Love Never Fails

We know a certain woman who became a Christian, committing her life to the Lord after she and her husband married. Although her husband wanted nothing to do with God or church, she was always compassionate toward him. Her greatest desire was to see him receive God’s free love and forgiveness through Jesus.
 
We were amazed when we visited with her. She never once spoke unkind words about him even though he was often inconsiderate 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 focused on the best in him continually and would never complain about him or their marriage. She also invested time each day praying for other marriages where the wife went to church but the husband did not. It wasn’t long before he asked Jesus into his heart and now has a close relationship with God himself!
 

This wife is a great example of how we are able to choose our own thoughts and words; our circumstances do not have to dictate them. When we make a conscious choice to forget the past and not meditate on wrongs done to us, we are then able to focus on and speak the promises of God over our life and the lives of those around us. When we do these two things—meditate on praiseworthy reports and pray God’s Word—we are truly able to reach forward to the good things God has in store for us. As Paul said,

 

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

 

You may be asking yourself, “Is it really possible to forget bad things that have happened to me?” According to Matthew 19:26, “…With God all things are possible.” When we study Scripture, we find the key to forgetting wrongs done to us is love. Love is a choice, rather than merely a feeling. We let go of past hurts by choice, and God’s love will help us do this. Let us 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 “saint” mentioned above is simply making reference to a godly person here on earth, but it is not. 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 for “saints” in this Psalm means “godly man, good, holy (one), merciful” (Strong’s #2623).
 
In Ephesians 3 the word translated as “saints” specifically refers to “God, an angel, a saint, a sanctuary” (Strong’s #6918). 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 understanding God’s love like those who already live with Him in heaven have to do with not meditating on wrongs someone has done to me?” Everything and we will illustrate why.
 
When Shaun was having time with the Lord, preparing to preach the message for his mother’s memorial service, it was clearly placed on his heart that one of the things he was supposed to tell people was to think about the good things they had done for his mom during her life here on earth, rather than thinking of any regrets. Shaun realized this thought was very scriptural.
 
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 certainly 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 their life, they passionately desire to show God’s love to those around them so others can experience His goodness also.

 

It has been said that if you choose to remain in your pain, you will stay the same. We would like to add, “If you choose to meditate on what is right, you will be a vessel through which God can shine His light!” Anyone can find imperfections in people. The real skill is choosing to look past mistakes and focus on the good in others.
 
When we bestow honor and admiration on those around us consistently, particularly on our spouse and children, we will receive the benefit of a peaceful loving home. Our prayer for you is that you will daily choose to be a vessel of light for God, ministering His love to those in your home and to those you encounter in this world.
 
With love, 
Pastors Shaun & Amy

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Is God in This?

God has given us His Holy Spirit to be our counselor and our helper. The Holy Spirit is here in the earth to guide us into making the right decisions. The key is that we must take time to listen and obey. Following His peace and guidance will save us from much heartache and pain. Sometimes we have to face our fears in order to obey, but the end result is extremely worth the wait.
 
Proverbs 2:10-11 states, “When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you.” God’s Holy Spirit brings us discretion. He says “Caution! Caution!” through a lack of peace when there is danger ahead. He also directs us what to do or not do in an effort to preserve us from harm.
 
This inward guidance from God is most often experienced by those who have a close relationship with Him through daily Bible reading and prayer. The closer we draw to God, the more we will sense His Holy Spirit’s direction. As James 4:8 confirms, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” The more we pray with confidence, believing God wants to give us wisdom and direct us, the more we will have peace or lack peace regarding a situation.
 
Proverbs 3:16-18 states, “Length of days is in her right hand, in her left hand riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her.” The Holy Spirit encompasses all of the wisdom of God, and one of the ways He manifests His wisdom to us is through peace when we are making the right choice or a lack of peace when we are making the wrong choice.
 
We should mention here that we have seen young adults get married prematurely because they wanted to get away from parents who did not nurture a peaceful home environment. They thought the logical way out of their parents’ disordered home was to get married themselves. If your parents’ home is unsafe, it is important to find a place of safety rather than approaching marriage as a way out.
 
If your underlying reason for marriage is escaping a damaged home, you will just create a marriage mess of your own that your kids will want to escape someday. It is better to live in your parents’ home, even if it’s not ideal, than to get married before you are ready or to marry someone who isn’t a good match for you. Make sure you are getting married for the right reasons!
 
Dating couples are often more concerned about keeping the relationship than having a healthy relationship. When a person wants so badly to get married, they will frequently hide or choose to ignore their significant other’s issues. Most often it’s the female who not only denies serious problems in the relationship but even tries to over-compensate or hide those issues from others. She hopes the problems or behaviors will eventually resolve themselves rather than confronting the issues directly. This kind of thinking is evidence of someone who needs to work on strengthening their emotional health and confidence.
 
We once heard a marriage counselor say that people will always marry someone who is at the level of their own emotional health. This is so true! People with emotional baggage have a way of finding each other.
 
The initial gauge to find out if you have emotionally dysfunctional tendencies is your parents’ marriage. Did your parents stay married? If they did, was their relationship truly happy and stable? Were either of them alcoholics, drug users, or gamblers? Did they have some other form of addiction? Was one of them extremely passive and the other one very controlling? Was there frequent yelling or the silent treatment in your home? Did you have any kind of consistent positive relationship model growing up?
 
What about your childhood? Did you suffer any kind of abuse? If you were molested, verbally abused, or experienced some other harm, it can affect how you feel about yourself and who you gravitate towards in a spouse. The good news is, God is a healing Father! Through His Word and His guidance, you can pursue and receive a renewed mind and a restored heart.
 
When you see red flags in yourself or in someone you are dating, don’t ignore them! One of the biggest flags to consider, as we mentioned earlier, is a half-hearted commitment to Christ. Going through the motions, such as going to church but lacking genuine desire for serving Christ, should be a red flag.
 
Beyond attending church, are they peaceful and kind when no one else is around? Are they respectful, polite, and encouraging to their family members and friends? How do they treat servers at restaurants who make a mistake? Are they patient, gracious, and polite or are they irritable and rude? Dysfunctional people frequently belittle you or others and make comments to imply you need them. God is your ultimate source. Always remember, no person can take God’s place.
 
Also stay on guard for people who like to go drinking or partying with their buddies. We have personally observed that people who get together with friends to drink on a regular basis are often the same people who cheat on their spouse or, due to intoxication, don’t protect their children from dangerous situations. Remember, addictions, control issues, demeaning comments, poor friendships, and half-hearted attitudes will be magnified after marriage.
 
We want to interject here, if you are reading this and are already married, don’t allow yourself to ask, “Did I marry the right person?” The covenant of marriage is just that – a covenant. God says at the marriage union that the two become one flesh (Gen. 2:24). He isn’t solely referring to physical intimacy. There is an actual union that God makes in the spiritual realm where the husband’s and wife’s spirits join in a union, much like the trinity – multiple parts but one spirit.
 
One of the enemy’s top strategies in breaking up a marriage and family is to get one of the spouses to start questioning, did I really marry the right person? Once the marriage union occurs, God never looks and says, “Well, those two aren’t getting along as well as I had hoped they would. Maybe she would have been better off with that old boyfriend she had in high school.”
 
We once heard a pastor say that six months after he got married, he started having the recurring thought he had married the wrong woman. She didn’t look at him or talk to him as kindly and friendly as she did before marriage. Little things about her were beginning to bother him and make him feel disrespected.
 
His parents had divorced, and he knew that there was a negative spiritual pull towards children of divorcees getting divorced themselves when things got tough in marriage. Fortunately, he had enough wisdom to know how to resist the temptation of divorce. He started meditating Proverbs 31:10-31 daily.
 
He would put his wife’s name into these verses as he read aloud. For example, “Shelly’s worth is far above rubies. My heart safely trusts Shelly, and I have no lack of gain…” Each day he would declare this in his private prayer time. Within a couple of months, their marriage began to dramatically improve!
 
What really happened was that, by praying and meditating this scripture over his wife daily, he applied consistent faith to his marriage. Praying and meditating the Word in faith over a situation daily produces success. He realized he wasn’t married to the wrong person. He just needed to actively apply faith to his marriage rather than passively allow the thorns of life to take over the garden that God meant for good. A woman can use Ephesians 5:25-33 to pray over her husband in the same way.
 
If you are currently single, remember that it’s best to be proactive about marriage. Ladies, pray and meditate Proverbs 31 over yourself right now, speaking in faith about the great wife you will be when that day comes! Likewise, men, it is wise to faithfully pray and meditate Ephesians 5 over yourself now, preparing to be an admirable husband someday.      
 
When we ask couples who have been happily married for many years, “How did you know?” many say that within the first three to six months of their relationship, “it just seemed right.” We believe the more someone has prayed in faith over this area (or others have prayed for them), the easier it is for a person to recognize the right one.
 
James 1:5 reminds us, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you” (NLT). During any dating or courtship time, pray and believe that God will make it very apparent whether someone is right for you or not. Better than that, pray diligently for your future spouse before you meet them! Even if no one has ever prayed over this area for you, you can pray for God’s clear direction in your own life, and He will cheerfully give it you.
 
If God knows who the right one is (and He does because He is omniscient), then He knows how to direct your prayers. We fully believe, after hearing numerous stories of couples who prayed for their future spouse, as well as parents who prayed for their children’s future spouse, that prayer brings noticeable clarity to knowing the right one to marry. God knows which couples would be a mess and which couples would be a match! Just ask Him for wisdom, then follow it!
 
In love, 
Pastors Shaun & Amy

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Eating the Fruit of our Lips

Why is it important to consistently speak the right things? It is important for the same reason farmers do not want weeds growing with the crops they plant in their fields. I remember growing up on a farm. We would go into the field and pick weeds when the crop was in the growth stages because my dad did not want the weeds to choke out the soybeans. He wanted a great harvest, so we worked to get rid of the weeds. Then as the sun shone and the rain watered the plants, they grew beautifully, and a bountiful harvest was attained when the soybeans were picked.
 
Likewise, our words are also seeds that will produce a harvest. As Proverbs 13:2 states, “A man shall eat well by the fruit of his mouth…” Whatever we are reaping right now is a result of what we have been sowing in our past. Therefore, from this moment on, if we want a harvest of excellent fruit in our life, our marriage, and our children’s behavior, it is important that we consistently speak the right words over each of these areas.
 
When we speak the promises of God rather than verbalizing what may be taking place in the natural, we will eventually begin to see a change. Is this always easy to do? No. Does this mean we deny reality? No. This means we stop meditating on and repeatedly speaking the problems and rather begin to speak God’s promises and God’s ability in our situation. Whatever we magnify will become a giant in our life. 
 

The choice God wants us to make, regarding consistently speaking loving words and God’s promises about a person or situation, is addressed in James 3:9-12. James 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 said when someone blesses God with his or her mouth, then speaks unkind things about a man made in the image of God, it is not right. Just as a tree cannot produce fruit of a different kind than it was planted to be, so we can be confident the words we speak will produce fruit. If we speak kindness and compliments to our spouse and children, we will eventually see the fruit in their personalities because they will feel loved. If we train ourselves to speak life and blessing to others, and do not plant bad seeds by refusing to speak negative no matter how the person may act, we will eventually reap a good harvest.
 
It has been said that if you choose to remain in your pain, you will stay the same. We would like to add, “If you choose to meditate on what is right, you will be a vessel through which God can shine His light!” Anyone can find imperfections in people. The real skill is choosing to look past mistakes and focus on the good in others.
 
When we bestow honor and admiration on those around us consistently, particularly on our spouse and children, we will receive the benefit of a peaceful loving home. Our prayer for you is that you will daily choose to be a vessel of light for God, ministering His love to those in your home and to those you encounter in this world.
 
In Love, 
Pastor Amy Gustafson

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Affirming Those We Lead

One of our personal favorites of Jesus’ leadership qualities was that He affirmed those under His authority. He said to His disciples in the upper room, those who were closest to Him,
 
No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you (John 15:15-16).
 
What a statement! He affirmed them by calling them friends and emphasizing that He chose them. He then spoke blessing over them, telling them that He chose them for a valuable purpose and calling. He believed with all of His heart that they would succeed in this calling. He then gave them a promise saying that whatever they asked God for in His name, they would receive it! The exciting thing for us as believers is, He was also speaking this over you and me! Jesus believed in His disciples, and He believes in us just as much today because we are also His disciples called to do His will in the earth.
 
What profound value this example of Christ has to bring God’s love and unity into our homes today! Friend, whoever you lead, one of the most basic, yet important, keys to guiding them to become a success in life is to affirm that you are thankful they are in your life. Then let them know you believe in them, you believe in their future, and you are committed to them. When spouses do this with each other and parents do this with children consistently in their home, it completely transforms a family.
 
I remember once as a teenager telling my mother about someone who had just found out that they were adopted. The person’s parents evidently didn’t know how to tell him, so they never did, until one day when he was a teenager and he found out another way. When I shared this with my mom, she made the comment that as a parent adoption is not any different than having a baby born to you, so she wished people would just explain this to their kids when they were little.
 
She then told me a story about one of my siblings who is adopted. She said that when very young, she simply said, “There are three ways that someone can become part of a family. First, you can choose a spouse and marry into a family. That is how I became a part of our family. I chose your Dad and he chose me, and we became a family. Second, you can be born into a family. That means a mom has a baby grow in her tummy and after nine months of being in the mom’s tummy the baby comes out. Sometimes if a mom can’t take care of her baby, she will let a couple adopt the baby because she wants the baby to have a wonderful life with a mom and a dad. That is the third way you can become a part of a family is to be adopted into a family. That means that a mom and dad want to have a child to love of their very own, so they go and choose the baby that they want to be part of their family. That is how you became part of our family. Daddy and I chose you because we wanted you to be part of our family so much, just like Daddy and I chose each other!”
 
I was amazed at the wisdom in her explaining it this way. I used to work with a woman who explained this in a similar way to her daughter who had been adopted. She said her daughter would come to her every few months and say, “Mommy, tell me the story again about how you and Daddy chose me!” It is important to let children know the truth at a young age so that the emphasis can be placed on the important information. They are chosen, loved, and wanted in the position they have in the family! That is essentially what Jesus was saying to His disciples. I love you! I wanted you as my disciples! I believe in you! I am confident you are going to be a success even after I am gone!
 
This is pretty amazing when you consider the disciples He had chosen. They didn’t come from any special background, and they didn’t have a theology degree. There was nothing extraordinary about them except that they were willing to be vessels for God to work through. For this reason, they did mighty things to advance God’s kingdom here on earth. Jesus seemed to receive great joy over making something great out of people society considered common. As we have heard our pastor say, “God is a champion at making a somebody out of a nobody.”
 
We have this same ability Jesus operated in within our own home. We can make a difference to those closest to us by believing in them, no matter what. Showing confidence in someone does amazing things. Shaun often says that when we believe enough in someone’s success, they will eventually become a success. We can change the whole environment in our home just by showing approval and confidence in our family members!
 
It is rewarding to see someone who was doing average or below average in life with no real goals for their future suddenly experience someone who believes in them. It typically changes everything! Most people like to live up to their leaders’ or loved ones’ expectations when they are spoken to with love and belief. Children and adults standards are raised when they know someone has positive expectancy over them. Hearing things like:
 

You can do it! I know you can!

I believe in you! You are going to do great!

Way to go! You did a great job!

I am so pleased with you!

Thank you for doing your best!
 
God’s grace manifested in us can and will give us the ability and knowledge to be an encourager to our family and to others we lead. Being an encourager is not a personality type, but rather it is a choice. Even if you have not been one to verbalize encouragement and approval to those around you, know that God can help you do this! Although it had not been Shaun’s “personality” to be an encourager of others when he was young, as an adult he saw the value in this behavior and determined to learn this good quality. With God’s help he trained himself to do this and is now an excellent encourager to others. If you would like to grow in this area, you can even pray this right now:
 
Father, I ask You to help me see the best in my family and those I lead. Please help me to voice approval of them and belief in them on a daily basis. I pray that they will experience my love and Your love through me each day in a tangible way. In Jesus name, amen
 
In Love, 
Pastors Shaun & Amy

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Divine Protection

We are living in a dangerous world, but God doesn’t want us living in fear. Whether it’s being picked on at school, negative media influence, crazy shooters, or even things like car accidents, what can we do to help prevent these things from harming or derailing us or our family from God’s plan for our life? Are we all just helpless and at the mercy of whatever happens in life?
 
No, there are things we can do to help prevent these things from taking us out of the good plans God has for us. 1 Peter 5:8 says “…the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Notice the key words in this are “seeking whom he may…” This means that not everyone is an open target that the devil can devour. So what causes some people to be open prey, while others have more protection? I believe there are multiple things, but today, let’s talk about one of the biggest ones.  
 
Lamentations 2:19 says “Pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children.” In other words, “It’s OUR JOB to pray for our kids (as well as ourselves, spouse or family) so they don’t become the devil’s prey.”
 
Pray daily for your family! I’d highly recommend that you pray protection over your entire family first thing every morning. We don’t want any open doors to the enemy. 
 
Some of the best prayers to pray are from the Bible. Ever since our oldest child was born 17 years ago, we decided we wanted to speak like over her daily, so every night before bed, we have always said Psalm 23 and Psalm 91 over our kids. We all have it memorized, and it’s part of our bedtime ritual, even to this day we never miss it. We have fun with it! Sometimes, we will even do sit ups and push ups while saying our scriptures.
 
I also love using Colossians for praying over our family. Especially Colossians 1:9-12 NLT. 
 
Sometimes I add prayers from the heart like “Thank you Lord for helping our kids to desire and pursue You above all else. Thank you for  protecting our family from all plans of the enemy that we don’t even know about. Lord, you are stronger than anything and anyone. I praise you for protecting us from all evil and deception. I pray a border of protection around our family. Surround us with Your love and faith everywhere we go, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
 
We all have different challenges to work through at different stages in life. Instead of getting discouraged when we encounter obstacles, thank God for the opportunity to get to pray and learn more. Seek counsel from more experienced prayers who have had success, and most importantly, pray and praise daily!
 
When we come up against a challenge, we remember Philippians 4:6 that says “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for ALL He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace…
 
So we go to God and tell Him what we are concerned about and we start praying the solution rather than the problem. We pray for God’s love, faith, protection, grace, and mercy to come on the scene on behalf of our family or whoever we are praying for. Praise God for the right people coming into your loved ones lives that will influence them for good at just the right times. When we focus on God’s ability to help when we pray and that God is able and willing, we will see God doing amazing things that show us His love from heaven. 
 
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.Psalm 84:11
 
May the Lord bless you and keep you,
Pastor Amy

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