Tag Archives: Christianity

Prayer

I’ve had times when I’ve tried to do a series of posts that I hit a brick wall. Writers block, so to speak. I hit the wall and then miss the achievement of my goal of writing so many days in a row. But, not today. I decided to just start writing and see if enough words would come out that would eventually hit my topic. And, like the title says, today’s topic is prayer.

The author of the devotional talks about her complicated relationship with prayer. I’ve had one too. There are many verses in Scripture that say if you pray in faith, you will get what you’ve asked for or some variant of those words. In the early years of my faith, I thought that meant I would get whatever I asked for, and when I didn’t, I was told I didn’t have enough faith. That’s hard for someone to hear especially when the people saying it seemed to be continually blessed when all that was happening to me was bad times which included sickness and financial downturns. It also hurt when those same people implied they were better than me because of their blessings.

As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve come to know better. Prayer doesn’t exist so we can get all our wants and desires met. Like the author says, “Prayer is this amazing opportunity to connect directly with the greatest Being who has always been.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) It is a way for all of us to connect directly with our Lord and Savior. But, here is what I didn’t realize before. When we begin to pray about a situation, we usually don’t know all of the particulars and we definitely don’t know what is going to happen in the future. In other words, we don’t know what God knows. God wants us to come to Him in prayer as it says in 1 John 5:14. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

But, He also wants His very best for us and not what we think is best. He also doesn’t want to give us the same thing as the church member who lives down the street. So, this is where I need to have courage and confidence. Courage that God will take my prayers and use them for His glory and confidence that I am in the palm of His hand no matter what happens.

I am so thankful that we have this vehicle of prayer to connect with God and that He is always available even if no one else is. I am also thankful He knows what’s best for me even if I sometimes don’t. May we all connect with our Lord and Savior today in this glorious thing called prayer!

 

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

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Reading Scripture for Ourselves

Now, we’re starting to get to the nuts and bolts of becoming brave in our faith. Yes, today’s topic is reading Scripture for ourselves and not just listening to what the preacher says or what the Sunday School teacher says. We shouldn’t just read the verses they talk about either although that’s a good start. I remember when I was a new believer. I read through the New Testament several times and memorized verses–verses about Jesus and the words He spoke. It was eye-opening for a young teenager starting to learn about her faith. I read the Old Testament too, but not as much. The stories were harder to understand, and I wasn’t able to see the connections with Jesus.

Both parts of the Bible are connected though, and God does want us to read each part of His story. We can see this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Thoroughly equipped. I like that. All the continuing education I could have ever wanted in Christianity rolled up and contained in one place. God has used different verses to speak to me as I’ve read Scripture which wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t opened my Bible first.

I will admit there are parts of the Bible which are difficult to understand. And, as we all know, we tend to avoid things we don’t understand. So, I wanted to mention some tools that have been helpful to me as I’ve read the Bible for myself. The first is to have a Bible with study notes. There have been so many times that a study note has made a verse clearer to me which made the entire passage clearer. A study Bible is worth its weight in gold.

I also do my best to regularly attend Bibles studies and classes at my church. I read what we’re studying before I go, and I talk with the other participants about the words we’ve read. It’s helpful to get other perspectives on the meaning of a passage or a verse. We might disagree on nuances of meaning, but I know I have a better overall understanding of the Bible when I study it with my Christian brothers and sisters.

Finally, I find it helpful to journal when I’m studying a particularly difficult passage. When I write my own words about the words of Scripture, they make God’s words easier to understand. God also speaks to me through them–through the words of the passage and through situations in my life that might be related to the passage.

As I end, let me encourage you in your quest to read the Bible for yourself. It has helped me in my quest to be brave in my faith, and I know you will be strengthened and encouraged in your faith by reading God’s word!

 

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Never Alone–How Does that Work in Community?

At the beginning of my fourth week in writing these reactions to the devotions in 100 Days to Brave, I come to a topic that brings up an unresolved tension in me. It’s a question many of you may have. Let me explain. Scripture says we are never alone, and yes, I firmly believe that. In what has become known at the Great Commission among Protestant Christians, Jesus states this in the final verse of the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew 28:20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The author of the devotional also defined one of God’s names in this entry. Immanuel. God with us. He is always with us through every trial and through every praise. He is with us when we have people in our lives and when we are living in a new town and know no one. It is such a comfort to know I am never alone.

But, what about the other part of my title? What about the community God wants us to form with other believers? It was important to the believers in the first century. Shouldn’t it be important to us? Then another voice asks, ‘No, no, we should be able to survive on our own in this world, right? God is always with us. We don’t need anyone else as we navigate this world.’ As you can see, an unresolved tension, at least in Western culture with its heavy promotion of individualism.

It goes back to what I termed as messy. Many years ago, my husband and I left the church because of a messy situation. I’ve spoken of this before. We got to the point where we couldn’t take it anymore, and we stepped out on our own. We said we were still Christians, and I believe we were. I also believe God was still with us. But, we didn’t talk to Him as much, and we definitely didn’t have fellowship with other believers or let ourselves be vulnerable with other believers. Why should we have? Isn’t that how we had gotten in trouble before?

God still spoke to us in the quiet places during our time away from the church though. He spoke to us through our decision to homeschool our sons, through the homeschoolers I met online especially one who would lead us to a place several years later where we would meet God again in a more personal way, and through our decision to move back to South Carolina to care for my mother-in-law. God spoke to us through it all–sometimes so softly that I didn’t realize it was Him, but still, He spoke.

I look back over what I just wrote and think that just having God as a constant companion and not having a community of other believers during this time seemed to work out pretty well for me. It did, to a point, but before I go any further, I do want to mention a realization I just had. No, we weren’t attending a brick and mortar church during this time, and no, we didn’t have a community of other believers around us through said brick and mortar church. But, I did have believers around me–through my homeschool website. It was not the same as having them in person, but I did have them.

Anyway, back to my point. Between our time away from the church, the moves we made, and the losses we experienced, I started to realize something was missing from my go-it-alone approach. Something I wasn’t even aware of until my older son asked his faithful question almost six years ago. And that was what brought us back to a brick and mortar church and to a bigger community of believers and friends than I possibly could have imagined. God had always been with me, of that I had no doubt, but, for the last almost six years, the practice of my faith has been fuller and richer than it ever was before, and for that, I will be forever grateful.

I spoke in my first paragraph of this post of the tension between going it alone with just God (since He is always with us) and having a community of believers to live life with. Even though I have had a richer and fuller experience of practicing my faith with a community over the past few years, I believe there will always be tension. Why? Because community is messy, and it can cause hurt and pain. We are human, and we are fallen, and sometimes, we don’t know how to navigate this hurt and pain. I find myself not wanting to be vulnerable in front of my community because I’m afraid of being hurt again, of letting my walls down. I will probably be working on this fear until the day I die, but it is worth it for me to keep trying because I know practicing my faith with God and my community in my corner is in God’s best plan for me. May we all want God’s best plan for us as we practice our faith!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

The Hard Questions

I decided to let this one ruminate in the back of my mind for a while, and I’m glad I did. A lot of us have been asking hard questions since Wednesday. How could someone have picked up a gun and killed all those people? Why did no one notice this young man needed help? Why have there been so many school shootings? What has happened to our world?

Everyone has come out with the pat answers to these questions–people from every political and religious persuasion, people from every cultural, economic and racial persuasion, people who just want to have some control over a situation that has no control. Now, before anyone comments on the truth or perceived truth of their beliefs, I do believe some of what’s been said, but I believe these kind of situations run much deeper than the surface comments.

God wants us to ask the hard questions, the questions we think might not have answers. He wants us to ask questions in the midst of good and in the midst of evil. As Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Now, one might look at that and ask why people had to die like the people in Florida did. I don’t know why, and I probably won’t know until I see my Lord and Savior face to face. But, I do know He was there in the midst of it, and He was weeping when that young man chose to use a weapon and kill those people. Evil is present in our world, and God gave us all free will. We might question and rage about the consequences, but these are still unalterable truths. It doesn’t mean we can’t ask God the hard questions, and it doesn’t mean He doesn’t weep either.

I look at what I just wrote, and understanding still eludes me. Yes, I would write it again, but still, why…? There are two questions from the devotional I want to quote because I think finding the answers will lead me to what God wants me to find. “What’s Your plan for me? What am I supposed to be learning right now?” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) The answers come then, in a flood. Because, we all struggle, even those of us in the church.

Reports are coming out that the young man struggled, and no help was forthcoming. It does not excuse what he did, but still…what if help had been there? Would he have committed this crime? I don’t know, but I believe it would have been less likely.

We have a hard time in the church offering support and showing Jesus’ love to people on an ongoing basis especially for mental health reasons. Like I said yesterday, people in the church should be the safest to struggle with, but we’re not. We hide our struggles behind shields that make it difficult to be honest with each other. We pretend that everything is okay when it’s not. We use Bible verses as weapons instead of letting people weep in our arms. We don’t acknowledge doubts and questions thinking that God would seem weaker if we did. I am here to tell you that God can take our doubts and questions more than we think He can. He has much stronger shoulders than we think He does. He wants to know our struggles as well as our praises.

But, someone has to be first. Someone has to admit they struggle to others in their church family and not hide it. And maybe that’s the answer God is giving me. He wants me to admit I struggle so others will feel comfortable in admitting their struggles. Then, maybe God can begin a healing work in this thing we call a church, and we can all admit we are broken and flawed. We can help those who need it without judgment and without condemnation, and we’ll be able to see Jesus in our church communities where He should have been all long.

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

 

He Broke the Mold

I’m struggling with how to translate the words of today’s devotional into something I haven’t already said. I covered this topic yesterday for myself,  https://alisarussell.wordpress.com/2018/02/14/geek-out/.  There are so many thoughts rolling through my head though, I’m not sure which ones to grab and try to illustrate with words.

God did break the mold when He made us. I know it because of what the psalmist said in Psalm 139. These are some of my favorite verses when I’m not sure what I’m here for. From verses 13-15, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your words are wonderful. I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.” He made only one of each and every one of us. We are all worth something to Him, and we are not the burdens and screw-ups we think we are. Think only unbelievers feel that way? No, there are just as many believers who feel the same way, and it makes me wonder if we’ve truly realized the worth of what God has given us. If it has transformed our hearts so that His love can spill back out to those who so desperately need it. I honestly don’t know. I know I do my best every day to reflect Christ’s love to others, but I also know I fail often.  We all need to be the light this world desperately needs.

If you live in the United States and especially in Florida, you know there was no light at a school yesterday where several people were hurt and killed. My heart is almost immune to these shootings now because there have been so many of them. It shouldn’t be though. It should hurt because of the darkness, because of the evil, because of the person who never heard of God’s love or never saw His light. We, who are Christians, should be the ones who show God’s light and should be the ones people feel safe to struggle with. But, we think that having God in our lives means we shouldn’t struggle anymore, and if we do, we hide it. So, no one sees how God can work in our lives.

This makes my heart ache. If people had a safe place to struggle, I believe the incidents of school shootings would go way down. (Yes, I know we need to have school safety programs and common sense laws about weapons.) Most of all though, people need to know they are loved and cared about no matter how hard or difficult it is and no matter how different they are because we are all precious in God’s eyes. After all, He broke the mold when He made us. Isn’t it time to start showing His light to a broken world?

Praying for God’s blessings on you all today!

Geek Out

I grew up in the 1970’s and early 80’s, one of the cool eras for reading material consisting of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. Women were starting to gain more opportunities in the workplace, and it seemed like the sky was the limit for what women could do. No longer was it just teaching or nursing and being single was no longer a requirement to work. The opportunities were limitless.

As a child growing up during this time, this was represented by the kinds of books I liked to read and the kinds of movies and television shows I liked to watch. Much to my family’s consternation, I didn’t want to do things considered normal for girls like play house or play with dolls. My preference was to see how far and how fast I could run and whether jumping off the roof of a house was actually an option. (You’ll understand why in a moment. 🙂 ) When I became an adolescent, I wasn’t concerned about my appearance and the myriad of things that went with it. I wasn’t interested in doing my hair or nails or in the things I wore.

No, I was more interested in reading books like The Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Bobbsey Twins mysteries. The Sword of Shannara was fascinating to me when it came out in 1977. I also remember watching such television shows as The Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman, Six Million Dollar Man, Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rogers. I was a geek before the term became well-known. I was more interested in making up adventures with my favorite characters from literature and television (Hence, the jumping off the roof. 🙂 ) than anything else that would be considered typical for a girl growing into a woman.

There is one thing I remember in particular. When the first Star Wars movie premiered in 1977, I went to the very first showing at one of the movie theaters where I lived. It was eye-opening. I saw the adventure play out on the big screen, and all I could think of is that I wanted to be in a “galaxy far, far away.” Princess Leia, in particular, inspired me. She was a woman, in charge of the resistance, and other people accepted direction from her. I left that movie thinking anything was possible for me.

What does all this have to do with the devotions from 100 Days to Brave? Believe it or not, today’s devotion is about being comfortable with what you like. I wish I had been truly comfortable with my likes and dislikes when I was growing up. I didn’t try to hide them, but boy, was I assaulted from all sides. From school to the world around me to the friends and family who didn’t understand, I didn’t fit in because I was different. It also didn’t help that I had to navigate two moves as a teenager and was trying to figure out my new-found faith in Jesus.

But, God made me a certain way, and it’s only been in recent years that I have become comfortable with the woman I am. I am not a typical woman. Discussions about clothes, hair, and nails will probably always bore me as will discussions about homes and furniture. I am a writer who loves superheroes, spaceships, scientists, mysteries, and the world around me. If any of those things involve female characters, all the better.

I love Jesus with all of my heart and want to make sure those who are different know of Jesus’ love for them. It might seem like those who are Christians are all the same, but I am here to tell you they are not! How can we be the same when a loving God made each of us? We, as Christians, just need to do a way better job of loving and accepting those who are different from us than we have done in the past. And we who are different need to be brave enough to love the things we love without altering them. May we all remember we are accepted by God just as we are!

God’s blessings on you all today!

Negative Self-Talk

I’m sure most of us have heard the saying, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.” I would take that one step further and say that a good many of us try to follow that saying in our daily lives. Not that we’re successful all the time. Far from it. Sin inhabits our world and has a habit of bringing out the ugliness in all of us. Simply put, we are not perfect, but we tend to make a better effort to be kinder to other people than we are to ourselves.

Yes, we have come to the devotion that says we need to be kinder to ourselves and not speak to ourselves negatively . The topic that people in the secular world talk about as well as people in the religious world. But, for all the words you hear about this topic, how many of us actually speak kindly to ourselves? I know I struggle with this. Sometimes, I think I’m the champion of being unkind to myself. Raise your hands if you’re with me. 🙂 There is so much we do that can cause negative self-talk. Even our appearance can cause us to think and speak negatively to ourselves. And as I said before, if there was an Olympic medal for negative self-talk, I would win the gold hands down.

But, God doesn’t want us to talk badly to ourselves. He wants how we speak to ourselves to be just as kind as how we speak to others. There’s a Bible verse in the devotion that reflects this truth. From Proverbs 18:21, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” I always thought words like this were meant for when you speak to others, but they’re not. They’re meant for when I speak to myself too.

I can take the previous thought a step further as well. There are many times I don’t feel brave because of my depression and because of my circumstances. That is when the negative self-talk seems to be at its worst. A quote from the author puts it into perspective for me. “Speaking kindly to yourself will make you brave.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) It’s the missing piece. Something I’ve strived for in my efforts to be brave, but it has stayed just out of reach. No more. I’m going to work on speaking kindly to myself so I will have the strength and bravery to follow God’s will in my life. To write words He wants me to write and share them with the world.

And if I forget why I can speak kindly to myself, I will remember this quote from the devotional. “You can speak kindly to yourself because God loves you deeply because you are His.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs)

I am God’s. Nothing else matters. May you receive that truth today!

God’s blessings on you all today!