REAL Encouragement 2021 Preview
by Sara Ghormley
Whew, what a year! It’s near the 1-year mark of the Covid-19 shut-downs that started last March, and none of us could have predicted the events of 2020. I don’t know about you, but it’s been a tough year for me! There have been some good things that have come about due to this season and I hope that you have been able to experience and rejoice in blessings too. I always treasure having my children home again for a while and our family dinners together. Those were special times that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.
But there have been many downs as well. From the loss of loved ones and the inability to be with people I love, to missed events, opportunities—even simple pleasures such as lunch with friends—in many ways, this has been a season of grieving.
As the months have dragged on and the losses accumulated, I also wrestled with my old enemies of anxiety, fear, depression, anger, and shame, in ways that I haven’t for years. Relationships have gotten complicated in unfamiliar ways. While some relationships have benefited from time together, others have suffered because we weren’t able to get together, or in some cases, are strained because of too much time together.
Can you relate, my friend?
Maybe you have lost a loved one or been separated from them. Perhaps you are discouraged by the state of our world, national politics, or strife that seems everywhere. Maybe you are worried about your finances or if you are able to keep a roof over your head. Maybe you have been trying to work, homeschool, and take care of the toddler trapped at home for months on end. Maybe the long season of isolation has been eating at your soul. Maybe all of it together.
Given the mess out there (and inside our spirits), we are all asking to some degree, “What is God doing right now? Has He forgotten me? Does He know my suffering? Does He hear my prayers for mercy or my pleas to stop the insanity in the world?”
In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah asked similar questions. Jeremiah was the prophet that God sent to warn Israel of the coming destruction and prophesy of their upcoming captivity in Babylon. He was greatly persecuted for being a faithful voice. Jeremiah mourned over the nation of Israel and the suffering he witnessed, crying out his feelings of being abandoned by God. In Lamentations 3:1-20, Jeremiah rehearsed a shocking list of utter devastation, darkness, and despair. He says in vs. 17, “My soul has been excluded from peace; I have forgotten happiness.”
Some of us may think that’s a little extreme. But many of us can deeply relate. Others may be surprised this is even in the Bible. Are we allowed to even think such things, much less say them? We’re not supposed to feel this way, right? But many of the Psalms, and the whole book of Job, have a similar theme of brutal honesty about feelings of oppression, abandonment, or suffering. These passages encourage us to pour out our hurts, griefs and struggles honestly before God.
But we can’t stop there.
As you keep reading, Jeremiah demonstrates a change in the direction of his thoughts to refocus on what he knows about God. Lamentations 3:21-25 says:
“I recall this to my mind; therefore I wait.
The Lord’s acts of mercy indeed do not end, for His compassions do not fail.
They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I wait for Him.”
The Lord is good to those who await Him, to the person who seeks Him.”
Jeremiah reminded himself about who God is. In the midst of unimaginable suffering that most of us will never even come close to, Jeremiah can tear his eyes away from the despair around him, and look up. He “recalls” this to his mind: God is compassionate, faithful, and good. Jeremiah learned in the past that even when all seemed lost, God was still there, would still keep His promises, and would always be merciful.
My precious fellow traveler, in this season of suffering, this is for us to learn as well. We must learn to be “transformed by the renewing of (our) minds.” (Rom 12:2)
What can we do with all these feelings of anxiety, depression, despair, loss, and grief? Pour them all out to the God who sees you and knows you intimately. Run to Him with every feeling you have and pour your heart out freely. Be assured that you will be accepted and loved. (Ephesians 1) Remember and rehearse to yourself all the ways that He is good to you. And kind. And merciful. And faithful. And He is worth waiting for. Bring these verses—and the many, many more that you see all through the Bible—to your mind often, to hear and know that the God of the universe deeply loves you, and He will not forsake you or leave you, no matter how dark or desperate the situation.
I hope you will join us for our upcoming REAL Encouragement gathering, March 13, Saturday from 10am-12noon. (At Eastern Hills Baptist Church on Morris NE). Together we will explore how to do this--how to renew your mind. It is our goal that you would be refreshed by worship, encouraged by fellowship, upheld in prayer, and that you will find new mercy and strength to endure this season, knowing that you are deeply loved. I hope to see you on March 13, in person or online!
Hard Marriage, Soft Heart
by Della Bassman
“Think for a moment of your heart as a greenhouse…and your heart, like a greenhouse, has to be managed. Consider for a moment your thoughts as seed. Some thoughts become flowers, others become weeds. Sow seeds of hope & enjoy optimism. Sow seeds of doubt & expect insecurity.” ~ Max Lucado, A Heart Like Jesus
Our hearts are God’s greenhouse. They are vulnerable gardens where we either plant roots of resentment & bushes of bitterness or we can plant seeds of fruit : love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). We choose whether we sow (and reap) to our sinful flesh or to the Spirit. The first leads to death, the other leads to life. Which will we choose in marriage?
In the early days of our marriage, I chose bitterness. For 19 years of marriage, our home was a war zone and our marriage was hell. Our home was ruled by my husband’s anger and emotional abuse and my fear.
…But God was faithful and showed me the thorns of my bitterness. I was reaping a deadly harvest of withdrawal, distrust, vengeance, and depression. Bitterness is a root that pollutes and taints every relationship and situation. God revealed a better way to me in Ephesians 4:31-32--Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. He gave me my marital marching orders in Romans 12:21--do not be overcome by evil (even in my house) but overcome evil with His good. I could do positive things like worship, speak truth in love, & obey in spite of my feelings.
God provided me with bitterness blockers—His own plan to kill my bitter roots! We have already received it from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself at salvation. It is GRACE!
• I admitted my poisonous bitterness and confessed it to God.
• With His spade of grace and the gospel, I dug up my bitter roots.
• I forgave out of God’s economy, not mine.
• I fertilized the gaping hole with God’s mercy.
• I remembered I’m a sinner in need of God’s grace too.
• I watered liberally with prayer (and tears).
God redeemed our barren, poisonous marriage into a garden of Grace. Don’t keep mowing over those thorns and thistles of bitterness with denial. They’ll only grow stronger. Learn to manage your heart and discover that God is more than enough for us in our hard marriages!
Freedom From Self-Harm
by Caitlin Craft
My life was flat, gray and numb; there was no color, no joy, no hope. For years I was trapped in self-harm, living every moment of every day seeking relief for my deep despair and shame. Some momentary relief could be found at the end of a blade. With every cut and burn, I felt less and less, losing who I really was. My identity was placed on my sin and my name was “Caitlin, the cutter.”
But God is faithful! After years of struggle with the blade and the desire, I was brought to a place of complete brokenness. I saw that what I had searched for, what I used to fill me never would, but God could. God could take my pain, my heartache and my sin. He cleansed me, refreshed me and brought me from death into life. Not only life, but life abundantly—I could feel again in a whole new way! I could laugh and experience joy.
I felt peace for the first time. I felt like a person, growing, healing and becoming whole. I felt God’s presence, His love and His comfort over the shame.
This new life came by God’s grace, but required action on my part. I found victory when I took my thoughts captive, when I cried out to God, confessed my sins and found new ways to face and express the deep pain inside.
Here are some tools for your journey:
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
Resources that I've found helpful:
Hope & Help for Self Injurers and Cutters by Mark Shaw
Relief without Cutting by Amy Baker
Self-Injury: When Pain Feels Good (Resources for Changing Lives) by Edward Welch
X-ray Questions: Drawing Out the Whys and Wherefores of Human Behavior by Dr. David Powlison from the Journal of Biblical Counseling. Volume 18. Number 1. 1999 (Google “X-ray Questions”)
13 Reasons Why Not by Matt Mizell
Marriage Myth Busters
by Barb Mulvey
Marriage! Source of joy, source of heartache. When my husband and I do marriage counseling we are never surprised by the recurring themes we hear when we meet with people. We said exactly the same things to our counselors. I was a finger pointer; he was an evader. I got angry; he got quiet. I wanted more; he just wanted to survive. I demanded, yelled and pouted; he retreated, hid and blame shifted. What a mess! No wonder we blew up our marriage at 10 years. But God, in His mercy, led me to good Biblical help and slowly, after a two year separation we began to restore our marriage. This year we will celebrate 42 years. God truly is amazing! Was it easy? No! Was it worth it? Yes! We all struggle with wrong expectations in our marriage. We want the other person to be our God or we want to be their God. Jim and I only found true joy when we realized that there is a God and we are not Him!
For years I wanted Jim to be my everything. When he didn’t deliver I didn’t handle it well. I wanted Jim to be my knight in shining armor. Now I know that I do have a knight in shining armor. His name is Jesus! Now I know there is a better way. I often tell women this, “God is the cake, Jim is the icing.” What do I mean by that? God really is enough. He fills my soul. He pours His love into my heart. God is the cake. Jim is the icing. Sometimes I have cake without icing. It’s still cake! It still tastes great. It’s great when Jim meets my needs. It’s great when we have a good conversation or a sweet time together. But if he doesn’t, I still have my cake. Rather than looking horizontally for Jim to be my everything, I look vertically, I look up. God truly is my everything. He is enough! My relationship with Him is strong. He listens! He hears my every thought. He loves me! He is always available, never too tired or too distracted. Isn’t that what you yearn for?
Are you struggling in your marriage? Do you wish there was some help? I want to invite you to a seminar on Saturday February 23rd from 9am to noon at North Church in Albuquerque. The cost is only $10 per couple which includes childcare. Singles are $5 each. The seminar title is Marriage Myth busters. There will be skits, humor, teaching from the Bible. If you are interested in going click on this link. Jim and I will be teaching some of the lessons we learned as we rebuilt our relationship.
What are some of the cultural myths we will be tackling? “If my spouse loved me they would make me happy”, “I need to protect my heart so I don’t get hurt again”, “I am in such a bad marriage, wouldn’t it be best just to give up on it and get a divorce?” “My spouse should be more like me, think like me, like what I like. Only then will there be harmony in the home.” If you have heard yourself say or think these things, or if you have heard others, come to the seminar! Bring your friends! I would love to see you there.
Should I Forgive Myself?
By Barb Mulvey
So often in the counseling room I hear women tell me they can’t forgive themselves. In tears they condemn themselves for things that they have done. I would like to take some time to address that concept.
Point 1. There is no Biblical verse to support the idea that we must forgive ourselves.
The Bible tells us to ask God to forgive us. This is a vertical flow – we ask God to forgive us (1 John 1:9) and He does. Also Mark 11:25 says, “And when you stand praying (i.e.; talking to God), if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that you Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” ‘Forgive’ here is a command. So in prayer we hand our offenses over to Him, releasing our ‘right’ to revenge. Luke 17:3-4 talks about forgiving others – this is the outward/horizontal flow of forgiveness. There is no verse that tells us to forgive ourselves – an inward flow.
Point 2. It is a trick, a deception of Satan.
If Jesus paid for all sin on the cross, and I believe He did, then Jesus has already paid for that sin. Satan is tricking you into paying for it twice. You are beating yourself up, punishing yourself for something that is already paid for. If you paid off your mortgage and held the title in your hand, you would be celebrating. If the bank called and said, “No, you have to pay for it again,” you would not. Why are you paying for your sin twice?
Point 3. You are the small claims court; God is the Supreme Court.
If the Supreme Court declares you not guilty, (which it has) – whose verdict are you going to accept: the small claims court? or the Supreme Court? You can stay imprisoned by your own volition, but God has declared you not guilty (based on the blood of Christ).
Point 4. This is a statement of pride.
You are basically saying, “I just can’t believe I did that.” It is a statement of someone who doesn’t acknowledge that their sin nature is still alive and well. They think they are above sin. They are not. James tells us “we all stumble in many ways” 1 John 1:8 tells us “if we say we are without sin, we lie and the truth is not in us.” Basically you are saying ‘my standard of holiness is higher than God’s. He can forgive me BUT I can’t forgive myself.’ What you are really saying is ‘I have not received the forgiveness God has offered me.’ You see, just like love, God pours out forgiveness. The question is, have you received it? Has Satan tricked you into not receiving God’s forgiveness? We know in Matthew 18, the story of the unmerciful servant, that God forgave him lavishly when he asked. When we ask, God forgives. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
The real problem is a lack of faith.
Do you believe God forgives?
Or do you believe you have to ‘add’ your own punishment to Christ’s cross?
Will you walk in the wonder of the gift of forgiveness that Christ’s shed blood bought for you? God has forgiven you! All your sins - under the blood! You are purified of your unrighteousness! Open your heart and receive God’s forgiveness right now. Walk in His freedom today!
by Barb Mulvey
Titus 3:3-8 speaks so clearly to where we are as women. It addresses our failures, our mess-ups, our sin, tricks, cover-ups, walls, deception and enslavements. It gets straight to the heart of the matter. It doesn’t condone our behavior, but it doesn’t condemn it. It challenges us to move. It calls us to a higher way of living, thinking, loving and trusting. It confronts our sin. If your life is a mess, ask God into it.
There is such hope for messy people in these verses. They tell us the truth about who we are, who God is, and how we are called to live--because He lives in us. We may be a mess…“But God” is REAL—He Redeems, Equips, Accepts and Loves us in our mess! He gives wisdom for living, hope for the future, healing for relationships, and deep joy as He transforms our lives.
When we miss the wonder of the gospel of grace, we resort to worldly ways of dealing with our sin. Some of us resort to penance, some go into hiding, some put on masks presenting a persona we wish were true (although we know it’s not), and some ‘make it up to God’ by working harder for Him
Our keynote speaker, Barb Mulvey has gone from being a Mess to a “Messy Messenger” and wants to share how you can too.
Join us this September as a whole lot of Messies love on you! We want to encourage you and connect you to the true Hope, Healer and Helper.
Her Life Liberated Me
By Lora Armendariz
All those tubes and monitors frightened me. Her tiny body lay a breath away from Heaven.
She pulled through. A new fear settled in my heart. We were bringing home a baby with special needs and an unsure future. Life would never go back to normal.
The first few months I battled terror and guilt. I was so scared. Her health was fragile and no specialist could tell us what her future would be like. Fears assaulted me in the quiet. Would she ever walk? Eat? Talk? Make friends? What would my life be like? Would I spend the rest of my life caring for a delicate child? Was there more that I could do for her? Did we have the right therapists? Doctors? Was I missing something?...
It became hard to hold our little Micaela and simply enjoy her sweet smile or the way she felt in my arms. And that, that inability to give her a single moment of pure love, scared me more than anything.
Desperate, I begged God to fix my heart. What kind of parent was I that I couldn't love her like I loved our older girl Adela?
God answered and He made a beautiful offer. If I would give up my tomorrows and live only in the day, then I could rest in His peace.
I've always been a planner. What I saw as a strength was an Achilles heel to my faith. I had lost that illusion of control and without it, I faltered.
Micaela's life liberated me. I had to let go. I had to give God all our tomorrows and rest in His provision of the day...day after day after day.
Today Micaela ate a Graham cracker in my arms and giggled when her favorite song came on. She is precious to me. Precious because she is my daughter. Precious to me because her life brought me freedom.
Are you striving to control your future or are you resting in God's promises?
To read more about Lora and her ministry, The Beautiful Day Project, go to loraarmendariz.com.
By Sara Ghormley
I have suffered from depression and suicidal thinking since I was a teenager and didn’t really know why. I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression in my 20’s and continued treatment (including talk therapy and medication) on and off for the next 15 years. One psychiatrist gave me a “life sentence:” I would always suffer cyclical episodes of severe depression and would always be on medication. I thought I was doomed to live as a “lesser” Christian who didn’t get to have joy and peace because of my mental illness and troubled history.
Thankfully, that’s not how my story ends. And yours doesn’t have to, either.
I started biblical counseling six years ago and began a long, hard, but also wonderful, climb out of depression. Even better than being off all medication, I now live in the freedom Jesus Christ promised to us, His children. (Galatians 5:1) There is a way through the debilitating feelings of sadness and despair: God’s wisdom, encouragement, mercy, and love poured out through His Word. (Psalm 1:2-3)
There are many “on-ramps” to the freeway of depression, and whatever the cause may be, the Bible provides real hope for change and a new life of joy. The way out requires a willingness to see yourself and God differently and to take an honest look at where your “stinkin’ thinking” needs to change.
It is critical to understand:
1. Who you are in Christ—your value and position as a child of God. (Ephesians 1:3-10)
2. The power living inside you—the Holy Spirit, to change and live. (Ephesians 1:18-20)
3. The process of sanctification—God gently works out His plan in you. (Isaiah 61:1-3)
4. The role you play in God’s kingdom—to bless you and glorify Himself. (Ephesians 2:10)
I am so thankful that God is redeeming my life daily so I can help others see their way out of the darkness and into the hope that Jesus offers.
New Year, New You
By Jennifer Lee Smith www.jenniferleesmith.com
Hello, 2018! It’s that time of year where we all become more aware of a fresh start, a clean slate and all the exciting possibilities that a new year holds.
The good news is your goals or resolutions don’t have to end up like 80% of people who quit by mid-January because more than the old cliché, you truly are a new you! The bible tells us that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation, old things have passed away and all things become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17) Amazingly, the same Spirit who rose Christ from the dead now lives in you. (Romans 8:11) Talk about power! This is real transformation, a whole new you. That desire in you to accomplish goals is because He has prepared good works for you to walk in. (Ephesians 2:10) And with that, opportunities to use your spiritual gifts, talents, experiences and your sphere of influence to accomplish those works.
You, my friend don’t ever have to wait for a new year, a new month or a Monday to respond to the work and plans of God. His tender mercies are new every day. Just remember you will need to take the new territory bit by bit, so don’t get discouraged and don’t give up–He has already given you the victory.
Here are some truths to keep you focused and intentional this year:
"For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him." Philippians 2:13
Receive The Gift Of Forgiveness
by Susan Swafford Broken From Silence book www.YourCoreAdvantage.com
The Holy Spirit opens our hearts to understand the meaning of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. In this demonstration of love, He grants us forgiveness. Yet only those who walk in the Spirit, and move from a self-centered existence to a more God-centered one, will enjoy the benefits of this. We need to take our eyes off our circumstances, and quit seeing ourselves as victims. Our pride often prevents us from enjoying God’s forgiveness. When we acknowledge our sin to God, and realize that there is nothing we can do to merit His forgiveness—that Christ did it all—we can have genuine peace in our hearts.
When God opens our spiritual eyes to accept conviction of our sin, we can see it as a blessing instead of a source of condemnation. God does not want us to live in constant misery over past sin. He wants us to deal effectively with these areas in our lives so we can be healed and speak the truth of His goodness to the lost.
For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal...
Jeremiah 30:17 NRSV
God, in His grace, will increasingly bring us to a point where we stop making excuses for our sinful choices. Pretexts for evil behavior are futile. They express an unrepentant attitude of heart; as if Christ’s suffering does not apply to “me” for this bad choice. When we allow such things to stand, we ultimately say that we do not need to seek forgiveness because we had good reasons for what we did, or we had no other choice.
Praise God that he has opened our hearts to spiritual truth and that we are able to come boldly to the throne of grace for forgiveness and life. Praise God that we no longer have to justify ourselves, but we are now justified through Christ!
No matter what journey our life has taken; God’s forgiveness extends to every sin, purifies us from moral corruption, and restores us to an unimpaired spiritual condition. Though sold into slavery by our sin, the precious blood of Jesus bought us, and liberated us from captivity.
Come, let’s talk this over! Says the Lord; no matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can take it out and make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you white as wool!
Isaiah 1:18 TLB
Because of this gift, we should live in such a way that pleases the Lord, praise Him, and not forget what He has done for us. He forgave all our sins—even the sin of abortion. He rescued us from self-destruction, and from eternal damnation. He continues to heal us from pain and moral corruption. God surrounds us with loving kindness and tender mercies that are new every morning.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits--who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy...