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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Top Priority

Last week, in bible study, we were discussing the days leading up to the day of Pentecost, in the first chapter of Acts. We talked about how God took a group of ordinary people and brought them to a new level with Him, based on their obedience, unity, and prayer.

Somewhere during the discussion, we began sharing about how sometimes it’s so difficult to set aside time to build our personal relationship with God. For many of us there were periods in our lives where we had all the time in the world to study the Word, pray, or worship. It may have been a time when we were without a job, or as we sat beside a sick or dying loved one, or when we were simply at the end of our rope and had hit rock bottom, and the only way up was to cling to the hope found in Christ. But then there are periods in our life when we are overwhelmingly busy with family, jobs, community service & outreach opportunities, church–the list seems to never end–and our relationship with the Lord takes the back burner.

However, we must remember that we need God’s presence in every season of our life, not just the most difficult. Ironically enough, just like Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, when we feel at our weakest and turn to Christ for strength, is when we are truly strong, and when we feel strongest and try to make it without Him, we’re actually at our weakest! The Israelites were notorious for forgetting the blessings and promises of God during the good times in their lives and neglecting their worship and obedience to Him; thus causing them to eventually lose those very blessings and promised land.

As is often pointed out during these types of discussions, someone brought up the fact that we can approach God in prayer during any moment of the day. This is aligning with Scripture; I mean, the Bible actually tell us to pray without ceasing, to pray continually in the Spirit, and to pray persistently and on every occasion (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18). But I also like to point out that Jesus Himself, often stole away from the busy-ness of His ministry to spend alone time with His Father (Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 5:16; Luke 6:12).

The truth is, when we desire to strengthen a relationship with someone we spend quality time with them. We participate in activities together, we communicate, we make time for one another; we try to learn as much as we can about one another. Sure, we can do that surrounded by others, but is our undivided attention upon the other individual? Or are we distracted by the television, the other cars on the road, the next activity or responsibility on our to-do list? As a newly married individual, I know that with two jobs, community service & outreach activities, and church, I may see and talk with my husband every day, but I know it’s not the same thing as spending quality time with him. Because I love him and want to continually develop and strengthen our marriage we still schedule “date nights.” We schedule that time because it’s important to us and important to our marriage.

wp-image-862409418jpg.jpgLikewise, when our time and attention are pulled in multiple directions and we’re not spending the quality time we need with our heavenly Father, no matter how many things we try to do or accomplish, we’re never going to get to the place where God can really use us the way He desires to use us. It’s just like we discussed before in Blemished Sacrifices about giving God our best, our first-fruits, instead of offering Him the leftovers. If we can schedule date nights, doctor’s appointments, coffee dates with our friends, mommy-and-me play dates, time to workout in the gym, or any other activity we deem important, then we can most certainly schedule quality personal time in the Word, prayer, and worship. If we call ourselves believers and we profess that Jesus is Lord of our life and that He comes first and foremost in our lives, then this is most certainly something we can, should, and desire to do.

HOW…

Now let’s get practical and discuss how we can do this. Some people are morning people. They have no trouble getting up early in the mornings to set aside time for prayer and the Word. I’m a morning person, but I still have trouble getting up earlier than I need to; in a perfect world I would study the Word between the hours of 9-11. But obviously, we don’t live in a perfect world, and I’m at work during these hours. Since I recently took on a second job, I now keep a written schedule that helps keep me on track and helps me manage my time better so that I can accomplish all my goals, rather than having time manage me.

Let me tell you, this has been one of the best decisions ever! Try it! Spend 30 minutes of your morning planning out your day. How long does it take you to get ready? When do you eat lunch? How long do you spend commuting? When do you eat lunch? Cook dinner? Go grocery shopping? Planning out your day is a lot like creating a financial budget; you only have so many hours in a day and you want to spend each of them wisely. Ever since I’ve started this I feel like I get so much more accomplished. You never realize how much time is wasted surfing the internet, watching TV or YouTube, or playing games until you give an account for each moment of your day.

Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean I don’t have fun or time to relax. Even with a schedule, sometimes I still find a few free moments to scroll through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And there are still days when I keep part of my schedule clear so that I don’t always feel so hurried. Lastly, I think even when we have a schedule, we still have to maintain some level of flexibility. Sometimes something just comes up. Plans have to be rearranged, or changed, altogether; but this shouldn’t be a regular occurrence.

Some days I choose to use my 30 minute lunch break as my time to search the Word, while other days I get to spend 45 minutes of delicious time in His presence. But it’s only because I make it a priority. If we want to spend time in His presence, we must prioritize our time; because if we don’t, all the other activities of the day will consume us, and we will have nothing left to offer Him, but our leftovers.

A Quiet Place

Yesterday, I woke up feeling ill. I ended up calling out sick for work and didn’t get out of bed until 10:30.

This seems to happen every so often–I later noted to Wilfredo, my husband–that I think that my body often knows what I need sooner than my mind or heart…but I needed some quiet time. I needed time alone to clean the house, relax, and reflect on what God’s been doing in my life through prayer (I love praying aloud during my quiet time).

In our Wednesday night Bible study, we’ve been covering 1 & 2 Samuel, and we’ve been discussing 2 Samuel 5 which takes place after Saul & his sons have been killed in battle, and David has become king. After running from Saul for so long, here, David comes face-to-face with a new enemy–the Philistines–the same army that just wiped out Saul’s family. It’s so interesting to me that the first thing David does when he’s threatened, is return to the place where he’d spent so much of his time seeking the Lord, crying out to Him in anguish, questioning, and praising Him, when Saul was hunting him down: his quiet place, his stronghold in the mountains. (Even more interesting are the words David often uses to describe the Lord: Rock, Fortress, Refuge, and Stronghold…Kind of sounds like a mountain to me. 😉 Just something else to think about; perhaps a discussion for another time.)IMG_3489 (2)

David’s a prime example of what God desires from us at all times. He desires that we go to our secret, quiet place, wherever that may be, and seek Him first; but not only in moments like these, when the enemy is knocking at our door, but in the mundane of everyday life! To just talk to Him about our day, to reveal our fears and worries, to ask Him to walk with us through the changes and growth processes in our marriages/relationships, as parents, in our careers and school, and to take us further and beyond what we could ever expect to do on our own, especially in areas of ministry and sharing the gospel–which we’re ALL called to do as believers. So don’t delay…find your quiet place.

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress [on the mountain] and my rescuer;
My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge,
My Savior—You save me from violence.
 “I call on the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
And I am saved from my enemies.
“For the waves of death encompassed me;
The torrents of destruction overwhelmed and terrified me.
“The cords of Sheol surrounded me;
The snares of death confronted me.
“In my distress I called upon the Lord;
I cried out to my God,
And from His temple [in the heavens] He heard my voice;
My cry for help came into His ears.
“Then the earth shook and quaked,
The foundations of the heavens trembled
And were shaken, because He was angry.
“Smoke went up out of His nostrils,
And devouring fire from His mouth;
Coals were kindled by it.
“He bowed the heavens also, and came down
With thick darkness under His feet.
“He rode on a cherub and flew;
He appeared upon the wings of the wind.
“He made darkness canopies around Him,
A mass of waters, thick clouds of the skies.
“Out of the brightness before Him
Coals of fire were set aflame.
“The Lord thundered from heaven,
And the Most High uttered His voice.
“He sent out arrows and scattered them;
Lightning, and confused them. 
“The channels of the sea appeared,
The foundations of the world were uncovered
At the rebuke of the Lord,
At the blast of the breath of His nostrils.
“He sent from above, He took me;
He drew me out of great waters.
“He rescued me from my strong enemy,
From those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.
“They came upon me in the day of my calamity,
But the Lord was my support.
“He also brought me out to an open place;
He rescued me because He delighted in me.
“The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands He has rewarded me.
“For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
And have not acted wickedly against my God.
“For all His judgments (legal decisions) were before me,
And from His statutes I did not turn aside.
“I was also blameless before Him,
And kept myself from wrongdoing.
“Therefore the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
According to my cleanness in His sight.
“With the loving and loyal You show Yourself loving and loyal,
With the blameless You show Yourself blameless.
“With the pure You show Yourself pure,
With the perverted You show Yourself astute.
“And You save the afflicted people;
But Your eyes are on the haughty whom You abase (humiliate). 
“For You, O Lord, are my lamp;
The Lord illumines and dispels my darkness. 
“For by You I can run upon a troop;
By my God I can leap over a wall.
“As for God, His way is blameless and perfect;
The word of the Lord is tested.
He is a shield to all those who take refuge and trust in Him.
“For who is God, besides the Lord?
And who is a rock, besides our God?
“God is my strong fortress;
He sets the blameless in His way.
“He makes my feet like the doe’s feet [firm and swift];
He sets me [secure and confident] on my high places.
“He trains my hands for war,
So that my arms can bend (pull back) a bow of bronze.
“You have also given me the shield of Your salvation,
And Your help and gentleness make me great.
“You enlarge my steps under me,
And my feet have not slipped.
“I pursued my enemies and destroyed them,
And I did not turn back until they were consumed (eliminated).
“I consumed them and shattered them, so that they did not rise;
They fell under my feet.
“For You have surrounded me with strength for the battle;
You have subdued under me those who stood against me.
“You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me [in retreat],
And I destroyed those who hated me.
“They looked, but there was no savior for them
Even to the Lord [they looked], but He did not answer them.
“Then I beat them as [small as] the dust of the earth;
I crushed and stamped them as the mire (dirt, mud) of the streets.
“You also have rescued me from strife with my [own] people;
You have kept me as the head of the nations.
People whom I have not known served me.
“Foreigners pretend obedience to me;
As soon as they hear [me], they obey me.
“Foreigners lose heart;
They come trembling out of their strongholds.
“The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock,
And exalted be my God, the rock of my salvation. 
“It is God who executes vengeance for me,
And brings down [and disciplines] the peoples under me,
Who also brings me out from my enemies.
You even lift me above those who rise up against me;
You rescue me from the violent man.
“For this I will give thanks and praise You, O Lord, among the nations;
I will sing praises to Your name.
“He is a tower of salvation and great deliverance to His king,
And shows lovingkindness to His anointed,
To David and his offspring forever.”

2 Samuel 22:2-51, AMP

Book Review – Refresh: The Road to Revival

Last Monday we finished a 9-week study on Michael Catt’s Refresh: The Road to Revival. It took us a little longer than 9 weeks due to some cruddy winter weather; and although, we started out with a pretty large group, most of the time it was just the fiancé and me. (Which, actually turned out to be a blessing, because it taught us how to study the Word together. 😉 )

From the moment I picked up the book in my local Life Way store, I knew that it was a Refresh imagestudy that I really wanted to do. I don’t want to give away too much information, but I want you to have enough, so you’ll want to go and pick up the study for yourself. The introduction is as follows:

There is a path to revival worn throughout the pages of Scripture and the annals of church history. Churches across America are realizing that we need a fresh touch from God. The principles contained in this study will help your church focus on the essential elements of revival.

What are those essential elements, you ask? Desperation, surrender and persistence.

Weeks 1-3 focus on the importance of desperation and brokenness before God. Weeks 4-6 focus on repentance and surrender. And weeks 7-8 focus on prayer and persistence.

I’m telling you, guys, I highly recommend you pick up this study. And don’t let it be just “another study,” instead, be desperate, be surrendered, and be persistent. Let God change your heart and your perspective, and earnestly seek Him and His will; and not just during the study, but allow your entire life to reflect an attitude of brokenness, humility, and desire for the things of God.

Who knows! Perhaps we will see revival in our churches, cities, and nations much sooner than we think.

Take care and God bless!

How desperate are we…really?

Monday nights we host a Bible study at our local Starbucks. It’s a nine-week study on Michael Catt’s Refresh, which focuses on three areas of our spiritual journey: desperation, surrender, and persistence. So far, we’ve only been focusing on what it means to be desperate.

The power of desperation is something the world cannot comprehend. In a world where strength is lauded, we see that broken people have unexpected power with God. ~Michael Catt, Refresh

Tonight, as we finished up and I began making my way home, I started thinking about Psalm 119. I think it’s the longest psalm, so I’ll just highlight some of the verses that came to mind…

  • Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long (verse 27, NLT).
  • How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey (verse 103, NLT).
  • Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path (verse 105, NLT).
  • Your laws are wonderful. No wonder I obey them (verse 129, NLT)!
  • I pant with expectation, longing for your commands (verse 131, NLT).
  • I rejoice in your word like one who discovers a great treasure (verse 162, NLT).

If you’ve read this chapter, you know that the author is talking about the Word of God; the Law of the Old Testament. But it got me thinking, is this how we feel about the Word of God? Do we pant with expectation and longing for the Word? Do we rejoice as we study the Word, as if we’ve found a great treasure in every verse read? Are we excited by it? Are we desperate for it?

The Word of God is how we get to know God, intimately. It’s how we learn His character, how we learn to understand His heart, and it’s through His Word that we are challenged and transformed into His image. If we claim to be desperate for God, but won’t open a Bible, then are we really desperate for Him? If we claim to be desperate for Him but won’t turn off our television or computer, or we won’t put down our cell phones long enough to spend quality time with Him, then are we really desperate for Him?

Some may be thinking, “But I just can’t. I can’t find the time. I can’t understand the Word. I can’t get excited about the Bible.” These are excuses. I believe that we use the word can’t way too liberally. The word can’t states an impossibility; that we’re mentally or physically incapable of learning, studying, reading, praying. That’s obviously not the case if you’re reading this. The truth is, anything we truly WANT to do, we’ll make time for. We have the freedom to choose how we spend our time–yes, the Holy Spirit can, and often does, prompt us–but we, alone, are responsible for our choices. We can choose to study the Bible. We can choose to spend time in prayer, and ask God to give us a hunger for His Word and to help us understand it. We can choose to worship Him and show Him how truly thankful we are for His grace and mercy. We can choose to be obedient and allow Him to direct our paths and write our story. But we can also make the choice not to. The question is do we really want to?

Desperation for God comes when we recognize that we’re nothing without Him; for without Him we have no hope, no future, no purpose. Desperation for God comes when our heart is overwhelmed and overflowing with gratitude for all He’s done, all He’s doing, and all He’s promised to do! When we’re truly desperate to know God, to have fellowship with Him in an intimate way, we’re not going to let anything come between us and Him. We’re not going to give Him the leftovers of our day, we’re going to give Him the first fruits! We’re not going to find time for Him, we’re going to schedule time for Him; because otherwise all the other things in our busy lives will push Him out.

So, I ask again…how desperate are we…really?

Responsibilities of Parenthood

This post has been a while in the making. I’ve been slow to post it because A) I’m not a mother (yet) and B) I don’t want anybody to think I’m telling them how they should raise their children. However, this is something that’s been on my heart lately; especially, since if you’ve read my last post, you know that I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the future.

Recently, a TON of my friends (and my sister–I’m going to be an aunt again!) have announced pregnancies. While I may not currently be in the same boat, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t thought about the responsibilities we have as parents (from here on out, just accept that I’m going to speak in the future tense in regards to myself, lol).

As parents, there are a lot of things that we’re in charge of when it comes to our children, the most obvious being food, shelter, clothing, protection, love and encouragement. And as they age, we encourage them to walk, teach them how to use the restroom on their own, how to share, the difference between right and wrong, and how to ride a bike, just to name a few. We are deliberate in these lessons and experiences because we want our children to grow up to be capable adults one day. The same should be said in regards to sharing the gospel with our children.

My sisters and nephews at the Botanical Garden in SC.

My sisters and nephews at the Botanical Garden in SC.

I heard a pastor a few weeks ago, on the radio, talking about how when interacting with his son, he and his son practiced what he called “Say, Play, and Pray.” They would read Biblical stories together, act them out, and then pray. When I heard this, I thought, “Wow! What an amazing way to be intentional about sharing the gospel and studying the Word with your child.” I decided right then that that was something I would love to do with my future children. Just as it’s our responsibility to provide, care, and teach our children other life lessons, we ought to be responsible for teaching our children the Word and how to apply the Word in their lives.

This couldn’t have been made more clear to me as I’ve read Deuteronomy chapters 6 & 11 these past few weeks, in which, Moses tells the Israelites to remember that their children didn’t get to see all the great and wonderful miracles God did while extracting them from Egypt. Therefore, as men and women chosen by God, they’re to not only obey the Lord, but to teach their children about Him and His commands, as well. As parents, we’ve seen and experienced many great and wonderful things ourselves, and God calls us to be intentional about teaching our children. Just like Moses told the Isralites:

And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9, NLT; repeated again in 11:18-21)

So what does that mean? To be intentional? I think sometimes we think that our children will just “get it” or understand things without us explaining to them. However, just like we have to teach them how to share, or play fair, or how to treat people with respect, we should be teaching them the how’s and why’s of studying the Word, teaching them to seek the Lord in prayer, teaching them to be worshipers, and how to walk and be lead by the Spirit, in word and in deed. We are their parents, the people our children look up to and observe every day. Who’s in a better position to do so than us!? It’s a responsibility given to us by God, and is not to be taken lightly.

I may not currently have children of my own—I’m not even married yet—but I know I plan to be intentional, what about you? How are you being (or how do you plan to be) intentional about sharing the Word with your children? Do you read a children’s Bible with your children before bed? Do you share how God has blessed you and your family over dinner? Does your family have devotional time? Or a quiet time, where everybody reads on their own and then shares what they’ve been studying? Let me know in the comments below! I’m sure all of us could use some inspiration. Take care and God bless!

Too Much of a Good Thing

Hello, ladies and gentlemen! Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything new, but don’t think that you haven’t been on my mind, because you most certainly have. I’ve begun writing a few things, but never seem to finish, this is partly because I’m a perfectionist and expect a certain amount of quality from my own writing before sharing with others, but it’s also because I’ve just been so busy! Which is actually what I felt needed to be discussed here.

I finally finished my Master’s Degree in Human Services Counseling (with a focus on Family & Marriage) a few months ago, through Liberty University, and I’ve been taking some time to relax after a grueling few years of school and work. I’ve learned that I tend to be the type of student who takes her work very seriously at the expense of her relationships, so I’ve been working on building new ones and strengthening those already in existence. I’ve also begun to get a little more active in church activities.busy image

I love all of these things. I love spending time with my friends and church family. I love being actively involved in worship, children’s, and young adult ministries. I love Sunday school, Bible studies, and worship. (And I suggest that if you’re not actively involved in a church check out Multiply: Week 4 to understand why you ought to be.) I love going to concerts, amusement parks and restaurants; watching movies; reading books; and chatting with friends into the wee hours of the night.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, however, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing! With so much busy-ness in our daily lives, where do find the time to spend quality time with the very One Who gives us life—both physical and spiritual—and who gives us the capability to move and participate in all our activities? Every day we are bombarded with a barrage of phone calls, text messages, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, Instagram pics, Vine & YouTube videos, television, sports, news, jobs, school, and many other activities. When do we make the time to unplug from it all and just sit in God’s presence? When do we get down to the nitty gritty and become vulnerable before God about what’s going on in our lives? When do we study His Word , not to prove any points or prepare for a Bible study, but to just learn about Who He is and to allow Him to change us through the Words (check out Multiply: Week 7 for more on this)? When do we make the time to Worship Him through song? When was the last time we fell to our knees in awe of Who He is?

No matter how much is going on our lives, we must, must, must, carve out time for our Savior, our Friend, Our Father. He ought to be our priority, and everything else, secondary; for it is He Who sustains us and without Him we can do nothing! We should never let our lives become so busy that we aren’t plugging into our source of life; we need our bread and living water on a daily basis!

P.S. Praying and working through a Bible study with others is great, however, sometimes God wants to talk specifically to us and reveal something directly to our hearts that can’t be responded to the same way in a group setting, as it can when we’re at our most vulnerable before a Holy God.