Walking Closely With Jesus — Guest Blogger

Grace quote from Max Luccado

Walking Closely with Jesus

By Jo Massaro

Years ago, I asked a life-changing question, “How could a woman who had an abortion, multiple marriages and a traumatic brain injury, have a relationship with Jesus?”

This forced me to face the hurts, habits, and pain  hidden away and never dealt with. I wore a smile, but covered the heartbreak hidden in the darkest places.

My longing to be someone else reminds me of a song from the movie, Mulan. Like me, she struggled to find herself.

I was 23 with three children when I became pregnant again. My husband didn’t want another child, so I decided to have an abortion. The sun was out on the day of my procedure, but I felt scared and so alone.

Nine months later, an accident occurred and my son, Jason, died the day before his second birthday.  I was certain that God had punished me for what I’d done nearly a year before. Depression and thoughts of suicide became my friends. When a child dies, the life you once led, no longer exists. Even though we had two daughters, this void became unbearable. My husband used alcohol and drugs to dull his pain. After two more children, we were broken beyond repair.

This led to our divorce.

Five years later I married again and within a year I faced another divorce. I wanted to commit suicide.

Picture of an icebergMy brokenness was like an iceberg. Others see the top but ninety percent of my pain lay below the surface–abandonment, isolation, fear, trauma, loss, disappointments, depression and co-dependency. This was what I felt from the time I was a child that carried into my adulthood. I was searching for love in the wrong places.

My life was one of sin, lies, deception and isolation.

I knew Jesus existed, but didn’t realize who He really was nor how to experience and live in the grace He offered.

I met and married my third husband, and he brought me to his church. When the pastor asked if anyone wanted to accept Jesus,  I raised my hand. I didn’t understand all that happened, but I knew Jesus made me feel loved and accepted, and I wanted more of Him.

A few years later, I was involved in a car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury, (TBI). I lost the ability to read, drive, function as a wife and mother; my vision was affected and my thinking felt foggy. My husband told me every morning I’d say, “Just one more day, Jesus,” but I don’t remember this.

One day while I listened to the audio Bible, words from Scripture gripped me:

“When the woman heard about Jesus, she came up through the crowd behind Him and touched his cloak. For she kept saying, ‘If I could only touch His clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped, and she sensed in her body that she was healed of her affliction” (Mark 5:27-29, NIV).

I realized that if Jesus healed this woman, He could heal me. Believing this with all my heart, I began to pray.

Over the years, God has healed me and today my life is full of God’s grace and peace and praise for all God has done.

God created me with a plan and purpose and stayed with me throughout my pain and heartache. I walk today in love and with a husband of 26 years.

My deeply rooted relationship with Jesus reminds me of two beautiful rivers located in Manaus, Brazil. Each are unique as in the deep darkness (blackwater) of the Rio Negro and the pale sandy (whitewater) of the Rio Solimoes.

These bodies of water run side by side for six miles before they become one. In those six miles, the light of the Rio Solimoes slowly begins to engulf the darkness of the Rio Negro. Darkness now becomes light.

Similarly, Jesus works below the surface and brings light into deep, dark places as only he can. But it takes time after Woman staring out at the sea with text pulled from the post. the two meet for change to occur.

In God’s loving hands, I was transformed and washed clean by the blood of the lamb .

This mirrors our walk with Jesus . When we accept Him as Savior, He takes the old and dirty parts of our lives and gently brings us into a new life with Him.

I’ve asked the Lord to draw deeper into my relationship with Him and conform me to His image. I know we say and hear this all the time, but I was determined to allow Jesus to do surgery on my heart and dissect that which was dead and lifeless and bring healing and wholeness in its place.

I’m grateful for the love and contentment I have in Jesus.

Let’s talk about this! How  has God healed you or brought you to deeper freedom? What are some ways you’re living in that freedom?

Meet Jo Massaro!

 

Jo Massaro's author photoJo is founder and curator of Yahweh Sisterhood Book Club that meets the first Thursday of each month. You not only read the book but get to meet the author either in person or through Facebook.

As a speaker, Jo brings humor, energy, authenticity, faith, and strength she found in the Word of God. She describes her journey through her darkest times and how God brought her to a relationship with the Light of the World.

She offers themed messages to your group, and works with your team to customize a topic you have selected. She speaks before small or large groups, churches, or wherever God leads her.

For further information on the book club visit:

www.yahwehsisterhoodbookclub.com

Contact Jo at:  jomassarospeaker@gmail.com

 

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

 

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Growing in Grace

Woman praising and paraphrase of 1 Cor. 3:18

Imagine the peace and growth we’d experience if we truly learned to live in grace. If, instead of wallowing in self-condemnation, we moved forward in the hopeful anticipation birthed in intentional growth. Imagine if we viewed every failure, setback, and step forward through God’s eyes.

Growing in grace

By Matthew Romano

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Co 3:18, ESV).

“Beware of looking back at what you once were, when God wants you to become someone you’ve never been” – Oswald Chambers.

Before a sculptor begins shaping his masterpiece, he has a vision of what he wants to create. He begins with raw materials, such as a block of stone or marble. He starts chiseling the substance to mirror what he sees in his mind. As he crafts his vision, he’s not frustrated because it’s not yet completed. He takes joy in the work of his hands as art begins to take form and reflect the image he envisioned.

It is the same process for God.

God has a vision for us to become like Christ. In Him, He sees us as perfect, without spot or blemish in Christ. He is gradually molding and chiseling us to reflect His Son. He works on our hearts with joy and He’s not angry or upset throughout the process of our spiritual formation. Rather, He takes delight in doing the work that He knows will eventually be completed.

Unfortunately, we often fail to see ourselves as a work in progress. We tend to focus on our sins and imperfections. We cannot press forward we’re continually contemplating our present shortcomings, or reflecting on the pain of our past.

Perhaps we have listened to careless words spoken over us – and unknowingly embraced them. I remember one of my high school teachers yelling at me in front of the classroom, “You’re never going to amount to anything!” At the time, these words didn’t seem to bother me and I just laughed at him. But looking back in retrospect, a few months later I made the decision to drop out of school. If we take these words to heart they will begin to shape our self-image.

Words can create worlds for us. Every word we’ve digested internally has greatly impacted who we are today. That’s woman holding heart shaped snow and text pulled from postwhy it’s imperative to meditate on what the Lord says about us. When we welcome Jesus into our lives as Lord and Savior, He grants us not only forgiveness, but also the gift of a new identity. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Co 5:17, ESV).

As I focus on the goodness of the Lord and the words He’s spoken to me within the Bible, He transforms me to become what He created me to be. I may not be all God intends yet, but I know Him who creates beauty from what was once nothing. God is the potter and we are the clay (Jer 18:6). If we allow His hand to shape our lives, we’ll be led into a glorious destiny of purpose.

What must you put behind to become what you’ve never been?

Check out his book, The Call: An Invitation to Revival and Transformation:

The atmosphere within the United States and most of the world is ripe for another great spiritual awakening. The current state of affairs is one of profound division, even within the church. The saints themselves have a difficult time distinguishing what is right and what is wrong because we have abandoned our first love and have embraced the love of the world.

In this season, the Lord exhorts His people to prepare themselves like a bride adorned for her husband and beckons the church to answer “The Call” toward revival that will spread like a holy fire in the hearts of many. Who will answer “The Call” to battle this present darkness with weapons of righteousness? Only when God’s own people are revived can we expect to see transformation in America and throughout the world.

The Call: An Invitation to Revival and Transformation takes the reader on a journey of spiritual awakening alongside the author. Each chapter inspires the reader to answer “The Call” of God toward freedom, holiness, and purpose. This book will mentor people to hear the voice of God, think with the mind of Christ, be alert to the tactics of Satan, engage in spiritual warfare, learn to pray and meditate on the promises of God, and much more.

Buy it HERE.

Grab the study guide HERE.

Watch the trailer HERE.

Get to know Matthew!

Matthew J. Romano is an ordained deacon of Christ Church New Jersey. He has been walking with the Lord for over 25 years. His passion is sharing Christ with the lost and teaching believers to walk passionately with the Lord. He currently serves the body of Christ as a deacon, altar ministry to pray for the needs of God’s people, life group leader, guest teacher and speaker of the Word of God, and as a certified teacher in the School of Prayer. He is the author of The Call: An Invitation to Revival and Transformation and The Call: A Study Guide to Revival and Transformation.

Find him online HERE.

Connect with him on Facebook HERE. 

Before you go, for those who are local and want to participate in the live teaching of Becoming His Princess Bible study, hosted this winter by Wildewood Christian Church (Papillion), registration is now open! To sign up, go HERE.

Grab your free e-copy HERE.

Grab your print copy HERE.

About the study:

Do you ever feel insignificant or unseen? As if what you do or even who you are isn’t quite good enough? Does your confidence level vary based on who you’re around and how their bank account or how accomplishment list compares to yours? If so, this study, based on the life of Sarah from the Old Testament Scriptures, is for you.

For seven weeks, we’ll follow her uncertain and at times terrifying journey from the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur to the land promised to her husband, and ultimately, the place of rest God beckons each of us toward. He met her in the middle of her pain, her shame, and all her striving, and rewrote her story—through grace. A grace bigger than her greatest failures and that proved sufficient for all her insufficiencies.Step by step, God taught this once-scorned woman to live as His beloved, His princess.

As we follow her journey recorded in the pages of Scripture, He’ll help us do the same. We’ll learn to center our identity in Christ, recognize His power and presence in our most challenging circumstances, find rest from our striving, and live daily in His grace.

Learning to Move Past Shame

Image by Artem Bali on unsplash

God doesn’t want us to live in shame. He died to free us from sin and it’s pervasive effects like self-defeat, self-loathing, and guilt. If we’ve trusted in Jesus for salvation, our past, regardless how sinful, no longer defines us. He does! The old is gone, dead and buried and the new has come. This is an undeniable, unshakable truth, one most of probably recognize intellectually. Learning to live in that truth, however, as my guest today illustrates, can take a good deal of work and prayer.

Learning to Move Past Shame

By Sarah Foust

God took my broken self and made me new. He made ugly, stained pieces beautiful again by helping me release my past.

Most people look at me today and see a Christian wife and mother of five. I go to church regularly. I returned from my first mission trip in May. I quit my job to become an Inspirational author. I try my best to spread the good news of God’s love and forgiveness in everything I do.

But they don’t see the person I used to be.

I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of.

During high school I had two friend groups. In one, I was co-captain of the swim team and president of Future Farmers of America, with a perfect GPA and headed for Valedictorian. In the other, I was a newbie who hadn’t been drunk or dipped tobacco, and they wanted to “remedy” those situations. I soon found myself lost in these two different social mazes. I wish I could say I chose the good influences.

But God sent someone to help lead me to the right path. My husband and I were close friends in high school but didn’t begin dating until I was 19. One of my biggest holdups was that he was a church-going, Bible-believing Christian. You see, I’d always believed God existed. But I didn’t have a personal relationship with Him. The idea that He could know me inside and out was intimidating.

Before long, I agreed to go to church, mostly to see what it was all about. I didn’t expect it to change or affect me. What a blessing those first services were. By my fourth or fifth Sunday, I finally shoved aside the shame and the pride and accepted Jesus as my personal Savior.

Though I know God forgave me the instant I turned to Him for salvation, forgiving myself has been much harder and more labor-intensive. That took years of prayer. Then, during a snowstorm some time, failures assaulted my mind more heavily than normal. I allowed myself to go down that bumpy, guilt-ridden road until God reminded me of my salvation.

I went into the front yard and listened to the quiet swish of snow falling onto the grass. It sounds a little strange, I’m sure, but I made a mental hole in the front yard and buried my past. From then on I was able to release the horrible memories. Any time new ones surface, I add them to the “hole” and let them rest. Not to hide or hide from them, but to let them go. I hold a “funeral” for my sins. I no longer had a need to rehash those details, because God had already thrown them far from me.

I’m incredibly thankful that God allowed me to release my past mistakes. I’m not trapped in a cycle of reliving those memories anymore. And God is giving me such blessed ones to take their places.

Have you forgiven yourself for your past? In what ways has God brought you to a deeper level of freedom?

Get to know Sarah:

Sara Foust writes Inspirational Romantic Suspense from a mini-farm in East Tennessee, where she lives with her husband and their five homeschooled children. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from the University of Tennessee and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Tennessee Mountain Writers. Her debut novel Callum’s Compass won second place in Deep River Books’ 2017 Writer’s Contest. Sara finds inspiration in her faith, her family, and the beauty of nature. When she isn’t writing, you can find her reading, camping, and spending time outdoors with her family. To learn more about her and her work or to become a part of her email friend’s group, please visit www.saralfoust.com. And make sure to connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Collum’s Compass:

Kat Williams’s brother died in a gruesome accident in the mountains of East Tennessee. She blames herself.

Ryan Jenkins’s fiancée was murdered. He couldn’t protect her.

With the death of her brother, Kat believes she is unworthy of love from anyone—even God. When a good friend elicits a promise that she will stop living in the past and then leaves her clues to a real-life treasure hunt, Kat embarks on an adventure chock-full of danger. To find the treasure, Kat will have to survive wild animals—and even wilder men. Can she rely on Ryan, the handsome wildlife officer assigned to protect her . . . without falling in love?

Ryan swore off love when his fiancée was murdered, but feelings long-buried rise to the surface around Kat. He volunteers to help with her treasure hunt, vowing to keep her safe. Together they venture deep into caves and tunnels . . . and even deeper into the depths of their unplumbed hearts.

Visit Sarah online at her website and on Facebook.

If today’s post encouraged you, make sure to watch out for Wholly Loved’s 7-week study titled Becoming His Princess, which they’ll make available (video segments, group discussion questions, and “at home” lessons) for free. Coming this winter/spring.)

Grace For When Our Speech is Less Than Gracious

nature image with grace quote

I’ve said things I’ve quickly regretted many times. The less time I spend in God’s presence, resting in His grace, the higher the likelihood ungracious words will come out of my mouth. But living daily, deeply, in God’s grace, as my guest today reveals, changes everything.

Grace For When Our Speech is Less Than Gracious by Darlene Franklin

I have a serious problem with my tongue, and this frequently run into challenges at the nursing home where I live. Apart from God’s presence with me,  I would give up the battle.

Only a few hours have passed since I tore into my aides for not getting me dressed until lunch time. With all the time prior, why wait until I might miss lunch? They replied that it had all worked out. I was out of the shower exactly when they passed trays so I was making a fuss about nothing. I just kept complaining, because I felt like no one was listening. I shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place. According to my care plan, I’m to be showered and dressed by seven in the morning.

I understand the principles of speaking with kindness and compassion,  that is, speech that is directed by God’s Spirit living within me so that I know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:6). But sometimes my words sting and offer minimal honey (Proverbs 16:24).

Some days I do really well, Other times, like today. I falter.

Thank God for His grace. As I child I learned a simplistic definition:

G od’s

R edemption

A t

C hrist’s

E xpense

That redemption freed me from the bondage to and penalty of sin. The power of Christ’s sacrifice became mine the moment I admitted my sin and received His gift of salvation.

But “redemption” has present and future implications as well. One day, in God’s eternal kingdom, wrong doing won’t tarnish my life or my world.

In the here-and-now, God empowers me to live as He desires—and picks me up and helps me start again when I fail. He is Darlene's quote with a sunrise background imagealways ready to forgive me when I come to Him, after I made a mess yet again.

God doesn’t hold what I said yesterday against me, nor expect it to dictate what I say today. Instead, He gives me discernment, guidance, love, and forgiveness when I need it.

Experiencing God’s grace on a deep level allows me to move past my feelings of condemnation when I’ve spoken harshly and helps me speak and behave graciously in the future. If I’m healed of past hurts, caused by my sins or someone else’s, I’m less likely to lash out against someone else.

Whatever I encounter, God’s grace helps me to consider, is this problem important to complain about? And if I do, is this the person who can help? The standard is God’s grace and how He views the person who has hurt me or I’m in conflict with.

Living in grace means I accept what Christ has freely given me and and then pass it on to others.

Sometimes my soft answers turns aside another’s anger and conflict is avoided. But not always. Regardless, returning anger for anger doesn’t benefit anyone, and it’s certainly not how Christ treated His enemies.

The more I live in the grace Christ extends to me, the more likely I am to speak in grace.

***

Let’s talk about this! When do you most struggle showing others grace, whether with your words or your behavior? How does taking time to rest in Jesus and remind yourself of His grace help you in those moments? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another. And before you go, make sure to sign up for me free quarterly newsletter, releasing at the end of this month. You can do so HERE.

Get to know Darlene!

Darlene Franklin's author photoBest-selling Amazon and ECPA author Darlene Franklin’s greatest claim to fame is that she continues to write from a nursing home. She keeps going because God keeps giving her more assignments. She’s written more than fifty-five fiction and nonfiction books, including Pray Through the Bible in a Year and Of Cash and Cats in Love Comes on Kitten Paws   

Keep up with her online HERE and visit her author page on Amazon HERE.

Check out her latest release, Cinderella’s Boot:

Two romantic novellas where fairy tales do come true.

Cynthia Ellen Cooper—known affectionately as “Cinderella”—left her wedding boot in the dust when she ran away from her wedding to work on a sheep station in Australia.

Four years later, she’s back home—and so is her ex-fiancé, now a DVM from Oklahoma State University. They reach a truce and work side by side in his father’s animal clinic.

Cyn soon discovers she wants more—but she has to battle bad history and a demanding pet owner for Keith’s attention.

How can Cinderella find a second chance at love? 

HILLBILLY CINDERELLA

When Cindy Lou Hopkins turns twenty-five life will get better. She knows it. She’ll no longer be under the thumb of her stepmother Geneva or tormented by her stepsisters. She just has to stay alive that long.

The only kink in her plan for independence is the handsome, Lance Moore, she jokingly calls the town prince. A man who wants to get to know her better. A man Cindy isn’t worthy to be in the same room as.

When Lance throws a barn dance, Cindy is determined to have one night with him that will carry her through the rest of her life. Can she set aside prejudices from a bygone time and embrace her happily ever after?

How Living in Grace Helps Us Guard Our Words

Man holding hand over his mouthMy words have gotten me into a heap of trouble. I’ve initiated and meddled in arguments I shouldn’t have, fought to be right rather than understand, and wreaked destruction in the name of self-defense.

Considering the consequences wrought from my careless, and often damaging, statements, one would think I’d have learned to guard my words. But though I’ve memorized, prayed, and recited verses addressing this issue numerous times, I continue to stumble.

Here’s why: I’ve been fighting the symptom instead of the cause.

Whenever my mouth (or keyboard) runs a muck, my pride’s at fault. The solution, then, is surrender—making Jesus, obedience to Him, and the intimacy that follows (rather than man’s opinion) my treasure.

Let me explain using Proverbs 18:2 as an example: “Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions.”

Because we believe we know best, need to defend ourselves, or prove our point.

Often, this is triggered by fear (which, 90% of the time is rooted in pride)—fear of losing face or not getting something we want or hope for. But in our desire to elevate or defend ourselves, we can miss crucial unspoken “heart talk.”

Let me give an example. A while back, I engaged in a somewhat heated discussion with someone, one that revealed considerable miscommunication—things that were heard that were never said, statements taken out of context, and others extrapolated in confusing ways. Focused on the miscommunication, I attempted to unpack each one.

Remaining oblivious to the insecurities and wounds underlying it all and therefore only exacerbated the problem. Had I focused on the person’s heart more than their words, I could’ve responded with more wisdom and grace.

Reading through Proverbs 18, I thought of this interchange, and as I often do, of my propensity to talk myself into trouble. Only this time, I went deeper, to my heart. How, I wondered, could I respond differently the next time when, so often, my words tumble out before my brain catches up?

Evaluating the whys behind my behaviors, I came up with a list:

  1. Recognize I don’t need to defend myself. When someone criticizes me, if their complaints are valid, acknowledge this and prayerfully consider two women friendsways I might change. Because living in grace means I’m in need of it. I’m broken and prone to sin and nowhere near who God would have me to be, and yet I’m accepted and deeply loved. This disarms my pride with humility as I recognize my need for Christ, and this in turn gives me the courage to grow.
  2. Recognize God’s opinion and my obedience to Him is more important than man’s perception of me. When I base my identity in Christ and treasure intimacy with Him more than “saving face,” I don’t need to defend myself or prove a point.
  3. When I begin to feel defensive, uncover the fear beneath, and then remind myself of who I am in Christ. He’s my defender, protector, perfect guide, and the One who holds my future in His hands.
  4. Don’t own whatever’s not true. Simply disregard it, reminding myself of action steps one through three.
  5. Finally, listen for the fears and insecurities behind my “opponent’s” words and address those before attempting to resolve anything external.

Relational conflicts can be messy, confusing, and cloaked in emotion and false perceptions. To resolve them grace-fully, putting a guard rail on my tongue in the process, I need to take time to go deep—to my and my opponent’s heart, surrendering my pride and resultant emotions to Jesus so that He can love that other person through me.

Let’s talk about this! How easy is it for you to guard your tongue? When considering times your words have gotten you into trouble, can you see similar “root causes” as I mentioned in my list? In the above, I suggested pride is often the root of our fears and fear is often the root of much conflict. Do you agree or disagree, and why so? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

Before you leave, make sure to sign up for my free quarterly newsletter.

Subscribers receive image of cover for study based on 1 Timothygreat, free content sent directly to their inbox along with a free, 36-lesson study (ebook form) based on truths presented in 1 Timothy (sent separately). (If you signed up and haven’t yet received your free study, please contact me through this website so I can get that to you!) You can sign up HERE.

God’s Grace Revealed in Us

My hands were shaky, my stomach queasy. I’d been to the bathroom five times in maybe twice as many minutes as my jumble of nerves worked against my courage to obey. Having given my word, committed to this thing, I knew I couldn’t back out.

Though the thought had crossed my mind over a dozen times.

The strength to obey. For the apostle Paul that meant facing incredible persecution—beatings, floggings, imprisonment … the continual threat of death. I may never endure such hardship for Christ, but that morning, I felt like I was facing a kind of death—death to my reputation.

And yet, like Paul, I knew I’d been entrusted with the gospel, and my story, as ugly as parts of it were, revealed the power of the gospel within me.

I knew. As much as I hated it, as much as my pride fought against it, I knew, God wanted to use my testimony to bring hope and healing to other women. To do this I’d need strength—the strength to die to myself. And only He could give me the power to do that.

Determined to surrender to God’s leading, trusting Him to show Himself strong on my behalf, on the morning in May of 2012, I took several deep breaths, checked my appearance in the mirror one last time, and left the safety of the bathroom to unveil all to women I considered friends.

Certain they’d hear, clearly, the message of God’s unyielding love and grace. Equally certain that, by the time I finished, I would lose any ounce of respect or admiration they’d held for me.

It’s easy to share our triumphs, and perhaps even our struggles. But to reveal our ugly, the deep secret shame that hinders our freedom until Christ intervenes?

That’s hard. That takes courage, a decision to “die to one’s self,” and leaning hard on Christ.

Sharing my story, as a high school drop out and former homeless girl, was rough. But not nearly as rough as Paul’s must have been. He was part of the ISIS or NAZI soldier of his day, deemed powerful by some and evil by others. A man who witnessed incredible brutality and “agreed completely with the killing” (Acts 8:1) The kind of man mothers warn their children about and whose very name must’ve caused countless Christians to freeze in fear.

The very group of people he now spent most of his time with.

What must it have been like to carry a past like that around? What kind of shame would such a history cause?

To what lengths would a tyrannical murderer go to, to keep that past hidden?

What kind of love—for God and mankind—would it take for such a man to open up and share all?

What kind of love would it take for us to do the same?

We all have stories, testimonies of God’s grace and faithfulness—of the power of the gospel revealed in us. That is why our testimonies have such power, so that, as we share, “others will realize that they, too, can believe in Him and receive eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:16).

As I close, I can anticipate some of you thinking, ‘But what about me? I don’t have a dramatic God story. I was never homeless, on drugs, or murderous. I grew up in a strong Christian home, was connected in church all my life. Does my story still have power?”

Absolutely. My story, and Paul’s story, give a glimpse of the darkness that comes from living out of step or apart from Christ. For me, though I belonged to Christ when I went through my rough years, I certainly wasn’t living as He desired, and my life was characterized by darkness. For Paul, he didn’t have the light of Christ at all.

Your story is probably different than mine and Paul’s, but it can still show the beauty and love and freedom that God intends, when we turn to Him, He works in us and our circumstances, and when we live with Him. Our world needs to see both, and our Savior speaks through both. And besides, our stories aren’t truly about us anyway but rather, they’re about Christ in us. When we remember that, and shift our focus off ourselves and onto Him, He overpowers our fears and insecurities with His strength.

The strength to make Him known.

Take a moment to write out your testimony, either of when you first came to Christ or perhaps when He did something significant in your life that revealed His love, grace, and mercy. Who might God be calling you to share your story with?

Before you read today’s suggested Bible passages, I wanted to provide some background information. Stephen, the man mentioned in Acts 7, was the first Christian martyr, and prior to our passage, he publicly shared the gospel and how the Old Testament pointed to Jesus.

For those participating in our 1 Timothy study, here’s today’s suggested Bible reading: Acts 7:54-60, Acts 8:1-3, and Acts 9:1-22. Pop over to our FB group to join the discussion! Our memory verse for this week is Psalm 105:1

“Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim His greatness. Let the whole world know what He has done” (Psalm 105:1, NLT).

And … before you go, I’ve got fun news! Today is Healing Love’s release day! You can check it out HERE! (I’m not sure when the print copy will go live, but it should be within a day or two.)

When–and How–God Guides

It’s a question that dominates the thoughts of believers worldwide: How can we know if this thing, this opportunity, this action or whatever, is God’s will? How can we discern His voice among all the other “voices” bombarding us each day? I believe learning to discern God’s voice is a process that comes from drawing close to Him, saturating our minds with Scripture, and following with surrendered obedience. I believe the more we respond obediently to God’s voice, the more we’ll be able to hear Him in the future, and the more we disobey or disregard His leading, the more dull our hearing becomes.

But He does speak to us and guide us, because as my guest, Mary Bowen reminds us, “God wants to lead us even more than we want to be led.”

A Door Wide Open

By Mary Bowen

“He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all his own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow him because they know His voice” (John 10:3-4 NIV).

Our Florida rental had been trashed! In shock I clutched the phone tighter as my stomach turned. The realtor’s words hit me hard; something precious had been desecrated. Our classy little ranch with the screen porch and landscaped yard. . . for eighteen months our cozy nest during my pregnancy, then home for our beloved baby daughter. After moving back to Atlanta, we had rented it out for two years.

Before I could fully process what all this meant, the realtor who told us this devastating news gave us hope. She said she was looking for a “fixer-upper.” I caught my breath. We had just finished praying together on the sofa for a buyer! After accepting her offer in a happy daze, my husband and little daughter joined me in another prayer. “Oh, God, thank you, thank You!” We were free now to consider a job opportunity in Virginia.

It was part of His go-ahead.

Soon after that, God floored us with another confirmation. A young man taking a course in Atlanta the next week “happened” to visit our Sunday school class. He’d come from Abingdon, the very location we were considering! Over lunch he told us all about this charming historic community and the church he loved so much. It was as if God had sent him to confirm again where He wanted us.

A third reassurance was our leading in house-hunting. Though we had several weeks in which to look, I felt an urgency to go one particular weekend. We found out why when the realtor told us that desirable rentals were disappearing fast. She showed us a house that fit us perfectly.

Our prayers for guidance were answered with multiple confirmations. There was no doubt where we should move. We fell in love with Abingdon’s friendly, relaxed culture, absence of traffic, and especially Abingdon Bible Church. Our four years in Abingdon, Virginia were among the happiest of our lives.

Looking back now, I can see why God worked so dramatically. I liked being back in Atlanta after all the challenges in Florida two years before. Another out-of-state move seemed as much fun as climbing a mountain barefoot. Because He is gracious and kind, God wanted to reassure me with all those signs pointing the way.

We may not always get so many clues about the next step. Nevertheless, God wants to lead us even more than we want to be led. (Prov. 3:5-6).

When facing a decision or attempting to discern God’s will, four indicators can help us discern what to do:

The Bible

Advice from other Christians

Circumstances

and the Holy Spirit.

The psalmist compared Scripture to a lamp that illumines our path (Ps. 119:105). He declared, “You guide me with Your counsel” (Ps. 73:24 NIV).

Other people’s godly counsel also guides us. “Wisdom is found in those who take advice” (Prov. 13:10 NIV). “Plans fail for lack of counsel” (Prov. 15:22 NIV).

God used providential circumstances to guide my family to move, along with promptings from the Holy Spirit. Called “the Counselor,” He guides us into all truth (Jn. 16:13).

We’re most receptive to God’s guidance when we’ve surrendered our will to His. We can trust God to lead us step by step.

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Mary Bowen writes and edits for Grace Ministries International in Marietta, Georgia. For many years her articles and poetry have been published in newspapers, magazines and anthologies. She has worked as a reporter and freelancer, and served as an editor with the North American Mission Board.

Let’s talk about this! What steps do you take when trying to discern God’s will? First, can I ask–are you taking time to listen? For me, this is often the biggest issue. It’s hard to hear God’s voice when my mind is racing from one thing to the next, when I’m wrapped up in my to-do list. Intimacy with Christ takes time, time of listening, of quieting myself in His presence. This is one of my favorite verses, and may God help me to live it out:

“My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘LORD, I am coming.’ (Psalm 27:8 NLT).