Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.Galatians 4:6-7
For a long time, I just didn’t feel like I “belonged.” As a child, I didn’t have a group of friends to hang out with. My one friend, a neighbor around the corner, frequently left me out of activities with her other friends. And when I got into high school I felt more like I was on the edge of my friend group. Fast forward to adulthood and I never quite fit in with the boozy softball coach crowd, the gossipy PTA crowd, or even the Girl Scout leader gang.
And when I married I was an outsider to a large, wonderful family. Yes, they welcomed me but I couldn’t share in all the stories from long past because I never lived in the town they were all from. My own family consists of myself and my parents – who I see and speak with infrequently.
I spent a lot of time in prayer over the years asking God to work His changes in me so that I could feel like I belonged, somewhere, anywhere. As my faith has progressed I’ve come to realize that I first need to accept being a part of the most important family of all – God’s. I praise Him today that He sees us as His sons and daughters. We are His beautiful children whom He loves unconditionally. We belong to Him.
That’s been a hard message for me to soak in and accept. When I stand in the mirror I’ve asked God to help me see what He sees. To love myself as He loves me – no matter where else I may have felt rejected.
And it’s funny how God’s ways work. When I focus on God’s love, gifts and promises the more I feel that sense of belonging. He places me with new people and new situations that He has prepared for me. I slough off the old negative feelings and instead give all glory to Him who loves me and who draws me closer to Him.
I recently heard a lesson about belonging. As Christians we are admonished to “remember our last name.” Like children of our earthly parents we are to go about our lives remembering who we belong to and who we represent. That really hit home. When I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior I became a part of a special family. One where I’m expected to remember my last name and act like I belong to the Lord Most High.
It’s amazing how God gives us the next steps when He sees we are ready — when we start acting like He expects us to. He brings in new people to our lives when He knows we can openly accept His new ways. I find myself so incredibly blessed by, not only the women that have been populated in my sphere, but the men. Strong Christians who love people. Faithful Christians who serve others. Young, old, every race and quirkiness. And I feel like I belong.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”John 15:13
Jesus sees you. The first lesson of this miracle is a welcome one. You and I aren’t invisible. We aren’t overlooked. Jesus spots us on the side of the road, and he makes the first move.
There are three women in my life that I count has having a significant influence on me. Two of the three will probably never know me. That’s the power of having an outlet to reach millions of people either through the radio, books, television, etc. My long commutes as a young working woman were filled with life wisdom dished out with a borderline harshness by Dr. Laura. She made sense to me and helped me to see different perspectives in relationships both personally and professionally. Later, my faith life received a much needed injection of God’s truth from the formidable Joyce Meyer. Her devotional, “Power Thoughts,” was Dr. Laura on faith steroids. But again, these two women and I will probably never cross paths.
The third woman God placed in my path couldn’t be more opposite in personality than the other two. She and Jesus share a beautiful character trait. They love all. They have compassion for all. They know just what someone needs at their darkest hour. When Jesus was asked how the masses would be fed, He stepped up to the plate. And so does my mother-in-law, Bev Shetter.
When I first would visit Bev in her hometown of Longmont, Colorado about 30 years ago, I would find myself frequently annoyed. You see, like people surrounding Jesus on His way to an official’s home, Bev couldn’t get through one aisle at the local grocer without multiple people approaching her. A quick trip for a loaf of bread turned into an hour.
This was so foreign to me. How could one person, not only know so many people, but know so many people so well? She wasn’t some famous tv personality. She didn’t write a book. She didn’t operate the local bakery, or any business for that manner. She wasn’t even head of any organization. She was a housewife who occasionally worked part time at a flower shop here or a dress shop there. And, a faithful member of her church.
She knows everyone’s name, their children’s names, their parent’s names. She knows who is sick and injured. She can share a joke with old and young. She lets people know she’s praying for them regularly. And at the end of a “short” trip for a few groceries I felt a bit like Peter, annoyed that we might be late for our next engagement because Bev needed to say yet another kind “hello” to an elderly woman.
She makes you feel loved, special, remembered.
“It’s funny how God leads us to just the right person to guide us through life. Bev has been that trusted loving spiritual friend to me for some 40 years. She has modeled the commandment of Jesus to love one another putting into action all the teachings of Jesus. We have shared laughter, faith, tears, fears, and all that life gives us and I am so grateful to her for walking beside me and revealing Jesus to me.”
Longtime friend, Jane Nelson
Jesus did that. You knew you were in the presence of someone special because He made you feel special. The disciples knew that when Jesus said, “Follow me” they would be well-loved. They would be remembered. He wasn’t famous when He first called His disciples. He was an unknown. Not a rich businessman or even mildly successful tradesman. Yet He made sure to make people feel known and loved.
“I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” John 17:9
Even in His last physical days on Earth He remembered His friends. Not just the disciples. You’ll notice in the verse above He is praying for everyone that the Father sent to Him – that’s you, me, Peter, John, the tax collectors, the adulterers, the gentile and the Jew. Everyone who has turned their lives over to Him.
When I committed myself to my husband, I was given the gift of moving into Bev’s large friendship circle. It wasn’t easy at first. We are also opposite in personality. I was angry, unsettled, untethered to God. I welcomed outrage in my life, judged harshly and forgave reluctantly. But the thing about Jesus is when He steps into a relationship with a Saul He transforms the Saul into a Paul. And when someone like a Bev enters your life, you can’t help but come out changed.
And so I watched and listened. I saw the peace she had in her life that I did not. I watched her minister to the homeless, the shut in, the sick, the needy, the hurt, the lonely. I listened to her words of compassion and quiet, unassuming advice to her friends. She opens her home to visiting missionaries, childhood friends, family and anyone else that needs a pillow to rest their head. And I said, “I want some of that.”
Isn’t that what we do when listen to Jesus talk to a hurting person? “I want to be able to love like that.” Isn’t that what we pray for when we watch Jesus stop and pay attention to one person on the street whom nobody sees? “I should stop and help them.” Isn’t that what we long for when Jesus tells us He will never leave us? “I want to be loved and be remembered.”
“My grandma doesn’t wait around for approval, compliments or appreciation. She has a keen eye for what people need before they may even know it themselves. She is one to show up with a warm meal before your stomach starts to growl or a blanket before you start to shiver.
Granddaughter, Haley Shetter
Jesus and people like Bev show us how to love and be loved. They show us how to be the faithful and loving friend. They aren’t looking for 10,000 “likes” on Facebook. They stop in the grocery aisle and say, “Hello, friend, how is your mom feeling today?” They give their time and prayers one person at a time. And from that, Jesus and Bev have gained a multitude of loving and faithful friends.
“My sister Bev cared for my blessed mother for many years. Her dedication in honoring God through love and service is selfless and enduring. Many times her faith has been tested but never paled.”
Sister, Kathy Pisano
The people like Bev, who live out this Jesus character trait so well, don’t work hard to make friends. They don’t work hard at keeping friends. They work hard at loving people. They look for ways to show compassion. They know that even doing their little part will mean something for somebody. People like Bev are remembered wherever they go, because the people they touch feel something special.
“From her I have learned to watch and listen to her ways. This is not something you develop overnight but attributes you gain over time. She surrounds herself with people who also have these qualities so they can act as a tribe, a community, to build and share their love.”
Granddaughter, Haley Shetter
Bev and her “tribe” are truly special followers of Jesus’ command to love one another and be faithful to others. I’m a living example of someone who can learn to imitate Bev and Jesus. I may never achieve the level of her success but God knows my efforts.
It’s important for us that aren’t more naturally inclined to be like her to know that Jesus still expects us to work at it. I won’t be Bev2.0 but with her example and the guidance of Jesus I can be transformed into someone new.
So we say with confidence, “The Lord is
my helper; I will not be afraid. What
can mere mortals do to me?”Hebrews 13:6
There’s been a number of times in my life when I felt all alone. In high school the neighbor girl who I had been friends with since I was in fourth grade rejected me. The kids I hung out with at school always treated me as an outsider, never inviting me over to game nights and other fun group activities. I wasn’t a nerd, athlete, druggie, ASB, drama, or whatever type person we think of when we remember our high school years. I was friendly with people in all groups but never a part of a group.
I could’ve really used Jesus.
I was listening to a great podcast recently called, “Talk It Out.” It’s an offshoot of the Joyce Meyer Ministry where three women of various stages of life take Mrs. Meyer’s teachings and work on applying it to their everyday lives. On that day they were talking about different times they’d felt alone. And I realized that probably every single one of us have felt that way at some point or multiple points in our lives. Some of you might feel that way right now.
One of the ladies spoke of when, in high school, she kept Jesus close to her at all times. Her only true friend. She would even talk to Him in the car as though He were a constant companion in her passenger seat.
One who has unreliable friends soon
comes to ruin, but there is a friend
who sticks closer than a brother.Proverbs 18:24
I can’t tell you with 100% accuracy that this proverb speaks of God. But I can tell you that God is 100% that friend who is “closer than a brother.” And when we feel alone and as though our faith journey is stuck, we need only turn to Jesus and say, “Hello.” If you are in a season that you feel alone, left out, far from any quality friendships – including God– it’s time to call to Him with all your heart.
It reminds me of when Mary, having seen the empty tomb, stands outside crying. She must’ve felt very alone at the time. When Jesus appears to her, she thinks He is the gardener and demands to know where he moved the body. And Jesus simply says to her, “Mary.” She turns to Him and suddenly recognizes Him and grabs hold of Him, crying out “Rabboni!” My favorite part of this is the fact the text is written like this in the NIV and King James version – “Mary.” No exclamation. He doesn’t yell out to her. It feels so quiet and gentle and personal. “Mary.”
Now imagine yourself standing there thinking God has let you down. He’s allowed the worst thing that could ever happen to actually happen. And you cry out. He responds. Standing right in front of you with a gentle, loving word.
Instead of saying with proud lip, “Well, if He leaves me I must do without Him, if I cannot have His comfortable presence I must fight on as best may be,” the soul says, “No, it is my very life, I must have my God.”
And with that renewed friendship we can add to our request of God, “Help me to find reliable friendships here on earth.” He may convict of you of your own sins or thinking. Rest assured when you sit with Him over coffee, while on your commute, or at a quiet lunch at the park, He will be the most honest friend you could ever desire.
The righteous choose their friends
carefully, but the way of the wicked
leads them astray.Proverbs 12:26
For me, I needed Jesus for a friend in high school as a companion – I was an oddball, a square peg and all the holes were round. And later, I needed Jesus as that friend who would speak truth into me to show me why I didn’t have close friends, why I’d been rejected so often. He showed me that my need to control the people around me was not a desirable attribute in a friend. I was quick to anger and judgement. And selfish ways pushed people away.
Sometimes when I think about what our lives are like today, I like to imagine what it would’ve been like living as a pioneer woman. Living a lonely life with just my husband and two kids out on the prairie. No texting, no Instagram. Barely any mail even. Where would I find friendship? In my days of harvesting and cooking and cleaning I would need to seek out the only person my Bible told me would be with me always – Jesus.
That was true then and it’s still true today. Friends we had 10 years ago may not even be part of our lives. Friends we meet today may fade away. So, it’s imperative we hold close to our hearts our one constant, our friend, our counselor, our Rock – our Lord.
You hem me in behind and before, and
you lay your hand upon me.Psalm 139:5
My BSGs were talking the other day about sensing God’s presence. More specifically about the times we felt God was far away from us. So often when we are experiencing difficult trials we think “where is God?” But I’ve come to realize in my faith journey that the real question is the one God asks, “Will you come back to me and rest in my love?”
God surrounds us each and every day. In our verse today it’s expressed as “hemming us in.” For some that might seem restricting. But to me it evokes the concept of wrapping a baby tightly in a swaddling cloth. We do it so the baby feels the warmth and safety once felt while inside the womb. And that’s what God wants for us.
I will not leave you comfortless: I will
come to you.John 14:18
Those are Jesus’ words. He sent us the Holy Spirit to always be in us. We don’t need to go looking for it. We don’t need to beg for it to descend upon us. God indwells. So, what is truly required of us when we experience difficult times is to rest in what is already available to us.
“It may look like I’m surrounded but I’m surrounded by you!”
Upper Room, Surrounded (Fight My Battles)
When I think about the times I felt distanced from God I also think back to when the Israelites were out in the desert. They could actually see God’s spirit hovering over their camp day and night. And yet, they asked, “Where is God?” I don’t have the benefit of seeing a cloud follow me around day and night. And, I don’t have the physical Jesus to sit down with at dinner to share my problems. So, I give myself a bit of grace when I forget He is always with me.
When I rest and tap into the strength and love and goodness of the Holy Spirit I find that promised peace. It most likely won’t change the circumstances of the trial I’m experiencing. But knowing He is with me, with His hand laid upon me, gives me the strength to continue.
My friend Betsy is an avid, extreme hiker. Last year, at 70 years old, she set off to tackle the John Muir Trail solo. She came to a particularly difficult portion and her body starting giving her troubles. She has dreamed of this trip for years – and attempted it a few times. She became distraught that she couldn’t go on. With her, in case of emergency, was her Iphone. She made the decision to use it to listen to some Christian music in the midst of this struggle. As she reached the crest of the difficult portion, filled with the music of the Holy Spirit, her mind was transformed. She had plugged back in to her closeness with God.
Betsy wasn’t able to complete her goal. But she gained so much more. A confirmation that God never leaves us. We just need to rest in that “hemmed in” space He provides.
Here’s a prayer from Sparkling Gems from the Greek to pray when we feel separated from God:
Lord, I thank you that I am not a spiritual orphan in this world. You did not abandon me or leave me to figure out everything on my own. You sent the Holy Spirit to me to be my Teacher and Guide. So right now, I open my heart wide to the Holy Spirit, so He can be the Helper You sent Him to be in my life. I give You thanks for sending this divine Helper and I ask You to teach me how to lean upon Him more and more in the course of my life. I pray this in Jesus’ name!
Therefore, since we are surrounded
by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that
hinders and the sin that so easily
I was at one of the lowest points in my life. Sure, I realized at some point that my hormonal situation was partially to blame but so was my environment. More specifically, I had surrounded myself with friends who, to be honest, weren’t all that great of friends. When I asked for help one day because of a medical problem my friends said, “no.” Even my parents said, “no.” I found myself at the end of my spiritual rope.
I remember sitting at my computer looking at Facebook and slowly deleting every single “friend” while sobbing. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t let go of us.
I will not leave you as orphans;
I will come to you.John 14:18
What I was led to do in the coming weeks was to seriously evaluate what environment I had created and how I could create a better one. I went down the list of women I knew casually and had shown themselves to be people of character. And I started calling them, inviting them to lunch, Bible study, or for a walk. About a year later I told some of them what had happened that day I needed help. Some of them cried for me and said, “I wish you had called me. I would have dropped everything for you.” And then I cried. But this time tears of love and joy.
Sometimes we need to have a truly hard moment to see what we have created around us and how it hinders our spiritual connectedness. And the Holy Spirit will be there to guide us to our new home. I found this prayer about laying aside all our hinderances that I thought you might enjoy.
“Lord, I want to stay in an environment that will keep my faith alive and strong. Help me recognize those relationships and places I should avoid to keep my faith from being negatively affected. As you show me places, people, and things I should avoid, give me the strength I need to do what is right — and give me the wisdom I need to know how to avoid those places and people! I pray this in Jesus’ name!”
Life Lesson #8: Seek deep and long lasting communion with other Christian believers
I pray that your partnership (koinonia) with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.Philemon 1:6
When I began my Christian journey, I didn’t have any Christian friends. My parents were not Christians either. My husband had grown up in the faith but wasn’t really connected at the time. My only real guides were my in-laws, who I saw infrequently because they lived in another state. I relied heavily on the once a week lessons taught by the pastor. If it didn’t make sense to me, I just figured I was not smart enough or even faithful enough to understand. I wasn’t encouraged to attend a church Bible study until much later in my journey while at another church.
Every day they continued to meet
together in the temple courts. They
broke bread in their homes and ate
together with glad and sincere
hearts, praising God and enjoying
the favor of all the people. And
the Lord added to their number daily
those who were being saved.Acts 2:46-47
My BSGs just finished the Bible study book, Everyday Theology. In the week study titled “Church” we were asked to read the verse above and then talk about what makes a “good” church. What we all included was a type of fellowship that goes beyond just being friends. In various places of the Bible the Greek word “koinonia” is used. That’s the kind of partnership or communion we saw as being important as a Christian.
koinōnía (a feminine noun) – properly, what is shared in common as the basis of fellowship (partnership, community), the share which one has in anything, participation
If you search the word, “koinonia,” it’s interesting to see that it’s attributed to Christian fellowship. Meaning we are again set apart with a special communion and partnership with each other. We are to take responsibility for spurring each other on in our sanctification journey. We show each other love and truth.
In his letter to Philemon, Paul starts out reminding Philemon of the importance of koinonia and how he has seen it at work in the Colossian church – the church which met regularly in Philemon’s home. Why does he remind Philemon? Because Paul is about to ask him for a favor – one that will reveal the true state of Philemon’s heart. He asks for the forgiveness and accepting back of a man who stole from him.
And let us consider how we may
spur one another on toward love
and good deeds,Hebrews 10:24
How many of us have surrounded ourselves with fellow believers who will help us in our pruning journey? Not just a nice, “hello” at church or even an occasional dinner date with some church friends. But a true, deep partnership with people we know have the same measuring stick as their guide. With people we know that won’t give up on us and we won’t give up on them?
As I look back at the beginnings of my faith journey, I see the times I really could’ve used a few Christian friends. Instead, my circle helped me, even encouraged me, to live a life which God would not be pleased. And when I was truly in need I was frequently abandoned.
Do not be misled: “Bad company
corrupts good character.”1 Corinthians 15:33
I had a friend in college that I saw almost every day because we had a lot of the same classes. We studied together and ate together. One day I came upon her at a grassy area on campus with some other students. She was smoking a cigarette. I had never seen her smoke before! I asked her about it and she said, “Oh ya, when I’m around my friends from Spain I smoke all the time!” We have to admit that our friends (and family) have some influence over us. So, in the choosing, as Christians, we are advised by Jesus and the apostles to choose wisely.
That’s not to say we aren’t to have non-believers in our lives. Those are the folks God has put in front of us to bring to Him! But we should actively seek out koinonia with other believers. They are the ones with whom we should feel safe when we need to confess our sins. They are the ones who can help us to show grace and forgiveness. They are the ones who will show us compassion. We know this because they are on the same faith journey as us.
For where two or three gather
in my name, there I am with them.Matthew 18:20
So often we make our friends by chance – through our kids or spouses or through a hobby or activity. When was the last time you sat down and evaluated your friendship circle? When was the last time you actively worked to build a different circle?
Your love has given me great joy
and encouragement, because you, brother,
have refreshed the hearts of the
Lord’s people.Philemon 1:7
Fellowship, koinonia, with other believers helps bring us closer to the love, joy, and grace that God wants for us. I’m thankful that I have built a small group of friends that hold my feet to the fire and will also wash my feet when I am in need – and I am willing to do the same for them. I started building this circle by first joining a Bible study and then offering to lead one. I found myself then helping create Bible study curriculum and joining other church committees. Each time, I gathered up more Christian friends. Until finally, I asked a couple ladies at my gym, whom I had heard talking about church, if they’d like to do a Bible study with me. And so my BSGs (Bible Study Girls) were formed. Each God-directed step has taken me closer to koinonia, not only with fellow believers but, with the Holy Spirit.
If you don’t have fellow Christian friends, today is the day to pray that God will send you in the right direction. And when He opens the door, step through it.
Out of the same mouth come
praise and cursing. My brothers
and sisters, this should not be.James 3:10
A prayer to avoid using coarse language
Holy Father, it has become so easy for me to use your name in un-holy ways. There was once a time that when angered or frustrated I would just say some silly old saying. But as I drew closer to the ways of the world my language followed. I want to be closer to you instead, LORD. I want to speak like your son, Jesus. I know that anger, impatience, laziness, and bitterness are all roots of my use of foul language. Help me, Holy Spirit, to cut out those roots so that out of my mouth comes praise, prayer, forgiveness and grace. I will use my mouth, with your guidance, for these rather than obscenity and coarseness. Amen
We all remember that moment well. I was driving the middle school carpool that morning. A car full of young, impressionable minds. Just before I got to a busy intersection a car swerved over from another lane in front of me, causing me to hit my brakes. And just as our basic driving skills become automated, my middle finger and mouth began its ugly automatic work. The car went silent. I was immediately convicted of my sin by five sets of enlarged eyes on me.
You’d think that instances like that would’ve got me to stop cursing in anger but it hasn’t. In fact, knowing about three weeks ago that eventually I’d be writing this post I started more aggressively working on this problem. And yet, just the other day I think I managed to use just about every curse word available when talking to my husband about politics.
Nor should there be obscenity,
foolish talk or coarse joking,
which are out of place, but
rather thanksgiving.Ephesians 5:4
Have you ever watched a movie where it seemed the director purposely had every actor place a curse word in every sentence the actors spoke? I have. And I’ve finally had to stop watching. I understand when our anger rises up that we again allow our mouths to control our world. But the gratuitous use of cursing is not something I understand. Everything, to some people, is “f’ing (fill in the blank).” It’s become just another adjective. And yet, it isn’t.
According to one researcher, we swear on average from 0.3% to 0.7% of the time — a tiny but significant percentage of our overall speech. Given the fact that the average woman speaks about 25,000 words a day that adds up to around 1,750 swear words per day. That’s a lot of sinful speaking.
When I worked in our local high schools, I would see the prevalence of swearing amongst our teenagers. Each year it seemed to get worse and worse. When I would admonish a student they would say, “oops, it was just an accident.” However, we all know that well-practiced behaviors become simply rote acts.
We are told throughout the Bible and especially the New Testament that we, as believers in God and then Jesus, are to be set apart from this world.
Let us behave decently,
as in the daytime, not
in carousing and drunkenness,
not in sexual immorality and
debauchery, not in dissension
and jealousy. Rather, clothe
yourselves with the Lord
Jesus Christ, and do not
think about how to gratify
the desires of the flesh.Romans 13:13-14
This verse makes it clear, whether in daytime, nighttime, with Christian friends or non, in our work environment, our home, or alone in our car, we are to clothe ourselves with Jesus. The worst I have ever read come out of Jesus’ mouth was to call the Pharisees “vipers.”
In the United States, during the 19th century, there was a craze to come up with “mild oaths” or pseudo-swearwords that replaced profane words with inoffensive ones. They tended to be silly and even poetic. “Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat,” “Holy, Moly,” and “gee willikers!” were just a few. It was a sign of our Christian influence in society. Sadly, we seem to have lost not only that influence but our desire to be that influence.
My BSGs’ (Bible Study Girls) favorite saying is “imperfect progress.” And that’s what I’m in the midst of – really, aren’t we all? And as I listen to our media, tv shows, music, and more accept that cursing God’s name as the “new normal” I pray for the Holy Spirit to help me be set apart. I want my “new normal” to be for the glory of God, not for the fulfillment of my flesh.
If you want this too, add the prayer to your daily prayer list and watch and see how God works in your life!