“Before You Curse the Rain” and Other Poems by Camrie Houck

Before You Curse the Rain

Before you curse the rain for daring to
visit,
The raindrop for plopping onto your head,
Remember,
Every drop that descends from the sky,
often to your dread,
Is a reminder of every promise of God.
Just like every raindrop waters the grass,
Bringing forth the springtime bud,
So is every promise.
A word of God descending, falling, and watering.
And in due time, it too will bring forth the new bud of
the old promise.

Closer to the Cross

With every stride, I want to be closer to the cross.

Life isn’t perfect, sometimes far from it.

I don’t want to be number one; I don’t want to be boss.

I’m not perfect, but I’m not about to quit.

 

Life isn’t perfect, sometimes far from it.

My spirit is willing, my flesh is carried off by every whim.

I’m not perfect, but I’m not about to quit.

Less of me, more of Him.

 

My spirit is willing, my flesh is carried off by every whim.

I’m disciplining myself with fierce focus.

Less of me, more of Him.

Fear and the devil have the world all hocus-pocus.

 

I’m disciplining myself with fierce focus.

Losing our version of fun, it’s no loss.

Fear and the devil have the world all hocus-pocus.

With every stride, I want to be closer to the cross.

The Best Decision I’ve Ever Made

Falling in love with Jesus, the best decision I’ve ever made.

Sunshine and rainbows, it’s not.

It’s a bright spot in this world through which we must wade

With sacrifice and blood, it was bought.

 

Sunshine and rainbows, it’s not.

It’s peace in the midst of a violent storm

With sacrifice and blood, it was bought,

Desiring to be close to him and in my proper form.

 

Its peace in the midst of a violent storm,

Crashing waves, rolling squall lines, still Jesus has not left my boat.

Desiring to be close to him and in my proper form,

Reading and Praying, this time not by rote.

 

Crashing waves, rolling squall lines, still Jesus has not left my boat.

I’m not doing this for some more achievement; it’s not for a grade.

Reading and Praying, this time not by rote.

Falling in love with Jesus, the best decision I’ve ever made.

*****

Today’s guest post was written by the wonderfully talented Camrie Houck. Be sure to check out her past guest post on BPR here! You can also follow along with her writing on her Instagram blog @camrie_writes!

What Does “Jesus Over Everything” Mean?

“Jesus over everything,” you say as you forget to spend time with Him that day.

You say you put Him first, but you spend half the day without a word in prayer. Then, you pray, but you’re distracted.

What is it that’s consumed your attention? Your Instagram account? Tik Tok? The news? Or perhaps it’s the load of laundry you still need to put on? Maybe it’s the garage that needs cleaned out, or the yard that needs mowing, or the half a dozen other projects you still have left to do.

So, what then, does Jesus over everything mean to you? Does it mean Jesus over everything, except your “me time?” Does it mean Jesus over everything, except your house chores? Does it mean Jesus over everything, except your job or your family? What do you think everything means? Oxford defines it as “all things; every single thing.”

That’s what it takes to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. Putting Him above all things, above every single thing in your life.

The rich man left Jesus in sorrow because he couldn’t put Jesus above his riches (see Matthew 19:16-24).

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Mark 8:36 KJV

Others couldn’t put Him above their family.

“And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:59-62 KJV

So what can’t you put aside to follow Jesus? What is keeping you from giving Him everything?

If you want to get closer to Jesus, He must come first. His Kingdom must be your number one priority in life.

He created you to worship Him and reach the lost. Other things in this life are important, yes, but He has promised to supply all your needs. If you want to follow Him, you must trust Him to take care of you. If you want to follow Him, you must give Him your sacrifice of time and sacrifice of praise.

He must matter more to you than earthly gain. To see His face in glory, Jesus must stand first in your life over everything.

Until then, all your words and efforts are in vain and your promises empty.

Is “Jesus over everything” a daily declaration to you? Or is it an empty phrase you use to fool yourself into thinking you put Jesus first while you really serve the world or yourself?

“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Joshua 24:15 KJV

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.”

Psalm 139:23-24 KJV

4 Tips to Thrive in God’s Kingdom: Notes from Missouri Youth Camp

Photo cred: MO Youth Facebook page

Missouri Youth Camp ended last week, but I’m still thinking about the powerful services we had. In every service, there was a heavy spirit of expectancy, depth in every message, and an outpouring of the Holy Ghost in every altar call. It was without a doubt one of the most incredible weeks I have experienced. Mike McGurk, the morning speaker, taught one message in particular that detailed a few tips that, if applied, can help each person (and each young person, especially) truly thrive in the kingdom of God. For today’s post, we’re going to go over these tips again.

1. Transparency

Don’t keep the things you’re struggling with to yourself. This one’s actually hard for those like me who prefer to “suffer in silence.” It’s the noble, mature, strong thing to do, we tell ourselves. But actually, keeping deep struggles to yourself makes you more vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks and makes it harder to overcome those struggles.

“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”

Proverbs 28:13 (KJV)

Talking to a trusted spiritual leader, such as your pastor or youth pastor, about something you’re struggling with gives you a source of support and guidance. Openness and honesty are underrated qualities in any relationship. How are you to develop a working relationship of trust and transparency with your leaders or even colleagues or friends if you do not let them in if something is going wrong? The more you keep things to yourself, the more time you give to the devil to mess with your mind and bring confusion.

Bro. Mike McGurk spoke of self-destruction. If you keep things to yourself, then the lies of the devil can cause you to break down and self-destruct. There is strength in going to a trusted spiritual leader like your pastor with your personal struggles with sin or an emotional or spiritual issue.

You do not have to be perfect, for as we know, there is none perfect save for God.

We are incapable of perfection, and your pastor knows this. Because of our human nature and constant struggles with our flesh, we will always need encouragement, correction, independence, and guidance. We need encouragement for our self-esteem, correction to overcome our weakness and mistakes, independence to allow us to make our own decisions, and guidance to lead us in the right direction.

“Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (KJV)

You’ve heard the saying that no person is an island. Learn to be transparent and trust your pastor to help you and pray for you when you’re struggling.

2. Influence

Be careful with the people and things that you allow to influence your thoughts, feelings, and actions. You’re heard “love the sinner, hate the sin” and the fact that Jesus ate with the sinners and publicans. This is true. However, Jesus called us to be separate from this world.

As another common saying goes, we are in the world but should not be of the world, meaning that while we are in the world, we should do the things we must to survive, build relationship, families, careers, etcetera, but we should not conform to the lifestyles and beliefs of the world. Bro. McGurk explained in his message that when it comes to those you may be around at work or at school who live like the world, you should love them and eat with them, but do not live like them or let them influence how you live. For example, if you’re out to lunch with your coworkers, but they talk about going out later to drink and party, don’t let their lifestyle choices influence yours. The sign of a confident Apostolic Christian is one who influences their friends and coworkers and draws them toward God, not one whose friends and coworkers draw them away from God.

There is one saying my Bishop used to teach about that some might take issue with, but I’ll mention it here and then explain: if you can’t change your friends, change your friends.

If the people you hang around are becoming negative influences in your life, then you should not spend time around them anymore. For example, if you have a teenage son and he starts hanging around kids who do drugs behind the school every day, you would want your son to stop hanging around those kids. That doesn’t mean he should be rude to them, condemn them, yell at them, or throw the Bible at them. It does mean he should set healthy boundaries in his life so that he can maintain a strong walk with God and show others that he is committed to living for God and not like the world. Having strong principles, convictions, and morals is a good thing, not something anyone should be ashamed of.

Lot allowed his surroundings to influence him, and it led to his wife’s demise.

“And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom. But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly.”

Genesis 13:10-13 (KJV)

The appearance of the land was pleasing to Lot, and so he allowed what pleased his eyes to influence his actions. He pitched his tent toward a place that was filled with wickedness. Much can be said and written just from this account in Genesis (and indeed much already has), but just six chapters later, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with Lot barely escaping with his daughters. His wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. Most of us know this story, but its message will forever ring true.

Want to know the direction your life is taking? Look at the things you allow to influence you.

The problem with influence is appetite. What you consume is what you put on display through your words, actions, and thoughts. In order to walk with God, you must change your appetite so that the things of the world – entertainment, personalities, trends, money, attention, etcetera – no longer influence you.

3. Pursuit

If you pursue God and allow the things of God to influence you, then you will thrive in His Kingdom. This point goes back to the previous point about influence. Your life will go in the direction of the things you pursue. If you pursue fame and attention and money, then your life will be filled with self-absorption and materialism. Pursuing God means putting God and a godly lifestyle above everything else.

You should get a job. You should make an income. You should try to have and raise a godly family, but those things become idols when you pursue them above God. So, how do you pursue God?

Read the Word. After all, the Word is God (see John 1:1). The Bible is His Living Word, and if we want to get to know Him more, we should read it every day. Don’t just read it, though. Study the Word. Pray the Word. And while you read the Word, journal. I have a journal set aside for Bible journaling, and when I open up the Word to begin my study time, I have the journal in one hand and the Bible in the other to write down thoughts, revelations, or specific verses while I’m reading. This is a pretty common and simple concept, but it is vital to understanding His Word more and committing key scriptures and biblical principles to memory.

When you pursue God, He will open up His Word to you and welcome you into a deeper relationship with Him.

“Draw night to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.”

James 4:8 (KJV)

4. Purpose

“Your hands need to be so full of purpose that you have no room to reach for anything else.”

Mike McGurk

We exist to worship our Creator, have a relationship with Him, and reach the lost. When we make living for God and growing His kingdom our purpose and top priority in life, then we will be too busy to become enamored with the distractions of the world. We will struggle with our flesh every day, but there are things we can do to become purpose-driven in the kingdom.

Be involved in your church. Help with the media team. Be part of the music team. Teach Sunday or Wednesday school. Clean the church. Contribute to your church’s social media page by taking pictures. Help in the kitchen. Go to outreach functions. Invite your friends and coworkers to church and special events. Go to special events yourself rather than skipping them because it’s your Friday night. Teach Bible studies. (Lord knows, we should all be doing more, especially on that last one, including yours truly.)

Whatever it is, be active in your church and be active in the kingdom of God. We find our identity in Christ, and when we make His mission ours, then our purpose will become clear.

Each of these four concepts is essential to thriving and growing in God’s kingdom. So, in order for you to apply these to your life, here are some questions you might ask:

  • Out of these four points (transparency, influence, pursuit, purpose), is there one or more that are lacking in my life?
  • What am I doing or what can I do to address this issue?

2 Principles of Spiritual Growth

Where do we grow from here?

This was the title of Rev. Victor Jackson’s Friday night message at Missouri Youth Convention a couple of weeks ago. At every youth convention, congress, or camp, there are always powerful messages from anointed preachers. Through each message, God ministers, and He moves. But there is always at least one message in particular that stands out. Everyone has their own “favorite” message that spoke to them in particular. Well, ever since the Friday night service of Missouri Youth Convention, I’ve been thinking about Bro. Jackson’s message on growth.

Growth has been a topic I’ve thought about often over the years as God has helped me navigate various life struggles and situations. So, for today’s post (which I know was supposed to go live yesterday—my apologies for the delay!), I wanted to share with you an extension of some of my notes from the message “Where Do We Grow From Here,” highlighting two principles of spiritual growth. Also, I do share post updates and topic ideas on my Instagram, so please be sure to go ahead and follow me there if you aren’t already so that you can find out when posts may be delayed or about upcoming topics. (You can find my Instagram account by clicking here.)

Without further delay, here are two principles of spiritual growth.

1. Don’t make a small start your identity.

Everybody’s gotta start somewhere, right? Whether it’s in your ministry or personal relationship with God, you must begin small. In order to grow your prayer life, for example, you may begin by praying 15 minutes a day consistently and extending that over time. As Victor Jackson said, however, “It is a blessing to begin small. It is a curse to end small.”

We should all start out at small beginnings, but that isn’t where we should end up.

“If you’re not growing, you’re living outside of God’s purpose for your life.”

Victor Jackson

We are meant to be producing spiritual fruit. An apple tree will not produce apples if it stays in the state of a small seed or the size of a twig. When we grow, we become stronger and produce spiritual fruit. The righteous man experiences spiritual growth like what the beginning of Psalms describes when comparing the godly versus the ungodly:

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Psalms 1:3 (KJV)

2. Don’t put limits on your elevation.

People often limit how you can grow. As soon as God starts using you more and growing your ministry, there are people who judge you. They place limits on how much a person can grow in his or her walk with God. We may even fall privy to the idea that we should only grow to a certain extent and no further so as to prevent others from believing we’re trying to make everything about ourselves or to try to prevent ourselves from becoming prideful. So, we stay small and claim it’s out of humility.

Humility is an essential attribute of a true Christian character, but Bro. Jackson pointed out that we are not meant to use our humility as an excuse to remain small and refuse to grow into what God wants us to be.

“Humility is not a destination; it is an attitude,” he explained. “If you don’t want to grow, your humility in remaining small just became disobedience. Obedience is a pathway. You’re supposed to be going and growing. Get to growing and knowing this is what the kingdom is.”

Indeed, spiritual growth is about letting God use you more in the ways that He wants to so that His Kingdom can grow through each of our efforts. That’s why we should teach more Bible studies, pray more, fast more, become more involved in ministry, and do all that He asks us to do. As we mature in Christ and grow, we become more well-rounded Christians and more effective in ministry and in the Kingdom.

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-8 (KJV)

Follow after God’s direction in your life, and you will grow. Spiritual growth is stunted when you stop putting effort into your ministry and walk with God. A lack of effort leads to a lack of growth, and a lack of growth leads to spiritual death.

“You were destined to grow. You were destined to go beyond.”

Victor Jackson

We must always be striving to do more for the Kingdom, more for God, more for others, more in our ministry, and more than we’ve done yesterday and ever before in order to reach this lost world and get closer to Jesus. We cannot forsake the importance of growing in every aspect of our lives.

We were destined to grow.

How to Study the Word More Thoroughly: The Re-Reading Method

Hey, BPR readers! As you’re reading this (that is, if you’re reading this on Friday, April 15, 2022), I am at Missouri Youth Convention with our church youth group where young people across the state of Missouri are worshipping God together, receiving the Holy Ghost, and hearing anointed messages from the Lord for their lives.  As such, today’s post is a bit simpler, but I hope you find it helpful!

Today, we’ll be diving into one Bible study method I’ve been using that’s helped me study the Word more thoroughly. One of our associate pastors at my church once mentioned the phrase “digging for diamonds” when mentioning Bible studying and how we ought to dig deep and truly search the Scriptures for understanding if we’re going to know the Word and draw closer to God.

I dubbed this Bible study method the “re-reading method.”

Read, then re-read, then re-read, and then re-read again.

That’s right. It seems like a pretty basic Bible study method. Just read the Word, right? Well, there’s a lot more to it than that. Last year, I read the Bible through, but I’ve always found it difficult to truly study the Word when I’m just trying to get through a certain number of chapters in a day so I can meet my goal.

So, this year, I’ve been reading through Romans, and I’m on my 3rd go-round now. The re-reading method involves at least 5 steps, but you can alter this to suit your style.

1) Read the book you’re focusing on straight through.

Yes, the first step is really that simple. Set a daily reading goal and read the book through within a week or a month.

2) Start from the beginning again, taking brief notes along the way this time.

The notes can be as simple as rephrasing a key verse in your own words that you want to highlight, jotting down a recurring theme or purpose, or noting how you can apply a verse to your life.

For example, when I went through Romans chapter 6 for the second time, I took these quick notes as I read verses 15-23: “Grace compels us to righteousness. The more God gives us grace and mercy, the more we want to live righteously for Him. As we grow in righteousness, it leads us to a greater desire to reflect His glory and Christ-like character.”

3) On the third read-through, take more time with each section of every chapter.

Write more thorough notes about what is going on in the chapter and how it relates to other verses, chapters, and concepts. I recommend using a concordance or the Apostolic Study Bible for this step as the footnotes and cross-references are great resources to study the Word more thoroughly.

When I read Romans chapter 6 for the third time, I took more detailed notes, referring to the footnotes in my study Bible for more information on the concepts of being dead to sin and living righteously.

4) On this read-through, study a collection of verses a day, whether it’s 4-8, and break down each verse.

I like to call this the word study. It’s a study of certain words that might stick out to you, for which you’ll need a Strong’s concordance or Bible dictionary to get to the root meaning of each word. On this step, you might write down how the original text’s definitions enrich and deepen our understanding of Scripture. By now, your notes will begin to build off each other from the previous read-throughs, resulting in a more layered Bible study approach.

5) Read through the book again using a related daily devotional or study book.

The final step in the re-reading method is optional, but it involves re-reading the book again but with a corresponding devotional or study book on the specific book you’re reading.

For example, I have a devotional from The Daily Grace Co on the book of Colossians that I’ve used to answer prompts about the verses as I read through the chapters. Reading someone else’s study of a particular book or passage in the Bible and using the prompts they give you can help you think more critically as you ponder how to respond to a prompt about applying a verse or concept to your daily life.

By the time you’ve finished with this method of Bible studying, you’ll have re-read the same book several times in a row, digging deeper into the Word each time and hopefully gaining a greater understanding of what God is telling us through His Word. If we are going to draw nearer to God and become who He wants us to be, we must study the Word – not merely read it each day to check off a box on a to-do list but really, truly, earnestly study the Word and search the Scriptures.

After all, Jesus is calling us to a deeper relationship with Him.

“Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.”

Psalm 119:11 (KJV)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV)

5 of My Favorite Things

Head on over to my Instagram (@caitlinhale_bpr) for more Christian lifestyle and modest fashion content!

It’s Friday, it’s almost spring, and in southwest Missouri, we’re having the last night of our annual camp meeting services tonight, so today’s post is going to be a fun one! 

If you all like this post, I may be posting a few more fun ones throughout the year. Don’t forget to stay tuned for the next BPR post on March 4th where we’ll be talking about perfectionism, mistakes, and the background of my creative post from last time!

People often ask each other questions from what I like to call “The Favorites Game.” What’s your favorite song? What’s your favorite color? What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? It can get monotonous at times — especially when you’re an introvert and you have to try to think of your answers quickly in order not to look like an idiot in front of your history class on the first day. Case in point:

Mrs. Teacher clasps her hands together and asks, “So, Caitlin, what’s your favorite color?”

“Uh…” I say, scratching my head. 

“Yes?”

“Cheese.”

“Cheese?” Mrs. Teacher takes her glasses off. 

“Yeah.”

“You mean yellow?”

“Yellow?” Now, I’m confused. “That’s not a pizza topping. Yellow what?” Bell peppers maybe?

“Pizza topping? We’re on colors now.” 

“I thought we were on pizza toppings.”

“But that’s not even on our questions list.” She flips through the pages on her clipboard. “Where did you—?”

“Chocolate.”

“Chocolate isn’t a color! Well, it could be…” She pushes her glasses back up the bridge of her nose, glancing over her notes.

“Oh, are we not on ice cream flavors now?”

“No, no,” she says, rubbing her forehead with two fingers, still clutching her pen in hand, “we’re still on colors.”

“Oh.”

“Now, Caitlin. I’ll ask you again. What is your favorite color?”

“Uh….” Beads of sweat begin to trickle down my hairline. 

“Yes?”

“Hmmm.” Could she be staring at me any harder? 

“Go on,” she says, leaning over her desk, with a bit of a break in her voice that suggests she’s either about to cry or lunge over her desk and strangle me. 

“I…don’t think I have one.”

Mrs. Teacher throws up her clipboard, ripping her glasses off again. 

The above example may be fictional, but suffice it to say, The Favorites Game was a nerve-wracking game to play in person when I was in school, and I much prefer it in an online forum! Below are five of my favorite Christian-related things. Read through the list and think about what your answers would be!

1. Who is your favorite person in the Bible (other than Jesus)?

I know. This is a hard first question. 

There are so many great people written about in the Bible that’s it’s hard to choose just one, but I’m going to go with Esther.

She risked her life for her people, and her story is an example of a true, godly woman. What’s the thing the young kids say these days? “Go, Queen?” Well, it so applies to Queen Esther!

2. What is your favorite Christian music genre?

Worship. 

Yes, that sounds vague. But I’m not talking about contemporary, radio music, Christian rock or rap, or sleepy, lullaby songs.

I’m talking old-fashioned, hair-pin flying, shoe-kicking, tie-swinging WORSHIP songs where all you want to do is throw up your hands and surrender everything to God. The kind of music that makes you want to jump or shout, dance or cry, and just give God the glory. The kind of songs that you don’t care who’s watching you when you sing along and worship our King!

Songs like “I Give You Glory,” “Jesus Said It,” “He Made the Difference,” “Shake The Foundation,” “But God,” and a medley of “I’ve Got It,” “Bless That Wonderful Name,” “He Brought Me Out of the Miry Clay,” and “Joy Unspeakable.” 

(For the record, though, I do love a ton of other Christian songs and genres!)

David danced and worshipped unashamedly before the Lord, and we ought to, too!

3. What is your favorite book or Scripture in the Bible?

This is a two-for-one question. One question, one possible answer to either of the two parts of this question. 

My answer is Psalms and Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (which you can read a post about here). 

4. What is your favorite Christian song?

This one is a bit of an extension of question 2, and it’s also a hard question for me to answer. So, I’m going to go with one of my classic favorites: Eddie James’ “Breakthrough.” 

With scriptural lyrics like “You are the undefeated one/My light and my salvation/When the wicked, my enemies and my foes/Came upon me to eat up my flesh/They stumbled and fell!” and powerful lyrics like “Breakthrough in my weakness/Breakthrough in my struggle/You are the God/You are the God of the/Breakthrough!” this is a classic praise and worship song! Plus, it brings back memories of being out-of-breath on the praise team as we would take off our shoes and jump and shout in worship while singing this song!

He is the God of the breakthrough!

5. What is your favorite Christian-based film?

Amazing Grace is hands down the best Christian-based film ever. You’ve got a historical drama with enough humor, romance, action, legal drama, and history to satisfy, well, anyone! It’s such a stirring, moving film about the true story of William Wilberforce’s part in the movement to end the slave trade in England. Plus, it also features the true story behind the classic hymn “Amazing Grace!”

It’s truly a top-notch film that you can and should watch with your family again and again. Aaand now I may have to go rewatch it soon!

Honorable mention: The Prince of Egypt. Another stirring and beautiful film based on the biblical account of Moses! Love this one, too!

All right, I’ll stop babbling now (insert goofy face emoji here).

If you have any favorites in these categories, let me know what your answers are in the comments!

How to Handle Peer Pressure

If we live boldly for Jesus, we’ll stand out like a green leaf full of life amidst leaves that have dried up and begun to wither.

What do you do when you want to fit in but know you were called to stand out?

Welcome to the world of peer pressure where people you want to impress want you to do something that you don’t feel right about. Many of us who perhaps went to public school know what this is like. Now, I attended private school from the 5th grade and on, but until the 4th grade, I went to public school like most kids do and experienced a bit of peer pressure early on.

It was the first grade, and I was in Mrs. Patton’s class—a wonderful teacher. She was young and sweet and had us do action songs for fun. During one particular song (when I was wearing a matching cardigan, tank top, and skirt set), the boy and girl who sat next to me kept motioning me to remove my cardigan, which would leave my arms exposed in the tank top I had on underneath. I did not quite understand modesty or separation at this time. All I knew was that I was raised not to reveal my shoulders in public.

I remember the boy looking back at me and smiling as he nodded when I reached up to my cardigan to begin to remove it. I was a bit confused, unsure of what he and the girl meant at first. I liked them. They were cool kids. They made me laugh. Still, I had a sense that I shouldn’t do what they asked.

Then, the boy said, “Do it,” as he clapped to the action song.

So, I did, and he and the girl nodded again and cheered me on before looking back at Mrs. Patton to see the next action in the song. I don’t remember how long I kept my cardigan off, but I know I had it on when I left school that day. I never told anyone. What I did seemed harmless, but something inside my first-grader mind knew that my mom would be disappointed if she knew.

That was the only example of giving into peer pressure that I have from my public school years, but it helped me understand as I got older how to handle and how not to handle peer pressure.

1. Fall in Love with Pleasing Jesus

If we are to resist peer pressure, then we must first fall in love with Jesus and living a life that is pleasing to Him.

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

1 John 2:15-17 (KJV)

When I first caved to peer pressure, I didn’t fully understand what I believed or why I believed it yet. As I got older, stayed in church, and developed a love for reading the Word, my love for dressing modestly to reflect His glory grew stronger. Eventually, I didn’t imagine what I might look like if I didn’t wear skirts or if I did wear makeup. Eventually, I didn’t groan and complain about having to find dresses with modest necklines. Eventually, I didn’t care about what others thought of the way I dressed because I fell in love with a lifestyle that was pleasing to my God.

2. Don’t Cave

I caved to peer pressure in the first grade, but it taught me a lesson not to do that again. I was lucky that I wasn’t pressured to do much worse when I was in public school, but many are not so lucky.

Some students may be pressured to smoke or do drugs. Some students may be pressured to go too far with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Some adults may even be pressured to do these things by coworkers or to go to a coworkers’ outing where they drink and party. Whatever you do, don’t cave in to others’ demands that make you uncomfortable and that you know are not pleasing in God’s eyes.

Paul wrote in Romans that we are to be a holy and acceptable living sacrifice to God:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Romans 12:1-2 (KJV)

It is only reasonable that we live for God in righteousness and resist the ways of the world. Sometimes, our flesh finds a way to confuse us, however.

I can remember times when I was a teenager and was around others who were listening to inappropriate music and talking about movies I wouldn’t dare share with my parents. I can remember feeling they shouldn’t be doing those things, but still I bopped my head to the music with them. I can remember thinking that I shouldn’t have been with them, but part of me wanted them to like me.

If you cave to peer pressure, then even if that thing that you end up doing doesn’t seem that harmless, it may invite spirits into your life that will linger with you longer than you’ll realize. And those spirits may influence you to do or say things in the future that will take you further from God.

Caving to peer pressure is dangerous for your spiritual survival.

3. Stand Strong and Love Others

Boldly embrace a lifestyle of separation from this world.

“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.”

2 Corinthians 6:17 (KJV)

The older I became, the more I loved being a born-again Apostolic who doesn’t look, dress, talk, or act like the world. By this time when peer pressure came knocking, I was able to keep from even opening the door and inviting it into my living room. However, as one lives a lifestyle of righteousness and separation, one should not become too prideful of that.

When friends or coworkers invite you to a bar to hangout, don’t respond by turning up your nose in a self-righteous attitude. That does not reflect the character of Christ, and it certainly does not make others want to go to church with you. As we stand strong in this faith, we must love others like Christ does.

Love those who invite you to those parties that you know you won’t go to. Decline politely, and if they ask why, take that moment to share your beliefs. Witness to the peers who pressure you out of love for them, not out of condemning them. They need to know that there is a better life than giving in to worldly lusts, and we are the ones who can show it to them by standing apart from this world.

After all, it is the love of Christ through us that compels people to live for God. We can resist peer pressure by becoming more like Jesus and hiding His Word in our hearts, and when we do, His love in us will draw others to Him.

Free Indeed: 3 Freedoms We Have in Christ

A Bible lies open under an American flag.

Freedom.

It’s something we Americans are so privileged to experience while living in this blessed country, and this coming Sunday, we’ll be celebrating America’s 245th birthday. As a proud American, I’m excited to celebrate my beautiful home country, but I’m also excited to share with you today and remind you what freedom means for us as children of God.

In Christ, we are free indeed, but what does it mean to be “free in Christ?”

There are many different explanations of this concept. Below are three particular freedoms we have as children of the Most High King that I wanted to remind you of this weekend.

1. Freedom from Sin

As the Timothy Reddick song says, “I’m free indeed, in Christ, I’m free indeed, no chains are holding me, it’s who I choose to be.”

In Christ, we have freedom from sin. This means that no matter what you’ve done, the sins of your past cannot hold you back once you’ve truly repented and given your life to Jesus.

Once the blood of the Lamb has covered you, you are no longer a slave to sin!

“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

John 8:36 (KJV)

We are free from sin and have become the “servants of righteousness” and servants to God (see Romans 6:18 and Romans 6:22). Remember—there is no condemnation to those who are born again and believe in Christ (see Romans 8:1).

When Christ died for us and shed His blood at Calvary, He covered all our sins, and when we are baptized in Jesus’ Name, our sins are completely washed away. The chains of a sinful lifestyle that once kept us bound are broken, and we are free to move forward in righteousness and serve our King!

2. Freedom from the Result of Sin

Freedom in Christ also means that we no longer have to live in fear of the result of sin or of death. We no longer have to fear going to Hell over a sinful lifestyle because Jesus has given us a way out through complete surrender to Him, repentance, baptism, the infilling of the Holy Ghost, and a lifestyle of holiness, separation, and righteousness.

In Christ, we are free from what sin inevitably leads to. In Christ, we are free from fear.

Freedom in Christ allows us to completely put our trust in Him, knowing that He has covered us with His blood and paved the way for us to spend eternity with Him in glory.

3. Freedom from Ignorance

In Christ, we are also free from ignorance.

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

John 8:32 (KJV)

No, I don’t mean ignorance in general. (As you might be aware, because we’re still fleshly beings, there are many ways people can still be quite ignorant even while serving God!)

Through Christ, we have freedom from spiritual blindness. Paul wrote about this to the Corinthians.

“And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.”

2 Corinthians 3:13-16 (KJV)

Here, Paul spoke about the Jews’ inability to understand Jesus’ identity as God and to understand God’s divine plan. Jesus revealed Himself to Paul as the Lord when He spoke to Paul as Paul was on the road to Damascus, and Paul was able to understand Christ’s identity (see Acts 9:1-6). When people turn to Christ and seek after Him, He gives them the ability to understand who He is.

Freedom in Christ means that we have spiritual awareness of who He is, what He has done for us, and how His plan for us is that we live for Him so that we can someday be with our God forever.

“Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

2 Corinthians 3:17 (KJV)

Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. In His presence, we find liberty, peace, understanding, and everything we need. We are free from our past, free from the weight of our sins, free from bondage, free from death, free from fear, and free from spiritual blindness.

And not only are we free in Christ, but He has also given us the freedom to choose to serve Him or not. That makes our decision to live for Jesus so much more meaningful.

He didn’t make us live for Him. He died for us all but gave us the freedom to choose to live for Him, and so our choice to serve Him comes from a genuine desire to live for Him, from genuine love for Him, and from a heart of thanks and gratitude for who He is and for all He’s done for us.

We choose to be free when we choose to live for Jesus!

“No more shackles, no more chains, no more bondage, I am free!”

“Freedom” by Eddie James

I hope all of my readers in America have a wonderful weekend celebration as we celebrate the foundation of our great nation, and I hope all of you can take a moment to thank God especially for the freedoms we have because of all He’s done for us.

God bless you all, and God bless America!

Life in the Spirit: 3 Reminders From Romans 8

School and work are often drudgery.

Back-to-back tests and papers due. Piles of work that lead to overtime. New company policies that are confusing and make your work harder. It can make your life seem completely miserable at times.

As children of God, however, we have an avenue to living a purposeful and rewarding life even when our school and work responsibilities try to drain the life from us.

Today, we’ll look at three key reminders from Romans 8:1-18 of what it means to be alive in Christ.

1. Through Christ, we are free.

You might feel like a prisoner to the drudgery of life, clocking in and out of work in robotic fashion or dragging yourself to school every week, but we are not meant to feel like prisoners in this world.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!

In fact, Romans 8:1-3 explains that we are free from “the law of sin and death.” When we believe in and live for Jesus Christ, the sins of our past no longer have a hold on us. Without Christ, we are prisoners to sin, and eternal death is an inevitability. With Christ, no matter what mistakes we may have made or difficult circumstances we may have to endure, the consequences of sin and the ways of this world no longer have us bound.

The weight of this world and of the things that accompany life in this world do not have to keep us down or burdened because our God already defeated sin and death and has overcome the world (see John 16:33). “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” has made us free (see Romans 8:2), and so we can walk in the freedom we have through Christ each day no matter how stifling life may seem on earth.

2. We must continue to walk after the Spirit.

When group projects and research papers pile up, when the customers are rude and your boss keeps giving you more responsibilities, and when traffic is backed up after a really long day, we must continue to walk after the Spirit—yes, even when we are tempted with road rage. If you live in or near Springfield, Missouri, then you might understand the frustration that accompanies dealing with mindless drivers who pull out in front of you while you’re doing 60 and they’re doing 35 or who cruise in the fast lane and refuse to move over. Truth be told, many a Holy Ghost-filled Christian has almost lost their Holy Ghost when dealing with rush-hour traffic.

Walking after the Spirit means living a righteous lifestyle every day. Simple, right? Not when we feed our carnality more than the spirit, but when we pursue righteousness and a closer walk with Jesus on a daily basis, it becomes more natural to maintain a spiritual mindset.

Having life through Christ means forsaking our carnality.

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

Romans 8:5-6 (KJV)

If you follow your flesh, it will lead to death. If you follow after the Spirit, then it will lead to eternal life and the peace of God. We cannot expect the peace of God and His blessings if we follow our own lusts and desires. Verse 8 goes on to say that “they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”

Ouch.

Want to please God? Pursue Him. Pursue righteousness. Even when people annoy you and schoolwork overwhelms you and your job is miserable, pursue a lifestyle that reflects His Spirit within you.

3. As His children, we have a divine inheritance!

The more we walk after the Spirit, the more we realize another truth of what it means to have life through Christ.

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”

Romans 8:14 (KJV)

Those who walk after the Spirit are called the children of God. Our salvation is not based on a “once saved, always saved” ideology. Walking after the Spirit means that we continue pursuing Him and practicing a righteous lifestyle every minute of every day. If we do so and are filled with His Spirit, then we have what verse 15 calls the “Spirit of adoption.” Being “adopted” by Christ not only means His Spirit dwells within us but that we have 1) a loving relationship with Him and 2) a divine inheritance.

“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

Romans 8:17-18 (KJV)

Being joint-heirs with Christ means that we join in suffering with Him and that we also get to experience the benefits of what we may have to endure on earth—eternal life with Him. No amount of suffering we may experience here can compare to the glory that awaits us in Heaven with our King.

As the old song says, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus. Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ. One glimpse of His dear face, all sorrow will erase. So, bravely run the race till we see Christ.”

No matter what you’re facing, whether you’re going to school or working or both, encourage yourself with these truths.

Through our God, we have freedom, and our past mistakes cannot keep us bound. Through Him, we have everything we need to maintain a righteous lifestyle. Through Him, we have the promise of eternal life.

The weight of this world no longer has a hold on us. We are alive through Christ!

4 Books for Your Summer Reading List

Many schools have already ended the semester, graduates have thrown their caps into the air and received their diplomas, and summer is soon upon us. For some, that means more down time and summer vacation. You might take a trip to the beach with family, go on a road trip across the country, or simply take a stay-cation and do some much-needed yard work or catch up on your summer reading list. If the latter applies to you, then you might be in need of some ideas to fill up that reading list. In fact, no matter if your summer is busy or slowing down, no matter if you’re in high school, just graduated college, or are working all through summer, you can always add more books to your “to be read” list.

It always encourages me to see more young people wanting to read these days, and so I have compiled a short list of a few books that are perfect for adults and teenagers. Comprised of both fiction and nonfiction, below is a list of four books I’ve read and enjoyed that you can add to your summer reading list:

1. In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon

A classic in Christian literature and the first Christian-based fiction novel I fell in love with, In His Steps is a story about ten people across two cities who explore their faith and its impact on their lives as revival begins to break out around them. Charles Sheldon was a pastor and writer in the late 19th century, and in this book, he wrote the phrase that has since become common in the Christian community: “What would Jesus do?”

There’s romance, drama, tragedy, and spiritual breakthroughs that testify of the blessings that pour into our lives when we surrender ourselves to living for Jesus. In His Steps is the first book that made me want to become a writer, and I highly recommend it to everyone. Luckily, it’s only $5 on Amazon! Check it out here!

2. While We’re Far Apart by Lynn Austin

In this 2010 historical fiction novel, you’ll read about life in New York City for a young woman caring for her friend’s children, the daughter of a soldier fighting in World War II, and an elderly Jewish man worrying about the fate of his son and daughter-in-law as Hitler’s troops invade Europe in search of Jews to capture and kill.

These three characters form familial bonds as the war rages on, and While We’re Far Apart teaches readers about enduring tests of faith, waiting on God, trusting in His Will, and even about Jewish culture!

This book is one of my favorites and gives great insight into the Jewish lifestyle and horrific experience of living through the Holocaust in Europe. It is a must-read for those who love history!

3. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis

Of course, those familiar with Christian-based fiction have either read or heard of Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series, which follows several characters as they explore and defend the fantastical world of Narnia.

Lewis drew from many biblical themes in his series and made Narnia a kind of Christian allegory, making this a perfect series for younger readers. If you’re going to start reading Narnia, the best place to start is the beginning with its first book The Magician’s Nephew.

This first book in the Narnia series takes readers on the journey of young Digory as he and his friend Polly discover another mysterious world that is just beginning. The Magician’s Nephew presents the themes of adventure, bravery, and purpose from a child’s point of view, and you’ll get to see how Aslan created the world of Narnia. With its descriptions of worlds that are dying and worlds between worlds with small pools in an endless forest, this book is a fascinating read for those with a rich imagination.

4. A History of Christian Doctrine by David K. Bernard

For those with an interest in nonfiction, this is a great book to read this summer. This book is an abridged history of the church and of the various doctrines and denominations that have formed across time since the days of the Apostolic church in the New Testament.

Bro. Bernard, the general superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International, shows readers how man’s ideas and doctrines began to influence churches. This in turn led to the creation of different denominations, such as Catholicism and Protestantism, throughout the Post-Apostolic Age, the Great Reformation, and the Pentecostal Movement of the 20th century.

A History of Christian Doctrine is an enlightening read and helped me better understand how different churches formed and beliefs originated across history. Check it out here if you want to add a study of the church and Christian doctrine to your summer reading list.

Whether you’re an avid reader or you read sparingly, I encourage you to check out at least one of these books this summer. If you do, tag me (@caitlinhale_bpr) in a photo of the book cover in your stories on Instagram and let me know your thoughts.

Happy summer reading!