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God Simply Loves

 

“(God) loves us simply because He finds joy in loving us. And no amount of our running, our disobedience, our mistakes will keep that love from us. God requires nothing from us but to turn and embrace Him.” (Susan May Warren, from The Wonder of You)

 

I grew up singing “Jesus Loves Me” in church from before I can remember.  I have always had head knowledge that God loves me, “because He’s supposed to” but I’ve also always struggled with “works.”  I always felt like I had to do something in order to make God love me… or even worse, if I faced a trial in my life, it was my fault, I had made God angry and He was punishing me.

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For my birthday in June 2015, I received a beautiful journal.  It was purple and feminine and delicate… everything I didn’t think I was.  My first thought was to pass it on to my daughter because she is everything feminine and beautiful.  However, God whispered in my heart that I should keep it and use it to capture my journey of learning how to feel God’s love.

I had just returned from a Women’s Conference hosted at my church and during that two-day period, I asked God a question: “If I was an animal, what animal would You see me as?”  That might seem like a very silly question to some, but I wanted to know what God thought of me and maybe I wasn’t ready to hear the answer to what kind of “human” I represented.  Animal seemed a little more safe. The image that came to mind was of a deer.  I have always loved deer.  I find them feminine, but strong.  I think they are gentle, yet protective of their young.  And I happen to think they are beautiful, graceful, and petite – everything I want to be.  So, when God answered with the image of a deer, I was excited.  I wanted to learn more about what deer symbolized, so one night during my quiettime I decided to Google just that and one of the answers given was… unconditional love.

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Unconditional love.  Exactly what God has for us. Exactly what God wants me to grasp that He feels for me. What He wants us to show others in His name.

Ever since then, God will show me deer when I least expect it, but when I need it most.  For instance, this summer we spent one fabulous, fun-filled week with my sister and her family in California.  It was great – lots of memories, lot of laughter and as always, over way too soon.  My sister had commented to me prior to our visit that one thing she missed was the lack of wildlife there – she missed the deer, raccoons, etc. that we take for granted in the midwest.  However, on our way to the airport, I was looking out the window, sad that our trip was over and not sure when I would get to see her again in person, and lo and behold, on a mountain was a huge deer.  I had been praying silently while trying not to cry and I believe God showed me His unconditional love in that moment, through that deer. It was even a male, “daddy” deer – antlers and all.

I’m not “there” yet.  I still have many moments when I don’t feel lovable to anyone, especially my Father.  When I feel like a huge disappointment or try to implement “works” so that He will love me again. But, I’m further along than I was.  And, God hasn’t given up on me.  He keeps showing me deer when I need that reminder the most.  One particular night this past fall, our family had a tough weekend.  One of those weekends where everyone was stressed out and instead of turning toward each other, we turned at each other. Instead of God showing me one deer, He gave me a family of five deer, reminding me that He loves them as much as He loves me.  Unconditional love.  My responsibility to show it to them as He freely shows it to me.  And they don’t have to earn it any more than I do. God wants me to follow His example and simply love.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

 

 

“…David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife…” Matthew 1:6 (NIV)

 

During these few weeks that God had been helping me sort out the lie I’d been believing from His truth, one of my Scripture readings for the day was Matthew 1.  I talked on Christmas Eve about how God showed me the love of adoption through Matthew 1, but He also showed me something else.

As I was going through the list of who was related to who, I noticed that God thought it important enough not only to mention Solomon, but both of his parents – David (his father) who was married to Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba).  God is very exact in who He mentions in the chronology of birth orders.  Now, He didn’t mention Bathsheba by name, but instead referred to her as Uriah’s wife.  And it was because of that mention that my ears perked up and I traveled down memory lane in a specific way.

I started thinking about how David sinned against God twice involving Bathsheba.  First, he committed adultery with her while she was still Uriah’s husband and then second, he killed Uriah and took Bathsheba as his wife.  As a consequence, the baby that was conceived in sin died within days of his birth.

However, the story doesn’t end there.  This, I think, is the lesson God wanted me to discover.  Yes, David and Bathsheba had to deal with the consequence of their sin.  This was a good reminder that even if I’m not the instigator in sin, if I don’t choose to run away from it, I’m still held responsible and will suffer the same consequences.

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However, after David confessed his sin to God and truly repented, God blessed their marriage.  He restored them by allowing Solomon to be born.  Not only was Solomon born to Bathsheba and David, but he was mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus Himself, but he was the one who was granted permission to build the temple for God.

God doesn’t sit up on His throne waiting for us to sin so He can “throw the book at us.”  No!  He wants us to choose obedience, but He created us and knows we aren’t perfect and need Jesus in our lives to save us.  He also wants us to confess when we mess up and let Him fix those messes for us.

When I realize how much God loves me, truly loves me, it changes my outlook on life.  I want to obey out of love for Him.  I want to make Him happy.  But when I do sin, and I do, I should be able to come to Him faster, confess my sin and ask for His help.  Sometimes I still run and hide because I’m ashamed or afraid (old habits die hard) but those times aren’t as often.  More often I’m coming to Him, saying “I need help, Father,” and then doing my part of getting back in line with how the Bible wants me to respond to things while I watch and see the miracles God will do in my life and in those around me.

I love that God doesn’t just teach me something once and then expect me to grasp it all.  Instead, He loves me enough to keep repeating the same lesson until He knows it’s reached my heart, not just sitting in my head.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

Fear God – Part II

Maybe we have to start redefining how we understand God’s love…”

(Susan May Warren from It Had to be You)

 

Last time we talked I mentioned that I had asked God a question, “What lie have I been believing that would make it so hard for me to believe You truly love me, that You aren’t out to get me?”  I really wanted to know this answer because I thought it might help explain why my mind automatically went to Him being a judge and wanting to punish me when bad things happened.

You see, God had taken me on a journey this year and while our family had trials, I started to realize that the trials aren’t meant as a punishment – they are just part of the bigger picture.  Sometimes a person has to experience pain in order to grow.  And when God wants us to grow, that’s a good thing because it usually means He’s waiting to use us in a spectacular way.

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So, I asked God my question, waited a few minutes and then went about my day.  I knew from previous experience that God didn’t need me sitting quietly to hear the answer.  If He wasn’t going to answer immediately, I knew He would answer in His time, and until then, there was laundry to do, lunches to pack, and dinner to be made.

As I was bending over the dryer changing out the loads, God gave me a memory… one I hadn’t thought about in years.  I was back in elementary school having a conversation with one of my friends who also happened to go to my church.  I was asked the question, “Do you fear God?” In my innocence, I answered, “No,” because in my mind, I wasn’t afraid of God.  I didn’t have to be.  He was loving, kind and just. The response I received back was this, “Well, your dad spoke in his sermon yesterday about how we’re supposed to fear God, so you need to fear Him.”

Then I was reminded of a devotional I had read within the past 24 hours describing the different words for “fearing God.” When the Bible talks about fearing God, it means to revere, respect, hold in high esteem… not be afraid of.

 

In that moment, God solved the mystery for me.  I had innocently accepted a lie that I carried with me into adulthood. I didn’t understand the different meanings of “fear” and never thought to ask my parents for clarification.  I thought I was disobeying because I didn’t “fear” God, so it was then the seed took root and grew.

I have since come to realize that while God does allow natural consequences, He doesn’t punish us for fun or because He’s cruel.  God tells us over and over in His Word that whatever pain we have to endure during this lifetime, whatever has been lost will be restored, either here on earth or in Heaven, but restoration will occur.

If you are battling health problems and continue to trust God for strength, He will restore.  If your finances are struggling and you are obeying God’s strategies for money management, He will restore.  Whatever challenge you are facing, if you continue to trust God, He will restore… in His time, in His way.

Come back next time and find out how God used the story of David to further remind me how He loves to bless His children.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

Fear God – Part I

Satan wants you to believe God is vindictive and cruel. God is just, yes, but He tempers that with love. The Bible talks over and over about how He stays His hand, how He gives His servants chance after chance.” (Susan May Warren from The Wonder of You)

I have spent too many years of my life under the false assumption that God was out to get me.  That I had to earn His love and didn’t really understand what grace meant. Unconditional love? Understood that even less.

One memory that stands out in my mind is when our children were six and three (our oldest two). My husband and I had no debt and we planned a trip to Disneyworld, with cash, for a family vacation right before Christmas.  A few weeks before we were to leave, we found out we were pregnant with our third child.  While we were both super excited to get to raise another child, we hadn’t exactly planned to be a family of five.

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I remember having a conversation with Bill approximately one week before our trip.  I told him I had this bad feeling… either that we were all going to die while on vacation or our baby was going to die.  I couldn’t shake the feeling but I felt like God was mad at me and wanted to punish me.  He reassured me that isn’t how God does things and besides, we weren’t doing anything outside of His will so there was nothing to punish us for.

We went on our vacation and had a great time.  Made lots of family memories and despite an ice storm the day before we were to fly out and a sick three-year-old on antibiotics the entire trip, it was considered a success.  One morning less than a week after we returned home, I woke up and within a few hours miscarried.  Two months later began what has been an eight-year journey of health issues for my husband that have tried us financially, emotionally, and physically.

Now, does that mean that God was mad at us and punished us? Does that mean that because I “sinned” someway, I deserved to lose our baby before I had a chance to meet him and my husband deserved to get sick? No, to all of it.

I grew up in a loving Christian home where relationship versus religion was modeled.  Our family had stresses like every other and none of us were perfect (thank goodness), so in the scheme of things, I was very blessed to be raised by the parents whom God chose for me.  So… this past year I’ve wondered, “What lie have I been believing that would make it so hard for me to trust that God truly loves me and isn’t out to get me?”

Come back next time and I will tell you how He answered that heartfelt question in such an amazing way.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

Pain Has a Purpose

Pain Has a Purpose

 

“For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.” Psalm 86:10 (NIV)

 

My oldest and I were having a conversation about people who don’t feel physical pain and how on one hand it would be great but in reality, it’s quite dangerous.  We were in agreement that we’re given the sensation of pain for a purpose… and that got me thinking.

To say I’ve been overwhelmed lately is an understatement.  I’ve felt pressure to get in my hours for one job while meeting deadlines for my other.  I’m currently publishing a book while reaching out to people for four other book projects.  Then, my real job: wife to an amazing man and mother to three terrific kids of whom I want to share in the details of their lives which includes concessions, parties, doctors’ appointments, serving at church. I’m sure you juggle your own hectic schedule. I could probably handle the above fairly well except for the fact I added some heavy emotional heartaches additionally to my already overwhelmed physical body.  I think emotional trials are worse at times than physically draining ones.

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While I know the answer is to turn to God and just trust that He has this, my exhausted body is crying out for more sleep and less “commitment,” less “pain.”   I know I’m where God wants me to be and that this is just a busy season… I know that it will slow down to a reasonable pace, I’m just in a period of busy and while it’s crazy at times, I will someday miss it. I know I will.  I did repeatedly stop working when the feelings of overwhelmed felt like they would crush me and go spend time in prayer, multiple times in the past few days, giving my worries and fears to Him as well as my schedule, and I saw results.  He took some things off my plate by whispering in my ear someone who could do a better job which freed me up for other assignments. He relieved the guilt when I had to turn some activities down for lack of time, and He restored my hope that He has this… down to the last detail.

But the above statement that we’re given the sensation of pain for a purpose hit home not twenty minutes after the words were spoken. I received an email asking for prayer.  When I read the email, I was filled with a sense of, “This is why God allows pain…”  One of the first things mentioned in the email was the feeling of being overwhelmed and at the end of self. I thought, “Boy can I relate to feeling overwhelmed… and I also know Who has the answer to that.” When I dropped to my knees to pray, I was able to pray from the standpoint of being there, not as an outsider who could only guess to the feelings behind the words “overwhelmed.”  While our situations are different, the feelings are the same.  When I cried out to God on that person’s behalf, I used the same language and same heartfelt prayer I had uttered to Him for myself not a few hours earlier.

Pain isn’t fun… no matter when we experience it.  And while I truly believe it was never in God’s perfect plan for us to experience, ever, it entered when sin happened.  God, who never changes, did what He always does when the evil one creates something to hurt humans.  God, in His love, took the pain and used it to spur His children on to pray empathetically for others, having experienced the same feelings themselves.

I love serving a God who takes the sin of the world and finds a way to give it purpose. While I still don’t like pain or feeling overwhelmed, the next time those feelings come crashing down on me, I will try to remember that while unpleasant, they help me better pray for others who are themselves experiencing the same emotions.  While that won’t take the pain away, maybe it will at least change my perspective and remind me once again that God has this.

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9 (NIV)

 

I just finished sharing about the way that God saves, frees and heals.  But it wouldn’t be right for me to ignore the fact that sometimes God chooses not to heal physically or emotionally here on earth.  Just in my circle of acquaintances and family members, I know of too many children who have suffered with cancer only to lose the fight here on earth.  A baby who was born with a heart condition spent only one day outside the walls of the hospital, finally succumbing nine months later after a valiant fight. Babies that never breathed their first breath on earth, being chosen to take their first breath in Heaven instead. An innocent man involved in an accident which left him with physical disabilities as well as a traumatic brain injury, allowing him to struggle everyday with tasks he used to perform with ease. A mother of three leaving her children too soon due to a congenital heart condition, here one minute, gone immediately the next. Alzheimer’s. Friends and family members diagnosed with chronic illness, mental illness, or depression – suffering daily on the inside while they look healthy on the outside.

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What about them? Why have they not been healed?  After asking God this question for years, here’s my answer. Look to the verse above.  The older I get, the more I don’t pretend to know why God does what He does.  Why He allows (He allows bad things to happen – the sickness is due to sin and the evil one gets credit for that) some people to suffer more during their time on earth than others.  Why some people are entrusted with more than others, gifted more than others, and destined for greatness above others.  I do know that He made us – each unique and each with a different set of skills, talents, gifts, and passions. Some of our passions naturally move us toward fields of greatness – medicine, finance, a business sense which enables us to manage corporate companies without batting an eye.  Others of us are more gifted in the creative arts, engineering, politics, or law.  Still others have a caring nature that leads them to work in daycares, be homemakers, teachers, or nurses.  All with varying education and all with varying salary potential.

Is it the same with healing?  I do know that everything God does is so that He gets the glory to point people back toward loving Him and being introduced to a relationship with Him.  Whether a person chooses that relationship or not is up to each individual, but everything God does is with that goal in mind. He wants everyone to experience a relationship with Him in Heaven for all eternity.  That is His heart, His mission, His passion and He wants us to have that goal too.  So, then, does God allow some people the “privilege” of sickness, disease, trials, and struggles so that His glory can be shown through their lives?  I do know that from everyone I’ve talked to, when trials and sickness and challenges come, we have a choice to either cling tighter to God and let His glory shine through our lives or turn away from God and harden their hearts. Those who cling to Him are heaped with blessings and comfort and a closeness with God that can only come from being in the thick of that war with disease, illness, or specific challenge.

I want to leave you with one last thought: While God may not choose to heal everyone we want to in the way that we want Him to, God does eventually heal everyone.  Some here on earth, others not until Heaven, but they are healed. While it’s not my job to understand why and how the God of the universe makes His decisions, it is my job to come to His throne and ask for healing for those I love, those He puts in my path, and those He lays on my heart.  Since I don’t know His mind and what His choice is, who am I to not ask for healing for everyone, knowing full well that the ultimate decision of where that person is healed is in God’s hands, not mine?  And, really, are there any other hands I would rather entrust my loved one to than His?

© Cheri Swalwell 2015

 

“The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.

Psalm 29:11 (NIV)

 

Friday I spoke about how our family was greeted with two whammies the first Monday in January this year.  While praying the prayer of Exodus 14:13-14, I asked God a question: “Lord, why does it seem as though there are always Egyptians?” And out of the silence, here was His response: Egyptians are always present when you are living your life correctly.

I had to think about that for a minute.  It was true.  Ten years ago I prayed and asked God to use me for His purpose – whatever that meant.  He answered that prayer by taking our family on the journey of writing.  It’s been exciting, scary, and definitely not the safest route with a 401K and paid time off.  However, it’s been what’s right for our family.  It was then I realized that “whammies” will continue to pop up in a life that is living for Christ.  When we make choices that please God, ultimately those choices anger the enemy.  This year our family has made some choices that are angering the enemy.  The Bible is very plain – the devil comes to steal, kill and destroy. Now my choices weren’t made in an attempt to anger him, but anger him I do when I choose to live a life sold out for God.

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What does that mean?  It means I’m the same person you’ve always known, just someone who loves God a little deeper and stronger.  When He asks me to share about the excitement I have in my relationship with Him, I’m going to. When He prompts me to call people to encourage them that He wants that relationship with them as well, I’m going to reach out. When He nudges me that it’s time to quit pretending to change areas in my life I’ve struggled with for years and get bold and serious about the changes needed, no matter what, then I’m going to boldly approach God and say, “I’m done dealing with a food addiction.  Help me change, whatever it takes.”

Those types of statements anger the enemy. Those types of statements can at times create whammies in my life to distract me from the purpose God wants me to pursue for Him.  However, God is right there ready to remind me of the Truth. He is stronger than anything the enemy can dish out, He loves to take what the enemy means for evil and bring good for His glory out of it, and He loves children who are willing to obey Him no matter what.

I finished my walk with peace – the peace that can only come from the Person Jesus Christ Himself.  The circumstances haven’t changed.  There is still the possibility of some big whammies hitting this year.  However, they are just possibilities.  The God I serve is bigger than possibilities.  I have a choice.  I can trust His Word, which reminds me He will do the fighting (He wants to fight for me). I can choose to rest in His peace until we find out exactly what we are dealing with (the outcome may be better than we originally feared) while listening for God to direct what He wants us to do.  Or, I can start out 2016 worried about things that may never come to pass.

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I realized on my walk this very important point.  Life, when lived right, should be lived boldly for God.  That means living with the possibility of whammies – not something to be feared, but instead to embrace for two reasons.  One, if we’re making choices in our lives that anger the enemy, then we’re doing something right.  And, two, if we are God’s children, then we already know the final outcome.  He wins!  Which means we win!  It doesn’t mean the fight might not be hard at times, but we weren’t called to live a life of pleasure on this earth.  We were called to share God’s love with people who desperately need it.  When done authentically, that decision won’t make Satan happy. It just won’t. However, when done the way Jesus modeled in the Bible, God will continue to fight for us.  He never asked us to fight by ourselves or in our strength.  He asked us to come boldly to His throne and ask for His strength.

 

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God gave me the word “peace” this year for a reason.  So I’m choosing peace as I face the whammies presented yesterday.  God wins! Now I’m going to wait and see what part God wants me to play in that victory.

I might still see if my husband wants to take the first Monday in January off with me next year – not out of fear but because I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the beginning of a new year that having an all-day date with my best friend!

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

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