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Archive for November, 2012

Desert or Dessert (Part II)

Exodus 23: 20-22: “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you” (NIV).

Now that we are back, I want to share with you why I brought up the story of God leading the Israelites in the desert for forty years and how that can encourage you in your own life.  I have shared with you in the past about different ways that we are called to make a choice.  When a situation comes up unexpectedly or just through the mundane act of living life, we have a choice to look for the blessings that God gives or focus on what we don’t have.  We also are given the choice to choose fear (worrying and stressing out about our problems) or choose faith that as long as we do our part, He will provide for us and the problem will be won, in His time, His way.  His outcome might not be our answer, but His outcome is what is best for our lives, and definitely is so much better than our original answer.

I have had a chance this past month to either prove that what I’ve been sharing this past year works and is the best way or to ignore my own advice and wallow in fear instead.  God revealed to me (lovingly, I might add) an area that had annoyed me for years.  He wanted me to have victory in this area rather than to continue to ignore it.  It went from just an irritating poke to a noose around my neck.  It took a lot of time, attention, and energy that I should have spent being productive and instead was wasted, making me less effective as a wife and mother.

Now…let me back up a bit before continuing with my explanation.  Before the issue became the noose but was still just an irritant, I had begun praying and asking God to help relieve the pressure.  His answer was reassurance to me that He was in control by blessing our family not once, not twice, but three times with gifts that could have only come from Him.  I know this because they were personalized, they were relevant, and they were exact provisions for the very thing that I had been worried about.  How’s that for showing off for me?

Okay, now back to my original point.  As the annoyance became a noose, I chose at that point to put my faith in God to help me resolve this issue instead of giving in to fear and worrying about how I would be able to solve it on my own.  I claimed the promise God gives us as His followers that if I was obedient with my part (not doing things to deliberately sabotage His answer), He would be faithful and take care of the situation in the best way, His way.  I took my hands off, trusted Him, and went about life taking care of my responsibilities in peace with complete trust in Him.

A few days went by, while I rested in the faith that God would provide and continued to look for things He wanted me to do, and then….the ultimate deceiver decided to test me to see if my faith really was strong or if I would crumble quickly into fear.  After all, faith not tested isn’t really faith.

It started as a slow trickle – a little something here, another little thing there, to where I didn’t recognize it as a test at first, just a few minor annoyances.  However, as we all can attest, little annoyances that pile up and come faster and faster soon become even bigger problems (or so we think).  In God’s eyes, it’s still a test.  I believe He wanted me to give Him the issues as they came in little spurts instead of letting them add up into a pile I couldn’t manage.  I also believe that God had purposefully given me the three-fold blessing a few weeks prior for a reason.  Not only does He love us and want to provide for us, but when the testing came (as He knew it would – after all, He knows everything), He wanted me to remember to praise Him. He also wanted me to remember His promise to take care of us as He had showed me in a much bigger way before the deceiver stepped in trying to destroy God’s good plan.

It took me a little while, but a friend gently reminded me, “Don’t let the enemy get you focused on the desert – keep your eyes focused on God and where He is leading – the Promised Land.  But remember that there is always a desert in between” (Marianne Clements).

You see, all the things that I thought I had to worry about that revolved around my issue really weren’t things that were my problem.  It was only when I remembered my own advice to put faith into practice instead of giving in to my fear that the noose started to loosen.  That same friend reminded me also to: “Do what you can reasonably do (and what God reveals to you to do) and trust God with the outcome.  Do your best and trust God for the rest” (Marianne Clements).

Now, I won’t pretend that I have this process mastered.  And it’s not a one step process and then I’m done. Just like we need to keep refueling our body with food, we need to stay close to God through reading the Bible, praying, and taking time to listen for His still, small voice in order to keep our level of faith high.  He designed it that way because He wants a relationship with us, not for us to follow a set of rules so we can check Him off our list and go about our day.

I’m also not at the end of my journey.  The noose isn’t gone, it’s just loose enough that I can breathe freely and really hear God speak to me about what the next step is when it’s time.  One of the reasons that God doesn’t want us to sit in worry all the time is because it ruins our emotional and physical health.  When I was giving in to fear, my body ached, my muscles were tense, and I was so high strung my poor family didn’t know how I was going to react.  Since releasing it to God, the problem is still there, but the tension is gone and is replaced instead with peace.  I’m focusing on the blessings that God continues to give (and has given in the past) instead of focusing on the problem itself.  I’m taking the steps that God has shown He wants me to accomplish so the noose will be completely removed someday.  It might take a few years, it might only take a couple of months, but the point is, when God is the One in control, my mind and body are calmer and I’m more able to focus all my energy on the solution, rather than the problem.

The next time we meet, I’m going to wrap things up by explaining why I shared something so personal with you.  My prayer is that through my experience you will be encouraged and gain peace in your own life.

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EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT TODAY

Good morning Friends!  I have an exciting announcement.  Mantle Rock Publishing has agreed to publish two of my devotional books.  A 40 Day Habit Between Friends: Taking it to the Next Level is already available on Amazon in ebook format.  The printed version should be available some time this week.  A 40 Day Habit Between Friends: Because They Need You will be available in early December in ebook format with the printed book soon to follow.

A 40 Day Habit Between Friends: Taking it to the Next Level is small and compact, perfect for stocking stuffers for those friends and family members to whom you want to offer encouragement, hope, and a little bit of a challenge at this Christmas season, but don’t know exactly what to say.  They are so affordable you can pick one up for yourself at the same time.

The devotional is very casual, the way I would talk to you while we walk around the block or sit together in a coffee shop.  The topics range from some deeper discussions to how similar my marriage is to washing laundry and mowing the lawn. I pray that you will be encouraged, challenged, and find hope when you finish all forty devotionals.

Here is a link you can use that will take you directly to my book to order:* http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00A9ZRHJI/ref=&tag=cheswaficfrot-20

As an extra incentive, to those of you who buy the book (either ebook or printed version), if you write a small review on Amazon and email me that you did, I will be happy to send you a free gift of five additional entries, bringing your total to 45 devotions, instead of the forty in the book.  Please email me at: clSwalwell99@gmail.com after you have posted the review so I can give you my gift of thanks.

Even if you choose not to buy the book, if you have read my blog and enjoy what I have to say, please take a few minutes and hit the “like” button on Amazon.  I would be very appreciative.

Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

 

*Affiliate Notice:  If you purchase my book through the above link, I will receive a small commission. Thank you ahead of time.

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Desert or Dessert (Part I)

Exodus 6:6-8: “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord’” (NIV).

I have always jokingly said that I “play with fire” when I pray for a characteristic like patience, faith, compassion, or self control.  I used to “blame God” when it seemed that almost immediately following a prayer asking for growth in a certain area, I would get hit from all sides; as though my prayer for something positive brought on negative results.

I’m learning that conclusion couldn’t be further from the truth.  In all honesty, if I look at the circumstances in my life correctly, God doesn’t cause the negative outcome (He might allow it for my growth), but instead He is right there, waiting for me to call on Him for help during the tough times, to keep my eyes focused where they should be, and uses the trial as an opportunity to stretch my faith muscle a little bit more.

Today I want to talk about the story of God using Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and their subsequent forty-year journey in the desert, on their way to the Promised Land.  Some of you know this story, starting in Exodus and concluding in Deuteronomy, while for others this may be the first time you are introduced to it.  (Exodus is the second book of the Bible, found directly after Genesis).  I’m talking about God’s provisions for the Israelites today because this story has been so relevant in my life in the very recent past.  I hope that the encouragement I received from a friend will encourage you also if you’re struggling with any area of your life that feels like “wandering through the desert.”

God begins the journey of the Israelites’ rescue all the way back in Egypt, when they were slaves of Pharaoh and held in terrible conditions.  God uses Moses to perform many miracles (think about the plagues), in part to show Pharaoh who he was messing with but also, I think, to remind the Israelites that He is God and He has enough strength and power to take care of them, no matter what.

After they are rescued in a dramatic way (Remember how God parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites could cross over and then all the Egyptians drowned?  That wasn’t a coincidence, by the way.), God continued to provide for them in the desert with manna (bread), raven (meat), and good health.  By the way, manna (their daily bread) was a process of getting them to trust Him every day.  They were instructed not to gather more than they needed for one day.  If they did, it spoiled (and it soon became obvious to everyone who wasn’t trusting God because the spoiled food stunk up the whole camp).

However, the Israelites soon forgot about the miracles that God performed when they were in Egypt (as well as how bad it was for them in Egypt), and they started complaining and whining and basically pitching a fit.  God has a lot of patience, but eventually He got angry with them for complaining all the time.  Their complaints stemmed from a fear that God wouldn’t provide for their needs, which led to them choosing fear instead of faith (trying to take control instead of relying on God’s provisions).  As a result of their repeated sin, (their fear led them to make decisions that were against God’s plan as they tried to do it their own way), they weren’t allowed to reach the Promised Land and instead wandered in the desert for forty long years.  That wasn’t God’s original plan for them.  His plan was to take them to the Promised Land, in a much shorter timeframe than forty years, but they made their own choice (God gives free will to His people) and therefore suffered the consequence of not being allowed to enter.  (There is a lot more to this wonderful story of redemption and God’s unconditional love, so I encourage you to read it for yourself beginning in Exodus or you also have the choice to just read the synopsis in Deuteronomy.)

When we get together again next time, I want to relate a personal story of my own that makes this true story from the Bible very relevant in my own life.

 

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Our Daily Bread

Matthew 6: 9-13: “This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread.  Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  (NIV)

I really don’t think it’s a coincidence that a few weeks ago I was woken up at 2:20 a.m. with the above verses running through my head.  I felt compelled to get up and write about “Our Daily Bread,” reminding myself that God only wants us to focus on the issues for today, not borrowing from tomorrow and not rehashing those from yesterday.  It also wasn’t a coincidence that when I got up to write down my thoughts on the computer, our wireless router appeared broken.  My connection to the internet world was temporarily severed.

Usually after a discovery like that, I would be in a tailspin, especially in the middle of the night.  I would be upset about adding yet another chore to my already packed Monday.  Stopping at the store to grab a new router and then figuring out how to hook it up, while work backed up was not something I wanted (or needed) to add to my list of things to do that day.

You want to know the great part?  God prepared me ahead of time.  It wasn’t an accident that God compelled me to get up at 2:20 a.m. (I’m usually not that early of a riser) to write about only concentrating on “today’s problems,” that day.  I used to worry…a lot.  I’m working on worrying a lot less.  God wants our faith, not our fear.  Actually, a better way to say it, God wants us to give Him our fear and He will replace it with peace.  He wants us to willingly come to Him in faith, no matter how small, and He will help us grow it.

In my opinion, Our Daily Bread, as referred to in the Lord’s Prayer above, talks about how God will supply for our physical needs what we need today.  Tomorrow, He will supply what we need for that day, and so on.  I also think it means that God will supply for our emotional needs as well.  You see, God is a God who loves every part of us.  He loves our spiritual relationship with Him, our emotions, and our physical bodies – everything that uniquely makes us who we are.  After all, He created us to be multidimensional.  He wants intimate communication with us.  He doesn’t just want us to talk at Him, He wants us to talk with Him and also to listen for His answer.

So, when it refers to our daily bread, I get comfort in knowing that He cares just as much about my physical body as He does for my emotional wellbeing and spiritual health.  It sure made dealing with getting a new router that day (as well as unknown at that time, the six hour wait for a repairman to come and rewire our entire house as the router signaled a much bigger problem), a little easier to swallow…even at 2:20 a.m.  So, on that day a few weeks ago, I went and had that intimate conversation with God before I headed back to bed for a few hours.  After all, Best Buy didn’t open for another six plus hours or so.

Today, on Thanksgiving, the annual day of excess, let’s pause for a minute and truly be thankful for all that God has already given to us (health, family, friends, finances) as well as all that He will continue to supply, exactly when we need it.  Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

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I Timothy 6:6-8: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (NIV)

Over a month ago the local news featured a huge segment about the new iPhone 5.  Some people were lined up outside starting at 10:00 p.m. the night before, waiting for the store to open at 8:00 a.m.  The newscaster interviewed two young ladies, probably late teens, about why they were standing in line waiting for the iPhone 5, and why they wanted it.  The first woman stated she had lost her old phone (an iPhone 4), so wanted one today.  The other woman, had recently gotten an iPhone 4, and stated that she would probably wait until they came out officially in a few months, but she wanted one too.  When asked, “Why the iPhone 5?” both of them answered, “Because we have to have one.  It’s an iPhone 5!”

That made me sad, especially in today’s economy.  I know multiple families that aren’t sure where they’re going to find money for next week’s groceries or are two months’ behind on their mortgage or haven’t paid all of their monthly bills for almost a year now, instead picking and choosing what bill has to be paid because the money simply isn’t there due to job downsizing, medical bills, and unexpected life tragedies.

However, these two women aren’t the exception to the rule nowadays.  How many of us are guilty of wanting what others have?  More children, less children, more free time, more money, a bigger house, a cleaner house, to be married, less responsibility, better clothes, a more expensive car, or the latest and greatest TV/videogame/iPhone/electronic gadget?

I read a quote that sums up how I want to live my life, “The happiest people don’t have the best of everything…they just make the best of everything.” (Mac Anderson).  I want to be appreciative of what I have.  I want to live my life generously, on the lookout to give whatever I may have in excess to those in need, expecting nothing in return except the satisfaction of obeying God’s principles to love others.  I want to be able to be content when I have excess as well as when the finances are stretched thin, to be appreciative of having a car that runs even if it’s from 1999, to be thankful for my health and that of my loved ones, and to recognize when God is blessing me, usually much bigger and better than I could’ve ever imagined.

When I shift my focus from, “I wish…” to “Thank you for…,” my whole outlook changes.  I suddenly am happy with my older car and older TV, the nutritious meals I’m able to provide, the free activities that we are able to enjoy together as a family, and just the ability to be on the lookout to bless others, regardless of their needs.  When I do that, I’m able to really see the ways that God blesses me each and every day – through the kindness of others, through the words He speaks to my soul from the Bible, and through the power of friendships and love of family.  Happiness does come from making the best of everything.

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Are You Happy Angry?

Matthew 19:14: “Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” (NIV).

Our youngest is a mixture of his two siblings.  One of them doesn’t like to get in trouble…EVER!  The other will sometimes weigh the pros and cons before considering if the act is worth the consequence that will follow.  Our littlest will choose to disobey at times, but as soon as he knows that we are upset, he starts to sob and ask, “Are you angry with me?”

It’s very hard to be upset with a three-year-old looking at you with puppy dog eyes; but at the same time, it’s important for him to realize that there are consequences to actions, especially ones done deliberately.  Therefore, this week I decided to try and explain to him that even though I was angry about what he did, I would always be happy with him as a person.  You could see the wheels spinning as he thought about what I said, and finally, he blurted out, with a tentative smile, “Are you happy angry?”  I smiled a little and answered, “Yes, I’m happy angry.”  That satisfied him that he was still loved and he was ready to take his consequence, at least as much as anyone would want to.

That got me thinking about our Heavenly Father.  When we mess up, we never lose His love.  He may be disappointed in our choice, He may be upset with our decision, but His love for us never changes, just like our love never changes for our children when they make a mistake.

Therefore, the next time I sin and realize that I have temporarily separated myself from God due to my actions (He never leaves me, but I sometimes choose to distance myself from Him due to guilt), I’m going to remember that God is “happy angry” with me.  He may be upset about what I chose to deliberately do, but He’s still happy with me as a person.

I hope that encourages someone today.  There’s nothing we can do either now or in our past that will cause God to be permanently angry with us.  He may hate our sin, hate what that sin has done to us and through us, but He can never hate us!  If you’re struggling with drawing close to God and making that choice to follow Him, but are hiding due to something in your past or something you are participating with in the present, remember…God is “happy angry,” and is waiting for you to come to Him.  He has His hands out, ready to embrace you the same way I embraced our three-year-old as I reassured him he will always have my love, even as he is helping me clean up his artistic creation drawn in pen all over our suede couch.

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Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (NIV)

The last time we met, we discussed how when we explode over trivial things, it’s usually not about that particular topic, but something deeper inside us; an insecurity, a worry or anxiety, or fear of something.   In the same way, when others take their vengeance out on us, it’s usually not about what’s coming out of their mouths, but something broken inside them as well.

When this happens, the typical response would be to defend ourselves, shut down, or spew back.  However, if we’re a child of God, He calls us to a higher level of response.  He wants us to show love and compassion for that broken person.  Loving that person doesn’t mean setting ourselves up to be abused or the target of their aggression time after time, but it does mean praying about and seeking God’s ways before answering or responding in the situation where we find ourselves.

For instance, you and a coworker were assigned to jointly contribute to an important project at work.  This coworker doesn’t pull her own weight and relies too heavily on your generosity and good work ethic, expecting you to complete the majority of the project while taking the majority of the credit.  And, to top it off, she throws you under the bus regarding a serious mistake that she committed.  With the economy the way it is and a displeased boss, you’re worried about being put on probation, or worse yet, losing your job.

You have a choice to make.  You can confront your coworker and spew right back, accusing and making the situation worse.  You can march into your boss’s office and defend yourself, hoping that your boss will see who’s really at fault…or you can calmly have a conversation with your coworker, not accusing but presenting the facts and giving her the choice to join you in a meeting you set up with your boss to discuss the specifics of the project or you go alone.

In the third scenario, you aren’t allowing the broken person to control you or further harm you, but you are projecting and representing Christ’s love while holding fast to the truth.

Each of us has a choice.  People can choose to take their frustrations out on us, but we can choose in each and every circumstance to either unload right back or stand up and show Christ’s love while holding fast to the truth of the situation.  Just remember, before you get ready to blast someone back, it probably really isn’t about the current conflict but instead something much deeper inside either that person…or maybe even yourself.

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