Relationship, Not Fire and Brimstone (Beyond Our Walls)

I did not grow up in a Christian home where my family went to church regularly or talked about having a relationship with God. I remember going to Vacation Bible School once or twice, but the God I heard about during those times remained distant and unapproachable.

When I was a teenager, I was invited to youth group at a church by some of my friends and was soon going regularly to not only youth group, but Sunday services as well.  One Sunday I heard a sermon on John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This unconditional love intrigued me, and it wasn’t long before I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I went home and told my family, but they weren’t quite as intrigued as I was. My mother did come to see me be baptized, but I quickly learned that discussing my new faith at home wasn’t welcome.

I continued to read and learn about my new faith from excellent teachers at my church. These adults took me under their wing and taught me about Jesus’ unconditional love. For a young woman on the verge of adulthood, having adults who truly cared about me taught me more about Jesus than anything else could.

There was one thing though that troubled me, and I had a hard time reconciling what I was hearing about Jesus’ unconditional love to other things I was hearing at church. A type of sermon that was preached regularly in the denomination I attended was what could be characterized as a fire and brimstone sermon. It was the kind of sermon that would tell people exactly where they would go if they didn’t accept Jesus as their Savior–to hell. And yes, that is where they are going. But, the way the sermon was delivered–in a loud voice with shouting and pointing fingers–was scary and reminded me more of things I was experiencing in my own home than of the unconditional love of Christ. In fact, if I had heard one of those sermons before I had heard one on John 3:16, I might not have accepted Christ. As a new believer though, I internalized those teachings and because I was hearing them on a regular basis, I thought that was how you told people about Christ. As you can imagine, that did not work well.

I speak of this today because the devotion from my church is entitled Bringing People to Heaven. The young man who wrote it gave some excellent Bible references which I read. I especially liked Hebrews 12:1-2 which says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

By reading these verses and other verses in Scripture, it’s clear that God wants us to tell people about Him and bring people to heaven with us. I struggled with how to do that for a long time though and still struggle today to an extent because I had unconsciously separated Jesus’ unconditional love and fire and brimstone sermons. I spent years in the church working and serving and years outside of the church when my community failed me not understanding one of the fundamental truths about Christianity. What is that truth, you ask? Jesus wants to have a relationship with us, pure and simple. And He wants us to have a relationship with Him and relationships with other people. Having a relationship of love and trust FIRST can go a long way towards what you might want to say to someone about God or about Jesus later on. That takes time though, time we might not want to spend, but time God CALLS us to spend. Time that will bring people to heaven with us if we are committed to spending that time. My prayer for all of us is for that truth to seep into our hearts today.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Hold Each Other Up (Beyond Our Walls)

The title of today’s devotion is Living with Fear. As someone else who also suffers with depression, the author asks questions I have often asked of myself. Does my faith really exist when I hurt? Is God really working in my life when I feel such sadness? Where is the peace God promises? Why do I need to take medicine when God has called me to a spirit of love and joy? There have been times when I have felt woefully inadequate in my faith walk because I haven’t been able to answer these questions.

I agree with the author of the devotion when she says that more time spent in prayer and Scripture eases her spirit. It eases my spirit too. Some of my favorite verses are among the verses she mentions. Psalm 30:5 says, “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

I also like these verses from Lamentations. Chapter 3, Verses 22-26 say, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him.’ The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

These are good verses, and there are many more that come to mind about giving our anxieties to the Lord. God gave me something else to consider though as I was thinking about this topic. What are we supposed to do when we come in contact with someone who is suffering from anxiety or depression? Do we show them where in Scripture it says not to worry and leave them alone? Do we make them feel inadequate in their faith because they suffer from this? Do we puff ourselves up and make ourselves seem like we’re more important because we don’t have problems with anxiety or depression?

No, no, and no! There needs to be a willingness to listen and to pray with people who are hurting without condemning them. People need to know their hearts are safe with those they choose to share their hurts with. There are also Scriptures that say we are to hold each other up. Scriptures like 1 Thessalonians 5:11 which says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

I also like Romans 15:5-6 which says, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice, you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And finally, from John 15:12. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

God calls us to love each other and hold each other up and not make it seem like we’re better than anyone else if we don’t suffer from anxiety or depression. He also calls us not to have a spirit of fear, but I think we can do that much better when we are listening to each other and praying for each other; in other words, holding each other up.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Listening to the Holy Spirit (Beyond Our Walls)

God gave us the Holy Spirit to guide all of us believers in our lives. Jesus speaks specifically of this in Acts 1:4 which says, “On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'”

I have heard the Holy Spirit is the least understood of the Trinity, and in my case, I would have to say this is true because it has only been in recent years that I have started to understand the Holy Spirit’s role in my faith walk. He is my counselor and my guide. He gives me the discernment I ask for when I pray and spend time with God. He is the one who gives me a push when I’m in a situation I don’t need to be in. He is the one who, as the devotion from my church today says, helps me to “pick my battles wisely.”

Recently, someone I know was in a battle he didn’t need to be in. He kept feeling like the place he was in wasn’t a good place and looking back, I can see where he was getting a push from the Holy Spirit to do something about it.  But, he didn’t because the messages he received from society said that being proactive about the situation wasn’t a good idea.

It got to a point where he was pushed out of the bad situation and forced to trust in what God was going to do next in his life. Maybe ‘forced’ isn’t the right word. I have found in my life that I do a better job of trusting in and holding on to my Lord and Savior when I don’t have anything else to hold on to. I believe it was the same for this other person.

God wants us to let go and let Him work in our lives, and He’s given us the Holy Spirit to help us as we live in this world. To help us “pick our battles wisely” and “not be a donkey”. (something else from today’s devotion) He has given us many blessings, some of which we don’t recognize in our pursuit of the things of this world, but blessings still the same. My prayer for me and for all of us is that we would learn to recognize the nudge of the Holy Spirit which would lead us towards these blessings. They might not be the blessings we expect, but they will be the blessings God wants to give us which will be more than we could ask for or imagine.

Thank you, God, for giving me a helper, your Holy Spirit. Help me to truly let go and let you do your work in me as I live in this world. Help me to “pick my battles wisely”. In Jesus Name, Amen!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Purpose in Pain (Beyond our Walls)

I figured out something yesterday. With the prayer journey that my church is embarking on, I will have no lack of subjects to write about for this blog if I choose to take on the challenge. So, what am I going to do? Take the challenge. 🙂 Thirty-eight straight days of writing beginning today. I’m eager to see where it takes me. It will almost be like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) except, at the end, I won’t have the first draft of a book, so to speak. It will be writing God’s story and my story and telling how they intersect so, without further adieu, here is today’s topic.

If anyone from my church is reading this, they might wonder how much more I have to say about this subject because, as the picture below shows, I wrote the devotion on today’s topic. But, I have more, much more to say.

If you examine the picture closely, you can tell I wrote it while my husband is unemployed. This has changed in the month since I turned it in, and I am so grateful.

The last two sentences I wrote though are why I am revisiting this topic. “I have been asking Him why we are going through this again and why my heart has been broken again.  To give our hurting world a voice at CrossBridge was the answer.”

My pain has a point and a purpose in God’s Kingdom. I wonder why we, as Christians, want to deny that. Writing the words above over a month ago brought more comfort than anything else during our trial. Trials take us out of our comfort zone; they take us out of being too comfortable. I think the hurt would have been greater if I had not believed there was a point to what we were going through.

We need to express the pain we are going through to our Christian brothers and sisters. If God has a point and a purpose to our pain, we, the church, need to become comfortable with others expressing their pain. In the church today though, I think being able to do this and being comfortable with others doing this has become a lost art. We don’t share our pain with our brothers and sisters. We maintain shields instead thinking that others are not comfortable with the expression of pain.

This is not what God wants. Not by a long shot. He wants us to get down in the trenches of ministry. He wants us to share our pain with others so people will know how He has changed our lives. He wants us to love the unlovable. He wants us to have true community with each other.

He also wants us to celebrate with each other. But, how can we celebrate if we haven’t taken off the veneer and shown our true selves to each other?

God’s blessings on all of you today!


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Contentment and Wisdom (Beyond Our Walls)

Today is the second day of the Forty Days of Prayer that my church is having, and I thought I would share my thoughts on the topics of the first two days of devotions.

The Bible verses which were shared in connection with both of these topics have one thing in common, and that is their lack of focus on self. First, Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'”

Then, James 1:5. “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.”

Why is it that we can ask for contentment or for wisdom, but never seem to get any? Is it because we’re focused on self and not on others? Is it because we’re not reliant on the one who can give us both? Or are there times we feel like we’ve been abandoned because of situations going on in our lives?

Sometimes, for me, it can be the latter. Today, I am faced with a situation I am very concerned about. I don’t see a way I can do anything about it now except pray and ask others to pray. It involves someone I love being in pain, and it is a hard thing to watch not being able to do anything about it myself.

But, God can, and that is something I need to remember. We can ask for contentment and for wisdom in how to handle situations, and He doesn’t leave us alone. He wants to give these things to us abundantly like it says in James. We only need to ask. Here’s the hard thing though. Once we have asked for contentment or for wisdom, we need to leave our burden at His feet and take up the things He has given us which will help us handle our burden. This is hard for me because it means I’m renouncing being the one in control. Isn’t that the point though? I’m not supposed to be the one in control. My Lord and Savior is.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Living in the Moment, Trusting God for the Future

Living in this day and age requires that we be planners. No, maybe require is too strong of a word. I would have to say all the messages we receive push us to be planners. We plan our educations, plan our jobs, plan our marriages, plan for the births of our children, plan for how we’ll raise and educate our children,  plan for advancement in our job, plan for college, plan for an empty nest, and plan for retirement. I probably missed a thing or two, but I think you get the idea. Everything I named requires two things that are generally in short supply. Those things are money and time. We run around like chickens with their heads cut off to achieve everything we set our hearts on, but we miss out on so much when we don’t slow down.

We especially miss out on what God wants us to do with our lives. I’ve spent the last few months learning how to trust God. Living moment to moment, even second to second sometimes. I’ve learned I’m not in control even though I might like to think I am. I’ve learned how to appreciate a sunrise. I’ve learned how to trust God for the resources we need. I’ve learned how to appreciate laughter even when I might not feel like laughing.

I’ve not been perfect with this process. God is still working with me in living in the moment during a conversation. More often than not, I still am thinking of what I want to say when someone is talking with me. I’ve said things I regret like we all do. I’ve not been the person God wants me to be.

I believe this is where God has been teaching  me the most, and it’s been in preparation for something my church is about to begin in conjunction with its capital campaign. We’re calling it Forty Days of Prayer. We’re going to be praying together as a church family to be in God’s will for what He wants us to do in our community. Yes, there is a money component, but it’s deeper than that, or at least it’s going to be deeper for me. Reaching deeper into my mind, heart, and soul, and reaching past my brokenness to discover what God’s will is for me. I have always thought my brokenness impeded me from doing work for God’s kingdom. But, that’s not true, and I’m looking forward to planting that truth into the deepest recesses of my heart.

There’s one other reason I want to work on living in the moment and trusting God for the future. None of us are guaranteed a future. We don’t know when God is going to call us home. I recently heard a song that illustrates this truth and though it’s not specifically Christian, I wanted to share the lyrics as I end this post.  The song is called Blink, and it’s by a group named Revive.

“Teach me to number my days
And count every moment
Before it slips away
Take in all the colors
Before they fade to grey

I don’t want to miss
Even just a second
More of this

It happens in a blink, it happens in a flash
It happens in the time it took to look back
I try to hold on tight, but there’s no stopping time
What is it I’ve done with my life?

It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink

When it’s all said and done
No one remembers
How far we have run
The only thing that matters
Is how we have loved

I don’t want to miss
Even just a second
More of this

It happens in a blink, it happens in a flash
It happens in the time it took to look back
I try to hold on tight, but there’s no stopping time
What is it I’ve done with my life?

It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink

Slow down
Slow down
Before today becomes
Our yesterday

Slow down
Slow down
Before you turn around
And it’s too late

It happens in a blink, it happens in a flash
It happens in the time it took to look back
I try to hold on tight, but there’s no stopping time
What is it I’ve done with my life?

It happens in a blink, it happens in a flash
It happens in the time it took to look back
I try to hold on tight, but there’s no stopping time
What is it I’ve done with my life?

It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink”

May we all remember to live in the moment and trust God for the future!
God’s blessings on all of you today!

 

Praising God for His Blessings!

Time to update this blog on the wonderful blessings that came to my family last week. My husband now has a job! He received an offer at the beginning of last week that was accepted, and he is now working at his new job. We are excited at the new beginning and new normal this represents for us. We are also aware of just how much we have been blessed, and we have taken time to thank God and praise Him for His blessings on us.

He calls us to do that in the Scriptures, and there are many examples I want to share with you this morning.

Psalm 150:1 says, “Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.”

Another verse comes from Psalm 75. Verse 1 says, “We praise you, God, we praise you, for your Name is near; people tell of your wonderful deeds.”

This one comes from Luke 5:26. “Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

Psalm 72:18 says, “Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds.”

I like this one from Psalm 147. Verse 1 says, “Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!”

There are many, many more examples of this in Scripture. It is my belief that those of us who are Christians don’t do this nearly enough, and I would say this first about myself.  Before my husband got the offer last week, I was at the end of my rope and thinking that God had deserted me.   I found another verse though that spoke to my heart. Psalm 66:20 says, “Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!” Amen!

It is hard to wait. It is especially hard to wait when you have no idea what might happen and when you are unsure of what your community thinks or believes about you. When you are at the end of your rope though is when God works, and I praise Him for what He did in our lives.

I will also praise him for the spirit of renewal He has brought to my life, and I will remember Psalm 146:2 as I move forward. “I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.”

God’s blessings on all of you today!