Stepping Stones

    My last post was about ‘stumbling blocks’. Our actions and decisions do affect those around us.God would rather us be ‘stepping stones’ for each other.

    Think of life as a mucky river (all the worldly sin & temptations) or raging rapids (the turmoil of bad things that happen). We need stepping stones, so we can stay out of the muck, stay on track and have a firm place to stand.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
  Psalm 40:2

    God gave us Himself (the ultimate gift), He gave us His Word for instruction, and He gives us prayer to communicate with Him. All of these are ‘stepping stones’ (if we use them). But, He has also given us each other, brothers and sisters in Christ.

A few ways we can be a Stepping Stone for others:

Love Each Other

    Jesus gave His disciples a new command, to love one another as HE has loved them. The love Jesus had for them, and has for us, is so great that he was willing to die for them, a sacrificial love. I believe this was a ‘new command’ because before Jesus’ ministry, they had never seen that kind of love. This kind of love is not a feeling nor an emotion, but it’s a decision. It’s only when we have the Spirit of God living within us, that we are able to love like that. Wow! If we ALL had that kind of love for each other, there would be less muck in our lives and a whole lot less turmoil!

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34

Encourage Each Other

    Most individuals have had some type of discouragement in their past. Maybe they were bullied in school, treated badly by someone they were to look up to and respect, or things just didn’t quite go as planned. To each this may have likely resulted in them feeling inadequate about themselves and discouraged. This, in turn, culminates poor choices in actions and decisions. We might be amazed what someone can do if they just have a little encouragement.   

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Support Each Other

    In Galatians 6:2, Paul tells us to carry each other’s burdens. That sounds ‘heavy’! Life can get tough! Many of us have felt overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, hopeless, alone and/or abandoned. Even though we know these things are not of God, we still struggle with them. But, God gave us each other. We listen to each other, we cry for each other, and we pray for each other because we were never meant to ‘do life’ alone.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Talk Positive of and to Each Other

    The words we choose can either be harmful or helpful.  Gossip can bring harm even though not spoken directly to the person. Gossip also doesn’t set a Christ-like example in us, and as I mentioned last week, we, as Christians, are always being watched.  Paul instructs us in Ephesians that our words should build each other up and benefit those who listen.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

Forgive Each Other

   Matthew 6:14-15 indicates that forgiveness is NOT an option. If you want forgiven by God, you have to first forgive others.  Speaking from experience, this is no feeling like that of having forgiven someone, a feeling of freedom and a burden lifted. Timing is of the essence but, if you want to soften the heart of someone….offer them forgiveness.

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

Put Others First

    We live in a selfish society. With businesses marketing to convince us of what we need, and our own selfish wants and desires, we tend to not consider the consequences of others. Putting others first takes discipline. Jesus is the perfect example of ‘putting others first’. He put all of us first when he died on the cross. None of us can top that for unselfishness!

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 
not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Philippians 2:3-4

Gifts of the Spirit

    Discovering and implementing the Spiritual Gifts that God has blessed us with is another way of equipping us to become ‘stepping stones’ for each other. We are all uniquely gifted for a purpose. When we use the Gifts God has equipped us with, we, the body of Christ, fit together like a puzzle. Each has its place and purpose, therefore, providing ‘stepping stones’ for each other. For example, if I’m grieving, I need someone with the gift of Mercy. If a group is planning a Vacation Bible School, it needs someone gifted with leadership.

For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 
so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. 
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them
…   Romans 12:4-6a

Think of someone in your life that is or has been a ‘stepping stone’ for your spiritual growth.

How are you being a ‘stepping stone’ to those around you?
 


Stumbling Blocks

So, then each of us will give an account of himself to God.  Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.   Romans 14:12-13

It’s easy to think that our actions and choices don’t affect those around us, but they do.

   The fact is, other Christians and especially non-Christians are always watching us. Many think that we should live perfectly once we become saved and they may even doubt our conversion if they see us doing anything that is ‘un-Christ’ like. Although there should be outward evidence of change, we never become perfect, let alone overnight. Transformation is a process and progress if we have truly submitted to God and are continually renewing our mind through prayer and study. We understand this, but most non-Christians don’t. Therefore, our imperfections become a ‘stumbling block’ for them to become believers. They can also affect our fellow Christians in what their own expectations should be.

“…Set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.”  1 Timothy 4:12

   As children of God, we have a responsibility to lead others to Christ as well as support our brothers and sisters in Christ. We do this through our actions and our words.

Negative words hurt.

   Gossiping and slander are actions of words that are very common ‘stumbling blocks’. Some don’t realize they are doing wrong when they talk about people. After all, they may be stating facts, or so they think. But neither are looked upon as good by others nor God. My Mother’s most often quote to me was “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.

A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret. Proverbs 11:13 

They visit me as if they were my friends, but all the while they gather gossip, and when they leave,
they spread it everywhere. 
Psalms 41:6

    This may not only involve the gossiper, but also those around them. Many people have difficulty being positive and not partaking in the negativity around them. By not speaking up or not leaving the conversation, they are partaking in it. We need to set an example by letting them know we don’t join in their gossip and slander.

Our actions speak to our youth (not only children, but also the young in Christ)

   Our youth watch and learn from us. Our habits are actions that teach our youth that it’s ok even though we tell them it’s not. (Actions speak louder than words) If we say a swear word, they most likely will think it’s ok to swear even though we tell them not to. They also learn good and bad personality traits, like: love, compassion, patience or yelling, frustration, impatience, to name a few. You’re not just influencing their life but the next generation as well.

The righteous man walks in his integrity; His children are blessed after him. Proverbs 20:7

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!  Matthew 18:6-7

Effects of Addictions

   Our addictions affect those around us in many ways. Whether they are the most considered, like drugs and alcohol, or ones we don’t think about being addictions, like TV, social media, overworking, food, etc. they take precedence over God, our family, and other important things in our lives. Substance addictions create a change in personality, take away finances, and a lot of cases can cause harm to others.

   There are many more that could be mentioned, but in summary, the ‘stumbling blocks’ Paul was talking about in Romans was: anything that hinders a relationship with God and others. We have a responsibility as Christians to encourage one another, not to cause them to stumble. Romans 14:2-13 states that one day we’re going to be judged by God on how our decisions affected other people.

    Not only do these actions and decisions affect others, they affect OUR relationship with God. We can’t grow closer in our relationship with Him if we have ‘stumbling blocks’ in our own life.

Questions to ask before making choices: 

  • “What would Jesus do?”
  • “If God were standing beside me right now, would I be embarrassed by my current behavior?”
  • “Will my choice harm other people?”
“What stumbling blocks are your actions or behaviors creating for others?”
 


Complacent Christian

For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; Proverbs 1:32
 
    Complacency (noun): feeling of calm satisfaction with your own abilities or situation that prevents you from trying harder.
Christian complacency can be described as being satisfied with your current personal effort in pursuing Jesus.
 
    Years ago, when I became a Christian, I was so excited to live my life for Christ. I wanted to learn more about Him, the Bible, and what it meant to be a Christian. I knew I was never going to stray. (haha) When I first repented of my sins, I felt a sense of cleansing and newness. I wanted to hang on to that feeling forever.
 
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, Acts 3:19
 
    I reached the point of recognizing God’s goodness, seeing miracles, and influencing others in their Christian faith. Then I got stuck there. It’s easy to focus on those victories, instead of striving towards the next victory, and pursuing God. This was the beginning of complacency.
 
    Many new Christians don’t receive guidance beyond baptism. I’ve seen many people become Christians, get baptized, then what? Our salvation is important, but that’s not ALL that God has for us. He wants us to grow closer to Him, fellowship with Him, talk to Him, … have a relationship with Him. He has also called us to do and be much more. Christians who disciple.
 
Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20
 
    I am a Christian because an ordinary Christian became a disciple, followed God’s guidance, and shared the Good News with me. And others since, have continued to encourage and minister to me.
 
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. Thessalonians 5:11
 
    If our dedication of prayer, study, fellowship and intentional living for Him isn’t continued, we develop a lack of ambition and lose our focus. The ‘new’ wears off. We get busy with other things. Eventually, we don’t see a need to strive for more in our Christian lives. We begin to believe that our one hour a week, sitting through worship, is enough. Then we justify missing a Sunday here and there, justifying that we can still be Christians without going to Church. We may even begin to doubt who God really is. Next thing we know, we are just living our lives as ‘good people’, instead of intentionally for Christ. Hence, Christian complacency.
 
    This lack of ambition gets us nowhere, and Satan loves that. Proverbs 11:32 says that we will be destroyed by our complacency. The less ambition and determination we have to follow Christ and do our part in the Kingdom of God, the more our churches suffer. Churches don’t grow If the people within them don’t grow. Complacent people = Complacent churches. Many churches now days are just surviving. God does not want His people and His churches to “survive.” He wants them to thrive.
 
So what can you do to avoid Christian complacency?
  • Be sure you have truly let Jesus into your life.
  • Pray intentionally (personal quiet time in prayer)
  • Pray consistently (be aware that God is always with you)
  • Be thankful and forgiving. (Un-thankfulness and unforgiveness can be spiritual roadblocks)
  • Read and study God’s Word (Not only on your own, but also in a group. We learn from others)
  • Build relationships with friends and family who openly share their faith. (encourage each other)
  • Take an inventory of your life, observing your faith, priorities, desires and distractions. Idols (material things, money, people, work, success), personal characteristics (perfectionism, pride, greed, unforgiveness, procrastination, negativity), can all take our focus away from God, resulting in complacency.
  • Begin utilizing your Spiritual Gift(s) (each of us are equipped with God given gifts for the work of ministry)
  • Continue going to Church each Sunday (you never know who you may witness to, just by your presence)
 
That list looks like a lot, but it is not overwhelming when you let God lead.
 


Those Pesky Weeds

I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man. Proverbs 24:30-34

    Spring is here and so are the weeds in my flower beds! They resemble the ground of the sluggard and the one with no sense in Proverbs 24:30-34. The beautiful flowers were hidden and being choked out by the tall weeds. Last weekend, while spending several hours of hard work (on my knees), pulling those stubborn weeds, I thought of how they are like my sins and my flower bed like my messy life. Even though some Christians appear to ‘have it all together’, I know I’m not alone in my messy life. If each of our lives were portrayed as flower beds, most would not be beautiful landscapes like Botanica Gardens.

    A weed is defined as ‘a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.’ Similarly, our sin is growing where it is not wanted and is in competition with the Holy Spirit living within us. 

Begin Transforming Your Landscape.

    The making of beautiful landscapes takes planning, a lot of time, and hard work. Even the ground at Botanica was once messy and undesirable, but someone had a vision. They began to make plans, they brought in labor and equipment, and began the process of turning the mess into beautiful landscapes. Like the Botanica Gardens, in order to remove the mess in our lives and make beautiful landscapes out of them we need to have a vision (God’s vision for us), begin following His plans, using tools such as praying and reading the Bible, fellowship and encouraging each other to keep on track.

Recognize Obstacles

    There are many obstacles in transforming our lives into a beautiful landscape, such as, not seeing the need to ‘pull the weeds’, it takes too much effort, they are really small and insignificant, many have become habits, and most of them we’ve become very comfortable with.

Varieties of Weeds

   Like sin, there are many varieties of weeds. Some have shallow roots and are easily removed, some have really strong roots that go really deep, and some have roots that seem to travel forever underground. Some weeds are deadly and have thorns, while others are even very colorful and attractive. No matter what their characteristics are, they need to be gone and they won’t go away on their own. If left alone, they will take over. And worse yet, like the traveling roots or the dandelion seeds that drift with the wind, the weeds even end up in the neighbor’s yard. Oftentimes, we don’t think our sins affect those around us, yet they do. Sins of negativity and complaining are the two most destructive to our neighbors.

Digging Deep

    Digging down deep and getting the roots or spraying weed killer is the key to putting an end to those pesky weeds. If the roots are not dealt with, they will continually come back and usually more aggressive than before. Like the weeds that have runners, a lot of our sins seem to travel and surface where least expected. For example, many people with addictions have had a tragedy in their past. Therefore, the addiction isn’t the root, it’s the tragedy.  We can’t triumph over those ‘weeds’ if we don’t get to the root of them.

Discern Good from Bad

    Like the plants in our landscapes, sometimes it’s difficult to tell if that thing in our life is good or bad. (We’re in denial. We justify that it’s ok. We procrastinate. God hasn’t yet revealed to us that it’s a sin. Or we don’t take the time to listen to God when He’s telling us our sin is not ok) It’s easy to ignore our sins. Many days, I don’t look at my flower bed. Out of sight, out of mind, right? That’s when the ‘weeds’ get out of control. Then it really takes some work to get it back in shape. The sooner we get those ‘weeds’ out, the more manageable our landscape will be.

    When I first gave my life to Christ, I was overwhelmed with all the changes I needed to make in my life. (I still am at times) The ‘weeds’ had taken over my life. How could I ever transform enough to be a beautiful landscape? Like my flower beds, it is an ongoing transformation. It takes time and it takes something stronger than just raking them out. It takes ‘weed killer’ (Jesus), tools (Bible Study), a work crew (Christian family) and getting on our knees (prayer).

Replace with GoØd

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.  Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.  Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” Matthew 12:43-45

    After we pull the weeds, making sure to get the roots out, they need to be replaced with good plants. Otherwise, like the impure spirit in Matthew 12:43-45, more ‘weeds’ will come up in their place.

Choke out the ‘weeds’ by planting seeds of faith and water them with prayer and God’s Word.

What are the ‘weeds’ in your landscape?
 
~Joanie Lawrence-Cain


God’s Dump Yard

   In the small community where I grew up, we had a ‘community dump’ a few blocks from our house (outside of town). Back then, we didn’t have a trash service, so this is where we disposed of our garbage, trash and broken items. The township would occasionally burn and bury it to make room for more. I remember often it was quite stinky.

   I was amazed, almost every time my dad went there, he came back with ‘treasures’. He found antique marbles, old glass bottles, even some vintage toys that were churned up when they buried the recent trash. Occasionally he would bring back something he thought he could fix, like small electrical items. Often though he either couldn’t fix it, or never got around to it, he was excited to have rescued something of value.

   Wouldn’t it be great if we had a ‘dump’ to deposit all the ‘trash’ in our lives? Stuff like past hurts, past mistakes, and all our past sins? Well, we do! We can take it all to God. God disposes of our past and remembers it no more. We can leave it ALL with Him and begin each day anew.

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. Hebrews 8:12

    Like the ‘community dump’ back home, if we don’t let God ‘burn and bury’ our trash, it builds up, overflows, and spills out as hatred, anger, bitterness and a whole lot of other bad, stinky, character defects. And unfortunately, we tend to go back, dig up our “trash,” and bring it back home again.

    When we give our collection of garbage (emotions), trash (character defects), and broken items (brokenness) to God and allow Him to burn and bury them (remembering them no more), we have room to bring back ‘treasures’ (ability to experience God’s love and His grace) and we’re free to be who He created us to be and to love others as He loves.

    Some of the items my Dad brought back from the ‘dump’ had ‘potential’ value but each of US has DEFINITE value in God’s eyes. So, dump your garbage, trash and brokenness at the foot of the Cross, give your life to Jesus, and watch Him clean you up and fill you with new treasures (the Holy Spirit).

    Like my dad and his ‘precious treasures’ he found at the ‘dump’, God is super excited to rescue us and clean us up, because He values and loves us unconditionally. The difference is, God has both the ability to fix us, and the patience to take the time needed. Even in our brokenness and selfishness we ARE His valued treasure.

What ‘garbage, trash, and brokenness’ in your life do you need to give to God?

Do you truly KNOW, in your heart, you are God’s valued treasure?
 
~Joanie Lawrence-Cain


Change in the Church

    My last couple of journals have been about change. Change in Our Lives and Changed Lives. Change is good and necessary as long as it is in line with God. Change is how we grow spiritually. Take a look at the disciples and the changes they went through when they committed to following Jesus. In the end it was all for the good! They all came to know Jesus, His purpose for living, His purpose for dying and the ultimate plan for redemption and salvation.

    But what about change in our church? YIKES! “We’ve always done it that way!”, “They need to change! (but not me, Lord)”, “It worked back then!”, “This pastor doesn’t do things like the pastor 20 years ago!” These are just a few comments that we say and hear in our churches.

    So, when it comes to our church, what change is good and necessary for the health of the church and it’s people?

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  Acts 2:42-47

    In summarizing Acts 2:42-47, they were all (not just the pastor) devoted to the Lord. They were devoted to the teaching of the apostles, fellowship with one another, breaking bread together, prayer and helping those in need.  They continued to meet together in temple courts (church) and they met in their homes (home groups). This all resulted in the Lord adding to their number daily those who were being saved (growing the church).

    As a church, how much of that do we do, or is going to church and sitting in the pew for one hour a week enough? I don’t think the believers Luke was writing about in Acts just sat and listened for one hour a week. My understanding is that they were ‘all in’, believing every word of Jesus, following every command from Him and diligently praying. I don’t believe their meeting together involved strictly talk about their grand-kids, their local garden club or the weather. I vision their fellowship involving talk about Jesus, their lives in Him and focus on how they could help those in need. Even the followers back then weren’t perfect, nor are we, but we should keep pressing towards becoming more like Jesus. The results will be, leading others in following Him and seeing ‘changed lives’. (being disciples who make disciples and serve others in the world around them)

    As we look at our current situations in a few of the churches here in our little town, change is inevitable. New pastors will come to lead us as a shepherd leads their flock. They will have different ways of doing things, different personalities, and different lifestyles. How should we embrace those changes? By becoming the church and diligently praying for guidance in the changes to come, not just the changes in pastors but changes within each of us. We can’t embrace changes needed in our church if we aren’t willing to allow change within ourselves.

    Christ must be the head of the church in order for it to be fully functional and He cannot be head if each of us don’t do our part in being His disciples.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

    As Christians, we are to be disciples of Christ and in doing so, we lead others to become disciples. God doesn’t need Christians who sit in the pew one hour a week, He needs our ‘all in’. There is a big Kingdom here on earth that God needs our help in growing.

Are you diligently praying for the health of your church?

How are you acting as Christ’s disciples for more than one hour a week?

 
~Joanie Lawrence-Cain


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