Amanda Swick

Amanda is a writer for Revive Ministries and a regular speaker at the Revive! conference. Amanda is a pastor’s wife and a homeschooling mother to 3 handsome boys. She and her family live in Prineville, Oregon and have been ministering with the Prineville Church of Christ for the past three years. Before that they spent 10 years as college ministers at Oregon State University. During those years, as she dealt with the ups and downs of campus ministry, caring for a sick child, and the general chaos of life, Amanda found her passion for prayer. Through prayer, God sustained her and brought peace that was beyond understanding (Phil 4:7). Now she is on a mission to share the joys of prayer with others!

  • Helping Others Experience God

    The Emergency Room doctor finally came into our room in the early morning hours to inform us that the children’s hospital a couple of hours away, had room for us. “Go home, pack your bags, and get a few hours of sleep.” They will be ready for you when you get there.”

    Over the past week, our son’s epilepsy had spiraled out of control. The Emergency Room doctor decided it was time to get specialized help for our son. We followed his instructions and headed home for a few hours. As I packed our bags, my heart sank. Our house looked like an EF5 tornado had torn through it. The dishes were piled high. The laundry was overflowing onto the floor. It had taken so much of my physical and emotional energy to try to get Jaron’s seizures under control, I had nothing left to give to maintaining the house. I didn’t want to leave it in such a state of disarray, but there was no time to deal with it. We caught a few hours of sleep, dropped our other son off at a friend’s house, and headed down the highway with the hope the children’s hospital would have answers and a solution to our son’s seizures.

    By the grace of God they did. After five days in the hospital, Jaron was given a diagnosis and a treatment plan. As we were headed back home I had a feeling of dread. How was the house going to smell? How many days was it going to take for me to recover the house from the chaos that reigned before we left? I got out of the car and headed for the door. As I turned the handle and pushed on the door, I braced myself for the stench I knew had been percolating in my home for the last week, but the smell of rotting food didn’t accost me. Instead, a freshly vacuumed and dusted living room greeted me. The dining room table and kitchen counters were no longer stacked with dirty dishes and covered with crumbs. Instead, a spotless, decluttered kitchen glistened back at me. I wandered into the bedrooms. All the laundry had been washed and folded neatly on the dressers. Someone even had the kindness of heart to scrub the toilet clean.

    As I stared in gratitude at the gift given to me, I began to cry. It was one of those cries that comes from feeling unworthy and so very loved all at the same time. A cry of joy and relief. It was a cry that comes from knowing you have been in the presence of God and received a blessing. In that moment I knew that God was with me–not because I saw His shining face, or heard His voice speak to me, but because I saw Him living and active in His church through those who showed up in our time of need.

    We often think of Immanuel “God with Us” as an experience that only happened to those blessed people who were able to walk alongside Jesus two thousand years ago. But when Jesus’ resurrected body left to prepare a place for us, His presence didn’t leave the earth. It returned as the Holy Spirit working through His church. As 1 Corinthians 12:27 says, “We are the body of Christ.” And Jesus’s body loves, serves, sacrifices, comforts, and heals. When we use the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to us, we continue Jesus’s work on earth. We show the world that God is still with us.

    Think about it for a moment. When you choose to use your gift of listening to encourage the lonely stranger at the store, you are loving like Jesus to that person. When you use the gift of cooking to provide for a new mother, you are serving like Jesus. When you sit with someone going through a season of mourning, you are comforting like Jesus. Whenever you choose to care for someone, that person gets the chance to experience God through the Holy Spirit working through you just like when the members of my church used their gifts to reclaim my house from chaos. They performed a miracle in my life. They showed that God knew exactly what I needed and used His people to provide it.

    What an indescribable privilege it is, that the God of the universe would choose to use us to love His creation. Looking around at our broken world, it isn’t hard to see that it is in desperate need of the presence of God flowing through His people. The world needs us to be God’s hands to hug, comfort, and serve–to be His voice bringing good news of love and hope. The strengths and gifts we have could be used to bring light and encouragement to those who are experiencing darkness and sorrow, if we are boldly willing to use them.

    As we close one year and look ahead to another, I pray that we will have eyes to see the needs of those around us and the courage to follow the Spirit’s guidance, so others too may have the opportunity to experience, Immanuel “God With Us.”

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  • No Condemnation In Christ

    My poor husband stared at me in shock and confusion. What started out as a simple and polite request for me to please put my dirty clothes into the hamper, had reduced me into a crying, sobbing mess. Why had this simple and loving confrontation left me so heartbroken? 

    Because, in the confines of my brain, was a voice that repeated to me over and over “I was not good enough to be loved. I would never be good enough to be loved, and I was one mistake away from my husband walking away.” It had become a soundtrack of falsehood that played subconsciously, over and over in my mind. If my fear of making a simple mistake like not putting my clothes in the hamper left an emotional mess, the fear of disappointing God by doing something that dishonored him was even worse. 

    This fear drove me to perfectionism, and any time I felt like I had failed, that fear would come flooding out in a pool of tears and frustration. I wondered if I would ever be able to do all the good things I wanted to do or if I would be doomed to a life of making one soul-crushing mistake after another.

    In Romans 7, the apostle Paul lamented his own frustration with not being able to do the good he wanted to do.

    So I find this law at work: “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:21-24a)

    Paul was a godly man, totally sold out for Jesus. He did so much to advance the gospel all over the expansive Roman world. He wrote multiple letters in the New Testament that encouraged the churches, and yet he never arrived at perfection. His lack of perfection frustrated him. Just like me, he so badly wanted to do always good. But while I sat and wallowed in the futility of my imperfections, Paul didn’t stay there. Instead, he rejoiced. 

    In Romans 7:25 he exclaims,Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Then he continues on in Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul rejoiced because even though he made mistakes, he lived in the truth that with Jesus there is no condemnation.

    No condemnation in Christ Jesus our Lord. Let those words soak in for a moment. 

    The word in Greek for condemnation is katakrima.  It means an adverse sentence, penalty, or final verdict.[1] In other words, it means a death that includes a total separation from God. In reality, we deserve it and Satan likes to remind us we deserve it in the hopes it will paralyze us from stepping out in faith to do the good works God has prepared for us to do. 

    But God in his great love and mercy did not want us to live in that fear of death and separation from his love. Instead, he sent Jesus to remove the adverse sentence. No longer do we have to worry about screwing up so bad that God’s love will leave us. Jesus takes our place as ones condemned from sin and death to ones free to live lives transformed by the love of God.

    Paul rejoiced in this truth. Instead of continuing to let the “I’m never going to be good enough” soundtrack play, he stakes his claim in the truth that, even though he will perpetually screw up, he no longer has to live in fear of condemnation. That truth freed him to keep moving forward in his ministry of spreading the gospel. He could learn how he needed to change but simultaneously be released from guilt and shame because of Jesus and the grace we receive through Him. What Paul understood was the difference between conviction and condemnation. 

    Conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit transforming us more into the image of God (2 Corinthians 3:18). The Holy Spirit does this by showing us the parts of us that need to be cleansed and renewed. The purpose of conviction isn’t to break us under the weight of guilt. Rather its purpose is to remind us to turn to our God who is faithful and just and will cleanse us from all the sin and shame. (1 John 1:9

    Conviction is very different from condemnation. Condemnation means there is no hope of recovering from our mistakes. No hope of being able to live in the love of God. But conviction is the opposite. Conviction comes from a loving Father who wants what’s best for us and who is reminding us of the life he wants us to live. Conviction of the Holy Spirit helps us to confidently turn to God to ask for help with our shortcomings knowing we will receive grace and cleansing, not condemnation and rejection. 

    Because of this, the feelings of conviction should no longer leave us a broken mess. Instead, they should be viewed as a reminder of the hopeful transforming power of God and His Holy Spirit living and working within us. We can now go to the throne of God, not in fear of a death sentence, but in hopeful anticipation of how God will work in our lives to mold us more in his image. 

    What are the soundtracks playing on repeat in your head? Is Satan’s voice of condemnation getting more attention than the Holy Spirit’s voice of guidance? If so, tell Satan to go take a hike and cling to the truth that there is no condemnation for you any more thanks to Jesus. 

    You have been freed from the law of sin and death. Take hold of the Holy Spirit’s hand today as He guides you through the discomfort of your imperfection, out of a life of fear and into a life of freedom found in the perfect love of Christ. 

    [1] Strong’s Concordance.

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  • The Power of Prayer In Revival

    My husband and I have been in ministry in the Pacific Northwest in some form or fashion for almost 20 years. There have been some encouraging moments of watching people fall in love with Jesus and live their lives boldly following Him. But to be honest, it has been a lot of hard stuff too. There have been a lot of people who have rejected me and shown animosity toward me for being a Christian. I have watched Christians walk away from God. But in each context, I have ministered in, my heart breaks more for those suffering without the knowledge of Jesus. My heart hurts for Christians who are desperately trying to connect with God, but just don’t know how. 

    As I read how the early church spread in the book of Acts, I felt a longing in my soul. How I wish my community could experience a revival like I see in the book of Acts. To witness the Holy Spirit moving powerfully, transforming lives, and furthering God’s Kingdom. Has a revival like that ever happened in other places in history? Could a movement of the Holy Spirit be possible in my context? 

    I began to study history and look closer at the Bible and found that the answer is a resounding yes! It has happened time and time again in the two thousand years since Jesus walked the earth (and even before Jesus in the Old Testament). As I’ve studied the Bible and looked back over the history of the church, I’ve noticed a pattern with each revival: they are always preceded by prayer.

    One example that blew me away was the story of a man named Jeremiah Lanphier. He was a former businessman who loved the Lord and felt called to help a small church in Manhattan. His ministry began in 1857 at a church that was struggling to survive after a huge fire displaced many people in their community. As new businesses and immigrants began to move into Manhattan, the city experienced a season of cultural change. A financial crisis loomed and many people seemed indifferent to spiritual things. On top of that, many churches moved out of the downtown area, but a few remained including the church that hired Jeremiah, the North Dutch Reformed Church. Jeremiah had experience in business himself and he wanted to try and reach the businessmen and immigrants working and living alongside them, to help them know and love God.

    At first, Jeremiah tried getting to know people in the community and inviting them to church, but to no avail. After several weeks, he decided to change directions and started offering a time and place for people to pray during their lunch hour. His hope was that a time of prayer would be a blessing for stressed-out businessmen and workers and an opportunity for them to share their burdens with God. Jeremiah kept the format simple, with just a few songs and scripture reading, followed by praying. People could come and go as they pleased, staying only as long as they wanted. 

    The first prayer meeting he offered was September 23, 1857. Out of the hundreds of flyers and invites he made, six people showed up. But he was not daunted by the small numbers. He continued to offer the prayer time on Wednesdays at noon. After just three weeks, the number rose to over 40, so they decided to offer prayer time every day. Within 5 weeks, there were around 100 people coming every day to pray. 

    Then other churches started offering similar prayer meetings. By March of the following year, thousands of people were gathering to pray every day and the movement had spread to other cities. People from all walks of life were coming to Jesus. God was on the move in a hurting and broken United States, all because one man offered an opportunity for people to pray.

    This pattern of turning to God in prayer, and then watching the Holy Spirit sweep through and change lives, has been around since the beginning of the church. In Acts 1, Jesus gives his disciples some final instructions before he heads back to heaven to be with his Father. They were to wait in Jerusalem until they received power from the Holy Spirit to go tell everyone everywhere about Jesus. (Acts 1:8). 

    After Jesus left, they didn’t put together a complicated evangelistic plan, or create elaborate outreach programs. Neither did they wait in their homes, isolated from one another. Instead, they gathered together and prayed (Acts 1:12-14). 

    One of those days, when they were gathered together, the promised Holy Spirit showed up and empowered all who were there to be Jesus’s witnesses. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter, an uneducated fisherman, preached the first gospel sermon, and 3000 people were saved. The rest of them were empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak in other languages, all to accomplish what Jesus had told them.

    From the beginning, we see that when God’s people wait on Him in prayer, at the right time, He empowers them to accomplish amazing things that help transform the broken world around us. If you read through the book of Acts, every time you see the word prayer, try underlining it in one color and then underline every act of the Holy Spirit in another color. You will see prayer always precedes a movement of the Holy Spirit and the bold, world-changing actions of Christians.

    God himself creates revival movements through the work of His Spirit and He does so when we wait in prayer for Him to do so. Jeremiah Lanphier and the disciples in the early church were both tasked with growing the church and in both cases, they didn’t know how to do it. So, they waited on God in prayer. 

    Jeremiah found that his own efforts to evangelize weren’t working, so he chose to simply offer an opportunity for people to come together and pray. And even when the first prayer meeting was smaller than he probably would have liked, he kept at it, knowing it would be a benefit to those who came, whether that was six people or a hundred. And at just the right time, God opened the floodgates, and thousands of people began following Jesus. 

    For the early church, Jesus told them first to wait, and then they would receive power to accomplish their mission. But they didn’t just wait by going through the motions of their jobs and then going home at the end of the day. They waited in prayer together. And when God decided it was time, He empowered his disciples with his Spirit, and the Gospel began to spread like wildfire to the ends of the earth. And today, we get to be a part of that very same commission that Jesus gave so long ago!

    History contains so many incredible stories of the Holy Spirit powerfully working among His people. But how can we experience that same kind of powerful Holy Spirit revival in our lives? Maybe we begin by following the examples of the Christians who have gone before us and create space for it. We set aside time with no other agenda than the opportunity for people to commune with God in prayer and see what He does.

    It doesn’t have to be anything complicated. Start with being simple and consistent. 

    In my home church, we offer a one-hour prayer time similar to Jeremiah Lanphier’s. We sing a few songs, read a Scripture to center our minds and break up into groups to pray. It’s something that could be done anywhere, at your church building, in your home, in the park, or in a space where you work. All you need is a regular time and space for people to be able to come together to pray and see what God does. I can only imagine what will happen when there are groups of people lifting their voices to God everywhere. 

    As we regularly come together into the presence of our Creator, to know Him and be known by Him in prayer, we will see the movement of the Holy Spirit flood into our lives and the lives around us. May we set our minds and hearts on Him and boldly join Him where He is working.  

    “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

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  • Finding Strength in Quiet Moments with God

    He was running for his life. A few short days before he had just experienced the most incredible God moment. He had watched God bring fire down on the drenched wood of the altar, causing it to burst into flames (1 Kings 18:36-38). In that moment, God revealed that he was a powerful God, ruler over everything including the false god Baal. He had rejoiced when the disobedient people of Israel fell to their knees and proclaimed that God was the one true God. Now Elijah, God’s ambassador, was a fugitive on the run now that Jezebel, the queen of Israel, had ordered him to be killed. Those feelings of triumph and victory were quickly replaced with fear and loneliness. After a long day of running, Elijah fell down exhausted and hopeless under a tree and slept. What should he do now?

    Have you ever felt like Elijah? In the outskirts of your mind, there are faint memories of times where you have experienced incredible God moments, but now your life is busy. The kids need to be transported to events. Deadlines at your job are looming. Don’t forget the decorations you said you would make for the church ladies’ event. Your life is defined by go, go, go. After a while, the constant running on the hamster wheel can take its toll and you start to feel a bit like Elijah. Those memories of God working in your life are replaced with feelings of exhaustion, defeat and hopelessness.

    God saw Elijah’s state and sent help. An angel appeared to Elijah with food and drink and said, “Elijah eat.” Elijah, sat up, ate and went back to sleep. Again, the angel woke Elijah up and told him to eat or the next phase of his journey was going to be too much for him (1 Kings 19:7).  After Elijah ate his second God provided meal, he journeyed to Mt Horeb, the mountain of God. After a grueling forty days and forty nights, Elijah finally arrived. He was setting up his living quarters in a cave when the word of the Lord came to him with a question. “Elijah, what are you doing here?”

    While God probably knew why Elijah was there, He also knew that Elijah needed to share and get some things off his chest. Elijah gladly took the invitation and boldly shared how he was feeling. He shared how he had worked hard as a prophet for God, but despite his best efforts, the King of Israel was not listening. He shared how he had done everything God had asked of him, and now he was running for his life. He also shared how he felt very alone in his faith in God (1 Kings 19:9-10).

    After God had given Elijah the opportunity to share his sadness, anger and frustration, God invited Elijah out of the cave to the top of the mountain to be with Him. The Lord passed by in strong winds, earthquakes, and fire, but it was not in these loud and very visible expressions of power that the voice of the Lord came. It came in a soft and gentle whisper. Once again, God invited Elijah to share his burdens, but instead of just listening, God talks back. In the response, God confirms He had heard Elijah’s fears and loneliness. He explains the plan of action that will take care of the problem of those that are seeking to kill him. He also reveals to Elijah that he wasn’t alone in his devotion to God, but that there were seven thousand like him, who had never bowed a knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:11-18).

    In this story we see the realities of life. Even when we are doing the will of God, life still seems to try to drag us down. It seems bent on trying to crush us with busyness and negativity, so that we forget the ways God shows up for us. But Elijah’s encounter with God shows us that even when we struggle to keep our heads above water amidst the crashing waves of life, God still comes to us to give us comfort and strength. He invites us to come to him for provision, knowing that otherwise the journey will be too much for us on our own. He invites us to share our burdens and frustrations. And he invites us to listen to His voice as He comforts us and shows us the next steps forward.

    We are only able to hear His soft, gentle voice when we spend time with Him. Often we look at quiet times with God as just another to-do item we have to fit into an already full schedule. What if we changed our view of time with God from a to-do list item to a life-giving invitation to share and to listen? 

    I know you have heard a million times how important quiet moments with God are, and you will hear it a million times more as God continually invites you out of the chaos of life to the quiet moments on the proverbial mountain of the Lord. The journey to those quiet times can seem difficult. Sometimes it seems downright impossible to make time for it. God provided what was needed for Elijah to make it to the mountain of God, and He provided Elijah what he needed to journey back into the daily grind of life.

    The journey to the Lord is always worth it, no matter the struggle to get there because something miraculous happens inside us as we spend quiet moments sharing with God. The Bible is full of examples of people being transformed by being in the presence of God. Moses turned from an excuse maker, hesitant to do anything with God, to someone who didn’t want to go anywhere without him. The woman at the well transformed from a woman who was trying to avoid the judging eyes of her neighbors to someone who boldly shared Jesus with them. And in the story of Elijah, we see a man transformed from a hopeless runaway into someone who boldly went back into the world to change it. These three people were radically changed from the time they spent in conversation with God.

    While Elijah’s journey to the mountain of God was a distance of many miles, your journey doesn’t have to be. Your journey to God can be to your couch in the early morning before the busyness of the day begins. It could be the journey to your car at lunch time to spend a few moments in prayer and meditation. Just like God was waiting for Elijah on the mountain of the Lord, inviting Elijah into relationship, so God is waiting for you to choose to journey to Him. Inviting you into a rich relationship. He wants to spend time with you–to hear what’s on your heart and to provide all you need.

    Will you go to Him?

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  • Can Anyone Be a Mentor?

    I sat down in my chair that Sunday morning feeling like I had just run a marathon. I was weary to my very bones. I was struggling hard to balance life with a 6-month-old and a toddler, a full-time ministry, and all the other responsibilities of life. Just getting out the door to go to church that day felt like an epic battle. In fact, every day I had to fight to make it to bedtime without having an emotional breakdown. 

    The struggle I was feeling inside must have been evident because, at the end of worship, a lady named Pam approached me. “You look like you need to talk. Come with me.” She gently helped me out of my chair and walked me to a quiet room with comfortable couches. I gratefully slumped into one of them as tears began to spring from my eyes. Pam handed me a box of tissue and lovingly asked me what was wrong.

    The words all came tumbling out, “I don’t know how other moms do this, but I am struggling to give everyone the attention they need, clean the house, and keep up on the laundry. How did you do it?”

    Pam looked me square in the eyes and said, “When I was in your situation, I had grandparents that lived nearby. They helped me clean. They helped me take care of the kids during worship. They would take the kids to give me a break. Amanda, the reason why you are struggling, is because you have too many unrealistic expectations of yourself. You need to ask for help.”

    Pam was the lead pastor’s wife. She was the same age as my parents. I was drawn to Pam because she had already lived the life that I was living. She had done campus ministry with her husband when they were younger. She knew what it was like to raise a family while dealing with the expectations that are a part of being a pastor’s wife. After 30 years of ministry, she had grown to become a woman sold out to God and confident in who she was. She was a simple and straightforward person. She didn’t try to wow people with fancy food, eloquent words, or perfect makeup. Not because she thought those things were wrong, they just weren’t who she was. It was in this simple woman, that I found one of my greatest mentors.

    While Pam and I didn’t spend a ton of time together, she was always there to talk when I needed to. And she always had words of straightforward, honest wisdom for me, whether she knew that was what she was giving me or not. She was a perfect example of an older woman, loving and caring for a younger woman, speaking God’s word into my life.

    In Titus 2:3-5, Paul tells Titus to encourage the older women of the church to help train the younger women to know what is good. To teach them how to love their children and their husbands well. How to be kind and devoted to the Lord. Throughout the Bible, we see this example of the older mentoring the younger: Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Timothy.

    The church becomes most effective in passing on the faith when different generations are involved. A group of researchers at Effective Ministry did a literature review of studies related to intergenerational relationships within the church. They discovered that youth were less likely to leave the church when they were able to interact with adults during regular church times, AND outside of church meeting times. In other words, the faith of the next generation has a better chance of being passed on, when the older take the time to be a part of the younger’s faith development. Paul was on to something when he told Titus to encourage these types of mentoring relationships within the church. Discipling and mentoring relationships are designed to be a part of the DNA of the church.

    And we don’t have to wait until we are retired to be a mentor! Anyone at almost any age can pour into and help train those younger. My boys are a perfect example of this. 

    When my older two kids were in elementary school, there were middle school and high school-age boys in the church that took them under their wing. They helped show my boys how to act in church and how to appropriately have fun. They set an example for my boys of how to pour into those younger than they were. 

    Now that my older kids are in middle and high school, they naturally have decided to care for the younger boys in our church. They show them how to behave during church and how to follow directions. They teach them how to boldly use their gifts for the glory of God. 

    The influence of their relationship came into full view one Sunday when one of the 3rd-grade boys at church (we’ll call him Kyle) was asked to read scripture during the church service for the first time. He was very nervous and almost didn’t do it. My husband tried to encourage Kyle, but he just stood there, frozen in fear. Finally, my oldest son walked up to encourage him. He calmly pointed to the words in the Bible and told Kyle he had confidence that he could do it. Bolstered by the encouragement of his friend, Kyle began to read! And once he got started, he did a wonderful job! He did it because he knew his high school buddy believed in him. My son was passing on the courage and love God had given him, to the generation below him as he followed in the footsteps of those high schoolers who had poured into him.

    I have heard many people say, they could never be a mentor to someone else. They wouldn’t know what to do. They weren’t smart enough or didn’t know enough to pour wisdom into another person. Is this really true, or do we need to rethink what it means to be a mentor? 

    If I had asked Pam what it takes to be a mentor, she probably would have told me she didn’t know. Even though I could give lots of examples of people Pam had mentored over the years, she would not have given herself that title. She would have simply said, “I’m not your mentor. I’m your friend.” And she would be right. She gave me valuable insight and spoke God’s word to me. Not because she thought she was smarter than me, but because she saw I had a need, and she loved me. The same with my sons and the younger kids at church. They would consider themselves friends to the younger boys in our church, not their mentors.

    Really all it takes to be a mentor and to help pass on the faith to the next generation is a willingness to be a friend to someone younger. To be available to listen and share your life and lessons with them. To tell the story of how God has walked with you. 

    You don’t have to have all the answers, but through relationships, you can model what a godly life can look like. When we choose to befriend women of different ages in the church, the results can be life-changing and soul-saving. 

    As Effective Ministry uncovered, when we take the time to build godly relationships within the church, faith is handed down to the next generation, and souls that might have drifted away, find an anchor within the church family.

    Look around the groups you are a part of. Look in your church, the moms’ group you are a part of, or the book club you attend. Who do you know that you could begin to befriend that is older than you? How could you make some time to listen to their story? Who do you know who is younger than you that you could bless by befriending? By being in relationship with these people, your own faith will be shaped and you’ll pass on life-giving faith to the next generation.

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  • Made For Freedom

    As a mother of three boys, there was a stage of life, where all conversations revolved around superheroes. I could probably name all the superheroes (both DC and Marvel), but as far as their superpowers, I only know the supernatural giftings of a few. However, my boys knew all the superpowers and were always discussing the pros and cons of one superpower over another. One afternoon, my boys and I had just sat down for lunch. A few bites into the meal, my one son who would rather talk than eat food, asked his other two brothers a question. “Which superpower would you rather have: x-ray vision or the ability to read people’s minds?” I don’t remember how the debate ended up. I just remembered thinking, I hope nobody ever has the ability to read minds, because mine can sometimes be downright toxic, and I don’t want anybody hearing the negative soundtrack that can overwhelm my mind.

    Don’t get me wrong, not every day is like that, but there are seasons in my life when I feel inadequate, anxious about making a mistake, or overwhelmed by my to-do list. In those seasons, my brain does a good job confirming that all those negative thoughts are true. A loud voice in my head tells me, “You didn’t handle that conflict right.” “You are so disorganized; you have no business being in charge of three kids!” “Don’t ask that person out for coffee. What would you talk about anyway?” “That family could use a meal this week, but you aren’t a very good cook, so don’t bother.” And the list goes on and on.

    You know where that soundtrack comes from? It’s Satan on a bullhorn yelling all sorts of doubt in my head. He tries to get me to doubt the goodness of God and the gifts He has given me.He tries to get me to doubt the mission God has called me to do or the promise that God will thoroughly equip me for the task. Sometimes I give in to those doubts and instead of confidently moving forward to bless others, I stay locked in my jail of anxiety, shame, and overwhelm. Rather than living free, I hide away in my protected corner of the world, afraid of someone confirming the self-condemnation that spins around in my head.

    But here’s the deal. Some of the negative thoughts contain a grain of truth. Sometimes I don’t handle the conflict right. Of course, I’m not a perfect parent and I make mistakes. But Christ did not die for me to live in a self-imposed prison of condemnation, and He certainly doesn’t define me by my mistakes. Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Did you hear that? No more condemnation. That doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes or need to repent. That doesn’t mean God wants us to ignore the unholy parts of our lives. It means that we no longer worry about suffering the punishment of being separated from God. We no longer have to be shackled by the guilt of sin. We were never made to live that way. Instead, we’re made for freedom. 

    Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened by the yoke of slavery.” We were not made to be slaves to crippling condemnation, but to be free to be transformed into who God wants us to be. Now instead of overthinking everything, I am free to make a mistake and learn from it because I no longer live in fear of condemnation. I can know that God will mold me more in His image every time I choose the freedom He has given me over the fear and condemnation Satan tries to shackle me with.

    So if we are supposed to be free from condemnation, what do we do with our freedom? For what purpose did Christ free us?  In Matt 10:8, Jesus told his disciples “Freely you have received, freely give.” Since you have freely received the gift of freedom from sin and condemnation, you are now free to give of yourself. Free to live a life of loving others. 

    Can you imagine what the world would be like, if a host of women, living in the freedom of God’s grace and mercy, walked out of their doors on a mission to use their gifts to love the world? Ladies, we’ve all seen a woman on a mission get things done, and we know the world would be a vastly different place. It would be a much better place. If we live in the freedom and love of Christ, we don’t overthink asking the new person at church out for coffee. When we live in the freedom of Christ, we aren’t afraid to use that amazing art talent God gave us to bring beauty into others’ lives. When we live in the freedom of Christ we are free to encourage hurting people around us because we aren’t afraid of making a mistake.  Many people would be encouraged, loved, and cared for because we would be living in the freedom of God’s love.

    So let’s confidently live a life that honors our God who has given us such a joyous freedom. You weren’t made to be a slave to condemnation and self-doubt. You were made for freedom.

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  • Love Came For Us

    It was Christmas 2006. I was visiting my parents for the holidays, but I was not much fun to be around. I was miserable. For a month I had been nauseated and puking. I had no energy and my joints seemed to constantly ache. The first trimester of my first pregnancy was proving to be difficult. I mostly sat around or slept. One evening, my dad announced he was going for a walk and wanted me to come with him. The fresh air would do me good, he insisted. Grudgingly, I pulled on my snow boots and coat and followed him outside. 

    It was snowing. The flakes fell softly all around. There was no wind. No typical town noise. Just the peaceful sound of snowflakes gently landing on my coat. We walked the streets in companionable silence, stopping occasionally to admire a Christmas light display. As we walked, my mind turned to the little person growing in my belly. What would it be like when he kicked for the first time? What would it be like to hold him? 

    Then, as we passed a nativity scene, I realized that God, thousands of years before, chose to enter the world the same way as the baby growing in me would. God, who is all-powerful and omnipresent, became an embryo that grew inside a woman and was born into the world as a helpless baby. When God entered the world, there was no room for him to be born in a house. There was no midwife present to help with his delivery. Instead, God entered the world in the lowliest of positions–a baby born in a barn.

    Why on earth would God choose to enter the world as a helpless baby born in a barn? The answer is so simple, yet so profound. Love

    As Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, “This is the staggering message of Christ’s incarnation: God’s glory became dirt so that we- the scum of the earth- might become the very glory of God.”  Because of His great love, He entered the world that way for us. And while it seems absurd to our human eyes, His radical love is what the Christmas story is all about. 

    Romans 8:38 sums it up beautifully. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    How do we know this to be true? Because God would never allow anything to stand in the way of His love reaching us. Through His birth as a baby, He proved He would stop at nothing to be with us. He left all the comforts of heaven, surrendered all his power to be with us, to know what it was like to be one of us. He chose to be dependent on a human mother to feed and care for him just like any other human. He learned what it was like to be cold, hungry, tired, sad, and completely reliant on others for his care. He wanted to walk with us, but he also wanted to understand what it was like to walk as one of us (Hebrews 4:14-16). 

    And if you follow the whole story of Immanuel, “God with us,” you know that the baby Jesus grew up, and used his time on earth to comfort the hurting, feed the hungry, and raise the dead. Then he walked right up to a tortuous cross. For our sake he carried our sin and bore our shame, dying on that cross so that he could defeat sin and death once and for all through his resurrection. His Spirit could now live among His people comforting and guiding them for all eternity. Now, truly, nothing can separate us from the love of God. His birth as a baby, his life on earth, his death at the cross, and his resurrection from the dead made sure of that. Praise God!

    As the baby in my womb continued to grow, my body changed and adapted to make room for him. My husband and I began to rearrange the house to make room for his crib and the many things a baby requires. Most importantly, our hearts grew to make room for the love we would have for the new family member coming into the world. As God entered the world, there seemed to be little room for him. There was no room at the inn. There was no room in people’s hearts for a miraculous conception. Instead, Jesus’ birth was surrounded by rumor and scandal. 

    I wonder if people really knew who was being born that day, would they have made room?  Would they have let him be born in a barn among the animals? If they knew that God was at work, would it have changed how they approached Mary and Joseph, or how they interacted with the new baby?

    God is always at work in the world, but rarely in ways that make sense to us. Often his works are as inconspicuous as a baby born in a barn, but as life-changing as the love of God living among us. The question is: Do we make room for the work of God in our lives? Or do we push the miraculous gift of Immanuel, “God with us,” to the outskirts of our lives? What if we arranged our hearts and lives so that we can be molded and changed by the work God is doing in and around us? 

    As we celebrate Christmas, surrounded by gifts from family and friends, let us not forget the greatest gift. The gift of love born in a barn thousands of years ago. A baby born to fulfill God’s deepest desire, to live and walk with his people, to be in close relationship with his people. His deepest desire is to walk with you in love. Let us make room in our hearts and lives for the gift that will never fade or disappear…the unfailing love of God.

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  • Comfort in the Holidays

    The holiday season is coming. The local event schedule is filling up with holiday bazaars, concerts, and sales. The annual debate of whether listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving should be allowed is heating up on social media. The stores are filling up with Thanksgiving goodies and Christmas decorations. For many, it is a joyous time of year as they look forward to holiday traditions and time with family. 

    However, this time of year is not a joyous time for everyone. Unfortunately, many have lost a loved one around this time of year. For these people, it can be a time of sadness as they have to endure another milestone without the ones they love. If that is you, know I see you. I know it is hard.

    I want to encourage you that you are not alone in your sadness. You have access to a God who wants to walk with you during this difficult season. Our God doesn’t stay up on his throne, indifferent to the pain of death and sadness. Our God doesn’t watch us suffer from heaven without a care about what we are feeling. No, we believe in a God who knows what it is like to lose a loved one because he lost his Son to the cross. We believe in a God who has promised to comfort us in our times of grief.

    Jesus tells us, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) He never promised life will be easy, but he does promise we don’t have to do it alone because we have God living within us through His Holy Spirit.

    And as we slog our way through life, carrying the weight of having to lose the ones we love and other difficult trials, God gives us this glorious hope:

    “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘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.”

    Revelation 21:3-4

    During this holiday season, if you are looking forward to all the food, festivities, and time with family, I rejoice with you. I am thankful you get to enjoy all the joy the holidays were meant to bring. If you look at this holiday season with a sense of loss and grief, I pray you can find hope and comfort in the fact that our sympathetic and compassionate God walks with you in those hard emotions. May you also find hope and comfort in the promise that one day, God will wipe all the tears from your eyes for there will no longer be a reason to mourn.

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  • Praying for Those Who Don’t Know Jesus

    A few miles from where I live, there is a butte that overlooks my town. I love driving to the top and gazing down on the place I call home. There is a little river that meanders through town with tall green deciduous trees adorning the landscape. Off in the distance, mountains call out to me, luring me to go hiking, fishing, and camping. For an outdoorsy girl like me, it is a great place to live. But I don’t go up there just to admire the beauty of the town. I go there to pray for the people who live there.

    While everything can seem great from high on the hill, things are not all roses and daffodils down in the valley. It seems like every week I hear stories that break my heart: a kid is removed from their home because of abusive parents, another person who becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to escape emotional pain or stories of people struggling with loneliness and lack of self-worth. I know Jesus could speak into their hurt and pain, but only 1-2% of the population have a relationship with Jesus, and it doesn’t seem like the rest are interested.

    I can’t help but feel the effects of the hard and heartbreaking things that are happening all around me. I get tired of watching helplessly as people struggle in pain and suffer the consequences of their own bad choices or the choices of others.  Sometimes, my fatigue can even turn into frustration and anger directed toward these hurting people, instead of on their behalf. 

    Sometimes as Christians, it’s all too easy to build a metaphorical hedge around ourselves. We want to block it all out, and just live at peace with Jesus in our comfortable safe places. Then, once the world gets its act together, it can come visit us in our cozy “spiritual compounds.”

    Yet we know that is not the heart of God. God did not sit back in his protected spiritual domain while the people He created needed a savior. Instead, He became one of us, suffered like one of us, to show us a better way to live. He did it because “God is patient towards us, not wishing anyone to perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Christ came and died for those of us who have accepted Him AND for those who don’t know Him yet. (1 Peter 3:18)

    God calls us to come out from behind our “spiritual safety hedges” and share His gospel. But how do we begin reaching people in our own backyards with the gospel,  when most of them don’t want to hear it? There are so many people that don’t know how much Jesus truly loves them and it seems overwhelming. The Bible shows that I should begin with prayer.

    Prayer is where the early church started in its quest to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. Before the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, you don’t see the disciples out evangelizing yet. Instead, Acts 1:12-14 shows them gathered together in prayer. At just the right time, God sent the Holy Spirit to empower them to spread the gospel. In Acts 2, we see Peter preach the first gospel sermon and he preached it to his own people. The very people who, just a few weeks earlier, wanted Jesus dead.  

    But Peter didn’t turn his back on them.  Instead, God sent Peter to the very people that killed His Son, knowing they needed forgiveness and salvation, too. Thousands of people who once hated Jesus were now turning to Him for love and forgiveness.  

    Just like me, the early disciples didn’t know where to start or how to reach the vast number of people who still didn’t know Jesus. But instead of giving up and walking away, they met together and prayed. Then, at the right time, God sent his Spirit to empower them to reach people they never thought possible.

    As a disciple in the 21st-century church, it is now my turn to pray for those around me. Instead of running away and ignoring the angry, hurt, and broken people around me, I get the privilege to intercede before God on their behalf. 

    So I head to the top of the hill and pray for them. I go to my kids’ sports events, and I pray. In my favorite prayer spot in my house, I pray for them. So far, thousands of people haven’t come flocking to my church, but my heart is changing. I have more compassion. I see the sin and brokenness in my community more through God’s eyes which gives me the boldness and strength to regularly sit before him and beg for my town’s salvation. It has given me the courage to step into the difficult lives of some of my fellow neighbors and share the good news about Jesus’ love and sacrifice, and the brand new life they can have in Him. And as I see small changes in them begin to happen, I am encouraged to pray all the more.

    I don’t know what life is like in your town. I don’t know who your neighbors are. But I do know this: God loves them and desires them to have the same relationship with Him that you enjoy. 

    So how can you make time to pray for people around you who don’t know Jesus yet? If you’re looking for a way to get started, here are a few ways you can add this important calling into your prayer life:

    1. Go on a regular walk around your neighborhood or town and pray for your neighbors and the people you see.
    2. Pick one or two people you personally know who don’t have a relationship with Jesus and add them by name to your daily prayer list
    3. Get together once a month with other Christians to pray specifically for your town.

    As you pray, may your heart be transformed to be more like God, who stepped right into the middle of the mess to bring redemption, love, and hope.  May He give you the courage and boldness to tell others about Jesus, so that all may truly know Him.

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  • Approaching the Word of God

    With warm tea in hand and a Bible open, I was excited to start my favorite time of week. It was an encouraging time when our friends from a Muslim-only country would come to our house, and we would study the Bible together. It was a joy to see their hearts leap with excitement as God revealed Himself to them through His word. Together we would read a passage of Scripture and discuss it. Then, because they were voraciously reading their Bibles at home, they would come with questions about what they had been reading.

    On one particular Sunday afternoon, the woman posed a question that I never thought of before, but impacted me greatly. “In the Muslim religion, before we begin reading the Quran, we have to shower and clean ourselves before we open the book. As a Christian, is there a ritual we should follow before reading the Bible?”

    The Bible doesn’t lay out a specific ritual we should follow, but in light of what the Bible is, is there an attitude we should have when we read the Bible? Before we answer this question, we need to think about what the Bible is.

    What is the Bible?

    In simple terms, the Bible is the written Word of God. As God communicated with people over the centuries, those people wrote those words down. Now, we who live today, can be blessed by words God has spoken through the centuries. The words found in the Bible are a testament to the character of God and how He wants to live in relationship with His creation. In other words, they are the actual words of a loving, powerful, creator God.

    At first glance, the Bible can appear to be just words on a page, but when those words are read or heard, those words become active and powerful. We first see the Word of God in Genesis, when His word spoke creation into being. The word of the Lord caused the sinful nation of Nineveh to turn from their wickedness (Jonah 3:6-9). Jesus hushed the storm with his words in the Gospels. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead with his words in John. The outcast Samaritan woman, whom Jesus met at a well, was transformed by Jesus’s words. The list goes on and on. The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). It has the power to create worlds, control nature, bring life from death, and transform people’s lives.

    How should we approach the Word of God?

    In light of knowing that God’s Word is actual words from the ruler of the universe, in light of knowing these words have life and power in the here and now, what should our attitude be when we approach reading the Word of God?

    We want to first approach reading the Bible with joy. God desires to communicate with us. He longs to be in relationship with us. He could have just left us to our own devices, but He didn’t do that. Instead, He chose to share with us what is good, what is not good, and how much He loves us. His desire to reveal Himself to us was so great, His word became flesh in the form of Jesus, and walked among us (John 1:14). The words written on the pages of the Bible are a labor of love from our God, and spending time in His word can fill us with incredible joy.

    We also want to read God’s word with hearts that are open, pliable, and ready to listen. If we know the Word of God is living and active and has the power to change us, we want to sit before the Word ready to hear what God desires to say to us.

    The attitude of our heart is important

    In Matthew 13:3-9, Jesus shares with us how the soil of a heart impacts how the Word of God can change us. If our heart is unengaged or hard, the word has no way to grow. If our heart is open and pliable, the word is able to grow into a harvest that blesses not only us, but those around us.

    When we sit down to read the Word of God, we have to be ready to accept the words of love and encouragement written there, even if we don’t feel love for ourselves. We have to know those words are true, because that is what we base our identity on regardless of whether or not our feelings agree.

    We also have to be willing to allow the words of God to reveal the sinful parts in our heart that need to change. Knowing that the Bible is a revelation from a good God that desires to bless us, allows us to courageously make room for Him to change the unrighteous behaviors in our lives.

    When we come to the Bible with grateful joy and an open-heart, it honors the God who wrote it. As we honor Him in reading His word, He blesses us. I have seen this to be true in my own life. The word of God encouraged me when I didn’t know if my sick kid would ever get better. It was His very words, found in the Bible, that let me know He was walking with me during that difficult time.

    When my mind spins on sinful negativity, it is His word that renews my mind and helps me set my mind on truth, instead of my negative perception. I could name countless other times where His Word has helped me navigate times of conflict and anxiety with wisdom and hope. I have truly been blessed by spending time listening to God’s loving voice as I read His word.

    There are plenty of books and articles out there vying for our time and attention. Many of them promise to help make our lives better or to offer encouragement, but none can provide us with the love, wisdom, and challenge that the Word of God brings when we read it with a joyful, open heart.

    While we may not have to shower and prepare ourselves with physical rituals, like my Muslim friends did with the Quran, we should come to the word of God with a heart ready to honor God and eagerly anticipate hearing from Him. My hope is that time in God’s Word will become something you look forward to. The Creator of the universe loves you so very much and has gone to great lengths to talk with you. As you spend time with Him in His Word, I know you will be greatly blessed.

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