A Final Word of Encouragement

The Apostle Paul, toward the end of his life, toward the end of a ministry driven by the Risen Lord Jesus, shares quite openly in one of his final letters to the churches, the true meaning of life.

 

In a letter to the church at Philippia, in the book of the Bible titled “Philippians,” he writes inspired by God, by the Holy Spirit, in chapter 3, verses 7 through 11:

 

7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

 

The Apostle speaks of gains and losses- something with which we can all relate.  Paul’s only gain near the end of his life is Jesus Christ!  I imagine that he wished he had felt that way much earlier in life, during the dark days when he persecuted Christians.  Interestingly, Paul is not ending with a long speech about regrets.  Instead, God has given him greater wisdom on what his life has really been about:  he was meant to lose anything and everything- whatever necessary- in order to “be found in Jesus Christ,” in order to live entirely under the direction of the Holy Spirit, committed to living with Jesus and for Jesus.

 

Be encouraged! Jesus is with you all. He is asking you every morning with “new mercies” as the Scriptures say, to “cut your losses” and count knowing Jesus and living as He wants you to live as what matters most. Therein lies the challenge.  We want to be comfortable.  We want security.  We delight in prosperity.  We applaud ambition.  However, our only aim needs to be “to be found in Jesus,” and to have the continual desire to “know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.”

 

If you feel sadness…

If you feel depressed…

If you feel lost…

THEN INSTEAD OF PICKING YOURSELF UP “BY THE BOOTSTRAPS” AND PRESSING ON IN YOUR OWN STRENGTH, PRESS ON IN JESUS’ POWER.  PRAY.  ASK HIM EVERY MOMENT TO TEACH YOU HOW TO LIVE IN HIS RESURRECTION POWER-

 

THAT POWER THAT IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE WAY OF THE WORLD

THAT POWER THAT SHOWS COMPASSION WHETHER OR NOT IT IS DUE

THAT POWER THAT STANDS UP FOR WHAT IS RIGHT

THAT POWER THAT BRINGS PEACE

THAT POWER THAT COMES ONLY FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT.

 

I will remember fondly the days of blessing that I experienced through the Caldwell Brethren Church Family…the days of growing more in my walk with Jesus…the days of developing friendships in Christ that I will always treasure.  I urge you, as I imagine the Apostle Paul might and certainly our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is urging all of us now:

 

Press on. Chins up.  Caldwell Brethren Church is part ofthe Body of Jesus Christ.  Our God is from everlasting to everlasting.  You will soar, as the Psalms say, as if on eagle’s wings.  The point to not miss is that the time of soaring is now!  Even at a time of reminiscing of things gained during our ministry together and now looking at potential losses, the Lord Jesus says to be “lost in Him!”  Let Him do the driving.  The Church will continue to grow as long as His people are present, striving to be transformed more and more into Jesus’ image by the power of the Holy Spirit!

 

The true meaning of life? 

“Have Faith in God,” as the beautiful old hymn says, “He’s on His throne!”

Just have faith in Jesus.

Take time to be alone with Him.

Talk with Him throughout your day.

Deny yourself and Follow Him.

He’s got everything covered.

He always has.

 

 

In the Peace and Power of the Risen Christ through the Holy Spirit,

 

I love you all, into eternity.

 

Sister Vanessa Mitchell

July 2014- “Joy Does Come…”

So “Blue” is the name of my youngest dog as many of you know. Although I have three very sweet indoor dogs, Blue is the one with the eternal “puppy heart.” He is about 2 years old but thinks that he is a baby. His favorite spot of course is always with me, wherever I may be. There also isn’t a toy that he doesn’t play with endlessly. Blue is a Dachshund with a furry white neck, much like some sort of fancy scarf. He’s silvery blue & white all over. The other two are a Dachshund and a Shih-Tzu. Blue, however, has truly taken my heart with the way he embraces every moment of the day. A steady but short rain just passed over our home and Blue decided to stare out into the rain. He has no interest in napping like the others. Napping on a rainy morning? That might sound tempting to a lot of folks, but not this little guy. Blue and I both seemed to be inspired by the steady raindrops and entranced even by the leaves that seemed to be getting greener by the second. Blue seems to know that every minute in his day is precious.

The half-brother of our Lord Jesus, James, writes in the Holy Bible, in the Book of James, chapter 4, verses 13-15, about how to face our lives every day:

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” 14 Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.”

Could the secret to daily joy in our lives be as simple as following what our pets choose to do? Probably not entirely. However, looking to each day, each week, each month, and each year, as God’s time and ourselves as His children, seeking to do what the Lord wishes, is critical. Understand that even though you and I are “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes,” we are alive in Christ, whether on earth or in Heaven! What is more, when we live under the umbrella of God’s plan now, we are filled with His joy and satisfaction in life!

Where is your heart today?
Are you satisfied with whatever lot in life you find yourself in?
God is with you wherever you are to give you strength and peace.

The big question is:
Are you living in the joy of the Lord?

Do you need to take a step into a new place or a familiar place where the Lord wants you? Maybe He’s been calling you for a while to do something in particular.
What is it?
Is delayed obedience worth the risks?
Joy comes with obedience to Him.

Maybe a little time gazing out into the rare but sweet Texas summer rain is what you need today. Or just watching the trees on your farm or in your backyard sway and soak up the sunshine.
Who knows what new wish the Lord has for your life?
He might just tell you if you pause long enough to enjoy His friendship.

In the Holy Love of Jesus Christ,

Sister Vanessa

June 2014- “Christmas in June”

Christmas in June?
For some this evokes thoughts of extreme joy! The joy might come from excitement over gifts to be received, or maybe over gifts to be given to loved ones. Christmas in June might bring to mind worry, worry over being able to afford presents and even about having enough time to get it all together. The greatest joys of Christmas, however, are joys that we ought to feel year-round, aren’t they?

Joy of having family together
Joy of preparing treats
Joy of spoiling children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews
Joy of a home and a church beautifully decorated
Joy of doing personal Advent devotionals
Joy of hearing Jesus’ name being spoken more openly in the community
Joy of sharing church with family and friends who might live far or who might not come often
Joy of hearing, reading, and singing about God’s indescribable gift to us, His one and only Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

The prophet Isaiah, from whose scroll Jesus quoted often, speaks of the Greatest Joy, the Greatest Gift you or I will ever receive, Jesus Himself, sent to live, die and rise so that He could become the Giver of the Holy Spirit to empower us with every breath we take to honor God.

The book of Isaiah, in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, tells in chapter 9, verses 1-7, of God saving the world through Jesus, promising this Gift to those who embraced faith in God 700 years before Jesus came to earth, a promise which carries on for us today:

1 But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Christmas Anytime is the peace of Jesus Christ filling you and empowering you to live a life worthy of His call upon you.

Let Jesus fill you with His power and His peace.

In the Holy Love of Jesus,
Sister Vanessa

May 2014- “The Comfort Zone”

Apparently it is quite popular these days to wear “jeggings,” jeans that are stretchy like “leggings.” For all of my brothers in Christ out there, “stretchy pants” is the best description of this very comfortable clothing item. Who doesn’t like being comfortable? The challenge, however, is that God often calls us to situations and positions that are quite the opposite. Here is a mandate from the prophet Isaiah concerning our “comfort zone.” If you look carefully, you will note that it has a distinct echo of what Jesus taught in the Gospels and what Paul wrote from the Holy Spirit in his letters.

Isaiah 54:2-4 is not a dare or even a suggestion, but a command with a promise, from God Himself:

“2 Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. 3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your descendants will possess the nations and will settle the desolate towns. 4 Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace…”

Do not be afraid or discouraged, but rather be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s leading to step out in a particular part of your life this month. Join a Bible study- or start one. Give a financial gift or drop off a sack full of groceries anonymously to anyone…whatever the amount God has placed on your heart. Pray openly with someone who does not know who Jesus is. Ask God what ministry at church He would have you start or support. Give more of your time to a loved one (or to a stranger) than you think you have. Set a recurring daily appointment on your phone’s calendar or on a printed calendar to spend time alone talking with God about anything and everything.

Trust God with all of your mind, with all of your heart, all of your strength and all of your soul. Love God so much that every time your level of comfort is tested in life, your first response is: “Yes, Lord! Yes!” As the promise in Isaiah 52:4 assures us, you will not be disgraced if you will only trust Him.

In the Holy Love of Jesus Christ,
Sister Vanessa

April 2014- “Finding Jesus”

One of my favorite childhood memories was the hunt, not for Easter eggs, but for Easter egg baskets my mother had prepared for my two sisters, my brother, and myself.  Every year, through the end of high school, mom would carefully assemble baskets filled with chocolate bunnies, little “peeps,” and of course spiritual keepsakes, like a Cross necklace, Bible study devotional, or other meaningful treasure.  Mom would help us track down the baskets.  She would say, “Getting warm…cold…getting colder…warmer…hot…very hot!”  Finally, we would find the baskets.  Mine was always wrapped in pink cellophane and was a little heavy on the chocolate side!

 

Jesus teaches us how to find Him in a similar way.  He is living mysteriously and yet in total abundance, in your heart, if you have asked Him to save you, if you have acknowledged Him as God, the King of your very being, Master over your life.  While Jesus walked the earth, just before the 1st century, he set in motion what we celebrate today as Easter or Resurrection Day.  Going about his daily life, fulfilling His heavenly Father’s will, Jesus always kept His eye on the ball.  One day, He visited a family that He had been reaching out to, the family of Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus.  Here we meet Jesus at the hour of this family’s greatest anguish, the death of Lazarus.

 

The Apostle John draws the curtain for us to see Jesus’ encounter with them in the book of the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verses 18-28, of the Holy Bible:

 

18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

 

Jesus is calling you and everyone in the world to believe in Him- even when believing seems the hardest thing to do.

 

What is Jesus whispering to you these days about your faith? 

Are you “getting warm…cold…getting colder…warmer…hot…very hot?”

 

This Easter, celebrate the Resurrection Jesus has done in you!

Celebrate what He has done through the life of all those you love!

Celebrate the reality that Easter happens every day as Jesus renews you with all that you could ever need for each moment that you are alive!

Praise God from whom ALL blessings flow!

We are blessed!

 

I love you with the holy love of our Savior, Jesus.

 

In Jesus’ Resurrection Power,

Sister Vanessa

March 2014- “One Day”

New Year’s resolutions have lost their bloom about now, but bluebonnets are just around the corner!

The Lord reminds us through nature that everything has its season.
Bluebonnets only come in Spring. Sunflowers point up toward the sun and then they whither. Valentine roses only last so long. One special promise in the Holy Bible is spoken by the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah chapter 2, verses 12-21, we receive a great promise:

12 For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up and high; 13 against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up; and against all the oaks of Bashan; 14 against all the high mountains, and against all the lofty hills; 15 against every high tower, and against every fortified wall; 16 against all the ships of Tarshish, and against all the beautiful craft. 17 The haughtiness of people shall be humbled, and the pride of everyone shall be brought low; and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day. 18 The idols shall utterly pass away. 19 Enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from the terror of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. 20 On that day people will throw away to the moles and to the bats their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship, 21 to enter the caverns of the rocks and the clefts in the crags, from the terror of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth.

Look back at verse 18.

One day all of our idols will pass away.
One day, we will not need to beg the Lord to rid us of our persistent sins.
One day, our will shall align perfectly to God’s.
One day, there will be no more seasons for New Year’s resolutions.
One day, our temptation to worship ourselves and others will fade into nothingness.
One day, we will never again dishonor the Lord and place any desire we may have ahead of His.

We will be free from our flesh and reborn into complete Christ-likeness!

As Spring approaches, re-read this account in Isaiah 2 which at moments sounds terrifying because it is about the end of all things, but it is also about the beginning of utter bliss in the Presence of our Lord Jesus, when we will be white as now, cleansed of our sin forever, sitting and adoring Him, our Great Savior and Friend, endlessly.

For now, do not give up on your resolve to be rid of your sins that weigh you down, but also be patient with yourself, for we are still in a time of God’s grace toward us as we move through the seasons of life.

February 2014- “Real Love”

Valentine’s Day is coming!
We can see it in the grocery store aisles…miles of chocolates in heart-shaped boxes…
The flower shops are getting ready for oceans of roses to deliver…
All to attempt to express those 3 important words: “I love you!”

We can all imagine pretty well what romantic love is like, but how does God really view love?

There’s an account in the Bible of a love that really is out of this world. It’s the story of what happened between a father, his only son, and God. If you know about Abraham and his son Isaac, take another look at the kind of love God was asking this dad to show.

The very first book of the Bible opens our eyes to the kind of love that God wants from us. Look with me at the book of Genesis, chapter 22, verses 1-2.

1 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”

Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah when they were very advanced in years. Isaac was really a miracle baby! In those days, of course, there were no fertility specialists, just hanging on prayer for God to bring forth the miracle of a baby. Just when the impossible seemed beyond their reach, God enabled Abraham and Sarah to have Isaac! So when we reach this chapter in their lives, we cannot imagine God “testing” Abraham and Sarah and asking for their son- their only son. The story ends with God providing another offering, a ram. Yet the ram does not appear until God sees Abraham literally walk through the steps to sacrifice his only son out of his love for God and commitment to obey God’s leading, whatever the direction.

Why would God test anyone in this way?
The point is that God is complete love.
In fact, God is the author of love.
So why this horrifying scene of being led to sacrifice one’s child?
To demonstrate,
To teach,
To instill in us,
The requirement that we love nothing or no one more than God.
And we can do this because everything good we have is from God.
And as seen in Abraham & Sarah’s story, God’s goodness is complete and unending.
They receive a son and they keep their son.

All we have to do is look at how God the Father gave His only Son Jesus, as a sacrifice for us, so that after Jesus died and rose from the grave, He could come into our hearts when we ask and fill us with love…godly love. We are to love God and others because of this great gift of Jesus Christ within us in the way that Jesus Himself explained in Matthew 22:37-38:

37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

January 2014- “Created to be New”

“I am a God’s new creation, because of the sacrifice Jesus made.”

What if this statement was our church family’s motto for 2014?
How might our church change, grow, and spread its wings?

What if this statement was your personal motto for 2014?
How would you be forever changed?
What struggles would you overcome?
How would your daily decisions- big and small- be impacted?

“I am a God’s new creation, because of the sacrifice Jesus made.”

The Apostle Paul explains to the church of Corinth in the Bible the urgency for newness- spiritual newness in everyday living. He teaches us in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, what Jesus first taught us in Matthew 5-7, during His first sermon.

Paul explains in the book of 2nd Corinthians, chapter 5, beginning at verse 17:

17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

In the year 2014, will you hold tightly to the reality that God is making His appeal to the world through you, through your daily life?

We must be stubborn in holding ourselves up against Jesus’ example, and living out this gift of being a “new creation” that He has given us by giving His own life for our own!

“I am a God’s new creation, because of the sacrifice Jesus made.”

How different could 2014 be?
Only God knows; and so we commit ourselves to living as His new creation, throwing off the sins that entangle us, the struggles we cannot control.
We walk in trusting surrender to the Author of Perfect Love, Jesus Christ!

Just dream of how different 2014 could be as you live like Jesus’ New Creation, rather than your old self… I will be dreaming the same.

December 2013- “The Gifts God Gives”

What if you actually received everything you’ve ever wanted from family and friends this Christmas?
What’s on your Christmas List?
A new drill set?
A set of elegant dishes?
A new puppy?

Maybe your prayer request list is long and weighing you down and your true Christmas wish is to see some answered prayers…

Out of every possible thing you could ask God to do, which is most pressing on your heart and in your thoughts? To what lengths would you go to see it answered?

What if God answered: “no” or “not yet”?

One of the greatest challenges in following Jesus, is having faith like Jesus’.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He speaks to us about how to ask our Heavenly Father for anything- in faith, a faith that believes that whatever the answer, “yes,” “no,” or “not yet,” that you can trust in God’s goodness as the One who oversees our lives. In the Bible, in Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, verses 7-11, Jesus speaks to us about making prayer requests “in faith”:

7 “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Our humanity is like a coin with two sides. Sometimes we want to receive more than give and sometimes we want to outgive everyone around us. Perhaps the challenge for each one of us during this Holy Season, during which we celebrate the Advent of the Baby Jesus, is to practice asking God with persistence, for the desires we know that He has truly put into our hearts to be completely fulfilled.

Will you trust God’s “yes,” God’s “not yet,” and even God’s “no”?

November 2013- “What Makes Us Feel Loved?”

What makes us feel loved?

A gift…
A hug…
A thoughtful gesture, like when someone you love takes on something for you from your to-do list…

As human beings we have this capacity for love that is a grand gift from God, yet our humanity quite often acts as an obstacle to the love we are capable of giving and even to the love others want to show us.

We shut down our thinking, refusing new ways or ideas.
We make decisions centered around the needs we perceive as most urgent rather than what God knows and has revealed to us as most vital.

As we consider the gifts of family and friends during this Thanksgiving Season, will you ponder the mission critical task in your life: to love others with a thankful heart for who they are, just the way God has made them?

The temptation will always be present to walk through our days with bitter, disinterested or dissatisfied hearts. But,…

Time is short.
Life is God’s gift to us, with all the ups and downs we encounter in it.
Life is not perfect because we are imperfect.
Yet we are to get up every morning, with optimistic and thankful hearts, because of what Jesus Christ has done for us and all of humanity.

The Apostle Paul puts it best in his letter in the Bible to the Philippian Church, Philippians, chapter 2, verses 1-5:

1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

During this season of Thanksgiving, will you love yourself and others with the mind of Jesus Christ?
What could you do to demonstrate thankfulness for the most important gift you have in your life- Jesus Christ?