Devotional Thoughts: Fatherless and Widows

God fills in the deep gap for the orphan and the widow, the segment of society who has no advocate. I’ve had teens tell me God is their Father because there’s no presence of a father in their lives. Scripture is full of commands for us to speak up for the weak and to be an advocate for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Orphans and widows certainly fit this category.

Widows today in the U.S.A. aren’t in the same situation they were in when these words were written. Women were so oppressed they were close to nothing without the help of a man. Sadly, this is still true today in many other countries. Gender equality is at the heart of the widow not being able to care for herself. Women are paid less than men to do the same job for example, even right here in the United States. In another countries there’s many jobs women wouldn’t even be considered for.

Still today there are numerous orphans in need of care all over the world. While this verse says fatherless and doesn’t use the word orphan, orphans are certainly included. Fatherless also embraces those growing up with single mothers. This is so common in our culture. The single mother might have the most difficult place in our culture today. She works hard, gets paid less than a man would and goes home to care for her children all alone. She is tired. She is weary. She is afraid of missing work because of a sick child. Who is her advocate?

If we are following the narrow way that leads to eternal life we should be advocates as well. Here’s a verse that speaks even more deeply on this topic:

James 1:27

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Every single one of us should have a widow and an orphan we advocate for, at least one of each! I don’t even want to hear any more selfish excuses of how that would break your heart to get involved and that your own self comfort reigns supreme in your life! I’m tired of listening to weak reasons and excuses.

Stand up Church! Step up to the plate Body of Christ! You are lacking in your faith if you’re not caring for the orphan, fatherless and the widow! I don’t know how, you say? Here’s a few ideas: become a guardian ad litem, foster, adopt, get involved in your local group home, support a single mom and her children, help widows fix things in their homes, spend time with them and there’s so many more ways! Call me!! I will connect you! Do not neglect the weak. It’s the weak in faith who do this. The strong set aside excuses and fear and engage in the lives of the struggling. What will you choose today?

Devotional Thoughts: Beauty, Eternity, Our Inner Soul

I’m reminded today that my body is the part of me that will fade away. It’s my soul, my spirit, my inner self that will last forever. That’s the real me, the part that really matters.

Our society places such emphasis on the outer image of a person. This is so sad. Even young boys feel insecure about how they look nowadays. Just Tuesday an eighth grade boy wore a hoodie in the heat because he feels better covering up his body. He voiced this to me when I saw him sweating and suggested he remove his sweatshirt.

Our bodies are flawed. They are wasting away a little more each day. Some are on a quest to find the fountain of youth. They seek eternity in earthly things. They will come up short, empty handed and disappointed because exhausting our resources on something that’s fading is pointless.

We wouldn’t invest our money in a dying company, so why invest so much time, money and energy in the way we look outwardly?

Our outer self is decaying. In ministry I see men especially struggle when they are no longer able to physically do certain things. Some feel worthless because they cannot lift 50 pounds any longer. I’m thinking this way of thinking probably stems from self worth being tied to their physical abilities. Maybe they have looked at someone else and devalued them for their disability? As a citizen of God’s Kingdom I cannot value people for their bodies but for their souls!

This is a rich chapter of scripture, 2 Corinthians 4. Verse 14 says that he who raised Jesus will also raise us. Here’s verse 17-18: ”17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.“

Wow! What encouragement! This life of suffering is called light affliction and pales in comparison to eternity. We must place our efforts on our souls, not our bodies. We especially should value others for who they really are, not what they look like or what their physical capabilities are.

Do not lose heart! Aging bodies are normal! Do not miss out on this renewal of the inner self. This can only happen through our relationship with God, the renewer of all things. Give God your sin. Seek inner beauty, purity and cleanliness today. This is true beauty, true worth!

Devotional Thoughts: How to Have Peace

God’s Peace, incomprehensible Peace, Peace that doesn’t even make sense is available to us. This verse says it guards my heart and mind.

The verse right before this one tells us to be anxious about nothing. How do we do that? It says to give our requests to God in every situation with thanksgiving. By giving God my anxiety and worry, I release it. I trust God will handle it. Many circumstances that arise in life I know I cannot handle but after expressing these to God my burden is lifted. I can press on.

This doesn’t mean that everything will be ok. It does mean that ultimately I know whatever happens, even if I die I know I am with God. I am His and that’s what matters most.

Years ago a professor taught me that it’s a healthy exercise to give things, and even people back to God. We humans try to take control in situations where we need to let God work. I am guilty of this! Some days we need to say, “God, I don’t even know what’s best to do. I give this person to You, I give my feelings to You, I give this circumstance to You. I cannot handle it anymore.” This exercise is then followed by naming my gratitude, making a list of what I’m grateful for. I find when I do this I have a greater peace in my life. I can withstand much more than I thought I could.

When I do this my thoughts settle, my anxiousness fades, my worry is defeated and I can focus and not make things worse in my thought life. This protects me from bitterness and anger that can fester and create more sin and division.

Saying one should have peace about everything isn’t healthy. It’s normal to grieve. It’s normal to be angry, and it’s normal to get upset and disagree. It’s what we do with these things that determine whether or not we have peace.

Devotional Thoughts: The Devil

A first grade boy in multi-housing ministry told us at night he feels evil come to him and he is afraid. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard something like this. I explained to him as followers of Jesus we do not have to be afraid. I taught him demons shudder at the name of Jesus and are subject to God. I hope this sweet little boy is saying, “Go away in Jesus name!” This isn’t something we talk about much in the North American church. I believe it’s real.

I’ve heard many stories throughout the years I’ve been in ministry about demonic activities. Some are wild hair raising stories but I think here in our culture the enemy mostly chooses to act in different ways.

Division, lies, temptation, thoughts, and many other ways are more likely to turn us away from God’s plan. The job of the enemy is to tear us away from the God who loves us, to convince us God isn’t real, to prevent us from living a life that will draw others to God.

Christians, we forget we are warriors in battle. The warrior who has laid down his sword isn’t a challenge to the enemy and you’re likely to be left alone. This is a safe faith here on earth, the kind that’s impotent, producing nothing. It’s when we begin to step out and truly live out our faith that the darts come. The enemy doesn’t concern himself much with the one who is already ineffective.

To those of us striving to walk in God’s ways, we have promises to stand on. Those who aren’t engaged in battle in the here and now seem to have it easy, but we know it’s just easy for now. To the one sharing their faith and living out the instructions of scripture, you’re dangerous! You’re the one the enemy is after! There’s a crowd of people watching you just anticipating your fall. Stand firm in God’s ways and resist the devil and he will flee.

How do we resist the devil? You can shout commands in Jesus name and he will obey, however most of our issues with the enemy don’t look like this. Attacks are subtle, they creep in slowly and divert our attention elsewhere. If I stare at a media screen for hours I’m ineffective during that time period and am not advancing in my mission. If I give in to sin I damage my relationship with God and have to clean up my mess. This could have been time spent using my efforts doing God’s work.

As a warrior God gives me all I need to not just survive but to even make headway so that others can see God. I can choose today to resist. Jesus resisted by quoting scripture. We can do this too. If I do not know God’s word I cannot do this in moments of of difficult temptation.

Our world glorifies the sinner. I tell you the strongest one is he/she who resists and stays on track. There’s no bed of roses here. We all seek comfort for ourselves and in this process and we miss the things God has laid out for us.

Warrior, cross over the comfort zone and fight! Love the unlovable! Encourage the discouraged! Do crazy things for our Kingdom with your money! Live in the lane and land you’re called to. Here is where the greatest fulfillment lies! It’s not in your next spa treatment or latte for yourself. Resist the temptation to worship yourselves by putting your needs of personal comfort first. It’s not about you anyhow. This might even be our greatest temptation: to put ourselves first.

Please remember the enemy is never a person. Yes the enemy can use people to flesh out a plan but that person isn’t the enemy. This is how the devil works. Don’t be caught off guard today. My mentor used to say, “When God is about to do something amazing the devil tries to stop it.” We shouldn’t be shocked. This is normal here. The more I resist the stronger I become. God is good and gives me a way out. I can do this! Will you pursue God with me?

The first grader experiencing evil has grown in faith this year. He’s had lots of questions and sincere statements like, “My mom says God isn’t real.” Of course the enemy wants to scare him away. He might be the warrior to lead crowds to Christ.

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.

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