The Greatest Gift of All

The Greatest Gift of All

Editors note: For the month of December, our theme is “The Gift of Jesus” and our focus verses are found in Luke 2:10-14. “but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord- has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger. Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others – the armies of heaven – praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

What a wonderful time of year this is! What makes this time of year special for you?  It might be being with family and friends. Maybe it’s the decorating, food eating and gift buying that brings you joy. What about Jesus? Does He have a place in your life during this season?

Let’s talk about gifts. Gifts are exciting! All the pretty wrappings and the suspense of what is hidden beneath those wrappings. We have all heard and probably sang the classic song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.  Someone tried to add up how much it would cost to give the gifts named in this song.  The grand total came to about $15,000! It seems we get all tied up in the busyness of the season and we forget about the simplicity.

Christmas, a wonderful story and a gentle reminder of the true meaning. It is about the gifts. However, it is not about the gifts that can be purchased with a credit or debit card.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is GIVEN, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. “ Isaiah 9:6

The real message is not the gifts we give each other but the gifts God has given to each of us.  His gifts are the only ones that keep on giving.  Let’s look at 4 things:

1. God’s gift to us was a total surprise.  Who would have imagined that Jesus would be willing to leave perfection to come into a sinful world and in human form?

2. God’s gift came to us in humble wrappings. He wasn’t born in a palace.  We all have been taught that He was born in a stable. The reality is He was born in a cave. This cave was a cave where lambs were born to be used for religious sacrifices. The lambs had to be perfect, it was mandatory that they were unblemished. Therefore, they were wrapped in rags to prevent blemishes. We know ultimately Jesus became our sacrificial lamb, which will become another gift in the future. Just as the lambs were wrapped, Jesus was wrapped in cloths or rags and laid in a feeding trough.

3. We don’t deserve this gift. We usually give gifts to those we love and care about. We don’t usually give gifts to those that have been unkind to us. Yet, God still gave us His Son as a gift, because of love, even though the human race had become an enemy of his. They broke religious laws. To top it off,Jesus was already rejected even before his birth when there was no room in the Inn. (Luke 2:7)

4. The gift tells us something about the giver.  Just as we think ahead and plan what we want to give to others, God did the same for us. Through Jesus, our gift, He gave us an opportunity at eternal life. However, we first have to accept the gift. Then we must unwrap that gift. What are you going to do with the gift after you unwrap it?  Push it to the side and think about it later or start utilizing it and discover everything it has to offer?  If we choose to utilize it we will discover that not only is Jesus THE gift but He also brought other gifts with Him. He brought peace, hope, forgiveness, healing and purpose. He also brought a new way to live and see, a joy that can’t be taken and a way to relate to others. He brought so much more that we are still trying to unwrap it all.

It’s not about the gifts that will be under your tree. These gifts are temporary and will be gone one day. Life is about knowing the God who made you and gave you the greatest gift you will ever receive. His gift is eternal and will never wear out. His gift always fits and you never have to return it. Most importantly, His gifts are worth more than $15,000, they are priceless.  Jesus is THE greatest gift of all.

We would like to thank Kathy Jones for writing this blog post.

Being Generous with Our Love

Being Generous with Our Love

Editors note: For the month of November, our theme is Loving Big. The Bible tells us in 1 John 4:7-8, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. Bug anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” This month, you will hear from the ladies of our church about how to show God’s love to others.

Have you ever given someone a gift that you made or created just for them? I love to write and when I was a girl, I would write stories for my little brother. Since I didn’t often have money, this was something I could give him that came just from me.  As I grew older, I became a little more hesitant about sharing things I write with others, but sometimes, I write a poem or a passage for a close friend or someone I love. And the things I value most are those treasured, handmade gifts that have been given to me. These things are, in a sense, part of the person who made and gave them and that makes them special.

In this passage in 1 John, we see that ‘love comes from God’.  It is both His gift to us and the essence of who He is.  God is giving himself to us when He is giving us love. But this is a gift we are not to keep to ourselves – it is something we are asked to share with others.  

When I was in fifth grade, my mother made cookies for my school Christmas party.  They were sugar cookies with red and green colored icing. We didn’t have much money at the time and cookies were a rare treat in our household.  I remember struggling all the way to school with the temptation to hide the cookies. I didn’t want to keep them all to myself, but I didn’t want to share them with everyone in the class. I only wanted to share them with my friends so there would be cookies to take home and share with my brothers.  Unable to hide a plate of cookies, I ended up setting the cookies with the other goodies for the party, and I was pleasantly surprised that there were a few left after the party.  But I still remember the struggle to share with the kids in my classroom that I did not know or like. 

How generous are we with our love? John gives us a simple command here, “Dear friends, let us love one another,” and there is a love that we can easily offer to others because it flows from God, in and through us. However, I think we’re often called to something more – particularly in regard to fellow believers who worship and fellowship with us. However, if we’re honest, it’s probably not easy for most of us to offer more than just greetings to those we don’t know. Most of us realize that the more we know someone and the more intimate the relationship whether family or friends, the easier it is to love them. John even says this about our relationship with God, “everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” 

People need to be seen and known. There are lonely people all around us who are just waiting for someone to see them – really see them – and to know them.  They may know they are loved by God, but still long for loving relationships with other believers. I was once one of those people, and while I had Sunday acquaintances and companions at church, I was still lonely. It was years before I had friends that knew me and encouraged me in the gifts and calling God has placed on my life.  So, to offer love to our fellow brethren, we may have to offer connection – something more than a warm greeting, short general conversation and well wishes for their day. We may need to offer to exchange phone numbers or an invitation to coffee.  I asked earlier how generous are we with our love, but the real question may be, how generous are we with our time?  For it too is a gift from God. So, like John, I encourage you, ‘Dear friends, let us love one another…’

We would like to thank Sheila Campbell for writing this blog post.

Me Love Big?

Me Love Big?

Editors note: For the month of November, our theme is Loving Big. The Bible tells us in 1 John 4:7-8, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. Bug anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” This month, you will hear from the ladies of our church about how to show God’s love to others.

Loving big.  In I John 3 and 4, the disciple who calls himself the one that Jesus loved gives his readers much counsel on how and why they should love:

“Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God.”  I John 3:10

“If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life.”  I John 3:14

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”  I John 3:18

“Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.”  I John 4:11

My favorite, though, is I John 4:16: “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in His love.”  In theory, all these admonitions from John make sense to me, and I know that I really am called to love not only fellow believers, but Jesus even goes so far as to tell me to love my enemies!  (Luke 6:35).  I have found, though, in my own life, that there are obstacles to loving big.  

One of the big ones is rejection.

I was a baby when I was adopted into my family.  My adoptive parents raised me and treated me as their very own, and I knew I was adopted from as far back as I can remember.  It wasn’t a big deal, even though my mom gave birth to my younger brother.  That was my family. One day when we were kids, my little brother said, “Your mom and dad didn’t want you, so they gave you away.”  Well, I told my mom, and my brother got in trouble for saying it, but that stuck in my head.  Those words introduced me to a spirit of rejection that I battled for most of my life, and which still tries to rise up on occasion.

This spirit of rejection can be caused or enhanced because of many life circumstances:  abuse by a parent or loved one, death of a parent or someone dear, negative words spoken by teachers or caregivers, rejection by a group at school or by a boyfriend or girlfriend, failure at a job or school, divorce; the list goes on and on.  As a person experiences these things as a part of life, she may begin to believe that God has also rejected her.  Rejection also has self-fulfilling consequences.  A person feels rejected, so she pushes people away, afraid to get close to anyone, and she often causes the cycle to continue.  She pushes people so far by her words and actions that they reject her, so it’s confirmed that no one wants anything to do with her.  

Rejection causes me to focus on hiding myself, when love wants me to reach out to someone who is lonely, who is hurting, who needs someone to listen and to pray.  Rejection says to me, “Who do you think you are?” Love says, “Who can Holy Spirit touch through me today?”  Rejection’s focus is self-protection, while love’s is ministry.  Rejection is always looking inward.  Love is always looking outward.  

It’s clear that a person can’t go around living in this rejection mode and still fulfill the law of love, right?  In Philippians, Paul tells his readers, “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (Philippians 2:4).  The only way I’ve found to move forward is to realize that I AM accepted in the Beloved (in Jesus). (Ephesians 1:6).  The more I receive the love, and believe the love that HE has for me, the more I can open my arms to the people around me and love THEM.  It’s scary, at times, because there is always a risk that people will reject me, but Jesus never will reject you or me.  We can love despite the risk. 

“Whoever walks constantly afraid of punishment has not reached love’s perfection.  Our love for others is our grateful response to the love God first demonstrated to us.”  I John 4:18-19

“Afraid of punishment” means “fear is suspicious” in the Aramaic.  We can overcome our suspicious fear of rejection and love BIG, knowing that we are safely in the family of God, no matter what.

We would like to thank Sheri Warren for writing this blog post.

To Love as Christ Loves

To Love as Christ Loves

Editors note: For the month of November, our theme is Loving Big. The Bible tells us in 1 John 4:7-8, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. Bug anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” This month, you will hear from the ladies of our church about how to show God’s love to others.

In order to love big, one must first know Love—not just head knowledge, social-media profile, surface kind of know. Rather, a gut-level, day-in-day-out, wash-the-dishes, clean-the-poop, kind of know. It’s knowing relationally through life’s messes and celebrations.   

Head knowledge remains such a valued commodity in our society (in Jesus’ society too)and yet, application of that knowledge makes all the difference. Head knowledge means nothing without gut-level application. Pharisees’ head knowledge and religious application set them apart. Yet Jesus frequently called out this “brood of vipers” as bad fruit condemned to judgement (Matthew 12), as hypocritical blind guides leading themselves and others to destruction (Matthew 23). Jesus contrasted these criticisms with storing up good in your heart and accompanied them with warnings about caring meticulously for appearance while ignoring internal decay. Knowing and even doing what is right is abhorrent without the right heart and motivation.

Our knowledge of love, our knowledge of God who is love, must well up from within. So how do we love? Ask.

1 John 4:15 says, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.”

Choosing to follow Jesus is eternal salvation, yes, but as believers, we are also called to bring God’s kingdom to earth. Praise the Lord for eternal salvation. Praise the Lord that salvation includes the Holy Spirit who empowers us to walk in love now, empowers us to live in God’s kingdom here on Earth as it is in Heaven. If you have not yet made the decision to follow Jesus, please do today. Contact your Christian friends and we will celebrate with you! Without this relationship, we cannot love. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  

So how do we continue in love? Walk in love? Abide. Remain.

John 15:1-17 speaks of bearing good fruit by staying connected to the vine. Verse ten says, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love.” It’s not a to-do list. Verse 12 says, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” Jesus lay down his life for us, for sinners. Verse 17 repeats, “This is my command: Love each other.” How do I remain in God’s love? Obey. What’s the command? Love each other as Christ loved. Because of God’s love, I am able to love.

Practically, what does loving each other look like? In Jesus life, ultimately laying down his life. Until that point, his ministry was full of loving others. He loved crowds, taught them, healed them, fed them. He took time away from the crowds to remain in God’s presence. He saw what the Father was doing and did it too.

At my house, loving each other looks like doing dishes, scrubbing toilets, watching basketball, reading books, playing games, wrestling, tackling, tickling. Yet these mean nothing unless my heart is right. They are useless acts that drain unless my heart does them out of love. When I walk in love, these acts are life-giving, joyful responses to knowing who I am and whose I am. 

Loving big is patient, kind, humble, honoring. Loving big protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres.

My constant prayer from Psalm 139 is “Search me, God, and know my heart…lead me in the way everlasting.” Friends, our words and actions overflow from the abundance of our hearts. What are you filling your heart with? May love well up from the core of who we are. As we abide in God, may the fruit of our lives be expressed in love.

Holy Spirit, empower us to love big!

We would like to thank Mary Coleman for writing this blog post.

Loving BIG

Loving BIG

Editors note: For the month of November, our theme is Loving Big. The Bible tells us in 1 John 4:7-8, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. Bug anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” This month, you will hear from the ladies of our church about how to show God’s love to others.

Jesus loves you and He loves me…BIG!! This love is different than the love the world knows or recognizes. The world does not know this love because they do not know Him. As we look around at the world today, it seems as if the spirit of love is hidden or even lost. Let’s be honest, people are messy and sometimes hard to love. Yet our verse for the month, 1 John 4:7-8, tells us to love one another. He’s not just telling us but He is commanding us to love.

What does your relationship with Jesus look like right now?

The past couple of months God placed the following in my spirit: Do you have intimacy WITH me before doing work FOR me? Or are you trying to do work FOR me BEFORE seeking my intimacy?

When we jump into doing work for the Lord before seeking Him, we are relying on our own works, our flesh. That includes loving people. We are called to open ourselves to God’s love so God can love others through us. When we love one another we represent God to the world. When we leave intimacy with God last, loving each other is hard.

What does being intimate with God look like? For me, it’s being in His Word first thing in the morning before the activities of the day begin. Personally, I enjoy following verse by verse studies of what is really being revealed in His Word or diving into a particular topic or theme. I enjoy the stillness and quietness of the morning and just being with Him. Enter in worship music off and on during the day. Your intimate time with God may look different. Whatever that may be, it is CRUCIAL that before you do activities FOR God that you have spent time WITH God. It is in this moment where His Spirit guides and directs you.

Loving others is a call to action. John 13:34 says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. Jesus makes love a priority. Love stirs the spirit and makes an impression on the soul. Genuine love requires more than calling someone tender names. We often think that love is a sweet, sentimental feeling. Biblically, love is self sacrificing, caring and committing. It’s always searching for the good in others. There are so many ways we can love each other. Here are 10 ways to get started:
1. Pray for each other ( James 5:16)
2. Worship together (Hebrews 10:25)
3. Fellowship/ show hospitality (1 Peter 4:9)
4. Serve/ help each other (1 Peter 4:10)
5. Be humble (Ephesians 4:2)
6. Be encouraging ( 1 Thess. 5:11)
7. Forgive (Ephesians 4:32)
8. Be in peace with each other (Romans 12:18)
9. Speak the truth in love ( Ephesians 4:15)
10. Be loveable (Romans 12:10)

Love is not an optional virtue for the believer. It is to be the distinguishing mark of the church in the world. Despite what language you speak or what nation you live in, love has the ability to be understood across the broad expanse of this universe. Since God lives in us, we are to give the love God has given us and give it to the world. It’s a gift to be given and not kept for ourselves. We are called to love again. Will you be obedient? It’s time to bring the light called love into the dark places. The time to love big is now!

We would like to thank Kathy Jones for writing this blog post.

Hunting & Husbands

Hunting & Husbands

Editor’s Note: During the month of November, we are going to learn how to build healthy, Godly relationships. Whether it is with yourself, your spouse, your family, your friends, your co-workers, who we surround ourselves with matters! Relationships can be life-giving and sometimes not. Looking to the Word gives us clear direction and instruction on how to foster healthy relationships. Enjoy reading these just in time for the holidays! This is a re-post from 2 years ago.

My husband asked me to go hunting with him a few months ago and I said, “Sure, sounds like an adventure.”

Ladies, be sure you get all details before you agree to go on a hunting trip. 

Turns out, we hunted for 5 days. Like hardcore hunting in the MOUTAINS. Hello! Of course you are going to have to hike, JuLea!!! We woke up at 4:15 and didn’t return back to the cabin until after dark. It was COLD…16 degrees cold and snowing. I opted out one morning when it was 2 degrees… did you get that???!!! 2 DEGREES!! I told them to come back for me when it was at least double digits. I bought a cute backpack before we went, not knowing that by the time I had packed all of my necessities for the day would weigh over 40 pounds. It consisted of: water, Gatorade, sandwich, chips, granola bar and bullets (that I never even used). In addition, I carried a 12-pound rifle, 3-pound binoculars, and a blanket strapped to the top of my pack. I was a sight to be seen!  

What had I gotten myself into??? 

One evening, I became quite nervous. We had hunted all day. I was tired, and it was quitting time. We had just hiked to the top of a double black diamond. If you are skier, you know what that means. We were 2.5 miles away from our pickup, and the sun was setting. So, down the black diamond we went. After about 20 minutes, I knew we still had at least about 1.5 miles to go and it was completely dark. Everything looked the same. I couldn’t have retraced my steps if my life depended on it.

Every step into the dark was unknown. Luckily, we had a guide who knew those mountains like the back of his hand. 

And it reminded me, sometimes we are in uncharted territory in life, or so it seems, but our Father knows exactly where we’re at. He knows our next step. He’s the one who created the mountains! And with confidence He leads us through the mountains to our destination – just like our guide. 

Things may feel way off. You may be nervous. You may feel like you’re on the wrong path. But take heart, He has overcome the world! Scripture says in many places that He is guiding your every step. Proverbs 16:9 – The Lord will establish your steps. Isaiah 58:11 – The Lord will guide you always. Friend, He knows what He is doing! He knows exactly where that dark trail leads to.  Choose to be brave in those moments of uncertainty. He will always get you to the other side if you keep walking. He cares about you. We are of such high value to Him! 

Back to the hunting trip…my husband was so excited that I said “yes.” He was proud that I was hunting with him. And you know what? Every cold moment was worth it to see him happy. Once we were at the top of the double black diamond mountain, it was amazing to watch the beauty of creation from a couple thousand yards away. Hours of peaceful sitting became filled with prayer and quiet time. But the greatest reward was the time I got to invest with my husband. 

Flowers won’t grow if you don’t water them.

Your relationship with your spouse won’t grow if you don’t water it either. 

 Figure out things you and your spouse like to do together and do those things! Make time. Do the things you don’t like to do that your husband does and see what happens. A couple of years ago I stumbled across the “30 Day Husband Encouragement Challenge.” Every day you encourage your husband in a different way. Some days the encouragement was subtle and went unnoticed, other days it was apparent. Some days I would forget and so will you. But, it will become part of who you if you stick it out. Eventually Brent caught on and he started returning the encouragement!

I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. Be intentional about showing him physically, emotionally and spiritually that you care about him. I would encourage you to do your own 30-Day Husband Challenge and keep track of what God does in your marriage. Here are some examples straight from the challenge of what you can and can’t do for 30 days:

  • You can’t say anything negative about your husband… to your husband… or to anyone else, about your husband.
  • Say something you admire to your husband or to anyone else, about your husband.
  • Let him know you appreciate him and his hard work every day. Tell him you respect him. 
  • Praise your husband for a character quality that you see in him. Build up that man of yours!
  • Appreciate your husband’s faithfulness to you.
  • Praise your husband’s faithfulness to God.
  • Ask your husband questions – hear the heart of your husband. Get to know him. LISTEN, women! Quit talking.
  • Tell your husband how handsome he is.
  • Submit to his authority. God’s perfect design. 
  • Let your husband know when he pleases you and help him navigate through those unknowns.
  • Encourage his love making and masculinity.
  • Verbally let him know you are proud of him.
  • Don’t focus on his faults. Make a list and focus on his strengths. Draw those out in him. 

I leave you with the most important thing you can do for your husband: Pray for him. Pray for him. Pray for him. Have fun encouraging him and in return, enjoy the intimacy this will bring to your relationship!

Oh, I almost forgot. My husband got a nice muley buck on the last hour of the last morning of the hunt. BAM! 

We would like to thank JuLea Bouma for writing this post.

Contentment in the Quiet

Contentment in the Quiet

Are you craving some quiet?

Your soul needs quietness to thrive. Depending on what season of life you find yourself in, that may not seem possible. You might have to grasp for whatever snatches of time to yourself that you can find. Let me encourage you that it is so worthwhile!

Regardless of our personality types, we all benefit from some span of time to be alone or be still. This is true whether we are naturally introverted or extroverted. God’s Word says, “In quietness and trust is your strength (Isaiah 30:15). Learning to embrace the quiet is a vital soul-care practice that strengthens us in our inner being. If it’s uncomfortable at first, don’t give up. Relax, breathe, and let your mind wander. If I’m finding myself antsy or distractable, I’ll try a couple things. First of all, I set a timer, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. I decide what I’m going to do — just until the timer goes off.  Also, I keep my sticky notes nearby to just jot down any thoughts that bubble up or distract me. The important thing is just to pause during your day and recenter.

Sometimes in these unstructured moments, creativity will rise to the surface. Imagination. Impressions. Stirrings of God’s voice. Sometimes I look out the window or move outside and notice nature. Sometimes I pray or meditate on a song or verse. Other practices of quietness for me: reading for pleasure, walking (without earphones), doing jigsaw puzzles, journaling, puttering in my flowerbeds.

But guess what? Your child’s soul needs quietness to thrive too. But that same child may never know it unless you help him discover it. This practice will have to start small, but try it and see where it leads. It can be a vital piece of developing peaceful rhythms in your home.

This habit can apply to all ages. Yes, our children thrive on interaction and engagement because we were all created for meaningful connection. But even infants can be content without constantly being held or soothed. Babies can even learn to put themselves to sleep. (One of the best routines we ever developed early on!) Toddlers and preschoolers can play alone in a playpen or inside a gated area for limited stretches of time. (I have one little friend who can happily occupy herself for long periods in her play tent with just her finger puppet “people.”) School-age kiddos can entertain themselves without external stimuli. Tweens and teens are not beyond this practice either.

Choose a time that works for your own schedule and lifestyle. Pre-determine the length of time appropriate to your family members and their ages. Assign a personal area that works for each one. Set the expectations ahead of time about what this quiet time will look like. This is not punishment! This practice is different from naptime or screen time. Provide a limited number of quiet activities that each individual child may select from, such as reading, puzzles, colored pencils, individual games, or soft toys. (Limitations like 3 choices per day boost the likelihood that your child will get creative and really engage in an activity instead of bouncing from one thing to the next.) Music or audiobooks could be optional, but this is not the time for electronic stimulation.

This habit also helps provide an environment where your child knows how to flourish within boundaries. What a life skill! Here are some examples of the guidelines that we trained our kids to follow during different seasons:

● Stay in the room or space assigned to you; we do not come in and out.

● Choose calm activities and a quiet volume; we do not raise our voices.

● Trust the adult to let you know when the time is up; we do not ask questions or pester about how much longer. 

These ideas are flexible and adaptable to your own style and preferences. You can expect the experiment to be most successful if you start small and add one layer of expectation at a time, with lots of practice in between. Most of us need encouragement and training to become comfortable with this habit. Then get ready to see the creativity, the independence, and the self-awareness skyrocket. The art of establishing some type of quiet time in your home will allow each of you space — including you, Mom! — to figure out what makes you feel the most like the person you were made to be. 

We’d like to thank Jill Brown for writing this post!

Hearing God in the Gap

Hearing God in the Gap

Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered if God still speaks to us today? Or have you wondered if what you’re hearing is really God speaking to you, or just your own thoughts? If you’ve wrestled with these questions, you’re not alone. Hearing God, although our divine birthright as believers, can be one of the most elusive parts of our walk of faith but it’s not supposed to be. Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice and we can always trust that what He says is true. This month, we’re going to talk about hearing God and the primary way we do that: through relationship with Him. 

I’m throwing out a hard truth here: We don’t always get what we ask for when we ask for it. Sometimes what seems like a no is a not yet. And sometimes there’s a gap, a tension, between hearing God and seeing His word come to pass. 

The gap can bring discouragement and distance. When it doesn’t feel like God is answering our prayers, we might shut down altogether—and we might miss hearing His voice, the thousands of other conversations He wants to have with us while we wait.

How do you grow your relationship with God in the midst of a not yet? 

I spent years fixating on what I wanted God to do for us. I had a clear word from Him, and I sowed into it with prayer often. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for me, it resulted in two unfortunate consequences. It focused my attention on my circumstances, on what was lacking. And when I didn’t see His word coming to pass, it caused me to question anything I thought I heard. Our relationship suffered because I had forgotten what His voice sounded like.

In early 2015, four years before God would answer our prayer, I reached a breaking point. I missed my Heavenly Father. Knee-deep in my grief and pain, I felt lost and confused, and I was desperate for His affirmation. But my ears felt clogged. So I committed to spending 40 days with Him, every morning, and I asked Him to give me a word every day. I didn’t spend that time praying for anything. In fact, I was mostly quiet because my soul needed to receive from Him. I needed to hear His voice again, to be reminded what He sounds like, and to remember what He says about me. During this season the Lord showed me that I had connected His love for me with what He was doing, or in this case, not doing. To wait for years and years, to get another no, another loss, over and over again, to watch those around me receive what I wanted (and sometimes they didn’t)—it all felt very unloving. 

But here’s another hard truth I learned: to equate God’s love with my circumstances is to manipulate who He is. 

I had to come to grips, and repentance, that I was angry because God wasn’t doing what I wanted. If He loves me so much, why wouldn’t He do this for me? The other side of that? I was withholding my love because He wasn’t doing what I wanted. Ouch. 

You know why I call that manipulation? Because it makes love conditional. If He loves me, He will do this for me. If He does this for me, I will love Him. 

When He showed me that His love is unconditional, the power of this truth transformed my life. It still transforms me even now. And it’s a good thing, my friend. I’m so grateful His love isn’t based on my performance. At the time, I wanted it to be because it felt like control. If only I could do something, He’d love me enough to answer my prayer. Today I’m so thankful He answered my prayer in spite of any works on my part. He loves me no matter what. And I love Him whether He’s answering my prayers today—or not. 

If you have heard God for something specific, and you find yourself in the gap, I encourage you to keep pressing into your relationship with God. Spend time with Him. Refocus your attention. Let Him remind you how much He loves you. Ask Him to show you what His purpose is during this season. Allow Him to refill your cup. Invite Him to speak truth over you, reminders of who He is and who He says you are. 

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will quiet you with his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” ~Zephaniah 3:17

We would like to thank Laura Brandenburg for writing this post!

Selfless Love

Editors Note: During the month of April, we will be focusing on marriage. We hope these posts encourage you to go to new depths in your marriage during this season. Marriage operates BEST when God’s plan is followed. Be encouraged today!

On March 12, Martin and I celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary. At this point in my life, I’ve been married way more years than I’ve been single, and I’ve lived in my home with my husband longer than I lived in my parents’ home. It’s hard to believe! Where has the time gone? 

From the beginning of our marriage, God has been an equal partner with Martin and me. I believe that He brought Martin and I together in a very undeniable way. I have the best falling in love story. Ask me about it sometime; I’d love to share it with you! We were both Christians when we met. Even though we are both saved, neither one of us are perfect. 

After all these years, the main advice I give anyone who asks is this: Try not to be selfish. Believe me, it’s easier said than done. I heard a pastor once say that when young couples come to him for pre-marital counseling, they usually use the words we and us. When couples come in for pre- or post-divorce counseling, the words most heard are me, me, me. The focus of the relationship went from we and us to me and mine. Or, in other words, from selfless (I would do anything for you) to selfish (you’re not giving me what I want). The definition of selfless is: having or showing great concern for other people and little concern for yourself. The definition of selfish is: lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure. Total opposites!  

I believe in a marriage, neither person has the right to be selfish. Oh, but it’s so hard! It was worse for me when I was younger, but I still have my selfish moments. It’s in these times that I can feel God the most. Most times, it’s in a gentle whisper that tells me how wrong I was, or in His gentle reminders of the times my husband was very selfless towards me. The Bible says selfishness ruins friendships/relationships.

Proverbs 18:1-2 says, “He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom. A fool does not delight in understanding, but only revealing his won mind. Selfishness also hinders prayer.”

James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you spend it on your pleasures.”  

God is still teaching me more about my marriage every day. I do know that I have to listen to not only the words that Martin is saying but also to his heart. I always want to be on the same page as God, and I believe that is being on the same page as my husband. It can not always be my way or his way. God tells us in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” Wow ladies, you know how hard that can be! Especially when you’re stuck in quarantine with your kids and you just need a break! It’s ok to take time for your own needs, but not selfishly, and not at the expense of your kids and spouse. It’s very hard to find the right balance. If and when you do, your reward will be a balanced and fulfilling marriage.

Romans 12:3 says, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgement, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”

You might ask, how in the world can I control my selfish desires? One word: LOVE!  

For God so loved the world…can you think of a more selfless act than Jesus dying on the cross for me and you?

Phillipians 2:2 says, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”  

This is my prayer for my marriage. I pray that it be yours, too!

We would like to thank Trina Lewis for writing this post!

Reframing Beauty – Part 1

The health and beauty industry are two in the same. They have both realized that there is a HUGE draw to perfection, and they hold the secret, or so we’re told. The next best diet, newest face cream, pills, exercise routine, you name it. They convey the message that, without possessing these things, you’ll never meet the standard. The perfectly touched up models are used as our bait, and more times than not, we take it. You know what is missing in the picture? Your true value. They don’t know you like Christ does. They don’t have a high regard for your heart and soul like Christ does. They don’t see your worth without all of the products like Christ does! They make diet pills, not people. If I were to weigh the difference between the process of the two, I’d say that creating people uniquely different takes the cake! Watch this:

Genesis 2:21-23 NIV

So the Lord caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. 

You weren’t built in a factory and injected with different genes and personality. God doesn’t take His job in creating each of us lightly and how we treat His intricacy shouldn’t be taken lightly either. 

My point is not that investing in your health and adorning yourself is something that we should cease doing. However, my point is that if our heart doesn’t line up with our Maker’s about who we are created to be, if we’re placing more value in lipstick or pounds lost, spending more time crying as we look in the mirror than spending time in HIS word, we will always crave something new. Our thirst will never be quenched by industries designed to keep you thirsty. 

I recently experienced a kind of freedom that I was unaware of until my husband pointed it out. We went to dinner with friends and I wore the FIRST outfit I tried on without over analyzing it. We simply left and enjoyed the evening. That may not sound like a big deal to some. But to me, that’s a huge deal! I used to be the woman who would try on everything in her closet, hate it all, try it all on AGAIN, then break out into tears before we could go anywhere. Sounds exhausting, because it was! For myself AND my husband. It never set a positive tone for the event. 

I realized that it wasn’t a matter of how physically fit I was or wasn’t at the time, it was a condition of my heart. I wasn’t loving myself. I was living in a toxic relationship with MYSELF. A form of my self-hatred and pity appeared in piles of clothes on the floor. And I thought this was normal! It’s not! It doesn’t have to be your normal! 

I’m going to show you how digging deeper into my relationship with Christ helped me realize that my worth was greater than I realized! My constant prayer that I speak over myself is this:

“Lord, thank You for the purpose that You placed within me. Thank You for sowing seeds of self-worth within my heart. I receive Your truth about who You say I am. Thank You for making me whole, lacking nothing. Thank You for showing me Your reality and making it mine too.”

If you’ll notice something, I’m speaking truth and healing and thanking God for those things even as I work toward those things. Speaking life and provision over my shortcomings and welcoming a heart that is accepting of healing. If you struggle with leaving piles in your home, check your heart.

You can invest in your health and beauty regimen without a longing to be someone else.

You know how I know? Because God placed a huge value in every detail of your being. All we have to do is own it. No overthinking, just own it. With that comes peace from the inside that translates to the outside.

Proverbs 3:15-18 NIV

She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed. 

That’s worth! Worth that is already inside of you simply by being the daughter of The King! Walk in that truth every single day, friends!

We’d like to thank Bonnie Kate Olson for writing this post!