A Healthy Heart

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by Michelle Meeks

About a month ago, my husband and I had to make a hard decision about our twelve year old dog Bruce.  It had only been since last summer that we found out he had nerve damage in one of his hind legs and foot.  He could still get around and play with our other boxer, but a few months ago, we noticed he was struggling to get up.  For a while, we were able to lift him from behind. He would walk to where he wanted to go, and then lie down.  Some weeks later, when we would pick him up, he could only go a few steps and would fall.  It eventually got to the point where he couldn’t get up at all. The nerve damage had spread to his other hind leg and foot.   My heart broke as we tried to care for him.  A week went by with us changing padding under him where he would use the bathroom.  If we weren’t in the family room with him, he would howl nonstop until we came back.  He quit eating unless it was table scraps, and he could only drink water if we held his bowl for him.  The decision was finally made to call the vet and have him come out.   We    all said goodbye to Bruce as he died peacefully with my boys cradling his head in their arms.

We all grieved.  My oldest cried it out for a few days.  Our younger son went out to where we buried Bruce every day for a week.  He would walk back and forth and talk to Bruce and come in crying.  My husband cried, especially when the boys were upset.  I tried to hold it in.  It wasn’t possible the first couple of days, but as the days passed, I could hide the sorrow.  In doing so, I felt overwhelmed with just daily things.  I was quick to get mad.  I even went to my accountability group and glossed over how I felt.  I didn’t really want to talk about it.  When one of the girls asked me what was going on, I talked about feeling overwhelmed then got mad at her when she didn’t seem to understand.  How could she?  I have to admit, I would rather feel anything than the hurt going on inside of me.  Mad worked.

God, on the other hand, didn’t agree.  I could hear “above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Psalm 4:23).  Guard it from the bitterness that was growing.  Guard it from the unhappiness that was settling in, the depression, the desire to shut down.  My husband even accused me of ruining our relationship!  God was calling.  I heard Him, but I didn’t want to deal with this sorrow because it hurt too much.  As weeks went on, I finally admitted to my husband I was still upset about Bruce.  It may seem like such a small step, but for me it was the first step in dealing with what was really going on.  One night, I sat on my closet floor after everyone was asleep, and just cried.  And finally, I asked God to heal my broken heart.  After weeks of feeling so much sadness, I finally felt joy again.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”  Are you guarding your heart?  Is it filled with sorrow, envy, jealousy, bitterness?  If so, are you hanging on to these things?  Whatever is in your heart, will overflow into your thoughts, your words, your actions.  The condition of your heart affects every relationship you have.  God wants you to have a healthy heart, filled with Him, so it overflows to others.  Would you ask Him to cleanse it, to heal it, to fill it with His love, to make it healthy once again?

Psalm 30:2 & 11 “Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”

Choose Grace

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by Dawn Fisher

Hebrews 12:14-15 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many

I grew up the majority of my life with my sister and my mom.   From my toddler years until the age of six it was the three of us.  I had a step dad for four years, and then it was back to the three of us again.   In fact, it wasn’t until I was out of the house in my college years that my mom remarried again.  This marriage only lasted a couple years.  Now the good end to this story is that my mother is now happily married to an amazing man and has been for almost 20 years.  He is a gift to her, to me and to our family.  However, the absence of my father the first 25 years of my life affected the rest of my life and my heart.  Maybe you have a daddy wound like me?  Maybe your daddy chose a bottle of alcohol over you just like me.  Maybe he chose something else or maybe it wasn’t a daddy wound at all.  Maybe for you something else was stolen from you that broke your heart.

As a result of these early years I made many promises to myself. Promises like I wouldn’t struggle to provide for myself or my family; I won’t rely on anyone but myself; I will need no one; I will be in charge and on top of things; I will be the person who knows how to get what I want; I will control my relationships and most of all I refuse to be vulnerable.  What I did not realize until much later in my life is  this killed my hearts longing for intimacy all so I could be safe and in control.  What hurt in your life has caused you to make vows such as these or others so you could be safe and in control.

You see, the reality in doing this, like me, means there is nothing merciful about the person you become, nothing tender and nothing vulnerable.   One day you too will realize that by living this life you are refusing to trust God.  Has it ever dawned on you that perhaps this life you are leading has come with much cost, but most of all something precious that God has put inside of you has been lost?

God wants us, as he says in Hebrews 12:14, “ to make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy.”  Peace was not a word I ever thought about but something I so longed for. Do you realize when we walk in peace and holiness as God’s daughter’s, people see God? That is the power of walking in peace. No wonder the enemy brings us into chaos and causes us to build walls. The enemy wants to isolate us and our hearts.  Living in peace begins within us. It involves being vulnerable with God and trusting him with your heart.

This is only half of it though.  Living in peace and harmony is the first part of the scripture and where it has to start, but the scripture goes on.  Hebrews 12:15 “We must see to it that no one falls short of the grace of God.” Gulp right?  No one.  That meant my dad, and others who were in my path and in my life. I had to forgive. I had to release my dad to God. I had to release the pain.  By releasing the pain, I was able to live in this peace God talks of and realize offering grace isn’t a chore.  It is a gift and an honor to be able to give. The reality is, without Christ, we wouldn’t have grace. I know I personally, desperately need grace daily, so I better start extending it as well.  Who do you need to offer grace to today?  Don’t be like me. Don’t wait for that bitter root to grow up and cause trouble and defile many like I did.  God wants to bring good from all of your life.  All you have to do is turn to Him. Don’t push away God’s provision. We have a choice.  We can choose bitterness out of our defense system or we can choose grace and forgive and release. Choose grace my friends, choose grace.

Prayer: God, we thank you that we don’t walk this world alone.  We don’t’ walk through struggles and face pain alone.  The times in our life when you do not calm the storm, Lord, you walk with us through it.  Thank you Lord that your heart broke with mine because you are that kind of God.  Lord, help us realize each day we can walk in peace and be holy because of you.  Thank you for giving the gift of grace to me and helping me share it with others. Most of all God, thank you that it is never too late. We are never too messed up for you to save us from ourselves and the lies we have bought from this world. For those who are reading this today and need to receive your grace for themselves Lord, for them I pray a double portion. Lord help us to recognize you and release us from how we have judged you and ourselves.  In Jesus name, Amen.

Peace Offering

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By: Michelle Meeks

Leviticus 3:1 (KJV)
“When his offering is a sacrifice of a peace offering… he shall offer it without blemish before the Lord.”  

My husband owns his own financial business.  A little over two years ago, he prayed about buying a piece of land to build an office on instead of continuing to rent.  We were starting to recover from the housing and market crash of 2008 and knew if this was to happen, God would have to make a way financially.  God was faithful.  We were able to save enough money throughout the year to have for closing costs once the building was done in December.  About six months ago, my husband asked God what he should be doing in his business to help it grow.  Again, God was faithful.  My husband found a renewed interest in his work and his business was growing.

Last month, just two months from closing on his office, we were hit very hard financially.  It seemed to be one thing after the other.  Fortunately, we had money saved up to take care of these things, but using this money meant we were not going to have all the money we needed to bring to closing.  After the first financial hit, God showed me in a dream we were going to be attacked more than just once, but I heard Him say in the dream, “Don’t worry about it.  I’ve got it.”  The day after this we had the second financial attack, a week later another, and just this past week another.  I know my God is faithful, and if He says He’s going to come through, then He will.  My husband is not so sure.  He questioned God and wanted to know had he done something wrong, did he need to do something…

I stayed up late after this last attack and asked God if this was still an attack, had we gotten away from His plan, was there something He wanted us to do.  What was happening?  As I listened, I heard Him say, “Leviticus 3.”  So, I opened my Bible and read about offering a Peace Offering.  Then I did some research to find out what exactly this offering was.  According to several commentaries, a Peace Offering was made to the Lord to either receive a special favor from the Lord or to give thanks for special favors from the Lord.  What is significant though, is this offering was burned after the sin offering, so no sin is involved with the Peace Offering.  This said to me, we had not done anything wrong.  The other significant part was the priest, God and the offerer split the offering three ways signifying the offerer is at peace not only with God, but also man.  The offering is made out of a place of peace, knowing God has all ready taken care of what is needed.  I told my husband to do some research on this too and pray about what would our Peace Offering be.

Fast forward a few days.  We are sitting down doing the bills for the month and trying to see what the next months bills will be, tithes, what money is coming in, and what is left of the money we have saved for closing.  When we were done, he looked at me and said we could not afford to pay our tithes now, we would have to get caught up in January.  I didn’t say anything.  I just prayed God would please speak to him and tell him that was the wrong way to go.  I woke up the next morning and he had left me a note to pay our tithes and give $500 to a friend who was struggling financially as our peace offering.  I have to say I was thankful God had changed his mind!

My friend had just sold her car.  The monthly payment was a financial burden God told them they didn’t need.  She did not want to sell her car.  She didn’t have another car to get around in, but out of obedience she did.   I called my friend and told her about the money and how it was a Peace Offering.  She proceeded to tell me the night before, she had asked God when would the blessings for selling her car come.  He told her she was like Moses.  First you have to be obedient and then the blessings come. Hers would be coming the next day.  The day I called to tell her she was getting our Peace Offering!    When I told my husband this, he got a little teary-eyed.  He knew he had done the right thing.  We both knew his obedience would bring our blessing from God.

Romans 4:17-18 “ We call Abraham “father” …because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody…Abraham dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing.  When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway…”

Prayer – Thank you God for your word.  When it looks like there is no way, you remind us You have already made the way.  Our job is to trust in who You are and what You say and be obedient in all You would have us to do.  Then, out of our obedience, comes the blessing.  

God, Deliver Me …

By Cortney Donelson

Psalm 7:1(NIV)
O LORD my God, I take refuge in You; save and deliver me from all who pursue me.”

The definition of “unplug” is to be free from an obstruction or to disconnect. Ironically, when I am plugged into my phone, my computer, my iPad, my TV, my iPod … it is then I am truly disconnected. These devices and the information I gather from them are merely distractions from the powerful relationships and wisdom I can only gain from personal interaction and communication, not only with people, but with God too. Especially God.

I am guilty of checking my phone as soon as the text messaging notification sounds. It beckons me to leave what I am doing in pursuit of “communication,” even if what I had been doing was connecting with my husband using some good old-fashioned conversation! “Save and deliver me … “

I tend to read my email and catch up on news at the counter in exchange for eating breakfast with my two children. “Save and deliver me … ”

Psalm 7:1 is a challenge for me. It is a prayer I often avoid, at least when it comes to those things that pursue me. Yet, it is precisely the prayer in which I need to invest. For, the “ones” that pursue me are my electronic devices that, in reality, keep me disconnected from those who matter most. Sure, the status updates and text messages keep me in the loop. In truth, that is not how relationships go deep and thrive. My family is in pursuit of me. They deserve to have all of me. “Save and deliver me … ”

“Deep calls to deep,” as Psalm 42:7 (NIV) reminds me. In the past, I have struggled with being transparent but not “authentic.”  Transparency is the ability to discern your feelings and discuss them. It’s a necessary attribute to develop for your relational growth. Authenticity, however, is the ability to experience your feelings while you share them with others … To open up your heart. The difference between the two is the difference between having casual friends and spiritual sisters who really know you. The difference between transparency and authenticity can also be the difference between a marriage where two people feel like roommates and a marriage between best friends working towards holiness together.  However, the most important difference between transparency and authenticity can be seen in your relationship with God. God knows your heart, but do you share it with Him too? Do you know God or do you experience Him?

Just like my family, God has been relentlessly in pursuit of me. His pursuit started before I was even “me.”   He has been quietly whispering in my ear. I have heard Him. I know His request. He’s asking me to go deep, to put down the distractions and turn off those things that pursue me. I have felt it as a pang of guilt and as a quiet voice. Sometimes, I ignore Him. Maybe He’s been whispering in your ear too? If so, let’s do this together:

“O Lord my God, I take refuge in You; save and deliver me from all who pursue me.”

My prayer is that God releases my desire for more surface level information. I pray He delivers me from my habit of treating online “relationships” as more important than those two little faces standing beside me at the kitchen counter. I would rather have a book in my hand and a child sitting in my lap than hold onto an electronic device with a “death grip” and sit with a pile of regret!

Prayer – Dear Lord, deliver me… save me from my perceived need for more information, more emails, more texts, more distractions. Those who matter most are right in front of me, and they deserve nothing less than all of me, including You, Dear Jesus. Lord, I pray I can find refuge in You and build up relationships that matter by unplugging from those distractions that mean nothing. In Jesus’ Name I pray, AMEN!

You Can Take That to the Bank!

By Cortney Donelson

Luke 6:38 (NLT)
“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”

Blink.

Yet again, life suddenly changed. A few weeks ago, my husband lost his job. I am (mostly) a stay-at-home mom, dabbling in a few other part-time jobs while my youngest is in preschool. So, in the blink of an eye and without warning, we had lost almost 80% of our income.  

In the past, I would have panicked. The fear of financial instability and the loss of health benefits for my kids would have left me feeling anxious and worried. However, I knew I had two options. I could allow the enemy to grab hold of my fear and send me into the darkness, or I could hold tight to God’s promises and stay in His light. I read Luke 6:38, which states, “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back,” and I made my choice. My husband and I have been serial “givers” for years – to church, to non-profit organizations that are close to our hearts, to any needs we see arise. We elected several years ago to trust God with our finances and believe His promises regarding giving, such as the one found in Luke 6. God asked us to test Him in this area; so we did. We still do. We give joyfully and abundantly. It feels absolutely wonderful! We heard over and over, “you cannot out-give God.” I was now secretly praying this was true!

I chose to hold onto the promise that our giving would be “pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and poured back into my lap.” I immediately made an active decision to lay it all down at the Cross. I put our family’s career, health, and finanical affairs into His hands, and I truly let go and let God.

No surprise here … God did not disappoint! Four weeks into the world of unemployment, my husband interviewed with one company several times and was offered a fantastic job, including exceptional benefits, a work-life balanced schedule with flexibility, and perks to boot. I had never experienced God’s faithfulness in this way. He was pouring down on us so many blessings in such a short amount of time and in an incredibly specific way!  In an economy that says, “Impossible!” God said, “DONE!”

God’s promises never fail. His love never fails. You cannot out-give Him. He will always be faithful and good. His blessings will come in whatever form is best for you and aligned with His will at that particular time: financial, healing, opportunity, grace, forgiveness … the gifts are endless. And, “you can take that to the bank!”

Prayer – Dear Lord, I barely have the words to thank you. I am in awe with the ways you bless each of us in the areas we need it at just the times we would benefit the most. I give You all the glory!  You are always faithful and true. My prayer is that we all hold tight to Your promises and trust You with every part of our lives, including our finances. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

Deuteronomy 15:10
Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.”

Out of the Darkness

By Missy Strayer

2 Corinthians 4:6 (NLT)
“For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.”

On a retreat one fall, a group of us walked to the top of a beautiful mountain. The view was breath-taking; it was such a clear day, and you could see for miles. The mountain range had colors that were just starting to turn to the brilliant shades of autumn, the air was wonderful, and I tried to drink it all in. It had been a long climb and after a short and light rain, it was time for the decent. You know how your heart feels when you know your mountain top experience is coming to an end, and you really don’t want to go… but you have to?  That was where I found myself. We descended the mountain, and as I walked I tried to hear God’s voice. I felt as though there was silence, so I prayed to hear Him louder and stronger than ever before. As I walked down the path, the shadows of the trees moved with the sun’s angles.  Suddenly, I found myself walking in the shade, and I stopped. I was the only one walking in the shadows.  Everyone else was walking out in the main sunlight.  It was at that point that I heard the Lord say, “It is time to come out of the darkness and walk in the light, professing my name boldly.”  Are you kidding me? I shouted for everyone to stop and look where I was standing and then told them what the Lord had laid on my heart.  It was time.  It was time for me to no longer stay quiet and watch the world go by, while allowing all that the world has to offer to taint my thoughts and beliefs. Most of all, it was time for me to tell my story. My story of survival was going to help others find their way out of their darkness. That was when I knew my true calling. For the first time,  I knew at least one of the reasons I had been created:  To help others come out of the darkness to make a difference in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Okay, but where do I start? I don’t know how to begin!

I had no idea what to do with my new-found purpose. My walk for the past few years had been difficult, including a separation, a child diagnosed with leukemia, and two months later my father being diagnosed with cancer, a divorce, and finally learning to stand on my own two feet. I had leaned on my friends and family but most of all my God. Now he was telling me to use my pain of losing my father, my joy and gratefulness that my son had survived and was thriving, and to rejoice in the blessings that the Lord had given me along the way. So I ask you… have you listened to that quiet voice? Are you ready to walk out your purpose, hold on tight, and know that God is always with you?

Prayer – Father God, I thank you for all that you have showed me and continue to show me. I pray that you open others eyes and hearts to know what your path is for them. I pray that you continue to bless those who follow your lead and that you strengthen them as they walk it out proclaiming your name boldly. I pray for those that have not found their way… that Father God you provide them with a lantern a divine appointment to guide them and bring them to You. Thank you Lord for your many blessings. In Jesus’ name I  pray, Amen.