Changed Lives

    Last week’s journal was about ‘change in our lives’ and how we can grow closer to God by embracing those changes; but Praise God! when those changes result in drastically ‘changed lives’. Lives lived for Christ!

    The Apostle Paul is probably the most dramatic example of a ‘changed life’ in the Bible. In fact, a large majority of the main characters in the Bible led very dysfunctional lives before they allowed God to transform their lives. (A few even fell away a couple of times, which demonstrates to us that God still loves us even with our mistakes and we can still surrender to Him for work in His Kingdom.)

    I’m sure you’ve heard testimonies and even witnessed someone whose life has drastically changed by God. I remember when I was younger, I knew of some of those people. I heard comments from non-Christians like “They got religion and now they’re a ‘Holy Roller’ ” or “They’ve become a ‘Jesus freak’.”

    Well, if being a ‘Holy Roller’ or a ‘Jesus Freak’ is the path that will lead to eternal life and a life transformed, sign me up! Being concerned with what others think of us won’t help us to fully serve God nor experience the blessings of His love and grace.

So, what is this ‘change’? Jesus said “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Matthew 4:17

    Repentance in the Bible means to not only turn away from your sin but to also turn to God. Acts 26:20b Paul declared, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” This is not something you do in your mind, it must be done in your heart. (and sometimes it seems like it’s a LONG way from my mind to my heart!)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,
so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
  Romans 12:2a

    Accepting Jesus into your heart is not just a one-time decision. Repenting and renewing of your mind should be ongoing, daily, even hourly. It’s a process. You should be continually growing in your relationship with Jesus. Constant renewing your thinking through the power of the Holy Spirit results in life transformation not just salvation.

If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  2 Corinthians 5:17

    2 Corinthians 5:17 says that we are a new creation. He wipes away our past sins and makes us new. In fact, according to Jeremiah 31:34, he doesn’t even remember them. If God doesn’t remember them, we shouldn’t hang on to them either.

for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31:34b

    Because of our sins, the mistakes we’ve made, and how we’ve acted and treated others in our past, it’s challenging to see ourselves as God sees us. God doesn’t have any trouble seeing who we really are and who He created us to be. Many (or most) of us seem to like hanging on to our past. There is no freedom in that, in fact it’s like dragging a ball and chain.

If we could see ourselves as God sees us….imagine the faith we’d have and the transformation within ourselves that we’d experience.

How ‘changed’ is your life? Do you have a transformation story?

What part of your past is keeping you from being the person God created you to be?
~Joanie Lawrence-Cain


Change In Our Lives

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

    As much as a daily routine can be a good thing, it is easy to get in a rut. There are days when I feel like I’m on a ferris wheel. I get up, go to work, go home, sleep, then get up and do it all over again, day after day. Even a one-day change of routine or a day off doesn’t seem like enough to get me out of the rut.

    Many of us desire change, and businesses today use high pressure marketing strategies to convince us that what they have to offer is just what we need. With many people, the desire for change can become a type of addiction. As with any type of addiction, that desire can’t be fulfilled by anything but God.

    In our fast-paced society, we have the ‘worldly’ tendency to make impulsive changes. Those choices often produce outcomes such as debt, divorce, lost relationships, etc. which are never good. Therefore, as Christians we should rely on God’s guidance for changes in our lives. We shouldn’t wake up one day and abruptly decide to move to another state or quit our job. We should pray about it and let God put the desires and direction in our heart. When we follow His direction, changes will be blessings not chaos or negativity.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach,
and it will be given to him.
James 1:5

    One question we might ought to ask ourselves is “Has God put a desire for change in my heart or am I following the world in desiring change?” If it’s a desire to get a bigger house, or a fancier car then it’s probably your desire, not God’s. Relationships are also an area in our lives we desire change. Because of our character defects, relationships are difficult. Many people have the tendency to walk away instead of seeking God’s direction in keeping those relationships healthy. (having said that, we should not stay in relationships that are extremely toxic) We have a tendency to do what is easy instead of what God would desire for us.

    Change can be positive or negative and can be a result of something we do, something someone else does, or something uncontrolled by any human.

    Little things like cleaning or rearranging a work area or an area of the house can be positive. This week I cleaned my office. It was a small yet motivating and uplifting change, a sense of ‘newness’. 

    Weather can also be a positive change, a type of new beginning. The past couple of days, the weather has been really nice (despite the Kansas winds), convincing us that we might have a Spring this year. The trees budding and beautiful flowers beginning to bloom is a refreshing sight from the dry brown grass we’ve seen all Winter. Each season brings a type of ‘newness’.  Years ago, I had a job in retail. We noticed that sales were up when there was a change in the weather, even bad weather. That change created a small break in routine.

   While we can implement small changes on our own, God wants to be involved in EVERY part of our lives, big or small, but we especially need to rely on Him for the BIG changes.

    The most important changes made in our lives should be ones that bring us into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. By seeking Him and His direction in every change, big or small, we will grow closer to Him.
~Joanie Lawrence-Cain


Faith and a Lamb

“Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”  Genesis 22:2

    Abraham was obviously a man of great faith! Can you imagine his reaction when God instructed him to sacrifice his only son as a burnt offering? And THEN, imagine Isaac’s reaction when he found out that he himself was to be that burnt offering! YIKES!

    Abraham trusted God because he knew Him. He knew that whatever God instructed him to do would work out for the good because He is GOD. Wow! To have that kind of faith! It’s obvious that Isaac also had faith and fully trusted Abraham and God. Most sons his age would have ran for their lives! But not Isaac.

    In Genesis 17:19 God tells Abraham “…. your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.  Abraham trusted God, obeyed God, and believed God was a God of His word when He told Abraham of the covenant He would establish with Isaac. According to that covenant, Isaac would HAVE to be alive in order to have ‘descendants after him.’ After all, he hadn’t had children yet. And he knew God did not lie.

   Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. Hebrews 11:19

    Although not knowing what God had planned, according to Hebrews 11:19 Abraham had faith that He would raise Isaac from the dead because he knew He could. 

    This story of Abraham and Isaac prefigures God’s ‘Ultimate Sacrifice’, Jesus Christ in many ways. Like Jesus, Isaac was the only son, whom was loved by his father. Both Jesus and Isaac are to be sacrificed on a hill (the same hill) and each offered by their father. Both carried the wood that they were to be sacrificed on (Isaac the firewood and Jesus the Cross). Both were voluntarily willing to be sacrificed.

    On that hill, in place of Isaac, God provided the ‘substitutionary sacrificial lamb’, a ram (Genesis 22:13). Because of sin, you and I should be on that Cross but God provided us with the ‘substitutionary sacrificial lamb’, Jesus. 

It’s hard to trust God when we don’t understand the whole plan.

When is a time when you didn’t fully have faith and trust God, but realized later that He had it all under control?

What does it mean to you to have a ‘substitutionary sacrificial lamb’?
 
~Joanie Lawrence-Cain


He Took Your Place!

He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5
 
   Today is Good Friday, the day when we reflect upon the events that took place in order for us to have eternal life. I find myself more emotional each year, as I grow Spiritually and learn more about Jesus. The more I read and study the Bible, the more real the celebrated Biblical events in this season become. I don’t think anyone can truly grasp nor understand the reality and magnitude of how and why Jesus suffered and died for us. He is our substitute. We deserve to die because of our sins, but He took our place!
You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13–14
 
A few reasons we probably don’t grasp the true reality of these events:
  • They took place over 2000 years ago. As years go by, we become more removed from the events that took place in our past generations.
  • Pictures, statues, and even the films don’t depict the true gruesomeness and severity of the events.
  • Crucifixions aren’t performed in our age. Very few details are spelled out in scripture, probably because it was a common form of punishment in those days.
  • We weren’t physically there to witness His last hours, therefore, we can’t imagine it in a real sense. Similarly, I heard the news, heard people’s stories, and even saw pictures of 9/11, the hurricanes, fires and floods, but I can’t begin to grasp the reality like the people who were actually affected.
  • People who have a distant relationship with Jesus or don’t know Him at all, naturally don’t understand the impact of the Crucifixion.
Here’s a watered-down summary of the physiological and anatomical aspects of our Lord’s passion based on Dr. C. Truman Davis’s more detailed writing:
 
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly:
and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Luke 22:44
 
   Jesus prayed much on a regular basis, BUT Luke 22:44 says he prayed MORE earnestly the night before His crucifixion. What if we would pray a portion of what He prayed that night? And He had sweat as great drops of blood (a condition called Hematidrosis). THAT’s some severe stress!
 
Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said,
“Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him. Mark 14:65
   After they arrested Him, He was spit on, blindfolded, and beaten. Blindfolded so he couldn’t dodge the punches. His eyes were no doubt swollen shut from the beatings to the face.
 
and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. Matthew 27:26b
    Flogging typically involved a whip with leather thongs embedded with bits of metal, bone, or glass. His back would have been shredded and severe loss of blood.
 
and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. Matthew 27:29a
    Then they put a ‘crown of thorns’ on His head, and they weren’t gentle with that!
 
    Crucifixion is the most painful death ever invented by man. It was invented by the Persians and perfected by the Romans. It was primarily used for the most vicious criminals. The cross was laid on the ground and Jesus was placed on his back, arms stretched out and nailed to the crossbar. Long nails were then driven in the wrists in a precise place that would sever the largest nerve in the hand.
The knees were flexed about 45 degrees and the feet were bent downward with a nail driven through the feet so it would sever the artery. This position on the cross results in a horrific sequence of events which results in a slow, painful death.
 
 
    Jesus knew this was the will of God, yet he still asked three times in the garden: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” Matthew 26:39b
 
    Being fully God yet fully human, His human nature struggled with accepting the brutal torture ahead. In Matthew 26:41 He tells the disciples that “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
 
    He knew He had to go through with it in order for you and I to be able to spend eternity with Him and He loved us enough to endure it all.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” Matthew 28:5-6
 
    Though the last hours were dark and traumatic, the happy ending is in Matthew 28:5-6, “He has risen, just as he said.
 
How ‘real’ to you are the events leading up to the Resurrection?
 
Have you truly thought about how these events affect you personally?
 
~Joanie Lawrence-Cain


Yesterday’s Gone

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.  2 Corinthians 5:17

    Do you ever have nagging images from your past that come to mind way too often? Those ‘poor choice’ moments where you have done something hurtful or wrong and you’re sure everyone in the whole world remembers and judges you on it? Those times when you opened your mouth with good intentions only to find yourself saying something totally out of context, incorrect, poor timing or just plain dumb? Those times you’ve made ‘life changing’ decisions that didn’t end up so good?

    Through all the years of worldly choices, it’s easy to let your past define who you are. It affects your self-confidence. It clouds your vision of who you really are and who you can be. But most of all, it distorts your vision of who God sees you as.

    It’s difficult to let your past be your ‘past’. But God says that old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. When you made the decision to let Jesus into your life, you repented of your sins (gave God your past) and became a ‘new creation’. In other words, we no longer belong to the world, but we belong to God. Acts 3:19 says that your sins are wiped out and 1 John 1:9 says that you are purified from all unrighteousness.

Repent therefore and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out. Acts 3:19

 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

    When you hang on to your past, replaying it in your mind, failing to acknowledge that God has wiped it clean, you feel like you are dragging a ‘ball & chain’. You’re burdened as if you have the weight of the world on you. I don’t know about you, but I have enough stress and I’m dragging enough weight around without the ‘ball and chain’ of my past.

    Not having a clear vision of who you really are also hinders relationships. When you visualize yourself as others still see you, you can tend to see yourself as less than who you truly are. When you visualize others as thinking less of you than they really do, you respond as if you don’t deserve their friendship and you distance yourself from them. If your friends are Christians, they also should learn to see you as God sees you.

    So, repent (often) of your sins. Give ALL your past to God (He will wipe it out). Begin to see yourself as a ‘new creation in Christ’. You are a Child of the One True King!

Your ‘past’ doesn’t define who you are, God’s presence does.

Yesterday’s gone and today is a new day in Christ!
 
~Joanie Lawrence-Cain


What’s Your Golden Calf?

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.”  Exodus 20:2-3When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Exodus 32:1

 He [Aaron] took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; Exodus 32:4

   While Moses was on Mount Sinai, the Israelites became very impatient and failed to trust God. Forty days would seem like a long time, as they were anticipating Moses’ return.  

    Although it is difficult to have patience, we wouldn’t need to grow our trust in God if He gave us everything before we needed it.

    In Exodus 32:1 [Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt], it sounds like they have already forgotten that GOD is the one who brought them out of Egypt. The more discouraged they became in the wilderness, the more they gave credit or blame to Moses, and the less they thought about God.

    We all have a desire to worship. Even though the Israelites knew and agreed to the law to ‘have no other gods’, they were impatient and convinced that Moses probably wasn’t coming back. Therefore, they built a golden calf to worship. Can you imagine how God and Moses felt? Moses is away, getting instruction from God on how to make a better life for all their people. Then he gets word that they have totally blown it! God and Moses were both angry and disappointed.

    I imagine God is also very disappointed in me when I ‘totally blow it’, when I’m basking in the delicious taste of my own ‘golden calf’ (food that I love, that tastes so good, that is so comforting—but only for a moment.)

    In today’s, materialistic society, full of the latest and greatest items like computers, cell phones that do everything, vehicles that have every option imaginable, smart TV’s, and video games, it is very difficult to not have ‘Golden Calves’ in our own lives. Material things may be the most obvious ‘Golden Calf’ but it can also be non-material things like a job, a hobby, sports, or family. I also believe our ‘Golden Calf’ can be a personality trait like negativity, lust, or greed. In other words, a ‘Golden Calf’ could be anything in your life that is lifted above God or comes between you and God.

In what ways or areas of your life do you need to have more patience and trust in God?

What is YOUR ‘golden calf’?
 
~Joanie Lawrence-Cain


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