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Quiet time

If God is good why does He allow bad things?

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Have you ever asked yourself if God is good why do bad things happen? Why does He allow things that are unfair, painful, difficult, and tragic? Sometimes the things we see happening around the world, the things we experience and the things our friends and family go through are too much to even comprehend, so immediately we go to God and beg Him to make everything better, to fix it all and take the pain away.  

We often try to explain things based on our understanding and our perspective, but we forget that God sees much more than we do. He sees it all and He knows the complete plan. His perspective is perfect and complete. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5)

To try to understand why bad things happen we have to go back to when Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden. They had everything they needed to be happy in a perfect place enjoying the presence of God. But they chose to disobey God and evil was introduced to the world. It is difficult to understand why what one man did so long ago is still affecting us today. It feels unfair. “…sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12) But God is good and He knew what was going to happen and He made a way for us to still be able to be with Him, even after sin invaded the world. He sent His son Jesus Christ to take our sins. Jesus was crucified and in the cross He took all our sin, yours and mine and everyone’s. He paid the price for the sin of all humanity and when we accept Jesus’ sacrifice we are free, we receive new and eternal life.

Does this mean that bad things don’t happen to the people who accept Christ? No, we still live in this world and bad things will happen, but the difference is that we know this is not the final destination, we are passing through on our way to heaven. Jesus was honest about the pain and suffering we would encounter “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

But if death and evil have been defeated, why God doesn’t fix the mess we are living in? He will. In Revelation 21:4 we read “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Jesus will come back and when He does everyone will stand before Him and give an account of his or her life. God is not slow in His coming, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as  some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) He is giving us time to turn to Him.

If you are going through difficulties there’s not much I can say to make you feel better. But I know God can. Hold on to Him and let Him fill you with peace. He understands you, He cares, and He can take whatever you are going through and turn it into good. It may not seem like it now, but hold on to that promise “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

We can’t make the sin of this world greater than God. We need to hold on tight to Him and focus on Him as we shine His light of hope everywhere we go. The time is now.

Manuelita    

Your past happened a minute ago

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Some months ago I met a woman who impacted me because of her energy, her joy, and her confidence. She told a group of women her story, full of problems, drugs, alcoholism, toxic relationships, and rejection. Fortunately her story had a happy ending.  I learned many things from her, but something she said kept jumped out at me: “When we talk about the past, we are talking about the minute just before what is happening right now”. I never saw it with that perspective. I had never seen my past so immediate, so close to my present. To me it was always something that happened years before.

With this new view about the past I understood what does it mean to feel free of guilt day to day. I understood that there’s no need to leave an open wound for years, to later do a “proper” forgiveness process of “the past”. I felt that God had placed this woman in my path to teach me to enjoy life without the need to accumulate things that upset me, because I can deal with them right now. I felt God was inviting me to learn to detoxify my life now, not at the end of the week, at the end of the month, or at the end of the year. Right now I can confidently approach God and talk to Him about things as they happen, even if they may seem small or insignificant. They are important to me and also to God.  

To live without guilt is a challenge. Our world seems to be going faster every minute. We are expecting more from ourselves and so is everyone else around us. Some days I feel like I am being bombarded with complaints I keep repeating to myself: Why did I do this, why did I say that, why did I think something and even worse, why did I publish that on social media (as if I didn’t have enough to worry in real life, now I am worrying about my virtual one). Of course it is good to analyze things, but not to an obsessive level and also being careful not to maximize our mistakes. What happened happened. I will learn from it and improve, but I will also go on and enjoy my life. I am tired of worrying about the past. When there’s genuine regret and sorrow, faith and a lesson learned, God renews me. I don't have to pile up my guilt and wait for years to receive His forgiveness. As He promises, His grace is new every  morning and now that’s what I hold on to everyday. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Last year I made a poor financial move and to be honest, it took me a long time to overcome how silly I felt. Today, having heard the courageous woman I mentioned earlier and seeing God as a loving father who is listening to me and loves me, I can truly say that I deserve big things, even blessings related to that poor decision I made because God uses all things for good. I forgave myself, I learned and now I see myself the way God sees me: beautiful, able, courageous, intelligent and free of guilt. I can let go of my past right now because God has planned good things for me. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Ana

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Just Ask

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I was talking to the mother of one of my son’s friends and I complimented her colorful bag.  A week later she gave me one just like hers. We don’t give compliments expecting people to give us things, but we do compliment what we value.

What if we complimented God’s creation more? What if we told Him how beautiful the sky looks early in the morning?  What if we told Him that we appreciate certain traits of people we read in the Bible, and how we would like to strengthen those traits in us?  Our God has more than plenty; maybe He’s just waiting for us to tell Him what we appreciate.  Maybe He just wants us to ask.

You may have heard the story of the lost son, where a man had two sons and the younger one asked his father for his part of the inheritance, then left and wasted all of his money on wild living. When the money ran out and he was hungry and alone, he decided to go back to his father to beg him for forgiveness and ask him for work.   When the father saw his son coming in the distance, he was overjoyed and immediately organized a party to welcome him. Everyone was happy, except the older brother. He told his father: “… All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends… ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” (Luke 15:29; 31) Maybe sometimes we act like the older brother. God has already offered us everything but we may be focusing on doing things “to earn” His love, or we might be thinking of what He hasn’t given us.

Why don’t we ask God more often for big things?  Not just material things but for blessings, revelations and for His favor and mercy to surround us. If we know our God is big, why are our prayers small?

There may be many reasons; here are a few I’ve experienced:

-Do not disturb: I used to ask God for so little, my prayers seemed pitiful! I thought I was bothering God, I thought asking for too much was improper and praying for myself was selfish. It was as if I believed God had a “Do not disturb” sign. Now, I pray about everything. God listens to me all day, and the wonderful thing is that He loves to!

-He knows: If God knows everything you need, why do you have to ask him? Think about the special people in your life. You know they love you, but you still smile every time they say it, right? The same way God loves to have a continuous conversation with you.

-I am not worthy:  How could I ask God for all the things I need after all I’ve done?  Why would He even pay attention to me?  Yes, we are all sinners, and yes, we aren’t worthy, but Jesus paid the price. We no longer look at our past. When we accept the gift of salvation that Jesus is offering us we’re new, and that’s how God sees us.

-It’s not a big deal: Our lives seem to be full of “minor” things that are stealing our peace, and these issues continue to grow until they overwhelm us. We need to act proactively and ask God to help us deal with the “little” things.

God wants you to appreciate everything He has given you; He wants to be first in your life.  He wants you to ask Him because He wants to give you. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

Manuelita @manuelitaotero

Just Ask is a chapter of Blessed. A book that reminds us that daily life takes a new meaning when seen from God’s perspective. It’s about noticing the blessings that overflow in our day to day and understanding that our relationship with God doesn’t have to be complicated.   Blessed

 

 

The bigger picture

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Have you ever felt that you’re doing everything you can but nothing seems to be happening? You may go to God with the same issue time after time, asking for His guidance, but His will is not clear which leaves you confused and honestly, a little frustrated. Life sometimes doesn’t make a lot of sense, but those moments are the ones when we need to hold on tighter to God and remember who He is. They are opportunities to let go and rely completely on Him, on His provision, and when we do we get to witness daily miracles. We receive what we need exactly when we need it in the most unexpected ways; we get to experience God making it very clear that He is in control. He has been and always will be.

But how do we find the strength to focus on Him while we wait? How do we keep our faith and our joy through it all?

- KNOW: How can you trust someone if you don’t know them? Take time to know God’s Word.  In Scripture you will read who God is and the promises He has made to you. You will get to know God better and see how He relates to your daily life. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

- LISTEN: As you read scripture ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you what is His will for your life. God’s Word is life and will speak into your situation giving you the strength, peace, and wisdom you need. Ask God for guidance, and know He will answer you. “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know”. (Jeremiah 33:3)   

- DO: While you spend time in silence with God, He will give you directions on what to do.  Sometimes they may not seem very clear or you may need confirmation, but once you feel peace and clarity, obey God and follow His guidance. This may be difficult because He may ask you to do something that challenges you, takes you out of your comfort zone, or may seem impossible. That’s when you need to remember that “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3)    

- PRAISE: God is faithful and we praise Him not only for what He can do for us but for what He has already done. Always see the bigger picture. Our situation is important to God and He is working on it, but it can never be bigger than the gift of salvation we have received. Our problems can’t be more important than our God with whom we can have a relationship right now and who has given us eternal life through Jesus. We praise our Lord because that is our joy and purpose.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3) When we understand that God’s Word is powerful and true we see things from a different perspective. Our God, our Father, is faithful, what He has said will happen so let your life display the joy of knowing that  God sees you, hears you and He is blessing you through it all.

Manuelita

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What if each of us positively impacted at least one person a day?

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My friend wanted to spend some time and befriend children who live in shelters. This shelter had a program where you are paired with a child, so when she signed up she was expecting to be paired with a younger child, to take to the park, to the movies, to the zoo and do all those things you do with little ones. Instead she was paired with an 18 year old young woman.  My friend was surprised and as she says honestly a little disappointed, but after years of friendship with this young woman she has grown close to her, her sisters and their children. Lives are being changed because she made the time to care for others.  
 
We’re all very busy, we have so many responsibilities and jobs to fulfill that sometimes it’s tough to find the balance we need and want.  In the rush and busyness we may lose opportunities to make a difference, to grow, to change, to invest in what has immeasurable value. You don’t want to wake up one day and realize that you have all these things and accomplishments but didn’t make a positive difference in someone’s life because you were simply too busy. “… Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” 2 Corinthians 9:6
 
The Foundation I’m working for has this great program in which children from the inner city play tennis with police officers and volunteers to reduce barriers in the community and to keep children off the streets. We usually go as a family and have so much fun. We think we go to give, but in reality we receive much more. I don’t think we could ever imagine the difference two hours of tennis are making in the children who attend, in my children, and of course in me.  “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:25 We find joy in the giving and it starts when we make ourselves available to be part of someone’s life. 
 
Many times we see a situation and complain about it or “feel bad.”  What if we went one step further and were willing to be a part of the solution? What if each of us would positively impact at least one person a day?  And what if that person impacted one more and we just kept going and going, wouldn’t that make our world a little better? We can get started right now by making ourselves available and by opening our eyes towards the needs of others. Whose life will you change today? 
 
Manuelita

Not Where I Was

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I love writing. I write ideas, I take notes when I go to meetings, and I make summaries of the books I read. All these notes end up in a folder waiting to be passed into a computer so I can organize them. The other day I took my daughter to work with her producers, and usually as they make really cool music, I work. This particular day I decided to pass some notes. I love opening my folder because I never know what am I going to find. I have notes from years ago so it feels like I'm going back in time. But nothing could have prepared me for what I found that day.

Almost seven years ago our lives changed completely. Everything went upside down and everyone was deeply affected, including my daughter who was dealing with so many issues that we decided to take her to a psychologist to guide us on what to do. I took notes of a meeting we had one time and as I held them years later I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I'm a very positive person so I tend to forget bad experiences, so as I read the notes I took years back I was reminded of how bad the situation really was. The words that described my daughter and the complex issues she was dealing with seemed hopeless: Anxiety, hyperactivity, fast nervous system, depression, attention deficit, wrong perception of the world, rejection of herself… the words just kept coming making the situation sound irreversible and permanent. Immediately my mind went back to that day.  I remember the meeting, the pain, and the confusion. I remember my doubts and fears, and as I was there visiting the past I heard my daughter sing the song she was working on. It was such a beautiful contrast: the hopeless past and the redeemed present. The impossible made possible. It was a reminder that God’s Word is true, when He says He will do something He will, no matter how difficult or impossible it may seem. “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.” (Numbers 23:19)

Sometimes we forget how far we have come and how much we have grown. We're not in the same place, we're always changing. I look at my life now, so many years later and I feel there's still so much to do, but I can appreciate and be thankful for how much God has done.

We may not know why bad things happen. In John 9 we read how the disciples were asking Jesus whose fault was it that a man was born blind, “’Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ Said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:3) God can turn any situation into a celebration of His grace and power.

The words used to describe my daughter didn’t define her, God had a better plan for her life. And He has an amazing plan for each of us, no matter how difficult it may seem, for God nothing is impossible. He is not surprised or worried about our mess. He is ready to take it and turn it into something amazing that will bring Him glory.

I am amazed at how God works. When I needed it the most, He reminded me in an unusual way what He has done in my past, so I can have a new perspective in my present. Speak life into your situation, whatever you're going through. Know that God is in control and His promises are real. “Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs.” (Isaiah 61:7)

Manuelita

What do you feel called to do?

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My daughter and I love to watch Chopped, a cooking show in which chefs make amazing dishes with a set basket of ingredients in a short amount of time. For the main dish they get 30 minutes and they run around the kitchen working on their culinary creations.  In the room there’s a digital timer and the host of the show reminds them when the final seconds are coming up: “10 seconds… 5 seconds…” and then a bell rings as he says “Time’s up” At this sound the chefs raise their hands without being able to even fix a garnish on their plate and all they can do is stare at their creation and hope the judges enjoy it.

For us too, one day the bell will ring, time will be up, and our lives will be in front of us ready to be presented to our Judge. What will go through your mind as you stand in front of what you have done with what you were given? Will you be satisfied with the final result or would you like an extra couple of years to make some adjustments? If I’m honest, I don’t have that sense of urgency when I go about life and my mission in it. There’s so much going on that the mission seems to be waiting in line behind many other things that I will do someday when I have more time. What has God put in your heart? What do you feel called to do? Are you doing it?

Before we start feeling guilty and worrying we need to realize that we don’t have to run around like the chefs do in the program, stressing over every minute that passes. Our mission is not something that we fit into our schedule, it’s our life and it needs to be reflected in everything we do. It’s a part of us. It’s about being, and I can only do that when I know who I am in Christ, when I spend time with Him, so He can direct me and guide me.  “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Now is the time for action. Our mission is about being ready and available because God wants to bless people through us right now. “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4)

The time is now because today is what we have been given, this day is a gift and an opportunity that can’t be wasted. God is always at work and everything He does has a purpose.  “…open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35)

Manuelita

An Expression of God’s Love

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One of the things I am most thankful for is God’s mercy.  When I think about how God gave his only son to die for my sins, I am overcome with gratitude.  Jesus Christ died for all sins of all people who believe in him!  Isn’t that amazing?  In Psalms 108:12, David says, “ as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us”.  God forgives us and removes the guilt of our sins.  We do not have to carry the burdens of our past sins.  We can live in peace, knowing we are set free of our sins. 

The Bible gives 3 simple steps to forgiveness.  First, we must CONFESS our sins.  This means that we must admit to God what we did, acknowledging that it was wrong.  No matter how big or small, God will forgive us.  Next, we must REPENT of our sin.  This means that we must tell God that we are truly sorry for what we did.  Repenting includes turning away from the sin and making an effort not to repeat the same sin.  Finally, we must ASK God for forgiveness.  The Bible sums up these steps in 1 john 1:9, “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”.

In our spiritual journeys, all of us have sinned against God and have been in need of forgiveness.  We have also hurt or wronged others, whether intentional or not.   I can recall a painful time when I made a decision that really hurt a friend.  It was unintentional, but her feelings were hurt and she did not think she would be able to forgive me.  I apologized, repented, and prayed.  She was hurt, angry, and offended.  Eventually, she forgave me.  I think my friend was able to forgive me because I was truly repentant.  I will never forget the relief and thankfulness that washed over me when we hugged and cried and she forgave me.  I needed her forgiveness.  I remember thinking  that “this is what true forgiveness looks like “.  I have never forgotten my friend’s kindness and forgiveness towards me.  Her act of forgiveness showed me the love of Christ.  It released me from the guilt I felt and freed me .  It has since caused me to forgive others who have wronged me.

I think we can all agree that we want God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of those we have wronged.  Why then, is it so hard to forgive others who have offended us, disappointed us, or let us down?  Why is it hard to extend the grace that we seek?  One of the best examples of what the Bible tells us to do in this situation is the servant and the master in Matthew 18:21-35.  There is a servant who owes a debt to the master.  The master forgives the debt.  The servant who has just been pardoned of his debt,  goes to his debtors and has them thrown into jail until the debt is paid.  This reminds me of myself at times.  I make mistakes.  I want to be forgiven by God and by the people I hurt.  Yet, I hold onto the hurt and offenses others have done to me.   The words of the master in Matthew 18: 32-33 are a powerful reminder of our call to forgive others…”I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant just as I have had on you?”

The most compelling reason for us to forgive is because God commands us to do so.  We are reminded of this in Mark 11: 25-26 where the Bible tells us that if we do not forgive, our Father in heaven will not forgive us.  Forgiveness also frees us from the emotional weight of the pain and allows us to sleep better at night.  It shows grace to others and is an example of God’s love.  It also helps us to appreciate the forgiveness we have been given.

Sometimes, forgiving someone can be extremely difficult.  However, holding on to the pain they caused us only multiplies our anger and bitterness.  So, the next time someone wrongs you, go ahead…..Choose To Forgive!

Natalie McNeel

Natalie loves God and her family.  She is a mother of two wonderful children and a physician assistant at Marietta Plastic Surgery.  She enjoys exercise, reading and spending time with friends.  She has a beautiful smile and a kind heart.

Come and see

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Have you ever been around someone talking about their favorite city or favorite place?  Their eyes seem to get bigger as they tell you about the food, the landscape, the people, all the things that make that place special, and they’ll probably finish by saying “you just have to see it!”  I wonder what would happen if I got that excited when I talked about my story.  Not because of all  that I’ve accomplished, but because of what God has done and how far He has carried me. As believers after we interact with people, they should be left with the question “what does this person have? I want some of it.” That something isn’t money or a glamorous life, but the joy that God brings us.

We read in the Bible about the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus started a conversation with a woman who was alone gathering water, and as soon as she realized that He was the Messiah they have been waiting for she ran to tell everyone “Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’” (John 4:28-29)

As believers many times we think that we need to “fix” people, but that’s not our responsibility. We aren’t meant to change people, we’re meant to love them. We invite them by saying, “come and see what God has done in my life. You don’t have to believe, you don’t have to hear a long sermon about it. I’m just happy so I want to share it with you”. Our life is our witness. We are called to be love wherever we go. We aren’t supposed to judge, assume, or reject. Many times we forget what is written: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) The word “whoever” includes everyone. who am I to decide who to love and who not to love? Jesus died for everyone

God’s witnesses have a serious responsibility: “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Are people excited to hear and see your witness? Are they interested when you say to them “come and see”?     Are you loving the way Jesus loves you, unconditionally and undeservedly?

Your life, your experiences, and your stories have happened for a reason. They are part of your witness to the world and a channel for God to show love to the people around you. Invite people into your life, not to “teach” them the proper way or to “lecture” them about what they should or shouldn’t do but to love them, to show them that God is good and He can do amazing things. Let your life be an invitation, an open door for everyone around to experience the love of God.

By Manuelita

 

Step one: love and forgive yourself

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During a difficult phase of my life I was searching for peace in the middle of my frustration, so I started spending more time with God.  The closer I got, the more I heard an invitation which can be summarized in two words: love and forgiveness.  I thought these were obvious words, easy to understand and apply. So I diligently tried to fulfill the command by looking at the positive side of people, being aware of what was happening in my family and trying to be nicer. I even prayed for people I didn’t like.  Basically I tried to do many “acts” of service.  I wanted to tell God: “Here I am, I am trying to get to know you better. I need you now”.

These things must have had a positive outcome and they did benefit the people around me, but it took me a while to understand where God was trying to lead me. He was asking me to love myself and to forgive myself so I could then love others and forgive others.  This is what we read in Matthew 22:  “…Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39)   For some reason in the forgiving lesson I missed “yourself” and to be honest, I thought I didn’t need it since I loved myself enough. I dedicated time to study, to work on a career I loved, to have fun at parties and I bought myself nice things once in a while. But God always goes deeper and the more time I spent with him the more He showed me that for some time I have had low self-esteem as I was going through a phase in which I was continuously judging myself.  I was begging for love, full of guilt and fear, waiting for punishment from God because I felt I wasn’t enough. 

Realizing this has been a freeing experience.  Now I know God’s overflowing love for me and I receive and delight in his grace and mercy. God used my mistakes as I hit bottom to show me what forgiveness is all about: repentance instead of guilt, freedom instead of condemnation, peace instead of sadness, present instead of past.  I can enjoy all these because God did this for me and also for you: “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)

I still have a long way to go, but each day forgiving and loving myself becomes easier because of God’s love for me.  He is more interested in love than legalism, tradition, or religion.

 By Ana


 

What are you doing with your talents?

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“You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

God calls us the light of the world, doesn’t that sound like a tough job? Especially in a world that sometimes seems so dark.  As I read this beautiful verse, I ask myself, “Am I being light of the world? Is my life showing God’s amazing love so everyone will praise Him?”  If I’m being honest, I’ll have to say not always.  Sometimes I allow distractions in my life to quiet the soft whisper of God’s guidance, and many times I allow fear to stop me from taking the leaps of faith He wants me to take. Is there anything God has put in your heart, but you have been too afraid to take that first step? How would your life be if you used your talents and gifts without letting fear get in the way? 

God has an amazing plan for our life, but many times instead of letting Him guide us we allow fear to stop us.   God has a mission for each of us, and He has given us everything we need to achieve it. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy2: 16-17)  We have God’s breath on a page,  God is in us, and we still allow fear to stop us from achieving the mission we have been created for.  

We also have strengths, certain talents and abilities that God knew we would need to pursue the dream He has put in our hearts.  Maybe as a child you remember how easy it was to do what you loved or to dream things that seemed impossible, but as you grew up, instead of believing God could do amazing things through you, you started listening to people who kept telling you to “grow up” and to find a “realistic” job.  The God we serve, the One and only, is able to do beyond what we can imagine, so we need to stop reducing Him to what we think is possible.  We start our journey with Him and all through it we keep focusing on Him.  The world will try to distract us with what it has labeled as “successful” but when we are looking at Jesus, we don’t fall for those traps. Our goal in life is to honor God, to use the talents He has given us to point people around us to Him. Our mission is to glorify Him in everything we do. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)  God has high expectations for us because He is the One doing the work through us.  He is a big God, shouldn’t He do big things?   

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) See yourself the way God sees you.  Open your eyes and notice how amazingly blessed you are, how talented and beautiful you are in every way.  No, you are not perfect, no one is, but you are precious.  First recognize the strengths and talents God has given you, thank Him for them and ask Him to show you how to use them, because you have been created to glorify God in amazing ways.  

By Manuelita 

It all starts with a decision

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Have you ever waited in line at a grocery store when a cashier is new? Or maybe driven behind a person who is learning how to drive?  Do you remember your first day at work or in a classroom? It’s hard to start something new, isn’t?  You are excited and at the same time nervous; you feel uncertain and a little uncomfortable because there is so much you don’t know.

The same thing could happen when we start following Jesus. We may feel overwhelmed by the things we don’t understand.  We may put too much pressure on ourselves and to avoid looking “ignorant” we keep questions to ourselves. A relationship with Christ can seem complicated, but it isn’t!   

God loves us where we are.  He is not expecting us to be a certain way or to reach a certain level before we can go to Him. But for some reason we seem to believe that to be a “worthy” Christian we need to have completed steps; to have read the whole Bible at least once or to be able to quote several verses.  Our walk with God is all about an amazing journey, which starts with a decision.  The decision is very personal and straight forward: Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior? Only you can decide, and if your answer is “yes!”, God will guide your journey according to His plan and your needs.  He will place the people you need in your path and He will celebrate each victory with you.  Nothing is too small, because every step towards Him is worthy of celebration.  This is not a race against your friends or the people at church who seem spiritual because they know so much, this is a relationship between you and God; and the more time you spend with Him, the more you will get to know Him. “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelations 22:17)

In the Bible we often read about step by step progress.  Jesus would speak about planting and harvesting, “…The one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it.  He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:23)     We also read about how God’s people would often be on a journey and through it all He was by their side: “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.” (Exodus 13:21)  

If you are a young Christian, taking your first steps in this amazing journey, I am so happy for you, and I would like to share some of the things that have helped me along the way:

Make quiet time your priority:  Time with God is the most wonderful way to start your day.  I know that I need to spend time with God as soon as I wake up, but for some reason it is hard to stay still and separate time with Him.  That is why it has to be done on purpose.  The enemy will use many tactics to stop you from having that fellowship with God. Make it a habit and work everything else around it, you will notice a difference in your life.

Start a journal: Leave a trail of your journey so you can go back and praise God for all He has done, and also to find strength remembering that nothing is too hard for Him. Our journey is so exciting that it needs to be documented and shared.  Write  the thoughts that come to you as  you are having quiet time, Bible verses, feelings, lessons, and all the God stories in your life so you can share them later with others.   

Don’t compare yourself:  This is an individually tailored journey; no two stories are going to be the same. When you are around other Christians who quickly quote scripture and seem to know so much, don’t feel bad. No one is judging you because you can’t recite verses or you don’t pray with big words, what really matters is where your heart is.   

Ask God for a mentor: When you ask God, He answers.  It is such a delight to have someone picked by Him to share the journey with. Words can’t describe how much I love my mentor and all that God has done in my life through her.  Ask God to place a person in your life that will help you and guide you, someone you can share the tough moments and also celebrate the good ones, and someone who will delight in the Lord with you.

We may have heard that life is a journey not a destination.  And yes, life is about enjoying the time God has given us here on earth and achieving our mission, but our eyes need to always be looking toward our final destination, an eternity enjoying God’s presence. So go ahead, take that first step and be certain that people you may not even know are praying for you and cheering you all throughout your journey.

By Manuelita

 

The joy of giving

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Imagine for a moment that you are sitting on the grass beside a big group of people listening to Jesus’ teaching.  You don’t want to miss one word of the stories He is telling and you are trying to understand the meaning behind them.  Imagine what would go through your mind as you hear Him say: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) or “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Luke 6:29) Words like these challenged people back then and they are still challenging us every day.  They are the opposite of what seems “fair” and “right”.  Another teaching that is really difficult to grasp is related to giving, and God knew it, to the point that He didn’t only command us to give, but He challenged us to do it and see the results: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this,’ Says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Malachi3:10) God is challenging us to give and He has told us what will happen once we do it, but still we are hesitant. Why is it so hard to give?

Have you ever heard the same concept or teaching from different sources at the same time?  It is as if God is trying to get your attention and doesn’t want you to miss what He is telling you. In the past weeks God is pressing in my heart the notion that we are always sacrificing something, but sometimes we just don’t realize it.  At church a competitive swimmer mentioned that many times he didn’t feel like getting up early in the morning to train, and he knew he could sleep a little longer but that would mean he would be sacrificing his goals and dreams to succeed in swimming.  Every morning he would choose to sacrifice his flesh which wanted to sleep and he would get up and train.  We are always making choices about what to do with our resources such as: time, money, and talents.  In some cases, what we choose to do with them will have eternal significance and will make a difference while in other instances some choices will feel good for a little while and that is all the benefit we will get. Giving is difficult because it matters; it has the power to make a difference in people’s lives.

Like everything, giving gets easier the more we do it, to the point where it could become a habit.  And once we are open to the Holy Spirit’s promptings showing us how to bless others, He provides us with opportunities.  We seem to have exactly what others need. God has made us to be channels not mere recipients; therefore, His blessings are meant to flow through us.  We are not supposed to store them, they are meant to touch all the people around us. Not only is giving a great joy, opportunity, honor, and responsibility, but it is also something that comes back to us.  “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38) When we give, we receive more than we could ever imagine.  The more we give, the fuller our life becomes.  

We need to see giving as an opportunity.  We give because we have been given and because our giving makes a difference right now when it is needed.

Imagine again that while you are listening to Jesus speak, He looks directly at you and reminds you that it doesn’t matter if you give a lot or a little, what really matters is your attitude when giving… what will your answer be to His challenge?

By Manuelita

 

Traveling light

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Every time we come back from a trip, even a short one, I have the longing to clean my house and give things away. I know it may sound weird, but I guess after being away for a while I realize that there are certain things that I don’t need.  Not too long ago we moved into a small apartment and  realized how great it is to only keep what adds to our life; it feels good to simplify.  Sometimes without realizing it we end up having too many things. Unnecessary stuff not only takes up space, but it also takes our precious time as we organize, sort and clean.   Advertising bombards us with the message that getting more stuff will give us more opportunities and will make us happier, and many times we fall into that trap only to feel unsatisfied no matter how many things we get. 

We are in a culture that invites us to accumulate stuff.  Things are not bad, but placing too much importance on them makes us forget what really matters in life, such as relationships and special moments.

Many have compared life to a journey, so the question is: how can we travel light?   

- Get rid of unnecessary weight: The first thing we need to travel light is to get rid of things that are weighting us down.  It may sound obvious but it may not be as easy as it sounds because we have been carrying some of those things for such a long time that we don’t even realize it.  We may think they are a part of us that we can’t let go, or we don’t even think they are the problem. Heavy feelings tend to hide and come up when we least expect them.  They create strongholds that we think are part of our personality, or feelings we seemingly can’t do anything about.  But we can, and we need to.  “…you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:8-10) 

- Be practical: Don’t you love how practical Jesus is? While He was on earth He liked to use what was at hand to do amazing things. He turned water into wine at a wedding (John 2:1-11). He fed more than five thousand people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. (Matthew 14:17-20). He made mud mixing His saliva with the earth from the ground to give sight to a blind man. (John 9:6)  These are just some examples of many instances in which Jesus was trying to teach us that to do great things we don’t necessarily need a lot, just God because we don’t make things happen, He does. Everything we have: our things, money, connections, education, or talents are useless without God.  We may do great things, but will they have the impact God had planned? Will they leave a legacy? Will they change lives and touch souls? God guides, we obey, and He uses what He gave us to make things happen. 

- Take what you need: Many times we don’t know what our journey will require, so we may take more than we need, which may distract us and slow us down.  But when we go first to God, He tells us exactly what to take and what not to take:  “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority… He told them: ‘Take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.” (Luke 9:1;3) God wants us to trust Him and to be certain that He will provide exactly what we need and He will do it in very exciting ways. God loves to delight us and to surprise us.  He uses those “Impossible” situations to show us His love and power and to strengthen our faith. 

Our things don’t have power, our God does. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” 1 Timothy 6:7

By Manuelita

 

In the presence of my Savior

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“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me.  Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.”  Oceans by Hillsong

The other day during service we sang Oceans by Hillsong. I love that song, it leaves me in awe of God’s power and His desire to take us deeper.  I love how He wants to lead us out of our comfort zones so we can witness His power, His glory, His faithfulness.  He wants us to live extraordinary lives and use us in extraordinary ways because He is God and He can do it. But many times we are afraid to take that leap of faith and we miss out.  I want to trust without borders; I want to go deeper and let God be in control so my faith can grow stronger each day.   As we sang this song, the phrase “in the presence of my Savior” kept coming back to me.  I heard it  through the whole service.

In the presence of my Savior is the only way my faith can be stronger, it is the only way for there to be no limit to my trust, and it is the only way to live the life God intends for me to live.  In His presence I am all that He wants me to be.

I started thinking… “What does it mean to be in the presence of my Savior?  Is it my quiet time in the morning as soon as I wake up? Is it the time I spend at church? Is it when I gather with friends for a prayer meeting?”  Yes, all those are times in His presence, but if we think those are the only times we are in God’s presence we are missing out.  For me, being in God’s presence is living each moment of my life in Him. It is everyday life God’s way, in His love, in His joy, and in His peace.  Can you imagine what our lives would be like if we always remembered this?

Does this mean that we just talk and think about God and leave our responsibilities to the side? Of course not, we live our life God’s way.

We hear about living in the present and enjoying the now and we want to achieve that, but it is hard because we feel overwhelmed with problems.  We have so much to do and so little time that our now is plagued with worry, rush and multitasking which steals the joy of just savoring the moment.  When we focus on God and decide that we are going to live in His presence, we enjoy each moment as we should.  We don’t worry because we know worry doesn’t help at all.  “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27) we don’t try to do too much at the same time because we know “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 4:6) We don’t fret about the past because we know God is doing something new “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

This moment is precious.  This heartbeat, the breath I just took and the sentence I just wrote.   I am here right now and I am in the presence of my Savior.  What could be better than that?

Every now that we enjoy becomes a memory that later we will cherish.  The people around me, the experiences I am living, and the situations I am going through all have a purpose if I let God guide me and trust Him completely. He will use my now to build my eternity. 

Life is too valuable to be distracted from our present thinking about past regrets or wishing certain phases would go by faster.   It is what it is and with God it is amazing.

By Manuelita

 

 

A Masterpiece

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When visiting the Louvre Museum in Paris, most people will wait in a long line just to get a glimpse of Leonardo Da Vinci’s renowned artwork “La Mona Lisa”.  This painting is worth millions, but you can easily get a print at the gift shop for a few dollars and see it as often as you want.  A print is not the original; a copy is not worth the same.  Each of us is a masterpiece, a valuable work of art. But sometimes it seems that we ignore this fact and prefer to be replicas.

“When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus answered, ‘if I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’” (John 21:21-22)  In this verse we can clearly see how Jesus dislikes comparisons.  Jesus had just told Peter the kind of death he was going to have to glorify God, but Peter also wanted to know how John would die.  Sometimes when I start looking around, I wonder why others get certain opportunities and I don’t. I imagine God telling me: “What is that to you?  You must follow me.” I love it because it keeps me focused and reminds me not to compare.  God is very personal, He has a custom-made plan for each of us; therefore, we don’t need to be looking around at what other people are doing.  The plan God has for my life is perfect for me, even if at times I may not see it that way.

But it is hard not to compare. We have been taught from a young age to notice what others are doing and try to do the same or better.  When my children were small, l used to have several friends who had children the same age and often I would compare my children to theirs. I wouldn’t do it intentionally, but somehow if I noticed that their child could already spell I would come home and start practicing spelling with my children.  If my neighbor’s child could recite all the states and capitals, I would get flashcards to start teaching them to my babies. I had letters in the refrigerator for them to practice, and everything in our house was labeled at their level so they would start reading faster. I just wanted to make sure I was doing all I needed to do, yet sometimes I felt I wasn’t being a good enough mom.  I finally silenced my fears long enough to be able to hear God’s voice telling me that I was precious the way I was, more than “good enough”.  When I finally received this truth I felt a heavy weight lifted from my shoulders.  I felt I could finally be myself.  No need to pretend that I had it all together, or that my children were perfectly behaved little angels who could read, write and recite all types of information. I didn’t have to worry that I wouldn’t fit in; I wasn’t supposed to.  I can be happy, imperfections and all.  I feel accepted and loved no matter what and I finally appreciate how amazing it is to be unique. 

 How do we silence that voice that keeps telling us that we are not good enough when compared to others?

- Renew your mind:  “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)   Don’t you love the word “renew”? It makes me think of a sea of possibilities; to let go of the bad and embrace the new.  It makes me feel like there is a fresh start each morning, each hour, each minute if I need it.  The opportunity to renew our mind is there, but we have to take it; we have to make the decision and put in the effort.  It is up to us to renew our mind by what we allow in it and what we decide to take out. 

- Know you are unique:  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5) I am unique. God has designated a special mission just for me and He gave me everything I need to complete it; I will glorify Him as I do.  I am me; no one can feel the way I do or see things exactly as I do and that is beautiful. Why would I want to fit in when I am supposed to stand out?    

- Enjoy being you:  “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)  Why don’t we celebrate more?  We have so many things to be joyful about, like the fact that we are precious in God’s eyes, that we have a purpose or that we are heading toward eternity to live by God’s side.  So much to celebrate!

Who are you comparing yourself to? What is stopping you from being all that God has made you to be and from living the joyful life God has promised? 

By Manuelita

I am awesome

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Wonderful things are going to happen today!  Have you ever said this while looking in the mirror?  Have you ever expressed it out loud so your own voice will remind you who you are and all the good things in store for you?  I think we are often our worst critic; we look at ourselves and immediately find our faults. For some reason, we are hesitant to complement ourselves, thinking it may be inappropriate, unnecessary, or downright silly.  

The enemy doesn’t waste any opportunity to lie to us and to remind us of all the negative things we have done in the past. That is one of the reasons we need to speak out loud who we are in Christ, but it is not the only one.  Speaking the truth is powerful and we need to do it often.

We really are amazing!  I may not know who you are, what you look like, what you have accomplished in life so far, but I already know you are someone very special with a purpose and an amazing future.  There is nothing you could tell me that would make me doubt this.  Why?  Because The Bible says: “For we are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”   (Ephesians 2:10)  We are a masterpiece!  Isn’t that lovely?  But even better, we are God’s masterpiece!

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines Masterpiece as a work done with extraordinary skill; especially: a supreme intellectual or artistic achievement.  Everything in us has been given by our creator for a purpose.  This includes our physical features, our abilities, our talents, and our personalities.  Nothing was left to chance; we are beautiful in every way because we belong to Him. 

God said, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.  Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my spokesman to the world.” (Jeremiah 1:5) We should read this until we know it by heart because each word in this verse is an indication of God’s love for us.   

The verb “to know” in the Bible has a much deeper meaning than the use we give it today.  It is the word used to describe a very intimate relationship.  “Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain… Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch… Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth.”  (Genesis 4:1,17,25)  This word shows the strong connection between two people.  It doesn’t refer to having knowledge of something or being acquainted with someone.  When God says He knows us; He really means it, better than anyone else and better than we know ourselves.

We have been in God’s mind and heart from the beginning of time; before your parents met and conceived you, God already knew you.  He had big plans for your life before you cried your first tear and as a newborn baby God already had appointed you spokesman to the world.  What an honor!

Why is it so hard to see ourselves as we have been created? Why do we magnify our negative aspects instead of concentrating and improving the positive ones?  Where are we getting our standards on how we are supposed to look and feel? Friends? Neighbors? Entertainment and media?  We need to get our standards from God and how He sees us. 

Have you heard a little voice inside telling you that you don’t have to be like everyone else to fit in, to feel satisfied, and to be happy?  Listen carefully… “How beautiful you are, my beloved, how beautiful!”. (Song of Songs 1:15)  

Listen to what God is telling you… “For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… Others died that you might live.  I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to me.  You are honored, and I love you.  Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”  (Isaiah 43:3-5)  When we start soaking in that love we begin to understand our relationship with God and see ourselves in a new light.  Things look different when we know who we are and who we belong to.   

In the middle of life’s storms and our less than perfect behavior, it is easy to forget how wonderful we are, that is why it is important to remember how God sees us and to agree with Him so He can mold us and change us; “As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.” (Jeremiah 18:6)

God wants us to know that “you are a chosen people.  You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, his very own possession.”  (1 Peter 2:9)  

We are not awesome because we are good, beautiful, rich or talented; we are awesome because God created us in His image, because His Son died for us and because His Holy Spirit lives in us.  

By Manuelita