Why I Listen to Christian Music

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“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” – Colossians 3:2

I have been down a journey of different types of music through the years. I have always thought that my music preferences should be made up from a balance of genres that I like, and if I’m working with a worship team, Christian music must be a part of that balance. But now that I have been through a lot of that journey (and I’m sure there is still more to come), I can see that God wants me to listen to Christian music. Here’s why:

First of all, Christian music keeps my affections on things above, i.e. Col. 3:2.  I always thought it said, “Set your heart on things above.”  Eh, nope. It says ‘affections’ or ‘mind’, as other translations have it. You could say, “What I love is to be about things above.”  Also in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” So in the Christian music world, it points to God or Jesus Christ, worship and surrender. As I listen, there are reminders and encouragements that are all uplifting to my spirit. There is a lot of ‘Transforming by the Renewing of Your Mind’ going on, so in my life, music becomes the vehicle of keeping my mind pointed toward my true love, Christ.

Also, all the other music is what I would call shallow or hollow. It’s just music that in most cases appeals to feelings or emotions. It’s a very temporary satisfaction, if it even satisfies at all. Even when I’m humming a tune later on, it feels shallow and my mind is usually not looking up. However, throughout the day as I listen to Christian music, and I am humming a song of worship, it helps keep my spirit joyful and positive, even when there is no music. As I have been growing in the Lord, I am seeing that my heart desires the worship that is in Christian music. There’s a fullness that satisfies the soul. That’s powerful. When something gets slammed on me at work, and it all seems impossible and things can go easily down the path of frustration…Nope. “And I ran out of that Grave! Out of the darkness…Into Your glorious day!”, Hallelujah!

How else can Christian music have a positive effect in my life? As time goes on, I have been listening to Christian radio stations quite a few hours at work each day. A lot of great music plays on that station, but one other thing that happens right along with the music is that I periodically hear testimonies of how God has worked things out in the callers’ lives, and even in those times when I’m feeling trapped, frustrated or even angered, and I’m trying to trust Him in personal things, there’s a caller who states their story and it’s an, “Oh wow!” moment with me. It reminds me of the truth and power of God that’s right here with me. God’s not dead, He’s surely alive!

So here’s one area of life we can embrace Colossians 3:2 in our walk with Christ.  “I am redeemed, You set me free!”

—Brian Rainey

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I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say...

I have literally have started to write this blog four different times, thinking I knew how it should begin, but each time right clicked and hovered over the “cut” prompt and tapped my touchpad on the computer…with no words typed out except …

‘I heard the voice of Jesus say…’


In all reality, all that is all really important to me right now is what Jesus says to me. That is how I live my life. It is a choice every day. Even today, I have made that choice. But it is not easy sometimes. My current reality looks like this…

I’m looking at a cheeseburger with a lettuce bun wrapped around it because I have decided, with the help of my best friend Jessica, to start the journey of being gluten free. Looking for gluten free items in a grocery store can be daunting at times when you are an avid bread lover like I am. Some stores, I’m told, have a gluten free section in order to make shopping a bit easier. But others have the items spread thinly throughout the store. It becomes like a scavenger hunt, looking for that little tiny dark brown tag under the grocery item of choice. Then, when you and your friends decide to order pizza, (yay, let’s get some pizza!), well, this is another lesson I have come to be aware of. A small, gluten free cauliflower crusted pizza that is only made in a personal pan size is the same price as a large regular pie for 8 people. $13.99 to be exact, and that does not include toppings.

It becomes overwhelming and frustrating.

Some of you have followed my physical journey for the last eight years. It has been very difficult. I shared with my band last night, in tears, that I am so confused and frustrated that no matter how many times I have been prayed for, anointed with oil and cried out to God, He has not healed me yet. I know He can just say the Word and it will be done. He has done that very thing, healed me miraculously on the spot twice before. I stood, and still stand, amazed. He is God, the Great I Am. The Good Father, Faithful, Just, Merciful and Forgiving. Loving, Kind, Compassionate, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. My Savior and King, forever. Those are the facts. They never have nor will change. No matter what emotions or thoughts you or I have. But,

It becomes overwhelming and frustrating.

The most recent findings from my Rheumatologist up at Cooper is that I have fibromyalgia, which got diagnosed 25 years ago, and the autoimmune disease Rheumatoid Arthritis. Basically, my cells are attacking my joints all over my body. So, I started the new RA drug this very morning. It comes with its concerns. I had to get the retinas of my eyes examined before I could go on it since it can damage your retinas, which is irreversible. So, it is a big deal to me.

It becomes overwhelming and frustrating.

So, what do I do with all of this overwhelming and frustrating stuff? I cry. I talk to Jesus all day, in and out of conversations with Him, knowing that it is only going to be through Him that I will have any clarity to this confusing journey I am on. Last night at band practice, the drummer stopped drumming and said, “Lois is real quiet over there on that keyboard.” Then, our leader stopped and said she wasn't going to play another note but just look at me. As she did, I began to cry. God worked through my band last night to minister to my heart. They prayed over me, again.

Then, as I left my home today, I talked with my best friend Jessica. I cried and cried, telling her how overwhelmed I am, how frustrated and confused I am in all of this. As I collected myself and proceeded to drive out of the driveway, I said to Jesus, “I feel like I am having a breakdown…” and just as clear as can be, I heard immediately, “You are having a BREAKTHROUGH”. I was so full of joy that it wasn't a breakdown that I was experiencing but a breakthrough, allowing my heart to feel the sorrow over brokenness. I long for all things to be made right, to have broken things put back into order, working the way they were originally made to. Before sin, pain and death entered the world. FOR  ALL THINGS TO BE RECONCILED BACK TO THE FATHER.

When I heard the voice of Jesus say that, the confusion that was present began to clear. The frustration turned to joy.

2 Corinthians 1:5 says this , “5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.  

I came to realize that the overwhelmed and frustrated feelings I have been having due to limitations my earthly body experiences, are a form of the above verse. It made sense to me because He allowed it to. My Good Father showed up and was faithful to show His daughter what was going on. My tears of confusion and sadness turned into tears of relief. He knows. He sees. He understands. He gets it. And I am ever so grateful that my God, my King, my Savior is Jesus Christ that knows me like that.

This week, I celebrate Jesus, just as every other week of the year. But, this week has some very special aspects that we celebrate. This is what happened 2000 years ago on my behalf and your behalf. Everyone's behalf for that matter. Jesus Christ, God’s son, willingly went to the cross on behalf of each one of us. To die a gruesome death in order to pay for all of the things that are broken, diseased, sick and sinful that ultimately led to death. Things that are not like God, the things we have done wrong called sin, and the wrongs done to us - He died for them ALL. He then came back to life, having victory over death and offering life in heaven with Him forever. You can have a personal relationship with Him as well. You can learn to hear His voice. During those times when you're overwhelmed and frustrated in the midst of your suffering, you too can have what I have. He loves you just as much as me or anyone else. He made you and loves you. That is the fact, no matter what you feel or think. You too can have the same HOPE I have…

If you say, “Yes, Jesus,

I want to live my life learning how to

hear your voice and follow you.

Amen and Amen.”

—Lois Robinson

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I DIDN’T DO IT!!!!

Were you ever blamed for something you didn’t do?

My brother (nineteen months older) hardly ever originated the misbehavior we got into, but he usually went right along with whatever I thought up. That was my job; I was more inventive. Of course my Mom knew all about me, and punishment usually fell with more force upon me! But I had a bad habit with which I handled these situations. I always knew what would happen if I got caught, and I weighed my options; if it wasn’t worth it, I didn’t do it! And if I thought it might be worth it, IF I got caught, it was full steam ahead.

So, I clearly remember a time when my brother actually talked ME into something. We rode our bikes down Germantown Avenue, which we definitely were not allowed to do (we were young), because he wanted to look at a balsa model in a toy store. I wasn’t interested, but I went along anyway. But who did we see, and who saw us and would report us to our mother, but a nosey neighbor! That evening did not promise to be pleasant.

Mom was waiting for us when we got home. The reason we were down there never came up, but she immediately pinned me to the wall with that look, and sent us to our rooms. My brother, the rat, did not confess or mention toy stores, and since my mother’s focus was on who instigated the crime, she somewhat naturally landed on me. And I was the one who lost the use of my bike for a week, during which time I did not speak to my brother.

I know it doesn’t even compare, but I often ponder the life-changing sacrifice Jesus made for us. He knew what crucifixion was; it was horrible, but not uncommon. But complete separation from God? Separation from the very part of Himself which He treasured most? To the place where He cried out to His Father, “Why have you deserted me?!” How could He have known in advance how awful that would be? And then, unbelievable and even incomprehensible to us, this God/man who had NEVER sinned was accounted guilty of every human sin, past, present and future! He bore that burden in His heart and on His shoulders, for us. For us. Because God loves us that much. And because Jesus agreed to pay for us. And did, for agonizing hours on the cross. Until He was finally, finally able to say, “It is finished.”

How can we ever consider this lightly? How can we not shudder as we try, unsuccessfully, to imagine what that must have been like! If we have ever borne the blame for another’s action, we must know that we are no closer to any understanding of the tremendous part Jesus played in God’s plan to bring us, purified, into His presence, justified and worthy to spend eternity with our God and Savior. We can only bow in grateful praise to God for caring for us enough, and wanting our companionship enough, to sacrifice the perfect Lamb, His Son, for us, unworthy as we are in our own sinful nature. And for us never to die! Oh, unless Jesus comes back first, our bodies will surely die, but we won’t need them any more! When Jesus rose again on Easter morning, He conquered death for us! Our souls will not die! We will be ushered into the presence of God, to live there in new, strong bodies, forever!

 HALLELUIA!                                                                                                                    

—Norma Stockton

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Acknowledging the Savior Right With Me

Last week I sat in my cozy gray chair. No one else was up. It was dark. It was my favorite time of day in my home: dark and silent and still. I opened up my Bible application on my phone to that day’s Lent reading. 

As I sat there, in the quiet of the still-sleeping house, I felt moved in my spirit by the words about Jesus…the words about His sacrifice for me. I even had tears come to my eyes. I lingered over the thoughts for a few more moments, and then I went to click off my phone and get ready for the day.


But then it hit me. Like a bucket of cold water had literally been dumped over my head all of the sudden.

Those moments were special, and yes, I was drinking in some important truths at the level of my cognition, and the truths even impacted my emotions. 

But I was, without even noticing, ready to leave the time I had set aside to be alone with my Savior, the One who made me, happy to have just interacted with truth…and not directly, face to face, with the person of Jesus, who was the whole time right there with me. 

Yes, the Holy Spirit was with me, leading me into truth. His softening of my heart and awakening my cognition to teaching me is a GIFT beyond what I can thank Him for.

But I am realizing that my tendency is to interact with knowledge and truth…and not with the actual presence of Jesus. I read and I learn and I understand and I even have emotions…and then I walk away without ever turning to the One who the knowledge is about, without ever experiencing the company and gift of His presence. 


So what I did was very simple. I stayed a few more moments in my gray chair. I closed my eyes, and I said “Jesus.”

And I paused. I let myself realize that He was right there, with me.

And I said, “Jesus. Thank You for what You are saying to me this morning.” And I told Him what had touched my emotions, what had stuck out to my cognition.

And after a little while, then I got up from my chair.


—Sarah Howard

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The Path of Integrity

Proverbs 10:9 “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,

but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out”

The other day my father was going to paint the floors in his business, and because I use the place for some personal vehicle maintenance after hours, I thought it would be a cool thing to stop by and help out. “Need help?”…Sure! My son Matthew works there, so he was asked to help. My son and father spent the day before sanding all the floors, so they were ready for paint. I looked over the paint supplies he had and there was only one roller with a pole handle. My son grabbed that and starts out in the back. Looks like I get the brush. I said, “Hold up; we have to cut some things in before you go at it and roller us right into a corner.” So I crawled back into this place that only construction guys have seen; it’s under a stairway back a long shelved out hallway in a storeroom. This spot is where boxes of antifreeze are stored. I don’t even think my father has been in that place. Spider webs, dust on the walls, painting slop everywhere, but the floor was clean as it could be. So in the visible parts I did some great cut in lines where they needed to be and when I got to the part that no one sees, I paused. There are going to be boxes and supplies in front of all the attempted artwork I was about to do. I was lying on my side and not so comfortable. I could have been sloppy just like the old paint that’s there and ‘get’er done’... or… <big pause> “Lord, beside doing a perfect job with this, what would you do?”  The next thing I thought of was “Walk in Integrity”. It was that little whisper. Do just as good a job back here as out there where everyone sees. With that thought I started to cut-in the edges like they should be.

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I could have done anything that day, but the thing I remember most was not that I was even there, but that “I walked in the path of integrity” when the temptation to do otherwise was there. Another building block in the foundation of my life. As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of the Matthew 7:24-27 verses that discuss what happens when a man builds his house on the rock verses building his house on the sand. Notice the similarity with Proverbs 10:9? Rock vs sand, security vs exposure, stability vs destruction. And in a neat implication, it’s a building process.

Is our journey through this life providing building blocks for eternity’s sake? Will whatever we are doing stand the storms of life? Are we building on the Rock?

Back to the painting story…then my son goes back in that hole and paints the floor. What he didn’t see was a “who cares sloppy mess”.  He saw “a walk in integrity “ ( I didn’t see that coming at all ).

Thank you Lord for planting those verses in my heart and giving me direction.

—Brian Rainey

Lindsay, Wait on Me

I’m going to give you a glimpse into what is happening in the very moments that I am writing this blog. It is 12:56 pm on Monday afternoon. I am sitting at my kitchen table on my laptop, staring at a blank page and feeling nervous that I don’t have a clear sense of what God wants me to write in this blog post. I’m also aware of competing responsibilities for today, that my children will arrive home at 3:30, that we have gymnastics practice, homework, and dinner… Sometimes I sit down with a very clear sense of where God is leading, and other times, well, it’s like today.

Let me give you a little background to this picture. Over the past week, knowing that I have a blog due this Tuesday, I’ve been seeking God in prayer, worshipping, listening intently as to what He would have me write about. There have been a few thoughts that have been in my mind, areas that God has been impressing on my heart that are clearly significant and meaningful, and things that He would want me to press into and to encourage others in…but as intensely significant as the messages seem, I also feel like He is saying, “Lindsay, wait on Me”.

I’m sure there are many reasons God asks me to wait, but I have noticed that sometimes I hear this from God when I have an incomplete understanding of what He is saying to me. One reason that I may have an incomplete idea of what He is saying to me is because I am often in the thick of my sanctification process on those specific issues, and He knows that my words would be insufficient if not outright harmful to the body of Christ if I did not wait until His timing matched His message.

I will readily admit that there would be some sense of finality that would feel relieving for me to simply write on one of those topics and hope for the best. Kind of like the equivalent of a buzzer beater shot at a basketball game, “Here goes nothing… I guess if God wants it to work out, it’ll work out.” Please hear me - I do believe that God can redeem everything and anything to bring about His kingdom purposes, but I also believe that there is spiritual wisdom and a deeper intimacy with God conveyed by not just asking the question “God, is this the right message?” but also asking “God, is this the right timing?”   

I’m learning to love when I hear God tell me to “wait”. Trust me, it’s not always a default reaction to that command, but it often develops into a precious reminder of God’s love for His people and God’s protection over His flock. It also creates a sense of expectancy within myself related to God’s promise to never forsake me as He helps me to work out my salvation with fear and trembling.

I am very aware that the same message given to the same person, at different points in their life, can create VERY different outcomes. I see this all the time in the counseling room. You see, God’s not just sanctifying and refining you in this process, He is also working in the heart of the hearer, preparing them to be able to receive His message. I’m reminded of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. It isn’t the focal point of the parable, but if the sower was sowing seed that was not yet ready or prepared to be sown, it would have never created a crop; it would be incomplete, not useful, because it has not had time to be properly prepared. The seed is still the same, it’s the timing of the process that is off. Likewise, God is at work, according to His will, creating fertile soil so that His message can take root and His name can be glorified above all else.

It’s 2:23 now. God has soothed all worry and thoughts about competing responsibilities and timelines, and given me rest from the familiar question of “what do I write, God?” from this past week. As I re-read and prayed over these words before sending them off, I am struck by God’s faithfulness and His love in the lesson of waiting by not answering my prayers in the way I had hoped at the outset of this blog, and I pray that you are equally as blessed by His faithfulness.

 —Lindsay Thompson

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The Real Writer

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I love stories. I always have.

My dad used to snuggle up on one of our squeaky beds and read his three offspring to sleep almost every night. It was my favorite part of the day. Closing my eyes, I would dream of shipwrecks and silver skates and sad little girls in freezing attic rooms and noble knights and talking rabbits and rafts on a river. Ah, the classics. How they fueled my already wired imagination. How blessed I was for that early introduction to the world of literature.

So I decided I wanted to become a writer too—for as far back as I can remember.

My first book was “published” in third grade. Although it never was a New York Times best seller, I couldn’t have been more excited nor my parents more proud. My mom surprised me; she’d taken my carefully handwritten pages and primitive illustrations, wrapped them in a heavy duty binder, and lovingly stitched them together on her sewing machine. The title? The Turkey Who Wanted to be Different. Pretty sure you won’t find it on Amazon.

But you could say I have been writing stories ever since. I have notebooks (napkins, receipts, bulletins, and other scraps of paper) full of stories and even more pages full of outlines and chicken scratch for others. I have huge art cases full of poster board sized illustrations. So many ideas I will never get them all out there.

I love to watch stories on TV or in the movies too. I listen to books on CD every time we take a road trip. And I fall asleep each night with a book sprawled across my pillow.

I like to think we are all innately and purposely designed by our Creator to love stories—especially since He has placed us in a story. Besides that, stories are an understandable language in a confusing world around us. Stories speak not only to our minds and emotions but to our very spirits. In stories we find ourselves identifying with situations we have never been in or dreaming that elusive and impossible dream we had long ago abandoned. Stories connect us to life and teach us its lessons. It’s mind boggling to realize that each of us has a unique story that can influence and inspire. 

Do you think about your story? Do you think yours can influence and inspire?

I wonder about my story a lot. More of it unfolds all the time. I look back fondly on its beginning pages. And because I am a child of the King by grace through faith in Jesus who paid my sin debt, I am certain of a very happy ending to my story in His eternal kingdom with Him. Incredible! Sometimes I just want to skip to the end.

But here I am in the middle of my saga where I muddle along in the here and now chapters. I wish, at times, that some of them could be rewritten. Plot twists, faulty subplots, flawed characters, boring settings, failures, poor choices, missed opportunities, unhealthy conflict, and useless dialogue—will this clueless protagonist ever get it right?

Sadly, looking back, the pages of my life that shame me most are the pages I’ve tried to write all on my own. Me, the aspiring, would-be author. Impatient for an outcome, fearful of others, craving ease and pleasure, self-protecting and prideful, longing for love and acceptance, I haughtily grabbed the pen from the Author of my story and sought to compose a best-seller without Him. How foolish! Rereading those chapters in my mind, I am certain there will be no critical acclaim or a movie deal coming my way. I discover I am not such a good writer after all. My own storyline would inspire or influence no one at all.

How about you? Are there some chapters of your life you wish had never been written? Have you, too, wrested the pen from the Author and tried to go it on your own, thinking you imagined a better narrative for you? Are you stuck even now in the pain and consequences of your own story writing? Are you trying to find your own happy ending and your own heroes? Do you really believe you can outwit the villain of every story ever written? Do you honestly want to ignore the Divine Rescuer? Oh, how much time, energy, and attention we waste going our own way.

Thankfully, there is a wise and good Author of our stories. And He is kindly forgiving. With relief, we can   relinquish the blank pages of our lives over to Him—and stop typing. Because He is great, good, gracious and glorious, we can trust Him to pen His plans and purposes for us and design our unique stories. He has been doing so all along, even when we stubbornly thought we were taking care of it by ourselves. Even when the story we’re in is hard and we have no idea what’s in the next chapter. Even when the characters of our story are abusive and evil. Even when the setting of our story is in the shadowed valley. With skillful hand, He can even take our messy and wasted pages, our confusing and painful pages, and weave them all into a story that recounts His merciful and unfailing rescue and love—for His acclaim. He is the ultimate Hero, the true Savior of the world. Our stories influence and inspire our audience because of who He is and what He has done for us and in us.

For our little stories are all part of the Father’s greater story of redemption through Jesus. This grand story is the story of the Bible and it’s about a people made in the image of their Creator. It’s the story of those runaways who rejected the love of their Maker. It’s the story of a Rescuer who made a way to bring them back and restore them to their Father. It’s the story of love and loss, sin and redemption, brokenness and healing. (Christina Fox)

Our stories are to tell His story.

Which begs the question, what is YOUR story saying? Is your Author clearly seen? Is He celebrated and admired? Is He trusted? Or is it all about you? Is mine all about me?

Are you telling it? How the world needs to hear about our loving Rescuer and Restorer, King Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. They need to hear our stories. That will happen when we simply tell what Jesus has done for us.  And isn’t that something to shout about? To write about?  It will be an inspiring Best Seller, one penned not by a flawed and frail human author like me, but by the very Savior of the World.

I love that Big Daddy Weave gets it. Read his lyrics.

 My Story

If I told you my story
You would hear Hope that wouldn't let go
And if I told you my story
You would hear Love that never gave up
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life, but it wasn't mine

If I should speak then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

If I told you my story
You would hear victory over the enemy
And if I told you my story
You would hear freedom that was won for me
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life overcome the grave

If I should speak then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in

Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him.

  

Okay. Let’s tell—and write—our stories about Him.

—Eileen Hill

    

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Another Reason to Trust Him

For the most part I think we would agree that the reason we come to trust someone is because we have experienced that someone in a way that assures us that we can trust them with something of ourselves. But is knowing someone the only basis to trust?

As I took some time yesterday morning to pray and reflect on what I could share with a group of students at a chapel this week, God led me to Psalm 139. And as I was reading this chapter, it was pretty obvious that God wanted to speak to me first. I could not help but fix my attention on verse 16:

“Your eyes saw my unformed body;

    all the days ordained for me were written in your book

    before one of them came to be.”


The more I thought about these statements, the more I felt like the author of this chapter when he said, “How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!” (verse 17). 

What I understood is that before my life began taking any form or shape in my mother’s womb, God had a vision of me in mind. His vision reached into the future and with that vision in mind He began to work from nothing what would become one day my being. He gave form to a physical body with unique traits, and a personality was designed with that future in mind. No detail necessary to fulfill that vision was left out. Furthermore, the days themselves and their amount were set on the record before any of them would even come to pass. 

So, how about trusting someone on the basis that they know everything about our future? Why would I not trust that someone if after all they know e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g about my future. Not only that, but if that someone knows how my life fits into that future.

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This is very sobering truth, and yet it is the very same truth I have struggled with most of my life. I can’t agree more with the author of this chapter that two essential responses on our part—toward someone who knows the future—are: search me and lead me. Search me, not because He does not know everything about me already, but search me so I can know myself as He knows me. And lead me, because my tendency is to choose my own version of life, but He can lead me in “life everlasting” (verses 23-24). 

Consider this God, Creator, your Designer, who knows your future, as the one you can trust!

—Diego Cuartas

I Hear Those Chains Falling Down!

Have you ever taken one of those assessments, tests or inventories that you may find in a magazine, WebMD or online? One where they are trying to diagnosis why you are the way you are. They ask all kinds of questions regarding what you think about yourself, others and your worldview. There are psychology assessments, great tools like the Myers Briggs or the SDI Training our church uses, that enable people to understand things about others, especially in conflict. Learning about ourselves and others is a never ending study. Let’s face it; there is a lot to learn!

Well, I have put together some questions myself, things I hear in my office each day from people who are searching for ways to break out of their dysfunctional patterns of thinking that inevitably lead to dysfunctional patterns of behaving.

Have you ever thought:

  1. I don’t  know how long I can  go on like this.

  2. Am I the only weird, messed up one that thinks and feels like I do?

  3. No one would like me if they really got to know me.

  4. People don’t really mean the nice things they say to me.

  5. I don’t know who I am.

  6. Why am I here on earth?

  7. I cannot go on one more day.

  8. I’m done.

  9. I am afraid of myself and what I may do.

  10. I need something to medicate this pain I am in.

  11. No one really can understand my pain.

  12. They would be better off without me around.

  13. What’s the use in trying because I will just mess it up again.

Do you find yourself feeling:

  1. Confused about your life

  2. Angry and sad a lot

  3. Lonely

  4. Misunderstood

  5. Useless

  6. Unworthy and guilty

  7. Unfulfilled

  8. Carrying Shame

  9. Embarrassed

  10. Hopeless

  11. Scared

Do you find yourself:

  1. Isolating

  2. Medicating with drugs, alcohol, pornography, sex, gambling, eating, self harm

  3. Eating disorders

  4. Cutting

  5. Suicide attempts

  6. Practicing dangerous behaviors

  7. Prostitution

  8. Dabbling in the demonic

I want YOU to know, if you say yes to any of the above behaviors or others not mentioned here, there is a someone named JESUS who loves YOU and made YOU for a reason. HE CAN and WANTS TO BREAK THE CHAINS THAT ARE KEEPING YOU IN BONDAGE.  

I believe this blog is for someone. I didn’t know I was going to write on this today, but God said, “Do it!” so I am doing it. If you are reading this and read through to the end, thank you. If you need help, you can call the church at 856-696-3444 or me at 856-305-9086.

There is HOPE and His Name is Jesus.

The Bible says this:                                       

25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. 26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!    Acts 16:25-26  (NLT)


—Lois Robinson

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Gratitude? I Thought It Wasn't For Me

I’m sad to say that I’ve always kind of thought that it’s not worth my time to ‘practice gratitude.’ 

I’ve considered myself quite above the practice…thinking that when people ‘count their blessings,’ they’re doing something a little bit hokey, a little bit like living in a ‘Pollyanna-type’ reality. They’re just looking on the bright side of things. I’ve considered myself more realistic than that, more authentic than that, and guess what?

I’ve missed out. 

I’ve thought that not practicing gratitude would not affect me. I even thought that it might make me a more authentic person. But I was wrong. 

I’ve been experiencing an elevated level of anxiety in this season of my life. Or maybe, more honestly, it’s just that the anxiety that I typically have going on under the surface, that I’ve learned to cope with, is more apparent. 

As I’ve asked the Lord about this anxiety, I keep hearing His invitation to practice gratitude. At first, it seemed odd. It seemed like I was probably hearing wrong. Too much of a simple fix. But I read a book on gratitude, and the author sort of grappled through all of the same reasons I had for not practicing gratitude, and she also came to the conclusion at the end that gratitude was something essential that she was missing, and that the lack of gratitude in her life was affecting her deeply. I could relate. 

So I’ve started trying to practice gratitude. 

And as I’ve started, I’ve found that gratitude is not just a practice of ‘looking on the bright side of things.’ It’s a re-orientation for my eyes to really see life in an accurate way: I have been given everything I have. I am taken care of completely. I have a Father who carries me, and turns every evil and difficultly into good through His miraculous resurrection power. I am so loved. There is a God who is control. 

These things are true, but when I choose to not practice thanking God, remembering God, I miss out on the real realities of the universe. And I live in an alternate reality where life feels out of control, scary, overwhelming.

When I don’t practice gratitude, I get confused. My eyes get clouded to the way life really is. Gratitude helps me return to reality. 

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…”

Romans 1:21-22

And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.’ Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.” Deuteronomy 1:27-33

May we, today, have the courage to take the steps that we need to, to remember God’s good care of us…and to thank Him for it. May we live having the courage to yet again be faithful to do our part to lay hold of the true realities of life.

—Sarah Howard

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I'm Happy for You

I have to say that for as taxing as parenting can be, the process contains such a treasure trove of lessons. There is something sacred, beautiful and stretching about having to take truth or a big life lesson and make it easy enough for a toddler and preschooler to understand. There is something powerful about hearing the Gospel come from my lips in its profound simplicity as I have shared it over and over again with my three and four year old. In those moments, I get emotional because it often feels as though I have preached to my own heart. These times that are peppered in among the fits and whining and the other not-so-glamorous parts of parenting make it all so worth it and are often the inspiration for what I bring you here. Therefore, without further ado, I bring you a snippet of encouragement from the Howard homestead.

We try to spend some one-on-one time with each of the girls and take turns taking them on special outings occasionally. However, after a few times of doing this, we have come to anticipate that it might be a little bit of a challenge for the girl who had to stay home when her sister returns to tell her about the fun she has experienced. We have seen quite a few meltdowns or grumpy attitudes during these transitions. These same reactions have also been witnessed when one sibling receives praise for a job well done. Why? Jealousy? I am sure that is part of it. However, I think it goes deeper than that to a faulty core belief that I have seen many adults live out of but few articulate; myself included. After affirming our love for the one that feels left out, what we usually discover is the same. The root of her unhappiness for someone else usually stems from the thought that her sister’s success or joy somehow means that she is missing out or has failed and isn’t good enough thus resulting in the meltdown, frustration and subsequent competition. It’s hard for her to say ‘I am happy for you’ and mean it.

Can you relate? Have you ever felt upset when someone else gets the recognition, job promotion, house or family you wanted? Do you have a hard time celebrating others’ successes? Maybe you have been on the receiving end. Maybe you have tried to share good news with people who are reluctant to rejoice with you without competing. I can relate to having experienced both. Neither is a good feeling. So then what? Here is the adult version of what I say when I coach my daughters and myself. Lean in, and I will tell you a secret. Say this with me. OTHER PEOPLE’S SUCCESS DOES NOT MEAN MY FAILURE.  Why? One, because you have nothing to prove. God is gracious, so your identity is not staked on how well you perform or how productive others say you are. Second, you serve a GOOD God who is not holding out on you. He has good things for you. His good in your life may not look the same as someone else, and that is ok. This process of slowing down and unpacking the beliefs behind my emotions is so important to allowing truth to penetrate deep in my heart. Oh how realigning the truth can be.

Our place is secure, friends! We are deeply loved, wanted and significant, so we can make others feel the same by being present. If we have the courage to do the work to go below the surface, we can make strides toward not being the walking wounded. We can rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). We can seek to know each other’s story. Sometimes in our insecurity, the circumstances in people’s lives that we wish we had are actually the result of hard fought battles we know nothing about.

Let’s cheer each other on and love each other well. There is no need to compete and strive. Life can be challenging but beautiful, and we need each other. God is at work in our lives, and sometimes we need the reminder and deft eye of others to point it out. So come in close again, and I will tell you like I tell my children. Jesus loves you. You are ok. You are important. You are special. You are loved.

—Sophia Howard

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The Weapons We Use

I am grieving. I know that many of you are grieving as well. We look around at our world and see that evil is becoming not just accepted but exalted in our society. We see it destroying our families, creating intense pain and hopelessness for those we love, and for some of us it looks so big…so overwhelming that we feel helpless. I want to share with you what God has been speaking to me over these past few weeks as I struggle with these same thoughts.

I was reminded that about nine or so years ago, I was thinking a lot about spiritual warfare. I don’t remember the exact situation I was dealing with at the time, but based on what I remember about that stage of life, I’m certain it was some variation on the themes of depression, hopelessness, and shame. One day while praying, I got the distinct picture of a child standing on a mound of fire ants, trying furiously to stomp them off of her legs and fight them off while her father was right above her waiting to lift her out of the danger and pain she was experiencing. She was so focused on how big the threat and danger was to her in that moment, that she couldn’t see her father waiting to rescue her from the threat. That picture has been helpful to me in times when I am tempted to see the problems of my life, or of my world, as bigger than the great solution of God’s salvation and redemption. So, how do we focus on God’s salvation and redemption when the evils of this world feel so immediately threatening to us? I think we have a clear outline for how to reorient our hearts and shift our focus to the good and beautiful God in 2 Chronicles 20.

The account in 2 Chronicles is one where God allowed the attack of the enemy against the nation of Israel whose leader at the time was a righteous and God fearing man. Sometimes God protects us from being touched by evil in our lives, and sometimes He allows it so that His mighty salvation can be more revealed to us. In this account, the King (Jehoshaphat) responds to the threat of the enemy with prayer and fasting. V.6-9, 12 is a beautiful picture of reorienting the heart from fear to the exultation of God’s salvation.

                  “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms and nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us’…O our God, will you not judge them. For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do but our eyes are on you.”

Later on, in the same chapter (vs. 21) we see a second way that Jehoshaphat responds to threat of evil. Instead of appointing his mightiest warriors to make up the frontlines of the battle, he appoints singers who are to exult the name of God in the face of the enemy instead. God fought the battle for the nation of Israel because His people sought Him through prayer, fasting, and worship. God became the focus of their hearts, not their fears or worries about the problems they were facing.

There’s a song titled “Surrounded” by Michael W. Smith. There aren’t many lyrics at all in the song. It is a statement made over and over about reorienting the heart to remember we are not surrounded by the enemy (which is often how we feel) but, we are (in reality) surrounded by God, and that the worship and exultation of God is our mightiest weapon in spiritual battle. I want to share with you another song that has been a helpful tool in reorienting my heart. It’s a song that is very dear to me and my brother, and it comes straight from Psalm 145. It helps me to exalt God in the midst of any situation or struggle and it shifts my focus from the problem to God’s great solution of salvation and redemption.

Psalm 145 – The Modern Post

Let prayer, fasting, and worship be the weapons we use. Let our hearts be reoriented to see the might of God as unfathomably greater than the troubles of this world…

John 16:33b “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

—Lindsay Thompson

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January's Promise

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It’s an early morning, frigid and blustery outside my cabin. The awakening sun is chasing the stubborn, frosty mist out of my woods, dragging behind it a brilliantly blue sky. A robin cheerily bobs about the frozen grass and leftover patches of glistening snow in my back yard. I smile, wondering what he’s doing here. Doesn’t he know it’s January?

January.

Off with the old. On with the new. A fresh start. A gut-it-out resolve. Goals. Change. Fixing the messes and broken places of yesterday. Beginning again. Getting it right.

A glimmer of hope, however elusive and fragile it may be, flickers inside each of us. Maybe this year will be different. Maybe this year I will be different—fulfilled, purposeful, peaceful.

And big business is on to us, ready to exploit our innate yearning to change up the past and begin once more. Sales circulars and stores are jammed full of exercise equipment and home organizational paraphernalia, not-so-subtly hinting to us that we should drop some blubber and clean up our clutter as the year commences. The promise seems to be, somehow, that thinner thighs and alphabetized cupboards will fix us or satisfy our desire for a new and improved 2019. The commercial world capitalizes on this January mindset, one we all embrace at some level, consciously or not.

Some of us write our new goals down so we can hold ourselves accountable to them. We even solicit friends to help us stay with it. We purchase self-help books or join the gym or scan the want ads or sign up for an online dating service.

Others make a mental list they will push through alone. If they give up and quit, no one will be the wiser.    

Some desperately resolve that this year is going to be, has to be altered, but they don’t have a plan in place and may not know where to even begin to find whatever will bring them that something they know is missing.

Unhappily, some don’t even try. Why bother? Nothing satisfies. Nothing works.

Sorry to say, having a buff body, living in a showplace, finding a new set of friends, reading the right books, having a diversified portfolio, or even landing that dream job probably won’t bring you the lasting happiness and contentment that your heart aches to apprehend.

Whatever we do and however we do it, January is the month we gaze into an almost frightening expanse of 365 days. These days endlessly stretch out before us, the boxes on our calendars nearly all empty. Though some have given up, the vast majority of us have determined that something has to change; we will try to do better, to be better, and to make this year better than last, a year where we will find our elusive purpose and meaning.  

And our success is dependent, for the most part, on what we fill those boxes with, how we choose to spend our precious minutes, hours, and days, on what or whom we think will make our lives better.  

Sadly, that’s where the problem comes in.

We’re prone to make poor choices. Too often we expect the wrong people and the wrong things to give us life, to affect the change we need, to rescue us, to fix us. We cram our calendars full of futile and hollow relationships and activities, searching for genuine fulfillment, joy, and purpose for our existence. We know we were made for more—much more. But…

Happy New Year! Right.

Paul Tripp would say, and I agree, that this problem is sin. For one thing, sin causes us to be self-focused, making all of life about us, our needs, wants, and feelings. It’s a miserable life of jealousy and discontentment. But there’s more.

Sin also blinds us.

“It causes us to look horizontally for what can only ever be found vertically. So we look to creation for life, hope, peace, rest, contentment, identity, meaning and purpose, inner peace, and motivation to continue. The problem is that nothing in creation can give you these things. Creation was never designed to satisfy your heart. Creation was made to be one big finger pointing you to the One who alone has the ability to satisfy your heart. Many people will get up today and in some way will ask creation to be their savior, that is, to give them what only God is able to give.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:25-26).

“These are the words of a man who learned the secret to contentment. When you are satisfied with the Giver because you have found in him the life you were looking for, you are freed from the ravenous quest for satisfaction that is the discouraging existence of so many people. Yes, it is true that your heart will rest only ever when it has found its rest in him.

“Here is one of the most beautiful fruits of grace—a heart that is content, more given to worship than demand, and more given to the joy of gratitude than the anxiety of want. It is grace and grace alone that can make this idea of peaceful living possible for each of us. Won’t you reach out today for that grace?”

Won’t you start off this brand new year knowing that, because of God’s extravagant grace, you can finally find all that your heart has been searching for all year long?

Don’t keep scratching around like that sadly mixed-up and out-of-place springtime bird in my yard, searching and striving for something he will never find.

Let 2019 be the year you discover your identity, your purpose, and your satisfaction in your loving and true Savior.

Make space on your calendar for spending time with him. Get to know him intimately. Marvel at his beauty, his goodness, his greatness, and his glory. Revel in his grace to you.

Now that will be a really Happy New Year, won’t it?  

 

(Quotes from New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional, Paul Tripp. January 6)           

 A great book to put on your calendar as a must-read every day to keep your thinking straight!

—Eileen Hill

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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Any Room?

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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 

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