Freely Give

Sometimes, Christmas still has that sparkle.  The snow fell pretty heavily yesterday morning, leaving us to the warmth of lamps, blankets, and instrumental carols to complete the picture.  By noon, the pajama-clad children are all napping on the couch, one on top of another like puppies, surrounded by empty boxes, stray wrapping paper, and all of the newly discovered treasures.   There is just something magical, even surreal, about the Christmas festivities.

I was thinking about all of the gifts exchanged and received, and how much there seems to be in the moment.  One gift right after another with barely time to look at them before they are scattered amidst the boxes, bags, bows, and packaging that hid them: between gifts of clothing, tools, toys, books, snacks, gadgets, and novelties, it suddenly feels like everything in your life is new, as though this is the first day of a life defined by different things than the last year.  The thought made me stop and count what exactly my gifts had been this Christmas.  I don’t mean to reduce how thoughtful they are, or how much I will enjoy them, but realistically, a few sweaters and scarves, a tote bag of snacks, and a novelty lamp will change very little about my day to day life once the glimmer of this charming Christmas day has worn off.  I will enjoy them, but I will still have to come back to the firm reality of the world and admit that these things are just amusements.  I had some very significant time with Jesus this Christmas, but I also came to realize how whimsical so many of my expectations of a “good” Christmas day are.

Another thing that stood out to me this year was in giving gifts to my friends at work.  With the month of December being so busy, I only put together small gifts this year, but the response I got surprised me.  Nearly everyone to whom I gave a gift hesitated at first and asked “Is this for me?”  I teased some for being surprised (“No, I just wanted you to hold it” *wink*), but their voices really did sound affected.  A stranger might ask such a thing if given a gift, but there were friends and co-laborers with whom I work day in and day out.  Did it actually surprise them that someone was thinking of them?

The roads we walk are often hard.  Jesus is always there with us, to pick us up when we fall, and to refresh us when we are weary, but I underestimate how often He does this through His family.   The whimsical gifts fade, but anything with a hint of Jesus in it lasts, in as much as He is in it.  I have known things even as small as a smile that touches the eyes or a good-night hug to have a realness, a solidness, to them that all of the “real” material things seem to lack.  Those glimpses of Jesus are the things that keep me anchored during the difficult times.  From the moment that they are given, they may be as small as seeds, but they can quickly become the roots that keep us stable in the midst of the harshest storms.

It can be a struggle to keep scattering seeds when we often cannot see the results, but it is something that is starting to spur me on to love more actively and directly.  It may seem silly to invest time and resources in people who don’t seem to need the attention, or who don’t seem to want it, but the seeds God gives us were meant to be scattered.  Whether they will face heat, thorns, or be eaten by birds, so that we never see where those seeds come up, is for Him to decide.  He may move us on to other fields before we even know which patches were the good soil.

Is that not to our benefit?  We would be so quick to decided what “good soil” looked like if the Lord always let us see at face value the results of our devotion to Him.  His words to us were “freely ye have received, freely give.”  What if we could move past our fears, and love and serve others as often as we feel the need to be loved?  The thought that “This is for me?” could mean that I have given someone a seed in the midst of a hard time makes me long to give away everything I own to bless others.  What might I be keeping that could be used to bring hope to others?  When might my timidity be keeping me from reaching out to someone in public who may need a friendly smile or a kind word?  Christmastime has its whimsical charms, but I want to see Jesus Himself.  I pray that I will love more freely in the New Year.

by Stephanie H.

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.

The Darkness is Real

The devil is real.

We all “kind-of” know that… but, truth be told, we often aren’t really sure what that actually means… or how to deal with it.  Some of us may not really want to think about it all that much, because we’re afraid… or confused… or maybe you’re one of those who knows the devil is real, and has experienced his presence, but you don’t know what to do about it or how to get out of his grip (or help those who are).

Today I’m going to share with you an interview with a girl who is very dear to me.  A girl who has been through an incredible amount of pain, grief, and darkness in her short life.  But God has brought her out of it all safely, and she is now full of the joy of His presence.  My hope is that her testimony is both a help and an encouragement to those of you who are stuck in fear and bondage to the devil—that there IS a way out!

AND, for those of you who are still skeptical about the devil’s existence and the reality of his presence in our world and his work amongst the young people of our society today… I hope this testimony is eye-opening to you, and moves you to earnest prayer on their behalf… and I hope it stirs you to action to rescue any you can from the devil’s grip.  This is reality.  This is why there are so many suicides and kids filled with darkness and despair.  We cannot sit passively by while the devil deceives and destroys lives with impunity.  We MUST fight back.

Can you fill us in a bit on how you grew up, and what “normal life” looked like for you as a child?

I grew up without the guidance of either parent.  My dad left right away, and my mom was an alcoholic.  I was tossed between family members and my mother’s friends.  My mom dated a lot, only, she dated women, as she is a lesbian.  I saw her blaze through so many relationships, including those which sometimes involved other kids.  I saw the damage done by these relationships, and I often got the blame when they ended.  Normal life for me was never staying in one place; it was living with whoever my mom dated, and often getting left behind so she could go out drinking.  Sometimes I wouldn’t see her for months, and didn’t know if she was coming back.  I became depressed, suicidal, and got into self-harm.  I was medicated and anorexic and I began to look for comfort in all the wrong places.  Those wrong places led me to a cult and to demons.

 

When did you really start to get into dark, demonic things yourself?  What was it that drew you in?

I really started to get into dark, demonic things in my sophomore year of high school.  I liked the feeling of having the protection I thought I was being promised.  I was drawn in by the promise of never being alone and having a “spirit” to look after me; a “spirit” I could call my own and which would defend me.  I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself, and I figured I could do that if I were something more than human.  There was a “pack” of demon-bound students in my school, which I joined up with.  Each pack member got a demon which stayed with them, and was always supposedly in the form of a wolf.  These students would enter the bodies of their demons and command them to go about and to kill other demons.  I wanted to be a part of something like that because it was bigger than myself, it was adventure, and because I craved the closeness of a pack.

 

Can you summarize what it was (as far as the demonic activity) that you were drawn into?

When I got into the pack, I didn’t know it was a cult because they seemed like regular high school kids, and like they didn’t want to hurt anyone.  When I joined, I was bound to a demon that controlled fire, and was taught how to use this demonic power… BUT, by getting that close to demons, I attracted other demons to me that tried to kill me and control me.  I had voices in my head all the time.

 

How prevalent was all this in your school?  How connected through the rest of the country—or was this an isolated group?

There were at least a dozen students bound to demons in my school that I knew about, but they knew another pack in Nebraska (a state not at all close to where I lived).  This particular cult is spread all across the U.S. and Canada.  I cannot even fathom how many people are stuck in this mess.  It was definitely not an isolated incident; there are SO many kids involved in it.  There are even little kids “in training” that are relatives of those who are already bound to their demons.

When did you start to want to be free?  How easy was it to get free?  What kind of process did God have to take you through to get you free?

I was sitting behind my door one day, at home alone, and I was crying out to no one in particular.  I had been hurt, and the demons wouldn’t leave me alone.  I was so tired of cutting myself and feeling worthless.  I had grabbed a kitchen knife and wanted to slit my throat.  I had thought about overdosing so many times, but never went through with it.  I raised the knife to my throat but I hesitated, and in that moment, God called out to me.  He asked me where I was going—where I would go when I died?  Of course I knew I wouldn’t be going to Heaven—only good people went there, and I was into all things demonic.  But God told me He had plans for me.  He had found me in the darkest place and still He came for me.  God loved me so much that even with all I had done, He wanted me.  He didn’t look down on me and say I was too far gone.  He didn’t want anything from me—He wanted ME!  Even though I had nothing, even though I was bound to demons, even though I was broken and dead inside, He wanted me—even when I was so, so filthy.  THAT is when I wanted to be free.  I wanted God because He wanted me… just because He loves me.  It was a while after that that God began healing my heart and washing me clean, and He had me surrender anything related to the cult that I had.  Then, I prayed for the bonds to be broken… and… I was free!  There was a lot of healing to come, but I was free of demons, and I felt the weight of them fall off of me.

 

What would you most want to say to someone else who is stuck in a similar situation?

I want to tell the people stuck in a situation like this that it isn’t a game.  It isn’t “safe” to play around with… and there is a greater Love for you!  God won’t treat you like the demons do.  He won’t put that much pressure and weight on you.  There is no love in those kinds of cults.  God will not leave you alone, He won’t let you suffer, and He will stay with you all the days of your life and protect you for REAL.  Demons may promise protection, but they cannot deliver what they have promised.  They are liars, and their way is death.  But God is real!  He is more powerful, and He is good.  When you surrender your life to Him, He will guard you from their grip for real.

 

What do you think parents, grandparents, and church-goers who don’t know what to think of the devil or the current amount of demonic activity in the world need to know and do?

I want to tell those who don’t know what to think about the devil that he is VERY real.  Demons are very real, and they aren’t trying to help you, and they don’t actually give you power like they promise.  There is so much demonic activity in the world that Christians need to be on high alert.  It is far more common and widespread than anyone thinks it is.  Please pray for the Lord’s guidance, and be active Christians.  Remember: this is a battle.  Tell your children and grandchildren about the devil; tell them the dangers of these things while they are still growing up, and train them in battle.

 

What is the best way to help kids who are stuck in these things find their way out?

The best thing to do for kids who are in this is to pray for them, take every opportunity you can to talk about Christ with them, and show them His love.  Most of the time kids don’t even know what it is they have gotten into, and they don’t know how serious the devil is (he isn’t playing around, even if they are).  Tell these kids that the devil is real.  Take Proverbs 22:6 seriously when it says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

 

Is there a way to tell what kids are stuck in these things?

It is so hard to differentiate who is stuck in these demonic things and who isn’t.  There is no specific behavior or mark to identify them.  That is what makes this so scary; it is like a plague with no symptoms.  The devil has created a seemingly perfect trap.  There is no specific age, no specific gender or race.  However, kids stuck in this trap usually stay away from Christians and withdraw from family… but then, most teenagers do those things today anyway.

 

Now, looking back, what are the biggest differences you see between serving demons and serving God?

Serving God has brought me more joy than I ever knew I could have!  God does not endanger me.  He keeps me truly save, and promises me real and lasting love for all of my days.  Serving demons was being on edge everyday, not knowing when the next attack would come… but knowing it WOULD come.  Everything about me became different when I began serving God instead of demons.  I became happier, healthier, at peace, and I started seeing my family more often.  I became a real person again, instead of being controlled by the whims of the devil.  God doesn’t think of you as a slave like demons do.  He is a Father that only has His children’s best interests and well-being in mind.  There are no words to describe how loved you feel when you serve God.

Abandoning Your Ungodly Hobbies

“Not now, sweetie, I’m busy.”

“Go ask mom.”

“I can’t.  I’m going to the mall with Julia tomorrow.”

“I’d rather go to the movies.”

“What did you say?  I wasn’t listening.”

It hurts when those we love are too busy for us.  It doesn’t just hurt; it breaks our hearts.  It is also a pain Jesus understands more deeply than we can imagine, not just because He knows your pain—and He does, so deeply—but because this is how the ones He loves treat Him all of the time.  The number of things that we choose instead of Jesus is nearly endless.  It is something we all do far more often than we care to admit.

What are the things that get between us and our loving Savior?  Some of them just get a hold of our short attention spans; others we pursue feverishly because we’ve forgotten how to live without them.  In the same way that we have adjusted to television as background noise to every room and exploring absolutely anything through the screen of a phone, we have grown so used to sinful activities that we don’t even realize how unnatural they are to the heart of God.  In fact, our hearts are full of things that devastate His.

I was sitting in my room, praying hard, in anguish over the Scripture that had stood out to me.  I had been hurt by someone close, not just once or twice, but for years.  Now the Lord was confronting me in the the words that echoed in my head:

But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. ~Matthew 6:15

I had read these words so many times before, but this time they broke me.  In my pain, I was hurting the only One who could heal me, and I was putting of barriers of anger to keep Him away.  Still, that pain and bitterness had become so much a part of me, that I knew I couldn’t stop.

For days, it was all I could pray about.  I needed to be free.  I wanted to be with Jesus again.  Finally, He showed me what the true nature of my bitterness.  Anger frequently filled me thoughts, but not constantly.  The fact is, when I had nothing else to think about, I would go looking for bitterness without even realizing that was what I was doing.  My bitterness was a hobby.  It was a pastime that let me focus on myself.  It didn’t make me feel happy, but it made me feel justified.  It was enough to fill my mind to keep me from thinking about how hurt and vulnerable I was.

How many of these sorts of hobbies do we have?  Bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, hatred?  What about cruel humor, mocking, gossip, and backbiting?  Maybe self-harm, substance abuse, or sexual addiction.  It can even start small with a taste for violent films, novels, and video games.  Maybe we don’t notice because things can still make us smile or laugh, but when we hurt, we so often bury ourselves in hatred to keep from being hurt again.  The littlest thoughts and complaints become a part of our daily rhythm; something we can’t live without because it keeps us from thinking about being weak.

The saying goes that “hurt people hurt people.”  The truth is, hurt people hurt Jesus.  What we use to push others away who might hurt us ends up hurting Him more than it hurts the ones we fear.  Knowing that should make us feel awful, but feeling awful about it doesn’t mean we’ll ever be able to stop.  What we need to understand is that Jesus hurts more than any of us can imagine, because He is more innocent than any of us can ever know.  He hurts more than children who cannot understand what they did that they should be left alone, but in that depth of pain, He forgives.  In our pain, our thoughts and our actions break His heart, and He forgives.  He knows we cannot ever stop unless we fight to release these hobbies of brokenness to Him.  So He forgives, and He gives us His Spirit to restore to bruised and bleeding pieces of our weak and vulnerable hearts.

Whether they mean to or not, people will not stop hurting us, but we can still be vulnerable and be safe in His arms if we are willing.  He can hush our aching hearts as easily as He does the stormy seas.  He teaches us the beauty of the silence we fear so much, the silence we fill with hours of mindless rhythms and distractions that keep us from thinking.  Rest can become not falling apart, but falling into His arms.  We can leave all of our hobbies behind for a life, a real, full life.  A life of peace and joy eternal.

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.

Why So EXTREME??

 

You may be a regular visitor here, or, this may be your first time. Perhaps you stumbled across our website by accident…and you’ve never even read the book that started everything (if not…I highly recommend grabbing a copy HERE, because it will explain a LOT), and maybe you’ve been just scrolling through our posts thinking, “Wow. Some of this stuff seems kind of extreme! Why would they do all this? I know lots of people who aren’t this extreme, and they are still Christians!”

Yes, it’s true. You can call yourself a Christian, and still live a mediocre life…if that’s what you want. You can just get by with doing good stuff, and helping people, and going to church on Sundays — not doing anything TOO extreme, or unusual. No one will think anything of it. And you won’t encounter much resistance from friends or family (everyone loves “nice” people, who don’t make them feel…“uncomfortable”), or the devil (he certainly is glad when you don’t do anything too extreme, and are content to live in mediocrity).

But what about when you stand before the throne of the Lord, and there are hundreds of men and women who have given up *everything* for the Lord — houses, families, countries, health, alone time, security, finances….??

What about when you stand next to those who have lived with reckless faith — plowing forward in service to the Lord, even when all looked bleak and crazy to all who looked on. Those who have been tortured, beaten, and hated for the sake of Christ. Hebrews 11 is an excellent chapter to read, to cause us to think soberly about the cost of following Christ. As are the biographies of many men and women of God (you can find our recommendations HERE).

Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I go more into depth about these things in my book, “Unshakable”, especially the chapter called, “Why I Have Given up the World”, so I’m not going to get TOO detailed here…because I give quite a lot to chew on in my book, if you’re interested in digging more into the “whys”. But to sum it all up, I would have to say that the verse above from Hebrews is the BIG “why”.

It is because the “cloud of witnesses” (aka: the great men and women of faith) has gone before us, and their blood has paved the way for our salvation — can we take their blood sacrifices so lightly?? Can we honestly look at the lives they lived – in starvation, torture, imprisonment, and death – and say, “I’m a Christian too!” as we grumble about getting out of bed for church in the morning, or can’t be bothered to make the time to spend with Jesus each day just for one measly little hour?

It is because Jesus left everything for us, and has set us a high standard of purity and holiness.

And it is for the JOY that is set before us! The JOY of an unbreakable friendship with Jesus, when everything else in this world so easily (and frequently) crumbles away. The JOY of true FREEDOM from sin and the weight of death. The JOY of eternity with Jesus, where there will no longer be striving, or fear, or heartbreak, or death, or sin, or the devil!

AND…even more — we can rejoice as we lay down our earthly lives for Jesus, because we know that we are bringing our Bridegroom the JOY that HE endured the Cross for, on our behalf: the joy of having a bride who truly loves Him more than anything this world can offer.

 

Jesus Has Little Sisters

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to having as dear and sweet a friend as Jesus.  I don’t even know where to find the words for the love He has shown me.  The joy, the thrill, the sense of humor, all make me want to laugh and cry at the same time.  Hearing from Him and spending time with Him just makes my heart sing in a way I never knew was possible.  Even though I grew up in a Christian home, I never expected to have Jesus for an actual real best friend.

All of those thoughts made Matthew 13:55 and 56 stand out to me recently.

“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?  And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”

When the Son of God came to earth; the one who carved out the mountains, painted nebulae, and fed sea monsters; He came into a family where He would have little brothers and sisters.

It is still so easy for me to turn prayer into business meetings and memos, and time in the Word into browsing for what my next assignment is.  Like the Nazarenes in Matthew thirteen, I forget that the One who organized the functioning of the entire world and wrote all of the rules is also the Father who made petunias smell sweet, designed the family, and gave us the ability to know love.

I just imagine little girls coming to their big brother Jesus with their skinned knees, their fears, and their clumps of fresh-picked flowers.  I wonder how often they shared hugs and laughs, and how many of them He watched get married.  The One who said “let the little children come to Me” knows exactly what to do with them when they need Him.

I don’t have many memories of being a little girl.  I remember being very young, but the thoughts I remember having then were as analytical as I always seem to have been.  I don’t know if I was born an old soul, or if I just forgot those innocent joys, but Jesus doesn’t just have the little sisters He grew up with, He adopts all of the broken girls too.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
~John 14:18

I think one of the reasons I cannot find the words to explain what it is like to be loved by Jesus, is that I finally don’t have to.  I don’t have to think through a full ten minute oration on why I’m stressed or confused or why I need His comfort.  When I do try to explain, He often doesn’t let me.  He just sets aside the problems that I’ve handed Him, and holds me close instead.  He is gentle when I am most vulnerable, and He shows me how He loves me when I least believe it.  It’s love I’ve never known from anyone on earth, but it is never too late to be Jesus’ little girl.

And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said,“Behold My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
~Matthew 12:49, 50

When He adopts us, Jesus not only cares for the broken girls, but He heals us and teaches us how to become unshakable.  Arguments and situations that used to give me anxiety become places where I can feel His strength, and where He has taught me to love when I never could have on my own.  There are some struggles that return again in different ways as we work through them together, but they give me a chance to see a deeper part of His love I never knew before as He grows me into a sister and daughter He can be proud of.  It is a walk that so fills my heart, that I want to show everyone what it is like to have a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Jesus has little sisters, and you are one of them, precious girl.

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?

 

I’m SUPPOSED to Be Afraid? Part 2


Does it feel kind of like we’re back at square one?  Fear involves punishment, so we should not be afraid if we love God, but Jesus Himself said that we should fear God because of… punishment?

 

Sometimes it is so easy for us to take things apart and look at them piece by piece, and forget the big picture in the process.  Remember that fear does not exist in a vacuum.  The same God who is the God of love is also the God who judges every man according to his deeds.  He is just because He is merciful, and merciful because He is just.  So what other attributes of God do we need to remember as we consider how fearsome He is?

Omnipotence
God is all-powerful.  He created the world, and there is nothing He cannot do with it.  All throughout the Old Testament, we have pictures of the immeasurable power of God, from the creation, to the flood, to the plagues of Egypt.  The history of Israel, the Psalms, and the speeches in the book of Job all show that God is worthy to be feared.  When we think of someone wanting to be feared, it is usually a human being who wants to be in control of others, and wants everyone to know that they are in control.  They want fear to do all of the work for them so that staying in charge is easy.  God really is in control.  He doesn’t need to show off His power and use fear just to keep us in line.  Often, His shows of strength were to remind His people of how weak the enemies of God are (Exodus), and to remind those with a great deal of power that they were not to play God (Daniel).

Holiness
God is separated from all things that are evil (Psalm 5:4).  He is light, and in Him, there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).  Darkness and light cannot live in the same place.  If there is light in the room, there is no darkness.  If the light leaves the room, darkness can return.

And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.
~John 3:19

This is why we are so often afraid to enter the presence of God.  When we love evil, we can feel the darkness in us being burned away in the presence of the true light.  The devil is very good at convincing us that this means we can never be at peace with God.  We identify with darkness, but know that God is light.  We then fall into the trap of believing we are condemned to Hell whenever we discover a sin we had overlooked before.  Here is where there is hope:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
~Hebrews 4:12

Darkness cannot stand in God’s presence, but we can ask God to have our love of darkness surgically removed, and He is more than willing to do so!  He can take away anything in us that is at war with Him, so that we will be able to have joy in His presence rather than wanting to run and hide.  That is why there are two different responses to fearing God for the enemy of God and for the child of God.  An enemy refuses to leave his sin, and hates the thought of it being taken away.  A child fears the pain of the surgery and the unknown of the life afterward, but trusts his Father to do what is best for him.

Love
We often think of love and fear as opposites because we are used to fear and hate being so close together in our experiences.  There are so many things in this world that can cause destruction that it becomes easy to find numerous examples of evil and fallen things that we fear.  It is hard to think of things that we love as being fearsome at the same time.  Waterfalls, fire, dogs, and driving can all lose their loveliness if we personally experience the side of them that can be destructive.  Some of us like roller-coasters of skydiving because of the thrill of controlled fear, but it is very hard to find an earthly example that can do justice to fearing and loving the Lord.  The only example I can think of are the people of the Lord themselves.  There is not one godly person in the Bible who did not face great hardship.  Even Jesus’ own mother and step-father faced the most humiliating and difficult circumstances in bringing a child into the world.  Following Jesus is a terrifying thing because it mortifies our flesh.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
~Matthew 16:24

Those who follow Jesus do not face an easy life.  At times it seems that much of our lives are destroyed when we come to follow Him.  That is not only because God has enemies, but also because God allows the things He loves to be broken so that they can be glorified beyond what they ever could have been before they were broken.  Thing of how much more Job had after the Lord restored him.  Think of Jesus Himself after He became flesh and was broken before His enemies.  That refining process still scares me.  Just thinking about what the Lord might have me face next as I write this has made my stomach a little uncomfortable because I know that He always considers me ready for more than what I can handle on my own.  He’s always making me nervous!  But then He is always showing me more of Himself that I never would have seen if we were going at my pace, and He is making me more like Him the more He takes out of me.  As much as it scares me, I so much more desperately want to be with Him where He is working.

And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.”
And this expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;
for our God is a consuming
fire.
~Hebrews 12:26-29

 

Faithfulness
God is trustworthy to keep His promises, and He has not been shy in making them.  He is the God of all power, we have nothing to offer Him for a bribe, and He allows His people to meet with some of the most terrible trials imaginable.  Yet, in the midst of all of this, He has promised us joy, comfort, and peace.  That is not to say that God will give us pleasure and laughter in the midst of every circumstance.  We often expect this to be true, and that is why we so often hate fear.  Fear can be terribly unpleasant, but the Lord uses it to teach us trust.  There have been many times for me already when it seems as though everything is going the absolute opposite of the plan God has told me He will accomplish.  Those are times when I have to choose to believe what He says in His Word more than what the world around me is trying to convince me is true.  It is like a plant having all of it’s green chopped off until it is just the roots.  That pruning can ache for so long, but those roots will dig deeper while they are not focused on feeding the leaves, and deep roots are terribly difficult to pull up.  David speaks constantly in the Psalms of the painful circumstanced the Lord had him face, and yet he always fell back on the promise that God would not abandon him.  Job is a man famous for having faced more than most of us could imagine, yet he said,

Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.
~Job 13:15a

That is not to say that Job was more faithful to God than God was to him.  Quite the contrary.  But he knew God well enough to know that there must be a bigger picture that he could not yet understand.  The more time we spend with God, and the more we read of Him in His Word, the more we come to trust who He is, and believe that what He does really is best for us, and for countless others He will influence through us.

Humility
God is unbelievably humble.  I felt weak and inferior when I stood in front of that tiger in the museum, knowing that there would be no way for me to beat it at its own game if it had been living.  I cannot even imagine now insignificant I should feel in the unfiltered presence of El Elyon (God Most High).  And yet, He likes to make me laugh.  He feels my pain when I grieve, and He wants to teach me to do work that He could accomplish without so much as the snap of fingers.  When we keep in mind that God is fearsome and omnipotent, we often lose sight of just now much He wants to be involved in the lives of such insignificant people.  What scares me about tigers, landslides, and snapping turtles is that they don’t know me from anyone.  It isn’t personal, it’s just what those things do.  But the fearsome, omnipotent God is my Dad.  If I felt His presence wash over me while standing in front of a real tiger, it would be very hard for me not to grin or even laugh.  Why?  Because the powerful cat is just one of His playthings.  It may still be able to hurt me or even kill me, but only if He says so.  Moses was able to encourage the fleeing Israelites with these words:

But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Take your stand and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever.
The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.”
~Exodus 14:13,14

 

I cannot say that Moses was unafraid of the Egyptians when he spoke these words, but He feared the Lord, and there was no room for any other sort of fear to make decisions for him.  It is the same promise given in Joshua 1:9 and all throughout the Old Testament, in the Great Commission, and straight through to Revelation.

We have no reason to be afraid of fear itself.  Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the fountain of life, and keeps us untouched by evil.  In the darkest circumstances, it is like hearing the trumpet blast and the thundering hooves of a faithful king’s army.  Remember whom you have believed, and feel the thrill of His power and love.

I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Thy works,
And my soul know it very well.
~Psalm 139:14

 

by Stephanie H.