for Him to answer. We’re so busy expecting Him to be at our beckon call that we’re not at His. And it is His call. It is His Will be done, not our own. (Matthew 6:10, Matthew 26:39)

Maybe the next time we call out to Him for guidance, we should stop and wait for His direction. Because He has a direction for us (Psalms 32:8); He never leaves us lost. He never leaves us alone. He is with us, always. (Deuteronomy 31:6) And He loves us unconditionally. (Romans 5:8)