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Archive for March, 2013

It Was the Love

“You see, they didn’t understand.  It wasn’t the nails that kept Jesus there, it was the love.” (The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name – Grand Rapids: Zonderkidz, 2007), 304. 

 Last time we talked about grace, but today I want to conclude with love…God has really been working with me this year regarding this word.  You see, I tend to have perfectionistic qualities.  I think in order for someone to love me, I have to be perfect.  Now, I’m not stupid enough to think I’ll ever achieve perfect in this lifetime, but I still strive for it sometimes nevertheless.  The more I mess up, screw up, miss the mark of perfectionism, the less lovable I feel.

I’ve always had head knowledge that God loves me.  The very first song I learned to sing was “Jesus loves me, this I know,” but the problem lies in the fact that I didn’t really know, not with my heart.  I wanted to know, I tried to know, I rationalized that I must know, but I didn’t really know.

And, I know this because despite the fact that I’ve always been in a process of growing my relationship with God and not just followed a bunch of rules or rituals, when I messed up, I always fell back on “rules.”  I didn’t come to my Father as one would come to an earthly father, knowing I had messed up but with the security of being loved nevertheless.  No, instead I would hide, waiting for the “big boom” that was sure to come – the thunderbolts, the lightning, some type of punishment for failing to live up to my own perfect standards.  Sadly, I didn’t realize that the perfectionism I worked so hard to attain was in fact only on my agenda.

This past year God has been showing me that He never called me to be perfect.  No, He loves me so much that He sent His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for me, because He knew I wasn’t perfect.  And, I realized as well that even if I was the only person on this Earth, He loves me so much that He would have done it anyway.

I’ve heard that message my whole life, but this year it’s finally started sinking into my heart that it was because of God’s love for me, that Jesus stayed up on that cross and died a grueling death so that I might live.  Now, notice I said started sinking in.  I still hit the default button at times and when I mess up go back to thinking I have to do something to earn God’s love back.  However, once again, because of His love, He gently turns me around, points me back toward the cross His Son’s nail-scarred hands and says, “You don’t have to be perfect, little one, you just have to accept My love.”

This Easter I want to share that gift with you my Friends.  What God was willing to do for me, He also did for you.  If you were the only person on the Earth, He still would have subjected His Only Son to death on the cross in order that you might live for eternity in His love.  The love He paid such a high price for (but would do again) has more benefits than just the ultimate one (spending Eternity with Him).  It helps me to forgive myself more easily when I do mess up (and I will) and draw closer to Him rather than turn away.  Accepting His grace and love when I mess up allows me in turn to show grace and love to others when they aren’t perfect as well.

Being an example to my children of the grace and love that are so intertwined in God’s plan for His people is a gift I want to freely give.  Then we can extend that to extended family members, friends, the community, and beyond.  Imagine a world where grace and love flowed freely.  I pray that I have started to do my part to make that a reality in the part of the Country God has blessed me to live in.

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Copyright: 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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Just Do It

“As tenderly as a father treats his children, so Yahweh treats those who fear him;”

Psalm 103:13 (Jerusalem).

Ever mess up so badly you just want a redo for the day?  the month?  a whole stage in your life, when one bad decision compounds with another and another and another until….you are left feeling hopeless?  Imagine having Someone put His arms around you, whisper gently that you are forgiven, and point you in the direction of a fresh start.  That, my Friend, is grace.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines grace as “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.”  Sanctification is defined by the same dictionary as “the Christian belief that the suffering and death of Jesus was responsible for the sanctification of all humankind.”

As we approach Good Friday, the true meaning of grace is revealed.  No matter how badly we have messed up (and we all do at one point or another), God provided a way to cover us in grace through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Think about that… Jesus dying on the cross has been described as the ultimate sacrifice, and it really was.  God allowed His Only Child to suffer a horrific death for sins He didn’t even commit, just so He could gather us in His arms and say, “You’re forgiven if you choose to accept My free gift.”  Even though He knew the ending, that Jesus would come back to life and be seated on the right hand of His Father for all eternity, He still allowed Jesus to experience the very real pain He felt so we wouldn’t have to suffer eternity in Hell, separated from God forever.

When the Bible talks about how we are saved through grace, looking at it through the above lens, I’m more than humbled God would choose the loving act that He did.  Makes me stop and think for a minute the next time I get my feelings hurt, or I perceive a comment as rude, insensitive, or I am “ignored.”  If God was willing to carry through with the ultimate form of grace of sacrificing His One and Only Son, who am I to deny extending that same grace to others for a “crime” much less severe than my acts of disobedience which nailed Jesus to the cross?

Yes, sometimes extending grace is awkward, sometimes it’s painful, and sometimes we have to die a little to our selfish motives and think solely about the other person’s feelings.  However, it’s still the right thing to do.  Sometimes it will be hard to begin or to find the right words to say…

The next time that happens to you and you’re contemplating whether or not to extend grace to a person who has offended you (real or perceived), think about Jesus on the cross, hanging there not by any mistake He committed, but taking on our sins for the sole purpose of reuniting us with His Father.  When looked at that way – the only real response is to “just do it.”

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Copyright: 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  Matthew 25: 34-40 (NIV)

Last time we talked about giving God the first 10% of everything we have and how much that pleases Him.  By offering Him our money, time, talents, and more, it shows God that we have faith He’ll take care of all we need.  It solidifies we aren’t trying to meet our own needs, but instead we are trusting God has our lives in His hands and wants the best for us.  He won’t always supply everything we think we need when we think we need it, but instead gives us what’s best for us in the right time.

One way to further show God we have faith in all He supplies is to obey His commandment above, to take care of those who are in need.  Every single one of us, no matter what our economic status or bank account balance has something to give to someone who has a need. Some people have more time to invest in someone’s life, others have more financial resources, while still others have medical or nutritional knowledge, the ability to repair or build anything, or the gift of hospitality, all unique skills needed by others who lack them.

One example of my family shows just how much God is willing to bless those who give of themselves freely, without asking for anything in return.  It started for my husband and me when we were both children being raised in our parents’ homes.  Each of our parents were wonderful examples of giving to others who were in need.  That generosity became a way of life that was brought into our marriage and we decided it was a trait we wanted passed along to our kids.

From the time they were little, we would give away their outgrown toys and clothes to people God put in our path.  It didn’t stop with our kids’ things.  If we saw a need we could fill with our own resources, we’d give whatever was necessary.

That way of life was returned to us ten-fold.  When we discovered we were being blessed with our youngest six years after our daughter was born, we had already long since given away our “baby gear.” I was afraid our little one would barely have enough clothes, let alone toys or books.  That I ever doubted my God who is so personal is a question I can’t answer.  Some of the people we had previously offered our children’s things gave them back but added much, much more.  Not only did we receive back some of our “favorites,” but God supplied even better things.  Other friends that we hadn’t known when our older kids were babies graciously offered us things for our youngest as well, expecting nothing in return.

The fact our God would bring such blessings into our lives brought tears to my eyes.  But, as always, He didn’t stop there.  No, He has provided through many other people even more blessings to our family as all three of our children have been supplied clothes from such generous, wonderful people at just the times when we needed it most.

That is just one little example of how God has come through for us in a huge way.  On a regular basis He balances our checkbook when humanly speaking it shouldn’t add up and sends us money for an unexpected bill or an expense that was higher than we budgeted for.  Just today, I had to stock up on essentials for the house, and God gave me an extra $5 I didn’t know I had as well as reminded me of a gift card I hadn’t used.  My total bill came to $1 more than what had been budgeted and I had purchased three additional things that weren’t on my list.  His blessings aren’t always just financial.  Sometimes they are in the form of flowers, a card from a thoughtful friend at just the right time, a well-placed hug, or whatever is needed at just that time. The point is that these blessings are continually given to use from a God who is infinitely more generous than we could ever be.

It takes faith to consistently give 10% of your income to God before paying bills or saving for something fun.  However, it is much easier when I shift my focus to remember all I have is God’s to begin with and I’m just giving Him back a small portion of what is rightly His.  After having that, I rest in the knowledge that my Heavenly Father cares so much about my life that as  I walk in obedience, He will supply.

What He is willing to do for me, my Friend, He is waiting to do for you!

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Copyright: 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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My Firsts

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.  I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty.  “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.”  Malachi 3:10-12 (NIV). 

People who attend church regularly usually have heard of the word “tithe” and have a general idea that it means to give God the first 10% of your paycheck, or money you receive, before using the rest as you decide.  It is a sign of honor, respect, and obedience to our Heavenly Father.  It shows Him you acknowledge He has given you all things, that it’s all His to begin with.  To give Him back 10% of His own riches is a sign of trust.  In essence, we’re telling God we trust Him to take care of our needs.

The above verse is a promise from God that if we indeed do give Him the whole 10%, He will richly bless our lives.  I was challenged recently by a devotion I read to think about giving God not just the first 10% of my paycheck, but in every area of my life.  That got me thinking.  If I were to do that, what exactly would it look like?

What if I received good news about some unexpected money and chose to thank God for the blessing of that gift before sharing my good news with my husband, friend, or mom? What if I started worrying about our finances and chose instead to take that worry and give it to God, trusting that He has my back, instead of picking up the phone and calling someone else and spending thirty minutes complaining and growing an ulcer?  What if I got up early every morning, including weekends, before the rest of my family woke up, and gave God the first of my day?  My time?  My energy?  My food?

I’m thinking my response would be nothing short of the “so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”  If I’m thanking God every time I receive good news, I’m going to be on the lookout for ways that He keeps blessing me daily, which will naturally help me to be a person with a more positive outlook on life.  If I’m giving God my worries instead of obsessing about how to solve them on my own, then I’m going to live a life freer of stress-related issues like heartburn, insomnia, irritability, and depression (or that dreaded ulcer from above).  If I’m waking up early every morning and starting my day reading His Word, spending time in prayer for my attitudes and others concerns, then I’m going to be other-focused, have more good thoughts, and probably issues that would normally negatively affect me won’t have as much of a chance to penetrate my happiness.  If I ask Him what He wants me to do with my time, my energy, and my food, it’s been my experience in the past that He naturally multiples all of those areas of my life and I’m given more to share with others, passing on the happiness that’s contagious in my life.

I love serving the One True God! It pleases Him when I choose to search out ways to take the gifts He gives, turning around and sharing them with others.  That’s another way He multiples the blessings in my life and I find I’m the happiest.  Come back next time and I’ll talk about how when He multiplies my giving to others it further blesses me.

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Copyright: 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

We’ve been talking about how God will bring blessings when we obey and walk in His direction, instead of asking Him to walk down our path, waving a magic wand, and asking Him to fulfill our wishes.  But, part of walking the way He wants us to is having the right attitude while we do it.  When we obey simply because we love and trust God for the outcome, our attitude will be one that is open and looking for blessings, but not making a list of what we expect to gain, disappointed if it doesn’t happen.

The best blessings come, I’ve found for my own life, when I take my hands completely off the situation and try to see it from God’s perspective, submitting myself to His will, trusting that He knows what’s best, expecting nothing in return except the satisfaction that comes with true obedience.

Ways He has blessed me personally during the times I have obeyed simply out of love are many.  Unexpected financial blessings exactly when needed, new clothes for my kids for school, a generator that wasn’t even asked for but needed for those times the electricity goes out (which is quite often where we live), or help in other areas of life when needed most.

God cares about all of us – not just physical needs but emotional needs as well.  Maybe that’s why I’ve noticed lately that God usually blesses me multiple times in multiple ways before the next round of “life” hits.   It’s as though He loves me so much He doesn’t want me to forget exactly how much when the next crisis hits hard.

Our emotional wellbeing is just as important to Him as our physical needs.  During some of the hardest times in my family’s lives, I have found that by turning toward God instead of away from Him, seeking His agenda and not my own, the blessings overflow.  I just have to keep my eyes open wide to recognize them.  I’ve been blessed with a close relationship with my husband and children, learning to appreciate each other instead of taking one another for granted.  I’ve been blessed with amazing friendships despite the fact that what drew us together was one of the saddest days of our lives.  I could go on, but I would rather you start thinking about the ways God has blessed you, filling you both emotionally and providing for you physically.

I would like to encourage you to seek God’s agenda in all areas of your life.  When God is in control and you follow His direction, the blessings do come.  Be on the lookout.  Sometimes they’re small and almost overlooked, other times they’re as evident as a billboard.  Always, though, they’re very personable.  Think of it as God’s love letter just for you!

I would love to hear about some of your blessings from God – if they aren’t too personal to share.

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Copyright: 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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Leave It to God

Trust: “Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

 

God has been dealing with me in the area of trust for a while now.  I have learned how to trust Him, but that doesn’t mean I always get it right or that I don’t find myself in situations at times where my default button is pushed automatically and I resort to panic or fear.  The stronger I get in this area, the fewer those times are, but they still occur.  As with everyone, some situations are naturally easier for trust to occur and other conditions are ripe for worry or second guessing.

I had a situation occur a few months ago where God led me slowly and patiently, wanting me to learn so much more than the “big lesson” that was being presented.  I was given a terrific opportunity but wanted to make sure that I was obeying and following God’s lead, not stepping out ahead or dragging behind what He wanted me to do.  After praying about it, fasting, and talking to my husband, I felt that I was given the green light and proceeded to walk forward at a steady pace.

Now, one of the lessons I learned from this was that just because God gives a green light, does not always mean that the path will be grassy, smooth, and easy to travel.  There will still be boulders in the way, rocks to step on and over, and crevices and pits that need to be navigated.  After all, we live here on Earth and sometimes life is just hard.  We’re certainly not perfect and those we interact with aren’t perfect people either.  So, I found myself staring at quite a few barriers.  I was given a choice of how to react.  I could either react humanly and fight for “my rights,” creating a negative experience for everyone, or pray, asking God to direct what He wanted me to do.

That was the first lesson that I was taught, which we talked about the last time.  I learned that I needed to be willing to walk where God wanted me to go instead of asking Him to come and walk down the path I thought was best.  After realizing the subtle difference between those two statements, I realigned my thinking to make sure I was being fully obedient and started walking.  God then asked me to do some tough stuff.  He knows my comfort zone, He knows how much I hate conflict and turmoil and confrontation, but He also knows that in order for me to live the abundant life He desire for me to live, I need to grow in those areas, learning how to confront in love, compromise, and continue to see others through His eyes instead of my own.  His eyes broaden the picture, give me a glimpse into what the other person might be dealing with in addition to “our situation,” and overall allow me to have compassion; not excusing the behavior per se, but allowing for some grace while instituting healthy boundaries.

I chose to have the hard conversations needed.  I chose to ignore certain behavior while confronting in love other issues that needed to be addressed, and then I took my hands off, trusting God that He was in the solution even more than He had been involved with me in the problem (He’s a very hands on God when we invite Him into every situation we are facing).

I was shocked, surprised, and blessed by the results that God allowed.  I shouldn’t be shocked since God loves me and wants the best for me, but nevertheless, the blessings that He gave were far beyond anything I could have dreamed up for myself.  While I am still experiencing some pits, detours, and unexpected road blocks, He is showing me through the road construction that He loves me and He’s in control.

I want to encourage those of you who are experiencing hardships right now.  When we ask God to show us what direction He wants us to take instead of pleading with Him to go our route, the blessings come faster, the blessings are bigger, and even though we may still be experiencing rough patches or the situation isn’t resolved, God shows us that He is in the driver’s seat, working things out.  The more we stay out of the way and allow God to work for us, the better the results will be.  I can’t guarantee the timing, I can’t promise what blessings will be received, but I have confidence that God is at work to create beauty from pain, happiness from tears, and blessings from despair when we ask Him to drive our lives, our mess, and our situations.  Not asking Him to join our agenda but us being willing to follow His.

 

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Copyright: 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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Which Way?

“God doesn’t do what God does because of us.  God does what God does in spite of us.” 

(Mark Batterson, Soulprint)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve prayed and asked God to please be in a situation I’m facing which I didn’t know the answer to.  Instead of asking Him to show me where He wants me to go, I’ve asked Him to come where I am.  What I need to be doing instead of asking God to join me in the tough stuff is to open myself up and be vulnerable enough to say, “Okay, God, where do You want to take me in this situation that I’m facing?”

For instance, say you’ve been betrayed by your best friend.  You had shared some extremely personal, sensitive issues from your heart and not only did this friend break your confidence, but is turning it around and blaming you in addition to pitting others against you.  You see red and want God to get revenge.  That seems like the best solution in your mind.  However, God would rather you come to Him, knowing how hard it is to give up control and allow Him to take over, and say, “What do You want me to do in this situation, Lord?  Do I confront this person in love, do I ignore the hatred and false accusations that are being told about me, do I ignore the fact that complete strangers now know my intimate business, or do I try to defend myself?”

God calls us to take the hard road sometimes.  Sometimes the answers that He gives aren’t easy to follow.  However, it’s easier to follow His path when we remember God sees the big picture whereas we can’t possibly see all the circumstances from our small vantage point.  That’s where trust comes in.  Trusting that God’s ways are best, trusting that He’s in control, and trusting He knows ultimately what the right direction is.  Sometimes just obeying without knowing what the outcome will be is the only solution that will give peace in life situations that just plain stink.

What about you?  Do you ask God to join you in your situation or do you ask God where He wants you to be? The difference may seem insignificant, but the answer you receive to each question might be very different.

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Copyright: 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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