9.27.2013

Are you a full-time Christian?


How many of us encourage others to step out and share the Gospel with people
...but don't witness to strangers ourselves?

How many of us are willing to stay awake for a 3 hour movie
...but get sleepy during a 1 hour sermon?

How many of us don't leave the house without cell phones
...but forget our Bibles?

How many of us are quick to talk about the latest movie or book with our friends
...but are awkward to pray or talk about the LORD in public?

How any of us love our friends as Jesus does
...but fail to share His love with anyone else?

How many of us be sure to listen to 'Christian' music on Sundays
...but the rest of the week, the music we let enter our ears is trashy?

How many of us sing the words of worship songs
...but don't mean the words we sing?

How many of us make plans for each day
...but never ask God what He wants us to do?

How many of us buy things we don't need
...but can't give a single penny to those who have needs?

How many of us make time for coffee dates with friends
...but 'don't have time' for personal devotions?

How many of us read our Bibles
...but never go and do what it says?

How many of us spend more time on the internet
...but not enough praying?

How many of us pray when we want something
...but fail to pray for those suffering and in need?


We are all guilty of at least one of these.  What are some ways that you can change your daily routine and make more time for the One who deserves it?  Are you living as a full-time Christian...or just part time?

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'But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.'
- Matthew 6:33

8.13.2013

The Four S’s | Using Your Gifts For God’s Glory



We are each given a gift from God.  To use in worship and service to Him and the Church.  I’ve had a lot of people ask me how they can discover these gifts in themselves.  I’m put together a four point list of finding these gifts and talents and how to use them for God’s glory.

Sacrifice
This is probably the hardest step of all.  And yes, it’s the first.  To sacrifice means to give up something that is special or important to you.  Something that you’d rather have, but need to give up.  This prepares the way to discovering your gifts because, while you may want to keep this talent to yourself and not share it with others, it’s actually the very thing God is wanting you to give and use.
Your gift can be anything from being good with children, balancing a check-book, cooking, singing, writing, or having an extra seat in your car.  Stay with me...I’ll show you how these can be beneficial in the family of God.
And if you don’t know what your gift is, as the LORD to reveal it to you.  And be humble.


Seek
Opportunities won’t always come to you.  God doesn’t expect us to just sit at home all day and needs will just come knocking at our doors.  We must go out and SEEK people to serve - siblings in Christ and non-believers.  We never know who we could help that God will touch through our hands.


Stir Up
In the Church and Christian circles, you may know of people who just aren’t that excited about the LORD and His Word.  Your opportunity to get them excited is by using your talents and gifts to show them that God truly is at work in their lives - through you!  By being a joyful servant and sacrificing your needs and desires for someone else’s, this is the heart of Jesus.  To love others better than yourselves.  To love even when it’s not wanted.  To serve even when someone says they can do it by themselves.  Stir up the body of Christ by keeping those hands moving, those feet walking, those lips speaking His praises.


Serve
Your talents - whether great or small - are gifts from God, for you to use for the benefit of others and all to His glory.  Like I said, it can be something as simple as balancing a check-book.  You never know who, in your local family of God, can’t/doesn’t know how to pay their bills.  Have you ever asked?  Or the mother of 6 children whose husband works long days and needs an extra pair of hands to help with dishes or babysitting so the tired mama can get some rest.  Maybe you could squeeze in a couple hours from your days to help her out.
Or the elderly lady who doesn’t have her own car and would do anything to be there on Sunday mornings.  Maybe that extra seat in your car could be for her.
There are literally millions of ways to serve others.  And sometimes, even the smallest efforts, reap the greatest rewards.  

We are sons and daughters of the Creator.  We were placed on this earth to glorify Him.  We need to remember that the world has their eyes ON US.  What sort of representation are we giving of Jesus and His love?  We are the hands and feet.  We need to do what He would do.  We need to go where He would go.  And nothing - absolutely nothing! - done with love and for Him goes unnoticed or unblessed.

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‘For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.’
- Galatians 5:13

‘...knowing that from the LORD you will receive the reward of the inheritance.  It is the LORD Christ whom you serve.’
- Colossians 3:24

7.17.2013

My love story with Jesus | testimony

Before you start reading this, I would like to ask you to take a moment to pause and pray about what I am about to share with you.  Pray that God will use it in your life all for His glory.
And please know that this took a lot of strength to write.  Everything you read in this testimony is something I’ve never shared with anyone outside my immediate family.  Posting this on my all-public website and other social networks is like opening the most secret part of me for everyone to see.  And honestly, it scares me.  But I know this is what God wants me to do.  And I hope and pray that you will be encouraged by what you read and that through it, you will only get to see more of just a glimpse of Who God really is.  And just what His love can do to one person.

It was a couple days after September 11, 2001.  My little six-year old self was listening to my mom pray for the grieving families of everyone who was a victim to the Twin Tower destruction.  
My mind was racing faster than I knew it could.  Thoughts filled my head, thoughts of death and dying and heaven and hell.  
What if I was in one of those towers?  What if I had died?  Where would I have gone?
God was working in my six-year old heart.  And I knew that He was calling me.  Right then and there, I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins, to come into my life and accept me as one of His children.
Regardless of how my little prayer went, I know He heard me.  And I will never forget what happened the second I said ‘amen’.  I felt something lift off of my shoulders.  It caught me by such surprise that I opened my eyes and looked behind me to see what it had been and who had removed it.  But there was no one there, physically.   I remember smiling to myself and just knowing that I was a new Christian.  
I didn’t get baptized till I was ten.  And I wrote up my little testimony and said it in front of a congregation of the new church my family and I had recently started going to.  I remember shaking nervously as I stumbled over each sentence.  But I was so happy to finally get baptized.  And I really felt like I was ready for it.  I knew the significance it held in my walk with God.
But there was still much I would learn about being a Christian.

Fast forward three years to a time where I was a troubled thirteen-year old girl, deeply struggling in my spiritual walk.  My life was a mess.  I was so far from God.  
I was scared.  That’s really the only word I can think of to describe what I was feeling.  Over the last few months, I had felt myself falling away from God.  I never read my Bible.  I basically hated praying.  I didn’t think God was doing anything in my life.  Going to church was a chore.  And when someone said the name of Jesus, I cringed.  Almost as if I felt guilty just by hearing His name.  
I was too scared to talk to my parents about any of this because I thought that they would be mad at me; that they would think that I had lied about becoming a Christian seven years ago.  But one day (and I’m not exactly sure when or how it happened), God showed me that I couldn’t get through life without honoring Him and keeping Him as the first priority.  I was so ashamed and thought to myself, ‘How could I really be saved if I’ve been acting this way?’  I remember one time being so scared that I went into my bathroom and huddled in a corner, sobbing into a towel.  I even went so far as to think that I would go to hell whenever I died because I hadn’t been living a fruitful spiritual life.
In a very tactful way, I remember approaching my mom and asking her: if a Christian felt far from God, what should they do?  What would be the best remedy to closing that gap between Creator and creation?
‘Raquel, God doesn’t have us base things on our feelings.  You have to base them on His promises in His Word.’  
That really struck me.  And as I meditated on that for a while, I realized that all this time, I had been doing just that - basing everything on my feelings.  I was reminded of John 11:25, where Jesus says, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life.  He who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me, will never die.’  Every Christian sins.  It’s not as if we receive Christ and become perfect.  When I received Christ as my Savior, I was saved forever.  For the rest of my life.  And whenever I die, I will immediately go to be with Him.  The ‘gap’ that I felt between me and God was something I needed to work on.  The more of an effort I made, the more He honored my desire to grow in Him.

Fast forward another three years.  I’m sixteen.  I thought I had my next three years planned out before me.  I would meet a guy this year, get married by the time I was 18 and have my first baby at 19.  Sounded like a good plan.
I joined a Christian homeschooling social network that I knew a few friends were involved in.  I even knew a married couple who had met on it and needless to say, it pique my interest.  Maybe I’d meet some awesome Christian guy and the first step of my plan would be set!
Within a month or so of being a part of this website, I started communicating with a guy through the direct messaging system.  He had contacted me first and told me what a beautiful young woman I was and how I seemed to have so much of what he was looking for in a future wife.  He was very bold and full of compliments for me.  And of course, my young, sweet sixteen heart was flattered and excited at the attention I was receiving from him.  
When he started mentioning ‘courtship’ and ‘marriage’, I decided I had to tell my parents about him.  Even though I didn’t have a very good relationship with them, I knew that this was turning into something serious and they needed to know.  I wouldn’t be able to start dating this guy without them noticing something changing in me.  They immediately expressed concern for me and told me that my guy ‘friend’ had no right to be talking to me about such things and that if he was genuinely interested in pursuing a relationship with me, he should’ve asked to contact Dad.  I was upset with them - to the point of tears.  ‘You don’t know him!’ I argued.  ‘I think he’s such a neat guy and I like everything I’ve found out about him!’  But they argued back with ‘You don’t know him well enough’ and that basically settled the matter.  They told me not to email him anymore and that they didn’t want he and I to have anymore one-on-one contact (emails, texting, etc.).  But I, being the rebellious daughter, went against their wishes and continued talking to him behind their backs.  And that was my first mistake.  When this guy found out about me still talking to him (even after he knew my parents had told me not to) his attitude and way of addressing me changed.  I didn’t understand how or why until later.  He wasn’t genuinely interested in me.  He was interested in what he could get from me.  And believe me, satisfaction can come in many different ways.  
And thus, I was introduced to the modern technology term known as ‘sexting’.

In my innocent, naive little mind, I had no idea what some of the words and phrases he said to me meant.  But once it got a little more detailed, I tried putting together bits and pieces of it.  It shocked me a bit at first.  But my first argument to my conscience was ‘We’re not doing any of this in person, so it’s not that bad.’  This was my second mistake.
How God ended this ‘friendship’ was by me, one day, telling this guy about a certain doctrinal view I had.  He strongly disagreed with me and the next thing I knew, he had deleted me on Facebook, blocked me on gmail and his phone, and cut off all communication with me.  The WAY he did it, though, made me know that it wasn’t just because he disagreed with my doctrine.  It was because he had lost interest in me.
He may have been out of my life, but the little seed of knowing how to have ‘sext’ didn’t leave me.  And it wasn’t until a few months later, that another guy starting taking advantage of my friendship just like the first one had.  Except this guy didn’t talk to me about actually starting a serious relationship.  He was ‘going through a lot’ and ‘needed comfort from a true friend’.  And how could I say no?  I’m a very caring, trust too easily sort of person (or should I say, ‘I was’?).  This guy went a lot farther than the first one had, though.  And soon, I knew this was something that I either had to tell him to stop or just completely cut off communication with him.  But I didn’t.  And I had two ‘reasons’.  1: I didn’t want to hurt him.  And 2: I was addicted to it.  None of this was happening in person so why should I be so concerned?  I didn’t really love this guy.
Then came a day when I felt he was being too possessive of me.  I had been super busy during a certain weekend and hadn’t replied to any of his texts.  When I finally did, he was livid with anger at how I ‘hadn’t made time’ for him and that he had ‘needed me’.  I told him to back off and give me some space.  He started calling me all sorts of names.  And it got to a point where I had to tell my brother to tell him to leave me alone.  (At the time, my brother had NO clue about any of the sexting that had transpired between us.  Nobody knew.)  Noah (my big brother) told this guy off and let him know that he wasn’t allowed to talk to me till he apologized for the way he had addressed me.  Exit Mr. Possessive.
I must admit, after he was out of my life, I felt a sense of relief.  I felt almost free.  It was like something had been strangling me the past few months but now, I was okay.  Nobody was breathing down my neck, making me stay up till 3 a.m.
Then one day, I got an email from a friend on Facebook.  He’s the son of a very large homeschooling Christian family, good-looking, has a lot of the same interests as I do.  I was flattered he would even talk to me.  We started casually chatting every few days.  And then one day, exchanged phone numbers.  I don’t even know why or how actually.  But we switched from emailing to texting.  At the time, he was in a relationship with a girl.  But within a week of he and I talking, he told me that she had been putting a lot of distance between them and he didn’t know what was wrong.  He came to me for a lot of advice regarding their relationship and I was happy to try to help him out.  
I felt like he and I were both in need of someone to ‘be there’.  I was slowly working my way out of the addiction to sexting with the previous guy ‘friend’ and he was in the middle of a break up.  We gained comfort from each other.  But that comfort quickly turned into something else.
The first time he made any sort of hint to wanting something sexual with me, I jerked back, reminding him that he was still in a committed relationship.  ‘She’ll never know,’ he said.  ‘And besides, she’s not giving me what I want.’  He might as well have added, ‘but you can’ to the end of that sentence.  
Again, pity took over and I couldn’t say no.  I tried to not give in too much.  I just let him do all the texting.  I sat and read his replies and would text back short little phrases.  I felt I was justifying myself by not exactly ‘participating’ in any actions.  And if he was staying happy, then that’s all that mattered, right?
This continued for about a month and a half.  We talked almost all day, everyday.  During that time, I lied to my family and some of my closest friends.  They had all noticed something changing in my attitude and appearance.  I was slowly sinking into a depression.  A depression because I had been trying so hard to climb out of this addiction, but this third guy just kept pulling me back.  And I didn’t know how to say ‘no’.  I didn’t know that I even could.
Finally, I decided I could try asking for some help.  I wouldn’t tell anyone exactly what was going on, but I needed advice.  Two of my close friends knew something was going on.  They noticed how depressed I had gotten, and very withdrawn.  So I told one of my friends (Andrew) that ‘someone’ had started talking inappropriately to me, and what should I do about it?  He told me to tell the guy to leave me alone and then to go immediately and talk to my parents.
‘Heck no,’ I muttered in reply.  My parents could never, ever find out about this.
Finally, a day rolled around where something clicked in my brain.  I knew I had to get out of this mess.  I knew I had to fix this as best as I could.  And the first way to do that was gonna have to tell this ‘friend’ goodbye.  A friend of mine (Emily) and I had started a Bible study together and I really felt God working in my heart.  As much as I was ashamed and embarrassed by how much I had been sinning, I still felt like He was calling me.  Through reading more of my Bible and praying more often and being encouraged by my friend, I felt myself coming out of that pit again.  I knew that God still loved me.  And still wanted to call me His daughter.
So, one day, I sat down and wrote this guy an email, then texted him and told him to check his inbox.  My email read something like this:
‘God has really been working in my life lately.  And I know that what you and I have been doing to and with each other is a sin.  I’m cleaning up my life and getting rid of any friends who aren’t pushing me closer to God because He is what is the most important thing in my life.  You aren’t.  So I need to tell you goodbye.  I would be more than happy to forgive you, if you want my forgiveness.  But until you do, please never contact me again.  And delete my name and number from anywhere you have it saved.  I’m praying for you.’
I have never heard from him again.
As soon as I had hit 'send', I knew that God was happy.  I knew that He was applauding me.  I felt His presence so greatly in that moment that it was overwhelming.  I knew I had done the right thing.  I sat down and bawled my eyes out for a good ten minutes or so.
I texted Emily and told her.  She started rejoicing with me.  She didn’t even know all the details, but all she needed to see was how that ‘friendship’ had been affecting my life in a negative way.
There were still two more people I needed to tell.  My parents.
For over a month, I tried hard to figure out a way to tell them.  I knew they would be upset.  They’d probably hate me and take away my computer and phone and iPod.  They’d make me delete any social networks I belonged to.  Keep me from seeing friends.  The list I created in my mind went on and on...
Until I decided, one day, that I would write them a letter.  Sometimes I’m better at communicating through paper than I can through speech.
The letter turned out to be six pages long.  I gave it to them and asked them to pray about it before reading it.  About a half hour later, they both came to my room, their faces wet with tears and hugged and cried with me, telling me they were so thankful for my honesty.  I was so assured by their love that I knew I had done the right thing in bringing this to them and showing them this part of my life.
After I had told them, I felt a lot of peace from God.  He had honored my decision in letting my parents into my life - even the darkest part of me.
Also, I noticed that I didn’t have as many bad memories as I had had before.  ‘Bad memories’ meaning flashbacks of certain conversations.  Every time I had/have one, I literally jerk myself back to reality and immediately start praying that God would purge my mind.  He has been.  And they come a lot less frequently now.

Now, dear readers, I’m not sure what any of you are thinking right now.  But as I bring to close this testimony of my life, I want to share with you just what I learned through these experiences.
2012 was a year full of many different lessons for me.  I believe that God presents many different situations to us in life to see which choice we will make with them.  For me, I chose the choice that I thought was ‘okay’, instead of saying ‘No, I need to stay focused on the LORD and not turn to this world to fulfill my desires’.  Through that choice, I experienced betrayal, confusion, mistrust, pain, sadness, depression, but ultimately...forgiveness from my Maker.  The kind of forgiveness I never knew existed.  Forgiveness for things I never knew a ‘perfect little homeschooled Christian girl’ would ever need.  The LORD revealed Himself to me in ways that I never knew I could see Him in.  He pulled me closer to Himself and loved me with a love I didn’t know I could ever possess in a relationship with my Heavenly Father.
There are three parts to learning a lesson.  
The first part is the beginning stage.  When you’re introduced to an idea and it’s YOUR choice whether to learn it one way (the easy way) or the other (the hard way).
The second part is the actual, hands-on learning process.  This is where you can either have God hold one hand while you lightly experience it with your other.  Or where you can push God away, say you can do it by yourself, and end up sinking up to your neck in trouble you don’t know how to get out of.
The third part is the end of the lesson.  The part where you stop, look back and realize what the lesson was actually about. 
For me, going through all these different feelings and exiting, feeling used and hurt, I didn’t understand why God had let me experience that.  I didn’t understand why He had presented that lesson to me in the first place.  What did He want me to learn?  Ah, but that’s the beauty of His patience and love.  And I now know why I learned that hard and painful lesson.
When God first laid this in front of me, it had been because (like every other lesson), He wanted to see my decision.  He wanted me to prove to Him just what kind of Daughter I really was.  And I failed.
BUT God uses our failures, yes?  He uses our mistakes in life to teach us little lessons inside our bigger lessons.  Our whole life, we will be learning.
Through this mistake, these failures, God has taught me something beautiful.  Something that has impacted my life so greatly.  Something that has changed my whole outlook of every, single day that I know I will remember for the rest of my life.  And that something is this:
No matter what we think we need or desire, God is the answer to every want and pleasure.  We already have everything we need.  If God chooses to give us something else, it’s a blessing.  And it’s only because He’s giving it to us out of His pure and indescribable love.
What I thought was fulfilling my desires and making me ‘happy’, was only taking more from me and leaving me more empty than I was before.  My priorities were all jumbled too.  One of my top ones being that I wanted to have that significant other that ALL (at least it seems) my friends have.
But God, in His infinite grace, mercy and love, showed me that HE is Who I should be falling in love with.  That HE is all I need.  Ever.  A man won’t make me happy.  If I’m not happy and content with life right now, I never will be.  A man isn’t perfect.  He’ll fail - just as I do.  He’ll make mistakes - just like I do.  He won’t have all the answers - just like nobody does.  But God will never fail me.  He never makes mistakes.  He has every answer to every question.  He should be my satisfaction.  He should be my only True Love.
And that’s exactly what He has become to me.  I stand in awe of the God who created me.  I am so, so in love with my Jesus.  My only desire is to grow closer to the LORD. 
Forgiveness has played a huge role in my healing life.  Not only forgiveness FROM God and myself.  But forgiveness TO the guys from my past.  It took a lot for me to forgive them.  I wrestled with it for a while, asking God to help me bless ‘my enemies’ and forgive those who have sinned against me.  But I have.  And I can say that I have whole-heartedly.
I’m sure that your opinion of me has changed after reading this.  At least in some way, it has altered your view on me as an individual.  But before I end this, I want to say a special message to any girls out there reading this.
Perhaps you’re in a similar situation like what I was in.  Maybe there is a guy (or guys) who are taking advantage of your friendship and using you to fulfill their pleasures and satisfaction.  Dear heart, you can tell them 'No'.  You can just walk away from their dirty words and inappropriate jokes because you deserves so much more than that.  You are WORTH so much more than what they can give you.  And you are so, so, so beautiful.  You don’t need a man to tell you that because really, it doesn’t matter what they think.  God made you so perfectly unique and He never hates something He made.  You’re a princess.  You’re a beautiful maiden.  You’re a warrioress.  You can fight against any evil in this world with God’s strength.  If I could sit down and tell you this with my own voice, I would.  You may have heard those words before, but don’t let that make you not believe them.  Because they are so, so true.  
Looking back on my experiences, I can see just how much God protected me.  He made something as simple as a doctrinal issue to separate me from the first guy who started talking to me inappropriately.  He used my brother to make the second guy leave me alone.  And the third guy was someone who I never would have ever thought would treat me in such a way.  He was the least suspected one, you know?  He used to call me ‘little sister’ and even told me one time how he was protective of me and concerned for my safety.  But a few weeks later, was asking if I would send him ‘pictures’ or secretly meet him in town to ‘hang out’.  Guys are cunning.  They will do just about anything to get what they want.  Evil men are like that.  But, sweetheart, there is a man out there - the man God made JUST for you - who will treat you so much better than any of those boys ever will.  Wait for him.  Don’t believe the lies of wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Believe the promises of God’s Word and remember that He cares so, so much for you.
If you ever need someone to talk to, please contact me (itisjustraquel@gmail.com).  And now that you know my story, please don’t be ashamed to share yours.

And yes, finally, I will close this...
There’s really only one thing to say, one way to end this.  And that is by giving God all the glory.  I am only who I am today because of His grace and mercy.  He has brought me through so, so much and I would go through all of that again if I knew I could be this close to Him.  He is my everything.  And He deserves all the praise for any beautiful thing you see in me and my life.  I’m just a reflection.  Just a mirror.

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‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD.  ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future.’
- Jeremiah 29:11