The Heart of True Repentance

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

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

—Thor Knutstad

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Is Light Sufficient?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    in the land of the living!

Wait for the Lord;

    be strong, and let your heart take courage;

    wait for the Lord!”


—Diego Cuartas

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A Lasting Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

—Sophia Howard

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Risking Emotional Safety for the Kingdom of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

—Lindsay Thompson

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The Elderly Man


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone like me.

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

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

Forgive me, Father.

—Eileen Hill

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Unbelief: A Hindrance to Entering God’s Rest

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

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

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

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

“Today, if you hear his voice,

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

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

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

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

How are you struggling to believe?

How is your heart being deceived or hardened?

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

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

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

—Diego Cuartas

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Diagnosis 911: Buszerkitis

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

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

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

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

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

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

B- BEING

U- UNDER

S-  SATAN’S

Y-  YOKE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Time of Change

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

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

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

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

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

—Norma Stockton

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

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

—Thor Knutstad

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Can We Talk About What Happened Sunday?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Pastor Greg

It’s Time For a New School Year!

It’s time for a new school year!

As we move into all that September signifies and entails, I offer two articles, one written by my husband, and one preached by John Piper, to spark thoughts for families starting up their school year routines again. 

http://www.somuchhope.com/parenting/2018/8/28/new-school-year-6-ideas-for-getting-my-family-ready

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/god-sends-you-back-to-school?utm_medium=feed&utm_source=feedpress.me&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+dg-articles

May each of us that are walking this path have the energy and courage to meet our children wherever we’ve chosen to send them or keep them this year. May we find the face of Jesus right in the middle of our routines. 

--Sarah Howard

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Belonging

I am going to tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a little girl that had a hard time making friends. In school, she was the “nice girl” that all the parents wanted their children to be friends with in hopes that she would be a good influence on them. She was a rules follower, respectful and loved to learn; therefore her teachers loved her. She even got along with most of the kids in her class too, but didn’t feel like she belonged or that anyone really wanted to be her friend as much as she did theirs. She would see certain groups of girls all huddled together everyday. They never went anywhere without each other. They played together, ate their Lunchables together and slept over each others houses. Her heart longed to be a part of a group like that. She wanted to know her place and to feel connected.

Fast forward through elementary, middle school, high school, college. Yes, she was blessed to have at least one or two friends for each season of life, but she still struggled.  Difficult experiences in friendships started to cement her working theory that maybe she wasn’t meant to belong or that she should hide herself in order to fit in. The voices of friends who told her that they wanted to have a positive and good day after she shared something hard and vulnerable nagged her to go deeper into her shell.

“Wow! Who is this sad girl?” you ask. You guessed it. It’s me! All my life I have struggled to “fit in.” At times as an awkward introvert, people’s first impression of me is just that: awkward. Throughout my life I have been dismissed as being intense more times than I can count. Now I can laugh about it but have often times felt misunderstood.

I can remember all of my pent up, unvoiced emotions concerning all this coming to a head when I was about 21 at an internship for the summer. We were at a teaching time, and the topic was on friendship and community. The speaker emphasized good community being a key component to serving God without burning out and to being a healthy individual. He said that we were made for community and encouraged us to make a list of two or three people with whom we could share what we had learned once we returned home. It was all I could do to sit through the whole session because it felt like someone was pressing on a wound. I left that session when it was finished and balled my eyes out. Why did it have to come around to that, a place I felt so bankrupt in? Did I have people at home that I surrounded myself with? Sure, but I didn’t feel truly known by them.

For what seemed like the first time, I sat with my disappointment and took an honest look at my expectations, hopes and fears in relationships and my desire to belong. It felt so raw but good. I even had honest conversations with God about how I thought it unfair for Him to keep calling me to community without giving me any direction on how to do that (He was. I just didn’t perceive it), especially when what I was doing was obviously not helping me procure “my spot.” After I vented for a while, I got quiet and remember Him speaking to me a phrase I have mentioned in other blogs that has continued to resurface over the years. He said, “Home is where I am with you.” And all of a sudden peace flooded my soul, everything made sense, and I never struggled with a sense of belonging again. Right? Wrong. I felt comforted by the reminder that the Maker of all things walks with me and that His presence is the ultimate sense of home, but change didn’t happen overnight. It was the start of a nine year journey of working that out. Nine years because I am thirty and still working that out.

What that moment introduced to me was the thought that in Jesus I have everything I need to truly belong anytime, anywhere. The sense of home I experienced doesn’t have to be ruled by relational circumstances. I don’t need permission to be myself. I don’t have to hide. I was and always will be known fully and loved by God, and because of that I can be vulnerable with others and don‘t have to hide. I can walk into situations knowing that my worth cannot be detracted from. My integrity doesn’t have to feel threatened by the wave of people’s opinions. I belong. I have a place.

It has been quite the journey. I am still learning so much including relational skills, honesty and healthy expectations and boundaries. However, I am learning to own and enjoy who God has made me to be, regardless of the outcome. I am becoming myself, and it feels good to be outside of my shell.

--Sophia Howard

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My TJ's Story

I have another crazy vacation story for you. I hope you don’t mind. I just can’t help proclaiming the Father’s incredible kindness to me…and to celebrate His awesome power to orchestrate events all around this wobbly globe. My desire is, through the telling, that praise to Him will be multiplied and He will be recognized as the Glorious King, high and lifted up!

Matthew, grandson #2, was to be married Saturday evening, July 21st, in the unspoiled Ozark highlands of Arkansas. As a family, we were delighted to celebrate with him and welcome his beautiful bride, Abi, into our little clan. Spread out in several states from east to west, the opportunity for us to all be together is rare. As any mother and grandmother can imagine, I was very grateful the wedding would bring us to one place—even for just a few days. For weeks, my heart thumped with joy, excitement, and anticipation. I was going to be with everybody…and I was getting a precious new granddaughter too!

TJ, grandson #1, age 23, had earlier planned a backpacking expedition in Southeast Asia for this summer and was scheduled to arrive in Memphis, one of the closest airports to the wedding, Thursday evening the 19th—just in time to be a groomsman for his brother.

But TJ got sick, very sick.

He texted his mom, my daughter, Tracy, on the Monday before the big weekend, the day all of us were packing to leave or were already on our way to Arkansas. He was feverish, having breathing issues, and experiencing extreme chest pain. And he was all alone half-way around the world. A nurse, Tracy tried to gather information from TJ, assess the situation, and recommend treatment options. She also sent out the word for us to pray.

That night, in a dark and strange hostel, TJ struggled to breathe. Texts flew back and forth between Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in the USA where two helpless parents anxiously prayed and tried to calm their distant and frightened son via text messages. In desperation, TJ, in excruciating pain and unable to get a deep breath, stumbled out to the street and hailed a cab. Gesturing to be understood, he was rushed to the nearest hospital.

There, with no way to communicate verbally, TJ tried to explain his difficulties and symptoms in a charade-like fashion. Immediately the staff gave him a breathing treatment and oxygen, also ordering appropriate tests and chest x-rays. In this 150 bed Vietnamese ER, overcrowded with weeping and moaning people, TJ felt a heavy sadness and isolation he had never experienced in his life. Those who loved him and knew him, those who could simply explain what was happening to him, assure him, comfort him…they were all thousands of miles away. But his Heavenly Father wasn’t. He was there.

Through that long night, a young boy arrived at the hospital and was settled into TJ’s bed with him for a while. There were no other beds available. Nearby, in another bed, a very sick man breathed his last. The busy ER was incredibly overwhelmed and understaffed. Despite his fears and uncertain condition, TJ’s heart filled with compassion over the human suffering he witnessed all around him. In that vulnerable place, God was opening TJ’s eyes to the plight of millions in the developing nations of the world.

His initial diagnosis was a partially collapsed lung. TJ would not be flying home anytime soon.

That call came from Tracy early Tuesday morning as Greg was packing my car so Angie, Asher, and Lorelei could take off with me on our Arkansas road trip. We listened gloomily on speaker phone then circled up in the driveway. Greg, choking up a bit, prayed. What hope began stirring in my heart! It mingled with the sadness, fear, and worry that were already attempting a dangerous coup. That hope brought verse after verse popping into my mind. Promises I knew to be true took captive my negative thoughts.

God has promised to ALWAYS be with His children (I knew TJ was His) no matter where they are—even in Southeast Asia. And I knew God is the author of TJ's story and that He is able to do exceedingly beyond anything I can image with his life and in his life. We had been specifically praying for that. I was reminded that He is the Great Physician, the God of all comfort, the Loving Father, the Good Shepherd, and the King of the world. In that instant, I rehearsed His Names and His Character in my mind.

Greg specifically prayed that communication would increase—for TJ to be able to understand and to be understood and for Tracy to be able to know his condition and what medically was being done—all beyond the language barrier that was causing confusion and frustration. Certainly TJ didn’t understand Vietnamese, but he also didn’t understand all the medical terminology and jargon. He had no idea what was happening to him.

So we rode and prayed. Lots of others prayed too.

Into the ER walked three medical students from the UK. What? They “happened” to stop in that particular hospital that particular morning. Right.

Within minutes, they calmed TJ with their English words (cool British accent and all) and with their presence. They checked his chart and helped TJ understand what was going on. He was able to relay this to his mom. Apparently, one of the students was a rather attractive young lady and Angie, via phone text as we barreled through Maryland and West Virginia, was helping TJ with “pick up” lines to use like, “You take my breath away!” It was such a blessing that T’s phone had such good cell service and power so he, throughout, could stay connected to and encouraged by all of us here who love him.

And God wasn’t finished.

My resourceful son-in-law, Tim, TJ’s dad, contacted his cousin who works for Wycliffe Associates. He had already had a disappointing and unproductive conversation with the US Embassy. Within a very short time, Shelly connected Tim with a pastor in Ho Chi Minh City who has an association with Wycliffe. Tim explained their situation and this pastor, though visiting in Akron, Ohio, contacted a doctor from his congregation back in Vietnam and asked her to check in on TJ. So she did. What a blessing she was to him and to us!

I am not sure of the exact timetable of all of this, but it seems this wonderful doctor (whose name I won’t mention for security purposes) wasted no time getting to TJ in the ER. Not being affiliated with that hospital, she had to creatively procure access to him and navigate their system. Since T is American and also in the military, I think the hospital staff was already a little wary of what to do with him. In spite of this, our doctor wasn’t deterred; she basically took over his care.  

She had him moved to a respiratory unit. She communicated, in very good English, to Tracy and Tim about TJ’s condition, his treatment and his prognosis. She arranged for an AMERICAN pulmonary doctor, who “happened” to be at another hospital just then, to see and evaluate TJ. Afraid that T would contract something worse in his already weakened condition from the hospital, she eventually arranged for his release into her care, signing an affidavit that she would be legally responsible for him. She took him to her home and fed him fried chicken, cheese burgers and coke so he would have something comforting and familiar.

The hospital was a cash-only facility; our doctor friend offered and then paid his bill in full until Tim could get the money to her. After hours of concern over the expense of this ordeal (a hospital stay, an ER visit, multiple X-rays, a CT scan, nebulizer treatments, a lung scope, medicines, etc.), the total amount due was about $350. Can you believe it?

TJ was also served some very delicious cookies while a guest in the doctor’s home. When he remarked at how good they tasted, she told him she had just purchased them at Costco in IDAHO (where TJ lives) on a recent vacation to visit friends. Unbelievable.

By this time, most of my family was processing this ordeal together in a lovely AirBnB in the Ozarks. As I described for you all the amazing events that were unfolding, I forgot to tell you that it was discovered that TJ’s lung was NOT collapsed as initially thought, a dangerous condition that would have precluded air travel for days, even weeks. He was diagnosed with a strange kind of emphysema. Air was being trapped in his chest and abdominal cavities causing extreme pain and cutting off his airway. Steroids, inhalers, antibiotics, and rest were required. So thankful he had enough presence of mind to go to the ER that lonely night. That, too, was God’s prompting.

With each email, in the ebb and flow of messages from the doctor and TJ, the news seemed increasingly more positive and eased our minds a little more. Matt and Abi, though sad, had come to terms graciously about T’s missing their big day. Following their lead, we all kept mechanically preparing for the rehearsal dinner and our other little parts in the wedding. We didn’t want anything to over-shadow their joy. And in the back of all our minds, we all entertained, however slightly, the wild hope that somehow TJ would be well enough to fly and make it to the wedding. Although it seemed a bit selfish, I asked God for His favor once more. He had done so much for us already.

In the very wee hours of Saturday morning, with hours to spare, TJ, pale and weak, was wrapped eagerly in the waiting arms of his whole tearful and grateful family. Together at last! My mother’s heart wanted to sing but I was crying too hard. We corporately offered our thanks to the powerful One who did it all. And we took a big picture of a smiling TJ surrounded by all of us to send to the doctor who so graciously took care of him in Vietnam.

God is kind.

So Matthew and Abi’s wedding went off without a hitch. It was perfect. She was a stunning bride. There was not a trace of sadness or worry to be seen anywhere. I am so excited to see how God is going to use them as missionary pilots in the future.

Tim didn’t have to mortgage his home to pay medical bills.

We got pictures taken with ALL of us in them…no one missing. I can’t wait to see them.

We discovered where to go when we have major medical issues—Vietnam!  

We all made a new friend in Ho Chi Minh City. I hope to one day thank her personally (in Idaho) for her sacrificial and lavish love and care for my grandson. How like Jesus! She made a lasting impression on all of us.

We were humbled by the amazing response and love of the tight-knit Christian community around the world. Tim had also contacted a college day’s friend associated with Cadence International, a missionary organization located on military bases around the world. A very kind nurse with their ministry paid TJ a visit to the hospital and followed up with an email. Amazing.

But this is only the beginning of the story for TJ. In all the confusion, loneliness, and fear, it seems God has captured TJ’s attention…and his heart.  He has given my boy a new focus and purpose. This past week, TJ has spent hours checking into an EMT class and investigating graduate programs and speaking to advisors. Though it is only in the early stages of development, his new plan is to get some sort of medical degree. He wants to help the sick, weak, helpless, and under-served people like the ones he was surrounded by a few weeks back.

Maybe in an overcrowded ER in Ho Chi Minh City.

Thank you, Father. You are kind.

And, this is a warning. When I get my hands on those wedding pictures, you just might want to avoid this grandmother!

--Eileen Hill

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Power of the Tongue

I have chosen to write a very different kind of blog, and I believe God has laid this on my heart to do. We are living in a very ugly time period in our world and our country. When I read an article about a Virginia man who is an admitted pedophile and rapist and is running for office, and got nauseous after reading it, I needed to respond with my ability to use my tongue through a blog and point us toward the very Word of God about speaking out.

Proverbs 18:21 says, "death and life are in the power of the tongue." The tongue is a small member of the body, but it is powerful. What we say to others can either cut them to pieces or it can be a healing.

I grew up never understanding the implications of the above verse. As I began to study it and apply it to my everyday life, it has transformed my mind. For example, when you get up in the morning and utter, “Ugh, this is going to be a horrible day,”  when you finally lay your head down to go to sleep, has it been a rough day? Usually the answer is Yes. If we chose to set our eyes on all of the mess we will face in a day versus choosing and desiring to see God’s hand in those same messy circumstances, it makes a huge difference. It doesn’t take away the messiness, nor is it a place of denying what is in front of you; it changes your perspective on things.

Either your posture can be, “This IS the day the Lord has made, I WILL rejoice and be glad in it.” or “This day is horrible already.”

It’s your choice.

John 8:32 “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

I have learned that the only way to really know the Truth about anything is through the very Word of God. When we submit ourselves to His Truth, we will then experience the blessing of Freedom. Freedom from the bondage and shackles that bind us up in life.

Psalm 5:9 For there is no truth in their mouth; their heart is destruction, their throat is an open sepulchre, they flatter with their tongue.

Psalm 12:3  May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts,

Psalm 37:30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice.

Psalm 39:1 I said, “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will bridle my mouth, so long as the wicked are in my presence.”

Psalm 45:1 My heart overflows with a goodly theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

Psalm 39:3 My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue:

Friends, I recommend you ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand what the very heart of God is trying to communicate to you through these scripture verses found in this blog. Look them up in the Bible. Pray over them. Ask God how He wants you to use your mouth, your tongue. Do you build people up, or do you tear them down? Are you an advocate of justice or stand silent when you see injustice?

We live in the Kingdom of God, and we are to be His Ambassadors. We are to be His eyes, His ears, His mouthpiece. His hands and His feet. We are to surrender our entire lives over to Him and His Kingship. Have you?

I pray this blog blesses you friends,

--Lois Robinson

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The Book of Judges and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”

Have you ever seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? It is a comedy about a Greek girl growing up in a large, extremely vibrant and passionate Greek family, marrying a very white bread boy who grew up in a very small, disconnected, unemotional, cookie-cutter sort of family. I asked a very Italian friend of mine if he like the movie. He said, "No I hated it." I was surprised because I thought he would have enjoyed the comedy and the story of a large immigrant family because that was his background. He laughed and then went on to say, “That's not entertainment; that's my life! I watch movies to escape my life not to have it painfully on display for everyone to see! “

You might be feeling that way about our sermon series in Judges. The people are so messy, the leaders are so broken. That does not seem hopeful; I get enough of the messy in the world around me. You might think I have enough spectacular mess, I don’t need to study someone else's. 

Yes, you do. You need to study the book of Judges because it not only teaches us about their mess, but it also teaches us about the specific kind of Savior that each of those messes required. This week you will learn about Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar and how they were uniquely suited for the rescue of God’s people in a specific mess. Their role in the Old Testament story is not just to teach you about how they saved the people of God. Their role is to also teach you about the perfect Judge that is to come. The end result is that you are getting to know the kind of Savior that you need and more importantly the kind of Savior that Jesus will be. He is the kind of Savior that is able to rescue you out of any particular mess that you find yourself in.

So, yes, we are studying their mess and their sin and it is gross, but we are also getting to know the kind of Savior that has come to set us free and lead us to victory. They were imperfect judges that lasted only for a few years, but He is the righteous, eternal Judge and Savior. As we study Judges, let's not just study the figures of the past but study Jesus and the kind of Savior He is today.

--Greg Hill

What Was I Thinking?!

When I was still in high school, a dear friend asked me if I would do something for her. Very hush-hush. So after school we went down to Linton’s for coffee, and she told me what it was.

She was a fun part of our crazy crowd, but she wasn’t in most of our classes. She was a twin, but due to birth events she wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, and we all helped her any time we could. We loved her. I was always available to tutor, to explain anything I could, to anyone.

I was flabbergasted when she told me what it was. Her twin brother had been accepted at Temple University, but, much to her mother’s disappointment, she had failed the entrance exam. She had been given a chance to take it again, and what they wanted me to do was to take the exam for her and get her into Temple. I was amazed.

But after considerable discussion about the mechanics and the feasibility of it, I agreed to do it. My only obvious problem was dumbing myself down enough that Temple wouldn’t know the difference, (Ha. So stupid.) I thought I was helping. (So dumb.)

So, on the day, I cut school and presented myself at Temple on Broad Street in Philadelphia and took the test. I felt great that I was helping my friend. In fact, I went home that day and proudly told my mother that I had finally done something GOOD with my brain. She said, “YOU DID WHAT??!!??”

My mother was a Special Ed teacher in a special high school in West Philadelphia, and assured me in no uncertain terms that I was in big trouble, that Temple would know immediately, and how could I THINK of doing such a thing?? “It was for friendship,” I wept, and got ready for the ax to fall.

Sure enough, Temple right away called Germantown High School, and they easily tracked me down, since I had cut school that day, and before I could even get my wits together I was in the Vice Principal’s office confessing my sad tale.

Next step: my friend and I and our two mothers were summoned to school, I guess to decide what to do with us. Her mother to my mother: “We need to get our stories straight!” My mother to her (icily) “There are no ‘stories!’ ”

My dear friend didn’t go to college, anywhere. I did.

Over the years, as an adult, I have often puzzled over what my state of mind could have been to allow me to make such a foolish and dishonest decision. But I have come to the only possible conclusion --- I didn’t have Jesus. The Holy Spirit, I know, would have guided me away. Like the folks in the book of Judges, I was doing what seemed right in my own eyes. And I was wrong.

Jesus knew that the disciples (and all of his followers in future) would need help and guidance in their lives after He was gone, and so He promised them the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said, ”If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.”

                                                                                                      John 14:15-17

I am so grateful for my mother. She was strict, and surely covered all the “don’ts” that she could think of, but she obviously missed this one. But without her love and guidance heaven only knows what I would have gotten into. I am so very thankful for God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. How on earth could I possibly live without Him?

--Norma Stockton

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The Heart of a Truth Teacher: Third John, The Last Things an Old Wise Man Had to Say to the Church

Read Third John here 

Third John, the very last letter written by the beloved Apostle John in his elderly 90's (around 90 AD), can be read in about a minute. I would encourage you to go back and read it 2-3 more times before you continue. Though Revelation is put last in our Bibles, 3 John was actually John's final letter and the last chronological New Testament book authored. It is written specifically to his friend Gaius, who himself is dealing with a very practical matter in the church. This issue revolved around the support and hospitality of Christian missionaries. These traveling itinerant preachers of the Gospel, like the one named Demetrius in this letter, needed food and housing and support while they spread the truth of Jesus and ministered the Gospel across the known regions of the first century world. They were first century missionaries - and the first true traveling Christian missionaries. This is where missions comes from - and it's all right here in 3 John. Did you know that? Do I have your attention yet? 

John is giving Gaius counsel to continue in hospitality (which literally means "having love of strangers") toward Demetrius and to other true missionary preachers who would need food, housing, and support. This same practice has continued for over twenty one centuries right through today. Verse 8 specifically says, "Therefore we ought to support such men so that we may be fellow workers with the truth." If you have ever supported a pastor or missionary, you have participated in his or her work of truth. Isn't that just simply awesome? We are tied in truth to the ones we support. John's call to Gaius centers on the following concepts:

  1. Truth - this word is mentioned seven times in just 15 short verses
  2. Loving Greetings - John links gracious love with the truth as inseparable
  3. Warnings:

In verse 9, John calls negative attention to an adversary of the church named Diotrephes (pronounced "Dee-Autra-Feez"). I think it is quite interesting that an elderly man in his 90's (the Apostle John), who has seen the entire first century history of Christ Jesus' Church, picks such a seemingly small problematic character to highlight in Diotrephes. It seems that John could have re-emphasized a pure Gospel, or have pointed to the life and work and teachings of the apostles.  He could have reiterated the many things Paul wrote and said (even Paul has been gone at this time for almost 25 years). But John doesn't write the predictable. Instead, this seasoned old man, called the apostle whom Jesus loved (who might I add was also a son of Thunder like his brother James), writes and signs and seals and sends this letter to his beloved friend Gaius. It appears that Diotrephes (like a church filter) had intercepted John's first letter, which is probably lost to us. Needless to say, this letter made it to Gaius. And embedded in the middle of this powerful Scripture is this warning:  "DIOTREPHES IS NOT THE MODEL; DON'T IMITATE HIM. HE LOVES TO BE FIRST. HE IS NOT HOSPITABLE TO TRUE MISSIONARIES AND TRAVELING PREACHERS. HE IS A PROBLEM. HE MODELS EVIL. I WILL COME AND DEAL WITH HIM." It could not be a more clear alert to this man.  The warning is strong and forthright and clear.

John's warnings about Diotrephes is uncomfortable truth in our "positivity" driven culture. Sometimes we gloss over the hard warnings of Scripture and only stop to give them adherence if it involves some gross sin. John grabs a hammer and drives a sharp wedge between good and evil and basically says that Diotrephes represents what is evil. Here are some very detailed statements that John makes VERY DIRECTLY about Diotrephes:

  1. He isn't walking in the truth like you do, Gaius (v.3-4)
  2. He isn't showing Christian hospitality to itinerant preachers & missionaries (v.5-6)
  3. He doesn't support the love of strangers (v.7-8)
  4. He loves the preeminence (literally has "a strong affection to be first" v.9a)
  5. He doesn't accept even John's authority (v.9b)
  6. He makes wicked false accusations against real spiritual leaders, even against John (v.10)
  7. He rejects real Christian brothers (true believers and true missioned preachers v.10)
  8. He ensures that others also do the same rejecting (see #7 above, v.10)
  9. He puts the wrong people out of the church (v.10); inferring he lets the wrong ones remain
  10. He is representative of evil (not of what is truly good v.11); he is FALSE
  11. He hasn't seen God and does not know God and is not of God (v.11)

This list is very self-explanatory. Diotrephes hurt the churches by rejecting real teachers and real biblical preachers and real missionaries of truth. Diotrephes may have been prohibiting Gaius from receiving these traveling missionaries and from giving them hospitality. Diotrephes loved the preeminence of being first. He white knuckle gripped whatever position or spiritual authority he assumed he had over people in the churches. So without fear, the aged elderly Apostle John shows his namesake as a son of Thunder and gives Gaius fearless counsel about hospitality and then says, "When I come, I will deal with Diotrephes!" He vows to call attention to the evils so that the truth and what is good is preserved and followed. John highlights the word "truth" seven times in just 15 verses. This is by design. John loves THE TRUTH. The last things this dear elderly saint says is about how to love in the context of truth. It's about Christian hospitality. It's about loving well. Go to the top of this article and re-read 3rd John. This passage is simple but is full of profound truths. If you know me, you know that I am simply overwhelmed by the many immense riches found in God's Word. As you live on mission in your community and in your neighborhood and in your home, have a love of strangers that truly defines Christian hospitality. Support your local church with your time, your treasure, your talents, your words, and your hearts. Be hospitable to Christian missionaries and those who serve you for the sake of Christ's Gospel. Live on mission as you love strangers.  

John's apostolic commands to Gaius to do this is the very last thing that we hear from this beloved old man who walked with Jesus as a very young man some 65 years before. Now, at that point in the early 90's AD, John had seen the church explode and grow under great persecution for many years, yet he knew there were still threats to the church. And with final courage, John aims at Diotrephes and doesn't hesitate to pull the trigger. His miss is small because this wise man has loved and lived and served and known so much, and his love for the church drives this targeted letter. Read 3 John again.  Add to your reading these passages: Jude, 2 Peter 2, & Matthew 23, Jeremiah 23.  There are others like Diotrephes. And the Bible is not without similar warnings - relevant then and applicable today.

--Thor Knutstad

Here is a sermon I preached on this subject, if you are interested.

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I Don't Buy Things At Victoria's Secret

I don't buy anything at Victoria's Secret. Not one little thing. Nothing. Never. I haven't for 12 years.

I'll tell you why and I'll tell you my story: I used to buy various things there. In high school and in college, I actually loved buying things there because I thought that somehow purchasing items from that particular store would make me more sexy, more beautiful, more of what a woman ought to be. I wouldn't have admitted to that, even to myself. But the belief was there in me, inside of me. 

My favorite perfume scent in the whole world is actually from Victoria's Secret: it's called Love Spell. I think it is one of the best smells in the whole world, and most other perfumes spell a little gross to me. But I haven't worn Love Spell in 12 years.

When I was in the final years of college, Jesus started talking to me about what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be beautiful. He even started talking to me about the word 'sexy.' I had thought for most of my life that in order to be beautiful, I had to be like a woman on TV or a woman on an advertisement. I had thought that sexy could only be the world's definition of sexy- inappropriately unveiled, fashionable, tons of makeup, really done-up hair...I never imagined that beautiful, and sexy, and what a woman ought to be was just the way I was, without trying to BE or BECOME anything else. 

As I said, Jesus started teaching His way, and He started changing my thoughts. Little by little, He introduced me to new ways of thinking, like, "I already AM beautiful. Just the way I am. The true equation is 'me plus NOTHING equals beautiful, even sexy (Can I say that publicly on my blog? Yikes!), and just the way a woman ought to be.' It's all because I've been created by Someone. It's not me who chooses about the way I am. I've just been made that way."

As I learned those things, I started realizing how honestly wrong stores and pictures and advertisements like Victoria's Secret are. There are lots of reasons why they're inappropriate and downright wrong, but let me just share a few. Let me start with the precious woman who is the model in the picture in the window. She is precious. She is made by God. She is valuable and worth so much. And yet, through her picture, through her inappropriate unveiling of herself and her beauty, she is treating herself, her body, and her beauty first of all like it needs all kinds of enhancements and that the equation is 'her plus a ridiculous this and this and this' to equal beauty. It's just wrong. And sad. For her as a person, as a human being, as a soul, it's so broken. Second of all, she is treating her beauty like it is cheap and worthless because it's available for the entire world to take and see and use. Her beauty is meant to be honored, to be cherished, and instead it's sold. By a company. For their benefit.

Another reason Victoria's Secret is so wrong in what they're doing and how they're doing it, is because not only is the woman believing a wrong equation about herself, but she is helping to blare that equation out to every woman and girl who passes the store, who sees an advertisement, who knows about that establishment. It's a place that is screaming at the world the lie that women are not beautiful or sexy or 'woman enough' as they are. They need to be this sexualized object simply to be beautiful or sexy. And worse than that, they're doing all of that for money. I am wishing to say that it's the height of exploitation of women, preying on their desire to be beautiful (and behind that desire, to be loved and wanted and chosen and powerful in their beauty), but there are even darker realms in the exploitation of women, so I can't really say it's the height. But it's UP THERE.

And maybe worst of all, Victoria's Secret, and places like Victoria's Secret, are screaming messages, without words, to the next generation, to those whose minds and worldview and perceptions are still being established and formed: to our daughters, to our sons. Her image says to our daughters, "Use your sexuality like this to become beautiful...pay us to become what you long to be...you need to be more to be good enough..." Or to our sons, the image calls out, "Come to meI will give you what you need...satisfy yourself in me, in images like me." It's heartbreaking. And we walk right past the store, not knowing what to say or how to say it, and all the while, her messages are screaming, screaming, screaming messages to our children walking next to us.

So that's why I don't purchase anything from Victoria's Secret. I've made a commitment to myself that I never will for the rest of my life. Sure, I still have the desire to, because I still, to this day, dearly miss the scent of Love Spell, and I've never found a perfume I like as much as that one. And I'm sure their things are pretty. But those 'sacrifices' are a small price for me to pay. It's not worth it, not WORTH IT ONE BIT, for me to use even a penny to endorse the way they've chosen to portray women, and the messages they send out to the world about the way a woman should be and has to be. I will never support that endeavor. 

--Sarah Howard

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Summertime

“Summertime and the livin is easy…” It’s that wonderful time of year again when the days are longer and filled with warmth and light. Produce is in abundance, and many of our schedules flex and change to enjoy the outdoors and some extra relaxation. The kids are home from school and vacations are booked.

I remember the feelings of excitement and anticipation I have experienced as summer approaches. Growing up, summertime meant an extended break from school or college and reconnecting with family and friends. The promise of summer held an expectation of rest but also an expectation of adventure and new experiences.

After graduating college and entering the workforce and then eventually having children, my summers have looked different. The season still arrives, but the extended time off with no responsibilities is no more. Then, work continued year round whether it was warm out or not, and now as a stay at home mom there is no “vacation” from mothering per se. However, I am not complaining or upset.

This year, I knew that going into the summer I would have to be kind to myself and move at a slower pace for my family and myself as we adjust to a new baby and to life as a family of five. As I have been taking things a day at a time for the last month or so since my husband is back to work after family leave, I have enjoyed thinking back on previous summers. I am astonished and amazed at how much things have changed over the years and nostalgic over memories of internships I have taken and people I have met.   

During my reflection, I have noticed a pattern that God has been bringing to my attention. Although summertime was a naturally more relaxed time over all, for me it was also marked by accelerated spiritual growth and times of deep refreshing for my soul. I did summer ministry for a few years from 8th grade until around 11th grade, during which we had regular devotional times together and individually as workers. Going into college, I participated in summer internships centered on prayer and seeking God. After college, I have memories of going to the library and spending extended times of reading the Bible, journaling and praying. It may seem intense, but I think it was kind of God to allow me to have these experiences at an age that could have been marked by confusion and wandering. They were so foundational to my faith and relationship with God. Choosing to cultivate a love for His voice and experiencing His presence in unique ways during those seasons set the tone for the rest of my year as I built a history with God. It established my walk with God too in that I knew what God’s voice sounded like for myself. 

So, “Good for you Sophia. What’s the point?” I am not typing this out to toot my own horn. My point is what if we as the body of Christ and as a church saw summer as a strategic placement in our year to cultivate God’s presence and to find deep refreshment for our souls as much as our physical bodies and schedules? What if we really pressed in with some of our extra time to take a deep breath and be refueled by His presence? What if we slowed down to hear His desires for us and our time of rest or His thoughts and strategies about going into our fall season?

I believe that God has brought to mind some of my previous summers as a gentle whisper to my heart. He has been inviting me to remember and to anticipate not just fun but a deeper sense of His presence and an even greater love for His voice. And you know what? I have always enjoyed these months, but I feel excited again. The same God who was with teenage Sophia and college Sophia is the same God who is with this mama of three littles. He had things to teach me then, and He has things to teach me now, and it is so, so life-giving. It may be vacation time, but let’s not take a break from pressing into God. EVERYTHING THAT WE DO comes from the place of knowing and being known by Him. Our pouring out cannot be sustained unless we are also being filled up. My children need a grace-filled mama, and my husband a grace-filled wife. My world needs a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus, but I NEED and want to know Him because I was made to find who I am in His presence.    

Will you join me? What ways are you going to cultivate your heart and God’s voice in your life this summer? If you need practical ideas of how to do this, I would be glad to have a conversation.

--Sophia Howard

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