Staying Power

We really love each other and we know it was God who brought us together. We just don’t understand why we fight so much! On a regular basis one of us gets upset or irritated with the other about something.”
 
Ben and Shelly verbalized thoughts experienced by many couples. Through further conversation we found they were both raised in broken families. Ben had never met his father nor had any male role model in the home. He was raised in abuse and poverty, struggling to help his sickly and mentally ailing mother. Shelly had some role models, but was raised in a separated family much of her life.
 
Unfortunately, stories like theirs are very common in the day in which we live. Many people have grown up with either poor examples or no examples of the skills and unconditional love required to make marriage last a lifetime. Within a short time, they begin to follow the behavior patterns they observed in their parents, or they do whatever feels good in an attempt to love based on what makes them feel valued. Many people enter marriage hoping to receive unconditional love, but have little to no idea how to give it!
 
Ben and Shelly longed for the connection and joy God intended for marriage and asked us if we would impart any secrets we had discovered. They told us they had been viewing us from a distance and they could tell by reading our body language we were happy with each other. We got together with them and visited, sharing the big key to unity God had graciously caused us to stumble upon. He helped us see if we would pray together for a time each day (preferably morning), we would be much more likely to have peace, unity, and single-mindedness in our marriage relationship all day long.
 
This may be hard to believe if you have a lot of strife right now, but it really does help! We’re not saying couple prayer time will make you see eye to eye on everything, but it will help you be more like-minded, as well as humble, compassionate, and honoring as you work through your differences. Sometimes our likes, desires, and ideas are different than each other. The more we pray, the more we’ll find both of us stepping away from demanding “It’s my way or the highway!” Instead, when we’ve developed a habit of humbling ourself before God in prayer, it yields more humility of listening to and working with each other. Prayer turns our me to we.
 
In the Bible there’s a story about a group of believers gathered together years ago. It shares the amazing results of their prayer time together.
 
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. (Acts 4:31-32 NIV)
 
Did you notice the three things unified prayer caused with these people? It brought boldness for sharing the love of Jesus, unity, and selflessness. Prayer together resulted in them having one heart and one soul, meaning clarity for direction and motives. This would really help a lot of couples! James 1:8 tells us “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (KJV). A marriage with two people trying to go their own direction, rather than God’s unified direction, is also unstable.
 
When you and your spouse daily pray together, double-mindedness goes out the back window and single-mindedness walks through the front door to help unify the two of you as one heart and one soul. If you’re a skeptic by nature, we realize this may sound a little pie-in-the-sky happy, but it really is profound! We’ll talk more on this in a moment, but don’t just take our word for it. Try it yourself for a month and see what happens! When you two humble yourselves before God and pray together, humbly asking for guidance and help, like-mindedness and unity just start kicking into gear!
 
The people’s prayer time together resulted in selflessness rather than selfishness. Selfishness is a huge problem in many families today, but this Scripture shows us how to overcome this destructive habit. When we pray together, we are putting Christ at the center of our relationship. Through this humble act, we are inviting God to grow a selfless and serving attitude within both of us. This is the way God intended marriage to be – two people trying to out-serve each other for fun, just like He loves us!
 
Now back to our story – after we explained all of these benefits to Ben and Shelly, Ben (a skeptic by nature) shared how he really doubted whether prayer time together would help deal with their bickering. “Let’s do this,” we said. “You have disagreements almost every day. Why don’t you try praying together at least fifteen minutes every morning for just one week? Then come back and tell us the results.” We also added, “One more thing, make sure you do your prayer together first thing, before you engage in conversation with each other, otherwise you may get in a disagreement first and end up not praying at all.”
 
One-week later Ben and Shelly arrived for our meeting. As they strolled through our door, they didn’t even have to say a word. We could tell by their lollypop grins and deer-in-the-headlights gazing at each other that things had improved. Their countenance had brightened to put it mildly. Their body language towards each other was like a graceful combination between a great Fourth of July fireworks display coupled with the tenderness and awe of holding a brand-new puppy.
 
They excitedly shared with us that in only one week there had been dramatic changes. They both agreed the arguments had diminished by about ninety percent. With a sheepish grin Ben said, “The other ten percent of disagreements happened only when we didn’t start the day with prayer first.”
 
Ben and Shelly had quickly experienced how God’s Word will work for us when we put it into practice. Just a word of warning here though – prayer time together is something to do daily for the rest of your life – like brushing your teeth. It isn’t something you only do for a couple of months and then stop because you haven’t had any cavities lately!
 
Isn’t it good to know God didn’t just throw a man and woman together with their opposite strengths, gifts, and abilities and say, “I don’t know how they are ever going to get along with each other?” No, God made marriage to be a work of art, and He gave us a manual to follow on how to have strong relationships. He made man and woman’s opposite characteristics to complement each other and be a powerful force in the earth for His kingdom. Marriage is meant to be a gift, and it can be for you each day! It definitely takes intentional effort, but the lifelong rewards are worth it.
 
Even if your marriage currently feels like you’re in the 8th inning and down twenty-five to nothing, there is hope. Remember God said, “Love never fails.” (See 1 Corinthians 13:8.) We can take God at His Word and ask Him for help to love our spouse with His kind of love, even if they (or we) are currently a challenge!
 
In Love, 
Pastor Shaun

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Love Always Wins

We know a woman who committed her life to God after she and her husband married. Although her husband wanted nothing to do with God or church, she was always compassionate toward him. Her overwhelming desire was to see him receive God’s free love and forgiveness through Jesus.
 
We were amazed when we visited with her. She never spoke unkind words about him even though he was sometimes insensitive toward her. She always got tears in her eyes and said, “All I want is to know that one day, when he dies, he will go to heaven and not hell.”
 
She was grateful for him continually and would never complain about him or their marriage. She also invested time each day praying for other people’s marriages. It wasn’t long before he asked Jesus into his heart and now is close with God himself!
 

This wife is a great example of how we are able to choose our own thoughts and words; our circumstances don’t have to dictate them. When we make a conscious choice to forget the past and let go of wrongs done to us, we’re then able to focus on receiving God’s love and bringing out the best in others. When we do these two things—meditate on what we have to be thankful for today and declare God’s Word—we are truly able to reach forward to the good things God has in store for us. As the Apostle Paul said,

 

I focus on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3:13b-14 NLT)

 

You may be asking yourself, “Is it really possible to forget bad things that have happened to me?” According to 2 Timothy 1:7, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” When we look at Scripture, we find one key to healing our hearts of wrongs done to us (as well as forgiving ourselves for anything we’ve done) is receiving God’s love.
 

We receive God’s love by putting our faith in His promises, then we can make the choice to love others by faith, even if we don’t feel it at the moment. The first step of being healed of past hurts is forgiving a person by faith, and God’s love helps us do this. Let’s look again at Ephesians 3:14-19:

 

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant to you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

 

Often when people read this passage, they assume the “saints” mentioned above is simply a reference to godly people here on earth, but it isn’t. The Hebrew word for that kind of saint is used in Psalm 116:15 which states, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” The word used here for “saints” means “godly man, good, holy (one), merciful.”[i]
 
However, in Ephesians 3 the word translated as “saints” specifically refers to “God, an angel, a saint, a sanctuary.”[ii] This means Paul is praying for believers to be grounded in and understand all forms of God’s love just like God, His angels, and the saints who already live with Him in heaven! You may be wondering, what does this have to do with not meditating on wrongs done to me? Everything!
 
When Shaun was preparing to preach the message for his mother’s memorial service years ago after she moved to heaven, it was clearly put on his heart to tell people they should focus on thinking about the good things they had done for his mom during her life here on earth, rather than thinking of any regrets.
 
Colossians 3:2 encourages us, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Everything in heaven is good and lovely because God is the focus of heaven and He is good and loving. People in heaven think only of the good and loving memories from earth now that they are with Him, therefore we also can choose to be heavenly minded and only look for the good in people. We are able to do this more and more as we “know the love of Christ which passes knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).
 
In the presence of God, who is love, there is no desire to meditate on hurts from the past or flaws in a person’s character. Even when Jesus hung on the cross He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). When a person truly experiences God’s unconditional love in life, they passionately desire to show God’s love to those around them so others can experience His goodness.
 
You may have heard the old adage “If you choose to remain in your pain, you will stay the same.” We would like to add to this, “If you choose to meditate on what is right, you will be a pillar of God’s light!” The truth is – anyone can find imperfections in people. Some people look for faults in others like they think they’re going to get rewarded for it, but this brings no reward! It comes with a great price tag! The real talent in relationships is choosing to look past mistakes and focus on the good in others.
 
In love,
Pastors Shaun & Amy

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A New Creation

2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Sometimes if we or someone close to us is still hanging onto old things Jesus has redeemed us from, we may need to start picturing ourselves or that person for who God created them to be, rather than how they currently appear.
 

We can pray Scripture over them, knowing God desires to transform our loved ones through His Word. If you have never used Scripture to pray for someone, simply take a verse and put their name in it, then use it as a prayer for their life. For example,

 

Father, I pray that Christ would dwell in (name’s) heart through faith; that (he or she), being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that (name) may be filled with all of Your fullness God. (Taken from Ephesians 3:17-19.)

 

As we read this, we see God filling our hearts and increasing our wisdom to walk in love towards each other. We can and should thank God that we and our loved ones are being transformed by His goodness. Another great thing to pray is 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Put both your name and your spouse’s name (or a family member) in it as you read, and picture the two of you acting this way. We realize this may be a really big stretch for some of you right now, but as the old saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Always remember, through asking Jesus for help, we are able to become consistently Christ-like in our actions.
 
Romans 4:17 tells us our God “…gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (ESV). What does this mean? It’s kind of like calling a dog to come to you when it’s out of your sight at the moment. You keep calling the dog when you want it to come to you because you know it is within hearing distance and will eventually appear.
 
In other words, even when things aren’t going the way we want or the way God wants in our life, when we consistently pray and declare God’s Word over ourselves and those we love, we bring His power on the scene. As we are persistent to pray daily, meditating on praiseworthy reports, it may take some time, but we will eventually see results because God’s Word does work when we don’t give up on applying it. (See Isaiah 55:11.)
 

Maybe, as you’re reading this today, having a relationship with God is a new concept to you. Maybe you grew up hearing about religion that was legalistic and unkind, but never learned about true loving relationship. God is not mad at you. He’s madly in love with you! If you don’t know God’s love in a personal way, He’s just waiting for you to invite Him in. God wants to help you with every area of your life! If you want to connect with God and have the help He greatly desires to give you, all you need to do is ask Him into your heart today. As Romans 10:9-10 encourages us,

 

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (NIV)
 
Praying that you are encouraged and strengthened in Christ, 
Pastor Shaun

 


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Talk Trash, Eat Trash

A man shall eat well by the fruit of his mouth. – Proverbs 13:2

The older I get, the more I realize how much our words, good or bad, have power. Our words are like a field owned by a farmer. Farmers obviously don’t want weeds growing with the valuable crops they plant in their fields. I remember growing up on a farm myself. We had an annual family ritual of weed picking. This was not something we looked forward to, but it needed to be done. My dad didn’t want the weeds to choke out the soybeans. His goal was an abundant harvest, so for long, hot days, often with sweat dripping down our faces, we worked tirelessly to get rid of the weeds. Then as the sun shone and the rain watered the plants, they grew beautifully, and our whole family benefited from the bountiful harvest attained.
 
It’s the same with our words. Words are seeds which produce a harvest over time, good or bad! As Proverbs 13:2 tells us, “A man shall eat well by the fruit of his mouth…” Wouldn’t it stand to reason that the opposite is also true? If we talk trash, won’t we eat trash? Maybe not literally, but when we have negative words pouring consistently from our lips, it certainly isn’t going to produce good results in our life or relationships!
 
What we are receiving in life right now is most often a result of what we have been sowing (thinking and speaking) in our past, or possibly if you’re young, what others have been speaking over you. Therefore, from this moment on, if we want a harvest of excellent fruit in our life, our marriage, and our children’s behavior, it’s important to consistently speak the right words over each of these areas.
 
When we declare the promises of God, rather than verbalizing what’s taking place in the natural, we will eventually begin to see a change. The more intentional we are with reminding ourselves what God says about our situation, the easier this becomes to apply. Does this mean we deny reality? No. It means we stop repeatedly mulling over our problems. Instead, and on purpose, we declare God’s promises and God’s ability in our situation. We even encourage others to put God’s promises up around your house to keep them at the forefront of your mind. Whatever we magnify will become a giant in our life!
 

God’s vision for us is that we would speak His words of blessing over people and situations around us to infuse life into them. James 3:9-12 speaks of the importance of taming our tongues by saying,

 

With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.

 

James basically said when we praise or thank God with our mouth then speak unkind things about a person made in God’s image, it’s not right. Just like a tree can’t produce fruit of a different kind than it was planted to be, so you and I can be certain the words we speak continually will produce fruit. If we speak respect and compliments to our spouse and children, we will eventually see the fruit in their personalities because they’ll feel loved. In addition to training our tongue to talk kindness and blessing to others, we show wisdom when we refuse to speak harsh and condescending words, no matter how a person may act.
 
A number of years ago, we led a Bible study for married couples. We agreed to lead a group for newlyweds like us, but instead we think someone secretly advertised that we were having a marriage crisis intervention class. Well, no one really advertised this way, but that’s what we largely ended up with. Talk about throwing us in with the sharks! Okay, they weren’t all sharks, but it did get pretty wild in there sometimes.
 
Being wet behind the ears at this marriage thing, we definitely felt in over our heads. We think God enjoys getting us out of our comfort zone sometimes though, because then we really have to look to Him for wisdom, and it helps us grow and pray in ways we otherwise wouldn’t. One couple in our group was having colossal marital problems. Although the husband had become a Christian years ago and attended church, he wasn’t living his life according to God’s direction. That’s a nice way of saying he was pretty off his rocker at the moment.
 
Our pastor called for a mandatory separation for the physical safety of the wife and kids when he found out the situation at home. In addition, they started Christian marital counseling, the husband attended classes for overcoming anger, and another man in the church who was a kind, mature believer became a mentor and accountability partner to the husband.
 
We will call the couple Jake and Sheila. Sometimes Sheila would come alone to our group, and sometimes they were together. After we had our study, we would all chat about how it applied to our lives. When Jake wasn’t there, Sheila would sometimes have her own reveal party with everyone in the group about their marital chaos. She didn’t shoot off pink or blue streamers. She just let lots of cats out of the bag on her husband of all the irresponsible, selfish, and unloving things he had done lately, including everything from the grenade launchers of his anger outbursts to buying her flowers with bad checks (we won’t write the really bad things because we want to keep this book at a PG level in case your kids pick it up).
 
One day in prayer the Lord dealt with us about Sheila repeatedly airing their dirty laundry and degrading her husband in front of the whole group. We had the thought, “She is eating the fruit of her lips.” Her husband definitely needed help, but she was drawing even more negative out in him because she would meditate on his behavior and repeat it to anyone who would listen. The more she told people about his poor behavior, the more he would increase in the crazy and irrational actions.
 
After one Bible study, we visited with her about this issue, giving her the Scriptures of Proverbs 12:14 and Proverbs 18:21, which remind us we will eat the fruit of our lips, good or bad. We encouraged her to share what she needed to with the pastor and those in leadership who were counseling them and also to feel free to ask us to pray for specific areas. However, we advised her to stop telling those around her the personal details about mistakes her husband made.
 
Instead, we suggested she start picturing him through what the Bible says about him as a believer and looking for any good things he did. What could happen if she even prayed Scripture over him consistently, like Colossians 1:9-12? We encouraged her to focus on and compliment every good thing she could possibly find. She said she understood what we were saying and would make an effort.
 
Several weeks later Sheila came and told us she had been doing what we suggested, only sharing details with those who really needed to hear them. She had also started making an effort to think positive thoughts about her husband and compliment him. She said things were definitely improving. They continued with us for several months until the Bible study wrapped up.
 
I talked to her several years later and found out their relationship had continued to steadily improve and they were now happily married again. He had become a genuinely loving, responsible husband and father. She told me she was so thankful she had persevered through the many storms and not divorced him. It wasn’t easy on her during this long period of time, but if she hadn’t stayed with it, her kids would not have seen how powerful God is. He was able to change their dad, which was an absolute miracle!
 
Praying this blesses you today, 
Pastor Amy

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There’s No “I” in Team

We completely understand that thinking and speaking kindness, gratitude, and respect consistently isn’t always easy, but it does make your relationships easier! It definitely takes practice listening to the right things to get our minds renewed from trash which has previously gone in. In the Bible, Paul wrote a letter to the church in Philippi, and he encouraged them that if they really wanted peace, they had to choose to have pure and praiseworthy thoughts. He told his listeners:

 

Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)

 

Paul understood that good thoughts have the power to successfully catapult our relationships, but bad thoughts, like pirates, highjack what could have been a fun and prosperous journey. Most of us think well of our spouse when he or she is kind and doing what we like them to do. The question is, can we put this into practice when our spouse hasn’t met our needs?
 
Notice Paul didn’t say, “Finally brethren, whatever things are dishonorable, whatever things are unjust, whatever things are unloving, whatever things are a bad report, if there is any dissatisfaction and anything worth condemning—meditate on these things.”
 
Paul knew most people by human nature enjoy a pity party every once in a while, so he purposefully told people to mentally hang out on encouraging and uplifting thoughts. He knew this would have to be a super intentional effort for us to be able to consistently win in life and our relationships!
 
Paul was basically saying this: think good, pure, and praiseworthy. Pretend peaceful thoughts have glue on them and our job is to stick those thoughts to our brain each day. We may even need to write these good things on our bathroom mirror, fridge, or desk at work to remind us. Pretend bad and critical thoughts are nasty stuff stuck to toilet paper, and our job is to flush those thoughts down the tube as quickly as they show up each day. When we glue those praiseworthy, grateful thoughts in our head, peace will eventually take hold in our hearts and homes!
 
Whatever we expect from others, good or bad, we usually get. You have probably heard the statement, “That person really knows how to bring out the best in others!” Legendary basketball coach John Wooden was a classic example of this.
 
Coach Wooden was known for making his players better, both on and off the court. He daily made the vision clear. He had his team focus on mastering excellence in the fundamentals, and additionally, he trained his players to show each other respect and appreciation. In other words, they weren’t allowed to act like a one-man show.
 
As the old adage says, “There’s no I in TEAM.” Coach Wooden trained unity like no other coach at the time. He watched closely to be sure in practice and games players always gave a nod or hand-slap in appreciation of each other’s every assist that helped them succeed. It was a simple, team-minded principle that works on the basketball court as well as in marriage and parenting.
 
How would your life be different if you smiled and thanked everyone in your home each time they helped you in the slightest little way? We dare you to take this simple challenge and let us know how it transforms your home! If smiles and appreciation haven’t been your mode of operation up to now you may encounter some questioning or sarcasm, but stick with it! As I heard Joyce Meyer say, “God will change your circumstances, but He’ll change you first.”
 
When I was in Bible college, there was a young man in his early twenties who was asked by the professor to share his testimony with the class. His birth mother had been a drug addict who brought him, only a few days old, into a business and left him with the people at the desk, saying she could not take care of the baby. A loving Christian family who had been praying for a baby boy quickly adopted him.
 
His new mother brought him to the doctor and was told he had so much cocaine in his body that he would certainly be a drug addict himself by a young age. The mom was also told he would never be intelligent, he would have various abnormalities, and he would be little and frail with a weak immune system throughout life. The parents refused to believe the doctor’s report.
 
His mom prayed over him daily, believing for him to become strong, intelligent, and a mighty vessel for God. She prayed that the blood of Jesus shed on the cross would cleanse his system and cancel every adverse effect of the drugs he had in the womb. As he grew, they saw all of the prayers answered. He became a strong, healthy, tall, and very intelligent young man with a wonderful gift for speaking.
 
His testimony then became even more amazing. When he was a young teen, his dad walked away from God and divorced his mother for another woman. My classmate said he felt deeply hurt, yet each day at their meals together he would hear his mom pray for his dad with a heart of love and compassion, believing God would somehow draw his father back to Jesus. His mother’s example of unconditional love and forgiveness amazed him and eventually opened his heart to have compassion for his father.
 
One day, after a few years had passed, he received a visit from his dad, who apologized to his son for what he had done. He had asked God to forgive him and had come to ask his son for forgiveness as well. My classmate forgave his dad, and they were reconciled in their relationship. The next week his dad died of a heart attack.
 
Certainly, it was not God’s will for the father to die prematurely. John 10:10 tells us it’s the devil who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Thankfully, his dad got things right before he died. This young man’s mother drew out the best in her son through her example of unconditional love and also helped draw her former husband back to God through her prayers.
 
Whatever is in our heart in abundance will come out. This young man’s mother chose to have a heart of forgiveness even after her husband abandoned her and their child. She meditated on God’s faithfulness to take care of her and her son rather than dwelling on her negative experience. She always had love and forgiveness coming out of her mouth and her son only heard her speak kindness toward his father. What an amazing example! It’s uncommon to see this kind of response these days. Their story is a great reminder that when we meditate on the things which are a good report, rather than bad news, the unconditional love of God will be able to flow out of us and impact others. This woman took acting like a team to a maturity level that few people ever attain.
 
We pray this encourages you & strengthens your relationships, 
Pastors Shaun & Amy 

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