A Piece of Peace Pie

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

There are concerted efforts to teach the Martin three not just in word but in deed. Since they were little, actually before they were, the Martins have attended church. Each Sunday begins with family prayer time. Most often it occurs in the car and for the sake of simplicity we declare who will “dial” and who will “hang up.” Sometimes we go “in age order” youngest to oldest.

The prayers, they are as varied as the ones verbalizing them. We’ve prayed for people and days, talents and skills, worship and recognition. We’ve prayed for pets and provision. We’ve offered ourselves up collectively as a family and voiced our individual petitions as well. Some of us are long-winded and can take a while, while others of us are direct and to the point.

pumpkin-pie-1041330__340So when he said, “Lord, Thank you that we Martins know peace, and not like a piece of pizza or a piece of pie,” I thought I might lose it. My bowed head shot up, eyes darted to execute a quick glance to my left as the driver of our vehicle continued on “We know Peace from you. Shalom Peace.” I knew what he meant and I must admit that I was a bit taken aback that he had just prayed it.

Naturally it gave me cause to ponder, so ponder I did. He is the patriarch of our family, full of quiet wisdom and leadership, in stature large and strong. Constant, steady, and secure. When it comes to comparison, he’s an unlikely specimen. There has never been one quite like him. So as he prayed and “hung up” just as we turned into the church park lot, I began to ponder what he said we knew. Shalom, peace, the very word itself means completeness, soundness, welfare. It was a declaration he had spoken. As the day progressed into night and we had both worked, children had cleaned house, watched a favorite tv show, had a hotdog lunch, a snack cake snack, an uneventful and most routine kind of day, the realization that the mundane is only possible because we do in fact know that Shalom.

cheesecake-1149481__340That peace that can transcend understanding, a peace that isn’t like its homophonic counterpart, a piece that can be easily consumed or separated from its whole. We Believers are that Shalom peace. We make one another better. In that Peace we can rest. Scott Martin likely did not know when he prayed those words out loud that he would impact my thoughts for the day.

That is just how he is, he leads in an unconventional manner. We used to be like two competitors: he a steady and forward moving, me always rushing past him, unaware of my surroundings. Eventually I would realize my folly, stop and wait for him to catch up, only to do it again. The Marriage Marathon proved to be exhausting when I would execute it in such a manner. Over time I have learned, we both have learned, to nurture. We no longer find ourselves competing as much as complementing one another. We walk side by side, our pace dictated by him and I learn the value of patience. It has taken me many years to realize that he leads like the King, with Grace and in humility, and for that I am thankful indeed.

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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

The Gift of Disappointment

“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:5

I sped into the gravel parking lot. Tires skidding on the grey rocks. Flinging the door open, I bounded out of my minivan. As I looked across the lot, I stopped. A dull ache began in my chest as my eyes landed on an obviously despondent man standing by his truck. This just-shy-of-six-foot, strapping, strong, handsome husband of mine stood with his head hanging, shaking in disbelief. As I got closer I glimpsed the tears dropping, as he looked up I saw the anguish and pain. He was broken. Crushed. Confused. Angry.

After many moments of holding each other. He finally found the words.

“Things didn’t go like I hoped. I thought this would be the answer. I don’t know what to do next.” Every word tinged with despair and discouragement. Disappointment pic

That day still twinges in my soul. But looking at a distance, I realize that moment, that agonizing, heart wrenching moment, marks a pivotal point in our marriage. It was our “miry pit.” The place where you’re sunk so deep in the dredges of disappointment your mind is clouded and you see no way out. You’re stuck. All your failures and shortcomings and foolish choices playing on repeat. And there’s no one who can hit the rewind button; no possibility of a do over. Stuck.

In the days and months and years after I stood in front of my anguished husband, I slowly began to realize the Lord was giving us a gift. The gift of stripping away everything we thought we knew. The gift of realizing our lack. The gift of desperation. He gave us the gift of disappointment. We certainly didn’t understand or appreciate the gift. In fact, we’re still trying to grasp what a precious gift we were given. It took us years to unpack all the lessons we’ve learned. And maybe, well, likely, we’ll be unpacking those lessons for a lifetime. But here are the most vital gifts we opened because of that awful, wonderful day.

sun-heart-autumn-leaf-39379Set Your Heart on Things Above. Disappointment is the result of unmet expectations. We set our hopes on things that are seen instead of things that are unseen. We crave and we desire and want. We are selfish, stubborn creatures. We think if things would just work out the way we think they should. We live in a world of our own making. Always looking to what we wish we had, what is just around the corner that will make us happy or fulfilled. For my husband, it was a failed business venture. His heart was set on what he thought would be the answer to his questions about provision and purpose. When that venture failed, those dreams were lost. His heart was crushed.

We put our hopes in the temporal stuff all the time. If I could just get this position or this degree or this house or this car, or if I could get the relationship I dreamed of, or even if I could just find deep friendships, or if my kids would just obey, then everything will be better. Then I will be happy and fulfilled.

But anytime, every time, we put our hope in anything but in the love of God in Christ, we will be disappointed. Even the best job comes with the tedious and mundane. Stuff breaks and wears. And anytime two sinners are in relationship, whether it’s husband and wife, mother and daughter, or close friendship, you’ve got a sure recipe for disappointment and discouragement. Jesus Christ is the only One whose love will NEVER disappoint you. His love brings truth and confrontation and conviction, so it might not look like the weak, fickle, emotion-focused love our culture has falsely fashioned. But His love is patient, not jealous, not rude, not selfish, not irritable, not resentful, rejoices with truth, bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. HIS LOVE NEVER FAILS. His love gave you the greatest gift of all. LIFE. Not the fragile, fallen life of this temporary place, but the forgiven, forever love of God in Christ. The love that came at the greatest cost.

people-2604165_1280.jpgSet Your Mind on Things Above. When my husband and I fell into that foreboding pit, the only thing we could do was look up. As our heads turned to the light, we saw one beautiful, nail scarred hand reaching down to us. Jesus was the only One who was strong enough to not only drag us out of our pit, but set our feet upon a rock and make our steps secure. (Psalm 40:2)

While Jesus snatched us out of the black hole of disappointment, we found marking our steps on that firm foundation required daily workouts. We realized our most vital weapon was the Word of God. So we’ve made sure, sometimes not so perfectly, that we daily dig deep in the truth. Filling up our pit with truth was the only way we could avoid falling into the dregs again. We learned, and are still learning, how to take every thought captive and bring it into obedience in Christ. From that truth we learned the secret to contentment was depending on Christ for everything. (Philippians 4: 12-13). We learned that admitting our weakness meant depending on Christ and His strength and power. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) We learned that hardships and trials are meant to grow us up in Christ so we lack nothing, and we can find joy in the struggle if we keep an eternal perspective. (James 1:2-4)

That powerful, painful moment in that gravel parking lot. That moment we were thrown into the pit of despair. That moment was truly one of the greatest gifts God has ever given us. The gift of disappointment transformed our relationship with Christ, which transformed our relationship with each other. It is transforming how we view the world (temporary and transient) and how we view God (eternal and essential). It is a discipline to turn our hearts and minds heavenward. But oh how beautiful, how magnificent is the love of God. A God who loves us enough to let us walk through earthly disappointment so we can rest in eternal hope.

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Unwrap your gift of disappointment.

 

 

 

 

My Story: Underestimated Peace

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.

by Guest Contributor Lisa Greene

Depending on the season of life, my roles have varied from daughter, sister, mother, wife, school principal, teacher, daycare administrator, missionary, pastor’s wife, and business owner. Through all these roles that God has given me, I have claimed Phil 1:20, “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.

Those roles are all a part of who I am, but as with all of us, I am sometimes a hidden person on the inside that people never see. Being very blunt, openly honest, I am a naturally negative, sometimes fearful, quite anxious, and a controlling person who has learned some very difficult lessons at the Hand of God. All of these led to a low self-esteem for years, a feeling of never being able to measure up, never being good enough, always fearful that someone might see who I really was on the inside and see how terrible I was. In reality though, it was a sin condition that led to who I was and am on the inside.

It wasn’t until I caught a glimpse of God’s peace that I came to understand how His peace could change my life. It’s what I call God’s underestimated peace. It truly is a peace that is far beyond all human understanding, but it is attainable and absolutely necessary for our relationship with God. Just as we sometimes underestimate the power of God, I believe as children of God, we underestimate how God’s peace can change our lives and deepen our relationship with Him.

I wish I could say that my journey to attain God’s peace in my life began at my salvation at the age of 12, but it actually began about 15 years after that. During that time in my life I had been blessed with a wonderful husband, two beautiful children, and a church that was supportive and nurturing. God had opened doors and Sam and I were entering full-time ministry on staff at Liberty Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, Fl. We were happy, we were following God’s leading in our lives, we were fulfilled. All should have been peaceful, right?

baby-2922564_1920.jpgWhen our children were about 7 and 5 years old, God began to stir my heart to have another child. My husband couldn’t understand this and I will never forget him saying, “We have a girl and a boy, what else could you want?” When I realized he was not going to be a pushover in this area, I became what many of us wives become when we don’t get our way – a nagging, whiny, selfish woman – like the woman that Proverbs 21 talks about – “It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a contentious woman in a wide house.” I began to back my husband into a corner, trying to play God. He in turn was not swayed by any of my whiny, manipulative ways! Our home, my heart, during that time was anything but peaceful.

I was discontent, not thankful for what God had already given me, filled with worry that God would not give me what I asked for. Little did I know how much more He wanted to give me, but He knew I had lessons to learn before He could give me more. At around the same time, I was asked to participate in leading a Bible study at our church. The study was on being a content woman of God! You talk about a struggle! Praise God, it was through that study I learned about God in a way that I had never seen Him before. He became my ENOUGH! He became my FULLNESS! He became my ALL! For the first time, I took complete ownership for my relationship with God. Though my husband was the spiritual leader of our home, I learned that I was accountable to God for my own spiritual growth and relationship with Him. Most of all, I learned contentment.   It was during this time that I claimed another verse in Philippians that God used to help me realize that I was worthy and He was enough — Phil. 1:6 “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

This verse began to affect my relationship with God in a way that made me realize that I had worth, I was somebody in God’s eyes, I had a special purpose. Through this time God taught me that He was enough for me AND I could be enough as I was. I did not need to be controlling of my circumstances and those around me, because He was in control. I did not need to be anxious, because He was the Great Provider! Presenting myself to God as a living sacrifice just the way I was became my first step toward the Peace of God.

When His peace came into my life, it came with a contentment. I began to pray God’s will, not mine, and ultimately I began to pray more specifically, “God, if you want us to have another child, please change my husband’s heart. And Lord, if you don’t want us to have another child, please change my heart and take the desire that I have away.” I prayed that prayer for many months, learning more about God’s peace, and the contentment and the perfect rest that comes with it. You see, it wasn’t that God didn’t want me to have the desire of my heart. It was that He knew I needed to learn to rest in Him and grow in His grace and peace before I could handle what He wanted to give me.

Little did I know how at the same time, God was working in the heart of my husband. One day, out of the clear blue (I had been praying, but not talking to him about it) he came and said, “I think we should have another child!” In March of the following year God gave us a son. Two years later he gave us the daughter that would complete our family of six.

PeaceThrough this time in my life I learned what God’s peace really is. How it demonstrated itself inside of me was life-changing. It is a PEACE that passes all human understanding. It is a PEACE that is possible regardless of circumstances (in us OR around us). It is a PEACE that dispels all negativity. It is a PEACE that comes to those who ask for it and believe. It is a PEACE that produces a rest within us. It is a PEACE that triumphs over fear and anxiety. It is a PEACE that proclaims God’s power and God’s presence.

Just as I have come to learn what God’s peace is, I have come to understand how my worry is an actual affront to Almighty God. Worry is me saying that I don’t think God can handle it! As the Psalmist David said, “Lord, when I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.” (Ps. 56:3). Worry is simply being afraid – of the future, of the past, of the present. We can have victory over the worry that often claims us by using the weapons of warfare that God has equipped us with.

In Tony Evans’ book, Prayers for Victory in Spiritual Warfare, he states that we have to put on the shoes of PEACE to combat Satan, and have victory over fear and anxiety. When we trust in Him, He exchanges our fears for His PEACE. We put on the shoes of peace by trusting in His presence and power and seeking Him in the midst of our fear and anxiety. Dr. Evans further explains by saying,

“I put on the shoes of PEACE by humbling myself. I recognize my inadequacy and my lack of control. Much of fear stems from a need for control, but ultimately I do not control anything. Being anxious on an airplane does not keep it in the sky. Being fearful of ill-health does not keep me healthy. Being afraid that my marriage or relationships will deteriorate does not keep them strong. This is because ultimate control is in His hands, and no matter what happens, He will use it for good when we love Him. Humility allows me to acknowledge that He knows better than I do.”

It was a difficult season in my life but one of the most rewarding times of growth in my relationship with God. By humbling myself to His authority, I gained His peace as a companion in my spiritual walk. I can claim I Peter 5:6-7 (“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the Mighty Hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.”) as a promise that He has fulfilled in my life. I have lived it, and continue to live it and claim it each day. Some days, some trials, some valleys, are easier to claim it in that others, but through the lessons of the past I am reminded of His promise.

When God closes a door, it is this PEACE that reminds me that He is in control. When I face struggles in relationships, it is this PEACE that reminds me that I am His, wonderfully made and created in love. When financial difficulties come, it is this PEACE that triumphs over my fear and anxiety to remind me that He is my Provider and He has a plan to prosper me. When I lost two brothers last year within six months of each other, it was this PEACE that brought me through the valley of despair and reminded me that I have a Heavenly Father whose loving arms are always open wide.

We have no excuse as believers to not live a life of peace. We have been given every tool we need to conquer negativity, dispel the darkness around us, and defeat Satan. The Word of God has been given to us full of promises that, if we live and abide in them, will lead us into a peaceful relationship with our Heavenly Father where we can rest in His loving arms. David, the Psalmist, in Psalm 4, so sweetly pictures it for us, “I will both lay me down in peace and rest, for thou, Lord, makes me dwell in safety.” By allowing the peace of God to rule our hearts and minds, we are able to present ourselves to our Heavenly Father as believers of faith and love, always confident in His power and keeping.

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I will both lay me down in peace and rest, for thou, Lord, makes me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

My Story: Scripture Speaks

God writes each of our stories in His own unique way. But we are not just characters, we help write the script as we choose to obey or disobey the Father. There is a power in our stories. The truths of God come through as we look back on how far the Father has brought us. Scriptures come alive within our hearts as we live out the truths they proclaim. The following is the story of a Christ-follower just like you, who has walked through the ups and downs of life with her Father God.

By Guest Contributor Felicia Harris

My Story:

I grew up in a single parent home and lived in a small country town called Thomasville in South Alabama. My mom never married. I attended a small Methodist church that had a census of about 15 to 30 members that attended regularly. I grew up with 5 brothers and sisters in my home, and my mom also raised my cousin when his mother left him in Alabama and continued her life in New York. I had a relationship with my father, but he was married with my 5 other siblings.

My church life was different from the norm. Unfortunately, I don’t remember being involved in church growing up. When we did attend church, my mother always told us to say the Bible verse, “Jesus wept” – John 11:35. I didn’t know the significance of the verse until I became an adult. Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus while showing empathy for Mary and Martha. Romans 12:15 says, “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” Jesus wept can also be another example of God’s grief over our sin. I was expected to go to church, but participation of the children wasn’t emphasized. I do remember enjoying the different visiting choirs. I have always enjoyed Gospel music and it brings me peace during times of stress or storms. I remember as a child the sprinkling of water for christening. I do remember the feeling that something was missing. My mother did encourage prayer for meals and bedtime. I don’t think prayer was significant in other areas of our lives. I do remember praying as I was growing up for a better life for myself when I became an adult. My mom did work in a factory for a short time, but money was tight in the household. I grew up on government assistance most of my childhood. My father gave minimal support for 3 kids. I dealt with bullying and peer pressure as other teenagers. During my high school years my older sister, Sheila, married and joined a Pentecostal church. She shared her ministry with me and I attended her church several times. I still didn’t feel at home.

I went off to college and my sister was constantly giving me scriptures or prayers to read. I was in college when I started tithing. As my sister explained, “God asks for 10% but He also wants you to give from your heart.” Deuteronomy 14:22-23 (TLB) tells us, “You must tithe all of your crops every year. Bring this tithe to eat before the Lord your God at the place He shall choose as His sanctuary; this applies to your tithes of grain, new wine, olive oil, and the firstborn of your flocks and herds. The purpose of tithing is to teach you always to put God first in your lives.” Second Corinthians 9:7 says, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” God promises to richly bless us if we are faithful in tithes and offerings. And Malachi 3:10 says, “ ‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try me now in this, says the Lord of Hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessings that there will not be room enough to receive it.’ ” As my salary increased, my tithes increased. The Lord has been faithful and all my needs have always been taken care of.

church-pews-pxb1398784-milt_ritterI continued to attend several Methodist and Baptist churches in the Birmingham area, but I never felt at home. I wanted a church that the pastor teaches from the Bible and not just their opinions. One of my favorite verses in college was “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 NLT) Unfortunately, I did make some bad decisions that did affect me later in life.

I had goals for myself: 1) graduate from UAB as a nurse, 2) marriage, 3) child. I did graduate in 1998 and purchased my first home at 25 years old. Marriage and kids didn’t come as planned. I continued to pray to God, but now looking back I realize that I never had a real relationship with Him.

In 2003, I had an infection that medications were not working. I had episodes of feeling good or times that my body felt that I was crashing. It’s true; nurses don’t take care of themselves. MD’s ran several tests to determine the cause. While waiting on the results prayers became more intense. I now believe that I was negotiating with God about my life. I think this is when my relationship with God became stronger. My cousin Keisha and I always tried reading through the Bible, but we didn’t have a clear understanding of the meaning. I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and received treatment with oral Metformin. Thankfully I didn’t need insulin injections. Unfortunately, I had a time of depression because I knew the complications for uncontrolled diabetes. I continued to pray and changed my diet and exercise. God blessed me and I only had to take the medication for one year.

My Marriagepexels-photo

I was married September 23, 2006, to Mr. Harris. We attended church regularly and decided to make GFBC our home church, so we joined together in March 2007. I made my commitment to God by being baptized in April 2007. My husband and I attended regularly at first, but eventually my husband’s work schedule changed. Our marriage has had ups and downs. We have faced the issues all marriages face: attending church regularly, tithing, what we wanted for our child and ourselves, and the normal turmoil of any intimate relationship – trust, guilt from the past, selfishness, forgiveness, working through our issues. But scripture has a lot to offer to those of us who are married. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and slander along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” And these verses of comfort for me: Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him and He will make your paths straight.” We have been able to overcome, but keeping a marriage strong against our enemy, Satan, takes effort.

pexels-photo-208189My Child

Ms. Felicity Madison Harris was born March 11, 2009. During my pregnancy I prayed for a healthy, happy baby. I was blessed with my happy baby girl, Felicity – the Latin meaning is “happiness” as she recently told me.

I made a promise to myself that my child would have the opportunity to have a relationship with God at an early age. I prayed that she would desire God in her life. Prayer is important to her. I have a video of her praying for her toys, family and “everything” when she was 2 to 3 years old.

Now that she is older, she prays for healing for her father when his gout is active. Her PE teacher told me that Felicity prayed for her when she injured her leg. Felicity and I pray together nightly.

June 2017, Felicity made a commitment to God and was baptized at GFBC. It was one of the happiest days of my life. I was smiling, and I know God was smiling also. Matthew 19:14 says, “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’”

medical-appointment-doctor-healthcare-40568Health

I had my yearly GYN and mammogram appointments. I received a call from my MD that I would need further testing about an area that was seen on the mammogram 2 weeks previously. I had follow-up for a more detailed ultrasound the next week. Of course I felt anxious and apprehensive about the test. But I was abnormally calm during that time. I had faith that God would protect and take care of me. Even my friends and coworkers told me, “You seem so calm.” I know God has a plan for me. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “’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 hope and a future.’” And Matthew 6:34 says, “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (NLT)

My sister Sheila prayed for me and gave me verses to read. Becoming Faith Friends (BFF) Lifegroup ladies were so supportive with texts, emails, and phone calls. I felt the love of my class/church family. Jeremiah 33:6 says, “Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security.”

I received the phone call from my MD that it was a benign fibro adenoma and nothing needed to be done! God is a Faithful God!!! I was scheduled for another mammogram in AprilI and a follow-up ultrasound in 6 months, but before that time passed I felt a hard area on my breast at the incision site. So I called and had my appointment moved to an earlier date. I had an ultrasound and thankfully it was only scar tissue. And my MD stated that the area had decreased in size from my previous mammogram in October. Blessing!! God is awesome!

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My Lifegroup has been a blessing to me. They were very supportive after my father’s death, my health issues, my marriage, and Felicity’s illness and surgery. Cards and emails arrive just as you need them. I am active in church, working with worship care monthly in Kids Kingdom, in the blood pressure check ministry and as a prayer warrior for the ladies in our life group. I have grown so much since joining GFBC and I know that God is still using me.

Satan continues to attack me with my job, child, and marriage. I remember that God will not place anything on me that I can’t handle. God will always be with me during the good times and the bad times. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

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