Introducing Coleen Sykes Ray: Survivor, Author, Advocate.

Isaiah 40:31

Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (NIV).

Coleen Renee is the founder and executive director of Bags of Hope Stockton Foundation, a non-profit meeting the needs of any menstruating person with sanitary supplies, resources, and education. She felt empowered to start her ministry in response to her calling to express her gift of healing to reach into the lives of others. God has also called her to be an evangelist, where she thrives on educating families on health and wellness.

She is a multi-faceted leader, helping faith-based organizations establish health ministries, working as a program manager for another non-profit, and running her own small business in her community, Coleen’s Cupcakery. She has written and published two children’s books and published five journals. She is a wife of twenty-two years and a proud mother of three. She believes deeply in an individual’s power to overcome any obstacle in their life, and her passion is to inspire this belief in others to empower them to soar to new heights.

I highly recommend her writing. She is an inspirational woman of God. You can find her books at https://www.amazon.com/s?i=stripbooks&rh=p_27%3AColeen+Sykes-Ray&s=relevancerank&text=Coleen+Sykes-Ray&ref=dp_byline_sr_book_1.

5 Bible Verses on Healing

God reaches into our deepest needs and brings healing incomparable to anything else we can ever experience. It washes over us, bringing us back to the fullness of life and leaving us renewed. Here are 5 Bible verses to help remind you of this beautiful truth!

For more inspiration on healing, click here!

Faith and Fitness

1 Corinthians 6:19

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (NIV)

Before I was a Christian, and even to a different degree today, I struggled with my self-identity. There was always this enormous gulf between how I evaluated myself at the moment and what I knew I could become. Living in this disconnect left me constantly feeling frustrated and confused.

What they say is true: perception is reality. The perception that I had of myself was flawed. I still struggle with it. We never ultimately arrive at our destination, but I always feel like I should be one step ahead of where I find myself at the moment. That disconnect enters my life again, bringing back those feelings of frustration and confusion.

I have always found that pursuing a greater fitness level has helped me deal with this. Being more in touch with my physical self allows me to bridge the gap between my perception of myself and what I truly am. The change I feel happens for many reasons.

Since my mid-twenties, I have struggled considerably with my weight. I go back and forth between being a relatively healthy weight and being far too overweight for my overall health. When I find myself carrying more weight than I should be, it’s challenging to do the everyday things that I need to do. I don’t feel like myself at all. More often than not, the past few years, this was my reality, and I’ve struggled considerably with it.

I found my most significant victory at the beginning of this year. Between January and May, I lost nearly 50 pounds. During that time, I celebrated my 32nd birthday, but I was feeling more like 22. I felt a rush of self-confidence that stemmed from my ability to thrive in my everyday tasks and feel good doing it. It helped me to focus on a healthier perception of myself.

Since then, I have struggled to maintain the success I had found. In my efforts, I have uncovered new inspiration to continue by seeking the answer to a simple question: what is the relationship between fitness and faith?

Through prayer, God reminded me of a beautiful illustration that helped lead me to an answer. The Jewish temple that once stood in Jerusalem held powerful symbolism in its very architecture. You see, the temple consisted of multiple courts. As you progressed further into the temple, you entered more holy ground. The most sacred space of all was the innermost room, called the Holy of Holies. They found it so hallowed that only one person (the High Priest) could enter the room only one day out of the year. That is because the Holy of Holies was the part of the temple where they believed God’s spirit resided.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9, Paul reminds us of a beautiful truth: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (NIV). Does this verse draw striking similarities in your mind regarding what we learned about the Holy of Holies?

Our bodies that God has blessed us with are vessels of the Holy Spirit. Since the time of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon all believers, God’s Spirit resides not in the Holy of Holies but rather within each person that has professed faith in Christ’s name! Through it, He empowers us to fulfill the calling He has placed in our life to do.

Would you neglect or abuse sacred space in the form of your local church’s sanctuary? Why then would we not care for our bodies, which God has deemed worthy of holding the Holy Spirit? The journey that led me to ask myself this question has reinvigorated my passion for pursuing the best fitness I can attain.

When I start to fall away from my goals, I will ask myself those questions anew. I encourage you to do the same. I know I could use an accountability partner if anyone is willing. I am also available if I can do the same for anyone else that reads this. Please message me at Zachary@JacobsLadderCCW.com, and we can help spur each other on to conquer our goals. In the coming weeks, I will reflect on this journey and how it relates to my faith.

Praise be to God, who freely gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit!

God Showed Up When I Needed Him Most: A Testimony from Nina Evans

Note: This is the testimony of Nina Evans, a powerful prayer warrior and woman of God. Her family serves as the Pastoral leaders of Protection Mennonite Church in Protection, Kansas.

Isaiah 34:4

The heavens above will melt away and disappear like a rolled-up scroll. The stars will fall from the sky like withered leaves from a grapevine, or shriveled figs from a fig tree (NLT)

My name is Nina and I’d like to share my testimony with you of how God saved my soul. In January 2003 my husband and I purchased our second home about an hour away from the only town I’d lived in my whole life. We rented out our first house and were excited about the new beginning in our new home and town.

Very quickly things went from exciting and adventurous to deeply depressing and fearful. I’d lost my job at the bank, the renters up and left, and we were on the verge of financial ruin. I went out to fill out applications day after day with no luck, our car got repossessed, and then we had to file bankruptcy. Everything we’d worked for was gone and we were trying to figure out how to get my husband back and forth to work an hour away, how to keep our home, and how to survive.

Then my one-year-old cat suddenly got sick and died, and my little brother got into some serious trouble. It was as if our life was crumbling right before our eyes and there was nothing we could do to stop our world from crashing in around us. I fell into a deep depression, where I wouldn’t leave the house, didn’t want to talk to anyone, and I couldn’t see any way out of this dark empty life I had found myself in.

I couldn’t see any way out of this dark, empty life I had found myself in.

I remember my husband and I were reading the Bible because we both knew of God but didn’t know Him and figured we would give it a shot because nothing else was helping us. Well little did either of us know that would be the beginning of how God would show us the truth of what real success is, what the real dream is.

Usually, I would stay home when my husband went to work, but on one particular day I drove into our old town with him to work and stayed with him. He worked in a gas station on the wrong side of town where the people don’t come into pay but put their money into a tray through a little opening. I sat in the backroom and just talked to him whenever he didn’t have a customer. It was a long day, but I was glad not to be home alone.

It is now 11:15 pm and we are on the way home. It’s a little over an hour away and my husband was driving which was not usual because I did all the driving, but not this night. We’re driving down the long dark expressway where the only lights were from headlights of other cars, just talking when all of a sudden right about midnight the night sky was lighter than daylight. Somehow Dillon manages to stay on the road but I am screaming and crying it’s the end of the world and we are all going to hell because we don’t know Jesus, the man we have been reading about in the Bible.

I remember telling Dillon that I loved him, and I had to call my mom one last time to tell her I love her too. I somehow managed to call my mom, who was asleep, and tell her that Jesus had just come back, we were all going to hell and that I just needed her to know I loved her. While this is all taking place it was dark again: the light was gone just as quickly as it came with no sound. It was just gone. Now while my mom thought I was nuts, my stepdad had just gotten home from his third shift job and seen the light too, so she knew I wasn’t crazy, but saying it’s the end of the world and we’re going to hell; that part she still made her think I was crazy. To me, it wasn’t: I knew with everything I was that it wasn’t by chance we had been reading the Bible.

“The sky was rolled up like a scroll, and all of the mountains and islands were moved from their places.” Revelation 6:14. “The heavens above will melt away and disappear like a rolled-up scroll. The stars will fall from the sky like withered leaves from a grapevine or shriveled figs from a fig tree.” Isaiah 34:4. These 2 verses stuck out so clearly to me, even though I didn’t completely understand what they meant. I knew that if I didn’t know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior all my sins were on me, and if He had come back I was going to be lost, with the only future that awaited me being the fires of hell. There has never been a time in my life where those flames were more real and I felt the weight of all my sins. I felt such conviction that my soul was screaming, “save me Jesus, save me!” That night I knew without a doubt God used everything I was going through to save my soul from the pits of hell! We would find out the next day it was a meteoroid, but to me, God knew that it would take Him lighting up that night sky for this sinner to realize my need for Him.

That night I knew without a doubt God used everything I was going through to save my soul.

It would be years later and many more life-changing steps, but it was all leading to where I am today: a follower of Jesus Christ, pastor’s wife, and mother. God was preparing to shift my mindset from the American Dream to His vision for our life as a Pastoral family, serving Him wherever He sends us with every talent and gift He provides. Helping other lost souls find Him and grow in their personal relationships with God our Father. Loving, caring, and helping others so that our lives are so much more than just what we know here on this earth. We have a place already prepared for us that is everlasting and so much grander than any of us can imagine if we only surrender to Christ. That nothing is too hard or impossible with Him, but freeing and indescribable. So much better than our wildest dreams. I pray this has been a blessing to you to know no matter what you have, are, or will go through. Never forget, God can and is ready to rescue you. God bless you, dear reader, may God grant you His peace and mercy as you seek Him.

Note: You can check out the ministries of Protection Mennonite Church at https://protectionchurch.com/.

The Truth About Sex

Song of Solomon 2:16

My love is mine, and I am his (NLT)

God thinks sex is awesome. So awesome that He decided to make it the only way that we bring new life into this world. No matter how much we may try to avoid the topic sometimes or treat it as taboo, there is no denying that how we view sex is critical. It is an integral part of our reality and a universal truth of human existence. I fear we don’t teach about it enough.

For my fellow Christians, I have a question: Do we want our children to learn about sex from the church or the world around them? I understand the awkwardness of having these conversations, and I understand the hesitancy to speak about it much at church, but it is essential. If we don’t teach our youth about sex, somebody else will. Who do you want them hearing about it from?

If we don’t teach our youth about sex, somebody else will. Who do you want them hearing about it from?

To do this, we ourselves must have a firm grasp on what the truth about sex is. A lot of us don’t know what to say. Our parents perhaps never said much themselves on the matter besides, “don’t do it.” Telling your kids not to do something is not going to stop them from doing it, plain and simple. The universal question of why they shouldn’t be doing it is much more important to express. Through that, you can help them craft a worldview where they view sex with the reverence, respect, and beauty that it deserves.

Do you even know what the Bible says the truth about sex is? Sex is an expression of the oneness in marriage: “and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one” (Mark 10:8, NLT). It is two people, who have made a life-long commitment to one another, expressing the image of God together and reflecting it more clearly. Think about it. Men and women are both different, but both have the image of God within them. What happens when they join as one? They reflect that image more fully! Sex in marriage is a physical expression of this truth. We find power in living out truth in a physical way. That’s what we do in worship. We are acting out our faith in a physical way, praising God with our bodies. Isn’t sex the same way? So think of it as an act of worship to God.

In contrast to this, the world promotes sex as a pleasure, something we can indulge in with whoever we want. Millions of TV shows, movies, magazines, etc. promote it as far, far less than what it truly is. This is what our youth is seeing and what is shaping their perception of sex. They are being robbed of seeing the true value, the true fulfillment, and the true significance that it holds. That’s why so many grow up ending up very hurt in their relationships and struggling to ever find lasting happiness in love.

What God wants us to find in sex is lifelong love, security, and fulfillment. God wants to shape our minds to see sex as a complete giving of one’s self to their spouse, and the receiving of the other in return. It is a beautiful way to say, “I give myself up to live for you” while your spouse says the same. It can serve as a reminder of how to live this out in our everyday lives as well, putting the needs of your spouse before your own. That’s why the Bible says, “Do not deprive each other of sexual relations” (1 Corinthians 7:5). It’s a gentle nudge to focus on the needs of your spouse before your own. It is a reminder to continually return to the love that sparked your relationship in the first place. It helps us never to forget that sex is not only an act of receiving but also of giving. This mutual giving and receiving serves to strengthen our bonds with our spouse.

What God wants us to find in sex is lifelong love, security, and fulfillment.

I challenge you to ask God to reshape the way that you view sex and help to teach you how to express it healthily so that we can educate each other and our youth as the church. Let us together remind the world of the true value that sex holds, instead of diminishing its worth so greatly.

Note: if you like what you read, check out these other articles on love and marriage!

Does True Love Exist?

Why Marriage Matters

How to Heal a Broken Heart

How to Heal a Broken Heart

Proverbs 4:23

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life (NLT)

Let’s face it, waiting sucks. Especially when it is for something that you know you were created for, something that brings true value and meaning to your life. Take love for instance. Why is it so elusive, and often so exceedingly painful? Can waiting help us prevent, and possibly heal, a broken heart?

We are not merely flesh and bones. In this body God has planted a heart. This heart gives us an immense capacity to love and be loved. It allows us to experience both moments of passion and a lifetime of commitment. Our lives thrive when we find this sort of love and especially when it is lasting. This is because it is a fundamental truth about the human condition that we were created to be interconnected, and in relationship with one another.

It is a fundamental truth about the human condition that we were created to be interconnected, and in relationship with one another.

This is what makes the hurt we experience as a result of a broken heart so crushingly painful. It is not natural. It is the complete antithesis of what we are supposed to experience. It drains our hope, and it drains our passion because we have lost something that was supposed to be life-giving. It is an innate part of our design and when it is taken away we are left disconnected from ourselves and it is easy to lose sight of our mission, value, and worth.

This is why there is such a huge responsibility to be found in the way that we handle our relationships. When did we get away from understanding the impact that we have on one another? Isolation, depression, and loneliness is killing our world. It’s sweeping through contagiously infecting all of those found in its path. It seems overwhelming and unconquerable. The solution to this problem starts with us, and it needs to start today.

The hard part about this solution is that ultimately we can only control our own behavior and our own choices. We can be the best witnesses to others and influence them in powerful ways, but when it comes down to it they will choose how they behave. The cure for a broken heart comes down to balancing two things: being preventative and being proactive.

Being preventative simply means loving deeply, but loving the right person. We always need to be giving in a relationship, yes, but there is a time when you can be too giving. Think about it like this: if you and the other person are not in the place where you have been able to make the lifelong commitment of marriage to each other, than why would you be so giving to the point where you will lose so much that you can never regain if they leave? Giving of that intensity should come from a place of deep commitment and lifelong love. Think twice before giving what you can never take back. Again, waiting sucks, I get it, but that’s what God is trying to tell us in Proverbs 4:23.

Giving of that intensity should come from a place of deep commitment and lifelong love. Think twice before giving what you can never take back.

Being proactive is making the decision to choose God as your number one relationship no matter what stage in life you find yourself in. Single or married, never stop pursuing God. Is the love we find in Him different than the kind of love we find in another? It sure is. But it is irreplaceable nonetheless and will fill you with hope, patience, and value far above what you can find anywhere else.

Waiting sucks, but it is worth it. Waiting for the right time and person helps us to find love that lasts. Seeking and waiting for God’s healing gives us the space to heal. If God has placed a desire on your heart that is honorable and faithful to His Word, He will surely deliver on His promises. The joy you will receive on that day will far exceed the pain of this moment. Cling tight to that truth and “guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23, NLT).

A Year to Live: Cancer Met Jesus and Bowed Down

Note: This is the testimony of Ndanatswa-Maggie Maseko, a breast cancer survivor and powerful woman of God. I am thrilled to share her story with you all.

Numbers 23:19

God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent.Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

This is the verse that God placed on my heart the day I received a life-altering diagnosis. I remember sitting in my consultant’s office, not being able to stop the tears flowing down my face. At first, I found myself praying in tongues underneath my breath in rejection of this horrible news, but then God strengthened my resolve. In that moment God lead me to the decision that I was going to fight this horrible disease and conquer it.

I endured the trials of chemotherapy and radiotherapy only to be told that none of it was very effective, as the tumor had attached to my chest wall, leaving nothing further that could be done for me. I did not want to die, and I knew that there was no back-up plan other than putting my full and absolute trust in God the Father, God The Holy Spirit, and God Jesus Christ. I chose to cling to His promises because I knew that He would be faithful to see them through. Then He acted in a powerful way.

I was feeling the weight of being told that I only had a year to live, alongside the fact that I was living in the United Kingdom while my family was in Zimbabwe. I remember asking God, “who is challenging Your power?” Though I trusted in Him, I needed constant guidance through prayer. In this, The Holy Spirit led me in seeking wisdom from my consultant in regards to referring me to a specialized hospital. This conversation led to me being admitted to Royal Marsden, where God was about to follow-through in the biggest way imaginable.

The wonderful staff at Royal Marsden ran a multitude of tests to determine the best course of action. The results from those tests including the MRI showed only two extremely small patches. The surgeons were not even convinced that they contained active cancer. I rejoiced in God’s victory as the surgeon said to me, “it’s as if you never had cancer.” Those words echo in my heart to this day, reminding me of God’s power and faithfulness. God had miraculously healed me! The surgeons were then able to operate, and successfully remove the tumor that I was previously told was inoperable. Jehovah Rapha is a healer and is far more powerful than any disease. He showed this to me through the powerful healing that He brought to my life. God was indeed faithful to His promises, like He put on my heart through Numbers 23:19. He had answered my many prayers.

“It’s as if you never had cancer.” Those words echo in my heart to this day, reminding me of God’s power and faithfulness.

I want to encourage anyone who hears my story with Jesus’ words in Matthew 17:20 (NKJV): “ I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” God proved this to be true in my own life, and I believe without a shadow of a doubt that He can do it for you as well. I strongly believe that God healed me in order for me to spread the Gospel of Jesus, share with others how He healed me, and encourage others who are battling this disease through both my testimony and prayer. I found great encouragement from sermons on KICC, TBN, and Revelation TV, as well as from the ministries of Creflo Dollar, Christ Embassy, Jesse Duplantis, Sid Roth, Joyce Meyer Ministries, Daystar, Bill Winston Ministries and Joseph Prince.

If anyone battling cancer would like me to pray with them, please contact me at www.prettyscars.com. If you are interested in booking me for a speaking engagement to hear my full journey of how l battled breast cancer living alone and how l overcame this major obstacle in my life, please contact me using my contact information below. Thank you for reading my testimony and God bless you.

www.prettyscars.com

ndanatswa-maggie@prettyscars.com

Call UK: 07737294624

Outside UK? Call: 0447737294624

Does True Love Exist?

Why Marriage Matters: Part 2

Song of Solomon 6:3

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (NIV)

I’m going to flip the script here and ditch the clever opening story in order to get right to the answer poised in the title of this reflection: does true love exist? The answer is a resounding YES! True love DOES exist, but perhaps it isn’t what we expected it to be.

We live in a culture that promotes radical individuality. It is encouraged to spend a great deal of our lives focused on defining ourselves and making sure that we have a distinct identity separate from others. I fear that it has grown to a point in which we are beginning to worship this individuality to the degree that we are teetering awfully close to the ledge of idolatry.

True love DOES exist, but perhaps it isn’t what we expected it to be.

The message of the Gospel is counter-culture and radically opposed to the ways of the world around us. This holds true in marriage as well. God doesn’t call us to seek individuality in marriage, He calls us to seek oneness. Radical individuality makes oneness very difficult, hence the struggles we see in the statistics on marriage, even Christian marriage. How do we find this oneness?

Find a Biblical Definition of Self, but Prepare to be Redefined in Marriage:Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25, NIV).

Our sense of self needs to be primarily rooted in our understanding of our role as children of God, not in our particular interests, hobbies, or work. For example, I am very passionate about writing, but I don’t cease to be myself if such an artistic medium no longer existed. It’s something I enjoy, but it doesn’t define me. Also, in marriage I’ve become more myself than I was before marriage. I didn’t lose myself. Despite what many say, even in the Christian community, don’t be afraid of your identity changing in the midst of your marriage: welcome it! Holding on too tightly to what we thought we were will just create isolation, strife, and misunderstanding. Jesus didn’t cling to any earthly conception of anything, rather He was willing to give away His life itself in service to those He loved! If Christ can give His very life, why do we cling to such little things that divide us?

Make the Needs of Your Spouse Your Own:Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10, NIV).

Making the needs of your spouse your own cultivates the intimacy, trust, and oneness that so many marriages are missing today. Don’t worry, your needs won’t go unmet, because serving your spouse in this way will help to inspire them to do the same for you. Truly rejoice in their highs, grieve with them in their lows, and ALWAYS take the time to listen. Invest in your spouse richly and do everything you can to help them thrive.

Create and Pursue Dreams Together:Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9, NIV).

Be willing to put your marriage before your personal dreams. Controversial, I know, but I believe it’s important. There are dreams I’ve sacrificed in order to become one with my wife and now, years later, I’m glad I did! The dreams we’ve created, pursued, and conquered together are far greater than the ones I had myself. And through it all, we’ve attained a oneness we could have never imagined.

The dreams we’ve created, pursued, and conquered together are far greater than the ones I had myself.

Of course, these steps only work when pursued in unison with your partner, and I’m not claiming it will happen overnight. Rather, it is an overall mindset worth considering and cultivating within your own life and marriage. Pray and ask God to lead you in this, as you would in any area of your life.

Why is Prayer Important?

Philippians 4:6-7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (NIV)

I remember as a child I never liked to sleep. My parents would put me to bed, and the second they were out of the room I was out of my bed and right behind them. When I finally did decide to stay in bed, I’d often just lay there awake, completely absorbed in my own thoughts. I have a peculiar mind, and to this day can never get bored as I can find endless things to ponder the intricacies of.

In my bedroom as a child, I had a picture on the wall that my mother cross-stitched for me. It has a prayer on it: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” When I was anxious, I would read this over and over again. It soothed me, and was one of the few things that helped me get to sleep.

What sort of imagery comes to your mind when you think of prayer? For me, it was always kneeling at my bedside, hands folded, repeating one of the classic prayers, like the one I grew up with on my wall as a child. If this is still all that comes to your mind when you think of prayer, I am here to tell you that prayer is astronomically more than this!

In our present day and age, we live in a constant battle against anxiety. We live in a constant pressure to preform, and keep up with the ever-changing world around us. There are deadlines to meet, bills to pay, and work to get done. We are in desperate need of peace, but peace is so hard to find.

We are in desperate need of peace, but peace is so hard to find.

In Philippians 4 Paul writes about prayer. He tells us that prayer, when spoken with an attitude of thanksgiving, will give us peace which “transcends all understanding.” He continues on to say this peace will guard our hearts and minds.

How do we achieve this kind of result in our prayer? While the prayer I repeated as a child helped to soothe me, its impact ended there. Life is more complicated now, and we need more than simple soothing. The Bible tells us that we need to pray in “every situation.” Does this mean we are to be on our knees, hand-folded and eyes closed in every moment of our lives?

No, that is obviously silly. What we need to do is cultivate an attitude of prayer in our everyday lives. Think of prayer more as an overall mindset that determines your actions rather than a particular action you take in a certain moment. Practically, this means striving towards taking each and every thought that passes through your mind, and presenting it to God in conversation. Ask Him to shape all that you think about. As you grow in this discipline He will teach you about Him, yourself, and the world around you in ways you never imagined before. He will also shape your attitude and mindset towards one of peace and thanksgiving in all circumstances.

Why is prayer important? Because it can change our world, one life at a time.