Enduring Strength

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  Ecclesiastes 4:12

As I was strolling through the grocery store yesterday morning, in the center of the aisle, was a little round spindle rack containing some Christian books.  One book in particular jumped out at me, it was entitled, “52 Ways to “Wow” Your Husband.”  I immediately picked up the book and began to thumb through it.  From the little I read of it there, standing in the middle of the aisle,  I thought it had some really amazing ideas and I quickly plopped the book into my cart.  I’m always looking for ways to keep my marriage vibrant and fresh and I’m definitely looking forward to reading this book and implementing some of the great ideas!

I think we as Christians need to be pro-active in our marriages.  The enemy is on full attack these days and he would love nothing more than to destroy the family through our marriages.  The statistics for divorce among Christian marriages is the same as that of secular marriages and that is so sad.  It really opens my eyes to the fact that just because we’re so-called “Christians,” that our values and morals can quickly start to unravel and resemble that of the world’s when we are not in a daily and consistent walk with the Lord.  Our walk and closeness with God should be the foundation upon which we build all other relationships including our marriages.

Our spouse is never going to take the place of God in our lives, they can’t, and they shouldn’t, because they are not God.  Only God can bring the true fulfillment that our longing hearts desire.  By seeking to love God with our entire being, only then can He in turn help us to be the kind of spouse our mate needs.  God is our “beloved” and there should be no-one before him in our lives (Matthew 10:37).  Our marriages should be secondary to our relationship with him.  Only when we allow God to have his rightful place in our lives can we begin to build and experience the meaningful and rich relationships that God intends for our marriages.

When our focus is not on God, it becomes easy to drift away from our spouse by letting little irritants become inflated in our minds.  Discontentment can rear its ugly head and lead to severe trouble if not subdued.  Sometimes it’s because we are feeling that we are not getting “our” needs met by our mates.  We then start feeling discouraged and it becomes this vicious cycle.  Our marriages are not to be built on our emotions but upon the solid foundation of Jesus Christ.  God wants us to keep all of our thoughts captive and bring them in alignment with his word (2 Corinthians 10:5).  When we don’t handle our thoughts properly, the small mole-hills soon become mountains!  When our problems become mountain size, then our task is no longer an easy one.  When we discover we now have this mountain to climb, some people easily tire and give up because the task seems impossible.  At this point I see so many people throw in the towel or turn to others to try to find the fulfillment they desire.  No person can “complete” us, only God can.  I can’t emphasize enough that God must be at the for-front of our marriages.  “In Him” is the only way that our marriages will ever be what God intended them to be.

We can’t live in the “if only’s” in our marriages.  If only my spouse would treat me better.  If only he/she would be this way or that.  And we cannot compare our spouses to others either.  These are tactics of the enemy and we must learn to stop those thoughts dead in their tracks because if allowed to fester, they will lead to destruction.  When we marry, we vow that it will be a life-long commitment and it is important that we treat it as such.  I truly believe that we are in the marriages we are in for a reason.  God can use the circumstances we struggle with in our marriage to strengthen flaws in ourselves.  Ah, that’s a novel idea huh!  When we are walking with God, he is molding us into the people he wants us to be and sometimes he can use difficulties in our marriage (however small or large) to change us in ways that glorify himself and bring about the healthy, vibrant, God-honoring marriages which God desires for us.  We are to honor him in “all” things, our marriage is included.  Our marriages should glorify God.

The key to a healthy marriage is to put God first in our own life.  And then help our spouse do the same.  We must become “other” minded in order for our relationships to become all that God intended it to be (Philippians 2:3).  Likewise we are mimicking the relationship that we have “in Christ” and bringing those aspects to our marriages.  If you want change in your relationship with you spouse, look to God’s word and pray.  He can show “you” what needs to be done to make your relationship better.  Change doesn’t happen overnight, but if we are faithful, God will be faithful and he will honor your obedience.

Marriage isn’t intended to be a drudgery.  We are called to be “helpers” to our mates (Genesis 2:18).  That is God’s design.  If our marriages are in line with what God intends for them, they can be joyous, fulfilling and life-long.  God will put his blessing on our marriage when we seek to Glorify him through it.  I know that’s what I want for my marriage.  How about you?

Getting back to my original thought of being pro-active in our marriages.  It is vital that we strive to make our marriages into all God has intended them to be and then we take a pro-active role in keeping them in line with God’s purposes.  We don’t want to wait till an earthquake hits and then have to access the damage.  We need to be actively seeking God and turning to scripture to find out what our role is in creating the healthy and vibrant marriages God intends for us.  With Christ at the center of our marriage, he can give us the enduring strength to last a lifetime.

“Tuning In”

You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all of your heart. Jeremiah 29:13

So this morning I was on a time constraint to get my exercising done before we headed out the door for my daughters’ piano lessons.  I couldn’t find my i-pod anywhere and I was in a hurry so I grabbed my younger daughter’s mp-3 player and headed out to the garage to get on the treadmill.  There is something seriously wrong with something that goes round and round and takes you nowhere, just saying!

I started scrolling down through her playlist for something upbeat to exercise to.  Let’s see, there was plenty of slower music, some veggies tales worship, and oh, Britt Nicole.  Ok then, Britt Nicole, I guess it would have to be.  Not exactly my choice for a pleasant worship/exercise time but I figured it would have to do. 

As I continued to run on that dreaded machine, I had some serious “Love flowing through my headphones.”  As I was partially singing along and worshiping, Britt’s songs were ministering to me in a way that I thought not possible.  God’s truths intertwined in the music, it was powerful and I was being blessed.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Britt Nicole is a fabulous young lady.  I was privileged to go to one of her concerts with my three daughters here at a local church. My daughters, particularly my younger two love Britt Nicole.   They are big fans, but her style of music would not be my top choice. 

This reminded me of how often do we let pride, judgment and/or our preconceived perceptions of people or things determined how we will “listen to” or “hear” what God has to “say” to or show to us.  God always amazes me because he is unconventional.  We see that everything Jesus did in his time here on earth was in an “unconventional way.”  That’s why the Pharisee’s and religious leaders rejected him.  Even though Jesus was standing right in front of them, they could not see Him because they were blinded by their judgement. 

Who knew that some exercise, Britt Nicole and time with God would yield to me yet another lesson.  God has had to teach me this lesson time and time again.  I’m so thankful he is so patient and gracious with me.  As I find myself working on seeking him more, he shows me that he is found in the most unlikely of places and the “key” is, I am reminded that I need to be continually looking!  I’m so thankful for the reminders that God sends my way.  He is so good to us!

Fear Not

. . . I cried out in my distress to the Lord, and He answered me. ~ Jonah 2:2

If there was one area in my life that I would say that I’ve struggled with the most, I would say that one area would have to be fear.  I can definitely identify with the life of Jonah.  There have been so many times in my life when God was directing me a certain way and I would immediately pack gear and high tail it for the hills.  I was letting fear dictate how I would react.  Fear would send me running in the opposite direction of where God was pointing.  As I would repeatedly choose the way of Jonah, I was as he, tossed to and fro in the storms of life.  As I continued in fear and disobedience I would choose to leave God’s presence  and enter the “bottom of the ship,” and “the belly of the great fish”  which were dark and frightening places.  It was a continual cycle for me and each time I would run, the fear would seem to compound.

Doing things my own way and in my own strength was not working.  One day my running came to a crashing halt as if hitting a brick wall.  It wasn’t until a low point in my life that I decided to turn to God for relief and answers.  And like Jonah from inside the great fish . . . I cried out in my distress to the Lord and He answered me  ( Jonah 2:2).  Sometime we have to come to end of ourselves before we will ever look up and turn to Him.  But praise God, in that moment of me turning to him and trusting him, he broke that cycle of fear that was enslaving me.  God loves us so much and we have to realize that we are broken and in desperate need of him.  The opposite of fear is love and we know that God IS love.1 1 John 4:18 says . . .There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

As with Jonah, I love that even through my fear and disobedience, that God continued to relentlessly pursue me.  And I am reminded that the “Good Shepherd” will leave the 99 to come after the one that is lost.   Isaiah 43:1 says . . . But now this is what the Lord says, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel . . . “Fear Not, for I have called you by name; you are mine.

I have learned through all of this that I have a Savior that loves me beyond anything my limited human concept of love can understand.   I’ve also learned not to say “no” to God.  That still requires trust and obedience on my part, but as I continue to trust and obey, God honors my obedience with blessings. When God opens the doors, it is my job to take a step in faith.  God is my “constant companion.”  It says in Hebrews 13:5 . . . I will never leave thee or forsake thee.  I’m so thankful for our constant companion the Holy Spirit who gives us the power and the desire to do what pleases him (Philippians 2:13).

Father God I thank you so much for your work on Calvary’s Cross.  Thank you at that moment you have redeemed us from the pit of destruction.  Thank you that you love us completely and desire for us to walk in freedom and newness of life.  Help us to surrender to you in all areas of our life.  We give you the honor and the glory.  AMEN

“All of Me”

I love the new song, “All of Me” by Matt Hammitt.  I’m sure some of you may already know the story behind the song but I will briefly describe it here for those of you who don’t.   I myself wasn’t quite sure at first when I heard the lyrics, what exactly they meant, so I went online to do some research.   Back in September of 2010, Matt’s wife Sarah gave birth to a baby boy named Bowen.  Detected in an ultrasound before he was born, Bowen had a congenital heart defect, in which the left side of his heart was seriously underdeveloped.  Afraid of what might happen and the pain that it might entail, Mark had to decide to love this child before he was born, no matter what the outcome or pain it would bring, knowing that God had a purpose and a plan in all of this.  Hence the song “All of me” was written.  Bowen has already undergone two heart surgeries the first of which happened only days after he was born.  He barely survived the surgery, but God had miraculously brought him through.  A third surgery will again be scheduled for Bowen sometime between 2-3 years of age.  If you’d like to hear more of Bowen’s story, you can do so at:  http://bowensheart.com/our-story/.

How do we react when hardships and obstacles come into our lives?  Matt’s song and testimony gives us a glimpse into the heart of God and what He wants from us.  God wants complete submission to his will for our lives, which requires complete trust in God.  God’s word tells us that as partakers of his divine nature, that we will suffer with Christ (Romans 8:17).  Are we willing to trust Him completely no matter what the circumstance? We say yes, we love you God, yes, we trust you God, but when pain and suffering hit us at our tenderest points, are we willing to trust Him then?

Some pain and suffering is a direct result of our sin, but that is not always the case.  We learn from scripture, that not all suffering is a result of our own sin . . . Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth.  And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed  him” (John 9:1-3)  Regardless of the cause of suffering, God wants to reveal himself to us “through” our suffering.

If we turn our eyes off of our circumstances and look to Jesus, He can help us to see that he has a greater plan for our lives and that in our suffering, we can trust him completely.  Suffering and pain develops inner strength and character.  This is God will for us.  So how do we react to suffering?  God wants us to turn to him, to seek his face (Jeremiah 29:13) and in doing so he can be found.  God wants us to endure and faint not through suffering.  But we say . . . How can I endure this lot that I’ve been given?  What have I done to deserve this?  The answer may very well be nothing at all, but will we trust God, knowing he loves us and desires the best for our lives?  His word says . . .  I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to proper and not to harm you, plans for a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).  God desires the best for us and if we will trust him in our suffering, he will see us through it.  Let us look to the lives of David, Paul, and Job among so many others in the bible, they trusted God completely and that’s how they were able to surrender completely and say, “God you can have “all of me,” I surrender to you.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we  have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  Romans 5:1-5

Father God thank you for the testimony of Matt Hammott’s life.  Thank you that you gave yourself as a perfect example of how we are to react during suffering.  Father God you were tested and tried just as we are.  The punishment of my sin and the world’s were laid upon you.  Help us to rejoice knowing we can partake in your sufferings.  Help us to endure suffering knowing that you are working in us that which you desire.  And father God in spite of my weaknesses and flaws, you still want “all of me” and my complete surrender to you.  Help us to willingly lay down our lives for your sake and to take up our cross and follow you.  All glory to you sweet Jesus.  AMEN

“All of Me” by Matt Hemmitt

Following the “Leader”

As most of you with kids know, raising children is NOT an easy task.  I used to make a joke quite often, “If only kids would come with manuals.”  I literally took home my first-born baby girl from the hospital, totally clueless on what to do with this new little life God had entrusted to my care.   And now fourteen years later, I am humbled as I watch my daughter blossoming into a beautiful young lady who loves Jesus with all her heart.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude to God who is so gracious and faithful and has helped fill in the gaps where I was so lacking.

When I think back of myself when I was the same age, there are no comparisons.  I was the “typical” teenager, and life was ALL about ME.  By the grace of God, my daughter has so much more character than I ever dreamed of having at that age.  No, she’s far from perfect, but “God holds the reins to her heart” and THAT has made the ALL the difference.

One of the best lessons we can as parents can learn and take to heart, is that your kids are following your lead.  We teach them the game of “follow the leader” when they are very small, and if we’re authentic in our actions, they will continue to follow our lead into adulthood.  We can give our kids tons of advice, fill them so full of our many words, but unless we are ourselves being genuine as a person, our words mean very little to them.  Have you ever noticed how it doesn’t take long for a newborn to recognize the voice of its parent.  Your child has been listening to you and watching your every move since the day they were born.  And like it or not, kids become imitators of what they see.  Ever hear the saying, “Kids live what they learn?”  It’s so true.

Growing up, my family went to church every Sunday and like they say, “lived like the world the rest of the week.”  Going to church alone does not constitute knowing who God is, or living your life for him.  I never want my kids to take God, or being raised in a christian home for granted.  When I came to Christ at age twenty, I slowly began to see the transforming power of God in my life.  The first twenty years of my life I lived in the world and saw firsthand the effects of sin and how it eventually destroyed my family.  I have had to overcome all kinds of obstacles and un-learn behaviors from from my childhood and past.  But I’m grateful that my kids have been protected from a lot of those things.  It is such a blessing to be raised in a christian home and I always try to help my kids to see that.  I try to show them through different circumstances that arise, that there are consequences to the choices we make and that our choices don’t affect just us, but all those around us.

At some point in our kids lives there is a swing in the pendulum.  Everything we teach our kids and raise them to believe has to become their own.  Their relationship with God has to be their own.  Often times we see the effects of this change during their adolescent years.  They are starting to break away from the nurturing of their parents and starting to become more independent.  This is a crucial point where we can see the genuineness of their faith or lack there of.  During adolescence they have more opportunities to put in practice that which up until this point, has only been theory.  That’s why the earlier we can start to show them that all of their actions have consequences, the better off they will be.

We need to set standards of behavior, and set them high.  God’s standards need to be our standards.  In 1 Peter 1:16 we are told to . . . “be ye holy, even as I am holy.”  Whoa God, that sounds like a tall order.  That doesn’t mean that we walk around like self-righteous prudes.  We have to properly recognize who we are “in Christ” and strive to live our lives to honor God.  We are all sinners saved by God grace and we are all a work in progress.  We need to be honest with ourselves and others about who we are (we all have strengths and weaknesses)  and we need to strive to do our best to follow God wholeheartedly.  I had this written in my journal but didn’t write down where I copied it from, but it said. . . We all have a journey to go, a race to run, a warfare to accomplish, and a great work to do.  To me this is a great summary of what our walk is supposed to look like.

Parenting is never going to be an easy task.  But nothing worthwhile ever is!  God has entrusted to us, a very short and precious time in which our children are under our care and guidance.  The best possible thing that we can do for them is to be diligent in our own walk with the Lord.  And in doing so we are better equipped to lead them!  Thankfully we have God’s word and the power of prayer!   I’m also so very thankful that when I fail (and often times I do) God knows my heart and he stands in the gaping holes of my life, spreading his arms wide, and covering me with his mercy and grace.

Ephesians 6:4  Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. 

Proverbs 22:6  Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

Deuteronomy 11:18-19  Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Improving your “Serve”

I’ve decided that I am not going to make any “resolutions” this year.  It’s seems that when I’ve tried that in the past, and the moment I resolve to do something, it just doesn’t seem to happen.  I looked up the word resolution in the dictionary and it means . . . A firm decision to do or not to do something. I know that if I am going to “firmly” decide on anything, I want to know that it is something that I am able to commit to doing.   I know some people love resolutions and I think they are a great idea, but I know for myself, I never seem to do very well at keeping them.  Therefore in this new year, I’ve decided to not even try the resolution thing.  I thought instead I’d try something different.  Different is good right?  Instead of making a resolution, I’ve decided to take on a challenge.  Now challenges I like!  Challenges inspire me!

One thing God has impressed upon my heart for the new year is that I should be working on “improving my serve.”  I know there are lots of areas I could use improving, and I think that serving is one of them.  As believers of Christ, God calls each and every one of us to “Serve one another in love.” Galatians 5:13  Servanthood was at the core of what Jesus did during his earthly ministry.   Jesus came to serve and to give his life, as a ransom for many.  He gave ALL so that we could live.  Time and time again, Jesus demonstrated service and self-sacrifice.  In John chapter 13 we’re told of the account of the last supper.  This was one of the very last times Jesus spent with his beloved disciples.  What was the first thing that he did during their time together?  He washed each of their feet.  Yes, to the very end of his earthly ministry, Jesus was serving.  When Jesus finished washing their feet, he asked them, . . . Do you understand what I was doing?  He then said, you call me “Teacher” and “Lord,” and you are right because that’s what I am.  And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.  I have given you an example to follow.  Do as I have done to you. It really doesn’t get any clearer than that.  God commands us to SERVE others by following his example.  In the end of that chapter in verse 17 the bible says . . . that in doing these things, we will be blessed!   I don’t know about you, but I know I want to be blessed for doing what God wants me to do!

I know when my kids were little I began serving by helping out in the nursery.  I had four kids in six years so I was in the nursery a good part of the time anyway.   I figured that the nursery was a great place to start.  Later I became the director of the nursery overseeing all the nursery workers.  I knew I loved kids so it naturally felt right for me to serve in this area.  Some time after that, I started teaching kids church.  I know that when I first was asked to help in this ministry, I was a bit apprehensive.  I immediately thought, well I don’t know the bible well enough (I was not raised going to sunday school or learning bible stories).  I also thought, well I can’t teach, I wouldn’t know what to do or say.  I even thought that I wasn’t a good enough “christian” to be teaching.  I now know that all of those responses were based on wrong thinking and fear.  Let’s face it, none of us are ever going to be good enough.  There’s no such thing as a perfect Christian, we’re all sinners,  saved by grace.  Secondly, what better of a way to learn all the bible stories than by teaching.  I agreed to step out in faith and “help” in a class.  It wasn’t long before I saw that it was not very difficult, and was actually a lot of fun.  Soon thereafter I began leading the class.  By teaching others,  I was learning to grasp some of the basic fundamental bible truths.  God was using this opportunity to grow me in so many ways.  I was there to serve, but instead was being blessed because I was acting in obedience by serving others.  This service was increasing my biblical knowledge and my faith.  And to top it all off, I was getting to spend time with some awesome kids and getting the privilege to teach them about God.  And a privilege it is, it just doesn’t get any better than that!

If you’re not currently serving,  you might ask yourself . . . How can I do my part, by using the gifts and talents God has given me to bless others?  If you’re not sure what your gifts and talents are, you might ask others to help you find out, step out in faith and start somewhere, anywhere.   Pray diligently that God will lead you into serving right where he wants you, sometimes that’s just want God is looking for, that first step of faith on our part.   God has given each of us a special S.H.A.P.E. for serving  . . . Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Ability, Personality and Experiences.  Each one of these things help define who we are, and how God can use us, to meet the needs of others in the body of Christ.  Let’s face it serving is not easy.  It requires self-sacrifice.  But if we are true followers of Christ, we need to release our own ambitions and follow the plan that God has for our lives.   If you are already serving, you might ask yourself . . . what can I do to improve my serve?  I believe that there is “always” room for improvement.

So this is the “New Years Challenge” to myself and to you as well.  Let’s follow in God’s footsteps and live a life of service to others!   It’s an exciting prospect to look at . . .Wouldn’t our church be a force to be reckoned with, if every one of us, as part of the body of Christ, would do our part and to serve one another?  We could impact each other and our community with the “Love of Christ” in a profound way.  Now I believe that is a challenge worth striving for!

Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

1 Peter 4:10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Philippians 2:5-7 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.