Forgotten Blessings

     God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt after 400 years of slavery. You would think they would all be forever thankful and never forget that blessing, yet it seems God had to remind them many times of what He did. They lost faith in God while in the wilderness to the point of wanting to go back to Egypt, back to slavery, where they still may die but at least would not starve or die of thirst.

     Exodus 16:2-3  The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.  The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” And again, in Exodus 17:3 they seem to have forgotten what God had done and wished they had stayed in Egypt. But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”

     How many times have we been amazed and truly thankful for what God has done for us, then not long after, it’s as though we’ve forgotten about it. Our focus is on our next crisis, need, or want and we begin to whine and beg God again for His help OR we are tempted to ‘go back to our Egypt’, not having faith even for the little things.

     Moving forward in our Christian walk and growing in faith comes with trials and temptations. Many times, when ‘life gets tough’ and we battle temptations, we fail to look towards God. When our focus isn’t on Him, we are not obeying and having faith in Him. At times, like the Israelites, we can begin to think that our past wasn’t as bad as the battle we are in now.

     For example, I battle eating disorders. I love food (my Golden Calf – we’ll get to that next week), I love food that is not good for my health such as sugar and carbs (my drugs of choice), and I binge eat (totally out of control). 1 Corinthians 6:19 says: Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? Every time I read about the Tabernacle and the Temple in the Bible, I cringe because I think of MY body being the Temple of the Holy Spirit. YIKES! If it were an actual ‘building’, it would be as messy as my closet! (well, that’s a topic for another journal)

     With today’s economy it takes planning and effort to eat a balanced healthy diet. There are times when I feel like ‘Going back to my Egypt’, back to my old habits and eat whatever is handy. In fact, I did that not long ago. The result? Sure, the taste and comfort were wonderful for the moment, BUT I not only lost my focus on my health and diet, but I also turned my focus from God, not to mention how sick I felt for several days after, (a sugar hang-over).

God instructs us to not look back, however we do need to remember how far He has brought us ‘out of the wilderness’.

When was a time that God ‘delivered you out of the wilderness’ that you tend to forget about?
~Joanie Lawrence-Cain

Staying on the Road

I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. Isaiah 48:17

I trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. In all my ways I acknowledge Him and He directs my paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

God will show me the path of life. Psalm 16:11

     In our ‘Christian Walk’ it’s important we ‘Stay on Track’.

     How do you stay on track if you don’t know what road you should be on or where it should lead?

     If you’re going on a vacation, you need to know the best route to take in order to get to that destination. But FIRST you need to ‘know your destination’, or at least a general idea.

     There will most likely be many destinations in your lifetime, your final one being Heaven. So where is God leading you now? You can get an idea by determining what your gifts are and how God can potentially use you to grow His Kingdom. For example, if you have the gift of teaching, He will most likely lead you towards a ministry of teaching such as Bible Study or Sunday School Class.

     Then you need to determine what is in your way of reaching that destination, what are your ‘road blocks’? Are there addictions or habits that you need to give up before you can move towards that destination? Other road blocks may be fear, negativity, doubt, and worry.

     When we decide what we want to be when we grow up, we don’t just go do it. We need training, schooling, or some type of life transformation before we are able to do that career or job. And if we keep getting ‘side tracked’ we’ll never become what we want to be. That’s how it is with your hurts, habits, and hang-ups. If you keep focused on THEM instead of your destination, you won’t stay on track and won’t make it far. In fact, you will probably be headed right back to your old ‘stompin grounds’.

     You also need do determine what to take with you on your journey. I’ve had things in my life that I’ve questioned whether God approves. Tip: If you question, He probably doesn’t approve! Some things may be ok for some of us but not others. For example, I like a glass of wine of an evening. While that can be ok for some, it can lead to being ‘sidetracked’ for others. Some people find it healthy, others don’t. Last year I gave it up for Lent. I felt better and there is no chance of drinking too much if I don’t drink ANY. I realized that was something I didn’t need to take with me on my journey. It was something that got me sidetracked.

     God wants you to give up everything that comes between you and Him. Keep your eyes on the road, stay focused on Him and you won’t be taking ‘side trips’ or worse, ‘driving in the ditches’ that waste time, cause a lot of bumps, and get you lost.

     Have patience in knowing that it does take time to get somewhere so don’t get discouraged. It took you a lifetime to get to where you are now, therefore, it will take awhile to get to your destinations God has for you. You may take a short ‘pit stop’ but don’t hang out there and make it your home. Get back in the car and down the road. Keep praying, reading your Bible, and focusing on the beautiful scenery that God is taking you through on your journey and give Him praise for every mile and give Him thanks for every guardrail, and every speedbump that helps you ‘stay on the road’.
~Joanie Lawrence-Cain

Rest In God

 “Be still and know I am God.” Psalm 46:10

If you read the whole chapter of Psalm 46, it implies that there is war and battle going on. Although the Psalmist may be talking about an actual physical war and battle, we also experience our challenges and crises as battles. A type of war within ourselves.

I feel like I’m in a battle when I become busy with serving, working, worrying, and trying to ‘figure things out’. I feel stressed, lack direction and focus. I fail to take time to be still and rest in Him.

The word still in Hebrew means “to slacken, let down, or cease.” When we cease the battle within us, we come to rest. How do we do that? We turn our focus on Him and seek His presence, His shelter.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

How often do we seek God’s presence?

We tend to recognize that we NEED His presence more when we have a big challenge or crisis in our life. That’s usually when we turn our focus on Him, needing His help and guidance. But He wants us to seek Him and recognize His presence at all times, not just when we are in ‘crisis mode’.

As long as we are busy ‘doing life’, we focus on everything but God. It’s only when we stop our minds, turn our focus on Him, and rest in Him that we can know His presence and receive from Him, and truly begin to live.

What are a few things we can receive from God when we rest in Him? Clarity, peace, direction, calmness, trust, encouragement, patience and more. Resting in God can also bring rejuvenation. It’s easy to get Spiritually and emotionally drained when we are continually busy.

Resting in God doesn’t mean we have a free ticket for ‘laziness’. As children of God, we have work to do in His Kingdom here on Earth.

What battles are you fighting that you need to cease?

When was the last time that you remember truly seeking God’s presence?

How do you ‘rest in God’?
-Joanie Lawrence-Cain

Selective Hearing

 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” John 10:27

     John 10:27, God speaking, He says He knows His sheep. But also, His sheep know Him and they follow Him.

    When you receive a phone call from a close friend or relative, how do you know it’s them? You know because you KNOW them and you know their voice. Even if someone is impersonating them, you would probably be able to tell it isn’t them.

    Same with God. The more we get to KNOW Him, the better we’ll be able to hear Him and know it’s Him speaking.

    I led a Bible Study quite some time ago with a “new” Christian attending. She said “I keep hearing you all say ‘I heard God say…’ or ‘God spoke to me…’. I don’t understand how you hear God.” After several months of reading the Bible, attending Church and learning to pray, she understood that to hear from God requires a relationship with Him.

    Are you ‘tuned in’? Even though I consider myself a fairly good listener, I do struggle with listening to God. I hear better when it’s an audible voice and even then I can “tune it out” (selective hearing?). God can speak audibly, either Himself or through others, but we have to be ‘tuned in’ to know it’s Him.

    Do you take the time to listen? I can pray, I can read Christian books and the Bible, I can listen to inspirational speakers, but I often don’t take the time to just sit and listen. And throughout my day, I get busy thinking about what I need to do and focusing on what I am doing that I don’t listen.

    Do you want to hear what God has to tell you? Maybe there’s something He wants you to change or you are asking Him for an answer or for guidance. We reason, we analyze, we overthink or just plain rebel and want things our way instead of listening to what God wants. Selective Hearing?

    There are many ways that God speaks to us (through prayer, reading the Bible, or through other believers) but we have to turn off our selective hearing and be tuned in to what He is saying to us.

    The more we study God’s Word the more the Holy Spirit will flow through us and the better we will hear God’s voice.
~Joanie Lawrence-Cain

Talking to God

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18
    Communication is important for a healthy relationship, including our relationship with God. For most of us, it is easier to talk to our close friends or a close relative than it is someone we just met or hardly know. Therefore, the more time we spend with God in prayer, learning His Word, and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, the better we get to know Him and the better our communication with Him becomes.
    Even then, it can be a struggle.
    Have you ever known people who can talk to anyone or NO-ONE? I’m not one of those people! I have a difficult time talking to someone who I don’t hear an audible response from. Like my autistic son when he was a baby. He didn’t talk until he was over three years old and he wouldn’t respond when talked to. Therefore, there was little to no communication on his part. I had to consciously remind myself that I needed to talk to him or he wouldn’t ever learn to talk. I’m not good at talking to animals either because they don’t carry on a conversation like humans do. (Although, my cat meows when I talk to him. But I haven’t learned ‘cat language’ yet. I’m still working on that.)
    One reason for my ‘quietness’ could be that in my past, I felt that what I had to say was never good nor right. Therefore, my attitude was – “If I don’t talk then I can’t say anything wrong”.
    I also used to think that talking to God didn’t matter because He knows everything already. Doesn’t He know my heart and my mind? Then why do I need to tell Him? The answer to this question made sense to me after I had kids. Even though I knew what my kids were up to, what they did good or bad, the fun they had, the disasters they had, I still wanted to hear it from them.
    God wants to hear from us even though He already knows all things. There is no right or wrong thing to say to Him, He just wants us to talk to Him like a ‘best friend’ or ‘one of His children’. After all, isn’t that what we are? Or should be?
~Joanie Lawrence-Cain

Forgiveness – A Requirement not an Option

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 
15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15 

    Most, if not all, of us have been hurt deeply by someone in our lives. And the closer they are to us, like family or best friends, the deeper the hurt. Our natural reactions are revenge, anger and bitterness. Many of us also withdraw. When I was hurt by a family member, I withdrew from that part of the family (all of them, not just the one that hurt me). When I was hurt by best friends, I withdrew from having a “best” friend. I’m getting better, but I still struggle with having very close friends.

    Often, we choose not to forgive because we want to “punish” the ones that hurt us. When in fact most of the time, they don’t even know the damage they have done, or they don’t care…in other words, YOU are the one hurting, not them. Romans 12:19 says we are not to have revenge but are to let God settle the score with those who have wronged us.

    Forgiveness is not easy and doesn’t happen instantly. It is something we decide to do, then begin the process of forgiving. This process may take longer for some than it does for others and it also may depend on the severity of hurt.

    Forgiving doesn’t mean we condone or accept what they did. It does mean that we are choosing to no longer let that hurt be a burden to us.

    Forgiving might be easier if they came to us and asked for our forgiveness. This at least lets us know they acknowledge that they hurt us (and may be truly sorry). But, remember when Jesus forgave those who crucified Him? They hadn’t asked Him for forgiveness.

25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them,
so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25

    According to Matthew 6:14-15 and Mark 11:25, we MUST forgive in order for God to forgive us. It’s not an option. And I DEFINITELY want His forgiveness! How about you?

How to forgive:

-Begin forgiving by realizing that none of us are perfect and we all make mistakes. In forgiving my abuser, I began looking at his past. Many past hurts and poor choices of himself and others had led him to bitterness, anger, rebellion, and jealousy. While that isn’t an excuse for the abuse, it is a reason. “Hurt People, Hurt People” In other words, those who have been hurt, as a result, hurt others.

-Then think about is how much you have been forgiven. At one time, I was so focused on my hurts that I didn’t see the fact that I have also hurt others in the past. I pray they have forgiven me (as I trust God has also) for what I’ve done intentionally AND unintentionally.

-Pray for those who have hurt you. I know this is a though one. It’s hard to have compassion to pray for our enemies but in doing this, two things happen. The Holy Spirit begins to work in you in order for you to forgive AND the Holy Spirit will begin to work in THEM also. I’ve witnessed this several times.

-Repent from hanging on to bad feelings against those who hurt you, so you can be set free. When we harbor bitterness, hatred and anger, we are also sinning. Therefore, we need to pray for forgiveness for our thoughts and attitudes.

Who do you need to forgive?

Maybe you need to forgive God or yourself?
(Sometimes this is more difficult than forgiving others.)
Don’t miss out on God’s many blessings by remaining in bondage of unforgiveness.
~Joanie Lawrence-Cain

Your Interior Designer – The Holy Spirit

The last two journals were about “cleaning house” and “taking out the trash”.

    Once we ‘clean house’ (empty ourselves and allow room for the Holy Spirit to make His home in us) and ‘take out the trash’ (leave our burdens with God), then He can be our “interior designer”.

    Most of us desire a beautifully “designed” home. You know, where everything is in place, beautiful pictures and decorations, like we see in decorating magazines. I don’t know about you, but that seems near impossible. My house has clutter, unfiled papers, and unfinished projects, and I’m not the best at decorating. I could hire a professional designer but first I’d need to get rid of the clutter before they could start, just like we need to get rid of the clutter in our lives so the Holy Spirit can make His home beautiful.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.   1 Peter 3:3-4

    We can be beautiful on the outside with pretty clothes, good hair style, and lots of “bling”, but 1 Peter 3:4 says it’s our “inner beauty” that is of great worth.

    You’ve heard the saying “we are what we eat”? If we eat a diet of mostly junk food, we’ll eventually have failing health. Or “What we focus on is what we become”. You can tell a lot about someone’s focus by what they have in their homes. You can also tell a lot about someone’s focus by their actions. If one’s focus is on a dysfunctional past, hurts, or other negative things, they will show negativity and bitterness. If their focus is on Christ and Godly things, they will be loving, patient, and giving…in other words, more like Christ.

Is the Holy Spirit YOUR designer?

Are you focusing on Godly things in order to become more beautiful in Christ?

Having a beautiful Spirit is more beautiful than having “outward adornment”.

~Joanie Lawrence-Cain

Take Out the Trash

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:31-32 

    Last week’s journal was about “cleaning house”, emptying ourselves and allowing room for the Holy Spirit to make His home in us. It may be somewhat easy to “clean house”,  but if we don’t “take out the trash”, (leave our burdens with God), we are tempted to “pick them back up”. Then we are right back to a messy house.

    For many years I struggled with bad feelings toward a couple of people in my past. I routinely prayed for God to change those feelings and give me peace. It was easy to “clean house” by recognizing that I needed to remove my bitterness, hatred, and unforgiveness, but I didn’t “take out the trash”.  Instead, I held on to it by rehearsing in my mind the events that took place and the things that hurt me. I continued to be bitter and not forgive which then led to anger, unhappiness, low self-esteem, and more. Once I started doing what it takes by “taking out the trash”, I began to forgive and find peace which led to patience, kindness and love.

Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. Psalm 55:22

    It doesn’t say to give your burdens to the Lord, then take them back. No, He wants us to let Him deal with them.

    When we take back our burdens or don’t give them to God in the first place, we are telling Him that we don’t trust Him. How does that make Him, God of the Universe, feel?

     Reasons we take them back may be because it’s a habit, we are independent and think we can do things on our own, or we don’t understand how big our God is.

     So, what can you do to “take out your trash”, i.e.: leave your burdens with God?

             -Pray! We can’t develop a relationship with someone if we don’t talk to them, even God. In communicating with Him, you gain trust and begin to shift your focus to Him instead of on your burdens.

            -Be conscience of your thoughts. Don’t let the past replay in your mind. Replace those negative thoughts with good thoughts.

             -Dwell in God’s Word. That’s one way He communicates with us. Find encouraging verses to rehearse. Write them on a sticky note or postcard. Read them often.

             -Find and focus on positive things. Look for the good in others and in situations. Look for God in everything. He’s there.

     What are you hanging on to that you need to take out to the trash? Regret or hurt in your past? Ill feelings towards someone? Guilt? A character defect or habit?   Whatever it is, God wants you to give it to Him.
~Joanie Lawrence-Cain

Clean House

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Philippians 2:5-7

   As Christians who love God, we are His. We want to live for Him, shine for Him, and be a vessel for Him. Likewise, God loves us, He wants to shine through us, and work through us to encourage each other and reach others who don’t know Him. Simply put, the Holy Spirit wants to “make His home in us”. He wants to live in and through us. When our lives are full of sin, idols, and other focuses besides Jesus, there is no room for Him. We need to “clean house”! We need to empty ourselves and allow room for the Holy Spirit to make His home in us.

    Several years ago, I had an opportunity to witness to a very close, non-Christian friend, who was asking about Jesus. I couldn’t find the words to say. It was then that I realized I wasn’t living for Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to work through me to be His witness. I wasn’t reading my Bible, I wasn’t praying, I wasn’t going to Church regularly, nor was I spending any time with God. I didn’t have a “relationship” with Him. I was focused on “other stuff”- stuff of this world. I realized I needed to “clean house” (empty myself of the past, my sins and things not of God) before He could fill me and work through me to minister.

    In Philippians 2:5-7 Paul tells us that even Jesus emptied Himself. We don’t think of Him having to do that because He was God. But in order to teach us how to live, He chose to humble himself, take on the form of a slave and be made in our likeness. As a man, he could have had “clutter” in His life just like we do, but He chose to “keep His house clean” by continually emptying Himself. As should we.

 Are you “cleaning house” to make room for the Holy Spirit?
~Joanie Lawrence-Cain

We’ll Be Known By Our Fruits

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?  
Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  
Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.   Matthew 7:16-20

    Many people, especially non-Christians, are on “look-out” for when we mess up, then are quick to judge us as Christians. They expect us to “bear good fruit.” Or perhaps, even waiting for us to bear “bad fruit.”

    Galatians 5:22 lists the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” When we allow the Holy Spirit to dwell in us by having a relationship with God, we begin producing these fruits.

    When I was in college, as a new Christian, I went to many church functions, hung out with the Christian group in college, carried a Bible everywhere I went, wore jewelry with Christian symbols, owned many Christian books, and had a “Jesus Loves You” bumper sticker on my car. I was proclaiming the Christian life but wasn’t bearing good fruits. I was so focused on “Christianity” that I didn’t focus on “having a relationship with God.” Even though God removed my quick temper, I still showed bitterness, envy, hatred, gloom, judgement and many more “bad fruits.”

    In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus is talking about the difference between false prophets and His disciples. He says, “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”

    It’s easy to get “busy with life” and forget to notice the bad fruits that come out of us (bad habits, bad language, bad attitudes, bad temper, etc.) and we forget to notice how those look to others.

 Are you like a good tree that is bearing good fruit?

     Do you have some branches, bearing bad fruit, that need pruning?

Ask the Holy Spirit to remove those branches and replace them with branches that bear good fruit.

 ~Joanie Lawrence-Cain