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Archive for November, 2013

I Do Want to be Joseph

The head jailer gave Joseph free rein, never even checked on him, because God was with him; whatever he did God made sure it worked out for the best” Genesis 39:23 (The Message).

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Last time we were together we talked about the difference between Moses and Joseph and how I was more like Moses who was less of a risk taker.  However, since I wrote that post, I’ve learned more about Joseph.  Now I really want to be like Joseph too.

If you want to read the whole story of Joseph, it’s found in Genesis 37 through Genesis 50.  To sum it up briefly, God gave Joseph a gift of interpreting dreams from a young age.  Also, Jacob (his father) loved Joseph more than any of his other children. As a result of these two things, Joseph’s older brothers were jealous and ended up selling him as a slave to Egypt.  Joseph’s life was a series of trials, with one example when he was falsely accused and thrown in jail. However, through all his circumstances, the Bible repeatedly explains God was with him and granted him favor with all those around him.  He quickly was promoted to oversee those in the jail, moving up the ranks until he was the equivalent of the Vice President. As a result, he was able to save millions of people from a famine that overtook the land, including his entire family.

I discovered two truths that have always been there, but I just now realized. The first is Joseph never complained about his circumstances.  He didn’t turn bitter, grumble, or feel sorry for himself – ever! (If only his ancestors, the Israelites, had learned from his example when they wandered in the desert with Moses, I think it would have saved them a lot of heartache.)  Now, I don’t know if Joseph was an eternal optimistic or if he had learned to cultivate a relationship of trust with God from an early age.  I do know the Bible talks repeatedly about Joseph being a man of integrity, always choosing God’s way when tested through trials.

The second truth is explained best in Genesis 50:19-21.“Joseph replied, ‘Don’t be afraid. Do I act for God? Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people. Easy now, you have nothing to fear; I’ll take care of you and your children.’ He reassured them, speaking with them heart-to-heart” (The Message). Joseph always focused on the big picture.  He didn’t concern himself with his discomfort when faced with a trial.  No, he had a long-term vision, which was since God was in charge, it would all work out in the end for God’s glory.  Joseph held a powerful position, but he was humble.  God worked in Joseph’s life to take the slightly cocky teenager and turn him into a man full of integrity and humility.  Joseph didn’t focus on his discomfort.  He focused on God’s plan, even when he didn’t know the whole journey.  He trusted God enough to keep walking in obedience, happy to be doing his part to bring God glory.

I always liked the story of Joseph, but after realizing the above truths, I’m striving to be more like Joseph.  I want to keep focused on God and others instead of turning inward when faced with a trial.  When we’re God’s children, He always blesses a humble heart.  When we stop focusing on what we can get and focus on what we can do with a cheerful heart, God is pleased.  I want to please God and Joseph sounds like a great role model to follow.

© 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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“I used to think I had to be somebody important to accomplish things, but now I know Jesus uses ordinary people more” (Bob Goff, Love Does).

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So…when I realized I’m more like Moses instead of Joseph, who obediently followed God’s lead every step of the way, at first I was disappointed in myself. I wanted to be more like Mark Batterson and Bob Goff, who take life by both handlebars and squeeze as much life out as they possibly can. I wanted to make a mark for God in a profound way so that He will say, “Well done my good and faithful servant,” when I finally meet Him face-to-face someday.

I soon discovered that I’m doing just that. By saying yes and obediently taking one step at a time, even though timid and scared and needing reassurance at times, I am fulfilling the passion God placed in my heart and I am giving Him the glory all the more. Because it’s very evident that any progress made toward God’s kingdom advancing isn’t because of something I did, but it’s simply because I obeyed when God said to walk and He did the rest. I’ve learned that when I put faith into practice is when I please God the most. He wants me to have faith to start walking, but He also wants me to depend on His map for the journey every step of the way. I don’t have to have the answers, I don’t even have to have an adventurous spirit. I just have to be willing to follow His path, His timing, and to give Him the glory all along the way.

I admire Mark Batterson and Bob Goff and others like them in this world. There will probably always be a part of me that wishes I had a personality more like theirs. I’m glad God created people like Joseph, Mr. Batterson, and Mr. Goff, who lead by example. It’s through their influence of complete abandon toward the adventures God placed in their lives, that I caught pure enthusiasm for the journey God placed on mine.

So, I think I’ll embrace the fact Moses and I are quite alike. When I choose to obey God, I still get to have the adventure of a lifetime, I still get to receive His blessings for my faith and obedience, and I still get to leave my couch. I just like wearing my seat belt and making sure my family is strapped in securely as well.

© 2013 Cheri Swalwell

 

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“Moses raised another objection to God: ‘Master, please, I don’t talk well. I’ve never been good with words, neither before nor after you spoke to me. I stutter and stammer’”

Exodus 4:10 (The Message).

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The last time we were together I spoke about how I’m a risk taker wanna be. Today I want to continue by talking about how that’s relevant to Moses and Joseph, Biblical men with very different personalities. God was able to use both of them to fulfill His plans in mighty ways because of their faith in Him and obedience to His plans.

If you study Moses, you will see in Exodus how he, an Israelite, grew up as Pharaoh’s grandson, the man who tried to kill him at birth (Exodus 2). Once he became an adult, he killed an Egyptian slave master who was beating an Israelite slave. He had compassion for his people but was a tad impulsive. After hiding out in the desert for forty years, God approached him through a burning bush and said He had an important job for him. He wanted Moses to free the Israelites and lead them across the desert to the Promised Land.

What was Moses’ response? His initial response when God calls him is to say, “Here I am” (Exodus 3:4b, NIV). That’s a good response. He shows his desire to be obedient to God. Then, when God reveals the part He wants Moses to play in freeing the Israelites from the Pharaoh, that’s when Moses starts in with first questions, then excuses. He spends the rest of Chapter 3 and half of Chapter 4 trying to convince God he isn’t the right person. God patiently answers his questions for clarification and even gives Moses miraculous signs to use to prove it is God who is demanding the Israelites’ freedom. Yet, how does Moses respond? He responds by reminding God he is “slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10, NIV). Finally, God had enough and it says in verse 13, “Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses…”

Now, that sounds like something I would do. Instead of being a risk taker who responds with, “Awesome, where do I sign up?” I can see myself reminding God I will need a car seat with a five-point harness since my four-year-old will have to come along, snacks for three kids (quite a few since I have a teenager now too), and don’t forget some air conditioning if possible since I get crabby when there’s too much humidity. However, my questions to God instead took the form of, “Are you sure this is what You want me to do? How do I know for sure? Could you please give me one more sign that I’m on the right path? I’m sorry to keep asking, but I don’t want to miss what You’re saying and without the billboard screaming at me with neon lights, I might miss it.”

And, just like with Moses, God continue(s) to patiently meet me where I am. He doesn’t yell at me, doesn’t get frustrated that I need one more sign, and doesn’t hold it against me that my natural inclination is to be prepared before I jump. If you read the story of the Israelites journey in the desert, you’ll see Moses messed up more than once, yet God was always there with him, every step of the way. It wasn’t until Moses deliberately disobeyed a command God gave to him and Aaron that he forfeited the blessing of entering the Promised Land. However, that was due to a consequence of disobedience, not because God was mad at him or impatient or because he was scared, unsure, or not a natural risk taker.

© 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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“I used to think you had to be special for God to use you, but now I know you simply need to say yes” (Bob Goff, Love Does).

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Fast forward to spring 2012. God showed through a variety of circumstances that He wanted me to start working on some spring cleaning in my life. I was hanging on to irrational fears and letting them keep me on the couch when He had designed me to soar off on His adventure. Even though it wasn’t always easy, God helped me work through many of those fears and replace them not with cocky self confidence, but stronger-than-ever faith in Him and a belief He has things covered.

That brought my family to spring of 2013. It was around March I was introduced to a new author, Mark Batterson, and began reading his book, In the Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. His adventure for life was contagious and God spoke quietly to me, asking me if I was ready for an adventure as well. I caught the spirit and began a journey myself, asking God for some very specific, a little bit scary, answers to prayers that were passions burning in my heart for myself as well as my family. I knew if I chose to start praying this particular way, I was asking God to take us down a path that wasn’t very predictable, but one I prayed would bring Him all the glory. It was definitely going to take me off my couch and have me travel uncharted territory. But it was a journey I was willing to take because it wasn’t for me. It was for Him.

I’m a little further along the journey now than I was in March, and I have to say, there are definitely twists and turns that have taken my stomach more than once. I’ve had to cling to God tighter than ever and He has consistently, lovingly, gently shown He has strong enough arms to hold me tightly so I don’t get thrown off. I’ve also been reading another book, Love Does, by Bob Goff which has further cemented the thrill and excitement of obeying God’s voice when He asks us to take risks in our lives.

However, another truth has become clear to me.  As much as I wish I had the type of personality which loves to take risks, I’m someone who has to be encouraged while fighting my natural-born tendency to make sure everyone is wearing their helmets, have their seatbelts fastened, and are familiar with all the emergency exits. When I figured that aspect of myself out, I realized I’m more like Moses, whom God called to lead the people out of Egypt, than Joseph who ended up saving millions of people from death because he boldly kept saying yes when God told him to obey.

Come back next time as I continue by explaining how God can use people like Moses and people like Joseph to fulfill His plans.

© 2013 Cheri Swalwell

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“…because when we’re on an adventure with God we’re too excited to be afraid and too engaged to be thinking of anything else” (Bob Goff, Love Does).

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I’m a risk taker wanna be. I love the idea of an adventure while sitting on my comfortable couch. If I really feel like living on the dangerous side, I might eat some popcorn (a potential choking hazard) while watching other people live life. At least that’s how I saw myself up until two years ago. Thankfully, God didn’t see me that way. He always saw the part of me that wanted to take risks and live life fully for Him, despite the fear that tried to take over. And, even more thankfully, I’m glad God didn’t leave me comfortable on the couch but slowly and gently began guiding me toward living the life He had planned for me.

You see, it all started approximately two years ago when my husband presented me with a Christmas present. You know it’s a gift from the heart when the conversation begins, “Let me finish before you say anything.” I’d casually dreamed aloud for a few years about my passion for writing…how I came alive when I had a chance to sit at the computer and write. I tried not to bore him when I spoke about my dreams because I know writing isn’t his passion, but he always listened, always supported, and always encouraged. So when he presented me with the gift of the conference that started me on my path toward fulfilling what I believed was God’s desire for my life, I was scared but determined. My husband armed himself with the answers to the obstacles he knew I would see and sure enough, he thought of everything.

I remember coming home tens months’ later from the event and thinking, “Okay, if this is what our family is going to embark on, we better saturate it in prayer. I don’t want to do anything without God’s blessing because I think this is going to be a wild ride.” We prayed, fasted, and committed our future to God in a deeper way than we ever had before. And then we started the journey.

© 2013 Cheri Swalwell

 

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My Pain Helps You

“So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it”

I Thessalonians 5:11 (The Message).

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I seem to always be one step behind. I realize that fact and accept it, and thankfully, my family loves me despite that irritating quirk. Last weekend we were picking out a fun family movie and even though the rest of my clan had seen it multiple times, they were willing to indulge me and we watched Avengers. I know it’s been released since May 2012, but I finally had the chance to see it with my family. I loved it!

I didn’t notice it at the time, but the next day when my kids and I were talking and laughing about certain parts, I realized a Biblical truth expressed through a group of superheroes. Let me set the scene: Loki (Thor’s brother and the villain) was captured and being transported by Black Widow, Captain America, and Iron Man in an airplane to a secure location. Thor came onto the plane they were flying and stole Loki. Iron Man followed and ended up in a battle with Thor to get Loki back. Captain America was slower to arrive, but decided he needed to help Iron Man fight Thor for the return of their prisoner.

When Captain America arrived, after Iron Man and Thor had duked it out already, he commanded Thor: “Put the hammer down.”

Iron Man, lying a distance away recovering from his own struggle with Thor replied, “Ah, yeah, no. He loves his hammer.” (Insert Robert Downey Jr.’s sarcasm here for full effect.)

Thor bellows: “You want me to put down my hammer?” and then an earthshattering noise fills the forest where they are fighting as he “puts his hammer down.”

While talking with my kids, I realized this movie has three great parallels to the life of a Christ follower:

1) Just like superheroes, when we choose to follow Christ, life won’t be smooth sailing.

God warned us in John 16:33,I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (NIV). So, when we end up facing a brick wall in our lives, we shouldn’t be surprised. God warned us ahead of time that life wouldn’t necessarily be easy. It’s not easy for believers and nonbelievers alike. Just because we choose to follow Christ, it doesn’t mean He takes away all our pain and we live a life that only sees victory and success.

2) We may be called upon to use our “secret weapons” in order to see victory in our lives.

Just as super heroes’ powers come in many different forms depending upon which hero we’re talking about, God equips each of us a little differently. God explains in Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 different gifts that various believers possess. Some of those gifts include the gift of giving, mercy, service, teaching, discernment, faith, healing, helps, and wisdom to name but a few. For the full list, I encourage you to read each of the above passages yourself and see which gifts God has given to you personally.

However, just like with superheroes, God has given to all believers certain other tools to help us fight the battles we are called to do battle against. Ephesians 6:10-18 lists out the full armor of God which God gives to everyone so we can “take our stand against the devil’s schemes.” We also are all given the fruits of the Spirit which are found in Galatians 5:22-23 and in I Peter 1:5-7, God instructs us to make every effort to “add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love” (NIV).

3) Iron Man wouldn’t have been able to make the above statement had he not just finished fighting Thor himself and gained personal experience from his own similar battle.

Romans 8:28 was always a verse I liked, but had never considered how it personally applied to my own life until recently. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV). Now I’m not one to say God gives us the challenges in our life or deliberately takes delight in allowing suffering to occur. However, I do believe that when we keep our focus on God during the struggles and remember to focus our attention on praising Him for the blessings He provides during our struggles and learning what it is He would like us to learn, then the struggles may last for a shorter duration. And, I’ve come to see in my own life, another blessing that can occur from the trials we’re called to face is to be an encouragement for others who are walking a similar path as ours. While I wouldn’t knowingly ask God to allow a trial to occur in my life, when I do have to face them (and we all do), then I pray I can be a blessing to someone else who is experiencing similar pain in their own lives.

So, my prayer for all of us today is this. First of all, it’s pretty neat to know that the God of the universe loves us all enough to give us “weapons” to fight the battles we must face here on Earth. Second, it gives me peace to know I don’t have to fight those battles alone – God is fighting right alongside with me. And third, since it’s inevitable that I have to fight certain battles, I’m glad to know I can use my experience and battle scars to help lead someone else to victory in their own life, preferably faster than it took me to make the journey.

I can see why movies about superheroes are entertaining. Add some comedy and the right amount of sarcasm and I head off to bed with a smile as well as a thankful spirit my God is the biggest superhero of them all.

© 2013 Cheri Swalwell

 

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“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” Romans 12:1-2 (The Message).

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When reading the verse in Romans listed above, God instructs all of us to live to a higher standard than what the world expects of us. The comforting part of that instruction is found in the first sentence. “God helping you.” He doesn’t expect us to do it on our own. When we follow the blueprints that He provided (His Word), then we’ll be changed from the inside out. God will bring the best out in us and people will start to take notice. How awesome is that!

Even though the world tells us it’s okay to disrespect our parents, God tells us in Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (NIV). The world may say we’re validated to hold a grudge, but God’s word tells us in I Peter 3:8-9: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

Our purpose on this Earth isn’t to be normal. It also isn’t to have a comfy life where everything goes our way. Our purpose is to share God’s love with those who need Him in their life. It’s to live our lives differently, not obnoxiously or as though we are entitled, but humbly so we can tell others about the grace we experience, sharing that they also can receive the gift we’ve been given.

The best way, in my opinion, to accomplish that goal is to live our lives authentically and to a higher standard. Showing others through our actions and our interests, how we spend our time and what we choose to participate in that we’re “abnormal.” When I am living my life to the extent that others say, “I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something different about you, good different” then I know I am living the type of “abnormal” that would please God.

What about you? Do you live a life that’s abnormal or do you go along with the crowd because it’s easier? Would you feel comfortable inviting your church friends and coworkers to a party alongside your relatives?

I still think normal is overreacted. If we were all considered normal, life would be pretty boring.

© 2013 Cheri Swalwell

 

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