The Heart of a Truth Teacher: The Indictment of Stephen

During February, March, and April this year, I began a personal study of the book of Acts with a specific focus on Stephen in chapters 6-7-8 (@31-33 AD). Stephen is mainly known for being the first Christian martyr. But his ministry, though short in span of time, is powerful and effective. He is a man dominated by faith, by grace, and by the Holy Spirit. He is a rare New Testament prophet who is so closely associated with the apostles that he even does miracles. But he's even more than that. Stephen is also an evangelist who spreads the Good News of the Gospel; and because of this, many people became obedient to the faith. The Sanhedrin, the Jewish leadership council, envied and hated Stephen. They had murdered the Lord Jesus Christ and didn't want anyone like Stephen arguing from the Old Testament that Jesus was the Resurrected Messiah. The Sanhedrin works closely with the synagogue leaders to falsely accuse Stephen by indicting him for blasphemy.

Before they can rush him and kill him by stoning, Stephen gives a masterful sermon in Acts 7 before the whole council of The Sanhedrin. He proves that Christ is the Messiah from the history of The Old Testament, then he rebukes the religious leadership for their many sins. Stephen was a man of courage with angelic confidence. He was completely fearless. And he gave his life for the Lord. During the past few weeks, I have preached this sermon at two different churches. Here is a snapshot of Stephen's ministry, his heart, and his death & martyrdom. Listen closely for the connections that are made between Stephen and Saul of Tarsus, who would become The Apostle Paul. Augustine said "the church owes Paul to the prayer and life of Stephen." As you listen, you will discover these connections and appreciate Stephen even more.  I did, and I forever will.  

--Thor Knutstad, Pastoral Counselor 

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A Short Devotional for Women in the Week After Mother's Day

Mother's Day. We all know that that one day can bring any number of experiences, and with those experiences, any number of emotions up in all of us. No matter who we are, no matter what our situation is. We don't ever really get a free pass on that day. Sometimes we wouldn't want a free pass, but sometimes, boy, we sure would. 

So whether your Mother's Day was sweet, or grieving, or full of anger at the world, whether it was a veritable mental and emotional tornado, or trying to just ignore all the hype on social media...whether you're a mom, or longing to be a mom, or have chosen to not be a mom, or can't be a mom, or have lost a mom, or are struggling with your role as mom, or just felt like the weight of your role as a mom all crashed onto your shoulders last Sunday and you'll never, ever be good enough as a mom, or whatever...there's one thing that unites all of us as women, one thing that we all pretty much could use, that we all really need. We all need to return to a place of peace, a place of settledness after the weekend. We need grace and rest and 'You're OK' spoken over us. 

We all need a settled place in the middle of whatever we're experiencing on the inside.

And settled places on the inside are HARD to come by, aren't they? I wouldn't characterize most of my internal world as 'settled' or peaceful most of the time. But we so need to come back to that place of rest, of "I'm OK." So I'd like to give you this post-Mother's-Day teeny tiny gift: a way into finding a place of settledness in the midst of whatever you're experiencing. 


Ok. Here we go. FYI, I'm transitioning now into hands-on, practical, how-to. So if you want to follow me into creating room inside of yourself for a more settled sense of peace, you can either make time now, or plan to make time later. I'd suggest setting aside about 15 minutes. 

First, I'd suggest getting into a quiet place. This is a funny little tidbit about me: I like sitting on my kitchen floor for moments such as these. Either before my kids get up in the morning or while they're at school or while they're both upstairs happily playing dollhouse for a few moments. You could be on your couch, out on your back deck, whatever. Plan to put aside any distractions for 15 minutes. Turn off the TV, turn off the sound on your phone (you'll survive), try to make this during a time of day when someone might not be yelling "Mommy, mommy, mommy" a thousand times every 45 seconds. 

Then just sit in your quiet spot for a few moments...like 90 seconds. Sit in a comfortable position. Let yourself be quiet. Close your eyes. Let yourself take like 15 deep breaths. Let your shoulders and face and eyes all relax a bit. Just be stillfor a few moments.

After you've been still, place your hands face up on your lap, and just list, in front of Jesus (your Creator, the One who knows every little thing about you-- and feels quite compassionate), a few feelings and details about what your Mother's Day weekend was like. You don't have to mention every single detail. Just tell Him a few feelings, a few details. Talk to Him. He's a friend. He's right with you. He's gentle and He's kind. His eyes are full of compassion. 

After a few details, listen to this song. As you listen, take deep breaths. You can keep your hands open if you want. If you feel peace coming to you and you want to cry, go for it, that's beautiful. (If you don't, that's wonderfully fine too!) What you're doing with this song is you're creating space inside of yourself to re-center your mind and emotions that no circumstance of Mother's Day can bring you peace, can bring you settledness. No gift, no phone call, no baby, no approval of your life choices from others...nothing can bring you peace besides your Creator:

 

As the song ends, you can either let yourself linger a few minutes in silence...or you can move on to this next song, depending on how much you are 'soaking in' rest and peace and settledness on the inside. If you sense alot of peace in the quiet after the song, linger there for a few minutes. When you're ready, move on to this next (more energetic- haha) song.

At some point over the Mother's Day weekend (and also probably at many other times in your life), you may have felt something on the inside suggesting to you that you are 'on shaky ground' when it comes to love. Maybe your kids didn't call you, didn't celebrate you the way you wished they did. Maybe you feel like you suck as a mom (that's been alot of my Mother's Day experiences). Maybe you felt ostracized by society in your pain, or in your choices. Maybe you felt that the way that you are disqualifies you. Whatever. I can't list all the reasons. But I can guess that we all sense that there's a voice that says, "You're not quite good enough to deserve to be fully loved, just as you are, flaws and all." The voice suggests that you're always a little bit on shaky ground in the area of being loved. 

Listen to this song. Let your heart start to open, a little tiny bit, to the possibility, that even as you listen to this song, as you are doing nothing, that you are being loved. RIGHT NOW. There's a song being sung over you. That's the voice of your Creator.

That's pretty much the end of our time to create space for settledness and peace. May you find that there is a deep breath inside of you that wasn't there before. May you find that there is a solid ground for all that you are, all that you're going through, whatever your experiences. 

#restGIRLhope

#parentingHOPE

#excitingGOD

 

--Sarah Howard

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With Proof Like This, Who Needs Faith?

I quite often come across videos on YouTube or Facebook that offer definitive proof that the Bible is true, or that God exists, or that the earth was created 6,000 years ago, or that they’ve found the Garden of Eden or the tomb of Jesus, and so on and so on. If I watch them, it is generally with a skeptical eye, not because I disagree with their premise (though I sometimes do), but because the logic of presenting irrefutable evidence for a matter of faith is faulty logic, and I can’t stand faulty logic. Let me give you an example.

I recently watched a video called “5 Questions Atheists Can’t Answer,” with the implication being that these 5 questions somehow prove that God exists. The first question is “How did the universe come to exist?” The problem is that scientists are getting pretty close to figuring out the specifics. I’ve studied the origins of the universe (I’m kind of a science nerd) and I find it fascinating and strengthening to my faith in a wonderfully creative God. The issue here is that the scientific explanation does not prove atheism or disprove God, but the question is proposed as if it does. You can choose to reject the science if you want to, but either way, truth is truth, regardless of whether or not it fits my current belief system. But if my faith in God was based on these five questions, then once they are answered, I’m in trouble! 

These types of “proofs” are symptoms of a larger issue in modern Christian culture. We have substituted faith based on experiencing and knowing God for something based on our ability to prove any given aspect of it.  If we require concrete proof in order to have faith, then it’s not really faith at all. We call it “having faith” precisely because it cannot be proven. That is the very nature of what God requires of us. He doesn’t need us to offer irrefutable evidence that he exists, or that his word is true.

If this rubs you the wrong way, or you are really into the “proofs”, then understand that I’m not saying there is anything wrong with seeking evidence that strengthens your faith, but please don’t put all of your faith in these “proofs”. Richard Dawkins, famed author and staunch atheist, has put forth an idea called “the God of the gaps”, which basically says that religions use God to explain phenomena that humans can’t yet explain, or the “gaps” in our knowledge. As science advances, these gaps grow smaller, and eventually close, leaving no more need for God. Please don’t fall into this way of thinking. You will either end up rejecting science or rejecting God.

We have faith in our God because we know him, and he knows us. We have seen his work in our lives and in the lives of people we love. I don’t need to see the actual location of Jesus’ tomb to believe that he rose. Our faith is not illogical, but it is based primarily on evidence outside the purview of science or psychology. Science and psychology can support our faith, but they cannot define or prove it. Remember, it’s called “faith” for a reason.

--Jeff Hyson

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I Love a Good Storyblog

I love a good story. Do you mind if I share a true one with you?

Sally was almost penniless. When her husband Jeb died years before, his life insurance had paid off the mortgage, but that was about it.

Now the house was deteriorating around her. The car had been junked long ago when she couldn’t keep up with the repair and insurance bills. She got by on just a few dollars each week for groceries, and when the electric bill got too high she decided to live by a Coleman stove and candlelight.

So Sally rarely left home. How could she when everything cost money? Coffee at the café was eighty-five cents. Even with her senior citizen’s discount, movies cost $3. (Wonder how long ago this story was written??) A walk to the park required shoes, and Sally’s only pair were clinging together by a few bits of thread.

So day after day, Sally stayed at home and creaked back and forth in her rocking chair. “Life was supposed to be better than this,” she thought. “It started out so great. So full of promise. But now it’s passed me by.”

And so she lived—just barely lived—for years. Destitute. Lonely. Defeated. Until one day, when an old acquaintance from across the country remembered her childhood friend and decided to look her up.

Miriam was heartbroken when she saw Sally’s living conditions. She decided to stay a few days to try to encourage her friend and help straighten up the house.

And in the course of helping her old friend, Miriam made a startling discovery.

Tucked away in the file drawer of Jeb’s old roll-top desk was a folder labeled “FOR SALLY.” Inside, Miriam found an old bank savings book. The last entry had been made twenty-two years earlier, just before Jeb had died. The bankbook indicated a balance of $87,000.

But that wasn’t all. The folder also contained a yellowed envelope, sealed and inscribed with Jeb’s handwriting:

To Sally, With Love Forever

“Do you know what this is?” Miriam asked.

Sally searched her memory. She remembered the last days of her beloved husband, the tender words that had passed between them as they realized that the end was near.

Then the memory hit her. In the grief and heartache of the days and months following Jeb’s death, she had forgotten one of the things he had said: “When I’m gone….a file for you…in my desk. Important.”

Now, as Miriam watched, Sally opened the envelope carefully. Inside was a single folded page and a key. Sally began to read:

My Dearest Love—

My time with you draws short, but I want you to know that I have provided everything you will need once I am gone. Check the bankbook in this file. Then take this key to the bank with you. In loving remembrance of me, please enjoy life to the full!

With love forever,

Jeb

Sally and Miriam discovered that the key was to a safety deposit box at the bank. As they lifted the metal lid, their eyes widened as they discovered several bundles of cash totaling $32,000, a pile of stock certificates, and three folders of rare coins.

That afternoon, a stockbroker informed them that the stock certificates were worth $550,000 on the current market. A rare coin dealer appraised the coin collection at $47,000. The bank calculated twenty-two years’ interest on the savings account which brought its total from $87,000 to more than $254,000. All told, Sally was worth more than $883,000. She had been living in misery and despair when more money than she would ever need had been available to her all along.

(from The Secret by Bill Bright)

Sally’s story makes me cry. Even though it has a happily-ever-after kind of ending, it sadly reminds me of the way too many Christians are struggling through their lives—poor, alone, weak, and needy.

“Although God has promised us all the strength and help we will ever need, many of us try to ‘go it alone' because we are unaware of the boundless resources God has provided in the person of the Holy Spirit,” writes Bill Bright. “As a result, we live like Sally—unfulfilled, fruitless and spiritually malnourished—while the key to joy and abundance is within our grasp…I am personally convinced that if today’s Christians better understood the Bible’s basic teaching about the Holy Spirit and then invited Him to release His power in their lives each day, they would experience unprecedented joy and personal fulfillment. More than that, our verbal and nonverbal witness for Jesus Christ would sweep the world!”

I think he’s on to something. We need to know more of the Holy Spirit.

For me, this sermon series on spiritual gifts has really helped. It has been a timely reminder of God’s perfect plan to “sweep” Vineland. Timely, I believe, because we just built a beautiful new church that He longs to see filled with precious people rescued from Satan’s kingdom of darkness and despair, people who will need to be taught, encouraged, loved, served, and supported. Timely because we now have been challenged and instructed on how this can be accomplished.

It’s our job.

But is it even possible?

Again, we need to know more of the Holy Spirit. He lives in each believer. He comforts, guides, teaches, encourages, and helps. His purpose is to glorify God and He does so by empowering and enabling God’s children to live for that purpose as well. His mission is to give them, not stocks or rare coins, but the guidance and strength necessary to accomplish God’s agenda of rescuing a people for Himself. People in Vineland.

So He graciously distributes to each Christ-follower a spiritual gift or two to use within the context of the church body. These gifts are to be discovered, developed, and disseminated or deployed for the benefit and the building up of others in their faith; they are not given for personal gain or self-promotion. Working together toward a common goal, each one faithfully exercising his or her unique and important role in the function and operation of the church—what an incredible plan! What a high calling! How Living Faith (and Vineland!) needs those gifted evangelists, hosts, comforters, encouragers, helpers, teachers, givers—everyone the Spirit has chosen for a myriad of gifts—to be busy for the Kingdom work He has purposed in advance for us to do.  The pews will be packed.

And all of His resources are already available to us. And if we don’t appropriate them, we will only live like poor Sally, struggling through a meager existence, unable to see beyond ourselves, purposeless and unfulfilled, when vast riches are at our command. But when we give the Holy Spirit control of our lives, the spiritual lock box springs open. The Lord God Almighty gives us everything we need to honor Him, to use our spiritual gifts to help others, and to experience life to the full, for out of his glorious, unlimited resources, He will give us the mighty inner strengthening of His Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 3:16)

Did you like Sally’s story?

Just don’t let it be yours. Destitute. Defeated. You have the key to an abundant, joy-filled life.

Release the amazing power of the Holy Spirit through your spiritual gifts.

We all need you.

--Eileen Hill

 

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Spiritual Gifts Reflections

It has been a joy to pause and consider today some of the dynamics that go along with discovering, developing and deploying our spiritual gifts. I would like to share them here to encourage your own reflection.

Spiritual gifts originate in the mind of the Holy Spirit, yet He does seem to take into consideration who we are as a person.

Spiritual gifts are given to us in the measure the Holy Spirit determines, yet it is our responsibility to seek to grow in that gift or to “fan the flame” of the gift (2 Tim 1:6).

Spiritual gifts may be similar in two or more people, yet it is faith what allows each individual to employ the gift to a different extent or capacity.

Spiritual gifts may be expressed as a service or activity, yet they are motivated by and aim at loving others.

Spiritual gifts have an eternal design to them (because God chose beforehand the good works we are to walk in, Eph 2:10), yet they take place in a specific moment for the common good.

Spiritual gifts are offered to us, yet we are given the imperative to “pursue love, and earnestly desiring” the greater gifts (1 Cor 12:31, 14:1).

Spiritual gifts are used by the Holy Spirit for the edification of the Church.

Spiritual gifts are accompanied by a manifestation of the Holy Spirit to show unbelievers that “God is really among you” (1 Cor 14:25).

In summary, the Holy Spirit is entrusted with the creative and glorious work of enabling, empowering the believer to serve in specific ways. He also manifests Himself through the gifts for the growth of others and to display the glory of God.

Spiritual gifts are beautiful because they emanate from the glorious Spirit of God!

--Diego Cuartas

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And Jesus Asked Him, "Do You Want to be Made Well?"

And Jesus asked him,

 “Do you want to be made well?”

John 5:6 (NKJV)

Years ago, I had a friend make a wall hanging for my office that had the above words on it. They are powerful words that Jesus spoke to one man, only one, at a Pool called Bethesda in the story found in John 5:6. They are words that I never understood very well before I became a counselor.

It always confused me why Jesus only interacted with one man at this pool, a pool that the Bible says many people laid around who were lame, paralyzed, blind or suffering from some sort of brokenness. They were all waiting for the key to their healing that took place at this pool. You see, the Bible says that during a certain season an angel would come down and stir the waters. The first person that entered the pool would be made well of their diseases. On this particular day, Jesus goes over to this certain man and asks him the above question, “Do you want to be made well?”. The man goes into an explanation of why he can’t get into the water, but Jesus doesn’t get caught up in the “why he can’t” reasons. He goes to the heart of the matter. Jesus asks the guy if he wants to be made well, tells him get up and the man does! He just does what he is told to do! Let me say that again: The man does what Jesus tells him to do! He was healed. Later, as the story unfolds, we find something interesting in verse 14. The man encounters Jesus in the temple. The identity of Jesus is made known to the man, and this is what happens:

"A little later Jesus found him in the Temple and said, “You look wonderful! You’re well! Don’t return to a sinning life or something worse might happen.” (The Message)

Whoa! That’s pretty heavy! Interesting, huh? Here are some of my thoughts and questions this passage has evoked over the years, as well as other questions I get from quite a few people. Maybe they echo some of yours:  

1. Why did Jesus only talk to the one man?

2. The story also says later on that the man didn’t even know it was Jesus!

3. Practically speaking, this man had been an invalid for 38 years. 38 years would cause his legs to be atrophied, bones fragile, etc, and he didn’t question this guy who says, “Get up!”?

4. Does verse 14 mean that our sin issues can contribute to our diseases?

5. Does God make us sick as punishment for our sins?

6. The invalid must have believed the man who told him to get up off his mat.

I always say I get 3 kinds of people in the counseling room: 

1. The Yes People- When asked the same question Jesus asked the man, they answer a wholehearted YES! I want healing and believe Jesus can do it.

2. The I Don’t Know People- They are usually silent for a minute or so, having to weigh their answer according to what the cost will be, what the responsibility will be, how hard it is going to be and the exhaustive list goes on and on.

3. The I Don’t Deserve It People- They step into the role of God and judge themselves, using their veto power to reject the work that Jesus already did on the cross for them. The Bible says we are healed by His stripes. Amen. This group of people doesn’t understand that verse yet.

In working with folks, including myself, I think I have part of the answer for my number one question: Why did Jesus go to the one man? I think it’s because he desperately wanted to be healed, had no excuses and was willing to GET UP! He believed he could be healed, and he wanted to be healed. Plus, he was willing to do the hard work of walking out that healing without excuse. What is Jesus telling you to do regarding your brokenness??

As far as the other questions go, a big resounding Yes to the question #4. Our sin issues can perpetuate our diseases. We can be lazy about doing exercise, eating right and establishing good sleep patterns in order to help in our healing process. On the other hand, a big resounding NO to question #5. God does not punish us with sickness. All of the punishment we deserved for our sins was put onto Jesus Christ when He died on the cross and came back from the dead on the third day, so we too can have eternal life with Him when we say YES to Jesus! That is the good news, folks!

The big point I want to end with is this. It is absolutely, absolutely imperative that you believe Jesus can and desires to heal you. Jesus heals in many ways, three of which I have listed:

1. Instantaneously

2. In a process

3. When we see Him face to face.

I pray for the grace to accept His answer to my healing. I am always wanting an instantaneous healing and will do my part in the process of healing, but will still praise Him if it won’t be until Glory. In Scripture, I find Jesus asking people all the time, “Do you believe?” They respond ‘Yes, I believe,” and then He says, “Your faith has made you well.” Folks, there is something very important about believing Jesus can do it! He can BREAK EVERY CHAIN! Check out this video: Tasha Cobbs ; Break Every Chain. Worship with it; watch the expressions of worship in the video. Ask yourself, “Do I believe that Jesus can really break every chain off my life?”. I would encourage you to check out John 5 for yourselves. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what He wants you to understand in the passage.

Be blessed friends.

--Lois Robinson

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Horizontal Help

In MY DAILY BREAD a few days ago, Marvin Williams tells of an eight-year-old, Carmine McDaniel, who on a very hot day wanted to make sure that his neighborhood mail carrier stayed cool and had plenty to drink. So he left a cooler with a sports drink and water bottles on his front step. The family security camera caught the mail carrier’s reaction: “Oh man, water and Gatorade. Thank God; thank you!”

Carmine’s mom says, “Carmine feels that it’s his ‘duty’ to supply the mailman with a cool beverage even if we’re not home.”

This is more than the story of a very thoughtful little boy. It is instead a beautiful example of a truth that Williams writes farther down the page: God often sends vertical help through horizontal means. And these ‘horizontal means’ are often others, sometimes folks we don’t even know.

Last week my daughter Joyce, with whom I live, was in California celebrating Easter with her son and his fiancé, and I was home alone caring for our lovely dog. But one day I looked out my window and there was happy Matilda sniffing every bush across the road! With my recent knee surgery, I was completely unable to go looking for her, and I went to the back door and called her, with absolutely no hope that she would respond! But just then a young man in a little green car slowed down and yelled that the dog was around the corner, and what was her name? He opened his car door and called her, and ever eager to make a new friend she actually came, spotted the treat in my hand and ran home. A little boy who likes to come and play with her had left the gate unfastened. Not to be outdone, she got out again two days later when someone ELSE left the gate open, so I went and got my coat. And then up the street came two of my young friends (and Matilda’s!) with happy Matilda by the collar, calling out, “We’ve got your dog!” (The boys, not Matilda.)

These were not coincidences. (I don’t believe in coincidences.) And it wasn’t just a matter of saving me a little trouble. They were circumstances which I truly couldn’t have handled. God sent me solutions which I badly needed right in time. As He always does.

Sometimes it works differently, over a long period of time, when we don’t understand what’s going on and sometimes feel deserted. I’ve written about our despair when our son, a devoted Christian, was in prison for someone else’s embezelment of millions of dollars in his company business set aside for the IRS. It took eighteen months for them to straighten it out, and I kept telling myself and my son that God WAS in it, and that it would be OK,  every day reminding myself that it was true. Today my son would tell you that he had definitely needed to make some changes in himself, and that God knew it would take a lifetime on his own, so God took the shorter eighteen-month path, and it worked! Another different but related truth: it may have been meant for evil, but God turned it to good.

I have learned to be patient. It’s not easy. But I know that God is present in everything that I experience, and it’s fun to look for what in the world God is doing NOW. But usually it’s little things, that I might ordinarily brush off. Except it’s easy to spot God’s hand if you know to look. And it certainly saves a lot of worrying once you firmly plant this idea in your mind and heart: that God is involved in everything you do; that God sends you help in any number of ways; that God loves it when you recognize that truth and thank Him, even for the little things.

--Norma Stockton

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The Heart of Resurrection Witness: Do not be silent! Keep speaking!

If you have met me or you know me, I engage people. I talk to them. Unless I am just utterly exhausted, I usually move toward others. I talk to people. I open myself to them and make a connection. While driving one of my sons to State College yesterday, at several instances I noticed that Easter Sunday was already in the rearview mirror for most people. Unless specifically mentioned, it wasn't even discussed nor brought up. During the previous week, I had shifted from "Happy Easter" to "Blessings to you and your family for the Resurrection Lord's Sunday." It wasn't meant to be tactical for the Gospel, but it did open up so many discussions. I don't assume that people have Christ at the forefront of their minds and souls. They may believe in the historically risen Jesus, but I don't assume that they know the resurrected LORD. I believe that this is what it means to be a witness and to testify to the truth. SIDE NOTE EXTRA: Your own story is important, but it never has the strength and the power of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Your story intersects with His; but your story is an effect and a by-product of His Gospel. His Story is inerrant, inspired, and revelation from God.

In Luke 24 (which I would encourage you to read along with the first 7-8 chapters of the book of Acts, also penned by Luke), the apostles' grief and confusion and skepticism is transformed into joyful elation and bold, confident, repetitious testimony of the resurrection of Christ. I love how the Lord through the angels reveals His death conquering rise to the women, only to have the apostles doubt their testimony. Luke says, "But they did not believe the women because the words seemed like nonsense; except for Peter who ran to the tomb." They were wrong. He was Risen. As the story continues, these men were always talking and discussing these things. They were always using words in discussion. They talked and they talked and they talked. I absolutely love how the Lord Jesus engages them. Before they knew it was Him, He asked them in Luke 24:17, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?" I think we should hope that people ask us the same: "You, Christ-Follower, what are you talking about?" Later the apostles, when they knew it was the LORD, said, "Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened The Scriptures to us?" These witnesses, men and women, would become the heralds of Jesus' resurrection. They spoke boldly, they declared the truth, and they talked and talked and talked. They could not be silenced no matter what.

They would not shut up about the resurrected Christ.  Even in the midst of danger and persecution, they would not be silent. Their discussions went from perplexity and confusion and sadness and timidity and fear to clarity and boldness and joyful elation and confidence. They exuded hope to the broken world. They saw that the Old Testament Scriptures had paved the path for the New Covenant in Christ. You couldn't keep them silent. They wouldn't shut up. They wouldn't listen to other gospels. They declared as witnesses His resurrection. By the time you read Luke's historical account of the new church in the book of Acts, they continue to speak and refuse silence. They had no shame in the resurrected LORD Jesus, Messiah and Savior. They had no fear and no timidity. They declared Him, Jesus, the Anointed One. So should we. So should we. So should we. For the Gospel of Christ is the one topic in all truth meant for unbridled tongues; and unbridled tongues were meant for his same Gospel. Herald the truth to your neighbors and to your families and to your friends and even to strangers, dear people. Do not be silenced by the times of political correctness or fear of offense, beloved believers. For the enemy of our souls, the accusing devil called Satan, knows that this silence is his weary attempt to thwart the Gospel. This adversary wants truth stifled and confused and silenced. But nothing can be done against the Truth - only for the Truth.  Praise Him our Lord Christ Jesus who gives us resurrection hope, boldness & courage, and Himself, the Truth - to be repeated and declared and proclaimed to others. Now, as you are going, go tell others His story and be witnesses as you are going. This is how the church is built and multiplied. Do not be silent. Keep speaking His name.  Keep talking. Keep discussing. Do not be silent, beloved. Eternity is at stake for many; and multiplication with what is spoken is required by we ambassadors. Speak. Declare. Testify.  Proclaim. Share readily when you can. 

--Thor Knutstad

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A Practical Activity To Remember the King's Rule and Reign

A 10 Minute Guided Prayer Activity:

I would assume that perhaps you are a bit like me: I default to thinking that the circumstances of my life are quite overwhelming. I am realizing that I go through life mostly believing that I am un-helped and un-seen. But that is not true! I am actually more helped and more seen than I can even imagine...and, actually, the circumstances of my life don't have to overwhelm me! I have a Father, and a KING, who is in charge in a very mysterious way. His rule doesn't seem quite clear to me most of the time, but when I stir up my faith to remind myself of His care, I can rest. So today I offer a 10 minute prayer activity, for those of you who, like me, sometimes find it hard to remember that you are so cared for, so held.

Set aside at least ten minutes to be alone and quiet. Turn off the TV; turn your cell phone to quiet. Plan to do this at a time where you have set aside time that you probably won’t be interrupted.


Step 1:

Hold your hands kind of like you’re cupping something inside of them (like if you caught an insect like a lightning bug or something, and you didn’t want to squish it...but you also didn’t want to let it go 😃 ). As you hold your hands like that, with your eyes closed or open, whichever helps you concentrate more, start listing before the Lord, preferably out loud, concerns that you have. For example, “God, I’m worried about how much my daughter cares about her friends. It feels like I’m losing influence in her life. …God I’m worried about the disobedience in my son. I don’t know what to do about it. I try to throw different techniques at it, or just love him through it, but it never really gets addressed. I don’t know what to do. ...God, if I’m really honest, I feel like a failure as a parent, as a friend, in my job. ...God, my home feels out of control. ...God, our schedule feels so busy. I don’t know how I can manage the things I have on my plate. ...God, I’m worried about my health. ...God, I feel so alone, like no one really loves me,” etc, etc. Try to just keep listing worries that surface. You might have to sit quietly in between worries, waiting for the next honest worry to come to your mind. You might not have even known that you were worried about that thing, until you gave space to list those worries.

Try to linger, and to give yourself extra space to list more worries...don’t rush through this time. And try to give an extra sentence or two description to each worry to kind of tease out a bit more of how you're feeling, what's inside. 


Step 2:

Once you feel that you’ve listed most of your worries, and there’s a kind of natural end to the ‘flow’ of things you've been carrying inside, just sit quietly for a few moments. Breathe quietly. Keep holding your hands in a cupped position. Imagine that you’re holding those worries cupped in your hands.


Step 3:

When you’re ready, face your palms upward and start saying aloud, “Lord, I release to You my worries about my daughter. I release to You my worries about my son. I release to You my worries about my husband/wife. I release to You my worries about my job. I release to you my worries about my conflict with my friend. I release to You my worries about our family. I release to You my worries about our schedule. I release to you my worries about my future. I release to You my worries about my capabilities. I release to you my worries about my health,” or whatever the worries were that you prayed about. Let yourself sense letting go of the worries, releasing them from your hands to the Lord’s hands. Breathe deeply as you're releasing the worries. 


Step 4:

As the final part of the exercise, keep your hands palms face up, and now receive from the Lord. Say aloud truths about what you can receive because of what Jesus has done. This might feel like a humbling process, because we so want to do things ourselves. Here are some examples:

  • Jesus, I receive Your peace today. You are in control of these things.

  • Jesus, I receive Your rest today. I can slow down with trying to fix everything, and I can rest in Your care, Your timing, Your love for me.

  • Jesus, I receive Your power to help me show up where I need to today- to have conversations, to deal with things I need to, to engage...help me to choose to show up.

  • Jesus, I receive strength for this day.

  • Jesus, I receive Your love for me.

  • Jesus, I receive Your consolation and comfort that You see me, you see the ones I love, you see it all.

  • Jesus, I receive the truth that You are here.

  • Jesus, I receive the gift that my worth isn’t determined by my performance. I am accepted, I am prized, I am wanted, I am loved, I am enjoyed apart from if I get any of this perfect or not. It’s based in You, Your performance, and You wanting me and making me in the first place.


Step 5:

If you are sensing the sweetness of Jesus being close to you after praying and remembering that you are a child of God who receives those things freely, feel free to rest in the ‘manifest presence of God,’...it may look like just sitting there awhile longer with your hands open, just lingering quietly. It may look like crying. That’s wonderful! Don't back away from crying in order to 'keep it together'; tears are a beautiful (but not mandatory) part of being with Jesus. It may look like saying, “Thank You, thank You, thank You.” You may want to kneel. You may want to sing a song worshipping Jesus (i.e. ‘What a beautiful name it is’ or ‘Jesus we love You, oh how we love You, You are the One our hearts adore’, etc).

Loosely adapted from Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

--Sarah Howard

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The Unbeaten Path

I turn 30 in a few weeks. I can’t believe it. It feels kind of surreal to realize that I won’t be twenty something anymore. However, although I can say that it definitely has me doing some reflecting and evaluating of my life, I feel pretty peaceful about it. 

When I look back on my story, I am struck by the overwhelming theme of God’s faithfulness and his good leadership over me on many “off road” paths. From the standpoint of what man may call ideal, there is a lot about my story that was the opposite or shouldn’t have worked; but I am so glad that with God nothing is wasted and that He makes something beautiful out of the unlikely.

So as to not rehash my whole life and make this the longest post ever, I will start at high school graduation. When I graduated high school, my plan was to attend a four year college for pre-med. I would work my butt off and then be accepted into medical school. I had been accepted to Houghton College in a super small town in upstate New York after putting all my eggs in one basket and not having applied anywhere else. They had a reputation for being strong in the sciences among other things.

I started college full of gusto and enthusiasm and thoroughly enjoyed my first year. Sophomore year is when the struggle got real and I delved deeper into my major courses. I soon realized that although I loved science, my high school education had not prepared me well for college level science courses and I started to fall behind. I somehow managed to keep my head above water though and spent many long days at labs and getting extra help. Junior year began, and I was already feeling a little burnt out, but I continued on as the work load increased and tried to balance it by hanging out with an unlikely “carefree” group of people. Midway through Junior year, other realities started to hit. It had always been a stretch and a sacrifice financially for me to attend this college. It was an out of state private school and not cheap. However, God always seemed to provide exactly what I needed just in the knick of time. 

This time was different. I was on winter break when I received a phone call from financial aide stating that if I didn’t come back with about the $3,000 that I owed for the semester that I could just stay home. We were able to get the money together but about two weeks after the semester had started. Back up to New York I went and scrambled to catch up the rest of the year. Summer was a very welcome break, but cue fall of Senior Year. Again I am short on funds for the year and this time have to wait a whole month into the semester to return. My professors were gracious enough to still let me enroll after the cut off dates even though I had missed a lot. After my late start, my grandfather died, and I went back home for a few days to be with my family for the funeral, etc. That was the breaking point. I fumbled through the entire rest of the year emotionally and academically. Even after working as hard as I could, it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to finish all my credits in time for graduation, so I decided to take a May term. Again things did not work out according to plan, and I came home instead, never having finished about six credits.

I returned home feeling utterly defeated after what seemed like the grand derailing of my life. I took a job at a local tearoom, which was a fun change of pace but didn’t pay very much, and it was the only thing I could find. The tearoom closed after my six months there, and I spent another six looking for another job to finally land one at a doctor’s office. Hooray!!! Things were looking up, I thought. Fast forward through two hard years at that place and many steep learning curves about boundaries, integrity and once again following Jesus in less than ideal circumstances. I was able to quit after my husband and I had our first baby in the summer of 2014, and I have yet to return to work outside the house.

Here I am on the doorstep of 30. After looking back on the start of my twenties, do you know what I feel??? Gratitude. I am so incredibly grateful because in all of the derailing of my plans, in the less than ideal, in perceived failure and hardship, God was in it all. He never left and He has and is making use of everything. He broke me down, and the things I was looking toward to save me in order to build a deeper relationship with Him and to create greater tenacity. Both of these things I would need for the financial struggle, difficult pregnancies and brokenness in relationships that would come later. I have found God on the unbeaten path and the road less traveled, in questions and unfinished journeys as much as in the joys of life. So here’s to 30 and the myriad of experiences it will bring. With God, life can be quite the off road adventure. Where are some places in your story that you can see God’s presence with you on the detour?

--Sophia Howard

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Numbering our Days

It was a small, friendly church in a small, friendly town.

When the doors were open, my family was there. Everybody knew everybody.

So it was big news when the new family marched up the aisle one Sunday morning, filling an entire pew on the left-hand side of the sanctuary near the front. I remember counting the children who slid down the row in size order. “…five, six, seven!”  We were all amazed at the clean-cut, well-behaved mob of kids that self-consciously peeked over their shoulders to size us all up.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, that’s the Sunday morning I met my husband. He was kid number two. Sometimes, I can still see them just like that: a clannish, fun-loving bunch of siblings, all seven born within a nine year span of time, crammed together on that uncomfortable wooden pew, making every attempt to tease and bother each other and not catch their mother’s watchful eye.

It’s hard for me to think of them then…and now. Number three and four are gone--empty places on that pew in my mind’s eye. My dear husband has lost a sister and a brother to cancer in the past couple of years. Thankfully, we have an unshakable confidence that, indeed, they are not truly “lost.” Because both Carolyn and Jerry each had placed their faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross, we know they are with Him in heaven right now. What a comfort!

And that brings me to the point of this blog.

I sat at the funeral service of my dear brother-in-law just days ago, tears of joy and selfish sadness spilling down my cheeks. Person after person stood to honor Jerry, this straight-shooting pastor who had relentlessly pursued them, sometimes annoyed them, but always loved them. He unapologetically confronted them with the truth of the Gospel. He had encouraged them, by faith, to surrender to King Jesus, to be rescued and forgiven and set on the path leading to eternal life with the Father. And they did—lots of them.

Jerry would have been embarrassed by all that was said about him that day. For him, from the time he finally turned his life over to Jesus, it was always all about the One who had mercifully saved him. But he left behind quite an amazing living legacy, an untold number of precious people also rescued and transformed by Jesus and now part of His Kingdom. Like us, they all will miss him. He was one memorable character.

As I pondered all of this that dreary morning, the question that replayed over and over in my mind was, “What will be your legacy, Eileen? What will you be leaving behind when your life is over? Or who?” I can’t stop thinking about it.

I am not the evangelist my brother-in-law was, but I can care enough about the folks in my life to make sure they know about my Jesus and how He has graciously rescued me. I can be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in me. I can pursue knowing Him and daily seeking His Presence by immersing myself in His Word and humbly praying. I can make sure I am using whatever gifts God has entrusted to me to bless His body and to advance His Kingdom. I can love others well. That will be a start.

And we all can start somewhere. Isn’t that what every Christ-follower can do? Hasn’t God even promised to help us when we try? We all are leaving some sort of legacy. It’s time to make certain it’s a good one, don’t you think?  

Because the second thing I thought about at Jerry’s funeral was the urgency of working on that legacy, of doing those things I mentioned before in obedience to our Father, of actually being who He designed for us to be in whatever time He has wisely allotted us. Do any of us know with any certainty how much time we have here? Do we make the best use of the precious moments and hours we have been given? I can honestly say I don’t always. And I am not proud of that.

Kenny’s siblings were just over 60 when the days planned for them were over. We all know of many dear friends and family members whose lives were much shorter even than theirs.  We simply don’t know how long any of us will be here on planet Earth, do we? Our Sovereign and All-wise Father has withheld that information from His children. But it begs the question, then, what are we doing today? Are we frittering away the unknown quantity of time we do have? We aren’t promised tomorrow.

I am so very thankful for my brother-in-law’s life--one lived with an almost singular purpose. His vacant seat in our lives brings deep sorrow and many tears. But his legacy challenges me to consider my own with urgency. How about you? Does it challenge you too?

However long or short our years, we can make the most of our days. I close with a prayer for us all from John Piper, Pierced by the Word.

Father, teach us to number our days

and to get a heart of wisdom.

Forbid that we join the world in forgetting

 the certainty of our death.
Don’t let us play with the preciousness of life.

 Make us ready to die well by helping us live

 well by helping us trust You well.

Don’t let us be surprised by our suffering.

Don’t let us be surprised by being cut off early from this life.

 Don’t let us balk at the betrayal of friends

and the blast of enmity.

Help us to embrace our lot and count it all joy,

 And say with Paul, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

--Eileen Hill

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Consider This Encouraging Resource

This week I would like to introduce you to a very good source of encouragement. Dr. Karl Benzio, founder of the Lighthouse Network, writes a devotional regularly that can encourage us in our walk with God. Dr Benzio is a Christian Psychiatrist and is intentional about helping people integrate faith into their healing and growth process. This particular article focuses on the question: “What Motivates You the Most?” As he addresses this question, what he is aiming for is those things that tend to hinder our “life-giving practices” with God. He also offers us good practical considerations to regain our connection with God. I found it encouraging, and I hope it is so for you too. To read the article click here.

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Do You Want to be Made Well?

And Jesus asked him,

 “Do you want to be made well?”

John 5:6 (NKJV)

Years ago, I had a friend make a wall hanging for my office that had the above words on it. They are powerful words that Jesus spoke to one man, only one, at a Pool called Bethesda in the story found in John 5:6.  Words that I never understood very well before I became a counselor. Here’s why… 

It always confused me why Jesus only interacted with one man at this pool, a pool that the bible says that many people who were lame, paralyzed, blind or suffering from some sort of brokenness, laid around. They all were waiting for the key to their healing that took place at this pool. You see, the bible says that during a certain season an angel would come down and stir the waters. The first person that entered the pool would be made well of their diseases. On this particular day, Jesus goes over to this certain man and asks him the question, “Do you want to be made well?” The man goes into an explanation of why he can’t get into the water first but Jesus doesn’t get caught up in the reasons about why he can’t. Jesus goes to the heart of the matter and asks the guy if he wants to be made well, tells him get up and the man does! He just does what he is told to do! Let me say that again. The man does what Jesus tells him to do!            He was healed. Later, as the story unfolds, we find something interesting in verse 14. The man encounters Jesus in the temple. The identity of Jesus is made known to the man and this is what happens:

14 A little later Jesus found him in the Temple and said, “You look wonderful! You’re well! Don’t return to a sinning life or something worse might happen.” (The Message)

Whoa! That’s pretty heavy! Interesting, huh? Here are some of my questions this passage has evoked over the years, as well as other questions I get from quite a few people. Maybe they echo some of yours.

  1. Why did Jesus only talk to the one man?
  2. The story also says later on that the man didn’t even know it was Jesus!
  3. Practically speaking, this man had been an invalid for 38 years...38 years would cause his legs to be atrophied, bones fragile, etc. And he didn’t question this guy who says “Get up”?
  4. Does verse 14 mean that our sin issues can contribute to our diseases?
  5. Does God make us sick as punishment for our sins?
  6. The invalid must have BELIEVED the man who told him to get up off his mat.

I always say I get 3 kinds of people in the counseling room:

  1. The ‘Yes’ People- when asked the same question Jesus asked the man, they answer a wholehearted YES! I want healing and BELIEVE Jesus can do it.
  2. The ‘I Don’t Know’ People- they are usually silent for a minute or so. Having to weigh their answer of what the cost will be, what the responsibility will be, how hard is it going to be and the exhaustive list goes on and on.
  3. The ‘I Don’t Deserve It’ People- they step into the role of God and judge themselves, using their veto power to reject the work that Jesus already did on the cross for them. The bible says we are healed by His stripes. Amen. This group of people doesn’t understand that verse yet.

In working with folks, including myself, I think I have part of the answer for my number one question: Why did Jesus go to the one man? I think it’s because he desperately wanted to be healed, had no excuses and was willing to GET UP! He BELIEVED he could be healed, and he wanted to be healed. Plus, he was willing to do the hard work of walking out that healing without excuse. What is Jesus telling you to do regarding your brokenness??

As far as the other questions go, a big resounding ‘Yes’ to question #4. Our sin issues can perpetuate our diseases. We can be lazy about doing exercise, eating right and establishing good sleep patterns in order to help in our healing process. On the other hand, a big resounding ‘NO’ to question #5. God does not punish us with sickness. All of the punishment we deserved for our sins was put onto Jesus Christ when He died on the cross and came back from the dead on the third day so we too can have eternal life with Him when we say ‘YES’ to Jesus!  That is the good news, folks!

The big point I want to end with is this: It is absolutely, absolutely imperative that you BELIEVE Jesus can and desires to heal you. Jesus heals in many ways, three of which I have listed.

  1. Instantaneously
  2. In a process
  3. When we see Him face to face.

I pray for the grace to accept His answer to my healing. I always want an instantaneous healing and am willing to do my part in the process of healing, but will still praise Him if it won’t be until Glory. In Scripture I find Jesus asking people all the time, “Do you Believe?” They respond ‘Yes, I believe He then says, “Your faith has made you well”. Folks, there is something very important about BELIEVING Jesus can do it!! He can BREAK EVERY CHAIN!!! Check out this video Tasha Cobbs, Break Every Chain. Worship with it, watch the expressions of Worship in the video. Ask yourself, “Do I Believe Jesus can really BREAK EVERY CHAIN off my life?” I would encourage you to check out John 5 for yourselves. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what He wants you to understand in the passage.

Be blessed, friends

--Lois Robinson

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A Big Black Bird

Have you ever seen God reach down and change a circumstance in a way so unnatural that you were sure you were feeling His very presence?

My grandparents lived in Vincentown, and my brother and I spent many happy hours roaming around town; Great-uncle Ed had a candy store! And Great-aunt Helen lived down on the corner (now a funeral home) and she had a plum tree in her yard! Everyone in town knew who we were, so we were pretty free to go anywhere.

But we had a favorite place to play, seldom visited for fear of getting seen by someone who would tell our grandmother! I don’t know if it’s still there, because I haven’t been in Vincentown for years, but Stokes had a tomato canning facility right on the other side of the road out of town closest to ‘home’, and it was great fun. The canning season was over; no one was there, and there were wonderful things to play with. We were not allowed to cross that road, so, being inventive kids, we found a way to go under it! There was a creek, and a bridge, and under the bridge were narrow concrete walkways on our side. We would go around our barn and down into the meadow, and then cross under the bridge with our backs to the wall and come out right near the cannery. Of course, we never hurt or destroyed anything, or went inside, but there were long racks covered with metal rollers made for moving cases of cans, which worked just as well with us in a box! And we played hide and seek and counted cars going by and climbed on things and just had fun.

And that’s where we were one afternoon, without having any concept of how much time had passed. The day was pretty well gone and I was hiding inside a crate, and my brother couldn’t find me. He looked in all the familiar places, but I had found a new one. I was getting tired of waiting for him to discover me when suddenly, with a noisy rush of wings, a HUGE black bird flew right in front of my hiding place, TWICE! It was likely a turkey hawk or some such, but it scared me to death! I started to cry, and finally looked outside and saw that it was gone, and I raced to my brother crying, and said, “I want to go HOME!” We RAN, to the bridge and under the bridge and up through the meadow and into the house. And there were my grandparents and my mother and a FIREMAN! My mother was in tears, and no one was mad at us, and they seemed like they were really glad to see us!

Of course, what had happened was that we had been gone a very long time, and no one in town had seen us, and the fireman was there because they were getting ready to drag the creek for our bodies! We only knew the full scope of things much later, but we had to confess where we had been and how we sometimes got there, and our horrified loved ones absolutely forbade us to EVER go there again. Which we obeyed.

My mother told me, when I was older, how she had prayed for God to send us home. She didn’t know then that He did it with the frightening presence of a big black bird.

I still can see that bird swooping so close to me. I had nightmares for a long time. But I never gave God credit until much later, after I had found Christ and fully understood the reality of His love and power and presence.

I wonder how many, many times God intervenes in our lives to save us, or redirect us, or cause us to see or do something we might otherwise have missed, perhaps not with the drama of a huge, frightening black bird, but always in love, with a strong hand and a good purpose. What a wonderful, wonderful God we have!

--Norma Stockton

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The Heart of a False Teacher: When the Lord Jesus Puts the Squeeze on the Pharisees at Lunch

Just prior to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in late 2017, I preached a message from Luke 14:1-24 entitled “The Heart of a False Teacher: When Jesus Puts the Squeeze on The Pharisees at Lunch.” Instead of writing a summary from this message, I am simply going to include the link and encourage you to listen to this timely message on false teachers. You don’t have to listen to it all at once - feel free to listen to it in parts. When we came home from church that particular Sunday, my wife Lisa said to me, “I had no idea there was so much history and so much to extract from that passage. I would have just read it and moved over it quickly without a second thought. There’s so much more there than I first thought.”  She is so right!

Good exposition of the Scriptures takes a lot of time. Many dozens of hours were devoted to preparing this particular message. It took me much time and research and labor; and I took my time chewing on it until I had it just right. Truth teachers want to herald the message that the Lord gives exactly; false teachers, instead, usually pervert and twist many things that God says. While the LORD Jesus always says the things that the Father wants Him to say; the Pharisees try to squeeze Him until He quickly squeezes them back. What happens in Luke 14 is a classic and repeated example of our LORD not giving the Pharisees the upper hand in many situations, ever. And the Squeeze is on.  

Please enjoy this sermon and may His Word always encourage you, build you up in the faith, and exemplify our Beloved Christ Jesus, Who cannot be squeezed - but Who Squeezes back at just the right time.

-Thor Knutstad

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All Things Beauty? All in One Place?

I've walked past this store in the mall many times, and plenty of times I've felt that something not right is being 'shouted' from the advertisements in the windows. It makes me feel sad.

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I'll tell you why.

Over and over I've seen messages in the ads in the windows that say beauty is found outside of a woman. 

For example:

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It's like these ads are shouting to anyone who walks past that women need something outside of themselves to attain beauty. That bothers me. "All things beauty. All in one place." Beauty is found in a place. "21 days of beauty...it's our most loved semi-annual event!" Beauty is found through buying enough of the right things at an event. "Bring the beauty." "Makeup: Report for beauty!" Beauty is found in products.

I don't believe that beauty is found in a place, in an event, in a product. I don't believe that beauty is outside of a woman, and she needs to strive to make sure she has it. I don't believe beauty is outside of a woman.

I believe that beauty is found already inside of a woman. 

It's not her PLUS makeup, clothes, a perfect hairstyle, a skinnier body...any of that stuff our culture has shouted to us.

A woman already IS beautiful. 

She doesn't have to become beautiful.

A woman is beautiful because she has a Maker who, though it might sound a bit odd to our ears, is Himself the most beautiful One ever. And He wanted to give us a reflection of the way He is...so He made women to display His beauty.

She's not beautiful just because she herself is so amazing, but she's made to reflect back to the world a message about the One who made her. The way she is (but also women collectively) images God. 

Her beauty tells a story to the world about the way the Maker is.

So that's why I feel bothered by those ads in the windows. They're trying to sell me, and every woman walking by, the lie that we need something outside of ourselves to GET something we REALLY WANT: beauty. The heartbreaking lie is that beauty is found somewhere outside of a woman...that a woman can be beautiful if she does enough to become beautiful. But a woman already is beautiful, without doing anything, without adding anything, without needing anything. She isn't beautiful because the culture says she is, or because she measures up to some cultural standard of what we've defined beauty as, but because she has a Maker. Her Maker has decided that one thing all women would carry around in their physical body would be beauty. It's not a choice, it's not something they have to attain or earn or strive for. It's just a part of who each woman is. Yes, the beauty of her personality is part of it, but physical beauty, beauty you can see with your eyes, is just essential to what it is to be woman. 

And what makes it all even more sad for me is that those ads are pretty much shouting out that lie about it's me PLUS something else, but we don't even notice that they're shouting because we've all heard that lie, our whole lives, without questioning it. We've grown up on a diet of lies about what beauty even is, and who has it, and where it's found...so when there are images that say "Beauty is found in a product," we don't even think twice. Not many of us have had anyone in our lives to tell us the truth, or to point out the lies. 

So I guess I write this blog post, for myself, and for anyone who stumbles upon it out there in the huge world of the Internet. You can't find beauty inside of Ulta. It might feel like you can...that's because we've all grown up learning and believing that those are the places where beauty is found: a 'beauty parlor,' 'beauty salon,' 'Ulta Beauty.' But it's not found out there, in striving, in adding. It's already in who we are, in being crafted and formed by a God who wants to speak a message about Himself through seeing us. 

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--Sarah Howard

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Embracing My Limits: Lessons Learned While Slowing Down

There is nothing quite like being forced to slow down. And there is nothing that halts me in my steps and redirects my pace quite like pregnancy. This third time around you would think that I wouldn’t be surprised by the necessary change in rhythm to accommodate my limitations, but alas it has caught me off guard again.    

I feel as though I am living what might have been deemed the “time of my confinement” during medieval times (haha) as I am forced to rest for long periods of my day. Some might think, “How heavenly! Forced rest.” However, I have found it to be challenging. First of all, I’m not just talking about a nice pregnancy nap here and there, but something more along the lines of bed rest at times where I need to have someone come and make my girls lunch and play with them so that I can sit for a while (aka hours). It’s not easy for me to sit still with a toddler and preschooler running around needing attention and making messes that I can’t clean. However, what has felt more difficult is not just having to be still but having to let go of my ideals of being super mom and housewife and having to “trim the fat” off my schedule. Everything not 100% necessary has been placed to the back burner including extra involvement at church.

Having to cut back on things has been revealing to me again my tendency to believe that I have to perform in order to be valued or that part of my identity is in what I do. I have wondered about what people might think about my decreased participation in things at church right as my husband has started a new position there. The questions start to roll around in my mind. Should I push harder to be more involved? I feel like I am missing out on things God is doing. What do I tell people I have been up to when they ask? Sitting on my couch and being a wife and mom to my best ability?   

The great thing about wrestling with questions during this season has been having the extra space to process them before God. Here are three things that He has revealed to me as I bring my questions and feelings to Him:

1. It is RIGHT for me to embrace and make adjustments to live within my limits.   He has never asked nor expected of me to be HIM essentially. He doesn’t expect me to have super human strength. Although this season won’t be forever, learning to embrace my limitations will. They are God given, and they do not surprise Him. I don’t have to push past them and do more.

2. I have nothing to prove in all of this waiting and “down time” and I AM NOT missing out on what He is doing. This one is HUGE for me. My identity never was and never will be found in just what I can do. I have nothing to prove to others. I am not failing by recognizing my weakness and need to take breaks. I AM NOT missing out on what God is doing as if He only exists to be glorified in the tasks I complete for Him in formal ministry. He doesn’t remove His presence in my life until I can jump back on the bandwagon at church. What He is doing isn’t just OUT THERE. He is at work in our home and my children and me. That is no small thing.

3. Life is found in walking with God and doing what He requires of me, NO MORE and NO LESS. This is another big one for me because I think I can confuse what I think God is asking of me with what my desire is to do for Him or what I think people’s expectations of me are. When I try to prove myself and do more than what He has asked, I get burned out. When I do not step out to do what God desires even when it feels stretching then I get stuck. He gives us rhythms and limits not to cramp our style but to bless us and reveal new things about Himself. He is GOD and is fully capable of using anything and everything for His glory not just the tasks that I deem good enough. Thank goodness!

I want my life to speak of the greatness of God by embracing my limitations and not pushing past them to control and prove myself. I want my children to grow up knowing that God is near in all situations and not just the ones that we consider big and exciting. They don’t have to strive and burn themselves out. I can literally be still and know that God is God. The world hasn’t stopped because I have to slow down and neither has He. That is comforting.

--Sophia Howard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Jeff Hyson

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Choices for 2018

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

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

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

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

Each Day…

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

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

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

 

I CHOOSE LOVE

No occasion justifies hatred;

no injustice warrants bitterness. I choose love.

Today I will love God and what God loves.

 

I CHOOSE JOY

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

I will refuse the temptation to be cynical…

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

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

I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than

an opportunity to see God.

 

I CHOOSE PEACE

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

 

I CHOOSE PATIENCE

I will overlook the inconveniences of the world. Instead of

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

Rather than complain that the wait is too long,

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

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

 

I CHOOSE KINDNESS

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

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

for such is how God has treated me.

 

I CHOOSE GOODNESS

 I will go without a dollar before

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

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

 

I CHOOSE FAITHFULNESS

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

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

And my children will never fear that

their father will not come home.

 

I CHOOSE GENTLENESS

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

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

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

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

 

I CHOOSE SELF-CONTROL

I am a spiritual being…

after this body is dead, my spirit will soar.

I refuse to let what will rot rule the eternal.

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

I will be impassioned only by my faith.

I will be influenced only by God.

I will be taught only by Christ.

I choose self-control.

 

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,

goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

To these I commit my day.

If I succeed, I will give thanks.

If I fail, I will seek His grace.

And then, when this day is done

I will place my head on my pillow

 and rest.

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

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

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

How about you?

- Eileen Hill

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How Will You Walk in 2018?

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

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

- Diego Cuartas

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