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I’ll Stay With You

“Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:8 (NIV)

 

There is a gap in age between our middle child and youngest. As a result, there are quite a few times when he can’t participate in the fun activities of his siblings due to his development, size, or mandatory age requirements. Sometimes, he will protest initially, but he always calms down quickly and finds an alternative activity, one that is age appropriate. He ends up having fun and seems content staying with mom.

That scenario reminded me of my relationship with Jesus. Temptations, in many different forms, confront us on a daily basis. We’re presented with different scenarios and tactics to try and get us to compromise, sometimes subtly, but other times quite blatantly.

We have a choice. We can either give in, which creates problems for the Christ follower of guilt, compromise, and the slippery slope leading to a cycle of sin. We can kick and scream, resulting in a temper tantrum of gargantuan proportion because we want the temptation while a part of us also wants to obey. Or, we can trust that the reason Jesus warns us again the temptations is for our own good.

We love each of our children. While we encourage our oldest two to participate in fun activities that fit their age level and capabilities, we also teach our littlest to stay away from such activities until he is older and it is safe for him, developmentally, to participate. It’s not that we’re denying our youngest the chance to have fun. It’s that if he chose to engage , he could get hurt in a way that impacts his life permanently.

 

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Jesus warns us away from temptations that He knows will hurt us, not until we’re developmentally ready but because He knows that if we start down certain paths, the consequences can be pretty severe and He wants the best for us. He sees the big picture, the way we as parents see the big picture for our children. He doesn’t say “no” to be mean. He says “no” because He loves us and wants to protect us.

The older I get, the quicker I am to listen to God’s prompting when He tells me “no.” I may initially protest, thinking I’m going to miss out on something special, but I have more peace when I stay within the boundaries God gives me. Just as our youngest trusts me when I tell him it’s not safe for him to join his siblings, I trust God when He tells me “no.” I don’t need an explanation. I feel treasured that He loves me enough to keep me safe.

Friends, God loves each and every one of you that much too. Is there an area in your life where God has been saying “no?” Have you been listening or ignoring His voice? I want to encourage you to step out and trust that when God says “no,” it’s for your best.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 (NIV)

A friend and I were visiting the other day. We hadn’t had a chance to get together in person in months and so we had a lot of catching up to do. Our talk went from happy, catching-up type of things to sharing our hearts with each other. By the time our visit was over, we had prayed with each other, giving our deepest cares over to the One who will provide the answers and parted with hope and the reminder that He does have everything under control, even when we don’t see an answer humanly speaking.

After I left, my heart was burdened and I wanted to put action to my feelings. That evening, God impressed upon my heart what exactly He wanted done and so I immediately obeyed. I didn’t want to let time slip by but wanted to be His hands and feet. I contacted my friend and asked if I could drop by quickly some time next week, but then ended up being in the area that very same day and took the chance to drop in without invitation.

God’s timing is always perfect. I arrived as my friends were dealing with yet another crisis in what seemed to be an endless stream. I felt led by God to ask if I could pray with them, and so before I left we stood there and offered up our hearts and the burdens we felt to Him, knowing once again He had the answers even though we definitely couldn’t see them. I even remarked to my friends before I left that I was glad I had popped in so that I could offer encouragement on what was a very discouraging day.

 

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I discovered another truth about being a Christ follower from the above experience. When I take the time to grow deeper in my relationship with Christ, it not only affects my spiritual walk and blesses my life, but it in turn blesses those around me. Beginning with my immediate family, it trickles out to extended family, close friends, acquaintances, co-workers and bosses, and even complete strangers. Because, when I allow myself to be filled with God’s love from spending consistent, quality time with Him, it can’t help but have a ripple effect on those around me. I will be seeking to rid my life of gossip, unforgiveness, anger, and other not so attractive characteristics and begin to model the type of attitude and behaviors Jesus reflected while He walked the Earth. Not only will I begin to show traits of patience, love, kindness, and grace, but my life will become one of servant hood to those in need. As I grow deeper in my relationship with God, it’s only natural I’ll be able to hear His voice more clearly and want to respond when He whispers a need, a prayer request, or a sacrifice to bless someone else.

What about you? Have you ever experienced that God’s voice becomes more clear the closer you grow to Him? Are you faster to selflessly respond to others’ needs in the areas that God brings to your attention? How do you feel afterwards? Do you have a feeling of pride of “look what I did” or are you just happy that God chose you to bless someone else?

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

“…The Jews received Paul’s message with enthusiasm and met with him daily, examining the Scriptures to see if they supported what he said….”

Acts 17:11 (The Message)

Last time we were together we spoke about how to hear God’s voice and if what we’re hearing is really Him or just our thoughts. Today I would like to share with you a personal experience of how God was speaking to me yesterday before and after the sermon teaching me how to hear His voice.

This particular experience began back in May.  I was attending a women’s conference and while there, we were invited to join in an exercise to tune into God’s voice.  We were to ask Him a question and wait to see what He said.  I can’t remember the exact question but it was similar to this: “Is there something you are asking of me? Is there something you want me to do?” At first I didn’t think I heard anything, but then I got a whisper, “Singing.”  I hate to admit it, but I dismissed that “voice” as nothing more than my own thoughts wandering.

I used to sing in church regularly.  I’d joined our church choir in high school, moved several times, and missed singing so joined a new church choir and eventually was asked to participate on a worship team while in my 20s.  Then I got married, started having children, and felt I was too busy to sing except for in the car or along with the radio while making dinner.  Not to mention, I didn’t feel as if my voice was as good as it had been before.

God spoke in other areas of my life during that conference and so I thought nothing more of that whisper and shared it with no one.  One month later, my husband and I were talking with someone we had just met.  Twice during the conversation, he alluded to the fact that God loves when I sing and dance.

I went home and had a conversation with God.  I told Him that auditions for our church had just happened and I didn’t think they would occur again in the near future.  However, if He truly wanted me to sing, I would obey when offered again.

Fast forward to the morning of Pastor Sunnock’s sermon.  We walked into church and were handed an announcements sheet, one of which was worship team auditions.   I walked into the sanctuary afraid.  Nervous about what God was asking of me, whether I would have the time, whether I was good enough, etc.  Then I told myself, “This is silly.  God doesn’t want me afraid to obey Him.”  So I prayed, telling God I would step out in obedience and whatever happened, it was His will.  My fear went away and I settled in to enjoy the service.

 

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During the sermon, our pastor made one more final point after the ones we talked about last time.  He said that God tells us repeatedly in the Bible not to be afraid.  He referenced the Matthew 6:25-34 verses which talk about how much God loves the birds of the airs and if He’s willing to take care of them, He will surely take care of us.  He said we don’t have to worry about hearing God’s voice…just grow our relationship with God and make the environment one that is easier to hear when God speaks.

While listening to the announcements at the end of the service, I found out the worship team auditions needed a tape, they weren’t in person. That was good and bad.  Good because it was less intimidating, but bad because I had no idea how to make an audition tape.  I am old school. I hadn’t sang for church since 1998.  A lot has changed.  However, I decided again that I wasn’t going to worry about the details and prayed once more that God would show me what He wanted, but I was obedient.

It wasn’t until that evening while on a date with my husband and littlest (waiting for our older two to finish youth group) when God whispered the name of a friend who knows all things music.  I mentioned it to my husband and said, “What do you think?  Should I ask her to help me?”  He gave me the green light and so I sent her a message via Facebook early Monday morning asking for a huge favor.  I hit send and said, “Okay, God, it’s in Your hands now.” She responded in less than two hours stating, “NO PROBLEM,” and told me exactly what we could do and how she could help me which was way more than I imagined.

That is where I stand at this time of this writing.  God has handled the details so far, as He always does.  I have someone willing to help me make the audition tape.  I believe God will supply the right song.  Now, I’m trusting if God wants me to start singing and dancing for Him again, He will take care of my schedule and continue to work out all the details.

How do I know this?  From practice.  In January God whispered a different message on my heart.  I fasted for one month making sure it was His voice before moving forward.  Even though there have been some bumps along the road, I can walk around the bumps in peace because I know that I know that I know God spoke.  I don’t know exactly why, but I do know He did.  And, that’s all I need to know.

Will God bless me for my obedience?  I believe He will.  In fact, I believe He already has.  The first way is through the peace I feel despite the crazy schedule, lack of sleep, and interrupted family time.  The second could be in ways I’ve never even thought of.  Maybe a new career path, maybe opening doors for the path He is already leading me down…maybe something completely different.  That part doesn’t matter as much to me.  Since I’ve heard God speak in the past, I know that when I obey, He continues to talk.  And, hearing my Father’s voice on a regular basis is the best blessing of all.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

“It pleases God when we listen to His voice and then in faith believe what He’s spoken.” Pastor James Sunnock

 

A few months ago our pastor gave a great sermon about how to hear God’s voice.  I’ve talked previously about hearing God’s voice in Can You Please Repeat That?  However, our senior pastor shed new insights into what I already knew and took my understanding of hearing God’s voice to a new level.

First of all, he was talking about how God speaks in three different ways:  Sometimes auditory, sometimes visual, and sometimes kinesthetic.  I’ve read various true stories of how God came to people in dreams or they saw a vision of God.  Sometimes, they died and went to Heaven before coming back to Earth and sharing their experience.  I’ve always thought that would be awesome to experience.  However, I guess I’m more of an auditory person because most of the time I “hear” God instead of “see” God.

 

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God made me.  He knew what kind of “learner” I would be and He knew how I would “hear” best and therefore, that is how He chooses to communicate most of the time with me.  That makes me feel good.  Not to say He will never talk in other ways but it just brought His talking to me to a deeper, more personal level.

The other point our pastor brought out was how do we know it’s really God and not just our thoughts?  There are three guidelines our pastor uses in his own personal life, and having heard him speak about this topic in the past, I started using the same guidelines in my own life.  The first is whether or not what is being said lines up with the Bible.  That’s the most important too.  If I think God is telling me to become physically violent with another human being, then I know God isn’t the one talking because God teaches us keep no record of wrongs, not retaliate.

The second guideline speaks about whether or not what we’re hearing produces the fruit of the spirit.  That doesn’t mean that what God is asking us to do won’t stretch us or problems  won’t arise where we’ll need to trust God to help us overcome.  It does mean that while we’re walking the (sometimes) difficult journey that God called us to travel, we’ll have an underlying peace, knowing that God asked us to obey and He has something great in store when we finish what He asked us to complete.

Lastly, our pastor has people in his life that he discusses what God tells him about, a checks and balances of sort in his life to keep him on track.  And, as he nicely pointed out, it’s better to get that friend/mentor/accountability partner in place before you need the advice or you might likely go find someone based on the fact you know they’ll agree with you.

Come back next time and I’ll share with you how God was speaking to me on the very day that I was hearing this sermon and how He reinforced the truth our pastor was speaking to our hearts.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

I Am A Servant

“I don’t want my actions, my behaviors, and my attitude to draw people closer to myself…I want all I do to reflect who I truly want to glorify (God), not just in this life, but for all eternity.” (Cheri Swalwell, It’s Not About Me)

Within the last few weeks, some events occurred which caused me to re-examine how I was doing. You see, the closer I grow in my relationship to God, the less it becomes about what I want and more about His goals, His purpose, and His glory. When I wrote the above post, I was still in the “obedience” stage – the one where you’re making choices based on “should” more than “want to”. My desire to please Him was genuine, but my actions were based on choosing to obey, not a genuine heart change.

I can honestly say I’ve grown since that post. I still believe “It’s not about me,” but my heart has now lined up with that truth. My outward actions are the same, but this time I have the right attitude. Does that mean I always get it right? Unfortunately, no. Now, though, I’m quick to ask forgiveness for my selfish attitude. I’m also able to see the redemption God gives when I don’t hear Him correctly the first time, or sometimes purposefully choose not to listen.

Let me give a few examples to help explain. Normally I schedule my grocery shopping for Friday mornings twice a month. That’s what seems to work best for our family’s schedule. One week in February, however, I felt God nudging me to go on a Thursday morning instead. I wondered why, thinking maybe it was the threat of another impending storm, but chose the road of obedience nonetheless, trusting God would work out the details. While walking through the produce aisle, a worker I’d casually met more than eight months prior, came up to me and remarked about the beautiful verse on my purse. (Feel free to read Free or False Advertising to understand why.) One thing led to another and we ended up talking and sharing from the heart for almost an hour.  Toward the end, she made the comment, “God used you today. I prayed last night and told God I needed to know He was there. And He answered through your encouragement today.”

I thanked her for sharing before we said goodbye and then I thanked God that I’d listened to His voice earlier and was able to be used for Him. It wasn’t about me doing anything special…just pleasure in knowing I’d obeyed. I felt privileged God was able to use that obedience as a blessing for someone else.

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Fast forward to a week ago.  I was driving our oldest home after a long day and I thought I heard God whisper again, “Go grocery shopping tonight.” I was confused since it would mean I wouldn’t get home until after 9 pm, and there was homework, baths, and bedtime that needed to occur. I casually mentioned it to my husband at dinner without much conviction, and as a result, he encouraged me to decide for myself. For the sake of not inconveniencing the family, I chose to go the next morning as planned. Friday morning we were awakened to projectile vomiting from our four-year-old, so any plans for the day were scraped. It was also my husband’s birthday weekend, so thoughts of getting out to buy his present were delayed as well. My first response was anger toward myself. Then, I chose to apologize to God and committed to listening better next time.

As I mentioned above, God is the restorer of all things when we repent and vow to do it His way after all. The illness lingered and I didn’t get a chance to go out and buy my husband’s gift until the night before his birthday. I was in a hurry to get home but struck up small talk with the cashier as she was checking me out.

It began something like this: “How are you doing?”

“Well, good and bad.”

“Oh yeah, what do you mean?”

“My best friend’s dad is in the hospital.”

“I’m sorry. What’s wrong?”

“He had a seizure and now the doctors are saying they don’t think he’ll make it. He’s only 57 years old…but he’s like a dad to me.”

Without thinking about anything other than their pain, I asked for his name and then her name and promised to pray for all of them. And I have been. Every time they come to mind, I’ve been praying for peace whatever the outcome, praying that the man has time to make things right with God before they meet face to face, and that someone will come alongside this family and the hurting cashier and show them God’s love.

It was a result of those instances, months apart, when I fully understood that it’s not about me. None of it. Never. It doesn’t matter what I do in life…because it’s not about me. And, I’m okay with that. I’m better than okay, that’s the way I want it.

Life is about so much more than living here on Earth. It’s about how we spend eternity. I know with certainty where I’m going. There will always be things I need to do – working to bring in a paycheck, supplying clean clothes on a regular basis, keeping a clean house, and making sure the pantry stays stocked with enough food to eat.

However, life, real life isn’t about any of those things. While checking things off my to-do list, it’s about making sure I keep the real goal in mind – sharing God’s love with everyone who needs it. Whether they are already God’s children and just need some encouragement, help, or a listening ear…or someone who hasn’t been introduced to God and how much He loves them.

And that, my friends, is why I can say, “I’m a servant” with a smile on my face.

What about you? Have you had your own “it’s not about me” moment? If so, I’d love for you to share about it below.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

An Amazing Ending

“It’s as if God is saying, ‘I know the story I’m telling. Will you trust Me? Even if it means there are hard chapters, will you trust Me with those hard chapters and will you trust that in the end of this story that you’re going to be amazed?'” (Steven Curtis Chapman)

I overheard a mother talking the other day with a friend about an award ceremony her family had recently attended.  Her child didn’t think she was getting any awards because she didn’t feel she had done anything noteworthy, so the expectations going into it were low.  However, the mother remarked how throughout the ceremony, her heart grew sadder as others were recognized for their achievements and her child, whom she thought was pretty special, was overlooked.  At the very end of the program, instead of being recognized for an achievement, her child received an award based on her character.  That changed everything for the mom.  She was proud not of what her child had achieved or failed to achieve, but she was proud of who her daughter was becoming.

That got me thinking about our life and how our Heavenly Father must look at us.  I know I for one get discouraged from time to time.  I feel like I’m walking steady throughout life – not necessarily achieving anything noteworthy but not slacking off either – just average, not extraordinary.  However, sometimes it gets discouraging when others around me get “awards” for their accomplishments and I seem to have been forgotten.  Or…it’s not necessarily about being recognized for anything I’ve done, but instead a particular season of life is incredibly difficult and continuing to move forward gets hard.

 

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I got a word picture when overhearing the conversation between friends and it’s this:  Our Father knows how it’s all going to turn out.  At the beginning of the program (my life), He already knew the award (blessing) that was waiting for me at the end.  He also knew all I would have to go through before I would see the blessing.  So He sat there patiently, even during my moments of discouragement, frustration, or impatience for the trial to finally be over, knowing what was waiting for me.  Not an award to recognize my hard work.  No, an award to show that by leaning into Jesus and trusting Him through the trials, difficulties, and struggles, my entire character had changed and He recognized that.

That thought left me peaceful.  While I’m happy to stay in the background, continue to quietly obey and be the person God wants me to be without seeking out accolades or recognition, it’s nice to know that the trials I face are shaping me more into who God wants me to be. If I continue to trust God until I take my last breath, when I finally stand face-to-face with my Father, as Steven Curtis Chapman puts it so eloquently, I’m “going to be amazed.”

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

No One Left Behind

“Believing is a choice, Zach. You can’t force somebody to do it.” (William Sirls, The Reason)

 

I’m ashamed to admit but sometimes I wish people would just do what I tell them too…period. “Separate the clothes into darks and lights when you put them in the clothes hamper. The dog needs to be taken outside before we have to clean up a mess on the floor. The morning would run smoother if you would get some of this stuff done the night before.” I think that my way is best…or maybe I’m too lazy to make the effort to try something new, even if it is more efficient.

For most things, it’s not a big deal that my kids, friends, and family members want to choose for themselves. In fact, I think it’s human nature to want to make choices that affect your values, lifestyle, and in the case of children, their growing independence. As their mother who is training them to be fully functioning mature adults, I need to support them in their choosing.

However, when it comes to salvation and where you are going to spend eternity, the stakes are quite a bit higher. We’re not talking about a new hairstyle, particular food choices, or whether or not you’re going to clean your room. We’re talking about where you are choosing to spend eternity and that affects…well, forever.

 

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The Bible is very clear that if we choose to admit we’re sinners and we can’t make it to Heaven by our own skills, but cry out to Jesus Christ and ask Him to take charge in our lives, then our place in Heaven with God is secure. However, if we choose instead to continue on the path of doing it our way, God is just as clear that our fate is sealed as well – to live a life separate from Him forever. Revelation 14:10-11 (NIV) describes it this way: they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”

Some people get angry at God for being mean and sending people to Hell. God isn’t mean and doesn’t send us to Hell. He allows us an alternative to what we deserve, which is Hell. By God’s grace, we can choose salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, and when we do that, we are saved from what we deserve…eternal damnation.

However, as much as I wish I could, I can’t make that choice for anyone. I can’t demand, force, belittle, challenge, or bribe someone to choose God. Just as God doesn’t choose for us, neither can we choose for others. What I can do, though, through my lifestyle, actions, attitude, and the grace God has given to me, share with those I love and others around me the gift that God so graciously offered me and I accepted so that they have the chance to choose for themselves. Because, the older I get, the more I realize, this choice is the most important one anyone will ever make.

I don’t want to waste time on things that don’t last when I can offer the best choice to those I love instead.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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