New Wineskins

Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” ~ Matthew 9:17

God is the father of creation. While His character will never change–for the Word says He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever–He’s continually doing new things in and through our lives (Hebrews 13:8). God doesn’t fit inside the box we try to contain Him in, nor does He do things the same way over and over again. Regardless of the routines or rituals we’ve set up in our lives, God is God, and He does what He wants, when and how He wants.

The verse above came to mind during prayer a few weeks ago, followed by Ezekiel 36:26-27.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. ~ Ezekiel 36:26-27

These two verses caused me to think about how, often, the longer we walk with Christ, we tend to forget the graciousness and loving-kindness of God. We hear and read of His sacrifice for our sins so often, that sadly, we sometimes become callous to its meaning. We no longer recall the love, thanksgiving, and joy that filled us at salvation; we’ve forgotten our first love (Revelation 2:4-5)!

However, God wants to do a new thing! And in order to do so, we need to have a heart of soft, tender flesh, and we need to be flexible, new wineskins! We must let go of “how things have always been done” and our fear of the uncomfortable, and allow God to break our hearts for what breaks His.

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Tearing Down the Walls

One Sunday night, a week or so ago, during our monthly prayer service, God gave me this vision of the walls of the church crumbling. There were a couple different walls that I felt God was speaking to during this time. I’m going to attempt to unpack them below, since I feel these are for every believer.

Wall Number 1 — The Spiritual – Secular Divide

Years ago, I heard a message regarding bridging the spiritual – secular divide, and God brought it back to memory. So, what exactly does bridging the spiritual – secular divide mean?

Sometimes, as believers, we try to place God (and our faith) in this little box and take Him out a few times a week. We, in turn, keep this spiritual portion of our lives separate from the everyday, mundane, secular portion of our lives. We keep God within the confines of our churches, Bible studies, or personal prayer times; or within the boundaries of our relationships with other like-minded individuals. However, God desires to tear down these walls, and desires to permeate every aspect of our lives. And not in some weird “mystical” way that I sometimes hear used to describe the Holy Spirit, but in a meaningful, powerful, authentic manner. God desires to tear down the walls that we’ve placed in our lives; walls that we’ve built to protect ourselves, but which actually do more harm than good.

Truth be told, there should be no spiritual – secular divide! We live this one life, and have but one purpose: to glorify and make God known. If we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, this goal should excite us. His Spirit should stir us to action and prompt us to share His love wherever we go.

Wall Number 2 — That Which Separates us from the World

The Word of God says that we may live in this world–physically–yet, we are to be separated from it–spiritually (John 17:14-16). However, too often we think that this means that we must completely cut ourselves off from non-believers! Instead, we stay in our bubble of like-minded individuals, never reaching out, shining our light, or speaking truth into the lives of the people God has placed in our lives.

Yes, we are to be holy and set apart for God’s purpose, and there will be things we will abstain from and places we may avoid (John 17:17, 19; 1 Peter 1:16). However, just like Paul, when he said, he became all things to all men that he might win others to faith in Christ; we should pray about what and where God is leading us to, before immediately running in the opposite direction, and trust that He knows exactly what He’s doing (1 Corinthians 9:20-22). Jesus, himself, spoke to some of the most unsavory characters, in the oddest of places! Which leads me to the last wall…

Wall Number 3 — Prejudice

Now, with racism being a hot topic in our current culture, this should come as no surprise to you; but prejudice isn’t only regarding race. Prejudice is a “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience” (according to Google); it can be positive or negative, and can be based on race, social status, sex, political affiliations, or religion, just to name a few.

Prejudice can prevent us from having relationship with another individual because they’re different (or we think they’re different) from us. Prejudice can prevent us from reaching out to another because of our own fears, preconceived notions, or opinions.

James discouraged the early believers from showing partiality towards those who were wealthy, and snubbing those who were poor, and reminded us to love our neighbors as our self (James 2:1-9). This could go either way though, we could just as easily snub those who are wealthy, and favor those who are poor. The point remains the same; regardless of the other person’s background, we are to share God’s love and truth with them.

I think the most difficult part about this is, even when we allow God to fill our heart with grace, mercy, and compassion for people who are different from us, the same might not be said for them. Usually, they too have preconceived notions about us, and are fearful, angry, or suspicious of our motives. Yet, even so, we must remain calm and genuine, and allow God to work through us. Is it hard? Absolutely! But remember…the Spirit of Him who raised Christ from the dead is alive within us (Romans 8:11)!

To Err is Human…

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We all make mistakes. It’s just a part of being human. Sometimes we say the wrong thing, make the wrong choice, forget, or simply run out of time. We can’t expect to be perfect, and we can’t place unrealistic expectations on others, either (for more on this you should check out this post).

Yet, how often we feel like failures when we don’t get things right. I recently finished reading Gloria Furman’s, “Missional Motherhood,” and in it, she reminded me that we need to be careful with what we call “failure.” She states, “Things that are part of our design–our need for others in community, our physical limitations, being embodied in an ‘earthly tent,’ and our lack of knowledge–are not failures. We have no need to repent of those things, for this is the way God designed us” (Missional Motherhood, p.124).

We must beware, Furman goes on to state, because “we often [mistakenly] place worldly blunders on the same level as unholy sins” (pp. 124-125). Mistakes due to our humanity are not the same as down-right rebellion against God. Our neediness and weakness points us to Christ; it’s why He created us this way; that we would be dependent on Him. Our sin, on the other hand, draws us away from God; the bible calls it enmity (James 4:4), in which, we’re spiritually at war with Christ. Sin requires repentance.

Therefore, when we make mistakes, the only thing we can do is acknowledge it–apologize, if we hurt someone in the process–and attempt to prevent it from occurring again. I love the quote above, attributed to Alexander Pope, “To err is human; to forgive, divine,” because it takes supernatural power to forgive ourselves, or others, when mistakes are made. Whether we have to walk in humility because we messed up, or offer grace to another, because someone unintentionally hurt or disappointed us, it’s only by His Holy Spirit that we do so.

Learning to Appreciate the Silence

Silence is uncomfortable. Well, sometimes it can be. I believe it’s so, because silence gives us opportunity to think, to ask questions, to contemplate the world around us; and that makes us uncomfortable. Therefore, we tend to avoid it. Instead, we fill the air with the sounds of music, television sets, YouTube videos, or our own voices, and our mindseye with images from Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram (just to name a few). We’d rather listen to (or read, or view) insignificance than be forced to ponder anything of real importance. However, as believers, it’s often in these moments of silent contemplation that God reveals to us His greatest lessons.IMG_3503

Lately, I’ve been reading “Missional Motherhood,” by Gloria Furman. In one section of the book she talks about how God created us to be consumers of His Word. However, the devil, knowing that God designed us to be consumers, works at getting us to feast on things other than the Word: on stuff. Let’s face it, between social media and television, there’s no lack of exposure to “stuff.” Whether it’s material things, relationships, vacations, children, new recipes, organizational hacks, or makeup how-tos, there’s no shortage of “stuff” to preoccupy our time, energy, or thoughts. In fact, in our attempt to avoid silence and our own thoughts, we’ve become very good at silencing and drowning out the voice of God.

I know I’ve been guilty of this. Particularly as a new mom, it’s easier to sit in front of the television with a sleeping baby, or mindlessly scroll Facebook or Pinterest while nursing, than it has been to turn the pages of my Bible or talk with the Lord. But this needs to change. If we want our children to seek the Lord, then they need to see and hear their parents seeking the Lord. If we want them to have a heart for the lost, then they need to see our heart for the lost, His heart for the lost. If we want our children to live the Word, love the Word, and be consumers of the Word, then that’s what they need to see in us!

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. ~ James 1:22-25 (ESV)

Yet, let’s not stop there, the gospel message is something our children should both see evidence of and hear.

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. ~ Deuteronomy 6:5-7 (ESV)

In conclusion, let’s not be afraid of the moments of silence in our lives. Let us instead, appreciate them, make more opportunities for them and use them appropriately. This year–and every year, for that matter–let’s strengthen our relationship with the Lord, let’s listen intently for His voice, and let’s teach our children to do the same.

Babies, Budgets, & Faith

It’s currently around 2 a.m. and I’m beginning this post as I feed my 5-week-old baby girl, whom I affectionately call my Cookie Girl. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that we discovered last Thanksgiving that we were expecting, and since then it’s been a challenge to write because I’ve had baby on the brain, lol. It’s no joke; once you discover you’re pregnant, that baby is all you can think about for the next few months and it’s a real challenge to discuss anything else.

Angelica&Wilfredo(1of39)Pregnancy is one of the most faith-testing things I think a woman can face; at least it was for me. I’m someone who likes to plan and be in control, and pregnancy is so outside your control. Everything is completely in God’s hands. From the timing of conception, to the sex of the baby, the health of mom and baby, and to the circumstances and time of the delivery; He plans and knows every detail, leaving us with no choice but to trust Him.

I thank God for a healthy and smooth pregnancy and delivery. I know not everyone has a good experience during pregnancy. I had some nausea during the first trimester, but nothing too serious, and not until my last trimester did I have a ton of difficulty sleeping and swelling in my legs and feet. I gained a pretty healthy amount of weight by mostly sticking to foods high in protein throughout, not giving in to every craving, and drinking lots of water. And when my water broke at 5:30 a.m., in July, we were blessed to welcome a precious, healthy baby girl into our arms, just 12 hours later.

When we found out we were pregnant, we were just a payment or two shy of paying off my husband’s car. So we finished that, and then, just as Dave Ramsey suggests, we paused our baby step two–paying off debt–to save for baby.  However, while we were adding to our emergency fund, my car’s power-steering gave out on me one night, just as I was merging onto the highway. This pushed up our timeline to purchase another vehicle by a few months, and we were able to purchase a new used vehicle with cash, in May. Then we went back to putting money into our emergency fund for the rest of the pregnancy.

To be quite honest, I wasn’t as on my budget game as I should have been during this pregnancy. The biggest budget buster for us was food, since nothing ever sounded appealing to me, lol. But we did save in other ways. An area I recommend to save money on is maternity clothes. I suggest only purchasing a pair or two of maternity jeans; two pair of dress pants, if you work outside the home; two maternity shirts; two tank tops; two or three pairs of maternity leggings; and three or four maternity/nursing bras. I also picked up a few stretchy, flowy, dresses from Ross to wear as tunic tops with my leggings, and my sister sent me a few beautiful dresses she’d found on the clearance rack, as well. Dresses, leggings and tunic tops were my best friends towards the end, and I’m still wearing them post-pregnancy, since my pre-preggo pants aren’t fitting just yet.

Baby clothes are another area to save in. We realized early on that there are sooo many cute baby clothes out there that it would be very easy to go overboard. I had to remind myself, more than once, that our new baby wouldn’t need all that many clothes. Baby’s outgrow them really fast; and clothes tend to get laundered every few days anyways. Most importantly, God really instilled in me that our children are not toys or fashion accessories; Cookie Girl has been entrusted to my husband and I to raise and train for His glory, not to put on display. Besides, what would we be teaching her if we were overly concerned about her appearance? The Lord, Himself, says that it’s our hearts that matter (1 Samuel 16:7), not outside appearances, and we would do well to instill that in our children.

I thank God that He’s given us this opportunity to love, teach/train another human being about Himself. It’s quite a responsibility to raise a little person that will ultimately become a full-fledged adult. My husband and I find ourselves praying quite often for direction, and we’re only in the first few weeks! We may still be learning about this whole parenting thing, but I’d like this to be a shared experience, so intermittently I’ll bring up challenges and things we’ve learned along the way with y’all, just as I have regarding other areas of my life. I love y’all and pray that God continue to use me and this blog for His honor.

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Dead Men Walking

Hello friends! I know, it’s been a while. There have been some pretty crazy changes going on in my life. If you recall, my husband and I are expecting our first baby (it’s a girl!) in July, so I’ve had a lot going on, but I really wanted to share this with you…

I’m currently 21 weeks, and during this pregnancy there have been certain times where I’ve had some pretty strange dreams. But none stick out more prominently, than the one I had early in my second trimester, because it seemed to have spiritual significance.

In this dream, I was in a town, where everybody was dead, but they didn’t know it. They were walking around like zombies (without all the gross bodily changes that occur in the sci-fi/fantasy world). They were just trying to go on about their daily routines, but were failing. Oddly enough, some realized that they were dead and wanted to leave this town with me, even trying to take some of their children with them, but the other dead people tried their best to prevent them from leaving.

For the next couple days I pondered this dream and realized, this is reality. We walk by people who are dead in their sin every day. They just don’t know it!

In fact, Ephesians 2:1-3 states that we were all dead in our sins, walked in disobedience, and lived according to the desires of our flesh (we did what felt good/right in our own eyes); and Romans 8:7 says we were actually actively/willfully hostile to God. But God…

But God, being [so very] rich in mercy, because of His great and wonderful love with which He loved us, even when we were [spiritually] dead and separated from Him because of our sins, He made us [spiritually] alive together with Christ (for by His grace—His undeserved favor and mercy—you have been saved from God’s judgment). And He raised us up together with Him [when we believed], and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, [because we are] in Christ Jesus, [and He did this] so that in the ages to come He might [clearly] show the immeasurable and unsurpassed riches of His grace in [His] kindness toward us in Christ Jesus [by providing for our redemption]. ~ Ephesians 2: 4-7, Amplified

God gives us new LIFE, hope, joy, and peace! This isn’t to say that there won’t be tough days or troubles/obstacles in our life, but that He’ll be with us every step of the way; if only we’ll believe and accept Him as Lord and Savior. There’s hope for the walking dead, found only in Christ Jesus.

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” ~ Romans 10:14-15, NLT

So, who are the dead men/women walking in our lives? Could it be our co-worker, our classmate, or relative? Could it be our neighbor, our doctor, or cashier?

May we be the bringers of good news!! May we guard our tongue and speak truth in love. May our actions line up with our words and beliefs. And may we boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever we go!

The Gift of Life

Good morning, my beautiful readers! Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything, but I have a really good excuse this time! I’m pregnant! Currently, 13 weeks and 2 days.

I was working two jobs when my husband and I discovered we’d be expecting–the day after Thanksgiving, lol–but I quit my part-time position in December, after the holidays had subsided, and the only thing preventing me from sharing with y’all has been the fatigue and nausea associated with the first trimester. I have been feeling a little better the last few days, so hopefully, I can continue where we left off.

This morning, on my way in to work, God and I were having this really long conversation. I was talking to Him about my pregnancy and the baby; my marriage and relationship with my husband; my friends and family who are also expecting; and my friends who’ve recently given birth, and their marriages. Then I started thanking Him for the life He’s given me and here’s where I started to break down a little.

If you’ve read my testimony, you understand why I began getting so emotional. There was once a time in my life where I didn’t see a baby as a precious gift, but as an inconvenience. I’ve since then recognized my flawed thinking and repented of my sins and failures, but to be in the position that I am now…is overwhelming, to say the least. God’s not only given me new life through His Son Jesus Christ, but now He’s giving me new life in the form of a baby; and that just goes to show how forgiving, loving, and merciful and generous He is.

This Friday, January 27th, is the March for Life in D.C. Last year I got snowed out, and this year I won’t be able to make it just due to the fact that that’s a lot of walking and I’m not prepared for it in my current state (my body has been so achy, lately, since everything is shifting inside). However, if you can make it, I encourage you to do so. I’ll be praying for your safety and that God speaks clearly through you. Don’t forget that there are people on both sides of this issue and we all need to see God’s love and truth through you; we need our talk to be seasoned with grace at all times.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1, ESV

Lastly, I just want to say…we serve a great GREAT God and I don’t know where I would be without Him. If you are, or ever have been, where I once was, or you don’t have a personal relationship with Christ, and you want to know more, submit a comment below and I’ll be sure to respond with love and grace. I love you all, because God loves us all, and gave up His one and only Son for us so that we might have eternal life with Him…all of us.

Take care and God bless!