Spiritual Growth

Another Angle on Perception, by Betty Blackwell

My journaling today is a little poetic, but that is better than chaotic.

I would like to hear You God
I would like to know what You think
I would like to understand
Recognize Your tiniest blink
I would like to know You God
In very personal ways
I want casual conversations
I want visits every day
I want to be in Your Presence
In a 24/7 way.

In cleaning up the other day, I ran across several old journals. I thought about just tossing them out since they were probably filled with a bunch of nonsense or whining prayers about whatever was going on back then. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to read a little bit before I trashed them. After all, I just might have noted a dream or something interesting that I had forgotten.

According to the entries, these were times I did not know what was next or what I should do. I realized as I read, I could have written some of these same words today.

I said to God, “It seems I am still struggling with some of these same types of issues today. These journals are years old. What does this say about me?” I did not get an answer, so I continued to read.

I began to realize the troubling circumstances were very different then than now.  The similarity was in the prayers. My heart and soul were crying out for the very same things I want today. The reason it sounded so familiar was not that I had learned nothing and was repeating the same issues over and over years later. My longing for a deeper, more personal relationship with God was the cry of my heart which I had poured out on paper.

The things I had written surprised me. I remembered feeling so weak and faithless. I remember thinking I might not make it as a Christian. The trials were driving me to cling even more desperately to God. My own strength was not enough. It was in these very times like this that I had learned to trust God. These times were the stepping stones on a journey that led me to where I am today.

I learned about spiritual warfare in times like these. I found God faithful through every event and every emotion. These journals were living proof that God was drawing me, teaching me, saving me, changing me, bringing me to complete reliance on Him.

I have always wanted to be like David, a man/woman after God’s own heart. I am often closer to being like David in messing up and getting into trouble, but in it all, my heart cries out for God and His will in my life. I remember that going my own way brings trouble and heartache, but choosing Him and His purpose, even when I do not understand, leads to victory and growth.

Circumstances come and go; situations change. Each looks daunting when we are in the middle of all the turmoil and the not knowing what to do. One of my journals has an entry where I had written about God being my high tower and I could run into Him and be safe. God gave me a picture to go with that scripture that day, and I wrote it down.  I use that revelation over and over now, without even thinking about it.

My journals told my heart story, my constant hunger and longing for God. They also told of how He had seen me through years of situations that were major issues then, but just reminders of His faithfulness now.

We began 2019 with prayer and fasting, crying out for closeness to God in this year like no other year before. The scripture in Hosea 2:14 was quoted more than once during that week of services and it stuck with me. God said He would speak to her in the desert or wilderness . . . He would speak tenderly to her and restore her. I plan to remind myself of this every time I feel I am going through tough times. I plan to listen carefully for God to speak lovingly, tenderly to me. Then, I plan to write it down because some day I, or someone else, just might need to read it and be reminded of God’s goodness.

“Oh God, I want more of You than I want anything else.” I am writing that in my journal today because it is my heart’s cry.  I need to remember feeling this way. I need to write it in bold dark ink. I need to be reminded just how deeply I felt today and perhaps refer to it sometime in the future.

Journaling and prayer go together like Praise, Worship, and Prayer for me. It is one of the areas where I am battled the hardest. Time management is not my greatest gift. However, I need this; I know I need it, I need it for me. This is who I am, this is where I thrive. God has put in me a desire to write since I was a little girl. I need a DVR in my brain to record the things I think, and I know they need to be written down.

I do not write precise understandable lessons like the people I admire and love reading their “stuff”. I am more of a story teller, a communicator. This is the way I talk to God too. I am glad He likes me. Just as I am.

I want to be with God and record what He is saying to me. I am expecting to have good things to write because He is going to speak tenderly and lovingly to me while in and out of the tough times.

2019 for me is a time that God is calling me to be His little girl, His favored one. This is something very different than anything I have ever known. This is a new walk with God. I am . . . expecting. I am not sure what exactly, but I am excited . . . and expecting.  Imagine reading that in an old journal. LOL! I wonder how far I will have progressed when today is old journal news.

If I could influence those around me with anything valuable besides knowing God and building a personal relationship with Him, it would be to read God’s word, write down what it says to you and pour your heart out on paper.

God is. God is faithful. God is interested in me. He is also interested in you. Every experience is a step in the pathway to a priceless relationship with God even when it is hard, even when it hurts, even when we fail, fall, or royally mess up. Save the memories and see how God moves you along toward Him.

I put the old journals back on the shelf. I may need to visit them again someday.

Love is in the Air! by David Gray

Jesus was hanging out in the temple one day sharing stories as he was prone to do. Pharisees, Sadducees, Priests and elders were systematically grilling him with difficult questions in an attempt to trip him up and catch him saying or teaching something wrong.  Jesus handily deflected the verbal arsenal as each inquiry was launched at him.  Finally, one particular Pharisee, who happened to be a lawyer, scrutinized him with yet one more question.

“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?” he asked.

Jesus gave the standard answer that was often repeated by the religious leaders.  Quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, He replied, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  This was the answer the hearers would have accepted and expected.  But, did anyone really expect Jesus to just give a simple answer? As was typical with Jesus, He didn’t stop with just answering the question.  He added a statement that struck at the heart.  He followed up his first response by adding,

“And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:36-40).

  This was a difficult thing for the religious crowd of His day.  They prided themselves on the outward appearance of their great loyalty to God and adherence to His commands.  In a single sentence Jesus challenged their devotion by adding this second component.

It has always struck me as odd that Jesus was asked one question but gave two answers.  Why did He do that?  I suspect that the reason He gave two answers was because in His mind, in the mind of God, you cannot really separate the two concepts.  The result of loving God is loving people.  Also, you cannot really love people unless you first love God.  You cannot separate the two.  If that is the case, then His two answers are really just two parts of a single answer.

What that means is that church attendance, Bible reading, or even singing along with your favorite worship songs are not the truest measure of showing your love for God.  In fact, you might say that the best way to show God you love Him is . . . to love people.  A better translation would have been, “the second commandment is JUST LIKE the first one.”  In this passage it’s almost as if God was saying,

“If you really love God, you will love people.”

Gary Smalley one time said “Life is relationships; the rest is just details.”  Many times we mistakenly lead our lives thinking life is about our jobs, our finances, our position, our achievements or our notoriety.  We strive and contend.  We chase and pursue.  We are busy.  And there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with much of that.  But, at the end of the day, everything we do revolves around the people we do it with and the relationships we build along the way.  In fact, many times when we build relationships first, the success we desire will follow naturally.

What does it mean to “love” people?  Jesus actually gave some fairly clear instructions within the context of His response.  He said we are to love our neighbor the same way we love ourselves.  In another context, He said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Mt. 7:12 ESV).  When I jump to conclusions, make mistakes, have an angry response and say things I regret, I want others to give me grace, forgiveness and understanding.  Sometimes I want them to overlook my shortcomings and give me the benefit of the doubt.  Mostly, I want people to treat me with value and respect.  If I’m going to treat others the way I want to be treated, if I’m going to love my neighbor as myself, then I should give them the same.  Maybe that means is lending a listening ear the next time my teenager does something wrong instead of yelling.  Maybe that means giving grace when the cashier makes a mistake or the customer service employee treats me rudely.  Maybe it means not getting an attitude or shaking my fist when I’m cut off in traffic. Maybe it means seeking understanding when my boss is acting like a jerk.

With Valentine’s Day on the 14th and the National Marriage Week leading up to it, people are focused on their love relationships in the month of February, and rightly so.  Couples are intentional in February.  They make a “date” to spend time together, they give each other gifts, they treat each other kindly, and they see the best in each other.

But, everywhere around us are people who need many of the same aspects that we bring to our closest relationships:  time spent together, a listening ear, understanding, compassion and care.  Any relationship can be strengthened, enhanced or healed when we are intentional and put into practice many of the same things that lead to a strong marriage.  Our kids need it, our parents need it, our neighbors need it, our employees need it, and our pastors need it.  The cashier needs it, the waitress needs it, and the homeless guy on the corner needs it.  And all of them are made in the image of God.  If we love God, we will love people.

It’s almost February, so love truly is in the air. “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other” (John 13:35).

What Does it Mean to Live Like the Family of God? by Brianna Bevan

The one thing I always want when I am around others is to feel wanted and valued. I want to know that me being there makes a difference to others and that I matter to them. Don’t we all though? From the beginning of creation, God said it is not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). It’s in our nature to crave connection and to feel a part of family.

Everyday Moments with God, by Jennifer Harrelson

It amazes me the way God speaks to us sometimes. I was cleaning up a mess on my kitchen floor a few weeks ago when He showed me something. As I was close to the ground, my one year old took notice and toddled over joyfully. In his mind, I must have been on the floor for the sole purpose of amusing him.

Two Sons, by Stephanie Nelson

As a proclaimed child of this Father [Father God] since the age of four, however, I have most often related to the oldest son [in the parable of the prodigal son].  Yes, that’s right, I admit it.  I have often felt a twinge of sympathy for the bitter, unbending brother of the redeemed black sheep.

Blessing In Receiving, by Jesi Shiffer

Receiving is just as important as giving.  When we accept someone else’s gift to us we not only receive God’s love through that gift, but we are also allowing that person to give God’s blessing. When we deny someone’s gift we are robbing them of their ability to bless others and we are robbing ourselves of being blessed.

A Qualified Opinion, by Paul McGuire

Recently, while recording Papa's words to me, He remarked,"Before Me, none are qualified to have an opinion."  (Papa’s Listening Book, 3/18)

"Ooo! Harsh!" No. True. Giving an accurate opinion requires a proper perspective, good information, some foresight and a dose of Wisdom. Man, in his natural state, draws up short in all these qualifications

The Way of Trust, by Greg Fischer

I recently came across a story about the brilliant ethicist, John Kavanaugh. While he was at a point in his life where he was trying to decide how to spend the rest of it, he took a trip to Calcutta to visit Mother Teresa. During one of their times talking together, he asked the aging nun if she would pray for him, that he would have clarity to make this decision. Her answer surprised him when she said it and surprised me when I read it.

Too Tired To Fight, by Charissa Barnett

One minute everything can feel in control and in an instant all inner calm can be gone. My 2-year-old really tests the strength of my inner calm. One very early morning, I was feeding my infant while my toddler was playing independently. All was fine and everyone was in a good headspace that morning. Then silence…

Can't Order God, by Jacob Barnett

“I’ll just order it online…”
“Let’s order some coffee from Amazon…”
“If I don’t like it, I can always send it back…”

I’m willing to bet that we’ve all said something along these lines recently when we want/need something. At one point, we just had the world at our fingertips with our smartphones, but now we can have to world delivered straight to our door!

The Sweetness of Suffering, by Kylie Machacek

If you are old enough to read this post, it is no news to you that trials are inevitable in our lives on this side of heaven.  Although we will encounter much distress and discomfort during our earthly lives, throughout the Bible we see God painting a picture of hope with broad brushstrokes of bright pigment. 

The Secret, by Karen Neu

Have you ever had someone in your life that you loved, BUT you just didn't feel like you could quite jive with them? You really genuinely wanted to get along and live peaceably with them, but there were just these certain things about them, these certain little (or maybe even big) annoyances that just about drove you up a wall, or maybe even began to BUILD a wall between the two of you. . .

Home for the Holidays, by Gaye Howell

I love Christmas.   For me, one of the best parts of Christmas is the time I get to spend with family...Christmas has always been about family and being at “home” with God.  The first Christmas was about just that—God’s plan to restore us to His family where we could live at “home” with Him.