The Joy Set Before Him


“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Hebrews 12:2-3

It was for us, you and me, that Jesus endured the cross and rose again to life. Because of his sacrifice, we can be in relationship with the living God now in these last days on earth and forever in heaven. Never underestimate the power of his love and grace for us. No matter where we’ve been, what we’ve done, or who we think we are or aren’t, God created us, has a plan for us, and redeemed us through Jesus.

All we have to do is say “Yes. I want that relationship. I’m sorry for going my own way. Thank you, Jesus.”

It’s Who You Know


A few weeks ago I watched a YouTube post in which a man proposed the heartbreaking idea that many who believe they will spend eternity in heaven may be shocked to discover (in the end) that they have missed out. His words gripped my heart.

Think of it like this.

You go to a high class restaurant. The maitre d’ asks if you have a reservation since they’ve been booked out for a year. You don’t. You can’t bribe him. You can’t plead with him. There is nothing you can do to get in. No way are you getting a table.

Unless you know the owner.

You mention that you know the owner, and ask if you could say hello. The big boss guy comes out front, and when he sees you, he throws open his arms and greets you as if you’re the most important person in his world.

“I’m so glad you came. Let me seat you at our special, reserved-just-for-family table.”

He ushers you to a prime location (for me that would be overlooking the ocean), and brings you a boSunset at Pismo Beach Pier - Pismo Beach, CAttle of his best wine. And not only has he made a place for you, he’s let you know that you are to order whatever you want. On the house.

We can apply this to God and the passages in the Bible about the wedding feast (Luke 14:15-23) to which he’s invited all his people. When we’re on the guest list, part of the family, we are welcomed with open arms. If we don’t have a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus, we won’t get in the door.

Or pearly gates, as they’re called.

People often point to their good deeds as the invitation. But that’s a forgery. Like trying to crash a wedding party without knowing the bride, groom or anyone else in the family. We might think:

“I’m a good person. I try to do the right thing.”

But do you know Jesus?

“I give to the poor, rescue abused animals, donate clothes to the homeless.”

But do you know Jesus?

“I help my neighbor.”

But do you know Jesus?

“I go to church.”

But do you know Jesus?

“I’ve read the Bible.”

But do you know Jesus?

“I put money in the offering plate.”

But do you know Jesus?

“I sang in the church choir.”

But do you know Jesus?

“I told someone I’d pray for them.”

But do you know Jesus?

I grew up knowing Jesus. I mean personally like my dearest friend and brother. I can’t imagine life each day without him. I love him more than my closest earthly friend, my husband. That kind of relationship is developed by intimate conversations, reading his letters to me, pouring out my heart to him, honoring him with my praise and not letting a day go by without consulting him. It started by me giving my heart to him.

You can know him too. He knows you. His arms are open. He gave up his life for us. All we have to do is accept his gift of love and acknowledge that we need him and want him in our lives.

Someday, we will all be asked, “do you know Jesus?”

What will you say?

What If You Could Hear God?


cropped-20150816_195410.jpg

Have you ever wondered if you could hear from God how that might change things in your life?

Maybe you’ve listened to people who say “I heard God say…” and thought they were deluded, misguided, bragging, or fanatical?

Who actually hears God?

Everyone.

Yep. You read that correctly. Everyone can hear God.

Because he speaks to everyone. All. The. Time.

The real question is are we listening? Do we recognize his voice when he speaks? Can we distinguish his words from the barrage that we deem is our own thoughts or maybe other “voices”?

The truth is that God says when we seek him, he’s waiting to be found. When we talk to him, he’s listening and will answer us. We can call him Father (Rom. 8:15), and we are his sons and daughters. The Bible tells us that even when we don’t know how to pray, the Holy Spirit groans on our behalf to God.

Sound too good to be true?

It is good, AND it’s true.

Here’s the thing…do you recognize your parent’s voice? Your children, spouse or best friends? Why?

You spend or spent time with them in close settings. They are familiar because you’ve been around them so much. You’ve paid attention to when they speak and what they say. You’ve listened to them and talked with them. Sometimes you can even finish their sentences because you know them so well. Right?

Jesus says his sheep know his voice. Sheep know their shepherd’s voice because they are in his/her care all day and night long. They hover around their shepherd. They’re in his/her presence all the time. They recognize the voice of the one caring for them.

They also know the difference between an enemy and the shepherd. When a wolf comes, the sheep huddle around each other, knowing it isn’t their caretaker.

We are like those sheep. Jesus cares for us. He searches for us when we’re lost. His voice is stern when calling us back from danger and lovingly kind when he’s ministering to our wounds or needs. When we spend time with him, we will know his voice.

When he speaks, we will hear him.

There’s no great mystery or secret about hearing God if we want to. If we’re asking. If we’re listening.

Jesus said many times in his word:

He who has ears, let him hear.” Matthew 11:15

I hear him. You can too.

Sometimes he speaks through his word, the Bible, sometimes through a friend, leader or pastor. He speaks through creation, music, art, pictures(visions) and dreams. Often, he whispers in our hearts, and sometimes we may even hear his audible voice.

If you want to hear him, ask him to help you. If you don’t know him, tell him you want to.

Hearing God is for everyone and anyone who so desires. We are all his children. He loves us. He’s for us. He wants us to know him. And we CAN hear him.

If we’re listening.

The Tale of Two Men


131 (2)Two men approached Jesus. They were both wealthy. They were both important figures in society with places of high position. One was named as a young ruler, the other’s name was Zacchaeus.

I know, not a common name today. But stay with me.

When Jesus came to town, the ruler sought him out to ask a very important question. You see, he had everything money could buy. He’d followed all the rules so he believed he was good. But the one thing he couldn’t put his hand on was how to live forever. He believed that was the only thing he lacked. So he asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life.

Jesus told him there was one thing he lacked. But it wasn’t eternal life. It was the right heart attitude. Jesus’s answer for the ruler was to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. Then to follow him. The Bible says the man went away and was very sad.

Did Jesus say the man’s money was bad? The poor were more important? He wasn’t allowed to have wealth?

No.

He simply pointed out that the man’s primary focus was on his money. The ruler believed he could inherit eternal life from Jesus, but he wasn’t looking for Jesus. He wanted a guarantee, not a relationship.

DSC_0141The second man, Zach (we’ll call him), heard Jesus was coming. The Bible says he ran ahead and climbed a tree just to get a glimpse. He wanted to be in the presence of Jesus and did whatever it took to get there.

Jesus spoke to him, calling him out of the tree and offering to come to Zach’s house for dinner. It says Zach came down at once and welcomed Jesus gladly. Even when all the people around him complained about him. Even though Zach had potentially treated people unfairly because of his job as chief tax collector.

And in the presence of Jesus, Zach’s life changed immediately. He joyfully offered to give half his possessions to the poor and repay four times the amount to anyone he may have cheated. Jesus never asked him to give all he had to the poor.

The ruler wanted eternal life. Zach wanted Jesus.

The requirement wasn’t to get rid of their wealth. Jesus gave them both instructions based on their heart posture. One went away in sadness, holding onto what he had; the other obeyed, opened his life, and was transformed.

Today, in the midst of unprecedented times, I believe Jesus is coming our way. He’s looking to bring salvation and transformation to all. We can be like the man whose focus was on everything he could get or keep for himself, or we can be like the other man who did whatever it took to get into the presence of Jesus.

Which one are you?

(Scripture referenced is Luke 18:19-30 & Luke 19:1-10)

Doing vs Being


DSC_0141It’s easier to do something than it is to be honest.

Think on that for a second.

God puts it this way:

“For it is: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule, a little here, a little there. Very well then…God will speak to this people, to whom he has said, ‘This is the resting place; let the weary rest,’ and ‘This is the place of repose,’ but they would not listen. So then, the word of the Lord to them will become Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there – so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured.” Isaiah 28:10- 13

Sometimes we just want to have something to do. To have a rule to follow. A formula for getting us were we want to go. A quick fix.

That’s what religion is, isn’t it?

Give us a list of rules. Let’s get caught up in the rituals. Then we don’t really have to face the truth about ourselves or the fact that God is speaking to us. Calling us into a relationship with him.

Because relationships require honesty. Vulnerability. Uncovering ourselves and baring our hearts with their scared, broken places and fears. With our weaknesses and selfish motives and pride. With our two-year-old “I want this” attitudes.

It’s easier to simply eek out an hour every other Sunday. Or throw a five dollar bill in the offering bucket. Displaying a Bible on the coffee table or bookshelf proves we’re religious, right? We certainly will celebrate Christmas and Easter–the important holidays about Jesus.

The crazy thing is, maintaining religion is exhausting. But God calls us to rest.

God never planned for us to get caught up in a religious facade. Proving ourselves better than our neighbor because of the fish sticker on our car or the way we vote. He didn’t give us a list of rules and rituals to keep in order to earn a place in heaven someday.

Maybe. If we’re “good” enough.

God loves and longs for us. The children he created. And he simple asks us to be with him in his presence, resting there, listening to him, enjoying him and who he made us to be. He asks us to be.

And he wants us free.

When we get stuck in doing and living by rules or formulas, we “fall backward” in life. We become captured and ensnared. Doing the same thing, in the same ways. The way we think is best. But it doesn’t ever pan out.

Ever feel like that? Like life just isn’t working?

I’ve been there before. Striving to figure out what to do next but never really getting ahead or feeling free. Exhausted, striving, empty.

“…for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place.”  (vs 15)

Sometimes we think we’re doing all the right things, but we’ve believed a lie. We’ve embraced a falsehood because it’s easier than being honest. It’s easier than letting go of our own understanding or pride. But the very place we’re hiding has become an exhausting trap.

God’s answer is simple.

He tells us to come to him in our weariness. He wants to exchange our way of thinking for his. His was is easy, light and comes with humility. He tells us to stop leaning on our way of thinking, but instead, acknowledge him–that he is God and knows best.

That is where we find a place of repose.

Peace. Rest. Freedom. Surrendering ourselves to Jesus. To simple be with him and be ourselves. Flaws, scars, weakness and broken places. He loves us no matter what and doesn’t require do and do, do and do.

Just an acceptance what he’s already done for us.

Miracles Do Happen


When my friend, Carol, and I decided to take a chance with online dating, I don’t think we expected the outcome we ended up with. Oh, we hoped to find Mr. Right, but really, what were the chances we would both find our husbands through that vehicle?

At the same time?

Brian and Carol's rehearsal dinner
Brian and Carol’s rehearsal dinner

The actual odds were pretty slim considering that only 1 in 5 singles form a committed relationship with someone from a dating site (match.com). So for both of us to meet our husbands online at christiancafe.com within a couple of months of each other seemed pretty miraculous.

How many people do you know who have met through an internet dating site and are now happily married? (I’d really love to know in the comments below.)

We are both coming up on our fifth year anniversaries which seems amazing to me. What’s even more amazing is the story of how it all happened. Well, Carol’s story is hers to share, but you can find more of my story from earlier posts in Confessions of an Online Dater.

Or, you can read the book.DSC_0002

It’s in the proofing stage currently and is now set to release on February 7, 2014. It will be available through CreateSpace.com, Amazon.com and other retailers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON IN PRINT AND KINDLE EDITION

 

 

How Do I Forgive?? – Part 2


Hawaiian Honeymoon
Hawaiian Honeymoon

God forgives us. Now, He asks us to forgive others.

 

But you don’t know what they’ve done!”

Acted foolishly? Lashed out because they are in pain? Stubbornly chosen their own way?

Haven’t I done the same?

God reveals to us what we have done that needs repentance and forgiveness, and lavishes love and grace on us. Then He asks us to do the same for others.

 

Freely you have received; freely give.     Matthew 10:8

When God reminds us of the details of what someone has done to hurt us, He’s helping us deal with each issue, forgive it and let it go. Remember that last week we talked about how our lack of forgiveness hurts us more than the other person. God doesn’t want us to suffer in anger, resentment and bitterness.

At first, I felt guilty for reflecting on things done to me, but then I realized I could only forgive as I saw the full truth of what I was forgiving. Contrary to what many of us think, forgiveness begins when we can honestly acknowledge the hurt we’ve experienced.

Let’s say my sister used my car without permission and wrecked it.

(Just an example, I don’t have a sister.) If I don’t acknowledge the facts of the circumstances, how can I forgive my sister? If I deny it: “My sister didn’t do anything wrong;” or minimize it: “Well, after all, she’s my sister so isn’t it okay for her to take my car?” or ignore it, then I’m not forgiving her action or the fact it has hurt me.

Doesn’t granting forgiveness means I condone hurtful behavior?

I’ve wondered this, and also if forgiveness requires me to return to a painful situation. But I learned that forgiving doesn’t mean I must disregard or tolerate someone hurting me. It doesn’t necessitate continuing to live in a deceptive, dangerous or abusive relationship. Forgiving someone simply releases that person into God’s hands to handle it. When I was able to forgive, I could let go, and not go back.

Sometimes, a person’s lack of remorse can trip us up.

I’ve struggled with forgiving someone when I sensed they were more concerned for their own suffering as a result of being caught than because of pain they caused. But forgiving is to free me. So I’ve asked God to help me let go even if the other person refused to apologize, excused their actions or didn’t seem sincere.

Sometimes, I wasn’t willing to forgive because I was holding onto pain as proof that I deserved justice. I felt like giving up the pain was giving up my chance to make things right. But God is the one who brings justice. He is the one who will hold the person accountable for their behavior. It may be now or later, but He will call them to account. When we let Him deal with the situation, we are free.

Forgiveness really comes back to trusting God. When we believe He has everything covered it’s easier to be gracious towards others.

What has kept you from forgiving someone?

What Are You Looking for?


DSC_0033

The other day I decided to hunt around some blogs sharing their internet dating stories. I love to hear stories of people who have met the love of their life online. It confirms the legitimacy of online dating and the validity of it as a viable option for finding one’s soul mate.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find any. What I found were numerous blogs about looking for sex online. And the discouraged seekers wondered why they couldn’t seem to connect with anyone in a real relationship.

It made me sad.

Our society has duped us into believing that sex and love are equivalent entities. But sex does not equal love, and those who believe it does are left in lonely puzzlement.

I read a portion of a blog that related a dating experience in which a conversation regarding the size of breasts was the compelling reason for a date. Another confused soul was thrilled about the sex they were having as a result of online searches, but lamented their inability to find someone interested in a serious relationship. Seriously.

How unfortunate that we’ve bought the lie.

Sex wasn’t intended for entertainment. Beginning with it leaves us with nowhere to go except into more extreme expressions of it or onto the next person. This even starts in junior high! Twelve year olds “go out” with each other because of a physical attraction (that boy/girl is cute). Their relationship consists of hugging and kissing. No real conversations about who they are (or becoming), no real friendship, no hanging out except for the entertainment of making out.

Love making is intended as an act of consummation between two who have already come to know each other intimately through conversation, shared experiences and time spent enjoying each others company. It is a fulfillment physically of an emotional, mental and spiritual bond. No wonder people feel empty and alone. Physically satisfied perhaps, but emotionally left wanting.

Casual sex may seem satisfying if you haven’t experienced actual love making.

The culmination of joining together in every way is a far greater experience than simply hooking up for the physical pleasure. Great sex can be had for a drink, but a great relationship requires an investment of time which can eventually lead to even greater sex. According to an article in the Huffington Post, married folks have better and more frequent sex. No wonder. Sex was intended for married couples. It makes sense that many singles are frustrated with their relationship situation, or lack thereof.

This isn’t about morality.

This is about a great plan gone horribly wrong and leaving in its wake confusion, loneliness and frustration. Both my husband and I can attest to the fact that following the “way of the world” in this area left us feeling lost and lonely in our pasts, but changing our way of thinking and focusing on relationships rather than on physical satisfaction changed the parameters of who we met and spent time with.

Perhaps people would find the availability and quality of relationship more what they long for if they reconsider what they are truly looking for and why. For us, it was well worth the shift in focus, even if it meant sifting through those who hadn’t, and waiting for the right person who wanted more than a sexual experience.

What has your experience been with internet dating? What are you looking for?

Is Online Dating Gaining Popularity?


It happened again.

This time I was getting a pedicure and chatting with the lovely woman who attempted to produce something beautiful from my calloused, beach-combing feet. The conversation naturally turned to how we each met our husbands.

Her question prompted my response, “On an internet dating site,” and I grinned, waiting for the usual astonishment.

No way! You’re the third person that I’ve heard of.

I find I’m hearing that more often now. My husband and I know two other married couples who met on Christian Café. Online dating is quickly losing its stigma. Many folks are tired of the bar hopping want-to-go-to-my-place scene. They want more than one night; they long for something real, deeper and permanent.

According to 2012 statistics, internet dating is gaining popularity and producing lasting results.

Did you know that:

  • In 2007, 20 million people tried online dating; in 2012 40 million have jumped onboard
  • 10% of 54 million singles use an online dating service
  • Of online daters, 52.4% are male; 47.6% are female
  • 20% of current committed relationships started online
  • The average length of courtship leading to marriage for online daters is 18.5 months
  • 17% of couples who married met on a dating site
  • According to eHarmony, their site is responsible for 5% of all US marriages

Is it the best option?

While opportunities for meeting the person of your dreams through work, school, and social activities may present themselves to the majority of society, many people find the internet dating situation a beneficial one. Learning a little about someone from a profile or being matched to a compatible suitor offers a dating advantage that supersedes a bar scene or the constant conscious effort to pay attention to every potential single who may be in the next aisle at the grocery store.

Yes, liars and potential dangers do exist online.

But I’ve seen or met some fairly sketchy characters on a college campus, in a restaurant and even at church. There are no guarantees that you won’t meet unscrupulous people on an internet dating site—just as you might anywhere. It’s certainly not the only option; it’s only one of many. But I’m awfully glad I tried it.

Do you know someone who has met online? What’s their story?
 

Statistics provided by www.statisticbrain.com and www.eharmony.com

Living With An Addict – Part 3


Any of these statements sound familiar?

  • I thought he was my rescue.
  • When our child was born, my husband became sullen, neglectful and harsh.
  • I found a box of pornographic magazines hidden in the closet.
  • By the third drink, he was rude and mean with cruel sarcasm.
  • He really hurt me the other night.

There’s a verse in the Bible that states,

A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.    Proverbs 22:3

Often, we simply don’t see the danger.

We’ll continue the series on Living With an Addict by addressing some of the thoughts and feelings a spouse in that situation may experience. While based in part on my experiences, these struggles are common ones others have shared with me as well. When we finally see the circumstances as they truly are, we can take refuge.

Many women living with someone addicted to sex became enticed into the situation because of patterns already established in our lives. Most likely, we were violated in some way in earlier years. The fear of violation continues in these circumstances. Women in this position don’t feel safe; rather, we consistently sense an unexplained threat, a helpless state of being preyed upon. Rape is an attitude of the heart, not simply a physical exploit even though it is an act of one person’s will against another. Molestation and/or rape can occur within a marriage, within the thoughts or heart of a spouse, even without physical violence, though often physical abuse takes place as well. Any violation is just that, a violation. The fact that it is perpetrated by someone with the privilege of sharing sexual relations with us doesn’t make it any less of a rape. Force in any manner whether through verbal, mental, emotional manipulation or physical attack constitutes rape.

A spouse living in this setting does not feel safe, comfortable or protected.

Because of this manipulation, we are left feeling the obligation or duty to meet those sexual demands in order to alleviate the preyed upon threat. Perhaps if we can fulfill the expectations, we will not longer be a target. As Christians, we are told to submit and offer our bodies to our spouse. Very good and wise advice, unless it is within an abusive relationship. Jesus turned the other cheek to his accusers, but for those of us being used and abused that setting is like a drug to our addict. Often, we aren’t able to discern the difference between overlooking minor hurts or offenses caused by our spouse, and feeding a dangerous addiction by our obligation to make everything okay. Many times we are told that if we don’t do what our spouse demands, we are encouraging him to go to someone else who will.

All this lays a foundation for further abuse not freedom.

We begin to feel we must do whatever it takes to avoid conflict especially in the area of sex. So we compromise what we believe to be right, and we compromise who we are. We apologize for everything; we ask for nothing; we ignore our needs and any problems. Although we may think we are keeping the peace, we are an emotional time bomb ready to detonate. We fight for peace outside, but inside we feel tormented, suffocated.

We long to get away, but feel compelled to stay.

Deep inside, we sense that what we’re living in isn’t right or good. Our portrayal to the world, however, paints a different picture. If we confess our uneasiness with our life, we may be met with well-meaning platitudes that things will work out or something must be wrong with us to feel that way. Often, with the exception of our spouse, those who insist all is well do so because they haven’t seen the truth of what is happening. We’ve learned to minimize in order to survive so part of us believes them and thinks we must be crazy. When we don’t share the full truth, others aren’t able to help us, and we continue to internalize our pain, turmoil and exhaustion. Sometimes, even we don’t realize what things are normal or not.

After months of counseling with a pastor who saw the truth of my situation and who I trusted completely, I finally casually shared something in passing that deep down I had felt was wrong, but passed it off as my issue. When I told her, she was shocked and assured me that the circumstances I described were not normal or acceptable. I had grown oblivious after so many years of feeling the obligation to tolerate the behavior. How freeing it was for me when she spoke the truth about it. I was relieved and released.

The truth shall set you free…

Continued next week….

 

Where have you missed seeing danger? Have you felt tormented? Are there any areas where you have been freed by the truth?
 
For help or prayer feel free to send me a private message at laurabennet14@gmail.com