2 Days into the new year…

The Christmas lights are unplugged from the house so they won’t turn on again (by accident) tonight. The tree has been packed up since the day after Christmas and the house is finally de-cluttered from Christmas, but with two January birthdays coming up, it is sure to only stay that way for a few days this month. The new year is in full swing already on this second day as home school gets started again and Bible study lessons begin getting prepared again after a couple of weeks off.

I think that was the best year I ever had when I look back on 2013. But I remember that is what I said at 2012 too, so I know that I will say that about 2014 this time next year. Instead of writing resolutions this year, that might be a repeat of last [and every] year,  I have been studying them. Studying what the Bible has to say about our promises and oaths, and as believers how serious we should take those words when they leave our mouths.

I am not interested in hearing another great plan or good idea for 2014. How much of that is lip service anyways?

Better to not make oaths than make oaths you can’t keep, Ecclesiastes 5 reads.

As my calendar fills up I know all of those things will get done. Why? Because they don’t go on my calendar unless they are really going to happen, unless I have really made plans to do them, unless they are important to me or someone in my family. Why would I make up a pretend commitment or event to waste a day right? So why in our lives so often do we speak things out of our mouths that might never come to fruition and we don’t even intend them to most of the time?

Just speaking something into the air doesn’t make it so. You can admit anything as a first step, but without confession, and action, nothing has changed.

Think on that as you start this new year. Remember when you make those commitments that you are essentially giving your word. And your word as a believer binds you to that course of action. So when we are answering  ONLY for ourselves to God, [we cannot make excuses] we will have to account for our foolish words and empty oaths/promises!

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No Virginia. There is not a Santa Claus.

Dear Virginia,

I want to tell you about someone full of much more mystery and wonder than an obese old man that comes into your home unannounced in the middle of the night. Someone much more worthy of a month of preparation and celebration. Someone who deserves much more than lights on our houses and trim on a tree. Someone who isn’t concerned about those gifts you are asking for, unless of course you are asking only for Him. Someone who gave Himself as the ultimate gift, so that when you lie to your mom, or disobey your dad, all those trespasses would be forgiven and covered by His blood that was shed just for you Virginia. His name is Jesus.

I want to tell you Virginia that it took me many years and even as a mom for the past sixteen years to value the truth on the other side of this ridiculous lie we tell our kids at this time of year. As if this Santa deserves the credit for my hard earned dollars all scraped together to get my kids something expensive on this day. And even more ridiculous that this is what Christmas has come to. A time to ask for those things that you wouldn’t expect to get any other time of the year. A time to decorate your house and shop until you drop, but what of it really has anything to do anymore with the one I am telling you about Virginia? Almost nothing.

Virginia, Long ago there was a girl named Mary. She wasn’t very special in the sense that we might think of someone today. She wasn’t a princess, an actress, or a pop star. She was just some ordinary girl who was planning to marry some ordinary guy named Joseph. But God had big plans for her! He sent an Angel to tell her that she was going to give birth to a son, HIS SON, and that His name would be Jesus. She wondered how this would happen! She was not married yet to Joseph, and was still a virgin. But that is just one of the wonders and mysteries in this Christmas story, Virginia! Joseph was startled at this news also, but him and Mary were obedient to God and would be Jesus’ earthly parents. Jesus was so important that the Angels rejoiced so loud at His birth that it got the attention of Shepherds and Kings! People came to see him from far far away!

Fast forward to around thirty years later and this Jesus, God’s son, who was born of a virgin, in a stable of all places, was really born to save the world! I think that is definitely more wonderful than this Santa mystery, don’t you think? Jesus went around teaching people about God,  healing them and performing many miracles so that people would know that he was God’s son. But there were still some people who didn’t want to believe Him. So Jesus was hung on a cross to die, even though he did not deserve that because He had never sinned- ever- in His life. But He did that all for us!  So that when we believe in Him, all those bad decisions and lies and cheats that we have done are all washed away by His blood. Everything you have done wrong, are doing wrong, and will do wrong Virginia, can all be washed away clean because of Jesus. This Santa can not promise that. If Santa himself were real, at best he might could promise a few toys at Christmas, but Jesus. Oh Jesus. He promises us Eternal Life. That means that once you believe that He died for your sins, and he washes you clean, He comes to live in your heart and you will live in Heaven forever. Why would anyone want to trade this wonder of a baby in a manger; to a cross for you and me, for this idea of a big old man bearing gifts one time a year?

Beats the heck outta me, Virginia. I have been wondering the same thing about myself! That is why I had to tell you. Since the gift of redemption and salvation is eternal, we live in this gift every single day once we receive it! Not just one day of the year!

Oh! I almost forgot the best part!! When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, they put his lifeless body in a tomb, which is like a cave made of dirt or rock and sealed it up. On the third day, some of His friends went by the tomb and saw that he was no longer there!! Jesus had risen from the dead and was alive again! Virginia, when Jesus died for your sins, and washed you clean, he rose again! Do you know what that means Virginia? Jesus is alive today. Jesus is very real, and Christmas is about Jesus, the Christ child. I could talk to you about Jesus for hours Virginia, but you know what, you can talk to Him yourself! Just ask Jesus to show Himself real to you Virginia, to come and live in your heart, and He will !!

I was so excited to tell you this news Virginia. I hope you have a Merry Christmas and invite Jesus to be a part of your celebration this year.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth- A mom of three who for the first Christmas in sixteen years of being a parent finally decided enough with Santa. A mom who has been a believer in Jesus Christ for all of those years and longer, was brought to conviction this year on the value that had been being placed on a fictitious character in her home. All for mystery and wonder. All of the things that Christmas is already about!! This mom decided that Christmas didn’t need a make believe gift giving person of whimsy and surprise! Why we already have that in Jesus Christ, that precious baby in a manger. His own story is magical and wonderful, and even better is all true!!

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night! 🙂

Losing YOUR Marbles….

This blog is a compilation of an example/experiment that was used at a marriage retreat Clay and I went on earlier this year (through Adore Marriage, [lesson taught by Eddie Thompson] www.adoremarriage.com ), which I shared with my young adult class last week, along with what I heard during the sermon this past Sunday morning (at Cornerstone Church www.cbccharlotte.org) , and basically all that I talked with the teen girls group I am a part of mentoring last night (Make Your Mark – check that out at www.mymministries.org ).  It started as a topic with the young adult class on not losing our marbles last week and turned into a topic about bullying and fighting with the teens last night. I thought it might be nice to sum up somewhere all the notes I had in case I need them later, so hopefully they will make sense and may be of some use to you!

I asked a couple of questions last night to start off the night, the first was “Have you ever been bullied or bullied anyone?” The second was “What do you believe causes fights?” A few answered yes to the first question and several had answers to the second question. I heard that things like popularity, gossip, and “he said, she said” can cause fighting.

Let’s look at James Chapter 4, vs 1-2 first:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but you do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.

I got two volunteers to fill two glass mugs with the marbles I had brought, explaining how the mugs full of these marbles represented themselves. When we have a disagreement, argument, fight with one another, those jars give each other a nudge( maybe a head butt is a better term) and then guess what happens? Some of the marbles spill out of those jars. Here is a picture example of the process. The top left image is the full jars representing two individuals, the top right image is the jars getting clanged together and the bottom image shows the spilled marbles from both jars.

marbles

So we learn from the experiment and according to those short couple verses in James that what comes out of us, was what was ALREADY IN US! We tend to blame our reactions on what is going on outside of us, but the truth is we can control our emotions and reactions and not let our emotions and reactions control us. Now I am preaching to the choir here because just before I shared this stuff last night I was in a bad mood, taking all my frustrations out on my husband and kids, was late to Make Your Mark and that in itself was driving me nuts because I am not ever late to anywhere, so God in His graceful sense of humor was trying to teach me to take my own advice last night, so all this was as much for me as it was for anyone else!!

Since I was speaking to believers in Christ,  and if you are reading now and you are a believer, you have no excuse not to work on these things that we are talking about today! Let me give some basic Biblical points quickly:

#1 Because you are saved, the Holy Spirit lives in you Romans 8:9-11 You however are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Christ from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give live to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit that lives in you.

As a believer, we have been presented with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The counterpart of the God that raised Jesus from the dead and the same God who became man that died a gruesome death for all the nastiness we have ever done and will do. That same power residing inside of  us gives us the choice to react in those tough moments with a Godly response or a selfish (from our flesh) response. The choice is yours.

#2 Because the Spirit lives in you, you have these fruit at your disposalGalatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such there is no law.

This is simple, but so hard at times. These things are what our lives and reactions to situations of conflict should be bathed in. You tell me it is hard to react with self control when you are in that heated moment, and don’t I know it!, so because it is that hard, don’t think of yourself as a wuss or weak when you are able to react in the Spirit because you are actually showing your STRENGTH in that reaction. Doesn’t that make sense? We shouldn’t look at those that mouth off, are in yo face- don’t take no crap, ready to scrap in a minute, as people of power or consider them “cool”, etc. That is a WEAK response, because it is the EASY response. It is SO EASY for us to react in the flesh to those situations that fire us up and hurt our feelings or ego. BUT when you choose to react with the fruit of the Spirit, you have more control of the situation. You are STRONGER!

#3 What is in our hearts is what comes out of our mouthsLuke 6:45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

This one is always hard for me to hear. That tells me that my response to my kids or husband when I am so frustrated and am yelling or complaining about everything, probably has little to do with the external situation. Because for that anger to be deep in my heart before it ever comes out of my mouth, means it is not about a surface issue. For me to respond in anger that quickly and let all those marbles loose, I probably have something deeper going on that needs to be dealt with between me and God, before I even consider unleashing those emotions and reactions on anyone else.

#4 We fight because of our own selfish desires– James 4:1-2 (above)

We started with the first couple verses in this chapter, but I want to touch on a few more while I wrap this up. Below is James 4:1-11 and my notes in between [ ].

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but you do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. and When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. [be careful what you are praying for in other words. What is motivating what you are asking of God?] You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. [our thoughts and the way we handle things can be motivated from three places; God, Satan, or ourselves. When we are a friend of the world, we are choosing to either act on our flesh or under the influence of the enemy] Or do you think the Scripture says with reason that He jealously longs for the Spirit he has caused to dwell in us? [see point #1] But He gives us more grace [He knows this is SO hard for us so our job is to keep making an effort to control our reactions and when we mess up, He has so much grace for us! Unlimited grace doesn’t mean we don’t make a conscious effort to repent- or change our mind about the way we are doing things though] That is why the Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble and oppressed”

Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded [isn’t the Bible so relevant?!? They had two-faced people back then too!]. Grieve mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up. [the hardest times for me to humble myself and just pray to Jesus are when I am angry and in a conflict with someone. My right to be right usually over rules what God wants to do in that situation. That is when you just have to go to God and let Him know you don’t even feel like praying. In fact you might tell Him that you don’t even feel like being a Christian right now because you don’t even want to try to have those fruit of the Spirit in action in that moment. I have let my flesh and the enemy tell me lies that make me just want to hang up my “Christian” hat sometimes and pick it back up later – AFTER I handle that “business” MY way, but even when we come to God just like that, He will honor that honesty! ]

Brothers and sisters do not slander one another. [let’s make note that the reference to brothers and sisters here is talking about other believers, so if you are a believer and that person you are gossiping about is a believer then you may not like them, but they are in fact your brother or sister and you WILL be in heaven together for ETERNITY, so working it out is probably a good idea.] Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law  and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy, but you, who are you to judge your neighbor? [Why do we always want to take on more responsibility here than we need to? There is an ultimate Judge! So keep that fruit flowing and let Him deal with the wrong doing!]

Chew on that chunk of Scripture as well as the rest of them above; and the marble example. Then next time you are getting ready to release some of those marbles out of your jar, since they are all your own, maybe they will be fruit of the Spirit instead of our own fleshly reactions and emotions. 🙂

Fifty Shades of Delusion…

This has been on my heart and mind for some time now and so while I know it may not be a popular opinion, I think it is important to share.

Several years ago, I began to redevelop my love for reading. I remember as a teen going through loads and loads of books and then once I started having kids and working there wasn’t really time for that for a while. So I started back slow.  I would pick a single book here or there, but what I really loved were series of books that were based on the supernatural, full of fantasy and love. I started with the Twilight series, which is a love story that most of us have heard about between a human girl and a vampire boy, with a twist of a love interest/friend who is a werewolf. Not a whole lot of sexual connotation in that series, but it was a good gateway drug to my genre of choice.

Next up I moved onto the Southern Vampire/Sookie Stackhouse series, which was based around a human/fairy girl who befriends,  fall in love, or makes love to anything from vampires to weres… and some species in between. While I was still reading that, I came across a series called the Black Dagger Brotherhood, which is a very romantic, yet noble series about a vampire brotherhood and their mates, how they meet them and make them their own, all while fighting the bad guys. This series was the most sexually explicit that I had read and I couldn’t get enough.

I remember how much I could not wait for that time in the evenings when I could sit with my book and get into my zone, the images of what I was reading flying across my mind like a movie reel. A movie where I developed the characters and I defined the moments. A movie that I would become enthralled with for hours until I either fell asleep or made myself stop so I could go to sleep. In the beginning, I never noticed anything, it was just a book or books after all. A really good book. But the more I read the more I wanted the reality of the books to be the reality of my life, and since it couldn’t, I went to their pages whenever I had a free moment.

So that soon became my life;

The fantasy life of the characters in the books had become my reality.

I really can’t pinpoint when I realized that this was not how it was supposed to be. But at some point I believe God began to make it clear to me what I was doing. How I was feeding my mind with these pseudo relationships that had no basis on reality as it was for me at the time, and probably never would be my reality. I mean let’s be real, I was not getting seduced by a vampire anytime soon and then marked as his by the release of some kind of romantic bonding scent that was made to let everyone know I was taken…..Yes that really happened in some of these books.

I had taken some time off from the books, not for any other reason than I was waiting for the newest one to come out. See when you are obessessed with a series, you read them all and then once you get through all that have been published, you sit on pins and needles awaiting the release of the next one. One might even pre-order them so they arrive at my door the day they are released to the world. It was a good thing though, that last time off from these books. As I began to dig deeper personally into the supernatural God, He began to reveal to me how He could fill my need for the supernatural, my need for love and that my desire to live in another reality was just a veil the enemy was using to distract me and take my focus off of the truth.

I stand firm in that sentiment today. So much that while all the latest craze might be “fifty shades of gray”, I won’t be reading that book either. What I know of it falls in line with all of these others I mentioned. A heated fantasy romance outside of the confines of the absolutely AMAZING design in relationship that God has for us with Him first, and then in a marriage that has Him at the center.  I may have spent a couple years filling my mind and heart with delusions and lies about the reality of love and the supernatural, but the clarity that God has allowed from that has proven so true as I celebrate the birthday of the most awesome man of God, my husband, today, knowing that our union was all because of God, a blessing from Him. Our romance is beyond  wonderful, and our relationship is the best kind of supernatural, Kingdom-amazing!

So, if that’s your genre of choice, and this blog made you uncomfortable, well then maybe Gods trying to deal with you on this very thing also. I can’t and won’t support recreational delusion anymore when I know the supernatural is very real and there is a spiritual war going on around us. You have to decide what will get your attention, or what you will allow to be a distraction from the TRUTH. It is your mind, ears, eyes and heart, choose wisely what’s going in them.

It was adventurous. It was satisfying. It filled some deep need within me. But was I closer to God and desiring more time with Him at the end of each day? If you answered no to that question, whatever your vice is, then it’s time to first get some quiet time with Jesus and second re-evaluate some things as God leads.

My best prayer time ever…

I think I prayed the “best” [for lack of a better word] I have ever prayed yesterday morning. Sure I have always prayed, I have for years offered prayers up to God for other people, for myself, for ministry, etc., but something about yesterday seemed different. And I will tell you why.

For the first time I decided that when I was sent a message asking for a specific prayer need, that I would not just pause and spout off a 30 second prayer right there at my desk, but that I would immediately retreat to my bedroom and completely separate myself from everything else. I knew that is what God wanted me to do in that moment. I had quiet time with God before, yes, and can you pray at your desk, yes,  but again something about it yesterday seemed so different and I had no idea what I was doing but God was leading me through it.

I turned on some praise music low in my room and just sat with my legs criss-crossed on top of my bed. In my head I am thinking “this is silly Elizabeth, why are you acting like you don’t know what you are doing?”. But I really didn’t. You see I have been so emotionally guarded, that I have literally bound myself up from receiving and enjoying the full presence of God because I write stuff off as emotionalism or fanaticism and with that have thrown the baby out with bath water. I am not a big crier or show a lot of emotion in general, but that has creeped into my spiritual life now; which ultimately has kept the Holy Spirit in a box inside of me unable to work through me how He desires because I don’t “think” it should happen “this way” or “that way”.

So there I sat looking at the wall and said to God something like this.

“Dear Jesus. I don’t know what I am doing, but I want to pray. I mean really PRAY. I want to FEEL this in my spirit. I want to be BROKEN inside for these people that I am praying for. I want You to REMOVE all the walls I have put up that have hindered any part of my relationship with You Jesus.  I want to KNOW that You hear this.” And then I just started off first praying for my husband and thanking God for who he is to our family, for him to have a great day at work and many more things for him. And as I was praying each sentence, in a conversational tone to Jesus, my heart began to open and tears began to fall. In the simplest of prayers, God was showing me that He heard me, that His Spirit in me was joyful. I kept on praying for my friend who had asked for prayer that morning and more tears fell as I prayed more simple sounding prayers for their family. I continued to pray for other things like my church and leaders, ministries that we are involved in, etc. And then I remembered something that my husband always tells me to do, which I thought I had been doing but apparently not. Anytime I have an issue where I have been hurt by someone or have had a strained relationship with a person, Clay always tells me to pray for them. UGH! Who wants to PRAY for someone who you don’t really like at the moment? Either way I had mentioned a persons name in my prayers before for this reason so no biggie, I would go on and include them again yesterday morning in my awesome prayer time. It couldn’t hurt , right?!

Um. Something was weird this time. I realized I could hardly say that persons name without an immense amount of emotion coming over me. As I begged God to heal all hurt in my heart for this person, I prayed for them to have strength and to be broken where God needs to break them, for them and myself to have peace even if we never speak a word to each other again. OH THAT WAS HARD friends!! I have never truly prayed for them I don’t believe. I think I was so flippant in adding them to my prayers before that my heart wasn’t really in it. My heart was in it yesterday, So much that I shocked myself on the amount of emotion that was right there at the surface right when I spoke that name to God. How much it must have given God JOY to hear those prayers from my lips yesterday that I have never been able to speak with that much heart behind them.

And folks, they were simple words to Jesus. Simple conversation. No preacher voice, no fancy words, heck I had no format except talking to my Father. I want to encourage you all to do the same. There is no one who prays any better to your Father than the way that YOU do! He wants to hear your voice, however it may be. I would like to think that He liked to hear me tell Him that I didn’t know what I was doing when I started praying. He probably thought ” YOU ARE RIGHT!! BUT I DO!!” .

It Starts With ME…

I can feel God doing such a work in me that I cannot help but to be excited. You know it is one of those moments where God is building such Kingdom momentum in my heart and changing “my” way of thinking and in doing that I am so overcome with Him that I cannot even put to words my expectancy in His purpose for these moments in the future.

I just finished a book by Jim Cymbala called Fresh Wind Fresh Fire. This blog is not an advertisement for this book by any means. I believe that God ordained the timing in which I read this particular book because it has been mentioned to me several times in the past, I have seen it at the bookstore, etc, but nothing spoke to me to really push me to read it until Wednesday this past week. Sure I just left New York and a conference at the Brooklyn Tabernacle where the author pastors, but while that may provide some sentiment to the read, it did not contribute to what God confirmed to me through this book.

I have been on spiritual overload the past week! I have had more “meat” than I have had in a while between conference speaking, worship and prayer time and a couple days of reading that book. I am excited with a touch of melancholy because God has called Clay and I to rebuild and strengthen the church. What a blessing to serve our God! Yet what a battlefield we are in! Specially speaking, Revelation 3:2 has become our verse for our specific ministry as a couple (NIV)  Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. It seems this has been our gifting in ministry in the past and present. To come alongside and help encourage and lift up, and as the church (collective) is becoming more and more robotic or on the other end, more and more prosperity geared with less gospel, I know that we will be far from revival unless we start interceding and calling on the name of the Lord for His body.

Sometimes I myself get carried away in what God is revealing to me! I tend to cut off ears, like Peter did to Malchus. I am still learning to be slow to speak! However, I have been convicted recently on my own “fluffiness” so to speak. My desire is to speak His truth and that, not only may,  but WILL cause me not to be popular sometimes, and I have to be okay with that. Don’t worry I am not about to start beating you with a Bible, but if the Holy Spirit gives me a word, I am going to speak it, and not worry about how it will sound when it comes out. I just have to trust that, because God’s Word will not return void, and those seeds will be planted and come back to memory when they need to. In all of that though, this change, this revival, has to start with ME, in my heart and life. I cannot expect to impress upon anyone what they cannot already see in me. So pray for me my friends! That God will use me boldly, That He will be glorified and that I will not be afraid. AND go grab a copy of Fresh Wind Fresh Fire if you are so inclined 🙂 It is a thought provoking read!

Fresh Wind Fresh Fire part 1

I have three kids and two dogs in the house with me right now. Noises all around, neighbors ringing the doorbell. A distraction every other page turn it seems, yet my spirit is being wrecked as I read through this book that I have heard so much about, even read excerpts from before, but never held it in my hands as my own and just soaked it in.

Finally after the second conversation with a friend who has told me of her appreciation for this book, I ordered a used copy Wednesday evening after church off of eBay. This is now Friday evening and the book came in today’s mail to my surprise. That was some fast shipping! However, it was timely because as I am now only four chapters in, the Holy Spirit inside of me is identifying with so much of this and I am overcome by emotions. I am taking a break now to write these notes and hop in the shower so I can get comfortable and dig into the rest of it later on. I doubt I will be able to put it down.

For curiosity sake, I started highlighting from the beginning as I read which parts brought me to tears. It sounds silly I know, but I felt compelled to do so and if you know me, you know I am a hard shell to crack so God has been dealing with me on breaking down my own walls so He can have free course in my life. This is a part of that I believe. Those highlighted statements however nonsensical they may be to someone else, will be valuable to what God is doing in me and where He is leading me and that is why I wanted to document this tonight.

I think there are some great things out there to read, and many of them have sat on my shelf and have either been read or are waiting to be read, but I think there are also times like this where I believe this book was ordained for me to read at this exact time so that God could speak to me in this exact way. So get the book and read it if you want, but what I am experiencing and what I will share as I read may not be what you experience. Allow God to use whatever means He wants to speak to you today!

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