New Year’s Resolutions

     As we begin a “New Year”, how many of us will once again make those “New Year’s Resolutions”? You know, the same ones each year, like lose weight, get in shape, get organized, manage finances better, quit drinking, quit smoking, etc. How long do these resolutions last? A few days, a few months? Usually not much past that.

As Christians we might make resolutions to pray more, read our Bible more, memorize verses of Scripture, or give more to our church.

     While all of these are good resolutions, our first priority (not just at the beginning of a year, but all year) should be to love God and to do His will in our lives. Therefore, we should set Godly goals and pursue them for Him and with His help.

     I’m a “list maker”. I feel inspired when I write down all that I need to do daily such as read my Bible, pray, exercise, take my vitamins, eat healthy, clean house, make a craft, etc. I would eagerly and excitedly write them all down with anticipation and confidence that this time I will succeed in doing them all forever. Then in reality, I may do them all one day, some I’d do for a week. Then I’d fail, not doing any of them. Feelings of inadequacy, failure, etc. would flood my mind. I finally realized that I couldn’t do these things on my own. Instead of trying to change everything at once, I needed to ask God what He wanted me to change and ask Him to help me. I have a long way to go but together, one change at a time, we are succeeding.

     My “resolution” became one of my prayers. I replaced each bad habit with Godly things. I made small changes like listening to Christian music instead of secular, reading Christian books & my Bible instead of magazines and surfing through Pinterest, listening to sermons/Christian podcasts instead of computer games, praying more for my family and loved ones instead of criticizing and judging them, making time for relaxation, and spending time with friends instead of making excuses that I’m too busy. What we fill ourselves with is what we become.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish
abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, Ephesians 3:20
 
My prayer for you in 2018 is that you will make one resolution – to draw closer to God.
He will guide you through the changes He would have you make.
 

~Joanie Lawrence-Cain



Member or Disciple?

Are you a member of your church or a disciple of Christ?

Is your primary relationship with the congregation or with Jesus Christ?

     In and out of your church, what do you hear about most: conversations about people and activities in our lives or our relationship with Jesus Christ and what He’s doing in our lives?

Membership – Members in a congregation are expected to:

  1. Give money to support others who do ministry such as the pastor or a missionary.
  2. Maintain the institution. Give enough money to keep the building heated, lights on, and maintained and to make sure that enough people take their turn on committees and council.
  3. Live an upright life and be a good citizen of the community.

 

Discipleship – Our primary relationship is with Jesus Christ, not the congregation. Although, the congregation is the community of people with whom this relationship is lived out and nurtured. 

  1. As disciples, we are commanded to have a deeper relationship with Jesus, become more like Jesus, and share the “Good News” with others.
  2. Disciples think of the pastor and the congregation being in a “partnership” instead of thinking they “pay the pastor”. They don’t complain about what the pastor is or isn’t doing but instead they understand that “ministry” belongs to all God’s people.
  3. Disciple’s life involves praying daily, reading scripture daily, going to church to worship weekly, tithing, serving others in Jesus’ name, and sharing Jesus with the unchurched.
  4. Disciples see that the church can’t grow within the walls of the church….they go out into the community to reach the unchurched, those in need, and those who have not gone to church for some time.

Nowadays, a lot of churches have few members and even fewer disciples.

Therefore, Christ’s call to discipleship is not an option but the livelihood of the church.

Our VISION should be on the Kingdom of God, NOT the church itself.

Are YOU a church member or a disciple of Christ?

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:19-20

As Christians, we are all called to be DISCIPLES!
 

-Joanie Lawrence-Cain



Christmas Joy

    The Christmas Season is here, Christmas Day is near. This is supposed to be a joyful time of year but for many people it isn’t quite as joyful as it should be. Many have lost loved ones during the holiday season, some have lost their jobs, disasters happen which create extra expenses, etc. These occurrences don’t make for “happy times” in ANY season but especially during the Holidays.

     My mother died in November of 1976. Because her death was so close to the Holidays, for many years I didn’t want to decorate for Christmas. I found it difficult to go through the process of getting gifts under the tree, and cooking was way too much effort. After many years, some friends came into my life who changed that. They inspired me to do things I used to do for Christmas. They helped me decorate, encouraged me to cook and went shopping with me. 

     When I began focusing on the true meaning of Christmas, the reason God created us and the reason Jesus came to earth, I began to realize that we are just a speck in the “Big Picture”. James 4:14 says Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

     This verse tells me that it’s not THIS life that is most important, but the life we will have for eternity with Jesus Christ. And knowing my mother and other loved ones are in a wonderful place, knowing God is taking care of them and knowing I will see them again is comforting and gives me reason to celebrate again.

     During those years of struggling, my focus was not on Jesus. I wasn’t reading my Bible, I wasn’t going to church, I wasn’t “casting my anxieties on Him”.

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  1 Peter 5:7

     Some of us seem to like “hanging on to” our anxieties, grief and problems. Maybe they are our “blankie” we want to keep wrapped up in.  Maybe we are afraid of what it will be like if we give them up. We say we want to get better and we want them to go away, but we don’t do what it takes to make it happen.

     When I found myself: on my knees, crying out to God for healing, began living my life for Him instead of for my own selfishness, regular prayer time and reading my instruction book for life (my Bible), I became more at peace, more joyful, and more inspired.  Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33

     During this joyful time of year, I want to encourage you to pause in your own “busyness”, look around, and find someone who needs a dose of “Christmas Joy”. Offer to help them decorate, cook a meal, bake some cookies or just sit and visit over hot chocolate. It always seems my own joy rekindles when I work to bring joy into someone else’s life.

     We don’t get well on our own…that’s why there are over 59 “one anothers” in the New Testament.

    I still think Christmas was a LOT more fun as a kid…but I have found a lot more joy now that my focus is on Jesus.

May you all remember the TRUE JOY of Christmas and share Him with others!

-Joanie Lawrence-Cain



Be Stirred

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another,
and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25
 
How active is your faith?
Have you just been going through the motions?
Too many distractions?
Do you feel like you could use a “faith boost”?
Is there or has there been someone in your life that is/was “stirred” in their faith
and you wished you were that way?
 

     Most of us have experienced the transforming moment when we realized in our heart God’s salvation plan for us, the moment when we made the decision to turn our life around and live for Him. (If you haven’t, we need to talk) Remember that feeling of being “stirred”? Excitement, fulfillment, relief, joy…. just to name a few emotions you may have had. Remember the almost instant understanding of it all? Were you inspired to learn about Him? Were you inspired to serve Him?

     Do you still have those feelings and ambitions or have they faded and you have gone back to your daily distractions with God in the background. Is your knowing you’re saved by His grace enough for you?

(I know, too many questions.)
 
     But we need to be “stirred”. As Christians, we have a battle to win. We aren’t just here to have a fun, enjoyable, relationship with God and enjoy His beautiful sunsets. In Genesis 1:28 God says we are to …subdue the earth; and have dominion over everything on the earth. His plan is to take back earth after Satan has taken possession when God cast him from Heaven.
 
Because of sin, there are many “broken” people that need to know Jesus
and we may be the only Bible they read.
 
Just as God sent Jesus to be an example, so we need to be examples to others.
He sent the Holy Spirit so we could do the things Jesus did.
 
Ways to become “stirred”:
Listen to sermons (with intent), pray… (often), fellowship with other Christians (not just talking about the weather), journal your thoughts and prayers, read your Bible…(often), become involved in a small group, and real spiritual growth happens when you begin leading a group and helping other in their spiritual walk.
 
Ok, last question: What will you do to “stir” the Holy Spirit in you?

-Joanie Lawrence-Cain



Spiritual Starvation

“Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes long for the pure milk of the Word that by it you may grow in respect to salvation if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”
1 Peter 2:2
 
     Thanksgiving is a time to give Thanks to God for our abundances. As US Citizens, we are fortunate to live in an area of the world where we have a lot. Most of us have what it takes to survive beyond our needs. Even though we do have hungry people in our country, starvation is far from what it is in many areas of the world.
 
But what about our spiritual needs?
Are we starving spiritually?
Are we starving for God, for His Word?
 
     Picture the people in villages where they are starving. They spend day after day hoping and praying for something to eat and drink. Now picture the food truck coming in to their village. I don’t imagine they sit back like it’s no big deal. No, they RUN eagerly and thankfully to get food and water. They are so excited to have something to help them survive.
 
That’s how we should be for God’s Word.
“Just as we hunger for food, so should we hunger for God’s Word.”
 
     We all have cravings…food, material things, physical love, and more. Most of us live a life of great abundance, yet we are not “craving” God, let alone “hungering” or “starving” for Him. Why is that? We are so caught up in our “gods”, like TV, computer games, social activities, addictions, etc. that we don’t make the time or effort, or maybe don’t see the need to replace them with time spent with our Heavenly God.
 
     It’s not that we don’t have access to His Word. Even though there are places in our world that, for one reason or another, don’t have Bibles, but THAT is not the case with us. We have access to Bibles and God’s Word almost everywhere. Most households have at least one Bible, we can download a Bible app on our phones and tablets, we can get all kinds of Biblical information on our computers, we have millions of publications to help us learn about God such as study books and devotionals. Yet, a majority of us are still starving spiritually.
 
     As we begin the busy holiday season, take time to learn to crave God. Begin by setting aside time each day for reading His Word. The more we get to know about God, the more we’ll want to actually know Him, and the more we will realize how Spiritually Starved we were.
 
Happy Thanksgiving!

-Joanie Lawrence-Cain



Be Spiritually Prepared for Worship

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and

I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.   Psalm 7:17 

    We wake up on Sunday mornings and get ourselves ready for church. We are caught up in the hustle and bustle of making ourselves look good and making sure everything is ready before leaving the house. We prepare for worship physically, but do we prepare ourselves spiritually? Do we enter the church being full of gratitude or are we there just going through the motions?

    As followers of Christ, worship is an opportunity to offer Him something He dearly wants from us: gratitude, thanksgiving, and praise. Worship is a way to express our souls and spirits to God as a response to His blessings. True worship begins in our hearts with knowing and understanding God’s love, grace and mercy for us.

    It’s easy to expect the music, the liturgy and sermon to prepare us and give us the “feelings” needed for worship. Many church-goers leave churches because the worship service didn’t “do anything for them”. Hmm, maybe they didn’t have gratitude in their hearts before they came in, therefore are looking for something that is missing in their hearts and not in the church.

    Worship is: to honor with extravagant love and extreme submission. Therefore, worship should not be limited to just Sunday mornings.

    The connection between us and God is the Holy Spirit. When, in our hearts, we show gratitude, thanksgiving, and praise to God through worship, the Holy Spirit becomes alive in us and pours out among others. That, is not only encouraging to our brothers and sisters but it is contagious.

Is worshiping on Sundays just a routine?

Do you truly know and understand in your heart God’s love, grace and mercy for you?

Do you take the time to prepare your heart for worship before you leave home on Sundays?

To you, is worship only at church on Sunday mornings or do you worship all week long?

-Joanie Lawrence-Cain



Stewardship – You Are God’s Financial Manager

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.   Matthew 6:31-33

       The Bible repeatedly warns us not to obsess over wealth, for the love of money leads to much dissatisfaction, grief, and evil. 

Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have;
for He has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  Hebrews 13:5

      In Mark chapter 10, Jesus commanded the rich young ruler to sell everything he had, give it to the poor, and follow Him. And in Mark chapter 12, He singled out the poor widow who gave all she had as a model of heroic generosity. But these are the extremes, not the biblical rule.

    In 2 Corinthians 9:7  The biblical steward is commanded to “give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”.
 
   Mark Allan Powell writes: “When we give cheerfully, as an act of worship, the very act of giving moves us to lose interest in ourselves and to devote ourselves to God. We may care about how the money that we give is used but that isn’t the reason we give it. We may appreciate having our gifts acknowledged, but that isn’t why we give them. In some mysterious way, such giving — motivated only by our love for God — ends up meeting out own deep spiritual needs and is intensely satisfying.”
 
    In short, we are not called to hand over all our wealth to someone else to manage, but rather to manage wisely the wealth God entrusts to us, sharing it ably and well as He guides us to.

-Joanie Lawrence-Cain



Stewardship – YOU are the Church

What is the Church?
 
Is it a building?
Is it a place where believers gather to worship?
Is it a program or a ministry?
 
NO, the church is you and me—believers who follow and serve Christ, who is the Head of the Church!
 
How we understand and perceive the Church is important in determining how we live our faith.  
 
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,
but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  Matthew 16:15-18
 
Jesus was referring to Peter’s declaration: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This confession of faith is
the rock upon which the church is built, and just like Peter, everyone who confesses Jesus Christ as Lord is a part of the Church.
 
The Church, “the body of Christ” began on the Day of Pentecost through the work of the Holy Spirit and will continue until the day of the rapture of the church.
 
As the local Church, we are to live in relationship with other believers—break bread together, pray for each other, teach and make disciples, strengthen and encourage one another.   
 
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and do good works,
not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another,
and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  Hebrews 10:24-25
 
All believers are members of the universal Church which is made up of everyone who exercises faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.  
 
For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—
whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were
all given the one Spirit to drink. 1 Corinthians 12:13
 
Canon Ernest Southcott, founder of the home church movement in England, defined the church:
“The holiest moment of the church service is the moment when God’s people—strengthened by preaching and sacrament—go out of the church door into the world to be the church. We don’t go to church; we are the church.”
 
The purpose of the Church is two-fold…To serve God and to serve others.
 
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you;
and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.  Matthew 28:19-20
 
So, the purpose of the church is to minister to believers and unbelievers.
 
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it1 Corinthians 12:27
 
It’s so easy to show up at church (the building), sit in the pews, and when it’s all over we get up and go about our lives not really letting it affect us or change us. We have done our “duty” to God.
 
So how do we BE the church?
By telling people about Jesus, and sharing with others what God is doing in your life. Help your friends know and understand what it means to be a Christian.
 
Don’t just invite them to church, invite them to Jesus Christ.

-Joanie Lawrence-Cain



Stewardship – Love Your Neighbor

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others,
as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10
 
The Stewardship of “relationships with others” is very important.
God instructs you to love your neighbor as yourself.
 
Who are our neighbors? Jesus answered this question in his parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. We are to be “Good Samaritans” to anyone who needs help, not just the people who live next door to us or our closest friends.
 
Although, we need to be careful that our well-intentioned efforts don’t do more harm than good. For example, if someone struggles with a gambling addiction, you don’t give them money. There are many ways to help people in need.
 
Our local Ministerial Alliance helps people in need. But they don’t hand them cash. They have requirements and restrictions in receiving assistance. Classes are required such as budgeting, meal planning, recovery, etc. Monetary repayment or community service hours are required. They are never given cash.
 
You’ve heard the phrase:
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for his life time.
 
The missionaries that our church supports, go all over the world in order to help people. They help by working with them to create resources and then teach them to manage those resources.
 
As Christians we fulfill the Great Commandment (Love God, Love your neighbor) when we show mercy to those who are in need.

-Joanie Lawrence-Cain



Stewardship – You Are God’s Gardener

Genesis 2:15 says “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

 It didn’t just end with Adam and it didn’t begin because of the Fall of Man. God created the earth so we could use its resources to do productive and creative things. Could He have created the world in such a way that it would take care of itself? Of course! But He didn’t. He created us (humans) in His image, put us in the Garden (earth), and instructed us to take care of it. He did not say, “It’s yours, do what you want with it.”

 If a friend loaned you something, how would you treat it? Most of us were taught to take care of it and return it in either the same or better condition than when we borrowed it. Since God owns everything, shouldn’t we take care of everything the best we can?

 He instructs us to care for our belongings, animals, public property, our church, our workplace, economic system and our good name. He even wants us to care for each other. Caring shows respect.

 What is God asking YOU to care for?

 What can you do to help care for your church?  Your Community?  Your Neighbor?

 How can we encourage one another to do more in showing respect for God’s world?

 YOU are a piece of God’s puzzle in keeping “God’s Garden” beautiful.

-Joanie Lawrence-Cain