Devotional Thoughts: Fear of God

Once we understand who God is we develop a healthy fear of God. Healthy in that through wisdom we respect God. This verse isn’t talking about the kind of fear that cripples is or causes us to act in haste. This kind of fear is gained through our relationship with God. It’s like the fear we have if we have loving parents. We seek to obey our parents and we fear hurting them if we go against their wishes. This kept me out of a lot of trouble in my younger years. I follow my parent’s ways because I know them and love them. My fear has evolved from fear of consequences to a respectful fear that is love. As we learn what great love God has for us we respect God and wish to please Him.

Awhile back my pastor mistakenly said, “Perfect fear casts out love.” We laughed as he corrected himself. We knew he meant to say that perfect love casts out fear. As I thought about what he said I realized there is truth in his first statement. Fear can cause us to be unloving. It can keep us from experiencing all God has for us. Fears hit us where we are vulnerable. We fear what we don’t know. There so much we don’t know about God but as we walk courageously towards God our fear changes. It’s no longer a fear that I’ll be zapped out but the deepest kind of respect, the kind that only God deserves.

C.S. Lewis depicts God as a Lion in his fictional works The Chronicles of Narnia. This Lion, Aslan, is the one that will make right all that is wrong. He is fierce but kind. He can be trusted. He is powerful but only uses his power for good. I’d approach him with my head bowed acknowledging my shortcomings. This is respect. This is fear.

So many in our world today have never heard God loves them. What Good News this is!! When we learn God has provided a way of forgiveness and redemption we are humbled and grateful. We want to serve God out of our gratitude. No matter what I do for God I can never fully repay what He has done for me. I’m grateful. I’m humbled and I seek to obey.

The one who fears God has been given a holy understanding and this is the beginning of wisdom, the kind that only comes from God. Can you approach God today and experience the kind of fear you have for God?

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.

Holy Week Devotional Thoughts: Darkness

Suffering stopped for Jesus today as His broken body gave out. Jesus was human. His followers were devastated, confused, grieving, hiding. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen in their minds even though Jesus had tried to prepare them. We look at the disciples like they were crazy acting like they did because we know the full story.

We look even worse than the disciples because we know the full story but sometimes live like it’s not true.

If I believe it’s true I strive for Kingdom things. My suffering comes because I live as a citizen of God’s Kingdom and not what life here requires or values.

Today darkness overcomes because Light Is gone. I too have moments of darkness. Soon the earth will shake, the veil will be torn and the opportunity to have a relationship with the Living God will present itself.

There’s no resurrection without suffering.

God sees our suffering. God cares far beyond what we can imagine.

Step into the Light of the living God today. Let go of darkness. It doesn’t love you. It will ravage you just like it did Jesus. We cannot purge darkness alone but only after reaching out to God.

The main goal of darkness is to keep us from God so we are ineffective, disbelieving, numb, apathetic and complacent. Make your move today from darkness to Light through this simple prayer expressing 3 things to God:

1). I’m sorry – confess your sins and ask for forgiveness.
2). Thank You – for sending Your Son Jesus to pay for my sins. I accept this beautiful gift.
3). Please – please take my life, guide my life, I give it to You.

This is the beginning of transformation. Do not be afraid. You’ll wish you’d done it before now. That’s what everyone says on the other side.

 

Holy Week thoughts on Luke 22:19

Early Christians we’re accused of being cannibalistic, eating of Jesus body. Jesus calls us to walk this road of suffering with Him. Friday his body will break and he will die. The earth will shake. We remember there’s no resurrection without suffering. He suffered because of what we have done. We take communion or The Lord’s Supper to remember. His body was broken for us. This is obedience.

In seminary I helped with a church plant in a poor neighborhood. We advertised The Lord’s supper for the first time. One person called asking what they should bring to this supper. Obviously we hadn’t prepared them enough! We explained they should eat before they come and just bring themselves.

To communion we bring ourselves, our suffering, our pain, our sin.

We also bring our commitment, our obedience, our loyalty and anything else. Jesus wants it all.

Last night I took communion with my church family to remember. Let us never forget!

On Love

Sometimes this is easy, sometimes this is hard. Thomas Merton, a famous spiritual writer rocked my world years ago when I read his book. This is horrible but I read it so long ago that I do not recall the title but I copied one chapter, the chapter on love.  He calls it charity.

Merton says, “without my love for them they may perhaps not achieve the things God willed for them.” If we do not love one another, others cannot become who God intended because we didn’t do our part.

Merton has such wisdom in this chapter called, “charity.” He says,”Selfish love insists the he conform himself to us, and it works in every possible way to make him do so.” This is all over our world! We call it love but it’s really far away from love. This is manipulation, requiring someone to conform to us.

Merton continues, “our friend’s exist only in order that we may love them. In loving them we seek to make pets of them, to keep them tame.” How ugly… There’s truth here that if people are as we wish for them to be we accept them. We withdraw love if someone doesn’t measure up.

As a foster mom I’ve loved in the trenches. Some have been harder to love than others. Some have rejected my love and shut me out. Loving is hard especially when we feel hurt.

God never stops loving and asks the same of us. “So, Love can be kept by being given away, and it can only be given perfectly when it is also received.”  – Thomas Merton. We receive from God and then we can fully love others.

 

My Holy Week Devotional Response to Philippians 2:8

Jesus was God in the flesh. God chose to come to earth in the form of a human so we can know who He is. He was obedient unto death and many have followed in those footsteps For centuries being slaughtered for their faith. The proper word for this is martyr. Stephen was the first to be martyred in Acts. Acts says Stephen looked up and Jesus was standing at the right hand of the Father. It’s the only place in scripture Jesus is standing. Jesus stood for Stephen.

How many times is Jesus standing? Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is a record of those who died for their faith beginning with Stephen. The early church kept a record of the Martyrs chained to the pulpits in their churches right next to Scripture. That’s how important the lives of these were to the church.

Have we forgotten?

To live for God is to die for God, to endure persecution to the very end. I believe Jesus is still standing up as many are still losing life because they are following Jesus.

They will receive a beautiful crown. This crown will be cast down and given back to God. When in the Presence of God, we will know we are unworthy of our crowns, but it will bring great joy to have something amazing to give to God. If we are anything at all it’s because of God.

This reminds me of a song I learned as a teen I used to sing with my students as their youth pastor:

We fall down,
We lay our crowns
At the feet of Jesus.

The greatness of
His mercy and love,
At the feet of Jesus.

When we understand the mercy and love of God we surrender, it’s not about us anymore. It’s about God.

 

Signing Up to Get Your Heart Broken, This is Ministry

Some of our kids are dead:  gang shootings, domestic violence, a hit and run at night where he was left for dead like he was trash.

Some of our kids are in jail:  gangs, violence, drugs, theft, fraud.

Some of our kids are in foster care: Mom chose her sex offender boyfriend over her children, domestic violence, addiction.

Some of our kids we’ve lost contact with, they moved away out from under our wing.

Some of our kids had a baby while they too were just a baby.

One 5 year old told me he has 5 daddies and is getting a new Mexican daddy.  “Aren’t I lucky?”

 

ALL of our kids heard the Gospel from us.

It is our greatest gift to them: The Gospel Message.

The Greatest Hope of all.

The one thing we know we can stand on, trust, hang our lives upon: The Gospel.

 

God is good all the time.

Unwavering,

Solid,

Overwhelming Love, the kind that loves even when we fail.

 

Humans are unfaithful.

Humans are sinful.

Humans are selfish.

Humans want to be God.

 

How can dirty mankind come together with a Holy, unblemished God?

This seems impossible, but God did it!

God provided a way.  Why?   He loves.

He sacrificed Himself, He died, He arose on the third day, He heals, He restores, He guides and directs.   He can set us FREE.

 

The Gospel is alive and will never die.

May we never keep it to ourselves!

May the seeds we share grow into beauty that will spread out other seeds that will grow too.

To God be the glory!

 

Our children pray for the salvation of their parents.

Our children pray their families will go back to the way they were before all the bad things happened.

Our children pray for a parent in jail.

Our children pray they can save their mom from killing herself.

Our children pray for us, they thank God for us.  They thank God for all He has done for them.

 

Some of our kids graduated high school!

Some of our kids are working and supporting themselves.

Some of our kids are in college.

One did his senior project on how to share the Gospel.

One plays football for a well-known college campus on full scholarship.

One is married, has children and attends church regularly.

One is headed to Hawaii in the Marines and asked for prayer to live out his faith in the military.

One wrote us a note thanking us for laying the foundation for him to find Jesus Christ.  He expressed his faith has brought him great joy.

Signing up to get your heart broken:  It’s what Jesus did. Ministry does this to us too.

All experiences cited in this poem are fruits of Multi-Housing Ministries of Asheboro that was birthed in 1997.

 

 

 

 

Guidelines for Helping Others Part 3: Deeply Involved Over the Long Haul

I think it was Shane Claiborne who said, (I’m paraphrasing here) one of the biggest problems we have here in the U.S. is that Christians don’t know the poor.  It’s not that they don’t care about them, but that they don’t know them.  Knowing people changes our perspective and can teach us a lot.

  1. Offer a Team of Encouragers – I have offered to surround someone in need with a team of encouragers to meet with them weekly. We develop a contract of trust and commit to one another.  We require honesty and respect and the person we are helping is the leader of the group.  We assist that person with encouragement and developing a plan to meet their own goals.  The person makes the goals and we help give ideas and commit to praying and encouraging them.  This takes a team of people and can feel exhausting emotionally or just one or two people to walk with someone.
  2. Create a contract for clear boundaries and communication. If you decide to get deeply involved, create a contract together of what each person will do.  I’m glad to share an example of such a contract with anyone who contacts me.   We offer free meals at our church family supper once a week for example.  Decide who is responsible with what and be sure everyone on the team feels empowered to do their part.  Be clear about what would break the contract.  Talk about these and decide which ones need to go in writing.
  3. Goals should be made by that person, not by us. We should not push our opinions of what we think this person needs to do onto them.  That would be paternalistic.  They should make their own goals and we can support them and encourage them along the way.  Goals can be included as a part of the contract or separately.  Just asking, “What are your life goals?” and “How can I help you achieve your goals?” over a meal can be empowering and offer hope to someone.  Many people in desperate situations have never or rarely been asked these questions.
  4. Help Through Empowerment. I’ve learned a lot over the years about how our trying to “help” can actually further hurt people. Be sure you’re not creating categories of “helper and helpee.”  Be creative in doing tasks together equally, together and in a way that empowers both people in the relationship.  Ask yourself if what you’re doing would feel degrading if someone did that for you.
  5. Help People Earn Everything. What we earn we appreciate.  Earning boosts self-esteem.  In a tutoring program we help students earn everything.  They feel so proud of themselves when they earn things and meet their own goals. This paves the way for them to be more successful in greater things.  For example, students earn a large snack bag if they complete all their homework and behave well.  Very rarely do we have to send someone away because the children love these snack bags!  Some of these students come from generational poverty, so starting to teach them work and effort produce something they earn gives them a greater chance at savoring other things to earn in life.
  6. Help People Find a Way to Give Back.  This is essential for building self-esteem> Sometimes people who have nothing need help realizing they do have something.  They have time and they have their willingness.  Finding a good volunteer job can bring hope, connect someone to a good group of people and might can even become a paid job.  Volunteering gives back through a supervisor being able to provide a good reference for someone.  We all have something we can give no matter who we are!  Help others by encouraging them to serve too.  Offer to serve with them their first time.

If you decide to help someone, please don’t do it alone.  Recruit a group to help you.  Also, please remember you’re probably meeting with a person that’s hurting.  Not being involved for the long haul can hurt them further.  Commit to this person and keep moving even when they fail.  If they fail and are honest about it, keep marching!  We helped one woman from homelessness to stability over a year and a half.  She responded to the Gospel and is now stable.  This process can take longer or less time depending on the situation.  May God bless all our efforts to reach out!

Guidelines for Helping Others Part 2: Do’s and Don’ts

Once I become more deeply involved in helping people I have discovered these do’s and don’ts to be helpful and I hope they can help you too.  These principles are especially helpful when we are involved helping family members and those we already know and have a relationship with as well.  Creating boundaries for us with loved ones is extra challenging because we might have to undo some of what we have done.

  1. Never do for someone what they can do for themselves. It’s ok to do something with someone, but not “for” them.  It’s degrading to make a phone call for someone for example when they’re perfectly able to do that on their own.  It’s also degrading to treat people like they cannot do anything.
  2. Always deepen their community and yours. I’ve learned that many people who beg have no positive community in their lives.  Most don’t even know any successful people so they are operating out of what they know.  When someone approaches us it’s an opportunity to learn from that person’s life and to help connect them to a positive group that can empower them to make progress.
  3. Get rid of your “God Complex.” A God complex is a paternalistic attitude that I know it all and I’m here to teach and lead this person in the way I think is right for them.  The Bible is clear that we are no better than the person asking us for money.  If in my mind I’m thinking I’m better than this person or if I think I have great skills and I can tell this person what to do, I’ve ruined any chance of having a transformational relationship with them.  If I’m thinking about them in a degrading way and I need to repent of this attitude.  I can learn from this person’s story and share my own story with them and God can do amazing things when I humble myself and love someone I just met.
  4. Realize we are all lacking.  I have things I lack too. The richest person in the world still has issues in their life.  We all lack something and we all have weaknesses.  Share what you’re lacking with a person experiencing financial poverty and you might discover that person can help you in your own weaknesses whether it be that you lack forgiveness, good health, intimacy or any other thing.  God has a way of connecting us all together towards healing.
  5. Beware of “feelings.” Many have shared with me how good they feel while on a mission trip that they are helping someone or doing something significant.  This is a self-serving, narcissistic reason to go on mission or help someone.  Sometimes the very thing we feel like doing is the thing that can cause the most damage to someone else.  As Christians we go on mission to serve people so we can share the Gospel message, not so we can “feel good” about ourselves.  That would be in essence using people so we can have a good feeling.

In part three I’ll share a wonderful strategy we have utilized to help people who consider themselves at rock bottom.  This is a long process but it can work!  Stay tuned for Part 3!

 

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