Get Ready

A friend asked me to tell her, in one sentence, what God has been saying to me recently. The question caught me off guard because He’s been saying so much on so many different topics that, for a moment, I had to think. How to put it in one sentence?

Then I saw it. Other than the times He’s come to encourage me and help me through something, or to answer one of my myriad random questions, everything He’s said has ultimately been about me getting ready – ready to be used.

I’m not talking about being used as a speaker or writer, both of which I’ve done before and loved. I’m talking about being used every single day of my life.

I’m to stick close to Him, constantly listening for the Spirit’s whispered, “There. He needs help,” or, “Stop. She’s crying out for someone to listen.”

I’m to be prepared and able. For those two nudges, anyone could respond, but He’s calling me to more. I’m to truly grasp who and what He is in me and who and what I am in Him, to understand the authority I have as a believer when it comes to dealing with demonic activity.

I am to have His Word firmly planted in my heart, ready to be brought out and used as the Sword of the Spirit that it is. There are two important things about a sword. You cannot use it if you don’t have it (I’m talking memorization, not just carrying a Bible) and you can’t use it if you don’t know how to use it.

I’m to stay on the offensive. This is something that’s been churning in me for a while, that as a Christian I’ve been living my spiritual warfare life on the defensive. No military leader wants to fight battles defensively. He knows the best chance of winning any battle is to stay on the offensive.

I am to live thankfully trusting, because this is where peace lies, and peace – His peace – is one of the most vital elements of all.

I am to love with compassion. I am to love like never before, being intentional about expressing the love of God to the people He puts in my path – whoever they are.

So, almost everything He’s been saying recently falls into one of these categories. Really, there’s nothing new here. But that’s the point, isn’t it? We never know what’s coming, but He does, and He wants us ready to face it head on.

Celebrating Jesus!

Tammy C

Revisiting the Furnace

Most of us have heard the story of the three Hebrew boys and how they were thrown into a fiery furnace after refusing to bow to the idol. (Daniel 3) We read about their obedience to God, being thrown in, the guards dying from the heat, the king seeing them and the fourth man walking around, and them walking out of the fire not even smelling of smoke. But let’s pause for a moment. What about while they were inside? What happened…from their perspective?

The first thing they would have noticed, beyond the fact that they were still alive, was that the very fire intended to destroy them had, instead, burned away their bonds. They were thrown into the fire held captive and bound, but were likely loosed before they even hit the floor. Yes, they were still in the fire, but they could stand up, may have even playfully pulled each other up, and they could walk around as they liked. In truth, they were more free than they had been for a while. 

Many times in our lives, we find ourselves anticipating potential outcomes with dread, perhaps with such a fear that it binds us, holding us captive and keeping us from moving forward. Statistics say that what we fear almost never even happens. Think about that. How much time do we waste letting the fear of something that will NEVER HAPPEN hold us captive to the point that we can’t even move?

But the thing is that, once we’re thrown into the fire, that fear is burned away. The worst has already happened and, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we can look up from the floor of the furnace and realize, “Hey! I’m still here! I survived!”

I can imagine their surprised joy in that moment. They had dared declare God’s power to the king, assuring him that the One they served was more than able to deliver them. And He had. You know that special laughter that comes with joy? I can almost hear it. I can also see them turning to look through the flames, out the door, at the outside. Perhaps in the midst of their astonishment they wondered what they should do next. And then, just maybe, from behind them…

They heard a chuckle. Can you see them whipping around in even more shock and amaze? The king said the fourth man in the fire looked like the son of God. Presumably, he was right. They wouldn’t have known Him as “Jesus,” but their hearts would surely have recognized Him.

Now their backs are to the exit, the fire that surrounds them is pretty much forgotten, and their eyes are firmly focused on their first ever glimpse of the One they’ve offered their lives for. Though they have no way of knowing it, everything – literally everything – has changed. 

What words would Jesus have spoken to them? Did they ask all of the questions that had burned in their hearts for years? Did He… I can’t really even begin to propose what He might have said. We do know this, though. They spent some time in there. 

We don’t know how much time, but it was enough that the king eventually realized what he was seeing, pointed it out to his companions, and called out for the three to come out. Given the raging fire, and how loud it would have been, it seems to me that either the fire was allowed time to burn down or Jesus told them, “Hey guys, the king is calling.”

Regardless, stepping back inside with the kids… While I was homeschooling, I wrote an essay entitled “The View from Inside the Furnace,” and at this point I suggested that they, instead of being in the worst time of their lives (what it looked like) were actually on the field trip of a lifetime.

As they walk around, I imagine Jesus explaining exactly how this furnace works, how it is used to harness the destructive nature of fire and cause it to change things, transforming soft clay into usable, even valuable, vessels. Then I imagine Jesus sharing a few secrets about how He is going to use their time in the fire to do far more, not only to change them, making them more useful and valuable, but also change the world. I imagine…quite a lot, actually. 

Can you see the disappointment on their faces when either they finally hear the king calling or Jesus announces that their visit is over? The very thing that was at one time the ultimate threat has now become a refuge, a place they’ve been seeking their whole lives – a secret place where it is just them and Him. In all honesty, if it were me I’d have been like a child begging for “just one more story.”

Actually, I have been. I wrote the essay I referred to earlier during one of the hardest times of my life.  I intended it for friends who were worried about me, and with good reason. In the midst of the fire I learned things I could never have learned anywhere else, and I developed an intimacy with God that I had never known. As I shared with God in prayer at the time, I would never wish that fire on my worst enemy, but I desperately desired to take the intimacy with me when I walked back out of the flames. 

Those three boys had to feel the same way, but for them I think it almost had to be a harder walk to take, because Jesus came out of that furnace with me, staying always by my side, and they had to leave the fourth man behind, knowing they would likely never see Him face-to-face again.

And, as I imagine Jesus promising, their world changed – and not just for them. Yes, they were promoted and given all honor, but even more importantly God was promoted, and the king himself ordered that He be worshipped. Yes, our God was merely added to the list of gods they already worshipped, but it was a beginning.

So I leave us (Yep, this is a reminder for me.) with this. Serve God with all your heart and don’t fear the fire. Jeremiah 29:11 assures us that He has great plans for us, and Romans 8:28 promises that He can cause all things to work together for our good. Even a walk in a fire-filled furnace, though terrifying to face, can be  an amazing experience that prepares us for an astounding future. 

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

Let Go of Your Seed!

Can you plant a seed without letting it go? No.

Our church is coming up fast on a multi-layer event that raises money for our myriad missions and outreach programs, and a while back God led me to donate one of my newest and favorite possessions. I won’t lie; I choked for a moment, but I’ve learned through the years that God never calls me to give up something unless He has something better in mind, a purpose (or multiple purposes) for my actions. Besides, when you plant a seed you get a harvest – as the Bible says, thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold.

So the other day I had a thought: “I could bid on it and get it back.” In that moment, I had an epiphany. I didn’t need to. I didn’t want to. I had completely let it go and didn’t even want it back. This revelation led to an interesting conversation with God.

Long story short. Years ago, I’d been called to give away one of my favorite things and I’d done it almost instantly, but begrudgingly. For years (not kidding) I’d had this niggling thought of, “Man, if only I’d not…” In our conversation, God reminded me about that event and pointed out that I HAD NEVER LET GO of that seed. Because I had never truly let go, the seed had never been truly planted – regardless of the fact that it was in the other person’s hands. So I had never received the harvest He had wanted me to have.

So… When God calls you to give something, be it to someone personally, to a ministry, to a charity auction…whatever, LET IT GO. Don’t judge how you think that person should handle it. Don’t dwell on the fact that you don’t have it any more. Don’t let regret hang around. LET. IT. GO.

You cannot plant a seed in the ground if you do not let it go first. You cannot plant a seed in ANY ground if you do not let it go first. And if you don’t have a planted seed you don’t have that seed’s intended harvest.

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

Build the Wall – Leave Your Mark

Whether or not you believe in the necessity of The Wall, you should take a moment to consider what is happening with the WeFund the Wall/We the People will Build the Wall movement.

Bottom Line: Individual Americans are rising up and declaring that, rather than wait for the government to fill the need, they will instead do their part to help make it happen. Thousands are contributing to a non-profit that plans to start building parts of The Wall very soon-without the government’s help.

This is huge. We live in a culture where we’re always waiting for someone else to step up, to reach out. It’s the government’s job to do this. It’s the Church’s job to do that. It’s the school’s job to do the other. These people are saying, “No, I don’t need to wait on them, to rely totally on them: I CAN HELP.”

Our Pastor has been ministering a lot, lately, on letting our lights shine, on being that city on a hill, on leaving our mark. In other words, on realizing that WE, the individuals that make up the church, have not only the responsibility but the power to meet needs where we find them. Our church has given us many opportunities to get into the community and meet needs, and is preparing for more, but the idea is bigger – that I, the person sitting in the pew, realize that I CAN HELP…and get myself out there and do it, being the hands and feet of Jesus in ways that make an impact on people’s lives.

Seeing what’s happening with WeFund the Wall brought Pastor’s teachings home. Yes, there are agencies and organizations out there to meet all sorts of needs, but it’s not just their job: it’s also mine. I have the responsibility and the power to make a difference in the lives I touch.

I CAN.

Celebrating Jesus!

Tammy C

He is I AM

Jesus said to His disciples, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” (John 8:58)

I’m sure you’ve heard someone, at some point, refer to a Scripture as having leapt off the page while they were reading. This is one of those verses for me. There I was, reading along, when suddenly I SAW Jesus say, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”

I’ve heard this verse used to support Jesus’ divinity, as it hearkens back to God’s declaration to Moses, but the revelation I gained in that moment was entirely different.

Picture me sitting there, stunned expression on my face, realizing that He’s saying “I AM before Abraham,” that even though He was standing there talking to them He was also, at the same time, before Abraham was born!

The revelation hit me in a moment, but it took my brain weeks to process it. Throughout my days, I kept going back to the thought the way you keep returning to a pot that’s simmering on the stove. I even pulled out my concordance and sought out similar times when God made such references to Himself.

You see, I’d always heard it taught that God was saying, “I am _________ (insert your need in the blank,” meaning He is whatever you need.
I am your Savior.
I am your deliverer.
I am your healer.
I am your provider.

This is all true, and lines up with the very names of God. The challenge is that Scripture isn’t two-dimensional. You can look at it one way today and see that it means one thing, and realize tomorrow that it means that and much more. The challenge is to keep from getting locked into only one view.

As I meditated on Jesus’ declaration, God lifted another verse from the page. “Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10) It was as if He were writing me a personal message.

Be still and know that I AM
~God

It’s a fact: Time is meaningless to God. Yes, we find it hard to comprehend this truth, because it’s almost everything to us, but I’m convinced that its only use to God is that it helps us keep our own lives in order. Well, perhaps that’s an oversimplification, but you get my point.

Through the weeks, I slowly gained an understanding that GOD IS, that even as God IS with me as I type this, He IS also with Moses in the desert and Adam in the garden. At first, it was almost like a mental exercise. I’d been given a new piece of information and was slowly grasping what it meant, what its significance would be in my life. Like watching the sun slowly creep up over mountains, I knew something was coming. And I was actively watching for it.

And then the day dawned.

We’d been dealing with CPS (Child Protective Services). The report was completely bogus but, like everyone else who has ever been accused, we had been doing our part to prove wrong the accusations made against us. On “that” day, I walked out my front door, heading to the mailbox, and I suddenly GOT IT. Even as I took those steps, I prayed something along the lines of, “Daddy, you’re in all times at once, so I ask that you do whatever you have to do three days ago for there to be a letter in the mailbox today saying, ‘We’re so sorry. We’ve found nothing wrong. We’re dropping the whole thing.’”

The letter was there. It didn’t say, “We’re so sorry,” but I really didn’t care. That was the day my prayer life radically changed, the day I realized that what I call retroactive prayers are a thing.

Have you ever received a prayer request at noon for a surgery that was taking place at seven, and felt terrible because the surgery was surely over and all you could pray for was a swift healing? But you can still pray in such situations! God, who is with you when you get the request, is – at that same moment – with the person before they go into surgery, in surgery, and as they come out. Truly, since God isn’t bound by time, there’s almost no such thing as “too late” for Him. (Almost. There are definite spots in Scripture where God declares to man that time is up.) I mean that literally.

We’ve heard it said that when a man is dead he’s dead, that you might as well stop praying for him. As a Protestant who doesn’t believe in Purgatory, I understand where that teaching comes from, but I don’t entirely agree. Not anymore.

The fact is that the same God who is with me now is – even now – with a specific young lady I’m thinking of who died in a car wreck, and He is capable of reaching out to her in those last few moments and saving her soul. Yes, I asked Him to as I learned about her. It is true that, even at the end, she might have resisted Him, but I still have the ability, the right, to ask Him to try. He told me so Himself.

Be still and know that I AM.
~God

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

What’s it all About?

“I go late because I don’t like the music.”
“I don’t like how our preacher seems to preach the same message every week.”
“I want to make my kids happy. They want a church with a better youth group.”

I’m pretty sure that, after decades of actively serving God, I’ve heard it all. There’s one big problem with all of these statements – the word I. Want to know a secret – that isn’t a secret? Church isn’t about us, what we want, or what we like.

I mean, seriously. Do you think every Israelite man wanted to make the trip to Jerusalem to worship as they were commanded to do? Man is the same throughout the ages, so I’m pretty comfortable saying, “No.” Some of those men didn’t want to make the trek to Jerusalem just as surely as many men today don’t want to make the trip to church on Sunday morning. So why did they go?

Because they knew it wasn’t about them, that it was about God and the worship He deserves as God. No matter how many miles they had to walk hauling livestock for sacrifice, no matter how much they hated crowds and noise, no matter how long they would have to wait in line, no matter if they knew going in that they wouldn’t enjoy themselves at all…IT WASN’T ABOUT THEM.

In 1 Cor. 12:18, we are told that God plants us in the church as He wills. We want to pick and choose our churches like we select our food at a buffet. God wants us to attend the churches He has selected for us. And yes, we may at times disagree with His choices.

We may think the church is too far away, we may not like the music at all, we may resent parents letting their kids be noisy in service, we may feel we could have found a better sermon on TV… None of that matters. What matters is that God has told us, “Here. This is your spiritual home. LIVE in it.” If He hasn’t told you that, didn’t lead you to the church you’re in, go talk to Him about it. Now.

If He did lead you to your current church, He put you there for at least one reason. Just like a good gardener studies soil content, sunlight, and other factors before setting a prized plant in the ground, God carefully selected where He planted you. If you dislike things about where you are, don’t whine about it to the other plants or, worse yet, try to dig up your own roots and move. Talk to Him about it.

You may well – probably will – be surprised by what He has to say. He may be pointing out needs in the church that He wants you to help meet. He may be working on expanding your horizons of what you like. He may point out that you don’t eat only two meals a week and shouldn’t rely strictly on your pastor for your spiritual nourishment. He might simply explain that it’s time you get over your self because church isn’t about you at all.

It’s about Him. It’s about bringing our week-wearied bodies to the sanctuary as a sacrifice of worship. It’s about lifting our hearts to Him in worship and praise whether the song is a hundred years old or ten minutes old. It’s about intentionally ignoring distractions and focusing on what He is trying to say to you – not only through the sermon, but through every part of the experience.

When we shift our focus off ourselves and whether or not someone in pre-worship fellowship took the chocolate-covered donut we wanted, and turn it to the One who is the whole reason we are on this planet in the first place, our walks with God will change radically.

THAT is what it’s all about!

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

What’s Your Motivation?

I did an in-depth study many years ago and reached a very important conclusion.

WHAT I do is important. Getting into God’s Word, learning what He wants me to do, and making sure I do the right thing… Important. But even more important than WHAT I do is WHY I do it.

In other words, motivation is everything. God doesn’t just want our actions to be right, our appearance and performance to be acceptable; He wants our hearts to be right. I can go to church, hug my neighbors, raise my hands in worship, give liberally in the offering… but if my heart isn’t in it, if I’m only going through the motions so I’ll look good to others or satisfy some legalistic need inside of me, I’M WRONG.

And if I’m wrong, the only thing I need to be doing is getting right. It’s time for me to go to Him and ask for His forgiveness and help, to pray with the psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” [Psalm 51:10 (KJV)]

Celebrating Jesus!

Tammy C

PS: The verse in the graphic is from the NLT.