God. Is. Always. There.

The following is the testimony of a childhood friend of mine, I pray that no matter what perspective you are reading it from, your heart will be touched.  God loves us, enough to send His son for us.  When we come to Him in recognition of that fact, He will always beckon us back to Him.  This is an anonymous story, mainly because some of the details are very personal and are better left nameless.

God has been so good to me in my life and has brought me out of so much and delivered me from more than I could ever tell you. I began my walk with God when I was 15.  I was headed down the wrong road, and the youth pastor of a local church stepped in and showed me Gods love. I got very involved and threw all my energy into my youth group, and all that I could do for God.

Throughout high school, I dated a guy off and on for three years but things began to get out of hand and I called the relationship off. My senior year a met a guy that loved God and liked me for me, not for what most teenage boys wanted.  We had only been dating for a few months when we had a horrible wreck.  God saved our lives but my faith was shaken. I finished my senior year at an alternative school, and was home bound for some time and that amounted to too much idle time. My parents had been having problems for some time and the stress began to get to me, and I broke up with my boyfriend.  I did this even though we both had known that God had called us to be together. I began to hang out with the wrong people, and stopped going to church.  One day my first boyfriend came back into town, so I decided to spend the weekend with him and his family. That was the decision that caused me years of pain. Just a crack in the door of sin, and the whole world began to drown me.  In a matter of two weeks, I started drinking and smoking, and began sleeping with my boyfriend. Things started out on the wrong foot.  Soon after he proposed, I found out he had cheated on me, and the young woman was pregnant. But I was so desperate for a way to hide my pain and lonesomeness, I “forgave” him and we were married just five short months of dating, I was only 19.

Our first baby came with in the first year of our marriage as did a move that took me 1,500 miles away from everything I had ever known. We had the typical arguments that all newlyweds experience, but soon they turned to him pushing then slapping me.  The first time it happened, I was so shocked but he told me it was my fault for pushing his buttons. The abuse got worse over the next year, as did his addiction to pornography and video games. I learned that he was having an affair over the internet and over the phone with the same girl he had cheated on me with before we were married. Despite all of this, we had our second child just a year after our first child was born. My life revolved around my children, and at times, I felt so helpless.  He would get angry and hurt me over stupid things, and demand I performed as his pornography girls did.  I was trapped. Over the next two years, there were good times. But unfortunately, the bad outweighed the good by far. It got to the point I didn’t care anymore about making him happy, only my girls. I truly hated that they lived in a house where their parents fought. But there was one light in my dark world…a friend…the guy I had dated when I had my wreck.

He had moved on and gotten married, but we had remained friends. No one but him knew of the abuse, and one day I had had all I could take.  So I wrote a note to my sister telling her what had been going on, and I had a bottle of pills.  I sat down and prayed for the first time in a long time asking, “God where are you?” At that moment my computer went off telling me I had a message. When I looked up it was a message from my friend telling me how much God loved me and how special I was to him. My heart cracked just a little that night, and as I knelt beside my children’ s bed and began to pray, my oldest who was about 3 years old at the time, asked me what I was doing.  When I told her I was praying to Jesus, she asked, “Who is Jesus?” All I could do was hold her, and ask God to forgive me. From that night on, I decided I was going to try to “find” God again. I began to pray for my husband, and ask God to change me or change him or give me a way out.  Those 6 months seemed to be the hardest, but one day my husband received orders to be gone for 6 months, and I thought that might gives us the time apart to heal. I was wrong.  The night before he left, he got angry with me and punched me. He then went to punch again, and I ducked as he put his arm through a door up to his shoulder.  Had he hit me, I can only imagine what would have happened.  That hit cut the last thread of love my heart had for him. I had been used, threatened, and made to do things even when I said no.

When he left, I left for my home town with my girls. My heart longed for someone to love me.  I felt ugly and stupid for what I had allowed my kids to go through, and I thought no one would ever want me because I thought I was used goods. I had two children and no clue what I was going to do. I had talked to my friend through all of this, and he had been through a very rough time as well.  His wife had left him while he was deployed to war, and we had been praying for each other. Though my heart still loved him, I felt ashamed because of the situation being as it was. I got a lawyer and told no one what was going on till the last minute, and I was legally separated from my husband in January. My friend had also moved back to our hometown and in April we had begun to spend time together.  He was divorced, and I was in the middle of mine. Everyone, including my family, was under the impression I was leaving my husband for another man.  I spoke with my soon to be ex-husband, and told him I could not live the life I lived anymore. I was tired of being scared, and wanted a better life for the kids.

When he got back from his deployment, he went to my parents and begged them to help him, and he ended up telling them an abbreviated version about what had happened, about the abuse, but only that he had hit me. My family turned on me and told me I was wrong and needed to work things out.  But I had been so hurt, and there was no going back.  My friendship turned into a relationship, and I was afraid to love again.  But he loved me, and loved my children and he gave us a place to call home. We knew that the way were where living was wrong, but we could not get married until my divorce was final, and my ex was making that as hard as possible. We had gone to a few churches trying to find our way back to God, as we had both walked away from God in our own way. We both desperately wanted God in our lives, and in our soon to be marriage. He had grown up in a church that was different from what I was brought up in.

So we visited another church in our town but some of the people made it very clear they didn’t want us there (not many churches welcomed a couple like us), so we visited another church. This one we liked, but one day the pastor asked to talk with us.  When we came to his office, he sat on the edge of his desk and looked at my boyfriend and said “How dare you raise your hands to God and call yourself a man of God, and walk in to the church with an adulterous woman?” He looked at me and told me I was going to condemn my children (then 2 and 3) to hell if I got a divorce. He then began to explain how divorce had damaged his life, and his children’s. This pastor never picked up his bible, nor asked for an explanation. The little faith I did have began to shake, and I didn’t know what to do.  After that “meeting” my boyfriend told me we could not see each other for two weeks, until we both had time to pray. Again, I was alone and scared. I went home and prayed, and ask God to show me what to do. The next day, the same pastor asked if he could meet with my ex-husband and me. We went to his house and he took my ex to talk to him, and I spoke with his wife. We came back together and I began to tell my side of the story, during which he stopped me and told me to stop lying!  I was shocked!  The pastor told me he knew my (ex) husband and he would never do that, and that I was just looking for a way out to be with the “other” man.  Again, he told me I was going to condemn my children to hell. My heart was shattered I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to go back into the prison of my marriage, but I didn’t want to condemn my children.

I began to pray. I felt led to call the pastor of the church I had visited with my friend. I was afraid of what their view might be, but still I felt that is who God was leading me to talk with.  I went and told the pastor what had been happening, and I told him my story. He had already known how we were living, and that I was in the middle of a divorce. He looked at me and told me the other pastor was mistaken, but that he too did not agree with how we were living.  He let us know that it was not his place to condemn. He reminded me that although God did not like divorce, my husband’s infidelity and abuse had released me from being bound to him any longer. He told me God loved me, and that He hated the sin but LOVED me.  I was precious to God and that I would not condemn my children to hell, that nowhere in the bible did it say that.  My last hope, my last grasp at God had been answered through this pastor.

The road to divorce was hard, but in November of that year, I was finally divorced, and in December I married my best friend. No, we didn’t start things right, but since that day we have done our best to live for God and raise the children to know and serve the loving God that turned a horrible decision of my youth into a wonderful blessing. God has blessed us with more children and a church that loved us even when it was hard to.

All during those hard years I would ask God “Where did you go?” But I have realized since it was me that left God, and when I was ready, He was waiting with open arms to take me back, love me, and heal my heart that had been shattered. I went from a young woman who felt hopeless, used, ugly and unlovable to a woman of God who knows she is the child of The King, and is loved beyond words by a loving God and Godly husband.  God has done so much for me in my life, He has delivered me, brought me back from the dead (literally), and shows me every day through simple things -HE loves me!

If you take anything from this please let it be this, don’t judge someone walking through your church doors by what is on the outside, instead, take the time to get to know them and see how you can show Gods love to them. I can only imagine were I would be had my pastor not shown me God’s True love…. God bless, and remember:

 

“You may be the only bible someone reads”

 

It is amazing to me that our churches sometimes can push those who need to hear the love of Christ most away and out the doors.  Not all churches are like this, and those that show love and embrace people no matter who they are, are doing as the church in Acts did, loving and caring for everyone that came in the doors.  Be careful if you are part of the church, love everyone the same, and share the love of Christ endlessly.  Be encouraged that you can come running back to the Father if you’ve strayed away from Him.  You have to intentionally make that choice to come back, He won’t force you.  Praise God, for He alone is worthy!

 

No More Conforming, Be Authentic

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Him (Christ) with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelivable.”  –Brennan Manning

Everytime I hear that quote, I shudder.  The thought that Christians, such as myself could be the greatest cause of atheism just breaks my heart.  That means that science, natural disasters, tragedy and other things we think cause people to turn from God are but a glimmer compared to the effect we have as Christians.  That’s not to say that people’s lives aren’t being changed and saved by the Holy Spirit as a result of us sharing with them and setting a Godly example, but there are many instances where we cause people to wander away from faith or just not consider faith at all.  When I sit back and think about how a statement like this could have an validity, I am brought to Romans 12:1-2, which says

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve of what God’s will is-His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

We are called to live a life of excellence, and the pattern we are called to follow is the one set for us by Christ, not the one(s) that our culture and society tell us we should follow.  Sometimes we fall into the thought that we have to fit into a certain mold to be a “real” or “good” Christian.  The world has created that thought, and we end up believing it if we aren’t careful.  Some of these molds are:

  • We have to go to church every Sunday
  • We have to wear the right clothes
  • We have to say the right words
  • We have to smile the whole time
  • We have to act like nothing is wrong

When I delivered this sermon, I came to church and made sure to do something that I don’t normally do.  That was to be dressed in a suit with a tie and slacks, keep in mind, my normal Sunday morning attire is jeans and either a polo shirt, or a button-up shirt, so you can imagine the comments that ensued.  Many compliments about my dress, and of course, several questions about a funeral.  Here is a picture of my pre-sermon getup.

I will admit, it was quite nice getting the compliments from my fellow church members.  I actually fit into the mold that our churches have expected the preacherman to be wearing up in the pulpit, as opposed to how I wanted to dress, which was in my blue jeans and polo.  Now, there is nothing wrong with dressing up nicely, especially to bring the Word of God, so please don’t take me as meaning that you should never dress up nice, I think it’s a matter of preference personally.  But I dressed up this way to be the visual aid part of my sermon, more on that a bit later.

Back to before…we weren’t created to fit into some kind of mold in order to be a Christian, but the world sure does want us to fit a mold.  So, we feel like we have to fit into it, but what were we created for?

We were created for worship, more specifically, we were created to worship God.  We were also created for fellowship, to share the love of Christ with those around us all the time, not just occasionally on Sundays.  In the passage prior to Romans 12:1-2, we are given a look into what Paul was writing to the Roman church about.  I will give you a quick Philliphrase version of that passage.

  • God is all-knowing!
  • God is beyond our comprehension!
  • None of us know His thoughts!
  • He doesn’t owe us anything!
  • He created all, He gives all, and we owe Him all of our love, passion and commitment!

How does this fit into our lives?  Knowing what the passage says about God, we are urged to give Him everything.  Our lives are to be spent, presented, offered, and freely given completely to God for His use and glory.  By doing this, we are living a lifestyle of worship.  In this passage in Romans, the end goal is to know the good, pleasing and perfect will of God.  In order to do this, we have to do a few things.

First of all, we have to have that relationship with the Father.  Meaning, we have to acknowledge we are sinners and that Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave as a sacrifice for those sins.  After that, and let’s work backwards from what our end goal is, and examine what Paul described we have to do.

We need to experience a renewal of mind.  What does renewal mean?  Well, according to Google, to renew means:

  1. Resume (an activity) after an interruption
  2. Reestablish (a relationship)

Why do we need a renewal of our minds?  Just like we need a vacation sometimes to refresh our bodies and restart, our minds need a renewal from the old thoughts and focus we have before we experience Christ.  We can’t earn our way to Heaven, but our thought process before we know Christ is that the nicer we are to people or the more money we give to charitable causes.  This mindset is contrary to what scripture teaches, more specifically what Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us.  In a time where our culture feels as though not believing in God and believing in science means we are living in an age of reason, a renewal of mind sometimes seems unfathomable because of the social repercussions.  When the Holy Spirit beckons us, and we respond, our minds become renewed by faith.  By trying to figure out God with worldly reason, we completely avoid the aspect of the faith we are saved by, and called to live by.  When we try to live without faith, we begin to conform to the world around us.  Instead of conforming, we are to be transformed.  Which brings us to our next topic, transformation.

According to Google, to transform means-

  1. Make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.

When Paul writes the word transformed, he is referring to how our lives are to be changed to be completely different than before.  In order to do this, we have to fight the innate and selfish nature we are born with, and instead rely on the renewal of mind that we have upon receiving salvation.  The transformation comes when we recognize who God is, and give up all of the control we desire to have over our lives.  When we make the thorough and dramatic change in the form, appearance and character of our heart and soul, we have transformed from being selfish and ungrateful.  When that change comes, our new attributes are appreciative and redeemed.  Think about what Optimus Prime looked like before he would transform into a superhero robot.  Before we can call ourselves transformed, we have to look and live differently than we did before salvation comes.  This transformation is made possible only because God loves us, and He has given us the opportunity to be renewed and transformed.  In order for us to be transformed and renewed, we cannot conform any longer to what the world says is acceptable.

In order to know how not to conform, we should first understand what the word conform means.

  1. Comply with rules, standards, or laws.
  2. (of a person) Behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards: “the pressure to conform”

When we are living and striving not to conform, we strive to live against how the world lives.  This can be anything from what we watch on TV, what we listen to on the radio, how we speak, treat others, and the list goes on and on.  Sometimes when we are striving the live a life that isn’t conformed, the world labels and categorizes Christians in ways that are sometimes fair, sometimes not.  Some of these categories are that we are all judgmental, we are all fake, or we are all hypocrites.  When we get put into one of these categories, we have a choice in the way we respond.  We can either be completely offended and fight back in a way that doesn’t represent Christ, or we can do as I’ve had to learn the hard way to do, and sit back and examine how I am perceived and why.  Some questions I have found useful are:

  • Do I exemplify Christ by the way I treat people?
  • Does my attitude reflect the love of Christ, or does it tear people down?
  • Do I act one way at church on Sunday and Wednesday, and when I’m not at church, do I act a different way?
  • Do I worry about the speck of sawdust more than I worry about my plank?

In the sermon on the mount, Christ taught the attitudes we ought to have to live a life that exudes that we are his followers.  Meekness, gentleness, compassion, mercifulness, peacemaking, and righteousness are all some of those characteristics.  Do we live these everyday?  Or do we just act like we have it all together and continue on with our lives, unchanged?  When we act like we have it all together, we have a tendency to put on a front, or a cover that looks great.  Underneath it, we can be so tumultuous, confused, and disgruntled we can lose our focus on Christ.  When this happens, we keep the front up and begin to conform to what is expected of us, and we forget what the transformation and renewal of mind felt like when we experienced Christ.  This can lead to the pressures of our society taking over, and we begin to marginalize things that would never have been an issue before, and our life becomes an unauthentic mess.  God knows what’s beneath that cover, He sees the mess that is covered by that shell of smiles.  We can’t hide our ragged insides from God, and it won’t be long before other people start noticing something is wrong with us, and then we hide.  Are we transparent, or are we hiding behind something fake?

When I got all the compliments yesterday morning about my suit, it drove home the point to me that even though I was dressed nice and looked very confident, I was still scared to death about preaching.  But, the best part about the suit was that it was just a facade.  My intention with wearing the suit was to cover up what was underneath.

Now, I know I’m cheesing in this picture, that was mostly because I had the intention of sending this picture to my mom to get a reaction from her.  The suit jacket covered up my cut up, sleeveless shirt and tattoo that became exposed when I took my jacket off.  How many times do we cover up our mess with something fake so people won’t think badly of us?  When we do this, we tend to act in ways that we wouldn’t if we were being authentic.  When we have turmoil in our lives, we have to look to Christ for that comfort and for that guidance through the murk and hopelessness that can come up when we are fighting spiritual warfare.  My encouragement to you and to myself, is to shed the desire to throw up that front and try to do everything on our own, and instead come to our family of believers for support and give everything to God.  I’ll leave you with this passage as an encouragement and reminder about what we’re supposed to be when we give it all to Christ.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”            2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Guest Post from Chad Nelson!!!!!

Hey there!  I know it seems like I’m not posting much lately and that since I’ve quit my full-time job that I should have more time to post.  Turns out that having 3 kids and work being at home doesn’t really alleviate the lack of time, and in fact, it almost enhances the lack of time!  I hope that the guest posts from my good friend Chad Nelson are a huge encouragement to you, because I know that I truly enjoy reading and having the honor of posting his thoughts and biblical impressions on here.  Soon enough I will again start posting more frequently, but until then, here is Chad’s latest blog entry!

Memories – Like the Corners of My Mind

Memories are interesting. My memory is notoriously bad and I can still remember crashing my bike into a ravine at age 4. I do not remember much of anything about school but I remember the name of the first guy who beat me in a fight – Donald Anderson (I was in third grade and he was in fifth grade…I need to get over it). When asking students to remember something bad that happened to them, their hands shoot up. When asking them to remember something good, it takes a bit to recall and some cannot at all. Why? I think it is because our field of vision is very narrow and self-serving. Is it permanent? I don’t think so.

God is the opposite of sin so forgiveness requires remarkable grace from Him. Since He is omniscient and all-powerful, one would expect that not only does He know when we will sin but will remember it forever. But then we read in Psalm 103:12 that our forgiven sins are removed “as far as the east is from the west” and in Isaiah 38:17, we are told “… you have put all my sins behind your back.” As we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and His son (as man) forgave even those who crucified Him from the cross, should we too be capable of forgiving those who wrong us and put the actions “behind our back”? Yes. Are we doing it? Possibly, but not likely.

Suppose that a bully has demeaned your child or brother or sister to the point of tears; day after day, week after week. The anger and frustration builds to a point where the very thought sends your mind into a hateful frenzy. Now, imagine that the bully falls from his bike in front of your house and gets hurt. Do you rush out to make sure he/she is OK like you would your own child? Worse, what if the bully is a predator who attempts to violate your child? Do you answer the call if he/she needs a “Godly” person to talk to? It does not seem reasonable to expect that reaction and while they may not ask for it, forgiveness can happen without the offending party asking. And, it appears that our objective as we grow spiritually should be absolute forgiveness with no strings but unconditional love. Wisdom and discernment should also prevent us from entering into potentially harmful interactions in the future.

In recent days, God has challenged me to try harder at forgiving and giving others a fresh start. I like to think that I forgive well but I also know that if left to my own devices, I am capable of great harm in revenge. So I ask God to take bitterness from me and also to think, act and speak through me at all times. The result is incredible liberation with the removal of bitterness. It is amazing how much emotional baggage we carry in things that we cannot undo. Replaced by a peace that surpasses all understanding, we are capable of great things. And even if my memory fails, His love remains in me forever.

Put All Your Eggs In!!

 

In September, I quit my job after almost 7 years of employment.  I had great benefits, pretty decent pay, and tons of opportunity to share the gospel of Christ with co-workers.  I also have 3 kids, a mortgage, at the time we had 2 car payments and the everyday costs associated with being a family man with a home and two vehicles.  So why did I quit working somewhere so stable and consistent?  God told me to.

It tends to sound either so cliché, or so crazy to people sometimes when I tell them that God told me to quit my job.  But it’s completely and honestly the truth!  My wife and I had been praying for between 6-9 months about what direction God was leading us in ministry, and the answer came through an unforeseeable avenue.  You see, my wife is an amazingly talented photographer, and has been building our business for the past 4 years.  She has done this, all while caring for myself and our 3 kiddos, and keeping our house from caving in on top of itself.  God has blessed her with a talent that many go to college to hone.  He also gave her an incredible mind for business and absorbing knowledge that just overwhelms me.  So after months of prayer, and seeking what we were supposed to do, God told me to quit my job and join my wife at home to run our business as a team.  Along with running the business, we felt very lead to begin home schooling our children.  Wowsers!

How do I know He told me to quit?  Here’s the really cool part of the entire deal.  When we seek His desires over our own, He will bless us beyond measure.  Where does this come from?

Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely.

Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.”

                                -Psalm 37:3-4 (HCSB)

In the past 7 years of marriage, my wife and I have been through many different trials.  Some have been financial, some have been emotional, some have dealt with past sins, some have dealt with sins that carried in from the past, and some have dealt with preferences as fickle as which way to hang the clothes in the closet.  The times that we have been caught not seeking to honor Christ with our marriage have resulted in some of the most chaotic seasons in our lives.  The times that we have sought to honor Him through all of our being, first individually and second, as a couple, He has blessed us beyond measure.  The decision for me to quit my job wasn’t an easy one to come to, but because I had been disobedient before and knew what the outcome was going to be, I decided to follow where He was leading us.  Our heart’s desires during the chaotic times, were for our selfish desires to be fulfilled.  When we were seeking Him, our heart’s desires were those that He gave us.  In order for us to know what His desire for us was, we had to follow what the next verses in that passage in Psalm say:

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act,

 making your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like the noonday.”

                                                -Psalm 37:5-6  (HCSB)

You see, we can’t expect to fulfill God’s calling in our lives if we’re not seeking what He has for us to seek.  If we are chasing the “American Dream” of making a ton of money and living to glorify ourselves and give ourselves credit, we honestly cannot expect God to bless that!  I’ve been volunteering as the youth pastor at the church we attend for the past almost 3 years, and I love it!  However, I haven’t felt as though I’ve been serving in the capacity I’m called to because I was seeking to “make enough money” to sustain our household.  God made clear through the ever increasing antsyness of myself at my job, as well as the increasing busyness of our photography business, that I needed to leave my job.  As a result of taking that step, I have been able to focus more on that ministry at the church, and I have been able to focus on teaching and loving on our students more.  Along with that, there is time I have gained by being home with my kids and wife, and have had the absolute privilege of getting to know them so much more!  God’s blessings have been spiritual, emotional, physical, and yes, financial, and have been all but limitless!

Now, some of you may be asking “So basically I need to quit working at my job and God will make me rich?”  NO!!!  I’m not saying that at all!!  First of all, we aren’t rich, far from it.  We are, however, being blessed with His provision that all of our needs are being met and we are working toward becoming debt free.  God may be calling you to take the step of faith He called us to take, and He may be asking you to sacrifice something smaller in your life so that you will follow Him closer, and make your desires the ones that are His instead.

First of all, we must commit our ways to Him, never forsaking His grace and mercy on us, and understanding that He will never give us a scorpion instead of an egg (Luke 11:12).  Secondly, we have to rely fully on His providence and put all of our eggs in the basket of faith that He will provide!  If we put some eggs in the basket of faith, and put some others aside “in the off chance” that things don’t pan out as we hope, can we really say that we are following Him fully?  So to answer the question about what I’ve learned from being self-employed, I’ve learned that I can’t even begin to depend on my own ingenuity, provision, or most-especially, my own wisdom.  Everything must come from God.  I have to rely fully on Him, not putting some faith forward and saving some hope for just in case.  So basically, quit being selfish and faithless, and put all your eggs in God’s basket!