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 Going a little farther, He fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,” He said, ‘everything is possible for You. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.’” Mark 14:35 (NIV)

My journey with fear hasn’t been a secret to anyone who has read my blog…ever. I have dealt with fear most of my life in one form or another and I can report I only struggle from time to time now instead of daily.

While watching Son of God with my family, fear crept in once again. I watched the disciples and realized something important. God allowed them to be born at that moment in history for a purpose. Their purpose was to walk with and live beside and learn from Jesus for three years while He performed His ministry…and then to go and continue the ministry in His absence, after He ascended into Heaven. My thoughts went something like this: “What a privilege! But many of them were persecuted for their faith and died as a result. I’m happy John only had to be exiled to an island, not killed. But, wait, poor John. While all his friends were having a reunion with Jesus in Heaven, he was stuck alone on an island waiting to die.”

Around this same time, I started reading a book titled, “Face to Face with Jesus,” by Samaa Habib, Bodie Thoene. What an interesting book! I’m not done with it yet, but she talks about the persecution that happens in her country and how she isn’t afraid of dying for God.

I again started to feel badly about myself. Why was I so afraid – what was wrong with me? Then I remembered the verse above and even Jesus didn’t welcome the pain associated with dying on the cross. He pleaded with God to take away the responsibility from Him if possible…however, if that was what God desired, He would do it. So while my fear may not be something to be proud of, I’m not the only person who has experienced fear of persecution.

 

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I love how God meets each of us where we are. I came to a few conclusions from our sermon series, the movie, and the book, and this is what they are. First of all, I was born during this period of history for a reason. I don’t know what the reason is but as much as I wished to have born in the Little House on the Prairie era, God chose me to be born now…and I am going to be faithful to complete the purpose that He chose for my life, willingly. Second, if/when I’m called to take a stand…even if it means getting hurt, God is right there, ready to step in. He has proven that in big and little ways in my life and therefore, even though my default button is fear, I can still choose to do what is right. I can step out in faith because God is right here, helping me every time. I may not enjoy the circumstances I’m called into, but they won’t last forever. And, lastly, my purpose in life continues to be to share God’s love with others. Those of you who knew me before, I’m not suddenly different from the girl/woman you always knew. I’m still me and I still do life as I always have. I just have a better understanding of why I’m sharing God’s love with you. I won’t start lecturing or bribing or manipulating. I’ll just continue to lovingly show you how important God is to me and why…inviting you to experience His love for yourself if you choose.

That is how God’s love motivates me. Without Jesus’ strength, I would still be the child scared of God punishing me or wanting to hide so no one would hurt me. But, the deeper our relationship grows, the more I understand His motivation behind what He does and the more I want to share that with those I love…and even those I don’t know yet.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

“Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:25 (NIV)

Last time we were together, I was talking about the sermon series our senior pastor gave and how his explanation of heaven and hell made sense. The following Sunday our pastor concluded The Promise series and I learned as much from the fourth cup as I did from the third. He explained how Jesus purposefully didn’t drink from the fourth cup until He was on the cross, right before He died. By drinking of the fourth cup then, He was concluding Passover and introducing the adoption of His children into the Kingdom. Everyone who chooses to accept Jesus as the only way to Heaven and accepts Him into their life as their personal Savior isn’t just saved from eternity in hell, but it goes one step further – they are no longer slaves but made children, receiving all the blessings that children receive in a family.

Later that afternoon, our family rented Son of God, newly released at the video store. As we sat down and watched the movie, the sermon only hours before came to life. All the symbolism that our pastor had explained earlier that day played across the screen, it went from words on a page to live and in person. I began to cry thinking about the suffering that Jesus endured all because of His love for us.

Our four-year-old was sitting on my lap and I said to him, “Isn’t this sad?” He looked at me first with confusion and then almost with reassurance. “No, mommy. It’s happy. Jesus died so that He can live in our hearts and we can live with Him in Heaven when we die.” How could I argue with that?

The passion I heard in my pastor’s voice one week earlier (well, in honesty that I hear every week) had reached my heart. It’s one thing for me to read about the suffering of the people in the Bible for their love of Jesus, but it’s another when I see it play out in front of my eyes. To see Jesus as “God who came down in human form with all the human emotions that we experience” was humbling. To know that He knew the only way to save mankind was to die a horrific death, knowing the physical pain He was about to suffer, yet choosing to suffer anyway because of His great love for us overwhelmed me to say the least.

 

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To think that Someone loves me that much…and then to think of the things I’m not willing to give up for Him. I was ashamed of myself and yet was motivated out of love for Him to change. Eating in a healthy manner isn’t about obtaining a certain size – it’s about being my best for Him. Learning how to balance all the activities in my life isn’t as much about me as it is about representing Him well. And, ultimately, everything that I do in life revolves around His very purpose of coming to walk on this Earth for thirty-three short years. I get to do my part to spread His love to everyone around me with the faith that some will listen and get to experience eternal life living alongside Jesus, myself, and many others who also have made the same choice. It becomes a privilege and a blessing, not something to do out of obligation or to check off my list. And, ultimately, when God becomes so real in a person’s life, why wouldn’t I want to share that with everyone else? To give them the chance to experience it for themselves? That’s really what salvation is all about.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

“Redemption: the act of saving people from sin and evil” (Merriam-Webster online Dictionary)

 

This past spring, our senior pastor, Pastor James, has been preaching a series titled, The Promise.The entire series has been wonderful but the third and fourth weeks were especially powerful – explaining truths in a different way from how I learned them…making them more real. The sermon was explaining the Jewish custom of passover and the significance of the four cups that are represented during the Passover celebration.The first two cups are of sanctification and blessings/freedom (or curses as the Jews refer to it as).

The way our pastor explained the third cup, the cup of Redemption, touched me deeply.To redeem something means to pay in full.He explained that in order to understand the full impact of what it means to have the privilege of living in Heaven for eternity, we had to grasp the reality of what hell will be like.The best explanation that was given in the Bible was from Revelation 14:10-11: “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.”(NIV)When I fully read those verses, I don’t want anyone to have to suffer that kind of torment for one hour, let alone for eternity, a difficult concept to grasp.

 

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The truth is that there are two options in the world:Choosing the gift of salvation and spending eternity in Heaven with our Heavenly Father and others who have made that choice or spending eternity in hell…a very real place.I lived under the false assumption most of my life that God was a harsh Judge waiting to punish me whenever I did something wrong.Even though I knew I was saved, I still lived in fear, not that I would lose my salvation but that I would be tortured here on Earth when I made Him angry.My beliefs couldn’t have been further from the truth.

The truth is that we all deserve hell.That is the default destination.Because we sin (and everyone does), and sin separates us from God, sin cannot live in Heaven.It’s because God loved us so much that He decided He would offer us a gift of redemption in the form of His very own Son, Jesus Christ.He chose Jesus to die the horrible death we deserved in our place.And when we freely choose that gift, and the responsibility (not works) that comes with the gift, we are taken out of the default setting and given instead the new destination of Heaven.

Pastor James further explained it this way which made the conversation of heaven versus hell complete.Suppose you are walking down the street and see a house on fire. A firefighter is working feverishly to get all the people out of the building before it collapses.However, there are some people in the building who refuse to come out with the firefighter.He does what he can to offer his help, trying desperately to reach them, but they flat out refuse.When the building collapses and the people die, no one blames the firefighter for not rescuing people who refused to be rescued.He did his part but they made their choice…to refuse his help.

Next time we will talk more about this topic and how his sermon and a movie cemented this truth for me personally.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

“You know, we can love someone without approving of their actions or behavior. We don’t even have to like them. But we do have to love them…”

(Kathi Macias from The Singing Quilt)

The more I study Christ’s life while He walked the Earth, the more I realize everything He did was punctuated with love. Even when He was revealing sin in people’s lives, He did it in such a way as to draw them closer to Him, not push them further away. He didn’t alienate people, He didn’t ostracize people, and He certainly never snubbed anyone. He lived, breathed, and was the very essence of love.

When I was younger, I had a hard time grasping this concept. I grew up in conservative churches and saw life very black and white. Gray didn’t factor into my world. Before you wonder if I had a problem judging others, I judged myself one hundred times harsher. I couldn’t allow myself to make a mistake and was too busy trying to fix those I did make to worry much about fixing others. However, when people were living lives contrary to the Bible, as much as I loved them, I had a hard time communicating my acceptance of them without embracing their behavior. As a result, I made a lot of mistakes and then resorted to avoidance. I remember having multiple conversations with friends who were gifted in this area, but the few times I tried came off looking pathetic. I never knew after the interaction if the person felt like I agreed with their sinful lifestyle or if they understood where my line was drawn – loving them, not their actions.

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I asked myself why were Christ’s encounters with others focused on loving them? Because the main reason He came to Earth was to point everyone in the direction of His Father and eternal life in Heaven. Until that question has been answered, the rest of the stuff doesn’t really matter. I don’t know anyone who has made a commitment to accepting Jesus into their heart through anger, threats of punishment, or bribery.

Within the last two years, I’ve started to really discover the characteristics of the God I serve. Reading about Christ’s life on Earth in the Bible, we are blessed with multiple examples of how He communicated with those He interacted with. I soon realized that as much as I admired my friend and how she communicated with those around her, I wanted to model Christ and how He emulated love with all those He encountered. I believe that through getting to know Him, I am able to begin doing just that.

While I still make mistakes, my goal in my encounters with others is to show God’s love…always. The best part? The more I discover about Christ and the more I desire to live a life modeled after His, I find that I really do love more. It’s not fake, put on, or forced. I truly see the person behind the attitude and behavior. I find that most everyone responds to love…eventually. When it’s given genuinely, without hidden motives or agendas, for the sake of the real reason we’re here (to point others to eternal life with Christ), others respond positively.

If you would like to discover for yourself the way Christ lived while on the Earth, I would encourage you to read the Gospels – starting with John. They helped deepen my relationship with the God I serve. If you would like to talk about what you are studying, feel free to contact me at clSwalwell99@gmail.com. I love interacting with each one of you.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

Regular Maintenance

“You’re His child. That hasn’t changed. When children make mistakes, parents hope they get it right the next time, but they don’t walk away. Parents want their kids to be the best they can be. That’s what God wants for you, you know.” (Nancy Mehl, The Gathering Shadows)

It’s easy sometimes to think because I don’t commit the “big” sins on a regular basis, I’m living a life that pleases God. If I really want to feel good about myself, I just need to turn on the TV, listen to the radio, or read a few magazines and someone will let me know I’m doing great…in fact, they might even help me justify my “little” sins as bad habits or little white lies.

However, I’ve shared in the past that approximately two years ago I began a conversation with God asking Him to change me. I know, I know – that’s a terrifying statement to speak to God (at least I’ve shaken in my boots when I’ve uttered those words in the past) but I sincerely meant it. I wanted Him to change me. Take all the bad parts, the not-so-good parts, and even the “halfway decent” parts and start transforming them into parts that please Him. I wasn’t going for perfection, in fact I really didn’t have an ending in mind, I just wanted Him to start taking the bad away and transform it into something that made Him happy.

I got my desire. God started working on me two years ago. At first it felt really hard. I wasn’t used to bending my spirit and will toward His completely and so it hurt. I could feel my conscious wrestling with what I knew God was asking of me and I didn’t like it. I became restless, irritable, and crabby. Not very fun to be around. However, I discovered that when I finally gave in, stopped wanting my way and instead said, “Okay, God, I will give you this part of my life too,” the peace that followed was palpable. No more guilt, no more hiding, no more shame in that area of my life.

So…I shouldn’t be surprised, having had two more years to grow deeper in my relationship, that God continues to fine tune areas of my life that I might think are okay…and shows me I can do better. I may not gossip, but what about the inner thoughts that play like a recording? My selfishness in one area may cause me to be selfish in another, denying someone else a blessing or just plain taking more than I need for myself.

 

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God showed me that I will always have areas in my life that need to be improved if I am serious about wanting to be more and more like Christ. Unlike two years ago, when God whispers those thoughts on my heart or when He speaks very specifically about an area I’m being less than Christ-like in, I’m much quicker to change, to right the wrong, and to do things better going forward. Sometimes it’s a matter of asking forgiveness, sometimes it’s just a heart change, and other times it’s changing my behavior from here forward to be the best representation of Christ I can be.

Because ultimately, that’s what it boils down to. I want my life to be a reflection of the One I serve. When there are areas that need to be changed and I refuse to do the work, I’m setting a bad example for the One who matters most to me. When I finally meet my Father face-to-face, I want to stand boldly in front of Him and say, “I know I wasn’t perfect, but when you spoke, I listened and chose to obey.” Now that’s regular maintenance I get excited about.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

We Are Blessed

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

James 1:17 (NIV)

 

Our daughter sometimes gets upset that she’s the only girl sandwiched between two brothers. Most of the time she enjoys the extra attention. A big brother to teach her new things and a little brother to “baby” or teach. Sometimes, though, she gets frustrated that she doesn’t have a sister to share secrets with or paint each other’s nails. I remind her that God had a reason she was born into a family of only brothers, lives on a street with only boys, and whose best friends live far enough away that seeing them on a regular basis isn’t possible.

I’m a firm believer that children are a blessing from God. I’m not saying that people who cannot have children aren’t blessed…I do mean that when you are given the privilege of being a parent, whether through adoption, genetics, foster care, or guardianship, each child is a blessing. And as I like to remind our daughter, I believe each child God has blessed you with has been handpicked for you, for your family. I believe God loves each and every one of His children so much that He puts us together in the families that He does to help us learn, grow, and develop into the people He ultimately envisioned we would be. It’s still our choice, but He started us down the path with the right combinations of personalities mixed together.

I know for myself, God has certainly blessed me with the children He has allowed us to borrow. I have learned so much from each of them. They are a combination of both my husband and my genetics, yet they are each uniquely their own selves. When issues or problems crop up in their lives, I usually don’t have to look too far to see where the root stemmed from (my childhood perhaps) and then work diligently not only to help them overcome their own obstacle but also deal with it in my life so we’re both healthier as a result.

 

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Other times the lessons are positive ones. I see in my children a love of music, something I have enjoyed since before I could walk. My mom tells me of how I would rock back and forth so hard in my crib it would roll across my bedroom, landing in front of the door, locking myself in. We also enjoy nature, creativity, and most importantly, our love for God. My children challenge me to try new things, try things differently, or realize that I could try all day but maybe I should just leave that particular activity to the professionals because it’s “just not gonna happen, Mom.”

My oldest has taught me the joy in being an introvert and that it’s something to embrace. He has reminded me that sometimes the best in life is missed if I move too quickly and try to cram too many activities into a given amount of time. My daughter reminds me of the joy of being a little girl. Remembering how to laugh, what makes childhood fun, and her enthusiasm for life is contagious. Our youngest came along six years after our daughter and God granted me the chance to savor every minute…knowing it would be our last journey through childhood as the parent. Each of their personalities, mannerisms, strengths, and weaknesses help to make our family complete. We blend together to create our own uniqueness.

What about your family? What strengths, weaknesses, challenges, or successes can you look back on and see how God placed a particular child in your family for a reason…or your past experiences were exactly what was needed to help one of your children navigate life?

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2 (NIV)

Last time I shared the incident about God whispering to me to help a random couple tackle a fallen tree and how I missed the mark. Today, I want to share the rest of the story.

The very next day my kids and I went grocery shopping. Usually we go super early in the morning to get it done before the crowds hit. Since this particular week had been hard and they had little sleep, I chose to show love and let them sleep in, realizing that schedules are meant to be broken when love is given priority.

We had many places to go, so by the time we were checking out our major purchase at the Superstore, we were tired and hungry and just wanted to go home. There was a woman in front of us in the self-scan who was in a motorized cart. Normally I don’t say anything, but this time I wanted to be Jesus’ hands and feet without being prompted. I approached her politely and asked if she would let me bag her groceries.

 

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Her response was not what I expected. “I bet you just don’t want to have to wait for me.” I wasn’t sure if she was kidding or truthful, so I replied, “I really just want to help you if you’ll let me.” She agreed and so I started bagging them as though I were bagging my own. I made sure to keep the bread from getting squashed, double bagged the heavy items, and tried to make it easier for her when she unloaded into her trunk and then again at home.

I attempted to add a little humor while explaining my motive and said, “You know, I’m being selfish by bagging your groceries for you. Yesterday I was given the opportunity to bless someone, and so I selfishly wanted another chance today.” However, from the funny look on her face, I think she still thought I was doing it so that she would leave quicker. (I guess I better stick to my day job and not try to join the comic circuit.)

God showed me something else through this experience. It doesn’t matter the response of the individuals that you’re blessing. God sees our heart. He knows our intentions. He knew that yesterday my intention was to stall because I was lazy and didn’t really feel like expending energy even though He specifically told me to. Today, my intention was truly to bless the woman even though she thought my ulterior motive was to get her through the checkout lane faster. I was thanked for my lousy attitude and blown off for my good intention.

You know what? It doesn’t matter. God loves each and every one of us in the above scenario the same. He used my lousy attempt to obey for His glory as much as He used my unprompted attempt at the grocery store. He saw my heart and He knows that I’ll be much quicker next time to look for and attempt to bless others. To show you the change is real, as soon as I stop typing, I’m getting up and going out to help weed our garden, choosing to bless my husband simply because it’s something that would please God. And you know what? I’m finding that blesses me even more.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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