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Archive for December, 2016

The Bigger Picture

“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Exodus 9:16 (NIV)

 

One of my jobs allows me the privilege of meeting some very interesting people with great stories.  While their stories are theirs to tell, I met one particular woman who others might describe as having had a hard life.  However, not once in any conversation we’ve had does she portray herself as a victim.  She has used the history she was given to do great things for God, her family and nationwide.  Because of her willingness, God has opened doors for her to share her story with many.

Another person I’ve met shared how God orchestrated certain things in his life to where he now has influence to do something about a passion God stirred in him back when he was a child.  He has already promised God that he is willing.  He is just waiting on God’s timing and doors to open up.  The preparation work is completed.

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These conversations have gotten me thinking.  While I don’t claim to completely understand what others experience, I do believe God has a purpose He would like to be fulfilled and because He can see the big picture, He plants us in places and circumstances, equipping us with the tools we need through His strength, in order to achieve great things for His glory.

I also know that God created all people equal and He sees all of us the same, without racial divide or cultural lines.  He loves each of us deeply, showing that His sole purpose is to have a personal relationship with each of us, not just here on earth but for all eternity.  For those of us who already call themselves Christ followers, we have a united goal and that is to show His love and introduce the heart of Jesus to those whom God allows to cross our path.

Therefore, with that belief, God still made us all different.  We all have unique gifts and talents that He wants us to use for His glory.  Some of us are talkers… others of us are quite shy.  Some are a mixture of both.  Each of us was born with a purpose and the gifts and talents to fulfill that purpose.  That is why I believe God handpicked where He placed us because only He knew what skills would be required to fulfill His purpose in each area.  Does that mean I think God chose abuse or neglect for some of us and not for others?  No… that’s sin and the enemy’s doing.  We need to keep the blame where it rightfully belongs.

While the specifics of our challenges might differ, every one of us will face trials in this life.  Our suffering all has a common denominator – that is, none of us can find victory without God’s help.

I want to encourage everyone today.  God’s plans are always perfect.  God handpicked our families, culture, neighborhoods, etc.  If we ask Him, He will show us the bigger picture, how He can use our past as well as our present to do our part to fulfill His ultimate purpose – introducing others to Him.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

Isaiah 65:17 (NIV)

 

Last time we were together I was sharing how God showed me that while I want to live this life without regrets for Him, part of doing that involves taking time to enjoy life, really enjoy the experiences He gives me instead of rushing through and wearing myself out prematurely.

God tells us in Isaiah that He will create new heavens and a new earth.  In the past I had thought of Heaven (very unfairly I might add) as somewhere that I get to worship God 24 hours a day, 7 days a week… and unfortunately, that thought left me a little bored.  I love my Heavenly Father more than I love anyone here on earth.  I love to sing worship songs, I love to read Christian books and the Bible and talk about and with God, but I thought, if that’s all I’m going to do, won’t I be bored?

Then I read a book about Heaven and it gave me a new perspective.  God talks in the Bible about how this life is preparation for eternity.  While living on the earth, we are learning about the ultimate relationship of the Bridegroom of Christ to us the church through the model of marriage as well as unconditional love  of God (our parent) to us (his children).  This life, earth, is practice for our eternal home.

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I truly believe that the practice we are given here on earth extends beyond relational practice, but also to our individual gifts, talents, likes, dislikes and quirky personalities.  I believe that all of those things are part of how God is preparing us for the jobs and duties and purpose that we will fulfill on the new earth.

I don’t have all the answers, such as I wonder what types of work doctors, policemen, and lawyers will be performing in Heaven where sin doesn’t exist and therefore, sickness and crime don’t exist.  However, God is God and I’m sure that they are learning skills for roles that God has waiting for them to fulfill.

When I think about Heaven along those lines, our new earth that God is going to give us, the earth that He wanted for us to begin with before sin entered, it gets exciting!  To be able to live a life of passion and fulfilling my purpose without the interference of sin?  No hurt feelings? Never getting tired? The ability to relax and commune with God or better yet, I can commune with Him the whole time I’m fulfilling my role – that excites me.

Do I know what exactly it will look like?  Nope.  But I don’t care.  This is one time in my life I don’t want to be in charge and I’m willing to wait patiently.  I trust God enough and I love God enough to know that whatever His plan, it will be GREAT!  Not good, not passable, not mediocre, but terrific.

And that one truth leads me to the main truth:  If I can trust God with my eternal future, resting in the assurance that what He has planned will be fantastic, then I can definitely trust Him with the temporary issues I face here on earth.  And, if He’s willing to take care of my temporary issues here on earth, how much more is He excited about showing me around my new home in eternity?

So while I firmly believe it’s important to live with no regrets here on earth, it’s comforting to know this is just preparation for an eternity that I can’t even begin to imagine.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Luke 1:38 (NIV)

I was reading two separate devotions during this Christmas season which took the viewpoint of what Joseph and Mary might have been thinking when given such a huge assignment.  What were they really thinking?  The devotions took the reader through various scenarios for each of them, from Joseph feeling like he failed both his new wife and his Heavenly Father by not being able to find an inn to stay at and instead of offering her at least a warm bed, he only had a smelly stable for her comfort.  Mary thinking she would be surrounded by her relatives and family when she gave birth, when the reality that faced her was her new husband, a bunch of stinky animals and later some less-than-hygienic shepherds.

Whether or not those thoughts crossed their minds or they stayed focused on the goal of Christ’s birth, it’s safe to say they both had a choice… and they chose wisely.  They chose to obey.  Obedience to marry Mary and choose to raise Jesus as his own son, all while knowing he really wasn’t a blood relative.  Obedience to carry the Christ child for nine months and then tenderly care for him throughout his childhood years, teaching him about her Heavenly Father, when in fact Jesus’ knew Him much more intimately than she ever could this side of Heaven.

Obedience from Jesus – following God’s command to come down to earth, taking on human form and living for 33 years among us so that He could experience our world, only to know the entire time He was going to die a horrific death; yet loving His Father and us so much He was more than willing to obey, paying the ultimate price.

I’ve been struggling with fasting.  God impressed it upon my heart to fast for 90 days this fall – through Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas – through the New Year.  My fasting period ends January 27th.  I’m not sure why I thought fasting would be easy during the holidays… and I’m failing miserably.  However, when I sit and write these words, I think how selfish I am that I can’t give God some, not even all, of my food for 90 days when He gave the ultimate gift, His Son, my salvation, for me.

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Our acts of obedience may seem trivial when compared to the obedience of Joseph, Mary and ultimately Jesus Himself; but to God, when we willingly choose to obey what God asks of us specifically, we please Him.

God doesn’t ask everyone to be David or Moses or Noah or Mary.  We aren’t all asked to kill a giant with a stone, lead rebellious people for 40 years in the desert, build an ark or give birth to the Christ child. However, at some point in our lives God will ask us to obey in an area that may be difficult.  It’s our choice whether or not we will obey, even imperfectly, or flat out refuse.

Maybe God asked me to fast for 90 days during the holidays for more than one reason.  Maybe He wanted to open my eyes to the ultimate act of obedience that Christ chose so that I may have life in Heaven with Him for eternity.  That definitely puts passing up a donut or the annual sticky buns into perspective.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

 

 

 

 

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“Many are the plans in a person’s heart,     but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)

 

Our family loves listening to a new song by Toby Mac.  It’s played on our local Christian station often but we also have the CD we can put in anytime we need a reminder.  It talks about how this life that God gave us isn’t a test, but instead this is the real deal.  What we choose to do (or not do) matters, because God gave us this life to use for His glory.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.  I used to say, “someday I’ll do this or I’ll do that.”  I also take the stance a lot that if I don’t get to do all the things here on this earth that I want to, it’s okay because I can then do them when I live in Heaven for all eternity.

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Don’t have time to visit my friends or don’t have the funds to travel the world? That’s okay – I will have all the time in the world in eternity to travel, visit with people, etc.  And while I believe that’s true, and while I also believe that God wants us to live as though we are foreigners here waiting to go to our real home (Heaven), I can’t use that as an excuse to not live life to my fullest while I’m here.

I’m not talking about living it up for selfish reasons.  But I am talking about more rationale “making the most of the one life God gave me.”  That means taking care of my body so that it doesn’t wear out prematurely and I then can’t continue to fulfill the ministry God planted in my heart to do.  It does mean living live as a marathon, not a sprint so that I burn myself out expecting to get everything done “now” while the journey is half the adventure.  It does mean stopping and taking time to build memories with my kids, my extended family, my friends because that is part of impacting the world and showing God’s love.  I’m not the best representation of Christ when I’m burned out, stressed out, working too hard or have no joy for life because I’m just too tired.

This, my friends, is the life God gave me.  It is my responsibility to live it in a way that pleases Him.  My journey won’t look like your journey and vis versa.  All God asks is that we communicate with Him – ask Him what He wants our life to look like and then follow through in obedience in the areas He highlights and asks us to pursue.  The best part?  We have a personal guide (God Himself in the form of the Holy Spirit) who will guide, protect, provide for and love us throughout the entire journey.

It’s important for me to remember that in order to truly live with no regrets the one life God gave me, to show Him how grateful I am for the health, gifts and talents He provided,I need to live it with purpose, with love toward others and with an eternal focus in mind.  In addition, I want to continue to savor the blessings God gives all around me to enjoy.

Come back next time and I will share how I also believe this life isn’t a test, but it is preparation.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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What’s My Slice?

“What’s my slice of pie (responsibility) in the situation?” Pastor Scott Rogers

 

I’ve spoken many times on this blog about the journey God has taken me on this summer – to better health.  I felt led to complete a 40-day fast during the summer and then even though I heard God tell me to complete a 90 day fast after that, it was really hard to get started.  Really hard.  I wanted to… but I also didn’t.

God, though, loves His children completely.  He knew that I was willing but I was afraid.  He also knew that taking my fear away without me taking the first step wasn’t going to help me grow.  So… He kept reminding me in loving ways what His command was and encouraging me to step forward and start.  I had many false starts and days where I blew it and thought I needed to “start over again next week because I blew it too badly.”

One Saturday night in October, God spoke more plainly than ever before.  He used a sermon that was more convicting than encouraging (those are needed sometimes, aren’t they?) to remind me that I had a responsibility to fulfill and now was the time to start.  I knew God was telling me that I had a 90 day fast to begin and to complete and no one else could do it for me.

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Without telling my husband for the umpteenth time “I’m starting for real this time,” I just did it.  I figured my actions would speak for me.  I started on Halloween.  Yup, Halloween.  I did great Halloween night and then Tuesday came.  Even though I told our kids to put their candy somewhere I wouldn’t accidentally discover it, our house isn’t that big and I knew where it was.  Tuesday was my worst day of backsliding than ever.  I was so disappointed in myself and I kept thinking about the sermon, about my responsibility.  And that’s when I realized my backsliding wasn’t about the food this time.

I was afraid.  You see, I’ve been sensing for quite some time that God has big changes in store for our family.  Do I know what they are?  Nope.  I just sense that He has something amazing that He wants to do in us or through us and I’m afraid.  Even though I believe it’s going to be a blessing that He gives, I’m still afraid.  So afraid that I was sabotaging my own fast, over and over and over.

Once I figured out that’s what was happening, I decided I had two choices.  God told me to fast.  For 90 days.  Now it’s my turn.  Accept my responsibility (my piece of the pie) and obey or miss out on the blessing He has allowed me to sense is waiting.

I’m choosing to obey.  I’ve been fasting regularly now and it’s not that difficult.  It was never about the food.  I’ve even lost weight this week.  It’s not about the weight loss.  It’s about giving God access to every area of my life, giving Him freedom to work in whatever capacity He wants to.  The fear has been replaced with anticipation to see what God is going to do in our family’s life.  I’ve chosen to accept my slice of pie, one that I can’t eat until the end of January after my fast has ended.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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Slow On Purpose

“For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” Habakkuk 2:3 (NIV)

 

Even though I thought God had cured me of a lot of my perfectionistic qualities, when I’m stressed out, they try to creep back in.  This past fall has been a very stressful time in our family’s life.  Nothing life threatening or traumatic, just the normal daily living of trying to balance schedules, but stress filled nonetheless.

By now if you’ve been following my blog, you realize that in the midst of busy, we chose to add another family member to our household: a bearded dragon.  Well, the one our son chose as his early Christmas present is a squirrely little thing.  He is a hatchling but growing fast as they told us he would, and it was recommended that we handle him as much as possible to calm him down and help him acclimate to being held.

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Therein is when the problem began. I’m sure that their definition of assimilating him to our home and our touch was different than my definition.  I was going to handle him until he was calm!  However, truth be told, I’m not the calmest when it comes to handling reptiles so my stress level was through the roof when attempting to calm him down.  Despite those odds, I thought things were progressing quite nicely until this past week when he started giving me the stare down – taking on a predatory stance and opening his mouth as though to attack all while fluffing out his beard.  That certainly didn’t help with my blood pressure.  I was ready to turn him in for a new, calmer model until I realized there are many factors at play here.

One, he’s going through a growth spurt.  I believe that makes him hungrier and when I’m hungry, I certainly don’t want to be chased around to “cuddle” – I want to eat!  Second, while trying to teach him to calmly sit in my hands, I’ve simultaneously been trying to teach him to eat out of my hand.  So… if you were hungrier than usual and this giant hand comes at you, sometimes with food, sometimes not, I’m thinking you might get your signals mixed up as well.  Third, I’m not a reptile, I’m still learning how to speak reptile language and I truly don’t know what he’s thinking.  He has calmed down some while in my hands for certain periods of time, even so much so that he has closed his eyes and appeared relaxed.  I think I need to count that as progress and not be so upset that I don’t have a calm dragon less than three weeks after he arrived in our house.

I also need to focus on changing my tendencies to have everything happen today, or better yet, yesterday when given an assignment.  Life doesn’t work that way and honestly, I’m glad it doesn’t.  Think of all the joy I would miss if our dragon came to us already trained.  I certainly wouldn’t bother to spend as much time with him trying to tame him.  I would get lazy and meet his basic needs but there wouldn’t be that goal to have him calm enough to interact with our family when he gets bigger.

I think God allows “slow” on purpose.  I need to remember that truth in all areas of my life – whether it’s pursuing a new direction on the journey God has for our family, getting into shape or exercising.  While I see time as a hindrance and an obstacle to overcome, I need to see it from God’s perspective instead.  The journey is as important as the goal at the end.

I know I’m learning much more about our new family member because of the obstacles associated with domesticating him than I would have otherwise.  What was going to be our son’s dragon has become a family endeavor.

I’m so glad God designed life that way.  While my perfectionistic tendencies may still rebel at times at taking things slower so I can enjoy the journey, I’m still ultimately glad God planned it that way.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

 

 

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The Power of Mentors

“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” 2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV)

 

I’ve shared some about the acquisition of a bearded dragon to our family and how we virtually knew nothing about the reptile kingdom a month ago… so before taking the plunge, my husband put a lot of time into research, determining which lizard would be the best fit for our family.

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While all that research reassured me that this was an undertaking we were capable of handling, it wasn’t until my conversation with the pet store owner who shared how her bearded dragon and dog play tug-of-war together that I was convinced… and even, I might add, a little excited.  Then, when at another pet store, a customer struck up a conversation with me and explained how her six-year-old takes his bearded dragon for walks on a leash.

Since we’ve brought our little hatchling home, I have called the pet store no less than two times a week, always asking a question about this or that… making sure we’re doing more than just keeping him alive but instead helping him to thrive.  Each time I call, no matter who answers the phone there, the response I receive is this: “We’re happy to answer any questions you have, any time.  We’d much rather help you take good care of your pet and answer your questions in the beginning to keep him healthy than have to help you nurse a sick dragon back to health.”

The power of mentors.  It makes me feel good knowing that I have a handy resource in the pet store to answer my questions, during working hours.  We asked them a ton of questions ahead of time, also, so that we would be properly prepared to welcome our new pet home as well.

 

Being mentored about our pet isn’t much different than being mentored in the spiritual realm.  God brings older men and women into our lives (either physically older or spiritually more mature) to help us grow in our spiritual walk with Him.  Just as I trust and feel good about having a pet store I can rely on to answer my many questions about the unknown world of bearded dragons our family is walking, I am just as grateful for the spiritual mentors that God has placed in my life throughout the years to help me walk deeper and closer to Him by encouraging me, inspiring me or sometimes challenging me to dig deeper, pray harder or obey completely.

My husband and I are grateful our children have such great mentors in their lives as well.  Some are through the church, some are in the community and some are in our extended families.  Each one plays a vital role in their lives – helping them dig deeper and grow stronger in God.

The power of mentors – they are such a blessing from God.  Once you’ve been mentored in a certain area, then it’s your turn to take that knowledge and breathe life into someone else, paying it forward to the next generation.  Don’t worry if you don’t know who you will pay it forward to – just as God brought you the mentors you needed, God will bring you to those whom He wants you to encourage.

© Cheri Swalwell 2016

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