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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Love Better

What is your love language? I’m sure many of you have heard about Dr. Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages. Have you ever gone on his website to find out what your top love languages are? If not, I’d encourage you and your spouse, kids, friends, or whoever you are closest with, to go on their website and take the short test! It’s simply 5lovelanguages.com
 
This is a great eye opener! When Shaun and I do premarital counseling with couples, we always have them take this test. If a couple doesn’t get the concept of showing love in the way their spouse understands love, or showing love with their kids in the way they understand love, it can make relationships difficult. The five love languages Dr. Chapman shares are touch, quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, and acts of service. I personally believe dessert is a love language, but I suppose that fits under gifts. 
 
If you have a spouse whose top love language is acts of service, you can tell them “I love you” until you are blue in the face, give them gifts every week, and invest time with them, but if you aren’t physically helping them with acts of service, maybe laundry, cooking or fixing something in the house, then they still won’t feel loved. 
 
Think of each love language like a different human language. If I only speak English and you only speak French, we are going to have some communication barriers. In the same way, if we try to show our kids, our spouse, or anyone else love in the way that makes us feel loved, we aren’t going to be very successful in that relationship. We have to speak their language. I have seen kids who were being rebellious completely turn around when their parents figured out what their love language was and set a reminder for themselves to meet that love language on a consistent basis.
 
A friend of ours had a preteen daughter who had not been acting like herself and had started being very irritable with her family and especially her siblings. When our friend prayed about it, she had the thought that she should take her daughter, just the two of them, to a specific fun place that she knew her daughter really liked, and that along with play time there, she should let her daughter pick out some souvenir type gifts and buy them for her. Our friend said that day changed her daughter’s whole attitude at home. She started being nice again to all of her family. My guess is that her daughter has a love language of gifts and quality time and probably had a love bank that had somehow gotten very low with mom and dad’s busy life. This day with just the two of them got her daughter’s love bank replenished and she was able to love others from a full tank again. 
 
Often kids and even adults don’t know why they aren’t feeling as satisfied in a relationship, and it’s often just that we have stopped doing the things we used to do together (because of the busyness of life) and need to get our priorities back in order. Sometimes we need a day like this mother and daughter for a big overhaul if things have been lacking for a while. 
 
I believe God’s top love language is giving, because John 3:16 says that God so loved the world that He GAVE Jesus, that whoever believes in Him won’t perish, but will have everlasting life! It may be giving someone else a gift on God’s behalf, giving towards His kingdom, or giving God thanks, but remember to give Him honor and respect this month and always too!
 
I’d encourage you to have all of your family members take the love languages test this week and find out what makes each one of you feel the most loved. Take time to discuss everyone’s love language as a family or even with your friends if you aren’t married. It will help you develop your people skills and improve your relationships in ways you never dreamed possible!
 
I’ll leave you with the words of Mother Teresa to ponder this week: “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”
 
Believing God’s best for you! 
 
Pastors Shaun & Amy

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