How to Have the WORST Valentines Day EVER!

 

“‘Worst?’ Why would I want to have the *WORST* Valentine’s Day ever?”

 

Well, that is a good question. But…you’re reading the article now, aren’t you. 😉
However, this sentiment is basically exactly what our actions speak about what is going on in our hearts. The moping, the self-pity, the long sighs…all these things shout, “I’m having a terrible Valentine’s Day! Pity me!”

Now, being a single-twenty something has its perks. More time to myself, the ability to travel freely, lots of ‘girl time’ with friends, and being able to pour out into others’ lives in a unique way. Even though I have hard days where I’m longing over Pinterest boards, I am learning to be honored that the Lord entrusted me with this time of my life. I want to learn every lesson He would teach me. Right here. Right now.

This being said, when February rolls around, it is associated with a magic number. “14”.

Ahhhh..Valentine’s Day.

Jokingly called Singles Awareness Day (S.A.D.), it is one day where singles tend to feel left out of the ‘club’. Advertisements for Cards, Roses, and Chocolates bombard your senses in every store. Exclusive ‘Valentines Day’ perfumes tantalize your sense as you walk past Mall kiosks.

So what’s a (single) girl to do? I mean, aside from buying all that chocolate for *yourself*?

As I alluded to before, one of the most common (and easiest) reactions is self-pity. ‘Another year…alone’. I fall into this snare often; however, I don’t want to stay there and I don’t want YOU to stay there. My social circle consists of mostly 12-19 year olds, most of whom are girls. I don’t exactly have hoards of young beaus flocking to my door. But this year, I want to share with you a few things (personal and then practical) that the Lord has reminded me of this week—truths to cling to when you feel alone.

1)      God honors prayers. He hears us. He hears our heart’s desires. He remembers prayers that have been prayed, even when WE don’t remember praying them! If you have a desire to be married, know that God hears you. I don’t know what the future holds for you. But, the truth is, He has HIS best in mind for us. It may not always be clear—but He knows and remembers us. Even this week, the Lord reminded me that I have prayed for my heart’s protection ever since I was little. Even though it is “natural” human desire to appreciate attention, I have earnestly prayed that the Lord would be my Guard—that He would keep all the “Mr. NOT-Right”s away. I don’t want attention for the sake of attention. I want God’s best. In little steps, He is teaching me to be thankful and cherish His protection over my heart.

 

2)      The Lord reminded me this week that singleness is also His opportunity to care for me in a special way. It may not always be the world’s perspective of ‘fun’, but it is so special. To curl up on your bed and spend time talking to the One who understands the core of your soul? Priceless. I have seen the Lord care for me as a Father by providing for my every financial need, my emotional needs, and my spiritual needs. Ask Him to take care of you. He loves to do it!

 

3)      He is the best Valentine Date. Ever. Last Valentine’s Day, I went on a walk with Him through the field near my house. I cannot express the contentment of a soul when it is in the presence of Jesus Christ. In Him, we are made whole. In Jesus, insecurities don’t exist. There is no comparison. There is no size requirement. There is nothing lacking, because He is our all. His voice is the one we long most to hear. His is the wisdom which baffles man. His is the love which isn’t hinged upon our “performance”. He is God. The one whom my soul loves, and longs to know MORE. He is my favorite Valentine…and He can really be yours, too.

 

So, here’s the practical. If you WANT to have the WORST Valentine’s Day ever, feel free to wallow in self-pity. But…if you want to have a joyful, and even fruitful day…why not try out some of these ideas instead! Here are a few things I have done which get my focus off myself and back on serving others.

1)      Get dressed up and go out to eat with some girl friends

2)      Host a girl night at your house/dorm room

3)      Make Valentines and send them to Widows, Single friends, etc.

4)      Bake Cookies and give them to others (Law enforcement, mail carriers, etc)

5)      Make a special dinner for your family

6)      Find verses about “love” and make decorations for your house/room

7)      Watch a couple’s children so they can have a (probably much needed) night out

 

What about you? How do you celebrate Valentine’s day—single or married! Do you have any new ideas for this year that you’re going to give a try??

by Anna Faith.

Is Giving Better than Receiving?

 

by Stephanie H.

 

Is giving better than receiving?

 

The obvious answer is, yes, of course it is.  And that is very true.  Focusing on what we have and what we get immediately puts a wall between us and God.  The last of the Ten Commandments tells us that coveting what belongs to others, wishing we could have it as good as we think everyone else has it, turns our eyes away from Jesus, and leads to a whole host of other sins.

 

So it does seem like a silly question.

Let me continue.

 

I grew up wanting to be very independent, and learned to be very good at it.  My grandparents were raised to be hard workers who took care of themselves, and considered it a matter of honor not to “take charity”.  You do what it takes to provide for your family, and for your neighbors in need, but there are always others who will need the help more than you do.  They never wanted to be a burden to anyone else by not being useful, or being unprepared for whatever life had to throw at them.  That work ethic trickled down into me as well.

 

Determination not to be idle, and to do one’s part are very valuable traits to have, but they can also be used to focus us on ourselves and to distract us from Jesus’ work in and through us.  For years, my determination to be independent and to be useful to others led me to bottling up every problem I had so that I would never have to be a burden to anyone.  Even now, being blessed to bring my every fear and concern to my Savior, it is easy for me to use that as an excuse never to rely on others for prayer, especially when I am stressed or feeling inadequate.

 

Jesus knows me so well though.  There are times that He draws me away from others so that I can spend time alone in the quiet with Him.  Then there are times when I can hardly pray a word or read a verse without Him pressing me to seek others out, share my weaknesses, and pray with them.  When I obey those promptings, it is such a blessing.  There are so many intricate ways He has to urge me to overcome my proud independence.

 

I had to confront all of this rather recently at work.  The Lord has blessed me with coworkers who truly love Him, and they have been a wonderful blessing to me.  The path on which Jesus is leading me had me living on very little, and they provided help for me in that time.  It made my independence squirm.  I hadn’t realized I had so much pride left!  At first I wanted a reason not to accept their gift, then I wanted to find someone who needed that help more than I did, and give it away as soon as possible so that I could go back to having only a little again!  Do you ever feel that it is easier to accept reluctant help than it is to accept help eagerly given out of love, without even having to ask for it?

 

Receiving sincere gifts, with no obligations and no flattery attached, really forces us to be vulnerable.  It forces us to admit a need.  How often do we want to do that?  In those times, it can be so easy to hide behind Jesus as an excuse for not needing help from His people.  Sometimes He does have us accept less from others than they are willing to provide.  Think of Paul, working as a tent-maker so that the churches he was helping would not have to pay for his needs.  Other times, we stubbornly choose to live in the wilderness out of habit, rather than allowing Him to show us the joy and glory of relying on our brothers and sisters, even as He has them rely on us.  That relationship, and the vulnerability that comes with it, strengthens us together as the body of Christ, and teaches us so much about Him that we never could have known on our own while resisting the call to depend on each other.

 

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. ~James 1:17

 

When the Lord calls us to give of ourselves, He is allowing us to be involved with Him in what He loves most.  Yet He shows us something so magnificent when we sit and watch with Him as others have the opportunity to experience that same joy of giving.  It is also a strong and comforting reminder that we are not the ones who cause good things to happen.  He loves to have us involved, but it is such a humble blessing to be taught to close our eyes and hold out our hands for the blessings He has prepared through others.  Be willing to receive, and see what love He will shower upon you.

Count the Towers

 

by Stephanie H.
“Walk about Zion, and go around her; 
Count her towers; 
Consider her ramparts; 
Go through her palaces; 
That you may tell it to the next generation.  
For such is God, 
Our God forever and ever; 

He will guide us until death.”  ~Psalm 48:12-14

 

I really loved what Tai had to say in her post about Psalm 84 and the highways to Zion.  It was on my mind when I read the above passage.  We have such a great blessing in the history that has gone before us.

Sometimes it can be easy to look back on the heroes of the Bible and think they had it easy, but can you imagine what it was like for Abram to hear from a God no one knew, and simply obey the call to leave everything he did know?  Perhaps, even Abram fell back on the story of Noah.  Noah’s son, Shem, was still alive when Abram left Ur, after all.  It wasn’t a story; even if it was nearly a thousand years later, it was recent history to Abram.  What about Noah?  What did he have to fall back on when God told him to build an ark in order to survive a weather phenomenon that had never happened before?  Well, Noah’s father was born before Adam died.  Even the first people to put faith in God with radical results were not operating on blind faith.  They faced great opposition, but they could see that putting their trust in God was trusting in a stronghold that has never yet been taken by the enemy.

We are very small people.  God’s work will never be undone, but sometimes it is the easiest thing in the world for the enemy to convince us that we are not allowed into the stronghold of Zion.  We have trusted the Lord this far, but we get to thinking that maybe next time our luck will run out, or that we will fail Him, and He will be right in leaving us in a situation for which we blame ourselves.

In times like these, I have found that my greatest comfort and encouragement comes from going about Zion, and counting her towers.  Often, that means going into Scripture and reading of all of the faithful who have gone before me with the Lord.  Hebrews eleven is wonderful on this point.  Who was Abraham?  Just a man who trusted enough to leave his home when God called.  Who was Moses?  Just a man who trusted enough to return to the nation that had wanted him dead, in order to bring over a million people out of slavery and into a desert with no food and hardly any water, all because God told him to do it.  Who was Rahab?  Just a woman who had heard of what the Lord God had done, and trusted the safety of her family to Him.  None of these people are very shining examples of natural trust or skill.  Don’t be afraid if you’re not either.  Consider the ramparts.  A castle is meant to hold the weak inside it.

One of the other ways in which I love to walk about Zion is to recount the ways God has worked in my life, particularly within the past year.  There have been circumstances that would have made me feel like a colossal failure if I had not already seen my brothers and sisters go through the same things, and seen what God had done for them through those situations.  Recently, I received a strong reminder that I am not at all naturally good at the job God has called me to do.  I grew up believing that the best way to be a better person is through militant perfectionism that never shows any weakness.  It has been something that the Lord has been lovingly addressing in my life, but I realized recently what an influence that mindset can still have on the way that I act.  It was a cause of distress, but I have seen the Lord soften my heart so much before now.
“I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in [me] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 1:6

 Our strongest faith comes when we believe that God is more real than our fears and circumstances, and that Zion is a stronghold that is greater than the weapons of the enemy.

We are just one small piece of the history of God’s faithfulness.  We rely heavily on those who have gone before us, but there are also those who will see what God has done in our lives and find strength to trust in Him because of it.  Count the towers to strengthen your faith, and to tell it to the next generation.  Faith takes us out on limbs when God calls us to live in deserts with no water, and to receive our daily bread from ravens.

Sound crazy?  Excellent.  That is when others will see that it is the Lord who can be trusted, and not our own worldly wisdom.  It is in the against-all-odds circumstances that He shows Himself so that we may shout “Such is God!  Our God forever and ever!  Who is like our God?  Just wait and see what He will do!”  And such is God.  Our God forever and ever.  And He will guide us even until death.  Keep counting the towers.  Keep considering the ramparts.  Keep going through Zion’s palaces, until you finally enter the throne room in person.

Kneeling to Pray

 

 

by Stephanie H.

 

We can read about it in classic literature, we see it in paintings and other art in the church, even modern comics and movies that feature little children show little pajama-ed knees bent in prayer, sometimes with teddy bears sharing the same posture.
So why do we kneel to pray?
Sure, we don’t always have to kneel to talk to the Lord.  If we’re to pray without ceasing, we’re going to have to stand up and walk around at the same time!  So why is it so traditional to kneel while praying?
Consider this parable from Luke 18:10-14
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, on a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer.  The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer.  I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all I get.’  But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
 
Now, don’t think that the only way to approach the Lord in prayer is to crawl up in agony because of all of your sins.  Look at the contrasted postures of these two men.  The one was praying “thus to himself” (an interesting choice of words), thanking God for how great he himself was, but talking of himself more than anything.  If this were a conversation with the Lord, what would the Pharisee expect Him to say?  Meanwhile, the tax-gatherer begs God to act on His promise to be merciful to the repentant.  He is humble, and knows that the Lord is the one with the power to be merciful, rather than believing, like the Pharisee, that he is the one who can make himself good enough to talk to God.  We don’t earn the privilege to talk to God by being important enough for His attention.  No one could ever be important enough to get the attention of an eternal God.  We can best approach Him in prayer when we realize that He is willing to come down to listen to people that will never really be worth anything all by themselves.
Have you ever tried to make a business deal with God?
“Dear Lord, I would really like to have this, and here is what I would do for You if You let me…” or “Dear Lord, my friend needs help, and here are all the reasons they deserve the best…”
They are sincere prayers, but when I pray this way, it always leaves me anxious, wondering if I have said the right things in the right way to convince God that it really would be in His best interest to listen.  Sounds rather like the Pharisee again, doesn’t it?  It is so easy to imagine that prayer gives me the power to tap into God’s attention and favor if I can just say the right things.
I teach at a small Christian school, and one of my favorite portions of our morning prayers reminded me recently of the true posture of prayer.  Every person that is able kneels on one knee as the Great Commission is read:
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”  ~Matthew 28:18-20
 
What are those first words?  “All power is given unto me…” 
 
Jesus is the one who has all power in heaven and in earth.  Because of that, He’s given us a job to do.  It isn’t a project we are left to figure out on our own, execute on our own, and then hope that it is good enough for His liking.  “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
 
If your reading this, I’m guessing the world hasn’t ended.  That means that the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is present with you, and eager to show you the work that He has prepared for you to do.
Imagine a good and honorable king, at war with a vicious enemy.  At the moment, his wise eyes are surveying little figures on a mapped table that represent the movements of his troops and the enemy’s.  A knight rushes in and kneels before hastily making his petition:
“Sire, several of your men have been captured, and are being held in the enemy’s fortress.”
Or perhaps…
“Sire, the battalion on the northern front is desperate for supplies.”
“Sire, the enemy is spreading lies that are crippling morale, and causing many of your troops to lose hope.”
What is this knight expecting to hear?  An order.  Of course, he will eagerly watch to see how his king will respond to this news.  If he is a young knight, he may worry when his king acknowledges the need and dismisses him, or when his king gives him an order that does not make sense, but the king is wise and careful.  His plans have far-reaching results beyond any short term solutions his young knights may offer.
Our prayer is when we come into the presence of the King, remember that the battle is His, and spend time in His presence, to learn the depth of integrity of His character, and be involved in His will in whatever way He chooses.
Now, the effectiveness of our prayers do not rely on us literally kneeling, or imagining kings and knights and battles when we pray, but it has been something that has really helped me in my prayers lately.  The more time that I spend in prayer and in the Word, the more I come to trust the Lord with some things.  Even so, it is very easy for me to work myself up into distraction as I try to pray in such a way to earn immediate results.  When that happens, one of the quickest ways out of that state of worry…
Surrender my plans.
Kneel before the throne.

Contentment in Serving God…His Way.

 

 

servinggodblog

 

I struggle with lots of things. Shocking, I know. 😛

But one of my biggest ongoing struggles has been wanting to be more fruitful than I am…and, in spite of being on tour half of the year specifically to go around sharing the gospel with people all over North America, with my family, I often feel so useless….and have a list of TONS of things that *I* want to do for the Lord that would be *way* more fruitful than what I’m doing….at least, in my mind, that’s the way it seems.

But, the other day, a thought suddenly came to me…that  my struggles are just like this scenario:

What if my husband came and asked me to go out to dinner with him…and I responded with, “Well…that’s nice, BUT…I already have a list of things that I’m going to do for you that will make you REALLY happy. I’m going to clean the house, vacuum, scrub the floor, and mow the lawn – because I know all that will make you really happy!”

But…what my husband actually wanted was just for me to go to dinner with him. And, while all of those other things might actually *be* a blessing to him at a different time, at that moment, if I was refusing to go out with him so that I could do all those other things instead, OR if I went out, but I was continually talking about how I should actually be doing all of those other things instead because they would have been more useful or more of a blessing to him…..that would NOT be actually blessing his heart. AND it would probably both take away from the sweetness of the time that could have been had, and also it would ruin his plans for blessing me and just having a sweet night.

Well, it’s the same with God. There have been times that I know He has asked me to do some “projects” (like my magazine, books, etc.), and when He has asked it of me, He has made it to be in the perfect timing and has blessed it, and caused it to be completed, making my small windows of time to be very efficient.

BUT…if I am continually wishing I could do all these “fruitful” things that I feel would bless Him *more* than what He has set before me right now (like being on tour, being a mommy to two kiddos, etc.), that is really not a blessing to His heart, and in fact, it takes away from the sweetness of being with Him and being faithful in what He has set before me, and fills my heart with discontentment and endless struggles.

I’m praying that God shows me how to be JOYFULLY content in His will, as well as fruitful in being faithful with what He has set before me.

What about you?

 

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Attitude Is Everything

attitudeblog

 

By: Sarah Louise

So you’re absentmindedly walking down the sidewalk with your dog Maggy in tow (who doesn’t really want to be there any more than you do) and the sky starts to cloud over. You were too lazy to pull on a jacket on your way out the door, so the chilly air is too cold and the sprinkling rain is gradually starting to soak through your clothes. You kick at a rock and grumble something about why doesn’t Mom ever make your little brother take Maggy for a walk, and as the cars go by and the raindrops get bigger, you’re thinking that this is not exactly what you had in mind for your Saturday afternoon. You would rather be almost anywhere else but here. Grumble grumble grumble. Life stinks.

 

But what if you were to stop right there, turn your thoughts on Jesus, and allow Him to turn your sour mood into cheerfulness? What if you stopped dragging your feet through the puddles, picked up the pace a little bit, and looked up to Jesus through the rain with a song in your heart and a smile on your face and start to tell Him how much you appreciate the opportunity to get out of the house and get alone with Him? This would please Him so much, and it would turn a drab walk into a sweet, beautiful opportunity to be with Jesus. He may even bring someone across your path whom you could bless with a smile on a rainy day or a little bit of sunshine in a kind word or deed. But not if you let that bitter attitude get the best of you!

 

Think about this: The attitude that we have in any given moment will give others around us a glimpse either into our own selfish flesh or into the heart of Jesus.

 

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” 

Philippians 2:3-4

 

Being female, with all of our unruly and seemingly uncontainable emotions, and added to that, all of our insecurities and selfishness, can make having a Christ-like attitude very difficult. Let’s face it. We can try all day long to be loving, selfless, and sweet, but in the end, we are still weak, broken, and full of ourselves, only looking out for our own needs or desires. There are so many different types of bad attitudes that we can fall into!

 

Our natural impulses and responses are always bent toward self-preservation. It is so much easier to just let a sassy or sarcastic remark tumble out, or to roll our eyes as a show of disdain, or manipulate people with a pouty face or a look to get what we want. We have a natural bent toward laziness, wanting everyone else to do what we are unwilling to do ourselves because it inconveniences us.

 

If you feel that none of these things apply to you, just examine your attitudes throughout the day today and pray that God will help you see sin clearly. You’ll probably be sickened to realize how often your attitude is actually very wrong, even in subtle ways!

 

On top of our own natural flesh (our sin nature) working against us, as we go about each day, we are constantly immersed in a culture that exalts self, encourages girls to be flirty and sassy, and throws away femininity as if it were a thing of the past. I’m sure many would agree, that the words “sweet,” “gentle,” “caring,” and “lovely” could never be used (in general) to describe the females of this generation, and most women have no desire to be seen as sweet, gentle, caring, or lovely because these things have gone out of style today.

 

Though it can be a fierce struggle, like taking a bull by the horns, we who belong to Jesus must allow the Lord to search our hearts and change our very natures in order that our attitudes may be conformed to His image. We must pray that God would help us to respond the way He would instead of the way we always do.

 

“A tranquil heart is life to the body,” Proverbs 14:30

 

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb,

                        Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24

 

“Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man,

                        But any fool will quarrel.” Proverbs 20:3

 

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing [arguing];” Philippians 2:14

 

Practically speaking, what can we do differently? Do we have to stop being female? No, of course not! We need to learn how to behave the way that God intends females to behave, allowing His Spirit to take over our words, thoughts, and actions, and stamping down our flesh so that it doesn’t have a say in how we react or respond.

 

“But let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” 1 Peter 3:4

 

Just think about it! We have amazing opportunities every day to shine for Jesus. You can make someone else’s day brighter and add a little sweetness to their world.

 

Try starting simple!

–       Smile! Consciously make an effort to smile throughout the day! Smile at the people you are around at the store, at school, at home, at work. Smile when you are asked to help with something.

–       Add some sunshine to someone’s day! Be cheerful! You will need a lot of help from the Lord to be cheerful for even a few minutes, but if you pray, He will help you! There are so many people who go about depressed and full of fear and worry. Don’t be like that! Jesus was not depressed or somber. He was the most cheerful person there ever was and many people were filled with hope and felt His love because He was so joyful and glad all the time! Greet people kindly as you walk down the street or through the store, and looking up instead of at the ground will make your day bright and sunny!

–       Make eye contact! When you look people in the eye it makes them feel like you really care and are interested in what they are saying. It shows them that you acknowledge them and that you want to be there talking with them.

–       Don’t join in the bad attitudes of others. When you hear or see others feeling depressed or speaking rudely about or to others, don’t join in. Don’t be rude or sassy just because you want to fit in with someone who is.

 

Another important thing to watch out for is your attitudes when you go to pray. Is your attitude toward Him complaining or whiny? Do you pray actually expecting Him to answer or do you dryly and indifferently run through your prayer list feeling as though you have accomplished your obligation to Him? Cheerfulness in prayer is part of having faith that God hears and will answer. It shows Him that you really love and trust Him! You can brighten God’s day!

 

This goes for when you are joining with other believers in prayer as well! Do you participate in prayer at Bible study or youth group or church? Do you join in with real intent and focus? Or do you quietly sit back bored and yawning wondering when it will ever be done? Or are you concentrating so hard on making your prayers sound good to the people around you that you don’t even connect with God? Remember, God is the one you are praying to for real answers. It’s not about trying to impress God by having your body present, and it’s not about impressing people with how you worded your prayer. Both of these attitudes are pride and you might as well not even be there!

 

Attitude is everything! Whether we are just going about our day or whether we’re in prayer or whatever we’re doing, whoever we’re with. Allow the Lord to show you the areas in your life where your attitude has been wrong and let Him help you to change! With His help, and a little bit of effort, your day can be full of sunshine, even on those chilly, rainy days!

A Prodigal Constraint

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by Stephanie H

My dearest, most beloved son whom I have forgiven,

Please do me the kindness of reading this letter through to its end.  Do not be afraid of the words I have written in it.  Do not be afraid of what I will think of you for having read them.  I love you, my son.  It is a fact that will never change.  You are as dear to me as a son now as you were when you were born, when you left home, and when you returned.  I welcomed you with all that I have.  Do you still not believe it?

The first days after your return, there was joy and peace over your entire face like sunshine.  What crept into you after that?  You grew quiet when I would enter the room.  I would hear you as you told your brother of the time we had spent together, but you held your tongue whenever I joined you, and refused to meet my eyes.  When I ask, you tell me everything is fine.  You made excuses then, now you only mumble.  I am not blaming you.  My dear son, you have not failed me.  I see your fear at what I might say, but how can I comfort you if you will not let me in?

You know that I found your ring back in the chest where I used to keep it.  I wish that you would keep it.  I gave it to you as a reminder of my love.  Have you forgotten?  I love you, my son.  Yes, you are my son.  That will never change.  You could not hide it when you stopped wearing the robes that I gave you.  Do you mean to prove that I have not loved you after all?  You cannot convince me that you are too much a failure that I cannot love you.  I will always love you.  If scrubbing the floor instead of eating at my table, mucking the stall instead of riding your donkey, and sleeping on the floor instead of your bed are not enough to prove your humility, will you run away from home again?  I cannot help you if you force me away.

How could I not see your earring?  Would you declare your loyalty to me as a slave when I have offered to you my heart and everything that I own?  Oh, how it grieves me!  You know as well as your brother the number of servants in my pay.  Shall I lose a son that I would gain a stable boy?  The work I taught you when you were young was so that we could be father and son together.  Every task I desire is done at the snap of my fingers, if that were what I desired.  I desire your love infinitely more than your gestures of humiliation.  My son, I love you.  Why will you not spend time with me?

What will it cost to prove to yourself that you have repaid me?  Do you count the hours you have worked as wages with which you could replace what you lost in your days of sin?  Do the tears that you hide come when you weigh yourself against a vanished fortune and find yourself wanting?  It is true, the loss was great.  Beloved son, I forgave you that debt.  Even if it were small enough to be repaid, would I choose to gain back a few tarnished coins rather than receive the son of my own blood?  I have made the way for you to return to me.  Do not weep to think that your hard labors are your only hope for salvation.  You would see it if only you would come into the light.

There are so many things that I have wanted to share with you these past years.  The joyful hours we were meant to spend together while you were lost, now again waiting for you while you work yourself to exhaustion.  If you will come with me, they are still waiting for us.  It is not too late.  I have asked your brother and sisters to tell you the same.  You still speak to them, but they have yet to convince you.  Have you not seen how I have forgiven them their faults?  Why should you be any less precious to me, my beloved son?  I received you with open arms when you returned to my house.  Will you forever shy away from my heart?  Please, come home to me.

I love you eternally,

~Abba

The Day I Gave Up.

pexels-photo-27141-copy
by Anna Faith

When you are a single twenty something, you do a lot of thinking. And watching. You watch your friends settle happily into their “marital bliss”. You think. You watch their children be born and make those mile-marker memories. You think. You watch friends graduate. You think and rethink your purpose in life. Too often, I have found, there is that temptation to doubt the Lord’s GOOD plans for our life. Sure, He’s got a plan. But GOOD? Hm. That sneaky Enemy (whose main goal is to steal, kill and destroy, mind you) often waves the whole “I drew the short straw” notion under my nose like a sock with that never recovered partner. Kind of unfortunate, a little awkward and always alone. “You’re always going to be alone, and one step behind”. 

Jeepers. That devil sure is mean.

As I waded through some deep, stormy waters in my “newly twenty” years, I was faced with wave after wave doubting God’s good plan. I had my network of people that I knew loved me, but I felt alone as I faced “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). Most of my friends were over eight hours away, which was an additional blow. I was brought to my knees with intense relationship conflicts, illness, deaths, and emotions I’ve never had to deal with before (Hey, I’m an INTJ. We don’t feel emotions quite the same way *wink*). There were times where I would lay curled up in my bed, so emotionally weary and tired. Thoughts of “if only I had a shoulder to cry on. If only I had that privileged of a strong arm around my shoulders…if only” popped up at unsuspecting times. I saw people around me, going through similar things, but they seemed to have that support I craved. My friends could go home to their husbands. I went home to my quiet little room.

“Lord, what are you up to? Why does it seem like you have placed me in a quiet place–alone? What is your purpose in this?”

I will never, ever forget His response. It was forever branded onto my heart about a year ago.

He told me it was because He was giving me a gift. A gift of friendship. He wanted to not just be called my best friend–He wanted to BE my best friend. He told me HE wanted to be the One to hold my hand, the one to gently lead me. He wanted to be my heart-holder. He wanted to be my strength. He wanted to be my “husband”. [FYI, I burst into tears every time I stop to think about it (which is a big deal for us INTJ’s)]

I have walked with the Lord since I was 13, but grew up “knowing” about the Lord since I was born. My dad was a minister for almost 20 years. I knew about the Lord’s character. Yet, we can know ABOUT the Lord’s character….but fail to KNOW HIM. I have known Him as my dearest friend, but that day He took our friendship to such a deeper level of my heart. A level I didn’t even know I could have.

 

So, I gave up. I gave up that comparison game. I gave up dreading quietness. I gave up that “score keeping”. Sure, I do want to get married. That is a deep, strong desire within my heart. There are days where I question if I’m just…not worth loving. Days where I feel ugly and awkward. But when you give your heart–your entire heart–to Someone who you can trust, He fills that “space”. He fills your days with joy, He fills your HEART with laughter. It’s the devil which feeds us lies of insecurity, DOUBT, and fear. That’s not God. It is not God’s desire for us to be afraid that “we are missing out”. In fact, my BEST adventures are the ones which God has planned…and He’s always gone with me.

Singleness is NOT “that awkward time in between stages of life”. Singleness doesn’t mean you “have it wrong”, or that you failed. Singleness means God is giving you the sweetest, most beautiful opportunity to know HIM–and I mean really know Him–in a way you could never imagine. It means you get the Creator of a heartbeat as a confidant. You get the one who hung up the stars as your best friend. He sings over you. He gave the only Son He ever had to humbly bear your sins, just so you could be saved FROM your sins.

I am my Beloved’s, and He IS mine. Trust Him. Remember Him. KNOW Him. He is that hand to hold, that under-girding strength, that Joy, and that calming peaceful presence to quiet anxiety.

He wants to be your Best friend. Will you let Him?

Part 2: How Can YOU Be God’s Sanctuary?

PART2
by Stephanie H.

Spare no Expense.

Exodus chapter twenty-six describes the construction of the tabernacle.  The first instruction is to make ten curtains of fine linen, in blue, purple, and red (the most expensive colors to make in those days), with designs of cherubim on them, all made by skilled craftsman.  These curtains were to be about forty-two feet long, by six feet wide each.  That means each curtain was nearly three times longer than a two story house!  Each beam that supported the tabernacle was covered in gold.  Only some of the sockets and clasps for holding the curtains and beams together were made of more humble things, like silver and bronze.  There was nothing synthetic here!  Keep in mind that all of this was built while the nation of Israel was wandering in the desert.  All of that material could have been used on their own tents, the gold could have been used to trade for food, and the craftsman could have used their time working for themselves rather than building a sanctuary.  This luxurious building was all created at a time when over a million people were out in the desert where there wasn’t even reliable food and water!  Your relationship with Jesus is meant to be luxurious.  Did you know that the one who created all the billions of atoms in a single pine needle wants to be your best friend?  Make Him your priority.  Make time to spend with Him on a regular basis.  If He wants to spend time with you when you already have plans, be willing to change them.  Give Him your talents, your money, and your possessions, and be willing to use them as He tells you.  Don’t be afraid to put all of your eggs in one basket, and give it to Jesus.  To others, it may seem like you are choosing to live in a desert, but your relationship with Jesus will be luxurious when you give Him everything.  Don’t be afraid either.  While the Israelites wandered, the Lord brought water out of a rock, and sent bread down from Heaven to feed every one of the people.

 

Maintain the Sanctuary.

“And the king and Jehoiada gave it to those who did the work of the service of the house of the LORD; and they hired masons and carpenters to restore the house of the LORD, and also workers in iron and bronze to repair the house of the LORD.” ~2 Chronicles 24:12

When the Lord gave the instructions to build the ark of the covenant, He commanded the people to build it with poles, so that it could be carried as they moved about through the desert.  When Israel was settled in the Promised Land, they did finally built a temple on a permanent foundation, but the tabernacle was designed to be taken apart, and to go with them wherever they went.  We don’t interact with gold much nowadays, but it is a very soft metal (that’s why people would bite gold coins.  If their teeth left a mark, it proved that the coin was really gold, and not a fake), and fabric wears easily.  Imagine having to pack up this enormous, luxurious tent, and having to carry all of the curtains and beams through the desert.  The sanctuary was designed to be luxurious, but it was also meant for constant use.  That means repairs will have to be made to keep it in tip top shape.  Even the temple needed to be maintained.  The people of Israel did not always take the time to maintain and nurture their relationship with the Lord.  In the days of King Manasseh, the temple fell into great disrepair, and little use.  When his son Josiah became king, he ordered the temple to be repaired.  A priest found a book of the Law in the rubble, and the king was surprised to hear what was written in it, because so few of the people (even the priests) knew anything about who the Lord really is, and that He wanted to dwell with them!  Your relationship with Jesus needs to be maintained.  It is meant for constant use, and that means wear and tear.  When you first believe the promises of God, you are laying the foundation for your temple, but more needs to be built up.  Even when you have a close relationship with the Lord, you can still grow distant, and the temple can fall into disrepair.  Even after I have had some of the sweetest time in prayer with the Lord, I can have the greatest struggle to find any kind of time to spend with Him the next day.  Even though you love Jesus, that doesn’t mean it will always be easy to find time with Him, or to face the parts of yourself that don’t want to submit.  In fact, there are times when it absolutely won’t be easy.  That is when you have to press in and make a deliberate effort to seek Him anyway.  Sometimes we grow distant with Jesus, and don’t even notice until we wonder how it happened that we don’t read our Bibles anymore.  That is when our temples have fallen into disrepair.  The only way back to Jesus from there, is to start maintaining the relationship again.  It will mean more renovation than just daily upkeep to get the gold really shining again, so don’t be discouraged if one hour of prayer and worship doesn’t see you in the places of deepest joy and peace that you used to know.  Repent, and believe His promises again, then follow the plan from the mountain, and keep seeking Him with all your heart.  Even when you feel that everything is right between you and the Lord, don’t be afraid to ask Him what you need to maintain.  Seek out the cobwebs and the single frayed thread, and you’ll never have to wonder where your relationship with the Lord lost its luster, because it will glisten in front of you every day.

 

Protect the Sanctuary

“And you shall make a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering of porpoise skins above.” ~Exodus 26:14

Some translations don’t read “porpoise skins”.  Some say badger skin, some say tanned goat skins, and some say tanned leather.  The main thing is, it’s waterproof!  The tabernacle was subject to daily wear and tear, but it was still designed to be protected from the elements.  Imagine how quickly the linen curtains would fade if they were not protected from the desert sun!  What about rain, or sandstorms?  Then the tabernacle would need such constant attention for repair, that it would hardly be usable!  Your relationship with Jesus needs to be protected.  We live in a very fallen and corrupt world, and we need to share the light of Jesus with those who are in darkness, but we can do the work of Christ and still keep a protective layer of porpoise skin between our precious temple, and the rough elements of the world.  Our hearts are the place where we are vulnerable.  What we allow into our hearts is what we allow into our temple.  In the days of Nehemiah, one of the priests allowed an enemy of the remnant of Israel to live right inside the temple.  A room set aside for the storage of holy items, incense, and tithes, was cleared out so that Tobiah could keep all of his personal stuff right inside the house of God!  Our hearts are meant to be set apart entirely for the Lord, but sometimes, we let the enemy live there.  We will always live in a world full of enemies of God, but where do we intentionally spend our time, especially our time alone?  If you listen to music, or read novels, or watch movies and shows that point away from Jesus, or even just distract you from remembering Him, it is like pulling off the protective coverings of the sanctuary, and throwing open the doors and letting all elements, and moths, and enemies come into your temple to do whatever they like.  Sometimes we tell ourselves that these don’t matter so much, because we know it’s not real, or we’re just doing it to relax, but that is when we are most vulnerable.  Music and stories speak right to our souls.  If we learn to love the darkness that so much of the media gives us, it is like worshiping idols right in the place where God dwells with us.

“Then He brought me into the inner court of the LORD’s house.  And behold, at the entrance to the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men with their backs to the temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east; and they were prostrating themselves [worshiping on their faces] eastward toward the sun.” ~Ezekiel 8:16

God has done everything He can throughout history to dwell with His people who are too lowly to reach up to Him, but very often, this is how He is treated.  Dear sister, when you construct your sanctuary, protect it from the darkness of the world.  Put to death the things of the flesh, and give your whole devotion to Jesus.  The people with whom you choose to spend time can also draw your focus away from the Lord.  Sometimes, we don’t have the choice of what people are around us.  Coworkers, and even family members may be people who are not seeking the Lord, but the covering of porpoise skin can protect from that.  The covering did not mean that it never rained, the sun was never too bright, or that there were never sandstorms or linen-eating locusts about, but it was a wall between the sanctuary, and those things that would harm it.  When we seek out and enjoy the company of friends who pursue the things of the world, we are letting them inside our sanctuary, where they can hinder our closeness with Jesus.  If we even spend time being bitter with someone, or complaining, and are not willing to surrender it to the Lord, we are bringing that bitterness and complaint into the sanctuary, where it can harm our relationship with Jesus.

The beauty of the protection of the sanctuary is that if we are faithful in having a heart devoted to Jesus, the porpoise skin covering is very thick and durable.  It is what allows God’s people to walk right into the darkest places in the world, and speak right to the hearts of prostitutes, Satanists, and drug addicts.  Because they have not allowed their hearts to pursue and love evil, or to be distracted from the promises of the Lord, they are the members of His royal priesthood who are able to walk straight into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and be used to steal back broken souls, straight from the jaws of the enemy.  It is not always easy, but it is certainly always worth the trouble to be devoted to the Lord.

Dear sister, never forget that God desires to dwell with you.  I hope my words have been helpful to you as you prepare for an eternity of discovering the deep mysteries of the Lord.  If you are studying in the books of the Law, and have discovered any other parallels between the old covenant, and your walk with the Lord, please, don’t hesitate to share them!

Part 1: How Can YOU Be God’s Sanctuary?

PART1

by Stephanie H.

“And let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.” ~Exodus 25:8

Oh, the dear Old Testament.  It can be so easy for me to learn only the “usual” lessons from the Old Testament, especially the books of the Law, and reserve my real growth for Psalms, the Prophets, and mainly the New Testament.  Usually, if I think about Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, I may remember a few stories that take place in there, an a lot of grief between God and the Israelites, but I most often approach these books as being full of things to learn that I no longer need to worry about, since I am under the blood of Jesus.  I am an avowed student of knowledge, so it fascinates me to know that the Israelites were not to seek to model heathen cultures who would wear cloth made from plant fibers, and from animal skin, while wearing pins of precious stone, in order to worship nature by representing animal, vegetable, and mineral in their garments.  Fascinating!  I devour that kind of knowledge on a regular basis, but I know the Lord does not require me to be picky about what blend of wool, cotton, or polyester my t-shirts are.  I love to study the books of the Law, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with the information once I have it.

Enter the book of Hebrews.  This letter is written to the Christians who have been worshiping God since their ancestors left Egypt, over fifteen hundred years before this letter was penned.  Jesus had only come, at most, a few decades ago.  Can you imagine?  Now all of these lifelong believers need to know: what do we do with our faith?  How are we to continue in our faith as Jews, but still give our full devotion to Jesus, without neglecting the commands given from God the Father to Abraham, Moses, and the fathers?

With pen in hand, and plenty of notebook paper, I was ready to document all of the contrasts between the old and new covenants.  Of course, I was also willing to compare the things that hadn’t passed away, but I honestly wasn’t expecting to be blown away by the straightforwardness of the religion found in the books of the Law.

“And let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.” ~Exodus 25:8

The Lord did not give His people a building project so that they would stay out of trouble.  He also wasn’t involved in intimate relationships with all of His people until He decided they should have to come into His house in order to see Him.  God is so pure and holy that if any sin is in the presence of His radiant, blinding, infinite purity, the sinner will die instantly.  God never wanted us to be separated from Him like that.  The tabernacle He commissioned, and the Law He gave His people were a lot of work, but it would mean they could be near to Him again.

“‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us.'” ~Matthew 1:23

Jesus’ purpose for coming is the same purpose God had from the beginning.  Building the tabernacle and the temple were just previous steps to that plan.

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~John 1:14

I just love it when the Lord shows me something new in familiar places!

“Jesus therefore answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple [or sanctuary], and in three days I will raise it up.’ … But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” ~John 2:19, 21

But wait!  There’s more!  The writer of Hebrews tells us that the tabernacle is a shadow of what it will be like in Heaven.

“…who serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for ‘See,’ He says, ‘That you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.'” ~Hebrews 8:5

So everything that the Lord told Moses was so that His people would know what it will be like when we are all with Jesus for eternity.  So if Heaven is the true sanctuary, and Jesus is now our High Priest, what does that mean for us today?

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” ~1 Peter 2:9
“Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” ~1 Corinthians 3:16

Do you hear that?  If you are in Christ, you are a new creation, and that creation is the temple of God!  You don’t have to wait for a priest to burn incense before the Lord on your behalf.  You are a priestess!  Your prayers are set before Him like incense! (Psalm 141:2)  You can come into His presence whenever you pray, because the Holy Spirit dwells in you, and Jesus is your High Priest.  You are the temple of the Most High.

As I sit here and write, that is enough to baffle me.  The fact that God has gone to such great lengths and depths just to dwell with me is astounding.  Now what do I do?  How do I construct the sanctuary, that God may dwell with me?  If we no longer burn incense and offer sacrifices to be near to the Lord, what does a priestess do to prepare for life in Heaven?

I’m so glad we’re asking the same questions.

 

Prepare the Sanctuary.

“For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place.” ~Hebrews 9:2

Sometimes individual words just stand out to me.  What did it mean that the tabernacle was prepared?  That means the Israelites had to be expecting something to happen.  They were making the sanctuary ready for the purpose it would fill.  That purpose was the one God gave them: “Construct a sanctuary, that I may dwell with you.”  The Israelites believed, and obeyed.  That is the first step in constructing your sanctuary.

Believe, and obey.

God dwelling among us is not a naturally occurring state.  Sometimes we expect that we will be stumbling through the desert of life, and that if God is real, we will just trip and fall into an oasis.  That is probably why mirages of worldly happiness so often deceive us.  True, the Lord does offer more peace and joy than anything in this world.  It is like finding a river surrounded by shade palms in the middle of a parched land.  But we are priestesses.  We play an active role in our relationship with the Lord.  Even when the Lord chose to meet Moses by surprise through the burning bush, it was not God’s dwelling place.  It was a command, and a promise.  Moses believed the Lord and acted accordingly.  The tabernacle was not discovered like the burning bush.  It was prepared for God to dwell in it among His people.  Our relationships with the Lord today are built on the same faith.  We come before the Lord, and He will tell us what to do to prepare for His blessing and His work in our lives.  We believe, and do as He tells us in His Word, and in prayer, and we grow in our faith when we see that His promises are true.  God is infinite, so we will be spending an eternity discovering Him!  So prepare yourself, sister.  Your walk with the Lord will be a series of preparations to meet with Jesus, and to receive His promises, all in preparation to be with Him forever, just as He promises!

 

Follow the Plan.

“Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to its plan which you have been shown in the mountain.” ~Exodus 26:30

There was no room for artistic license in building this sanctuary.  Not in the architecture, not in the lighting, not in the interior decorating.  God still employed the talents of incredible craftsmen and weavers for the building of the tabernacle, and later the temple, but their job was to follow the plan.  As God’s temple, it is the same for you and me.  We follow Jesus first.  He has given us a plan in the Bible, and it is our duty to follow it so that we will be made pure and holy temples that can dwell in His presence.  That always means there will be some things we have to give up, even some hobbies that aren’t sinful in themselves, but have become idols in our lives.  For me, a big part of my life that had to be removed was my writing.  I wanted to be a fantasy novelist.  For the most part, I even wanted to use it for the Lord.  I had plans to write stories that would show good triumphing over evil, and hoped they would teach good lessons.  But God had better plans for me than I had for myself.  The more closely I follow His plan for my life, the more He shows me things I had never even thought of before!  Not all hobbies will be things He asks us to remove.  He let me keep all of my field guides, and He has given me joy in discovering more rare birds than I usually see, but it is something I must still be willing to leave behind if it does not fit with the pattern on the mountain.    Many times, we decide who we want to be, and then want to look for ways to adapt our sanctuary to be more like the things we like, but the Lord desires obedience, not sacrifice.  A priestess cannot have her own agenda.  She is to serve the Lord with her whole heart.

 

….To Be CONTINUED….