The Arrow of Thanksgiving

Your fingers hurt as you pull back the string, keeping your eye on the fletching.  Your arm wants to shake as it pulls against the tightness of the string.  You move your focus down the shaft, linger on the arrow head, then center on the yellow circle in the distance.  Breathe, and-

Thwi-!

Holidays can be difficult times for me.  I love the comfort and quiet they can bring, the moments of warm, soft reflection in the midst of all that goes on day to day. Sometimes, however, that peace can be far more elusive on the special days than it is in the midst of the deadlines and the daily grind.  If left unprotected, it is peace easily lost and disappointment readily gained.

How often does Thanksgiving cross the calendar this way?  Expectations run high, and when we come to the familiar “What are we thankful for?” it can be so much easier to think, Well, I would be thankful, if…

The Bible shows us holidays in a way that is different than we are used to thinking.  Instead of days off to do what we want in the hopes that we will feel better at work after, Biblical holidays were days of training.  When the Lord established the Sabbath day, the foundation of all holidays for His people, in Deuteronomy chapter five, this is what He said:

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.
~Deuteronomy 5:15

When life gets busy, we have to make a conscious effort to keep from drifting off with our moods, stresses, and fears.  That effort can be something that seems to add to the burden of our to-do list rather than lightening it.  Because we are used to the hope of resting recharging our emotions on holidays, training sounds exhausting and intimidating, but God designed holidays to be training in joy.  Joy is not a spontaneous feeling like happiness.  Even at our lowest points of fear and sorrow, joy can be ours if we are used to exercising the right muscles.

This is where I come to thinking of thanksgiving as a weapon.  It can be so hard to be thankful.  It really isn’t something that comes to us naturally.  When we first feel the weapon in our hands, it is so alien that we hardly know how to handle it.  We know how it is supposed to work, but surely it is meant for other people to use.  People who are “talented” in the realm of thankfulness.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Yes, we can feel our fingers scream when we first pull back that tight string.  Our muscles tremble within us as we struggle to keep the bow steady and pulled back tight.  We miss the target, then again, then again.  It is a struggle to hit the bull’s-eye of joy, but we must learn to think like Leah.  Leah could have been tossed about mercilessly by her circumstances.  Her husband loved her sister more than he loved her.  God blessed her with three sons, but even still, she was lonely amidst her blessings.  Finally, she made a choice: “This time, I will praise the Lord.”  And her fourth son Judah became the forefather of our precious Jesus Christ.

This time—whatever the time may be—will you praise the Lord?  Think of the bow as His faithfulness.  It is solid and true, but sometimes hard to grasp at first.  We know its strength, but how could we ever be able to approach it?  If we try on our own, we will never be able to get the arrows on the string, but Holy Spirit helps us the draw the strength of the unfamiliar string.  Devote time to training.  Set aside pieces of the day, especially the holidays, to learn of His faithfulness, and to practice putting your trust in Him.  Remember that in the same chapter as the command to keep a Sabbath, Moses shared with the people:

The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today.
~Deuteronomy 5:3

The Lord’s faithfulness is something He gives to you.  It is not loaned to you by permission from someone else.  It is what God Himself has given directly to you.  Don’t be afraid to interact with His faithfulness in your own life, no matter the situation.

I think of the arrows as truth.  Circumstances and emotions can toss us back and forth; in the midst of that, there are solid truths to which we can still cling.  Maybe they don’t seem very significant at the time, often they won’t be enough to rocket us from the doldrums straight to cloud nine, but sometimes just a little piece of something that is really, honestly true is enough to give us a hint of joy.  Again, we know these truths better the more time we spend in the Word and in prayer.  If we devote time to memorizing the Word, it is like we get used to reaching for the quiver without even having to think of where to find it.

God is faithful.  Here are the truths.  Draw the string, aim for the center of His presence: joy lives there.  Hold steady.  Remember, thanksgiving is a choice.

Rejoice always;  pray without ceasing;  in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

In everything.  It sounds an awful lot like training, doesn’t it?  We still have some time before Thanksgiving Day comes.  Take the time to learn the tools.  It is a hard thing for the enemy to stand against a truly thankful heart.

Deep breath.

This time I will praise the Lord.

And…

Release.

by Stephanie H.

Aesthetic the Idol

 

Emptiness abounds.  A click of a button can become a painful reminder of the parched souls and aching hearts that may be hiding behind the faces of our closest family, neighbors, and friends.  Sometimes, we see the pain; other times, we don’t find out until it is too late.

The church sees and often feels that same yearning for hope.  Christians know that their faith should hold the key to broken hearts feeling love again, to trials turning to gold.  They have a longing to see their brothers and sisters in Christ and those who are lost find a home where they can be loved, cared for, and feel the sunshine and warmth of peace again.  Those who know brokenness want to see the pain in others healed.  The Lord gave us hearts that long to see every tear wiped away.

And so the church set out to build homes: places for people to be reminded what it is like to feel, to see art and hear music that wakens a piece of their broken hearts, and to know that they are not alone.  We know that the Lord loves a sincere heart.  Giving Him our best to help others must surely be a blessing to Him, even if we’re not quite sure how to do it.

This is true.  The world will see Christ in the church because of something we have that is different from the world.  Unfortunately, with so much brokenness still in the hearts of many believers, much of the church has gotten swept up in the appearance of fulfillment in order to reach out to others.  It is widely circulated today that the way to reach people and show them that the church is different is to have stylish places to meet, sell quality coffee, and create music and media content that shows real talent and skill.  Some follow this idea because they believe the world will need something familiar to draw them to church.  Others think that the world is so busy pushing their way of thinking that they can’t make anything of quality anymore, so that if people see Christians making good quality things, they will have to admit that God exists, because quality must be something eternal, something meaningful.

This adoration of quality is something that has distracted many Christians from following Jesus.  We begin to try chasing away the darkness by embracing comedy and humor of all kinds.  We want to show the world we understand “real” problems by making art and music that captures the spirit of anger, terror, and hopelessness.  We want to us these things to show them that there is still hope, but because we have been focusing on refining skills and talents as a way to do the most for God, we have lost the key to salvation in all of the busyness.  The beauty, the art, the music, all have a note of hollowness to them.  We like to keep busy because we can often feel an ache in our hearts that tells us if we pause too long to listen to that hollow sound, we will see that all of our churches, our youth centers, our coffee shops, our hopeful homes, have become pieces of a ghost town.

Friend…

Sister.

You do not have the strength to heal anyone.  We cannot even heal ourselves.  Our words, actions, and creations can bless others, but the only way that they can be healed, can find a home, can know love and joy and laughter again, is not to have shadows of Jesus in your actions, it is to have the actual, real, full person of Jesus with them.  That can be very hard to hear, because we try so hard, but living fully in our hearts and in our actions is exactly where Jesus wants to be.

The weeds and whispers of the world can be very distracting, so it is very easy for us to become separated from our Father in a culture that is basically a shiny, colorful department store to our child-like minds.  Christians know in their hearts that Jesus is somewhere, but it can often feel like God is the watch-winder, and our job is just to keep ticking along until the right time comes.

As creatures made in God’s image, we have an innate desire to create.  We also have a strong connection to what we create, and what things awaken that creative nature.  These tendencies are wired into us so that spending time with our Father will bring us closer to Him.  However, when we start thinking that our talents are their for us to use—even to use for God—we often end up creating and interacting things that draw our affections away from the heart of our Father.

Remember that it is Jesus’ goal to bring all people to Himself (John 12:32).  Things that we create in and of ourselves will reflect our beliefs, but if we submit ourselves to Christ, and to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the things He builds through us will actually introduce others of our precious Savior Himself!  In essence, we view our talents as our tools to serve Him, but in our surrender to His will, His complete will, we become the brush, and He becomes the painter.  We become the strings, and He becomes the sweet hands that give us music.  He has complete freedom to love others through us, to come alongside them personally, and to wipe their tear-stained faces with His nail-scarred hands, holding them close until they are made utterly whole again.

Kneel before Him and give Him all of your heart.  Trust Him with everything like Mary did in pouring out what she had for Him.  Whatever others may say, they will see Him at His work on the pages of your life.  Will you sing a more hopeful song without Him?

 

by Stephanie H.

Joy Overflowing

Where does joy come from?

Something that gets whole groups of Christians spinning in circles is the question of happiness.  I have friends who get weird looks and comments from strangers in public because they’re just “too happy.”  It often comes up in many churches that Christians should be the happiest people around because of Jesus.  At the same time other Christians are finally starting to admit that they struggle with depression and anxiety in spite of living with a pasted on smile because they’ve always been told they should be happy.  It often happens that both sides get angry with each other.  Outside of the church, some believe that happy Christians really are just a facade, trying to sell their “perfect” lifestyle, while others even think that happiness can never be as real as other emotions, because real life is never that kind.

But what about joy?  Joy and happiness are often synonymous, but Noah Webster also says that joy is excitement and pleasure that comes from a confidence in something, while happiness is more a pleasure by chance.  In short, joy is often seen as being more long-lasting than happiness.

So if we often find happiness to be unattainable, how can we possibly get joy?  Joy isn’t just for happy people, or for times when things seem to be going right.  Joy isn’t just something you can force across your face, straight into your heart because you want it there.  Joy is for the depressed, the mourning, the troubled, and the broken.  If you have a concordance (or access to the internet), try reading the verses that have to do with joy.  Many of them are promises.  Here are just a few.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
~Galatians 5:22, 23

Joy is a result of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and confidence in God.  If the Holy Spirit is in us, we will grow in joy, and in the rest of these.

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of joy above Your fellows.
~Psalm 45:7

The closer we grow to the Lord, the more we will see things as He sees them.  The more wickedness will break our hearts, and the more we will delight in the beauty and virtue He has created.  Joy will become like a mark of royalty, showing everyone whose child you are!

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
~James 1:2-4

We could never force it, but the presence of the Holy Spirit gives us such confidence in the love and power of God, that we can view every hardship and setback as a joy the more we abide in Him.

Perhaps you haven’t known this joy, or perhaps it all seems to be in the past.  It’s easy to write about all of these things, but how do you actually get joy?  Maybe you’ve tried doing everything everyone has told you, but the darkness always calls louder.  Jesus knows.  This is what the Lord said of the Israelites in a similar situation:

For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.
~Jeremiah 2:13

He speaks harshly because it absolutely breaks His heart to see us hurting ourselves by leaving Him.  “Living water” refers to water that flows naturally, down from the mountains or out of the ground like a spring.  The Lord is that mountain spring to our hearts.  Everything we need to be filled is always flowing from His presence.  Every thirst we have is quenched, the needs of all of the desert animals are met, trees spring up, fruit comes forth; in the midst of exhaustion, we can cool off, and it’s hard to resist splashing that refreshing joy on every tired heart we meet!

A cistern is a kind of dry well that can be dug in dry climates.  No water comes into it naturally, but buckets can be used to fill it so you might have water for later.  In this case, the cistern has a leak in it.  We can be so desperate for a drop of happiness.  We take our buckets out and try to fill our dry well with friends, adventures, food, music, clothes, television, toys, relationships, and novels.  But the water all leaks away, and we’re left again with nothing.  Sometimes we go so far as to try to fill it with drugs, bullying, violence, sex, or self-harm.  It may seem impossible to come to the fountain of joy from there, but Jesus is always listening.  Maybe you did know His joy in the past, and you think He won’t come back for you again, but nothing could be further from the truth!  The fountain has not run dry, and His mercies are new every morning!

When King David finally repented after living for months in sin, this is what he wrote:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
~Psalm 51:10-12

The first joys of salvation can be restored.  You heart can be cleansed of every sin, and healed of every wound.  In spite of every single pain and abuse you have faced, your mourning can be turned to dancing!  It may not be something your heart knows how to want, but Jesus will come to you.  Just be willing to ask, trust Him when He tells you what to do, and flee to Him when you feel the darkness pressing in.  If you ask and believe, your confidence and joy in the Lord will be your strength!

But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.
~John 4:14

by Stephanie H.

Battle Prayers: Thy Tents Shall Be Our Home

 

I struggle constantly to share prayer needs with others.  I often have no trouble talking to God about various things on my mind, but I have also struggled personally to pray for my own prayer needs, and to pray without ceasing over the daily actions and routine of my life.  The biggest reason for this is that I have a hard time counting many things as needs.  It can be easy to pray wishful prayers about what I would like to see happen, but over which I have no control.  Yet there are plenty of other times that prayer just seems… impractical.  Barring an unforeseen disaster, why would I need to pray for strength to get a jar of peanut butter off of the shelf when I could just do it?  Surely praying without ceasing does not require me to be imagining that I break my arm doing the most simple tasks!  That kind of imagination also wouldn’t be very good to apply to corporate prayers, knowing now many others have serious and present needs.  It is often so much easier to see Jesus as Friend than as Lord.  These blocks have added a layer of awkwardness to my prayers for years.

I still can’t tell what sparked the process, but the Lord put me on a train of thought recently that has overwhelmed my prayer life.  It didn’t come all at once like some of God’s lessons.  It was half of a thought that sat for some time before it blossomed.  The beginning that I can remember was wondering, “What am I missing when I keep my prayers to myself?”  I know that there is power in prayer, so why do I so often isolate myself from the prayer of others, when prayer brings us into such sweet communion with our brothers and sisters, even over the small things?  That’s not to say we make the focus of prayer meetings be the strength to open pickle jars.  On the contrary.  How often do we pray for normal rather than for extraordinary?

Our entire life as disciples of Jesus is a spiritual war, and prayer is the most vital battlefield.  Yet so often we can make the focus of our prayers the desire to stay safe and to stay normal.  It is easy to see how so many of my prayers have been defensive: focusing on keeping my head down, my shield up, and hoping that my prayers add extra strength to my rock, fortress, and high tower that God promises to be in Psalm 18.

But we really have no reason to pray defensive prayers of safety from inside God’s mighty fortress.  Read Psalm 18 in its entirety, and try to imagine our hopes and thoughts being able to add any sort of power to the unyielding storm of our Heavenly Father when His children are in trouble.  It isn’t our job to keep Heaven from crumbling, or from protecting God from His enemies, and the enemies and dangers we face are so numerous, that we would be crushed just by being aware of all that God protects us from without our knowledge!  In a manner of thinking, none of our prayers are defensive, because God’s kingdom will never fall.

Battle metaphors speak to me, so I love coming back again and again to Caesarea Philippi.  Jesus takes His disciples to this pagan city, the location of a cave called “The Gates of Hades” where demons were actively and grotesquely worshiped, to give them a clear and lasting image of their role as His disciples.

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
~Matthew 16:18

Gates don’t make a habit of going out and attacking other castles.  Gates are made strong to protect their cities.  Gates can stand strong and overpower attacking forces, but those forces have to come to them first.  We are the advancing forces, not the gates.  At the same time that our treasures are stored up safely beyond the gates of Heaven, we are on the march.  When we are spiritually attacked, it is because the Lord is pressing us forward into enemy territory, and they are rightly terrified of losing.  The battle belongs to the Lord (Proverbs 21:31), and no weapon that is formed against His armies will prosper (Isaiah 54:17).

When we neglect to pray over situations we can handle ourselves-on a physical level-we are skipping over our battle training.  We are disconnecting ourselves from our fellow soldiers who will need us in the fight.  We may feel safer and more comfortable, but we won’t be useful in rescuing anyone or spurring each other on to greater effectiveness on the battlefield.

No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
~2 Timothy 2:4

Our battle prayers do not have to be complicated to be offensive instead of defensive.  “Lord, I want to be chosen for the front lines of the battle.  Let this situation equip me for the fight.  Keep my focus on you so that I can reclaim lives for you.  I don’t know how getting a jar of peanut butter off of a shelf will be a strike against the enemy, but if it can be, make it count!  Keep my armor and my resolve strong when your enemies lash out in self-defense.”

That is not to say that we can never pray for our own protection.  Our hearts and our treasures are safe in the stronghold of Zion, but we must go out against the gates of Hell, where we will be attacked.  There is a hymn that has become a favorite of mine that paints a very good picture:

Lead on, O King eternal,
The day of march has come;
Henceforth in fields of conquest
Thy tents shall be our home:

A tent is not nearly as defensible as a castle, but it is where we find the fight.  Remember that the church is built on the very rock that was named “The Gates of Hades”, so we are in full range of the attack.  Our souls are safe with our Father, but our bodies, minds, and hearts will be wounded and broken on the battlefield.  Choosing to fight for our King will mean choosing to live in dangerous places.  It is not wrong to pray for healing and for protection here, but we cannot withdraw from the fight in order to keep ourselves safe.

Training will be hard.  The fight will be long.  The more we pray, the more we will be attacked, and the less normal life will be, because God will put us into more significant battles as we press on.  Never pass up the opportunity to become a stronger, more fierce, more devoted soldier.  As you leave normal comfort behind, the Lord will be your source of joy and peace.

Dear Sister, press on and let the enemy know your Sword, let the captive know your love, and know Who has rescued you and given you both.  Never hold back, never look back, and pray because lives depend on it.

You have been chosen for this fight.  Take your stand, choose this day whom you will serve, and do not be afraid, for the Lord your God will be with your wherever you go.

 

by Stephanie H.

Living in the VICTORY of the Holy Spirit!

 

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately praying for the Lord to fill me with the strength and tools I need to be able to do His work and not lose heart. And not only to do His work…but to do it *well*. In particular, I have spent a lot of time praying for Him to fill me with JOY in all the varied situations we find ourselves in, and His LOVE for the people we meet — a love that would compel me to reach out to them, and not be content to just let them pass by on their courses to hell.

But then, one day, I stopped in the midst of my prayers. I suddenly realized that each of these things I was pleading for — joy, love, peace, faithfulness, etc. — they are all fruits of the Holy Spirit, as Galatians 5:22-25 says:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”

“Okay…” you might think, “I know those verses. I’ve sung the fruit of the Spirit song since I was three. I know all that already. What is so groundbreaking about that?”

Well, I sang that song all my life too. But here, just take a look at some more verses with me real quick…and then I’ll explain it:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13 ESV)

“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 ESV)

“….and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5 ESV)

 

The Holy Spirit IS the power that we need to live victorious Christian lives, full of vibrancy and light! HE is the source of all JOY, all LOVE — all that we need for serving the Lord! Without the Holy Spirit, we do a pretty poor job trying to live righteously and godly in our own strength. We don’t need to try to manufacture these things in our own hearts — we can’t ever muster up enough faithfulness or love to live as God’s hands and feet in this world. We don’t need to spend hours and hours pleading with God to make us more loving, kind, or joyful! In fact…we need to get past our self-focused prayer times, and start using our prayer times to storm the devil’s fortresses, and set the captives free! We weren’t saved to feel good about ourselves. We were saved to serve our King…and to rescue others! And the fruits of the Spirit aren’t so people can think about how wonderful we are – they are to cause us to be better, bolder, more selfless soldiers who don’t back down from advancing the Kingdom of God! The Holy Spirit comes in to win victories for the Lord!

So…how do you get the power of the Holy Spirit then…if I just said that we need to stop our self-focused pleading every day for help to stop doing the things we know we shouldn’t, and start doing the things that we should…???

 

LET THE HOLY SPIRIT TAKE CONTROL.

Yep. That simple. Each of us has a “driver’s seat” of our lives. There is one of three chauffeurs. It’s either going to be yourself, the devil, or the Holy Spirit. Now, the devil is no gentleman. He just barges in whenever he can find a crack to squeeze through. But the Holy Spirit IS a gentleman. And He will never force His way in. He will always wait to be asked. Kinda’ vexing. 😉

So for starters, we must ask the Holy Spirit to actually not only fill us, but to take control of our lives, that we might actually BE the hands and feet of Jesus, doing HIS will, and not our own on this earth.

However, for the Holy Spirit to actually be ABLE to take control, we must be willing to surrender anything that is contrary to God’s Spirit within us; anything that would hold us back from being completely surrendered to His will and heart. In fact…any time we feel like we are lacking the power we need to serve the Lord more effectively, or when we are lacking the vibrancy and joy that we know belonged to those who have gone before us as they served — people such as Mary Slessor, Gladys Aylward, Jackie Pullinger, Jonathan Goforth, D.L. Moody, Reese Howells, etc. — it is likely that there is something we are holding onto. Something that we have not been willing to let bow before the Lord.

And this is why I was so excited to begin thinking this way. Instead of pleading with God to give me more joy in my life, I can take hold of the Holy Spirit’s power in my life in a deeper way…and it comes from surrendering my heart and life more fully to His service!

How do you receive the Holy Spirit? Well, there is much division over things of this nature. Some believe there is no more Holy Spirit (I have already seen this disproved enough in my life that I don’t even consider it a valid argument any more), some believe that you automatically receive the Holy Spirit when you become a Christian, others believe it is a separate experience. Whatever the case, if you are already a Christian, it cannot hurt to just humble yourself before the Lord and be honest with Him. Just say something like, “Holy Spirit, I desperately need you in my life. I need you to live through me, to give me victory over my flesh, and to cause me to be fruitful in the Lord’s service. I invite you to take control of my life…and I want you to live through me, to do the things that the Father needs done on this earth. I also understand that it will mean surrendering my own desires and the things in my life that are displeasing to you…and I don’t know where to start…but I want to be willing. Please come in. Please make me willing…and please show me the things that are in my life that are hindering me from serving you with total abandon, and then, root those things out so that there’s not one particle of them remaining, but only YOU.”

And that is where I, too, am at today. Eagerly expecting the Holy Spirit to begin to work through me in a deeper, more effective way; making me more one with the desires of God’s heart. I want to be His hands and feet. Do you?

 

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.

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….

Holding Back Our Feet From Evil

 

wood-feet-summer-dress

Well, here I am again, after a long silence! I apologize for my lack of posting lately. Life has been incredibly crazy (and I only foresee it getting crazier as baby #2 joins our lives sometime in the next few weeks), and I have been longing to post, but haven’t had the time or energy…and it has been making me so very sad. But today, I seized a little spot of time I had, let the clothes sit in the dryer for a little longer, asked my daughter to quietly read a book in her room…and I just want to share with you one little verse that I’ve been pondering the past couple days. I’ve been reading through Psalm 119 again this week, and this is one verse that stuck out to me (and perhaps I’ll share more at some point too, because Psalm 119 is chock-full of good stuff!):

“I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep Your Word.” Psalm 119:101

This verse implies a purposeful holding back of oneself from evil…on purpose (did I mention on PURPOSE??)…just because we love God, and love His Word, and His commands! Now, I point this out because it is easy to fall into the mindset – especially for a new Christian – that once you pray for Jesus to be your Savior and Lord, things will change, and you will become free from all sinfulness and sinful desires. And, while it is true that Jesus sets us free from the power sin once held over our lives, and gives us hearts that can desire what is right and good…it is also true that we still have to purposefully keep ourselves from what is evil. Because the devil is not passive in his attempts to deceive us, and turn us back from doing what is right, and following Jesus….and on top of that, our sin nature is still very much intact, and it takes a lot of discipline to get it to come under submission to its new Ruler. It’s also a misconception to think that keeping God’s Word will just come naturally to us, without any real effort. Doing what is right, and resisting the temptation to sin and do what is wrong will always be difficult…because temptations to sin are always something that appeals to and/or gratifies our flesh…and doing what it right doesn’t usually have immediate gratification for those sinful desires — “only” the peace and joy that God will fill us with, which can never be found apart from doing His will.

So, first, we must read God’s Word so that we will know His standards and what He wants us to do and not do. It never works to call ourselves Christians and to try to live like one without really getting to know our King, and reading His Word. We must understand what He asks us to do, so that we can understand what we must do in order to live in a way that honors and blesses Him.

And second, we must purposefully obey His Word…even when it is hard, and even when it is something that doesn’t come naturally to us. For instance, if someone does something hurtful to you, it is only natural to be angry, to hate them, gossip about them, snub them, and hold onto bitterness in your heart. That is the easy way. BUT, God’s way is to love them, pray for them, forgive them, let go of bitterness and anger, and even seek reconciliation and friendship with them again. But this is the difficult way, and it takes work to do this — HARD work. It takes work to keep ourselves from thinking angry or bitter thoughts. It takes work to cultivate love after your heart has been wounded. It takes work to stop yourself from gossiping about the ones who hurt you to all your friends, in an effort to make yourself feel better and more justified in your distain. BUT, it is what we must do, if we wish to honor the Lord’s commands and live as a true Christian. As Jesus said, “A tree is known by its fruit.” We cannot do all of those things that go against real love and still call ourselves a Christian, because a Christian is a lover and follower of Christ…and to love and follow Him, we must love and follow His commands, and His good character.

We must hold back our feet from every evil way…asking God for His strength and the power of His Spirit to resist the temptation to sin…and asking Him to show us how to keep His Word.

And those, friends, are my ponderings of the day. 🙂

signatureMED

An Unlikely Opportunity for Discipleship

pexels-photo-2EDITsmall

By Anna Faith

 

“Lord, please send me someone. Someone that I can pour into. Someone I can develop a friendship with–someone I share YOU with.”

This is my continual prayer to the Lord. The Holy Spirit has so impressed upon my heart the special place that teens have in HIS heart. I may be a twenty-something, but I remember clearly what I felt at 15…and 16…and 17…and 18…and so on. I remember as if it was a moment ago. I know the unspoken pressure girls feel. I know how vicious other girls can be–even Christian girls (yes..sadly, they too can often be vicious). I know how it feels to want to be admired, and wondering when you started wanting to be admired. I know what it feels like to have your crush like your best friend. I know what it’s like to stare out the window and intentionally listen to dramatic music so it feels like a music video. I even know what it’s like to feel really ugly and want to hide under layers of sweatshirts. I’ve watched my own friends battle with self-image, “friendships” with guys (meaning they actually like those guys), and even hearing the bitterness they felt towards their parents for (wise) rules set in place.

The teen years are one of the hardest things I’ve ever walked through.

Yet, in the midst of all my emotions flailing as awkwardly as my clumsy limbs, I remember one girl named Danielle (as I shall call her). Danielle was about 5 years older than I was, already giving her the perk of being one of the older “cool kids”. We had a low-key friendship, meaning we didn’t know each other very well. But, in the middle of my awkwardness and really struggling to press after the Lord, she has left one of the largest impressions upon my heart. I remember the time she let us sharpie her hair, just because we asked. I remember the time she drove me to the funeral of a friend’s mom. She gently hugged me as I cried. She would drive me to meet my mom, and wasn’t even upset when the plans changed and we had to drive alllll the way back to our original destination. She always had a smile and quirky sense of humor. Danielle had her own problems, but she was the “cool” one who always made me feel like her close friend. Danielle was awesome.

As the years passed, I asked the Lord to make me a “Danielle” to someone else. I wanted to show younger girls how beautiful they REALLY are. How there is so much more to life than living for the opinions of others. Someone to encourage, to hug, and to love as a Sister-in-Christ. Someone to serve them…and to teach them how to serve others.

“Lord, where can I help?”

We all have our “circles”. We have our family, our school friends, our Bible Study ladies, our Co-op buddies, our online friends, our play-date group, our soccer team friends, our Church friends. We have our groups. We brush shoulders with people all the time–home-schooled or not. As I waded through my own circles through the years, I have crossed paths with several girls that I love dearly. BUT, I really was not able to connect with anyone that I “clicked” with. But then one day–about 3 years ago–I turned around…

…and I saw my little sister.

Seven years my junior, she is currently in the hardest stage of life. The teen years. *cue dramatic theme music*

OBVIOUSLY, because we are family, there is a certain showing of love that is expected within the sibling ranks. I am close with all three of my sisters. But, there’s something different about my baby sister. She is the goofiest, silliest, sweetest, quickest-witted, storytelling-est, sassy pants you will ever meet. She has the tenderest, most sensitive heart of anyone I have ever met. She’s my Spudnut (my nickname for her).

And the Lord told me to love her. Really love her. To invest in her. Spend time with her. Purposefully. Encourage her. To listen and to speak. To not just be her sister–but to be her friend.

In return, I was given one of the sweetest gifts. I was given a best friend. My little “Spudnut”. We share a room (which can be rough if you’re an introvert), but we have learned to really make it work. We stay up late talking. She asks me guy questions, I hear the rustle of pages late at night as she reads her Bible. If she needs to talk, she’ll sit quietly on the floor beside me until I give her my full attention. She asks me how my day was, even if I spent it at home. She makes me special things. She loves upbeat music, and jokingly rolls her eyes when I make her listen to classical to “stimulate her brain”. I tackle her when she’s grumpy (literally), erupting in hysterical laughter and flailing arms. I’ve had some of my deepest talks, and my most heart searching moments with my “Baby” sister.

It has been one of the sweetest gifts God has ever given me. But it is hard. Somedays I DON’T want to talk. I DON’T feel like listening. I just want to brush by her and let her “go play for a while”. But then the Holy Spirit will quietly whisper “Be careful, Anna. She is an answer to prayer.”

As my sister is growing into a young woman, I have begun to pray again that the Lord would open up more doors of “discipleship”, but also friendship with other girls. There are SO many teen girls who are walking around in a cloud of depression, self-hatred, and starving for LOVE. I would even encourage YOU, dear friend, as you go about your daily life–in your various circles–to seek the Lord in this area. Ask the Lord if there is anyone whom YOU might be a “Danielle” to. Are there any girls at school or Co-op who could use an encouraging word? Even if you do not think you are ” qualified”, you don’t need a degree to be a friend! 🙂

We would love to hear from you! Have you ever had a discipleship relationship or had someone reach out to you in a way that really affected you? Or have you ever had an opportunity to reach out to someone? Do you have sisters, or friends who are like sisters to you that you can minister to, and pray for?

Is Gay OK?

Waving rainbow flag. Illustration contains transparency and blending effects, eps 10

 

I recently had a conversation with a young lady who, though confused about God’s opinion of homosexuality and how it could work in the realities of our culture, wanted to know the truth. So, I thought I would give a snapshot into our conversation for anyone else who is confused by the general acceptance of this sin in our culture.

 

 

Q: “The Bible says homosexuality is wrong…so does that mean those people no longer believe in God’s Word and have turned from Him, or can they still believe in Him as Lord and share the gospel with others? I know one way to look at this is that if someone is a true believer they would ask for God to keep them from temptation and never even go down that path, but like you said, it’s a sin, and believers sin everyday. So…what makes this so different? Is it because the sin is out there for the world to see? 

I ask all this because I believe some people were born to be this way and I’m always torn on this subject because I know what the Bible says but most of my friends are not straight. Any clarity on this would be much appreciated.”

A: Well, I’d definitely love to try to help clarify it for you.

First, as you said, sin is sin. God says that all lust is sin, no matter if you are a girl lusting after a girl, or a guy lusting after a girl or whatever. He says anger, pride, selfishness, lying, etc., are all sins.

So when someone sins with homosexuality it has roughly the same consequences as someone who steals something or lies.

The thing that most people don’t understand, though is that, when we sin, whatever it is, we are disobeying God. And in order to be right with God, we must repent (say sorry, and turn from our sins). One big problem with all the LGBT stuff, is that it has come in with a tide of intense pride. Pride keeps us from being able to be right with God, because that requires humility, and admitting we are wrong. This does not make it impossible for someone of the LGBT community to be right with God…but it makes it very hard, because they don’t want to hear anything other than praise for their choices. Someone who steals might feel guilty, and therefore, be moved to repent when told that what they did was wrong. But for so many LGBT’s, they have stopped their ears, and because of the pride behind the movement, can’t hear anything that is said against homosexuality, because they are proud of their choices, and not feeling guilty in the least.

Now, you mentioned Christians sinning every day. This is true — how well I know. However, being a Christian means — literally — being a follower of Christ; meaning you love what He stands for and says in the Bible. It is undeniable that God is unwavering in His justice, and when we sin, we must also repent. The Christian who refuses to repent for a sin, or tries to justify it, becomes stagnant and distances themselves from God. I’ve seen it happen in my own life. The moment God asks you to surrender something and you refuse, that is the moment you stop moving forward. The moment you sin, there is a barrier between your relationship with God…and you can FEEL it. The sin that Christ’s atonement covers is CONFESSED sin. Sin that is hidden, or justified, and left unconfessed is sin that is not covered in the atonement of Christ. BUT, as SOON as we confess and forsake our sins, we WILL have mercy, and the barriers are removed, and we can experience the joys of God’s presence again!

So, if you love Christ, and you want to follow His commands, and do what is pleasing to Him…then you are a Christian. Even if you fail, you will be alright if you do what He asks and just humble yourself and say sorry.

However, if you say you are a Christian, but you don’t like some of what He says, that means you can’t really BE a Christian…because it means you are forming a new and different “god” for yourself according to your own passions and desires. God does not change, and we don’t get to pick and choose which commands we like and which we don’t…and which parts of God we prefer. God is God. He has been from the beginning. And He hasn’t changed His mind as the cultures have changed. If we don’t like what God stands for, then we don’t really like God.

Saying God is ok with homosexuality and would encourage you to pursue whatever makes you happy would be like a boyfriend being convinced that you think Hitler was a good guy, that you find running over cats in your car to be funny, and that you love when people drive off of cliffs. It’s simply not true about you, and if this person was only your boyfriend because they were convinced that you believed these things, they’d really be in love with someone else, because the person they have created you to be in their mind is not really you. And, in fact, you would probably be quite offended that they thought such things of you!

That’s kind of a weird example, but I just wanted to illustrate what it is that we do to God, when we say we love Him, but we don’t agree with this command, and this verse here…and that one there.

So, if someone is unwilling to see their sin as sin, and confess and forsake it, I really don’t think they can be “Christians”. I don’t think you can be a Christian and not love and try to obey God’s Word.

1 John 1:6-8 says, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”

You might love God…but if you don’t want to be set free from your sins, there’s no point in even calling yourself a Christian…because Jesus came to set us free from sin — not just to save us from Hell…but to actually give us NEW hearts and lives!!

But if we don’t want the heart that HE considers to be new, and pure, and righteous, then we don’t really want the God of the Bible.

So it’s the same for all sins…even though, yes, homosexuality is often zeroed in on because 1) if you don’t struggle with it, then it’s easy to pick on it without your own conscience being pricked, and 2) because the whole movement IS so full of pride, and is very “in your face” about a lot of things, so that if you stand up for God’s standards at all, you *will* likely come head-to-head with them, because they won’t let you go un-challenged.

BUT, there’s also another angle.

A couple, actually.

First, a lot of them are hurt. Angry. Bitter. Many girls who decide to become lesbians/transgender have been hurt…many have been abused…many have been raped. They hate men. They don’t trust men. But they feel like their only safety and security is in becoming one themselves…and becoming unattractive to guys, then they won’t be hurt again. They think maybe, just maybe their hearts will be safer and their longings met in another girl instead of trusting their aching hearts to the gender who has broken them time and time again.

471513151_c262cc8ca9_b

I know someone who went through this. BUT…Jesus has set her free from the anger and bitterness and the intense hurts…and has made her able to love again, and to enjoy being a girl again! (She wrote an article in my last Unshakable Girl e-Mag, which you can read on Issuu.com.)

And I know Jesus sees these hurting little girls inside — no matter what the exterior looks like, and He wants to help them. He loves them…and calls out to them…because freedom is only found in Him.

BUT…then there is our culture. Our media is insanely bad. I haven’t watched a mainstream movie for the past 5 years, because they were getting so bad…and they have only gotten worse since then. Our music is just as bad — maybe worse. I’ve chosen not to listen to any secular music for a long time, but I’ve heard songs in stores blaspheming God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I’ve heard songs glorifying the party lifestyle, glorifying sex, glorifying doing whatever makes you happy. I’ve heard songs saying, “I can’t help it, even if I tried,” about being gay. Everything we are watching and pumping through our earbuds 24/7 is telling us to live for whatever makes us happy, and is feeding us a way of life that is completely abominable to God and goes against His Word and His character in every way. How can someone stand against such a tide of ungodliness?? It’s practically impossible, unless you truly know God and hold onto Him and hold onto Truth with every ounce of strength you have.

On top of it all, all our media (including video games) actually have real, demonic spirits attached to them, and when we willfully listen to and watch those things, we open the door to let those things into our lives…and they are SO deceitful. I’ve felt their power before. The devil can flick on and off our emotions like a light switch. He can enflame us with passion for someone/something that makes no sense at all, and makes it SEEM like it’s our thoughts — our idea…and that we NEED to do it! Or He can make us feel SO depressed and overwhelmed over nothing at all.

But as Christians, we can simply rebuke the devil in Jesus’ name, and he WILL flee from us. However, if we are not following Christ, we don’t have His authority, and these demonic spirits are able to totally wreak havoc on our lives. Even so, Jesus can set us free…but…we have to want to be free. And that is the catch.

So, I personally don’t believe that people are born to be that way. God made us male and female, just how He meant us to be…and even goes so far in the Bible as to say that even a man wearing woman’s clothing and vise-versa is abominable to Him. He doesn’t make mistakes. And He really doesn’t give any wiggle room. Some people may be more inclined to fall into the sin of homosexuality, just like some people tend to struggle with lying more, or anger more. But just because you struggle with the desire to want to throw things and punch people, does that mean you should give in to that temptation? No! The same is true with homosexuality. God doesn’t give us homosexual desires — we choose them because of our sinful nature, as Romans 1:24-27 says; it’s not because of the way we were born, but because of our choices and desires to sin.

Any of us could go that way if we let our sinful thoughts take root…and act on them. But the point of His salvation and the gift of His Holy Spirit is to give us NEW hearts with NEW desires, and the power to resist temptation, and flee from it.

 

 

Q: “I have drifted away from church and believers just because I couldn’t stand how most of them were — and I find myself, now — in that place of picking and choosing what they wanted to believe of God’s Word. I didn’t fully realize it until you said that we can love God but not really love and obey Him. I’ve always thought that He made you to feel certain ways toward certain genders despite what you were on the outside. 

For the longest time I felt like something has been missing…and it seems like I’m growing more attracted to other women, but I’ve kept myself from pursuing those thoughts and feelings because, I knew if I did, I wouldn’t be able to work at places with kids for a very long time — if ever — and that’s selfish. But I feel like that shouldn’t be my reason at all. I should be saying “no” to those thoughts because of what God says and wants from me…but with my tug-of-war relationship with Him that’s hard to do. 

I’ve been through a lot and I’m tired of it. Every time I feel like I’m growing in my faith something happens and I take 10 steps back.”

A: I understand your struggle with the church. I travel to so many churches now with my family’s ministry, and see so many people in the same place of going to church, but not having a real love for the Lord. We fail to realize that just going to church can’t take away the emptiness and cleanse our hearts from their sinful tendencies. So many people in the church are still living in sin, and living with their worldly worldviews, because they don’t actually have a living relationship with the Lord and/or haven’t let the Lord search their hearts for things that are displeasing to Him — because they don’t want to let go of the things that make them feel comfortable or happy. But God didn’t come to make us comfortable or happy. He came to give us new hearts, and lives that are full of light and joy. He came to make us into His children.

However, it is good to keep in mind that, no matter what people around you do and say, God IS real, and following Him with total surrender IS worth it! No matter what someone else does or doesn’t do, what is important is to make sure your OWN heart and life are right with the Lord, and that you are walking in His ways –in obedience– yourself. Not every person who calls themselves a Christian is going to be a true reflection of Christ (we’re all sinners!), many will fall short, and make mistakes…but that doesn’t make God’s Word and the truth of the Bible any less true or real. If you want to have an unwavering relationship with Christ, go to the Bible, and walk according to what it says, not according to what the people around you do or don’t do. Then you will be firmly rooted when the winds of adversity and the struggles and trials of life come.

And, whatever reason you’ve had behind it, it IS good that you have been keeping yourself from pursuing those thoughts you’ve had. That is the starting point for doing what is right. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it,” and, “Resist the devil, and he WILL flee from you,” are two very helpful scriptures in this case. With the first, it is comforting to know that you are not alone, and also, that every time you are tempted, there IS a way out. There is never a temptation that you are forced to give in to. BUT, we have to be willing to actually TAKE the way of escape that God makes for us. And most times it isn’t pleasant to our flesh…because, like I said before, every temptation the devil throws at us is something we LIKE or WANT…otherwise, it wouldn’t be tempting. It would be like if I held a can of rotten eggs in front of your face, hoping it would lure you wherever I wanted you to go; it’s not really that effective unless the bait is something you really want. Now if I said, “Do such-and-such for me, and I’ll give you a $1,000 gift card to your favorite store,” you’d probably jump at the offer! The devil is very clever…and does everything he can to destroy any hope we have of a relationship with the Lord. He seems to especially love anything that will wrap us in guilt, and make us think that we can never be good enough to walk with the Lord again. But the reality is, God makes it the most simple thing ever: we just have to humble ourselves and say sorry…and then he removes our sin from us as far as the east is from the west, and remembers it no more, and will never hold it against us. But the devil tells us, “You can’t say sorry now! You’re too bad. God can’t forgive you for that.” Thinking that any sin you commit is too big for God to forgive it is pride.

 

 

Q: “How can I grow closer to God when the devil really likes to screw up my life? Every time I get closer one of two things happens: 1.) I date a guy who says he’s a believer but turns out to be either lying and have his own religion, or he turns into an abuser or a pervert. 2.) Someone I care for dies. 

I know God does things to test us as well. Just look what he let happen to Job. Sadly, I’m not strong enough to keep pressing into God in the midst of my hardship. 

And…how can I wait on Him to find me the right man? If I’m meant to be with someone?”

A: The key to growing closer to the Lord, and staying close, instead of your relationship with Him being like a yo-yo, is…actually just 1.) Being faithful in the small things, and, 2.) Trusting in God’s good character, and holding fast to it, without doubting or acting out of fear.

So, first, be faithful to seek Him each day. We act like we deserve God’s benefits for nothing — we want God to bless us, and everything to be perfect, but we don’t actually want to exert any effort. But…what friendship is like that?? How can you ever be best friends with someone unless you hang out with them, talk with them all the time, get to know all the things they love, and exert the effort it takes to know all about them?

It is the most important thing in your whole life. More important than making money, more important than friends, more important than anything….so it should be scheduled that way. Even if you have to get up an hour earlier and lose a little sleep, it is well worth it. Our lives on earth are just a fleeting breath, but our spirits will last forever.

Any time you have free time, or you’re doing something that doesn’t take a lot of thought — pray! Sometimes we feel like it has to be a big chunk of time to “count”, but every 10 minutes we get to spend time with the Lord, is a 10 minutes well spent. Also, there have been times when I was feeling so overwhelmed and oppressed and just like I wanted to cry for no reason at all that I could put my finger on…and I just stepped away to pray for 10 minutes, and rebuked the devil and every oppressive spirit, and asked God to fill me with His Spirit and peace — and even joy…and I immediately felt lighter and more joyful!

Also, be willing to do whatever He asks, knowing that it is always for our good — because God knows what things will destroy our lives, and lead us down wrong paths, and sidetrack us from investing in eternity.

And one thought about waiting to find the right guy: It is far better to be single and totally in love with the Lord and walking in a way that is pleasing to Him, than to be in a relationship that is not godly, and which will destroy your life and your eternal life, and take away all your joy in the Lord. There have been many single women who have been sold out for Jesus, and were surrendered to whatever God wanted them to do…and He was able to use them in amazing ways! Women like Gladys Aylward, Amy Carmichael, Mary Slessor…and even Katie Davis, a modern day gal who felt God telling her to give up her life in America, and move to Uganda to be a mom to orphan girls…and she actually just got married this year, because God finally brought along a very godly guy who was glad to be a part of what God had called her to do.

The world makes us feel like our lives don’t really have meaning until/unless we have a relationship…and like we are worthless or useless till then. But that isn’t true at all! ANY person who is surrendered to God, and just wants to be used by Him CAN be! Relationships are really just extra — in fact, Paul says in the Bible that it is much easier to serve the Lord and be single, and HE found the joy in it! Being married is a blessing, but it is not essential, and in fact, can be just one long distraction unless both people actually love JESUS first and want to serve Him with their lives.

So, every story is different, but if you have it set in your heart that you want to follow Jesus, and will not compromise for the sake of a relationship, God will honor that. I personally had to come to the place where I was willing to surrender the concept of ever being married or being in a relationship, before God was able to actually give me my husband. Because God knows that unless we are able to surrender these things and put Him first in our lives, we will make an idol out of them, and love our relationships and our significant other MORE than we love Him. And He knows that would destroy us, because no human can live up to that standard; none of us can fill that hole of needing unconditional love in someone else’s life — only God can do that. So I had to come to the point in my own heart where I was able to say, “God, I love you, and whether I ever get married or not, I will serve you with my life. Even if it means I will never have a companion, never get to have my first kiss, never have the comfort of someone’s hand to hold. I surrender these things, and I say YES, Lord. Yes, I will serve you, even still.”

And it was only after that hurdle was overcome in my own heart, and I gave up my dreams of marriage, that God was able to bring my husband to me…because it was only then that He knew that it wouldn’t destroy me by becoming my first love.