Thanks GIVING, rather than Thanks GETTING

This Thanksgiving my sweet family and I had the opportunity to travel to Branson, MO to help our Gateway Branson network serve over 1000 people a Thanksgiving Meal. It was AMAZING to see God’s love being shared with so many that night through willing volunteers! I must admit my attitude at first was not the best. A road trip on the week of our vacation with our 9 and 5 year old children didn’t sound restful. But it was the BEST thing we could have ever done! The biggest blessing for me was watching my husband, and our two children be those willing volunteers. This year’s thanksgiving was really more about giving than getting and we were blessed! Acts 20:35 says it perfectly, “…the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Image

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The Daily Battle: my way or God’s way?

As a follower of Jesus Christ, everyday is an opportunity, by the grace of God, to make right choices. By right choices I mean, each day, each moment I can choose to go God’s way or choose to go my own way. I can decide to follow God’s lead or to follow my own lead. I can do what God says to do in all circumstances or I can do what I want to do. It’s this battle all day long, and it’s tough!

The Bible calls this “my way” mentality sinful nature or the flesh.  My sinful nature is: selfishness, self-righteousness, self-absorption, self-preoccupation, pride, envy, impatience, and on and on and on. And my flesh wants it’s way, it’s lead, and it’s agenda. Well, from experience I know that giving in to my flesh usually ends in pain, hurt or some other negative consequence. I can move through my day being “fleshy” and giving in to all those sinful habits and ways, or I can move through my day with God. Romans 8:5-6 explains it powerfully:

 5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;

So how is it that I can win this battle? By the grace of God and by the power of God alone! That power can be found specifically in the person of the Holy Spirit. Left to myself, I’ll fail every time. But as I get to know God more (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit), and spend more time with Him (in prayer, studying the Bible, going to church), then I’ll know more about what God the Spirit desires. And then in that time spent with Him, His Spirit changes my desires to desire what He wants for me. And then I just need to be willing to surrender my way and do it God’s way. Easy, right? Wrong! But God in His loving grace continues to patiently show me how to live in accordance with the Spirit and for my mind to be controlled by His Spirit so I can experience real life and real peace like the above scripture promises.

Our FREEDOM Costs Someone Something

This memorial day weekend I’m reminded that our FREEDOM does in fact cost someone something. And it makes me want to stop and thank God for those who have gone before to pave the way for the peace, freedom and liberties we enjoy because of their sacrifices. In my prayer time this morning, I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to pray for those men and women who’ve gone before, and to pray for those who are widows now because of the sacrifice of their loved ones. May they feel an extra dose of comfort from the Holy Spirit, and more love from those around them.

It also makes me think to pray for the many men and women who are on the front lines now serving our country and providing us the freedom we enjoy today. Specifically, will you please join me in praying for Mari’s husband (his name escapes my memory now, but God knows him)? He is serving in Iraq and according to his wife he has to dodge *fireworks* (they don’t call it gun fire or bombs) to get to work each morning. Pray for Mari and their children (I believe they have two) as they wait for his safe return, which is set to be in the fall.

Let’s pray for our veterans (those who have been returning in this recent war and those from the previous wars). Certainly many of them are still reeling from the affects of war: the physical, spiritual and emotional wounds. Specifically, join me in praying for a dear friend of our family, Teo Ruedas. Pray that his faith in God would continue to flourish and grow and that God would continue to multiply the fruit that can already be seen. Here’s his POWERFUL story that Fox News Austin ran: Veterans Video. Lord give us all the eyes to see the military and to show them our love and appreciation for their service, and help us know how to love their loved ones!

And last, but certainly not least, THANK YOU, JESUS! You paid the highest price to bring me FREEDOM FROM THE BONDAGE OF SIN & THE WRATH OF GOD! Because I believe in You and the work You did on the cross I’m a part of Your royal family and I’ll be with You in heaven forever and ever! God’s word says it SO POWERFULLY: 1 Timothy 2:5-7 (New Living Translation) 5 For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. 6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyoneThis is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. 7 And I have been chosen as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles this message about faith and truth. I’m not exaggerating—just telling the truth.

A Wilderness of My Own Choosing

So I’ve been praying for time to post an update on my blog. And I believe God has now given me the space and time to catalog what has been happening since last summer. This fall was INCREDIBLE! I so enjoyed all the ministry opportunities that God afforded me. Then right around Christmas and New Year’s I started into a wilderness of my own choosing. So what exactly do I mean?

Well, this early spring when everyone was getting excited about the new life they saw all around creation, etc. etc. I was ‘feeling’ nothing but loneliness, burn out, rebellion, frustration, exhaustion….truly I felt there was no end in sight to this world of mine that lacked the joy, energy, passion and enthusiasm that I’m accustomed to in my life with Christ. I was separating myself from Christ; I wasn’t abiding in THE vine; I wasn’t waking early to be with my Master, and I was EMPTY OF HIM and FULL OF MYSELF. Bad place to be!

Of course, God, the Holy Spirit, that lives in me wouldn’t allow me to stay that way for long. But 7 months seems like a LONG time. And yet, 7 is a heavenly number isn’t it? A number of completion. Like God allowed me to go my own way for a little while, to lovingly bring me back into His fold, and for His glory and praise.

Am I proud I was rebellious, for Heaven’s sake, NO! But I love what God showed me about Himself in light of that rebellion. I have a Heavenly Father who lovingly disciplines me for my BEST (and not just for my GOOD). Because I follow Jesus, I have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. I’m humbled that God, the HOLY SPIRIT lives inside of me and whispers to me about the LOVE that God, three in one, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has for me…..even in the wilderness of my own choosing!

Temptation, you aren’t the victor – Christ is the Victor! Part 2

I felt much better after sharing openly with my dear “running partner in a pinch.” It was also very comforting to know that God was at our table, too helping each of us chart these uncharted waters. I was secretly hoping that it was God’s plan to keep this storm between God, my running partner, and myself. That would have been just fine and dandy with me, but again God’s Spirit so clearly opened the door for me to share my temptation roller coaster with my loving husband, life-partner and best friend.

God’s Spirit, in me, gave me the courage and strength to share “all the ugliness” with the man that I love so very much. As I spoke openly, I saw the love of Christ in his eyes, in his touch I knew the comfort of Jesus, in his words I felt God directly communicating to me through him. God was saying, “Yes, you were being tempted, and yes it was scary but I was there with you all along. I still love you, Raquel. And if you had failed the test and sinned, remember that that sin, too would have been nailed to the cross and forgotten as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:11-13, The Message). And just because you were tempted doesn’t mean you’re not fit for ministry. Now your faith has been strengthened as you prepare to enter into this next season of ministry I have for you. And this battle is far from over, my child. You will continue to do battle with your enemy, Satan…but greater is Me (He) that is in you, than he who is in the world (I John 4:4, NASB)”.

I fell in love with my God, my Jesus, and the person of the Holy Spirit all over again. It’s so nice to remember that I don’t have to “manage my image” with God because He created me and knows me so intimately and still loves me unconditionally!! And as an added bonus, I fell in love with my husband all over again. I love how God’s Spirit, in my husband, enables him to love me like Christ loves His church (Ephesians 5:21-31, NLT).

So back to Matthew 4 – before Christ’s ministry on earth was to officially start, Jesus, led by the Spirit, went to the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Before Christ’s ministry on earth was to begin He went through a time of testing and temptation. Hmmm, let’s see….my ministry season is about to start, too…I wonder if that’s the reason for this time of testing and temptation? What kind of ministry has God afforded me this year, you ask? Advance Empowerment Weekend at Gateway is next weekend (God has called me to lead worship Friday night in one of the homes). By God’s grace I have the privilege of being a Children’s Leader again for BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) with training starting in two weeks. ChickFest 2010 is November 5-7 and I’m honored to be a speaker for the event. In early October we’ll be prayerfully submitting the plans for the 2011 Gateway Women’s Retreat (quick FYI, this link is to last year’s retreat but it’s neat to see what God did last year and we’re excited to see His plan for the 2011 retreat). Thank you, God for yet another opportunity to co-lead the worship for the Women’s Retreat – I believe it’s God’s plan for the 2011’s retreat to be a powerful event to the praise of our Lord Jesus Christ! Lastly and certainly not leastly, God has been stirring in me a new desire and passion to develop and disciple the hearts and minds of the children in my church to lead their peers in worship, and perhaps even have the opportunity to lead us adults in the worship and praise of our Almighty God. Can you just picture it? Children openly and beautifully singing the praises of our God! The thought of it excites me and I’m so eager to see God’s plan unfold!! So there’s much work to do with God; I don’t have time for the sin and temptation and I don’t have to indulge in it’s impulses, and I don’t have to sin. God’s Spirit in me enables me to make right choices! I also delight knowing the TRUTH – Christ has already won this battle for me and He is the VICTOR!  The NASB translation of Romans 8:37 explains that “in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” and the poetic language of The Message translation sums it all up so beautifully and powerfully (Romans 8:31-39, The Message):

31-39So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture: They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one. None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

Temptation, you aren’t the victor – Christ is the Victor! Part 1

A dear friend and a dear family member separately gave me Matthew 4 as an encouragement to me this week. Neither of them at the time realized how timely this scripture would be for me. If you’d like to read that text, this link will take you to Matthew 4, The Message translation. Loving heavenly Father, thank You for Your true word the Bible. Jesus, thank You for Your beautiful, sinless example of handling temptation (Hebrews 4:14-16, NASB), and Holy Spirit thank You for the power to overcome our greatest fears and even sin. Thank You that You live in me and that You give me life and power over my sin (Romans 8:10-12, NLT).

48 hours…that’s about all it took and I found myself on the precipice. I was staring temptation right in the face, my worst fears seeming to come to fruition, my emotions were raging – I was really mad, angry, hurt, mourning, embarrassed, insolent….I was beside myself. I was crying out to God, “What is going on, Lord? What do I do? Have I failed You? Please help me find someone to talk to right now!!” I called my running partner, no answer. I called another, no answer. And called another, no answer. I cried out again to God “Surely You don’t want me to process this on my own??!! Please, Lord help me find a tangible someone.” It’s funny thinking back upon this…God Almighty was readily available to lovingly direct me in the right path, but I felt compelled to bring out into the light what was going on in my heart and head (James 5:16, NASB). He graciously answered and  sent someone to me. We’ll call her my “running partner in a pinch,” We met for two hours so I talk openly, honestly, humbly….and it was hard, and it sucked, but it was EXACTLY what I needed to do. It was no picnic to share that last 10% with her either. Gateway Church’s running partner information talks about sharing even that last 10% to start the process of healing and overcoming the struggle that is before you. In God’s graciousness, I was beginning to walk the road of healing rather than walking down the road that could have ultimately led to heart ache, destruction, devastation, and even worse a small, temporary victory for my (our) greatest enemy, Satan.

So I really have all I need to please You, Lord?

3-4Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust.

 5-9So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

 10-11So, friends, confirm God’s invitation to you, his choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3-11, The Message)

Wow…this scripture passage challenges me, excites me, motivates me, and affects me on so many different levels. But I think the main truth that “pops out at me” for such a time as this is from v 3:

Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us.

Really? EVERYTHING that I need to please God has been miraculously given to me from God. Then why do I whine so much about “trying to please Him” in all aspects of my life? Why do I even think that it has anything to do with me, when really it has EVERYTHING to do with Him? Maybe if I started banking on the promises that it is God in me who helps me to live this life in a honoring and pleasing way unto Him, I would not struggle so much with “trying to please Him” in my own strength. Living the Christian life, for me has been one that, quite frankly, is difficult to surrender to God’s direction. I want to do this Christian life. And scary thing, I’ve been this way since I first started walking with God. I remember being a little Jr. High student balling my eyes out because I didn’t fully understanding God and His life for me. God blessed me with a sweet teacher to talk to me.  She was my Jr. High cheerleading sponsor, Mrs. Baker who lovingly and wisely explained: Raquel walking with God is a daily thing, and little by little He’ll reveal more of Himself to you. And, no you’re not going to “get everything and understand everything” right away. The Christian life is a process, and one that is largely directed by God and His revelation to you. In His time, you’ll understand more and more about Him and the way to live this life He’s called you to.

That was life-giving and removed a lot of the pressure from me. It removed the anxiety and worry over me “making something happen” in me. I have never forgotten that conversation and that was at least twenty years ago. She was explaining the truths from the 1 Peter that I quoted above.

So know let me share with you the promise and truth from God’s word, the Bible. Don’t get all hung up “trying to please God”…you’ve got everything you need to do that. And don’t put off adding to what God has already so richly blessed us with – “everything that goes into a life of pleasing God.”

Part 3: the conclusion, in obedience I hear God speak to me clearly

Now it’s Monday morning, July 12. I just got off the phone with a long-time dear friend of mine from my elementary, high school and college days (those kinds of friends are priceless and are worth nurturing and holding onto for sure!!). I noticed a facebook status update on my tweet deck. It was from a friend of mine who had just had a car accident the week before and she needed someone to take her to the doctor. I called her number so fast, it was like I was trying to be the first caller on a radio show’s contest. Something inside of me, God in me, said, “Call her!” I did and I knew I was to take her to the doctor, and I started taking each step of obedience, as God revealed, to obey Him that day.

God provided childcare for my children (my sweet mother joins me in ministry many times by watching my children) and I was able to have a life-giving, God-ordained, divine appointment with a beautiful woman of God for three hours. Honestly, the timing of this trip to the doctor seemed so odd because I was electing to be away from my children another three hours when I had just gotten home from Seattle on a long weekend away from them. But yet, I felt so strongly that God wanted me to do this for Him and for my friend.

As I was driving to pick up my friend, God spoke to me and whispered the answer to my heart’s cry and to my prayer to Him all the way from June 27. I had been praying, God what is my area of discontent? He said to me very clearly, “inauthentic worship“. I answered back to Him, “Inauthentic worship?” Lord what does that mean? He replied, “Raquel, it upsets you when you worship Me inauthentically – when you live your life of worship to Me inauthentically. You get irked when your heart and head don’t match what your mouth is saying. It upsets you when you just give lip service to Me.” I began to weep because I was so grateful for His answer to me, and was so willing to hear from Him how my life needed to be more authentic to His glory!

Now it’s July 31st, and the continual revelations from God regarding my holy discontent has been powerful! In prayer and in His word , the Bible, God has reignited in me a laser-like focus passion to do just what He wants me to do. My prayer continues to be, “Lord, help me to obey, so I can hear You speak to me clearly!”

Part 2: In obedience I hear God speak to me clearly

So, I prayed and I prayed and I waited and I waited. And still no answer. Quite frankly I came home from Orlando a little disconcerted because I hadn’t heard God say anything about my area of “holy discontent” and I hadn’t been as disciplined as I wanted to be while I was there. Meaning, I wasn’t in God’s word (the Bible) daily and I wasn’t praying to Him like I normally do. I was just throwing up to Him, quick pop-up prayers (not that these kinds of prayers are a bad way of praying, but I need the longer conversations with Him to sustain me). For myself, it’s critical that I’m reading God’s word daily and offering up to Him honest, authentic prayers because these two areas of discipline are the crucible in which my life change has always occurred. We came home June 29th and still nothing.

Fast forward, and now it’s July 8. I’m on my way to Seattle Washington for a college roommate reunion. I vowed to God that this vacation was going to be different. It wasn’t going to be all about me, and getting as much sleep as I needed, and reading whatever I wanted to read….I didn’t want to come home feeling the same way I did after Orlando. So…I gave everything to God. My mindset was: Lord who do You want me to speak to today? Who needs a smile? Who needs some sort of reassurance? Who will You bring to me on the plane today? Do they need to hear about the hope You bring? Use me however and whenever You want Lord…I will choose to follow Your lead. Needless to say Seattle was a huge blessing!! And my travels brought me many opportunities to share the hope that lies within me (but that’ll be another blog post sometime). I was back on my life’s journey of following and obeying God, but still upon returning home…no answer to my holy discontent.