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Hope in the Storm

     Has this Covid-19 crisis made you feel like you were headed in one direction and are all of a sudden way off-course? Do you feel like you are doing your best, but not making any forward progress? In Matthew 14:22-33 the disciples found themselves in a powerful storm facing these same feelings. They were being battered by the waves, far off from their intended destination, and struggling and straining but seemed to be going nowhere.  However, there were 4 important things in the boat that day that helped them and I believe can help us in the storm that we currently find ourselves facing.
 
   First, there was the prayers of Christ. Where was Jesus when their world was falling apart? In verse 22 we see that Jesus was having an all night prayer meeting. And in the midst of THIS storm, Jesus has NOT changed. Romans 8:34 says that Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf. That is GREAT news! Right now, Jesus is praying for you and I.
 
     Second, there was the presence of Christ. Mark 6:48 includes that Jesus saw the disciples and then joined them in the storm by walking on the water. Jesus shows up in our storms, and he will go to ANY lengths to get to us and encourage us.
 
     Third, there was the power of Christ. Jesus showed up and says something incredibly powerful in Matthew 14:27. We have a powerful declaration surrounded by 2 commands. The declaration is “I AM”. Jesus is echoing what God said in Exodus 3:13-14 when Moses questioned God’s power. God said to Moses and Jesus says to his disciples and to us, “My power is NOT in question.” I AM WHO I ALWAYS HAVE BEEN AND ALWAYS WILL BE.” The first command is, “Be of good courage”. We see this same command to the man lowered through the roof (Matt. 9:2), to the woman with the issue of blood (Matt. 9:22), to Blind Bartimaues (Mark 10:49), to Paul when discouraged in prison (Acts 23:11), and to the disciples facing their greatest trial (John 16:33). Don’t miss it – every time God says this He is saying it to a person that has come to the end of their options and is lacking strength. His Word is  – BECAUSE I AM, YOU CAN! The second command is, “Do not be afraid.” These professional fishermen weren’t scared of the storm as much as they were of the Savior. When the I AM showed up they realized that this SAVIOR was much greater than this STORM. In that moment, their panic turned to peace, their terror turned to trust, their concern turned to courage, their fear turned to faith, and their worry turned to worship!
 
      Finally, there was the past miracles of Christ. Jesus had just fed 5000 men and many more families with five loaves and 2 fishes and had 12 basketfuls of leftovers. There must have been at least one basketful of bread on the boat. If the disciples would have just looked over their shoulder they would have been reminded that the last time they faced an impossible situation that Jesus was faithful. If we look over our shoulder, I bet we will see our own miracles. We can stand up on these past miracles of Christ right now knowing that the One that was faithful in our past, will be faithful in our present and future (Hebrews 13:8).
 
     This Covid-10 Storm is real, but our Savior is greater. I hope this Word will help you as much as it has helped me during this time.
 

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A Root Reset

I’ve heard the phrase “I just want things to go back to normal” many times the past few days. The things that my children often complain about are now their heart’s desire. The normalcy of early wake-up times, athletic practices, car lines, and school lunches are all gone. A full plate of activities is now suddenly empty.

     This past weekend, Stephen and I had the blessing of attending a marriage retreat. Over the course of the weekend, God continued to impress upon on my heart two verses. He said “these are for you” and it would not be until four days later that I understood why.

Ephesians 3:17-18, “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”

      The word roots means different things to different people. Whether it is physical tree roots, graying hair roots (much like mine lately :), or spiritual roots, the best roots are strong and healthy with the ability to sustain the most powerful storm.

     My thoughts about spiritual roots immediately ran to two Godly sets of grandparents – one who lived on a farm and one who lived right next door to my house as I was growing up.  Both would always make time for me when I would visit. One was often shucking corn outside, while the other was either listening to Christian radio or watching Wheel of Fortune, depending on the time of day. The one thing they both had in common was deep roots – legacies of abiding and dwelling in The Lord.
 
     God brought me back to those verses in Ephesians four days later when He whispered, “What if I don’t want things to go back to normal?” What if the current root systems that are being developed are shallow and weak? What if I need to do some replanting in your life?  I thought of my three children and the type of roots Stephen and I are putting down. God completely laid this on my heart in regards to making intentional investments. I am sharing in the hopes that it may help encourage your family during these days, as our family reexamines our roots.
  • R- Redeem The Time

As a busy mom of a 14, 10, and 5 year old our house is often chaotic. Yesterday, one was playing basketball on the small hoop over his door, one was playing the guitar as she sang, and the other was teaching her class of twenty baby dolls. Many of her students were being placed on the stinky square due to their misbehaving:).  I thought, “Lord, how will I manage this for multiple days?” He impressed upon my heart, “Julie you will not have this day again. Use it wisely. Have the conversation with your teenager you have been meaning to have. Play a game of basketball with your son that you never have the time to do. Join your five year old’s imaginary class and just relax. Hope she doesn’t send you to the stinky square! Strengthen those roots. Time is the best way to do it and you have a lot more of it now.”

  • O- Order Your Steps
     Our kids are watching every comment and every step we make. Where do they lead- to the spiritual or to the superficial? My mom died before her father. At his funeral I knew she would have wanted a particular verse shared. Psalm 37:23, “The steps of a good man are ordered by The Lord: and He delights in his way.” Papa Carter’s steps were always faithful. He read his Bible every day, loved his family, and never did he speak a harsh word about anyone. His steps were greatly affected by how he grew up. He would always walk behind me turning off the lights as I exited a room, ate every bit of food on his plate, and would never even think about missing a church service for any other reason than sickness. He would often talk about how the Great Depression affected him.  His steps greatly impacted those who came behind him. It really made me consider where I am leading those who are following closely behind.
  • O- Opt out of social media (even if just a little :))

This one is hard for me. I love connecting with others. However, God impressed on my heart that strong roots are not formed during screen time. They are formed during conversations, laughter, even in those ugly moments of disagreements and frustration over e-learning, they are running deeper. His word to me was to not spend endless amounts of time watching what others are doing, while neglecting to connect with the ones under your roof.

  • T- Train the littles
     I have been reminded as I have attempted to homeschool that I really never was good at math and do not know how to navigate helping a five-year old and ten-year old very well. I find myself getting easily frustrated, which I never would with someone else’s child.  The Lord impressed – just as we have to teach math, reading, and sight words, we have to teach them how to read their bible, pray, and keep a journal. What an incredible opportunity The Lord has given us right now to teach on what is most important.
 
  • S- Simple and Strong
      In these uncertain times, we must trust that God has our BEST in mind.  He is a loving Father who desires to give our families so much more. Simple. Strong. Deep Roots.  We must avoid the constant comparisons about what others are doing. My prayer is that our families experience Ephesians 3:18-19 “….to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know that this love surpasses knowledge- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
 

During this time, let’s focus on what we can accomplish with our families. Let’s dig deep, go farther, and use this extra time to reexamine our roots.


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Rags to Riches

     My husband, Stephen and I have three kids at three different ages in very different seasons of life. We are blessed with a 7th grader, 3rd grader, and a 4 year old. It is completely overwhelming to me at times that The Lord chose me to be their mother.  There are many moments where I wish I could have a second chance to just get it right. In the wake of losing my mom to cancer in 2012, if I am honest, there are times when I wish that I could just bypass Mother’s Day. As always, God’s grace is sufficient; however, it is still hard to see the mother’s day cards in the store, the cakes in the bakery, and the flowers declaring “happy mother’s day.” For some, it is just not happy. God led me to share this devotion from Proverbs 31. I hope that it will encourage you in whatever season you find yourself this Mother’s Day weekend!

      The first time I studied Proverbs 31, I honestly laughed a little. The words listed below are not typically ones heard in the day to day aspect of being a mom:

  • Far above rubies (verse 10)
  • Girds herself with strength (verse 17)
  • Her household is clothed with scarlet (verse 21)
  • Strength and honor are her clothing (verse 25)
  • She opens her mouth with wisdom and on her tongue is the law of kindness (verse 26)

     Let’s just be honest for a moment. How many times have you and I opened our mouth without kindness on our tongue? The moments in our house that seem to be the most frantic are in the morning. Backpacks. Lunchboxes. Last minute homework review. Everything is done in a hurry to attempt to rush out of the door at 7:10 am so that everyone can be where they need to be on time. My four year old, Ruthie, calls it the “hurry, scurry, Murray” moment. I am not sure who Murray is, but the hurry and scurry sure are right.

     Take a moment and read Proverbs 31, and as you do make a list of the women who have impacted your life. This passage has much to see about being the woman God has called you and I to be – whether as a mother, daughter, niece, cousin, sister, grandmother, or aunt. As you look at the list of the women, one thing I am sure of is that in order to impact your life they had to ABIDE in The Lord. I took each letter of the word ABIDE and have made an acrostic. I pray that this might be of help to you as it has been for me.

A = Abundant Life

     God wants us to live a life that is abundant and full.The definition of abundant is “existing in large quantities, plentiful.” Abundance also means rich, lavish, generous, overflowing, and ample. Do these words describe your spiritual life or would you describe it as depleted, empty, or defeated? In order to abide in Him and experience His abundance, we have to be willing to focus on the BEST that He has to offer. There are a lot of good things that demand our attention. The question is – where does God want us to focus? In order to do that, we often have to get rid of distractions that are keeping us from being all that God has called us to be. I would encourage you to spend a few minutes asking The Lord:

  • Is there is an area where I need to scale back?
  • Is there an application on your phone that I need to delete?
  • Is there an unhealthy relationship that has formed that I need to end?
  • Is there any GOOD thing that is keeping me from a GOD thing?
 
B = Binds Her Tongue (verses 8, 26)

      I did some research this week and found that the average woman speaks 20,000 words a day, while the average man speaks 7,000. I would say that I am probably well above average in this category – lol.  Once our words come out of our mouth or after they are posted on social media, there is no retrieving them. I can still remember my 4th grade Sunday School teacher explaining the above with a tube of toothpaste. She proceeded to squirt a whole tube of toothpaste out onto a plate and then asked us to place it back in the tube. We couldn’t complete that task. It is the same way with our spoken words. Think about what words are “oozing” from your mouth. What you are sharing with your children? What are you posting on social media? Does it glorify The Lord? I have to constantly keep a watch on my tongue.

 

I = In His Strength (Verse 17)

     Verse 17 says, “…she girds herself with strength.” In order to be the woman that God is calling us to be requires that it must be done in His strength and not our own. I heard something once that I have never forgotten. It was stated that in regard to parenting- the goal should be for your children to move from dependence on us to dependence on God Satan loves when we gird ourselves in OUR own strength. He knows that when he can get us to accomplish something on our own, that most times it will fail miserably. In His Strength, not in ________________ (write your name) strength! Isaiah 41:10 is one of my favorites. Claim it this week in regards to your family.

 

D = Dressed in Riches (verses 21, 22, 25)

      In verses 21, 22, and 25 you will find several words relating to how we should dress. Scarlet. Fine Linen. Purple. Strength. Honor. I love to shop. I always tend to gravitate toward the same style and color of dress when I go shopping. My husband, Stephen will often say, “That looks like one you already have.” Honestly, I tend to buy it anyway if I like it. It made me think this week that I do have a lot of outfits in the same color. God nudged my heart with the fact that I often get comfortable and gravitate toward a similar pattern in my relationship with Him. Think about your wardrobe spiritually speaking? Does your physical wardrobe look pristine while spiritually you are dressing in tattered rags? Are you falling apart on the inside when in Christ we have access to fine linen and royal purple garments? God wants to take us this week from rags to the riches that He offers!

 

E = Extends Equipping Grace (verse 20)

     Verse 20 talks about extending a hand to those in need. I want you to think about how Jesus invested in his disciples for a moment. He lived with them, taught them, instructed them, fished with them, and traveled with them. Although Jesus ministered to and loved on the masses of people that followed Him, he primarily devoted himself to the work of a few in order that the masses may be reached more effectively. He invested in them with an intent focus to train and equip them for when He was no longer there. He corrected them when needed and then sent them on their own journey. As a mom, we have to equip our children by giving them the tools they need and then at some point extend that grace by sending them out. I am not in that season of being a mom but pray that God grants me the time to get there. You and I are not promised another moment, day, or month. God reminded me this week that – Spiritual investments will never return void! Sometimes though it’s hard to see our impact in the day to day routine of life. But, verse 28 reminds us that there is a day when our children will thank us for our investment. Aren’t you glad that what we do truly matters to our family, and to the Lord? 

 

Go back to the beginning of this devotion where you wrote down the women who taught you to abide in The Lord. If it is possible, write them a note this week expressing how thankful you are for them. I guarantee you that it was an intentional act of investment and focus on ABIDING in HIM! And on a week that is difficult for many including myself, let’s be the Proverbs 31 woman God intended us to be!
 

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Preventing Burnout

     I felt like the Lord gave me a specific Word this past week for anyone that serves the Lord in a ministry that may be suffering symptoms of burnout. Please pray often for those that lead in ministries. Did you realize that South Carolina leads the nation in forced ministerial resignations and pastor suicide? I encourage you to stop and pray for the men and women of God that serve in your church today.

     In first Kings Chapter 18 Elijah had boldly stood against over 800 prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. He had prayed and God had sent fire from heaven. It was an incredible movement of God. Elijah and the people had an incredible mountaintop experience. But in the very next chapter, Elijah is so weary and worn down that he is hiding in a cave. Have you ever felt like Elijah? In 1 Kings Chapter 19 we see several familiar signs of burnout.

  • Bad decisions – Elijah has stood against 850, and yet now he’s running from one woman. We do things when we are tired that we would normally never do. Have you ever made a costly decision solely based on exhaustion?
  • Isolation – Elijah retreated into isolation. He did not want to be around anyone. Have you ever felt like that you cannot take one more email or text? Have you ever felt like that if one more person requires your attention that you might explode.
  • Resignation – Elijah told God he was tired and didn’t care to do this anymore. Have you ever felt like it might be time for you to do something else?

However, we also see several keys to overcoming burn out:

  • Rest (19:5,6)– Noticed that Elijah was so tired that he fell asleep twice. It is so important in ministry to recharge our batteries. It’s important to make sure we are getting enough rest. We need to take time for vacation, and when we go on vacation to actually be on vacation. The worst thing we can do is to be on our phones while we’re out on the beach with our family. Sometimes we think we are irreplaceable. That is a lie of the enemy. If the ministry falls apart if we are gone it is due to pride and poor planning. Elijah tries to tell God how important he is twice in verses 10 and 14. But God reminds Elijah and us that he will accomplish his will with or without any person. God was in control the whole time.
  • Refreshment (19:6,7)– God made him a meal twice. Most times in ministry we are pouring out. It is so important that we allow God to pour back in. Otherwise, we will get to a point where we have nothing to pour out and offer anybody. Notice in the second part of verse 7 what God says – The journey is too much for you. In other words, if you continue on this track, you will not make it. It is so important in ministry that we stay in the Word – and not just for the benefit of others.
  • Return to God’s Presence (8) – Elijah returned to the presence of God. Mount Horeb was the place where God gave Moses the 10 Commandments. It was a place of meeting God. It is to be still and know that he is God. It is sitting at his feet and listening for His words. And it was when Elijah was still before the Lord that he once again heard that still small voice. Is it possible that you have been moving so fast that it’s been a while since you could hear that voice?
  • Recomission (19:15-18) – Elijah received a Fresh word from the Lord. He got a new anointing, a fresh power. When was the last time you received a fresh word from the Lord? And part of that new information was that God was sending him a helper in an Elisha. Who could be your Elisha? Who could help you fulfill God’s purpose and calling in your ministry? Pray for God to send you an Elisha. 
 
     I am certainly not any expert on this subject. This is something I consistently struggle with and continually have to bring before the Lord. What else would you add to the subject of preventing burnout?  Would love your thoughts and insight!

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He Knows My Name – Julie Cannon

     When I was pregnant, I was frequently asked many questions from strangers. At times, it would feel like the great inquisition. Questions would typically go in this order:  When is your baby due? May I touch your belly? Are you having a boy or a girl? Are you having twins (my least favorite)? Have you picked out a name? It would always amaze me when I would share the names we were considering and folks that we didn’t know very well would share the reasons why we shouldn’t choose those names.
 
      Stephen and I would always make a list of our favorite names and take long consideration into making our choice. A name is permanent. It is the first gift that you bestow upon your precious little one. It is one that you spend a lot of time calling and sometimes yelling – lol.
 
    In John Chapter 20, Jesus calls Mary by her name! How precious is it when the risen Christ calls YOUR name? When HE speaks, all doubt, fear, and uncertainty are replaced with assurance, faith, and the certain knowledge that He knows YOU by name. Notice that initially Mary did not recognize who Jesus was. She thought He was the gardener. It was not until He spoke her name did she have full realization of who she was speaking with (verses 15 & 16).
 
       My name was called in a different way this past week. Normal, routine, and expected are all three words that I often take for granted. I frequently complain the most in the midst of the mundane. I was reminded how ordinary moments can be the ones that are the most extraordinary. They are also the ones that are most missed when they are gone. I had gone for a routine doctor’s office visit for a regular check-up. The doctor found a place that looked suspicious. He diagnosed it as a subcutaneous nodule and referred me to an orthopedic surgeon. I saw this surgeon a few days later who took x-rays and said “Mrs. Cannon this is a lump and it is definitely going to have to be removed.” He has been a surgeon for 41 years. He thought it was benign, but that it would need to be biopsied upon removal. This was on a Monday. My CT scan had been set up for the following Monday and then a visit with a specialist for the next Thursday. I called and had my CT scan moved from Spartanburg to the Village at Pelham. When my doctor called to check on me, I explained to him that I had moved up my scan to a different location. He volunteered to call the specialist to see if she could see me any sooner. He called me back within minutes and said, “This is amazing. That same day that you moved your scan too is the very first day that she will be seeing patients in the Pelham location. You will be in the same building.” It was not a coincidence- it was all God. EVEN in the small details, He knows your name. He told me that he and the surgeon had consulted and that they thought this was a sacral tumor. A tumor. I got this news before church last Wednesday and was struggling to even put one foot in front of the other.

    

      The next day as I sat in the waiting room, I anxiously waited for the nurse to call my name. As I lay down for the CT Scan, I looked up and saw the photo included with this post. I asked the technician if I could take this photo. As tears streamed down my face during the scan, I was reminded that no matter the outcome, God knows my name. It was written so clearly on this machine. As the machine took the images, all I could think of was my children. The moments that I often complain about- the packing lunches, the loads of laundry, the toys all over the house. How that in a day, life can surely change with the outcome of one test. As soon as I left, my name disappeared, and the board reflected another name for another scan.

The verses that God had given me for this particular week were Isaiah 43:1-2. At the end of verse 1 it says, “…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.”

     When Stephen and I saw the specialist just an hour after the CT Scan, she said she was confused. She showed us the CT scan images and said there was nothing there. The tumor that had been there just a few days before was no longer showing on these new images. She was puzzled, however, Stephen and I were not. We knew that God had performed a miracle. She said, “Mrs. Cannon when your doctor called me yesterday he was very concerned. Frankly, I thought we would be looking at surgery next week. However, there is nothing to operate on.”

     As I walked out of the waiting room that day, I was flooded with thoughts of thanksgiving.

  • Thankful for another day to pack the children’s lunches.
  • Thankful for another day to wash the clothes and look for mismatched socks.
  • Thankful for another day to sit in the car line.
  • Thankful for another day to pick up Ruthie’s baby dolls which are strewn all over the house.
 
Just as God called Mary’s name outside of the EMPTY tomb, He knows and calls our name.If you have surrendered your heart and life to The Lord, then you are His as it says in Isaiah 43:1. If you are reading this guide and you have never made that decision, then what better time to make that decision than Easter. I want to conclude this post with, Isaiah 43:2
 
“When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.”
 
 
     Everywhere that it says YOU, take a pen and cross it out and write your name over the top. Personalize this verse to your life and your family and then post it somewhere you will see it often. I have it on my desk at work and have looked at it many times over this past week. Notice that it doesn’t say IF you pass through the waters or IF you walk through the fire, it says WHEN. We will pass through the waters; however, we do not have to be afraid. You and I can relinquish control to the One who knows OUR name!
 

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Healing Fractured Relationships

        Ever been hurt by someone you thought you could trust?? Have you ever been stabbed in the back? Ever been kicked when you were down?Ever invested so much into someone only to see them sell you out when you needed them the most?
    The story of Peter is a story of a close relationship that was devastated and then restored. Think about Peter for a few minutes. Peter was a man of great faith. Peter dropped his nets and his fishing business and left it all behind in order to follow Jesus and make fishers of men (Matthew 4:18). It was Peter alone that joined Jesus out on the open water while the other disciples remained in the boat (Matthew 14:28). And it was Peter alone that declared Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16).
     Peter was also a man of great love and loyalty. It was Peter that pulled Jesus aside and informed Him that He needed to stop already with the talk of his death ( Matthew 16:22). It is Peter that initially refused to allow Christ to wash his feet (John 13:8). It was Peter that declared that even if every person fell away from Him that he would remain faithful (Matthew 26:31-35). And it was Peter that cut off the ear of the servant that came to arrest Jesus (John 18:10).
     All of this was out of the great love and loyalty and respect that Peter had for Jesus. Peter had such high respect for Jesus that he could never ever imagine that the Son of God would be arrested, beaten, spit on, mocked, and executed. For Peter, that was just unimaginable.
     And then his friend is arrested. And Peter is confused and scared, and in a moment he blew it. He stabbed Jesus in the back. He kicked Jesus when He was down.  I think of all the things that hurt Jesus; His best friend selling him out was at the top of the list. He knew it was coming but it still hurt badly. Jesus must have thought – I’ve invested so much in this person and they turn their back on me when I need them more than ever. Luke 22:61 captures the heartache – “The Lord turned and looked at Peter, and Peter remembered the word of the Lord.” 
      And the Bible says, Peter wept bitterly. He sobbed uncontrollably. His is a picture of regret, pain, loss, guilt, and shame. I’m not sure there is anything in this life quite as painful as a fractured relationship.
     So now our story changes from examining Peter to examining Jesus. Because…. There is only one main character in the Passion and that is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, Jesus The Christ! What did Jesus do in order to repair this fractured relationship with perhaps his best friend in the whole world?
 
1. Jesus made the first move (Mark 16:7) 
     Mark 16:7 to me is one of the most powerful verses in the entire Bible. The angel of the Lord tells the ladies at the tomb – The Lord has a message. I want you to go and let the disciples know, and let Peter know too. I called him out by name. I love him and have plans for him and am not finished with him. You let Peter know that I’m looking for him! 
 
2. Jesus took intentional steps toward complete restoration (John 21)
     John 21 records the time that Jesus went to Peter and the disciples, and brought up a good memory (miraculous catch). It was something they had shared together that meant a lot to both of them. And then, He completely forgave him and completely restored their relationship. Peter had denied Christ 3 times. Jesus restored Peter 3 times. It was a complete restoration.  And then Jesus said, let’s get back to work. It’s over. Let’s move forward.
     And that same guy is the Peter that went on to be the leader of the New Testament church. The first time he preached 3000 people got saved. And tradition has it that Peter was martyred in Rome by Nero in A.D. 67, that he was crucified upside down, feeling he was unworthy to die as his Savior had. Our Jesus can take someone that has hurt someone very deeply and use them very greatly! 
 
     For someone reading this, Jesus wants to let you know He is making the first move on your behalf. He loves you! He has a plan for you! He’s not finished with you! And this article is to let you know that Jesus is looking for you. Run to Him today. I believe that the reason Peter ran to the empty tomb was not in order to verify the power of Jesus through the Resurrection. Not Peter. Peter never had trouble believing Jesus was the Christ. He saw it when no one else did. Peter ran to the empty tomb that morning to let his best friend in the whole world know how sorry He was for letting Him down. You can do the same and run to Him today.
     For someone else, Jesus is calling you to make the first move in a fractured relationship. Would you be willing to bury your pride and make that difficult first move toward reconciliation and restoration. Maybe you need to bring up a shared memory that meant something to both of you, and then forgive completely and for good. 

     Nadine Collier became famous in June of 2015 for three words she said to Dylan Roof, the young white man who a few days earlier had gunned down her mother and eight other African-Americans during a Wed. Bible study at their Charleston church: “I forgive you.” With those words about the June 17, 2015 killings, Collier set off a global debate about forgiveness. Over a year later, her grief is heavy. Collier misses the sound of her mother’s voice, the smile on her face she greeted worshipers as an usher at Emanuel AME Church, the spring in her step when she led the procession for Communion. Collier said that she learned in the bond hearing that forgiveness isn’t weak. It’s not resignation or a duty done begrudgingly. And it is not easy. Here is her full address to Roof:

     “I forgive you,” Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, said at the hearing, her voice breaking with emotion. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”… You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”
 
    God used this Word in my life. I pray that God will use this Word to restore a relationship in your life that is fractured! 
 

 


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How To Demolish Strongholds

     In Joshua Chapter 6, the people of God had experienced some great success. They had overcome the barrier of the Jordan River that had kept them from God’s best for 40 years. The people look up and the next thing they see is Jericho – the Stronghold of the Enemy – the enemy’s strongest city with the highest and thickest walls. Many times in our lives when we experience spiritual breakthroughs, we encounter a STRONGHOLD from the enemy on the other side. Think about Elijah after Mt. Carmel. Think about the early church after Pentecost. Isn’t this the story of our lives and church? A spiritual breakthrough and a movement of God ALWAYS will get the attention of the enemy.

     A stronghold is an area of our life where we are vulnerable to enemy attack. We all have them. Yours could be language, pride, gossip, pornography, money, overworking, overeating, going with the crowd, wanting to please everybody all the time, giving in to peer pressure, guilt over your past, struggle with your self image, etc.

     The great news is that our God has the power to demolish these strongholds in our lives. By the end of Joshua 6, the stronghold was demolished, the enemy had been defeated, and the people experienced great victory. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 says,

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” 

      The question for us today is – HOW? How can I demolish a stronghold of the enemy in my life? How can I be victorious in the areas of my life where I am most vulnerable and tend to struggle with the most? The answer is in Joshua 6 along with the rest of Scripture – the people received a Word from the Lord, obeyed that Word, and persisted in that Word until the stronghold fell. For more information on Joshua 6, you can check out the sermon from February 4th on our Locust Hill Facebook Page or Church App.

       But I would like to discuss how strongholds fall in 2018. First, it begins with the Word of God (Ps. 119:105, 111; Heb. 4:12, 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:21). When Satan tempted Jesus, each time our Lord responded with a Word from the Lord. Although Satan is a powerful adversary, he is NOT very creative. His primary strategy for erecting strongholds in our lives is simple – LIES (Gen. 3:4, John 8:44, Rev. 12:9-11). The ONLY way we can defeat the lies of the enemy is the TRUTH of God’s Word – the Sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17)

     So then, what does this look like in real life? In order to demolish that stronghold, you need a Word from the Lord. Here are some examples. If you struggle with:

  • Language – Psalm 119:14, Eph 4:29
  • Pride : John 3:30
  • Gossip – James 1:26,4:11, Proverbs 16:28
  • Pornography – Mathew 5:27-28, 1 Cor 6:18
  • Money – Psalm 20:7, Matt 6:33
  • Overworking – Psalm 90:12
  • Overeating – 1 Cor 6:19-20
  • Worry – Phil 4:6-7, Matt 6:25-34
  • Past – Romans 8:1
  • Stress – John 15:5, Isaiah 40:31, Proverbs 3:5-6
     I know this sounds so simple and possibly ridiculous. But I promise that it is the key to moving forward in our spiritual lives. Try it out. If you don’t know a verse – ask someone or even Google it. Then, you obey the Word. Simply, you do what it says. But then you persist in that Word until the stronghold falls. What does that mean? It means that every time you are tempted in your area of vulnerability you turn to this Word. You put in on your mirror so you see it as you get ready every morning. You put it in your car and refer to it (not while you are driving – lol). You memorize it and quote it when you are tempted. Every time the devil tempts you – say this verse over and over to declare truth and defeat lies!

     Strongholds don’t fall by trying harder. They only fall through the power of the Living and active Word of God. Please share verses that have helped you demolish a stronghold in your life! It may be just what someone else needs.


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Snow Days in the South

     There is something very special about snow days in the south. I can say this as a life-long Southerner –  The condition of the roads is directly proportional to where you are headed. If you are headed to Cracker Barrel, Waffle House, or to ride around, the road looks pretty good. However, if you are headed to work, school, or church – that EXACT same road looks treacherous – haha!

    But you know, the greatest thing about snow days in the South is that it is a time when EVERYTHING shuts down. I mean think about it – there are a lot less things open on our snow days than on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    Our world is FORCED to STOP and PAUSE for a few hours and we love them so much because:

  • we spend time with one another
  • we act like kids again – grown ups sled and make snow angels and snow cream.
  • It is like a mini-vacation. And it is wonderful!

    So here’s the question – Why do we wait for a once a year snowpacalypse to do the things that are most important in life?

     You know, God actually talks about the importance of taking time to REST like we do on SNOW DAYS. It is called The Sabbath. The word comes from the Hebrew verb shabbat , meaning “to rest from labor”. God instituted the principle in Genesis 2:2-3.  The first use of the actual word Sabbath is in Exodus 16:23. God gives further instruction on the Sabbath in Exodus 20:8-11 and Leviticus 25:2-7. The Sabbath is a time to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10), and to sit at His feet and listen to His Words (Luke 10:39). Jesus often modeled the principle of resting from work and spending time with God (Luke 4:42, 5:16, 6:12, 9:10, 9:18, 9:28, 11:1).
 
And then there’s us in America today:

 – In the U.S., 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week.


 – According to the ILO, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.”

 – For the first time in more than two decades, life expectancy for Americans declined last year — a troubling development linked to worsening health problems in the United States.Rising fatalities from heart disease and stroke, diabetes, drug overdoses, accidents and other conditions caused the lower life expectancy revealed in a report  by the National Center for Health Statistics

     The point that I believe God wants to make is very simple – We need to take more SNOW DAYS when there is no snow at all! Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” James 4:14 says, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Life is short. Don’t wait for 1-2 days a year to force you to do what we all should be doing all the time!

–  Invest in The Lord and your family.

 – Relax, Enjoy Life, Laugh, and act like a kid.

 – Slow down and make the most of every moment.

– Don’t allow the Devil to allow money or career advancement to cause you to miss out on the blessings and important things in life.
 
     So let’s get out there and enjoy this beautiful snow day in the South, but let’s don’t wait until next year to do the things in life that are most important!!

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A New Direction

     For me, the New Year always brings with it a clean slate, a fresh start, a time of reflection, and a time to set some new goals. In 2018, I would like to draw closer to The Lord than I’ve ever been. I am excited about leading a group to Nicaragua in July and The Holy Land in December. I want to get back into better physical shape since my herniated disc situation seems to have improved. How about you? What are your goals for 2018?

     I love the book of Joshua. It is a book about fulfilling God’s Vision and experiencing God’s Victory. In Joshua 1:2, God calls His people FROM a place of dryness, desperation, defeat, and death TO a place of vision, victory, and vitality. We have that same choice in 2018. Will we choose God’s plan or Satan’s place to live this year? The Lord showed me something in Joshua 1:1-2 that I believe has the potential to have great impact in your life as you begin this New Year. Verse 2 says, “Moses my servant is dead….”

     It could be that God desires that you START something in 2018. Moses had been an incredible leader of the Lord. He had led the people of God faithfully from Egypt out of bondage and to the banks of the Promised Land. But Moses disqualified himself in God’s eyes by taking the glory from God and giving it to himself (Numbers 20). Moses’ calling was complete but God was just getting started. Here’s the word – If we fail to do what God asks from us, God will move on and find someone else to do the job, but we will miss the blessing. For someone – you know God has given you an assignment but to this point you have failed to obey. It could be fear. It could be procrastination. You may feel unworthy. Maybe you’re just too busy. Could it be that God wants to say to you today – You either get on with it or I’ll find someone else, but either way My will is going to be accomplished. If you don’t start my assignment, you are going to miss My blessing in Your life.

     On the other hand, it could be that God desires that you STOP something in 2018. The people of God were having a hard time moving on. Deuteronomy 34:8 says, “The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.”  It’s hard to move on sometimes – especially when something is good. I mean we are talking about Moses here – the man wrote the first 5 books of the Bible, one of the greatest leaders in the history of the people of God. And so God comes and gets right to it – Moses is dead. Ouch. It’s time to STOP looking back. It’s time to start looking forward. And I wonder if there is an area of your life today where you are looking back? For some –it was a good thing. It’s like Moses. If it was good, our tendency in 2018 is to keep looking back to the good old days.

  • Your health was good
  • Your finances were good
  • Your marriage was good
  • You career was good
  • Your service for the Lord was good
  • Your testimony was good
  • Your class, your ministry was good.

 If we are not careful, we may spend another year thinking about the way things used to be

 

And then for others it wasn’t good. Your past brings up bad memories.

  • That mistake you made
  • That sin you committed
  • That failure
  • That low point
  • That crises
  • That dark place

But regardless, God wants to come to us oh so subtly today and say – That’s over. That’s in the past. The sooner you come to the realization of where you actually are in the present –the better.

Why?? Because I have something exciting for your future! I can’t do what I need to do in your future until you close the door on the past. I can’t write your next chapter until you put a period on the last one.

Stop focusing on that good thing. Stop focusing on that bad thing. Start focusing on the NEXT thing!!

We can LEARN from the past, but we can’t LIVE in the past!

Paul says in Philippians 3:13, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Isaiah 43:19 says, “Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth;”

Sometimes we say, “I don’t know if I am ABLE.” Remember…..

Jacob cheated, Peter had a temper, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran from God, Paul committed murder, Gideon insecure, Miriam gossiped, Martha worried, Thomas doubted, Sara was impatient, Elijah was moody, Moses stuttered, Zacchaeus was short, Abraham was old, and Lazarus was dead.

So what’s our excuse? God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. God is not looking for our ability. He is looking for our availability. 
 
I truly hope that as you begin 2018 that this Word encourages you as it did me! 

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Christmas Blues

     As I looked at the faces across our congregation yesterday, I was reminded that “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, can be a pretty tough time for many families. Everywhere I looked I saw families that have been impacted by loss. For many, the loss involves grieving the death of a family member that won’t be part of the Christmas festivities this year. For others, this Christmas will represent the first holiday season that the family navigates a “new-normal”, and begins the healing of the broken hearts of a painful divorce. For still others, the empty plate at the Christmas table represents a family member that serves in the military, or a family member that has entered into a new phase of life.
     A close look into the Christmas story reveals the fact that if there was ever a couple that needed some encouragement, perhaps it was the parents of the Messiah on that first Christmas. In Mary, you have most likely a 14-15 year old girl that was full term, had traveled a long distance, and had just had a baby in a stinky barn with no anesthesia. Not to mention the fact that she wasn’t even married yet and that she had most likely let down her parents and friends. And then there’s Joseph. Everywhere he went he had to explain that this was God’s baby. Yeah right – that’s a likely story.

     How DID God encourage these parents, and how can we also be encouraged through the Christmas story? I mean, where was God anyway when these two were facing this incredibly painful season? We learn at least 3 things about God in this story.

      First, God stands BEHIND you with His PLANS (Isaiah 9:6-7). So the Christmas story gets started for Mary and Joseph in Luke 1:26. But God’s Christmas story got started a LONG time before that. 2000 years earlier in the book of Isaiah which is a book of HOPE in the midst of difficult times we have Isaiah 9:6-7. God’s plan was to have a child that would save all of mankind. So, although Mary and Joseph were caught by surprise, God had been planning on it for thousands of years! Although they didn’t know where this thing was headed, God had the whole thing planned. Although this didn’t go according to their plans, it went EXACTLY according to God’s plan. You can be encouraged by knowing that God was not surprised by what happened in your life this year!

     Second, God stands BESIDE you with His PRESENCE AND HIS PEOPLE (Lk 1:26, Mt. 1:20). God sent an angel to both Mary and Joseph in their lowest moments to encourage them. And He does the same for His children today. He will never leave you nor forsake you. The primary message of Christmas is that God loves you so much that He sent His Presence to enter into your world so that you could one day enter His! And then, God also sends His PEOPLE to stand beside Mary and Joseph in their trying time. At first, it is Elizabeth in Luke 1:39. This older woman encourages Mary in what God is calling her to do. And then God sends shepherds and Wise Men to validate the work of God in their lives. And then when Jesus is dedicated at the temple, God intersects the couple with Simeon and Anna to once again encourage these parents. At every stage, these parents find encouragement in people that God puts in their path. You can also find great encouragement in both His Presence and His people.

     Finally, God stands BEFORE you with His PROMISES! (Lk 1:31-37). The angel comes to Mary and looks into the future and says Mary – 

  • I see the future and you are going to have a baby boy
  • And his name is going to be JESUS
  • He is going to be very powerful and the Son of God
  • And he is going to rule and to reign forever
Although you can’t see it now, this painful process has a purpose. I’m going to use this trying time to bring great glory to God. I have already been to your future and have written the final chapter.

            So, where was God when this couple needed Him the most? He was behind them, beside them, and before them! And you can be encouraged today by knowing that the God of Angel Armies also stands behind, beside, and before you and your family in order to encourage during this Christmas season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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