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Laura Williams

Creator of Vines & Branches by Laura Williams

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“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:4-5

The Perfect Gardener

I am a terrible gardener. I love the idea of growing beautiful flowers in our yard and fresh herbs on our patio, but anytime I attempt it, it pretty much always ends in tragedy. Plant tragedy. Flowers eaten by bugs because I didn’t use the right spray. Herbs that turn into flower bushes because I didn’t cut them back in time—or at all. And inevitably, the sad, forgotten potted plant that has wilted and died because of neglect. This is what I do. Every. Time.

But God. God is the only truly PERFECT gardener. In the spiritual sense yes, but also in a very literal sense as well! God created the plants we see, he created the IDEA of vines, branches, trees, leaves, fruit, flowers—He created the plants that cover our world because they reflect HIS nature! 

God is a perfect gardener. His design is so immaculate, so detailed that we are only just beginning to truly understand all the beauty hidden inside what is visible to the naked eye. Even at the tiniest molecular level, under the strongest microscope, plants are wonderfully and intentionally designed with a system and structure to allow them to thrive. And we are designed with that same wonderful intentionality—not by chance, not merely hoping that we’d be able to make it. No, we were designed to live lives fully and abundantly as we abide in our Savior.

Common Creation

I think it is so amazing that Jesus chose to use a vine and its branches as the picture of how our relationship with Him was designed to be. He used arguably the most common creation in our world, living plants, as the picture of how we are to abide in Christ. This is something that I really love about Jesus. The way He teaches us about His nature and His love for us in such natural ways. Plants are everywhere! Everywhere we go, there are thousands upon thousands of sweet reminders in the grass, the trees, the branches above us. God uses the simple everyday parts of our world to show us such amazing things about who He is.

I think about God creating all the plants in the beginning, and I imagine His joy creating the first vines—knowing full well the imagery that was contained in such a common plant. The wonderful entangling of branches and leaves with the vines as they climbed up the first trees in the first garden ever made. He was creating picture after picture of His love for us. Picture after picture in His creation that showed His nature, His glory, and His goodness!

Then, years later, Jesus explained the vine and the branches to the disciples for the first time. He opened their eyes to what had been plainly seen but never truly understood until He opened their eyes! In the verses in John 15, Jesus showed, in a new way, how much we need to be drawing from Him. Our spiritual health, the fruit we are producing, and the growth we need is all completely reliant on HIM as our source. We are the branches drawing all we need from the Vine, Jesus. And His creation is a constant and beautiful reminder of this.

The Gardener’s Desire

We can clearly see God’s design for us to be intimately connected to Him in this passage. Isn’t it wonderful that God created us in a way that REQUIRES us to come to Him, to be dependent on Him? He knows how desperately we need Him, and He offers Himself as our strength, and gives us His Holy Spirit.

Sometimes we accept that things are the way they are simply because we do not know any different. But Jesus could have done things differently—He chose to create you and me because that was what He wanted to do! And He created us specifically in a way that causes us to thrive and grow when we are closest to Him. God designed us in this way because it PLEASES Him. HE wants to be near to US! WE need Him, yes! The branches cannot live without the vine. And yet, HE desires to be close to US. He wants us to be near to Him! 

We know that God’s nature is in us: just as we desire intimacy, love, relationship—these things come from HIM! God desires that we would abide closely in Him and spend time with Him. Knowing this has radically changed the way I view my time with Him. 

As a mom, I always want to spend real time with my kids—I want them to tell me about their day, to laugh with them, and to help them when they’re struggling. But when THEY express a desire for time with ME? That’s when I drop everything. If I know one of my children is waiting for me somewhere—I hurry to get there! 

Knowing that my Savior stands at the door of my heart, longing to come in and make His home with me! This changes my whole attitude toward intimacy. It isn’t my need for Him ONLY (though my need is inexpressibly great), it is HIS desire to abide with me that humbles my spirit and causes me to rush to meet Him.

So, Jesus gave us this picture: a vine and its branches. He is the vine, and we are the branches. May we remember what a good gardener He is, and may we see this wonderful picture in the common world around us. And I pray that we are drawn to closer intimacy with Christ as we remember how greatly He loves us. May we never forget all He has done to make it possible for us to come boldly to Him, welcome Him into our lives and hearts, and abide in His love.

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Knowing Jesus by Laura Williams

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I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in Jesus. I grew up knowing and loving Him. By the time I was an adult, I knew that following Jesus was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I married a man who wanted to serve in ministry, and this has been the course of our lives together. Throughout the ups and downs of marriage, children, finances, family…our hope is in Jesus and His goodness. He is our anchor. 

Please understand that things have not been perfect. There have still been times when I’ve doubted. Times when I’ve chosen my own path over the one He laid out for me. I am far from perfect. No matter how long you may have been a Christian, we are so prone to wander. But I am so thankful for the Holy Spirit who continually works to convict, teach, and comfort us in this process. And He has kept us close to Him as we’ve earnestly spent our lives getting to know and trust Him.

Since we began our married life together, our life has certainly taken surprising turns—as I’m sure you can relate! Our lives always look so much different than what we expected. I NEVER imagined God calling us to leave our home in Washington to move all the way to South Florida and start a church! 

That was over 7 years ago now, but people still tell us how incredible that seems—how they could never take such a crazy step of faith. But I can honestly tell you that, at the time, it was not very difficult at all. And that is NOT because we were some kind of “super-Christians.” It’s just because we knew Jesus well enough to TRUST Him.

I want you to understand that when you KNOW Jesus—you TRUST Him. This is why our personal relationship with Jesus is the most important thing in our lives! Spending time in prayer, in the Bible—these are the things that bring closeness and trust in who He is! When you are allowing the Holy Spirit to wash you daily in His Word as you read it, the relationship you have with Christ becomes not only a part of your life—it becomes the foundation. 

It is very easy for me to forget this. I think it’s easy for all of us. We get comfortable in the routine of church, kids, work, school…and our relationship with Jesus begins to slip to the bottom of our priorities. We get busy! We go to church, hear the Bible taught to us, and we feel like we can make it a few days without spending time with Jesus ourselves. There’s just so much else we have to do!

When this happens, life can start to become much more difficult to navigate. We begin to lose hope, to see situations from a human perspective rather than through the hope and promises of Jesus! We become anxious. Short-tempered. Proud. Selfish. And before long, we’re questioning whether Jesus is good! Is He trustworthy? This is evidence that we have not been spending our time truly KNOWING Him for ourselves.

This is not a new struggle! There is a story about exactly this problem in the gospel of Luke:

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.  But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”
And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.  But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”  -Luke 10:38-42

We need to make our time with Jesus what is NEEDED just like Mary did. This takes effort. It takes faith! Like Martha, we allow ourselves to become worried and troubled—trying just to stay on top of all that needs to be done. But setting those things aside means truly believing that KNOWING Jesus is the most important thing. And when we do this, we enter into a relationship with Him that allows us to TRUST Him no matter what direction our lives may take.

We are going to be starting a Bible Study for the women at Redemption Church in September where we will be exploring intimacy with Jesus in the book, “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World.” I have been convicted and encouraged by this book, and I am excited to share it with other women who are wanting to slow down and know Jesus better for themselves too. 

I pray that as we continue in life and faith, that we better understand the importance of KNOWNG Jesus. Take time today to spend at His feet. Remember the goodness and faithfulness of our God, and allow His Spirit to work in your heart to desire more of Jesus in your life.

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Christmas Advent | Shepherds

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I love to think of the shepherds, out in the rocky hill country with their sheep, with absolutely no idea of what they were about to see and hear the night the angels came. I had the opportunity to travel to Israel and see the area surrounding Bethlehem as a teenager, and knowing that angels sang above in that same sky still gives me chills. I think we may all put ourselves in the place of the shepherds—seeing their humble lifestyle and profession. They were certainly not well-known or highly respected in their communities. In fact, we do not even know exactly how many there were or what their names may have been. What we do know is that God, in His mysterious kindness, gave these men the first glorious announcement of His Son’s arrival. 

Truly, can’t we all sit in wonder at how God’s goodness and love extends to each of us? These verses in Luke describes the shepherd’s reaction to the angel’s announcement:

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” - Luke 2:8-9

I think it is safe to say that these poor shepherds were completely caught off guard and, as verse 9 describes, “filled with fear.” The knowledge and the experience of God’s glory are two very different things. These shepherds may have known full well of God’s holiness and splendor. But on this night, they saw and experienced the majesty of His glory. Notice it tells us not only the angel appeared to them, but the GLORY of the Lord shone around them! The majesty of our Creator is not something we should forget or overlook as we remember the birth of Jesus so many years ago. Our King of Kings, lying in a lowly manger, and the GLORY OF GOD was filling the night sky only miles away. 

As God’s glory overwhelmed these men, we read how the angel continues with his wondrous news—telling the shepherds not to fear, but to celebrate!

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

 ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” Luke 2:10-14

The arrival of the long-awaited Savior of the world had finally come, and a multitude of angels appeared from Heaven in our world to rejoice and praise God! Do we find ourselves looking back at this real event in real human history and miss the awesome glory in this moment? I love nativities. We always had several nativities in our house at Christmas when I was a little girl, and I loved rearranging the wise men, the sheep and shepherds—placing each figure in just the right spot to get the perfect angle of the little ceramic baby in his manger. I will tell you that these days I find myself sitting and watching my daughter doing the same thing. And I wonder, Do we realize that it’s really real? There were really shepherds, sheep, hay, a donkey. Only, there was no posing—no staging. It was spontaneous, and full of complete surprise and mystery! If we are going to remember the miracle of angels in the sky, shepherds running through the streets—possibly with sheep flung over shoulders—we MUST not lose the glory of God! I am so thankful for our Christmas traditions, dusty ornaments and tangled lights in plastic tubs that come out every year—it is no exaggeration to say it is the most wonderful time of the year at my house! But I pray that the sacred truths of God’s most precious gift are not lost as we teach our children about this most amazing night!

“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” -Luke 2:15-20

I pray that as we celebrate another Christmas, that we remember the awe and wonder and reality of Jesus coming to earth for US! And I pray that, like the shepherds, we will run to worship Him and glorify Him with all we have today. Glory to God in the highest!

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Christmas Advent | Wise Men

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“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Wise Men from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.  “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” -Matthew 2:1-12

Did you know that the Gospel of Matthew is the only book with a record of the Wise Men and their visit to see the newborn Messiah? I am so glad that the Holy Spirit led Matthew to include this part of the story because it is such a mysterious and wonderful example of the majesty and wonder of Jesus’s birth.

We don’t know very much about these Wise Men (or Magi, as they are also called) except that they had travelled from a far off land in the East, following a star that had appeared in the sky. We know they were scholars because they recognized the star as unusual. And we know that they came to worship.

This part of the story is so meaningful for several reasons, but the first is the reminder that God reveals Himself to us in a way that we can understand. The Wise Men found Jesus in the manger because God used a physical sign to lead them straight to His Son. The Wise Men are the only people we read of who did not find out about the coming of the Messiah from an angel. God revealed Jesus to them in a way that they understood. This is such a sweet reminder to us of the kindness of God that He KNOWS each and every one of us and speaks to us in ways that we can understand. 

Another significant thing to notice is how, even though the Wise Men followed the star to find this new king, God’s Word played a powerful and necessary part in their understanding of the sign in the sky. It was God’s Word that led them to Bethlehem! We all love when God does miracles, and when are able to see God work in supernatural ways, it causes us to wonder and worship Him because we SEE Him at work. But remember that God’s written Word, the Bible, is not merely the Christian’s study tool or textbook. It is the living, powerful, very Word of Almighty God! The Wise Men were seeking Jesus, according to the miraculous and reliable Word of God. Just as the star took on meaning as the Wise Men considered the Scriptures, the world around us literally comes alive with hope and meaning as we grow in our knowledge and understanding of God’s written Word, the Bible.

Finally, I love the multicultural nature of this part of the story. Though Jesus was born in the nation of Israel, in the line of David, in the little town of Bethlehem, God chose to include people from far off lands in the miracle of Jesus’s birth. To put it simply, Jesus came for everyone. We know that in Revelation, we read that in the end, people of every nation, tribe, and tongue are found before the throne of God in Heaven singing praises to the Lamb of God, Jesus. These foreign Wise Men showed up with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—very different from the shepherds who came in from the fields at night, in great haste without any sort of gift to present. Just as God’s use of the star and the angels to reveal Jesus were so different, we all bring something very different and beautiful in our differences. Don’t you love to see and hear people from other cultures worship? Some are loud and festive, others filled with reverence and awe. And this is good! We were not all made to be the same, and the precious treasures that the Wise Men brought were opened and laid before the Son of God as worship. What a beautiful picture of the nature of our God, who created us so different from one another, but loves each the same. 

May we remember throughout this season the miracle of how God desires people from every background to come to Jesus. Let us meditate on His Word as we continue seeking Him daily. And finally, let us give thanks to God that He still speaks to us in ways that we can truly hear and understand. Oh come, let us adore Him! 

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Christmas Advent | Mary

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Have you ever imagined what it must have been like for young Mary to be told she was going to give birth to the long-awaited Messiah? Most of us are probably familiar with the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary. It’s wonderful and exciting to reread the story of Mary receiving the joyous news that she was going to be carrying God’s Son, the Savior of the world! But when you go back to the story, it’s important to see that Mary’s first response was not joy and wonder, but one of uncertainty and fear. Mary wasn’t expecting to receive a visit from an angel any more than we would expect something like this to happen to us on an ordinary day! She was afraid and confused.

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” -Luke 1:26-29

I love that the Bible doesn’t leave out this part of the story. For me, this is the Mary that I relate to and understand. It’s easy to see characters in the Bible as just that: characters. But we need to remember that these are real people who lived real lives just like ours!

Contrary to many false beliefs, Mary was not perfect. We know this is true because the Bible tells us that there is no one perfect but God Himself. (Romans 3:23, Mark 10:18) Knowing this, it makes it easier to read this part of the story knowing that Mary was a real woman who loved God and still found life to be frightening and full of questions.

Because Mary’s reaction was a real one, we get to see how God responds to us when are afraid or question His plan. Gabriel did not go find another woman who would respond better. He didn’t rebuke or lecture her about her lack of faith or trust in God. The first thing we see Gabriel do in response to Mary’s understandably troubled reaction is to reassure her with WORDS OF COMFORT. 

Gabriel’s response at seeing Mary greatly troubled was this:

“And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’” -Luke 1:30-33

First, He told her not to fear and reminded her that God loved her. He had already told her this when he first showed up and greeted her as “O favored one!” But Mary was so overcome with fear that she needed to be reminded again in that moment that God was pleased with her. He loved her. This is something that we should all be reminded of on a daily basis. God wants to tell us in our moments of fear or uncertainty, “Remember, I LOVE YOU!” Mary had literally just heard that God favored her moments before, and rather than receiving a lecture on her lack of faith, Gabriel just told her again. 

This is why our Bibles are crammed full of the promises of God! His love, His faithfulness, His goodness, His provision, His comfort! We need to be reminded of these things just like Mary did! When you find yourself in a moment of fear or doubt, get into the promises of God! Open your Bible, and let the Holy Spirit remind you of His very great and precious promises! (2 Peter 1:4)

Finally, I want to point out that after this reminder from Gabriel of God’s favor for Mary and the wondrous things that were going to take place, Mary was bold enough to ask questions! She didn’t understand HOW God was going to make this happen because she was a virgin. There are many times that I don’t understand things and have questions, and I love that we have this example of Mary’s boldness and honesty even with the angel Gabriel! We can ask God when we don’t understand something He has told us, and He wants to GIVE US HOPE!

Gabriel answered Mary’s question of “how this was to be” in this way:

“And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’” -Luke 1:34-37

He gave her a brief answer and then He gave her reason to place her TRUST IN GOD: Nothing is impossible with God! Sometimes, we don’t receive all the information we think we need to understand why or how things happen in our lives. But we have a God we can trust. Whether you find yourself in a situation you don’t understand or can’t see how things are going to work out, remember in Whom you trust!

And Mary’s ultimate response after hearing these words was this: 

“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” -Luke 1:38

Isn’t this the heart we want to have as well? Bringing our fears and uncertainties to our Heavenly Father, receiving His WORDS OF COMFORT and love, and being reminded that we can TRUST Him! May we be His servants, His children—fully trusting in His plans for us and saying, “Let it be to me according to Your word.” And may this beautiful response resonate in our hearts as we remember the God we trust, His unending LOVE for us, and the miracle of Christmas.

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Speak Life by Laura Williams

There have been many people who have spoken things into my life that have shaped and influenced who I am and how I see God and the world around me. The funny thing is that when I look back and remember the conversations that have really impacted me, they didn’t stand out as significant at all at the time. They were all in the context of regular life, ordinary circumstance, and friendship. We have all been inspired by great authors or dynamic speakers, but I am so deeply thankful for the people that God has used in my life to share a simple truth or insight that became a part of who He was forming me to be.

The Bible talks about the power we have in our words, and we are told to use our speech to encourage others, speak truth in love, admonish and teach, and build up those around us. I want to share a few of the simple truths I have learned from others through ordinary conversations. These are particularly special to me because God has used them time and time again, not only in my own life, but by allowing me to pass them along to others. I hope you are encouraged and reminded that God can use you in even the most ordinary of circumstances to build someone up or speak a life-giving truth that may impact them in ways you might never see!

One conversation like this was with a woman I honestly didn’t know very well from my church up in Washington. We had known each other for years, but never really spent a lot of time together. I mentioned to her that I was wanting to plant my first flower garden, and she offered to help me pick out some plants at the local nursery. We were back at my apartment, and setting the plants out where they were going to be in the flower bed, and I remember clearly sharing with her that I was struggling with anxiety. It was a new struggle for me then, and she listened as I shared my fears of what the future held. She said, “You are invincible until God decides otherwise.” This impacted my thought life from that point on. In other words, NOTHING can harm me unless and until my loving Heavenly Father allows it. Her words were so natural. And I am sure she probably wouldn’t remember saying them. Today, I still struggle with anxiety, but God has continued to use her words to bring me peace and hope!

Another conversation that stands out in my memory was with a piano student of mine. She was a friend who was preparing to leave for the mission field a few months later. I think we probably spent as much time talking and laughing together as we did doing real piano lessons. During one of her lesson times, I remember her telling me that God could use our time learning piano to change the world! I was kind of reluctant about this because it was really just a means of income, not a ministry. She corrected this by telling me that no matter what we are doing, if we are asking God to use it, He can use the simplest parts of our lives to bring Him glory. He could use her lessons with me to give her the ability to play a simple song on the piano. That could open a door for a conversation years down the road that might lead to a friendship that might even lead a person to Jesus! We have no idea the REAL impact our simple obedience has on the world, and we should never underestimate what we are doing and the power of God to use us! That has helped me through many seasons of life where I didn’t FEEL all that useful or impactful, but I remembered that I really have no idea how God wants to use the simplest things in my life in ways I may never see! The simplest parts of our lives matter in ways we may never even know!

One last woman who greatly impacted me with her words was an older mom in our church. Not a friend really, just a lady I knew and would say hello to in passing. One Sunday morning, I was really having a hard time with our son who was a defiant toddler at the time. Those days are so hard, and I felt defeated and overwhelmed. I was trying to drag my little boy through the parking lot to our car after church (he had decided to let his legs go limp and lie down in the middle of the sidewalk), and this sweet lady was walking by. She took my arm and said, “Remember, God CHOSE him to be your son, and you to be his mom. You are the right mom for that little boy.” Oh my goodness, did I need that to be spoken out loud that very moment! I go back to that very truth often! It reassured me to be reminded that God picked me to parent my son because that was HIS plan, and those feelings of inadequacy that I was feeling in that moment was not grounded in truth! I pass this along to every mama I can because it is so comforting to know that no matter what season of parenting you are in, no matter who your children may be, God still chose YOU to be their parent! I should also mention, that in other conversations that followed with this woman in the weeks and years following, I learned that she had experienced a very difficult time with her son around the same age, and God had walked with her through it. She was passing along the lessons she had learned through her own struggles, and I even learned that from her as well! Our struggles are not unique, and we are designed to walk others through the same. 

There are countless conversations we have all had that have changed our view of ourselves, God, or the world around us. These three are especially precious to me because it was the voice of Jesus speaking through them that truly spoke to my heart. When the Holy Spirit lives inside of us, He is able to speak through us. It is a wonderful and beautiful part of relationship. I pray that as we follow Jesus together, that He continues to open doors for each of us to speak life giving truth in love to those God has put in our lives. And I pray that as He speaks to our hearts through those around us that we listen and recognize His voice!

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An Honest Ask From A Pastor's Wife by Laura Williams

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” -Hebrews 13:7

It has been 5 years next month since we had our first gathering as Redemption Church on Easter Sunday, 2012. Daniel and I had moved our family down only months before from Washington State to this unknown (to us) south Florida beach town, and here we were introducing a new church and ourselves to the community! 

It. Was. Unreal.

Some of the feelings I remember vividly from that first-ever church service were excitement…for what God wanted to do, fear…that no one would come, joy…in seeing the first few strangers find their seats, insecurity that people wouldn’t connect with us, humor…knowing that only a week earlier, we didn’t even have a church, and desperation…for the Holy Spirit to come and bring power and life to our efforts in a way that only He can do.

None of those things has changed. Not one. As we have seen God come through and work in so many lives over the past several years, we remain excited knowing His ways are so much higher than ours! I still have to fight the temptation to feel afraid and insecure. We laughtogether sometimes, knowing that it is truly only the grace of God that has allowed us to be a part of this beautiful, difficult, and rewarding ministry of pastoring a church.

Pastors are real people. Hopefully you know this. And as God calls men and their families to set aside their own ambitions to pursue this unique calling, we need prayer. And not only those just starting out! Your pastor who has been serving faithfully in his church for 40 years needs your prayers too! 

Pastors get to experience what I think is one of the most exhilarating and exciting lifestyles that there is. We are privileged to give God’s Word to the lost and hungry, equip disciples of Jesus to do His ministry, and see the behind-the-scenes miracle of lives being changed supernaturally by a very real and present God who lets US see Him work! 

Why us? 

I have no idea. I do know, though, that it is an unusual life. And people sometimes regard us differently because of the place God has chosen for us. And that’s okay. I have always had a special respect and honor for my pastors. And this is good and right because God has placed them in a position of authority over His (Jesus’s) Church! But as you regard your pastor, please remember that he needs your support! There was a time he was not a pastor and probably had no ambitions of being one, then God spoke to him and changed the course of his life. Can you think for a moment if God were to call you to do the same?

So here is what I really want you to know about your pastor (and his family). We stumble. We lack faith at times. We try to hold up our shield of faith and not rely on our own strength. We KNOW that we need the Spirit of God to not only work through us to accomplish anything worthwhile, but to sustain our faith! We are where we are because God has placed us here—and that is all. We want to please our Heavenly Father and love and shepherd HIS flock well. And we NEED HIS SPIRIT to be at work constantly in us, around us, through us, and upon us. 

As the verse in Hebrews chapter 13 (see above) exhorts you to look to your pastor and imitate his faith, PRAY for his faith to be strengthened! It is perhaps the most humbling part of our life knowing that God Himself has chosen our lives to be showcased as an example to follow. And we do not take this lightly. 

But we do have a huge ASK for you. 

Would you pray for your pastor? And his wife? And their children? Pray as you would want to be prayed for! I have joked about the golden rule of prayer: “Pray for others as you would have them pray for you!” Remember, again, that they don’t need fancy, extra-spiritual prayers just because it’s your pastor! Pray for patience and tenderness in their marriage, for growth in their own quiet times with Jesus, pray for health and protection for their children! 

And THANK YOU. Because without the prayers of so many, I know that my husband and I would not be the same. We have asked for prayer from people near and far in the time since we launched that first Easter service, and God has heard and answered! THANK YOU! Keep praying!

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Pass It On by Laura Williams

Do you ever find yourself struggling to retain what you read in the Bible? Or even to remember what you learned from a Sunday sermon or message? There are so many times that I have been deeply moved by a particular message at church, and months later I’ll find my notes from that message and realize I forgot all about the special thing the Lord spoke to my heart.

It can be embarrassing sometimes to recognize my inability to recall something that sincerely spoke to my heart. It’s not that I didn’t hear God speaking to me and desire to remember and apply what I learned. It just never found solid footing in my life, and I let it sit on the back burner of my heart long enough that it was simply forgotten. Don’t you wish we could find a way to remember and retain all of the beautiful truths we learn and keep them close in our hearts?

Something that has helped me tremendously in this area is the importance of SHARING what God is teaching me with someone else. When you teach the very things you are learning and pass them along to another person, those truths sink deeper into your own heart.

If you can teach it to someone else, your own understanding of that truth grows and becomes easier to remember.

When you read your Bible and God teaches you through it, share that with someone! You will mature in your knowledge and faith when you are able to teach someone else what God has taught you!

“Teaching the Bible” is an intimidating idea for most of us. Most of us would probably never describe ourselves as Bible teachers. You may feel you don’t KNOW enough, or perhaps you might be asked a question you won’t know the answers to! It is true that you cannot teach what you do not know and understand yourself, but what is different about teaching the BIBLE, is that the Holy Spirit Himself is able to speak through you and give you words to say! And also, it is completely normal and okay not to have all the answers!

Our faith grows when we step out and put our trust in God’s ability to speak through us! And once you do this a few times, you will begin to see that it is, in fact God who does the teaching, and you are simply his vessel—his voice—to speak to others.

Don’t be afraid to share what God has been teaching you, no matter how simple you may think it sounds!

Those truths will sink themselves deeper into your own heart, and you will get to see God use you to teach others!

And this can look different for each of us. You may want to find a friend who can be that person you share with on a regular basis—maybe you both can meet up during the week and share what God is teaching you that week. Or maybe you and your spouse can make an effort to share more with each other about your personal walks with Jesus. Another way that can be very helpful in maturing us and expanding our knowledge of the Bible is through teaching children! Teaching kids causes us to study the simple and foundational truths of Scripture in order to pass them along in a clear way. Pray about how God might want to be using you to teach someone else this week!

However you feel that this applies best to you, let me encourage you to start now! Be confident that God will use your willingness to share with others for both your own good and the good of others! Preach His Word, encourage one another, and watch how Jesus uses you!

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” -2 Timothy 4:1-2

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Sharing Jesus in a World of Strangers by Laura Williams

If you are a parent, chances are you have heard or even used the term STRANGER DANGER. And whether you are an over-protective type with hand sanitizer in both hands at any given moment, or more "carefree," letting your kiddos explore and climb ant-ridden trees and eat the sand at the beach… Every loving parent has to address to subject of “stranger danger” with their child at some point. 

And for good reason! We want to protect our children against the unknown, from any person who might intend harm. We carefully guard them from what could potentially hurt or frighten them. I believe this is built into us--parent or not, the desire to protect and preserve the safety and innocence of children is innate in us as human beings. God made us this way because HE is this way. 

A popular song right now is "Good, Good Father" which comes from a passage in Matthew chapter 5. Jesus spoke about God as a loving father when He said, "If indeed you, (human parents) who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, HOW MUCH MORE will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" 

There are countless places where God compares our relationship with us to a Father and a dearly loved child. Our instincts as parents are certainly a reflection of OUR Father's heart for us! And God is not only a Father, He is a GOOD Father, desiring and ordaining what is best for His children. 

So here is the irony I see...

Not only does our Father NOT teach us to fear strangers in the world around us, He commands the opposite. He SENDS us to every stranger! He sends us, the children He loves, delights in, sings over. Jesus told his disciples after the days following His resurrection and before He went back to His Father in Heaven, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation." (Mark 16:15)

We are sent to those we do not know because God, our Father, already does know them. He not only knows them, He created them. He loves them. He sent His only Son to die for them because He longs to restore them back to Himself! There are no strangers to God--and His Spirit is living inside of us, and He tells us to proclaim and declare His goodness, His gospel just as Jesus did.

And thank God that He pursued us when we were still strangers!

"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:6-8

I find it comforting when I think that the unknown person in line behind me at the store, the barista at my local coffee shop, even my neighbor across the street--all these people may be strangers to me, but they are precious and intimately known by my Father. He has a plan for their lives and has sent me to declare His love to them. I am less afraid when I see the people around me less as "strangers" and more and more as valued and loved and known by name. 

And let me remind you (and remind myself too) that if God is for us, who can be against us?!

Paul wrote in Romans 10:14-15, "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?"

And He has sent us! You. Me. Those who were lost and now are found. 

I hope that as we all continue to grow in our love for Jesus, that this will develop into a love for the lost around us. I pray daily for a heart that sees people as Jesus sees them. As my Father sees them. I want to live in a world of confidence in knowing that there are no strangers to our God, only precious, loved people. 

And don't forget that YOU are precious. YOU are His dearly loved child. And your Father knows and loves YOU too. He is YOUR good, good Father. And He will be with you every step of the way.

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Do You Know His Voice? by Laura Williams

Do you ever wonder if you have ever heard God speaking to your heart? Really heard Him for yourself? Or have you ever had a thought come into your mind out of the blue and thought, "Is that my own imagination? Is that God speaking to me?" Those are questions that I think we all ask. How can I know when God speaks to me? Or, on the other hand, what if I THINK God is speaking to me, but really it's just my own thoughts?!

The verse we hear most often in reference to "hearing the voice of God" comes from Jesus in John 10:27 where He said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." This has often led me to wonder why it is that I don't always know when I am hearing God speak to my heart. I'm left wondering how I can be His sheep and still not know His voice. But notice that Jesus said that not only do the sheep hear His voice, but He KNOWS them. 

Jesus knows how to speak to each one of us, and He does this differently for us all. For example, in the Bible we can read about how the Lord spoke out loud to Abraham, but a burning bush is what caught Moses's attention when He first heard from God. He directed the children of Isreal with a pillar of fire at night, but He called Samuel in a familiar voice when he was sleeping. 

It is important to know that God doesn't want to play games with us--He is not a God who wants us to struggle to hear Him and then laughs when we make a mistake. You can read in Matthew chapter 7 how Jesus compared the love of our Heavenly Father to that of our earthly dads. He wants to bless us, He wants us to hear and know Him, and He delights in His children. You can trust that God will speak to you as a loving Father who intimately knows the way you think, the doubts you may have, and the inmost person of your heart.

Another important thing to consider is HOW we come to recognize His voice. Just as with anyone, we LEARN to recognize His voice the more we listen to Him. And the primary way that we can hear God's heart, His voice, and His words is through the Bible! As you spend time reading His Word, you will become accustomed to the quiet way the Holy Spirit teaches you in it. When you read a passage of the Bible, and sense God's conviction and are reminded of His promises to you, this is the voice of God speaking to you! 

To become familiar with the voice of our Savior is to let His Word penetrate our hearts on a daily basis that we might begin to recognize His voice!

Another beautiful part of spending time in the Bible is that we also receive a firm foundation of truth--Jesus said to His Father in Heaven, "Sanctify me by your truth--Your WORD is truth." So as we read and study the Word of God, the truths He teaches us will also resonate with us when we hear His voice outside of our reading time. You may be at the grocery store on your way to the car when you see an item in the cart that you forgot to pay for by accident. And a voice in your heart says, "Go back. It doesn't belong to you. Be honest." And perhaps this may follow with in inward dialogue on the ethical benefit of paying for the item--"Really is it worth that much anyway? I mean, Walmart already has bazillions of dollars, do they really need the $2.27 for this dish soap?!" (may or may not have been me stalled with my cart in the middle of the blazing parking lot debating this with myself last week :)

So, in those moments (that we ALL have, I know) we will be able to recognize the voice of God in us as the same voice we hear in His Word! Does the voice in your head match the heart of God you see in the Bible? When you feel "prompted" (a Christian word for a hunch or thought that isn't exactly your own) to go and tell someone God loves them, or maybe to ask your waitress if you can pray for her, ask yourself, "Is this consistent with the heart of God?"It would certainly make sense for God to want to use you to share His love with someone, or to reach out and pray for a stranger. However uncomfortable that may be! :) But the truth is, because God is such a loving Father, even IF it were only your own thought and you acted out of obedience to what you believed to be God speaking to you, He loves you! God is never disappointed in us for acting in faith! 

We won't be perfect--that day is saved for Heaven, but take comfort in knowing that you have a Father in Heaven who has made His voice known to you in His Word, who KNOWS how to speak to you, and loves us even when we make mistakes. There will certainly be times we hear God telling us to take a step of faith in our heart (like speaking to a stranger or even returning dish soap) and we may not always obey. And as the Holy Spirit gently convicts us of our lack of faith or our unwillingness to listen, He always restores us and speaks to us again. 

Be comforted knowing that Your Father in Heaven delights in you today. And spend time getting to know Him and His voice in His Word today. He always speaks to us there. :)

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