Tag Archives: Jesus

Bravery in Community

We weren’t meant to struggle alone, and we weren’t meant to be brave alone. It’s taken me years to work that out in my head. It’s hard to be brave or to be vulnerable when your trust has been betrayed. I’ll be covering who to be brave with in more detail tomorrow, but let’s just say that time and God’s love have worked on my heart enough where I feel ready to be brave again.

Why do we need to be brave with each other and not just by ourselves? Number one–God calls us to. Hebrews 10:24-25 says this, “And let us consider how we may spur one another toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” I used to read these verses and think they were talking about the early church, but I don’t anymore. They have become rooted deep in my heart and have a more personal meaning to me now.

The second reason is that if we tell someone what we’re thinking or feeling, we have a tendency to be more committed and follow through with whatever we’ve said. In other words, we’ve shown commitment to the people around us. Because of our bravery or our vulnerability, there will be people who will ask how it’s going or whether we’ve accomplished that thing we set out to do. These are things that will help us stay accountable and were what God meant, I think, when He created us to live in community with one another.

This is a hard thing for those of us in the western church. We have such an individualistic mind-set that we think we can’t or shouldn’t depend on anyone else. Church is a box to be checked off, and we think our relationship with God is something that is just between us and Him with no one else involved. I’ve learned that this is not true. It is so not true, but it takes all of us being brave and vulnerable to be the church God wants us to be in His world. To be God’s community to our hurting world.

Our news is filled with shootings, sickness, selfish people, and evil. Can we who are believers be brave enough to be different? Can we be Jesus to those who are hurting? Can we be brave in our communities of believers? I don’t know about you, but my heart wants to try. I’m praying we will all have the desire to have a heart like His!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

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Preparation

With this blog post, I am one-quarter of the way through writing my reactions to the devotional 100 Days to Brave. God knew what He was doing when He led me to this book. He knew I would need the words of wisdom He had given to this author and the Scripture which has gone with each entry. Writing these posts has been a productive experience so far, and I have grown so much. Looking forward to God’s nuggets of wisdom as I keep going.

So, today’s topic is preparation. Actually, the title of the devotion is “Dream in Pieces”, but I think the titles are synonymous so I’m going with “Preparation” for my post. I spoke some about this topic yesterday. By writing every day, I’m preparing for the time when I become a published author. I’m practicing my craft by writing my words down, by staying on topic when I write, by placing my writing where others can read it, and by using the rules of grammar well so my writing is understandable. All things that are important in preparation.

When I first saw the title of the devotion, I wondered why it had been placed after the “Dream Big” devotion. Just as quickly, the answer came to me. Our big dreams need preparation. They can become overwhelming if the big dream is achieved all at once. We can be discouraged from realizing the big dream if one small part fails. And we might be tempted to not give credit where credit is due if we achieve the big dream too soon. That’s why God has us prepare for our dreams one piece at a time.

It was that way in Scripture. David was young when his father sent him to see how the battle with the Philistines was going and how his brothers were doing. He found all of the soldiers scared of Goliath. He amazed them when he volunteered to fight this huge giant, but, even though he was young, God had already been preparing David for this battle. By killing bears and lions in his daily job of tending the sheep, David had grown in his courage and bravery each day and had grown in his belief in God. He knew that God had a role for him to play which would require courage that would be revealed at just the right time.

It was the same way with Jesus. His life and His years in ministry were in preparation for one thing–the cross, and He didn’t allow Himself to be distracted either. His single-minded focus gave us all the chance to be reconciled with God (through our belief in Him), and His courage gave us the model we should look towards as we seek to become braver in glorifying Him.

I also think that’s why we don’t have a clear understanding of all of Scripture. God knew that we would need multiple re-readings of His story for His teachings to develop our heart and our character. He also knew we would need preparation as we sought to serve Him where He placed us. Understanding His story one piece at a time helps us to develop our trust in Him over the long run.

It is the same with dreaming in pieces. As we achieve our dreams one piece at a time, we develop an abiding trust in our Lord and Savior, and we are able to lean into His love and grace even more. May we all know that kind of trust today!

 

Praying God’s blessings for you all today!

 

A Choice I Need to Make

Today’s devotion was uncomfortable, can be uncomfortable. It talks about truth, and for those of us who fudge on the truth or outright like, it can make us very uncomfortable. This truth shouldn’t though. It is the truth that sets us free. The truth of this faith we say we follow.

Before I go any further let me define this word I’m talking about today. According to the dictionary, truth means, “a fact or belief that is accepted as true.” Wikipedia uses a similar definition. “Truth is most often used to mean being in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or standard.”

So, truth is a fact or belief that is true. Isn’t that what we believe when we accept the truth of 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 is the hallmark verse of our faith, and one of the first ones many of us memorize, me included.

The question I want to ask today is why do people accept this verse as true, but not the verses that Jesus and God tell us about ourselves–the truths we should hold onto every second of every day.

There’s an easy answer to this question, especially if you read my post from yesterday.  https://alisarussell.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/the-lies-we-believe/  We listen to Satan’s lies. We let Satan inundate us with every bad thing we’ve ever done. I’m as guilty of it as you are. Pain can overwhelm me when I am trying to do something for Jesus, and I let go of the good thing to hold onto the bad thing. I don’t want to hold onto the bad thing, and I’m sure you don’t either. But, we do. It’s part of being human.

I want to do better. I want to strive towards those other verses that tell us how Jesus wants us to live and what He wants us to believe about ourselves. This means I need to be reading and studying my Bible to see what nuggets of truth God wants to share with me. And there are so many nuggets. From verses in Psalms that explain how God wanted us to be born despite the circumstances we were born into to verses in Jeremiah that tell us God’s plan for us to verses in the New Testament that tell us about our true identity in Christ to verses in Matthew when Jesus confronts Satan in the wilderness, there is so much we need to commit to our hearts and minds.

There is one very big but (as my pastor likes to say  🙂 ) that we need to keep in mind though. We can read as much of the Bible as we want, but if we don’t make the choice to believe all of its words, all of its truths, every day, we will be stuck at the beginning and not receive the true abundance God wants for us. God doesn’t leave us alone while we are making this choice, and that is what we need to hold onto. I end with this prayer from the devotional we can all use as we are making the choice God wants us to make. “God, tell me the truth of who I am. I’m listening. I want to be free from the lies–do that for me. Rescue me. Bring truth like a waterfall.”

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

The Lies We Believe

Here we are at Week 2 of my 100 Days to Brave series with quite the provocative title. The Lies We Believe. I don’t know about you, but there are many lies I believe about myself. I do know they come from Satan before anyone feels compelled to comment on that truth, but, for me, it’s a little more complicated than that. Because, I get confused when I think about how to combat these lies. Between the biochemical imbalance in my brain and thinking that I always need to pretend everything is okay if I’m going to be seen as a “good Christian”, I’m not sure how to claim God’s victory over what Satan is trying to make me believe. I do my best though, and that’s what I want to focus on today–how God provides a way through Satan’s lies for me.

 

The first way is through music. I listen to Christian music each morning between when my husband leaves for work and my son and I begin our home school. There is a lot of good music out there which inundates my mind with God’s truths and begins my day on a positive note. I play one song, in particular, several times a day. It is a song called “Wedding Day” by Casting Crowns. The first time I listened to the lyrics, I could hardly believe it. It was exactly how I felt about myself. Here are the lyrics so you can see for yourself.

 

“There’s a stirring in the throne room
And all creation holds it’s breath
Waiting now to see the bride groom
Wondering how the bride will dress
And she wears white
And she knows that she’s undeserving
She bears the shame of history
But this worn and weary maiden
Is not the bride that he sees
And she wears white, head to toe
But only he could make it so

 

When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says your beautiful
When you don’t know you are
And all you’ve longed to see
Is written on his face
When love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day
On that wedding day

 

She has danced in golden castles
And she has crawled through beggar’s dust
But today she stands before him
And she wears his righteousness
And she will be who he adores
And this is what he made her for

 

When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says your beautiful
When you don’t know you are
And all you’ve longed to see
Is written on his face
When love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day
On that wedding day

 

When the hand that bears the only scars
And heaven touch her face
And the last tears she’ll ever cry
Are finally wiped away
And the clouds roll back as he takes her hand
And walks her through the gates
Forever we will reign

 

When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says your beautiful
When you don’t know you are
And all you’ve longed to see
Is written on his face
When love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day
On that wedding day”

 

This song tells me Jesus considers me worth it even though I know I don’t deserve it, even though I’m ashamed of what I’ve done and what I’ve been through, and even though I know I’m not beautiful. And I don’t say those last words to garner any kind of attention. I know I’m not beautiful and not worth it. At least, this world considers me not beautiful. But Jesus does, and that’s what makes this life worth it! When I listen to “Wedding Day” and other songs like it, it’s easier to believe the truths of God and not believe the lies of Satan.

The second thing I do is read Scripture and pray. There are so many Bible verses that reflect my feelings of the moment. I’m grateful I can read each one and claim victory over whatever’s going on knowing that even though the situation might not be fixed, my God hears and understands what I face even if no one else does. I also pray. There’s nothing that beats talking directly to my Lord and Savior. I talk to Him and listen to His guidance. Even if I don’t have the specific words for my prayer, He can still hear my heart which settles my heart when nothing else does.
Finally, I spend time with children when I need to see and hear God’s truths. There’s something about the honesty of a child and playing with a child that takes me straight to Jesus. I had that experience last night with two little girls at my church, and it was wonderful! During the event, we played school, walked around the auditorium, colored pictures, galloped like horses, and ate dinner. (There was a football game on the big screen? 😉 ) I also pushed the younger girl on a riding toy. There was no pressure to achieve, no pressure to fit in, no pressure period. I was able to experience a truer sense of myself than I usually do and was able to just breathe. God gave me that, and I am so very grateful!
As I wrap this up, I want to issue a warning to those who are trying to navigate their way through Satan’s lies and to those who want to try to help them. I say this because some Christian adults can be the hardest to talk to about the head and the heart. They think victory can be claimed by a prayer and a statement that whatever’s going on is a lie of Satan. And while this can be true, a lot of people have the tendency to claim a victory and move on to the next person who needs their “help” leaving the person suffering from depression and hearing Satan’s lies alone once more. No, time must be invested and a relationship must exist before trying to help someone combat Satan’s lies and the person wanting to help must be willing to open their heart as well. We are all broken, and God wants us to show our authentic, broken selves as we live together in community. I pray that God will give us all the courage to be authentic with each other.
God’s blessings on you all today!

The Least of These

Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time is familiar with the phrase I chose for today’s blog post title. They are words Jesus actually spoke in Scripture. The least of these. We read the words and tell ourselves we help the people rejected by society or rejected by church society, but more often than not, we really don’t. We get so busy and caught up in our own lives that we forget people who are alone or the people who are carrying burdens way too heavy for the rest of us to think about. We go to our jobs, spend time with our spouses, and parent our children–all of which are good things, but aren’t part of the business God wants us to be about.

Before I go any further, let me quote the Scripture so you can see the words. From Matthew 25:34-40: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

This Scripture goes on to say that those who did not do these things for the least of these would go on to eternal punishment while those who did would go to eternal life.

Now, I’m not trying to say we have a work-based faith. Far from it. The verses that are featured in this blog are just as true today as they were yesterday and as they will be tomorrow. God prepared us through grace to do these good works–not before we are saved, but after as it says in 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.”

These words of Jesus did get me to thinking though. How tolerant are we of the least of these in our churches? Oh, we’ll go out and help them. We’ll feed the homeless, volunteer in a pregnancy crisis center, give someone a place to stay, or visit the hospital. But, how tolerant are we of the people who think differently or who are the least of these in our churches? Are we tolerant of the person who appears poorer than us? How about the person who walks in alone? How about the person who is a different race or gender than us? There can be an element of shame involved among those of us who are different. Don’t believe me? Let me go through some examples.

How about the statistic that the Sunday morning worship hour is the most segregated hour in America? This statistic was first quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr. whose life we celebrate today in the United States. Ashamedly, so many years later, a poll finds that 86 percent of church congregations are composed of mainly one racial group. (LifeWay Research). We want to worship with people who look like us and have no interest in changing it. Reading those statistics brought me to tears.

What about differences that can’t be seen? I have a friend who runs a ministry to people whose career is not desirous in our churches. She invited some of these people to come to a particular church. At first, it was all right, but then their career became known, and she was asked not to bring them back. It’s not like they had dressed for their career to come to church. They were wearing clothes like the rest of us wear. But, people were still uncomfortable enough to not want them there. I’m pretty sure Jesus cried when that happened, and I did too. Another lost opportunity to bring people to Jesus.

Now, to bring the differences a little bit closer to home. I had a relative in the 1960’s who became a widow with the early death of her husband. She became different from the other people in her church. Different enough that people didn’t know what to do or say, and her family was left by the wayside. That abandonment traveled across the generations, made it so I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and still affects me today. Yes, things have changed for women in a lot of ways, but if a woman wants to serve in a church and is not married, she is relegated to serving with other women or with children. What happens when a woman is called to more than that like I think I am? I believe Jesus expects a woman to fulfill her calling whether she is called to something in the church that is traditional for women or something that is not so traditional.

There are also differences in thought, differences in how we think things should be done in our churches, and differences in sins committed as well as many different ways we can be the least of these. In other words, we are all different people who don’t fit the mold some churches say we should fit in. It’s almost a relief to type these words. God made us all differently, and we need to reflect that in our churches as we minister to the least of these. I pray that God gives us the courage to break out of the molds we have set for ourselves and bring more people to a saving relationship with Him.

God’s blessings on you all today!

 

Safe Place

Last week, I started a series related to the questions my pastor asked in his New Year’s Eve sermon, and I thought I would continue it today. Last week’s question was “What does this trial expose in my heart?” (https://alisarussell.wordpress.com/2018/01/02/refined-like-gold-and-silver/) It brought out a lot of good words and uncovered some things that needed to be exposed in my heart. Just like I’m sure this week’s question will.

So, without any further adieu, here is this week’s question. “Am I a safe place for hurting people?” I would like to think so. I’ve experienced many hurts within the church over the course of my life, and I would like to think that people could talk to me without worrying what would happen to their words.

But, then the question spurs more thoughts. Thoughts I’m not comfortable dealing with. Thoughts I’m not sure how to deal with. They begin with an offhand comment someone gave me after service last week. A friend of mine had gone up after service wanting prayer. I knew she had been struggling so it was a no-brainer. I went up and laid my hand on her shoulder as our pastor prayed as did a few other people. I hugged her when he was done and went back to my seat. After the service was over, another friend said she had noticed I had gone up and that I was a real prayer warrior. I wasn’t so sure about that. I’m not as comfortable when I don’t know the person wanting prayer, and sometimes, I feel like they wouldn’t want my support because, well, they have the support of the staff or the elders.

These thoughts brought me back to a few years ago when someone didn’t want me to pray with them; they wanted me to help them find an elder. I wondered why. Wasn’t I just as capable of praying? I know I am now, and I’ve gotten more comfortable with my own prayer life over the past few years. People still have their opinions though. If they’re at the church and want prayer, they would rather have someone on the staff or an elder pray for them. It’s like people who are lay members and want to serve don’t even exist. I don’t understand.

This brings me to more thoughts, and they are more of the selfish kind. I’ve watched people go up wanting prayer, and they were surrounded by a sea of people. It’s almost like I was seeing a popularity contest come alive right before me. And I wonder why I don’t get that kind of support when I ask for prayer. Before anyone says anything, yes, I know that’s a selfish thought. I’m just wanting to explore it and put it back in the place it needs to be. There are a couple of reasons, I think, that this happens. One, yes, there are people in the church who are more popular than me, people who have a better handle on their faith than I do. They are held up as an example to the rest of us, and I can understand why people flock to them. Two, people have a tendency to flock to trauma. If they know something bad has happened to someone, they want the person to know they are praying for them. Three, there is a request for people to pray over someone who is leaving the church for whatever reason, and many people tend to go up for those kind of prayers.

Now that I’ve explored why many people go up to pray for certain people, I want to state why I think some people are prayed for alone. One, no one knows what is going on. How do you support someone when you don’t know what’s going on? Two, some people have an innate sense of privacy that keeps them from wanting other people to know what is going on. Three, some people just have a need for someone to pray with them, and they don’t care if anyone is with them or not. I’m not sure what category I fall into. Sometimes, it’s two, and sometimes, it’s three. Sometimes, it’s a combination of all three.

I’ve gone far afield of the question I first presented, but it was necessary to explain my thoughts to get to the conclusion I’ve come to. I think my best service to God is not going to be in the church. It’s going to be in the relationships I form and the writing I do. God wants me to put my words about Him and about my faith out there so people will know I’m not perfect. So people will know that I am a safe place. I shared a quote from an article on my Facebook page last week that I want to share here. “My desire now is to be the woman that God calls me to be. No more. And no less.” http://yellowhammernews.com/faithandculture/called-childlessness-surprising-ways-god/  I wrote this in response to the quote. “Though I did have the opportunity to be a mother, this spoke to me greatly especially now that my children are grown. The church expects women and men to fit a mold that they were often not made to fit. Thank you, Jesus, for being a mold breaker!”

Praying God’s blessings on all of you today!

A Heart Like His

My sons have often asked me why I want to know something before everyone else does. I suppose it could be the natural inclination of wanting to be the first to tell someone information they don’t know. Or it could be the chance to tease someone about it. Did you ever say these words as a child? “I know something you don’t know.” This usually resulted in your friend pestering you until you told them whatever information you had. We all have a natural inclination to want to be first so thinking this would be my reason is plausible.

But, for the most part, this isn’t my reason for wanting to know something first. As a writer, I have a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world that demands time for me to think and process what I learn about my world. I need that time to process new information so I can write about it. Some of that writing is just for me, and some of it, I share with the world. The more time I have to think about and process a topic, the better my writing usually is. I understand the topic better as well, and it becomes rooted in my heart. Not only can I write about that topic specifically, I can use my knowledge as I write stories and blog posts further down the line.

I think it’s going to be that way with what I found out yesterday. I went to a ministry leader, shepherd, and staff meeting at my church. I’m grateful that these kind of meetings are open to all whether a person holds one of those titles or not. But, I digress. Yesterday, I found out what our theme for 2018 is going to be. A theme which all the sermons and Wednesday night classes are going to be intertwined with. A theme which, I think, will be beneficial to my own personal faith walk. And before the suspense gets to be too much, let me reveal the theme–A Heart Like His. How do we develop a heart like Jesus’ heart? Interesting question, right? We’ve spent the past year looking at Keeping Our Eyes on Jesus, and this year’s theme will deepen that idea. It’s a good theme, and one I will have a lot to say about in the coming year.

But, for now, some preliminary thoughts. Does having a heart like Jesus mean doing the increased amount of dishes that comes with having everyone home without complaint? Or scraping gum off the church carpet yesterday though I know I looked funny sitting there while people were walking out? What about being willing to sacrifice someone you love to a form of service in the church because there aren’t a whole lot of people willing to volunteer for that particular service? Or being content with what I have and not wishing I would have taken a different path twelve years ago?

I’ll remove the suspense. All of my questions come with “yes” answers, and those answers bring me closer to the heart Jesus wants me to have. Why do I wonder though, and why do I want to be selfish especially with my family’s time? Sin nature, I know, but still, why is it so hard to be the person Jesus wants me to be? Why doesn’t doing these things come automatically to me like they do to so many others? Why do I feel so deficient with my faith when I look at others who seem perfect? We all know these kinds of people. The people who never seem to have anything wrong with them. The people who never wonder. The people who never seem to struggle. The people who are never curious about the things they think are wrong. The people who never think differently.

I think that’s why God gave me that sense of wonder and curiosity though. He wants me to ask questions. He’s not afraid to dialogue with me, and He doesn’t want me to be afraid either. I have to tell myself that over and over, and some days I am more successful than others. But, as 2017 closes and 2018 beckons, I am going to do my best to move forward each day and use the gifts God gave me to bring my heart closer to His.

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!