A Single Purpose

It hasn’t always been easy being single.  Even in learning to rely on Jesus, and truly seeing Him as my beloved, there are some times of loneliness that still come up.  I am at the point in my life where I can really resonate with what Katie Davis Majors wrote about singleness, and just really being happy (maybe a bit stubbornly so) with the thought of life being just me and Jesus, together forever.

But what is a single person supposed to do?  Each of us has an individual calling from the Lord, but it can seem like married couples have a clearer map to follow than single people.  There is so much to learn about caring for and considering another person even before children come along, and then life is a whirlwind of keeping them fed, loved, and in one piece through terrible twos and teens years, and then teaching them to be adults and parents for themselves.

That’s certainly an oversimplification of the process, but to a single person, it can be hard to figure out where to focus your energy if not on finding a way to get married and start a family.

Culture tells us that this is this is the season for self-love and self-discovery, but, as Tai and Anna have written before, that way of thinking never gets us very far. We can do all “twenty things to do while you’re in your twenties” and still come out more confused than before we started.  What is easy to overlook is that all of culture leans this way.  A focus on “me time” is more noticeable in the lives of singles because they seem to have less of an obligation to take care of others.  God’s people were not meant to live this way.

In Matthew chapter twelve, Jesus said that “whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (verse fifty)  And in the book of Acts, “not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” (Acts 4:32) 

God’s people were made to be a family: a family that extends beyond our blood relatives.  As Tai wrote, that does not mean that we have to be stay-at-home daughters until are married.  But it also doesn’t mean that our lives must be mainly focused on our own interests or on our work lives.

One profound way I have been learning to be a part of God’s family is by using the time I have to support my brothers and sisters who do have greater family commitments.  I am still at a stage of life where there are not many variables that would make it hard to change up my schedule if I need to do something.  I cannot imagine how great a responsibility it is to support a family at work, go home and make sure they are fed, loved, and doing well in school, maybe staying up with them at night when they are sick, then getting them up for school in the morning and doing it all over again.  Some of my colleagues do this sort of thing every day, and it is a huge blessing to me to know that I can help them in it by picking up odd tasks (turns our I love doing certain kinds of paperwork), or filling in if a sick family member needs care that day.  An added bonus is that I have also been learning many things that will be a huge benefit when I have a family of my own.  And that is just my own experience.  There are so many people who could use a little more family support.  The elderly might need a chat or a hand with the heavy lifting.  Maybe a single mom could use a friend stopping by for some girl time, a grocery shopping buddy, or a babysitter for the evening so she can wear jewelry again.  A dear pastor or leader might appreciate the lawn mowed so he can spend time with his family or take care of some of God’s other family members.

As a single person, I also have fewer complications if the Lord calls me to the mission field.  It might not be your call, but it is a reason to be in prayer.

If you’re not yet called to sell everything and move into the jungle, think about how you do use your resources.  If you have a good job and a family support network, you might have the opportunity to splurge on hobbies and hanging out with friends more often than others people who are supporting families. In what ways could you be supporting God’s family?  What are some of the dreams, needs, or wishes among your friends, church family, or community?  Is there a woman at church who could use some flowers today?  Is there a younger person who might need a big sister to take them for ice cream?  Has an emergency come up for a friend, making it harder to make ends meet?  Would it really make a friend’s day if someone caught the check at lunch?  This can be a tricky subject, since some people find it embarrassing when when another person meets their financial needs.  There are also cases where giving money might encourage a harmful lifestyle.  Always been in prayer about how the Lord can best use what you have, but don’t be afraid to overcome your inhibitions when He shows you how to bless His family.

Be especially generous with your prayers.  Just knowing that someone else is willing to take a few minutes out of their day to intercede for them really touches so many people’s hearts.  So many of these things can be great random acts of kindness, but take it a step forward and get to know and love the hearts of your family in Christ.   Don’t be afraid to adopt someone!  Take the love Jesus has given you and show His family how He cares for them.  He’ll use His family to take care of you too.

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.

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 2: How Can YOU Be God’s Sanctuary?

PART2
by Stephanie H.

Spare no Expense.

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

 

Maintain the Sanctuary.

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

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

 

Protect the Sanctuary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring Cleaning the Heart

 

Spring Cleaning

It’s that time of year again: SPRING! Unless you’re in Canada (where there is still snow floating around), hopefully you are seeing blossoms peek through the ground and cheerful little birds popping around on the treetops. I live in an area that’s nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and I LOVE Spring here. Dogwood Trees, Redbuds, Weeping Cherry Trees and every other kind of budding tree make such an incredible display every single time I set foot outside my door. It is glorious.
 
But, along with these happy thoughts, most people also think: SPRING CLEANING. *Insert the moans and groans of housekeepers everywhere* You know – that week where you spend time cleaning areas you didn’t even KNOW existed? Those places where you don’t even think to look? I mean, who cleans their baseboards anyways? Like REALLY cleans them?
 
Just as the faithful housekeeper tends to the nooks and crannies of her home, there is a spiritual cleaning we need to remember to do. Even more than once a year, WE – the up-keepers of this earthly vessel – need to tackle frequently the nooks and crannies within our own hearts. The places we didn’t even know were in existence. The DEEP parts of our heart.
 
When we become a Follower of Jesus Christ, it SHOULD go without saying that things are going to look different in our lives. I mean…Jesus and the World (aka: the way our lives looked normally before we allowed Jesus to take the lead in our life) don’t mix. There’s no way they can mix. One is Light and the other is Darkness (2 Cor. 6:14). Our “old man” (Romans 6:6) has to begin to die, and we have to pack up and move out our old desires. Our old ways. Our old sins. Things must leave in order for the aroma and Light of Christ to fill our hearts.  It is an ongoing process, which never actually stops–no matter how “spiritual” you think you are.
 
However, as we mature in our faith, often we forget to do basic maintenance. We forget to “check the fence-line”. When farmers have a large herd of animals, they have to make it a routine to check ever square foot of the fence line. Not only are they looking for holes, but looking for weak areas in the fence. This enables the farmer to keep his herd safe, MEANWHILE keeping danger OUT. As we pursue Christ, we need to check our own “fence lines” within our lives and hearts. By doing this, we are required to humble ourselves (seeing ourselves for who we truly are) AND keep the devil OUT.  We have to clean out these hearts so he has no place to hide among the dust and clutter!
 
Three steps to start your Spiritual House Cleaning:
 
1.) Ask. YOU may not see any areas of “blatant” sin, but you would be surprised at the things that sneak in. ASK the Lord to reveal any areas of your life that you have (a) withheld from His Lordship OR (b) any areas where you are unknowingly sinning. It may not be adultery that you have committed, but lust (even lusting via Romance Novels) is a sin (Matthew 5:28). You may not have killed anyone, but hatred IS a sin (Matthew 5:21). Harboring un-forgiveness (intentionally choosing NOT to forgive someone). FEAR–which is not trusting the Lord. Greed. PRIDE. GOSSIP. Vanity. These are just a few of the things that sneak in – often before we even realize it. ASK the Lord to show you areas where you need to repent.
 
2.) Examine. Spend a few moments thinking about your relationships. Think about what you are investing your time into – with work OR leisure time. Who are the people you chose to spend time with? What do you and your friends do when you are together? Is your conversation pure, or do you “push the limits” with inappropriate remarks (Phil. 4:8)? Do you actually make an effort to speak well of others (which can be really hard), or do you join right in “bashing” the character of someone else (James 4:11)? What do you do when no one else is around? Do you feel like you have to hide your activities from others – especially your parents? What are you watching on TV? If you had a godly woman sitting beside you, would you be ashamed to tell her what you’re watching? Are you seeing good things – good fruit –come from your words, your actions, and your decisions? Or do you see rotten fruit (Matthew 7:16-20)?
 
3.) Respond. A house doesn’t get tidy by the housekeeper sitting down and pointing out all the areas that need to be cleaned. It’s when she stands up, puts on her “shnazzy” yellow gloves and TACKLES that grime -THAT is when the real change happens. In the same way, there is almost no point in doing anything if we are not willing to ACT. When (and I say when, because there is always something to apologize for – we aren’t in heaven yet!) the Lord shows us these things, we can’t just say “woe is me” and then pull the rug over our pile of dirt. We are offered forgiveness when we repent. If we leave these things standing in the way of our relationship with Christ, it truly hinders our walk with Him. It hinders our growth, our discernment, our relationships, our Souls. Everything. It prohibits our ability to produce eternal fruit. In the Gospel of Matthew, it says to “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Repentance is crucial. When we repent, it is going against our human nature by (1) humbling ourselves, (2) admitting we were wrong, (3) asking for forgiveness, (4) and choosing to acknowledge that God’s way is better. By HIS strength, we choose to follow HIS better way. His perfect, incredible way.
 
We have to let go of anything that ties us down, dear friend. We live in perilous times–there is not time to “mess around” and waste our lives. People are dying. Spiritually and physically. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us (Hebrews 12:1). We must lay aside the things that continue to “trip” us up, in order that the Kingdom of God may expand!
 
 
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,” (Acts 3:19)
Article By: Anna Faith

Facing Discouragement as a True Friend of God

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I don’t have a normal life.  In fact…my life is incredibly crazy.  I don’t usually like to write much about myself, but here’s just a little peek into our lives, as just a little bit of background for what I’ve been thinking about today.

We travel a lot, because of my husband’s family being a musical group.  We go anywhere and everywhere we’re invited.  And that leads to some pretty…interesting…experiences.  You probably wouldn’t believe the crazies we see.  People think that traveling and sharing the gospel and playing music must be so glamorous and exciting.  WELL…it’s exciting because we’re doing it for the Lord, and we get to see real and lasting fruit from our labors.  But…it’s not glamorous.  We chuckled today as we recounted some of the places we’ve stayed — from squishing nine people into one dilapidated motel room, to camping in tents next to alligator-infested waters, to…well…basically, if you can dream it up, it’s probably happened to us…and then some. 😉  We also find ourselves presenting our shows in many different places, to many different crowds.  Sometimes we’ve had a jam-packed full theater with four hundred people all riveted throughout the show.  Other times, we’ve had churches, partially filled, but with people who had tears streaming down their faces by the end of the night because the Lord had so touched their hearts.  And other times…well…other times, it can be downright discouraging.  Like last night.  We had a miscommunication with a newspaper that was supposed to run our concert ad for two weeks in a row, and it only got run one week……the day of the show.  We had eight people come.  In a large auditorium.  Eight people is not a lot.  In fact, it’s downright awkward in many ways.  But we thanked God for those eight people, and did a show for them anyway.  But afterwards, several of our family were feeling pretty discouraged.  It’s times like these when you’ve given all your own money and time and lots of effort and sacrifice for what you think the Lord wanted you to do…and held on in faith till the last moment…and then, things don’t go the way you thought they should, that the devil slinks in and begins to fill your mind with doubts.  Suddenly, you wonder…did you really hear from God??  Do you do the wrong thing?  Did you not have enough faith?  Should you even be serving the Lord at all?  Maybe there’s someone else who is better qualified…someone who could actually have the success you had hoped for…maybe…maybe…

 

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But as I pondered the night, the only thing that came to my mind, again and again was a quiet whisper of, “But…the Kingdom of Heaven is made of such as these.”

I paused…and pondered.  Yes.  It’s true.  The Kingdom of Heaven is made of men and women who have given everything they had for Jesus…and many of them never saw any fruit for it.  The Kingdom of Heaven is made of those who have laid down their very lives for Jesus, and never lived to see the salvation of many hundreds which has come from their sacrifice.  The Kingdom of Heaven is made of those who have had many disappointments and those who have looked like complete failures to those looking on, for the sake of Christ…..and yet…..He looks down with the greatest love, tears pooling in His eyes, His heart overflowing with gratitude that He has found true friends; those who are willing to suffer with Him for the sake of some that might be rescued.  It is not an unusual thing for the children of God to encounter trials…but we must press forward, and not lose heart.  Trust…and obey.

So, may you be encouraged.  Whether you are in ministry, or whether you think God may be leading you in that direction, or whether you are simply trying to be faithful in reaching out to those God puts in your path — yes, there will be difficulties, hardships, disappointments, and much testing of our faith…but the Kingdom of Heaven is made of such as these.  God’s heart is so gladdened to have true friends, who love Him more than the comforts and success and acclaim of the world.  Friends who are willing to suffer with Him.  And God doesn’t say that if we have difficulties or what seems like failures we HAVE failed.  He just asks us to be obedient, to not lose heart, and to press forward in what He has called us to do.  We can trust Him, and entrust the fruit to Him.  He will bring forth a harvest for all that we entrust to His care…for any fruit that springs up can only come by Him and through Him anyway.  If you’ve ever tried making something happen in your own strength, you can attest to what I’m saying. 😉

 

Feel free to share what God has been teaching you lately in the comments, and what He has encouraged you with in the midst of your own difficulties and disappointments. 

 

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Faithfulness

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We are always looking for something big and important to do. Something that will change the world. Or at least something that will show people that what we are doing is important; something that shouts, “Take note!” So many young people go to Bible school and learn new things about the Lord, and in their zeal, and the emotions of exciting new discoveries and victories in their walk with the Lord which they’ve never had before, are full of big new ideas of how they can get out and “serve the Lord for real”. Often including dashing off to a foreign country, starting their own ministry which they intend to use to reach hundreds of people – or even thousands, or at the very least, intending to have hundreds of people lining up at their doors asking how they can be saved. Now, these are all very noble desires. But there’s one thing that makes us squirm — and it’s the one thing that matters MORE than doing something “big” for God. It’s faithfulness. 2 weeks of Bible school or of successfully making time for God in your daily schedule isn’t enough. 2 months of growing closer to the Lord isn’t enough. 2 years of being faithful to pray every day and read the Bible…aren’t enough. Indeed, in my own heart, I frequently see the tendency to want to congratulate myself when I have had great prayer times for a week straight, and have been learning amazing things from God’s Word. When this happens, I will suddenly feel the urge to just “relax” a little after such a successful week, because obviously I’m at a good place in my relationship with God. Or…am I?

In a Christian’s life, there is neither a place of “having made it” spiritually, or a day you can finally relax your efforts just a little. The moment you relax your efforts, you will start going backwards. There is no “carry-over” time in your walk with the Lord. Each day His mercies are new…but so your pursuit of Him must also be. He will not hold over your head your failures, but He does make it clear that when we know the right thing to do, and don’t do it…it is sin (James 4:17). God desires that we would earnestly seek Him, day by day. It takes real discipline, because it goes against all of the distractions that seem SO important, and it goes against the antsy nature we seem to all have — that urge that we’ve GOT to be doing something else – anything else! We pray a minute or two, and then, we feel like we should check our Facebook, or plan our day, or text a friend. But the faithfulness we need is not a dry, rushed, 2 minutes of prayer every day, but a hunger and thirst for more of God, every hour – every second that we can possibly use for drawing closer to Him.

We must realize that our earnest pursuit of God is never “safe”. We all have the potential within us to turn our backs on God at any moment…or to let sin or carelessness slip in. We must always be on guard, and “keep alert, with all perseverance” (Eph.6:18)…because as soon as we let our guard down, the devil will try whatever He can to sneak into our thoughts and lives again, and to lead us astray. The devil knows that life is a battle, and he takes his job of sidetracking and destroying lives seriously. It’s not a game. It’s life-or-death…but the devil is right beside us – maybe even right beside you right now – to tell us, “Oh, it’s not really that serious.” and to “kindly” help us to push aside all thoughts of conviction or desires to change…and to re-direct our attention to other more “pressing” things — such as the latest episode of our favorite TV show, or the ever present need to feed the dog, or check our email. But we must not listen to his fluff, and his schemes to distract us, and all of the things he tells us to make it seem like we don’t really have to be so careful or alert. No! We must take the battle as seriously as he does! We must daily arm ourselves with the weapons that can only be obtained by earnest prayer and real time spent in the presence of the Lord. As Peter admonishes us in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

As Matthew 24:12-13 says, “….because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

The understanding of this concept is one that both sobers us and helps to keep us humble, pressing on toward the Lord with all of our hearts, knowing that each day is a new battle, and facing it with our faces upturned to the “Sun of Righteousness”. For we know that lawlessness has indeed increased – everywhere we look, sin is sought after, praised, and encouraged. Sin and distractions grab at us from every shop window, every webpage, every street, every advertisement and TV show. Everything works to crowd our minds and thoughts and make us hesitant, at best, to spend a lot of time with the Lord each day. Everything else is telling us that there are more “important” or “fun” things to do…and you can practically FEEL your love for the Lord (and others!) growing cold. You can see the hardness of heart starting to creep in — the feelings of annoyance at the idea of praying, the urge to rush through it all and do ANYTHING else besides sit there and spend time with the Lord. How heart-warming do you think that is to God? He is just longing to hold us, and to lavish His love upon us, like any good parent longs to do for their children…but we are squirmy, fussy, and selfish! So often we care nothing about blessing the heart of God…we just want to do the things that look fun and exciting! We care nothing about the reality that we literally have NO strength to do anything without God…we just want to rush off and DO something – we don’t care if we waste our time and fall flat on our face.

But this is not what God wants for us. Faithfulness. Faithfulness springs forth from a real, true love for the Lord. A longing just to be near Him – to hear His heart, and to walk in His ways…and to never let go – not even for one second.

Faithfulness can’t save us – it’s only the grace and power of the gospel that can save us, and transform our broken hearts into hearts that CAN love Christ. But it is faithfulness that gives us the daily strength we need to stay close to God. Because, no matter which way you look at it, this world IS full of sin, and if we aren’t staying close to God, we WILL be swept away by the deceitfulness of sin, and striving to live in our own strength. God IS stronger than the devil, but the devil is stronger than we are without God working and living through us…and that is why we need to faithfully seek the Lord day by day. Faithfulness is the ultimate surrender. It is the daily recognition of our utter inability to live rightly, and the understanding that we WILL go astray without following closely after our Shepherd…and it is the crying out to the Source of Life, Christ Jesus, and asking Him to live through us…because us trying to live in our own strength and knowledge is the ultimate foolishness. It is only the power of our precious Lord’s blood, and triumphant resurrection that can overcome the wiles of the deceiver of souls – the devil. And THAT power, is greater than all. And can be found in the sanctuary of God. May our hearts long for that time in the presence of the Lord as David speaks of in Psalm 63:1-8:

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;

my soul thirsts for you;

my flesh faints for you,

as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,

beholding your power and glory.

Because your steadfast love is better than life,

my lips will praise you.

So I will bless you as long as I live;

in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,

and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,

when I remember you upon my bed,

and meditate on you in the watches of the night;

for you have been my help,

and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.

My soul clings to you;

your right hand upholds me.”

Is Gay OK?

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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.

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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.

ART That Captures the Heart of God!

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There are some who seem to be particularly gifted with the ability to mull over numbers and facts for hours on end.  There are those who are gifted to be teachers, nurses, and secretaries — those who keep the world going ‘round.  And then…there are some, like myself, who are captured by beauty and remain simply unable to look away.  Beauty tugs at our heart strings and causes us to forget the realities of this world and the things that are needed to make it run, as we find ourselves lost in the pursuit of capturing it.  Some of us use paintbrushes, and some – pencil, charcoal, ink.  Some delight in using the modern technology within our cameras to capture beauty…and some are content to sit with only their imagination as the limit of what they can capture.

I’ve always liked to think of this pursuit as being especially close to the heart of God, the Artist Who paints every sunset in the sky, and captures every sparkle on the water just so.  God has put into us a little of His own Being…and that, I believe, is where we get our love of creating beauty!

However, the devil never rests at his job of corrupting every good gift from God…and in this current society I see it more starkly displayed than perhaps has ever been seen on earth before.  Skulls are entwined with flowers and bows on every hoodie in the mall.  Sculptures in every park look like chunks of metal that fell off a spaceship and got embedded into the ground.  Paintings consist of random splatters and drips…or people who are garishly disproportionate…or inappropriate.  And so many dark, depressing works of “art” that just make your skin crawl – many of which include hellish faces leering at you as you walk by.  That’s what happens when God isn’t welcome.  All true creativity, sweetness, and beauty is lost.  Without instruction from the Master Designer, we can only create empty forms of beautiful things…and they will be lacking all of the vibrancy and life that made them worthy of capturing in the first place!  And every “art gathering” is simply an expo of New Age, magic, death, pride, lust, and all KINDS of terrible things.  NOT exactly what our hearts are longing for.

So, how can we make the best use of our art?  How can our art most glorify the Creator of art — the King of the Universe?  How can our art stand out like a beacon of light in the midst of the dark, dank “art cave” of this world?  How can we truly capture God’s heart in our art?

1.) Capture innocence.

The sparkle in a child’s eyes.  The frisking of a puppy.  The gentleness of the world cloaked in snowy wonder.  The delicate curve of a flower’s soft petals.  These things are all full of an innocence that the world overlooks, and has forgotten how to appreciate.  The world needs bold colors, elements that grate against each-other in an irritating way, and disturbing images to capture our media-deadened minds, so that we’ll take notice.  But God’s ways take us back to child-like innocence and purity…and the ability to take delight in the gentle and sweet things that He has created; these are the sort of things that come from His heart!  Everything He does blends perfectly, and He always highlights just the right parts to cause our eyes to marvel at the beauty.  He does not create anything ugly, or perverse, or even irritating to our eyes and our sense of proportion and beauty.  If you are going to make art, imitate our good God in this: capture innocence.

2.) Capture light, virtue, and beauty.

God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all [1 John 1:5].  The moody, depressing paintings of the world ooze with darkness and despair.  They exalt perverseness and immorality, and the twisting of beauty into something that echoes the chaos of their hearts.  This is not art to be praised!  This is simply a window into the hearts of men without God, no matter how fine the brush-strokes, or how perfect the hues.  These “artists” are to be pitied, and prayed for…but not emulated!  No!  Do not desire to be like these, however popular or praised they may be.  To capture God’s heart, and draw hearts to Him through our art, it must be bursting with light, celebrating virtue, and full of the delight of true beauty – which can be found in all the things that God has created.  In order to truly capture God’s heart in these things, though, we must actually have a close friendship with Him ourselves, first and foremost.  In order to see what He sees, and capture things in just the right way that brings glory to Him and causes people’s hearts to rejoice, we must truly KNOW Him, and be close to His heart.  Anyone who does not know God, cannot capture things through His eyes, and cannot see the beauty that only His children can see.

And, one tip I have been coming to understand about what sets a good painting or drawing or photo apart from the rest is always significantly about the lighting in the picture.  So, I recommend, if you want to be able to capture the beauty you see, or the sweet things in your imagination — study light.  Study the way it dances through the trees, and sparkles on the ripples in the river, and gives depth to scenes that would otherwise be flat and boring.  Note how it causes a face to glow, and how it gives petals an inner radiance.

3.) Capture truth.

While drawing fantasy worlds may be fun, or relaxing, it is most likely never going to save a soul.  Focus, instead, on what is true.  And…what is truth?  God is truth.  Salvation is truth.  Repentance and forgiveness are truth.  Fighting to hold onto salvation is truth.  Our heavenly reward is truth.  Though this kind of art may not be for everyone, I have found some of the most compelling art I have ever seen to be that which captures the spiritual truths that give us a heavenly window into spiritual realities that we can’t always see, but know to be true.  I think an excellent example of this is Ron DiCianni.  His paintings are all beautiful depictions of a Christian’s life, and glimpses into heaven.  I think perhaps my favorite is one he calls, “Safely Home”, which depicts a Christian martyr just arriving in the presence of the Lord, finally free of his chains, and held in His Savior’s comforting embrace, as an angel waits to give him his new and shining white robes.  So much emotion is captured in this one scene, and it is one that causes your own heart to long to be faithful unto death — to “Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown”. [Revelation 3:11].

Sun rays passing through an open door

4.) Capture Heaven.

Jesus dwells in Heaven.  It is a very real world, full of light and beauty and free from the effects of sin and death.  If you can give people a glimpse into heaven with your art, not only will their hearts be compelled to rejoice, but there will be an inner longing that is awakened in their hearts that may very well lead them to the Savior Himself.  I can’t necessarily dictate to you all that this means for your art, and it very much ties in with my previous points…but if you prayerfully make this your goal in all that you do, you will find your art take on a new depth and life.

5.) Selfless art.

Perhaps the highest call for art is, in fact, using it to bless others.  You may think that it’s not worth it to spend days or weeks on a painting just to give it away to one person.  But the act of giving something so full of care and effort away for the eyes of the receiver alone is an act of the greatest humility and selflessness.  Not expecting any praise or acclaim or gain, but just giving to make someone smile.  I have personally found that I prefer this kind of art over every other; just seeking the Lord for His ideas for a picture for someone, often with a verse to go with it, that will really minister to their hearts in exactly the ways that HE knows they need.  When I seek God for His thoughts and ideas, and His help to draw/paint/take pictures that are sweet and full of His love, I am never disappointed at the way He uses it to speak to the hearts of the receivers in a special way — and that is the greatest reward!

6.) Surrendered art.

Here I come to a most difficult point, but in it is found the greatest reward!  If you think there is any chance for God to use your life to reach other with the gospel; if you want to serve God, and see lives changed…don’t look to your art, and don’t hold too fast to your own notions of what you want to do with your “gift”.  There are so many thousands and millions of desperately hurting, lost, and dying people in this world who need Jesus, that if there is any potential that God could use you in the harvest, there really can’t be any time wasted on seeking after art for art’s sake.  One painting, one drawing can take days and weeks to complete.  And there just isn’t any way to justify the loss of that much time. Jesus is returning soon, and every moment we spend in seeking our own interests is a moment that we aren’t reaching out and rescuing another soul for eternity.  We can try to justify our art as a “tool” for the gospel, and as long as it truly is, I think God will bless it.  But how much of it is simply seeking our own idea of what we want to do, and what we find delightful and “fun”?  Honestly, there is just no time to waste on art that doesn’t directly call people to seek the Lord.  God has really made this clear to my heart.  I had thought that I might like to go to art school as I was considering after-highschool options…and even after I decided against college, I still held onto art as something that I desired to excel in and be known for.  But then, God did something special.  He called me to serve Him full-time instead, both in directly sharing Him with people all across North America, and in simply making the best use of my time, and making sure that everything I use my time for is with the goal of expanding the Kingdom of God.  He has asked me to lay aside my desires to build my life on art, and instead, to desire to seek and save the lost.  It is interesting, because sometimes He will give me something to do that involves art…whether illustrating a book, or doing photography for someone, or making a drawing or painting to bless someone with…and instead of it being me seeking my own pleasure or acclaim, it is just a part of my obedience to Him and His call on my life, and is filled with almost the same joy as leading a soul to Him directly.  Sacrificing our art for the sake of seeing lost souls come to salvation is a sacrifice that is well-pleasing to God, and He will cause it to be like fertilizer for the seeds that are planted in people’s lives to spring up and flourish!

Woman holding white flowers

One encouraging example of this area of surrender, one that encouraged me to release my grip on “my art”, is Rosalind Goforth, who, with her husband Jonathan, was a missionary to China starting in the late 1800’s.  God granted them the answer of their prayer of reaching 10,000 souls with the gospel.  Rosalind was a talented young artist from a well-to-do, prominent family in England.  Her days from youngest childhood were largely spent beside her artist father’s easel, who strongly desired that she would be an artist, and saw in her a natural talent.  At age 12, after hearing a preacher speak at a revival meeting, Rosalind gave her heart to the Lord.  She said, “From that time, and increasingly as the years passed, there seemed to be two elements contesting within me, one for art, the other — an intense longing to serve the Master to whom I had given myself.”  Rosalind did, in fact, end up graduating from the Toronto School of Art, and was preparing to leave for London to complete her studies in art abroad when God changed her course. In Rosalind’s own words,

“The autumn of 1882 found us again settled in Toronto, when I at once entered the Art School.  The period of three years that followed was a period of great unrest in my life.  While I loved my art, for it was born in me, yet there was always the inner, secret longing for definite Christian service.  I came to pray daily that a door might be opened for such.

Mother and my eldest brother, Fred, had given Father their solemn promise that I would be sent to England for training in the Kensington School of Art.  In view of this promise, Mother’s later action may be better and more sympathetically understood.

Little did I dream as we entered the year 1885 how completely the course of my life, as then planned, was to change before the year ran out.  Graduation from the art school was to come in May, when a coveted gold medal was to be presented by the Governor General of Canada.  One pupil, Miss X, and myself were so far ahead of the others in the class, it was a foregone conclusion that one of us would get the medal.  There is little doubt had I won it I would have been so elated the artist career would certainly have followed.  But GOD planned otherwise.

Early in February, I was taken ill with inflammatory rheumatism.  This was the third serious attack.  For days my life hung in the balance.  I was only half conscious and unable to move or be moved.  Every joint in my body seemed on fire.  Some weeks before, I had memorized the hymn, the first verse of which is:

How sweet the name of JESUS sounds

In a believer’s ear;

It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,

And drives away his fears.

Words fail me to describe what that hymn meant to me through those days of agony.  The words, fresh in mind, came without effort.  While at times the whole six verses would come as soothing balm, it was the message of the first two lines of the last verse that brought to me the irresistible call to service. The words,

I would thy boundless love proclaim

With every fleeting breath

seemed burned into my soul.  I came out of that valley of suffering determined to pry myself loose from the things that were forcing me to follow other than the path of Christian service.

It was then I began to pray that if the Lord wanted me to live the married life, he would lead to me one wholly given up to Him and to His service.  I wanted no other.

Graduation time came, and while I was able to attend, I, of course, failed to win the gold medal, which was awarded to Miss X.

Preparations had begun for my going to England, for I had told no one, not even my mother, of my spiritual struggles and secret hopes, believing it was better to leave the Lord to work out all in His own way.  Then, in a truly marvelous way, He brought into my life just what I had asked for, a man wholly yielded to GOD and His service.”

That, of course, being Mr. Jonathan Goforth.  And Rosalind tells the remarkable story in his biography and a few other of her written works.

“On looking back upon that time, the greatest wonder seems to be the rapidity with which events took place: the meeting with Mr. O’Brien at St. Peter’s; a few days later his invitation to the workers’ meeting of the Toronto Mission Union; the introduction of ‘Jonathan Goforth, our city missionary’; and a few days later the never-to-be-forgotten incident of examining the worn Bible.  At that meeting, though the first I had attended, my name was included in the committee appointed to find a place and open a branch mission in the east end slums.  Mr. Henry O’Brien was chairman, while Jonathan Goforth was also included on the committee.  Thus we were coworkers from the beginning.

The two years given to work in the East End slums, was of the greatest possible value in gaining experience which gave me a realization of my own personal responsibility towards my unsaved sisters.   Of course, by this time, art had practically dropped out of my life, and in its place had come a deep desire to be a worthy life-partner of one so wholly yielded to his Divine Master, as I knew Jonathan Goforth to be.

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A painting by Rosalind’s brother, Fred, showing the level of talent she gave up to serve the Lord.

To my great surprise, Mother’s reaction to this slum work was most sympathetic.  For weeks all went well. Then one day, as if uneasy, she expressed a wish for Mr. Goforth to come for supper Sunday evening.  He came and Mother liked him; but that evening when I returned from the mission, Mother looked straight at me in a strange way and said, ‘Rosie, was the moon out tonight?’  Everyone in the room had his eyes on me, and my embarrassment was more than I could bear, for I had to acknowledge, as I fled, that I did not know! (Jonathan Goforth had accompanied me home.)

The next morning, Mother came to me and said sternly, ‘This slum work is to cease at once.  You are to get ready and leave for England without delay!’  I replied quietly, but firmly, ‘Mother, it is too late; I promised Jonathan Goforth last night to be his wife and to go to China!’

Poor Mother! She almost fainted! It is not necessary to give the details of the week that followed.  Suffice it to say, Mother gave me the choice of obeying Father’s dying wish or leaving home. For six weeks, I stayed with a brother in a distant city.

Then came a letter from my sister pleading with me to return, as Mother was sobbing day and night and seemed failing fast.

On reaching home, I was shocked at the change in Mother.  She would not speak to me and seemed broken-hearted.  My distress was now very great.  Could it be GOD’s will for me to break my Mother’s heart?  At last, one day, as I listened to her pacing her bedroom floor, weeping,  I could stand the strain no longer and determined to find out GOD’s will so plainly I could make no mistake.  Going down to the parlor, where the large family Bible rested on a small davenport or desk, I stood for a moment crying to the Lord for some word of light. Then I opened the Bible at random, and the first words my eyes lit on were:

“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and

bring forth fruit” (John 15:16).

I knew at once GOD was speaking His will to me through these words, and in an instant the crushing burden was gone.  Running to Mother’s room, I begged her to hear what I had to say.

Unwillingly, she unlocked the door and stood while I told her of my prayer and answer.  For a moment only she hesitated, then with a cry I could never forget, she threw her arms about me, saying, ‘O my child, I can fight against you, but I dare not fight against GOD.’   From that moment till her death eighteen months later, Mother’s heart was entirely with me in the life I had chosen.”

So, as you can see from this example, it may be a difficult thing to surrender your art to the Lord – and there may even be those who can’t understand why you would set aside such “talent”.  But I know that Jesus has said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?”  (Mark 8:34-37 ESV)  And I hold fast to this hope and assurance — that anything I give up in this life will be my greatest gain in the life to come.

So whether in taking up your art as a tool to spread the love of Christ, or laying it down as a sweet offering before the throne of God, do it all for the glory of God.

And may I also give a fair warning to those of you who are considering going to college for art?  Be very careful and prayer-full.  You might actually do better to pray and study under God’s guidance – with Him as your teacher, than to shell out  tens of thousands of dollars to go to a school where they can’t actually help you.  Many of the art programs are so yucky, and with many teachers so full of the darkness of the world, that you couldn’t actually learn to make beautiful art there.  They cannot teach what they do not know.  Additionally, most art programs today are full of immense wickedness, and sin is celebrated and encouraged!  It is a sad reality, but you don’t have to be discouraged, because God is the best teacher in these things that you could ever have!  Seek Him, and you will not be disappointed!