No More Shame

BY JESSICA LANDMON

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When I read through the Old Testament, I am intrigued by the life of Elijah. He is probably one of the greatest prophets ever and had an intimate relationship with God. He predicted the beginning and the end to a three-year drought, allowed God to use him to raise a child from the dead, and defeated the prophets of Baal in a dramatic showdown at Mount Carmel. Interestingly, as incredible a man of God as Elijah was, he experienced suicidal thoughts right after the great victory at Mount Carmel. Jezebel heard of his triumph over the prophets of Baal and vowed to kill him. Elijah fled in fear.

He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life.” – 1 Kings 19:5

I don’t know about you, but I am comforted knowing that one of the greatest men of God suffered from depression. It seems that there is a stigma that attaches itself to all mental health issues today, and as a result, shame accompanies the person that goes through it. The person struggles in secret for fear that people will judge her for this illness. And yet, a person dealing with cancer or diabetes receives the necessary love and support from friends and family.

Unfortunately, depression seems to be on the rise. I have been hearing almost weekly of a new person struggling with this, especially in the younger generation. People, just like Elijah, seem to have lost their purpose in the midst of these confusing times. Feelings of hopelessness have set in.

“But those whose hope is in the Lord, will not be disappointed” – Isaiah 49:23

If you are someone who struggles with depression, I have encouraging news for you. God delivered Elijah from his depressed state, and He can deliver you too. Elijah later went on to fulfill the purposes that God had planned for the rest of his life. His mental health didn’t define him. Elijah didn’t carry any shame for his depression, and neither should you.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

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THIS BLOG WAS ORIGINALLY RUN BACK IN 2014. HOWEVER, IN LIGHT OF RECENT EVENTS, WE FELT IT WAS IMPORTANT TO REPOST IT.

IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING SUICIDAL THOUGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE AT 1-800-273-8255. 

YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Forget the Past

BY SHILA ANDERSON

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I have a confession. I never wanted to be on social media. I decided to join the social media world only when my husband and I started leading our church’s youth group, and we needed a way to “connect” with the teenagers. Teenagers don’t use email, so I really had no choice.

So why didn’t I want to be on social media? Was it the fear of putting my children’s pictures out there where they could be found by predators? Or, was it the old school mentality of not wanting to connect with people online when I could just call them or meet them for lunch? Maybe I’m just a private person and don’t want to share my life with the world? Well, it was a little bit of all of that, but most importantly, I was nervous about reconnecting with people from my past. You see, I’m not the same person I used to be.

I grew up a Christian. My mom brought me to church every week, but I really didn’t understand what being a Christian truly meant or how to live a Christian life. I was very self-conscious, had low self-esteem, and was a tad bit selfish. So, I didn’t always portray Christianity in the best light.

Joining the social media world opened me up to reconnecting with people that knew me back then. What would they think of me now that I am a God-serving, Jesus-loving, ministry-leading Christian? Would they think I was a hypocrite? Would my old friends realize that I was a new person – that my old life was gone and a new life begun? Or would they judge me for how I used to be?

Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:17

Thankfully, God brought an old friend back into my life to show me the truth. I was speaking at a conference near my home town and recognized her beautiful face from across the room. I am so blessed to have seen her and to have been able to catch up with her. I admitted to her that I didn’t keep in touch with anyone from high school, and we agreed that we all have changed since then. It was such a blessing to see someone and realize that I was hiding for no reason.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? – Isaiah 43:18-19

Not only do I need to forget the former things and not dwell on the past, but I need to not worry about the past either. I believe God brought this friend back into my life to show me that I can move forward, without worrying what my old friends will think of me. 

I’m not scared of being myself on social media and reconnecting with those old friends now. I’m excited to share with them about what God has done in my life. In fact, I’m praying that God will use me to share His love for others and to show that through Christ, all things are possible. He can change us, give us confidence, and make us better people. 

What do you say ladies? Will you forget the past with me? Remember, we are a walking, talking testimony of God’s amazing grace. Let’s not hide that. Let’s allow God’s love to shine through us for everyone we meet - past, present, and future!

Suddenly

BY JESSICA LANDMON

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I’m a Connecticut girl, born and raised. Now in Connecticut, we see a lot of extreme weather – ice storms, blizzards, below zero temperatures, heat waves, and even the occasional tropical storm/hurricane. But, we don’t do tornados. Well, at least not until last week. 

Five, that’s right, five tornados ripped through a small portion of Connecticut, leaving mass destruction in its path. And you guessed it, my town was one of the worst towns hit. Thankfully, besides losing power and a few downed tree limbs, my property was left untouched. But this was not the case for many of my family and friends who still, over a week later, are trying to figure out how to clean up the mess. 

That night, my kids and I were minutes away from heading out to our evening activities. The weather channel mentioned that some severe thunderstorms would be rolling through the area. But, who knew the magnitude of that warning!

An unusual breeze started to pick up, and the sky turned a funny shade of gray. Then, an alert on my phone warned us to take shelter immediately. Off to the basement we went, and within seconds we lost power. I peered through the windows trying to see what was happening. 

Suddenly, a giant wall of darkness loomed over my street. Hail pelted my house and windows, as lightening flickered in the darkness. Violent winds shook the house and tremendous amounts of rain poured from the sky. 

There wasn’t much warning at all, and I certainly didn’t have time to prepare in that moment. Fortunately, we have a generator, bottled water, and lanterns, but I didn't feel prepared at all. Sound familiar? The storms of life that we walk through never give us much warning either. They just happen. 

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  1 Peter 4:12

I'd like to tell you that trials and tribulations won't come our way, but there is no truth in that. The Bible tells us to expect them. And often, there is no warning – no Doppler radar or text alerts telling you to take shelter and retreat. So how do you prepare for these moments? 

The key is what you do before the storm hits. How you weather a storm correlates directly to how you prepare for it. Ladies, we are living in uncertain times. The news is inundated with reports of forest fires, volcanos, acts of terrorism and so much more. Add to that the difficulties and challenges we each face with our health and personal relationships, and one thing is clear. We need to be in sync with the Holy Spirit. 

We need to hear His voice every single day. In fact, I would encourage you to start your day in prayer and not to move on until you receive a fresh Word from Him. Let it overwhelm you, change you, and warn you for what lies ahead. 

I know we are all busy. We have jobs, family, school, even church that pulls at our time. We can easily become anxious and consumed with the cares of life. But, we need to carve out time each day where we can spend quiet time in the Lord’s presence so that He can do a work in our hearts and minds. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get caught in another “suddenly” moment.

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. Luke 21:34

The Glory of the Lord Has Departed

BY JESSICA LANDMON

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I just recently returned from a family vacation in France. What a wonderful time we had! We ate cheese, crepes, and more macarons than I care to admit. And let’s not forget all the sites – the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Palace of Versailles. But, one of the things that stood out the most for me was all the beautiful churches and cathedrals that we visited.

The French, like most European countries, constructed the most impressive churches. In fact, every town, big or small, still has a giant church in its town center. I could (and did) spend hours marveling at the enormity and opulence of these buildings. Each detail was intricately designed to bring glory and reverence to our Most High God.

But interestingly, as beautiful and magnanimous as these churches were, they left me feeling empty and cold. A structure that was once created to bring glory to God was now reduced to a tourist site where visitors from around the world, with flip flops and cameras, came to observe architecture and art. Oh, how this grieved me. Oh, how this must grieve God. 

As I navigated through these hollow churches, my mind was instantly brought back to scripture where the priests, Hophni and Phinehas, were treating the Lord’s work with contempt. They showed disdain toward the treatment of the offerings and were sleeping with the women who served at the entrance of the tent of meeting. As a result of their sin, both men and their father Eli lost their lives. And worse yet, the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant, where the presence of God dwelled, was captured by the Philistines.

The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark has been captured. – 1 Samuel 4:22

Unfortunately, the glory of Lord has also departed from many of the churches in Europe. And if we are not careful, this can happen in all of our churches. You see, the steps that lead up to the departure of God’s presence are gradual – a compromise here, and an attempt to be culturally relevant there. 

Today, we are building mega churches with cafes, state-of-the-art sound equipment and giant stages. In and of itself, this is a great way to preach the gospel to more people. But it is only great if we continue to focus on the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the churches too. Without the Holy Spirit, we will no longer feel conviction for our sins and will lose sight of our very purpose, which was the case with Phinehas and Hophni.

Please understand that I am not against building big churches. In fact, I am all for it. I just feel that what has happened in Europe should be used as a warning. Ladies, we need to pray for our churches. We need to pray for our leaders. We need to pray for our Pastors. And please pray for the Holy Spirit to be ever present in our church services and all that we put our hands to.

Bloom

BY RACHEL AXTMANN

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Last fall, I purchased a lovely bag of bright tulip bulbs. After planting them, I had high hopes of a seeing their beauty welcome spring into my backyard. Amazed by the process of it all, I began considering the lifecycle of these firm, little bulbs that I put into the ground.

After a little investigating, here’s what I learned. In order for the outer shell of the bulb to become so tough, the once blooming flower, impacted by the end of summer heat, sends all of its remaining energy down into the bulb, making it firm and ready for the chill ahead. We plant these little packages of stored energy underground to rest and go dormant.

BUT something IS happening while this bulb is resting. We can’t see it happening. There is no visual evidence, especially in New England buried under blankets of snow. But after some needed rest, the stored energy in the bulb begins to grow roots. Once the roots are firmly established, the bulb uses its last tiny bits of remaining energy to push the sprouted leaves up out of the soil and bud flowers, just in time to welcome a new season.

This simplified little science lesson can parallel our personal journey of maturing in our faith. Just as we plant a bulb for the purpose of seeing its colorful vibrancy fill our yard, it can be our tendency to crave the outward display of a life of faith – to speak kindly out of love, to exude patience, to administer wisdom, to walk fully in our spiritual gifts.

But often times, it’s the “stuff” that’s going on in the dirt that determines our ability to bloom well, to reach our full potential. Winter dirt, like our hearts at times, can be hardened, filled with “little rocks” of pride and “roots” of resentment. We can even experience dryness from seeking to go, go, go and get it all done without taking the needed time to be watered and refreshed.  To overlook these things and hurry on past will result in sprouts that never fully bloom. Before we can anticipate and expect a harvest of beauty outwardly, we cannot neglect to do a little digging and needed growing on the inside. 

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. – Psalm 139:23-24

When we welcome God into our “dirt,” He may lovingly reveal some necessary tilling and pruning. He may point out areas where you need to begin trying less in your own efforts and relying more on His strength. Whatever it may be for you, I promise, this work on your heart will reap a harvest that only multiples in beauty over the years, just like I hope my tulips will.

Let’s not just live only for the outward prize, those things the world values and acknowledges. Let’s also willingly greet the “winter” seasons of life as an opportunity for growth on the inside, with firmer, more established roots in Christ Jesus.

Let your roots grow down in him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. – Colossians 2:7

Don't Miss the Significance of the Cross

BY JESSICA LANDMON

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What a special day! What a special weekend! What a special time of year! I truly love the Easter weekend and all the family traditions that come with it. I caution you, however, amongst the busyness of this time of year not to miss the significance of it all.

Every year, my son and husband set up a wooden cross that they built several years ago from a tree in our back woods. I simply love seeing the empty cross perched on the hill in my front yard as a reminder to me and everyone who drives by that our Savior lives. However, in the midst of running around, it is easy to view putting the cross up as yet another thing to check off my list, rather than focusing on the true impact of its meaning. 

When I take a step back from the to-do list and focus on the why, I can almost hear the sound of pounding against the wooden cross. This thunderous sound resonates in my mind and spirit, bringing me right back to the cross at Golgotha nearly 2,000 years ago when they nailed Jesus to the cross. Each swing of the hammer drove a nail deeper into His wrists and feet, placing Jesus securely on the cross that would ultimately kill Him.

Although Jesus was innocent, His death was not in vain. He chose to stand in our place as an atonement for our sins in order to break the hold of sin and death over our lives. There is no greater gift given to mankind.

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” – 1 Peter 2:24

So, in the busyness of this weekend, full of Easter egg hunts and other family traditions, I pray you stay fully aware of why we celebrate. Keep your thoughts focused on the one who saved us all from eternal separation from God. And remember, this is our big weekend – our time to proclaim to the world all that Jesus has done. Don’t miss an opportunity to share the cross with all those you come in contact with. There is no better time of year to share Jesus.

 

The Days of Our Lives

BY RACHEL AXTMANN

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Each Monday, when I find myself chatting with other moms or friends, a common conversation starter is, “How was your weekend?” And without really thinking, I automatically say, “Oh, good, how was yours?” But I’m embarrassed to admit, that sometimes, I have to really think about it for a few minutes. Like, good gracious, what DID I do this past weekend? I know I was busy. I did a lot for sure, but what was it again? 

This little Monday conversation starter has got me thinking a bit more introspectively lately. Each small decision on how I spend my time corresponds to the degree to which I am living an intentional life. If I’m not intentional about my decision making, the temptation for me personally is to choose to not miss out on anything – both for myself and my children. It all sounds so “good” that I may choose busyness and temporary pleasure over choices that are directed to long-term goals.

For we are His workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10

Did you realize that God has created GOOD WORKS for us do BEFORE we even entered the scene? But take a look at the pivotal word, SHOULD. Should we walk in them? We have a choice. The question I ask myself is, am I? I so want to say a resounding YES! But if I allow myself to really be truthful, here’s what I consider…

Do I want to instill faith in my children? Is it important to me that my children have a relationship with their creator, not just knowledge of Him? If so, how am I spending my time to ensure I am doing my part? I can’t put that responsibility in the lap of our church, Christian friends, or even a Christian school.

Furthermore, do I want my children to learn the art of face to face socialization in a society dominated by screens? What am I doing to model this? Do I want them to appreciate and embrace the importance of community with other believers? If so, what am I doing to model that for them? Do I want them to serve others? How do they see me doing it? Do I want to grow stronger in my faith? If so, how does my time reflect that goal?  If I want to be more psychically fit, how I spend my free time will directly impact this, either positively or negatively.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2

How do we renew our minds? How do we know His good works? We do this by intentionally reading the Bible. Listening to sermons is wonderful, blogs are great (wink, wink), reading Christian books are also good, BUT do not let the voice and words of others take precedence over the one TRUE voice of your Heavenly Father. He will show you the path to take and the good works to do when you pursue HIM above all else. We just have to be willing to walk in them.

Real Love . . . I'm Searching for a Real Love

BY RACHEL AXTMANN

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Clothing would fly out of my closet and into heaps on my bedroom floor. The more I took out and tried on, the more frustrated I would become and the faster the rate I would yank more things out – throwing them into the mounting pile. “I hate my clothes!” I would yell to my mother. “I have nothing to wear! Everything looks so stupid on me.” (Insert teenage tone)

Time to repeat this dramatic scenario in the bathroom while getting ready. “Ugh, another pimple! Great! Why does my hair look weird and bumpy when I put it up? Oh, never mind, I’ll just wear it down, AGAIN! My skin is too blotchy, my eyelashes are so tiny, my nose is crooked. I’m just so ordinary. I feel ugly!”

These were my thoughts and feelings on more than one occasion as a teenager. My identity came from my own warped sense of self. On days I thought I looked good, I felt more confident. On the days I didn’t, I felt down and withdrawn, like I was physically present, but inwardly wanted to hide.

If I was dating someone, my relationship status caused me to feel loved and cared for. I craved constant companionship. So, having a date or hanging out with friends, or just having a plan in general, boosted my self-worth. I felt like I fit in, like I was “doing the right kinds of things.” This probably explains why in my teenage years, I was single for no more than a few weeks before beginning a new relationship. I was in constant need of love, affirmation, and approval from others.

When we find our sense of worth and identity from others or even from our own perception of ourselves, we are often bound to feel less than enough. We fall into the comparison trap and begin to feel we don’t measure up to the beauty standard, social standard, or success standard the world has for us. We reach one status level to only find it is immediately replaced with the NEED for the next. Our emotions are on a constant, never-ending roller coaster ride, with more lows and twists than highs.

While the importance of the issues surrounding my teenage years have become less significant as I age, I also want to be careful to not sum this message up by saying, “I’ve figured it all out and I don’t struggle any longer! Phew, so glad to be done with that silliness!” Nope . . . wrong! Yes, I have matured. I no longer throw my clothing out into a big heap and whine to my mother about my wardrobe selection, thank goodness. (Well, sometimes I still complain to my husband, lol). And, I’ve become a bit more forgiving and accepting of my flaws, but I still struggle to see myself as worthy and loved. When I look around me in fact, it’s near impossible. The comparison game always makes me feel that I don’t measure up. As I age, sure, the areas of need or struggle shift, but the emotions are still the same.

I can often still find myself looking to others for approval. How about you? I’m tired of it, and my guess is, you might be too. We were created for so much more.

Let’s get real . . . If you’ve reached the end of your rope, it’s the perfect time to make a change! Won’t you join me today in shifting our focus to the truth and the eternal? It is the ONLY thing that works to change our perspective. We need to take our selfish minds, which are focused on who we think we are, and shift them to who God says we are.  This isn’t a one-time deal. Every day I need to make this decision to keep my worth in check and aligned with the truth, and you do too!

When you look up to your Heavenly Father, instead of looking around you, look at what the Word of God says about you:

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. – Psalm 139:13-14

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are . . . – 1 John 3:1

All the Single Ladies

BY JESSICA LANDMON

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Well, it’s that time of year again. Red and pink hearts are splattered throughout the stores. Ads for roses and chocolates have ramped up. And brace yourself, your social media feed is about to get hijacked with sweet notes and shout outs to loved ones. That’s right . . . it’s Valentine’s Day!

Now if you are married or in a relationship, this is a fun time of year. But if you are single, some of you are just praying to get through it. This “holiday” may bring up memories of failed relationships or stir up feelings of loneliness. So often, women think the solution is looking for anyone who can be their “Valentine” and fill that role. But, if there is one thing I can warn you of, it is this: DO NOT SETTLE!

Now I realize that it is easy to be tempted to search for a man with qualities that the world deems important – wealth, success, prestige, and Chris Hemsworth good-looks. And, there is nothing wrong with a man who possesses those traits, but it’s simply not enough. Also, women are sometimes tempted to settle for a man who doesn’t share her faith because she truly believes that once their married, she will win him over. Please don’t get caught up in that trap.

As a Christian woman, you should be looking for man who proclaims the same faith and belief system as you. You should be looking for a man who is sold out to Christ. Ultimately, you should be looking for a guy that loves Jesus more than he loves you. That’s right, a man who truly loves Jesus and has a relationship with Him will love you better than any other man can, because he understands how to love like Jesus.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. – Ephesians 5:25

If I haven’t convinced you yet, then please consider this. Life throws some pretty nasty stuff at you. And although I consider myself blessed, I have walked through some rough seasons – a call from my doctor that knocked the wind right out of me, an unexpected death of a family member and a beloved family friend, some difficult seasons of parenting, and a betrayal from someone I trusted.

Needless to say, I’ve gone through stuff. We all do. It’s inevitable. And yes, I have leaned into Jesus with everything during those seasons. But, I can tell you that the worldly measures of a good husband go out the door when you walk through a season of difficulty. No amount of money or power a man possesses can compare to a man who will get down on his knees and pray with you. This is the best gift God can give you in a partner. 

Some of you are growing weary waiting for Prince Charming. While some of you are getting caught up in the romanticism of it all, forgetting what is really important in a husband. But please don’t rush God and push His hand. He has the perfect partner for you. One who will give you butterflies in your stomach when he enters a room, make your toes curl when he kisses you, AND one who will hold your hand and pray with you during the difficult seasons of life.

So, to my single ladies, don’t release your heart to anyone that hasn’t released his heart to Jesus first. If you wait on God for the right man, you will never regret it. He’s out there, and he is probably praying for you because that is just the kind of man he is.

I found the one my heart loves. – Song of Solomon 3:4

 

Getting Real About Fear: Part 1

BY JESSICA LANDMON

Living in today's day and age is stressful and, at times, overwhelming. No wonder so many women are struggling with fear and anxiety. Since fear is something I've struggled with in the past, my heart can so relate. Join me in part one of my session on fear as we discuss what fear actually is and what kind of things could be a trigger for it manifesting in our lives.

Hello 2018!

BY JESSICA LANDMON

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Well, I know it is a little delayed, but Happy New Year. And I do mean happy. It’s a new year – a fresh start. It’s an opportunity for us all to leave the past behind and experience new things. I am excited and expectant to see what God has in store for 2018. In fact, He has already begun to speak to me and show me new things He wants to accomplish in me and through me this year.

Now I recognize that some of you may not be sharing in my exuberance. And that’s ok. I’ve been there. In fact, I have just left a year of transition – a year where I’ve been challenged and refined. I have gone through some fires, but I’ve come out without any burns and am stronger than before.

When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. – Isaiah 43:2

It’s amazing what God can do in your life if you allow Him. For me, 2016 was a year like no other. And going into 2017, I foolishly thought that it would be all puppies and rainbows. Well, I did get a new puppy, but 2017 presented its own challenges. It was a year of repositioning and God reaffirming His call on my life. To be completely transparent, I went through some dry spells and times of questioning. But, through it all, God showed Himself faithful.

Ladies, we will all have seasons like this in our lives, but we must stay the course with the Lord. We need to stop looking at every hiccup as negative, and ask the Lord what He wants to show us through the process. We often dislike times of transition and challenges, but they can afford us the opportunity to go deeper in Him. Personally, I came out of 2017 more devoted, committed, and on fire for the Lord than I went in.

So, it is with full exuberance that I welcome 2018. My prayer for you is that you take full advantage of every opportunity Jesus puts in your path. I don’t know about you, but I want to take on all God has in store for me . . . for Women Get Real. So watch out ladies, we are about to get more “real” in 2018, and I am so glad you are joining us on this journey.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. – 1 Peter 1:6

 

Have Yourself a "Mary" Little Christmas

BY RACHEL AXTMANN

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With great anticipation and excitement, we took out all of our Christmas decorations. My small living room was taken over by bins stacked in every free space. My kids were so excited to decorate the tree and see what their new ornament would be. It’s a tradition in my family to give each child an ornament that represents something they have experienced or enjoyed over the past year. We blasted the Christmas music and danced around the kitchen wearing Santa hats, and the wrapping paper went flying off the ornaments. All was merry and bright!

Fast forward one hour later… I have decorations EVERYwhere, my two year old is dropping and shattering ornaments as fast as we are hanging them, my husband was sneezing up a storm from the mustiness of decorations cooped up in our attic over the past year, and my kids don’t care anymore about decorating the tree and are happily eating snacks in the kitchen (another mess). I am left with bins exploding with red and green and a house in chaos. Ahhh! 

This little glimpse of my morning can easily become a way of life for me in December.  While I love the holiday season and enjoy making it special for my family, I can easily be swept away with the endless Christmas shopping list, searching WAY to long online for the best deals and gift ideas, cookie baking, end of year work projects, and Christmas parties. It can feel like each day is a race only to see the finish line in the distance.

The truth is all of us have a lot of extra things to plan for, take on, and do this time of year. These things aren’t bad! In fact, they can be very exciting and special, but we do need to be mindful to not replace the real heart of the season with all that we have to accomplish. I know it wouldn’t be realistic to suggest we just eliminate the “to do” list. Sure, we could all stand to simplify it a bit, but may I suggest we all take a lesson from Mary?

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:38-42

Mary chose what was BETTER. That was to sit, undistracted, at the feet of Jesus and just take the time to be filled by His presence. What a gift Mary had! She was able to discern, amidst her busy surroundings, what was MOST important. Mary wasn’t being lazy, she wasn't leaving it all to Martha to make her feel overwhelmed. She just knew what was most needed in that moment.

We need to purposefully pursue a “Mary” Christmas this year. Sure, we need to take into account all we have to do, but we also need to set aside time during the busy season to just be with the Lord. Let Him fill you up by reading His word, listening to the beautiful lyrics of Christmas hymns, staring at the glowing lights of your Christmas tree, imagining the wondrous night of His birth, where He became the Light of the World. You NEED this, your family needs this, we all need this. There is no gift, no meal, no present more valuable than time in the presence of your Heavenly Father. So, I wish you a Merry “Mary” Christmas!

Will I See You at the Manger?

BY JESSICA LANDMON

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The long-awaited child was born. This was no ordinary baby boy. This was the Messiah – Our Savior – Jesus. God sent His Son in the flesh to save mankind from eternal separation from Him. 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

We read in scripture that the shepherds were out at night overseeing their flock when they had a supernatural visitation from an angel of the Lord. I can only imagine how they must have felt in that moment – awestruck, confused, afraid, but mostly curious. I’ve read this passage of scripture numerous times. However, it is their response that has resonated with me lately.

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. – Luke 2:15-16

The shepherds are told about this amazing birth, and they responded immediately. They didn’t sit around and talk about it. They didn’t overanalyze it. They hurried off to find Jesus – every one of them. Now this may not sound significant to you, but there is a message that needs to be spoken here.

Many have heard the good news of Jesus’ birth, but are waiting to respond. Maybe this is you. Is there doubt in your heart, fear in your spirit, or are you simply too busy to receive Him? The same invitation made to the shepherds goes out to you today. How will you respond? Will you drop everything to find Him? Or will you make excuses as to why now isn’t a good time?

God sent His son so that you could receive salvation and spend eternity with him. There is no gift that will ever compare. A true miracle happened in that manger that night. History was changed forevermore. And today, God is inviting you to change your future.

Christmas is a great time of year to reflect on God’s love, Jesus’ birth, and His invitation for salvation. It’s an invitation that is open year-round, but there is no time like the present. So this Christmas, I invite you to join me at the manger. Jesus is waiting for you. Will you meet Him there?

Praying you find Christ this Christmas!

"Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:10-11

I Want It All . . . And I Want It Now

BY RACHEL AXTMANN

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This notion of wanting it all and wanting it now has become a reality in many ways. Think of all the ways we have become accustomed to receiving instant, quick gratification – high speed internet, same day delivery options, instant streaming of movies and television shows, apps to make reservations, request rides, and read reviews. We can order groceries and food online. We can even have it prepared and delivered. We get instant feedback on social media through likes and comments.

With all these “enhancements” to our modern world, you’d think they’d serve to free us up on some much-needed time and result in a slower paced life. But ironically, they are serving to make us more and more impatient with anything that doesn’t just happen instantly. 

Waiting in traffic is torture! If our internet is slow, we lose our minds. We opt for the self-checkout line to avoid waiting in line at the grocery store. Instead of calling someone and waiting for them to return the message, we text. When we receive a text, we can’t wait to respond. We need to grab our phones immediately. We even order our food in advance so we don’t have to wait at a restaurant. Waiting for the next episode of our favorite show… no thank you!  I’ll Netflix it. Watching a commercial? Nah! No time for these things!

So how does our current world of instant gratification affect our faith? I believe we may be tempted to put that same need for having it all when we want it (which is now) on God. It can be discouraging if we don’t get the answer to our prayers right away or if it isn't what we had in mind. I read my “verse of the day,” why am I not growing in my faith? Why does God feel distant? Why am I not hearing from God? I guess I'll figure this life out myself. 

BUT…

It takes time for good things to grow. God is trying to grow within us perseverance.

“…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…” Hebrews 12:1-2

Unlike our instant gratification culture, faith is a journey. The more you cultivate your heart in the things of the Lord, the more you grow…the more you grow, the more you reap a harvest. It takes intentional commitment and work to grow a faith that not only lasts, but thrives. Just like a seed needs time, water, sun, pruning and care before it reaches maturity, our journey of faith needs time set aside each day to read God’s word, to just be quiet and pray, to refresh, to be pruned, to fast, and to grow.

Ever hear the phrase, “what comes easy won’t last, but what lasts won’t come easy?” This is true of building our spiritual muscle. It takes patience and a daily commitment. Don’t throw in the towel if you get off track or if you hit a rough patch in your life and find that other things take precedence. This is when we need to cling to God’s love and grace the most. Begin again. Some of you may need to recommit yourself today to the work of gardening and tending to your soul.

Let's not let all the modern advances in the world around us seep into our perception of what it truly means to follow after Jesus. It’s so much more than a just quick fix in a time of trouble.

“Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught…” Colossians 2:6-7

Standing in the Gap

BY JESSICA LANDMON

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Four dead in California. Twenty-six dead in Texas. Eight dead in New York City. Fifty-eight dead in Las Vegas. And all this happened just in the last few months. No matter how often tragedies like this occur, my soul still grieves each time as it acknowledges the evil that is so present in the world.

The sad truth is that the world around us is changing. Sure, evil has always been there, but things have changed in this country. Now I know that there is a lot of finger pointing that is going on as we all deal with this ugly reality as a society. This blog is not about gun control. And, this blog is not about politics. Because the way I see it, this is a Jesus issue. Or better put, this is a lack of Jesus issue.

In an effort to be politically correct and accepting, this country has turned its hearts away from the Lord and rationalized all types of sins. Worse yet, Christians have allowed compromise and complacency to set in. Sure, we update our social media status and offer up our thoughts and prayers to the latest victims. But the truth is, the prayer life of the Christian is nearly non-existent today.

Are we truly praying for our country? Are we covering our elected officials in prayer each day as they make decisions that shape America’s future? Are we praying protection over our schools, churches, and businesses?

Someone needs to stand in the gap. Someone needs to seek forgiveness for this nation’s sins. Someone needs to pray for God’s protection for our nation and our communities. That someone is you. That someone is me. And it needs to start today. I confess that I don’t pray for this country as much as I need to, but if we want to see healing and revival, it must begin in us. We have power through prayer to make a difference.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. – 2 Chronicles 7:14

 

 

. . . With Thanksgiving

BY RACHEL AXTMANN

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Lately, I’ve been feeling a little bogged down with the acts of hate and violence in our country, the devastating natural disasters, the friends and loved ones who are battling life threatening illnesses, and some of the struggles I’m facing within my own family. It seems my mind tends to gravitate towards dwelling on these things. But lately, I have been more aware of the unrest it has been causing me. Thinking about these things, and all of the uncertainties associated with them, cause me to lose my peace. It affects my mood and outlook.

For me, I tend to think about them at nighttime. My mind has a break from the busyness of the day, and it starts to shift towards those things that are more complex and seemingly out of my control.

After mulling over life’s problems, I do eventually give it all over to God in prayer. While I know in my heart that this is the most effective and powerful thing I can do, I’m not always as quick to release my worries or concerns about these issues afterwards. Even after I pray, I continue to cling to these unsettled thoughts as if I don’t really have true faith or trust in God’s sovereignty to work in and through the various situations.

After carrying the weight of these things with me for the last several months, it became clear to me that I was forgetting to put into practice a very important directive from scripture, which was keeping me in a funk. I was overlooking “thanksgiving.”

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. – Philippians 4:6

I had been actively trying to turn to God with my anxious thoughts through prayer, but doing so without thanksgiving was keeping me bound to my current state of mind. Thanksgiving requires reflection and a present mindfulness of all of God’s blessings and provision. When we take time to truly be thankful, it does two things:

1.     It changes our perspective by turning our focus from our worries into gratitude.

2.     It gives us the hope and ability to trust in the many areas of the unknown. When we reflect on all of the ways, small and large, that God has provided for us in the past, it fills us with hope that He will continue to do the same today in our current situation and in our future.

Being thankful can initially feel really hard when you’re facing a significant battle in your life.  Let me encourage you to start with some of the small things – maybe even some things we often take for granted. When I began putting this into practice, God began revealing to me so many of the little things that I am truly thankful for. Let me elaborate.

I am thankful for the breath in my lungs, for electricity, for hot showers, for a safe home, for food to eat that is so plentiful with so much variety to choose from. I’m thankful for the beautiful season of fall, for windy days, warm sweaters and crunchy leaves. I am thankful for the promise of each new day. I am so thankful for the grace, love, and forgiveness of my Heavenly Father.

I’m not suggesting that simply being thankful is going to solve your problems, but I am saying that the very awareness of your many blessings is God’s antidote to dwelling on life’s uncertainties. In this beautiful season of autumn, let’s continue to take our requests and needs to God in prayer, but remember to offer our thankfulness for the abundance of His blessings in our lives, even amidst hardship.

Finding Your Way Back

BY JESSICA LANDMON

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Lately, I have had such a burden for those who have wandered from their faith. It saddens me to think about the women who once were on fire for the Lord and have slowly pulled away from Him. What troubles me even more is that there are many out there that have drifted away from God and haven’t even realized that they have done so.

Interestingly, I have rewritten this blog numerous times. I’ve been struggling because I want this message of hope to fall on the right ears. For you see, I am certain that God is calling His daughters back to fellowship with Him.

So in an effort to be anything but vague, this blog is for the woman who has chosen sin over Jesus because it is simply easier in today’s culture. This blog is for the high school girl who slept with her boyfriend, thinks she’s failed, and is continuing this pattern of promiscuity. This blog is for the woman who is living with a man who she isn’t married to because she has rationalized her sin in her heart. This blog is for the woman who has become lazy and indifferent to the things of God, and has slowly hardened her heart toward Him.

And this is why my heart is so burdened. Any one of us can fall into sin if we aren’t intentional about pursuing Him and putting a guard around our hearts and our minds. It is highly unlikely that we go to bed on fire for the Lord and then wake up the next morning with our hearts hardened toward Him. It is a slow progression caused by one poor decision followed by the next.

And once you pull away, it is very difficult to find your way back. This is true not because God doesn’t welcome you back with open arms, but simply because it requires some hard, deliberate choices that people often don’t want to make.

So how do you find your way back? Simple. The journey begins on your knees with a repentant heart. We need not only ask for forgiveness, but we need to turn completely away from the sin that so easily entangled us in the first place. This is the hard part.

God hates sin. He hates every part of it. And when we consciously choose sin, we are telling God we value it over our relationship with Him. If we want to return to fellowship with Him, we must reject the sin altogether. There is no limit to Jesus’ power to forgive no matter how “big” the sin is. But, we need to stop allowing momentary desires and instant gratification get the best of us and pursue the long course of obedience with God.

Ladies, if this message is tugging at your heart now, I ask you to take a moment to get right with God. Our time here on this earth is not guaranteed. Don’t let another moment pass you by. Pray with me:

Dear Jesus,

I come before you with a remorseful heart. I have made some choices that have pulled me away from you, and I want to make things right. Please forgive me for my sinful behavior, my complacency, and my indifference to you. I thank you for your sacrifice on the cross that washes away my mistakes. I ask for Holy Spirit power to turn from these sinful ways. Let me live the life you called me to live. I love you with all my heart. In Jesus' name, amen.