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Sermon: Family Matters – Present

by Ryan Kramer

Family Matters – Present from Casas Church on Vimeo.

This is part two of a great three-part sermon on family. My notes are below.

Notes:

The divorce rate in 1967% was 16%. In 1980, it was at 52%. What is not normally discussed re the low divorce rates in the 1960’s is that in fidelity in marriage was statistically high. In order to divorce on grounds of unfaithfulness, the infidelity had to be proven.

Also, rarely considered with the low divorce rates mid-century was the state of Women’s Rights. There were few opportunities for women to provide for themselves.

Due to economics and societal structure, women were essentially stuck in marriages with no way to exit.

Has there ever been an ideal Biblical family?

  • The First Family: Adam and Eve raised a murderer
  • God eventually had a do-over with humanity
  • The Second First Family: Noah’s son, Ham, raped his mother while his father was passed out drunk next to her
  • Abraham took side women and divided his household with bitterness
  • Isaac fathered and blessed his devious deceitful son over his rightful heir at the urging of his wife
  • Jacob’s jealous sons sold his favorite son into slavery

Family has always been difficult, shameful and painful.

Take Three Opportunities

  1. Take the opportunity to be present.
  • This requires action. It’s not passive. It’s a choice that requires a willful step.
  • Luke 10:38 Mary & Martha: Martha insists that Jesus make Mary help her. Mary chooses to sit at Jesus’s feet.
  • Jesus was an itinerant rabbi. He had no home. He traveled and stayed with people who offered hospitality. Sometimes he invited himself into people’s homes. He also traveled with a posse.
  • Martha was busy and overwhelmed.
  • But Mary chose the good portion. She chose to spend time with Jesus in proximity and conversation.

Are you Mary or Martha?

Truth: We are all both Mary and Martha.

  • We all feel the pull and tension to choose between what matters most and what the moment seems to require.
  • “Busy for just a season” becomes a life habit. There’s always going to be a season. There’s always another moment. That’s life. Therefore we have to make choices.
  1. Take the opportunity to define what family means to you.

Mark 3:19-35 Jesus went home, a crowd gathered and accused Him of being possessed. His family was sent for. They believed the crowd and tried to shut Him down. When told by the crowd that His mother, brothers and sisters were outside trying to get Him, Jesus responded: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35)

  • Family has a diversity of meaning:
    • Depends on what you grew up with
    • Becomes what you’re used to
    • Is how you structure your life
    • Could be people who choose to be together no matter what
    • Or simply people who know each other very well and share their joys and struggles

Have you thought about what family means to you?

What do you value from family most?

What do you expect from family?

What is it about you definition that is different from definitions your family members have?

Go share your thoughts on family with your family. Hear what they have to share in return.

What do you want to do about what you learn?

  1. Take the opportunity to recognize the gift of complexity.
  • We navigate life in compartments. It is exhausting holding our full beings back, keeping ourselves in check. Family is where the “real” is. Family gets the good and bad you – your worries, frustrations, joys, highs, lows, etc. Family is the place you don’t have to hide. You can be your true self. This is a gift.

 

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You speak either truth or falsehood.

Either all of your words are true or your whole statement is false.

If you want me to believe you, don’t use false words because I am aware that subtle deception led to the fall of mankind.

Someone who is fiercely opposed to my views regarding the innateness of human dignity and equality of every human being, no matter what our skin looks like or what faith someone claims, tagged me to a video last week. The video was of Marcus Rogers, a black male member of the United States Army who is stationed in South Korea (the link was via the Tea Party). He was talking about how all our trust needs to be in God… and nothing should be done on our own behalf because God will do it all (paraphrased). To support his premise, he equated Black Lives Matter to ISIS. When he stated that people fighting for the right of human beings to live, simply to live, and the right to live without the threat of state-sanctioned physical abuse or murder to a group of people whose primary agenda is to destroy human life and culture wherever they go, everything else he said was tainted and suspect and I was unable to agree with anything he said.

God says that He will fight our battles, but He also calls us to be present for the battles. We have to physically prepare. He does not send us into battle unprepared which means we will have many skirmishes. We have to show up. We can’t fight if we aren’t present. We have to believe – have faith – that He will deliver us as victors in the battles He has placed us in. Without faith it is impossible to please God, ergo to do anything for Him (Hebrews 11:6).  If we choose not to show up, not to prepare, not to believe, then we have removed ourselves from the battle and from the possibility of victory.

The difference in the two above statements is why it’s important to know your Bible. It’s important to know what God’s instructions are. His instructions inform us of His expectations for us. If people who yearn for freedom only sit home and wait for God to free them, they will never become free. They will forever be trapped in their own cage of inactivity and faithlessness.

For illustration, I point you to shepherd David (1 Samuel 17) and shepherd Moses (Exodus 14). David went into battle, with no military experience, with his sling, five stones, his shepherd’s staff and his faith in God. His declaration to Goliath is one of my favorite in the Bible, it was also paraphrased by Bree Newsome when she removed the Confederate flag at the South Carolina State House on June 27, 2015: “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!”

David said:

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.”  ~ 1 Samuel 17:45-47

During the Exodus, Moses instructed the people to stand still and watch God save them. God corrected him immediately – “Tell the people to keep going!”

And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”

And the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward. But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen. Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”  ~ Exodus 14:13-18

The person who tagged me to the incredibly offensive video and instructed me to listen to it with my “spiritual ears” also instructed me to stay home when many in my city took to the streets to protest the non-indictments of police officers who had killed people in the public view, i.e. on camera and in front of witnesses. I don’t live any part of my life without my faith, so everything I hear is filtered in the presence of the Spirit who envelops me. May this also be true for you.

Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

Then he added, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given —and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.”  ~ Mark 4:23-25

just America Andy_Marlette_Ferguson_Cartoon

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Thank You, Lord.

Thank You, Lord
For bringing me to this point today.
Thank You for not leaving me where You last placed me.
Thank You for keeping me and loving me.
Thank You for peace.
Thank You for the storms.
Thank You for the fire and cleansing.
Thank You for pain and healing.
Thank You for my assignment.
Thank You for the many battles in this warring world.
Thank You for rest.
Thank You for victory.
Amen.

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Reaching for the Real by Gwen Smith

September 29, 2015
Reaching for the Real by Gwen Smith

Today’s Truth

He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God. (Daniel 6:10b, NLT)

Friend to Friend

The mug in my hand was filled with warm, dark roasted incentive. I cozied in on my favorite couch corner, breathing in the quiet. Settling my heart before the all-loving One, my whispers rose to heaven. I was desperate for God’s presence and power to fuel another busy day.

To my surprise and great delight, as I cracked open the Good Book a tiny distraction flew into my peripheral vision. A hummingbird had made its way over to the orchid arrangement on the side table of the deck outside. The artificial orchid arrangement. The nourishment that little flyer sought could not be found in a plastic and silk imposter, so the humming bird flew away.

I smiled and shook my head at the very notion that the little bird was looking to be fed by a fake flower. But less than five minutes later the hummingbird hovered near the orchid again.

You’ve got to be kidding me! I thought. What about plastic and fake did you not understand the first time, little guy?

And just like that I was humbled before God.

Yes. I do this too, Lord.

I do this when I look to the approval of others to validate my significance. I do this when I’m upset and I reach for something salty-crunchy instead of reaching for the Bread of Life. I do this when I find my security in the success of my children, in the numbers on the bank statement, or in promotions or positions at work.

Jesus is not our fast-pass to get through the pearly gates. He is our Sustainer, our Strength, our Comforter, our Deliverer, our Hope, our Defender, our Provider, and our Healer. He is behind us and before us. He loves us perfectly and. He is the very-real, very-alive, and very-able Lord we are all hungry for.

When I need soul-strength, nourishment, that will get me through the next few minutes, hours and days, it is vital that I go to the living source. To the unending power, perspective, and portion of Jesus.

The Bible shows us many great examples of this. Daniel found himself in an impossible-by-man’s-standards situation when a decree had been passed that violated and compromised the very core of his beliefs. He didn’t freak out. He didn’t run to talk to his friends about it. He didn’t post or tweet of his frustrations with the government. He turned to his Lord.

“But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God” (Daniel 6:10).

Not only did Daniel pray, he gave God thanks! In the middle of a life-threatening situation, he focused his heart with prayer and gratitude. I should too.

Hannah was another great example. She had real problems with fleshy, prickly people. Hers was a long-term situation with no simple solution on the horizon. She didn’t pretend she was okay or distract herself with things that didn’t matter. She got on her knees and got real with her very real God. She poured her soul out in the presence of the Lord and was met with the provision of His grace.

“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly” (1 Samuel 1:10).

Just like Daniel and just like Hannah, I need to turn to Jesus with my worries and my woes. I need to pour out my heart to Him when I am feeling empty. I need to turn to Jesus continually, remembering to give thanks.

“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
You give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”
Psalm 36:7-9

When I turn to the Word and to His presence, I am nourished in unfailing love. I am hidden in His shadow. I am invited to the feast of His goodness. My eyes are illuminated to see beyond my struggles by the One who shines brilliant as the Light of the World.

No more fake flowers. I’m reaching for the real. Jesus is the sweet Rose of Sharon. He is the Lily of the Valleys. (Song of Solomon 2:1-2) He is the Vine that is vibrant with life. (John 15) He is the Living Water that flows eternally and quenches every thirst. (John 4)

And He. Is. Mine.

Let’s Pray

Dear Lord, You are faithful and kind, and all that I need. Thank You for every trial that leads me to pray. Please keep my heart from wandering toward fake flowers and help me to turn to You instead.
In Jesus’ Name,
Amen.

Now It’s Your Turn

What fake flowers do you often fly to?

CLICK HERE to spend a few moments in response and reflection as you listen to the song “You Are Mine” that I’ve posted on my blog.


More from the Girlfriends

Gwen Smith is a co-founder of Girlfriends in God. She’s also a popular Christian speaker, author of Broken into Beautiful, co-author of Trusting God and Knowing God by Name, a songwriter, and worship leader. Connect with her on social media here: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest. (And, YES… she’s on Periscope too!)

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Girlfriends in God
P.O. Box 1311
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To God be the Glory

To God be the glory.

I wish to begin with the full understanding that I give all the glory and credit to God for the woman He has created me to be and for the woman He is continually forming me into.

I’m in awe of how He has designed and chiseled me according to His vision and plan. I am amazing! I am wonderful! And I have the capability of being fully authentic and absolutely fearless!

Emotionally, I was chased into hiding a number of years ago. Slowly, over the last couple of years I have struggled to bring my full being fully into the light. All of me, all at once – continually and persistently – into the light. I didn’t think I had any appreciation for the darkness until I began to explore the illusion of my own invisibility. I could sit back and watch life happen to others. I could give myself time to sulk over my wounds. I could plan and fantasize about a more perfect tomorrow… thereby minimizing the triumphs and worries of today.

When did I begin to believe the lies about me? When did I first believe, like a memory, the false image of what my life would be? When did I stop appreciating my own power? When did I stop recognizing my own beauty? Wonder of wonders, I am here! Of all the impossibilities in the world, I have developed a voice that has cowed and destroyed demons attached to my life and banned them from my present and my future. Of all the unthinkable happenings in the world, a neglected and forgotten girl-child grew into a fiercely independent and productive woman who seeks to love and nurture those in her care.

We look to others for safety and security, but humans are not equipped to give each other the safety and security we truly need. We yearn for partnership and community, but each can demolish our awareness of our true self. A good portion of my youth was wasted waiting for someone to rescue me from a living nightmare. Then one day, God provided an opportunity for me to be my own hero. He rescued me, but He GAVE ME the will to stand up and walk, opportunity to reach out and seek helpers, and the voice to speak against the violent oppression in my life. When I look back on what I thought my heroes would look like throughout my life – mom, dad, uncles, aunts, grandmothers, a husband, education, faith, fitness, a good salary – I am relieved that none ever lived up to my needs. For if they had, they may become idols in my heart and mind. Instead, when I look back on how I escaped and survived disasters throughout my life, I see the weak little girl, the awkward teenager, and the lonely solitary woman (internal images of myself) who decided to get up and walk through the doors God opened for her. I see me guided and protected by my Heavenly Father.  The only one able to make a way through cement boxes thrown into the deep sea of hopelessness. I have learned through the long years of my desert crossing that God provides beyond the needs of our human relationships and beyond our understanding of His master plan. In my relationship with my Father God, through His Son Jesus, and by His Holy Spirit, there is nothing I lack.

There are battles He fights for us and there are battles He sends us into for victory in His name for His Kingdom. Our job is to learn to hear the difference… discern our obligation to His instruction. Nothing we encounter or overcome is for our lives alone. Our Heavenly Father has made it His business to build victorious warriors. Know your battle. Learn your strengths. Keep praises to God on your lips and songs to Him in your heart.

There is so much that could be missing from my life… if I choose to focus on the emptiness. Yet, there is so much that is so amazingly awesome when I choose to focus on the fullness instead. Each step of our process and growth is a choice. Don’t believe the lie that where you are is where you are meant to stay. Don’t eat the lie that what you have is all you are meant to keep. Don’t internalize the falseness that who you are today is all you will ever be. You are created to BECOME so much more. Today is a building block for tomorrow. Embrace the fullness of today – opportunities to love, deepen your faith, embrace heartache and joy, share your story, be hospitable, offer refreshment – whatever today has for you to receive or give, do that… so tomorrow, you will answer similar opportunities with the wisdom of experience and the patience of a teacher.

To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

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When Truth Destroys

Note: I came across this hand-written message (written by me) last weekend while organizing some of my papers. It’s not dated, which is unusual for my writings, and was written on the back of a travel document. When I read it, I was convinced that it was confirmation of a message I had just heard that morning and of reminders that had been given to me throughout the week. 

Someone once told me that my directness in sharing my truth is courageous. My response was, “I’ve learned that most people can’t handle their truth. My truthfulness has destroyed my relationships; none of the ones I’ve spoken directly in have survived my words.”

“That is why I think you’re so courageous,” she continued. “You’re living free as you are, not as other people will have you be. You’re not restricted to their view of you because you are so direct about where you are and what you need.”

Since that conversation I have thought of the many relationships that changed drastically or ended because I exposed myself in truth. Then I thought of how each of those relationships would probably still be as superficially satisfying and emotionally frustrating as ever had I held my tongue and worn the mask of false communion that so many keep in place as if their lives depend on others believing in their shallowness or trusting in their vanity. I mourned each of those relationships for a time and gave thanks for the people and the lessons they taught me.

It was never my desire to come to the end of people, but I’ve come to learn of that when we are able to see the true limitations and weaknesses of human relationships, only then are we truly open to the incomprehensible vastness of possibilities available through our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, God teaches us the true nature and purpose of relationship. When we get that understanding – the understanding of the truth of Jesus Christ – everything that burned up in our life (fell apart), when we first learned to be true to ourselves, ceases to matter. It was all chaff in the wind. See, the fire of truth purifies and refines that which is true and created to endure, but the same fire of truth destroys the falseness and imitations – whatever is rooted in the flesh – in your life.

John answered everyone, “I baptize you with water, but there is one coming who is greater than I am. I am not good enough to untie his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He will come ready to clean the grain, separating the good grain from the chaff. He will put the good part of the grain into his barn, but he will burn the chaff with a fire that cannot be put out.” And John continued to preach the Good News, saying many other things to encourage the people. ~ Luke 3:16-18

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I asked to be a lover…

I asked to be a lover and I have experienced the most hateful attitudes ever since. It reminds me of the cliché but very true saying: “I asked God for strength and He gave me challenges….”

I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong.

I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve.

I asked for prosperity and God gave me brawn and brains to work.

I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome.

I asked for patience and God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait.

I asked for love and God gave me troubled people to help.

I asked for favors and God gave me opportunities.

I asked for everything so I could enjoy life. Instead,

He gave me life so I could enjoy everything.

I received nothing I wanted, I received everything I needed.

~ Unknown

Here I am, Lord!

I wanted to love His people. More than that – I wanted to be a messenger and conduit of His love for His people. I wanted to be the first to reach out to embrace the lost and fallen. Such a young Christian hope. Such a passionate display of my commitment to my Lord. Youth, hope, love – this combination gets many people in over their heads.

I didn’t comprehend the magnitude of what I was asking. I thought I was ready to love. I thought I was ready for love to work through me. I thought all I needed to do was be a willing vessel… remain open… offer myself – my humanity – and my resources… and give what is needed when it’s needed. I thought the resistance to love would only be temporary – so short term as to be unremarkable. I thought the ugliest rejection I would encounter would be “no, thank you.”

But those who resist love don’t say no, thank you. Some don’t say anything or respond in any type of way. Some resisters go out of their way to show you how little love means to them. They find a wound and pour salt in it. They create a weapon from affection and beat you down with it. They hide behind barriers while making accusations and other noises to belittle love and all its glory, effectively distracting the lover from their purpose – from becoming the person they asked to be. The resisters test the lover’s desire to be a true lover. Will the wannabe lover hit back? Will they hate back?

Beauty for ashes…

I asked to be a lover and God showed me so many expressions of hatred and resentment through the people He intersected my life with. People may need love but many don’t act like they want it. Many don’t know how to receive and embrace gentle care and concern.

I asked to be a lover and He gave me so many opportunities to be attacked and rejected. My personhood, my vibrancy, my sincerity were tested. My passion faded. My light dimmed. My determination wavered. My understanding was reconfigured.

Love is by no means easy. It’s not soft and fluffy. It’s not rosy and light. Love is an anchor. A foundation and a door. It’s stalwart, fearless, a transformer of life. It knows no time and it inhabits countless forms. Love is an expression of spirit, life and truth.

I asked to be a lover and I was remade. Beginning with new eyes, a new heart and new understanding. I am being transformed by the hand of God day by day.

The Lord says, “My thoughts are not like your thoughts.
    Your ways are not like my ways.
Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
Rain and snow fall from the sky
    and don’t return without watering the ground.
They cause the plants to sprout and grow,
    making seeds for the farmer
    and bread for the people.
The same thing is true of the words I speak.
    They will not return to me empty.
They make the things happen that I want to happen,
    and they succeed in doing what I send them to do.

“So you will go out with joy
    and be led out in peace.
The mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
    and all the trees in the fields will clap their hands.
Large cypress trees will grow where thorn bushes were.
    Myrtle trees will grow where weeds were.
These things will be a reminder of the Lord’s promise,
    and this reminder will never be destroyed.”

~ Isaiah 55:8-13, NCV

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…and the people said “HELL NO!”

Note: The context of this post was written in October 2014. Although, I have moved through the rawness of the feelings shared here, I believe it’s important to share process. Our faith walk is not always pretty. Believers do a great injustice to fellow Believers within their proximity when they make-believe there is no hardship in love.

Your love will be rejected repeatedly. People will hate you through no effort of your own. Love anyway.

One of my first blog posts was titled, “Can I love you?” In it, I described how I was a beggar for love with a deep desire to reach out to everyone within my proximity with openness, joy and acceptance of who they are. That was in 2009. By the end of 2014, I felt completely defeated and infected. Corrupt. Depleted. Jaded and hated. I can’t name one person that I’ve attempted to have a relationship with who is an active part of my life today. Worst still – I no longer care. I view that whole process of reaching out and being rejected, making myself available only to be ignored, offering help only to be passed over, issuing invitations and being cancelled out, opening myself to those who continually shut me out – I view all of this as God ruthlessly pruning my life and fusing His Spirit into me more deeply.

There is now a hardness about me that wasn’t there before I asked to be a lover of people. That’s not to say that I’ve become hard-hearted. Quite the contrary, my heart is extremely tender – it feels and sees more now than ever before. But it’s also well-protected. It’s no longer open to anything-or-everyone who simply crosses my path. I am operating on an invitation-only system. I am free to shake the dust of the inhospitable from my feet and I revel in the release that revelation provides me.

I used to love with a purity of hope…

We cannot know how deep or resilient hope is until we experience its revival after a period of devastation. I’ve experienced the revival of my hope, so I no longer think it’s possible for me to be hopeless. However, my hope has become abstract in a murky darkness. There is no longer any detail in my vision and no fire in my passions. This is not a report claiming that love has failed – for that would be an impossible lie. I am reporting that the people I have crossed paths with have not been interested in a love that looks like me, sounds like me, feels like me. I’ve been observing how people are not interested in sharing time or conversation with me. There are certainly those who are content to dump their trash into my ears but those are not the ones who choose to share any measure of joy with me.

What is shared between people molds the relationship they have.

I’ve noticed how people rush pass me or turn about to rush in the opposite direction when I approach. It was a little intriguing at first – much like wondering if there was a mark on my forehead that discouraged attempts to connect. Luckily, I got past the idea that something was wrong with me. Unfortunately, getting past that, led to intense disgust with people. The disgust came from the fact that I have lived my life to be the best person I can be. That doesn’t mean I’m always everybody’s idea of a great person when we share time and space. It means that I constantly work on being present and engaged, available and honest as I move through this world. I don’t speak in niceties, I speak my truth. I have committed myself, for as long as I can remember, to only speaking my truth and presenting my sincerely authentic self to the world in every moment of interaction. My truth and authenticity may not always be pretty or bouncy or joyful or what the world prefers, but it has always been me at my most basic. Me at my most human. What my journey has shown me is that even though I have striven to be open and honest and sincere and accepting of people as they are, those same people were not interested in accepting me as I am. Over and over again that’s what the disregard, neglect, rejection and general hatred amounts to. Whoever I am, whatever I am seen to represent is not wanted. I am not seen as necessary or valuable.

Now I’m learning to love through faith.

In my disgust, I remembered Jesus on the cross. He too was rejected by the masses. I’ve asked Him numerous times, “Dear Jesus, how did you keep yourself from stepping down off the cross and killing everyone cheering for your death? Certainly you could have done that and then climbed back up onto the cross to give Your Life for the rest of the world?” Just a thought. Ruminating on how Jesus, in all His power and glory, could continue to fully execute God’s plan for His life IN THE FACE of hatred and WITHIN HEARING of shouted blasphemies humbled me in a such a profound way.

Since the beginning of our human story, people have been saying, “hell no; no thanks; that’s ok; uhhh… I’ll pass; maybe next time” to God. God offered paradise. Adam and Eve wanted something else. God gave individuals the right to rule themselves and their territories. People asked for a king to rule them instead. God provided a sacrifice to absolve mankind of all its sins in the person of Jesus Christ. People choose continually not to believe or accept the sacrifice. Jesus lived as an example for all to follow, yet so many give up seeking along the way.

I don’t want to say hell no, no thanks to my Lord and Savior. I don’t want to be so beaten down by the world that I give up my anointing due to weariness and disappointment.

It was in asking Jesus how He kept from destroying the people who not only eagerly sought to destroy Him, but actually taunted Him to destroy them, that I better understood the choice to love.

People walked by and insulted Jesus and shook their heads, saying, “You said you could destroy the Temple and build it again in three days. So save yourself! Come down from that cross if you are really the Son of God!” ~ Matthew 27:39-40

I thought my faith journey would only produce more love, joy, peace and wisdom. The world teaches that love is a soft thing – warm, cuddly, tender, weak. Perhaps those who bask in the labor of someone else’s love experiences warmth and softness, but those who labor to love… well we weather tempestuous storms, debilitating uncertainty and endure heart-breaking on-the-job training. We don’t immediately see the benefits of the humiliation, shame, loneliness, sadness, abuse or temptations that hammer at us throughout the workday. But when we get to a certain point on our walk, we are able to look back and see where one humiliation prepared us for the next… until humiliation was no longer a concern. We see how shame shrouded us in darkness… until we decided to cast off the weight of shame and expose ourselves to more light. We can look back and see how loneliness felt excruciating for a time… but it was only in our aloneness that we were able to draw closer to God. There is a reason for everything connected to our life. There is a purpose for each season we are presented with on our journey. Keep walking. Keep trusting our Lord and Savior. Choose to love by continually choosing to receive the Love presented to you.

Every year at the time of Passover the governor would free one prisoner whom the people chose. At that time there was a man in prison, named Barabbas, who was known to be very bad. When the people gathered at Pilate’s house, Pilate said, “Whom do you want me to set free: Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Christ?” Pilate knew that they turned Jesus in to him because they were jealous.

While Pilate was sitting there on the judge’s seat, his wife sent this message to him: “Don’t do anything to that man, because he is innocent. Today I had a dream about him, and it troubled me very much.”

But the leading priests and elders convinced the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be freed and for Jesus to be killed.

Pilate said, “I have Barabbas and Jesus. Which do you want me to set free for you?”

The people answered, “Barabbas.”

Pilate asked, “So what should I do with Jesus, the one called the Christ?”

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

Pilate asked, “Why? What wrong has he done?”

But they shouted louder, “Crucify him!”

When Pilate saw that he could do nothing about this and that a riot was starting, he took some water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. Then he said, “I am not guilty of this man’s death. You are the ones who are causing it!”

All the people answered, “We and our children will be responsible for his death.”

Then he set Barabbas free. But Jesus was beaten with whips and handed over to the soldiers to be crucified. ~ Matthew 26:15-26

He Knows by Jeremy Camp

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Singleness is not the prize.

Some years ago, I heard a pastor teach about the importance of correctly identifying God’s words in the Bible which are distinctly different from other speaker’s words in the Bible. He was teaching out of Job and I recall that he pointed out people’s fondness for saying “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away”. Then he railed at the congregation: “Stop attributing bad things to God!”

Job spoke those words in prayer as an expression of his understanding of the happenings in his life at that point. However, the reader knows that Satan had asked for and received permission to take everything Job had in an attempt to prove to God that Job’s praises would turn to curses when his blessings were removed from him (Job 1).

That was a deep lesson for me. My mind wanders back to it every now and then. Today is one of those times.

I am single and I have never been in a relationship. I mean never. This year I turn thirty-nine. Over the past decade my thoughts on sexual purity have evolved. When I began studying the Bible seven or so years ago, presenting my body as a holy sacrifice was not a difficult concept for me – most especially because I didn’t think I would be single much longer. However, since the years have dragged on through my mid-, and now, late-thirties, I can honestly say that there is little joy to be found in my singleness.

I have seen friends marry, fight, divorce, fight and marry again. I find I am far less interested in attending the second weddings as I was their firsts because, for the most part, these friends view themselves as independent of their marriages. And they aggressively defend their desire to maintain and pursue their individualism at the expense of their union (though they may not see it that way).

As an honorary presence, I have watched children be born and grow up, yet I have never had any real right to guide their lives. I have seen my access to these children decrease as my relationship with their parents changed or deteriorated over the years. That has led to a lot of grieving and more hardening than I’ve ever thought possible for me. Observing families as a guest is no substitute for having one of your own.

I have seen female relatives struggle with aging and ill-health alone. They may have married in their youth and collected a roster of men over time and raised children they thought would be a blessing in their old age, but in the end bitterness is all that remained.

Singleness is a blessing for a time, but not for all time nor for every time. For the past decade I have said, and I maintain, that I am happy I did not marry before the age of thirty. This is not a post about wishing I had married young. Thirty is the age that my life turned completely in the direction of God. I am joyful that He brought me to Himself as an individual, not as part of a couple or a family unit. I am fortunate in being able to walk out my belief and understanding in my own time and space. This has led to the development of a very strong faith and voice. I thank God for His meticulous care of me. The last eight years of my life have been a continual pursuit of truth and life. The most prominent truth I have held onto is: “It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).”

These words are attributed to God during His process of creating humanity. I understand this statement to mean that it is not good for woman to be alone either.

My internal struggle has been to reconcile God’s proclamation in Genesis 2:18 with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9:

Now for those who are not married and for the widows I say this: It is good for them to stay unmarried as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry. It is better to marry than to burn with sexual desire.

Paul said explicitly, ‘it is good for them to stay unmarried as I am.” I believed that to a certain degree, but I didn’t truly get it until I saw an online conversation thread where a woman cited Paul’s words in verses 28c-29:

But those who marry will have trouble in this life, and I want you to be free from trouble. Brothers and sisters, this is what I mean: We do not have much time left. So starting now, those who have wives should live as if they had no wives.

To the woman’s credit in the conversation I read, she was pointing out that she and her husband had individual callings from the Lord. I appreciate that, but an individual calling does not mean it cannot or should not be a shared pursuit by both husband and wife. It certainly doesn’t mean that one partner should follow their calling to the exclusion of their spouse.

Further down in this passage Paul laments that spouses are distractions from God’s work.

I will argue here that a spouse is intended to be a blessing of completion and unity. Don’t misunderstand me. Yes, we are complete as individuals. Yes, we are complete in our relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. But, there is also another dimension in which God has allowed for completion – a marital relationship in which He has joined two people. This joining and unity is echoed throughout His Book of Instruction.

What I noticed when reading this passage after reading the conversation thread, is that Paul again explicitly states in verse 25: I have no command from the Lord about this; I give my opinion.

We are not called to be like Paul. We were not given Paul’s breath, spirit or life. Paul’s preferences are not the foundation of our faith. Yet First Corinthians, Chapter 7 is laced with Paul saying “I wish you could be like me… I command… and in my opinion (verses 7, 8, 10, 12, 17, 25, 26, 28, 29, 32, 35, 40).” Paul’s opinion, even though it’s in the Bible, does not equal or trump God’s word. The only thing God said was not good about His creation was that man/woman/humans should be alone. That is significant. For Paul to call singleness good, in his opinion, is in direct opposition to what God called it. For Paul to extort married people to act as if they are single is not the call of service God requires of us. A great part of our service to God is serving the people He has put in our care. We are to be helpers and ministers to our spouse. We are to be teachers and guides to our children. We are to be truthful and honest leaders in our community. More importantly, we are to decrease as individuals so that Jesus can increase in us. Our call is to become more Christ-like, to grow more fully and purely into the original image we were created in. The spouse God has blessed you with is not a distraction; and your work together – in one another, in your family and in your community, through the Holy Spirit – is kingdom preparation and building.

I have seen many debates over the years revolving around people trying to make Paul’s words fit their present day circumstances. Paul provided great teachings, but he is very clear about when the Holy Spirit is urging him to speak and when he is speaking on his own. I think we need to be careful to distinguish between the two voices. When we do that, it’s not so difficult to apply Spirit-led words to our life.

That takes me to the seemingly waning blessing of singleness. The truth: What I have learned in my singleness is to look after myself, to think of myself and focus on myself. No matter how I may try to focus on other people, every day is filled with only my life issues. No one else is a primary focus in my life for any extended period of time and I admit, I am truly sick of myself. I would prefer to think of someone else, look after someone else and focus on another. Not in the way of around the clock caretaker, but as a partner and stakeholder in the life details of another person. Singleness doesn’t provide that opportunity. As a single person, every relationship in your life feels transient (if you’re paying attention to how people come and go, that is). Singleness leads to an independent individuality that takes us away from the deep benefits of unity and community. Single people are not included in social groups the same way that married couples or families are. We are limited to a certain type of social interaction. Usually a very shallow social interaction – comic relief, entertainment, etc. Single people aren’t necessarily trusted for their dependability and commitment. Meaning, on many levels, they will be included with the expectation that they will exercise their freedom to get up and go whenever the mood strikes.

I have exercised that right many times. I have stopped committing myself to friendships that change drastically shortly after vows are spoken. I have stopped inserting myself into family settings that usually see me as a refreshing change to the redundancy of stability. I have been known to leave employment that drains me spiritually and mentally. I am also known for stepping out in faith in legendary ways.

More truth: During my singleness, I have been able to tune my life, my heart and my ears to God’s voice – His whisper, His urging, His guidance – with a sensitivity that I may not have been able to develop had I not been alone for a time. My faith has grown and deepened because I had no one else to depend on or look to other than God. My internal seeking and questioning has become layered because my communication with God is mostly silent – my thoughts, my musings, my writing. My Lord Father has been my one and only constant and our relationship is not part of what I termed a “waning blessing”. My relationship with my Lord Father is an eternal blessing that I would never wish to live without. What is waning, or has waned, is my need for solitude and any belief that singleness is a step above or equal to being joined as one with another.

There is richness in merging your life with another’s. This indefinable wealth is evident in any couple that has acknowledged the goodness of their union. There’s a wisdom, understanding, acceptance, appreciation, patience, in-it-togetherness, that most singles don’t really get. And at any sign of marital trouble, we singles ask questions like: Why are you putting up with that? What’s in it for you? Why won’t you leave? Why not just do what makes you happy? Why aren’t you taking care of yourself? Do you really have to put up with this?

Every single person who has asked any variation of these questions to a married friend or relative has undoubtedly heard in response: He’s my husband. She’s my wife. We have a family. It’s not that simple.

And that’s what we don’t get, because we don’t have it. For us, it usually is that simple, because we have only ourselves to think about. That’s why single people change so much when they get married. We are meant to change. We are meant to grow. We are meant to evolve from singleness to unity. Singleness is not the prize. Oneness in marriage is.

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When what you want most is what frightens you the most

A few weeks ago, I took a walk with a stranger on a dark night. On the surface, I’m sure he wasn’t really interested in conversation, but he provided good insight. Some of his assessments of me are still playing in my mind.

One of his seemingly unloaded questions to me was, “Do you want a relationship?” I replied with a slight grin and nodded in the affirmative.

He continued, “That which you want most, frightens you the most. You will never get what you want if you continue to fight it and run away from it.”

That was unmistakably loaded. So much so, I asked him to stop talking so I could let that sink in. The statement is still rolling around in my mind weeks later.

Over the years, people have asked me often about my fears. For a number of years, my general response from a place of spiritual victory has been along the lines of: I’m fearless! I ain’t neva scared! However, this has been a summer where fear came to roost in my heart. It became an insidious transformer that greeted me throughout each day.

Throughout the last year, I had been thinking of relocating to Nashville, TN. The main lure had been the thought of coming across a crop marriage-minded Southern men, as opposed to the single-minded Northerners I encounter. Another lure had been the possibility of adopting children on my own and being able to manage it in a slower-paced environment. Neither of those ideas would have been sufficient “lures” had I not been afraid of never connecting with someone where I am. If I hadn’t given up on the thought of welcoming love in New York City. I had essentially come to the conclusion that if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s never going to happen.

During my visit to Nashville in August, I was fortunate enough to meet with a couple of ladies who unwittingly forced me to face the fears attacking my life. I remember telling them both, in different meetings, “I’m not in a real hurry to move. It’s not like I’m running from anything.” Or perhaps one of them first suggested to me that I need not be in any hurry; I should take my time with my decision as I wasn’t running from anything in my life.

Either way, that phrase has been haunting me since.

This week I realized all the roads of my life lead to New York City. The more I try to pull away from this city, the more I realize my purpose here isn’t complete. I also realized that I was running away – from my life. I was trying to run away from the hopelessness that my hope had turned into. From the sadness that my joy had descended into. From the dreams that had never manifested. From the vision of love that had become an instrument of torture simply because of the absence of love in my life.

How profound is it that three strangers would enter my life in the space of two weeks to point out my runaway tendencies? How amazing that God would halt me in the midst of my self-sabotaging plans?

That which you want most, frightens you the most, the stranger-man had said. What an amazingly astute statement for someone I had met less than two hours prior. Supernaturally so.

It brings to mind God’s pursuit of us and our pursuit of Him. How completely overwhelming the thought of His awesomeness is. And yet we are fearfully, intricately and wonderfully made in His image. It makes sense that the relationship I envision – one that physically represents my spiritual relationship with my Creator – would overwhelm me, because everything about Him is overwhelming. However, in the natural, if I’m running from someone who is also running from me because he too is overwhelmed by what he sees in me, then how do we ever meet up? Impossible — but for God who provides the sure knowledge that whatever track I’m on, I’m not on it alone; and whoever was at my back will eventually be coming towards me after we’ve both completed our individual laps of endurance and testing.

Lord, you have examined me and know all about me. You know when I sit down and when I get up. You know my thoughts before I think them. You know where I go and where I lie down. You know everything I do. Lord, even before I say a word, you already know it. You are all around me—in front and in back— and have put your hand on me. Your knowledge is amazing to me; it is more than I can understand.

Where can I go to get away from your Spirit? Where can I run from you? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I lie down in the grave, you are there. If I rise with the sun in the east and settle in the west beyond the sea, even there you would guide me. With your right hand you would hold me. ~ Psalm 139:1-10