The Wrestle

Jen Clements, GFC Lutz 

Have we ever considered that often as parents we strive to portray an attribute or lifestyle to our children without showing them the process? While it’s not always pretty, the blessing is in the process. Often, we don’t want them to observe the struggle of becoming, the hard parts of the battle, because we’re afraid to show the challenges along the way. How many times have we said to ourselves or others, “I never want my kids to see me struggle?” But, shouldn’t we?

I want my kids to see me struggle and wrestle with God because, in watching, it builds their faith and my own. We should allow our kids to have a front row seat to our testimonies. Allowing them to see parts of our struggles:

  • With my faith and then choose to trust God.
  • With my marriage and work it out.
  • With being tired and yet faithful to still to go to work.
  • Making the sacrifice of cooking vs. eating out and reflecting good money management.
  • Paying my tithes first in the scarce and bountiful seasons.
  • Facing health challenges, seeking God’s face, and winning.
  • With killing my selfish pride and embracing humility.
  • With learning to love people difficult people who mistreat me.
  • Choosing silence even when I’m right (still lots of work to do in this area).

There are things that I can’t talk them through. Though, Lord knows, I have tried! But, they can learn by watching me walk through! If we pull out a Honey Baked Ham catered meal for every Thanksgiving because we can afford it, our kids will never know Grandma’s recipe. When we give our children things and have them see the end result of a struggle, we’ve created a lifestyle and appetite for a way of living they haven’t achieved themselves.

What happens when we can’t make our Ikea furniture look the way it does on the outside of the box? We get frustrated and sometimes, we throw the whole thing out—-or p, at least I have. Let’s not have them easily overtaken by the storms they’ll one day experience.  Let’s have them see us navigate trials so what they’ve seen will one day help them navigate as well.

I take Philippians 2:12 seriously and I’m about each of us working out Christ in us. Let’s be living examples not vocal ones who try to speak a spiritual lesson that they will one day experience. I want my three boys to fully expect to wrestle with God on some issues. As parents, we want them to know that sacrifices are always necessary, and we need them to see that they can overcome each and every one of life’s obstacles with God leading the way. 

Equipped for Each Day

Alexa Zerrate, GFC South Tampa 


Wake up! Get ready! Drive to work! Work hard! Get the kids! Grab something to eat! Get home! Clean the house! Get ready for tomorrow! Go to sleep!…. Rinse and repeat!

But, I forgot the most important one…  Hear Him, talk with Him, and invite Him into the day.

It seems that no matter what I try to do, life finds it’s way in to control my time, my hours, and everything in between. Galatians 5:16-18 says, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

When I hear someone talk about the constant battle between the flesh and the spirit, I think that this battle is not necessarily a sin that goes against the ten commandments of killing, lying, stealing, etc.  But, it is in opposition with the most important directive mentioned in Mark 12:30, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

If God is calling me to love Him with all of myself, it doesn’t just mean during the times when I am on my knees by myself with Him. It means that every day I am ready for the battle, I am ready for the plan God has for me, and that I need to have constant communication with Him, and have my daily meetings (God and Me time) for Him to lead me.

This is a call for us to breathe, pause, and remember to order our priorities so that a journey of only 11 days may not take us 40 years. Let’s remember Mark 12:30 and put it in practice inviting Him into our days each and every day. He will guide our steps and light the way!

JESUS: Perfect Teacher, Example, Sacrifice.

Alexis Patterson, GFC Lutz

John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

This season highlights the promise fulfilled through the birth and crucifixion of our Savior, Jesus Christ. As believers, we find ourselves reflecting on the amazing and glorifying promise of our redemptive Savior. God’s promise of a true King that would dwell among us in flesh on this earth, the Lamb of God who would sacrifice His very life to fulfill prophecy and the promise many Old Testament prophets shared … that He would save the souls of many. Jesus, the perfect teacher, the perfect example, and the perfect sacrifice.

Jesus, fully human and fully God. Jesus, who would conquer death. Our one true King, a King that wasn’t recognizable to many who anxiously awaited His arrival. The King that would be a servant among us. He modeled every holy example of how to live as a child of God. He is Royalty, He is Sovereign, He is God. I try to imagine what it must have been like to live in such a time when all that you have been waiting for and anticipating finally came. What it must have been like to witness God in the flesh. Would I have received Him? Would I have been skeptical? Would I have been enthralled and enthused by His ways, His teachings, and His miracles? Do you know how it feels when you have prayed for that special something in your life and when God finally fulfills that promise to you? I imagine similar emotions running through all that witnessed Jesus in person. Parts of you are so excited that it’s finally happening, your prayers have been answered and there’s that other part of you that wonders is this real? Is this my answered prayers?

With obedience He would teach, lead, disciple, and eventually pay the biggest price there could ever be paid. For Jesus, there was no price He wouldn’t pay to do what the Father sent Him to do. During the days leading up to Easter, I reflect on what happened that day when the great exchange was made. It was an exchange of my sin, my waywardness, my shame and guilt for cleanliness and reconciliation to the Father. The toughest day for God would be the best day for me. The sacrifice that would be made so that my atonement would take place. He is Jesus, the Perfect Teacher, the Perfect Example, the Perfect Sacrifice.

God knew the mixture of emotions we would have accepting His gift of the Savior so He ensured that He would leave us with more to hope for and less to doubt. Before we were ever created, God then and now has given us so much evidence pointing to Jesus. Patient and steadfast God requires us to wait for His final promise to come to pass. Do you believe it, do you receive it? Our King is coming back for us! As I await, patiently and steadfast I know the Holy Spirit dwells with me everyday until the day comes when Jesus makes all things new. Isaiah 43:18-19, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

Prayer:

O Most High God, Thank You for your promises. We are waiting with anticipation for all things to be made new. Today, I am grateful for your Word, the Word that became flesh, the Word that was with you in creation and came with all power and glory to redeem the lives of your children. We focus on Jesus as you have asked, knowing that He is the way, the truth and the light. Father, Thank You for the sacrifice of your Son. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

The Wilderness

Lisa Tobias, GFC South Tampa 

“There is a purpose for every season under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 I’ve had to meditate on that recently while going through a wilderness season.

We’ve all heard the wilderness process has a purpose, but who can honestly say they get excited about experiencing a wilderness journey? And, who WANTS to get stuck in the wilderness?! No, thank you!

In my recent wilderness journey, I finally figured out that I was trying to make things happen ahead of God’s timing. I was tempted to succumb to the social pressure that makes you feel like you should be further along than you are. Thankfully, through my pursuit of studying about the Wilderness to help me understand and navigate this season better, I was reminded that I shouldn’t try to rush the process because then I may miss the purpose.

James 1:4 says,
“ So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed , not deficient in any ways.” (MSG version)

In the wilderness you will be tested and tried. These trials are for us to take note of what is in our hearts and the areas of our faith that need to be strengthened. For me it was pride. Through a long, ugly cry out to the Lord on my kitchen floor, the Holy Spirit revealed an area in my life where pride was propelling me in the wrong direction. I had been making my own plans and expecting a certain result, which would have led to more self-reliance and patting my own back (instead of trusting Him, praising Him, and giving Him the glory). Sure, I could have played the “good Christian” card and posted on social media “God is good! Glory to God!!” but, the Holy Spirit convicted me and showed me where my heart really would have been. The question I had to answer: “Was I serving Him or serving a dream?!”.

Friends, His primary purpose is to prepare us for what he has prepared FOR us. I can guarantee it  most certainly involves character development. Do not abort the process. His strength allows us to accept any faults and failures, and His grace beckons repentance. Then we can move forward in faith, knowing in this season He is prepares us to be lacking nothing, ready for anything, and confident in victory.

The Good Shepherd

Chrissy Mayer, GFC Temple Terrace

I love Mondays because it feels like a fresh start every week. New possibilities. New opportunities. Where my list people at?

Do you get that special feeling when at the end of the day you are able to put a check mark next to everything you set out to do? Maybe you are the person who even if it wasn’t on your list to begin with you add it – just so you can cross it off! Me?

I have all the hopes and dreams for a new week but, man, when I make a list, a lot of times I just get really overwhelmed, and then I just want to disengage and go take a nap. A laundry list of things we “have to do” or “need to get right” can give us so much anxiety.

I think for some people, if we’re honest, this can be the lens for how we view our faith. Without always realizing it, we can see following Jesus as a list of: All the things “I should or need to be doing…” All the things “I shouldn’t do or things I need to say no to…”

If we aren’t careful we can unknowingly get caught up in believing the lie that following Jesus and allowing Him to lead our daily lives is about our striving to follow a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” – ultimately reducing God down to some distant cosmic ruler with a weight of expectations.

It’s exhausting! And when we don’t measure up, we start to feel the weight of our not-enoughness, and can start to wonder then “Is God really all that good?”

Psalm 23                                                                                                                                                            “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; He leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.”

Throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation God is continually referred to as “Shepherd”. In the Bible, Jesus is referred to by others as “Great Shepherd” or “Chief Shepherd”. Now I’ve read this passage many times, but one day, I asked myself the question, “But why did Jesus characterize and distinguish Himself as The Good Shepherd? Why did Jesus want to make sure that we knew He was good?”

I believe it’s easy for us to worship Him in songs that declare He is wonderful, beautiful, and powerful but, is it as easy for us to worship Him as a “Good, Good Father”? Do you actually believe His goodness is running after you? It’s easy for us to view Him as big, holy and mighty. But the question I have for you today is… Do you believe He is good?

I believe it’s only when we begin to grasp the goodness of God – when we truly believe that He is our “Good” Shepherd, that we are able to exchange the chaos and rules of religion for the comfort and rest of relationship.

But real quick, let’s jump back to Psalm 23. I want us to focus on the meaning of verse 4.                    “Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”

Okay, now what in the world does that mean?  “Ummmm, I was waiting for the four happy hops to trusting in the goodness of Jesus. “Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me?” How in the world are these things supposed to bring me any comfort or exemplify His goodness?”

In order for us to fully understand His goodness we have to understand how His goodness functions. So, what do the rod and the staff of The Good Shepherd represent? What do they symbolize?

Rod: A defensive tool used against anything trying to attack your sheep. The rod is used for guarding and protecting. The rod represents power and protection.

Staff: A recovery tool used on sheep. It has a “hook” and a “crook” at the end for pulling back or pulling out. The stick is used for directing. The staff is used for guiding and directing. The staff represents rescue and recovery.

These tools give us four reasons why can we trust God as our “Good Shepherd”:
1.
He is caring. “If I bring God my hurts – He responds with compassion.”

Matthew 9:36 “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

2. He is competent. “If I choose to follow Him – He leads me in the right direction.” He not only leads us in the right direction but He can lead us out of the wrong direction.

John 10:4 “The Good Shepherd walks ahead of the sheep; and they follow Him, for they recognize His voice.”

3. He is consistent. “If I fail or fall – He rescues and recovers me.

Psalm 26:3 “Your constant love is my guide; your faithfulness always leads me.”

4. He is close. “If I grow doubtful or weary – He empowers me and renews my spirit.”

Psalm 23: 4a, 6a “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me…Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life…”.

Going back to my list makers, and I want to be clear for a sec, there’s nothing wrong with lists, please no one email me a list of all the reasons why I’m wrong, but more than all the lists we could make and all the striving to do better or get it right – I think Jesus is more interested in us growing in our trust and dependency on His goodness and if we are reflecting that same goodness to others. The very goodness of God is that He sent His son Jesus to come and rip up our lists. All of the “have to’s” and “should haves” of religion! He is The Good Shepherd who simply desires an intimate relationship with us – His beloved daughters.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. Does the way we live our lives reflect a growing trust and dependency in His goodness or our best efforts?
  2. Does the way we live our lives draw others to want to experience the Goodness we have found?