Will 2019 Be What I Want?

It is not unusual to approach the new year asking ourselves what the new year will bring or would it bring what I want. Circumstances can change, but what if they don’t? What if they do? Is there something better than circumstances?

I have to admit that right after Christmas I started to feel like I was ready to move on or out of the holiday season. Have you ever felt this way? I am thankful for every opportunity I had to be with family and friends and to focus on beautiful truths behind Christmas. But something was feeling like..ok, I had enough! So I began searching for a place in God’s Word, the Bible, to help me think about the future and the New 2019 Year. The Holy Spirit led me to Psalm 16.

What can we find in Psalm 16 that could help us think more clearly about circumstances in the New Year? Glad you asked!

Here is my attempt to capture the significant thoughts I found:

  1. A personal, honest prayer where we recognize that God is the one who can “preserve” us

  2. The negative promise that sorrows will increase for those who look for life outside of God

  3. A profound affirmation that the Lord can be our satisfying “portion”, our “cup of blessing” and that He is the one who “holds our future”

  4. That the boundary lines have fallen in “pleasant places” and that in Him we have a “beautiful inheritance”

  5. A personal promise from the Lord where He commits Himself to be our “counselor”

  6. The firm assurance that we “will not be shaken” because “He is at our right side”

  7. An unmistakable anchor-like promise that He will not “abandon” us

  8. That He “will make us know the path of life”

  9. That in His presence we will find “fulness of joy” and “pleasures” forever

  10. And…that these realities in a sense are offered to us for eternity!


So, what if my circumstances do or do not change in 2019? You are guaranteed a person who in real locations and time will be with you. He will offer you all the realities listed above. In fact, He will be actively doing these things on your behalf. 

When King David, the author of this Psalm, said “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure,” he was pointing to the experience of this personal God and Lord in his life—not to a change of or changeless circumstances. So as we consider the New 2019 Year let us consider what or who is going to be our hope, and let us be intentional to usher and acknowledge the one who is above, under and within our circumstances working out good things!

Have a hopeful New 2019 Year!

—Diego Cuartas

Diego.png

Resets and Breakthroughs

January 1 brings many different things for many different people. Maybe it marks a new beginning for some of you, exciting new ventures or projected goals with great intentions. And for some, it may bring just a continuation of the same, nothing much changes but the date.

For me, it started with viral bronchitis, double pink eye and my first visit to Urgent Care! I left there with four medications and my first inhaler ever. Way to start the new year, huh?!? I wish I could say that was the worst of it. No, it continues from there. But before we unpack it all, let's do a short review.

Eight Years Ago

As some of you may know, I have had a chronic health condition for the last eight years that began due to a failed knee replacement at that time. The surgeon did a phenomenal job, but my  body developed a collagen disorder in response to the traumatic surgery. This has caused some significant issues in my life. I walk on two forearm crutches, and my body creates an abnormal amount of scar tissue in various parts of my body which results in a lot of inflammation, high levels of pain, fluctuating body temperatures and edema among many other things.  In order to control all these symptoms, I have to take a whole regimen of medications every six hours to control my symptoms. It has been an eight year process of trying to find the right medications, in the right combination to work well with my body chemistry. Definitely not an easy task.

For all of these  years I have seen many doctors who find my case absolutely fascinating but are not able to offer any helpful advice or suggestions. They simply see an unusual presenting problem and the “med student” inside of them comes out. They get excited about the mystery of it all, but that is not what I am looking for. I am looking for answers. So each time my heart rises thinking, “Maybe this doctor will know, or at least offer another piece to the puzzle,” but no, unfortunately it is a dead end many times. Just another inquisitive doctor.

Two Weeks Ago

I did have an exciting thing happen in this long difficult journey about two weeks ago. As a matter of fact, it was the last two weeks of December. My wonderful Pain Management doctor, Maryann Macci, reported that she was excited to try a new medicine with me. I was willing to try it, with a guarded heart I might add.  The last three years have been a trial of at least 15-20 new medications with high hopes that it would be the answer but after three days it would not be effective. So back to square one of what to try next. That process alone was very difficult. Getting myself geared up to have a medicine finally be the one that could get my body under control, only to find it either caused migraines, a rash or had no effect at all was very hard. So, just like the doctor process, I have had to walk very guarded with new medications as to not have my heart fall so many times.  

With that said, she told me what the new medication was and how to take it. I then called the pharmacy and since it was a specialty drug, they had to order it in. I got excited when the email came through that my Rite Aid script was filled and ready to be picked up. I went to get it and it was free! I had spent so much money on medications throughout the year, I actually had a credit so all my meds were free for November and December. Praise God!! I read the instructions and took the medication. By the second day I noticed a huge difference in a good way. My body had stopped hurting so bad, TKR leg wasn’t constantly swollen and my body temperature didn’t vacillate so much! It was amazing! I actually felt like I got my life back. I was so very thankful to God! This was such a breakthrough for me after so many people praying for me for so long. Finally a medicine that was controlling this disorder. The search for answers was over and finally, finally, finally I found the right combination.

January 3

I was due for my Pain Management visit, and I could not wait to see her. I exclaimed, “We found it, Maryann!! I danced, the best I can with one leg, around her office as she laughed and was so happy for me. It was a Praise God party!! She went ahead and refilled all of my meds and I left, so thankful that the search was over. I no sooner get to my car and called my pharmacist to see when I could pick everything up and he said, “The copay is $450.00”. I was stunned. My insurance did a reset on January 1st, so my $2000.00 deductible was back into the mix now.  I asked for him to repeat it to make sure I had heard correctly. And then I replied, “I can’t take it.” I was utterly devastated.  I left the doctor’s office in tears, got to my office and wept. And wept….. I made phone calls to my doctor and the insurance company throughout the day to get answers. All day, and subsequent days to follow, I had many conversations and tears with God, always remembering He is a good Father, a loving Father and a merciful Father. But, I also was very angry, confused and scared. I told Him I couldn’t understand why He would allow such a thing to happen- allowed me to experience a new way of life for two weeks and then allow it to be taken away. I didn’t understand. What was it all about?

So, as I was doing a few chores around the house this past weekend, I felt led to send out an email to my prayer warrior team. Whenever major things are happening in my life, there are times the Holy Spirit will lead me to gather my thoughts and notify my prayer team to have them pray for a specific thing. This was one of those times. I needed a breakthrough. I needed a quick breakthrough at that as I only had one day of medication left. I typed it out, explaining the situation and hit send.  The very next morning, I received a text from a beautiful couple who knew of my situation and it stated that they WANTED TO PAY FOR A ONE-TIME REFILL FOR MY MEDICATION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GOD BROUGHT THE BREAKTHROUGH! Yes, it’s one month’s worth, but it gives me the month to see how else God wants to move more mountains and perform more miracles.

I am so incredibly humbled by this act of kindness. I am so incredibly thankful to God. He is a good Father, a loving, merciful Father. He is a compassionate Father. He sees me, He sees YOU! He knows YOU!

So that’s how my first week of 2019 unfolded. My hope for you would be that you’d find this true story interesting, encouraging and even  challenging. But most of all, my hope would be that you would hear an invitation. An invitation to talk to God yourself about those areas of your life that need a breakthrough, a miraculous change. The Bible says this about Jesus in the book of Isaiah:

Isaiah 61:1-3 1The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.

Once again, He is a good Father, a loving Father, merciful Father. He is a compassionate Father. He sees YOU! He knows YOU! He hears YOU! He LOVES YOU!!

Be blessed friends and thanks for reading,

Lois Robinson

Lois.png



Learning

It’s always helpful to be reminded of things I don’t know, don’t fully understand or have perhaps forgotten.

Like the other night when I was talking to my son in Ohio, and I was observing that no one could lose me in my house; all they’d have to do is follow the oxygen tube, because I’d be right there, connected to the end of it. Of course I reminded him of what a pain in the neck it is, getting tangled around my ankles when I turn around, getting caught on the rocker in my bedroom, switching to my portable everywhere I go! And that sometimes I am so tempted to leave it in the car when I’m just running in to a store briefly. I don’t do that; it’s just a measure of my frustration.

At which point he reminded me that when brain cells don’t get enough oxygen, they die. And then he told me something I didn’t know: I’ve been on 02 for years, but only at night; it’s just the last few years that it’s been 24/7. The NEW thing he told me was this: that before that, my kids saw that I was GRADUALLY getting less sharp, but when I went full time, I snapped right back to my normal self! No wonder my daughter is so mindful that I don’t forget to return it to my nose. (Very helpful to live with a nurse; I need every one of those brain cells!) And this explains why it was my daughters, not my doctor, who decided I needed to start using it.

The very positive result of this conversation with my son is that I really will stop whining and take care of myself as best I can, and recognize the FACT that if my heart doesn’t get enough oxygen it might very well quit, sooner than it otherwise might! After beating faithfully for nigh onto ninety years, it certainly behooves me to treat it gently!

Then there is the story of the wooden puppet who wanted to be a real boy, Pinocchio, who had a cricket companion who was kind of his conscience and who constantly urged the puppet to do the right and safe and truthful thing, with varying success. We, too, sometimes need to be pointed in the right direction and encouraged to live well. But we, as believers, do not need a Jiminy Cricket to guide us. We are hugely blessed by God; we have a person, an actual part of God Himself living within us, ever ready to guide us, to give us understanding, to teach us, to remind us of all Jesus said. When Jesus was explaining to his disciples, just before his crucifixion, what would soon follow, he told them that when he was no longer with them, his Father would send them a helper, who would empower them and explain everything they needed to know, and especially remind them of everything he had taught them. What a wonderful gift! And that very same Holy Spirit actually lives inside us, eager to guide us in all we do! Read the Gospel of John, Chapters 14 &15. It’s fascinating to read all that Jesus says the Holy Spirit will do!

The problem with Pinocchio was that he didn’t always follow Jiminy’s advice! The little puppet had a lot of trouble telling the truth, and so every time he lied, his nose grew! Before long, his nose was quite a size! We’re fortunate that we don’t have the same result when we ignore or refuse the guidance of our Holy Spirit! We know very well that our powerful sin nature is still with us, and every day we make choices: whom will we follow? Sometimes we just get lazy, or self-centered, putting our own comfort before the needs of anyone else. We just neglect to do the thing that God has prodded us to do --- sometimes as simple as making that phone call or caring for someone who needs a little help. We just ignore the promptings of the Spirit.

And sometimes God sends us a human person, who tells us what we needed to hear. We need to listen.

So I pray that you and I, each of us, find sure peace in the joy of following God’s direction always. He loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die, to save us!  And as this Christmas season fades into the new year, do join me in determining to make every decision, every thought, every action one that will bring glory to our wonderful Father!

Norma Stockton

Norma.png

In the Silence

I was taking a few quiet moments while it was still dark and everyone else was still in their beds to quiet my own heart. I’ve been trying to learn to practice the discipline of silence…I set the timer on my phone for 5 minutes (because that’s pretty much all the SILENCE I have the capacity to cultivate right now!) and I practice silence. Outside and inside. Phew. It’s a little odd and a little hard. Especially internal silence. There are all these words and thoughts and distractions running around in my mind. But my purpose of adding the practice of silence to my quiet moments with God is to realize just how busy and frantic and distracted I can typically get…and to cultivate a place where I simply am with God, with no agenda. Just quiet. Just acknowledging Him. Not thinking any great theological thought or solving my problems. Just with Him. And I have to tell you, it is SO good for me in this season.

So, if you’re like me, and your internal world is sometimes busy and loud, and your pace is often fast and sometimes full of distractions, I’d invite you to try the discipline of silence with me. It takes a little bit of work, but it is so rewarding, because it carved out a precious space of learning to sit with God.

Here’s what I do.

I make sure I’ll be practicing silence at a time where I’ll also have the gift of solitude. If I’m not alone, this kind of silence is almost unattainable. I set my timer for 5 minutes. I sit in a comfy chair…and I lay my hands open on my lap. I close my eyes and I quietly pray the verse over my soul, ‘Release your grip, and know that He is God.’

Then I just breathe. And as I breathe, I receive the breaths as a gift from God- each breath His affirmation of my life. His affirmation of my existence, my being alive right here, right now, in this day and time and place. I rest in the awhile.

I push out any distractions that try to come into my mind- either external noises or reminders of things to do, or internal thoughts or imaginations of what I should be thinking or feeling…and I just sit, I just breathe, receiving the ‘being with God-ness’ that I’m learning to recognize in those moments.

Then, after awhile, I have a phrase I pray. It helps me ask God for what I really want. I pray ‘Holy Spirit, commune with me, a sinner.’ Each of those phrases are meaningful to me. ‘Holy Spirit’ is meaningful to me because it reminds me that God already, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, has chosen to take up residence INSIDE of me. ‘Commune with me’ is meaningful to me because that’s what I truly long for- relationship with my Creator. I want the gift of Himself…which I could never deserve. And when I end with ‘a sinner,’ I love remembering how unholy I am on my own, how unworthy I am of the presence of God. But in His infinite mercy, He has chosen to come close to ME. A sinner.

Around that time, my timer goes off. I open my eyes…and that’s it! I’ll spend time with God in other ways, but this silence component is just so special to me in these days. I’d invite you to check it out with me, and see what happens.

Sarah.png

The Sacred Mundane

At home, my husband Joel and I have been trying to actively teach one of my daughters what it means to be grateful. There is usually part of each day that involves her inquiring about what exciting thing we will be doing that day or what treats she will be having, followed by a lot of huffiness if the answer is not to her liking. To be fair, we as a family do try to enjoy each other’s company and daddy’s time off by going on what we call family dates. They most often aren’t elaborate. We end up sitting in coffee shops a lot to color or playing at the mall play place for free. However, we do this about once a week, so they have come to look forward to it and expect it. So on the other six days when my daughter’s questions are met with the ordinary happenings planned for the day she has taken to big sighs and saying, “Is that all?”  

I hear you, baby. I can commiserate with the child, having asked this question in life more than a few times myself. Is it an issue with gratitude? Sure. Sometimes. However, I think something I am struck by that goes deeper than that is our view of the ordinary and mundane. I can think of big times in my life where my sighs before God of “Is that all?” were just as dramatic as my preschooler’s. When I came home from college and it took a while to find a job, only to end up working at a restaurant for some time to pay the loans that were coming up for repayment, I asked the question, “Is this it? I thought there would be something more exciting awaiting me in this transition.” I am a stay at home mom, and after having my second daughter my husband worked a lot. She was a few months old, my oldest daughter was only a year and a half and it was winter. I was at home feeling lonely while trying to figure out how to juggle two under two years old. There were times during that season that I was confronted by the challenges and ordinariness of my long days, and I asked the same question.

In my questioning I have come to realize as I have unpacked those seasons and similar more recent ones that there has been a recurring theme. My asking, “Is this all?” or wondering, “That’s it?” stems from a working view that life is a big exciting adventure and I am missing out, or everyone else is doing big things for God and I’m not. Life happens “out there somewhere” and there must be something I’m missing if I am only experiencing the mundane. God is out there, and I am here cleaning boogies. Right? Wrong!

God is in the mundane! He is alive and moving and just as much a part of my wiping noses as He is with those doing formal ministry. He is not absent but He “…gently leads those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11). He does not view children as a hindrance to His “greater work” but says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). He doesn’t need me to make big, showy sacrifices or assume that He wants me to be doing more than what He asks. Samuel rebukes Saul for that very thing because he disobeyed the Lord, trying to do for Him what wasn’t required. Samuel replies, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as obeying the Lord?” (1 Samuel 15:22) Yikes.

There is something about God’s presence in the mundane and ordinary that feels mysterious because there is a sense that though He is there to draw close, it can be easy for us to miss or overlook Him. We serve a dynamic God who is equally gentle as He is powerful. He whispers to Elijah on Mt. Horeb after an earthquake, wind and fire preceded him (1 Kings 19:11-13). He is also a God who shows big and glorious manifestations of His presence for all to see, as well as hidden ones to individuals. He appeared to Mary to tell her she would have God’s son. He took what might have been an ordinary point of her day and made it holy with His presence.    

All is for His glory. The presence of Jesus, Emmanuel, has made the mundane sacred, and by that awareness I am changed. There are exciting and miraculous things happening right in front of me. I am not missing out. In this week before Christmas may we be reminded of the nearness of God and have eyes to see His work in the bustle and busy, in stillness and quiet, in work and rest because He is as close as the reach of our hand.

Sophia.png

Jehovah Jireh

This fall my family and I have experienced some very unsettling changes in the area of finances. We lost 75% of my income over the span of a weekend due to unexpected and immediate layoffs at one of my jobs. As you can imagine, this set off a frenzied reaction in me where I began searching for anything and everything that I could do to fill this hole in our income. I interviewed for many jobs…even ones that I knew would be unwise choices for our family. I began taking on side jobs that consumed most of my time and ended in frustration for both me and my family with very little monetary gain in the end.

I remember about a month after being laid off I woke up with an old song in my head “Jehovah Jireh, my provider, His grace is sufficient for me…”. I hadn’t heard this song in well over 15 years, and I knew it was a reminder from God that He is Jehovah Jireh (the LORD will provide), and that He would provide my needs and the needs of my family. Oh, how short-sighted I was though. I became so laser-beam focused on my request for God to provide in the area of my finances that I almost missed out on His real provision for me and my family.

While God has sustained our family in the area of finances and has shown provision in specific areas of our finances…our financial state remains more or less the same. I no longer feel desperate though. I’m no longer trying to fit square pegs in round holes. I’m able to rest in knowing God is providing and will provide. However, His provision in answer to my prayer looked NOTHING like what I was focusing on, and I’m so glad for that.

While I was waiting on God to “fix this money conundrum”, He began to give me precious glimpses of what He was really providing for me and my family. He began to greatly increase my desire for Him and my ability to walk in obedience to Him. He began to overwhelm me with His affections for me. He began to answer long standing prayers in my marriage and in my family. I began to see their hearts being turned more fully toward Him. He gave my soul the ability to rest and trust and know the goodness of God in all circumstances.

As we moved into the Advent season, I continued to think about God’s provision in sending Jesus to a broken earth and a presumptuous people. I’ve been thinking about and relating to the Israelites who believed that the Messiah was indeed coming. They knew the prophecies, they believed them! They were certain that He was coming to end their slavery, to end their suffering as a people group. He was coming to redeem them and make right all of the wrongs done at the hands of their oppressors. They believed their Messiah would be born into a position of power, one that would overthrow Roman rule, return them to a nation of their own. They believed they would have a Messiah who ruled from David’s throne! They believed these things would come to pass, but the way in which their Messiah would provide proved to be very different from their presumptions. They wanted a military leader, an earthly king, someone born into authority and influence….they most certainly were not expecting a baby born to a poor, young virgin.

Many who awaited the Messiah were so consumed by their version of what provision would look like that they missed the Messiah completely.

May we recognize God’s provision in the arrival of our Messiah on that first Christmas, in the gift of His manifest presence and in the grace of glimpses into His goodness and sovereignty while we await His return.

Merry Christmas!


—Lindsay Thompson

Lindsay T.png


Any Room?

Untitled1.png

I wish I could take credit for this story.

I wish I could give credit for this story.

I heard it somewhere, sometime, but I honestly don’t remember where or when. I was delighted to discover a version of it on Google. Somebody else loves it as much as I do; but they, too, don’t know where it came from.

I think of it every year at Christmas. I wonder if, now, you will too.

The Story of Wally                                                                     

 

Once there was a little boy who was involved in a Christmas play at church. His name was Wally. Wally was big for his age—seven years old. He was very friendly and quite excitable; everyone liked him. Wally was a slow learner. Wally’s family had only been coming to the church since summer, but now that the annual Christmas play was coming, everyone wondered what role the teacher would give him. He was on pins and needles as the teacher announced who would play each part. The rest of the Sunday School children thought, “He’s too big to be a sheep because they give that role to the little kids. Perhaps he could pull the curtain or light the lights.”

The director went down the list. Tommy would play Joseph. Clark, Jenny and Peter would be the Heavenly Host. Mary would, of course, be Mary. And then, to everyone’s surprise, the teacher gave Wally the role of the innkeeper. Wally was delighted. He even had a speaking part! All he had to learn was one line: “There is no room in the inn.” He practiced it every day before the big night. Even on the way to school he would repeat, “There is no room in the inn. There is no room in the inn.”

Then came the night of the Christmas program. The parents and grandparents took their places. Every seat was filled. The children entered singing “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The lights dimmed. A hush moved over the audience. The curtain opened. Mary and Joseph entered the stage and walked up to the large wooden door that was to represent the inn. They knocked on the door and Wally came out, dressed as the most perfect innkeeper you have ever seen.

In a loud, confident voice, Joseph looked at Wally and said, “Please sir, my wife is not well. Could we have a room for the night?”

Wally was ready for his line. He had rehearsed it for days. He began loudly, “There is…” and he hesitated. He started over again a little quieter. “There is…” and again his mind went completely blank. His cheeks flushed red. His heart began to pound. Sweat began to form on his brow. Everyone in the auditorium was absolutely silent, feeling a little embarrassed for poor Wally who just didn’t know what to do. Wally’s mom tried to mouth the words to him, but his eyes were fixed on the brilliant stage lights.

After a few uncomfortable moments, Joseph thought he would improvise and started walking away toward where the stable was set up on stage left. Wally looked at Joseph and seeing him walking away, in desperation called out: “Hey, there’s no room in the inn… but there is lots of room at my house. Why don’t you just come home with me!”

 

Isn’t that a precious yet thought provoking twist to our traditional Christmas story? I think that Wally was really on to something.

And I hope I am too.

I love the hustle and bustle of Christmas. I love the decorations, the carols, the cookies, the lights, the gatherings, the gifts…I am no Grinch or Scrooge by a long shot.

But what I love most is reflecting on and celebrating the extravagant love of my Father and the incomprehensible humility of His dear Son, Jesus, who “leaves the splendor of glory to come to a shattered earth to suffer and die for self-oriented rebels. The Messiah is not born in a palace but in a stable. He lives his life as a pilgrim denied a small luxury even animals enjoy—a home. He is despised and rejected, then subjected to a bloody and painful pubic crucifixion. And he does it all intentionally and willingly so that those rebels will be forgiven, so that those separated from God will have a home with him forever, and so that grace will be supplied to people in desperate need of it.” (Paul Tripp)

Few made room for Him then; few make room for Him now.

But I must. How can I not? How can He not be central to all I celebrate and enjoy?

After all, trite, maybe, but true: He IS the reason for the season.

And, like Wally, there’s room at my house. I want Him home in my heart—and not just at Christmas.

I hope you do too.

 

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,

When Thou camest to earth for me;

But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room

For Thy holy nativity.

 

Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang

Proclaiming Thy royal degree;

But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,

And in great humility.

 

 The foxes found rest and the birds their nest

 In the shade of the forest tree;

But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,

 In the deserts of Galilee.

 

 Thou camest, O Lord, with the living Word

 That should set Thy people free;

 But with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn,

 They bore Thee to Calvary.

When the heav’ns shall ring and her choirs shall sing,

At Thy coming to victory,

Let Thy voice call me home, saying “Yet there is room,

 There is room at My side for thee.”

 

O Come to my heart, Lord Jesus,

There is room in my heart for Thee.

—Eileen Hill 

Eileen - Blog Photo.png

Behold the Lamb

At this time of year, I LOVE listening to Andrew Peterson’s album called Behold The Lamb. He sings through the story of the Bible; every year I find it quite meaningful. 

I’d like to invite you to make some space to consider again how central and necessary the blood of Jesus is for us…using a song from that album. The song is following the narrative of Passover. Each time I hear it, the simplicity speaks deeply to me: calling me to remember the story of God and His people in the Old Testament, and to call to mind again that Jesus’ blood, as the sacrificial lamb, still creates a way for God’s judgement to pass over me today. 

Listen: If you’re able, to start off, listen to this song: Andrew Peterson ‘Passover Us.’ You can find it on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/EuMxnUxi6C8

Consider: The Lord has provided His blood to cover over us in all the areas of our lives, but so often we try other methods of dealing with our mess, dealing with our brokenness. 

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

Psalms 139:23-24 ESV

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins [neither release from sin and its guilt, nor cancellation of the merited punishment].” Hebrews 9:22 AMP

Ask the Lord: ‘Lord, are there ways I am attempting to cover over my brokenness with something other than your blood? Am I forgetting that your blood is powerful to be applied in every area of my life? Help me to receive the free gift of your blood in specific areas today. Amen.’

Write down: Spend a few moments writing down areas where the Lord is inviting you to receive His blood. 

—Sarah Howard

Sarah.png


Advent is Just Around the Corner

Advent this year begins on Sunday, December 2, which is just around the corner! Several years ago I realized that every year when Christmas came around, I really wasn’t ready. All the decorations were up, my gifts had been purchased, everything had been wrapped, all the cookies were made and dinner with all the trimmings had been completed, but my HEART was not ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Although I enjoy giving gifts and being around family and friends I love so much, my heart was not in a place to experience Immanuel, God with us!

Advent is a season of anticipation, of holy waiting and active hope. It can be a time for dreaming and creativity. The last several years, I decided to do some things to prepare my heart to be excited about the true meaning of Christmas, and I thought I would share some of the things that have helped me to be ready, as well as some ideas I would like to try this year or in the future.

    • Bible journaling through Advent has been a fun way (for me) of interacting with Scripture. Some options for how to do this are shown here. I have tried Waiting ‘Round the Wreath and enjoyed it very much.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list, but it hopefully gives you a starting place to think of ideas that suit you. I hope these suggestions give you some time to prepare for Advent, and I hope you enjoy the upcoming Season! I would love to hear about any of the ways your family prepares their hearts for Christmas.

—Charissa Ricketts

The Heart of True Repentance

As a Christ-follower (a disciple of Jesus), you may sometimes wonder why your spiritual leader always seems to be calling you toward repentance. It’s like there’s this constant tension in the flesh (sin nature) to be pulled into that, yet this greater effect of the Spirit of God indwelling true believers to have us walk in repentance in truth and in the righteousness of Christ. In our lives it is often tempting to simply look on the surface to identify obvious, besetting sins- the ones of external clarity. And we should repent of this also. But I believe the LORD wants us to allow Him to examine our own hearts. It’s the inside stuff that they LORD is after and calls us away from. It’s the subtle, unseen desires of our tragically flawed hearts that He calls away from idolatry (any heart belief/want/desire not aligned with the Word of God) into a true worship of Christ Jesus.

This transition to true worship in the allegiance of our hearts is the core of repentance. It makes us ashamed and sorry for where we are truly guilty. It makes us desire to discard what is false and exchange it for what is true. It causes us to forsake sin and rebellion and deceit for the righteousness of the Savior. It’s way more than law keeper. It’s the New Covenant. It’s better. And this is why your spiritual leaders unashamedly always call you to repentance as they help examine your hearts, your motives and your core beliefs. Those who deal with you superficially and merely help you feel better about yourself probably shouldn’t use such flattery in the mask of encouragement. Rather, may we bind ourselves to Jesus our LORD, so that we gan His mind, His attire, His holy heart.

—Thor Knutstad

Thor.png

Is Light Sufficient?

We all find ourselves in situations that, by nature, are dark or that demand a level of light that would allow us to see better.

A dark time in my life came after I graduated from high school, a few moons back, and I was faced with the question, “What am I going to do with my life?”. There were several options to consider but not all were viable or attainable for me. I entered a season in my life where I needed light, I needed clarity to be able to make decisions according to my reality and God’s will for me.

Cancer has a way of introducing people to a dark time. This has been the case with my son-in-law, my daughter, my wife, others and me. As my son-in-law received a cancer diagnosis, the lights were dimmed and what became obvious was a great amount of questions no one could answer for him. 

Recently, I have found myself involved in conversations that portray different human experiences ranging from family crisis, abusive situations, addictions that destroy lives, marriage disappointments, deaths, physical elements and limitations that change lives in tremendous ways, lives gripped by anxiety and fears, and the list goes on and on.

I ask myself these days, “Is light all we need?”. 

persona_tunnel.jpeg

I have recently found, through someone else, the answer to this question. In Psalm 27, King David addresses God, his Lord, as his “light and salvation”. The combination of these two realities is so comforting! When I face dark, difficult times in my life I do need light to see better, to uncover what is concealed, and to gain better perspective. But I also need a Savior in the room. Seeing better is not sufficient. Seeing and not having appropriate and timely help can send anyone to despair. Jesus can do both and it is him whom I want in the room of every moment of my life. He claimed to be light: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). Furthermore, he is able to save, he has been given authority over all and he lacks no power to accomplish what is good for me and what ultimately brings glory to Him.

King David did not stop there. He concluded the thought: because the Lord is my light and my salvation, I will not fear. Fear is placed in its proper place when I realize that I am not left to figure out life on my own and that someone able to help is in the room with me.

So as you face your dark moments in life, remember that Jesus can offer to you what you need the most and the best. And as you get to experience His “light and salvation” you will be  encouraged as King David was to believe and to wait (verses 13-14):

“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord

    in the land of the living!

Wait for the Lord;

    be strong, and let your heart take courage;

    wait for the Lord!”


—Diego Cuartas

Diego.png


A Lasting Legacy

It’s been six months since I turned thirty. I feel like now that things have settled into a new normal after welcoming our third baby in the spring, I can actually think about what that means to me. I’m no longer just out of high school. I’m not even just out of college. My twenties were marked by a lot of steep learning curves in every way. At age 20 I was a sophomore in college worried about making it through Organic Chemistry, and 10 years later I am married with three children and worried about my four year old’s asthma. We bought a minivan this spring after the baby was born, and there are times when I will be driving down the road and think, “Am I old enough to have a minivan full of kids?” “Who let me have a minivan full of kids?” Haha. A lot has happened in the last 10 years complete with re-routed dreams, suffering, wrestling with identity, discovery of new dreams, getting married, having babies, and learning, learning, learning through it all.

I have been struck with a thought recently, not just about everything that I am leaving behind as far as experiences and lessons learned in my twenties, but about what I am pushing toward going into my thirties and beyond. Within the last few weeks I have attended a funeral and heard of the passing of several other beloved people from our community or church family. People from my grandparents’ generation continue to leave us as time marches on and we all move up in line. This picture of being in line so to speak came to me after the funeral. Before you are like, “Oh my goodness Sophia! You are so morbid!” hear me out. I don’t mean that we are all just marching along toward death, but as we continue to mature and get older, it is important that we take our place, not just in society, but also in our generation and in the body of Christ.

The funeral I attended recently was for a dear high school teacher. She was a beautiful, spunky woman who loved big. She loved God, her family and students. What stood out to me from her funeral and her life was that she was a woman who was intentional about leaving a legacy of faith for the next generation. She had the future and heaven in mind. My grandparents and others I have known were the same.

So now what? It’s my turn. It’s my turn to take the legacy of faith left to me by these followers of Jesus and those who went before them and pass it on. I feel like I am moving up or being promoted. What an honor. I want to take my place as a thirty year old having graduated from one decade and being welcomed into another. I don’t have to pretend to be as mature as I hope to be at 40 and 50, and I don’t have to bemoan not being 20. I want to look ahead to the future and toward heaven by looking behind me at my children and their generation. I may not have a million dollars to leave them, but I have my eyes on an inheritance worth far more than that, that will never tarnish or fade.

What does it look like for me to take steps in building that legacy this year? It looks like me seeking Jesus like the great treasure He is, loving big even when no one is looking, being wholehearted and fully present in what I give my time to, being willing to be vulnerable by sharing my process, taking faith filled risks, and not letting fear be the loudest voice. I want my children and their generation to be able to say of me the same things they did about my high school homeroom and English teacher, that I lived with gusto and passion for Jesus and loved people well. I want to be a good example having learned from some of the best. I am looking forward to all that I will continue to learn on the path. Cheers! to being thirty… and a half.

—Sophia Howard

Sophia.png


Risking Emotional Safety for the Kingdom of God

I’ve admittedly had a lot of wrong assumptions about the person and character of God throughout my faith journey to date. For a time, I remember imagining Him as this distant entity completely ruled by logic. Weighing the good and the bad and then decreeing judgment and punishment if the bad outweighed the good. I believed that He wasn’t pleased by emotional expression of any kind, and instead wanted us as believers to dedicate ourselves solely to knowledge, in-depth biblical research and theology. Those things are important of course, but I now feel like I have a healthier, more biblically sound understanding of who God is. An understanding informed by John 4:24 (NLT) “For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”  God wants my thoughts AND my emotions. He wants both, because He is both. He made us in His image, so as image bearers of Him, we too are filled with emotion by design. We honor the very essence of God in us as image bearers when we are willing to recognize our emotional selves. We honor the essence of God in others as image bearers when we are willing to engage their emotional self as well. So then why does it feel like so many of our relationships have the tendency to settle on the surface? Why do we become so “picky” about who we engage with on an emotional level?

In my own life, and in my work as a counselor, I find that there are some common themes around why we might avoid connecting with others on an emotional level. Some of these include: fear of rejection and/or abandonment, a desire to avoid feelings of disappointment in others, a persistent mistrust of others, guilt or shame about our emotional process, or a desire to avoid pain and hurt at all cost. The common thread throughout these themes seems to be a desire for self-protection through “emotional safety.”  It makes logical sense why we want to protect ourselves in this way. Vulnerable human interaction has the potential to be messy, unpredictable, and painful. The reality, however, is that when we place our highest value on self-protection in this way, we can fall into patterns of isolation, withdrawal, emotional numbing, intense emotional distress, anxiety, or feelings of loneliness and depression. We weren’t designed for self-protection and isolation; we were designed for intimate community.

I find that scripture is filled with examples of emotional displays of God toward us, and of Jesus toward others when He was on earth. The Bible often speaks about an emotional Jesus who (for the purpose of displaying God’s glory) was moved to respond to others who were experiencing suffering and pain (Matt. 9:36, Luke 7:13, Mark 1:41). I think it’s beautiful that there are also many different depictions in scripture of the emotionally intimate nature of Jesus’ relationship with his disciples (John 13; John 15:12-13; Matthew 26:36-38). These were relationships where they moved toward each other in their emotional process, not away from each other out of the fear of getting hurt. I think it’s both a difficult and beautiful example for us to follow.   

It’s easier to risk emotional vulnerability when we believe that it will be reciprocated. It’s much harder to do that when there is no guarantee of the outcome. Jesus acknowledged this in Matthew 5: 43-47 (The Message Version) “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy’. I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best- the sun to warm and the rain to nourish- to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the loveable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of the-mill sinner does that.”

There’s a concept used in group counseling called a microcosm, “something (such as a place or an event) that is seen as a small version of something much larger.” What this means to me is that the way that we move toward one another within the body of Christ, specifically the confines of our church family, is likely the way we move toward others in the larger context of the world. Community in our church is the ‘practice’ of our call to move toward others in a display of God’s love and compassion. This furthering of the kingdom of God cannot be done apart from the risk of emotional vulnerability. God doesn’t just leave us reeling in the fear of losing our emotional safety though. What He calls us to He promises to help us through. Isaiah 41:10 (NLT) “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand”.

If emotional safety is our aim, then what safer place can there be but the Father’s own hand?

Below are a few questions for further exploration, areas that God may be calling you to walk in increased emotional vulnerability both for your spiritual growth and for the furthering of the kingdom of God.

1.     Do I quench the prodding of the Holy Spirit to move toward others in emotionally vulnerable ways out of fear? If so, take some time to read through this list to see if any of these fears fit, if not, try to sit and prayerfully ask God to reveal other areas of fear to you.

       - Rejection (“They will ignore me,” “They will be invalidating toward me,” “They will think I’m being “fake,” “They will think I’m “weak,” “messy” or “dramatic)

       - Inadequacy (“I won’t have the right things to say,” “I’m socially awkward,” “I need to warm up to people,” “I don’t have a relationship with them so it will be weird for both of us”)

       - Uncertainty (“Do I really feel the Holy Spirit prompting me toward this person,” “Will they think I’m being presumptuous in sharing with them what God has placed on my heart,” “Will this person use this information against me in the future,” “Is it really my place to say this”)

 

2.     Are there patterns in my life where I prioritize self-protection over emotional vulnerability? Do I numb away from my emotions? Do I view emotions as an obstacle to overcome, rather than an opportunity to honor or grow in my design as an image bearer of God?

Ask God to show you practical steps toward practicing increased emotional vulnerability at church, in your marriage, in your family, in your friendships, at work, or in your community.

Ask Him to help navigate you through the potential pain and fear of emotional vulnerability, and to provide healing and restoration that will strengthen you for the ongoing nature of His high calling on your life.

—Lindsay Thompson

Lindsay T.png

The Elderly Man


old-151794__340.png

Not sure why this affected me so much. It was a five second incident this morning that has bothered me all day. Maybe in its telling I can find some understanding…and maybe a little peace.

I was minding my own business, deleting those infernal emails that keep popping up like pesky garden weeds in my inbox. I was early for a doctor’s appointment. Because he is associated with a university hospital across the river, my doctor’s office is part of a massive complex where several doctors practice. The waiting area is huge; there are three or four large squares of chairs situated across the spacious lobby. I had opted for a seat in the middle square near the door I knew was my physician’s.

People moved in and out but it was not particularly crowded. Some folks chatted quietly, others were reading the well-worn magazines scattered around. Many were glued to the big screen TVs hanging from the walls, anxious to hear the latest news about Hurricane Florence as she made landfall, battering the Carolinas. I perked up. My oldest son and his precious family live in Durham. I wanted to check out the most up-to-date storm tracking models.

I think that’s when I first heard him. He was asking his companion whether she was nervous about the storm. He said he had seen some pretty frightening pictures of the gusty winds and torrential rains wreaking havoc in Wilmington. He was hoping he would get home before it reached New Jersey. He anxiously checked his watch. He shook his balding head, wondering aloud if his doctor would be “backed up today.” He didn’t want his friend caught in the storm either—especially if his appointment made her late getting home to safety.

His companion may have been his daughter or granddaughter. I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure she was family.  She was very kind. She smiled at him and gently explained that the hurricane was devastating Wilmington, North Carolina, not Wilmington, Delaware, and that its fury was still very far away. He laughed at himself, then, amused at his mistake. He began to tell her about family vacations to the Outer Banks, expressing concern for places he had visited along North Carolina’s pristine coastline.

I furtively glanced up at him, curious to see who the speaker was, then returned to my phone task, smiling. He was an elderly gentleman with an obligatory walker and hearing aid to prove it. He leaned toward his friend and chattered away, flashing a charming, slightly toothless, grin her way between his stories. He was thoroughly enjoying his wait…and so was she. The minutes ticked by. His doctor—and mine—were obviously “backed up.”  

Suddenly, from an adjacent seating area, harsh, angry words were violently slung across the room. “Shut the______ up!” Then a few more expletives exploded for emphasis, poisoning the lobby space even more. I froze in my chair, hesitating to look around, my heart racing in fear and annoyance both. What was happening? The ugly words hung oppressively in the air.

Summoning my courage, I looked up and around. Except for the talkative old gent across from me still engaged in a tale, the room had gone completely and uncomfortably silent. Every other waiting patient was awkwardly busy doing something—anything—in his or her lap. I couldn’t identify who had shouted because my view of the other seating area was partially blocked by plants and people, but I definitely could identify to whom the anger was misdirected.

Blushing, the sweet companion across from me tenderly laid her arm around the old man’s shoulders. “I think we need to be a bit quieter,” she said with a forced smile. “I think we may be bothering others.” A tear tricked down her flushed cheek and she quickly brushed it aside. I felt my own eyes fill.

Now I have to be honest. I suppose the old guy may have been talking a little louder than a non-hearing impaired person would, but he was not uncomfortably loud. And I was right there, likely the closest to them. I had noticed him, probably because he was easiest to hear, but he was not bothersome in any way. I rather enjoyed eavesdropping on his conversation. It reminded me of the many days I sat with my mom in similar waiting rooms. We, too, had prattled on. I wondered if we had irked a person or two ourselves.  

I caught the embarrassed caregiver’s eye. “I’m sorry,” I said, meaning it. She gratefully smiled in my direction. I think she was relieved that not everyone agreed with the rude shouter.

The man beside her was confused. He looked over at me too. “What’s wrong?” he asked simply. He hadn’t heard her. She patted his hand and explained once again that they had better keep their conversation to a minimum since they apparently were too noisy.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he so innocently replied. He flashed me that sweet grin, one surrounded by his graying, grizzly whiskers. “I got this hearing aid thing ‘cause I don’t hear so good anymore and I guess I can’t tell if I’m talking too loud or not. Didn’t mean to bother you, miss.”

I shook my head and assured him he hadn’t troubled me a bit. I directed my attention to his friend and repeated my words. She smiled again. I wanted her to know that neither of them had done anything to deserve that hateful, verbal barrage of abuse that had come their way. And I was grateful her little old gentleman was just deaf enough not to have heard a word of it. I only wish she had been too. I wish I had been.

When they left, she touched my shoulder and thanked me for my kindness. Really? All I had done was to feel her pain. 

So I have been replaying this scene all day. Am I upset because I was reminded how awful people can be to one another—especially to such a dear old man? Am I concerned that there seems to be no old-fashioned kindness, common courtesy, understanding, nor respect for our elders anymore? Was I shocked and offended that some person thought it was okay to spout obscenities in a room full of strangers? Is it that I’m really sad about the world we are passing on to my grandkids? I’m sure these are all true. But there is more.

I think this scene has exposed something in my heart that my loving Father wants to change or refine. Not again!

You see, I left the office today quite stirred inside, but I kept reminding myself how supportive and kind I had been to the couple across from me. No one else seemed to see how embarrassed and uncomfortable that poor woman felt. No one else came to their defense and tried to encourage them. I was pretty proud of myself. I felt like a good Christian.

But, honestly, that was easy for me. I’ve loved and cared for the elderly for years. I am very conscious of them and their unique needs because of my many caregiving roles. I readily identified with that caregiver. I’ve been that caregiver. Feeling her pain and pouring my love out to her was no big deal. Feeling protective of that gentleman was quite natural.

But God didn’t just love those two folks in that office. And I think this is the rub. There was someone else in that lobby that needed grace and love extended to him as well. And loving someone so hateful and harsh IS a big deal for me. That is not easy for me.

I can’t excuse that unknown shouter’s actions, but I can imagine the underlying pain and brokenness that his actions reveal.

I wonder what would have happened if someone seated near him had looked him in the eye and whispered, “I’m sorry” and meant it. Someone who recognized how much grace and understanding that angry man needed. Someone who could beautifully represent Jesus, the only one who could really heal his dark heart and rescue him from his tumultuous rage.

Someone like me.

I think that’s why I have been so uneasy today. I missed an opportunity. I wasn’t tuned in to my King. I didn’t love like He loves.

So I am reminded once more that I don’t get to pick and choose who the Father wants me to love. While I don’t think it was a wrong or a bad thing for me to encourage the lady and her charge, I think I just quit too soon. I think there was more Kingdom work for me to do in that office.

Forgive me, Father.

—Eileen Hill

Eileen - Blog Photo.png


Unbelief: A Hindrance to Entering God’s Rest

Are you restless or anxious? Are you missing the rest God intends for you?

There is a clear connection between faith and entering God’s rest, between unbelief and failing to enter God’s rest. Unbelief has a way of deceiving and hardening our hearts to the point where we end up trapped in sin. Ultimately, unbelief leads to disobedience.

The chosen people of God in the Old Testament, not very different than us, are our example. Their unbelief, we are told, led them to rebellion against God’s ways and His plan for them. As a result, they provoked God and He led them through the wilderness for 40 years. Furthermore, He prevented them from entering His rest and the promised land.

So the warning given through the author of Hebrews still rings truth to us today. Two times the warning is presented to us in the following way: 

“Today, if you hear his voice,

do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (Heb 3:7-8, 15)

In looking further, into chapters 3-4, we can see that entering God’s rest refers to resting from our works—just like God rested from His. It also refers to the fact that when we rest we are actually obeying God’s will and thus entering into what He has for us.

Can you recall a moment when you entered God’s rest? You knew you were trusting? You tasted the blessing of His plan?

Just in case we need good examples of what this looks like, Moses and Jesus are described as faithful ones over the house of God. In the case of Moses, he was introduced to point to a better reality. In the case of Jesus, He is the Son set over the house of God—His people. In chapter two, we are told that Jesus “was faithful to him who appointed him” (verse 2). Jesus is our ultimate example of what it means to believe, obey and enter God’s rest.

How are you struggling to believe?

How is your heart being deceived or hardened?

Any ways you can celebrate God’s rest in your life?

The Good News is that there is One who qualifies as our perfect example. His name is Jesus. But there is more. He has become the “author and perfecter” of our faith (Heb 12:2). So even when we are struggling to belief we can go to Him—He is able to perfect what we cannot perfect on our own efforts. 

Take courage. Where there is a hindrance to belief there is a Savior who is committed to make our faith complete.

—Diego Cuartas

Diego.png

Diagnosis 911: Buszerkitis

Description- A tendency to stay very BUSY that can lead to a disorder called
GOING BERSERK.

I was driving to work one morning this week, stopped at a red light and thought, ”Hmmm, busy and berserk sound similar. That’s interesting!” That is how my brain tends to work. Think I will write a blog about that.

So, I get to the office. I then reflect on statements that I hear from the majority of the many people I chat with....

“It’s been such a BUSY week”
“Our kids are so BUSY”
“We are too BUSY to go to TFL classes”
“We were too BUSY to get to worship this week”
“We are too BUSY to pray together”
“I am too BUSY to spend time with God”
“I’m too BUSY to come to counseling”
“We are too BUSY to invest in our marriage”
“I am so BUSY at work”
“I have to stay BUSY because I can’t stand down time”
“BUSY is my middle name!”
“There is not enough time in the day because I am soooo BUSY”
“I am too BUSY to eat right”

BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY!!!!!

My friends:) These are the statements that people truly believe but the truth is:

B- BEING

U- UNDER

S-  SATAN’S

Y-  YOKE

Often BUSYNESS is a tool of the enemy that pulls us away from our Savior and feeds the false gospel of saving ourselves.

There is no way any of us can hear God’s still small voice in BUSYNESS.

I used to buy into the American cultural belief system that staying BUSY meant that you were an active, contributing member of society that would be a successful, prestigious person who would have a great big house and blinged out car, get married and have a bunch of kids. That was success!  That was fulfilling the American Dream, right? I went BERSERK!! I really did. I began to feel empty, working many jobs at one point in my life to pay bills, and seek relationships as medication. The next chapter: I entered COUNSELING!!! I began to seriously seek God’s plan for my life. At this point, I live in a wonderful little house, drive a car that works, I am not married and have no children. I love my life!!! Because it is the life God has called me to. I would have been miserable if I continued to strive and pursue what my then friends, family and work said I was supposed to be and look like.

This is a lie my friends. It leads to a lifestyle that felt like I was going BERSERK! Have you ever felt that way, or was it just me??

I would encourage you to not let the “calendar monster,” as I call it, fill up with BUSYNESS. Set those boundaries. Say ‘Yes’ to life-giving things that lead you to Jesus and ‘No’ to those things He is NOT calling you to- even taking roles in the church ministries!

He has made you special, unique and one-of-a-kind. You have a unique design on your life and a purpose to live out. It is your responsibility to protect those gifts and talents that He has given you :)

Learning to say Yes and learning to say No prevents BUSZERKITIS. It is a painful disorder and I encourage you to take steps to avoid it!

Lois.png

A Time of Change

If you were there, I don’t need to tell you what a great sermon Pastor Greg preached last Sunday. God has given it all to him it: warmth, humility, love, understanding, and even a touch of whimsy. But yesterday, especially, I was strongly reminded of my earliest knowledge of Samson, and how it separated me from any interest in God.

I grew up in church; Sunday school, Young Peoples, choir, the whole bit. But no one there ever told me the truth about the Bible’s “men of God.” They were, all of them, described as near-perfect people. And we were encouraged to be perfect, too. This was a long time ago, in the 30’s and 40’s, but I’m not sure things have changed that much in some churches. What it did to me was to present an unreachable goal, totally divergent from reality, peopled with folks with whom I could not identify at all, and a God who would never care about a young girl who was often angry, sometimes dishonest, and surely far from perfect. I didn’t know any better. But I was baptized anyway, because all my friends at church had already taken that step, and I went on for years believing that I was a Christian, without changing anything at all. I wasn’t Jewish, so I MUST be a Christian, mustn’t I? My parents were, and my grandmother (embarrassingly!) REALLY was, so what else could I be?

Years later, of course, in my forties, I really did come to know the real God and my beloved Savior Jesus, and read the Bible cover to cover, and discovered the full truth about those men of God. It was a definite “ahHA! Moment, and taught me how God loves us in spite of our imperfection, even beyond our comprehension! I could suddenly see how God used sinful people, even in their disobedience, to further His immutable plan. So much started to make sense.

But this isn’t just about Greg presenting Samson in all his humanity and bad choices. The fantastic truth is that God blesses us every day with His Holy Spirit guidance and with the opportunity to be ourselves a part of His plan for us, by making our own right choices. I had never heard so clearly how Samson’s bad choices can easily be our own bad choices, leading to pain and misery. Our clothing styles may have changed many times, but people have not changed at all, in any way. Greg’s message last Sunday made this truth inescapably clear, and he spoke it with love and compassion. If you weren’t there, you should really go online and hear it!

The point of all this is this: we as a church are right now in a season of change, when we welcome Pastor Greg as our new Senior Pastor. It can’t be the easiest time for him; it certainly wouldn’t be for me were I in his shoes. But just this once, let me remind you of my 87 years, and give you some good advice: if Greg were Billy Graham himself he would still need your love and support and appreciation right now. I hope he doesn’t mind my featuring him today, but his sermon last Sunday was one of the best I have ever heard. Ever. It touched me deeply. If this is an example of the future, I am really excited!

—Norma Stockton

Norma.png


The Last Things an Old Wise Man Had to Say to the Church

The message on the book of 3rd John found here is included as a follow up to my last blog article.  I preached this sermon on 7/29/18, about six weeks ago.  Listen specifically in the message for the main characters (Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius) whom John discusses. The distinctions in each are highlighted by the beloved old apostle John who is the wise man speaking in 3rd John.  Also, there is a tone of love with which John speaks in this short but beloved epistle. It is my hope and my prayer that the LORD Jesus through the Spirit of God would teach you and encourage you and challenge you in this short commentary on 3rd John. May His Spoken Word drive you back to the Word.

—Thor Knutstad

Thor.png


Can We Talk About What Happened Sunday?

On Sunday we had an amazing family celebration. Angelo led our first ever worship service with an alternate venue. We had a beautiful time praying over teachers, administrators and students who are going back to school; we honored the legacy of Nate and Sharon's ministry; we were challenged by our Bridgeton Church planter Isai Garcia to consider our calling and then we celebrated four lives committed to Jesus in baptism. After all of that, we had some great food with and amazing water slide! It was a fun, worshipful family celebration. While I would enjoy talking about those with you, that is not the part of Sunday I would like to talk to you about.

Matthew King, who is not a member or an attendee of Living Faith, came into our worship service, not to worship or celebrate the work of God in the lives of the four people being baptized, but to be disruptive. He called all the attention to himself and shouted a message about the return of Jesus and then fled. He had a driver waiting for him outside so that he could flee the scene and drive to another church and repeat the same disruptive message. The police are aware of at least nine other incidents since 2015 where Matthew and some other men have acted out their aggressive shouting of a Biblical message.

Our security team spotted him and moved toward him as he yelled in the sanctuary and then ran through our lobby and cafe and out to the car that was waiting for him. I am thankful for our children's ministry team, who responded well by following protocol for Safe Place and our security team who also served our church community by identifying the man, ensuring that he left the premises and following up with the local police.

Even though his message was Biblical, Jesus will return, his chosen means of communicating that message distorts and dilutes the truth. It does not result in the bride of Christ being prepared for His return but rather confusion, fear, and a dishonoring of what the Spirit of God was doing in our worship service. That is not the work of the Holy Spirit. This is what the New Testament calls a false prophet (2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 4:1). His choice to disrupt our service was not an act of worship of God but rather it was self focused. It pulled all of our attention off of the beauty of the steps of faith happening through the baptism and onto himself. His actions were not designed to glorify God but himself. 

As followers of Jesus, one thing that we are constantly asking is, "What is God doing? What is God up to in this situation?” I want to attempt to answer that first by saying there is no reason for us to panic over what happened. There is no reason to respond in fear or to sensationalize the event. What God is doing is what He always does: He is sovereignly and lovingly inviting us to faith (1 Peter 1:6,7). I want to tell you that this incident has the opportunity to increase our faith in at least three ways:

1. Who we are: Let it remind us that we are what Peter calls “sojourners and exiles” on the earth. That means this is not our home, and we live in a world that is broken, where people act selfishly and foolishly in a way that is not honoring to God but self, glorifying and disruptive to the worship God. 

2. Where is our hope: Being “sojourners and exiles” also means the we have home that we are looking forward to, and it is the builder and architect of that home who leads us and protects us now. Psalm 20:7 reminds us to not put our trust in anything less than God: "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God." I am thankful for our security team and their diligence and service, but we do not put our hope in ourselves or other men but rather in the One who watches over us. 

3. What is our purpose: As we remember who we are as sojourners and aliens and that this is not our home, we come to the realization that the Father has planted us here for a reason. Jesus said in Matthew 10, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” So let us be wise and have security and Safe Place protocol, but let us rally around why we are here as sojourners and aliens.  Matthew 10 said that we are “sent out.” We are here not just waiting for heaven but to live out our days pursuing the life changing presence of Jesus. We are here to impact South Jersey one precious life at a time.

Let us continue to pursue our Father together, let's strengthen our commitment to pursuing Jesus, and loving South Jersey, and let us do that with both wisdom (like Safe Place policy and security teams) and extravagant love (missional movement into our community and environments like Celebrate Recovery). The truth that has been at the foundation of creation and the fall is that what the enemy intends for evil, God intends for good. 

--Pastor Greg