Monday’s Blog: Paul Series “1 Corinthians 8”

I am sorry this message is a week late. I was having trouble with my blog, website, and internet last week, as well as a few other issues. It seems when the devil attacks, he hits you from every angle. But praise God, He is greater! God worked it all out. He is faithful!

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.

1 John 4:4 (KJV)

We continue our study of Paul’s letters with 1 Corinthians 8. Paul’s message in this chapter is similar to what he wrote in Romans 14, when he spoke to the Romans about accepting those who are weaker in faith and not putting a stumbling block or obstacle in the way of our brothers and sisters.

He begins the chapter:

Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.

v. 1-3 (NASB)

I love how Paul starts off by saying that knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. When the disciples asked why Jesus spoke to people in parables, He replied “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them” (Matthew 13:10-11, NIV).

Through faith in Jesus, we have been given access to the knowledge of God. As we grow in our walk with Him, we grow in knowledge. A mature believer may have more knowledge than a new believer, but having more knowledge does not make them superior. Jesus had more knowledge than anyone. Yet there was no pride or arrogance in Him, because He loved others. He humbled himself to lift others up.

Philippians 2:5-11 instructs us:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Having knowledge is not enough. The Bible says, If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2, NIV). We must be filled with God’s love to use the knowledge He’s given us for good, not evil.

I am dealing with a situation with someone right now where I have knowledge because I’ve been through it before.  The other person is experiencing it for the first time. God’s had to remind me to humble myself and think about the person as if I were in their shoes, walking through it with them for the first time.

We may have more knowledge in an area than someone else, but we must be careful not to let that knowledge puff us up. We must humbly follow Jesus’ example by using the knowledge God’s given us to build others up, rather than tear them down.

Paul finishes the chapter:

Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.

v. 4-13 (NASB)

If our freedom and knowledge causes others to stumble and fall into sin, we are sinning. Though Paul was addressing the traditions of that time, regarding meat and eating food sacrificed to idols, we can still learn from it and apply it today.

As an example, a former alcoholic turns to Christ. He’s been delivered from the addiction. He vows not to touch alcohol again, because he knows how destructive it is and how easily he can fall back into that temptation. He’s invited over his Christian friend’s house one day, along with a couple of other Christian friends who bring beer. These guys have never had an addiction to alcohol. They don’t drink to get drunk. They never abuse it. They just enjoy a glass once in a while. The guy who has strong convictions against alcohol is tempted and weakened after fellowshipping with his friends.

Therefore, if [my eating a] food is a cause of my brother’s falling or of hindering [his spiritual advancement], I will not eat [such] flesh forever, lest I cause my brother to be tripped up and fall and to be offended.

v:13 (AMP)

In other words, if we are doing something that causes us or someone else to stumble, we should avoid it.

Heavenly Father,

We praise You for giving us knowledge through faith in Christ. As we grow in knowledge, keep us humble so we don’t become arrogant. Fill us with Your love and give us wisdom to use that knowledge for good, not evil. Show us anything that we are doing that is causing others or ourselves to stumble and fall into sin. Help us to lay it down and humbly follow You. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.

Proverbs 2:6 (KJV)

 

*This series will continue next week as we study 1 Corinthians 9. Have a blessed week growing in God’s knowledge and love!

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Monday’s Blog: Paul Series “Romans 15”

We continue our study of Paul’s letters today with Romans 15. Last week, in Romans 14, Paul warned the Gentiles not to judge their Jewish brothers who were weaker in faith. He starts chapter 15 instructing them to accept and build up those who are weak.

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “THE REPROACHES OF THOSE WHO REPROACHED YOU FELL ON ME.” For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

v. 1-6 (NASB)

I love how Paul says that God gives us perseverance and encouragement and that He will grant us to be of the same mind with one another. God doesn’t ask us to give anything that He hasn’t first given to us. He wouldn’t ask us to persevere without giving us perseverance. He wouldn’t ask to love and encourage others without loving and encouraging us. And He wouldn’t ask us to accept one another without first accepting us, as Paul writes in the next verse.

Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.

v. 7 (NASB)

We need to believe and receive what God’s given us so we can have the power to do all that He’s asked us to do.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

v. 13 (NASB)

Paul knew the power that he had in him. He knew everything he had was from God, and not from himself.

And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

v. 14-19 (NASB)

Paul said he would not presume to speak anything except what Christ accomplished through him. By allowing God to fully work in him, he was able to turn the Gentiles in obedience to God. He didn’t just preach to them. They were able to see the power of God working through him (in signs and wonders) as proof that what he taught was true.  We can learn through his example that to fully preach the gospel as he did, we have to allow God full access to work in us. We must be full of the Holy Spirit and not full of ourselves to fully reach others.

And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; but as it is written,
“THEY WHO HAD NO NEWS OF HIM SHALL SEE,
AND THEY WHO HAVE NOT HEARD SHALL UNDERSTAND.”

For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

v. 20-33 (NASB)

Heavenly Father,

We praise You that You give us everything we need to do everything You call us to do. We humble ourselves before You, and ask You to completely immerse us in Your Holy Spirit. Let Your glory work and reign through us, so the power of Your Holy Spirit can be clearly seen in us as a testimony to others.

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen!

*This series will continue next Monday as we study Romans 16.  Have a blessed week being filled with the Holy Spirit!


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Marriage Series: Remain In God’s Love

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This is the next message in my marriage series “Two Are Better Than One.” In my last post, I shared how we need each other. Today, I want to focus more importantly on how much we need God.

Jesus said:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

John 15:5-11

Jesus instructs us to remain in Him and remain in His love because apart from Him we can do, not some things, but absolutely “nothing!”  The first five years of my marriage, my husband and I did not have a relationship with Christ. We were not connected to the vine, so we were not able to bear any fruit to help our marriage grow as God intended it to. We were like a branch that was thrown away and withered, picked up by the world and burned. We had no life to sustain our marriage.

Once we started seeking Christ, and God poured His love into our hearts, He began producing fruit and bringing life into our marriage. God worked many miracles in our marriage that first year of seeking Him. One miracle was He completely took away my jealously and insecurity. My husband and I used to have horrible fights. Walls would get punched out. Things would get broken. Sentimental items would get destroyed. My husband even ended up in the hospital once after hurting himself from one of our fights. My parents moved into our old apartment complex recently and my husband and I were just recounting all the walls we had to patch then. We praise God those intense fights ceased completely once He began to pour His love into our hearts.

Jesus said to remain in Him and His love so that His joy would be in us and our joy would be made complete. Several years ago, my husband was feeling guilty for not being the husband he felt he needed to be. He felt convicted when he thought about our daughter and how he would want her husband to be. At the time, I was experiencing a fresh revelation of God’s love and was overflowing with joy. As my husband was saddened by all the things he did and didn’t do, I encouraged him that I already had all I needed. I was content because God’s love was more than enough to fill me. I didn’t need anything else.

Even now, when I allow the busyness of life to get in the way of my relationship with Christ, I begin to lose my joy and see it affect my marriage. When I am on fire for Christ, and I feel His love, nothing my husband does wrong matters to me. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). We can battle anything in life when we are in God’s love and His joy is complete in us. All our faults and our spouses’ faults don’t matter when we are filled with a revelation of God’s love.

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Ephesians 1:22-23

If you are not fulfilled and satisfied with your marriage, I encourage you to ask God for a fresh revelation of His love. Remain in Jesus and His joy will be made complete in you. 

Heavenly Father,

We praise You for sending Jesus to fill us in every way. Help us to remain in Jesus so we can bear much fruit to strengthen and bring life to our marriages. Give us a fresh revelation of Your love so we can be content and not need our spouses to change in order to make us happy. Fill us in every way with Your love so that Your joy will be made complete in us.

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen!

 

*My marriage series will end this Monday. You can read more about my marriage testimony and how to enjoy your marriage in my book “You Can Have a Happy Family: Steps to Enjoying Your Marriage and Children” (available in paperback, ebook, & audio format).

 

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Marriage Series: “Love’s Blind Spot” by Kerry Johnson

MARRIAGE-PIC21

This is the fifth message in my marriage series “Two Are Better Than One.” Follow this link if you missed any messages in this series. Today, I have another inspiring guest marriage post by Kerry Johnson about covering our spouse’s blind spots with love. Kerry recently published her first book titled “Grace for the Gaps: Rejoicing in Jesus on Life’s Journey.” In her book, Kerry shares how God’s grace covers our failings in our lives, in our marriages, and in our parenting. She shares how His word is truly a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. If you purchase Kerry’s book, and live in the U.S., let me know in the comment section below and you will receive 3 entries into my drawing of 1 of 2 $50 Brinker Restaurant gift cards and my marriage book “You Can Have a Happy Family.”

 

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Love’s Blind Spot

By Kerry Johnson

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends…” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, ESV).

We were a few miles over the Florida-Georgia border when I looked up from my book and noticed the tight formation of cars and semi-trucks around us.  I slammed my eyes shut, and my chest tightened as though a heavy boulder had begun pressing on my diaphragm.

Being in another car’s blind spot on I-75 is troubling for me because I’ve seen the results that a couple seconds of blindness can cause.  It can be deadly and can affect nearby drivers and cars.  So driving in a semi’s blind spot for a long period of time is nearly unbearable for me.  The weight on my chest seemed to increase as a small herd of 18-wheelers surrounded us.  One kept pace directly on our right—so close I could reach out and touch it.  Another truck was out ahead of us, and still a third semi took up the far right lane. Like puzzle pieces, cars fit the spaces in between.

I squinted, my gaze sliding to the right, hoping the gigantic truck next to us had magically disappeared.  Not so.  The reach-out-and-touch-me-truck was still right next door, a flag tattoo visible on the driver’s left arm as it rested on the steering wheel.

Inside our Expedition, I felt like a Terrier cornered by a Rottweiler, stuck against a fence with no chance of escape.  My hand crept to my husband’s forearm and gripped, spider-like tension radiating through me.  He didn’t need the reminder.  I knew he knew my fear.  I glanced at my husband’s profile, knowing well the map of his face and every nuance of expression.  I took in a deep breath after seeing the determination in his expression.

Even though Trevor didn’t feel the same (driving next to an 18-wheeler’s blind spot doesn’t faze him), he was aware of the panic blooming inside me.  A swell of appreciation washed over me—gratefulness for marriage, which God ordained for our wellbeing.

Marriage – the covenant between a man and a woman, husband and wife, between two very different people sharing a common bond of affection and faithfulness.  Marriage is intended for the creation and protection of the family and the generational passing of faith, and it’s a beautiful picture of Christ’s faithful love for the Church.

Trevor knew my deep-seated fear, and though he didn’t share it, he cared enough to acknowledge what I was going through and work to alleviate the situation.  My sensitive husband watched traffic carefully until he found a way out.  He sped up just enough to get us ahead of the 18-wheeler so we would no longer be boxed in.  I let out a deep sigh of gratitude.

This is what You intended, Lord.  This is 1 Corinthians 13, a love that’s kind, puts another first, and isn’t resentful when doing so.  In marriage, God calls us to cover our spouse’s blind spots with love.  Criticizing is easy and selfish.  Even though loving through insecurities and mistakes is tough and selfless, it can be done through Jesus’ help.  John 3:30 (NKJV) is a verse I pray often because on my own, I fail miserably:

“[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.”

After nearly thirteen years of marriage, I’m still learning to listen, respect, and defer, while Trevor has learned to understand, share, and protect.  Most importantly, we have both learned that Jesus must be the heart of our marriage.  There are times when vast differences in marriage frustrate and seem insurmountable, but it’s in those times that we have to stretch ourselves in love, trusting our Savior to be our all in all while learning to give our spouse the grace God gives us.

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love another” John 4:11 (NKJV).

kerry2Kerry Johnson lives in sunny Tampa Bay with her loud and very ticklish family. Patient hubby Trevor and their two boys, Cole and Chase, give the best hugs ever. She’s been published in Sanctified Together, Granola Bar Devotionals, and Tampa Bay’s Overflow Magazine, and her first novel semi-finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis Contest in spring 2013. She has her Bachelor of Science in English Education and enjoyed seven blessed years as a stay-at-home wife and mom. She’s passionate about her family, reading and writing, exercise and chocolate (not necessarily in that order), and especially sharing the love of Jesus through her writing at http://candidkerry.wordpress.com/.

 

 

*Don’t forget to leave a comment below to receive an entry in my gift card and book drawing (U.S. residents only). Remember to let me know in your comment if you purchased Kerry’s book to receive 3 entries. Winners will be announced this weekend (July 20th & 21st).

 


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Marriage Series: “Scrambled Yoke” by Kerry Johnson

MARRIAGE PIC2

 

This is the second post in my marriage series “Two Are Better Than One.” Remember, if you live in the U. S., every marriage post that you comment on through July 19th, you will receive an entry into a drawing for a $50 Brinker Restaurant gift card (can be used at Chili’s, On the Border, Macaroni Grill, or Maggiano’s) and my book “You Can Have a Happy Family: Steps to Enjoying Your Marriage and Children). Two winners will be announced. One on July 20th and the other on July 21st.

Monday, I shared how God first drew my husband’s and my heart together. My dear friend, Kerry Johnson, and I have similar stories of when we first met our spouses. Today, she’s shares how God drew her heart away from an unequally yoked relationship, and drew her heart to the one God had chosen for her, Trevor Johnson.

 

 

kerry 3

SCRAMBLED YOKE

by Kerry Johson

egg[1]

“Can I break the egg?” Chase was already pulling the kitchen chair toward the counter’s edge as I ripped open the brownie box. Of our two children, Chase is more interested in trying different foods and participating in the baking and cooking process. I’m not a particularly fancy cook, but our seven-year old enjoys assisting as I mix flour, eggs, sugar, oil, and anything else on the recipe card.

He especially loves to break eggs.

The recipe called for one large egg, and it lolled around the counter, drawing my younger son’s eyes and hands in quick order.

“I want to see the yellow part. What’s it called again?”

“The yolk.”

He smiled and repeated the word, his pink lips puckering up around the ‘y’ and the hard consonant ending sound. Chase was born with an abundance of exuberance, and his hands shook as he cracked the shell and split it into the mixing bowl with the water and oil.

Later, I thought about that funny-sounding word Chase had inquired about. Not the yellow, laid-by-a-chicken version, but the other spelling – yoke. The farming word that evokes images of two oxen plowing a field, their combined, identical strength accomplishing what two mismatched animals could not. As a verb, it means to be united together or joined with something else, in order to accomplish something.

oxen1[1]

In the Bible, the word ‘yoked’ is pointedly placed in Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth.

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:14

Paul received disheartening news about the church he had founded in the famously pagan city of Corinth. Believers were behaving irresponsibly and immaturely, and Paul’s letters were intended to pull them back to the gospel – Jesus Christ’s finished work on the Cross – and to God’s best for their lives. Paul instructed the Corinthian Christians that they were not to take God’s grace and run back to sin, reminding them, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

A few verses later, Paul reminds them – and us – that Christians “are the temple of the living God…Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord” (6:16 & 17).

The wisdom Paul shared with the sin-saturated Corinthian church – and us –  wasn’t meant to give Christ-followers a superiority complex or to make our lives miserable. Instead, it was given for our protection and out of love, because our Creator knows what is best for us.

That’s worth repeating over and over…God knows what is best for us.

In my early 20s, I learned firsthand why Paul warned of this very thing. Testing the truth of 2 Corinthians 6:14, I stepped into a relationship with a non-believer. Trevor and I had dated during the latter part of our teenage years, but we were weren’t ready to get married, and at 21 we broke up. Shortly after I began walking a rebellious path, yoking myself to a person who didn’t share my faith in Jesus Christ. He considered himself agnostic, and it took only a couple of months of dating before our foundational faith differences overflowed.

We were sharing a scrambled yoke.

The longer I dated him, the more stifling the burden became. He didn’t understand or appreciate the burden I carried for sharing my faith with him, which created a root of bitterness in me. There was a huge part of my heart that he would never identify with, and my soul struggled with his worldly leanings. Our earthly common ground was negated by the vast spiritual gulf between us. We were unbalanced – mismatched in the yoke God intended only for two believers.

2 Corinthians 6:14 is heavenly wisdom that sets boundaries intended to protect Christ-followers. A scrambled, unequal yoke will create cracks in the foundation of the family, which is His specific, loving design for His creation. Because the family – built upon a marriage between one man and one woman – is God’s best for His creation.

God knows what is best for us.

Eventually, the vast differences between this young man and I created enough dissension that the relationship dissolved. I pray for him and wish him well, and I learned that being unequally yoked with an unbeliever will lead me away from where I want to be in my relationship with Christ and bring only heartache and frustration. No amount of emotional love or sinful desire is worth that.

I praise God for His grace and mercy during my wayward years, and that I’m now equally yoked with my wonderful hubby.

“Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.”

~ 1 Corinthians 9:14

kerry2

Kerry Johnson lives in sunny Tampa Bay with her loud and very ticklish family. Patient hubby Trevor and their two boys, Cole and Chase, give the best hugs ever. She’s been published in Sanctified Together, Granola Bar Devotionals, and Tampa Bay’s Overflow Magazine, and her first novel semi-finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis Contest in spring 2013. She has her Bachelor of Science in English Education and enjoyed seven blessed years as a stay-at-home wife and mom. She’s passionate about her family, reading and writing, exercise and chocolate (not necessarily in that order), and especially sharing the love of Jesus through her writing at http://candidkerry.wordpress.com/.

 

 

*Remember to enter to win the gc and book by leaving a comment below. Share how God drew you and your spouse’s hearts together.

*To celebrate this marriage series, the ebook version of my book “You Can Have a Happy Family” is free at Amazon today through Sunday (7/5-7/7).

 

 

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New Marriage Series: Two Are Better Than One

 

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Photo source: Stock.Xchng

Today, I am starting a new series on marriage titled: “Two Are Better Than One.” The series will run every Monday and Friday through July. I invited several guest bloggers to share their marriage struggles and testimonies, and will post them throughout the series as well.

If you live in the U.S., every marriage post that you comment on in this series from now until Friday, July 19th, you will be automatically entered into a drawing for a $50 dinner gift card and a signed copy of my marriage book “You Can Have a Happy Family,which was just announced a finalist in the 2013 Reader’s Favorite International award contest 

Since my husband’s and my first “real” date was at Chili’s (see our story below), the gift card will be for Brinker restaurants and can be used at either Chili’s, On the Border, Macaroni Grill, or Maggiano’s. I will be drawing TWO winners  since “Two Are Better Than One!” I will announce the first winner and give away one gc and book on my husband’s and my 17th wedding anniversary, July 20th. And I will announce and give away another gc and book on our 18th dating anniversary, July 21st.

Today, I want to start the series with my husband’s and my story of how God drew our hearts together. I pray this testimony helps rekindle those feelings you had for your spouse when you first fell in love with them.

 

Joining Two Hearts Together

jason and amanda

My husband, Jason, and I first met when I was 17 and he was 22. I was working at my friend’s restaurant at the time. Jason walked into the restaurant. I took one look at him, turned to my friend and said,  “That’s the man I’m going to marry!” Even though I was half joking, there was something about him that strongly attracted me to him from the start. After our first meeting, my husband would frequently come into the restaurant with his friends. Every time he came in, my attraction for him continued to grow, and it became obvious to him and his friends. His friends would often joke about it because they knew my husband had no interest in dating a 17-year old. He was tired of dating and had recently made his mind up that the next girl he dated would be his wife. A flirtatious, immature high school girl wasn’t exactly marriage material.

About six months after we first met, I was waiting on him at the restaurant when out of the blue he asked for my phone number. Shaking, and about to pass out from shock, I wrote down my number and gave it to him. For several weeks, I waiting anxiously by the phone for him to call, but he never did. Then one day, one of his friends came into the restaurant. I asked him if he knew why Jason would ask for my number but not call me. His friend replied, “Because he has a girlfriend.” I can still remember that feeling as those words came out of his mouth and crushed me.

A few weeks later, Jason came into the restaurant. Heartbroken, I told him what his friend said. He laughed and explained that his friend lied. He said he didn’t call me because he had a hole in his pants and my number must have slipped out. I wasn’t buying it, though. Discouraged, I grudgingly gave him my number again, without expecting a call. The next day or so, I was caught by surprise when I received a call from him.

For the next six months, we talked frequently on the phone and saw each other at the restaurant, but nothing more than that. May of 1995, my senior year, I got up enough nerve to invite him to my prom. He declined without saying why. Crushed once again, I lost hope that he’d ever be interested in me. A few days after prom, on our senior skip day, I met a guy my age at the beach, and we started dating that evening. By that time, I had known Jason for about a year and he hadn’t asked me out once. I met this guy and he asked me out the first day we met. So I decided it was time to stop pursuing Jason and start moving on. In June 1995, I graduated High School. I came home from my ceremony and received a call from Jason. This time, he didn’t call just to talk. He called to ask me out on a date. I was blown away and in shock! After a year of waiting, I couldn’t turn down this opportunity. I wasn’t going to let the fact that I was dating someone else stop me from finally going on a date with Jason.

I met Jason at my friend’s house for our first date, and then he drove me to Taco Bell of all places. Not exactly my idea of a dream date with my dream guy. But it would do. I nervously stood in line waiting for him to go ahead of me and order, but he insisted I go first.  “What a gentlemen,” I thought. So I went up to the register, expecting him to order after me and then pay for us. But he continued to stand back and wait. I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t expected to pay so I didn’t bring any money. I scrambled to find loose change in the bottom of my purse and found enough for one taco. Jason waited for me to finish paying before he stepped up, placed his order, and paid for his food. I was surprised, and a little confused, but I didn’t care. I was finally on a date with him!

After our first date, we continued to talk on the phone, and I continued to go on dates with the other guy while waiting to see if Jason would ask me out again. The other guy was moving a lot quicker, showing me attention, taking me to nice places and paying for everything, but my heart  was beating stronger for Jason each day. Finally one day, Jason asked me on a real date to Chili’s, and though I came prepared with enough money, he paid for me. We went on more dates after that, and each time he’d end the date by telling me he wasn’t sure what he wanted. Not sure our relationship would ever develop into anything, I continued dating the other man.

In the middle of July, I went away on vacation for a week. When I returned, I decided to let the other man go and let Jason go as well. It wasn’t right to hold onto the other man and lead him on if my heart wasn’t for him. And I was falling in love with Jason, but I couldn’t bare the pain of dragging our relationship out any longer only to lose him in the end. The only choice was to let him go too.

Image0003On the evening of what I thought would be our last date, July 21st 1995, I was getting ready to tell him that I couldn’t take this anymore, when he interrupted me and asked, “Will you go out with me?” I replied that we’ve already been going out on dates. He responded, “No, I want you to go out with me, exclusively. I want you to officially be my girlfriend.” I can remember the excitement and relief I felt when those words I so longed to hear finally came out of his mouth. He was mine!

Seven months later, on Valentine’s day, Jason proposed and we were married on July 20, 1996, the day before our 1 year anniversary. I didn’t know the Lord at the time, but I have no doubt that His hand lead us together. I found out years later that Jason and I had  separately accepted Christ at Vacation Bible camps when we were kids. I was too young to remember. But my husband remembers his experience. When he came home from camp he said he had no one to teach him how to grow in his relationship with Christ, so he just continued to follow the path of the world. Both of us were traveling down the same road when God so graciously crossed our paths so we would meet each other. He’d then draw our hearts together, and (five years into our marriage) ultimately draw our hearts back to Him (Read next Monday’s post for that story).

My husband eventually told me why he took so long to give in and allow God to draw his heart to me. I wasn’t what he was looking for. He prayed for a wife. He wanted someone older, more mature, and ready to settle down. I was young, wild, and not even thinking about marriage. He normally dated short women. I was tall, and with heels, taller than him. He liked a more natural looking woman. I caked on the makeup. He liked a more conservative dressed woman. I dressed like I was ready to go to the bar most of the time.  He told me despite my wild appearance, he was attracted to my heart. The more time we spent together, the stronger that feeling became, and the outward differences no longer mattered. I was the one God had chosen for him, and he was the one God had chosen for me. That’s why I had such a strong attraction for him from the moment I first met him. He was mine. And I was his. Our hearts were created to be one. It just took him a little longer than me to see that.

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Genesis 2:23-24

Once we marry our spouses and life goes one, it’s so easy to forget those feelings we had when we first fell in love with them. When our hearts were beating strong for them, we didn’t care about all our differences and take offense by all their faults. I didn’t care that my first date with Jason was at Taco Bell and he made me pay. My love for him was greater than the offense.

…love makes up for all offenses.

Proverbs 10:12, NLT

God wants us to keep our hearts beating strong for our spouses because most of our differences, and the things our spouses do that offend us, are often not offensive as they appear. After we got married, I asked my husband about some of the odd things he did when we first met. He actually did have a hole in his pants and lose my number. He turned down my invitation to prom  because he thought my classmates would think he was too old. He waited until my graduation day to ask me out on a date because he didn’t want people to think he was disrespectful for dating a girl still in High School. And as you are probably wondering, the Taco Bell incident was because he had recently dated a woman who wanted to pay for all her own meals. He thought that would be what I wanted.  He was doing it to impress me, not to offend me.

As I was writing this post, and recounting the journey God took my husband and me through to join our hearts together, I felt that beating in my heart for my husband powerfully revive in me. If you have lost that beating in your heart for your spouse, or it’s slowing down, I encourage you to prayerfully allow God to take you back to when you first met. Recount that journey with God and let Him rekindle those feelings for your spouse once again.

Heavenly Father,

We praise You for this marriage series. Your Word says that marriage should be honored by all (Hebrews 13:4). We pray this series would honor You as we allow Your will to be done in our marriages.  We praise You for joining our hearts together with our spouses. Keep our hearts beating strong for them.  When our hearts begin to drift away, remind us of when we first fell in love, and rekindle those feelings once again.

In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen!

 

*Don’t forget to leave a comment below if you want to receive an entry into the drawing. Come back Friday for another entry as Kerry Johnson shares how God drew her heart away from an unequally yoked relationship, and drew her heart to the one God had chosen for her. 

 

 

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My books are FREE for Valentine’s Day!

I wanted to announce that both my books, You Can Have a Happy Family & The LOVE Walk Devotional, are FREE in ebook format TODAY ONLY for Valentine’s Day and to celebrate National Marriage Week! Follow the links on the pictures below.

 

If you prefer paperback, you can get my books today for $5.00 off with this code (GTTTMXCK) directly through Createspace. Follow the link to purchase You Can Have a Happy Family: Steps to Enjoying Your Marriage and Children.

Follow this link to purchase The LOVE Walk: A 15-Week Devotional on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

Don’t forget to enter the code GTTTMXCK at checkout for your discount.

 

If you prefer audio, you can follow this link to The LOVE Walk. It’s only $6.95 on audible. You Can Have a Happy Family is a little more ($19.95) since it’s 5 1/2 hours long. But very well worth it. My narrators did a wonderful job. I was blessed by both books as they ministered to me as well.

*For more info about each book, and to read excerpts,  follow this link to my website AmandaBeth.net.

Hope you all have a blessed Valentine’s Day walking in love!

God bless,

Amanda Beth

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:29-31

 

 

 

 


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Preparing For Your Calling Series: “Your Appointed Mission”

I recently found out those of you who signed up to receive email notifications haven’t been receiving them for several months. I’m so sorry. The problem has been fixed and you should now be receiving them every Monday.

For the last seven weeks I’ve been doing a series on preparing for your calling. If you missed any posts in this series, you can follow these links below:

Week 1: You Have A Calling

Week 2: Loving God More Than The World

Week 3: Emptying And Filling

Week 4: Single Minded

Week 5: God’s Blessings

Week 6: Believing Jesus’ Teachings

Week 7: Be Strong And Courageous

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

—2 Timothy 2:20

Last week, I talked about being strong and courageous and keeping your confidence as you step into God’s calling. Today we will focus on the mission of our calling.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Matthew 9:35-38

No matter what part of the field God sends us to, we are all given the same mission: to love, reach, feed and lead Jesus’ sheep until He returns. As Jesus stated above, I think the workers are few because too many Christians think they have to be a pastor or a preacher to reach and disciple people. God can use us to reach and minister to those in our neighborhoods. He can use us to reach and minister to our families. He can use us to reach and minister to those in our jobs, our communities, and even our churches.

I am a stay at home mom of four children. I didn’t have a platform or church pulpit to minister from when God called me. The first assignment God gave me was to borrow a women’s Bible study from my church and lead the study in my home. I sent invites to all my family and friends, and anyone I knew in my neighborhood and community. That one study grew and many more studies followed. For two and a half years, God used those studies to reach and disciple women of all ages and walks of life. Some didn’t know Christ. Some were just starting their walk with Christ. Others were mature in their walk with Christ. By simply opening my home each week, I was able to love, reach, feed and lead many of Jesus’ sheep.

Before God told Moses that Joshua was chosen to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, Moses said to the LORD, “May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

Numbers 27:15-17

To prepare you to love, reach, feed and lead those in the community God appoints you, God first has to give you a heart of compassion. You can’t love without having compassion. And you can’t reach and minister to others without love.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Jesus has compassion and love for us because the Bible says that He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. He has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). In the same way, God uses our wilderness times to purify our hearts and soften them so that we would have compassion first for ourselves, and then for others.

We have to learn to be compassionate toward ourselves first because if we are hard on ourselves, we will be hard on others. I used to be extremely hard on myself. It affected all my relationships, especially my marriage. God opened my eyes to this when my husband expressed to me once: “I feel like you are always disappointed in me. I feel like I constantly let you down.” I couldn’t sympathize with his weaknesses because I hadn’t received God’s grace for my weaknesses.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:16

I want to encourage you today to receive God’s mercy for yourself so you can fulfill your calling to love, reach, feed and lead those in the community God appoints you.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 1:12-17

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Prayer For The Week:

Heavenly Father,

We praise You for having mercy on us and forgiving all our sins. Cleanse our hearts and fill it with love and compassion for others. Appoint us to the community You need us most. Help us to love, reach, feed and lead Your sheep to Jesus, our good and faithful Shepherd. 

In His name we pray, Amen!

Verses To Meditate On:

1 Timothy 1:5 (AMP version); Ephesians 4:1-16

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My new book: “The LOVE Walk” Release & Giveaway!

The LOVE Walk

A 15 – Week Devotional on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

 


My devotional book “The LOVE Walk” was released yesterday on Amazon.  It was inspired by the first blog series I did on “love” as described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. I created the devotional to encourage and support people in their love walk. Each devotional focuses on a different characteristic of love:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails….”

Each chapter includes an encouragement, a prayer, verses to meditate on, and one verse to memorize. Additionally, at the end of each chapter there are questions to reflect on for personal evaluation or group study.

Today, I am giving away one signed copy of “The LOVE Walkalong with a “Love” cross to put on your shelf or desk as a reminder to continually walk in God’s love.

*To enter to win you MUST leave a comment below to let me know you are entering, and then check the box on the rafflecopter to enter. After you check the box below, you can earn additional entries on the rafflecopter by “liking” my book on Amazon, and posting my book on twitter and fb. You can tweet about the giveaway, tweet the link to Amazon, and post on your fb wall every day to receive additional entries each day. CONTEST ENDS 12:01 EST 11/17/12.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Yesterday, I shared an excerpt from “The LOVE Walk” at PTL.com. Follow this link to read “Week Ten – Love…does not delight in evil” Today, I want to share chapter thirteen with you.

WEEK THIRTEEN

Love… always hopes

 ~1 Corinthians 13:7

What are you placing your hope in? Are you placing it in your job? Your bank account? Your spouse? Your children? Your appearance? Your material possessions?

To put our hope in something means we need it to make us happy. If our hope is in our jobs and we lose them, we lose our hope. If our hope is in our spouses and they leave us, our hope leaves with them. If our hope is in our beauty and it fades, our hope fades with it.

Our hope needs to be in God because He is the only one who can permanently fulfill us.

And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

—Romans 5:5

God’s love never disappoints. But have you ever felt disappointed in God? I have. In the past, I would get disappointed if I trusted God to answer a prayer and He didn’t. I would get disappointed if I obeyed Him and didn’t see the right results. I would get disappointed if I was hit with a trial and He didn’t rescue me.

I thought my hope was in God, but I was often disappointed in Him. I soon realized I wasn’t placing my hope in God. I was placing it in my own expectations of Him.

When God called me to write my first book, I expected to write it and publish it right away. I was often disappointed when I was rejected by publishers and agents in the beginning. I thought if God told me to write a book He would open all the doors. It took awhile to see He was opening the doors; they just weren’t the ones I was knocking at. I wanted Him to do it my way. I didn’t like some of the doors He wanted me to go through. They often led to trials, lessons, and hard work.

Now looking back, those trials are what I needed to prepare me for what was ahead. Had all my hope been in God’s plan for me, I could have enjoyed those years of writing instead of being disappointed.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

—Romans 12:12

Thinking positive, praising God, and communing with Him keeps our hopes up. It helps us stay joyful while waiting on God to fulfill our desires.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

—Proverbs 13:12

I’ve experienced this verse many times in my life. Once was when I had to go back to work a few years after having my first child. I was devastated to go back and even tried to avoid it. I frequently asked God why He wasn’t providing for me to stay home.

As the years went by, and I had more children, I continued praying for God to help me afford to quit. I tried everything I could to stay happy and be a good employee while waiting on God to answer my request. But as time went on, I started losing hope and fell into depression. Losing hope made my heart sick.

As I clung to God, He brought me out of depression and opened the door for me to stay home. As I looked back I could see His provision was there all along. Through those years, God was working with us on our finances so we could afford one income.

God was also working in me during that time. He was teaching me to be faithful even when it hurts. He was teaching me to trust Him even when I wasn’t seeing results. He was teaching me to be happy even when there wasn’t anything going on to rejoice in.

During those years I learned valuable lessons I wouldn’t trade now for anything. More importantly, I learned my prayers were answered the moment I requested them. I just didn’t see it until after I received it.

God answers our prayers. We don’t see all the behind the scenes work He does to prepare for those answers. We have to remember His ways are far beyond ours. We only see what is in front of our eyes. God sees above and beyond. He sees the final outcome, which is why He asks us to place our hope in Him. We don’t have anything to be disappointed about when all our hope is in Him.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

—Romans 15:13

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 Week Thirteen Love Walk: Hope

I encourage you this week to place your hope in God. Don’t focus on your outward circumstances. Face each trial with joy as you hope in Him. Cling to Him. Praise Him. And remember to be faithful even when you’re not seeing any results.

But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?

—Romans 8:24

 

Prayer For The Week:

Heavenly Father,

I praise You for giving me so much to be hopeful for. I know I will never be disappointed when I am trusting You. Help me remain faithful and continue doing Your will when the devil comes against me. Thank You that through Jesus I am an overcomer. I joyfully put my hope in You, my rock, my fortress and my deliverer.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

 

Scriptures To Meditate On (pick one to memorize):

Romans 8:24; Isaiah 40:31; Psalm 18:2; Romans 15:13

 

Week Thirteen Reflection:

  • Share how God revealed Himself to you this week as you placed your hope in Him.
  • Do you have a prayer you are waiting to see answered?
  • Don’t give up hope on your prayer. God knew what you needed before you even asked! Write a prayer praising Him that He has heard and answered your prayer according to His Word.

 


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Monday’s Blog: Ignite The Fire In Your Spirit – Loving Others

We end our igniting the fire in our spirits series today with the second greatest commandment—loving others.

In Matthew 22:36, one of the religious experts in the law tested Jesus with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

Why is loving God and loving others the greatest commandment in the law? Because love covers all sins (Proverbs 10:12). It fulfills the rest of the commandments in the law.

Romans 13:8-10 explains:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

I’ve been reading a wonderful book called The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun.The sacrifices Brother Yun made and the love he had for others, despite the horrible persecution he experienced, humbled me. I recently told my husband that this book is showing me I am not where I need to be in my love walk. I have been burnt out lately and am not loving others like I should.

My husband suggested that I ask God to give me opportunities to show His love to others. I realized I am exhausted because I am trying to do bigger things for others. I take on too many tasks, and it overwhelms me and slowly hardens my heart. Instead, I should follow the Holy Spirit and do only what God leads me to do.

Most of my time is spent loving and caring for my family. So I will get burnt out if I try to do too many things for others. God showed me there are many little things I can do that don’t have to take a lot of my time.

I started thinking about all the people in my life God’s used to bless me through the years. The blessings that stand out to me are the little gestures of kindness and encouragement I have received from others. For example, a woman on Facebook “like’s” every comment I post. It may seem like a small thing, but it puts a smile on my face every day I see her name on my wall.

I have friends who send me messages of encouragement every so often to tell me they are praying for me. I’ve had people I don’t know email me a Bible verse at just the right time.

My husband sends me text messages from work to tell me he loves me. I have family and friends who bless me with a grocery, clothing, or household item. Those small gestures are what I treasure the most, because God uses them to remind me that He loves and cares for me.

God can even use our love for Him to show His love to others without us saying a word. When I didn’t know Christ, a woman with a bright countenance and gentle spirit came into the restaurant I was working at. I remember what a relief it was to wait on her after a stressful lunch rush. Her order was simple. She was very kind. Her meal couldn’t have cost more than $10, and she left me a $20 tip.

It wasn’t unusual to receive a big tip at this restaurant. So it wasn’t just her tip that touched me. It was her spirit. I saw God in her even though I didn’t know Him. Her generosity, accompanied by her loving spirit, planted a seed that later led me into the arms of the Lord.

I read a message by Andrew Wommack recently. He talked about Peter’s mother-in-law ministering to Jesus and His disciples in Mark 1:31, “And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.”

Andrew wrote:

How did Peter’s mother-in-law minister unto Jesus and His disciples? Did she sit them down and preach to them? Certainly not. Yet sometimes people think the only way we can minister to another is to admonish them with the scriptures.

Peter’s mother-in-law apparently ministered to them by serving them. The word translated “minister” is the same word that was translated “deacon” twice in the New Testament, and “serve, served or serveth” eight times.

We can minister for the Lord by doing some of the menial tasks that many consider to be unimportant. Jesus said that even a cup of cold water given in His name would not go unrewarded (Matthew 10:42).

Many people are waiting for the important jobs to come along where they can make a big impact or receive a lot of recognition, while they pass by many lesser opportunities every day. But in the kingdom of God, we won’t be given any great opportunities until we are proven faithful in the small things (Luke 16:10).

We don’t have to do something amazing or preach to show God’s love to others. And we don’t need to burn ourselves out trying to do everything for others. If we follow the Holy Spirit, God will show us little ways we can reach others with His love.

“If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”

—1 Corinthians 13:3, NLT

 

Heavenly Father,

We praise You for Your unconditional love for us. Bring Your love to life inside of us. Help us to see others as You see them. Break our hearts for what breaks Yours. Give us opportunities each day to show Your love to others. Keep Your fire continually burning in our spirits for the lost and broken-hearted, so our lives draw others to You.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

 

I pray God used this series to bless you and re-ignite a fire in your spirit! If you would like to learn more about the love walk, follow this link to my series last year on “Love” as described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

 

*If you have never accepted Christ as your Savior, please click on the “SALVATION” tab at the top of the website. Don’t wait another day!

*All Bible verses are taken from the NIV, unless otherwise noted.

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