Friday, November 20, 2015

Praise Him Through the Pain

What an odd and strange thought and even more odd title for a blog post..Praise Him Through the Pain. This past week the lesson I prepared for my youth group at church was, of course, a Thanksgiving related lesson due to the timing and season we are in. The scriptures for the lesson - 1 Thessalonians 5:18, "Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus." NLT and Colossians 3:17, "And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father." NLT, tell us to give thanks to God at ALL times and in ALL you do and say. Sometimes this is harder said than done.

In my youth group are kids who have already experienced and seen in their short lives some of the worst circumstances that life has to offer - from parents who are addicted to drugs and have been in and out of jail to sexual abuse to homelessness to physical and mental abuse. It is hard enough for mature Christian adults to understand how to spiritually handle difficult situations but can you imagine being 13, 14 or 15 years old and trying to cope with very adult circumstances? Some of these kids in our youth group are the children of church members but most of them came to us from off the street. They make a choice every Wednesday to get on the church's bus and come for a hot meal and a lesson about Jesus. There are no parents forcing them to do this and leveraging their authority over them to influence them to participate. Over half of my class are kids who have little or no supervision at home. They are choosing to be at church of their own free accord. What an amazing and inspiring tribute to our Lord and His mighty hand of guidance and protection over theses children. He has literally picked them up and placed them in our hands to love them, teach them and guide them into a relationship with Him. What an awesome gift and sometimes heavy responsibility that is. These kids have so much to overcome to see a God that loves them and is there for them in the worst moments of their young lives.

Without fully comprehending this I began this lesson this past Wednesday about giving thanks to God in all circumstances and at all times. There were some hard hitting questions in the lesson about when it might be difficult to give thanks such as in the face of adversity and hardship. That's when God opened my eyes to the true heart of this lesson, what He really wanted these kids to understand. Their souls were wounded from the hardships they had already suffered and they were fearful of the God that they perceived caused it all to happen. The true nature of God was not what they knew. They had formed a very broken and inaccurate picture of God as a mean bully who'd kicked them around their whole lives. It sincerely broke my heart when I understood this and I knew without a doubt that God had given me this lesson to teach them, but not for the reasons I had thought. I thought it was going to be a simple lesson about kids needing to learn a little something about gratitude but it was so so much more and so much deeper than I could have ever imagined. These beautiful wounded children needed to know that God was not the source of the horrible things that had happened to them and He did not "allow" it to happen to them.

The lesson evolved into helping them understand that unfortunately we live in an evil world where Satan is the prince. He has domain here and he is the source of the pain they have suffered. Everyday people make bad choices that often hurt themselves and others and all of those choices are fueled by temptations and bad information that Satan has put in front of them. Many members of my class have been the victim of other peoples bad decisions that were guided and manipulated by the father of lies. God helped me impress upon them that He was not the source of their pain but the source of their survival, their strength and their comfort. He is the one that helped them to find our Church where at first it was about a hot meal and a little down time with friends. But it has evolved into so much more for these children. It's a place where they found structure, love, guidance, understanding and the compassion of an all loving God.

It is no mistake that the church bus rolled through their neighborhood, down their street and in front of their house. That my friends was the hand of God. That is how He began to deliver these precious souls from the turmoil of their lives and show them the strength and power available to them for healing, deliverance, perseverance, and most of all - forgiveness. It's easy to tell someone to give thanks to God in all things when you have never truly been touched by utter despair and hopelessness, pain and suffering beyond reason, and such tragic loss that your heart just can't bear it. The true testimony of our faith is responding to God with praise and thanksgiving in spite of these circumstances because we recognize that He is not the cause but the deliverance from them. As difficult as it was for me I told them that my husband and I could understand their pain and misgivings about trusting in a God that they perceived had let them down. We had suffered tragic paralyzing loss in March of 2000 when my husband's son took his own life. It was a pain that I was certain there was no recovering from. But we did recover and through the grace of God we moved forward in life. And now we find ourselves ministry leaders in our church giving back in ways we never imagined, like standing up before a youth group and telling them that I understand their pain and it's not God causing it but God who has given them the strength to endure it.

God can and will take the circumstances of our life that were caused either by our own or others temptations and failings and make them a source of strength and compassion that we can use to help bring others closer to Him. Because of our loss, my husband and I have been able to give love and compassion to other people suffering a similar loss to our own in a way that only a parent who has lost a child can. We have become more sensitive to the needs of those who feel they are at the end of their rope and just can't go on. We are able to tell our story of the loss we've suffered and that there is hope if you lean into the arms of our loving and gracious Savior. Just recently a family in our church suffered a similar loss. Their son was killed in a car accident. The day after his death, they attended church. Most of us were surprised to see them because it can be so painful to walk into a room and know every eye is on you, the look on every face reflecting your pain back at you. But the mother of this young man wanted to be in her church. I honestly don't know what was on her mind in those moments but to me it spoke volumes about the position of her heart and her faith. To me it said that she recognized that God was not the source of her pain and suffering or the tragic loss of her son but He is and will be the source of her healing and comfort through her grieving process. It was one of the most beautiful and heart wrenching moments I've ever witnessed, her determination to give praise and glory to God in spite of the pain she was suffering.

I reminded the kids in my class of this moment and assured them that if a grieving mother could praise God through the pain, then they could as well. He will help them find peace and redemption in the midst of life's trials and He will help them paint a much brighter future. They need only put their trust and faith in Him. Whether they realized it or not, it's the reason they got on the bus. It's the reason it passed in front of their house to begin with and it's the reason they are here in this house of worship now, the grace and mercy of our loving Father. He held them up and held them strong to get to this point today. He sent a church bus to pick them up and deliver them where He will continue to guide their path if they continue to show up. But most of all He will reward their faithfulness if they give Him thanks and praise no matter what temptations and hardship the devil tries to throw at them. In all things and at all times, give thanks and praise to God and our Lord Jesus Christ. Praise Him through the pain.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

There is Power in the Name of Jesus

I've heard the song "Break Every Chain" many times over the last couple of years.  In a sense it sank in and had meaning to me but over the last few months it has come to have much greater effect on me.  The youth choir at my church does a very lovely and touching praise dance to Tasha Cobbs performance of the song.  It is very moving emotionally and spiritually to see the passion these young people give to the performance.  The more I have meditated on the music the more I have realized the truth and depth to the words.  It has transformed me and my way of acting and reacting in moments of stress and conflict.

There is without a single doubt power in the Name of Jesus.  Just speaking His name with conviction and faith has a calming effect.  When I am absolutely dry in my prayer life and I really don't have words to offer up to my Creator I simply repeat again and again Jesus, Jesus, Jesus while meditating on the faces of the people I want to offer up petitions for.  Sometimes I just don't know what to pray for where others needs and issues are concerned.  I often find myself praying for what I think the person/situation needs but then I realize, who am I to decide what is best?  So when I am at a loss for words, there is one word with the greatest amount of power, Jesus.  His name heals, it soothes, it comforts, it saves, it destroys sins, it can move mountains and calm stormy seas.  The name of Jesus when used with a mere grain of faith can conquer death, bind wounds, dispel Satan, heal marriages, bring lost children home, it can and it will Break Every Chain.  Do you believe it does?

Honestly, I went through a really dark time spiritually in the recent past.  I did not feel like I was hearing from God.  In all truthfulness, I wasn't listening all that hard either.  I felt as though I was just moving through life but not truly living and certainly not living for the Lord.  I was not dedicating all of my actions, words and thoughts to Him, to use me to do His work.  And a seed of resentment grew up.  I saw other people in ministry around me and the joy and blessings they received as a result of the ministries they served in.  I was angry that I wasn't being blessed like they were.  After all, wasn't I doing as much if not more than most every one in my church, giving more of my time, service and skills?  Where was my blessing?  Where was my peace, joy and happiness?  Do you get the picture?  Can you just see the self pity oozing out of me?  And I had the nerve to ask God, "Where are You?  Don't you see me doing all this stuff for YOU?  Where's my happy-happy joy-joy?"  It really is funny isn't it?  How wrapped up we can become in the task while forgetting why we're doing it in the first place.

I've written a previous post about what ultimately happened.  The long and short of it is, I surrendered.  I let go of my will and asked God to show me His.  I gave Him my chains of Self-Pity, Self-Doubt, Resentment, Resistance, Stubbornness and Expectations.  You know what He did?  Yep, He broke them!  Just like that.  I surrendered, I called on the name of Jesus and He took over.  Now when I'm feeling broken, tired, frustrated in my daily life with my hectic schedule, I remember, there is power in the name of Jesus.  I don't have to know what to pray or how to pray it.  I don't have to have all the right words or proper greeting to my Lord.  I only have to speak His name.  I am tearing up right now just thinking about it.  Yes, it should come as no surprise to you by now, I'm a cryer!  But thinking of what that means, that there is so much power in just uttering His name, just the whisper of His name can move mountains.  Doesn't it just take your breath away?  Doesn't it just bring tears to your eyes to know, THAT POWER IS AVAILABLE TO YOU!  Yes YOU and me and everyone who would receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  Each and every one of us has that awesome and mighty power available to us to Break EVERY one of our Chains.  Wow, just, WOW!

What are your chains?  Some of the chains He as broken me free from are, of course sin, but the ways that base root of sin manifested it self, such as, drunkenness, self-pity, resentment, anger, fear, doubt, self destructive behavior, control, low self esteem.  The list goes on and on.  We all have chains that are holding us back from our blessings.  The ways that sin has conned us to keep us away from a Savior who is dying to set us free.  Oh how He longs to set you free!  He can...

Break the chains of Alcoholism that's driving your family away
Break the chains of Drug Addiction that's robbing your life
Break the chains of Adultery that's killing your marriage
Break the chains of Regret and Remorse that are keeping you chained in the past
Break the chains of Worry that keeps you rooted in fear instead of freedom
Break the chains of Fear and Anxiety that keep you glued in place
Break the chains of Depression that lies to you and tells you that you are not worthy
Break the chains of Anger that keeps you distant from the ones you love
Break the chains of Shame from past mistakes that keeps you from living free
Break the chains of the World that keeps dangling pretty things in front of you so you don't see the                                            Creator of all who gives living water to nourish you
Break the chains of Satan who would love to keep you bound in sin and destruction.

Jesus can break you free from this and so much more and if you don't know how to ask Him, just remember, there is power in His name.  Just call out to Him, just call Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.  Believe me, He will know what is in your heart and He will respond.  He loves you so much and He wants to be your everything, take every worry and fear away.  He wants to comfort you and console you.  He wants to embrace you and bring you joy and peace.  He wants you to know that no matter how rotten you've been, there is nothing He can't forgive, NOTHING!  Run into His arms and call out His name. Receive His redeeming love.

The power that comes with Jesus, from knowing Him and being counted as one of His own is difficult to fathom, but it's yours whenever you need it.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 1, "7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding."NLT.   And in Romans 8:39, "No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord."NLT.  You see, He loved us so much He sent Jesus to free us of the bondage of sin and nothing can separate us from God again once we accept Jesus' saving grace.  Oh what a wonderful God we serve!

Jude 1:25 tells us Jesus has always had and will always have all the power, "All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen."NLT.  And the way we access that power is, come on, I know you know the answer...Call on His name!  Yep, it's that simple.  With a tiny bit of faith and the name of Jesus, there is nothing you can't overcome, no chain you can't break free from, no sin that can't be forgiven.  You are His and you are wonderfully and fearfully made.  Don't ever forget Whose you are!  Break free today.  The only thing it will cost you is all that heavy baggage you've been carrying around for years.  Put it down, lighten your load, grow wings and fly!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Look Into HER Eyes...

Last year in February my son married the girl he has loved since Junior High School.  Their relationship had been up and down and off and on for years.  I knew that my son believed with all his heart that this girl was meant to be his and honestly, I wasn't so convinced.  I prayed for him for years that God would help him to find a girl one day to be his bride who would bring out the best in him and him in her.  Someone who would be his intellectual equal, who would engage not only his heart but also stimulate his mind.  Knowing him like I do, I knew this would be important for the longevity of the relationship.  I prayed that this girl would not break his heart as it had been previously and that they would grow more in love every day as my husband and I have.  This kind of love is possible through the grace of God.  Not only is it possible it is very likely if the Lord is directing the path of your heart, your spouse's heart and your marriage.  Inviting Him into the center of all of your life, including your relationships, opens doors and floods your heart with the capability to expand beyond anything you ever dreamed possible.  It is possible to fall more in love with your spouse daily and I wanted this for my son.

It is no surprise that I was less than excited when he told me he had reconnected with this former flame and it was pretty serious. The state of their relationship throughout the years had left him pretty bruised and I didn't think he could revisit that or those wounds that had only recently healed.  I was skeptical and more than a little concerned for his well being.  Again I lifted the situation to the Lord and as usual the answer was clear, "Be still, and know that I am God".  I had put this child I treasured and his heart in God's hands and now it was time for some trust.  Not a place this Momma is comfortable being, you know, that hands off mouth shut sort of place.  But I obeyed and gave my son the acceptance he was seeking, truthfully after a not so pleasant knee jerk reaction that I regret.

It wasn't long before he brought this lovely young woman home to re-meet his parents and hopefully mend some fences.  He knew his father and I had misgivings about her and he wanted so badly for us to embrace her and draw her into the fold.  Through God's workings in my inner most thoughts and instincts I felt at peace with her and in spite of my son's misgivings I pulled her aside for a private chat to "clear the air" between us.  Amends were made, healing had begun and forgiveness was given and received.  The genuineness and honesty of it all still chokes me up a bit to this day.  It simply astounds me how gracious God is to me and how beautiful His work through the Holy Spirit can be if we simply let go and let Him be God and not try to call all the shots and take matters into our own hands.  I put myself aside in this situation and let the Holy Spirit flood me with compassion for this young woman and the events in her life that led her to some of the choices she made that were not healthy for her and later impacted my son.  I felt moved to seek her forgiveness for not giving her a chance those many years ago and drawing judgements without investigating the situation fully.  I was not fair to her and I had to own that.  Drawing on the Lord for the strength of character to ask for that forgiveness was humbling but also liberating.

How many times do we feel His tug at our hearts to let go of what we think is best and trust that His path will ultimately lead to a true and lasting happiness and peace?  Why oh why do we resist?  How many times does He have to prove His trustworthiness?  Why should He have to?  Isn't He God after all?  Why do we think we have a better plan than what the Lord God Almighty, Creator of All can come up with?  It truly is laughable when you stop and think about it.

Fast forward to February 2014 and the day my son became a husband to this same lovely young woman.  As his father and I sat side by side, hand in hand on the "groom's side", I was not able to look into my son's eyes as his back was to us.  I sat there thinking about how it made sense in one respect for the family and guests of the groom to sit on the same side as the groom stands and for the family and guests of the bride to sit on the same side as she stands.  But on the other hand it made little sense because I spent the entire wedding looking at his back.  I wanted so much to see my son's face as he took the love of his life as his wife.  I wanted to see the love in his eyes, the joy in his heart coming out of every part of his posture, the way he looked as he held her hands and promised her forever.  I found myself getting a little frustrated that I couldn't see these things.  I expressed my frustration to God in a small and quick prayer and asked for His guidance.  The answer I received in that moment took my breath away a little.  I wasn't expecting it.  He said to me, "Look into HER eyes...".

What I got to see in that moment still gets me teary eyed.  (Yes, it's not that difficult to get me a little teary eyed! LOL) I saw in her the love she had for my son.  I saw everything I had prayed for him reflected in her eyes at that moment.  She loved my son with her whole heart and it was pouring out of her like refreshing rain watering the sun parched places in his heart that thirsted for that love.  She was everything I had prayed for, everything.  I had to let go of my stubbornness as a mother, believing that I knew what was best for my child and realize that he was God's child first. As much as I loved him, I still did not love him as much as the Lord does.  And now he is loved even more by his bride.  There it was staring me in the face, answered prayers.

No, letting go is not easy and we hold onto our self will with all our might.  Not feeling in control is frightening, unsettling and not always pleasant until we realize that we never were in control; it was only a myth of our imagination.  Embracing God's plan for your life, trusting Him, does not always feel natural.  We are of this world unfortunately and we are of sin, so the ways of God are not always our first instinct.  It does take training to lean into His will, to study His word and become more familiar with His ways and His desires for His people.  It takes A LOT of practice.  Marriage takes a lot of practice, patience, endurance and commitment.  But the end result of that practice is trust, reliance, reckless abandon of self will and a desire to serve Him in all you do, a desire to serve your spouse with your whole heart and finding daily that your capacity for both is ever expanding.  Yes you can love your spouse more and more daily. Yes you can learn to trust God more and more.  Yes you can!  All things are possible, amazing, more beautiful than I have adequate words to describe when God is the front, the center and all around in everything you do.  Asking God into every aspect of your life and trusting Him with your whole heart, even when you're not sure He hears you (which we mainly feel like when we are not getting our way!) will reap benefits beyond your imagination.

In conclusion I would like to say that I do not practice this perfectly every day and I do still fall into fear and despair from time to time because I take my eyes off of the Master and lean into my way of thinking and behaving.  I would never dream to mislead anyone into thinking I am perfect or above reproach.  But I do fight everyday to overcome the forces of evil that cloud my thinking with worldly things and try to stop up my ears from being able to hear God speak to me.  Hearing God is a daily exercise regimen that calls for obedience, perseverance and spending time daily in His word.  But the fruits of this exercise is a spirit that is lean and fit and ready to do battle armed with the assurance of God's presence by your side.  Never take your eyes off the Master!  Take care and God Bless!!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What's Your Nineveh?

Strange title for a blog post, I know.  But it is what God has put on my heart.  Actually, there have been several messages God has put on my heart lately that I felt led to write here on my blog and for whatever reason I was not obedient.  That lack of obedience has eaten away at me, nagged me, sat in the dark corners of my mind and yelled "Boo" every chance it's gotten.  It's not smart to ignore God, just plain ole not smart.  I kept telling myself, "I'll get to it.  I will write those blog posts."  They were beautiful and enlightening ideas, spiritual awakenings.  And you know what happened?  I did not obey and they were gone.  I can not for the life of me recall what the topics were or even the general thought processes. They are simply gone because I couldn't even be bothered to pick up a pen and notepad and jot down a blog post title to keep the idea fresh in my mind.

That is why I am here talking about Nineveh today and the prophet Jonah.  This is what the story of Jonah is all about, obedience.  Jonah was a very well liked and well to do prophet in his time.  He enjoyed a relatively good life as a prophet.  Most prophets were met with hardship, resistance and were basically viewed as the "nut cases" of their day.  But Jonah's time as a prophet went well and he lived comfortably, so when God called him to go to Nineveh and deliver a message to the Ninevites to change their ways or face the wrath of the Lord, Jonah did NOT want to leave his comfort zone, especially for the Ninevites.  You see, the people of Israel had been abused for many years by the people of Nineveh.  Jonah would have done anything but go to Nineveh.

I could relate to Jonah in some respects.   There are some things in life we just don't want to do.  We either find the task detestable or we don't feel capable of completing the job or maybe we just feel indifferent altogether.  But whatever the reason, we all have our Nineveh, that one thing that we tell God, "Lord, I'll do whatever you ask of me, but this one thing I just can't/won't do."  For me, my Nineveh is teaching in my church.  My journey in my current church started in June of 2012.  I was faithfully attending with my husband and son for about a year when the yearning to serve started pulling me.  But given my lack of Biblical knowledge I didn't feel qualified to teach and as I was raised Catholic and newly converted to Baptist, well I really didn't feel qualified to do anything.  So I prayed and prayed for God to show me how I could serve in my church and ultimately serve Him.  And the prayer went something like this, "Lord, I want to serve you so much, please Father show me how I can give back to my church that has given so much to me.  Here is my set of skills, the things I feel like I'm good at.  Can you work with that?  Can you find me something to do with that set of skills?  But, God, I can't teach.  I don't have the patience, knowledge or wisdom.  They will ask me questions I can't answer.  I don't want to look stupid.  So God, I'll do anything but teach."  As If I needed to tell God what my skill set was and what I was good at, Ha!  He created every part of me and blessed me with every skill I possess. As I look back now I can see that the idea that I needed to remind Him of that and give Him parameters for my ministry is quite comical.

Slowly things started coming to light that I could do to give service to my church that no one else really had the time or skill sets to deal with, like editing and posting church videos to YouTube.  I had lots of experience in that.  I'm still quite shy about telling people around me about my YouTube channels and  unknown to the people in my church, I had been running two YouTube channels for quite some time.  So I was well suited to that ministry.  Before long that grew into me handling the management of the church's website, Facebook page, YouTube Channel and running the Sunday morning media for Worship service.  But something was still missing.  I kept praying for God to show me what I missing.  As good as Worship service was and as much as I was getting out of the sermons and as much as I was getting out of my own Bible Studies and out of Sunday School I was still walking away feeling like I was treading through spiritual quicksand.  And I just didn't feel like I was connecting in relationship with God and my Savior the way I once had.

After months of prayer, reflection, and I can't even begin to tell you how many signs from the Almighty, I finally figured out what the problem was - Obedience.  God had been calling me to go to Nineveh and I had been dodging the phone call at every turn.  I have stayed away from deep water because believe me, I think a big fish was coming next!  The messages, other than the obvious one to take over a Sunday School class in which a  teaching position had become available, went something like - "You can only keep what you have by giving it away", "He who wants to keep his life must give it away", "Jeannine, it's not always about you and what you want or need, sometimes it's about what I want you to do for others", "You can only get out of something what you put in to it", "I don't always call the qualified but qualify the called", "In order to be fed, you must feed others first."  And so on, the messages kept coming, all along this thought process.

The way out of my spiritual desert was through Nineveh a.k.a OBEDIENCE.  You see, life is so much easier, the path so much smoother and the way so much straighter if we walk it in obedience.  I have felt such peace since coming to this place called Nineveh.  Don't get me wrong, the father of lies has done his level best to derail the process, sent his nay sayers to discourage me and sent the minions of self-doubt and fear to plague me.  About the time I talk myself out of the course that God has set me on, He reminds me that I am His and I am fearfully and wonderfully made and He is holding me in the palm of His almighty hand.  All I have to do is trust Him and His purpose for my life.  He has called me to this purpose and He will give me the tools I need to complete the task.  When in doubt I simply need to lean into the truth of His words, walk boldly toward Nineveh and know that the war has already been won, I simply need to show up for the battle.

So, what is your Nineveh?  What is it God is calling you to that you are resisting with all your might?  When I leaned into God's will and let Him have all of my will I have lived in such peace with a sense of purpose and fulfillment again.  I am no longer thirsty in the dessert but swimming in pools of the refreshing waters of obedience.  What's holding you back?  God would never lead you to something that would harm you.  It might not be easy, but it will be GOOD!  You will NEVER regret going to Nineveh.  The best part is you don't have to go to Nineveh alone.  Not only is God with you, but He sent others ahead of you to pave the way.  Those who have "been there, done that" to help you navigate the way.  What are you waiting for?  Get going!! Don't wait until the moment passes, the ideas are gone, the wells have run dry and it is just too late.  Trust me, Nineveh is not a bad place at all, come on in, the water's fine!