Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘love’

Early in our marriage, with a young child underfoot and long hours changing diapers, cleaning blocks, and watching Teletubbies, I’d anxiously await my husband’s return from work. If only to have adult conversation. But back then his work schedule was crazy, with long hours, sometimes 14 day stretches, calls at all hours. We’d plan an event, maybe a trip to the ice cream store or an evening at the park, and invariably, his phone would ring. So what’d I do? I got upset, and soured the rest of our night.

Then one day it hit me. My attitude was hurting me, and my daughter. By throwing a fit and focusing on the negative, I was robbing us all of a chance to grab hold of the rare moment we had. I decided to change my attitude and my focus.

In today’s post by Anita Estes, her husband made the same choice, and the result was beautiful. As you read her account of her husband’s gift of grace, ask yourself how you can give your spouse that same gift this Valentine’s Day. Because we live in a fallen world with stress, disappointments, responsibilities, frustrations, and demands. Life’s going to throw hurdles your way. Most likely your spouse will also, on occasion. Will you respond with anger or with grace?

God Rekindles Marriages—
With Grace
By Anita Estes

My husband’s twelve to midnight schedule had the habit of ruining evenings together, especially Friday nights when he often slept through to Saturday. But this weekend held hope for a date night, since he’d taken the previous night off. We had planned on going to the movies, so on the way home from work I bought a newspaper with the theatre listings. It had been a crazy week for me with grades due for 700 students, Bible study, lesson plans and coursework, so when I came home I collapsed on the couch. Looking through the listings, the only promising show was across the river. I doubted he would go that far, but he owed me this one since he had cancelled our previous night out, and I desired to be with him.

Let me explain why. My husband and I have been married over thirty three years and it’s been a rocky road—one littered with broken promises, near poverty, problems with addiction, and marital strife. We’ve met with no less than five counselors and are now on our seventh. This one laid out some strict guidelines for my husband, who baulked at the reigns being tightened. You see, he has been a very independent person, partly due to his heritage and my independent personality, which kicked in when he pulled away from me. But now with the children out of the house (for the most part), I’ve really needed and wanted him.

For years he weaved in and out of a close relationship to God and me, fighting depression and bouts of addiction. This drove me into a strong relationship with Jesus and my children. They became my world, and my spouse would pop in and out of ours. I didn’t grow bitter, but my lack of respect became evident to the point of putting him down in front of the children. He reacted by withdrawing affection and love. At times we would move closer to each other, then something would happen again, and he would build a wall around himself. This went on for years with only minor improvement. At one time, I had contemplated divorce.

But now he and I are beginning to experience some real breakthrough. I am praying for his emotional healing and trusting God with the outcome. He is trying to love me for who I am, and we are both trying to accept our differences. We are learning to operate in grace towards each other and listening to our counselor’s advice. My assignment is to respect my spouse more, and his is to love me more. That’s what ensued.

Sitting on the couch, tired and in a bad mood, I announced the location of the movie, to which he barked back. “No way, I’m not going that far!” Annoyed, I threw down the newspaper and retorted, “You can never make any sacrifices for me!” He replied, “You’re being quite nasty. I’m not going anywhere with you.” A fight was brewing. Then suddenly he caught himself and said, “I’m not going to let this ruin the day. I’m going to choose to love you.” The fight fizzled. I backed down and apologized, which is hard for me to do. We smoothed things over, found a great movie and had a wonderful time together.

So what was different this time? The application of grace. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work (2 Corinthians 2:9).” My husband extended grace to me like God does to us. It’s grace that gave me the ability to love my husband in good times and bad. It gave me the ability to persevere, to trust God’s timing and receive grace back from my husband. Grace poured over me when I didn’t deserve it; it poured over him when he messed up.

After thirty three years of marriage, I can see it’s becoming what God intended it to be, not the American dream, but the vision God has for us—a married couple working together to perform His will, bound together in mature love. We have endured difficult times with God’s grace. Now we are reaping the harvest as we submit to His plan for our marriage, to each other and to wise counsel.

To those of you in difficult marriages, my advice is: fall in love with Your Savior first, read the Word of God and let it dwell richly within you, take time for your relationship with Him and extend grace to your spouse. Seek the godly counsel of others and submit one to another. Love and respect each other. It’s a tall order, but God’s abundant storehouse of grace is limitless!

Recommended reading: Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

Anita Estes resides in the beautiful Hudson Valley of upstate New York with her husband and son. She is an art teacher, freelance writer and avid gardener. As an educator, she has been honored  in “Who’s Who of American Teachers” for 2000 and 2005. Her work appears in several compilations including God Allows U-Turns, A Cup of Comfort, Deliver Me and Adams Media books. Her devotions have been published in Penned from the Heart, “Upper Room” and on-line.
She is the author of When God Speaks: 40 Days of His PromisesTransformed—Inspiring Stories of Freedom and Letters to God on a Prodigal SonOvercoming Addiction through Prayer.  Her passion is encouraging others in their Christian walk, by calling the church to intimate and honest communication with God. She desires to help others break the bonds of addiction and pain through an understanding of God’s promises.  Visit her at www.anitaestes.com and http://anitaestes7.blogspot.com/
Anita Estes, author of When God Speaks, invites you to come along on a life changing journey through the landscape of God’s Promises. Your destination –the Promised Land. Once you embark on this forty- day excursion, you  will gain valuable insights into key promises in which God communicates concerning: Your True Identity, Divine Guidance, Resurrection Life, Hope, True Prosperity, Empowering Love, Healing and much more. Each day of When God Speaks is loaded with nuggets of wisdom that Anita Estes shares in her inspirational stories, prayers, application and evening meditation. As you reflect on these powerful verses you will be challenged and equipped to implement them into your daily life. God has given you everything you need for spiritual victory, but you must take the first step.
Letters to God, on a Prodigal SonOvercoming Addiction Through Prayer is the poignant, true story of a parent’s journey through the minefield of her adult child’s addiction. It is the heartfelt cry of a mother who finds peace in the midst of her tsunami and discovers the secret of victorious prayer! It is a potent journal packed with prayers, practical advice and key spiritual insights. Letters to God will unlock the secrets to successful prayer, not only for those dealing with prodigals, but for anyone facing their own storm.

Read Full Post »

How many times have we heard the phrase, “It’s not about you?” And while this is so true, reminding us that most often people respond based on their own thoughts, perceptions, and hurts, if you are a follower of Christ, you can’t rely on the “but that’s how I feel” crutch. Your call is to flip things–to fight the human tendency toward self-centeredness as you place others interest above your own. This means taking the time to look at people–truly look at them, evaluating your words not only in terms of what you are trying to say, but in how they might be perceived. As you read about the ancient prophet named Jonah, retold by Robin Prater from the Robin’s Nest, think of your own life. Does Christ’s love really dwell within you and flow through you, or are you too centered on self? Remember, it isn’t about you.

Sometimes we can’t see the writing in the sand until we are washed ashore by Robin Prater

Is is really all about us? How many times have you woke up bright and bushy-tailed only to have someone walk through the kitchen with a poor attitude? Then all of a sudden your smile parishes and now your attitude is like thick mud?
We often think more of ourselves than those around us. How do we know? It shows in our attitude. It shows in our actions. The sad accompaniment to our actions is that they rub off on those around us.
Look at Jonah. Yes, Jonah, the Prophet, the one called by God, who did what when called? He ran. He didn’t want anything to do with Nineveh. He hated the people of Nineveh. But God loved them and wanted them to repent. He wanted to see them worship Him instead of their gods. But Mr. Selfish himself said no to God. In his one action of saying, “No, God”, made the earth around him tremble.
When Jonah said no to God, he ran aboard a ship filled with men. Men who needed God, but what did they see? A man running from God. Jonah’s actions touched these men before him. As God caused the waters to roar, these sea-faring men were in fear of their life. These men lived on the sea. They had seen storms before. For them to be in fear, this must have been a monster.
They called upon their gods to save them and where is Jonah? Sleeping down below. He isn’t thinking of his God, the men aboard the ship, nor the people of Nineveh. How could he sleep in such peace? I have to ask myself the same question. At times there is so much going on around me and instead of being in prayer or reaching out to others, I high tail into my own little world and say, “Who cares. Let someone else take care of that.” This is exactly what Jonah did.
But what catches my eye is the fact that after these men find Jonah and cast lots, Jonah, tells them to throw him off ship. They don’t! Instead they try to row their way back to shore. These unsaved men, heathens as Jonah would have called them, had more regard for Jonah, than this man of God had for a whole city of people dying. How many of us have been aboard that same ship?
The storm didn’t calm so the men threw Jonah off the ship. The waters turned smooth and all is as it was before they ever saw the likes of Jonah. But everything changed for Jonah. He lands in the belly of a big fish and remains there for three days.
Jonah is spit out and he goes to the people in Nineveh. They repent. They see that there is a God and what does Jonah do? He gets angry with God for not punishing them.
The very grace that God showed Jonah was great, but the grace He Jonah felt the grace God showed to the people of Nineveh was unjustified. Did he really think he deserved God’s grace more than they did? Did he really think his sin wasn’t as big? How often to we judge those around us and find our sins to be small in comparison? Oh, I don’t have enough time to count the accusations I have made, the judgements and claims of, “Well, maybe they deserve to sit in their shame for a while”. How can we be so full of ourselves?
What I gain today is the fact that I need to see those very people around me, not through my eyes, but through God’s. I need to love those around me with His kind of love. When God calls me to speak, I need to speak. When He calls me to move I need to move on His behalf. There is always someone watching and waiting to say, “Hey, she isn’t a Christian. Look at her actions.” You know, to a point they are right. I am in no way perfect. I am a work in progress, just like Jonah. I fail and I fall hard. But I believe in a God who chooses to love me for me. I have faith in a God who washes me in His grace and covers me in forgiveness when I choose to walk a different way. He calls me back to Him just as He did Jonah.
Sometimes we can be slow learners. It took a ship, a storm, a big fish, a country of people, a plant and God’s sovereign love to show Jonah that life wasn’t about him, but all about God and His will for our lives.
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in time of honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.”
Romans 12:9-17
Lord, as You wash me with Your forgiving grace daily, help me to do the same to those around me. Guide me in the right path and set before me, Your will. Give me the wisdom I need to serve You in every way and the understanding when I cannot see the end in sight. May I love those around me with Your love. I want to be so focused on You that when You call I hear and I will answer according to Your will for my life. Help me to be a witness those around me and may my walk with You shine before all men bringing honor and glory to Your holy name.
Robin Prater blogs at the Robin’s Nest and reviews for numerous publishers. She is a sinner saved by grace who uses her words to glorify Christ and share His love with others. Visit her blog to find out more about her and her writing or shoot her an email at srprater(at)gmail(dot)com.
This concludes my top 20 of 2011! Remember, if you loved today’s post and want to see it make it to the top three, leave a comment, FB share it, “like’ it, or tweet it. Then come back (either tomorrow or Friday) when I reveal the top three, chosen by *you*!

Read Full Post »

Have you ever had a conversation that started out great only to take an immediate nose-dive? Even worse, those that ended with division, distrust, and harsh feelings? Not productive, especially when we’re sharing our faith. And when we’re there, in the moment, armed with truth and righteousness, it’s easy to give in to pride and turn what should be a gentle act of love into a verbal arsenal. We may even tell ourselves we’re doing the right thing. We’re speaking truth, after all. Taking a stand for Christ, only somewhere in the mix, we lost our focus–to build a bridge, and we’ve begun to build a barrier instead.

About eight years ago, while gathered with a dozen or so women, I began to teach some basics of the Christian faith. The women were excited, and asked countless questions about creation, the fall, and the flood. But one woman in particular wasn’t so enthralled, and soon popped off with questions of her own. I started to answer her questions, but my answers only seemed to add fuel to her fire, and she soon dominated the conversation. It took me a moment to clue in, but I realized how counter-productive things were becoming. Although her questions on the surface appeared legitimate, they were smoke-screens and stood in the way of my initial purpose, to lovingly share the gospel with the other women.

I believe this may be the type of situation Paul talked about in 2 Timothy 1:3-8 (NLT)

3 When I left for Macedonia, I urged you to stay there in Ephesus and stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth. 4 Don’t let them waste their time in endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees. These things only lead to meaningless speculations, which don’t help people live a life of faith in God.

 5 The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. 6 But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions. 7 They want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently.

 8 We know that the law is good when used correctly.

People in Macedonia taught false doctrine, and sucked others in endless discussions, thus robbing the others of learning and teaching time. These discussions had zero value because they failed to help people live a life of faith in God. I can sense Paul’s frustration in the above passage.

The whole purpose of his instruction was to help believers be “filled with the love that comes from a pure heart, clear conscience, and genuine faith.” But some people missed the point and got so focused on the argument–the facts and details and being right–they’d forgotten their purpose, to bring glory to God, demonstrate Christ’s love, and be an instrument of grace.

And that, I believe, should be the deciding factor in all our discussions: Does this conversation, article, or blog post help my listener/reader live a life of faith in God?

We know all Scripture is beneficial for teaching, correcting, and rebuking (2 Timothy 3:16), so, when talking of Scripture, it’s not the “what” but the “how.” As 1 Timothy 1:8 says, “We know the law is good, when used correctly.”

This is where it gets tricky, for knowledge puffs up–feeds our pride–but love builds up, which means, whatever is not spoken in genuine love has the potential to create barriers instead of bridges. Therefore, when sharing our faith, we need to do so prayerfully, with a steady eye on our listener. Our goal must never be to win an argument or fill the head, but instead, to reach the heart.

Read Full Post »

Today, at Living By Grace, we’re talking about loving without an agenda and serving with the proper attitude. I gotta admit, I blew this one last night. The Bible tells us to do our good deeds–our tithing, our serving, our self-sacrificing–in secret, to the glory of the Father, letting Him reward us in His way and His time. Every time I seek praise from man, I’m loving on an agenda. A tick-for-tack kind of deal, which isn’t love–it’s self-love and it robs the moment of its value.

Last night while my husband helped lead an adult Bible study, I watched a large number kids, many of which came from what I’m learning to call “hard places.” Many of these children exhibited rage issues and I felt like I ran from one fire to the next, trying to keep everyone safe while attempting to deal loving and effectively with each child.

Up until eight o’clock, my love for these children was authentic, pure, and self-sacrificing.

But then my husband concluded his Bible study class, smiling and looking refreshed, and yep, I felt the “need” to tell him how hard my night had been. Which in and of itself wouldn’t have been bad, if it weren’t for my motives. What was I looking for? empathy. I wanted my husband to know what my night had been like. I wanted him to know that while he sat in a comfortable chair, conversing with adults, I struggled to catch my breath. I wanted praise. Accolades.

And in that moment, my love began to have an agenda. Like: I did this, so now you must….

Appreciate me

Help me

Empathize

Hopefully next Sunday I will love more like Jesus–motivated by pure love, self-sacrificing, seeking not my own.

Love without an agenda is love without any strings attached. Serving, giving, loving, expecting nothing in return. Giving even if no one notices.

Philippians 2:1-8 NIV

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Christ, Creator God, came to earth as a man, rejected by the men and women He created. He asks me to demonstrate the same kind of self-sacrficing, humble love.

Read Full Post »

Before you read this story, one that brings me tears even now, stop by Under the Cover of Prayer to read about another time when God showed me His tremendous love for His children. There is nothing He won’t do to show His love and to draw His children to Him.

The following is based on a true story, shared with me by a dear friend fighting brain cancer. (The actual account is provided at the end of the story, but I wanted to put it in story form so you could perhaps understand what a beautiful experience this was for her.)

Although I pray for miraculous healing, my greatest prayer is that this radiant daughter of Christ would know, moment-by-moment, God’s incomprehensible love for her. When she told me how God is demonstrating His love to her night after night, I was reminded of God’s tender mercies. There’s a song I love, it says, “With the strength of no other, and the heart of a Father.” Think about that phrase for a moment–God is all-powerful. He created every star in the heavens and each star blazes with an enourmous amount of energy. The source of all things is always greater than that which it created. But behind that power, or more accurately, coupled with it, is a heart that bleeds for His creation. That sees us when we are at our weakest moments and goes to the ends of the earth to show us we are not alone. He Himself has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

When God Lights Up the Sky

Terry pushed up from the dinner table, staggering as the plates blurred before her. She gripped the back of her chair until the dizziness subsided.

“Momma, are you okay?” Tiffany, her oldest, froze, tears brimming in her eyes.

Swallowing down a wave of nasuea that threatened to expel her recently eaten dinner, Terry forced a smile and pulled her daughter close. “I’m great, sweetie. Now, where’s that picture you wanted to show me? The one you drew in art class?”

Tiffany studied her mother for a moment longer before turning on her heels and dashing up the stairs. Terry glanced at the clock on the far wall.  7:15. She kneaded her temples as if doing so would fight off the fatigue. One more hour to connect with her children, to instill memories, to show them the depths of her love. Then she could collapse for eight hours, maybe nine, before doing it all again.

Lord, give me energy to be here for my kids–really here. Clear the fussiness in my head. Please. And give me one more day.

“Zzzzrrrrrreeeea!” Her youngest child, Dennis, a chubby-faced boy with sky blue eyes and dimples on both cheeks, swirled an airplane in the sky. “Wanna pway with me, Momma?” He held a Match Box car in his other hand. “You can be the cops and I’ll be the cimimals.”

Terry glanced into the living room where Legos scattered the floor and a handful of other vehicles lined the couch. Maybe sitting would ease her nausea and clear her head. The least she could do was give him ten minutes.

Less than a year ago she would’ve whisked her son in the air like an airplane, filling the house with his high-pitched giggles. Now it took all her energy to make it through the day. And yet, no matter how difficult, each day was precious. Priceless. Cherished.

She turned back to her son. “I’d love to.”

The phone rang. She cringed and her husband bolted to his feet. A moment later, he called out to her. “It’s Linda from church.”

The fifth call in the last hour.

“She wants to know if she can stop by later.”

“Zoooooomzzzzeeeeeerrrrr!” Her son crashed his plane into a wall of Legos. “Momma, you gotta awwest me. I bwoke the waw. I had an akkident.”

“Hold on, sweetie.” She ruffled his hair then called out to her husband. “Can you ask her if I can take a rain check?” Grabbing a police car with chipped paint, she wove it through the “streets” of carpet town, toward her son’s plane.

“Not like that! You need to make the siwen noises.”

A wave of nausea swept over her and she leaned against the couch, double images flashing before her. Her brain pulsated, swollen from radiation-saturation, and for a moment, she feared she’d pass out.

“Honey? Honey? Are you okay?” A hand touched her shoulder and an image of her husband blurred before her.

The room went silent and her son dropped his plane. “Momma no feel well?”

She pinched the bridge of her nose and squeezed her eyes shut. Lord, please give me Your strength made perfect in weakness. For my children and husband’s sake.

“How about I put in a movie?” Her husband poked their son in the ribs until he rolled on the floor with laughter, then he cupped his wife’s chin and lifted her face until their gaze met. “Love you.” He kissed her cheek, then her mouth.

***

Terry lingered in the door of her children’s bedroom, listening to the steady rhythm of their breathing. If only she could capture this moment. Her husband draped his arm over her shoulder and pulled her close, resting his chin on top of her head.

She closed her eyes and inhaled his citrus cologne, laying her cheek against his chest. The steady pounding of his heart soothed her and for a moment, peace washed over her.

But then the phone rang again. She sighed; her shoulders caving forward. Her husband tensed.

“I’ll get it. You go relax.”

She nodded and shuffled down the stairs, outside, and to the porch swing. A cool breeze swept over her, carrying with it the faint scent of freshly cut grass. A crescent moon blazed in a clear night sky, thousands of stars twinkling all around her. She searched the constellations, naming each one in turn. For years, she’d wanted to see a falling star. As a kid, she’d spent hours searching the night sky. She’s seen many things–air planes glistening in the night, Venus blazing bright. But not once a shooting star. But one day she’d be with the bright and morning star. Even as He stayed with her now.

She leaned her head back and inhaled the cool night air, a deep warmth filling her heart, as she turned to God in prayer.

A flash of light caught her attention and she sat aright. In that moment, her vision cleared and above her, a star fell like a miniature Fourth of July firecracker.

“Oh, Father! Oh, Holy Father.”

Tears flooded her cheeks and laughter bubbled in her chest as another star followed.

***

About two months ago, my friend started to sit on her back porch talking to God. Something about looking up at the sky, under the stars, brought her peace. One night as she poured out her heart to Him, she saw a shooting star. She was so excited but didn’t connect it to God- not that time. Since that night, she has seen at least 6 – 10 shooting stars, always when she’s talking to Him. Just typing this story to me overwhelmed her with emotion.

Her words: It’s a simple thing, but for me it reminds me of His love and how He delights in showing it- to ME. Just for me. Just because He wants me to know He’s with me and hears me.

When she told me the story, I, too, was overwhelmed with emotion. A song called Light up the Sky by the Afters is one of my favorites. I listen to it often and love the chorus, “Light, light, light up the sky to show me You are with me.” I never understood why I loved that phrase so much until my friend shared her story. I believe God drew me to that song so I would understand what He’d done for my dear friend, because the song rushed to my mind the minute she told me.

With the strength like no other and the heart of a Father, He lights up the sky to show us He is with us.

Pause and listen to this song and rest in the presence of your loving Father. (And to my dear, radiant, beautiful friend–you are dearly loved! And you shine brighter than those stars God uses to show you His love.)

Read Full Post »

Today’s post comes from a very dear forever friend of mine, Robin Prater. I love using the term “forever friend” because it reminds me not to take my relationships for granted. It reminds me to work at them, to make time for them, to hold tight to them. This is a strange idea in our independent, individualized society, but it is a biblical one. In fact, the Bible extends beyond friendship, uniting believers across the globe into one family.

Our family has moved frequently in the sixteen years Steve and I have been married, but through the moves, I’ve determined to hold tight to my friends from the past. This desire arose after reading a passage in Scripture where Paul named a number of believers, sending his greetings. Basically, throughout his travels, Paul took the time to stay connected with the people from his past.

I’ve also learned my efforts to stay connected with people from my past have nothing to do with their actions. Meaning, I am called to love and reach out, even if others don’t reciprocate because true love is not conditional–isn’t based on the actions of others.  God says, “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This means God expects me to do all I can to follow the way of peace and stay united with His family. If they reciprocate, lovely! If not, I am to love anyway.

Standing Together in Faith and Friendship by Robin Prater

Okay, how blessed was Daniel? I mean really, he was surrounded by friends who were not only great examples, but stood by his side in faith. To have that circle of friends can give you the encouragement and inspiration you need to make it through any situation.

“Hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me-a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 1:13

I was taking some time reading in Daniel and it was his relationship with his friends that stood out to me in the very first chapter. They all had a strong faith in God and they walked that faith. I mean, here they are together and all of a sudden they are thrown into a scary situation. All throughout the story of Daniel you see no fear from these young men. King Nebuchadnezzar would have scared the daylights out of me, but for these young men they stood firm in their faith. At no point were they even disrespectful or rude. They remained kind and compassionate even though their entire lives were changing before their eyes.

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

They were selected because of their stature, strength and wisdom. These were good-looking men. Wise young men. Men with faith that is not wavering. I look at our world today and see how difficult it is for young adults trying to find their way in the world, but were things really all that different for these young men? I think the difference is they were focused on God. They were dedicated to Him and were ready to surrender all for their King of kings.

“Walk with the wise and become wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.” Proverbs 13:20

So, these young men are held captive. I wonder if they were even able to say good-bye to their families. They are now being trained to learn the Babylonian language and literature of this time. They were to be trained for three years then they would be ready for royal service. Can you imagine? This king wants to change everything about these young men. He even changes their names! Daniel is now called Belshazzar. Hananiah is now called Shadrach. Mishael is called Meshach and Azariah is now called Abednego. These Hebrew men are facing change of every kind. Nothing is the same, except one important aspect of who they are. They are children of God. Their faith remains therefore they are complete in Him and Him alone. Nothing else matters to them. They could have ended up anywhere. Their faith is so strong. I want a faith like that. I want that unwavering faith that remains even in times of fear and change. They had no idea what was facing them.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you’, says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

I too look at Timothy. He had a wonderful friendship with Paul. Paul was his accountability partner. He was his teacher and example. They were friends who could talk, laugh and walk this road together, lifting one another up in encouragement. I love these words:

“Preach the Word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2

“But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.” 2 Timothy 4:5

That too is what, Daniel, did. He walked with his friends in faith, knowing that God had a plan and they were safe within His hand. Friends must love one another enough to correct each other when we are wrong and love them enough to give them your heart. These friendships were lasting because they took time for one another. They didn’t put each other off. They made themselves available.

These young men were great because of their faith in God, but also in the fact they had godly friendships. They had friends that were willing to stand with them and not cause them to stumble. Can you imagine the late night talks they had? The laughter and closeness that brought them through the days of struggle?

Look at David and Jonathon, Ruth and Naomi, and Elijah and Elisha. These were great and lasting friendships.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

We can look to these powerful friendships for our example. We must be the kind of friend we want to have. We are blessed with the most amazing friend of all, Jesus Christ. He gave His life for you and me. He will walk with us through every season of life. He is the Friend of all friends. The wonderful thing is, He chose us! He chooses us for a friend. That should make us feel overwhelmed in love. To be called His friend should be the greatest compliment of all.

“You are My friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told Me. You didn’t choose Me. I chose you.” John 15:14-16a

Robin Prater is a sinner saved by grace who knows the beauty of God’s redemption. She hopes her blog, the Robin’s Nest, brings glory and honor to Him who forever continues to bless this girl with His love. She would love to hear your story. She too would be humbled to hear how this artice has touched your heart. Leave a comment here or reach me at srprater@gmail.com. She loves how God brings His people together through experiences and passions. We can make a difference in the lives of others if we will make ourselves available and reachable to others. Like you she is a work in progress. Imperfect through her sins, but perfected through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ

Read Full Post »

Yesterday I edited a study written by one of the Christ to the World Contemporary youth team. The studies are scripted radio broadcasts discussing biblical topics and various portions of Scripture. Something Brad, one of the characters in the broadcast, said, really hit me. I thought of it again today at church. In the broadcast, Brad, one of the teen participants, said he was  still waiting for that person to come to his aid–someone to show they cared.

Today’s youth are often referred to as the love-less generation. This means there are an increasing number of young people who have never heard (or rarely hear) those imperative words, “I love you.” Right now, as I write this, someone is sitting in their room, alone, wondering if anyone cares. They don’t need a Bible verse shoved under their doorstep. They need someone to be Jesus to them. They need someone to demonstrate the love of Christ.

Jesus said they would know we were His disciples by our love. Or more accurately, by His love. And love is a verb, folks.

What About Now? (Because Tomorrow May Be Too Late)

Yavonne sits on her bed with her back pressed against the headboard and a pillow clutched to her chest. Her parents’ brutal words slice through her paper-thin walls, filling their house with hatred.  She grabs her Ipod sitting on her bedside table and slams the earplugs into her ears, cranking the volume until her brain vibrates. Tears lodge in her throat, but she swallows them down.

A razor blade tucked inside her nightstand drawer beckons her. The scars forever etched in her arm pale compared to the deep wounds encasing her heart. One of these days, she’ll cut deep enough to end it all.

Would anyone care? Would anyone even notice? The words spoken by a neighbor a few months back flood her mind, playing tug-of-war with her heart.

“God loves you. He’ll never leave you nor forsake you. He sees you.”

She snorts and yanks up her sleeve, exposing ugly pink scars. Yeah, he sees her all right. All of her. Why would he care about her or her family?  

“God loves you. He’ll never leave you nor forsake you. He sees you.”

What a laugh. If that’s true, then where is he now?

Yavonne holds her breath, her heart quickening, as she waited for a response.

The steel guitar grates against her ear drum.

Yeah, that’s what she thought. What does it matter, anyway? You live and die, then turn to worm food.

So why not speed the process along a big? Shorten the dash on the headboard?

***

Rachel sifts through her container of beads, laying the yellows and orange on the table. Soft praise music drifts from the kitchen, muting her parents’ chattering voices. She smiles and resumes her beading.

The words of this morning’s sermon fill her head.

“You’ve been given a precious gift. Now you need to share it. God wants to loves the world—through you. Right now, as you sit her surrounded by His love, someone is hurting. Right now someone is calling out to God, asking Him if He truly cares. The question is, will you allow Him to love His broken children through you, or will you turn and walk away.”

An image of Yavonne, her neighbor, lingers in her mind—the dark, almost hollow eyes, centered on the ground. Her shoulders, hunched forward. Her face hardened by anger and bitterness.

Rachel shakes her head. Yavonne isn’t interested in Jesus. Yavonne isn’t interested in anything.

“Will you share His love with a hurting world?”

She rests her hand on the table as the question posed by her pastor nibbles at her heart.

But of course she will. She does all the time. Last week she’d spent ten hours helping with Vacation Bible School. That’s sharing God’s love, right? And next Wednesday she plans to join the youth at the local women’s shelter.

And yet, despite her rationale, peace evades her as the questions continued to rise.

“What about now? Will you be there for my child now?”

Her mother walks into the kitchen clutching a basket of laundry. “What’s wrong, sweetie? You like you’re about to swallow a lemon.”

If only it were that easy.

Rachel rubs a bead between her index finger and thumb. “I’m not sure why, but I feel like God wants me to go talk to Yavonne.”

 “Then you should go.”

“I don’t know…. Maybe I should pray about it.”

“Or maybe you should obey.”

Rachel sighs and pushed up from the table, her stomach flip-flopping.

Her mother smiles. “I’ll be praying for you.”

***

Yavonne’s hand trembles as she holds the thin razor blade against her clammy skin. Her veins form a faint blue webbing through her wrist.

Just do it, you coward. One slice and it’ll be all over. One cut—long, deep and quick. She closes her eyes and grits her teeth—

A loud knock shakes her door. “Yavonne!”

Yavonne’s breathe catches in her throat. She shoves the razor under her pillow, her gaze locked on the jiggling door knob in front of her.

“Yavonne! How many times do I have to tell you not to lock your door?”

As if her father really cares.

“Someone’s here to see you.”

She wipes her sweaty palms on her pant legs, smoothes her hair from her face, and stands on numb legs.

“Coming.”

The stench of alcohol and stale cigarettes assault her when she swings the door open. Her father stands in the hall wearing faded jean shorts and a sweat-stained tank-top. Her mother lounges on a couch a few feet away watching television and gulping beer.

 “That girl from next door’s here.”  He swipes his nose with the back of his hand. “Said something about beads.”

Yavonne angles her head, staring into the living room where Rachel stands with a stiff smile on her face.  Her smile twitches as Yavonne approaches.

“Hey.”

“Hey….I…uh….” Rachel chews on her bottom lip, scanning the cluttered living room.

Heat rushes up Yavonne’s neck, settling into Yavonne’s cheeks as she follows Rachel’s gaze. Empty beer bottles clutter the coffee table and dark stains splatter the carpet. An overflowing bag of trash lies on the linoleum floor, flies buzzing around it.

“So…. Do you like to make jewelry?”

Yavonne snorts. “Do I what?”

The girl wrings her intertwined hands, staring from the floor to Yavonne’s face then back to the floor again. “I wondered if….” She swallows. “I mean, uh…you wanna come over for a minute?”

Yavonne studies Rachel for a moment, searching for the hidden joke. When none surfaces, she nodded. “I guess so. Sure beats sitting around here all day.”

Read Full Post »

Today as I preview Cheri Horgan’s story, tears blur my vision. All children truly want is to be loved. They need to be protected. I praise God for bringing Cheri to Himself and wrapping His protective arms around her. I pray that He will do the same for the countless children without homes in El Salvador, Peru, Uruguay, Uganda, Haitii. And even more, I pray His church would step up and be His hands and feet. That they would see these hurting children not as someone else’s problem, but as God’s precious children in need of love. Cheri’s grandfather fought for her. God wants us to fight for His children. (Although not with a gun, please. grin.)

As you read Cheri’s story below, notice the change that came once her grandfather turned to God. Sharing the gospel is more than helping others find the ladder into heaven. It’s helping them find the abundant life God promised.

Grandfather Fought For Me, by Cheri Horgan (writing as J.J. Jenkins)

When my mother found out she was pregnant, I already had a brother and sister waiting for me who were just steps apart in age. My father and mother fought constantly and both were seriously drug and alcohol dependant. Until the day he died, my father insisted he wasn’t my father (or father to my siblings). My mother reigned as the black sheep in her family and had left home at age 14. From the time I was born, I heard the hateful rejection they felt for me and the violence that came with my name. In the hospital, at a time most parents should be cuddling their new baby girl, my father fought with my mother to sign the adoption papers and let the couple he had brought adopt me. She refused, not out of love, but to make him angry. Once the doctor released her, she dropped me off with a babysitter and headed to the bar. My sister and brother were already being placed with a couple from the church. The babysitter rented a small house from my grandparents, on the same property.

Each day when my grandmother got off work she came to check on me. It came as no surprise when my grandmother fought the babysitters adoption process and took me into her arms. She quit her job and never left me with a babysitter again. My grandfather would later tell me repeatedly that Grandma was going through the change of life, and was deeply depressed until God brought me into her arms and gave her a new reason to live. He said she would have never made it without me. But that is not the act of Love that I want to tell you about.

When I was about 4 years old my mother reappeared and wanted to take me home with her. She had remarried and according to her, my grandparents had promised she could have me back when she got back on her feet. My mother rarely came to visit, so even as young as I was I knew something was up. The truth was she was jealous of all the love and attention I was getting, and she thought that should have been her as a little girl in Grandpa’s arms. She grabbed me and ran for the door, but my grandfather stopped her before she could reach the door. He pulled a 30.06 out of the closet and aimed it directly at her! I remember the screams and the tears, and all of the yelling…but it would be years later before the full impact would sink in.

My mother said it was the only time she ever saw her father cry. My Grandmother said it broke his heart to have to do what he had to do…my mother had always been a daddy’s girl. My grandfather looked my mother in the eye and told her that he loved her, but if she tried to take me away from my grandmother he would have to shoot her and spend the rest of his life in prison before he would let her do it. I remember the room going quiet. Grandma whimpered and then begged him not to do this. My mother kissed me on the forehead and left. Grandpa would later tell me he had never hurt so deeply, but he couldn’t let me go.

My grandpa gave up drinking after that and never missed church if he didn’t have to work. He became active in the men’s ministries, and every morning I would find Grandma and Grandpa sitting at the kitchen table, having their morning coffee and reading their devotions. He showed me unconditional love in human form, and always forgave me when I did wrong. Even when I was a hippie sowing my wild seeds, he loved me and always had a place for me. Grandpa would have given his life that night to keep me safe. He knew my mother had been drinking and he also knew the man she was with was worthless. He always wanted the best for me. He was willing to give up everything…for a spoiled, homely, little girl who talked too much.

My grandparents were the greatest parents ever, and I owe it all to God.
 
As a side note, my mother is still on drugs and is an alcoholic even today at the age of 78. She has left my brothers and sisters so scarred with memories of her abuse. My oldest sister told me recently how she used to pray that God would give her someone to love her like he did me when I got to go live with Grandma and Grandpa. I miss my grandparents so much, but I know they will be waiting when that time comes to cross over to the other side.
 
When I think of love, they are the first image in my mind.

***

So what can you do? Today I ask you to pray for the young women in the Remar orphanage in El Salvador. Pray that they will know God’s presence. Pray that God will heal those deep wounds no child should experience. Then spend a moment asking God what He would have you do. This month the El Salvador mission team from our church is writing letters to the girls we connected with on our trip. We are creating and maintaining a relationship with them so they will know they do matter and we do care. On those nights when they lie awake in their beds, feeling utterly alone and wishing they had a mom or dad to tuck them in, it is my prayer that they will read the letters of love we send and know that they are not alone. (For my subscribers that go to Northland, if you want to join us, find me this Sunday.)

I imagine you can do the same. If you’d like to start an orphan penpal mission in your church, Bible study, or homeschool group, contact me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com.

Cheri Horgan is a single mother, and grandmother who finds everyday is a learning experience in the course of life God is teaching. She will be the one shouting as she slide through the pearly gates with her hands held high, “Wooo-Hooo! What a ride!” She has lived in many states across the country, from California to Delaware, and has learned to laugh at the trials and expect the miracles in situations out of her control. She believes she has been called to encourage, and has made many new friends as she holds their arms to the Heavens in prayer.  
 
God has blessed her with some amazing experiences from being the first extreme makeover on daytime television on the Leeza Show, to being homeless and living in a shelter in Harrisburg, Pa. She has worked as a taste tester for Hershey Foods, a travel agent, and an aide who visits with the elderly in nursing homes (recording their memories), among other things. She loves learning about people, and listening to the stories they tell. Her son tells me he is thankful they struggled to get by, because it makes him appreciate what they do have. She wants to enjoy life to the fullest, experience God to the highest, and learn to trust to the point of no fear. She believe in miracles, forgiveness, and prayer.

Visit her website to find out more about her and visit her review site to read about some great books!

And before you leave, watch this video and listen to the heart of our Father.

Read Full Post »

Many of you know our family spent the last week in El Salvador. While there, we worshiped with another church, served at an orphanage, and helped facilitate night crusades. In each of these events, I was struck with how different the culture was from ours, and I’m not talking about music or food choices. The biggest difference? The El Salvadorans took the idea of a spiritual family very seriously. When they said, “She is a sister in Christ,” they meant it. You could see their deep love for one another in their eyes. You could hear it in their tone. But most importantly you could see it in their actions. If you belonged to Jesus, you were family. Plain and simple.

That’s not true here in the states. We have learned to be independent and to focus on ourselves. We train our children to do the same. More often than not, we see to it that life revolves around them–their social schedule, their sports schedule, whatever. Oh, perhaps we’ll ask them to give up an hour out of their seventy-two hour week (not counting sleeping time) to help with an outreach event, but what does that teach? Honestly, it might help exacerbate the problem by reinforcing the idea that service is done on a time-schedule. When it fits in. Friends are convenient, for our pleasure. (Here’s an article explaining this in more detail–and how we can counter this self-seeking trend.)

This temporary friendship mentality has trickled into the church. How often do we drop gospel tracts on someone’s door, never to see them again? Do we really think those people will somehow appear in our church because of a slip of paper? Or when  a new couple comes to church, we’ll offer our friendship and invite them to dinner…until they become established, then we move on to someone else.

That’s not friendship and that’s not a body. That’s a temporary prosthesis.

And here’s the deal. By conforming to our westernized, individualized culture, we’re losing out on one of the biggest draws of the church. Our love for one another is meant to draw others to us, which in turn is meant to draw non-believers to Christ. I believe they’ll come for the relationship first, and will be exposed and drawn to Jesus in the process.

So here’s the challenge. How do you view your brothers and sisters in Christ? According to the Bible, they are your family. More than that, they are part of a living body. If you struggle viewing them in this regard–in truly loving them as Christ loves the church, ask God to help you and find ways to get out of your comfort zone. Find ways to connect.

Second, focus on long-term. No one likes to be a project. When you reach out to that new couple or leave a gospel tract on a doorstep, ask yourself, “Am I ready to be here for them for the long haul or am I just trying to ‘get them in’?”

Because people can tell the difference. One type of friendship draws them and creates a place of safety where they can learn about Christ. The other type of friendship results in increased distrust.

I’m speaking to myself here. I’ve experienced many “temporary friendships” in the church, and honestly, it’s left me a little gun-shy and distrustful. But I have to remember it’s not about me. Yeah, chances are those people I reach out to are going to hurt me. Chances are they’ll ditch a year or two down the road, but the Bible tells me “as far as it depends on me….” meaning, it’s not my concern how others respond to my love or friendship. My concern is living out my faith with full surrender, letting God’s love flow through me moment-by-moment.

This mentality also applies to how we do missions, which I hope to touch on tomorrow or Thursday.

In the meantime, spend a moment in prayer and ask God to show you faulty thinking in regard to the body (not just your church body, but all believers world-wide). Then be diligent about cooperating with God. When you catch individualistic thinking creeping in, take your thoughts captive and reroute them.

Read Full Post »

About a decade ago, the church we attended experienced a split. I don’t need to go into details, but before long, the entire congregation was a buzz of negativity and polarization. Lines were drawn that never should have been drawn and the cancer became contagious. What started as a difference in opinion between two leaders opened the door for criticism in every area of ministry. And for a moment, I grew confused. I wondered if perhaps God was calling my husband and I out of the church. Were we to join all the others following pastor B? As I took it to God in prayer, He helped me see the bigger issue and the root cause of our church’s disunity. Satan had wiggled his foot in and was working to throw the door wide open. How would Satan destroy the church? How would he weaken our witness? By getting us to lash out at one another.

I’ve written about this before, but it appears, it’s worth writing about again. Lately I’ve been bombarded by barbs hurled by Christians at other Christians and I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:25, …”Every kingdom divided against itself is destroyed, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” (NIV)

Now granted, I’m taking this verse out of context, but the principle applies just the same. In our home, the moment I start to bash my husband, I invite division. My heart turns against him, bitterness simmers, and my daughter is left to choose sides. And on my husband’s end, his effectiveness is hindered by turmoil and distrust. Not the ingredients for a happy household. But even worse is what it looks like to the onlooker.

We’ve all heard 1 Corinthians 13. This passage is so popular, it’s often quoted in secular media, and when witnessing to others, Christians use it to explain the love of God. Yet, sadly, we rarely live it out.

 1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Oh, we love our family. We love our friends. But that church down the street? We spew nasty comments so fast our tongues get whiplash. Then we justify our actions by thinking that’s not our family. Our family attends Holy Trinity.

Funny, I don’t think God has the same view of family. Nor do I think we understand the role of the body of Christ. Our family extends far beyond our church walls. As a writer for an international ministry, I’m often aware of my dependency and responsibility to the WHOLE body of Christ. Our pastor may give a sermon that influences my writing which in turn influences a believer in India who in turn influences another believer.

So when I bash another believer or their ministry, whether part of my immediate church family or the far-reaching body of Christ, I’m rebelling against 1 Corinthians 13 and proving myself a liar.

Perhaps you’d agree with what I’m saying, to a point…. But what happens when you disagree with someone else’s methods? Not message, mind you, but methods. There is a difference. And here’s the sad truth: we spend way too much time debating methods and way too little time sharing the message. What kind of music should we have? What kind of novels should Christians write? How should pastors lead their youth group?

That’s not to say there won’t be times to help initiate change. We live in a rapidly changing culture and therefore must continually adapt. However, a rule of thumb I’ve always followed: Don’t complain unless you a) have a solution to offer and b) are willing and ready to be part of the solution. Otherwise, you’re just part of the problem.

Before I go, I’m going to leave y’all with one more passage. Chew on it for a moment, and commit to honor God with your mouth. Commit to support your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world, looking beyond the pew in front or behind you. Commit to being the body–one body, one church, ruled by one Savior who died for us all.

James 3:9-12

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (NIV)

Here’s my parting question: Is your witness, verbal and behavioral, contagious or cancerous? The next time you’re tempted to bash another believer or their ministry, remember what’s at stake. We’re Christ’s ambassadors, entrusted with His soul-saving gospel. With so many people living in darkness, is there time to hurl insults at one another? Our time would be much better spent clamping our jaws shut and getting busy on those things that make an eternal difference.

(You may want to re-read a similar post published last December entitled A Venomous Tongue.)

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 675 other followers