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How's Your Heart-Soil?

Life happens in seasons. It is full of ups and downs, highs and lows, hills and valleys. Sometimes I need to be reminded of this in my relationship with the Jesus.

On some days I wake up and I can’t wait to greet the Lord and give my day to him. Other days, I’m so overwhelmed with things I need to do that God doesn’t even cross my mind.

Other days, the first thought on my mind is, “Breakfast.”

Sometimes, my heart changes from day to day. That’s part of life. We wake up to discover that the “soil” of our heart is different today than it was yesterday, even though we aren’t doing anything differently.  In our lives, we are called to till the ground of our hearts at all times, every day. If today happens to be a difficult day, we’ll need more than a pep talk and positive thinking, more than just psyching ourselves up and saying, “Okay, I can do this!

What we need is real work; the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

What the “Parable of the Soils” (Mark 4:1-20) calls for is one of the most important tasks of your spiritual life: ongoing soil analysis.

Each day analyzing:

  • What kind of soil have I prepared?
  • What am I lacking?
  • What changes do I need to make in order to be more receptive to God’s call and grace in my own life?

The task of tilling the ground of your heart is going to be different every day. And every day, you’ll need to honestly confront the soil in your heart and cultivate it.

It’s not easy. Keeping your heart receptive to the gospel is a lot like gardening.

How do you do this? Two ways:

  • Allow God’s Word to Diagnose Your Hard Heart. God has given us a tool to use as we seek to understand our hearts, namely, his word. Remember Hebrews 4:12-13; The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. As we read, pray, meditate on, study, and hear preaching of the word we will continue to get glimpses of our true selves.
  • Pull the Weeds of Sin Immediately from Your Heart. We need to make a conscious effort to weed the sin out in our lives. Removing sin is hard work – and the work is never done. Every day of neglect makes the task harder. I am not talking about simply changing behavior. Jesus often uses the imagery of “tree’s and their fruit.” The point is that the type of fruit that emerges tells you the type of tree. You discover that a desire is sinful when it produces bad fruit in your life.

Of course, this responsibility doesn’t mean that you are totally on your own when it comes to tilling the garden of your heart. You have the body of Christ, God’s Word, and most importantly, you have the Holy Spirit.

Present yourself to the Lord daily, offering whatever type of soil you have. Ask for His wisdom and help to till the garden of your heart as you seek to receive His Word with gladness.
You may feel fainthearted today — weary in your faith and work. If so, take time to slow down, rest and allow the Holy Spirit to restore your heart to wholeness.

Author: Mike Woods | Social Media Manager

Photo by Kyle Ellefson on UnSplash

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When The "Why's Of Life" Cause You To "Wonder"

His name was Brandon Rogers. He was 29 years old, good-looking, had completed medical school and was working as a family practitioner, and had an incredible singing voice. His whole life was ahead of him. Yet on a Saturday night some 6 months ago, while a passenger in a car where the driver nodded off following a long shift at the hospital, his life was taken from his family and friends.

There were no drugs or alcohol involved. Brandon was scheduled to appear on America’s Got Talent some weeks ago, but between his audition tape and when it was scheduled to appear on television, Brandon was that guy killed in a car accident. The audition was shown on television a few weeks ago, and many were captivated by his incredible voice and gentle spirit.

You can read the Washington Post article about Brandon, here.

Perhaps a story like this has hit near to you in life. Maybe a neighbor, maybe a friend, maybe a family member, or maybe just a story you heard about that touched you deeply. A life is taken in the flash of an eye and it shakes your faith to the core. What do you do when the “Why’s of Life” cause you to “Wonder.” Pastor Emeritus, Jim Henry, gave some insight into this topic when he spoke at Payne Stewart’s funeral some years ago.

Try to focus on these ideas when tragedy strikes:

FIRST, A TROUBLED FAITH IS BETTER THAN NO FAITH. In the 6th chapter of the Old Testament book of Judges, the story of Gideon is told. An angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and informed him “The Lord is with you.” Gideon’s response was not one of thanking the Lord for those kind words. Instead, his response was:

  • Please……if the Lord is with us…..WHY has all this happened to us?
  • The Lord has forsaken us.
  • The Lord has given us into the hand of Midian.

Gideon knew the Lord could do miracles. He had heard the stories of how God had delivered his people time after time. YET, his current situation led him to believe God had abandoned him. Gideon’s question was one many people ask in the hard moments, “Why has this happened to me,” and “Where exactly are the wonders, Lord?”

In that moment, there are two options. One can either continue to be angry with God and walk through the despair, OR a person can allow God to be God and begin the healing process. It’s okay to allow your faith to go through periods of struggling to understand things, but a troubled faith will always trump no faith at all.

SECOND, there will be times when God chooses to deliver his people THROUGH the fire rather than FROM the fire. John 16:33 says, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Can you imagine what a wonderful world if our faith yielded a time where there were never car wrecks, mechanical failures, cancer, broken families, or death? While it may seem wonderful to us, the reality is it would create a faith in which everyone would line up to be a part of because there was never risk of bad things happening. Only through the valleys will we be fully able to encounter the mountaintops.

If we get stuck on the “WHY,” we will never move forward. Focus on what we have left, not what we have lost. Look at the example of Jesus: He lost his cousin (John), the one who announced him as Lamb of God to a beheading by King Herod. When he heard the news, he went to a solitary place to grieve. Then he returned and went back to his ministry of healing and teaching.

And THIRD, TROUBLE RIGHTLY HANDLED HONORS GOD. Remember the parable of the two men who built houses; one on the sand, and one on the rock. When the storms came, which one stood? When tragedy comes and when the storms of trouble hit us, if we have our life anchored on the Rock, the sure foundation, God can demonstrate some valuable lessons to an observing world.

As I mentioned earlier, these three points came from the Payne Stewart Memorial Service. Payne’s death had an impact on my walk with the Lord, and was a factor in moving me from a bystander, to a full-time vocational calling to become a pastor. Many people observed those nearest to Payne as they walked through unimaginable heartbreak. At the same time, many people were moved closer to faith because of seeing how a life anchored in God can remain steady even when the storms swirl around us.

Each one of us has been impacted by an unexpected loss. It may be someone very close to you. It may be the Brandon Roger’s of the world we see at a distance and still struggle to understand such a promising life wiped out at such a young age. When those moments come, try to remember:

  • A TROUBLED faith is better than NO FAITH.
  • God may choose to deliver us THROUGH the fire rather than FROM the fire.
  • Trouble RIGHTLY HANDLED HONORS GOD.

Author: Pastor Jeff Thompson | Pastoral Care

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7 Creative Ways To Spend Time With God Today

If you’re stuck in a spiritual rut, chances are you’ve tried the same formula for devotions and it’s just not helping you connect with God, it’s not moving the needle in your spiritual life. So, I’ve compiled 7 creative ways that people like you and I – can implement to help us spend that much-needed, wonderful, renewing time with God.

1. Take God Out For Coffee. Go to Starbucks, find a quiet corner, and meet with God. Don’t forget to take a pen, notebook, and your Bible! Be prepared not only to talk to God, but to listen to what He has to say and jot down important insights.

2. Kitchen Sink Study.  Find yourself spending a fair amount of time in the kitchen? You can tack up Bible verses on the window sill, or at a similar convenient location. Meditate on them. Memorize them. Drink it in. Ask God to speak to you while you’re prepping, cooking, or cleaning.

3. Journey Thru Your Pictures. Go through old picture albums (or digital albums) and reflect on how God moved in different seasons of your life; think about people He used, conversations that drew you closer to Him, successes and failures, special events.

4. Put Feet To Your Faith. Prayer walking is a great way to get active in prayer and is as simple as it sounds – you pray as you walk. Try prayer walking thru your neighborhood, praying for the families as you walk past their homes.

5. Post Scripture Around Your House. You can write it on index cards or incorporate it into your decor. When you walk by, stop and read the verse a few times. Meditate and pray it.

6. Pray Through The Fruit. Pray thru the fruit of the Holy Spirit, one each week; ask God to cultivate that characteristic in you through specific events in your life that week (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).

7. Tune In. Listen to podcasts or sermons while you’re driving to work, getting groceries, or working out.

Do you have any other "creative ideas" to suggest?  I hope you'll share them with us!

Author: Mike Woods | Social Media Manager

 

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Are You Ready To Change - Celebrate Recovery

Have you ever wondered why as a Christian, your life doesn’t seem to be changing? You’ve accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior and yet nothing seems different. Well, the reason is you weren’t ready for it! So, here are 5 tips that will help make you ready for change:

1. Realize you are not God and that by trying to have control of everything that happens in your life – you are trying to play God. The old saying “let go and let God” really works! Psalm 143:10 ESV – “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!” God really does have your best interest at heart. He knows what you need before you do but you can get in the way of what He is trying to do in your life, so release control and allow God His rightful place as Lord of your life.

2. Remember to keep it simple. It takes time to see positive changes occurring in your life – your life didn’t get messed up overnight and won’t get fixed overnight either. The important thing to remember is to do the next right thing in every situation. Psalm 37:5 ESV “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.”

3. Accept the changes as they occur. It will feel awkward to respond to situations differently than you have in the past, but with practice, it will get easier and seem more normal. The change is good because it is part of making you more like Christ. 1 Peter 1:13-14 ESV “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance…” Obedience may look different to how you are used to living as you live for Christ and not yourself but it is worth it.

4. Replace your negative behaviors with healthy behaviors and characteristics as you grow in your relationship with Christ. This is done by renewing your mind daily – learning and growing in who you are in Christ and allowing that to permeate all aspects of your life. Matthew 12:43-45a ESV “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there…” When a behavior is removed from your life, that time and energy need to be replaced with something different – something Godly or something worse than what was removed will replace it. I don’t know about you, but I know I don’t want to go back to my old life and I sure don’t want my present or future life to be 7 times worse than it was in the past. Personal devotional time, corporate worship/gathering and support groups like Celebrate Recovery are all part of replacing the bad with good.

5. Allow the growth that is occurring – don’t fight it. It may feel weird as you learn and grow – and begin to live a more healthy/godly life, but go with it. 1 John 3:9 ESV “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.” The person who has been born into God’s family does not make a practice of sinning because now God’s life is in him; so he can’t keep on sinning, for this new life has been born into him and control him – he has been born again.” Of course, this does not mean that you will never sin again, but sin will become less attractive and living for Christ will become more important than anything from the past. The Holy Spirit will convict you if you are living in a way that is displeasing to God and the more you spend time in the word and prayer the more sensitive to the Holy Spirit you will become.

So, if you would like to learn more about how to allow growth and healthy change in your life, check out Celebrate Recovery at 6:30pm every Tuesday at First Baptist Orlando and begin your journey toward growth and healing in a safe community. The hardest step is the first one – walking through the doors for the first time. We look forward to being a part of your growth and healing journey

Author: Stephanie Rasbach | Celebrate Recovery Coordinator

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3 Common Distractions That Can Challenge Your Walk With Jesus

Let’s be real. It can be challenging to walk day-by-day with Jesus. I’ve tried hard to stay in-step with Jesus. I promised myself that “this time I’ll do it.” But something always ends up distracting me.

Luke 10:40 ESV

“But Martha was distracted…”

Distracted. The original Greek word in this verse is perispao -- “to be overly occupied about a thing; to be drawn away.”

When Jesus met Martha that day she was “distracted.” We’ve all been like this, haven’t we.

There’s many things in our lives that can be distracting:

  • Books
  • Friends
  • Music
  • Movies
  • Smartphones
  • Social Media
  • Hobbies

There are so many more that I know you could add to this list. 

So many things in this world fight for our attention…and when we allow them to take too much of our time…and attention…we lose our focus. If we are overly distracted and preoccupied with other things our ears will not hear Jesus’ call to walk with Him.

The answer is may necessarily be to cut these distractions out entirely. However, we do need to realize that they can distract us…and we need to keep them in check.

Below, I have listed 3 other common distractions that can interfere with your walk with Jesus.

Everyday worries

Psychology has taught us that the three basic needs of every human being are food, clothing, and shelter. It’s funny how we add many more to that list in our day and age, like a vehicle, smart phones/tablets, a partner worth one’s social status, a decent paying job, and more.

You may ask how these basic needs could possibly come in the way of our relationship with Jesus. How could these needs deter our walk with Him? But you know, as well as I do, we can end up giving them our undivided attention.

Jesus was very clear when it came to some of these things.

Matthew 6:25-30 ESV

  • “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

Hectic routines and commitments

What happens to most of us in our pursuit to meet the basic needs in life is that we get extremely caught up either with studies, work, or the perfect career/business pursuit. Then, time becomes a very costly commodity for us. Consequently, we tend to not have time for prayer, bible study, or even church.  That’s why the Bible advises us:

Ephesians 5:16 ESV

  • “…making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”

We shouldn’t blame a lack of time as an excuse for our relaxed walk with Jesus. Make the most of your time in the office, at home, while travelling, and in everything you do. Create margin in your life and pursue a relationship with Jesus.

Ourselves

Ourselves. Us. The last one on the list of distractions, and possibly the most likely to distract us. We are, by nature, sinful, and if we live by our sinful nature, we will not get close to Jesus. No matter what you do, there will be a constant battle within yourself between spirit and flesh.

Romans 7:15-20 ESV

  • “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

That is why we need to constantly allow God to search our hearts, and purify it (Psalm 139:23-24). The first step to overcoming ourselves is being aware.

So there you have it. Three common distractions that can derail your walk with Jesus. It is a constant struggle to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, and to not become distracted by the passing concerns and things of this world. But if you are aware of what can, and does, interfere with your walk with Him, with His help you can begin to take the necessary actions to prevent them.

Remember, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Question:  What would you add to this list?

Author: Mike Woods | Social Media Manager

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