By Amy Hafner

“I spend my time with God at 4:30am,” a wise pastor once said to me. “Well, morning aren’t my thing,” I replied. I went home thinking, “I want to give God my best and my best is in the evening.”   When I did study his word, or pray, or worship Him evening would be my time.

 

About a year later I felt empty in my relationship with God.  I wasn’t absorbing His Word, sure I was reading, but His Word wasn’t speaking to me, His Word wasn’t changing my heart. To be completely honest, time with Him was boring and I was doing it to check it off the list.

 

One morning, while getting ready for my day, I prayed, “Father I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, I want to know you better, I just don’t know how.” A few weeks later, in November, I went to a conference with my husband.  The theme that kept popping up for me was, if you really want to know who God is you need to know God’s word.

 

There was a woman speaker at the conference and she had something about her I wanted.  She could quote more scripture than anyone I had ever met. She had so much confidence, so much joy, and so much energy and I wanted it too.

 

I attended her breakout session and she hammered home reading the Bible and reading it in the morning. She talked about the One Year Bible Plan. I felt God convicting me. Committing to this was something I needed to do and I needed to do it in the morning.

 

Remember, I don’t like mornings, I didn’t want to wake up earlier.  Mornings are “ugly” for me. I needed to go back to scripture and argue this concept (in my head, I’m a pain) before surrendering.

 

 

“I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.” Proverbs 8:17

 

“My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.” Psalm 5:3

 

David consistently cries out to God in the morning, and in Mark 1:35 Jesus goes to pray while it is still dark although he prays in the evening as well.

 

Fighting my flesh confession…I mean conclusion: There is no “commandment” to pray in the morning, but God always asks for our first fruits. My study notes said, “In Hebrew,  resit [tyivaer]; this concept of first fruits derives from God’s creation work. Because God created everything that exists, all of creation belongs to Him (Psalm 24:1 ). Consequently, that which is first and best belongs to him and is to be given to him.”

 

I almost got myself out of it; my best was definitely not morning. Then something hit me… God’s unconditional love for us. He doesn’t care what we look like in the morning, if we have messy hair, bad breath or are grumpy.

 

No matter what side of the bed I roll out on, if He is on my side my day is so much better.  Before the world has a chance to distract and divert me, He fills my morning with grace, forgiveness, mercy, kindness, wisdom and love.

By Debbie Altman

 

 

Have you ever felt a little hum-drum in your walk with God? Maybe you are going through the motions, but you’re not feeling much? Well first of all, our walk is certainly not about feelings only. Doing the things you know to do as a Christian… reading God’s Word, praying, and attending church are so important to do! It is like eating for the physical body…every meal may not be exciting or memorable, but if you don’t eat, you will become weak. It is the same for us spiritually. We must feed our spirit with these disciplines to stay strong.

 

Sometimes we need to stir the pot a little!  In 2 Timothy 1:6, Paul says, “This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you.“ Some versions say “stir up the gift” that is in you. Now we may not have had the apostle Paul lay his hands on us, but the Lord Himself has laid His hands on us!

 

Craig and I usually attend Van Dyke campus, as this is where he preaches from. But regularly, we try to visit our four other campuses. I LOVE visiting all our other campuses and a couple of months ago I had the privilege of visiting our Ybor City campus. Oh my goodness. I walked in expecting to do what I do…to love on and encourage our staff and volunteers there. But the Lord had something he wanted to give me.  A stirring up! A fanning of my flame!

 

I am always moved when I attend the Dream Center, or our Ybor campus. It is just something different and special.  But this day I was overcome. The precious sight of these beautiful people from a difficult community attending, serving, laughing, welcoming, loving, and worshipping just “fanned my flames!” It felt like I sensed the heart and hope of God for this congregation. I wept, and even went up on the stage to speak a word of encouragement over the people. Now if you know me, I avoid the platform as much as possible! God truly moved on my heart and It’s hard to express what I felt that day.

 

 

I want to encourage you to step out of your ‘normal’ and do something different! Join a small group, lead a small group, visit another campus, participate in a Serve Saturday, take a missions trip. When we see the Lord moving in environments other than our own safe routines, our view of God is expanded and we are inspired to see His bigness and how far-reaching His love is. Our faith is lifted and strengthened! We are better able to see the possibilities of His power in our own lives and those we love.

 

 “Join God where He is working!” – Henry Blackaby

 

Fan the flames! Stir up the gifts within you! He is the one who has laid His hands on you and He wants to grow you and use you!

 

Thank you to all of the precious and amazing people who make Grace Family Church a joy to me, and a light to our world.

By Misty Umholtz

 

 

Trusting God with our children’s lives is a challenge for us Mama’s from the first day we hold that little life in our arms probably until the day we breathe our last breath and go to meet our Maker. I wonder in that moment if we will sigh the biggest relief as we embrace the One Who is perfectly capable of all of our trust.

 

As a Mom, I want to love my kids and give them the best of me. But the longer I have been “moming”, the more apparent it is how flawed I am. When I read the description of true love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, It is not rude, it is not self- seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…”

 

I know I am not able to provide all of that for my children. I am human, I am broken and I am limited. Can I trust that God’s love can make up for all my mistakes and all of my weaknesses? Can I trust God to protect my kids when I can’t? Can I trust Him to work everything out for their good when I can’t fix it for them or when they make bad choices? Can I trust God with their health, well being and future?

 

Recently, my husband and I met with our son’s tutor for school. She showed us his test scores from the beginning of the school year compared to now. He has made significant progress and I wanted to cry but I held it together for another few minutes as we talked. We asked her questions to the like of, will he ever be able to overcome these learning challenges? Can he catch up with his peers in the next couple of years? And as ridiculous as it might sound because he is only in second grade, we even voiced a long term concern regarding college.

 

While she could not answer those questions about the future. She asked us if all of that really matters as long as he ends up exactly where God wants him to be?

 

My son has to work very hard to accomplish normal tasks in school that come naturally for others. There is a lot of extra time, money, battles and tears that go into homework on a daily basis for both of us. As an adult, I know that adversity will ultimately make him stronger and better in the long run. As a mom, it is difficult to watch him struggle so much.

 

It was one of those moments I have heard other moms talk about, when I felt my heart outside of my body. I had entrusted my son to someone else, to a tutor who could help him in a way I could not. She had invested in him, enjoyed him and loved him well. I was overcome with gratitude to God for leading us to this school, to these teachers, to this program and to this woman sitting in front of me. That’s when I lost it. I wept from a deep ache inside of me that I didn’t even realize existed.

 

 

My son’s tutor is moving away. When we left the meeting, I didn’t allow myself to hug her because I was scared I would hang on and beg her not to leave. All I could manage to say was a simple thank you. She knows exactly what those tears and those two little words mean from the depths of my soul.

 

The answer to her question of me is yes. All I really want is for my son to fulfill the calling God has placed on his life whatever that looks like. I know this is part of the bigger plan God has for him. Slowly, I am learning to trust God more with my son’s life. One small step for a woman, one big leap for this Mama’s heart!

 

 

By Nancy Strackany

 

 

While watching the Sunday service online, I opened the end of the gospel of Luke covering the last 24 hours in the life of Jesus. Luke 22:60-61, reads, ‘But Peter said, “Man I don’t know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, a cock crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he hadtold him, “Before a cock crows today, you will deny me three times.”’

 

As I put myself in the place of Peter, just realizing that he had denied Jesus, his friend, brother, teacher, it made me cry. It was all the more upsetting because Jesus wasn’t condemning Peter, He was reminding him of Who He was.

 

 

That morning, I decided to stay home from church and watch GFC online because it’s the only time my husband gets any church. I’ve learned certain things to do that make it a better experience, like make sure I serve breakfast before the service, don’t decide to get involved in a project before and never get into a controversy after the service. And most important, pray.

 

But today I forgot all of those things. Today we did a little work outside before-hand and I felt rushed and annoyed that my husband decided the early service was ready to go so why wait until 11:30. We hadn’t eaten breakfast and we quickly sat down to watch. The message was impactful and I could see that my husband was feeling upset. So, when I pressed him about his thoughts, he began to share his doubts.

 

Without listening long, I told him my reasons why he shouldn’t have any. Needless to say, it got a little ugly then and I ended up going back outside, my place of refuge. I cried and I asked God, “Why did I mess up again?” Then I remembered Peter. A day before his famous rooster event, Jesus also told Peter he would be praying for his faith not to fail. Later Jesus, on the Mount of Olives, warned his disciples, “pray that you will not give in to temptation,” and repeated the same when He found them all sleeping. Peter obviously did not heed these warnings. I felt a lot like him just then, a failure.

 

But what I know, that Peter did not, and as pastor Matt reminded us, is that the story has a good ending. That ending reveals that Jesus paid the price for Peters failure, and for mine. Jesus later made sure Peter knew how much He loved him, and He gave Peter and all of us His Holy Spirit to continue to help and encourage, us and pray for us when we need it most.

 

Jesus was telling me, “Look, you’re going to make mistakes, but don’t worry, I know the future, I am bigger than your mistakes, and this story has a happy ending. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Just turn around and encourage your husband, because tomorrow’s a new day.” I’m so thankful that when I cry out to God, he is faithful to answer me!

 

How have you heard God’s answer when you call to him?

By Kristin Bonham

 

 

Last June I was able to spend a day on the beach with a friend from High School. Tami and I have stayed connected and shared many celebrations and sorrows over our 35-year friendship so whenever I get to see her it it’s like we’ve never been apart. About a week later, she emailed me with an invitation to join her on a trip to Israel for our 50th birthdays leaving on my actual birthday 3 weeks ago.

 

 

I didn’t really have a strong desire to visit Israel… I wanted to see all the places I’ve read about nearly my whole life, but I had no idea that the type of trip I ended up taking existed. It was so much more than a tour. It was full of historical & cultural context, physically challenging, it was immersion in the Living Word!

 

 

Many people have asked me, “what was my biggest nugget from the trip?” It was like going to Bible School in the Land where it all took place and reading the Word in 4D!  I’m still processing all that God spoke to me in Israel and will for a long time. It’s hard to pick from all our travels so here are the ones I’m pondering today…

 

                                        

 

Sitting in a sheepfold reading of the Good Shepherd who is the Gate… When we are lost, he hears us, finds us and brings us back to him… protecting us at night so we can rest without fear.

 

            

 

Breakfast on the beach in Galilee after reading the account of Jesus meeting the disciples there. Jesus does all the work in repentance… he set the table of fellowship, found Peter and led him to repentance by asking him, “Do you love me?” The forgiver seeks us out and brings us back to him if we’re willing to be found.

 

  

 

 

Climbing down into a 3000 year-old Cistern to sing the Doxology after reading from Jeremiah 2:13 “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  

 

 

Hiking the Wilderness of Zin where God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and said “Will you marry me?” Will you choose me over everything in your lives? Will you put me first, will you come out of slavery into freedom? I thought about the Wilderness times in my life and I see now that God is asking me the same thing.

 

 

 

Exploring Ein Gedi where David hid from Saul and prayed, “Give me the feet for the path you’ve put before me.” God, let this be my prayer!

 

 

I’m overwhelmed by God’s great love for us. That he would come to earth as a human being and lead us back to himself. That he does all the work. Like the running father to the prodigal, mercy runs faster than judgment. That he busts down fences, opens doors and restores when we can’t see our way. God is not random, His Word is not random. The Old and the New are linked together so beautifully and I’m thankful He’s given me a new lens to see it!