Simplifying Christianity

We humans tend to complicate every aspect of our lives, especially God.  We want the best worship experience and an emotional message on Sundays.  We overthink God by our works.  All our lives most of us are told that you must be in church and studies to have God in our lives, which in fact, is not true.  Hear me out, I am not saying that church is not important.  I am saying God is more than a church service and group studies.  He is simply about relationship.  He does not want us so busy trying to figure out who He is that we have no time to personally have a relationship with Him.

For the last year, I have been going to one church to another trying to find the perfect setting — is the worship spiritual enough or is the message convicting to bring me to the altar.  I was looking for emotion rather than God Himself.  I was so insecure that I needed to be convicted to speak to God for forgiveness.  And when restlessness and discontentment came over me, I moved on to another church.  Through all the confusion, I caused more chaos in my life.  I caused more disappointment of what the church should be — to my preference.

A few months ago, I decided to temporarily stop attending church and have church at home.  Every Sunday morning and Wednesday night I would listen to a podcast from my iPad and worship God in my own living room. I spent daily in prayer.  In just a month, God showed Himself to me with simplicity and love.  It is not required to do works to find God’s love; He is love, and He only desires relationship with me.  When I complicated God, I was miserable.  The standards I put on myself only made me feel more inadequate.  It was only when I simplified the way I approached God is when I found the true God.  A God who is not demanding but unconditionally loving.  A God who is all comfort not judgmental.  A God who makes me whole when I feel incomplete.  God is complex in so many ways, but when it comes to a relationship with Him, it’s simple: Love God with all her heart and live a life abundantly in His love.  Love God and be a Disciple.  Simple as that.

We need to stop representing a demanding God who is false and scary.  We need to start showing others that God is all about the heart.  He is all about love.  We do not need an emotional message on Sunday to convict us of our sin, but a message of truth.  We do not need to a worship service to sound like a professional concert, but to worship God in purity.  We don’t need an in-depth message every week to tell us who God is; we need to experience God ourselves through group Bible Studies and an individual prayer life.  If we want a relationship with God, we need to pursue Him at church, at home, in our workplace, and with our family and friends.  God is everywhere!

When you seek God in simplicity, you will find His joy and His peace.  When you pursue Him with all your heart, you will find the true God that you have been looking for.  It starts with you — not the church or others — YOU!

What Is A Blessing?

Many people think a blessed person is someone who has it all — lives in a big house, drives an expensive car, has the best job, and so forth.  This way of thinking is distorted.  If we see a blessing just as material things then we miss a blessing in our lives, because we compare our lives to others.

The word “blessing” means “a favor or gift bestowed by God or the invoking of God’s favor upon a person.”  It also is defined as “approval” and “good wishes” (www.dictionary.com/browse/blessing).  A blessing comes in many forms.  It can come directly from God.  Or a blessing can come from family members, friends, or complete strangers through God working in them.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, the world was full of chaos and hate.  After the hurricane, we saw people working together.  Complete strangers risking their lives to save others.  As Christians, we need to be watchful on how we say we are blessed.  I am guilty of this as well.  I said, “I was blessed to have minor damage in my home.  A home I can still live in after the storm.”  But, we all have to understand those who have lost everything due to the storm, they are still blessed.  God protected their family, and, in the past three weeks, people have seen complete strangers help them rebuild their home.  In Philippians 4:19 declares that “MY God will supply every need to yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  In Isaiah 41:10, God says “fear no, for I am with you; be no dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”  “And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).  I encourage everyone who is going through hardship to declare these Scriptures over your life.

Many who have lost their homes have asked, “What shall we eat?” “What shall we drink?” What shall we wear?” (Matthew 6:30-33).  They have lost all their belongs.  They have lost all their food.  They only have the clothes on their back.  But, be encouraged today.  God clothes you every day with His blessings and righteousness.  Churches and business have opened their doors to give food, clothes, furniture, and toiletries to those in need.  God put it on their hearts to bless you with items that you have lost.  It may be heartbreaking and difficult to ask for help, but never turn down a blessing.

There may be some who are too broken to see God’s blessing in their lives.  And, that is okay.  Having any kind of loss is devastating and finding hope again may take time.  Sometimes all we can do is get on our knees and cry out to God for help.  Through prayer we all will find “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).  Psalm 144:2 is a prayer of declaration in time of need: “He is My steadfast love and My fortress, My stronghold and My deliverer, My shield and He in whom I take refuge.”  This Scripture not only gives you hope again, but it also gives you renewed strength through Christ.  Matthew 5:4 states the “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  Let these words wash over you and remind you that you are not alone.  God is ALWAYS with you.

And, always remember that a blessing is not all about material things.  A blessing is simply God loving on us through a prayer being answered.  His continuous protection over your life and family.  A blessing is helping people in need.  We are blessed every day through Christ.

 

What Is The Norm?

As Texas and Louisiana is healing and rebuilding their cities from Hurricane Harvey, it reminds me of how things have changed in just a matter of a few weeks.  Before Harvey, we went about our daily lives caring about our own needs and protesting about what offends us.  Individuals did not care about hurting others with his/her words or actions.  That was the norm.  It was normal to see hate in this world, and, for some, they became numb to it.  We just turned off social media or the TV shaking our heads in disgrace.  We never thought to make a difference by putting more love into this world by showing who Jesus is.  We stayed silent and let hate crimes happen all over this nation.  Sadly, I was one of those people who stayed silent.

After Hurricane Harvey hit my little town in Southeast Texas, everything changed.  The hate crimes were not getting the attention on social media and the news.  We were seeing devastation and heartache.  People leaving their homes for safety.  Animals, of all kinds, being rescued out of flood waters.  Ordinary people using their own boats to save those around them.  We saw a nation come together in prayer for those affected by the hurricane.  No more hate crime seen on social media; instead, we saw the hands and feet of Jesus doing their part.  Now, this should be the norm: seeing people help people.  People put down their electronics and started paying attention to the hurt around them.  They did not silence the cries of the help; they put on their rubber boots and got messy.  They stepped into the flood waters and risked their lives for others.  This is what it means to serve others.

If you want to serve, expect to get a little messy, because once you put your heart out there, you will be a part of their messy world.  The world that does not look so neat and tidy.  The world that is shedding tears for their loss.  The stories that can be told about Hurricane Harvey are heart-wrenching and filled with hopelessness.  But, as we have seen, we can build others up by being their for them in time of need.  We can show them their is hope again by extending our hands to those who are hurting.

The norm should always look like the picture of people coming together to rebuild hearts and cities one day at a time.   Let’s put down our phones, tablets, and the TV remote and start being the hands and feet of Jesus.  Let us not forget those who have lost everything and help them rebuild their lives again.  Let’s not be afraid to get a little messy to help someone who needs it the most.

And, I will leave you this….  Natalie Grant, an amazing Christian artist, sings a song called, “Be One”.  Here are some lyrics to encourage all of you to be a part of something bigger than yourself:

It’s time to get our hands dirty
Be love there’s a whole lot of hurting
Calling all hearts
Calling all hands
Calling all feet to take a stand
Why sit around and wait for a miracle to come
When we can be one
When we can be one

When we can be one
A little somethin’
Might feel like nothin’
But in His hands it’s all we’ll ever need
To speak life to the broken
Watch the blind eyes open
It’s who He’s calling you and me
To be

We can be the change, be the hope
We can be the arms that don’t let go
We can be a light in the dark
We are, we are where it starts

 Let us be the “new norm” by showing our love for others each passing day!

Facing Challenges

We all face challenges in life.  It could be mental, emotional, or physical.  Hardship sometimes causes us to have unhealthy emotions.  When we face challenges, the devil tries to convince us that it is impossible to overcome it.  We begin to doubt ourselves and feel defeated.  Satan wants us to lose the power and authority we have with God.  But the Lord wants us to feel empowered to overcome any obstacle that comes our way.  In Isaiah 41:13 says, “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’”  We are not alone in our battles!  God is with us every step of the way.

The decisions we make during hardships are crucial.  Our choices determine our future.  Our emotions can get in the way of making good decisions.  We can easily become impatient and angry.  We have to learn how to control our emotions to have a clear mind.  We must always be in prayer with every step we take to be an overcomer through Christ.  When we feel overwhelmed with our emotions, we need to “cast all [our] anxiety on [God]” (1 Peter 5:7).  We need to go to God in prayer so He can remind us He has already given us peace.  We just need to declare His peace over our lives!  In John 14:27, Jesus says, “I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” 

Philippians 4:13 is a powerful Scripture that is well known and often misunderstood.  It states, “I can do all this through Him [, God,] who gives me strength.”  We cannot be overcomers through our own strength.  The only way we can overcome obstacles is through God.  We cannot do it alone!  We need God!

When we face challenges, God promises us rewards.  James 1:12 tells us “blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”  The Bible says “that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).  We not only get rewarded, but we build our character through hardship.  We grow in our faith and learn who we are as an individual.

The Bible promises us “that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  I encourage you to persevere “so you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4).  I pray you stay strong in your faith.  Do not let the devil get you down.  God is on your side and will always be there for you!

Declaration: You are a conqueror through Christ!

Worshipping Through Scripture Series – God of Second Chances

In Luke 15:11-32, a son decided to selfishly take His father’s inheritance for the desire to live a better life.  In this parable, we learn that the son had to shamefully come back home, because he realized his life with his father was better than living on his own.  It was better than living in a pig sty for food and clothes.  He left his father’s house with money and returned home with only the shirt on his back.  He had nothing to give but himself.  This story is filled with bad decisions, regret, prayer, and a father’s love.

Many Christian artists have written songs about the prodigal son, and the love that the father showed upon his return.  Laura Story, a young Christian artist, wrote a song called, “Prodigal”, and in her song she tells a story of a father who is desperately awaiting for his son’s return.  The father used to go to the ballpark every day, but, since his son’s disappearance, he prays on his front porch, rocking in his chair, wondering where is son is.  “He is watching, and he is hoping” and “though his eyes are weary, his arms are still open” as “his prayer so softly spoken” begging his son to “come home”.  The father “longs to see his face in younger skin running down the driveway again”.  The father is crying out to God saying, “It was just a disagreement.  Why did my son leave?”

An American Christian rock band, 7eventh Time Down, wrote a song referencing the prodigal story called, “The One I’m Running To”.  It tells about a married couple with three children struggling to pay the bills, and they are both working multiple jobs to make ends meet.  The financial situation is putting a strain on the marriage and their family.  Their faith is running low, and they need of a miracle.  During the middle of night, exhausted from crying, they get on their knees declaring that they will never run from God, but run towards Him.  They know He is their “only Hope who satisifies [their] heart[s]”.  They know deep down that God is “everything that’s good and right and true.”  Their faith keeps them strong in their circumstances.

Another popular rock Christian band named Kutless wrote a song called, “Come Back Home”.  In this song, it is encouraging the prodigal to come home.  It challenges the person who is lost and reckless, to find freedom in his or her situation.  Just like in Luke 15:20-21, it tells the prodigal to “come back home” because “I’ll be running out to meet you”.  In this parable, the father forgives his son and runs toward him with open arms.

APPLICATION

We all relate to one of these songs that tells a story of broken people who simply Jesus.  Maybe you are the one waiting for the prodigal son or daughter to come home.  Or the one struggling to keep your faith in a difficult situation.  Or the one who is the prodigal child struggling to return home.  No matter which story relates to you the most, it is never too late to pray for God in a hopeless situation.  It is never too late to come home to a Father who loves you unconditionally.  The Father’s arms are opened wide desperately waiting for your return.

The Father is answering your prayers in His perfect timing.  If you are the father on the porch praying for your son or daughter to return home, keep on rocking.  If you are the child who needs to make the journey home, take the first step in the right direction.

How to Help Others and Yourself Through Hurtful Situations

HOW TO RESPOND TO SOMEONE WHO IS HURTING

When people are hurting we sometimes overuse Christian statements to make them feel better.  We tend to say, “God has your back”, “Keep your chin up”, “You are blessed”, and so forth.  At times, these statements are appropriate.  But, other times, these statements do not help those who are hurting.  They are just words with no emotion and meaning.

We need to remember to listen instead of trying to give advice all the time.  We need to listen to the person’s words, and why he or she feels that way.  We do not need to make others feel that their feelings do not matter.  Sometimes all they need is a hug, a prayer, and a friend to talk to in a time of need.

“IT’S OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY”

In a previous church I attended, the motto was, “it’s okay not to be okay.”  It’s okay to cry.  It’s okay to be upset.  It’s okay to ask why.  Sometimes it just does not make sense, and we want answers.  We want the chaos to stop.  We want to silence our thoughts.  We are overwhelmed and want to run the other direction.

THE IMPORTANCE OF FINDING HOPE THROUGH THE TEARS

The truth is, we cannot stay in that state for a long period of time.  We have to continue to lean on God for comfort and peace.  We have to continue believing in hope.  We have to constantly pray, through the tears, that God has a plan for our lives.  And then one day, you realize you do not hurt as much as you used to.  You are not thinking about the situation as much.  God is at work in your life to heal your pain and loss.

APPLICATION AND PRAYER

If you are going through a difficult time, I encourage you talk to someone about it.  Find someone who you trust and who will listen to you.  I pray that you find God’s peace in your circumstances.  I encourage you to cry in God’s arms and allow Him to carry you through this hardship.  And, always remember, “it’s okay not to be okay.”

It’s A Choice…

We all have choices to make each and every day!  The decisions we make determine our attitude and how we live our lives.  Positive thinking brings hope into our lives; negative thinking brings sadness and stress into our lives.

We choose to have joy!
We choose to have hope!
We choose to have life!

In the Bible, God says that joy and hope comes from Him!  He knows our future!  He knows our circumstances.  In Romans it says to be in constant prayer and rejoice in tribulation.  Psalm states that the Lord will shield us from all harm.

God still lets us make our own decisions – whether they are good or bad. Our choices matter EVERYDAY!  Prayer is the key to making the right decisions.  As long as we are in God’s presence, He will keep us from harm.

For so long, I have lived in fear of what doctors have told me.  What I should or should not do.  Yes, we all should follow the doctors orders to some extent.  It came a time where I had to choose God or the doctors.  I chose God!  God promises me He will always have my best interest at heart.  He knows me best!  I still do not have the proper diagnosis, BUT, as long as God is on my side, I will trust that He knows what is going on.  I may never get the answers but that’s okay. God heals His children.  I believe in His healing.  So I choose to seek joy and continue to have hope in Christ rather than man.  I choose life!  I choose to live life to the fullest.  I do not want to let my illness dictate who I am.  I declare this today, in Jesus name!

What do you need to declare today?  Do you need to seek joy, hope, or faith?  Do you need to be reminded of who you are in Christ?  Whatever it may be, declare it today! And believe it!

SCRIPTURE

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Romans 5:2-5 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 12:12  Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

Romans 15:13  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Psalm 27:4-5 One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.  For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.

Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

John 4:13-14 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Fruit of the Spirit – Self-Control

Today, we will be breaking down the fruit of the Spirit: SELF-CONTROL. The following definitions come from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The Scripture version are from the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible.

Self-Control

Self-control is described as having control over your feelings or actions or restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions or desires. Self-control can be described in a simpler way as not letting our emotions to get the best of us. There are many emotions that can override our faith such as fear, anger, and disappointment. Second Timothy 1:7 says “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” To manage our emotions and desires, we must have a strong prayer life. If we do not spend time with God every day, there will be no peace in our lives. Our emotions would be out of control, and we would remain in a state of confusion. Our thought process and emotions will become irrational and our actions will not dictate who Jesus is. Our flesh will take over on what we say and how we act. First Thessalonians 4:4 says “that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor.” God expects us to have self-control over our lives and be Christ-like in everything we do.

Application

Do you let your emotions to get the best of you?  Do you get angry or frustrated quickly?  Can you control your emotions?  I can honestly say, I sometimes cannot control my emotions, and I have to take a step back, after reacting in the wrong way, to correct my actions.  I am a very passionate person, and if someone criticizes or judges me for what I love to do, I defend it with harsh negative words.  You might can relate with a similar situation.

We all have areas in our lives that if pushed too far, we will say or do things that is not of God.  We are all human, and that’s why God gives us grace.  He gives us second chances to make it right.

When our emotions override our faith, we are not being Christ-like.  When we have self-control and allow God to work through our emotions, we are showing the world that we can stay calm through difficult situations.  Where are your emotions today?  Are they under control?  Is this an area that you need to work on and pray about?  Ask God to help you.

Fruit of the Spirit – Faithfulness

Today, we will be breaking down the fruit of the Spirit: FAITHFULNESS. The following definitions come from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The Scripture version are from the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible.

Faithfulness

Faithfulness is having or showing true and constant support or loyalty. It can also be described as deserving trust and keeping your promises or doing what you are supposed to do. God mentions faithfulness throughout the Bible. The faithfulness that God is referring to in Galatians 5:22-23 is to keep our promises with Him and with others. We need to stay loyal to our word and not disappoint those who are counting on us to come through for them. Luke 16:10-12 states that “one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” When we live by our word, we are becoming more like God. Deuteronomy 7:9 says “that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, to a thousand generations.” The world is filled with false promises and hopes, and we, as Christians, need to stay true to our word to show them who Christ is through our actions.

Application

Do you have a hard time keeping your promises?  Are you faithful to those around you and honor your word?  God’s word is always faithful and true.  To show who God is to the world, we must be loyal to what we say and do.  We need to encourage those around us by staying faithful to our commitments.

Fruit of the Spirit – Kindness, Goodness, and Gentleness

Today, we will be breaking down the fruits of the Spirit: KINDNESS, GOODNESS, and GENTLENESS. The following definitions come from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The Scripture version are from the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible.

Kindness, Goodness, and Gentleness

Kindness, goodness, and gentleness are all characteristics that work closely together. The definition of kindness is the quality or state of being kind or a kind act. The word goodness means the quality or state of being good. Gentleness means the quality or state of being gentle as well as mildness of manners or disposition. There is more to being a Christian than accomplishing good deeds. Our motives behind our good deeds matter to God. We need to have a kind and gentle heart while we complete God’s work. It is easy to be kind to others when they are kind to us, but what about those who are unfriendly and mistreat us. Are we holding a grudge against those people or are we showing them kindness. God says we are to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). He also says to “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35). Titus 3:2 tells us to “speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward[s] all people.” When we are showing kindness and gentleness, while doing good, God is working through us for others to see His ways and not the world’s. It is vital that we look like Jesus through our words and actions.

Application

Is there someone in your life that makes life difficult?  Do you struggle showing kindness towards him or her?  God has asked everyone, not just you, to be Jesus to the world.  That means we must show kindness to everyone, not be selective to who deserves it.

In everything we do, we must have good motive.  God looks at goodness as our heart.  When we do something for God, we must do it in the goodness of our heart, not expecting anything in return.  This is not always easy.  God may ask of something that stretches our faith or boundaries that we have set for ourselves.  God wants a cheerful heart in everything we do for Him!

Our words and actions can hurt people without even realizing what we are saying or doing.  Our words must be gentle so we do not let others feel worthless or judged.  Our actions must be synchronized with God so we know that they reflect Him and not the world.

All these things above: Kindness, Goodness, and Gentleness are all from God.  Jesus functioned in all of these so that He could bring light into a dark and weary world.  We are called to do the same.  If you feel like you lack in one or more areas, take the time to pray and read the Bible.  I encourage you to read about how Jesus lived here on earth.  It is the greatest example of walking out the fruits of the Spirit.