What Did You Say?

A couple months ago, while I was crowding around a table with others during a charity bake sale at work, I noticed a particular woman from one of the service departments who was also looking over the items.  I didn't pay much attention to her at first because I was busy focusing on the specialty cookies, cupcakes and nut breads our co-workers had made, and trying to decide among them. 

Each item cost $1 and I had brought a $10 bill with me, willing to spend all of it depending on what was there.

But while I was looking, I was distracted by this co-worker who mentioned a couple of times how good everything looked, but she didn't know if she should buy anything.  She repeated it so often that I was getting a little annoyed. 

For one thing, the area was crowded, and she was blocking the way for others by just standing there.  I felt like asking her to please move to the side while she was making up her mind, or even suggesting if she couldn't decide, she could buy a few things because the money was going to charity. 

And then I heard Elaine, another woman who was there, quietly say, "Carol, you do so much work for me all the time.  Why don't you let me get something for you as a thank you?"  Immediately Carol's face lit up and she enthusiastically replied "Yes!"

I can't tell you how ashamed and humbled I was as Carol eagerly accepted the brownie with the thick chocolate icing.  Money apparently was a little tight for her and she hesitated at the idea of spending a dollar – even if it was going to a charity. 

Instead of being so busy perusing the wares and seeing how much I could buy for myself, I should have been following Elaine's example and listening more closely to what those around me were really saying.

"(She) who has ears to hear, let (her) hear." – Matthew 11:15

Lois Thompson
Author

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Clutter Down

 

I like opening a closet door to see everything in its place.  When towels and washcloths are arranged just so and neatly stacked, I’m happy.  It is nice when sheets and pillow cases are folded the same and look uniform.  The closet with décor items and games looks so orderly when I open it to change seasonal decorations.

But we all know it does not always stay that way.  In a hurry, things get put away and I think I’ll go back and fix it later.  That time lasts longer and longer and the decorations and games closet looks like a small bomb went off when I open the door. 

I plan a time to fix it back to being orderly.  And then I am happy again.

My life accumulates clutter sometimes too.  Too many irons in the fire and not enough time to keep it straight.  If I stop and put the clutter into priorities, make changes and remain dedicated to those priorities then all runs more smoothly.  I no longer feel anxious and I accomplish tasks with a clear head.

What does it mean to "clutter down?" It means carving out time to evaluate what is most important.  Deciding what (or who) needs to go.  Taking a hard look at yourself and making choices based on prayer. 

God is not in the business of being a magic genie who only brings what you desire.  God is in the business of love.  If you are finding yourself lacking in love within your world, then something needs to be moved or changed.  And that something is probably you.  Clutter shows up when you are not focused.

Before you blame this person or that action for your lack of love, pray and ask God to make it clear where you are weak.  He has made you and He knows every single part of you and is the only one qualified to bring the answers to you.  You will not get an email.  Or a text message.  You will have a sense of direction if you are sincere about listening to Him and wanting a change.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV version)

Memorize that verse and repeat it out loud when you feel the clutter piling on.  Trust God to show what stays and what needs to change in your world.  Knowing that everything is based upon love, you will find comfort that God is moving and changing for your benefit.

And the clutter will disappear.

Sherree Fischer
loveSTRONG ministries

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Undeserved Grace

He was a particularly evil, nasty, disagreeable human being. He verbally abused all those who tried to help him. He lived a sinful, depraved lifestyle and wreaked havoc on those closest to him right up until he died.  He deserved to die a slow, painful death and to be cast into the depths of Hell – but if he called upon the name of the Lord Jesus with his last dying breath, he would be sharing Heaven with me some day.

This isn’t a made for TV Lifetime movie with a happy ending. I’m actually talking about the man my mother married when I was 12. This man single-handedly destroyed mine and my sibling’s childhoods as well as my oldest daughter’s. He was responsible for sending my mother to an early grave and lived for 13 long years after her death, spewing hatred and squandering everything she’d worked hard to acquire.  Yet, the Word of God tells me I’m to pray for him and forgive him as Christ has forgiven me. (Ephesians 4:32)

In Luke 23, the gospel gives the account of Christ’s crucifixion. One of the criminals mocks Jesus saying:

“So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!.”

“But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die?  We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.”  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39-43

This story reminds us that criminals – yes even particularly wicked sinners like my step-father --can get a “get out of jail free” card if they call on the name of Jesus, even though we think they don’t deserve it.  This card isn’t foolproof though, as no one knows for certain exactly when they will die and if they’ll have even that split second to call on the name of Jesus.

I made repeated attempts to witness to my step-father throughout his life, practically choking on the words, “Jesus loves you and died for you.” I have forgiven him for what he perpetrated upon me and my family and asked God to have mercy upon him – yet … his eternal resting home will remain a mystery.  Only God knows what’s in a man’s heart and whether there is forgiveness or repentance there. 

The mortality rate still stands at 100%. We must all stand before the Lord one day.  Use your “get out of jail free” card today and call upon the name of the Lord so that you might be saved!

 "Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved."  Romans 10:13 (NLT)

Kathy Kurlin
Author

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Wish, Hope, Dream

A meaning of “Wish”:
to want; desire; long for
For example:  I wish chocolate peanut butter gelato didn’t have so many carbs in it.

A meaning of “Hope”:
the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best 
For example:  I hope my mom’s ovarian cancer stays in remission.

A meaning of “Dream”:
to think or conceive of something in a very remote way 
For example:  I dream about living in Tuscany, Italy.

Do we spend our lives wishing, hoping and dreaming and miss what is right in front of us?  Yes, some wishes, hopes and dreams are important to identify so we can have goals to strive for.  Sometimes, though, we need to stop the daydreaming and do something.

David was a small guy who was overlooked because of his age and stature.  He wasn’t exactly the kind of boy who could slay a very large man.  Yet, he picked up simple ammunition and took down a huge threat.  No one believed he was even remotely skilled or big enough to take on a full-grown man who had a vast amount of fighting experience.  Even David’s older brothers mocked him and told him to get lost.    (Read I Samuel 17)

You see, David came with more than rocks and a sling.  He came with the desire to show up and be an example of God’s power.  His routine was to be the younger brother of 4, take care of sheep and deliver food to the soldiers at the battlefront.  He was young and certainly his body wasn’t exactly big enough to be a fighter.  

However, his experience with taking care of a herd gave him practice in protecting the sheep from large animals with his own hands, sling, rocks and his staff.  

You have experiences you draw from to make yourself prepared every day.  You may also have dreams of becoming someone important and possibly wishes and hopes to make something better.  Use those experiences but don’t just look for big and loud ways to do things.  The smallest thing can start a giant ripple effect.

Wish for opportunities to show God’s love to someone you see every day.

Hope that God is seen in your actions and heard in your words.

Dream about how someday you will hear the words “Good and faithful servant” when you take your last breath.

“Go and the Lord be with you.”

Sherree Fischer
loveSTRONG ministries

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Bridges & Boots

“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:18) NLT

Recently, I had myself a sound cry. It was one of those ugly kind of cries where no emotion was spared. Each tear drop that departed from my eyes felt as though it was carrying the weight of my soul within. And as every pain-riddled droplet vacated, I was left wondering how I would gather the strength to continue that day.

It was at that exact moment when I felt as though I could walk no more, a vision of a bridge appeared, and the faintest whisper could be heard requesting me to “get up.” There I was, standing on one side of that bridge desperately longing to embrace what awaited me…..until I looked down only to realize my boots were tattered and worn from walking through many previous storms. Surely I couldn’t face this bridge with my ratty old boots. I required a brand new pair for the journey ahead.

You see, each plank on our bridge of life is a lesson waiting to be learned. A life experience handcrafted by The Bridge Maker Himself. An experience designed to embrace triumph despite whatever kind of tragedy lies in its wake. In order to reach the other side, we are required to walk as Jesus did. There are no shortcuts my friends and obstacles are guaranteed. There will always be those who deem the task too difficult and turn around to where the terrain is less demanding. And then there are those who lace up their boots and get to walkin’. Don’t forsake your eternal reward based on the intensity of today’s temporary pain. Your bridge was not constructed for you to simply view it at a distance. It was manifested out of the deepest pain Christ would ever have to endure in order for you to reach the other end.

Do YOU need a new pair of boots? If so, be encouraged for they are specifically designed to withstand the splinters of your life’s bridge. Step into your destiny, lace em’ up and get to walkin’ friends. The journey is not void of hardship. The end result, however, certainly is!

Stefanie Calens
loveSTRONG ministries

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The Power of the Vacuum Cleaner

Legos, paper clips and popcorn are overpowered by the vacuum cleaner every time!  When I am using that power, I can make the carpet look like it is brand new with those sculpted lines across it.  Hubert Cecil Booth invented the motorized vacuum cleaner and I would vote for him as a wizard who makes me feel accomplished and clean.

Using the vacuum cleaner allows me to flex my muscles.  Not just because I am pushing a motor-powered cleaner-upper, but also because my arm and leg muscles are tense with power to push it backwards and forwards.  I really am powerful (in my own make-believe way).

The reward is gratifying when the tracks are made in the carpet and I know my work is done.

This is kind of like my life.  I make the mess.  God cleans up the mess.  I am all cleaned up.  I feel better.

When I decided to be a Christ-follower, He took the old me and cleaned me up.  The Bible told me that I was made brand new again.  The reason is because a sacrifice was made on my behalf and that was all that was needed to give me the power to be clean.

Those places where a stain existed is gone.  A new spot may occur but I have the power to ask Jesus to clean me up and show me where I went wrong.  And He does, every time.  Learning to walk around a possible situation to stay on track is the way of life for every believer.

When we realize the power is not us but rather is in us, that’s when our muscles flex and we can run right past the temptation situation. 

So, today, flex your muscles.  Open your Bible and read John 3:16-21 and you will see the explanation.  In just a few minutes you will understand the concept of living stain-proof.  And the next time you run your vacuum, I hope you remember God can make you clean again.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”  John 3:16

 

 

 

 

 

Sherree Fischer
loveSTRONG ministries

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Keep Your Hopes Up

Hebrews 10:23 "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;"

You've probably seen the cartoon of the miner who cuts his path for miles then gives up and turns around just one foot shy of the where he would have struck gold.

Of course, we'll never know if we gave up a day before our answer was set to arrive.  

We recently spent over four years keeping our hopes up for one particular thing: a new baby.

We have two sons and when our youngest son was about three-and-a-half years old, we started talking about "trying" again. In the beginning, we were quite committed and I went through a lot of cheap pregnancy tests. If you've never "tried" to get pregnant, I can tell you that it's incredibly stressful, trying to get the timing right...then waiting to find out if you got the timing right, month after month after month. And of course, you want to know ASAP if it "took."

Over the course of those four years, our efforts occasionally waned, whether we were experiencing financial pressures or just feeling discouraged. I stopped taking pregnancy tests because it was such a let-down. Into the third year, my hubby would check in after the start of a new cycle to make sure I was OK. "Eh," I would reply. "I'm used to it." 

From the very beginning (probably after the first few unsuccessful cycles, because once you decide you want to get pregnant, it should happen immediately, right?), I promised God that I would always keep my hopes up, even to the bitter end when I was SURE I wasn't pregnant. So even if I were crampy and spotting one night, I would wake up the next morning with my hopes still up. "I will never stop trusting," I promised Him. 

Toward the end of 2016, I was growing weary. My husband and I agreed that at the first of the year, we'd either decide to stop trying or we'd go in for testing. I had visions of diagnostic tests, urine samples, ultrasounds and genetic work-ups. A part of me thought, "If it's that hard, maybe it's not meant to be."

Then one beautiful Sunday morning in early January, my cycle was five days longer than usual and I was set to head out for a day trip with my parents. I blamed holiday stress for a delayed ovulation but thought, "But I'm keeping my hopes up!" as I took a cheap dip test and let it run while I took a shower.

In the shower, I reminded myself for the umpteenth time..."One of these times, it's going to be positive." It was a thought that had kept me going for all that time.

Imagine my shock when I picked up the strip and saw a clear second pink line. "No way. No way! No. Way." 

I don't know when you'll be reading this but as of today, I'm sixteen weeks pregnant and due in mid-September of 2017. We've had one ultrasound (when our baby earned the name Baby Bean) and have heard the baby's heartbeat several times but I still can't believe it actually happened. I thank God every day.

I am so glad I kept my hopes up. I clung to the belief that someday it would happen and I don't have to live the rest of my life wondering if I gave up too soon. I am convinced that part of the reason why we waited so long was to be able to tell other people, "Don't give up!" 

Get your hopes up! Keep trusting! Keep believing! One day, you'll get your answer, even if it's not how you envisioned it. Just don't turn around before you reach the prize.  

One last side note: just before we found out we were pregnant, my hubby and I made the leap of faith to bring a vision for a ministry into reality and are in the process of setting up a non-profit. We pray every night for what we believe God has called us to fulfill. Yup...we've already committed to keeping our hopes up. 

 

 

 

 

 

Tabitha Dumas
Author

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Too Far Gone

He grew up with a Christian family that attended church twice on Sunday and every Wednesday night.  A nice boy.  In high school he played football.  His size and personality gave him opportunities.  And with those attributes he made choices that lead to drinking and drugs and questionable activities.  There was trouble inside of him he chose not to share.  The habits grew stronger and stronger.  

On the way down a decision was made to send him to rehab.  His sister was very sad to hear the news and began to pray for him.  Even after rehab it was several years before he realized the spiral of life had taken him to the lowest of places.

Marriage, children, arrests, and divorces happened.  Along the way he finally realized that the God he heard about as a child loved him still and was the only way out.  His sister had one of those tough-love conversations with him and she continued to pray.  Two months later he had made the best decision he could--to give up and accept the love.

That man was thirsty and hungry so he found scripture in the Bible that filled him.  It gave him hope and confidence but he still carried that dark spot inside.  He didn't blame people for his actions and he took responsibility.  Even when the ugly habits would tempt him to bury the hurt with a bottle, he would try again.  And, again, God let him know how much he was loved.

Family, friends, spouses, alcohol, and drugs can’t fill the hole.  Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father is the only resource to plug the emptiness, anger and vulnerability.   “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise” (Proverbs 13:20a, ESV).  He chose people to walk alongside that would hold him accountable and encourage him.  

Now that guy does the same for kids who, the world would say, have no chance of becoming anything but trouble.  Maybe he sees himself in them.  Maybe he knows that if he had ignored God he would be no better than those kids' parents are.  Giving the kids from the crime infested area his gentle guidance and reflecting love and care is what fuels him.  He doesn’t shower them with gifts they would never be able to have – he showers them with Godly guidance sprinkled with street wisdom.

His family didn’t save him.

His pastor didn’t save him.

His friends didn’t save him.

What happened in the past is just that – the past.  The present is here and the future is in God’s hands. Having trust that Jesus is with us every step is the only way we can get away from the ugly past.  

Our earthly family and friends come and go but God sticks with us.  Our choices may be disastrous but God never thinks we are too far gone.  

Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.  (Isaiah 55:7 NLT)

 

 

 

 

 

Sherree Fischer
loveSTRONG ministries

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A Child Is Born

The dual natures of Jesus Christ, alongside that of His distinct person in the Trinity, defies all human capabilities of comprehension. Our finite minds are frankly not designed with the ability to decode infinite concepts. One thing, however, remains abundantly clear-the Bible is the greatest love story ever to be written.

At the beginning of this year, I gave birth to my third child. She entered this world as a six pound nine ounce bundle of the purest form of joy. The love I harbor for this child is fierce. Yet the love in which the Creator embraces each one of us, His created, simply cannot compare. He chose to offer salvation to sinful man and He, too, chose to enter this world as a child.

Without ceasing to be God, He became human.

The Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 2:7 “He made Himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form” (NLT). Jesus set aside the right to His glory and power and completely submitted to the will of the Father. He became man. A sinless God chose to walk among sinful man. Friends, this is the very embodiment of unconditional love.

The Father knew that Adam and Eve would not comply in the Garden. And He would one day rectify that broken relationship through His one and only Son. Talk about the ultimate parent! In order to eliminate the chains of death for all of eternity, God willingly gave us His Son as the very key that opened the lock. He became the sacrifice for all of our sin. A gift so undeserved, but freely given. Rest on that.

Each night as I lay my newborn down to sleep, her two little eyes always peer up at me. And even if it is just for a moment, just for a second, I find myself gaining a glimpse of Heaven. God gifted me this precious baby girl just like He gifted Mary that precious baby boy thousands of years ago. Little did she fully understand how that gift was meant for us all. That baby may have entered this world as a child, but make no mistake…..that child was born a King.

Jesus lived so we would not die. And He died so we could have the chance to live.

STEFANI CALENS

Stefanie Calens
Author

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Give This Person Your Seat

Give This Person Your Seat!

"When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this person your seat.'  Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place." – Luke 14:8-9

When the company I work for moved our five-member department into newly opened space in our building, each of us was given his or her own office.  My boss – the department director – naturally had the largest office, and I happened to have the second-largest one with three big windows.  This was not because my title deserved it, but rather because the space was next to my boss and I worked closely with him, and he thought it would be more convenient for me to be situated there.  I was pleased and thoroughly enjoyed my spacious area – until we hired a department chief.  The new chief immediately moved into my boss' office, and my boss then moved into mine.

As for me?  A construction crew threw up some wallboard to block off the end of a hallway and created a new spot for me:  tiny and cramped, with no windows.  I didn't complain outright, but I let my displeasure be known to anyone who asked.  I admitted to myself that even though it was small, it was plenty of room for my needs, because I don't require extra space for a lot of equipment or filing cabinets for my job.  But I still felt put out – literally and figuratively.  Until one of my friends from another department stopped in to see me and was delighted with my area.  "Oh how lucky you are!" she exclaimed.  "You're located in a nice quiet spot at the end of the hall where nobody bothers you!"

Wow!  When I thought about it that way, I realized it was true.  Whereas my colleagues in the other offices had to contend with foot traffic and the associated noise that passed by their doors on a regular basis, and with interruptions when people stopped in to chat, I didn't have to deal with any of that.  It certainly gave me a different outlook, and I thanked my friend for presenting me with a new perspective.

Lois Thomson
Author

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