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In this new age of the Internet and Social Media, we now have access to just about everything, including friends and loved ones we’ve not seen in many years. While I’m glad to see the many classmates and friends who have gone on to have loving families, great careers and active, happy lives, I’ve also seen a flip side that saddens me greatly. I’ve seen too many Christian friends that once loved Jesus with such a passion and zeal, they sought to follow Him with their lives. Unfortunately, over time, events occurred in their lives that caused them to lose their faith and let their hearts grow cold towards the One who loves them more than anyone else in this world. Many of these friends, I was very well acquainted with, and we shared deep hurts that happened to us growing up and a bond of coming from families of non-believers. As time went on, difficult challenges in life occurred and they simply gave up. I don’t condemn them, because I know how hard this life can be, and there is an enemy after their soul whose only purpose is to steal, kill and destroy them.

I have had my own struggles with disappointment, self-rejection, depression and wanting to leave this world behind, and yet I’ve somehow managed to always hang on. As I thought about why, I remembered an experience I had very early in my Christian walk and I believe it’s because of a dream I had in response to an angry prayer as a teenager. While growing up I was painfully shy and never felt like I fit in. I had an older sister with a very strong personality whose mission it seemed, was to make sure I never experienced any self-worth. My parents raised us the best they knew to do, but once my younger sister came along, their hands were full and they also had unresolved issues of their own. This, along with being a straight-A student, made me an easy target at school as an adolescent and I was teased quite a bit. In high school I got involved in music and theater, and seemed to find where I belonged. I was in a Speech club where I went on weekend competitions to perform in the category of drama, and won several awards. I made lots of great friends during those years.

When I became a sophomore, I met a boy during a play rehearsal who was very interested in me. He soon became one of my closest friends and we began to date. It wasn’t long after that I was head over heels in love. It was a very happy time, until without word or warning, he moved onto someone new. I was devastated and became very angry at God. I had accepted Him as my Lord and Savior the year before, but really didn’t know anything more except that I was saved and would go in the Rapture. The evening I found out about the other girl, I laid on my bed crying and getting angrier at God by the minute. I then knelt by my bed and told God that I was through with Him, that I knew that He didn’t want me to be happy, and that as far as I was concerned, He didn’t exist. I then laid down and fell asleep.

I soon began having this really vivid dream. In it, I found myself sitting at the this big, thick wooden table. It seemed as if I was in an old, medieval setting. I stood up and pushed the heavy chair in and stepped into a room that was to the left of the table. Inside was a big Victorian bed complete with a canopy. I climbed up on the bed and laid down. Suddenly I sank through the bed and continued to sink down further and further into this dark tunnel. I will never forget that sensation of sinking down. It’s an odd, helpless feeling, that I don’t ever want to experience again. Once I reached what looked like the top of a cave, I could sense others with me, but was unable to communicate with anyone. I could also hear a deep voice talking, but couldn’t understand what was being said. Suddenly the thought popped into my mind “I’m in Hell!” Shocked and frightened, I pleaded with God to forgive me and I woke up with a start. I couldn’t move at first, but as soon as my muscles allowed me, I sat up in bed and repented and asked Him to forgive me for rejecting Him. Since I’d never even given any consideration to Hell before, that was my wake up call that God is very, very real.

When I told a friend from church, a few years later, her words struck me when she said “That was really nice of God, to allow you that dream.” I had never looked at it that way. I had looked at it as God’s way of saying “Don’t mess with me or this is where I’ll put you.” But her words made me look at it in a completely different light, as a gift from a loving father who revealed that if I willfully rejected Him, and chose to live my life independently from Him I would have to face the consequences of my decisions to an spend an eternity apart from Him and His goodness – in a place prepared to punish Satan and his demons.

In my anger, I had believed the lies of the enemy. He had used these circumstances involving the young man to get me to blame God and accuse God of having ill-will towards me. Since that time, I’ve come to understand just HOW MUCH, God loves me. NO ONE can ever say that God doesn’t love them or could ever forgive them of all the evil they may have committed, because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came down from Heaven, as a baby, to live on this earth among us, His beloved creation, and to take our punishment upon Himself. I believe the worst part about the cross wasn’t the physical pain or the humilation of being mocked by men. The worst was that moment when ALL the horrible, evil, disgusting and ugliest sins ever committed by everyone of us were placed on Him, and He took on ALL of the shame, guilt, condemnation, pride, greed and lust upon Himself. Because of the Holiness of the Father, He turned His face away and Jesus experienced the absense of God in that moment. For you. For me. And since God is good, Jesus rose from the grave and is back in Heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us and leaving us with the Holy Spirit to empower us and help us until He returns.

Now we have the freedom to choose to invite Jesus into our hearts and have a personal relationship with Him and to one day enter Heaven’s gates, or to live independently and face our own consequences forever without Him or anything good, in that other place. Which will you choose?

Choose love today! “For whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” ~ Romans 10:13
Be blessed, everyone!

Scriptural References: Matthew 25:41, John 3:16, Romans 8:31, Isaiah 53:4-5, John 1:14 and 29, Matthew 27:46, Galations 3:13, 2nd Corinthians 5:21, Philippians 2:7, Romans 8:34

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The Meaning of Grace

Grace. The mere mention of the word brings a feeling of beauty, peace and comfort. It’s a word to describe the movement of a ballet dancer, or the way a person may handle him or herself when faced with crisis or adversity. It’s a word you hear in church, and songs that are sung there and is described as unmerited favor. It’s a word that appears many times in the Bible. In popular culture, the word seems to be disappearing. It is being pushed out by many in the younger generation, and helped out the door by technological “no excuses” ways of thinking. It doesn’t fit into the “do what I want, I don’t care what you think, in your face” attitude that is sweeping our society. In fact, in seems more and more that grace or even being gracious is a sign of weakness in a person. Those with this view, couldn’t be more wrong. It takes greater strength to respond with grace, than to react with unrestrained emotion. The American Heritage Dictionary lists several meanings for grace:

Noun: 1. Seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement, form, or proportion.
2. A characteristic or quality pleasing for its charm or refinement. 3. A sense of fitness or propriety. 4. a. A disposition to be generous or helpful; goodwill. b. Mercy; clemency. 5. A favor rendered by one who need not do so; indulgence. 6. A temporary immunity or exemption; a reprieve. 7. In Greek mythology, Graces, three sister godesses who dispense charm and beauty. 8. a. Divine love and protection bestowed freely on people. b. The state of being protected or sanctified by the favor of God. c. An excellence or power granted by God.9. A short prayer of blessing or thanksgiving said before or after a meal. 10.Grace Used with His, Her, or Your as a title and form of address for a duke, duchess, or archbishop. 11.Music. An appoggiatura, trill, or other musical ornanment in the music of 16th and 17th century England. Verb: graced, grac·ing, grac·es. 1. To honor or favor: You grace our table with your presence. 2. To give beauty, elegance, or charm to. 3.Music. To embellish with grace notes.

The grace you hear about in chuch is found in meaning number 8, as in the song “Amazing Grace” The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith–and this not from yourselves. It is a gift of God…” In this verse, grace is translated from the Greek word charis pronounced (khar’-ece). Strong’s Greek Concordance equates grace to favor and kindness. The entire message of the Bible is that yes, man fell short of what God’s purpose was and deserves to suffer the consequences of his choices (or sins), but because of God’s great and unlimited love for us, He chose to send His son Jesus to suffer our punishment (total separation from God and His love and goodness, eternal suffering) for us. The blood Jesus Christ shed while being crucified washes away our sin when we believe and accept Him into our heart. There is nothing more that we can do for Jesus himself said It is finished” (John 19:30) before He died. There is no greater kindness and love that can ever be demonstrated.

When we remember all this on a daily basis and the fact that He rose again, how could we not want to show that same grace to one another? How could we not want to give Him our all? It’s amazing though, all He asks is for us to believe and accept through faith.

If you would like to accept Him as your saviour, or rededicate your life, pray this prayer:

“Heavenly Father, I thank you for sending Your Son Jesus to die for my sins. I confess that I’m a sinner, and ask that You would come into my heart, and wash me clean with Your blood. I’m done trying to live on my own. I need You to lead and guide me. I choose to follow You and make You my Lord and Savior for all the days of my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

I’ll close this with a poem I wrote in August of 2009. Be blessed, everyone!

Undeserved Grace

He considers me of priceless value.
However could this be?
For all of my human frailities
He chooses not to see.

He looks upon my heart with love,
Made pure through the blood of His Son.
He sees me as perfect and complete
Since victory on the cross was won.

He called me from the ends of the earth,
lavishing me with undeserved grace.
Choosing me to serve His will
Promising one day, I’ll see His face.

Oh, to be given such a precious gift
Knowing I could never repay.
I’ll forever worship at His feet
and there my crown, I’ll lay.

Miracles: An Unexpected Shift

Have you ever had one of those experiences when you were certain that one thing was going to happen, and instead the complete opposite ends up occuring? It’s a feeling of utter amazement and can leave you absolutely stunned. It can be something as simple as a student getting a much higher grade on an exam than they expected, or a life-changing event such as overcoming an illness, affliction or an area you’ve been struggling with for years. Those are miracles and yes, they do happen more often than we realize. Some are obvious and others take time to see the actual results, like a woman that struggles for several years with a food addiction and suddenly gets the resolve to join a diet program and emerges 2 years later, a hundred pounds lighter. True story!

A few months ago, I had one of those completely unexpected events happen that defies the laws of  motion. It was on my way home from a church service. We had a guest speaker that night, by the name of T.D. Jakes. Ever hear of him? Anyway, it was one of those services where you go in like you do every week and everything is fine, and yet from the first worship song until the end of service you find yourself crying and you don’t know why. It was like that for me, a soothing sense of peace  from  the sweet presence of God that was there that night.

On the way home, I still felt this peace and remembered a song from many years ago called “He is Here Right Now” sung by John Starnes. While I was kind of humming/singing this, I noticed that a car got into my lane several feet in front of me and was driving slowly under the speed limit. I checked to make sure I could change lanes safely and when I looked forward again, all I saw were his brake lights and me quickly heading toward them. Without even thinking, I jerked the steering wheel to avoid hitting him. I was in my SUV and could feel all the weight in the rear of the vehicle as it began to cross over into the other lane towards the cement guard rail along the freeway. I got that sickening out- of- control feeling that I was going to hit it and there was nothing I could do, but brace myself for impact. Suddenly, to my surprise,  I felt the entire weight of the SUV suddenly shift back to normal and straighten up perfectly in the lane and I continued driving on. I looked in the rearview mirror and all the traffic behind us slowed waaay down and kept a very safe distance from us. I knew that either I missed my calling to be a professional stunt car driver, or angels had stopped my SUV from skidding out of control.  I knew it wasn’t the former and it had to have been the latter!  It was a very awesome moment as I thanked and praised God for protecting me as He promises in this verse:

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways…”  Psalm 91:11 

It let me know that God isn’t finished with me yet! I’m here for a reason, and so are you!

Be blessed and encouraged, everyone!

Welcome to a New Year! Did you know that you have the opportunity to make a brand new start for this new year? Whether 2011 ended favorably for you or not, you can leave all the past worries, concerns and frustrations at the door step…no need to bring it into 2012!   There truly is so much out there in the world today that can bring a person down to their knees…which actually is the best place to begin fresh and anew.

If you were like me, you may have had a year full of transitions where you had to let situations, relationships, or negative ways of thinking go. I learned this last year that whatever I tried to cling to for suppport, apart from God, was like quick sand. I began the year having to adjust to living life without the secure, unconditional love of my parents. My dad passed away a year earlier after struggling with a long illness. Five months later, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She died the following month. With the rest of my family living far away, never had I felt so lost and alone in my life. I found, unfortunately, that not everyone I turned to had my best interest at heart, leading to more feelings of abandonment. The one thing that kept me going, was knowing that no matter what I was feeling, I knew in my heart of hearts that God was there for me and would never, ever leave. He is the Rock of Ages, that is always steadfast, unmoving and unchanging. There is always hope in Christ. Isaiah 43:18 says “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”  It’s time to let go, forgive when needed, and move forward to the new things that God has before us, knowing that it will be good because He is good!

So then, if you’re not already down on your knees, you may want to get there and ask the God who can fix everything that is broken in your life and make it brand new again to come into your heart.

If you would like to invite Jesus Christ into your heart, whether this is the first time or the umpteenth time, just pray this prayer:

“Heavenly Father, I thank you for sending Your Son Jesus to die for my sins. I confess that I’m a sinner, and ask that You would come into my heart, and wash me clean with Your blood. I’m done trying to live on my own. I need You to lead and guide me. I choose to follow You and make You my Lord and Savior for all the days of my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

If you said that prayer, you should know there is a big celebration going on in Heaven right now over your decision to follow Christ. The angels are rejoicing! And best of all, your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. (Revelation 22:27)

Happy New Year! God bless you!

It’s Just Temporary…

The holiday season is a wonderful time filled with friends, family, food, music and fun.  It’s a time to create lasting memories to cherish with loved ones and give thanks for all the blessings we’ve received from God above.  For some, however, it can be a a bittersweet time to remember  loved ones that have passed on to eternity.  My dad passed away on Thanksgiving weekend in 2009 and as I come upon this second year without him, it’s comforting sometimes to remember that all of this is temporary.  I wrote this today while reflecting about the up-coming week:

 

 

A Day Soon Coming

A day is approaching and even now coming
When hearts will no longer be broken. 
Words will be used to heal wounded souls
And curses never again be spoken.

And it shall be as it was meant to be,
Before the dawn of time
Where grief and sorrow have no dwelling
And neither a rock to climb.

Where love shall shine so brilliantly
Causing the light of the sun to fade.
Joy and peace will flood every heart
As new heavens and earth are made.

Until that day let us abide in Him
To strengthen and encourage one another,
Keeping our hearts knitted in grace
And tightly bound together.

Be blessed!

Remembering 9/11/2001

Like everyone else in America, I can clearly remember the events that unfolded ten years ago on this day. It was a perfect, beautiful Tuesday morning – the kind of day when it feels exhilerating to be alive and outside. My Pre-kindergarten class was enjoying recess on the playground and the other teachers and I were marveling at the exceptionally beautiful weather. Someone from the office came out and handed us each a note, telling us in light of the events occuring in New York, we should remain calm for our students and be alert for any unusual activity. We were very puzzled, but continued to follow our schedule and take our students to lunch. It was in the cafeteria, I learned of the planes flying into the WTC, and Pentagon. When my morning class went home for the day, I was finally able to turn on the radio in my room. I’m very grateful that I didn’t have access to a television. I was spared much of the trauma most Americans suffered witnessing the actual events as they happened.

Parents began to arrive in masses to pick up their children, and our principal began allowing teachers to leave once their classes were gone. Once I got home, I was able to see the horror that America was grasping to process. At this point, I was trying to wrap my mind around how these entire buildings could have collapsed so easily from planes crashing into them several stories above, killing so many fire fighters, police and rescue workers. I then read the running script at the bottom of the screen and saw church after church announcing meetings that evening, and was relieved to be able to gather with others to do the only thing that we could do…PRAY!

The next few days were filled with continuous coverage on television, and the emerging of information on the people behind the attack. It was difficult to see clips of the cheering and celebrating in the streets in the middle east as they learned of the attacks. Having attended a university with a good number of middle eastern students in the mix, I was already aware of an underlying hostility some had towards America. I remembered a path I walked on campus everyday behind a building with the word “JIHAD!” spray-painted on the sidewalk. I had learned much from the stories of missionaries called to share the gospel in Muslim nations and the persecution they faced on a daily basis. When that word resurfaced in the aftermath of 9/11, I was not the least bit surprised. A few days later, I penned these words as a way to release some of my frustration:

America Will Rise

You who fight in most dastardly ways
will not taste victory as our nation prays.
For you failed to see that by God’s own hand,
our foundation was formed and on this rock we’ll stand.

Though always in our hearts we will grieve the lives lost,
Our nation will be stronger, for she’s paid a dear cost.
From out of the ashes America’s beauty will rise.
For in God do we trust and in Him our hope lies.

Ten years later, I realize that these were the workings by the hands of Muslim extremists, and that the majority of those in the Muslim community live their faith out quietly and in peace. I think at this point it’s important to stop and look at the origin of conflict between the Muslims and those of Jewish faith. Muslims are from the line of Ismael, the son of Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant. Sarah was the wife of Abraham who God had promised to give a son. God was pleased with the faith of Abraham and promised to bless his offspring and make a great nation out of his descendants. Sarah was passed her childbearing years and as time went on decided that the only way to make this happen was through Hagar as a type of surrogate mother to raise her son as her own. Some time after Ishmael was born, Sarah became miraculously pregnant as God had promised. Isaac was born and when Ishmael mocked his half brother, Sarah had Hagar and Ishmael sent away. In the desert, God said to Hagar (and previously to Abraham) that He would also make Ishmael and his descendents into a great nation. Genesis 21:8-20 gives the account. Isaac was the promised son and his descendants were given the law of Moses and the promised land, which is now Israel. The descendants of Ishmael, Isaac’s half brother have struggled ever since against Israel. All of this was a prerequisite of the coming of Jesus Christ, in whom ALL are reconciled with God through the sacrificial atonement on the cross, when one believes and receives in faith.

On this day of 2011, in remembering the attack of 9/11, it’s important to honor and pay tribute to the innocent civilians, firemen, police and rescue workers who died that day, and the military personnel who have sacrificed their lives in the war on terrorism. Keep their loved ones lifted up in prayer, and celebrate the children that have been born, the protection from another such attack, and the freedom we’ve maintained since then.

As hardships continue, war, earthquakes, floods and wildfires may all find comfort in the beauty that awaits to rise out of ashes (Isaiah 61:3).

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He’s already got you covered!

Ever feel like you’re facing life alone? Like there’s no one there who really, truly is concerned for you? You may find your life filled with family and friends, but still feel like what you’re going through doesn’t seem to matter to them. We may not understand their response toward us or lack of it, but we can’t see what’s going on in the life of others. Most people are just trying to make it through life the best they can with what they know. We should always give others the benefit of the doubt and believe the best in them.

The great news is that we have a Heavenly Father who loves us more than we can comprehend. We are always on His heart. He never sets us aside to “take care of more important things”. Romans 8:27 says that His Spirit intercedes for us. The Holy Spirit is continuously lifting us up before the Father. I had an incident several years ago that made this very real for me. I often remember this for encouragement that He already has me covered.

I had been living in Houston, Texas for three months when I returned home to spend the holidays with my family. It was 1998 and I was in my first year of teaching and in a very exciting period in my life. The day was Sunday. I had gone to church earlier and shared all the new events that were unfolding in my life. After service, I went to spend the day with a family from the church who were very dear friends. I had a great visit and left with a heart very full of love and gratitude.

While driving home on a curvy road along the river towards Toledo. I saw a car speeding along a curve coming from the opposite direction. The driver lost control of the car and crashed into me head-on. Both cars were totaled. The other driver came out unharmed, but I had to be transported to the emergency room. I had a compound open fracture of my right leg, an open gash of my left knee and much bruising from the steering wheel.

My family met me at the hospital. It was very late in the evening and the doctor filled them in on my injuries. He told them that I would need a four hour surgery to repair my leg, but that I should be okay. My dad thanked the doctor, and my family said good-bye and that they’d come back to see me the next day. They then went home. As I was wheeled off into surgery I remember thinking “No one from my church is praying for me. My family doesn’t attend church and won’t contact them. I’m going into surgery with no prayer support. It’s just You and me, God.”

When I awoke the next morning in my hospital room, the first visitor I had was the Youth Pastor from my church. I was shocked that someone from my church even knew I’d been in an accident! As it turned out, a family from my church, had a personal ministry of listening to a police scanner on an emergency radio and praying over the people involved. As they heard the details about a female from Texas injured in an accident, they knew it was me. They called the church and left the message on the prayer line, and then prayed for me and for the surgery. The youth pastor prayed for me and after he left, I marveled at how God already had me covered with prayers from His people.

God is mysterious in His ways! Never underestimate the power of God! When other people fail you (and they will), God will never fail you or abandon you. As my pastor often says “He’s working things out on your behalf behind the scenes.” Whenever I begin to waver in my faith, I remember this story and am reassured that He’s already taken care of things for me, in any and every situation. Be blessed my friends and know: He already has you covered!

Got Murky Water? Bring Your Cup!

Think the water in your cup is too murky to bring into God’s house? Maybe your cup is empty and caked with mud…or maybe your cup has been dry so long that a thick layer of dust has formed inside. Bring it to Him anyway! Let Him pour His fresh, pure water into your cup. He has a fountain of living water that will never run dry.

There are many people who find every reason to stay away from church. One mistaken belief I want to bring to light is that you have to get your act together and clean yourself up before you can enter God’s house. Recently, I found myself with these very thoughts after a trip to my hometown. While visiting, I allowed family and friends to take priority over spending time with God. After being away so long, I felt like I had to somehow “ready myself” to go back to church, and quite honestly, was reluctant to do so, until I remembered my pastor sharing this illustration in a message several months ago.

If you’re like me, you may believe you are a hypocrite going to church when you don’t feel like it, or that you’re being fake and phony when you have unresolved issues or addictions that you struggle with. Go anyway! God loves you and looks at your heart. He already knows that you can’t overcome some things in your own strength. He knows you can’t clean your own heart and keep every thought and motive pure, which is why Jesus Christ came to this world. The blood He shed on the cross is the only way our sin can be removed. The Holy Spirit does the work in us that we can’t do, and empowers us to live our best life!

Don’t concern yourself with what others may think of you in God’s house, either. If you feel someone has a wrong attitude towards you, or is critical of you, know that God sees their hearts and is already working on them in His own way. The point is for all of us to come together and get filled. It is then we have God’s love in our hearts and have the ability to turn around and help others along the way.

So don’t just bring your cup once or twice, but bring it to Him again and again! His living water will push out the dirt, the dust and the muck. One day soon you will look down and see that the water is clear and and your cup is clean! You and those around you will be able to see the color, style and the beauty of detail that the One who formed you designed so uniquely!

You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain as you bring your cup to His house over and over…and the best news of all, you’ll never be thirsty again!

Scripture: Jeremiah 18:1-4, John 4:10-14