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Guard Your Heart

Eight years ago today I began a relationship that has changed my life for eternity!!

God found it pleasing to draw me to Himself through Jesus Christ and I have never been the same since!!

This rebirth year has been a time of great internal testing and sifting and I have failed often. Through my failures I’ve learned about the unrelenting LOVE and endless GRACE God provides.

Though I am happy to revisit the day I fell in love with Jesus, I am learning:

It’s not how you begin the race but how you FINISH it.

It’s not a matter of salvation but sanctification.

I know my salvation is secure not in what I do, but faith in what Christ has done as being the propitiation for our sins.

My sanctification is God’s purifying work in me which He will complete until Christ returns.

My privilege is to continue to seek and enJOY knowing God. To be still and abide in Christ, listen for His voice to obey, and walk out the good works He has prepared for me.

My prayer is that I would love God:

With all my heart: guarding my heart with all diligence

With all my soul: that I see Jesus as the guardian and lover of my soul

With all my mind: that I take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

“What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.”

The Answer Is JESUS

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭4:23‬ ‭NLT‬‬

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Worship in the Dark

What does your morning devotion look like this season? Is it like those “Perfect” Pinterest IMG_0723photos, a nice comfy chair with a cup of coffee, tea or water in hand? Do you have a quiet space to go?

In the past, my daily holy communion with God consisted of a prayer walk at dawn, followed by reading the Bible and journaling with a cup of coffee in hand reclined in my husband’s chair. That was my prime time with Jesus!

Of course it wasn’t always that way. When my children were preschoolers I could barely get up out of bed before they were tugging at me like baby birds aching to be fed. I remember those days now. I would pant and yearn for time alone with Jesus. My devotions were usually in a most ‘unholy’ place some would say–it was the bathroom! I stole whatever time I could until their little fingers and lips would sneak under the door calling my new first name: mama.

That season passed and I soon forgot what it was like to yearn and pant for that time. When people would say they struggled with having devotion time with God, inwardly I was self-righteous and unable to ‘relate’ to them because I didn’t have “that problem.” I see now I was struggling with spiritual pride. I’m thankful God loves me that He would lovingly reprove, sanctify and teach me His compassion. He reminded me everything I have, even faith…has been given.

The way God has offered this lesson in compassion began almost two years ago with our move to California. Immediately most of my familiar devotion time objects were eliminated or packed away. It began with my prayer walks…I was in a new neighborhood, which didn’t offer the same kind of solitude and light I once had—or that is what I thought, and I stopped walking. Instead I began praying in the flower garden, but after months I began to have a heart of ingratitude and stopped that too. I complained inwardly for many months that the only place I had in the morning was in a dimly lit cold room on the kitchen table. I missed my walks, recliner, and prayer closet where I could freely worship in quiet warmth.

I whined myself out of worship.

I made devotion about me.

I forgot so many truths:

I forgot to give thanks in all circumstances.

I forgot the Father seeks those who worship Him in spirit and truth.

I forgot we can have communion with God each moment.

I forgot where true worship resides…in Christ and not in circumstances.

With this realization, I repented and received the grace to return to the place of worship in Christ. I’m still in California and I’m still learning how to worship in the dark. This season of my life, I begin in prayer in the dark until the sunlight shines, and I read the Bible as the Holy Spirit illuminates the Word of God.

Dear reader,

Whether you are parents of young children, or older children taking care of elderly parents, I pray the lesson I am learning can help you remember: We can worship in the dark because of Jesus Christ. It is through the grace of God giving us His Spirit and Truth.

“…for through Him [Jesus Christ] we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.” 

Ephesians 2:18

“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24

“For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” 1 Corinthians 4:7

 


Pursuing Peace and Sanctification…

As the brethren of our Church in Alabama prayed over my husband and I at his deacon ordination in the summer of 2013, the one word I prayed earnestly for was humility. Little did I know God was about to answer this heartfelt prayer…

IMG_0248In the summer of 2014 we CAME to California “to help” and we beCAME humbled.

I remember the day I first felt the conviction to move to California to serve my family in the name of Jesus Christ.

It was the Spring of 2014. I had flown to California to help the woman who nurtured and cared for me all my life–my Grandma.

She had suffered through her third stroke and needed extra help because she had fallen and injured her foot. During this season of our lives my husband and I were planning a mission trip to Guatemala. We felt the ‘next step’ of our spiritual journey was to be missionaries.

When I shared about the mission trip with my Grandma she told me the ladies that helped her in the rehabilitation center were from Guatemala. I thought it was interesting that I was going to help strangers in Guatemala, and strangers from Guatemala were coming to help my Grandma.

I felt convicted that I was ‘willing’ to sell our stuff and go to another Country to serve and share the Gospel, but my heart hesitated when it came to my own family. I had sang the song, “All I have is Christ” many times and told God I would go anywhere and do anything and yet I felt I was being tested.

You may understand when I tell you, it’s hard to serve your family. I think it’s because we tend to be offended more easily since we are so close to them, and we want to please them.

That morning as I was reading the Bible, God asked if I was willing to be a ‘vessel of mercy and grace’ for my family. If I would be willing to “pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification, without which no one will see the Lord.” I wept, and surrendered. I told God I can’t, but I know with Him, all things are possible.

I ‘threw a fleece’ out and asked God, if this conviction is from Him, He would ‘move’ my husband. In the past my husband had said he would NEVER move to California. I didn’t want to be the one to ‘convince’ him of anything, but I knew if this was God will He would ‘convict’ him.

In the sermon that morning God confirmed through His Word this conviction was indeed from Him.

What God did next is amazing…less than an hour of getting out of Church during my visit in California my husband calls me from Alabama and tells me he was moved and convicted by the sermon and after praying he knew where our next assignment would be.

I thought he was going to say drilling water wells in Africa. He had just met with a missionary about it and was heart broken about the lack of clean water. I braced myself and asked,

“Where?”
“There.”
“What do you mean ‘there'”
“California.”

My heart raced and so did the time.

We had already started downsizing and having Garage sales in the summer of 2013 but in the span of fiveIMG_1465 months we had a total of 8 Garage sales/consignments, many donations and trips to the dumpster as we prepared for the cross-country move. The pursuit of sanctification was evident as I was confronted with my flesh during the garage sales. I never saw myself so sentimental, stingy and selfish with my stuff. Gently God began to
work on my heart and help me to let go of stuff.

The pursuit of sanctification continued in California as we pursued peace while our motives and intentions were scrutinized. In fairness, I understand. It’s hard to believe a family would uproot from a place they love to serve in a place they’re unsure of—but time and testing would reveal motives and that is how God is glorified.

We moved from our spacious four bedroom home to my Grandma’s much smaller three bedroom home. This was supposed to be temporary as we searched for a local place to live so we can help our family care for my Grandma while giving her personal space.

What we did not realize was how long it would take to find a job for my husband. We also did not realize the work God was doing in him to ensure he knew his identity was not in a job title, or how much or little he made but in Christ. We thought we ‘learned’ this lesson but we were about to learn this lesson again, again, and again and we continue to learn this lesson.

I watched my husband burn in God’s refining fire of sanctification. He was willing to do IMG_3130whatever it took to provide for his family. He walked miles knocking on 90+ doors marketing for a construction company, he worked in the heat of the day digging water wells in central California being away from his family and the fellowship of the Church. He had many lonely days, clinging to Christ and yet yearning for fellowship that comes in Christ with the Church. He endured a hernia and was on disability as he waited months for surgery.

We had many days of spiritual depression caused by our disobedience and doubt. We cried, fought, and even conspired to run away from the fiery furnace…but we didn’t run away. I’d like to say we didn’t run away because of our faith, but the truth is we couldn’t. There was no money to go anywhere so we stayed…it wasn’t until we fully surrendered to the calling here in California that things began to change for us. In less than a week, Billy was offered a job as a recruiter at a Security Firm allowing him to work closer to home and be back with the body of Christ.

Though we have made many great memories in California it has NOT been easy. It was hard to leave our kindred friendships in Alabama and be the ‘new’ family in an established community. It was hard to not have a ‘reputation.’ It was hard to lose my sentimental stuff. But what has made it most difficult was seeing our rebellious and prideful hearts. To see our depravity.

I wouldn’t trade all the ‘loss’ for what we have gained.

I have come to the place to choose to look at my depravity and humble myself….I see this is a daily exercise of dying to self. I must daily address the defensiveness and rebellion in my heart. Living with family can be difficult because there’s no opportunity for false pretenses. It was my gracious Aunt that gave me wise counsel.

“Let it go…”

“Let go, the need to be right….”

“Let go the need to defend yourself…”

She was guiding me back to the path of humility reminding me of the way to access grace as shared in 1 Peter 5:5-6:

“You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time….”

Praise God for His grace, strength and power that comes through humility. God used my IMG_4774family to test us. To reveal what is in our hearts, and show us areas not yet surrendered to Him. We had a choice- to deny our sin, or confess and repent of it.

Our flesh had been ‘peeking out’ in areas we had not realized still existed. We were continually humbled. We saw our tendency to focus on the environmental factors, circumstances or the behavior of others and blame them for stirring up our anger. The fruit of the Spirit and flesh are evident.

The truth is, circumstances and people only reveal what is in the heart. If we say they are tempting our flesh, then we are acknowledging there is flesh to be tempted, and as a Christians we should see this ‘temptation’ as an opportunity of refinement, to die to self, and be more like Christ, to trim the fat and rid the flesh, for us to decrease and Christ to increase. This is good but it doesn’t feel good (Hebrews 12).

There has been much for us to confess and repent. The circumstances of being around my family have revealed how prideful and self righteous we can still be, wanting to be right and defend ourselves. We can be very defensive and try to prove our intentions. We are learning intentions are truly revealed by God in His timing and that’s for Him to reveal to others. We are to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth as we abide and obey Him keeping our eyes fixed on Christ.

We know we must abide in Christ, walking in continual confession, repentance towards God and faith in The Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit will write these Scriptures on our hearts.

There’s unity in humility. When I began to humble myself, not only was I able to receive God’s grace, but I was able to see the hearts of my family. I began to have compassion for them.

Genuine compassion is birthed out of experiencing the lives of others. That’s what Jesus did. He humbled Himself:

“…made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and become obedient to the point of death, even death of the cross.” Philippians 2:7-8

We came to California to help and we beCAME humbled.

We thought our next ‘assignment’ was going to be a missionaries to a far off land. We have come to understand and appreciate the Truth that “Man plans, but the LORD directs his steps.” With the counsel and teaching of our current Church, we are continuing to mature as disciples and realize our wrong thinking about missions. We are always on mission,and it begins in being faithful wherever you are. The ministry of reconciliation is a calling we all have as Christians, and yet it is only done in God’s strength and power. We have been humbled to KNOW we will be learning for the rest of our lives and never ‘arriving’ until Christ returns. We have also have learned what it means to have ‘A Biblical Theology of Work.’ This has been a liberating truth full of grace!

IMG_3882Recently, my husband was blessed with a job that allows him to work from any location. Since our house in Alabama never sold, we have decided it is better stewardship of our entrusted resources to move back to Alabama. We are excited and thankful for the opportunity to rejoin the fellowship of believers that have invested much teaching, prayer and encouragement to our family even while in California.  They are watching us grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and we are returning one humbled family.

My Grandma will continue to be loved and cared for by her children and grandchildren in the local area. Though my heart is torn and sad to leave her, I know she is not alone and she does not need another Savior because she already has One–His name is Jesus Christ.

We have made many mistakes, and I know I did much in my own strength than I should have. Many apologies flowed out of our hearts and mouths, and an abundance of tears were shed. But by God’s grace, we pursued peace, and we pursued sanctification.

We pray the Lord was seen.

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Since making the decision to move back, we have been given the opportunity to serve in a ministry in Alabama that is seeking peacemakers, people that pursue peace and sanctification. I can see God has used this testing and refining time in California to prepare us for this ‘next assignment’ and we go knowing apart from Christ we can do nothing.

Pray we pursue peace.
Pray we pursue sanctification.
Pray others see The Lord Jesus.

“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see The Lord.” Hebrews 12:14

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This is the prayer card we gave to our Church family in 2014 before we left for California! Notice the Scripture in the lower right hand corner!!

 


Groaning Grief

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How do you react when you find out someone is going through a major trial like cancer?

There was a time when I would flippantly share Scripture like Romans 8:28. Though God’s Word is true, there’s also timing of our words as we are told in Ephesians 4:29:

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

Today I tend to react like Job’s friends first did:

“So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.” Job 2:13

My husband’s step-sister Gina has cancer.

I have no words to speak to her, but I just weep and pray. Being sad and weeping is not a lack of faith, it’s just deep sorrow.

Jesus understands. When her brother died Mary said to Jesus,

“Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.” (John 11:32-33)

When Jesus saw where they laid Lazarus, He wept.

The other reaction I have to guard against is not doing anything at all for fear of offending. Do you ever struggle with that?

Right now we live in California and she lives in North Carolina, so the most practical things we can do is pray, donate what we can, and share this with you…

As you read her story you will see she is loved and knows it. You will see her faith in God is firm. But you will also see a mama’s aching heart for her sons and for her family.

Will you take a moment to read her story and prayerfully consider making a donation for this beautiful young mother of three children?

‘Help Gina Battle Colon Cancer’ https://dm2.gofund.me/pm398s8k


Going through it to get to it…

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Sometimes the shortest distance isn’t always best.

“Now when Pharaoh had let the people go God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines even though it was near; for God said, “The people might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.” Exodus 13:17

God had appointed Moses to set the captive Israelites free from the oppression of the Egyptians, and God had an appointed plan for them to walk out. The Israelites probably wondered why they had to go through the wilderness to the Red Sea, even though it seemed better and faster to go to the land of the Philistines. Besides, what were they going to do when they got to the Red Sea?

I must admit my mind can ask similar questions. If I was one of the Israelites I would walk the path but I would probably be tempted to grumble, and try to assert my ideas and suggestions. I must confess, I sometimes still do.

God has appointed Jesus Christ as the Way to lead us in the paths of righteousness and now we have unlimited access to God’s throne of grace. God has an appointed plan and specific works He has prepared for us to walk out.

I have left the slavery to sin and entered into life abundant through Jesus Christ, and yet sometimes I wonder why is He leading me through the wilderness, and how and when will the Red Sea part? However, when I remember God is love I settle down. I meditate on His word and wonder in the sovereignty and character of God. I remember His purposes and plans are not to harm, and they extend beyond my own life and what I can see.

God sets a hedge of protection around us, helping us to stay on the path. He has given us Jesus Christ as a settlement for all those times we get off the path, He has given us the Holy Spirit to convict us to get back on the path. As children of God we have all we need for this walk of faith. This path of righteousness is where we experience abundant life and joy, because we are walking in the presence of God.

Whatever wilderness God is leading you through, you must remember He knows the future, He knows the consequences, He knows your heart, He knows what’s best. Yoke yourself to Jesus Christ and He will lead you in the way you should go.

May you enJOY your journey with Jesus and continue to walk by faith, for that is how the righteous live.

*John 10:9-11 *Ephesians 2:10


Joy comes in the mourning…

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Image credit: Gracieediaz

Life without the presence of God is dark and depressing with sporadic moments of happiness birthing from our circumstances and experiences.

But circumstances and experiences are fleeting, leaving us empty and depressed once more. How do we experience a lasting holy joy?

In God’s presence is the fullness of joy.

No one can come into the presence of God the Father without an advocate for the forgiveness of sins. But there is an advocate, His name is Jesus Christ.

You must be willing to turn to God and come into the Light of Christ to allow the Holy Spirit to convict you of sin, righteousness and judgement. You must courageously confess and mourn for your sins against God and others.

You will see, God’s faithfulness and righteousness is demonstrated in His forgiveness of our sins. You must continue to believe the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from all your sin and unrighteousness…then you can enter into God’s presence and experience His Holy joy and rest through the Holy Spirit.

This joy can only come after humility and genuine sorrowful repentance for sins.

May “the grace of The Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” 2 Corinthians 13:14

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I saw this painting in a local coffee shop and was immediately inspired to write this post. This is a demonstration of the how the gifts and talents of the body of Christ stirs one another to love and good deeds. You can find more inspiration and stirring at the artist Graciee Diaz’s website here.


Merry CHRISTmas & Holy New Year

From my family to yours:

Merry CHRISTmas and may you have a Holy New Year! I’m so thankful for the greatest gift: Jesus Christ!

*Today we celebrate the day God became flesh and dwelt among us.

*Daily we can celebrate how He dwells in us.

*In the future we will celebrate how we dwell with Him for eternity!

The advent of CHRIST is not over…it’s just begun.

Prophecy has been fulfilled when Jesus was born and prophecy will be fulfilled when He returns! (Zechariah 14)

I’m praying for you dear reader…

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