Devotional Thoughts: When I’m Crushed

Psalms 34 is absolutely beautiful. God brings beauty from pain. In times of sadness, suffering and sorrow. God is near. When my child dies what’s my response? When my spouse leaves, how do I survive? When someone I love commits a heinous crime, what do I do?

I’ve seen two replies when these overwhelming circumstances arise. Some become angry at God thinking If God is real certainly He wouldn’t allow this to happen to me. I prayed one way and the opposite happened. God didn’t do what I wanted Him to so I’ll walk away. This response comes from a deeper level that at it’s core believes I, a simple human am the master of God. God should obey me and if He doesn’t that means He isn’t right, just or loving.

One of my foster daughters came from a home without love. She thought a parent who loves her would give her everything she asked. She would get terribly upset when I said no and especially when I needed to ground her. Just like all parents say no, God isn’t unloving because He didn’t do what I wanted.

The other response is to draw near to God, ask those hard questions, and continue in the faith trusting. This road is hard but I’ve seen such great blessings arise out of such dark times.

I’ve seen God birth entire ministries out of pain. Those who run away never experience God’s sustaining power, God’s closeness, salvation, comfort and closeness. Pain generally is a process to tread through. Some pain is so big it changes us forever. we never get over it. we can only find our new normal. God is present in these times. God is near. God never falters. It’s we humans who try to restrain God by defining God in our minds. We think God can only be what we think about Him.

God is so much greater than what we can wrap our minds around. His existence does not depend on our acknowledgment. God doesn’t need our definition. God desires to love us, heal us and hike with us in our pain. Sometimes the only reason something happened is because of sin. God hurts with us. God doesn’t take people away from us. Please! Don’t ever tell anyone the Lord giveth and taketh away! When people sin sometimes death is the consequence. We should not blame God for the actions of sinful people who do not live in God’s ways.

No matter who we are pain and suffering will come. The Lord is near. I have only to open the door and let God in. Life presents such difficulties. I can press on because God is here with me. I’ve experienced times of dry and times of life giving, sustaining water. I press on through it all to arrive where I belong. I belong where there’s no more pain. Will you come with me? Take that step and reach out to God. He loves like no other.

Devotional Thoughts: How to be Strong

How can I be strong in the Lord? What’s this mean? This verse comes before the famous passage we call The Armor of God. The letter to The Ephesians is coming to an end so it closes with essential and rich teaching, a powerful analogy on how I can be strong in the Lord.

Most days I don’t feel strong at all. Most days I’m surviving and addressing things too quickly so I can get to the next thing. My armor might not be fastened on properly or maybe I’m only wearing half of it?

The armor consists of truth, righteousness, faith, salvation, peace and the sword of the Spirit. All of these are self explanatory but what’s a sword of the Spirit? It’s the only offensive weapon. The sword of the Spirit is the Bible, God’s words and messages to us.

Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

All these things, the armor of God can be put on by living a life of what we call the spiritual disciplines. Here’s a list of them: Bible reading, Study, Worship, Prayer, Fellowship, Service, Reflection, Community, Self-Denial, Solitude, Submission, Silence, Fasting, Sabbath and Secrecy. Some have written entire books on these and how to do them. You can learn more about these if you search about them. Dallas Willard wrote about them and many others too.

Followers of Jesus who are putting on their armor properly are engaging in all of these things. They give me what I need to be strong. I can evaluate myself by asking which ones of these I’m better at than others and then challenge myself to grow in another area.

Just like anything else in life, growing spiritually requires a plan too. Failing to plan is planning to fail. We’ve all heard that saying right?

Exercising the spiritual disciplines, putting on the armor of God is essential for my survival. Without these things I’d be a great mess! I’m thankful for guidance and direction. The question is, what will I do with it?

Devotional Thoughts: Fallen Leadership

When leaders think they’re wise they also think they’re indestructible. This is when sin and evil creep in. This is pride. I’m sure we all know a leader we followed and respected who fell hard. None of us are immune to the schemes of evil. When we think we are experiencing great success we start to believe we can take credit for it. Our ego inflates and we are in a dangerous place because pride comes before the fall. Success in ministry belongs to God.

So many churches have been hurt and split by great leaders who allowed sin to creep in. In my younger years I belonged to a church that was growing rapidly. I grew in my faith from the teaching I experienced there. The senior man had child porn on his computer and it was discovered he was also having an affair. This poor church split three ways.

When I was hired at the church I serve now I looked at the group of pastors I’d be serving with and let them know I’m not the type to cover things up so if someone is engaged in sinfulness, I’m not the person for you. I’ll address what’s going on.

Stories of fallen leaders of faith abound. No human is perfect. No human is meant to be idolized. This too is a sin. I haven’t stood in the shoes of these leaders. I do not know their temptations. All I know is the way to keep from falling is to remain nestled close to God.

We are so small in all the earth. We may have a few small nuggets of wisdom that God has given us. We should use them wisely because if we have any wisdom at all it came from God, not ourselves.

It’s fearing the Lord, respecting the Lord that gives us the ability to shun evil. I cannot even shun evil without God. I’d be on the evil train leading others towards evil if I hadn’t given God my life. I think I’d even be unaware of how I arrived in such a place.

If you’ve experienced a fallen leader recently I have an article on my blog called, “When Christian Leaders Fall” that outlines what I’ve learned in these circumstances. You can find it by scrolling down on this page: jenimartinj.com.

Let’s be wiser than others by choosing humility. We are not God. We are not better than anyone else despite what people might tell us.

Devotional Thoughts: Raising our Children

I remember my dad being asked once how he raised us so well and he answered that he kept us in church. I was contacted yesterday by a previous multi-housing ministry student saying she wants her daughter to grow up knowing Jesus loves her no matter what. She asked if she can come to church.

The children I’ve raised and am raising weren’t in church in their younger years. They lived lives of survival and suffering. I’ve had foster kids who only ate with their hands. Most of them would stab a piece of meat and hold it up in the air and take bites like it’s on a stick. I had to throw out a dresser that was ravaged from only 8 months of use it was scratched and damaged so bad! I don’t even know how you do that! These children weren’t taught table manners. They weren’t taught how to take care of what we had because they never stayed in one place for very long. They weren’t trying to be rude.

When you’re not taught certain things as a young child it’s much harder to change those things later in life after habits are developed. Teaching our children they have a spiritual life is essential for their mental and emotional health. I used to tell my kids they have to go to church but they don’t have to believe a word that’s being said. It’s what we do as a family. I do not push my faith on my kids but each one I’ve adopted had chosen a life of faith and I’m grateful.

Most children will gain most of their faith by watching their parents. Can my kids see God by the way I live my life? Am I pointing my kids to Jesus? It really does matter. I believe a parent has much greater influence than the church in the life of a child.

We’ve all heard the saying, “do as I say, not as I do.” Our kids are very likely to do as we do.

I had a conversation with a dear friend last Sunday about how it’s so easy to not show up at church, especially if I’m feeling sad that day. We talked about how on those days if we just show up we feel like we get a blessing. We’re around people of faith who encourage us. God can speak to us powerfully through Christian community. Christian community is essential. If I don’t have a church community I don’t even understand what I’m missing. I’ve heard people tell me they had no idea how different and amazing life can be until they plugged into a group.

It’s worth a fight even later in life to get your kids in church regularly. I’d say it takes consistent attendance for a few months before you’ll feel like you belong in a church. Relationships take time.

Let’s raise our children in God’s ways in our homes and in our churches. This is our superpower that has the ability to change the world!

Devotional Thoughts: The Bible

As pastors we struggle to lead our people to spend time reading the Bible. Many Bibles are collecting dust in many homes. Many believers across the globe have no access or limited access to a Bible. In these environments it’s cherished and appreciated. We have an abundance and we take this for granted.

Scripture, the Bible is God-breathed, inspired by God. The Bible was formed through a process called canonization. The Bible is comprised of 66 books, 39 make up the Old Testament and 27 the New Testament.

God has used the Scripture to speak to me many times. I’m inspired by God’s word. I’m convicted by what I read. I’m trained in the faith when I spend time not just reading, but meditating. It changes me.

One of my professors once asked our class, “Through which part of Sunday worship does God speak the most?” Most replied that God speaks through the sermon. No, he taught us, it’s through the public reading of Scripture, God breathed and inspired words, that we can be guaranteed God will speak to His people. Mankind’s explanation cannot measure up to the Scripture itself.

Missionary stories abound of people reading the Bible and being transformed. The Bible challenges me, it molds me. There’s no clarity of faith for me without God’s Word.

Once I was in a meeting of pastors who were trying to create a list of the most important values and we were discussing which one is the greatest. I was the only woman in the room. They kept coming back to the Bible being the greatest of values. I spoke up and asked, “We are placing the Bible over God?” The room fell silent and they agreed. The Bible is not God, but is God’s vehicle. God uses Scripture to do all the things mentioned in this verse and more, like guidance, comfort and encouragement.

We have an abundance of Bibles. Let’s not take this for granted. In this digital age I imagine less Bibles are being printed. I use my phone to read Scripture more than ever. However, should something devastating happen and we become unplugged we might learn to appreciate having a printed Bible.

Read your Bible today. This is the primary way God speaks. God will strengthen you, love you, speak to you. If I don’t do my part I choose to push God out of my life through neglect. I’m missing out.

Devotional Thoughts: God’s Legacy

A thousand generations… my mind can hardly comprehend that amount of time. Many are fascinated today with learning their heritage, their family tree. Who are my ancestors? I believe this allure asks a deeper question. Who am I? What’s my identity? Where do I belong?

We gave my sister a gift of a DNA kit where you swab your mouth and send it off and you can know a little more about your origin. It was interesting to discover some things about our European connections.

I have a greater connection, a deep heritage to which I belong. It’s almost unfathomable. It’s my most important root. I’m in a covenant, an agreement, and what I do and how I live my life will affect generations to come. Everyone wants to leave a legacy, make a mark. I do this through living by the standards God has established for me. I’m connected to all who have come before me.

Last night at dinner my daughter was talking about how we all came from Noah so she said anyone she dates is like her brother! We laughed and went on to another subject. She has picked up on our connectedness with other human beings, however this fades in comparison to the bond we have with our ancestors of faith. I’m inspired by the faith of those who have gone before me. Their lives speak of God’s faithfulness to us here in the present, generations ahead of when they lived their lives.

I want my life to speak to the generations that succeed me. I know the only way to accomplish this is to know God. I know God is good. I have walked with God for many years. I know God is faithful, the only one even capable of pure faithfulness. Who can keep a promise, a covenant, a pledge, a guarantee across a great stretch of thousands of generations! God is the only one who is worthy of my allegiance and full trust.

On Sunday our choir sang of God’s faithfulness declaring, “He never failed me yet.” Our worship pastor mentioned we might not even need the word, “yet” in there because we are assured God will not fail us.

I choose to love God by keeping his commandments. God grants me belonging into the greatest nation, a powerful family of faith. Some have left a legacy through the spilling out of their blood, the martyrs. I remember these and honor them with my life. Their lives inspire me years and years later. I wonder if they’re able to see and know the inspiration they give me? I think they see and know. I think they’re our cheerleaders.

Lord, may all know you are God. May we taste of your faithfulness that satisfies the soul like nothing else. May my life leave a legacy for those who you’re about to grant a soul, those who are about to arrive here on earth. May they find You, the one who keeps promises across thousands of generations. May they seek You, find You and follow you. I pray for my generation to do the same. In Jesus name, Amen.

Devotional Thoughts: Choose Today

Before heading to college I made a decision. This decision gave me a desire to pray I would find good Christian friends when I arrived at college. I think this might have been the only difference between myself and those who didn’t pray for this? I’d already chosen. I had decided. I knew. This decision defined me. Yes, I was invited to do all the things any college student is invited to do but before I even arrived on campus I had decided to follow Jesus and I prayed to find others like me.

Many are tossed by the wind, by feelings, by desires. Having already decided who I’d follow and who I belonged to, many decisions were already made for me. I didn’t have to sweat over doing certain things or not. I was given identity through my faith. This steadied me as a young person and it still steadies me today.

There’s so much to give our loyalties to. I know my household is the safest in God’s camp. Over the years I’ve seen many divided households. I’ve seen the heartache that comes when a spouse of no faith is chosen. I’ve seen devoted Christian women married to alcoholics. These women are strong and try hard to live their faith in their homes. Life is so much more difficult when you’re the only one in your household serving God. Young people, I encourage you to marry people of faith that are already serving God. It might not seem like a big deal today but it can cripple you tomorrow.

If you say in your mind serving God seems undesirable or wrong, I encourage you to reach out and express this very thing to God. I know God changes the heart and mind but God also allows us to choose our own way and reject Him. Choose today who you serve. That settled my heart years ago and I know this will do the same for anybody else who chooses today to serve God, to belong to God, to surrender. This brings freedom but most don’t understand and think it brings slavery. Only those who take a risk and surrender find this unexplainable peace. What matters most to me is what God thinks.

No decision is really a decision. It’s a decision to remain on the fence. God will not bless disobedience. Come find this freedom! Step off the fence into the green pasture. It’s glorious but we can never know this until we make that move.

Devotional Thoughts: Mother’s Day, Remembrance and Gratitude

It’s Mother’s Day. This is an interesting verse for this day. The apostle Paul is called an apostle because of the encounter with God he had being blinded. He expresses gratitude to believers in Philippi as he writes to them. Thoughts of them brings up feelings of gratitude.

My husband is with his father today because two years ago his mother passed away On Mother’s Day. For the past two years I’ve heard his stories of gratitude for his mother. Today is a painful day for him.

I’ve adopted three teens who are reminded each Mother’s Day that I wasn’t their birth mom. Each of them referring to me as mom has been a process. Mother’s Day can be a painful day because we remember. we remember good and bad. All mothers hurt their children at one time or another. We are all human. Some have hurt us more than others. Some I’ve mothered have rejected my offering to be their mother. Mother’s Day I remember those too who came through my home. All were offered a chance to stay but many moved on. Biological children stray away too. This can be painful. Some have children in prison. Some have children who are overcome with addiction. Mother’s Day can be painful.

Who doesn’t want to receive a letter saying someone is thinking about them and that thoughts of them brings thanksgiving?

I’m a believer, so I belong to this great family all over the globe. I’ve traveled afar and met with believers of other countries and I know this feeling of gratitude because others have affected my faith. Believers in Phillippi affected Paul. Paul had a hand in bringing them to Christ. If you’ve ever led someone to Christ you know this feeling well.

I’m most proud of those I’ve led in ministry who are now involved in ministry and are living out their faith. I’m greatly encouraged by what God is doing in their lives! I’m encouraged anytime my kids express their faith. I have holy gratitude when I hear from those I led to Christ and how they still follow and even share their faith with others.

It’s Mother’s Day and I am blessed with a great mother. She encouraged me, guided me and pushed me to be all I could be. My husband too was blessed with a good mother. Not everyone feels gratitude today, but gratitude surely can be found somewhere no matter what our circumstances.

Look around. There’s someone needing a mother. There’s someone we need to express our gratitude for. Paul mothered the churches he wrote letters to. He encouraged them but he also disciplined them.

I’ve learned that where our lives are lacking God places others in those empty spaces. We only have to be willing to receive. If I’m lacking a mother God provides a mother like figure. This is one of the blessings of having a church family.

Devotional Thoughts: God and Gender

God is compared to the kind of mother who comforts her child. Long ago in college I sat at my desk in shock when my professor, a former African missionary, told us God has no gender. I had always thought of God as male. Yes, God entered the flesh of a male and lived here on earth to show us who God is but God is not limited to our humanity. God is not human, thankfully! God is a Spirit.

Here, God is compared to a woman, a mother who loves her child. This is fitting in this context because Israel, God’s people had sinned and God is expressing his everlasting love for them. God’s Love for them is like a good mother’s love. A good mother loves their child despite their sin.

In college my class was asked to come up with a word that best described God. The majority of the class said, “father.” In Africa, where my professor opened a seminary, when this same exercise was done the majority of the class said, “mother.” This is just a difference in our cultures. I think we can conclude God is a good parent, the best parent. God is greater than the best parent we could ever imagine!

Our limited human minds struggle for ways to create perfect analogies to express what God is like because God isn’t like anything else we know. No analogy expresses God perfectly. In English we only have male and female pronouns to use when talking about God. In other languages there’s a neutral pronoun. For example, Spanish assigns a gender to everything. A Bible is female, the church is female, a book is male, a pencil is male but a pen is female. Some nouns can even be both feminine and masculine like the sea: el mar or la mar. Few items lack gender in Spanish but there is an article, “lo” that is gender neutral. Perhaps this is the best one used for God?

However we address God in our hearts, God is unchanged and desires to give us comfort, the kind that can only come from God, divine comfort. We cannot get this from another human or anywhere else. It only comes from God.

As a mother comforts her child, God will comfort us. Sometimes God is best described in feminine terms as done here in this verse.

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