Spiritual Growth

Amazing

The Holy Spirit never ceases to amaze me.  As elementary as it may seem, He simply knows everything.  He knows when someone is hurting with defeat. He knows when someone experiences the exuberance of victory.  He also knows not only what goes on behind the scenes, but behind the walls of the heart where we believe no one can penetrate — He sees.  He knows.  He cares.

Several weeks ago, this same Holy Spirit burdened my heart for relationships and marriages within the sphere of my influence, which included family, church family, friends, students, and colleagues.  He burdened my heart toward fervent and focused prayer which began the first day of February (the love month).  Eight days into this focus on prayer I have seen salvation come to three souls. “Hallelujah!”  I have seen the layers of crusted hurt and pain begin to be ever so gently pulled away, and the process of healing restoration commence in the hearts of some relationships. “Hallelujah!” I have experienced an inflow of more married couples who have revealed they need a divine touch of healing and restoration from a loving, heavenly Father (36 couples and counting). Healing begins with admitting help is needed and desired, as God will not penetrate an unwilling heart. It would seem more and more are willing. For this I say, “Hallelujah!”

The Holy Spirit amazes me.  He is alive and well.  If anyone thinks differently, I would challenge him/her to search the scripture for the breath and power of the Holy Spirit.  He was present in power at creation Genesis 1:2; He was present and empowered Jesus when he was forty days in the wilderness Luke 4; He completely transformed Saul from a persecutor of Christians and empowered him as Paul to preach the gospel; He empowered and performed miracles of healing and raising the dead to life through Peter. It would seem each time the Holy Spirit comes on the scene, there is power.

The Holy Spirit is just as powerful today. If anyone thinks differently, I would challenge him/her to sincere and focused prayer.  Allow Him to penetrate the heart of the one praying first, and then begin to watch the effectiveness and power those prayers invoke. Use whatever strategy the Holy Spirit puts on your heart.  Mine is simple –2:14 every day; fasting and focused one day a week throughout the month of February.  His activity is convincing me He sees, He knows, He cares. I believe He wants to heal, restore, and amaze.

What might God do through the focused and sincere prayer of His people?  He sees.  He knows. He cares.  Pray and let the Holy Spirit do what He does best — come in power and amaze.  

Spiritual Growth

On my Knees with Sword in Hand

When I spoke my wedding vows over 38 years ago, I didn’t do so with the thought in the back of my mind, “In a few years when things get hard, I hope to get a divorce.” In fact, if I would have had this thought in mind and my husband was aware, he probably would have left me at the altar. I would be a fool (and a liar) to say that there have not been rocky times in our marriage, but through God’s grace and sticking it out, we have grown up together. I would also be a fool to get mad and upset with those around me who choose to not stick it out, but simply walk away from their marriage. The foolish part would be to get mad at the couple, when in fact, if anger should be turned at anyone, it should be turned toward the enemy. I believe with all my heart that Satan has a goal to destroy marriages, and in turn, tear families apart for generations to follow. I am becoming increasingly more aware of struggling marriages, as I am surrounded by them in my family, friends in the church, and in my classrooms. I am also becoming increasingly more burdened for those I personally love and care about. In fact, I received an email just this morning from a distraught out-of-state student, who apologized for her assignment being late, because her husband walked in this weekend and announced to their three children (without prior notice to her), that he wanted a divorce and was leaving – with that, he walked out. Absolutely tragic. Satan wins again.

Every couple has their own story, and I certainly cannot make a blanket statement which says that all marriages fall under the same category, but what I can say is for me to simply sit back and do nothing when someone’s marriage is on the brink of division is just as heartbreaking to the heart of God as is the destruction of the marriage itself. If I say I believe in the holy union of marriage, and I say I truly care about my family, friends, and those within my sphere of influence, how can I simply sit back, shake my head, and do nothing? I can’t. My heart compels me to do something. I feel compelled to do what I believe is the greatest action before God. I feel compelled to pray – sincerely pray.

Dr. James Dobson, an American evangelical Christian author, psychologist, and founder of Focus on the Family, has been an aggressive advocate of traditional marriage and family for many, many years. He is quoted by saying, “It is impossible to overstate the need for prayer in the fabric of family life.” This quote seems to compliment the old cliché, “The family who prays together, stays together.” Again, I would be a fool to believe that all families are praying together, but the burden I have in my heart is not about what families are doing, it’s about what I am to do. I believe the power of prayer transforms hearts, changes lives, restores relationships, and sets captive hearts free. I also believe that we are not fighting against flesh and blood (each other) in these battles, and it is useless to try and tear each other down. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12, NASB). If I really believe this, why wouldn’t I pray?

I cannot simply say I will pray and make a difference. Saying and actually doing are two completely different things. The scripture is clear that the enemy has a strategic plan against the ways of those who follow the Lord. Ephesians 6:11 – “Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (emphasis mine). The Greek translation of schemes is methodeia which means “the following or pursuing of an orderly and technical procedure in the handling of a subject.” If Satan, who is a proven liar and thief (John 10:10), is following an orderly and technical procedure with an end goal to kill, steal, and destroy, and his target is clearly aimed at the family – this should drop me to my knees on behalf of those I dearly love. And this it has. Not only has it dropped me to my knees, God has given me a counteractive, strategic, and prayerful plan in mind for the upcoming month “of love.”

February, the month of love, is just around the corner, and with the changing of the seasons and holidays, we will soon have our eyes and ears turned to Valentine’s Day; a day which is designed to be an expression of devoted love. According to a 2016 U.S. News and World Report, Americans were predicted to shell out a record $20 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts. Twenty billion dollars – let that one soak in. I don’t know about you, but in my financial books, that’s a lot of zeros! Although my husband and I have never really shown our love and concern toward each other through Valentine’s Day gift-giving, I know others who do, and that’s okay. But God has not softened my heart in the area of my friends and family who are struggling in their relationships by telling me to buy a gift. He is instructing me to pray and reach out to those within the sphere of my influence and let them know I care and want to help. Only the Lord Himself knows what goes on behind closed doors or in our hearts, so I am calling on the Name above all other names and the power of the Holy Spirit to do a mighty work in the relationships of those I love. I may be an army of one, but I am hoping others would consider this strategic effort as well.

Here is my invitation: will you join me? During the entire month of February (the love month), I am setting aside one day a week to fast and pray, sincerely pray, concentrating on my family and friends who are struggling under the attack of the enemy in their marriage. I am standing in the gap on their behalf, fully geared up with the Spiritual Armor of God Almighty, and fervently seeking the Lord. I am asking Him to tear down the strongholds the enemy has placed around the homes of my loved ones. I am begging Him to break the shackles of fear and doubt, distrust, unfaithfulness, lies, and deceit the enemy has tightly anchored on the ankles of those I care for deeply. I am calling on the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Great I AM to step in and take over – to rid homes of the influence of the enemy and the strategic schemes and gnarly deceptions he has put in place. One day a week, I am fasting and praying. That may sound like a lot – it’s not. It’s only four days in the month of February. I believe my family and friends are certainly worth four days of my time, aren’t yours? Or has the enemy deceived you into believing you are just too busy?

As with the majority of Americans, my schedule is full. I seem to be way too busy all the time. But I have learned, if do not follow the leading of the Lord, even in my “busyness” my time will be wasted. I must allow Him to be my time manager, and guide me to do those things I know are in His will. I KNOW praying against the enemy in the area of my own marriage and family is in God’s will. I know He instituted marriage, I know He blessed it, and I know He desires to see families set free from the influence of the world and the enemy. Therefore, I KNOW I am to pray for those I love who are struggling in this area. In addition to fasting one day a week in February, I am also praying for a short time each day. I am setting an alarm on my phone, and at 2:14 p.m. (February 14th is Valentine’s Day) each day, no matter where I am or what I am doing, I will stop and pray for two minutes and 14 seconds. This may sound silly to some, but this is a plan God placed on my heart to work as a reminder to keep this commitment to pray ever before me – why? – I’ll say it again, because my schedule is busy, and I’m certain yours is as well. If I do not remind myself, even as much as I care, I will forget as I am wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the day.

How about you? Do you have friends or loved ones who are struggling in their marriage relationship? Maybe you and your spouse are personally struggling and no one knows but the two of you. Would you join me in calling on the greatest power in the universe? Would you join me in prayer? Would you fast for four days in February specifically to pray for those you love? Would you pray for at least 2 minutes and 14 seconds every day? Please tell me you believe two minutes out of your day is worth seeing a marriage restored (whether your own or a couple you know). Please tell me you care enough to pray. Please tell me you believe in the sufficiency of Christ and the power He holds to heal, restore, and set free. Please tell me you believe prayer makes a difference. Please tell me you will pray. Sincerely pray.

38 years ago, I said my vows. I have seen 38 years of marriages come and go. I am not mad at the people who walked away from their marriage, I am simply sick and tired of the enemy continuing to destroy families I love. I refuse to sit back and do nothing. I am fighting back – on my knees. I have a list of names (and my list is way too long — currently 26 couples and growing). I am laying this list on the throne room of heaven at the feet of Jesus – begging for restoration and healing. Perhaps you would like to have your name added to this list.  I would be honored and humbled to go before the Lord and stand against the enemy on your behalf.  Have you had enough of the enemy’s schemes and victories?  Join me on your knees, sword in hand.

Spiritual Growth

Washing of Water with the Word

I am so encouraged to be a part of a church body who believes in the power and importance of God’s Word.  Again this fall, we are offering many opportunities to get involved in Bible study. This is not exclusive to Trinity http://tbclongview.com/ members, so if you are not involved in a local Bible study and looking for some place to dive into the Word with those who love to study scripture, you are most welcome to come join in on the discussion.

Image result for image of hebrewsOn Wednesday evenings, beginning in October, our pastor will be offering discussion and study through the “Chapter Challenge.” We just finished in Joshua, so our next reading will take us to the book of Hebrews.  What a rich and full book!  You will not come away from this portion of the Bible without scratching your head a bit, but rest assured, your life will be greatly enriched by its truth.

On Tuesday mornings, the Adelphi Bible Study group is walking through “The Gospel of Mark — The Jesus We are Aching For” by Lisa Harper.  There is still time to get involved with this group and delve into the truth of this great book!

The Gospel Of Mark

On Wednesday mornings (The Church at Lake Cherokee), and Wednesday evenings (Trinity Baptist Church), Beth Moore’s new “Entrusted — A study of II Timothy” is being offered.  For those of you who have ever been involved in one of Beth’s studies, there is no introduction needed — you already know God is going to speak through this study.

Also on Wednesday evenings, a Precept Inductive Bible Study on Ephesians is being offered.  This is a 10 week, in-depth look at Paul’s epistle and the great truths written particularly to the Gentile believers in Ephesus. The truth contained in this study will not only challenge you —  it will change you.

70401_med.jpg

These are the adult Bible studies that are currently being offered.  This doesn’t even begin to cover what is going on with our children in Music and Missions on Wednesdays, Children’s Church on Sunday mornings, and AWANA on Sunday nights: http://tbclongview.com/index.php/children/.  Nor does it cover our student ministry and the challenge in the Word with Journey Small Groups on Sunday evenings and discipleship on Wednesdays.  You can check out more at the CREW Student page: http://crewstudents.com/  We also have a full slate of Bible study opportunities and worship through our Celebrate Recovery ministry: http://tbclongview.com/index.php/celebrate-recovery/.

Yes, I am encouraged by how much emphasis my church places on the inerrant Word — the Bible.  It is because we believe it is inspired by God, profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (II Tim 3:16, NASB).  Personally, I would consider myself a fool to not devote my utmost attention to God’s Word.  After all, I am continually cleansed by the washing of water with the Word (Eph. 5:26).  It is my counsel, guide, and life road map. Without it and the faith it develops within me, I am like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind (James 1:7).

 

Book Reviews, Spiritual Growth

“Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart”

Stop Asking Jesus“If there were a Guiness Book of World Records record for ‘amount of times having asked Jesus into your heart,’ I’m pretty sure I would hold it” (Greear 1). This is a direct quote from J.D. Greear’s book entitled, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart  / How to Know for Sure You are Saved.  J.D. Greear is the lead pastor of The Summit Church, a multi-site congregation in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.  This scholarship has been read and endorsed by Matt Chandler, James MacDonald, Joshua Harris, David Platt, Ed Stetzer, Paige Patterson, and others. This power-packed little book is less than 130 pages long, but filled with so much spot-on frankness concerning security in salvation that I feel compelled to share this with others.

Perhaps the reason this book speaks to me so clearly is because like Greear, I have prayed the sinner’s prayer at least 1000 times, and what I have discovered is that I am not alone.  For a long time, I didn’t tell anyone that as a young person, I prayed for salvation almost every night in fear and doubt.  I always thought my doubting stemmed from coming to Christ at such a young age and not really having a deep-dark “sin list” from which to repent. Nor was there a visible  difference in me like there was for the 54 year old redeemed drug-addict.

What I have found is that the more I encounter people and talk with them about their walk with the Lord, the more I realize many struggle with these same questions: “Did I really understand what I was doing the first time?” “If I’m saved, why do I continue to struggle in so many areas?” “If I die tonight with unconfessed sin in my life and Jesus returns, what if I’m left behind?” “Why do I feel compelled to pray that same prayer EVERY TIME we have a revival and the evangelist leads the whole congregation in unison?” “What if I wasn’t sincere enough?” “What if this…” “What if that…” Greear addresses this as “the damnable doctrine of doubt” and states that “every religious message except for the gospel uses doubt and uncertainty to compel obedience” (22).  He goes on to explain the difference in the gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s desire that we obey because we want to obey, not out of fear of punishment.  And “the only way to develop real love for God is to have fear removed” (22).

One would think a book so small could be read in a short afternoon; however, this work has taken me much longer simply because of earmarking pages, annotating chapters, referencing scripture, re-reading paragraphs simply because they speak a balm to my soul, and working through the supplemental study-guide questions which are available as a free download (jdgreear.com #sinnersprayer).  I plan on contacting a few personal friends who have struggled with this issue for far too long, but I also plan on keeping this book on my shelf for continued reference material.  My goal in recommending this book through my blogsite is a desire to help others who may be living in turmoil over where they stand in their relationship with Jesus Christ.  Hopefully, after reading Greear’s work those who have doubted in the past can once and for all drive a stake in the ground, draw a line in the sand, step across and walk in confidence and ultimate peace.  No. More. Doubting.

I hope to meet this author face to face one day and simply say, “Thank you for being willing to say publicly what so many of us have feared to even whisper to ourselves.”

 

 

Greear, J.D., Stop Asking Jesus in Your Heart / How to Know for Sure You are Saved. Nashville,         Tennessee: B&H Publishing, 2013. Print.  

 

Spiritual Growth

Incarceration and Grandparents

Incarceration

I entitled this post something a bit out of the ordinary in hopes to draw as much attention as possible and gain much feedback as well.  Attention, not to myself, but attention to the growing need we are finding in our churches and society as a whole.  This need is found within those families (particularly spouses with children), who have a husband or wife in prison.  Also a need among grandparents who are finding themselves in the role of second-time parenting (more on parenting as grandparents later in the post). My specific purpose in this post is to try and gain as much insight from these families as to what their greatest needs might be in order to be more informed and equipped to better meet some of those needs personally and through the church.

As a pastor’s wife, church life is a “normal zone” for me.  My days revolve around ministering to others’ needs, working around others’ schedules, and looking for better ways in which to serve in the Kingdom of God.  I gladly embrace that role; however, there are times that I need much input in areas in which I am not equipped or adequately informed.  More and more, I am finding that God is placing in my path those (in my case, wives/mothers) whose spouse has been incarcerated.  This is an area that I am asking for feedback and input from those who might read this blog.

Whether I know you or not, I would like to hear from you if you have an incarcerated spouse.  You may remain anonymous, and you WILL NOT be contacted unless you specifically request a reply.  I simply would like to hear what your greatest needs are, particularly as a woman/wife/mother, of an incarcerated spouse.  I would like to personally be informed as to how to reach out to those in your situation, but I would also like to develop some material that might help others address these same type needs.

In the past, some of my family members have been imprisoned.  However, my spouse has never been in prison; therefore, my ability to relate, especially to a young mother of small children whose Daddy is in prison, is very limited.  I am not here to judge, give advise, or ask probing questions — I simply want to be more informed on how to minister and love those whom God is placing in my path. What, as a spouse of someone in prison, are your greatest needs (whether physically, monetarily, emotionally, or spiritually)? And how can the church better minister to you and your family?

Grandparents in Parenting Roles

In addition, I am looking for feedback from grandparents who have taken on the role of being the primary caregivers to their grandchildren.  There are more ministry resources available on this particular role as opposed to those who have incarcerated family members (I can share some of those upon request); however, I would like to hear from this group as well.  If you are a grandparent who is raising your grandchildren, would you share with me your greatest needs?  How can the church better minister to you and your family?

To both groups, and whomever would welcome prayer support, I would love to have the privilege to pray for you.  Please feel free to send me your prayer request and I will join with you in bringing this matter to the throne-room of heaven before of God who knows your needs, hears your prayers, and cares deeply about your life.

If you would be willing to share (anonymously) your thoughts, please either respond to this blog-post or send me an email at abundant.heart.ministry@gmail.com

I would also ask, whether or not you find yourself in either of these groups, that you share this post with your friends in order that this might gain much valuable input from those who are walking these roads.

Thank you in advance.

Carolyn

Spiritual Growth

The Vision of His Glory

Vision of His GloryWe are starting a new Bible study at my church, Trinity Baptist Church, Longview, Texas, in January. There may be some ladies who live in the East Texas area who are familiar with this blog site, but not connected to our church, so I want to put this information out there for you.

I have been able to walk through the first two to three weeks of this study over the holidays and look forward to what God is going to teach us through His glory! Read the information below for more details:

If you have never read the book of Revelation, or sometime in the past you tried to read it and lost your way or grew weary, Anne Graham Lotz’ study, “The Vision of His Glory” will guide you to a new understanding of the vision of Christ’s glory. This study is designed to help you explore the book of Revelation in a personal and practical way.

With skilled teaching, an inspiring sense of wonder, practical insight and heart-touching parables, Anne brings clarity to the glorious pageantry and imagery of the book of Revelation. Sharing her passion for God’s Word, she will lead you step by step through John’s eyewitness account of God’s plan for our future. The Vision of His Glory brings you to an intimate encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, our one Source of true, life-changing hope (excerpt from “The Vision…” synopsis).

“The Vision of His Glory” will be the focus of Trinity Baptist Church’s first women’s 2016 Bible study. There are three different opportunities from which to choose:
Mondays @ 5:30 PM – Begins 1/18/16 — Hosted in Sue Boyd’s home – light supper served
Tuesdays @ 9:30 AM – Begins 1/12/16 — Hosted at Trinity – followed by potluck lunch
Wednesdays @ 6:00 PM – Begins 1/13/16 — Hosted at Trinity – childcare available

7 Week Course Materials: $22.00

This study is not exclusive to Trinity members or age specific. All women are welcome. Invite a friend and join us!

Trinity Baptist Church, Longview, Texas — follow this link for more information about the church: tbclongview.com

 

Spiritual Growth

Passing on the treasure…

textbooksI have the amazing privilege to be a part of the academic world of education. The unique venue of the on-line environment affords many opportunities to encounter students from, literally, all over the world. The diversity of the online classroom allows me to interact with a first-year female college student in Japan while chatting with a 60 year old grandfather in Ghana, West Africa and answering an MLA style guide question for an adult business man working from his desk on his lunch — all in the same class setting. It’s fantastic and I love it!

In addition to the interaction concerning academia, I am also afforded the privilege to work with several Christian colleges/universities who consider the spiritual side of education just as important as the academic side. Along with that thought, I am able to reach out to students who are struggling with life’s circumstances and who simply need encouragement or guidance from time to time. In a face-to-face setting I am given a rare occasion to share my faith and the truth of God’s Word to a captive audience; however, in the Christian online world, I am given such an occasion often.

One such occasion happened yesterday. A student contacted me via email, provided a phone number, and asked that I call. I knew the student was struggling academically; however, I did not know why. I called later in the evening and begin to hear the heartache and heavy burden this student was carrying. The student was not asking for a handout, not asking for a passing grade, he/she merely cared enough to let me know what was going on in his/her world at the moment and that this type behavior (grade performance) was not the norm. We talked, I gave academic counsel, but also assured the student that I would sincerely pray.

And pray, I did. As I prayed and revisited that conversation again this morning, God breathed a thought across my mind, so I promptly sent an email. Without disclosing any personal information, I decided to share that email on this blog. Perhaps, someone else needs to hear these words today. May they be an encouragement, empowerment, and enrichment in simply knowing who you are in Christ.

Blessings to you…
Carolyn

(Copy of email)
It was good to talk with you on the phone yesterday, _________. I want to encourage you to hang in there. Know that I will work with you, academically, as fairly as I can within the guidelines of the course, but more than that, I am praying for you. Keep in mind, your self-worth does not lie in a grade. It lies in who you are in Christ Jesus. He knows your heart, He sees where you are in this season of your life, and He knows your struggle. Cast your care on Him because He really does care for you (I Peter 5:7), and He knows exactly where you are.

Although I am an educator, I am a woman, wife, mother, grandmother, and partial care-giver to my elderly Daddy first. I always encourage my students to strive to finish their education, but I ultimately know that there are times that academics may need to take a second chair because God has us deeply involved in life’s circumstances that urgently demand our undivided attention. I say all this to say this — do not beat yourself up over a grade, or even if you have to take a class over. Failure does not mean taking a longer time to accomplish something… you are NOT a failure. In the sight of the very One who created you, you are His greatest treasure — no matter a grade or performance.

Let me share something with you that I have framed and sitting on my desk this very moment….

“I confess…
I am an awesome Spirit being,
Make in His image and save by His grace.
Totally loved by God — in spite of my performance.
Completely forgiven,
through the blood of Jesus Christ who died for me.
Daily empowered by the Holy Spirit
Who lives within me and desires to live through me.
I am a child of the Eternal King,
welcomed in His presence
at any time and for any reason.
Heaven-bound and Joy-filled,
I am His Special Treasure…
and He knows me by name!”

Author: Carol Ann Draper

This was given to me over 35 years ago, and for a number of years I had it in a frame sitting on the headboard of my bed. I read it every night before I went to sleep, and recited it the next morning before my feet ever hit the floor. There was a season of my life that Satan tried his best to pull me down into a pit of depression and unworthiness. But through this piece, of what I believe to be a God-anointed writing, along with staying in the truth of God’s Word, and on my knees, I can confidently say that God pulled me up and I don’t question where my worth lies. I know. It’s not in a grade, not in a body image, not in circumstances, not in a position, place, or performance. My worth is in who I am in Christ Jesus. My worth IS Christ Jesus, alone. I, just like you _________, am His special treasure… and He knows me by name.

Educators at _________ are concerned with academia, but we care about students. Be encouraged and empowered today — not by a grade or performance, but by God, His power, and acceptance.

Professor May

 

Textbook image: www.gettyimages.com / Retrieved 11/11/15. Web.

Spiritual Growth

Stop Making the Bed!

BedroomScenes like this used to drive me crazy.  My husband and I raised two boys, and although this picture is quite mild in comparison, I have to admit, there were times I would walk in their bedrooms and wonder if they were buried alive among the piles of dirty clothes on the floor, or worse, maybe they had actually died in there.  More often than not, I asked, “What is that smell?”

Now that our home is an empty nest, the countless number of times I wanted to hire a bulldozer operator in order to make my way through to a bedroom dresser seems such a distance memory. Just as distant are the memories of the many nights my husband and I would go to sleep in the evening only to wake up the next morning to a “pile” of boys camped out in every empty bed, couch, and living room floor space.  For a few short years, huge breakfasts with lots of teenage feet under our table was a normal occurrence.

We loved and embraced those years as well as each one of those boys. They helped to challenge, nurture, and deepen lasting relationships with our two blood-born, and those relationships amaze and fill us with joy still today.  If we ever need a smile we think of Matthew’s spontaneous and contagious laughter.  If we need a reminder of God’s faithfulness, we simply think of Jon and how he became our first-born’s loyal-like-a-brother friend very early in his teen years.  Keelan’s spontaneity coupled with Matt’s unpredictability always kept our youngest fun-loving and light hearted.  Daniel’s quick-wit, faithfulness, and even-keeled personality was something we all needed in a friend.  And Lucas, well… that child was way too complex to describe in a few short words, but he captured our hearts nonetheless. Those boys became so dear to our family that ten and fifteen years down the road, my husband and I still consider them “our own.” Each one of them know, they do not have to call before they drop in, they are always welcome to put their feet under our table and/or spend the night in our spare bedroom. None of them (nor we) would think twice if they walked in today and started raiding the refrigerator – in fact, we would expect it. That’s just how close and special we consider these friends — friends we purposefully embraced along with the two of our own.

I can become sentimental and soft-hearted very easily (down-right “sappy” in fact) when it comes to “our boys.”  I reminisce as I read one of my favorite Psalms and think of the many times I have prayed this scripture for them:

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.

He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers  (Ps. 1:1-3 NASB).

Years down the road, every one of these boys, now men, have grown and matured into amazing young adults.  Some of them are still single, while others have families of their own.  Each one is serving the Lord and living their life in honor of Him.  That blesses my heart beyond words.  “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (III John 1:4).  These boys’ parents are very proud of their children and love them dearly.  We do too.  We are so glad we made a conscious decision early in our children’s lives not to be fearful about getting involved with other families because those relationships remain very dear to us today.  In light of this, here are just a few thoughts of encouragement for young parents who find themselves knee-deep in raising a family.

Don’t be Afraid to Get Involved

Strive to not get so hung up on the little things that won’t matter in 2 years (i.e. an occasional unmade bed); rather, get involved in the lives of your children’s friends now.  Step outside the comfort zone of your own family and purposefully develop outside friendships.  Invite kids over for a weekend, spend time in the backyard, watch a movie with popcorn and soft drinks in the den, play card games, feed them well, and get to know them more than on a surface level.  Invest in a child as a person and spend purposeful, quality time.

One never knows what a kid is dealing with at home, or dealing with in a personal struggle.  Investing in the life of child builds confidence in his/her heart that will carry through for many, many years.  Our investment was not only for the benefit of other children, it gave us peace of mind knowing where our children were and that they were involved in a safe environment.  Especially when we moved to a place where we did not know the lifestyle of many of those who lived around us, we always encouraged parties, sleepovers, and game nights at our house. Our involvement was never anything extravagant or expensive, it was just wholesome and fun.  We embraced our time together.

Embrace the Teenage Years

Stop listening to the nay-saying “just wait until they are a teenager” stories and don’t be fearful of the teenage years. We can stand to testify that the teenage years do not have to be dreaded or feared.  In fact, we absolutely loved our boys’ teenage years and all the excitement and frenzied activity that accompanied those times. Teenagers teach you to be real with yourself — and laugh at yourself.  Instead of dread and fear, look forward in anticipation to all the fun things that lie ahead and embrace the excitement and vigor that youth bring to the home.

Because our children grew up knowing we had an open door policy to their friends in our home, they knew when they asked if so-and-so could sleep over, unless we had other plans, the answer would always be the same. When they got old enough to be driving, they actually stopped asking our permission — simply because they already knew the answer. That’s why we would wake up some weekend mornings and find boys sleeping all over the house. In fact, when our oldest was in college, his roommate from out-of-state became ill one weekend.  He loaded him up and brought him home, knowing what we would say – “Yes! He is welcome – bring him home!”

Establish Reasonable Guidelines and Stick With Them

Free grace without boundaries leads to utter chaos.  We established guidelines in our home that were respected by our children and their friends. Through those times, we never encountered a problem, nor did we have a sleepover or party get out of hand.  I believe the reason is because we had purposefully invested in these kids’ lives early on and they knew our principles and our expectations of them.  In addition, they knew we loved them, and they never did anything disrespectful or out of line while in our home. The scripture teaches us that we will be known by our love, so I would encourage young families to love others well. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 NASB).  The teenage years can prove to be the greatest of not only a child’s life, but parents’ as well.  These years also open doors to influence spiritual activity and well-being.

Get Involved in Spiritual Health

Never discount the power of God’s Word and the sincerity of prayer.  Find out where your children’s friends are in their relationship with the Lord.  Find out if they go to church.  If they don’t – take them with you (that should be a no-brainer if they are invited over on Saturday night).  Share the principles of God’s Word with them just as you would your own children and never doubt the Holy Spirit’s ability to speak.  “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 NASB). Pray with them before you eat a meal.  When they are struggling, let them know you are praying – really praying – not just saying it as a cliché. If they do not own a Bible or devotional book, get them one for their birthday or Christmas.  Write a personal note in the front cover.  Challenge them to read scripture as part of a daily practice.

Never take for granted that just because a kid is a “good kid” that he/she personally knows the Lord.  Be discerning, yet purposeful in establishing and building a relationship that is not just fun and games, but is spiritually focused.  Remember, a life investment should revolve around a soul, and that soul was created for eternal purposes.  We need to invest in people for the rest of our lives.    

Never Stop Investing

Yes, I look at pictures like this of my son’s unmade bed and wonder – if I had to do it all over again, would I ever walk in my child’s room and exclaim, “What in the world happened in here?  You need to clean up this place and make your bed!” The answer would probably be “Yes,” in the frenzy of the moment I honestly might say this again.  However, fifteen years down the road and living in an empty nest, I’m not certain I would get so worked up and worried about an unmade bed, or many of the other things I used to make such a big deal. One thing I would not change is the time we invested in our children’s lives and the lives of their friends.  We plan on investing for the rest of our lives; currently, in the lives of the youth in our church and most definitely have our focus on grandchildren as a long-term investment.

Here’s one last thought — this picture is not an old one – I took it today.  Our youngest son came home last night to attend a ten year class reunion. My husband and I were pleasantly surprised to wake up in our empty nest this morning and find all the beds were full.  Full with some of those “boys” who are now men – men of integrity, men with godly values, men we love.  Men who are as close to our hearts as our own family.  They didn’t have to be invited because they already knew they were welcome in our home.  That invitation was established years ago.

Oh, and by the way – the sound that woke us up made us smile when we realized it — ________ was raiding the refrigerator (I’ll let your own imagination fill in the blank).

picture001Carolyn May is a senior pastor’s wife, mother of two grown children, and grandmother of two.  She and her husband have been in pastoral ministry for over 20 years and currently serve in the East Texas area. They have been married for 37 years.  Carolyn has a diploma of Christian Ministry/Education from Midwestern Theological Seminary and a MS English degree from Texas A&M. She is involved in Women’s Ministry through her church, teaches English for various colleges in the online environment, and enjoys leading Bible study in her church and local women’s shelter.  

Spiritual Growth

Heaven is for Real? Don’t be Deceived!

Several months ago, I watched a movie entitled, “Heaven is for Real” with a group of ladies from my church. It was a great story with an absolutely intriguing unfolding that had each of us glued to the movie screen from beginning to end. As a Christian believer, Colton’s (the protagonist) experience reaffirmed a sense of peace and comfort to my soul, because I believe heaven is real. I must say, that just as strongly as I believe heaven is real, I believe hell is just as real. I believe these things, not based on a feeling, but because I believe the Holy Scripture teaches these truths. I also believe the scripture teaches God is love. But here is the point where I disagree with what the movie implied — “everyone will go to heaven simply because God is love.”

Yes, God is a God of love. He loves us enough to create the world around us, to create us, allow us the blessing of life, and allow us the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, His Son. Although all of this is evidence of God’s love, simply believing God is love is not enough to gain the right to be called a child of God and enter the Kingdom of heaven. Yes, heaven is for real, but do not be deceived — not everyone will gain access.

If everyone is bound for heaven, there is no reason for Jesus’ sacrifice. The whole premise, of the Christian life, revolves around the belief in the sacrificial death of Jesus as an atonement for the sin that separates us from a holy God. Probably, the most popular scripture throughout the world is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Yes, God is love — yet, that love was so great that it involved paying an ultimate price for our sins — that price was death for Jesus. My part in this verse is not to simply believe God is love, but to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, who died in my place, confess my sins and shortcomings to Him, and place my faith and total allegiance at His feet in total submission to His authority. This scripture promises those who follow Jesus, by faith, will have eternal life; however, this scripture does not indicate that everyone will make that choice — the key here is “whoever.”

Jesus died for all, but not all with follow.  Salvation is for all, but not all will be counted among the “whoever believes.” Without that faith and belief in Jesus, without the sacrifice, without the remission and cleansing of sin, there is no access to heaven.  If God allowed sin into heaven, then it wouldn’t be heaven.  In fact, heaven is not only reserved for those cleansed by the blood of Jesus, but it is cut off and protected from those who choose to continue living without Christ.  There is a place, just as real, reserved for those as well.

If everyone is bound for heaven, there is no reason for hell. Think about it. If heaven is to be a destination and place of reward for those who accept Jesus as their personal Savior, and hell is to be a place of torment and eternal separation from God, then why would hell exist if everyone was destined for heaven? Contrary to popular belief, there will be many who will not encounter the gift of heaven; in fact, the scriptures plainly teaches “few” will find heaven. Jesus is speaking in Matthew 7: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.”  As sad and harsh as it may sound, hell is for real and God is a God of righteousness, justice, and complete holiness.  Popular, contemporary religion will not speak on the truth of hell, nor will one hear of a wrathful God — but do not be deceived — throughout all the ages, time and time again God has proven that He is a God who desires a holy people who follow Him, not because of force or fear, but because of allegiance, love, and commitment.

If everyone is bound for heaven, Jesus is a liar.  “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places (your version may say ‘mansions’); if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.  Thomas said to Him, Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?  Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”  John 14:2-6  NO ONE comes to the Father, but through Me — this plainly says there are not many roads to heaven and those who choose to look for another way other than Jesus will come up short.

Colton Burpo, now a teenager, continues to stand up and defend his encounter with heaven to be true even in the face of recent news releases revealing another heavenly encounter by a young boy was admittedly a hoax.  Quoted in a Christian Today news articleColton says, “I hope that my story continues to point people to Jesus. He really, really loves you” (Lodge).

Yes, Jesus really, really loves us — everyone.  He loved enough that He died for all mankind.  And yes, heaven is real.  On the authority and truth of God’s Word, we can trust that heaven is real.  But do not be deceived — just because Jesus loves, does not equate to everyone experiencing heaven.

 

Lodge, Carey. “Colton Burpo Stands by Heaven is For Real” Christian Today. January 17, 2015 http://www.christiantoday.com/article/carlton.burpo.stands.by.heaven.is.for.real/46173.htm. Web. Retrieved 8.13.2015.

 

Spiritual Growth

God of all…

A very dear friend is leaving. It’s always hard saying goodbye to friends and family when life demands a move, a relocation, or adjustment. Although miles will separate us as friends, we know, as Christian sisters, that the Holy Spirit will tie our hearts together for all of eternity and nothing will separate us from the love of God.

She gave me a sweet devotional book as she left and as I picked it up this morning, the first scripture speaks on Psalm 139:1-6:

O Lord, Thou hast searched me and known me, Thou dost know when I sit down and when I                 rise up; Thou dost understand my thoughts from afar, Thou dost scrutinize my path and my                   lying down, And art intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my               tongue, Behold, O Lord, Thou dost know it all. Thou hast enclosed me behind and before, And               laid thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to            it.

This scripture speaks volumes to me because I know no matter what life’s circumstances throw my way, God is already there. If I’m separated from friends and family, God is right beside me. When I experience great loss and tragedy, God encloses me behind and before — He’s already handled it. Even in those times of confusion, questioning, and despair, God knows all my thoughts before I can form words on my tongue; His outstretched arm of help is there.

I also have a dear friend who, last week, lost an earthly battle with cancer.  He left a human shell behind as his soul found eternity.  He and his sweet family were on my heart and mind all during the Easter weekend — while we were here celebrating the risen Lord, he was actually walking and talking face to face with Him. That’s celebration!  What a wonderful thought — too wonderful for me to grasp. Even though death physically separates us for a time — God is already there.  In His infinite wisdom and providential care, He will reunite His own together once again; there’s no need for worry.  He knows.

What comfort in knowing the God of the universe knows me intimately. He sees, He hears, He knows all. Even more amazing is that being intimately acquainted with all my ways, He loves me in spite of myself. Thank you to a sweet sister for the gift of friendship — it will continue to connect us across the miles. Thank you to a dear Christian brother who left a godly footprint on the walls of my heart — I’ll forever be impacted by his persevering example.  Thank you to a redemptive Savior for the gift of intimate relationship and life; for knowing all — now and for eternity.