Embrace His Presence, Part 2

This is a repost from our Marriage Adventures Blog

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do.You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord (Psalm 139:1-4 NLT).

In Hebrews 13:5-6 God promises to never leave or forsake us.  What many of us fail to understand is that the presence of God is an expression of His love for us.  This verse goes on to say that the reason for His faithfulness is that he desires for us to be able to boldly declare, “God is my helper”.  Until we can truly comprehend the depth of God’s love for us as an individual, it is difficult to joyfully accept the longing God has for involvement in our lives. 

We have coached many people over the years and found some to believe that their marriage, home, and family were areas of their personal domain.  The thought was that these are areas free from the intervention of God or that they were on their own in a trial adventure.  Many of us are willing to allow God access when trouble, illness, or rescue is needed but still demand the control back once delivered.  It needs to be understood that God’s promised love takes the form of being ever present, involved, caringly attentive, and eternally desirous of a loving relationship with you.

God’s presence reaches, covers, manifest and dominates any and everywhere we are or are not.  The only condition for full enjoyment of this love gift is for us to accept and embrace God, the Giver.  Acknowledge and ask God through Christ to be involved in every aspect of your life.  Exclude Him from no activity, thought, or area of your existence.  Invite Him to be the true Lord of your life and then expand His lordship to your marriage, home, and family.  Understand that because of God’s love for you, you want Him involved and influencing every aspect of you and your marriage.

Realize that God knows everything there is to know about you, and He still loves and desires to have relationship with you.  Even if you thought you could, or still wanted to hide from God, it’s impossible.  Grasp hold of God’s loving presence and allow Him to work in you, on you, and through you to become personally blessed and be a blessing to your family.  Realize that there is nothing in this life that God has assigned you to handle without Him.  As promised, God is ever present; but when we focus our attention on Him we become conscious of His preexisting, loving attendance.  In order to please God, we must believe that He is, and that He desires to reward us for our faith in Him. (Adrian)

Embrace His Presence

This is a repost from our Marriage Adventures Blog

And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here (Exodus 33:14-15 NKJV)

Moses had been given direction and purpose as the leader of the children of Israel on their journey to the Promised Land.  Moses, in a conversation with God, was promised that the presence of God would go with him.  Not only did God assure Moses of His presence but He reiterated that rest would be given to the Israelites in the process.  Moses’ response was to request from God that, “If you don’t accompany us, then don’t move us.”  Moses appreciated and acknowledged the importance of the involvement and presence of God in accomplishing the God-given assignment.

Marriage is an institution that was established and is still sanctioned by God.  A truly successful marital relationship must embrace the necessity for God’s presence and involvement.  Just as Moses asked God to go with them, we must do the same for our marriages.

To embrace the need for God’s intervention is to recognize that the designed purpose for marriage was to provide help in life, pursuing pleasing Him.  God wants to reveal His love and nurturing character within the marriage relationship.  This will require the assistance of God to enable us to successfully demonstrate and share the love we received from Him.  God is always giving us examples of love in action because He knows we cannot share or give what we have not received.  Therefore, in order to execute God’s plan of unconditional redemptive love, He must be at the center of our life experience.

The more you involve God, the more you begin to understand that He desires and loves to be invited into every aspect of your life.  Marriage is an experience that is no exception. You will find that marriage is not a take home test where you are on your own.  God has promised to always be there.  Trust Him to be faithful to you and His Word.

Reminder: Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5 NKJV) (Adrian)

Don’t Rush the Process

…knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:3-4, NKJV).)

Some things take time to perfect.

I had an interesting conversation recently with my oldest daughter. We talked about marriage and how, after several years of marriage, she has finally gotten to a real place of appreciating her husband and the value he adds to her life. She is also aware of the value she adds to his life.

As we shared our different experiences in marriage, we came to a final conclusion which was this: Too many couples aren’t willing to go through the struggle of truly learning each other. If, after a few years things aren’t perfect, they’re willing to throw in the towel. Most of the time, things aren’t perfect because they are not putting the difficult  work involved in making a marriage work. They rush the process.

Most people are aware of how often marriage ends in divorce, but they still, somehow, hold on to this fantasy that because they are so “in love”, everything will be easy and breezy. The truth is that the only marriages that work are those that WORK at making it work, and are willing to not rush the process.

There’s a reason they call early marriage the “honeymoon phase”. It’s because it is only a phase. A phase is a distinct period or stage in a series of events or a process of change or development. In other words, it doesn’t necessarily last. Typically, after a couple gets “hitched”, they go on an extended vacation away from all the responsibilities of life and concentrate on each other, allowing themselves to be totally enraptured in each other’s love. Their eyes are full of fairy dust, and everything is seen through that. Unfortunately, soon after arriving home, real life begins. Now it’s easy to get distracted by tasks that take your attention away from each other; and in the process, it’s easy to lose patience or become short tempered with your mate.  Suddenly, all your mate’s flaws are smacking you in the face. It’s also easy to forget that this, too, is a phase. 

Marriage goes through many, many phases, and if that is not kept in mind, it’s too easy to think that the current phase is a permanent one. It, indeed, can become a permanent one if the two parties refuse to make the essential changes that allow them to transition into a different stage.

In the beginning, we want our mates to be just like us. It has been said that if you both are alike, one of you is unnecessary. It is so much more rewarding to learn to understand and appreciate your differences. It’s a lot more interesting, too.

It truly takes time to cultivate a good marriage, but if patience isn’t developed, it can’t happen. Expecting perfection from your mate is an impossible pursuit. Even if you find the “perfect” person, the relationship is going to be imperfect because you’re in it. Oops! Was that your toe I just stepped on. Sorry, not sorry.

Here’s the bottom line: if you rush the process of becoming an “US”, and choose, instead,  to separate or divorce, you will miss out on some of the most wonderful joys marriage can have. And should you decide to marry someone new, you’ll have to start all over again, getting to know each other, learning each other’s idiosyncrasies, what makes you laugh, what makes you cry, what brings you great delight. Those things take time.

Let patience truly have it’s perfect work in you. If you are a child of God, you already have it in you through the Fruit of the Spirit; so you don’t even have to ask God for it. Instead, ask Him to help you develop that fruit, and be expectant that He will. And, by the way, remember to be patient with yourself as you grow in your relationship with God and your spouse. (Pam)

Poison

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23, NLT)

The longer I live, the more convinced I am that the Word of God is true and is worthy of my attention and deliberate compliance.  It’s like many of the things our parents warned us about that. At the time. they didn’t seem to make sense or just seemed irrelevant to our situation.  However, we later experienced remorse for not paying attention. How many times have we remembered the decisions we made early on  like quitting our music lessons, not continuing our education, or not staying away from people or activities that we later regretted and wound up reaping undesirable consequences.

I think that many of the issues I was given information about, I just didn’t believe that it was true or accurate. It was like looking at a bottle of poison and thinking that someone had mislabeled it or was mistaken.  If I had sincerely trusted the warning on the label, there was no way I would have eaten or drunk the contents of the container.  Most of us use our personal experiences to help us make decisions we face everyday; but when it comes to poison, your experience may be the last thing you want to depend on.  Many of us have had experiences that help to guide us but wish never to repeat or see others get involved with.  Some things we encounter have immediate consequences, delayed results, and some no effects at all. Therefore, in order to safely navigate life’s choices and challenges we need to deliberately investigate, learn from our – and other’s – experiences, and determine what we hold as true and sacred.

The scripture quoted above indicates that the wages or consequences of sin is death.  Sin is one of those things that always produces the consequence of separating us spiritually from God immediately but also has its progressive and final remunerations that may appear more slowly over a lifetime or even eternally.  I am personally thankful for the Word of God because it allows me to take advantage of other’s experiences, and the wisdom and warnings of God, Himself.  I don’t have to touch a scorching stove to know it will burn me or drink poison to know that it kills.  I have learned to equate both sin and poison as activities to be avoided or eliminated from my life. 

Sin will always yield the consequence of death unless, having sinned, we take God’s antidote.  The same scripture quoted above also provides humanity with the God- given-sin antidote for life through receiving Jesus Christ as our Savior.   Jesus has provided a remedy for our personal sins by taking the penalty for us. 

I challenge you to investigate and pursue Christ as the true antidote for sin that will not only work in this lifetime but throughout eternity.   (Adrian)   

A Legacy of Faith

All your children shall be taught by the Lord,
And great shall be the peace of your children.  In righteousness you shall be established;
(Isaiah 54:13-14a, NKJV)

Not very long ago, we lay Adrian’s brother’s body to rest. He was only one of the twelve offspring of their parents. Adrian is actually the baby of the family; and by the time he was born, three of his siblings had already died at early ages – one of whom was the identical twin  of his recently deceased brother. It’s hard to imagine the unbearable pain of such loss for his parents, but one of the hallmarks of the Stovall father and mother is the legacy of faith they have left for the family.

The thing that changed my life forever was meeting Adrian and experiencing faith in action. It was his example of his love for God and his faith that He would help him through difficult course work that brought me to a decision where I accepted Jesus as my Savior.

It’s a most remarkable family, those Stovalls. When I first met a portion of Adrian’s family, he and I were in the early stages of our relationship. We were both in college although not the same one, so we would meet up on weekends. Just prior to one of those weekends, Adrian invited me to go to his hometown to meet his Dad (his mother had passed away when he was only 16). I was both stunned and delighted, so, of course, I accepted. I already knew that his father was a pastor, but I didn’t know quite what to expect upon our arrival. Up to this time, I didn’t know any pastors personally. He was very warm and friendly. I suppose he wanted to help Adrian impress me even more because he handed him the keys to his beautiful car and sent us off to explore the town.

I got to meet one of Adrian’s brothers, also a pastor, and wife. We got to know each other quickly and easily. I loved them right from the beginning.

That Sunday, Adrian took me to church where his father pastored. It was a new experience for me. My parents believed in God but didn’t attend church, so I was excited. The singing and clapping was new to me, and I loved it; and the congregants were warm and welcoming.

After we decided to get married, one of Adrian’s sisters-in-law came from California to help with the wedding. Later, her husband came for the actual ceremony. This brother was both a physician and a pastor. A few months after getting married, Adrian and I traveled to California with his dad to meet the rest of the Stovall clan. Did I already tell you he was the baby of 12! I met another brother who was a pastor, a sister who was a medical technician and married to a pastor, a sister who was a fashion designer for a major clothing brand, a brother who was an OB/GYN, a sister who was a science teacher and another brother who was an engineer with the military. And, oh by the way, Adrian was a chemical engineer.

When you take a full look at my husband’s extraordinary family, you discover two things about his parents. They believed in education and God. Being an African-American family with so many children one would have to wonder how on earth did they accomplish so much! The easy answer is, though they believed in education; it was their faith in God that carried them through. They have transferred that faith to their own children, and that faith has been transferred to all the children of the offspring, as well. All of our families have children who are serving the Lord, and their children are also.

You see, it’s a legacy of faith that carries on from generation to generation. God’s will for us is that we bear godly offspring, and that our children bear godly offspring, and that their children bear godly offspring and so on and so on. That’s our true inheritance!

Love

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16, NLT).

We love each other because he loved us first (1John 4:19, NLT).

And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers (1John 4:21, NLT) .

You can’t give anyone something you don’t have or haven’t received, yourself.  Fortunately, the Scripture, John 3:16, informs us that we have been made the recipients and beneficiaries of love given by God to all humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.  The type of love I am referring to is God’s love that is based on an act of His or our will.  It’s a love not founded in feelings, physical attraction, beauty, or personal appeal, but a love that directs, constrains, and inspires us to follow the example of God toward those with whom we are in contact.

This type of God-love causes us to behave in a manner that benefits the person we confess to love.  In other words, when God gave His son for our need for reconciliation and redemption, it was because we needed help not God.  This love is not selfish but selfless, prioritizing the needs of others ahead of our personal desires where possible and appropriate.  We can do this for each other because God loved us first.  That means I can love my spouse, family, friends, and acquaintances so that it blesses them and assist them in acquiring their needs and wants. God has commanded us to love our fellow believers if we say that we love Him.

First Corinthians 13:4-7 tells how this love performs in practice: Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proudor rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance (NLT).

The point I want to make is that this God-love is first received from God and is, then,  activated by an act of your will.  When you decide that you want to share the love you received from God, God, Himself, will provide the empowerment and ability.  He will not force you or work His love through your life unless you volunteer to be His ambassador of love to your world.  It’s your choice to love God’s way with His enablement and inspiration.  I challenge you to share the love you have received from God with those closest to you first and then spread it everywhere else you go. (Adrian)

Why is Marriage So Hard?

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother [to establish a home with his wife], and the two shall become one flesh; so that they are no longer two, but [are united as] one flesh. (Mark 10 7-8, AMP)

I find it very interesting that there are couples out there who still want to get married. I know that makes me sound like a cynic. With all the statistics out there that tell us how half of all marriages end in divorce, it surprises me that some still want to try to beat the odds. They somehow believe that they will the “lucky” ones. Trust me, luck has absolutely nothing to do with it!

We do a lot of premarital coaching, and the couples who come to us give all the right answers to questions we ask. They are very excited and bright eyed as we delve into each session. One pastor once told us that when he does premarital counseling, he feels it’s his job to talk the couples out of getting married. That sounds shocking on its face, but I totally understand. When we wrote our book, Marriage is Not for the Faint of Heart, we wanted to impress upon the readers that marriage is one of the hardest ventures they will experience; and it’s not because God intended it for it be. God didn’t place Eve in the garden with Adam to see if they could pass some, seemingly, unconquerable test to see if they were worthy of being in His Kingdom. I know it seems like that sometimes, but trust me when I tell you that God intended marriage to be a blessing.

Why, then, is marriage so hard? Then answer is simple, really. It’s because we humans are a  basically very selfish and prideful species. We want what we want when we want it, and aren’t particularly willing to let that go.

A successful marriage requires us to live a life of sacrifice. Oh no, not that! Funny thing is that, even though we tell those young (sometimes, old) couples that, they don’t really hear us because they’re ears are too stuffed with all the “I love yous” they just heard their fiancé say.

Sparkly, fairy-dust-filled love won’t cut it for making a happy marriage. When Adrian and I got married, we were absolutely crazy about each other. So, why did I cry nearly everyday the first year of our marriage? Because, after the fairy dust settled, – and it doesn’t take long for that to happen – our eyes could now actually see the flaws in each other. Now, he felt he had to make me like him, and I was trying to make him like me. That’s a recipe for disaster every time. When we were able to get over ourselves and allow our relationship with God to be our premier focus, we could begin to see each other through His eyes, and try our very best to give ourselves what God had given us: His love, His acceptance, and His  forgiveness.

I applaud those who decide to get married despite the statistics; but I also warn you, don’t go into it blindly thinking that being in mushy, gushy love is enough. We need the kind of love that is based on choice and not feelings.

So why is marriage so hard? Because until we truly submit our wills to God, we will always be in competition with each other instead of working together as a team to accomplish why God put us together in the first place. As I stated before, God intended marriage to be a blessing. If there is to be any competition in our relationship, let’s let it be to try to out-love each other and then allow ourselves to truly become the one flesh God intended: one in purpose and one in pursuit of God.

Peace Found Me

Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful. John 14:27 CSB

It seems that everywhere we turn today there are so many challenges to our personal peace.  Opportunities for disruption of our peace seem to confront us from our spouse, children, family, friends, work, world pandemic/health, social media, or our internal contemplation of life’s direction or destination.  Peace today just seems for most of us to be an elusive state of being that we pursue almost continually.

Ephesians 2:14 tells us that, He (Jesus) is our Peace (my parentheses, CSB), and Peace found me! Peace found me when I realized that God loved me before I knew or cared anything about Him, and pursued me to bring reconciliation and peace to my life just because I needed it.  I discovered that my peace was not a function of a lack of quiet, fear, challenges, conflicts, irritations, or anxiety but was actually founded on my belief and acceptance of Jesus Christ as the source and progenitor of true peace with God, humanity, and myself.  Through my acceptance of Jesus Christ as my personal savior, I experienced peace, love, acceptance, and forgiveness from God.

Peace flooded my heart when I understood that all these wonderful gifts were not based on my perfect or imperfect behavior but my acceptance of God’s love gift personified in Christ.  I didn’t have to do good things to be loved, accepted, and forgiven but I desired to do good and righteous things because I wanted to return the love and devotion I received from God.  All that God asked of me was to love Him and share what I have received from Him.  We can share God’s love acceptance and forgiveness with our spouse, children, friends, and ultimately the world because we have found and accepted Peace from God.

In our opening scripture, Jesus was speaking to His disciples before leaving Earth to return to heaven.  Jesus told us that He gave, then left peace with His disciples and includes us if we believe.  He instructed us to not let our hearts be troubled or fearful because we have His peace.  In Philippians 4:4-8, we are given directions for maintaining our peace:

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things (NKJV).

Allow God to give you peace today. (Adrian)

He Wholeheartedly Followed God

…For my part, I wholeheartedly followed the LORD my God. So that day Moses solemnly promised me, ‘The land of Canaan on which you were just walking will be your grant of land and that of your descendants forever, because you wholeheartedly followed the LORD my God.’ (Joshua 14: 8b-9, NLT)

Nearly all of the book of Joshua is the telling of how the remaining children of Israel arrived in the Promised Land. If you recall the story of them being in the Wilderness, God told all those who were over the age of 20 that they would not be allowed to journey into the Promised Land because of their disobedience, including Moses.

Joshua, who was now in charge, lead the children of Israel in and, at the Lord’s command, began to conquer the enemies in the land. They faced strong men and fortified cities, but God was on their side, and they were victorious in their efforts. God had driven out great and powerful nations for them and no one was able to defeat them.

After conquering the lands, Joshua, along with Eleazar the priest, and the tribal leaders began allotting grants of  land to the tribes of Israel. Prior to entering the Promised Land, Moses sent twelve spies to scout out the land to see what God had promised. Out of the twelve, only two (Joshua and Caleb) came back with a report that they were confident that Israel could take on the enemies there and experience victory despite what looked to be the contrary to the other ten. Those ten saw giants, so they were done!

In reading Chapter 14, one thing really stood out to me. As the land was being distributed some 45 years later, Caleb requested his portion. He brought to Joshua’s remembrance that Moses had sent him to explore the land of Canaan. He reminded him how those who went in with him scared the people from entering in because of what they witnessed. Caleb, along with Joshua, however, brought back a good report. As a result, according to the Scripture above, he was promised a grant of land, also, because he ”wholeheartedly followed the Lord”. That same phrase was attributed to Caleb three times within just six verses. I wonder for how many of us would that expression be made. He had remained faithful to God all his days, so he was given the land he was promised.

As Joshua drew close to his death, he gathered together all the major leaders of Israel and rehearsed in their hearing all the things the Lord had done for them and how He had finally given them rest from their enemies. Joshua warned them not to deviate from the Book of Instructions, not to take on the practices of other nations, and certainly not worship or even mention the names of their gods. God cautioned that those things would be a snare and trap for them.

We live in a world that is so gravely tainted by sin with people practicing all kinds of damnable things that go against God’s principals. It takes a strong commitment to serving God not to be drawn away by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life, or as 1John 2:15-16 states,  Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world (NKJV).

I need to examine my life and ask myself, “Do I wholeheartedly follow the Lord? Do I passionately, unreservedly, enthusiastically, totally follow Him.” I would like be able to declare a very convicted yes. However, realistically, I’m aware that even though I have named the Name of Jesus for decades, I’m still tempted to deviate from what I know as truth. I’m sure we can all reach back in history and find areas of compromise in our lives, and perhaps not so far back.

I praise God that Jesus has redeemed us because we cannot “wholeheartedly follow God” without His intervention. Thank God for His grace and for His mercies that are new every morning. As much as Caleb followed God, we have an advantage over Him: We have the Holy Spirit living on the inside of us whom we can access anytime we need to. He is our Comforter and Guide as well as the Revealer of Truth. When we are tempted to stray from doing what we know to be right, He’s there to gently remind us of God’s love for us and help us to either resist the devil, or to help us get back on track when we blow it.

If we’re determined to do so, Holy Spirit will help us wholeheartedly follow the Lord, our God. It’s a comfort to know that as He helps me to examine  my life through the Scriptures; and when I see myself in opposition to it, Holy Spirit can bring correction and conviction to get me back on course. I want my life to be one of full surrender to God. What about you? (Pam)

Ambassadors

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back toGod!” (2 Corinthians 5:20, NLT)

I looked up the definition of the word ambassador and found it to mean “an authorized messenger, representative or advocate who represents someone else’s policy or purpose”.  After reading the scripture above, and thinking about my relationship with God, I realized that to be an ambassador is indeed my privilege and loving response to God’s love for me.

It excited me to realize that God had authorized me to be His representative most especially to my spouse and family. I believe I am to be His ambassador to everyone who comes into my sphere of influence but first, and most definitely, my spouse and family.  I say especially my spouse because in marriage, our mates are allowed to see God’s provision for our needs to be met specifically, personally, and with the deepest intimacy possible outside of from God, Himself.

I believe my mate should be able to see and have increased faith in the love and caring presence of God from looking into my face and observing my actions as I try to imitate the life of Christ daily. My family should develop trust in God’s faithfulness even more through our relationship with each other and the policies of God that I advocate in our home.  I’m not claiming to have achieved the perfection of Christ; but even in my failures and imperfections, they should see my desire to be the best representative I can with God’s help.

In our homes, let’s work to understand just how much we are loved individually by God and then share it with our spouse and family.  Remember, you cannot share what you have not received.  Therefore, in order for all of us to be better messengers, promoters, and representatives of God, we must, first, spend time with Him and in the study of His directives, His Word.  The more we experience a close relationship with God, the more love, patience, forgiveness, joy, and peace we can share with our loved ones.  God has given us such a great opportunity to practice His love in our homes before we take it to the world. (Adrian)