Behold, The Fear of Knowledge is the Root of All Sorts of Problems

I was once told that my relationship with God cannot be based on simply knowing about him, but must also be based on experiencing him. I was in high school, and while I felt like I had a pretty solid relationship with God, this youth leader proceeded to point out that I was not very emotional or expressive about my faith. What I was passionate about (that he didn’t seem to notice) was learning about God. I spent several years after that discussion wondering what was wrong with me. I could look around and see people having these wonderfully expressive and emotional spiritual experiences, but I could never really get all hyped up like they could.  

If you know me, you know that I am not an emotional person. I once teared up at my grandfather’s funeral, but that’s only the second time in my adult life I remember almost crying. It’s not that I think emotions are bad, I just tend toward analytical processing over emotional. This has given me a unique perspective in my spiritual journey, one that that youth pastor couldn’t relate to.  

It also allows me to offer this “mirror” warning: Your relationship with God should not be based solely on experiencing him, but also on knowledge of him. And I honestly believe this is a problem in the American church. We have made Christianity all about the experience, at the expense of pursuing knowledge. We are afraid, perhaps, that too much information will spoil our buzz.

Ask the average American Christian about their faith, and they will almost certainly tell you about God’s love for them, their love for God, how their faith makes them feel hopeful, secure, joyous. Ask them about Calvinism (for example), and you’ll be met with blank stares. I’m not suggesting the first answers are bad, nor that everyone should have a deep understanding of Calvinism, but when a huge percentage of a population has knowledge as deep as a frisbee, we are bound to have problems.

I know that Joel Osteen is an easy target, but he’s familiar, so I’ll go with it. The reason he has such mass appeal, and the reason he makes some people’s ears melt (including mine), are the same. He preaches (if you can call it that) a Prosperity Gospel that is all about how you feel, and is utterly devoid of substance. Even late night comedian Stephan Colbert, when asking him about his book, The Power of I Am, expected it to be a reference to God as the “I Am”. He was quickly corrected by Osteen, who went on to tell him about how powerful positive thinking could be in your life, no need for theology.

I believe that this over reliance on emotion and skepticism of knowledge has even deeper ramifications. It relieves Christians of the need to think for themselves, and replaces it with a herd mentality that we can just do what all the other Christians are doing. I can go with the flow as long as I get to hear some encouraging words on Sunday. Not so sure you agree with what that pastor, politician, or Christian TV personality said? Oh well, don’t worry about it. He listens to worship music too, and it’s not like we have anything objective to judge it against, right?

Thankfully, there are opportunities to build your knowledge. At LFA, we have Truth for Living classes, Alpha, and events like the Parent Summit where we can gain useful knowledge and begin to think critically about what we’ve been told. Information and understanding are not to be feared, nor is it a waste of time to study theology, science, global politics, etc. We need to stop “dumbing down” Christianity in the American church. Faith can begin and be expressed through emotional experience, but it is grown and strengthened through knowledge of God’s word and his plan for humanity.  Emotions come and go, but knowledge tends to stick around.

--Jeff Hyson

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Choices for 2018

Well, it’s not quite light and I’m snuggled up on my couch. I’m watching the lovely snow dance and swirl around the trees in my woods--then settle, exhausted and silent, on the frozen ground. Now, normally, I would be filled with delight at its beauty and its accompanying solitude, the unexpected gift of a day interrupting the routine. But I am supposed to be in my car, on my way to celebrate Christmas with my southern belle granddaughters in Durham tomorrow. And one of my wonderful grandsons is graduating from the College of Missionary Aviation on Sunday in Florida. Instead of clicking off the miles heading south, I am clacking away on my laptop going nowhere. Rats!

Life doesn’t always go according to my plans, even my good ones.

But now I get to choose. Will I choose to be angry? Will I let my frustration and my disappointment control me? Will I then lash out at Kenny or be short and rude to my dear in-laws (who now live with us)? Will I be uptight and anxious and make myself feel physically rotten? Will I kick the dog—if I had one? I am disappointed and frustrated, there is no doubt. But I do have a choice.

Author Max Lucado, in a preface to his devotional, Grace for the Moment, addresses this idea of choosing. I think you will appreciate his thoughts as much as I do. This is something I aspire to as I greet an unknown and uncharted 2018.

Each Day…

 It’s quiet. It’s early. My coffee is hot. The sky is still black. The world is still asleep. The day is coming. 

In a few moments the day will arrive. It will roar down the track with the rising of the sun. The stillness of the dawn will be exchanged for the noise of the day. The calm of solitude will be replaced by the pounding pace of the human race. The refuge of the early morning will be invaded by decisions to be made and deadlines to be met.  

For the next twelve hours I will be exposed to the day’s demands. It is now that I must make a choice. Because of Calvary, I am free to choose. And so I choose.

 

I CHOOSE LOVE

No occasion justifies hatred;

no injustice warrants bitterness. I choose love.

Today I will love God and what God loves.

 

I CHOOSE JOY

I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance.

I will refuse the temptation to be cynical…

the tool of the lazy thinker. I will refuse to see

people as anything less than human beings, created by God.

I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than

an opportunity to see God.

 

I CHOOSE PEACE

I will live forgiven. I will forgive so that I may live.

 

I CHOOSE PATIENCE

I will overlook the inconveniences of the world. Instead of

cursing the one who takes my place, I’ll invite him to do so.

Rather than complain that the wait is too long,

I will thank God for a moment to pray. Instead of clenching my

fist at new assignments, I will face them with joy and courage.

 

I CHOOSE KINDNESS

I will be kind to the poor, for they are alone.

Kind to the rich, for they are afraid.  And kind to the unkind

for such is how God has treated me.

 

I CHOOSE GOODNESS

 I will go without a dollar before

I take a dishonest one. I will be overlooked before I will boast.

I will confess before I will accuse. I choose goodness.

 

I CHOOSE FAITHFULNESS

 My debtors will not regret their trust. My associates will not

question my word. My wife will not question my love.

And my children will never fear that

their father will not come home.

 

I CHOOSE GENTLENESS

Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle.

If I raise my voice, may it be only in praise.

If I clench fist, may it be only in prayer.

If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.

 

I CHOOSE SELF-CONTROL

I am a spiritual being…

after this body is dead, my spirit will soar.

I refuse to let what will rot rule the eternal.

I choose self-control. I will be drunk only by joy.

I will be impassioned only by my faith.

I will be influenced only by God.

I will be taught only by Christ.

I choose self-control.

 

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,

goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

To these I commit my day.

If I succeed, I will give thanks.

If I fail, I will seek His grace.

And then, when this day is done

I will place my head on my pillow

 and rest.

 It’s still snowing and the wind is relentless.  There is no way we should be out in this. A bit reluctantly, I am choosing patience. I am trusting God, who is not surprised by this blizzard- wannabe nor the thwarting of my plans. It has been a good morning to write, reflect, and pray, a special gift of unexpected time from my Dear Father who knew just what I needed. 

It feels good, doesn’t it, to make the right choices, to walk in the Spirit, making decisions according the Holy Spirit’s guidance and acting with the spiritual power that He provides? I wish I could say my life always bears fruit like this, which is pleasing to God.

I am praying it will be my pattern for this year.

How about you?

- Eileen Hill

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How Will You Walk in 2018?

These days still afford us the opportunity to consider how will we walk out our lives in this new year. The Apostle Paul challenges us in the letter to the Ephesians (chapter 5) to examine our walk. Click here and consider three important ways we are called to walk in. As you do so, you will also be reminded by Scott Hubbard that the "Christian life is not a sprint. It is a journey of ten million steps.” 

May God give us all grace so that our walk will bring glory to His Name.

- Diego Cuartas

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The Holidays: Not the Cover of Better Homes and Gardens?

What are we supposed to feel and think about the holidays?

Ahhh, THE HOLIDAYS! For some it is an, “AHHH, I can’t wait until the holidays are over!” And yet others say, “AHHH, Yeah!!! I can’t wait for the holidays to be here!” Whereas others say, “I’m numb, and it really doesn’t feel like the holidays because of very significant losses that have happened.”

I admit I have experienced all of the above to some degree. But usually I find myself getting very self-focused and wanting to experience a form of utopia.  Sometimes I am literally expecting that picture on the front of the magazine where all the family is gathered in the beautifully decorated BIG home, fireplace aglow, and all smiles with little appetizers in their hands, laughing. The table would be set with more silverware than I would know what to do with, the huge delectable turkey in the middle of the table and everyone holding hands, thanking God for His blessings. Dinner would be wonderful! No uncomfortable silences, everyone engaged with each other, not a cross word would be exchanged. We would all connect in meaningful ways. Then the coffee and MANY pies would be served. More laughing would occur as we moved into the huge living room with the fireplace (can’t leave that out!) as we began to play games as a family. Fully knowing each other, connecting and engaging. AHHH, the holidays!! Oh, and we can’t leave out the six inches of snow that spontaneously began to fall as well!!!

FUN WOULD BE HAD BY ALL!                          

Well, I can honestly say, I have never really experienced that scenario with my family. What I have experienced is some of the above...the fireplace all aglow, some laughing, many awkward silences, forced conversation with some, ministering to some, holding my tongue with others, and at times tactfully rebuking inappropriate behaviors demonstrated by the Christians in our family. I believe my family represents a microcosm of the world.

VERY, VERY MESSY AND UNCOMFORTABLE

Why is this?? Aren’t the holidays supposed to be celebratory? Hmmm...yes! But we must remember what we are celebrating!

Is Thanksgiving a time when we engorge ourselves, say thank you out loud for everything we have but make sure you keep it short so the food doesn’t get cold? Laughing and getting a buzz...  kick back because “darn it...we deserve a break from all the stress!” Christmas has it’s own scene going on, and unfortunately it doesn’t involve the manger scene...that gets squeezed in where it can fit. It has become a HUGE event that the advertisers enjoy showing more and more commercials of what we need, what to buy so we can be cool of course, and where to get it. Pipe in the Christmas scents through the store ventilation, play the music and put up the Santa so people will help us make more money for the stores revenue! YEAH!

Friends, is that what the holidays are really about?  NO!

Thanksgiving is a time that we celebrate what we are thankful for. In the Christian faith, we are primarily thanking God for who He is, what He has done through Jesus and how He has provided for us. It’s not about us.

Christmas is about us celebrating Jesus. Yes...Jesus. He came to save us from our brokenness, our broken families and our broken lives. Even our broken hearts when our idealistic holiday picture didn’t happen the way we imagined. He came for the picture I described my family to be.

I wonder what your experiences are with the holidays, where you are in your life. What you are looking forward to, what you are dreading, or the fact that you may just want to wake up when it’s all over. I don’t know where you are, but I know where I want to be. I want to keep focused on the One the holidays exist for. I want to be a part of the holiday where I can be used by the Savior Himself to bring about change in a broken world, a broken family, my own broken life. I know the Bible says in John 12:32 Jesus said,”And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

I would encourage all of us to be focused on this verse during the holiday season. I do believe that when we live that verse out, we will actually get closer to the picture I dream about. Hmm, new thought...maybe that desire I have is actually from God...when we get to the Great Banquet in Heaven:) A promise for all those that have placed faith in the One we celebrate, Jesus Christ.

Blessings My Friends,

--Lois Robinson

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Delays, Waiting, and a Longing Fulfilled: Remember These Things, Servant Stewards of LFA

When I came to Living Faith Alliance Church (henceforth and affectionately known as LFA) almost 7 years ago, land development in raising a new building structure had wisely been put on hold. The Governing Elders and the pastoral leadership team had made the decision to not move forward at that time. It was, as you now witness, the wisdom of wait. There is so much wisdom in waiting.

We are not a patient people by any means, and we hate to wait for things. We rarely say no to ourselves, and we have not mastered the desire of the fleshly sin nature to push ahead in action and execution of our plans. But the LORD's plans are purposes are always higher, better, and long lasting. Many look at the new sanctuary and worship center for LFA as a future tool - I see it as a labor of love that connects this beloved church body to the past. Men and women of God, with every effort to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit, have led well, have given much time and resources and prayer to this, and have continued to do ministry in spite of imperfect circumstances (this staff ministry team labors weekly to serve and love the people of the church and those in community who are met by others on mission). They have worked hard for your sake and for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. He, our Beloved Jesus, Immanuel, God Incarnate who is with us, is building His Church. This building will serve His purposes and His plans.

As a shepherd who provides biblical counsel and who teaches at many levels of church leadership, let me remind everyone that we will STEWARD this facility for WORSHIP - for we do not celebrate or worship a facility, but The LORD our God.  Let's remember how faithful our LORD Jesus has been to each and all of us. We are not owners; we are STEWARDS of this Great Entrustment called the church of Living Faith Alliance, at this 1987 South Lincoln Avenue, Vineland. May we build beyond these warm and welcoming walls to reach South Jersey and this region and beyond with your Gospel, as wise STEWARDS.  The facility of LFA as a building sanctuary of worship, God-glorifying music, sermons of truth, training, discipleship, youth, celebrations (weddings) and memorial services (funerals), and various kinds of ministry must be MANAGED WELL by faithful STEWARDS. These stewards (you and me) must envision the further expansion of Kingdom work throughout the region. Celebrate, yes. Dedicate, yes. Steward, even more so, yes. We joyfully do this, but I am not without warning in this.

These urged, loving warnings include the following:

1.  We will not get lazy with people ministry because we have a new, gorgeous facility. We want people to come; but we want also to live on mission and go to them. We are SERVANT STEWARDS in our respective ministries as the body of Christ, the church. So, we still, GO, and make disciples of others - out there, not just in here.  

2.  We will STEWARD well this blessed resource for Kingdom Advancement. This facility with not be used for everything. I am not speaking on behalf of the leadership team, but I can confidently say this - this building will not be used for anything and everything. Wise stewards will say "yes" and "no" to certain things as GOOD MANAGERS AND SERVANT STEWARDS. This building doesn't in any way decrease the work of the leaders here at LFA; it actually increases it. Pray for these servant steward leaders as their hearts are to manage this building well.  They have undertaken this venture very seriously and have invested hundreds and thousands of hours of input and adjustments for this new facility. If you are a leader on that team, you are prayed for. Follow the LORD biblically as you SERVE & STEWARD this tremendous facility blessing.

3.  We will not allow the enemy to divide us over the use and uses and rules and best practices related to a new facility. We will respect each other's giftedness and STEWARD accordingly how this new worship center is managed. Many have given and served to build this beautiful structure. It is warm and inviting and technologically advanced. Manage and steward it well. We will not be upset if something gets spilled or broken because usually it can be fixed; but we will also honor the rules of stewardship that serve to manage this facility the best. We will also not be upset by that other person who finds what is broken or cracked or stained and SERVES in STEWARDSHIP to rectify this. It takes a body of people to manage this well. But it will not divide this beloved people, the church. Rather, it will UNITE us as ONE BODY to reach people in this community and region.

4.  We will not be proud of this great work, but will HUMBLY BOW a bended knee before the One Who Has Provided it. It's HIS; not ours. It's HIS. Don't forget this, ever. This is His Church.

5.  We will not forget those who have given and labored before and thus far. The gratitude toward one another should permeate our conversations. One of my first impressions of Pastor Nate many years ago was that a spirit of thankfulness and gratefulness permeated his heart and his conversations and his encouragements to others. Thank one another. Often. SERVANT STEWARDS should thank one another; and often. Thank you. You have made a difference by the work that you have done for this church and for the community and for this facility. Appreciation without pretense is a hallmark of simple maturity, spiritually speaking. If you have given or served here at LFA, in any form, you have my full appreciation. Thank you very much for being an instrument in Jesus' Hands.

6.   We will not be surprised when the dynamics change at LFA. NEW PEOPLE ARE COMING, OLD PEOPLE. I'm not speaking to us who are over 45. I'm talking to the old crew of CORE SERVANT STEWARDS here at LFA. Get ready, folks. LFA is gonna grow in number, and spiritually. Multiplication is inevitable. NEW PEOPLE ARE COMING. How can you serve them well? Welcome them as you would do so into your own home. Represent Jesus well. Love genuinely all who attend and visit. This isn't the job of any particular greeting team. It's the job of all to welcome those who come into the new facility with that "ON MISSION MENTALITY" of HOSPITALITY. Hospitality extends way beyond your own home, old people. It's one of the UNSEEN hallmarks of a church that causes people to want to return. In 2018, seek the lost or lonely person or family who finds their way into our new worship center facility. Engage them. Share your story as the Lord leads you. Hospitable and charitable hearts will engage as they live on mission.  Be the best HOST you can be. For some of you, this is your gift. Use it.

7.  The commitment to live on mission, to engage others in Gospel conversations and love others well must remain PARAMOUNT & PRIMARY for SERVANT STEWARDS. I love that this church is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; and lives on mission to fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 to make disciples of Christ Jesus. He really is building His Church, isn't He?

Needless to say, what the LORD had planned, He has done. Look at Isaiah 46:8-14:   

Remember this, fix it in mind; and take it to heart you rebels.

Remember the former things, those of long ago.

I am God, and there is no other.

I am God, and there is none like me.

I make known the ends from the beginning,

from ancient times, what is still to come.

I say, My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please...

What I have said, that will I bring about, what I have planned,

that will I do.

I am bringing my righteousness near, and it is not far away.

My salvation will not be delayed.

The beauty of something new begins with a reminder to remember former things. Our LORD, as The Chief Servant Steward of us, declares this: "I make known (Me) and there is none (like Me!)" (v. 9-10). His purposes stand and He does all that He pleases (v. 10b). The LORD continues to remind the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah that He the LORD does what He plans, and He does what He says "What I have said, that will I bring about. What I have planned, that will I do" (v.12). The LORD keeps His covenant promises. He does exactly what He says He will do. Always. Every time. All the Time. I love how this passage ends in verse 14 where the LORD declares this, "My salvation will not be delayed." What a promise! What a commitment to come near to people with His eternal hope!  What a gift we have in this same God giving Himself in the person of our Lord Christ Jesus! He didn't grasp tightly the throne that is His, but took the nature of a SERVANT STEWARD; yes, our Messiah, the Anointed One, Jesus. This same Jesus who even became obedient unto death on a cross said, "I will build my church." And that is what He is doing through the work here at LFA. Jesus is building His Church, using us as instruments and tools in the lives of others so that they will embrace Him and His Gospel truth. Praise Him, as your SERVE AND STEWARD well the instrument of this new building, for purposes and plans that God determined long ago. And Merry Christmas blessings to all of you who have lovingly and graciously entrusted me through the years to the process of pastoral biblical counseling. I am grateful to those who have come; and to those who refer others for help; and to those who will come in the future. Every one of you is a treasure before the LORD, and may He bless you and your family at the end of this 2017 and during this Blessed Christmas Season.  

—Thor Knutstad

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Jesus Doesn't Wish That Someone Else Was Their Parent

I've been struggling in my parenting this week. More like these weeks. Maybe if I was fully honest, I'd say 'I've been struggling in my parenting these years...since my children were born.' Because isn't that really the truth? Parenting is often wonderful, but more often hard.

The need is so vast. SO VAST. That's what I've been wrestling with recently. 

My kids need so much. They need someone to manage conflict between them. They need someone to provide a home that's a peaceful refuge. They need someone to help them understand their emotions. They need someone to enjoy them and let them experientially know their worth. They need to be led and they need to learn to follow. They need to learn how Jesus is for every emotion, every situation, every moment, not just 'church-y' situations. They need someone to teach them how to care about friends. They need to learn responsibility. 

I could go on and on. There are an infinite number of little steps, little lessons required to lead someone through all the stages of childhood into adulthood. And the need is so vast. The task feels too big. 

And I'm so ill-equipped for the task. I'm still myself broken from my own wounds; I'm still immature, unsure how to deal with conflict, uncertain how to lead. I haven't figured out my own mess...and I've been handed this huge task, with this vast need staring me down.

This past Sunday, I was reminded of a story that I think I need to start reminding myself of each morning.

It's a story that's recorded in each of the Gospels. Jesus is with this huge group of people: five thousand of them. They hadn't had food, and they're hungry

Jesus turns to His disciples and He tells them, "You give them something to eat."

That's why I need to remember this story. It's just like parenting. The need is so great, and Jesus pretty much turns to me, the parent, and tells me, "You give those kids something to eat. You guide them. You mold them. You have the talks. You give up what you'd rather be doing to show them affection. You muddle through your own mess to figure out how to 'parent.' You give them something to eat."

So the disciples look around, and they come up with a boy who has five loaves of bread and two fish. Not nearly enough for the vast need.

Just like me.

I don't have nearly enough for this vast need. I don't. I really have next to nothing to offer in my parenting. Especially when faced with the vast need.

But what does Jesus do?

He doesn't sneer at the gift.

He doesn't ask for someone else better to step in with a better solution.

He thanks the Father for those five loaves and two fish.

Just like me.

Jesus doesn't despise what I have to give. He doesn't wish that a different adult was in my kids' lives, or that someone else was their parent. I would be willing to say that He doesn't even wish that what I have to offer was more, or better. He thanks the Father for what I have to give, who I am as a parent.

So then, in the story, as the disciples obey, and start passing out the little they have to the many, there is enough. Not because they have enough. But because Jesus multiplied it. Jesus did the miracle.

May this, as well, be my story.

That as I do my part, and show up in the face of the vast need, with my little bit to offer, but relying on Jesus, that Jesus will do the work that only He can do: the miracle of multiplying, the miracle of changing my children's hearts, the miracle of providing for the needs and saving. 

Because it's really His miraculous work that provides for the needs in the end. Not the little I have to offer. But He uses the little I have to do His miracle. 

So as I ponder this story and these parenting thoughts each day I'll probably pray something like this...and I'd invite you to join me on my journey and pray it with me:

Jesus, today You've given me these two daughters and You tell me, "You give them food." Help me first to not turn away for their need because it's so great and because I don't have what it takes to feed them myself. Help me to see the vast need even when it hurts, even when it overwhelms. 

And Jesus, I have nothing to offer them. I know it deep inside, but sometimes I try to pretend I have enough to feed them. I admit that all I have is five loaves and two fish.

I offer my five loaves and two fish to You, and I turn and offer them to my daughters. 

You don't despise my parenting. You don't wish I was a better or different parent. 

Would you do a miracle in my home in these days? As I see the needs and move towards them with the little I have, would You do Your work in my children? Would You multiply it? Amen.

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--Sarah Howard

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To God be the Glory

This is long story but bear with me. I want to speak up and share our story of the last few months as I feel it is unique and glorifying to God to be shared in full. We found out that we were expecting our third baby sometime in late August of this year. Knowing that pregnancy was a possibility and yet wanting to take medicine for a headache, I decided to take a pregnancy test while we were out on a date that night. And…surprise, it was positive! So, no meds that night, but I didn’t care. I was over the moon. We both were. Trying to make it through the corny movie we had already paid for after that was a challenge. Haha.

Fast forward a few days, and I was having mild pain, which I figured I would fill my doctor in on. At the time I wasn’t worried as this was common to my other two pregnancies, but I figured that I would play it safe. I left a message, and by the time they called me back they were about to close and couldn’t see me, so they suggested that I go to the ER to get looked at. I was annoyed because I wasn’t trying to make a night out of it, but I complied and went anyway.

To summarize the visit, it was a disaster. I went in for right-sided pain that ended up not being addressed when they did an exploratory ultrasound. The reason was that they had found something suspicious on my left side that couldn’t be ruled out as a possible ectopic pregnancy (which means there is a pregnancy growing in the wrong place), even though it was too early to be certain. Upon this discovery, the recommendations started flying with the least drastic being to follow up with my OB in a few days. Confused and dumbfounded, we left with heavy hearts and waited to hear what the doctor would say in a few days.

Two days later, I followed up with my doctor who wasted no time telling me what my options were. The assumption was that there was no doubt that this was an ectopic pregnancy even though I was only five weeks or so, and if I didn’t act now my tube could rupture and I could bleed out. Did I want to take a pill that would cause me to miscarry? Did I want to have surgery to remove the suspicious blob in my left fallopian tube and remove all contents of my uterus with it? Or did I want to be conservative and have surgery to see what was happening on the left while keeping what was growing in my uterus. I felt God lead me in that moment to not be quick to rid myself of what was so uncertain at the time, and I chose the third and most conservative route. However, after feeling bullied toward a certain decision, we went to Philadelphia for a second opinion.

After two long visits to the same hospital, we were told in no uncertain terms that this pregnancy would absolutely not turn into anything. We were told that it was not a baby but the product of conception, which could be anything at this stage, and in this case an empty gestational sac. The doctor asked if we wanted to stay and have the procedure performed that night while mentioning that if she performed it, she would just go ahead and take everything at once. After determining with the doctor that my life was not in immediate danger, God gave my husband and I wisdom again to hold out a little longer because I already had the exploratory surgery scheduled for two days from then.   

The surgery came and went and you know what??? They didn’t find anything suspicious in my left fallopian tube, and so they left everything where it was. We had a little glimmer of hope. Cue tons of follow up blood work and ultrasounds and a follow up from my doctor again. During the visit, she went over the symptoms of miscarriage and informed me that it wasn’t likely that anything would form after surgery. Repeat ultrasound number one; the tech couldn’t see anything. The sac was still empty. Ten days later was repeat ultrasound number two and our last chance to hold out before the doctor would want to intervene again. I got to the dim room and my world stood still. 

Up to this point my husband and I had kept some key people and family in the loop and had been prayed for on top of all the praying and seeking God we had done ourselves. We talked on our way to this ultrasound and reaffirmed that we were there for each other. I was prepared to say goodbye that day (to what was always a baby to me) if the Lord had again decided that He wanted to display His glory in my life by having me walk through something really hard. He had in a lot of other parts of my story. However, I had decided that no matter what I would not hold my heart back from Him in bitterness. I had built too much history with God up that point to even entertain the thought that He wasn’t good, even in this. I had just finished a huge chunk of the Old Testament as well and was reminded that often when God came through in the biggest ways, He first allowed every man-made attempt to fall short. When it looked as if all the odds were against His people and they were staring at their enemies, BOOM! He came through. No one was able to deny that it was all God. I prayed with that in mind and humbly asked for a miracle this time.

I laid there on the table and didn’t try to look at the monitor and figured I would just wait. She moved the wand around and took a lot of pictures in silence, but right before she moved on to check some more specific things she said, “Oh, and so you aren’t worried, there is your baby, and there is the heartbeat.” WHAT?! I couldn’t believe it. She immediately started to print a bunch of pictures. There on the screen was the most beautiful flicker I had ever seen. Joel squeezed my hand and we cried. 

Once things slowed down and I was able to process a little more what had happened, I was floored again. It wasn’t even just by the fact that God had worked a miracle for me (which is no small thing) but the realization that nothing in my life had been wasted. I got to reap some of the fruit of following Him into all the previous difficult parts of my story. He had shown me that before just by the immediate perspective that comes from being on the other side, but it was different and new in this experience. Amongst the tears of uncertainty and pain of bad news, there was always an undercurrent of peace and strength from years worth of testing and getting to know His vast and mysterious goodness. I am not blessed just when I receive everything I want. Everything up until now has been worked out to bless me and bring God glory. He has and continues to dig deep trenches in my heart that increase my capacity to receive more from Him. To God be all the glory! I am now 17 weeks.

 

--Sophia Howard

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What is Worship About?

I had a conversation recently with someone about worship music.  They were talking about how worship music, whether in church or on the radio, makes them feel good and lifts their spirits on a bad day.  Since the early 90’s, worship music has been big.  Big in evangelical churches, big for Christian artists, big on Christian radio, and big for Christian music labels.  The lines have blurred where concerts have become worship events, and church services have become impressive performances.  I know I’m not the only one thinking it, but I’ll say it.  I don’t quite get it.

Maybe it’s my analytical nature, or my often-skeptical way of looking at things, but does anyone else feel a little uneasy about paying $25 for a ticket to see a famous performer in an arena worship Jesus?  Perhaps all that money is going to charity and not into making the performer rich, I get that.  And this is not so much a critique of the industry or the big names, but the fact that it even is an industry gives me pause.  Industries arise to fill needs.  Whose needs?  I don’t think it’s God’s needs, so it must be our needs.

And I know it makes you feel good, I’m not disputing that.  I often enjoy Sunday worship with its collective appeals to the truth of the gospel or its call of yearning for the presence of God.  But I have been in situations where I feel like a spectator, where the singer, between songs, will say random breathy god-isms with no context or meaning, or an emotive change of key seems to magically usher in the Spirit, and I can’t help but thinking… is this all about me?  Am I supposed to be the center of my worship experience?  Do we consume worship music simply because it makes us feel good? 

If I sound a little harsh, I apologize.  This is not intended to be a treatise on the evils of worship; far from it.  What I am attempting to do, ahead of this season of Advent, is to unmarry our tendencies toward consumerism with our experience of worship.  Worship is about one thing, be it through study, song, or prayer, and that one thing isn’t me.  My experience does not determine the quality of the event.

Throughout this holiday season, I will try to bear in mind that it is not primarily about me.  If I worship through giving, it’s not so I feel good.  If I worship through singing, it’s not for the emotional high.  Those things can be secondary effects, but making God the center of worship is what worship is about. 

--Jeff Hyson

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The Thanksgiving Stand-off

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“Are you sure it’s done?” Daddy asked, doubtfully. My mother was clearly annoyed. She angrily jabbed the turkey with her big cooking fork and a pink-tinged liquid dribbled down the golden breast and into the roaster. Tension filled the air. It was a Thanksgiving stand-off. I held my breath.

“I think it needs to cook a little longer,” Daddy said, quietly.

“It’s done,” my mom insisted, tersely. “I read somewhere that if a turkey leg can be easily pulled off, the turkey is done.” To illustrate, she grabbed a hot leg with a pot holder and yanked it. It didn’t budge. Embarrassed, but too proud to admit defeat, she wrapped two hands around the leg and strained with all her might to remove it from the rest of the bird. Not just pink-tinged liquid oozed out now; it was clearly bloody. Mom didn’t seem to notice, and I tried not to gag. She was adamant. That turkey was ready to be carved.

With a final tug for good measure, the stubborn leg snapped, propelling the roasting pan, half-cooked turkey and all, along the table top and onto the floor with a fearful crash!  The hapless turkey took one big bounce and skittered across the linoleum.

I’ve never seen my dad react to anything so quickly. In warp speed, he scooped up the sizzling turkey, wiped the bottom with a dish towel that magically appeared from the drawer, and set it on the waiting platter with a bang. “Well,” he replied, gently, his back to us as he turned to the sink. He ran cold water on his already-blistering hands. “You’re the cook.”

Our mouths hanging open in wonder, my mom and I glanced incredulously at each other. What had just happened? We stooped to mop up the spattered turkey grease that dripped from everything in the tiny kitchen. Mom began to sob uncontrollably. In response, Daddy knelt beside us with a rag. He patted my mom’s back tenderly. He looked over at me, huddled with them on the slippery floor and said, evenly, “We’ll keep this to ourselves, won’t we.” It was not a question.

Tension diffused. Battle averted. Stand-off over.  

That messy, cozy kitchen, overflowing with delightful aromas and steamy warmth, was suddenly filled with an incredible, almost tangible, peace.

The bird went back in the oven. Dinner was late. And the turkey still wasn’t cooked.

Later, I sat at the crowded table with our once-a-year family, doubling up on the savory stuffing and creamy mashed potatoes. I hoped no one noticed I had skipped the meat. Looking at my parents at the other end of the table, chatting and smiling, I felt an incredible warmness spread through me. I couldn’t have named or explained it right then, but it felt…wonderful. I think I had just been given a first-hand, real-live glimpse of grace.

It could have been a very embarrassing day for my mom. The kitchen could have become a war zone with more casualties than the turkey. Or it could have become the North Pole, filled with icy looks and cold shoulders. What could have been a miserable holiday for all of us, was, instead, instantly transformed into a delightful, memorable, and hilarious family story we still love to share more than fifty years later. What a special Thanksgiving blessing! I will always be grateful.

I’ve wondered through the years about that grace, the unearned and undeserved favor Dad poured out all over my frazzled mom that chaotic Thanksgiving morning. Had he not been the recipient of that same kind of grace from the heavenly Father, would he have been able to so freely and quickly extend it to Mama? I personally don’t think so.

Because my dad understood how much the Father had showered grace on him— a willful, sinful man—he had the capacity, ability, and the desire to do the same for my mother. The grace of God that had saved him had also instructed him to live in a new way; a way consistent with the character of the God Who now resided in him. Over and over, God’s grace had expressed itself to my dad in the forms of love, kindness, gentleness, patience, self-control…and that is what he was able to pour on my mom. That beautiful grace birthed peace in our home. We all felt it. Our greased up, slimy kitchen had become a cathedral that Thanksgiving morning. And God Himself was our guest.

He didn’t care that the turkey wasn’t done.

May that same grace and peace be with you and yours this Thanksgiving Day.

Won’t you, won’t I, be thankful?

--Eileen Hill

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What Our Eyes See Is Often Not The Big Picture

Let me start by saying that what the title of this blog does not imply is that this is one of those things we often realize after the fact, not when in the middle of it.

I remember before my wife and I got married, we were faced with the possibility of not being able to have children of our own. This possibility however did not deter us from entering our marriage covenant. We were confident at that time that God had a purpose for our relationship and that He would give us the wisdom and grace to navigate what may come ahead of us in terms of having a family. It was not until almost nine years after our official marriage that God brought a wonderful nine year old girl into our lives to become our daughter! Not certainly what we saw back around the time of our engagement. I can also say this is not what we saw when we had a miscarriage or when family services approved us as we considered adopting a child. What we saw was certainly not the big picture!

In these days, as I read the biblical story of a special lady called Esther, I see that what she and her uncle Mordecai saw in the moment was not the big picture either. Esther was taken away from her tiny family and was enlisted among the virgins to enter the unofficial queen contest, or if not chosen, to perhaps become one of the king’s concubines. Well, I say you should read the rest of the story to learn about the many moments, some marked with high-level risks, which led to Esther becoming a queen at a time when her people, the Jews, where going to be destroyed by the king’s edict. What Mordecai and Esther did not see at some earlier point is that God would use her to deliver her people from being destroyed.

What are you seeing with your eyes in these days? What brings you fear or hopelessness? What leaves you empty or discouraged? What is eclipsing the preferable future God has promised to you? Be honest; I am sure there is something challenging or blocking some of your life’s expectations.

As you reflect in these questions, I encourage you to lean on stories like Esther’s. Not because the story lines are cool or intriguing. But rather because the one who wrote her story had a bigger picture in mind, and He is the one also writing the storylines of your life. I like one expectation God clearly sets before us in 2 Corinthians 3:18. Here the apostle Paul states:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

So even though you and I do not see the big picture today, God is really moving us from one degree of glory to another degree of glory. As we fix our hope in Jesus, we are guaranteed to obtain what is of most good and value. So don’t allow your eyes to trick you!

--Diego Cuartas

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Boundaries

Growing up, I was never taught what healthy boundaries were, therefore I experienced a lot of pain, hurt and abuse. In order to learn what healthy boundaries were and how to set them, I sought out a Christian counselor and attended weekly sessions for several years.

Now, being a Biblical Counselor myself, I see many people in my office each week who grew up like me in regard to boundaries. They never learned what they are nor did they learn how to set them, so their lives tend to be full of frustration. They're either overworked or underworked, depending upon if they are a doer or a taker.


In this video, Dr. Henry Cloud does an excellent job explaining what a boundary actually is and why they are so incredibly important in our lives. Grab a pen, pencil or crayon and a piece of paper. His explanation and drawing makes it very clear. Enjoy!

--Lois Robinson

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The God Who Sees When We Cannot

As universal as the experiences of suffering, poverty, love, beauty and others are, so it is our human experience regarding our inability to see what God sees. I was moved by the story counselor Julie Lowe shared via her blog earlier this year. In her blog, Julie relates her experience of not seeing what God can see as her son experiences a life-time disability. Click here to read her blog and be encouraged through her experience. More over, by what God revealed to her through his word.

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The Heart of a False Teacher Pt 5: Pillars or Pillows of Feathers?

When the truth of God is the heaviest weight upon you, you will treat human opinion and human approval only as a light feather. It will not be your main concern, and you will resolve to not walk in (or speak in) the compromise of error. But when you neglect the Glory (literally "weight") of the words of the LORD in the Scriptures, you will adjust your message and speech so as to gain (or keep or maintain) the approval of men. And this sadly reveals the true weight of your heart; then, instead of truth multiplied, deception abounds and pillars of useless feathers are piled up. I sadly see so many feathers lying around us all.

The desire for human approval that characterizes false teachers wants human approval, worldly recognition, and even the blessings of the marketplace and craves the glories of human institutions. It creates empty talk that spreads like gangrene; and instead of a pillar of Truth, this error-filled talk that lacks real authority is a sleep-filled slumbered pillow. Yes, it's a just a feather-filled pillow, only useful for sleep and slumber. Sadly, these feathers are bought and sold every day; and sleep is so prevalent. I see lots of feathers lying around, sadly.

Awake, beloved shepherd pastors and church of Christ! My heart senses that the Truth (who is Christ Jesus) and His sound doctrine biblically has little weight on many; and this great error of deception (feather-filled pillows) are the true fleshly sensual preference. No, no, no. Arise and wake up and be alert! Do you feel the cemented pillared weight of the Word, or do you build your church (or life) feather by feather into a comfortable sleep-filled pillow?! Woe to you if you prefer error to Truth! Wake up and confess to the Lord God that you love the approval of men, and repent, and then maybe the LORD will reveal to you the pillared Truth of Scripture - and also show you Himself and His Son, Christ Jesus who is Messiah, the Way, the Life, and yes, the Truth, and the Spirit of Truth too.  For in and around Him (Christ) is no feather; rather, He is the Chief Cornerstone and true Truth pillar of the Church. Praise Him.

—Thor Knutstad

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Book Review: Hope When It Hurts

I read a book this summer that I really enjoyed: Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Reflections To Help You Grasp God’s Purpose In Your Suffering. 

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The authors are two women, Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton. And these two women are walking the balance between having things in their lives that they deeply struggle with, and also, at the same time, holding on to the deep, true, beautiful, hopeful reality that God is present right there in their suffering. They ask questions like 'What does that balance look like for me, right now, as I struggle with real pain?'

I would recommend this book to anyone that feels like they are walking through difficult circumstances in life and they just aren't quite sure how to hold onto the reality of Jesus with them in the middle of the difficulty. The authors reference physical pain, parenting pain, abuse, depression, job loss...but the content is applicable to various sorts of suffering. I'm also excited about this book, as our pastors at Living Faith Alliance have recently been preaching about our deep need to ask our hard questions about life and 'find counsel outside of ourselves' in the Bible. That's exactly what these authors, Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton, do: in short, easy to read chapters, they move through a passage of Scripture (2 Corinthians 4-5). They base each chapter on a phrase from the passage, and they write about how that is still true, right now, even in the midst of suffering. They don't just offer their own thoughts or opinions about suffering and pain. They point us back to what God has said through the Bible, what is true and can be counted on, again and again and again. If you want to be challenged to lift your eyes to see what can be gloriously true in the middle of suffering, while also still acknowledging and living with pain, read this book. 

Hope When It Hurts feels very level-headed to me: like someone helpfully just pushing me back to God's Word over and over, without a lot of fluff. The authors keep bringing each chapter back to the foundational BASICS of what it looks like to be a God-follower. They ask the honest, scary questions that I myself have had in times of suffering, that I wouldn't necessarily voice out loud, and they answer them in a way that is Biblical and life-giving. 

On a side-note, some might ask, is this book solely for women? The cover looks very feminine and the authors are two women sharing their stories. Would men find this book helpful or engaging? I tried to keep that in mind as I read. I imagine it would appeal deeply to women; I also imagine that men would have to 'get past' a few components, such as the presentation of the book. But the general content is excellent and good for men as well.

--Sarah Howard

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Conflict: An Opportunity for Revelation and Reconciliation

Conflict in and of itself does not feel good, and we could even say it is not good for the most part. However, it is true that conflict affords us certain opportunities that if not missed can leave those involved in a better place. This week I want to recommend a blog from Pete Scazzero, founder of a ministry that seeks to help individuals find emotional health and maturity. Click here to read his blog on conflict.

--Diego Cuartas

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Asking the Hard Questions

There is an odd dynamic familiar to those who have grown up in the evangelical church.  It begins to show up our early teens, and sometimes sticks around indefinitely.  From the time we are old enough to listen, children are told the truths and facts about God.  We learn them from our parents, pastors, Sunday school teachers, and any other church leader given a chance to impart this knowledge.  We might be led in the sinner's prayer to accept Jesus into our hearts, because if we don't, well, you know.  We are told of Jesus' love for us, so much so that he dies for our mistakes.  Just like math and reading, we are taught what to believe from people we have no reason to distrust.  Things are progressing smoothly.

And then, sometime around middle school, we are hit with this:

                Your faith needs to be your own.

Wait, what? I thought everything you told me was true.  Can't I just base my faith on that?  Why have I gone through all this training, only to find out that I now need to rediscover and reaffirm all of it myself? 

Some take it and run with it.  They embrace the brief journey, never missing a beat.  They have the strong and unquestioned foundation on which to build their own spiritual identity, nearly indistinguishable from the starter pack they received.  Honestly, this is what a lot of parents wish for their children.  I've had several friends take this path.

Some take it and just run.  They have been given a free pass to decide for themselves which path to choose, and they want nothing to do with the religion of their parents.  They discover some inconsistencies in the narrative, and toss the whole thing aside.  I've had a few friends take this path as well.

Some take it and wrestle with it.  They know what they've been taught, and they take the task of making their faith "their own" seriously.  These are the people who ask the hard questions.  This is the path that I want my children to choose.

Sometimes this process is called "deconstruction".  It is taking what I've been told, breaking it down to its fundamental parts, examining the pieces.  If this concept seems scary of foreign, think about the alternative: belief in what someone once told you without giving it any critical thought.  I mean, maybe they were right, but maybe not.  If they were right, then deconstructing will reveal their teaching to be true, with the added bonus of giving you the basis for believing it.  If they were wrong, you can now critically assess what the truth is.

We tend to think that asking tough questions shows a lack of faith, when in reality, asking tough questions is the only way to strengthen our faith in what is true.  At LFA, we are beginning a series on "Knowing God: Current Questions, Timeless Doctrines," and I am excited to be able to explore some hard questions. 

I don't think God calls us to blind faith.  I believe that he wants us to find our faith through searching, wrestling, and asking hard questions. Then we come out on the other side with an authentic faith, and one that is our own.

--Jeff Hyson

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A Legacy

I could hear the angry wind bullying the trees and shrubs outside my frosty window, slamming sleet, branches, and brittle leaves harshly against the glass. After such a mild winter, this nasty blizzard wannabe in mid-March caught me off-guard. Old Man Winter’s last hurrah. I shivered in the cold and watched a small caravan of utility trucks crawl by on the icy road in front of my home.  “My heroes,” I whispered to myself, grateful.

We had no power.  Sometime in the night, somewhere down the road, something had torn down power lines. We had no electricity, no heat, no phone service, no water—a very miserable way to begin a very miserable day. Of course, I hadn’t thought to charge my phone the night before either.  But worst of all, no coffee! I slumped into our comfy, new recliner and pulled a faded coverlet up to my nose. Ah, warmth. Hopefully the power would be restored soon. I had a lot to do.

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In the filtered light, with a rare uncluttered morning unfolding, I absently noticed that my hand rested on a patchwork child in a big sunbonnet. In fact, the hand-sewn quilt was covered with meticulously stitched little girls decked out in carefully coordinated calico bonnets and dresses. What a labor of love! I was wrapped in hours of tedious sewing! This heirloom had been tucked in the bottom of my hope chest, overlooked for years. Recently, sorting and cleaning, I had discovered it and carelessly thrown it in the laundry. As I ran a finger over the design, appreciating its intricate beauty perhaps for the first time, happy memories settled over me, warming me like the quilt had moments earlier. The names! How had I missed them? What if I had ruined them with the washing?

On aqua patches, a telling clue to the age of this gift, someone with lovely cursive handwriting had artfully inscribed the names of every person on the membership roll at First Baptist Church in Elmer, my hometown church.  I wished I could remember who. I smiled as I examined the square by my elbow. My funny bone was resting on Kenny’s name! How funny! Nestled there among his parents and six siblings was Kenneth Hill, a name I would proudly take a few years after this quilt had been lovingly given to my daddy in the early sixties. I smiled again, remembering how, smitten with puppy love, I would wrap myself up on Sunday afternoons when this blanket was new, making sure the Hill square was near my heart.  Sweet, precious memories.  

One by one, as I read each name, old and long-forgotten faces flashed brilliantly up on a dusty screen hastily hung in the recesses of my mind. Like stars in old home movies, the folks smiled and waved; my heart was warmed again. I pushed the now cozy chair back further and closed my eyes. All those names. All those people. All Daddy’s legacy.

If I remember the story correctly, Daddy was elected as Sunday School Superintendent when he was yet a teenager. The responsibility compelled him to hitch hike across the country to Illinois where he enrolled in and attended Wheaton College; he had decided he would obtain a biblical education to help him better carry out his duties. He was very serious about the job he had been entrusted with…for decades.

It became a family affair. We helped plan the annual picnic, we sorted materials, we previewed filmstrips and Christmas programs, we made posters to promote events, we cleaned the Sunday School closet at church, we visited new families that had come to First Baptist, we wrapped up Christmas fruit and candy, attendance pins, and award Bibles to give away at certain seasons of the year, and we helped host the teacher training meetings Daddy held quarterly in our home. We loved them. We would lie at the top of the steps and listen to the teachers complain about or praise their students, unaware that three sets of curious little ears were intently gathering any juicy gossip they could. And my mother would bake and fuss all day, the glorious smells of freshly brewed coffee and spicy applesauce cake floating up that dark stairway to taunt us, the Banished-to-the Bedroom Bunch. No TV, no phones, no computers, no hand-held electronic games. What on earth did we do? Eavesdrop, what else?

The worst part, though, of having a Sunday School Superintendent for a dad was us having to be at church a half-hour or more earlier than anybody else each Sunday morning. Daddy wanted to make sure all the rooms were set up and that the Sunday School papers were ready for distribution. He loved to greet his teachers and offer a word of encouragement or answer any concerns or questions they had. He wanted to meet the families as they arrived, making certain he knew everyone and that each one felt personally welcomed. But we hated the Sunday morning rush, all of us clamoring at the same time for the one bathroom we shared. Even though weekday mornings we all were out of the house two and a half hours earlier, Sunday always seemed to be chaotic and we kids resented his hurry-up-and-wait plan. We probably drove him crazy. If he was anything, he was conscientious, purposeful, and punctual.

It was my childhood perception, one I still hold today, that my dad was loved and highly esteemed at church. I think the quilt that was so carefully crafted and so affectionately given to him for his years of faithfully serving as Superintendent speaks to and validates my impression.

My dad was not a handsome, assertive, outgoing, or charismatic man. He was quiet, plain, and humble. He loved God. He loved God’s people. So he served them both.

My dad died only a few months after he received the quilt. I was seventeen years old. He was fifty-two. From that day to this, I still hear about how Daddy influenced a situation, cared for a particular family, impacted some person, or taught a random group. He studied God’s Word, he shared his Gospel story, he marveled at creation, he prayed for the broken, and he visited the sick and elderly. To put it succinctly, Daddy loved. Under the radar, he quietly went about his Father’s business of making disciples, of building a legacy. I wonder how many names could be added to his quilt if all those he touched for the kingdom were inscribed there? How big would it have to be?

As I stretch my legs in my chair, I’m struck with a thought. In spite of the warmth the quilt has provided me, I shiver as I consider it. I have outlived my dad by many years. So how big is my quilt? The size of a napkin? A lap blanket? A king-size comforter? Just what or who is written on it? What is my legacy?

We all have one. What will we leave behind? What will I leave behind?

I was privileged to be Daddy’s daughter. I was well-trained. His lessons were both taught and caught. Out of an over-flow of love for a God who first loved me and gave himself to rescue me, I am compelled to love and esteem others better than myself. With whatever gifts I have been graciously given, I must spend myself on behalf of the Gospel. Not for a quilt. That was a very kind gesture from the church in Elmer to my dad, one that surprised and embarrassed him. But even if my obedience and my efforts to love and serve others go completely unnoticed, I know my Father in heaven sees. Isn’t that all that really matters? What I do, big or small, really must be done for an audience of just One. I think that’s what Daddy did. I want to, too.

My children won’t have a quilt to comfort them when I’m sitting at the feet of Jesus with my parents. My grandkids won’t have a litany of names to smile about, remembering puppy-love and first beaus. But my prayer is that they all will have my invisible quilt wrapped around their hearts that is gratefully inscribed with the words “faithful, obedient, beloved daughter of the King.”  That is the legacy I aspire to. Don’t you?

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself,

if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received

 from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

(Acts 20:24)

 

--Eileen Hill

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God As I Desire Him To Be

Do we really trust in God, or do we do so as long as He helps us gain what we want for our lives? Author Skye Jethani exposes some faulty ways in which we think about God and how we end up living a Christian life very different than the one God invites us to. Jethani argues that the Christian life is a life where we are invited to live with God, not under, over, from or for God. Click here to watch this brief, clear and helpful reflection.

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Charmin Toilet Paper, Children and Youth

I was considering what to write about this time around, and my blog happens to fall right smack dab on the week many children will be returning to school. Whether it’s public, private, charter or home school, kids are heading back for another year of learning. It has been interesting; this week there have been a whole host of cancellations due to back to school things, appointments having to change to accommodate new bus schedules. I called to make a doctor’s appointment, and the receptionist said that they have had many cancellations and no shows this week as well. Sometimes the franticness of back to school can be overwhelming. For some, it is an utter relief to get back into a schedule again. I leaned toward writing on what I call “The Schedule Monster”, but that can wait for another time.

I chose this: challenging parents to dive into the culture of our children and youth in order to be a soft place to land from the world. I actually Googled Charmin, and this is the advertisement for it:

Charmin Ultra Soft Mega Roll is the same great softness you love, but just more of it! ... Charmin Ultra Soft is our softest toilet paper ever, so it is harder than ever to resist! ... See for yourself why Charmin Ultra Soft Mega Roll is a great long-lasting choice for you and your family.

The softness you love and harder than ever to resist! The great long-lasting choice for you and your family!! Wow, if only we would be willing to dive into the current culture of our children and youth and get educated and learn about what they face, at very young ages, on a daily or weekly basis- not only in the public schools, but everywhere. Unless the child never leaves the home, has no friends, or any way of communicating with the outside world, he or she will be influenced by the world in some way. Please note, the goal would definitely not be moving toward the above protection methods to insulate your child from the world either. Thought I had better add that!

I meet many parents on a weekly basis in my office who are not aware of what their children or youth are involved in. Electronics are not monitored, protected with parental controls nor boundaries set up for their usage. Another example: years ago, I had a six year old little boy who came into my office looking very sad and a bit nervous. He told me he needed to talk to me about something but was afraid to. I told him he could tell me anything and I would do my best to help him in the ways I was able. He proceeded to tell me that the kids in his Kindergarten class wanted him to have sex with a girl in his class. That’s right, he said have sex with a little girl in his class. He then said he didn’t know what that meant, and his parents told him he wasn’t allowed to talk about it. He was crying by now. I calmly explained in age appropriate ways, what sex meant and that he was not going to do that with the little girl in his class. He was relieved. Our meeting time ended, and I informed his parents what our talk was about. Due to their own issues, they weren’t willing to walk him through it and withdrew him from our sessions. I have always wondered whatever happened to him.

Our children and youth need us. They need us to be that soft place to land. They need us to communicate daily with them. They need us to teach them and model for them, how to make good choices in life. They need us to love them by actually showing them we want to be educated and learn about their culture.

WE need to be their soft place to land at home. WE need to be the ones that ask them to teach US about THEIR worlds. WE need to become students of their culture. If we don’t learn about it, we will walk in ignorance and discipline through ignorance. We must seek to understand first before making harsh judgments and hiding behind Christian-ese talk. Our religiosity can begin to stink and push desperate kids away from Jesus, all because we insist it must look and act a certain way- your way.

Please parents, caregivers, anyone who pours into children and youth: it is our job to teach our kids what is Truth so when they do hear lies, they can tell the difference. We must be the ones who mold and shape them so when they have the blunt offered to them they will reject it. When they are invited to perform sexual favors in the school bathroom, they will say no. When they are sent a porn pic, they will tell you. Communication is HUGE. Humility is huge. Treat your kids with respect. Know them. Really know them. Please don’t write them off and wait for them to become 25, when it’s easier. Jesus doesn’t write anybody off and neither should we. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope it encouraged you if you already have become the educated, soft place to land or challenged you to become that soft place.

There are plenty of resources available. Here are just a few to get you started:

  • Talking to Your Kids About Sex- Dr. Mark Laaser
  • Unglued and Tattooed - Sara Trollinger
  • Five Love Languages of Teenagers- Gary Chapman
  • Five Love Languages of Children- Gary Chapman
  • Group magazine Youth Ministry- Rick Lawrence youthministry.com
  • Duffy Robbins CPYU.org
  • Josh McDowell josh.org

--Lois Robinson

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Rabbit

Once upon a time, we had a sweet, loving dog who thought that she should be mother to all small creatures. Puppies were not in her future, but she would hopefully bring us very wet, very well licked candidates. It might be a kitten from next door, or a baby squirrel, or a mouse – whatever she could find that she thought needed mothering. 

One day she brought us a very wet little bunny. Naturally, the girls wanted to keep it and turn it into yet another pet. Veto. I grew up in a city, and knew absolutely nothing about rabbits who were not named Flopsy and Mopsy and Peter, and for all I knew they might carry rabies!  My husband the hunter, whose main interest in rabbits was hasenpfeffer, was very little help. But he did have the idea that if we took the bunny back out to the woods a little way behind our house its mother would find it or it would find its way home. So that’s what we decided to do.

I didn’t go the whole way back to the woods; it certainly didn’t take all of us to let a bunny out of a box. I just watched from about half way, and off they went. They put the box on the ground, pointed it toward the trees, tipped it up and out ran the bunny. But to my horror the stupid and probably rabid rabbit turned around and ran straight back toward ME!

I shrieked; I turned around and flew toward the house (I was 50 years younger then and highly motivated) while the demented and surely diseased bunny came right for me, gaining with every bound! I was screaming “Help! Help!” but no one helped me! And when I looked over my shoulder, there was my husband doubled over and crying with laughter, joined by my obnoxious children who were holding their sides and rolling on the ground! But blessedly, just before it was close enough to bite me, the bunny swerved out and under a shrub and down a hole which was undoubtedly home sweet home! I guess he didn’t live in the woods after all.

Over the years I have made so many unwise decisions, all based on a lack of knowledge and understanding. But God is good, and I have surely found that the lessons learned through my human errors are the ones that have stuck. It’s troubling to realize how many times I have constructed my own problems through pride or ignorance, and then had to suffer the consequences. But God has always stepped in, and lovingly shown me the way He wanted for me, and assured me that I was not expected to straighten out the whole world, or solve all its problems, that I have enough to keep me busy with my own. Often the consequences of error are more serious than being laughed at over a frightened bunny, and I know that my life is much more satisfying when I trust God for directions before I act. (I guess that’s why Proverbs 3:5-8 mean so much to me):

                  Trust in the Lord with all your heart;

                     Do not depend on your own understanding.

                  Seek his will in all you do,

                     And he will show you which path to take.

                  Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.

                     Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

                  Then you will have healing for your body

                     and strength for your bones.

 

--Norma Stockton

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